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 QuickMuse.com. 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
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 FSGPoetry.com for making it work.