Monday, September 1, 2008

Unbecoming February 2008 :: Fields Reshape

The reading and book launch Friday night was a great success. I finished making the book that morning, affixing the Mick Turner image “horsepath” to all 200 copies of Jaye’s book, and in the process inhaling some serious Super 77 spray adhesive fumes. The same day I read a very beautifully written essay on the chapbook from the Rain Taxi online site. It features a discussion of two of my fellow graduate students at U.Buffalo, Kyle Schlesinger and Michael Cross. Both moved away from Buffalo in 2007, but while in town they were printers/publishers of very fine books. Most of Schlesinger’s catalog is priced beyond my budget, but I do have some examples at home of works he gave to me—Ulf Stoltfort’s Lingos, Ron Silliman’s Woundwood, which I helped sew together one evening at Kyle’s then home on Summer Street, Greg Bigglieri’s Sleepy with Democracy, and the tribute volume I Have Imagined a Center // Wilder than this Region published in honor of Susan Howe’s retirement from the UB English Department. Michael Cross was incredibly generous, and gave me many of his Atticus/Finch books produced here in Buffalo—Eli Drabman’s Daylight on the Wires, Kyle Schlesinger and Thom Donovan’s collaborative text Mantle (a great work), and my favorite book design work (perhaps of all books I own): Myung Mi Kim’s River Antes. The resonance of that title is profound—I think of ants, after spending this summer battling/cohabitating with a colony of sweet/grease ants who had invaded my kitchen, the myrmidons of Livingston St.; but also many other echoes—revenants (returning spirits—here furies and absent lives)—“Anti” and “aunty”, but constant reminder of the Niagara River. The closest I got to their printing machine was to help Michael pull and dry covers for John Taggart’s Unveiling / Marianne Moore. Richard Owens, editor of Damn the Caesars has now taken on use of the press, so its revival continues with Punch Press books, broadsides and more.

Friday night’s reading was, for me, a celebration and an excellent chance to showcase the work I've engaged in for the last few weeks—Jaye’s poem. He had read the poem in late June at Eli Drabman's third floor space, and we later edited, designed and assembled the book together. The beauty of the evening--a soft, gentle air, jazz band playing in the restaurant courtyard behind the building, the sound of young Henry running through the upstairs apartment--was in keeping with the relaxed atmosphere one always finds at Rust Belt Books. Jaye’s book is perhaps my favorite of all the little scratch pad editions so far. The work itself attempts both a painter’s description of how a canvas can be conceptualized, and also the effort to arrive at some image, talisman maybe, that can be adequate to what many consider the lowest point of the year in our city—February. I realize now that this past February was an incredibly hard one. Both Liz Mariani and Jaye’s poems were written in February. In late February I found myself forced to sell my beloved car, decided that my acting and improvising efforts for a local theater group weren’t going to bear fruit, and I also hit an emotional stumbling block in my love life that eventually ended it, even though I'd been warned beforehand that I'd be "let go" at a time of my partner's choosing. It’s interesting to think back on that month, 210 days in the past, and see how it has manifested in the works I am engaged with now—Jaye’s book, Liz Mariani’s book, but in my own poetry as well. At the time I was hopeful that a musical duet I was in—we called ourselves The Flatheads—would result in an active and successful songwriting/performing effort. We’d been listening to a lot of Richard and Linda Thompson, and we’d discovered their album Pour Down Like Silver (recommended by Jay Farrar in a Rolling Stone year-end review). So I guess my summer’s work, re-writing Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, was in a way an attempt to get beyond the difficulties I encountered in February and take the philosophical lessons it provided to a higher level of unity. The truth is: things fall apart. But not things, really, it is our sense of our deepest relation to others—though they fall apart in order to change, keep us ready for change. In the Susan Howe book mentioned above, Elizabeth Willis writes accurately of a February twenty years ago that sounds much like the one we traversed here in 2008: “It is the business of Buffalo weather to assert dominion, to overturn reality in the course of an afternoon” . My reality was overturned on one February day as well—selling my car, realizing I couldn’t take part in an upcoming theater/cabaret, and finding my love life built on unsteady foundations. Of course this was a personal reality that was overturned, but as I see it, it is confirmed by at least two of my Buffalo neighbors & fellow poets who were deep in poetic meditations of their own. One result and resonance of this was Friday night’s book launch & the publishing of Ever After / Never Under.

I started the night by reading Tagore’s poems “The time it will take on this road is long” (#12), “After all this time I still haven’t played the song that I came here to sing” (#13) and “I thought this was the end of the road” (#37). Akrem Serdar was having trouble with a film projector, so I read some of his provided text to the audience. And then Jaye read his poem in two halves, with a preface, interlude and conclusion of some amazing auto-harp playing:

“The grandeur of the sun setting
overwhelms the ominous specter
and the crows the harbingers of ire
become instead a kind contribution”

It was amazing.

Shane Meyer, a promised contribution to our events, arrived after we'd cleared the room & were leaving. He was moving that day. Shane is a great musician. But he's also a very busy man.

Akrem finally got his film to work, though I was out of the room (my speculation is that its because he didn’t make the film in February).

I will be playing my first ever full solo set on guitar this Tuesday, September 2, at 10:00 p.m. at Nietzsche's Tavern on Allen St. after the Genuflektors. Please come down to hear! No Cover charge! Tip jar only!

Peace & love my brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.

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