We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Poet and novelist Clarence Major once said about writing a book, “It can be both intense and boring.” The same could be said of reading Major’s most recent work, Configurations, a collection of a 100-plus poems, hand-picked by Major, that span the 40 years of his writing career. At its best, Major’s poetry charges from verse to verse revealing the sordid moments of life’s weary struggle. In “Kitchen Chair Poem # 5,” Major writes: “Truck driver, second-floor roomer./Good for next month’s rent?/A screaming silence fell down three flights/and hit the basement….The jealousy. These others/with husbands who still had teeth.” Such early poetrywritten when Major was an unknown artist struggling to survive in New York Cityis full of caustic verve. His more recent workperhaps dulled by the comfort of acclaimed successtosses aside embittered ennui in favor of rhetorical abstractions. The results are often obtusein “Hazy Day in the Composition” Majors writes, “Trying for a tigerish kind./Something like a horse./Keep this in mindthen blue./The liquid world of geometry./A lost-wax process”and probably fly right over most people’s heads, including those of the bowed reverential graduate students who flock to Major’s mentorship at the University of California, Davis, where he teaches. But often enough, Major’s lines hit their target, smack your wandering attention to order, and stick in your mind for the rest of the day. Hear Major when he reads with poet (not lineman) Bruce Smith at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 26, at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol St. SE. $10. (202) 544-7077. (Felix Gillette)