memorial for a brilliant woman

Friday, September 19, 2008

A review of a reading- He's bona fide-

Matthew Donovan, that is- recent winner of the Levis Prize for a first or second book at VCU.

The reading was held in a truncated ballroom in the student commons last night- the worst room ever. It was claustrophobic and packed (young things required to be there- at least they were quiet and stayed for the entire event). I can't blame the English department, VCU has its ways, but this was pretty awful. There were not enough seats, some folks stood throughout. It was stuffy and claustrophobic.

It's difficult to say how it affected the reading, I heard several people complain of neck strain. I sat in the front row on the end, completely sideways in my chair.

Greg Donovan did his usual anecdotal "Larry Levis Lore" talk, always interesting - he seemed a bit uncomfortable, I can't help thinking the venue contributed.

Matthew Donovan (no relation to Greg) is a charming fellow, kind on the eyes, and has a great poet voice. His explanations for poems and process were appropriate (particularly since the crowd was not limited to POETS but filled with have-to-be-theres). I still wait for the writer who can balance explanations and poetry without saying too much-

The reception was 'around the corner' (but enough kvetching about location) and he affably signed books at the nice reception afterward.

Tumbling through his book at home was much better than the event, not because of him- he reads very, very well- but because his poetry is smart, funny (not ha-ha funny but witty) and mixes poetic language with current culture (I love the musical references, but I would). If I had to find fault, I'd have to say there is too much myth-tossing, too many locations- though in general the work holds together well and I will be rereading the whole in the coming week.

I'd love to know what the other, say, top ten contenders were- and specific reasons why THIS book (other than Mark Doty loving it). Only one poem sticks to me personally, the rest leave my head almost immediately as I turn the page.

That's not all his doing- I have a very specific range of work I cherish- there's so much poetry out there I don't feel obligated to love it all equally. I recognize competence, appreciate craft and all that, but the words that wrench me long after I read the page have to contain certain elements.

I have to be personally engaged, to understand what's happening, almost compelled to read a particular poem again RIGHT THEN. I don't mind doing a little research, or a word, or being befuddled occasionally- but don't bore me with your trip to Italy or Spain, don't hold yourself above me with your education and please don't try to talk in a voice you think is beneath you- or above you.

Does Donovan fit my narrow view? Ummm- yes and no. A few poems captured me, one in particular, but so many are just on the edge of academic over-write- the edge, mind you- that I'm not sure this book will come down from my shelf much, or ever after this week. What I do expect is more from him in the future, that Vellum will be a first book that demonstrates he deserves some poetic notice.

On the net, I read a some of the other reviews for this book. In general, the community sure does rally behind its children- most of the writers were full of overblown crap IMO. Those of us outside the clique have nothing to lose by saying our piece- this is an okay book, just okay. I like supporting poets, get books signed when I get a chance to see the poet in person, but I probably wouldn't have bought it without him being here in person. Just my take.

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