Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mohammad/Tyc/Wright in Portland, 12/1/07

Vincent Craig Wright kicked off his Tangent reading Saturday in cowboy boots with guitar to suit (more of cowboys later), singing a yodel of his own and a startling cover of ELO’s “Telephone Line,” cheese swapped out for twang. He followed with a new short story, “Buster Brightboy’s Big-Ass Bejesus,” that revisited the off-kilter, Southern-inflected, brokenhomed world of last year’s Redemption Center through the eyes of a teenager trying at once to discover, live up to, and erase (literally, via cigarette holes in photographs) his absent father. Some ardent listener later bought the manuscript he read from for US $2, which I’ve never seen happen at a reading before.

It's hard not see Cat Tyc’s writing through the lens of her work as a filmmaker. She read from a new long poem, much of it cast in second-person address to objects visible through the frame of her window: boats passing on the Willamette, the mountains that ring Portland. Relationships in the poem often arrived in visual terms (“We were dating but now we are muted sunsets”), but the ‘filmic’ aspect of her work that most struck me was her attention to the conditions under which fragments make meaning, like the invisible alternation between darkness and light in the 24-frames-per-second film. I saw some Hollis Frampton shorts last week, and Tyc’s particular use of poetic disjunction to describe the world around her reminded me of Frampton’s take on the relationship between film and human consciousness:
Film, even in its physical attributes, has become a kind of metaphor for consciousness for me. And I think of the incremental frame as a dim but still appealing metaphor for the quantum nature, the chunk nature, of light itself. If you're watching a film, you believe you're watching a complete illusion of something real, but you're actually watching an illusion of only half of what took place. The camera's shutter was closed the other half of the time. So that there's another cinema of equal length that could have been made precisely at the same time. And when you play that back, the shutter in the projector is also closed half the time, so that half the time you're in total darkness. You are! OK, you don't have anything particular to do, you're quite comfortable, presumably, there's very little exterior stimulus and you're there for a fiftieth of a second, which is, in terms of energy, an appreciable length of time with nothing to do but think about the frame you've just seen. - HF
Tyc’s writing seemed especially alive to the “chunk nature” of perception, with a heightened awareness of the boundaries, edges, spaces, and frames that consciousness occurs in. At one point she contrasted breath—that seemingly circular and perpetual ground of being—with the sharp, defined limits of language (“only words have edges”). This seemed to parallel the way film works, circular and discrete, ‘framed’ and continuous, and suggested cinema as a way of being, a means for accomodating both the phenomenal and our contemporary feeling for the ‘constructed’ nature of all phenomena in a single gesture.

I’ve lived with Kasey Mohammad’s work for a long time, and find something new in it each time he reads. He mixed brand new poems—“Happiness Is …,” “Dusty the Oncologist,” a bravura sonnagram based on an obsessive letter-by-letter tweak of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20—with golden oldies from Deer Head Nation (“Keep Honking, I’m Reloading,” “All I Ever Wanted Was to Play Guitar”). What stood out to me this time around was the way the multiple voices in the work behave like stifled impulses, thoughts questioned or undercut as soon as they’re expressed, like that scene in Austin Powers where he asks: “Did I just say that out loud?” And he has, & does.

I was struck by how often the speaker discovers a private part sticking out, visible for all to see—boobs, balls, inner thoughts, everything that craves the cover of a codpiece but too late, in this dream you came to school without your clothes. Costumes and outfits loom large, especially ones that create social expectations the speaker can’t fulfill. Kasey closed with a poem, “As I Walked Out,” based on variations of the Old Western-y phrase “I see by your …,” that expanded into increasingly ridiculous adjectival conjunctions until the cowboy that kicked it all off was nowhere to be found in the descriptions piled on top of him, only in the "Streets of Laredo" melody Craig played in the background on guitar.

Breathalyzer, sadly, didn't arrive on time for the reading, which just means, not so sadly, that Kasey has to come back. Kasey, come back.

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