by Martha Deed
Dan Waber and Jennifer Hill-Kaucher are poets who thrive primarily outside of academia. Their work, past and present, defies easy categorization. Both approach poetry experimentally, but it would be incorrect to say that they are experimental poets. They are experimental because, while they are steeped in the reading and traditional techniques of poetry, they are constantly at play in their work.
In fact, Waber often confesses in his contributor bios that he “is a poet and multimedia artist who spends an absurd amount of time trying to get words to do the simple things he asks of them.” The “simple things” he asks may be a 10-minute, jazz-based riff on a single line of text:
I am tired of watching what I say because I know who’s watching.
…in which he uses “every possible permutation of the three verbs into the four places,” and delivering this “poem” with such intensity and good will that the listener doesn’t know whether to laugh, sit back and enjoy the invention, or weep at the repetition.
Waber’s work is wide-ranging, from incisive and thoughtful analysis of bpNichol’s work and archiving of Nichol’s poetry to the playfulness and nonsense of Waber’s recent abecedarian variant: Boys A-Z: A Primer (Paper Kite Press, 2006). The latter uses the constraint of rotating alphabets to describe 26 male types. Adam’s story ends with “z” as one would expect, but Billy’s text ends with “a”…and so on through 26 stories of male perfidy.
Between the theory and scholarship and the poetry projects resembling pranks, Waber’s multimedia installations include intricate, sophisticated designs and presentations. His 5x5 poems (Iowa Review Web, September 2006) are poetry machines: elaborate word toys constructed with his collaborator Jason Pimble which the viewer can drive. His wide-ranging Web site, Logolalia (www.logolalia.com), contains sections devoted to altered books, ars poetica (a poem a day about poetry contributed by a wide range of US poets) and minimalist concrete poetry. The latter is also known as concrete or visual poetry, and Waber grapples with the definitions through his presentations of a wide variety of poets and graphic artists along with concise critique and discussion. His work is viewed widely by experimental poets and graphic artists; it sits somewhat on edge between the two fields.
While Waber’s work tends toward the absurd, ranging from elegant multimedia installations to concrete postcard poems constructed with potato prints, Jennifer Hill-Kaucher’s poetry career has followed a slightly more traditional path. Her poetry collections, Questioning Walls Open (2001) and Book of Days (2005) were published by FootHills Publishing. (FootHills Publishing was founded by Buffalo-raised Michael Czarnecki in 1986.)
Her poems are well-crafted with a sensitivity to place, which she says may come from growing up in rural Pennsylvania. Hill-Kaucher writes, “That landscape left a big footprint on who I am and how I write—it’s probably why I write. We didn’t have cable TV, the mall was miles away, and my sister and I had to (got to!) find creative ways to entertain ourselves. We were explorers and my parents were very supportive of whatever we wanted to try out—writing, art, astronomy, theatre, bad cooking.”
Her poems are multi-layered, containing many surprises, as can be seen in “Letter” from Questioning Walls Open:
I wish you would write. Your letter
would arrive in good time, aloft
in days striated with routine.
I’d put on the kettle, study
the althea on the stamp,
its latin name a whisper
in my throat. Then I’d tear
the envelope, leave
a line of teeth to read
the marrow of your life
in your hand, that fine fist
we learned _ racemose loops
and slanted stems that lilted
us toward other suns. Later,
I’d see the pages folded
beneath my cup, the rim
of stain, O of surprise.
And from “Sunday” from Book of Days:
Sunday scrapes the meatloaf off the plates,
replaces door hinges.
Letters are stamped, weeds pulled,
books read in the slipknot
of autumn light. Sunday afternoon
twists his noose around our necks.
Under which floorboard of the house
does that insistent cricket live?
Although one would never know it from his output, Waber maintains a day job to support his work. Hill-Kaucher, however, has earned her living as a poet for many years, and she has managed this feat outside of university and college settings. She conducts eight or nine public school residencies each year with grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts/Arts in Education program, along with workshops and freelance teaching assignments in community centers and for other organizations and a college level “Arts Experience” course. In September 2007, she will begin “doing poetry” with prisoners.
Waber and Hill-Kaucher both are based in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where they run Paper Kite Press, a poetry press spinoff of a design business Hill-Kaucher bought in 1995. Paper Kite Press began publishing poetry in 2003, she writes, “so poets can get out in the world and share their work. I think it’s important for the world to have more poetry in it—and for people to recognize that there is poetry in the world.”
The press has just issued its ninth title. While poetry is the main focus of their press, Hill-Kaucher writes, “A couple of years ago we started renting some studio space for community readings and events. The studio is in an old mansion in Wilkes-Barre, and each room of that building is occupied by other artists, which creates a good feeling. Every third Friday we hold an open mic with a featured poet, and we host other workshops and events on a regular basis. While the community event aspect was always part of our goal, it isn’t our primary focus. We want to publish more poetry—anthologies, and individual manuscripts—so poets can get out in the world and share their work.”
Dan Waber and Jennifer Hill-Kaucher read from their work on Wednesday, June 13 at 7pm at the Carnegie Art Center, 240 Goundry Street, North Tonawanda.
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v6n23: Summer Guide (6/7/07) > Paper Kites
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