Folger Theatre’s O.B. Hardison Poetry Series
By: Bailey Blumenstock
For the past year, in addition to the various hats I wear at AU, I’ve also had the pleasure of working in the Box Office at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre. While best known for its theatre productions, the Folger hosts a number of other public programs, including the O.B. Hardison Poetry series. The series hosts lectures, performances, and most notably, poetry readings. This season began with a reading in honor of Graywolf Press, featuring Graywolf poets Fanny Howe, Ilya Kaminsky, and Danez Smith.
Fanny Howe read first, some selections from her forthcoming book Love and I: Poems. Her voice was soft and precise, much like her poems, which were contemplative and pretty, if not a little hard to follow. The decision for her to read first was most definitely on purpose — Howe is a poet more likely to appeal to the largest demographic of the Folger’s patrons–older, white, and wealthy. While a fine reading, Howe, in more ways than one, was swallowed by the electric energy of both Kaminsky and Smith.
Ilya Kaminsky read next. I had the opportunity to see him read twice in 48 hours, once at the Folger, and then again here at AU for our Visiting Writers Series. Both readings were marvelous, absolutely marvelous. He read poems from his newest book, Deaf Republic, which was wonderfully reviewed a few weeks ago for us by Lingyue Zheng. Kaminsky speaks with a Russian accent that he amplifies when reading. The audience was given a handout that included all of his poems so we could follow along; I found myself too mesmerized to do anything but watch him. Deaf Republic is an epic poem for the 21st Century, and I found myself wondering if the rapture I felt watching Ilya read was how some ancient audience felt hearing Homer chant his dactyls.
Danez Smith read last. They are just as captivating a reader as Kaminsky, if not more so. Danez noted that they come from the spoken word tradition, and thus it is more than apt to say that they did not read their poems but performed them. Danez took ownership of that space, the whole Elizabethan theatre was theirs by the end of the night. When they introduced their poem “Dear White America,” one of the many elderly white people in the audience piped up, “We’re here!” to which Danez replied, “I see you.”
Afterwards, as with most Folger poetry events, a wine, cheese, and dessert reception was held in the Great Hall. All three poets graciously signed books and chatted with just about everyone in line. I was able to speak to Danez, Ilya, and Fanny at one point or another during the night, and they were truly delightful to talk with.
The O.B. Hardison Poetry series has seven more events this year. Tickets are $15/each (a steal!), student tickets are $7.50/each (an even bigger steal!), and they are available by calling the Folger Box Office at 202-544-7077, or by reaching out to me, Bailey, your resident Folger Box Office contact. For more information, check out the Folger’s Poetry events calendar here: https://www.folger.edu/poetry. Coming up: Annie Finch and Kiki Petrosino are reading poetry about witchcraft and womanhood at the Folger on October 28th.
Photo credit: Folger Shakespeare Library