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Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Vagaries of Poetry Readings

A charming list of anecdotes on poetry readings by Donald Hall (the essay is by Hall, not the poetry readings the essay is based on, though in fact some of them poetry readings were by Hall, but not all of them, is that clear, because it if is, I should keep going till it isn't) at The New Yorker blog contains the following (plus more):

"A question period for undergraduates at a Florida college began with the usual stuff: What is the difference between poetry and prose? Then I heard a question I had never heard before: “How do you reconcile being a poet with being president of Hallmark cards?” This inquisitive student had looked on the Internet, and learned that the man who runs that sentiment factory is indeed Donald Hall."

"By chance, I had been an undergraduate at the one college in America with an endowed meagre series of poetry readings. Eliot was good, but most performances were insufferable—superb poems spoken as if they were lines from the telephone book. William Carlos Williams read too quickly in a high-pitched voice, but seemed to enjoy himself. Wallace Stevens appeared to loathe his beautiful work, making it flat and half-audible. (Maybe he thought of how the boys in the office would tease him.) Marianne Moore’s tuneless drone was as eccentric as her inimitable art. When she spoke between poems, she mumbled in the identical monotone. Since she frequently revised or cut her things, a listener had to concentrate, to distinguish poems from talk. After twenty minutes, she looked distressed, and said, “Thank you.” When Dylan Thomas read, I hovered above my auditorium seat as I heard him say Yeats’s “Lapis Lazuli.” He read his own poems afterward, fabricated for his rich and succulent Welsh organ. I found myself floating again."

"A week after the readings and lectures of the festival, a recent Pulitzer poet received a thick letter from a woman in South Carolina who had fallen in love. The envelope was heavy with amorous poems, and she told him that there were ninety-five more, but she didn’t have the stamps. She attached a photograph of a mature woman in front of a ranch house, and implored him to fly down immediately. She sent an airline ticket with blank dates."

Donald Hall's email is available at the end of the article, so....

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