Aaron Shurin, Anne Waldman and Ambrose Bye at Small Press Traffic

Last night Kelly Holt and I raced from a tasty meal at Crepevine where we were discussing Jack Spicer and Nathaniel Mackey, to Small Press Traffic to hear Aaron Shurin, Anne Waldman and Ambrose Bye read and perform. Autumn has begun its reign and so it was already dark as we slipped in at about 7:45.

Aaron read first.It has been a long time since I've heard him, though I've always loved Shurin's work and years ago sent him a copy of my first chapbook. I believe he sent a little missive in return and I wonder where that note is now.

But back to the evening's events-- I was mesmerized by Aaron's sonorous voice and beautifully paced reading. He read from his new collection of personal essays King of Shadows. These pieces are as much about Shurin's love affair with the glittering city by the Bay as they are about his passion for literature and language and the city's nascent (in the mid 1960s) and ever evolving gay scene.

Here's a gem from "In the Bars of Heaven and Hell," a piece he read from last night:

"...Imaginary metropolis, fleur de ciel, balm for a wound and the wound's own inflamer, city of promise or pleasure or pain, city of the heathenly heavenly gate, city of all gratification given or lost in place, still there, still here, still there..." (132).

Aaron didn't read from "Morning in the Valley" last night, but I like this piece, so here's a little morsel from it. The scene is a Hot Springs resort where the narrator spots an attractive man, and then I skip forward to the piece's closing:

"...His body's an urban primitive canvas of torso-wide geometric tattoos; his pierced dick's weighed down by an alarmingly large silver ring.) I can see now that the extended pictographic lines across his back and shoulders are the wing bones of what I think is the skeleton of a pterodactyl, whose body of pure bones is suspended from the nape of this guy's neck.The archaic--no, the archaeological!--conjoins the contemporary....For the sake of compositional accuracy I pick up my books and towels and go looking for the illustrated man, to find out what the pterodactyl image really is. I want to ground my fancy in his imagination. But he's nowhere to be found, of course; he's gone from the valley, gone home. I'm left with the image that I've constructed, my ideogram, my remedial tattoo. It broadens my shoulders and aligns my back, a corrective wingspan of meditative synthesis. Taken from his torso it fits me like a fact.

I flex the page and stretch" (60-63).

One wonders "how does he do it?" How does he manage to write sentences that both soar with romantic excess and are unafraid of the exacto knife; sentences of desire and its extension to the world, a sharp edge so precise and dangerous?

Shurin's reading was followed by Anne Waldman accompanied at the end by Ambrose Bye on keyboards. Waldman performed "Red State, Blue State," which managed to be chock full of everything from Enron to Oppenheimer, Homeland Security, the Library of Alexandria, jackals, writing dances, and a wail about wanting to strangle Dick Cheney, Bush, and Rumsfeld. Another piece on manatees posited "manatees thinking archivally," an image that interested me. It's a pleasure to watch Waldman. She so inhabits her body and moves with(in) it.

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