I read at the Boston Poetry World Cup 2014 this past Saturday. It had been a busy, distracting week, so I came into it a little unfocused. I didn’t even finalize and print out what I wanted to read until that Saturday morning.
In reading aloud the handful of poems, just to make that effort, I started to cry when I began two of them. One poem mentions Erin, the other Beth. I have my moments of emotional surprise—where did that come from?—but I guess I can explain the tearfall. I don’t write to “say” something, but there exists an emotional envelopment of the words. That emotion hit me at the unarmed level, something like that. This was problematic because I didn’t want to make a display at the reading.
So anyway, Beth and I got there as the second set was beginning, people going in. Met Joel Sloman there. He did not go in. We spoke with Joel then I stood in the doorway and listened while Beth and Joel remained outside. I didn’t know any of the readers in the set. Nothing sprung out at me re “the work”. I don’t mean to be dismissive. I read poetry better than I hear it. After the set I found Joel, who had just said goodbye to Beth, who was just off to feed the metre. He seemed mildly perplexed that he wanted to leave. To be honest, I had entertained the idea of skipping the event (work precluded Friday night and Sunday).
I sat thru the next set sans Beth, who went and had coffee. I was to read in the following set. Or something like that. Beth joined me when my set began. I don’t want to review readers since my head was in the wrong place. The reader before me—I was second in the set—was kind of quirky and energetic. He seemed intent on pushing his work forward. One hears enough wispy readers, and I myself am not a dynamic reader, but I felt pushed upon. Still, there was something to grasp.
I first read an old poem, “Measly Poets Aloft” which is mildly snide yet I think uplifting vis-à-vis, you know, poetry and stuff. And I mean stuff. Voici est la poème:
the call from the minaret makes an opening between us and them. a crane lofts thru the sky that we started noticing just the other day. any sky makes a picture alerting us to words softened in rainwater, or perhaps a frog in a flooded ditch. when poets put on their big shoes, the minaret just about sparkles. the message is clear. we aren’t the only ones capable of flight, we who view the cranes. we listen for poets to gamble their lives and stress out. the matter sur la table will seem more important later, when the decoding has gone on long enough. why shouldn’t one want this sort of discussion? discussion wants theories in place. the term open should be closed permanently, an impossible position. the minaret has it over all other possibilities, frankly. someone stands up there now, calling out in that lovely way.
This poem is in my book Simple Theory. As I looked at it that Saturday morning, I decided to remove a line: “the minaret is as masculine as you can get.” I might have been worrying about meaning, whatever that is. I just thought the sentence might be read/heard by rote. Probably weak of me.
I next read a piece that actually is a narrative. I take pride in writing narrative that goes nowhere, that is, that doesn’t aim to fulfill the reader’s wish for simple completion. What I read next is a sort of scifi flourish, a seeming raygun sort of perplexity with the final declaration that I was a Republican. Scare quotes if you need them. To me, it’s a funny piece (only 1/9th of the full work).
I read a quirky little something that I found in the Sunday comics—two speech balloons tied together:
Modest Lyric Compartment
I have made a list of
things you can do
that will tell me that
you love me
I call it
so you won't
I then read the Erin poem but not the Beth poem. Another poem sounded like Stein (mucho repetition). I muttered few footnotes. Have no sense of audience reaction.
I am not sure if we even completed the set. I did throw the little cash I had into the proffered bag-functioning-as-a-hat. We then went looking for provender.
The format of the reading: fine and dandy. I respect people willing to make these readings happen, in whatever form. Bringing a mob of poets together creates an event.
The 8 minute time limit is okay, I mean jinkies, people can and do go on. Those 8 minutes best serve those who read often. One can feel okay about reading one’s latest, or something unusual, or someone else’s work, or whatever, without feeling one is losing an opportunity. Those of us who don’t read often might feel pressed to cover a lot of bases. Something old, something new, something “great”, something funny. Funny means audience interest, of course.
It doesn't seem like people recognize the narrative nature of their work. They tell prosy stories about events or emotions without seeing how tied to the trail they are. This presents a sort of goal-oriented vista that simply talks too much. The music seems mainly to lie in the adjectives.
With the vast number of readers, one can declare that poetry is alive and well. Also that it is overwhelming us. I do not know what holds us all together. Audience is now a big fat fishbowl. Who are we singing to?
LANGUAGE poetry seems like the last entailing critical faction. What I mean is, Langpo gave people a climate of agitation and debate that brought poetic vitality, whether one was for or against. I am unaware of any other overarching influence since Langpo sprang into the pantsuit of the ages. Flarf might be mentioned, but it seems more like something those people over there do, rather than a general insight. That, at least, seems the critical stance.
Hearing the poets read, and I’ve felt this in all of these recent poetry fests, it sounds like an amalgam of amalgams. I don’t think of poetry as one thing, but the sightings I’ve been hearing don’t seem like any thing. I mean by that that the current answer to what is poetry is: whatever. Truly, I feel that way myself but the thing is, how does that translate to a community of listening machines?
I don’t think there’s enough listening to one’s self, let alone one’s non-self. The Internet says we are all good, step on up to the plate. Egalitarian wins everyday. For 8 minutes, I can be Allen Bramhall. I know just as do you that that is a pittance. Why, then, are we so careless in the realm? Well, that’s what I was thinking, these past few days and all.