Thursday, June 09, 2011

Ongoing notes: early June, 2011

House-sitting in Old Ottawa South again, this week. See, here I am, writing away at the Starbucks (I know, I know...).

Keep your eye on: the literary component of WESTFEST, as I read fiction alongside Jon Paul Fiorentino, Gabriela Goliger and others on June 11; a reading I'm doing at mother tongue books with Pearl Pirie and Monty Reid on June 16; the Toronto Small Press Fair I'll have a table at on June 19th; the ottawa small press book fair, June 25, with pre-reading the night before at the Carleton Tavern. Where will you be for all of this? At all those places, I'd hope. I'm even doing a reading in Perth on August 12 with Christine McNair, if you can wait that long.

Vancouver BC: Presented as a talk on a series of readings is Vancouver writer Michael Turner's pamphlet Three Readings: Camera, Tape and Sound (Kathy Acker, Steve McCaffery/bpNichol, and Kevin Davies, as introduced by George Bowering) (Wednesday, January 12, 2011) as part of Western Front's “Past is Prologue” series, “an ongoing research project considering the Western Front Media Archive.”
The literary reading is a relatively recent phenomenon. Implying a written text, it is closer to Gutenberg than the pre-contact conveyance of Salish myths and legends or the Homeric tradition of poetic oration. Words spoken from a page, as opposed to those that come remembered.

As a reader and a writer I have participated in hundreds of literary readings. Sometimes I look forward to them; other times they fill me with dread. In preparing my visit to the Western Front Media archive, I chose to focus on the collection's literary program, curious to see if the documentation of readings at a centre known for interdisciplinarity differs from those at a literary festival or a writers' club.

What follows are three instances where a reading and its documentation combine to form a third event. The first focuses on the camera; the second on the videotape; the third on the relationship between what is seen and what is heard.
The fact itself that such is happening is astounding enough, as so many artist-run centres seem to be unaware of what exactly they're sitting on, given such staff turnover over the years. In Ottawa alone, I've witnessed both Saw Gallery/Video and Gallery 101 participating in such purges of their archives, as the first sold off, among other items, three first edition copies of Michael Ondaatje's Governor-General's Award-winning The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970) for fifty cents each (a book that, at the time, went for roughly $700 on Gallery 101, on the other hand, simply handed items out or left them on the curb to be collected, for their lack of space.

We now have decades worth of artist-run centres and literary readings in Canada; one can only admire Turner and Western Front, infamous for various literary readings over the years, including a large Talonbooks poetry launch in 1980, enormously for attempting to not only keep the records, but critically explore those same archives. In the first section, “Camera,” Turner explores a reading by Kathy Acker on February 2, 1977 from what would become The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec by Henri Toulouse Lautrec (1978). The second, “Tape,” writes of The Four Horsemen reading on November 21, 1977, and the third, “Sound,” explores a benefit reading for MacLeod's Books on October 22, 1983, focusing specifically on the segment by Kevin Davies.
The relationship between McCaffery and Nichol's performance and the deficiencies of the tape is uncanny, with the initial buckle acting as both muse and omen, or a transformational device that sets the stage for what is to come. Prefacing their performance is a story Nichol told at the conclusion of his Martyrology reading. When asked why his poem contained so many references to God, Nichol replied: “I decided a long time ago that anything that came into the poem I would leave in the poem. So I suppose that's in the way of explanation, not an apology.” What came into the documentation of McCaffery and Nichol's poem was just that.
One can only hope that this project continues, and possibly makes its way into some further printed documents, whether as an online archive of texts, and/or even a book-length study of the literary activity at The Western Front. If we don't understand just what it is we've done, what's the point of doing any more?
While a literature exists on the documentation of performance art (the performance document as object and the anxieties that result), I have found nothing on literary readings and their relationship to the (video) camera. One explanation could be the predictability of the format: the author, attached to the podium, reading from a text as if it were a script, one the audience might well be familiar with. A format such as this has little need of a camera operator; one merely presses “record.”
England: I recently received a small assortment of chapbooks by smallminded books, produced and curated by Stride editor/publisher Rupert Loydell, barely large enough to notice.

The Abyss: an apology for god's nightclub.
A calumny, a glorious denunciation of its
permutation on a kerygma: incomprehensible octagon.

In retrospect, it was always dark as anthracite,
propelled to decipher its reversion to

So a penultimate home –
penultimate glorious calumny –
now The Anthracite nightclub. (Mike Ferguson)
Putting large poems in tiny spaces, I now own the splay and splendour of Peter Finch's The Insufficiency of Christian Teaching On the Subject of Common Emotional Problems (2011), the odd and sharp containments of Mike Ferguson's Found In Dissonance (2011), the wordplay of Richard Kostelanetz's Doublefulcra 2 (2011) and the wonderment of John Levy's Imagine A Whale (2011).
thoughts, she replied, are
like looking at a moving
whale with a magnifying
glass. (John Levy)
I can't find any real internet reference to these small items, although a review of one of Levy's previous in the same series exists here. These small, odd chapbooks remind in part of the Poems-For-All series out of California, tiny booklets small enough to leave in the most unlikely places, created as much for the sake of discovering new poetry audiences as astounding longtime readers. Just how long has he been making these, and how are they distributed?

Philadelphia PA: Recently in the mail, I received the most lovely letterpress object, Agnes Fox Press' sold out and numbered edition of fifty (I have number 19), Philadelphia poet Hailey Higdon's I WRESTLE HOME THE PAPERS (May, 2010). Produced as a five-page accordion strip, her meditation begins:

I wrestle home the papers.
I do.
Your divorced tendencies make you.
They make you.

He says: like baking cookies
you already put in the sugar
you can't get it out now
you have to throw away the whole batch

This is such a lovely piece, and I'm tempted to quote the entirety of such, being that it's short enough, but I won't, allowing it some future space to breathe on its own; considering they went out of print so quickly, might Agnes Fox Press produce another run? I'm caught by the thoughtfulll sadness of this small piece, encountering tweaks of loss, absence, blame, through the suggestion of divorce papers, and the possibility that eventually the feelings of loss will be gone, and the possibilities that this might, in fact, be entirely worse. Higdon, a pre-kindergarten teacher and poet living in Philly, is also the author of the poetry blog Palinode Project, as well as the Agnes Fox Press chapbook How To Grow Almost Everything (February, 2011), which I haven't yet seen. I am intrigued by what else she is capable of.

is it because I stopped meditating?
is that why I feel so asleep all the time?

why do
I have the urge to press my face against babies?

be near their heads and smell them?

this is a shape
I draw it with my fingers

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