Berkeley Times August 13, 2015

Newspaper Column

The Berkeley Times

As appeared in the Berkeley Times on August 13, 2015:


First time in a decade? Language poet founder Ron Silliman and Laura Moriarty read alongside devotee Brian Ang, who projected lines in a pure monotone. With great conviction!

Taken own postmodernist discriminating unless insisted extreme
Claimed lead perfect statistics relinquishing both climatic framework festivals tell

Seven women among thirty men, half elders, all but one white, listened in respectful silence. No fidgeting! This was serious stuff.

Pigeonholing nature’s concocted alphabet assassin moderns arrested body
Envied found parental [real] energies throne average probe sole released

You understand this? You’re kidding! Words like a strong wind peel off layers of the psyche and expose the core. The mind dances, searching for a pattern — where there is none. The dance is intriguing. Watching one’s own instinctual process is revelatory.

Ang ended with “Thank you” in that same monotone. No eye contact.

Moriarity had stylish appeal, in an elegant blouse and chic bob, and considerable limbic content. She made eye contact during her introductions, but while reading? None.

The revolution came and went
While you were dead…
As I dreamt
Your voice rough
(My) head empty (my)
Heart out of its mind
We rioted then
Taking things apart
Breaking down
Individually and as a group…
Like someone not dead
Memory disguised as threat

Brilliant lines alongside precise observations that zoom halfway to the void. Love poems and compact narratives in a deliberate, narrow range of expression. And, tacked on the end, Moriarty intoned a flat “Thank you.” She calls her poems “Tonalist” – look it up.

Silliman, in comfortable, folksy style, plaid shirt and cowboy hat, read from Against Conceptual Poetry. Well, Language poetry has no concepts! But the book presents insightful, humorous, and angry conversations with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.

Silliman has returned to his original interest. A political organizer in the 1970s, he saw that language subverts our hearts and emotions – our limbic system – without our awareness. Highlight the sabotage that people were referred to as “he,” extend that concern to all words, and you have Language poetry strategy.

Assange on U.S. journalism. “…but, come on, actually…it’s always been very bad…especially when you are involved in something yourself and you know every facet of it and you look to see what is reported…in the mainstream press, and you can see naked lies after naked lies…so appalling I don’t think it can be reformed.”

Suddenly the reading fit the decor! Dreams of a previous generation thrive at Art House, 2905 Shattuck Avenue, with Hendrix, Joplin, and Ginsberg in colorful, swirling paintings on the walls.

And a fundamental value of the Beats? Tell the truth.

Will the next reading at Art House be as provocative? Sign up at and find out.