Friday, June 28, 2013

Word for Word Poetry Editions with The Kenyon Review

We have a collection of very talented guest bloggers to cover 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 our visiting poets who present at the Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC. 

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.”

Carol Muske-Dukes brought a wide range of emotion and subject matter to her reading. The final poet, she was a good sport when an excited New Yorker cut in front of the stage, between Muske-Dukes and the audience, in order to tell her “thank you.” Muske-Dukes’ poetic language entered into her between-poem banter as well; she described Poets House, in Battery Park, as being located “down at the end of the island.”       Her reading began with a poem “Mayhem,” distinguishing between “mayhem” and “my mayhem,” as in, “my mayhem drove the car.” From there, her next poem described skateboarders skating in the backyard pools of foreclosed, abandoned homes. Already I enjoyed her willingness to step into the political and economic world around us, especially by literally bringing us into someone’s home. Her next poem, “Gun Control,” was straightforward and terrifying. Published by Slate, it has generated a fair share of comments. Poetry feels most alive when it takes as its subject matter the things people are talking and thinking about, and perhaps as a sign of this, her poems have been fact-checked by a magazine that publishes them (she did not name names, but my money is on the New Yorker). However, Muske-Dukes also noted that it doesn’t matter what happened, since the poem is what happened. In this exploration of truth and fiction, she mentioned that her book Twin Cities is interested in binaries. The people in her poems wished to savour, and destroy; they rode rafts onto frozen rivers and re-read Jane Eyre just to figure out what it means to both be a heroine as well as follow a “blind and careless master.”
      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.

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