Steven Allenmay, publisher over at Plan B Press, has been telling people that The Best Way to Drink Tea is a playbill: an artifact that exists to indicate the procedure of something that is only reproducible (producible?) via live performance. He's got a pretty good point there.
Here's the scenario: I had no notion of putting out a chapbook like this one before it was proposed to me. I think there are pretty good poems in it and I stand by it as a discreet work, but the volume was not conceived at all until "The Best Way to Drink Tea" had been realized and performed. I am referring, of course, to the performance piece of the same name.
The performance piece is the sum of its parts. (Whether it is more than that in the synergistic sense is another debate.) The first component is a series of prose poems I began roughly one year ago. This is the piece that I took to my friend, Ben Nicholson, with whom I had collaborated on previous absurdities. I sent him text and an audio recording of the poems, around which he composed a stop-motion film. This film is the second component. The third ingredient in "The Best Way to Drink Tea" is the live performance, which involves rudimentary stage blocking, drumming courtesy of Spencer Leach, and text that is spoken as well as shouted. Suffice it to say that not all of these elements made it into the book.
The book has poems, which eventually culminate in the Tea sequence. In the pages of the book, there are black and white letters that, while an artifact in their own right, do not contain the realized Tea performance. Ben's excellent stop-motion piece is indicated by the cover image, which borrows from a screen capture of the video, but it is otherwise absent from the experience of reading the book itself.
The book is a gesture toward something greater. Then again, the same could be said of any book. Text is nothing more than text until a reader engages with it, associating its words with meaning and its indicated phonemes with the rhythm of the spoken word. In fact spoken poetry precedes the written word by some tens of thousands of years. (Probably.) People write at all out of an effort to preserve the ephemeral in a fixed form, a practice that does not just seem paradoxical.
If you're out there in the world reading the book, I hope you enjoy it. I also hope you watch the video, because Ben did a great job and it rocks. Of course it would be wonderful to see you at a performance but just in case you can't make it out to one, we're working on a proper video of the whole thing. So stay tuned.