Betsy Writers Room is proud to shout out to the National Poetry Series and those that keep poetry alive. We encourage you to look to these writers and organizations in your own efforts to embrace poetry in your own daily life.
- Mark Doty reads his poem, ‘A Display of Mackerel,’ at the National Poetry Series dinner.
Richard Ford served us suckling pig. Anthony Bourdain told us to eat the tails.
“Wait,” Ford said. “You need the cracklins.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Independence Day” heaped fried pork skin onto the plates of Bourdain, Willem Dafoe and Olaf Olafsson – but not Amy Tan. Tan is a pescetarian.
The writers had gathered at The Breslin gastropub in New York this week not just for pig tails, but for poetry. Daniel Halpern, publisher of Ecco and the director of the National Poetry Series, had gathered friends and writers to celebrate the program, which publishes five books of poetry a year.
“If you dropped a bomb down here, you’d destroy half of American literature,” said Russell Banks, a guest.
The evening featured poetry readings by Natasha Trethewey, Charles Simic, Mark Doty (all of whom read works about food), Tom Healy, Mary Karr, William Kistler and Eleanor Chai. The guests included prose writers who also write, or devour, poetry –Michael Ondaatje, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Cunningham, Mary Karr, Jeffrey Eugenides, Colum McCann and Colm Toibin.
“I wanted this to be a celebration of poetry in America and all these people feel strongly about it. Many of them gave a lot of money,” Halpern said. The National Poetry Series nearly folded in January, but raised about $75,000 from individuals and organizations including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Random House and HarperCollins.
HarperCollins and Ecco are both run by News Corp., which made a separate donation to the NPS. News Corp. publishes The Wall Street Journal.
“Poetry is probably the toughest form of literature to make a living out of, and the one that is extremely difficult to do well,” said Olafsson, an Icelandic novelist and supporter of NPS. “It’s an art form you don’t want to have disappear.”
Roger Rosenblatt, who writes both non-fiction and fiction, said the roomful of illustrious writers expressed a genuine appreciation of poets. “It’s very rare to find writers who aren’t in a fistfight,” he said.
Dafoe, a longtime friend of Banks who starred in the film adaptation of the author’s “Affliction,” sat quietly next to Ford as he ate salmon and suckling pig. Though he doesn’t call himself a serious writer, the 58-year-old actor has kept daily journals since he was 22 — Fabriano notebooks, lined up by date in his basement.
“It’s a lot of nonsense, but it’s an exercise partly to take inventory, to get in the practice of expressing myself,” he said.
The humidity in Dafoe’s basement damaged some of the journals and left many pages illegible. While some of the authors in the room would throw a fit, the actor doesn’t seem to mind. “It’s not for anything. In fact, my handwriting is so bad that I can barely read it.”