Adventures in Reading

Valentine’s Day + Poetry
February 23, 2008, 5:50 pm
Filed under: book reviews, fiction

For Valentine’s Day 2008 I gorged myself on delicious Mexican food and attended a poetry reading. The Wick Program at my university selects two chapbooks of poetry every year and publishes them. The winners of 2007 were Jason Gray’s How To Paint the Savior Dead and Matt McBride’s The Space Between Stars It was an entertaining evening that I greatly enjoyed. The poets are both wonderfully talented writers and pretty good speakers. (The more poetry readings I attend the more I realize that the readings really are performance pieces – I have even more respect for Nin Andrews than I currently did!)

Jason Gray read first and I admit I was quite partial to him. How to Paint the Savior Dead is a melodic collection infused with classical, religious, and art historical references (something I particularly enjoyed). Poems like “Hey, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” – based on a legal action forcing classical statues to be covered in Tennessee – are playful and arousing. Despite the loftier nature of some of Gray’s pieces he never loses his sense of humor. One additional perk to attending readings is that most often poets and authors will read from works in progress and I am looking forward to Gray’s next collection.

One of the main reasons I attended was for Matt McBride’s reading. My partner is a fan and had previously written a review of the chapbook in a statewide review journal. McBride is somewhat of the edgier of the two poets and certainly someone a fan of the MTV generation would appreciate. He looked cool, had cool stories attached to his poems, and generally had a hipster flare to his writings. Self-admittedly most of them touch on death and he commented at the time, or at least suggested, that all poetry was sad and depressing. [1] Admittedly, there were a lot of interesting expressions available to see as I scanned the room. Still, a really great collection.

Just seeing the two poets together was interesting as Gray looked exactly like my sophomore year Shakespeare professor (whom I was madly in love with), a very clean cut and well-kept man, and when I first saw McBride I thought he was maybe fifteen, and after standing thought he was in his early twenties, but soon learned he’s probably in his late twenties.

After the reading my partner and I had a discussion about more formal, competition winning readings like this. Today it seems most individuals who want to be poets sign up for an MFA program and go through all the assigned courses. Thus, more often than not it seems that the young poets are taught by instructors who will later reside in judgment over different contests. Unfortunately, this seems to lead to the poets a little too strictly writing for their audiences – their former instructors. I admit that as much as I enjoyed the reading and as different as the poets were there was still something… I don’t know, too manicured about the books.

My most enjoyable readings have been at a little downtown art gallery (but really more of a shed) where individuals crowd in with babies and dogs and spontaneously read. That is definitely poetry in action.

[1] McBride’s comment, after discussion with my partner, definitely seemed to be made in sarcasm, but the type of sarcasm that seems rather popular now, which suggests sarcasm but really points to a lot of truth as well.

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