Thursday, February 01, 2007

Do The Police

Differences are easy to call out, but it’s the uncanny synchronicity in Linda Russo and Joel Bettridge’s excellent readings at Spare Room on Sunday that stuck with me most. To wit:

JB: Opened with a love poem. (Opening line: “I don’t want children, ever.”)
LR: Opened with poem in dialogue with Ovid’s Art of Love. (“I am wounded and troubled and delighted and aroused and appalled.”)

JB: “California poems”
LR: “Oklahoma poems”

JB: Pre-Socratics sing the blues
LR: Roman speaks “low tech-like”

JB: “I’m Ready to Send Advanced Arms to India”
LR: “India needs more energy”

JB: Closing poem made from what sounded like symptom descriptions on the back of medicine bottles.
LR: Closing poem, “Pharmacopoeia”, made from what sounded like symptom descriptions and the language of current beauty therapies. (“life-affirming, non-invasive, tummy re-attach.”)

JB: First full-length poetry book due out in 2007: That Abrupt Here
LR: First full-length poetry book out in 2007: Mirth
(Linda’s also written the introduction for Joanne Kyger’s About Now: Collected Poems, out this spring from the National [“Man and Poet”]ry Foundation.)

JB: Poetics Program at SUNY Buffalo
LR: Poetics Program at SUNY Buffalo

Those last two are kind of cheats, since I knew that going in and it didn’t affect what they read in any immediate way. It did tempt me though to wonder about the particular blend of humor, erudition, sex, colloquial swagger, and political unease that seemed a large part of their poems’ appeal, and whether there’s anything like a movement bubbling up from under it. I thought about the new/old sincerity, about the different strategies poets are using to assemble a speaking self that can talk about more than just the conditions of its own creation—can hit the big monosyllables like love and faith and death and Bush and Dow—without sidestepping a postmodern praxis where “prices fix like identities” (Russo) and writing is often a ‘writing-through’ of earlier movers-along of the discourse.

In his introduction, David Abel mentioned the “humor and romance” in both poets’ work, and what he called their “passionate detachment,” which seemed right on to me as a way of describing how Ovid and the blues and newspaper headlines and pharmaceutical argot were employed as a way to produce the kind of distance, the stutter, you need in order to talk about the range of subjects these poets tackle with anything like sincerity now, a quality that’s bestowed from the outside, a gift from your listeners, not drawn up via booze or therapy or languid mountain retreats from the deep within. “Botoxic” (Russo): not the lineless perfect surface, but the prick of the silver that pushes the toxins inside. Beauty like that, abrupt and aware and infinitely surprising: “a cross between a handgun and a tea towel.”

1 comment:

Sage said...

Hi Rodney,

Saw you read once in SF, and I loved you poems in the SF Reader. I'm bummed that I won't be able to make it to next Sunday's reading. But please add me to your list. I'd love to know where to catch you next time! Thanks!