Monday, September 14, 2009

STUDIO ONE: Not Just For The Cheese Plate.

An interesting and eye-opening thing happened to me last Friday night at the monthly Studio One poetry reading. And it's all because I stopped eating cheese. You see, I'm thirty-four now, and my metabolism can no longer handle eating just anything. So I thought I'd simply cut out a few foods, such as ultra-fattening "cheese" and try to shed a few pounds. What in the world, Jenny Drai, you might wonder, does cheese have to do with poetry? Well, gentle Reader (I would reply), it has everything to do with my first Friday routine. Get home from work. Light snack. Work out. Shower and change. Show up at Studio One with a few bucks in my pocket for the donations cup and nibble on the excellent smorgasbord of tasty snacks. But what about last Friday? I felt some trepidation. Would I be able to withstand those tempting morsels of milk, cultures, and rennet? The creamy brie? The smoky gouda? Sharp chedder? And that's not even mentioning the outstanding selection of whole-grain crackers. How would I cope? As stressed out as I usually am by Friday evening, I doubted my resolve. But I found sustenance through another medium: the poetry of Gillian Hamel and Truong Tran and the performance piece by Scott V.

At my job as the office assistant in a furniture store, I don't get to use my brain very much, and for some reason I find this exhausting. Because I have to work every weekend, I rarely show up at a poetry reading when I'm not feeling tired and cranky. Often, I don't even want to go. I'd much rather curl up in bed, covers over my head, and reread Harry Potter for the umpteenth time with the help of a flashlight. In fact, a half hour before the Studio One reading was sheduled to begin, I was in just such a position bemoaning my fate as a cog in the wheels of corporate America. But I went anyways, non-poet boyfriend in tow. We both had a great time, and I (the ultimate believer in the supremacy of the written text) learned something valuable about poetry's orality and the collective nature of event.

I came. I listened. I relaxed. That's how it happened. Never a good auditory learner, I nonethless caught beautiful snippets and sometimes even whole parcels of thought. "There should be space around her, breathing and collapsing," Gillian Hamel read as part of a set that combined the journey of a speaker full, at times, of particularity and preference ("I don't like anything that combines with 'post.' my greatest moments occur when I am wearing the exact right amount of layers, my hands are full, and I cannot hear anything else.") with the sometimes outrightly haunting, and/or what I would call questions or statements of boundary, and/or sheer and utter viscerality. Also, since this after all was a reading, I would add that she read well.

Whereas Gillian Hamel's poetry started off the event with a tonally serious exploration of the self in tandem to and in opposition to various degrees of daily violences, Scott V.'s faux sales presentation on his self-styled program to teach his audience the value of incorporating hiding into one's daily life (not to mention his hilarious slideshow on how to determine a good hiding spot) was a virtual laugh-fest. But that's not to say Scott V. didn't make a more serious point. How many of us, after all, hide in order to be found? Regardless, hide-and-seek is quite a lot of fun. Take it from one who knows. Since the presentation last Friday, my boyfriend and I have played the game at least twice. I, however, have an unfair advantage because Steven is 6'6" and just doesn't fit in the better spots like in the closet under the pile of dirty laundry. I mean, does he seriously think I won't see him lurking under the dining room table? At any rate, the presentation very much reminded me of a sales meeting I was forced to attend on my day off even though I am not in sales, except that this time I was happily engaged with the process instead of staring glassy-eyed in the general direction of whoever was currently trying to indoctrinate me with the value of a having a more *positive* attitude in order to SELL! SELL! SELL! even though (I repeat) it was supposed to be my day off and I am not even in sales. I just type up the invoices. With a smile on my face, even when it hurts. Thank you Scott V. for making the smile feel good.

It was during the Truong Tran reading that I really finally realized what was happening to me. As I slid in and out of his language (without eating any of that scintillattingly delicious cheese), as I laughed with the other members of the audience at something random or touching or comic, I experienced the comfort of the collective experience of shared vibe in shared setting. I have to say that I was really tired. I have to say I engage much easier (in the critical sense) with the written text. I have to say that last Friday night, at about two-thirds of the way through the reading, I stopped taking notes for my review and instead got wonderfully lost, and in doing so, suddenly found. In cadence with Truong Tran and the rest of the audience. Very far away from a long day or the promise of an even longer day tomorrow. Just there. Listening to shifting tones. The contemplation in the work. Wanting to read the work. Tugging the covers over my head and pulling out the flashlight. Pushing Harry Potter to one side. Or just extinguishing the flashlight and using a lamp and the full weight of the mind on some random week night. When the sky is black and the sleep is in front of you and what you need is at your fingertips and you can have it if you open the book, turning back the cover.

So it's not just about the cheese anymore. Or the crackers. Or have I mentioned the always tasty Orangina if you don't drink wine? Because it is tasty. Orangina is simply the best. And they have it at Studio One, where emerging poets converge with the time-tested and well-published, where poetry combines with film, music, and performance for a great time to be had by all, including this somewhat over-tired and worn-out blogger who is just writing her review now because she, ironically, had to work all week without a day off because lots of people like to celebrate Labor Day by shopping for recliners.

So that's that. Great poets and performances. So you should go next time. There's something for everyone. And now that I've forsworn cheese, there is more for you. Because I used to eat a lot of it. Thank you.