An Afternoon of the Epigrammatic

Saturday, June 15, 2013

LIFE SENTENCES

Linda and I got to the Poetic Research Bureau after the first two readers, Aaron Kunin and Vanessa Place, had taken their turns, in part because the transition ramp from the 710 north (from Long Beach) to the 5 Freeway (to downtown LA) was completely shut down for some kind of construction. Fortunately, we were able to loop around on the 60 to get to the 101 and then work our way into Chinatown. Even more fortunately, Guy Bennett happened to be standing on the sidewalk across from the walkway that houses the PRB. After finding a parking lot about two blocks away that let us park the whole afternoon for four dollars, we spotted Aaron Kunin walking just ahead of us and he led us right to the door.

PRB used to be located in Glendale, and I regret that I never was able to attend any of their events there. It’s been in Chinatown for three years now, and I’m equally sorry now that it’s taken me so long to enjoy the programming that A Maxwell has set in motion. We arrived in time to hear all of Guy Bennett’s presentation, which concluded with several sections of his “Self-Evident Poems.” I remember reading a selection of this work in an issue of OR magazine a year or so ago, and enjoying it immensely. First, though, Bennett read definitions by Flaubert and excerpts from “The Thoughts Behind the Thoughts” by Peter Schmidt, followed by renditions of “greguerias” by Ramon Gomez de la Serna, which went over especially well. De la Serna’s witty aphorisms are as profound as anything enunciated by Paul Valery, but the undercurrent of comedy in the “greguerias” gives them an urgency that surpasses Valery’s insightful calculations of the human predicament (cf: Valery’s comment about the angel being puzzled at human laughter).

I doubt that A Maxwell and Maggie Nelson conferred about their selections for the afternoon, but both ended up addressing the relationship of writing to the presence of children in their lives. Maxwell read first about his son’s infancy and then moved into a manuscript that worked in a parallel manner on his daughter’s first year. Nelson, in turn, gave us a sustained extract from a new piece she’s working on about the birth and infancy of her son. At one point, almost in syncopation with Maxwell, she commented on how ridiculous it was for an author to dedicate his or her book to a new-born child. What could such a gesture mean to a person years away from literacy? Maxwell had propitiously set up a context for her question when he commented in his piece that his son was not someone he could say he knew; after all, the child himself does not know who he is. In all these writers, though, what is known is the desire to know.

The afternoon concluded with a reading by Charles Bernstein, who logged on via Skype and regaled us with a quietly impish set of propositions, parodies, and epigrams, all of which proved to be a superb introduction to Bernstein’s work for Linda. “Thought is more resourceful than reality. That is why reality repudiates thought.” “Show me a man with both feet planted firmly on the ground and I’ll show you a man who can’t get his pants on.”

Somewhere between 30 and 40 people seemed to drop in for at least one or two of the readers during the course of the afternoon, which was one of the more satisfying programs I’ve attended in recent years. Though most of the people in the audience were writers themselves, the afternoon was not a mirror trick of imaginative writing. Linda is a painter, not a poet, and she enjoyed it as much as anyone else there.