Anne Waldman read first, several poems from Marriage: A Sentence and from a book I gather is forthcoming, entitled Structure of the World Compared to a Bubble, and which grew out of a visit to an old Buddhist temple in Java. Anne was definitely an "acting" poet; lively, emotional, she acted out the poems instead of merely reading them. So I guess it was appropriate that in addition to spotlights, the Housing Works people provided a footlight. (Actually, that was a little odd; uplighting the poets gave them a bit of the aspect of camp counselors holding flashlights to their chins as they try to scare the dickens out of you.) Probably the best received of Anne's poems was "Stereo," from the Marriage series, and which involves repetitions of words, as though you were hearing them through a distant and tinny loudspeaker. Funny, perceptive.
Ann Lauterbach read next, and was careful with her voice, as she's got a cold. She wished the audience a happy national poetry month, which was greeted with a dull and unenthusiastic cheer not unlike that given when it is announced that "they were forced to eat Sir Robyn's minstrels." I really enjoyed hearing her poetry out loud; on paper I've had trouble getting into it, but hearing her read I found it easier to follow...got one line down -- "tiem to rinse the dim effects of dream . . . and drink the apparition."
John Yau finished up. He has monotone poet voice. In addition, his voice is kind of low and gravelly, which unfortunately, had the effect of making me very sleepy. I didn't really wake up until his final poem, which was really wonderful. He said he wrote it after wondering what would happen in his daughter's life after he was, well, dead. The poem involved empresses, aliens, and gorgeous ophthamalogists. I wonder if having such a wonderful poem about you sets up a kind of unmeetable expectation, though. Your life has been mythologized in advance of its actual happening.
The Stars Beneath My Feet
Not the burrowing star-nosed
mole or the earth roots of the star
thistle or the yellow star flowers
of star grass, not the fallen webs
and empty egg sacs of star-bellied
spiders, not blood stars or winged
sea stars tight on their tidal rock
bottoms, and I don't mean either
the lighted star-tips of the lantern
fish and anglerfish drifting
miles deep at the ocean's end
of their forever good night.
I mean those actual stars filling
the skies directly below me with ignited
hubs and knotted assemblies combusting
into the waves of their own momentum,
the same stars in kind as the ones
above--gaseous blue clusters of clouds
expelling hot superstellars, fusing
galaxy upon galaxy of old histories
and reverberations. Those stars.
Were the earth made of glass,
any of us could look down now and see
them speeding away deeper into their vast
eras of math and glory existing immediately
beneath us where we stand suspended.
Even while marsh rains slowly
fill the hoofprints of passing
deer, even while flocks of lark
and longspur fly across the evening
with accordion motions of fracture
and union, even while you, fragranced
with sleep, draw me close or send me out,
stars and myriads of stars possess
their places, surrounding us as if
their facts bore us upward from below,
sheltered us in matrices of invisible
canopies above, as if they graced us
with a balance manifest in their far
numbers extending away equally
on our left and on our right.
They are the designated ancestors
of our eyes created in the lasting
moments of their own dead light.
They keep us on all sides bound safe
within their spheres and apart
from that great dire and naught
existing beyond the measurable
edges of their established dominions.