Notes on a Hump Day Reading – Gatsby Books – 21 December 2011

Cheese and crackers, has it been a week? Why didn’t I take notes? I remember hardly anything without notes.

It all started with a screw-up for me anyway. I was invited via Facebook to this special Hump Day Reading at Gatsby Books, one without a scheduled feature. I eagerly accepted. Then I was invited via Facebook to a special Jaimes-Palacio-hosted reading at The Ugly Mug. I not only eagerly accepted, but invited about eighty or ninety other people. Then I realized that the events were on the same night at almost exactly the same time. I sheepishly dis-invited myself from the latter event. I’m sorry, Jaimes! I had to go with the people who invited me first.

I’ve seen the first reader before, at G. Murray Thomas‘ reading at the Barnes & Noble in Long Beach. He behaved tonight with the same level of graciousness and respect that he displayed at Murray’s event this fall. Everyone else stayed for the whole reading, politely and attentively listening to others in the poetic community. Everyone else read poetry, not random quotes from third parties. Everyone else was not an obnoxious, condescending asshat.

Uhhhh…shoot…what else can I remember? I saw Zack and Karie from Bank Heavy Press. (Cory was in Redding visiting family, I think.) Kevin Lee’s wife made delicious Italian wafer cookies. Zach and Gerry Locklin were both present; I forgot to ask Gerry about Paul Fericano and the Howitzer Prize prank of 1982. I formally met Clifton Snider, who will be the featured reader at Gatsby in January. I hung out a little bit with my homies from the SGV: John Brantingham, his wife Ann, their friend Lance Schaina, Lloyd Aquino, and Michaelsun Knapp. I chatted with Lance quite a bit, having met him at Casa Brantingham the previous Sunday. Joan Jobe Smith and Fred Voss were there. Some guy read a piece or two about his childhood with a junkie mom; that was pretty affecting. Everyone got to read three pieces because there was no feature. I read the rest of my newest stuff: “The Lifespan of a Stuffed Tiger,” “Frustration,” and “Scene from Their Lives.” They went over just okay; they weren’t my best pieces and it wasn’t my strongest performance.

So there you go.

Notes on a San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival Event – Casa Brantingham – 18 December 2011

We all met at the home of Ann and John Brantingham for the inaugural event celebrating the upcoming San Gabriel Valley Literature Festival, AKA the first formal event of the San Gabriel Valley Arts Community (aside from the monthly readings at the Village Book Shop), a community that somehow (thankfully) includes willing Orange County residents, like me.

John gave us four hours to respond to a one-page prompt. Very basically, the task was to respond creatively to the phrase “from the mountains to the sea.” We could write, paint, make music, whatever. I set up my laptop at their dining-room table and started pecking away with my two plump fingers. After what? Two and a half hours? Three hours? After not-the-whole-four-allotted-hours, I finished my piece, a fifteen-part suite of prose poems, imaginatively titled “From the Mountains to the Sea,” which made it to the fourth page before expiring. I’m still pretty happy with it, especially considering I can’t usually write on demand.

At five o’clock, the end of the four hours, we met in the living room and took turns presenting our pieces. Most people had written poems or stories. Two or three people (Ann, Carly McKean, and Sam Gosland) created visual art. Adrienne Selina Silva wrote and sang a song, accompanying herself on the guitar. Everyone did very, very well. I was impressed. My own big piece went over well, which pleased me.

I left soon afterward, going back home so that Raquel wouldn’t feel like a neglected poetry widow. But when I came through the door, her first question was “You’re back already?” I guess I should have stayed longer.

Notes on a Reading – LMU Extension – 08 December 2011

I told myself and others that I wasn’t going to any more poetry readings until the end-of-semester grading was done. But Martin Ott told me that he was planning to see his old professor from USC, Richard Garcia, feature with Daniel Reinhold at Loyola Marymount University. And Martin rarely gets around to going to readings. So this was sort of a special occasion, an exception. I cut myself a deal: I would go to the event, but I wouldn’t take the time to write about it until I’d finished my work for the year.

Following the official directions, I couldn’t find the right area of the parking garage. Maybe I pulled into the wrong entrance off the street. Meanwhile, Martin was getting somewhat antsy and calling me every few minutes to determine my exact ETA. I pulled into a staff-only space, hoping that the other schools’ faculty parking passes hanging from my rear-view mirror would provide some degree of camouflage if parking enforcement rolled by.

I met Martin by the bank of elevators — not the one I parked near, but the next one over, the one I should have been near. We followed the signs, met Richard and Daniel along the way, and arrived at a room presided over by Peggy Dobreer, who was lively, friendly, and welcoming. I signed Martin and me up for the open reading. We had earlier decided to split our allotted time between individually written pieces and collaborative poems from our forthcoming collection, Poets’ Guide to America. Then we all chatted about getting books published, trying to get books published, and absent mutual acquaintances.

The open reading took place entirely before the features:

  1. A tall man with an unremarkable (and, unfortunately, forgotten) name read first. I do feel bad for not having written his name down.
  2. Marty — not Marty Ott but an older gentleman — read next. I recall his poems being humorous.
  3. Martin Ott read one of his poems — crap, was it “The Red Button Outside Customs at the Mexico City Airport”? Then he read one of our poems, “Oklahoma Prison Cookhounds.”
  4. I read “Reconquista,” one of my newer pieces, and our poem “Objects in a Forgotten Cedar-Point Lost-and-Found Locker.” The first poem went okay, but the sheer number of items listed in the latter one killed any sense of narrative flow until the end, when it was too late. I like “Objects…” a lot, but it seems to work better on the page than aloud. Live and learn.
  5. Hillary. Boy, I wrote down her name but can’t remember her at all.
  6. Judith Pacht, I believe, read from her book Summer Hunger, which won PEN’s 2011 Southwest Book Award for Poetry.
  7. Gedda Ilves was coaxed up to the podium.
  8. Sheb Hebber (sp?), whom I had first encountered at The Ugly Mug the previous week, read two pieces, one about a bed-and-breakfast in England.
  9. Peggy Dobreer herself wrapped up the open-reading portion.

Then Daniel Reinhold took the stage. I liked everything he read, notably a long, time-traveling piece about his life and his dead brother.

Richard Garcia closed out the night. Apparently, he is the final feature in the LMU Fall Reading Series every year. I liked all of the pieces he read, too. He told us all in the audience to check out a website called Subservient Chicken, where a live video feed of a person in a chicken suit would follow almost any instructions typed into the command field. Sadly, upon further research, I discovered — and you probably will, too, if you click on the link above — that the Subservient Chicken was a temporary ad campaign for a new Burger King sandwich.

Thus end my skimpy notes. After the reading, I quickly ran out of there to go home, fall asleep, and get ready for another day of grading.

Notes on Two Idiots Peddling Poetry – The Ugly Mug – 30 November 2011

It felt strange returning after spending three weeks away from The Ugly Mug. I felt even more awkward than usual being there, as though I’d lost some narrative thread, some link to causality. But then I got over my temporary anomie when I saw Martha Stothard inside at the bar, taking refuge from the chilly evening air. She’s a pretty good normalizing influence. Her consistent essential Marthaness helps ground flighty neurotics.

LilBob soon popped up. He was probably parking the truck. Martha mentioned politics, her screaming liberalism. LilBob called himself a Kennedy Democrat, someone whom the Democratic Party had abandoned, leaving him to vote Republican by default. or something like that. Phil and I kept our opinions to ourselves.

LilBob talked to me about iPads and about his coffee-table book combining Leigh White‘s artwork and his ekphrastic poems in response to them.

Three men appeared whom I’ve never seen in t-shirts: Greg Patrick, Jaimes Palacio, and James Kelly. James Kelly was on an A.S. Byatt kick, it seemed. She kept popping up in his conversations.

Then came Leigh White herself. I should talk to Leigh sometime. I should also go over to Alta Coffee Shop to see her paintings, which grace its walls this time of year.

LeAnne Hunt was able to show up before 9:00 PM for a change. She has been working many long-hour days for a while, apparently. She’s someone else I should talk to.

Seth arrived. So did a gallery of strangers, people whom I think came for the feature, David McIntire, and his wife Cat. I gave up my seat by the window so she could get fresher air. She totes an oxygen tank. I hope she’s okay. She looked too awake to have sleep apnea.

The open readings began:

  1. Greg Patrick read a Greg poem. I’m curious how they read on the page.
  2. Martha Stothard, “Wal-Mart cashier extraordinaire,” read “Polished to Perfection,” “Unknown” and “Misplaced Romance.”
  3. Jaimes Palacio read “It Was Strangely Reminiscent of a Party the Night Before” and “A Capella.”
  4. I had signed up for slot #4, my lucky slot, but that stinky bum Leigh White squeezed in there with a carefully applied arrow on the sign-up sheet. I was actually a little irritated. This isn’t the first time someone’s taken cuts in line ahead of me. She read “Ambushed at the Kids’ Table” and “What Do You Put in Your Basket?”
  5. After David McIntire read (see below), after the break (see belower), I made it onto the stage. I read “Damp Lazarus,” which went over better than expected, and “Salvation,” which generated some positive response yet didn’t seem to have the full effect I wanted. But you know what? Overall, ever since my feature November 19, I’ve been more in control, more self-assured when speaking in public. I didn’t have the whimpery nerves tonight I usually do. I actually felt slightly masterful. Cool.
  6. Jennifer Bradpiece, a friend of David and Cat’s, discussed a spider’s having fallen out of her cleavage earlier. Jaimes asked if she sucked backwards; there was a context to that, but you had to have been there. Jennifer read “Holding On” and another poem, the name of which I missed.
  7. Graham put his usual bar-napkin snippets together into a more sustained piece, a set of “serial haikus.”
  8. Cat McIntire read a poem about/for her husband, a poem for/about Mindy Nettifee, and “Davy Baby,” a poem for/about a total shit of an ex-lover. She was good.
  9. James Kelly again read poetry by Aaron Belz — “The One About the Ectoplasm and the Osteoblast” — as well as “Abstract Cows” and “Amber.” The last poem was a prose poem dedicated to Barbara Bush, whom James noted is the contemporary political figure most resembling George Washington.
  10. LeAnne Hunt read [title?], a haiku on diligence, a haiku on the coming Rapture which is also a knock-knock joke, and (for Jaimes’ sake) the sexy back side of a sheet of paper.
  11. Sheb, another visitor from the north, sitting at the table with David and Cat, read “Third Street Meditation” and “The Pigeon.”
  12. Chris Bliss/Chryss Bliss/Kris Blyss (I read her name on the sign-up sheet but forget how she spelled it.) read two memorized poems. They rhymed. The second was called “Hurt Less” and inspired by the Nine Inch Nails song.
  13. Eduardo had three short poems: “Tear Weeds,” “Inner Darkness” and [title?].
  14. Steve Ramirez traded the soundboard for the mic for a bit to practice for his feature Thursday night. He read Jennifer Michael Hecht’s “Please Answer All Three of the Following Essay Questions,” Anne Sexton’s “Letter Written on a Ferry While Crossing Long Island Sound,” and “Tiny Treaties” by Sherman Alexie.

Okay, finally the feature, who read between Leigh and me. This was David McIntire’s first trip behind the Orange Curtain. His usual haunts are in Redondo Beach and El Segundo, I think. He was a very nice, Mohawked, vegan anarchist in a “Fascism Sucks” t-shirt. His poems were engaging, political, perhaps a bit slammy. Many showed a fine use of phonetics and internal rhyme. I enjoyed his set quite a bit.

During the break, after David’s set, I chatted with Heidi Denkers. She recently sneezed so hard that she threw her back out. Zoinks. I told her about my first reading as a feature. She was encouraging.

After the event, people started talking about going to Denny’s. I went home, hoping to go to bed early so I could get up early and grade. (It didn’t work.) But before I left, I finally bought a copy of Don’t Blame the Ugly Mug: 10 Years of 2 Idiots Peddling Poetry. That’s something I’ve meant to do for months.