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Live Short Take on Jen Currin and Ken Babstock

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Last night, I attended a poetry reading by Jen Currin and Ken Babstock, part of the Play Chthonics series here at Green College, U. B. C. As an experiment in listening, in refocusing a divided attention, or maybe in overwriting distraction, I thought I would try blogging live, drafting a post as a transcript and as a reaction. I find I have trouble hanging on to the lines of poems at readings; there is no rewind, no pause, and if things seem to resonate and to hang in my ear for a moment or two, the succession of coming lines overwrites and pushes them out of my immediate memory. I tried to write the odd line down as the reading happened, tapping it onto the virtual keyboard of my smartphone blogging app. I hope I didn’t distract from the experience of those around me. Some people find the technologies of social media inherently abrasive, rude. And maybe they’re not wrong. Those technologies are at least distracting, and distracted. It was a great reading; both poets offered up innovative, paced, striking poems. There was too much to catch. But I tried to hang on to bits as they flowed passed:

Jen Currin is reading poems chosen by chance from her books. This: “Night arrived in the form of a candle.” This, not given at a reading before: “Dogs on film and no one wants to hold her hand in exile.” And this, from somewhere in her Hagiography: “To make it sane I planted poppies.” New pieces: “Photo Booth” (“You’re a descriptive kind of girl”); “The Oceans” (“I feel your seaweed body bending my way”); “Taking an Intuition Class” (“We understand a little, just a little of us”); “The Emergencies” (“We must listen”); Our Face on the Cover”; “Fear is Not a Body Part.” “The Art of the Spiritual Headache” ends with a gesture at freedom, freeing. Applause.

Ken Babstock is trying sitting rather than standing: harder to breathe, but less jittery. The necro lyric or the zombie lyric: writing continuing to write lyric beyond its end. “Are songs litter?” Reading like Jen some things that he doesn’t normally. Randomized choices? An elegy for Vic Chesnutt, “I Think I Will Go to Bakersfield”: “What can I say? I’m done.” “Hoping Your Machine Can Handle the Big Image”: a response to Karen Solie’s “Tractor”. Ken says solipsism gets a bad rap. Rep? Rap. Now a sequence of sonnets, procedural constraints, hybrids, holes. Not wholes. Nostalgically treating Cold War surveillance. Low frequencies.

During the question session, Jen discusses her interest in Elizabeth Bishop, and talks about a project for which she uses the words of Bishop’s poems as a source vocabulary to make new poems, rearrangements. Ken is asked about the connections between his new sonnets and John Berryman’s Dream Songs.

There was more. You can hear it on the recording. But I wanted to listen rather than transcribe so I stopped. Interesting how little clings to such a transcription, though my impression was that the act of copying did intensify the memory of the words, of lines. But much fell away, as well. 

If you look closely, you can see my smartphone open and lit up on my lap. (Photo by Karen Correia Da Silva)

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