Last night I went to Opium Literary Death Match Chicago, Episode 4. Opium’s death matches are one of my favorite reading series, as the format ensures the event will be entertaining even if the “quality” of the readings — either the texts or their delivery — proves uneven (although last night’s readers all pretty much rocked it).
Highlights (personal ones, my favorite moments) from last night included good friend Rebekah Silverman, managing editor of Artifice Magazine. Rebekah read William Walsh‘s piece from Artifice’s forthcoming first issue. This was one of Walsh’s pieces derived from Joyce’s Ulysses — a distillation of sentences about a minor character named Conmee. Rebekah came on stage with a copy of Ulysses into which she’d pasted Walsh’s sentences, then scissored out all unnecessary pages (this was a great many pages, as Walsh’s piece consists of maybe 10-20 sentences total, which meant Rebekah only required 10-20 pages of Ulysses’ however-many-hundred). She introduced the text by saying, “Some of you may have read this in an earlier draft,” then opened the book, spilling and puddling the scissored pages on the floor and making a majorly delicious mess. Her performance smartly visualized Walsh’s “found text” process, while also, as judge Kathleen Rooney said in her feedback, underscoring Artifice’s own mission to promote work aware of its own artifice.
Unfortunately, I’m not certain the judges realized Walsh’s text was composed of sentences from Joyce (or were familiar with Walsh’s other Ulysses-derived pieces published earlier this year), so the page-spilling stunt may have appeared to them less purposeful than it in fact was. Rebekah did not win her round — that honor went to &Now representative Davis Schneiderman, whose texts were super strong, but whose abrasive barky-shouty performance style (a perfectly legitimate choice, clearly) is not my cup of tea. I’m a big fan of focused, text-driven readings that emphasize sound, syllables and diction, and if texts include humor, or bits of fabulist or formalist absurdity, I prefer them delivered crisply and with a poker face (Andrew Farkas gave just this sort of delivery during the second round, and I greatly enjoyed him — I don’t think Andy has a website, but I recommend purchasing his book Self-Titled Debut, available from Subito Press, whom Andy was representing in last night’s LDM). …My favorite folks to see read are LDM Chicago Episode 2 winner Jill Summers and Quickies co-host Lindsay Hunter (whose Featherproof book I’m eagerly awaiting).
The other highlight of the evening for me was judge Kathleen Rooney, who completely upstaged her fellow judges. Based upon what I’ve seen of LDMs, it is rare a “literary merit” judge is the quickest, funniest, most clever — Kathleen was all these things.
LDM is back in Chicago in… a few months, I think? I’m looking forward.
(side note: Big Other contributor Nicolle Elizabeth’s interview w/ Opium’s Todd Zuniga for the Fictionaut blog is worth a read)