Rhina P. Espaillat is the perfect person to talk about an earlier “trailblazing woman,” Emily Dickinson, in this delightful program from PBS television.
On the Opinion page of Worcester Magazine appears a poem in which two of my friends —both terrific poets—have had a hand. Juan Matos wrote “Boot on the Throat” in Spanish; Rhina Espaillat translated it into English. I only wish you could hear Juan read the original; no one delivers a poem with greater passion.
Thanks to Barbara Egel for her generous review of A Brief Accident of Light, my collaboration with Rhina Espaillat and illustrator Kate Sullivan, which appears in the new issue of Light Magazine. You can read it here.
The omnibus review also includes a consideration of Rhina’s masterpiece, And After All, as well as delightful new work by the incomparable A. E. Stallings.
Brief Accident of Light is a collection of twenty poems, ten by Rhina P. Espaillat and ten by Alfred Nicol. The poems were written for an arts collaboration initiated by Newburyport Chamber Music Festival Director David Yang. Mr. Yang, a distinguished violist and composer, made a list of emblematic locations in and around the city of Newburyport, and assigned to each location a specific time of day or night. He first commissioned composer Robert Bradshaw to write a new piece for string quartet drawing its inpiration from those locations. Mr. Yang then invited Espaillat and Nicol to visit each spot at the specified time and to give voice to their experiences in a series of poems. Because the poets chose to make their visits together, most of the poems gathered here are paired —a reader will hear two voices emanating from each place, as when two birds perch in the same tree.
The two poets found themselves a little taken aback by the way these poems seemed to write themselves. One can only surmise that the spirits of City Hall and Oak Hill Cemetery really had something they needed to express, and were only waiting for an opportunity! A poet can get carried away when that kind of thing happens. You’ll see that there are four unpaired poems in this collection—“Waking Up,” “Fly-By: The Newburyport Art Association,” “The Closing Year,” and “Fog at Night”—each resulting from one or the other poet writing from a place not mentioned on the original list.
In keeping with the collaborative nature of this project, Kate Sullivan was invited to illustrate the collection with images of the sites mentioned in the poems. She too got caught up in the spirit of Mr. Yang’s vision, and contributed the celebratory ink-wash sketches the reader will happen upon, turning these pages.
Purchase Brief Accident of Light at Jabberwocky Bookstore.
David Yang, Director of the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, has commissioned composer Robert Bradshaw to write a string quartet channeling the energy and spirit of eight locations in the town of Newburyport, and has asked Rhina Espaillat and me to write poems that draw their inspiration from those eight places. The three of us will present our work at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 7 PM, Sunday, Aug. 18. Click here!
Rhina Espaillat, John Tavano and I have added two other terrific musicians to our melopoeia ensemble, Roger Kimball and Kate Sullivan. We’re calling ourselves The Diminished Prophets. Our second performance as a group will be on Thursday, April 11, at the Charlestown Campus of Bunker Hill Community College. The program begins at 1 PM
8:30-10:00 AMBreakfast with the Poets: Wake up on this festive day with coffee, pastry and poetry. The locally-based, nationally-recognized Powow River Poets never leave their readers in the dark! Anton Yakovlev, Jose Edmundo Ocampo Reyes, Toni Treadway, David Davis andA. M. Justerwill read from books they’ve published since last year’s breakfast. (There must be something in those pastries Gina bakes.)
10:00 AM The Poetry of Maryann Corbett & Nausheen Eusuf: Two remarkable poets whose work appears in Best American Poetry 2018, Maryann Corbett and Nausheen Eusuf know that, whatever poetry is about, it is always about language. It is a kind of liberation to recognize that. Both poets, Eusuf with her virtuoso wordplay and Corbett with her knowledge of ancient tongues, employ a whole range of language—different tones and voices, high and low modes of speech, allusions, quotations, and puns—to touch on things that matter either for the moment or for eternity.
11:00 The Poetry of January O’Neill & Ned Balbo: “The world is too much with us,” but ultra-contemporary poets January O’Neil and Ned Balbo have not turned their backs on it. Their poems make room for tattooed girls and young men in grey hoodies, reruns of Star Trek, LSD and Wikileaks, hospital corridors and crabcake recipes and Smart TVs. Here you’ll find elegies for Prince and David Bowie and odes to brownies for Sunday breakfast. And family: imagined and real, close-knit and departing. Somehow, in the middle of so much stuff, a space is cleared for these poems to become “vessels of almost uncontainable longing” where— always—“there is that question of how to love.”
1:00 The poetry of Daniel Hall & Mary Jo Salter: It’s no wonder that these two distinguished poets are also distinguished teachers of poetry, Daniel Hall at Amherst College and Mary Jo Salter at Johns Hopkins. Each of them is a consummate craftsperson, and both seem to embody the ancient idea of sprezzatura, choosing “to avoid affectation in every way,” perfecting their art by making it appear to occur naturally and without effort. This is poetry that rewards our attention without clamoring for it. As in a clear night’s sky, we’re offered much to marvel at.
2:00 The Poetry of Major Jackson & Sydney Lea: Besides the state in which they reside, what these two Vermont poets have most in common is, paradoxically, what sets them apart. They don’t sound anything like each other —nor does either of them sound much like anyone else. “The poetry Major Jackson offers us…sounds different from any other being written today,” writes one reviewer. “The truth is, no one writes—or has written—like Sydney Lea, except maybe E. A. Robinson,” writes another. Here are two unique and original voices in contemporary American poetry.
3:00 PM The Poetry of Rhina P. Espaillat & David Ferry: Biographies of famous poets sometimes leave us with the impression that poetic talent and decent behavior may be inversely proportional. That’s not the case with Rhina Espaillat and David Ferry, two of America’s finest poets, whose poetic visions are extensions of their personalities. Ferry, who volunteered for years at a dinner for street people, gives voice to the homeless and isolated in his poems. The poems of Espaillat, whose kitchen table has been the site of so many creative collaborations, envision humanity as “one single family.”
We’re proud to announce the list of terrific poets who’ve agreed to read in Newburyport on April 27, 2019:
Mary Ann Corbett
Rhina P. Espaillat
José Edmundo Ocampo Reyes
Mary Jo Salter
See the festival website for more detail as the event approaches. It’s going to be a day to remember.