The reading by a poet Carl Dennis was one of those rare readings for me, during which I was really able to relate to the poetry -- not merely carried along by the unfolding language, but tracing the relationships between the individual words not necessarily in a linear fashion. This is certainly due to the fact that Jim Shepard had read to us "The God Who Loves You" in workshop only a week before. Rereading!
Carl Dennis read from his new work, the poems that have to do with the theme of "Callings" and "Vocations." He made a distinction between "being called" to do something well vs. "choosing a vocation" in order to live well. "Simply listening to Schubert or Chopin might be a calling," he said. Then he proceeded to ask a number of questions related to the notion of "calling" -- and answer them in poetry.
"To what extent is [the notion of calling] free and stable or are you free to enlarge the parameters?"
"Knowing & telling: how much of what we know do we tell & how much do we choose to keep inside?"
"Vocation of teaching poetry -- avocation?" (This might have been a quote from Herbert X -- I didn't get the last name).
The topic of "calling" is firmly associated in my mind with Grandpa Lenin, whose business of revolution was always described in quasi religious terminology (like "calling"). Or Mayakovsky's lines from a poem meant for children, "Who to be?": "All professions are needed, all professions are important," with classic lines like "It's great to be a pilot, but it's even better to be a sailor." This was very convincing when I was 5.
(Meanwhile, the Guardian today has published Helen Rappaport's list of 10 best books on Lenin.)
More reading suggestions from Amy Hempel:
Nick Flynn, "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City."
Charles Jackson, "The Lost Weekend" (novel & film).
"Writing is recursive, you look backwards to know what to do next," Amy said (a quote?). "Stanley Elkin -- he would not consider writing a character who was not at the end of his road."
Ahmed Khaled Towfik, "Safari."
Jack Finney, "Time and Again."
Mary Robison, "In the Woods."