Tag Archives: Guy Bennett

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.

 

Poetic Research Bureau

I received a notice about LIFE SENTENCES the other day and can’t think of a better possible way to start posting on my site than to share this announcement.

If I were able to bring in a single poet from anywhere in the United States who would complicate the dialogue aspired to in this upcoming program, Michael Kincaid would be my first choice. I have met him at only one occasion, a celebration of Tom McGrath’s writing that took place at the Loft in Minnesota when McGrath turned 70. Doren Robbins and I flew out together from Los Angeles to be part of the program and one of the people in attendance was a young poet who seemed as equally obstreperous in his poetics as I yearned to be. Kincaid and I corresponded for several years, and I published his chapbook, “Inclemency’s Tribe,” in 1990 as a sort of coda to my work as editor of Momentum Press. He has remained the most stalwart and uncompromising poet-philosopher in contemporary practice. Here is entry number 43 from his most recent book, “LIGHTNING DIALOGUES,” published by Nemesis in Minneapolis.

CHILDREN OF SOCRATES. — From the French dialecticians — Derrida, et al. — to a poet like Jorie Graham, the postmoderns are neo-Socratics, basking in the false prestige Socrates lent to ignorance. They don’t know: that is their claim to admiration, the plot and pathos of their drama. Playing to the mirror, they deconstruct their presence, trading on a politic despair. They flaunt their self-doubt as if uncertainty’s dialectic were a superior form of presence, not its indefinite deferral.

My expectation is that the program announced by the Poetic Research Bureau will offer the crucial variant that gets left out of Kincaid’s summary of postmodern poetics. The desire to know still underpins the writing of many poets who struggle with how to determine the boundaries of negative capability. Of the poets who will be reading this Saturday, Bennett and Bernstein in particular are likely to remind the audience that the yearning for knowledge cuts short the self-serving pose of the neo-Socratics. The advantages of saying “I don’t know” lose their momentum when confronted with the question, “What would it mean if you did know? How would you then be held accountable for having not known?” At the very least, there is a poignant desire to know underlying the work of many poets who get lumped together as postmodern, but who agitate that categorization with their jaunty wit, the one quality that most efficiently redeems the deferral of resolute acknowledgement. Even so, I wish I had the means to bring Kincaid’s critique into the conversation this Saturday, for it would make this event even more deserving of your attendance. Despite his absence, I hope to see you there.

LIFE SENTENCES: An Afternoon of the Epigrammatic
4 hours, 8 readers, 800+ statements

w/

Guy Bennett, Charles Bernstein, Aaron Kunin, Andrew Maxwell, Maggie Nelson, Vanessa Place, Matvei Yankelevich, Maged Zaher

Saturday June 15th, 2013 1pm – 5pm
@ Poetic Research Bureau
951 Chung King Rd, Chinatown, LA

Gnomes, aphorisms, propositions, fragments,
maxims, phrases, epigrams, mottoes, curses,
koans, haiku, quips, dry tweets, pensées.

In sequence, relentlessly, toward 1000 sentences.
Live readers, video people, giving the compressed
form its due, by mouth and by pixel.