The Moveable Muse poetry readings at the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery will be discontinued after the May 7 program, the last scheduled for this year.
"We're cutting back on all our lectures and concerts not relevant to the 'Celebration' show, which will be going on for the next 15 months," Renwick director Lloyd Herman said. "I was called by someone at the Castle and they felt that perhaps since we had so much going on we should concentrate on that. But we're continuing the readings through this year. There was nothing objectionable about the last program."
Last month Chris Llewellyn read parts of her long poem about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire at a Moveable Muse session, and a story quoting some lines appeared in The Washington Post. Since then, the Washington poetry community has been asking itself if the "labor poetry" had anything to do with the decision.
"Not at all," said Smithsonian public affairs director Al Rosenfeld. He said the article had brought the existence of the series to the attention of the facilities-use committee, which had ordered the program dropped "because we don't want our facilities to be just a hall for the exclusive use of another organization, even one as worthy as the Folger Library." The Folger sponsors the readings, held for the past two years at the Renwick and the Phillips Collection.
"We insist on being cosponsors of events in our halls," Rosenfeld added. "We had no input into this series. It would create a precedent for other, perhaps less worthy groups to use our facilities."
The incident recalled a 1974 flap over poet-novelist Erica Jong, who withdrew from a reading of her sexually explicit novel "Fear of Flying" after Smithsonian Associates officials attempted to dictate what she could read. That time, Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley wrote a nine-page memo opposing the Jong lecture and ordering no more Associates programs of "contemporary novelists or poets." Other proposed speakers for Associates programs who have been canceled or cautioned to watch their language include poet Nikki Giovanni, authors Anais Nin, Christopher Bird and Meryle Secrest and film critic Pauline Kael.
In any case, Llewellyn will read her entire poem, "Fragments From the Fire," on Thursday, the anniversary of the tragedy, at 7:30 p.m. over WPFW-FM.