Anne Lovering Rounds for Word for Word Poetry, May 14, 2013
Tuesday, May 14, a crisp spring evening, saw the start of the park’s Word for Word Poetry Poetry series. Opening night featured Alex Dimitrov, Monica Ferrell, and Brenda Shaughnessy, three acclaimed poets who noted they were honored to be reading in the park and to be performing together.
Alex Dimitrov inaugurated this year’s series by reading from his debut collection, Begging For It. As he put it, he tends toward “quiet” “broken love poems,” although in the outdoor space of the Reading Room, he specifically sought out “louder” work. If Dimitrov’s poems are loud, it’s in the way they condense desire, in lines like “we start and stall, / and all all all we do / is want” (“This Is A Personal Poem”). About the poet Frank O’Hara, Dan Chiasson has spoken of the elegiac strain underlying the poet’s work, as if parties full of friends could end any time; as if any hookup could become a breakup. Dimitrov raises these stakes, starting from the broken moment—“After every needle finds its way inside me” (“America, You Darling”)—and exploring it for potential pleasure: “A mosquito presses into my skin / with such cruelty I mistake it for love” (“Sensualism”). In a timely expression of the seductive power of terminal interaction, Dimitrov shared “Self-Portrait as Daisy in The Great Gatsby”: “I wait for everyone to leave the party,” the poem says, darkly confident that the end of party will be climactic in its own right.
Monica Ferrell followed this first set with poetry of surreal spaces. In “The Date,” she mused, “This time we’ll come gloved and blindfolded. We’ll arrive on time, with bees in our hair, with an escort of expiring swans… This time…This time…” The mood turned tongue-in-cheek when she read “Oh You Absolute Darling,” which catalogued the at once cliche, humorous, and bizarre utterances of an ex: “You are sexier than anyone I’ve ever met”; “Dear gypsy-themed Barbie doll”; “If your waist were any smaller, you wouldn’t exist.” The poems Ferrell read had complexity of texture in common—even the familiar, annoying “drip, drip, drip” of a bathroom faucet took on a hypnotic, sinister quality in “Days of Oakland,” as “copters’ dilated eyes” shone into the poet’s apartment. Ferrell’s diction covers an amazing range (from “drip, drip, drip” to the sigh, “Ah, invalid,” in “Beautiful Funeral”), and her poems operate on fascination with and transformation of the environments they observe.
Brenda Shaughnessy, offered a last take on longing and possibility. Reading from her most recent book, Our Andromeda, she dwelled on questions of potential relationship, potential versions and reinventions of the self. “Did you receive my invitation?” the poem “Visitor” asks, twice. In “I Wish I Had More Sisters,” “My sisters will seem like a bunch / of alternate me, all the ways / I could have gone…/ …But who could say they weren’t / myself, we are so close. I mean, / who can tell the difference?” Like the only-half-fantasies and alternative reflections her poems imagine, Shaughnessy’s tone is both playful and haunting: “Heart, what art you? / War, star, part?” she asked in “Artless.” Alex Dimitrov began the reading with the landscapes of breakup; Shaughnessy left us with fantastical proposals for rearranging the pieces.
Anne Lovering Rounds is Assistant Professor of English at Hostos Community College, City University of New York.