David Boeving reviews Eric Loberer & Barrett Watten BathHouse reading

It’s the first BathHouse review of Winter ’11. This one is courtesy David Boeving:

Eric Loberer began the initial reading for the 2011 EMU Creative Writing department’s BathHouse reading series by providing an extensive portrayal and interpretation of the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge (better known as the John Ashbery bridge) as it relates to the category of site-specific art. The bridge, which exists and thrives in Minneapolis, Minnesota between The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and a piece of land owned by the municipality, acts as a type of performative connection between not only the city and its art community, but also the citizens of the city, those that visit the bridge, and also the traffic passing below it daily. The construction of the bridge, designed by Siah Armajani is consciously reflective of at least two of these connections, if not all. On one side, the bridge is colored a hue of light yellow, on the other, a beautiful blue. This distinction of color seems to relate directly to the divergent sides of the ideological spectrum leading up the bridge itself: the government and the art community. This distinction also seems to be reflected by what can only be referred to as an asymmetric symmetry about the bridge itself. On one side, the support of the bridge arcs down, on the other it arcs up; this relationship creates a type of mirror image that, along with the color differentiation about the structure, separates, yet connects the two opposing yet interconnected sides. John Ashbery’s poem then, which is spread about two flat rails on either side, both leading the poem in separate directions, can be said to do a similar job connecting the art world with the municipality.

Speaking after a short break, Barrett Watten continued along the theme of the night by commenting upon and reading some of his own work that was utilized by Siah Armajani, as well as art’s relation to public space in general. One of the first topics he considered was the work of Robert Smithson, such as the infamous Spiral Jetty, as well as Broken Circle, and other non-site works. He introduced the idea of site specific works, such as the two mentioned above, but also some of Smithson’s non-site works, which include Heap of Language, and other works that have taken an entirely new look at language and art design. Watten’s own work (which was read brilliantly) and analysis seemed to be commenting upon the relation of poetry public space. Essentially, his work, as well as that of other writers whom have been published into public space seems to interact with the environment around it in many ways. It is an influence for the architect or sculptor considering it, and sometimes vice versa. It also, once published, has a powerful relationship to not only the space which it changes drastically, but also the people inhabiting that space. Sometimes this relationship goes unnoticed, but regardless, it is present by comparison to how the space existed prior to be changed by the artist and poet.

In all, both presenters did a wonderful job commenting upon art and public space, and the relationship that they share. The only stipulation that one may have about the evening, would be that the presentations were not indeed long enough. Although it was one of the longer readings/presentations that I had ever attended, it seemed a bit rushed at points. Regardless, the reading was a great success. The evening overall was informative and entertaining, to say the least.

David Boeving reviews EMU Creative Writing Department’s Capstone reading

EMU student David Boeving reviews the EMU Creative Writing Department’s Capstone reading that took place earlier this month:

Capstone. Capstone? What is a capstone? According to the Microsoft Works Word Processor’s Dictionary, a capstone is a “top stone: a stone used at the top of a wall or another structure,” and, a “high point: something considered the highest achievement or most important action in a series of actions.” Cap: to “cover something” or, to “surpass something” or, to “complete something.”

On December 8th at the EMU Student Center, Eastern Michigan University’s Creative Writing department hosted “Capstone,” which was essentially a night of readings by graduating seniors from the department, as well as minors too. It was the culmination of four years of work for three individuals, each of which whom approached writing in a wholly different manner from the others. The first reader, Adam (whose last name I must have missed) read poetry from a Zene he composed. The second reader of the evening, Tim Mies, displayed a video that he had created including songs which he composed as part of the Creative Writing undergraduate program. The final reader of the night, Kristen (whose last name I again missed) read from a short story she had written. All together, they were a great completion to not only a semester of great readings, but also a great all around semester for EMU’s Creative Writing department.

Adam’s first poem which he read was titled, “Slackers Rhythm.” The work itself seemed to be very much reminiscent of a certain poem by Dr. Suess or Shell Silverstein perhaps, where a young child tries to convince one of his parental unit members to not make him go to school. From the begging the work seemed very playful, but quickly turned to more serious excuses, such as saving JFK or saving the stock market. Thus the work then seemed to remind me of the song ‘Handlebars’ by Flobots as it also starts off very playful but takes a serious turn towards political issues as the work continues. This work that started the night, as well as Adam’s reading was intense and funny, and well very well performed.

Next to read was Tim Mies who seems to be more of a songwriter. The entirety of his performance consisted of a section of a film he made, containing songs that he wrote as part of the Creative Writing department. The video itself was shot on an older camcorder, thus giving the entire visual and audio display a retro-esque feeling. Mies’ music matched this feeling perfectly. It all seemed to be near-minimalist and very much soothing at points, providing the video, which consisted of shots taken by him and his family at a cottage they own on a lake in northern Indiana with mostly feelings of warmth. The lyrics about his songs augmented the aforesaid feelings with images such as, “ice cube sympathy” which, along with the connection between the past and the present, connected something of warmth with a solid and grounded image of something that may have occurred in the writer’s past, as he looks back at it from the present.

Lastly, Kristen read from a short story based around a boy’s death an d a series of mysterious phone calls. The story reminded me of Franz Kafka as, a most crucial point of the story, the contents of the actual message left from the dead boy to his family, were not revealed. Like the transformed body of the main character in “The Metamorphosis,” the contents of a message around which a story is based, are pushed to the background. Before reading, Kristen relayed the idea to the audience that the story very much reflected her feelings as a graduating senior. This point seems to be more so touched upon by the end of the story when the lead character again receives a message expressing gratitude, but this time after the boy is already dead. This gratitude of the boy in the story seems to then be very much connected with that of Kristen, as she has completed her time at EMU.

This open-ended story, raising the question of where the final text came from, seems to also reflect the current perception of the future for all three graduating students. What comes next? Hopes of something good seem promising considering the quality of work that each graduating student exhibited. This reading as an entirety also seemed to reflect the general condition of Creative Writing at Eastern Michigan University. With the addition of a brilliant new professor, Rob Halpern, to the already strong and established department, one can only assume that the level of greatness already present about the program will continue to rise and more great Capstone projects will lead to more promising writers about the professional world.

David Boeving reviews Julie Patton

EMU student David Boeving reviews Julie Patton’s BathHouse reading that took place this past Tuesday:

Julie Ezelle Patton’s reading on the ninth of November at the Sponberg Theatre at Eastern Michigan University was wild and eclectic, electric and enticing (to say the least). Her performance, spanning near the entirety of an hour, consisted of a sampling of her works, reworked, and read alive with so much life behind them. Backed on stage by her next door neighbor, who played guitar (which at times seemed very reminiscent of the Canadian band Godspeed You! Black Emperor) during the performance, Patton introduced the crowd that was present night to something very much so musical. Not only did Patton sing at points throughout, but the experimental author went as far as to establish a makeshift jam line of audience-member-musicians mid-performance (she called this “musicing”). Patton’s versatility and youthfulness as a performer kept the entire performance intriguing.

The author ruled the stage of that theater with an amount of energy such a place probably hasn’t seen in months, not only through her crawling, running and sitting all about it, but also through her overall vast number of topics touched on by her performance. Throughout the night she purposefully, and at times maybe not so purposefully, referenced many other works and current events. From the BP oil spills, to Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night,” to Bob Dylan’s album, “Tangled up in Blue,” and Gertrud Stein’s performative repetition of the “rose,” Patton touched on nearly every reference that arose about her pseudo-stream of conscious performance. Not only did the poet reference a good number of well known literary works and current events, but her free-flowing mind also allowed for a number of well articulated existential-like phrases. Such phrases include, “The light changes but we don’t change,” and “The little electric man keeps going and going…” as well as, “Do unto language as language has done unto you” and, “Flora all over herself, mulch too soon.” The performance was packed full with phrases and references of intrigue like those  prior stated.

The show was set with the backdrop of two lone lights shinning upon the theater’s back wall, encompassing Julie and her guitarist friend/neighbor. The lights seemed to be the only concrete and set aspect of the entire night, a fact that seems apparent after conversing with the author after the performance. Patton initially wanted to show slides of the building which her and the guitarist reside, but like the poets now life, the slides were not shown due to the sporadic nature of such a performance. Further along that point, Julie didn’t even know that her neighbor would be performing with her until sometime within the days coming up to the performance. Thus the lights remained the only stationary aspect of the evening. It was those lights, that remained so still the entire night that eventually lowered, in accordance with Patton’s own voice, to close out what could only be described as a lively, intriguing, and fun evening.

David Boeving reviews Christian Bök

Another review of Christian Bök’s recent BathHouse reading, this time by EMU student David Boeving:

Christian Bök opened his performative reading at the Eastern Michigan University’s Sponberg Theatre on the 19th of October by warming his vocal chords on stage via two covers of Dada poems that would leave most normal human beings stumbling over their syllables and gasping for air. What most people would be wholly unable to possibly read, even nonverbally, Bök performed with haste and ease. Through these poems, the Canadian author established himself immediately as a spoken force to be dealt with. This opening to his reading, quickly affirmed the author as an intense performer.

After the two initial works read, Bök proceeded to guide the audience through the furthest possibilities of the human dialect. Reading mostly from his masterpiece of conceptual and creative writing, “Eunoia,” the poet proceeded to provide the audience with an even sampling of each of the novel’s chapters, performing each in a voice that matched the ‘color’ of that individual chapter’s vowel. Along with the differing voices applied to the sections read from the divergent chapters, came also a matching physicality. Between his movements, and his tonal selection, the sections that he read (most of which seemed young and playful, as to match the audience), were brought into a new light that cannot exist on the page. This sampling of each letter’s color, greatly inspired by Arthur Rimbaud, guided the audience, both of which had and had not yet read the text, through the possible personalities of the English language.

After reading a number of translations of the poetry found the, ‘Vowels,’ section of “Eunoia,” as well as some of his more recent work (including a poem waiting to encoded on bacteria that will synthesize another poem in the form of a protein), Bök proceeded to close the reading with another work of Dadaism. According to Bök, the poem generally takes forty minutes to read, yet he claimed to be able to complete the whole in ten. Reading quickly, as he did most of the performance, the author provided the audience with a triumphant coda to the night, as it appeared that he existed immune to making any sort of mistake at all as he read a large section of the already lengthy, and tough work. At that point, the reading had come full circle, completing its tour of the authors wide range of poetic endeavors. It is easy to say that I left in sheer astonishment, and my feeling was only reaffirmed as another audience member that was existing at the same time as I said something along the lines of, “I feel like I just listened to another language for an hour.”

David Boeving reviews CRTW Faculty BathHouse Reading

David Boeving reviews the Creative Writing Faculty’s recent reading that was part of the BathHouse reading series: 

Christine Hume opened the staff BathHouse reading at The Sponberg Theater on September 29th with a mix of audio samples and live performance poetry that steadily spiraled into a type of hypnotizing poetic oblivion. The backing audio, which consisted mostly of recordings of Hume’s own work being read by another, as well as ambient noise tracks, at most times augmented the overall dreamy feeling of her own words. Although at times this mix of ambient audio clips and defamiliarizing poetry did grow to a near overwhelming level, most of the collaboration existed as dense and intriguing. In all, Hume’s inspired and experimental reading started the night off on a powerful level, opening the room up for the next two Eastern Michigan University staff readers, Carla Harryman, and Rob Halpern.

Carla Harryman read next, performing a number poems, mostly ones of a serial nature relating to a character of sorts, ‘Baby’. What struck me most about Carla was her overall energy and articulation, as well as her ability to theme a portion of her performance around said, ’Baby,’ character. Clara read her work with a great gusto and confidence. It was this coolness and character that really kept the rhythm of the night flowing. Although her ability to keep my attention did not seem as high as that of Hume, Harryman still performed in a way that kept the energy of the night alive. Sadly though, it was during Harryman’s performance that I began to notice a certain amount of disrespect from the audience.

Throughout the performers present that evening, and well before the conclusion of the night, a surprising number of listeners migrated ill-discretely towards different exists about the theater. This strange appearance of behavior displayed a great degree of disrespect toward not only the performing poets, but also toward those that were there and intently viewing the aforementioned  performers. Such occurrences might have been due to the fact that the Learning Beyond the Classroom signup sheet was lain out previous to the beginning of the reading, but this is only a speculation. Regardless, not only was such behavior disrespectful to each reader of the evening, but to a certain degree, distracting to the entire performance. Rob Halpern was the final reader of the night, and sadly enough, he was no exception to the aforesaid disrespect.

Regardless, Rob’s poetry and overall performance could be described as nothing short of captivating and emotionally driven. Maybe it was his physicality; while reading his knees bounced awkwardly as if he were marching in place, augmenting mentions of war and violence within his work. These movements matched so well the theme of his work, that one might leave wondering if he had not rehearsed the performance in such a way. Or maybe it was his decision to not use a podium, thus reading close to the audience, establishing a more personal type of bond between his work and those present. Or maybe it was a combination of both those ideas, working in cooperation with his almost cryptic poetry that seemed to be both physical and personal, as well as large and worldly. Rob’s performance, consisting of not only already published work, but also some new material from his upcoming book, “Music for Porn,” was powerful, to say the least, and a perfect conclusion to a vast and eclectic evening.

At the end of the night, it was easy to say that each reader brought something distinct and wholly them to the hearing pleasure of the audience. Christine worked within a multimedia soundscape. Carla applied the idea of serial works. Rob lastly tugged on the heartstrings of the audience with work that seemed to be just as much about war as it was love. The night was a success, to say the least.

David Boeving reviews Jeff Kass

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.