Boston Alternative Poetry Conference, July 17-19, 1998
Two Reviews: Kimball | Bouchard

Date: Mon, 20 Jul 1998 01:19:03 +0900
Sender: UB Poetics discussion group
From: J Kimball
Subject: Re: POETICS Digest - 17 Jul 1998 to 18 Jul 1998 (#1998-5)
Alan --

The Boston Alternative Poetry conference still in progress at Blacksmith House, as I tap on these keys, is at fevery pitch, to coin a phrase. Friday kicked off with readings from Daniel Bouchard, Drew Gardner, Wil Alexander, Fanny Howe. Bouchard bounces off generic events, news wrap-ups, say, and apt linkages such as those between game show evangelism and Mr. Clinton's recent visit to the MIT computer labs. Drew Gardner resuscitates (one of my favorite words right now!) something verging on urban elegiac, thinking it through to its after-Ashbery and unawful, sense-making matrices within angst in big space. Gardner knows something about cowboys and how they dress. Wil Alexander delivers fresh lines of defense for tropicalism north of Sunset and Canal, variations on never saying anything you could not mean if you had the time to stare for days at cawcaws, Lamantia lizards, stuff. He loves poesies and shows it, and even better, talks it when he does his "prose" intros and so forth. Fanny Howe, who might be wearing sunglasses now, employs a term like "soul" in polished ovular forms that cover no language we can understand equivocally, tanning with HD. I want to pick through those ovals and spin them in my right hand, Queeglike.

Sat.: vocabularies and imaginations panel -- missed this. Biography/criticism panel -- missed. Missed the noontime reading too, but the buzz is that Gerrit Lansing is a wonder, fully clothed in Boston haberdashery, Blackmountain tie. (Will get details on this, later.)

Afternoon reading a Boston phenomenon that occurs every other generation. Last time, perhaps, was during Hurricane Carol (or someone's) when John Wieners swept into Charles Street Meetinghouse to attend his first ever poetry gig, that : to hear Charles Olson read every poem he -- Charles, that is -- had written up to that point. He read for hours and hours, and John and poetry have never been the same. (Two generations before that: Henry James revised brother William's application to Harvard.)

Among the readers this Saturday afternoon: Zhang Er reading in Mandarin and Leonard Schwartz offering the crispest English versions. John Taggart moaning on the blues, repetition, feeding and leading, singing soft, singing "precious," and the mother of it all, the blues, having her vision of how to give it birth -- one that includes, I think, our hearing Taggart moaning "preceeeeessuss" on. A genuine history and a poem performed as a piece! Unstoppably first rate. Chris Funkhouser also singing, bridegroom to his skeleton, flooding the room with a sutra that is not a sutra from nowhere, moving it gracefully on. Caroline Knox tearing into writers' pretensions such as, to paraphrase, "composing" a stark language framework and "going back" and filling it with "content." Knox got some of the biggest laughs, deservedly. Sean Cole got lots of laughs too and a few cardiovascular molecules had to have imploded -- someone's, somewhere -- at Cole's most astonishingly diverse send-ups -- Dickens, house plant life, teen lust, three-family crisscrossed dreams, warped dials... well it's finely warped into a poetry and a poetic presence not unlike his precursors, Ricard, O'Hara, Artaud. Rare. Andrea Brady stands as tall as you want while she rips your pea-brain (mine, anyway) into smithereens, flowing, protoliterate incursions into inchoate bliss and something opposite -- isn't this what we all need now?

The afternoon and the conference have been the greatest sort of success, pairing the established with the not-quite-yet, just what a serious gathering of poets should be. The spotlight shines until late tonight. More soon. Call you soon,

-- Ja

Date: Tue, 21 Jul 1998 11:58:20 -0400
Sender: UB Poetics discussion group
From: daniel bouchard
Subject: Came to Cambridge: Not Bean-ville
When the New York poets come into town you've got to lie about Time and Space. For example, a New England poet who lives 10 minutes from the Conference Space will tell the New York poets that the Conference Space is a ten minute walk. The New England poet plans to leave for the Conference Space about fifteen minutes before the starting time. OK, say the New York poets. At 18 minutes before the starting time, however, the New York poets decide they each need a shower. The New England poet will never learn.

But this is cool (not to mention exaggerated) and only mentioned as a starting point. We--Drew, Douglas, Dave, and I--made the walk with no problem save that Harvahd Yahd was blocked off by construction fences on the interior so that we had to skirt along the alleys of the Yard and miss the strange clichi of its bucolic interior. We arrived just as Aaron was speaking which gave us, me at least, no time to talk to anyone. This is ideal when reading.

Some places from which people traveled for the alternative Boston conference this weekend at 56 Brattle Street, a limestone's throw from the Longfellow House: New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Buffalo, Providence, San Francisco, and Japan.

What was learned?

1) Only poets would spend a 3 day weekend in a hot and cramped room for up to, or over, 12 hours a day on a beautiful, sunny weekend and be very excited about it.

2) If the conference is deemed "alternative," then anything goes. I slipped a Robert Frost poem into my reading ("The Vantage Point") and heard a distinct, pleasurable "hmphh" come from outside the veil of U-V lights. It was my backyard; I had to do it.

I decided not to read the short poem about how lousy it is to be in a room full of milling poets. This is because I was a reader, and that produces a kind of rush for me. Besides, my "I Make a Pact with you Ron Silliman" poem fell flat. Not a giggle was heard. People told me later that I read it as something very serious, but I have always cried the tears of a clown.

Drew's reading was fantastic. It is unusual that I was able to hear it (having just read, and playing back my own reading--so egocentrically!--in my mind) but his opening was sharp and irresistable: "I can tell by the way you dress that you're a cowboy." (Roughly.) And his reading was paced so that in the silences I became expectant of the poems, waiting, paying more attention; and as Drew read more, the energy soared.

During Will Alexander's reading I must admit that I lapsed into space. I bounced back for Fanny Howe however. I was so engrossed by her reading that when she stopped I thought my watch was dead. She only read for 10-15 minutes. It seemed, richly, like much longer. And I wanted more.

During the milling bit after the reading a Harvard Lit Comp prof. approached me with the usual chat and asked for poems. No problem. Then she explains, as she hands me her business card, that she is waiting for her mother to die ("she will not, eternally, ever give in. She refuses to die!") so she can take her inheritance and publish poetry. (And people probably think I am sour for the little poem about "milling poets" but I am sure you each have your own stories to tell.) Having nothing to answer this strange remark I stand smiling, nodding, scanning the room with my eyes. Peter Ganick tells me he loved my line about "the way cowboys dress." (Should I tell him? Should I tell him?) I tell him that line was actually Drew Gardner's line which causes him a visceral spasm of embarrassment. (It had to be done.)

On the walk to the car Prageeta and Maggie discuss lesbian dress protocol which has an emphasis on practicality. As I never dress with an objective other than practicality (i.e., comfort) I one-up them on the entire aesthetic by adding, "besides I don't give a fuck what I look like" wearing green shorts, a black T-shirt (both of which are drenched), old running sneakers and ankle-high socks. This boldness earns me the epithet of "Dan: the Complete Lesbian" which I revel in for a night.

Meanwhile, my friend Sven from Cambridge (a Spenser scholar) and Douglas grab a ride with Richard. Richard is filming the entire conference for some reason. In the car Sven notices a hat from Washington & Lee--a college in Virginia renowned for old-boy fraternities and inbred aristocracy. The hat produces apprehension in Sven, and he hopes it does not come up in conversation. But Douglas has already picked up on its motto (which I disremember) and inquires of it of Richard. As it turns out, Richard and Sven both "spent time" there, and may likely be (despite their generation differences) the only two alums never to have belonged to a fraternity. They discuss later, at Michael Franco's, a shared hate for a certain Milton professor.

The party is fine. We get home ok in the crowded car, with Douglas in the trunk. I give Maggie and Prageeta directions to the Mass Pike, but Dave Kirschenbaum prefers not to make the short walk from the bridge, so Maggie and Prageeta end up getting lost for many hours. We don't see them again till well into the next day.

In the morning I make juice for everyone (oranges and grapes, straight up--very rich), and we arrive during the panel almost on time. I cannot process anything being said so I try to focus by making sketches of the panelists. I gauge my success by showing the caricatures to Isabel Franco (sitting next to me) as I go. I am feeling better when manna from heaven drops into my lap in the form of a scone, placed with a "whump" from behind me by Douglas.

Some things I remember: Joseph Lease's metaphor about how the Cold War was two dogs facing each other, and the Post-Cold War a single dog in which we are all micro-organisms. This guy can think on his feet I think. But he dilutes this perception by announcing that he had thought of it earlier and even collaborated on it by phone with Jordan Davis. Still, he's saying intelligent things, as are all the panelists.

Despite a dangerous level of exhaustion I enjoy the afternoon readings. Gerrit Lansing is fantastic. He is my new model for reading. Beth is great, as is Andrea; the two reminding me of each other in their delivery: low, even tone of long (or long-ish) lines. Joe Torra is high-energy. Zhang Er is good, and Caroline Knox is funny.

>From the bio panel I mostly take comfort in Kristen's presentation that Helen Adam worked a dull job in which she was able to get a lot done during down time. I decide I like Helen Adam a lot and will seek out her work. I get this also from Lyman Gilmore's presentation on Joel Oppenheimer, whom I have not read much of. Then I take off to a bar with Patrick Doud to cool off with a margarita, which is refreshing for about fifteen minutes, but I nearly pass out later during the evening readings. In fact I was probably saved from doing so by Lisa Jarnot's and Lewis Warsh's reading. Warsh's "Secret Police" had me stitches; Lisa's chinchilla and other animal poems had me in a pleasant catatonic state. Kristin Prevallet's footnote poem also created this effect. Untitled, I suggested to her: "A poem of not-so-useful information."

Another party at Michael and Isabel's Saturday night. I crash for an hour in an empty room, waking up glad to find the Buffalo/Toronto guys had not drawn on my forehead, and also finding Christian crashed (vampire-like: body straight, arms folded in X on chest) on the floor across the room.

Outside there is literary chat. And Dave Kirschenbaum putting together his instant 'zine on a laptop in a cloud of mosquitoes by the porch light. The literary chat gets controversial: Douglas argues with Alan about Paradise Lost. Alan, in a manner reminiscent of Steve Evans, sits calmly and accepts Douglas' points and then evenly returns his own. The crux: what line does Milton's epic hinge on & is Satan a hero? Alan is firm: better to reign in hell than serve in heaven. Douglas does not accept. It goes back and forth, bringing Dante, Chaucer, and Chomsky (a la Drew and Bill Howe) marginally into the picture. Hanging back I suggest "to justify God's ways to man" which Andrea seconds. (As I was not centrally involved in this argument, I'll cease its narrative here.)

Because I am the only one not to have had a drink all night, I drive the car home. It's tight and we gather Will Alexander and Aaron from the driveway top where they had been waiting for a cab. Douglas gets into the trunk again, Aaron sits on Dave in the passenger seat and away we go. Another thing learned from the weekend: an overcrowded car with the conference organizer's head protruding from an open window does not sit well with Arlington police. As I pull over with the blue lights and siren screaming behind us, Aaron queries (from outside the car) "why are we pulling over here? Who are we dropping off here?"

It was difficult to ascertain whether the cops were poetry fans. I mean, I could have said "it's cool, officer, we have Will Alexander in the car" but I'm not sure how that would have played out.

So, as the cops approached, one on each side, I announce sternly to the excited passengers: "everyone shut the fuck up." One cop asks me if I am aware how many seat belt laws I am breaking. One per person except me I think to myself but say nothing. I give him my license. Hess fumbles (unsuccessfully) for his Missouri registration. The officers (one male, one female) note aloud how dangerous our driving situation is, and then huddle up back at the cruiser to ensure our Dodge Shadow is not stolen. As they confer in swirling blue lights, Aaron announces that he and Will can walk from that point and he wishes us well. I tell Aaron that it's probably not advisable to walk away from the scene at that particular moment.

To be short, the cops let us off without even requesting an intimate acquaintance with my breath. We leave two by the road while we drop off another two and return for the other two shortly. As I was handed back my license it didn't even occur to me that the law officers will forever remain unaware of Douglas Rothschild, now grown very quiet, cooped up in the hatch-back trunk. Later, Douglas noted that the incident constituted a good adventure, and it would make Bill Luoma proud.

On Sunday I outted SubPress in the publishing panel. Preceding this debut were fine presentations by Kirschenbaum (the traveling/instant magazine), Douglas Messerli (brief history of Sun&Moon), Peter Ganick (brief history of Potes&Poets), Chris Funkhouser (on Internet publishing and E-things in general), and Joe Torra (on his magazine "lift").

I began by showing off books received thru the "Self-Publish or Perish" initiative, and note how the project grew out of a community; how it all was (my involvement anyway) an extension of MASS AVE., which grew out of a sense of community that began at the Fitterman Poetry Talks in 1996, the Buffalo Poetics list, and then the Subpoetics list (at which point I thumbnail for people what a listserv is). RESULTS: A lot of people want to inspect the SelfPub books after the panel. A lot of people want to know how to get onto the "Buffalo list thing," and many more people want to know where to send money for the "SubPress" thing. I take their addresses instead.

Someone (Maria Damon?) tells me her initial thoughts of what the publishing panel would consist of was "how to get published." It was not so. It was more a testimony of doing things oneself, how to seek out or define your community thru print and initiative (as Torra's presentation manifested, and Michael Franco--contrib editor to lift--supported with comments in the audience). I was happy with it.

There were many great readings Sunday: Rosmarie Waldrop, Joseph Lease, Patrick Doud, Charles Bernstein, Damon Krukowski, Peter Ganick and others; some of which I caught portions of, or missed due to extreme unction, I mean extreme exhaustion.

The weekend ended for me in a seafood restaurant near my house with Beth, Maggie, Drew and Douglas. I had the fish and chips.

After they left for the bus, I went back to the reading and then to the party where I talked with Cambridge poet Jim Dunn (who traded my cop/poetry story with his own, in which a Boston bike cop runs into his car while he is driving John Wieners to the supermarket; "oh christ!" John exclaims) and Heater Scott Peterson (a painter, poet, bookbinder, and ex-student of Ange Mlinko's).

Other participants or attendees are encouraged/requested to fill in gaps or post their own narratives and perceptions to supplement this woeful inadequacy.

daniel bouchard