On November 28 and 29 two Bathhouse reading events took place in the auditorium of Roosevelt hall on campus. There were three authors in the event, beginning with a reading on the afternoon of the 28th and a panel discussion including audience questions on the 29th.
The reading began with Dmitri Anastasopoulos, a professor of English at the University of Buffalo. Unlike most of the Bathhouse guests I have seen, Dmitri is a novelist, not a poet. Still, the piece of his novel-in-progress that he read to us was rather poetic in sound. It was not dry, straightforward prose by any means. The character he focused on seemed to be going back and forth through his life, or at least this section was composed mostly of recollection and flashback, so that the story seemed fragmented even as it followed a clear thematic path. It was pretty good, I would be interested in reading more of his work.
Camille Roy read from two sources, a piece of work she is currently working on and her previously published book of poetry, Sherwood Forest. I read Sherwood Forest before coming to the reading, so her poetry was familiar to me, but still difficult to grasp. She spoke in the panel about how she tries to make her poetry accessible to everyone, so that someone without the experience and knowledge in experimental poetry can still get enjoyment and feeling out of her work, but to be honest I mostly found myself struggling to keep up. Her use of words is very unusual, so that it never sounds like prose, but has none of the qualities of traditional poetry. It just seemed opaque to me, but that may be because of my own biases. I have never been good at experimental poetry, it often goes over my head. It feels like, despite Camille’s efforts, that I would need to know exactly where she was coming from to have any hope of understanding her. I get very little of the emotion behind her words, just the nonsense of the words themselves.
This has unfortunately been the case too often in my time at Eastern. The Creative Writing department here is mostly made up of avant garde poets, and I have always aspired to be a fiction writer. Dmitri Anastasopoulos was rather obtuse and nonlinear in his reading, but at least it was recognizable, with characters and the actions they took and thoughts they experienced. I was able to connect much better with him than with the other two presenters.
Speaking of which, Rachel Levitsky was the third author there, and she was at least easier to understand than Camille Roy. Still unusual and far from straightforward, but I did get a sense of what she was going for. As she read from her book Neighbor I had an odd feeling of the space she was creating, a sort of cramped interior, lived in and used up but still vibrant with human life. It was rather pleasant to hear, actually.
The more interesting event was the next day at the discussion panel. It began with three presentations from the authors on stage. Rachel Levitsky’s was interesting, I like the idea she was getting at. An important fact of our urban existence is decay, and forgetting about whatever is old and no longer exciting. It’s an interesting thought she put forth, that as we lose sight of the locations we have built, we also forget what they meant historically, culturally, and in regards to the literature they are connected with. These are non-renewable resources, and so rediscovering them before they are gone for good is a worthy goal.
Camille Roy’s presentation was about obscurity. What she means by this is the way our own language is used and where it came from. Any word in the English language comes with centuries of etymological history, changes in connotation and meaning and cultural significance. You can’t use a word without summoning a vast backstory, but most people are very insensitive to these arcane facts of language. Camille pointed out that poetry used to be almost a separate language from actual speech, accessible only by the aristocracy. Her goal is to further the purpose of making poetry more universal; even though it is difficult, it is still inclusive despite its obscurity, as long as one is interested in it and willing to work to understand it. I have certainly experienced this myself in the Eastern Creative Writing program. I was quite unfamiliar with such obscure forms of poetry before I came here, and I have learned a lot about how to dig into it and get new things out of it. It’s frustrating at times, but I will admit to an expanded understanding of poetry and writing in general thanks to this program.
Dmitri Anastasopoulos went on at length about a lot of things. His main idea, I think, was about how narrative permeates our lives; it is not just a technique of literature that exists in print and not in the real world. I tried to write down everything he said, but honestly I couldn’t keep up. He spoke a lot about how virtual worlds in online video games show us things about communities and groups of people that we can’t measure in the real world, and how a lot of it seems counter-intuitive. He spoke about economic theories, and how they are sometimes poorly constructed because of the way people think in terms of narrative; a narrative is rather personal, and however epic or large scale it may be, it comes down to individual characters, which is not the way an economy works, thus these theories are often suspect. Yeah, it was long and twisting and complicated; interesting, but hard to contain here or even remember in this review.
I’ve been to many Bathhouse readings in 3 years at Eastern, but I think this one was honestly my favorite. All three authors were interesting, even if they were sometimes long-winded or hard to follow. The reading on the 28th was interesting for the questions it prompted in me to myself. I have never read anything of my own publicly, not to a room larger than my own classes. The social space they have to be aware of when they choose what to read and how to read it is something I have not experienced, and I think I would have to before I can really grasp its implications. So basically, I need to get myself out there, get more experience in community interaction regarding my own art. Unless I want to be J. D. Salinger and cut off any interaction with the literary world at large, I need to start thinking about these things.