Saturday, January 31, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 29 (Christian Bök)


Crystallography
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Bök, Christian
Crystallography


Although I have known and been a fan of Christian's for more than a decade, I just bought this and Eunoia recently (at amazon.com). Partly, this is because over the years I have seen him perform probably 80 percent of the content of the two books in person and so buying the book felt somewhat redundant. Happily, the experience of reading them is not at all redundant, as the books themselves are as alive visually and semantically as they are when Christian performs them.

I first met C. at a party in London. Ontario, that is. It was at Tom Orange's apartment. Tom was studying there, and even though I know he is from Cleveland, I still think of Tom as Canadian. Forgive me, Tom. The party took place only a month or two after I had arrived in Buffalo, so was probably in the fall of 1997. Several poetics students--myself, Bill Howe, Eleni Stecopoulos, Taylor Brady, and Scott Pound--read alongside chris cheek, who was in Buffalo to read in the Wednesdays at 4 Plus series. I think Joel Kuszai was there, too, but did not read for some reason.

Tom had invited us to read at a little art gallery in London and had a party for us beforehand--or was it afterward--or both? I can't remember. I think it was after the reading. A lot of the poets that were either in or or around Toronto at the time were there as well--Darren Wershler (-Henry), Peter Jaeger, and Christian. After the reading, which was my first since arriving in Buffalo, we all went back to Tom's for the party. I remember now, it was definitely after the reading.

There was a guy from the college radio station there and he interviewed us all for his program. He asked everyone about where and what they had published and I felt really embarrassed because I had yet to publish anything outside of the undergraduate literary magazine six years earlier. cris cheek, perhaps sensing my embarrassment, humbly told the interviewer that he didn't really publish very much, despite the fact he'd been writing and publishing for well nigh 30 years! (Thanks, cris!)

(cris' performance that night, which took place very soon after Princess Diana had died in a car accident, utilized a bullhorn to rather exciting and disturbing effect. The piece had something to do with Diana, but I can't recall quite what. I remember being thrilled by his performance -- I hadn't at that time had much exposure to sound poetry or sound performances. Readings in New York in the mid-90's tended to be frigid to the point of brittleness, regardless of the quality of the writing. One other memory of cris cheek that night. On the ride back to Buffalo we passed what seemed like 30 miles of strip malls on the way out of London. The whole time cris played at naming all of the fonts on all of the signs on all the stores in all the strip malls as we passed them. He seemed to recognize every single one).

Soon afterward there came to be a pretty strong back-and-forth between the poets in Toronto and the poets in Buffalo. I think I first saw Christian perform in Buffalo at a little art gallery and performance space (which is sorely missed) called cornershop. Anya Lewin had convinced her landlord to allow her use the storefront below her apartment for minimal cost, of which I think the Gray Chair picked up a portion. This became a hub of avant-garde activity for a couple of years, with fashion shows, video performances, poetry readings, exhibitions, etc., occurring on what seemed like a nightly (but was probably a weekly) basis.

In those days, Christian always wore a black leather motorcycle jacket. He has since traded in the leather for a sport coat and a tie. He has also traded in Toronto for Calgary, and crystallography for genomic research.

Reading through this book recently, I was really struck at how beautiful many of the poems are, a fact often easily overshadowed by the mythology that surrounds the muscular conceptual precision and prodigious performance skills of their creator.

Here's a short piece I like a lot:

KALOKAGATHIA

stars are bubbles of air

rising through an infinite

depth: we rise with them

through this dark, slow

motion snowfall in reverse


sleep through our ascent

bound at wrist and ankle

by the chains from silver

watches, anchors without

weight: even as we dream


we hold our breath against

the moment when we crash

up through the surface

tension, as though through

a sheet of glass, into still


another depth with other

stars, fragments of our

last collision in our wake

eyes shut tight, and every

mouth a photo of a scream


Wikipedia entry on the word in the title.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Canadian poets seem to get published easily, regularly, and confidently. It is a different scene.