I drove to Lowell, MA last weekend, where I met the Bootstrap boys, Derek Fenner and Ryan Gallagher, for the first time. Bootstrap is the mother-press of which Outside Voices is an imprint, but we had never met in real life. The chemistry was instantly great, though, and we set up for my reading in the huge Lowell H.S. auditorium. I was able to project poems from Organic Furniture Cellar on a screen (as I did for the L.A. reading last October) and read along. When I do this, I don’t try to read the whole poems. I trace one path through the poem and don’t focus on completion. A couple of people I spoke to afterwards about the reading were surprised by this. Reading OFC is almost a performed erasure, and when I’m really “on” I devise a theme by which to erase the text and then read through it, creating a new text. In this way OFC is endlessly renewable, and just as its nonlinear plastic form is like the cloudspace of memory, its forgetting/erasure and replenishment/renewal (“make it anew”) is like the (re)newness of memory.

On the way to Lowell I listened to On the Road, read by Matt Dillon. It is a good audiobook– he gives a good, breathless, James Dean-esque reading. On Saturday there was a panel discussing Kerouac’s work. Michael Gizzi and Anne Waldman were on the panel, but the comment from Penelope Creeley regarding Kerouac’s athleticism and his marathon-runner-like text-speed is what intrigued me. Dillon reads in this almost breathless rant, and it captures the energy of a 20-something young man very well.

This was my first “reading” of On the Road, and it gave me a lot of insight into the young male poets I know– both those who actively identify with the Beats and those who don’t. I have known a lot of young men like Sal and the odd few like Dean. Honestly, I have no use for them any longer. Dean is “mad,” irresponsible, and violent in that careless male way. Sal has the kind of amoral, ignorant man-crush on Dean that I’ve seen so many “nice young men” have on madmen like Dean. I’ve seen these types– maybe all 20-something men are like this and always have been? Or maybe Kerouac’s description so intoxicates young creative men that they become like this? I’m not sure, but I do know that such people are not very interesting– are interesting, largely, only to themselves– and can be dangerous. I wonder what similar book might describe young 20-something female creative types– is there such a book? Certainly not one with such stature– at least not yet. Will there be?

After my reading, we went out for drinks. I was exhausted, having driven 7 hours from Buffalo to Lowell for the reading. I then went to Ryan’s house and met his incredible wife Jess and slept soundly. The following morning we met in downtown Lowell for the Small Press Book Fair. Here, as is usually true at book fairs, Foursquare was a hit. I also sold a couple of copies of OFC and my new chapbook (from a+bend/dusie), What the Fortune-Teller Said. I met Michael Gizzi, who charmed me utterly, and Penelope Creeley, who had not seen since 2003 and with whom I briefly caught up before handing her OFC (Robert Creeley had once read it in the draft stage). In the middle of the Fair we had lunch. Toward the end of the Fair I was exhausted, because I was getting sick, and I went to Derek’s house to sleep. I met Anne Waldman (who I’d met once before at the 2003 Zukofsky conference) and Ambrose Bye, both of whom have this generous loving energy (which Gizzi and Creeley, both Creeleys, also had) which was the energy I felt throughout the conference– this wide sharing poet-love.

After my nap I went back to the Lowell H.S. auditorium, where Robert Pinsky and Louise Gluck read their favorite poems. If you’re interested, the poets they liked included Shakespeare, WCW, Yeats, Shelley, Plath, Moore, Berryman… I recall multiple Shakespeare and only two female poets. Gluck said she didn’t like sonnets. She did seem to live very grim poetry, which makes sense given her own production. Gluck and Pinsky read for their allotted time and exited immediately, not remaining for Afaa Michael Weaver or Anne and Ambrose. These performances were much better. I did not know Weaver’s work, and it was largely narrative, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, not the least because his performance incorporated his lovely deep voice. Then Anne and Ambrose collaborated– her relentless beautiful reading against his lush electronic sounds. I loved this for precisely that– the relentlessness, the performance without compromise.

Following the reading, we all went out to dinner with some performers Anne knew from New York. I had turkey meatloaf, brussel sprouts and mashed yams– delicious. By this time I was in incredible pain from my mounting illness, though, and sneezing a lot and unable to focus on the conversations around me. Eventually I went to bed and slept soundly.

In the morning, Ambrose, Anne, Derek, Jess, Ryan and I ate muffins and Brazilian pastries and prepared to leave. I faced a very long drive home, made to seem longer by an incredible sinus headache. On arriving home I had a quick dinner with my boyfriend and his sister. We also read some of my poems which had just come out in the Buffalo News. Then I slept for two days, skipping class, work, and teaching, and now I feel much better. Today I gave a much smaller reading at Buffalo State College, which went well.


About Jessica Smith

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6 Responses to Update

  1. Matt says:

    If I had to identify with someone from the Beat Generation, it would be Steve Allen.

  2. bob says:

    “maybe all 20-something men are like this and always have been?”

    for creative young men, their twenties often involve trying things on – style, identity – as they find their own voice, through, oftentimes, singing the songs of others. one’s twenties are somewhat embryonic, especially, i think, for writers, who may have a fervent itch to write if not quite yet the life experience that makes for a broader (more interesting, frankly) sensibility. if there is a time for recklessness, by the way (and i think there is, if only to learn from), it is in one’s twenties.

    as for all 20-something men being like that and having always been, i might suggest wandering over to the engineering department for a different cross-section.

    dangerous and amoral in what way? not arguing; curious. as i am about that mad, irresponsible, violent and careless “male way.”

  3. Helen says:

    There’s a book called Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson that fascinated me. The ‘Minor Characters’ being the female Beats, of course.

  4. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    I’d like to buy a copy of your new chap-book. Can you please advise as to where and how and how much?

  5. Hi Steve, I have a copy set aside for you that I will mail when I mail other things to you– there’s a small package waiting to be sent, but it’s been waiting awhile now 😉

  6. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    Thanks Jessica !

    By the way, your story about reading only parts of certain poems from the other night seems consistent, once I stop and think about it, with something you once said or wrote about there being any number of “paths” (that’s maybe my word, I’m paraphrasing in my head what I remember you saying/writing) through those poems, spread as they are on the page.

    Yes? I mean the poems are works that give the reader (silently at home, or you in front of a crowd) freedom to go where-ever within them.

    I mean, while it’s on some level surprising it is also almost the way it has to be. It’s part of what I like about those poems. The urge sometimes is to have them be like connect-the-dot puzzles, but it’s sometimes better, and always worth a try, to just let go of that need for total connection between all the words….

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