Chad Sweeney and Kaya Oakes @ Pegasus Bookstore

I first got to hear Chad Sweeney’s work a few months back and was immediately impressed with the awe and genuine joy he exhibits in both the process and presentation of his poems. The line that stood out that night one where he spoke of cages and a place where all they grow is cages. It takes a WHOLE year to build a cage!

I am not sure if that is the exact line and I am very sure he didn’t capitalize it that way but that is my memory of this line filled with an enthusiasm that felt like it followed the poet from the original writing, to the making of the chapbook A Mirror to Shatter the Hammer, to the reading of the poem.

With all that said, I was very much looking forward to Chad’s reading from his debut collection An Architecture.

SIDENOTE: While waiting for the reading to start, I was looking through Pegasus’ awesome used poetry collection and was thrilled to find a first edition paperback of Victor Hernandez Cruz’s SNAPS. And the price of this fine piece of Nuyorican/Califas poetry? Less than $5. Score!

Kaya Oakes set off the reading and for a second I wasn’t feeling her poems. I thought she was being just a little too flippant with the work and then would gather it all up in the middle and then wind down towards the end. Turns out that what I was interpreting as flippant was a sincere look at life from a poet who wasn’t looking for solutions but instead finding pathways and intersections where real life and interesting language meet. A good reading of both newish work and (what she called) b-side poems from Oakes’s first book Telegraph.

Chad then went up and instead of just reading from his just-freshly-arrived-from-the-publishers-book he instead decided to talk about how he came to the project that would become the 56 section serial poem. The talk ranged from converting music into speech; to extending the range of the Objectivists; to entering a writing zone that “intended nothing;” to making leaps, jumps and parachute drops vis-à-vis various voices, to a conscious break from his previous writing into a new voice that was unafraid to leave a poem unresolved. Willing to go back and explore an idea again, not with the intent to write the same poem twice, but with the desire to chronicle the change in the voice from one experience to the next. A poetic experiment – forgive the much maligned and overused term – to (dis)prove Heraclitus’s quote:
“You cannot step twice into the same river; for other waters are continually flowing in.”

The poems in An Architecture live up to all of Chad’s non-intentions. Even as the “man hold tight to his own leash” change is the constant thread in these poems. Change in the form of fire, wind, government, war, transportation and wreckage to name but a few. But with the thread comes a tapestry and the bigger tapestry is in mountains, sky, minerals, city, night, faith, music, breath and color.

At least that is what I picked up from the reading and I am sure I will find this and more in the reading of An Architecture.

But the most important thing I got from this reading was inspiration, and the reminder that a poem is more than just words leaning against each other or fighting for white space on the page. Poems may begin as these things but then they have to become more.

During his introduction, Chad insists that, “A poem can’t be thought, it has to be dream.” I agree.

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