i'd never seen Fred Wah or Charles Bernstein read before tonight. Well, i've seen videos of Charles on youtube, but that's hardly the same.
Fred Wah performed a long poem, "Pop Goes the Hood," while video of urban streets and scenery played beside him. i really could have listened to Fred all night. Eventually, i hope, footage of this poem will emerge on the developing website Fred Wah Digital Archive.
Kate Pullinger (who has also been tweeting the conference) read from her book The Mistress of Nothing. i have not read the book, but as a colleague of mine noted, the romance seems somewhat predictable. An Englishwoman must go to Egypt because of tuberculosis, so she and her maid set out. The minute Kate mentioned an Egyptian manservant, i knew someone was going to sleep with him. Sure enough, Kate read the scene where the maid sleeps with the manservant. From the excerpts read, the novel has a problematic connection with race, exoticizing and othering the Muslim man. Kate also read from a digital work, Flight Paths, which is interesting from the open-source collaboration perspective, but again has the same white woman/Muslim man dynamic (it is about a man who stows away in the landing gear of an airplane, then falls onto a car parked in England as the plane extends the gear, and about the woman who finds him). The characters seem stereotypical--the bored housewife shaken out of complacency by a mysterious foreigner who falls from the sky. i don't think Kate's intentions are bad, but perhaps a deeper questioning about the ethics of race and representation in her work would be worthwhile.
How can i write about Charles Bernstein? His humour is legendary. And i did laugh so hard that i doubled over. And he was the only poet all week whose reading made me cry. Charles read poems he wrote for and about his daughter Emma Bee Bernstein. The poems alternated between tenderness, sorrow, anger, and even humour. Charles looked so strong reading, so dignified, and i was moved. Really moved. When he was done reading, i stood and clapped. Others did as well, until everyone was on their feet. It was the only way to express the appreciation and support i was feeling: appreciation for his poetry, for his wit, his innovation, his practice, for his courage; and support for tragedy, loss and mourning, for coming through mourning and continuing. Charles Bernstein. It was a real privilege to witness this reading.