Monday, October 06, 2003

Aaron Tieger, the editor of Carve & himself a blogger, sent me the following email that, among other things, contrasts the reading style of poets in Boston with those in (or from) New York.




I'm never sure whether to use the comment box or email (or my own blog) to respond to blogs, so I'll send you this and if you feel like posting any of it then do so, and if not, then do not.


First, thanks for the CARVE mention. Boston IS a hub of Quietude (or suckitude, however one wants to call it), as well as home to a pretty vibrant performance scene (more suckitude, in my largely uninformed opinion). However, despite my own and others' occasional moaning about the size of our side of the scene, the interesting-poetry scene is pretty tightly knit and fairly active. I haven't quite pondered the ratio of activity-to-presence (that is, do "we" do more or less than the other poets given our numbers and things) but I feel like we do alright. CARVE is a way for those of us in the "I don't care where you went to school" scene to get ourselves "out there" a bit more.


And personally, I rather like that Boston is slightly (?) more under-the-radar than NY or SF. I feel like an outpost or satellite, which sits nicely with my own tendencies to be easily overwhelmed. An interesting note, however, was at the 70 at MIT Poetry Festival back in April, when a serious difference was observed between the New York poets and the Boston poets. The New York poets, with a few exceptions, were much more interesting readers/presenters than the Boston poets (with a few exceptions). The theory being that this is all a result of the boomingness of the scene in NY - that one really HAS to perform in order to make any kind of impact, whereas we in Boston pretty much know each other and are content to "just sort of read."


Anyway, I think I've said all I can think of to say. Enjoyed the post. Hope you like the magazine.


Best, Aaron Tieger



"You gotta brush your teeth with rock and roll" (Peter Wolf)


"There is no them and us, there is only you and me... We need to find the 'self' that can truly be the authority that it is... The exponent of Karate does not aim at the brick when wishing to break it, but at the space beyond." (CRASS)


Tieger’s comments remind of the observation that New York poets made (or used to make, as I’m not certain that this distinction is still true) that San Francisco poets in the 1970s & ‘80s came to New York and read for long periods of time—45 minutes & up—the idea being that SF poets went on more or less endlessly in contrast with the more time efficient New Yorkers. And it is true that at least at venues like 80 Langton Street, the Grand Piano & the Tassajara Bakery, a reading of more than 40 minutes wasn’t that unusual, presuming that the reader had that much new work.


There was, however, a logic to it that, I think, played out differently in San Francisco than it did in New York. The language poetry scenes in both communities were involved with articulating a new poetics during that period & the longer reading worked well in enabling the audience to get a deeper sense of the structures & dynamics at play in the work of an individual reader. In San Francisco, there was, for all extents & purposes, no serious Other against which this new tendency came up in the local reading scene. In 1972, for example, the reading scene in SF was much more sleepy, even moribund, than I’ve experienced here in Philadelphia. There were occasionally good readings at San Francisco State, particularly when Kathleen Fraser & Lewis Mac Adams held sway at the Poetry Center there, but most often those occurred in the middle of the day at a great physical remove from the rest of the life of the Bay Area, muting their impact. The only regular series “in town,” as it were was a rather formless post-Beat neo-Surrealist one at Intersection, then ensconced in a lovely little theater on Union Street right off Columbus in North Beach, and a far smaller series that ran out of a print shop called the Empty Elevator Shaft.


In that context, when Barrett Watten started* the reading series at the Grand Piano, it very quickly became possible for writers there to actually treat the occasion as though it were a laboratory & there was enormous give & take between poet & audience, if not during the reading itself, afterwards in local taverns such as the Ab Zum Zum Room down Haight Street.


In New York, poets in a parallel circumstance found themselves in a literary community with an extremely strong & vibrant post-avant scene centered primarily around the Poetry Project. There were as a result much greater constraints & far more sharply defined expectations as to what would constitute “a reading” in New York. 


Similarly, I recall other discussions from that same period that suggested that the tendency toward sound poetry & other performance-centric genres in Canadian poetry was at least partly the result of the fact that the Canada Council supported performances to a degree that it did not the solitary poet isolated off in that room of one’s own. 


And among Russian poets of my own generation, I know that some of these same dynamics remain at play, as several poets such as Arkadii Dragomoschenko & Alexei Parschikov adopted a deliberately low-key, non-performative reading style in reaction to the theatrical declamations of what they felt had been the compromised older generation of Yevtushenko & Voznesensky. Yet Ivan Zhdanov, a contemporary of Arkadii & Alexei, but one whose roots are in Siberia rather than the city, will recite his own work from memory in precisely the baritone declamatory mode that an earlier modernist like Mayakovsky was referencing & which Yevtushenko & Voznesensky were echoing.


All of which is to suggest that there can be multiple strands at work in the creation & context of a reading style. Pound’s trilled r”s in the recordings of him reading, or Williams’ failure to heed his own line breaks sometimes jump out at us to remind us how very different their world of poetry was from our own. I honestly can’t say if there is a “Boss Town Sound” or reading style, one that is, say, more low key than that of New Yorkers. But I’m open to entertaining the idea. 





* Co-started, really, with a poet named Mike Bono, who soon dropped out of the process.




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No blog maƱana. I’ll be traveling on business.