18 January 2009

Literary Notes

You know things are about to take a turn for the surreal when you look around at a poetry reading and see CHRIS GRIVET standing behind you.

But there the former STEINWAYS drummer was, looking studious and thoughtful as could be, and all I could think was, "Wow, dude really was serious about pursuing interests beyond pop-punk."

"Whadda ya talkin' about?" Grivet protests when his presence at such an august literary gathering is challenged, "I got plenty of culcha." He also informs us that he's actually in three new bands, not two as previously reported, including a rap group and a hardcore outfit, none of which involves him playing drums.

But before going any further, it's only fair to note that I'm guilty of embellishing a decent story for the sake of making it an outstanding one, that the august literary gathering actually took place in the back room of a bar on the Greenpoint/Williamsburg divide, and that while quite a lot reading was done, only a little of it was poetry. Or none, perhaps; it's not always easy to distinguish between poetry and prose now that poets can't be bothered to use rhymes and you're not looking at it in a book (general rule: if the words are arranged funnily on the page, it's probably poetry and there's a better than average chance that it sucks).

If you think that marks me out as a narrow-minded philistine, you're probably right, and if the truth be told, I'm probably a more unlikely sight at a literary event than Chris Grivet. I don't know why, either, because if they're anywhere near as good as this one, I've been missing out. Let me reiterate, though: this event featured little or no poetry. I'm not ready to become that broadminded yet.

My friend Michael was supposed to meet me there and periodically texted to say he'd be there soon, but then stopped texting and wasn't. One reason I'd hoped he'd come was that I was afraid I wouldn't know anybody there, but as it turned out I did; in addition to the aformeentioned Grivet we had JONNIE WHOA OH, JACKIE O, FRANK UNLOVABLE, and, in a real surprise, JOEY PERALES, who connoisseurs of old school East Bay punk will recognized from his work with BLATZ and DEAD AND GONE.

I knew two of the featured performers as well, CRISTY C. ROAD, author (and illustrator!) of the recently published Bad Habits, and BLAKE SCHWARZENBACH, noted English instructor who's also been in a bunch of bands you might have heard of. I had been under the impression that since this was a "reading," Blake was going to read. So, apparently, had he, coming prepared with some newly written material, only to discover that he was expected to sing a few songs, which he did, masterfully, adding an ex tempore tale about the tundra, which for reasons that were never satisfactorily explained, was the theme of the night. Cristy, who, she revealed, once interviewed me for her zine sometime back in the 90s when she was about 15, read a blazing bit of rhetoric about several New Year's Eves including her most recent one in Brooklyn, and though she (unnecessarily) apologized in advance that it might be too long, it was mesmerizing. I got a copy of her new novel, on which I will report back in a couple weeks time.

I also enjoyed the work of ZACK LIPEZ, who read - hilariously - about a cloned woolly mammoth coming to live in Williamsburg, and RYAN DODGE, who created a portrait of a self-obsessed 20-something who at first made you nearly cringe (one woman actually left the room because she didn't want to hear about this presumably fictional character shaving his pubic hair), but who gradually drew you past his outer bravado and posturing into an inner world where you actually began to feel rather touched by his rawness and vulnerability.

Actually, there wasn't a bad reader out of the batch. Even the MC, who, if he's not already pursuing a standup career, has clearly missed his calling, was a delight. And in a turnabout from the normal state of affairs, it was fascinating to see the room packed for the reading and then empty out the minute a band started. Shame, too; it seemed like a pretty decent band, with a banjo, even, but everybody seemed anxious to adjourn to the bar and talk about, well, literary things, I guess. By the time I walked home, the sky had clouded over and the temperature had risen into the low 20s for the first time in a couple days, and it felt almost luxuriously warm. A good night. I'll have to keep an eye on this literary racket, especially now that all my favorite bands are breaking up. Watch for Grivet and me trading rhymes at your next poetry slam.

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