Last Saturday was the Quarterly Meeting of GPS, held down in Macon at the Sidney Lanier Cottage. I had never been to Macon before, though I had driven through once, and though I didn’t get a chance to explore the town much, the homes surrounding the Cottage were old-timey and pretty.
What was surprising to me about the Cottage, though, was how austerely appointed it was–I think was expecting a house with tons of antiques and personal possessions he’d owned in his life, but the only thing of real interest was a wedding dress that his wife Mary had worn (and I think she had an 18 inch waist!), and a copy of a letter he had written to his mother that you could read which was sitting out on a secretary.
I didn’t know much about Sidney Lanier prior to visiting–other than a lake that was named for him. But apparently he was quite the Renaissance man–besides being a poet, he had served in the Confederacy, was something of a mathematician, worked as a lawyer, was a self-taught flautist, taught at Johns Hopkins, and spent seven years playing the flute in a symphony.
The day started with a Sidney Lanier impersonator talking about his language. And I’m sorry, but the only kind of “impersonator” I can bear watching is someone like Will Ferrell playing George Bush. I just find impersonators unwatchable, so it was torture sitting there and listening to the Sidney Lanier character. I was very interested in finding out about Lanier’s life, and it was quite extraordinary (and the Cottage is on the National Historic Register both for his music and his poetry). If it had just been a lecture about his life, I would have enjoyed it so much more.
Maybe I just didn’t think the guy was very good–not that I have any experience of Sidney Lanier in which to compare the performance, obviously. But what really annoyed me was that except for a little quotation from some famous Cantata that Lanier wrote, there was no recitation of his poetry. Really? Really??? We’re there for a day of poetry, and we get next to none of it in a performance “by” Sidney Lanier? That seems a bit counter-intuitive to me.
And later in the afternoon, after Alice Friman’s excellent (but way too soft-spoken) reading (and I was sitting in the front–so I feel really bad for those sitting towards the back), we hear more poetry, but instead of Sidney Lanier’s poems (I would have liked to hear his famous “The Marshes of Glynn,” for instance, which several of the Members’ Sidney Lanier-inspired poems referred to in the morning), we hear work from Andrew Hudgins’ 1988 book, After the Lost War, a book long series of persona poems based on Lanier’s life. I enjoyed hearing them, certainly, because Ron Self is a wonderful reader (as well as writer), but come on. I think we should have heard Lanier’s actual words. But maybe that’s just me being a curmudgeon and a purist.
It was, of course, good to see all my friends; I never get tired of that.
Other than that, not much going on with me in poetry, except I’m still working periodically on the Sibley Sisters. I thought I might have a full book of them by now (and maybe if I had written about them with more regularity last year, I’d be further along, but then everyone who knows me knows 2010 was The Year from Hell, and writing poems was hardly a priority), but I’ll get there eventually.
Sometimes, things just take longer than you’d like.