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PEN/ Academy of American Poets / Burroughs in Sartasota

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The annual PEN World Voices Festival gears up in New York, with visiting literati arriving despite volcanic ash and house arrests from repressive governments that fear how their most creative minds will represent them. A Burmese blogger will receive top honor at the gala scheduled for this coming Tuesday, at the Museum of Natural History. Needless to say, the imprisoned Nay Phone Latt won't be attending, which is reason enough to cherish our constitutionally sanctioned creative freedoms.

Indeed, the freedom to write was celebrated at Alice Tully Hall this week, when the Academy of American Poets had its annual benefit on Tuesday. Theodore Sorenson, Frank Bidart, Rosanne Cash were among the readers of verse from the Roberts, Frost, Burns, Lowell, Frank O'Hara, Pablo Neruda, Galway Kinnell, and Matthew Arnold.

Gabriel Byrne read a poem in Gaelic, Alan Cummings from Yeats and Tennessee Williams, Julian Schnabel-what else? Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts," Matt Dillon from Bukowski noting that he had played the bad boy poet in the film Factotum. Jhumpa Lahiri read poems of Cape Cod by Stanley Kunitz, Mark Doty and Mary Oliver. Sting performed Philip Larkin's "The Whitsun Weddings" and Meryl Streep, one of the evening's chairs with Rose Styron incarnated Frost's "Witch of Coos" and "A Cold Spring" by Elizabeth Bishop. Alec Baldwin and Marie Ponsot were among those privileged to hear this night of verse.

As reported, the spirit of "literary outlaw" William S. Burroughs was everywhere last week in Sarasota, in a superb staged reading of Oren Moverman's script based on William S. Burroughs' Queer, in the music performed by Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye, and particularly in a fine documentary portrait, William S. Burroughs: A Man Within, directed by Yony Leyser. John Waters, Patti Smith, Genesis P. Orridge, Victor Bockris, Barry Miles, Anne Waldman, and -full disclosure-yours truly, provide personal anecdotes about this important American satirist, most famously the author of Naked Lunch, the notorious novel that stood trial on obscenity charges, making history as it was threatened with censorship. For National Poetry Month and beyond, Hail to our First Amendment!

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