My Top Seven Literary Events of 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

With a Small pAs it is the end of the year, I want to present a list of literary events that shaped my year. When confronted with the words “literary events” one naturally assumes “public readings.” Not me.  I only went to one reading this year and that was an open mic event at my local used bookstore, the Armadillo’s Pillow.  I was one of two people who read, and I only read when my lovely wife insisted I do so. The audience was no more than five people, including my dog, but I felt more relaxed at this reading than at others, and I read better as a result. So this will serve as my first entry on a list I’m calling “Vince’s Top Seven Literary Events of 2011.” 

7. Reading a poem at the Armadillo’s Pillow. (See above.)

6. Deciding that life is too short to go to poetry readings. Often, I am told that I should go to more readings, if for no other reason than to be a part of the community of poets. To this I have no response, as I would very much like to be part of this community, though if admission rests solely on going to readings I may forever find myself outside the gates. I do not dislike poetry readings altogether, but I find that poets at such events often sacrifice their natural voice when transitioning from obligatory introductions (why can't the poem simply speak for itself?) to their actual work. Their tone shifts from conversational and engaging to overly serious and affected. I find this alienating.

5. Rereading Joyce Mansour, Mina Loy, and Nick Laird - three very different poets who have been on my mind these days. In an ideal world, I would write with their combined strengths.

4. Reading The Stray Dog Cabaret and realizing that, a) the Silver Age Russian poets are where it’s at, and, b) that translation can be beautiful even when it takes liberties. Translator Paul Schmidt definitely turns the work of these poets (Mayakovsky, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Khlebnikov, Pasternak, Blok, and Mandelstam) into something very much his own. The book is hardly complete or definitive, and, again, the translations take some serious liberties, but the result is an imagined conversation between these writers that no other anthology has matched. 

3. Reading poems for TriQuarterly. This has certainly helped me understand what submission readers are thinking when wading through the "slush," an invaluable experience.

2. Sunday lunch at D’Amato’s. Between classes, I race to D’Amato’s for a slice of cheese and a slice of veggie pizza and, often, a cannoli. While devouring this incomparably delicious lunch, I read some poems, as the experience demands a good poem in accompaniment. Perhaps my greatest success was when I paired the thick, soft bread laden with tomato and spinach with the organic, earthy poems of Luljeta Lleshanaku.

1. Rediscovering Tom Wait’s Alice. Ever since the age of thirteen, I’ve been a Tom Waits fan. His new record is pretty good, though it caused me to dig back into his past catalog, which, in turn, caused me to rediscover Alice, a neglected masterpiece. I have never believed that song lyrics are anything close to poetry (sorry Bob Dyaln, you’re not a poet), but the song “Poor Edward” makes me reconsider my position. Not that the lyrics are poetic, but the entire experience of listening to the song—words and music—is close to the feeling that comes with reading a good poem. I get chills every time I hear this song.