14 December 2006

Heads & buttz

Tuesday night's Test Reading will go down in history. At least for a few days. Perhaps a lesson about the effects of sauce will resonate. The little cactus in the comic-strip Steven used to yell, "I want sauce!" Well, Jon Paul Fiorentino, who I like very much, regularly jokes, during his readings, about his beer consumption. And as he read, he was heckled, a little incoherently, by a well-sauced Victor Coleman. Victor, who I like very much and who was a mentor to me when I was just a teenage poet reading pretentiously in a Dylan Thomas drone, was out of line. Especially while Jon Paul read an elegy about his own mentor, Robert Allen, who died (or, as they say, when they don't like the word "died," "passed away") not too long ago. So Jon Paul escalated things by making a remark about Coach House, likely a pretty touchy subject for Victor. And thus the escalation proceeded apace, climaxing with the young drunk and the old drunk nearly snout-touching in a dramatic macho game of chicken. Maggie Helwig, the towering brute that she is, stepped between the two lads and defused things.

Victor's new book Icon Tact has just come out from Bookthug and it looks amazing. He's a great poet.

Next up was Simon Pettet from Britain, via a quarter-century stint in NYC. His poems are tiny and precise and strange in a normal kind of way. He reads them twice when he reads. It's remarkable. His first reading is a slow, emphatic exploration of the poem, giving every word what it needs so that it will infiltrate our ears and brains; his second reading is faster, more throwaway, sloppier. He was in Victor's company all afternoon and was thus reeling and swaying a bit, but this might be a rare instance of a reading enhanced by alcohol. Never seen that happen before. During the Q&A, Simon's answers were interminable, but they sure were interesting. Amazing that a guy who writes with such compression speaks with such expansion.

Well, Simon and I were on for Jay MillAr's Speakeasy series last night at This Ain't. For a while, it looked like we'd have an audience of two, but it grew to five. A high-quality five! Thing is, I had worried about this event for a week, and I had spent an entire day putting together my talk about Golden Age black gospel. I also spent $15 on a cab to the place, because I was writing up till the last minute and didn't want to be incredibly late. Had I written out my talk a couple days earlier, and had time to familiarize myself with a little, I probably would have delivered it much more naturally and enjoyably, but I think I did an OK if workmanlike job. It sure was amazing to fill up This Ain't's gallery space with the sounds of the Soul Stirrers, the Swan Silvertones, the Pilgrim Travelers, the Violinaires, and the Dixie Hummingbirds, though. But it was difficult not be a bit disgruntled about the attendance. I mean, man, I've been around for three decades. What exactly does it take?

Now, I thought to myself, "But the publicity sucked. No flyers, no notice in NOW. No Website." And then I thought about the last Fictitious Reading. We did flyers and posters and big mass emailings and a Website ad and a notice in NOW, and got a similar attendance. I know, in the end, it's just the luck of the draw, a matter of who feels like going out on a given night, and who's already been to too many things in this big city filled with literary events. And it's a matter of what's hip.

But Simon Pettet did a fascinating and rare talk on the photographer/filmmaker Rudy Burckhardt, and more people should have been there for it. It was a long, too; as outlined above, that Simon sure can talk. I mean, he spent about 15 minutes just talking about the Philip Lopate blurb on the back of his first book of interviews with Burckhardt. But it was so absorbing: Simon is so interested in words, in every word, in every phrase. He went for two hours, just about, including the screening of a Burckhardt film (on video). I guess those who missed it missed it. The few of us who were there had a great time. And that's what happens in this mug's game.

Over and out.


At December 18, 2006 11:57 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"a dylan thomas drone"...interesting slam on one of the most musical readers of the last twentieth century. i grant you his delivery is dated, but the marriage of booze, language and welsh accent is still better (for me) than richard burton, tom jones and shirley bassey combined. i defend thomas because we're old drinking buds. i could listen to him "drone" for days.


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