It's been a hectic few weeks, with the usual challenges and some new ones thrown in, but as always, poetry continues to save my life. This time listening to other poets read their work. Last week in an auditorium at The New School, where David Lehman hosted a reading from the 2015 edition in his THE BEST AMERICAN POETRY yearly series, this year's guest-edited by Sherman Alexie.
There were over twenty poets sitting on the stage, as well as David and Sherman, and a pretty full house in the audience seats, when David introduced the evening with some humorous but potent remarks. Then Sherman set the tone of the evening, and I believe raised the bar for the readers, by being funny, honest and inspiring in his completely candid introductory remarks that started out describing how he felt as a young boy on the reservation in Washington state where he grew up when an English teacher had each student pick a poetry magazine to send poems to and he stumbled upon Hanging Loose magazine, which to his surprise accepted his poems and published them, starting one of the most impressive writing careers of our times.
I was there mainly to hear my closest friend Terence Winch read his delightful poem from the anthology and was already a fan of Sherman's prose and poetry, but after his inspiring introduction (he spoke conversationally and candidly, including reminding everyone that the life of a writer, especially a poet, even a more or less famous one, meant rejection rejection and more rejection amid the occasional acceptance) I was excited to hear everyone.
The poets read in alphabetical order and unfortunately I can't remember—and don't have the anthology in front of me—the names of all of them, so all I can share here and now is that there were a few audience favorites that brought the house down but almost every one of the poems read engaged and impressed me as they seemed to do the same for the rest of the very attentive and appreciative audience.
The great follow up to this inspiring evening was going out to dinner later with Bob Hershon, one of the original founders and editors of Hanging Loose (the magazine and press along with Bob and his wife, the poet Donna Brook, received a lot of kudos from the stage from various readers), Donna, Terence Winch, Rachel Diken and Sherman Alexie.
It turns out Sherman and I have a mutual friend from a different reservation outside Spokane where I was stationed in the military the year Sherman was born nearby. He decided there's a good chance I drank with his parents in one of the local Spokane watering holes back in the day. We had other mutual friends and acquaintances in the "Indian" world, which he wasn't surprised by since, as he said, that's not a huge community (he may have meant especially the writers).
The dinner conversation was stimulating, entertaining and informative, as I remember dinners in New York with my creative friends always being. But it was also more full of laughter than usual because Hershon, Alexie and Winch are three of the wittiest people you mighty ever encounter (Sherman revealed that he actually does stand up comedy as well as all his other accomplishments).
Then last night here in Jersey I went to a poetry reading in a cafe to support Rachel Diken, a new but close and dear friend, read her poetry for the first time before an audience, one of many area poets who read their work and who, though not at the level of publishing and awards success as many at The Best American Poetry 2015 reading were, had their own personal stories and thoughts and imagery and artistry to share and once again I was overwhelmed with gratitude for poetry and the ways it continues to save my life.