SPT's The Document: Field, Morrill, Cobb

Monday morning, quick, before work: Queen Helene’s “Energizing Avocado & Grapefruit” masque on face, steel cut oats with blueberries to the side of the keyboard, bites in between words and keyboard. The need to tell you about Friday night: Courtesy of Small Press Traffic, Thalia Field, Allison Cobb and Erin Morrill at Macky Hall, Oakland Campus of California College of the Arts

Miranda Mellis introduced Thalia Field, whose work I'd first heard about from Emily Abendroth. Earlier this year I checked out of the San Francisco Public Library, Field’s Bird Lovers, Backyard after having photocopied (sssh! )most of Point and Line (2000) last summer. Field is endlessly inventive. She re-enters and imagines the possibilities of form and formal investigation, producing playful crossings that revel in critical assessment and coagulate with linguistic and witty pleasures. Miranda has written a bright and insightful piece using one of Field's lines. It is called "Are you sure species exist?” Mellis writes:

Field’s book is, among other things, science translated into the discourses of poetry and theater. There is an ethical, interdisciplinary vision underlying the recursive image of a gang of students milling around Bird Lovers, Backyard, replete with notebooks and saddlebags, doing amateur science. They ask questions, connect dots—they’re a chorus. And Field’s books are staged as much as written.

You can read the full piece at the Brooklyn Rail here.

It was great to hear Field read several pieces I am familiar with from her Bird Lovers book and to hear a selection from A Prank of Georges, a collaborative piece she wrote with Abigail Lang, a product of Cole Swensen's Paris Translation workshop.

It was also eerie to be listening to Field read about Bikini island and to be thinking about toxicity and tragedy and the politics of it with the earthquake in Japan and its compromised nuclear facilities on all of our minds.

Field's "Apparatus for the Inscription of a Falling Body" from Bird Lovers, Backyard can be read here.

Here's a little snippet from her book Ululu Clown Shrapnel:

the audience grows intrigued: a husband making millions from selling copies and yet she critizes him for not making more? "You Warhol! You Apellos! You Kostabi!" What exactly is she after? His art factory already fakes her precious alchemy  To weakened knees a violin solo  more agonizing than a hyena screeching "Lap at  my genitals, lay in my lap"  "lapis"   "lazy she offers inspiration, not organization.  "This marriage be   this bondage   this border this lounge act"  "Here, drink!" ULULU says, "Drink this Elixir!"  And so many men turn their heads, mouths dry and they step over, cupping their imaginary hands on ULULU's bosom, despite themselves, liquid stone flows through the silk of breasts, one loud midday Hypatia feeding thoughts of immortality (despite the frigidity of the rage)

        ULULU: Now that's how to sell a painting.

                                Audience: Sold!(63)

Field was followed by Erin Morrill’s performative investigation of the archive, privacy and public space, a meditation on living and dying, travel and documentation, loss and accumulation. Her piece consisted of a slideshow of 260-some-odd images culled from her archive of daily photos. Morrill stood behind the screen, her body obscured from view, her voice rushing out as she told us she is an amateur photographer who has been taking pictures for some years now. The performance was simultaneously haunted by the loss of Morill’s archive of her personal and family life, once stored in a public storage facility, but now gone, I can’t remember why, something about payment of fees? Or did I just make that up??

Morrill began by announcing that her piece should not be documented or recorded in any way, expressing frustration about the public documentation of events and people’s lack of participation in the event itself. Like a good narcissist, I felt stung by this and immediately put down my pen and notebook, having been aware since the inception of xpoetics, that reporting on events in order to offer a bit of the event for those not present compromises me. I am an as-yet-again-split, split subject as I multi-task trying to be in the events and also recording some sort of “faithful” version of them, to be transcribed and re-envisioned later (as in right now--though "now" has now become evening, work and daily life intervening).

After the event, I complimented Erin and assured her I would not document her piece at which point she said she did not mind people writing about it but had in mind friends who chose not to come to the event because they figured it would be recorded and they could experience it digitally. So, as I discovered, much of what we take to be directed at us (perhaps particularly a problem in the worlds of writers and artists, those worlds of fragile and soaring egos!), has nothing, or very little, to do with us-- often, anyway. And I’m in agreement with Erin in her frustration with people somehow equating the recorded event with the event itself. My friend Jim tells me that this is a huge issue in the world of performance and performance studies, particularly with dancers, who often do not want recordings of their performances, which can never capture an art absolutely predicated on three dimensional space, not to mention the depths of sound that porously enter our bodies during such a performance. I suppose there are also the facts of temperature and the olfactory to account for. The uncomfortable wooden or steel or cushy plush chairs we might be sitting in, the microscopic forms of life that might also inhabit those chairs, the carpeting...……Anyway, I enjoyed Merrill's performance which also acknowledged the recent death of Akilah Oliver.

Lastly, but not least Allison Cobb closed out the evening with a reading from her book Green-Wood, named after a 500-acre cemetery in Brooklyn. Cobb’s book is an investigation into history, etymology, poetry, landscape architecture, the dead. In a way, the cemetery and Cobb’s book is yet another take on the archive.

From Green-Wood
Author’s note: Green-Wood is named for a 478-acre Victorian cemetery across the street from me in Brooklyn, NY. It opened in 1838 as only the second “rural” cemetery in America, after Mt. Auburn in Boston. The piece is a poetic meditation on my experiences in the cemetery, and on the history surrounding it. *


I walk through fall and winter. I walk through spring. I walk against the backdrop of war, the toppling of the Hussein statue, declaration of end of hostilities. Continued bombings. NAMES OF DEAD in paper. I walk by bulldozers, mowers, pesticide sprayers with yellow warning placards: KEEP OUT FOR 24 HOURS. 

                       Tree I trace 
                       from the root spelled "rot"     
                       to “worm” a proto-word 
                       subtracting wildness

let earth conceal them from our sight 

A few fine old Brooklyn families—the Lefferts, Schermerhorns, and Bergens—traced their title to land on the Gowanus Hills back to their Dutch ancestors. The depression of 1837 spurred them to sell out to the cemetery. 

Smaller landowners refused to relinquish their holdings, a vexation that kept the cemetery at first from deeding for burial a single rood. An echo of “wild wood” reduced to “twig” or “rod,” a measuring stick, a measure of land, then the cross, an instrument of execution. 

Weeping Beech 
London plane tree
Cedar of Lebanon
Austrian pine 
American holly, female
Yoshino cherry
Mulberry from China 

each tagged with a metal I.D. number 

You can read more from Allison's fine work here

Read more about these authors on SPT’s website:


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