She calls it Howl, after Ginsberg's 1955 poem, but Tertesa Harrison greeted her opening night audience with quiet confidentiality, joking and wrestling with a microphone stand as her accompanist fiddled with his great psychedelic bass. She'd set up a cardboard triptych of quotations out in the lobby, witty or gnomic remarks from Charlie Parker, Mae West, Sartre, Keith Richards and many others, a bartlett's of Ginsberg's century.
Dark-eyed with her throaty voice and long mane of dark hair, Harrison could have been one of those beat babes back in the 1950's. Her familiarity with us, the cavernous empty setting of the Blue Theatre stage and the antics with her stage manager and bassist put us into quirky shadows like those of some San Francisco or New York coffeehouse, a spell reinforced by two battered manual typewriters stacked one on top of the other, a hanging square that could have held a picture or a television screen, a cumbersome box of props. She clutched GInsberg's book even when she wasn't doing Ginsberg but she looked inside it only once.
Not just a poetry reading. Not a howl but instead an incantation, an updating and a recasting of Ginsberg's stunned, pressed flow of images. Harrison brings the beat poet's glance askance right up to the 21st century with numbers of her own. As the séance began, she placed a chess clock in front of the microphone -- the timer box with two clock faces, two plungers above, one per player, to be swatted down when the chess move is complete and initative is turned over to the opponent. The conclusion of each piece was marked with a smart slap on the clock, a change in the lighting and a different approach to the word and performance.