A late October afternoon, students thronging the campus walkways, parking challenging! I'm at San Francisco State for Tonya Foster and David Buuck's reading at the Poetry Center.
In the audience, students, Steve Dickison, Emily Abendroth, CA Conrad, and others. David, equipped with visuals, began the afternoon. His was a somewhat improvisational talking through some of his BARGE (Bay Area Research Group Enviro-aesthetics) project, with sustained attention to his "Buried Treasure Island: a detour of the future," punctuated by readings from Site Cite City and a sung rendition of "Dead Men Don't Bite."
You can hear David read/sing "Dead Men Don't Bite" here at the Poetry Center's Vimeo channel.
I don't know why I missed David's Treasure Island work when it was happening in real time, but I wish I hadn't. It strikes me that his project might also be called, in the parlance of the Composition and Rhetoric world, truly multimodal; it is comprised of tours that are performative "detours" on Treasure Island with people in hazmat suits as "ghosts of the future," framing ignored "views" of the island and city beyond it as tourists and others gaze at the military industrial complex in the form of the Blue Angels streaking across the sky.
- the event of the tour itself,
- and all the research and work that went into developing it, (the project drawing attention to the toxic dumping ground the island became courtesy of the US Navy),
- the text, podcasts, guidebook,
- and the photos that accompany them, or are produced around and after the events.
- Then there is David's reading and singing and talking about the piece.
I loved how he detournéd panels once bearing graffiti which were then painted-over; he labeled them as in a gallery or museum--"untitled municipal painting."
Here's a section from "Buried Treasure":
Notes On Method: Paranoid Landscapes (2008)
The sick/ of magic/ lining up --CA Conrad
Throughout the work on this project, BARGE has had to re-adjust its methods to fit the 'facts on the ground,' even as those facts filter themselves through ever-more paranoiac scrims. By listening to the materials instead of imposing one's narratives upon them, and letting the symptoms proliferate into new forms of understanding--the telling itch, the site-specific discharge, the rash judgments, and above all, the 'black spot' where the no-go zones meet flesh--one could open up the terrain for uncanny encounters with the site and its hauntings. For instance, when the window opened behind me and the voice hailed me with her version of events, to be narrated in a kind of speculative poetics that the guidebook had yet to accommodate, the feeling was not of surprise as much as the recognition that this encounter was meant to happen at exactly this juncture in the field work. Thus the strange white car that would often be waiting at off-limit sites right as I was approaching would turn up in the rear view mirror at exactly the moment I was wondering aloud where it had been hiding. Of course one would turn a corner and suddenly come across a three-legged dog trotting down an empty street. Of course there as a Naval "Ghost Blimp" that disappeared from the island years ago, only to show up in Daly City, its engines running and its pilots missing. Psychogeographic research became a kind of landscape-fugue, a cognitive napping, where somnambulatory dériveations chart the ground-scores by which the island improvises song within that seeming null state between past and future. No map could hope to chart such fever-dreams, what with the open containers full of poisoned land from other sites, the fenced-off littoral zones, the underground petrol tanks bellowing beneath the fault lines--all real time objects of a land-based dream-work that has yet to be fully translated into the new cartography. In the converging crises, when the contradictions work themselves out through the post-disaster, post-oil ecologies to come, the survivors will have had to make use of every site for spectral nourishment, every nook for plant life, producing oxygen for the new lungs, fever and ferment for the new species-dreaming (53).
I am looking forward to reading David's book!
Tonya began her reading by noting that "poetry doesn't happen without community," and then she read a portion of something she said is old though she is still very much "mired" in it. This piece with its lovely alternative titles aimed at different contexts and perhaps audiences: "Pay Attention To Where You At: A Mathematics of Chaos," a.k.a. "Its Difficult Subjects: Jamming Between Misery and Majesty," a.k.a. "Its Difficult Subjects. Talking Shit. At the Crossroads."* This work is engaged with a deep love for place--whether that place is Harlem or New Orleans, while it is also a powerful meditation on disaster and catastrophe and grief. She quoted Blanchot, "the disaster takes care of everything." Tonya's take is complex and surprising. She notes that as a kid, the possibility of a deluge created a kind of innocent excitement. A day of rain might mean a day out of school. That was then, and momentary. I am looking forward to seeing this piece published.
She then read from her new amazing book, A Swarm of Bees in High Court. I love this book; its pleasure in plying language; its sharp observation and critique. There's so much attention to prosody. It is rife with anaphora, alliteration, and a kind of staccato rhythm a/mi/d/st words rendered multiple. Here's a few sections from various poems.
Beside her, he lies
--possession and "O!
Again to t/his sweat. Now sleep.
But not for her--sleep
less eyes like stagnant
city pools. Saltiness, then
this thirst for ice.
Knots of a woman
who ain't numb with want. Who's not
effaced by shut eyes?
Nots form this woman
who sugars her mustards, who'll
want but never ask.
In her body swarms
swarms of cells, of tissue, of
sounds--"achoo," blood, "shush."
In her body, swarms
womb, "little cash," years.
Her self is a sleep,
is snake-eyes, knothole, whistle,
skull, gristle, and nerve.
Her self is a sleep
from which t/his voice might wake her.
To what? To what?
To be--the water
that bandies a body, the
body of a once
young wo/man n
a bayou of sound & words in
the pre/ab/sense of sleep.
To be--a boat as
in raft or pontoon. Each word,
a boat in which s/he
is, in which s/he is
sentenced and bandied about.
To be about to...
To be about...
To be bandied about by water,
to be busted and broke,
to be bored, grief-bore, work-bore.
to be backache, bone of nightshifts,
to be barren as salt lick, to bear bellyached and bloat,
to be news and less.
To be--tethered between seer and (un)see.
To see and to be
seen?--what it is to live on
Her voice, no matter how loud or clear, is rendered silence, his do--
shadow projected across a page, across a street, an age, across
two bodies in bed (59-60).
You can listen to a brief bit of Tonya's reading on the Poetry Center's Vimeo channel here.
Oakland-based writer David Buuck is the founder of BARGE, the Bay Area Research Group in Enviro-aesthetics and co-founder and editor of poetics journal Tripwire. Recent books include SITE CITE CITY (Futurepoem, 2015) and An Army of Lovers, written with Juliana Spahr (City Lights, 2013).
Tonya M. Foster is the author of A Swarm of Bees in High Court and coeditor of Third Mind: Creative Writing through Visual Art. Her writing and research focus on ideas of place and emplacement, and on intersections between the visual and the written. Her next collections are a cross-genre collection on New Orleans, and Monkey Talk, an intergenre composition about race, paranoia and surveillance. Her poetry, prose and essays have appeared in Callaloo, Tripwire, boundary2, MiPOESIAS, NYFA Arts Quarterly, the Poetry Project Newsletter and elsewhere. She is an assistant professor at California College of the Arts.
* Thank you to Steve Dickison for assistance with these titles!