On Monday night, those with a taste for the finer things in life gathered for a poetry reading by Nick Laird and Timothy Donnelly. Both men have done the seemingly impossible: they have made careers out of poetry (*gasp!). Bwog’s master of rhythm and rhyme, Claire Friedman, reports.
I arrived slightly late and had to climb over a group of aging literature professors and hipsters jotting notes in moleskins. Mumbling something about the ice outside, I managed to drop my purse and hit not one, not two, but three people in the face with my scarf as I bent down to retrieve it. Straightening up and pretending not to be such an embarrassing human, I shuffled to my seat.
The first to read was Nick Laird and, full disclosure, I fell in love with him the moment he started reading. An Irish poet/ novelist with a thick accent, he read the word “playground” as “playygrund” and the word “baby” as “be-be.” Is there anything more perfect than the sound of poetry in an Irish accent? I think not. Laird proved himself to be the ideal person when he followed up his beautiful poem about marriage with a trio of sonnets dedicated to his pet pug (surprise: they were actually really good). Any man who writes a sonnet to his pug and actually pulls it off deserves the highest of praise.
Timothy Donnelly got up to read next. Leaning in close to the microphone, Donnelly introduced himself by saying, “the doctor told me I perceive things differently.” In the next few minutes, this quickly became clear. Donnelly’s poetry is what happens when abstract art collides with that weird dream you had last week. In other words: beautiful, beautiful insanity. Could any other poet use the phrase “my emphatically unfunny hippopotamus” and get away with it? Probably not. But Donnelly wears his eccentricity like a badge of honor, giving his readers a choose-your-own-adventure type of poetry that sent my mind into some very unexpected places.
After both men had finished reading, I stayed for a short Q&A with the poets. One audience member, braver than I, asked how if felt to know that everyone interprets poems differently, meaning that nobody will ever quite understand one’s words they way they do. At this, Laird answered “I just write the poetry and I don’t really give a damn what anybody else thinks.” Basically, all that matters is that he is happy with the poem. What a lovely philosophy! Gold star for you, Nick Laird.
Donnelly then fielded a question regarding his process; how is he able to reconcile his own personal voice with the fact that so many of his poems have such scattered themes and images? Donnelly responded by explaining his own take on writing, boiling down to the idea that he doesn’t want all his poetry to sound like it’s all coming from the same person (a person, as he later revealed, who mainly writes while sitting on the floor in his apartment); he wants it to sound like something much larger. Considering that one of his poems was about a woman on an inflatable raft approaching a warship, I would say that he was pretty successful.
Laird and Donnelly both underlined the importance of independent thought. In the end, you can have all the praise in the world, but the only opinion that truly matters is your own.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day via Shutterstock