Saturday, April 14, 2007
bravely broached the environs of Harvard Yard, specifically just outside those defensible walls, for a reading by Keston Sutherland, Andrea Brady and Peter Manson. met friend Michael outside. inside, we met tone. the room was rawther spectacular. by rough estimate the ceilings were 907' high, daringly broaching the empyrean where crimson is forever. the walls were wood-paneled with carvings and omigawd. not forgetting mongo paintings of Teddy Roosevelt, a couple of former deans and a woman depicted with a book open on her lap and her hands flat on the pages that I have officially assumed without benefit of justification is Helen Keller. scattered about this room were comfy chairs and sofas. the lectern stood in front of a 7' tall fireplace, you could get a goodly number of witches into that thing. and there was off to a side a spread of beer, wine, cheese and brownies. gee, I want to go to more poetry readings, they're great. oh that reminds me, there were poets at the reading. the occasion was the latest issue of the Chicago Review, which featured the 3 poets along with another one who didn't make the trip. the 3 poets plus the 2 editors (Sam Ladkin and Robin Purves) of CR were at the 6th and last leg of their whirled tour. Ladkin, I think, led off with some introductory remarks then Manson stood up to read a lengthy poem by the missing Brit. rather than avail himself of the lectern he stood in front of it and paced back and forth as he read. he read in a punchy, wound up manner. I'll admit that I had a little trouble with his Glaswegian accent but at least he allowed me the chance to use the word Glaswegian. I'm hoping Glaswegian means of Glasgow. next was Keston Sutherland. he read a 12 page piece from the CR in its entirety, a 30 minute tour-de-force. I scribbled some notes but am not consulting them right now. the piece consisted of 3 parts, a rollicking poem, a story of sorts and a play. it was cunningly disjunctive, especially the first part. all 3 readers were uncommonly practiced. Sutherland sped up and slowed down according to the score. many threads twisted together. I think it would have been best had I read it beforehand, or read along with him. the writing situates in popular culture, specifically our friend Fox News. there were, he announced beforehand, 2 love stories, one being a former lover and the other an imagined relationship with someone he chose (he didn't specify how) randomly, an Arthur Cheng from somewhere in China. I think you could say he inhabited Cheng, or some weird possibility. Sutherland is highly literate, which I think is synonymous with British. well wait a sec, he went to Harvard, 10 years agone. early on he said he has a recurring dream of walking around Harvard lost but unspeakably happy. he never looked at the audience but either kept his eyes on the text or looked at the walls above us. kind of an eccentric prof. he is a prof but I won't assume how eccentric. after he finished we were again given visitation rights to the spread, which included an array of books published by Bark Books. I forget which of the readers are involved with that press, Sutherland and Brady I think. next was Andrea Brady, preceded by the other editor's remarks. I have an old chap by her but I don't know her work well. I had the idea that she was British but in fact she was born in Philadelphia and attended Columbia, but then she went all limey and now teaches over there, maybe at Cambridge (the other one). she read less dramatically. I might describe Sutherland's work as high-toned literary antics. humourous and thoughtfully disjointed. in terms of dynamics, Brady provided a quieter beat. I found her work less pressed than Sutherland's, and the better for it. as I say, I needed to read Sutherland's to get the best of it. Brady's last piece centered on the events of Abu Ghraib. from all 3 poets you get some sense of being stuck with this shit that the US has left with the world. not to say the British government hasn't its hand in the pot, but the smelly winds bring the US to mind. Ivy-league bedtime is a bit early, I wot, because during her reading and Manson's, the sounds of industrial vacuum cleaners (or I should say, hoovers, pip pip) rang against the wood paneling, plush carpeting and, I'm sure, alabaster what not of the Barker Building. I didn't mention the audience, which consisted largely of grad students and people with British accents. Daniel Bouchard and Michael Carr were there, and about 25 others. and I should mench the fellow who entered noisily, carrying a bag. his pants seemed to have pictures on them. he lasted 5 or 10 minutes then noisily left. he was there long enough, that is, to enter my report. Manson finished the reading with more tightly wound snappy short pieces. he never looked up as he paced. Brady, I neglected to say, addressed the audience. I'm sure I missed felicities because of his accent, but I liked his intensity and rhythm. all 3 had humour in their work, which probably didn't play as well to American ears. Sutherland did get a guffaw with a line about someone who would wear black lipstick to a Joan Retallack reading. can't get enough Retallack jokes. after Manson there was some discussion. everyone spoke in paragraphs. these essays were a little hard to listen to, I'd rather read that sort of text blockade. which is not to say the discussion wasn't interesting, albeit, grad-studenty, just that it wasn't readily graspable in the context. the 9' sentences aren't made for my ears. an exodus toward a nearby bar ensued. even 30 somethings had to show legal IDs. sans such, Keston had to talk a good deal to convince the guard that he was born in 76. for some reason, I didn't need to prove I was born in 52. Michael and I got to talking with someone in the audience. he came with his sister because he went to high school with Brady. not a full time poetry aficionado but he was very enthusiastic and fun to talk to, and supportive enough to buy a bunch of books. we ended up standing in a crowd near the bar, awaiting a table. by the time we finally got our Guinness a table freed up. Michael and I had a full 5 minutes before public transportation's inviolable schedule sent us on our way.