Monday, February 26, 2007

Walking When It Snows

Snow does not walk on sidewalks but it grows
like a quick coral reef, sky skeletons
on skeletons, and crystal shells on shells.

The white reefs form on benches, on the flat
of the curved mailbox, on the balancing beam
of the steel fence enclosing the trimmed park,

even on trees that do not keep their arms
by their sides, even on the tip of tongues
rosebushes stick out at the thought of cold.

Disdaining roofs, their over-furnished rooms,
how can a face look up and not sprout reefs,
but to walk fast, and hope the road is clear?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Donna Ong, Artist

The totally cool website of this Singaporean artist.

Kanang Guni Man

(Note: In Singapore, the Kanang Guni Man is the equivalent of the rag and bone man.)

Tramping up estates, down apartment blocks,
he covers endless corridors. Endings
the man accepts--newspapers, clocks, books, clothes--
and pays their rates, weighing them on his spring.

A drab, stoop-shouldered figure, wearing a
ridiculous hat. You may still spy him
vanishing into holes, round corners, quick-
er than your eyes can blink or heart can whim.

Once, hearing his low, drawn-out call, we’d jump
at the odd chance to clear out of old flats
the moth-bitten linen, the monkey-blabber,
the images we’ve outgrown. But all that’s

no more. He’s now a curiosity.
They’d likely make the man an exhibit
of vanished trades, a symbol of a sim-
pler past, or turn him over to the poets.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

PSA’s W. H. Auden Centennial Celebration

Last night I sat in the Cooper Union Great Hall in reverential anticipation. I didn't know what came over me but I had not felt that taut hush since I left the church. On a big screen on stage was projected a photo of Auden in his twenties, looking up and away, right hand tugging right ear. Too young to be a memorial picture, he was the dashing lover, the ambitious poet, the tweed-jacketed saint. A fear salted the tension, the same fear whenever I heard the Singapore Symphony Orchestra play Beethoven, the fear that the playing would betray the music.

When Alice Quinn introduced Auden as the love poet par excellence, I should have realized that the evening would present Auden lite. Though the program included such heavyweights as “In Memory of Sigmund Freud,” “September, 1939” and “The Shield of Achilles,” they were miniaturized in a misconceived chronological arrangement that began with the slight “Taller To-day,” written when Auden was 21, and ended with the popular “The More Loving One.” It’s Auden the lover, with little of the ambition of the artist, and nothing of the disquiet of the saint.

In such a program, Auden’s masterpiece, “Caliban to the Audience,” made a strange, though brave, selection for the evening. Time spent giving the context to the piece was almost as long as the reading of two short extracts. And how could the tidbits give a sense of Auden’s thinking and achievement in that devastating critique of the imagination? The audience had to go by the reader’s characterization of Caliban as “demonic” and his description of the Jacobean prose as “swirls and whirls, pools of energy” etc.

The readers are best described as half-hearted. They said nothing about Auden or the poems. They read from loose sheets of paper that looked like office photocopies. John Ashbery mumbled his way through the opening two poems, giving little sense of their musical structures. Wayne Koestenbaum read the poems agonizingly slowly, enunciating every syllable (“THE IN-TER-NA-TION-AL WRONG”), making Auden sound silly and trite by reading him so solemnly. Boy, did he relish the flourish in “We must love one another, or die.” Auden was rightly ashamed of that rhetoric later in his life and, if forced to read it, would read it with a squirm in the mouth, a tongue pressed firmly against the cheek.

Over-the-top Michael Cunningham stressed the words as he pleased instead of attending to the poems’ internal cues. The line “While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along” he read with unnecessary weight and pause when the lineation demands a breezy rendition. Rosanna Warren was too sing-songy. Carl Philips’ voice was quietly dignified but his reading was non-committal.

Nicholas Jenkins, the academic, was humorless. How could one read “Ireland has her madness and her weather still” without registering the wry irony in the line? But the same fault was committed by the other writer-readers. Francine Prose paused in half-surprise when the audience laughed at the funny bits in “Victor.”

The actress, Maria Tucci, saved part of the evening by reading with humor and balance. The best reader of the evening was undoubtedly Glyn Maxwell. Dressed in a casual shirt, unlike the other suits, he caught the studied colloquialism, the conversational subtlety, of the poems. If, as one music reviewer had it, the Frenchman knows best how to play the French, the evening proved that the Welshman reads the English best.

But Maxwell’s reading was attenuated by the arrangement of having more than one reader for the longer poems. He read “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” with Nicholas Jenkins, and “The Shield of Achilles” with Katha Pollitt and Michael Cunningham. This arrangement was not merely unnecessary but was destructive to any coherent interpretation of the poem. Four readers took turns to read “In Memory of Sigmund Freud,” and in trying to mute their differences made the poem sound utterly prosaic.

After that poem, many in the audience left the hall though the second half of the program was still to come. Their departure was as indecorous as leaving a service immediately after the homily, though I found it hard to blame them in my heart.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

No Blessing for Same-sex Unions

"…seven conservative archbishops declined communion rather than celebrate the Eucharist with Bishop Jefferts Schori." --New York Times, February 20, 2007

I would compare the primately righteous
to Pharisees complaining about Jesus
feeding with sinners, except that,

in her clerical robes, Bishop Katherine
is not as hot as Mary Magdalene,
and Christ has been snapped up and shat.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Martin Ramirez

I visited the American Folk Art Museum for the first time this weekend, to see the major retrospective on the self-taught artist, Martin Ramirez (1895-1963).

Here's a first-hand description of him by Dr. Tarmo Fasto, a professor of psychology and art, who discovered Ramirez's work at the DeWitt State Hospital in Aubum, California.


He is a Mexican, about sixty-eight years old, who is classified as a chronic paranoid schizophrenic and considered incurable, having been institutionalized for over twenty years. His art activity dates back about six years. He is slight of build, greatly underweight, a former tuberculous patient who spends his time on his art. He does not speak to anyone but hums in a singsong way when pleased with his visitors. Conversation as an exchange of ideas is impossible.

His manner of work is unique. When good paper is not available, he glues together scraps of paper, old envelopes, paper bags, paper cups, wrappers- anything that may have a clear drawing area. He often makes many small background studies, seashell and nature forms, which he stores in his shirt, in a paper shopping bag, in tied rolls, or behind a radiator, suddenly to be taken out and glued to an evolving picture. He fashions his own glue out of mashed potatoes and water—sometimes bread and saliva. He squats on his haunches, moving about the floor between two cots, using, stubs of colored pencils and Crayolas, drawing a little here, a little there. His drawing is kept rolled up and usually only a portion of it is exposed at any one time. He has recently shown considerable pleasure with groups of student visitors, to whom he displays his work with obvious pride.

I find the drawings visually compelling.

The Mexican cowboy:



The train and the scribe:



The Madonna



Landscape



Matt called my attention to the collage-like composition of the landscape. Even the buildings in the landscape comprise elements of different architectural styles. The city is deconstructed into tunnels, freeways, walls, doors, windows, spires, towers--disparate elements that combine only to dwarf the slight human figures.

Reading Thumboo's "Ulysses by the Merlion"

I've just revised a poem written years ago, a poem that delineates the different responses of four readers, of different generations, to the seminal nationalistic poem by Edwin Thumboo. Thumboo is reckoned to be the first major Singaporean poet writing in English. First, Thumboo's poem, then followed by mine.

ULYSSES BY THE MERLION
(for Maurice Baker)

I have sailed many waters,
Skirted islands of fire,
Contended with Circe
Who loved the squeal of pigs;
Passed Scylla and Charybdis
To seven years with Calypso,
Heaved in battle against the gods.
Beneath it all
I kept faith with Ithaca, travelled,
Travelled and travelled,
Suffering much, enjoying a little;
Met strange people singing
New myths; made myths myself.

But this lion of the sea
Salt-maned, scaly, wondrous of tail,
Touched with power, insistent
On this brief promontory...
Puzzles.

Nothing, nothing in my days
Foreshadowed this
Half-beast, half-fish,
This powerful creature of land and sea.

Peoples settled here,
Brought to this island
The bounty of these seas,
Built towers topless as Ilium's.

They make, they serve,
They buy, they sell.

Despite unequal ways,
Together they mutate,
Explore the edges of harmony,
Search for a centre;
Have changed their gods,
Kept some memory of their race
In prayer, laughter, the way
Their women dress and greet.
They hold the bright, the beautiful,
Good ancestral dreams
Within new visions,
So shining, urgent,
Full of what is now.

Perhaps having dealt in things,
Surfeited on them,
Their spirits yearn again for images,
Adding to the dragon, phoenix,
Garuda, naga those horses of the sun,
This lion of the sea,
This image of themselves.


*

Reading Thumboo's “Ulysses by the Merlion”

First Reader

We sailed with Ulysses, just as you said,
discovered independence, found a faith
in a new state, out of the old country. We,
the citizens of Singapore, threw out
unequal ways but are too thoroughly schooled,
keeping the courts, the poems, the how-are-you.

On this outcrop, like water buffaloes,
we rake the sand and stone, and ask them back
to sow their seeds, so we may share the crop.
Their names naming our roads, their signatures
raising skyscrapers, how could we reject
the hand that fed us, and is feeding us?

But in our subtle monsoon seasons come
the yearning to be ourselves, to unfold
frangipani leaves from entangled roots,
reach for a centre from the edge, and so,
choosing a place between land and sea,
you strike a merlion out of a rock.


Second Reader

You bloodless goat. Instead of screaming
at the bastards, you cogitated and bleated.

Instead of cutting off your hand, you
handcuffed yourself to their language.

Instead of pleasuring the new body,
you sucked Circe's shrivelled teats.

Did you not hear the free voices singing?
Did you not hear the curses, the shouts of disbelief and dancing, dancing, dancing?

Founding fathers should breathe fire, throw themselves
against the batons and the shields, screech for joy

as they are taken in vans and installed in unmentionable places.
Weren't you sufficiently outraged?

We hide behind the butt of your farting Colossus.
We are still not free of that but.


Third Reader

So have I travelled in the realms of old,
around Larkin's locales, and Wordsworth's lakes,
slept with the hollow men, in paradise
lost, and regained in Prospero's isle,

but only heard rumours of Ulysses.
Our Master's schooling also changes as
a slight matter of history. Old things
have been exchanged for things slightly less old.

Your poem puzzles me. It holds out hope
for a slow mutation, genes and geneses
spliced with buying and selling, as if trade
can metamorphose into tradition.

We still deal heavily in things, still sell
new fibre optics and old phoenixes.
Nagas and garudas are as exotic
as Circe and Calypso, valuable

as antiques, tokens of a foreign past
I visit on a budget package tour,
as other tourists fly home, with souvenir
merlions for nannies, bosses, and grandaunts.


Fourth Reader

You predicted us, the conscripted corps of mutants.
Disdaining pure breeding, yourself a mongrel,
you saw the improbable combination,
the casual collocation of merlion and garuda.

You shaped us, on the misshapen scaffold of time.
Between the anvil of rock and the bellows of change,
you hammered out a nation's twisted pride,
the sandpaper gold of survival and success.

You taught us, the hungry choir of mouths.
Articulating our possibilities for tragedy and bravery,
you spoke of brotherly betrayal and multiethnic love,
the compassionate words of blessing and curse.

You imagined us, the travelling sideshows of other cultures.
Melting our women and ancestors into bright metaphors,
you dissolved all in the alchemy of what is now,
the brewing mixture of memory and desire.

Chinese New Year at Washington D.C.

The first day of the Chinese new year, tomorrow, will be spent in D.C., with my sister and her family. The Year of the Pig. Now what will that bring? A new poem, I hope. Be back in NYC and to this blog on Tue. Happy Lunar New Year, everyone.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Launch of POETS WEAR PRADA Press

Thursday March 8,
Downstairs @ The Cornelia Street Cafe
6:00PM - 8:00PM

Launch Party for POETS WEAR PRADA, a small press based in Hoboken, New Jersey devoted to introducing new authors through limited edition, high-quality chaplets primarily of poetry.

Readings by Brant Lyon, Alex O. Bleecker, Bob Heman, Efrayim Levenson, Jee Leong Koh, Iris Berman, Susan Maurer, Peter Chelnick, Sheryl Helene Simler & others

Hosted by Editors/Publishers: Roxanne Hoffman & Herbert Fuerst

Editors and Authors will be present to celebrating the release of:

"Your Infidel Eyes" by Brant Lyon (Oct. 2006)

"Freak Show" by Ricki Stuart (Nov. 2006)

"Found in a Cord" by Alex O. Bleecker (Dec. 2006)

"Cone Investigates" by Bob Heman (Feb. 2007)

"Dances With Tears" by Efrayim Levenson (March 2007)

"The Little Book of Fairy Tales & Love Poems" by Iris Berman (April 2007)

"Payday Loans" by Jee Leong Koh (April 2007)

Reading and Signing. Cover $6 (includes one house drink)

Sick

I know I'm made of water.
Of water made I am,
one third mucus, three quarters
(ahem!) phlegm.

I knew I'm made of water.
Today I've proven it.
Two thirds vomit, one quarter
liquid shit.

I've always known I'm made of water,
gulping down the flood,
three thirds semen and four quarters
feverish blood.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Valentine to Volume

More than a point in time, more than a line
from first to second date, more than a plane
of three coordinates--the groin, the brain,
the heart--more than the amplitude of sine;

but less, much less, than the amassed incline,
the spike of rock, the muttering hoofs on plain,
on hatless scalps the drumming of the rain,
less than the density of shared design

measures your body, after we have played,
not by the glistening mesh of pubic hair,
nor the mechanical spring hook of knee,
not on the golden scales of shoulder blades,
but in the bathtub of my body, where
displaced water makes a discovery.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Dan Chiasson on Marianne Moore

Good article in The Believer. Tricia's blog alerted me to it.

Nine Lives

If you could have the cat's nine lives, would you?
To live not fearing death, not once, not twice,
but eight times, confident of landing on
your feet, and walking off to speak of it.

Would life be better lived having been lived
and having faced the biking accident,
the bungee rope snapping, the heart’s big break,
the bite, the bed, the bomb, the bone, the bug?

And what is death if it entails no end?
Nine lives means nine beginnings—not nine ends—
nine middles cramped with pain or yawned to sleep,
and insufficient training at bravery
to face with whip and rod the quiet cough
as green-eyed death stalks you on velvety paws.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Boy Bordello and Dirty Little Drawings

The Leslie Lohman Gallery is exhibiting drawings of the male nude, done by participants of the Queer Men's Erotic Art Workshop, in a wide range of styles and media. A friend, Kevin Maxwell, is also exhibiting.



According to Kevin, in the drawing sessions, models posed in various positions for increasing lengths of time. The first pose, taking off the shirt, was held for five minutes. The brevity of that pose explained why drawings of that position tended to be sketchier and less colored in, qualities that worked to great effect in some drawings. These drawings were tender, innocent or fleeting. Kevin’s Otisno (the one in upright purple frame in the corner) had a look of tender concentration on his face as he lifted a side of his tank-top.



The last pose, lying back and jerking off, was held for twenty minutes. Kevin said that artists worked furiously to get the pose down on paper but simultaneously kept an eye out for the model’s climax. When he came, the room usually burst out in applause. Sometimes, a model would decline to come. One such model told Kevin, when they went out for drinks, that he wanted to keep something for himself, having exposed everything else.



I discovered at the exhibition that a friend posed for these artists. I was not surprised because he has the muscled bulk typical of all the models, and because he has an exhibitionist streak (as have I). I think he was one of only two Asian models drawn and exhibited. Was it my paranoia or was it true that the few drawings of him erased his Chinese ethnicity? Many drawings of non-whites played up their ethnicity (hair, facial features, skin tone), but the drawings of my friend focused on his body which could be any muscular dude’s body. The models of color were also recognizable by their names, for instance, Gonzalo. My friend, who has a Christian name, could not be recognized that way either.



Kevin had the distinction of drawing the most number of kisses of any artists in the exhibition. One small picture zoomed in on two locked heads, affording little background space to the intensity of the facial embrace.

Other works I liked:

Brian Coape-Arnold
Gonzalo, acrylic and oil pastel on paper
Gonzalo and Bobby, acrylic and oil pastel on paper

John Kirslis
Gonzalo, mixed media on paper
Gonzalo (standing) and Bobby, mixed media on paper

Steven Frim
Craig, watercolor and pencil on paper

Frank Barrett
Brian K, mixed media on paper

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Far Ships

for Keith Wiltshire, my teacher

Your yearly letters make me smile.
Hammered on an old word processor,
they slash with slanted lines of bile
the madness of the world’s car-owners,

the British stock of nuclear shells,
how Singapore Immigration stopped
you at the airport, bade farewell
to future visits, and then dropped

you on the next flight home, without
so much as a reason (fear of infection?).
Your letters sound so clear of doubts,
the years a seamless flight connection.

You are as constant as your letters.
With equal passion, you taught us boys
Shakespeare: how not to heed our betters
as Hamlet heeds the ghostly voice,

and why, in Pride and Prejudice,
prejudice is the name of pride.
You read us Larkin’s poem “Next Please”
and the far ships came alongside

and then sailed on, leaving no goods,
giving no reason. Wide awake,
we saw from where we sat or stood,
waters that neither breed nor break.

Do you remember those good years
as good? I do, with thankfulness,
for though your letters do not bear
good news of world and heart, they bless.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Alternatives to Social Realism in Photography

The Chinese Conceptual Photography Group Exhibition, in Avant Gallery now (Jan 18 to Feb 28), gave me the same feeling as the Chinese photographic exhibition in the Institute of Photography last year. The photos felt derivative, and the concepts thin.

One group featured a full-costumed opera actress superimposed on industrial or urban landscapes: the incongruity of tradition and modernity. In another group of photos, a boy and a girl, wearing the red scarf of Communist Youth, looked out of faces painted like Chinese landscape scrolls.

For me, the photos lacked formal interest. Superimposition of images can be an interesting method. I remember Kara Walker's black cutouts of black men and women superimposed on conventional pictorial narratives of American history. The cutouts were both form and stereotype, both childlike and rigorous. Each black shape, stuck on top of the mostly white page, commented on and revised that page in a particular and thoughtful way.



The strongest image of the Chinese Group Exhibition was the left hand of Sheng Qi who cut off his little finger to protest the Tiananmen massacre. Against a crimson background, the mutilated palm held up a miniaturized black and white photograph of his family, or other similar photos. The mutilation thus became a stage or a frame in which to examine and value the family in the photo. The photo nested in the slope of the wounded palm. In this age of digital photography, in which photos can be altered so radically, it came as a shock to learn that the mutilation was not a digital trick.



The James Bidgood exhibition, in CLAMPART Gallery, provided another alternative to social realist photography. Instead of concepts and political critique, the Bidgood photos offered fantasy.



Taken in the 1960s and restored digitally, the photos showed boys dressed up as figures from myths, legends and stories—-Pan, Aladdin, aqua-men—-in fantastic and exotic settings like a magical forest or a canopied four-poster bed or under the sea. The locations were set up in the narrow confines of Bidgood’s Hell's Kitchen tenement apartment. The photos were self-consciously campy; the settings, costumes, hair and make-up were glamorously detailed.



I was asked which I preferred: the realistic photographs of suburban folk seen in another gallery or Bidgood’s stagings of his fantasies. Realism or Fantasy? The truth was I liked some, but not all, of the realist photographs, and the same went for Bidgood. I don’t see fantasy as necessarily regressive or conservative. Bidgood’s fantasies were so richly imagined (for instance, Pan’s goatish leg was cleverly simulated by a rope-net) that they acquired aesthetic force. The force I did not find in the politically progressive photographs of the Chinese artists.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

At a Photo Exhibition with You and My Ex-boyfriend

I live in double time: third date with you
xxxand weekly dalliance with my ex
taking place in one gallery. Or two.

In one, you talk about the photo next
xxxto one I like, its night roads lit
like our bodies after burning sex.

The other holds him staring at a chit
xxxof a girl scrubbing a doorway,
open to one returning from the street.

Though details can be edited, you say,
xxxdigital photography
can't get the black of these old prints today.

Nova Scotia

Here's a photo by Matt Chapin I like:

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Kindnesses

Girls are so kind.
They leave me notes
that speak their mind
on naughty poets.

Women, too kind,
quite pity me
and fear to find
my sympathy.

Men are unkind.
They do not mean
to be, but grind
my cock to keen.

You are not kind.
You are my love.
You are not kind.
You are my love.