Doug Hahn

4

The Dust Is Settling

A new apartment, judging a poetry contest

New Digs

After three weeks of meeting interesting, cool, crazy, scamming, and indifferent folks on Craigslist, I’ve finally scored the perfect apartment in the Inner Richmond area. It’s a large furnished room in a quiet and green household, shared with a novelist and a botanist / IT professional — it may very well be the perfect combination a writerly atmosphere and geek environment. It’s also very close to Golden Gate Park (near the DeYoung Museum and Japanese Tea Garden), which I’m looking forward to visiting at my leisure. I’ll be moving in on March 1st, and one of the many things on my to-do list involves enjoying the park via early morning jogs. And reading in the Shakespeare Garden.

Otherwise, all is well — if not a bit dull. I’ve met some very cool people in the city, gone to some decent readings, and trekked to Berkeley and back several times to do research on work-related projects (even as a freelancer, it’s a huge bonus living in the town your company’s based out of). It has also been a pleasure to meet coworkers face-to-face, take trips to the MOMA with them, or snag a bite to eat during lunch breaks.

Find me at the Studio One Reading Series tonight!

I’ve finished Humphry Davy’s Consolations in Travel, and found it nothing like I expected. More on this later, perhaps. I’ve also torn through The Devil’s Teeth for some light and obliquely work-related fare, as well as a few books of poetry: Joan Retallack’s Memnoir, Loop by John Taggart (again), and Red Rover by Susan Stewart. If it’ll take a while for my books to get media shipped out here, then at least I live next to San Francisco’s best book store.

Honorable Judge Douglas

One of the more interesting things I’ve done since moving here was helping judge the San Francisco County finals for the annual Poetry Out Loud competition; this was something that fell into my lap due to one of the judges dropping out at the last minute. At first I was a bit skeptical of the contest; after researching their guidelines and affiliated programs (one really can’t ask for better partners that the NEA and Poetry Foundation), I was pleasantly surprised. Having younger people memorize poems of their choosing creates a challenging and rewarding experience; whether these students become literary types or not, I think that participating in an event like this is a valuable and unforgettable learning experience.

The range of poetry performed was astonishing: everything from Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to Methought I Saw My Late Espoused Saint. In particular I was most impressed by those students who chose more difficult pieces; what stands out in my mind are the Milton, Eliot’s La Figlia che Piange, a ghazal by Agha Shahid Ali called Land, and Revenge by Letitia Elizabeth Landon. For students so young, this is hard stuff; I’m pretty sure you could have a heyday with that Eliot in any graduate class.

The actual process of judging was much more difficult than I anticipated; we were given about one minute to assign a number value to each performance in several categories, and total them up: Physical Presence, Voice and Articulation, Appropriateness of Dramatization, Level of Difficulty, Evidence of Understanding, and Overall Performance. Making these decisions quickly and objectively, while knowing how hard some of these kids worked on their poems, could be, simply put, gut-wrenching.

If I had any suggestion for the Poetry Out Loud people, it would be to double the points one can score in the “level of difficulty” category: because this competition is so performance-based, I feel that some of the students chose very simple poems in order to make the memorization process easier and to score more points in other categories. Otherwise, the whole point of the contest can become undermined — the students focus more on the performance of a little ditty than facing a challenge, and really living with and understanding a poem that means something to them.

This, however, is a minor point: the students who got to go on to the State Finals were certainly qualified to win. And judging was, if anything, a pleasant reminder of how gifted younger people can be; I’m fairly sure that when I was in high school I wouldn’t have performed as well as any of the students I saw. I applaud every one of the students who read.

Ideas to add?