Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Performers: The Librarian

Here's a tip: If voice is the best thing a blurber can say about a poet, run like a scalded dog. Chances are, the blurber is actually talking about the poet's style as opposed to the persona's idiolect. If so, the tout is saying the poet is different as opposed to good.

A collection by "poet/performer" John Marcus Powell was recently published on TheHyperTexts. As a general rule, I don't write reviews but, to speed discussion along, here are my impressions of what I read:

Every option or reference, no matter how trivial or tangential, is pursued in parentheses, em dashes or obliques as if by a paranoid pedant. At every point the audience expects to hear "But I digress..." That moment of self-awareness never arrives. Each "poem" is a tedious argument of insidious intent, spread out like yellow fog, causing those who have come to go, lest they be etherized. Modifiers are chosen at random and rendered shotgun style for "poetic effect". While witty in places, the writing is utterly devoid of technique, rhythm, sonics or coherence.

In short, it's typical open mic fare. Too precious for slam. Defended only by loyal associates of the author, who assure us that Mr. Powell is a bright, gregarious fellow, one gets the sense that some people feel poetry is defined as whatever their friends write. All of this being the case, Mr. Powell doesn't warrant this or any other kind of attention. So why do I mention him?

Mr. Powell is described as a struggling actor and poetry performer. His supporters assure us that if we were to hear his work delivered in his voice we'd enjoy it and, more specifically, we'd hear the rhythm that is missing from the page. I've seen this movie before. We check out the audio, only to find it even less rhythmic than the page, or we witness it being delivered in an affected manner to effect a cadence. Occasionally we hear both, as here:

176 views at the time of this writing. Two "likes". A more self-conscious performance would be hard to imagine. Mr. Powell overenunciates in his readings. The exaggerated articulation suggests that he feels his words are memorable, a notion contradicted by the fact that he himself doesn't bother to memorize them. He stresses words at random, apparently astonished by desultory events in his own narrative, often punctuated by him looking up to see if his audience is similarly surprised.

"I was sitting at my table...having LUNCH!"

Gee, what an odd thing to do at a table!

I knew I'd seen this kind of reading before but it took me hours of scouring my memory banks to bring to mind the source. Finally, it occurred to me: this is almost identical to Billy Van's comedy skits as The Librarian on "The Hilarious House of Frightenstein", an old children's show we might find in reruns on the Space channel. We half-expect Mr. Powell to look up and ask "Are your frightened?" Were he to do so, that alienating device would be the only technique found in his writing or performance.

Rhythmic? Hardly. If anything, this weird syncopation is less so than a natural reading would be. The stresses occur with the same patterned regularity and predictability as bingo numbers do. Nevertheless, Mr. Powell's shills insist that he is a better performer than most poets.

What is truly frightening is that they may be right.

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