Reading report
Jean Donnelly. Ron Silliman, Rae Armantrout.
The Drawing Center, 6/24/03

Acousticly, the Drawing Center is not the greatest space for poetry. It’s as though it was designed specifically to muffle the sound of the human voice. Because of this situation, the room presents a kind of test for readers. Since every reader I’ve heard there struggled against the acoustics of the space, you can see how different readers handle struggling with acoustics, not just with volume.

Jean Donnelly:

Quiet reading style. Made me hear some of the more micro- breath and pitch changes.

The throat, mouth, lips, and tongue are after all a biological envelope filter changing the timbre and articulation of sound. In English all the linguistic information is carried by this filter system, rather than the vocal chords, which control pitch. I can’t help but wonder if the music of a culture that uses a non-tonal language is more likely to have a greater emphasis on timbral variation?

Much about domestic life and children mixing with brief spans of politically suggestive material.

Full of literary references and carefully developed thematics.

Some sharp observations -- "the clicks of an electric meter on the back of a house."

The poetry panned slowly over landscapes -- rural, suburban, mental, social.

Ron Silliman

Silliman at first tried to bypass the mike entirely, which did improve the sound for the first couple of rows, but make it inaudible to everyone else. Katie helpfully stepped in and remedied the situation.

Silliman‘s projection was good and he managed to overcome some of the sonic deadening and get the poetry out into the space of the room.

A chain of observed details with their hierarchy of significance removed.

He has an instantly recognizable take on certain kinds of details -- often trivial things (rather than quadrivial) which are commonly experienced but go unremarked upon, "the pigeon walks up to me and when I move my foot it flies away" / "the unripe banana" / "top of the business card used as a toothpick." In this sense it is a poetry of social commonality, the implicit social commonality of visual perception. It is Eignerian in that the poet observes what is in front of him. At one point he comes out and says "write what’s in front of you."

Mixed with this is what sound like straight-forward autobiographical vignettes and commentary as one would get in a mainstream poem, but without the sentimental inflation, as well as political material -- a story taken from the news, about Serbian torture, for instance. Again, the playing field of significance is totally level, so that a report of forced cannibalism happens in the same register as items about Mike Piatta or mosquitoes. To me it replicates the disturbingly unequal moral simultaneity of the world as well as implying some questions about how we get information about it, through the media, and through our own senses.

I also thought of a late Olson poem -- about watching a fly -- the significance of insignificance.

Observations that could be straight out of his blog are also thrown in: "the expansion of genre has been much faster than the expansion of readers" or "the cast system of literary reputation."

A lot of dream material, all prefaced with "in the dream" or ended with "then I woke up." So despite all this mixing of modes, the categories of experience are not blurred in this work, actually the opposite -- they are carefully delineated.

One of the ways Silliman produces variation in his work is the use of an unusually wide spectrum of ironic distance, which moves from the extremes of irony to total sincerity.

At one point he used the image of an approaching train, which I’ve noticed before in his work. This seems analogous to something central in his process -- things held in an equalized mutual potentiality of imminent arrival.

Rae Armantrout

If Silliman is the potentiality of imminent arrival, Armantrout is the continuously transforming moment of arrival.

Armantrout was able to get the poetry into the sonic space, not with projection, but, seemingly, with personality.

This is poetry that could fit into several "separate" strains of American poetic tradition.

She somehow manages to take energies which clearly have their origin in mentally negative modes and transform the energy to something quite positive and energizing, as well as funny and sharp.

Beautifully developed cognitive movements turning around an axis of humor.

"I was a forwarding address"

"A pun pretends to be a bridge"

Magically transmogrified complaints and fiercely intelligent playfulness.

Not letting anything mess with her, not tradition, not innovation.

Highly compact observational critiques: "a fetish object appears as previous centuries."

Philosophical and even mathematical preoccupations beautifully unwinding in the poetry.

Making poetic use of indigestion. A meditation on the Borg. Making poetic use of anything…

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