Last night I attended a reading given by our new Poet Laureate, Philip Levine. I had never been to the Library of Congress for a poetry reading (shame on me!), so I’d like to give a shout-out for a great event.
Just on a logistical level, I appreciated that there were many pleasant people guiding and directing those of us (ahem) unfamiliar with where the auditorium was, where the post-party was, where the bathrooms and exits were. The book sale table moved with surprising efficiency. The LOC poobahs hung around afterwards, chatting with the crowd (and yes, there was a crowd; the auditorium was virtually full). And, as Mr. Levine noted partway through this reading as he glanced at his watch, “It’s a no-no to go over the time,” and this was a well-organized and time-conscious event. And the setting of the party afterwards—the Great Hall in the Thomas Jefferson Building—was spectacular. (Here’s a picture.)
Of course, any reading is only as good as its reader, and Mr. Levine was also spectacular. His “between poem patter” (there should be an official word for this specialized skill) was excellent and amusing, illuminating background to the poem, offering a few laughs, and alluding to a long life deeply lived. (Never once did he say anything like, “In this poem, there’s a reference to a word from ancient Greek that means….”) His selection of work ranged widely—no surprise when you’ve got 20 books to choose from. Dare I say that this man knows how to please an audience? It seems such a scandalous thing to say of a poet, but I mean it as a high compliment. It’s hard to imagine that anyone left the event feeling less than fulfilled and enriched and happy and yet thoughtful.
Below are links to two of my favorite poems that Mr. Levine read last night. And there was another I loved that I couldn’t quickly find online, but that I also loved called (I believe) “The Escape,” in which there was a line that resonated with me (though I’m probably garbling it somewhat…sorry!): “We were Midwestern, so someone had to pay.” I will definitely track it down.
Here’s more info on Philip Levine, including a link to a previous reading given at the Library of Congress.
And here’s a schedule of the fall literary events forthcoming at the Library of Congress, including a birthday celebration for John Berryman (one of Levine’s great teachers, as he noted last night) on October 25, and a birthday celebration for Louisa May Alcott on November 29.