Begin again with this: the people at PBS NewsHour have produced a beautiful bit of video for the holiday. I went down to DC and read my poem "Messiah (Christmas Portions)," with a terrific film crew in attendance, at an Episcopal Church in Tenleytown. I have a longstanding distrust of "illustrating" poems in practically any fashion; usually I'd prefer to let the words do the work they were made for. But what producer Anne Davenport and her fellow PBS staffers made here delights me; the poem seems opened out to a wider audience, and the editing's so intelligently done that I don't even notice the cuts in the text made for time's sake. Four minutes on the evening news? What more could a poet ask for -- at least when it comes to speaking in the social space.
Watching this the first time, on television here in the Springs on Wednesday night, I was taken back to the Provincetown church where I heard the town Choral Society give the performance the poem describes. I went, in truth, because there was a guy in the chorus I liked who'd invited me, and I had the impression that he was asking me on a date; in fact, I think he was just beefing up the audience. But in truth my pleasure was not dented by the fact that he wasn't interested. All these years later, the poem has another life, removed from its occasion, which is exactly what ought to happen: the originating scene erodes, vanishes in time, and the poem becomes, if one's lucky, free to belong to anyone.