This cannot be a report on the reading, since I attended only one day, and missed parts of that. Still, I feel it behooves to give impressions, incomplete, and bisased, as they may be. Thus:
Beth and I arrived in Cambridge just about noon on Saturday. Wait, back up. Drama just printing out what I wanted to read. Four printers combined to not print the recent gems I wanted to read. I planned to read from Simple Theory, but also these recent ones. I took to copying out by hand while Beth and Erin tried to convince the last printer standing that it had a job to do. Printer won, so I had to read my scribble.
Inman Square in Cambridge, found some apparently legal parking within the same time zone as the reading.Somebody in a little park across the street was playing the sousaphone, pure football halftime stuff. Good start.
At the reading site, 186 1/2 Hampshire St, we immediately met Maria Damon, famous for being Maria Damon. We’ve known her thru listservs, met her at previous marathons, and had her to lunch when we published a collab she did with mIEKAL aND. She presented the night before (I worked Friday evening). Saw Joel Sloman, who was very good at the reading two years ago (remembering that I missed last year’s show). It seems like he has attended every local reading that I have attended, plus a whole lot more. How’s that for supporting the local scene.
Hassen came out and greeted us. Since she and I were reading the same day, we arranged to meet. The three of us came to realize that we all met online more than 12 years ago. I met Hassen in person at a subsequent marathon, but not since. She wanted to prep for her presentation, which would be before my set. Beth and I managed to get seats in the back of the room, next to the vexacious bathroom. The venue was basically a large living room.Overflow filled the hallway at the door.
Jim Behrle led off the day’s reading. His writing consists of phrases of wry observation and non sequitur, with cultural clues (“I fell in love with your avatar”). He reads in an offhand way, and of course he’s very funny. His poetry doesn’t seem to change, however.
As I think on it, I hardly want to comment on individual poets. One, I do not absorb well by ear. To be fair to the work, I’d have to read it. Two, I felt notes of a malaise that I do not want to demonize specific people with, at least not publicly. A lot of what I heard sounded like writers pressed into a corner, fulfilling definitions that don’t fit. A poem is this. Of course it is hubris on my part to say this. Bear with me. Or don’t.
I do not know what much of what I heard satisfied. I mean, is this what people want to read and hear? There was an awful lot of narrative, stories even, told in splotchy detail and first person. Reading long works in a monotone doesn’t help. Well, reading short works in a monotone doesn’t help either, but perhaps you get my drift. Maybe reading these longer works myself I would grasp them better, but such works aren’t great choices to read aloud. I make these generalities realizing that exceptions exist. Howl, we all know, works as performance.
Ish Klein presented an exception. She has a high, urgent, child-like voice that takes a moment to get used to. She started at urgent, and ramped it up from there. It was a bewildering and powerful performance. I thanked her afterwards. I got the impression of birdlike frailty but I do not pretend to have an accurate impression.
Hassen did a multimedia presentation, altho I recall that in conversation she was pleased to use another term. Which I forget (peccavi). The first was filmed inside a sub (for realz!!!). She read text with the sound distorted, suggesting the underwater environment. I couldn’t make out much of the words, but the effect was curious and haunting. The second film showed a woodland pond and environs, with colours I think intensified. There was a music track, as well as the text she read. The effect was primordial. The final image was the entrails of a deer, victim presumably of coyotes. Stark and compelling.
But enough of others, what about me?
I found something funny that I could read, and lead off with. This is the text:
How To Recognize If A Poetry Reading Is Imminent
1. there is a sharp rise or fall in sea level
2. all birds vacate the area
3. the ocean turns a very dark brown
How To Protect Your Home From A Poetry Reading
1. turn off hot water heater
2. unplug all appliances and open the stove
3. tape toilet seat shut
4. dampen floors with garden hose
How To Survive A Poetry Reading
1. seek shelter when the day is half over
2. rub bat guano on your skin to protect it from bites
3. drink alcohol for warmth
4. remain still to conserve heat until the reading subsides
5. if you are not in danger, simply surrender your belongings
6. scream loudly and perform animated, martial arts style kicks in the air
7. wet your pants, or, if you can't do that, drool saliva down your chin
8. avoid wearing shiny jewelry
9. stay near groups of other poets
There is more but I didn’t read it, fearing it would lose its steam. I wrote it by taking various survival tips and replacing terms. I read it well enough, with animation, and perhaps assured listeners that I wasn’t simply interested in boring them. It got a good response. I then read a short quirky piece that was sort of funny. Then came a serious poem. I wrote it on hearing about Emma Bernstein’s death, which radiated at Christmastime 3-4 years ago. I didn’t know her or her work but her death struck a nerve. I almost spoke about its provenance, then thought with all the New Yorkers present, people who knew her, it would be unseemly. I just said it was about death, something like that. I also defended my m.o. by saying narrative + disjunction = meaning, in case anyone wanted cryptic truths.
I also read a poem that again used an ur-text. I had kept a diary of our interactions with our landlord concerning a rug stain that we didn’t cause and didn’t want to pay for. I used that, replacing names with Revolutionary Era names. Just screwy enough.
I then read three from Simple Theory: “Lettered”, featuring Tarzan and Jane, “Ceremonial”, and ended with “Simple Theory”. I looked to see Beth at the back of the room and read to her. I made a few offhand remarks as I read.
I was nervous, but not cruelly so. I stumbled over my handwriting a couple of times with the more recent stuff. A greater struggle reading from the book. My eyes weren’t focusing and I was sorta seeing double. Should have worn glasses.
“Simple Theory” felt like a great poem (he said modestly), and made a quick and possibly dramatic end. Here is the text:
the wheatfield looks lovely
because people say so. that must be a
poem or perhaps just a
title for the familiarity
that words breed. there is no
wheatfield so lovely
as the time it took
to say so. or really, what
day could grow greater
than the morning greeting? the
wheatfield springs from a
logic, words on
one’s lips. if one is not
one has traveled wrong. the
wheatfield fills the eye, space
brings a determined
marking to our careers. there are
poems placed in every
conversation, they are
why we stay up late.
Of course the formatting is stupid here. Anyway, I think I kept below the allotted 8 minutes, and got a good response from the crowd. Note to poets: that 8 minutes is a decent amount of time to present a few things. Exceeding the limit fosters a sense of drag. Some people went way long. I felt like I put some life into the reading, which is a nice feeling. A monotone poet read after me. Mairead Byrne read captions she wrote for a photo book. The words were actually dictated by people living the poverty life in Providence. They were quite powerful. With her Irish accent, the stories could have come from Dublin’s slums, which added a sense of universality. Mark Lamoureux offered a set of rhythmic poems that did not depend on first person singular.
A couple of people—I guess it would be cheesy to name names—complimented me effusively. Beth, Hassen and I went out for food, sacrificing attendance in the next set. We found a place, one of those places. I had a tasty beer, Hop Devil from Victory, and an eggplant sandwich. We talked, connected. Mairead and her daughter passed and Beth waved them in for a brief greeting. Jack Kimball likewise, but he stayed a while. After he left to prepare for his talk, Beth, Hassen and I went for a walk. I don’t remember Inman Square in the old days. It was sparkling now. Many people using what space available, have made the most terrific gardens. One little patch of soil was thick with cleome and other flowers. Whew!
We got back in time to stand uncomfortably in the doorway. That set was pretty much lost. I stood on the porch trying to listen to Eileen Myles. I got that she speaks fast, but could hear little more. After that set, Beth and I claimed seats. Things got kind of loud and social, beer had been in attendance here and there thru out the reading. Wish I had some, except that one bathroom, which, as a note on the wall warned, backed up.
Longer timeslots were given to those who wanted to give talks. Marcella Durand spoke on translating Proust’s poems. She admitted that her father helped her, who has better French. Zachary Bos spoke on L. E. Sissmann, which seemed quirky. He plans to publish Sissmann’s work. Jack gave a talk on some local iconoclasts, “fairies” as he called them. Billy Barnum is a sort of cultured Wildman Larry Fischer, I gather. I’d heard of Rene Ricard, one of Wiener’s crowd. And another man, also of the Wiener’s crowd, as was Jack, in the day. Jack lived with this man for a while, I’ve misplaced his name. Jack seemed to get emotional reading the work of this last one. I had moments of surprisingly strong emotion as I read. Suddenly meeting something, poems are like that.
Beth and I left directly after Jack finished. As little of the Marathoon as I took in, it still proved a lot to process. That’s why I largely steered clear of particulars.
We got home about 10:00, with a 4:30 wake up call due, so that Erin and I could collect data on the Sudbury and Concord Rivers. Home by 9 for breakfast, then Beth and I walked in the magical woods of Concord, Punkatasset Hill. It was an awesomely lovely weekend.