Shanna Compton


On Saturday, a reading

Maureen Thorson & Juliana Spahr
Bowery Poetry Club, Saturday May 7 at 4PM
Segue Series, curated by Chris Alexander & Kristen Gallagher

It was windy I walked from the station some 3 or 4 miles, window shopping people shopping feeling the wind. Eventually I became dazzled by the new statue of Andy Warhol violently lit and being perpetually videoed by a mob. The sidewalks had gum on them again. I noticed many women with fresh pedicures. Nobody had anything at all for sale except that everyone did. I did not buy any handspun yarn or goat cheese or even things I might usually buy like vegetables or plants or mint tea. I almost bought a tee shirt with a kind of monster drawing on it. I made the decision not to give in to the urge to buy since that would have been to default. To default on a Saturday in a market. Let's hear some poetry instead. I went to the poetry reading and I was on time which means I was early. I sat at the bar because that's where people sit and I was waiting for mine. Other people came including some friends of mine and some people I know but who might not know me and some people who know me but I might not know. Poets are so awkward but they are also pretty cute a lot of the time. Some of them brought their children who are also cute. Maureen Thorson arrived in a cream linen dress with green trim and pocket linings and allover floral sprigs in purple and an ivory crocheted cardigan. I think she had on sandals but now I can't remember. Juliana Spahr stood up from her chair and went to the end of the bar so I realized she had already been there and would not be arriving, in layers of black and a clip in her hair. More things happened with people moving around and things being said. Hi Nada. Hi Drew. Hi Jeff. Hi Anselm. Hi Jen. People chose chairs. We began. Chris Alexander got up in some blue plaid and I think his jeans were cuffed but I don't remember now, and he had a hat of some kind but not a derby hat or a hat because it was Derby day. He introduced Maureen telling the story of how she came upon the typo "applies to oranges" in a legal brief and thought What does apply to oranges? He made a remark that he illustrated by holding up the book about Ugly Duckling's printerly attentions. The book is indeed beautifully made (in both ways). He probably said some other things. Maureen was nervous between us but not too bad. So then she climbed onto the stage and said how it'd been a long time since she'd been at The Bowery Poetry Club maybe the last time was during the Poetry Quiz Show or Karaoke + Poetry = Fun both of which would be like ten years ago or something. She said she performed "Ghostbusters" but this time would be reading from her new book Applies to Oranges plus a few other things. Here are some of the lines she read I think but I don't really remember now. (I often take notes in the back of the books that I bring with me to readings but I couldn't bring myself to write in this one because of the trio of oranges on the back leaf and the letterpress cover I didn't want to bend very much.) [:]
Loosed to their own devices, islanders
seek smaller islands, by which to examine
their predicament in miniature. The English
go to Mallorca, many others to Manhattan,
some here. Where the wine is cheaply better,
cheaply cheap. Where the radio plays
different stations, and you have no radio.
Where kitchens sour with different meats,
the trees turn orange with birds, and where
stalkers walk through uncanny valleys,
peeping over windowsills at river's edge,
their minds in hi-res and compulsive:
a backwards, inexorable flow.
Bats in the tamarind make a ruckus.
Black gum wings stretch to a bubble,
and the leathery leaves twitch
and squawk. Hidden in the branches,
an emerald boa awaits the long squeeze.
If this were a movie, I'd jump
from the sad bat's airless struggle,
cut to a city, a couple in bed,
the sun made your ship's prison.
But there's no escaping this close-up
on the serpent's orange eyes,
narrowed by proximity and hunger,
tight slivers of your reproach
for what I said or failed to say.
That was much better than buying anything. She also read some poems from her chapbook Twenty Questions for the Drunken Sailor [free PDF] and some newer ones based on antique books she buys for a dollar mostly from the 1920s and 30s and some things called things like "The Relationship." I wish I had taken notes or could take a peek at Charles Bernstein's who was sitting in front of me. We broke. People went to the bar and moved around or peed in the appropriate places downstairs and said things like "Oh hi Charles Bernstein" and "hey how are you, thank you for bringing my scarf, I love your dress." The dress belonged to Nada Gordon and was white or cream it was dark in there in an eyelet and had a pretty neckline and sharply defined waist and hit her just in the right place at the bottom of the somewhat full skirt and also her deep purple lace bra peeped out just a bit in one corner of the neckline in what can only be called a charming fashion. Kristen Gallagher asked us to take our seats. She introduced Juliana Sparh with some discussion of her writing methods and a description of what Kristen believes Juliana is doing (some of the time, maybe not all the time she said) and further explained that Juliana had been doing some collaborative work lately especially with David Buuck and that we would be hearing some of this now. Juliana Spahr climbed onto the stage and indeed said we would be hearing some of this collaboration. I have forgotten the title though or more likely I didn't really understand the title because my hearing is so bad, no I don't have any hearing aids yet and I can't give any more good excuses except that they are very expensive and I decided to buy a new computer instead so I could update the press to InDesign and quit using Quark for our layouts and some other reasons it was very old OK? So she was a little nervous she said because the writing was new so new she was still writing on the plane on the way to New York and that normally she would not be etc. She also talked about how the collaboration was going and made some jokes about the process being "mostly not collaborating." Then she began reading and she did a long excerpt maybe twenty-five or thirty minutes. I did take some notes in the back of her book This Connection of Everyone with Lungs which I meant to ask her to sign but didn't because well later I just talked to people I knew instead and didn't really muster the energy to go over to ask. So bearing in mind that this is a new piece I've not read before don't have a printed version of and my hearing being extremely shitty though tempered by my excellent lip-reading skills here is some of what she said:
It was too bad the couples therapy was not possible because their collaboration was like a relationship that had gone on too long

[There was a passage about seeing a fortune-teller and then] We did not pay the extra $20 to remove the curse of the impasse

[...]that First-World parenting had forced on them--the whipping with the forsythia switch

[a repeton] the faint smells of [unheard] and wet sidewalks and metallic gasoline smell

We will read your poems that pun on the word capitalism and enjoy them [also a repeton]

[...]saying to each other Damn! Let's hook up and overthrow the government

And there was something about animals or meat somewhere that I didn't "like" not that it matters but also a point where a jackrabbit enters in and Nada tapped me and we laughed (because I read some mutant jackrabbit poems at Segue in March when she was hosting). There was a lot more to this piece obviously that I am not really in any position several days later to report I suppose except to talk generally about how it moved, mostly forward, with some looping back on itself with the repeated lines, and in a kind of rippling expansion/collapse between more intimate situations (like lines on the collaboration process or themselves) and more expansive focus like war and gasoline and overthrowing the government. She performed this all in a breath it seemed like though that's not possible. A few times I could tell which were not her sections because of the look on her face or a slight hesitancy in her voice like reading someone else's handwriting. Afterwards Dglss told me about a film and a book he is making with Anna & Matvei and there was more milling about and talking of course and some light drinking and then everyone went to stand on the sidewalk for a while. We went next door to Slainte and accidentally watched the Derby (I know it's not vegan and I hated the bald spots and the ambulance horse trailer but couldn't help being impressed by the horses and thought "Animal Kingdom" was a good name, anyway) while drinking pear cider, me and Maureen and her husband Jeff and Jeff's father and Jen. And then Jen and I walked back to the station and the wind was still out there and also two women wearing false mustaches who let Jen take their photo with "very serious" looks on their faces, which honestly took a few tries. At some point I think the audio will all be on PennSound.

Here's a video of one of Maureen's:

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