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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A weekend of poetry in review

This weekend last was chock-full of poetry goodness. Saturday (4/22) saw the return from Southern California of poet/artist/publisher S.A. Griffin, who brought with him Ellyn Maybe, Scott Wannberg and Cleveland poet John Dorsey to read at The Book Collector. They were joined by Lob and Robert Roden (who hosted) -- two poets from So Cal that now call Sacramento home. This was a return for Griffin, co-editor of The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, who brought his New Word Order Tour here last April during National Poetry month.

So, yes. Outlaw poets. You wouldn't know by looking at some of them. John Dorsey is shy and soft spoken. Ellyn Maybe giggles. A lot. But it's all about what they do when they're in front of an audience. And it's there, facing out, behind the lecturn -- the poet's pulpit -- that poets like John, Scott and Ellyn unleash.

I was pleased to publish Ellyn Maybe's untitled poem in a Poems-For-All booklet, but what one sees there, in print, is nothing compared to it's live delivery.

Do you fear me cause I wear a purple friendship bracelet?
Do you fear having me as a friend?
Are you afraid to introduce me to your grandparents?
The only perfect thing about me is my perfect lack of confidence
does that freak you out?
I'm fat. How does that sit with you?
I wear political pins does that bother you?
I'm a bookworm. Does that depress you?
Are you terrified cause i've been bas mitzvahed
Are you scared cause i think spiders are sacred?
I'm left handed, ooooooooooooo No comment.
Do you worry about me cause i'm a virgin?
Cause i'm loud and sometimes embarrassing
are you wary of spending time with me?
I know where the feminist bookstores are in a whole bunch of states
Does that make you tremble?
People think i'm younger and older than i am
Does that reflect badly on you somehow?
I don't always comb my hair
can you hear it coming?
Is it my ugliness or beauty that frightens you the most?
Are you afraid of me cause i'm human?

Even the mood and banter of the So Cal scene was transported up for the occasion. One audience member, a lawyer who used to frequent the scene down south, has since moved to Sacramento and was present to playfully heckle. It was part of the phenomenon I first noticed when S.A., John and Scott were here last year: that desire to engage the audience, tap into its energy. Verbal back-and- forths encouraged and essential to the mood.

Jane Blue

Sunday (4/23) found Jane Blue in the same bookstore for a Sunday Afternoon Poems-For-All reading. Like Victoria Dalkey, who read last Thursday (4/20) as part of the Urban Voices Reading Series, I enjoyed how Jane folded art references into her work. When Victoria, wife of artist Fred Dalkey, was asked about this at her reading, she replied than rather than writing ephraksis poems (poems about a work of art) she was more inclined to "have the art come into the poem through the back door." So too with Jane.

There are different schools of thought on just how much exposition a reader should deliver between poems. Douglas Blazek, reading at HQ (3/11), for example, preferred to let his poems speak (mostly) for themselves. I rather like it when a poet sets up a poem; clueing us into special meanings or guest appearances of unique words, persons or historical references. Like ligaments between each poem, Jane Blue's narrative was as interesting as the poems to which it connected. The details behind her poem about the Ottoman Empire come to mind. Not the Ottoman Empire she explains. Rather, the poem is inspired by her husband Peter's reference to the Ottoman stacked with books in her workspace at home: "your Ottoman Empire." A rich, interesting story. A fine poem.

Billy Childish

I'm always curious about what kind of audience any particular poet is going to draw. Especially so with the Billy Childish reading this last Sunday (4/23) at Old Ironsides. I mean, "Old I" is a place I'm used to standing around to watch garage-band acts like The Losin' Streaks, standing, beer in hand (Guiness, please) pressed in close to the miniature stage with all the other folks. So there I was listening to poetry, beer in hand, and its packed. At least a hundred souls on hand. For a poetry reading. The kind of numbers I could only dream of at one of my readings at the bookstore (even if we could only fit in a third of them in the sardine-sized space I call a reading venue.) Interesting thing is, I didn't recognize anyone else from "the poetry scene" save for Lob. So where the hell were you? (If you were among us and I missed you, let me know.) This was an evening of Poetry and Blues. Childish is a poet, yes, but has a larger following as a musician and artist. (Perhaps it were these fans that filled the place?)

The Guardian wrote this about Childish: The truth is that Billy Childish, 44-year-old writer, painter and founding member of the Buff Medways isn't much bothered by what people think of him or his work. A singular individual, he has lived life, as he puts it, 'on the wrong end of the seesaw'.

He read from just one book, scraps of catalogue paper marking the pages he wanted to read. It was too dark to make out the title and by the time I made my way to the front when it was all over, all available copies had sold out. His poems have titles like you'd find in 17th and 18th century books; long titles that give up some of what's to happen (instead of being clever or cryptic.) He rolled a lozenge in his cheek between poems, wore a felt hat stylish perhaps three score years ago. His mustache was like a handlebar.

He read: The Billy Childish Poem ("Writer of poems to lick the thighs of the dead"); sang The Bitter Cup ("None speaks the truth like the drunk"); A sad donkey and a Fat Man smiling ("speaking as an artist of dubious merit"); Failure; Only Poets Piss in Sinks (Poets, Childish noted, "The only profession where you get applauded for unsanitary behavior"); I am a stranger hero of hunger ("I am Arturo Bandini/ I am Ishmael/Knocker off of tall hats."); Tai Chi; The man who never thought he'd be a father is a father; It is the Poets Job (which resonates much like Kenneth Patchen's The Artist's Duty as a manifesto of how the artist must engage the world); The Shed; Tattoo; The First Green Horse That God has ever made; We have War because we love War; Huddie's Poem (the "blood heavy towels" as they took his wife to intensive care leaving him alone with his newborn son. "I no longer love poisonous women, Huddie"); At Midnight I will say I love you; I speak to Lonely Artists.

Resident in all of his poems is a broken past; an abusive father, hard drinking, a fractured life-in-general all figure into the poems. Not as in poems tinged with regret but, instead, with a kind of sober (intended) matter-of-factness. Childish even finds occasion to laugh at his father's dysfunctional comings and goings. Gone sometimes months at a time, Childish noted, he always seemed to come back "Appearing like some ghost" at just some moment when Childish was doing something that could get him into trouble. When he and his young friends in a fledgling punk band began to practice "my generation;" the Patti Smith version of the song which begins: "I don't need your fuckin' shit..." his weeks-absent father suddenly returns home.

I had the honor of publishing and distributing a little Poems-For-All chaplette of Childish's poem authenticity over originality (PFA #595) thanks to Tim Foster who knows Childish's wife Julie (who is from California.)

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Full disclosure: I am the owner of bookstore mentioned in this review.

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