Jason Schneiderman for Word for Word Poetry, July 24, 2012
Featuring the poets of Blue Flower Arts
Gerald Stern & Galway Kinnell are such celebrated fixtures of American Poetry that they hardly need an introduction. Kinnell’s Selected Poems won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award, and he has received a long list of awards and honors. Stern has a similarly long list of publications and awards, including the Ruth Lilly Prize and the Wallace Stevens Award. Both born in the 1920’s, these elder statesmen of American poetry continue to write and publish with remarkable energy and vibrancy. The Bryant Park Reading Room was filled to capacity with loyal fans, many of whom had been following their poetry for decades.
Kinnell’s poems focused on nature and love. He opened with “Astonishment,” a poem that recently appeared in the New Yorker. The poem makes observations about the human condition while reflecting on the natural world:
A woodpecker, double-knocking,
keeps time. I have slept in so many arms.
Consolation? Probably. But too much
consolation my leave one inconsolable.
Kinnell’s voice is at once soothing and engaging, bringing the listener into a kind of trance as he meanders through the wilderness, through love, and through observation. Kinnell inhabits both the voices of animals and of men who live in close proximity to those animals. He conjures a kind of primal truth. Kinnell read with very little explanation or embellishment, allowing the poems to speak for themselves.
Stern read from two new collections—one a collection of prose, and the other a collection of poetry. Stern is an avuncular charmer. After he opened with a piece of prose, he welcomed a friend in the audience whom he hadn’t seen when he started reading. He added, “Had I known you were coming, I would have read that section.” Stern’s poems are both wise and wise-cracking, full of wry humor and patient knowledge. His sentences often wrap across a whole poem. He read love poem, “Counting,” he describes the beginning of a relationship. The poem ends:
…I climbed into your car and two weeks later
though neither of us gave it a thought we walked
across the street for breakfast where there was an ocean
nearby and that’s the morning we started counting.
Stern ended with a set of short love poems from his newest book In Beauty Bright. Stern had received the books that day, so this reading marked the entry of his new book into the world.
At the end of the evening, the bookseller did a brisk business, and Stern and Kinnell were occupied signing books for quite a while. It was a beautiful summer evening, and we lingered in the shade.
Jason Schneiderman is the author of Sublimation Point (Four Way Books) and Striking Surface (Ashland Poetry Press). His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry, Grand Street, Bloom, Court Green, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, The Story Quarterly, the Virginia Quarterly Review and Tin House among other publications. Jason has received fellowships from Yaddo, The Fine Arts Work Center, and The Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. He was the recipient of the Emily Dickinson Award from The Poetry Society in 2004. A graduate of the MFA program at NYU, he is currently completing his doctorate at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.