Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Reading

It was autumn, once again, and time for The Festival of the Book in the wee city of Boilston. The largest meeting place in the locale -- the Arnold "Gabby" Goone Local 758 union hall -- was spiffed and stocked with bookmarks and programs, flyers and stacks of 70- and 80-page books authored by the events' readers.

The emcee for the poetry evening was Graydon Gobshyte, "professor of Humanities and Inanities at the university," he chuckled, introducing himself.

Graydon dressed in Lord Byron black, cinematically contrasting his white push-broom mustachio and hair, which he wore in a "come-as-you-may" Princeton cut. He sat upon "a stool-like structure," as he pithily referred to the tall stool at the narrow lectern at the head of the room. He surveyed the audience for the poetry reading.

"Birds are like raisins," he addressed the audience. "Verse are like caymans. Incandescent. Omnipresent. Apoplectic. Epileptic." He enjoyed the sound of his voice in the ringing silence; pinging on the mind of each eager listener like a felt mallet on a xylophone bar. His British-Albertan-Kentuckian accent was in fine tune.

"Poetry is sheer, shocking, volatile and eggshell. Tomahawk. Roadblock. But most of all -- as Summerhanz said of Quarendon's work -- 'It does nothing.'"

Graydon smiled without smiling, pleased with his parry. "It gives me great pleasure to introduce the first reader in our program. He is a poet who has won numerous national and international awards. Among them, he has worn the Fitzcummings Poetry Speedo three years running in Grand Bend, Ontario. Was awarded the Clint Astor Quill in Pegasus, Illinois. Held the Hamish Ludon Chair for an entire half summer session semester in Fogshire, U.K., and whose work has been anthologized throughout eastern Europe and the Caribbean."

Dramatic pause.

"I give you, Oscar Winner."

Polite applause.

Oscar came forward, a bent, balding man who might have been forty or sixty years of age. His countenance was a circuitboard of tics and twitches. He regarded the audience with a series of quick, bird-like glances. In his hands, he clutched a saddled-stitched copy of his most recent book of poems: Dreamcatching Canoes of the Solar Distance Fog Bank.

"Thanks," he muttered in a voice like a rusty hinge; his "S"s sounded like a blast of static coming from the back of his throat. "Thanks so much."

He read part of a sonnet cycle in which he envisioned quilts his grandmother quilted as canned preserves; marmalade mosaics of memory.

When Winner finished the third Petrarchan sonnet, Graydon led the polite applause, seeming more to chase the anemic poet away from the lectern, clapping his hands, than applauding his reading. There. Graydon had his audience back.

"I don't think it's too early in the day to quote Aristotle," he chuckled, "who was at his most priggish and provocative when he said, 'Από ό, τι έχουμε πει ότι θα πρέπει να θεωρηθεί ότι η λειτουργία του ποιητή είναι να περιγράψει, δεν είναι αυτό που συνέβη, αλλά ένα είδος πράγμα που μπορεί να συμβεί, δηλαδή ό, τι είναι δυνατόν ως πιθανή και αναγκαία. Η διάκριση μεταξύ ιστορικός και ποιητής δεν είναι στην πεζογραφία μία γραφή και το άλλο στίχος-μπορεί να θέσει το έργο του Ηροδότου σε στίχους, και θα εξακολουθεί να είναι ένα είδος ιστορίας? Αποτελείται πραγματικά σε αυτό, ότι εκείνο που περιγράφει το πράγμα που έχει, και το άλλο ένα είδος πράγμα που θα μπορούσε να είναι. Εξ ου και η ποίηση είναι κάτι πιο φιλοσοφικό και της εισαγωγής πιο σοβαρή από ό, τι ιστορία, δεδομένου ότι οι δηλώσεις του σχετικά με τη φύση της μάλλον καθολικές, ενώ εκείνα της ιστορίας είναι singulars. Με την καθολική δήλωση εννοώ ένα ως προς το τι έχει ή τέτοιου είδους άνθρωπος είναι πιθανό ή κατ 'ανάγκη να πω ή να κάνουν-που είναι ο σκοπός της ποίησης, αν και σφραγίζουν τα ίδια ονόματα με τους χαρακτήρες? Από μια μοναδική κατάσταση, το ένα ως προς ό, τι , λένε, ο Αλκιβιάδης είχε ή είχε κάνει γι 'αυτόν.'"

Humble pause. Graydon then introduced the next reader: a shockingly heavy woman named Maryanne Haywire, who read several poems about works of art, she explained, which didn't exist. She smiled over her clever premise as the audience pretended to understand it.

Halfway through her reading, Rena Carmichael -- a dedicated bingo player who had come to see her neighbor, Cyril Beacon, read -- burst into a hectic coughing fit. She was led from the room by Ron Crux, the undertaker, who was also there to support Cyril. Maryanne was sufficiently unnerved and knocked out-of-synch by the coughing fit, that she stopped reading and returned to her seat. The audience encouraged her to continue, but Maryanne waved them off, her eyes watering, cheeks burning, hoping Rena was showing the first signs of esophageal cancer.

Graydon returned to the lectern with bon mots in Latin and French, and reminders of wine and cheese following the reading.

More poets were introduced, their awards and accolades recounted like obscure battlefield victories: The Poetry Necktie of Nile, Newfoundland, The Platinum Slipper of Provance, Yukon, The Knotted Rope of Scarfansky, New Jersey.

Finally, the evening came to the point where the final reader was introduced.

"It's my great privilege," Graydon said, mustering all the "hurrah-for-the-little-guy" he had, "to introduce a first-time reader, Mr. Cyril Beacon. You may know him as the owner of Beacon Hardware, but his poetry is raw as newly turned earth, supple as the first buds of spring, and khaki. His work is tremendously khaki." Then, with a gracious bow: "I give you Cyril Beacon."

Polite applause was supplanted by surprised applause, interspersed with curious applause. Cyril made his way to the lectern. He'd never stood at one before, but he was glad for it. He set the pages of his poems atop it, and steadied himself. "Thank you," he said.

Cyril proceeded to read a prose poem about a man who never had time to write, so he feigned insanity in order to be committed to a psychiatric ward. There, he had all the time in the world to covertly work on his novel, in between sessions of fooling doctors and nursing with his charade. Interacting with fellow patients, however, was another story. They wore on him. The prose poem ended with the man finally being released from the psych ward, pronounced sane, but by then actually severely mentally ill.

The audience didn't seem sure that the poem had ended when it ended, so Graydon led the polite applause to break the awkward silence following the piece.

Cyril read another prose poem. This one was based on an image that when people were born, they materialized in a forest with one end of a rope tied around their waist, and the other end tied to a tree. The people picked up the excess rope and began their journey through the forest -- through life. They made turns, here and there, and every once in a while tugged on their rope to feel the resistance of the tree by which they first awoke. But as people got older, and made more and more twists and turns through the forest, they no longer felt the resistance of that original tree, but of subsequent trees. When people ran out of slack, that was the end of their lives. Some people materialized in the forest with short ropes, and some with very long ropes. Some peoples' ropes criss-crossed and became tangled.

Cyril received polite, if diffident, applause when he finished his reading. Graydon returned to the podium, moving as though he'd been kicked squarely in his pocket Proust. He applauded, but his mustachio twitched.

"And on that very khaki note," he said, "let us now enjoy some wine and cheese."

During the reception, there was muffled talk about Cyril's work and reading. The pervading opinion was that he was a good soul who should stick to selling shovels and pliers and lengths of chain.

"He sounded so ordinary," Myrna Swinebuff stage-whispered to her book club friends. "He didn't have any of the natural presence of Graydon, or any of the other readers, poor soul."

"You know, there wasn't a single grandmother or quilt or canned preserve in any of his work," Oliver Hazelwood said to his partner. "Graydon said it perfectly when he described the poor man's work as 'khaki.' It so was."

As it turned out, the whispers of the literati gossipers were prophetic: Cyril was never again invited to read his work at the Boilston Festival of the Book.

"That's OK," Cyril said to his collie, Seamus. "They weren't really my crowd, anyhow."

But he thought of the Festival of the Book, and the literati, every once in a while. In fact, he did so every time he sold a shovel or bucket.

1 comment:

biblioasis said...

Very funny. Especially the Aristotle. And the bit about the British-Albertan-Kentuckian accent, raisins and caymans. Captured the spirit of that session well. Couldn't blame you for bailing ( I did as well), though I wished, for one, you hadn't. Hoped you might have stayed for Terry Griggs, who really was damn good. You might have been the only one -- other than Bob and Susan Holbrook -- with enough of a sense of humour to get her.