Monday, June 21, 2010

San Diego Museum of Art presents a reading by K. Lorraine Graham and Mark Wallace

San Diego Museum of Art Summer Salon Series
Thursday, June 24, 2010
7 pm

In conjunction with Agitprop Gallery, the Agitprop Reading Series is collaborating with the San Diego Museum of Art to present Thursday Summer Salons featuring contemporary artists and writers from Southern California. Museum admission is $12 for adults, $8 for students with college ID, and open to the public.

This Thursday, June 24, at 7 pm, writers Mark Wallace and K. Lorraine Graham will read from their recent work.

Mark Wallace is the author of more than fifteen books and chapbooks of poetry, fiction, and essays. Temporary Worker Rides A Subway won the 2002 Gertrude Stein Poetry Award and was published by Green Integer Books. His critical articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, and he has co-edited two essay collections, Telling It Slant: Avant Garde Poetics of the 1990s, and A Poetics of Criticism. Most recently he has published a short story collection, Walking Dreams (2007), and a book of poems, Felonies of Illusion (2008). Forthcoming in early 2011 is his second novel, The Quarry and The Lot.

K. Lorraine Graham is a writer and visual artist. She is the author of Terminal Humming (Edge Books, 2009) and several chapbooks, including Large Waves to Large Obstacles, forthcoming from Take-Home Project. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Traffic, Area Sneaks, Foursquare and elsewhere. She currently lives in San Diego with her partner, Mark Wallace, and Lester Young, a pacific parrotlet.

During your visit will be able to explore the works of living artists and writers, participate in hands-on art making activities, enjoy a cocktail, and view the Museum's current exhibitions and collections. We invite the public to join some of the most exciting artists working in Southern California and immerse themselves in what's happening right now in our local art scene.

Artist Presentations will be occurring in the museum before and after the reading.

Judith Pedroza will recreate the block where she grew up in Mexico City in scale model with her work Marina Nacional 80.  Visitors will be invited to help her expand the work throughout the evening by adding additional buildings and roads.

And Michael Trigilio will present one of his video works.  Michael is a founding member of the independent radio project Neighborhood Public Radio, which was featured in the 2008 Whitney Biennial.

Directions and parking information are available on the SDMA website.

For more information about the Summer Salon Series, please visit:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer Short Reviews

Two new chapbooks by Stephanie Rioux (pictured above at LA-Lit), the minimalist Sticks (Mindmade Books), and the very much not minimalist collection of prose poems My Beautiful Beds (Insert Press), confirm again that Rioux is one of the most interesting up-and-coming, too-little-known poets around. With its density, invented words, and linguistic games, as well as its focus on natural processes and sexuality and its almost Irish tone, My Beautiful Beds seems strikingly reminiscent of late James Joyce (reminding me how little contemporary literature has really taken up Joyceian experiments), although the context and concerns are more women-centered and defiant. “oft what swindles beds leaks; and ‘s fonder of reading gang fame; which blush on, inpillow, also that what, on which we gayly last so few doables.” If there’s a tiny bit of sealed-off, overly hermetic reach towards the past, it’s more than countered by an earthy, folky, but clearly linguistically risk-taking energy. Sticks, in contrast, features no more than a few words per page, suggestive and resonant even as they vanish: “one is minuscule” is what one whole page reads.

Gary L. McDowell’s They Speak of Fruit (Cooper Dillon Books) features conventional lyric poems, to a certain degree, although they also often make energetic and effective use of open field poetics. There’s a intriguing tension in these poems, not fully worked out it seems to me, between contemporary matter-of-factness, heightened deep image surrealist hyper sensitivity a la James Wright, and tough working guy rural context reminiscent of Jim Harrison. Still, the poems are full of lines both of great beauty and of understated bluntness, and McDowell is clearly a poet worth watching. “Until bones, your bones, fall to the ground, I’ll not show myself.”

Jane Sprague’s The Port Of Los Angeles (Chax Press) is an important work of contemporary poetry despite its modest size. A combination of materialist history, precise lyric detail, and restrained fierceness that’s by turns ironic, melancholy and angry, these poems trace conditions in Los Angeles from its port outward towards its larger cultural conditions and problems. Its documentary goals contain important information, yet the poetry is always more than simply a vehicle for conveying history. These are poems with powerful feeling and emotional exploration as well as intellect. They’re full of an incantatory and haunting energy: “we follow helicopter beams to the beach/we watch the bust from afar/watch sirens flare flickerblue/watched people handcuffed wade through water to beach to car to confinement/we watch the one who gets away/people locked containers."

Craig Santos Perez’s second book, from Unincorporated Territory (Saina) (Omnidawn), makes undeniably clear why so many people seem excited about his work, and why he’s a writer who  certainly will be going on to have a powerful effect on contemporary poetry. This is an impressive, even intimidating, book. Historically detailed about both the history of Guam and the history of his own family both in Guam and beyond, this is a book about politics, race, culture and the often grim facts about what goes undocumented and unheard—or worse, what does get documented, but in the most abusive and detached pseudo-objective and exploitative capitalist ways. These poems offer a powerful indictment of the history of U.S. misuse of Guam, its land, its water, and its citizens, and the combination of large-scale documentation and individual memoir make the damages brutally clear and often emotionally wrenching. The book works with the Chamorro language as well as English, and features a fascinating array of extreme aesthetic experiments. It’s difficult to capture the open-field poetics of these poems in the limited space options of a blog review. “i didn’t know ‘sea level’/would remind me of ‘shelter’/in the material sheaths of the body the smallest wave pronounces/’light derives from/what it touches.’” If ultimately I admired, respected, and liked this book more than I loved it, that may be because of the way the aesthetic affects sometimes seemed a bit after-the-fact. I wondered at times whether a less experimental approach would really have changed that much about what Perez is attempting in this book, and I wasn’t always certain that the aesthetic affects seemed essential.

I had never heard of Argentine poet Mercedes RoffĂ© until her book, Like the Rains Come: Selected Poems 1987-2006 (Shearsman Books), translated by Janet Greenberg, arrived in the mail. I thought for a moment that despite its open-field poetics and very precise sense of line and break, these poems were going to be too conventionally high lyrical in tone, but I quickly moved beyond that to finding them much more unique and surprising. Although it’s drawn more in outline than fully (perhaps the result of being a fairly small Selected, although I have no information about the size of her total poetic output), a mythos and world view emerges in these poems, one that veers from grandly cosmic to politically tense to keenly focused on human interaction and emotion. The intellect in them is formidable, but also deceivingly subtle. Again, the book’s spacing and the limitations of blogger make it difficult to give an adequate portrayal through quotation. “Metaphor has died./Nothing resembles anything else./The smallest fraction of each atom engrossed in the task of accomplishing its minimum commandment.”It took me awhile to notice the depth and degree of information in these poems because of their refusal of grandstanding showiness. RoffĂ© is a writer whom I hope more U.S. readers will come to know.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Some Tips for Students on Giving Readings

(Pictured: Cal State San Marcos Professor Sandra Doller (in blue) talking with now former Cal State San Marcos students Kevin Colpean (with backpack) and Jason Scheinheit after a reading)

Students in my creative writing classes are asked to read their work out loud to each other. My more advanced classes have more formal (though still relatively informal) in-class readings in which students not only stand and read in front of everyone, but also write an introduction for another student (we break into reasonably chosen pairs) and read that before the other student presents work.

These days, learning to give readings is a crucial part of being a writer for many people, and a key part of thinking of oneself as writing in the context of a community of others, however big or small the community in question might be. Some writers never give readings, of course, but beginning writers can often make better decisions about whether readings are for them if they have some experience of them. Classrooms are hardly perfect mini-representations of more public writing communities, yet as an approximation for learning, they’re not bad.

Some of my students, even advanced ones, have never read to a group of people before and are nervous about it, sometimes extremely. So this year I developed for the first time a series of basic tips about things to do and not do when giving readings. And I do mean basics. This list isn’t about how to be a virtuoso of the stage, but about how to think about being on stage in a way that might minimize stage fright or at least give the beginning reader some guideposts to focus on even when frightened (or not frightened, as the case may be).

This list is no more than the set of ideas I myself have used at various times. Some of them will be more applicable than others to any given individual. Some might seem idiosyncratic. Quite a few of them come from my reading of Erving Goffman and his ideas about the socially constructed and performative nature of the self. And the language here is maybe a bit more blunt than I would use in class, but not by much.

If you have other suggestions about how writers can give better readings, or stories or questions about how to read, I hope you’ll add them here, since they might be helpful not only to my students but to others.


Remember that giving a reading is really just playing a role, a kind of acting. Think of it as a game even. Nothing requires that you have to “act like yourself” (whatever “acting like yourself” might mean, which is maybe not much).

It might help to imagine yourself as imitating someone who is giving a reading.

If you realize that you’re playing a role, you may also realize that you’re not in a situation in which your innermost soul (whatever you imagine that to be) is about to be exposed to a bunch of strangers.

Your innermost soul is in fact not about to be exposed to a bunch of strangers. People are actually going to learn less about you from your reading than you think. Most people listening are sitting there more worried about themselves than about anything you’re doing or not. When the reading is over, they’re going to go back to thinking about themselves.

In fact, almost everyone listening wants you to do well, because they’re sitting there thinking about how they would feel if they were in your situation.

If you don’t feel confident, try to fake being confident, or to act out a role of someone who’s confident. The difference between faking confidence and having confidence won’t be clear to anyone. In fact, having confidence often may be no more than faking confidence and having done it often enough that it feels comfortable.

Try to read your work as if you like your work. If you don’t like your work, pretend to be someone who does like it.

Don’t apologize for your work or for reading it, and try to avoid putting yourself down.

It’s okay to acknowledge that something you’re reading may still be in process and unfinished.

It’s often a good idea, at the start of a reading, to give a brief advanced description of what you plan to read. That will help your listeners follow along with the order or shape of what you’re reading, and it will help them know how the reading is progressing.

It might help to think of yourself as being in a conversation with others rather than as performing for them. Think of yourself as speaking with others, not as lecturing to them.

In the same way, try not to talk simply to yourself. That often happens because nerves make you want to pretend that no one is there. Again, remind yourself that you’re talking with people.

Fairly standard suggestions for readings and public talks include things like looking around the room and making eye contact with people. Those are good tips but I don’t think there’s too much need to worry about them. Still, try to look up from the pages you’re reading now and then if you can.