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. Poet Marianne Moore threw out the first pitch at the opening of the 1968 baseball season at Yankee Stadium. From her poem “Baseball and Writing”:

Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting and baseball is like writing. You can never tell with either how it will go or what you will do; generating excitement— a fever in the victim— pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter.

Listen to Marianne Moore read her poetry at 92Y in 1954. Play ball!

    Poet Marianne Moore threw out the first pitch at the opening of the 1968 baseball season at Yankee Stadium. From her poem “Baseball and Writing”:

    Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting
    and baseball is like writing.
    You can never tell with either
    how it will go
    or what you will do;
    generating excitement—
    a fever in the victim—
    pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter.

    Listen to Marianne Moore read her poetry at 92Y in 1954. Play ball!

  4. 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, Mark Ford writes about a reading by James Schuyler. It was recorded live at 92Y on November 20, 1989. Ford makes his 92Y debut on Thursday night, reading with John Ashbery. It was Ashbery who shared the stage with Schuyler that night in 1989.

    Today is the last day to take advantage of our special National Poetry Month offer of $7.50 tickets—and not just to Ford/Ashbery (April 3), but also to Derek Walcott (April 9) and Michael Ondaatje (April 28).

    Ford writes:

    In his introduction [to a Schuyler reading the year before], Ashbery confessed to feeling a little “jealous” of his friend’s poetry: “He makes sense, dammit, and he manages to do so without falsifying or simplifying the daunting complexity of life as we are living it today.”

    Nearly all of Schuyler’s poems develop a delicate mediation between his memories and his experience of the present; often those memories revolve around friends, many of whom would have been present in the audience that night. One can’t overestimate the importance of friendship to his life and poetry, and it must have been moving for all those who had helped him through so many difficulties over so many decades to see him appearing in public and receiving rapturous applause both before he opened his mouth and then after he said his gruff “Thank you” and sat down.

  5. Audio: Elizabeth Bishop in 1974

    To kick off National Poetry Month—and continue our celebration of 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center’s 75th-anniversary season—here’s an offer too good to refuse: $7.50 tickets to upcoming appearances by John Ashbery (April 3), Derek Walcott (April 9) and Michael Ondaatje (April 28). We like to think it’s National Poetry Month all year round at 92Y, but this special offer is only good till March 31st—so get your tickets today!

    All month long we’ll be uploading new recording-response pairs to our “75 at 75” virtual anthology, starting with Forrest Gander on Marianne Moore and Megan Marshall on Elizabeth Bishop, who reads from “Efforts of Affection”—her memoir of Moore.

    Marshall writes:

    After Moore’s death in 1972, Bishop drafted [“Efforts of Affection”] and read from it on several occasions. When I listened to the Y’s recording of Bishop’s 1974 reading, I understood why she had never “finished” the essay, never published it. Her reading stops short of the story she told our class and several other anecdotes that reveal more complicated feelings for her subject than she may have wished to expose to an audience—whether in an auditorium or at home in arm chairs. What this recording does capture, as almost no other Bishop recording does, is the congenial storytelling voice I heard on several magical occasions, the vivid personality activated in the company of friends, in this case a friend conjured from the past. Listen as the audience begins to catch her jokes and Miss Bishop warms to the response. There she is, giving us

    … life itself,
    life and the memory of it so compressed
    they’ve turned into each other.

    Gander writes:

    Marianne Moore’s poems are more wonderful on the page than they are at this reading. But the reading gives us what feels like a very real experience of her person, of the motion of her mind, of her animated voice and of the vast range of her associations. To me, it is precious. It’s as close as I will come to meeting her.

  6. "I dislike risk and I never seek it out, but one can’t always anticipate what may occur off the beaten track. The physical risks on that journey across the Himalayas were minor, as things turned out, and as for literary risks, I understood that if that journey was to have any validity, I would have to deal with very personal matters, such as my wife’s recent death. Being a rather private person, this was sometimes difficult, but I decided to stand by what I had written at high altitude, which tends to air out inhibitions."

    -Peter Matthiessen

    Today we released four audio recordings from our archive in the 92Y/The Paris Review Interview Series featuring Peter Matthiessen with Howard Norman (1997), Ryszard Kapuściński with Scott Malcolmson (1991), Paul Theroux with George Plimpton (1989), and Jan Morris with Leo Lerman (1989).

  7. Have you seen The Giver movie trailer? We just watched it. Three times. Did you ever imagine it as an action movie?

  8. Audio: Susan Sontag’s lecture “On Classical Pornography”

    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, Siri Hustvedt writes about Susan Sontag’s lecture “On Classical Pornography.” It was recorded live at 92Y on November 2, 1964. Hustvedt appears at 92Y on Monday night for a reading with Paul Auster, whom she first met at a Poetry Center reading and later married.

    Hustvedt writes:

    In 1964, Sontag was thirty-one years old, a young woman who had made a big stir with Notes on Camp. When she began to speak on the 92Y recording, I remembered her voice. She was much older when I knew her, but her voice sounded the same to me. Her delivery of the lecture surprised me a little, however. Her tone is low, calm, academic, qualifying. There is little humor and no rhetorical flights. She is not reading her text, but my guess is she is sticking close to it, and she wants to make sure that each of her points is clearly understood by her audience. She emphasizes that her adjective “classical” for pornography is something of a joke and that her definition of porn is unconventional: as a literary form it must embody the idea that lustful acts are inherently immoral.

    Unlike the erotic texts of China and India that celebrate sexual joy, pornography pits virtue against vice in an ethical struggle. In 1964, pornography occupied a different place in the culture than it does today. What was then called “smut” is now widely available to anyone who can type out a few words on a computer keyboard. The pornography trials of literary works—Howl (1957), Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1959) and Tropic of Cancer (1962)—were not remote, and Sontag is on a mission to defend literature from censorship. Although she does not dwell on this, it is the subtext of her lecture.

  9. theparisreview:

    Italo Calvino reads a selection of works, from his 92nd Street Y reading on March 31, 1983.

  10. 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, Sarah Lindsay writes about a reading by poet Amy Clampitt. It was recorded live at 92Y on March 7, 1994.

    Lindsay writes:

    Her diction is clear, her intonation wide-ranging. Before each poem, she tells the audience a few things she finds interesting. After each poem, a silence opens. (What a coincidence: A Silence Opens is her fifth collection, new at the time.) Not a long one, but deep. When, instead, after “A Hermit Thrush,” applause skitters around the room, her “Oh, thank you” sounds musical, surprised, delighted.

    About 20 years after this lovely moment, an audience of one eavesdrops blindfolded. With unfair hindsight, I know Amy Clampitt was less than a year from death by cancer, but she doesn’t sound weak or elegiac.

    As the introductions unscrolled, I paused the recording and fetched a sock to darn. Those present in the auditorium had no such opportunity to forestall the fidgets. At moments, perhaps, as I did, some individuals thought, “such a fine poem I’m listening to,” and with that thought ceased to listen. But they couldn’t rewind.


    Lindsay appears at 92Y tonight for a reading with Alice Oswald.