EMU student Reid Raham reviews Julie Patton’s recent BathHouse reading:
Having no experience with Julie Patton’s works, I went in to her performance at Sponberg Theater on November 9th without any expectations. Nevertheless, her performance was not what I expected.
Many performers, poets or otherwise, tend to stay rooted in place in front of a microphone stand, maybe shifting their weight if their legs get tired – the typical exception, of course, is musicians. Perhaps this musical side of Patton is what allows her to wander the stage; it certainly allows it to seem natural. Patton’s focus was on sound: she combined her own sound poetry with various musical instruments, including a guitar accompaniment that played whatever came to mind – much like Patton said whatever came to mind. She added musical instruments such as tambourines and bells to her voice, combining the repetitiveness of both that, along with the guitar, created a three-layered feedback loop that both enhanced and masked its repetitive nature.
Adding to the unorthodox nature of the performance was audience participation. Patton, despite repeated claims of being unable to see the crowd from on stage, reacted to various oddities – for example, acting shocked when someone came into the theater during the performance. Near the close of the performance, she recruited – or possibly forced – some audience members to the front, giving them the musical instruments she had, and having them all play at once while she shouted and ran around the stage. The guitar changed from calm background sound to rough electric noise, making an effect not unlike some bizarre exorcism. For the record, Patton called the exercise “musicing,” making note of the word’s status as a verb.
Her focus on audio and visual cues, however, may have dulled the actual poetry aspect of the performance. Her extensive use of sound poetry at the beginning meant her voice transformed almost solely into a vocal accompaniment of the guitar in the background. The effect was a blurring of the words into another instrument, with only jarring and blatant statements being memorable – for example, a perversion of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham to reference slightly-outdated and unwelcome political views. In a performance meant to blend everything together, Patton still managed to include aspects that did not fit with the rest of it; however, given the strange nature of the performance, it may have been intentional.
In the end, Julie Patton’s performance was not a poetry reading so much as it was an exercise in form destruction: repetitive vocals, noise, and music combined and clashed to create something unidentifiable. In a way, no matter what one expects in a Patton performance, one can expect to receive something unexpected.