The NBA finalists reading tonight was pretty great, and I have to say the poets ruled the house: Frank Bidart, Reg Gibbons, Richard Howard and Patricia Smith all made me so glad to be in their company, and enlivened by the intelligence and music and heart of their speech.
I was especially thrilled by Richard's poem, in which the speaker, looking at a postcard of a Gustave Moreau painting, addresses Constantine Cavafy, who as a young man wrote a poem he later rejected about the same work of art -- except that Cavafy had never actually seen the picture, just read a description of it by a French art critic. Richard's poem is a marvel, moving from the ridiculous (Moreau's devouring sphinx is surrounded by the corpses of men who didn't get her riddle right, and she defecates jewels) to the sublime, when Howard evokes Cavafy's movement beyond the Oedipal to adult poems of desire, of (and here I paraphrase, since my copy of the book is in Houston) "human reports on the inhuman." I don't know any one else who could take such an elaborate set-up and produce a meditation on art, maturity, and the relationships between artists of such power -- both grave and over-the-top at once, almost absurdly refined in its sensibility and somehow absolutely powerful and authoritative. Bravo!