Monday, July 17, 2006

Ron Padgett & Tom Veitch: Collaborating on the Experimental Novel "Antlers in the Treetops"

Ron Padgett and Tom Veitch read at Kingdom Books today, to a packed house that included such other poets as Patty Oldenburg (now Mucha), William Corbett, and Barbara Moraff. (Peter Orlovsky didn't feel up to it this time.) Most of us found lots of humor in the way the duo passed roles back and forth as they exposed us to the wild characters and surreal conversations they'd written.

A big chunk of the reading was from their joint book ANTLERS IN THE TREETOPS, and at the end, Ron filled in a few details on title and process. The title came from a fad at the time, jokes like the mock title "A Clear Yellow Stream" by (joke author) I. P. Freely. Turns out "Antlers in the Treetops" was supposedly by Who Goosed the Moose. For Ron and Tom, it made a good giggle. They built the text in collage style: Each would clip paragraphs from newspapers, books (one Ron especially remembers was a very serious guide to building tunnels under roads), daily life. When one had collected a good stack of this "grist" (as they nicknamed it), he'd send it to the other, who would arrange the "cut-ups" in some narrative order, add a few twists of language, and return the passage to the first person, who'd then massage it through yet another stage of collage, adding more material to it. The finished product thus was built almost entirely of "borrowed" language.

This fit with Veitch's solo reading, from the 150-page memoir he's drafting on William Burroughs. Veitch, at age 23, had a memorable lunch with the older novelist, who insisted to him that "authors think they own their words, but nobody owns words, they're just words." Hence to borrow words is simply what everyone does throughout life!

Ron's solo contribution to the afternoon was a 15-minute reading of a new poem in progress, on the meanness of people, with flares of aggression and battle. It made way too much sense on a day framed with war news from the Middle East.

Both signed some books while they were here, and Veitch generously allowed us to buy a collection of his noted comics. More on that another time.

Now I've got to get the place shaped into a fresh format, as tomorrow's event here is "fine press" -- an exploration of a very different collaboration, of a poet and a book artist (Chard deNiord and Brian D. Cohen). One of the things I especially like about these summer events is the gradual accretion of fresh material from our guests.

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