1. 75 at 75: Yiyun Li on William Trevor

    A special project for 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center’s 75th anniversary, 75 at 75 invites authors to listen to a recording from our archive and write a personal response. Here, Yiyun Li writes about William Trevor’s reading of his story “Kathleen’s Field.” It was recorded live at 92Y on May 22, 1990. Yiyun Li returns to 92Y this Thursday for a reading with Edward P. Jones.

    Li writes:

    William Trevor is a major influence for me. I learned writing—and writing in English—by reading him. In fact, I would not have become a writer at all had I not discovered his work. In interviews Trevor has said that he writes out of bewilderment, and one does notice, upon meeting him, his curiosity of the world around him. A woman in an orange blouse walking past a restaurant patio, where we had lunch when we first met, caught his attention because there was something incomprehensible about her, at least in that moment. “Such moments may pass,” he said, though I sensed that often they didn’t. “It could get one into trouble,” he said with a smile. “Disgraceful of an old man to watch a young woman so closely.” Watching closely—the world and its occupants—is a writer’s job. What’s remarkable about Trevor is that he watches with incomprehension. He does not claim to know the world any better than his readers do.

    Read more on Poetry Center Online.

  2. 75 at 75: Caryl Phillips on Derek Walcott

    A special project for 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center’s 75th anniversary, 75 at 75 invites authors to listen to a recording from our archive and write a personal response. Here, Caryl Phillips writes about a reading by Derek Walcott. It was recorded live at 92Y on November 18, 1996. Walcott returns to 92Y on April 9 to read from The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013.
     
    Phillips writes: 

    The poet’s reading style has always been dry and stripped bare of theatrical gestures. He strikes a tone and establishes a rhythm and remains loyal to it throughout the length of the individual poem. On this bleak Monday night in November 1996, four years after he received the Nobel Prize in Literature, Walcott is not about to change his lifelong game plan. “I’m going to read from ‘The Bounty,’” he says. “The first poem, which is long, is an elegy for Alix Walcott.” And so the sombre mood is quickly established and Walcott begins to recite this rich, densely allusive poem about his recently deceased mother with an almost deadpan mellifluousness. It is only in the final section that the performance slips, albeit momentarily. “She took time with her,” he says. But then he quickly adjusts his voice, as one might a crooked tie, and the poem flows insistently toward its conclusion.

    Read more on Poetry Center Online.

  3. W. H. Auden recorded live at 92Y on January 22, 1955.

    Read Cynthia Ozick’s reflections on W. H. Auden, whose readings she remembers attending as a Poetry Center subscriber in the 1950s, on 75 at 75.

    A special project for 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center’s 75th anniversary, 75 at 75 invites authors to listen to a recording from our archive and write a personal response.

  4. "These passages, which I’m about to read, take place in the System Theater on Sainte-Catherine Street in Montreal, which some of you may know, it is threatened by an office development. And I’m the Chairman of a committee, called S.O.S. Save System.” —Leonard Cohen reading at 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center on February 14, 1966.

    Pico Iyer writes about this recording for 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center’s 75 at 75 series. 75 at 75 invites authors to listen to a recording from our archive and write a personal response. Read Pico’s piece and others, on 92Y On Demand

  5. From the Poetry Center Archive: Discovering Lucille Clifton

    boys
    i don’t promise you nothing
    but this
    what you pawn
    i will redeem
    what you steal
    i will conceal
    my private silence to
    your public guilt
    is all i got
    Today we share a recording from Lucille Clifton, who first read at 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center on April 28, 1969, as one of the “Discovery” contest’s earliest winners. The poems she read that night were, as she said, of “people, places and things perhaps we all know.” Some were untitled and “all of them short … you might think after a point you might be hearing one long poem, which may be true.” Her first book, Good Times, which includes work presented that night, was published later that fall.
    For the past six decades, the “Discovery” competition has launched the career of many of America’s most prominent poets, including John Ashbery, Rosanna Warren, and Susan Mitchell—all final judges of this year’s competition. Four winners are awarded a reading at the Poetry Center, publication in Boston Review and a cash prize. The submission deadline is Friday, January 24, at 5 pm. For guidelines, and to apply, visit 92y.org/Discovery.

  6. Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing reads from The Grandmothers at 92Y in 2004. RIP.

  7. A special project for 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center’s 75th anniversary, 75 at 75 invites authors to listen to a recording from our archive and write a personal response. Here, Helen Vendler writes about a recording of Wallace Stevens reading from his work. It was recorded at 92Y on November 6, 1954. “To think a voice gone forever—and then to find some living traces of it still!” Vendler has written. “I feel for Stevens a relation of kinship I have felt with only two other people—and an almost familial warmth filled my soul as I heard him speak again.”

    Vendler, our most renowned poetry critic, returns to 92Y on Wednesday, November 20, for her annual lecture. This year’s topic is Wordsworth.

    A champion of contemporary poets, too, Vendler has long praised Jorie Graham, whose 92Y reading last month is now available on our Poetry Center Online: “Graham risks everything, and perhaps cannot always keep the several parts from flying apart—but the wildness of the risk is itself exhilarating to encounter,” Vendler has written. “No good poet can stand still, and to read under Graham’s powerful impetus is to have one’s consciousness, like molten glass, pulled into unforeseen—and sometimes almost unbearable—shapes.”

  8. A special project for the 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center’s 75th anniversary, 75 at 75 invites authors to listen to a recording from our archive and write a personal response. Here, T. C. Boyle writes about John Cheever reading his short story “The Death of Justina.” It was recorded at 92Y on March 22, 1964. Boyle studied with John Cheever at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1973. He once told NPR about the experience:

    John was then 61 years old, which seemed to me preposterously old at the time (as you can imagine, I’ve since modified my view), and he seemed rather frail and diminished into the bargain. I had read his stories — most of them — in a desultory way, but in that era of scintillating narrative experimentation they struck me as being somewhat antiquated, solid stories of a bygone era. The term “experimental” was my mantra, but John was having none of it. His own stories were experimental, he insisted, as was all good fiction, but I didn’t believe him. In the blind and arrogant way of the young, I felt I knew better.

    But oh, how wrong I was! That came home to me in force five years later, when he published his collected stories (The Stories of John Cheever, 1978, winner of that year’s Pulitzer Prize in fiction), a volume of 61 short stories I have re-read for its comfort and enduring beauty every few years since.

    There is a great, questing soul alive everywhere in these stories, a soul trying to come to grips with the parameters of human experience amid the ravishing beauty of nature. Few prose writers can touch Cheever for the painterly precision of his descriptions, and the reward of them too — his characters, locked in the struggles of suburban and familial angst, regularly experience moments of transcendence and rebirth in nature.

    We have also posted video of T. C. Boyle’s recent reading at 92Y last month.

  9. A special project for the 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center’s 75th anniversary, 75 at 75 invites authors to listen to a recording from our archive and write a personal response. Here, Henri Cole writes about a recording of Robert Lowell reading from his work. It was recorded at 92Y on December 8, 1976.

    During his final appearance at the Y, he was charming and funny, reading from the newly published Selected Poems (“instead of having about eight rather small thin books to fumble through”). He told the audience that he believed in chronology in everything, rather than having little sections called “friendship and wisdom and divine wisdom.” But on this occasion he had paired off the poems—about homecomings; about his first wife, his “old flame” Jean Stafford (“one of our best writers,” who was quite ill); about Robert Frost (“a man of great magnanimity and generosity and music and intuition”); about William Carlos Williams (“who was terrified of his old mother”); about Stalin (“I suppose Stalin was a Statesman, wasn’t he? He believed in the State”; about his third wife, Caroline Blackwood (“gay, disrespectful” poems), who becomes a mermaid, a “Rough Slitherer” in her ocean caves, in his poem “Mermaid”; and, finally, about the act of writing itself. Lowell ended the night with “Epilogue,” saying that a poem has to be more than memory, “and yet memory, we’re told, is the mother of the muses. Memory is genius—but you have to do something with it.”

    Cole, poetry editor at The New Republic, returns to 92Y this Thursday to read from his latest collection, Touch.

  10. Alexander McCall Smith, long fascinated by W. H. Auden, is here tonight to talk about his book, What W.H. Auden Cam Do For You.
Head to the Poetry Center Online for some advance prep:
W. H. Auden reads a selection of his work, including “Bucolics” and “Horae Cononicae”.
W. H. Auden reads from The Sea and The Mirror. 
W. H. Auden reads a group of early lyrics, culminating with his recitation of “Metalogue to The Magic Flute.” 
And finally, a Tribute to W. H. Auden.

    Alexander McCall Smith, long fascinated by W. H. Auden, is here tonight to talk about his book, What W.H. Auden Cam Do For You.

    Head to the Poetry Center Online for some advance prep: