Charles Borkhuis has asked the following poetic question of Andrew Levy’s poetry: “Why this I now?” In his new book Nothing is in Here, being published today as the first EOAGH book, Andrew Levy writes to find out what he might be thinking as multiple identities coming and going in different directions. The vanilla middle of midtown unrolls into a speaker who in turn becomes a shell opening into myriad other voices and topics. Seen from one perspective, the book is a parade of grotesque but sympathetic speakers in partial narratives with no overriding story except onwardness. Poems bloom inside of prose passages, which then get interrupted by journalistic accounts related to the Iraq war and the credit crisis. Fugue-like repetitions haunt the extended serial composition, like subject-rhymes that would unlock a combination if revisited from the right angle. Another way to think about all this is: Levy presents a series of dramatic monologues without authorial selves, loosely organized by an intelligence and an embodied understanding not unlike a political conscience. Because a conscience isn’t something one just has, it’s also something one is, differently, moment to moment, in the Emersonian sense. As Levy indicates of this piece, “It’s about living in the worlds of allegory and irony and the cost of doing business there while tending one’s life.” While we may never get a full birds-eye-view of Levy’s allegorical rebellion, we can’t mistake his interest in intimacy and beauty. Please welcome Andrew Levy to the EOAGH Reading Series today.
EOAGH Reading Series: Andrew Levy and Charles Borkhuis
A Reading and Book Party Celebrating
the Print Release of Andrew Levy's EOAGH book Nothing is in Here
A Historic Pairing of Poets Borkhuis and Levy
All This Happens on
Sunday, May 23 at 2PM
at Unnameable Books,
600 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
ANDREW LEVY is the author of Values Chauffeur You, Democracy Assemblages, Curve, Elephant Surveillance to Thought, Memories of My Father, Cracking Up, and other collections. His poems have appeared in numerous magazines (from Aerial and Conjunctions to The Gig and Kenning to Temblor and Writing) as well as anthologies such as Writing from the New Coast, The Art of Practice: 45 Contemporary Poets, The Gertrude Stein Awards in Innovative Poetry, and Telling It Slant: Avant-Garde Poetics of the 1990s. Levy's work has been translated into Finnish, French, German, Slovenian, and Spanish. Ashoka, a book length poem, was published in Spain by Zasterle Books in 2002. Andrew Levy has taught journalism at Queensborough-CUNY since 2004. He lives in New York City with his wife and two daughters.
CHARLES BORKHUIS is a poet, playwright, screenwriter, and essayist. His books of poems include: Afterimage, Savoir-fear, Alpha Ruins, Proximity (Stolen Arrows), Dinner with Franz, and Hypnogogic Sonnets. Alpha Ruins was selected by Fanny Howe as a finalist for the William Carlos Williams Book Award. His poetry has appeared in the anthologies: Writing from the New Coast: Technique and Practice, Primary Trouble, The Gertrude Stein Awards in Innovative Poetry, and the Avec Sampler. Disappearing Acts is his latest manuscript of poems. His essays have appeared in two books from the University of Alabama Press: Telling It Slant and We Who Love to Be Astonished. He is the recipient of a Dramalogue Award. His plays are published in four collections: Mouth of Shadows, The Sound of Fear Clapping, Stage This: 3, and Poets' Theater. His CD, Black Light, contains two radio plays produced for NPR http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Borkhuis.php
The well-attended TENDENCIES: Poetics and Practice event last night, our finale for this season (the participants for which were both Faux Press authors and editors of EOAGH's Queering Language issue), calls for commentary. I think this was one of the best events and discussions so far. The evening began with CA Conrad presenting a version of his ongoing Somatic Manifesto and reading poems as examples. His argument about getting back to WILDNESS in language was persuasive. I was struck by how, though his poems are in some ways similar to minimalist conceptual practices that emphasize redundancy, the Somatics form he has invented does something distinctively maximalist. In this form there are two parts, and one is like the story of the body making the poem while the other part is like the concentrated "voice" portion, what would usually be called the poem. The two parts interpenetrate one another. His process is messy and unpredictable: the story of the body making the poem changes from piece to piece and often overflows into a space longer than the poem. So while there may be competition between the process and the product in terms of which element is to be primary, what he engages with is most importantly not a neoplatonic idea that can merely be summarized in order to efficiently enlarge market share. During the evening Conrad cited Bernadette Mayer as an early influence for his way of doing things.
Stacy Szymaszek's marvelous talk, which combined a queer coming-of-age story with an elaboration of her process "writing through" Pasolini's body using appropriation and projective identification, was challenged (provocatively) by Jack Kimball as "not queer enough." To the extent that Jack was serious and not simply playing devil's advocate, he explained by claiming that a lot of queer people "are fine," that they grow up living normal lives and are functional, successful people from the start, and he contrasted this view with the stories of marginalization or struggle that Conrad and Stacy were describing. This point reminded me of Kate Eichhorn's comment earlier in the series that queer writers may not have to worry so much about "coming out" of the closet anymore for a straight audience and can just sort of get on with their lives at this point.
I'll have to think more about how all of this relates back to Sedgwick, but Jack's talk certainly juggled Stein and Sedgwick in a way that slightly denigrated literary studies and exalted his version of a sort of punk negative capability when addressing theory in general. One of my favorite moments from his extremely dense, digressive talk was the continued elaboration of a single scene of pigeons on the grass -- slightly taller pigeons on the grass, slightly shorter pigeons but with much taller grass, etc. I'm wondering if the sense of stuckness here, and of pathos, showed Jack arguing ambivalently in favor of business casual, or whether it was a Buddhist argument in favor of silence or what can't be spoken. Julian T. Brolaski paraphrased Jack's ambivalence about identity stuckness (and literary studies itself) as being like queer writers' relationship to the difficult word "faggot." This prompted CA Conrad to point out the horrible associations surrounding the origin of that word, to which Jack replied "But the sticks are hot." This didn't ruffle Conrad at all -- he just nodded and smiled. It's fascinating how his generosity and kindness absorb negative energy and disperse it in this type of forum.
Jack Kimball followed his piece with (again, provocative) comments afterward about English being a language heavily influenced by scientists. This led into an involved audience discussion about the nature of the language and whether it had been developed by academies for scientific precision and clarity and was therefore being misunderstood or misused by poets. Does the science connection, one Jack claims is rooted in composition studies, mean that it is a language of corporate utility, or a discourse that allows us to make our ideas clear in a way easily purchased and therefore out of our control, or ultimately not helpful or not what we need?
It sounds from this question that the discussion was like Dewey vs Emerson, but actually it was more inchoate, and more interesting than that. Julian took issue with the science/English language analogy, noting that the shadow presence of romance languages and other aspects of the language's history built deconstructive slippages into English that gave it radical potential. Laura Jaramillo said it was "fancy to hate English" but that she chose to write in it instead of Spanish (her native language) because she found the tonalities of it more subtle and evocative, and there was additional discussion about that. Marcella Durand talked about parts of grammar unique to English which have functions external to Jack's characterization of the language. CAConrad talked about lack of access to foreign language instruction where he grew up.
It was exciting and great to see people have an impassioned discussion first about queerness and then about the nature of language, and to attempt to connect the two. Overall I was just pleasantly surprised that even in paranoid, well-behaved New York where readings can be an excruciating experience, it's possible to host a genuinely contentious discussion where people feel comfortable speaking up, being awkward, and risking passionate discussion in a public forum. So yeah, and be sure to keep your ears open for news about more Tendencies: Poetics and Practice coming up next year.