Friday, July 30, 2010

BEATIFIC: Kaleidoscope Reading Series

Last night I attended the Kaleidoscope Reading Series, curated by Michelle Wallace. Of the readings I have attended so far, this one felt the most familiar to me. Perhaps it was the dim, red lighting or the small, cozy living room atmosphere of the Kaleidoscope Free Speech Zone. It could have been youthfulness of the audience and the readers, who are on similar career paths as myself: current MFA students or recent graduates, educators, publishing in familiar journals. It also seemed that everyone there knew one another. I noticed that about all of the readings actually. There is definitely a community here, but it seems that they run in smaller packs, which is similar to Pittsburgh. Lots of readings, but it's too soon to tell how much crossover there is between reading series. There were definitely fewer people at this reading that compared to the RADAR Reading, but also Diane di Prima put a lot of people in the audience, so I can't fault Kaleidoscope.

There was something else that felt more familiar about this reading. I keep sensing it was the intimate space, the cheep beer, the funky young audience. But I suspect it was the writing. It resonated more with me than any other reading I've been to so far. I'll try to be brief with my reviews of specific readers, since there were five in total. Kudos to Michelle (who welcomed me when I awkwardly walked in at the last minute) to planning a short intermission. Too man readings I've attended (in any city) run on too long without a break.

The readers themselves were all young, in their late 20's or 30's and they read a mixture of fiction, poetry and memoir. First up was Michael Zhai who read some nonfiction that were pulled from his experiences going to on a high school field trips to visit a Pilgrim village in his home state of Massachusetts. Zhai's prose was well written enough, but I was more captivated by his poetry. His verse was musical and had more surreal striking imagery, which made up for the fact that he was kind of a low-key reader. Sometimes I wish people would practice reading and be a little more compelling, like they actually like their own work.

Next up was Elissa Perry, who read an excerpt from her novel. I find it difficult to be dropped into the middle of a larger plot line, but Perry pulled it off with her understated confidence and warm cadence in her voice. Her writing detailed a gathering of young lesbians and included a rather sensual scene that managed to be sexy, but not pornographic. I think she was probably the best in terms of reading ability and presence. I was also left wanting to read more of her novel, which is probably what she's going for.

The next reader was Richard D'Elia, a quieter man who's poetry had no titles. He was all business when he read, very efficient, pausing long enough between pieces to make up for the fact that his pieces were untitled. While some of his work was compelling, I felt like I needed to have more time with it. I always feel this way, especially about lyrical poetry. If it doesn't have a narrative or a long extended metaphor, it's difficult to really get a poem the first time you hear it. His work incorporated a lot of earthy imagery, one in particular was about the body and merging with the natural environment, something I rarely hear coming from a man's work. But perhaps I'm stereotyping.

After a short intermission, Scott Duncan entertained us with some nonfiction that he claims to not have written himself. He is apparently working on a re-imagining of Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona. Instead of reading an excerpt, he chose instead to read synopses the various remakes of the story in film, documentary and even pornography.  In short, it was very funny. I'm probably not the best person to comment on it simply because I had never heard of Jackson's classic novel until Duncan read this piece. It is clearly a part of the culture in California though, and part of the Mexican culture specifically in Southern California. Good reader, relaxed, entertaining. It's rare to have sustained humor at a reading and I appreciated it.

The final reader was Maiana Minahal who read both poetry and a selection from her new memoir. I did find the subject matter of the memoir compelling, mostly because it details the events leading up to the sudden death of Minahal's father six years ago. As the story progressed, it seemed to point toward her father drowning while the two were swimming in the ocean together in Hawaii. However, she stopped short of the actual death, so we're left wanting more. A good tactic on her part. Minahal admitted to never writing nonfiction before and that this was a work in progress. I felt the excerpt lacked the emotional tension that I longed for earlier in the section. She spent a lot of time setting the scene and describing minuscule events and it wasn't until the end that we got to feel what she was feeling. I wanted more of that earlier in the piece. I think her nonfiction could benefit from her poetic sensibilities, which are clearly her strong suit. Her poetry was my favorite poetry of the evening in both the ambition of the text and the reader's particular voice. Minahal read from her book Legend Sondayo, which is primarily a retelling of a Filipino folktale. She stated during the reading that she both modernize and made the stories queer to reflect her specific voice and the story's impact on her as a young person. Minahal's strong reading voice was as it's most deliberate when reading from this collection. I never wanted her to stop. I also bought a copy of her book. You can too.

I tried to find links to blogs or websites for all of these writers, but when doing Google searches, all of their names, save for Minahal's, came up with random links to strange websites.  I'm surprised by this fact. In Pittsburgh, almost everyone I know has a blog or a website or a project with their name attached to it. Your name is your product as a writer, IMO, and you need to have a web presence. Perhaps I just run with that crowd though. It seems all of these writers are doing well for themselves despite their lack of web presence. If I was going to be in San Francisco for another month, I would definitely go out to this reading again. Nice job, Kaleidoscope.

Note: I did find Elissa Perry on Twitter. Yeah, I'm following her now. Cuz I'm a big writer-geek fan-girl.

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