Poor Baby Bree

A cabaret act / descent into madness, Poor Baby Bree is constructed from recovered vaudeville songs, rescued from the landfill of sheet music stores, dating from as early as the 1850s up to the 1920s and 30s. Bree Benton and Franklin Bruno (piano) have created a kind of one-woman show by building a narrative around the stories in these rescued songs. Apparently, some of the spoken text is also appropriated, so the project approaches being Oulipo musical theater, though as with a Harry Mathews novel, it's not necessary to know this ahead of time to understand the performance. The story concerns a young waif experiencing conflicted emotions while running away from home in an attempt to join the circus. Benton channels a child consciousness caught between states of being, with singing as the one recourse truly available to her. The circus always travels just ahead, forever out of reach, an entity perhaps also known as show business. The home she has run away from was dominated by a cruel mother, a cycle of abuse she repeats unknowingly in her relationship with her dolls.

Poor Baby Bree is a strange and riveting hour-and-a-half immersion into the conflicts born not out of a failed individuation, but of a twisted one, manifest in the interstices of cultural time travel, where a dauntingly remote choice of materials and an artificiality of presentation collides with a powerful unbroken chain of affect that you can’t take your eyes off for a second. I never once doubted Benton's tears. She is a serious actress performing totally absurd material. The contours of the resulting content -- strong emotions activating sincerity simultaneously with an alienated distance of communication -- have some surprising shape shifts, including a tender and realistic conversation with a cardboard owl whose only means of expression are his eyelids, lovingly manipulated by Benton herself. The embraced contradictions of the material, message, and presentation were at their most startling when Benton smeared herself with a sticky dirt, releasing the aroma of the chocolate cake icing that the original sign of the "dirt" referenced.

As it turns out, moving only your eyes for expression may be more than enough, just as rooting through musty sheet music and stringing bits of text together to create a meditation on the relation of loneliness and the need for expression may be more than enough. It all seems surprisingly natural coming from a collector's (or art lover's) mind. In fact, a collector's mind might just be a talent for channeling the history of some other kind of speech, or some other era.


I'm feeling like a snail in the ocean. 


Adeena Karasick, Bowery Poetry Club, 3.14.09

Adeena Karasick provided sustained tonal variation and a broad sense of overall contour with more fun, funny, exuberant, "performatively-oriented" giving-a-shit about the audience than I was prepared for. It was the best reading I've seen her give. This is not a situation where you show up to listen and prove you care about poetry despite the lack of aptitude or interest the poet shows in getting the material over to you. Karasick cares enough to put on a good show and she wants to be loved and is going to damn well prove to you that you should love her, at least for as long as she's on the stage.

Clearly she gives slam poets a run for their money, and I don't consider slam performance anything to sneeze at. She's a sometimes compelling and explosive ham on the same level of talent as say, Edwin Torres, and she has the dangers and challenges that come along with this fact. I could feel her fighting to not fall into a formula, which I've seen her do, and the energy this fight released infused the room with a kind of humming expectant warmth that destroyed any trace of the lingering dread which sometimes creeps upon me at a poetry reading that I might be facing new variations on the old tune of fatigue-inducement as indicator of poetic seriousness and value. Not a bit of it, folks.

There were two highlights. One a flarfy search and replaced dating advice poetics repurposing of The Rules. So much of Flarfiness is sustainability, cultural repurposing, recycling, and finding alternate poetic energy sources. A kind of eco-poetry. (cue John Latta tantrum!) The prose rhythm of this new piece shows that Karasick can deploy tonal effects keyed directly to placement and shifts in content, even though much of her work is pitched from a place where the performance insists on it's modulations despite or against variations in material the way someone might insist you join them for a drink after work tomorrow and you know they might or might not show up, leaving you with plenty to think about either way. Mixing these approaches broadened the performance horizon considerably. The other high point, and the outro, was also a detournment, this time of the Dance Pop Obama Girl, pulled from the landfill and remade into a hilarious love song "I've got a crush on Osama," as good as anything on John Stewart or the Kootenay channel. It's amazing what one word change can lead to.



I sat at my desk today and went out

it’s a disaster
these things appear before night
you have the whole world to yourself

now we hate these little things
I get these flecks of rage
I am very lucky

I thought I’d get down to business
I went to the local place
to get some things
I’ll think about these at a later date
I haven’t experienced them yet
I’m sure there will be
no trace of them tomorrow

The liquid isn’t sticky or confused
I move several times a day
directly toward the problem

I can see this will last a while
I’m sure my other half
will use its hands for this

it’s a good thing
as it makes things change.
You can get a kind of face or head
though it doesn’t
really seem worth it.
I can see how this would be
very useful for people
who need to get there.

I got home and took one out
that was about three hours ago,
I just looked in the mirror
and my head was there again
you are like me

there is a range waiting for me
I would never use
washing my hands and looking
into the future
it was no problem
you can pull
this into the new range that
meets the beautiful sounds,
like a silver shaped cylinder
floating outside your bedroom window

What was that in the mirror?
My face?
like coming home after a training course
just as it’s beginning,
be careful not to shine too brilliantly here
or something important could roll away
the liquid inside yourself
control is a beautiful thing

from Petroleum Hat
originally in Daniel Bouchard's Magazine The Poker