Friday, April 25, 2008

Matt Rader and Joanne Arnott

Went to Café Rhizome last night to hear Matt Rader and Joanne Arnott read from their new books. Shortly after Rader's Living Things came across the transom the other day, I read it pretty much straight thru in one sitting. It's an exhilirating book and very different in form and content from his very strong debut collection Miraculous Hours (read my review here): on the whole, not as personally oriented, more, dare I say, professional; the language is also more torqued, studded with internal patterns of rhyme, alliteration, assonance, as well as more traditional stanzaic forms, especially sonnets and newer structures, like the spectacular falling rhyme "fib" that opens the book (Matt's fib is structured differently from the one at the link, starting off with two stanzas of one line, a two-line, three-line, five-line, etc., and each of the 33 lines ends with an "n" sound); the form is perfectly suited to the evolutionary subject matter of the poem, not just a showpiece.

Another highlight of the book is "The Ocean Voyager," a virtuoso adaptation of Rimbaud's "Le bateau ivre." Shortly before the book came out, I was having a beer with Liz Bachinsky and Silas White, the publisher at Nightwood Editions. I mentioned to Liz that I'd seen "The Ocean Voyager" in Event (where Liz is the poetry editor) and really liked it. Silas said that Matt had taken the poem out of the manuscript, which neither Liz nor I could believe. Apparently, Silas called Matt the next day and insisted that the poem go back in. So I'm glad that I had a bit of second-hand influence on the shape of the book.

It was good to hear him read from Living Things, tho he didn't have full performative control over the material; his reading style seemed too laid back casual for the pace of his line, which Steven Heighton has aptly described as "kinetic." It was also a good opportunity to meet Matt for the first time, get my book signed and give him his contributor copies of Jailbreaks. Matt's darkly witty "Electric Chair by Andy Warhol" from Miraculous Hours is in the book. Matt's also reading tonight, but I won't tell you about that because I want you to come to my reading...

Joanne Arnott read next, from Mother Time her newly published volume of new and selected poems. She read very well, in a deep, throaty voice, but I can't say I was enthralled by what she was reading. They were mostly motherhood poems, which is not in and of itself a bad thing, but it's become such a subgenre of contemporary lyric verse that, without something really distinctive and individual in the poems, they sound much like all the other motherhood poems out there. There wasn't, to my ear, such a distinction in Arnott's work. The highlight of her reading, however, was her singing, a cappella, a modified version of Rockabye Baby.

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