Monday, September 21, 2009
Robert Pinsky, David Chin, and me
I certainly do not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with the other two poets. But for a few days in July, I did share a place with them.
For two consecutive summers, the Chautauqua Institution has been part of the summer for Pam and me. It is a unique place, a combination New England historic village, educational salon, lakeside resort, and religious haven. For me, each session has been an affirmation in poetry.
We had no concept of the broad array of classes and seminars available each week. Last year, I attended a poetry reading on the first Sunday and learned that the poet-in-residence, Susan Grimm, held a daily seminar. Pam convinced me to go. This year I registered early, and it proved to be an interesting week with David Chin, a poet who has childhood roots in the same upstate valleys from whence we came. He asked me to read one of my poems as a prelude to a lecture he gave on poetry and the paintings of Edward Hopper; I read my own ekphrastic poem, Hudson River School From the Train, 5:00AM, which can be found here; David Chin is in the middle of the seminar attendees in the pic above.
But that wasn’t the most unique part of this year’s session.
Robert Pinsky, Poet Laureate of the United States in the late 1990s, attended Chautauqua for two days during the week we were there. His project for the past 10 years has been the Favorite Poem Project, in which he asks people to read a favorite poem and describe its significance to their lives. The project has resulted in three anthologies, all in hardcover, and a website. The Chautauqua Literary & Scientific Circle, and the Writer’s Center, solicited submissions for a public reading on that Thursday afternoon in the outdoor Hall of Philosophy; a dozen submissions were to be accepted. I was picked.
Pinsky was very clear in his directions to us that afternoon: we were to bring no notes (‘if you do, I will chase you off the podium!’), describe why this poem is important to us, and then read the poem. I read Ann Sexton’s poem, Snow.
An account of the poetry reading, and a few pictures, can be found in The Chautauquan Daily of July 25, 2009, which is archived here. I am very grateful to the Writer’s Center, CLSC, and David Chin for the wonderful week of poetry.