Tribute to a Poet, with Athletic Dedication
Leslie Heywood has lived a life of wildly disparate forms of excellence. A nationally ranked runner in high school and college, she has kept up the role of a true scholar athlete by continuing her athletic pursuits while becoming a widely published poet, memoirist, and Literary theorist as well as a distinguished professor. She was a student of Derrida’s and Heywood also has a rock band named for her, two daughters, two large Akitas, and has recently recast herself as one of the pioneers in the melding of evolutionary sciences with the literary arts. I rest my case.
Her latest poems weave the rich complexities of family life around deep concerns for our ecological uncertainties. They are lyrical narratives, composed with a strong and rigorous sense of place. Uncertainty and complexity underscore all of Heywood’s triumphs, yet she exhibits in the poem I have included for this post a love and an honesty of perception as tenacious as her training regimen (and, believe me, tenacity in terms of her training regimen is a weak word). I want to add that Leslie Heywood is also known for her keen fashion sense and her ability to beat most mortals at arm wrestling. .
The Bonds of Words
The summer before second grade
My daughter begins to catch up with
Herself, her fingers that couldn’t
Direct a pen find some hidden
Connection like the knobs
Along her spine and suddenly
That long sweep from z’s to e’s
Makes sense, the pen in her fingers
Obeying at long last the dictates
Of her brain, the neat curves of
q’s and p’s. The doubt that had
Shadowed the gleam in her eyes
Falls away, along with the terror
Of swimming, the requests she
Submerge her head. I did it,
She tells me, her voice fierce, I’m just
As good as Keene, her little sister,
For whom these mechanical matters
Of neurons and form have
Always been as easy as breathing,
And my eldest, watching me
Watch her sister with pride and relief
Took the quick flip of her
Sister’s neat shoulders,
her muscular legs, and my delight in them,
As a fatal condemnation of hers.
Keene’s our athlete, I’d already said
And Caelan would turn away,
Lips set, her face a block of stone I was
Starting to chisel in a certain way,
That way my parents called me
the pretty one, my sister the brain
So much I still think myself stupid,
My sister makes jokes
About her nose and hips,
Apologies for some step
Repeatedly gone wrong.
We become the names given us,
Even when we know better
We cannot turn away.
I have done this without meaning to,
Without taking proper care,
Training my eldest daughter’s body
To awkwardness with my words
More surely than her soccer coach
Might be able to train her
Any other way.
My words hurt. I am the means by which
A sad history repeats.
I must take responsibility for this.
Just prior to the reading in honor of Elizabeth Bishop's 100th birthday last evening at the Great Hall of Cooper Union, the nineteen poets taking part milled in the green room, with ace photographer Lawrence Schwartzwald snapping away. Here's a shot of Frank Bidart and David Lehman.
photo credit: (c) Lawrence Schwartzwald (2011)
Brandon Johnson assembled this poem for Mike Tyson from his own quoted speech. Now I present it to you.
MIKE TYSON'S AMERIKKKA
I’m just a dark guy
From a den of iniquity
A dark shadowy figure
From the bowels of iniquity
I wish I could be the Mike
Who gets an endorsement deal
But you can’t make a lie and a truth go together
This country wasn’t built on moral fiber
This country was built on rape, slavery, murder,
degradation and affiliation with crime
I’m too stigmatized in this country
I want to do something
That will have a tangible effect on people
I live in a world where I’m not too media-friendly
I would never be a success story in this country
I’m addicted to perfection
Problem with my life is
I was always also addicted to chaos
There’s no one perfect
Jimmy Swaggart is a lascivious character
Mike Tyson is lascivious
But we’re not criminally
At least I’m not
You know what I mean
I may like to fornicate
More than other people
It’s just who I am
I sacrifice so much of my life
Can I at least get laid?
I mean, I been robbed of most of my money
Can I at least get a blowjob
Without the people wanting to harass me
And wanting to throw me in jail?
Don’t be surprised
If I behave like a savage
I am a savage
Who am I?
I don’t even know who I am
I’m just a dumb child
Who’s being abused and robbed by lawyers
I’m just a dumb pugnacious fool
I’m just a fool who thinks he’s someone
Then you tell me I should be responsible
We have no trouble thinking of the difference between thought and feeling, and Jung assures us they are both "judging functions" since both weigh in on our irrational sensations and intuitions. Both thought and feeling shape an existence in which the senses and intuitions, are, indeed, "deranged." Of course Rimbaud advocated a "derangement of the senses" By his time, thought and feeling had become tired, and official. I sometimes times think everything we call modernist, or post-modernist, or "experimental" is merely a shift in priorities between these four functions. Whereas poetry before Rimbaud used the sensations and intuitions to aid and abet agreed upon feeling and thinking states, modernism reversed the trend so that sensation (as with the symbolists), or intuition (as with the Dadaists and French surrealists) made introverted sensation and extroverted intuition the prime functions, with thought and feeling serving cameo roles. This got rid of the tired and agreed upon tropes of thought and feeling (sentiments), but it had one unfortunate effect:: Direct utterance of emotion, not as a feeling state (emotion is not feeling), or as mere sensation, but as some mysterious hybrid of judging and non-judging functions: the barbaric yawp, and not just the barbaric yawp as Whitman expressed it (which, misunderstood, can be confused with a raw rather than a cooked utterance) but the aria (Whitman loved opera) in which the singer and the song merge, an emotional state which is neither feeling nor sensation, but that odd and brackish syntax between them where the body of a life is fully spoken. It can be loathsome to those who have an inherent disdain for anything direct and seemingly artless, yet on the tenth artful poem, we might wish to flee our own "inventiveness" and hear something that belts forth without apology. This is the poetry of Maria Mazziotti Gillan. Its directness may baffle. If one is not careful, and is expecting a nuanced equivocation of "feeling" then one misreads her. She is a voice that has learned to inhabit, and this is how to enjoy her work. It is a voice that has no time to draw attention to decorative effects. It is a voice of presence rather than performance, the voice of an opera singer who has sung long enough to know that six octave ranges will not do you much good if you need just one note and can't be direct enough to nail it.. I have known Maria for 25 years. I have met no one as single minded, or as generous to other poets. In this poem, she achieves the effect of true lamentation. That is no mean accomplishment.
What a Liar I Am
I have been lying for a long time now, the sicker you get the more I lie to myself most of all. I cannot say how angry
I am that this illness is another person in our house, so lies are the only way to get through each day. How hard it is
to admit that I am often impatient and raging and that anger is a pit I can never swallow, that love, even mine for you who have been with me for forty years, cannot dissolve the hank of loneliness that has become lodged
in my throat, the irritating squeaking of your electric wheelchair, the way I want to run away from the putrid smell the medicines make rising from your skin, the way
I lie and lie so you won’t know how heavy this illness
feels—how long it has been going on, sixteen years now—and the way your feet dragging along the carpet when you can still walk is like a fingernail on a blackboard. This is all too much for you, you say and I reassure you, no, not for
you, nothing is too much for you. I am a burden you say, and no, no I say. Not a burden. The face I see in my mirror is not one I want to see, impatient, frazzled, selfish. Oh love, I could not have imagined it would come to this,
a moment when I can only live by lying to myself and you, you with your pitiful, begging eyes, you with your reedy voice calling me for help, you a clanging bell that calls me, you whom I love, but cannot carry.
Dear Devotees of the Word,
KGB Monday Night Poetry will be back in 2 weeks! We're proud to present our spring line-up below. We're certain you shan't fail to note it includes luminaries & upstarts, a range of voices, styles, literary presses & aesthetic philosophies... In short, a spectrum which no doubt presents at least one night where your presence at the bar will be indispensable. Mark your calendars, and we will see you soon!
Laura Cronk, Megin Jimenez & Michael Quattrone
KGB Monday Night Poetry, Spring 2011
February 21 Jeremy Schmall + Anthony McCann
February 28 Bloof Books Poets: Shanna Compton, Peter Davis, Jennifer L. Knox
March 7 Erika Meitner + Jeanne Marie Beaumont
March 14 Elizabeth Fodaski + Edward Hirsch
March 21 Hosts take over!: Laura Cronk, Megin Jimenez + Michael Quattrone
March 28 Matthew Yeager + David Lehman
April 4 Brian Teare + Jean Valentine
April 11 Matthew Zapruder + Eileen Myles
April 18 Saskia Hamilton + Karl Kirchwey
April 25 Gabrielle Calvocoressi + Andrei Codrescu
May 2 Dorothea Lasky, Star Black + David Yezzi
May 9 Angie Estes + Mitch Sisskind
May 16 Dan Chiasson + Deborah Landau
All readings start at 7:30pm. Admission is FREE.
KGB Bar ● 85 East 4th Street ● New York, NY 10003 ● Phone: 212-505-3360
A poet I always return to the way I might return to a baseball field in spring to watch a good high school outfielder is Robert Francis. Francis is a poet of small triumphs, which is to say, beauty. He notices the thing before him and renders it without his own ego getting in the way. Nothing in the natural world is fodder for his "significant" ideas. At the same time, unlike Haiku junkies who affirm the elephant shadow of their egos by always making sure they are not "there," Francis is not about to abdicate his intelligence, his ability to manipulate, to judge, to express reasoned apraisal. If there is a greater ontology to the outfielder (the brevity of his youth), or to the Lilac bush (its proximity to ruin) he trusts that this ontology will be brought out best by attending to the surfaces. I tell my students: surface becomes intereior. If you have to look for an ontology or meaning below the surfaces, then I suggest you are treating the world around you the way certain guys in my neighborhood treated others who could not pay the vig: you are beating the bushes for "meaning" the bushes might not contain. You are treating the details as wage slaves, and since you don't care for those details except that they "convey"your "truths," they will not have the accuracy to do the work you want them to do.
Francis remains a "minor" poet in the best sense: not lesser, but minor, a poet of small triumphs, a poet whose work at its best makes Robert Frost sound a little over-the-top, who makes Galway and Donald seem just a bit fat and sloppy by comparison.
All great poets are galaxies of minor poets with the addition of gravitas. Their poems are neccessasry. A great minor poem never traffics in the neccessary. No one asks of beauty that it be significant. Beauty humbles significance. At worst, this can lead to shallowness. At best, it can lead to the remarkable play of light and dapple and shade that shallowness confers: the mountain stream, the dazzle of quick light on rocks.
I bring out Francis whenever students think they have original ideas. I tell them "original ideas" is always an oxymoron. Poets write as much from their stupidity as from their intelligence, but I must define stupidity here: all that can halt the smugness of an idea, suspend the smug certainty of the idea, and plot for the fluidity of thought. A person who already "knows" has lost the scholarship of his stupidity. To study what we already know is to review at best. At worst, it is vain redundancy. What is it in the thing we know that still ceases our imagination, that makes us "stupid" with pleasure? Francis is a poet who makes me stupid with pleasure, so I am going to place one of his small gems here, and then see if I can come up with a prompt that goes with it:
Time and the Sergeant
To take us in, bully and bawl us
Out was his official
And he was beautifully built for it,
That buffed brass hair, that
And those magnificent legs on which
He rocked he rocked. He never
bent a knee.
How is the anal oriented humor now?
Fresh and exuberant
Or has Old Bastard Time touched
Even you, Sergeant,
First, unlike free verse writers who use tercets merely to make a poem look neat and pleasant, Francis' tercets are justified. The word pleasure isolated on its own line in the first tercet tips us off that Francis knows English still carries a charge of durational as well as accentual sound. Pleasure is drawn out enough to be on its own line, and it is the plosive of the B sounds realized (P's and B's are plosives). Notice what he is doing with the B sounds. They get less emphatic, weaker as the poem goes on. The sound aids and abets the meaning because time has done the same thing to the vibrant sergeant. There are three plosives in the first stanza, all on the first syllable of the words. There are six in the second, all except one in the initial syllable. In the third tercet, there is only one---"bent." In the fourth tercet, the plosive has faded to tertiary placement in the third syllable (exuberant). In the final tercet, only the word bastard aptly carries the charge of the plosive. This might not have been conscius, but craft, practiced over the years, becomes muscle memory. He knows what he is doing even if he is not fully conscious of it. The T sounds are also doing great service to the poem. Its theme is an old war horse: how time diminishes, the same theme of transience as in "A Shropshire Athlete Dying Young." So what? The execution of this old trope is magnificent, and the sergeant has been brought to life by the B and T sounds as much as by anything else. So here's the prompt:
Take a common trope of poetry: how time diminishes, or sieze the day (Carpe Diem) or how we don't know what we got till it's gone, and yoke it to a single figure who represents it. Make a portrait of some vivid character, and aid and abet that portrait by sound threads. Francis uses the B sounds. Think what consonant sound you can thread through the poem to do the work for you. Justify the stanzaic structures, which is more than just a spatial neatness, so that it aids the meaning of the poem. Try tercets or couplets, or whatever will suffice, but don't let it be what Paul Fussel called "false form." Let the consonant sounds you have picked diminish or increase through out the poem, depending on how it aids the sense. Look how Francis creates the effect of incredulity: "Even you?" Try something like that in the poem. Good luck.
From time to time, Field magazine at Oberlin College runs a symposium on a poet. The feature on Hart Crane a few years ago was tremendously helpful to readers of the sublime but challenging author of White Buildings and The Bridge. Now, under the editorial supervision of David Young and David Walker, comes a full new (122-page) issue divided half between new work (from such as John Gallaher and Kimiko Hahn) and a loving look at the poems of Richard Wilbur. Appreciative essays from Bruce Weigl (on "The Beautiful Changes"), Steve Friebert and Stuart Friebert (on "First Snow in Alsace"), Beckian Fritz Godberg (on "Icarium Mare"), and Carole Simmons Oles (on that late masterpiece "This Pleasing Anxious Being") will enhance your enjoyment of the poems, thoughtfully reprinted in the issue for easy reference. With the help of such guides the reader will hear "echoes of Keats and Shelley -- again establishing Wilbur in a continuum of poets introduced directly by [Thomas] Gray's line in the title" of Wilbur's gorgeous tryptich, "This Pleasing Anxious Being," which appeared in the 1999 edition of The Best American Poetry. -- DL
Joe Weil is a piano player, lecturer, and poet who grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey's 4th largest city, a part of that larger continent Weil refers to as "outer Queens." He has published three chap books of poetry, including A Portable Winter (Iniquity press/Vendetta books), with an introduction by the late Harvey Pekar. In addition to the chaps, Weil has published three full length books of poetry, the latest of which is The Plumber's Apprentice (New York Quarterly books). He has read with Allen Ginsberg, Stephen Dunn, Patricia Smith, Jan Beatty, and Louise Gluck, and others. He has also played piano with the great tenor sax player Sweet Sue Terry, and the clarinetist, Perry Robinson. Weil does not like biographies. He once claimed he had been a large and extremely attractive onion during the reign of the Persian satraps. This seemed more interesting to him than the usual humble "bragging" peculiar to bios.. Weil teaches poetry as well as fiction at Binghamton University. He is glad to be there. He is glad to be anywhere.
In other news . . .
The Seriously Funny: Poems about Love, Death Religion, Art, Politics, Sex, and Everything Else reading had me laughing a whole way lot, for sure. David Kirby, Barbara Hamby, Albert Goldbarth, Mark Halliday, Jennifer Knox, and Jason Bedle read poems about, among other things, chicken buckets, The Rotary Club, an actual key that opens the human heart, and Shakespeare's plays. I was very happy I attended!
(top to bottom): Albert Goldbarth, David Kirby, Barbara Hamby)
Then I was lucky enough to hear Juan Felipe Herrera belt it out for a small and very, very lucky crowd crowd (why did they have him read such a crackerjack poet during lunch hour?). If you don't know Herrera's work, you need to click on his poem 187 Reasons Mexicans Can't Cross the Border right now. Unbelievable. He told stories about his ferocious tia (aunt), who had a scary, mean trembling voice and wore a black rebozo and a 10-pound black rosary, who was always standing on some street corner trying to bless someone by throwing water on them. He also shared he was a terrible altar boy ("I didn't even know when to ring the bell!"), and that he didn't speak at all during his K-12 years, but he did sing, recite poems, and play music. He also spoke about living in San Francisco in a "Chicano Animal House,"and being part of the SDS's shutting down of the Berkeley campus. He said that back in those days he climbed a peach tree each morning to eat his breakfast in. When asked what was going down during that "time of political transformation," he said "guns, drugs, poems, and love, and any one of those will kill you."
(Juan Felipe Herrera signing after his amazing reading, above)
The final panel I attended was titled Outsiders Writing the Outside: A Reading of Wilderness Poetry by Women, Queer, and Minority Poets. Keetje Kuipers moderated, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil, GE Patterson, Paisley Rekdal, Brian Teare, and Ross Gay read. What I enjoyed about this reading is that all the poems shared use images from nature, but they are not writing "nature poems," i.e., descriptive lyrics that reflect mostly on the beautiful and awe-inspiring aspects of the natural world. Nature in their poems was not always pure and sublime; it was much more messy and complicated than that. As Keetje Kuipers commented "My nature poems have nail polish or a landfill in them--that's what eco-poems are about."
(L to R: Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Ross Gay (behind), Paisley Rekdal, Brian Teare, and GE Patterson.)
More than 300 people turned out for John Ashbery's April, 2008 Poetry Forum at the New School and I'm guessing that they'll have to call out for even more folding chairs for the February 7 event. During the first part of the program, Ashbery will read poems. Hearing John read his work is a revelation; his delivery is straightforward and modest, the better to appreciate the poems' wit, humor, and surprising juxtapositions and twists and turns. Following the reading, David Lehman, coordinator of the New School's graduate poetry program, will interview Ashbery and if there's time, Ashbery will take questions from the audience.
John Ashbery is one of our most celebrated and beloved poets. In the last couple of years he has shown his collages at a major NYC gallery and completed a translation of Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations all while continuing to write his own poems. Even the most casual conversation with Ashbery can open up new vistas on poetry. Expect to be amazed.
Go here for more information.
Entered Marriott without incident and headed to conference registration line. All preparations made for lines out the door (plenty of that maroon velvet snakey stuff on poles), but it was just me in the R-S column. Grabbed my complimentary book bag (much sturdier than the ones in Denver--mine long ago went kaput--and a much more pleasing beige) with requisite 2-lb. Conference Catalog, along with most-essential name tag. First stop, Bookfair.
For those of you who are not here with us in DC, let me just say the Bookfair is easily twice the size of the one in Denver, or at least to my recollection. It stretches on for miles in many, many directions. I had quite a time trying to figure out the logic of the numbering/lettering system (come to think of it, I have yet to discern the logic). Suggestion to the Board (listening, Oliver?): how about putting the booths in alphabetical order? That would really help, cuz we're writers, you know, and we do much better with A-Z than 332 and D and 102 and 66 and B. It gets sorta confusing trying to navigate??
Okay, but enough complaining. If I do not make it back to the Bookfair again (which is indeed not the case), I accomplished enough this morning to make my trip to DC worthwhile. To what accomplishment to I refer? None other than visiting the American Poetry Review table and picking out TWO ancient, weathered, back issues of the magazine, one from May/June 1973, and the other from 1976. Guess who's face graces the cover of the '73 issue? Anne Sexton. Also in this issue: James Wright, Philip Levine, Robert Bly, Jane Kenyon, Jim Harrison, Donald Hall, Mark Strand, and Diane Wakoski, among others.
I do not usually enjoy the smell of old print/ink, but these have an almost intoxicatingly musty sent that smells like, well, 1973, when people let newspaper clippings stack up until they yellowed. When the news was either in print or on the television/radio.
The 1976 issue features, along with Maxine, Adrienne Rich, Pablo Neruda, Theodore Roethke, Ellen Bryant Voight, Robert Lowell, and Brenda Hillman. Oh, and George Oppen.
There's a picture of Maxine with one of her horses (Boomerang). She's in her--early 40s? She looks about 25. She has some guns on those arms! And Adrienne Rich's contribution is an excerpt from Of Woman Born.
Can you believe that APR was charging $1 an issue for these? The advertisement of Sexton's The House of Folly is worth more than that.
Anyway, after that huge coup I raced over to Sean Dougherty's mega-stellar-awesome reading with his incredible posse (Crystal Williams, Silvana Straw, Roger Bonair-Agard, Dora McQuaid). The only sad part was that I was 15 minutes late, which meant I missed Sean's reading (dang!!!) and walked in half way through Silvana Straw's contribution, which immediately had me laughing too loud as she called out the letters of the beaded necklace her speaker had made: F*U*W (which translates to Fuck You, W). My fav line from Silvana: "The Americans are not dancing."
Before you hate me for walking in late, let me defend myself. I was racing toward the Executive Room and I spied a black wallet on the floor, so I lost 10 minutes racing back to Reception to turn it into the Concierge. (Yep, if you're reading this Young Woman from Oregon, it was me!).
Anyhoo, a little good karma added to my stash, and then I got to hear Roger Bonair-Agard read his incredibly powerful, moving, honest, funny, and revolutionary poems, including "Ode to the Man Who Grabbed Me By the Arm" and "All Black Penguin," among others. (Had never heard of him before. Loved him, as I did Silvana Straw. You see what I was saying about discovery?)
Then Dawn McQuaid got up and said "Love is a revolutionary act," then read poems about being in love with a Cherokee and not being able to speak in the house of God at her own father's funeral because the priest told her she was not a practicing Catholic. Her response? I am the house of God.
Crystal Williams finished up this most worthwhile and lively reading with her gorgeous poems about Detroit.
I am so glad I made it to this reading! Thanks, Sean, for putting together a winner.
Then I had lunch at the Lebanese Taverna. Ooh, la, la, that Mediterranean Mezza Plate was to die for. Thanks to Barbara Crooker, for leading me there, letting me gush about my kids, and generally making for a most pleasant lunch!
(L to R: Sean Thomas Dougherty, Roger Bonair-Agard, Dora McQuaid, Crystal Williams, Silvana Straw)
What a first day!
Stay tuned for full reports from Bardeo Wine Bar (Saturnalia and Painted Bride Quarterly Reading), at 5 pm tonight, plus who knows what shenanigans after hours . . .
If you are within striking distance of New York City next Tuesday, February 8, you must mark what would have been Elizabeth Bishop's 100th birthday by attending this celebratory reading co-sponsored* by the Poetry Society of America under the leadership of Alice Quinn. In a recent correspondence with Alice, I asked her about the upcoming reading. Her replies make it clear why this is an event not to be missed:
When she died in 1979, she was a (if not the, which was often the case) favorite poet of a wide, wide range of distinguished contemporaries, from John Ashbery to Mark Strand, Adrienne Rich, James Merrill, Jean Valentine, Thom Gunn, Robert Pinsky, and scads more, I’m sure. Since those days, another several generations of poets have come along to express their deep admiration and pleasure in her work, and the list of poets reading at the event, which is taking place on her actual birthday, reflects the ever-widening readership she has.
There will be poets in their 30s like Gabriele Calvocoressi and Tracy K. Smith and mid-career poets like Elizabeth Alexander, Kimiko Hahn, and Vijay Seshadri and magisterial figures like John Ashbery, Richard Howard, Mark Strand, Jean Valentine, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Marie Ponsot. So many of these poets down the years have been and are teachers, and Bishop's reputation has grown in classrooms all over the world. (Ed note: for a complete listing, go here.)
Additionally, she roved over the world and is not really identified with one American place, and her poems reflect her wide-open curiosity and receptivity. She was part of no clique, published most of her poems in The New Yorker, a magazine accessible to the general reader, where people interested in all the arts could keep up with her development. Also, her poems are so different from one another. That’s something she greatly admired about George Herbert—his invention of a form for each particular poem.
There’s a great transparency to the work and at the same time ever-beckoning mysteries. She seems inexhaustibly interesting artistically, and her life was dramatic in very touching ways, so the personal story is one we seem not to tire of mulling over.
SDH: What can aspiring poets learn from reading and hearing Bishop's poetry (and prose)?
AQ: One Art, the volume of her correspondence published many years ago, edited by Robert Giroux, and now this new volume of her correspondence with her New Yorker editors, reveal that she was a very dedicated, diligent worker from a young age. She read and memorized poems from age five or six, and the great essays written in her college days and reprinted in both the newly edited Prose, edited by Lloyd Schwartz and the Library of America volume, also edited by Lloyd—I’m thinking of the absolutely riveting essays, “Time’s Andromeda’s” and “Gerard Manley Hopkins: Notes on Timing in His Poetry”—make clear how passionately she thought about her art and the importance she placed on having ideas about poetry. (See her letter to Marianne Moore, Dec 5, 1936, when she was 25, about Wallace Stevens’ Owl’s Clover,
“What strikes me as so wonderful about the whole book—because I dislike the way he occasionally makes blank verse moo—is that it is such a display of ideas at work—making poetry, the poetry making them, etc. That, it seems to me, is the way a poet should think.”
So with respect to aspiring poets, I think her large, thoughtful ambition for her poetry combined with an innate modesty of scale—an early masterpiece such as At the Fishhouses has, nonetheless, a homespun air—should make poets feel so entirely free to go about things in their own way provided they strive for a level of serious achievement, too. The great variety of her work is also testament to a poet making it new for herself over and over. Each poem presents a separate challenge and opportunity.
She is certain proof of what Dickinson wrote, “The brain is wider than the sky….”
SDH: What is it that you most respond to in Bishop?
On January 29, my husband Eugene and I drove to Albany, NY where The Albany Institute of History and Art hosted a reception to honor the life and work of our friend, the artist Bill Sullivan, who died last fall. Five of Bill’s canvases fill a gallery on the museum’s third floor near rooms with paintings by Thomas Cole and Frederic Church. We’d stopped along the way to pick up Lee Musselman, who along with Eugene and Bill's partner Jaime Manrique had worked to settle the paintings in storage and to break up the house. Sullivan's paintings will be on view at the Institute through February 27, 2011. You should go if you can; they're not to be missed.
We arrived early at the museum, a compact and airy space between Elk Street and Washington Avenue in downtown Albany. Poet, artist, and photographer Star Black had already arrived, camera in one hand, coat in the other, having joined Jaime and Bob Ward on the train from NYC. Jaime, Star, Eugene, and I crossed the snow-lined avenue over to El Mariachi for colas and cafés con leche. Star was excited to learn that Gerrit Henry’s book, The Time of the Night, would be published in April. Eugene and Jaime talked about Bill’s memorial in New York City; how many people were there—Adele Alsop all the way from Utah, Michelle Spark in from Phoenicia, Bill’s cousin Pat and her family—and how much of Bill’s life, work, and generosity the speakers had remembered. And there had been letters, too: Jacob Burkhardt had written, Michael Lally posted memories on his blog, and Bill’s very dear friend Aurora Manuel had emailed Eugene and Jaime a poem to read that night.
The gathering was organized by collector Al Roberts and by curator Tammis Groft, an authority on the Hudson River School and New York State artists, who had the idea to time a showing of Bill’s work with the current show of Hudson River School artists. An 1856 sunset view by Church hangs around one corner a few steps away:
The landscape glows with the same intense reds and yellows that Sullivan magnifies in his gorgeous Twilight at Olana, looking southward over the great estate to the four-pointed stretch of river, the same attention to detail and spectacle of scope without the calming-down effect of a mid-nineteenth-century perspective.
We wandered into the back room to see more of Bill's work: La Vida is a 1993 tropical bucolic, a dreamy sunset. It couldn’t have been more of a contrast from a painting just one year earlier—the monumental Manhattan skyline in Bill's My Night with Lorca. The river is represented by two pieces, the twilight Olana of 1990, a gift to the museum by David Kermani, and the View of Albany from Route 9J, painted the year before Bill died. Last is a brilliantly colored Niagara scene, American Falls Illuminated, from 1990.
The conference has not even officially begun, but I am revved up and in love with this city where I held up a map in confusion and a nice fellow in a suit put his arm avuncularly around me and guided me 180 degrees in the other direction (ahem, where I needed to go, which was the Postal Museum).
I'm usually a bit of a light-weight when it comes to museums, but not today. Spurred on by the drizzle that turned to bright sun and a breeze that was whipping Old Glory into a tizzy outside our Nation's Capitol, I hit four + the Botanic Garden.
Yes, yes, I am ready to kick off the Nike's and put my feet up, but not before I share a few very wonderful, poem-worthy tidbits:
1) In the early age of ariel photography, they actually fitted pigeons with cameras, so they could fly up and give it their best Ansel Adams.
2) Istanbul's citizenry was star-gazing back in the 1500s, using tripods, parallactic rulers, and armillary spheres. No joke!
3) Apollo Astronauts each had a "Personal Preference Bag" for carrying their toiletries in.
4) The Land Rover's seats look exactly like beach chairs, with the woven backs and everything. And the fenders! They are very flimsy and rusty. Guess what the tires are made of? Wire mesh! I kid you not!
5) I got to see Mercury Friendship's gauges!
Oh, stop me, please do! I saw several DeKooning's, a roomful of Matisse's, a Serra, a bunch of Motherwell. Oy, it was intoxicating.
(left: John Glenn's Friendship)
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.