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Sunday, December 07, 2003

Gimme Coffee Reading—Oct. 25th
Bernadette Mayer, Robert Masterson, and Phillip Good.

It’s been about a month and a half since I went to this reading, and I must apologize for taking so long to respond. Honestly, I remember more of the atmosphere than the poetry. I showed up with a couple of friends at about 6:50 PM and the place was packed. Every time I leave campus or college town (unfortunately, it only happens a couple of times every semester), I face the same momentary shock: the world is not entirely populated by teenagers. The crowd was a bit older than college-age. As she noted in her blog, Julia and her friend— and me and my friends— were probably the youngest people in the crowd. It was a nice atmosphere, pretty jovial. It seemed like a bunch of the audience members knew each other. Josh was there, and I asked him something like “So is this the Ithaca literati?” I think he responded, “You could say that.” Anyway, I ended up sitting on a stool near the counter which was behind the poets, next to some kind of cappuccino or coffee machine or something. Anyway, about every five minutes, it started rumbling and hissing (the poetry made it hot and bothered). So I was behind the poets, facing the audience, listening to this machine squeal. Not a particularly conducive set up to listen to poetry.

So I really couldn’t hear Bernadette Mayer read, but I could see the back of her head, which was pretty damn cool. She was sitting down (a cane was beside her) and she was wearing this fishing vest (you know, the ones with all the pockets), a purple beret, and pigtails. That’s a pretty funky look. She exuded a collected, self-satisfied attitude— not excessively complacent or anything, just comfortable. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on her reading, but the audience seemed to enjoy it, laughing with her and making those hushed, reverent sighs.

The next reader was Philip Good. He read loudly while standing; I had a much better shot at hearing him, though the machine was persistent. What I first noticed was his intense attention on line breaks, and pausing between lines. At one point, I thought he even counted softly between lines (I know Josh mentioned another poet who was known for doing the same thing, but I forget the name). Craning my neck and my cupping my ears towards the poet, I caught most of the lines. And I finally discovered that poetry readings are a sensory experience. I tried to hold onto each line I heard, put it in my mind and turn it around for a while. When I came to, I had missed half the poem. I tried to just let the words wash over me. I can’t help feeling that this approach is somehow inappropriate (I mean I went to the reading under academic auspices), but I found that this was the only way I could really enjoy the reading.

The final poet, Robert Masterson, was my favorite. Maybe because the crowd thinned out a little and I was able to grab a better seat— in front of the poet. Masterson said he was an English teacher and it showed. He read from his laptop, pointing up in the air with emphasis. He read about Monkey Asses, Truck Stop waitresses, and sex. Some of it was pretty raw. I guess some of it could have been perceived as a bit didactic (with his posturing and his subject matter), but I loved it. It was gritty, funny, and thoughtful. It seemed like the audience was getting a rise out of it too.

The whole event was a lot of fun, a novel experience for me. And I was sort of glad I was sitting backstage for the first two readers. Part of the fun was watching people and their reactions. Gimme Coffee is quite an intimate space, a great space for a reading. There was a warm crowd. I only knew a handful of the audience, but I did not feel at all anonymous


Wednesday, December 03, 2003

I like this ....

My ideal barber, haberdasher, or dental technician:

- someone who, as a matter or courtesy, refuses to assume anything about me.

-scratch that, someone who is so intuitive/insightful that they know what is safe to assume and makes me feel like I'm slipping into a warm hottub or a close-fitting glove.

-someone who isn't afraid of wearing clashing colors because colors are cool and putting stock in fashion sense is for chumps.

-someone who understands that I wear pants (shorts in the summer) to hide my junk, I don't comb my hair, and I don't brush my teeth after every meal

-someone who dislikes their job as much as I dislike mine but doesn't take it out on me.

-someone who resists biting my fishing lines baited with self-pity.

-someone who lets me know they are more than willing to assist me in picking out a suit jacket without breathing down my neck.

-someone who is willing to say, "that shirt makes you look like an asshole."

-someone who has given me their employee discount because I vaguely knew them in high school.

- Dave from Oakenshields (That guy's either a millionaire or coked out of his mind 24 hours a day. In either case, he's one of my favorite people.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Who is my audience?

My initial reaction is, of course, to say that I don't write for anyone but myself. Damn, Josh, why did you have to bring that up in class? It would have been so easy to say I write for myself, screw everybody else-- case closed. Though I think I can make a case for that claim, considering the cryptic nature of the work I present in class. I have a hard time establishing objective distance from myself in my writing. My work for this class has been more like a series of personal journal entries than pieces of creative writing. In fact, the piece that I turned in this tuesday was first piece in which I tried to create a character apart from (unlike) myself.

I could sorta half cop out and answer the question by saying my audience is the person I want to become, a person who is more relaxed than me. Someone who can convince themself that things are going to be okay, someone who doesn't believe they're cat vomit every time somebody else criticizes them. And I think there's some turth in that claim too. Each time I read something I've written, I can put a little more distance between the place where I was when I wrote it and the place I am now. With time, I am better able to externalize the emotions I pour into my writing. I can turn me into him. My writing becomes more accessible to other people. So maybe I can say that writing to-- and for-- myself is a preliminary step in creating a piece that can be offered to a larger audience (larger meaning outside my noggin).

But that still doesn't answer the question. Poop. Well, if I thought my writing were actually comprehensible and valuable to anyone other than me.... My ideal reader would think I'm funny when I'm trying to be. They would think I'm good. They would write me a letter stained with their tears. They would send me a report card with a big A stamped on it. I'm joking of course, but I mean, I'm a Cornell student. I crave positive recognition. I still feel the best about myself when someone else tells me I'm worthy. And like most arrogant young Ivy League students, I have those amusingly pathetic fantasies in which I win the Nobel Prize for coolest/smartest person ever. But I digress. Ummm...I guess you can tell I don't want to answer this question. I've wrote about it for three paragraphs and I have yet to address it head on. How about that.

Monday, November 17, 2003

My brother's girlfriend, Liz, had this boxy, early-80s oldsmobile-- a massive landmonster of a car. When she bought it (cheap from a friends of her family), it was a dull gray and the few places where the paint was chipping were starting to slightly rust. She took the oldsmobile to Maaco and got the cheapest paint job they would give her ($129.00). She had them paint the car neon blue. Liz tried to fix up/funkify the interior. In the back she put a green and purple navajo blanket she had bought on Long Beach Island and her old quilt, a reliable childhood treasure that, like newsprint, was fading from white to yellow. Liz fitted the quilt and blanket over the back seat to protect her passengers' asses from the springs that were wearing the black naugahyde cushions thin. She put faux-fur zebra-striped covers over the front seats. A plastic, hairy black spider with orange-jointed legs was rubber-cemented to the dash: "Boris the Spider." Light blue fuzzy dice and a few pictures of her friends hung from the rear view mirror. The car looked like the beloved property of third-rate pimp. This whole production, the car and its accoutrements, was called Fred. When the Oldsmobile would start to stall while climbing hills, Liz would encourage, "C'mon, Fred, c'mon. I know you can do it." One of the pictures hanging on the rear view mirror was of Val, who had moved to Chicago a few years ago. When Val's birthday came around, Liz decided that she was going to send a care package, which would include a video. In the video, Liz is sitting in Fred, listening to Doctor Worm on the car radio. Suddenly, I come into view, sliding head first (from the right) across the slick hood of the car (it had just rained) and flying off the other side. In exchange for my help, Liz promised to help dye my hair. We dyed it electric blue.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

I hail from Moorestown, NJ, a town of about 25,000 directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. My town has the embarassing distinction of containing the largest residence in the state (it's bigger than the white house). A lot of professional atheletes playing for Philadelphia teams end up living in Moorestown (among others, Jeremy Roenick and the former Eagle Randall Cunningham).

The town is rich, rich, rich, and white, white, white. I live in a beautiful home-- a small 3 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom house at the edge of town. I live in a working class neighborhood called Lenola that is literally on the other side of the tracks. Because I don't come from money-- I don't drive a Mercedes, use a platinum Amex card, or have a trust fund-- some people in my town assume I swim around in a gutter and run with gangs. I mean seriously, I take my life for granted (I had a childhood and was protected by people who loved and provided for me), but some people have absolutely no concept of life outside coach purses and trashing their house while their parents are out of town. This is pretty ironic considering that about 8 miles away from this glittering bubble is Camden, one of the most dilapadated, drug-infested, and impoverished cities in the country.

Founded by a tavern keeper by the name of Moore, Moorestown was settled, I believe, between the 1670s and 1680s. It has some minor claims to American history. Hessian soldiers were periodically quartered in a home, now aptly named "The Hessian House." Gen. Washington and his troops passed through and stayed in one of the homes, now a historical museum documenting Moorestown in the colonial era. The chair in which GW allegedly sat is in a corner, roped-off with velvet.

When I was little, a lot of my friends' living rooms were roped off with the same kind of velvet. I didn't get it then, and I don't get it now. What's the point of having a room that you don't use. I always wanted to dive over those damn ropes and fuck up the perfectly vacuumed carpets.

But that's why I love my house so much. It's so lived-in. It's like a really comfortable pair of jeans. And it's full of weird, eccletic, sentimental crap that has absolutely no monetary value. It has character, not status. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Some of those kids were so unabashedly stuck-up I wanted to vomit on their polo shirts, but I have to be grateful I grew up in such a safe environment. More and more I realize how good my public school system was and how much I was supported by the vast majority of the teachers and authority figures.

There were a lot of great kids in my town (some had a ton of money, others didn't). I regret I couldn't drag them into Philly more often. It's really a magical city, a city of neighborhoods. I love to explore the Italian Market on Sunday mornings, stroll down Broad St., check out the art museum, walk along the Schuylkill River, whatever. When I'm home now, I probably spend more time in the city than in Moorestown. But when I was in high school, no one ever wanted to make the 15 minute drive, unless it was 3:00 AM, they were finally sober, and they wanted a cheese steak.
This class is virtually my introduction to prose and poetry. Besides a week in 7th grade English, this is the first time I've been prompted to discuss the mechanics of creative writing. Throughout my secondary education, and into my college years, I have been first and foremost an expository writer. To say I am comfortable with my writing abilities is an overstatement, but analytical writing is the sphere in which I feel most comfortable.

To be frank, I'm not sure I know the difference between fiction and poetry. In some of the pieces (for example, Bob Perlman's China and the work of Jack Spicer), the distinctions between pose and poetry seem quite gossamer, if not non-existent. Of this, I'm sure the writers are aware, but I am not at all aware of how or why they write on the edge of two genres.

Not having a concept of rhyme pattern, meter, or line breaks, I sometimes feel out of place-- out of control in a class that is taught by a poet. But I am also not sure if my ignorance is a bad thing, especially in a class that places particular emphasis on imaginition. At the moment, I feel a bit priviledged to lack a knowledge base in the world of poetry. I don't know what to expect, so I try not to expect too much. I think my writing in this class has been raw (unpolished). Dubuffet might have appreciated something I might write, just as he appreciated the artwork of children or the insane who were untainted by social precepts. (Not that I don't have a concept of social expectations, but I just wanted to provide an example to explain what I mean when I call my writing raw).

I suppose I would call most of the writing I have done for this class prose, but I would prefer to continue to write and have others ascribe labels to my work later. Because I often cannot tell the difference between fiction and poetry, and because they are both fairly novel to me, I enjoy them at the same level. Prose and poetry are beautifully mysterious to me.

Friday, October 17, 2003

I've loved mysteries ever since my mom read me Murder on the Orient Express (while I ate my Ego waffles. God, they suck). So I started to read a lot of Christie mysteries. Hercule Poirot was always my favorite detective (I think David Suchet on PBS's Mystery does a great job in the role). Poirot is a nutty character. His reputation always preceeds him, and his ego is huge. He could nurture his eccentricities as much as he wanted, and no one gave him any shit because his idiosyncrasies made him a badass detective.

I liked how I got good at figuring out Christie's formulas. Sometimes I could guess the murderer after about 4 pages. Except for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I havn't read it in a long time, but it's still probably one of my favorite books.

So I moved on to P.D. James, Dashiell Hammet, and James Ellroy. I love Chinatown and L.A. Confidential. I just am enamored with Noir. Everyone is so damn tough and slick-- self-reliant. They smoke an inordinate number of cigarettes and kick the shit out of anyone who gets in their way. It's all about face. It's about veneer. Everyone is constantly changing their masks, shifting their attitudes to adapt to new situations, new characters.

And the language just pops, you dig. Cool cats and geeks walk the streets. They've all got their own angle, they're cynical, they're gritty. It's so incredibly stylzed, but I can see it all in my mind. It feels so real. It feels like the facades we act out and the masks we wear in life. You can put a Noir mystery on TV and it's cheesy, I'll admit. But even the most overblown, gruff detective owns up to the fact that he's not as tough as he makes himself out to be. In the best mysteries, justice is never that simple.

There's more to write, but not today. I'm already late.
Something in Shana's response to love stories caught me off guard:

"writers are in love with ourselves. and our own abilities to write. writers of love stories are in love with our capacity to write love. love stories are too often written to you."

Forgive me Shana, I'm not going to dig into your words in an attempt to discover their meaning. But, as Josh reminded me the other day, we give up ownership of our writing the moment we release it to the public (our intent, I think, becomes almost inconsequential).

I realized that almost everything that I've written for this class (assignments and blog) has been about me. Strangely, it's a narcissism that doesn't diminish my self-awareness (my consciousness of the emotions of the people around me). When we write about love (when we write anything about people or things), what are we writing about? Do we strive to understand our relation to the people and things in our lives? Is there a space beyond that language can tap into? In other words, can writing ever be-- or to what extent can it be-- selfless.

"Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger."

I would be happy to have some lucid moments of honest, faithful self-reflection. I would be satisfied to write shamelessly about myself and never discover a 'higher' level of objectivity. This worries me a bit (because who knows what you might find if you spend enough time and energy searching).

But for now, just me is good enough for me. There have been times when I thought I would live in my neck. I might crawl up my esophagus and look out my eyes, but if I saw anyone looking back, I would sink lower and lower until I ended up in my stomach. I might end up shitting myself out, then where/who/what would I be? (I'm reminded of that alleged self-portrait of Michelangelo's hanging skin in the Sistine Chapel)

But I want to save myself. So when I write about love (or about almost anything else), I'm going to be writing about me.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

I want to live on this desktop in Lincoln Hall. It has an outlet and everything.
I could push it up against the wall. The desk has 3 sides and the wall could make
the fourth. I could fill it with pillows and lie down. I could peak over the top and
watch people do their work. I like small things, small spaces. Things I can hold, places where I can hide. Things that I can polish when I want. I like big things too, like watching. When I can put a stopper in my brain and just have the watching. It's not me I'm watching.
It's just moving pictures. I can unfocus my eyes and it's just as good. Like watching fire.

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