Sunday, February 23, 2003

Attended a reading last night at Ithaca's finest caffeine purveyor, Gimme! Coffee, organized by (newly?) local poet Jane Sprague, with whom my dog and I will be catching a ride down to AWP this Thursday. Two poets from Buffalo came to read named Sarah Campbell and Barbara Cole, plus a New York fiction writer named Elizabeth Grove who helps to run the interesting literary site Mr. Beller's Neighborhood. They were all excellent—I was particularly impressed with Sarah's Steinian sound collages, which involved two CD players each playing what I believe were different Bach partitas simultaneously, and a tape recorder on which she had prerecorded her own voice, with which she interacted. It sounds pretentious but it was all utterly charming, smart, and funny. One project was called "Voice Safe" and involved the poet's determination to preserve her own voice making every possible phoneme for future use, just in case her own voice were to someday vanish (she gave us a preview of this by strategically dropping vocables while describing the project to us). I didn't catch the name of the second piece, but it was a weirdly touching self-dialogue about her voice and its family resemblance to other women's voices (especially I think her mother's and sister's voices, but a much larger "family" was implied by the incantation of women's names).

The other poet, Barbara Cole, read an entire chapbook to us, which itself is a section from a larger work, Situation Comedies (or more properly Situ Ation Come Dies). It's a collage of advertising language, much of it generationally specific (I heard many taglines from my childhood), interspersed with fragments of conversation and anecdotes about the poet's childhood which seem to orient around miscommunication (I loved the bit in which the eleven year-old poet is told to go exchange the KING-brand bread she had bought at the market for the new FAMILY brand.) The fiction piece that ended the evening was a wryly humorous story about a Russian immigrant in New York, her job at a quasi-Jungian journal, her budding romance with a slacker colleague, and her obsession with a maladroit teenage boy. Afterwards a bunch of us (including Joel Kuszai of Factory School fame) went for a beer at Maxie's Supper Club, even though Emily and I had to get up at 5 this morning to take her to the airport. She's in Florida now and I'm staring at snowflakes, as usual. It was a great evening, though.

Also as usual I'm late to every party—I had thought to post something about the quandary of situating one's writing within either the context of an "experimental tradition" (so that only those who are already familiar with the "scene" are likely to "get" what you're doing—and of course the Catch-22 is, how do you gain entry into this "scene"?), the context of "traditional tradition" (so anyone vaguely familiar with the conventions of poetry or even Modernist poetry will have access to your work), the context of self-disclosure (books which take upon themselves the task of teaching you how to read them, either through notes or less pedantic means), and the context of no context (sui generis works). Instead of doing that I'm going to post a link to the April 2000 issue of The Stranger, which contains some really useful articles under the rubric "Difficulty Made Easy" by Diana George, John Olson, Frances McCue, Robert Gluck, and others. The links are painfully slow but worth it.

I have papers to grade, tra-la.

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