I drove down to Durham on Saturday after a very long night Friday, and on the way I listened to The Sound and the Fury. I got most of the way through Quentin. I’ve read it before– written papers on Quentin’s chapter, used it as material for poetry– but as seems to always happen with these audiobooks, listening to it offered entirely new perspectives. It’s really a great book. I mean, it’s no Mrs. Dalloway, it’s no Ulysses, but for an American it’s pretty good. 😉

Just kidding. I would never say that. The text is just so damn Southern. This charmed, enchanted me when I was younger. I loved it, cried over it. Now its Southernness exasperates me. The crying, the sense of being, like the Compsons, cursed, is still there, but it’s buried, and I want them to do something, say something, save themselves.

So, I drove south to Durham through the wandering wonderings of an idiot, through dapple-lit foliage beginning to turn. I arrived later than I’d hoped, around 6:30, and Kate met me at the door of the Sears Kit cottage she and Maggie rent. It’s a very cute house, all white-washed and humidity-bogged, surrounded by chirping insects. Southern. Brian and Ashley Howe were already there setting up their AV equipment for the performance. I put on make-up and drank vodka and tried to curb my stage fright. We ate dinner together around the kitchen table, Maggie Kate Brian Ashley and I. It felt like home– the familiar layout of the house, sitting around the dinner table together in the evening, Kate and Maggie talking back and forth like a couple who’s been married much longer than they have. I also felt like I’d known Kate and Maggie much longer than I have– like we were all extended family (see, they’re already acclimating to Southern culture!).

People began to arrive, and the first person I remember meeting was Tessa, perhaps because she’s so remarkably beautiful, or perhaps because I hadn’t heard of her before but she had a poise, a self-possessed sparkle, that made me want to learn about her work. She also had a really cute baby. Ken Rumble, Ma and Pa Rumble and Violet arrived– Ken proved that he had good taste in beer by bringing a six-pack of Anchor Steam. I talked to one of Maggie’s fellow grad students at Duke, and Tony and Leigh and Leigh’s parents arrived. People kept piling in, overflowing the reading room. At some point we started the reading. First, Maggie and Kate made announcements about future readings and their search for a larger space, which was definitely in order because at this point the audience was spread out between four rooms. Then Brian and Ashley showed their film, which was 16 minutes. A couple of audience members were freaked out and some were confused, but the majority reacted positively because it was quite a good film. They had also written the music for the film, which Kate and Maggie’s dog Bear was very excited about, although we eventually convinced him that it wasn’t a Wee Sing kinda night. There were some interesting images, and while the film played I kept thinking of how ostracized I’ve felt in Charlottesville, and how nice it is to be able to go to a reading/artshow like this where multiple media are involved and the audience is keyed-up and brings booze.

After the film we had a slightly awkward pause that we had attempted to carefully coordinate during dinner, in which Maggie lit the candles on a surprise birthday cake for Leigh (Tony’s idea, and is he Husband of The Month or what?). I probably don’t need to tell you how I felt about the fact that there was CAKE at my reading. Of course it wasn’t for me, but even better, it was a surprise birthday cake! And I got to eat some!

By this time I’d had two little bottles of vodka and a beer and then as I read I had another beer. And as usual when I read I identified very much with those celebrities who get plastered before they go on talk shows. Because– for me at least– I don’t make my art in order to get up in front of a lot of people and perform some lackluster variation on the script I spent years perfecting on the page.

Before I read I told Tony– in Ken’s presence– that I would prefer it if they heckled me while I read, because I do like friendly heckling (if Justin ever gets the video from the Miami Ohio reading up, you will see that I actively seek out hecklers). Turns out, the Lucipo boys can hardly hold themselves back from heckling. Like many overactive, eager minds, theirs don’t want to sit still and listen passively to whatever schmuck’s inflicting his or her mundane Poetry Voice on them. So it was the perfect dynamic for me– for me as a person, anyway– I read to them and talked to them, and they talked to me and made very impressive Poetry Grunts, and the show went on in a rather unstately fashion. It felt easy, comfortable, and kind– and although the preservation of the audience-author dynamic was minimal, the friendly “so let’s read a poem!” atmosphere was right for me– as a person and as an artist.

I read two poems from my Juvenilia: “50” (p. 76) and “On Red Mountain– October 8, 1994” (20-21). I tried to read them in my Sensitive Poet voice. Then I read from Organic Furniture Cellar (pgs 25, 35, 43, 52-53, 61, 66, 76, 92-93) (seeing all this I wonder how long I went on? It must have been a long time?).

Then it was over and it was a party and I hung out with Brian and Ashley, mostly, and met some nice people, although I did not meet everyone. We went to bed rather late. Then we woke up at a reasonable hour, maybe 10:30, and went to a fancy nice brunch at a French restaurant. I had Eggs Mediterranean, which was sort of like Eggs Benedict but with a slightly spicy tomato sauce and capers instead of Hollandaise. It was very good. I also had lots of coffee. We all had lots of coffee, and our very nice waiter brought Maggie a mimosa (unordered) which I ended up getting to drink because Maggie was too hungover (though eager to drink it, when I tasted it I understood that she was being the Responsible one– I was in no shape to be imbibing mimosas either).

Afterwards we went to Locopops, which is this gourmet Popsicle stand (write-up). I tried the Cardamom and Candied Ginger pop, which was awesome. It tasted like chai, but mellower, and had bits of chewy, spicy candied ginger inside.

After all this eating and being awake it was time to go back to sleep, especially for Kate, who was feeling ill (flu thing). We all took a nice hot/cool kind of Southern nap, which is difficult to describe if you’ve never had one. The bugs are loud and incessant, the light filters lazily through the overgrown trees that block the windows, and it’s so hot that you sweat even when you’re lying completely still. But the fan circulates the air, the sheets are cool and clean, and the leaves rustle and shade. It felt like home.

In mid-afternoon, rested, I decided it was time to start driving home. Kate insisted upon making me food for the journey. The drive itself was much delayed by the fact that I’d locked my keys in my car. If I remember correctly, the last time I did this was when I was dating Aaron, and he made such a huge deal about coming to help me unlock the car with his spare set (he lived like 5 minutes away) that I’ve never done such a terrible thing since. But I guess the training’s wearing off, because there were the keys, in my car, between the driver’s seat and the door. I called Progressive and they sent someone out, and of course it took him 3 minutes to open the car up, although it had taken him about an hour to get to the car.

By this point Maggie and I were alone, petting dogs and getting mosquito bites together on the porch while Kate dog-sat. So I drove Maggie out to where Kate was, and we all hugged goodbye and I drove home. I listened to Quentin’s doomed love for his sister and Jason’s absolutely atrocious monologue, drank V-8 and ate Kate’s chicken sandwich.

Today I went to work, but that’s another story.


About Jessica Smith

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7 Responses to Durham

  1. Michelle Detorie says:

    Wow! It sounds really great … friends, dogs, cake, beer, coffee…I’m glad that you had fun!

  2. Amish Trivedi says:

    That sounds so nice that my eyes have welled up. Sigh…

  3. kathryn l. pringle says:

    o. we still want you to move in.

    and you read for an hour! did it feel like an hour? not for me… but the videotape proves it!

    welcome to lucipo!

  4. csperez says:

    i want to hear you read someday


  5. Steven Fama says:

    Thanks for the report. I’ll pull out OFC this week and read (to myself at least) the pages you read aloud.

  6. Jessica Smith says:

    yeah, it was pretty wonderful. kate, don’t tempt me! (And i’d have to bring the cats… so…)

    I can’t believe it was an hour! I guess that makes up for all the times I was supposed to read for 30 minutes and only read for 15-20. Ha! Sorry to anyone who was bored/put off. (But I’m not very sorry. I had fun and my friends had fun, what could be better?)

    Steve, I think there will eventually be some “best of” film clips online.

  7. Jessica Smith says:

    … and I’ll go read on the West Coast as soon as it’s financially feasible. I like that I haven’t lost much (any?) money on readings in awhile, but that requires that I read w/in driving distance, can stay at someone’s house, and am fed and boozed for free, and some people buy my book. A plane ticket is a whole new level.

    Some places I’d like to read soon are DC, Asheville, Chicago, Buffalo, and here in Charlottesville.

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