The Fringe tapestry gathers some new ornaments with "Ruffles and Tassels at LACE" (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions), a monthlong series featuring a gallery showing by 20 local artists--represented in painting, sculpture, print, video and installation--plus late-night offerings of performance art, music, dance and poetry. Today's program features dance by Tomata du Plenty (see related story above) and poetry by Marisela Norte.
"I've been doing public readings since 1982, and each time I go a step further," Norte said. "I write in English and Spanish--Spanish is my first language--so the reading is bilingual. But each piece is separate: English or Spanish. Some Hispanic writers write things like 'I woke up and my cabeza hurt.' I can't do that, though I really do feel there are some lines you can express only in Spanish."
As for the material itself: "It's very urban, very dreamlike, very cinematic--because my introduction to English was sitting in movie theaters and watching TV--and very contemporary." A confirmed non-driver, Norte navigates Los Angeles on bus and foot, "so I write about what I see on the street, things I wouldn't be able to notice if I were in a car going by." The poetry will be accompanied by Willie Loya on congas and bongos, Marcos Loya on the guitar. "And," Norte said, "they do some singing too. I can't sing."
"Ruffles and Tassels" concludes Friday with music by Brad Laner's Steaming Coils and individual readings by poets Amy Gerstler, Bob Flanagan and Ed Smith.
"My work is mostly about longing, human relationships, science and children--and a little bit about ghosts and reincarnation," Gerstler said. "I also use cutouts: from the encyclopedia, the newspaper, magazines, old textbooks. Lots of the time I use that as the skeletal structure--as bricks, then I fill in the mortar--or I chop them in half, so that they get kind of twisted.
"I never use anything purely 'found'," she said. "I just take the lines, change them, embed them in other material." The results include fiction, poetry and "lullabies, rants and laments--all kinds of things." As for the presentation factor, "Reading to people is something I happen to enjoy; I'm interested in sound and it's a less scary way to act. But it does feel very separate from the writing. I don't write to create performance material; I write to make books."
Bob Flanagan will be reading from "The Book of Medicine," which he dubs "an autobiographical encyclopedia. What I've done is go through the dictionary and take from each letter a group of really powerful words. Then I write something about each word. Sometimes it'll take a couple of sentences, sometimes longer. But when pieced together--I probably won't finish this for several years--it forms an autobiography on me . . . and addresses other things too."
So far, Flanagan has 20 "A" words, although at the reading, he'll be "throwing in a few 'Bs' for variety." Example inclusions: abnormal, abuse, alcoholic ("a big one: it's about all the alcoholics I've known") and abdomen ("That reminded me of stomach pains, which reminded me of staying home from school when I was a kid"). "It's really a combination of the medical and sexual--sometimes clinical, sometimes not so," he said. "Each words sort of becomes its own Rorschach test."
"Found" material also figures in the poetry of Ed Smith.
"I work as a typesetter--more poets I know are typesetters--and I'd been wanting to do cutups for a while," he said. "So a couple of years ago, I was typesetting some cookbooks, and when the galleys came back for corrections and revisions, I shoved all the lines and paragraphs together--then pulled portions of them back out. What that does is remove oneself from the qualitative decision about what work is going to come next."
Smith, whose work ranges from one-word poems to prose work, noted that "in the past, my writing had imagery that I thought would be perceived as funny or sad, but it was often construed as sensational: not violent, but it seemed to go over in a sensational way. So now I'm trying to get the same effect as before--but quieter."
The most satisfying aspect of writing? "That I can do it. That it's there for me. That poetry exists."