Poets Live – Christine Herzer, Rethabile Masilo and Joe Ross
Review by Annie Brechin.
The first Poets Live of 2014 was varied and thought-provoking. As it was only my second Poets Live and first as reviewer, I arrived early, of course finding myself one of a handful of people, however the cave soon filled up with eager poetry fans. Some were clearly friends of the readers but others equally clearly just along on spec. Interestingly, in the introduction our attention was drawn to the fact that along with the usual books table this time there was also an “experience” table, courtesy of the first reader Christine Herzer, who is a visual artist as well as a poet.
Christine’s first poem kicked us off by analysing the material which is needed to make a poem – names, and bodies, and their connections. Her style was meditative but also very much a talking voice. For her third, longer poem she hooked us with a reference to tv show The OC, explaining that “television leaves permanent stains on the brain”, discussing how sometime we come across information that is unwanted and we can’t then forget it. But at the same time she noted tellingly that “eyes survive information”. Later poems discussed how money impacts on values, and she returned to her discourse on language with the poem “Speaking” in which “repetition works like a hammer”.
The second poet was Reth Masilo, who brought a beautiful straw hat which is the national symbol of his homeland Lesotho – although as he explained, he would only wear it for the first poem, otherwise experience had taught him people pay more attention to the hat than the poetry. I can’t believe this would ever be the case as his poetry was compelling. Reth read a series of poems describing an attack on his home in which his nephew died “at the edge of his dream” – in which the family home (“the house on the hill”) was transformed to a warzone, a cemetery where they “slept with death as with the living”. These vivid poems were heartbreaking. On a more commemorative note, in a poem remembering his father, we learnt the Afrikaans for washcloth – waslap – and that it is traditional to pass even such everyday items from father to son on the father’s death.
Joe Ross read third. He explained to us his habit of writing books which answer other books. To present this to us, he read first from his book “An American Voyage”, published twenty years ago. About the conditions in the US, but also concerned with a larger sense of what makes a community, he invoked a land “somewhere north is not measured”, with “thatched ice hacked away”. Quick switchbacks to different landscapes and peoples, along with a questioning of what is knowledge and how we can reconcile with the land’s own history made for an engrossing performance.
Reading again straight after the break, he read from the answering book, “1000 Folds” which is due out from Chax Press next month, which concerned how, against a backdrop of such heritage, we can search for the self. Displaying an alternate style, Joe left us on a lighter note with the poem “Advocate: don’t wear black”. Chatty and almost (dare I say it) slammish, the “makeup, makebelieve” in this poem certainly lived up to any “multimedia blitz”.
Reth’s second set continued poems about family and country, which he describes as love poems (apparently to the chagrin of his wife!). Beautiful depictions of spring with “seeds in all its pockets” came through in the poem “Letter to country”, touching on how agricultural lands still rely on nature’s seasons. He took an unexpectedly sexy turn in the next poem, delighting with the memorable line “god knows I have desired you for more than tits”. He finished with poems on South African revolutionaries as well as more sexy women.
Christine ended the evening with interlinked poems addressed to “Johnny” – a former lover? Friend? Almost lover? More intriguing for being mysterious. Declaring honestly “it’s hard not to fall for self-loathing” in someone else, she sketched a relationship between poetry and care, then cleverly led us full circle by linking lovers with bodies, and finding bodies with finding poems, finishing by reminding us that “context is important”.
All in all it was an entertaining and stimulating evening, with very different performers who complemented each other well. It was also marked by an attentive, listening audience which was nonetheless more than happy to chat and engage both in the break and at the end of the reading. For those of you who have never been, I would happily recommend the next event.
Christine Herzer is a poet, visual artist, and teacher living between India and Paris. She received her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. In 2013 she performed her poetry at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai and her artworks were on display at La Cité des Arts, Paris; Galerie Evi Gougenheim/Artplace, Paris; Galerie Ivana de Gavardie, Paris. Christine’s poetry appears in numerous international literary magazines, art reviews and online publications such as Fence, American Letters & Commentary, The New York Quarterly, The Volta, Drunken Boat, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, Inertia, elimae, Blackbox Manifold, RealPoetik, Timber, EVERYDAY GENIUS, and Platform Magazine [India]. She keeps a tumblr at honeymoon in the fridge. For more information visit http://christineherzer.tumblr.com/ and http://poets.nyq.org/poet/christineherzer
Rethabile Masilo is a Mosotho poet who lives in Paris, France, with his wife and two children. Rethabile is self-employed and works in language-teaching. He says he has been writing for a good while, learning through trial and error and picking up lots of sounds by reading and re-reading the poems that he likes. He is the author of Things That Are Silent (Pindrop Press, 2012). Rethabile was born in 1961 in Lesotho and left his country with his parents and siblings to go into exile in 1980. He moved through The Republic of South Africa (very short stay, on account of the weight of Apartheid), Kenya and The United States of America, before settling in France.
Joe Ross is the author of over twelve books of poetry, most recently, 1000 Folds, due out on Chax Pres in Feb., Wordlick, Green Integer Press (2011) and Strata, Dusie Press (2008). He has also published Fractured // Connections . . . , bilingual Italian/English, La Camera Verde Press and EQUATIONS = equals, Green Integer Press, 2004. Former Literary Editor of the arts bi-monthly The Washington Review from 1991-1997, and co-founder of both the In Your Ear reading series in Washington, D.C. and the Beyond the Page reading series in San Diego, CA, he received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Award for his poetry in 1997 and is the three time winner of the Gertrude Stein Poetry Award in 2003, 2005, and 2006. He presently resides in Paris.