From 03/23/2009, stuff I’ve been thinking about and talking about for a while now:
That’s it, folks. I am giving myself until the end of this month to finish up my edits on Diwata, as I have done the major revision, and there is no reason not to finish the thing. It’s like going for the final kill. I’ve been fortunate to have readings here and there in the past few weeks, and have taken the opportunity to again read from Diwata, hear the awkward, tongue twisting, mouthful of peanut butter or metal moments in the work. I’ve known intuitively that the words and phrases I struggle over when performing would have to be rethought and reworked, that I’d have to honor enjambments and line breaks. It was timely to hear a couple of authors articulate these common sense items, which I think we conveniently forget when we get stubborn about revision and editing.
Sesshu Foster, in his recent City Lights Books reading (this past April or May) answered Oscar’s question about his use of the prose poem by saying that he didn’t want to be cute about enjambment. When a poet makes that conscious enjambment decision in the writing of the poem, does the poet honor that enjambment in the performance of the poem? If not, then what’s the point?
I am saddened to read this morning about the poetry reading Eileen Tabios recently attended (see her blog post here). Actually, that type of poet, what I’ll call the entitled poet, really gets me negative about po-biz and how folks get consumed about it. For more on po-biz, and the importance of each of us controlling our own careers, hence, avoiding its consuming you, do read Guy LeCharles Gonzalez’s post here. But po-biz and poetry are two different things, and I am a firm believer in the poem, the work to birth the poem, the body of poems, the book, and the connection made with the reader and audience.
OK, that’s my preface to Sesshu Foster’s City Lights Books reading from his latest book, World Ball Notebook. This is the second time I’ve seen Sesshu read; the first was with Small Press Traffic for their evening of fiction which also included R. Zamora Linmark, and so I was very happy to be co-hosting that event. I’m a big fan of his work, having come to City Terrace Field Manual nearly a decade after its release. Still, I realize I came to this book at exactly the right time in my poetics, writing process, ongoing education. At his SPT reading, I picked up Atomik Aztex, which was bloody, surreal, absurd, crazy, and dense, and really very very funny.
I just started reading Sesshu Foster’s really fucking strange book; I should qualify that the fact that I think it is really strange does not mean that I dislike it. As I am reading I envision Foster really enjoying being indulgent here with the idiosyncratic language in overdrive, of this idiosyncratic character who’s become, I think, quite unhinged. In the two realities he occupies in Foster’s “omniverse,” it’s hard to know where to ground myself. Even in the world of 1942 East L.A., which should be relatively familiar to us, the main character/hero Zenzon’s perceptions are not reliable to the reader. He’s either totally hallucinating, totally exhausted, or so far gone into his own headspace and so self-consumed (with self-pity, self-loathing, self-centeredness). So each section of this omniverse, as Zenzon experiences it, or depicts his experiences of it, is just bizarre to me.
I can also imagine Foster enjoying (sadistically) fucking off literary convention. Like fuck a narrative arc, fuck a character development. Which again is not necessarily a bad thing. Not sure yet what I think of the results.
Hopefully more on ATOMIK AZTEX soon.
Addendum: Something I’ve just thought of that might help ground me: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The sheer, unrelenting, almost unbearable hallucinatory bizarreness of it. Well, except that in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, we get the progression of time, generally linear even with flashback. But in ATOMIK AZTEX, time’s not doing that either.
Yesterday evening I co-hosted with Jessica Wickens the Small Press Traffic’s Experimental Fiction reading, which meant that yesterday afternoon I was scrambling for online material and dredging my blog to write some lovely introductions for R. Zamora Linmark and Sesshu Foster, both of whom I’ve admired for various reasons and therefore was very happy to be introducing. Of course, months ago, I found Foster’s City Terrace Field Manual quite belatedly, more than a decade after it was first published, and then it subsequently blew my mind (previous blog post is here), as I have been invested in finding API authors (primarily poets or cross-genre authors who do poetry) whose work subverts the expectations for ethnic writers and our handling of artifact, language, and narrative. In case you haven’t noticed, I am writing from a position of fan-girl-ism for a couple of my (Flip/API) literary role models.
(1) Sunny had mentioned while at the Journey concert that he didn’t want his American Pop blog to become the Arnel Pineda show. I feel him on that, which is why I will forego writing my own lengthy review of this past weekend’s show, since my review would be completely peppered with uncritical feelgoodism (and you get it already: I *heart* Arnel Pineda). Instead, let me point you to two local papers’ reviews (San Mateo County Times | Sacramento Bee) of the other two Northern California Journey-Heart-Cheap Trick shows. If I am reading these reviews correctly, all of the Northern California shows were sold out. Some perspective: the Police reunion tour and Stevie Wonder did not sell out these amphitheater venues.
Good Lord this book is dense, spiky, and ferocious. I am actually taking a break from it as we speak, after relishing in and wincing at the details of these broken human bodies; one split open at the ribcage, each half clamped down like butterfly wings “pinned to a sheet,” then stapled and sewed back up. This image actually reminds me of a whole raw roasting chicken before and after you cleave it. Another human body has his hand split in two by a stray chain from a chainsaw, his skin flapping aside and revealing yellow fat underneath.
Found used books at Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue yesterday evening:
- Jimmy Santiago Baca, Black Mesa Poems. New Directions Publishing, 1989.
- Sesshu Foster, City Terrace Field Manual. Kaya Press, 1996. (Excerpts can be found at the Modern American Poetry website here.)
- Haunani-Kay Trask, Light in the Crevice Never Seen. Calyx Books, 1994.
These, along with Andrés Montoya’s the iceworker sings and other poems, are my weekend reading. I started Foster’s book last night as well, and it’s interesting to be reading Foster and Montoya concurrently, as their concepts of City are similar, and challenging my concept of City. Whereas even in the margins of SF, there still is to me this sense of city limits like a corral or pen, Foster and Montoya have sprawl, and certainly, City in Central Valley and Southern California sprawl in terms of geographical space and folk making and/or finding community and work.
Let my discussion on sprawl here not be interpreted as “the opposite of dense”; both poets’ bodies of work are dense with concrete details and sharp objects, blood, bullets, drugs/booze, and with poetic speakers who are both in the thick of it and then stepping back ever so slightly to bear witness, to think about perspective. Surprising, scary, violent shit happens in City; you wonder how to prepare for it, whether you really can.
OK. More later.