Friday, May 22, 2015

Remembering What Astonishes

She knew what she wanted and it was poetry and dreampop.

Fortunately for me, Chop Suey was addressing that with a reading featuring three women reading, for an estrogen fest of poetry.

I got there early enough to look for Thomas Hardy's "Far From the Madding Crowd" but, alas, while they had others - "The Return of the Native," "Return of the Greenwood Tree," several copies of "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" - no madding crowd.

Taking a seat in one of the metal chairs set up in the bookstore, I found myself conveniently wedged against the art history section. While I thumbed through a book on Currier and Ives (I really need to know more about these guys), I listened in on a debate about Norfolk versus Richmond living ("Have you been on the trails and the river? Have you?").

Fortunately, my favorite Bangles' song came on ("If She Knew What She Wants") and I was able to lose myself in that and my book.

First up was Sarah McCall, a Norfolk teacher and MFA candidate who began with a poem called "Household Survey" and judging by its references to race, sex, housing and education, I'm guessing she, like me, worked the census at some point. Final line: "Is this it? Where is that?"

She read "Ways of Being Born Twice" ("Time heals nothing") and a long poem about Greenwich Village's Cedar Tavern and the ghosts of people such as Frank O'Hara and Dylan. "Dear Love & Co." (sex was part of the & co.) had the most evocative imagery ("the warm bloom of desire").

Next came Michele Poulos, a far quieter and more timid reader, doing two from her chapbook while her husband watched from the second row. Explaining that she'd just finished five years of work on a film about poet Larry Levis, she read "St. Maximus in the Blue Margin," a poem about a monk.

My favorite of hers was the sexually-charged "Thursdays in Faubourg Marigny," written when she was living in New Orleans before relocating to Richmond after Katrina. "A Wind's Requiem" dealt with a Greek relative's house being burnt down ("If only houses could remember the skies that astonish them") and "X-Ray Visions" about flower X-rays ("Those petals, faint as a song").

Last up was Sommer Browning who read from her book "Backup Singers" ("Life accumulates like a U.S. Steel slag heap") while her young daughter made comments to her.

She mentioned that one poem "plagiarized from most of the people in the room" with its references to friends' life happenings. "Federal Holiday" yielded the exquisite imagery of a "sunset hinged to the sky."

Holding up her latest book, "The Circle Book," she observed dryly, "I drew 90 circles and someone published that shit." Showing us pages within, each page showed an identical circle with a different descriptor: Super ball, bottle cap, pencil point up close, tube sock from above, monocle. Even her two-year old found it funny.

And people think poets are dour. You just never know until you go to a reading.

Once we'd been released from our metal chairs, I strolled down to Secco to meet a man with a bent for comedy and a honey-dripping southern accent who offered to buy me a glass of wine in exchange for hearing his idea for me.

Over glasses of Domaine Cambon Beaujolais Rose, we talked about film and movie theaters, sight lines and audience sizes, recreating "My Dinner with Andre" and what a cultural landmark "Hard Day's Night" was. He's that rare person who understands why I only watch movies in public places on a big screen.

And while I didn't say yes to his offer, I'm certainly thinking it over.

When we parted ways, he was off to Emilio's to see Chez Roue and I to Balliceaux to see Night Idea and Shana Falana. The former I'd seen at Live at Ipanema and the latter was dreampop/shoegaze/right up my alley and from Brooklyn.

To my surprise, the show had started much earlier than I'd expected. Mea culpa. I only caught one song of duo Shana Falana's set but I could tell I would have liked more.

As quartet Night Idea was getting set up, I noticed one of the guitarists slip off his shoes and socks, perhaps the better to manipulate the buttons and knobs on his extensive pedal board with his toes. Night Idea is always touted as math rock, which in this case means a cross between prog rock and post rock with just a smidge of metal in there.

And sometimes I like that, the way a band takes you on a sound journey with no clue as to what's coming next, full of stops and starts and temp changes. Despite or maybe because of, some people really seem to like dancing to it.

A guy in front of me was a Deadhead sort of dancer, plucking at imaginary butterflies, flailing his hands at his side or occasionally looking to be in a full convulsion, you know the type. Just slightly off the irregular beat but he's dancing to an inner rhythm anyway so that's irrelevant. Having a good time, which is all that's important.

Another guy resembled that Peanuts character who, in the big dance scene, just stands in place and shakes his mop of curly hair. That was this guy. Adorable.

I spent time with the bartender who was doing his last shift as a single man before getting married Monday.

With random color and black and white videos playing behind them, they proceeded to get their audience (because it looked like all their friends were there) whipped into a frenzy with rock as complicated as a math problem. My response was understandably more subdued but I was still enjoying the musicianship and the surprises.

During their last song, I spotted a friend and he summed it up. "Such dude rock." Now that he mentioned it, practically everyone in the room was a guy.

That's why I always take care of my poetry fix first. You just never know where you'll end up.


  1. Great song. Fave lyric: "...he can pretend to give her everything". Speaking of great lines, you have a knack for spotting the most poetry and song. Thanks for sharing your insight with us!

  2. If she knew what she needs, he could give her that, too
    If she knew what she wants, but he can't see through her...
    Thanks for taking the time to read me!