Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Again, the Question of Identity

Another reading weekend, but this one combined with a vacation. The Circle for Asian American Literary Studies organized the reading at the conference of the American Literature Association, a coalition of author societies. Chaired by Nicky Schildkraut (University of Southern California), Meena Alexander and I read for a small but attentive audience. It was a pleasure to meet Meena and hear her read. She has an alluring voice, riverine. Born in Allahabad, India, she traveled extensively as a child and an adult, and has finally settled down in New York City, and become an American citizen. I hear in her poetry the unceasing question of what to adopt and what to let go.

This metamorphic self-making was nicely captured by two different papers on her poetry, presented in the panel before our reading. Stephanie Han (City University of Hong Kong) wanted to define her as American. The other paper, by Trevor Lee (City University of New York--The Graduate Center) whose thesis advisor is Alexander, saw her as a transnational poet who crosses borders and changes shapes. Alexander's response to Han's paper was gracious but I thought I detected a hint of resistance. As a poet, I would hate to be fixed by critics as only one thing. If I have to be one thing, I would be the gay Singaporean poet, I think. The term possesses to the utmost that such terms can hold the quality of paradox.

At the conference I also heard a stimulating panel on Jhumpa Lahiri and her (lack of) spiciness, a thought-provoking one on Henry James and form, and a less than enlightening one on Wallace Stevens that showed the limits of identifying the poet with the philosophy of pragmatism.

GH and I had a good time in Provincetown. Our first trip of the season to the beach. It was lovely to wake up to the loud slapping of the sea outside the French windows of our hotel room.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

BookExpo America Opening Night Party

WCT invited me to join her at the party thrown by Electric Literature and Flavorpill, with special guest Harper Perennial. We had a bite at Standard Grill to soak up the anticipated alcohol, then made our way to Le Bain on the rooftop of Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking District.

The crowd was mostly younger folks, many dressed casually in jeans. I had on a suit jacket and tailored trousers. WCT looked smashing in pumpkin orange, with a matching orange-red crescent-shaped handbag. She introduced me to a Facebook friend, a poet who teaches at Marymount Community College, and is the colleague of S whom I got to know at AAAS and with whom I shared a cab from LaGuardia back home. WCT's friend had a male friend with her, a French guy who is writing a book on the paranoid style in the McCarthy era.

WCT talked with one or two other people, but otherwise we made up our company that night. Conversation was stimulating and easy, just the way I like it. WCT has a fascinating family history. I told her she must write about it. Life was for the writing that night.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Consuming Asian Americans

The blog-post title is also the theme of this year's conference of the Association of Asian American Studies in New Orleans. Four days, from May 18 to 21, with 132 panels and roundtables, covering multiple disciplines such as history, literature, media, sociology, geography, performance and fine arts, ethnic studies, gender studies and women's studies.

Many papers referred to the transnational turn that has taken place in Asian American studies. The field has moved from recovery of buried pasts to looking beyond the boundaries of the nation-state. The turn involves expanding the term "American" to cover the hemisphere, linking the States to the countries of immigrant origins, studying diasporas and analyzing globalization.

Most of the papers I heard were informed by social constructionist theory, primarily Marxist, feminist, postcolonial and poststructuralist. These papers, speaking the same language, seemed like ingenious applications of one theory or another. An interpretation of Chang-rae Lee's novel Native Speaker, for instance, focused on its referentiality, rather than on its relationships. As such, the papers operated in the same discursive universe. They didn't clash. The one panel where two papers disagreed was a sociological panel on the practice of motherhood in the Indian transnational community. There, empirical findings seemed to contradict one another, but the sample sizes were too small for any clear disagreement or firm understanding.

More impressive were the papers on what I regard as more traditional scholarship. Symbol Lai (University of Washington) researched the UN archives to determine the role of the UN commission to repatriate Korean POWs in her paper "Demilitarizing Subjects: Space, Repatriation and U.S. Colonialism in Korea, 1952-1954." The commission thought it was giving the POWs the humanitarian choice of where they wished to be repatriated, but up against POWs' resistance found itself imposing more and more draconian control over them.

Linda Espana-Maram (California State University-Long Beach) pleaded urgently for "Re-thinking the Contours of Filipino American Studies" by describing the Chinese trading community in Manila in the 1650s, America's first Chinatown, as she put it. Theodore S. Gonzalves (University of Hawai'i at Manoa) on the same panel questioned the proof for the earliest Filipino community in the States, a myth which he cherishes, along with other Filipino Americans, but argues that is untenable by the standards of historical scholarship.

If the historians and sociologists at the conference appeared to adhere still to some objective standards in their disciplines, the literary scholars did not feel such disciplinary constraints. On the same panel with Espana-Maram and Gonzalves, literary scholar Kale Fajardo extolled the virtue of imagining what is not there. If we cannot find any sign of human society on the island of St. Malo, we can imagine it. Instead of challenging Fajardo, Gonzalves ascribed the differences between them condescendingly to the difference between their disciplines. Literary scholarship came out looking bad.

More remarkable then, a pair of papers on Asian American literature that were at once rigorous and sensitive. In "Who Was Jessica Hagedorn's Sylvia Beach?: The Avant-Garde Poetry Scene and Cultural Production," Rei Magosaki (Chapman University) examined Hagedorn's archive, recently made available, to recover two mentors of the young poet, who were eclipsed by the fame of Kenneth Rexroth. It was all the more poignant that one of the two hidden benefactors was Rexroth's wife, who encouraged Hagedorn in many letters and promoted her work to others.

The other paper, by Audrey Wu Clark (United States Naval Academy), looked at the Japanese American poet who introduced Pound to the haiku. The paper not only read Pound's "In a Station of the Metro" in the racial terms it invites, but also haikus by Yone Noguchi, detecting in the latter poetry a desire to be white. This desire was situated in a historical context in which the States enacted laws against Japanese immigration and ownership of property.

There were film screenings and readings too at the conference. I heard Ken Chen read from Juvenilia, winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize. Karen Yamashita read from I Hotel, a finalist for the National book Award. In the main reading of the conference, Zach Linmark and Jessica Hagedorn read from their new novels, the first about Manila, the second about New York City. Both books were witty and stylish, but did not blow my head off.

On the last day of the conference was our turn to read. Organized and chaired by Tim Yu, whose book Race and the Avant Garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry won the AAAS book award for Literary Studies, our roundtable consisted of Ching-In Chen, myself, Janine Joseph and R. A. Villaneuva. Ching-In read a long poem about mothers and daughters, a rich tissue of images and ideas. First time I heard Janine read, and was drawn to her subversive and rather devastating use of humor. Ron read poems notable for their synthesis of disparate ideas, facts and images. They were poems curious about the world. I read "Hungry Ghosts" and "Childhood Punishments" from Equal to the Earth, and "What We Call Vegetables" and "Study #5: After Frida Kahlo" from Seven Studies of a Self Portrait. I was pleased to sell a copy of each book.

One more conference, next weekend, the American Literature Association, in Boston. GH will be with me, and we will stay overnight in P-town.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Shipping, Poetry and Art at Salem

Accepted to read at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, wanting to spend a whole day in Salem, I took the overnight Megabus, arriving at South Station, Boston, at 6.00 AM. Then I realized that the first commuter train from North Station to Salem does not leave until 8:30 on weekends. I had The Nibelungenlied with me, and so read How Siegfried Came to Worms, and How Siegfried Fought with the Saxons, and How Siegfried First Set Eyes on Kriemhild. The epic reminds me much more of Arthurian romances than of the Iliad. Love plays as big a part as War.

Arriving at Salem finally, I checked in with the Festival HQ, and then wandered down sleeping streets. I had eggs and hash in a diner run by Mexicans, before finding my way to Hawthorne's Custom House, where he wrote The Scarlet Letter while pacing back and forth from his office to the front door. Under the seaward gaze of the House, I walked out on Derby Wharf, which stuck out into Salem Harbor like a very long finger. Men on The Friendship of Salem, a replica of an eighteenth-century seafaring vessel, were hoisting the sails while standing, feet apart, on the rigging. I walked out to the tip of the wharf, and stood there unsteadily as if I were standing at the prow of a ship. At the height of Salem's glory, its trading ships sailed all the way to Canton in China. But its harbor was too shallow for the big cutters built from 1850s on, and so the city lost its overseas trade to Boston and New York and became the coastal mule for timber and coal.

I walked to the House of Seven Gables, but did not try to enter it, then strolled through the peaceful Salem Commons, and went into the Phillips Library. It was a very handsome building standing in a row of beautifully preserved Federal-styled houses. Facing these stately homes, however, were tacky souvenir shops selling witch-crafts, their names one continuous bad pun. It was sad to see a once-proud City becoming a one-note parody of its history.

I did enter into one of these shops, which offered tarot and palm and other kinds of readings, to buy something for GH. I picked out a black stone for him, his favorite color, which is supposed to bring grounding, balance of energies and favor at Court. Carried in its black bag in the left pocket, it is supposed to bring to its carrier good vibes. There was a reading in the seance room of the store, by first-book poets. They read some pretty good poems, poems that comfort rather than afflict. Most surprising was to hear from an elderly man, Arthur Boyars, who started the magazine Mandrake in 1946 with John Wain, while at Wadham College, my alma mater. He read from a new book of poems that broke a silence of forty years.

After wolfing down a grilled cheese sandwich in a nondescript cafe, I went into the Peabody Essex Museum. The Museum dates back to the East India Marine Society, started by Salem captains and supercargoes, with the charter to collect "natural and artificial curiosities" from beyond the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn. The oldest continuing operating museum in the USA, it holds one of the largest collections of Asian Art, especially in Asian Export Art. After looking at my blue-and-white china bottle, on which I based my PEM poem, I wandered round the galleries.

It was a strange experience to see the hybridities of styles, techniques, motifs and materials, combined by anonymous craftsmen for the international market. Is this porcelain plate Chinese, Arabic or European, when it is made with Chinese methods, from Arabic decoration and for European taste? I found myself resisting the lure of these objects, partly because they were commercial, and so lacked the autonomy of art that is now highly prized, partly because they are anonymous and so are silent about the history of an individual imagination, but also partly because they are transnational, and so confound the discourses around nation, ethnicity and race.

The one object I was truly drawn to was "Island Bride," by Brian White (b. 1960, Maine), an old-fashoned bridal gown made of steel, seashells, composition, marine epoxy, paint, jute and other materials. It was obviously non-functional, identified with an artist, and, from its exotic glamor, deducibly American. In contrast, the export art objects are orphans, belonging to no school, maker or country.

Looking and looking at these orphans now housed in a museum, I grew more and more uncomfortable with the idea of reading a poem about Asian art because I am supposed to be Asian. The equation is limiting in two ways. It defines me as Asian, and it defines me as non-American. I have never thought of myself as Asian before coming to the States, and I am not an American citizen. The other poets reading with me on the panel do identify as Asian Americans, and I wondered how they felt about reading their poems about Asian export art.

Of the five of us, the two Indian American poets Bushra Rehman and Purvi Shah chose to foreground their ethnicity in their poems, and challenge the dominant Western narrative. Joseph Legaspi and Ching-In Chen made their art objects into metaphors for love, dialogue and the body.  I did something similar, presenting lack as a motive for travel at the conclusion of my poem. Yim Tan Wong's poem was quite different from all of ours. Not only was it the strongest PEM piece, it threaded its chosen objects together with silk and wove a tapestry of birth, growth, death and the common hope for an afterlife. We were thinking of art as history, prompted by the museum setting, but Yim Tan was thinking of art as nature.

Our audience was small and scattered about the large Morse Auditorium, in contrast with the large crowd, mostly older white people, who listened to Mark Doty read from his new book Still Life with Oysters and Lemon in the session before ours. What looked like the same Doty crowd packed the special exhibition of Dutch and Flemish realist paintings, emptying the Asian Art galleries. From the museum website:
Nearly seventy paintings from the internationally acclaimed collection of Eijk and Rose-Marie van Otterloo illuminate one of the greatest artistic and cultural chapters in history. The Van Otterloo collection is virtually unrivaled for its masterworks by the leading Dutch and Flemish artists of the 1600s: Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jacob van Ruisdael, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Aelbert Cuyp and many others. At PEM, over 20 examples of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish furniture and decorative arts, also from the Van Otterloo collection, are shown in the company of these glorious portraits, still lifes, landscapes and interiors.

In the first sentence, "history" stands grandly by itself, like a Dutch planter in Java, unqualified by a sobering adjective like "Western" or "European." The show encouraged viewers to pick up a magnifying glass to look at the marvelous details almost indiscernible to the unaided eye. I passed through the exhibition rapidly. Bourgeois realism, and its mundane transcendence, bores me.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Poem: "On Watching "Die Walküre" for the First Time"

With LW, I watched on Monday Robert Lepage's Met production of Die Walküre, with James Levine in the conductor stand. My first Wagner music drama. Act One was gripping. Siegmund and Sieglinde, sung affectingly by Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek, fell in love as fate decreed for the long-lost brother and sister.

Act Two suffered from too much exposition, exposing Wagner's weakness as a dramatist. Bryn Terfel sang Wotan and Deborah Voigt sang Brünnhilde but neither could save the narrative pace from sagging badly. Stephanie Blythe was a compelling Fricka, Wotan's wife who forced him to keep the sanctity of marriage, and so withdraw his protection from the adulterous (and incestuous) Siegmund when he fought against Sieglinde's husband, Hunding (Hans-Peter König).

Act Three opened with the famous "Flight of the Valkyries." The war goddesses provoked laughter instead of awe, when they rode the cumbersome planks of the rotating platform. The scene looked comically obscene. The scene in which Wotan changed Brünnhilde to human for disobeying him and helping Siegmund was not as moving as it could be. I heard last summer Voigt sing the Countess superbly in Der Rosenkavalier. I find her less compelling as the Valkyrie.


On Watching Die Walküre for the First Time

The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
     Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.
—Emily Brontë, “Often rebuked, yet always back returning”


I was unmoved by Wotan’s pain,
or by Brünnhilde’s sacrifice.
They’re gods. Who dares to pity gods?

Rather, Sieglinde’s loveless marriage
awakes a fierce and wanton feeling
that beats the sheer walls of the throat

and when her brother, Siegmund, joins
his body to that love-starved thing,
two voices mingling in distress,

you do not wonder why the lovers
open the operatic score,
and lift a victory over the gods.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Poem: "Randall's Island"

Randall’s Island

On the brow of a lonely hill kneeling
I saw the brown heath growing there.
—Emily Brontë, “Loud without the wind was roaring”


As Emily, far away
from her flat home,

saw on the hill
a sign of home,

so, on this island
that is not the right island,

by this river that is
not the right river,

this artificial turf
is a sign of home.

This artificial turf
is my heath.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Poem: "Pilgrim Flask" (Revised)

(Image from the Peabody Essex Museum)


Pilgrim Flask

Here we have thirst
And patience, from the first
—Marianne Moore, “An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish”


Ming Dynasty export to Catholic Spain,
which rode the longest overland trade route
to come to rest on its one spreading foot,
the floral sprays ringed by a dotted chain,
the coat of arms a country’s bold motive—
ferrying spices from the Philippines,
harvesting silver from Peruvian mines—
this bottle makes a bloody wedding gift.

Take it, my sister, take it. Marriage
has traded what is here for what will be
amidst the fears of crooks and banditry,
and molded, for a few, a golden age
with massacre, disease, prison and rape,
yet keeps a promise intact in full view.
A dream of milky white and cobalt blue,
this old dispenser gives an older shape.

Inflated goatskin on a twist of twine,
it saved a restless man dying of thirst.
For the faithful, the clay ampulla nursed
the holy olive from the healing shrine.
Please take it home, though it is fraught with risk,
this worldly relic, this ceramic camel.
No saints, but we ride as far as we are able.
No water, but we hold on to the flask.

for YP

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Grandage's "Lear" and Balanchine's Dances

Last Thursday I watched the Donmar Warehouse production of King Lear at the BAM. Derek Jacobi played Lear as a childish old man, an interpretation that robbed the play of some of its pathos, I think. He was electrifying, however, in the mad scene, in which he and blinded Gloucester (played by Paul Jesson) became ironic pastoral figures. The final scene, in which he entered carrying the dead Cordelia (played by a lackluster Pippa Bennett-Warner), was extremely moving.

Michael Hadley was a negligible Kent. Alec Newman was a shabby Edmund who did not look capable of seducing tortoises, let alone queens. As Goneril, Gina McKee had an interesting voice, somewhat metallic. Justine Mitchell was always on the verge of tears, if not actually crying, as Regan. Tom Beard was a convincingly ineffectual Albany. Gideon Turner looked too young and wild to be Cornwall. Gwilym Lee was fine as Edgar, solid but not revelatory. The most charismatic presence on stage was Ron Cook as the Fool. He was brilliant.

I was surprised by the casting choices of director Michael Grandage. The decision to quiet the storm while Lear spoke, to convey the inward quality of his growing madness, lowered the intensity of those scenes, I think. The great achievement of this production was to make very clear the narrative. Not an easy task with so many characters taking the spotlight in turns.

*

TS gave me and VM two tickets to the New York City Ballet. This afternoon we watched a program of five dances by George Balanchine. Concerto Barocco (1941) is considered "the quintessential Balanchine ballet of its period, its manner entirely pure, its choreography no more, and no less, than an ideal response to its score, Bach's Double Violin Concerto in D minor" (program notes). The music for Monumentum Pro Gesualdo (1960) was composed by Stravinsky to honor the 400th birthday of Don Carlo Gesualdo, "the 16th century most chromatic . . . composer." I liked this dance best, for linking the men inventively into a barre, on which the women stretched and balanced.

The score for the next piece Movements for Piano and Orchestra (1963) was also composed by Stravinsky, using the serial technique. Duo Concertant (1972) was almost too straightforward after the more intricate and stringent earlier dances. A boy and a girl danced to a piano and a violin playing. After the second intermission, the entire corps performed Symphony in Three Movements (1972), music again by Stravinsky. The dances to the two outer movements were large and intricate, often making use of the long diagonal. The middle movement was a pas de deux, with Indian-inflected arm movements.

Poem: "Pleasures and Praise and Plenty"

Pleasures and Praise and Plenty

If they’re denied, I on myself can live
—Annie Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, “On Myself”

Plenty I can do without, having dined with less.
If truth be told, a cast-off jacket suits me best.
Praise is harder to surrender, the sweet reply,
the world’s applause, but recognition is not I.
Most sore it is to be denied, most sorry be,
the morning sun that filters through the locust tree
and so is altered as it alters everywhere
the Baptist church, the balding head, the baby chair.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Poem: "Pilgrim Flask"

For the Massachusetts Poetry Festival (next Saturday, people, in Salem), I have been asked to write an ekphrastic on an artefact from the Peabody Essex Museum. I wrote on this blue and white porcelain flask.



(Image from the Peabody Essex Museum website)



Pilgrim Flask

Here we have thirst
And patience, from the first
—Marianne Moore, “An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish”


Ming Dynasty export to Spain, which sailed
or rode the longest overland trade route
to come to rest on its one spreading foot,
on a sideboard or centre mantelpiece,
the coat of arms a country’s golden age,
silver harvested from deep American mines,
spices ferried back from the Philippines,
this bottle makes a beautiful wedding gift.

Please take it, sister, though it’s eight years late.
I could not give it earlier. Away
from home, I was studying to be a poet.
Angry, too, when your faith didn’t accept
the fact that I am gay. Time has returned
material fact back to a means of faith.
A thing of cobalt blue and lotus white,
this old fortune recalls an older form.

Inflated goatskin on the saddlebags,
it saved a restless man dying of thirst.
For the faithful, the clay ampulla held
the holy olive from the healing shrine.
Please take it home and put it on display,
this worldly relic, this ceramic camel.
No saints, but we ride on a pilgrimage.
No water, but we hold on to the flask.

for YP

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Reading Tea with Ocean Vuong

Read on Sunday night with Ocean Vuong at JujoMukti Tea Lounge in the East Village, at a reading series curated by David Lawton. We read a poem each in turns, and the poems played off each other wonderfully. An electrifying moment happened when Ocean read his self-portrait as Jeffrey Dahmer, and then I read my self-portrait after Frida Kahlo. The body broken and eaten becomes the body put back together and giving nourishment. A number of friends came for the reading, Linda Lerner, Miriam Stanley, Jackie Sheeler, and Brant Lyon. GH was there too. Rachael Briggs also came, and read two witty poems written during NaPoWriMo. She, GH and I had dinner afterwards at the Polish diner, Odessa. I sold two books at the reading and traded with Ocean.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater

I watched The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater on April 6, but was too caught up with NaPo to record the event. Grandparents of the conductor and narrator of the evening, Michael Tilson Thomas, Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky were pioneers of Yiddish Theater in New York City. The program gives the historical origins of the art:

European Yiddish theater was officially born only five years before Boris Thomashefsky emigrated to America. Abraham Goldfaden (1840-1908), generally regarded as the "Father of Yiddish Theater," wrote and presented the first productions in Jassy, Romania, in 1876.... Having himself been a badkhen (an Askenazic traveling minstrel) for many years, he now set out to create a type of Jewish opera or operetta, for which he interwove music from synagogue chants, religious hymns, holiday songs, Hasidic tunes, Yiddish folk songs, Slavic melodies, and European grand opera arias....

Boris Thomashefsky writes in his Autobiography that, as a boy of five in Kaminska, while learning liturgical numbers from his grandfather, the Talner Kasn (Chief Cantor), he was also singing Goldfaden songs. In America, a number of Goldfaden's operettas became mainstays of Boris Thomashefsky's early repertory, including Koldunye (The Witch, often referred to as a Yiddish Cinderella story), the musical drama chosen by the enterprising 15-year-old for the first presentation of Yiddish theater in America (New York City, 1881). It also includes Shulamis, produced in Boston's Music Hall in 1888 and featuring 15-year-old Bessie Kaufman, who had just run away from home to join Boris Thomashefsky and become a starke....

The evening was a tapestry of story, song and music, telling the story of the couple's rise and fall. Judy Blazer was a spirited Bessie, while Shuler Hensley played the charismatic Boris convincingly. Ronit Widmann-Levy sang the various female roles in the operas. Dark-haired Eugene Brancoveanu, who sang the male roles, was beautiful in both face and voice. He was the right choice to sing the final song of the evening, the title song from Vi mener libn (The Way Men Love) (1919), written by Joseph Rumshinsky. The evening's program was a story of love, for spouses and other lovers, for ancestors, for the magic of theater. And that love was not only available to Jews, who packed Avery Fisher Hall that night. I sat beside a fellow goy, an older woman whose dead husband was Jewish. For her, the evening was filled with memories of her husband's love for the music.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

National Poetry Month

Wrote my last poem for NaPoWriMo yesterday, a small poem about LB's reading on Friday. I enjoyed her inventiveness and admired her risk-taking. The poem about two stags in rut, with the scent in the air but not the presence of the doe, was very striking. Her mole poem gave me the idea for my poem. Marie Ponsot sat at the next table. It was a pleasure to speak with her for a while, though distressing to learn that she had a stroke, which rendered her for sometime speechless. We spoke a little about asking the stroke to speak.

I think "Eve's Fault" is the best poem I wrote this month. It is not faultless, but it stretched me to write it. I love how the poem enters the garden, and then leaves it. It is not strictly biographical, but it melds several biographical elements with a revision of the myth. The Norton Anthology has whet my appetite for the writing of Renaissance and Restoration women poets. They are feisty, they had to be, and their daring is extremely attractive.

Last night, at Cornelia Street Cafe again, I heard Pascale Petit and Mark Doty. Petit read from her book What the Water Gave Me, a collection of poems inspired by Frida Kahlo. The poems she read all began strongly but didn't quite clinch the deal at their end, I think. She read a poem from an earlier book, about her sick or dying father. In it, she imagines freeing hummingbirds from his briefcase, so they can shed the light from their wings on his face. It is a beautiful poem. Very moving. Doty read four new poems. I did not find the first three particularly memorable, but the last poem, about a wounded stag on Fire Island, is very strong. It combines description, meditation, and symbol-making into a potent whole.

Poem: "What Do I Want"

What Do I Want

well I want to
get better

—Marie Ponsot, “Simples”


The oldest living woman poet in the country
is listening to a youthful edition of herself
talk about illness in a poem about the mole.

Its dark abnormality. Its busy digging to fit
its body into the ground. Star-shaped nose.

And she whose poems are musical and easy
is hacking and hacking into bunched tissues.
She is allergic to spring, the old poet explains,

after you end with Survival is a bitter malady.

for LB