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Readings in Contemporary Poetry

Sharon Mesmer and Wayne Koestenbaum

Tuesday, October 24, 2017, 6:30 pm, Dia Chelsea

Event Details
Tuesday, October 24, 2017, 6:30 pm

535 West 22nd Street, 5th Floor
New York City 

Readings in Contemporary Poetry curator, Vincent Katz provided an introduction for the evening's reading.

Free for Dia members; $10 general admission; $6 admission for students and seniors 

Advance ticket purchases recommended. Tickets are also available for purchase at the door, subject to availability. 

Sharon Mesmer’s newest poetry collection, Greetings from My Girlie Leisure Place (2015), was voted “Best of 2015” by Entropy. Her previous poetry collections include The Virgin Formica (2008), Annoying Diabetic Bitch (2007), Vertigo Seeks Affinities (2006), Half Angel, Half Lunch (1998), and Crossing Second Avenue (1997). Four of her poems appear in Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology (second edition, 2013). Other anthology appearances include Brooklyn Poets Anthology (2017), Poems for the Nation (2000), and The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry (1999). She is currently at work on a new collection of poems, Even Living Makes Me Die, inspired by the lives and writings of thirty-five female poets of the Americas, from the nineteenth century to modern times. Her fiction collections include Ma Vie à Yonago (2005), In Ordinary Time (2005), and The Empty Quarter (2000). An excerpt of her story “Revenge” appears in I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women (2012). Her essays, reviews, and interviews have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Brooklyn Rail, New York Times, and Paris Review, among other places. Her awards include a Fulbright Specialist grant, a Jerome Foundation/SASE award (as mentor to poet Elisabeth Workman in 2009), and two New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships. She teaches in the undergraduate and graduate programs at New York University and the New School, and lives in New York City.

Velocity and Turbulence

            — to Gabriela Mistral (Lucila Godoy Alcayaga), Chile, 1889-1957

Be always conscious of your wings. Darkness
is overtaking, and tension is tired. In the house
of keeping still, all is hollow-eyed, groaning.

Shiver and tingle outside the automobile: Grandma
is on life support. The nurses found her, called you
a wanderer. They knew nothing of resistance
— or did they? 

Disrobe, as the holiest were often required
to be naked. Under the serpent dome the sun door
stood open, all of creation flying through it,
in radiant rounds of joy. 

Take the mantle of an earth-colored insect and make a wand
with twigs and leaves. Use it to conjure the cunning beauty
of certain corpses. If performed correctly, their faces will resemble
luminous, apricot-colored clouds.

Make a pilgrimage to the Mountain of Butterflies — love descends
on those defenseless.

If your hearth is redolent with the scent of flesh, fan the flames to produce
a cooling jewel.

The ocean-born virgin was nicknamed “Fishy Smell” but her real name
was “Bird.” Find her in the neck of time. Her vagina
is enough; you don’t need the legs. Remember
that initiation takes a lifetime. One day a triangle of light
will come pouring through the porch.

Breathe deep. Everything that torments and suffocates, everything
that imparts sorrow and despair, is the moving water
that turns the wheel that transforms air
into tree into prayer into air.
Make scribble pictures of the stain on your ceiling and try
to sell them. Very few will buy.

When you stall, when your coverts beat
to no advantage, you may choose to sacrifice happiness to restore
what was lost, but the sacrifice itself
is a privilege. How long will it take you to forget this? 

Now recall the glory of your wings.

Wayne Koestenbaum has published eighteen books of poetry, criticism, and fiction, including Notes on Glaze (2016), The Pink Trance Notebooks (2015), My 1980s & Other Essays (2013), Humiliation (2011), Hotel Theory (2007), Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films (2006), Andy Warhol (2001), Jackie Under My Skin (1995), and The Queen’s Throat (1993), which was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. He has had solo exhibitions of his paintings at White Columns in New York City, 356 Mission in Los Angeles, and the University of Kentucky Art Museum in Lexington. His first piano/vocal record, Lounge Act, was issued by Ugly Duckling Presse in 2017. Koestenbaum is a Distinguished Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and French at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center.

excerpt from Camp Marmalade (“#12 [the dematerializing marzipan]”)

spit on every painting so
I can list saliva as
ingredient, also use
cum in every painting
as underlayer


           father begged for
marzipan—did he pretend
to love marzipan so we kids
had something inexpensive
to buy him?


never bought him marzipan—
did he ever buy it for himself?


           why did
marzipan always come
in trompe l’oeil shapes—
Elvis Presley, carrot,
car, Colosseum, tulip?


marzipan was a joke
food, sold at underdog shops—
no normal stores sold it


            my sentimental
love for him centered
on his supposed love
of marzipan and the
ease of satisfying him
by buying him marzipan
though it remained a
mystery whether he
actually loved marzipan


maybe he secretly threw it away—
it disappeared shortly after
we gave it to him—
the dematerializing marzipan


jetting euphemism isolates
cum for extermination—
keep mentioning extermination
because it’s real, what
he suffered under, and
his suffering (even if he
only rarely mentioned it)
became mine—


         dead boy
revenant, stop knocking
on my bedroom window—


men who demote me
are the ones I desire—
rejection’s aphrodisiac


Photo: Don Stahl

Readings in Contemporary Poetry: An Anthology

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