April 3, 2015KR BlogBlogCurrent EventsEnthusiams

Technical Difficulty

I’m excited to be blogging for The Kenyon Review, especially at the start of the much-anticipated and oft-maligned National Poetry Month. Personally, I love reading blog posts that serve as a kind of curation, bringing potentially disparate voices into conversation with each other, so I’ll attempt to do that with my time here. I hope you find links (both in the internet-sense and the older sense) that interest you.

I thought I’d begin by sharing some thoughts I had after a reading I gave this past Sunday night here in Baltimore. I often attend and participate in “literary” readings that include multiple poets, or poets and fiction or non-fiction writers, but this event pushed some of those genre boundaries even further. This past Sunday night here in Baltimore, I joined Oa (a collaboration between writer Hugh Behm-Steinberg and experimental musician Matt Davignon) and Nudie Suits (Ruby Fulton and Ali Clendaniel on voice, violin, and electronics) for “a night of sound and text” at The Red Room at Normal’s Books & Records curated by Bonnie Jones, an artist who herself works with electronic music and text.

I loved how Bonnie curated the show; I opened the evening with poems that explore fragmentation and rearrangement of sound patterns, which segued into Oa’s manipulation and orchestration of noise and recorded voice, ending the evening with Nudie Suit’s return to a live voice and violin looped and altered and engaged with electronic sound.

I love the difficulty that arises at the meeting place, overlap, liminal space, and attempts at delineation between different genres and media. Often, I love the art that comes from this blurring and friction between modes and means. Always, I love the conversation, wrestling, reckoning, exploration’s “event.”

In Thomas Ford’s 2013 New Literary History article “Poetry’s Media,” he writes:

If poems are to be understood as artworks of language, that is, then they must also be inherently multimedia, for language, itself a medium, can take divergent mediating bearers. Language is, to use a term McLuhan picked up from Joyce, “verbivocovisual.”  While McLuhan applied the term to the electronic media situation of the 1960s, Joyce linked it first to newsprint—“the racing kenneldar ”—and to his own textual remediations of electronic media. So “verbivocovisual” refers not just to works that include language alongside other media, but also to the mixed medium that is language itself. And because language is verbivocovisual, allowing for multiple mediations, poetry can be understood historically as a mixed art, one that has drawn on different media at different times. Within a certain historical conjuncture, syllabics, the body, or quantum uncertainty may well emerge alongside such other vehicles as script, voice, melody, or print as the material elements of a new poetics. In such moments of emergence, poetry’s task has often been seen to involve reconvening the dispersed medial bearers of language—reconfirming, for example, the commutability of language’s verbal, vocal, and visual dimensions.

Tapping into multimedia projects of my own and of others unsettles and excites my initial relationship with language, and charges the “multimedia” dimension inherent to language. Performing alongside Hugh, Matt, Ruby, and Ali, I had the opportunity to consider our choices, modes, and means in conversation with each other. I chose my poems with what I knew of their work in mind, and though the evening’s performances technically moved “forward” (as we’re led to believe time does), I felt that the conversation reverberated back and forth between the performances. During the loops and glitches, noise and “legibility,” I kept thinking about my colleague David Yezzi’s introduction to Joshua Mehigan’s poetry reading a few weeks ago at The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, in which he talked about poems that “aspire” to other genres (he posited that Mehigan’s poems aspire to a certain kind of documentary film, a representation of “things as they are”). The poems I read on Sunday aspired in some way to a music that glitches and loops, and it was exciting to complicate the idea of this aspiration to other genres by actually bringing those genres (and cross-genres, mixed genres, intermedia, and so on) together.

Both Oa and Nudie Suits performed together: facing each other, not the audience. The vision of each pair hard at work and play, responding to each other’s moves and decisions, was a vision of lovely intimacy. I actually felt a little lonely remembering myself standing at the microphone without a collaborator. Is an attentive audience a collaborator? Was Bonnie our collaborator in orchestrating the evening? Were the other performers my collaborators in their reverberation? Is language always my collaborator, as it is always multimedia?

MIC / gearmic / GEARMIC / gear

Check out Bonnie’s work here, Oa here, and Nudie Suits here.

If thinking about poetry’s relationship with noise interests you, check out Matt Hart’s recent essay “On Noise and Noisemaking” here. I also feel like I started thinking more carefully and variously about some of these questions after collaborating with composer Jacob Cooper on “Unspun,” featured on his debut album Silver Threads. Check out a recent interview with him here, and check out some of the other folks with whom he collaborated (Greg Alan Brownderville, Tarfia Faizullah, and Zach Savich) discussing their collaborative processes on (where else!) The Kenyon Review blog here.