Sunday, April 13, 2008

Poetry Project Reading

So on Wednesday, April 9, I went to a poetry reading at the St. Mark's Poetry Project. The readings were done by Benjamin Friedlander and Anselm Berrigan. It was held in a building adjacent to St. Mark's Church in the Bowery, where interestingly enough, a 19th century vice-president of the United States is buried. I went because my poetry professor recommended it and I figured it was worth going to just to catch a glimpse of flavor of the local poetry scene.

One thing that impressed me was how much a community there is among the poets here in NYC, or at least in Manhattan, though I'm sure some were commuting from Brooklyn, maybe Jersey. The poets knew each other, greeted each other, gave updates on the lives they were living, or at least trying to. There were even a few small children there and I wondered what they must of thought of all the people in black with beards and/or various other forms of unkempt hair, talking in patterns of speech that must seem like twisted versions of Dr. Seuss to them.

Anyway, Benjamin Friedlander went first. I was not a fan of his reading. Part of the problem I think was his technique. He was using poems that involve found text, or something akin to it. He pieced together bits and pieces of words from the Internet, or from conversations, and tried to explore the disconnect between putting two things together that may or may not have any logical connection. More often not.

The problem with the found text or modified text method is that if you do not maintain a general theme, story, or at least focus or point, then the words simply come out of the mouth and the ears quickly tire of them. These kinds of poems degenerate into what I would like to term "Elevator Poetry," where sound, flow, etc. becomes everything and meaning is lost. The dedication to sound is usually what defenders of this kind of poetry cite. However I criticize this as well, because number one, the sound is usually not carried through or explored in the piece. Poets using this method should make songs out of their poetry if they are really going for sound and music and caring little about meaning. The other criticism I have is that this kind of poetry usually loses people's attention after a while and is prone to causing an audience to ether zone out or pelt a poet with paper.

I know that this may not be the avant-garde sentiment, but maybe it is. Sometimes I think I am more radical than the others for demanding a meaning from a text, when others have given up. Some might mistakenly call me a reactionary for thinking this way, however this title would not be accurate in my case, why? Because in my own work I often use the techniques that contemporaries use, but to try and produce a real meaningful effect. The reactionary dismisses the present and does not engage it. This is why reactionaries generally never achieve power in any field. Fascism, using this definition, was not reactionary, but as revolutionary as Leninism, since it engaged the present, albeit to promote the values of the past as they saw them. Likewise, I engage with the present, not to dismiss or mock it, but to learn from it. I agree with Dan Schneider, one learns more from near great poems than great ones, and I think one can learn from even terrible poems than great ones.

What is the value of great poems then? They can be read without shame, that s there value. But enough about elevator poetry. Enough about great, good, mediocre, bad, terrible poetry. Back to the reading.

Anselm Berrigan was much better. I think because he has come of age in the era of appropriating mass culture and Internet texts, he understands how to weave them better. He creates a real text and even though the earlier poems he read tended to go off a little in the direction of elevator poetry, I think he had a much better grip of his subject matter and method. His youth was perhaps an asset. Benjamin Friedlander would have been better if he was younger and more energetic, or so old that simply seeing him talking about odd types of sex and other pop-culture phenomena, perhaps his poems might have worked. But overall I think he tried too hard. Berrigan was more subtle, and I think this got him a better response from the audience.

He read selections from a longer work he is publishing soon, called "have a good one." It is structured into snippets and blocks of text, with the phrase "have a good one," cutting them off and changing the tone, focus, and diction for the next piece, which I suppose could be called a stanza. He read it as if it were one, although maybe it is written continuously on the paper. The poem was entertaining because Berrigan worked with small pieces of text, not grand mish-mash epics. He might also just be a better poet.