Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Reading in pairs with two different people (Cassie and Del) was like being two different people, as was writing postcards with them. Or maybe it was like being four different people, since the experience of reading with Cassie and Del was in some ways the opposite of my experience of writing to them.

In writing to Cassie I was diligent and focused, probably because the postcards were coming to my office every day and I was sitting there in the office every mid-January day like a good grad student, staring alternately at my screen and at the unread books on my shelves. I had a routine down: I'd pick up Cassie's postcards from my mailbox in mid-afternoon and then leave the office to go to the Stanford bookstore, where I'd fight for a table in the second-floor cafe, order my lukewarm chai, and read with one eye (I think I spent a lot of this month reading Ron Silliman's Ketjak) while keeping the other eye on what was going on down on the bookstore floor and then writing my no-look poem to Cassie and running it over to the post office next door by 5:15.

I was also being a good egg by taking the form super-seriously and dialoguing with Cassie, trying to respond to some of her poems and incorporating some of her lines into my own poems. It was engaged, intense.

I tried really hard to have the same focus when reading with Cassie on Sunday, but it didn't quite seem to happen. I tend to try to get myself all hyped up for reading, probably to fend off nervousness--and the "Around the World" I was sipping beforehand was making me lightheaded--but Cassie's reading style is much cooler and sort of deadpan, not in an ironic or arch way but in an unpretentious and intelligent way, so that the brilliance of her phrasing can be enjoyed unadorned and without nudging. (It's the same blink-and-you-miss-it quality I see in many of her poems, which at first glance seem so matter-of-fact but on a second reading drop off into depths like a cartoon character who's run off a cliff.) So I throttled back but was having a hard time gauging audience response--having a hard time even seeing where I was, given the light--so felt like what I'd done was imprecisely calibrated, a bit floaty.

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