Tuesday, February 2, 2010

In Case You Missed It: Thank you Cedar and Brenda!

In case you were, ahem, out of town when Cedar Sigo and Brenda Coultas came to give their brilliant reading on Communities, the following reading report by Stephanie Young and Suzanne Stein should help to fill in some gaps.

Also, you can find thoughts by Sara Larsen here and some photos here.

Reading Report by S. Young and S. Stein
When Samantha Giles sent out a call for volunteers interested in writing reading reports on the Spring 2010 season, we each responded wanting to write about the Brenda Coultas and Cedar Sigo reading on communities. We decided to report via dialogue, wherein we’d meet up for a gchat conversation the following Monday night. We agreed not to do any research before this conversation but to each write a short reflective note to the other to spark the conversation, aiming to send by Monday morning,. As work and life will have it, these initial texts were completed & exchanged moments before our gchat date Monday night.

Subject: Cedar Sigo+Brenda Coultas "On Communities"
Date: February 1, 2010 8:29:40 PM PST

Hi Stephanie,

I'm not sure if my subject line carries the right title of Saturday's event. Here's some of what I've been thinking and thought we might touch on some of this when we g-chat later:

Before we got to SPT, we'd gone to a bar for a drink, because we were quite early, and partly because I was feeling unusually anxious. We were talking there, among other things, about the nature of encounter---of intimate relational encounter (not necessarily or specifically sexual) between people, the natural violence of that mutual crashing, and the mutual growth or change of that, that the nature of all *intimate* (which would of course include being in a community) encounters is a continuum of, and continual stream of, psychological, emotional adjustment. But so violent, and we were puzzling out the balance of that, how to do it, love and not 'be killed' and a phrase you were using which you were borrowing from something you're currently reading I remember very well was 'spontaneous recovery'. Then we realized we were late, we rushed to CCA, it was ten after eight but the reading not only had not yet started, everyone was still in the foyer drinking wine and saying hello.

Cedar began his reading by reminding us all that it was Jack Spicer's birthday and then by talking about the changed (to his mind for the better) nature of the bay area poetry community over the last several years---that it seemed to him more open, more aesthetic-boundary-crossing, more kinds of poets together in more kinds of places exchanging work and conversation. He also said something quite specific about the way that, with the world's going to hell in a handbasket, the poets of the last few years have been in the face of that throwing these fantastic house reading/parties, where 'it even seemed as though everyone was invited to stay the night'----there was a long pause and a late and pretty raucous and long burst of laughter, since indeed at many of those parties everyone was invited to stay the night. In a conversation the next day David Brazil said to me he thought that the point Cedar was making was not that this insistence on the life-giving party was a kind of bacchanalia but an insistence on---despite everything---our possibility and potential as creative, social animals. I wonder what you think of that? I remember saying to you in the car after we split via French goodbye that I thought Cedar a kind of ideal reader of/commentator on community, as he's always seemed to me to float easily between social groups/aesthetic arguments+environments and never wavering from anything other than his Cedar-ness, one of the many things I adore about him. Something else Cedar said I'd be interested to get your take on is that, in looking over the many issues of TRY! magazine, he thought 'the group' more characterized by its similarities than its differences, and he named the similarity as a desire to capture or record the language that surrounds us. I think I disagree with the 'more same than different' although I thought his example of the similarities not untrue. What do you think of this? Then he quoted---John Wieners?---"O blessed plain. O pointed chasm!", and began to read some writing. I want to mention three pieces I remember, because of their difference (and also, that they each had a different tempo and duration, and I thought this contributed to a quality of not being able to reckon accurately the passing of time, ie, how long his reading was). The first was a prose piece about Kenneth Anger, that he'd written for a friend who'd asked him to do something at PS1. There was what he called his 'only Flarf poem', and he said he'd been pressed into service for that by Alli Warren---they'd both googled the same words and then compared the poems they wrote from that. And the last piece he read was a very long one, which he said had been composed a bit under the duress of having been writing for the SFMOMA blog---that he'd found it hard to write poetry the way he normally does, and the long poem was an aggregation of daily bits and pieces---not to belabor this in a gross way, but it seemed to me he'd described a compositional method not totally unlike the aggregative shifting terrain of a conversation or a community.

Then, Brenda Coultas. She started with a piece in a columbarium, a cemetery, is librarium the word? I asked you later in the car and your answer was Have you been to that place? By which I could understand she was writing about a real environment, is it both a cemetery AND columbarium? is this the place where sometimes there are music and film shows? and there are a lot of gardens or something? And it's very big inside? I wasn't listening very carefully at that point in the reading, and in the car, the line you remembered as an excellent descriptor of this place I've never been to was, "I could get raped in here". A bit later there was a story within a story, a ghosts and ghost story, where three women friends of a friend go on a tour of the famous
Winchester mystery house built and built and built into (184?) rooms with staircases and doorways leading nowhere, by the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, who believed she was being haunted by the dead killed by those rifles. The three women separate themselves from the tour group, and one of them becomes even further separated/lost when she lies down in the---false/replacement/stand-in---bed of the dead woman. Some terrible frightening things happen to her, including being drenched with something disgusting like spit, from nowhere; later all three fall terribly ill for thirteen days, and *everyone they tell their story to also falls terribly ill for thirteen days*. (Did you, like me, momentarily wonder if we were all about to fall terribly ill for thirteen days?) Now I come to the point of needing much filling in about what else we heard, since for the last 15 minutes or so I had to pee really terribly. The last poem, as I remember it, was a meditation on being alive, on recognizing oneself as living, as measuring a number of ways by which one might understand oneself as alive (drinking tea, for example, the cup and the drinking of tea), but especially as adjunct to what is not alive, in this case, one's friend? I do remember very well Brenda's final refrain, possibly I am slightly misquoting, 'We want to write an elegy, without sadness. We want to write an elegy, without sadness'. I had a lot of difficulty with those lines, do we want to write an elegy without sadness? do we? why would we? who's the we? I must have missed something important ("I saw something important I can not remember", I know that line so well, from Kevin K).

Subject: "short" reflective text 1
Date: February 1, 2010 8:27:22 PM PST

So I've been thinking a little bit about the form of the reading report; I don't want to make this too much about myself or even necessarily the form, but definitely noticing myself considering how I used to write such reports, or mini-reports, a lot (on blog), and realizing in retrospect that when this was a somewhat regular practice, I often went to readings with the report in mind. Thinking about how that changed my quality of attention then (not sure I entirely know or can remember) but definitely noticing how it changed my quality of attention on Friday. I took notes, for starters, something I haven't been doing regularly.

Also seeing how I approach the form now with a sort of blank mind, or a mind that isn't sure of anything (what is a reading report? who is it for? what can it do?)

I've also been thinking about this report/dialogue we're engaging in light of the frame around Friday night's reading: community. The reading report has something to do with the group's experience of itself, and as such, fraught with various anxieties. I'm noticing. A vexed relationship with, uh, audience? As I say a lot when teaching, esp. when attempting to contextualize/historicize a writer or a scene of contemporary writing (for a group often unfamiliar with the writers I'm presenting): there are a lot of ways to tell a story and the way I might tell it is only one. Someone else would tell a different story; I might tell a different story (or report on a reading) differently today than tomorrow. I know it's a kind of given with the reading report, but feels important to remind myself (and maybe as a way to proceed).

Also, duh, the dialogue helps. I'm talking to *you*. Whatever my report might be is immediately brought into relationship / conversation / unsettled by the process of our experiences and ideas coming into contact.

So, the reading. I've been thinking about that great quote from John Wieners which Cedar closed the first part of his reading/talk with: "Oh blessed plain / Oh pointed chasm". How that quote served as a hinge, between the talking he did around poetry community stuff, and the reading of his own poems. How he was going to give a talk on community but also wanted to read his work. (I simultaneously wished very much to hear the full talk Cedar would give on community, and was very glad he chose instead to read his own work.) How those two impulses - to address the idea of community, to read one's own work - point towards what has been for me, and I know you and I have discussed at various points over the years, an ongoing tension between attending to the group and attending to one's own work. Maybe something like: the group as blessed plain, one's work as a pointed chasm. (?) But also one's friends as the pointed chasm? One's enemies or frienemies, too, as a pointed chasm. (A tangent coming to mind here: Lisa Robertson's writing on "friends" v. "community" - I think she wrote on harriet about this during the first few months of that blog's inception?) Anyways I love the way that Wieners quote brings these tensions btwn group/individual into relationship. Or the context in which Cedar quoted it did that, brought these tensions into relation in a way that's been generative for me over the last few days.

The reading report then as one pointed chasm? Or is it a blessed plain? A pointed chasm addresses itself to the blessed plain?

Also thinking about how Cedar valorized a certain breakdown between camps/factions/splits, I wrote down in my notes "dividing lines want to be erased", I'm not sure if that's Cedar, or my paraphrase. He spoke particularly about attending one of the first artifact readings and his surprise at seeing people he associated w. an SPT scene at a reading where he'd expected mostly a New College crowd.

I was also thinking about how sweetly Cedar intersected with / engaged the eros of the group. Talking about the earthworm series and both both: "it seemed like when we were there we were almost invited to spend the night". Something lovely about how that also invokes a kind of slumber party scenario. There was laughter when Cedar said that in the room, but it didn't feel to me like closed laughter. (i.e. one needn't have been privy to any particular gossip or sense of local community history to share in that laugh; it was gentle in so many directions.)

As an audience member on Friday, I experienced 2 sort of uncanny things I wanted to, I don't know? what to say about?

1 - I noticed for the first time that there must be some kind of red light on the podium that sometimes will reflect on a reader's hand (and perhaps this reflection is only visible if one is sitting in one part of the room? for whatever reason I hadn't noticed before) and watching how all three people at the podium had a moment of their hand or arm passing through or reflecting this light. Something there thinking about community as simply (? obviously not "simple") a shared investment in sometimes passing through a shared place, sometimes reflecting a light which is consistently placed but every body reflects slightly differently. Everyone looks different with a red palm.

2 - During Brenda's reading the ever-present saws in the woodshop upstairs started, well, sawing. For a moment they sounded like a spooky organ. Like music. They've never sounded that way to me before. Thinking about Brenda's reading and its attention to the paranormal. Her reading felt very unobtrusive or almost quiet to me in some way and yet, it seems quite likely, shaped my experience of the room. I heard music in the electrical saw.

I keep wondering about the relationship between Brenda and Cedar's work and not being able to figure it out. I was thinking how a community of the dead or unseen show up in Brenda's work. And this quote, I think from Cedar's last poem, I seem to have written down that it has to do with death or (a father?) "the place all have gone before me and that's what makes me human".

I was also thinking about an intersection of the uncanny in both readings - but I'm not entirely sure what I mean here -

One thing that unexpectedly remained with me and came to mind over the weekend was the story of a creek catching fire in Brenda's work, specifically a creek in Oakland (again, if I am remembering correctly). And how someone in Brenda's poem/narrative explains the burst of flame as a patch of oil on the surface of the creek catching fire in the summer heat with a whole host of materialist explanatory gestures for the fire itself, for the weird sounds that issued from a tunnel/under a bridge just before the flame, and most eerie of all, a human form identified inside the flame - "it must have been a shadow." (This whole sequence came to mind yesterday afternoon, at theater first's production of rosenkrantz & guildenstern are dead. Rosenkrantz has a moment of desiring the entrance of the uncanny as such, which he locates in the figure of a unicorn, how when it appears, it's always reduced into something "real", by way of observation - the more observers, the more "thin" the appearance of the uncanny becomes). But then the figure in Brenda's story who is explaining the flame away seems to reverse things, and recounts a moment of the air itself catching on fire. The uncanny again, despite or outside of explanation.

I appreciated Brenda "beginning in Oakland and winding up in Kentucky". I loved that she was beginning with Oakland. I felt addressed, or felt my neighborhood addressed, when I was least expecting it. And thinking of Kentucky's location next to Ohio, something I've only recently learned in the last few years, I wrote in my notebook, Hi Dana! Like we would end up near Ohio and thus near Dana by way of - geography? writing? distance? nearness?

Also thought about the writers who were variously evoked by Brenda and Cedar. Mayer especially in Brenda's work, Cedar talking about Spicer's birthday. (what a gift to be told that.) Again a community of the dead / ghosts along with the living - Brenda talking about knowing that Bernadette is going on because she eats eggs at her desk. The person who is elsewhere is hard to keep in one's mind.

But also with all these evocations and shout-outs and quotations, I find myself wondering again with a kind of blank mind, despite having thought about it for ages, you and I both, as you pointed out - what is community? And how is it constructed or operative differently from friendship, or lineage, or conversation, or even influence?

Somewhere in here between work and yoga and arriving home, I left at work my pink notebook with the sparse notes I took Friday night. This seems right, that now I don't have my notes any longer, along with our agreement to not research before talking more.

"A few short paragraphs". Stephanie! Sheesh!

Also I remember from my notes: "Oh my god suzanne stein"

That's sarah larsen commenting on your boots and black and white tie die jeans-leggings, ok, jeggings! God I love jeggings, they are one of my favorite things of the last two years. I remember that every reading report should include some fashion.

Or it may have been that Sara said: "suzanne stein oh my god".

suzanne.m.stein: so, what should we do?
krbygrip: Have we already written a report?
suzanne.m.stein: ha ha (um, LOL stephanie young)
i was wondering the same thing
krbygrip: Can I do a quick emotional checkin?
suzanne.m.stein: yes, do you want to do it by phone?
or here?
8:40 PM krbygrip: Here
suzanne.m.stein: listening
krbygrip: I just wanted to say that wow I had to fight through so many waves of feeling like I'd written this "wrong" somehow. Like I really appreciated how you set the scene of our arrival, and I especially appreciated that you asked me questions
I mean while I was reading it. I had to surf all these waves of thinking I'd done it wrong. it was really interesting. But then I came out the other side.
8:41 PM suzanne.m.stein: what's on the other side sweet one?
krbygrip: I feel curious
and that the reading report we've written is interesting in its points of intersections and departures and similarities and differences.
8:43 PM suzanne.m.stein: there was something you said at the near beginning of yours that was so important for me, which was that we were writing this to each other
it made it so much easier for me to float around and say what i was thinking without trying to do it right
just get it out as fast as i could
8:44 PM and i wanted to do some justice to our bar conversation, because you were saying so many interesting things that on later reflection totally set the scene for how me/i/we come to a reading
as a group
8:45 PM krbygrip: oh, that is great. that it was easier to float around and just get it out as fast as you could.
8:46 PM suzanne.m.stein: this thing about wrongness
krbygrip: no kidding! it's nuts. it just goes on and on.
suzanne.m.stein: it's where difference becomes 'bad'
(tell me about it)
i live half my life 'in wrongness' feeling
8:47 PM i couldnt'' write the first report sg asked me to do
because all i could do was feel i was doing it wrong, then i quit
krbygrip: "krbygrip is nodding"
suzanne.m.stein: you have a relationship also to reading reports
(ha ha ha krbygrip you've never told me what on earth is a krbygrip
8:48 PM krbygrip: a krbygrip is slang in the UK for "bobby pin"
suzanne.m.stein: omg.
krbygrip: but while we're on the subject of words like that:
suzanne.m.stein: because that's what they were called!
that is so cute
krbygrip: I think a columbarium is the thing inside the cemetery a building where ashes are contained
suzanne.m.stein: wait, do you and clive have a pet name related to the bobby pin
8:49 PM krbygrip: yes, he called me krbygrip for a long time when we first got together.
suzanne.m.stein: yes, that is a columbarium
and you call each other bobby?
krbygrip: actually it is spelled "kirbygrip" but when I first made my yahoo name a million years ago that was already taken.
oh, yes, you're right! he calls me bobby.
suzanne.m.stein: how do i recall that?
krbygrip: I don't call him bobby, though. What in the world.
I was just wondering the same thing
suzanne.m.stein: call him bobby, lass!
krbygrip: krbygrip is laughing
8:50 PM but also I think librarium is a word too but I don't know what it is.
suzanne.m.stein: I didn't think so much about that, about the ashes, in the way that you would have
krbygrip: what are the gigantic tombs - buildings on the hills inside a cemetery called?
we should go to that cemetery sometime.
suzanne.m.stein: ok, i did one bit of research, which is, i tried to google librarium and liberium
krbygrip: ????
suzanne.m.stein: the mausoleum
krbygrip: I'm glad we're figuring it out. This gchat would be a kind of hilarious document with the long emails withheld.
8:51 PM suzanne.m.stein: let's go to the cemetary
krbygrip: I mean redacted. Is that the word?
oh, she didn't talk about the mausoleums.
suzanne.m.stein: withheld and redacted
i;'m not sure the provenance of mausoleum or what they are for
but there are the buildings that the caskets slide in and out of
ie, they are not in the ground
krbygrip: There are buildings on the hills there, like miniature tombs, with families of bodies inside.
suzanne.m.stein: (this is like ten year old's speech)
8:52 PM ah, crypt
krbygrip: it is a good poem
suzanne.m.stein: so, there is no 'libarium'
or librarium
or, not in the first ten google hits
krbygrip: I always think of the buildings where caskets are slid in and out as being "modernist" if there are a lot of them. caskets. what is that about.
suzanne.m.stein: (lazy researcher with no time)
'suzanne.m.stein: is laughing'
krbygrip: I feel sure she said librarium??
suzanne.m.stein: she did! she did!
8:53 PM listen, i made a mistake early on in writing the "short" email
which is, instead of saying emotional, psychological adjustments
i said, i really wanted to say, and i said instead, 'morphological'
but not thinking abt language at all
thinking about the body
8:54 PM our violent librarium
where one is dead, raped, and alive all at once
in a creepy house
covered in spit
krbygrip: with a red light
suzanne.m.stein: on hand
8:55 PM krbygrip: but - wait - chat gets confusing - did you actually use "morphological" or not?
and why can't I remember what morphological means just this minute?
suzanne.m.stein: i used it, and then took it out
krbygrip: !
suzanne.m.stein: because i didn't want to be wrong
krbygrip: but it was the word you wanted to use.
8:56 PM suzanne.m.stein: why are you offline, krby grip?
yes, structure of body and of language
8:57 PM krbygrip: whoa I don't know what happened; I went to look up morphological and the chat screen disappeared.
suzanne.m.stein: i want to go re-read your email
krbygrip: yes, same here. what to do? Should we come back in 15 minutes? 20? I need to be done at 10 but next hour is totes free
8:58 PM suzanne.m.stein: i also now want to drink wine. but that will be bad for reporting. but i want to first before anything else read your email more closely. what should we do?
krbygrip: but I just lost the beautiful poem you wrote on chat
do you have the whole thing
being alive and dead and raped all in the same place
8:59 PM the body
i kind of want a glass of wine too the chatting makes me giddy
suzanne.m.stein: let's drink wine and chat
9:01 PM krbygrip: let's take 10-15 to pour glass of wine and read each other's email closely.
suzanne.m.stein: ok, sounds perfect. see you in a few minutes. xo
14 minutes
9:15 PM suzanne.m.stein: I don't know if you're back yet, maybe you are smoking a cigarette just outside your kitchen door, in that light where often there'd be a place to stand if there was an outdoor poetry reading, or where we'd all go to smoke if there was an indoor poetry reading
9:16 PM krbygrip: Aww. You need to come see my new house. We painted the living room green!
I'm back. I did go out there and smoke.
suzanne.m.stein: but at any rate, i really love your reading report. and I realized while i was reading it that i had a very similar initial reaction the first time reading, as you did reading mine, which was that i'd done mine wrong
I want to come see your new house! "new"
and so i raced through yours the first read, because it was going to stick too much/hurt if i could see how i did mine wrong
9:17 PM so going back to read, i could spend better time that second round listening to you
krbygrip: Oh so interesting. I was also thinking about how the first sentence of your report registers a concern over not being sure if the subject line is "right"
like you immediately place your hand on the fear of not getting it right. and then proceed, so beautifully.
suzanne.m.stein: and as usual, really appreciating things like your passage that includes the description of the fire, the uncanny, and takes into account, by reversal, what happens in the play
9:18 PM and that you evoke community--the real, not reading-reportish kind
by returning to one of the most effervescent modes in your old form of reporting
ie, the fashion report
which is how we present to each other
9:19 PM and acknowledge recognition,
krbygrip: I loved that you finished with the Kevin K. quote.
suzanne.m.stein: now we can't just fawn over each other, dear
or is it 'faun'
, dear
9:21 PM krbygrip: Actually your ending point and mine, taken together, seem to get at something of the impossibility of a reading report, or of being able to "report" on a reading "correctly" - there's the combined presentation and acknowledgment moment which fashion occasions: Suzanne Stein, Oh my God! And then the reading, wherein something important has happened but it cannot be remembered
Or it can, but not completely, and also something happens which is mysterious
suzanne.m.stein: i want to end our reading report just there,
9:22 PM but keep chatting
krbygrip: long sentence which amounts to Yes

[suzanne wishes to note for the record that those were JEANS, not JEGGINGS, and they are navy blue & white, not black & white]

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