Showing posts from December, 2006

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art

The Museum opened in its new home in 2003. The special exhibition, when we visited it, was William Dunlap’s “Panorama of the American Landscape,” a fourteen-paneled work. Half of it depicted a snow-covered landscape in which a row of deer heads continued into infinity. According to the curatorial note, the deer heads stand for the human casualties at the Battle of Antietem during the Civil War. The other seven panels of the panorama were verdant, with two horse-riding hunters in the background, and a troop of hunting dogs occupying much of the foreground.

The juxtaposition of an upper class sport and a terrible battle was strongly dissonant, and made me unsure how to read the painting. The hunters didn’t seem to be responsible in the painting for the harvest of deer. They were figures of grace and civilization, whose elegant houses dotted the green landscape unobstrusively. The dogs were painted with loving detail that ennobled them without anthropomorphizing them. In an exhibition n…

New Orleans

Written on 12/29 Fri:

Winston and I have been in New Orleans for five days now, and we’ll be flying back to NYC tomorrow. The idea of a working vacation has been a success for me. I spent the mornings revising and rearranging Payday Loans, my 30-sonnet sequence, for publication in January. It helped to have a spacious hotel room to work in, $75 a night at the Sheraton, and not some quaint but claustrophobic bed-and-breakfast.

Afternoons saw us wandering round different neighborhoods: the French Quarter, the Garden District (where we saw Anne Rice’s house, Rosegate, and Lafayette No. 1 Cemetery), Uptown, the Faubourg Marigny (with a gay bookshop, to our surprise), and the Warehouse District.

Wednesday night, we went to Oz, a gay bar, where we sat beside two godly-sized lesbians from Yorkshire. When I asked one of them if they hailed from York, she repeated Yorkshire, and went on to explain what a county is. The drag show we saw there (Oz, not Yorkshire) was amateurish and poorly-hosted. …

Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s

I will be away in New Orleans from Christmas Day to the day before New Year's Eve. My first visit to that city, and I am looking forward to tramping round it, eating Cajun and Creole food and hearing some jazz. And doing some writing and reading in the mornings of the 6-day vacation.

On Friday, I viewed the Met exhibition on German portraits by artists such as Otto Dix, George Grosz, Christian Schad, Rudolf Schlicter and Max Beckmann. Known as the Verists, a branch of the New Objectivism, the artists prided themselves on depicting their subjects dispassionately, even cynically. Such "realism" was deemed the only adequate response to the crises of German society after World War II.

Otto Dix's paintings scrutinize his subjects mercilessly, exposing their weaknesses and vices. I have seen a few of the same paintings in the Dada exhibition in Washington D.C.. The Dada exhibition framed Dix as one example of an European and American artistic "movement," and emphas…

Terry Eagleton on "How to Read a Poem"

I'm enjoying this how-to book quite a great deal. Eagleton combines close reading of famous poems with a quick overview of poetic theory and criticism, in the belief that close reading and theory must inform each other. He is particularly good on the semiotics of YuryLotman. The style is witty and opinionated.

Eagleton defines a poem as "a fictional, verbally inventive moral statement in which it is the author, rather than the printer or word processor, who decides where the lines should end." He readily admits that the definition sounds "unpoetic to a fault," but defends it as "the best we can do."

I am particularly intrigued by the element of morality in his statement. He writes,

...morality in its traditional sense, before the advocates of duty and obligation got their hands on it, is the study of how to live most fully and enjoyably; and the word 'moral' in the present context refers to a qualitative or evaluative view of human conduct and ex…

Ron Mueck, Annie Leibovitz, John Currin

Last Sunday, I saw two exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum: Ron Mueck and Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005. Mueck made puppets for children's television before moving to sculpture, while Leibovitz's photos first appeared in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Vogue. Both artists thus began their careers in popular culture before they were taken up by the mainstream art world.

Mueck creates very lifelike sculptures out of fibreglass and silicone, almost Madame Tussaud, except they are much bigger or smaller than life-size. I liked The Spooning Couple, a small and delicate piece, in which the man and woman look so alone though lying down in that most intimate position. The other piece that held my attention was that of a young adolescent boy squatting down and looking sideways at himself in a mirror. It seems to capture so subtly youth's vulnerability. I did not find the other pieces interesting. Too often I had the impression that technique overwhelmed the mes…

I want to live with a beautiful man

I want to live with a beautiful man.
I want it so badly
I’ve waved good-bye, good-bye! to God and, worse,
embarrassed family.
I want him so badly.

I’ve seen the beautiful man in church
worshipped by the choir.
Last night he toweled in the locker-room
his cock, a pinkish pacifier,
and my heart rose like a choir.

I want to tie him to my bed, each limb a sweet arrow
pointing to the keep,
take him in my longing mouth
and there the beautiful man keep.

All day I want to live with a beautiful man.
All night I lie down with me.
I know the world is not a breast
but when did we start starving babies?
Look! When I spin very fast, the mobile stars revolve round me.

Welcum Yule

A friend, Kate Irving, sings in the New York City choral group, The Canticum Novum Singers, founded and directed by Harold Rosenbaum. On Saturday, the Singers performed a concert of carols at St. Paul & St. Andrew Church, and Mark Nickels was kind enough to ask for me, and Kate kind enough to give, a complimentary ticket.

The sixteenth century Spanish carols, which opened the concert, sounded as if they were inspired by folk songs. They seemed to be suffused with a ruddy good cheer, and a wild rural spirit rattled out by the tambourine.

I really enjoyed the two works of Josquin des Prez (c.1440-1521), especially the Ave Maria. The soprano voices soared with such purity till they appeared to be coming out of the mouths of the two full-sized, wing-extended angels high up on both sides of the altar.

In contrast, the English carols after the intermission were full of earthy, Dickensian good cheer. The cherubs in Mendelssohn’s Hark the Herald Angels Sing were more akin to the Victorian an…

Fred Sandback

On Saturday I saw Fred Sandback’s work in David Zwirner gallery. An American artist (1943-2003), Sandback composes sculptures made of “lengths of yarn stretched horizontally, vertically, or diagonally in a variety of configurations that include rectangles, triangles, U-shapes, and floor-to-ceiling vertical lines” (exhibition press statement).

The works in the exhibition range from wall reliefs to whole-room installations. I like the installations that “inhabit” a whole room. Though yarn is such a lightweight and thin material, the lines are not overwhelmed by the space; instead, the colored lines divide and multiply one’s perspectives of the pure white room.

Untitled (Sculptural Study, Seventeen-part Right-angled Construction) consists of 17 parallel L-shaped lines of red yarn, that begin from one side of the room and end about three-quarter way across the room. I tried to figure out the “reason” for the length of the horizontal yarn-lines, and for the spacing between each L. Standing b…

Changi Prison Chapel

The makeshift chapel, the man reads
from the plaque, is a replica,
a diorama of memories.

The seventh pew, where he was bent
double by dysentery, is not
scratched along its seat of lashed

poles, not with a pocket pen-knife
or any flinty implements
found in the flat dirt of the camp.

His fingers brushed the dark unscratched
pew, the wall planks, the altar stand,
like touching glass, hand in a glove.

Pinned to a cork bulletin-board
are handwritten notes on cards
or paper torn out of a journal.

Many wrote their fathers, husbands,
brothers and uncles were here. One
bride-to-be thanked all the soldiers.

Old quarrels. Old injustices.
Older than the altar cross
made from an artillery shell,

that used to promise suffering
cut, turned, beveled and set by love
into a shining salvation.

But let that jagged fragment stand,
he prays, for man’s love for making
do, for man’s makeshift love for man,

for among cholera and lice
someone, a soldier, found something
shiny in the dirt, something sharp,

and made the cross all of a piece…

Crabbing at Changi Beach

At the north-eastern end of the island,
an end extended by makeshift piers,
narrow planks floating on oil barrels,
sampans ride the harsh glint of the sea.

Fires in the water are ghosts of the sun.

Past the small brick customs office
boat-riders bob, as if still at sea,
smelling of fish, motor oil and tarpaulin.
Their hands are empty trawling nets.

The sea hawks its old throat and spits.

Three boys leaning over a wooden bridge
lower into water their crabbing nets,
and wait, expecting something close
to land will side-walk into their hands,

some years too young to launch a boat.

For A Cousin Who Married Young

She climbs out of the sighing bed,
weighing her body on her toes,
soles, so as not to disturb him.
There’s tap-water to boil for tea,

but now a moment to herself—
stare out of kitchen window to
opposite windows black with sleep,
and hear the stray cats mew for god

knows what—she finds herself among
the old appliances. The new
alarm clock beeps. She wakes the three
children, the man she lets him sleep.

While the drowsy faces eat, she slips
into her uniform, and checks
their wallets for snack money, and
their bags the school-books for the day,

the Math the children scrawled before
her eyes last night. They kiss her, leave.
Now she wakes him up and, when sure
he lies awake, picks up her bag.

In the next room, the dowager
appears asleep, though she can’t tell
for sure. The quarrel last week meant
the children ate nothing for lunch.

She slings her bag, decides to call
home twice, during her lunch and break.
Her thoughts turn with her steps to work,
those long hours making someone happy.

Thank You, Thank You

I leave your house with a shoebox of rejection slips
editors enclosed in my self-addressed envelopes.
Good stationery. Polite form letters. Different types
of no to poems posted with thirty-nine-cent hopes.

A few took the trouble to scribble their subjectivities.
(These poems don’t meet our present needs.) Four
softened the blow by mildly singling out for praise
the flirt, the grovel, the hurt valve, or the soft core.

There's one, burgundy half-letter-sized, kept
face up, raised by the others sleeping facedown.
This one, generous in its plural pronoun, abrupt
in its brevity, added an afterthought, Try usagain.

Submission seasons come and go. Every Sept-
ember burns in a shoebox, because of this one.

A Tale of Two Gregs

On Saturday I heard my friend, Greg Bynum, play his recorder as a guest with the Brooklyn Baroque at the Morris-Jumel Mansion. The details of the concert program are below. Greg was the soloist in Boismortier’s Sonata in G Major for Recorder and Continuo. I thought his playing was particularly fine in that sonata, natural and sweet.

The soprano, Elizabeth Baber, sang the Bach and Telemann much better than the Scarlatti, to my untrained ears. Her voice was controlled and expressive, her interpretation of the Germans dramatic and persuasive. I thought, with her flowing blond hair and strong features, she looked like a Rhine Maiden. Greg’s playing in the Telemann matched her expression and intensity. I really like the Telemann piece, with its lurching rhythm in the opening lines.

Saturday night ended with another Gregg, Araki, on a very different note. Having enjoyed his well-directed "Mysterious Skin," I entertained some hopes of the earlier "Doom Generation." It was d…


Mark Nickels wrote a poem for me. I think this is the first poem someone wrote for me, not counting verses penned by my students on cards. "Then hump in the catacombs while the highway thrums" is my kind of a line!

Last Line

A last line of a poem hangs, like an empty picture frame, on a nail in my head:

a nude is not more nude than when he moves

Independent and Small Press Book Fair

During last weekend, I attended the Fair held at the Small Press Center. The Center is a member of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, a society whose quaint anachronism pleases me. The Fair itself was of a good size, with exhibitors in multiple rooms on four different floors. When I say "exhibitor," I really mean one table displaying the press's publications, ranging from one to, perhaps, twenty.

I picked up a number of poetry books at a good discount: The Good Thief by Marie Howe, Sakura Park by Rachel Wetzsteon, Cinder by Bruce Bond, Poems of NazimHikmet translated by Randy Blasing and MutluKonuk, and Open Field: Thirty Contemporary Canadian Poets edited by SinaQueyras.

I also bought H. L. Hix'sWild and Whirling Words: A Poetic Conversation. In Hix's project, thirty-three poets contributed one of their poems, which was then sent, without the poet's name, to six other poets for their comments. Besides the poem, the commentators got to read the com…

The Cloisters

The way from 190th Street Station to the Cloisters lay through Fort Tryon Park. The Park had a collection of heather that was as showy as that subdued plant could be: quiet mauvre, obscure yellow and pale green. Perched on a hilltop below which the Hudson and a busy motorway ran, the park was named after the last British civil governor of Manhattan. Isn't that a strange choice of name?

The Cloisters itself was built, in the neo-medieval style, on the highest point in that area. I liked how the building incorporated into its own structure architectual elements from its collection. The Fuentiduena Chapel, with its high ceiling and half-barreled apse, was impressive.

During my visit, I was attracted to the silver-stained roundels in the Glass Gallery. The roundel pictures displayed a keen sense of drama, as well as composition in that tricky circular format. Besides the expected saints, martyrs, biblical characters, allegorical figures, there were two bare-breasted women holding herald…