This was was a ceremony/reading honoring this year's award recipients, with the likes of Robert Pinsky, current Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, Frank Bidart, etc. wandering around. Not that I am a particular fan of this breed of poets, but it was an opportunity to go to NYC for a day, run into friends, wander the village, see some of the poetry super-stars in the flesh, etc. I didn't bother to take pictures, you can find them all on www.poets.org.
It was like being a tourist on Mount Olympus, not the current multi-lingual tour buses climbing the Greek hillside, but more like the Homeric version where gods major & minor, & those aspiring to become gods, strut across the stage bestowing gifts on each other. Indeed reading between the lines one could see it was poets picking their friends, close collegues, collaborators, associates, promoting MFA programs, an incestuous community breeding more like themselves. It was like, "We's takin' turns & it'll be my turn next year."
Many of the poems read of course were difficult, if not impossible, to follow on first hearing, being so refined & mannered, as is the fashion. But while the Italian poet Andrea Zanzotto (whose work was read by his translator, the awardee Patrick Barron) was described as a "madman," his poem "To the World" was one of the most enoyable & certainly the most playful of the evening. Similarly, the poems of Henri Cole (the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize), described as "sonnet length," were elegantly stated without self-concious obscurity. The one poet who I would have liked to hear more from, the quietly understated Brigit Pegeen Kelly, read a poem by Yeats & another by Dylan Thomas, & 2 of her own. I appreciate the idea of "sharing the stage," but her work deserves a wider audience (her poem beginning "It was not a scorpion I wished for..." was eerie & chilling), so hers was the one book I bought (The Orchard, BOA Editions, 2004). There is no need to promote the likes of Dylan Thomas or Yeats, everyone knows their work.
The major award (the Wallace Stevens Award) was to former Poet Laureate Louise Glück, $100,000 (!), for which she didn't even make an appearance at the wine & cheese reception afterwards. For that kind of money she should have walked around the reception & tongue-kissed every sycophant poet in the room, then bought them dinner.
You can go to the Academy's (so aptly named) website & read about all the recipients & the awards & what they were for. By my calculation they gave out that night $171,000. For that kind of money they could give 171 poets a $1000 each, or 1,710 poets a $100 each, instead 7 got what they got. I don't begrudge them their awards, but certainly $100,000 is excessive, the equivalent of about 2 to 3 good salarys, or about 4 low-paying jobs.
To all my fellow poets & habitués of the open mics I say, keep writing but don't quit your day jobs, or spend your award money before the Academy calls. After all, Wallace Stevens was an insurance man, Walt Whitman had to publish his own books & the only MFA that Emily Dickinson had was a mighty fine ass.