Saturday, June 07, 2003

I just finished grading the last of the personal essays written by my GHS juniors.

{To get these finished I've had to miss the BoPo Marathon's first three days. Tomorrow I'll miss the last day because of graduation.}

I have to admit I'd intended to say something cogent about teenagers' writing but am speechless. I'm overwhelmed by the experiences & observations of these sixteen & seventeen year-olds. Pain of betrayal. Thrill of transgression, followed by self-hatred. Self-mutilation followed by self-discovery. Hallmark-ish triumph over very real adversity. Crises of faith. An Affirmation of faith. A Quiet (pain-filled) sermon against smiley-faced hypocrisy. Various solipsistic existential crises by very intelligent & self-important students.

Reading over forty confessions of sorts has made me very nervous. I'd planned to read some Fanny Howe tonight--from The Amerindian Coastline Poem--& I may just do so before falling asleep, but first I need to clear voices out of my head not add another one.

I quite like the cover of Fanny Howe's 1975 book. It shows the Atlantic Coast from northeastern Quebec (the part the curls above New Brunswick & Nova Scotia) down to northern New Jersey. The map extends east to western Newfoundland & west just short of the Great Lakes. New Brunswick & Nova Scotia are in the vertical center of the cover. I feel particularly close to these two provinces & hope to spend a few weeks in them again this summer as I did last summer.

In the inner fold of the book there is a cropped map of the same coast. This map's center is a bit further north & west; it also reverses the coloring of the land (white on the cover, dotted in the center map) & water (dotted on the cover, dotted in the center). The shift north & west and the inverted colors conspired to make the familiar coast strange. (I even considered looking at my atlas to figure out what the hell I was looking at. Then, just before getting up out of my chair, I figured out (duh!) to switch the land & ocean. It was hard to do. Hard to unlearn the first map's language. But quite instructive.

I'd like to hear from anyone who has attended the readings this weekend. I'd especially like to hear about Fanny Howe's reading Friday night.


Friday, June 06, 2003

See (I've yet to learn how to do links; in two weeks, when school's out, Amanda will help me with that) for news about the BoPo Marathon.
I like that at (Popular Mechanics) Jim put big spaces between the poems & the poets. This gave me a chance to guess the poet after reading the poem.

I guessed correctly for Christina's, Aaron's, and Mark's poems (though at least half way through, I thought Jordan Davis' poem might be Mark's). Of course, it helped significantly that I knew who to look. But still it made me happy that I know the work of these poets well enough to recognize some combination of words, phrasings, linebreaks, motifs, etc. as theirs.

Time to catch a bus home. Haven't decided if I'll be able to make it down to beantown for tonight's marathon leg. Much end of year work to do--little time in which to do it.

slan agat...

Thursday, June 05, 2003

I've decided I will try to post something everyday.
I will not be attending the first night of BoPo Marathon tonight. Sorry Dan. I have no transport & have far too much grading to do.
G.H.S. student a few years back: "Well a zero's better than nothing."
Was just reading about the Hotel Wentley Poems on Silliman's blog {sorry Jim} & am now listening to the Cat Power (Chan Marshall) song "Names":
"her name was Naomi
beautiful round face so ashamed
she told me how to please a man
after school in the back of the bus
she was doin it everyday
she was 11 years old"

The song describes five such kids (aged 10, 11, 12, 13, 14); all of whom have disappeared from the narrator's life.
I think when I get home 'round seven, I'll read more Wieners while listening to Cat Power.
I am curious about what others think about Silliman's comments on Kidnap Notes Next. Anyone?
Also, I'd like to hear any news about tonight's reading especially since Dan's opening of the BoPo thing a few years back was such a memorable event for me.
Can epiphanies (misunderstood as the ah-ha moment) be reclaimed from closed-off New Yorker poems?
Michael Carr called me on my breezy assertion that Joyce used epiphanies in Dubliners. As far as I know, he used none of the epiphanies he recorded in notebooks (cf the well-known letter to his brother) in Dubliners. But I would maintain that there are moments in Dubliners--the conversation between two young Brits & the shopminder near the end of "Araby" for example--that fit Joyce's own definition of epiphany, even though these moments are not from the notebooks. I'd also say that these moments that seem epiphanic in Joyce's own sense would not be considered epiphanies by my colleagues here at GHS or by the textbooks we use. I dare say--trusting Michael's memory of the collected "The Epiphanies" which I'd like to get my hands on--that Joyce's own recorded epiphanies would not be considered such by my colleagues & the Prentice Hall anthologies. More later.
Back to the essays

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Art Space Arts Pace
last Wednesday Night

Joe Torra concluded the featured readers portion of the Artspace coffehouse by reading his chapbook "August letter to my wife and daughters." At the time Joe began to read the audience had already heard five open-mic performers and two readers with a brief intermission between the five and two. Despite this, Joe's poem & reading captured the ears & eyes of the assembled minds. It was a brilliant reading.

One of handful that I've experienced in my young life. I hope to hear more. With Joe around it's bound to happen. Of the great readings I've attended, two others also involve Joe: at Artspace at the end of 1999 or 2000 (Joe read "The Second Coming"; Willie Alexander performed; Henry Ferrini showed his film "Radio Fishtown," a brilliant young saxophonist lead a trio, & Gerrit Lansing read brilliantly, as always; he's got chops, as they say) & at MIT this past winter Gerrit & Joe read together during a snowstorm.

Others? Creeley reading at Harvard shortly after Allen Ginsberg's death. Creeley began by reading Allen's "Transcription of Organ Music." R.C.'s reading of the poem was quite different that A.G.'s, but equally attentive. What a joy to hear those words given breath at just that moment.

Others? Dan Bouchard opening the second or third Boston Poetry Conference (now the BoPo Marathon--opening this Thursday as it happens) by reading WCW's rant against Massachusetts w/r/t the Sacco & Vanzetti executions. The conferences/marathons seldom have fire. Dan's reading did that night. Oh, & although he was not given a long enough slot for my taste, Dan made quite a bit of the well-heeled audience squirm w/ the political poems he read at Pen/New England new writers reading at the BPL last year.

Before I go on about the Charles Olson festival, etc. etc. I'll bring things back to Joe's reading of "The Second Coming" before the changing of the millennium by recalling the phrase (something like) "the worst of full of compassionate intensity" which Dan used to draw the worst of Yeats's era w/ the "compassionate conservatives" of our own--at least that's what I've always assumed Dan was doing. Dan?

Joe's reading of "August Letter to My Wife and Daughters"--available from Pressed Wafer--was spellbinding. I've chosen that word carefully. Xtina Strong later wrote & sd that I was keeping time along w/ Joe's reading. {Students have pointed out to me that I do the same when reading poetry in class, especially Shakespeare's iambs.} My friend Greg remarked upon the power of the lists of, for example, banks. The sounds & their permutations took over. But then the poem has a narrative too, a fractured one to be sure, but narrative nevertheless. The poem leaps around in time but in following the one always ends up on one's feet--even after stumbling for a line or two. Joe has a keen eye for epiphanic detail.

I often go on about how Joyce's youthful conception of epiphany as discussed in Stephen Hero & used in Dubliners has to do w/ an object's whatness (or a person's or situation's whatness) showing forth, radiating out. It's not quite the "ah ha!" moment that most people take "epiphany" to mean. So back to Joe: his poems are full of details (objects, exchanges, phases of the mind itself, juxtapositions) that effect epiphanies. This is also related to Joyce's use of the term "epicleti" where the Holy Ghost is evoked to transform the bread & wine into body & blood.

In Joe's poem commonplace details (honed by the mind down to the level of the phrase) & the arrangement of the details into sonic, rhythmic, & associational patterns (this one leads to this one; this one leads to that--though not necessarily chronologically or causally, etc.) transform fragmented (isolated) experience into a communion: from the experience, through writer/reader, to the audience (literally hear-ers); just as the blood & wine through the intercession of the priest becomes communion for the parishioners. This formulation is nothing new. Joyce had thought this through in letters to Stanislaus a hundred years ago, but it bears repeating for those of us who fled formal religion for the greener (more furtile not more lucrative) pastures of poetry seeking a more (not less) inspirited world.
The evening at Artspace ended with a few more open-mic performers. I don't remember much just now & must return to grading essays. But I do remember the woman who performed last. She played guitar and sang a song about loss that while cliched was delivered in so sincere a manner that, but the end of the performance, I felt a bit ashamed to have ever even thought about the failure of the words to convey the emotions she felt. At the time I may even have felt a snicker, though again the sincerity of the performance came through to surpress it.

Amanda asked a question about the difference & relative value of writing songs & performing them. At best both parts are strong. But a convincing performance can make up for an awful lot it seems. & of this I'm certain: a convincing performance can make up for far more than a skillful performance.

slainte & paz.