Poet's reading elicits laughs and scoffs from UVU crowd

Published: Sunday, Dec. 7 2008 12:40 a.m. MST

OREM — Through sounds made with instruments, foreign languages, his mouth and his tongue, poet Alex Caldiero gave an audience at Utah Valley University something to think about.

Reminiscent of the works of Shel Silverstein, Caldiero delivered his poetry in ways that left almost too much to the imagination.

"We don't always appreciate it on the page as much because sometimes it is meant to be performed," said UVU English major Whitney Mower. She said although she didn't understand or enjoy all of Caldiero's performance on Wednesday night, she was able to experience it through "so many different sensations."

"He engages an audience," she said, adding that Caldiero's performance was somewhat disruptive but very interesting to watch.

Caldiero moved about the auditorium stage at UVU's library, at one point swallowing his entire hand to illustrate the poem he was reading at the moment. His actions elicited laughter, disconcerted looks and even scoffs from the crowd at times.

Various juxtapositions of the English language were delivered, using enunciations, rhythmic verse and even movement to act out some words. Caldiero presented his works with variance in volume, pitch and intensity, using sound to interpret some of his paintings on wood, titled "In Tongues."

"It was playful and interesting," said Cassie Eddington, a recent UVU graduate. "His writing is different. It's creative writing."

A native of Sicily, Caldiero grew up in New York where he attended Queens College. He moved to Utah in 1980. He has performed at dozens of campus events, the Utah Arts Festival and on National Public Radio. Publications such as the Village Voice and The New York Times have reviewed his work.

Scott Abott, chairman of UVU's integrated studies program — in which Caldiero participates as an artist in residence — said the poet "is as good as anyone I've seen."

"Every time I see his work, it changes my life," Abott said.

Caldiero and Abott co-teach a course in the program, called Language, Most Dangerous Possession, which encourages students to explore art as language and its origin. The class has studied propaganda, advertising and obscenity, as well as a unit on poetry and madness.

"It allows us to look at the phenomenon of language using a whole bunch of disciplinary tools," Abbot, who is also a literary critic, said. Caldiero's performance was in conjunction with the course.

The event was what Caldiero called "a thinking-feeling exposition of language in terms of its sonal wisdom, sonosophy." He explained that getting involved with this type of performance happened so gradually over the years that he now cannot distinguish it from his life, and as artist in residence, his duty to practice.

His guttural sounds and flippant tongue showed students and visitors alike that there is much more to language than conversational words.

"He breaks the wall for a normal poetry reading," Mower said. "It even gets disruptive at times."


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

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