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. Following founders David Lehman and Star Black, Deborah Landau and Matthew Zapruder were the next pair of poets to host the Monday Night Poetry Series. Deborah and Matthew answered questions about the experience of coming into their own as curators as true friends might be want to do, together and all at once. This is the third post in a six-part series. To read Part 1 featuring Monday Night Poetry Series co-founder Star Black, please click here, for Part 2 featuring Monday Night Poetry Series co-founder David Lehman, please click here.
Deborah Landau is the author of three collections of poetry: The Uses of the Body and The Last Usable Hour, both Lannan Literary Selections from Copper Canyon Press, and Orchidelirium, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye for the Robert Dana Anhinga Prize for Poetry. She teaches in and directs the Creative Writing Program at New York University, and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, sons, and daughter.
Matthew Zapruder is the author of four collections of poetry, including Come On All You Ghosts, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 2011, and Sun Bear, published in 2014. Why Poetry, a book of prose, will be published by Ecco Press in the spring of 2017. An associate professor in the English department and the director of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at Saint Mary’s College of California, Zapruder is also editor at large at Wave Books. He is currently poetry editor for The New York Times Magazine and lives in Oakland, California.
By Matthew Zapruder and Deborah Landau:
We’re not sure what exactly was on our, or each other’s, minds when we starting curating the KGB Reading Series. David and Star had built this amazing institution, famous all over New York City, the U.S., the world. In 2004, David called Matthew and asked him to take over the series, along with Deborah, his colleague at The New School. So at some point in summer of 2004 we two met at a terrible bar in the East Village to talk about our visions. We discovered we didn’t really have any. We knew some poets we loved, and we knew of a lot more whom we deeply admired, and we thought putting all these people together would make a great series.
We took the responsibility of following in Star and David’s footsteps very seriously, and we wanted to build nights (pairs of poets) that continued, as David and Star had, to really stun people. We wanted to continue to demonstrate the possibilities of poetry, and its power as a living art form. So we started making lists. Sometimes the former curators would have suggestions. It turned out a lot of people wanted to read at the series, and the most complicated thing seemed to be to coordinate everyone’s schedules. It was good to have those many voices, and two people with differing yet sympathetic tastes and distinct yet overlapping views of the poetry world curating the series. It made it less monomaniacal. A little lack of focus can be a good thing. Our curating was intuitive and responsive each season to what we had seen work best the season before.
Many people have remarked on the alchemy of this particular series, how out of not necessarily remarkable elements something magical was created. In this way the reading series itself is a bit like a poem. The bar of course is great, and the physical space turned out to be just right for readings. There was something about the intimacy of the room, the accidentally perfect exact lumen level, the way it all started to feel, when someone was reading true poetry, like an ancient cave, that made it the best place in the world to read. Also not just space, but something about time, Monday nights, the time when each week you are shouldering the thought that you have just begun to shoulder the week. It felt like a secret anyone could know, if they felt like walking up the stairs.
As we continued to curate, we started to get a better sense of what good pairings could be, especially how an exciting young poet could partner up with someone more established, and that the more unexpected the pairing often the better. One time for instance we had Anthony McCann read with Billy Collins, to great effect. We remember sitting just a foot or two away from John Ashbery as he read brand new poems (for some reason, people often seemed to want to do that at KGB, again probably because of the intimacy of the space, and the fact that the audience was legendarily attentive). Dean Young’s awe of James Tate when they read together, their mutual appreciation. We remember Valzhyna Mort, in what was might have been her first reading in the U.S., blowing everyone away. Too many great poets to list. Drinking wine, talking about poetry, being in a room with those people who had for some reason also given their lives to this strange endeavor, this was what these nights meant to us, and we were so grateful to have had them.
Next up at KGB Bar:
Monday Night Poetry
Featuring William Wenthe, Jill Allyn Rosser and Martin Rock
KGB Bar | 85 E 4th St, NYC
March 13, 2017, 7:00 pm