As the modernist Anglo-American poet T. S. Eliot noted in his shape-shifting poem The Waste Land, "April is the cruelest month." It's also National Poetry Month, and has been since 1996. Poetry, of course, knows no national boundaries, and can be found everywhere in the world, but few places in the world are more devoted to the art than Northern California. Sometimes it seems that everyone here is a poet, or wants to be one, and that everyone is writing the Great American Poem. Moreover, almost every county and every self-respecting city and burg has a poet laureate.
Perhaps the most noteworthy poet to read this month is Richard O. Moore, who just turned 90, and whose first book of poems, Writing the Silences ($19.95), has just been published by the University of California Press. Born in Ohio, Moore has spent almost all of his life in Northern California.
For most of his life, Moore never cared about publishing his work. If it weren't for poet Brenda Hillman, who edited Writing the Silences with the assistance of Paul Ebenkamp, the volume would not exist. "The original manuscript of my poems was about 200 pages," Moore says at his tiny apartment in Mill Valley. "We edited it down to about half the size. Brenda made the book possible.
"A poem should call for the kind of scrutiny that a lawyer would give to a complex legal brief," he says. "I want readers and listeners to take my poetry seriously." Brenda Hillman certainly did. So does her husband Robert Hass, the former U.S. poet laureate, who was persuaded to become a poet in part by Moore's classy TV documentaries about American poets.
Richard Moore reads from Writing the Silences on Saturday April 17, at Book Passage. 51 Tamal Vista Boulevard, Corte Madera. Poets Raphael Block, Fred Ostrander and Barbara Ras join him. 2pm. Free. 415.927.0960.
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