Instant Poetry With Paul Muldoon And Brad Leithauser

I attended an interesting display of speed poetry last night at the Strand Bookstore in Greenwich Village, New York featuring two acclaimed practitioners of the verse form, Paul Muldoon and Brad Leithauser. An eager audience of literati, blogerati and peoplorati had gathered to watch, quietly munching on grapes and cheese or sipping wine, as the two poets nervously typed into laptops connected to The odd experiment made for a good evening of spoken word, and the finished poems aren’t bad at all.

I’m more of a Paul Muldoon partisan than a longtime Brad Leithauser fan, but they opened the event by reading from their composed poems, and Leithauser immediately won me over by dedicating a unique piece to a favorite lyricist of mine, Lorenz Hart. Paul Muldoon followed with a couple of the exotic rhyming ditties that can be found in his strange and powerful Horse Latitudes. Preliminary readings now over, the main event began.

Moderator Jeff Spurgeon of WQXR presented both poets (and the audience) with this poem from Alicia Ostriker to “seed” their work:

The Blessing of the Dog

to be blessed
said the dog
is to have a pinch
of God
inside you
and all the other dogs
can smell it

After a carefully timed ten minutes, Paul Muldoon read his poem, which turned out to be rather short and filled, in my disappointed opinion, with pedestrian rhymes. However, it’s all part of the game. Brad Leithauser turned in a more substantial and, I believe, better piece. In fact, I like his poem a lot and I don’t think it needs much more polishing.

The event was billed to be something like a cage match, but we never actually voted on which poem was best. I sensed, however, that the audience was with me in backing the dark horse (hah) Leithauser. Spurgeon followed up the exercise with a discussion section that probably could have been skipped, since the only thing either poet revealed was that Muldoon had started each line of his eight-line poem with letters spelling out S-T-R-A-N-D-E-D, which must have been how he felt.

Regarding the very blurry pictures I took with my phone: I guess I’m figuring the blur will connote the “speed writing” aspect, or maybe I’m just a bad photographer. At the top of the page is Paul Muldoon at work on his poem, and here’s Brad Leithauser:

It was a very enjoyable event overall — congrats to the fearless Ami Greko of for making it work.

3 Responses

  1. FenceI thought the interior

    I thought the interior rhyme of the word fence composed with the end rhymes of pinch and cinch in Muldoon’s poem was actually better than Leithauser’s manisfestation of cat rat and man (I saw man coming) but the issue of Muldoon beginning his poem with a predetermined set of letters can be explained I think by his earlier experience with QuickMuse, who however I think does a fantastic job of illumination regarding the interiority of composition. It’s fine that so many people turned out for what I believe represents the cultural peaks of the country and organizing such events as you have in your post deserves thanks, though putting artists on stage like that could have something of a “composition ape” aspect to it (I wasn’t there).

  2. Yes, I do wonder if they felt
    Yes, I do wonder if they felt like “typing monkeys” up there. Regarding the verses, well, at least I felt Leithauser tried to reach for some surprising connections, tried to take the poem somewhere. Honestly, my impression from their work as well as their body language as they read their poems is that Leithauser tried to actually engage himself as a poet, whereas Muldoon didn’t feel up to the task and dodged the challenge with a throwaway. It’s interesting to hear what you think from the perspective of reading the works, though.

  3. PeoploratiI like the word

    I like the word peoplorati! Would you say that these are the “culture vultures” of today?

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