In her absence, they honored her by reading her famous Letter to Laura Bush, refusing to attend the National Book Festival. Unfortunately, the reading fell a bit flat for me, partly I think because I had read this letter -- which is very moving -- before, and partly because, well, she'd ditched out on us, too, so that made her refusal to break bread with Mrs. Bush rather unpleasantly and unintentionally ironic.
Naomi Ayala read in her place, along with Galway Kinnell.
It should have been exciting to see Kinnell, but I had brought both the Floppy and DH along with me to the event, and I was distracted with making sure Floppy had enough paper and drawing materials to enjoy the reading (he was well-behaved, and sat quietly in the aisle turning out sketch after sketch, including one of a pirate manning a great ship, holding what looked like a gun, but was instead, I was told, his lunch). Also, Kinnell, in a fit of poorly placed humility, mainly read the work of other poets rather than his own, which was a disappointment to me.
In fact, here he is reading a poem by Paul Celan, so you can judge for yourself:
He did read one poem that was absolutely gorgeous and unforgettable, a section of his long poem The Book of Nightmares, from the part called "Lastness," that ends with these unforgettable lines describing a birth:
When he came wholly forth
I took him up in my hands and bent
over and smelled
the black glistening fur
of his head, as empty space
must have bent
over the newborn planet
and smelled the grasslands and the ferns.
Gorgeous: Now I have words for what it was like to hold my own son for the first time. Naomi Ayala gave a fine reading, was my impression, but not one that stuck with me: I remember she read one poem in Spanish and I was pleased with how much of it I could still follow, and that's about the extent of my recollection. At this point in the weekend, my brain was beginning to leak out my ears a bit, I suspect.