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March 03, 2005

Hearing the Inner Voices

by Ron Hogan

The weather is so nice today, it's hard to recall that just three nights ago, I was braving yet another snowstorm to come into Manhattan and then up to the 92nd Street Y to see Lucie Brock-Broido and Richard Howard read from their poems, introduced by Boston Review poetry editor Timothy Donnelly--who, Brock-Broido joked with us as she took the podium, has all of her poems committed to memory and can do them in funny voices. She started her portion of the evening by reading "Domestic Mysticism," the first poem from her first book. She then turned to her latest collection, Trouble in Mind; her first choice, "The Halo That Would Not Light," was, like the book itself, dedicated to her late friend, Lucy Grealy. The title came from a list of unused titles for poems Wallace Stevens compiled in his notebooks; Brock-Broido also turned to that source for the title "Still Life With Aspirin." She closed by returning to her earlier work for the long poem "Elective Mutes," a reimagining of the life of June and Jennifer Gibbons that underscored the visceral qualities of her language.

After the Richard Howard reading, I turned to the Significant Other and told her that his voice reminded me of David Doyle, which just got me a quizzical look and an "If you say so." But I meant it in the best way--and I wasn't even thinking of Bosley so much as Doyle's brief supporting role as George Plimpton's Sports Illustrated editor in the film version of Paper Lion--it was just that sort of mixture of crackle and rumble to the voice. Anyway...Howard began with two excerpts from "The Masters on the Movies," imaginging Henry James contemplating Now Voyager and Rudyard Kipling grousing through the original King Kong. Howard is widely regarded as a master of the dramatic monologue, and with good reason--he doesn't read his work so much as perform it, his manner changing slightly with each new persona. He took on his own voice for poetic recollections of close friends Mona Van Duyn and Hannah Arendt, as well as an encounter with André Breton in "The Job Interview" (quoted in this review of Inner Voices, a retrospective selection of Howard's poems). He ended by taking on one more persona, this time from mythology, as "Telemachus" imagines an encounter between Ulysses' son and Helen of Troy:

"...sitting in the one spot on the terrace
where the canopy produced a corner of shade: the afternoon sun
in Sparta is ruthless as Egypt's (she explained) in any season--"

At which point, after brief conversations with encountered friends in the reception area, the Significant Other and I went back out into the snow, where I for one might have preferred a little ruthless sun.

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