Thursday, January 31, 2008

Jen Hofer and Dan Machlin Read at the Poetry Project

Ah ha! A Reading is an amazing thing, maybe the best of things, and the moments last night listening for the first time to these two poets was, to put it in terms greatly under-expressing the quality of the event, worthwhile. No, we can do better. It was joyfully engaging.

The two started the reading off together, standing side by side after distributing gifts to the audience: small, massacred envelop wrapped tracts featuring a pair of poems. They read “re” , Dan opening, “Open to an empty run-down intersection of city, winter, 5 a.m.,”. Jen followed with “Open to an empty scuffed intersection of a city, summer, 5 a.m.”.

Hearing them read together, without having heard them before, precluded any deeper appreciation, but reflecting back there was the sense simply that she was pushing out, and he was pulling back. He was a sidebar, here in this instance, while she was fuller, looking outward while he glanced most often away and down. I'll have you know I was tired before I ever got to the reading, and it perked me up being in there. As they read I jotted down notes on what they said, and where possible I've corrected the quoting via references, but there are likely some errors. So deal.

Dan Machlin –editor Futurepoem Books

Dan’s first piece was entitled Letter 1. I was tired for the reading, yawning throughout because there was sleeping to take place but the reading was there first, a welcome barricade. The first words from his work that I managed to grasp were:

“If this is the sign of clarity
is it the priest’s death?”

There was something initial about the way he was reading, coming as it does in a voice in the shape of a poetic sound, but not crafted to the shape; born to it, fully ingrained and much removed from the pretentious character this voice, such a lynchpin in the reading of poetry, can embody. I don’t want to dissect the voice itself, anyone who’s been to more than 3 or 4 readings has heard plenty of variation. Machlin’s voice matches well when he puts forth,

“symbols, an alleyway, the comfort of exhaustion,”

and he highlights that initial quality, the ingrown conceit when he says.

“This is what the job entails,
this is what I was born into.”

The manner of Dan’s speaking becomes much closer to stillness in the next poem, Letter to D:

“I move behind in your hope”


“oh how this house whispers
beneath the dinner table”

The absence of strong intonations and accentuation of the words, while still being clear and crisp, by now brought me to notice Dan’s posture. Stiff and tall, his right arm hanging unmoving by his side, the left only holding up the pages of his work or setting them on the podium. He stood not out from behind the podium, and not behind, but kind of inbetween. In 5th Letter he introduces something new:

“And who is this “we” anyway—I was alone—tabulating the pros and cons of my history,”

This new element is brought fully to light in Letter of Critique with,

“millions never seek new forms and patterns”

This new voice is contemptuous, remaining detached out of a distaste for having even observed and commented. The machinery of the detached voice begins to break down, as one voice infects the other. Again in Critique, he states:

“This forced opposition between constancy and boredom”

In Letter Read While Walking Home the voices’ interconnectivity shows through. There are gaps and breaks in the phrasing, as if data were missing, or as if two channels were experiencing feedback from their similar frequencies. His experiments are sublte, using syllables in Antibodies as a formal constraint unrepresented consistently in the reading. His work does, as Stacy pointed out in her introduction, solve the mind-body problem with multiple bodies, seeing, as he writes,

“bodies, and the spare mechanics of thought.”

Jen Hofer

A Google search for Jen comes up with a lot of material, so here and there, if you've been to a reading, you'll find some things that are echoing back. This echoing struck me, because I am attracted by echoes I guess at present in my own work, but also because of its place in the work she was sharing. That some of what had come before would be coming back when Palm Press releases One later this year along with some of Jen’s first lines, underscored what exactly was going to happen for the 30 or minutes she read,

“…to scream 'Law and Order’ as we kick down their doors.
Broken hinge more open or more broken…”

“…sutres to the wound will not hurt
best busted interests at heart…”

It told of how she was going to read, a bit about why, and it was going to make you feel like even though it was only going to be 30 minutes of time, it’d still be worth more than most rock concerts. It was already purely kinetic and civilly engaged, as it had been introduced to us, but the enunciation and the syncopation of it was rousing and desperate.

She had built a relentless, grinding machinery within the intonations of alliteration,

The denotative sky
through its frame is sky.
Through its sky.
Is sky...
How the fast small birds.
Do not shatter.”

She was arguing against it in the kind of voice you'd use if you stood in front of tank with your hand out. She had moved out of the cinematic trope where a person yells at their own echo. She continued to argue,

"They form a habit.
I would say those clouds form a reference, not a pattern."