On the night of March 21, I watched a man create poetry on the spot. His name was Lewis Freedman, a poet who lives in Stillwater, OK. Born in England, he received a Master’s degree in Poetry from the University of Belfast and has published a wide array of hard-to-find books, such as “The Third World,” “Hold the Blue Orb, Baby,” “Suffering Exchange Walks With And” and “Solitude: The Complete Games.” His most recent anthology is titled “Residual Synonyms for the Name of God,” a title he described as having come from the many Hebrew names for God that arose in lieu of a very long and unpronounceable 27-syllable name.
Throughout the night he read many poems from “Residual Synonyms…” but he began it in quite a different way, with a poem he titled “(Diurnal) So(fties).” Prior to reading the poem, his work was described to us as “interesting and challenging” and Freedman told a humorous anecdote. I don’t think anyone in the room was quite prepared for what happened next.
The poem was a mosh of confusion for me at first. Just before jumping into the poem, he called up a buddy of his named Rick whothat assisted in reciting the poem. I was immediately confused: why are two people necessary for a poetry recital? Then Freedman began reading letters. Quite literally, he started listing off a few random letters of the alphabet. Rick jumped in after the first few letters and formed a word from them. For example, if Freedman had read “G-O-A” then Rick could have jumped in with “goalie.”
And that’s just what they went with.
The entire poem was rather on the spot. It was interesting, strange, confusing and above all, funny. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what was happening as it went on, though. Only during a Q&A at the end of the reading did he explain the poem a bit more and show us the poem itself on paper. I couldn’t make much sense of it from the brief moment I had to look at it; it was a confusing mosh of letters and parentheses. He explained it in a rather quick and convoluted way. The letters are intentionally placed, but also intentionally left unidentified. A different poem could arise from every performance of it. (aAt least, that’s what I gathered).
My lack of understanding didn’t keep me from enjoying it, however. It was entertaining at its core, and rather episodic in nature. Given that they seemed to be making it up as they went, they could not or chose not to remember previous lines. In that regard it was this sort of combined stream of consciousness in several parts. This same phenomenon allowed the discernible lines to change meaning on a dime. “A goalie awash with sick irritability,” for example, was sluggishly followed by “user syndrome:” “A goalie awash with sick irritability-user-syndrome.” So many interesting lines and scenarios came up in the poem. The performers seemed always on the brink of saying something profound, but never quite got there, allowing the listener to fill in the gaps.
The rest of the night was dedicated to poems from “Residual Synonyms for the Name of God” and one piece from a future collection, but nothing quite crested “(Diurnal) So(fties).” Freedman’s style is one that requires re-reading and reflection, something difficult to obtain from a live poetry reading. He was an excellent performer in his own right; he orated his pieces with emotion and feeling, even singing the songs he’d inserted with full lungs. The poems were full of one-liners, dense metaphors and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle references. He seemed to simultaneously take himself seriously and not. There was a certain formula he seemed to abide to: a long, quickly read and poorly comprehended string of text à la stream of consciousness followed by a slowly read and more easily discernible line, something like “You can’t keep a keeper, can you?”
After his selected poems and an ambitious, vastly humorous new piece titled “Repeated on the Other Side,” Freedman took a few questions. He discussed genre and meaning, oblivion and thought, programming and philosophy. He described himself as a “transgressive writer.” He found humor in his publishing house publishing one of his past works under the genre “poems/essays.” He went on a rather lengthy discussion on how we as humans experience things only through repetition, and he just generally made himself out to seem like a lovable philosopher. My personal favorite quote of his from the night was succinct and silly in all the right ways: “I don’t consider myself a thinker. I consider myself a writer.”