Our Spring Revel was Tuesday. Did you miss it? Don’t worry: we had the foresight to bring a photographer.
At Cipriani 42nd Street, more than five hundred people gathered as we feted Richard Howard, a poet and a former poetry editor of The Paris Review, with our Hadada Award for lifetime achievement. He was introduced by his friend Edward Hirsch, who called him an “American Proustian,” one who’s given us “an ongoing critical investigation of the past itself. He’s not so much looking over his shoulder as much as letting what’s over his shoulder look over him. The more he throws his voice and conceals, or pretends to conceal, the more it seems to come back to him as his own counter music. As an indefatigable editor, teacher, and intellectual mentor, as perhaps the most sympathetic reader in the history of American letters, Richard Howard has certainly provided a distinguished lifetime of service to American literature and culture.”
Howard himself took the stage to deliver remarks that were as lapidary as one of his poems. “Poetic identity,” he said, is “a series of impersonations held together by a cunning, central intelligence. Maybe identity is not a construction for which we must find rules but an intelligence, a consciousness, that there is a distinction between action and acting … This is the notion of many people we recognize as poets. What we ultimately recognize, after many ways of putting their identity to ourselves and to the people who come under or into such efforts as writing or reading or recognizing, is that such an attempt is poetry.”
The filmmaker Todd Solondz awarded Vanessa Davis the Terry Southern Prize for Humor, but not before musing on the various and sundry failures of any bookstore’s “humor” section, where terminally unfunny books abound. “So much fiction is so funny and nonfiction is so funny, so why do they have the humor section?” he asked. “It made me think this is a kind of sanctuary, and a place that people go to find something funny. My heart goes out to people who don’t have a sense of humor and have to find it where they can. I know it’s very challenging for some, and I don’t mock people if they don’t have a sense of humor. I feel bad for them.”
Davis, for her part, said, “Comics themselves can lean toward humor and simplicity, but I like to use them to explore things sometimes that are not funny—that are pretty complicated. I feel glad that some lightness and fun came through in ‘Summer Hours.’ ”
Alexia Arthurs received the Plimpton Prize for Fiction for her story “Bad Behavior,” which, she said, “at its foundation, is an immigrant story. This is important at this time when we are made to feel unwelcome in this country, so thank you.” The novelist Yiyun Li, who introduced Arthurs, dilated on that theme: “I came into this country with two suitcases, without knowing a single person, and things turned out fine for me. My father … was the first person in his village to graduate high school, and when he was going to the university, the villagers pooled their money to buy a suitcase for him. And my grandmother had only the money to give him a pair of socks. Eventually he became a nuclear physicist.”
All of us at the Review extend our thanks and gratitude to all who attended. As our editor Lorin Stein said in his closing remarks, the Revel allows us to remain financially independent, and that independence is more critical now than ever before:
I’ve always been mindful of the manifesto written by William Styron for our first issue, in 1953, when he proclaimed this would not be a magazine for factions, for drum beaters, for propaganda. That this magazine would honor writing for its own sake. Art for the sake of art. I also knew that the men and women who started this magazine were not apolitical. So many of them devoted so much of their writing lives to the cause of racial justice, the environment, peace. And yet the only time George Plimpton weighed into political discussion in the pages of this magazine was to deplore a lack of government funding for the arts or to protest a stricture on free speech. When the NEA instituted rules on obscenity, George turned down their money. And you, our patrons, were there to keep us independent. And you may need to be there again. And you will be because you believe, we believe, we have always believed, in the freedom of this space. The aesthetic space.
All photos by Matteo Mobilio.