For me, the humorous high point of the 2007 Seminar occurred during Saturday night’s group poetry reading.
Billy Collins read a poem he said had been inspired by an axiom about never
using the word ‘suddenly’ in your writing, that it was a cheap, weak way to
create action and excitement. The poem was funny, clever and unexpectedly moving,
like much of Billy’s work. The over-use of ‘suddenly’ and other narrative-bludgeoning
clichés had the audience laughing. A couple poets later, Joyce Carol Oates read
a long poem. Towards the end of the second stanza she paused mid-phrase, and
uttered ‘suddenly’ with a wry twist. Many members of the audience and
the speakers all caught the irony, and there was a slow wave of laughter.
Several lines later Oates pause again, looked over her glasses and intoned ‘suddenly’
with delightful self-effacement, underlining the moment with a wave of her
slender hand. I caught Billy’s eye for a second, and the normal sparkle factor was extra high. This time the laughter really built, and you could feel the waves
of recognition and understanding washing through the room, as everyone shared in the
joke. Good stuff.

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