Rachel Zolf and Christian Bök

Last Night at SPT

San Francisco welcomed two engaging Canadian poets to Timken Hall. First up, Rachel Zolf was a conductor bringing us into a linguistic version of Koyaanisqatsi. Things unfolded and came apart and regrouped with lightening speed--woooooosh--and then fell into a time-lapse photography slo-mo. An etymological efflorescence. My brain struggled to keep up as she took us everywhere. A portion of her work addresses the contemporary nightmare of violence in Palestine and Israel. The piece I most responded to in the context of this reading was "The Neighbor Procedure" in which self and other, neighbor and neighbor, enemy and neighbor, neighbor's enemies' neighbors, etc., fold and unfold, collide and come apart.

Christian Bök was up next. This is the second time I've heard Christian read/perform. Both times I've found myself smiling and cringing. It is an experience. I am mesmerized by the sheer performativity of the event. Whether it is French or English or pure sound and screech, Christian throws his whole body into it. Hearing and watching him is like witnessing elocution lessons accompanied by the zing of too many energy drinks downed too quickly or too much speed. Yet, it is controlled. A high wire act. Something about Christian in his black suit and white shirt (maybe he even had a tie on?) contrasts with the muscular bombast of the circus barker. I really enjoyed the selection from Eunoia that he read/performed. A chapter on the vowel O. Fabulous. His piece, "Busted Sirens," was a response to Ron Silliman's "Sunset Debris" and all of its myriad interrogatives; Bök ran Silliman's text through some sort of automated robot program--Alicebot--from which he generated the words for his text. Like "Sunset Debris," Bök's version retains the quality of oppressiveness that one might find in Silliman's. Here are some of the questions from "Sunset Debris": “Can you feel it? Does it hurt? Is this too soft? Do you like it? Do you like this? Is this how you like it? Is it alright?” (11).

It was a good evening. The Bay Area experienced some wild performativity from each of these poets whose voices and lungs and language and bodies pushed us beyond our comfort zone. Hooray for that.

Bios from SPT:

Written at the outer edges of procedural restraint, Christian Bök's second book, Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), won the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. An acclaimed performer of sound poetry (particularly the Ursonate by Kurt Schwitters), Bök's conceptual artwork, which includes books built out of Rubik's cubes and Lego bricks, has appeared at New York City's Marianne Boesky Gallery as part of the exhibit Poetry Plastique. His first book, Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. He has created artificial languages for two television shows: Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict and Peter Benchley's Amazon. Bök is currently a professor of English at the University of Calgary.

Rachel Zolf’s most recent poetry collection, Human Resources (Coach House, 2007), won the 2008 Trillium Book Award for Poetry and was shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award. Her previous collections are Masque (Mercury, 2004) and Her absence, this wanderer (BuschekBooks, 1999, 2009--revised). Chapbooks published are Shoot and Weep (Nomados, 2008), from Human Resources (Belladonna, 2005) and the naked & the nude (above/ground, 2004). Her work appears in the anthology Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry and a forthcoming Coach House anthology of Canadian innovative women’s poetry and poetics. She has published and performed her poetry across Canada and the U.S., and her critical essays have appeared in Xcp: Cross-Cultural Poetics, West Coast Line and Open Letter. She was the founding poetry editor of The Walrus magazine and has edited several books by other poets. She is currently the recipient of a Chalmers Arts Fellowship supporting a poetic project on competing knowledges in Israel-Palestine, entitled The Neighbour Procedure.

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