Tuesday, April 01, 2003

The local classical music station makes some bizarre choices once in a while. They're playing some little orchestral suite right now, perfectly ordinary except for the intervention of bird calls, most often a low cuckoo, which makes the whole thing sound looney tunes. My girlfriend Emily and I agree that we've come to hate Berlioz because of this station, because there's some announcer who gets way too much pleasure out of pronouncing the oily syllables Hector Berlioz.

Oh yeah, there are winter wind sound effects too.

If you're in Ithaca come hear me read some poems tonight in the English Department lounge (Goldwin Smith 258). Another Cornell poet, Chanda Wakefield, will be reading, along with a fiction writer whose name I didn't catch. I haven't read for a long time and I'm kinda nervous about it. Since I can only do twenty minutes worth of damage I think I'll read just a few of the shorter poems from Selah along with a handful of the new work, Severance Songs. It's good practice for when my book comes out, but it's also a kind of "coming out." Though lots of people in the English Department know I write poetry, just as many don't, and my principal identity as far as others are concerned is "grad student." This will be an act of self-exposure that I hope I'm prepared for. I began this blog as a way of getting used to being "in public" but of course text, even the kind of text that elicits e-mail responses from strangers, is an entirely different ballgame from standing up in front of people with only a podium to protect you. I was trying to give a nutshell explanation of logocentrism to my students yesterday and found myself idiotically repeating, "The voice, it's about the voice, the primacy of the voice." Pace Derrida, et al, there is something different about being a live voice, about embodying your work. Some of my most interesting poems are not very well suited to being read aloud: almost the entire manuscript of Fourier Series would have to be read with a transparency of the text projected behind me for the audience to get the full effect. And I won't be reading the "House on Stilts" section of my book, which is page-as-field stuff and also incorporates a lot of phrases in French—have I been reading too much Cole Swenson? I should probably get some coaching in my French pronunciation before I take those poems on the road. How can someone who doesn't really speak a language use that language in his or her poems without seeming pretentious? Maybe they can't. On the other hand, I once knew a poet who was fluent in Spanish but always sounded incredibly pretentious when he incorporated Spanish words into his poems. This raises too the question of the "poetry voice." What most people mean by this I think is the kind of breathy monotone you often encounter, entirely on the other end of the scale from the preacher-like cadences of slam and performance poetry. Most of the poems in Selah seem to demand a vatic tone; I hope I can pull it off. I can't wait until I publish my next manuscript, The Nature Theater of Oklahoma (do you like how I've managed to mention all the books I've written?), because it has a lot of funny poems in it. The desire to entertain, not least because poetry readings are so often dull grinds. Some poets seem to take pleasure in punishing audiences, but my naked desire to be loved takes precedence over any hazy notions I might have about reprogramming listeners' expectations.

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