Thursday, February 25, 2016

Roger Smith Annual Poetry Dinner

The Roger Smith Annual Poetry Dinner is held at the Roger Smith Hotel in Midtown East in the spirit of Scottish-American cultural exchange and in honor of a Scottish poet. The poet is usually returning from the Poetry Festival in Nicaragua, as I learned last night from the honored poet Gerrie Fellows. After the opening remarks by organizer Danika Druttman, Gerrie began the dinner by reading her lovely poems. The phrase "the grit and oil of matter" stayed with me. As the dinner continued, every guest read a poem he or she brought.

It was to be expected that the Scottish connection would be strong. One of the best poems of the evening was a witty parody of a Scottish ballad. More surprising was the international flavor of the evening. Two poets of Indian heritage read, as well as a woman from Mexico and a man from Peru, the latter two reading in Spanish. There was also a poet of African heritage; she did not say what part of Africa. Sitting across from me, as I discovered later in the evening, was one of the co-editors of the Penguin Book of Russian Poetry. Irina Mashinski was there with her husband, John, who introduced her as someone crazy about Scottish culture. Irina had read at the StAnza poetry festival, and co-edited the Penguin book with Boris Dralyuk, who teaches at St. Andrews. She gave me a quick preview of an upcoming lecture, about the myth of singularity in translation. The idea that there is one best word for another is particular strong in the Russian tradition, and Irina compared it to having one father, one Patriarch, one Tsar. She favors instead, a "variation," which she likened to jazz. She was a fascinating and intense conversationalist.

GH and I also enjoyed meeting a young poet Spencer Elliot, originally from Colorado, now lecturing on English literature at Brooklyn College. He read a good poem about his dad the car salesman. When the daughter of the hotel owners recited a Frank O'Hara poem, Spencer recited it too, just under his breath.

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