Video by WGBH and David Grubin Productions, filmmaker Leita Luchetti, and student filmmakers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's docUWM media center. Courtesy of the Poetry Foundation.
Video by WGBH and David Grubin Productions, filmmaker Leita Luchetti, and student filmmakers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's docUWM media center. Courtesy of the Poetry Foundation.
These poems trip through Afghanistan, Tokyo, and Mozambique. These poems journey with turtledoves, trout, the pages of a book and a soldier on leave. Poems that shop, bush walk, slumber in utero, visit with Jesus, King William, Andrew Jackson, and hawks. These poems ride on the spine of a pit bull, on torpedoes and a black river, on trains and the subway. Here's a sweet bite:
The Girl Fighting Back Tears on The Subway During Morning Rush Hour by Stacey Harwood
Before my love and I decided to live together in a waterside condo, he grew these plush and inky fuchsia roses in the backyard of his duplex apartment.
The neighborhood was of the cracked-concrete-and-power station-on-the-corner sort, with sidewalks fringed with weeds and the occasional scraggly silver button tree. But his L-shaped patch of green sort of gushed with whatever he planted - basil, mint, heather, petunias, and portly roses that would seem to appear overnight and blossom frilly and wide over the course of a week. They would last at least another 7 days after that, or at least that's how I remember it, and we took great pleasure smelling them before we went to work or on weekends when we'd sit on the terrace eating the spinach omelets Mark made for breakfast.
Those roses are one of the reasons he is the bee's knees; he can coax beauty from the unlikeliest of places. Another reason is that his roses reminded me of the ones my mother once grew in our front yard, in canteros, which I only learned recently means "planters" in English. Even though my Spanish is not the greatest, there are certain words I only know in Spanish, like gallegos - what we called the tarnished gold beetles that buzzed along the window screens of my childhood home.
This is where my mother used to grow little and spindly rose bushes in all hues - creamy meringue, lavender, yellow, maroon, and pink. The flowers were no larger than a small apple, and they opened in the dim hours before I left to elementary school. She'd cut a few stems and wrap them in paper and foil, then give them to me to give to my teachers. I don't quite remember handing them off, but I do recall what it felt like when she placed the fragrant homespun package in my hand, petals cool and still wet with early morning, her efforts at lacing our days with a bit of loveliness.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom. You too are a forever beauty.
At the AWP 2010 Conference: view of downtown Denver and the Rockies
Wrap-up, reflections, notes, epilogue, snark, comments, cuttings, insights, diary, dispatch, report, briefs, digest, ditties, snips, quips, chicks with inky whips, bullets, index, missives, postcards, texts, tweets, deep thoughts and bleeps - there appears to be a fathomless amount of AWP rehash in the vaporsphere, and since DL asked me for highlights, I'm chucking my pennies in with the rest.
*Right off the plane, check in, and hoof it to the convention center, where I'm introduced to Maria Melendez, poet and editor/publisher of Pilgrimage magazine. I immediately sign up for a subscription because the current issue looks great and Maria is too buoyant to deny. So great to kick off my first experience at my first AWP with someone who's not talking about budget cuts but about how much she digs the mag's photo cover because it's "a return to creatures." Yeah.
*Meet poet Suzanne Frischkorn in person after a couple of years of playing online friendsies. She is the one who clues me in that the vertigo, nausea, and overall stoned-ness I've been feeling is not exhaustion, jet lag or bad airport food - it's altitude sickness. On her advice, I'm chugging criminally priced Gatorade and Smart Water. It works. Thanks, Suzannita.
* Michael Chabon is the keynote speaker for Thursday night. He reads an essay where he plays both the parts of curious reader/student and semi-sagacious author. He asks himself something along the lines of Where do you get your ideas? He responds with Ideas are perhaps the least interesting part of the job...like the pound of insects we each consume unknowingly per year.
MC: Can one really teach writing? MC: No, one can't...Life is not a story, or not a very good story. It has a beginning and end and those are the same for everyone. You need to edit your life, you need to shape it. But most of all, you need to lie.
MC: How do we write? MC: One clattering letter at a time.
A pachanga gathers at the One Poem Festival.
* One Poem Festival: About 30 Latino poets reading one poem each at the Dikeou Collection. Oscar Bermeo leads off with "When the City Ends," which might not be the poem's title but is certainly an imagining that squeezes in cityscapes, double dutch girls, and the Soul Sonic Force. Xanath Caraza sings the beginning of her poem in a bronzed alto; Tim Z. Hernandez hypnotizes us with his meditation of dusk in the campos and how "Venus shows her bashful face in the blue of night." Kristin Naca tells of her father's failed quest to catch cardinals and Dan Vera recalls his elementary school's "cafetorium," where he and other 7 year old boys watched films about hygiene and the unexpected fate of Old Yeller. Listen, you know how sometimes you go to readings and you're nodding and hmm-hmmming but really you're thinking about dinner or how you should stop for gas on the way home? There was none of that wandering for me at this reading. Everyone had something good to offer here, not just in verse but also in news. Poet Silvia Curbelo announced the winner of the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize, which supports the publication of a first full length collection by a Latino poet. Past winners include Gabriel Gomez, Sheryl Luna, and Paul Martinez Pompa. This year's winner - me. And I am thrilled and grateful. Thank you to all.
*Banana wheat pancakes, homefries, cafe au lait and a carafe of iced lemon water at The Delectable Egg(see right). I ate at this place twice and would have hit it a third time if I had any sense. But I was too busy running between the hotel, its ripoff gift shop ($8 for a bottle of Visine), the book fair, and sundry events, the latter which included a reading by contributors to The Sun that I had intended to listen to for about 15 minutes before tearing off to one of the 100 things I wanted to attend but didn't. It was too good to leave. Hat off to Steve Almond, Ellen Bass, Akhim Yuseff Cabey, Frances Lefkowitz, Alison Luterman, and Sy Safransky. I actually forgot about eating while hearing your poems and stories. Sorcery!
*Lots more to note, but too beat to do so. Writing about AWP is almost as exhausting as entering its glorious and buzzing maw. I will add that, wretched altitude aside, springtime in Denver is a pretty thing, and if anyone knows the name of this tree I would be glad to learn it.
I’m on a plane to Denver, and the range of clouds below me appears carved and forested, their sides a sheer plummet of pale slate and their tops crowned in bunched leaves. This is my first year attending AWP, and my trip lands on a list I think of as “Stuff I Figured Out Long After Everyone Else Did.” The screed includes learning to drive stick shift, cooking the perfect hard boiled egg, getting engaged, discovering Pavement and Yo La Tengo, and writing some books.
On Monday, after hearing some good poetry news (tba), I realized – why am I not going to a conference stuffed with folks who love and make literature? Tuesday I borrowed a coat and booked my flight and hotel, Wednesday the super-shuttle at DIA. That’s pretty much how my life happens – late and fast. But if you’re summoned and are compelled to respond, shouldn’t you? I say yes.
we had plums & a handful of soda bread more milk a good ball of twine & we tossed the carpet onto the skiff & jumped on top
we had plums &
of soda bread
more milk a
of twine & we
the carpet onto
& jumped on top
the river was
easy incomplete but it
of the papier mache
you hear your name in
The line is from Selenography, by Joshua Marie Wilkinson, a book I was invited to share on Goodreads and one that I actually wanted to read because I loved the title, since I too study the moon from the modest perch of my balcony. But I was also intrigued because the collection included Polaroids by musician Tim Rutili. Polaroids! Just the word brings to mind some of my favorite things: instant gratification, the 70s, and, of course, the sound and feel of the camera, its kechuckety-clack after hitting the front red button, the shuhzzzzz slide of the photograph entering the world. The SX-70 is the child of the era in which it was invented – garish and oversized and fun.
Anyway, I emailed Joshua, who I do not know, but such is the beauty of online friendship, and he sent me a pdf. Read it. Loved it. Divided into sections with fabulist names such as “My Cautious Lantern” and “Wolf Dust,” the poems are untitled, except the accompanying imagery sort of serves as a title, a kind of diving board used to plunge into fluidity. The writing is dream-like, Merwinesque with its absence of punctuation (and pop culture pillars) and line breaks that keep reinventing meaning. So a reader just sort of floats along the surface of this gentle river of letters, which you can see is deep and filled with oddly shaped rocks and sponges, perhaps striped and diamond-stamped fish, and other sparkling flotsam you feel against your skin but can’t quite identify.
That’s what reading this book is like. The photos are just plain cool, not stylized or deliberately low-fi but more along the lines of "I liked the looks of this." At times the images are blurred or smudged with fingerprints, or furrowed with bluish greens and creases that resemble birds in flight. Other frames include a plastic T-Rex, a rotting armchair, a crow, a ghostly piano. Do you hear your name in the current? As a matter of fact, I do.
I started paying more attention to Ezili Freda after last week's earthquake, the one that devastated Haiti and finally summoned the world's eyes, all at once, to this small Caribbean nation. She is one of the Lwa, a pantheon of immortal spirits in Vodou who wield their powers on behalf of the devout. Her likeness has sort of followed me around over the years.
I've seen her on prayer cards at sundry Miami mini-marts, and sitting on my kitchen counter is my grandmother's statue of La Caridad del Cobre, Cuba's patron saint, who is often associated with Ezili Freda.
Someone once gave me a white sequined Vodou bottle with her head and shoulders stamped across the front. Then, driving around Little Haiti, I looked over while waiting at a light and there she was again- painted across a big slab of plywood and propped in a storefront window.
Of course I pulled over and asked if the painting was for sale. I am a big fan of folk art and if it includes any kind of religious iconography, all the better. I think I find it irresistible, the unpretentious mishmash of art and fairytales and faith.
Ten minutes and $75 later, I was heading back to work with the Lwa of love and pleasure strapped into the passenger seat.
The portrait is a crude one, with flat perspectives and an angelic face a child would draw, remembering to dot the center of each eye with a nubby, tiny pupil. Since I first brought it home, the painting has hung above the sofa, on a red textured wall, near a window that faces the inlet, and in our shoebox of a foyer. None of these locations ever seemed quite right. Finally, last year, we hung it in the hallway over the antique bookshelves that are stuffed with most of my poetry books.
Today I learned Ezili Freda loves jewels, anais perfume, and sumptuous linens. Her symbol is the checkered heart. She wears three wedding rings, one for each of her consorts: Danbala, Ogu, Agwe. She rules over the home, can assist in matters of fertility, and, oh yes, she serves as muse to writers, as well as painters and musicians.
She is the inspiration behind several works by the late Andre Pierre, one of Haiti's most noted visual artists who was also a practicing houngan, or Vodou priest.
(Left, Andre Pierre)
"I do what I want with the spirits," he once said, "and they do what they want with me."
I am not a practictioner of Vodou. But I might imagine what Ezili Freda would want from me is to remember she was there. Before the earthquake in Haiti, she had simply receded from my sight line. I'd see her hanging between the bathroom and the bedroom, beside a concert poster for a long-gone Pitchfork festival. But I wasn't really looking. She had just become part of the walls and the furniture and everything else we walk and sleep beside without really noticing.
I'm worried the same thing is already happening to Haiti, although even as I write this there's a telethon raising money, and there are special broadcasts and reportage abound. But there's other stuff now jostling for our attention: mudslides and tornadoes in California, the Supreme Court giving even more might to the far-too-powerful. It all keeps marching on and with great clamor.
How will I remember to keep my eyes on Haiti? I hope to do it in the details. I'm listening to Boukman Eksperyans again, whose record Kalfou Danjere (Dangerous Crossroads) I wore out while living on Miami Beach many years ago in a dinky studio three blocks from the ocean. I'm remembering the righteous okra and homemade lemon soda I used to have for lunch at Chez Rosie, just down the street from the paper I wrote for in downtown Miami. Or the time I paired up with photojournalist Carl Juste on a story about salsa classes, how his singular scratch-and-gravel voice helped me find him in a salon crowded with wistful dancers. I'm trying to keep my eyes on Haiti by pulling whatever I know of her closer to me. So far, it's working.
QUESTION: ...Contrary to public opinion, good poetry seems to be constructed, rather than spontaneously created. This obviously takes a lot of time. Therefore, how would you suggest a serious student of poetry manage or even afford to have this time? Should he just Wallace Stevens it?
PAUL MULDOON: It’s certainly true that it takes more work than most people might consider. That’s largely because all the work goes into making the poem look as if no work whatsoever has gone into it. And reading, both of other poems and the poem that’s even now coming into the world, is vital. But it’s still not like getting ready to run a marathon in Kenya. The exercise analogy doesn’t quite work. No amount of physical practice or mental preparedness will ensure that one will be able to run the marathon of the poem.
QUESTION: How does one get started as a poet? Clearly, trying to get published in The New Yorker off the bat is a long shot.
PAUL MULDOON: One gets started by having a lot of nerve but a nerve tempered by nervousness. Hubris tempered by humility. The chances of getting published in The New Yorker are slim in the sense that we publish only a hundred poems a year. But the chances of being published here are nonetheless real if you manage to write a really stunning poem. Nobody ever knows when, or how, that might happen. Soon, I hope.
Here's to stamina and "soon" for anyone flummoxed by their own stubborn drafts. Read the whole transcript here.
Because it is Halloween, and because I love all that is dark sparkle and lore, I settled in last night and read one of the Grimm Brothers' bleaker fairy tales - Hansel and Gretel. It's the last chapter of a collection I've kept since I was a child and I don't think I've opened the book since then either. I recalled a sketch of the story - a brother and sister lost in the woods, trying to find their way home, and a witch who traps them because they are hungry and her house is made of gingerbread and cake.
Well. There's that, but there's also the whole other part I forgot about, such as that the reason they are lost to begin with is because their father and stepmother have deliberately left them to die in the forest. Twice.
The first time, the resourceful Hansel finds the path back because he marks the way with pebbles that shine in the moonlight. The second time he uses bread crumbs to track his trail, but they disappear into the mouths of grackles and rabbits and the like. The witch cages Hansel and fattens him to eat; Gretel is made into her kitchen slave. Eventually the clever girl shoves their captor into an oven, and the two return to their father without grudge. As if it was that easy to forgive betrayal.
I once loved the macabre theatre of these tales. It seemed to me, in my little girlness, that while the world was dangerous, at least it was interesting, a place where spells might explode at any moment or where children could rescue themselves. Last night I thought of H&G, now grown, perhaps choosing to forget the crone with the red eyes and the keen animal nose, the father who abandoned them. Perhaps not.
Here is their future, as seen by Louise Gluck, who authored the line I pinched for the title of this post.
Gretel in Darkness
This is the world we wanted.
All who would have seen us dead
are dead. I hear the witch's cry
break in the moonlight through a sheet
of sugar: God rewards.
Her tongue shrivels into gas...
Now, far from women's arms
and memory of women, in our father's hut
we sleep, are never hungry.
Why do I not forget?
My father bars the door, bars harm
from this house, and it is years.
No one remembers. Even you, my brother,
summer afternoons you look at me as though
you meant to leave,
as though it never happened.
But I killed for you. I see armed firs,
the spires of the gleaming kiln--
Nights I turn to you to hold me
but you are not there.
Am I alone? Spies
hiss in the stillness, Hansel,
we are there still and it is real, real
that black forest and the fire in earnest.
Federico Garcia Lorca was a poet with deep set eyes and a hood of thick eyebrows. When pressed together, his lips resembled two curved shells. He was a diminutive man who walked with a limp. His hands were delicate and resembled a child's.
Since I read recently that the Spanish government will soon try to exhume his remains, I have thought much about Lorca, his words but also his body, what must now only be his disassembled bones, his prettiness and his flaws dissolved to minerals. He is perhaps buried near Granada, where hundreds of men and women were executed by gunshot in 1936, during the Civil War, beside a cemetery wall and its surrounding hillsides and olive trees.
Lorca died in summer, four months before the olive harvest and when the trees' silvered branches were likely heavy with petals and fruit. Some of them are very old, their leaves long threaded by a wind that arrives through a vacant archway, as Lorca wrote, "...blowing relentlessly over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents; a wind that smells of baby's spittle, crushed grass, and jellyfish veil, announcing the constant baptism of newly created things."
Lorca is green as the sky at the hour of the crepúsculo, when the moon begins its bright ascent and the sidewalks fall to darkness. Lorca is the shadow-green of mangroves and pines, the slash of green beneath the egret's eye. He is the green that enters in silence; he is the green that returns.
Lorca was a poet whose work I read out loud and in Spanish to my mother and stepfather. She made Cuban coffee and served it in tiny china cups. He sat at the kitchen counter and noted, kindly, that my pronunciation was better than he had expected, quite good, in fact.
That summer when my mother's hair had finally grown back after her chemo, her head now dark and budding with curls, I could read espadas and adelfa but did not know they meant swords and oleander. It is easier to speak than to understand. Spanish, with its velvet-clad consonants and hopeful vowels, each letter sounding exactly as it appears. Nothing is left behind. Nothing is buried.
When my mother says my name, her voice rings like a little gold bell, and I think of yellow, a color that, like her, is filled with resolve. Yellow is a window, a locket, a poison that can heal. Yellow is Pinar del Rio -- heat and flat valleys and where my mother's people are from. When I was a girl, yellow was the braid she wore long and down the middle of her back; yellow was the garden of succulents she grew, their branches circuitous, and each leaf's shape a surprise: a paddle, a button, a dagger, a heart.
For some reason, DL's post showing Lee Wiley poised to sing reminded me about this documentary. Maybe it's because both images hold that grainy mystery shared by many of the films and photos from the early 20th. Or maybe it was that Wiley, a jazz chanteuse, was hitting her stride right around the same time as the theremin. Who knows. My brain works a lot along the lines of "One of These Things is Not Like the Other."
I saw Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey at my friend Mahoney's house, which is oft-cluttered with amplifiers, circuit boards, and computers, as well as oddly-shaped knobs, fountains of wires and metal boxes whose functions remain a puzzle to me. Mahoney is a dreamer-guitar-player-inventor-geek-science-buff. He loves all things electric.
The Russian-born Leon Theremin invented his namesake instrument somewhere around 1920, giving public recitals in New York and Europe for almost two decades afterwards. The theremin became a quick hit with artists everywhere, and went on to serve as soundtracks for outer-space and monster flicks, as well as for scores by synth-inventor Robert Moog and Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame (there's a rather mesmerizing bit in the film where Wilson just blathers on about the theremin's grandeur.)
All interesting stuff, but then the story becomes as strange as the oscillating and ethereal spookiness the theremin emits (more weirdness: the instrument is played without touching it). In 1938 Leon vanished and did not reappear until 50 years later, with an explanation that includes a kidnapping, the KGB, and a labor camp where he was forced to perform spy-related tasks.
His ultimate reunion with family and friends sort of choked me up, especially his meeting with protégé Clara Rockmore, who is widely considered a master thereminist and who narrates much of the story.
One of my favorite parts of any movie is after the ending, when the screen turns dark and the credits roll and there is hopefully a song playing. I like to sit back and think about what it is I've seen. This is my last post of the week with BAP but not the last time I'll visit. This week I've read entries by other writers about Parisian cemeteries and the Rolling Stones, Obama at the All Star Game, and how to make a spicy sweet Italian liqueur with under-ripe walnuts. I've read poems and interviews and so much more.
And now I'd like to mull it all over, with a bit of help from Ms. Rockmore, she of the gifted hands and the fabulous silver turban.
Nothing breeds opportunity like controversy. And when the former arrives in the guise of a cool baseball tee - even better! I don't think Sonia Sotomayor thought she'd birth a fashion line when she spoke in 2001 to the University of California's Berkeley School of Law. But I'm glad it happened. Because now there are hoodies, journals, aprons, and thongs reminding us that even in this economy, simple words can still turn a buck or two.
As the daughter of Cuban immigrants, and of a father who runs his own small business, I applaud virtual merchant Nova for thinking on her feet.
In a similar spirit, I'd like to offer a mini-thesaurus to all the journalists out there who are running out of Latino-flavored adjectives to describe the soon-to-be judge. I've seen "fiery" and "spicy" in abundance, but since I wouldn't want anyone to confuse Sotomayor with a jar of salsa, here are some others. Use at your will, deadline scribes. The cost is gratis.
feisty, frisky, gutsy, scrappy, vibrant, sparkling, effervescent, calorific, spirited, emphatic, impassioned, vehement, peppy, frolicsome, zippy, sportive, sprightly, spunky, vigorous, dauntless, avid, audacious, plucky, fearless.
I'd like to close out with some words by another wise Latina - poet Sheryl Luna. I met her in West Palm Beach at a reading for the excellent The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry. I haven't seen her since, although we do give one another an occasional on-line shout-out. But I do feel like I know her a bit because of her blog, which is filled with music and writing that is unpretentious and soulful. Much like her poems.
Here's an excerpt from Pity the Drowned Horses.
above: ¡Socialismo Americano! album cover/Mister Entertainment & the Pookiesmackers
below: Zira's guitars
Humbert, The Holy Terrors, The Postmarks, Kill Miss Pretty, The Gruntled, Bling Bling, Map of the Universe, Tongues of the Heartworm, Mister Entertainment and the Pookiesmackers, the Curious Hair, Clambake, Trapped by Mormons, Kreamy 'Lectric Santa, Whirlaway, I Am Stereo, Zombies! Organize!!, the Freakin' Hott, Secret PE Club, Secret French Kissing Society, Secret Service, The Brand, Livid Kittens, The Eat, the Creepy T's, The Laundry Room Squelchers, To Live and Shave in LA, Harry Pussy, Xela Zaid, Ex-Cretins, Load, the Dharma Bomb, Catalonia, The 18 Wheelers, The Avenging Lawnmowers of Justice, Machete, Milkcan, Sixo, Natural Causes, Los Diablos, Baby Robots, Frosty, Number 3 Pencils, The Heatseekers, Mongo, Dakota, Shuttle Lounge, The Enablers, Doersam, Postface, The Bikes, Psycho Daisies, Dooms de Pop, FivesixsixFive, Plutonium Pie, For Squirrels, See Venus, Spam Allstars, the Cichlids, Monotract, Zira, Boise Bob, Angry Pudding, Rimsky, I Don't Know.
[ All of the above bands are, or were, from South Florida. ** I've seen them playing one smoky club or another over the course of many years. ****Writing this list reminds me of late nights followed by a morning visit, in my pajamas, to the Cuban coffee walk-up window down the street from my apartment.******The guy who owned it was named Manny.****** The list also brings to mind a line from "Heat," by Denis Johnson, whose poems I was quite taken with in grad school. ******I used to write in my contributor's bio that I tended bar at the Incognito Lounge.********Here in the electric dusk your naked lover/tips the glass high and the ice cubes fall against her teeth ]
What follows: some Cuban-son-meets-Afro-urban-funk beats from the Spam Allstars, playing at Hoy Como Ayer in Little Havana.
This is me, not seen, sitting on the front steps of the Art Institute of Chicago in June and listening to Lisel Mueller's poem.
Here's a beautiful bit of it.
2. I am already a dilettante on the bass guitar.
3. I prefer mulling to doing.
4. I hope never to attend Art Basel Miami Beach again. Okay, maybe the more intriguing satellite fairs, but that is absolutely it.
5. Chemicals make me sneeze. A lot.
Why I Am Not a Painter
by Frank O'Hara
I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,
for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
"Sit down and have a drink" he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there."
"Oh." I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says.
But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES.
Hold up: I just discovered this love letter that Joan Mitchell wrote to Michael Goldberg while he was in Rockland State Hospital, Orangeburg, N.Y., "in lieu of serving prison time for writing bad checks on her husband's account." Thank you Washington Post, for feeding my lust for all that was Mitchell.
Just got your letter . . . -- God you mean a lot to me -- it's never been like this before in my life. I cleaned the studio -- made the bed . . . -- I'm using the paint off your palette -- I feel so close to you . . . -- I'm drinking the beer you left on the windowsill -- & I'm kissing you -- this I do all the time . . .
The moment you put the blah-blah-blah on it, it destroys the whole thing.
I am currently fixated with the late painter Joan Mitchell.
My obsessions with artists usually come courtesy of a documentary film, one I can record (let us now praise the power of the DVR!) and watch repetitively until I can quote, from memory, most of the declarations made by its subject.
My paintings repeat a feeling about Lake Michigan, or water, or fields of...It's more like a poem, no? And that's what I want to paint.
This morning I saw Joan Mitchell: Portrait of an Abstract Painter for the sixth time since I recorded it in May. I could explain away my compulsion by saying that I wanted to write about her today, and what better way to do so than with her rough and quick voice in my head, or to follow her slight frame as it moved among her lyric and hypnotic pictures.
I wanted to see the small town of Vétheuil where she lived and painted, just outside of Paris, and how she dissolved its light and trees.
I wanted to hear about her time in New York with Hans Hofmann and de Kooning and Pollock. I wanted to close the blinds against the glare of July, sit in a cool, dark room, and see with Mitchell's eyes: her dogs, her sky, the importance she placed on the "feeling of a dying sunflower."
Mitchell possessed much of the contradictions found in her work. She could be cutting and abrupt, but she was also humble. She didn't think her work held light, for example. She didn't think many painters could contain what St. Augustine called the queen of all colors. She thought Franz Kline knew how, and of course, Matisse.
He has light as well as color. Oh, he's fabulous. Look at it! Come on, baby...
Open Window, 1905, by Henri Matisse
The road to knowing Mitchell's work is mapped with deep blues and yellows culled from the hot heart of summer. Her blacks are penetrating, her brushwork both fierce and fragile. Her mother was a poet, and when Mitchell was a girl, she also wrote poems. In the film, she recites the last line of one she remembers writing before her father pushed her to pick one art and master it.
...and bleakness comes through the trees without sound.
Mitchell went on to collaborate with several poets, among them James Schuyler, Frank O'Hara, and Nathan Kernan. But the title of this post comes from a recent poem by Mark Doty, and I would not want to be the one to dismiss ekphrasis as anything less than the meeting of two makers.
To Joan Mitchell, by Mark Doty
At twilight the locusts begin,
waves and waves,
nothing to do with lamentation...
... like her great canvas
in four panels,
continuous field so charged
as to fill the room in which it hangs
with an inaudible humming...
Yes, there were micro-bikinis and oiled muscles, but there was also a panel of humanities professors noting how the human form has infused visual art through the ages. Works considered included Bernini's Apollo and Daphne (right), Michelangelo's David, and what is arguably the most famous weathervane in the country: Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Diana.
I wrote about the fete for a local newspaper, and even though the story's been filed, published, and likely forgotten, my brain is still chewing on a sliver from it: the idea that artists gravitate towards the efforts of others. They especially like to spy on what their creative brethren are doing.
This might explain why musicians write poems and poets play Fenders, why Eudora Welty wrote stories about the South and photographed it as well.
Midway on our life's journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
about those woods is hard, so tangled and rough...
Do his lively pastiches bleed into his poems, or is it the other way around? Does he have a cedar box where he keeps his cuttings, or are they stashed in a kitchen drawer alongside the scotch tape and the forgotten keys?
I wonder if Ashbery collects words the same way he gathers images, hoarding fairy and funhouse and asters for later, then piecing them together on the canvas of the page.
I got rid of the book of fairy tales,
pawned my old car, bought a ticket to the funhouse,
found myself back here at six o'clock,
pondering "possible side effects."
There was no harm in loving then,
no certain good either. But love was loving servants
or bosses. No straight road issuing from it.
Leaves around the door are penciled losses.
Twenty years to fix it.
Asters bloom one way or another.
*from "Meaningful Love," by John Ashbery
Last night I went to see some friends' bands play at Radioactive Records (the one in Fort Lauderdale, not the U.K.). A highlight was Boise Bob, who plays twisted country ditties accompanied by a washboard and a big ole bass made of an oar, a strong length of string, and a metal tub perfect for bobbing for apples. Good stuff.
But the big sparkle find of the night was a double album set I picked up by Sylvester, the fab and forever reigning cabaret-tranny-king-and-queen of disco. The album folds open to a panoramic shot of on-stage Sylvester, decked in a blue and silver sequined jumpsuit and flanked by Two Tons O' Fun/Weather Girls Izora Rhodes and Martha Washington. Playing hard behind the power trio, most of the 1979 San Francisco Symphony in white tie and tails.
Glam, glitter, and musicianship. A reckless plunge into whatever felt good and sounded fast and smooth and kinda dirty. This is some of what I dig about 70s disco.
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
I can't imagine Williams could have forseen our current economic clime when he published this poem in the mid-fifties. He, along with everyone else, had their own concerns ("The bomb speaks." Enough said).
But this week I've been thinking about these lines while obsessively channel-flipping through the cable news networks. Each time I see a group of suits huddled behind a mic, telling me what I do and don't need, I think - these guys should pick up a book of poems. Specifically, these guys should read Denise Duhamel's crisp new collection, Ka-Ching!
I own all of Duhamel's books, and I've typically read them like I do a fine novella: from start to finish in one sitting. Her poems are hard to put down. I'm always wondering, "What's next? What now?"
I think it's because, like a skilled novelist, she's got a masterful sense of pace. Duhamel knows how to open in media res, with just the right portions of verve and speed, as she does with "play money," a sequence of ten prose poems she literally wrote on the back of the bills found in a board game ($100k through $1 million, to be exact). The suite reads as a memoir about growing up and family and the objects we value while we stumble through to adulthood: a set of custom pencils or chocolate coins wrapped in foil. When money is tight, or non-existent, the small stuff matters.
There's wit and games here, but also more. Duhamel uses her bright mind to address painful subjects -the anxiety of unemployment, a parent's failing health, the specter of weapons and war. It's all flashing across our televisions and newspapers every day, yet somehow she manages to wrap these fears in a sprightly language that offers hope. I'm always ready for some of that.
Here's a poem from Ka-ching!
I've been pretty smitten with chapbooks as of late. They are, for the most part, so lovely to look at, so meaty to hold. I especially admire all the effort put into the original artwork, the linen covers, the pages layed out at night on living room computers. Fonts with names like spells or the creatures who cast them: Garamond, Trebuchet, Zapf Humanist, and Medusa. I love how chapbooks are stapled/glued/stitched together, or how POD services have gifted the littlest of presses with the power to put more chaps out into the world. Good, I say. We need them.
In his blog at Pecan Grove Press, Palmer Hall describes the best of chapbooks as "excellent short stories or like a one-person art exhibit at which each painting informs the next and the one before." I also like to think of them as a rocking E.P., something your favorite band might put out between full length records just so you can hear what they're up to.
In his survey on chapbook history, Noah Eli Gordon says the term chapbook most likely came from the rogue peddlers that sold them (and sundry bits) while travelling through towns in the 16th through 19th centuries. Chapmen could frequently be found "bedding in barns, fleeing from dogs, and fending off thefts from other road scoundrels. Yet the visit of a chapman to a rural village, though tinged with suspicion, was a welcome occasion, as he provided many with their sole link to the rest of world, both in his wares and his gossip, a kind of Johnny Appleseed of early literary education."
Here's a list of chapbooks well worth the read. If anyone has their own picks they'd like to share, please post them.
I Give You this Ghost, by Jesse Millner. Pudding House Publications
Bud Break at Mango House, by Jen Karetnick. Portlandia Group
Hearing a poet read for the first time is like a blind date in a dark bar. You don't know who's waiting for you, but still you're there, seeking him out among the candles and bottles and smoke. Hoping for something good. Sometimes you get it.
I had a great date with a couple of nights ago with Rigoberto Gonzalez. He was featured at a poetry series in South Florida sponsored by Broward Community College and the Hannah Kahn Poetry Foundation. The room was packed. He read from his most recent and excellent book, but also from the forthcoming Black Blossoms, by Four Way Books, and even from the collection after that, The Soldier of Mictlan, which he is still writing. He also pens memoir, short stories, book reviews, blogs, children's books, and novels. He is a geyser of words and cannot be contained.
I think he must write in his sleep. I picture him at night, eyes closed and floating through the hallways of his apartment in Queens, a pencil held loosely in one hand as it moves moves moves across the pages of a spiral notebook. Some poets make you want to write, and he's one of them. While he read I made a list as a way to describe his work and what it feels like to hear it: shadow, broom, skull, hands, palms, sex, red, yellow, smoke, berries, mouth, Neruda, bats, cracks, world, enamel, carnations, death, bulk, slit, bone, Lorca, green, white, black, wheel, door, lips, tongue, crow, curtains, velvet, gothic, glass, love, web, bruise, blade, boy.
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.