Writers Read Welcomes Fred Moten
On Friday, September 29th, Concordia University’s Writers Read program kicked off its 2017-2018 season with a special reading from Fred Moten, a poet, essayist and professor at the Tisch School of Arts. The ninety minute event featured an introduction from Concordia alumni and MFA candidate David Radford, a question and answers session, and poetry from all five of Moten’s published collections, which he described as being “echoes” of each other.
Prior to the reading, Moten presented the 2017 Lahey Lecture. Over one hundred guests shuffled into the tiny Hall building conference room the event was hosted in, with those unable to find seats huddling near the back or leaning against the walls. While his lecture had been a poignant, stirring response to a 2014 Boston Review article that criticized Moten and a number of other contemporary poets, his reading was an event focused on celebrating Moten’s own work.
“Maybe poetry is what happens on the bus between thinking and wanting/I used to think that it was what happened on the bus between Oakland and Berkley,” Moten read during It’s Not What I Want To Say, the first poem of the night. A self-aware exploration of his own approaches to poetry, it’s one of many pieces from The Service Porch that was inspired by his time on public transit while living in California. Other poems he read included The Showing, Regroundings, Resistances and Laura’s Alone Time.
“The next poem is called Nataoika- it’s a word I made up, it’s Greek!” Moten said as he introduced one of his poems. It was one of countless hilarious moments during the reading. Moten shifted between reading and audience banter so quickly and effortlessly, sometimes comments like these were the only way to tell where his poems began and ended.
Throughout the night, Moten shared a number of personal anecdotes and reflections that did more than just make the night all the more enjoyable- they helped make his complex work easier to process. Right after his quip about making up Greek words, he explained that he actually derived the title from the ancient Greek word for ‘slave’. He also told a funny story about feeling like Don Cheadle’s character in the 1995 film The Devil in a Blue Dress when describing his experience writing about Middle Eastern violence and America’s role in it. His humour, in some ways, helped soften the blow of the intense, emotional poetry that followed.
After about an hour of reading, Moten took a few questions from audience members. When asked about his experience travelling between Oakland and Berkley frequently, and the influence it had on The Service Porch, Moten explained that his travels shaped the way he viewed language.
“In a way, the bus was kind of like a language… there was Texas English, Arkansas, Louisiana English. It was a great way of understanding and being able to hear how rich and open that the language is,” Moten said.