Impressions: Brooklyn Poets Anthology Launch, 4/20/17
Our Reviews Editor, Peter Longofono, gathers here his thoughts and real-time impressions of a reading to celebrate the launch of the anthology, a collaboration between Brooklyn Arts Press and Brooklyn Poets. Disclosure: he has some poems published in the anthology. Opinions are entirely his and do not reflect Coldfront at large. All photos courtesy Phillip Sohn.
Joe and Jason: Gentlemen at Arms
Earlier this month, on a halting and uncertain but definitely springlike evening, I biked at the behest of Joe Pan and Jason Koo to the launch reading for the just-released Brooklyn Poets Anthology. It took place in Smack Mellon, an arts and events space just south of the waterfront in DUMBO. It’s a cavernous, polished-industrial room, flooded with scenery through factory windows, bedecked with fascinating installation pieces; filled with poets and their guests, it took on more convivial airs and shepherded the gaze towards the featured readers as they took the stage. What follows are my snapshot, scribbled recollections of each poet’s performance, a single poem apiece. I hope to return to that space, and the words of each writer, many times in the coming years.
A lip-forward reader: vowels travel the length of his mouth and receive consonants (shape) at the last second. Rapid, three-four word bursts, as if there isn’t enough time for the poem, but most of it would do if he could cram. Sense of “the record”: let it show, let it be known. An easy take would be The Meanderer; he’s more of an intent gazer who chooses to look elsewhere only after having exhausted or whittled the object. One quality rescued from a lattice, the joy of the found or rediscovered. Battered sincerity. Incredibly taut, chambered, next-worldly qualifiers.
Excellent, this-side-of-music phrasing: the bemusement of having to follow a different and increasingly unrelated phrase. Poem as memory palace; not just in being read, but being remembered, being memorable. She truly gets the wry humor of choosing to use a simile: “follow me, we aren’t going back there and we definitely aren’t going backwards at all.” Lovely inward, clipped (quipped?) vocal aspect, as if encountered in the middle of reciting the poem only to herself. A word-tumbler: they pour out from each other, they are not after all randomized, there is pleasure in their succession. The poem abrupts to a shuddering stop.
SARAH JEAN GRIMM
A poet of keen visual signifiers: subsisting, erosive, innate. Sonics make frequent use of F, B, M, and S sounds: declamatory territory, the mouth standing in for the body, consonants as wayfinders. Her lines engage a kind of paranoia, but a ruminative one, a recursive concern with necessity expressed through layers—listener as consumer/consumptive. Where embodiment is concerned, a piercing question hurts; not so much weaponized as scrutinizing/suspicious of concealed weapons. Rhetorical questions arrayed in sequence like hormonal or electrochemical packages of need.
PATRICIA SPEARS JONES
Refreshingly mic-aware! Palliative for a common poets’ performance problem. Her timbre asserts and reasserts itself cyclically—it’s always on your mind, how she means to mean, lathering itself up with delicious inevitability. Like Ponge. Single-syllable fireworks: spoken syllabics launched to burst overhead, to flame just once. A poem about (severe) weather does well to channel inhuman repetition, fearsomely and exhaustively relentless. The tongue behaving like the lash; the ear withstanding and frightened. Performed behavior confronts one’s inner nature/narrative, proceeding from without to soak or burrow inward.
Finally a poem in straight (crooked?) humor! A knowing, winking affair—a series of gut-busting lines appropriately arranged within a gustatory conceit. A stance, a wickedness! Stand-up comedians have the hardest, least forgivable working atmosphere; poem as heckle, poem as being fed up. Would be fascinating to take down a noun list from each of her poems: signifiers of character, but also self-contradictory things or objects behaving as signification. Can the reader/listener editorialize? Hilarious, the list poem transmuted to the grocery list poem. A provocation: are you not hungry?
DAVID TOMAS MARTINEZ
Nouns before: now facts. Facts as finials, self-dissemblage, exoskeletal meaning shells. By the process of unmaking (of being laid bare), these lines “make” themselves in front of you, and languidly, like beds for other people. Who sleeps here? Martinez loves the one. word. at. a. time. cadence, an affect amplified in every sense by the microphone. We are made to wait, and thereby made to appreciate—but hear how these expensive/precious/artisan words are presented—as soon as we perceive them, they’re dropped to dramatically shatter. There’s his poem: excellent terminal verbs. Warnings. Don’t assume.
What about a poem that makes you want to laugh, but uncomfortably? Not one or the other: both: mic control, lassoing two unlike emotional registers with just one voice. Anaphora shaded/blended into ecclesia…ritual consumption, yes, but ensconced in a WHAT THE FUCK setting or backdrop. Unavoidability, loudness, liberal pepper. The self undertakes to surprise and is disappointed: how to represent that fulcrum? Hearing a poem is hearing the message, but how does the hidden message obtain? Poem experienced, but not necessarily perceived (poem about unnecessariness). Extraordinary application of the imperative as discovery. Sharp, honed humanism for tone.
An overlong poem for the format, but it knows and has already made the decision. Acerbic, but welcoming: is that not Brooklyn? A strong, capable voice: some will take it as misophonia, others as ASMR. Old Brooklyn! Small, wisecracking, wrinkly, disarmingly handsome. An “empty street” poem—wasn’t this a thoroughfare just hours ago? Well, what happened? The palimpsest, the formality of being old enough to remember, the ancient wound. An exquisite patience, having to work all one’s life, the almost-extinct love for the burden; again with the memory cues, wonderment quickly spoiling into the harsh discovery. Loves clustered consonants with one signifying vowel: a tight, miserly language.
Another long, almost too-long, straight narrative poet. Does well to summon and sustain listenability—remember the story (do you remember?). A different mode, though: despite the somber subject, he is in many ways the essential belt-adjuster, the dad-joker. Take comfort, what you’re about to hear might be hard. But make what you can from your surroundings: the narrative poet’s mantra, how poems borrow from fiction and the fireplace without sucking their significance dry. That’s care. This is a poem that cares enough to catalogue details, though the person they’d have meant the most to died in the poem’s telling. So make the poem about them.
A thin, exasperated poem filigreed with archness. “Go ahead, ask me. Say something, idiot.” Lines dropped almost accidentally, but still sizzling, and so what. Nonplussed. Implosive. Waiting to be called out, or just addressed—thus the ear turns superhumanly sharp, against its will. There’s humor here, too, but of the needle variety, meant to implant its humor in you, then draw it right back out from you. Deeply extrapolatory, concerned with the NATURE of humor. The sidestep, the bait-and-switch, the upended expectation. Able to step out and re-constitute, mid-poem, such that the reader finds themselves looking at something altogether different by its end.
The phrase “bullshit!” Here’s how it is: deal. Or, here’s how it was, you coward. Disgust morphs to bemusement, then to pensiveness, then to “how did this happen?” A performance of agency to interrogate a telling absence of agency. Nested “as if”s: yielding to each other, a discursive engine. Familial! A playwright’s sense of dialogue: characters irrupt. Know that culture doesn’t just happen to us; it’s constructed. Because of that, I can define myself. I can know myself. Even beyond “because of that”: there is a better way, a way that doesn’t sigh and take place as receptacle only. NOT JUST A LANGUAGE RECEPTACLE. Even (especially) in the poem. But how does the past know the future? Intimately! By language? Prefiguration? Prophecy?
Slice of life. I’ll talk, you laugh. Let me situate you: patterns, fulfillment, tropes. A walking poem, and more than that, a neighborly poem (“here’s what I know, and it might be that you should, too”). Help with this excavation; be witness. Nouns and facts don’t stop hurting just because they’re found—the act of finding doesn’t necessarily exculpate the finder. Don’t get it twisted. Live, and be, be fully, but know. The known life. The examined life. The life that proceeds whether or not those hold true. You can abstract a neighborhood, but what does that do to its essential, compositional fixtures? Its foundations? These tell—of themselves. They are telling. Listen better.