“That is where our hearts break,”
She points hard and up up high,
to the hazy risen sun, the horizon, up, away.
Where stars fade.
– Her hand picks, twists, clutches, pinches, punches, holds.
Bitterly too. Sweetly too
Knits together, too, points hard, yes, and too, does softly caress –
“Between the earth that is waking and the sleepless sky,” she says.
She turns toward me.
Turns away. Presses her step.
– She looks at the uneven ground beneath our feet,
glances at our muddy boots. Disappointed.
She so fears to stumble – I start to cry.
I do not want her to see, say,
Don’t speak now. Look.
It is too beautiful for tears. She says,
“Our hearts must break,” she says,
“Broke by bones, sticks and stones,”
– I touch the tip of her rough elbow,
which is red, cold and dry, say,
Look. She does not look. Says,
– “Blown away lost under the wide blue sky.
Broken in milky fleeces, like dandelion seeds.”
Hot light and sweat in my eyes, weightless, swept along,
I step around, up in front of her.
Block her path. She backs up.
Chin up. Nose in the air. Palms turned out. Skin and breath.
Breath and skin. A rack of panting bones.
I reach and run my ragged fingernail along the light blue veins
running the length of the milky skin of her inner arm,
Which I love, say,
Listen. Sweetly. She does not listen.
And O then we, as she stands there daring,
sweetly we reach to touch the hump of her inside wrist,
there, where her blood pools and swirls over fine fish-like bones,
there, where blood hotly pours in and out from the woman’s hand,
from her stubby fingertips, to and from her hard beating heart,
thrilling under her sweet breath of honey & wormwood.
– “Who puts the sadness in us?” she says,
“I don’t know – Who puts the joy?”
- Tracy Danison
Life is a labyrinth, and so is death,
A labyrinth without end, said the Master of Ho.
The slave remains in chains.
Prometheus is born again to suffer again.
One prison opens onto another,
Corridor onto corridor.
The river feeds its tributaries.
The river and its tributaries are a labyrinth,
And the man who believes he can shuffle off his coil
And live to tell the tale
Is the card shark who shuffles the deck
The centuries also live underground, said the Master of Ho.
-- Henri Michaux; trans. David Lehman.
Today (May 24) is Henri Michaux's birthday.
To the Editor,
I am writing in response to today’s front-page article asking when the time is right for an old geezer past his prime to get off the stage. The piece begins with a scathing account of a recent concert by Bob Dylan. You illustrated it with a cartoon of Dylan with a prune juice bottle at his elbow.
My first reaction was yeah. I was at that concert. I’ll never pay to hear him anymore. And it was expensive. The cost to pleasure ratio was way out of whack. However, then I considered the unexamined premise behind the piece, which is that age brings infirmity and loss of prowess without a compensatory gift, in this case the beautiful nobility of Mr. Dylan’s professional presence. I’d rather have a croaking Bob Dylan than 90% of what’s out there.
And how typically inconsistent for the Wall Street Journal to say in one breath that Dylan at 69 is too old to perform and in the next breath that we should extend the retirement age to 69.
As a free-market capitalist I feel that Dylan should retire when the market says he should.
(signed) R. Zimmerman
Right now I am sitting in my spacious third floor office with hardwood floors in a one hundred and twenty year old building that used to be a ladies dormitory at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. My office is about the size of my first studio apartment in New York City and it feels as if I’m sitting in prime real estate in an adjacent world and era. Classes ended about two weeks ago and I’m taking advantage of my quiet old world office. Although it feels a little haunted at sundown I stay put—as if I’m prepared to see a ghost—because part of my creative process involves escaping and I both enjoy and want to escape from this space.
I was hired as a visiting assistant professor two years ago. After my first semester, I was missing something. Although my students and classes were absolutely wonderful I was hungry for more, so I started to volunteer by bringing poetry workshops into the Cumberland County Prison. I work with the female population in the prison and together we escape worlds that entrap us.
In part, I was motivated to reach out to women impacted by drug addiction and alcoholism, people who are working to survive a personal battle, a battle that has gotten them into trouble. I needed to talk to people that I could relate to on a different level than those who walk the halls of a university. Although, I must say that survival in prison is not always that much different than survival in higher education.
I have a personal history with alcoholism and drug addiction and I’ve learned that I need to give it away in order to keep it. In other words, service work is like personal maintenance for my sanity and humility. It is also important to remember where I came from and not to regret the past or shut the door on it.
When I’m in prison teaching a poetry workshop, typically on a Friday afternoon, I visit pain, despair, suffering, desperation, a little hope and a lot of cold cement and cinderblocks. I visit an environment that is all too familiar. Although I didn’t go to jail I did go through many institutions where I sat behind plexiglass walls and walked on shiny grey cement that smelled like eggs and bleach; this Friday-afternoon-classroom has the same shiny cement floors and plexiglass wall that I remember from my own experience and I try to encourage the women to avoid facing the transparent wall because they get distracted by the guards passing by or visitors sitting down to talk on the phone through another glass wall.
There is a large table in the middle of this cold cement room and sometimes as many as twenty-five women sit around the table with me. We sit for about an hour, but on days when we are on a roll I will stay for up to three hours. We read a few poems, discuss them, and then we write our own poems. We consider poetry as it connects to life, culture, society, personal experience, and expression. I don’t think the women realize that they are in direct conversation with poets like Ann Sexton, Maya Angelou, Lucille Clifton, Ada Limón, Nin Andrews, Maria Gillan, Rachel McKibben, Jan Beatty, Jim Reese, Ron Padgett, etc. The women read these poets, channel the energy in the poems, and their own voices emerge as they write about their place in the world, their reality in jail, their families, losses, and hopes for the future.
Together we revisit some of the darker moments from our pasts and together we gain trust and courage. I often claim that we are attempting a cleansing process—to capture the darkness in writing, in poems, makes room for more light to enter the crevices where pain tends to burrow and breed. Where there is sorrow we reach for triumph and where there is darkness we reach for light. The dark moments that we write about tend to have less strength when they live in poems and those poems live out in the world away from the self.
I use poems as models and I bring in lots of prompts. The goal is to sit in prison, to center the conversation on poetry, and to engage in the act of writing. After reading a few poems, we sit in silence and the women—no matter how big or small the group is on any given Friday—either write as if it will carve a tunnel to freedom, or they sit studying and thinking about the poems that we read moments earlier. Sometimes we end up talking for an hour before we get to the writing.
For instance, a few weeks ago I brought in a batch of poems for us to read: “The Mother” by Gwendolyn Brooks, “I Go Back to May 1937” and “Ode to the Condom” by Sharon Olds, and “Before” by Ada Limón. After we took turns reading these poems aloud the one that echoed our conversation for the next hour was “The Mother”—it was the content that the women related to. We talked about abortion and many of the women shared their experiences. Almost all the women in the room had either young or grown children and one woman was seven months pregnant. We also talked about relationships and took turns defining what toxic and healthy relationships look like. We talked about personifying certain problems or personal defects of character. The conversation was long and the room was not as cold as it was when we started over an hour earlier.
Many of the women wrote poems in the form of a letter. Some addressed their living children, some their aborted children, and others wrote about life and motherhood. One of the poems from this workshop begins, “Oh, sweet innocent baby growing inside of me / I am so proud to call myself your mamma.”
All the women shared their poems with the group that day. Sometimes a few people choose to save their poem for the next class or they don’t read aloud to the group at all. No matter what they decide is okay, the letting go already happened in the writing. I encourage no disclaimers because some of the time we spend together is about building self-esteem and courage; it is about acceptance and healing. Not self-shaming or negative self-commentary. I say all this and then when I go to read my poem, which I always do no matter what I write, I have to stop myself from saying things like, “this one is a dud, but I’ll read it anyway,” or “I fell short today ladies.” In prison, I am more positive, at least out loud, and I practice what I preach. And I mean practice.
Last summer one of the workshops focused on odes and I was grateful to leave prison that day. Well, I must say, that I am grateful to leave after every workshop. I ended up writing “Ode to Locker #17 in the Cumberland County Prison” (follow the link to read this poem). In fact, I wrote a ton of poems with the women these past two years.
I think my next book will be devoted to the work that is coming out of the prison. Speaking of “out of prison” I started taking many of the women’s poems home with me after our classes. I make copies of their work and then bring it back to them. I love having their work on my desk at home. I carry a piece of them, or maybe I carry the voice of hope and desperation out into the free world for a little while before returning it back to jail. In a way, I help them explore new territory as if this is a way to visualize change even though it is probably only me doing the visualizing in this case.
Lastly for now, I started bringing my students from the university into the prison—one student at a time. The student who comes with me sometimes co-teaches or sometimes she jumps right in and joins the class. It is an excellent experiential learning experience. One of my students wrote a wonderful article for the school paper after her visit. You can read her article here: “Poetry Heals Hearts in Prison.”
Nicole Santalucia is the author of Because I Did Not Die (Bordighera Press, 2015). She is a recipient of the Ruby Irene Poetry Chapbook Prize from Arcadia Magazine for Driving Yourself to Jail in July and the 2015 Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize from The Tishman Review. She received her M.F.A. from The New School University and her Ph.D. in English from Binghamton University. Santalucia teaches poetry at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and brings poetry workshops into the Cumberland County Prison.
If I was bored as a child, my mother would always say, Imagine you were in jail. Think of all the things you would want to do but couldn't. Then go do them. But I would keep wondering about what life would be like behind bars.
When I was girl, I remember driving past the jail in downtown Charlottesville. I don’t know if my memory is accurate or if I only imagined I could see men moving behind the bars—just the tops of their heads.
Who’s in there? I asked my father, imagining men on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Just some fools down on their luck, he said.
Do you know any of them? I asked. He just laughed.
It was a reasonable question. Over the years, a few criminals worked on our farm. (My husband suggests I not elaborate for fear of former farmhands who might read my poetry.) By criminals I don’t mean the petty thieves like Charles who stole farm tools, or compulsive liars like Toby who spent most of his working hours drinking and catching snapping turtles from our mud pond, or unpredictable men like Fred who let the heifers loose on the freeway one night. No, I mean the pedophile, the drug dealer, (okay he was just a marijuana-dealer), and the man who stole a neighboring farmer’s tractor and killed his wife. (But it was a crime of passion, my parents explained, as the murderer continued to work for them for another forty years.)
As far as I know, none of these men went to prison. Or if they did, it wasn’t for long.
My parents’ friend, Betty Smith, told me once that people who lived through the depression, as she and my folks did, had grown accustomed to hiring some of the strange men who wandered up the dirt roads, seeking employment.
She was visiting on the day Ernest Holmes arrived at our farm in a Yellow Cab, looking for work. Ernest claimed to be, among other things, a traveling barber. Anyone need a haircut? he asked, lifting his black bag from the cab. Intrigued, my mother said, Why yes. She selected me to be his guinea pig.
Together we watched as Ernest set up shop, seating me in a folding chair, wrapping a dish towel around my neck, and placing a blue plastic a bowl on my head before cutting circles around and around the bowl, my hair getting shorter and shorter until it was shaped like a shaggy Yarmulke. My mother immediately hired him to be a cook.
Cutting hair and cooking weren’t Ernest’s only skills. He also taught me to drive. And drove me and my sister all over town—to various lessons and school events. With six children in a family, someone always needed to go somewhere.
After several years of working for us, Ernest was pulled over by the cops. It turned out he didn’t have a license.
This experience might have upset other parents. Mine just laughed.
The two things my mother and father shared were a subversive view of the world and a dark wit.
While they wanted their children to be high achievers and were proud of their valedictorian and their goody-two shoes daughters, they were most impressed by their rebellious daughter. They never stopped bragging about my sister who, given a set of true-false questions, got them 100% wrong.
Once or twice, when I was sent home with a note from the teacher for bad behavior, I watched as they first tried to suppress a grin and then broke out in giggles.
They both loved stories of tricksters, escape artists, and clowns: the Pucks, the Brer Rabbits, the Houdinis.
Whether it was Aesop’s fable about the fox that tricked the crow, or the Bible story of King Solomon and the two women, or Odysseus with the Trojan horse, I can still hear my mother practically crowing, You see? He outwitted them.
When she was an old woman, I read my mother some of the Nasreddin stories. She laughed and laughed. How silly, she would say. Read me another one.
She particularly liked the story of Nasreddin called Mortal’s Way—a tale about four boys who are arguing over a bag of walnuts. The boys ask Nasreddin to divide the nuts for them. So Nasreddin says, Would you like me to divide these nuts as God divides things? Or in the way man divides things? The boys choose God’s way. (What could be better than that?) So Nasreddin gives most of the walnuts to one boy, a few to another, and one or two to the last two boys.
My mother was delighted. That’s exactly right, she said. God might be a lot of things, but fair is not one of them.
She immediately asked me to read the story to her evangelical friend.
So what is fair?
I studied a lot of religion and philosophy, but I avoided the topic of ethics.
But a few years ago, I almost served on a jury. I took the judge at his word when he informed potential jurors that this was our special day. Because we all now had a rare chance to learn about the great American judicial system. He encouraged each of us to ask as many questions as we wanted—something which he later regretted. I asked so many questions, I was dismissed.
Partly because of my courtroom experience, and maybe partly because of my childhood questions about our downtown jail, I was curious about teaching a class to prisoners. So when Philip Brady invited me to guest-teach my latest book, Why God Is a Woman, for his prison class, I was thrilled.
The class, done by video, involved two prisons, a men’s prison and a women’s prison.
But the prison class was nothing like I had expected. Accustomed to students who are shy, unprepared, and bored, I was surprised to find that the inmates had not only read my book, but they were eager to engage and challenge me.
What surprised me more was how socially conservative these particular men and women seemed, how middle-of-the-road their political views.
We discussed gender stereotypes, and both the men and the women said they couldn’t imagine breaking out of their traditional roles. A man explained how humiliating it would be for him to raise the children or become a care-taker. No one respects a man-mama, he said. A woman said that while she wished she could get paid the same as men, and she often felt taken advantage of by men, she couldn’t imagine being a feminist. Another woman said that she had no role model for a powerful woman, at least not one that she would want to follow.
What do you think a feminist is? I asked.
A ball-buster, one woman said. A man-hater, another joined in. A bra-burner. Others nodded in assent. In fact bra-burning seemed to be something they were all familiar with. An African American man said that he really didn’t blame those women for wanting to burn bras, but then added, Don’t blame the men for that.
I closed the class by reading an essay about my experience in court. Afterwards everyone went quiet. One man raised his hand.
Mrs. Andrews, he said. You don’t mind being different. I like it. But next time you get called for jury duty, I want you to dress up real nice. In a little suit. With your hair done up in a bun. Button your lips. And don’t say nothing ‘til you’re on that jury. You understand?
Since teaching that class, I have wondered about other poets’ experiences with teaching in prisons.
I began talking with my dear friend, Nicole Santalucia, who regularly teaches a prison class. She will be reporting on her experience tomorrow.
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books including The Book of Orgasms, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort was published by CavanKerry Press in 2010. Her most recent book, Why God Is a Woman, was published by BOA Editions. You can follow Nin's blog and her Twitter.
On this day in 1989, Sir Laurence Olivier breathed his last. The great actor was eighty-two when he shuffled off this mortal coil. He was a master of accents and disguises. As a young man he played the romantic ("Wuthering Heights,""Hamlet," "Henry V," "Rebecca," Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice"). In middle age he brought Othello to life, played opposite Marilyn Monroe in one of moviedom's weirdest pairings, was the Roman boss in "Spartacus," embodied "the entertainer,' and had enough left in the tank to play the good guy Nazi hunter opposite Gregory Peck in "The Boys from Brazil," on the one hand, and the odious Nazi dentist in "Marathon Man," which is the best movie about dentistry ever made, and begins with a brilliant car chase (or race) pitting a Holocaust survivor versus an unrepentant Nazi, although in some ways the movie is unsatisfactory despite the excellence of the acting (Roy Scheider as a spook in Paris, Dustin Hoffman as Roy's younger brother running on the track around the reservoir in Central Park) for reasons worth consideration (someday). [Ed: That was quite a mouthful, DL, Split in two?] Olivier and Gielgud play two important Dads in "Brideshead Revisited," which was the hottest thing in highbrow TV in 1982 and '83.
Laurence Olivier was born in Dorking on May 22, 1907, sneaking into Gemini but with as much Taurus trailing him as the clouds that trail the blessed babe in Wordsworth's "Immortality Ode." Olivier was grandiloquent. The risk of overstatement was always at hand. He had his Academy Award speech memorized and delivered it like a Roman emperor. Luckily it was not he but others who wrote the scripts of his movies. His best writers were Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, and Shaw. At the moment of his birth, Jupiter was approximately 180 seconds away from an exact conjunction with Neptune. The association with romantic characters of passion, melancholy, and excellent elocution -- Hamlet, Henry V, Heathcliff, the master of Manderley, and Mr Darcy -- is implicit.
The dialogue among the earth (Taurus, Capricorn) and air signs (Gemini) accounts not only for the temperament but also for the ability to make the practical adjustments needed as middle age succeeds youth and makes way in turn for elder statesman status. Olivier shone in all three periods of productive adulthood. There is more yin than yang in his chart and his bisexuality was well-known but no big deal. He was crazy about Danny Kaye, and look at the lascivious looks he, the imperial Roman, gives to slave Tony Curtis in "Spartacus."
The fact that his Venus is in Aries while Vivien Leigh's Venus is in Libra may help to explain the legendary heat and intensity of their initial attraction in 1937. Two years later, when she played Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind" while he lurked in the moors in "Wuthering Heights," they were just about the most glamorous couple in Hollywood (and the competition included Clark Gable and Carole Lombard). She was magnificent but her nervous disposition exacerbated by two miscarriages (1945, 1955), a diagnosis of tuberculosis in her left lung (1944) and the natural decay of the aging process led her to extremes of depression. The marriage lasted twenty years. He was a gentleman but saw her loss of physical beauty as an accusation made by nature or the fates, and the ungallant remarks he made after her death testified to their brutal lovers' spats (Holly Greil, "The Times") and his arrogant self-satisfaction (according to Max McGlow, "The Guardian"). The aging of Scarlett O'Hara's gorgeous face made Leigh's role in "Ship of Fools," where she plays a "mature" woman who travels with a paid companion, so poignant.
After the divorce Olivier married actress Joan Plowright and spent his late eighteen years with this sensible and intelligent woman. No one remembers the name of his first wife, however. If you know to whom he was married (for ten full years) prior to Viv, you could win big. Hint: her name was Jill Esmond. But who was she?
Larry became Sir Laurence in 1948. Not until many years later did people learn that Olivier in Hollywood in the early 1940s was a foreign agent operating in behalf of the British government to try to recruit the US into the war. This could have been foreseen if one had factored in that Gemini was his rising sign -- and his moon was in Virgo! (Source: David Niven.)
Sir Laurence (later Lord Olivier) and Marlon Brando were the exact same height (5'10) but otherwise had little in common. (The same goes for Mick Jagger and Victor Hugo.) Other Geminis born on May 22 include Richard Wagner and Arthur Conan Doyle, which pretty much explains the dynamic of eccentric British empiricism and high German myth-making that encircles the Brunhilde of virginity with the three rings of masterly artistic flame over which the hero must leap in the dramatic depiction of Sir LO's life.
Sir Larry won the best actor Oscar in 1948 and founded the National Theatre in London in 1962.
Note: Readers of "astrological profiles" know that the use of astrological terms is laid on pretty thick but with tongue in cheek, firmly so, on the nervy assumption that the horoscope -- like the "haruspicate or scry," "sortilege, or tea leaves," playing cards, pentagrams, handwriting analysis, palm-reading, and the "preconscious terrors" of the dreaming mind in T. S. Eliot's "The Dry Salvages" -- may be a bust at prediction bur may turn out to be not only "usual pastimes and drugs" but the means of poetic exploration.
Have we taught a generation of college graduates to vilify capitalism without doing it the honor of knowing how it works? Spot checks at New York’s Penn Station reveal that a vast majority of college-educated commuters do not have a clue about the relation of the prime rate to the federal funds rate, for example, or the advantage of capital gains over wages, or the difference between a progressive income tax and a sales tax, or the reason bond prices go up when interests rates go down, or the best age at which to start taking Social Security benefits. In league with a team of professors from Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, we devised this quiz to see who knows what and, as always with multiple-choice tests, to entertain with the wrong answers, proving, in this case, that the gloomy science can generate its share of yucks.. – DL
1) The Dow-Jones Industrial Average was created by
a) Charles H. Dow, either alone or with Edward Jones, two cofounders of the company that bears their names
b) Charles W. Dow in partnership with Samuel J. Jones, the Princeton-educated sheriff of Douglas County in the Kansas Territory portrayed by James Stewart in Anthony Mann's second feature film
c) Standard & Poor’s
d) Dow's stepdaughters Jane and Martha Bancroft, on instructions from Clarence Barron prior to his acquisition of the company in 1902
e) Meyer Wolfsheim
2) According to the Dow Theory, there are three phases to a primary bull market and three to a primary bear market. The theory was developed by which of the following, for which purpose:
a) Charles W. Dow and Alexander Hamilton, to develop a metric to gauge the wealth factor associated with the Louisiana Purchase
b) Charles H. Dow -- and refined and sustained after his death in 1903 by his understudy William Hamilton -- for the purpose of predicting stock fluctuations
c) Elmer Bernstein, Carolyn Leigh, and Max Shulman, the Tony Award-winning producers of the musical comedy How Now, Dow Jones? (1967), mainly for laughs and the sheer pleasure of it but also to entertain audiences, employ actors and musicians, and make a profit at the box office, all by poking fun at the academic study of risk, economics, and finance
d) John Maynard Keynes in a 1938 letter to President Roosevelt arguing that “the present recession is partly due to an ‘error of optimism’ which led to an overestimation of future demand” and that continuation of “public works and other investments aided by Government funds or guarantees” was essential going forward.
e) Herbert Henry Dow, a grandson of the founder of Dow Chemical, in 1969, as a way to divert public attention from protests against the use of napalm, which the company manufactured, during the war in Vietnam.
a) An attempt by rogue elements in the legal profession to monetize the value of a married couple’s community property
b) The amount on the paycheck that is left after all taxes, charges, and fees have been deducted
c) A way for individual investors to hold a basket of stocks and other securities
d) A recurring loophole that allows high-ranking corporate executives to rent hotel rooms at clients’ expense, entertain guests there, and not have to report the sum to the IRS
e) Often cited as proof that “buy low, sell dear” remains the first rule of investing ahead of “sell in May and go away” and “the market has to climb a wall of worry”
4) Standard & Poor’s is a financial firm that
a) traces its history to the 1941 merger of Poor's Publishing and Standard Statistics
b) has Poor in its name as a warning to over-zealous investors
c) is a credit rating agency that roiled markets in 2012 by lowering the credit rating of the US government
d) publishes an index of the stock market performance of the 500 largest corporations in the United States
e) all of the above except b
a) The firm arranged the sale of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees
b) The firm was, in the person of Meyer Wolfsheim, then executive vice president, behind the fixing of the 1919 World Series
c) The firm quintupled its assets by selling short the 30 Dow Jones Industrials in August 1929
d) The firm traces its origins to a dry goods store in Montgomery, Alabama, founded by German-Jewish immigrant Henry Lehman shortly after he came to the US from Bavaria in 1844.
e) The firm broke with Wall Street tradition when Peter Lehman, a war hero who had become the face of the firm, endorsed the economics of deficit spending as articulated by John Kenneth Galbraith.
6) When the Wall Street Journal published its first issue on July 8, 1889, it was priced at “two cents” and led off with a story about American “operators identified with the bear party [who] sent early orders to London” in preparation for the opening of the bear market there. Which of these statements is true?
a) From the fact that it was priced at two cents, we get the expression “I’ll put my two cents in.”
b) The “bear market” was a market in bearskins
c) The “bear market” in London introduced the idea of selling stocks short often on the basis of what we today would call “insider trading”
d) The Bull-Moose Party in the United States was formed, in part, because of the pressure of the “bulls,” or long-term investors, to counter the negativity of the bear marketers, on whom the New York Times blamed the panic and sell-off of 1893
e) In July 1889, the President of the United States was Benjamin Harrison and the vice president was Levi P. Morton, a Vermont-born banker and loyal supporter of Ulysses S. Grant, whose gracious good manners made him a natural to serve as chairman of the Republican National Committee.
a) Frederick Usher (heir to the Rodney Usher real estate fortune)
b) Meyer Wolfsheim (who bore a remarkable resemblance to Bernie Sanders)
c) Mikhail Gorbachev
d) Muriel Siebert
e) None of the above
f) It's a trick question, because the "Big Board" had ceased to be the New York Stock Exchange's official nickname
8) What security analysts call a price-earnings ratio (“p/e”) is
a) the stock’s price divided by its underlying book value
b) the stock’s price divided by its annual dividend per share
c) the stock’s price divided by its net earnings per share
d) the compensation of the firm’s CEO divided by the number of employees in the company
e) the company’s revenues less expenses and taxes multiplied by pi divided by the square root of a number designated quarterly by the Federal Reserve Board
9) Experts tout the benefits of “dollar-cost averaging,” which basically means that
a) the dollar is the safest bet in foreign exchange markets
b) it is wise to invest a little at regular intervals
c) ever since President Nixon took the United States off the gold standard in 1971, the greenback derives its value from the average daily cost of production of bills and coins at the Department of the Mint (including operating expenses and liabilities)
d) the average of your expenses per month, which, when multiplied by twelve, may be used to predict your ability to take on significant new debt, such as the purchase of a house or the cost of four years at an elite college
e) reversion to the mean
10) Which two of the following are not associated with the Great Depression?
a) a national unemployment rate of 24.9 % in 1933 (whereas, after the financial markets collapses in 2008, the rate peaked at 10% in October 2009)
b) a bank holiday declared by President Roosevelt in 1933 to deter a run on the banks
c) the New Deal
d) the Iron Curtain
e) the Great Society
a) The Godfather (Michael to Kay: "the Corleone family will be completely legitimate in five years")
b) Citizen Kane ("I think it would be fun to run a newspaper")
c) The Sting ("Win!? I said PLACE")
d) Chinatown ("Either you bring the water to L. A. or you bring L. A. to the water")
e) Wall Street ("Greed, for lack of a better word,is good")
f) Double Indemnity ("We're both rotten." "Only you're a little more rotten")
Collaboration continues. Picture and 6 Stanzas.
In other news, Cry if you want to, Hecht said to herself, who wouldn't listen, and maybe you.
The two-tone girl, mouth wide open, head-back,
squinting blind at the rock-stars on the stage. Screaming.
Louder than the music; so loud out here
that in her head it must have been astounding.
Above her, on the stage, the musicians keep playing.
They sway their elegant teen-aged hips to music even they
can only feel. Outside, geese fly overhead, honking.
Dogs listen with their bodies and then bark.
Wings bat at the ancient night air so that it rushes,
like love out of breath, beneath the flock.
A man says listen and stretches his neck to do it.
A woman says Iisten and covers her eyes with her hands.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on May 20, 2016 at 08:10 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (0)
We welcome the publication of In the Empire of the Air: The Poems of Donald Britton, a posthumous collection by a wonderful poet who died in 1994, entirely too young. The publisher is Nightboat Books, and the work of editing it was shared by Philip Clark and the late Reginald Shepherd. I knew Donald well; he is represented in an anthology I edited, Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms, for which he wrote a statement about the occasion and objectives of one of his poems. It may be the only critical statement that he ever published. Three of Donald's poems appeared in a low-circulation magazine I edited, Poetry in Motion, in the late 1970s. There will be a release party for the book at Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York City on Friday, May 20, at 6 PM.
In he picture above, Donald is the fourth poet from the left. To his right is Tim Dlugos, with Dennis Cooper standing on the other side of Tim. Amy Gerstler is second from the right. Also in the picture are Michael Silverblatt, Bob Flanagan, and Ed Smith. The venue is the Ear Inn and I'd have to guess the date as early 1980s.
Here is the first paragraph of Douglas Crase's afterword to the new collection.
<< The appearance in print of the selected poems of Donald Britton is an affront to cynicism and a triumph over fate. When Donald died, in 1994, it was sadly reasonable to assume that the influence of his poetry would be confined to the few who had preserved a copy of his single book, the slender, deceptively titled Italy, published thirteen years earlier. As the few became fewer it seemed all but certain the audience for his poems would disappear. Donald never taught, so there were no students to mature into positions of critical authority. There was no keeper of the flame to incite publication, no posthumous foundation to subsidize it, not even a martyrology in place to demand it out of sentiment. The survival of his work would have to come about, instead, as a pure instance of “go little booke”—an instance that must now warm the heart of anyone who has ever believed in poetry. It was the poems in Italy themselves, free of professional standing or obligation, that inspired the successive affections of two remarkable editors and the confident publisher of the present selection. Donald, who despite his brilliance was a modest and self-effacing person, would be surprised.
Crase's afterword concludes with this thought about the "longevity" of poetry as opposed to a "career" in the field.
<<< Donald’s posthumous success in inspiring the publication of his selected poems, coupled with the undeniable failure in worldly terms of his career, is occasion to wonder if the career is ever the same as poetry itself. From time to time a critic will observe that Hart Crane’s suicide, for example, or Joe Brainard’s decision to stop making art, may be regarded as proof the artist realized what his admirers don’t, that the work was a failure and the career could not be sustained. The critic doesn’t quite dare to draw the same conclusion from the abjuration of Rimbaud or the suicide of Sylvia Plath, which reveals of course that the logic in the first case was as opportunistic as it is preposterous. Someday a critic will do us the service of disentangling poetry from the standard map of a professional career. The map is a convenience to committees but meaningless to the future reader—the twelve-year-old boy or girl in San Angelo—the very reader poets must hope to have. What is useful to that boy or girl is sometimes no more than a phrase, perhaps a book or poem, amounting to a style of mind in which to escape or dwell. I recognized such a style of mind in Donald Britton and it made us friends. The first time I heard him read his work in public was at the Ear Inn in New York, the afternoon of March 7, 1981. Blond as ever, he was in that environment an apparition of nervous grace. I can’t say he connected with the audience; he certainly didn’t flatter it. He conveyed, perhaps too clearly for the occasion, his sense of an audience beyond the room. One got the feeling he expected to reach across time and elicit a response composed of the same respect for intellect and desire that we had there, in the Ear Inn, that Saturday afternoon. Donald's poems were not lessons or anecdotes. They are invitations to the unending contemplation of ourselves, and things beyond us, that makes the human species a window on creation.
Here is a poem by Donald Britton from the new volume:
Notes on the Articulation of Time
It becomes a critical account
of all that’s spoken, done:
the drawing in of breaths, even,
these nights whose atmosphere
reminds us of mountains,
white volumes of air. We need
these narratives, we want them:
the city lies before us
and some one person in the sleeve
of a streetlamp awaits
our enraptured attention
as we await the concept of the city
which tells us how we move
in the particolored geographies
about us. We can’t be certain
we are moving toward this person
nor do we require certitude.
It is enough to acknowledge
the movement itself, shavings
of light inscribing a circle.
Our childlike sense of the other
bears these forces toward
completion and renewal,
a lexis of infatuated sounds.
-- Donald Britton
At end, I lied
I am abend when we’re off drunk again
Or swimming in sincere blue oceans—gists, all of them foreign.
When in the door steps
Three of my kin, weird-eyed with essence. What’s that?
I see a serenade, trying again. Kind heart.
This story has been ruined, I run, turn, hole under a bush
Scan the ground for a moving you.
Frailings, they walk, stay uber quiet and austere at that
I, there, much older, heightened in wait
Give it a dame smiling handy and
Shrug! Do leave, I run all them off.
They say it: hang her!
Then when it’s darker, while out, I see him such
Her shining ways in the from days, her stitched up hand
Can see all
Last era says and I am more for a cure by
death, see, in contrast to those who tremble
..Or a comedy set.
Be it valet or beyond the way, they don’t say no.
Sweet laments from the infancy.
Death in reposado or cold sambuca
Guardians of my grave!
Nobody really knows my city like you
She gives me one moment of time, electric.
But when I take your hand down the aisle
Battering piano glee surrounding us
The hour is perfect
The mass is one of beauty, harmony, peonies land in me
And on your white paisley dress, autumn at the core.
-- Kirsten Chen
Bob Dylan’s 75th birthday on May 24th almost coincides with the 50th anniversary of D.A. Pennebaker’s remarkable film Dont Look Back. To celebrate all this, the Morrison Hotel Gallery (at 116 Prince Street, 2nd Floor, New York), in partnership with Arthouse 18, will offer a Dylan exhibit from the film from May 18th to June 14th. The exhibit will also be at the Gallery inside the Sunset Marquis Hotel in West Hollywood from June 11th through June 26th. All the images displayed in these exhibits are available for purchase.
I still vividly recall seeing the film in September 1967 when it arrived in New York. I didn’t realize it would provide a record of Dylan’s final solo acoustic tour. It was filmed in England from the end of April to May 10, 1965. I was impressed watching Allen Ginsberg in the background of the famous opening with Dylan tossing aside large cards with parts of the lyrics to the accompanying sounds of Subterranean Homesick Blues. The great irony is that the whole song is performed, unlike the relatively brief snippets of songs in the film itself. In that sense it’s a deliberately anti-documentary. It’s in black and white. It’s jumpy. The refusal to use an apostrophe in the film’s first word might be a sly wink at Dylan’s attitude toward grammatical rules or it might be a Joycean attempt to play with language or it might be a mistake. At any rate, Dylan didn’t need to follow Satchel Paige’s dictum. No one was ever going to gain on Bob Dylan.
The film’s virtue was to capture a crucial moment, a pivotal moment, in Dylan’s life. He was under enormous pressure. On July 25th he would be at Newport and ignite a storm because the ghost of electricity would howl in the bones of his guitar. He would soon be marrying Sara, but Joan Baez took herself along on the trip, and he had to find a way to come to distances with her. Everybody wanted a piece of Bob Dylan.
Every time I saw the film, I was attracted and repelled by an overwrought, spoiled, or petty Dylan struggling to balance his responsibilities and his audience and his art. Some (but not all) of the outtakes of the film were released as Bob Dylan 65 Revisited. In that film, we see another side of Bob Dylan, one in which, for example, he talks kindly to British children and teenagers. It was almost like this sweet side was expunged from the original to create a particular image.
I once asked Pennebaker what it was like to work with Dylan, and the director offered an interesting response. “In everybody’s life he was like a shadow. He just sort of went through their lives and out the front door…He just was hardly there.” It’s a telling observation. Dylan’s elusive lyrics emerge from an elusive person, as though he needs to keep the heart of his being completely private. That unsettled self can shock us or lead us to consider the stability that we think we have.
There are little gems in the film, such as seeing Dylan being able to concentrate in the surrounding chaotic circus of his entourage. There’s a fascinating scene in which Dylan, Baez, and Bobby Neuwirth are singing Leon Payne’s remarkable song Lost Highway, a song Hank Williams made famous. Neuwirth has to prompt Dylan about the first verse, which begins with “I’m a rolling stone.” Dylan wrote Like a Rolling Stone at the Roger Smith Hotel in Washington and released the song a few months later on July 20, 1965.
When Dylan fans look back at this film, they will find a lot to see.
Happy 75th to the man we can see but never know.
The Perfect Guy
He picks me up at eight in his mother’s BMW.
He rolls up the sleeves of his maroon wool sweater
and orders an Old Fashioned. He's been drilling oil
in Saudi Arabia and he gets lonely there.
He reads for pleasure and misses the way company
makes him feel. He was a Civil Engineer at Vanderbilt
and he says I remind him of a Southern girl.
I am waiting patiently for him to kiss me.
I am into another guy who is a little bit colorblind.
He wants to wear more green because he has gray-green eyes,
but he can’t find the shirts in the store.
He holds my hand in the black light of dirty college bars.
He fucks me then assures me he's not looking for a girlfriend.
He pushes my hair back and tells me I look hotter au naturale.
-- Lily Bowen
Above is a recent self-portrait after a day of writing -- or of writing frustration.
So I want to ask . . .
Do you, too, hesitate before you begin a writing project?
Sometimes I have an idea, but I have to wait a week or two before I can start. I scribble words on paper, alongside my grocery lists and random thoughts while I wonder, How will I ever begin?
It is during this time that I think of a story about God and Adam that my mother used to tell. The story went something like this:
After God made the body of man out of wet clay, He laid him in the sun to dry, but then He reconsidered his work. Not bad, He thought. But he sure could use a soul.
The soul, hearing God’s words and seeing the dumpy little man, said to herself, No way I’m going into that ugly thing. She flew off and hid.
(The soul, by the way, is always feminine. And always wise.)
So God had to trick the soul. He sent His angels into the clay man to play divine music of exactly the kind that the soul loved. The soul, hearing the heavenly notes coming from the clay man, could not resist. She slipped inside him but could not get out again. Not as long as the man lived.
The soul’s job was to make the man’s life worthy of the songs of angels.
Maybe the metaphor doesn’t make sense, but I think of the empty page, the pen, the idea, the scribbled notes as the writer’s clay. To bring the music and the soul into the words, that is the problem.
One summer, when I was a girl, a family came to live in one of the houses on our Virginia farm. I don’t remember why they came, but I remember my mother warning me, They’re Christian Scientists. I was fascinated. They taught me all about their faith. They also read Tarot card readers and palms and saw ghosts. Mrs. Butler, the mother, had a caged bird that she insisted was an angel, even after it died and lay on its feathered back, talons to the sky. She had a white toy poodle who she said could count. She would say, three, and the little dog would yap, yap, yap. She said she could talk to animals, and they would talk to me, too, if I could figure out how to listen.
She had me sit in silence and listen.
I was enthralled. That summer I learned how to read palms and how to tell if I was pregnant.
One day I read the palms of one of the farmhands who quit immediately after my reading, telling my parents I was a witch.
Mrs. Butler said I’d know when I was pregnant when a child’s soul came into my room at night. The soul would check me out before descending into life. Like a fairy or a ghost, a soul leaves tracks.
Like what? I asked, and she said like spilled salt, running faucets, open windows, and dreams—peculiar dreams.
Mrs. Butler claimed that she had dreamt of a brunette girl as small as a pine cone before her daughter, Bonnie, was born. Her other children never made it into human form, she said, meaning what, I wasn’t certain.
Mrs. B. said that the same thing happens at the end of life. Only more so. The soul often hesitates before leaving the body behind. The soul worries that she hasn’t done what she was meant to do.
For many souls, this means death happens not once but several times.
This is another story I think of as metaphor.
How many times I have tried to finish a writing project, only to go back and see I have more work to do.
My memories of Mrs. Bulter remind me of this passage from Yeats’ Celtic Passage:
“By the Hospital Lane goes the Faeries Path. Every evening they travel from the hill to the sea, from the sea to the hill. At the sea end of their path stands a cottage. One night Mrs. Arbunathy, who lived there, left her door open, as she was expecting her son. Her husband was asleep by the fire; a tall man came in and sat down beside him. After he had been sitting for a while, the woman said, ‘In the name of God, who are you?’ He got up and went out, saying, ‘Never leave the door open at this hour, or evil will come to you.’ She woke her husband and told him. ‘One of the Good People has been with us,’[ he said.
My friend, S., who practices Chinese medicine, tells me I should learn not to rush into things. I am in too much of a hurry. The threshold moments, as she calls them, those moments spent before opening or closing a door, are invaluable to life.
She described to me something she calls a lucky death, or a death one enters with awareness. Usually a lucky death takes a week or two to complete.
One lingers in the foyer, waiting before closing the last door. And opening Death’s Door.
According to her, in the last days of life, a person can experience the final light show of the soul, a show that can go on for days. In that time, her life is illuminated before her.
I was reminded of my mother’s death. How two weeks before she died, we all gathered around for what we thought was the last time, only to see her miraculously regain a little strength for one last week.
Her hospice worker, like S., said this happens quite often. There is a last burst of energy before the end.
As a college student in a religious studies class, I remember pondering the Buddhist belief that it is essential to come to terms with death if one is to come to grips with life.
How do I do that? I asked. One student stood up and announced that he knew exactly how. Because he personally knew God and Satan and Jesus and all the heavenly hosts. In fact had had several chats with Jesus just the night before. But it turned out that he was having a psychotic episode. He had to leave college for the rest of the semester.
In my recent book, Why God Is a Woman, I imagined Death’s Door as an actual door that must be hidden. Otherwise curious children will open it on a dare to see what was on the other side.
I was inspired by those etchings by William Blake of Death’s Door, particularly the one of a youth resting above a tomb, and an old man ducking through the half-open door, walking stick in hand.
I imagined that the youth was like a young writer imagining his future. He imagines that he will write the next Great American Novel. Or be the new Whitman.
The old man, bent and lined, is the writer after he has finished his work. Or rather, after his work has finished with him. He has no more visions of grandeur.
Today I feel like that old man as I finish my latest writing project—totally spent, exhausted, and depressed. I am unsure what is behind the next door.
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books including The Book of Orgasms, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort was published by CavanKerry Press in 2010. Her most recent book, Why God Is a Woman, was published by BOA Editions. You can follow Nin's blog . Or her Twitter.
The guardian of the riddle must speak in riddles.
Logical interpretations are the Miracle’s modesty.
So long as you trust in anything else, the miracle shall be withheld.
To acquire a third eye, one cannot blink.
Trust in longing to sing itself.
One definition of success might be: refining our appetites, while deepening our hunger.
Fear of success betrays a greater self-mistrust than fear of failure.
It’s easier to be fearless, when we remember that we are deathless.
For those who discount dreams, consider this: relationships might start, or falter, while we sleep.
As we make peace with ourselves, we become more tolerant of our faults — in others.
All who are tormented by an Ideal must learn to make an ally of failure.
Our salvation lies on the other side of our gravest danger.
Where there are demons, there is something precious worth fighting for.
Poor rational mind, it would sooner accept a believable lie than an incredible truth.
Every Messiah is reluctant - at least, initially.
Intuition asks: what use are two open eyes when you're in the dark?
All languages are rough translations of our native tongue: the Spirit.
Poems are like bodies—a fraction of their power resides in their skin. The rest belongs to the spirit that swims through them
And when we think we are stealing from life's fleeting pleasures, we are stealing from our own Eternal Joy.
The ascetic does not deny pleasure; he shuns the coarse, in favor of the refined and exalted.
(Art by Agostino Arrivabenne)
The ascetic ideal speaks, thus: indulge, and forego Vision.
Spiritual fast food leads to spiritual indigestion.
Said a poem to a poet: Can I trust you? Is your heart pure to carry me, are your hands clean to pass me on?
For the sake of a good line a poet, like a comedian, must be willing to risk everything.
From what you have, create what you have not—the poem teaches the poet.
Numbness is a spiritual malady, true detachment its opposite.
You can't bury pain and not expect it to grow roots.
If we care for ourselves, we may turn our pain into gifts for others.
If we do not care for our souls, we become a burden for others.
(Photograph by Zakaria Wakrim)
If there is someone we might ask forgiveness of, then there is no one we can deny forgiveness to.
We steal from ourselves when we share an idea, or a feeling, before it has ripened.
Why announce to the world your few good deeds, when you hide your many bad ones—even from yourself?
The more closely we listen to ourselves, the more likely we are to overhear others.
To evolve means we’ve been listening.
If we ask life for favors, we must be prepared to return them.
Just as mysteriously as spiritual favors are granted, so they may also be revoked.
Wings are, always, on loan.
If our hearts should harden and turn to ice, we must try, at least, not to blame the weather.
Unlike prose, poetry can keep its secrets.
Poetry is what we say to ourselves, when there's nowhere to hide.
Poetry is the distance between us and our pain.
It’s not easy to speak to ourselves – we must devise ruses, interventions.
What we look for in a good book, painting, music or conversation? A stretch of runway to take off, and return us to ourselves.
We scramble the first half of our lives to assemble a self; and, in the second half, if we are wise, to dismantle it.
Self is a labyrinth, at the heart of which sits Spirit, hoping to be found.
Character is what we are in company—alone we are everyone.
Conversation, there’s nothing like it – except silence.
Poetry: the native tongue of hysterics—adolescents and mystics, alike.
Mysticism is the disappearing act that takes a lifetime.
To become a mystic is not impossible; one must only endure being a beggar, mad and dead.
It is possible to subsist entirely on a diet of honey and wine, or poetry and mysticism.
Know your Muse, and its diet.
When the Muse is silent, confess ignorance.
—Yahia Lababidi is the author, most recently, of Balancing Acts: New & Selected Poems (1993-2015) which debuted in April, 2016 at #1 on Amazon's Hot New Releases, under Middle Eastern poetry. Lababidi's first book, a collection of original aphorisms: Signposts to Elsewhere was selected as a 2008 Book of the Year, by The Independent (UK). For more information, please, visit his Page.
"My freedom thus consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings. I shall go even further: my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my ﬁeld of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint, diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit."
—Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons
It’s early in the evening at the Poetry Brothel, and the Madame, aka the poet Stephanie Berger, is introducing the line-up of poetry whores: writers dressed in corsets and fishnets, or waistcoats that could have belonged to a riverboat gambler. They have alter-egos for the evening, the way strippers do. Tennessee Pink, or Obsidienne.
Tonight, the brothel has popped up in a speakeasy down a set of dirty cellar stairs near Delancey. My friend and I have stumbled into a hidden world of velvet wallpaper and naked lady paintings. Two burlesque dancers wait on a small divan to perform a floorshow. Through a small door in the back of the lounge, there are beds curtained off in velvet where for a fee, a poetry whore will softly read a poem to you. We palm flowered teacups of absinthe and consider our options.
A young poet draped in rhinestones reads a couple of stanzas as a sample of her wares. Berger, red hair in a swirl supporting several peacock feathers, approaches the mic. “This poem,” Berger says in a flat, girlish voice, “is very expensive.”
It’s a statement that upends the common observation that poetry doesn’t pay, or that the general public out for some light entertainment will not pay for it. There seems to be something subversive at work here, something pushing back against how poetry is currently positioned somewhere just on the edge of the national stage. To investigate, I spoke with Berger and her co-founder Nicholas Adamski from the road on their recent West Coast tour. They have the rapport of longtime friends, voices overlapping down the scratchy phone line, occasionally interrupting to finish each other’s sentences. Berger told me: “Poets just give their work away for the most part.” Adamski added: “The Poetry Brothel’s mission was and continues to be training poets that the work that they do is worth money. And convincing the public that poetry is also worth money.”
This notion would not have been as unconventional as recently as the 1950s, when Dylan Thomas was able to replenish his anemic finances by touring America to sold-out shows, which was arranged by an agent–and by all accounts, he gave a great show. Like W.H. Auden or Edna St. Vincent Millay before him, he was as close as you can get to a poet being a popular performer. On either side of the Atlantic, poetry was entertainment then.
But recreating a lost space and time is a lot of what the Poetry Brothel has been up to from the beginning, when Berger gathered a round table of friends in a conference room at The New School to figure out what exactly a poetry brothel was. “She had like a fever dream, sweat lodge vision,” Adamski remembered. Fellow MFA students at the School of Writing, Adamski was working on a thesis on erotic poetry, and Berger was researching New Orleans sex workers. They were not interested in the standard podium and folding chairs of literary readings. The format they came up with–the lineup, the floor shows, the private sessions–was based on the fin-de-siecle brothels Berger was researching, many of which had doubled as gathering places for artists, writers and musicians operating well outside of polite society. The result is a very different way to hear poetry. “I wanted to see a reading that was as beautiful and intimate as poetry is,” Berger said. “If you’re not dating or related to a poet, the chances of hearing a poem one on one are almost zero,” Adamski went on. “The chances of having someone whisper a poem to you in a bed are definitely zero. We both agreed that that was the poetry brothel experience.”
Eight years later, the poetry brothel experience has proven to be attractive. “From the get go,” Berger said, “We had this idea that it wouldn’t be a thing that was just appealing in New York City.” It now has branches all over the world–from Barcelona to Bogota, Paris to New Orleans–started by like-minded friends and admirers of the format who produce the show independently, with Berger and Adamski sporadically dropping in to perform and share ideas. “We realized the Poetry Brothel works anywhere that artists live,” Adamski said. “We really wanted to bring the Poetry Brothel to every city in the world.”
Usually these far-flung poetry madams and pimps are poets themselves, but the audiences are not. “It took us a while to figure out that our audience is largely people who’ve never had an experience with poetry,” Adamski said. “or had an experience with poetry when they were young but let it go.” What’s more, these audiences are almost randomly diverse. There’s a core group you might expect of younger creative professionals, but they get all kinds. “We’ll have like a 21 year old kid who cannot even believe this exists, and then literally like a couple who are in their 60s who come together on a date who can’t believe this exists,” Adamski elaborated. “It’s super exciting. We can’t believe it exists either, but it does.” Part of what’s turned out to be great about positioning poetry as popular entertainment is that it has been popular, able to span high and low culture to speak to just about everyone.
The momentum is at a point now that Berger and Adamski have been able to take the Poetry Brothel on tour themselves–like a turn-of-the-century roadshow, visiting establishments in distant outposts with their girls (and guys). “We realized we could actually just fly to LA or Portland and produce our shows all on our own,” Adamski said. They currently are putting on up to six shows a month, largely along the West Coast or in New York, but they are also looking to the Eastern seaboard and the South. Berger added. “It’s what we’ve always wanted to do. Like our whole focus is just on bringing the Poetry Brothel to as many particularly American cities right now as possible.”
There’s plenty to catch coming up, whether you’re in New York or elsewhere in the country. This month, Berger and Adamski will head to Philadelphia on the 25th before returning to New York for The Poetry Brothel: Pride Edition on June 12th.
And they’ll be making a special appearance at Michigan electronic music fest Electric Forest, for which they will build a poetry brothel in the woods for four days, June 23rd-26th. Last year, the entry to the space resembled an out-of-order photo booth. “We’d open a prop door behind it and be like you need to come with us right now,” Adamski reminisced. “And we pulled them into this world and it’s just like made of velvet, and there’s these huge beds.” After a brief orientation in the parlor, the guest would choose a poetry whore for a private reading. “It’s pretty eye-opening fun,” Adamski said.
July will see a very special incarnation of what Berger and Adamski do, the NYC Poetry Festival, which they have thrown every summer on Governor’s Island for the past six years. A big theme of the fest, unsurprisingly, is inclusiveness, with three stages, a children’s festival, and over 350 readers. “We’re not positive but we think it’s probably the biggest poetry festival in the world, just in terms of sheer volume of poetry,” Berger said. “The poetry community here, it’s huge. A big part of the festival is to bring everyone together.” This year will kick off the weekend of July 30th and 31st in conjunction with the Queens Book Festival, making it the first ever NYC literary week.
Then beginning in August, the Poetry Brothel will hit the road again along the West Coast, with multiple stops in LA, SF and Portland. For more information on these and other upcoming events, check out thepoetrybrothel.com.
KGB Bar: 85 E 4th St, New York, New York 10003
Renowned Russian-American composer, writer, visual artist and concert pianist Lera Auerbach will be reading from Excess of Being, her new book of aphorisms and original artwork, by turns provocative, dark, ironic and humorous.
Poet David Lehman is a prominent editor, author and literary critic. He serves as the editor of The Best American Poetry series, which he initiated in 1988, and teaches at The New School. His most recent book is Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World. He will read poems from his forthcoming book Poems in the Manner Of (Scribner, 2017).
Of the many memorable poems about paintings and sculpture—“ekphrastic poems” is the technical but ugly term for them—my favorite is W.H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts.” Named for the Brussels museum of fine art that Auden visited late in 1938, the poem begins with a stanza about two emblematic if generic paintings, one that depicts the birth of Christ (lines 5-8), the other depicting the crucifixion (lines 10-13)—the two most solemn moments in the Christian year:
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
The poem’s opening statement is guaranteed to stop you in your tracks. To appreciate the artistry, imagine a more conventional way of saying the same thing: “The old masters were never wrong about suffering.” Though virtually identical in language, the sentence loses all its power. There may be no better demonstration of a crucial lesson in the rhetoric of verse: that word order—combined with the strategic pause at the end of the line—is crucial in arousing and sustaining the reader’s attention. Note, too, the staggered rhymes in the stanza, which approaches prose but turns back to verse at each line’s end. Not until line four of this 13-line stanza do we encounter the first rhyme, and the last word of line six does not meet its mate until the stanza’s end.
As my partner and I whirled past, my brother told me, he cried out in anguish, “Trace, What is Mystery?” I only raised my eyebrows, in surprise, perhaps. In incomprehension, probably, and whirled on and away.
We used to laugh about it, my sweet bear or a brother and I, but I know the dream troubled him till his death.
Well, then, as the world is bien fait...
Just the other day, beyond the city walls, at the source of the river Seine, Mystery reared up and told me what.
Mystery is unnamable, but not at all mute, rather the silent words of a beating heart or the ineffable motive of an explicable act. One never knows when Mystery will reveal itself. But when it does, your heart is broken and you are ruined, forever. All the same Mystery's not so bad. And far far better than most other things.
The illumination came about because Karine & I went over the wall the other day for a reckless little motoring venture outside the city – love that word, “motoring”.
That is, we translated to the other side of the Paris ring road – la Périphérique.
Translated. Mystery’s truth is found only outside your particular city walls.
Apparently, even Socrates knew this: our inner metropolises are grids where routine eventually substitutes for dream – even for our Parises, even our Jerusalems, even our Athenses, our Idahos. This is why, Paris within the walls, intramuros, is not the same creature as Paris without the walls, extramuros.
We toured the world-historical Côte d’or department in a Ford rental. Although reality can be pesky, it is only a low-grade illness, so I am able to durably remember it as Karine and I in a two-seater Stutz Bearcat, goggles raised, long silk scarves flapping in the wind. I invite you to do the same.
In our case, revelation begins as a reasonable lack of credulity. Were this true for all!
The official explanatory sign at the archeological dig at the spring from which the river Seine rises on the Langres plateau in Burgundy – says the place was long a pilgrimage site. “Sequana”, it says, is the name of the good goddess of the place. A statue of her was found, it says, but at the dawn of the Christian era it had been deliberately defaced by blows from a hammer.
Once the preliminary facts have been disposed of, the sign explains that it is all very much a mystery why this place was a “pagan” pilgrimage site before Christianity became the only legal religion. Also mysterious: who in the world deliberately defaced the “pagan” goddess Sequana’s statue in the dawn of the Christian era?
What? None of this is Mystery that any sane person can not unveil if the will for it exists. A deeply green, deeply shaded, brightly lighted, lovely, spring that seems hidden and private and is yet in plain sight is still great for a picnic, for camping, for frolicking, even after “pagans” have long gone the way of the buffalo and any fat fool can drive up in his beat-up Chevy. Also, earlier humans, not yet in possession of monotheistic religion, capitalism and powerful earth-moving equipment, tended to have a snivelly fear of puissante Nature rather than of a vengeful god and/or of their human betters, so they made much of Mother Earth rather than just moving the bulldozers in.
Also, if it wasn’t the same early Christians who also knocked the penises off every statue in Europe who deliberately hammered up poor Sequana once they got the bit of exclusive legality between their teeth, I’ll eat Osama bin Laden’s burnoose.
I ask you.
Then there are Mysteries – properly speaking, “mystifications” – that are boldly presented as rational, even lucid, explanations, but simply defy all rational understanding.
The modern name "Seine", for instance, is said to derive from the Celtic word “Sequana”. But once each pansemic phoneme has been sussed, it’s still a mystery just how a tongue, even that of a stone-age brute with a thousand years to lash at it, might squeeze “seine” out of “sequana” or even, as one bright soul hastens to clarify, out of “se ku a na”, is well beyond me.
It remains a mystery, too, how it is that, by the “regular rules” of geography, the river Seine at Paris is really the river Yonne, or how it is that such rules were arrived at in such a way that the celebrated rivers Seine and Yonne would be exceptions to them.
“Karine, do you understand any of this?”
“No. I’m completely mystified. You?”
She gives me a sharp look. I feel her daring me to make some ridiculous claim. Understanding the polysemic phonemal variational evolution in Galloromantic country dialectic, perhaps.
I dismiss this quarrelsome woman with an unseen wave of the hand.
“I asked first. And, no. Yes. No. Well.”
It comes to me. “Listen, Karine,” I say, cupping my ear in my hand.
“In the days when we first met,” I begin, “You were just making a friend of your great professor. Remember?”
Dead now, he was a very nice fellow, indeed.
I met the Professeur Arouet rather formally, I reminded her, when she invited him for lunch with us at a restaurant.
Karine's idea was that, around the table together, we would, could, then, all agree to use first names. That accomplished, she would use the social momentum thus engendered to invite “François” Arouet home to dinner!
“I was so excited.”
And no wonder, I thought. Inviting one’s particular esteemed Monsieur Arouet is something quite special when you’re a student.
“You really, really loved and admired your Arouet. So much.”
To this very day, sitting next to me in this Stutz Bearcat, watching the road with an easy attention as she steers us through the Burgundy countryside, she is grateful Aouet existed. She brims, is brightened, with gratitude, this sweetest and most profound of all feelings, which, as far as I know, is exclusive to moments of real loving or real learning.
It was in waiting for this important Lunch with Arouet that I was shuffling around on the corner of the rue de l’Ecole de medicine, in front of the Gibert book shop, staring at the clumps of humans fluxing up and down the boulevard Saint Michel.
There are many, many human species, billions of them, I have come to see. This is why there are so many suits at Brooks Brothers.
As if determined to broil as well as run mad in the noon-day sun, one short, stocky specimen is wearing a winterized, shiny, bluish-orange watered-paisley affair of a jacket, the cheap, poncho-like, fabric draping stiffly above a scratchy-looking set of high-waisted, dismatching pants.
I said to myself, “So he’s the guy who bought that!”
With not much to say for his shoes and haircut either, I just guffawed and scuffed the ground, like a certain lower-class of American will do around his cracker barrel.
The outfit might very well spontaneously combust from rubbing the pants legs together or from trapped body heat. Hardeeharharyep.
Then, I had a Walter-Mitty moment. I woke to find the specimen smiling and waving at me as he dodged through the snorting, increasingly aggressive herd of automobiles crowding onto the crosswalk of the wide, wide Boul’ Mich’.
I had just had time to think, “O, no, he thinks I’m …” when Karine burst by me, crying, “O! Monsieur Arouet! Nous voilà! Nous voilà!”
I realized then that that absurd suit, bought and paid (very, very damned little) for by the specimen demonstrating it in the public thoroughfare, was none other than my (then new) Dulcinea’s preferred professor.
Snatching bonne figure from the pickle barrel, I was able to twitch my cracker scoffing into a rictus of what was presumably understood as pleased recognition.
We did, of course, agree to dine.
“It was so sweet of you to offer,” Karine smiles pleasantly.
Actually, I had wondered that I was appointed to accompany our new-friend. I was too ignorant in those days to dare ask anybody. Was I expected to throw my coat over puddles? Was there some secret to getting over the Périphérique. A tax to pay? Do only certain of us specimens know the way to the suburbs? Know how to take the metro? Know how to catch a bus? I had no idea.
Specimen Arouet – to honor Karine’s invite, again wearing that absurd suit, bless him – and I were sat down side by side in the Métro, bathed in the clack of the wheels.
Arouet said, “This is so good of you.”
He softly patted my hand, this man no older than I am today. He gently gripped my wrist.
I knew in a flash that he was going to break my heart and ruin me for serious work. Forever.
“Karine is so good to me,” he continued. “Voyez-vous. Such a bright student, so rare! And then she is such a pleasure to work with.”
He paused a full half minute, looked in my face, considered. “I am so happy that you are making it possible for me to accept her invitation.”
François Arouet then explained that he had not left Paris intramuros, indeed, had hardly left the fifth arrondissement, in much better than 30 years. Ever since he had been demobilized in Spring 1963, following his service as a conscript in the French army in Algeria.
“Until your petite amie invited me, to me, leaving Paris had not seemed worth the risk,” he said.
I saw his eyes tear and felt his hand squeeze mine, so I turned away and looked out the window, which was the only thing I could think to say in front of this Mystery.
“Are you as hungry as I am?” Karine said, striding towards the Stutz, breaking my silence. “I’ve had enough of Mystery for one day. Let’s go find some place to eat.”
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.