Kent Johnson and Patrick Herron were a powerful combination last night: thoughtful, political, challenging. Really great reading. Patrick started off with an homage to his long-time friend, mentor, and fellow reader, Kent Johnson, and then gave great readings of poems from the range of his work: some Lester poems, some political work, some more personal work, and, one of my favorites, his poem "Rwanda" from his The American Godwar Complex
. He closed his reading by reading the list of people who are likely to be reading at the Carrboro Poetry Festival that he is arranging for the second year to be held this May 21 - 22 in Carrboro, NC. It's an impressive list -- the CPF is really a jewel in the poetic landscape down here. Kent then read three longer pieces. The first was one of his translations of Jaime Saenz's work from the forthcoming volume The Night
(I believe it was the title poem.) Beautiful, beautiful poem that moved lyrically between considering the speaker's, the listener's, and the night's bodies/body. The next piece was a more recent poem he wrote on the occassion of reading a poem of Ange Mlinko's in a copy of The Poker
. With Kent's work I'm frequently gripped, ripped apart, and reconstituted by the emotional and intellectual range his poems encompass. This poem demonstrated that skill thoroughly. He closed, I am happpy to note, with "Baghdad Exceeds Its Object," a poem originally published by the lit journal Octopus.
We adjourned, as usual, to the home of Laura and Todd Sandvik for the Blue Door after reading reading where Eden Osucha read her poems against a backdrop of propaganda posters from the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Eden also has an ability to match emotional vulnerability with intellectual analysis: poems that make you laugh and cry and think about the crying and the laughing. The chatting, hi-jinking, and lollygagging went long into the night....
So thank you Kent, Patrick, Todd, Laura, Eden, and everyone who came -- thank you.
Stay tuned for details about the next two (and last two) readings of the third season of the Desert City:
April 23rd, 8pm, @ Internationalist Books: Lisa Jarnot & Andrea Selch
April 30th, 8pm, @ Internationalist Books: Lee Ann Brown & Carl Martin
Below is the introduction I wrote up for the reading (note: much of Kent's introduction contains random bits of text found while searching Google for "Kent Johnson"):
Kent Johnson and Patrick Herron Intro
a. Tonight: the Blue Door w/ Eden Osucha
b. April 15th at the downtown Durham Culture Crawl Durham 3 presents “Call What You’re Thinking Poetry” – throughout the evening, local poets will read their work in various places around Downtown.
c. April 23rd, the Desert City will host Lisa Jarnot & Andrea Selch
d. April 30th, the last Desert City reading of the season will present Lee Ann Brown & Carl Martin.
e. Carrboro Poetry Festival, May 21st & 22nd.
a. Thanks for coming
b. introduce yourself
c. The Desert City is a non-profit, volunteer run and funded organization. Both of the poets tonight are appearing without receiving any compensation. Please make a donation to support the poets and the series. Please buy books to support the internationalist.
d. Sign up sheet in the back for announcements of future events
3. Thank yous
a. The internationalist
b. Kent & Patrick
c. all of you
d. Violet and Kathryn
4. Tonight, though, we’re here to see Kent Johnson and Patrick Herron.
5. As the American social critic H. L. Mencken once wrote, “The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.” By this definition, we have fewer better examples of a radical poet than Carrboro Poet Laureate, Patrick Herron, and few finer documents of such radicalism as Herron’s recently published The American Godwar Complex.
6. Herron writes, “Damnation! Freedom is not the right to put asunder the views / of any one star that glows and stands in one nation under”
7. Among a variety of things more and less sordid, Patrick Herron is the poet laureate of Carrboro, a position which under his leadership has become a life-long appointment. Herron also established last June the Carrboro Poetry Festival, an event which was so successful it has quickly achieved the status of legend. In addition to starting the Poetry Festival last summer, Patrick found himself the father of a lovely Herronista, Sophia.
8. While Herron’s poems often attack our country and culture’s failings – such as in his poem “Anus II: The George W. Bush Rap” where he writes in the voice of our president “Deceit is what I bring, and what I excrete is right-wing / crap. I’ll bitch-slap your ass if you don’t make me king” or in his poem “Rwanda” where he writes “America: your mind mauls the earth, strip mine the plain with plain strip malls, your time yet another vulcanized tread on another mother’s back” -- alongside poems such as this are Herron’s poems that explore the fear of our increasing inhumanity in our technological age.
9. He writes, in a section of his manuscript Be Somebody, “you pass right through 01 / whether ghost or spirit. Degrade me / Force me to digit your binary spine. / Can you hold 01? 01 is infinitely // less than air.” In another poem “If” Herron writes of the death of a friend, “if you filled empty picture frame cut from ash you built me / if you died friend but carved me no mask I may wear to face these calling stars.” And then in “Zero Zero” he writes, “sometimes you get to wondering too late / just how it is you are born to a certain life / one day there you are you are there whereever it is, a / dirt floor, a hospital bed, in front of a television / to the tune of a brash jingle. place x. or maybe you wake up / decide to join a monastery and find a new family because you are / lonely.”
10. It is Herron’s passion, whether expressed in his poems as anger or fear, that makes Patrick such a worthy and dedicated advocate of poetry and authentic human interaction.
11. He offers the following advice in “Politiku 1”: “Word from our sponsors: / please place your television / on the ocean floor.”
12. Please welcome Patrick Herron.
13. About Kent Johnson, Stanton High’s Coach Bob Mason said: "Defense and rebounding are two of the foundations in our program. Kent epitomizes how we value these aspects of the game. He never backs down from a challenge and is always ready to go after opposing post players." It is this exact persistence which Mason describes that has launched Johnson into the winner’s circle of American Poetry time and time again. Or to use Dr. Johnson’s own words, “Form**emptiness (Buddhism, blah, blah, blah.)”
14. When Kent, a 6’5”, 200 lb power forward with an average of three rebounds a game, isn’t busy teaching “Spanish and remedial English” at Highlands community college in Illinois, he dedicates himself to the safety of his fellow poets. He writes in a poem titled for his contemporary “Peter Gizzi”, “And I always / want to wave my arms and yell, really loud: / "Watch out Peter Gizzi, you young and handsome / minstrel, watch out-don't be like Michael / Jackson and let your hair catch on fire!"”
15. Though allegations exist that would cast doubt on the content of his real intentions towards his fellow poets – see the appendix to The Miseries of Poetry his Traductions with the late, single-horned Alexandra Papaditsas – Dr. Johnson is reknown for his “intriguing ideas for creating realistic ground cover, trees, bushes, rocks, water and other scenery details which are ideal for beginning model railroaders.” Or in other words, “I got drunk with Kent Johnson in Monroe, Wisconsin, and I'm one of the publishers of this book. So maybe those two things will disqualify anything I say here. But for the record, which erases itself every 15 seconds, these little Miseries are to die for.”
16. Kent Johnson established K.J. Transportation in 1973 with one tractor-trailer hauling tomato paste for Ragu Foods. It is in the midst of these long nights, that his work for Ragu Foods became the inspiration for his study of the Japanese form of poetry known as the Renga, the resulting mastery of which he put to Stygian use in his editing of the moving volume Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada. Quoting that volume: “She told me then that the master of the house had left for a certain location in town and that I had better look for him there pronto, if I desired to speak to him // everybody was fucking overjoyed to see him, as if he had returned from the dead.”
17. All is not grey in the life of Kent Johnson, however, to quote his obituary, “He worked in construction and cement finishing. He loved fishing and living near mountains and rivers.”
18. In addition, Dr. Johnson has written some of the most memorable poetic critiques of the current war in Iraq. His poem “Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz: Or Get the Hood Back On” powerfully invokes our complicity with the atrocities committed in that conflict; he writes, “Hi there, Madid, I’m an American poet, twentyish, early to mid-thirtyish, fortyish to seventyish, I’ve had poems on the Poets Against the War website … I voted for Clinton, even though I know he bombed you a lot, too, sorry about that, and I know I live quite nicely off the fruits of a dying imperium … And because nothing is simple in this world, and because no one gets out unscathed, I’m going to just be completely candid with you: I’m going to box your ears with two big books of poems … and I’m going to do it until your brain swells to the size of a basketball and you die like the fucking lion for real. You’ll never make it to MI because that’s the breaks; poetry is hard, and people go up in flames for lack of it everyday.”
19. Finally we might imagine, now, Kent sitting at a bar, cigarette in hand, watching a thick perfect smoke ring floating away, while he intones, “Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble.”
20. Please welcome Kent Johnson.