David Boeving reviews Jeff Kass’s recent reading at EMU:
When Jeff Kass performed a small section of his intriguing poetry program, “Wrestle the Great Fear: A Performance Poetica,” he succeeded in many ways, yet fell short in others. The performance, taking place on the 15th of September at the EMU Student Center Auditorium, was an interesting connection between staged action, and a poetry reading. The author himself seemed well fit for the performance as he preceded to execute wrestling exercises while spouting off poetry of a related theme. The aforementioned subject matter seemed to be partially that of the relation of the struggles of wrestling, as a metaphor, for the struggles of collegic and high school student life. As the performance ensued, Kass included much of his only struggles as a teacher into this metaphor, along with the struggles of the student in general, and in specific.
Highlights of the performance, were that of the authors overall comfort within the environment of his own program. For example, as videos appeared on a large projection screen high above him, Kass seemed quite ready and well rehearsed to elaborate upon the inclusion of said videos, thus strengthening the overall cohesiveness, and professionalism present in the work. The videos themselves, most notably one of a professional baseball team’s success and, one of his own students performing, related palpably his own childhood dreams into the program, as well as his own current state, and a major theme of the program: his relation to the stress of students from a teacher’s standpoint.
Furthermore, the task of performing poetry while acting out wrestling related motions might seem stifling to many, but Kass performed in such a way that complemented his performance and theme more than it did hinder it. These movements, and this level comfort that was seen, greatly aided Kass, but that is not to say that the program did not falter in some ways, mostly, the stage setting and a questionable choice of included song.
One strife one may have with the stage setting, while it did frame the stage nicely, was the inclusion of chairs on each side of the stage, facing the author. While the idea seemed thought out, it could surely be expanded upon more by possibly including desks in place of the chairs. The aforesaid swap would further theme the performance, and thus add further cohesion. A second strife that one may have with the program, is that of one specific song choice, and the manner in which the author handled it. A song included at multiple points during the show, consisting of a hook that roughly goes, “You are what you eat…” surely hindered the performance more than it aided it as Kass attempted to sing along, but not quite on key. Beyond said vocal difficulties though, as an audience member, I could not quite feel the relationship existing between the song, and the overall purpose of the program.
Regardless though, in the end, “Wrestle the Great Fear: A Performance Poetica,” was a very much so enjoyable performance. The themes touched on, as well as the ways in which they were related, provided for a reading performance with much meaningful depth. Aside for a few minor point of questionability, the author succeeded in captivating me as an audience member throughout the evening. He put a large amount of himself into not only the poetry itself, but also the performance, crossing the boundaries between a reading and a performance. During the program, Kass surely proved himself as a conceptual artist, and also as a performance poet.