Sunday, November 12, 2006

It was a pleasure to have Shanna Compton and Ryan Murphy up to Ithaca for the SOON series last night. The mysterious Mr. Murphy read first: if you saw the profile of him that appeared in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers then you know about his "one-shots": chapbooks and broadsides that are each attributed to their own imaginary publisher. They're not available on the Web or in any stores that I'm aware of except for McNally Robinson in Greenwich Village: Ryan calls this "anti-marketing," by which I think he means that remaining a bit mysterious actually intensifies the demand for what he publishes. He was kind enough to gift me with what I presume to be one of his own one-shots of his own work, a handsome chapbook called Poems for the American Revolution whose publisher is given as "The Dutchess County Department of Occupational Training," along with the somewhat more conventionally published Down with the Ship from Otis Books/Seismicity Editions, a product of the MFA program of the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.

Ryan read from both books and I was particularly taken with the chapbook, whose six short poems are titled after famous figures from the American Revolution but whose content is obliquely and tenuously determined by those titles, which serves to suggest new possibilities for what we might mean by an American revolution, even if only a turning in place. I like the incantatory qualities of the first poem, "Revere":
Bombardier, you laid the tracks
For our hundreds of eyes
Spine for flowers, spit azalea

The lush lawn of the vacant girls' school
Tuesday is Sunday only
No one is dreaming

Bunker Hill, I-98, the harbor subs
Like the face of a watch.
I should like to wake you, minute by minute

Clatter through the restless green night.
Bombardier, with your lantern eyes
And lantern head

If if
And by sea.
Shanna was next, and I've already had a bit to say about the pleasures of her work. She read a few poems from Down Spooky (including, I'm pleased to say, "Post-Texas Expressive Heat," quoted in full in my review) and then more recent work from a promising sequence called For Girls, inspired by a 19th-century manual of etiquette written by a Mrs. E.R. Shepherd which purports to tell young women how to be young ladies. Here's the poem that Aaron ably transformed into a broadside (really a trifold) for the occasion (I use asterisks to represent the breaks, but you should try to envision three columms, side by side):
You can carry, girls,
a little distance

your influence
to the new side

your awakened study
of formation, requirements


First then, girls, you should
fasten onto your shoulders

a strap for purpose
for industrious earnest

pressure, for attending
to the demands of nature

Think of it
as a uniform

outside of which
you'd be too apart


All rooms have doors
& also windows

I haven't actually
heard that said, but

a draft might come
at right angles

toward the animal
part of you

the portion you've
bitten raw
I look forward to seeing these poems collected in a book, as I suspect they eventually will be. Thanks to both our readers, their significant others Kira and Shawn, and the folks who come out to hear a little poetry on a very rainy Saturday night.

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