April 29, 2015

Writers Institute Reading, April 23

This was the first of the day’s “Standish Room readings,” this one held in the afternoon in the Standish Room of the Science Library at the UAlbany Uptown Campus, a seminar with poets Alicia Suskin Ostriker & local favorite Joan Murray. Later in the evening both poets would give a reading, but I attended the afternoon event so that I could go to another reading in yet another Standish Room at the College of St. Rose, just a couple miles down Western Ave.

Joan Murray, Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Don Faulkner
Don Faulkner, Director of the New York State Writers Institute, served as the host & began by referencing the recent death of the American critic M.H. Abrams, & his classic study of European Romanticism The Mirror and the Lamp, in which Abrams showed that until the Romantics, literature was usually seen as mirror reflecting the World, but for the Romantics writing was more like a lamp, the light of the writer’s ideas shining on the World. He asked the 2 poets if they saw themselves as a lamp. Ostriker said she saw herself as a “vessel” while Murray said she doesn’t use metaphor, writes more directly. Then the questions went on from there.

Ostriker described her early writing in form until she discovered free verse, or as she likes to call it, “open form.” Topics ranged from women writing about pregnancy & childbirth as a modern phenomenon, to political poems, to MFA programs v. communities of writers.

I’ve been drawn to Ostriker’s work since I first saw her read in 1986 at a bookshop in Hastings-on-the-Hudson, & a few years ago saw her read & be part of a panel discussion at Split This Rock in DC. I am less familiar with Murray’s work, but she has a strong following in the area of women who had been in a workshop with her some years ago & have continued meeting as a peer group since then.

The Writes Institute has a regular schedule of free readings, seminars & films throughout the academic semesters. Unfortunately readings by poets were rare this past year.

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