The power of great poetry is missed when the listener is distracted. I went to a poetry reading to see two good friends, Joseph Lease and Donna de la Perrière on August 30th.
Then I listened to a poet who is new to me named Natasha Saje from Utah.
I think it’s great to hear a different voice and hear her perspective. She called it a “dream come true and a marvelous experience.”
It was held at Moe’s Books in Berkeley. Moe’s has a storied history among writers and poets.
Natasha is an English professor at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, and she made a point of stating that for her this was a powerful experience. It was a lot of fun to hear her description. Which, is understandable if you are just visiting or haven’t lived in the Bay Area for very long.
Berkeley is similar to many bustling places. It is also completely unlike anywhere else. The pace of our lives makes it easy to walk past gems like Moe’s and Pegasus. Bookstores get missed on the way to work, the grocery store or coming home from a long day.
Moe’s has a frenetic energy, in part, because of its location. It’s right at the corner of Telegraph and Dwight. An area that is prime not only because it is three blocks south of University Ave and the Berkely campus.
The locale invites street vendors, wanderers, and this can feel chaotic. Unless you are familiar with this environment when you are driving or walking, it can feel very confusing. When the people around you become restless, searching for a place where they can park or sit, and stop and think, it can be difficult to adapt to their erratic behavior and the response it evokes from others.
The fact that unless you are familiar with the streets, being surrounded by people who are in a hurry is unsettling. They want to get somewhere that they can park and that makes it uncomfortable for anyone around them. They’re not going to drive with any comfort. It makes their actions seem sketchy, undecided, and inconsistent.
You’ve begun with this frantic energy that is so clear and prevalent and this great little bookstore that feeds on that momentum that people carry with them. Inviting anyone from outside to come in and experience the books and readings by Local and nonlocal poets. But it also creates the opportunity lack of understanding when it is clear to the people attending the reading that the people who are coming in and out are not paying attention to the reading or the impact that their coming and leaving are having.
I have some audio that I believe will illustrate or encapsulate one of these moments. We’ll see how well that works out. But I wanted to start out with this idea, in a bookstore on Telegraph Ave in Berkeley and a poetry reading. Because a few different ideas came out during this reading, and I think anyone who enjoys reading or writing or listening or even a public art performance like a poetry reading and experiencing this, what I am about to describe is probably going to feel not only familiar or disquieting in its familiarity whether you dislike people being interrupted, whether you dislike being interrupted yourself, when you are somewhere that you can’t control what’s happening around you when you are trying to enjoy something you want, again I think it goes back to that frenetic energy that I described.
If you enjoy writing, reading, listening, or experience a public art performance or installation like a poetry reading and experiencing, what I am about to describe is going to feel not only familiar but also disquieting in its familiarity. Whether you dislike other people being interrupted or dislike being interrupted yourself, when you are somewhere that you can’t control what’s happening around you while you are trying to enjoy something that you want, I think it harkens back to that frenetic energy that I mentioned earlier.
So, Joseph started off the reading with selections from his new book The Body Ghost. I first heard Joseph’s voice during the reading of excerpts from his early collections like Testify and Broken World. He has had poems featured in Best American Poetry and Norton’s anthology. They contain a lyrical quality that is something that has always drawn me to poetry.
I had the chance to talk with him after the reading. One of the first things that I focused on was that I enjoyed poetry because it is sonorous. It goes to my childhood and the musicality of the message. When I was a child, it was easy to receive my indoctrination into Christianity and Pentecostal through the engaging songs and the messages they relayed. They were inspirational and engaging. Over time they became familiar and comforting. Poetry has always offered that musicality that invites me to enjoy, and engage and participate.
So, there I was listening to Joseph read from The Body Ghost. It was funny that I ran into someone who was at another reading held at City Lights about 5 months ago, that I also attended. During a Q&A I pointed out a line that I really enjoyed about a skeleton in a suit stuffed in a mailbox. “Just a body in a mailbox.”
It was a very haunting image to me and presented so many different ideas. I mean questions of course. But, also interpretations of that image can ingrain itself on the brain, on the memory, and on the ear. The person I ran into was named Colin. When he talked about the reading he mentioned that someone had made a comment, and then he said repeated my comment about the mailbox. It was funny to share an affinity, that for me, had my own reasons for enjoying, and I am sure Colin also had his own, but that we could both have a connection for different reasons over the same line. We could both relate to Joseph’s work, not only through that one line but now through the shared experience of hearing it read aloud and engaging with it at a previous reading.
After Joseph read, his wife Donna de la Pierre read from her upcoming chapbook. I don’t have any information on it at this time, and I don’t want to take the risk of bothering Joseph or Donna at this hour. However, if you would like to see some of Donna’s published poems you can start with True Crime.
Perhaps it is a good time to point out that when I am recording these podcasts before I transcribe them here, it is usually four or five in the morning. There is often less outside noise to create distractions. There are moments when I might be inspired to reach out and contact them. But, since they are in my timezone, and it is not two or three hours later in the day, they would probably prefer to just sleep and talk to me later.
Donna read from her new chapbook. She offers similar musical phrasing when she reads. And, yet, her voice is a different melody, that is a compliment to Joseph, but is also singular and that is a supplement to her style and voice.
And then there was Natasha, who I have never heard. She read selected poems from Vivarium. Someone who is writing from a different geography is writing from a different mindset that is based there. I like hearing that thinking. First because it is often parallel and then perpendicular to my current internalization or rationalization of ideas.
But, hearing the images and the sounds and the ideas that capture her desire for writing is a chance to see inside someone else’s process. And I like that, simply because it shows me something that I have not considered before. It encourages me to find ways to make my work stronger and better, and I think overall my work becomes more reflective. This allows me to engage more with the outside world and the subject I am trying to capture.
Without doing so I might have gotten as close as I could, but I know that I would not be able to get as close as I might consider. Simply because without knowing more, how can I consider more.
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