How to Be Perfect & The Mind-Body Problem: Padgett and Pollit Reading Report

Last Tuesday, December 1st, at The Fraunces, New York's oldest tavern, Ron Padgett and Katha Pollitt read in the Poems & Pints series, curated by the Poetry Society of America and presented in partnership with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and its endlessly creative and energetic president, Maggie Boepple.

After soliciting and pursuing, savoring, and relying upon jacket blurbs to trumpet the pleasures of the poetry Knopf published,  which I did, in fact, do for my fifteen years there while speaking for myself on the front flap of each book of poems from those years, you might think that I would not readily clasp these important but ready made remarks to introduce poets. But I found the comments printed on these two books irresistible, because they are so clearly heartfelt and so sweetly composed and because I have such fondness for the authors and for their poems, too.

So here's what I quoted in my introduction:

image preview  From Billy Collins, of Ron Padgett's 
  new book: "How to Be Perfect should
  remind us of how long Ron Padgett
  has managed to stay perfectly
  balanced on a tightrope of irony
  despite his verbal giddiness and the
  uproariousness of his imagination. I
  wish he would loan me his sunglasses
  for a day or two so I could check out
  the amazing world according to

From Robert Hass: "I have been thinking about how to 'provide prepublication copy' for a book of poems by Ron Padgett, as if written by Ron Padgett who would never, of course, blurb his own books as Walt Whitman, another New York poet, did. It would probably go like this: 'You should read Ron Padgett. He is a very good poet. You don't have a better thing to do with your time. What is time? Why are you wasting your life? Read Ron Padgett.' Only if Ron Padgett wrote this, it would be funnier, more graceful, light as air and as wiry and hard as, well, wire."

Lyn Hejinian reached inside a hat for her praise,  "These poems," she wrote, "are the work of a magician who has learned his tricks from the goodness of life."

I said to Ron that he must represent THE high-wire act in our world. By the end of his reading, we all felt predictably happy, so glad to have heard his new, shimmering poems.

Read what Ron has to say about his poem "Method"

* * *

image preview  It was a great thrill for me in the
  year 1982 to be at Knopf  and to be
  'midwife responsible' as Ted Hughes
  once called me (when we published
  a small book of his) when we
  published Katha Pollitt's debut
  volume, Antarctic Traveller, but
  it's a greater joy yet to have this
  new collection, The Mind-Body
, all the marvelous poems
  we've been reading in journals and
  magazines (The New Yorker chief among them) for all the years since, while Katha was also producing her brilliant essays for The Nation, earning the high regard of such figures as Barbara Ehrenreich and Susan Sontag and the loyal following of her ever-grateful readership.

Billy Collins, who by the way, is a Vice President of the Poetry Society, also stood up for this book.

"At the center of every poem," he wrote, "lurks the poet, but Katha Pollitt balances the self-regard of the craft with a fervent interest in the profusion of the world—knickknacks, summer bungalows, dogs, bees, lilacs, mandarin oranges, and more. And her clear, observant eye brings it all into steady focus. This is one long-awaited volume that was well worth the wait."

Kay Ryan, our current Poet Laureate wrote, "It's awfully good to have such a great-hearted poet as Katha Pollitt take on mortality's darkest themes. Again and again she finds a human-sized crack of light and squeezes us through with her."

Katha's poems were a perfect match for Ron's—airy, smart, stylish, and affecting, and books sold like hotcakes that night.

Read what Katha has to say about her poem "Lunaria"

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