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Showing posts from 2007

At the New Year

The doors are about to close. The train must go.
You know you will make it, as you made it
year after year. None will be left behind.
So who are these men standing in the snow,
curious and formal like old documents?
The whistle blows--listen!--so does the wind.

Over There: Poems from Singapore and Australia

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You can now buy the anthology online. I have a few poems in it.

From the publisher's website:





Curated by two of the foremost literary figures of their generation, the ground-breaking Singapore-Australia anthology of poetry brings together for the first time the contemporary work of the finest poets at work in Singapore and Australia today. OVER THERE: Poems from Singapore and Australia features a fresh selection of established as well as previously unreleased work from writers such as Edwin Thumboo and Cyril Wong from Singapore, and Dorothy Porter and Kevin Hart from Australia. Over 20 writers from each territory are featured, representing the diverse and interesting voices currently at play in both territories, and creating an ongoing discourse between the exciting literary cultures of the two Pacific neighbours. The anthology ranges across many themes: from an ever-shifting sense of cultural, urban and personal identity to place, politics, sex, religion and more, with clear resona…

Throat

Should I ask this beautiful man after dinner
at the best Thai restaurant in the city
if he would come back to my place and fuck,
though I know my friend T is positive?

There is no cocktail of drugs for this knowledge, this fear
infecting my body, this fear of the infected body
no knowledge of virus or precaution
can cure.

For the same reason, no-reason, T’s boyfriend refuses him,
though he’s a dentist, and a scientist should know better.
For the same reason, no-reason, T doesn’t disclose his health
to his tricks. What you don’t know can’t hurt you.

And I, knowing, am sick,
choke back the question, and swallow
beef sautéed with lemongrass and chili,
after chewing carefully.

TLS October 19, 2007

from Don Garrett's review "All Necessarily So" of Steven Nadler's Spinoza's "Ethics": An introduction:

. . . the whole [Ethics] is arranged in a forbidding "geometrical order", an austere and magisterial structure of definitions, axioms, postulates, propositions, corollaries, demonstrations, and scholia modelled on Euclid's Elements. . . .

Spinoza was a necessitarian, holding that everything follows with absolute necessity from its equally necessary grounds or causes, in a way that leaves no room for contingency in nature. Nadler takes seriously the worry that the content of the Ethics therefore requires expression in its deductive geometrical format.

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. . . many . . . have seen in Spinoza's monistic metaphysics - positing as it evidently does a single space-time entity whose local variations of forces, governed by pervasive natural laws, constitute physical "objects" as states of the universe rather than as component parts of i…

The New Yorker, December 10, 2007

from "The Checklist" by Atul Gawande, in "Annals of Medicine":

Yet it's far from obvious that something as simple as a checklist could be of much help in medical care. . . . In 2001, though, a critical-care specialist at John Hopkins Hospital named Peter Pronovost decided to give it a try. He didn't attempt to make the checklist cover everything; he designed it to tackle just one problem . . .line infections. On a sheet of plain paper, he plotted out the steps to take in order to avoid infections when putting a line in. Doctors are supposed to (1) wash their hands with soap, (2) clean the patient's skin with chlohexidine antiseptic, (3) put sterile drapes over the entire paient, (4) wear a sterile mask, hat, gown, and gloves, and (5) put a sterile dressing over the catheter site once the line is in. Check, check, check, check, check. These steps are no-brainers; they have been known and taught for years. So it seemed silly to make a checklistjust for the…

The Stomach-Sac

The body is a limit,
so Papa Mann taught little Manns at the pastry shop,
where Thomas ate cream rolls, cream cakes, cream puffs
until his body screamed, stop!

The book has another story about greed, a parable.
Two men were told by a rich landowner
they would receive all the land their feet could circumscribe
before sunset.

The first man took note of the position of the sun in the clear sky,
measured his stride, estimated his speed, and walked, and turned
right angle, and walked, and turned again, and walked the square
which he settled with farm, wife, four kids, and a gaggle of geese.

The other man, the greedy one, ran
faster than his legs could carry him, stumbling on flat land, thrashing through thickets,
ran curving in when he remembered the countdown, ran straightening out
when he remembered his dream of a commonwealth—cream cakes for everyone—

his body screaming, stop! and, when he refused, his body
stopped him in his tracks, as they say,
and he collapsed,
just as the sun conveniently set on him.

F…

Ordinary People (1980)

Gripping family drama, based on the novel by Judith Guest. Strong ensemble acting, especially a young Timothy Hutton playing the younger son who survived the boating tragedy that killed his brother.

Director: Robert Redford

Calvin Jarrett: Donald Sutherland
Beth Jarrett: Mary Tyler Moore
Conrad Jarrett: Timoth Hutton
Dr. Tyrone C. Berger (the shrink): Judd Hirsh

"Tapestry in the Baroque" at the Met

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I found the first room more interesting than the later rooms. I like the playful wit of "Garden with Diana Fountain" from a five-piece set called "Garden Scenes with Mythological Fountains" (good title for a series of poems that plays against Moore's "imaginary gardens with real toads in them"). Next to the fountain, with its lifelike hounds tearing into the stag, a real dog is defecating. In the foreground two man-servants shift a huge urn in line with all the other urns of flowers (every document of civilization. . . ). And pushed by the beautiful geometrical garden to the left, villagers busy themselves with unremitting rural chores, in sharp contrast with the stately mansion on the right of the tapestry.

In the next room, Rubens spoilt things by introducing Baroque painting into tapestry-making. Now the tapestries display the plump women and muscular men so familiar from the paintings of that period. Yes, the "Decius Mus" designed by Rube…

TLS December 21 & 28 2007

from Matthew Cobb's review "Polymath of Style" of Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon's Oeuvres, edited by Stephane Schmitt and Cedric Cremiere:

This year marked the tercentenary of the birth of two of the greatest naturalists of the eighteenth century - the Swede Carl Linnaeus (1707-78) and the Frenchman Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707-88). In April, Linnaeus's 300th birthday was celebrated in the scientific journals, museums put on special exhibits, newspapers published articles about his influence. But for Buffon's birthday, in September, there were no candles on the cake. Even in France, not much fus was made - a conference in Dijon, a few displays at the Museum national d'Histoire naturelle, a flurry of publishing, and that was it.

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Buffon had a long-running dispute with Linnaeus over the validity of the multi-level classification outlined in Systema Naturae, which permeated the whole of L'Histoire naturelle. Buffon argued that only spec…

2005 Reading at The Back Fence

Just stumbled on this old video when browsing Roxanne Hoffman's press website. It takes me back: The Back Fence, bar in Greenwich Village, where I first met Rox and Brigid, and was invited to read as a feature on Jan 15, 2005. Rox recorded me reading "Ten Poems on the Plum Blossom." Go ahead, watch the video, and laugh.

TLS December 14 2007

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Julian Bell wrote a wonderful review of the exhibition of British art at Ghent's Museum of Fine Arts. Describing each exhibition room in turn, and the art works in each, the review takes the reader through the different galleries of "British Vision: Observation and imagination in British Art," thus tracing the curatorial intentions nicely. "Hooze and his advisers, who include British art scholars like John Gage and Timothy Hyman, " writes Bell, "are showman in the best sense: their persuasion is visual, a matter of inspired display. With so many star exhibits at their disposal, they know how to give the aura of each its due and still draw sparks from making them interact." Here's Bell giving the tour, with which I try to pair the art works he mentions:

We enter at first a close warm space. We are among eighteenth-century group portraits and nineteenth century crowd scenes, including "Work", the urban material of which leads on to pictures…

The Heel

Not at the polar caps is where
imaginations fail,
not in the deserts of despair,
but on the rocky outcrop, on the heel

sticking out of water, exposed to the feathered arrows of the sun,
there, despite our fearlessness and care,
is predicted the cause of our fall, the course—upside-down direction!—
the weapon, the war, when, and where.

TLS November 23 2007

from Gabriel Josipovici's review of The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain 950-1492 edited and translated by Peter Cole:


The title of Cole's anthology is taken from a remark by the leading Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish: "Andalus . . . might be here or there, or anywhere . . . A meeting place of strangers in the project of building human culture . . . . It is ot only that there was a Jewish-Mulsim co-existence, but that the fates of the two people were similar . . . . Al-Andalus for me is the realization of the dream of the poem".

Poem by early-fourteenth century Todros Abulafia:

The day you left was bitter and dark,
you finest thing, you - and when I think of it,
it feels like there's nothing left of my skin.
Your feet, by far, were more beautiful,
the day they mounted
and wrapped my neck in a ring.

Mark Behr's "The Smell of Apples" (spoiler alert!)

Behr's debut novel is less about South African society than it is about an Afrikaner family. Sure, it records, through the eyes and ears of eleven-year-old Marnus Erasmus, such horrific events as the burning of a colored child for a petty theft, the virulent patriotism of the whites who believe themselves beleaguered and bereft by blacks, the manuevers of the political elite against international isolation, the unremarkable day-to-day prejudices of a master class towards its servants (one of the most telling incidents occurs when Marnus' mother could not give the last name of her long-serving housekeeper while attempting to visit the latter's burnt son in the hospital).

Still, rather than a dissection of a society, the novel is a portrait of a family, and its most remarkable figure is that of the patriarch, square-jawed, strong-shouldered General Johan Erasmus. Lover of culture and country, big-game hunter, marlin-fisher, ocean swimmer, the General also loves little boys, …

Sidnea D'Amico at Reaves Gallery

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Reaves Gallery opened recently along Market Street, SF. The space was a white box, when I visited it this morning, with works by many artists on its three walls, and a big office desk at the back. I was particularly drawn to the work of the Brazilian artist Sidnea D'Amico, who settled in the US to develop her art career, mainly in the genres of painting and mixed media. The brilliant primary colors of her paintings seem to harken back to her days as a jewellery designer, while the geometric shapes and lines, the playfulness of which reminds me of Miro, the minimalism of Mondrian, seem to owe something to her study of photography.

I cannot find the painting that I like especially: it has a cheerful yellow background, with coiled red wires hanging from the ceiling of the painting. But this painting from her website, from the same series "Siesta in the City," also gives a good idea of her work.




Another series, "Whimsy," orchestrates line, color and shape in a joyfu…

Dim Sum, Juicy Couture and Plumpjack

Had dim sum in Gold Mountain in Chinatown late morning, in one of those huge Chinese banquet halls, packed with tables, and tram-lined by steel trolleys of food. The dim sum was tasty and sturdy. I am tempted to say that it's better than anything I've tasted in NYC Chinatown, though that may just be my vacation mood. The restaurant was at the top of Grant Avenue, and this location brought to mind a song from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Flower Drum Song" called, yes, "Grant Avenue":


western street with eastern manners,
Tall pagodas and golden banners
Throw their shadows through the lantern glow.

You can shop for precious jade
or teakwood tables or silk brocade
Or see a bold and brassy night club show,
On the most exciting thoroughfare I know.

We call it
Grant Avenue, San Francisco,
California, U.S.A.
Looks down from Chinatown
Over a foggy bay.

You travel there in a trolley,
In a trolley up you climb,
Dong! Dong! You're in Hong Kong,
Having yourself a time.

You c…

Napa Valley Wine Tour

Jerry was the guide fom Wine Country Tour Shuttle. He's been in the business for more than twenty years, and could reel off facts about San Francisco and the surrounding counties like nobody's business. He said he was married, but so many of his mannerisms and interests were so stereotypically gay that I did wonder if the wife was fictional, though I could not imagine any reason for such an invention.

The shuttle picked us up from the Ferry Terminal along the Embarcadero, and traveled over the Golden Gate Bridge, into Marine County, Sonoma County and then Napa County. Between and below the grass-and-dirt mountain ridges, the vineyards swelled and unfolded, acre after acre of harvested vines--rows and rows of brown Hanukkah lamps side by side.

First stop was Domaine Chandon, a sparkling wine winery. The winery still works closely with its parent winery in France, sending its wine-makers there for apprenticeships, for instance. Respecting the wish of France to keep the name of cha…

San Francisco Again

Arrived last night, and staying at the Parker Guest House, a few blocks from Castro. Parker is a fancier Bed & Breakfast. Danced for a while at Badlands, where a friendly and diverse crowd was having a good time. Today goes on a wine tour of Napa Valley.

Dinner at Nizza

Nizza, in Hell's Kitchen, 9th Avenue between 44th and 45th, is a swanky bistro and bar, with Italian small dishes. Nizza is Italian for Nice. The executive chef is Andy D'Arnico. For appetizer, I tried the bruschetta, which had very fresh tomato and broccoli chopped very finely. For the main, I had the crab ravioli which was delicious: a touch of fresh herb lifted the cream sauce. I also tried the Wild Boar Lasagne, which was sweet but not cloying so. The desert, semolino bodino, a kind of bread pudding cake, was accented with pistachio and cream. My glass of Montepulciano was smooth and easy drinking. The Nero, which I tried, was very dark and big, and I did not like it at all. The server was very friendly, and the bistro well-designed. Certainly worth a second visit.

TLS November 30 2007

from Gabriel Josipovici's Commentary piece on Modernism "Fail again. Fail better":

Why is it that a composer such as Haydn could write a hundred symphonies and only a few years later Beethoven, no less industrious a composer, could only write nine? Quite simply because Haydn did not feel he had to start from scratch. What he had to do was fill a form, a mould. . . . Unfortunately, after Beethoven, . . . composers were left with nothing to hold on to except their individuality, and without Beethoven's dynamism and optimism, this gradually led, in the course of the nineteenth century, to an art less and less time-driven, more and more prone to stasis, dreaminess and disintegration. The composer at the start of the twentieth century, an Adrian Leverkuhn or an Arnold Schoenberg, was thus caught btween repeating forms he could no longer believe in and trusting a subjectivity which was growing daily more problematic.

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Genres were the sign of submission to the authority of tr…

Turning Homosexuality Off and On

Interesting NYT article on fruitflies research. I was alerted to it by Harry's blog, Heraclitean Fire. After reading some of the comments on the article, this one by Randy sticks with me:

A drug that could effectively control sexuality would be a bad deal for homosexuals and they will have contributed to the deal. The gay community has badly argued that their sexuality is something that they can’t control and THAT’S why they should not be discriminated for it.

What they should be arguing is that sexuality is a private and personal mattter and THAT’S why they shouldn’t be discriminated for it.

With the ability to change effectively their sexual orientation there will be no reason to argue against bigots who think that homosexuality is morally wrong and reprehensible, and who promote anti-gay bias and discrimination.

It’s time for the gay community to stop making the “I can’t help that I’m gay” argument, and start making the “Stay out of my sex life” argument now.

Little Children and Kolja

Two movies about children, kind of. "Kolja," a Czech movie directed by Jan Sverak, depicts a child's power to transform the self-centered life of a concert cellist. It skirts the cliff-edge of sentimentality, but never falls over it, mainly because of the strong acting of Zdenek Sverak (Louka, the cellist, and the father of the director). The plot is also nicely complicated by the fact that Kolja is a Russian child in Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia: no ponderous symbolism, but the human conflict of feelings towards a child of the oppressors.

"Little Children" is less conventional in its attitude towards children. The adults invest in their guardianship less admirable motives and feelings. Their lives exemplify Thoreau's words: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." Todd Field directs the movie with empathetic insight into these desperate lives, and with a subtle eye to symbolism in characters an…

New Yorker, Dec. 3, 2007

from "Darwin's Surprise" by Michael Specter:

Viruses reproduce rapidly and often with violent results, yet they are so rudimentary that many scientists don't even consider them to be alive. A virus is nothing more than a few strands of genetic material wrapped in a package of protein--a parasite, unable to function on its own. In order to survive, it must find a cell to infect. Only then can any virus make use of its single talent, wihc is to take control of a host's cellular machinery and use it to churn out thousands of copies of itself.

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Thoses viruses were often highly infectious, yet their impact was limited by their ferocity: a virus may destroy an entire cutlure, but if we die it dies too. As a result, not even smallpox possessed the evolutionary power to influence humans as a species--to alter our genetic structure. That would require an organism to insinuate itself into the critical cells we need in order to reproduce: our germ cells. Only retroviruses, wh…

The Book of the Body Now in Sidebar

I read as a feature at Pink Pony last night. The crowd was of a fair number, but the number of fresh faces reading good stuff was certainly higher than normal. Tamiko Beyer read from her manuscript. I followed her, by reading sections from my sequence "The Book of the Body." People seemed to like the reading.

I have put the sequence in the sidebar of this blog, if anyone is interested in reading it and following its progress. Just touch a part of the body, and read the book.

Ogden on Reading Byron

from binkrozby (of PFFA):

George Gordon Lord Byron
The Destruction of Sennacherib

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the…

Bacchus: Bordeaux Basics & Beyond

I do like Bacchus the wine store on Broadway between 70th and 7st. It's not the cheapest wine store in the world, but it has good lighting, and a beautiful new cellar space that displays wine in tasteful wooden shelves. In the cellar too is the space for wine-tasting events, separated from the rest of the cellar by folding glass doors.

Tonight, Lisa Granik, Master of Wine, led us through a tasting of 7 Bordeaux wines. How does one become a Master of Wine? Four days of testing, on three of which a candidate has to identify wines from different vineyards around the world. The candidate brings her own glass, so that she cannot complain of possible contamination.

Lisa Granik was obviously a connoisseur but she was not a very good teacher. She did not find out the state of wine knowledge of her participants, but talked on, sometimes digressing, rather than informative. She spoke about the merlot from the Left Bank (more clayey) and the cabernet from the Right Bank, but the presentation…

Tom Stoppard's "Rock and Roll"

Saturday matinee. GREAT seats in the orchestra, seats reserved for people with disabilities. The rocker Syd Barrett (of progressive rock band Pink Floyd), the god Pan fluting from the wall to a young girl gazing dreamily at him; the diehard professor, Max Morrow, who remains in the British Communist party after 1956 Hungary; his protege, Jan, a Polish supporter of Dubcek's "socialism with a human face," who returns to Poland after the Soviet invasion of 1968; Max's wife, Eleanor, who teaches Sappho, who is dying of cancer; Ferdinand, the Havel figure, who is always getting others to sign petitions to the Czech government; the Plastic People of the Universe, the rock band persecuted by the Czech authorities, and so becomes a celebrated symbol of resistance when all they want is to be left alone to play their music. The philosophical exchanges are fast, furious and razor-sharp. Many of the characters, especially Eleanor, were moving. But the ending was too neat when Es…

Edward Albee's "Peter and Jerry"

Watched the play at Second Stage Theater last Tuesday. The play has two acts. Act Two: The Zoo Story was written in 1958, while Act One: Homelife recently fell from Albee's mind on the page...intact, as he wrote in the playbill. The Zoo Story, mostly a melancholic and menacing monologue spoken by down-and-out Jerry to Peter, was much more engaging than Homelife, mostly unconvincing banter between Peter and wife Ann about their dangerously safe marriage. The role of Jerry was written from inside out; Ann was observed from the outside. Peter, for whose sake the first act was written in order to flesh out his character, remains a cipher. Johanna Day played Ann, Bill Pullman Peter, and Dallas Roberts a magnetic Jerry. It was directed by Pam MacKinnon.

Klimt at Neue Galerie

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Visited the Neue Galerie for the first time last Sunday. The gallery, housed in a lovely town mansion facing Central Park, exhibits German and Austrian Art. The star attraction now is Gustav Klimt. Many more drawings than paintings, which was a little disappointing. Many drawings are of women masturbating. And I thought it was more than a little weird to stick Hope II to the back wall of Klimt's studio on exhibit, making it much harder to examine the painting. The figure of the woman is inspired by Egyptian sculpture, and features Klimt's favorite image of a pregnant woman. Her bowed head is echoed by the three bowed female heads forming a kind of pedestal.




Hope II, 1907-08


His wall mural, Beethoven's Frieze, is interesting: wispy women floating wraith-like around the walls, the artist as a knight-errant setting out to battle the monster Typhoon in the shape of a huge ape flanked by his medusa daughters, the chorus of women suspended in the air, their feet pointing down. The…

Irving Layton reads Osip Mandelshtam

Thank HowardM2.


Osip Mandelshtam (1891 - 1940)

I once did an hour-long T. V. show reading
from your Stamen and Tristia: out there
were my compatriots who had never before
heard of your name and pain, your nightmare fate;
of course, the impresario spoke impressively
about your stay in Paris where you mastered
the French symbolists, your skill as translator
(what pre-Belsen Jew hadn't promiscuously
shacked up with five or six gentile cultures?),
the Hellenic feeling in your prose and poems
-- to be brief, he filled in the familiar picture
of enlightened Jew, ass bard to the winds

Butr when that self-taught master symbolist
il miglior fabbro put you on his list of touchables
that was the end; you perished in the land waste
of Siberia, precisely where no one knows and few care
for in that stinking imperium whose literature
you adorned like a surreal Star of David
you're still an unclaimed name, a Jewish ghost
who wanders occasionally into enclaves
of forlorn intellectuals listening
for the ironic scrape…

On Reading Walcott's "Omeros"

HowardM2, from PFFA, referred me to this Cecil Gray's poem on reading Walcott:


"On Reading 'Omeros'"
February 1991

The patio bent its hooked finger to hold us,
an ell collectiong our thoughts in its corner,
particles of faith we had that a poet
at the helm of his craft could unfix
the blank stare aimed at things in his mirror.

Each slow lift of the head raised the question
whose ears turned, whose eyes showed recognition,
who listened from here and heard and applauded
him lifting like Atlas the stones of these islands
from the indifferent slap of the ocean.

Pulling in nets we caught worlds that his pen had
created and found our little green places
drawn with strokes of his words on maps of the globe.
A sunrise of pride suffused us. but faces
clouded with queries and quickly changed season.

Our sentences cried. Are aloof New York Times
reviewers blinded by stereotypes, unravellers
of metaphors smelt from links of our chain?
Are they, by proxy, readers that strain at the seine
while the…

On Reading Shakespeare

Poets-Free-For-All comes through for me yet again! Kind souls there point me to many poems on reading other poems. I will be posting them on my blog a few at a time. Here are two on Shakespeare, one by Milton, the other by Arnold.


On Shakespear

What needs my Shakespear for his honour'd Bones,
The labour of an age in piled Stones,
Or that his hallow'd reliques should be hid
Under a Star-ypointing Pyramid?
Dear son of memory, great heir of Fame,
What need'st thou such weak witnes of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thy self a live-long Monument.
For whilst toth' shame of slow-endeavouring art,
Thy easie numbers flow, and that each heart
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalu'd Book,
Those Delphick lines with deep impression took
Then thou our fancy of it self bereaving,
Dost make us Marble with too much conceaving;
And so Sepulcher'd in such pomp dost lie,
That Kings for such a Tomb would wish to die.

-- John Milton

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Shakespeare

Others abide …

"Natural for a Man" in Barefoot Muse

My poem appears in Issue #6, Winter, of this metrical e-zine edited by Anna Evans. Annie Finch is the featured poet. Submission is now open for the next issue.

Cyril Wong in TIME magazine

Cyril Wong is the finest poet Singapore has yet produced. No qualification. And he's only 30.

A PASSIONATE POET FROM STRAITLACED SINGAPORE
by Ishaan Tharoor, TIME (Asia Edition) Wed, Nov 28, 2007

It is one of the more delicious workings of karma that Singapore, which criminalizes homosexuality, should have as its leading young poet an openly gay man. But while Cyril Wong relishes waving "a purple flag" in socially conservative faces, his work expands beyond simple sexuality — being "just a gay poet," as he puts it — to embrace themes of love, alienation and human relationships of all kinds. His latest volume of verse, Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light, is due to be published this month, hopefully to burnish further the international reputation that the previous five collections have established for him.

Wong, 30, burst onto the scene in 2000, with Squatting Quietly. It was, like many debut collections, a document of rebellion — in this case, against the values…

Poems on Reading Poems

A poem written on a work of art is called ekphrastic. What about a poem written on reading another poem or poet? I don't mean poems that allude to other poems or that gossip about other poets, like Thom Gunn's "Keats at Highgate," much as I like that sonnet; I mean poems whose subject is the experience of reading itself. A poem like Keats' "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," for instance.

And why do poets write poems about their experience reading other poems? Some of it has probably to do with the common instinctive response to beauty: we want to reproduce it, whether by telling someone about it, by drawing what comes to mind, or by blogging about it. Some of it has to do with trying to make sense of, or impose some form on, a powerful but inchoate experience; it relieves psychic pressure. Some of it has to do with claiming literary ancestors or mentors or rivals, or with distracting readers' attention from the real ancestors, mentors and …

Philoctetes Center

I went to the Philoctetes Center tonight to hear Marie Ponsot talk about Donne. Unfortunately I could only stay for half an hour, but managed to hear her on "Good Morrow." The Center, housed on the third floor of the NY Psychoanalytic Institute, pursues the interdisciplinary study of the imagination (neuroscience, psychology, mathematics, psychoanalysis, humanities and art, philosophy and theology). Besides roundtable discussions, they hold readings and film screenings.

I took the Center's version of the Philoctetes story from its website:
Philoctetes is a mythological character from the Greek tragedy by Sophocles, a warrior who was on his way to the Trojan War when a serpent bit him. The smell of his wound was so noxious that he was left on the island of Lemnos and ostracized by his countrymen. When the war started, Cassandra, the seer, said that without the bow of Heracles, which is only possessed by Philoctetes and which he inherited from his father, the war could not…

Kay Ryan's "The Niagara River"

I have always enjoyed Kay Ryan's poems in POETRY. They are well made, surprising analogies. So when I slipped into a book store at Penn Station while waiting for a New Jersey Transit train to carry me to a housewarming party, I decided to get Ryan's Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize winner, The Niagara River.

The title poem displays all her strengths.

As though
the river were
a floor, we position
our table and chairs
upon it, eat, and
have conversation.
As it moves along,
we notice--as
calmly as though
dining room paintings
were being replaced--
the changing scenes
along the shore. We
do know, we do
know this is the
Niagara River, but
it is hard to remember
what that means.
A tiny poem and yet it holds the river in it through the two "as though"s, assumptions we make forgetting we make them until the poem reminds us. This poem tells us what we have always known (We do know, we do know), and that is the source of its power.

The weaker poems in this collection fail because the analogies are not sur…

Poems in Mascara #2

Mascara#2 is out, edited by Boey Kim Cheng and Michelle Cahill, based in Australia. Four of my poems appear in it: "Valentine to Volume," "Lachine Canal, Montreal," Section 7 of "Fire Island" and Section 3 of "Talk About New York."

My first encounter with Adam Aiken, and I really like his poems in this issue: the sense of living at the end of something, the surprising imagery, the careful lineation. The first poem begins enticingly, drawing speaker and reader into a reading of this girl:

Fin de SiècleBetween two climates she'd be waiting, the slender young émigré
so dark and delicate the wind passed right through her,
always there before you, the bright architect of love
who knew her way around the café chairs, the Latin lovers.
The last poem meditates on East Asian time through a Western point of view to unearth the ironies of a Johnny-come-lately capturing a scene with which he is captivated.

The Book of the Body: The Brain in Its Folds Inside the Skull-frame

The Brain in Its Folds Inside the Skull-frame

We have no reason to think
a present experience is preferable to a past experience,
but we prefer smelling a rose
to remembering the nose.

We have no reason to think that my seeing the sunset
is preferable to your seeing the sunset,
but, I can vouch, for better or for worse,
I prefer my view of the splendid decadence to yours.

The husband of the Justice suffers from dementia.
The husband of the Justice falls in love with one who suffers from dementia too.
The Justice loves her husband. The Justice is happy for her husband.
We have no reason to think we deserve praise or blame for anything we do.

Turner at the National Gallery of Art

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The biggest Turner exhibition ever in the States, it aimed to overwhelm and to please the crowds. I found myself overwhelmed and not pleased. One huge Turner in an elegantly appointed Victorian room would bash the eye into submission. Imagine Turner after Turner after Turner jostling their hunky frames on the exhibition walls, and the idiom begins to feel more bombastic than dramatic. I turned away from the famous setpieces like Snow Storm: Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps (1812), The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 (1823-1824) and Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus--Homer's Odyssey (1829) in search of something more personal, more human.

I saw a lovely impressionistic Willows by a Stream, a gorgeous dissolution of forms into yellows. I also liked very much his painting of the coal ships at Newcastle. In silvers and blues, the moonlit scene offered a relief from the incandescent sun that burned picture after picture in the exhibition.



Keelmen heaving in Coals by Moonlight, 1835…