Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Hearing Ange Mlinko at La Tazza, a cavern of a tavern with a modicum of food on Chestnut off Second in Philadelphia. I know Mlinko’s work only from little magazines and things I’ve seen on the web.* I don't already know the poems she is reading & in any event she's not reading from a book, but rather from loose sheets of paper neatly grouped, voice soft, just modulated enough, the pieces short, lively - no clichés even as a device - I decide almost instantly that I like the juxtapositions in this 'continuous nerve movie.' What if the names O'Hara, Koch, Gizzi (M., not P.) had not been mentioned in the introduction: would I have heard echoes? But in fact I don't hear them even now. What I do hear is intelligence & wit in ample doses – Mlinko's 'voice' is completely distinct. One of the poems she reads is “The Men”:

Like that lion on the stamp of the
New York Public Library! Is it Astor,
Lenox and Tilden in composite? Like an ascot
blending with swept-back locks
away from the arch of the half-closed eye!
In the fact of a whole head in its halo of motto,
like a coin, is it the final pursuit of such men
to stock a library with rare books
on a marble avenue, with an exhibit
this go-round of “utopias”, an inevitable
speculation with the bums & the rich
brothers in desultoriness studying
Jefferson’s handwriting in a fair copy
of the Declaration of Independence?

Ice grips the steps of stopped hands.
Violin wood of the reading room,
violet snow in the window.

You said you loved a photocopied book
like a keeper of mysteries, like a visitor
to libraries, under the hieroglyph
of light rays

                   or the trompe l’oeil skylight
of perpetual sunset (or dawn?)
                                       It zipped
along the wool blanket with flashes
lighting up the dark. They gathered into
a tooth that nipped when I reached out
of a repetitive dream.
                             “Come to bed,” I said.
“No, why don’t you sit up with me awhile?
The mountebank insomnia has me.”

You called me to the window to see a man
hail a cab. Had a hand in the writing
of the Russian constitution.

        A gratuity,
and aren’t I a connoisseur?

I don’t hear those exclamation points in her reading of this piece. I do hear this extraordinary ear:

Ice grips the steps of stopped hands.
Violin wood of the reading room,
violet snow in the window.
<![if !supportLineBreakNewLine]>
I resolve that I have to read more of her poems on the page when I can. There is a book I believe from the defunct Zoland, but I don’t know if one can find copies now. “One more sad one” Mlinko says with a smile. It doesn't sound sad at all.

Tom Devaney's poetry has a social edge**, but isn't political in the narrow sense. If anything, it’s as personal as Mlinko’s, although I suspect that what either of them would mean by that term would turn out to be quite different. The contrast with Mlinko at La Tazza works to everyone’s benefit, as if each maximizes the ability of the audience to hear the distinctness of the other. It’s a happy event in the history of curating poetry.

Devaney is one of the most visible presences on the Philadelphia scene, currently employed as the program coordinator at Kelly Writers House. A man of broad interests, Devaney was a moving force in setting up the Carl Rakosi webcast this past week & he is the sort of poet who can appear in Jacket and APR both. I’ve spoken to him on numerous occasions & always find him with something interesting & pertinent to say, but before this reading I’ve only seen works in mags, so in a sense I am side a new side of him here also for the first time. Formerly a resident of Brooklyn, Devaney very much reads at La Tazza as “the local,”*** dedicating a poem to Don Riggs at the bar, selecting works with Philadelphia references. One of the poem he reads is “A Free-for-All Ends at A.C. Airport,” which first ran not in a literary magazine but in the daily newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer:

"The airport parking lot was known as a free-for-all where tow trucks routinely had to sort out the handiwork...cars parked at all angles,...often with no discernible ingress and egress."

New Jersey is the greatest poem never written.
Not an accident, but constant accidental.
Parking space is the central fact to man born in America.
There are several hundred ways not to understand.
Despite the invitation to excess, in A.C.
no bets are placed on the stay-at-home team, Pomona Nomads.
Directions: 1.) Park and lock your car 2.) Fly to Florida for the winter
3.) Remember, there's little reason to think
New Jersey when you're not
there--even if that's where you parked.
Fluxus is the name of the vapors coming off the cinder fields
meeting the black birds as they come in at night.
Before the war, getting a good spot
was what most Americans considered warfare.
The forward function is a maneuver
all novice tow truck drivers like to do for you.
Your delight in pattern and repetition is dropped off
to search a dusty field filled with hundreds of towed cars.
Until you actually say it, unscriptability and New Jersey rhyme.
The State's equilibrium is located elsewhere.
The car alarm. The unison HONK. The techno field jam.
The songs Bruce Springsteen will not write anymore.

* An Ange Mlinko sampler:

<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://home.jps.net/~nada/angepoems.htm
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://jacketmagazine.com/16/br-mlin.html
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://www.shampoopoetry.com/ShampooTwelve/mlinko.html
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://www.canwehaveourballback.com/Mlinko.htm
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://www.canwehaveourballback.com/mlinko2.htm
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://www.english.upenn.edu/~wh/combo/2/Mlinko.html
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://www.english.upenn.edu/~wh/samples/mlinko.html
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://jacketmagazine.com/15/mlinko.html

<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://www.twc.org/forums/poetschat/poetschat_amlinko.html
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://home.jps.net/~nada/mlinko.htm

** A Tom Devaney sampler:

<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://www.aprweb.org/issues/nov00/devaney.html
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://www.bigbridge.org/Issue2/Text/PoemDevaney.htm
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/bkrvw/devane.htm
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/bkrvw/issues/2000/devaney.htm
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://canwehaveourballback.com/devaney.htm
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://www.dcpoetry.com/anth2000/devaney.htm
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://www.toolamagazine.com/Tom.html
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://www.toolamagazine.com/Zone.html
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://www.theeastvillage.com/tny/devaney/p1.htm

Critical Prose
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://www.jacket.zip.com.au/jacket11/whalen-by-devaney.html
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://home.jps.net/~nada/mesmer.htm

Political Prose
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://www.jackmagazine.com/issue2/devaney.html

<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>http://www.raintaxi.com/online/2000spring/devaney.shtml

*** Ironic in the sense that Mlinko, who has been active with the St. Marks Poetry Project & lived for a time in Morocco, grew up in the Philadelphia area, part of it in Paoli, the very town in which I live.