July 10, 2011

Writers Institute Summer Program, Skidmore College, July 8

Even before the horses get to Saratoga Springs, the Summertime tourists begin to fill up the town for the ballet at SPAC & the New York State Writers Institute Summer program at Skidmore College. I haven't taken any of the courses or workshops there, but try to make it for some of the readings in the evening.

Former USA Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky performed this night in the Gannett Auditorium, as he did last year, with jazz accompaniment by Todd Coleman on bass & Pat Labarbara on tenor & soprano sax. But first we had to endure the ritual introduction by Bob Boyers, who got chuckles from the audience when he said, "I might go on for a long time…", knowing full well he might.

Pinksy said he would take advantage of the jazz to do a "film noir" reading, & claimed the genre was invented by the French poet Charles Baudelaire writing about the decay of the city. He started off with a reading of his translation of a Baudelaire poem, trading choruses with the band, then read the original French while the band played over him for "camouflage" (a fine French word). He also read an urban poem by Robert Frost, "Acquainted with the Night," & what he described as a noir/romantic-comedy/urban poem, "Harlem Happiness" by Sterling Brown.

Then on to a trio of his own poems, beginning with the appropriately titled "Horn," about wanting to be a jazz musician in his youth, a love poem to the saxophone ("Listen says the Dante of Bop"). I particularly liked the combination of arco bass with the soprano sax with his poem, "Samurai Song." Then on to conclude with the history of saxophone in the poem "Ginza Samba."

I was brought up, poetically, on jazz & Beat poetry & have vivid aural memories of a recording of Kenneth Rexroth reading his poems with a jazz quartet, so this performance brought me back to those days. Pinksy obviously loves jazz & has worked hard with his talented, sensitive musicians to weave the music with the spoken word, using repetitions of lines, even whole stanzas, the way music repeats & folds back on itself. An exciting night in Saratoga Springs.

No comments: