Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kenning in Portland, 10/19/07

The Kenning Editions poets poured clown car-style out of an improbable green compact to deliver an extraordinary reading in Portland on Friday, anchored by multivoiced renditions of Hannah Wiener's work on either end and filled out with memorable work in between.

Patrick Durgin opened with "The Litmus Redact" from his recent Imitation Poems, another luxe chapbook from Michael Cross's Atticus/Finch. ("All/the accessories speak/of hospitality and bounty/in devotional airs.") Jen Hofer and Jesse Seldess then joined him with walkie talkies to read one of Wiener's "Code Poems" from Open House. Based on the International Code of Signals, a simplified sea language of gestures and pennants, Wiener's poem injected the bare bones denotative function of the language—one signal, one word—with double entendre and multiple meanings, which turned the workaday vocabulary of navigation into a suggestive sexual narrative. The poems seemed to turn one purpose of "code" on its head, building ambiguity from a system designed to resist it.

Hofer and Durgin swapped lines from a collaborative project, The Route, coming out from Atelos next year. The section they read was "an open letter to Carla Harryman" that fired off provocative 'generational statements' at manifesto velocity: "We want to mention a collectivity of perception itself." "We want to construct a library of limits so we can open and close them." "But more than protest, we want it not to be like this anymore."

Dolores Dorantes
read poems from her new Kenning book, SexoPUROSexoVELOZ, along with portions of Laura Solórzano's Lip Wolf, in Spanish, followed every few lines by Jen Hofer giving the translation. The work was intense and intensely embodied by Dorantes. I was too busy half-remembering my Spanish, trying to match what I thought I understood to Jen's translation, to write down more than a handful of lines. But that experience itself, of on-the-fly mental half-translation, paralleled the Wiener piece in a way that focused attention on the mysteries of transmission, that uncertain carrying-over of sign to meaning and what happens in the burrs where they don't quite match.

Jesse Seldess
, who joined the tour from Karlsruhe, FRG, read one long poem from 2006's Who Opens, and one new piece of about the same length. His performance was astounding. Not that he did anything especially performative; if anything, his delivery seemed to extract his person from the work, the poet as system for producing sound. His first piece built up from short, relatively simple, and relentlessly repeated phrases that reminded me both of the "loops" musicians use in performance and of those childhood games where you say a familiar word over and over until it sloughs off its meaning and turns to nonsense, then to a spell. "And so," "the scene rips through," "and overheard blended," "lifting you up," "to you here" mixed and varied, bumped off rhymes ("ear/here," "rendered/mended"), and worked the seam between music and meaning in a way that had me thinking of those lo-tech but still kind of phenomenal Viewmaster toys, where two lines of perspective overlap for a 3-D pop. The poem was addressed to the second person, and, like with Wiener's code for ships, it was hard not to fill in the outlines of a relationship from the artful static.

His last piece was an excerpt from a manuscript inspired by Gunter Deming's "Stumbling Stones" installation project in Germany, in which raised stones are set in front of buildings where people have been killed. "You can't choose to visit it, you stumble upon it, and most of the time you miss it." Like the first poem, it gained in effect from the pace Seldess was able to give it in delivery, with repetition ("to have been," "to be gone") taking the place of conventional syntax in moving the meaning through time. The poem's intense questioning of memory and being (or the transition from being to not being, meaning to not meaning) echoed with the last poem of the reading, which is also the last poem Hannah Wiener is known to have written, "Silent History." It's the final piece in Open House, and is about as great a précis of Wiener's particular genius as you'll find:

"silences understanding alone power employs understanding english culture history make
culture sorry history hurts obvious sometimes obvious hurts when culture knowledges"

One of the most thoughtful, exciting readings I've been to since I moved to Portland. They're in the Bay Area through Friday, L.A. on Sunday.

1 comment:

Providence said...


It was so nice to see you--next time I hope we can take it all at a much more relaxed pace. Thanks also for blogging our visit!

More soon,