Josh Schuster, "from a distance," February 1997
Date: Sun, 2 Feb 1997 22:46:08 -0500 Reply-To: UB Poetics discussion group
I suppose I'll add to what seems to be really a new kind of genre, the reading witness reportage, which, if this list did not invent, surely it gave it sustenance.
Upenn has perhaps one of the few and well-funded "middle-spaces" left in the world, a space which is half in the academy and half-run with pragmatic anarchy by the undergraduates and surrounding community. This place, the Writers House, finds itself in relative autonomy to the cuts and jabs of both the business (we need not make profit) and the academic institution (the decisions of what to program and which writers to bring always, so far, remain in the hands and help of undergrad students). The House here takes its own heat from the students who both run and think of the house, but so far that has lead to further understanding rather than further neglect.
So, amid this space these past few days were the wonderful writers Lee Ann Brown (great smile, a less noticeable accent in person than on the phone, will sing you out of what you thought you heard, and deeply thoughtful), Jennifer Moxley (the grace and attack of a writer who always has more to say, who asks considerately about the names and ideas of the people she meets, and asks the right questions then and before, in writing and in person), and with much welcome, Steve Evans (who has the energy of many poets, the theoretical acuity to engage the hours into options, and the friendliness to think this through with you).
They arrive Thurs. afternoon, and I help unload them in the guest suite, with short orientations over brief beers. Then a reading, with a room filled more than usual, but less than we should want or need. I give a scattered intro of clips of email conversations from students. Lee Ann reads first, all pieces I think from her excellent and back-and-forthcoming *Polyverse* (which we need in print Sun & Moon!). This book looks to be a stunning collection of what Lee Ann has collected up to recent, with substitute pledge of alliegences, thangs, oddly familiar songs, fellowed collaborations, catchy daily observations, and great short verse pieces. This is quite a book and quite wonderful to hear from.
Jennifer Moxley then reads, and varies from her wonderful newest *Imagination Verses* to even more recent work. The book is brilliant and needs more than immediate encounters as perhaps finally a way of knowing there is great poetry even according to the young. And the newer work is, maybe, even better, which just means you'll need to hear more of this yourself.
After the reading a few writers and visitors make way to a local Japanese dinner. The Sake is melted and we drink but I linger back with a headache from skipping breakfast and lunch. Finally now I get to ask Steve about that legendary panel this past summer in Orono on race and O'hara, and what he says is right, that given the politics of O'hara's time one has to read into O'hara's work the politics of dealing with that time, which O'hara does, and so does Steve. More food. Lee Ann wields her tape recorder and goes roundtable asking with good humor for oral documentary of everyone's experience of first orgasm. More food.
Some reconvene at poet's accomodations. Major Jackson, there at the reading and dinner and on tape, says goodbye. I stay about and we talk on and about, with late tea and cookies (for what poets do is eat). Next day is again filled with talking and ideas. The writers all visit a seminar carried inside the House. Jennifer hopes there are spaces to be made where poetry doesn't have to be immediately defensive always explaining itself. Steve argues well with intensity with Al Filreis about the remains of poetic spaces. Lee Ann speaks more about her way of writing, and the making of forms for poetry, which anyone can read and write with. Then, downstairs with a ready audience, both poets read from talks and essays. Jennifer has a piece still going on "poetic labor" which we can read soon from a next great wave of Impercipients, these ones a flight of essays. Lee Ann reads some on "ballad notes" and induces smiles with the old drinking song which Francis Scott Key shifted into an anthem, then later we sing group-wise a piece from Helen Adam.
Dinner is ready then, assortments of kugel, one batch by me. More food and more talking. Jennifer says a bit about prose, a bit about memoirs. Louis Cabri imagines more with the layout of a baroque reprise. The writers ask Louis about more from his journal *Hole* and what more from Canada and Louis says there will be more. We shift to couches. Steve talks further about what scenes seem as, now and before. I hear more from Jennifer about her translations and relations with Jacqueline Risset. Lee Ann talks some about her press. Lee Ann falls barely into sleep, wakes some and combs the cat, who responds curiously to her pocketbook and scratches at the money inside. Lee Ann grabs her recorder in time to tape our witnesses of near death moments. Steve remembers a time in school when Bill Luoma came in to a reading swearing he just saw death on a bus. Time passes late so we crash our separate ways to sleep.
Next day just early stuff, brunch with the poets. Bob Perelman is there and we talk of magazines and groupings and workshopping poetry back when Bob studied at Iowa, then now when he taught at Iowa. Shawn Walker begins a house meeting with input help from the writers on future writers to bring. Soon the writers have to get back and gather their stuff, needing to leave on time for sandwiches and family. The visit was a wonderful time, and it's late now, so here is another log in the furthering genre of reading accountings.