July 24, 2015

The Summer Writers Institute Reading Series, July 20

Readings have been going on up at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, home of the Writers Institute’s Summer Writing Program, since the end of June, but this is the first one I’ve been able to get to. It was sort of a random choice & also a chance for me to have dinner at Sperry’s with a poet friend.

Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall slowly filled with mostly young students, but a few older poets from the community & others, such as Henri Cole, from the summer program faculty. April Bernard, from the Skidmore English Department, introduced Bob Boyers who introduced the first reader, novelist Cristina Garcia. Boyers’ introductions, gushing fountains of praise, are a tradition itself here at the summer program, & tonight he read from 3 hand written pages ripped from a spiral notebook.

Cristina Garcia is a Cuban-American novelist who had been a student here at the Summer Writers Institute back in July of 1990. She began tonight with a segment from a work-in-progress with the tentative title “Young Visitor” set in Berlin in 1942, about a Jewish woman hidden in a sarcophagus to escape the Nazi’s. Then she read from her latest novel King of Cuba (2013), the first segment a funny episode about Fidel Castro as a child asking about growing up, about growing a big dick. Another segment was in the voice (& read with a funny Hispanic accent) of a female guard at the Museum of the Revolution in Havana. Her first novel (1992) was titled Dreaming in Cuban.

Earlier in the day I had heard news stories nearly every hour on NPR about the opening today of the Cuban embassy in Washington, DC & the US embassy in Havana, normalizing diplomatic relations after over 50 years. I had been expecting Boyers in his introduction, or Garcia, born in Cuba & a former journalist for Time Magazine in Miami, at some point to mention this historic event that is so close to her work, & her life, but neither did. Politics, or academic indifference? Who knows?

April Bernard read her own 3-page introduction to Wayne Koestenbaum, describing her long personal contact with him from their undergraduate days. I didn’t realize until hours after the reading that I had seen Koestenbaum read a number of years ago at the College of St. Rose. Tonight he read from the forth-coming (in September) The Pink Trance Notebooks that he described as “poetry” drawn from segments from his diaries, “sketchbooks in effect,” he said, “paratactic,” 2 segments, “Trans-Notebook #2: Nerdy Questions about Perfect Pitch," & “Trans-Notebook #3: A Testicle Descends, a Lark Ascends,” with references to not only Ralph Vaughn Williams, but also to Verdi operas, both pieces like strings of gaudy plastic beads without a necklace. He ended with a reading of his essay “Debbie Harry at the Supermarket,” more professional cleverness going nowhere, except perhaps to all tomorrow’s parties. Or, as Leonard Cohen once said “Other forms of boredom advertised as Poetry.”

I guess I just picked the wrong night to check out the Summer Writers Program at Skidmore. At least it was free -- & I had had a nice dinner with my friend.

No comments: