Paying Tribute to Anne Porter

On Saturday, artists, writers, family, and friends will read her poetry.
Anne Porter, 2007

   The Parrish Art Museum will celebrate Anne Porter’s life and her contributions to the arts and letters of the East End on Saturday at 3 p.m.
   Ms. Porter, a poet who was a National Book Award finalist, was married to Fairfield Porter, an artist with whom she raised a family on South Main Street in Southampton. She died in October, just shy of her 100th birthday.
    Andrea Grover, a curator of special programs at the Parrish, said last week that the museum had begun plans to honor Ms. Porter last spring. “She was reluctant to be celebrated. It took a lot of asking. What convinced her was that it would be a tribute to her and Fairfield, and not just her alone.”
   On Saturday, artists, writers, family, and friends will read her poetry. The 1953 Rudy Burchardt film “A Day in the Life of a Cleaning Woman,” which stars Anne and Fairfield Porter and Larry Rivers, will be screened along with a segment of a video interview between Alicia Longwell and Ms. Porter that Ms. Grover recorded last June.
Although an hour and a half of footage was shot, Ms. Grover is condensing it down to 15 minutes for the event. The full interview will be available in the future as part of the museum’s East End Stories Web site. “At 99 years old, her wit still really comes through.” She speaks about her childhood, siblings, life with her husband in Greenwich Village in the Great Depression, and the writers who influenced her, among other things.
    Those whose lives she touched have been giving the Parrish an overwhelming response “from across the region and all over the country,” Ms. Grover said. “She had close friends and ties on the Shinnecock Reservation, the West Coast, and through her church. Everyone has been calling to share a fond memory of Anne. They all want to celebrate her life, hear her poetry, and stand up and say what she meant to them.”
    In “A Day in the Life of a Cleaning Woman,” Ms. Porter plays a cleaning lady who drinks almond essence and takes a nap under a tree. “There’s a surrealistic quality to it. She has a magic duster and the dishes put themselves away. The humor in it is that Anne was not at all a housekeeper,” Ms. Grover said.
    Although Ms. Porter wrote poetry her entire life, her recognition did not come until later in life. A friend essentially tricked her into gathering up her poetry as a birthday present to him and took her work to a publisher without telling her. It was likely the only way a publisher would have ever seen her work, since she was known to be so modest. That collection became “An Altogether Different Language,” which was a National Book Award finalist.
    The Porters, who settled in Southampton in 1949, were instrumental in attracting artists and poets to Southampton in the 1950s and 1960s the way Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock brought artists to East Hampton. Among the readers at the tribute will be Ms. Porter’s children Laurence Porter and Liz Porter, her granddaughter Sarah Porter, and Paton Miller, a painter. The poets reading include Susan Baran, Marc Cohen, Lily Middleman, Ron Padgett, David Shapiro, and Mark Statman.
    According to Ms. Grover, having an event devoted to Ms. Porter and her poetry “makes perfect sense for us. East End Stories is now a catalog of artists and writers, composers, dancers, and poets who have come out here and stayed or came for a shorter period but had influence. Poets like Anne or Frank O’Hara or Kenneth Koch are part of the larger narrative of East End artists.”
    As the Parrish plans its move to a new home in Water Mill with space for permanent collection displays, temporary exhibitions, and other programming, it will take an interdisciplinary approach to all of the creative endeavors that have occurred and continue to happen here.
    The event is free with museum admission and will include a reception.