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:
Vultures on top of the cemetery gates.
These vultures are very large. Majestic birds, really. Despite their bad reputation, vultures are saving this town, working as a full-time cleaning crew. They do not attack the living, they feast on the dead. I saw them playing with the local dogs and cats. They appear as gigantic awkward chickens in the backyards. The locals seem to ignore them altogether. When something is always present, we stop noticing it.
I have always been fascinated by cemeteries and try to visit them wherever I travel. The beautiful ruins of Tefé's cemetery is a feast of colors and shades.
The smudges on this gravestone look like a modern painting. And all these shades of blue...
Petals and leaves fall on the gravestones from the branches of the trees. Pink tears.
I took over thirty photographs of this grave. This child captured my heart.
Wisdom, understanding, strength, mercy, fear of G-d, science are all buried in here.
Beautiful ruins and open graves in all their glory
Life goes on. A cemetery is as good of a place as any to dry your laundry.
In other words, don't dump fresh corpses unattended!
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.
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.
[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