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    poetry beat : chris glomski and vincent katz

    A Danny's Reading Series event

    Wednesday, Jan 25 at Danny's Tavern

    Chris began with a set of poems from his newly-published book, Transparencies Lifted From Noon

    Of "Vela (the Amaneuensis)," he remarks that it began as an attempt to write 'a poem within a poem' but that he instead 'switched around the framing device and made it sort of a mystery.' The 'poem within a poem' is now represented as verses 'left behind in [a] Selectric on the desk' by the mysterious 'Vela,' recently disappeared

    'Vela''s poem is pretty sensual stuff, with lines referencing 'fragrant ham and melon' and 'wriggling perfumes,' but then the poem is interrupted as 'something electric tore out the text and sucked it into the weather.' I like the way that the melodrama (ghost story? noir?) here fixes Vela's more lyric passages into something more narrative, but still cryptic.

    Chris follows this with 'Currency Exchange,' one of my favorite poems of his. It's essentially a long inventory, short lines that are mostly nouns or noun clauses:

    "Exclamations. The price of life. Peas and carrots."

    There are some verbs thrown in, too, from time to time:

    "Sun shines. Cobras spit."

    Somehow the addition of the verbs makes the piece feel more "filmic"-- more a montage of short clips of non-narrative action than a montage of still shots of objects. To further mix things up, there are things in there that aren't objects or actions but abstractions:

    "Illusions of speed and dexterity. Step 2 and Step 3."

    and some bits of dialogue (with no identified speaker):

    "How long will you have that look on your face?"

    Some phrases seem chosen for their rhythmic qualities ("duct tape", for instance, follows "bake sale"), but this doesn't happen often enough to become a pattern. In fact, one of the things I like about this poem is that it's kind of a pattern-disruptor: every time you think you can articulate the formal principle undergirding the inventory, a new item comes in to disrupt that principle. This gives the poem a distinct life and energy.

    The poem is funny, too, with lines like "Attention-seeking noise originates in cat"

    He reads a few prose poems (also funny) from a sequence about 'brushes with fame,' including being visited at school by local weatherman / cult figure Harry Volkman, and a set of triolets inspired, apparently, by having made his students write triolets

    He closes out with a piece based on Joe Brainard's I Remember, which he said he attempted to re-write in a "surrealist mode" before deciding it was "stupid." Instead he's given it an abecedarian scheme, wherein each stanza focuses on a different letter of the alphabet. This poem is entertaining, but to my mind it suffers from sounding too much like a standard abecedarian primer. Language tends towards clunkiness when you fit, say, "aardvarks" and "abacus" into the same line, and it's hard to transcend that awkwardness (although it can be done: see, for example, Christian Bok's Eunoia, which reads pretty smoothly while being driven by an extremely rigorous alphabetical constraint)

    There were a couple of funny lines, and the poem worked well enough as a good-natured homage to Brainard, but was a trifle compared to most of the other work Chris read.

    Vincent Katz began with a set of poems written in Brazil that were pretty narrative, driven by a stable lyrical subject, which frankly didn't do that much for me. I'm not all that interested in white-male observations on Brazilian street musicians and transitory female beauty to begin with, although I'll occasionally overlook that, but not for lines like "In a couple of years, his girl will look weathered ... Her breasts will be sad." I did like the first poem in this series, "Some Kinds of Love." Composed mostly of exclamations ("I can take no more! Tie me to a tree!"), Katz delivered this poem with real aplomb.

    Katz has spent a lot of time translating the writings of Sextus Propertius, a Latin poet from around 50 BC, and these poems were possibly the high point of his reading. Katz describes Propertius as 'decadent and immoral,' and if you've ever whiled away an afternoon reading translated Pompeiian graffiti you know that hearing bawdy old-schoolers is often entertaining. And Katz delivers lines like "fortune granted that I always have affairs ... never will I be blind to the babes" with obvious relish. But afterwards it's back to poems like "Pearl," from Understanding Objects, which is, again, a straightforward narrative (about a man named Jimmy who bought the young Vincent Katz some Janis Joplin albums as well as the Kinks' Arthur). This one ends with some bald-faced sentimentality:

    "Now, at 2 am, it rains. The kind of rain Jimmy would have noticed."

    I hate to say it, but that kind of thing (along with the later assertion, in a different poem, that James Merrill "composed his poems as seer for an age") is exactly the kind of thing that turns me markedly off.

    [Cross-posted to Kerri Sonnenberg's Chicago Poetry group-blog]



    Friday, January 27, 2006
    2:39 PM


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