Wyoming attorney Gerry Spence (b. 1929) never lost a criminal case in more than fifty years. Though he's no Hoss Cartwright John Ashbery, you can read some of his poems and other work on his blog: http://gerryspence.wordpress.com.
I hadn't planned to go anywhere in New York. It was Sunday, September 27th. Monday was Yom Kippur and the city was quiet. I decided to walk downtown with my new camera and photograph whatever I saw, and since I like to photograph people, I headed for Broadway. I had been in hiding during the summer, swimming every day in a lake near Sag Harbor and reading thick biographies by the lakeside. I decided to replace swimming with walking, and my dog-eared copies of James Atlas' Bellow and Deirdre Bair's Jung with a camera. I got hungry and found a Chinese eatery in SoHo where I photographed a gorgeous couple having coffee at the table behind me, and then was drawn to a nearby art gallery.
The exhibit on view was tiny and consisted of black and white photos of Russia in the l960s. Much to my surprise, I found myself looking at the work of one of Joseph Brodsky's closest friends, the photographer Lev Poliakov, who had taken the last picture of Joseph in Leningrad on the morning before he went into exile in l972. Joseph had written the introduction to one of Lev's books of photos: Russia, A Portrait. His essay, "In Praise of Grey," contains this beautiful passage: "For grey is the color of time and time's wardrobe here knows very few changes."
Poliakov's photographs were in the old-fashioned 8" by l0" size and depicted, in a 50-millimeter straight-on lens-way, ordinary scenes of people: in an alley in a small town, with farm supplies on roads between farm fields, or gazing out of windows. It was up to the viewer to slowly comprehend what these scenes revealed, a harsh yet dignified survival or maybe, more accurately, a survival without the ability to compare itself to other survivals, a locked-in life, a given. Brodsky's essay continues: "A great mistake for a photographer is to bring his color film here. The net result would be like Turner'd talkies..." I knew Joseph and remember him telling me that his father wanted to join the navy but was prevented from doing so by the state because he was Jewish and that he had worked, upon occasion, as a news photographer. Clearly, judging from the essay, Brodsky knew the craft. Writing on Poliakov, he adds: "A quarter of a century ago this photographer himself was part of the landscape he was depicting, and the material he had at his disposal was manufactured by this country's equally gray extension: Agfa, in the DDR."
The exhibit included a magnificent 1964 photograph of Anna Akmatova in Kamarovo, printed in 1974 as a silver gelatin print, as well as a wonderful 1981 photograph of Brodsky in Maine. I wanted to photograph the photographs and post them but Andrew C. Sarewitz, the gallery director whose family is from Russia, said I should ask the photographer first and that Poliakov would probably be stopping by soon. While waiting, Andrew mesmerized me with his knowledge of Russian Noncomformist Art. He brought out from storage a small drawing by Boris Sveshnikov, made at the Vetlosian camp, near Ukhta, 1,200 kilometers northeast of Moscow in the "Komi Autonomous Region," a place that sounds eerie and very cold. Rather than lines made by a single sweep of the pen, Sveshnikov, who was an art student before he was sent to Stalin’s gulag at 19, broke his lines into tiny feather-marks so that a scene emerged as if it were almost shaking. Andrew gave me a book: Painting for the Grave: The Early Work of Boris Sveshnikov, (image, right) a catalogue from the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Lev Poliakov didn't return to the gallery that afternoon. When I left the Mimi Ferzt gallery I wanted to "see" the streetas Lev Poliakov might had seen what was right before him in 1960s Russia.
Star Black is a poet and visual artist. She is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Ghostwood. Her photographs are in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress. Her collages have been exhibited in various galleries in New York City and Long Island. She lives in New York City.
Tomorrow (Thursday) at 5 p.m. Rome time (11 a.m. East Coast Time),
listen to an interview on RAI with John Ashbery on the occasion of Un
mondo che non può essere migliore: Poesie scelte 1956-2007 (translated
by Damiano Abeni and Moira Egan, with an introduction by Joseph
Harrison) having won a Special Prize from the Premio Napoli.
Go to http://www.radio.rai.it/player/player.cfm?Q_CANALE=3
I've decided to continue worrying about balloon boy, even though he never really existed. I've decided to believe that the balloon is still floating over the heartland and that its fragile compartment really does contain a child. Are his parents still looking skyward and weeping? No, their bad behavior in real life banishes them from my revery. They are in a small cell, watching each other on television. The child is ours. The rest of the nation is bending its neck backwards and waiting for word.
Given that my vision is but a vision in a dream, we are free to scan the skies from Brooklyn to Maine, Hawaii to Seattle, Hoboken to Fort Lee, Baldwin to LA. Look up. I can't see the balloon, but I can see something falling out of the sky. Was Icharus just looking for a reality show? No. And perhaps not even just looking for attention. There is also the pleasure of flying to consider. There is also the pleasant smell of frying sausages, though, which is to say, there are other things to do, other things in the cupboard. Poetry for example.
I have not wasted my life, but I wasted it. Sweet as a kiss by hopeless fancy feigned on lips that are for others. There are other things to do, you know. "There are," my voice insists. I can't think of any. In the subway these days, on signs, Shopenhauer says "Every man takes the limits of his own world as the limits of the world." So how can I be expected to think of something else to do? The world doesn't go on forever, but try falling off it.
Boy oh balloon boy, once you're allowing your imaginary baby to hover and swerve in the skies above us, you have already thrown yourself out with the bathwater. Still, I'm still having trouble thinking of anything else to do. I have so many ideas, but time sped up so fast that by the time I write the next line my underwood has rusted to an orange ash heap. Sped up so fast by the time I write the next word, my computer needs upgraded.
So what can I do? Learn to write slower? At this age? Report to a new master? Master my own faster? I'm up here and I'm fine, but I can't seem to come down. Will this thing eventually land? These are only a few of the questions I am not asking.
Can a trout blow kisses backwards, from its gils?
Okay, that's enough. Stay safe my balloon children, hover in the internetted sky. I will find you. Be assured that I am scanning clouds for any thing unusual.
ps I'm off to East Kentucky tomorrow to chautauqua. I'll be doing a poetry reading and giving a talk on the history of Doubt, about which I wrote a big book and do a good deal of talking.
Seventy-two years ago, Amelia Earhart flew into the wild blue yonder and never returned. What happened to her has remained a topic of conjecture and much argument over the past seven decades. A new movie, "Amelia," starring Hillary Swank and Richard Gere, is out on Friday, and myriad books, articles, and documentaries have been produced to examine her story.
Most aviation experts agree, however, that what happened to her was simply the result of a miscalculation. Earhart was on the second-to-last leg of her round-the-world flight, from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island, in her shiny silver Lockheed Electra. Without radar and with primitive (by our standards) radio equipment, the 2500-mile journey over open water between Lae and Howland was extremely risky (her route is traced above left). On top of this, Howland is little more than an uninhabited speck in the ocean - only 6,500 feet long and 2,000 feet at its widest point, and almost invisible from the air (right). Earhart was to land on Howland and get resupplied in fuel and food by the Itasca, a US Coast Guard cutter waiting off the island. But Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, operating by dead-reckoning and a compass, miscalculated the location of tiny Howland Island. After a series of weakening and ever more desperate radio signals picked up by the Itasca (Earhart had replaced the plane's original radio with a state-of-the-art model but was apparently unfamiliar with how to operate it correctly, so she did not hear the Itasca's repeated attempts to contact her), she either ditched or crashed the Electra into the water when it ran out of gas. In this area, the ocean reaches depths of over 17,000 feet (that's about three miles), so it is not surprising that no wreckage was ever found.
Some have called Earhart a publicity-hound or the pawn of her fame-hungry husband, George Putnam, and claim that she does not deserve the accolades she has received, both during her lifetime and posthumously. But a careful look at her life shows that she was no charlatan - she was an important figure in aviation history: brave, accomplished, and trailblazing. She was only the 16th woman in the world to receive a professional pilot's license. She broke the woman's world altitude record in 1922, reaching a height of 14,000 feet. She was the first woman to fly an autogyro (the precursor to a helicopter) and was the first person, male or female, to fly one across the United States. She was the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo -in 1928, one year after Lindbergh. She was the first person to fly the Atlantic twice. And on and on.
Earhart loomed large in my family - because, at the age of 15, my father met her. He was a member of an aviation-enthusiasts club, and in 1932, they heard that Earhart was going to be at Floyd Bennet Air Field on Long Island. So they made the trek from Brooklyn out to meet her. My father said she was gracious and kind, and he treasured the picture she posed for until the day he died. He carefully colorized it, then wrote out her accomplishments on the back, adding, in July 1937, the details of her final flight.
From time to time these words from Sonny Mishra come to
“The nature of prose is to perish…”
Looking for these words of Paul Valery, I find others:
misfortune is that he has no organ, no kind of eyelid or brake, to mask or
block a thought, or all thought, when he wants to”
“At times I think and at times I am.”
Pirooz says something
that strikes home: strike out and there’s no home run. Then he says
this: “Your desk is your head.” Or “Your room is your mind.” I forget. We spend
the majority of baseball practice stealing home.
Which suits you best?
A desk of one’s own.
A desk with a view.
This desk enwraps me; love requited, passion attained. But I
am conscious of a desk more mysterious than this.
When you ask me to speak about women and poetry I sit down
on the banks of a river and begin to wonder what words mean. If my desk is my
head, what are my feet? This room has a mind of its own.
No one ever made a living betting on what Bob Dylan will do next. But a Christmas album? The balladeer of anthemic protest, the poet master of surreal imagery has recorded Christmas In The Heart, a collection of familiar Christmas tunes filtered, as an ad appropriate to the pre-rock feel of the album might put it, through Bob Dylan's unique vocal stylings.
I'm with those who applaud him for his giving all his profits in perpetuity to a variety of hunger charities. (Some places couldn't resist this. The Brisbane Times headlined their review: "Yule be surprised what Dylan has done for a good Claus.)
But I don't know how to review the album. Instead, let me made a few observations. First of all, this whole project is sincere. This is not some sort of in-joke or ironic post-modern creation. Dylan's not wearing a Santa Claus mask. I'm not sure what to make of a contented Bob Dylan. He seems to have found his direction home. I'm glad for him. but it was the little boy lost who fashioned so many rhyming guideposts for our journey through life. It was in moments of contentment that Dylan's songwriting suffered. Dylan's voice, even as its cheerful, still strikes me as more appropriate for melancholy than joy. His voice was built for a blues sound wailing despair or unleashing sarcastic anger. But it is cruel to wish someone sadness so there will be more songs, and doing so would certainly not be in the spirit of the album. I therefore limit this comment to an observation that doesn't cross the border into a hope.
There is no clear way to provide an analysis of the material, pondering its reverberating layers, dissecting its sources and allusions, locating its place in the ongoing Dylan narrative. The sole possible exception is the to consider the album's title. At first glance, Christmas In The Heart seems innocuous, sentimental, and familiar. but, and maybe only because this is Bob Dylan, it is tempting to unpack its meaning. For example, if Christmas is in the heart, it's inside us, a feeling more than a holy day. In that case, this is a spiritual Christmas rather than a religious one. On this reading, Dylan sees in Christmas a time for charity, for joy, for a celebration of life. This is Christmas in the Heartland.
And if that is so, then this is an American album more than a Christian album. For those alert to every twist and turn in the ongoing saga "Is He a Jew or a Christian?" this album provides less data than its subject matter might suggest. The album is about a good-hearted singer content to be a loyal citizen in the Land of the Great American Songbook and singing his heart out with some seasonal standards to help those in need.
Of course, don't get used to this Bob Dylan because who knows where he'll go next? It's okay to anticipate, but I wouldn't place any bets.
We've been following Bill Hayward's Intimacies Project since the day we started this blog so we are thrilled that he's taking it to the streets, with live performances daily at The Port Authority of NY/NJ, just about the most central location in NYC. Time your lunch hour or evening commute so you can catch this exciting event. The space will be open for viewing daily between noon and 7:00 PM with live performances at 1:00 and 6:00. Find more information here.