A Reading: Richard Siken – 4/23/2015

The Fulcrum

The Fulcrum, Richard Siken

Richard Siken read from his newest collection of poems, War of the Foxes, on Thursday, April 23, at NYU, and I was lucky enough to attend. The Creative Writer’s House is this beautiful old house bordering the West Village on 10th Street and 6th Avenue, and it has a very long and skinny corridor of rooms on the first floor. I arrived 15 minutes early, and the first floor was completely packed. People were sitting on the floor, on the stairs, and crammed into doorways. I made my way to the very back and ended up sitting on the fold-out table meant for the reception afterwards.

Siken said that if a book is a landscape, then a reading is a path through the landscape. War of the Foxes has many paths winding through the landscape of his poems, what Siken categorized into war poems, angry poems, and making poems. He made a few jokes about dirty poems and why he didn’t write any this time, before reading his poems on making. My only wish is that he read more than three poems. He read, in the following order:

  1. The Language of the Birds
  2. Three Proofs
  3. Landscape with a Blur of Conquerors

I’ve provided links where the poems are available online, but I would urge you to support poetry and the arts and to buy his book!

Siken told us that one of the last things he wrote in Crush was the following line from “Unfinished Duet”:

His hands keep turning into
birds, and his hands keep flying away
from him. Eventually the birds must land.

“The Language of the Birds” is a kind of continuation and landing place for Crush, opening with a certain kind of quiet grace:

A man saw a bird and found him beautiful. The bird had a song inside him, and feathers.

And Flew And Flew, Richard Siken

I was surprised at how much Richard Siken is like his poems – a combination of vulnerability, intelligence, and power. He answered questions about his craft confidently, was able to quote Gertrude Stein off the top of his head, and yet choked up a little while reading a poem out loud for the first time at a reading. He mentioned that he created some really beautiful landmarks in his landscape of a book, but couldn’t find a workable way to fit them into the book. I am desperately curious to know what these landmarks are, and I may spend one of these weekends with a paintbrush and canvas and start creating my vision of his landscapes, and maybe a few of my own. It’s always a treat to hear a favorite poet or author read. I walked up to him after the reading, and not only did he sign my books, but he gave me a list of poetry recommendations. I’ve listed them below, in case you’re interested and inspired as well:

  • Jack Gilbert
  • Claudia Rankine
  • Anne Carson
  • Jorie Graham
  • Larry Levis

Claudia Rankine and Larry Levis were new names to me, while I’m relatively familiar with the work of the other poets’. It was so nice to see that I shared some favorite poets with Siken! I’ll definitely be looking for these books the next time I’m at the Strand. Have you read any of these before? What are some of the most memorable readings you’ve attended?

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Additional Reading:

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