on the Snyder/Berrigan Reading

Magnificent readings from Rick Snyder and Anselm Berrigan at the Bowery Poetry Club on Saturday.

Here’s Gary’s intro for Rick:

Sometime between 2002 and 2004—my memory of the exact year is too hazy to retrieve—Rick Snyder stunned New York’s experimental poetry scene when he announced that he was leaving not just the city, but the east coast, to study Classics in Los Angeles.

According to San Francisco poet George Albon, no less a figure than W.H. Auden once claimed that the ideal home for the poet—if he or she was to be truly contemporary—was somewhere that had recently gone from hopeful boomtown or near Utopic status to disappointing, crumbling—ideally frightening—Dystopia. For reasons that George explained, but which were nonetheless still unclear to me, while New York had been that place at the time of Auden’s residency here, Los Angeles—Rick’s new, if temporary, home—was Dystopia Central, and thus where you as a poet speaking of and to your time wanted to be now.

I was not exactly convinced by this, and am still not. But there is something distinctly contemporary and American that resonates with this idea of boomtown/utopia gone afoul—which seems to be not only part of the “natural” course of our cities—consider the steady “clean-up” of New York only to end in the apocalyptic 9/11 attacks and subsequent economic slump—but our online and other, conceptual, spaces, too.

Of all of the poets I can think of, Rick Snyder seems particularly keyed into this entopic aspect of American space and culture. It’s almost frightening, for instance, what he sees, focusing on what is still the primary site of most poetic dissemination: paper. As he playfully writes in Paper Poem:

Your papers litter the floor
your litter papers the floor
your papers had a litter
and none of them survived
the poems you put on them

That Rick seems to be particularly aware of the seeds of Dystopia in every Utopia is particularly evident in his first full-length book, just out from Ugly Duckling Presse: Escape from Combray. Combray refers of course to Proust’s fictionalized childhood village, and this book features a detail of a map of Rick’s own “childhood”—poetic childhood, anyway–“village”—Chicago, where, as he writes:

cars volleyed
back and forth
but no one else
was out

the storefronts
were dark and hollow

the higher windows
flickered in
tv light

and far ahead
the expressway
glowed so bright
I could hear it

And here’s my intro for Anselm:

One reason, perhaps, that the audience for poets is composed mostly of poets is that to really get inside a poem, it’s very useful to try to put oneself inside its compositional gestures, almost as if, in reading or experiencing it, you are writing it yourself. For me, some poets facilitate this more readily than others, and I’m thinking of those whose work is imbued with a sense of its making-at-the-moment, like Philip Whalen, and Bernadette Mayer, and Allen Bramhall. I would include Anselm Berrigan among them. At the outset of each Anselm poem, I feel as if an exploration or adventure is about to start, rather like waiting in line for a ride at a carnival or starting a road trip. His poems seem not so often created with strategy aforethought: rather, their strategies emerge in time as discoveries. They are full of the propulsion of lyric, but it is a totally non-precious lyricity enriched with a swirl of influences (many outside of poetry) as well as what he endearingly calls a “messiness” that shows up in the poems as multiple unpredictable registers and vocabularies, although what dominates is his own “Anselm voice”, which strikes me as kind of boyish and at once funny and sadly ironic, and not at all ever stuck-up.

Asked in an interview a few years ago about the ratio of “found” to “created” language in his poems, he responded,

I could be a pain in the ass and say that all language is found and all language is created, but I’ll spare you that even though I just said it. I’d say it is something like 85/15 created/found. I’ll take a little from here, a little from there, but I like to come up with my own combinations as much I can. My mind is a just a little too blank sometimes. I often think that there are no words in my head until I write them down.

Anselm thinks and writes and talks about writing a lot, and always engagingly. I love these two quotes from his mutual interview with Marcella Durand in Gary’s old magazine readme from ten years ago:

I leave wide open the possibility that this world is not the real world. But I’m interested in this world as a subject for poems. I had an interesting experience once, which suggested to me that the dimension which we take ourselves to reside in is rather thin, and could be torn away as if wallpaper.

The compositional space I operate out of is living, and ideas related to artifice, language, form, etc. I take to be encapsulated within that space, so that it’s completely open as to what a poem can do, or be.


Nick Piombino responds to the readings here.

Some favorite lines:

(from Rick)

I guess the ass is cleaner and better and doesn’t have any teeth

It curls up at the corners like a dog’s mouth but only if you think about it

They don’t have syntax so we can eat them

I hear the watercooler bloop bloop when I close my eyes

(from Anselm)

It’s uselessly unhip to penetrate a machine gun

I pushed the stroller calmly, deliberately, past the wild turkey

I only eat chicken before I swing

My bones are filled with pink lemonade

No one listens to bios

I hate pathos

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