Clean Part Round-Up, etc.
Huge thanks to Mathias and Zach and the whole Lincoln, Nebraska Clean Part crew, who made my trip this past weekend to read in their fine series a wonderful, good time. They're fantastic people, who are fantastic for poetry.
Thanks, too, to Ashley for putting up with us and to Anthony for the beer and the pancakes!
You can read about the reading (where I was fortunate to share the podium with the marvelous Karla Kelsey, and unfortunately -- due to weather -- not able to share it with Aaron McCollough) here: http://lovelyarc.blogspot.com/ and here: http://mathiassvalina.blogspot.com/2006/10/clean-part-Kelsey-hart-McCollough_30.html .
Mathias' comments about why readings in general are important seem to me to be particularly astute. Readings force us to deal with the human aspect of poetry (and even -- egad! -- poetics) in a way that we might not be able to (or would avoid) on the page. And thank the Vast for the human aspect of poetry, which, in spite of what the robots say, is still at its root a living, breathing, singing thing -- an expressiveness fully-throated, a mouth with a pulse.
Lew Welch described his poems as "...scores, for the voice" and argued that they "...become poems only while they are sounded, performed, sung." He liked the idea that readers would be provided with a text they could "perform" themselves. I think this is important, as it reminds us that poetry is not ONLY about the apprehension of squiggles by the mind, but about timbre and guts animated in time. Poetry readings, then, remind us that the art of poetry is both a physical and a mental activity that (some few) human beings participate in -- a "form of life" as Wittgenstein would say.
This will I'm sure seem obvious to most people, but what's funny is how we often talk about poetry as a purely intellectual con/structed thing on the page -- dead words deader -- a matter to parse and to argue and to wingding. Welcome to the digital age.
Of course, it's all the stuff that can't be easily spoken about which makes poems living things with heartbeats. People can talk about syntax, enjambment, fragmentation, etc. all they want to, but that's not what's primarily challenging/exciting about poetry. Rather, it's the messy human stuff, which makes us uncomfortable and mystified and dopey in our shoes. And I for one would rather hear somebody commenting about the joy or the terror contained in a poem than about the ones and zeroes any day. The former I can relate to both physically AND intellectually, the latter is all scaffolding, which I can relate to only because I've been to school. And while I enjoy the scaffolding, and even on occasion talking about it, the articulation of prosody and poetics is not what drew me to poetry, and it's not nearly as interesting as the POEM itself, which should be read and heard and spoken. A poem should (whether spoken or read) stop us in our tracks, and we shouldn't have a clue about why...at least those are the poems that interest me. When I find, upon further inspection, that I can reduce what initially interests me about a poem to messing around with language for its own sake -- I'm bored, ready for a nap, not to mention the next poem that I can't reduce to sum of its parts.
Sadly, much of our poetry these days is merely ones and zeroes -- which do add up, but not to very much (I'm sure I'm as guilty of this as anyone. But hey, at least I feel bad about it...).
I've found in giving and attending a lot more readings over the last couple of years that some people really dislike hearing poetry which sounds like the poet is intimately invested in his/her work -- they want a completely dispassionate, black and white, monotone shuffle of paper and words, not any sort of emotive lyrical display -- which is always for these folks affected.
Of course, some contemporary poems are deliberately emotionless, consciousness-less, demonstrations of purely formal or experimental muscle -- this is a problem. "After a hundred years of experimentation, experimentation [alone] is no longer enough; now we have to amount to something" (Dean Young).
The musician and producer, Steve Albini, has noted that he hates the sound of the human voice, and while I love many of the records he produces (and always his drum sounds), I often wish the vocals were -- not louder -- but more pronounced in the mix.
Yeah, I know part of the charm of his recording style is the bombastic difficulty it makes of listening. "Beauty is difficult" (Pound).
But, a poem's sound/timbre/inflectedness (a huge part of its human aspect) (its musical noted-ness) and its connection to meaning is not something the "lyrics" of the poem can be buried in (the way Albini often buries the vocal melody in a cacophony of giant drums and razor guitar noise), the poem's words are its music, and if that's not substantial.... In other words, form and content in a poem cannot be, and should not be, separated neatly. How could they be? They're made up of the same words. And it's the part that isn't neat where the humanness of the poem -- the thing that's so apparent at a reading -- exists.
I've moved a long way away from Mathias' comments about poetry readings here; Mathias, forgive me.
What was the last thing that slayed you? That stuck you in your spot in the bowled-over night? I'd like to know.
For me, it was Lew Welch's "blind, red, rhinoceros" already running us down and Karla's reading Saturday, where I became lost in the whirlwind of words from a mouth, the most fantastic and immeasurable tornado I've experienced in a long time.