Young & Benson reading report

After going to my doctor yesterday and bragging to him that I never get sick, suddenly this afternoon I was seized by a rattly cough, and now I have a little fever and feel, as they say, miserable.

Whaddya gonna do.

I want before too much time goes by, though, to report on last Saturday’s Stephanie Young/Steve Benson Segue reading.

Stephanie first performed an extended narration to a film collage drawn (largely?) from, I think she said, Touchez pas au Grisby, but I could be wrong. It began with a very impressive lip-synced sequence that dramatized the conflict between a male and a female character as well as the female character’s (it’s Jeanne Moreau, who I think we can pretty safely read as Stephanie, at least in this first section) phobia of being on BART under the bay if an earthquake were to hit. This was followed by non-lip-synced sections, many of which had horizontally or vertically split screens generally showing scenes of interpersonal abuse, interpersonal tenderness, and class resentment. The text to these sections varied but were, I would say, a little more prose than poetry, and included data about the BART’s construction and safety, local gossip, discussions about carnivalesque feast days and orgies, and audio of the environmental sounds that preceded a police shooting on a BART train. David Brazil narrated, with a multitude of nasal sighs, part of the piece in absentia, touching partly on some of the local gossip that formed one aspect of the piece. She isolated sound effects, some of them startling, like the sound of a thrown rock breaking a glass cucumber hothouse. There were nods as well as explicit references to community throughout, and this was something I appreciated but also felt a little uncomfortable in the presence of, partly perhaps because it is not exactly my community, and partly perhaps because it was sort of explicit, at least to me, who has been clued into some of the narratives. I’m not uncomfortable being a voyeur; that isn’t it exactly. I think instead I was uncomfortable with the centrality of the gossip to the piece (although, why? It’s not like I’m uncomfortable with gossip), and I wasn’t sure how it was meant to intertwine with its other strands: class, engineering, phobias, brutality, and so forth. No sooner have I typed this than I realize that class, engineering, phobias, and brutality actually have a great deal to do with gossip, so maybe that is, you know, “something I should look at.” On the whole, the effect was at times very clever, and certainly intricate, and certainly masterful indeed. I’m interested in how Stephanie seems to use her benshi characters as mouthpieces and even as tools towards her own personal catharses. Too, I did see my mantra, “everything is material for poetry,” enacted in it, and that was pleasing.

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Steve worked with lines culled from his recent reading, including Anne Tardos’ amazing and terrifying new book, “I am you,” and perhaps some of his “own lines” as well. He had written these lines on strips of paper (recycled!) on his bus trip coming down from Maine. He was onstage with his laptop, projecting the screen onto which he typed improvisations based on what was written on the slips of paper. As he typed, and between his typing, he spoke. Sometimes his spoken language took off, and then swerved, from what he had just typed. Sometimes it was radically different from the text he was typing. The typing was, naturally, full of typos that were interesting in and of themselves, sometimes allowed to stand, sometimes corrected. Sometimes he typed in the middle of a previously typed phrase, and sometimes at the end. The typing created a wonderful kind of suspense as we saw the letters unfold on the screen, and I would say that they were more poetry than prose in that we were totally engaged in their materiality as they appeared before us, and as we concentrated on them we were also concentrating on how Steve was speaking, and feeling very much inserted into the rawness of his process and the necessary openness of his mind as the language emerged both visually and aurally. Like Stephanie, he was inclusive. Bits of our conversation over and after lunch, about babies and songlines, for example, entered into the stream of his language. Somehow, it was very funny and very serious simultaneously, but neither the humor (as when he mentioned the “rectal breeze” one feels sitting on a bus toilet) or the gravity seemed calculated, because, you know, it wasn’t. I told him later that it has always seemed to me that he has many personae operating at once in these performances: one almost priestly, another very childlike, another philosophical, another intellectual… and he reminded me not to forget the anxious writer whose presence so much “in duration” we can’t help but identify with.

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