Languell, Prevallet, and Levistky in New York

 A Sunday Afternoon in New York

photos courtesy of Marie Regan

Ages ago now, back in early August, Sunday, the 11th, I had the good fortune to attend an end of summer poetry reading in Red Hook at the home of Caroline Crumpacker. The event was held outdoors in the backyard. Emily Abendroth and I hitched a ride from Bard with Kristen Prevallet who read along with Rachel Levitsky and Krystal Languell. There was much greenery and late afternoon heat (things that stand out to someone used to the Bay Area’s August chill and sandy yellow hillsides). There were lovely things to eat and drink as words emerged from mouths into air and ears. The crowd of attentive listeners included many: Joan Retallack, Stephen Cope, Jonathan Skinner, Hoa Nguyen, Marie Regan, Sam Truitt, Emily Abendroth, Tim Casey, Cole Heinowitz, and many others I’m forgetting or whose names I do not know.

Stephen Cope and Cole Heinowitz

First up: Krystal Languell read from her new book Call The Catastrophists from BlazeVox. Here’s a few pieces from her collection:

Excuse Me If I Break my Own Heart

My body wants to build another body that was ever afraid of a chain letter / that gets excited about the weather. My body wants to play but doesn’t want to choke. The last good fuck my body is still waiting for it with a mouth open to express hunger sign says our lost | your gain my body, too, is awake / unemployed, interested in petty theft. My body watches too much wish-fulfillment reality television. Grabbing onto a manufactured boy guarantees vanilla passage my body wants its identity stolen / its jewelry pawned. It stares into the mirrorback and nothing happens outside its hailing / snowing and no adversity is to blame for this lack.

A process occurs when you give up your language and start calling things by new names but there’s not a term for how new phrases infiltrate your reflex it starts with gutturals and when you try to give it up try to back out the primal language dialects but you will understand shouts of surprise from the last place to wipe clean. 

Working the System

It means tackling
the old arranged network
from inside,
resisting iteration

You are:
                a cinched & neat parade salute
                patriotic pleasant ruffles
                perked and almost open.

On occasion, battle will be necessary.
Take it as another fluid affair, a natural
extension. Make it look easy.

Meanwhile, people you used to know
will overcrush, pursuing a miracle.
Needing your heart.

Understand, delicate?
Be careful not to doubt your own ascendance.

It means the din of words to be ignored.
Become expatriate. Calculate exact,
then ignore examination. Exit,
rather, exculpate yourself.

Kristin Prevallet read next from AlterBody and her Trance Poetics book, a new edition of which, I think, is coming out.  Read an excerpt from her compelling and engaging work here.

Kristen Prevallet and Hoa Nguyen

Last and in the position of honor in celebration of her new book, The Story of My Accident is Ours from Futurepoem, Rachel Levistky took us into early evening.  Here are two pieces from this powerful and arresting book.

From Almost Any Angle

We woke into the world—
All at once and all one way like characters you’d see in a science fiction movie, without parents, cloned for the purpose of replacing the organs of the rich, or jailed indefinitely and repeatedly for our childbearing ability. We had the appearance arriving whole, the sets of our features predetermined and complete.

Defined by limitation—
We were kept away from history by serial clearances: slums, streets, the poor, then the rich, then the home, then the street, then the neighborhood, then the mall, and then the mall. (The mall.)

We recognized each other—
We communicated by way of a vacant look in our eyes and sophistication in our speech when we had the energy to speak. We were not quite like creatures in zombie movies that were popular again in our time. We didn’t join in the common cause of destroying one another, or making another more like us. We lacked killer instinct. We doubted the necessity, that what we were should be reproduced or multiplied. We were ignorant of what we were, uncertain about the ways we did have, what they were and how they’d come to be.

What we knew better than what we were and the ways we had was all that we were strange to. We were strange to the ways of smiles—smiles possessed by the ones on television, big and radiant, infused with all the light in the room from which their image was cast, smiles worn by the ones outside in front of the church, placidly making their way through those who’d get in their way of smiling and smiles exchanged by the two who were passing each other, in a case where one is walking down a sidewalk and another is driving in order to deliver a package from a truck.

We did not intent to be unfriendly nor dour though I can see (now) we have often and legitimately been so perceived. At one point in time I imagine we could not have been perceived any other way. Left by ourselves we did not know how else to be. We were made, mostly, all one way.

Caroline Crumpacker and Rachel Levitsky

Rigid Bodies

The body we wore when we came into the world in which we found ourselves was not our body and we did not know its ways. Some of us were sensitive to noise and some of us were easily stimulated by sex. Some of us liked to dress like smiling people on television. Some of us followed lovers around and some of us waited for lovers to come. Some of us wanted to be touched only one way and some of us found pleasure in being touched all kinds of ways. Some of us switched back and forth and some of us stayed the same. Some found it painful to be one way but not another; some found it painful to be any other way; some found pain to be the case any way at all.

In the times of which I speak in the world into which we woke, the State, committed to all people and to all things, enabled, in the manner of removing roadblocks, loosening safety regulations and forgiving discouraging tariffs, the research and corporate development of a variegated technology, a not very neatly packaged popular science, that allowed bodies and their parts to change and interchange. In this we began to witness a veritable mechanics for the animal body, outfitted into so many easily procured consumables. More still, the State made ecstatic way for the industry and its products, lubricating pipes, opening ports, stimulating sales. The technology thus encouraged, we watched it sail easily along otherwise static packed channels that branched out to a complicated and oft unanticipated grid which had before our times been expanded and now reached into each and every crevice, gaudily lit by enormously tall aluminum orbs, permissively read from above by thundering satellites, electronically measured from below. Chaotically wrapped or convincingly boxed or left out naked and raw, dividing and subdividing away from conglomerated mass beginnings into a multiple, many tiered, in itty bitty and chunky parts, mixed scale system; and trading in pieces sized unevenly, big, medium, small, and value pack; and sorts, prize-winning, genetically modified, state-of-the-art, economy, deluxe, exclusive, naturally derived, certifiably organic. Each size and sort is allowed to randomly find its way into a well-suited locale, insuring every class of population a security of supply, efficiently delivered in terms of speed, if not quality or safety, like so many other combustible goods that tumble into the markets of our world.

Thus, body mechanics became available for purchase in every sphere—for elegant fortunate bodies that is, and for we generally less so there were back alleys, corner stores and country borders. Word of available modification was spread by advertisement on trains and by show and tell in what was left of unpoliced dark corners (park) before the rising of an unfriendly, invasive sun. Future consumers were made less strange to the fluids and blood and guts of it by graphic and moving pictures on television and live demonstrations at the club.

The world, in which had once stood a society and now stood something else, had accommodated and absorbed these technologies quickly, but was not able to do this so very peacefully when it came to certain classes of bodies, certain body types and certain exchanges. Inversions of hormones, genitals and vocal cords, generated a rabid violence onto the death by the practitioners and purchasers of upgrades to skin, hair, chin and breasts, and from those who had gone by a swallow from scrawny to buff, or by a pinch from fat to thin.

What I am describing refers directly to the beginning of the story when I said one could not oppose this thing. To oppose these mechanics, their divisions and tangled convolutes of distribution, would mean being against ourselves as a people who consumed and needed to consume as a means of living in this world, managing our suffering as a thing ever attached to the body of our life like an abandoned starving nursing child, who belongs to us and whom we love as though we could love ourselves. Absolute or even partial refusal on ideological grounds would implicate us as being unmoved by our very own suffering. Which we are not.

Rachel will be in the Bay Area reading for Small Press Traffic in October. Don't miss it!

October 6, 2013

Artists’ Television Access
992 Valencia Street, SF
5 pm