Before the reading, I picked up a copy of Phantom Noise by Brian Turner. It wasn’t that I necessarily had a preference, merely that I was in a bookstore and they had a copy of one of his books and not one by Nikki Finney.
I am always unsure about poetry and politics. I think we desperately need political poetry, for the sake of both our inter/national political discourse and for the sake of poetry (which must be engaged to be vibrant; though that is not to say that all poetry needs to be engaged, merely that if there is no engaged poetry or very little, poetry becomes too disconnected from the life of the people and risks becoming little more than a pretty art for the wealthy and comfortable).
This one was originally scheduled for October 30, but that pesky hurricane postponed that, of course. I can only imagine they worked hard to get this rescheduled so as to at least take place before the election, but nothing could help the comparatively sparse crowd that we can surely blame on the new date.
Nikki Finney was relatively quiet. Whether she is naturally restrained, or felt constrained by the garrulous Brian Turner and the too intrusive host/moderator, Alice Quinn.
Alice Quinn is executive director of the Poetry Society of America, she a wonderful and erudite speaker on poetry, but I frankly did not attend to hear to her speak. I just didn’t. But she really seemed to want to speak.
I rarely ask questions during this things, but this time I did. My question was about success – that if there is a purpose to political poetry beyond aesthetics, how is success judged. And Quinn asked who I wanted to answer this, seemingly thinking maybe she was the intended recipient.
Oh, hell no. I came to hear Nikke Finney and Brian Turner read poetry and speak about their work and the night’s theme, politics and political poetry. I would happily attend a future lecture by Alice Quinn, but that’s not what this was.
Turner was a very open and talkative man. He knew my old boss, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, on account of her work with veterans and on PTSD and mental health issues. He gave me his email address and told me to send him my address and he would send me copies of his first book, Here, Bullet – one for me and one for her. Well, I couldn’t have that happen, so I bought two copies, in addition to Phantom Noise, and asked him to sign one for her. He asked me to offer her his assistance, any time, any place. Once he found out I worked for union, he made the same offer to me.
I enjoyed Phantom Noise more than I expected. It’s very much about the experience of coming home from Iraq and the ongoing trauma of PTSD, which I don’t always feel makes for very good poetry. Phantom Noise is a bit of an exception (or perhaps, I just haven’t read enough in the genre to understand how good things have gotten, poetry-wise, even if its mere existence is a reminder of how bad things still are and can be for veterans). It does tend to be a bit much. Too many poems about bloody memories interrupting ordinary, man-woman relations.
He did ask me how I read books of poetry, whether I skipped around or read them front to back like a novel. I told him, like a novel. Perhaps his work is better read in a different fashion and he realized that. In bunches, too much. His own reading style was very conversational and dialogical in between the poems, as if he knew the importance of the spaces between poems (and not just within a poem).
Anyway… super excited about Kay Ryan coming up. Saw her read as Poet Laureate and saw her once when I was still living in California.