October 24, 2014

Writers Institute Reading Series, October 21

It was a rare night of poets at the University at Albany with Kimiko Hahn, Edward Hirsch & Marie Howe, introduced by Writers Institute Director Donald Faulkner.

Kimiko Hahn read from her books Toxic Flora & the 2014 Brain Fever: Poems, which she described as books “triggered” by science, by reading The New York Times Science section, beginning with “The Blob” set in the 19th Century & the Daddy-Long-Legs poem “Just Walk Away Renee.” The poems she read from the new book were short, self-consciously based on prompts from her reading, or from her own experience (such as “Gag” about a conversation with her therapist), or dreams (“The Dream of a Pillow,” “The Dream of a Knife Fork & Spoon”). An interesting experiment was “Erasing Host Manipulation,” her erasure of the text of one the Science Times articles.

Edward Hirsch began with “To Poetry,” the dedication in his brand-new &, as they say, “monumental,” A Poet’s Glossary. He read a bouquet from his selected poems & some new pieces, such as the gentle humor of “Self-Portrait,” “The Partial History of My Stupidity,” & “A New Theology.” Also, “God & Me,” & “Variations on a Psalm” (#77), which seemed to set up his theology against Kimiko Hahn’s science. I noted that the audience, for all the poets, were “respectfully” silent & didn’t clap for the poems, only at the end. I wondered, like Hirsch’s last poem, if this would be “What the Last Day Will Be Like”?

Marie Howe is the current New York State Poet & has done some projects to bring “poetry” out into the larger community. She read mostly new work & most of that were poems in the voice of Mary Magdalene, dramatic monologues that reminded me of the gone Enid Dame’s Lilith poems, based on un-Canonical writings, such as the Gnostic texts found at Nag Hammadi. The poems were anachronistic, mixing & weaving the ancient stories with modern detail, such as the intricate poem about the 7 devils from the Gospel of Luke. Of course her biggest hit of the night was her poem about Magdalene talking about all the penises she has known (as we used to say for a “3 Guys from Albany” performance, “ when in doubt pull out the dick — poem”).

The following Q&A was generally uninspired, with Edward Hirsch getting cranky about young Polish poets now writing like Frank O’Hara or John Ashbery rather than the hallowed Czeslaw Milosz.

Sorry Ed, I get it, I don't want to write like Milosz either.

For the full series (few poets), check out The Writers Institute website.

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