Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Recent readings, vulgarity & excess edition

Trouble in Mind by Lucie Brock-Broido, who may be the queen of garish, costumey excess. No one can tell me she isn't trying to be funny, a little bit: Check out the first two lines of "Basic Poem in a Basic Tongue":
Here is the maudlin petty bourgeoisie of ruin. 
A sullen pity-craft before the fallows of Allhallowmas.
Ha, right? Also Felt by Alice Fulton. This is from "Close" (on Joan Mitchell's White Territory):
I saw she used a bit of knife
and left some gesso showing through,
a home for lessness that--
think of anorexia--
is a form of excess. 
While painting, she could get no farther away
than arm's length.
While seeing parts of the whole,
she let the indigenous breathe
and leave a note.
She dismantled ground and figure
till the fathoms were ambiguous--
a sentence left unfinished
because everyone knows what's meant,
which only happens between friends.
The lack of that empathy embitters,
let me tell you.
Also The Public Gardens by Linda Norton, a lovely woman we met at a performance on Friday. Refreshingly, she did not read from the book but gave a talk and showed us some photo collages. It contains both poems and prose, or poems and "history" as the subtitle claims, history in the form of journals. I love reading journals, it feels illicit even when it isn't. From "Brooklyn Journals":
August 23, 1987 
Since Joey died--an inability to believe I have a future--a feeling that it is vulgar to go on--to think that I could have time--when that was denied him. My mother says, "Linda, you are smart, but Joey--he was brilliant." While he was alive she found his intelligence and his homosexuality so--queer. Now his intelligence is invoked to put me in my place. He grows larger and larger in death while I disappear.
Listening to Ellington's "Sacred Mass" and remembering the nurse on the graveyard shift at Lenox Hill last year--coming in to keep me company as I sat next to the bed and looked at him and listened to the respirator breathing him--that's what it seemed like. He was brain dead, but the respirator was alive. 
There were other men dying of AIDS on that ward, many of them alone, and none as handsome and young as my brother. 
The nurse took her mask off and sighed, and pushed my brother's hair off his forehead, and told me that this was the bed where Duke Ellington had died.  
My brother would have loved to know that. 
No, he would have hated to know that, as he hated everything the last year of his life, spitting at people, even biting my father to try to infect him (he went home, to blame or beg, and my father threw him out; as my parents threw us all out, one after another). He was trying to leave his goofy older boyfriend, but there was nowhere else to go--he'd lost his job after he threw one of his tantrums at work--the job he loved, editing guides to the national parks. [...] 
"Never for less than one day in my life have I been less than completely happy." 
You would not understand what Joseph had meant if you had met him the last year of his life. 
But I know what he meant.


  1. I like the sleek new look around these parts. It seems Denver spiffs up everything in sight--hair, skin, blogs!

    I too recently attended a refreshing reading where the author didn't read from the book. To be fair, it was a graphic novel, so reading was less of an option. But his slideshow, and the accompanying talk about the way he works was so wonderful that I wondered why more writers don't take this approach (even if they don't have amazing drawings to include among the slides).

  2. Yes, the arid climate cures all ailments!

    That reminds me of another reading experience I found really enlightening: I saw Jessica Smith read from her book of visual poetry in a big auditorium with the poems projected on a screen behind her, and she gave a brief introduction on how to read the poems (or how she reads them anyway). Of especial note: she said that you don't have to read every word in the field every time. It kind of blew my mind!

  3. Tyrone Williams has written how at readings he has not always kept the poem stable: changing the music group cited to reach an audience filled with people presumably born prior to a certain decade etc; and too he's mentioned that sometimes he uses words or nonce words which don't adhere to one pronunciation/meaning and choosing one, so that seems akin too. Has anyone ever experimented, in a sustained way (in English not Hebrew or am I making this up that it's described as vowel-less?), with leaving out vowels and then leaving it up to context and predilections to determine what the word cld be?

  4. On the subject of cool reading techniques, a few months back we heard Christian Wiman read his translations/versions of some Osip Mandelstam poems, and he used an overhead projector to show the poems as he was reading them, and to explain his techniques to making the versions, and it was much more insightful than just hearing them out loud probably would have been.

  5. Adam, that reminds me of a funny controversy about a license plate:


    KR, I like visual aids in general at readings. Of course Bill Knott used to pass handouts.

  6. I remember Bill's handouts, for sure, and liked those too. The visual component is one (of many) reasons I like the Poetry Brothel arrangement, because the listener can be a reader, too, if they want, looking at the poem during or after the poet reads it to him/her.

  7. I love LBB and smile thinking about Trouble in Mind, which I haven't read in a while, maybe I should again. I conversed via email with Mary Jo Bang and had her as an instructor in Napa once, and she said that LBB's The Master Letters was brilliant. I've still never read it.

    However, I did once write a poem about LBB and Steven Segal meeting in a tryst at MOMA.