Sirois and Reddin at Zinc

Yesterday I tried to go to Andy Gricevich’s play, Great Hymn of Thanksgiving, which was playing as part of the FRIGID Festival. Although I’m slow, easily distracted, and even more easily lost, I managed to get there only a few minutes late. But I wasn’t allowed to go in late. Because unlike poetry readings, plays start on time and cannot be interrupted. So I hung out in the neighborhood, discovering the very dangerous Pageant Print Shop, which reawakened my love for the history of the book. Pageant is mainly a collection of old illustrations torn from books, along with some maps and print ads. I enjoyed hanging out in there and looking at typefaces, printing processes, and illustrations. Reminding myself that for the $10-$40 average price tag of a torn page there, one could buy the entire old book, since it’s not like they were selling very rare things, only ones that normal people wouldn’t necessarily take the time to find for themselves, it was easy to come out of the store empty-handed.

From there I walked to Zinc to see Justin Sirois read with Elizabeth Reddin. Some of my new and old favorite people were there! It was a decent crowd, 20-25, which at Zinc looks like a full house. I’d seen Justin read recently, but I liked the different work he brought out at this reading. I thought his reading in D.C. went more smoothly, but I think I was more entertained by the material at this reading. The poems were from his new book, Secondary Sound. A friend recently described Justin’s work as “very now,” and it is. It’s like a perfect reflection of life in This Age and at This Age (late 20s/early 30s) accounting for the technologies of This Age. I think the other poetry that captures this post-post-modern age is Flarf, but this isn’t Flarf, there’s little or any Oulipo while there’s a lot of narrative. Anyway, that’s to say that if you like Flarf you’ll probably like Justin’s work, although it’s not Flarf.

The second reader, Elizabeth Reddin, has a new book out from Ugly Ducking Presse. UDP is one of my favorite publishers. If I had money, I’d subscribe to them because I love so many of their publishing choices. If I could choose a publisher for my next book, UDP would be in my top five choices. They’re one of the best small presses in the U.S. So why are they wasting time and resources on this puerile nonsense? I don’t understand it. For 40 minutes, I tried to understand it. Because I do really have the utmost respect for UDP as publishers. And I’ve seen bad poetry at the Zinc, but not this bad. So I must just not “get it,” right? These are the solutions I came up with for why this poetry might be interesting:

  • It is embarrassing and uncomfortable to listen to. That audience response is interesting, right?
  • It’s like high-school poetry written by a late-30s-yr-old woman. That’s weird right? Weird is good?
  • A few good lines. A few good lines can almost always save things, in my opinion (un mot et tout est sauvé). Of course to be a really great poet you need to have more than just a few good lines, but how many of us will ever be great poets? The standard for a poetry reading has to be lowered a bit. However, anyone can have a few good lines, so it is hard to make the leap from “thank god for a few good lines” to “that was worth my 40 minutes.”

She expresses self-conscious, even self-hating thoughts about her body, intelligence, sex and men. Thoughts that to some degree, most women probably have. (So it’s poetry that expresses the thoughts and feelings of a particular demographic and that’s good, right?) But even women as psychologically unhealthy as I am, and with such terrible taste in men as I, don’t have these thoughts this much of the time. It makes it difficult to critique the poetry, even, because it sounds very personal and unhealthy and one doesn’t want to upset her. But maybe that’s all an act, and the poetry is just an art(ifice) and she means to make people uncomfortable and to try to make juvenile sob-poetry into high art. I really want to give it the benefit of the doubt on the question of the quality of the concept and its execution, but I really doubt. I tried polling others at the reading about what I should like about this poetry, but I was unable to glean an answer I could wholeheartedly back. Thus I am open to hearing your thoughts if you know her work.

Afterwards, out for Creole food with Justin, Jaime Gaughran-Perez, Kevin Thurston, Dustin Williamson, and some of Justin’s artist friends, followed by karaoke.


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13 Responses to Sirois and Reddin at Zinc

  1. Susana says:

    in German Reddin means to talk…i felt that her first book was a sort of new lyric expression of speech and I LOVED it. I haven’t seen Elizabeth read but I would love to. Now I am going to reread her book and come back to you on this. I would be pleased as punch to publish her second book! I would, and btw, she is only 33! early thirties…I am 34, I hope you don’t think of me as late 30’s too…haha…and the book came out last year…

  2. Yeah, Susana, I would love to hear what you have to say about it…

  3. Corrine Fitzpatrick says:

    Hi Jessica,
    I don’t believe we’ve met. Someone directed me to your blog because you commented on a reading for a series I coordinate at the Poetry Project. Thank you for attending and engaging.
    I would like to offer a response to your thoughts on Elizabeth Reddin’s work. Your labeling of it as “puerile nonesense” struck me as quite uninformed. First of all, perhaps UDP wasted “their time and resources” on her because she is an integral and longstanding member of their collective. Secondly, I was surprised that you did not note the obvious predecessors to her book’s unabashed confessionalism. For instance, on page one of “The Fast” Hannah Weiner begins, “I want to write but I am lazy. I would like to put my thoughts about the fast directly on tape without the medium of speech.” Forty-three pages of brutal, sometimes embarrassing and markedly articulate JOURNAL WRITING follow, full of self-consciousness, insecurities and other “uncomfortable” subject matter. I am not speaking for Elizabeth, as I haven’t discussed her influences with her, but I can’t help but think of Bernadette Mayer, David Antin, Eileen Myles, Thalia Field, Kathy Acker, Lydia Davis… the list could go on. Or what about a book that came out after hers, “The Middle Room” by Jennifer Moxley, which takes self-disclosure (what I assume you meant by “juvenile sob-poetry”) to a much further length and point. As for the Zinc reading itself, I felt that Elizabeth knew exactly what she was doing by turning the mic up full blast, sitting down, and reading for so long. Giving readings is an awkward activity, and she underlined that discomfort by, yes, making everyone experience it with her. I see and hear a lot of young poets going for a similar effect via much more contrived and “art(ificial)” means. Where Elizabeth shows integrity and guts in her writing, many others rely on depersonalized and gimmicky re-approriations of supposedly subversive and edgy found text, often paraded out in some pallid homage to the “Experimental” or “Avant-Garde” writers of the generations before us. I for one appreciate Elizabeth’s self-reflexivity and the quality of onslaught in her language. I wish more young poets would take note and see the merit in and challenge of Actually Saying Something in their writing, instead of racing each other head-first into tired modes of empty and unoriginal “experimentalism.”
    My best,

  4. I don’t think it’s necessary to note someone’s influences in order to talk about their work. Nor do I think that someone’s choice of influences necessarily makes that person’s work interesting. Do you think that because Mayer, Antin, Myles, Field, Acker and Davis may have influenced Reddin, it makes her work better? And do I need to list all my reading and qualifications to speak before venturing my opinion on a work? It’s not that I don’t know my authors, dear Corrine, it’s that I did not like the work. For that matter, what I like about Mayer, Antin, Myles, Field, and Weiner has nothing to do with confessionalism (i.e. content) just as I was saying a few days ago that what interests me in Goldsmith is not *what* he narrates but how he does it. I wasn’t convinced by what Reddin narrated or how she did it.

    I am sorry that you feel the way that you do about experimentation, the avant-garde, and found text. For someone who accuses someone else of sounding ignorant, you seem unfortunately to be falling into the same trap. Will you really praise Weiner in one breath and dismiss the avant-garde and found texts in the next?

  5. … Plus, avant-garde/experimental texts are hardly ever depersonalized. Complete depersonalization is actually impossible, because even if you program a computer to come up with a text, you’ve programmed the computer. Finding a text is also personal, since what one finds interesting is always a personal choice. A text as methods-based as Eunoia for instance is still personal in that Christian made choices about what the text would say. Or a text like Crystallography is even more personal, even lyric and emotive, although it uses “gimmicks” (a.k.a. formal constraints and the visual surface of the page).

    There is a politics of poetic form that you might look into before dismissing anything that looks funny on the page in favor of the “integrity” of confessionalist poetry. I can recommend the book The Politics of Poetic Form for starters.

  6. Corrine Fitzpatrick says:

    Hi Jessica,

    I think you misunderstood my mention of “experimentalism” and the “avant-garde.” In no way do I mean to dismiss those concepts or lineages. I do however take pause with the plethora of new writing that, in my opinion, mimics tropes of said lineage in a way that is flat, uninspired and derivative. The quotation marks I place around those phrases are meant to signify the rampant overuse of and claim to such terms. I see now that I should clarify the last sentence of my original comment. I find the head-first race and ensuing work to be tired, empty and unoriginal, not the notion of experimenting, per se. Certainly found texts can and will be utilized in new and intriguing ways by all types of poets. Quite often though, the simple mashing together of bits of profanity, genital vocabulary, catch phrases and headlines is boring and dare I say, puerile.
    Which brings me to another point. I ticked off some of Elizabeth’s predecessors as a response to your critique of her work as “puerile nonsense.” You seemed to insinuate that she was writing from some unlearned vacuum. Of course you don’t need to post your reading list along with your opinions. You did, however, end your initial post with an invitation for differing ideas.
    Looking forward to meeting you in person,

  7. Corrine Fitzpatrick says:

    Hello again,

    One last response before I finally get to the day’s work. Please save yourself the trouble of making me a recommended reading list. I see that this discussion has become an over-simplified binary (“anything that looks funny on the page in favor of the “integrity” of confessionalist poetry”). When we meet I can give you some of my own writing which, even if you don’t like, should clarify for you that I’m all for things looking funny on the page.

    Have a good rest of your day,

  8. Sorry you couldn’t make it, Jessica (or, rather, sorry you had to get turned away–we told them to be strict about late seating, but–were it not a festival running on a tight schedule–we would have started ten minutes late to compensate). Glad you had an active an controversial night, though.



  9. Matt says:

    “I ticked off some of Elizabeth’s predecessors as a response to your critique of her work as ‘puerile nonsense.’ You seemed to insinuate that she was writing from some unlearned vacuum.”

    Still, why does it matter at all who her predecessors are? Her work, the end result of her influences, is what matters, right? Good poets influencing bad ones is a tradition as old as poetry itself, I would guess. Think of all the junk people have written imitating Whitman, for example.

  10. Diana says:

    How anyone could have been at this reading and have left waxing affectionate about Justin’s supposed relationship to Flarf while dismissing Elizabeth is completely beyond me. The guy’s work was fine, but the delivery was hardly breath-taking, while Elizabeth was just spot-on. Whether or not you liked her work, I can’t imagine denying the quality of her performance.

  11. @ Diana, where delivery is concerned you are right, I think Elizabeth did a better job than Justin (I’ve seen Justin do a better job), and it was kind of a shame the mic wouldn’t go louder since that would have added to the discomfort she seemed to be going for. In fact, you might see my response as a compliment to Elizabeth’s performance since she was trying to make me uncomfortable and she succeeded in that.

    Susana’s convinced me to read the book (i.e. the physical document) before dismissing the work, and Corrine’s convinced me that it might not be “puerile.” So I take back my original horrible comments in hopes that I might be turned around by the work if I give it more time and consideration. Although I still don’t think it’s “my thing” in terms of form or content, I was perhaps overly harsh.

    I don’t know if Justin’s work has any relation to Flarf (and hopefully it doesn’t since I tend to dislike Flarf with the exception of the work of a few individual poets who’ve unfortunately tagged up with that team, which seems somewhat like putting all one’s funds in Confederate dollars), it just seems to treat some of the same themes. From what I’ve seen/heard of his work, it doesn’t have the same relation to OuLiPo as Flarf does.


    To paraphrase Duchamp, art is not perfectable and the problem with many of today’s artists is they imitate the generation immediately preceding them to such an extent, they convince themselves they can perfect their work, when looking at models from further back in history could be far more stimulating.

    Reddin’s work, both in performance and in her classic book THE HOT GARMENT OF LOVE IS INSECURE, dares to start fresh, to start over again, to take on the responsibility of the poet visionary beginner with “beginner’s mind”. She does not accept the knots and bows and NO-NO’S presented to us by our predecessors (and there are SO many NO-NO’S!) but goes back into herself and finds out and articulates what is at stake, what is happening deep in there.

    One thing she finds is the necessary catharsis that precedes her coming out as a dynamic lesbian musician, performer and poet. Her brutal and calm documenting of a disintegrating relationship with a man and the dawning in her consciousness and body of love for women is inspiring and courageous and original, even though other pioneers have travelled similar terrain before. Her writing of what life is when love and war are inextricably linked, the self-loathing and praise and ebbs and flows of day and night in metropolis in these times is deadly accurate, also funny and constantly shapechanging, challenging us to keep up and register changes in ourselves as well. For sanity. For life. For love.

    This is the shamanistic poet working a healing that seems impossible but must be performed nevertheless. There is a bodhissatva compassion and light thrown on everything arising in the mind as it comes, not afterward where it can be safely chopped up and edited into supposedly objective forms. It is an act of becoming, of creation, and if it lacks certain fashionable built-in critical apparatuses, GOOD, because those fetishes are rotting potatos by now. There’s powerful
    alchemy to be rediscovered in vulnerability and memory converted into present strength with an artist who never averts her gaze.

    Her true predecessors are Virginia Woolf, Georges Bataille and Gertrude Stein. I will close with a quote by Woolf that captures some of the excitment in Reddin’s work that makes it such a pleasure to encounter whether it be on stage, in book, or recording: “Let us say what comes into our heads, repeat ourselves, contradict ourselves, fling out the wildest nonsense, and follow the most fantastic fancies without caring what the world does or thinks or says.”

    Reddin’s work shows in a million inspiring ways how necessary it is to love, to remember compassion for oneself and others, even through all the pain, even though THE HOT GARMENT OF LOVE IS INSECURE.

  13. Filip– regarding artists who imitate those immediately preceding them– I think this is more of a problem in “Great Poetry Cities” like NY and SF than in other towns where “major” poets either don’t exist, or don’t have the same sort of stifling influence. I’ve noticed this about NY from afar while living in the less “important’ poetry city, Buffalo, and engaging with the DC scene. There’s not the same pressure to copy as there is in a city with schools of poetry named after it. I think that comment is kind of culture-specific. And I don’t think that many poets I know are working without looking back to poetry of previous generations. It’s kind of impossible to escape being influenced by the Modernists, Romantics, Victorians, etc. Since so much of our language derives from Shakespeare, one could easily argue that we’re all writing in a post-Shakespearean age. Where one finds one’s influences, or who one lists as one’s influences (which are two different matters) might be important for couching the work broadly but it doesn’t really say much about the end work itself or about the work’s quality. That’s why I find the second paragraph of your (strangely out of context) mini-review most compelling: it actually says something about the work itself.

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