Friday, August 8, 2008

When Jenna read to us and us alone

Jenna Bauer looked confident and wonderful as she stretched back in her chair on the patio at The Royale to read to us.

She has a very special magic - that of the tall, smart, accomplished girl*, who can still laugh at herself, who can admit to vulnerabilities - and she was here to read poetry to us.

This was a welcome interlude of feminine intelligence and energy, our one coed, off-campus experience during The New Monastic Workshop.

It was a break for Jenna, as well. She was preparing for an open studio show, to sell as much of her art as she could sell, to pack the rest, to move to the Hudson Valley - and, indeed, now, she is gone.

But she was with us, then. Being Jenna, she came prepared. She had prepared a book of texts for an oral presentation class, when a freshwoman at Indiana University. She had kept this neat little book she had assembled of poems, mostly. She now read to us from it.

I was drinking delicious OFallon 5 Day IPA, expecting more of an overal sensual experience of being outside, in public, with friends, with women, with beer - not so much a literary experience. But this soon became a profound literary experience.

It was my first experience of Stephen Dunn, a poet who evidently had made several inroads into Jenna's consciousness when she was young. Younger. His poems hit me, good and hard, right where I live, with the mix of plain talk and lyrical departure that I crave.

I can't find online any of the lines I remember Jenna reading to us, but I did find "Poem For People That Are Understandably Too Busy To Read," which wittily talks an imagined everyday schlub through the dynamics of poetry, then closes potently:

Good. Now here's what poetry can do.

Imagine yourself a caterpillar.
There's an awful shrug and, suddenly,
You're beautiful for as long as you live.

I also found an unsettling poem about the death of his mother that evokes the memory of when the poet, age twelve, asked Mom to see her breasts, and she complied. With its purposefully bland and innocent title, "The Routine Things Around the House," we are evidently meant to be disturbed, but I still don't like it.

It makes me remember what our local poet genius (or, one of them) Stefene Russell said about Stephen Dunn. Stefene had been on the bill at The Royale to read with Jenna. She fell ill, missed it, wanted to know what she had missed, and I started my account to her (just as I did with you) talking up Stephen Dunn.

Stefene made a face. She had met him. He had put the make on her - and just about everyone else within schmooze-shot at the party. "He's a tall lothario," Stefene said, with distaste.

But, I liked his poems, a lot. Maybe he's a caterpillar as a man and a butterfly as a poet. Wouldn't be the first.

* I like to call a woman "a girl" sometimes. I just do! I love the word "girl"!

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