Monica Wendel for Word for Word Poetry, June 25, 2013
Featuring the poets of The Kenyon Review
Jill Bialosky took to the stage first at The Kenyon Review reading. The Kenyon Review is based out of Ohio, and rose to national and international prominence in the past three decades. The readers they brought together were open and generous, gifting the audience with their visions and longings. The night was beautiful, and the readers proved so enchanting that the tables next to the Bryant Park Reading Room fell silent as passerby settled in to listen to the poems.
Bialosky’s poems explored themes of wonder, age, and family, especially her sequence of poems about baseball. These poems posed a personal narrative of childhood and adulthood, paralleled by the narrative of the game of baseball with its own rules and ending. They were potentially meta-fictional, as the audience was a spectator to her reading of the poems, while in the poems families and peers became spectators to the players. “His story is no longer his coach’s, or his fathers,” she said. Girls watch the players move, as mothers realize that their sons have become “inexplicable.” “The Dugout,” her final poem of the night, captures the psychology of fathers and sons (and was featured in last week’s issue of The New Yorker): “After one strikes out or misses a ball, angry fathers climb the gated fence that separates the spectators from the players and curse.”
Page Hill Starzinger was the second reader. One of the joys of this night was the diversity of experience all three writers brought with them. While Bialosky is the author of six books of poetry and nonfiction, Starzinger’s first full-length book, Vestigal, will appear this summer. (A chapbook, Unshelter, was published in 2009.) Starziger reflected on the meaning of “home,” noting that resistance shapes home, and praising The Kenyon Review’s writing workshops for being a kind of home to her. She mentioned the hawks that nested in Manhattan, wondering about their habits and where their children would nest. Her poem “Remnants,” originally published in the Denver Quarterly Review, was full of sharp imagery, teeth marks and frayed string and the caves of Missouri. I felt as though Starzinger was pointing out that there are things under what we can see – that what might look like a field may contain echoing chambers underneath it – and that that is true of people as well as landscapes. Her final poem used elements of collage, bringing together different voices with the stunning conclusion that the speaker and lover are “made for ruin.”
Her final poem, “Ovation,” found the speaker literally onstage, scattering her dead husband’s ashes. I was amazed at the beauty, depth, and variety of Muske-Duke’s work, and found her stage presence lively and intelligent.
All three poets of The Kenyon Review brought strikingly original work to the Bryant Park Reading Room. I was inspired and recharged by their energy and wit.
Monica Wendel is the author of No Apocalypse (Georgetown Review, 2013) and the chapbook Call it a WIndow (Midwest Writing Center, 2012). She holds an MFA in creative writing from NYU, where she was awarded both Goldwater and Starworks teaching fellowships. Her poetry has appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review, Lamba Literary Review, Nimrod, and other journals. The former writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac Project of Orlando, Florida, she currently lives in Brooklyn and works as a visiting instructor of composition at St. Thomas Aquinas College.