Reading the Incommensurate at Canessa Gallery

photo: Melissa Eleftherion's mini chapbook ishohel, handed out at the reading.

Saturday night at 8pm San Francisco in the vicinity of North Beach and near the Transamerica Building, Melissa Eleftherion, Norma Cole, and Jocelyn Saidenberg read at the Canessa Gallery Reading Series curated by Erica Lewis. The theme for the night was “the incommensurate.” The audience of 20 -25 people sat below a sculpture/installation that is part of the gallery's current Phylum exhibit. The piece pumped red water through a series of entangled tubes, suggestive of a circulatory system. Gentle bubbles burbled in the background. So it was fun when one of Melissa's poems began with "to bubble is to begin to." Melissa's work moved through an engaging vocabulary--amygdala, ancora, bursa, heliopause--that seemed to have found its rightful home beneath all that surging red, poised somewhere between body and machine, the material and the abstract.

I was struck by Norma Cole's radiance as she began with a translation of "Pillow" from the Palestinian writer Ghassan Zaqtan, (soon to appear in Sarah M. Larsen and David Brazil's TRY magazine). Norma then read from her new book Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems 1988-2008 just out from City Lights. She read two poems that engaged with photographs. The first was "They Flatter Almost Recognize," a collaboration with Boston-based photographer Ben E. Watkins. The second piece, "The Olympics is All in Your Mind" was based on a collaboration with Elliot Anderson. You can read parts of this poem here at Little Red Leaves. These poems are full of a speculative lyricism: "you simply keep going as the shadows get long." You can read a brief review of Norma's book here at Brooklyn Rail as Laura Moriarty points out on her blog A Tonalist Notes.

Jocelyn Saidenberg read last, mustering a series of ghost poems that she likened to the catalog of ships from Book 2 of the Iliad. These were the best of the Achaeans she said. Jocelyn explained she'd been trying to figure out what she'd read for this event while on a walk with Wendy Kramer who suggested that she would write a poem for Jocelyn. The idea for a series of ghost poems written by friends was born. Jocelyn included three of her own poems among those written by the following:

Ghost Writers in the order of the arrival of their poems:

1. Kevin Killian
2. Robert Gl├╝ck
3. Norma Cole
4. Wendy Kramer
5. Beth Murray
6. Tanya Hollis
7. Taylor Brady
8. Dana Lomax
9. Una Lomax
10. Christian Nagler
11. Elise Ficarra
12. Lauren Shufran
13. Robin Tremblay-McGaw
14. Amanda Eicher
15. Judith Goldman
16. Rob Halpern
17. Camille Roy

Some of the poems seemed to, as mine did, reread and write from Jocelyn's most recent book, Negativity. The figure of ships recurred as did explorations of "girl" and ghost. And there was much else! One poem included the line "my writer swears I wrote this shit myself." Jocelyn's reading was finely-tuned and full of presence.

Another gem from the evening: Sara M. Larsen and David Brazil's one year anniversary issue of the magazine Try! which included work by Dana Ward, CA Conrad, Lara Durback, Stas Feldman, David Harrison Horton,Tim Kreiner, Jasper Bernes, Noah Bernes, Elena Rivera, Sara Bilandzija, Stephen Vincent, Joseph Lease, Elizabeth Treadwell, Joe Wolff, and Jim Goar. Here it is:

Author Bios from the Canessa Gallery Reading Seris Blog:

Melissa Eleftherion grew up in Brooklyn. Her poetry has appeared in The Paterson Literary Review, Big Scream, Defenestration, Inch, TRY, and Ur Vox, as well as online in Womb and the press gang. Forthcoming work includes a long piece from Letterbox Magazine. She received her MFA from Mills College and lives in Oakland with a gorilla and a phoenix.

Norma Cole’s new work just out: Natural Light from Libellum Press, If I’m Asleep from Mermaid Tenement Press, and Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems 1988—2008 from City Lights. Forthcoming is 14,000 Things from a-bend press. Among her books are Collective Memory, Do the Monkey, and Spinoza in Her Youth. Current translation work includes Danielle Collobert’s Journals, Fouad Gabriel Naffah’s The Spirit God and the Properties of Nitrogen and Crosscut Universe: Writing on Writing from France. Cole has been the recipient of a Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation Award, Gertrude Stein Awards, the Fund for Poetry, and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts.

Jocelyn Saidenberg’s books are: Mortal City (Parentheses Writing Series), CUSP (Kelsey St. Press), Negativity (Atelos), and Dispossessed (Belladonna). She is the founding editor of KRUPSKAYA Books

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