Monday, March 26, 2007

"A Form of Reading" (1)

Kate Greenstreet and Janet Holmes read to a full, well-caffeinated house last Monday, on one of those poetically rainy (as opposed to the standard annoyingly rainy) Portland nights—muffled patter, streets catching the shine of the lights.

Greenstreet read first, opening with one from her new box of note card poems, printed on real open-at-the-fold, laminated, blank-inside greeting cards, the kind you write thank yous on and stuff into envelopes for friends.

On the page, Greenstreet’s work draws a lot of its energy from the directness and compact austerity of her language, which reminds me of the Objectivists in its expressive use of space & its feeling for the ‘essential’ statement, stripped of ornamental particulars (“it’s what’s left/when the rest goes down the drain.”) Reading through case sensitive, I found myself paying special attention to the places where spoken language can’t go: the visual rhythm of the gaps between stanzas and lines; the quotation marks, frequently unattributed, giving a sense of the poem as a space shared by several voices; and, above all, the parentheses and brackets that surround so many phrases, which carry some of the charge of “the pervasive empty brackets sign [ ]” in the Niedecker/Zukofsky correspondence, explained in a note as “a signal of deep caring for which words dare not and need not be found.”

I was surprised at how well these features came through in performance, where even parentheses managed to make an appearance: “the parentheses mean something to me/but then again so do the phases of the moon.” I think I glommed onto that as the keynote of Greenstreet’s reading, where the same gift for spare, direct statement—“the most vulnerable moment/is the moment of change”; “I made it out of what it looks like”—supported a kind of exploration of things lunar and numinous, with “saints” and “faith” and “redemption” and “prayer” all comfortably embraced by the poems’ vocabulary. A lot of the work in case sensitive seems in dialogue with the absent or dead: a lost lover, a missing friend, a relative’s ghost. Although it was just one voice reading, the same dialogic quality came through in the way Greenstreet looked up from the page to address us, as if we were the ghosts she was asking questions of, or with. I don’t think she read this line, but it sums up for me the specific gravity of the work she gave us Monday:

“What’s the appeal of a mystery? Someone is looking for something, actively.”

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