By Katrina Stevens
Michael Salcman, poet and chair of CityLit Project, introduced Edward Hirsch and Thomas Lux, he shared personal anecdotes about the influence these two great American poets had on his own work.
His advice to
“love poetry, love it hard” set the tone for the presentation. Edward Hirsch
, who mostly recently published The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems
(2011) and is perhaps best known for How To Read a Poem
, shared his appreciation for the work the CityLit Project has done in keeping American Literature alive and well before he appropriately began with “Branch Library
” and then moved to “Poet at 7,” “A Partial History of My Stupidity
,” and “Early Sunday Morning
Before reading “Green Couch
,” Hirsch acknowledged that Thomas Lux had complained multiple times about this very couch over the years; Hirsch and Lux have been friends since 1975.
After continuing with “The Sweetness,” and “A New Theology
,” Hirsch kindly obliged a gentleman in the audience by reading
“Edward Hopper and the House by the Railroad.”
To the audience’s delight, Hirsch also read several new poems, “After the Stroke,” “God’s Insomnia,”
(when church bells rang uncannily at the perfect moment!)
“To Poetry,” and “Last Saturday.” Hirsch eloquently ended with “Ocean of Grass
,” another audience request. Hirsch claimed that he’s “only reading in Baltimore from here on because no one ever requests poems elsewhere!” Thomas Lux
, who wrote at least 18 works of poetry including God Particles
, followed Hirsch after a glowing introduction by Salcman. Lux began with a tribute to Baltimore’s Poe, “Edgar Allen Poe Meets Sarah Hale
,” and then read the hilarious persona poem “Autobiographical.”
He continued with “The Republic of Anesthesia”
“The Happy Majority,” Like Tiny Baby Jesus in Velour Pants Sliding Down Your Throat
,” and “The Joy Bringer
.” Referencing one of the images in this last poem, Lux added the personal footnote that “newly mown hay is one of his favorite smells.”
Lux also read from galley pages of his new book coming out this fall: “Hat Rack,” a funny litany of family and friend nicknames, “Soup Teachers,” an elegy to Lux’s mother, and “Lady’s Slipper,” a poem about a protected flower of his childhood.
Lux then concluded with other two published poems: “Dead Horse
” and “Outline for My Memoir.”When asked, Lux acknowledged Frost as an influence, explaining that Frost was more than a bucolic poet, rather he was
“the great poet of terror,” as he was called on his 80th birthday.
Instead of the “meaning of a poem,” Lux likes Frost’s reference to the “ulteriority of a poem.”
As a former English teacher, Lux’s desire not to box each poem into a simple meaning resonates because my students always seemed to want to do just that.
In response to an audience question about formal and free verse, Hirsch shared his belief that part of our patrimony of America is our capacity for inclusiveness and that there’s more than enough room for formal and free verse. Lux also stressed that he and poets like him do pay attention to craft, including sound, rhyme and rhythm, even if the rhymes don’t fall at the end of an iambic line.
Prose poetry also arose during the discussion. Lux defined a prose poem as having to follow all of the rules of a poem except the rule of line breaks, and that it should be closer to poetry than prose.
Hirsch took the discussion further by proposing that a prose poem always raises the question of what makes a poem.
He quickly walked the audience through a comparison of the American and French history of the prose poem in its relation to free verse poems, arguing that the prose poem followed different trajectories across continents.
Katrina Stevens blogs all things education, technology, the arts, and Baltimore. She supervises literacy for the Baltimore County Public Schools. Katrina is also the co-founder of LessonCast Learning, a Baltimore-based education technology company that provides blended professional development. She was also recently awarded the national Apple Broadway League for her work with the Hippodrome Foundation. Katrina blogs regularly at LessonCast.org/author/Katrina.