Time: 4:30 PM
Interview with curators Andrew Durbin and Christie Ann Reynolds.
1. Tell us a little bit about your organization.
TOTEM is a poetry + film/other series curated by Christie Ann Reynolds and Andrew Durbin at Brooklyn’s La Sala, which is the performance space located behind Cantina Royal. It is presented in conjunction with Jeanann Dara’s production company, Loneliness as Style.
TOTEM was inspired by the increasing number of poets who have started to incorporate various visual and sonic media into their work to increase the performativity of their work’s presentation—and the fact that La Sala can project images on all three walls of the performance space. The audience is in the performance, in a kind of flat 3-D space.
We are a unique series because we ask participants to create performances specifically for TOTEM. We often pair a poet with a video artist or musician in hopes that their collaboration will generate something wild and uncontained—an experience that can’t necessarily be duplicated. Or, we ask a particular poet to scaffhold their work in digital media to create an interactive performance or film. We are interested in revolutionizing the ‘reading,’ which is so often derided as repetitious or boring. And for us TOTEM is a total risk: we often don’t see the final performance until the week or day of the event. As curators, this feels both daring and exciting.
2. Who is reading in your slot at the festival and why?
James Yeh, a fiction writer who is a founder of Gigantic has been paired with Gigantic resident artist Andrew Bulger. Yeh’s pieces are often very visual and full of simple yet striking imagery. Since we won’t have technical capabilities on the island, Bulger will be creating hand-drawn visuals to accompany Yeh’s reading. The two have worked closely before; Bulger has paired his simplistic yet emotional line drawings with Yeh’s pieces in the form of chapbooks and pamphlets. Their dynamic and friendship is obvious and to see them collaborate in a unique and somewhat DIY environment shouldn’t be missed!
Bryan Beck read his poems to a tough crowd (think: mid-day, Midtown, room without windows, terrible overhead lighting) at the CUNY Chapbook Festival and won us over with his space, baseball and alien poems. His reading was intense and captivating—yet endearing. The backdrop of the festival will be perfect for his energy.
3. Who else are you looking forward to seeing at the festival?
We’re very excited to see everyone that excites us when we see them.
4. Did you attend the festival last year? If so, what was your favorite thing about it?
Andrew did. He loved the heat, which was overwhelming. He also liked the overlap of readings—you often couldn’t hear anyone because the stages were so close. It was like listening to three or four poetry readings at once. After awhile, this experience became pleasantly exhausting so he went to the water to look at lower Manhattan and think about how different and yet similar lower Manhattan and American poetry are: multi-featured and monolithic. Later that evening he went to a rooftop party in TriBeCa, where he could see Governor’s Island. It was very quiet for a party and almost the inverse of the afternoon. He saw how different and yet similar Governor’s Island and American poetry are: dark and isolated.
Christie Ann did not attend the festival because she was traipsing around Europe—but is very proud of her fellow New Schooler’s Stephanie Berger and Nicholas Adamski for turning late night Café Loup conversations and dreams into the Poetry Brothel and The New York Poetry Society. They’ve completely gone beyond expectation—beyond the days when we were setting up Poetry Brothels in the basements of art galleries in Bushwick and when our props were lamps and decorations from our apartments and bedrooms. The performance “rooms” were literally made out of hanging tapestries and curtains and now they’re putting on festivals for the entire poetry community and performing all over the world.
5. Why is live poetry important?
Live poetry is important because poems are given other lives and forms when read aloud—when heard by the poet who wrote the piece. A voice can give a poem an entirely new emotion, or one that was not initially felt by a silent reading. A voice can also lend thinking an emotive, performative quality that is often absent on the page. It is also important because an audience may fall hard and fast for a poet after a reading and keep on the lookout for their published work or begin to follow their career. Live readings help establish community and critical ideas.