This, the morning after the Joseph-Beth Booksellers three-poets reading that went down on St Patrick’s Day : an audience of about two dozen for one professor-poet in his late ’50s (Norman Finkelstein), one publisher-poet in his late ’60s (Robert Murphy), and the master poet, in his mid-’70s (Michael Heller). I mention those ages as much to indicate the richness of poetic witness & expertise in the offing as to draw attention to the fact that poetry is a lifelong engagement for some of us… the long haul goes on forever, as Word-Path and as Stand & Deliver Caravan-Pachanga : Each of the poets read for from 15 to 20 minutes, a compact of admirable concision, dramatic in its successive brevities…

Norman, the pup of this triad, read principally from his exquisitely varied Long Poem, TRACK, and from the work that is currently bedeviling him as it works its way variously forth, bidden & unbidden, the richly detailed, now verging-on-thirty-poem CLUE-type comic extravaganza, FROM THE FILES OF THE IMMANENT FOUNDATION… Norman also read a selection from his more deliberate, sober and tender meditation, PASSING OVER. Norman not infrequently seems a tad embarrassed to take very evident pleasure in delivering his work in public, and that double-bind of almost-clumsy blushing joy was much on display as he delivered the work at the Beth. Always a delight to monitor thy savory offerings, young man !

Robert Murphy served both as host and as performer this day, with a generous sampling of books from all the authors at the event arrayed on a table and for sale following the reading, mostly published by Bob’s extraordinary and wholly indispensable press, Dos Madres, of Loveland, Ohio (do check out the complete Dos Madres catalogue online), volumes designed with intense devotion and skill by artist Elizabeth Murphy, wife to the poet/publisher. I had previously heard a recording of Bob reading, a recording of great skill and sobriety, but which did not prepare me for the effect of him reading aloud in public. He read from his newest book, “from behind the blind,” in particular a section from his prose daybook… a deep spirit infused Bob’s oral renderings, something very close to a duendist alarum seemed to spread upward thru his corporeal bell of bone that was spellbinding and wholly dear, resonant and rapturous. He was the witness to his own physical place on Mother Earth, to life’s residents & climes thereon, borne in amongst us in all gratitude and celebratory particularity. What a grace the gift of his delivery was, oh my.

And then came the Heller-mon, packing the one tome (“a tome, NOT a tomb,” he advised us, grinning out at us beneath his gleaming pate) that was not a Dos Madres imprint — his collected poems, THIS CONSTELLATION IS A NAME, just out from Nightboat Books of Callicoon, New York. At over 500 pages, comprising forty-five years of composition – Heller was only able to shlep a few of them along on this trip – “the airline would have charged me extra by weight!” How he was able to select from this book for this reading beggars my comprehension… suffice it that all who heard his deliveries at this event heard words crafted from a life’s devoted attention to Being, to being Aware, to being ever On the Case… a vastly intimate scale, to be spoken and to be read, the soundings at once august and humble, shot thru with mindfulness, concision, clarity, and devotion. To paraphrase an encomium issued on behalf of an illustrious precursor – who touches these words touches a man. Lifesblood. It is another last First Testament, a heavyweight compendium to carry lightly all thru the remaining days of our witnessing lives. Gracias, o Michael ! (NB – one further chance to hear Michael on this trip, at Xavier University this Tuesday evening…

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  1. With deep concern we learned that Michael Heller’s reading on Tuesday at Xavier was cancelled due to his being called home to New York because of a family medical emergency. Know that our hearts are with you as you and yours bear through this trial, Michael…

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