East Meets West in Venice (Beach)

Reading Room: offering up the palace bards  –

The wireless is not difficult to understand. The ordinary telegraph
is like a very long cat. You pull the tail in New York,
and it meows in Los Angeles. The wireless is the same,
only without the cat.

-Albert Einstein

Post-Apocalyptic Looting never materialized, but there was plenty rapturously poetic plunder to be had Friday evening, the 20th of May, 2011 at Beyond Baroque Literary Center in Venice Beach. In the house, four women squared off to read from recent and/or upcoming works: Amy Holman and Martha Rhodes representing New York hip; Dorothy Barresi and Stephanie Brown boosting some righteous California cool. I can’t think of any better way to celebrate the end of the world (or impending doom, which ever comes first) than to sit in the dark with a group of strangers/fellow travelers, listening to poetry “instruct and delight”.

Bizarre Headlines inspired much of Amy Holman’s most recent work, Wrens Fly Through This Opened Window, from Somondoco Press, June 2010. Wrens Fly InStarting out with a poem about an unsuspecting woman’s very peculiar encounter with a “burglar” who broke into her apartment, cut open her couch, and waited inside until she literally sat on him, startling them both, the poems are not only rendered with supreme clarity and wit, but they are heartily entertaining and quite funny. Holman’s comment after reading this poem: “I just don’t think someone who breaks into your apartment and hides in your couch is a burglar!”

Then there was the peculiar adventures of the alligator-wrestling pastor, and the  curious case of  “1500 Parakeets Rescued from 2-room Apartment” by cops who arrested the lonely retiree who had captured and bred them, and who had let them fly freely throughout his tiny living space: “Seven hours of casting nets and foul words,/ then releasing to shelters in Berlin and outlying./ I write in a 2-room apartment and find/ all the perches parakeets take purchase/ of from shelves to frames to cluttered mind/ and the screeching has no volume control./ It has verses, beats, and searches/ for more — a hole, or the sky to extol?/ They must have flown in shifts.”

In marrying the specific, outlandish details to her own lyrical perceptions, Holman creates something wistful and full of wonder. Part freak show, part searing insight, each poem offers up a concise narrative outside of the “ordinary” range of experience, in which she uncovers the circus that is the human condition, and exposes it (gently) to the light of her piercing intellect.  Light-hearted, but not light-weight, Holman’s poems are euphonious and mentally stimulating, curious, un-jaded, and I really liked her work.

Spiritual Judgment Day – what self-respecting apocalypse prediction could be allowed to lapse, unnoticed, unmentioned? In honor of the occasion, the second poet to read, Dorothy Barresi, started out with the title poem from her second book, The Post-Rapture Diner: “A thought you cannot call back, / and empty shoes like/ exclamation points/ on every road from here to Tucson”… “and all we know of the present/ is a spatula in a coffee can/ on a cold grill, pointing to heaven.” Always compelling, Barresi’s work questions, ponders, probes, and turns the world (and the status quo) over in the mouth like a SweeTart.

American FanaticsSomeone in the audience requested “It Is Good To Be Amongst Catholics Again,” which is also my favorite poem from her newest book,  American Fanatics, (University of Pittsburgh Press, August 2010), a poem that studies the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles: “Where I live: / a tentacular metropolis/ of adorable desires. // Where I’ll die: the tiny proscenium/ of my open grave’s/ dirt apron, crying ‘mommy, please,’ // to little effect.” As the piece builds “a cathedral of expletives,” it summarily derails the “mysteries” of a logo-centric institution. Speaking directly to the angst of an entire generation, the next poem, “John Lennon’s Lips,” carries the weight of shared experience: “In the hour of vindication,/ the least obvious question. Are you still you? // The ambulance attendant/ sways back and forth/ holding a spray of tubes and ready oxygen above the bleeding answer/ because our conveyance is artless/ in its speeding dispatch/ and traffic, even at the hour of death, remains heavy.” Profoundly stilling and centered, Barresi’s work provides an arresting contrast to Holman’s.

Next in the sequence was Stephanie Brown, another “California-domiciled” poet whose book, Domestic Interior, (2008, also from the University of Pittsburgh Press),  closely examines the “secret spaces of marriage, parenthood, and knowledge,” among other things.  With all their peccadilloes exposed, we find ourselves riveted to “the neighbors,” vicariously listening to “The Satanists Next Door,” which Brown deadpanned, effecting something between documentary and stand-up: “What is that? Is that a kid? Is that Tom?// No, it’s her. // Eew, I think that’s a whip./ No, it’s a hand coming down hard./ No, listen, there’s like a wind-sound to it.” Keenly observed, this poem imagines crepuscular pillow-talk between partners who find themselves unwitting(?) voyeurs, witnesses to some of life’s grittier moments, as one of the two speakers speculates: “Whatever you think is happening, it’s not happening./” The penultimate conclusion: “It sort of scares me./ Freedom of religion./ Yeah, you’re right./ And we have the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the other side. It balances things./” (Which drew a laugh from the audience.)

“See, e.g., Hildegarde, Fatima, Blake, McLuhan,” another keenly observed, conversational poem, starts out: “The ditto sheet recopied each year was your teacher’s piece of wisdom.” Masquerading as a friendly little chat, ” ‘If you want to look thinner, you need to carry a big purse,’ she told me, casually. ‘I was reading that.’ ” the poem delivers “that received wisdom” in “Visions of the afterlife, the future, the past:/ Castles and mansions, spirits — / Their words hang on them like talons, starting to grasp.”

End Times — concluding the evening’s program,  Martha Rhodes presented a sneak preview of her upcoming book, The Beds, due out in 2012, from Autumn House Press. Delivered forcefully, her imagery spare and clean, and her language accessible, the work examines relationships that are imploding, in effect, bringing an “apocalypse” to us, after all. For the attentive audience, an auspicious event, indeed.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks! I’m glad you liked the post, Amy! I rather enjoyed sitting in the dark, inside the “black box,” listening. I think the aural aspect of poetry gets way too little attention. After all, isn’t that at least half the fun?


  2. Well, Ann, I have to say I rather like this post. And I’m happy that you like my poems so much. I think it is a good thing to review poetry you hear at readings, too. It invites people to the live action of the genre, the simple pleasures of being there in its performance.


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