It all started with flarf. after moving to chattanooga from Washington, D.C., in 2011 for a teaching job at UTC, poet Aubrey Lenahan created the monthly Fusebox reading series earlier this year because she missed not just the profusion of literary readings she was used to in D.C., but the avant-garde writing and performance styles.
In her first encounter with the D.C. poetry community, she says, “I was watching Rod Smith do Flarf poetics with a theramin, some kind of lightbox and a projection screen.”
Flarf is a Google-generated poetic form in which a writer starts by entering random words into a search engine and using the abbreviated page descriptions that are returned as raw material.
“Something happened to me,” Lenahan says. “I got angry and I felt like that wasn’t poetry. It didn’t feel mythic, lyric, larger than life, introspective.”
Before long, though, she developed a taste for performance poetics, including Flarf, as a way for poets to grow beyond preconceived notions of what they can do with their art.
“Flarf is an authentic way of saying this is what our culture produces,” she says, “this is the language of our world right now, then assembling and manipulating it, maybe adding to it, subtracting from it, lineating it, doing other things with form.”
After a few months in Chattanooga, she hadn’t found the kind of readings she had come to thrive on in D.C. “My quality of life is so correlated with how many readings I get to go to in a week,” she says. “I wasn’t sure I could be a writer here.”
So Lenahan began the Fusebox Art+Word series of monthly readings held in art galleries. “What I am interested in doing is bringing together writers who are more traditional and formal with writers who are exploring notions of creative writing,” Lenahan says.
Lenahan has held four readings since May, all at the Front Gallery, hosted by artists Jan Chenowith and Roger Halligan, and paired with openings of new exhibits. Even with no outside funding and no budget to pay her readers, she has been able to attract many of the performance poets that inspire her, as well as showcasing some less flamboyant Chattanooga writers of fiction and poetry.
The series started with a bang in May with poet Matt Hart. “His readings are explosive, really exciting performance poetics,” Lenahan says. “He yells his poems, his entire body rocks. Everyone has the same story with him. The first time they saw Matt Hart read, they were like, ‘I didn’t know you could do that with poetry.’”
Hart came to Chattanooga on his own dime, and his May reading led directly to one of Lenahan’s two August readers, Atlanta poet Bruce Covey, a conceptual poet who sometimes uses games of chance to generate his material. Covey also runs a reading series in Atlanta funded by Emory University. Now he is one of Lenahan’s Aug. 11 readers and she is hoping that with future funding the two series might be able to collaborate in flying writers in from greater distances. At the Aug. 11 event, Covey will read along with poet Meg Ronan.
“Meg writes some Flarf, and I recently saw her do a tarot card reading as a poem,” Lenahan says. “She researched the background of each card in the deck, wrote one line of poetry that responded to that card and taped it to the card. She shuffled the cards, invited audience members to select cards, and she read them.”
On Sept. 22, poetry and fiction writer Stuart Dischell from Greensboro, N.C., will read in a call-and-response format with Chattanooga poet Richard Jackson.