Poets Live! Poet Jayne Benjulian, editor David Scribner on The Live Poets Society salon

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By Friday, Dec 8 Arts & Entertainment  2 Comments
The four poets who will lead the inaugural Live Poets Society Literary Salon, Friday, December 8, at the Lauren Clark Gallery on Stockbridge Road.

Editor’s note: On Friday, December 8, 7-9 p.m., at Lauren Clark Fine Art at 325 Stockbridge Road in Great Barrington, The Live Poets Society will hold its inaugural Literary Salon, sponsored by The Berkshire Edge. Earlier this week, poet Jayne Benjulian and Edge editor David Scribner met in Fuel Coffeeshop to talk about poets, poetry, The Live Poets Society and the salon:

David

Let’s talk about why we’re holding a salon.

Jayne

To gather writers and readers and engage them in conversation about art. I want to know what other artists think — about their own work and the work of other artists. I’m fascinated by the influence artists have on each other: writers on writers and all combinations of the other arts. I love talking to other writers, to painters, to musicians. I want to know what they’re thinking, painting, playing.

David

What makes life bearable is a community of other artists & people that share thoughts—an environment that nourishes you.

Jayne

There are several great reading series in this region. And I thought, we don’t need another one. What we need is a place to share ideas. When I first proposed that The Edge sponsor a panel, you said, How about a salon? And how about a living room? Bingo. I know a great idea when I hear one. We went through at least three iterations of the salon. I felt like Goldilocks: one place was too bare, one too noisy, and Lauren Clark’s gallery is just right.

David

Why obsession?

Jayne

I realized when I finished my first collection and turned to another subject entirely that I was writing about the same concerns I’d always written about — it was my point of entry that had changed.

David

Do you think poets are especially obsessed?

Jayne

I often consider writers as one group and don’t separate fiction writers and poets — I think that’s because so many of my close friends are fiction writers. Now that I think of it, why am I closer to prose writers than to poets? Poets are solitary creatures. Actually, I do spend most of my time alone. So when I’m looking for companionship, it’s the prose writers who respond. But once, a friend of mine who writes fiction responded to something I said. Of course, you’re a poet! I had to pause and figure out what she meant, which was, maybe, your emotions run on the top rail of your life. It may be true that prose writers are as a group, somewhat less…

David

Neurotic? Obsessed? Intense? I’ll tell you what I think. It’s what E. M. Forester said when he first encountered the Greek poet Cavafy in Alexandria, Egypt: He was standing at an odd angle to the universe, Forester wrote in his book Pharos and Pharallon. That’s exactly what a poet is. They’re a singularity. A surprise. Always. Maintaining their singularity takes a lot of energy and commitment and self-confidence.

Jayne

Obsession isn’t unique to poets, but you have to be completely preoccupied with something while you’re writing a poem about it. That vision-feeling-idea-moment will not leave you alone if you don’t put it to bed in a poem or a series of poems or a collection. Carolyn Kizer said, Poets are interested primarily in death and commas. Perfect.

David

Are you obsessed with death?

Jayne

You’re kidding. My mother died when I was 11.

David

What’s the comma?

Jayne

Everything else that happened after that. What are you obsessed with?

David

Loss. Being on a street and coming across a display window with a tableau. There’s glass between you and the scene and you’d like to be part of. And horses.

Jayne

Horses?

David

I spent 10 years on the rodeo circuit.

Jayne

I didn’t know there were Jewish boys on the rodeo circuit.

David

There are. It started at a book club held in a horse barn in Vermont. The owner had quarter horses. His relationship with his horses was magical. In fact, we were reading Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s 100 Years of Solitude at the time, so I was steeped in magical realism. In the spring, one of the mares, Lady Grulla II, had just given birth to a colt. I traded my Hassellad camera for that colt. I knew nothing about training, but I raised him. And when he was about three, I put him out in a field with cows & he chased & herded them. That’s what he wanted to do, so I had to learn to do what he wanted to do.

Jayne

How does your obsession with horses manifest itself now?

David

I write about it. Fantasize about owning horses again. A horse is not instinctively given to accepting a rider on his back because that’s how a predator (like a lion) would attack a horse — jump on its back. So accepting a rider is an act of supreme forgiveness & understanding.

Jayne

Every poet I admire has at least one or two obsessions. A poet is like an oboe player making reeds: writing poetry is an absolutely eccentric pastime. Like reeds, the line has to play exactly right to that poet’s ear. We calibrate over and over again. And at the higher levels to which we aspire, no one calibrates the same way.

David

Keats said poets possess what he called negative capability: the ability to hold two opposite truths in the mind at the same time, without any irritable reaching for either one.

Jayne

It holds mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason, he said. To that I add, after Heather McHugh, a poem closes but never finishes.

David

Why do you think fewer readers read poetry than prose?

Jayne

Poetry is so highly compressed it takes three of four readings of a poem to absorb much of what it’s saying and how the poem says it. There’s a tremendous pressure on the language because so much is left out. Like a volcano. Every white space, every silence in a poem means something.

David

What’s next?

Jayne

Let’s see how our debut salon goes and what we learn. It’s free, and we hope anyone who’s interested in poetry and curious about obsessions, poetic or otherwise, will come and take part in the discussion.


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2 Comments   Add Comment

  1. EuniceAgar says:

    Schedule another reading when the calendar isn’t so jammed.

  2. Leonard Quart says:

    A change of pace. Lovely comment from Jayne: “That vision-feeling-idea-moment will not leave you alone if you don’t put it to bed in a poem or a series of poems or a collection. Carolyn Kizer said, Poets are interested primarily in death and commas. Perfect.”

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