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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Quiet Lightning Gives SF Poet Sam Sax 30 Minutes to Prove Himself

Posted By on Tue, Feb 8, 2011 at 8:55 AM

click to enlarge quietlightning0208_1.jpg
Benjamin Wachs
Supperclub San Francisco was the setting for Monday night's Quiet Lightning.

Did poet Sam Sax permanently change one of San Francisco's most unique reading series?

No -- but they asked him to. They begged him.

Quiet Lightning's particular claim to fame amongst Bay Area literary readings is that it insists that its authors shut up. That's because series impresario Evan Karp got his start recording and posting videos of literary readings, and he found himself editing heavily.

He'd edit out the part where the author introduced himself, and talked about his work, and explained the context, and stammeringly apologized for having a cold ... Karp cut all that out to get to the reading itself.

So when he co-founded Quiet Lightning with San Francisco writer Rajshree Chauhan, he later explained, "I thought: why bother including all the stuff I'd just edit out anyway?"

click to enlarge Sam Sax - EVAN KARP
  • Evan Karp
  • Sam Sax

As a result, Quiet Lightning has a distinct format: Authors come up in order, without introduction. They read their designated pieces, and they sit down. Then the next person comes up, without introduction ... rinse and repeat. Readers are kept to a strict eight minutes.

It's such a streamlined format that Quiet Lightning is perhaps the only reading series in the Bay Area that can start a half hour late and still end on time.

It can also squeeze in a lot more authors. The more authors don't talk about themselves, the more get to go on stage. As a result, Quiet Lightning is perhaps the perfect gateway reading series for someone who wants to experience all the flavors (from acidic to zinc) of the SF literary scene. Karp is an inviting curator. He takes no pleasure in exclusion: He wants to accept as much as he can, sometimes even if he can't. The result is a reading series that brings its own beer goggles to a very crowded bar.

But last night at Supperclub San Francisco, Karp let poet Sam Sax speak his mind, devoting the entire second half of the show to his work -- a first in Quiet Lightning's history.

"I'm just in love with Sam's poetry," Karp said. "I think people should know he's this amazing talent." So, just this once, he let a writer break the rules.

Did Sax live up to the praise? Meh.

He started weakly ... doing exactly the kind of thing Karp spends so much time editing out of his videos. Sax asked the Supperclub DJ "Can you turn on that space music?" as his introduced himself. Then he asked the audience to all scream together to "clear the air," and then to imagine that everyone in the audience had all been on a spaceship together for 30 years.

You know ... Berkeley shit.

As his long set progressed, however, it became clear what Karp sees in him: Sax is capable of some truly dazzling poetic lines:

"If you put enough money in a juke box it will stop playing music altogether."

"When I sold my hair to make rich girls' wigs, I never guessed that they would wear it well."

"We were smoking guns pointing towards each other."


Great stuff! The trouble was that they were encased by so much filler and Berkeley shit that the whole effect was often just white noise. As a talented young poet observed, if you put enough money in a juke box ...

Ironically, Quiet Lightning may have done Sax a disservice by featuring so him prominently. It would have been the perfect reading series for him, if only they'd made him play by the rules. Those rules value brevity and concision ... exactly what Sax's talent needs to live up to the hype.

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Benjamin Wachs


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