David Abel and Beverly Dahlen both opened their readings in Portland on Sunday with poems by Robin Blaser. The pieces they chose paid tribute to Blaser’s long life in poetry, but also set the tone for each reading. Abel picked “Dreams, April 1981” from Blaser’s Syntax, which tosses off references to Hesiod, Art Tatum, Shakespeare, and the CBC with an ease that marks Abel’s own blend of allusion, brainy punning, “sound imitations” (one memorable one of a slow movement from Brahms) and deep quotidianism in Sweep, the long project to which he gave over most of his reading.
The poems he read from the series were mostly short, in-and-out flashes of wit and lyrical concision that seemed to tease out the implications of one of its lines—“impossible to see this thing from any one perspective”—by threading consciousness through data via a set of “co-integrated meanderings” that embraced dinners with friends, philosophical puzzlers, daybook-like entries, and cherry blossoms falling “in a sterile show.” Each poem was numbered, and by the end we’d moved from the double digits to selections somewhere well past 1,500; a kind of infinity of extension held in check I guess, like our infinitely extensible perspectives, by the death announced at the start of Blaser’s poem: “so it is death is the/condition of infinite form—”
Beverly Dahlen read Blaser’s “Pretty Please” to open. Two lines from it stuck with me while she read:
“the radical absence of the poem I’m reading”
“somewhat at a distance as I’ve always
loved the other”
After a recent poem from what she described as “the impossible, interminable work called A Reading,” Dahlen read a long, mostly prose piece, “The Moon,” about a dream of her childhood in Portland. In it, she walks past her parents’ house, where she’s expected, to look at the moon reflected in the panels of a “solar collector” in a field, an incident that takes on new meanings with each of three narrative passes. What sounds at first like an old memory turns out to be a recent dream; the details of the dream get turned and re-turned in each telling until it assumes the shape of a myth; finally, distance arrives in the form of Lacan, whose remark that “the life of children is the death of parents” moves things calmly into the mystic, where origin and echo, source and reflection, parent and child, the dead and the living all sort of begin to nest into each other. By the end of her reading, Blaser’s line, “I’ve always loved the other,” seemed Dahlenized into the question: Is there anything but the other to love? And what’s more other than the radical absences—ghosts, I think they called them in Blaser’s Berkeley—reflected in poems and dreams? That sounds sort of moony when I say it like that, but with Blaser’s recent death, and Dahlen’s first reading in her place of birth, all seemed for an instant to balance and cohere.