Showing posts with label Bob Holman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bob Holman. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Write about performance poetry and very quickly you will find yourself the possessor of a flurry of CDs that relate variously to this side of writing. In the past week, I’ve received the CD that accompanies Short Fuse: The Global Anthology of New Fusion Poetry, a brand new multimedia CD from Edwin Torres entitled Please, put out by Jack Kimball’s Faux Press, and a slightly older audio CD, Triumph of the Damned, by Arundo, which consists of Actualist impresario G.P. Skratz and instrumentalist Andy Dinsmoor (not to be confused with the Arundo Clarinet Quartet).

The CD that accompanies Short Fuse is, in some ways, the very best part of this complex & ambitious project*, offering 76:02 minutes of work on the part of 34 contributors, ranging from Emily XYZ to Billy Collins, Edwin Torres to Glyn Maxwell. With Bob Holman, Ian Ferrier, Fortner Anderson, Charles Bernstein, Willie Perdomo, Richard Peabody, Lucy English, Mat Fraser, Tug Dumbly, Ulli K. Ryder, Michele Morgan, Guillermo Castro, Dawna Rae Hicks, Barbara Decesare, Heather Hermant, Alicia Sometimes, Sandra Thibodeux, Rob Gee, Regie Cabico, Todd Colby, Corey Frost, Todd Swift’s Swifty Lazarus, Kim Houghton, Robin Davidson, Irene Suico Soriano, Peter Finch, Dwayne Morgan, Patrick Chapman, Ryk McIntyre & Ian McBryde’s The Still Company, this disc presents these oral/aural poets in their best light and hints of the extraordinary richness to be found throughout the Short Fuse project. As a whole, the CD is great fun & hangs together remarkably well given how diverse this collection of writers prove to be.

Trying to sort through this cornucopia is an interesting project in itself. Twelve of the poets here use music in the presentation of their work, ranging from mere background accompaniment (Alicia Sometimes, Dwayne Morgan, Bob Holman) to complex productions that transform their poems into something like the role normally reserved for song lyrics (Edwin Torres, Michele Morgan, Ian Ferrier). This latter strategy in particular raises once again the issues of performance on the page versus aurally that I’ve discussed previously. There is, I promise, almost no way for even the most inventive & flamboyant reader to translate this passage by Edwin Torres from the page with even a fraction of the flair that the poet’s own Latin-flavored performance offers:

Peesacho, NO macho
Much cha-cha? NO mucho, P-sycho NOT cha-cha / cha-CHA
is the HER with the HAIR of hay hay
in the HAIR not the HER is the HEART
of PeeSAAAAAAAcho...

Torres starts off the CD and gives it the feeling of any pop music disc, leading with its hit single. “Peesacho” is an extraordinary piece, the single best recording I’ve heard yet of Torres’ own work**.

In fact, all of the pieces on the CD that have the greatest impact use music: Torres’ “Peesacho,” XYZ’s Arabic ode to an al-Qaeda pilot, Bob Holman’s wry & ironic monolog, Michele Morgan’s jazz performance of a poem that can be heard as a high-style homage to Beat poetry, or Ian Ferrier’s piece, with its chorus right out of Dylan’s Nashville Skyline period. Had the CD focused only on works that utilized music, Short Fuse might have set off a revolution in poetic song, because the overall quality of these best works is startling. The musical pieces are what ultimately holds this disc together.

The two dozen texts that are unaugmented by music can themselves be divided into somewhat overlapping groups: straight readings of straight poems, recordings of live readings, one piece by Charles Bernstein obviously chosen for its jabberwocky. Many of these pieces simply document the poet’s reading of the text and some, such as Guillermo Castro’s “A Deli on First Avenue,” do so quite well.

I’ve argued that stand-up comedy is a major formal referent for the spoken word movement and there are seven clear examples on the CD: Rob Gee’s unaccompanied theme song for “Viagra,” Corey Frost’s shtick, Regie Cabico’s sexual assessment of the Dawson Creek cast, Barbara Decesare’s vicious impression of a nagging mother, Robin Davidson’s terrorism nursery rhymes, Alicia Sometime’s funny song of a man’s love for the female (I can’t say more without giving away the punchline, literally), and Lucy English’s explanation of why she wants to be in “The Company of Poets.” Only Gee’s would stand a chance at a competition in a comedy club.

Alicia Sometimes’ piece, which uses music, does so in a way that has no intelligible relation to the content of her poem, referring as the text does to a musical instrument. It’s one of three works on the CD that comes off in ways that seem to be at odds with the poet’s original intent, suggesting a level of risk in this kind of production. The other two such works are both by poets not normally associated with slam poetics, but who stand revealed when placed into such a context. Billy Collins’ poem “Love” comes across very much like a Daniel Pinkwater essay for NPR radio, but less insightful, less well written, not so funny & with a cloying last image that is to cringe for. Even more pronounced in the unintentional humor vein is Glyn Maxwell’s “The Stones in Their Array,” which explains why stones are special in precisely the same kind of terms that TV’s Mr. Rodgers used to explain that you were special. It’s a howler and anybody who confuses Maxwell with a serious writer should be forced to listen to this.

* It’s interesting to note that the CD was edited by Rattapallax editor Ram Devineni, and not by Phil Norton or Todd Swift, who edited the paperback and e-book. All Rattapallax books are accompanied by CDs.

** Including his own CD, Please, which I’ll examine in more depth tomorrow.

Friday, October 18, 2002

Short Fuse is an extraordinarily ambitious project. In addition to the 400 page book released this week by Rattapallax Press is a CD and a supplementary e-book that one can download with a password found in the hard copy. Edited by a Philip Norton, a performance poet now in Australia who was matriculating at DePaul University when Marc Smith's Green Mill poetry slam events in Chicago  kicked off the slam scene in 1987, and Todd Swift, a Canadian poet with intermedia impulses now in Paris who makes a living as a television screenwriter, the 175 poets gathered into Short Fuse represent an attempt on the part of its editors to jump start what they characterize as Fusion Poetry.

What is Fusion Poetry? Given that at least 130 of the 175 poets in Short Fuse come out of the spoken word / slam / performance poetry communities of different English speaking countries, plus a smattering of poets from diverse traditions -- Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell represent the most conservative tendencies of British neoformalism, Charles Bernstein & myself represent a  performative side of langpo, and even Billy Collins is on the CD to incorporate that side of the plain-speaking McPoem tradition that can be enjoyed as  stand-up comedy  -- it would seem to be an attempt to place oral poetries into a broader & perhaps more legitimated context. At its most grandiose, Short Fuse may be an attempt to overcome the various skirmishes in the poetry wars by proposing performativity  as the glue that would bring all these other aesthetics together into one world-wide happy family. The book even promises to donate "a portion of the proceeds" to UNICEF.

Time will tell how far the editors can take that agenda, but it certainly doesn't want for lack of scale. What it may do, however, and this would be unfortunate, is to obscure just what a wonderfully global collection of performance poetry the editors have put together. Canada, the U.S., the British Isles, Australia, and the Anglophone scenes of several other countries are all represented. From the U.S., you have a good representation of the slam scene: Patricia Smith, Bob Holman, Edwin Torres & some of the more stellar poets who came out of the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe scene, such as Willie Perdomo and Guillermo Castro. While there certainly are some glaring omissions, especially among the older, more established performance poets (Steve McCaffery & his fellow Four Horsemen, Hazel Smith, the late Bob Cobbing, anything with a taste of Fluxus*), Short Fuse can be read as an Olympian panorama of performance poetics, one that stands up on these terms quite well, with a curious sprinkling of "performance-like" poetries out of other more page-based traditions.

* There are moments when, reading Short Fuse and listening to its editors, one has the eerie sense that this what it might be like to want to be Jerome Rothenberg if one had never heard of Jerome Rothenberg.