The Carpenter of Words

As a teacher at Washington University, as a mentor to young writers, as a friend to established writers, Donald Finkel wanted others to find their own voices — to hew their own path through life, and not imitate what had been done. Finkel’s pioneering use of book-length poems — not in the epic narrative sense, but more a great mosaic of imagery, sense and sound — was something unimagined until he imagined it. His shorter work strikes with a cutting tone and clarity that blends his New York upbringing with years spent in the Midwest, a cadence not easily mastered by those who haven’t done the same. Finkel’s is a singular, American voice, stilled now by disease — yet eternally sharp and alive on the page. “One sings,/not what was, but that it was,” Finkel wrote in “An Aesthetic of Imitation,” addressing the poet’s role as recorder and celebrant of life. And so tonight at 8 p.m. at Duff’s Restaurant (392 North Euclid Avenue; 314-361-0522 or www.dineatduffs.com; free), Finkel’s long celebration will be marked by more than 30 local poets. Howard Schwartz, Nan Sweet, Shirley LeFlore and other former students and fellow admirers each read three of their favorite Finkel poems, singing again and again that he was.
Mon., April 7, 2008

 
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