Friday, September 3, 2010

Buffalo buffalo Buffao buffalo buffalo ...

In Buffalo I stayed with Joey Yearis-Algozin, whom I'd met once or twice before in Philly — formerly a Temple English M.A. guy, now a Buffalo Poetics Ph.D. guy, and a friend of Greg Laynor and Steve Zultansky. We have similar aesthetic influences and alignments, and got on real nice.

The morning after I arrived, I headed to the SUNY Buffalo campus to meet Mike Basinski, curator of the poetry collection at the rare book library. It's one of the most extensive collections of its kind, and Mike was enthusiastic — almost giddy — about its mission. I told him about some friends of mine who run publishing imprints, and he gave me business cards and told me to have them send copies of everything they put out. The approach of the Buffalo collection, he said, starts with the ideal of acquiring every volume of poetry published in English — utterly impossible, obviously, but appealing as a galvanizing goal. Mike gave me a little tour of the art and artifacts on display in the reading room, including a pair of James Joyce's glasses, a few of Ezra Pound's walking sticks, and many, many Jess paintings.

Michael Basinski, Buffalo

My next interview was with Kaplan Harris, who had to do some work at the rare book library anyway and agreed to meet me there. Kaplan is an editor and critic — not a poet — so instead of reading poems for the recording, he pulled up the endnotes from the forthcoming Robert Creeley selected letters (which he's co-editing with Rod Smith and Peter Baker) and laid a few on me. Kaplan spends a lot of his time in and in contact with archives, which I find to be a fascinating and rather glamorous vocation. (The piano in the photo below, by the way, was painted from top to bottom by Jess.)

Kaplan Harris, Buffalo

I had to kill an hour or so before meeting Loss Glazier, so I walked around the campus a bit, got a salad at the food court, listened to an audiobook version of Mile Davis's autobiography. At this point in the book ("book"), Davis ("Davis" — voiced by LeVar Burton) was talking about the depths of his heroin addiction. It was a beautiful sunny day, and there I sat on a bench by a pond, listening to horrible stories of pimping whores to pay for dope, watching friends wither and die, attempting again and again to quit, again and again getting drawn back in. I was very tired, and had come down with an awful cough. This isn't a story that goes anywhere, but that hour is inordinately vivid in my memory.

And so Loss picked me up in front of the art building and gave me a ride over to his house. He made Cuban coffee for us, and we talked about the curious field of digital poetry — its wide-open promise in the mid-'90s, and its maybe less-than-spectacular history since then. We could hear a field mouse in the walls while we recorded, and it was really getting on Loss's nerves. He said it had been around for the last day or so. Halfway through our interview, lo and behold, the mouse ran across the foyer adjacent to where we were sitting and got caught in a glue trap. Loss got up to make sure it was really done for, and he was all smiles when he found it was.

Loss Pequeño Glazier, Buffalo

Joey and I met up with his friends in the evening, and it was then that I came to understand why Buffalo is such an appealing place for graduate work. Theirs struck me as a great social knot — these people are on all the time, talking, talking, endlessly. We hung out on the roof deck at Joey's girlfriend Holly's place, and it was a solid gang of friends of friends: Divya Victor, Chris Sylvester, a fella named Gabriel, and a few other names I've forgotten. We talked on and on and on, late into the night — about, of all things, poetics. The conversation was intensely centered on aesthetics and poetry and poetry culture in a way I haven't quite seen before. I could tell they'd been over some of the territory before, and all knew one another's dispositions and chinks and rhetorical tacks, and occasionally Joey would lean over to me and explain some fine point of BuffPo arcana. Really great fun.

I did an interview with Joey in the morning, and the conversational inertia continued nicely from the previous night. I antagonized him playfully at every turn, drawing out, perhaps, some shared misgivings about our shared aesthetic tastes. I can only speak for myself, of course, but I find misgivings healthy — the only way to keep moving forward, really. I think I got some good tape.

Joey Yearous-Algozin, Buffalo

Next I talked to David Hadbawnik, another Ph.D. student in the Poetics Program. David's writing is rather different than conceptual work Joey does — more oriented toward attention to daily experience and careful play of language. His reading included a few poems out of Translations from Creeley, a tiny chap in homage to the style of its namesake. We talked about his magazine, Kadar Koli, and his attempt to cross-pollinate between Poetics Program people and unaffiliated Buffalo poets with the reading series he runs. Each event is hosted in his living room, and features one writer from each side of the fence.

David Hadbawnik, Buffalo

From outside the Ph.D.-sphere, my last interview in town was with Aaron Lowinger. Aaron grew up in Buffalo and got his B.A. at SUNY, during which he took four classes with Charles Bernstein. He then went back for an M.A. in linguistics. His writing is wide-eyed and refreshingly un-serious — very funny stuff. We talked a bit about Charles's teaching style, and Aaron's subsequent employment as a social worker. He was holding his infant son in his arms for much of the recording, so there are many endearing coos and gurgles in the background.

Aaron Lowinger, Buffalo

After Aaron and I finished, I headed to Holly's for very good homemade fish tacos on the roof — much the same crowd, much the same chatter — then caught a bus to Michigan at midnight. And that's where I'll leave the story for today.