Final Reading in America (For Now)

“The distant reality every day questions me / like an unknown traveler who wakes me up in the middle of the journey / saying ‘Is this the right bus?’, / and I answer ‘Yes’, but I mean ‘I don’t know.'”

-Nikola Madzirov, “I Don’t Know”
Bergamot Station at night / Photo: Marvin Rand

It was with great excitement that I drove down to Frank Pictures Gallery in Bergamont Station to read poems alongside Tim Green, Nikola Madzirov, and Ilya Kaminsky last night. It is always a privilege to read alongside first-rate poets, but last night was something truly special. It was one of the final readings in the “Third Area” series to be held in this gallery, and my final reading in America before Val and I move to London.

But more than this, the lineup was particularly special to me. I was slated to read with Tim Green at the Carnegie Art Museum last year, but it ended up being too close to the due date of his new baby daughter. He read poems from American Fractal as well as some new work. Tim has been a great supporter of my own work, giving it exposure through Rattle, and is himself a fine poet–sonorous and absorbed when he reads, self-deprecating and down-to-earth in between.

Then I was introduced to the work of Macedonian poet Nikola Madzirov, available now in English thanks to BOA editions and the Lannan Translations Selection Series. His poems took my breath away. In them, I found many of the elements of what I admire most about other Slavic-language poets, especially those far to the north in Poland–sensitive, clever observations, at times whimsical, but always with a deep undercurrent of existential longing.

Finally, I had the opportunity to hear Ilya Kaminsky, whose work I greatly admire, read some of his own poems, as well as poems from his new anthology of international poetry (coincidentally, the two poets he read were Polish). Kaminsky, too, becomes absorbed in the music of his poems, making it sometimes difficult, between his Russian accent and some of the variations of enunciation that I can only assume stem from his being deaf, for me to catch every word in the air. Fortunately, the poems he read from Dancing in Odessa I could almost recite by heart, and so it was wonderful to get a glimpse into his own unique and spontaneous lyrical relationship to these poems that I have read so often on the page.

All in all, it was a terrific evening, with friends coming from afar to attend this one last literary bash before I go. I am particularly grateful to Sarah Maclay for making it happen. Really, I could have not have asked for a better send-off.