Welcome to the Omnidawn Blog's first Bay Area Lit Scene Feature, which will provide our readers with a report of exciting poetry readings in the Bay Area. These features are edited by Omnidawn intern, Meg Hurtado.
Meg Hurtado is a second-year student in the MFA program at St. Mary’s College of California and attended undergrad at the University of Richmond in Virginia. She’s studied with Brian Henry, Piotr Sommer, Brenda Hillman, Graham Foust, and Tomaz Salamun. She’s originally from Scottsdale, AZ, which taught her about the beauty of the blank slate. She loves the classics (Plutarch, Yves St. Laurent, Technicolor, sailboats, Giotto, Victoria Station), but also the dark-and-weird (Batman comics, Chekhov, the Bog People). She regrets every second she doesn’t spend dancing, but almost never dances. Her favorite poets are Sexton, Berryman, Stevens, Keats. She’s extra-susceptible to Sir Philip Sidney. She’s relatively new to the published world, but this year was published in Cannibal and the West Wind Review.
Studio One Reading Series
Address/Neighborhood: 365 45th St. in Temescal, Oakland
What Kind of Space Is It Anyway: specifically used as a Art Center
Curator: Sara Mumolo
Parking: Neighborhood parking available, and a lot in the back if you’d prefer.
Transportation: Easiest to drive, but the appropriate BART station is MacArthur
Donation: encouraged, in any amount
The Run of Things: Doors open at 7:00 for wine and refreshments, small-talk, anticipation, etc. Reading begins at 7:30.
Upcoming events: July 10th with V. E. Grenier and Jane Miller and August 1st Aaron Kunin and Kevin Killian. Music by Tommy Busch and Heads Across the Sky.
My First Studio One
by Lara Durback
From the moment you begin to walk toward Studio One, the space welcomes you. After parking somewhere amid the colorful crowded Temescal houses one approaches waving lawns in the shapes of sine-curves – the temptation to roll on them was intense. I had been meaning to go for awhile, knowing the community building vibe that follows the Studio One series curator Sara Mumolo, who says that “Studio One is a nice place to hang out because of the kind and talented people that participate each month by volunteering, interning, being in the audience, or sharing their works with the community.” In addition to the series, Studio One Art Center is a hub for art, drama, and poetry classes in the Oakland community. In tandem with her duties as curator, Mumolo teaches writing workshops at the Center, and adds “the readings take place on the first Friday of each month as part of the Oakland Art Murmur.” The series has that poetry-plus-art angle that always results in something illuminating and unexpected, and it reminds me of the New Yipes series that went on for years at 21 Grand.
I wasn’t initially familiar with the readers or the attendant crowd, but I’d been able to visit the Studio One blog and read interviews with the readers earlier in the week. The welcome, laid-back feeling I’d had when I approached the place continued through the evening. No one blew me off when I talked to them. There’s nothing clique-ish about this reading series or its patrons; people I didn’t know poured glasses of wine for me without it being their duty or role.
I discovered via post-reading conversation that Mike Young is a former student of K. Silem Mohammed, and I could definitely hear some ghosts of that experience in the mildly flarf-like delivery. Between the punchy line breaks and facial expressions and the crowd’s giggles, there was a thoughtful representation of the intimacy of examining, a feeling of being close to one’s own face, or a loved one’s face. But there are other materials involved too: for instance, there is a “secret mouthwash.” I also heard: “Here, let me spill this dust all over your hair.”
Mr. Young also mentioned that he was paid! commissioned! to write a poem for a baby soon to be born. He chose to tell the baby things he might encounter, like all the people on a bus laughing together at the same time, or being excited about being naked with a man or with a woman. As Mike read, he frequently employed a kind of tender direct address, which was welcomed by the audience. I look forward to reading his journal NOO more closely (which features, in addition to prose and poetry, a section for presenting independent literature: magazines, chapbooks, etc.)
Next, artist Jake Gillespie was introduced via the disclaimer that his films were not meant to be funny. These videos showed pencil-drawings of faces with double-paired eyes. It’s some sort of brain trick, putting the viewer in a slightly altered state. The easiest drawing to describe is a man slowly accumulating strokes of beard hair, so that he has a haggard 5 o’clock shadow and until eventually his entire face is engulfed in black marks. The accompanying music lent a haunting and sobering tone. (Mr. Gillespie told me after the reading that it was the local artist Clovishead.)
[Jake Gillespie, June 2009. image c/o Devin Anderson]
I watched Jake watch his own films with reverence. The subjects drawn had varied expressions, ages, races, genders. I got a sense of overwhelming unity. One image shows a woman’s tears accumulating as these little tick marks, the dotted line of tears, but then the tears begin reversing and mirror upwards. Is it a different sadness? Or have the eyes gained some sort of power, some understanding of the radiance of sorrow itself? I’ve noticed a trend in much recent art in galleries lately—meticulous pencil and pen work, being shown in a large scale. This return to the hand in such a large size (alongside the decline of the pen to paper in everyday “writing”) seems to be a yearning for the physical aspect of communication that we don’t always realize we’re missing. Hand to pen to person. How the written line connects us to people. With the lines in Gillespie’s video, the tears go out extremely far in directions we don’t expect, like airplane vectors. Out. The beard goes outside of the head, affecting others.
The final reader of the evening, Geoffrey G. O’Brien, teaches at Berkeley and at San Quentin State Prison. I’d read Gillian Hamel’s interview with O’Brien on the Studio One blog, in which O’Brien makes observations about his reservations about “speaking” on the web about poetry, mostly because he takes poetry seriously and doesn’t want to be misunderstood by a space that moves faster than he prefers to move. During the reading, he broke out a section of a 40-page prose poem that he describes as having a “relentless iambic rhythm.” This rhythm is disrupted by words acting as “hinges” in certain lines, words that take on a “double syntactic duty.” This is interesting because it makes it a little difficult to read aloud. As he read along, stepping slowly through the cadences, all of a sudden an entire page of the poem went missing, and he pressed on gracefully, though he had to get up out of his seat and dig for the page. It was fitting, it suited the disruption in the lines, and it made for a memorable moment. As a listener, it was a feat to try to track the hinges as they pass without seeing them on a paper in front of me. One that I caught was “…the necessary changes /made/ me feel at home. (In between the slashes is my emphasis on the hinge-word. It’s not a line break.)
So what does double syntactic duty do? Is it referencing an agent or an author acting in the same way as the hinge-word acts, teaching in two different environments, to two different populations? It struggles with finding a balance between any number of dualities, while directly referencing the balance between looking at a page and hearing aloud.
I’ll end with the second poem Geoffrey G. O’Brien read that night:
An away of practice the other is
Like a river out of acts the other is
Hapless, unheard, with marks upon him
Having dallied in tarrying unwisely
Backlit at an undecidable remove
In a house of marks the other is
Useless deciding whether to go
Or wait in best practices like a child
A hapless river filled with sand
For years it flows like wet clock-rope
Years of saying as it moves away
Are the undecided water others bring
Like the child of acts the other is
Saying to himself the other is
A hapless river practicing its flow
A house that moves to where one was
With all years off the water goes
The lights are on so the dark is out
Like the useless children others are
A certain building dream within
A part of speech without a name