L to R: Kenneth Koch, David Lehman, John Ashbery. Photo by Stacey Harwood
On May 6, 2001, Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery and David Lehman appeared at the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Mass to celebrate The Stamp of Impulse: Abstract Expressionist Prints, the first exhibit to show the influence of Abstract Expressionism on printmaking. The exhibit was spectacular, with works on display by 100 pioneering Abstract Expressionist printmakers including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Nell Blaine, Louise Nevelson, Richard Diebenkorn, Claire Falkenstein, Helen Frankenthaler, Cy Twombly, and Joan Mitchell. Ashbery, Koch, and Lehman read their work and reminisced about a time in America
when artists, writers and musicians were experimenting with creative
This Thursday, Housing Works bookstore brings you Bill Hayward and scenes from his film asphalt, muscle and bone. Laura Isaacman, editor of The Coffin Factory, discusses art, literature, and film with Bill, whose photographs are the main art feature in issue four of The Coffin Factory.
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe 126 Crosby Street New York, NY 10012
I suppose my viewing companion and I approached it all
wrong. At the Guggenheim, I like to start on thetop floor and work my way
down. But the exhibit was arranged chronologically and worked its way up, --
bottom floor early paintings, top floor the later ones, with the studies for
Guernica (1937) around the thirdor fourth floor. But we started with the late
paintings first, with his portraits of women out-of-joint, animal-headed,
grotesque, and had to make sense of where he ended up – misogynistic, misanthropic,
the cubist abstraction looking painful and hateful – without the softening of
watching the master’s progression over time.
To start on the ground floor and work up would have shown
the calm line of the neoclassic portraits, the faces of his muses rendered with
a mostly gentler hand. You could say there was even something like love between
the painter and subject, between the painter and painting. But boy, did
something happen, and it wasn’t just cubist experimentation or the horrors of
war. To read the paintings, particularly the portraits, biographically, when
the wives, mistresses, and muses became all a-jumble, the paintings of women
began to change. Certainly this is not an entire overview of his oeuvre – he created close to 50,000
works of art over his 60-something-year career – but in this exhibit, the
turning point of his depiction of women is dramatic. A portrait from the early
1930s of Olga Khohklova, Picasso’s first wife, is grossly misshapen and has a
slit of a vagina dentata for a mouth.
This is the spot where many of the portraits turn ugly.
Of course, not all the paintings in this show are quite so
jarring. Much of it is evocative and brilliant. “The Maids of Honor” is typical
of Picasso’s genius for deconstructing a figure and a scene and reconstructing
it into something altogether new. The flow and folds of a woman’s gown become a
chock-a-block of clashing geometries and fields of hue. And “The Charnel
House,” a mangle of bodies and parts sprawled beneath a table, powerfully and
aptly alludes to the scenes of horror that were breaking across Europe at the
end of World War II.
Though the show is called “Black and White,” the palette is
mostly gray, with subtle shadings that have the effect of almost
obfuscating the content of the paintings and soothing the eye. Overall, it’s a
magnificent exhibit, with many of the paintings coming from private
collections, being shown in public for the first time. But start from the
bottom and work your way up the Guggenheim climb. Perhaps by the time you reach
the top you’ll be wowed enough and tired enough not to notice what I did.
This evening I was reading this post on The Hairpin, all about "low-effort toddler games" like "Do You Like My Hat?" and "Hide Things in Your Clothes," and it reminded me of a passage from the children's book Pinky Pye, wherein a cat types up a list of suggested games:
The very clever cat then goes on to explain more complicated games, which you might enjoy reading (beginning on page 118).
And this led me to thinking of all the games I've played with poet friends, which now I will tell you how to play, in case you find yourself with guests or selves to entertain this weekend.
1. Game of First Lines
This is just like Balderdash, only instead of inventing definitions for obscure words, you invent first lines for titles. Pull a literary journal off the shelf, open to the first poem, read the title aloud, and then have your friends write down a convincing option for a first line, while you write down the actual one. Gather them all together, read them out loud, and have everyone guess which is real. Points to anyone who guesses right, or whose line manages to fool someone. Or don't keep track of points. Then pass the journal to the next person, so you get a chance to invent.
2. Game of Following the Rules of Vasko Popa's Game Poems
I just made this up, but I think it would end in tears. Here is how you play "Seducer"
One caresses the leg of a chair Until the chair moves And motions him coyly with her leg
Another kisses the keyhole Keeps kissing it and how Until the keyhole returns the kiss
A third one stands to the side Watches the other two And shakes and shakes his head
Until his head drops off
3. Game of Not Listening
When you are stuck in an audience listening to someone who is dull or going on for too long, write down words and phrases she says, in order, but very selectively, so that by the time she finishes you have a much better speech she could have made had she only known how to edit herself. Extra points if you arrange her own words into an entirely different subject.
4. Game of Constant Similes
Pretend that every time someone says "like" as filler (of the "um" variety) he is embarking on making a simile it is your job to understand.
5. Game of Stacking Books
This game I borrowed from Matthea Harvey, who borrowed it from the artist Nina Katchadourian. Go to a place full of books. Find titles you'd like to arrange into a poem. Stack them in an order that pleases you. Depending on whether or not you think the place is trying to keep the books in a different order, you might consider leaving them there for someone to discover. Or take a picture.
I first fell in love with Cy Twombly’s paintings when I saw Fifty Days at Iliam at the Philadelphia
Museum of Art about 15 years ago. The ten large starkly white canvases flame
with a narrative of the Trojan War, mixing abstracted image, brilliant swaths
of color, and scribblings of text. “Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It” (pictured left) remains one of my favorite paintings, and I’ve had the privilege of spending a
good deal of time with Twombly’s work on two trips to the DeMenil gallery in
Houston that houses a permanent collection of his canvases and sculptures, as
well several exhibits that have hung here in New York.
I was not, however, hot to see the exhibit of his paintings
that Gagosian Gallery had this past November and December. Perhaps because the
show was called Last Paintings, and
it’s hard for me to bear the thought there will be no new work now, no more
brilliant surprises from this singular artist, but moreover because the image
used on the gallery website to announce the show seemed such a disappointment.
The reds and greens seemed muted and dull – not at all the vibrancy I’ve come
to love in Twombly’s work. And the painting itself seemed a sort of regression
back to his early days of his signature repeated squiggle -- a row of constantly looping eeeeeeeeee that reminds me of grammar
school cursive writing practice. Not my favorite work from him. Yes, I see these
works as part of the magic cryptography of sign and symbol that draws me to
most of his other work, and yes, I see the abstraction of… well, something. But
what generally blows me away about Twombly is that amazing use of color --
especially because it is so carefully and sparingly doled out -- and his
abstracted allusions to recognizable objects – flowers, boats, the shore, the
I did want to see the photographs, though, so off to the
gallery to pay my last respects on one of the last weekends of the show. So
many flowers! And so lovely to see how he how he used the photos – often
blurred tight shots – as studies for the images in his previous paintings, whether
they remained as flowers or explosions or just beautiful blobs of paint. The
photos did not disappoint. I’m not sure what process or lens or filter he used
to achieve the muted colors and soft edges displayed on the prints, but the
muting promts the viewer to understand that these are not necessarily rows and
rows of tulips we are looking at, but an inconsistent and lovely repetition of
shape and coloring that Twombly clearly found more compelling than the idea of
And so, after looking at these lovely forms with their soft
coloring that lulls the viewer into blissful reverence, on to the paintings in
the gallery above.
But wait, what’s this? These six large canvases with their
repeating eeeeeeeeee are not dull
green and red at all. The gallery announcement’s photo reproduction has done
them no justice. These are Twombly’s last paintings and they are the strongest
and brightest use of overall color on the canvas I have seen in his work. The
is almost neon. The red, a brilliant tomato. And the yellow, somewhere
between school bus and canary and singing. And what’s this? Oh my – the eeeeees are no longer letters, god bless
us, they’re tulips!
Thank you, Cy, thank you.
Sharon Preiss is the owner of Mobile Libris, a
NYC-based book-selling service that specializes in selling books at
author events. She earned an MFA in Writing and Literature from
Bennington College and has taught literature, creative writing and
composition classes at various institutions. Her poetry and prose have
been published in PIF Magazine, Massachusetts Review, 5AM, The Tucson
Weekly, CoverMag, and the Albany Times-Union.
Sometimes I get nostalgic and think about my classmates from
my MFA years and how I adored so many of the poems I had the privilege of
reading in those workshops and how much they taught me and spurred me to try
new things. There was the one poem by Rebecca Vano that was an autumn scene I
think, and there might have been a stick, or was it a squirrel; I can’t
remember now that ten years have passed but what I do remember is thinking that
nature was alive in her poem like it is in the best work of Snyder or Kinnell, that
it wasn’t just landscape, a prop, rather the real deal. There was dirt in her
poem, if not stated, then implied for sure, and wind and light and they lived
and existed there as just themselves, not as hokey symbols.
I wanted that kind of presence in my
poems. I can’t even claim to have had a floor with cheap carpet in my poems
back then, much less the true ground. I wish more poems had real earth in them
like Rebecca’s poem. Or more characters responding to other characters and not
just our 21st century speaker in the way her husband David Vano’s
poems were dramatic and electric. It was David who first introduced me to Jack
Gilbert’s work, Monolithos I think it
was, and then to Frank Bidart. I still remember Orpheus being torn to bits in one
of David’s poems and how in spite of his death there was still music, and I
think maybe there was a river too, and maybe it had rocks over which the water
flowed, rocks against which the head of Orpheus rested and sang. I wanted that
kind of drama in my poems, the kind Frost and Yeats made their own.
I’ve missed reading the poems of
the Vanos these last ten odd years and so it was with great delight when a
couple of months ago David wrote me and said he had a new poem in the hopper
and would I read it. Of course!, I shouted across the electronic ether and so
before long I was in it again, a student happily lost in David’s poem, happily
reveling in lines like this:
Now there are villagers who believe
that the Giant Swift was no swift but God
and that since
God had withdrawn His antiquarian gaze from this dark village,
we would be
abandoned like dreams or the world’s poor. But in that night…
These lines unfold across the page like a wing. How lucky I
felt to again be able to watch his mind take flight. I can only hope he will
send me more. Maybe Christmas or the New Year will even bring me a poem by
Rebecca. Or Groundhog Day or St. Patrick’s will bring more poems by David
and did I mention he’s a wonderful painter too!
Perhaps it’ll be Easter that brings
me the voices of other friends I haven’t read in far too long. Maybe I
shouldn’t wait on fortune or destiny or happenstance. Maybe today we should all
make our own luck and choose a friend we haven’t heard from in awhile and say, “I
missed you and thought I’d write you a little something.”
Trevor Winkfield's "New Paintings" opens on November 29 at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue (near the SE corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue), New York, NY 10019. The show extends until January 12, 2013. This remarkable painter (and sometime literary editor) has collabrated with, and designed covers for, such poets as John Ashbery and Ron Padgett.
Celestial Shrine, 2010, acrylic on linen, 29 7/8 x 38 1/2 inches.
worked at The Bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts since at least last Wednesday.
you get that joke, then you’ve probably been to The Bookstore where you’ve probably
met owner Matthew Tannenbaum. Matt’s been in the book business for a little
while now. He recounts the beginning of his career as a bookman in the
chapbook-sized My Years at the Gotham
Book Mart with Frances Steloff, Proprietor (on sale during business hours;
come on in). He’s working on a longer memoir, so I won’t, nor for reasons of
plausible deniability do I particularly want to, divulge the details—which are wild,
heartbreaking, historic—suffice it to say that The Bookstore came into his care
during the nation’s bicentennial year and, despite claims to the contrary, he’s
been serving the people of Lenox and the greater community ever since.
Bookstore is a New England City Lights: a thriving counterculture symbol not simply
because of Matt’s connection to banned-book champion Steloff nor solely because
of his own place in that continuum (e.g. the poster trumpeting Matt’s reading
of Kerouac’s Dr. Sax with Michael
Gizzi and Clark Coolidge, the photo of him shaking hands with Vaclav Havel) but
precisely because it’s a shop stocked by a man who knows that reading a book,
whether the pulpiest mass market, the most surreal love poetry, or the humblest
picture book, can reveal in any person of any age limitless reservoirs of
imagination, of wonder, of hope. In the E-Age, selling print books is about
as countercultural an activity as you can engage in in these United States.
one of the reasons, but not the only, that puts me in my car 2 ½ hours
’round-trip three days a week. On one of those three days, I usually get a
compliment on the store’s selection, which has been cultivated by Matt through nearly
four decades of his own literary love affairs—but is also the result of a bookman
having a deep and ongoing conversation with his community. Because he loves to
hear what people love to read, whether they’re old friends or new
acquaintances, they in turn allow Matt to suggest books they
might not otherwise consider, enlarging their own point of view. It’s buoying to observe and it happens all the time.
read Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day,
you might have seen Matt’s name before. This contemporary epic of motherhood
and community was written on December 22, 1978 at 100 Main Street in Lenox,
down the street and around the corner from The Bookstore. Almost everything in
Lenox is down the street and around the corner. Matt appears a couple of times,
but the most notable occurs near the end of Part III, on page 53 of the latest New
Directions paperback (NDP876). On the preceding page, standing in the health
food store, the question comes: “You think something like a book will change
the world, don’t you?” The answer, in the next line: “I do, I take pleasure in
taking the milk with the most cream”. A few lines later brings us to this wonderful
Let’s go in to the bookstore to see Matthew Tannenbaum
The dream figure of the boy-father-mother who turns into
The recalcitrant bookseller as we do
I look over the shoulder
Of a girl flipping through the pages of a book of women’s
All beauties, bigger than life, black and white
Scavullo on Beauty
You study poetry and read magazines upstairs
Let me tell you
The titles of all the current books:
The Suicide Cult,
The Ends of Power,
The Origin of the
Brunists, Invasion of the Body Snatchers,
War and Remembrance,
The Winds of War, The Dogs of War, Dog Soldiers,
Mommie Dearest, My Moby
Dick, My Mother Myself, By Myself, Uncle,
Mortal Friends, Nappy
Edges, Tender Miracles,
Song of Solomon, Delta
of Venus, The Women’s Room,
Ladies Man, Six Men,
The Water-Method Man, Watership Down,
The Night People,
Shepherds of the Night, A Dream Journey,
Daniel Martin, Delmore
Schwartz, Edith Wharton,
Time and Again, Better
Times Than These, Centennial,
The Professor of
Desire, The Honorable Schoolboy,
Heart Beat, The Third
Mind, Jack’s Book,
Beasts, The Magus, The
Flounder, The Fabricator,
Words of Advice,
Secrets and Surprises, Dispatches,
Prelude to Terror, Full
Disclosure, Final Payments,
The World of Damon
Runyon, The Stories of John Cheever,
Someone Is Killing the
Great Chefs of Europe, Praxis,
Shakespeare, The Last Best Hope
are lots of beautiful things about this passage. There is no more
“upstairs”—it’s now a slightly elevated section of the store with our children’s
books. We don’t sell magazines; you can find a selection at Loeb’s Food Town next door, as well as newspapers. You can, however, still come and study
poetry, as we’ve got an entire wall of it in the adjacent Get Lit Wine Bar,
where I bartend on Friday nights, sometimes Thursday mornings.
Owner Matthew Tannenbaum behind the bar at Get Lit
also a delightful snapshot of the publishing world in the late 1970s. One title
in particular stands out: My Moby Dick
by William Humphrey, a romp about a colossal trout and the fanatical angler out
to hook him. It’s out of print, and we recently tracked down a used copy for
someone. The Lenox connection is significant: Melville wrote Moby-Dick not but a few miles from The
Bookstore at Arrowhead, on the Lenox-Pittsfield line. I pass by it every day on
the way to work.
my own decade-long career as a bookman, I’ve worked at various Borders and
Barnes & Noble locations. I was the textbook manager at the Yale Bookstore. For a number of years, I was a manager at another great independent, the Northshire Bookstore, in
Manchester Center, Vermont. I’ve worked for and with
great people who have enriched my literary vocabulary, often in ways I never
would’ve predicted. I’ve also worked for and with people who, in the end of the
day, could’ve been selling hemorrhoid cream for all they cared, so long as you
bought something from them.
Bookstore is different.
once in a while, I’ll get a customer who, rather wistfully, goes on about how
great it would be to own a bookstore. I try not to disabuse them. Those reveries
of lounging around, talking literature the live-long are quickly erased
when you have to deal with the day-to-day operations of unpacking, stocking,
ordering, organizing the store. It never ends. But since we’re working with
books, it’s a joy, and occasionally, moreso than any other bookstore
I’ve worked at, we do get a chance to kick back and talk. About books, yes, but
also about life. That is, after all, where the books comes from. It helps when Bookstore friends like Alice Brock, Bill Corbett, Harry Mathews, or Geoff Young stop in to say hello.
Anyone drawn to this blog is probably aware that the publishing industry is in—O clichéd phrase—a state of flux. We talk about this from time to time at The
Bookstore. The conclusion we always come to is to keep doing what we’re doing,
which is: to stock the best books, new and old, by the best writers from a
variety of eras and styles and let great readers come find us. And they do. Every day.
it’s too late to stop now. We don’t have every book ever printed available in the store for you to purchase. No one does, not even Amazon. But we do have a lot of great books, and
there’s a good chance a few of those great books you’ve never heard of. So, like I said, come on in. I think of The Bookstore as like Ruthie in her
may not always have what you need, but we definitely have what you want.
* We always have lots of readings at The Bookstore, but one that Best American Poetry readers might be interested in is Peter Gizzi and Bernadette Mayer, Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
"La Glorieta, Buenos Aires," by Mong-Lan, 2011, 28" x 39"
her native Vietnam in 1975, on the last day of the evacuation of Saigon. A poet, writer,
dancer, visual artist, singer, and educator, she is the author of five books
and two chapbooks, including her book on the tango, Tango, Tangoing: Poems
& Art (the bilingual version: Tango, Tangueando: Poemas &
Dibujos). Find a complete list of titles here. Mong-Lan has won the Juniper
Prize, the Great Lakes Colleges Association's New Writers Awards, a Stegner
Fellowship at Stanford University, and a Fulbright Fellowship. She received a
Master of Fine Arts from the University of Arizona. Mong-Lan’s poetry has been
frequently anthologized -- in, for example, The Best American
Poetry. Visit: www.monglan.com