Friday, October 3, 2008

John Surowiecki

Recently, I've been reading John Surowiecki's book of poems The Hat City after Men Stopped Wearing Hats. It won the Washington Prize for Poetry in 2006, and it is excellent. John is smart and funny and humane. He pulls off that most difficult role: he's a writer who has something important to say about the way we live and die, and he does it in a way that makes you feel he's not afraid of being human, one of us, a friend.

Here's one of the many fine poems in the book that mixes the elegaic and the comic:

The Polka King’s Death (1963)

They liked that his casket was lined with robin’s-
egg-blue satin undulating in G-clef patterns
and that his golden initials, so cleverly intertwined
and flecked with stars and Saturns and grace-
noted comets, once again blazoned from his pocket;
most of all, they liked that he kept his fez.

He had played at all their weddings, started
them on all their journeys, all bound for the same
unremarkable place, all the same to him.
He had given them a day of joy and frenzied music,
a day without bosses or angry looks or remarks
about being poor or uneducated or just plain stupid.

In return, they gave him a joyless hour and, heads
bowed, they sang their sluggish hymns.


John is also an accomplished playwright, and his play My Nose and Me: A TragedyLite or TragiDelight in 33 Scenes will be given a dramatic reading at the University of Connecticutt, Storrs, on Thursday, November 13 at the Nafe Katter Theatre at 7 pm.

The play won the Poetry Foundation’s first Pegasus Award for Verse Drama. Inspired by Gogol’s story, “The Nose,” it recounts how a man and his proboscis battle cancer and win. Praising the play’s madcap ingenuity, the Poetry Foundation website describes Surowiecki’s protagonist as a man who “suffers not only the dread, despair, and indignity of cancer treatment but also the temporary disappearance of his nose,” which departs to travel the world.

Presented as part of the English Department's Creative Sustenance Series & Connecticut Repertory Theatre's Uncommon Sense Series, this event is a benefit for the Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic. Audience members are invited to make a donation or bring canned goods.

Before I forget, let me also say that John won the Pablo Neruda Prize for poetry last year.