I walked into the medium-sized room, with dozens of red chairs facing West 13th Street. Looking around, I wondered who I might see. Fellow students but more importantly poets. Real live I-get-paid-to-write poets. We were here for a tribute to Paul Violi, poet and professor at The New School. Until that night I was unfamiliar with his work. But after two hours of listening to his poems, read by big names in the poetry world, I was smitten. Smitten with his laugh out loud humor and dexterity with language. How many poets can get you to laugh out loud? He certainly had a way with the mundane, twisting and turning it, into something else.
Sitting in that room, listening to the voices of writers I had only read, I felt like I was invited into the inner circle of a writers club. It was a heady club: Poet Laureate Billy Collins, Charles North, novelist Paul Auster, Star Black, Ron Padgett, David Lehman, Robert Polito, George Green, David Shapiro, Robert Hershon and on and on and on. (Take time to go through those names, they all link to a bit of their work.)
What a night.
What a tribute.
Here's a link to the NY Times story.
I'll end with a poem:
Appeal to the Grammarians
by Paul Violi
We, the naturally hopeful,
Need a simple sign
For the myriad ways we're capsized.
We who love precise language
Need a finer way to convey
Disappointment and perplexity.
For speechlessness and all its inflections,
For up-ended expectations,
For every time we're ambushed
By trivial or stupefying irony,
For pure incredulity, we need
The inverted exclamation point.
For the dropped smile, the limp handshake,
For whoever has just unwrapped a dumb gift
Or taken the first sip of a flat beer,
Or felt love or pond ice
Give way underfoot, we deserve it.
We need it for the air pocket, the scratch shot,
The child whose ball doesn't bounce back,
The flat tire at journey's outset,
The odyssey that ends up in Weehawken.
But mainly because I need it—here and now
As I sit outside the Caffe Reggio
Staring at my espresso and cannoli
After this middle-aged couple
Came strolling by and he suddenly
Veered and sneezed all over my table
And she said to him, "See, that's why
I don't like to eat outside."