At Sean Killian’s house party last night after Kasey and Lytle’s great reading I at some point declaimed, in answer to Michael Golsten’s question, “What do you really look for in poetry, anyway?”: “Two things,” I said, “and they are totally démodé: personality and style.” A moment later I added “music” to my list. Kasey seemed to agree, and Gary, too, although Kasey was quick to say that a poet does need at least a smattering of other concerns so as not to just write “beautiful words,” and of course he’s right.
I have been wanting to engage “poetry and personality” here for a while, and threatened to over on Brandon Brown’s blog, but life has been a bit busy and interesting over the past few days, so I haven’t got around to it. Even at this moment I am wondering whether to report on my busy and interesting life or to engage the terms, and I can feel myself swaying over to reportage as I’m a bit too hungover for analysis. Yes, dear reader, I who usually total only tea did indulge in some horseradish-infused vodka shots (piquant!) last night, which had the predictable and temporary effect of making me even more giddy than usual. While I did refrain from dancing on the table at the Anyway Café, a subterranean Russian tiki room cluttered with antique tchotchkes, I do recall screeching when Drew poked me in the ribs, which he did more than once to everyone’s amusement.
Rewind to Thursday, when with Sharon Mesmer, Ekkehard Knoerer (visiting from Germany), DJ Huppatz (visiting from Australia), and Gary, I went to see the latest Richard Foreman piece, an opera, “Astronome,” created in collaboration with John Zorn. The piece is touted as being extremely loud, and they ceremoniously give you earphones when you pick up your ticket, but honestly it was much less loud than most of the punk shows my youth was steeped in, and although now as an adult I am quite noise-sensitive, I enjoyed the intensity of the music. Foreman is iconic to me, and I think I’ve said on this blog before that if I were in theater in any way, as writer or producer or puppet or extra or prop-maker, it doesn’t matter, his is the sort of theater I would want to make. I love the claustrofeeling of the cluttered theater space, the complex determinations (some of them under-, some of them over-) of the sets and objects and costumes, the choreographed gestures, the tableau-like shock imagery of them. Honestly, the productions don’t feel all that different (from each other) to me, and I have liked none of them so much as the first one I saw, “Panic,” but I mean neither of those assertions as wounding criticisms. It’s just that I know now that when I go to see a Foreman piece I am going to experience a highly stylized version of the most disordered workings of my own psyche, and that’s cool. What struck me about this one was how adolescent it was, with the “metal” “opera” complete with barfing sounds and noodly guitar solos, the freaky goth ambiance, the urges on display (as when a woman actor put on a headpiece like a giant strawberry and a man actor made like he was “eating” her face to the accompaniment of outrageous slurping noises courtesy of Zorn). There was also a sort of Alice Cooper figure like a voodoo chieftan in a giant feather headdress, his face painted Kelly green, with a fake eyeball popping out of one of his eyes. Magnificent.
I love how the text of Foreman’s pieces is so spare. It seems that often it can be reduced to about a paragraph total; Daniel said afterwards, it’s as if language is just another prop. And how brilliant the props! Like the claw device one uses to get a roll of toilet paper down from a high shelf at the corner bodega! There is indeed a kind of equivalence created by the highly artificed everything in Foreman’s plays, but it’s not the kind of equivalence that bores by flattening; it’s quite the inverse: suddenly everything becomes bizarre, and of course that is precisely the effect one wants, and that I guess I go for in my verse, which is admittedly also sort of adolescent.
That would seem a natural point to start in on poetry and personality, but I haven’t yet exhausted my report. I will post clips of Kasey’s and Lytle’s readings anon, but I should say that Kasey’s Sonnagrams were so gut-bustingly hilarious that I just want to genuflect. Listening to them, I told Gary in the cab home last night, I was really on the edge of my seat breathless for what was going to come next. How often does one feel that way about poetry? Lytle’s presentation of his multimedia conceptual art collab with Jimbo Blachley, The Chadwick Papers, was elaborate and brilliant, and I especially enjoyed the final video that featured Lytle in a Dutch Renaissance ruff reciting a homophonic translation of a Dutch poem. From there we found ourselves at the aforementioned Anyway Café, where some other alt-culture types had gathered, separately from us, one a former member of Fluxus, whoa, and much horseradish-infused vodka was imbibed by everyone not excluding yours truly.
Marianne Shaneen, who usually is occupied with her film-in-progress, “American Furries,” and doesn’t get out to poetry stuff much anymore, was (yay!) in attendance and she said, “Hey, it’s Saturday, Bradley is working at Anthology!” and I got very excited because I hadn’t seen Bradley Eros in years, and I adore him, so I said, “yeah! let’s go see Bradley!” So several of us descended upon him and crowded into the back office, where we convinced Kasey to read another sonnagram and we convulsed with laughter again. Then Bradley showed us some crazy films: Dorsky’s rare first, “Revenge of the Cheerleaders,” replete with terrifyingly exuberant stripping cheer-nymphs; some hilarious Kuchar (I don’t remember which one) that featured a seemingly fine actress acting deliberately as badly as she could, taking direction and caressing a mannequin whose wig kept falling off, and then weirdest of all, these Terayama Shuji films that were so wrong and so beautiful in so many ways, as if a Japanese Jack Smith had mated with Warhol and made politically-fragranced child porn cabaret. I have plenty to say about Terayama Shuji, and should just commit here to a post about him later on although I haven’t yet got around to the other post on poetry and personality that I’ve clearly not yet written.
OK, this post right now is cutting into my hangover recovery and my Sunday morning, but how thrilling, really, these last few days: all this mad culture, and its attendant fabulous personalities (there, I said it!)! Whee!
I’ll just end here by posting my intro to Kasey, which I thought, if I do say so myself, was pretty funny:
K. Silem Mohammad is the author of Breathalyzer (Edge Books, 2008), A Thousand Devils (Combo Books, 2004), and Deer Head Nation (Tougher Disguises, 2003). Abraham Lincoln, which he edits with Anne Boyer, is the single most significant poetry magazine in North America that always features a large cat and a rainbow on its front cover. Like all great poets, K. Silem Mohammad has a back story.
While undergoing a tonsillectomy, young Kasey was badly overanesthetized. After emerging from a 10-day coma he developed St. Vitus’s Dance and epilepsy. He was seized by fits of uncontrollable laughter and experienced hallucinations. For the rest of his life, he has seen visions and conversed wittily with the world of the undead. Physically unfit for military duty, Kasey began writing his very special brand of poetry after attending Stanford University.
Often categorized as a flarfist, he has created an artistic circle that overlaps with the worlds of conceptualism and B-movies but remains distinct and apart. Kasey, a kind of self-created planet, has found a way to combine Old World mysticism and New World nausea. A poet prey to visions and hallucinations, a philosopher, a scholar with a deep understanding of Renaissance poetry, an enthusiastic consumer of TV dinners, perhaps the great white magician of our time — he is all of these, and something else besides. I adore him, and lay this little sonnet at his feet as a garland.
Shall I compare thee to a ZZ Top Concert?
Thou art more heinous and less hirsute:
Rough winds do shake the asses of your screaming fans,
And your visit here in NY hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot is the macaroni and cheese,
And oft’ is its orangey color dimm’d;
And every freak from freak sometime recoils,
By chimps or unwashed intercourse untrimm’d:
But thy eternal grooviness shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that old time rock and roll;
Nor shall, uh, Alice Cooper, brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou rulest:
So long as men can snort, or eyes can squeal,
So long lives this, and Kasey, you’re for real.
Please welcome my homie, my comrade, my idol… K. Silem Mohammad…