KGB Monday Night Poetry kicked off its Spring 2011 season on February 21 with Jeremy Schmall (right) & Anthony McCann, both reading from new books. (Coldfront Magazine published a "set list" of the reading here.)
You may know Jeremy as the devoted co-editor (with Justin Taylor) of the exquisite little journal, The Agriculture Reader, which besides showcasing a clear editorial point of view, is a reminder of the tactile and visual pleasures of the book as object. Jeremy's first book, Jeremy Schmall & the Cult of Comfort shares this attention to design (from the same Brooklyn-based publishers x-ing books), and I wouldn't mention this cosmetic element (that stuff about books & their covers) if it didn't feel so right for the words inside.
We handed over the podium to x-ing books publisher Mark Wagner, who in his generous introduction of Jeremy, made mention of how the sweet little package of the book belies its melancholy, dangerous goods inside. He also guided us into the reading by describing Schmall's work as a warning against the "cult of comfort" - the pollution, mutations and mutilations language endures in the hands of commerce, institutions. (Or at least as I interpreted it... the kingdom overrun / by "fifteen ways to reduce belly fat", for example...).
Jeremy began reading with a kind of invocation by Whitman, from his preface to Leaves of Grass (This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants...). It became the lost Eden to the post-apocalyptic visions of Schmall's work, populated with family sedans, bloodthirsty accountants, ice machines, the moon, a studio audience, "pain that will get us out"... The apocalyptic feeling has become familiar terrain to us in the 21st century -- what made Jeremy's work fresh for me was the sense that we are already in the after part. Empire is the post-apocalypse. His poems are like dispatches to a past time or to our better selves, to Whitman. This, and the fact that, no matter how bleak the poems get, they have little beating hearts & guts, and a sense of humor. It's a real "I" speaking.
Anthony McCann came to us on loan from sunny Los Angeles, a Brooklyn defector. We got a taste of his third book, I ♥ Your Fate soon to be out from the ever-adventurous Wave Books. His & Jeremy's readings were complementary. Not only are both poets admirably bearded, they both share an interest in "human as animal" or "human and animal." Both begin in the absurd, the absurd is home. Many poets would remain content in such a house, but their work departs on a search for more.
Poems from the series "I Heart Your Fate," smack in the middle of the book, were all written in a form of five quatrains. This rigorousness apparently caused the lines to grow rhythmic iambic feet & take off. (Anthony said he wrestled with the form, while the rhythmic feet were unintentional.) In the series, an "I" travels, bewildered seeming, pained, sometimes narrating to "you", with elemental stuff cropping up steadily, anchoring the poems (snow, trees, clouds, lake). A stand-out in this series was "Deseret", titled after the proposed Mormon state. First stanza:
Here's a whole lake -- infected with wind
Miles and miles of salt and then sound
While all this time the highway poured toward me
Bringing you and the promise of words
Other random tasty bits that stuck with from the reading (as I heard them, forgive any loss of line breaks): "later we saw eagles, eagles big as nouns", "I was built by hand in the previous century", "dust-buttered truck", "And I never drank again" (last line)... And how's "Mammal Island" for a title?
McCann described one of his poems as a "guided meditation" ("In the Visitor's Locker Room", which surprises with its jumps from vivid vagina to convenience store to Kobe Bryant on TV), which strikes me a great way to listen to a poetry reading, as a guided meditation...
On Monday, February 28, KGB brings you Bloof Books poets Shanna Compton, Peter Davis, and Jennifer Knox. To see the complete line-up of for Spring 2011, click here.