Last night’s 21 Grand event had just as much buzz attending it as it had actual attendants, and there were plenty of both. I can’t remember another reading where the sense of anticipation, especially among the younger people in the audience, had been so palpable for so long in advance. It was exciting to see poetry generating something like the same kind of enthusiasm rock concerts can generate in teenage crowds. It was a wonderfully diverse crowd, a mixture of long-time luminaries and fledgling celebs: Stephanie Young, Kevin Killian, Lyn Hejinian, Bob Grenier, Tim Yu, Chris Stroffolino, Juliana Spahr, Steven Vincent, Del Ray Cross, Patrick Durgin, Stephen Ratcliffe, Eileen Tabios, Alan Bernheimer, Taylor Brady, Rodney Koeneke, Roxi Hamilton, kari edwards, James Meetze, Chris Sullivan, Aidan Thompson, Alli Warren, Ian Wallace, and a bunch of people I’m going to feel bad for leaving out later when I remember. As you can see, the blogger presence was strong. I’m convinced that the blogging phenomenon has helped to add a new level of dynamic cohesiveness to the poetry scene, and that last night was, among other things, a visible social marker of its effect. It was a just-uncomfortably hot evening, which added to the feeling that a bunch of people were all gathered together, stoutly enduring the elements in the service of a common Joy.
It was the first time I’d seen Mary Burger read, and she was riveting. Her poem-essays took full advantage of the crowd’s eagerness to be attentive, mixing the incantatory with the analytic in very fresh ways. Comparisons with Juliana Spahr and Lisa Jarnot sprang to mind, as all three of these writers use post-Steinian repetition to perform precise, anaphoric dissections of social and ecological objectifications, albeit in different registers, at varying points along a scale of affects from ludic lyricism to testimonial austerity to philosophical introspection. Burger read from several works, including a great piece involving a person (the speaker’s “boss”) whose distaste for passionlessness leads him to reject Yoko Ono, a manuscript entitled “Sonny” about the atom bomb, and her new book My First Summer in the Sierras©. Actually, she only described illustrations from the latter briefly, as the slide presentation she had planned fell through. I wish my memory were better. At one point during the evening I looked over at Tim Yu, who was sitting next to me, and saw that he had brought his notebook. I sat in shamed humility, realizing what a disgrace what I was.
A brief intermission, during which I ran into the gorgeous Ms. CorpsePoetics at the refreshment table as we were refilling our glasses. The inevitable wine jokes ensued.
Then Ron took the stage, or music stand, or whatever. His two boys sat in the front row, looking very proud of their dad, seeing him read for only the second time (the first time, Ron said, was at Double Happiness in New York). He read exclusively from VOG, the most recent installment in his ongoing Alphabet project (the acronym comes from broadcasting, he explained, and stands either for “voice-over guy” or “voice of God”!). The formal distinction of this group is that the poems are, in his words, “ordinary poems.” No fixed procedural schema or anything. Once again, my stupidity in not bringing paper and pen prevents me from giving you as full a report as would be wished, but one of the poems, “Seven Sad Forests” (which is also this month’s Secret Swan broadside), contains the words “Between sentences, something hides. I’m trying to pry it into the open.” This is an apt description of what he did throughout the evening: reading rapidly, energetically, he kept our attentions skating across the filmic cuts between sentences, in the process generating a momentum that forced not each sentence itself, but the blur of all of them, into focus. There was so much to take in, so many scenes of large life along with its minutiae, politics and trivia, sex and friendship, passion and decay, and it was all as if pried out by force of syntactic violence. The sense was of multiple acts of referentiality overlapping each other, obviating the distinction between language and its referent, putting the meaning squarely between one sentence and the next, Lucky Pierre style. I kept thinking of Whitman, the manic inclusiveness, the expansive generosity of observation.