Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Robert Pinsky's "Recitation Celebration," April 7, 2009

Last night I attended Robert Pinsky's "Recitation Celebration," an event hosted by Cambridge's Harvard Book Store, at the First Parish Cambridge - Unitarian Universalist. The Harvard Book Store is my favorite indie, and not just because they gave me two free tickets to the event.

Pinsky, Poet Laureate from 1997-2000 and current teacher at Boston University's Creative Writing program, hosted in honor of Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud, of which he is the editor. Six local celebrities read one or two poems a piece from the collection- or in one case, an original composition not included in the collection. From the press release, readers included:
  • Jody Adams, James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Rialto restaurant
  • Tom Magliozzi, Peabody Award-winning co-host of NPR's Car Talk
  • Stephen Greenblatt, John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard, editor of The Norton Shakespeare, and prize-winning author
  • Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard and prize-winning author
  • Michael Holley, host of Celtics Now, co-host of WEEI's Dale & Holley Show, and best-selling author
  • Bill Littlefield, host of NPR's Only A Game, author, and veteran sports commentator
So as you can see it was a fun, diverse lineup.

The readings took place in two rounds- each guest reading a single poem per round and the first round consisted of serious poems. Jody Adams read a poem by Mark Strand, Magliozzi read Marilyn Nelson, Howie read Terrance Hays, Pinker read Andrew Marvell, Greenblatt chose "Questions from a Worker Who Reads", by Bertold Brecht and Littlefield picked "Dulce et Decorum est" by Wilfred Owen.

That all took only a half hour, so Pinsky had everyone read a second poem, this time something lighter. Adams had departed for her restaurant so round two started with Magliozzi reading his own composition.

Winter is a grand old time
Of this there are no ands or buts,
But remember all the salt and grime
Can rust your bolts and freeze your nuts.

He said that the poem originated in the early days of his radio show, at a time when he thought no one else was paying attention.

The evening continued with various humorous and light verse. Pinker's second choice was Thomas Wilde, Greenblatt read "The Brain is Wider than the Sky," by Emily Dickinson, Littlefield cracked up with Ogden Nash's "Columbus" and Pinsky himself read Stephen Dobyns' memorable "Tomatoes". But it was Michael Holley who brought down the house with his lively reading of Lucille Clifton's "Homage to My Hips," which he introduced enthusiastically with "Poetry's for everybody!!" What better way is there to sum up the spirit of the evening than with that heartfelt exclamation?

But that was not all.

At the end of the evening, a special guest was brought out- Robert Hildreth, a financier and philanthropist who read a poem and then announced a $2 million gift to the Boston University Creative Writing department, establishing the Pinsky Fellowship, a grant program enabling any student in the program to take a 3-4 month trip anywhere in the world, to work, study or even just "be alone". The school has started a pilot program already with five students and destinations chosen so far include Patagonia and Greenland. He stated that his goal was to raise an additional one million in donations, which he solicited from the audience. Hildreth is not an uncontroversial figure (previous charitable efforts include providing bail money for illegal immigrants) but who can argue with this former schoolteacher's efforts to promote poetry and scholarship.

All in all it was a great evening, with wonderful poetry and a spirit of sharing and generosity. And I thank the Harvard Book Store for their generosity in providing this lifelong poetry lover with free tickets!

7 comments:

Serena said...

I love Magliozzi's second poem. This sounds like a fantastic event! Wish I could have been there for this one.

Of the local poets, was Fred Marchant there?

Marie said...

Serena, only the people listed actually read poems. I don't know who else was in the audience.

Serena said...

ok, I was just wondering. Thanks for the response...lol

Holloway McCandless said...

Great roundup! And what an interesting surprise ending.
Small nit: believe Marvell is double-lled and also marvelous:).

Jew Wishes said...

It sounds like it was a wonderful evening. Good for you!

Sandra said...

What a nice thing to be able to attend. And a lovely donation toward poetry that was too.

Dave said...

The Magliozzi poem is hilarious! What a great night, and to have it topped off with such a gift is amazing. I recently went to a reading at Johns Hopkins by Richard Wilbur, another former U.S. Poet Laureate, and was impressed that students were sitting in the aisles to hear him. Gives you faith in the younger generation, doesn't it?