Friday, April 10, 2009

Beware! These poems come with strings attached

By Meredith Deliso

(Published in the 4.16.09 issue of 24/Seven)

While living in Los Angeles, Rick Reid was told that his work, which spoke of the visual art process, had a “New York” vibe. Having never lived in the city before, he had no idea what that meant, but he eventually did find his way to the East Coast, moving to Greenpoint three years ago.

On April 14, the conceptual artist and writer celebrates a work of his that, in the same vein, speaks to the verbal art process, when his book of poems, “To be hung from the ceiling by strings of varying length,” is released, with a launch party at Greenpoint’s Word bookstore.

Though the book cover says “Poems by Rick Reid,” the author himself isn’t so sure if it should be read as one long poem or individual ones.

“It’s not necessarily what you’d expect when you open a book of poems,” says Reid. “I imagine superimposing them on each other.”

If that sounds vaguely like an art process, it’s because Reid was inspired by the act of layering and re-layering paint on a canvas, one the artist started on a painting several years ago. Retracing a shadow that fell on a canvas and would move each day as the sun did, each image was repetitively superimposed upon the other, and helped Reid look at the process of painting in a new way.
“The way in which the light hit that canvas and started to go off the canvas – I started to challenge my normal process of painting,” says Reid. “I would approach the canvas as a frame which then was being cracked open, which was really exciting to me, to be able to lose a singular understanding of the way a painting should be, or a way a book should be, or a way a poem should be, and create a new being.”

While Reid never finished that painting, the poems partly inspired by that thinking became “Strings,” as he looked to challenge, not the painting process, but language itself. In this, Reid looked to “Rose is a rose is a rose” writer Gertrude Stein for further inspiration.

“She’s somebody I always return to,” says Reid. In particular, one text of Stein’s Reid would return to while working on these poems was the long serial poem “Stanzas in Meditation.”

“What struck me about that text is that when I picked it up and started reading it, I didn’t have a clear understand of what was going on,” says Reid. “The text was teaching me a new way to read, a new way to listen, a new way to create meaning. I was having these moments of complete obscurity and disconnection and then these moments of a really strong connection. The text wasn’t so much about understanding and knowing but more about a kind of urgency, a tension in my relationship to language that normally I would take for granted.”

Reading “Strings” can be a similar process. The name itself, says Reid, is an invitation to take the book apart and decode this familiar yet wholly unfamiliar language, as he looks at memory and perception, piecing together words and imagery, seemingly like pieces picked randomly out of a hat, that was produced out of Reid’s own desire to develop a new process of writing, as he did in painting.

Going to the Ph.D creating writing program at the University of Southern California, Reid met Chris Albani, the creator of Black Goat, an independent poetry imprint of the Brooklyn-based publisher Akashic Books. Albani was the ideal match for Reid as he looked to publish “Strings.”
“Akashic and Black Goat were more than willing to do artistic jumps,” says Reid, who retained much control in the look and layout of his book, including the brevity of the pages, which in some cases contain no more than four words (see page 39: “not this in fingers”).

“Reading tends to be a suffocating experience – we shut down our senses, close up our bodies. We have this very visually focused relationship with the text,” says Reid. “Creating attention in that space as well is important to me. It’s not like the book jumps out and bites you, but you are having to read a lot of pages a lot faster than you normally would” for a “more physical relationship with the book.”

Living just a couple blocks away from the bookstore, Reid saw Word as the perfect spot to host his book release party as he culminates his work, which has traveled with him these past 10 years, in his Brooklyn home.

“It’s wonderful to have a bookstore like Word,” says Reid. “It’s important to have not only a place to have access to uncommon materials but also as a venue to experience people’s work who might not be experienced, people who are dealing with smaller presses, people who are doing work that’s under the radar.”

Rick Reid celebrates the release of “To be hung from the ceiling by strings of varying length” on April 14 at Word (126 Franklin St.) at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 718-383-0096. The book is available on Amazon.


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