CHRIS REVIEWS: Kaveh Akbar and Richard Scott (a poetry reading at the london review bookshop, 2018)

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"Kaveh is a tall, floppy-haired man, all lank and torque, who often appears folded up in himself. He seems not always entirely comfortable in his being in this particular body at this particular moment, sort of how a compressed spring always seems to be waiting to explode."

Humans share so much; it’s a wonder how different we are.

Kaveh Akbar and Richard Scott read tonight at The London Review Bookshop. I sat in a corner with friends. Some of these friends were human like me. Some were books. Before the reading, I pondered some Virginia Woolf and Haruki Murakami. I flipped through books by Esmé Weijun Wang and Jess Walter. I love the smell of thoughts imprisoned in ink.

Kaveh, for the most part, read from his book, Calling a Wolf a Wolf. Richard, from his book, Soho. Both books contain poems thrilled with the frustrations of desire. Kaveh’s book wrestles with lust and god and home and the fractured tongues of language. Richard’s with the lonely shame and terrifying hope of being a young gay boy searching for a place in the story of the world. Both spoke, during their readings, of searching for their place in history. They shared so much that it was a wonder how, when they opened themselves up to their poems, they performed for us such different ways of being.

I like poetry. But, I’ve never made a habit of reading it. I blame television. It taught me how to read stories more than it taught me how to read music. The last time I went to a poetry reading might have been at Off-Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. Possibly in 2009. It’s been too long. I love the sound of language set free into the air. Why don’t we read all of our emails aloud before sending them? Not enough time? What are we doing with ourselves?

Richard Scott began with cock. In particular, his writing of the word ‘cock’ in the margins of poetry. He read a selection from a poem in his book called, “Oh My Soho!” which traced a path among the lamplit silhouettes of its many old haunts, alive in his childhood, now vanished. He read a poem about a boy and a fishmonger, his first taste of salt and blood. Richard is a large man. He spoke with the crisp, lucid style of many poets. In his delivery, and his carriage, he struck me as someone who has, after an extended period of trial and error, finally come around to fully inhabiting his body.

Kaveh is a tall, floppy-haired man, all lank and torque, who often appears folded up in himself. He seems not always entirely comfortable in his being in this particular body at this particular moment, sort of how a compressed spring always seems to be waiting to explode. And in his delivery of his poems, Kaveh does spring! He bounces! He shouts! He seems not so much to be inhabiting his body as his body seems to be inhabited by the words vibrating forth from his toes and tendons and lips. As his poems seek to overwhelm you with the breathless rush of life, so he reads them aloud hardly pausing for breath. There is no melody to the work but the crash of want and hope that comes to life in his words.

In the Q&A that followed, Kaveh told a story about Brian Eno. There’s this thing Brian Eno said once about soul records. He said that he listened for the crack in the singer’s voice. He said he listened for that because he was listening for the truth that couldn’t be contained by the vessel of its delivery. That, Kaveh said, is what he looks for in writing poetry. He looks for the cracks that allow truth to shatter through. He looks for the ways to break his poems until somehow it all falls together. Not everybody wants to be broken by the words of some broken poem, of course. Not everybody wants to live that close to dying.