Ivy Writers – Rebecca Wolff, Graham Foust, Samuel Frederick, Paul Laborde
Review by Missy Green. Photographs courtesy of Kate Noakes.
Graham Foust and Samuel Frederick are freshly returned from Germany, uncovering the works of the misfit 20th century poet Ernst Meister in an obscure technical university. Poised in plush chairs in front of a cozy mantelplace, the two looked like they would tell bedtime stories rather than dark, dense, cerebral poems from Meister’s work. Samuel read the originals in its fierce native German, then Graham followed reading the poems in English from their joint translations and confirming our notion from the unnerving look on Samuel’s face that these were chilling poems with vivid, disturbing imagery comprised of stars, brains, and unnamable milk, to name a few.
The tone was dismal and palid with such memorable lines as:“You die in contingency or leisure”, “buckets of blood…human water”, “decay…one leaf…. death’s loosened eyelash”, “Thunderstorms rumbling read our faces‘ script”, “Mother and Father tidy as a grave”, “graves up ahead…the time that will transpire is dying.” Dang.
Afterwards Samuel darted off stage (presumably to find a beer) and Graham Foust enlightened us with his own works which he admitted would still be pretty dark. Graham’s poems move like a thought conversation that make you do a double take, dipped in double negatives the listener gets tangled and untangled along his stream of conciousness. Such as “you can never not have been” and “I failed to not know.” In the mix he makes his own commentary about poetry saying that it’s “about the way the world won’t look” and that “all poetry is dead animal poetry.” He addressed the reader directly saying, “reader!” and challenged inklings of God and human relationships with peculiar scenarios which felt like a neverending questioning.
Paul Laborde was next and as the only native French speaker he politely asked if anyone was completely fluent in French before he began. When no one was (perfect at French or Japanese) he recited all his poems in French anyway. Word has it, that Paul has an exceptional not-to-be-spoken-out-loud book of poetry (Sable). This was not that. This was a kind of beatbox, rhythmic, absolutely meant to be spoken out loud type of poetry. Paul played on the sounds of similar sounding words like l’amour/ la mort in the “l’amour de la mort.” His repetition added a stop and go in a flow like you might hear a scatch DJ create rhythm with interruptions. “J’ai vu vu vu” par exemple. His intensity led the way, kneeled behind the coffee table on a pillow projecting strong short syllables, nearly in song.
Last to grace the stage was femme fatale Rebecca Wolff. She has an amazing talent for weaving subtle humor into the most grave topics one might imagine like – oh, I don’t know? – the holocaust. In her poem “Death in Copenhagen” she refers to the “slapstick of occupation,” some brief relief from grief concerning “bathsalts” among liquidated Jews, and utter loneliness/one night stands/life as a typing outlaw.
Her experiments in voice and character were ekphrastically praised in her cultural experiences in New York and the Boston museum of Fine Arts. She knows a lot of folks in Boston and she told us all about them, that we might know them too! Rebecca’s poetry, at the very least, is poignant and feisty. Her last poem barked sexual frustration and calculated revenge after pulling someone from her novel. She takes her readers through the perfect planning to meeting up with a, presumably, ex-lover and it all going to shit in an amusingly spiteful and relatable voice.
Bios and photos courtesy of Ivy Writers Paris and the authors. For more information or to follow this reading series please see their blog here, their facebook group here or email your info for their readings emailings at email@example.com.
Rebecca Wolff is the author of three books of poems: Manderley (U. of Illinois Press, 2001), which was selected by Robert Pinsky for the National Poetry Series; Figment (W. W. Norton, 2004), which received the 2003 Barnard Women Poets Prize; and The King (Norton, 2009). She is equally the author of a novel, The Beginners (Riverhead, 2011). Wolff is the founding editor of Fence, a biannual journal of poetry, fiction, and “other,” which is published in partnership with the Writers Institute and the University at Albany. She also founded Fence Books, which publishes poetry, fiction, and critical texts and anthologies. Wolff received her MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, where she was assistant editor of the Iowa Review. She lives in Athens, New York.
Graham Foust is the author of five books of poetry – including Necessary Stranger (a finalist for the 2007 Northern California Book Award) and To Anacreon in Heaven and Other Poems, both from Flood Editions – and co-translator of Ernst Meister’s Im Zetspalt [In Time’s Rift] (Wave Books, 2012). He works at the university of Denver.
Samuel Frederick is an assistant professor of German at the Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of Narratives Unsettled: Digression in Robert Walser, Thomas Bernhard, and Adalbert Stifter (Northwestern University Press) and co-translator of Ernst Meister’s Im Zetspalt [In Time’s Rift] (Wave Books, 2012).
Paul Laborde is a poet and translator. His first book, Sables, was published in 2013 by Cheyne Éditeur in their Collection Grise. Laborde teaches philosophy at Paris IV – Sorbonne and plays basketball on the university’s team.