Tag Archives: poetry

Hammer-on Muldoon

Pulitzer Prize poet and Princeton professor Paul Muldoon (how’s that for alliteration?) will be reading from his work Saturday, Feb. 23, in the North Jersey burg of Rahway, just a quick hop on the Northeast Corridor train line for those without wheels of their own. Tickets are $20 apiece,but look what you get for your Jackson: a reading by one of our greatest living poets, an onstage chat and audience Q&A, and a performance by Muldoon leading his band The Wayside Shrines. That last part is particularly intriguing. Muldoon is the only major living poet I know of who owns both a Gibson Les Paul and a Stratocaster. I’ve heard rumors that Seamus Heaney favors an Eddie Van Halen Ernie Ball model, and I think Anne Sexton was known to break out a Telecaster every once in a while. Patti Smith ain’t the only poet who likes to crank it up.

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The place to be

Tonight, that is. Philip Larkin’s poems, read by a roster that includes Zadie Smith, Paul Simon, and other notables, with live performances of some of Larkin’s favorite jazz. If I were anywhere near Manhattan tonight, I’d be there.

Larkin’s most famous poem is probably “Annus Mirabilis,” with these opening lines:

Sexual intercourse began

In nineteen sixty-three

(which was rather late for me) –

Between the end of the Chatterley ban

And the Beatles’ first LP.

I’ve written just enough poetry to know I should never write any more, but back in my bright college days I came up with what I thought was a nice Larkin semi-parody:

Sexual intercourse began

In nineteen seventy-three

(and was all theoretical for me)

With Pam Grier in Coffy

And the cover of Carly Simon’s third LP.

Coffy being my first blaxploitation movie, and No Secrets being second only to Playing Possum in the gallery of Carly Simon Hotcha Album Covers, at least to male music fans of a certain age. (I know the album came out late in 1972, but what can I say, 1973 was the year the photo jumped out at me from the racks of Sam Goody.) And if you’ve seen Pam Grier, no further explanation is necessary.

I wonder which poem Paul Simon will read? The cover of Still Crazy After All These Years included some lines from Ted Hughes, whose influence on Simon’s songwriting remains invisible to me. But Philip Larkin? It’s all over the place in Simon’s catalogue. Can’t believe I didn’t realize it before now.  

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Black Angel Revue

That’s what we’re calling tomorrow night’s joint reading between Your Humble Author and poet John Marron, slated for 9 p.m. at The Raconteur in Metuchen. The Raconteur is worth a visit all by itself, and with the likes of Hart and Marron reading . . . geez, how could you pass it up?

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The wings of the Dove

if you live in New Jersey or points thereabouts, be sure to mark your calendars for the 12th annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, set for Saturday, Oct. 17, in Stockton. Rita Dove will be the evening’s featured poet. Let Nick tell you all about it. Here’s my report on the 2007 edition.

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Books make it better

The optimism survey results are in and the numbers have spoken: reading books make you feel better about yourself.

While the official survey report zeroed in on the importance of a constellation live events like music concerts, theatrical performances, and speeches, the one “optimism booster” cited by more respondents than any other—88 percent—was “books.” Unfortunately, that’s not broken down by categories, so it’s not quite clear whether fiction or non-fiction lifts people’s spirits, so you should probably read a little of both, just to be on the safe side.

(Meanwhile, 56 percent of those surveyed say they feel optimistic after attending poetry readings, which was pleasantly surprising as we had not realized poetry readings were so popular—although clearly they should be!)

As a matter of fact, I have it on good authority that one book in particular does wonders for people looking to boost their self-esteem and overall sense of well-being. I conducted that survey myself, so you know the results couldn’t possibly be weighted.

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The silent city

MerwinThis Bill Moyers Journal interview with the poet W.S. Merwin, who recently won a second Pulitzer for his collection The Shadow of Sirius, is one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. The transcript will give you an idea, but you need to watch the video or download the podcast, because Merwin reads a number of his poems and it’s just something you ought to hear. Listening to a poet is the best kind of introduction.  

The talk covers a lot of ground, but this memory from Merwin’s youth in Union City really caught me:    

BILL MOYERS: You did grow up right across the river in Metro New York, New Jersey, looking out on the skyline of New York.

W.S. MERWIN: Which was silent.


W.S. MERWIN: Yeah. New York was silent. That was extraordinary. And that still, to me, is haunting. You know, to be able to think of that skyline that I saw as a child. And you could hear sounds from the river. There was a river traffic, which is gone, most of which is gone. The ferries back and forth, all the time. And ferrying of whole trains went across on ferries, you know, on barges. And I would spend as much time as I could in the back of the church looking down on Hoboken Harbor and on the river and on the city over there. And the city was absolutely silent. Then, of course, you took the ferry over there all the noise of New York was there. And I found that very exciting.

I’ve taken the ferry from Hoboken many times, and that wall of silence across the Hudson, and how it gives way to New York’s immense clamor, really is remarkable. Leave it to a poet to articulate that.

The Shadow of Sirius is a wonder, by the way. Merwin has scores of books out in the world, but if you’re looking for an introduction to his work, The Shadow of Sirius will do nicely.

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Seamus at 70

How embarrassing to have missed the chance to mark Seamus Heaney’s 70th birthday yesterday. Let me make up for it with some poetry. Here’s a video montage set to Heaney’s reading of “The Tollund Man.” I’m not sure what makes images from the civil-rights era compatible with a poem about an ancient body drawn from the peat bogs of northern Europe, but our reponses to poetry are as personal as our choices of poems, and all I can do is honor the effort: 


Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.

In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach,

Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle,
I will stand a long time.
Bridegroom to the goddess,

She tightened her torc on him
And opened her fen,
Those dark juices working
Him to a saint’s kept body,

Trove of the turfcutters’
Honeycombed workings.
Now his stained face
Reposes at Aarhus.


I could risk blasphemy,
Consecrate the cauldron bog
Our holy ground and pray
Him to make germinate

The scattered, ambushed
Flesh of labourers,
Stockinged corpses
Laid out in the farmyards,

Tell-tale skin and teeth
Flecking the sleepers
Of four young brothers, trailed
For miles along the lines.


Something of his sad freedom
As he rode the tumbril
Should come to me, driving,
Saying the names

Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,

Watching the pointing hands
Of country people,
Not knowing their tongue.

Out here in Jutland
In the old man-killing parishes
I will feel lost,
Unhappy and at home.

If you want to hear Heaney read the poem without musical accompaniment, click on this link. Some readers may only know Heaney from his translation of Beowulf, the audio version of which lent a note of mythic struggle to many of my morning commutes. Just about all of his books are in print, but I think the career retrospective Opened Ground is an ideal introduction to the man’s work.   
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Walt Whitman, New Orleans

If, like me, you never thought there was a connection, let Nordette Adams school you a bit.

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Podcast alert

The Folkways Collection is an iPod-ready collection of 24 hour-long programs devoted to the music and spoken-word recordings produced by Folkways Records, and now part of the Smithsonian collection.

Over 200 classic poems read by 80 notable poets, waiting for you to download.

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Hey Joe

Elizabeth-born Joe Weil is the poet laureate of New Jersey. Really. If you don’t believe me, let Nick tell you about it.

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