Dusie/Flarf Concert Review (2.x.06)

(Review by Scott Glassman. Archived on The Wayback Machine)

30 Days: poems

Dusie/Flarf Reading at Dickinson

The Dusie/Flarf evening at Dickinson College this past Saturday demonstrated the heights to which the collective sharing of poetry, film, and performance can loft a space, a room, a group of people, how it can ignite the anhedonic gray of September (and for me it is typically a ritualistic retreat into self, a hibernation) only this time I heard an emphatic NO, replacing, rescinding the expected invitation: “the ordinary will not be seen this evening,” instead it will be revelation, the pectoral flex, stripping ones shell off as if it were a nuisance, not the scurry bury-your-head underneath layers September, no–it will be, it was– a multicolored tapestry sequence of the absurd, the solemn, the bizarre, the mean, the wry, the funny, the meditative, the flush, the disjointed, the punctuated, the orchestral, the cacophonic, the minor keys, major keys, the twirls, the straight-ahead, the aphoristic, the declarations, the sexual, the oooohhh meee gooooooooddddddd, the quells, the bird, the ape, the collaboration of emotions in all the five senses and multi-plink!-ative heartbeats. And it rained off and on throughout the day. And it didn’t matter, just made me feel even more cloistered in that recital hall, driven into the interior of this broad array of words, tones, id-storms, performances.

The evening began with a brief welcome by Boyd Spahr. The Dusiers came up to bat led by the vertiginously lyrical poems of Marci Nelligan who read from her collaborative chap Dispatch (penned with Nicole Mauro). I was grateful that Marci, who is so very kind and funny, joined me in the poetry cut-up portion of Joey Bargsten’s multimedia performance. I went next and read four poems from Surface Tension, the 10-day tryst with Mackenzie Carignan, and two sections from Identity Crisis. Though Mackenzie couldn’t physically make it, her aura was very much there, in the “you” of address, formed intimately around the responses. When introducing Identity Crisis, my anxiety welled up high enough to disrupt what was coming out of my mouth. I couldn’t remember the Buddhist quote that framed the book “Nothing should be clung to as me or mine” and instead said something like “You have something, whatever is yours, mine, I uh shouldn’t be, you know, held onto.” Pretty funny in retrospect, but I think I got the point across. Let’s just say I won’t be able to listen to that moment without cringing a bit. The rest of it, thankfully, came out smoothly and the crowd was warm and generous.

Boyd Spahr followed, reading from Can Arboreal Knotwork Help Blackburn out of Frege’s Abyss? which is a gripping read for its unexpectedness and cultural textures, constructed primarily using the method of text appropriation, which has, at times a Flarfian feel. Mark Lamoureux followed by reading his melancholically beautiful, Biblically intoned, verdant, confessional work Night Season. Like having wide green drapes of a tumultuous & mythical sea pulled around you for 12 minutes. It was terrific hanging out with Mark and Rachel throughout the weekend, and I’m happy to have gotten to spend more time with them. Everyone involved in Joey Bargsten’s “Hover” and “Iaught” visual projects had to exit when Dana Ward began to read, so I missed his selection from New Couriers. Hopefully the audio will be available soon. The concept behind Bargsten’s project involved singers and poets triggered into a random polyphony using iPods & portable CD players as cue-generators, this, to the backdrop of perspective-morphing digital art. The singers and poets drifted up and down the lecture hall stairs during the flotsam-mixed, fragmented poetic utterances, only aware of their own parts, while Bargsten dressed like Andy Warhol conducted from the stage. We returned to the stage halfway through and picked up metal bookends threaded through with violin strings and proceeded to add that metallic sound to the air. It was very freeing to be involved with a work like this though I am curious about how others perceived the gestalt, whether it overloaded the senses, had peaks and valleys, or worked better in some places than others.

Following the intermission, it was the Flarf collective’s turn spearheaded by a hilarious and disturbing film by poet/filmaker Brandon Downing that spliced 80s cable access poetry performances, Bollywood scenes, and discovery channel footage to make you feel like you were alternately caught in a pop culture dream and shamanic ritual. It offered fast, primal, incisive social commentary on poetry, performance, evolution, timelines, prey & natural life cycles through discordant juxtapositions, and gave the feeling that you were watching a Flarf poem. My favorite part: the digitized adult villager and pygmie sitting on a log together, naked, the adult’s arm around the pygmie as they watched (what I believe was) the sunset. The cable access poetry footage had a hostage-video feel to it, and took a very close second. Brandon’s work is insanely brilliant, and I look forward to seeing more of it.

I loved the giddily caustic and highly engaging Flarf readings by Gary Sullivan, Mike Magee, Nada Gordon, Drew Gardner (who also directed a group reading, backed by the poetics orchestra Alarm Will Sound), Katie Degentesh, and Rod Smith. These folks are part of the original core of Flarf when it came into existence around 2000, so they are expert in this wry, absurd, transgressive, boundary-splintering style of poetry that emanates uninhibited from the root chakra. It can be highly formalized or anally explosive, involving varying degrees of chance, googled material, staccato rhythms, and surprise. The work encourages the audience to stop sitting with their hands folded in their laps, and enter the poem, asking for a dialogue, taunting you, daring you to yell something back. There were some beginnings of that, but none blossomed. The lecture hall environment did not lend itself to the rowdy full-on crowd release which characterized the New York Flarf Festival a little while back, and which, in my opinion, is an indispensible aspect of the material, one of its most powerful dimensions. Still, when Gary Sullivan reads a poem as though sucking on a dentist’s air/water hose, one finger hooking his mouth like a bass, when Nada Gordon and Katie Degentesh take on the woman’s body without protection or politeness, Nada clearly defining what kind of man she’s interested in, and Mike Magee bursts out with cheery kindergarten neologistic glee about domestic life (I think I’m remembering that correctly), combined with Rod Smith’s low-key sharp-witted deliveries, the performances and material stand perfectly fine on their own.

The poetics orchestra is a hybrid to behold. I highly recommend you catch them in action in New York if you can. The tongue-in-cheek drama was deeply nourished in all the right “sensitive” places by the Alarm Will Sound ensemble. Drew Gardner had an uncanny grasp on when to bring individual instruments to crescendo or quiet. Anytime where a piano player’s job is to pluck the string inside the piano for added gravitas to a genetalia reference, you know you’re witnessing something special.

The combination of Dusie and Flarf readings formed a full scale, two very different poetic registers working nicely in contrast, and offering students exposure to an eclectic mix of sensuality, earnestness, and play. Visual/aural, arcane/solemn . . . representation on both sides, and on a number of levels. I hope that other venues/event organizers take notice and make similar efforts to vary the tone of their evenings, demonstrating openness to cross-genre work. The evening had the feel of a small anthology in two acts. I am glad and lucky to have been a part. A big thank-you to Susana, Boyd Spahr, everyone who read, and everyone who was a part of Dusie, who was there in spirit.

Copyright © 2005 Scott Glassman lives in Palmyra, NJ. His poems have appeared on the web and in print, in journals such as CutBank, Epicenter, Cranky, South Carolina Review, and Cider Press Review. Other poems are forthcoming in Sentence, The Cortland Review, and The Iowa Review.


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