I don’t know how many poetry readings I’ve attended over the past forty years. The actual number would be pretty high. I went to a poetry-centric liberal arts college and the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa. The number doesn’t matter. Its enough to say I’ve heard some great poets read their poems so movingly I’ve walked into the nights filled with milk and iodine; feeling wide and tall with stars for a cloak; windswept and in love with love; frightened and rich. But last night in New York City, at the NYU Creative Writing Center on West 10th Street I heard the poet David Simpson read from his newly published book to a room filled with poetry admirers and friends and I believe he gave the finest reading I’ve ever heard. I do not say this lightly. I will remember last night’s reading for the rest of my days. David Simpson is a complex man: he’s a musician, poet, playwright, classical organist, and he’s performed with numerous symphony orchestras, including The Boston, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta symphonies, as well as The New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra. But last night he was a poet. He was a poet who gave a reading so pure and lyrical I wanted to cry. Poetry can do that to me—perhaps to you as well—usually when the tears are about to come its because the poems are driven by emotional candor with a compassionate softness of of tone, an urgent softness, the kind that only a clear spirit can obtain and communicate. Enough to say that after David Simpson read last night, a young man in the audience said to me: “Man! That was the real thing! Old School!” I said, “yeah, not ideas about the thing but the thing itself” and he said, “‘That’s it!” I didn’t tell him the phrase came from Wallace Stevens—enough that Simpson’s poems had reached so many in the room. The night would be different for everyone. Poetry can do that.
Listening to David I felt the cusp of tears and tenderness I associate with Hart Crane’s famous poem about finding his grandmother’s letters in the attic. I get this feeling also from Whitman’s 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass.
How many poets do you know who have a twin brother or sister who also writes poetry? David’s brother Dan Simpson was also in attendance.
How many twin poets do you know who are also blind? And as I say, have so much talent one suspects they could move furniture by means of telekinesis.
Here’s an ars poetica if ever there was one, a poem in which David Simpson recalls riding a ferris wheel with Dan when they were around ten years old:
The bond of our wildest cooperation–
riding with my twin brother on the big ferris wheel
just before puberty
when such a thing would have embarrassed us.
It was our fabulous luck to get stuck at the top
for five free minutes. Locking arms,
counting to three, we made our cage spin
until we could flip it upside down
so that everything fell out of our pockets
and we were laughing hard.
The first time I made love with a woman
who taught me how ungentled love could be,
the whole bed felt as if it were tilting heads-up
heads-down, our cheeks, shoulders,
bellies, ankles all of one body,
our duet of love sounds as natural as birdsong.
Oh, my dear brother, ever since
the river spilled us out onto this dry land
and we have had to, mostly on our own,
find our legs and paths into different worlds,
I have missed you.
The poet Molly Peacock writes of David Simpson’s book The Way Love Comes to Me:
Poetry to turn to on a sleepless night, poetry to open with breakfast on a snow day, poetry to seek when stabbed by memory: this is the work of David Simpson in The Way Love Comes to Me. Here are poems lucid and many-layered, at once cold fathoms deep and warm as skin. From line to line they sort their way through the jumbled paradoxes of existence. With music at once sacred and sassy the poet captivates, comforts, and makes us feel wiser. The brilliance of Simpson’s poems is that they answer a call we did not realize we had uttered.
The poet Kuusisto says:
Buy this collection.