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Writers Institute Summer Reading Series, July 17

With all the poetry events in Albany & environs I’m not often motivated to head up to Skidmore College & the NYS Writers Institute Summer Reading Series. In past years I’ve been begged to be a companion to local (woman) poet(s) to see Robert Pinsky. Of course I said yes, thinking perhaps I’d be there for the “leftovers”. But Pinsky had other plans this year, I guess, & was not on the program.

Charles Simic is a poet of whose work I of course was familiar from poetry magazines & of course the voluminously infinite Internet. But I was shocked to see I had none of his books on my shelf. I figured the A/C was better in the Davis Auditorium than in the Joe Bruno Stadium (“gag me with a spoon”) for the Valley Cats game, or at the Nitty Gritty Slam at Valentines so instead drove North.

Of course the Davis auditorium was pretty much filled with Summer Writing Program students, both young & old. While the first row was filled with other literary luminaries who were at the Writers Institute Summer Program, there were some notable Regional poets (besides me) in the audience, such as Kate McNairy, Carolee Sherwood & Barbara Ungar, among others.

Bob Boyers did his characteristicaly informed, well-read & over-the-top pompous introductions, which I dread the way I like squeezing that minor infection festering on my back. The first reader was Danzy Senna, who read sections from her short story “Admission.” The piece dealt with an upper-middle class black family in the LA area of California getting their 2-year-old into pre-school. It was hip funny sociology, drawing amused laughter from the young audience who could have easily served as models for the young aspirant in her story.

In his customarily ponderous introduction Boyers wondered if “Charles Simic is a poet for all seasons” & proceeded on to use words like “immediate” & “ineffable.” Be that as it may, Simic gave a wonderfully relaxed reading, a human being reading his notebook jottings, what he thought on the street, in his bed, i.e., his “poems.” He said he was reading poems he hasn’t read before, with some new work sprinkled in. I had bought his 2003 selected poems, The Voice at 3:00 A.M. before the reading & later realized over half the poems he read tonight were from this collection, including “Mirrors at 4 A.M.,” Hotel Starry Sky,” & “Club Midnight,” among others. Hotels & mirrors showed up a lot in his poems, including in the cluster of short poems gathered as “A Few Clear Moments.” From his reading it was clear that these “poems” are not sacred texts, or holy utterances of grave import, but expressions of what a man feels, what he experiences, remembers, even if he has to change the word “wine” in the printed poem to “gin” in what he says tonight. One might call Simic an “American Surrealist,” a poet whose work makes the leaps from image to image as in the best poetry, grounded in the place where he is in the urban landscape, or in a bed or cafe in some place in the world; I’m not concerned about the labels, I liked the poetry.  Of all the choices for this night this was certainly the best.

These readings are free, a wonderful asset of living in the Capital Region where the NYC Writers Institute brings in the A-list of 21st Century writers to read & discuss their work with anyone who can get there.