Poets in Review: Rod Smith and Edwin Torres

By Jordan Davis

Rod Smith and Edwin Torres read to a 50+ crowd at the Poetry Project at St. Marks Church-in-the-Bouwerie last night. Lisa Jarnot introduced Smith, citing his playful intelligence, and comparing him to the two poetic figures of the century most dear to her, Robert Duncan and Allen Ginsberg. Jarnot mentioned Duncan and Smith's autodidact-status, and noted that Ginsberg and Smith shared an indefatigable urge to archive and to make opportunities for other poets. Smith began his reading with a work by Heather Fuller, an author published by his Aerial/Edge Press, "because," he said, "it defeats the heebie jeebies and because I like it." He then dedicated the reading to his son, Joshua, who was killed in a car crash earlier this year. It would be a mistake to refer to Rod Smith's work as "high discontinuity"--the overwhelming parataxis of it all has something to do with Barrett Watten's _Progress_, and the underlying agenda seems to be something like Charles Bernstein's hope to "[return] us to our senses", but there are significant differences between Smith's work and that of his predecessors. (Would that I could delineate those differences! Ask Kevin Davies, he could tell you.) I'm going to have to jump _arenas_ to find a working artist with similar acuity, namely Stephen Malkmus of Pavement. "Camera-ready, my ass!" Smith read poems from his books _The Boy Poems_ (Buck Downs Books), _In Memory of My Theories_ (O Books), _A Grammar Manikin_ (Object magazine special number), _Protective Immediacy_ (Potes & Poets), and _The Lack, love poems, targets, flags_ (Abacus magazine). He closed with his terrific poem, "Nothing at all Jerry G." Eleni Sikelianos introduced Edwin Torres by means of an itinerary -- to travel from Tristram Shandy to Khlebnikov via the Himalayas, was one route. Edwin Torres read second. By comparison with his reading last year at the Ear Inn, the work he read Wednesday night had less to do with the Khlebnikov in him than with Tristram Shandy or the Himalayas. Mentioning that he had been described in a magazine article as "resolutely anti-drug", he corrected the magazine and launched into a poem entitled "Auntie Drug." It is a truism that performers coming out of the Nuyorican scene perform with their voices -- that they're 'spoken word artists.' OK, it's not a truism, it's a categorization. Torres has no truck with the category, though. It would not be out of the range of reference of a large circulation publication to characterize his performance as borrowing from sprechstimme and vaudeville (or the Muppet Show, anyway). Torres' next publication is a cd from Kill Rock Stars, the alternative label that carries the work of Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. Torres will be reading at Poetry City on December 18. Wednesday's reading, the second in Lisa Jarnot and Eleni Sikelianos's series at the Church, was attended by the following writers: Barrett Watten, Jackson Mac Low, Bruce Andrews, Sally Silvers, Fiona Templeton, Rob Fitterman, Tim Davis, Issa Clubb, Bennett Simpson, Merry Fortune, Liz Castagna, David Cameron, Anselm Berrigan, Kim Rosenfield, Larry Fagin, Dug Rothschild, Lewis Warsh, Leonard Schwartz, Kevin Davies, Deirdre Kovac, Marcella Durand, Greg Masters, Elinor Nauen, Ed Friedman, and others. Jordan Davis