Monday, September 21, 2009


The reading with Simon Pettet at Geoff Young's gallery in Great Barrington on Saturday was a delight, if I do say so myself.

Geoff had the bright idea that Simon and I alternate poems, a format I've done in the past, but hadn't taken part in nor seen in many years. Very old style. More like a poetry jam than a poetry reading.

It's a little risky, because each individual poet can't take the time to stretch out in any one poem (like many of mine which are often longer than Simon's) or to follow a poem that possibly falls a little flat with one you know will pick things up, etc.

Plus, the other guy could get in several hits in a row while your choices (as responses) miss and the whole reading will begin to sag.

Or one poet could just so dominate the other that it's too one-sided to even watch, like some of the early Mike Tyson fights (or exciting to watch, depending on your nature, to witness such quick and efficient devastation of an opponent).

But fortunately for Simon and me, and I think the audience would agree (and a very smart and attractive group it was), it really swung. Partly because I think we are enough alike in sensibility and even sentiment (a bit romantic but capable of being cold eyed about it), especially since I had to read short poems or short excerpts from long ones.

After we did the one poem back and forth thing for a few poems, Simon hesitated and suggested we go back to a more normal format but many in the audience made it clear they wanted us to continue the back and forth formula.

That's when we really had to dig down, or at least I know I had to, and grab a poem that I felt would resonate with what Simon just read and carry the reading forward and hopefully to an even higher level.

It was a gas. Felt like the days when I was a young jazz musician and would jam with people who were in my range of ability and so there was a security in letting the instincts and inspiration take the music to wherever it wanted to lead me.

(When Simon suggested we go back to a normal format and some in the crowd insisted we not, someone, I think it was Phil, made a comment comparing it to a jazz jam, citing two saxophonists that I knew but can't remember which ones (if you're out there Phil remind me please) but do remember feeling very jazzed just by the flattering comparison.)

We cooked that way until it felt like close to finishing when Simon made a brilliant suggestion, but again a risky one, that for an ending we each read a poem by the other poet.

I picked a poem of Simon's that he wrote during the onset of the Iraq War (that begins "There is a cruel, messianic, dim, tribal intransigence") that's been my favorite poem of his ever since. Then he, seeming at a loss as to which of mine to choose since I had a stack of books from over the years sitting on the table on either side of which each of us was standing, read one I chose for him that I wrote back in '75 on April Fool's day.

As I read Simon's, I noticed I couldn't help but read it slower than I usually do, more like Simon reads his poems, only still sounding like me, ending up with a combination of both our styles that made the poem new for me and moved me even more than it already had.

The same thing seemed to happen when Simon ended the reading with my April Fools Day 1975 poem. I was as surprised at where it took him, and me, and I hope the audience, as Simon seemed to be. And he read it quite a bit faster than he usually reads his own poems, more like I read mine.

I think it worked because all of us had gotten used to the rhythms and strategies of each poet, and our voices, and then to switch off and resonate each other's voices and poetic approaches in each other's voice was just kind of delightfully fresh.

Anyway, that's the way I experienced it. Wish you'd been there, and if you were, hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.


Anonymous said...

Michael, was this filmed ? Any chance of it going up on youtube..

AlamedaTom said...

Wish I could have been there my brother.

~ Willy

Ed Baker said...

haven't heard/seen Simons name around in many years


i just figured out how to hook into penn sound...

just heard you read at Ear Inn in mid 70's

last time I waas there was 2001 a cpl of days before the towers dropped! I read my The City two at the bar bought me beers for copies

walking back to Vestry
Fay and I had to fight off 6 the river rats as big a cats!

I'm in it
for the poetry


Lally said...

My friend Jamie Rose did a movie thingee on her iPhone, but not sure how much she got or how well it would work on screen. I think it was one of those things you had to be there for. The audience was as much a part of the dynamic as anything. My little guy Flynn and his nephew Donovan sitting side by side on the floor beside my beautiful daughter-in-law Jennifer, Miles in the back of the room near Karen and Jamie and other great friends, etc. Maybe I'll write another post about that and if Jamie sends me anything include it with that caveat (the ways it moved through the time frame of the reading too was kind of crucial and couldn't be caught in a segment I don't think. But hey, who knows.)

Lally said...

And Tom, I wish you had been there as well. When you comin' East?
And Ed, I remember those '70s NYC rats well. Don't see them as much these days.

TC said...

Now here's one reading I'll vow not to miss if it's replayed in Second Life.

Michael, I would not envy any poet attempting to trade brilliancies with Simon. Stilettos on the same runway are bound to make our mere mortal clodhoppers feel like combat boots.

But it sounds like you were kicking it.

(Do we get to hear Simon's account??)

Lally said...

Nice image, as usual. I didn't get across how it was very much of a deep-appreciation fest between Simon and me. We love each other's work and each other I think I can say. He's been a stalwart friend for decades. As for his take on it, I don't think he'd mind me quoting this bit from an email he sent me: "what a nice write-up (deconstruction) on your blog, sweet collab (I don't think I was ever doubting - that time when I asked the audience, you cool about this continuing? - but just the once -"
And he's right, I was probably the only one doubting we could pull it off without as far as I'm concerned any real loss of momentum and engagement with each other and with the audience. (Though I'm sure there were some who weren't as into it as the rest of us.)