What I Loved

A friend of mine with whom I sometimes attend readings whines that I “never like anything” or sometimes switches it up to “you only like your Buffalo friends.” It is true that I derive much inspiration from two of my Buffalo friends, Ric Royer and Christopher Fritton, and that people who went through Buffalo comprise much of my diasporic support network: Lauren Shufran, Linda Russo, Kevin Thurston, Mike Kelleher, Matt Chambers, Matthew Klane, Mike Basinski, Aaron Lowinger and the Houseketeers, Jonathan Skinner, Lisa Forrest, Douglas Manson, Sarah Campbell, Juliana Spahr, Mark Wallace, etc. That’s what happens when you go to a great poetry school– you end up meeting a lot of amazing poets. Most of the poets I know, I know because they either went to or visited Buffalo while I was there. To “only like my Buffalo friends” would still involve liking a lot of people.

But of course my network is much wider, and presently I think of myself as working in a virtual community that includes K. Lorraine Graham, Susana Gardner, Helen White, Anne Boyer, Jen Scappettone, Alixandra Bamford, Michelle Detorie, a.rawlings, derek beaulieu, Andrew Topel, Tom Orange, Maureen Thorson, Sandra Beasley, T.A. Noonan, Kate Pringle, Kate Greenstreet, Francois Luong, Jenn McCreary, etc. Mostly women, mostly visual poets. These are poets whose work I like, to whom I feel myself in some way bonded artistically. I don’t like their work because they’re my friends– I became friends with them because I admired their work. None of them went to Buffalo.

Beyond that there are the poets that I don’t interact with personally, or at least not very often, whose work inspires me: Susan Howe, Cole Swensen, Joan Retallack, Christian Bok, Darren Wershler-Henry, Lyn Hejinian, Juliana Spahr, Lisa Jarnot, Yoko Ono, Rae Armantrout, Steve McCaffery, Kenneth Goldsmith, Bob Grenier, Jen Bervin, Brenda Iijima, Kristy Bowen, Cecilia Vicuña, Jessica Bozek, Catherine Daly, Bronwen Tate, Jenna Cardinale, Bill Howe, to name a few. And the dead: Larry Eigner, Charles Olson, Bob Creeley, Louis Zukofsky, John Cage, Hannah Hoech, Hannah Weiner, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, Stephen Crane, Coleridge, Shakespeare, Eliot, WCW, Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Breton, etc. Plus so many artists, filmmakers, musicians, performance artists, etc.

Then there are the female poets who influence me both personally and artistically– the women in whose wake I work, knowingly: Susan Howe, Juliana Spahr, Rossetti, Woolf, Dickinson… it is still strange to be a female poet, even in our ever-so-sophisticated world. We are in no way beyond gender politics.

Then Poetics, a whole different game– most of my influences here are men: Steve McCaffery and bp nichol, Charles Bernstein, Bob Perelman, Arakawa & Gins, Ron Silliman, Rachel Blau DuPlessis. I’ve gone through my ups and downs with regard to Language Poetry– attending Buffalo, it’s hard not to sometimes hate it– but I still pretty much believe in its political foundations.

It is true that I’m picky about poetry readings. In the last… three years, since I returned from Europe, I’ve enjoyed the following readers as readers to such an extent that I’d make a point of seeing them read again just because I like the way they read: Maureen Thorson, Stephen Ratcliffe, Charles Bernstein, Kate Pringle, Ric Royer, Cole Swensen, Brian and Ashley Howe… that’s all I’ll vouch for at the moment, though there are others.

I think the reason why it sometimes seems as though I’m biased towards my Buffalo friends is that there are a lot of readings in Buffalo– 3-4 a week when the Poetics Program was in its prime– and one gets really sick of hearing boring poetry readings. In Buffalo, “boring” poetry readings are usually of the post-LangPo variety, i.e. “I’m way too cool to be reading” sarcastic drone punctuated by little “I’m so clever” laughs from the audience. The other type of reading that happens too often in Buffalo is the “I’m the reincarnation of Yeats” voice, the “I’m so musical I can beat myself off to iambic pentameter” male nonsense. So a few of my friends and I have tried very hard to make poetry readings more interesting, having seen many examples of poetry readings that bored us to death or made the front row of the audience wish they were wearing ponchos. I am not very good at giving poetry readings, which is why for a long time (say, 1998 to 2002) I refused to do so, and why I do so now reluctantly, with the caveat that it’s not necessarily going to be any good! But my friends are much better (than I am, than most people are) at the poetry reading as performance, which is what it is. Of course, the “performance” is not necessarily good either in itself or as a representation of the poetry, but it is more likely to be interesting than if the poet sees the poetry reading as a “reading” or believes, at some level, that to be “poetry” the reading has to sound a certain preestablished way.


About Jessica Smith

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One Response to What I Loved

  1. Susana says:

    this is a good post to contrast with your influences/terms of your reading experiences…und ich auch…danke. I’m still astounded that the ‘voice’ is still there.

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