20 Years of Monday Night Poetry at KGB Bar | Part 6

Video by Sage Suppa and Rising Films

We’re celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Monday Night Poetry Series at KGB Bar with spotlights on the poets who have hosted the series. This week we’re featuring Matthew Yeager and John Deming, the current co-hosts.

This marks the final feature of our six-part series, thank you for coming along on this journey with us! To catch up on the previous stories, please click on the links below:

Part 1 featuring Monday Night Poetry Series co-founder Star Black
Part 2 featuring Monday Night Poetry Series co-founder David Lehman
Part 3 featuring series hosts Deborah Landau and Matthew Zapruder
Part 4 featuring series hosts Laura Cronk and Michael Quattrone
Part 5 featuring series host Megin Jiménez

Current Monday Night Poetry Series hosts John Deming and Matthew Yeager at KGB Bar

Matthew and John have energized the series in small and large ways. They introduced a graphic logo designed for the series, they produce t-shirts each season to give to the readers. When the funky podium light that had been rigged to the podium began to really call attention to its limitations, Matthew designed and built a new one with concrete, plumbing pipes, and a dimmer switch. It would easily win “Best Podium Light” in the Bar Reading Series catagory if reading series had their own Tony Awards. Matthew and John are most well known, though, for their exquisite introductions of the poets they host. Rather than trying to explain, we thought we’d give you a taste. Here are two from Matthew Yeager’s archives:

Fall 2015 Season Opener
September 21, 2015
Featuring Deborah Landau & David Lehman

Welcome Back Everyone to Week 1, Season 38, Year 19 of the KGB MONDAY NIGHT POETRY SERIES! See, this was the perfect amount of under-promotion; if we’d promoted it adequately, everyone would be even more squished than they are, and fifteen people would be in the hallways and they’d be miserable, thinking how they came all this way and didn’t even get to be inside.

We welcome back two top-tier New York poets who have…much more than that in common. They have THIS in common. This place and this series. Along with Star Black, David Lehman started this series. When those two passed the torch, it was to Matthew Zapruder and Deborah Landau. And that was years ago, and now they’re both back here, proving the world travels in circles. They’ve probably had some of the same thoughts, looking out at the crowd — such as, if this place catches on fire during the reading, “I’m jumping out the window onto 4th St.” I know at least two of us have had that thought (LOOK AT JOHN). And how would KGB have caught fire? Oh, probably from the desk lamp that’s been duct-taped onto this little lectern for so many years; you put a poem under it, but you could also put a White Castle Hamburger under it….To fix that, as you might have noticed, we now have this contraption. (WORK THE DIMMERS) Pretty nice, eh?

In thinking about David Lehman’s mind, I realized that the first three metaphors I could come up with for it — — a steel trap, a broad swath of the permanently sticky flypaper, a sponge — all had to do with capturing living things. A sponge is a sea creature, after all. I sat there scratching my eyebrow for a second; I realized all of these metaphors were a little dark. Then I thought of a new one — THE ARK, as a metaphor for a human mind, and it really is the apotheosis of mind metaphors; it grows out of a need for itself; it is capacious; it fills itself according to a plan, with an imperative of love for the world; it helps the future come to be. Lehman’s mind is an ark; if you’ve been lucky enough to know him, you know this. Now I like to make predictions, as who doesn’t, and I predict that more and more Lehman’s mind will be realized to be an ark by the culture at-large, having as it does the whole second half of the 20th century in it, and what we have so far of this one. And the times haven’t merely been remembered, they’ve been considered, chronicled, synthesized. As for poetry, his mind has more poetry than anyone I’ve met.

What you can learn from David Lehman’s poems…is the power of motion…and the power of a love for life. If you keep moving, and you keep loving life, there will be poetry every day. Your eyes will alight on what’s wonderful and odd in a scene that’s otherwise familiar. Your ear will curate a sentence spoken on radio and connect it to Schopenhauer, and that connection will mix with the time of day, and suddenly there will be depth, an explanation of feeling. Lehman’s poetry is often a poetry of many elements, but it’s not a disjunctive poetry; it’s a connective poetry. His Daily Poems remain the best of their kind, the exact kind of content for such a form. Reread in 2015, you realize they report on a NY that has changed considerably, in the way O’Hara’s did. And the same truth pervades them as pervade O’Hara’s. If you walk around always with your net, your butterfly collection will be large, interesting, and various.

Music has been a life-long passion that has only increased as the years have gone on. His latest book will be Sinatra’s Century, One Hundred Notes on the Man and his World. And I encourage everyone to pick up “The State of the Art,” the collection of his introductory essays to the Best American Poetry anthology. I’ll skip his bio, save to say he is a poet, editor, essayist, teacher, acclaimed non-fiction writer, husband, and we can add to that, cancer-survivor.

April 22, 2013
Featuring Michael Dickman & Sharon Olds
Introduction for Sharon Olds

The painter Vincent Van Gogh, or as Dianne Keaton’s character in Manhattan calls him, Van GAW, was as many of you know a great writer of letters. I imagine many in this room have read them, or read some of them; like Rilke’s letters, they constitute an instruction manual in the art of calibrating / inclining / orienting the human spirit towards the arts, towards being able to produce those connections between reader-writer, painter-viewer, musician-listener which will always be the greatest apology for wiling away the hours trying to make the daggone things. There is one letter of Van Gogh’s in particular that I have always loved, and I quote: “Whoever wants to do figures must have what is printed on the Christmas number of Punch: “GOOD WILL TO ALL” — and this to a high degree. One must have a warm sympathy with human beings, and go on having it, or the drawings will remain cold and insipid. I consider it very necessary for us to watch ourselves and to take care that we do not become disenchanted in this respect.”

If you want to write other people into your poems, draw real humans and your real relationships to them in poems, I think this is sage advice. Of course there are whole totally valid styles and schools of poetics where there is simply no room for that, and we’re all democratic enough in our tastes and broad enough in our understanding of poetry that when a miniature dachsund is trotted out, we don’t say, “I don’t like the way that dog looks.” No we judge it AS a dachsund, and when a Great Dane is trotted out, we judge it AS a Great Dane. And yet…I don’t know… One of the reasons I love curating this series and consider myself lucky to do its work is that, each week it’s a different poet to jam freshly into my jar-head, and I emailed John this morning saying it’s like a second sun comes up into my sky each week and into a different part of that sky, and I’m a plant, and when that sun is large and warm and strong, I feel all my leaves just naturally orienting towards it — toward a particular poet’s subject, method, whole being-in-the-world. And that was this week’s experience with Sharon Olds.

What has been remarkable about her work from the beginning all the way up through Stag’s Leap is this “warm sympathy” that Van Gogh speaks of, an ability to see things from an angle other than her own in the context of an autobiographical poem and — here is the kicker — to hold that angle as coequal with her own. It was what surprised me years ago when I read The Father. I’d expected, for no reason whatsover, an overdrive pedal; distortion. What I found was clarity. This ability of hers to allow others their full humanity is the mother of such clarity; it causes real human beings to BE in her poems, realler than the real frogs Marianne Moore thought poems ought to have in them, because a real human is a bigger fish than a real frog, and tougher to get onto the boat of a poem.

Many poets have tackled the subject of divorce in poems, and written good poems. William Matthews, who was divorced I believe 4 times, wrote that “he liked divorce.” Robert Hass wrote, in Regalia for a Black Hat Dancer, “That there ought to be one single word for the misery of it.” I imagine there are poets I don’t know who, as Sharon has, have given a whole volume to the subject. One tends to find the former spouse oddly absent from these poems of divorce. Stag’s Leap, as a volume, is unique for the reason that it doesn’t do this….Time, which can find expression in poetry as length or as the serial treatment of a subject, is the greatest expression of care, of honoring something, and there is no substitute for it. You can’t love or honor anything or anyone without giving it your time. Life is trying; we shouldn’t judge others for using their two weeks of vacation time a year to escape, as opposed to going home-home and visiting their mothers the whole time, and we shouldn’t judge poets for escaping the personal in what time they have to write, but I tell you…there is something to be said for giving poetry to your own life and the people that have made it. As I think all of us know, Stag’s Leap, Sharon’s 10th book of poetry, was recently awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and it is as deserving of the Pulitzer Prize as any Pultizer Prize winning book of poetry has been in awhile. “Poem for the Breasts” is the best single poem I have read this year, and one that should be around for a long time. It is our great honor to have her here tonight. Please welcome Sharon Olds.

Monday Night Poetry Series co-founder David Lehman poses with current host Matthew Yeager

Poet Matthew Yeager was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is the author of the poetry collection Like That (2016). Publisher’s Weekly, in a starred review, called the book “a triumph of sonic quality, line construction, and sustained attention.” Yeager’s short film based on a poem from the book, “A Big Ball of Foil in a Small NY Apartment,” was an official selection at 11 film festivals and received three awards. Yeager himself has received two fellowships from MacDowell and is a recipient of the Barthelme Prize in short prose. He works in the catering industry in New York City, where he lives with his wife, poet Chelsea Whitton.

Current Monday Night Poetry Series host John Deming

John Deming is Editor in Chief of Coldfront magazine. He has published poems in Boston Review, Fence, A Public Space, Southeast Review, and other journals. His most recent chapbook is 8 Poems (Eye for an Iris Press 2011). He lives in New York City, where he is a full-time faculty member at LIM College.

Next up at KGB Bar:

Monday Night Poetry
Featuring Amber Tamblyn, Jenny Zhang + Anton Yakovlev
KGB Bar | 85 E 4th St, NYC
April 24, 2017
7:00 pm — 9:00 pm