Poetry Time at Space Space is a two-year old reading series curated by Ben Gocker and Lucy Ives. The venue is a loft space in Ridgewood, Queens, home to the series’ co-originator, Mairikke Dau. Last Saturday, Poetry Time hosted Bay area poets Brandon Brown and Alli Warren and Dana Ward of Cincinnati. While every reading at Space Space becomes the best house party you’ve been to lately (or ever), the audience reaction post-reading on Saturday was ecstatic. What did they do to us? With us? How did we all arrive?
Brandon’s line “The approbation of the contours by which our statements meet” could have served as the inscription over the gates of Space Space that night. The work they read from and the chapbooks they distributed betray each author’s fidelity as a reader of the others’ work. The result was something on the order of a concert whose respective movements treated similar, if not identical themes, but with variations in tone, gesture and mood.
Brandon’s and Alli’s texts are full of those animals intended for consumption or sacrifice: goat meat, beef, lamb, sparrows and pigeons dissected for divination. There is appetite and there is beef. Figs, honey and cream glisten on the page and to quote Alli, it “looks like someone’s spending a lot of time / moving it around with his fingers.” Their engagement with Greek and Roman ritual practice is rivaled only by their love of hip hop. Indeed, one of most striking features of all three poets’ work is the unexpected confluence of classical and hip hop sources and rhetorical styles. The boast made in curation of a public persona appears regularly in Brandon and Alli’s texts (Brandon: “I surpass my whole neighborhood”; Alli: “yeah, I was a senator / and I tapped that legally”). Dana’s style is effectively an inversion of this; it would seem his performance of vulnerability and self is his boast.
Brandon read first, from his Catullus translation. He gathered consensus among his listeners through delivery and gesture that might have done Quintilian proud. (This rhetorical emphasis is present in his texts as well, in the form of parenthetical asides and the use of italics.) By generating this sympathetic mood, he was able to pitch us images of sexuality and brutality we didn’t feel obligated to recoil from—returning us through this irony to a paganism we thought we were long past.
Next up was Dana. Assuming the mic with an Isaac Hayes baritone, Dana’s openness was the next rhetorical weapon of choice. While brutality characterized the most intense moments of the first reading, intervals of tenderness marked the second. The line he read from the chapbook “Typing Wild Speech” illuminated Dana’s vision of rhetorical virtuosity for me: “Next I imagined ET’s spindly finger moving toward Eliot like it were elocution, like something said with such empathetic poise that the physical fact of its sound made a light…”
Alli Warren’s line “Inflection is feigned” (“My Factless Autobiography”) from a chapbook dedicated to Brandon Brown suggests the attitude they share toward performance. Alli, however, chose not deliver and gesture away our hesitance upon hearing her work. She instead adopted a persona which kept us at a distance and allowed freer interpretation of the performance’s irony. In this way, it felt she was being open by remaining closed, a neat paradox.