November 8, 2010

Yes, a Reading, November 7

Yes, this is the continuing series of occasional readings sponsored by Jawbone of the University at Albany, held at the Social Justice Center in Albany, with introductions by Anna Eyre.

Frequently the poets that are showcased in this series are more "experimental" than those heard at other readings around town, so much so that sometimes it is a perplexing, if not downright tedious, experience when the poets are so enamored by the cleverness of his or her technique the audience has difficulty understanding what is going on. And often the description of the technique is more interesting than the work read. Tonight's readers, Urayoán Noel & David Mills, were the exception to this sweeping generalization; both used various contortions & manipulations of words & language to create work that still had content & context. It also helped that both were energetic & musical performers of their work.

Urayoán Noel (Tomas) read exclusively from his new book, Hi-Density Politics, from that "publisher of weird little books," BlazeVOX [books]. The work is New York City urban, specifically the Bronx, celebrating such places as Co-op City ("co-opt city"), or Crown Donut, a 24-hour diner near Yankee Stadium ("foray"), or Joyce Kilmer Park ("babel o city (el gran concurso)"). The poems are built around sound patterns in English, in Spanish, using puns, rhymes, clichés, the play of words against & around each other creating soundscapes. Other pieces, such as "trill set," based on César Villejo's Trilce, were clever but less engaging; these were written/constructed from voice recognition software from the original Spanish text. Interesting, but best in short doses. I bought the book, but I much prefer Tomas' spirited performance.

David Mills is also an accomplished performer of his work, reading partly from The Dream Detective (Straw Gate Books, 2009), & partly from a dog-eared stack of manuscript poems, pulling pages, some still handwritten, apart. He too uses puns & takes apart cliches & common expressions, finding new meanings in bending & distorting the language. His "Dream Detective" poems are built on interrogation of Dream, using journalism's basic "who-what-where-when-why", then providing random answers, sometimes clever, sometimes meaningful, sometimes ho-hum. Likewise, the playful, silly parodies of book-jacket statements in "Blurb." He was more successful in pieces having to do with the body (his) such as "Ionic Man" (an MRI) & "Mistaken Mydentity" (about therapy for depression). But he was outstanding in "Forever's Bread" (for Sean Bell who was gunned down by NYC police), taking apart pieces from scripture & the Mass & news reports of the event & putting them back together again to create a narrative/commentary that is literally chilling to hear.

I've often thought about the question of when does "experimental" become an accepted, useful technique. I mean, one experiments to find out what works & what doesn't, & once you decide what works & use it, it is no longer experimental. At some point in history the sonnet must have been "experimental" don't you think? The work of these 2 poets this night demonstrated the successful use of new, exciting techniques for making poems that have content & context & that are not just clever pastimes out of Games Magazine.

Check out the series & sign up for their emails at their Blog site.  As always, more pictures at my Flickr! site.

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