The reading at Abobe Books last night has definitely breathed new life into my poetics. I’ve revised older work, shared new work, read work from other poets and came back to the bedrock of my work–sharing my story with new audiences.
First off, Daphne Gottlieb shared some amazing new work where she embodied the voice of carnival workers, a clear extension of her poetic manifesto of finding the voice of society’s “others.” Instead of staying in the safe space of revisiting voices she has personified before, Gottlieb brought the audience into a world many have visited (the land of carny and festival lore) but few have actually taken the time to explore. Gottlieb let us explore that world with poetry that channeled persona and emotion in clear and direct tones while still elevating the music of common speech.
Charlie Jane Anders came through fresh from the chaos of Wonder Con and went right into a new story filled with time travel, cancer babies, sumo robots, rocket-propelled grenades and an assassination attempt on one of the US’s most beloved Presidents. Yeah, seriously, and you know what–she pulled it all off with crisp dialogue, kinetic language and a reading style that made the audience believe every word was truth than the Bible. With her focus on reporting for IO9 and curating some of SF’s best literary venues, you shouldn’t miss a chance to her Miss Charlie Jane when she reads her work.
As for me, I was psyched to find out earlier in the week that I would be getting twenty minutes to read, a big leap from the seven or ten minutes I’ve been getting lately. Not that I’m complaining, any chance to read is a good chance to work on your orality but twenty minutes gives me a chance to share a couple of arcs of work, recite poems from other writers, and sneak some banter in which is exactly what I did. My reading wasn’t perfect, my voice choked on a few spots and I swore a little too much in my banter but overall, I had a good time and my recitation skills continue to improve with better articulation, varied pacing and more persona. I still need to work on my keeping my breathing under control and staying true to the clock (I came in just under the mark).
JUSTIN DESMANGLES PRESENTS, IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CENTER OF THE SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY
WE ARE ALREADY IN THE FUTURE! BARACK OBAMA: YEAR ONE
POET, PLAYWRIGHT, ESSAYIST, AMIRI BARAKA WILL DELIVER A TALK ON THE PRESIDENCY OF BARACK OBAMA
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 1PM
SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY
MAIN BRANCH IN THE KORET AUDITORIUM
100 LARKIN STREET (at GROVE)
In a rare West Coast appearance, poet, playwright, essayist and political activist Amiri Baraka delivers a historic speech on our first African-American President, Barack Obama. One of the true giants of international poetry, Amiri Baraka is a towering presence in the history of the United States and throughout the Americas. A transitional figure in both the Beat Generation and Civil Rights Era, Amiri Baraka is also know as the father of the Black Arts Movement. In 2008, during the primary and general election cycles, Amiri Baraka continued to surprise, delight and provoke his friends and enemies with a series of rigorous, inventive, and powerfully deciphering essays on then candidate Barack Obama. With this unique, once in a lifetime, event Amiri Baraka will revisit those essays, and bring his keen, always original, interpretation of the Obama Presidency in it’s first year. The talk will be immediately followed by a discussion with Justin Desmangles, and continue with a question and answer period with the audience.
Yesterday Barb and I hit the Watershed Poetry Festival for the first time. A stellar line up, gorgeous day and attendance credit for my poetry class made this a must-attend for us.
We missed out on the Strawberry Creek Walk but got their in time for the Open Mic and got to enjoy almost all of the day’s features. Almost because the allure of the Berkeley Farmer’s Market was way too strong, I had to return a book to the Berkeley Library, and (on the real) the day was just way too hot. Next time we hit the Watershed, we’re coming armed with blankets, umbrellas and picnic food. Believe that.
Some highlights of the festival:
David Mas Masumoto is a brilliant storyteller with such vivid details, rich history and intense nature imagery that I was shocked to find out he is a novelist and not a poet. His “Sweat” story had a great refrain that channeled all the energy and traditions of the finest Fresno literary traditions. He also displayed some fine oratory skills with his call-and-response story, “Buddhist Tractor.” Masumoto also spoke of the backstory behind his latest work, Wisdom of the Father; where he helps his father recover from a stroke by reteaching him how to farm, reversing the roles of father/son, master/student and (in my estimation) historian/audience. I can’t wait to jump into Letters to the Valley, Masumoto’s pastoral epistles that we happen to already have in the Sexy Loft Library.
Carol Moldaw presented a beautiful set of poetry directly referencing various definitions of watershed. Her work balanced a fine line between high academic diction and accessible locales.
Not only would this be my first Watershed but also the first time I hear Kim Addonizio read. She read mostly from her latest work, Lucifer at the Starlite, both off-page and with musical accompaniment from the guitarist of her band.
The youth poets from Poetry Inside Out, River of Words and California Poets in the Schools really brought their A-game. All of them had strong poetics that clearly came from some clear poetic form instruction with the favorite seeming to be personification poems. All of the poems stayed true to their poetic intent and allowed the various poets to really enter into the text which showed in their strong presentation skills as well.
Marilyn Chin started off her set with some off-page work which, I gotta say, surprised and delighted me before moving onto some newer prose work. Good stuff.
I really wish that Arthur Sze had some more reading time because his work was so multi-layered that I’m not sure I got all his nuance and references. I did appreciate his command of language and how he weaved so much nature into his poetry.
Robert Hass not only closed out the reading with a wonderful reading but also led all the reader through a group reading of Brenda Hillman’s “Berkeley Water,” a poem celebrating the neighboring Berkeley Farmer’s Market.
If there was one thing that had me scratching my head, it would be when Poetry Flash host Richard Silberg was promoting the upcoming Individual World Poetry Slam and then presented performance poet Chris Olander, a poet whose work embodied all the techniques and tools of a typical slam poet. It’s not Olander’s performance I’m questioning but the fact that Berkeley has an abundance of poets who not only self-identify as slam or performance poets but have also excelled in local, regional and national competition. Why not choose one of those poets to help promote the IWPS? It just felt odd that the person who was being presented as an example of slam poetry isn’t a part of the upcoming national slam competition. Makes me feel that if you present yourself as a page poet, you have to have a set degree of credentials before you can be taken seriously but if you present yourself as a performance poet, then set standards go out the window.
Other than this one ciritique, Silberg and the rest of the organizers did a great job of bringing poetry out into the open field of MLK Park. This was my first Watershed but I’m sure I’ll be back for the next one.