Sunday, March 17, 2013

Book Launches @ Poets House

Though still recovering from AWP I headed over to Poets House last Sunday to catch Nightboat Books's book launch party to celebrate the publication of Coming Events (Collected Writings) by Susan GevirtzMusic for Porn by Rob Halpern; and Sisyphus, Outdone. Theatres of the Catastrophal by Nathanaël. Poet and Nightboat Books publisher Stephen Motika introduced all three writers, who read snippets of their work, and then all three participated in a conversation that poet Douglas A. Martin moderated.

As the names of the writers suggest, these were three challenging texts that defy conventional genres. Nathanaël's text, which incorporate its footnotes as side notes and takes on a number of themes and topics, circled around the question of translation, in particular a prior text of hers, even as it unfolded as an autonomous text-critique in its own right. Halpern's work aimed, in his words, to explore "the allegorical figure of a soldier's wound," redressing Whitman's similar project via Charles Olson and the strategies of Genet. Gevirtz first delivered a talk aimed in part at addressing the relationship between poetry and thought, challenging Socrates's statement in the Ion that "For not by art [techne] do the poets sing, but by divine inspiration." Fluidity of genre--gender, as Nathanaël pointed out, in tracing back the root of the English word to its French antecedent--appeared central to her thinking. She followed the short essay with a selection of one of her poems from her collection.

The question and answer session ranged over these issues and others, proceeding from Martin's initial questions, which cited Gertrude Stein and Martin Heidegger, who had already arisen in Gevirtz's essay. The concept of mystery (Geheimnis) was one Martin mentioned and that several of the writers returned to, though Nathanaël deftly avoided invoking that philosopher and instead talked about other figures in her work, a chief one being that the seisme, or earthquake/aftershock, suggesting--while also avoiding explaining or defending her work--that, if I understood this correctly (and I might not have), that its implicit anteriority informed Sisyphus. For Halpern, the potential problem his text sparked in its abstraction of the soldier's body (and specificity), as well as that of the migrant worker (among others), was one he mentioned he had attempted to address on his text's first page, but he admitted he was not sure if he had resolved it. I had already purchased a copy of Nathanaël's book, so I bought Halpern's and Gevirtz's, and imagine spending a while reading and thinking about all three of them.

Poet and publisher Stephen Motika
Poet and publisher Stephen Motika, introducing the reading
Nathanaël reading
Rob Halpern
Rob Halpern, reading
Susan Gevirtz
Susan Gevirtz, reading
Douglas Martin, Rob Halpern, Nathanaël, and Susan Gevirtz at the Nightboat Books reading and book launch @ Poets House
Douglas Martin, Rob Halpern, Nathanaël, Susan Gevirtz

Yesterday, I headed back to Poets House for a reading by three poets published by Los Angeles's Red Hen Press: Dan Vera, Eloise Klein Healy, and Jane Hirshfield. In terms of poetic form, this reading was at the other end of the spectrum from the Nightboat books reading, but all three poets, like those at the reading last Sunday, took up political issues and questions in their work. Poet and Letras Latinas editor Francisco Aragón opened the event by introducing Dan, who read from his second book, Speaking Wiri Wiri, which won Red Hen Press's inaugural Letras Latinas/Red Hen Press Prize (2013). I'd picked up Dan's book at AWP, so I especially enjoyed hearing him bring the words to life in his own voice ("that property produces progeny").

Red Hen Press's Kate Gale followed by introducing Healy, named last year to be the first ever Poet Laureate of Los Angeles. She read from her just-published book, A Wild Surmise: New & Selected Poems (2013), drawing from her earliest to her most recent poems. I especially happy that she read several poems from Artemis in Echo Park (1991), the first book of hers I read and the one I most associate with her. Last up was Hirshfield, whose poetry I am not that familiar with, though I enjoyed what I heard. What I took most from her work was a feeling of concision, and striking metaphors ("shoaling bees"). Unlike last week's reading there was no question and answer session, but Red Hen did host a nice reception upstairs.

Francisco Aragon, introducing Dan Vera
Francisco Aragón, introducing Dan Vera
Dan Vera reading
Dan Vera reading
Eloise Klein Healy, at the Red Hen Press reading
Eloise Klein Healy introducing her poetry
Jane Hirshfield, about to sign a book
Jane Hirshfield, about to sign a copy of one of her books

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