Friday, January 30, 2009

Peaches and Bats Night

Smorg hosts the action-packed Peaches and Bats 3 launch party tonight at the Waypost. Since Robert Dewhurst took Satellite Telephone with him to Buffalo, I’m extra glad Sam Lohmann’s here to hold down the innovative, handmade, editorally saavy corner of the Portland poetry fort.
The Waypost, 3120 N Williams Avenue (hosted by Smorg)


David Abel
Joseph Bradshaw
Sam Lohmann
Kaia Sand

with MUSIC by
Ian Ackerman
Warren Lee
Gabriel Will

David Abel has the most extraordinary air of self-satisfaction. Yet, if we stop to examine those Chinese writings of his that he so presumptuously scatters about the place, we find that they are full of imperfections. Someone who makes such an effort to be different from others is bound to fall in people’s esteem, and I can only think that his future will be a hard one. If one gives free rein to one’s emotions even under the most inappropriate circumstances, if one has to sample each interesting thing that comes along, people are bound to regard one as frivolous. And how can things turn out well for such a man?

Joseph Bradshaw eats chicken and horses in Portland when he’s not teaching the world to sing at Portland State University or Pacific Northwest College of Art or writing his famous chapbooks such as The Way Birds Become (Weather Press) and This Ocean, or Oppen Series (Cannibal Books).

Kaia Sand is the author of the poetry collection interval (Edge Books, 2004), the wee book lotto, the chapbooks Heart on a Tripod and tiny arctic ice (all from Dusie), and The NAFTA (forthcoming from Duration Press echap series). Jim Dine created artist books from tiny arctic ice and lotto (Steidl, 2008), and Sand coauthored Landscapes of Dissent: Guerrilla Poetry & Public Space (Palm Press, 2008) with Jules Boykoff.

Sam Lohmann is a poet, editor, letterpress printer, ex-busboy, future substitute preschool teacher, occasional tutor, and temporary cashier in Portland, Oregon. He will be reading work written by others for his yearly zine, “Peaches and Bats.”

Gabriel Will and Ian Ackerman (Olympia), and Warren Lee (Portland) play long-tone music in just intonation. In 2007, they completed a recording residency at the Satsop Nuclear Cooling Tower in Elma, Wa. In 2009 they had a “Super Weekend.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tangent & Spare Room Century Cento, 1/24-1/25/09

Big poetry weekend for Portland, really for anywhere. On Saturday, Allison Cobb read with Craig Santos Perez for Tangent. Craig took one of his trademark photos of the audience, then read selections from his new book, from unincorporated territory, which I’ve written a tiny bit about here. Some of the students he’d met with at Pacific University the day before were in the audience, along with his parents, who saw him read his own poetry for the first time (Craig joked he had to come all the way to Portland to get them to see him read poems.)

Newly minted Portlander Allison Cobb read from her project Green-Wood, which uses her research and rambles in Brooklyn’s vast Green-Wood cemetery as a flexible armature for suspending botany, gender, public space, parrots, Ralph Waldo Emerson, fertility technologies, political cartooning, Victorian mores, modern libraries, Linnaeus, Greek lamentation, and nearly everything else that bears down on the 21st century as it moves in the form of a person through Brooklyn’s vast Green-Wood cemetery. For all its diversity of interests, the piece seemed to have its gravitational center in the idea of classification, worrying the systems we use to categorize a reality that, considered from the ground, in periplum, insists on always exceeding them.

The Spare Room collective held its 100th reading the next day. Chris Piuma, who flew from Toronto to read 10 of the 100 poems chosen from the last 100 years, mentions some of the highlights here. The reading went nearly 7 hours; for most of the time I was there, a shifting crowd of around 50 came and went, while on the other side of the picture window that formed the gallery’s back wall drivers and joggers and bus passengers and solitary smokers experienced the 20th century by proxy, peering in to wonder what the hell was going on. A reading that long alters the usual meaning of audience, transmuting it from a set of discriminating individual listeners into a collective presence assembled around language moving in time. I broke for dinner, then made it back for the last hour, where 8 or 10 of us were left to hear Schuyler be omega to Stein’s alpha.

I was sorry to miss the poems read by Gale Czerski, Dan Raphael, Patrick Hartigan, and Meredith Blankinship, but here’s a cento made of lines gleaned from the readings I was there for:
Spare Room Century Cento

As I sd to my friend
an assortment of labial farts can brighten discourse
it is so easy to exchange meaning
books handling excitement
giant robot tortoise
Lalu Lalu Lalu Lalu La!

for whatever speaks, finally, transfigures
problems that no one else seemed to have
like that gathering of one of each I planned
and Apollo One cost plenty
Where is that bug going?
there are still songs to sing beyond humanity
So friends! Hold the bloody sponge up! For all to see!
and then I arrived at the powerful green hill.

Robert Creeey, read by Joel Bettridge
Guillame Apollinaire, read by Sam Lohmann
Gertrude Stein, read by Maryrose Larkin
Hannah Weiner, read by Chris Piuma
Ron Silliman, read by Laura Feldman
Hugo Ball, read by Mark Owens, Anna & Leo Daedalus

Gustaf Sobin, read by Rodney Koeneke
Jennifer Crystal Fang-Chien, read by Lindsay Hill
James Schuyler, read by David Abel
Leonel Rugama, read by Jesse Morse
Joseph Ceravolo, read by Joseph Bradshaw
Paul Celan, read by James Yeary
Bernadette Mayer, read by Alicia Cohen
Muriel Rukeyser, read by David Abel

Monday, January 26, 2009

That Poetry Voice

Ron Silliman’s son (and many others) wondered about the deadening “poetry voice” Elizabeth Alexander used to deliver the inaugural poem last week. A voice so unlike any we hear in everyday life, yet so familiar at poetry readings, that it acts as a sonic stand-in for poetry’s place in the wider culture: a bizarre, artificial, and distinctly prissy pursuit void of any information about the energies and hassles that shape our world.

The usual explanation for the “poetry voice” is that the poet wants to convey, as Ron puts it, “the thoughtfulness and urgency of the poem,” something the poem itself should do. The poets who use it would probably agree; they’d likely prefer their audience to read the poem in private, and the weird intonation I think is meant to mimic the way the poem might sound in the head, each word weighed and savored, read with the idea that it’s there to be re-read.

Up against Obama’s courtly cadences, and Lowery’s rhyming rhetoric—both pitch-perfect for the occasion, though a little limp on the page—the shortcomings of the “poetry voice” were especially revealing. Does poetry, as we practice it now, really belong at a public function? Or has it become the museum of a self that doesn’t exist quite anywhere else: interior, individual, uniquely creative, expressive of a sure and masterful relationship to language that’s unlike any we enjoy with the impersonal forces that determine most of our 21st-century lives?

Obama and Lowery succeeded in part because there wasn’t much unique or individual about their words. Obama’s speech leaned deftly on the genre of “presidential address”: sober, measured, rhetorically balanced, heavy on moral buzzwords (trust, sacrifice, service, generosity) and marked by a weirdly out-of-time syntax that dropped phrases like “borne of our ancestors” or “obscure in their labor” as if the 20th century never happened, or happened in Latin. Lowery, aside from quoting from James Weldon Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy, used rhyme, a seemingly rearguard poetic device that worked to connect his words with familiar literary forms from advertising jingles to protest chants.

Part of what accounts for Alexander’s delivery, I think, is that she didn’t have the same instantly recognizable conventions to draw from. Her poem is a typical postwar mélange of free verse in approximate pentameters, plain speech, “fine” writing (“widening pool of light,” “glittering edifices”), and vaguely postmodern meta-moments where the text weighs in on the conditions of its own creation (“we encounter each other in words,” etc.). Outside the MFA seminar room, who uses language like that? Her delivery had to carry not just the words themselves, but the missing context in which they should be read. Any poem read under inaugural conditions would have to address this somehow: the context for contemporary literary speech, no matter how demotic, isn’t very widely shared. It’s OK for Obama to let clouds gather and storms rage, or for Lowery to rhyme “yellow” with “mellow,” but in the language we frame as poetry, those same phrases would be dismissed as clichés. Alexander had to haul the whole frame for her poem up to the podium with her, using only her voice. I have trouble imagining any American poet succeeding at that. If we allowed poetry more clichés—let it be a little more uncreative—would it be less embarrassing in public? And could we lose that silly voice?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Spare Room Turns 100

Spare Room turns 100 on Sunday. The independent, unfunded, collaboratively curated grassroots collective has organized 99 readings in Portland since 2002. For their 100th event this Sunday, they’re hosting a marathon reading of 100 poems by 100 poets from the last 100 years. The idea is pure Spare Room: constraint-based, ambitious, and historically informed, but not without a sense of humor about its shambolic, improvisatory approach to a century of experiment and play.

There wouldn’t be an experimental poetry scene to speak of here without Spare Room, which brings to town readers from the same tribe that tends to circulate between the Poetry Project or Segue Series in New York, Small Press Traffic and 21 Grand in San Francisco, Subtext in Seattle, Kootenay in Vancouver, In Your Ear or Ruthless Grip in DC, I.E. in Baltimore, Woodland Pattern in Milwaukie, Myopic in Chicago, or The Smell in L.A., just to name a very few. The fact that that’s only a few—that there’s a network of “Spare Rooms” across the nation—indicates the health, really the lifeblood, of a poetry culture the media and arts funding biz more or less ignore.

While I’d like to see the poets who travel here get paid more, there’s a bliss in that ignorance, too: the fundamentals of the poetry economy Spare Room’s a part of remain sound despite downturns, budget cuts, shifting enrollments, shrinking bequests or bloating windfalls. As Portland collects more arts refugees from the big cities, I hope Spare Room carries on for 100 more.
Gallery Homeland (at the Ford Building)
2505 SE 11th Ave., Portland, OR

From Helen Adam to Louis Zukofsky, from Futurism to Personism, from Hiroshima to Blackhawk Island, from a Polish count to a Peruvian communist, from Dada to MoMA, from prisoners of war to secret agents, from mimeographers to bloggers . . . come hear a small but representative slice of the extraordinary range of poetries practiced in the past century!

Readings should end around 6 or 7 PM; feel free to come in or out at any time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tangent Reading Saturday: Cobb & Perez

Allison Cobb and Craig Santos Perez poetically inaugurate post-Bush America this Saturday, January 24 for Tangent. Craig’s giving his debut reading in Portland, Allison her debut reading as a Portlander. Feel free to stick around afterwards at the Clinton to meet the poets.
Tangent presents
Clinton Corner Café, 2633 SE 21st Avenue (@ Clinton) Portland, OR

ALLISON COBB is the author of Born2 (Chax Press, 2004) a poetic meditation on her hometown of Los Alamos, New Mexico. She is currently at work on Green-Wood, a long piece about the 500-acre Victorian cemetery across the street from her home in Brooklyn, New York. She moved from Brooklyn to Portland, Oregon in January.

CRAIG SANTOS PEREZ, a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guahan (Guam), is a co-founder of Achiote Press and author of from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish Press, 2008). His poetry, essays, reviews, and translations have appeared in New American Writing, Pleiades, The Denver Quarterly, The Colorado Review, and ZYZZYVA, among others.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Reading Local

If you haven’t found it already, Gabe Barber’s new Reading Local site—a compendium of interviews, small press profiles, event listings, community news, and other informative bits on “Portland’s book scene”—is up and running and well worth a daily visit. It’s set to join the sharp PDX Writer Daily as an essential “go to” link for what’s what in literary Portland.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Day in the Lice

Hi ________,

Today we got notice that someone in our child
s class “might have” Fifth Disease. I’ve never heard of Fifth Disease, which is kind of scary. Head lice? Unpleasant. Viral infection which often affects red blood cells? Scary.

What I’d like to ask is that you please notify us just as soon as it’s been determined whether or not the student in question has this disease. The note we received gives a number of symptoms to watch for, including vague signs of illness or no symptoms at all. Which means not only do we not know if our sons been exposed to a disease we dont know about, but he may not show symptoms of the disease we dont know about that we dont know whether or not hes been exposed to. Help!

Id be grateful if you could let us know one way or the other about the students diagnosis when the news comes in. In the meantime, fingers crossed that the Great Head Lice Infestation of 2008 is behind us!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dan Raphael & Rodney Koeneke at Powell's, Thursday 1/15

I’ll be reading with Portland legend (and Bill Keckler fave) Dan Raphael this Thursday at Powell’s on Hawthorne at 7:30 PM. Dan celebrates the reissue of his Bop Grit Storm Café; I’ll be reading from Rules for Drinking Forties, forthcoming this spring from Cy Press.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dept. of Monday

The privilege is in the pity.

Friday, January 09, 2009

October Country

While I was in the Bay Area last week (friends’ wedding, not MLA), I saw Lawrence Rinder’s picks for the best art of 2008 in the Bay Guardian. Number 2 was Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri’s October Country, a documentary about Donal’s family in upstate New York, which he shot over several years of visits home at Halloween. Donal and Michael moved from San Francisco to Portland about the same time we did; I met them when they kindly agreed to host our hard-to-house Neo-Benshi Cabaret in their upstairs studio last spring (downstairs were the instruments they used to make the soundtrack). The movie had a work-in-progress showing in New York last fall; the final edit premieres this year. You can see some of Donal’s stills from the Mohawk Valley here.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Short Attention Span 2008

Steve Evans’s annual Attention Span roundups bring a welcome Oscar-style buzz to the cultural sub-station that is small press experimental poetry. While Price Waterhouse tabulates results for 2008, I’ll make like Philip Metres and pull back the curtain on mine. (Solicited mid-July, so much worthy new stuff missed.)

K. Silem Mohammad & Anne Boyer, eds. | Abraham Lincoln issues 1, 2 & 3 | 2007-2008
Nascent American sensibility change in easy-to-staple rainbow cat trading card format.

Hannah Weiner | Hannah Weiner’s Open House | Patrick F. Durgin, ed. | Kenning | 2006
Each room has many mansions. More doors, please, Patrick, soon.

Gary Sullivan | PPL in a Depot | Roof | 2008
Brecht shutting cellphone to mustachio Mozart with Caucasian circle chalk: “Between the dark and the thyme soufflé … mmmm …”

Philip Whalen | The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen | Michael Rothenberg, ed. | Wesleyan | 2007
New eyes for old wineskin yclept Beat.

Sharon Mesmer | Annoying Diabetic Bitch | Combo | 2008
Dear Poetry: Please can you be this sometimes always?

Kevin Killian | Selected Amazon Reviews | Brent Cunningham, ed. | Hooke | 2006
The nation speaks through its stars—Reviewer #80 is America’s Most Wanted detourniste.

Maryrose Larkin | The Book of Ocean | i.e. | 2007
Newton’s apple fallen and cleaned to Eve’s, sent into re-orbit: poems for a world like that.

Benjamin Friedlander | The Missing Occasion of Saying Yes | subpress | 2007
Transatlantic two-step for treated Bösendorfer. The feet slip at ends of lines, like when you trip in dreams. Your catching yourself’s the poem.

Alicia Cohen | Debt and Obligations | O Books | forthcoming, 2009
To make Temecula and connected earth systems versus all reason sweet and green: “Actual people breathe the ghost.”

K. Silem Mohammad | Breathalyzer | Edge | 2008
That thing Greil Marcus said about buying an album of Dylan breathing hard? That. “There’s no way we’re not going to start a ruckus in a country town.”

Jules Boykoff & Kaia Sand | Landscapes of Dissent: Guerrilla Poetry and Public Space | Palm | 2008
Field manual for the practice of not sitting on hands, pitched against “the almost imperceptible social octave known as normality.”

Monday, January 05, 2009

Resolution from the Oracle at Delphi

Less like summer loans, more like diet Minnesota.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Year in Sports 2008

Adding to last year’s thanks to poets whose work I got a chance to hear in Portland in 2008:

Abel, David

Beckman, Joshua
Bettridge, Joel
Blood, Tom
Boykoff, Jules

Cross, Del Ray

Daedalus, Leo
Daniels, Chris
Dickison, Steve
Dinh, Linh

Feldman, Laura
Fisher, Tom
Frey, Emily Kendal

Gevirtz, Susan
Gordon, Noah Eli

Hejinian, Lyn
Heuving, Jeanne

Ides, Bethany

Larkin, Maryrose
Larsen, David
Lazer, Hank
Lombardo, Stanley

Mangold, Sarah
Mac Cormack, Karen
McCaffery, Steve
McGinnes, Mac

Nufer, Doug

Orange, Tom
oWEns, mARK

Piuma, Chris
Putnam, CE

Retallack, Joan
Roitman, Judith

Sailers, Cynthia
Sand, Kaia
Schomburg, Zachary
Steiner, Konrad

Vitiello, Chris

Wilkinson, Joshua Marie

Yuknavitch, Lidia