May 20, 2009
Hiding behind screens of populated jams, where to find this week’s inch? On The Bowery, in The Bunker, from the travelled lungs of a certified poetry icon.
John Giorno’s reading at the Project last week was one of those pinch-me-I’m-alive events that reboots the mainframe and makes you want to write, perform and bask in the lifeline again.
This was the first of three fundraising events for the Project this year—along with the John Ashberry and Jack Spicer readings. In full command of his beyond earth talents, Giorno treated us to a master class on storytelling, breath, restraint, rhythm, humility, humanity and on and on. And considering the range of willing participants in the audience, his spell has deepened over time.
Okay…so the MC moves the crowd, the poet moves the people, the sage moves the mind, the shamen moves the air. Giorno has this capacity to levitate his body, and ours, while engaged in a deep rooting of soul. His feet dancing light on stage letting his balance just catch weight before the fall. A precariously beautiful dance between escape and height. His tales—intoned by that unmistakable accent, Jersey meets Georgia—wrap mortality around a Buddhist seed but never preach, allowing our chance to meet his.
And then there’s the proudly delicate love affair he has with intimacy…both physical and spiritual. If freedom were eros it would call itself Giorno. Don’t know what that means…but I suppose a shamen, a connected shamen, knows a thing or two about seduction…and getting lighter.
Here’s a link to a recent interview he did with Bomb Magazine along with a video of his poem, “Everyone Gets Lighter.” The video is from a longer movie “Nine Poems in Basilicata” directed by Antonello Faretta, and captures a filmic reading of the poem direct to camera.
I’m glad this footage exists and the movie itself, showcasing nine interconnected poems, is true to Giorno’s austerity—but for me, the live performance is where the both he and the poem shines and delves and bounces.
He led us through a brief excursion into a longer piece about Burroughs—tight tight writing—that put us right there at Giorno’s side, selecting the outfit that Burroughs would wear on his journey into the afterlife.
There was a hallucinatory piece started before 9/11 and completed a few months afterwards…where a “beautiful ugly tree” kept getting “more beautiful and even more ugly” everytime it was chopped down. Its Boschian imagery growing through the poem’s infinite fire.
His last piece was a hilariously profound take on graciousness. A littany of life-long thank yous, a definition of sarcasm, aimed at whoever pissed him off, made him come, brought him wisdom, everything brought into one light—expertly paced around the need to appreciate and love each other for differences and divinities.
Pardon my sermon. The self-less reality in the words and performance at odds with the self-full reality is a friction that mines the experimental with the body. A purity that we can all glean lessons from.