Friday, November 21, 2014

"I'm still totally confused about poetry and about living" -- Olena Kalytiak Davis

Olena Kalytiak Davis signs her newest collection at a NYU Creative Writing Program Reading, 11/20/14.

A windblown day. A hop-the-bus after workday in Jersey day. A crawl up the spiral parking garage, feed the meter, wait for NJ Transit ticket to unstick from the machine day.

But then you're off! The sun sets and the bus lights don't work. Can't read, can't write, but that's fine--talk and catch up. Wallow in traffic, realize Port Authority is way out the way from the Village, so convince bus driver to let you jump off early. (I never convince bus drivers. I leave that work to more charming people.)

Search for a hot cut of coffee, pass the Bobbi Brown store, swoon, Oh, lipstick! Your event is starting but oh, oh, oh this one is pink. A clay, a rose, a pretty pretty pretty.

But, coffee! Oh, coffee! Large, Black. Thanks.

We got there! We found it! We... can't get in! We can hear through the windows but the sign on the top door says, "Reading in Progress. Please use the basement steps."

But the door to those steps is locked!

I think, How funny, if we listen from below. I'll stay in the cold.

Some people are charmed, and when they knock, are let in. I just follow them around, grinning.

Jericho Brown is warm, charming, magnetic. I'm new to his work and just soak it in.

We came there for Olena.

I understand we live in the age of YouTube, but I have never seen her read. Like her work, her speaking style is frantic, scattered--unlike her work, when she speaks she leaves one idea for the next, quickly. She rarely finishes one thought. Her accent is, delightfully, Alaskan. (I imagined she'd have a dark, smoky Eurpoean sound. But this is so much better.)

She immediately admitted she was confused. Her 2003 book is being reprinted, her newest collection drops next week. She worries she's devolving, that this new collection isn't as good.

She's not sure she should write poetry anymore. She's not sure anyone should write poetry anymore.

(The remarkable thing is not that she has all these doubts. The remarkable thing is that she shares them with us.)

She's fixated on some ideas from one short story out of a collection she can't even pronounce the title of. She reads this author's work to us instead.

She reads new work and it is searing and honest. It leaves one audience member concerned about the author committing suicide. ("But it's a nice poem," the audience member assures her. Probably not a case where it's worth it to start the "the art is not the artist" conversation, huh.)

The reading is short and leaves us jittery. It's cold but we walk around and shake things out and find a Paleo cafe where they make us pricey, Paleo food (I thought they were supposed to hunt/gather it?) and we write, and write, and shake and write.

The bus to New Jersey rocks us to sleep. We are spent.

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