Less than a month ago, I was honored to be asked by Irish Arts Center to help spread the word about PoetryFest, a celebration of poetry from both sides of the Atlantic. I said yes, of course, because I am a poetry lover and I’m a bit of a specialist on getting the word out about literary events.
I also recognized more than a few of the luminaries listed on the roster. When I saw that Gerald Stern, perhaps one of the greatest living American Jewish poets was going to be there, I got excited.
I started collecting poetry books in the the seventies because I fell in with a crowd of poets and writers at SUNY Binghamton, now called Binghamton University. Poets like Milton Kessler, John Verson and Heather McHugh were teachers there. Many others like Tess Gallagher visited the school for readings.
In the 1980s, I discovered the Gotham Book Mart then on West 47th Street, the Diamond Exchange block. There was a sign above the door that said: Wise Men Fish Here. My father gave me a $100 gift certificate as a birthday gift and I decided to spend it all on poetry collections. At the recommendation of Flip, one of the greatest booksellers ever, a Gerald Stern book called Lucky Life, published in 1977. On the cover the poet as a young man walks in Pittsburgh with another poet. Years later I learned it was Jack Gilbert.
What a pleasure to find these words at the end of the title poem:
Lucky life is like this. Lucky there is an ocean to come to.
Lucky you can judge yourself in this water.
Lucky you can be purified over and over again.
Lucky there is the same cleanliness for everyone.
Lucky life is like that. Lucky life. Oh lucky life.
Oh lucky lucky life. Lucky life.
Gerald Stern will be reading his favorite poem tonight at the opening night gala of PoetryFest, as will nine of the participating poets, including Robert Pinsky, Peter Fallon, Rita Ann Higgins, Kevin Young, Adam Fitzgerald and many more. Rosie Schaap, who writes the Drink column for the New York Times and is author of Drinking with Men, a popular memoir, will read a favorite poem, as will Lisa Dwan, who “astonished” in recent Beckett plays at BAM, and Joseph Mitchell.
I expect an ecstatic evening of poetrylove. There will be a gala opening party after. I plan to have shot of Irish whisky if it’s offered. PoetryFest goes on all weekend and includes readings, panels and opportunities for casual conversation with some of the greatest poets of our time. He will do a reading with Irish poet Peter Fallon on Sunday, November 9th at 5PM.
Who would want to miss this? For a full schedule of PoetryFest go here.