Tuesday, January 20, 2009

204: PBPF, Day 2

Craft talk: Gregory Orr spoke of the importance of the quest in poetry, and spoke of "looking outward to look inward."

"Do so through gathering an anthology, a Personal Anthology: those poems you most love. To gain insight into yourself (and your Quest) by looking away from yourself at those poems you most love. This personal Anthology is a composite self-portrait. Yourself in the language-flesh of other poets' poems."

Emerson: "Make your own Bible."

He spoke of how we are to collect these poems, but don't bother with an introduction, with over-analyzing: instead, spend that time handwriting the poems, so that the poem becomes a part of the body. Memorize, read aloud. Share.

It's something I have done already, though only the collecting, and it's still a process, only just beginning. I need to ingest more, return again and again, copy it out longhand, see how those words in that arrangement feel at my fingertips.

(The voyeur in me wants to see others' poem-diaries, their bibles, so to speak.)

Craft talk: Denise Duhamel spoke of humor in poetry. She began by letting us know Dennis Leary was one of her instructors when she was in college, before all his fame and fortune, when class was canceled and instead the students went to his routines and analyzed them the next day. She led us in a choral singing of poems to common tunes, read a prose poem with a clever voice called "Personal" by Sally Dawidoff and David Lehman. What I loved most about her talk was the exuding personality--a kind of cheer and honesty that broke away from that academic seriousness that pervades the poetry world so often. Surprises are good.

I also liked this one: "Lana Turner has collapsed!" by Frank O'Hara. (Listen)

Evening's reader: Denise Duhamel came back to read, and I appreciated being able to hear her speak about humor, followed a few hours later with her reading many humorous poems. The ones that seemed the strongest for me, as a listener, were more recent ones about her parents, who were in an escalator accident (indeed!), and the poems seemed emotionally right for such a moment, for the kind of reflection on rehabilitation (something about her father collapsing and her mother getting scalped) and horror that probably ocurred in those days.

Evening's reader: Martin Espada was not entirely a surprise to me, but I know he was to most of the audience: I went to see him at the Loft's Poetry Festival back in autumn, and he is clearly a gifted storyteller. Oh, oh! I cannot urge you enough to go see Martin Espada if you have the chance. His poems are ringing through my head: "Alabanza" and "calle San Sebastian" especially. He sang those poems, he danced those poems, and the audience, as we left, murmured at what a glory it was to witness this. Edit to add: also, I had forgotten (how could I?) that he had gotten a standing ovation.

And lucky Minnesotans: he is coming to Hamline in March, he told me.

I remember last year, when Sharon Olds was the draw for me, and I adore her still, but I also got to come home with another poet whose poems will appear in my own Bible--Claudia Emerson. And Martin Espada will be there too, and Kimkio Hahn, who I am working with this week, as will others I've met: Carolyn Forche and Maxine Kumin, Robert Bly and Joyce Sutphen, and those I have not: Anne Sexton, Pablo Neruda, Anna Akhmatova, Adrienne Rich, Liesel Mueller, and on. (This list needs to grow.)

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