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, UCSD

Local San Diego: Paul Harding

UCSD New Writing Series Presents Paul Harding, 4/11/12

You have to love an artist who can poke fun at himself. Paul Harding was introduced by his friend and UCSD Professor, Ben Doller. Professor Doller started off his presentation by reading from some of Harding’s worst reviews on Amazon.com. Apparently, some people found his novel, Tinkers, boring, without plot, and a waste of time.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, Tinkers won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2010.

A self-deprecating Pulitzer winner? A God among men, yet the humblest of the humble? Perhaps you are calling shenanigans on me from your computer screen. But ladies and gentlemen, it’s all true. I cannot tell a lie.

Okay so, Paul Harding. He’s smart, he’s humble, he won a Pulitzer, and a lot of people didn’t like his book. So where does that leave this review?

I’m going to borrow Tinkers from my friend as soon as my workload lightens up. Harding read from Tinkers at the reading yesterday afternoon, along with an excerpt from his new novel that will be released soon, and part of a short story he wrote, Speed of Light, which is set in Nigeria.

While listening to Harding read his work, I was struck by the same feelings I felt listening to the poem Howl being read aloud. It’s one of those things where the words you’re hearing don’t fade out of your mind as soon as you process them, but collect until their is a bottleneck of beautiful prose in your brain, the pressure mounting until it all comes out in a rush when the story is done.

Harding certainly had beautiful, precise, prose. It’s very lyrical and bears a strong resemblance to poetry. Harding used to be a drummer, which seems to contribute to this feeling of musicality. He explains that he seems to hear the lines in beats and phrases, trimming a syllable hear and there to fit this sort of rhythm he has in mind for his work.

My favorite line I picked up on at the reading, was fromSpeed of Light. Two characters are looking up at the stars, and one is talking about them to the other. He says, “Our own history is in the sky, preserved for us in light”.

In the Q&A, discussion of Harding’s writing process inevitably came up. I really enjoyed his answer though. In essence, he said that writing processes are never normative and should never be thought of as such. He also went on to state that “the right way for you to write is whatever gets the words on the page”. Another of his thoughts about writing is that a writer should know his language to the fullest extent possible so that everything is as precise and perfectly articulated as it could possibly be.

I’ll close this off with another gem from Harding’s writing. In Tinkers the title character goes searching for his father. In it, he climbs trees and is described as “tasting for traces of my father in their sap”.

Local San Diego

Local San Diego: Poetry International Publishing Fair

SDSU Publishing Fair presented by Poetry International 3/19/12

This is going to be a bit of a shorter post, just sort of a summary of thoughts presented by the panel. The panel was composed of five representatives, including members from Cooper Dillon Press, Calypso Editions, and City Works Press.

The fair was put on as a congregation of small, local presses. It was exciting to see different organizations run by undergraduates, graduate students, and people who love literature. One of the most interesting points of the panel was how quickly the talk devolved into discussions about markets and in particular, e-books. Among the most interesting thoughts (no accreditation because I’m not sure who was talking), was the idea that e-books don’t replace actual books. Most of the people buying e-books are readers already; thus, they buy real flesh and blood books because they love reading. In this light, e-books are more a convenient companion to the paper book.

Another interesting idea (again no accreditation) is that the e-books as we see them now are a very primitive form of what they’re going to be in the future. There’s a lot of cool things you can do with technology; people who work in digital poetics and media as visual artists and writers can attest to that. E-books as they are now are essentially fancier PDF files. But they have the potential to be completely interactive, with sound and voice components, differences in color, etc. One person even brought up how cool it would be if the text faded off an on the page or changed colors. Now that is an entirely different beast than we’re seeing now. The technology isn’t there at the moment to support that, but it will be. And when it does, in my opinion, e-books will be even less competition to regular books because they will have evolved into something completely different. It’s like the difference between theatre and film or film and photography- they have the same roots, but now they’ve gone their separate ways and become mediums all of their own accord. They’re each supplementary to the overall artistic experience that is part of culture and society as we know it.

Participants (in no particular order):

Alchemy: Journal of Translation

Red Hen Press

Fiction International

Poetry International

Calypso Editions

Cider Press Review

Brick Road Press

Cooper Dillon Press

City Works Press

Pacific Review

California Journal of Poetics

Writers Ink Literary Center

Acorn Review

Puma Press

Border Voices Poetry Project

San Diego JCC Literary Series

Museum of the Living Artist Literary Series

Denver Publishing Institute

San Diego Poetry Annual/ Garden Oak Press

Haiku San Diego & Haiku Society of America Anthology

Black Crow Reading Series

Local San Diego, Reviews, UCSD, Writing

Local San Diego: Eileen Myles

UCSD New Writing Series Presents Eileen Myles, 3/12/12

This is the image they used to advertising Myles’s reading. To me, it kind of sums her up perfectly. As an artist, as a writer, as a poet, she is incredibly human. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to her read at UCSD three times now and every time I am amazed by how utterly normal she is. She’s funny, she’s smart, she’s kind, she’s the sort of person I’d want to narrate my life if my life was a movie. And above all, I find her to be quite humble. There are those people who you know think highly of themselves even if they’re not saying anything to that effect. Some of them deserve it, some of them don’t. But Eileen Myles isn’t one of them. She’s quite well-known, but she’s the humblest famous person I’ve ever encountered.

I can’t decide if I like hearing Myles’s work or her stories about her life more. It seems she’s been everywhere, done everything, met everyone worth knowing. She even ran for President once.

There are some people whose actual voice and their writing voice, don’t jive. For whatever reason, they seem like separate parts of the same individual. It’s hard to imagine them reading their own work. Myles isn’t one of those people. When she’s reading poetry, reading fiction, talking about her life, it’s all the same. There is no boundary between Eileen the artist and Eileen the person.

My friend once pointed out to me that in my writing, the word/image of “dust” always sneaks in. I always found that interesting, but considered it to be sort of weird quirk I should probably try and get rid of; I’ve never heard it/seen it in another. But tonight, for whatever reason as I was listening to her, all sorts of words and ideas kept popping out over and over. Chief among them is the idea of water, of wet, of the ocean, of things that flow. I don’t know Eileen as a person, but after hearing her several times, I would say this concept is important. The idea of something that exists everywhere with the power to calm and to destroy and to mold everything around it. Yet water is innocuous in that we need it to survive just as we need the food we eat, masticating it between our teeth and destroying it beyond recognition. When we take in water we reduce it to its most primitive level and strip it of its power.

Eileen finds meaning and beauty everywhere around her, even if it’s as mundane as a box of Tampax sitting on a window ledge (actual inspiration for a poem). Eileen Myles isn’t your grandmother’s poet; like a lot of the writers I’ve been profiling here through my Local San Diego series, Eileen is a modern poet, someone young readers and writers can connect to. You won’t find a Shakespearean sonnet in her work (at least, I don’t think so. But if you did it’d be a Shakespearean sonnet like you’ve never heard it before). Like Charles Bernstein, Eileen is a thoroughly accessible poet. She told us she’s sixty-two, but like Bernstein, she might as well be a thirty year old with thirty-two years of experience. I sort of had a thought as I was sitting there: Does writing keep us young?

Someone asked her a question about her writing process. While she didn’t give a straight answer, she did impart us with a little gem, however unintentional, in reference to a pencil that captivated her attention: “I wrote until that pencil had no more poems”. I think that’s something we can all aspire to as writers.

Local San Diego, Poetry

Local San Diego: Charles Bernstein

UCSD New Writing Series Presents Charles Bernstein, 3/2/12

I’ll admit it: until a few days ago I had no idea who Charles Bernstein was. I feel about literature the same way I do about film: you’ll never read everything and it’s stupid to try.

Bernstein is apparently kind of famous. This fact was evident to me when I arrived at the reading. It was held in one of the large rooms in the library (not the usual location of the Writing Series) and still they had to pull out more and more chairs. Much the same way as Jaap Blonk, Bernstein doesn’t give you much of an impression of anything until he opens his mouth.

Bernstein started off with a poem in which the first line was, “poets are fakers”. Well. That’s one way to get a roomful of people to sit up and take notice. In another life, I think Bernstein was some sort of riddle master. During the Q&A my friend asked Bernstein what he thought the purpose of poetry was. Bernstein replied, “There is no purpose of poetry; and that is not its purpose”.

In my notebook, I wrote down a brief opinion of Bernstein: a young man in an old man’s body; the flesh declines, but the soul soars.

Bernstein has a very nice and rhythmic reading voice. If you are at all inclined to dozing off, be warned: you could definitely fall asleep to Bernstein reading. Not that his work was boring or uninteresting in any way (at least in my opinion), but because his voice is so melodic. When I was a baby, my mother used to put me to sleep to recording of her voice reading me a children’s book. No surprise that I often fall asleep in classes where the professor just talks and talks. But back to Bernstein.

As a sometimes tutor of writing/literature, I feel that Bernstein would be an ideal poet to teach people about. He’s contemporary, he’s modern, he’s accessible. He speaks with the language and words of our time. His poetry is something even the most reluctant poet’s could aspire to. It’s free verse, not flowery, and vaguely comedic. For all of you teachers out there, particularly high school teachers, check out Bernstein’s work.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite lines from one of Bernstein’s poems he read aloud yesterday:

“To truly appreciate sitting, you have to stand”.

Local San Diego, Poetry, UCSD

Local San Diego: Jaap Blonk

UCSD New Writing Series Presents Jaap Blonk, 2/27/12

I don’t think I was quite prepared for this guy. He was billed as a “sound poet”, but I never really gave much thought to what that meant. Well, it sounds a little like this:

Talk about pushing the boundaries of poetry, music, self-expression, and the vocal range of the human body. The funny part is that Jaap is quite mild-mannered, verging on soft-spoken. But when he performs, he lights up. I’m pretty sure he can make more noise than an entire room-full of people together.

I don’t have a lot to say about this performance, mostly because it was so trippy. Every time I thought I understood how he worked/what was coming next, he’d move on and do some other surprising thing.

One of the most interesting things about Jaap came out during the Q&A. For ten years of his career, Jaap was soundly rejected by those who said what he did wasn’t poetry or music. But he persisted and now he performs at literary and musical events, among many others. Sometimes if you just don’t go away, people find a way to accommodate you. It’s all a matter of being louder than your neasayers. 🙂

Follow back to Jaap's own website