WEEK IN REVIEW: page poetry in the grips of freedom

(Evan Karp)

“If you’re going to write a book, you might as well swing for the fence; you might as well just go find something that’s a really big topic and then kick it over like a trash can and see what spills out.” So said Jarett Kobek at the release of ATTA, “a fictionalized psychedelic biography of Mohamed Atta that circles around a simple question: what if 9/11 was as much a matter of architectural criticism as religious terrorism?”

Howard Junker, who first published Kobek, was on hand to read from the book [click for videos, read excerpts here and here]. But both had plenty to say. Junker read his Open Letter to President Obama, much in the spirit of this past week of protests. The phrase social-media fueled is of particular interest: swing for the fence; you might as well just go find something that’s a really big injustice and then protest it and see what happens [more soon].

At City Lights Books, where the “legacy of anti-authoritarian politics and insurgent thinking continues to be a strong influence,” local Omnidawn Publishing featured four authors and a lavish spread that included giant bowls of shrimp, fresh fruit, and biscotti. Donald Revell read an animated translation of Jules Laforge, but mostly it was excellent page poetry in the grips of freedom; having never spent much time in the open air, it wanted to stay in its cages.

Take Cyrus Console’s beautiful poetry, a reading from his second and latest book The Odicy, which the San Francisco Chronicle has called “a broken-up, inside-out, postmodern epic journey, a fractured, frustrated attempt to discover justice, or purpose, or divinity, in our day. Even Publisher’s Weekly weighed in (with a starred review, no less): “Very old methods and very new American speech collide, strike sparks, and end up burning brightly indeed in this shockingly memorable book-length sequence.” For me, though, despite the quality of the poetry—obvious despite Console’s monotonic delivery—this reading was boring. Even subtle poetry, which this certainly is, if it is to be read aloud, should be performed [watch all readings here].

Not performed, necessarily, but certainly conscious of an audience. No one would ever address a crowd or a reader in this manner, I mean. Gone are the days when it’s acceptable to begin your poetry by invoking a muse, for instance. We are not so privileged (let us call it) that we can pretend we are writing in a vacuum that excludes other people. The poetry Console read doesn’t do this; why should his reading?

When Joshua Mohr begins his forthcoming Damascus: “Let’s start this one when…” we know where we stand; in the past, this would have been considered an unnecessary intrusion, a lack of grace. But as Mohr told me in a recent interview: “We know somebody’s behind there, plucking away at the computer keys…” Though he then asks: “Why do we need to talk about it?,” he asserts that “the idea of community is really important;” it’s no accident the book begins with the conjunction “let’s.” It’s no narratological conversation-piece, that literature is a conversation, but not to acknowledge this—in one way or another—is a form of delusion.

Kobek again: “I’ve really started to get to this point where I began to feel like contemporary fiction and contemporary writing is maybe 500 people talking to each other, possibly on the internet, without reading each other’s books at all. I feel like its people talking to each other about their books.” Console is clearly erudite—that’s not my point. But he seems to speak as much to literature as he does to people. I have this against you, poets.

The new shit show, in response to last week’s criticism, returned with unanimous triumph. Poets lingered and congratulated one another on new directions. The night conjured plans for the future.

A new commercial (hope you enjoy this one), featuring genius from Chicken John, whose book Fail to Win will be released this Friday at 111 Minna Gallery:

Click here for a larger list of what happened this week, and check back later today for a preview of this week’s events.