On a September evening 25 years ago a sold out crowd of logophiles gathered at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre in Portsmouth to hear the state's preeminent poets speak in their native tongue. The program for the evening featured just four names, but a weighty four: Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, Maxine Kumin and Charles Simic. Three of whom were once or future National Poets Laureate, and New Hampshire Poets Laureate; one had earned and one about to earn the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; They had individually been honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship, Robert Frost Medals, a National Medal for the Arts, a MacArthur Fellowship, and an Academy of America Poets Fellowship, to name a few. All in all a well lauded group, all New Hampshire residents.
The event was organized by the NH Writers and Publishers Project (now NHWP) and we were on hand to record this historic gathering. Donald Hall kicked off the evening reading from his latest collection Old and New Poems, a poem he didn't remember writing, "The Clown."
The late Jane Kenyon (also Hall's wife) followed him, reading several poems from her most recent book Let Evening Come. She was once quoted as saying, “I love to think of people sitting in a dentist’s office who are about to undergo pain, picking up the New Yorker and reading a poem of mine and forgetting where they are for a moment.” As National Poetry Month coincides with snow melt across the state, it seems appropriate to listen to Kenyon's "Ice Out."
Maxine Kumin (who passed away earlier this year) was hoping to pull her book off the shelf at the bookstore for her reading, but the one copy in stock had been sold. Fortunately someone in the audience had a copy and passed it forward for the poet to read, among others, "You Are in Bear Country."
Yugoslav immigrant Charles Simic once said of his granite home, “here in NH, I have something totally opposite from my memories. I think the two together grating against each other create interesting ideas and thoughts and poems.” "Shelley" tells the story of one poet discovering another poet.
All four of the poets read several selections, I just picked out a handful here, but if you want to hear audio from the entire evening, here it is.