FERLINGHETTI vs. DOST
REPORTS FROM THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2002, BY ROSSITER AND LAITY
Dear C. J.,
I saw Lawrence Ferlinghetti yesterday. The reading was sponsored by The Poetry Center of Chicago, which is to be congratulated on their series lineup for this year; it includes Charles Wright and Anne Waldman yet to come. The ticket price of $15, among the steeper in town, may have left some Ferlinghetti fans out in the rain. On the other hand, the seats sold out and standing room tickets were released around curtain time. It looked to me that as many as a hundred people were there for standing room. Poetry Center members got free admission to the reading as they do for all four readings in the series with their $45 individual membership. Family memberships at $65 get you 2 tickets for all events. For anyone planning on taking in the series, membership is a good deal as it also includes other member benefits and discounts.
Ferlinghetti especially swung on some numbers and never failed to deliver. At 83, the poet still reads energetically, with great vocal variety and vigor, in a way that adds to the poems' impact. From his opening crowd-pleaser, blind poet piece, which featured the poet at the microphone wearing a blindfold and offering commentary on society and the arts from his blind poet persona through his quieter contemplations of the visual arts and light, the man was a delight to hear and behold. The opening poem as well as the entire reading featured Ferlighetti's characteristic social criticism tinged with humor. Of special impact, at least for me, was his poem on Ginsberg's death.
As usual in recent years, the focus for the evening was on newer work rather than a review of "greatest hits." I suppose if I could make one change in the poet's playlist, I would have liked a greatest hit or two added to the mix.
The sound system at the School of the Art Institute auditorium was excellent. I was 2/3 of the way back and could hear easily.
The reading was also video-recorded for showing on Chicago area cable, and an audio recording was made, which the Poetry Center promises to have available for sale sometime in the future, so if you missed it, you have another chance.
Nope, didn't have the $15, and without an official press pass, I don't like to strut my clout. However, I did get the chance to check out the final show of Cherie Caswell-Dost's tour. It was presented at the Sultzer Library in Lincoln Square (the future of Chicago's poetry), and included her at the podium reading her work in front of a huge screen on which was projected photography by her husband, Hagen Dost. It was worth battling the rain to get there, as the evening proved to be a precise half hour of fun.
Cherie explained to us that the project she was about to present was the result of "long walks and long talks" between her and her significant other (father of the child getting bigger in her womb). She claims they saw things and then worked seperately to create something independent within their field of art. Yet some of the poems and photos go together too well, and at times they could be a little more abstract. For example, in the poem "The Last Barbershop on Earth," both the image from the photo and the image from the poem contain a reflection. Even so, Cherie says she herself was surprised how the two mediums coming together came out. Yet poetry allows changes from reality in much more unsubtle ways than photography, and the description of a handwritten sign which said only one word, "Retired," was disappointingly described in the poem when it needn't have been, as there was a big picture of the very object displayed right before our eyes. When the two mediums were too closely describing the same thing, the result suffered; this is nowhere more true than in the "Pop Shop" poem which describes bottles stacked as tall as a man, while Hagen projecting a photo of absolutely just that.
Yet at times Cherie and Hagen's work clicked together and did wonderful things, making the program as a whole enjoyable. For example, the poem "Skin":
skin absorbs and absorbs
like parched earth
like fingers in bath water
like cave walls
until it is a landscape of another country.
was presented along with several photos of peeling paint. And at times the reality itself was bizarre enough on its own to sustain the mixture of mediums, as in the "Discount Casket Store," or the "Knife Sharpener" whose machine he worked on outdoors, or Cherie's short, tight piece of imagination regarding who might own the anally kept front yard in one of Hagen's photos.
However, the presentation suddenly and with appropriate well timing (at the end) bridged on genius, as Cherie read what I believe is her best poem, "Berlin, 2000", over a collage of photo fragments taken of the same subject under different light sources pieced together to create the image of a building, which not only cleverly fed our minds with thoughts of fragmentation and change, but which fit wonderfully with the choppy, out of breath images of the poem:
see the foundation rising at the edge of the swings,
it was bombed, bombed to rubble as we huddled
that, you remember that,
that window there
barred and clogged
Cherie Caswell-Dost has come out of the gates like a winner in the last year, performing a similar presentation for the Printers' Row Book Fair and participating in the Wicker Park Poetry Invasion. A great big chunk of her poetry, along with the photos, can be seen in the most recent issue of After Hours Magazine. So if you missed it, you still have another chance.
--C. J. Laity
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Note: On October 17 two Chicago poets went to two completely different poetry programs. Here they share their experiences with each other.