Tag Archives: Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts

New Jersey, jazz and a traveller’s tales: August Kleinzahler in St Andrews

15 May

August Kleinzahler in St Andrews, May 2011

Not many poets can bring Marlene Dietrich, Nietzsche and WC Fields together in one poem and act out the speaking parts. Or, more darkly, to imitate the cry of a hawk in the air ‘terrible in his dismay’ as he reads another. August Kleinzahler made a stop in St Andrews on Friday and his reading included all of these moments, in a set that ranged from biting satire to surreal humour and a thoughtful lyricism about time, memory and the past.

His visit was part of a tour of the UK and Ireland to mark the paperback publication  of Sleeping it off in Rapid City: New and Selected Poems, (Faber & Faber), an award-winning retrospective of four major collections and recent work.

Kleinzahler has a reputation for being a poetic pugilist with an ability to shock. His work is described as a ‘modernist swirl of sex, surrealism, urban life and melancholy, with a jazzy backbeat.’ But there is also that deep lyricism, most evident in poems about the New Jersey of his childhood. This was evoked in ‘Closing Down on the Palisades’, prompted by the sale of his family home and in ‘Portrait of my Mother in January’, a delicate observation of aging.

In conversation with the Scottish poet Alexander Hutchison, Kleinzahler reminded the audience of his own attitude to poetry as something ‘thrilling and upsetting, not at all comfortable and predictable.’ He recalled his mentors Thom Gunn and Basil Bunting, whose method was simply to read poetry to his students and play them Renaissance and Baroque music.  And he recalled the effect of hearing Gregory Corso’s poetry for the first time, ‘full of vitality, exciting’. It was the effect of Beat poetry which sent the student on the road, and his restlessness, living on both sides of the American continent and crossing the Atlantic frequently, lends itself to themes of displacement and dislocation that reverberate through his writing.

Hutchison asked the poet to which of his poems he felt would last – his Desert Island list, in effect. After some thought, he named two of his recent New Jersey poems, plus ‘The Strange Hours Travellers Keep’ and ‘Anniversary’ – the hawk poem.  But there were many contenders  in the second half of the evening: the Baudelaire-dark ‘Retard Spoilage’, ‘Christmas in Chinatown’ and the mesmerising poem about jazz giant Thelonius Monk, with which he finished.  Kleinzahler’s sharp wit and rebellious streak combines to create poetry of serious intent. It made for a sublime reading.

The event was held in association with the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts and Faber & Faber.

StAnza Special Event: August Kleinzahler, 13 May 2011

20 Apr

One of the highlights of StAnza 2008 was the energetic presence of  August Kleinzahler (left), the New Jersey-born, Beat-influenced poet.  His volume of new and selected poems Sleeping It Off in Rapid City had just been published by Faber & Faber and Kleinzahler’s reputation in the UK had, by then, gone beyond the pages of the London Review of Books (where he had been published regularly through the Nineties) to reach an appreciative international, audience. Kleinzahler’s verbal energy and wild humour, was accompanied by sharp observation and sometimes controversial opinions – he enlivened one StAnza Discussion panel in particular with his provocative contributions. And his centre stage reading to a packed house at the Byre Theatre was electric.

StAnza is delighted to welcome Kleinzahler back to St Andrews on 13 May. As well as treating us to a reading in that inimitable, performative style, he’ll also be In Conversation with fellow poet Alexander Hutchison. Born and brought up in Fort Lee, a tough gangster neighbourhood in New Jersey, Kleinzahler’s early life combined the restless lifestyle of the Beats – travelling across the states doing odd jobs – with a period studying under poets Basil Bunting and Thom Gunn. Since 1978 he has published ten collections of poetry.

The slow but steady rise of his reputation was galvanized with the publication of The Strange Hours Travellers Keep (Faber, 2004), which won the International Griffin Prize – listen here to August reading a poem from the collection.  Critics call him a ‘pugilist poet’, but as this essay from the Poetry Foundation, points out, ‘his poetry’s gruff language and fondness for off-color subject matter doesn’t overshadow his formal control and innovation…and he is highly praised for his mastery of vocabulary, syntax and line.’

Kleinzahler’s prose includes a memoir about his childhood, Cutty, One Rock: Low Characters and Strange Places, Gently Explained (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) and ‘Music I-LXXIV’ (Pressed Wafer, 2009), a collection of his music journalism. He writes a music column for the San Diego Reader and subjects range from jazz to country and classical – with witty diversions via Liberace and Tina Turner.

Tickets for the August Kleinzahler reading will be available from The Byre Theatre Box Office, Abbey Street, St Andrews, 01334 475000; email boxoffice@byretheatre.com or online at www.byretheatre.com.

The event is being held in association with the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts and Faber & Faber.

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