Thursday, March 03, 2011

Best Canadian Poets 2010

Tonight I heard the Best Canadian poets (from the annual anthology, now in its third installment) read at St. John the Divine Cathedral. I had forgotten that the cathedral, in this case, one of its chapels, which made no difference, echoes too much to hear a reader well. Molly Peacock, the current poet-in-residence at St John, a dual citizen of both the USA and Canada and the Best series editor, introduced the poets.

In her remarks, she proposed a tentative distinction between American and Canadian poetry. The former cannot assume that its audience will stay to hear it, and so has to grab their attention from the get-go, whereas the latter assumes in a friendly fashion that the audience will go along with it for a walk. Then she read a poem from the anthology to illustrate her point. The poem, about an interview that Billy Collins gave in Canada, made gentle fun of the ex-American poet laureate's prescriptions for writing poems. It was certainly a friendly, likable poem, which resembles too much the kind of poetry that Billy Collins writes.

If there is a difference between American and Canadian poetry, tonight's reading shows that it is this: Canadian poetry has to take American poetry into account whereas the reverse does not hold true. Lorna Crozier, the guest editor of this year's Best, acknowledged this cultural reality. The USA is like an elephant, she says in my paraphrase, when the elephant rolls over, the whole room, i.e. Canada, feels it. This is as true for poetry as it is for politics, she added.

Each poet read her one poem in the anthology, but not before reading the explanatory note that accompanies her poem, and so there was as much prose tonight as poetry. One note sticks to my mind: that we use plant metaphors to describe language (as when we look up, or down, root-words), the body (as in dendrites and stem cells) and structures (like bank branches). The one poem that walked home with me was about cherry trees, by a poet who is studying the philosophy of beauty.

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Last Sunday, after moving our things to the new apartment, we joined SB for a concert by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. The Beethoven and Brahms program, at Alice Tully Hall, was performed by pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, violinist Ani Kavafian and cellist Carter Brey.

Before intermission, Beethoven's Sonata in G major for Violin and Piano, Op. 30, No. 3 (1802), played with great attack, and Brahms's Sonata No. 2 in F major for Cello and Piano, Op. 99 (1886). After intermission, Beethoven's Variations in G major for Piano, Violin and Cello, Op. 121 a, "Kakadu," and Brahms's Trio No. 2 in C major for Piano, Violin and Cello, Op. 87 (1880 and 1882).

GH liked the Beethoven sonata and the Brahms trio. I did not care very much for either Brahms pieces, but liked the Beethoven sonata.

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