Friday, November 18, 2011
Sent to me by the author. Inscribed:
for Mike and Lori
much love always
The last time Simon read in Buffalo was about two years ago. He makes it a point to read here often. I first met him with Jonathan Skinner at a bar on Buffalo's West Side called The Rendezvous. It's an former speakeasy that used to be a frequent graduate student haunt. It's gone through several major ownership changes over the years, opening with a new menu and catering to grad student types one year, then changing the menu and catering to locals from the neighborhood the next. It shuts down for years at a time, then re-opens. It's hard to keep up with all the changes..
I remember getting a call from Jonathan late one night saying he was there with a poet named Simon Pettet and would I like to come out and meet him. I pulled myself away from my computer and drove over to the bar. I remember enjoying listening to Simon's stories about poets and others. Oddly, I don't think he was in town to read, or if he was it was to read in someone's class, maybe David Landrey. It wasn't until a few years later that I actually saw him read myself.
He read at Jonathan's Steel Bar series in the Tri-Main Center. It took place in the studio of Isabelle Pelissier, Jonathan's wife. As Simon read his short, tight, beautiful poems, I recall thinking to myself that he made frequent, almost excessive use of repetition. Not only was he repeating rhetorical figures, he was repeating whole stanzas in the same poem. I listened as he did this again and again. Finally, I figured out what was happening: he was reading each poem twice in succession.
It was as if he realized that the brevity of his poems lent itself to a half-hearted attention on the part of listener, one he intended to counteract by reading the poem again, in case the listener missed it the first time. After he finished reading a poem, he just read it again. The second time through he would change the pace, sometimes reading faster, sometimes slower, sometimes making variations occur line by line.
This continued until the final poem of the evening, which he read only once. After the reading, I approached him and asked why he didn't repeat the last poem. Well, he said in his British accent, I wouldn't want everyone to remember me only as The Poet Who Reads Every Poem Twice, would I?
Turning round to discover that
Though your feet are on the ground,
Naturally, your head's in the air.
Elongated your spine is
All the better to climb to heaven with.
Make of me Beauty a Ladder then
(It has already been granted)
Dissolving at every step.