I am sitting on a bench towards the front on the left side of the audience. For some reason, despite a full crowd, plus standing room, plus people sitting on the opposite side bench, nobody is seated on the bench where I am. My friend is late to meet me but I figure from this position at least he'll see me here, sitting alone on the bench in the front.
The poet is ethereal while reading. She sounds not as if she is speaking, but rather existing as a noise that does not need to be made, a voice that does not need intake of breath or tongue or teeth to form words. You cannot hear any sound of accent or body. The sounds are two-dimensional, flat and matte. No shiny inclination of saliva in the mouth, no crisp intake or exhalation of air. It is as if her words are printed on the air within my ear canal. Her words have no boundaries for their shape, the sounds are so void of touching any oral constraints in shaping them that I find it frightening. Holy pure, but frightening.
The poet looks up from her book often, as if delivering her memorized lines for an audition. The lights are all on in the room, so maybe this is a dress rehearsal for the role she has already proven herself capable to construct. Holy pure. She is wearing all black but her sweater is broken into fragments by jagged white lines. We feel casual. This is just another run-through for practice; already off-book.
Lucy Ives reads from The Hermit with seemingly no order, flipping forwards, turning back, choosing passages as they appear between her fingers. I think of the publisher, The Song Cave, and how right now is like being in a cave with a fragmented song echoing out of order, verses rebounding off the angles of chance. I think of myself when I had read The Hermit, inside my head inside my geodesic dome cabin isolated from Internet, landlines, and mobile connection to other people.
How different are we or are we not, the cave the dome this audience I am not sitting with or engaging with, as hermits bound.
Last summer I saw the poet reading to a small crowd of about two hands-full in a bookstore. She read an essay from her phone, parts of which I remember had made me laugh but I do not remember what was funny. It had all seemed so casual. Summer. There didn't seem to be much importance placed on the event. When I arrived at the designated start time there were only a few people inside browsing the shelves, international jazz on the speakers. I wasn't sure I had traveled all the way to the correct location. I approached the well-dressed young men behind the counter - collared short-sleeved button-downs, tucked into belted pants, parted hair that was combed through, glasses, clean, mid-century, relics. I would learn they make excellent coffee and have a wonderful coconut loose tea behind that counter. I asked if I was in the right place, "for the reading?" The co-owners, who I would befriend from that night, asked me, "Are you one of the readers?" "Not this time," I had joked. I remember laughing at myself but I do not remember what was funny.
That was last year and now so much of me has changed.
I am seeing the poet again now, and she has changed so much too.
I become extremely aware of myself on the bench to the left of the audience, writing. I am the only thing moving in the room it seems, the tall pen panning back and forth across the small page of my notebook. My arm and wrist are as still as the rest of my body; my hand traces slow arcs like windshield wipers on mute. As I am writing, my eyes on my page, I imagine what I may look like from the perspective of someone else in the audience, someone facing the poet, catching the dim flicker of my pen moving in tiny arcs in the periphery. I realize that when I finally stop writing, it will cause others to see the disturbance to the pattern of listening that I have created for them, my hand in time with the poet's printed air-words appearing in our ears. I try to be sure that I do not stop when the poet stops.
Later in the evening, when Ives is in conversation with artist Ken Okiishi, she will say the following sentence and it will visualize itself to me as, "The poet appears and we feel bad (for them)."
The complement to The Hermit is Death and the College Student. Okiishi's self-recorded, self-fulfilling confessional fantasy from 1999, he shot the video while a student at Cooper Union.
As I am watching I write:
matrix unto matrix revealed
There is some perverse thrill to voluntarily committing one's self to rigorous expectations, standards set at a caliber far above "average" or "sane." In such environments there is - with no birth and no transition, of magic - an automatic death to objectifying "average" or "sane" in which neither is questioned nor perceived when surrounded by a meritocracy of the same excellence.
positions of representation } constrained positions } endured positions }
maintenance } pain
Instead, one excels beyond the boundaries of previously known ideas by thinking outside the box in which one would otherwise construct to house an "average" idea.
Or, the ideas once had prior to leaving the perimeter of "average" and "sane" would be considered completed objects, such that the above-average projects encompass the par-average objects within themselves.
Or, the ideas that push expectations conceived of from within renowned institutions (regarded as authoritative due to reputation) make the big spoon wrapping its arms around the little spoon of previous being, or being unrecognized before being respected institutionally.
playback of playback : xerox of xerox
In the video Death and the College Student we are shown the spine of a hardcover book by the same title. Okiishi, flanked by film paraphernalia, posters, a TV playing The Matrix, shelves of movies, and a brightly floral bedspread, perhaps in a dorm room or otherwise the confines of a cheap apartment room, reads an excerpt alone to the camera. He reads to us who are watching him from 17 years in the future. He reads, "It's just that Jimmy Dean was so brilliant and death is so hard to understand."
deconstructing live } self-exploratory in real time
The quote is from a collegiate female fan of Dean's. Published originally in 1973 by suicidologist Dr. Edwin S. Shneidman, the complete title of his book is, Death and the College Student: A Collection of Brief Essays on Death and Suicide by Harvard Youth.
soundtrack =/= visual =/= in time =/= priorities
Do Ivy League women feel more attachment to beautiful and sexually-controversial men than women who do not receive the honors of academically revered institutions?
If Ivy League women find death to be so misunderstood, is death then outside the academic grading matrix?
What is the reputation of death?
camera as viewer } footage as instruction
If a thing cannot be measured, then it cannot be considered a fact by science.
The unmeasurable non-facts are then categorized as theory.
If one does not understand death, one has not unpacked it.
The misunderstander of death is then either on eternal vacation or is never going to leave home.
Thus we have the hermit.
layers of diegesis + non-diegetic + viewer } all onstage at once
Long before The Hermit, but after Death and the College Student, Ives earned her BA from Harvard.
There is a respect to the merits being earned versus the merits of what have only been received.
Syntax is the style of influence.
"The humor doesn't create joy," Okiishi says in conversation with Ives.
He continues that The Hermit is "deleting your memory as you're reading."
He says that "the present is always being remade."
I think of Arakawa saying there is no history to anything.
Okiishi describes the poems as "preëxisting text at some other point."
I think of Arakawa saying everything is abbreviated in the printed form.
"I am here to replace you before you are," reads a photographed note from Okiishi's journals, kept during Death and the College Student.
The notes loop in a slideshow behind the artists in conversation:
"continue cutting up magazines
"entering a porn theater"
"must remember that alien work is done
w/ the assumption that they do exist"
"don't show people you are too smart"