in oakland: café van kleef


7 September, 2006

From Portland I flew into Oakland and picked up a rental car. I first drove over to Berkeley to see my cousin Claire, who was to be leaving the very next day for a year’s stay at a writer’s school in Idlewild, and then I met up with my good friend Joel, co-founder of Berkeley’s redoubtable Phenomenology Now! interdisciplinary working group. We drove to Oakland’s famous Le Cheval to have dinner with our friend Liz Young (it was Liz’s birthday dinner — happy birthday Liz!), though somehow the signals got crossed and Joel and I were mostly finished with our dinners by the time Liz arrived. But since there were no deep phenomenological issues at work here, we ended up having a great and relaxing meal, and then we pounded it up the street to Café Van Kleef where we would be meeting people for drinks.

Liz Young and I were in Lyn Hejinian‘s amazing graduate poetry-writing seminar together — it was, perhaps, one of the single most productive times in my life — and we immediately hit it off. Liz and I both share a love for invented language, the beautiful sorrow of the whimsical, Guy Maddin films, and Elfquest. In fact, there was a plan to work together on a collaborative project entitled Elf Pit, but somehow nothing became of it. That’s Liz on the right, above, and Joel next to her, holding the lamp.

My copies of Liz’s manuscripts are back home in storage, so I only have a single poem of hers here in Japan. This is a work in progress — a sestina, I think — so I hope she doesn’t mind if I quote a small section:

Twink misspoke: “My silo dreams are wreathed in smilax.”
“Boohoo” replied the heiress (fork handle protruding) “A few pink puffs
And you expect a happy lisping?” “Just an interim” said Babe,
the cunnilinctrix, and she hushed with edges of a faded ribbon
some droplets shed from the mermaids’ bruises,
admiring their sheen. May grabbed and mounted the nearest machine.

In fact, I would be meeting lots of poets at Café Van Kleef on the night of the 7th. In addition to Liz, Chris Chen (pictured above as “The Ghost-faced Killah”), Julian Brolaski, and Stephanie Young all came out for drinks. Chris is the author of Uncle Chen’s Oriental Slapstick, a “16-part comic book satire of Chinese imperial history published in excerpted form by Incidental Press.” Here’s a section of his work dealing with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882:

If you come atomized by the eight directions.
Deposited on our shores like excrement.
Expelled by the Pacific like a pebble of sea smoothed glass.
If you come, as you must, with your thumb in your mouth, suckling.

If you count the sun and moon as sole possessions.
If among your possessions you discover the broken lines of a hand.
If among the broken lines of a hand you see a bamboo forest.
And if in that forest of sticks your teeth should chatter
startled by the flight of a white bird.
Do not emulsify the mother tongue.

Do not ladle it out as soup
but recite the etymology of dynamite.
Buckaroos in Paradise do not burn down our parlours!
Do not congregate but let your hair grow long.
Do not strain to hear above the din but bow down.

Our orders are not binding, but the opposite.

Of course, it wasn’t all and only poets at Van Kleef. My friend Paul, who paints backgrounds for Pixar, showed up, and my friend Walter (pictured at the top of the entry) has degrees in both art (from CCAC) and architecture. Walter also has a degree in smoking and looking cool.

Here’s Julian Brolaski, who my friend Damion and I met by accident at Mod Lang Records in Berkeley. Julian also seems to have gone to wherever it is that people go to learn how to look unbearably cool while just standing around, and she’s an incredible poet as well. Sometimes she performs in a kind of ‘high lonesome’ mode, with guitar, that manages to queer deep country sadness and bring the authentic root emotion back to the form while releasing it in an entirely new body. Here’s a bit from her third book, The Daily Usonian:

“my business is circumference”

I dreamt your Twinness.
There is an absolute
Sphere whence you fell.
Step ample, Emerald, fixed
To the spot
I saw you.
Trust my Curiosity
To Brook no further Argument,
And fortify my Gut w/ nearest
Heaven. And though the Lofty
Treaty stand,
I shall not wreck it.
Though delinquent Love
Is a force we hazard at.

Stephanie and Julian both have flickr accounts as well, so we kind of went mad taking photos of each other. Here are Julian and Stephanie checking out a photo that’s just been snapped. It seems that the more you drink the more manic this kind of behavior can become. Stephanie Young‘s first book, Telling the Future Off, published by Tougher Disguises (also the publisher of Chris Stroffolino’s Speculative Primitive and Cynthia Sailers’s Lake Systems) features a cover with a photograph of a woman who is writing in light. Here’s a the first part of the poem “I Embark Upon This Day With My Mental House In Order”:

The back was grass, bright and wet, I could tell you had been thinking of me. You considered the light and left it on, sensing I could not swallow without a catch.

I rid myself of bitterness, I’m radiogenic. The house is in order except for the future I fearlessly face my fears. You’re absent, in stereo, but coming through the tea.



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