Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Reading for Queer Ink

I am one of three features at the Queer Ink reading this Sun. Here's the shout-out from organizer, Richard Loranger:

Please do join us for the Queer Ink reading series this coming Sunday, November 5, from 4 to 6 at the Bowery Poetry Club. Queer poets in the month of Scorpio – how much hotter can it get? This time, we’ll feature three gay poets who will read from recent work, and we will have a brief open mic, so bring a short poem or two if you like. We’ll run it for about 20 minutes, and I’ll allot time according to how many sign up. I will host, as before, as graciously as my Scorpio nature allows, if I can control myself at all,that is.

This Sunday, Queer Ink features Jason Schneiderman, author of the recently released Sublimation Point; Michael Montlack, a finalist this year for the Frank O’Hara Chapbook Award; and Jee Leong Koh, a terrific reader whose work has been published in both Singaporean and American journals. Copies of their books and journal publications will be available at the reading.

QUEER INK: Gay Poets Read from Recent Works

Jason Schneiderman
Michael Montlack
Jee Leong Koh

PLUS a brief open mic

HOSTED BY: Richard Loranger

DATE: Sunday, November 5, 2006
TIME: 4:00 – 6:00 pm
LOCATION: Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery (between Houston and Bleeker)

I’ve included brief bios below.

We only have these readings quarterly, so don’t miss it! Next QI will be on the first Sunday in February.

I hope you can make it by! And have an ardent November.

Richard Loranger



JASON SCHNEIDERMAN is the author of Sublimation Point, a Stahlecker Selection from Four Way Books. Schneiderman's poems have appeared in such magazines as Tin House, Grand Street, and American Poetry Review, and in such anthologies as The Penguin Book of the Sonnet and Best American Poetry 2005. For his work, he has received fellowships from Yaddo, The Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He is currently a Chancellor's Fellow at CUNY and teaches creative writing at Hofstra University.

Most recently, MICHAEL MONTLACK’s work has appeared in Cimarron Review, New York Quarterly, Poet Lore, Cream City Review, Ledge, Lodestar Quarterly, Blithe House, and other journals. This year he was a Finalist for the Frank O’Hara Chapbook Award and a Semi-Finalist for the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Winter Fellowship. His poem “Stein on Bishop” was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize and two of his poems will appear in At the Old Place, an anthology looking at the history of gay bars. A graduate of New School’s MFA program, Michael currently teaches at Berkeley College and acts as Associate Editor for Mudfish magazine.

JEE LEONG KOH grew up in Singapore. His poetry has been published in Singaporean anthologies as well as American journals such as Crab Orchard Review and The Gay and Lesbian Review. He is now looking to publish his first poetry manuscript. He lives in Queens.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Julius Caesar: Afterwards Deified

Knowing no Latin (and even less Greek), I am reading Robert Graves's translation of The Twelve Caesars, by Suetonius. The first Caesar is Julius. I have scanned reports of his MSM activities before, and now read the original account with profit and pleasure, as the formula goes.

The second-century historian wrote,

Caesar first saw military service in Asia, where he went as aide-de-camp to Marcus Thermus, the provincial governor. When Thermus sent Caesar to raise a fleet in Bithynia, he wasted so much time at Nicomedes' court that a homosexual relationship between them was suspected, and suspicion gave way to scandal when, soon after his return to headquarters, he revisited Bithynisa: ostensibly collecting a debt incurred there by one of his freedmen.

Julius did not even have camp conditions to blame since his liaisons took place at court where, presumably, a variety of entertainment was available. I wonder how old Julius was then. He couldn't have been more than twenty (or younger?) since he was on his first military campaign. Don't you love the innocent and pliant expression "suspicion gave way to scandal"? The scandal-mongers, enemies of the then-powerful consul, were named later in the chapter:

Licinius Calvus published the notorious verses:

The riches of Bithynia's King
Who Caesar on his couch abused.

Dolabella called him 'the Queen's rival and inner partner of the royal bed', and Curio the Elder: 'Nicomedes' Bithynian brothel'.

Bibulus, Caesar's colleague in the consulship, described him in an edict as 'the Queen of Bithynia...who once wanted to sleep with a monarch, but now wants to be one.'...Moreover, Gaius Memmius directly charges Caesar with having joined a group of Nicomedes' debauched young friends at a banquet, where he acted as the royal cup-bearer...Cicero...wrote in several letters:

Caesar was led by Nicomedes' attendants to the royal bedchamber, where he lay on a golden couch, dressed in a purple shift...So this descendant of Venus lost his virginity in Bithynia.

The details in the letters seem to be chosen to emphasize the feminine and passive position to which Julius "was led." The assumption was that the King would naturally take the active role. "Descendant of Venus" is well-aimed venom.

Lastly, when Caesar's own soldiers followed his decorated chariot in the Gallic triumph, chanting ribald songs, as they were privileged to do, this was one of them:

Gaul was brought to shame by Caesar;
By King Nicomedes, he.
Here comes Caesar, wreathed in triumph
For his Gallic victory!
Nicomedes wears no laurels,
Though the greatest of the three.

I don't know the circumstances and motivations surrounding Seutonius' writing of this history, but isn't it interesting that he chose to compile a record of these accusations and insinuation, as if the names of the accusers and insinuators make the rumor fact? Am I way off the mark in sensing the gossip-monger's keen ear for a good soundbite?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sevenling: In the end

(if there's one) the good (if there're such)
will separate from the goats, shinny up
ladders to (if there) paradise.

The goats will butt the ladders down,
do what goats do best (check the trash,
couple, bleat) and goats do worst (dream

of the good dancing down some stairs).

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sevenling: In the beginning

I thought the myth explains the light
because we fear the dark; explains
life because we fear death; or love,

loneliness. I don't mind the dark,
family lost because they live,
but unmeasured time makes me pray,

Let me rest on the Seventh Day.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Wooden Doors

They're leaving the church. Sunday mass over
at Saint Sebastian's Roman Catholic Church.
The three wooden doors, through which they pour,
resemble the doors set in the Greek skene

where, for an audience, violence always happened
off-stage. They might see the empty elbows
or the swinging body, but they would not see
the eyeball greeting the pin of the brooch.

For the celebrants at mass, violence happens
elsewhere too. Images commemorate facts
and so are not the facts: nails are not
the nails and, even if they are, have stopped

their piercing realization; and the flesh
tastes so much like mercy on the tongue,
round, hard and bland until saliva salts
and softens it, the wafer always tastes of us.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Discussion at American Poetry Journal:

Sevenlings by RODDY LUMSDEN

The sevenling is a poem of seven lines inspired by the form of this much translated short verse by Anna Akhmatova (1889 - 1966).

He loved three things alone:
White peacocks, evensong,
Old maps of America.

He hated children crying,
And raspberry jam with his tea,
And womanish hysteria.

... And he married me.

tr. D M Thomas From Selected Poems (Penguin)

The rules of the sevenling are thus:

The first three lines should contain an element of three - three connected or contrasting statements, or a list of three details, names or possibilities. This can take up all of the three lines or be contained anywhere within them. Then, lines four to six should similarly contain an element of three, connected directly or indirectly or not at all. The seventh line should act as a narrative summary or punchline or as an unusual juxtaposition. There are no set metrical rules, but being such as short form, some rhythm, metre or rhyme is desirable. To give the form a recognisable shape, it should be set out in two stanzas of three lines, with a solitary seventh, last line. Titles are not required. A sevenling should be titled Sevenling followed by the first few words in parentheses The tone of the sevenling should be mysterious, offbeat or disturbing, giving a feeling that only part of the story is being told. The poem should have a certain ambience which invites guesswork from the reader.

Two Sevenlings by Roddy Lumsden

A filthy West End night, the windows wide.
Now she's been gone a month and missed a week
and ached for all day long. Her sister waits:

she flips the Magic 8 Ball, walks in circles,
spreads mushy peas on cold, unbuttered toast
in the kitchenette. The record stops. She shouts,

put on some songs by four black guys in suits.

All those buzzsaw years I ran the show,
all those kids who asked me for advice,
The Architect, the Miraclist, The Man.

The starlets kick-line, that was my concoction,
the sailor boys, the peacock feather spotlights;
till one night in a blackout, I let slip

what it is I say to all the girls.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's comments on homosexuality in Singapore

Video in which PM Lee responded to a press question about how his government views "the gay issue." He frames the question for his government as: "how do we create the maximum space (for gay people to live their lives) without causing it...without it becoming intrusive...and oppressive on the rest of the population, without causing a backlash which will lead to polarization and animosity..."

From Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses"

Two questions to ask of any idea: when it is weak, does it compromise, and when it is strong, does it conquer?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sean Scully's "Wall of Light"

Fall afternoon light streamed into the Met’s mezzanine where I saw the exhibition of Sean Scully’s “Wall of Light” series. Scully painted the first watercolors of the series in 1983-4 when he was studying the stone walls of Maya ruins in the Yucatan. These watercolors look like studies. Their basic element is the brick-like oblong, arranged in sets of three in one painting, and in sets of four in another. Six other works experiment with the use of one, two or multiple colors.

Scully returned to these watercolors in the 90s and after, developing them into a series of meditations on the concrete and the evanescent, the abstract and the figurative. The “walls” comprise bricks, or stripes, with soft edges, colors that don’t stay within their lines, and brushstrokes that evoke what the curatorial note calls “a blurry luminosity.” In many of these paintings, for example, “Wall of Light Dark Orange,” 2001, the same color shines between the bricks, suggesting a light behind the wall. The grid that underlies the paintings recalls Mondrian but offers mood and place instead of cool intellectualism. It is a geometry rooted in geography.

"Wall of Light Dark Orange," 2001

In “Wall of Light Desert Night,” 1999, the cream-colored bars indicate sand while the darkening blues evoke twilight. In “Green Pale Light,” 2002, rural Mooseurach, a small town at the base of the Alps, where Scully has a studio, is seen in the greens, browns and grays. “Chelsea Red Wall of Light,” 2005, is ochre and white.

"Wall of Light Desert Night," 1999

Actually I find these abstract landscapes less compelling than the even less representational works. The painting I like best is the blue, white, pink and black “5.4.03,” 2003. (Unfortunately I can't find its online image.) It does not have bricks; it has blocks. The thickness of the rectangles and their strict alignment convey powerfully the impact of solidity. That the painting is a piece of paper suggests its pathos.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Reading and Singing St-John Perse

Images a Crusoe, Op 11, by Louis Durey
Scenes d'Anabase, by Paul Bowles

Beth Anne Hatton, voice
Ishmael Wallace, piano
Vita Wallace, violin
Text read by Jee Leong Koh

Excerpts from Exile,
text read by R. Nemo Hill

Date: October 16, 2006 (Mon)
Time: 8 p.m.
Place: The Stone, 2nd St & Ave C (www.thestonenyc.com)
Tix: $10

St-John Perse, or Alexis Leger, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1960. Born in Guadeloupe, the young Alexis felt like an exile when the family moved to France. His sequence, Pictures for Crusoe, gives voice to an old Crusoe who lives, barely, in the city and dreams of returning to his sensual island paradise.

From the section titled "The Wall":

...It is the sweat of saps in exile, the bitter oozings of plants with long pods, the acrid insinuation of fleshy mangroves, and the acid delight of a black substance within the pods.

It is the wild honey of ants in the galleries of the dead tree.

The style is a little too rhapsodic and overblown for my taste: too many exclamations of "O Despoiled!" and "Joy! O joy..." My favorite section is "The Bow" in which he conveys the pathos of aging, injects much-needed drama, and concludes that passage with an unexpected use of a recurring image:

Before the hissings of the hearth, numb beneath your flowered wrapper, you watch the soft undulating fins of the flames.--But a snapping fissures the singing darkness; it is your bow, on its nail, that has burst. And it splits along the whole length of its secret fibre, like the dead pod in the hands of the warrior tree.

(Translations by Louise Varese)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Vigo's L'Atlante

I watched L'Atlante at the Anthology Film Archives on Sunday night. Hailed for its poetic realist style, the film struck me as more charming than realist. This is probably due to my distance, both temporal and spatial, from its depiction of a provincial wedding and a honeymoon voyage in a barge. In the film, new wife, Julette, tells her husband, Jean, that, before they have met, she has already seen him in the water of a bucket in which she has plunged her head. If only water has such oracular power! Or the unconscious, which water may symbolize, tells us such certain truths. Still, the idea is charming.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Hopper, Picasso and the Americans at the Whitney

The Whitney devotes the entire fifth floor to Hopper’s paintings and drawings, as a part of its “Full House” anniversary exhibition. The first room looks at Hopper’s Paris apprenticeship. In choosing river and bridges for his subjects, Hopper was clearly influenced by the Impressionists’ emphasis on outdoor light. The paintings, however, do not display the textured brushstrokes that aim to capture the phenomenology of light; they consist of regular shapes colored in with brushstrokes that efface themselves.

Hopper’s preoccupation with light is seen in the titles of some of his more famous paintings. “South Carolina Morning” depicts a black woman dressed sexily in red, standing in a doorway, and looking out at bright fields and sky.

In “Cape Cod Evening,” an elderly couple, in front of their house, watches their dog play in their long-grass lawn. The grass is light golden, echoed and enriched in the golden brown fur of the dog. Next to, and behind the house, stand dark blue trees. Light in this painting assumes symbolic significance, commenting on the lives of its human inhabitants.

Hopper seems to be more interested in these effects of light than its play on surfaces. The night in “Nighthawks” is psychological and moral rather than phenomenological. Hopper turns his early influence into a personal account of the universe as he sees it, what a major artist must do.

Influence is the topic of another Whitney exhibition. “Picasso and American Art” looks at the Spanish master’s influence on Roy Lichtenstein, Ashile Gorky, Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, and Jackson Pollock. Was it the Times reviewer who commented on the textbook feel of the exhibition, with its didactic groupings of American paintings around the Picasso that inspired them? The organization did cramp my appreciation of individual paintings. Or was the appreciation clamped?

It seemed to me that the only paintings there that stood against the Picassos were by an artist I did not know before: Arshile Gorky. His “Organization” does not merely reproduce the geometry and bright colors of Picasso’s “The Studio.” It understands its forerunner; more, it personalizes, and deepens, the other’s questions. I really like the figurative “The Artist and His Mother” as well as the abstract “Enigmatic Combat.” Painted in opposite styles, the two are similar in their questioning of subject and method. Perhaps I am impressed by Gorky’s lack of complacency. One pays tribute to one’s artistic forebears by arguing with them.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

This water streams between the banks

This water streams between the banks
of a subterranean track.
It cannot carry pulp or foam
nor shrug them off its back.

I've waded in the muddy Nile
and walked with Eliot's Thames,
dreamt by carp-bellied Singapore,
delivering gurgling names.

Sure, this foul trickle does not grow
from glaciers or from glades,
but from the fractured concrete cast
silently cascades,

still it descends from the same sky
as the Ganges and the Styx,
elementary the water
a rat, fat with rats, sips.