16 January 2014



I confessedly did think it was going to be the end of time before the beginning of this past year, so 2013 sprung out of the admonition of an afterlife, and each rising into pulsing presence, whether a reading, performance, book, or moment, convinced me that I was living, or otherly, that if this was, is, the afterlife, then this is worth living too.

Many people will assuredly list The Poetry Summit as a hallmark event. It sits in the middle of my mind, in the middle of the year, like a fat and friendly hallucinogenic frog from which the tribe of language makers licked, linked, through dark, crowded rooms and dry grass backyards.  What comes to mind in this moment was sitting outside The Tender Oracle, the only time I sat outside during the weekend's readings, as I cocked my ear to the readers within, and was entrained only to the voices. Through the darkening sky, all I had was my hearing, and the words wafted outwards slowly--possibly there was a slight delay because I could hear people laughing inside, and then the outside laughed--the effect of which was like being an outer chamber to the inner ear.  Maged Zaher's words and voice were to my listening indiscriminable from the voice of Poetry heard through the radio in Cocteau's "Orphee."  The words happened.  They came out one by one, with enough time for the hand of the poet, or in this case the ear, to follow, take them down, and in.  Matt Longabucco's words echoed this pacing, but slipped themselves into the ear as if they resembled the recognizable tone of talking, quick, direct, but the words were deep, not ordinary, refined, dreamy, and suddenly I realized I was now covered in the night sky.

Where my mind travels next is to Lara Durback's reading in The Heart's Desire Series at The Public School. The day before the reading we were riding our bikes together.  I was feeling low earlier in the day, and as all friends should, she urged me to come out into the day.  We biked together to a protest. The day before she had bought tickets to see Fruitvale Station at The Grand Lake Theater, so in the middle of the protest, after people, when faced by the police, walked the other way, directly onto the freeway, we left to see the film, which was heartbreaking, and we came out of it not knowing what to say.  Before the film, when we were biking to the theater, Lara was telling me about how she was writing of shadows, how she was writing for her reading the next day, but she was hesitant to use "metaphors", and I understood her, but yearned to articulate how metaphors were not what we, or I, or anyone, thought they were. We stopped at a traffic light. I said to her that I was sensitive to metaphor too, especially in a time of sorrow, when it seems like sadness demands to be felt, obeyed, and not changed too quickly into a form other than itself.  The light was red and I said to her that sometimes I felt accused of being too much "in the world of fairies."  She turned, perched precariously on her bike, and looked at me with a great moon face, soft, and sparkling, loving eyes, and asked, "Why?"  After the film, we re-entered the protest. It was surreal to suddenly shift from being in the images of the film, depicting events of the past, which happened so close to where we were, to the chaos of the city.  A movie in the middle of a protest.  Images splicing action. "Timeless riot" my friend worded the other day.  I suggested there could be small movie houses scattered throughout protests, where our idea of what movies were could be altered.  Images in make shift boxes, of events running through time could run through our eyes, interrupting us, as we ran through time. The next day Lara gave a reading which set me reeling.  She wrote of shadows with a sensitivity that moved through realms of her family, national crisis, and shadows themselves--what are they metaphors for? I remember the etymology of "metaphor" as being that which transfers something from one vessel to another.  Her keen, associative careening through her life in words was brave, indigo, and timely.

Next I remember being at The Public School's Summer School, when Lynice Pinkard spoke, on what I think was called after the fact, "Revolutionary Suicide."  I thought of the text, "Thunder Perfect Mind."  She roared, but she spoke.  She was not roar alone.  She let the power of her body infiltrate the power of her words.  Listening to her was like being on a cliff, and ever so often by the tide of her sounds, lifted upwards, needing no safety of ground. Riding with her through her talk, she seemed to take the audience through the "spooks" in Max Stirner's sense, of the ghosts of the mind.  She approached each ghost and revealed her power. It was through the password of passion that we, lead by her, were permitted to enter.

Next, Robert Kocik's visit to The Bay Area.  Meeting him at his book release of Supple Science, I felt a tinge of shyness, because friends had mentioned his name to me over my years of being here, whenever I would rattle into my diatribes on phonemes, and how language needed to be danced, more than learned, and how I wanted to--this and that and this--picturing various ways of how to scuttle across the languages of the world, alive and dead, and how phonemes appeared to be the only trusty transports.  After his reading, David Brazil, introduced me to him. Upon him speaking, I was instantly stilled by the spaciousness of his presence. His words were neither eager to be heard not hesitant to be said.  They seemed to know they were to be said.  They skated.  He said, as I remember,  "Poetry is powerful now, in our world, because it appears to not be harmless, does not seem to be a threat.  As a poet, I ask, "How can I help?" " The shining marble of Supple Science was then in my hands, a healing from which I instantly desired to read end to end, then gave myself the freedom to open in places as I pleased.  I then attended a weekend workshop with Robert and his partner Daria Fain, in which we worked, choreographed, sounded, the 40 phonemes of the English language in a dance space above the Burger King near the Civic Center.  One day, when walking out of the workshop I stepped in human shit.  The workshop worked from the power that sounds are what make matter.  Robert repeated that they were aiming to "put the alphabet pack in the body." A week later, when teaching Kindergartners at a school in San Francisco, a tiny boy was in the playground, tracing with his feet big yellow words on the basketball court which bled into the parking lot which read DO NOT ENTER.  I tried to pull him away from what he was doing, fearing he would get hit with a basketball.  He screamed, trying to break his hand from my grasp, insisting, "No!! I wanted to DO the letters! The letters are not in the words!! The letters are not in the words!!" Moments similar to this echoed after Robert and Daria graced our ground, with the rare and cherished company of unstruck sound.

Finally, The Heart's Desire reading at The Public School, with Michael Cross (and I am not just saying this to flatter you) and Lynn Xu and Keston Sutherland. Raining outside, the room remained dark.  Each poet read from a small light.  We were gathered on a ship, and each poet was adamant, strong, yet whispering to those gathered what had to be heard to survive the storm, or to become it?  I remember Michael mentioning, "My heart is mine in The House of Hearts," a line from The Egyptian Book of the Dead.  The room was a tomb Michael introduced us to, largely vectoring necessary nodes of entering to build a way to find the afterlife I mentioned in my beginning.  Lynn was the calm voice of the water itself, but fierce, falling, adjudicating, adjusting the parameters of rain.  Later, outside, I asked her where she was living.  She laughed glamorously and added that she was now a nomad.  My question seemed funny after Poetry.  Where live if not in the house of language? A paltry, flippant way of inquiring into shelter.  What actually shelters you, and from what?  I had never heard Keston read, and was not expecting anything.  I saw a man becoming lightning, but rather than lightning from above, accompanied by thunder, the lightning was emerging from the ground, from within his body sideways, all ways, out.  "Shattering," I said to him, again and again, after hearing.  "Thank you for shattering yourself into form."  Fragments, but not disjunct.  A mosaic made not on wall, but fire, and somehow, enduring the element's test.

The afterlife of this year has now given way to another which does not begin with the billboard of apocalypse but continues in the brilliance of abandoning all ends for intensities through language you could call timeless.

Alana Siegel was born in Los Angeles in 1985. Her first book, Archipelago, is out now on Station Hill Press. Chapbooks include The Occupations from the g.e. collective, Semata, and words from Ra Ra Junction. She lives in Berkeley, California, collaborating at the burgeoning Bay Area Public School.

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