Bay Area Lit Scene: The (New) Reading Series at 21 Grand


The (New) Reading Series at 21 Grand
written by Paul Ebenkamp
edited by Meg Hurtado

The Scoop

Where? 416 25th St, Oakland CA
When? 7:00 pm
Parking? Free street parking
Donation? $5 admission (or what you have) Books are usually for sale.
Is There a Blog? Indeed there is.
The Run of Things: Doors open at 6:30 for wine, beer, socializing and inspecting the art on the walls. Reading itself beg
ins at 7 and includes a brief break between readers.


Clark Coolidge and Laura Moriarty read poems, and Brandon Downing screened a few of his film works, at The (New) Reading Series at 21 Grand in Oakland on Sunday, August 30th 2009.

From my seat, stage left, I could see that the evening’s curators – Alli Warren and Brandon Brown – had placed near the readers’ mic two Dixie cups, one filled with water and one with wine. This was the only Biblical allusion I could suss from this otherwise pretty fiercely Now-minded reading series, whose mission according to Alli is “to undo structural violence to the imagination.” Now that is a good idea.

Laura Moriarty read first, and her first reading choice was an excerpt from a work in progress, a kind of sequel to her last book Ultravioleta from Atelos Press. In this long lyric prose poem double-dutying as far-out potboiler SciFi fare, in which humans travel through the universes using music, Laura got it into our skulls that the future (what her poem most excellently called “local time travel”) is both frenetically playful and liable to halt at will with careful, ambivalent, tender notes of love and need: “they’re all the same; it doesn’t matter what else they are.” The poem’s more generously bizarre passages had me thinking about what could be called the perlocutionary aspect of Science Fiction writing: has it not been one of the genre’s main faiths, that the author might simply say one spectacular thing after another into being: a demonstration of itself? In this, Moriarty’s poem moved to start the future off right — with local, music-filled time travel. I love digs at Bay Area localism as much as the next guy, but must take this seriously, else the true future pass me by.

She then read a good slew of Ladybug Poems, and these simply slayed us. To say they were delightful is not to put too fine a point on it: “when I see you I know I’m at work.” The speaker is ever confounded, as is the bug of whom she speaks, by yet “another outrage of the bug/person barrier,” but over and over the poems make, between us non-bugs and bugs, a place for their mutual pursuit to turn itself into poetry, i.e. all of the following: “diagram, game, bug sound or anatomy.”

Brandon Downing then showed some of his films, which consisted of homophonic (and sometimes not) translations of Near Eastern films – perhaps Bollywood, though they should really get someone who knows a little more about this stuff to write a review of it. The translations were of movie tunes, so, in sum, we watched a film made from other films, plus a kind of running poem at the bottom of the screen, plus singing! Someone really should’ve led a singalong; I mean, the words were right there. An intermission followed, during which Andrew Kenower played us some disco from a CD-R I let him borrow.

A Hawaiian shirt approached the stage, followed by Clark Coolidge. I haven’t seen a better arch-Pacific getup since Slothrop shamed Tantivy with his in Gravity’s Rainbow. Clark’s poems, most of them short, all of them untitled and read in a steady sweep, were characteristic of this poet’s very interesting path away from the hyperfretted and fraction-precise poems of his earliest collections and on to a lugubrious, half loopy/half calamitous monononologue fueled by a heroic dose of the slyly impetuous fractal-jazz pulse Coolidge’s always been known for, all read from a hilariously steep brain-grade – a little like what a late Beckett voice might sound like if it could manage for a moment to stop talking about itself. “Bird dogs in space.”

Hats off to this coup of a reading are due all around, in particular to Brandon Brown, whose co-curation of The (New) Reading Series this evening capped. T(N)RS forges on this fall; say the curators: “We’ve got a talented club this season, and hope to make a run for it in the playoffs. Also, there’s Simpler Times Lager & Bull’s Blood wine from Hungary.” Thanks; it was a good night.