I watched these readers mostly from afar: for we occupied a space on the Baraboo Square opposite Annie Randall's Village Booksmith, where the Joycean celebratory readings have taken place on Bloomsdays since 2004.
This, the routine: a reader would sit down and declaim (or aim to declaim) Joyce's text, while sitting at a wooden chair at a table on a busy street in front of that comfortable and inviting bookstore ... reading Joyce's words to the air.
A friend or listener might occupy another chair at that small table, or might not. The readers, with a dedication to performance that I understood and hope that they all did, too, kept at their readings whether a listener sat there or not —— perhaps not even aware if ears might be hovering nearby, since the tangling and jumping and riverrunning words these readers needed to translate into lip, tongue and throat motions must have required more of their attentions than they would have exercised on a typical lazy and summery June-weekend afternoon.
Last year, Wisconsin dragged its feet through a drought while vacationers reveled in unbroken vacation-friendly weather; and in Baraboo that Sunday for the background and sometimes foreground of these readings came car-engine commentaries, oblivious passerby idle-but-loud conversations, and even, while I was sitting in a listener's chair, the thrumming-down flatulences of massed motorcycles nearing the nearby intersection, going br-r-r-r-oom instead of Bl-l-l-l-loom. Drowned sounds of Joyce, and the waves of noise that industry has made an unpleasant permanence in our lives ... and passing chit-chat ... and the running-through, too, of the internal monolog even a dedicated listener must listen to, within herself or himself ...
Really a rather nice experience of the Charles Ives sort.
Music. Environmentally enhanced.
Last year I would happily have volunteered for a reader's slot, had we lived nearer by. We live an hour and a half away from Baraboo, by state and county highways, however —— and in Baraboo I was an unknown quantity. Through the course of being there on the square, Sunday after Sunday, however, we gained some sense of that small city and its community —— artistic and antiquish, both —— and so when Annie two weeks ago stood in our booth describing the upcoming Bloomsday plans, I volunteered. The whole event will fall in our "working hours" in Baraboo: for the reading of the whole of Ulysses will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday and end at 3 p.m., the latter hour being the one when the Sunday Market ends. So Martha will oversee our booth for that last hour —— not quite alone, since Sammy will be there —— while I babble to the air.
... and all in one hour. In past years, Annie has overseen a thirty-six-hour marathon of readings. This year, she oversees thirty-six readers who will be reading simultaneously at locations around the downtown square. Annie told me she expects to cut up a copy of the book ... which made me think I may well be starting in the middle of a sentence ... appropriately enough ...
And will all thirty-six begin in the middle of sentences, at once?
Whatever the situation, I will be one of the thirty-six, with my station tentatively being on the square itself, by the cannon beneath the white pines near our usual Sunday Market space ... and come what may, be it rain or tourist apathy or hecklers enlivened into buffoonery by visits to the clown museum, I will read my allotted text and feel during it what I feel now —— honored to have the chance to take a small part.
I have read Ulysses —— albeit only once all the way through —— and had I lived in Baraboo I would have enjoyed undertaking a marathon as listener, following along, book in hand, through every hour of that reading that I could attend. What an experience that would be! Does anyone do this, at any of the Bloomsday events? In the hour or so that I listened, last year, I sat there wishing I knew what page to find, in the book there at the table, in order to follow along.
Being the reader at such an event offers a more intense experience than being the listener, however: for the reader performs and listens at the same time.
A symbolic hour of simultaneity! —- for an Irish Symbolist who still seems an enduring presence.
I will be there; and I feel sure that many others, whether they know it or not, will be there, this year or next, partaking in an ongoing festival of words that have the capacity to grow into life, even when spoken only to air.