Chapel Hill poet Randall Williams shares his thoughts about the Carrboro Poetry Festival he originally posted to the Lucipo discussion list
I wanted to write briefly to heap praise upon Patrick and share my notes
from the festival.
I've been bumbling around, ineffective, now, for a few days, as if I just
returned from a month-long band tour. Coming down from the festival, from
The Possible as Gabe said, has felt like an incredible crash. Patrick, the
festival was a moment in which my poetic project was able to unentangle
itself from quotidian demands. And it's addictive, really, to feel such
surging momentum behind my practice. I often conceive of protest as
instrumental in encouraging people to feel like they can demand more from
their political systems and neighbors. And now, for the second year, the
festival has pushed me to demand more from the poetic form and convinced me
to risk most things psychic and material in that pursuit.
I did a lot of thinking about frames this weekend. The poems that I liked
the most --Chris's oration, Linh Dinh's scenario-images, Gabe's use of 17th
century inquiry, Mel's internal frame shifting-- seemed to bear within them
a redefinition of a poem's utility. Many attempted to show how we think, or
more specifically, how we are thinking. They made open-mike-like poems --the
sad, self-asserting steam of self-denial, unrequited love and spited social
patterns-- seem embarrassingly naked. Not to diss that endeavor; but, to be
clear, it's the difference between crowded club-dancing and encircled
Tony said that sometimes he feels like he senses what a poem is about by its
third or fourth line. Then, he continued, he feels like the poet is slapping
words into place to maintain that effect. The critique, then, is that such a
poem doesn't require active reading. It is a beautiful house tour, but you
know your host will either lead you to the kitchen or bedroom next. Mel's
work is incredibly different on this front. Her lines emerge, not only from
different contexts, but from places that require different mental processes
to interpret. Somehow following "conjugate my --ir verbs" with "I'm feeling
lucky" is a shift not only in contexts --school room to Internet-- but from
scene description to psychic experience. And, of course, all of this happens
beneath a level of sonorousness.
Chris, Linh and Standard were using a different kind of framing. Their
project poems (orations, portraits and letters) entreated my imagination to
shuttle between two levels --structure and statement. The strategy had a
similar effect to a novelist's use of the internally-framed narrative (a
speaker telling a story which contains a story). My mind requires at least
two levels to work between. And, when a poet reads his or her poem of
travail, no matter how patterned, I shuttle between the words and the fact
of the person's reading. I am not sufficiently drawn into the work.
The other trend of poems that I liked this weekend were ones that beckoned
the imagination into them. Mary Margaret was a champ at these. There was
such vast space between her lines, and her diction was so deliberate, that I
felt my imagination could enter them and be repaired from underuse. They
were like tiny holes at the top of some skyscraper quietly beckoning you
Another trend of poems that I enjoyed were the ones that felt like the poet
had left some cliffside and followed imagination up and across some chasm.
The characteristic here --in Mel and Mary Margaret's work-- was a certain
sharpness, like piercing twilight, of the images. The leaving the cliffside,
I believe, has to do with the poet divorcing him or herself from the
novel-like narrative of his or her experience. It's not a matter of globing
descriptions onto or into experience --in a formalist attempt to estrange
one from the ordinary-- but leave the novel structure all-together.
Other miscellaneous notes:
1. Julian's use of prepositions was incredible. Often coming late in his
sentences, they expanded his description into impossibility. His lines
started rational enough, but then quickly became objects of the imagination.
I was also interested in the degree to which his poems heaved and sighed
like bodies, which I'm sure is a result of his use of bodily verbs to
describe inanimate objects and the cosmos. I wanted to ask him, though, if
he felt moving some of the trailing prepositional statements into the place
of adjectives would harm/effect/augment the sense of wondrous
2. Todd gave his best performance ever. I saw his poems as operating at four
levels-- personal feeling, linear thought, personal myth and social myth.
Todd's poem for Ken and Kathryn was beautiful and clear-- to the degree that
I saw his later use of social myth signifiers as unnecessary. Linear thought
structure seem to come in and out of use, which keeps his poems fresh.
3. I appreciate Ken's poems more and more. They use public airspace to braid
simple statements and contexts in such a way that the universe is implied.
The poem that he apparently wrote this past week has more of a
sentence-bleeding quality than his earlier Poems for Two Voices. Perhaps, as
Chris noted, this is because the statements about poetry, in their midst,
were disconcertedly applicable and inapplicable at the same time.
4. Joe's Hermes poem rocked my world. His vocabulary conveys a sense of
history in such a way that I feel relativized and appropriately
proportional. Words from myths, and ancient Greece, and modern European
history, outnumber the words unique to contemporary life. This gives me a
sense of continuity with the past. The way he builds lines, too, is a
constant intellectual chiming of a bell in a vast field.
5. Standard's reading made me think about the difference between in-camera
editing and editing in post-production. I've been going through a phase in
which I realize that all that mediates the moment of writing --when you sit,
finally, to compose-- is as important as the topic you seek to investigate.
Standard's filters --undoubtedly a result of his intense concentration and
voracious reading habits-- can turn anything into kaleidoscopal echo of
existential inquiry. I seek his train of thought as if trying to tune in
some long divorced radio wave. He makes me want to take off my shoes and
live in the library. And, beyond that, I fell madly in love with him as a
person this weekend.
6. While Rod and I stood over adjacent urinals, I told him his poems were
like toads peering over IMF contracts, or like watching aname during an
anti-globalization protest. I've never heard such a successful attempt at
channeling the juvenillized soul of this nation. And, of course, there's a
moral fear beneath the work. How will infantilization affect democracy?
7. When Tony reads I can only respond in poetic line. "A wet rope tossed
into junk blossoms," I wrote. He is able to create pictures within pictures
and, better than anyone, his imaginary world is connected with verbs. All of
the elements are interacting with one another. Then he'll throw in a
declarative statement ("I am") into the stream of contexts and inanimate
objects and shimmering words. I believe this to be true, which is why he is
8. Carl Martin seems to select his words, so carefully, that he redefines
how intentional a sentence can be. I am led to think that every one of his
word choices was toiled over, held up to light and interrogated at the
stand. Then he patches them back together to appear like he's speaking
linearly. Each word's intensity renders the sentence a flimsy structure.
Nevertheless, he uses sentences --which is crucial-- because it dashes the
mortar upon which our linguistic world is founded. He keeps 'em to flog
them, in other words. I kept having images of West Coast shores-- the harsh
potted rocks that get smashed, filled and drained by waves.
9. Lee Ann's Jack Tale piece made me think of a statement that Chuck Close
made about his work. In an interview, he was asked, "Why did you feel it was
necessary to eliminate so many elements from your paintings?" And he
responded, "I wanted to get past my own and the viewer's preconceived ideas
as to what a painted head looks like. I don't want handed down, traditional
concepts to interfere with the content of my work."
10. I enjoyed Harryette Mullen's poem about the aural proximity of words
being political. "niggardly," "negated," etc. And, of course, the use of
airline safety speech to discuss reparations was on-point. We can write
poems out of whatever words we are given; the more unpoetic, the better. And
her strategy harkens to that Duchampian notion of context or frame shifting.
She is not actually talking about seat buckles, but how do we know this?
Context defines the sentence's meaning.
11. Christian's pieces, although aural, were visual. I imagined monasteries
during his dirge pieces, sentences during his Lalalalalapalloozaaaa piece
and his tongue on the roof of his mouth during his beat boxing. I had seen
Jerome Rothenberg do sound poetry before, so Christian's work wasn't off my
radar. And, to be truthful, I was more profoundly impacted by other pieces
at the festival.
12. Gabe's ability to don a 17th century inquisitiveness seemed to harmonize
with Standard and my conversations about anarchism. I got the sense that
Gabe was reminding us that there was a point in time --not too long ago--
when people felt obliged to write their own realities. During that time it
was not absurd to consider the question of where an asshole should go on
one's body. Or whether night is better than day. Or what type of social
system is most effective to contribute to human happiness. The most
political component of his work, then, is its implicit suggestion that (1)
divergent answers are possible and (2) you have all the tools necessary to
build your own beliefs and (3) the existent and rational are not the same.
Reason has no claim to the status quo and if shit's going to change, all
arrangements must fly up for radical inquiry.
13. Heidi's work, especially the poem about the takecarebeartortcake,
reminded me of Richard Brautigan's work in Trout Fishing in America. Phrases
can operate like nouns or verbs or adjectives. She seems to be reenvisioning
syntax in such a way as to break rules. And, beyond that, the thing that is
performing that task is so incredibly ridiculous and techni-color.
Sometimes, too, I sensed that she was looking at the same object through
various frames or shades to see how the alternating color would affect the
14. I opened up to a new level of meaning in Tanya's poems over the weekend.
I started to see tenable readings in which "Rose" and all her other
characters are, in fact, symbols for internal states.
15. Evie seemed to work the crowd in a way that I haven't seen her do
before. She paused and really emphasized the severity of her torture poem. I
envisioned the form this time as being a ripple in a masticated flag.
16. Allyssa's poems felt like vocabularies smashing in some highly
orchestrated court dance.
17. Amy C. conveyed a state of being-- as if her heart were an anvil upon
which she hammered sparks out of experience. I particularly liked how her
poems would feature a cliche that would eventually get drowned in
associations, soundplay and permutations.
18. I often wonder how Patrick's hands can keep up with his mind. He seems
to angulate every idea into a thousand tiny fractions.
19. Reb's work has so many levels working simultaneously. How can
ruthlessness and love can speak in the same timbre?
20. It was great to hear Andrea's poems after reading Silliman's
line-by-line analysis of their sound quality. I was able to tune into the
slight shuttles and variations within and between the neighboring lines.
21. Marcus gave the best performance of his life. His energetic, long poem
cataloged kinds of being in an erratic shower of expressions. It was so
perfect that during his reading, behind me, a mentally retarded man was
farting and undoing and redoing the velcro on his shoes. It was a real
Cagean moment when I let that be in Marcus's poem too.
22. Tessa gave her best performance ever too. At one level, perhaps from her
introductions, you think she's going to throw the academia at you. Then, all
of a sudden, she says things with such singularity, and sentiment, that you
are forced to wonder at her ability to peg words to feelings. She does what
C.D. Wright calls hitting home runs of description.
I am indebted to you all,
Carrboro Poetry Festival