Jessica Buterbaugh reviews CRTW faculty BathHouse and Jeff Kass readings

EMU student Jessica Buterbaugh reviews a Jeff Kass reading and the faculty BathHouse reading from this past semester:

The first BathHouse Reading of the semester on the 29th of Sept. in Sponberg Theater was the faculty reading with Christine Hume, Carla Harryman, and Rob Halpern. Each faculty member had a distinct style and subject matter that enabled the audience to get a good idea of the talents of the creative writing department.Hume started the night off with a selection of her works mixed with audio tracks.  The soundtrack, which was made for her work and sometimes incorporated actual phrases from it, was an interesting device. It enhanced the overall mood of the language she was using. I particularly enjoyed her piece where she talks about a recurring dream she’s had all her life.Harryman gave the next performance, which was based on “working non-narratively”. She made ample use of repeated words,  alliteration, rhyming, and sound reiteration. Much of her work had a driving, almost frenetic quality to it. It made the times she slowed down stand out that much more. “Baby” was particulary interesting, and featured several phrases that caught my attention, like “regression was a word that gave babies a bad rap”. It was a fascinating look at life/society through the eyes of Baby.

Halpern was the only one of the three that I hadn’t had a class with, so I was very interested to see what his work would be like. Intensely personal are the words that immediately come to mind when describing his reading. Though I sometimes found the eroticism of his work to be a little overwhelming, it was a very moving and engaging reading.

Overall, the faculty reading was a success and had a good turn-out. It was amusing hearing people talk next to me who had no idea what they were about to hear before the reading started, as well as their reactions afterward. I felt like I was able to learn more about the personality of the faculty members outside of the classroom through their writing and performances.

Jeff Kass’ performance of Wrestle the Great Fear on Sept 15th in the Student Center auditorium was highly energetic, motivational, and fun. He tackled hard issues that his high school students face, and that the adults who work with and mentor them face. He remarked in the performance that he’s “trying to be the teacher he never had” for his students. His performance included videos, songs, recitations, anecdotes, and physical performances. His subject matter, while centered around a high school enviroment, ranged from the serious to the slightly risqué, to the flat-out silly.

It was extremely moving to hear him talk about his wonderful, amazing, so talented, so creative student named Angel. A student who had lost her mother, but made it into a strength for herself, and who wrote and performed poetry so well that he wished he never had another student like her because it was too hard. Later in the show there was a video montage of various students of his performing their pieces and Angel on that video is just as amazing, raw, and powerful as Jeff Kass describes her. It was no surprise to me that many of the questions in the Q&A session afterward focused on her.

I loved the video of the piece of gum in the girl’s mouth. I thought it was clever to have a piece of gum narrating its experience insider her mouth as a way to bring up teenage attractions, hormones, and feelings. The nerd song was also very hilarious and entertaining. I liked his view on nerds, that anyone who is extremely dedicate and/or good at something, anything, is a nerd. It was particularly amusing when he called Michael Jordan a nerd, and Steven Spielburg a super nerd. The fact that it was a song only made it more memorable.

He kept the audience captivated the entire show and was truly engaging. I regretted that it was not the full performance, because what I saw was so powerful (and funny!) that I wanted to see more.

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.