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Art Beam: Poetry and Sally Van Doren

2008 photo of Sally Van Doren (300 pixels)
Provided by Ms. Van Doren

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The St. Louis region has long supplied spiritual and intellectual nourishment to poets, both born-here poets and poets who’ve migrated here. The list of names stuns you: T.S. Eliot; Marianne Moore; Sara Teasdale; poets laureate of the U.S. Mona Van Duyn and Howard Nemerov; and Eugene Redmond.

Another extraordinary poet – one who came here to teach and stayed and made genuine contributions to American literary history – is Donald Finkel. Recently at Duff’s Restaurant, long a poetic hangout, an evening of readings from his work was mounted by his son, Tom Finkel, editor of the Riverfront Times, and Howard Schwartz, one of Don Finkel’s most eloquent students. The elder Finkel is in poor health and could not attend the celebration of him. Had he been on hand, he would have been touched by the readings and cheered by the general exuberance.

Although poetry marathons such as the Finkelabend are infrequent, poetry readings by both established poets and fledglings are a regular part of our cultural scene. This week, for example, the enormously gifted, born and reared St. Louis poet Sally Van Doren will read from her collection, “Sex at Noon Taxes” at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in Gallery 210 at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

San Francisco Poet August Kleinzahler wrote of her work, “There are no dead moments, no fill: even the conjunctions, prepositions and assorted connectives carry a charge. The language is alive. The movement of language is alive.”

The Secret
We drove to Lesterville.
His flesh smelled like onions
and when he pressed on
the gas, I pressed my hand
on his thigh, his stone-
washed jeans warm under
my fingers. Our sweat
pores opened and leaked
out over those hot vinyl
seats. We swam in that
sweet liquid, churning
in our carwash, rinsing
in the water we became at the edge
of the lake we finally reached.

Van Doren’s poetry is direct and moves at an easy gait that suddenly breaks into an astonishingly ambitious gallop toward revelation. In acknowledgement, she won (appropriately) the Walt Whitman Award last year from the Academy of American Poets for her palindromically named “Sex at Noon Taxes.” Louisiana State University Press published the book in March. The Whitman award brings with it a $5,000 prize and a one-month residency at the Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, Vt. The Studio also provides for the publication of a poet’s first full-length collection. Web address for the American Academy of American Poets is www.poets.org.

Van Doren teaches in the Springboard for Learning program in the St. Louis Public Schools and is curator of the St. Louis Poetry Center’s Sunday Poetry Workshops.

The organization’s annual fundraiser, A Literary Feast, is to be Monday at Duff’s at 7:30 p.m., with readings by St. Louis writer Kathleen Finneran and Kentucky author Frank X. Walker. For more information, go to www.riverstyx.org.

Full disclosure: The compiler of this report is master of ceremonies for the benefit dinner.

Footnote: River Styx, St. Louis’s oldest literary publication, was recently featured in the
Riverfront Times.

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.

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