Since I returned to San Francisco Sunday night, festive social activities are already abounding. Last night was unusually glamorous. We went to a small dinner party in Berkeley hosted by Leah Levy (trustee of the Jay DeFeo Trust), that included her partner Bruce Wilcox, Ugo Rondinone, and John Giorno. John has been involved in Tibetan Buddhism since the early 70s, studying for a time with the same teacher as the buddhist. It's very likely he and the buddhist attended retreats and events together, but Giorno couldn't recall him. It was a stimulating and playful evening. Leah took us on a tour of her art collection, which includes some sweet pieces by DeFeo and David Ireland.
Mostly I wanted to write a bit about the Insert Blanc Press Benefit & Holiday Party we attended Saturday night. It was held at Weekend Space gallery, on Hollywood Blvd, in Los Feliz. The event was way better than it had a right to be. I was steeling myself for the dull panic that a marathon poetry reading can bring on. But host Mathew Timmons wisely broke the evening up into 4 sets, with a handful of readers in each, with smoking and drinking (and book buying) breaks in between, so the overall feeling of the evening was a swinging party interspersed with poetic entertainment. The readings were excellent, and I got to hear a number of younger Los Angeles poets whom I wasn't familiar with. Kevin and I helped Kate Durbin read from the second excerpt of her new chapbook E! Entertainment, for which we played Lauren and Whitney of the MTV reality series The Hills. For the first excerpt Mark Wallace and Brian Stefans played Lauren and Whitney, acting out the mannerisms and facial expressions of the girls. Mark and Brian put their hearts and souls into their roles, and were a hard act to follow.
Kevin was the final act. The photo is of him singing a duet with Geneva Zhao (photo swiped from Erin Jourdan's Facebook page) of "Sweet Jane," with his amazing band behind him. Geneva was a grad writing student at San Francisco State years ago, but I'd met her before that in the poetry scene. It's always odd to have students in my classes who I know from the real world. I fear they're going to think I'm a sham when they see me up there struggling to maintain it in front of a class; it's embarrassing to have them witnessing this role I find so problematic; I worry they will no long respect me in the real world, that they'll gossip about how ludicrous I am to the real world. Geneva was only in one class of mine, if I remember correctly—Writers on Writing, a large lecture hall class where a different writer visits each week and gives a reading and answers questions. The writers don't get paid for this, but everybody in the lecture hall has to buy their book. The class was in fall 2001, and 9/11 hit before we barely got started. Less than a week after the Twin Towers fell, our first reader, Daphne Gottlieb, arrived. Daphne was shaky and frail. Thrown into a crisis of meaning after the enormity of 9/11, she apologized for her writing. Her naked vulnerability embodied all of our pangs of crisis, so her reading took on the aura of a religious rite.
Since Kevin needed to rehearse, we arrived at Weekend Space while the crew was still setting up the place. Originally Kevin was supposed to sing only Nico's "Femme Fatale," but he and the band were so in synch they decided to add "Sweet Jane." I looked up the lyrics on my iPhone, and Kevin and the band practiced the song twice, with Kevin singing the lyrics displayed on the teeny phone screen. Since everybody was busy setting up the sound system and the refreshment tables, getting things just right, I was the only audience member. As I sat in a folding chair, directly in front of him, Kevin sang the song to me, catching my eye, smiling tenderly. It was so touching, just like a scene from a movie. Julia Roberts would play me, her giant doe eyes watering.