Poetry Reading Styles: Jane Wong and Rich Smith
During If Not For Kidnap (12.7.13), it was a miracle I could hear anything but the cold whirring in my ears. It was 20 degrees with 7mph wind and 53% humidity. Full walls of windows on a corner in Southwest Portland by the university, at Field Work, a community center which was literally on the verge of being closed down, and yet the people came and the writers totally had us. Street people arguing on the sidewalk outside, the heavy dark, all forgotten.
Jane Wong: “Wickedness clings to me. I have no choice but to cling back.”
Jane Wong reading poetry sounds like your sister calling you on the phone after an apocalyptic event, trying to get help after an injury or tell you what’s happened to everyone or describe where she is. Or maybe she’s just speaking into a recording device, not to you but to everyone, to get what’s happening on record. What she is saying, about life, about how life feels, has an urgency to it, needs to be described accurately, but there is also a weird calm. It feels like it was quiet in the room where she wrote them. Though Jane Wong is not quiet. She looks up at you, glances at the page, then looks up at you again. She does not want to lose your attention. Her face looks like she is listening to something, a private music that only she can hear but to which her language is inextricably linked. The moments of alliteration feel like a clicking into place. She does not shy away from what she is saying or how she is saying it. She also makes no effort not to be feminine. The meter which she occasionally taps out or balances upon is danced on wedge boots and sometimes tiptoes. Whether she is conscious of how she appears or not is unknown. There is a smile in her voice, and some of her vowels are from New Jersey. It is unknown what it is she is smiling about. Her sensual words are said sensually, like she is enjoying their shape, texture, temperature. When her lines sounds like questions, they seem to be meant as questions, even if they are not questions. When she told me later that she was a shy person I was surprised.
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Rich Smith: “If you never loved something, do you still let it go?”
Rich Smith reading sounds like and old-timey politician trying to get your vote or maybe just trying to charm you at a political luncheon. As a poet, he is the kind of politician you wish we still had around anymore, like LBJ or JFK or Bill Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He annuciates clearly and has some bass in his voice but sounds folksy. Rich Smith also seems to be listening to something private but instead of music it’s more like a star-chart of grammar or meter, or things being said. Rich Smith’s voice sounds well-educated, like he wants you to like him, like a firm handshake. He laughs at things he says sometimes. He is loud. It is pleasant. He looks like a white-bread white boy, someone who could be a president, but he has a slight lisp or something and an accent and his lines have momentum, and he performs the dialogue, and the things he says about women sound like he actually has a lot of soul. You can hear commas and clauses and semi-colons of sentences that last for more than a line or two, but he reads them like he wants you to make grammatical sense of them. There is some alliteration. His endings sound mostly like cliffs, though I’m sure they have periods on the page? I would vote for Rich Smith. .
- Julia Clare Tillinghast, Portland, Ore. correspondent
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Julia Clare Tillinghast is from Michigan. She studied poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and Virginia Tech, where she received her MFA. She has spent a number of years, on and off, living in Istanbul, Turkey, and is co-translator, along with Richard Tillinghast, of Dirty August, a selected poems of the experimental 20th-century Turkish poet Edip Cansever. In addition to translations in Agni, Guernica, The Boston Review, Crazy Horse, Arts & Letters, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily & others, she has had poems in Rattle, 3:AM Magazine, Passages North, Sou’Wester, Pank, and The Bakery. She is a 2013 Pushcart Prize nominee. She lives in Portland with her son, Hamza.