Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mark Strand (reminds me of Anwar Sadat). Part II on slam & performance poetry reviews

A few years ago I went to see Mark Strand read at the Cornelia Street Cafe. I would be happy to observe Mark Strand pouring over a train schedule or working through one of Pound's Cantos, but, in fact, Mark Strand was to read aloud his poetry.

Of which I am a great fan, or at least a fan, how great am I, after all, well, not very. I was not disappointed. As Octavio Paz has written, “Mark Strand has chosen the negative path, with loss as the first step towards fullness: it is also the opening to a transparent verbal perfection.”

Prepared though I was to be charmed by verse, I was unprepared to be charmed by Strand. I'd never seen him in person. When the saucy, yes saucy, cocktail waitress drew near him—he was onstage at this point—he gave her a look, the like of which I have not seen since that photo with Anwar Sadat and Richard M. Nixon.

Sometime in the early seventies, Nixon went to Egypt. Sadat, Egypt's president and a great man, offered entertainment worthy of visiting dignitaries. Belly dancing. The photograph, from Life or Time, revealed a remarkably uncomfortable, even for him, Nixon, while the look on Sadat's face was, hmmmmm, appreciative

In our touchy times, and I'm okay with touchy, I am called to emphasize that in no way am I saying the visionary Sadat, later tragically assassinated, was improper. He was, however, human, and clearly able to enjoy what was before him.

Strand's face when the waitress approached to see if he wanted a refill. It was a, Send her to my room look. Sometime this Spring I went to see Strand read, alongside other poets, at the Bowery Poetry Club in an evening designed to mix writers of his ilk, i.e., Poetry Society of America members, however they're elected, etc., with high school performance poets. It was a great evening.

What impressed me most that night was the quality of performance poetry. Not all the young poets had me reevaluating the form, just as not all poets at an open mic are a call to reevaluate poetry. (Just as not all prizewinners . . . ) But there were two young women, both about to head off to college, I believe, who were extremely gifted. Images, rhythms, timing. Performance.

I didn't remember those two until after I posted my blog last night, about performance poetry and its reviewers. I gotta say, reviewers, step up. It's a new world (or a constantly self-reinventing one). Thoughtful reviewers will be rewarded with images of Strand, Sadat or belly dancers.

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