Since I am not a word, but am curious about the experience of being a word, I asked author Shelley Jackson if I could photograph some of her words from the novel SKIN. She agreed and gave me the email addresses for the following words:
the internal food table, lungs lineaments law, across mouthpiece. Remember?
The novel SKIN exists in tattoos. In order to read the novel, one has to participate in the text by applying to become a word, and if you get chosen, the word must be inked on your skin in book font. Once the author receives a photograph proving the word is tattooed on your skin along with the signed disclaimer stating that you will never share the story with anyone else who is not a word, only then can you read the coveted story.
When the words came to my studio to be photographed for this article I asked each of them what they did and why they wanted to become a word. Two worked in publishing, another two were writers, one was a Freudian scholar, and the others didn’t mention their professions but said that they “wanted to be part of something greater than themselves.”
Mark Strand reading "First Death in Nova Scotia (c)Lawrence Schwartzwald
Alice Quinn of the Poetry Society of America brilliantly organized the group reading Tuesday February 8th honoring the 100th anniversary of Elizabeth Bishop's birth. At Cooper Union's Great Hall, nineteen poets read a favorite Bishop poem. The reading of poems in chronological order of publication was interspersed with snippets of correspondence between Bishop and New Yorker editors Katharine White, William Maxwell, and Howard Moss -- with Maria Tucci as the voice of Elizabeth Bishop, Alice Quinn as that of Katharine White, and current New Yorker poetry editor Paul Muldoon speaking for Messrs. Maxwell and Moss. We learned that the magazine turned down the Bishop poem that John Ashbery had wished to read, "Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance." Longtime poetry editor Howard Moss in one of his letters to Elizabeth Bishop confided that he was up to his ears in poems.Two hundred had appeared in the last two days, "in addition to the usual million." What Moss could use, he added, was a grant to open a hamburger stand in New Jersey.
Richard Howard (L)and James Fenton (c)Lawrence Schwartwald
(Note, if you squint hard enough at the photo of Mark Strand, you can make out Vijay Seshadri, Kimiko Hahn, Elizabeth Alexander, David Lehman, and Jean Valentine in the background; we were seated at cafe tables on the stage. -- DL
Just prior to the reading in honor of Elizabeth Bishop's 100th birthday last evening at the Great Hall of Cooper Union, the nineteen poets taking part milled in the green room, with ace photographer Lawrence Schwartzwald snapping away. Here's a shot of Frank Bidart and David Lehman.
Top to bottom: Gregory Pardlo, Star Black, Jennifer Knox, Derek Monk, Jason Schneiderman, Martha Silano. All six read from their newest books at Bardeo Wine Bar in the Cleveland Park neighborhood last night.
Is the audience for dance engaged in a kind of group voyeurism? What is really going on when we watch young and highly trained thoroughbreds push their bodies to unnatural extremes for our entertainment? Is the effect titilating? Listen to the audience as a dancer executes an especially challenging passage, say, the thirty-two fouettes of the Black Swan. And when a dancer falls, is there an element of pleasure in the audiences’ collective gasp?
These questions swirled around me after watching the most recent performance in the continuing Bill Hayward / Miranov Dance / Redress Films The Intimacies Project. Eight of us gathered in Hayward’s studio where he had constructed a mock window out of a plastic sheet and rigged it with an irrigation system to simulate the look and sound of falling rain. We were instructed to stand in front of the barrier to watch the performance on the other side, as if we were looking into a stranger’s apartment. The only props in the “apartment” were a long low steel bench with a moss-covered sphere at one end.
As the house lights dim, we hear a plaintive harmonica and heavy breathing. From behind us, a man (Jason Nowak) carries a limp woman (Jordan Marinov) upside down – his arms are wrapped around her calves. It’s as if he’s carrying a lifeless sack. He places her on the bench, where her hands drop toward the floor. After he leaves, she rouses herself and begins to move about. The music changes from Charlie Chaplin's haunting "Smile" to the driving beat and percussive lyrics of The Roots' "Walk Alone." It was during the next fifteen minutes of solo dance that my comfort level was pushed to its extreme.
Jordan Marinov (pictured above) is a compelling dancer. With her mile-long legs, angular features, and intense expression, it’s tough to take your eyes off her when she’s performing. Even when she’s still, she radiates energy. Watching her through a window felt illicit, yet it is impossible to look away. She makes full use of the space, by turns cowering, uncoiling, reaching, crawling, stretching. Now she’s a frightened animal, now an angry aggressor, a supplicant, a lover. She moves the bench across the floor to below the window, climbs upon and continues to move. She looks out the window, but over, not at, us. We’re eye level with her thighs and torso and her dance is an invitation to examine her bare skin. She’s that close. Yet there’s a barrier, we can’t touch. Then, in a brilliant stroke, we're shaken out of our reverie by Marinov's voice. "I knew a guy once," she says. So rare is the sound of a dancer's voice that the effect is unsettling.
In previous performances in the series, Marinov danced with a partner. Together they animated the push-and-pull of two individuals at once yearning for and repelled by true intimacy. This time, she was alone for most of the performance and drew the audience into her evolving emotions. Without the usual comfort of a theater seat – we stood throughout – or the distance that typically separates the audience from the stage, we felt exposed, vulnerable, perhaps even more so than the dancer before us. I have a feeling that this is exactly the response Hayward / Marinov were hoping to arouse.
The New Year is coming. We take stock of the last 365 days, weigh up the disappointments - always so many, both personal and communal - and relish the triumphs - thankfully, always one or two. We resolve to do better, so that next December, the scales tip less toward sorrow and more toward joy.
Of course, this is hard. It is hard to lose that last ten pounds or quit smoking, to organize the bills or keep the house neater, much less make the world a better, kinder place. But it is important to keep trying.
Probably many of you have seen this photograph before. It's more than twenty years old. But as the year winds down, it might be helpful to take another look, to be reminded of our smallness in the scope of the universe, our fragility, and our consequent responsibility to take care of each other.
This picture was taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. It shows the Earth as it appears from 4 billion miles away.
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam." - Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot