This photo arrived in today's in-box along with the message "10 years ago we met to chat for my Poets on Place book. I'll always be in your debt." W. T. Pfefferle.
Find Poets on Place here.
Thank you W.T.
This photo arrived in today's in-box along with the message "10 years ago we met to chat for my Poets on Place book. I'll always be in your debt." W. T. Pfefferle.
Find Poets on Place here.
Thank you W.T.
In the fall of 2014, the Mexican poets Dolores Dorantes (Córdoba, Veracruz, 1973) and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez (Mexico City, 1977) will be publishing a collaborative book of poems entitled, Intervene/Intervenir (Brooklyn: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014, forthcoming). The English translation of the collection (which hasn't been published in Spanish yet) is by the North American poet and translator Jen Hofer (San Francisco, 1971). Jen Hofer is, by far, the most important North American translator working with Mexican poetry today. Her many publications include the groundbreaking Sin puertas visibles: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry by Mexican Women Writers (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), and most recently she co-translated Heriberto Yépez's critical study of Charles Olson's travels and research in Mexico, The Empire of Neomemory (Oakland/Philadelphia: Chain Links, 2013).
I was introduced to the work of Dolores in 2003 via the network of Mexican poetry blogs, which emerged at the same time as many experimental North American poets took to the blogosphere. Dolores still maintains a blog today (Dolores Dorantes) and for over a decade her online writing and her books of poetry have been essential to me. North American readers can find her work in the volume sexoPUROsexoVELOZ and Septiembre: A Bilingual Edition of Books Two and Three from Dolores Dorantes, translated by Jen Hofer (Denver: Counterpath Press and Kenning Editions, 2007). Dolores lived for many years in Ciudad Juárez and today resides in Los Angeles, CA.
Through correspondence with Dolores I arrived at Rodrigo's poetry, via his second collection Estimado cliente (Toluca: Bonobos Editores, 2007). Rodrigo himself is a translator who has brought Jack Spicer and Muriel Rukeyser into Spanish. He lives in Mexico City and Intervene/Intervenir will be his first book to appear in English. I spoke with Dolores and Rodrigo via e-mail regarding their upcoming book with Ugly Duckling Presse. I have translated their responses into English. If anyone would like to read our conversation in Spanish, I've posted it at my blog Venepoetics.
I get the impression that Intervene emerges, partly, from the friendship between you two. How did you decide to collaborate on this book?
Dolores Dorantes: Intervene came about from an invitation to collaborate with the magazine Kaurab Online. The poet Aryanil Mukherjee wrote to me when he was editing an issue for the magazine with texts created in collaboration. Aryanil wanted three pages from each pair of collaborators and I invited Rodrigo to do something together. For me, the experience of collaborating was so new and getting to know Rodrigo's creative process made such an impact on me (this was my first time collaborating with someone): it was like discovering the mechanism that makes a flower open up, or something like that, so I didn't want to stop. I had already decided to abandon writing poetry in a formal manner, to give up writing verses, but working with Rodrigo made me see the formula for writing poetry in a different manner, I began to break many of my own rules, with great trepidation, I took up verses once again (something I haven't done since then). And likewise, with great trepidation I opened up my creative process to another writer in order to collaborate. That was fantastic.
Rodrigo Flores Sánchez: Lola and I have been friends for a while now. She proposed to me that we collaborate on something for a magazine; so we wrote two or three poems together, without any specific topic. Those poems came out in one or two days. In other words, Lola would send me a couple verses, I'd send her back a couple more, that's how the first texts were created. Then the strategy changed: each one of us wrote complete poems and we responded to each other with new texts. That small group of poems soon became a multitude.
Could you describe the process of composition for the book? Did you collaborate in person or via e-mail?
DD: For me it was a euphoric process of exchanging Word documents that we'd send back and forth via e-mail. A complete immersion. Afterwards, I can't remember specific dates, but Rodrigo might, I travelled to Mexico City and we met in the neighborhood of Coyoacán to decide what poems we'd keep for the book, and of those what other poems might survive the revision process. I think that's how it happened, but in these cases the process can always be seen differently by each person, it's like the same story told by different grandparents, there'll always be details that I carry with emotion and preference and that Rodrigo might see in a much more precise manner, he always looks at things in a more precise and organized manner than I do.
RFS: For me the process was very stimulating and disconcerting at the same time. In the case of Intervene, I hadn't ever participated in a collaborative writing project without the elements I mentioned above. You have to keep in mind that Lola was in Ciudad Juárez and I was in Chilango [Mexico City]. Lola and I have actually only met in person a few times, but I feel a great deal of affection, admiration and empathy for her. I think that without those elements I wouldn't be able to participate in a project like Intervene. I read everything Lola publishes and we've been writing to each other for years. In fact, after Intervene we began to write letters to each other for another project. For me the development of a gradual immersion in the other was quite dense. This process was a radical questioning of what identity means and of the "style" of a piece of writing. The process is the inverse of Ariadne's thread. The intention wasn't to leave the labyrinth but rather to go further in, to get lost in the questions, recurrences and stylistic marks of the other. In the end I think the writing, at least this writing, is a line, a glance toward signs that have been obstructed ahead of time, that belong to Nobody, that is, to a Cyclops, a blind man, a blindfolded man. What I mean is that you don't have any clues for deciphering a trajectory or definite a path. The only thing you can do is to thread the territory with questions.
At a reading you gave together in Mexico City in 2009 that can be seen on YouTube, the voice of the poet Jorge Solís Arenazas is heard reading a few fragments offstage from the audience. Is it safe to say that Intervene is a book that seeks out interventions from its readers?
DD: The reading that's up on YouTube was recorded during the presentation of a chapbook that we gave away for free where we printed a fragment from Intervene. The entire event was a total party. Without thinking about it or openly deciding to do it in that way, yes there were several interventions: the intervention of the poets Karen Plata and Inti García Santamaría, who made the chapbook. The intervention of the poet Laura Solórzano who read right before the two of us intervened that space: the house of the poet Jorge Solís Arenazas, who helped us out by presenting his voice for the performance, and the intervention of Producciones Autismo, who recorded the reading. Everything happened at the “Casa Vacía” [Empty House] (that's what Jorge would call his home each time he organized a reading) on Avenue Álvaro Obregón in the Colonia Roma neighborhood, and many of the things and situations that happened there were accidents. Decisions we made only minutes before reading.
RFS: The meaning of the title and the book for me has to do with two things. First, historically Mexico is a country that's been and is now intervened by different forces, armies, countries, police, etc. Before 1519, the constitution of Mesoamerica has to do with the intervention of different cultures and clans. The territory that's known as Mexico today and includes parts of the United States was intervened by the Spanish empire for three centuries. Afterwards, Mexico was intervened twice by France and twice by the United States. The Mexican territory was diminished due to North American annexations and the independence of Central American countries. In this sense, it really catches my attention that while the history and politics of Mexico can be read and tracked by following the history of its interventions, it's official policy has been the Estrada Doctrine: that is, non-intervention. In Freudian terms, it's a social projection that has been cured by a cliché and by an impossibility that isn't merely historical but also epistemic: to not intervene. In my case, I was interested in making that traumatic word visible, a word that today remains quite relevant. On the other hand, in the book, the intervention is represented by over-writing. Let's just say I believe that the social simile is subjectified in the map that is this book: a territory full of addendums, suppressions, typographical hierarchies, voices, questions, none of which belong to an authorship but instead merely make the authorial banishment evident. I really enjoyed the experience of that first public reading of the book (which so far has been the only one we've done together). Because we were able to do it in a “choral” manner, Jorge, Lola and I would read different typographical marks. It was a big inspiration to me, for instance, when I came across audio recordings of readings by Hannah Weiner, whose work, by the way, I got to know thanks to Lola. They're incredible.
What was the process of Jen Hofer's translation into English like? Did you collaborate with her in the translation?
DD: Well, I think Jen's processes are always very careful and creative. It's a process that hasn't finished yet and that I'd like to know more about, from Jen Hofer herself. Collaborations with Jen Hofer never take place merely on the plane of an interpretation and reinterpretation of a text. Jen always looks beyond, and she asks her questions. But, like I say, it's a process that isn't over yet because the bilingual edition of the book will be published at the end of 2014.
RFS: I enjoyed the translation process a great deal, Jen is an excellent conductor of texts. Besides being interested in the literality of the translation, she pays close attention to understanding the text in its context and to moving beyond that first level, I mean the literal one. In that sense, on her part there was always an open dialogue with Lola and myself, in which she contributed questions, uncertainties and observations. It was a very enriching experience for me.
It seems to me that the English translation of the book offers new possibilities for presenting the book in public, for creating a dialogue between the two languages. Do you plan on presenting the book in the United States when it's published here?
DD: Of course, we have to present the book in the United States. That's the way publishing houses promote their books and ensure the text will have a bigger impact on the reading public, especially when it's a case of poets who write in another language. How could the publishing house justify its reasons for publishing Mexican poetry if not through the authors themselves? Publishing poetry in itself is already a risk, and publishing poetry in another language, with authors from the closest country to the United States isn't precisely high on the list of priorities of white North American intellectuals, so we have to make ourselves visible, and have fun while we do it. Years ago, I read part of Intervene at a museum in Detroit, along with the poets Patrick Durgin, Laura Solórzano and Jen Hofer, who with their voices sustained a discourse that was different from the ones that appear in the upcoming Intervene (Intervene is a book in which more than three discourses are interwoven). That gave it an interesting theatrical dimension. I don't know how we'll have fun this time, and when exactly, but I'm sure it'll be something pretty crazy, because of Rodrigo's presence, (whew!) he's from another planet.
RFS: I'd love for Intervene to be presented in the United States.
One of the best poetry readings I’ve ever attended took place in a comfortable living room with a dozen people listening to the English poet Tom Raworth read at his signature breakneck speed. The night —which began with the raw and powerful folk music of Ben Collier and concluded with everyone chatting amiably throughout the house— was part of the Bonfire Reading Series here in Pittsburgh, PA. The readings always follow a simple but effective format: an invited musician, the featured poet, and an informal gathering afterwards with potluck snacks and drinks. The series has been running since 2012 and is curated by a collective of poets that includes Emily Carlson, Sten Carlson, Robin Clarke, R/B Mertz and Joshua Zelesnick.
The members of the collective met while they were poetry MFA students at the University of Pittsburgh several years ago. The idea for a reading series emerged as a natural extension of their friendship, as well as their belief in poetry as an essential part of their everyday lives. As Sten told me recently, when I interviewed him about the reading series: “We wanted to create poetic events that meant something to us.” The series is a reflection of their desire as poets to “create an eventful life together, as opposed to discrete, private acts of writing.”
All of the group members are educators and Sten also works as the Managing Director for the University of Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series. My wife Dayana and I moved to Pittsburgh in 2012 from Durham, NC, and befriending this group of poets is one of the reasons we love this city so much. Since we're neighbors, Sten and I tend to meet a couple times a month to talk about poetry at the nearby Kelly's Bar & Lounge in the East Liberty neighborhood. During one of those get-togethers recently (I half-jokingly call them our “poetry work meetings”), I took notes while Sten talked about the Bonfire Reading Series. I also e-mailed several questions to the group members. Between our conversation that night and various group e-mails, the following responses emerged.
You all met while studying at the Creative Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh. When and how did the idea for the Bonfire Reading Series emerge? Were there any models that inspired you?
Joshua Zelesnick: I think one of the contributing factors to starting the Bonfire series came from the Occupy Movement—and the activism we’ve all been part of in some way. Yes, Pitt made it possible for all of us to meet, but the reading series was not as much informed by our Pitt experience (at least I would say). I remember R/B Mertz reading from her amazing book, Leaves of Money at the kick—off march towards People’s Park here in Pittsburgh (Mellon Green: the Occupy Pittsburgh camp site). Every week we would go to the campsite and read poems—anybody could read. It seemed to always boost morale, and so many people read. I remember meeting down in the T (subway) and gathering in a circle. Someone would just get up and read for a few minutes, then someone else. One time we read on the subway train. You can ride for free downtown for a few stops. I remember reading my poem, “Capitalism Poem #1.” A few strangers even clapped after I finished reading it. Of course, some people just seemed to be embarrassed for me.
In December of 2013, after a reading one night, I happened to be around when you had a discussion about possible future readings. I was so impressed by the informal yet thorough and democratic way that you made decisions. How do you all decide on what poets and musicians to invite?
R/B Mertz: I think the important thing is that everyone really respects each other and each others’ work and aesthetics, and we trust each others’ taste, I think, or are at least always open and genuinely interested about anyone someone else is interested in, or really anyone who is producing good art or interesting art, of whatever sort; so it’s been fairly haphazard—who is in town when, who knows a musician that someone might pair up with the poet; it’s very spontaneous and improvisational; but I think that’s why it’s great.
There's a magical atmosphere at your readings, whether they're held outside in the garden or indoors in your living room. What are some essential components of your reading series?
R/B Mertz: The fact that the readings take place in or around a home is really essential to me, maybe because when I think of the tradition of poetry I first encountered as a reader-- I first read about people reading poems or reciting them stiffly and formally, in British novels and stuff like that, where some ladies would read aloud or recite in drawing rooms to their families or suitors or whoever—reading these private lyrical things, Romantic poems, probably, in a private space, which was somehow made public by the communication across time and space between the poet and the reciter or reader, and the audience, and the author of the novel, and me...so to me, poetry was this thing that was created in absolute privacy, confessional, etc; and yet always accessed in this way that’s really removed from the author, and read aloud or performed (un-like a novel), which goes back to Homer reciting his stuff around the fire or wherever, or the village gathering in the theater or square…I find all the layers of this public/private stuff really fascinating, especially because we’re in this monumental phase of human communication, where publishing and authorship and all of these things are being re-defined, and of course viewing and audience-ship and reading and listening are all being re-defined, there’s something both ancient and radical about opening your home/private space to strangers, and to The Stranger that poetry is, or the poet is, and the strangeness of all that converging around live art vs. the recorded art of the television or the radio or the internet.
Is there a particular highlight from the readings that you'd like to tell us about?
Robin Clarke: During a particularly serious and important poetry reading (LOL I mean me! when I had the chance to read at our series) our fellow planners' 1-1/2 year-old, Jules, took a big dump in his portable potty training potty, which was discreetly located right there in the reading space! As I recall he must not have peed, because the toilet produces music when you pee. But generally the presence of children at these readings is amazing. When Tom Raworth read, he read a crazily fast poem about his kids in honor of this same potty-training child, who he'd been hanging out with the day of the reading. Poetry should not ever be a space for decorum, and the anarchic children just about clear us of that temptation. I'm told I was literally saying the word "embarrassed" when the dump was dropped. Lately I've been thinking poets have to be willing to risk humiliation at all times. Jules helped me learn that.
R/B Mertz: When Tom Raworth came, that was so special. Particularly because when we were in grad school, taking a class with Ben Lerner, who we admired a lot, Tom Raworth came to town for the first time. When Ben heard that Tom was going to be in town, he and Sten organized a reading for Tom in about a week. And I think Ben was kind of appalled that no one else was doing it, and he had just gotten to Pittsburgh and didn’t know the venues or anything yet, but they had the reading at a hookah bar, with people burbling the whole time. So, Ben at one point gave this speech about how we should go to every reading, everywhere, and if we heard a poet was going to be in town, we should host them; so when Tom Raworth was in town again, it was really special to be able to have him with us, and to know that we had put this thing in place that was ready to receive him, which was also a tribute to Ben, for me, in that moment, like we were completing the ultimate homework assignment from our teacher. Also, Tom Raworth is a fucking rockstar and can drink and smoke like one, and write and perform times better than one, which I found really inspiring.
Also, when gt rabbit read outside last summer, that was probably the most personally special for me; he had just returned from two years in South Korea, so it was like a reunion, and he did this really electronic sound art outside, which also messed with this public/private/house stuff I’m interested in, because gt rabbit read alongside his sound art, and sort of played the sound art “live” –like technology or electricity or the computer or the internet were exploding outside, right in the garden, and what they were exploding into was poetry for friends, for an audience, the poet, etc; gt rabbit used this great recording of a Robert Creeley reading (“The Plan is the Body” on Pennsound) where Creeley is really high or drunk or both, and he’s losing his place and debating a heckler, but also giving one of the best readings ever; so it was like all these electronic devices and recorded voices of history were emerging so clearly as a result of this one body, who collected and “read” them; this one lyric/poet moment which was happening outside, where you think all those electronic things aren’t really supposed to be.
Do you have any specific plans or goals for the reading series that you might share with us?
Sten Carlson: I think that as poets we need to invent a life outside the university. We'd like to keep building these collaborative elements, to invite horizontal —not hierarchical— collaboration. We'd also like to start our own press in the future. We see this reading series as a way of practicing a politics that we aspire to live on a daily basis.
“the plan is the body.
Who can read it.”
“By this time, from the cold of Bretagne, I got big flannel shirt on now, with scarf inside collar, no shave, pack silly hat away into suitcase, close it again with teeth and now, with my Air France return ticket to Tampa Florida I’se ready as the fattest ribs in old Winn Dixie, dearest God.”
(Jack Kerouac, Satori in Paris, 1966)
When I was an undergrad studying English at the University of South Florida in Tampa during the early 1990s, my favorite professor was a poet and actor named Kelly Reynolds. The first course I took with Kelly was a night class on Contemporary World Fiction and among the books he assigned was Jack Kerouac's On the Road. Kelly’s passion for the work of Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg (he called Ginsberg “a visionary” one night in class) resonated immediately with me. I soon befriended Kelly and would often stop by his office in Cooper Hall to talk about literature and ask him questions about the Beat Generation writers.
In the late 1950s, when Kelly was a young actor living in New York City he had befriended Kerouac, Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky. It was through Kelly that I found out about Kerouac’s later years across the bay in St. Petersburg. Thanks in part to Kelly, I ended up studying with Ginsberg briefly at Naropa University in Boulder, CO during the summer of 1993, at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Ginsberg mentioned Kerouac in his lectures, praising his discipline as a writer who wrote nearly every single day of his adult life.
A few years ago, while visiting my family in Clearwater, FL for Christmas I decided to take the 15-minute drive down to North St. Pete and check out Kerouac’s house, which today is owned by his brother-in-law and literary executor John Sampas. I've passed by there a couple times since then, the most recent just a month ago. I went with an old friend of mine who also grew up in the Tampa Bay area but who had never been to see the house.
(Photo: Joe Morris)
My friend Joe and I drove down from Clearwater and snapped a few photos of the place. It still looks pretty much the way it would have back in 1968, the year Kerouac bought the house. It’s a typical suburban Florida house on a quiet street, like thousands of others around it, but for Joe and I that afternoon it was like paying a visit to Kerouac himself, an exciting few minutes of time travel back to the late sixties. As we walked around the house snapping photos with our phones, I kept expecting Kerouac to step out onto the porch and ask us what the hell we were doing on his lawn.
In March of 2013, the Tampa Bay Times published an article about the house (“Glimpse inside the St. Petersburg home where Jack Kerouac lived”) and John Sampas allowed the newspaper to take photos of the inside, which pretty much remains the same as when Kerouac died in 1969. The article also mentions the Flamingo Sports Bar, a nondescript locale a couple blocks away that Kerouac frequented.
After seeing Kerouac’s house, Joe and I headed over to the Flamingo to check the place out. We sat there for about an hour and took the time to soak in the atmosphere. It's one of the few bars today where you can still smoke, with pool tables and dartboards in the front and back rooms.
(Photo: Joe Morris)
Several years ago, the bar received permission from the Kerouac Estate to put up a large photo of Kerouac at the front entrance of the bar and to sell T-shirts with his image on it. The best homage to Kerouac at the Flamingo, however, might be the “Jack Kerouac” special: “Shot and Beer $2.25.” No one else in the bar seemed to know or care who Kerouac was except for the bartender, who had read On the Road and told us that his readers come in every once and a while asking about him.
Kerouac’s years in St. Pete were probably the worst in his life. He was drinking himself to death and feeling disconnected from his readers among the sixties counterculture, who looked up to him as a role model. I couldn't help feeling sad when visiting his house and the Flamingo, thinking about his depressing later years and his early death from alcoholism at age 47. By the time he was living in that house, he was hardly writing at all and St. Pete at the time must have been a relatively boring place to live.
I haven’t seen Kelly in years, but in 2007 he was interviewed by the Tampa Bay Times regarding his friendship with Kerouac (“Witnesses to a legend: Jack Kerouac”). Kelly moved back to his hometown of Bradenton, FL, just outside Tampa Bay, in the late 1960s but never had a chance to see Kerouac before his death. Kelly’s passionate advocacy for Kerouac in that first class I had with him at USF inspired me to take the legendary poet and novelist seriously, beyond his fame and notoriety. Stopping by his former home, the only house he ever bought in his life, and having a drink at the Flamingo last December were a chance for me to honor a writer whose work has accompanied me for over two decades now.
At Naropa in the summer of 1993, Ginsberg handed out copies to his students of his “Mind Writing Slogans,” a list of quotations and epigrams that he used as the syllabus for his class. One of these by Kerouac that I think of as I write this post is: “Details are the Life of Prose.” The details of Kerouac’s house in St. Pete and the Flamingo Sports Bar take on a richer meaning for me when I think of his time in those places. Neither of them is discussed very much by Kerouac scholars, since they’re relatively minor locations. But their obscurity is what gives them a certain mundane aura that I appreciate. They humanize Jack Kerouac and provide me with a direct conduit to his everyday life.
As some of you may already know, a massive project has been undertaken called The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project. The goal is to create, accretively over time, the largest database of women poets in the world. We know it took thousands of workers almost 200 years to build the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. The Mezzo Cammin timeline is the same idea. Think Sappho to Sapphire. It will be an intellectual edifice built by many hundreds of contributors.
A panel was convened again at the West Chester Poetry Conference this June to discuss the progress of the Mezzo Cammin timeline. The project was launched in March 2010 by the poet Kim Bridgford, who is also a professor and director of the West Chester conference. Here’s how it works. Each entry on the timeline includes a photo or drawing, a data sidebar and an essay written specifically for the project by accomplished women poets and scholars. Whenever available, poems or links to poems by the author are included. The timeline project was originally sponsored by Mezzo Cammin, the online journal of formalist poetry by women, also spearheaded by Kim Bridgford. Many essays have been generated for the timeline through seminars held from 2009 through 2013 at the West Chester conference. There are now 46 essays up on the site, with 26 more in the works. The database includes canonical poets such as Sylvia Plath but also lesser-known figures such as Enheduanna (arguably the first recorded poet in history) and Christine de Pizan. Many of the essays, especially those on non-English speaking poets of the past, require original research and translation. The importance of the Mezzo Cammin timeline was illustrated recently by a discussion on the poetry board Eratosphere, prompted by Wendy Sloan's essay on Gaspara Stampa.
Women poets and scholars interested in writing an essay for the database should contact the essay coordinator, the poet Anna M. Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org), with credentials and a suggested poet.
Then there’s the poet George Green. At the West Chester Poetry Conference this June, George read from his new book, Lord Byron’s Foot. His collection aptly won the 2012 New CriterionPoetry Prize. George blends technical skill with pop-culture literacy, the vinegar of satire, literary literacy, the chipotle sauce of unblinkered wit, and sphincter-loosening humor. The poet and regular BAPster David Yezzi posted an entry here in May suggesting that George Green had composed, perhaps, the funniest poem ever written, “Bangladesh.” David’s post was called “The Greening of Bohemia.” I recommend it, and I agree with David to a point, but I would propose that “Bangladesh” is the second most comical poem ever written. The funniest poem ever written in the Age of Man is “Lord Byron’s Foot.”
When George read this poem to a packed house at West Chester, I saw respectable people and estimable poets bent over from wheezing, unable to sit up in their chairs, brought to the brink of tears. Some auditors—with cardiac conditions—looked to be at death’s door. The power of this poem is mighty. It’s about Lord Byron and his friggin’ foot. I can do no further justice to the poem than quote it in full, but this, I tell you, is nothing compared with hearing George Green read it live:
Lord Byron's Foot
That day you sailed across the Adriatic,
wearing your scarlet jacket trimmed in gold,
you stood there on the quarter deck, beglamored,
but we were all distracted by your foot.
Your foot, your foot, your lordship’s gimpy foot,
your twisted, clubbed and clomping foot, your foot.
Well, Caroline went half-mad for your love,
but did she ever try to make you dance?
No, never, never, never would that happen;
no, never with your limping Lordship’s foot—
your foot, your foot, your lame and limping foot,
your limp and lumbering, plump and plodding foot.
We see you posing with your catamite,
a GQ fashion-spread from 1812,
but one shoe seems to differ from the other.
Is that the shoe that hides your hobbled foot?
Your foot, your foot, your game and gimping foot,
your halt and hobbled, clumped and clopping foot.
And why did Milbanke sue you for divorce?
T’was buggery? I really do doubt that.
It was your foot, and everybody knows it.
It’s all we think about—your stupid foot.
Your foot, your foot, your clumsy, clumping foot,
your limp and gimping, stupid, stubby foot.
And after you had swum the Hellesponte,
“A fin is better than a foot,” they’d say.
Behind your back they’d say, “a fin is better,”
meaning your Lordship’s foot was just a fin.
A fin, a fin, your foot was just a fin;
your flubbed and flumping foot was just a fin.
And when you went to Cavalchina, masked,
with Leporello’s list (only half male),
what were your friends all whispering about?
What had they been remembering—your foot?
Your foot, your foot, your halt and hampered foot.
Your hobbled, clubbed and clopping foot, your foot.
When Odevaere drew you on your deathbed,
with laurel on your alabaster brow,
he threw a blanket on your legs—but why?
Could it have been to cover up your foot?
Your foot, your foot, your pinched and palsied foot,
your crimped and clumping, gimped, galumphing foot.
It’s best if we just contemplate your bust,
a bust by Thorvaldson or Bartolini,
and why is that you ask, and why is that?
So no one has to see your friggin’ foot,
your foot, your foot, your clomping monster foot,
your foot, your foot, your foot, your foot, your foot!
Great work, George.
Many, many thanks to Stacey Harwood and David Lehman for inviting me to blog here this week!
I hope readers will visit my new website: www.johnffoy.net.
Arriving home after several months of travel, and while taking some time to recollect experiences by organizing photographs, I came upon images of one of the most memorable trips of last year. It was my first visit to Brazil, where I performed a Mozart piano concerto in the city of Curitiba with a superb orchestra led by Maestro Osvaldo Ferreira.
Brazil made an indelible impression on me. After my performances in Curitiba, a modern city with all the 21st century commodities, I spent ten days traveling and learning about this mysterious, vast, multi-cultural country, buzzing with creativity. I took a detour to a part of the world both terrifying in its isolation and achingly beautiful - the last point of civilization before the great expanse of Amazon rainforest between Brazil and Colombia. Twelve hours by fast boat from Manaus lies a small town on the south bank of the portion of the Amazon River known as the Solimões. It is called Tefé, no roads lead to Tefé. It is only reachable by boat or small plane. Lonely Planet describes it: "It’s not that there is anything wrong – it’s a perfectly agreeable place, just not particularly memorable." Yet, it was in Tefé where I found one of the most extraordinary sites in all my travels.
The heat and humidity were unreal. As I walked from the port up the hill, I saw hundreds of large black birds circling up in the distance. Soon I realized these were vultures. The image was unsettling yet hauntingly beautiful, so I walked towards the birds. The heat was melting the sole of my sandals. After about half an hour, I reached the gates of the place I was looking for. What I encountered is a memory that will stay with me forever. A cemetery that was a charnel ground, with some of the most chilling (in spite of the heat) yet mesmerizing images of a place for the dead. Here are some of the images:
Today on Tom Clark's always fascinating blog you'll find an extrordinary montage of images and words filed under the heading of "Wittgenstein: A Short Film about an Accident Waiting to Happen." It includes this photograph of an Irish railway station in 1893
as well as this amazing print from Stockholm in 1900.
Seemingly indefatigable, Tom maintains his blog with great creativity and scholarly intelligence and he does it day in and day out. Salutations to you, Tom, on this cold but brilliantly bright March afternoon in upstate New York -- spared for once on a day when Major Snow buried the corporals and privates of the northeast. -- DL
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.
6. Game of "Life of Game"
Listen to Loren Goodman.
7. Game of Thinking of Something
Think of something. Tell your friends you are thinking of something. See if they can guess what it is. If you are not with friends, try just thinking of something.
Those are all of the games I know. I'm lying. Those are half of them, but I am trying to raise my level of mysteriousness, which is part of a game I'm not telling you about.
Immanuel Kant's essay on this subject is nowhere near as famous and infuential as those of Longinus and Edmund Burke, but it is a splendid piece of writing, showing an aptitude for dividing the world and everything in it in two -- a dichotomous impulse unrivaled by anyone until Auden took the reins and found the fork in every road.
Here is the "donnee" (as H. James would call it), the gift or the given, the material you have to work with, lifted from Kant's book (available in a slender paperback fro Yale UP) : "Knowledge is beautiful, understanding is sublime."
I took off from there, and this is what I came up with. Mark Bibbins, poetry editor of The Awl, posted it on September 6, 2012. If I find a picture of the philosopher I'll caption it, "Who says he Kant?" Well, let's see if I can. But perhaps I should close with a more heroic less wrathful Sandy than the ranting storm fiend that just wreaked havoc in our world.
via Faber Books photo stream
[i] “Album Zutique” Text: “The Album Zutique was a communal journal for the poets and artists with whom Rimbaud associated while living in Paris....They called themselves Zutistes, a word coined from the French exclamation “zut,” which, depending on context, can mean anything from “golly” to “damn....” Most of [Rimbaud's] poems here are parodies of the work of other poets, and many are ribald in nature.” (Wyatt Mason, from Rimbaud Complete); Image: Grace Jones, from Vamp (1986)
[ii] “Blood of a Young Girl Streaks the Altar” Text: Aeschylus, from Agamemnon; Image: Michael Spinks, from Spinks vs. Tyson, 27 June 1988
[iii] “Disorganized Rainbow” Text: Albert Ramsay, from “Bright Jewels of the Mine” (Saturday Evening Post, Vol. 207 Issue 13, September 1934); Image: Miners, from “Bright Jewels of the Mine”
[iv] “Merle in Switzerland” Text: R.F.; Image: Rivi’s eyes, from Cocaine Cowboys (2006)
[v] "Shelley" Text: R.F.; Image: Amelia Curran, from Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1819)
[vi] "Take Me Away" Text: "Take Me Away" (1992), Mix Factory; Image: from Tyson
From Julianne Moore as Famous Works of Art by Marina Galperina:
Check out the shots taken by the famous fashion photographer Peter Linderbergh, side-by-side with their original inspirations, as spotted by Museum Nerd. What strikes us isn’t just the meticulous styling, strategically echoing the visuals of the original artwork with couture. Moore is doing a splendid job channeling the subjects, beaming with vigor of a glamorous “cripple” by John Currin, as if she was a Currin model frozen in a frame. You be the judge. Do these do it for you?
Click here for the rest of this fascinating story -- and side-by-side illustrations of Julianne Moore posed artfully and photographed in the manner of the models painted (or sculpted) by Schiele, Klimt, Modigliani (shown on the left), Sargent, Degas, and John Currin (shown on the right).
Poetry is a serious subject. But I am not a serious poet. I am not a poet at all. I am a reader of poetry. Don’t get me wrong: I studied poetry and wrote poetry. Alan Shapiro was once my mentor, and he wrote on a poem, “Brian, this is a foolish piece of work; you have the attention span of a hyperkinetic three year old.” I have cobbled this assessment into a career.
But what I lack in seriousness, I make up for with enthusiasm, and this is what my blog intends to address. We must, all of us, as writers, attend to the form we’ve learned and also try to surpass it, break it. We must try to surprise and delight. I talk with other writers about all the rules, grammatical, structural, and legal. The rule of 3’s, Robert’s Rules of Order, the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. About the gun on the stage and how it has to go off, about splitting infinitives, about how too much enjambment will only look like free verse. Avoid—or embrace—the subjunctive mood. A sem icolon is as ugly as a tick on a dog’s belly. Eat your beets. Don't feed wild animals marshmallows the way birds feed their young.
Santayana once said, “A great work of art must strive toward perfection.” And then he wrote, “And it must fail.” Perhaps you’ll be appalled to know that I want to speak about poetry in this way. Victorian writer John Ruskin, in his six tenets of good architecture, interpreted this striving as “Savageness”—a love of rudeness and imperfection.
“The demand for perfection is always a sign of a misunderstanding of the ends of art.” Ruskin believed very much in the exploratory and playful aspects of art. He believed in something we cannot quantify or map, really, in writing: Enthusiasm. Which is weird, because every time I see a picture of him, he looks like he just said, “You kids get off my lawn.”
“Enthusiasm” derives from the Greek “enthousiasmos”, that state of inspiration, of being filled or possessed by the god, for which artists might be praised or chastised. In a more secular application we can still speak of enthusiasm as the condition which combines an artist’s concentration, preoccupation, attentiveness, and excitability. In social life it is usually called “intensity”, as in, “Damn, he’s so intense.” It’s a vaguely accusatory description of an artist’s extreme and discomforting alertness. Ruskin was intense.
Enthusiasm does not excuse lack of talent and craft. But it has to be present in great writing. E.M. Forster had something to say about enthusiasm, or rather, his characters had something to say, the one who waltz happily, then sadly, through Italy in Where Angels Fear to Tread. One evening, the British tourists of that novel decide to go to an amateur opera in the fictional town of Monteriano. “There was a drop scene, wherein sported many a lady lightly clad, and two more ladies lay along the top of the proscenium to steady a large and pallid clock. So rich and so appalling was the effect… There is something majestic in the bad taste of Italy; it is not the bad taste of a country which knows no better; it has not the nervous vulgarity of England, or the blinded vulgarity of Germany. It observes beauty, and chooses to pass it by. But it attains to beauty’s confidence. This tiny theater spraddled and swaggered with the best of them, and these ladies with their clock would have nodded to the young men on the ceiling of the Sistine."
This is just the sort of enthusiasm and confidence that seem out of favor in this day and age. "Enthusiasm", like "amateur" and "fail", is a four-letter word. But maybe that's because I am shackled in the ivory tower, where amateur is hard to assess or quantify. So follow me to Ruskin's and Forster's Sistine Chapel with me, which, if not beautiful, attains to beauty's cofidence. Also, we can look at wild animal attacks and boobies and suchwhat. In church. I'll explain later (but look over there. BOOBIES. In church. And I think that's the chick from Starbuck's.)
In dealing with the State, we ought to remember that its institutions are not aboriginal, though they existed before we were born: that they are not superior to the citizen: that every one of them was once the act of a single man: every law and usage was a man’s expedient to meet a particular case: that they all are imitable, all alterable; we may make as good; we may make better.
Tattoos, unlike smoking, remain pretty cool. They’re also here to stay (and in keeping with the loose Persian connections, please allow the pun). I thought of introducing a brief collage of poetry tattooed on strangers and friends. Of course I suspected something like this had been done before, but I had no idea of the quality nor the extent of such projects.
Before briefly exploring some Persian connections and implications of this topic, I want to thank writer Facebook friends for introducing me to a couple of great publications: Editors Kim Addonizio and Cheryl Dumesnil have created an anthology of fantastic writers that capture the art of tattooing in various ways in Dorothy Parker's Elbow: Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos. Also of interest is Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor’s The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos for Bookworms Worldwide, a great coffee table book featuring great photographs of literary excerpts tattooed on various body parts.
I also want to mention too that my Queens College Early Americanist colleague Sian Roberts advises researching into “moko,” which,” she says, “is deeply integrated into Maori and Polynesian culture (fun fact: ‘tattoo’ originated as a Polynesian word.)”
In thinking about this topic in relation to things Persian (my commitment for my week of blogging), I also got to know those already in my life by various poetry on their skin. I didn’t know, prior to this entry, that my friend Jason Tougaw, a Comp. Rhetoric specialist (also at Queens College) has a Cocteau drawing of Orpheus, which explains in part why he seems to embody a kind of poetry. Stefanie Simons, who I got to know at Pen America, has tattooed part of an Aracelis Girmay poem on her body (yet another significant reason Stefanie is such a cool young writer). Getting more serious with things—and hopefully I can put a few pics up of what I’m seeing—Claire Van Winkle, poet and translator (and new MFA student at Queens) has this on her arm from Jorie Graham “The longing is to be pure. What you get is to be changed. ~JG” Always, or usually, the arms of these writers carry the words of writers, as if literally connecting to some key influence.
By way of transition to the Persian, Tara Mokhtari, an Iranian-Australian poet and critic who I recently met during her visit to NYC, has the following lines in Perisan on her arm from the modern Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri (about whom I hope to blog soon). She offers the following loose translation: "Live large, and alone, and modest, and unyielding.” Most people, she notes, get a little disappointed when she explains the “alone” part. Writers, however, would surely understand.
I offer these tattooed lines as a greater transition to the well-known early trendsetting images of Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, who radically politicized the female body with words from poetry as well as other sources. Like Neshat’s work, Mokhtari’s words both attract and subvert attention, as the latter explained how men during her trip to NYC hit on her by using the foreign lines as an entry into the conversation (making the message of valuing aloneness all the more significant).
Those unfamiliar with Neshat's postmodern treatment of the feminine post-Islamic Revolution—especially following her visit to her country of origin in the 1990’s—might find it worthwhile to check out her Women of Allah series. She co-opts a kind of communal or group definition of the Persian woman in the context of the Islamic Republic of Iran, reproducing a seeming empowerment with guns, for example, though also rendering the women with little individuality (re-imposing the mystique of the veil, so to speak).
There are far too many things to say and theorize upon as one considers the implications of these seminal images. In a pithy blog entry, it’s perhaps best to let the art speak for and against itself, so I’ll refrain from what will only become a reductive analysis. One overriding question that Neshat’s work continues to brilliantly bring to the surface relates to appropriation and issues of Orientalism.
Obviously the Persian script on female bodies (the artist used her own body in much of this work), like Tara’s tattoo, means something different to Iranians than to those, say, in the English speaking world. The latter can’t help but find another layer in their resistance to understanding, and I read that some have mistakenly assumed they must be lines of the Qu’ran. What does it mean to know, or to not know, that often this amazing calligraphy are the words of the first modern feminist poet Forugh Farrokhzad?
A prodigious amount of tension derives from the dichotomous reception of eastern vs. western audience. Insofar as Robert Frost famously claimed “Poetry is what gets lost in translation,” he was pulling a fast one, and his elusive irony gets aptly demonstrated here. The meta-statement itself is poetry, an epigram of sorts, meaning in locating the dislocation Frost paradoxically finds poetry. In her own way, through the resistance of translation and the resulting loss of meaning, Neshat too makes poetry in the English speaking world by allowing the loss.
Of course there is a lot more going on in Neshat’s earlier work here (not to mention her more current projects with video and film). To a certain extent interjecting the images in the framework of poetry tattoos might seem like forcing a comparison. However, when considering these indelible impressions as well as a kind of permanence through the use of impermanent artistic media, they remain another kind of tattoo pictured on the artist.
--Wandrers Nachtlied (1780)
Over the hills
Comes the quiet.
Across the treetops
No breeze blows.
Not a sound: even the small
Birds in the woods
Just wait: soon you
Will be quiet, too.
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.