Sunday, October 30, 2005

More Meacham

Each Meacham has its own vibe, some better than others. Safe to say this was one of the better ones in recent memory. Maybe it was the line-up of poets: Gerald Stern, James Tate, Dara Weir, Sebastian Matthews, Anne Marie Macari, Evie Shockley, and, uh, this pretender in a wheelchair. Him excepted, the murderer's row of poets was plenty exciting. But nicer still was the presence of an old friend from my days in Carbondale. Betsy Taylor and I entered SIU's MFA program at the same time. She was from Memphis, me from Chattanooga, and as such we bonded over shared geography. She shared an office with my best friend at the time so we hung out a lot in the crappy, narrow office overlooking the campus woods. She did a masterful rendition of The Robot, once atop the radiator by the window, which tickled me to no end. I requested it too often, though, and she began refusing. I was heartbroken. Fast forward some six years, stops in New York and Alabama between us, Betsy emailed, having found my blog, and we began to plan her coming over for Meacham. So she and her friend Sheri left Memphis and husbands behind and drove the five hours east. And it was really a wonderful time. Good weather, with the Blue Angels looping through the autumn sky for the weekend's air show, good readings and parties, and just plain fun hanging out with both of them made for a special time.

As for my reading, I mentioned I was ambivalent, and I was. When I finished, I thought to myself, well, that was so-so, even though people seemed to be responding. But afterwards Rick came up to me, said, "That was fuckin' fantastic, the best reading you've ever given, I mean it." I say that not to toot my own horn, if you will, but to illustrate what an unreal experience reading can be. I'm never nervous before one but I do tend to blank out, become unaware of surroundings, in a kind of tunnel vision.

As far as I'm concerned, the reading was on par with whatever I usually do, but it did seem to connect with others. So, good, I'm glad.

James Tate's reading was hysterical. He sat down, as he appeared to be recuperating from some ailment. I've met him once or twice before and I always wonder where all the funny comes from. He seems painfully quiet yet writes these nutty poems. Fun. Gerald Stern is a great old lion, loud and boisterous and direct, filled with wry asides. He broke into song, though I didn't recognize it. He has a way of closing his rangy poems that I admire.

After each evening reading there's a party. I rarely go. They're always in some spacious old Chattanooga home, with thirty-seven steps up to the door. I hate being the focus that way so I usually just avoid it by not going. But with Betsy and Sheri there and the house being a block down the street from me, I felt I had to go.

It took four or five guys to lift me and this tank of a chair up the four stairs but I made it without injury. They might not be so lucky. Once inside I was glad I went. Betsy and Sheri teased me about having a harem. Fun.

We were late for the Saturday noon reading as the deli lost our orders somehow while everyone else was served and soon finished. Afterwards, Betsy and Sheri had conferences with Sebastian Matthews and I went back to my apartment. Soon they were through, and took naps before the final party. At that party, scads of pasta was served, and the wine flowed in earnest. A lot of fun here. More harem teasing. Drunken songs on the porch. Jazz. Carbondale stories (my God, the things I'd forgotten). A late night call to Rodney Jones, who was passed around from Katey to Rick to me; the connection was breaking up when I had him, but he was ruminating on Libby's indictments of all things. By the time we left, most of the guys were drunk so getting down the steps was more than a bit dicey but I survived.

And Gerald Stern kissed me on the forehead.

6 comments:

Stuart Greenhouse said...

I love how Gerald Stern dances with his hands when he reads.

Taylor Loy said...

Yeah, second all that. Motion carries.
Paul, I had a blast on Saturday night and I just hung out with you guys for a minute.
And I keep forgetting you went to SIU at C.
Betsy and Sheri seemed like cool kids.

Next semester we've got to find a place just as close, but with fewer cats.

Paul said...

Always a pleasure, Taylor.

shanna said...

well, whadday know? people having fun at a poetry reading. ;)

i'm sure you were amazing. i used to do that too--blank out. but the more i read the better it gets.

bp said...

Sounds like an awesome time, awesome line up. I wish I'd been there, and would have been, if not for $$$.

Some thoughts:

1. First and foremost, if you're looking for a grand get-together and an accessible party, then you HAVE TO COME TO AWP!!! Karri and I are going to have a UTC reunion party (though all are invited) at our house, and we have NO STEPS in our one-level house! With a gently sloping driveway and an open floor plan, it's super accessible, and is one block from the bus line (wouldn't I be a good realtor?) -- all the busses in Austin are wheelchair accessible, and if you come I'll PERSONALLY escort you! Austin in general is very progressive and accessible. Believe me, I know $$$ is an issue, but if you can at all swing it...Plus, we'll get to read together for New Issues!

2. I've seen Tate read about three times now. I used to be the biggest Tate fan out there, but recently I feel like his schtick has gotten old. The last time I saw him read, I was like, "Oh, yeah, pause here to emphasize the absurdity of what you just said, and act a little perplexed that the audience is laughing, and cutesy cutesy cutesy." I have difficulty reading his recent stuff. My reaction, though, is probably stronger than most, since I realized one day how much I was imitating him and have tried to step away from it, so this is largely a visceral reaction, not an intellectual one. But anyone who thinks poets should just have an intellectual reaction to other people's poetry is probably a Language Poet, which is to say, not a poet at all.

3. Same for Stern, but to a lesser extent. Also, you're lucky he ONLY kissed you on the forehead.

4. You may be the first former student ever to have Rick approve his/her reading. Is that a good thing...? Just kidding -- I'm sure you read awesomely.

5. When I was a freshman at UTC, Dara Wier came to visit and we had a swell time. I drove her to the airport in Atlanta and we just barely made her flight. It was one of the most instructive visits I personally had while I was there.

Overall, sounds like a blast. I could use a pasta party!

Paul said...

1. Agreed on AWP. I do need to go. I'm even on a panel. My book will be just out, a good time to pimp it. Yet, I can hardly afford to even register, much less pay for travel, hotel, food, etc. Still, maybe it will work out.

2. Agreed on Tate. I enjoyed the schtick but I couldn't even tell whether it was prose or poetry he was reading. Funny, yes, but also slack.

3. Eek. Damn you, Ormond!

4. Rick's probably over-compensating.

5. I didn't get a chance to talk to Dara. I did find her pocketbook which she forgot at David's (now University Deli and Pizza).