Artifacts from an Alice Notley reading at the 92nd Street Y, 4/7/11


On Thursday night I took the 6 uptown to the 92nd Street Y to hear Alice Notley read from her new book, Culture of One. I met Bill Kushner there and after wandering the halls we found the reading room, went right up to the front row only to find it reserved for patrons, so we settled into the center of the second row left along the aisle. In back of us was Filip Marinovich and his wife Cecilia. I’d never met them before, but as it turned out, Filip and I were friends on Facebook. He is teaching a poetry workshop at the Poetry Project on Saturdays entitled Candor Practice. “What happens when we interpret Ginsberg’s ‘Candor ends paranoia’ as a zen riddle? Does candor really heal and end paranoia?”

“Truth is beauty, beauty truth,” I say as Bill says, “Filip is a wonderful poet,” and a fellow named Angel appears to hand Bill and me a postcard he made out of a poem by Tom Savage on one side and a drawing by George Schneeman on the other. Angel looked familiar with his thin gray happy handsome face, and as it turned out I’d met him a few weeks before sitting with his partner, Penny Arcade, when I was on the panel reading from Bernadette Mayer’s Studying Hunger at the Poetry Project. But I thought Angel was Angelo Verga, who also has a thin gray happy handsome face and I had recently become friends with on Facebook. Bill set me straight. “Angelo Verga directs the readings at Cornelia Street Cafe. This is Angel, he’s an angel, but he’s not Angelo.”

To add to all the excitement a boisterous Jim Behrle came out of nowhere to take Bill by the hand to the reserved front row where he was sitting. Bill asked him, “Did you steal this seat?” To answer Bill, Jim hugged and dry humped him in front of all the patron ladies in the first row, much to their amusement, very downtown antics for these uptown ladies who were clearly having vicarious fun.

Things settled down when Ron Padgett came to the podium. I liked his introduction about poetry being a mansion with different rooms being different kinds of poems. Ron gave Alice a room of her own. She read quickly and I don’t mean in five minutes it was over; she read fast leaning forward with her left into the podium, her right hand free to gesticulate and at the beginning brush hair back that kept falling front until finally she slipped it behind her right ear so she could be totally focused on reading the poems (no distracting hair drama for her here). I was following in the book and noticed though rapid fire she enunciated each word clearly on her tongue. Toward the end after reading 45 minutes, she slipped up a few times, saying the wrong word, but she back-tracked to say the real one, something I might not have done: I’d have wanted to have an over all good effect, and if one word became another so be it; I’d have gone on and hoped for the best. Alice wanted to be exact. She was fast and slow at the same time. She made me think of what the Emperor Augustus used to say: Festina lente, hurry slowly. I recently watched Aparajito by Satyajit Ray, and noticed that the film, which encompasses the goings on of each day, is as slow as a day, and yet goes quickly as it focuses on an event and the poetry that comes out of it. Notley at the Y reminded me of Aparajito.


Culture of One by Alice Notley


Alice Notley poem


92nd Street Y


This postcard of a George Schneeman drawing with a Tom Savage poem was designed by Kenny Angel.


George Schneeman drawing


Humorlessness by Tom Savage

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