By Katie Haegele
The subject this week is art in everyday surroundings.
Or maybe it's about the importance of looking.
No, it's gloves! This article is about wearing long satin gloves with great big rings on the outside!
Well, for now let's just say that Dorothea Lasky's poetry readings include all of these things, and more.
Lasky, whose first full-length book of poems, Awe, was put out this fall by Wave Books, has posted videos of herself reading from the book on her Web site (www.birdinsnow.com). She's calling the readings the Tiny Tour because they all take place in her home, an apartment in Center City, with each "leg" in a different room.
The readings are intimate but lively, and as I watched the videos one of the things that struck me was how much fun Lasky seemed to be having. For her bathroom reading, she stepped into the doorway wearing a pink dressing gown (poet Frank Sherlock, who introduced her, did so in a bathrobe), then put on big reading glasses and called out her poem "The Red Rose Girls" in a ringing voice. At one point Kristin Searle, who shot the readings in the bathroom, kitchen and living room, panned down to show a man perched on the edge of the tub, listening and sipping a drink.
In the living room, Lasky wore the satin gloves and a black evening gown, and read to a small crowd of people seated in chairs that were lined up and facing the front. In the bedroom, which was bright with natural light, Lasky's reading was followed by a sweet performance by two dancers from New York, Rebecca Ketchum and Nathan Kosla.
Talking about her work over coffee and bagels at a Center City cafe, Lasky was as ebullient as she was in the Tiny Tour videos.
The idea of putting her readings online came to her easily, she said. Doing poetry tours is expensive.
Travel expenses add up, and poets might get paid to give some readings, but not most. Online, she could reach a large audience for less money. Why not try to do the tour in this smaller but more inventive way?
"I'm really excited about the Internet because it allows people to have voices," she said.
She originally considered selling a small number of tickets to the public, but in the end decided it was wiser to invite people she knew, since this was, after all, her home. She is a student at the University of Pennsylvania (she's working toward a doctorate in education), so she took a film class and rented a camera from the school.
Once the readings had been shot, Lasky edited them herself with the video editing program iMovie and uploaded them to YouTube and Vimeo, a similar site that's geared more toward filmmakers and doesn't have a ratings system - a potentially unfriendly feature of YouTube that Lasky didn't like. (She has since discovered that it's possible to turn that option off. )
"There's a big learning curve, but I think anyone could do it," she said of her DIY filmmaking experience.
Other poets participated in the tour, among them Stan Mir, Laura Solomon and CAConrad, who did his reading while reclining in the tub. Lasky wanted to include other art forms, too, so she asked her friend Ketchum to choreograph a dance performance. Ketchum constructed a kind of love-story dance that she and Kosla performed in a corner of Lasky's bedroom. It was inspired by Lasky's book and even has the name "Shall We Buy a Truck," a line from Lasky's poem "The Chinese Restaurant. "
On their own, of course, the readings are a kind of performance. Lasky said she hopes this format makes them less stuffy and less removed from the everyday than places like museums can seem.
"The more people you can get to like art, the better," she said.
Plus there's the whole thing of looking.
"I love music videos. When I listen to a song, I think about a video that might go with it. I love words and images together. It's about looking. I've noticed a tendency, a cultural tendency at poetry readings, for people to avoid looking at [the reader]. With a video, you can really study the person, really look. "