Monday, March 16, 2009

In Case You Missed It: A reading report from Francois Luong

The room is surprisingly empty. Maybe thirty people at most. This is quite a contrast from Rae Armantrout’s previous reading in the Bay Area at the Artifact Reading Series, with Alli Warren and G.S. Giscombe. Joe Massey is also reading this evening in Oakland, while Rae Armantrout is reading with Lisa Robertson at Moe’s the following evening. All relatively known quantities for the poets I know. I am not quite sure how well known Laura Sims is here. For that matter, I am not very familiar with her work either. I have seen her first book from Fence and the work Flim Forum had published in their anthology a sing economy.

Samantha Giles starts the festivities with the introduction, mentioning the shortness of each reader’s poems and the amount of white space on the page. The importance of the visual aspect in their works. Hence the question about the function of poetry reading, of the oral performance. Poetry readings do not make a good spectacle. They are formatted like a rock concert, with the more prestigious poet getting the top billing in a way to help promote a lesser known one. But they are not as performative, at least in the United States. But like rock concerts, they function as celebration of the guests’ egos. We go because we want to be seen caring.

So the act of listening is a transaction, except that Laura Sims’ new book has not arrived, we are told. But Laura Sims is still glad to be reading with Rae Armantrout, who is described as one of her heroes. So the reading also as the creation of influence and lineage coming forth.

These are the words
used to describe

the world grows
her world

Laura Sims’ voice is uninflected, making pauses after each line break. There is an hesitancy to her words. She explains her project as being the attempt to write “both a memoir and the impossibility of writing such.” Perhaps because of the monotony of her voice, what is made apparent is the complex syntax of the first few poems (from Another Country) she reads, which might not be so as they appear more fragmented on the page.


But going back to the visual aspect of the poem on the page, is the typography playing the role of a scoring? But some words also gain more weight in their repetitive utterance. Again, this might be lost otherwise in the architecture of the book. And despite the monotonous delivery, there is something precious in Sims’ use of “you,” “dear,” “we,” “darling” and the notion of weeping.

The Murder and Serial Killer poems seem more problematic, not because of its subject matter however. Although those poems are found texts rewritten in what seems to be homomorphic lines, are they doing anything interesting to the dramatic monologue? This is not really an interesting question. Anyway, it seems that only serial killer poems could be written in the United States. They are very much part of its mythology.

Rae Armantrout is introduced with a joke on Ron Silliman. Another joke (this time from Armantrout) about how her book is actually available. Her delivery reminds me of Kathleen Fraser’s: crystalline, ludic, enthusiastic. There is nothing of that purported flattened tone of the Language poets. For that matter, I have never heard any language poets read in this manner. It is dense, yet, with each word uttered, I can see the poem materialize on the page. And despite their shortness, they are almost baroque with their multiple references to internet speak (“click here”) and other mass media (“Anna Nicole,” “Fallujah” and “Pirates of the Carribeans”).

This density in Versed also blurs the line between mass entertainment and the real (cf. Baudrillard’s notion of the simulacrum), while the poems from Dark Matter (the second half of Armantrout’s new book) mediate the discourses of representation (mass entertainment vs. scientific language).

This is followed by Armantrout’s new manuscript, Moneyshot, where the language of finance is mixed with that of the service industry, the more bellicose aspect of Bushspeak, and CNN.

The poem as channel surfing.

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