April 1, 2013

Yes!/Fence Reading Series, March 30

Clark Coolidge is a major poetic voice & figure of the 20th/21st Century, & while not an "academic poet" himself he is certainly beloved by the academics. He read this night at the Albany Center Galleries as part of the ongoing Yes! a reading series, coinciding with publication of his monster (600 page) book, A Book Beginning What And Ending Away, published by Fence Publications (housed at the Writers Institute at the University at Albany).

Coolidge is notorious for pissing people off with his "durational performances," i.e., long readings, & tonight he was at his best, reading for over an hour the section "Music" from A Book Beginning What And Ending Away, the tedium modulated by the improvisations of the great bass-man, Michael Bisio. Can't say he didn't warn us. But it was a great paring, as Coolidge is a former jazzman himself, and obviously enjoyed Mike's music, snapping his fingers, nodding to the rhythm of the music, laying out to give the bass room to stretch out (as Mike did too, 2 jazz musicians riffing back & forth). Mike, as is his style, was all over his bass, picking, strumming, bowing, but always returning to a solid walking pattern to take him to another place to jump off, quoting masters from classical music & the jazz repertoire.

The words were non-narrative dyslexic cut-ups of compressed text, impressions, thoughts from morning journal entries (perhaps), lists of musical instruments, classical composers, jazz composers, titles & allusions to jazz standards & tunes by Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, quotes, fractured aneccdotes, bits of conversation, pointedly not avoiding "I" -- to piss off the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets.

The relatively brief Q&A afterwards, with Tomas Noel moderating, was informative & gave insights into both the compositional methods of A Book Beginning What And Ending Away as well as commenting on influences on Coolidge's work such as Kerouac, Dali, &, of course, jazz.

At the end of the night I don't know who showed more stamina, Mike Bisio, Clark Coolidge, or the audience -- it was a tour de force. I think Rebecca Wolff, the editor of Fence Books, summed it up best in her introduction to Clark Coolidge way back at the beginning of the evening when she said, "The voluminous-ness of his language is what we love about him."

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