Showing posts from March, 2008

The dust has fallen. The rock's unbroken

The dust has fallen. The rock's unbroken
face has been defaced into faces,
various and beautiful
instead of being one and true.

If anything is true, this is true:
we love all that are not unbroken,
for they bore the brunt of beautiful
blows, reflected in our scarred faces.

The city, from this hill, has many faces
in its glass, neither good nor true,
but multitudinously beautiful,
quickening, twinkling in the broken

light falling like hail, broken faces
so beautiful and so untrue.

When bombs explode you hear no cough

When bombs explode you hear no cough
but the boots of coordinated action.
The hardhats flash in the falling dust.
The shovels ring when striking rock.

Far from the scene, deep in a rock,
the telephone waits for the next cough
to decide where the falling dust
resettles, and the public reaction:

Disaster averted by swift action
United, we are solid as a rock
Beware of breathing in falling dust
Look how we shake when the world coughs.

The phone coughs: No further action.
The dust has fallen. The rock's unbroken.

And the bomb goes silent in my hand

And the bomb goes silent in my hand.
In my chest the lungs are losing air.
The spider orchids freeze to hear
the little breathing machine cough.

The machine coughs and the cough
sounds muffled behind some huge hand.
The spider orchids freeze to hear
the music of lungs losing air.

How meek is the music of losing air.
It's courteous as a muffled cough
the spider orchids freeze to hear.
Some air is held in a cup of hands,

in vice-like hands you hold no air.
When bombs explode you hear no cough.

Till the bird becomes the olive branch

Till the bird becomes the olive branch,
or, better still, the pure white flag,
I will devote my life to the bomb,
be the bomb in God's right hand.

Everywhere I see the devil's hand.
This city is a party branch,
carrying his well-keeled bomb,
supporting his troops, flying his flag.

Some nights, heavy with rain, a flag
hangs like a rag from heaven's hand.
Then every streetlight glitters like a bomb,
every street splits into a branch

and a branch, every flat becomes a flag,
and the bomb goes silent in my hand.

Retying the entire floral encasing

Retying the entire floral encasing,
the bird lands where it started,
in its steel beak an olive branch
for all that is hostile to bird.

This city has no love for birds
that dip out of its glass encasing,
that disdain its golden branch,
that deny the egg where they started,

or deign, This is just where I started,
the egg that comes before the bird,
the necessary staging branch
for flight out of the wooden case.

sing against the city where one started
till the bird becomes the olive branch.

Dutch gents and ladies, all laced up

Dutch gents and ladies, all laced up
with ten thousand long-stemmed tulips,
Apricot Parrots, Coronas, Black Ties,
all categories of floral encasing,

I stand in this garish window casing,
and, with a flair for hamming it up,
pull at a loose green stem, and untie
the long timeline of growing tulips

from growing tulips from growing tulips,
rolling slowly the long green casing
round my right hand untying the ties
unloosening and tightening up

up my arm, my shoulder, the tulips
retying the entire floral encasing.

Where lives a house? In a temple

Where lives a house? In a temple
called One Hundred Masterpieces,
or The Golden Age Of The Dutch,
or How We Pulled Ourselves Up

By Our Bootstraps, lighted up
like the Kadoshim of the Temple,
burned the desires of the Dutch,
before the empire went to pieces.

I prophesized the fiery pieces—
after the victorious heady build-up,
the vicious decline of the Dutch
burned spices and Muslim temples.

In this temple, lament is of a piece
with Dutch gents and ladies all laced up.

When is the boat? Why the glass city?

When is the boat? Why the glass city?
the chambers echo in the heart,
the hiding place in the storehouse,
the give-away twitch in the temple.

On the glass wall Shirley Temple
giggles from a faraway city.
The strawberries in the house
are strawberries of the heart.

Listen! Someone is at the heart,
someone has broken into the temple,
someone is removing from their house
all the strawberries of the city.

I’m told there is a City of the Heart,
where lives a House in a Temple.

Among the canals there is one canal

Among the canals there is one canal
that leaps, over bridges, to the sky.
I’m waiting for a glass-topped boat,
a bilingual guide, and a glass city.

Deep in the red-light district of this city,
out of the waters of a green canal,
the Oude Kerk is moored like a boat,
its steeple steered towards the sky.

The rain is falling out of the sky.
The bicyclists are crossing the city.
The green water is bearing the boats.
The bridges are limping over canals.

Where is the canal? What is the sky?
When is the boat? Why the glass city?

The Glass Bead Game, an article by Alexander Sidorkin.

First Night/Second Day in Amsterdam

After a snack at New York Pizza, we went to a gay bar called Montmartre, off Halvemaanstraat. It was smoky, and decorated in a jungle theme. Parrots flew through or hung from fake creepers and branches in the ceiling. Two small disco balls provided the discordant note. We got a table near the front of the bar, which gave us a great view of the entire bar. The crowd was mostly white guys in their thirties and forties. The regulars were obviously familiar with the playlist and sang along. A few younger guys danced spontaneously.

We looked into Entre Nous, just across the street, but it was empty. I remembered reading that the partying crowd here moved together from bar to bar, and so guessed it was not time for Entre yet. We walked down Reguliersdwarsstraat and tried Soho. Soho was done up in a poshed-up English pub style. It was jam packed with muscular guys bulging in tee-shirts and jeans. We went next door to ARC, which looked very much like a bigger version of NYC's G Lounge. The…

First Day in Amsterdam

The Quarterback and I flew KLM to Amsterdam and arrived this morning at about eight. The flight was uneventful, except I spilled white wine over myself, and the Quarterback spilled red wine over himself. Non-related incidents, except in time and place, and, no, we were not drunk—though we each had a glass at JFK—just clumsy. The flight attendant was outstandingly helpful and polite. He brought stacks of napkins and a can of soda, so that the Quarterback could wipe some of the red off his jeans, and then gave the Quarterback a new pillow in exchange for the one he had bloodied. The airline food, though not great, was ingeniously packaged in rectangular boxes. I felt very virtuous when I handed back to the flight attendant my finished tray looking the same as the one she had given me.

The house on the Nieuwe Prinzengracht, like most houses in the Centrium, had a narrow front. To take the most advantage of the sunlight coming in through the two front windows, the ground-floor apartment ha…

TLS February 29 2008

from Jonathan Hodgkin's review of Joram Piatigorsky's Gene Sharing and Evolution: The diversity of protein functions, and J. Scott Turner's The Tinkerer's Accomplice: How design emerges from life itself:

One of the recent surprises has been the use of particular proteins for two or more entirely different biochemical functions. Crystallins, which are proteins found at high concentrations in the lens of the eye, provide one of the most dramatic examples. Joram Piatigorsky has made a lifetime study of crystallins, in the course of which he discovered that these proteins have dual lives. Many of them are identifical to well-known enzymes, which serve "housekeeping" functions in metabolism throughout the body, but they also perform an additional optical task in the lens, apparently unconnected with their metabolic activities. This is extraordinary; it is as if, while wandering through an unfamiliar house, one came upon a wall made out of telephones instead of bric…

Paul Celan on writing poetry

Singapore Jade sent me this quote from Celan with whom I have not the slightest acquaintance, but now feel I should. The quotation hits all the right bells in me: loss, secure, orient, being en route, across but not above time, dialogue, heart, approachable reality. And how charming and romantic to receive a prize from the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen.

from Celan, Paul. "Speech on the Occasion of Receiving the Literature Prize of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen." Collected Prose. Trans. Rosemarie Waldrop. Manchester: Carcenet Press, 1986. 33-35.

"Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went through. It gave me no words for what was happening, but went through it. Went through and could resurface, 'enriched' by it all.

In …

TLS February 29 2008

from Marina Warner's Commentary "Who can shave an egg" on Beckett and Mallarme:

The foreign word takes us to a different level, where its embodied character, its sound and shape, act more directly on our physical receptors because they are freed from intelligibility. The physicality of a word grows lighter and less substantial when we know what it means without having to think. How to avoid this attenuation, with its corresponding drying up of the aesthetic response, becomes the writer's task.

Jee: This line of thinking is alluring, but wrong, I think. A word does not become attenuated when it is intelligible. The problem does not lie in intelligibility, but in the quality of the attention brought to bear on the word. There is an instrumental attention, what we do to survive the day-to-day, and there is an aesthetic attention, which we bring to a work of art. In her first essay in Proof and Theories, Gluck explains she uses simple diction in her poetry, such as the w… offers a weekly video reading of poetry by the poet. The videos are well produced, and the sound quality is good.

Emotional Rescue by Jane Ormerod

Last night Jane launched a new reading at Cornelia Street Cafe called Emotional Rescue. The idea is simple but effective. The audience calls out an emotion, and the four featured poets read a poem related to that emotion. Last night I read with Jack Wiler, Iris N. Schwartz and Phyllis Talley. We provided a good mix of poetic and performance styles and voices. The Quarterback described it well as "theatrical."

The emotions on parade last night were bliss, embarrassment, lust, terror, pain, regret, ease, vengefulness, despair, tenacity, obsession, anger, and pride. Jack Wiler read a wonderful poem on the last emotion. I read a poem for every other emotion. Click on one to read the poem I read last night.

First Light

What time is it, sweet? The alarm is chirping
but our bodies are dark with sleep, and heavy
as if we're running for the uptown bus.
Habituated to hours of daylight saving,
our dark bodies are slow to become body,
slower, in the new dark, to become us.

This is your chest, firm, hairy, and your chest
tells me this crook of feeling is my hand,
hair-tickled fingers, muscle-matching palm.
And this nail brush scratching down to my, yes,
crotch, this gentle catch, it is your hand.
You are the morning's first mindful alarm.

The door opens. We settle in our seats
and try to catch our breath with all that running.
Familiar places, people also, flash
past--tall plane trees, homeless men, cross streets--
stones to an ascetic, to artists stunning,
to unobstrusive love, first, light, then, ash.

Siri Hustvedt's "What I Loved"

One of the great things in this novel is its description of grief--that of parents for a young son suddenly taken away from them. Another great thing is the exciting psychological mystery revolving around a young pathological liar and thief. Underlying both achievements is the idea that human interaction is a matter of mixing, or, more accurately, a mixing of matter. The narrator of the novel, the art history professor Leo, hears about this from the wife of his best friend, the painter Bill Weschler. Violet says:

"I've decided that mixing is a key term. It's better than suggestion, which is one-sided. It explains what people rarely talk about, because we define ourselves as isolated closed bodies who bump up against each other but stay shut. Descartes was wrong. It isn't: I think, therefore I am. It's: I am because you are. . . ."
She goes on, after an interruption from Leo,

"What matters is that we're always mixing with other people. Sometimes it's…

Sunday in the Park with George

Studio 54, where the Roundabout Theater Company is now presenting the Stephen Sondheim musical, has quite a history. It was an opera house, a live dinner theater, a radio and TV stage, a wildly fashionable discotheque, before Roundabout bought it in 2003 for a permanent home for musicals. I loved the dark green and gold detailing on the doors and lobby, the Venus and Cupid moldings, and the faded chandeliers.

The theater's faded elegance was in sharp and productive contrast with this high-tech revival of Sunday in the Park with George. Seurat's painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was not only projected onto the white walls and doors on stage, it came alive in animation, blurring the line between life and art, the blurring a theme of the musical. The director Sam Buntrock worked as an animation director on numerous commercial and corporate projects, besides creating animation for BBC and HBO. The great moment in the animation came for me right at the end. …

TLS February 22 2008

from Fergus Allen's review "The muscular beauty of girders" of Richard L. Cleary's Bridges:
The trouble with truss bridges--with all their girders and criss-crossing stays and struts--is that they have never been at ease with conventional ideas of the beautiful. They cannot be seen as aspiring. They may exhibit their workings to the world, but the world seldom wishes to know. Unfair really. Many sturdy girder bridges that carry, say, a railways over a river have the appeal of a well-developed scaffolder, whose bared and suntanned torso reveals the muscles that enable him to do his job.

Doctors Without Borders in Darfur

An email letter from Darin Portnoy, MDMSF USA Board President:

As I treated their son in a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Zalingei, Darfur, one family told me how they had watched their three-year-old son grow increasingly ill, developing severe acute malnutrition. They had to leave the relative safety of their home and travel through the conflict-ridden countryside in a desperate attempt to save their son's life.

Thanks to your support, they were able to find help at a Doctors Without Borders medical center and the little boy received the care he urgently needed. This family's story illustrates the human impact of the deterioration in security and nutrition in Darfur, where more than two million internally displaced people (IDP) are living in an extremely unstable environment.

When I arrived to work each morning at the hospital's emergency department, where I was on an assignment with Doctors Without Borders, there was always a line of peo…

Gustave Courbet at the Met

The Courbet retrospective is wonderful. Some 130 works, giving a good sense of his oeuvre. I came out of it feeling like I met a major major artist. I was struck by the extent to which his subjects affected his admirers like Cezanne: the portraits, the mountains, the female bathers, the apples. The rooms are organized in terms of genres, and Corbert painted in many genres: self-portraits, portraits, large group paintings, landscapes, seascapes (which he called "landscapes of the sea), nudes, still life, hunting scenes. The painting of Jo, Whistler's lover, is a portrait, but is also a genre piece with its suggestion of Pre-Raphaelite maidens.

Jo, the Beautiful Irishwoman, 1866

The seascapes are powerful. They threaten with real, primitive force, as if the waves are about the crash over me, and draw me out to the sea.

The Wave, 1869

And most moving, in a most precise way, is his painting of the trout, displayed in the last room of the retrospective. You can still see the line, an…

TLS February 22 2008

from Sarah Churchwell's review of Julie Kavanagh's Rudolf Nureyev: The biography:

. . . Carlyle's much-disputed definition of genius as "the transcendental capacity for taking pains, first of all", . . .


from John Peter's review of performances of Harold Pinter's "The Lover", "The Collection", and "The Homecoming":

Most of Pinter's characters have two personalities but do not know this, deny it, or observe it with hostility, or fear, or both. But your personality is not your character, not your identity. Personality is what reveals your character, recommends it, covers it up or gives it away. It can suggest that you have no definable character, no central self, no concrete identity.

Philip Larkin and T. S. Eliot

I have never made it quite clear to myself why poets as different as Larkin and Eliot are my gods. I like to think of them as the two platforms between which my temperament swings, or the two poles across which my life is stretched, but that does not seem to me the final word. This morning, thinking about it again while I was walking to school from the train station, I thought about Larkin's laconic lyrics of human unfulfilment, what Auden, in another context, calls, "sing of human unsuccess/ In a rapture of distress." Then I thought of one more reason why Eliot matters so much to me. He writes long poems, and Larkin does not. I want to write a long poem. I love writing lyrics, but I want to write a long poem.

Neck (Revised)


It was at Sarimbun scout camp,
where forty years ago the Japanese divisions landed,
where I killed a chicken
with my bare hands.

I grabbed the hen by the neck,
under the feathers tubular
like a stethoscope,
swung the feathered globe around and with a wrist flick snapped it to the ground.

The hen squawked, scrabbled in circles, and shat.
Only mine got up,
not the others
at the pit fires of Kestrel, Eagle, Merlin, Falcon, Hawk.

My patrol watching me, I grabbed the hen again
and this time did my job as a patrol leader should.
Someone else plucked the bird in hot water.
We baked it in mud, ate it with salt, and pronounced it good.

Francis Bacon

An interesting article on Bacon's paintings, and their necessary relationship with the painter's homosexuality.

Study from the Human Figure (1949)

Two Figures (1953)

Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror (1967-8)

Sleeping Figure (1974)

TLS February 15 2008

from Commentary "Generation gap" by Matthew Cobb:

Working at the very dawn of internal antomy, [Jan] Swammerdam lacked the words to explain what he saw, so his descriptions were full of imagery. When dissecting a beetle, he described how the optic nerve left the compound eye: "In that part these nerves are enclosed and surrounded by the interior of the eye, and when greatly maginified resemble the head of a Dutch sailor covered with a shaggy cap such as sea-faring persons use to wear".


Swammerdam's description of mating behavior in the hermaphrodite snail is detailed in the extreme, before concluding with a powerful and effective piece of anthropomorphism: "After all is finished, the little creature, having wantonly consumed the strength of life, becomes dull and heavu; and thence calmly retiring into its shell, rests quietly without much creeping, until the furious lust of generation gathers new strength, and effaces the memory of the uneasiness suffered a…