The ultimate tournament left me hobbling around like someone twice my age. My ribs are still a bit sore from a bad landing. Now it's a cold, rainy week--Maureen says the weather looks like a Hawthorne novel. Maybe in a room of avid readers the chances of finding two people thinking about Hawthorne within a twenty-four hour period are pretty decent. In any event my thoughts were on The Blithedale Romance after Kristen Gallagher's reading on Sunday. My brain was muddled from the games, and Kristen read a poem about the how certain jobs don't leave much brainpower for poetry. Okay, that's really not the best comparison, but what I thought about was this passage by the intellectual turned farmer in Blithedale:
The peril of our new way of life was not lest we should fail in becoming practical agriculturists, but that we should probably cease to be anything else. While our enterprise lay all in theory, we had pleased ourselves with delectable visions of the spiritualization of labor. It was to be our form of prayer and ceremonial of worship. Each stroke of the hoe was to uncover some aromatic root of wisdom, heretofore hidden from the sun. Pausing in the field, to let the wind exhale the moisture from our foreheads, we were to look upward, and catch glimpses into the far-off soul of truth. In this point of view, matters did not turn out quite so well as we anticipated. It is very true that, sometimes, gazing casually around me, out of the midst of my toil, I used to discern a richer picturesqueness in the visible scene of earth and sky. There was, at such moments, a novelty, an unwonted aspect, on the face of Nature, as if she had been taken by surprise and seen at unawares, with no opportunity to put off her real look, and assume the mask with which she mysteriously hides herself from mortals. But this was all. The clods of earth, which we so constantly belabored and turned over and over, were never etherealized into thought. Our thoughts, on the contrary, were fast becoming cloddish. Our labor symbolized nothing, and left us mentally sluggish in the dusk of the evening. Intellectual activity is incompatible with any large amount of bodily exercise. The yeoman and the scholar--the yeoman and the man of finest moral culture, though not the man of sturdiest sense and integrity--are two distinct individuals, and can never be melted or welded into one substance.
Substitute "temp" or even "professional" for "agriculturalist," and that'd be a pretty accurate description of the case that Kristen was making in her poem. She talked about the fifteen minutes here and there that she'd work on a particular sentence. She'd have the weekend off, then Monday she'd again be on the same sentence. She had a punch line about it being safer to write prose poems at work in case someone peeks over the top of the cubicle. After hearing Kristen, I wrote in my journal that temping is the new temporality. I heard a bit of Notley in the longer autobiographical poem, sort of a Mysteries of Small Houses reinvented for the mysteries of small temporary jobs. I don't think I'm wrong to hear this connection, and Kristen underscored her interest in NY School ways with an Ashbery-twist: "How Much Longer Will I Be Able To Inhabit the Divine Voice Terminal." She even had one poem that rhymed. (Funny the Blithedale passage echoes parts of Pamela: A Novel which I was rereading last week. Maybe because Pam shares a bit of Hawthorne's irony?) Barbara Cole gave a fabulous reading from her long project situ ation come dies. You can/should grab the installment Foxy Moron from /ubu editions. In the selection on Sunday Barbara had at least three inroads on the critique of language. First was the hilarious first-person account of a 15-year old working at the phone bank for a sales catalogue. The piece dealt with a list of obscene words that authorized her to terminate the conversation if ever uttered by the caller. The section was naturally dedicated to former head of the FCC Michael Powell. The faux innocence of her 15-year old responding to each caller had me falling on the floor. The comedy, though, was about ways that commercialism is fringed by libidinal currents. Things didn't let up with the next section about an adolescent misreading of romance novels. Barbara has a terrific sense of humor. I imagine she could get a job writing for actual sitcoms without any trouble, except that I don't think she'd get along with the sponsors. Running throughout the poem were terse, 0ne-line snippets that disrupted the larger narrative. These included commercial jingles, product descriptions, and sales logos, and so forth. Some were product disclaimers that came off terribly morbid when isolated. The snippets cut through the larger narrative and gave a different way to look at what she was trying to do. The third reader was our local (Baltimore) poet Lauren Bender. It was my first real time getting to hear her work, and it was an awesome treat. Instead of starting with traditional poems, she whipped out a sign-in sheet that she passed around during the break and then proceeded to call everyone on the stage with Price-Is-Right aplomb: "Come on down Peter Inman!" The audience performed the first piece by pairing up and reading a script about finding lost objects. Here is a picture. Lauren next read a poem by fellow Baltimorian Justin Sirois. It was a great poem, but at this point I was eager to hear Lauren read her own poems. Then she started and completely took me away. What I wrote in my journal was, "dazzling messages to people in DC, MD...." I hadn't realized at first, but it was absolutely perfect that she began by bringing everyone on stage. Each and every one of Lauren's poems is mediated by someone she knows or about her sense of connection with him or her. One of her coolest poems was written in response to Rod's The Good House. I also liked a poem that she read in her hometown accent.

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