Monday, November 22, 2010

New York City's Poetry

Musings from a poetry reading hosted by First Things magazine and featuring the poetry of Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine.

I am seated in a small, crowded room on the sixth floor of a building on New York City’s East Side. It is my first time at a poetry reading. Initially, I feel out of place. I am younger than most here – too young even to drink the wine. But I find several familiar faces in the crowd. I realize that all in this room are united by a love for words and especially for poetry.

Christian Wiman, a native of west Texas, came to the city to share his poetry. He laughs, almost apologetically, when admitting that most of the poems are about Texas. But I am fascinated by the way his voice (with a hint of a Texan drawl) lifts words from the page and paints pictures of fields that “wrinkle into rows / of cotton” and dust devils that are a “mystical hysterical amalgam of earth and wind / and mind.”

Leaning forward in my chair to catch the words as they slip past, I wish for pen and paper to write down several of the lines. Wiman knows these poems by heart and does not think to allow a long pause between each reading to let his listeners ponder the graceful phrases.

There is one poem that captivates me. He calls it “Postolka,” the Czech word for kestrel. During a stay in Prague, he saw a falcon land on his windowsill. The poem recounts the moment: “Wish for something, you said. / A shiver pricked your spine. / The falcon turned its head 
/ and locked its eyes on mine.” I love the way I suddenly feel transported to that room. I can feel the eager anticipation pulsing through my body, and the wonder that such a large bird, loose in a city, would choose my windowsill on which to alight. What would I do in this room if I saw a falcon dive through the night air and perch on the fire escape to stare at me?

I am reminded of a passage from Mystery and Manners, a book of essays by Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor encourages writers to take up painting because it forces them to see. This is the basis of all the arts, she argues. Writing is not concerned with just saying things, but showing things. I do not know if Wiman has read O’Connor, but he has surely taken this advice to heart. His poetry is charged by a peculiar clarity of vision that creates honestly detailed portrayals of everyday life. The poems possess all the color and beauty of a photograph. And, yet, they are much more alive than a photograph: they allow a glimpse into Wiman’s mind and transcribe into words the vibrant glow of his soul.

That glow seems to fill the room, subduing his listeners into an awestruck silence or stirring them to applause. We applaud when his words inspire and encourage the glow within our own souls.

When I leave the poetry reading, I am refreshed and renewed. I find myself on the sidewalk in the cool of an October evening. But the city seems different than before, as though I see it with new eyes. I long to draw my own lines of poetry – to capture the emotions welling up in my soul and somehow offer them up to this big city.

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Posted by Nicole Bianchi at 12:39 PM


Blogger Art mused...

Mm, I love this.

And I find myself wanting more than just a passive appreciation: to partake in the saying of true things, of really seeing and showing.

11/22/2010 2:27 PM

Anonymous Nicole Bianchi mused...

Thank you, Rebecca. :) I'm glad you enjoyed reading it and found it inspiring.

Even now, weeks after the poetry reading, I find myself wanting to scribble down lines of verse on random scraps of paper.

11/22/2010 8:50 PM


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