Friday, October 26, 2007

When the Pathogenic Wind Comes

I have been exposed to so much poetry in the last few weeks that I am weak with it and given to thoughts about community, readership or both or neither. It all started – let’s see I think the first public reading I gave was at Intersection when it was on Union in North Beach in around 1974. Almost no one was there but two very much entwined lovers, one of whom said some little praise as they left. I was at Intersection again a few nights ago to hear readings for New American Writing (Brian Teare and Rusty Morrison) and Krupskaya (Kevin Killian and Norma Cole.) The readings were very good. Brian read poems connected to 19th century (& current) spiritualism and there were certainly many ghosts present. I was moved by Kevin’s reminiscence about the scene (various scenes) and the loss of many in it to AIDS. I assume this remembering was brought on partly by being at Intersection where much has occurred in the way of plays, readings, assignations, betrayals, flops, triumphs etc. Norma read from Scout (not a book but a CD-ROM) which is itself an anti-memoir. The publishers Jocelyn Saidenberg and Paul Hoover and Maxine Chernoff spoke of their dreams (all realized) in founding their presses. Rusty spoke and read of the recent death of her mother which reminded one, again, that people die.

There are readers and there is audience (Mark Wallace suggests, making a distinction) and there are friends, lovers, relatives, enemies and, happily, strangers – all of whom might be either of the other things. There are a lot of students and that is good. The community is permeable by definition. Being in it is much like reading experimental poetry in that one sometimes doesn’t realize when one is already there.

Being myself in the business of selling books, I am able to know numbers of books sold and we even have a little formula, conservatively 2.5 times the number sold, to suggest numbers of readers because of libraries and pass-along. But it's hard to know what such statistics might mean. The first time you have a book taught in a class is a fairly glorious moment and occasionally the teacher might even be someone you don’t know personally. If you do know them they might send you the interpretations of the student readers and that is a strange delight as it is often off from what you meant. But what do you mean?

Is it something in the air? How important is the conversation, the legibility of work and gesture, the clothes for god’s sake, the tension in the air, the atmosphere that you all breathe at the same time, the breath you’ve read about and the breath you breathe. Are you really alone in the universe writing your heart out, competing with other writers to make the best lines in the best-loved poems or are you making a gesture of support, debate, discussion, resistance? When I was writing Symmetry I used to sit down to it with the idea that I was going to really destroy prosody this time. Not really sure what I meant by that but it had something to do with being dissonant and yet intelligible – melodic, formal, lyrical and yet antiesthetic. To “mean” in a way that would engage a savvy member of the community and yet be readable by a Martian (as Spicer might have said.)

And that takes me back to the pathogenic wind. The reading at Moe’s a few weeks ago of Brent Cunningham, Cynthia Sailers and Bill Luoma was, in one sense, just a workaday collection of the local talent but in another it was a mind-stompingly great event. Brent read a wonderful story, "Captain Nelson is Turned Into a Man-Beast." Cynthia interspersed her reading of intriguing new work with quotes from her reading of intriguing old books in a way that was both erudite and completely engaging. Bill Luoma announced that he was writing about acupuncture and then read some really kick-ass stuff from the manuscript which is called When the Pathogenic Wind Comes and here is an example

suspended time

the stiff side of one neck

the head of sciatic nerve

the new yipes travel from there with illustration

of combination of course of that of course

of hemiplegia of the dewey one of in

travel out of jet that pours the passage of jet

the three suspended on that malleolus

with top of directly of indications of unit top

the turbine of the ankle of the time spent in the pool of the galantina

of the head of of of of of

of the migraine of suspended time.

from When the Pathogenic Wind Comes

It is hard to begin to count the perfections – especially because I am actually having the migraine of suspended time at this moment. The effective neologisms, the nod to the scene, (new yipes mention), the aurality – there are many things to be happy about here. The “of’s” alone could be generative of a meditative paragraph or two. It turns out that some of the neologisms are not new words but towns in Italy or the bony protuberances on either side of the ankle, at the lower end of the fibula. And, on second thought, maybe none of the apparently new words are new! But the aurality feels new; the combinatorics (if I might borrow the math term to suggest discrete usually finite objects and high quality explosions) also fresh. Bill’s saying that the poems relate to acupuncture before he read the work allowed it to suggest physicality, pressure points, health, networks of influence and of course chi. He read a bunch of these pieces and the degree to which he played a Coolidgesque, speech-inflected but contemporary tune was very persuasive. He may also have destroyed prosody in the bargain.

And then there is the outfit (see below) which anyone familiar with Bills’ visual work might see as a comment on form – not to mention the blue suede shoes which must be seen as a comment on tradition, irony, nostalgia, anti-nostalgia and the song qualities of his work.

Bill Luoma reading at Moe's & Bill's blue suede shoes

Another recent experience of an exchange between and among reader, audience, publisher, poet, teacher, editor etc was the reading of Dolores Durantes, Jen Hofer, Jesse Seldess and Patrick Durgin (also at Moe’s, as it happens) just this last Monday. This group has been doing a reading tour for a while and their appearances in the Bay Area include tonight’s reading at Modern Times Bookstore on Valencia in San Francisco at 7:30. They have quite a little dog and pony show going with everyone getting to be the dog and the pony at various times. There is the book by Jen and Patrick , the spanking new book by Dolores translated by Jen, the book by Laura Solorzano also translated by Jen and read by Jen and Dolores, the book by Jesse published by Patrick and the book by Jen and Patrick. They are in order Route by Jen and Patrick (from Atelos but not out yet), sexoPUROsexoVeloz and SEPTIEMBRE by Dolores Durantes, Lip Wolf by Laura Solorzano, Who Opens by Jesse Seldess (reviewed in this space) and Imitation Poems by Patrick Durgin. The reading at Moe’s was stupendous and was attended by many in the community -– see below -- and those of you who did not go have a chance to see the whole show tonight. And I will have more to say about these books, Patrick's tie, Hannah Weiner's book Open House published by Patrick which I just realized I forgot to mention he read from, and this whole idea of readership, audience, the scene and poetics, Bay and otherwise, anon.

Jen Hofer, Dolores Durantes, Patrick Durgin and Jesse Seldess at Moe's

Jen Hofer and Patrick Durgin

Jesse Seldess not reading the word he is holding up.


Blogger poetowen said...

Hi Laura

Could you email me those photos? I didn't get pictures of those readings, would love to have them on the Moe's website. Those were outstanding readings--so much great work around, it's hard to keep up.


2:17 PM  

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