Sunday, December 18, 2011

book launch night

Excellent book launch event last night. We arrived about ten minutes after doors opened, and already The Woods was packed. The Woods is a campy-charming event space that was once a funeral parlor - Spanish style with big chandeliers hanging down. What do you call those chandeliers that aren't sprays of crystal but look like giant plastic beehives? Nooks opening off of the main room, all bright painted but low light, kooky couches, a bar on one side that we never made it to. So sad that this place will be closing sometime soon.

Before showtime it was a rush to say hi and throw hugs around so many people. We never made it out of the entryway, and it didn't look like there were any seats left, anyway. I sidled myself up to the edge of the open archway to the main room, and I and a number of us stood there in and behind the archway for all the readings. Where I was, I had a straight shot over the heads of people in seats, to the readers on stage. Colin gave each reader a sweet, little intro - made me selfishly look forward to hearing my own in January. Colin all suave and confident and wearing a tie. There were a lot of readers, but nothing bogged down. Every piece was totally engaging, and the evening really moved.

Mary Wharff making us all laugh somewhere between delighted and horrified as she read about wanting to eat the baby. How deftly her narrative moved back and forth between the scene in the drug store and the scene in the bar, between funny and heartbreaking. [Mary came all the way from Kansas to be part of this event.]

Wes Griffith with his voice all biscuits and molasses. In his intro, Colin said something like, if you fall in love with his voice, look out, because he's married. Sometimes I'm glad I have such a dysfunctional memory, because things I already know can be new again. I've read Wes' piece in a number of incarnations, but still, last night when he got to the end, it hit me so hard I made a little gasp, standing there.

Liz Prato getting up on stage and saying that, here she is reading at a 21-and-over event, and for the first time she's presenting a piece that doesn't contain the F-bomb.

"So," and then a tiny pause, and, "Fuck!" she shouted.

It's a deft piece of writing, laying down a leapfrog of moments and details, and no F-bomb is needed. 

Margaret Malone and her lovely monotone, reading half of an intensely personal essay. Fragmented and laced together the way memory is. Precise, little moments written in her precise, graceful voice.

Bradley K. Rosen, clown at heart, saying he was told there was a time limit, so he'd shrunk his piece. Then he pulled out what looked like a tiny book, size of a pat of butter, and one of those big magnifying glasses.

"Florence...stepped out of the car...languidly..."

He pretended to try to read from the tiny pages until a friend walked up with a black notebook and handed it to him. Then Brad was off, reading his real piece, obliterating the cliché text of his gag opening with his lovely language.

Charles Dye so big on stage he looked like he was bursting out of his spotlight. Reading only a part of his story, starting at the beginning where it grabs hold of your heart and stopping in a spot where it punches you in the gut. I think when he stopped reading, the whole room had one of those moments where the breath stops at the back of your throat.

"It only gets darker from there," Charles tells me.

Michael Sage Ricci trying to raise the music stand but pulling the top clean off instead. Reading a story that starts out light and goes to surprising places. In each of the stories in this book, and in each of the readings, I've found myself, naturally, looking for the frozen moment. Trying to predict what each offering's frozen moment is going to be. Sage's piece, in particular, did real honor to Colin's theme, I think.

Tom Spanbauer stepping up in a vintage suit. [Last time I saw him, Tom had said, "What are you going to wear? I'm going to wear vintage." So I wore vintage too.]

"I'm feeling kind of tender," Tom said into the mic. "Brad says I always cry." This was Tom's way of steeling himself for his own reading after all the emotions already put out into the room.

He read his piece "The Visitations," which I've heard him read twice before. Once in workshop and once at the benefit reading for Walt Curtis. Every time I hear or read this story, it does something to me that I don't understand. We talk about writing as music, but when I hear this story, I hear real music. Some certain sound in my head, a dark, foreboding, relentless sound in my head. The second-person voice of his story is like an elegant nightmare, from which you're suddenly raised up into moments of transcendence.

After the readings, the first of two bands, Leaves Russell, started on stage. They sounded great, but we didn't want the music of the readings washed out of our heads. Stephen and I went over to the sale table and had a gander at the book. It's a sweet, handcrafted book, which comes with different colored covers. One of the cool things about Publication Studio books is that you can go into one of their studios and order one, and they make it right there in front of you. It's dated on the spine. I'll get a contributor's copy, but I also look forward to going into the Portland Publication Studio and getting one hot off the press. But last night, Stephen picked up a copy there, and we moved into the crowd to chat with people and give hugs and congratulations.

Then we ended up at an Italian place called Gino's, a big group of us ringing a large table, ordering wine and clinking glasses. A few of us who will be reading at the January event: Christine Calfas, Nora Robertson [and beau], Holly Goodman. Also Krista Price, another writer from the basement. Mary Wharff [and beau]. Tom and Sage, Tom sitting down next to me, Tom presenting me with the pages he'd read from, which made a lovely souvenir of the evening.

We ordered food. I was famished. "I spent all evening on one banana," I said.

Tom said, "Did it hurt?"

When Colin and his wife Rebekah showed up, we got to be obnoxious in the restaurant and applaud and cheer. When Brad Rosen appeared, we got to be obnoxious again. More joking about my banana. More clinking of glasses and then good food. A lovely way to round out a wonderful evening.

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