The New York Times

Key West Poet Laureate Kirby Congdon (Photo by Richard Watherwax)

by Kirby Congdon…….

A friend of mine will not read the Times because it’s a monopoly, but having no morals your reader is an addict. The issue of August 6th, 2017 emphasized poetry for its Book Review last Sunday. I can’t review that issue in its entirety but I want to touch on contributions that provoke interest.

I get from the Times editor, David Orr (and A. O. Scott as well) a sense of knowing a wide range of subjects and how the poets handle them. Both viewers know what they are talking about, giving the reader a sense of trust. Mr. Orr discusses a couple of collections on war poetry written by two women. Men seem to avoid using this reference as self-serving. As Mr. Orr concludes, “There is a kind of nothingness that haunts poetry … that we call destruction.” Perhaps we can leave it at that.

Simone While, a poet, reviews two books about poetry. One of them, by Matthew Zazpruder, is Why Poetry and another, Poetry Will Save Your Life. A Memoir, is by Jill Bialosky. A full-page review by Andrew Epstein is given over to John Ashberry’s life published by Karin Roffman, The Songs We Know Best.

This is a thorough biography of Ashberry but quits this subject with this well- known poet’s first book at age 27. He is 90 now. Perhaps another book is immanent. His first book was panned by me. When I went to a reading of it by Ashberry at the Brooklyn Library in the 1960‘s and asked him to sign a copy, he asked who he should sign it to and replied with visible annoyance, “Oh, so you’re Kirby Congdon!”

Ann Douglas, in a full-page review, provides more information on the period of the Beat Movement documenting Allen Ginsberg’s posthumous account in The Beat Minds Of My Generation. A Literary History of the Beats while Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000) is memorialized in two books reviewed by Claudia Rankine. These books contain poems written as homage by other poets to Ms. Brooks’ life’s work. The review discusses both books in detail. Gwendolyn Brooks, Like Derek Walcott, uses the dialect of the uneducated in their work. This has gottem them attention but this writer finds it annoying and unreadable in print or in conversation. Communication is difficult enough as it is. Both poets, however, are well-recognized and get full-page reviews with portraits.

Along with more coverage of current poets, full-page space is given to four worksheets of Robert Pinsky, and Billy Collins (who has read several times in Key West), along with the work sheets of Jenny Zhang and Mary Jo Bang. The typescript is small but one can see, by the handwritten inserts, how many second thoughts go into a poem’s construction.

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Kirby Congdon
Kirby Congdon found his calling in the time of the Beat Movement, his poems being published by the New York Times, The New York Herald Tribune and the Christian Science Monitor as well as countless small-press outlets. While influenced by the assertive stance of a new generation in literature, he preferred to set aside the spontaneous approach of his friends and use his work as an exploratory tool in establishing the new identity of his times as well as that of his own maturation. This search was incorporated in 300 works which were compiled in a bibliography by a Dean of the English Department at Long Island University in his retirement and made available in hard-back with an extensive addenda by the literary activists of Presa Press through their skills achieved from the University of Michigan and their own experience which commands a movement in itself of contemporary literary action.

Congdon’s work in poetry covers innumerable treatments of countless subjects in single poems, long treatments on a subject, and many collections of both serious thought and imagination through not only the poetry but through essays, plays and ruminations. Named the first poet laureate of Key West, he received a standing ovation for his reading honoring this position and was the featured poet in a festival celebrating Frank O’Hara in the New York region. He was also asked to read his work as well as give a talk on the country’s national poet laureate, Richard Wilbur, at a seminar honoring that man. Currently, Congdon is working on an autobiography and a collection of complete poems.

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