We have the help of some very special guest bloggers at the Word for Word Poetry series this summer. They capture a first-hand account of the poetry readings, as well as help to interpret the work of the talented poets who present in the Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC.
Anne Lovering Rounds for Word for Word Poetry, July 10, 2012
Featuring spiritual poets
Rachel Snyder and Robert Cording, the two poets reading in the Word for Word poetry series on Tuesday, July 10, were a study in counterpoint. These two writers (three were slated originally: Emanuel Xavier, we missed you!) allowed us to hear the profoundly different ways poetry takes on life’s big questions and range of emotional experience. How do we practice forgiveness? Is faith worth it? What happens in and after death? Admitting to an identity as a spiritual or metaphysical poet is risky business; Snyder and Cording showed us both the risk and the reward.
Rachel Snyder practices a doctrine of fearlessness. A self-taught poet, she is mesmerized by the way words seem to take on a life of their own; as she put it, she strives to “be the instrument” for expression. Her willingness to acknowledge and to submit to the power of language comes across in the litany-like form of her long, intentionally inspirational poems, in the way she returns to such phrases as “Forgive me” (“Prayer for Radical Forgiveness”), “It’s that easy,” or “I will” (“Now for the Unbound”). Written in defiance of self-consciousness, Snyder’s prayerful poems were big, bold, and outright.
Cording told us that he frequently finds himself compelled to write about death, as a way of trying to fathom the change he knows it must bring. But his last poem of the evening was, in fact, about joy. “1964,” a meditation on the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, starts as a family portrait of the age (parents on the couch, a TV set, Sullivan’s voice) and ends with the poet “shaking himself alive,” “armed with nothing more than joy and wonder.” I’d thought of elegy as the default mode of writing about the Beatles: Mary Jo Salter’s “John Lennon,” in which “The music was already turning sad, / those fresh-faced voices singing in a round, / the lie that time could set its needle back / and play from the beginning”; Valzhyna Mort’s lines in “maybe you too sometimes fantasize,” where “a boy from the neighborhood […] / says look even the Beatles die.” Maybe a poem like “1964” is itself not so far from these elegies. Even so, Cording can laugh at the scene as he remembers it, as if asking, “Was hearing, on TV, the yeah yeah yeahs of ‘She Loves You’ really something sublime? Even today, 40 years later, is that still worthy of celebration?” Yes, his poem tells us. Yes it was. And yes it is.
Starting in August, Anne Lovering Rounds will be Assistant Professor of English at Hostos Community College, City University of New York. She blogged previously for the Reading Room in summer 2010.