A Reading with Steven Karl, Evie Shockley and Brett Price

Originally, this reading was expected to include Elizabeth Robinson, who was unable to attend. The first few minutes of audio introduction was unfortunately not recorded so this audio begins in the middle of the introduction of Brett Price. Here are Jared and Farrah’s notes towards their introductions of the readers:

Evie Shockley writes of “ethical   waved around  like a wand”

This is a reading of three poets committed to ethical practice in their writing, a potent mixture of gentle humor and outrage.


Brett Price is an ethical adventurer. I think he’s a little like batman, or Caine from Kung Fu except instead of wielding fists he wields poems. I remember the first time I met him – he’d recently returned from a trip of many days camping in the Andes -  and we went on a tear in the backyard of a bar sharing notes about utopianism. Another time he left a party at our apartment and decided on the spur of the moment to scale the Manhattan Bridge, ninja style, up to the top of the tower in the middle of the night. . Right now he’s our personal angel, helping us to make Berl’s possible by babysitting our son.

Brett’s poems seem deeply inflected by questions of ethics; they revel in the quotidian and in leaps between transcendent and gritty or slangy language taking pure presentness, noticing as its organizing motif. Like the poem is a room that different characters might enter and exit unexpectedly:

"Several different kinds of same light come streaming and thank the blinds for my habit today / I beg histories in lung shaped motifs of air"

he uses a bicycle metaphor as well:

You’re on your bicycle
coasting ever smoothly
down this heavy-slanted street,
collecting and applying
so many ridiculous things:

Humble and humane this is, a poetry big enough for Rilke ("the torso of Apollo brilliant   and archaic as a star") and grounded enough for Gertrude Stein-ish moments like this one from a poem Steven published in Sink review ("misconstrued  bourge-alarm’s call mass produced") 

ethical practice of writing – no distance between the self writing and the self thinking. His poems are concerned with how to be: “If this were that if that were this / things would be different" “begin again or simply continue different”

with friendship and in particular the ethics of these connections: "a tendency to transform the variety of themes into sketches of my friends"

and with writing time: "I am at 2:51 pm here you are but when / then now surely I is someone else but when I is elsewhere then where am I now / I am here again at 3:07 pm with a headache and happy to know for sure"

Brett’s poems are sometimes built of long interflowing tributaries of phrases, other times by intuitively juxtaposed language pieces like chunks of concrete; either way his work has the paradoxical quality of being both restless and expansive. I envision him wearing seven league boots so every step lands in another unexpected place. In an essay brett described  poetry is a practice  capable of performing cuts against the grain”; often the only period of the end of the sentence comes at the end of the poem. 

Some examples of Brett’s work: “coffin static blackout swelling bruise gray layers surge carnation infant day”

OR, at the edge of legibility:

“bathing snags in a stream of forced harmonics studio that auto-tunes any note

fit to register dissonance monitor-feedback or click of pick guard in live play

having everything from the start a given suit suspicion grew of heir-to resumes

I mean the unwavering privilege of position”

I was recently blown away reading his poems in ELDERLY particularly this line: “kicks and whistles    low-stakes posts to gather dough    entered wholly”. The idea of entering low-stakes posts “wholly”, of finding depth and meaning even when the work is just making ends meet, is so totally admirable. Brett is all in. 

I also found this, in an poem of Brett’s in the archives of Octopus magazine:

"I’m B to the R to the E double T

then P to the R to the I—C—E"

how is that in one of Brett’s poems?

Evie Shockley

THE NEW BLACK is a book full of history, a matrilineal elegy and outrage both racial and feminist, and it hits elegant high notes in formally diverse ways but also includes other things too: parties, sex, "cuddly dharma" and "untimely violet" evie's work is vast. 

“Can a feeling change a structure?” She asks 

In her work we are given the voice of Frederick Douglass, calligrams in the shape of an x that intersect a words from African and American to affectless, amorous, affordable, afterglow and affirmative, photographs of children full of attitude and sweetness, sonnets, John Cage-ish mesostichs. You turn the page and discover something new. In talking about poetry experimental usually means one thing, I have the feeling that any form for Evie is equally experimental.

What holds it together is this preternatural poise, this sense of palpable confidence that inspires rapidly a deep sense of trust. 

Some of her poems are time machines, as when she juxtaposes herself with Thomas Jefferson, using a cut effect to deploy his words of the Declaration of Independence while describing his ethical failures on his own plantation. Complicating things further she inserts herself writing “in some world / an even newer one /I might have liked you / and you might have liked (not fancied) me/ we might have shared  a bottle / a conversation  some poems / in this world I prefer your   words/ depending on them to be / better than you.”

This idea of language itself carrying potential that surpasses the world in which we speak is dark but also powerful and inspiring.

Getting around utopia the speaker closes her eyes and then opens them to stare hard at the sunshine on the California coast, almost but not quite past the edge of America "where the joy is muddy, picking itself up from puddles, where folks with lopsided smiles stare at rings stripped not of meaning but of status." I'm pretty sure this is an epithalamion, an occasional poem for a new wedding perhaps even a new kind of wedding. But the fact that it has its place besides dark poems where evie juxtaposes "it's going to be a bright sunshiny day" with her own observations like "murk is the new black".



Even as I thought certain things, I knew they were so true yet never true. Dork Swagger doesn’t read like a first book of poems.

The expectation of poems is that they can’t do somethings. But over and over again people write poems that say things I never thought a poem would be able to say and put stuff in poems I never thought would fit. Do all poets write against this unspoken boundary? In grad school I remember someone getting mad because one of us burped during her poem. Why not? Why can’t a poem have a burp in the middle of it? And if the burp is so distracting to your ta-ta work, maybe the poem should include a burp because as soon as one thinks a poem can’t have a burp, that’s when it HAS to have a burp. 

What is blurb writing anyway? It seems part review, part selling strategy. Jared says shorter the better. My professor Lucie blurbed my professor Timothy’s book by simply saying he’s a herd of one. That seems pretty powerful. I’d read a book from an author who is a herd of one. So what I’m going to say about Steven’s book in part will sell his book to people who look at the back hoping for a come here finger, hoping to be appealed to. READ THIS FUCKING BOOK YOU ASSHOLES!! In the past, mind you this is only the second book I’ve blurbed (perhaps one writes short blurbs after writing nearly one hundred of them) my approach to blurb writing was to sell a book plus say something about what it’s doing, to put that language out there. But when describing what a book does, the language is super poetic and weird. It’s like stacking metaphors on the ground and your baby walks by in Godzilla-like fashion and knocks them all down before shitting his diaper.

Because I’m such good friends with him, I had a hard time not saying this is what Steven does. I had a difficult time saying the poems do. Like the poems look at youth. Poems don’t really do that, they don’t really do anything except sit on the page. The ideas and themes are brought out in poems and it’s evaluating one’s youth and where it sits in culture and time is an idea within a poem and an idea flushed out of a book of poems.