Sunday, November 18, 2007

Another Busy Week in Poetry Town

Nathaniel Mackey
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Pretty amazing 8 days for poetry in Buffalo since I last wrote. Robert Hass read at the University on Friday the 9th. I think he won the National Book Award the next day or maybe a couple of days after that.

I had every intention of making it up there for the reading, but I was very tired after shuttling Pamuk around. My exhaustion was compounded by the fact that we received an offer on our house at about 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon. We spent a very intense 90 minutes negotiating the price before we finally accepted the offer. It wasn't everything we'd hoped for, but it was probably as much as we could have expected given the neighborhood and the market. By the time that was over, all I really wanted to do was vegetate.

I did get to see the amazing reading by last year's National Book Award winner, Nathaniel Mackey, on Thursday night at Hallwalls. This guy is a true master. I am sure he's probably sick of hearing about how much his work is like jazz, but man is it ever. Outside of actual sound poems, I've never heard anyone write with such intense musicality before. What amazes me is that these are essentially narrative poems, albeit disjunctive ones, and yet Mackey is continually able to drive the music forward without losing the narrative thread. It's almost overwhelming to listen to the rhythms and alliterations that punctuate every single breath. It's like (JAZZ ALERT) listening to a Coltrane solo, where he bends the melody so far outside one's normal sense of regularity that we get lost in the bending, and then just as it seems we are about to spin into harmony- and melody-less space, we hear the head drop back into the song -- "these are a few of my fa-vo-rite things!" Wow, bravo, Mr. Mackey. It was heartening to see so many people at the reading -- at least 90 people were there.

Next night my old dear friend Dan Machlin and former Buffalonian (now of Flushing) Stephanie Gray read in Just Buffalo's Small Press Poetry series at Rust Belt Books. Dan read from his new collection, Dear Body, just out from Ugly Duckling Presse. It's a very measured work that delights in exploring some of the outer linguistic reaches of mind-body dualism, without ever trying to come down wholly in favor of a materialist or a dualist or a spiritualist world view. Most of the poems are letters written to and from the "The Body" to or from a narrative voice that may or may not be the consciousness housed in that body. The poems are mournful and playful and the collection comes to a stirring conclusion in the final section, which is comprised of a long, knotted, dense sequence called "Beautiful Linear Bodies." My favorite section is the middle section, "Antebodies," which is comprised of six line poems written in lines of seven syllables each. These poems achieve a minimalist precision I can really appreciate.

Stephanie read mostly prose poems from a forthcoming collection entitled, Heart Stoner Bingo (great title). Her poems work very assiduously with repetition. They are poems written by a person struggling both to hear and to be heard, and the insistence with which they repeat words and phrases becomes an exploration of meaning and context and incremental variation, as well as celebration sound itself. The poems are intelligent, poignant, and often very funny. Anyhow, I look forward to the book.

And some sleep. All for now.

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