Is he gone? Is it safe? OK, time for the rundown on David’s three-night stand. Alli and I are the only two who saw him all three nights! That makes us special. It also affords us a privileged perspective on his work and the dynamics of its social presentation—or in other words, the way he adjusted to the weirdness of having three consecutive engagements, and how he dealt with varying his treatment accordingly.
The central issue here is: what does it mean to have three readings three nights in a row? What kind of community response does this enable and/or prohibit? When you have essentially a different crowd each night, as David mostly did, it can reveal a lot about what kind of material works in certain contexts and not in others. For example, David started off the second night at Eileen’s by reading one of my raspier Flarf poems from the new COMBO (he also finished the night in the same way, but that’s a different story). The response from the room (some 30-35 people, maybe?) was mixed, but I’d say the dominant top note was one of horrified bewilderment. Had he read it the night before, I’m guessing it would have met with a much more enthusiastic response. Just guessing, mind you.
Let’s back up a little bit, and establish a basic fact: David mumbles. He knows it, we all know it. (It didn’t help that at the first reading, as he explained, he was recovering from having accidentally brushed his teeth that morning with moisturizer instead of toothpaste.) This has a number of different effects. One is that you have to lean forward and listen very closely. This can be a good thing. Another effect is that it makes it sound as though he’s been drinking, which he had. It also makes him sound unsure of himself. This, in its own way, is somewhat endearing. The brash heathenish hothead, with his little red horns and pitchfork, is really a big bashful boy! (The Bermuda shorts and hockey shirt add to this effect.) Another sense it creates is one of sarcasm and self-disavowal.
David sent me Cage Dances over a year ago, and I thought at the time that it was an engaging if somewhat slight assortment of casual lyrics. Looking at it again, it’s a substantial, moving chapbook. What I took for slightness now feels more like a guarded intensity, a controlled series of risks in short bursts. At Eileen’s, David mentioned the San Francisco cliffs in connection with Spicer, trying to put himself in Spicer’s position decades earlier looking down on those cliffs (when they weren’t crowded with joggers). Like Spicer, David is passionate about language and its impossibility, the impossibility both of transmitting messages received from an Outside, and of being received in turn by a world that doesn’t listen. The mumbling, in this light, reads almost as a sardonic commentary: you’re not listening anyway, why should I bother? At the end of the second night, David was reading more of my profane Flarf, interjecting the repeated statement “no one is listening,” throwing the pages dramatically into the plate of brie on the snack table when he was finished.
The third night, at David Hadbawnik’s, was the most successful reading as such, I think: it was a much smaller group (about 12 people total), and the whole thing felt more like a conversation than a formal presentation. David did a wicked Burroughs imitation for one selection, his muttering more inaudible than ever, but somehow thus enhancing the oily Missouri drawl—more Burroughs than Burroughs. All three nights, the “four-line poems” (see his archives) provided a central gravity, being as they are both the most fragile and most painfully immediate of the work he presented.
I’m having a terrible amount of trouble saying what I want to say about David’s visit. We didn’t get to hang out that much outside of the readings, aside from one long, quiet midnight walk in unsuccessful search of a pool table with Alli and Taylor. My feeling, however, was a mixture of gratefulness for the work that he shared, and that always seemed like it was hard for him to share, as though he cared too deeply about it merely to perform it, and of protectiveness, of wanting to sit him down and say, slow down, David, relax, let us welcome you and be laid back and California-casual. But he’s fighting a personal battle that won’t allow him to let his guard down that way.
From Cage Dances:
I knew the words
to this poem once.
I wrote them down.
I looked up at the sun
and I looked down.
The words formed a sun
in their own fragile sky.
I wrote it down.
I was blinded twice
back into sight.
I was blinded twice
back into sight.
This post has absolutely no moral or narrative direction whatsoever. It’s like, um, David Hess came and gave a reading, well three readings, really, and I, like, went to them? And he read his poems? Seriously, I’m feeling blog-anxiety like crazy. One thing blogging has done is to drive home for me how much I really do have a problem with sustained thought in prose. The essayistic directions I go in are like ant-directions, pointless, wobbly, redundant.
What was that excellent line Catherine had about being a friend to ants?
David, you were great. We love you, get up.
Also at David Hadbawnik’s last night were Summi Kaipa and Andrew Felsinger. Summi read from her manuscript-in-progress involving her recent travels to India and the cultural effects of globalization on Indian cultural identity—like all her work, very vivid and compelling. She is courageously honest about her guilty embeddedness in American imperialism and its co-optive/alienating social pressures. This was the first time I had seen Andrew read, and it was delightful: he has both the look and the style in many ways of a young Ron Padgett, the same ability to take the banal cadences of casual speech and point out their exotic potential for psychoactive hilarity. There was this line in one poem about “cigarettes burning like dirty pigeons” that had my eyes tearing with laughter throughout the two poems following. He adds to this comic sensibility an uncompromisingly specific political indignation.
Other memorable points of the past three evenings included Alli playing the new Radiohead for me, and saying goodbye to Nick, and having some of Stephanie’s delicious berry and peach pies.
That’s all I have. Not much of a trilogy, I guess. Another thing that’s distracting me is that I have all these unattended-to commitments hovering over my head outside the blog, and I’m going into panic mode. So if entries are sparse for the next week or so, please understand.