Prodigal poet

Katz Portrait_thumb.jpg

“As much as I recognize the value of poetry,” confessed poet and award-winning Sextus Propertius translator Vincent Katz, AB’82, at last Thursday’s Poem Present talk, “it is hard for me to believe in it.” Titled The Poet’s Fate, Katz’s lecture—part poetry reading, part autobiographical snapshot—confronted the psychological realities of being a poet in a society that often views the art as a “marginal occupation.” Sampling from his own pieces as well as those of influences such as Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg, Katz took the Rosenwald 405 audience through his development as a writer and translator.

The son of painter Alex Katz, he recounted a bohemian ’60s childhood, when the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and the “subliminal force” of his father’s paintings laid the groundwork for his later work as a poet, musician, curator, and translator. Katz even shared the first short poem he’d ever written: “I catch a cricket and a grasshopper in the same hand.”

Sipping tea, he described himself as a prodigal son of poetry who had ventured into translation, curating, editing, and other endeavors yet always returned, whether adapting the elegies of Propertius for a contemporary audience or pairing his own lines with the work of visual artists. For all its challenges, he mused, “poetry fills a need” to unlock the power of language. In writing poetry, Katz believes in getting it right the first time. “Only once,” he claimed, “have I successfully edited a poem into being.”

Although he still finds it difficult to say “I’m a poet” to anyone other than close friends, Katz cited the craft as his defense against the world, “a cushion from negative things.” His parting thought on the poet’s destiny: “You don’t find your fate, it finds you.”


Photo: Vincent Katz © Vivien Bittencourt.

February 10, 2006