Thursday, April 12, 2007
when my friends from back home in Kansas City and i were in high school, we were all ominvorous when it came to artistic media. each of us would devour Rimbaud, Morbid Angel, Altman, Paul Klee, etc. with equal vigor. somehow we found the time and energy to study up on all the arts. over the years, you sometimes have to choose though. it's not a bad thing, but now, instead of all of us being experts on music, film, art, books, etc., we've kind of divided things up. these days i classify my KC friends as the books and movies crowd, and i, as you can probably guess, hold down the music fort.
anyway, this is all by way of introducing my thoughts on a poetry reading i attended last night at St. Marks Church w/ my friend Kyle W. from KC. i used to read a lot of poetry, but i've kind of fallen off over the years. whatever i've checked out in this latest phase of living has almost always been on Kyle's recommendation. he's turned me on to a ton of stuff ("lifer" DFSBP readers might remember this post on the poet Ben Lerner, one of his most sterling tips), much of centered around the Black Mountain school--folks like Charles Olson, Robert Creeley and Ed Dorn.
Kyle's got a special connection with this stuff b/c for years he's been studying at the University of Kansas with the poet Kenneth Irby. i'm not sure if Irby actually did time at Black Mountain College, but he was tight with the aforementioned folk and a ton of other important avant-garde artists. so Kyle's been researching Dorn--best known for "The Gunslinger," which from the little i've read i take to be a sort of existential Western (that just reminded me of the book "Existential Sheriff" that pops up in Thomas Pynchon's "V"; i read that book like a decade ago and remember pretty much nothing other than that detail)--or more specifically he's looking into the time Dorn spent in Lawrence, KS, where KU is located.
Lawrence is a really awesome town and i have a lot of history there. not only did i attend several summers' worth of Roy Williams basketball camp there, but my friends and i made countless pilgrimages to KC from there (the drive is about 40 minutes) to see bands at the Bottleneck, the Granada and other awesome venues. i remember a particularly awe-inspiring triple bill of June of 44, Rex and Boys Life at the Bottleneck, where Doug Scharin drummed for both Jo44 and Rex. Scharin probably inspired me to want to play more than any drummer back in the day.
anyway, but i digress. so Kyle's studying Dorn and his time in Lawrence. Kyle and his family have always had a lot of Midwest pride. his family owns this plot of land way out in the country in an area called the Flint Hills. i think i may have only been out there once but it was pretty amazing. i'm not much of a camper, but this ruled: singing Clutch songs around the fire and towing Kyle's Jeep out of the mud.
ANYWAY (i promise for real this time), so Kyle's Midwest pride became even stronger when he met Irby b/c the latter was able to connect the former's twin loves of poetry and the Midwest and was able to teach him about the strong tradition of poets living in and writing about the Midwest. everyone knows that William Burroughs lived in Lawrence, but the town still has a really strong poetry scene, spearheaded by Irby and this journal called First Intensity.
so anyway, yes, the reading... it was great! a lot of it blew right by me, as is often the case with encountering unfamiliar poetry aurally, but some things stuck, especially the personas of the various readers, many of them poets in their own right who knew Dorn. the reading was commemorating the new Dorn collection, Way More West, and people were sharing selections from that. Anne Waldman gave a really sassy and vigorous reading of some Gunslinger excerpts; Rosalie Sorrels teared up as she discussed Dorn's last days and read from Chemo Sabe, Dorn's meditation on battling cancer and chemo; George Kimball read from Dorn's famous "-cide" poem (a litany of puns, inluding: "death by the ocean = seaside"), as well as another piece written about Lawrence's famous Rock Chalk Saloon (i think i'm getting that name right; it was some play on the KU fight song "Rock, Chalk Jayhawk") and the dogs that used to hang out there; ex-Fug Ed Sanders spoke of Dorn's fascination with the cross shape made by the major north-south and east-west highways. all the readers (including Dorn's widow Jennifer Dorn) were pretty much great.
but as expected, the highlight was Amiri Baraka. he was up there for maybe five minutes, but he really made an impression. short and hunched over, he strode fiercely up to the podium and dropped his leather bag with a thump and immediately he started tearing up and just sort of almost pleading with the audience to understand the immense significance Dorn had to him. Baraka spoke of the long letters they used to write back and forth (he stipulated that they were "s=mail," rather than "e-mail") and about how more than ever "we need [Dorn's] voice," in the midst of so much "lugubrious, lying, meretricious" talk. he talked about how Dorn discussed America in "a real funky kind of way" (yeah, i wrote a bunch of this stuff down; it was all too awesome to let slide) and then started to read from one of Dorn's super-incisive anti-government screeds.
he'd stop every few lines to marvel at the directness of Dorn's language, especially a line where Dorn speaks of "never having enough paper" to express what he was trying to get across. Baraka stopped and confronted the audience, saying something like, "do you understand how deep that is? he's saying that it would take more paper than i'll ever have to you tell you how much i hate you fuckers." it was a pretty amazing moment. Baraka also discussed race and how he wasn't used to encountering a white poet with such an honest voice and one that he could relate to so directly. eventually he got so choked up that he just had to walk off. the evening concluded with a DVD snippet of Dorn reading, but Baraka had pretty much stolen the show.
anyway, i've rambled long enough, but i wanted to leave you with this:
this is a reading by Baraka. i wish i knew the date, but i don't; does anyone? this is absolutely one of the most intense pieces of music i've ever heard. it's absolutely ecstatic with rage. you could say it's not music, only spoken word, but check out how dynamic and rhythmic it is. it's more musical than most music in fact. anyway, appropriately, i was turned on to this by Kyle. thanks, man, for that and everything else.