Local San Diego

Local San Diego: Judy Reeves & Jim Ruland

Judy Reeves & Jim Ruland presented by the reading series at the San Diego Museum of the Living Artist in Balboa Park 6/21/12

Some of you have seen my Open Mic Etiquette post on The Dark Globe. The event that inspired that post happened at this reading. The reading series put on by MOLA features an Open Mic after the featured reading. Below are my thoughts on the actual reading, which unfortunately got overridden by the very rude behavior of a reader during the Open Mic.

This was the second time I’d been to MOLA for a reading. Jim Ruland read first. He is the author of a short story collection, The Big Lonesome, and curates another Los Angeles/San Diego reading series, Vermin on the Mount, which I intend to check out in the coming months. He is also on the board for San Diego Writers, Ink. At MOLA, Jim read a lengthy short story about short stories and short story writers. That should already tell you something of his personality. The story was very engaging, about a short story writer on a deadline who receives a package containing a book of his work translated into Czech, except he didn’t write the work. Short stories are hard to pull off at readings. I know. I usually read poetry, but occasionally will throw some flash fiction at the audience. It’s very hard to keep an audience’s attention during a piece of fiction, so that they won’t get lost or confused. Ruland accomplished this in an exemplary manner. His writing is littered with such powerful witticisms as “the purloined story”, “a prose technician”, “a coffin in miniature”, “succulent groupies”, and “the details needed massaging”. Looking back, I think one reason why this particular story worked so well for a live reading, is the way it was structured. It was a neat, compact story, but it didn’t get too overblown and lose the reader. It wandered off into anecdotes and tangents as writing is want to do, but always he’d include a little grounding tidbit, something to the effect of “but now here he was, staring at the package on the table”. Little flags like that are helpful in a live audience. If you zone out a little, once you hear a grounding flag like that, you can jump back into the story with ease.

The second reader was Judy Reeves, the author of A Writer’s Book of Days. She is a teacher and author, as well as the co-founder of San Diego Writers, Ink. She runs a number of workshops and groups at San Diego Writer’s Ink. At MOLA, she read a series of flash fiction pieces. Her work (or at least the pieces she read) are very focused around women and women’s issue, such as sexuality (straight or gay) that is often tabooed in American culture. One of the stories she read was based around the Chinese Legend of the Moon Mother, who had twenty-eight houses in which she kept a different consort. Reeves took the legend and translated it into the American West, telling the story of a cowgirl on a farm full of cowboys and ranch hands, a cowgirl dancing by light of the moon. One of my favorite descriptions from this piece was “the tips of her boots a bright constellation”. She read a couple pieces. from which I collected the lines “one-light towns”, “silos like fat, silver fingers of God”, and “men with sunburned necks and flinty eyes”. I have Reeves book, A Writer’s Book of Days, which I got her to sign for me when the evening was done. I read a short piece of fiction during the Open Mic, which she liked.

My signed copy!
Fiction, Local San Diego, Poetry

Local San Diego: Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Ferris

Ilya Kaminsky & Katie Ferris presented by the reading series at the San Diego Museum of the Living Artist in Balboa Park 3/23/12

I’m breaking out of my UCSD bubble and attending readings in the larger world! Tonight’s event featured husband and wife Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Ferris, both professors at San Diego State University. The event took place amongst the paintings and photos and other art that lines the walls of the museum. The museum is housed inside the sprawling acres of gorgeous that is Balboa Park.

Katie Ferris read first, choosing some selections from her book BoysGirls. Described as fairytales for adults, she presented a couple of short stories including such topics as a girl with a mirror for a face and a girl who couldn’t shit on the devil’s face. It’s very deliciously Aimee Bender in that way. Her short stories are definitely short- at least the ones she read couldn’t be more than a page or two in length. But all were quite quirky and beautiful in their own ways. The close of the story about the girl with a mirror for a face says something to the effect of, “I’m not only empty, but I contain multitudes”.

Her husband, Ilya Kaminsky read next. Now, if you’re the type of person who gets up in the morning, thinks about how much your life sucks, and proceeds to throw yourself a pity party, take note. Ilya is a deaf poet. He lost his hearing at the age of four. Some time afterwards, his family moved from Russia to the US. Not only does Ilya speak and understand English well, he’s a professor. Still think your life is hard and you should give up now? Keep walking.

Listening to Ilya read is quite the experience. For one thing, he passes around copies of his work for the audience to look at while he reads. I would love it if more authors did this. I consider myself to be a visual, not auditory person. As such, I sometimes get lost listening to people speak because I spent too long trying to puzzle out a word. Ilya passes the books around I suspect so that the audience can get more enjoyment. Though I suppose that enjoyment is relative. Ilya is hard to understand, but he’s hard to understand because when he speaks, it sounds like English, Russian, and music all at once. Really. All at once. That description doesn’t even really begin to adequately describe what’s happening. This is poetry that transcends poetry as we know it.

The evening was followed up by an open mic session. There were a good amount of students from SDSU there and it was clear how much they love Katie and Ilya. As I attend a good amount of open mic nights, it was interesting to check out the scene at this one. It definitely has a different sort of a flavor. While many are skewed towards the young, this one featured equal representation from the opposite end of the age spectrum. Very interesting to hear and experience, especially as for many of the speakers, this was their first time.

There was one poet who came up who had an interesting premise. Apparently, he spent a year “quitting stuff” and is now spending a year “doing stuff”. The poem was the response to all that. But it was interesting to think about what that looks like. A year of quitting and a year of doing. I want to take up such an experiment.