September 25, 2005

Geoffrey Dyer, The Dirty Halo of Everything (SF: Krupskaya, 2003). 79 pages. $11.
I picked this up from the library because it was one of the few more promising poetry books in the collection from the past couple of years.
Dirty Halo opens in the middle ["Since then there has been wind" (11)] and meanders slowly through an extended dreamscape collision of image/objects (snakes, balloons, ponies...). There were a few instances where I felt less than convinced: I think all poets who've read any theory at all should avoid using words like "signify" flatly; the big B second line page 38 looks every bit like bad proofreading; and other snippy, taste based complaints that sometimes make me put books down. However, my perseverance was rewarded by an onslaught of nice twists and surprises:
"Who is inside, that won't let me in? Do you think I'm a homeless person? I'm Geoff. I lost a house, and gained a city. So what if we are not inside" (57).
Overall, a solid first book.
Amiri Baraka, Somebody Blew Up America (Philipsburg, St. Martin: House of Nehesi, 2003). 56 pages.
It seems strange that such a slender volume would need a 17 page introduction given the poet's already long-standing controversial reputation. Baraka may in fact be the progenitor of the in your face, giving the public exactly what it doesn't want to hear poetics that was somehow coopted then watered down into the seldom surprisng spoken word movement. Here, Baraka is once again unapologetically in your face and violently surprising. The fact a majorty of his readership will have already formed their opinion of the work -- for or against -- before they open a single page should not diminish what Baraka is trying to accomplish in this collection.
The book opens with a short series of poems centered around the assassination of Malcolm X and ends with the title poem and his rebuttal to calls for him to step down as the Poet Laureate of New Jersey. An interesting choice of brackets as both focus on history changing events involving Muslims with national repercussions. The book taken as a whole is a blistering attack against establishment America: "Ugly is the first letter of where you is. / Satan begin with a S. / Put together they is money ... / You ugly because you eat everybody and belch / Hollywood" (24-5).



September 19, 2005

New Yipes! at 21 Grand, Oakland

Hats off to new curator David Larsen and curatorial trooper Cynthia Sailers, and their decision of name switch from the problematic New Brutalism to New Yipes!. Last night's poetry reading was a nice mix of striaght-up reading, video and yes, over-head-projectorism. It deviated from the usual dry dynamic of most poetry readings; that is, it was entertaining and fun.

Cedar Sigo read new and not-so-new material, including some collaboration works written with friends. Overall, he held a good presence, gave the work a good sonic interpretation, and when I can figure out how (and get his permission) I will have a link here to a recording of one of his poems from the reading.

In between the two poets were five short animated films from LA video artist Kelly Sears. Sears' work is dominated with a sense of play and in parts an overturning of classic heavy metal iconograpghy: wizards, Led Zep, etc...

Kathleen Fraser began with a reading of visual wall work, assisted by Mr. Larsen on the over-head. While the reading of the material at times didn't seem to correspond to the layout of the text in any exact manner, it was great to see a visual element presented.

Afterwards, there was document footage from the 70s of Fraser at the Poetry Center that not only linked Fraser's and the Bay's poetic past to the night's activities, but also was a solid step towards upgrading the concept of curating a poetry reading series.

Afterwards, Fraser read two serial poems culminating in a series exploring De Koonig and Fraser's mother's experience with alzheimer's. A very emotonal work without being marred by over-sentimentality.

A solid reading. If more reading series brought as much to an evening, Bay Area reading series could expect more than an audience of other poets.



September 15, 2005

Cole Swenson, Goest (Alice James, 2004). 63 pages, $13.95.
Anne Waldman already tells us on the back cover that Goest and ghost sound alike, so no need to repeat. The Saint James form of the verb reflects the subject matter as Swenson deep-dives into the archives to find obscure historical references to advance the over-arching idea of civil progress and homogenization, most heavily reflected in the history of artificial light and its inherent, far-reaching developments.
For example (pulled at random), "John Muller's iron dragonfly, who flew, and his artficial eagle, who went out / ahead to meet the Emperor Maximilian, June 7, 1470" offers a Poundian insight without the Poundesque heavy-handedness into the creation of automata, ie. perpetual motion machines (pre-robots?) (39).
The middle section, "A History of the Incandescent" (19-52), chronicles the incredibily small but important steps that led to lighting the streets of London among other lighting advances. Swenson writes that "Any liquid can be weighed by its resistance; / it's like falling into history, which misses you" (33) ["The Invenntion of the Hydrometer"], calling our attention to the vast amount of things we simply take for granted: streetlights, Edison, etc.
She also calls into question the value of writing: "We aim a piece of graphite / at vellum and it stains. Beyond every window is a line where the world starts" (51).
Outside the graphite stained sheet of paper, yes.



September 11, 2005

Last night's 21 Grand outdoor benefit at 3rd Street and Clay offered more than a few nice moments, as about a dozen video artists and at least double as many musicians played simultaneously competing for the audience's attention. While I'm not 100% convinced by the product of the experiment, the fact that the 21 Granders tried it at all is commendable.


September 8 , 2005

Sergei Eisenstein, Film Form (NY: Harcourt Brace, 1949; repr. 1969)

Flipping through the Soviet director's collection of essays that I found while digging through the mountains of 70s crap-lit at the local Goodwill. I think the same ten copies of The Late Great Planet Earth are there from three years ago. Even for only a quarter, who buys these books? Well, okay me, but only on occasion when there's the rare find.

Eisenstein hits on everything from Japan's simultaneous usage of various writing systems, Kabuki theater, Dickens, and yes cinema. His main early theories center around the notion of "montage" or more roughly placing two images together. Not in the surrealist mode of slapping them together the-world-is-blue-like-an-orange style, but similar, using two images together to create a reaction in the viewer. Rewatching 1925's Strike or 27's October will give you a better idea of what he means.

He praises haiku and tanka poetry as perfect examples of this method, quoting Yone Noguchi: "it is the readers who make the haiku's imperfection a perfection of art."

This leaves a lot of responsibilty on the reader. My recent perusal of current poetry journals in the local college library makes me wonder how much trust most contemporary poets have in their audience as many (a majority of?) poems seem to be following a spell-it-all-out poetics.