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    poetry beat : e. tracy grinnell + craig watson

    It's been a while since I've done a write-up of a poetry reading—I think the last one was the write-up of Dana Ward's reading back in May of last year?

    That date would line up with around the time when I moved into my new apartment (the "Blood Dorm"), which put me further from a subway stop and made it harder to get to Myopic Poetry Series or Discrete Series events. But I've been missing them, and I'm going to try to get back into the habit of once again attending them regularly.

    So, this past Friday, at the Spare Room, we had E. Tracy Grinnell and Craig Watson. Of the two, I made better notes on Grinnell, so I apologize for the slightly lopsided write-up here.

    Grinnell began by reading a segments from her chapbook On the Frame (available as a free PDF from Jerrold Shiroma's Duration Press) and a work-in-progress called 'Wolf.' Grinnell has spoken often on the influence of music on her poetic practice—in this interview she cites "Erik Satie, ... Stravinsky, Mussorgsky, Beethoven’s sonatas, Messaien, [and] Cage" as influences—and this attention to "musicality" showed through in "Wolf." At one particular point the poem distilled itself down to a fine-grained particulate which struck me as a poetic analogue to the minimalist patterning of a musician like Morton Feldman... short words repeated in various rhythmic configurations... careful attention given to the duration and texture of the silences between them...

    She followed this up with a piece which will be appearing in a forthcoming issue of Aufgabe, featuring writers responding to a lecture on Cage by Norman O. Brown. Her piece (the title eluded me) was a traditional [?] Cagean mesostic, with "raw materials" derived from Finnegans Wake (a text of central importance to both Cage and Brown) and the middle row "key text" being the (again musical) terms fugare and fugere (to pursue and to flee).

    She closed out with a series of poems from Some Clear Souvenir, many of which again had a "musical" attention to rhythm, particularly the staccato "Clip One," built around a one-word-per-line constraint.

    Grinnell was followed by Craig Watson, who struck me as a good example of someone whose poetic practice can be simultaneously avant-garde and political. His poems felt very palpably like "protest poems" or "poems of resistance" while at the same time not exactly being "about," say, a particular issue that's in the news. The work is chock-full of phrases like "repression / entertainment / repression," which isn't exactly oblique in terms of political content.

    I don't mean to imply that it's heavy-handed: Watson has a light touch as a reader, and he's often quite funny as well—that "repression / entertainment / repression" sequence is delivered as comic, and his acerbicness throughout the reading was coupled with equal parts wit. With the emphasis on unexpected juxtapositions, avant and "post-avant" poetry has a built-in ability to deliver laughs, exploited by only a few poets I can think of (Bernstein, Ashbery). It was nice to see Watson play up this approach ("Go with God / and take your stuff") which counteracted (or complimented) the darkness inherent in writing poems about empire—his "Steppe Work" is a cycle about Genghis Khan—or the "last twelve months of human existence," as in his "Last Man Standing" cycle.

    The next Discrete reading is Elizabeth Block + Jordan Stempleman, December 9th.

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    Tuesday, November 15, 2005
    10:46 AM

     

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