OVER LUNCH ONE DAY last year, Matt Brogan, the new executive director of Seattle Arts & Lectures (formerly the director of the Academy of American

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Rhymes and Reasons

Seattle hosts poetry's all-stars.

OVER LUNCH ONE DAY last year, Matt Brogan, the new executive director of Seattle Arts & Lectures (formerly the director of the Academy of American Poets), and A Contemporary Theater director Gordon Edelstein wondered together about the possibility of bringing a major series of poetry readings to Seattle. The conversation developed into a unique collaboration among SAL, ACT, and Wallingford's Open Books: A Poem Emporium that has organized four evenings of readings by world-renowned poets. Starting on February 28 and continuing through March and April, the series will present, in turn, Philip Levine, Frank Bidart, and Anne Carson reading from their work, and finally Robert Hass, accompanied by Seattle poets Linda Bierds, Richard Kenney, Alan Lau, and Colleen McElroy, reading from the Library of America's forthcoming anthology of American poetry. Poetry Series

ACT, Allen Theater

February 28, March 6, March 21, April 3 Philip Levine opens the series of readings on February 28 after a long absence from Seattle. Levine, born in 1928 to a poor family in an immigrant neighborhood of Detroit, is the author of 17 books of poetry and the winner of a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. He spent most of his 20s in brutalizing industrial jobs, and after he escaped into a different life as a writer, the world he left behind became his central subject. Levine has devoted his art to rendering justly the blunt, weary dramas that unfold in blue-collar neighborhoods and factories, in poems that are works of praise as well as pathos. Like his award-winning What Work Is, his new collection The Mercy (Knopf, $22) presents recollected characters such as an immigrant peddler, a thick-armed farmer, a butcher, a man so happy to be changing a flat tire with his father that he sings—all palpably alive in the capacious honesty of the poet's vision. May Levine's blunt songs of the single, grit-blown moment—that woman digging bulbs into bare ground, this man-handled oil drum under exactly this sky—be heard and remembered through our shiny times. MARCH 6 WILL BRING us Frank Bidart, whose most recent book, Desire (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $11), was nominated for both a Pulitzer and a National Book Award. Bidart's bold, incantory work is perhaps less well-known to the general public than to his fellow poets, but he has a reputation for dazzling audiences with his readings. His new book sets out to explode the sentimentality of many of our notions about love and desire, contending that through the anguish love brings we are "driven berserk or humanized," at tremendous cost in either case. Love means suffering partly because "the source of ecstasy is not chosen." We fall into love and are consumed by love—"we are the wheel to which we are bound." Bidart's poetic art is an agonized, agonizing act of creation that itself becomes a central drama of Desire. He draws on battle scenes from the ancient writer Tacitus, tales from Ovid and Homer, and passages from Borges for metaphors to embody his strenuous vision, and his clean, severe lines deliver the body, anatomized, to the reader. On March 21 the series will host award-winning Canadian author, translator, and professor of classics Anne Carson, one of the most innovative poets writing today and a compellingly dramatic reader of her work. Critics call her collection Glass, Irony, and God and her new volume, Red: An Autobiography (Knopf, $24), some of the best, most startling verse published in a decade. Red is a virtuoso blend of psychological acuity, philosophical brilliance, erotic candor, wicked humor, and profound feeling, often expressed in such an intimately colloquial, quirky voice that it might (you wish!) be your best friend's. Carson's metaphors are original and surprising: lovers-at-first-sight "recognized each other like italics"; a restless insomniac's "brain was jerking forward like a/bad slide projector"; a photographer in a darkroom gazes at his developing negatives, "watching likeness come groping/out of the bones." What holds all this together is the book-length narrative of a winged red monster whose tumultuous, clumsy longings send him careening between the ancient world and our own. Former Poet Laureate Robert Hass will conclude the series April 3 with readings from American Poetry: The Twentieth Century (Library of America, $35), a volume he coedited. Hass is a first-class poet in his own right and an experienced host of literary events, gracious and intelligent. His voice, added to those of Seattle's own Bierds, Kenney, Lau, and McElroy, will bring to life selections from an ambitious anthology that includes popular song lyrics along with more canonical poems, and works by lesser-known writers as well as by the most famous American poets of this century. Brogan, Edelstein, and Christine Deaver and John W. Marshall of Open Books hope that the poetry readings will become an annual Seattle event, but if you want tickets for this year's series it would be wise to hurry. Seating is limited at ACT's intimate theater-in-the-round, Allen Theater (Seventh and Union), where the evenings will be held. Tickets are $40 from Seattle Arts & Lectures at 621-2230, www.lectures.org, or 105 S Main, Ste 201, Seattle, WA, 98104.

 
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