Friday, May 4, 2012

What I Heard Last Saturday: Improved Lighting Reading Series, April 28

80º ~ headed for a steamy 92º, near calm, beautiful watery green light filtering down through the leaves, stepped outside for the paper and reached for an oxygen mask in the heavy air

Dear Friends of the Kangaroo, I am returned from the depths of the academic year and eager to return to regular updates.

To begin, I'll travel back in time a few days and give you all a mini-review of the latest installment of the Improved Lighting Reading Series housed in Fayetteville, AR, and the brainchild of Matthew Henriksen and Kaveh Bassiri.

The lineup from last Saturday:  Chris Wong, Tom Andes, Corrie Williamson, and Traci Brimhall.

Chris began the night by reading from his book-length poem, Songs for Margaret Cravens, New American Poetry Series Number Two from USPOCO Books.  This is Chris' first book and judging by the poems I heard Saturday night, I'm in for a stellar read!  The book explores the essence of Ezra Pound through the lens of his companion Margaret Cravens.  That companionship lasted about nine months and ended with Cravens' suicide in the summer of 1912.  Still, the poems are not bio-histories; the poet is there and his world is there, twined with Pound's and Craven's.

Here's a taste from one of the poems Chris read on Saturday night.


A bird in the house is an omen of death
But death follows all things.  All things in life
are omens of death.  There is no dearth
of ill omen.  The reappearance of a leaf

was omen to Eliot, who lamented and muttered
of rebirth and fertility.  Even the spring 
was an omen of death!  Not that it matters
but Eliot died.  All die. Some hang by a string.

Next up was Tom Andes, who wove a tale so deftly with his short story that we were all transported to that bar and wound up in that dysfunctional relationship in "Donegan's Lost Year."  What I admired so much about the story was the attention to the right details.  This is something I struggle with all the time: what to leave in, what to leave out.  It seemed like every detail, from the sticky bar top to the verb describing how the main character passed a joint back to the bouncer were the only possible choices.  I was lucky enough to pick up one of the few remaining copies of Tom's chapbook Life Before the Storm and other stories, which was published by Cannibal Books, sadly now defunct.

After a musical interlude, featuring The Rhubarbs covering Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett, and the like, Corrie Williamson took the stage and delivered some powerful poems in her graceful, gorgeous way.  Frequent readers may remember that Corrie read for the Big Rock Reading Series last fall.  I was so excited to see her name on the lineup for the night.  One of the things I admire about Corrie's work is her ability to layer images from the natural world with human interactions in a way that feels completely right and unforced.  There is nothing heavy handed about her poems.  She was generous enough to let me have one of the copies from her folder so that I could share a bit with you all.  The poem "A Sparrow's Life's as Sweet as Mine" (after John Clare) is a narrative about the speaker and her father cleaning the chimney each fall.  It ends this way.

... .  In lucky years, we'd hear too
the thrum of wings, the sparrow navigating
past the chain and out of that puckered
black mouth, past our pale faces
and into the chilled air, wings soft
with ash, nest knocked free into the empty
space our fires would safely lick.

Finally, the evening ended with Traci Brimhall, author of one of my favorite books read in 2011, Rookery, and on tour with her new book Our Lady of the Ruins.  I posted a personal response to Rookery here and can't wait to do the same for Traci's second book soon, soon, soon!  Fair warning: I am completely biased about Traci's work, but I come by that bias honestly.  I picked up Rookery after reading a set of her poems in Copper Nickel.  Only after reading it and posting about it did she and I strike up an online friendship via blogs, Facebook, and email.  I was lucky enough to be her pseudo-host in Fayetteville, as we decided to meet earlier in the day on Saturday so we could sit down and have a good poetry talk.  I can't say enough how wonderful our time together was and how much I had needed some good poetry time after a rocky end of my semester.  It was also great fun to share my college town with her, especially the Dickson Street Bookstore!

But this is about the reading, and let me tell you, Brimhall knows how to give a good reading!  She connects with the audience with poems of honest vulnerability, frustration, joy, and questioning.  She connects through her eyes and her voice and her body language.  Because Chris read from the poem I quoted above, Traci read my favorite poem from Rookery, "Aubade with a Broken Neck," and I'm pretty sure I cried a bit there.  And then, she introduced us to poems from the new book that set me spinning.  Here's a glimpse of one, and watch for my longer post soon.

To My Unborn Daughter

They will try to make you read it, the book of plagues,
written by the dangerous one behind the stars.  Do not

believe their dusty proverbs.  I am a good woman.
They'll tell you we are banished, but this isn't exile.

It's a refuge from a nation of titans.  Know that a man
does not have to be bigger than the tower he builds,

but a battlefield must be wider than the bodies below it.

So, if you're in the Fayetteville area, become a fan of the Improved Lighting Reading Series.  Matt and Kaveh are doing something wonderful there!  I hope to make the drive up for more of their events.

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