One of the highlights of StAnza 2008 was the energetic presence of August Kleinzahler (left), the New Jersey-born, Beat-influenced poet. His volume of new and selected poems Sleeping It Off in Rapid City had just been published by Faber & Faber and Kleinzahler’s reputation in the UK had, by then, gone beyond the pages of the London Review of Books (where he had been published regularly through the Nineties) to reach an appreciative international, audience. Kleinzahler’s verbal energy and wild humour, was accompanied by sharp observation and sometimes controversial opinions – he enlivened one StAnza Discussion panel in particular with his provocative contributions. And his centre stage reading to a packed house at the Byre Theatre was electric.
StAnza is delighted to welcome Kleinzahler back to St Andrews on 13 May. As well as treating us to a reading in that inimitable, performative style, he’ll also be In Conversation with fellow poet Alexander Hutchison. Born and brought up in Fort Lee, a tough gangster neighbourhood in New Jersey, Kleinzahler’s early life combined the restless lifestyle of the Beats – travelling across the states doing odd jobs – with a period studying under poets Basil Bunting and Thom Gunn. Since 1978 he has published ten collections of poetry.
The slow but steady rise of his reputation was galvanized with the publication of The Strange Hours Travellers Keep (Faber, 2004), which won the International Griffin Prize – listen here to August reading a poem from the collection. Critics call him a ‘pugilist poet’, but as this essay from the Poetry Foundation, points out, ‘his poetry’s gruff language and fondness for off-color subject matter doesn’t overshadow his formal control and innovation…and he is highly praised for his mastery of vocabulary, syntax and line.’
Kleinzahler’s prose includes a memoir about his childhood, Cutty, One Rock: Low Characters and Strange Places, Gently Explained (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) and ‘Music I-LXXIV’ (Pressed Wafer, 2009), a collection of his music journalism. He writes a music column for the San Diego Reader and subjects range from jazz to country and classical – with witty diversions via Liberace and Tina Turner.
Tickets for the August Kleinzahler reading will be available from The Byre Theatre Box Office, Abbey Street, St Andrews, 01334 475000; email firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.byretheatre.com.
The event is being held in association with the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts and Faber & Faber.