Thursday, July 25, 2013

Poet's Showcase at Poets House

Every year Poets House has its marvelous Showcase of newly published books, and its series of readings that coincide with the display.  This past Tuesday featured two writers I know and deeply admire, and two whose work I was not at all familiar with, but now have some appreciation for. What I loved about the reading is that although Poets House has one of the largest libraries of poetry, of all kinds, in New York or anywhere else, it also invites writers in other genres to present their work, and the final two writers, Thomas Glave and Rachel Levitsky, though they are published poets, read from new prose works.

Thomas, whom I've known for two decades, read an essay on beauty, violence, homophobia, and courage set in and drawn from his experiences in his ancestral Jamaica and in particular with the human rights organization J-FLAG (Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays), which appears in his newly published and acclaimed book of essays and imaginative prose pieces, Among the Bloodpeople: Politics & Flesh (Akashic Books, 2013).  One of the many things his reading, which began with his invocation of a vulnerable queer Jamaican person viewing the astonishingly beautiful sea and sky that envelope the island, stirred in me was a reminder yet again not only of how precious and precarious life remains for some of us, but how important art can be in focusing our attention on addressing pressing problems, and on what is most important and crucial not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others, especially those we cannot otherwise see or understand, which art can help to do. I look forward the reading the entire collection and sharing it with my students.

Rachel, whom I've also known for many years, also read from a new prose work, a novel entitled The Story of My Accident Is Ours (Futurepoem Books, 2013), and before beginning she talked about her poetic practice and how she had already been writing in and around prose, thereby paving the way for her transition to her lyrical novel. One theme I took away from her work was the vitality of the novel form, which a certain sector of the literary commentariat continues to pronounce dead, much in the manner that a similar sector regular decries the death of poetry, or its obsolescence, or lack of social relevance or public appeal, especially as more women, writers of color, queer writers, writers using new technologies and creating new genres, emerge. The snippet I heard of Rachel's novel suggests it makes a vital contribution, and I am looking forward to reading the entire work.

Catherine Barnett, the evening's first reader, shared poems from her new collection The Game of Boxes (Graywolf Press, 2012), as well as some very new poems, many short, all attentive to the possibilities of their internal music, cadence, and silence, and her final one, from even more recent poems struck me as very simple in its effects but moving in the way she made a casual, personal observation into something profound and memorable. The fourth reader, Peter Filkins, a noted translator as well as poet, presented poems from his collection The View We’re Granted (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). He opened with a poem about two unusually thick birches that had stood in the front yard of the home in which he grew up and once again lives in, in western Massachusetts, and closed with a poem about maple trees, filling the space between them with poems brimming with his erudition, but handled with a light touch.

All in all a wonderful way to spend a warm mid-summer evening. Photos follow:

Stephen Motika, at Showcase Reading, Poets House
Stephen Motika of Poets House, introducing the reading
The audience, at Showcase Reading, Poets House
Part of the audience
Catherine Barnett, at Showcase Reading, Poets House
Catherine Barnett
Peter Filkins, at Showcase Reading, Poets House
Peter Filkins
Thomas Glave, at Showcase Reading, Poets House
Thomas Glave
Rachel Levitsky, at Showcase Reading, Poets House
Rachel Levitsky

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