I keep a file labeled “100 Books,” which is a list of the best books I’ve read in my life. There aren’t really a hundred books on it yet. One of the books on my list exists only in manuscript: I had the extreme good fortune of reading a GBC-bound photocopy of that work. It is a translation of the poems of Jorge Luis Borges by the poets Robert Mezey and Dick Barnes, for which they never received permission to publish.
In 2017, Bob Mezey agreed to read at the Newburyport Literary Festival. In his correspondence he was fretful about his travel arrangements, about the sound system, about the amount of time he’d be given to read. And when he arrived, he appeared old and frail. My wife Gina attentively helped him get back and forth from his room at the inn to his reading. I’d arranged for Mezey to be the final reader, pairing him with Robert Shaw, saving the best for last. When it was Mezey’s turn, he asked for the microphone to be shut off, which didn’t seem like a good idea. Then he brought the audience in closer, where they gathered in a semi-circle near the podium, and he began his reading. It was something to see, something to hear: the authority returned to his voice, he read with great expression and a sense of humor. We saw laughter in his eyes, we heard more than personal sorrow in the words he spoke. He did me the great favor of reading his wonderful narrative poem, “The Golem,” which I’d requested. It was an unforgettable reading.
Robert Mezey died of pneumonia on Saturday, April 25. America has lost one of its finest poets.
Here is a link to his obituary in The Los Angeles Times, written by Dana Gioia.
8:30 M Breakfast with the Poets: Four Powow River Poets with new books, Bill Coyle, David Davis, Nancy Bailey Miller, and Anton Yakovlev, along with special guest, David Berman.
10 AM Deft with a Dagger: A. M. Juster & Alexandra Oliver. You’ll die laughing.
11 AM The Play of Thought: Deborah Warren & Dan Brown. “Wit” has meant different things at different times. My favorite definition is from the 17th century: “Natural Wit consisteth in two things: Celerity in Imagining (that is, swift succession of one thought to another), and steddy direction to some approved end.” Here are two of our wittiest contemporaries.
1 PM Imagination Without Pretense: Kevin Carey & Midge Goldberg. William Wordsworth would have loved these two poets, who write about “incidents and situations from common life” in “language really used by men [and women].” That’s probably what makes them both favorites of Garrision Keillor as well.
2 PM Licensed by the Muse: James Matthew Wilson & Catherine Chandler. In a time when many poets declare themselves “liberated” not only from meter and rhyme but even from punctuation and the rules of grammar, these two poets have devoted themselves to the study and practice of Engish verse technique, tapping into a creative wellspring over 700 years old. Theirs is truly “roots” music!
3 PM Master Craftsmen: Robert Shaw & Robert Mezey. Robert Mezey has been accused of “an unyielding poetic integrity;” Robert Shaw would plead guilty of the same offense. That may explain why these two excellent poets have stayed out of the spotlight despite lifetimes of high literary achievement. Like skilled burglars, their focus is not on getting attention but on getting the job done.