NAROPA SUMMER/FALL READINGS 1997
Reviewed by: Patrick Pritchett
1. Got to hear Kevin Killian read last night at Naropa's Summer Writing Program - and to meet "The Man Himself" as well as the delightful Dodie Bellamy.
Kevin did more than just read, I should think - he appropriated the podium with bravura, wit and a warm, excited energy. There were six poems, all of them marvelous: first, part of his series of Dario Argento/HIV poems ("the field of the open human page"), which juxtapose the tragedy of human suffering with the unreal nightmare imagery of horror films. Then an elegy for Larry Eigner & Bob Flanagan. An imitation of a John Wiener poem. Another Argento piece, "Trauma." A very moving poem for Steve Abbott ("a thirst so deep confession doesn't cover it"). And a funny poem called "Zombie" from a series edited by Rod Smith and others about "Prayer in the Schools." He made the connections seem evident: between the first surprise of desire and the painful surprise of pathos. Bravo, Kevin!
Gloria Frym also read. Her story, "To See Her In Sunlight Was To See Marxism Die," (from Brodkey's story, "Innocence") was a finely crafted examination of a lingering divorce in which the commerce of the heart is conflated with the decline and fall of communism and the greedy logic of late capitalism.
Maybe more later...
2. Last night Naropa offered an embarrassment of poetic riches.
First up was Steven Taylor, who gave a restrained, graceful and downright beautiful reading of a story/memoir called "Eroica" which recounted his adventures in Dubrovinik during the last days of Tito with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky. Steven's understated tone and measured cadence demonstrated masterfully how exactitude of observation can elicit the most powerful emotional response. His second piece, a short elegy for Allen, was deeply moving. Unfortunately, I can offer no lines and I don't think quoting them out of context would do them justice anyway. I only hope they both show up in print somewhere soon. (Actually, the second piece did appear in Ed Sanders' Woodstock Journal...)
Next came Dodie Bellamy, who read a Letter of Mina Harker addressed to Sam D'Allessandro. "Gender is the night." Part homage to George Romero, Dodie's amazing combination of deadpan humor and subversive intent with respect to the way we view gender, passion and yes! identity mixed a constant sense of narrative surprise with a piquant unease. The risks she takes in these letters - their candor and their intimacy - give the sharp double sense of pleasure and ambivalence arising from our recognition of the disturbing nature of the familiar -- and the familiarity of the disturbing -- in our private emotional atmospheres.
After this Cole Swensen read, largely from her work-in-progress "O," a cycle of poems about the ways women die in opera (based in part, I gather, from the work of scholar Catherine Claremont -sp?). The sections bore such titles as: "Death By Suffocation," "Death By Knifing" and the like. Cole's straightforward delivery only underscored the laser-like intensity of these stark, austere meditations on the unspoken male cultural equations drawn between women, eros, suffering, passion and violence. The cumulative effect was hypnotic - an extraordinary rollcall of the dead.
Finally, Carla Harryman took the stage to read from her new novel, "Gardener of the Stars," a double dialogue/narrative spoken by the Gardener and his/her symbiotic other/Double/lover/nemesis M. "Sometimes I associate uselessness with the divine." Her reading was, as might be expected, wild, heady, lyrical, dense, comic, cheeky, unsettling - a complex register in which dreams, gender, identity (the evening's theme?) were inflated, flattened, and reconfigured in defiance of expectation. "Gardner" also featured, as did "Mina Harker," a decapitation, so in concert with Cole's reading, another leitmotif appeared, prompting Aldon Nielsen to incline his head and murmur "There's a lot of detached heads here tonight."
Afterwards some of us adjourned to Dolan's across the street in an effort to raise the detached head quotient, albeit more gently...
3. Friday night at Naropa the featured readings began with...
... a performance by proxy of a poem by Clifford Burke, the legendary letter
press printer, who'd taken gravely ill (no news on his current status). His
serpentine hymn to natural life for three voices was ably performed by a
trio of students: one male as reader and two females as acapella chanters
and antiphonal chorus.
Next up the initimable Jack Collom, who read with great verve and vigor his
sonic tour de force, "Quintana Roo Beach 6AM," also a kind of ode to the
natural world's ceaselessly Protean movement, a mosaic of cubistic piled up
images read/sung/hummed with a breathless staccato rhythm ("wind licking
land as boom la-la"), achieving a vertiginous morphing of "shimmering
morphologies." This was followed by an "Eco-Haibun:" a witty, syncopated
meditation on certain themes from Simon Schama's _Landscape & Memory_.
Lee Christopher then gave us her playful, colloquial "Nawlins" take on
passion, an amusing mix of homespun observations and erotic joie de vivre:
"Married men are like freight train boxcars -if you miss one you can catch
the next - and the ride's always the same."
Anne Waldman closed the evening with a powerful reading from _Iovis, Part
2_. Evoking Sappho and Dante in an effort to raise language - commit it - to
a new level of engagement, she ranged from a panoramic view of the history
of the feminine psyche (all via multi-vocal narrative & pitch) to a vignette
of an encounter with a Balinese masseuse calling herself "Marlene Dietrich,"
who plaintively mused: "Is a man all there is to a woman?" This was followed
by a section exploring the dialectical contrast between tantric phallic
practices and the pornographic gun culture.
Coda: Anne was joined by Steven Taylor for the performance of an anon. 13th
Century motet for Allen Ginsberg and "Verses for the New Amazing Grace."
4. Last Saturday under the Naropa Big Top poet/playwright/impresario extraordinaire Kevin Killian presented his workshop class production of "Daily Life: The Crime of the Century." This was my first experience of contemporary innovative poetic drama and I found it thoroughly delightful. I fear the spirit of the play and its general air of festive hilarity, vocal innovation and poetic ingenuity won't translate into a thumbnail post. All I can say is: you shoulda been here!
Though largely episodic in nature, the play's main storyline revolved around an alleged poetry attack - by a man or a woman ("there's no gender parity among the poetry deprived") - who broke into a Boulder home to interrupt a man watching the "blue light of TV" by reciting poetry. "Boulder - such a quiet town. I never thought anything like p o e t r y could happen to me!" But, as one character observed: "we're all characters in a strange police drama." The clever and _very funny_ blend of Ramsey case parody and poetic riffing/hijinks made for an hour and a half of enthralled bemusement and hearty laughter.
A few random lines from no scenes in particular:
"Alas, in Hell we're outside the juridical belt of TV or even Kodak."
"What is that specious quality that makes us locate yesterday just around the corner?"
"Meaning is one slippery motherfucker - either way someone gets hurt."
Kevin appeared for the finale with chorus, produced a silk scarf from his pocket, and launched into a bang-on version of Anne Waldman complete with gesticulating flourishes. Kudos to the maestro and his wonderful cast and crew.
5. Last Friday, if memory serves:
Keith Abbott opened the evening with several short stories. These were straightforward realistic narratives, frequently funny, somewhat ribald, and tinged with a careful attitude of pathos toward the inevitability of aging and the lot of the working class. "Three things my Irish father instilled in me: a fear of the dark, an eternal mistrust of politicians, and a deep respect for the fishy things in the ocean." The best of these pieces was "Sayonara, Adios, Goodnight:" a seemingly biographical account of Abbott's glory days as a high school football player in Washington and his singular encounter with "the man who put death inside me," Clarence Clancy Williams, a freight train of a running back who later went pro and who for sixty minutes on an autumn night more than 20 years ago pounded the knowledge of mortality painfully deep into Abbott's bones.
A very pregnant Wang Ping read next. Her coolly enamelled accounts of life as a child in China during the Cultural Revolution only served to increase the strange horror of hearing how her mother, for instance, was driven through the city streets by teenage Red Guards in a humiliating show of public punishment. "We are nothing but grains and yet all we think of is to crush one another - what is the matter with us?" In another story - the theme again revolving around heartbreak, loss and exile - she demonstrated how the imagination has the power to reshape reality simply by the writing of stories. I don't do it justice - it was both funnier and more poignant than I can get across. Her last piece was the somewhat too long "8000 Miles of Clouds & Rain" - an elegy for Allen Ginsberg centering on her work as a translator for Allen at a conference of Chinese poets. A paean to New York City as the exile's paradise, it recounted how AG flew into a rage when the Chinese poets opined that things were getting better in Tibet and his subsequent apology : "Sorry to yell for Buddha."
Lorenzo Thomas closed the evening with a marvellously warm and expansive reading of new poems - I hope to be collected somewhere soon. >From "Morning Raga:" "while you were sleeping undoubtedly some tragedy occured - but somewhere someone is singing." The best title of the night: "The Sadness of Space Exploration," which Lorenzo confessed to having stolen from a student's essay. Though brimming with easy humor, Thomas's reading of life is a deeply moral and compassionate one. One poem, "An Education," described listening to Mingus through the ajar back entrance of the Five Spot. "Hollandaise Salsa" recalled a trip to Amsterdam with fellow poet Ricardo Sanchez. Typical of his generous range of thought and emotion, it was both a critique of colonialism and a postcard of nostalgic wanderlust familiar to anyone who's ever been homesick while abroad: "salsa leaking out the windows of the lost lost in their dreaming - feels like home." A smattering of other lines scribbled in haste: "the heart a speedbag for emotions." "You're not alone as you think. That would be impossible. But God is not a pinch hitter." (Recalls Delmore Schwartz's famous line: "existentialism means nobody else can take a bath for you"). "We have decided everyone has a problem - that's our idea of equality."
6. Stop me if you heard this one before...
Tuesday at Naropa:
Cassandra Terman began the evening by reading from her work and I have to confess that I was not as drawn to her poetry as much as I've been to that of others in this series. Her poems worked in the vein of personal observation of the world - that is to say, they tended to *be about* something, rather than *being* something in themselves. Given that, they offered some nuanced attentions to both the natural world and the quotidian moods of the psyche. "What a blessing to be stripped of the burden of meaning..." "We travel in a language of syllables and antelopes..."
Kristen Prevallet (who gets my vote for coolest shoes of the Summer Writing Program) read next from _Perturbation, My Sister_, a re-collaging of a Max Ernst collage the title of which unfortunately escapes me now. "Magnificent parrots that will die at the sight of light..." Though I'm unfamiliar with the original, what impressed me about these poems was the way in which Prevallet stood Ernst's obviously wild & surreal collages on their head to effect sleights-of-hand that were not only playful and fecund, but full of sly amusements. Ernst's obessions became Prevallet's comedies (and perhaps vice-versa as well). "To connect the project of building to the possibility of touching the sky." "Lead, Glass, Poppy" was her take on the apocalypse as a media event, recombining images of news stories that ranged from warfare, archeaology, cult suicide, suburban child murders and the history of displacement - "Pick this up and explode."
Lisa Jarnot closed the evening and may be fairly said, I think, to have caused a real stir, at least judging from various comments overheard afterwards. (Could Naropa be the Cannes of the poetry circuit? O Marcello, O papparazi, where are you?) Jarnot read from _Some Other Kind of Mission_ and from newer work. Her poems defy easy excerpting since their procedures are so concerned with repetition, overlap and a kind of echolalia. The method is both encyclopedic (seemingly) and precise, which is to say, exclusionary. A poetry of disjunction, cagey wit, and circular rhythms, in which perception is a conjoining of disruptions and clarity is conferred through a series of confusions. (That's what I scribbled in my notebook anyway...) All of this delivered in a lowkey, unemphatic, sometimes deadpan pitch that at times took on the characteristics, the hue (and rue) of a litany of the obtuse and recalcitrant *things* (read: words) with which we stock our lives. Dazzling.
7. ... was the last night of the Summer Writing Program's reading series, held in true showbiz tradition within the "friendly confines" of the Fox Theater on University Hill.
Unfortunately, I arrived late (didn't check my ticket for the starting time) and so missed both Bobbie Louise Hawkins and Anselm Hollo reading from their work and entered in the midst of a fierce oratorical performance by Michelle Clinton, whom I'd last heard at the now defunct Chatterton's on Vermont in LA. The vivid sense of anger and the flamboyant embattled rhetoric against persecution and violence to women were still there, but I felt a certain tendentiousness at work also, and a failure to engage language to its fullest extent - a decision, clearly, on Clinton's part, to eschew the stilletto for an instrument with heavier impact. It led to me to think of several things, among them, Camus' line "To be classic is to repeat oneself. And to know how to repeat oneself." Was Clinton doing the latter? Also, how is her poetry more political (or less) than say, Bernstein's "The Kiwi Bird in the Kiwi Tree?" I'm not sure - but I found myself agonizing over the problematized interface between protest and poetry. This turned out to be something of a leitmotif for the evening.
Next, Anne Waldman and Andrew Schelling performed a spirited and engaging duet, accompanied by Mark Miller on flute and Steven Taylor on one of Allen Ginsberg's harmoniums, of some poem-tales from their translations from the Pali Canon, _Songs of the Sons and Daughters of the Buddha_. Rendered in a fresh, contemporary idiom, these pieces were nevertheless curious, to say the least, as they mainly concerned themselves with exhortations against the wiles of the flesh and grim repudiations of the body. A strange grafting of newer Buddhistic teaching with obviously older material that derived from a tradition of moralizing folktales.
Steven Taylor took the stage and sang in dulcet voice a stunning setting of Blake's "London."
Stan Brakhage - looking something like a Mennonite - fairly hopped onto the stage in a delightful display of joie de vivre following this, and gave a wonderful homage to the 20th Century American epic poem - Williams, Pound, Zukofsky, Stein, Dorn and HD - how their works provided an essential fuel for his own work, all by way of introducing Ronald Johnson.
In a hoarse voice, Johnson then read from _Ark_: Spire for LZ, describing how he had already written it when he heard the news of Zukofsky's death and how that then changed the poem, made it more serious. He also read one of the Ramparts, and closed with Arches for Stan Brakhage. To say more than this would be gilding the lily, I'm afraid. Suffice it to say, it was great to see and hear one of the greatest poets in the land. Johnson closed real trouper-style, saying his book was on sale in the lobby (I hope he sold them all!) then raised his bottle of Bud in salute.
Diane di Prima read next. First, "Gestapo Poem." Then two elegies for Ginsberg - funny and moving - "no more unlooked for and unused poetry advice." She closed with a long reading of sections from her work in progress _Loba_. It was difficult to get from these snippets a clear sense of this book-length poem, whose main concerns seemed to be with the epic scale of prehistory and the mythic evocation of the feminine.
Ed Sanders closed the evening, his reading prefaced by some fidgeting with gizmos. He read the closing portion of *his* book-length poem _1968_. This narrative work was long on prose-like exposition and short on the lyrical, but fascinating as an anecdotal document (The Fugs on tour in Chicago, Ed calling Daley a motherfucker to a pissed off crowd who expected to see Wilson Pickett instead, the suicide of DA Levy, manning the trenches in Chicago with Ginsberg) The work carries - and tries to expunge - a deep anger from that time over government betrayal, government-issued death. As with Clinton's work, but in a different way of course, I felt a sharp disparity between the effort to engage political awareness and the cost this affected on the poem's engagement with language. Not good or bad - but differing greatly from my own concerns. Ed then led us in a corny, good spirited sing-a-long "America at Peace," then read a lovely lyric poem - "the weight of the world is love who can deny it?" and closed with a duet with Steven Taylor - more songs of Blake with segues into contemporary political issues and some charming, amusing variants of "New Amazing Grace."
whew! .... our revels now are ended. Thanks for listening.
NAROPA FALL FACULTY READING 1997
Sunday night at Naropa the annual Fall faculty reading was finally held, an
earlier date having been called on account of blizzard.
Andrew Schelling read first. He began with an extract from the forthcoming
travel journal _The Road to Ocassino: A Chiapas Journal_, which gave a
fluid account of an old Nahuatl treatise on flowers & song, hallucinogens
and poesis, and their convergence in "the luminous sphere of poetry." "But
ah, when the mushroom wears off, one returns to daily life - restless,
disconsolate." Next he read from a delightful series of Haibuns - a hybrid
form of prose and haiku. These crisp meditations on Coloradan geological and
natural features moved by way of sharp, immediate, precise and bright
details and included a playful and very effective section that dwelt on the
odd conventions of place-naming - "A town called Rifle. A gulch called
Skeleton." The section ended with a haiku for Ginsberg:
Old masters depart,
spring flowers return, haze
hangs blue by high peaks.
(Not an exact syllable count - either I missed a beat, or it's intentional).
Schelling closed with a selection of droll, piquant translations from
Sanskrit love poems.
Anne Waldman began her reading by observing somewhat mordantly that
"everyday seems like Memorial Day around here." In honor of what would have
been Ted Berrigan's 63rd birthday, she then read his "Sonnet 23," and "In
Anselm Hollo's Poems." Next in the marche funebre came "Lines for Elio
Schneeman," followed by a truly wonderful elegy for Hannah Weiner entitled
"Hannah Where" - "You are coded in between all the lines... I love you
because you are the one who says I see, I see, I see..."
Following, Anne read from new work: "Marriage: A Sentence" - a funny,
bittersweet chronology of two marriages and a third common law arrangement -
"When you are married chances are there will be food in the house when you
come in the door."
Next, sections from _Iovis 2 & 3_: the first a continuation of her critique
on the American obsession with guns, then a powerful blast on the turf
battle over the idea of "women's epic" - featuring a very pointed, very
right-on letter from a former list subscriber (no names, please!) and
co-starring Charles Olson and Robt. Creeley.
Anne closed her set in a duet with Steven Taylor on harmonium - lines from
Allen's "Mind Breaths" - "no plot, no plot, embrace the stars you are made
The remainder of the evening was then remanded to the trusty custody of
Anselm Hollo. Who is acquainted with the night, the blight, the cross-hair
sight and a species of chimpanzees whose conflict resolution technique
eschews war in favor of group orgies. Began AH: "not to belabor lugubrium,
but..." and then read three poems by the late James Laughlin. He then read
from his own recent _Hills Like Purple Pachyderms_ and _AHOE: And How On
Earth_. Following are brief snatches: "benign evening come down... this is
not the sea, just a big puddle of hopeless desire for a new brain." "So
listen to some Locatelli adrift in history's drunken boat." "How many years
does it take to shut up, to learn to shut up? Down the toliet with insight
stew." (Pound: "tempus loquendi, tempus tacendi"). "wintry note floats in
reason's mind shaft..." And for Ted Berrigan a poem, presented here in its
entirety: "The Other is the Same." And from a poem for Allen Ginsberg -
"don't shelve that book yet, I want to remember him a little longer."
Underneath the bright, bristling wit, the marvelous, impish wordplay, the
impeccable sense of rhythm, the sharp pitch and stress of diction, me
thought I detected a darker note in Hollo's work than had been heard
previously. Or was it only the sound of twilight drawing its ravenous wing
over all of us?