Dodie Bellamy, “The Beating of Our Hearts,” WHEN THE SICK RULE THE WORLD, 167-68.
In July, 2012, I read with Francesca Lisette at Woolsey, a series curated by Paul Ebenkamp and Andrew Kenower at their apartment on Woolsey Street in Berkeley. With the plummeting of arts funding and the general disappearance of public space, salon-style events (“house readings”) are taken very seriously in the Bay Area; performing at one can garner more kudos than at a public venue. House readings frequently take place on the weekend and are just as devoted to partying as to poetizing. Though all ages are welcome, most who attend are in their 20s or 30s. When the reading begins the party slams to a halt and attention is rapt. The atmosphere may be casual — those not lucky enough to snag a seat on a couch are crammed together on the floor, some are sprawled across a mattress that somebody — who knows who — actually sleeps on, but this audience knows poetry, and they listen with razorlike precision. At house events I love to share fresh work, writing I have frantically edited until an hour beforehand, for it is at such a reading that my work feels most vital, leaping off the page and into these others who “get” me. At such readings, whether I’m performer or audience, I feel like a beat in a larger matrix of communal creativity. And I, who am so not a group person, enjoy this. At Woolsey, Francesca read a range of her writing, beginning with a Cambridge-inflected, intellectually rigorous, ironic style. These poems were solidly constructed, impressive — but the later work, which Francesca felt understandably insecure about, was full of risks, in both form and content — it turned angry and vulgar and outrageous, heckling distressing political inanities. It was a writing bursting its seams, and she blew the room away. When the applause ended, the party picked up again, full swing.