Monthly Archives: January 2008

Palm Beach Poetry Festival: Final Notes

Friday evening, Claudia Emerson (my workshop leader) and Campbell McGrath gave their readings. McGrath read mostly from his new work. Emerson spoke about what influenced the poems she read. She had been the dean of a boarding school and has written poems on the subject. Those of us from her workshop tried to do the “wave” at the end of her reading but weren’t quite coordinated enough to make it work. The thought was what mattered.

Saturday brought more of the workshop participants’ readings. Emerson’s workshop read first. My selection was my poem “On Arriving in India and Walking the Streets of Mumbai in Monsoon Season” which I wrote for Lorrie Divers’s father since he had traveled there extensively during his career. I felt it important to read this particular poem since Mr. Divers passed away New Year’s day.

Saturday afternoon all of the workshop leaders gave a brief talk on their most “beloved” poems. Emerson and Sharon Olds both selected from Dickinson. Addonizio chose Whitman. I’d be happy to tell you the others’ selections if only I could find my notes…

Sharon Olds and C.K. Williams were the final poets to read on Saturday evening. Olds read the audience onto a train of emotions with her interspersing her more personal familial poems with more humorous recent work. The most impressive poem she read is the title poem from her forthcoming book One Secret Thing. The poem centers around her bedside presence at her mother’s death watch. The speaker of the poem describes moistening the lips and inner tissues of the mother’s painful mouth. This resonated so well with me because that is an act I could not perform myself while at my own mother’s deathbed when her mouth had become an entire cracked wound.

I would like to say that I enjoyed Williams’s reading though I found myself unable to connect with his poetry as he read. The only poem I specifically recall was “The Dog” though I can’t say it truly reached me on a visceral level since the speaker of the poem behaved in an unremorseful and judgemental way.

I would highly recommend this Poetry Festival to any poet who seeks serious consideration of one’s work and who is willing to give the same. You will probably never find me at a conference in the mountains, any mountains, but I’ll be motivated to be anywhere there’s a beach and powerful poetry. Should my dog ever accompany me I may not return to the tundra in Rochester.

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Palm Beach Poetry Festival: Day Three

After attending the first of two participant readings this afternoon, I made my way to the beach (finally). While the water temperature was a bit too cold, even for me in my northern winter coat of excess fat, I walked in the surf as the tide began to come in, the coolness of the sand therapeutic for my aching feet.

Later, a local shuttle driver flagged me down on my way to tonight’s readings. My feet gratefully accepted not knowing the pronouncement to follow. The driver, in what could best be considered an oracular manner, insisted that I remain in Del Ray Beach and not return to frozen Lake Ontario soil. Politesse? Of course. Good PR? Sure. But he repeated his insistence as I made my way off the shuttle, even after I had told him of my need to be in Manhattan next week. Such events do make one wonder…

Lola Haskins read first this evening, which was labelled “Florida Poets” night. In some ways she could be labelled a caricature of a poet; despite her tall, lean figure she always dresses in poet’s black, right down to the cast she wore on her broken leg. Haskins has memorized all the poems she has ever written, pehaps not such a tremendous surpise considering that up until recently she taught computer science and web design–she has an analytical mind pre-occupied by detail. She performed her work with grace and an elegance not often seen on the literary stage.

Spencer Reece followed Haskins. Reece, who is hoping to leave his Florida clerk’s life for the seminary in CT, had many family members in attendance. Dressed as smartly as ever, as his Brooks Brothers position demands, Reece exhibited a more relaxed demeanor behind the podium than when I first heard his work at Bennington. In addition to reading a couple of selections from his prize winning book A Clerk’s Tale, he read two new pieces, both rather lengthy, one extremely personal dealing with the murder of his cousin many years ago. Reece is a sensitive soul; tears canaled his face as he read the latter poem. He may very well become the wonderful hospice chaplain he aspires to be.

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Day One Addendum & Day Two

Day One finished with readings given by Malena Morling and Major Jackson. Morling, who once taught at Syracuse University, has an engaging voice and a distinctive style that pricks the listener’s ear. She did read a poem referencing places in the Syracuse area, something my Syracuse native friends might appreciate.

Despite my acquaintance with Major during a workshop at Bennington, where he still teaches in the low-res MFA program, I had not heard him read his own work. Major reads with a quiet but compelling voice; his poems could be described as an tonic in this seemingly pervasive climate of cultural and personal human confusion.

After the second of four workshops with Emerson and the other participants, I feel gratified to know that this conference attracts serious poets and not merely hobbyists. The feedback given is sincere, precise and beneficial, even when slightly painful. This is, however, what I am in attendance to receive, especially in regard to my ongoing struggle with certain narrative poems.

The evening’s readers were Kim Addonizio and Thomas Lux. Addonizio held my attention more, perhaps because I am more familiar with her work and her reading style since she was a headline poet at the first RochesterInk Poetry Festival in 2005. I would be reluctant to say that Lux’s reading was not entrancing, just that Addonizio is a difficult personality to follow. Most fun was their collaboration; Kim’s harmonica served as background music to one of Lux’s poems. She is quite accomplished in her musical ability.

More tomorrow!

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Day One: Palm Beach Poetry Festival

After last night’s networking and dinner at the local Brazilian restaurant (thanks, Jim), this morning’s workshop brought me back to the personal growth purpose for being here. The group discussed my poem “The Rambler” and helped me move closer to a possible chapbook decision for that and all the other related poems. If not a chapbook, then at least a very separate section in a full length book.

This afternoon, Kim Addonizio read from her upcoming book on poetic craft, The Poem’s Progress. Addonizio used sonnets from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lucia Perillo and even Shakespeare. Though I haven’t personally considered Addonizio to be a New Formalist, that was how she was presented to the audience.

Campbell McGrath then gave a talk called “Peeling the Onion: Poetry and Specificity.” Examples he cited include “One Day at a Florida Key” by Robert Bly, “The Smokehouse” by Yusef Komunyakaa and “In the Waiting Room” by Elizabeth Bishop. I encourage you to take in the specificity of these poems for yourself but will tell you that according to McGrath the process might better be called “Rebuilding the Onion from its Concentric Selves.” Hmmmm…

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