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This week I talked to the poet Janet Rogerson, a fellow Poets & Players committee member, about hating poetry in school, and finally getting into it in 2007 after her forth child was born and she decided to go back to university.
We had a bit of a poetry overload (if that is possible?) talking about Janet’s own poems, the poem she brought to talk about, and Frank O’Hara – who Janet wrote about for the theory section of her Creative Writing pHd. But we made sure to break up our poetry discussions by playing one of Janet’s favourite bands, The White Stripes, and wishing Johnny Vegas a happy birthday.
The poem she brought was ‘Paul Celan’ by Ilya Kaminsky, a prose-poem which plays with the idea of biography in a way I am fully on board with. Janet also read a section of the Paul Celan poem ‘Death Fugue’ translated by John Felstiner. We talked about translation, and heard Janet’s poem ‘Translator’ which, she says, is not based on anyone particular but came from flicking through a book and randomly choosing one word to write a poem about.
I also made sure we spent some time talking about Frank O’Hara, who is one of the poets that initially got me interested in poetry, with his seemingly autobiographical poems about his obsession with art and popular culture (and sex). He also has a really great voice:
In his youth, he worked in a factory, though everyone said he looked more like a professor of classical languages than a factory worker. He walked to work as if moving under water.
He was a beautiful man with a slender body which moved in a mixture of grace and sharp geometrical precision. His face had an imprint of laughter on it, as if no other emotion ever touched his skin. Even in his fifties, the nineteen-year-old girls winked at him in trains or trolley-busses, asking for his phone number.
Seven years after his death, I saw Celan in his house slippers dancing alone in his bedroom, humming step over step. He did not mind being a character in my stories in a language he never learned. That night, I saw him sitting on a rooftop, searching for Venus, reciting Brodsky to himself. He asked if his past existed at all.