Saturday’s group reading of The Crystal Text brought a shifting but steady 15 to the Waypost over the time I was there, many of them on-deck or just finished readers, but some not, distinctions like that disappearing fast anyway in the afternoon gloom. The only sign of sun was in the orange-and-yellow latch hook Western landscape hung up above the piano behind the readers, which kept drawing my attention, like the crystal does Clark’s in the text, for its kitschy appeal but also for its connection with the ‘70s and ‘80s “craft” moment both artifacts came out of. Latch hook, decoupage, macrame, and batik vanished with a particular counter-cultural notion of leisure; so, too, did 150-page poems tracking the movement of the poet’s mind as it encounters the clutter on its desktop (real, not virtual) over a generous stretch of days.
Read aloud, the moments where the text mirrors back the conditions of its own creation—wondering who’ll read it, how to proceed, if it all adds up, or whether the work’s worth writing at all, with so much destined to slip away—read as funnier than they probably would on the page, since the listeners are so obviously on the other end of the poet’s questions, answering them implicitly with their attention. Postmodern doubts about mimesis, meaning, and form come up in various ways in The Crystal Text, but they seem less theoretical, more vivid and immediate, in the course of a real-time performance. How to shape that much material over four or five hours of continuous reading turns form into more of a pragmatic tool than a philosophical puzzler, closer in spirit to finding music stands for all the players than it is to overturning the twelve-tone scale. The poem has plenty of Coolidge’s trademark fizz and hum, but a long reading also pushed to the front rhetorical figures and syntax common to any long English poem—say, Wordsworth’s Prelude or Browning’s The Ring and the Book—not that Coolidge’s poem sounds like either of these exactly, but that English run through that much time settles into its home structures in insistent and revealing ways: “Is the heart of poetry a stillness, and my beloved/momentum something else, additional, mongrel?”
Bryan Coffelt and Sam Lohmann mentioned how difficult it is to find reading copies of The Crystal Text, which is out of print, so the event had an unexpected practical side as well, as a cheap and easy delivery system for a work that’s hard to come by. Like a Western sunset latch hook kit. Viva la leisure to write, listen & latch.
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