2005. C'est Fin.
So the last visit to the Desert City of 2005 is over. Two double doughnut five. Hell of a year all told: Manguso & Semilian, hell of a way to end it.
Semilian read the second half of a letter that appears in his newest book, Osiris with a Trombone Across the Seam of Insubstance; he'd read the first half at 2005's Carrboro Poetry Festival. Julian reads his work very well -- the work is so well suited to his voice that it seems as if his poetic output is just a natural consequence of the conglomeration of things that are called "Julian Semilian", so his never-ending, expanding, surreal, and seemingly eternal sentences are delivered with a buttery, rough eastern European roll such that despite the fact that the narrator of the letter seems to have no idea what he is saying or who he is talking to or whether or not he even is in fact talking or writing, the boat of audience/artist collaboration that is a reading sails merrily on: laughter drifting back to the shore.
Manguso also treated us to surreal images, first delivered via poems from her first book, The Captain Lands in Paradise, and then from her forthcoming book, Siste Viator. I was lucky to have heard a few extra poems, and one twice, since I was with Sarah on Friday afternoon when she visited Joe Donahue's creative writing class at Duke. Sarah reads with a clear confidence that reinforces something that underlies her work: that even at their most surreal her poems are describing reality, the land of the really real. It's compelling work and her reading of it is a great complement. Sarah's one of my favorite younger poets (turns out we were born a couple weeks apart), so it was pretty great to host her. I also discovered, during conversations with Manguso, that one of the voices that occassionally speaks in her poems is Butthead.
Scott Pierce was visiting also which made the weekend extra fun -- Scott is a deeply fun and caring guy; what a treat to meet him after a year or so of virtual contact. He read pieces from two works (Exploder and Knife Alarm (??)) at the Blue Door after the DC reading. He's posted pieces of Exploder on his blog which it was great to hear live. Scott also reads well, a little southern syncopation that sets off great lines about people exploding and poems exploding and just about everything exploding.
Randall Pelosi also performed at the Blue Door, a performance Marcus Slease recorded and posted (an interview with Scott and his reading will also be up (Marcus also posted a review of the reading.) It's the story of how Pelosi ended up being the only person ever put in prison in New Orleans for playing the saxophone. He told this story while Crowmeat Bob played saxophone and stopped at times to join in with his own saxophone.
Julian brought some great paintings by his friend William Field, Todd & Laura laid out the works, the gang was all there, and then we all went home.
Thanks to everyone for a great night, weekend, and year. See you in ought-six....
Sarah Manguso & Julian Semilian Intro
a. Blue Door tonight featuring effing Scott Pierce, William Field, & Randy Pelosi
b. January 14th, Saturday, Desert City with Ed Roberson & TBA
c. February 11th, Saturday, Desert City with Claudia Rankine & TBA
a. Thanks for coming
b. Introduce yourself
c. non-profit, volunteer run organization – please make a donation to support the series and the poets
d. buy books to support the Internationalist
e. sign-up sheet in the back for future information
3. Thank yous
b. Sarah & Julian
c. all of you
d. the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation
e. the North Carolina Arts Council
f. the Orange County Arts Commission
4. Tonight, though, we’re here to see Sarah Manguso & Julian Semilian
5. Julian Semilian writes, “last night at the poetry reading I was a smash! // the fans flung themselves at me, they bounded off with such abandomnet that it neared ascension to a fabulous idolatry, a tango of such maniacal spiral soaring that I had to simply step back not to snap.”
6. Tonight at this poetry reading Julian Semilian will be a smash, and we, his fans, will fling ourselves at him.
7. “the fan, one whooshed overhead like a police helicopter & slammed athwart into the frail body of a frenchman, a sapsucking saprophyte of the baudrillard strain, who’d gone on just before me, you know the sort, painting the quarter-moon with the mane of reigning algebra czars, for vampirically powdered post rock & roll refuse in fishtorn nets, posturing disciple of de sade.”
8. Somehow we do know the sort of people that Semilian describes, his cadre of circus born citizens who shamble in and out of these poems like a hurrying father who has forgotten his keys and then his wallet and then his briefcase and then his lunch.
9. “She had red curls and if you touched them they’d feel like copper sponges. Her rump was round and tight, a pre-crumb Madonnna rump, she was probably twenty-seven then but she’s still older than me now … her seams slashed us, supplicants, like sabers across the classroom, while the bristle on the calves shot out through the fabric like backlit orange barbed wire.”
10. Like models down an infinite catwalk, Semilian’s sentences saunter out at a jaunty angle without promise of a period out and into acrobatic twists sure to claim gold in the floor routine a few summers from now in Beijing.
11. “You must stop fantasizing me as a lion doing those horrible things to you, especially when your wish is to be devoured. I realize you don’t really want me to devour you, it’s just a fantasy to get you off, you can’t help yourself – and none of us know where these fantasies come from – but still, it puts a strain on me. I want to be good, I want to be human, but when you fantasize like that I am seized, in spite of my good intentions, by a desire to rush over and do to you exactly what you fantasize.”
12. Semilian’s life has been a sort of fantasy. Born in Romanian, he escaped that country as a young man and eventually made his way to Los Angeles where he worked for 24 years as a film editor on dozens of major motion pictures. In 1998 he moved to Winston-Salem and joined the faculty of the film school at North Carolina School of the Arts. In 2004 he joined the Lucifer Poetics Group. He has not been the same since.
13. “I was mingling once again at a level where Life & Death abscond, in a blissful tango of candelabras, on a honeymoon of seamy expectations! // in reverie I was whisked on the train by the male impersonators as the rouged, spiked, and powdered pubertine 17th century abyssian ambassador to rome.”
14. Semilian might be an ambassador from Neptune – if so then his books Transgender Organ Grinder, A Spy in Amnesia, and Osiris with a Trombone Across the Seam of Insubstance should be viewed as an elaborate and visionary plan for the hybridization and betterment of two species related solely by their desire for the deepest depths of the weird.
15. “Yes, I said yes, and I swallowed it slowly till I felt it shifting inside me as my very own persona, as my ballet of disobedient iguanas, till it became my own brand of irregular balletics.”
16. Please welcome our dearest irregular ballerina Julian Semilian.
17. In “Poem of Comfort”, Sarah Manguso writes: “So, love, look away from the dying marsupials, / for I am about to invent a distracting brand-new dance / to deliver you from all the thundering disparity of the world.”
18. It is not so much a delivery from the world that Manguso provides, but rather the clear view, a clear view of the disparity and the thundering and fearful magic of the world.
19. “how can they know / what it is to save me, drowning in a lake / moving like boiling soup because the earth / spins and shakes and refuses to die, refuses / to fly heavenward and meet its cold moon.”
20. Sarah Manguso is an Aquarius with a Scorpio moon, the author of The Captain Lands in Paradise and the forthcoming Siste Viator, a regular contributor to The Believer, and last night she met the mayor of Carrboro.
21. “The bright obvious shines in his body. / Here comes the electric, the burning mystery!”
22. There are mysteries that Manguso’s work reveals as in “It’s a Fine Thing to Walk Through the Allegory” in which she writes: “The real meaning moves from the specific to the general / but writing even a hundred poems about the same deer / is not necessarily about God.”
23. But for every mystery revealed, another is discovered – the end the narrator seeks is always out of grasp, each exit is an image in a mirror; whether this funhouse is actually fun or simply terrifying is difficult to determine.
24. “Sometimes I think I understand the way things work / and then I find out that on Neptune it rains diamonds. / On this world you can get out of work early, unclog the drain, hear music / … / I wouldn’t like to be / that planet. But if I had to I would take it, / the decades of punishing rain, and the fires / on neighboring planets I would watch, / thankful I was never touched by them, / and that the diamonds were mine.”
25. In these poems, the diamond rain is far more real than the clogged drain. The sheep laughing in the parking lot, the muse in a silver pick-up, the nightmares of geniuses, the frozen blue pyramids falling from the sky, and the horse, that may be the end of the world, that horse covered in equations in the shape of horses.
26. “The Arc de Triomphe is real. The Jardin des Tuileries is real. The Eiffel Tower is very real. The carafe of wine, the remains of dinner, the bill: all real. None are necessary to your life.”
27. What is necessary is love, magic, beauty, experience, intimacy, all of which flee and return, lose and gain proximity like the heavenly bodies in their orbits that Manguso often invokes, these flee and return with time though there is a danger that they are always an illusion.
28. “I may sob for true love now, / but just around the corner a truer love awaits. / I may sip drinks through a straw and roll under the table, / burbling drunk, but what’s coming next is the truest sin, / the shiniest car, the softest bed, / the swingingest partner at the sock hop / dancing and enchanted under the sea, and my own true destiny.”
29. Who’s coming next, please welcome, Sarah Manguso.