Another problem solved!
"(and back and back and back again)"
--Spicer, "Awkward Bridge," p. 261, and (also) "Coda," p. 270 (Gizzi/Killian, Collected Poems).
It was the first ball game played in New York after 9/ 11. The Mets were down 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning. Mike Piazza got up with a man on first base (Desi Relaford, if memory serves) and unloaded a pitch over the wall in center field. If you had been at Shea that evening, as we were, with a full house, you will never forget the feeling through the stands at the moment the ball cleared the fence, as Piazza rounded first and Relaford symmetrically rounded third, and strangers hugged themselves in the aisles.
Seeing a screen and a slide projector set up in Room 510 is unusual for Poetry Forum gatherings at The New School, but we had artist Trevor Winkfield to visit Tuesday night, and of course, seeing the work is its best introduction. John Ashbery says, paraphrasing Walter Pater, “If all art aspires toward the condition of music as Pater wrote, Trevor Winkfield must be counted among the most successful artists of all time.” (Check out Trevor’s website here. )
An attitude of
precise methodical whimsy pervades his work, and it was especially illuminating
to listen to a painter who is also a writer who has collaborated with
poets. In his introduction, New School poetry coordinator David
Lehman (above, right, with Winkfield, left) explained that he and colleagues believe in the inter-dependency of the
arts, and that if you’re looking for inspiration, “It makes as much sense to
expose yourself to painting as to poetry.”
Trevor Winkfield has collaborated with Ashbery, John Yau and Ron Padgett among others. Exact Change Books recently re-published the Winkfield's translation of Raymond Roussel’s How I Wrote Certain of My Works. Winkfield has collected his writings in In the Scissors’ Courtyard and his art in Pageant.
At the beginning of his talk, Trevor tackled exactly that: How to begin. The problem -- “Where to
place the first mark on a canvas, and what it should represent” – is a problem for poets as well. The speaker also noted the special blessing (which doubles as a challenge) for artists and poets – unlike ballerinas, they have or can have life-long careers. That’s the blessing. The challenge is how to keep developing and coming up with fresh ideas. He made the comparison to Scheherazade, who, in the Arabian Nights, is constantly in mortal danger if her powers of invention fail her. Winkfield warned against what he called the Marc Chagall effect -- the endless repetition of motifs from the start of one’s career. The room tittered at that -- it’s always fun to poke fun at one of the "big names."
30 He is young. He could be younger. His hands shake. Even propped on the bar. His nights: he stands so ready: his face: a mark: the close of claws. And passed: after a pause.
He is young.
He could be younger.
His hands shake.
Even propped on the bar.
he stands so ready:
his face: a mark:
the close of claws.
after a pause.
--'Though iffy hasn't stopped me thus far.
When there's an "i"phone, there is a 'blog.
He is young.
He could be younger.
His hands shake.
Even propped on the bar.
he stands so ready:
his face: a mark:
the close of claws.
after a pause.
after of course Joe Brainard who did it better but always makes me want to try
he's so damn good
I remember Jack Lorde on Hawaii 5-0. I remember an episode where the killer had no fingerprints because he worked in a pineapple canning factory.
I remember Winnie-the-Poo shirts.
I remember wanting to be like Michael J. Fox.
I remember the pastel plaid I wore two years too far into junior high. I remember feeling like a dork, but no one really seemed to notice.
I remember how my head gear smelled in the morning. I remember how it plugged tightly into two little holes.
I remember driving around feeling disappointed that the world didn’t look radically different the day after I lost my virginity to a girl.
I remember being “disappointing” after the prom.
I remember perms on boys.
I remember being mean to Harry Rezzimeni who was the most effeminate boy in my class. I remember being relentless. I heard after dropping out of college, he guided raft tours and had loads of gay sex in Atlanta. I remember my friend Tony being uncomfortable with all the details Harry gave him. I remember not being able to get them out of Tony.
Today is Ash Wednesday. This you can deduce from the people walking up and down the avenues all smudged on their foreheads looking Lynette Fromme-ey (it's a mark of contrition, not a show of Manson Family solidarity, Folks). It is the day that many Western Christians begin the the great fast of Lent. Lent is a time of abstinence, a period of reflection, a season of meditation on our need for a savior. It's when we are called to recall that we are all but ash, and it is to the ashes that we shall return.
no one went to the pre-k, just my husband. the kids are wary of the cold by now. so I thought I'd write again and tell you to click on the third picture, below, because it is so pretty when a little bigger.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on February 25, 2009 at 02:38 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
A little sad, relying
in perpetuity on witnesses--
a community adorned with jewels
not yet entered into evidence.
Delicacy’s preferable to priority
with its hoeing, bringing up to date.
there is a communal eyeball,
a rafter of fact
the thickness of spider web.
But the heart of the matter
belongs to the passer-by.
If sin, crime
and confusion are rungs
down to blindness, then
strength, force and boldness
hide with the osprey
swathed, even decorated,
by hostility. The young,
our young, perpetrate
the world to come--
only dimmed by pleasure’s poverty.
Huge lurid tulips
Painted on cream basement walls
Meant to be cheery but done
Such that each flower looks
As if beneath glass and yet so loud:
The memory of a dead child’s laugh,
A burble in the garden, a pain
You learn to want, a way you walk
Through the trellis these days
Misty eyed and full of religion,
You went to see the elder
For comfort and disappointingly
It was exactly what he gave,
When there is still that laughter
Floating higher and higher
Having broken its string
And the downy clouds framing it
As the dot of color seems to sink
Into their eiderdown and horses clop
The avenue with bells and caps
And there is loud clapping,
You turn away from the sky
And everything’s as lost as you’d wanted
but can’t stand having wanted
And you’ll never sit in the garden
With bright juice pushing your memory
To winters when you dreamed of just this juice,
To a vista with crows above snow
Like in a bad painting: calligraphic
And far enough away to make beauty
A trick of distance.
This quotation is from Susan Schultz's extraordinarily compelling book, note that it begins lineated (Alabama, 2005):
Loss has verbs in its pockets.
and now isn’t.
that X was and now isn’t.
X was here, now X is gone.
Loss is sly ownership.
Absence rings, tapped crystal.
Loss sings the rim.
X lost Y, X feels lost.
Loss has no appetite.
People sometimes ask me if I would not give anything to be white. I
answer...most emphatically, "No." How do I know what I might be if
I were a white man? I might be a sandhog, burrowing away and losing my
health for $8 a day. I might be a streetcar conductor at $12 or $15 a
week. There is many a white man less fortunate and less well-equipped
than I am. In fact, I have never been able to discover that there was
anything disgraceful in being a colored man. But I have often found it
As a performer, [Bert Williams] was close to genius...Whatever sense of timing I have, I learned from him.
The funniest man I ever saw, and the saddest man I ever knew.
Bert Williams (1874-1922)
The vibrant contributions of African-Americans to the history of our popular culture is a given in any discussion of American performing arts. The influence of people like Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, "Fats" Waller, and Jelly-Roll Morton is widely documented and is acknowledged by anyone who has even a passing interest in American music and theater. It is important to note, however, that all of these performers came to prominence in the 1920s, a decade that saw the first public attempts by black artists to break away from traditional white perceptions of what black people should be and do on stage. This could be dangerous for black performers, both professionally and physically, and the great courage of these artists cannot be over-emphasized.
It is more problematic when we move backward to a time before the 1920s, when most African-American performers were trammeled by the long, complicated history of minstrelsy - the over-exaggerated, painfully stereotypical portrayals of black culture on the American stage, first by white performers in blackface, then by black performers. Gary Giddins, in his book Visions of Jazz, has described the strange, contradictory, and still lingering influences of minstrelsy on American popular culture:
Its images abound in contemporary life, from the indelible memory of Tim Moore's Kingfish [from "Amos and Andy"] to the caricatures of National Review. The Aunt Jemima-Uncle Ned darkies, solicitous of massa and scornful of the abolitionists who would wreck their joyful plantation life, were implanted in the American mind to such an extent that even black minstrels of the Reconstruction years were expected to enact the familiar stereotypes memorialized by minstrel composers like Stephen Foster. There was triple-edged irony here: minstrelsy provided unprecedented opportunity for gifted black performers...but only if they could adapt the ludicrous precepts of white "Ethiopian" imitators; the blacks were so good, so "authentic" that white minstrel troupes were soon put out of business; the minstrel show was then replaced by a new kind of entertainment nourished by Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths who had found their initial success by appropriating black styles like ragtime or the cakewalk.
As Americans attempted to break away from these painful, degrading stereotypes, it was natural (if unfair) that they turn their backs on performers in this genre. Watching a minstrel show became and still is embarrassing and distressing, both for black Americans whose ancestors had to suffer the stereotypes and for white Americans whose ancestors perpetrated and encouraged them. Sadly though, what often happened was a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and for a long time, one of the babies who went out the window was the spectacularly talented Bert Williams. In recent years, however, and most fortunately for us, his reputation has made a comeback, and he is now recognized as one of the most important 20th century performers, black or white, in vaudeville, music, and early film. In keeping with the irony Giddins speaks of, Williams did all of this in burnt-cork blackface, because he was "too light-skinned" for audiences. In other words, he was a black man made up like a white man playing a black man.
Williams is also important in that he was one of the first black performers to exercise some creative and financial control over his career, at least as far as he was able to during the time in which he lived. He was the first black performer to have a major recording career; he was the first black artist to be featured in the Ziegfeld Follies (when white cast members protested his hiring and threatened to quit, Flo Ziegfeld is said to have replied, "I can replace every one of you except him") and was its highest paid star for ten years; he was the first black actor to star in feature-length Hollywood films.
His first success nationally came in 1906, with the recording of "Nobody," the early-20th-century equivalent of a smash hit. There are echoes in this minstrel "coon song" (sorry, that's what they were called and marketed as) of elements of the blues: that recognition of and wry humor at life's unfairness and misfortune. Pay particular attention to Williams' delivery of the punch lines - his timing, as Eddie Cantor said, is impeccable.
At first the new French teacher isn’t sure she ought to tell the girls at Miss Haines’s School her story, but then she resolves that they will soon be “old enough to love and suffer.” (The line reminded me of something one of my teachers used to say in response to a surprisingly broad range of questions: “You’ll find that out when you’re married, girls.”) For the next enthralling 141 minutes, as Mademoiselle’s dangerous Parisian past unreeled, I tried to keep some unnerving questions at bay: How could I have missed this one? Had I confused it with something else all these years because of that title that has nothing to do with anything? Had I foolishly allowed my deep ambivalence about Charles Boyer—cured several years ago by a screening of Ophuls’s Madame de at Lincoln Center—to stand in the way of one of cinema’s great pleasures? What were the odds that I had never walked in on the middle or caught the last few minutes? Was I simply repressing? A friend—she has earned her absolute authority in these matters by having watched Now, Voyager more times than I have—insisted that I put it at the top of my Netflix queue. Dutifully, I obeyed. As millions watched the Academy Awards last night, I watched All This, and Heaven Too (1940, dir. Anatole Litvak). The Casey Robinson screenplay—derived from Rachel Field’s novel, itself loosely based on a nineteenth-century Parisian scandal involving a loyal governess (Bette Davis), a long suffering and momentarily lunatic Duke (Boyer), and a neurotic and mighty jealous Duchess (Barbara O’Neil)—combines more stolen plots per square inch than just about any movie I’ve ever seen. I caught whiffs of Jane Eyre, Villette, half a dozen gothic novels, and a few of Freud’s case histories. It also might as well be Rebecca, which was published at the same time as Field’s novel. MGM would have sucked the life out of this one: costumed to the gills, the movie would have collapsed under the weight of its own prestige. But Warner Brothers exploited the lurid, the suggestive, the incongruous. I can think of few films that illustrate more completely the improbable alchemy of Hollywood's Golden Age. There’s something in it for everyone: mysterious Corsicans, history so muddled that 1848 occasionally seems to turn into 1789, bit players who appear to have wandered in from the gangster picture shooting on the neighboring soundstage. In what other universe would the French Charles Boyer, playing the French Duc de Praslin, be coached to pronounce the “t” in “valet”? Hokum, absolutely, and of the most exquisite kind.
Some words on Spicer.
Spicer (below right) participated in the Berkeley Renaissance with Robin Blaser, Robert Duncan and others, including important folk such as Helen Adam, Ebbe Borregaard, Thomas Parkinson, Graham Mackintosh, Steve Jonas, John Weiners and others, though the original trio (Spicer, Duncan, Blaser) formed the core.
Spicer was so serious about the appellation, “The Berkeley Renaissance,” that he often cited his birth year as 1946, when he met Duncan.
Spicer was most certainly a difficult person, --moody, alcoholic, impoverished, intensely loyal and intensely distancing, as well as physically challenged with a body that fought with his sense of being a producer of beauty. His homosexuality played no small part in his various difficulties; his search for a partner or partners never took, or at least not untraumatically, or for very long. Love eventually, to his eye, always betrayed him. His relationships foundered as, not unrelated, his health also foundered, and at the young age of 40 he lapsed into a hepatic coma from which he would never recover. To me, what is poetically important about Spicer is his commitment to Love, as well as his commitment to the Word. These are not separate. Nor is his death separate from his life, but his is a very long, involved, unresolvable story. Lew Ellingham and Kevin Killian's biography, Poet, Be Like God, does an admirable job giving a portrait of the poet and his milieu. But to a certain extent, to get at the poetry, we need to hold off a little on what we know about his life, giving the poetry an opportunity at an independent life.
Several things Spicer is famous for now are the serial poem, dictation, and writing in the unit of the book. All of these are more complicated than they became in the sound bytes of cultish devotion following his death, its protective postscript, and his consequent puppyish following—and suddenly, now, in the glow of (present) growing fame. These are all interesting concepts and Spicer's forays into explaining them as documented in Peter Gizzi's volume of his Vancouver Lectures (The House that Jack Built) make for fascinating reading. Or, as I mentioned, you can listen to them on PennSound. However, the ideas aren't what made the poems. Further, Spicer was pretty drunk while lecturing.
The new Collected gives us a chance to get to know a Spicer by his poems. All of the externals--the lectures, the biography, the sparkly concepts, the reminiscences--are important, but as Burton Hatlen importantly noted more than twenty years ago, no one has yet treated Spicer's poetry "as language." As great as Robin Blaser's essay that concludes the 1975 version of "The Collected Books of Jack Spicer," is--it had one unfortunate side effect. It paved the way for critics to turn Spicer's poetry into commentary and philosophic experiment, rather than living language. The poems were "interesting." They were "experiments." That is, largely, they were treated as prose. As something to comment on rather than to get lost in, be confused by, or fall in love with. Interest and experiment must come from poetry and not be brought to it. We now have the chance to treat the poems, rather than attempting to divine the principles which produced the poems. There is plenty of time to revel in the externals. The poetry's excellence will inevitably produce interest in what surrounded the production of the poetry and the poet. But this is a different enterprise, not mutually exclusive, but different, from reading poetry.
It is a lucky time to love Spicer's work. There are more people to talk with about it, more with whom to delectate over it-- and, hopefully, more patient critics to give us new ways into the workings of the poems. And no matter what else, there is this f*cking gorgeous new edition that feels great in the hand and frames the poems perfectly.
Take vodka, my brother.
We’re alone in the green trellised tumbledown.
Built by a disgraced Lieutenant General.
Well, disgraced when we remember him. Best to forget.
He died of soft brain
and will not bother us, and I must tell,
Alyosha, in dreams, I twist my shirt
beneath the willow,
and I am planning, beneath absolutely pathetic limbs,
there is a trunk amid those wisps,
there is death in a shirt.
And need be, suspenders. I wake happy.
I am not afraid, Alyosha, a day like any of my life.
But, Mitya, you forget: a day like any, yes,
perhaps, but shorter.
I stopped opening the cabinet
when I decided brandy was bad for me.
That was threeish.
Six, Smerdyakov waked me.
I feel robustly thirsty.
In Russia, of course,
if you are the son of Fyodor,
you are Fyodorovich. Is the boy my son?
With Reeking Lizaveta? Who scaled my fence
to bear him and die? Crazy, smocked, there for a dare
Lizaveta? Well then, Fyodorovich. But Reeking,
so: Smerdyakov Fyodorovich.
His soul is stump-legged.
His eyes reflect light
like a dog’s.
Tonight, he will sleep in the house.
Tonight, I want company.
He whimpers like a dog
before his fits.
Perhaps only that’s why I trust him.
For those of you (like myself) for whom being read to is like being a kitten licked by a mama cat, I’m sure you’ve had your share of audiobooks. I can highly suggest George Guidell (great readings of Kafka and Joyce) and others were I pressed to.
But for deeper pleasures, I want to encourage anyone who has not yet done so to visit PennSound. http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/ An amazing resource, an unmatched resource. From Jack Spicer to Gertrude Stein to my all-time favorite reader on the site, George Oppen. The folks behind this project are not just to be thanked but to be licked back. N.B. For Spicer, I do not encourage you to listen to the lectures. The Gizzi transcript does them more justice by my estimation. Listen instead to the poems. Or at least, start with the poems.
But for deeper pleasures, I want to encourage anyone who has not yet done so to visit PennSound. http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/ An amazing resource, an unmatched resource. From Jack Spicer to Gertrude Stein to my all-time favorite reader on the site, George Oppen.
The folks behind this project are not just to be thanked but to be licked back.
N.B. For Spicer, I do not encourage you to listen to the lectures. The Gizzi transcript does them more justice by my estimation. Listen instead to the poems. Or at least, start with the poems.
Under the pool blue sky,
noon’s skim moon,
your scarf, once round,
flies its rough colors.
much celebration forced upon it
So much celebration forced upon it
by niggling fingers and pointy sticks
and a vicious, a hungry
round your neck.
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.