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New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

NYU’s creative writing program celebrates love with readings of admirable poems

NYU co-sponsored a love poetry reading at McNally Jackson Books’ new SoHo location, featuring work from Jericho Brown, Alex Dimitrov and Deborah Landau.
Max Van Hosen
NYU’s creative writing program co-sponsored a love poetry reading. (Illustration by Max Van Hosen)

On Sept. 20, in the children’s section of McNally Jackson Books’ new Prince Street location, a love poetry reading, co-sponsored by NYU’s creative writing program, was held. Picture books lined the walls, and rows of folding chairs covered every inch of the floor as poets Jericho Brown, Alex Dimitrov and Deborah Landau each read aloud one poem from their favorite poets and a few of their original poems — all following the theme of love.

The fact that the poets performing were all friends with one another made the event extra special.  Ease and confidence emanated from each of them, and the entire night was full of affection, thanks to the admiration they had for each others’ work. The small stage was bathed in the warm lighting of the bookstore, and everyone was sitting mere inches away from each other, some with notebooks and pens at the ready, and others waiting eagerly to listen. 

Dimitrov is the author of four poetry collections, the chapbook “American Boys,” and is a writer-in-residence at the NYU creative writing program. Landau, the author of five poetry collections, is the recipient of the 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship and the director of NYU’s creative writing program. Brown won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his collection “The Tradition.” He has received many esteemed fellowships and is currently both a professor and the director of Emory University’s creative writing program. 

When Dimitrov began his reading, he opened with the classic “Having a Coke With You” by Frank O’Hara and then flowed into his own rendition, “Having a Diet Coke With You.” “This is the love poem no one / gave you. And thank god! / They couldn’t do it like this,” he said. He said to the audience that his poems are “messy, but not sloppy.” 

This is one of the joys of his work. He looks at the whole of life and embraces the mess, like in his poem “100%,” from which he read, “After years of being in love / with the wrong people / I’m still open like The Paris Theater / on 58th Street.” 

Landau also read a Frank O’Hara poem, “Poem ‘À la recherche d’ Gertrude Stein,’” which she read at her wedding instead of traditional vows. She then read from her newest work, “Skeletons,” which is a collection of acrostic poems using the word “Skeleton” and interspersed with companion poems called “Flesh.” When creating these works, Landau thought “about [Wallace] Stevens arguing or contending that poetry should give pleasure,” she said.

Landau’s poems had musicality to them, as each piece danced into the next. Her poetry is “like listening to good radio,” Brown said about his co-host. The poems clearly showed not only passion, but also an overall love for life. 

Brown began with “Lust,” by Yusef Komunyakaa, noting that Komunyakaa was the first Black man to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Brown then read a number of different poems including “Duplex (I Begin With Love),” a duplex poem, a form he created himself, which is a reinvention and transformation of traditional sonnets. “I begin with love, hoping to end there,” he read. “I don’t want to leave a messy corpse.” 

Celebrating love as a poetic muse was a powerful way to start off the event program at McNally Jackson’s new location. The evening was a wonderful addition to the legacy of NYU Creative Writing’s collaborations with the beloved bookstore.

The NYU creative writing program hosts a number of different readings like this one throughout the semester. The full schedule of upcoming readings part of this Reading Series programming can be found on its website.

Contact Eliana Brown at [email protected]

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