|Countdown to New Year's: Round 1, Day 4|
Johnson VS Goldsmith
For today’s dates, the choice of locale is a Winter Wonderland amusement park, filled with laughing children and tired parents who wander almost aimlessly among roller coasters and carousels all spinning madly in the early evening. A loud and raucous song roars from a nearby twirling ride when I spot Samuel Johnson seated quietly on a bench holding a cotton candy in either hand. We sit and munch on the sweet, sugary treat quietly, until a young boy crosses Samuel’s path and Samuel asks hi, seemingly innocuously, to give him a sentence or phrase. The child complies, and Samuel proceeds to initiate a game of verse based on whatever lines passersby throw his way. Soon he has amassed a small crowd, and impresses us all with his quick adaptations and playfulness.
Samuel informs me that Oliver Goldsmith is already on the ride behind us, and smiles as he explains that Oliver had followed his own small group of new friends onto the ride, at their urging, after initiating the same game just moments before I met them. Oliver disembarks his ride and joins us, and soon has all three of us composing poems together. The two poets share stories of their friendship, evenings spent debating over poems they read and arguing over poems they wrote. Each is free to tease the other about their respective poetic styles.
The two poets lead me to a large spinning carousel to meet my next poetic possibles. As we part ways, Samuel hands me a copy of “Drury-lane Prologue …” while Oliver grins and hands me “When Lovely Woman Stoops to Folly.”
Smart VS Koch
I board the carousel and find Christopher Smart sitting on a bright pink horse. He dismounts and invites me to walk with him in the opposite direction of the ride’s already dizzying turn. We walk between the mechanized prancing horses, taking in the shrieks of children riding along beside us. Christopher tells me of his youthful dalliances, his penchant for careless pleasures and not-so-casual engagements. He wonders as we walk what his chances are at any of the games that spin by us on the ground beyond our ride. I tease that perhaps he should keep his money where it’s safest … in his pocket. He merely shrugs and points out that our third companion is just ahead.
I spot Kenneth Koch sitting on a stationary carriage seat on the carousel. He sits with three other children, who all laugh at some joke Kenneth has just told them. As I wonder aloud how we missed him earlier, one of the children grins and says he had been moving from horse to horse, carriage to carriage, the whole time. Christopher and I sit with Kenneth, who shares his own story of a poetic journey through the “New York School” of poets. Almost everything he says results in laughter, and by the time the ride ends we can barely move from the side-splitting mirth we three have shared.
As we get off our whirling ride, Christopher gives me a copy of “Epistle to Mrs. Tyler” he’s written on an empty popcorn bag. Kenneth admits he’s forgotten to bring his poem, so snatches a few napkins and hastily copies his “You Know All This” onto the flimsy makeshift pages before handing them to me with a grin.
Kaufman VS Gray
My head is slightly spinning by the time I reach the Ferris wheel where the evening will end. As I approach, I am joined by my two gentlemen, but the ride operator insists we can only ride two at a time. The poets ride together first—“to strategize,” they tease—which gives me some much needed time to, ironically, ground myself. When the poets come back to the ground, they have agreed to let Bob Kaufman go first. As we ascend into the air, Bob snaps his fingers in time to the rhythmic click of the wheel’s motion and begins composing a poem on the spot. I tell him, when he finishes, that I would snap if I could in appreciation of his work; he merely grins and says he’ll gladly take good old fashioned applause. Bob asks how my time with Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg went, and we talk about their shared poetic styles and the founding of Beatitudes. He speaks of his time in New Orleans and New York, before we switch gears and compare blues notes on our shared love of jazz. As we unload ourselves from the ride, Bob hands me a copy of his poem “Believe, Believe” and walks off humming a Charlie Parker tune.
I board again with Thomas Gray, who does not snap or hum but points up at the evening sky as it seems to pour itself over our faces and traces some of the wandering star patterns with his fingers. He fidgets as we ride, and admits he is more than a little uncomfortable in this man-made contraption that brings the heavens so near only to pull them away in the next instant. He tells me of his youth, speaking mostly of his mother and some friends and not at all of his father. He spends to much time gazing down at the people below wondering what they are thinking that we make it into something of a game, deciding for each person where the will go and what they might do after the amusement of the amusement park passes. As we make our final turn and descend back to the ground, Thomas pulls a copy of “Ode on the Spring” from a pocket and presses it into my hand.
Your Turn: Which of tonight’s six poets brought the most amusement to this journey through an amusement park? Was your heart captured by rhyme, or meter, or particular lines? Who do you think won this round? Cast your votes in the comments, and help pick the final group of winners for round one!
Bonus Question: On the last date ... why do you think Kaufman and Gray rode together first, and then choose to go in the order they did afterwards? (Hint #1: There is a reason. Hint #2: It may have more to do with me than the poets themselves ...)
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