beer-battered fish and poetry

About 50 illustrious writers gathered in the basement of the Breslin at Ace Hotel on Tuesday night for an evening of fried chicken, beer-battered fish and poetry.

The guests included rocker-writer Patti Smith and guitarist Lenny Kaye; poets Louise Glück and Natasha Trethewey; novelists Amy Tan, Colm Tóibín and Colum McCann; and “Top Chef” star and author Padma Lakshmi.

They feasted on chef April Bloomfield’s “fry” dinner in between two sections of poetry readings.

The dinner was held to celebrate the National Poetry Series, an awards program that has sponsored the publication of 185 poetry books through annual competitions.

“Our mission is to jump-start a poet’s life in the art by ensuring the most important thing for any poet: publication,” said Daniel Halpern, director of the series and president and publisher of Ecco (a division of HarperCollins, which is owned by The Wall Street Journal publisher News Corp.).

Mary Karr read a poem by the late Nobel Prize winner, Tomas Tranströmer, and Ms. Glück read her poem, “A Foreshortened Journey.” Ms. Smith brought a cupcake with a candle before reading her poem, “Hecatomb,” to celebrate the late writer Roberto Bolaño’s birthday.

Ms. Smith’s new memoir, “M Train,” will be out in October, and she planned to do final copy edits this week.

“I think that ‘M Train’ is most like me,” she said. “It’s not a book about the past so much. It’s who I am, what I do, what I’m thinking about, what I read and the coffee I drink. The floors I pace.”

During the readings, Mr. Tóibín listened by closing his eyes and lowering his head, while Richard Ford leaned forward and rested his chin on folded hands, his eyes wide with attention.

Mr. Ford said the influence of poetry on him has been huge. “Half of my most significant teachers were poets—James McMichael, Donald Hall, Galway Kinnell—those people were immensely affecting to me as a writer insofar as they taught me how to look at something smaller than a sentence,” he said. “Look at the choice of the word. Look at where a sentence breaks. I’m sure they account for the way I write sentences now.”

Poet Kevin Young recalled winning the National Poetry Series, which publishes five books of poetry a year, chosen by distinguished poets and supported by a group of publishers. Lucille Clifton selected his Mr. Young’s “Most Way Home” in 1993.

“I wouldn’t be published without this series,” he said.

Others have celebrated from afar. “I support Dan and this organization, and it’s no secret that I have a weakness for writers,” said Ms. Lakshmi, who is working on two new books with Ecco.

Write to Barbara Chai at barbara.chai@wsj.com

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