(photo credit: Dani Lencioni)
I’ve never been a poetry guy. I mean, I respect the craft and do enjoy certain poets – but they are, without exception, poets who fall squarely inside my frame of reference: old white guys. Or at least they were.
I started reading Saeed Jones’ Prelude to Bruise last week (much belatedly, I’ll admit) and while I’ve not finished it yet (so I won’t say too much and will save it for the review), it’s just about the most powerful document I think I’ve read in a long time. It packs a wallop that even some of my favorite fiction couldn’t hope to achieve. Within the space of the first three poems in the collection, I found myself in awe. I didn’t know it could be like this. I’m pretty sure Saeed is now my favorite poet (sorry Seamus Heaney, RIP).
So when I heard (via Jones’ must-follow, absolutely-perfect Twitter account) that there was going to be a one-night-only art installation slash performance slash… thing around the collection, I had to be there. Hell, even if I hadn’t been so crazy about the collection, I think I would’ve had to go: this sort of one night literary adventure thing is something we don’t do enough of (bless FSG’s The Originals Series) in this country and this time of year always makes me wish I was in London (where such things are more prevalent) so yeah, obviously I was going to go. Plus, I thought it’d be a smart Valentine’s date.
The Cave is a small doorway in Williamsburg, down an unremarkable street. We entered and checked in at a small desk in the doorway, where we were handed programs of annotated poems and told that they’d guide us through the installation. Further arming ourselves with drinks, my date (contributor Dani Lencioni) and I set off into the installation.
I won’t give you the full rundown – I’m not sure I could do it justice, for one thing, and for another… you missed it. Sorry, but, thems the breaks. Saeed explains it in the intro to the annotated booklet: “Nocturne is perhaps my last chance to live in that darkly glimmering world one last night, however briefly.” This was, as he said to a small group of us at one point, a sort of final letting go for him of these poems – even as he marveled at seeing his id splashed out across a gallery space.
I will tell you this: there were four poems, annotated in sharp caps – but these annotations were not entirely traditional. “Boy in Whalebone Corset” had the references to the Bible and Nina Simone circled, saying “Find the good book” and “I put a spell on you” – and there, across several wooden pews, were dog-eared copies of the Bible… and a Nina Simone biography, the first several pages of which (all I had time to look at) were heavily marked up and notated. An exhortation later to “take your medicine” leads you to pill bottles on a table that direct you to a woman in white, who spins a story – for me, it was the story of Ganymede – and tells you to go say hi to Daphne. Daphne, of course, is here in her tree form, a beautiful white birch in the middle of the room. You could take a polaroid (sorry, an “instax”) with her.
And further out into space, after the edge of the apocalypse, there sat Mr. Jones himself – classy in all black on a white couch, smiling and chatting with anyone who’d come by. I found myself tongue-tied, honestly, while talking to him but he’s such a warm and inviting person that before long he had us all chatting – and then he read to us. He read two of the four poems in the collection and with both of them, nearly stopped my heart. The energy of these poems, especially standing all around their physical manifestations, was uncontainable – it was something truly once-in-a-lifetime.
The folks at The Bellwether are new to the event scene – this was, according to their website, only their second installation – and there were a few rough edges here and there. Nothing to take away from the event, nothing you’d even notice if you weren’t cursed (as I am) with the burden of seeing things from the POV of a theatrical event producer. But Jordan Kisner was on hand herself, introducing herself to everybody and making sure things were running smoothly. We bonded over the finicky Instax and I do not doubt for a second that I’ll be back at each and every ensuing Bellwether event – she’s got something real cool going on here, so pay attention the next time one of these comes around.
But the real star of the show was the poetry of Mr. Jones. As Dani and I made a quiet exit towards the end of the ‘first’ show (there was an 830 and a 10pm entry), I took a quick look back and saw Saeed with a big grin, standing by himself in the middle of the “Postapocalyptic Heartbeat” installation, just taking it all in. A little moment of magic in a continuum of magic moments.