Sunday, June 18, 2006

Joe: A Memoir of Joe Brainard, by Ron Padgett

Reviewing a book already in press for two years only happens when there's a hook, and here it is: One day, in a little restaurant in Plainfield, the poet Ron Padgett said to me, "I can't get -- to sponsor an event to focus on Joe Brainard, and I'm frustrated."
I knew a little about Brainard's art and life, just enough to say "Hey, I'll find you a venue." And that, in turn, led to Kingdom Books deciding to sponsor a Joe Brainard event at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury, where Ron can show both the classic Brainard art flick "I Remember" and some movie footage that's never gone public before. It's scheduled for June 24, at 3 p.m.
The thing is, the more I read about Brainard and his life, the more I wondered why we don't all know more about this side of Vermont. Raised in Oklahoma, like his biographer, poet, and friend Ron Padgett, Brainard became a significant New York artist and poet, creating "C Comics" and collaborating with-- are you ready? -- John Ashbery, Kenward Elmslie, Bill Berkson, Anne Waldman, Ted Berrigan, Alcie Notley. And add to these the circle of poets that Brainard socialized with, including Frank Bidart, James Schuyler, Joanne Kyger, Darragh Park, Lewis Warsh, Aram Saroyan. Many more are listed in the opening of Padgett's book, as he mentions the people who shared information about Joe's life and in some cases copies of correspondence.

In other words, Brainard's life threaded directly through the heart of the great New York poets and their work.
What ties all this to Vermont is that, like others of the time (weÕre talking 1965 to 1993; Brainard was born in 1942 and died in 1994), this extremely creative person discovered that summering in Vermont could bring balance to an edgy and sometimes risky life. A long-term, although not always monogamous, partnership with the performance poet and opera librettist Kenward Elmslie, who lived (and still lives) in Calais, Vermont, gave Brainard this potent new set of roots.

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