Rabbit Light Movies, brainchild of Joshua Marie Wilkinson, has been compiling and putting out issues of "poemfilms" since 2007. The poemfilms tend to be videos of poets reading their poems, but may also feature some other poetic footage with the poet's disembodied voice coming from off camera. Poemfilms are not only a smart publishing move in internet land, but they offer a great resource! RLM has published 115 movies to date, and if I was lucky enough to have a computer in my classroom, I could bounce back between their total visual archive and PennSound, exposing my students to lots of great contemporary poets whose books I did not force them to buy.
Well, yes, I could do that with online text-only journals, too. But I am one of those people who believes that poetry is very much about the pleasure of sound, about that slippage that happens between the text and the voiced language, and that poems need to be read. And that they need to be read well. Yeah, there are exceptions; there is conceptual poetry these days that is not really intended to be read at all, never mind read aloud. But it is unbelievable how many amazing writers are completely awful at reading their own, well crafted, completely enjoyable poems. I mean, you wrote those sounds because you could hear them bounce against one another, you crafted that syntax because you could feel the rhythm of your sentence, timed the beats because you anticipated the humorous response, broke the lines because of your sense of breath or meter or interruption or contradiction or time-dispersed meaning. Why are you reading these words as if they are haphazard, unrelated pieces of trash you are retrieving one by one from a grassy median on I-95?
Okay, rant over. What I want to say is that Zachary Schomburg is a great reader! If you haven't read his new book Scary, No Scary yet, seriously, go do it. How did you avoid it? Isn't he literally driving around the country offering rides to bums and handing out copies? But also, do it because it's a pretty good book. He is a fan of the completely underrated book apparatus known as the index. (See me avoid using the totally awkward plural form "indices" there? And I don't even have to read this blog aloud!) I think I love the index so much because it underscores, even privileges, one of the most satisfying feelings I have when reading a book of poems: that the writer, as Jack Spicer would say, has been tricked into this entangled web of language. That he's following a thread of language through this kind of chaotic cloud, and all the related and repeating motifs are folding in on one another. Or, as Robin Blaser might say (via Spicer), "that it's as if you go into a room, a dark room, the light is turned on for a minute, then it's turned off again, and then you go into a different room where a light is turned on and off." For Schomburg, the book is the navigation through this dark house, and the index is the retrospective of all the odd and glorious encounters along the way.
But really, I want to talk about the video. If you must see the text version, you are lucky that it was published in this spring's issue of Jellyfish Magazine. "Because it Comes Right at You Does Not Mean it Comes to Save You," as a title, benefits from being read aloud, since it's tone is so intriguing--proverb-like, practical yet ominous, coolly predicting disaster--and since it's fairly iambic. Also, it's a bit of advice that someone should have offered to the Lost raft crew back in season one when these guys were coming right at them.
You can tell Schomburg is a strong reader within the first 30 seconds of this video, when he thrusts his tongue into your ear with the word "boat," lest we miss the resonance with "Ocean," and then slips into a kind of light Anglo-Saxon beat in its wake with "tearing toward" and us/crust. His reading does justice to the repetitive "o" sounds throughout (boat, shoulder, cold, closer, hold, slow, go, etc. etc.) I love when writers aren't too proud to roll around in the pleasure of simple sounds and rhymes. He takes advantage of the performative edge that his tendency toward (reliance on?) uncanny narrative lends him, giving life to the dramatic impulse and dialogue of the poem. His voice always seems to be pushing forward, not picking up the words one by one, but pulling on a rope, hand over hand, that is leading him anxiously through the poem.
We all have our "poetry voice," which sounds like some dead baby zombie version of ourselves, but Schomburg's is not affected in an unbearably pompous, offensive way. Also, check out that little awkward smirk as he comes up out of the poem. That's why poemfilms are so cool!