Home again, home again. A wonderful couple of days in the city, seeing friends, art shows, and meeting the public at the Stella Adler Gallery.
The editor, poet and translator Jonathan Galassi joined Philip and me for a drink on Wednesday, a chance to catch up on what we’ve been doing. Jonathan tells me a new book of poems is nearing completion and also that he will be following up on his excellent translation of Montale with new collection of versions of Leopardi. Something to look forward to.
We stayed a night with friends Karen Clark and Jonathan Bernstein, kind and generous hosts. And had time to fit in a visit to the Whitney Biennial in the afternoon. Too many thoughts about that to record here, though I sensed that there was a slight preponderance of women artists and an unusually high percentage of artists now living in Los Angeles, which is something to think about, especially given the cool, enigmatic, decontextualized feel of the show as a whole. Peter Schjeldahl of the New Yorker summed it up as “Lessness," a Beckettian term that handily describes many of the works, which do their damnedest to avoid overstatement.
The reading with my former student Ravi Shankar last night got a good turnout and was well received. Marie Ponsot had generously consented to introduce my part of the evening and what she said was in itself sufficient reason to bestir and transport oneself down to W. 27th Street. She is one of my heroes, personally and artistically, a touchstone of artistic commitment. Several close friends attended the evening, so that it felt very much like a family gathering. I opened my part of the proceedings by mentioning my one meeting with Stella Adler many years ago, when I attended a birthday party for a friend I used to see a bit in those days, the poet Kenward Elmslie (accompanied by another wonderful friend, the painter and poet Joe Brainard) at her place just opposite the Metropolitan Museum. I remember I was seated next to Ann Lauterbach, one of the most refreshing dinner partners ever—beautiful, smart, ironic. Lots of lively discussion around the dinner table because it was clear that Stella Adler didn’t care for polite chat and wanted real debate, sharp differences of opinion stated forthrightly. Was there a sense of theater? Yes, there was a sense of theater, and even the rooms felt larger than life, partly because the walls were covered with smoked mirrors, and glittering chandeliers hung from the ceiling. We all had to be “on,” and exerted ourselves to oblige.
As for last night, Ravi did a bang-up job, a reading that included a hiphop piece based on Whitman that brought down the house. And people said my part went well. Something for the scrapbook, except that I don’t have one. Well, maybe this is it.