As a perfectionist, I don’t give myself many chances to fail. So it’s weirdly thrilling to slip into a studio alongside lithe, muscular men and women who learned to move their bodies to a beat in youth while I sat in a windowsill reading Madeleine L'Engle. I get a little rush knowing that I can’t do what they do, that the next hour will bring fresh embarrassments, that this will be ugly.
Every time I attend a class, I build up my tolerance to imperfection. Ten years ago, I walked out of a funk aerobics workout five minutes in. Yesterday, I stuck it out for 45 minutes before feigning an emergency phone call.
My lack of rhythm is what you might call “the bruise on the apple.” Lane DeGregory, an amazing writer and Pulitzer winner with the Tampa Bay Times, tells reporters to think of their subjects as apples. From a distance, the fruit is red, waxy, beautiful. But if you turn it in your hand, you are liable to find a bruise.
Show the bruise on the apple, and your writing crackles with authenticity.
In verse, we call this balancing the poetic with the antipoetic. A tony studio full of agile dancers is poetry. The sight of me in the back row trying to grind my pelvis, do a hip pop and flip my hair to the tune of Genuwine's "Ride it My Pony" is antipoetry. I make the class more interesting! The class makes me more interesting! Everybody wins?
This was a hotly discussed topic at the New School, where the worst insult you could give a piece of writing was to call it “a Poem with a capital P.” That is to say, a poem with no antipoetry, no reality, no roughness. I’m grateful for a community that supports beauty but is skeptical of perfection.
Every artist walks this aesthetic tightrope, and I draw inspiration from five who do it particularly well. Who are your favorites?
1. Louis CK
No city exemplifies the bruise on the apple better than, well, the Big Apple. Living here means experiencing the constant tension of life's glorious and revolting extremes. No one portrays this better than the comedian Louis CK, whose TV show is disgusting and heartwarming in nearly the same beat. Check out Season 2 Episode 6, which opens with a shot of a masterful musician playing the classical violin in the subway, then pans to a man undressing and bathing on the platform. This scene comes next:
2. Kohei Nawa
While wandering through the Met one day, I spotted a stunning object: a deer made out of giant glass beads. When I stepped closer, I realized the beads covered a real, taxidermied deer. Pix-Cell-Deer #24 lures me in and makes me recoil about 10 times whenever I visit it. The artist says, "By covering [the] surface of an object with transparent glass beads, the existence of the object itself is replaced by 'a husk of light.'"
I'm fortunate to be friends with the artist Danita Geltner, and one of the many reasons is that when I visit her Tribeca home, I get to enjoy the amazing sculptures she created in the 1980s and 1990s. My favorite is Inlet (below), made from acrylic rods, beach debris and bones covered with sea salt from the Dead Sea. She stopped making visual art to write poems, which similarly juxtapose the manmade with the natural and the harshness of death with the joys of life. Read her Pushcart-nominated poem "Being a City Girl, I Screamed" and see what I mean.
4. Wayne White
He's best known as one of the creative forces behind the 1980s kids show Pee-wee's Playhouse. When I watched it growing up, I had no idea it was an East Village art project. He's become famous again for drawing pop phrases on old thrift shop paintings, begging the question, which is the poetry and which is the antipoetry? PBS aired the entertaining documentary Beauty is Embarrassing about his work this week.
5. French street fashion
This isn't so much a person as it is everyday women on the rues of Paris. When I visited Montmartre last summer, I was taken with the way everyone incorporated hard/soft, high/low, pretty/ugly elements into their wardrobes. Take a women's dress with a sweet bird pattern, add a skull-and-crossbones zipper, and you have Parisian street style. Ines de la Fressange sums it up in her book Parisian Chic when she suggest pairing chiffon dresses with battered biker boots, diamond necklaces with denim shirts and tuxes with sneakers.
There's something to this sensibility, oui?
Daily prompt: Take a poem and underline the images that strike you as poetic, and double-underline the images that strike you as antipoetic. How are they working together?