Like everyone,Im often too busy spinnng my wheels to see even of the people I love, and then get myself to the round of Christmas parties just hoping to connect with a few. When Rachel and I went off to the home of Barry Wallenstein, one of my best senseis from CCNY, all we wanted was to touch base with him and with associated folk, like the towering and deeply funny Angelo Verga, the glamorous and hardworking Doris Barkin, the gently brilliant Yerra Sugarman.
But thanks to Yerra, who seeing her reminds me I miss quite a lot, we also ended up in extended conversation with Alicia Susan Ostriker, who for years was to me One of Those Iconic Poets, one with am incredible range – from funny to deeplu enraged to allusive and questioning. I used to scare my students with one of the latter, “Reflections on a Line By Fitgerald/Hemingway.” A few figured out it was about the Holocaust, though the cultural product that stimulated Ostriker’s long, multilingual rant was already too far in the past for most of them. (perhaps if I teach it again, I’ll challenge them to watch the film, write their own response, and then look at Ostiker’s again….)
We talked about everything, from the election (oy!) to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference to her Princeton neighbor, the Nobelist Toni Morrison. (Her rendering of a Morrison reading of a bygone MLA conference was hysterical.) I almost didn’t mention my own work – it seemed beside the point – but when she asked, I suddenly realized and said to her: “You’re one of those that will get why I’m doing this.” She did, even asking a kind of duh! question I need to explore about Cummings and Wilfred Owen; though that wasn’t the main gift of the evening.
I love hanging with journalists, but I think I agree with Andrei Codrescu: I get all my news from poets.