Last night, under the auspices of the Academy of the American Poets, three different poets read to a standing-room-only crowd. I did not know who Ed Sanders was till Gordon Gilbert explained to me the significance of rock band The Fugs. Sanders introduced himself as younger than the Beats and older than the hippies. The poems he read revolved around the Beats. One was about what he called the grand humanity of Allen Ginsberg when the latter helped, a la the Good Samaritan, a man beaten and left to die on an Indian road. Would Ginsberg have squirmed in his grave to be cast as Mother Theresa?
I heard Kimiko Hahn read before but that reading did not make much of an impression on me. Perhaps I am being trained by her workshop now to hear better the movement of her Japanese-inspired poetry. This time, I was really impressed by her reading. A wide-ranging and probing intelligence dressed in a spare elegance. The endings of the poems were particularly strong. Her forthcoming book Toxic Flora melds science and poetry. The technical challenge here is to convey the scientific information in an interesting and suggestive way. The poems she read began too similarly, in giving that information. But their conclusions were satisfying and well-earned. Soul is the addiction to human remains. Size is a vulgar advantage.
I was looking forward to hearing Henri Cole. He is gay and turned out to be white, with a French mother. I don't know what put into my head that he is black. The poems he chose to read last night sounded precious to my ears. A poem about his father. A poem about his mother. A poem about a small dying shark on the beach. Heard behind me in the line for the restroom: "He is so gentle." Genteel, I would correct.