“I have nothing to say and I’m saying it and that is poetry as I need it.” Except… it isn’t.

Last night I attended two poetry readings, The Burning Chair reading at The Fall Café in Brooklyn and the Lil Norton reading at St. Mark’s.

The Fall Café was packed– I’d say “standing room only,” but there was barely standing room. Late arriving, I stood by the door and witnessed a strange Faulknerian play by two people sitting near me. I listened to the first reader, Kristi Maxwell, who’s just finished her MFA thesis. There were good lines which promised me that when she’s out of the MFA program her poetry might be revitalized, but as it was, it sounded like it had been sapped of most of its interesting material to keep up with the weird nothingness toward which many MFA programs seem to propel their students. Like Kristi, the final reader, Laura Goode, is being put through the MFA wringer, but she somehow got out with lines like “this version of your hands has octopus dexterity.”

With the second reader, Kate Shapira, I was totally entranced, and I should have known I would be given that her work has been recommended to me by the Flim Forum editors (like me, she’s in A Sing Economy) and she’s friends with Bronwen Tate (a kindred spirit). I loved the themes in her work– the beauty and terror of the organic, childhood– and drooled over her tiny chapbook Case Fbdy., available from Rope-A-Dope (pics here).

Restraining myself from too much commercial and emotional demonstration of appreciation for this reading, I made my way through a disgusting downpour to St. Mark’s to see the Lil Norton reading.

There I remet Marie Buck (Ed., Model Homes) and Sara Wintz and met Anne Tardos and Tao Lin. I met Sara last time I was at the Poetry Project, but this time we’d figured out who we were, and I was happy to know the other half of The Press Gang (I met Cristiana Baik while living in Birmingham last Spring). I was excited to finally meet Tao. There was a good crowd in spite of the time (10p on a Friday) and weather– maybe 30 people.

Anne Tardos’s reading combined break-up language with Kama Sutra and clinical descriptions of pathology and sex, a sort of relationship travelogue. These aren’t really my interests (not that sex isn’t my interest, but you know… there are particular things I enjoy hearing about in poetry and sex generally isn’t one of them), but I liked it particularly as a response to a certain generation of male poets who couldn’t stop talking about their bodies and penises. Anne’s reading started the evening, which was ended by a new generation of such male poets. It’s one thing when Anne Tardos does it– it’s another thing when you’re the 500,000th 20-something male poet writing about sex. When you’re a 20-something male writing about sex it sounds like you just don’t have anything to write about.

A previous boyfriend once told me, “don’t write about God, love, or Nature. Those things have been done to death.” So I tried not to. I tried very hard not to. Now, I write a lot about love and Nature, but I still feel this restraint: “don’t write unless you have something new to add to the pot and a unique way of saying it.” This isn’t to say that anyone should stop writing, only that they should perhaps give more thought to their subject matter, especially if they’re in a demographic that’s expected to write about a certain topic.

Some positive comments: I liked the Americana, gender issues, people-watching in Laura Elrick’s fragments, which reminded me of Twin Peaks (some parts seemed to channel the Log Lady); I liked issues of class/gender/pop culture brought up by Kevin Thurston’s office poems (and thank god he was able to get something out of that horrible job), as well as his use of the performance space (St. Mark’s has this huge space for the reader to work with, but s/he’s usually paralyzed by the small podium and stationary mike).

Some quasi-positive comments: I liked Eddie Hopely’s use of the space with his constellation reading/performance, but I couldn’t always make out what he was saying. Karim Estefan set the bar high for himself by reading a variety of work: I enjoyed the lyric emotive value of his first piece (written in response to the ongoing conflicts in Israel/Palestine), and his second piece got me thinking. For some of this second piece he was able to maintain an good impression of a computer talking, which fit the piece. But I wondered why he didn’t just use a computer to read the poem. Then I wondered if we could program a computer to read in The Poetry Voice. I think we should. Generally speaking, I liked the use of the machine in Karim’s reading but I wanted it more of it– unrelenting machinery. The lyric poem was very lyric. But the machinery poems could be more machinic.

In the subway on the way home I saw Anne Boyer’s NYC doppleganger. It’s a big city. There are duplicates.


About Jessica Smith

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14 Responses to “I have nothing to say and I’m saying it and that is poetry as I need it.” Except… it isn’t.

  1. I’m really enjoying the “more” tag which allows me to split up a post so that you only see part of it on the main page and have to click “Read More” to read the rest. This allows more posts to be on the main page, but it also might be annoying because there’s more clicking. What do you think?

  2. yesIsaidyesiwillyes says:

    It’s okay by me. Better than that, it appears that the “page-break” might allow a bit of fun.

    Can you break in the middle of a sentence? So for example in this post could you have broken it immediately after “. . . I made my way through a disgusting” such that we readers wouldn’t know what exactly was “disgusting” until we hit “read more”?

    There could be all sorts of possibilities.

    By the way, I still haven’t seen Gone With The Wind.

    I am, however, finally reading a lot of Susan Howe’s writing. I must admit I became aware of Howe only through you and your writing. The way Howe whispers the upside-down lines of her “The Non-Comformists Memorial” during the second part of the Linebreak program (available vian PennSound) is unforgettable.

  3. Yup, I can break wherever I want. That’s the fun thing about code– it doesn’t know, it isn’t aware that the end product is language. Or at least, its awareness of itself as language is different than how we usually think about language.

    Susan’s early work is still my favorite (though I loved The Midnight)… I’m happy that my work could serve to point back to her mastery.

    GWTW is essential! (But I don’t see the connection here?)

  4. yesIsaidyesiwillyes says:

    There is no connection with GWTW. I’m just spinning around here in my own little universe….

    I have S. Howe’s Frame Structures (early poems 1974 – 1979), so I think that probably overlaps with some of your favorites of hers.

    But also Howe’s passion for the books — the actual manuscript books — of Emily Dickinson is really contagious, at least for me. I gotta find and see the reproduction of those things.

  5. Kareem says:

    Hi Jessica,

    Thanks for a thoughtful response to the Lil Norton reading. As the night went along, I found myself considering a lot of the same issues you bring up here – performance space, gender issues, and how various poetics of indeterminacy and lectures on nothing can exclude the “something”s we want explored. This is a group of poets I really admire, but perhaps there’s some uncritical thinking that writing genitalia is subversive b/c traditionally “un-poetic” going on here, bordering on the masturbatory exhibitionism of Kenny Goldsmith’s Fidget (a book that provokes many ambivalent responses for me, and I’m sure, many others). I talked with Diana Hamilton – the first reader after the break – about her concerns re: “a certain generation of male poets…”, and I think her reading, with its caveat that “a vagina is not a punchline” and its insistently polyvocalic qualities, punctuated the reading very powerfully.

    Many more thoughts on this, as I’m currently writing a b.a. Comp Lit thesis on gender, technology, and performance in Kenny Goldsmith & Caroline Bergvall’s work…hope to see you at readings & talk more.


  6. Susana says:

    Kareem, Caroline has a very interesting piece in the last issue of http://www.dusie.org/issuesix.html which I think you must already know of as it is a reprint…I would love to read your thesis ! Sounds intriguing…

  7. Susana says:

    Oh and btw, Ms J, I think you could make more monies by getting some of the OV chaps going…Iand selling them. realize this costs money for printing costs, etc…but, perhaps be creative with the materials you use for covers and whatnot and you may not need anything but the paper, or just ink even… do you feel pressure to write juicy entries now? Are your private entries different than previous entires on looktouch? posting some teasers or beginnings of posts could up subscriptions! haha! xS

  8. @Kareem, a quick retort– I’m a big fan of Goldsmith conceptually, but I find the content rather unimportant there. Maybe if the abovementioned male poet were doing something stellar conceptually I’d feel differently about the content? I need both– concept/form and content– (yes I’m putting concept and form together, which might be arguable) — I feel like this is a longer conversation we need to have in person.

    @ Susana ❤ You’re absolutely right that the Take-Home series needs to be brought home… and I’m looking at the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair as a possible deadline. I have the materials way back from when I was getting paid by UVA, it’s more the labor that intimidates me, all the stitching. Though I could probably get help with that if I made the effort. … The private posts are pretty much the same as they’ve always been … I do feel pressure, but not about the private posts. I always felt pressure there to make it interesting. I feel more pressure now with this glitzy new blog and living in NY to make some contribution to public blogspace, which I didn’t feel when the blog was private. But this is a good pressure. I’m sure it will continue to improve my expository writing skills. When is Jenn’s book coming out? I can’t wait!!

  9. Susana says:

    jenn’s book should be out by the end of spring…we are waiting on some great poets who want to blurb her!!!! It is really going to be beautiful!!! And the cover is to die for!

  10. Kristi says:

    Hi, Jessica, thanks for coming to the reading Friday; someone pointed me to this entry on your blog, and I just thought I’d point out that I was the third reader, not the first (i.e. that you’ve switched Laura and me in your recalling and commentary)… thanks for remembering the octopus line though!

  11. Hey Kristi, sorry about the mix-up. I liked the hands poem from which that line was taken. Good luck finishing up your MFA without, you know, getting too frustrated 😉

  12. Kristi says:

    No problem. I actually finished up my MFA in 2005 — without getting too frustrated. my best, k.

  13. Lil Norton says:


    thanks so much for attending, and for the write up. 🙂

  14. Pingback: John Cage - Lecture on nothing « Ano do Cotidiano

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