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,
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.”
-- Kate Hagerman
For more, click here.
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.
photo credit: (c) Lawrence Schwartzwald (2011)
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
Read more about this photograph here.
Despite the puzzled face of the young fellow
In scarecrow overalls reading a comic book,
It’s all there, the bell peppers, the radishes,
Local blueberries and blackberries
That will stain our lips and tongue
As if we were freezing to death in the snow.
The kid is bored, or pretends to be,
While watching the woman pick up a melon
And press its rough skin against her cheek.
What makes people happy is a mystery,
He concludes as he busies himself
Straightening crumpled bills in a cigar box.
-- Charles Simic
Ever since David and I traveled to China and Mongolia in 2008 as guests of the American embassy, I’ve paid particular attention to all things Mongolian-related that might happen in New York City. When an item about Hamid Sardar’s photography exhibit at the Tibet House appeared on Manhattan Users Guide (scroll down), I invited my friend Leigh Wells to see it with me. Leigh lived in Mongolia for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer and is herself a talented photographer. She’s just back from a month-long visit to her old stomping grounds.
As so often happens in New York, our signals got crossed and I ended up going solo but I’m hoping to return with Leigh to get an insider’s take on the photographs from both a cultural and artistic perspective.
Sardar’s images are breathtaking. If you live in New York City or are planning a visit, put this show on your agenda. It’s on view through August 20.
Beginning in 2000, Sardar traveled to Outer Mongolia to make a record of the country’s remaining nomad tribes. He followed horse-breeders, bear-hunters, wolf-tamers, eagle-masters, and reindeer riders on their seasonal migrations. His intention was to capture a nomadic culture on the brink of the great and irreversible change brought on by a fledgling democracy and encroaching technology.
The 25 pictures on display are large – 18 ½" x 27 ½" -- and in addition to depicting the brutal conditions facing nomads traversing the mountains during the harshest weather imaginable (to this city dweller), they include intimate portraits of family life: a young girl performs the morning milk dance, a grandmother pacifies her grandchildren on a wolf pelt (above). “Kazak Mother Wolf”, is particularly memorable for both its subject matter and its composition. A Rembrandt portrait comes to mind, where the central figure appears to glow from an interior light.
Each photograph is accompanied by Sardar’s helpful description. Some explain the lore behind a particular ritual captured by the image; others are suspense-filled tales of man facing the elements. A series taken over a period of days in 2006 shows hunters struggling over a mountain during an especially brutal snow storm. Sardar can hear avalanches “crashing down the mountain slopes.” The visibility is so poor that he can “barely see ten feet ahead.” At one point the fresh snow gives way under his feet and he plummets down a twenty-foot funnel. From behind, he hears the voice of a hunter: “Isn’t this wonderful,” the hunter says, urging Sardar to “push ahead until we reach the bottom of the bowl.”
Leigh and I did manage to catch up this afternoon over ice-tea and coffee at City Bakery on 18th Street. Leigh handed over a gift bag of aaruul (right), the popular Mongolian snack made of dried milk curd. I had sampled it during our 2008 stay and have been haunted by its flavor ever since. It looks like nuggets of dried toothpaste and starts with the funky flavor of a strong cheese but has a sweet finish. (Some varieties are not sweet.) After chewing a few pieces Leigh and I agreed that it would enliven a salad of bitter greens and dried cherries tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette. You heard it here first! Mongolian aaruul, the next big thing!
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.
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.
Charles Simic, guest editor of The Best American Poetry 1992, with series editor David Lehman in October 1992. The Academy of American Poets hosted a launch reading for the anthology featuring Simic, Lehman, Lynda Hull, Rosanna Warren, and did Agha Shahid Ali read that evening?
Click here to fast forward 15 years.
Our favorite photographer, the incomparable Bill Hayward, sends along this photo and reminiscence of Ai, who died last week: From my book of portraits of the collaborative self...Bad Behavior (Rizzoli). She had just the morning before won the National Book Award for her book of poems, Vice. Over and over she said, "I suppose I should be using one of my dark lines but I feel so good today."
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.