Friday night was spent at the de Young which is apparently doing their best to make a night at the museum an experience for everyone with what looked, felt and was dressed up like a rave.
Luckily, we were at the other side of the museum where the music of choice was the jazz instrumentation of Hafez Modirzadeh alongside selections from Nathaniel Mackeyâ€™s Splay Anthem, which I have heard great things about and seen on many a bookshelf for quite a long time but never got a chance to get to.
This reading was perfect in every way. Mackey got straight to business and delivered a seamless (no banter) set that started off with the â€œsoon comeâ€ and ended with â€œthe word kept coming up.â€ In between was a cyclical journey going back and forth between Mackeyâ€™s â€œWeâ€ (more on that in a sec) and their experience with place and how that translated into language. Mackeyâ€™s We could be either from â€œEgypt or Tennesseeâ€ but it didnâ€™t matter since the â€œcement skyâ€ they were under provided little or no fruit (â€œbread we broke with hammersâ€). From there the persistent question popped up: â€œWhat if am?â€ Not an examination of the self – as in What if I am? – but another examination of situation and whether the We was in danger (â€œgas, weâ€™d sworn it wasâ€) or out of danger (â€œsinging, some called itâ€) and whether that even mattered at all (one of my favorite lines of the night: â€œthat we were there, but not there, was no reliefâ€).
Mackey then swept into a Biblical undertow (citing both â€œthe apocryphal sheâ€ and â€œthe he they sang ofâ€) that brought us into a Babel-ish moment (where â€œtranslating the songâ€ and â€œthe motion of tonesâ€ was key) and then finally bringing it all together (â€œroom and world meant the same,â€ a line I keep reading as room & word but thatâ€™s just me). Mind you, all this was only one movement from Splay Anthem.
Now, I could be off on some of these lines since they are all from my personal journal, which I was scribbling into all the way through, and I could be off on my interpretation, since this was the first time I have heard any of Mackeyâ€™s work, but this is what I picked up on this beautiful live reading. This just reinforces some of my thoughts on live reading and its affect on audience.
Modirzadehâ€™s music was spot on and blended perfectly, not only with Mackeyâ€™s poem but also his pauses.
The Q&A that followed was equal parts about process and mysticism, two terms that may be incompatible but both Mackey and Modirzadeh explained that the two do not have mutually exclusive.
â€œIt has been a real challenge to be a person in love with language but on to the fact that language misleads us in many ways.â€
â€œWe are all in the state of becoming one another.â€
I was able to ask Mackey a little bit about his use of We and what of his relationship with the poetic â€œIâ€.
â€œReluctantâ€ was his response when talking of the â€œIâ€ and then he proceeded to explain how the We is his pronoun of choice and how it affected his work. â€œWe spoken here. Aqui se habla we,â€ was how Mackey summed it up.
I love readings like this, where so much care goes into the poems, presentation and process to make it seem almost effortless but then to know that there is effort and that lesson effort can be extended from one artist to the next. Readings like this make me say â€œI want to know what that poet knows.â€ â€œI want to learn from this writer.â€ â€œDamn, I wish I wrote that.â€ And, even better yet, â€œYou know what? I am going to try to write like that.â€
Iâ€™ll end with a final quote from Modirzadeh and a poem (which is my response to Writing Assignment #5) celebrating the We.
â€œThis is a continuation of the conversation we were having.â€
Poem was here. Can now be found in BorderSenses-Summer 2008.