Monday, August 24, 2009

Notes on Skidmore, Frank Bidart and Campell McGrath

Unsurprisingly, ever since my time at Skidmore, I have become aware of a few dozens of names of poetry and prose writers, references to whom now seem to pop up everywhere in the blogosphere. Here's, for example, a review of Frank Bidart's book, Watching the Spring Festival: Frank Bidart definitely read the first poem the reviewer refers to, "Ulanova At Forty-Six At Last Dances Before a Camera Giselle." The poem made an impression on me; with Ulanova I am on familiar ground, and the meta-poetical aspects of the poem, a poet considering poetry, also served a narrative purpose, to transition between the arbitrary chosen memory and present time. His reading also had much in common with ballet, hand raised to accentuate certain syllables.

Bob Boyers, introducing Campbell McGrath, explained McGrath's side on the debate on "unduly obscure" poetry. I am not sure whether it was Boyers or McGrath himself who talked about poetry's "virtue of unreadibility." Whoever it was, he explained further, "Poems shouldn't give away their meaning too readily." To illustrate, McGrath read from his book of poetry about the Lewis and Clark expedition's youngest member by the name of Shannon, who was lost for 16 days in buffalo land in what later became Nebraska. The long poem is the kid's would-be diary. The reading was notable for McGrath's lengthy (3, 4, 5 minutes?) recitation of a single word, "buffalo." I wonder how this looks on the page, but I suppose something like "buffalo. buffalo, buffalo, buffalo, buffalo. buffalo. buffalo, buffalo. buffalo, buffalo, buffalo, buffalo, buffalo, buffalo, buffalo, buffalo, buffalo. buffalo, buffalo, buffalo, buffalo, buffalo. buffalo. buffalo." Etc. At first, it was silly. Then, it was strange and annoying and rather indulgent. Later, it was hilarious in its indulgence. At the end, the indulgence got to be a bit scary. We were in the presense of an unstoppable force. A buffalo herd? A poet's imposition of meaning?

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