Link to video of W-E Bicoastal Poets of the Pandemic

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The above link will give you a chance to listen to the reading that occurred this past Sunday as the latest installment of a project that was launched by Lynn McGee and Susana H. Case last spring. They serve as the East Coast curators, and a few months ago they recruited Carolyne Wright to assist in the selections of West Coast poets.

On Sunday, the line-up was supposed to be four poets:
Ellen Bass, Gary Copeland Lilley, Jessica Greenbaum, and Bertha Rogers. 

Unfortunately, Gary Copeland Lilley ran into technical difficulties and was not able to participate in the zoom broadcast. However, the other three poets read very well and the 90 or so people who tuned in reported to us that they enjoyed the reading very much.

Ellen Bass is a poet I have long admired. Several years ago, when I had a chance to put together a summer poetry workshop at CSU Monterey Bay, and she was one of the poets I asked to be part of the two-week program. The other poets were Douglas Kearney, Juan Felipe Herrera, Marilyn Nelson, and Cecilia Woloch. It was truly an extraordinary ensemble. It was especially fortunate that I asked Juan Felipe Herrera just before he was appointed the nation’s poet laureate and that he is one of the most generous poets I have ever met in honoring his commitments. Marilyn Nelson’s rendition of her masterpiece, “A Wreath for Emmett Till,” is one of the most memorable experiences readings I have ever attended.

It was a pleasure to hear Ellen Bass read again and an honor to have an opportunity to introduce her again. She read at CSU Long Beach several years ago, and my colleagues agreed to let me to do the introduction. I reprint that introduction as well as the briefer one I gave on Sunday.

INTRODUCTION OF ELLEN BASS (“W – E Bicoastal Poets of the Pandemic”
Sunday, November 15, 2020
Ellen Bass’s work first came to my attention shortly after I encountered the writing of future Los Angeles poet laureate Eloise Klein Healy, which is to point to that increment in the 1970s when a feminist canon began to gather substantial momentum. The anthology she co-edited, NO MORE MASKS, was one of those crucial turning points a half-century ago, and her own poetry has subsequently accentuated the trajectory of those poems that are essential to the intertwined continuity of American poetry.

There is a palpable theatricality to the images in her images, which is redoubled by her felicitous similes. They lure us within their domain — onto the very stage itself of the startling juxtaposition — so that we don’t merely perceive the metaphorical compression but inhabit it, too, until our consciousness becomes something otherworldly and yet very much of this world.

To use a word that is rarely pronounced at readings by contemporary poets, Ellen Bass’s poetry is edifying, not in the old sense of reassuring listeners in some ponderous didactic manner about moral certainties handed down by patriarchal nincompoops, but the new ethics of a queer aesthetic encompassing the gendered, inclusive enlightenment of communities of mutual affirmation.

I present to you, Ellen Bass.

Monday, October 27, 2014; Soroptimist House

During the past 20 years I’ve had the pleasure to work every summer at Idyllwild Arts and to teach a class in fiction writing to some very talented teenagers. This past summer, I retired from that job, and handed it over to one of my favorite writers, Tyler Dilts. In addition to the students, what I will miss most about teaching up in Idyllwild every summer is easy access to the Idyllwild Poetry Festival, whose founding organizer Cecilia Woloch read here a couple weeks ago. Today I have the pleasure to present to you one of the poets whose readings at the Idyllwild Poetry Festival have stood out in a constellation of extraordinary poets. When one looks at the line-up of poets who have read in that festival, one realizes that it’s a microcosm of contemporary American poetry: Yusef Komunyakaa, Terrence Hayes, Natasha Trethewey, Lucille Clifton, Marilyn Nelson, Carol Muske-Dukes, Robert Wrigley, Chris Abani, the late Carolyn Kizer, Naomi Shihab Nye, David St. John, not to mention our own Charles Harper Webb. I have made it a goal to ask as many of the poets whose work I heard at Idyllwild to read here as possible. In recent years, Charles Webb brought Richard Garcia here, and I brought Eloise Klein Healy two years ago. Slowly, we’re working our way through this distinguished list, which I mention in order to give you a sense of the stature of tonight’s poet: in the very front of the first rank.

Her poems have won many awards and prizes, which is certainly an affirming experience for any poet. More important than that, though, is the esteem felt by a wide range of poets for her writing, which has the rare capacity to encompass the diversity of human experience with generous sympathy and transformative compassion. At this point, it is traditional in an introduction of a poet to quote some of the speaker’s favorite lines of poetry by the poet who is about to read, but I am always reluctant to do so because I want to hear the poet read those lines, not the person doing the introduction. So, I will close this introduction with a simple request: Please read “For My Daughter on Her Twenty-First Birthday.” It is the poem that provides the titular metaphor of your collection, Mules of Love, which came out in 2002 and won the Lambda Literary Award. Other books include, Like a Beggar, which was published earlier this year by Copper Canyon Press and The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press; 2007), which was named a Notable Book by the San Francisco Chronicle. In addition, She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday; 1973). In addition to all this, she has written many important non-fiction books, including Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth—and Their Allies (1996).

Enough background, though. Let’s bring Ellen to stage, and have her celebrate the love that should enable all of us to help transform the world.

*. *. *. *

Once again, here’s the link to the recorded reading on Sunday, November 15th.

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