Saturday, October 17, 2009

Prose at the Poetry Center: Futurism Now, Or, My Trip to San Francisco

I went to San Francisco to give a reading with Renee Gladman at the SFSU Poetry Center. Along the way a few things happened.

[Honolulu to San Francisco flight, 10/13, a woman and a man across the aisle begin to talk, at first about health care]

--We're just going to have to suffer through this for a while.
--They're so starry eyed.
--They play the race card all the time, but they won't admit it.
--They don't see the evil that's being done underneath.
--You know how much they hated Bush. Those liberal bozos.
--Yes, George Bush and Cheney were good men who cared about this country.
--I sometimes don't say these things out loud.
--We've been in business for 40 years; it doesn't get easier. I never noticed the mortgage crisis.
--It was because the Democrats in Congress insisted that minorities buy houses with bad loans.
--And WE worked so hard to get what we have.
--The economy was very good there for a while.
--I'll think of you when I'm suffering through this.


Steve Vincent shows me the Mission District's murals. He rings the bell at Hamburger Eyes and someone named Roy peers out from the second floor, remembers Steve, invites us up. No public gallery any more, need to make money. He shows us the case of publications, points to the roof, which leaked during the recent storm, says he grew up on O`ahu and do I know Naomi Long? Yes, I say, wishing I could send him a link to Radiant Field.


Norman Fischer, Buddhist priest and poet, sits at Mel's Diner in the Mission District and asks, "what is the role of poetry now?"


It was prose day at the Poetry Center, SFSU, on October 15. Renee Gladman and I read, she from a 60 page novel and I from my retrofitted Dementia Blog book. Renee is obsessed with the sentence, not so much as a unit of grammar as with a unit of experience. We live in sentences, she says, and our lives are as confusing as they are. She spoke of wanting to write of experiences that don't go anywhere in particular. Her character lived with a sentence that moved around her room. The sentence flew to the window and sat on it for a while. The character was supposed to murder someone. The character had occasional outbursts. The world (and the sentence) were so changeable that plots erupted and disappeared in their course. This seemed like my Dementia Blog, whose concerns are more quotidian, more "true" perhaps, but recall a world every bit as like dandelion fluff. Stephen Vincent's haptics were good maps to the breaths of air that scattered those seeds. The Q&A was about our being publishers and writers, about Gertrude Stein's distinction between the sentence (unemotional) and the paragraph (emotional), about doing research, genre blurring, sentences.


Marjorie Perloff lectured on Futurism at SFMOMA during the President Obama traffic jam on October 15. She began by invoking a blog post by Julian Myers that Rachel Loden told me about, in which a writer announced he would boycott the Futurist events of the weekend because F.T. Marinetti wished for the "hygiene of war" and hated women so. Perloff did not take the position I might have taken, that while Marinetti's positions were horrid things, his style and energy remain significant, his attempt to deal with the machine. But Perloff's narrative excused Marinetti, citing his humor, the context of his Manifesto, and the way in which his Manifesto turned--later on--into a Manifesto more about writing style than revolution. That his use of the word "war" was misunderstood. She lost me there, but the slides kept coming and the wonderful details and the definitions of Manifesto and the "words in freedom" divorced from syntax kept appearing in gorgeous typographical manifestations. Free words, not free verse, which drew a caustic commentary from our speaker, who lamented the bane of the form that refuses to fold. Afterward, Johanna Drucker joined Perloff on stage; they sparred verbally over Marjorie's allusion to Russia as "backward," even as she spoke glowingly of its Futurists. They agreed with one another that Manifestos are "quaint" and have outlived their purpose.


Rusty Morrison and I had breakfast in Berkeley and talked small presses. I broached my current train of thought, a very heavy and smoky one, about the ways in which small presses can make arguments, and wondered if she'd had the experience of having Omnidawn's argument misunderstood (or taken otherwise). She spoke about books as singularities, about the way in which she looks in manuscripts for an instance of inspiration. So that certain singularities of vision seem to be her way of organizing a book list. I said I wish that more people wrote reviews of presses, rather than simply of books.


[BART train from Berkeley to Powell, 10/16: two men and two women with bicycles get on; across from me is a man reading a book called The Intelligence of Dogs. One woman gets off with her boyfriend; as she leaves, her bike gets caught up with the other woman's bike, the one who is wearing gray shorts, a helmet, and running shoes. Her bike is a Specialized. The woman in gray begins to shout in Russian-accented English]

--Get off the train; fuck you! No FUCK YOU!
[The man reading]--Just be quiet, you are a MAGPIE!! Shut up!!
--I have hurt fooot. My fooot had surgery. My fooot hurt.
--You shouldn't be riding a bike, then.
--You should be encouraging me; I am getting help for my fooot.
--I hope they amputate your foot. I hope your foot ROTS OFF.
--Oh, Fuck You.

As I exit the train, a woman is saying to her grown son:

--You should NEVER talk to anyone in BART. Never.
--What did you say? [I ask, wondering how others absorbed the shouting match).
--I told him he should have just kept reading his book. It was cruel to egg that woman on.


San Francisco Center for the Book
had a open house on Friday to show off their presses and have visitors make their own broadsides of a Futurist poem, "Let me have my fun," written by Aldo Palazzeschi, and translated by Paul Vangelisti, who was there to talk Futurism, discuss and read the poem and watch visitors (who included Standard Schaefer's entire writing workshop) print over a John McBride broadside with bright red letters and signs. Kathleen Burch was very warm and accommodating; she co-founded the center in the mid-1990s and has been going strong ever since, with series of workshops and classes. People wandered in and out. When Paul Vangelisti began to present his own new book AZUSA, designed by Rebecca Chamblee of Otis, a curious man began to videotape the performance. It became clear that no one present had any idea who the man was. He had a strong accent, gray hair pulled up into a small bun, tinted with remnant orange dye. And he loved the letter H, kept asking Paul to read the H page of his alphabetarium. H, he wanted H. He wanted H to have more space in the book; he noticed that I followed more closely than did most letters to one another. So Paul read from A-H, as the man, who proved to be Rumanian, roamed around the large table with his video camera.


By then I was fast friends with one Ann Tashjian, who introduced herself as "the driver." For her husband, that was, the man with the white mustache in a bright green shirt and a hat. The man who buys fine books, rare ones. Standard says he studies Joseph Cornell, taught at UC Irvine. Ann says she watched the inauguration to "make sure nothing untoward happened" and then, when she ("an avid smoker") thought of the sadness of Obama's attempts to quit smoking, she decided to quit for him. And she did. She was talking to a man in his 70s about Obama, a man in L.A. who had gone to Punahou, then Harvard. She had asked him if his wife was Hawaiian. "His entire body changed position," she said, "and he turned to me and said, 'NO, she's Japanese!'" Ann found this story odd; I confessed that I did not. She had once seen a man in skin tight pink, shoes and hood to match, who rode his unicycle back and forth in her BART car. It was his day to ride about town on one wheel.

We attended a concert played on 16 Futurist "noise intoners." The instruments resemble stereo speakers of various sizes, with large cones attached; at the top of the wooden box are levers, and behind the box is a crank mechanism. The players of these instruments were thus engaged in a lot of pulling, pushing, and cranking; occasionally they beat upon their boxes. There were singers, too, who sang sounds, not words, and a woman who both sang and played a violin. She was accompanied by a man who blew into a small instrument with a keyboard, then moved to his noise intoners (one stacked on the other), and by another man who played something that might have been a xylophone had it been a normative instrument. He also had a drum he banged. It was the concert of a lifetime. I will not need another such, but was delighted to see that 400 people came to a concert to hear the music of asthmatics and difficult to start cars and tuning violins. The wheezy spirit of it was immense.


When I left town this morning, the women's marathon runners had arrived to take the places of the intricately name-tagged Oracle conventioneers. The Futurists were still in place for the weekend, Obama was leaving the city, and all the voices were noise intoners until they could be transcribed. So here they are.

Thanks also to Janine Scancarelli, Steve Dickison, Carrie Takahata, Rachel Loden and Jussi Katonen, for making the trip such a rewarding one.


a.k.a. "Joe" said...

Wow. Sounds like a great trip.

I can't read the Italian futurists except colored by Mina Loy's point of view.

Re: scene on BART: Is US society becoming more like Russian society?

Rachel Loden said...

That would be Jussi Ketonen. Great to see you!

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