It's the best literary festival around, because it's small enough for every author to be accessible, compact enough so you don't have more than one or two impossible choices between fabulous readings happening at the same moment -- and large enough of heart (thanks to great staff, authors, and supporters) to draw great established and new voices each autumn. It's the Brattleboro Literary Festival, and for 2008, it's now over.
But Dave and I will keep on talking with each other about the amazing first public event of the weekend: seeing Alan Cheuse and Robert Pinsky reconnect at the front of the room, in a reunion of New Jersey writers who were born there just two weeks apart, only 20 miles from each other -- and who have rarely met since then.
Cheuse presented his formidable fictionalized biography of Edward Curtis, TO CATCH THE LIGHTNING. But he preceded it with a witty short story, "Ben in Amboy," to honor the Jersey component. If you don't know Jersey, "Amboy" refers to Perth Amboy, where Cheuse was born.
And Pinsky, who arrived at the podium looking like a fresh-scrubbed boxer with a wide and crooked grin, tossed an amazing collection of poems and one-liners to the audience, reading especially from his 2008 collection, GULF MUSIC. Part of the collection is represented at his Academy of American Poets site. This is his ninth collection, and it's a keeper.
Pinsky is sometimes better known for his advocacy than for his poems, a situation that does him honor but also means people miss out on the bluesy, rhythmic treats that his work provides. He was especially on a roll on Saturday with both his humor and his confident proclamations like this one:
"If it's wearing sandals and looking up, it's not the sacred. If anything is sacred, dog sh*t is sacred, and jokes. Either everything is sacred, or nothing is."
And he made a darned good case for the "Everything" version. Watch for his upcoming readings: this Saturday Oct. 11 at 8:30 pm with Lucie Brock-Broido and Martín Espada at the first ever Massachusetts Poetry Festival (http://masspoetry.org - you need tickets, $10 each); and October 22 at the University of Cincinnati, with a 3 pm Q&A session at the Stratford Heights Grill and 8 pm reading at 427ERC.