May 15, 2009

Alex Michaelson's Literary Event Shindigary (aka Dislocate)

I have personally never had the opportunity (or desire, for that matter) to attend a literary event of any kind, whether it be an author's reading, a forum, a giant discourse on why the semicolon far overpowers the comma in the world of punctuation (I might be interested in this last, actually, if only for a good laugh). The Dislocate event was my proverbial "first time," and after looking back on the event, I can honestly say that I quite willingly handed my V card over to the Literati Gods. It was quite a remarkable experience in many ways for me, and as a few bloggers have posted the details of said event, I will forgo the horrible repetition of minor details and serve up the meat and potatoes of the bit.

First and foremost: I found it amazingly enjoyable to just sit and listen to other writers read their work in such a professional, albeit informal, manner. Never before have I witnessed such rapture in an audience, myself included. It was profound, in an odd way, to watch and listen to creators bleed themselves before a crowd for no other purpose than to simply speak their own thoughts. Many, many orators are so proud of their own voices they can literally rant and rave themselves purple, yet the words I heard that night weren't full of pride or even conviction, but rather were laced with a desire to express some inner beauty that each author/poet/philosophizer had stumbled across while probing the depths of their minds in an attempt to convey a certain feeling, picture, idea, expression, what have you. I've always been a very visual reader/writer, and each piece that was presented to me was done so with a deliberate and enunciated fluidity, not in any way forceful or mentally detrimental, simply stated as fact, as if to say, "Well, I've searched and I've searched, and I've cried and swore and laughed and tripped and climbed and died and lived and bled and healed and after all of that carnage and blissful jubilance I've come up with this collection of words and punctuation and spaces and this is what it looks like: **** I don't care if you like it (though it would be nice if you did) and I don't regret any of it and after I'm done displaying it I will not wait for recognition of any kind and instead will gather my papers (which happen to constitute the better part of X years of my life) and I will again resume my seat amongst you, for we are one and the same: seekers of truth." I found myself drawn into the words, no matter if I agreed with them or even found them pleasing, they were just others' words and I accepted them as such. Whether it was poetry, the work of a future best-selling author (code named LO for anonymity), or the beautifully transcribed cultural observations by Wang Ping (whose work was so inspiring to me that I had to stop twice on the way home to write about Aldous McAlbey), I was mesmerized by the words read.

Being my first and only venture into the realm of literary events, I have absolutely no benchmark from which to gauge my experience. However, my curiosity has been aroused, leaving me with an insatiable need for more. I do plan on attending more readings, if I can find the means/time, so if nothing else (though there is much else), at least I gained appreciation out of the whole thing.

Hail to thee, pursuer of free

May 14, 2009

Geneva Willerscheidt - Laura's Thesis defense

On Wednesday afternoon I attended Laura’s thesis defense (this was not my first literary event, I actually went to dislocate but realized I forgot to do this blog entry). It was very informative for me to have heard Laura talk about her final project at dislocate and then also defend her thesis on it/read the ending on Wednesday.
First, listening to the thesis defense gave me insight into the writing process. One unique aspect to creative writing for me has been focusing on the act itself of creative writing and not the story. Laura’s thesis revolved around her usage of what she referred to as “nesting” or placing a fictional story within a story in order to move plot or help with character development. How do we form the craft? How do we consciously consider how to move plot instead of just letting story flow? Form does in fact create fiction. One student’s story, “the World is Melting” did this as well. I recall that even the type style and formatting create fiction. I also appreciated the use of fiction as evidence or research. How do other authors solve these dilemmas? What do I as a reader enjoy and then, how can I as a writer do the same to bring others the same enjoyment? For Laura, nesting was in three of her favorite books and for her added dimension. I have personally never read these books but I wonder if they are my “genre.” As a writer, I have a new desire to look back on my favorite novels and to look closely at format and style and to practice writing with these same techniques, perhaps to see if they achieve the same effect.
By listening to her reading her story I also noticed, and I apologize a little Laura, how the teacher and the student can be the same person. I saw in Laura the same nervousness and relationship with other students and professors that we as students experienced in class this semester. In a way it was heartening and discouraging to think we will all always be learners and never masters. That there is always somewhere to go.
Laura’s ending to her story was surprising and her technique was thoughtful. I think that she will always be revising and working towards her goal to make her “nesting” format do more for her story. We said in class that revising is never finished. We just seem to put something down for a while and I think that is true for all. I will forever read a novel now and know that it will never be finished.


May 11, 2009

Stephanie Kurz - Literary Event

I attended the 7th Annual English Department Campus-Community Colloquium on Thursday May 7th in Lind Hall. It was an end of the year presentation for a service learning class. Several groups presented on the work they had been doing throughout the year for this class through their internships at various places throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul.

While this wasn't a typical literary event, I got to witness how these students had helped make a difference at their organizations throughout the year. It was nice to see that not all of our English classes are simply theory based and have people just sit around and talk about problems. These people are actually out there doing something about the problems.

Most of the groups worked at adult education centers focused on ESL instruction. One group was focused on K-12 instruction. Each student had to take on a project at their respective community site. Some students worked on changing the curriculum taught at their sites or enhancing the curriculum. Other students worked on creating written pieces with the members at their sites. Several of these written pieces were put on display and passed around for us to see. It was amazing to see the work they had accomplished with people who are still learning English.

There was great food from Cossetta's and much socializing. It seemed like everyone had a wonderful time.

May 7, 2009

Stein's 33 1/3 x 3 Lives - Sam Degen

On May 1st, I participated in an event to celebrate Gertrude Stein’s novel Three Lives that was called “Gertrude Stein 33 1/3 x 3 Lives.” This celebration included a skit of a mixture of the three stories in Three Lives put into a single narrative, a poem written in response to the novel, an opera performance of an opera written by Stein, and numerous readings in different languages of Stein’s works, including the languages of Dutch, English, Russian, and Yiddish.

Since I did not speak any of the languages that were used, it was difficult to keep my full attention on the readers because I could not force myself to try and comprehend Stein in these readings the way I did when a piece when read in English. Instead I just listened to the sounds that were made and the flow of the language. In the other languages, there were not as many pauses as were used when a piece was read in English. This became evident when line after line flowed into the other without any real break. This was much different than when it was read in English because the readers would pause for any line break instead of flowing through the poem. This made me think that in other languages there is an easier flow between words and thoughts, and that maybe in English we are able to pause more often because that it how we were trained to read works out loud, especially poetry, and this mode of reading cannot be easily transferred to other language because the rules can be different from English.

I think I was the most influenced by the creative writing piece that was read, the poem written in response to the novel. I didn’t really understand the topic of the poem, but I was struck by the easy flow between phrases and the seemingly disconnected objects that made sense within the framework of the poem. Listening to this made me think of how my poetry is constructed and how I can change how I write poetry. Things don’t need to have a clear connection; everything doesn’t need to be laid out and easy to decipher as long as there is some reason for it being there. The word choice was excellent and there were quite a few phrases that I wished I could have written them down to share (and possible steal and mold to fit my own poetry).

All in all, it was an enjoyable night, filled with the beauty of poetry and other languages that can be as beautiful as own when rolling off of a native tongue. Besides, even if it wasn’t enjoyable and I didn’t learn a thing, I still got up in front of all those people and said a few lines in the skit that I helped perform.

May 2, 2009

Talk of the Stacks: Tom Robbins

Who thought a children's book about beer would sell?
Tuesday I went to the downtown library (a place very dear to me) and heard Mr. Tom Robbins give a book talk while wearing sunglasses. I arrived a half an hour early (and timeliness is rarely my virtue) but it was quite packed already. Everyone around me had a book for him to sign, and that's when I realized how actually powerful a good author can be. They're not like celebrities, whom people admire for oftentimes acute talent. No, authors are loved down to the souls of people, because that's how deep their books can go.
The talk was shorter than I was prepared for, and a lot of time was spent waiting to say a personal hello to the funny-man. I was fortunate to also hear an interview with him after with MPR. Hearing him speak added for me a lot of understanding of his writing style. It is sacrastic, witty, profane at times, and refreshingly creative. He can really work it out on a page.
The challenge in writing, for Robbins, is "to twine ideas and images into big subversive pretzels of death and goofiness, on the chance that it might keep the world lively and give it the flexibility to endure." Beer is given, in this book, a more mythical, philosophical, and chemical dimension.
The book is told from the point of view of Gracie, a little girl about to turn 6 years old. She is a bright, spunky girl with a dysfunctional family in Seattle. Darker themes are woven through the book (adultery, rape, drunkenness, divorce) but the point of view, along with the unique approach, is what makes this book more extraordinary. Two other themes in the book are the ways beer is made, and the 'mystery of life', as in another world where rules don't necessarily apply. Like magic! but it's also the child's belief in this magic that allows her to cope with the world around her.
I guess what I took away from hearing this guy speak was a healthy dose of inspiration. To be completely funny, to understand the heart of comedy, is such an admirable quality. And I recommend all of you go to pick up one of his books this summer. They're not a tough read, and extremely compelling.

May 1, 2009

Talk of the Stacks: Tom Robbins- Jenna Emmans

I traveled to the Minneapolis Central Library downtown to meet the author Tom Robbins. I have recently finished his novel "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" and became enthralled with his writing style. I arrived late to the event, I hate to say, because I was skipping out on a bit of work. I ended up not being able to sit in the main room due to room capacity and had to watch on a live feed from another room. Listening to him answer questions was just as interesting as reading his books. A guy asked him what his favorite place to travel was. After Mr. Robbins rambled about a few places he has traveled he wraps it up with: "I've been to the Indies and I've been to the Andes, but most of all, I like the undies." He was truly inspiring. While his writing is extremely out there and stumbles around to a number of different topics that most people wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole (sorry for the cliche), I found he speaks the exact same way. If I had to describe him in one word, it would be outrageous. Outrageous in the most nonchalant way though. He doesn't try to raise reactions out of people, but rather let's his mind wander and allows his mouth to follow his conscious thought. I would love to have dinner with him some time. When I reached the front of the signing line I was struck dumb, but managed to choke out the words: "How are you today?" His response to even that simple question was great: "I'm operating at the maximum of my potential." I of course came out with a lame response when he asked me how I was, but I appreciated him putting up with me. The highlight of the evening was when he looked me up and down, peeked over the top of his glasses and said, "You're looking good today." I blushed. Tom Robbins had just checked me out and liked what he saw. I was glowing when I walked out of the library. Tom Robbins has inspired me as an author. His style is so unique and just proves that you can be totally outrageous and still get published. Spouting your crazy ideas about drugs, sex, love, life, and death onto paper can turn into great novels. Thank you, Tom Robbins. I hope to be half as great as your mustache some day.

Ivory Tower event - Allie Riley

Wednesday of last week I went to a really informal writing workshop/discussion at the Kitty Cat Klub with some of the editors of the Ivory Tower (Dave's entry describes what the Ivory Tower is...go read his), as well as some people who had entered their work to be published. It was a mix of people whose work did get in, and people whose work did not.

The workshop/discussion was meant to be a forum to discuss how and why the work gets published. Some of the people had entered work and were wondering why it didn't get in, others were hoping to improve works that had. I fell into both of those categories. I had submitted a lot this year, and I got one poem in, but the piece I had worked hardest on didn't make it. I had wanted to learn more about what they, as editors, were looking for. We talked about what the undergrad audience might be looking for, and what would be good representations of talent to encapsulate within the magazine.

It was a really interesting way to look at writing. When I'm writing and workshopping for class I tend to think only about what the piece means to me, and how I can improve it for my purposes. Even though we all get a taste of criticism from each other in workshops, this workshop opened up a way of thinking about writing that I hadn't truly seen before; marketability. One of the editors talked about the line of subjectivity and objectivity that needs to be carefully tread upon when choosing works; as an editor you can't (or, shouldn't) necessarily pick only things that you're interested in (unless you're an eccentric billionaire publishing mogul), it's more about creating a balance and choosing a well rounded, well written, intriguing story.

Overall it was a very informative "event". Also! The Ivory Tower launch party is being held on May 9th, 7pm in the Mississippi Room in Coffman. Free food, drinks, and most importantly, Ivory Towers!! and unless there's ANOTHER talented fiction writer named Amy Nelson, our very own Amy Nelson is featured!

April 28, 2009

In Cod We Trust - Julie Sander

I attended a literary event for Eric Dregni’s book In Cod We Trust. It is a non-fiction story about living in Norway for a year with his wife and new baby. Dregni, a Minnesotan whose great-grandfather had been born and raised in Norway, received a fellowship to go to Norway the same week his wife found she was pregnant. His book discusses the differences he and his wife encountered in culture, health care, government and food just to name a few. The couple completely immersed themselves into the Norwegian culture while they were there. Dregni was able to trace back his family’s heritage and became aware of where many of the habits and traditions people in Minnesota originated. As their new baby spent his first year in Norway, the couple raised him as other Norwegians do. Rather than having someone else take care of your baby while doing things like skiing, which Dregni thought would be his alone time, their new Norwegian friends informed them you always bring your baby with you. He showed pictures of his baby bundled up in a little sleigh that was pulled behind him as he skied. He read an excerpt about a time when his wife’s parents came to visit and they went out for a celebratory dinner for a Norwegian holiday. A Norwegian friend convinced him to try the rakfisk, a fermented fish meal that if not prepared absolutely right, can make a person very ill, it can even be deadly if they don’t receive treatment as soon as realizing they’re sick from it. He said it was in fact delicious, but soon his stomach started to churn, and his Norwegian friend told him the only way to fix that was to keep drinking 80- proof aquavit. He became quite intoxicated in front of his in-laws and decided it was a prank associated with the holiday. While I have not actually read the book, after attending the event, I am interested in reading it now as the parts he read were very entertaining and funny.

April 24, 2009

Ntozake Shange — Robert Kipp

On Thursday night, April 23, I went to see Ntozake Shange, who was speaking at the Hubert H. Humphrey Center as part of the NOMMO African American Authors Series, NOMMO (it’s always capitalized — they seem pretty insistent) meaning, “the magic power of the word.” Nice title, eh? Anyway, I came in with a very limited familiarity — for another class, I was supposed to have read her magnum opus, For colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf: a choreopoem, but had done little more than flick through it. Ultimately, however, what Shange taught me had nothing to do with her work. Sure, the work was pretty good. She read poems for while. She read something about “marine intrusions” in the San Francisco bay, she read from her Lizard Series, which she explained was inspired by seeing lizards in the bathtub when living in Trinidad and in Texas, and by a man with lizard tattoos up his arms. She read her harrowing poem, “With No Immediate Cause,” which starts: “every 3 minutes a woman is beaten / every five minutes a / woman is raped/every ten minutes / a lil girl is molested.” Shange is very much an avowed feminist, and is very much concerned with the women’s issues, particularly black women (of which she is one, if that wasn’t already clear). “Ntozake Shange,” notably, was not her birth name. She was born Paulette Williams, but found it silly to have been named after a man, so she took up her current title, Ntozake meaning, “she who comes with her own things,” and Shange meaning, “she who walks with lions.” The lion thing might be a bit much, but hey, I’m cool with it. When she was reciting her poems, she had along a helper/handler/friend to tag team a few (also, to just help her around generally — she didn’t look too well, almost as if she’d had a stroke or something). He had on red pants and a frayed rainbow-plaid blazer. I wrote in my notes: RED PANT DUDE / AWESOME. / NICE BLAZER. He had a great voice, especially when closing out, “With No Immediate Cause,” with: “every three minutes / every five minutes / every ten minutes / every day.” But on to what I learned. So, I wasn’t really all that impressed by the poetry or the presentation. I’m sure I could get to like the poetry — actually, wait, there was one really good one, but I forgot the title — if I knew it better and could see it, instead of straining to hear it through some slurring and stuttering. But I didn’t mind about the poetry and the performance — I was attracted to something else. When she first came on, Shange led everyone in a little prayer — a slow breath in, slow breath out kind of thing. At first it was kind of an, “Oh brother, c’mon,” eye-rolling type thing. But when she asked, “Doesn’t that feel better?” and answered, “Feels better.” I knew that there was no pretense, no awkward self-consciousness. She just smiled and wanted everyone to feel better. I could see that. So here’s what I learned: it’s not how you say something. It’s not even what you say, hard though that may be to believe. It’s seriousness. It’s sincerity. It’s confidence in one’s self and one’s work. It is an incorruptible self-actualized right-mindedness. It is an absolute belief. And I could see that Ntozake Shange had an honest belief in what she was doing.

Robert Kipp

April 22, 2009

Dislocate- Casi Butts

Last Tuesday night, I skipped my very, very boring history class to attend the MFA program's Dislocate event. The evening featured readings from three MFA candidates- a poet, a nonfiction author, and our beloved instructor- as well as well-known poet and author Wang Ping (sp?).

Although I don't normally enjoy reading poetry (or in this case, hearing it read), Wang Ping's first poem on Syntax really stuck with me. The poem was orignally written as a response to a poetry critic who stated that poetry could not be written in a second language, but I thought it was a very ample representation of human communication. Obviously, the languages that people use to communicate, or in our case, to write stories, is full of nuanced and complex grammatical rules, but i think the poem shows that lnaguage is not always as important as the message of the words. Don't get me wrong- I love beautiful, elegant prose, but I think there is also something to be said for subtly and simplicity in writing: sometimes, just saying "I love you" can be much more effective than waxing eloquent about someone's eyelashes for twenty minutes.

I also want to comment that, while I don't believe that it is impossible to write in a second language, I do think very poorly of translating different works into other languages. Obviously, this process has its benefits: if nothing else, we have a greater amount of material available to us, and I do understand that translation can be pivotal for scholarly work. However, learning to read and translate latin has taught me that the process of translation can really diminish the original beauty and effectiveness of a work, and I would argue that most works of art are best read in their own languages (taken on their own terms, if you will). I]m sure Wang Ping would disagree with me, but i think to translate between languages is to sacrifice the original quality of your work. People always tell me that the eskimos have over one hundred words for "snow," but this doesn't mean that they all mean exactly the same thing.

Something I noticed through both Wang Ping and the other poet's (first year guy whose name I can't remember) readings was the extent to which poetry tells a story. Hearing some of the poems which were read that night really made me question my own (very poorly put together) definition of what "poetry" is. I was surprised at how much poetry, fiction, and nonfiction writing can overlap, and at times, it seemed like the only things setting apart the poetry from other types of creative writing were their length and the vast amount of alliteration. Obviously, this is a very broad understanding of what was read, and I'm sure that a poet would be offended at my over-simplification of the work, but I was really impressed and interested in how much the different types of writing overlap.

Laura, (I might as well address you, yeah?) I really liked hearing briefly about the criticisms that your advisor has offered toward your work. Not because I think you need/deserve such criticisms and not because I agreed with them- it's just nice to know that even someone like you (published author, writing instructor, and wonder woman that you are) still gets criticized and still has to deal with working through "problems" with the story. i think this is something that, once writers reach a certain degree (if nothing else, in the eyes of their students) of expertise, you take for granted, and it's comforting (and also a little disheartening, I guess... haha) to know that there will always be more work to be done. That doesn't really make sense, does it? I'm sticking with it, though.

Congratulations on a successful reading, and on finishing your thesis!

April 21, 2009

Urban Griots Award Show - Rebecca Strauss

A few weeks ago, I went the first ever, Minnesota Spoken Word awards show, the Urban Griots award show. After leaving the Varsity Theater three hours later, I am pretty sure that I now know everything there is to know about spoken word in the Twin Cities. I know who's involved, who does what, and the first members.

Two of the performers at the awards night were Ed Bok Lee and Bao Phi. Ed Bok Lee is the author of a collection of spoken word pieces entitled, Real Karaoke People. Check it out. Bao Phi was the first vietnamese-american ever on Def Poetry Jam. Let's just say, these two men lived up to their reputations.

Listening to spoken word at the awards show is not like the cliche image of coffee shop poetry readings. The ones where the audience snaps their fingers after listening to starving artists wearing lots of black, and a big beret spitting out melancholy odes to any number of things in sullen tones. I'm sorry if that was offensive....

What I heard at the awards show was rich, powerful, and always thought provoking. Spoken word isn't quite poetry, and isn't quite prose, it's something else entirely. It's not just what you say, it's also how you say it. Movements are important, hands and arms are there to ram a point home. I also heard a great musicality to the spoken word. A piece may reach a frenzy of almost screaming, and then descend into a slow, soft finish.
I heard Ed Bok Lee for the first time back in Intro to Creative Writing my freshman year. I've been interested in spoken word ever since.

April 19, 2009

Dislocate Event -- Genevieve Wachutka

Last week I attended a Dislocate literary event in Lind hall. Dislocate is a literary journal founded by students in the MFA program for creative writing. The event was hosted by Dislocate’s Editor-in-Chief, Shantha Susman. The featured writer was Wang Ping, who is an award winning poet and non-fiction writer. Three MFA scholars, Michelle Livingston, Brian Laidlaw, and our very own Laura Owen, read their creative non-fiction, poetry, and fiction pieces.

It was really inspiring to attend an event with published writers reading their own material. It was a glimpse into the world of scholarly artists, and I picked up a copy of the Dislocate publication to get a better idea of what goes on in the grad school creative writing program.

Wang Ping read from some of her poems and essays. Currently she is teaching a class on personal essays at Macalester College. She is from China, and the first poem she read was inspired by a prominent poetry editor’s statement that you can’t write good poetry in a second language. The first poem, Syntax, is written in English and presents sentences re-written several times with differing syntax. The bottom line came down to “what difference does it make?” because language is incomplete and nature is incomplete. The incompleteness of the language is a reflection of truth because absolute completeness is an unattainable goal, and if the poet’s goal is to reveal truth than writing in a second language no less effective.

Another poem came from Ping’s “Book of Songs,” and it was about migrant farm workers in China moving to the city to get a job making jewelry trinkets for companies like Target and Wal-Mart. It was originally written in Chinese, and Wang read it in Chinese before reading it in English. This poem was really moving, as it portrayed the plight of migrant farm workers living in a “silicon fog” that hardens their lungs after 2-3 years making “trinkets for USA.” The poem voices a cry against the injustice towards the workers who have been silenced. They have no protection as corporate lawyers “erase our names” and they are consumed by the consumer driven “civilization eating us alive.” This poem gives a voice to the voiceless, and exposes the destructive nature of a consumer driven culture.

The last piece Wang Ping read was a personal essay about love. After reflecting on the essay it makes sense that it was written by a poet as she takes a loaded word, “love,” and unwraps it; walking through many different meanings in search for an understanding of the powerful word. Her grandmother told her that love was a daughter cutting chunks of her arm off to feed her starving mother, and love was a mother disciplining her child with a rod, and love began to look like a wild animal, unfriendly. When telling her boyfriend she loved him she wouldn’t say the word “love” in Chinese, but would say it in English to dilute the potency of the word. The essay was unraveling the meanings of the word love, because it is a “heavily conditioned” word, and it has so many different connotations. At one point in her search for love she lists a couple maxims on the subject of men, saying “men are like commercials, you can’t believe them.”

My favorite element the Dislocate event was the opportunity to listen to people read their own work, because they often explain the inspiration or give more information about why they are writing a certain poem or piece of writing. Also, I really enjoyed having the opportunity to hear artists reading their poems, stories, and essays instead of reading it off the page for myself, because it becomes a richer experience with the oral element. With the artist telling the story or reading the poem the piece moves from the page and becomes a voice, and the individual is affected by the energy of the reader and the group as a whole.

April 2, 2009

David VanderMolen

Last week, I attended an Ivory Tower meeting in Nolte Hall. The Ivory Tower is the University of Minnesota's art magazine and contains submissions including paintings, songs, and short stories. The meeting began with students going around the room and introducing themselves. We then dove into doing some writing exercises. The first one required us to look around the room and write a short story about someone that we did not know. We were allowed about twenty minutes to do so. Peoples stories ranged from turning their peers into super heroes with flame-throwing hair to people simply jotting down a few notes about physical observations they had made about each other. My story was about a girl sitting across from me who was on the last leg of a tour with her band. I wrote about her depression involving the last few days of her life as a rock star and the struggle she would have to face knowing that she would soon be a "has-been." We then went around the room and those who wanted to share their stories were given an opportunity to do so.

For our second writing exercise, we listened to a song and drew a picture of whatever came to mind. When the song ended, we passed our drawings to the person next to us and they wrote a story about the picture we had just drawn. All that I received was a bunch of squiggly lines and therefore began writing a story about a boy trapped in a maze.

My experience at the Ivory Tower meeting was great. I had never really been forced to write under time constraints nor given an opportunity to share my stories with complete strangers. It helped me to let loose and not necessarily care if my story had a structured plot or character development. It gave me the opportunity to just let my brain wander and write whatever came to mind. I am hoping to go to another one of these meetings in the very near future as I believe it has helped me to expand my technique as a writer and forced me to think in new ways.

March 21, 2009

Michael Browne Dennis Event

I attended the reading of Michael Dennis Browne’s soon to be latest publication, What the Poem Wants: Prose on Poetry. It was held at the Community of St. Martin on March 21st, 2009 at ten in the morning. I was vaguely familiar with a lot of Browne’s working, and only heard a little about his work through a friend. Yet, from word of mouth, Browne proved to be every bit a creative outlet and intellect. Browne’s spoken word through his own writings tied with his passion for song, personal religious values, and sense of humor made for a great literary experience. Having not been able to read Browne’s What the Poem Wants: Prose on Poetry, I gathered his book is about his passion for poetry and the way in which writers should approach it. The book is mainly made up of his personal essays on such subjects, along with personal poems and excerpted poems from other writers.
Browne read five excerpts from What a Poem Wants. The first two excerpts were small essays from “years past” detailing what it is Browne thinks the poetry writing process is like. Browne used the examples of building a boat and working like an artist to describe the writing process. I was not too keen into the painting metaphor, feeling that has been said before. Although he made a good point with the artist’s obsession to detail and how writers could learn so much more from such observations. However, the building a boat scenario seemed to be a stronger, unique message and performance, as Browne delivered with great belief. His belief behind the boat scenario was if the writer builds the boat too heavy, it will sink. As with the writer building too much writing into their work will sink the writing. Right from the start, Browne’s reading was magnificent and left me to inquire more of his book. Even though he did not delve into the details behind his thinking, I am quite sure by his reading it helped to push the message closer than had I read it by myself.
The highlight of Browne’s reading involved a poem written by a kindergarten class he worked with. The title is lost to me, but to showcase the true beauty of the poem Browne insisted the small audience partake in the reading by repeating the lines after him. The performance of Browne and the audience displayed the true beauty of a child’s mind and lyrical play with poetry. This particular poem could not have been as eventful as it was if it were not performed as Browne displayed it. The small audience was joyfully captivated in the lyrical play of the poem and left it quite memorable.
With my attendance at Browne’s reading, I must say I was impressed by the reading. I have not been to many literary events before, mainly poetry readings, but I could see myself attending some book readings as well. Michael Dennis Browne was a delight and when What the Poem Wants is available I believe I will have it in my collection. Within his spoken word, I felt Browne was passionate about poetry which was fun. I would recommend to everyone to look at What the Poem Wants if they are interested in poetry.

March 12, 2009

Louise Glück

I saw former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Louise Glück last Wednesday in Coffman. I was somewhat familiar with her, having studied a few of her poems in high school. Before I went I printed off a copy of “Celestial Music,” one of hers I knew I liked. It’s a cynical, dark poem about religion. From what I had read, she generally uses an insecure speaker, enveloped by the seasons and atmosphere around her. So I was expecting to go and hear a bunch of dark serious poems, spoken in a low, grave voice.

I was surprised. She gets up there and the first thing she says, in a heavy New Jersey dialect, is that the theater light is “daunting.” They turn it down for her. Glück read exclusively from her newest collection, A Village Life. Not yet published—how cool is that? The poems were all connected by a central milieu: a village. The first poem, “Tributaries,” functioned as a thesis for the format of the series. In a thin, sharp voice she hovers around this created world, and then explores it. I noted these transitions, “at the avenue of liberty… around the fountain… in good weather.” It was all about varying times and places within a connected realm. The end of the poem shocked me; I felt like I was dropped off suddenly, not yet full. I liked that feeling.

The poems went on from there, presenting more specific scenes and speakers within the village. There were definite connections I could make—grand abstract statements about weather, a father’s lack of proximity, constant imagery of wine. And mothers. So many mothers. Because it was a reading and not printed poetry, I was more inside the color of the language than actually following the plot.

“We would get quiet. / The night would get quiet.” Glück made me feel like I was intimately close to her characters, with precise word choice and simple syntax. One poem went into 2nd person and I started to form this connection in my mind about the role of anonymity in the reader. Stanzas flowed between characters and seemed to hint at this feeling of not knowing exactly where you are, ever.

Yet there was always a super sensitivity to the physical surrounding, especially the weather. “That time in the woods, / that was a dream. / This is reality.” Sometimes there would be a sobering line like that, and I would feel commanded to think instead of led through a bunch of a scenes. I thought about nature functioning as religion— Glück seemed to deify the woods and mountain, rendering them gods to the villagers. Her metaphors were always implicit and subjective like that, instead of spoon feeding the reader one idea.

Poetry readings are difficult, and I’m glad I didn’t convince my non-poetry involved friend to go. The entire reading ended with “On market day, I go to the market with my lettuces.” Which is really a what the fuck for? kind of ending line.

Favorite line: “So much light and she can’t control the happiness.”

Max Schmetterer