Thursday, January 10, 2013

Aimless Reading: The Y's, Part 3 (John Yau)

Radiant Silhouette
Yau, John
Radiant Silhouette: New & Selected Work 1974-1988

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books.

John Yau visited Charles Bernstein's seminar during my second semester in graduate school. I have two specific memories related to the visit, one from after the reading and one from before the visit.

After the reading, we all went out for dinner at the Anchor Bar, the birthplace of the Buffalo chicken wing. It's a large Italian family restaurant on what was then a pretty bleak stretch of Main St. (the area around it is much improved). It had a bar, multiple dining areas, and a small stage where they used to (and probably still do) have live jazz a couple of nights a week.

A large group of us occupied a table in the smoking area, which was off the bar, separate from the main dining area. Everyone ate and smoked and drank for several hours. Charles and John sat beside each other at in the center of the table. I sat across from them. There was a young couple there -- Aaron and Michelle. They were undergraduates who had taken Charles' seminars and came to every single reading. Both were vegan. This came out when we ordered our dinner. Charles asked them a few questions then moved on to something else.

Later in the night, however, Charles started a conversation with John that was a kind of performance. He began by asking John what his ideal city would look like. Before John could answer, he began to expound a vision for his own city. He did this by proposing one rule after the next. All of this was tongue in cheek and very funny. The only rule I remember had to do with veganism. "In my city, you can BE vegan, you just can't SAY you are vegan."

My other memory takes place before Yau arrived. That semester I was meeting once a week with Robert Creeley to discuss my poetry. At our first meeting, I handed him a stack of poems to take home with him. At our second, we met at Spot coffee on Delaware Ave. and Chippewa St. Creeley brought his blue plastic suitcase with him. He set it on the table, opened the latches, and removed my pile of poems as well as a copy of this book and also Yau's Forbidden Entries, which had just come out.

Then he started talking a blue streak, mostly about punning. He was obliquely suggesting that I needed to think more about the individual words I was using in my poems, their multiple meaning, how those multiple meanings built themselves up into a poem. He never said any of this directly. He spoke mostly by pointing at things and talking about what was interesting in them.

He started talking about "Dear Old Robert Duncan" and how he had asked of Williams red wheelbarrow. "Red (Read) What is red?" Then he pointed at Forbidden Entries and said something about all the puns he saw in that title. As I recall, my head was spinning. I kept waiting for him to tell me whether or not he liked my poems.

The closest he came was when he said, "I read these poems and I feel like I am walking down a city street peering into all these hidden alleys and doorways and I keep asking myself how the doors and alleys connect to the street."

I am still working on that one.

from Radiant Silhouette

After Moving

Even as the street becomes familiar to you
             almost incidental
the way details in novels can add
             their unblendable color
to the overall scheme; and faces pass
             from strangers to companions
without the intervention of touch;
             and the traffic
no longer sounds harsh, but grows muted
             as the gray afternoons
that occasionally fill the sky with a festering sun
             behind clouds rubbed smooth;
you feel removed from the surrounding scenery
             though is you were asked
you would not deny you have a place
             in this circumstance
and partake of events, though they rarely
             if ever
seem connected as the street do
             angles of one block
joined to another, the building jammed together,
             with a child playing on the stoop
or covering her eyes while her friends
             run into the darkness
the game takes into account

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