I saw K. Silem Mohammad and Anne Boyer read last night. The word that comes to mind with Mohammad is 'scary'. Things that are 'scary' and then things that really are 'scary'. I got a spooky suburban kind of vibe. And the suburbs are really monstous. His new chap is called Monsters.
Anne Boyer was great. People felt less inclined to laugh during her poems. But I don't see why. They're hilarious. And there's also something like a voice in there. More in the way that Alice Notley's written about voice, as a real struggling presence in the poetry, a part of its emotional anatomy. The traditional (last few decades anyway it seems) context for the word 'voice' is in the Poetry Workshop. 'Voice' is a word with a lot of negative connotation. Its been used traditionally as a way to approach one's career more than as a way to understand what one's doing when one writes poems, or writes anything. But when put just in the context of a poetry reading, its one of the very basic elements. Given all the intertextuality and tone-shifting (as in tone of voice) in Mohammad's poetr, its an interesting paradox that when he reads you just hear his voice. During a reading, one senses a poet's voice before, or at the very least as an inseperable component of , the words as they come at you. It would be different if one were discussing Robert Grenier, who I believe is on record as not seeing the poem as a spoken performance. And even when one is hearing someone like Boyer, or Mohammad, who both use found text, the voice that you are hearing is a good way to learn about what they're doing, or even (eek!) about them. I mean they don't just recite those poems all monotone and matter of fact and then sit back down. They perform them. And what's more, not everyone in the audience was an acquaintance of either of the two readers. I don't think everyone was nessecarilly in any way involved with poetry either. A woman sitting next to my friend Karl, asked how long the reading would take. The reading didn't go long. Its always nice, whether you are or aren't a poet, when a reading doesn't go on forever.
Of course I always think of how William Carlos Williams wrote in such a way that seemed scripted for performance but then wouldn't necessarilly read the poems aloud with any attention to the particularity of his line breaks. But I think the voice of the poet is really important, or least it irrevocably affects one's perception of the poems. Once you hear the voice its sort of like the cat being let out of the bag. In a good a way, like a really exciting secret! Thats sounds incredibly corny. But when I heard Joseph Ceravolo read on a recording, man it was just special. I hear Robert Creeley's voice when I read Robert Creeley's poems. Besides just having a great voice period, bassy and witty, Mohammad plays off of the disembodied subjectivity of his poems in a really excellent and entertaining way. A very memorable voice.
Poetry readings are the only performance-occasions I can think of where the audience needs to be given permission to laugh! I mean, if you're someone like Mohammad, whose poems are high-larious, as funny as any comedian today, then you really have an uphill battle. You have to let the audience know that they can laugh while you're reading, that they don't have to be so fucking solemn. I mean I don't know if he consciously does anything toward this end. But there's an almost instant unspoken understanding from the audience. The are definite analogies between poetry-reading and stand-up comedy. Steven Wright is someone who both poets and comics should look at. (Duh!) One very brilliant thing he does is after being introduced is go up before the audience, and for a second say nothing, and then very drolly, 'Thanks'. I'm not saying everyone can do what Steven Wright does, but this does something to his audience. I wish poets would think about that more. But yeah there definitely needs to be a CD or something of K. Silem Mohammad reading.
I think my favorite part of the evening might've been when Anne Boyer read "Is Poetry for Assholes?". Of course some in the audience reflexively said 'Yes'. Anne Boyer was kind of bemused then, and she said "No! Poetry's for the sweethearts!" It is.