Lots of people coming over lately, which makes me happy! Tea and pastries on the back patio!
I went to an intense and strange poetry reading, or performance thing, at the East Bay Media Center in Berkeley. It was weird enough to have its own name: Iapetus. My friend Steve Arntson organized it, and true to his long-form genius it was set up to give us all a lot of time to explore words and sound. I had the feeling that everyone who came to it was ready for that and willing to hear anyone with the mic do something unusual, take us all on a trip.
Steve opened by reciting a 15 or 20 minute holographic poem on the theme of bones, full of natural history like no other poem about bones you’ve ever heard. He was fantastic. I had to just laugh with pleasure many times throughout. I got up next reading a couple of short things, my translation of Mariblanca Sabás Alomá’s Poema de la mujer aviadora que quiere atravesar el Atlántico, explaining first that I would shout whenever the poet busted into capital letters. It was well received. You can’t read out this poem without giggling and shaking your fist at the sky (if you are me). Then I read a couple of other short-ish things including my poem about Pat Nixon in China, a thing about time and memory and children, and a segment of my poem about Henry Ford (which I can’t seem to finish).
Highlights of the strange hours to follow: the guy on guitar doing quiet tone poems behind us, Dr. Hal in an australian bush hat endlessly reciting Dylan Thomas W.S. Merwin, and one I liked very much called Under the Vulture Tree by David Bottoms. (Even if it does suffer from the “hummmmm” problem at the end.) And a crapload of William Blake. Managing to infuse it with a hint of creepyness. Then Clara Hsu creating a meditative atmosphere with one of those tibetan bronze bowl thingies, singing the Langston Hughes poem about rain, more things about rain, a poem about Cuba, and a Bach prelude of words about being in a city which I wasn’t sure if I would like but in the end, felt like cheering at how she carried it off. A guy named Tom Stolmar rapid fire ranting with a lot of pop culture and a bitter aftertaste. Fragments of my notes: “Welcome to the endless high school reunion” Something something Morocco, almost went to Paul Bowles’ house, nose surgery, imploding tootsie roll Marky Mark toastmaster creamsicle”. I’m sure that was not all in the same poem. It’s a good sign when I laugh during your poem since if I were laughing in the way of hating it I would be more polite. I also now describe this guy as “the guy who says ‘horripilating'”. Mary Marcia who I remember from Waverly Writers at the Quaker Meeting house in Palo Alto got up and read a slow poem about a million kinds of birds then played on a thumb piano and a Harpo Mark horn. There was another point where someone got up and kind of beatboxed their way through Jimi Hendrix’s entire performance of the Star Spangled Banner complete with explosion sound effects which was slightly hard to tolerate but also amazing. Deborah Fruchey read some poems but my note-taking hand fell off by that point. Someone whose name I didn’t catch performed a long and very disturbing piece that was like a conversational fugue about dating and sex and abuse and rape and relationships. I liked it. And finally ToReadah performed a long piece angrily demanding answers from a “churchman” which she said she normally would not feel comfortable reading. I did not know most people at this reading, as I have not been going out in the past few years to any sort of literary events, just not enough time or energy. Maybe it’s time to put my toe back in the water.
It was not your average poetry reading! There will be a video of this event (I heard that when Steve gets back from Burning Man in October we will get a DVD). Why in October? Is he walking back from Nevada? I wouldn’t be surprised.
Meanwhile, in books, I read a great book by Danez Smith, Black Movie.
. . . . . This movie is about a neighborhood of royal folks —
children of slaves & immigrants & addicts & exiles — saving their town
from real-ass dinosaurs. I don’t want some cheesy yet progressive
Hmong sexy hot dude hero with a funny yet strong commanding
black girl buddy-cop film. This is not a vehicle for Will Smith
& Sofia Vergara. I want grandmas on the front porch taking out raptors
with guns they hid in walls & under mattresses. I want those little spitty,
screamy dinosaurs. I want Cicely Tyson to make a speech, maybe two.
I want Viola Davis to save the city in the last scene with a black fist afro pick
through the last dinosaur’s long, cold-blood neck. . . .
Good stuff!!! And an excellent book!
I also read Ho Chi Minh’s Prison Diary translated by Dang The Binh and with a forward by Phan Nhuan. Came across this because it was quoted in Huey P. Newton’s book Revolutionary Suicide. I was most struck by “Reading the ‘Anthology of a Thousand Poets'”, the one Newton quoted, and the poem about a milestone (which made me cry a little). While this is not my favorite translation style (rhyming, formalist), I read a few other translations online and got the flavor of what’s happening enough to enjoy the book very much. But possibly the best thing is that my cheap used copy ordered off Amazon was printed in Hanoi in 1972, with truly beautiful layout and typography and everything about the book design, including the art. (Drawings by Tran Van Can and Nguyen Do Cung. Jacket Design by Nguyen Tho. Printed at Tien Bo Press, Democratic Republic of Vietnam.) It is also inscribed in the front in Vietnamese to Robert Miller, dated 1975, and I can’t read the signature but would guess it may be signed by the translator. Now while Bob Miller is a common name I can’t think who would be in Hanoi in 1975 other than Robert L. Miller, illustrious author of “Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage” and “Indochina and Vietnam: The Thirty-Five Year War”. Bob, I have your Ho Chi Minh book! Why’d you let it go?! And can you tell us the story of how you got it?