Kary Wayson and the Perfect Obstructions

Here in our reading room on Saturday night October 30, Seattle poet Kary Wayson (who’s newest release is American Husband from Ohio State University Press) presented a unique and exciting challenge for four other accomplished local poets. The results were truly impressive, and a pleasure to witness.

The first sign that this would not be your average poetry reading was the young man, smartly dressed in a suit and sunglasses, confidently dancing a happy little shuffle step in front of the audience. It soon became clear that this dancer was re-enacting the role of the dancer from The Perfect Human, a film by Jorgen Leth that is the focal point of Lars Von Trier’s The 5 Obstructions. It also became clear that our dancer would not be stopping anytime soon. His cheerful persistence was a comfort that would help carry us through the harrowing poetical challenges to come.

In his film, Von Trier challenges Leth to remake his own “perfect” film five different times, each with a different obstruction, or set of obstacles…minor little changes…such as that the film must be made in Cuba, with no set, using no more than twelve frames for each shot and must answer the questions that he asks in the original film. Using this as her starting point, Kary Wayson rose to the challenge of dictating sufficiently diabolical obstructions for her fellow local poets Kevin Craft, Rebecca Hoogs, Erin Malone and Ed Skoog. She gave each poet three different obstructions that they had to incorporate in rewriting both Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129 and one of their own “perfect” poems, the “little chestnut” that they are known by. The poems had to be written backwards, or they had to be written in double length (where each line had to be stated twice, saying the same thing in a slightly different way), they had to end on the number 4, or end in a hard “T,” lines had to form loose palindromes, or rhyme schemes had to be inverted. Some of the hardest obstructions came when the four poets had a chance to exact their revenge and give Kary some obstructions of her own.

We got to hear the beauty of the original poems and we got to see these poets drastically alter them with courage and skill. Kary was forced to draw a hard line with some “looseness,” but all of these poets demonstrated incredible ability as they worked within the daunting restrictions to create impressive and beautiful poems.  What stood out most during this evening was the poets’ affection and respect for each other. As in the film, these “obstructions” could also be seen as gifts…ways to inspire new work and provide structure and collaboration to a writing process that can be isolating and brutal. It was a night of breathtaking creativity and craft of the highest level. Be on the lookout early next year, we plan on hosting Kary for a similar event. -Casey O.