Ron Padgett

Winner of the 2009 Shelley Memorial Award

Bastille Day

The first time I saw Paris
I went to see where the Bastille
had been, and though
I saw the column there
I was too aware that
the Bastille was not there:
I did not know how
to see the emptiness.
People go to see
the missing Twin Towers
and seem to like feeling
the lack of something.
I do not like knowing
that my mother no longer
exists, or the feeling
of knowing. Excuse me
for comparing my mother
to large buildings. Also
for talking about absence.
The red and gray sky
above the rooftops
is darkening and the inhabitants
are hastening home for dinner.
I hope to see you later.
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John Koethe on Ron Padgett

Ron Padgett was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1942. In high school he edited, along with his friends Joe Brainard and Dick Gallup, a magazine called The White Dove Review, which published such figures as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Robert Creeley, and LeRoi Jones. In 1960 he moved to New York, where he was joined by Brainard, Gallup, and Ted Berrigan, this group of Tulsa emigres constituting the nucleus of what came to be know as the Second Generation New York School of Poets, after the original group con- sisting of John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler. Neither "school" was bound together by a literary ideology or an official poetics, but rather by friendship, shared tastes, and an irreverent but serious attitude towards poetry; neither did their works particularly resemble one another's. Ron Padgett has published numerous books of poetry, including Great Balls of Fire, Triangles in the Afternoon, The Big Something, You Never Know, and most recently, How to Be Perfect. He has also engaged in numerous collaborations with poets and painters such as Berrigan, Brainard and the late George Schneeman, and published translations of Guillaume Apollinaire, Blaise Cendrars, Pierre Reverdy, and many others. And he has written the memoirs Ted: A Personal Memoir of Ted Berrigan; Joe: A Memoir of Joe Brainard; and Oklahoma Tough: My Father, King of the Tulsa Bootleggers. For many years he worked at Teachers & Writers Collaborative, a nonprofit organization that teaches writing to children.

Ron Padgett's poetry is utterly unique. He writes with an apparent directness and simplicity that result from an extremely fastidious and artful attitude towards language. Each of his poems is an exquisite construction, yet at the same time he works to strip poetry of artifice and pretension. His poems are often hilarious—he may be the funniest living American poet—with a humor that is all the more powerful for its subtlety. Yet as with his friend Kenneth Koch, who was a hilarious poet but also a great elegist, it would be a mistake to regard him simply as a comic poet. His poems possess a heartbreaking and exhilarating delicacy, informed by a great tenderness of observation, directed at the small, the insignificant, and the transient. He is a kind of miniaturist of the mind, an intimatist of the imagination, characterizations he would undoubtedly hasten to puncture and deflate.

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