Friday, October 22, 2004

Arrangement

Last Tuesday Kate Pringle gave a reading at The Poetry Center at SF State and I couldn't make it because I work Tuesday nights, but afterwards Kate and Suzanne Stein came into the restaurant and sat at the bar and watched baseball and talked about the reading and of course I asked them how it went and Suzanne had nothing but great things to say and one of the comments Suzanne made was that the reading gave her a whole new way of reading Kate's work -- that she saw the reading as a means of instructing Kate's readers. Kate seemed a little baffled by this and I read her bafflement as a slight worry that perhaps people didn't know how to read her work and needed help. But that wasn't the case.

That night Kate let me read the poems she read. She handed me the stack of papers she read from. There was a little numbering system on the pages. I wasn't reading entire poems from beginning to end but mostly she had chosen fragments of longer pieces and arranged these fragments of different pieces carefully alongside each other. The first and last pieces were from a series that used a kind of textbook language to discuss domestic issues. This text because it's aesthetic was a non-aesthetic prose would probably be the "easiest" kind of language to hear and it worked as a frame for all the other work. The fact that the reading closed with a second fragment from the piece let the reader know that she had done the right thing in choosing that frame. Everything I read after this initial piece I was negotiating against this commentary on the domestic, though many of the other pieces on their own would seemingly have no relationship to this first piece. The arrangement created a conversation for these fragments to have with one another. I understood what Suzanne meant now. The arrangement was a kind of instruction to the reader and in a sense the arrangement and fragmentation of these pieces became a new piece in itself. I was charmed by that idea. Kate's reading reminded me of a reading Lyn Hejinean gave at Villanova University outside Philadelphia a few years ago. She had in front of her on the podium many of her books of poetry and criticism and all of these books had many post-its hanging out of them. Once she started the reading she went seamlessly in and out of poems and essays so that a portion of My Life was read against a paragraph from an essay etc., never staying with one work very long before parsing it to another fragment from another work. I was blown away by the reading because the DJ-esque sampling gave the reader in a short amount of time a real idea of the breadth of Hejinean's work. It seemed to me like the poet herself was taking stock of her entire project. And it made the listener gain perspective on how the author herself views the work.

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