Sunday, August 01, 2010

A Boston Poet Tea Party

I attended, well, 2/3 of Day 2 of The Boston Poet Tea Party, a local poetry marathon. Busy yestreen (Friday, that is) with early birthday celebration, and I just cannot manage tomorrow (meaning today: started last night, finished this morning). Feel like it was a game effort, ne’ertheless. Poetry is tiring!

Beth had to work, so I trained in, making my lonely way. She dropped me at a train station near work, so I took a different route to the city. I listened to a recording of Charles Olson’s Berkeley reading. What an event that Berkeley reading was! Not to compare an entirely different format, era, and so forth. While waiting for the subway at South Station, I watched a busker play electric slide guitar. I love slide guitar, and he was good.

The subway went one stop then we were instructed to go upstairs and take a shuttle because of construction. We were all efficiently shepherded to the shuttle buses. The bus looped up over Beacon Hill and past the State House, a pleasant fillip to our journey. The weather was très agréable.

I reached Cambridge early, so I betook me to Grolier Book Shop. It was closed. I hope it has recovered from the slide it endured under previous ownership. I noticed a flyer in the window adverting The Boston Poet Tea Party reading. Friday night’s reading was in a gallery in Harvard Square. A different venue held the next 2 days. Oh. I had missed that bit about the 2nd venue.

Target street name was familiar but I couldn’t triangulate confidently so I gave my Blackberry a chance to help. It was ready to do so, but Google proved a little iffy about getting me there. It immediately wanted me to take a street that wasn’t there. I was oriented well enough to know that my direction was thataway. The first street Google named proved fanciful. I persevered until I found the trail.

The venue itself did not look like one. Nothing to mark it as a place that 88 poets would converge on. It was still early so I wandered around then stopped at a little Thai restaurant. A nerdy looking young fellow sat at a table immersed in a book. He greeted me and hustled into the kitchen to fetch his dad.

I chose simple, some Thai samosa. Very pleasant. Properly nourished I went in quest of poetry.

By this time, signs were out in front of the venue, which was a house. The front entrance was a yoga concern, the side a gallery. Still early so I wrote a poem on my Blackberry while standing on the sidewalk. As I performed this rare feat, Jim Behrle and someone else came along. Jim greeted me and asked if I wanted to read, because some poets cancelled out. I said okay.

I had brought Walden Book in case I had occasion to give them away, and I brought Days Poem to read on the train. I was prepared.

I wandered over after I finished the poem I was writing. I didn’t recognize anyone till I saw Geof and Nancy Huth. Apparently they were giving Chelsea’s nuptials a pass to attend. I dunno, missing the stewed kumquats with Russian flambé sauce would be a tough go. I already saw that Geof had posted to Facebook while on the road, so I knew that they would be here for the duration. I spoke with them till we all went in.

The room was large living room size, a long rectangle. The displayed artwork was tasteful. It was predominantly green, which I like.

I scribbled notes and poems and took a few pictures. I could see that Geof took extensive notes. I look forward to his report, which I know will be detailed. He and Nancy also took lots of pictures and video, using various cameras and phones. A picture I neglected to take was both of them holding up their phones to record the image of the 1st reader.

I would like to give a detailed, objective report but a scattered subjective one is what you will get. I am okay with that and I hope Gentle Reader is as well.

So anyway.

The lineup here represents best guess. Drop outs and rearrangements changed things muchly.

Ellen Kennedy read a poem about manatees that I liked, and a story about Norm MacDonald. MacDonald has a career for reasons that I cannot grasp. It is not that he isn’t sort of funny sometimes, but that he doesn’t seem to reveal any sort of focus of determined talent. He’s not a James Belushi, who has a famous brother and an appropriate mug, and nothing else. He is just this guy. Kennedy is right to write about him.

Readings for me center not on the texts so much. I do not absorb auditorially as well as I do in reading. I gather a sense of the writer as they read. Kennedy was low key and under-expressive in her presentation. That’s her way.

The most practiced and performative was Dana Ward. What he read was to me unflinchingly a story. It held a glancing hilarity that he aced with his reading. The Left and Right Coasts collectively wonder what he is doing in Cincinnati.

Chris Rizzo read a text that had experimental gumption. Or do I mean philosophical? It did not lean on First Person Singular. I have trouble with that thing.

I heard too much from First Person. When I wonder why I am being told this first personal observation, that is too much First Person. We cannot be rid of the thing but when us readers and listeners become aware of the manifesting influence, the poetry loses its sizzle. This is not a rule, it is a guidance.

I also heard too many slack similes. If I were to think of the evil of School of Quietude, it would be the effort to make dull similes. Key words here are effort and dull. If similes cannot surprise and delight, then transformative language aint happening. It is that simple. People, we are not here to please the Masters & Mistresses who enforced brass dullness on us in academic settings. We are here to surprise the language we live in.

Filip Marinovich read with flexible power, he was ready. He melded a goofy reliance on Greek gods with firm political resolve. He was funny and resolute. I’m not sure why but this is not entirely my cup of tea. I guess formal writing intent does not grasp me so much. I think my own writing shows that.

Of which speaking. I read from Days Poem. I almost read the scribblings that I was in the process of scribbling, but DP has never been read publicly so I gave it its chance. I just read randomly. I made sure I did not search for good stuff, just read what hit my eye. I think I gave variety to my tone, but I was surprised to find myself feeling nervous as I read. I felt the 8 minute clock, which I wanted to respect (and I think most readers did). The last bit I read concerned Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, a lengthy divagation that I cut short for fear of going too long. I read a line that I thought was good, and told the audience so.

Brenda Iijima read with professional craft. Her work is meaty and it came across well. Mark Lamoureaux’s was solid as well. I appreciate the experimental aspect to his work. He tends to develop experiments within which he writes. That is what Virginia Woolf did.

I’m not keen to give a gold star, but if I were I think I would award it to Joel Sloman. I thought of Charles Reznikoff in the nuanced meteors he set forth. Reznikoff has a quick delivery while Joel is hesitant and thoughtful, but both offer darting entr’actes between daily dullnesses.

The inbred nature of the poetry scene is expected and unfortunate. Poetry is so marginal that it must survive by inbreeding. As an exurban satellite, I am poorly connected to What’s Happening. The Huths, not being from these parts but willing to participate fully, gave some freshness to the proceedings, just by being there. There were times when the haw haw of friends made the reading foreign to me. And Brenda Iijima seemed (perhaps I am wrong) to come and go with her team. James Cook, Amanda Cook, and Mike County all read well, amidst the carefree of their young children.

I hesitate to mark the one downer, but oh well, let it go: Kythe Heller lost me. Introduced, she stood away from the podium. She seemed to offer herself to trance. I thought of what is her name from Dead Can Dance, a kind of hyper-self-involved intensity. Okay, Kythe had a good voice but she was overly dramatic. After that she read from manuscript. The writing seemed awful, a Beatniky Jim Morrison minus 3. Frankly, I can accept that. The tranced out staring seems right out. I mean, writing can be from a trance of sorts, I get that. But reading from a trance? That strikes me as giving up intellect for the sake of drama. I guess I react to a feeling of phoniness here, highly encompassed but still. Tell Edgar Cayce to wake up and smell the commonplace, says I. Still, there’s room, there is room for everyone.

During one of the breaks I drank a Red Bull. It was my first. It provided no energy. Your mileage may vary.

This is an age without editors, isn’t it? You either publish yourself, or your friend does it for you. I like that, largely, but maybe we aren’t editing ourselves so super well. I thought there were numerous cases of poems that ran on. Endlessness is not a structure. Nor should it be, of course, but maybe a little firmness of resolve in terms of structure could be facilitated. Talking to myself as much as anyone.

Lynn Behrendt and another woman whose name I unfortunately cannot recover, provided snarky, acerbic humour in their work. Humour is good.

Derek Fenner was perhaps the most intent in this way. He read a sequel to his Katie Couric love poems: letters to Sarah Palin. Guess what, years ago I wrote poems to Maria Shriver (forgive the learning curve website). Fenner was hilarious.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to Chad Parenteau. His work is not so much in the realm of my taste, yet it is fair and honest stuff. He read in a straightforward and friendly way, practiced without being slick. There is nothing wrong with that.

So that’s the report, incomplete but I hope a reasonable glimpse. I wish others there would comment on what they saw. The scene needs that input. Oh, I just now realized that I forgot to mench Nathaniel Siegel. His work was wrenchingly powerful and politicized.

I toddled off at the dinner break. Toddling at the same time, and in the same direction, was Mark Lamoureaux, so we toddled times 2. Good to talk about poetry and this locality and Proust.

I sounded sour about the prospects of The Boston poet Tea Party a few days back, but it proved a good thing. It as good to see poetry read, and I am grateful to have read myself. If only there were an effective Red Bull for this poetic region, but it seems like the armoured offices of Harvard and MIT rule the expanse that poetry should own. Alas and alack.

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