Rakosi at 99 (it's a long way looking back)

Many poets who lived to old age have registered in verse what it must be like to see or sense an "I" so old, so long ago, so outmoded, that such a version of the self is unrecognizable, other. Stevens' "Long and Sluggish Lines" is just one of several poems he wrote in his seventies in this vein. But Stevens died at a merely 76. Carl Rakosi died at 100. To celebrate his 99th birthday, we at the Writers House invited him to read. He wasn't able to make the trip from San Francisco so we set up a live audiocast. It was great fun and Carl was in wonderful form. The event was noted by a web page and recordings of the whole conversation as well as the individual poems Carl read are available. Carl that night read "In What Sense I Am I," which to me captures more precisely and interestingly than any other poem I know what it's like to outlive oneself, "a minor observer / as in a dream." The text of the poem is here and the recording of Carl reading that one poem is here. That night in 2002 Tom Devaney gave a good introduction to the occasion and to his friend Carl.

"Carl Rakosi's determined honesty and reductive rhetoric with its ungainsayable plainsong," Bob Creeley wrote, "have made a measure for all conduct of words in the attempt to find an active poetry in the fact of lives without power."