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Karen Weiser reads from Or, The Ambiguities

I’ve been looking through old video archives and discovered Karen Weiser reading from Or, The Ambiguities in 2016 at the Bryant Park Poetry Series that had just started its winter season with a reading at the Kinokuniya Bookstore across from the park on Sixth Avenue at 6 pm on January the 19th. It was a very cold evening, freezing, but that didn’t stop folks from coming to listen to four poets read from their books recently published by the Ugly Duckling Press, a nonprofit publisher of poets that evolved out of a 1990s magazine by the same name, and now resides in Gowanus, Brooklyn.

Every poetry reading is its own creation made up of those who read and those who come to listen, and it was standing room only at this one; the poets and the press had a lot of fans in the audience. Some months past—or was it a year?—I had heard Karen read from her new book at the Poetry Project and was looking forward to hearing from Or, The Ambiguities again, a title taken from the novel by Herman Melville, Pierre, Or the Ambiguities. At the Project, I had particularly enjoyed a piece called Dear Pierre where after stating something personal, Karen broke the sentence down into other words that broke up into sounds, a very abstract piece of work which I had really liked.

But the first poem she read, air + force, was not from the book; it was new.

air + force

Even the magic of looking turns air into a volume
music that is perhaps a musculature
every reaction a mysterious note that hums
with a minimum of information, this documentation
is transmutation—car horns bleat a communiqué—
some kind of universal knowledge the magpie
spells out from a telephone pole in the desert;
our conversation snakes single file but for
the desire for one second of a life to be recorded
with an almost mystical precision,
not the abyss of the disjointed, but the fair hum
of phenomenal revelation in an order particular
to one person: the glinting reflections of traffic
or water cresting the river; the gully, the magpie
calls, is also a music desiring to be fixed
an orbital movement permanently adapting itself
to perception, its own living eyewitness

Because air + force was about communication

some kind of universal knowledge the magpie
spells out from a telephone pole in the desert;

and perception

of phenomenal revelation in an order particular
to one person: the glinting reflections of traffic

it also was about what Karen was about to read from The Darbies where she had written her words and the words by Melville, the living and the dead, in the voice of Billy Budd. Darbies are an anachronistic name for handcuffs and the words of the poem are written in the negative space of handcuffs. Poems written in the shapes of things are called Concrete Poems, which was a very popular form of poetry in the 19th Century around the time Melville wrote.



Karen’s channeling of Melville is something I have thought about. We need a reader and a writer for communication to happen. Everyone who reads has favorite authors who passionately speak to them. In the act of reading, the understanding between the writer and the reader is timeless. The reader may be alive and the writer might be dead, but still there is the conversation, the sharing in the shape of a poem that is written and living as it’s read. Karen’s poems, receptive to this idea and practice, soundly happen and I, I must say, am not only an eyewitness, but an earwitness to an enjoyably precise and incisive use of language. Ladies and gentlemen, Karen Weiser. Enjoy.




Or, The Ambiguities is published by Ugly Duckling Press. You can check them out here:

https://www.uglyducklingpresse.org/





Karen Weiser with her husband, Anselm Berrigan and daughters Sylvie and June. January, 2013. Photo by Lawrence Schwartzwald.



Karen Weiser



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