Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

July 4, 2008

explanatory sheet for COME ON, REACT reading (March 2007)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 6:59 pm

As I was wading through old documents on my hard drive, I found a piece I thought might interest readers of the KSE blog. In March 2007, I did a reading at Viva Books on Broadway here in San Antonio, which brought in an excellent crowd of over 75 people. A college teacher friend of mine told me that she was inviting her class to attend my reading, and asked if I had any explanatory materials to provide her that she could copy for her class. I planned on opening the reading with my KSE chapbook COME ON, REACT, which was then out-of-print but had been a hit at previous readings, so I made a copy of that for the students (and for KSE collectors, I’m sure the 18-copy xerox student reprint of COME ON, REACT would probably be the ultimate rarity!!!). Along with it, I wrote and copied for them a brief explanation of the poem along with a statement—-written for the layperson, and college freshmen are certainly laypersons in terms of contemporary poetry—-of the principles on which my poetry is constructed. That explanatory handout is reproduced below. With all the standardized crap found in school anthologies, I was fairly sure that my major influences—-Ted Berrigan, Paul Blackburn, Frank Samperi, Charles Reznikoff, etc.—-were not being read in their classes. Remember, this was written for people who don’t read poetry, so it may well seem obvious and school-teacherly (if that’s a word). However, I feel that if one cannot communicate with one’s audience on some level, then whatever one’s doing is essentially elitist and in the big picture worthless and mast*rbatory. 

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Comments on “Come on, React” by BILL SHUTE

 I’ve also copied for you the complete five-part poem “Come On, React,” which was published as a chapbook in

October 2006 and has been quite well received among my readers. I chose it to open this reading because character-based pieces tend to do well in readings, especially when the character depicted is someone with whom the average reader can relate. I have presented, as in the style of a cinematic montage sequence, five different angles of vision into the life of a character named Lydia Vasquez, a fifty-year old lady here in San Antonio who works as a home health-care nurse. If Lydia is a flower, then these five sections are the five petals of that flower. The image I have used to parallel Lydia is amber, the fossilized resin that is often used in jewelry and that is the result of a process that takes as long as a million years. For me, amber has a sensual quality, and it also sometimes contains pieces of insect or debris that happened to be present at its formation, as I see Lydia containing and making beautiful the debris that happened to be present during her formation and development.

     Each section of this poem originally occupied one page in the original chapbook publication. Section one introduces some of the sensual imagery of amber and presents some of the details about the character Lydia–the amber and the Lydia elements are meant to be blurred together. Section two begins with the details of Lydia’s employment, moving on to four of her patients (one day’s work), and a summary of Lydia’s attitude and spiritual glow. Section three takes the three stages of amber formation–resin, copal, and eventually amber–and juxtaposes them with three stages of Lydia’s emotional development, naïveté, irony, and transcendence. Section four captures Lydia in the midst of the society in which she lives here in San Antonio and ends with a comment on her likely future development. To define two words you may not know, a “kiva” is, according to Wikipedia, a room used by Pueblo dwellers for religious rituals, and a “sipapu” is  “a small hole or indentation in the floor of kivas used by the Ancient Pueblo Peoples and modern-day Puebloans. It symbolizes the portal through which their ancient ancestors first emerged to enter the present world. More generally, it functions as a reminder of the Puebloan’s earthly origins.” Using American Indian spiritual words to describe the TV rooms in modern Texas homes is meant as an ironic comment on contemporary culture. Section five closes the poem with Lydia walking at the beach in the winter, seeing images that both capture the literal scene and work symbolically to represent her situation. The final five lines return to the amber imagery (though they are meant to work just as well in regard to Lydia), and “petrified tears” refers to a Phoenician legend that  “the pieces of amber were the petrified tears of maidens who had thrown themselves into the sea because of unrequited love” (according to thefreedictionary.com). Elektron is the Greek word for amber and calls up a wealth of associations. According to gemstone.org, “The Greeks called amber ‘elektron’, sun-made, perhaps because of this story, or perhaps because it becomes electrically charged when rubbed with a cloth and can attract small particles. Homer mentions amber jewelry–earrings and a necklace of amber beads–as a princely gift in the Odyssey. Another ancient writer, Nicias, said that amber was the juice or essence of the setting sun congealed in the sea and cast up on the shore.”

     As for the form used in “Come On, React,” it is rooted in the “variable foot” metric and triadic “stair-stepped line” often used in the work of William Carlos Williams. This form is explained masterfully in the book William Carlos Williams and the Meanings of Measure (Yale Studies in English, Vol. 193), written by Stephen Cushman. I am also indebted to the concept of “projective verse” formulated by Charles Olson, from which the following passages are excerpted:

(1) A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader. . . . the poem itself must, at all points, be a high energy-construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge. So: how is the poet to accomplish the same energy, how is he, what is the process by which a poet gets in, at all points energy at least the equivalent of the energy which propelled him in the first place, yet an energy which is peculiar to verse alone and which will be, obviously, also different from the energy which the reader, because he is a third term, will take away?

This is the problem which any poet who departs from closed form is specially confronted by. And it involves a whole series of new recognitions. From the moment he ventures into FIELD COMPOSITION–puts himself in the open–he can go by no track other than the one the poem under hand declares, for itself. Thus he has to behave, and be, instant by instant, aware. . . .

(2) . . . the principle, the law which presides conspicuously over such composition, and, when obeyed, is the reason why a projective poem can come into being. It is this: FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT. (Or so it got phrased by one, Robert Creeley, and it makes absolute sense to me, with this possible corollary, that right form, in any given poem, is the only and exclusively possible extension of content under hand.)

(3) Now the process  of the thing, how the principle can be made so to shape the energies that the form is accomplished. And I think it can be boiled down to one statement (first pounded into my head by Edward Dahlberg): ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION.

 

In my humble opinion, no good poem could ever be written in “free verse”–there is ALWAYS a form, one

molded according to principle #2 of  Olson’s manifesto above. My poetic aesthetic is also based on the structures found in post-Coltrane, post-Third Stream jazz, in the work of 20th century visual artists such as Francis Bacon and Edward Hopper, and in the work of composers such as Morton Feldman and Radu Malfatti.******

Thanks for attending the reading. I hope you will find it interesting and enjoyable. There was a time when poetry was a vital part of the alternative culture community, as much as film or music or the visual arts. With my own writing and the poetry collective I operate, Kendra Steiner Editions, I’m trying to bring poetry back into people’s artistic lives so that they’ll want to pick up a recent poetry chapbook as much as they’ll want to buy or download an album of music or check out a new cutting-edge film.

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