Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rick Bass, Robert Caisley, Sasha Pimentel Chacon, explore literary genres at LCCC Literary Connection

Laramie County Community College's (LCCC) Literary Connection happened this past weekend. Wyoarts was able to get over on Friday for the opening talks from slow-burning Rick Bass, delightfully frenetic playwright/actor Robert Caisley, and dedicated-to-line poet Sasha Pimentel Chacon.

Rick is a thinker, more than that, he's got the gene for "being" a landscape, just like the salmon that remember their river. His setting is the Yaak valley, northwestern Montana, close to the border of Canada. He's been there quite awhile, and his stories merge out of him like parishoners coming out of a church after service, into the bright light of something larger, brighter. His setting is the "cathedral of old forests," the last left on earth where species other than man still dominate. His landscape has become the character, like a shadow watching him and what he writes on the page. That the spirit between the land and us is like an electrical current. Being from the South, the terrain there is time, a vertical space; but in the west, it is space and horizontal. This is how the culture of story sculpts us, and how it speaks to the pliability of the of human nature. He sees in the post-agricultural landscape the confusion of anticipation with imagination, and the atrophy of that imagination from lack of stimulation. He sees the compression and slow-diminishness of landscape. The reference point for that electrical current between us and the land are still those wild places against these confused places.

Robert began with a childhood memory. He was raised in the theater, literally; he played backstage as his father performed in plays. When starring in a Lillian Hellman play, his father staggered up the stairs after being stabbed, and Robert, thinking it was real, cried out, "You killed my father!" He talked about writing a good play and the steps one needs to be aware of and to avoid. He says he constantly refers to Aristotle's Poetics as the best example of the arrangements and orchestrations of events. He also uses melodramas as a teaching tool because they are so transparent. His 7 play killers:
Obesity - too many words--remember, what you are writing must come out of an actor's mouth;
Motion Sickness - the play has no sense of direction -- so arrangement of the play is critical, but just as important as the content is the context.
Psychological Problems - characters know what they want, but audience doesn't; the characters need to act how they are feeling. Characters are characterization.
Musculosketetal Disease - if the spine is injured, messages aren't getting through.
Sedentary Lifestyle - things have to happen, has to be tension, has to set up in first act what will happen in second, etc.
Schizophrenia - doesn't know what the play wants to be or wants to be everything all at once.
Organ Transplant Rejection - take something from another work and put it into another work. Usually doesn't work there, either.
Along the way of describing these problems, Robert sprinkled in the dramatics of Shakespeare's Hamlet, as well as acting out snapshots of scenes.

Sasha's insightful lessons on poetry had me, at first, wondering why she stopped at the ends of poetry lines where there was no punctuation. She had a reason, and rightly so. I'd never thought of this in poetry, I had become proud of myself for reading the sentences of poetry, but the hidden meaning in lines, at least up until now, had eluded me. Take for instance the first four lines of  Shakespeare's Sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.

Reading the first sentence, one meaning might be the recognition that marriage between like-minded people works best, that there are less obstacles to overcome. But reading just the second line as a somewhat stand-alone points to the vagaries of love, and how sometimes love seems like NOT love, that there will always be obstacles no matter what, that to be wise is to "admit impediments. Love is not love." I hadn't thought of lines in this way, and I'm not too sure I did a great job in explaining it here, but I told myself that I'd try to think about my reading-poetry repetoire a bit differently now.

Laura Pritchett emceed between presenters. Another great literary event here in Wyoming.