Language Wins the Day at the Semester's Penultimate Poets Out Loud Reading

On Wednesday, March 8th at 7 p.m., students, faculty members, and a number of guests gathered in the 12th floor lounge of the Lowenstein building at the Lincoln Center campus to hear poets Sandra Esteves and Kevin Pilkington. The event was co-sponsored by Fordham’s Latin American and Latino Studies Institute (LALSI). Over sixty people attended.

            To begin the event, Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé, the director of LALSI, introduced Esteves, touting the “Bilingual, multicultural hum” of her poetry. This is not, he suggested, “the school-taught bilingualism” that he imparts as a Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature, but the “hard won bilingualism of children in communities where their language has been denied.” Esteves, who was initially trained as a visual artist, accompanied her reading with a slideshow of her artwork. Although she claimed to have made no effort to coordinate the images to her texts, they provided a fitting—and often poignant—accompaniment.

            Esteves concluded with two poems written as homages to figures she admires. First, in honor of International Woman’s Day, the poem “Lady Gaga New Year” (“not the song I’d rather sing / not the woman I teach daughters to become. / But go on girl, do your thing!”) and, last, her homage to Pablo Neruda, “Ode to the Moon,” ended her reading on a potent note with the arresting and lapidary final lines, “Though chained to earth, / we rise to touch the sky.”

            Next, with her usual wit and insight, Heather Dubrow introduced Pilkington, who teaches in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College. Like his colleague at Sarah Lawrence—and one of last month’s POL readers—Vijay Seshadri, Pilkington, Dubrow suggested, has a remarkable knack for making the ordinary a strange and surprising object of wonder. His selection of poems did precisely this, weaving perennial themes of death, eros, and the person’s relationship to nature with a frank—and often humorous—engagement with the day-to-day of New York City, where Pilkington has lived for much of his life.

            While Pilkington cites the city as a fundamental influence in his work, the most important foundation for any poet is, Pilkington suggested, is a love of language. This love is readily apparent in Pilkington’s work which is replete with a free and improvisational wordplay that, far from seeming flippant or senseless, has evoked for many readers the gritty irreverence of Frank O’Hara. This love of language, says Pilkington, drives the successful writer to long hours of reading, writing, failure, and revision. While a poet may, sometimes, receive a gift from “the gods”—as Pilkington admits the final phrase of his poem “Where You Want to Be” was—such “divine” inspiration is the exception, not the rule.

            The poets answered audience questions both in a formal Q&A session and at the post-reading reception, where they also signed copies of their books. The books were for sale at the event, and several audience members also won copies as a part of a post-event drawing, a long standing POL tradition.

            Be sure to catch the next and final POL reading of the season, which will take place Monday, April 3rd and will feature Ruth Ellen Kocher.