Monday, April 17, 2006

post moot report (part two)

for dinner friday night bill and lisa cooked up mounds of pasta and various kinds of carnivore- and herbivore-friendly sauces, caesar salad and fresh bread. we were still running a bit late even though we ate comfortably and without dawdling, but eventually we all carpooled through the rain over to justin katko's apartment called "critical documents" (it's an MU thing, students name their residences) which was described to me in advance (by bill i think) as part of a chicken barn but i thought resembled more of the butt-end of an econolodge. folks were piled in and i got a chance to talk at some length with keith before the release of plantarchy #1 kicked off with justin's performance, a video he made featuring hands written on and obscuring found language of ordinary street mundanities he had filmed. justin also did a realtime improvised "reading" of this video, jumping to and fro between the projector and the wall as he read and commented on what was being shown. the shadow he cast on the projection and the way the projection was cast on him reminded me of the magritte painting "le decalcomania," which i read about on the drive down the day before in foucault's little book this is not a pipe.

then there was a great merzbow-esque caterwaul of sound from cassette-jockey jason zeh and a reading of poems by kevin hollo with his own altered garage band sound file accompaniment and video by joshua strauss. rodrigo toscano and linda russo then did a collaborated performance of rodrigo's brechtian-beckettian morality play that's in the new plantarchy (will have to go back for title), a great piece in which a man and woman struggle to find and determine the language for revolutionary action. (reminded me in some ways of godard's film le gai savoir.) finally, joshua did an ad hoc perfomance piece on framing, by which point it was getting late and a bunch of us went back to the climer guest house, a lovely little 10-room motel on campus.

saturday's events were to begin with a breakfast launch of two new slack buddha chapbooks and a howe-student publication at the slack buddha printshop (a.k.a. bill and lisa's garage: yes, when they moved to oxford ohio from somerville massachusetts they brought not one but two letterpress printers with them along with god knows how many cases of type, flat steel drawers, etc. fortunately, the house they rent from MU at a ridiculously low rate contains a garage that now serves as a printshop.) however a phonecall placed to chez howe met with no response. unbeknownst to us, lisa was off picking up students while bill was in the print shop and could not hear the phone ring.) besides i for one was content to go "off the grid" for a bit and have some down time at the guest house: me rod mel linda mark lorraine and rodrigo esentially took advantage of the fully stocked kitchenette (bagels, cream cheeses, breads, jams, pastries, cereal, juice, coffee) and had leisurely breakfasts and conversation on the patio before the next event. rodrigo also asked if i wanted to read a part in another one of his play-poems, so i of course agreed and we went over the text a bit together, this one like the previous night's but perhaps less brechtian and more beckettian. then linda and i took a quick walk to the MU bookstore in an attempt to purchase a minidisc for her recorder but the place was closed. when we arrived right around 11:30 for the next event, supposed to begin at 11:30, no one else was there -- a sign that things might run slow all day. eventually justin and camille and jason and others arrived at the peabody building (where MU's western college is housed, a former separate college bought by MU and now acting as an internal small liberal arts college) and we began setting up the fourth floor loft/room for the afternoon's events.

first was an event billed as the bookateria: various rare books and book object publications from cris' private collection were strewn liberally around the room's tables while rod made several boxes of books he'd brought all the way from bridge street in DC available for sale. the viewing and purchasing was intermingled first with another wonderful lunch buffet and then spilled into a roundtable conversation on books, archiving and the like, with mike basinski speaking as an archivist, rod as a publisher and seller. mike suggested a trend that physical books will increasingly be housed in archives and special collections while digital versions of books proliferate. the drawbacks and potentials of these phenomena, both for print and sound media, were discussed, along with rod's dialogue between "art" and "politics" that he'd prepared for his georgetown lannan seminar with amiri baraka back in the fall.

we were quite behind by this point so after a brief break we returned to the fourth floor peabody for a string of readings. rod began with an off-the-cuff assortment of snips and ghost brains and love poems, along with a rendition of "ted's head" that featured an a capella rendition of the mary tyler moore theme song. MU student nicole proctor was up next, she read some great "found" texts (unclear tho to me as a listneer how "found" or "prepared" they were) about asshole boyfriends and ex-boyfriends. very funny stuff tho i had to step out for some of it. mark then gave his most irony-soaked reading i'd ever seen: seated calmly masterpiece theatre style at a table adorned with a bouquet of flowers, mark proceeded to alternate poems (some from MSS i know a bit like party in my body and nothing happened) with commentaries that extolled the noble voice of poetry as the contemplation of the solitary genius in a deadpan that was so immersed in sarcasm that you could swim through it.

we plowed right into the next set with linda, whose recent exploits in oklahoma forced her to summon and channel the ghost of ted berrigan in ways that are well-suited to the mayer-notley inflections i often find already present in her work. technical difficulties prevented MU student peter castaldo from doing his perfomance, so joshua strauss took the stage. he read text while video shots of people and cars on a subway platform and other mundanities played. after maybe 3-5 minutes of reading his text devolved into the nonverbal, at the conclusion of which he started undressing while the video continued. by the time he was completely naked, a toilet filled with a lot of disgusting stuff (think trainspotting) was being shown on the video, and joshua ran over to the screen and started urinating onto the screen where the toliet was being projected. a not-quite-fast-enough-acting justin managed to collect some of the urine into a plastic cup, which joshua promptly took and drank before falling down to the floor and crawling around under the tables and rubbing himself against table legs and people legs. soon he had found a botle of water lying on the floor and, still crawling, started to hop along the floor while carrying the bottle of water and repeatedly crying out "i am a rabbit, water me with this hose!" someone, i think in hindsight it was stephen paul lansky, obeyed and doused joshua with the bottle of water as he dashed out of the room on all fours. a few people followed the show out, and after a few moments came back into the room assuring us that we had to go outside and see how the performance had turned out. some refused to go out and look at all, tho i did after the initial rush. it was quite something: joshua had run off down the hall into a door that opened onto an attic, literally two by fours and fiberglass insulation, no flooring of any kind. and there, lying in the bare white insulation, joshua was curled up in a fetal position. from my vantagepoint he was like a hunk or ball of undifferentiated torsos and limbs in a bed of pure tho clearly toxic whiteness.

it befell lorraine to follow this up, and she read a nice set of poems with great sass and aplomb i thought: a few things from terminal humming and also from a new work, see it everywhere, which i think i've seen not everywhere but in mipoesias. (coincidentally to rod in all likelihood, lorraine sang too.) we continued to try to make up for lost time by rolling straight into what was billed as "panel performance [subtext: power] & discussion," rodrigo and cris along with tyrone williams who had driven up from cincinnati with dana ward for the afternoon. unfortunately i had to skip out on this, not just to stretch my legs and get some air but also to retrieve my sound equipment from the guest house and test it in the theater space where i'd be in the next set of performances. it was a short but nice walk behind the art museum to the guest house, and by the time i'd returned tyrone was finishing up, apparently having discussed his move from wayne state to xavier, from a certain amount of activism and community to a different kind of specifically academic and poetic community. (i hope i'm not mischaracterizing.) rodrigo told me the previous night that he was going to read a version of the talk on constraint vs restraint in poetic practice that he gave at the noulipo conference in california this past fall.) cris agreed that in the interest of time he would skip his own talk altogether, and discussion ensued around the idea of community, whether it has been overly celebrated these days with nostalgia for some by-gone eras, exclusively or cynically with respect to non-members, naively relative to virtual communities, etc. since i missed the talks i did not feel right adding to the discussion, my main thought being however that community has to be something more than a collection of individuals each doing their own thing (something i'd read recently in chomsky or berkman or mills or somewhere).

then it was back to the leonard theater in peabody where we were almost caught up for time and i was first up in the set. cris gave me a generous introduction and i started off with a few sections of tethering and then turned to what i was calling "seedsource with conic section," readings from the serial poem seedsource interspersed with excerpts from a solo soprano saxophone recording by british improvisationalist evan parker entitled "conic sections." i wanted clean cuts back and forth between the music (playing from a discman through a pair of amplified computer speakers i was able to manually mute at will) and text (which i would cut by turning my mic on and off). what actually happened turned out somewhat different but, i think, not without its own interests. the music cut in and out quite cleanly, but the text was still audible after i turned the mic off, presumably being picked up by the mic that was amplifying the computer speakers. so i had to edit the text literally by altering my own reading volume levels. what resulted, folks in the audience told me afterward, was that i could still be heard at times and that my lips were visibly moving even though i was not fully audible or intelligible. so even though it's not what i wanted i think it still generated an interesting effect.

claire keys went next, an MU student who was in the basinski troupe from the previous night who also has work in hundreds which she read among other things, all of which i liked, interesting and edgy tho honestly i was still in a bit of my own post-performance self-absorption. then went mel, who did a nice straight-up reading from recent work including her terrific ongoing day poems project. camille PB went next, reading from a found/altered text of paris hilton jury testimony (amazing for how the vanity and stupidity piled and piled upon itself) and another piece with animated jpeg files projected on a screen behind her (tho i forget the nature of the text as well as the relation between text and projected image). aaren yandrich wound up this set, i think his piece was called "have yourself a star," which consisted of projected text into which aaren intevened with a smaller hand-held screen that isolated certain words and phrases from the larger projected text that he also then read in a very deliberated manner.

one last set awaited already long oversaturated viewer/listeners and frankly i can't even remember if the last set started out with rachel smith or rodrigo. in any case, rachel is an MU student who read about three, very different and interesting poems involving found language and autobiography before inviting nicole martin back up to the stage to read a poem (rachel's own it turns out) to her own accompanying russian counter/mistranslation. very cool stereophony. rodrigo then went up for two more play-poems, the first for four voices deftly executed by himself, mark, lorraine and mel, this one to me attempting to make any good political sense of a post-internet world (in the same way the previous night's with linda was more of a battle of the sexes for a language of political efficacy). the timing of the four performers was so spot-on it was tought to imagine it had been barely rehearsed. then i joined rodrigo for a second play-poem in which two interlocutors who never see each other seek assistance from anyone who will stop and help in overcoming barriers to finding meaning. in advance rodrigo had told me that my character was really the pace-setter in the dialogue so i really made his character (and the audience) wait to see if ANYthing would happen. great fun.

stephen paul lansky and leigh waltz then made a few remarks by way of setting up their film, inspired in part by a trip through the bratwurst district of cincinnati but also the new MU student literary journal (also to be launched during the conference), megaphone piggy. essentially the filmtext was comprised 1) visually of fairly primitive pen-and-ink drawing that had been scanned as jpeg and run in succession, everything from images of pigs and sausage making to businessmen with cricket heads, completely illogical syllogisms and sloganeering, and the infamous abu ghraib torture photos; and 2) in terms of soundtrack a recording of the filmmakers discussing art, politics and sausagemaking with jazz and blues music playing in the background. again it might not sound like much but it was quite brilliant i thought, a kind of elegance-in-simplicity of both image and statement. i'll be in touch with these guys about a copy of the film, the means of its production and also a 500-word essay on bratwurst they invited us to write them and which i accepted. (i can come up with 500 words on bratwurst in my sleep!)

the capstone to a long day was the fourth-ever performance of the symphony for prepared shoes by william r. howe. for those unfamiliar, bill buys cheap sneakers, removes their rubber soles and makes new ones containing words and letters carved in them in relief and reverse. for the performance, large sheets of paper are taped down to the floor into a huge square and four large inkpads placed on each side of the square. up to five performers put on their prepared shoes, ink them up and proceed to walk around the paper, stopping to bend down and read the words and letters they have printed. i was in the second performance (depicted below) at the spring 2003 "societies of american poetry" conference; this time the performers were bill, lisa, cris, lorraine and rachel (whose russian added a nice new sound texture to the mix).

of course this was not the end of the night. a few of us went back to the guest house to regroup before heading to keith tuma's house for a dinner party that featured videos by aaren on keith's big-ass TV, plus food and drink prepared by keith and his wife. general good times and conversations had on the patio while keith's ipod scrolled through a variety of tuneage. talked at some length with lisa about dissertations and other professional blues, justin about poets and poetry from wisconsin anarchist communes to fascist italian radio broadcasts, and rachel about her experiences with poetry at MU and beyond. rodrigo and i promised to get her in touch with some contemporary experimental russian work. rod mel and i were among the last to leave, taking a jug o wine with us and retiring to the climer guest house porch for nightcap analyses of our own works and others till shortly after 3am.

sunday sunday sunday. breakfast again at the guesthouse kitchenette. mark and lorraine already long gone on their early flight from cincinnati, linda not scheduled to leave until tomorrow after the rest of us older kids had all left and while the young-uns were still reading and launching pubs. coffee. goodbyes till next time. rod and mel and i drive linda to the peabody and not knowing what to expect besides the next event, a launch for some assembly required (a collab from bill's class in the joe brainard "i remember..." vein). instead we find cris, kirsten, keith, joshua, rachel et al having a little picnic in the grass outside peabody, the ubiquitous ham roast beef salmon cream cheese baguettes chips pistachios fresh fruit in tow, even the vase of flowers from mark's reading the day before. how ever could we dash off to the highway without dallying in a bit of such sumptuousness? more eating and talking, keith and i in our different orono conference t-shirts, dan brown bukka white and opal whitely. alas tho, after 45 minutes or so we had to get on: into oxford town and to... starbucks! coffee, yogurts, muffins, etc. indeed, we did manage to get on the road by three or so, i think we were actually on the interstate by 3pm cuz i did make it to the door of my apartment in DC by 1am this morning.


Jessica Smith said...

Tom, thanks so much for the detailed report... I feel like I was *almost* there... the pictures of Bill's shoe stamp piece are GREAT. it really captures the spirit of the thing.

I wonder... Bill... do you remember once in Buffalo we did this piece with 4 typewriters that were connected with one huge long ribbon of paper, so that we were all typing on the paper? Whatever happened to that paper? maybe it wasn't your piece... but it was the same nite at the old Soundlab that you, chelsea, perhaps ric? did this piece and you did the beer piece (which i think caught chelsea in the cheek if i remember properly... oops!)

K. Lorraine Graham said...

"joshua had run off down the hall into a door that opened onto an attic, literally two by fours and fiberglass insulation, no flooring of any kind. and there, lying in the bare white insulation, joshua was curled up in a fetal position. from my vantagepoint he was like a hunk or ball of undifferentiated torsos and limbs in a bed of pure tho clearly toxic whiteness."

This moment was, well, all tender and boyish. I told him it was "sweet" and meant it, somehow.

Still, I expect nudidy, urination, and possibly self mutilation in a performance piece, so I don't think this one was his most innovative or risky. It is interesting how the nudity seemed both a cliche and a source of discomfort. Will have to write about this more.

My favorite Joshua performance of the weekend was "framing you" etc at Critical Documents.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

The piece I liked best by Joshua was his James Dean mumbling of a chidren's book at cris cheek's on Friday, which was both inventive and charming. Didn't have much use for the others, although I always get more relaxed when somebody starts screaming at an arts event, because it means I won't have to.


Rachel said...

Tom -

I hope you keep to your promise about getting me in touch with other "Russian"-related poets!