Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New Haven and Beyond

Let's Eat
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
More than two weeks after AWP and I still have some chest congestion. I was well enough last week to go to New Haven for a reading with my old friend Richard Deming. Richard is celebrating the publication of his first two books, one critical and the other a collection of poems. His critical book, Listening on All Sides: Towards and Emersonian Ethics of Reading, is just out from Stanford. I have not read it, but I recommend it, even though it costs $50. What a racket.

I have read his book of poems, Let's Not Call It Consequence, just out from Shearsman. I recommend that book as well. Richard is a philosopher's poet. His poems are rich in imagery, and often inhabit a romantic terrain, but they are essentially poems about the vicissitudes of thought. I was asked to write an introduction for him at the reading (he did the same for me). I wrote my intro in the form of a brief letter:

"Dear Richard,

As I sat in your apartment this afternoon writing an introduction, I could not help thinking of the conversation we had last night about your book and why when I read it the title of Boethius’ famous book, “The Consolation of Philosophy” came to mind. I have never read Boethius’ book, but I have always admired the title, which suggests the promise philosophy holds of putting forth a reasonable explanation for things and the comfort such an explanation might provide. The poems in Let’s Not Call It Consequence together suggest the opposite of Boethius’ title, infused as they are with the melancholy of a mind that has engaged in philosophical acts only to find they provided little explanation at all, much less the promised consolation. I spent the better part of the day trying to find an antonym for ‘consolation,’ a word that could adequately describe the feeling one feels after having cast one’s philosophical net into the void only to pull it back to shore as empty as when it was first cast out. As far as I can tell, ‘consolation’ has no opposite, so I am left with the lush syntax of your verse, its soft consonants and long vowels, the sounding out of which becomes rather another kind of net, one made of words, into which we might fall when philosophical concepts fail to console."

That about sums it up. We read together at the closing of a great space in New Haven called the Arts and Literature Laboratory. Because it was the last night, lots of people showed up -- I'd say 40-50 were in the crowd. New Haven gets a big thumbs up for buying lots of books from both readers. I sold more books there than I have ever sold at a single reading.

Nancy Kuhl, Richard's partner, works at the Beineke library at Yale and has curated an amazing show called Metaphor Taking Shape: Poetry, Art and the Book. It basically covers book art -- mostly artists books, but also a fair amount of illustrated poetry books -- from the 19th century forward. The bulk of the interesting stuff came from the modern period. Highlights were a metal book by Marinetti, as well as a spectacular 4 foot long poem by Blaise Cendrars with a print by Sonia Delaunay (I took photos, which you can view here). If you happen to be in New Haven between now and March, go to the Beineke.

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