Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Jhumpa Lahiri at the Strand

She read from one of the linked stories from her newest collection of short stories Unaccustomed Earth for about half an hour. Interestingly, it was written in the first person to another character in the story. The prose was limpid and yet layered. For the next half an hour, she fielded questions from the audience, questions which ranged from her narrative techniques to her access to expatriate experience to her relations with her editor. Her answers did not follow any template, fortunately, but she felt her way to an answer to each question, sometimes admitting it was all a matter of instinct rather than any conscious process. As I had expected, about half of the audience looked Indian, and among them more women than men. She was, after all, writing them into being. She grew up on Rhodes Island, and then shuttered between Boston and New York. She was shorter than I had imagined from the glamorous photo in her book.

Days: Jee Leong Koh

Jee Leong Koh

Finally there was the dancing on the roof
he danced to satisfy
himself, sometimes
with another wriggling soul,
sometimes with a
rapturous hip, sometimes all alone
above the drumming columns of a beat,
dancing and dying on his feet.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Days: Edward C. Smith

Edward C. Smith

He had been thrashing for so long
that when the divorce came, like a ship,
he had no strength to hail it
but watched it pass, and bobbed
in its wake.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Days: George Puchulia-Li

George Puchulia-Li

He held his spirit up to the light
and admired its ruby. What a pity
it breathed in an inferior glass
and couldn’t give a crystal clink.
He consoled himself
the blood-red wine paired well
with a rare steak.

Days: Aaron Wienaski

Aaron Wienaski

His spiritual home was a beach hotel
in winter, where,
past the doors of the departed,
the reception desk
with its idle key hooks,
the cane armchairs on the verandah
cradling their own
dead tree,
he walked out to the sea
and called his name over and over.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

TLS April 25 2008

From Clive Wilmer's Commentary "The self you chooose" on Thom Gunn:

Born August 29, 1929, the elder son of Herbert Smith Gunn, journalist, and his wife Annie Charlotte (nee Thomson), also a journalist, is there recorded as William Guinneach Gunn. There is no mention of "Thom".

According to his younger brother, the photographer Ander Gunn, he was always known as Tom, though when or why that started no one seems to know. . . . Thom's earliest extant poem, published in a school magazine, is by T. W. Gunn - before he became Tommy.

. . . in 1949, just before he left the Royal Army Educational Corps, Sergeant William Guinneach Gunn changed his name by deedpoll to Thomson William Gunn.

Why would a young man just coming of age seek legal sanction to confirm an established nickname? The answer lies, I beleive, in his relations with his parents, both of them of Scottish origin. Guinneach is the Gaelic form of Gunn and must have represented, on the part of his father, some family and local piety. Its abandonment in favour not of Thomas, as it might have been, but of Thomason, his mother's maiden name, cannot be read as other than a rejection of his father. One function of the "h" must have been to suggest that the name was not simply short for Thomas. It remains "Tom" to the ear, however, and here is the paradox - this heavily masculine nomenclature - T[h]om added to the father's forceful surname - encodes the name of the poet's adored mother. Where he seems most masculine he covertly gives his allegiance to the female.

*

. . . the early books were affected by Existentialism. . . . There is no compulsion on us to be kind or brave or self-sacrificing: these are a matter of choice or preference . . . . And the choice follows from an earlier one, which Sartre's essay outlines: the choice of identity. To accept an imposed identity is to suffer from mauvaise foi, bad faith.

*

All poets needs a Muse, not only as inspiration but as an audience of one: the person the poet imagines himself addressing. The Muse being female, the relationship is usually thought of as erotic. For gay poets, as for women, it therefore presents a problem. It clearly did for Gunn as a young man, but by 1974 he had reached a resolution. "I used to believe my muse was male: but I've come to realize that [Robert] Graves is right, that the muse has to be female. The Goddess is a mother, not a wife or a lover. The feminine principle is the source and I think it dominates in male artists whether homo- or heterosexual."

[Is this true? It does not feel true for me. Not yet? Maybe? Never?]

*

The poem "A Plan of Self-Subjection", in what might now be seens as elaborated code, declares Gunn's wish to emulate, among others, "Coriolanus, who I most admire". It is a very odd choice of hero: for most readers, I would guess, not even a sympathetic one. The most fiercely and insensitively macho of Shakespeare's tragic protagonists, Caius Martius Coriolanus turns out to have a weakness: a devotion to his mother exceeding love of wife or son or native land.

SLC Poetry Festival

Now in its fifth year, the Sarah Lawrence College Poetry Festival continues to attract big, and up-and-coming names. I have read Brenda Shaughnessy's book, Human Dark with Sugar, winner of the AAP's James Laughlin award for a second book of poetry, but did not like it much. Not enough dark and too little sugar, it belongs to the School of Clever. Hearing her read at SLC only confirmed the impression. Lynn Emanuel read a few of her dog poems. The one written after Kafka's Metamorphosis remained too close to the master, but I liked her poem about the dog-catcher's interrogation of the dog.

Faculty members, and, husband and wife, Kurt Brown and Laure-Anne Bosselaar read from their new books. After hearing Shaughnessy, I was grateful for their passionate modesty and quiet wit. Brown's poems titled after fellow poets (Sharon Olds, Tom Lux, Gerald Stern, Carolyn Forche, Mary Oliver, among others) paid tribute to their subjects and styles. His poems were not intended to be parodies, but they were not homage either. They worked because those poets' subjects and styles are well-known enough for the reader/audience to judge Brown's closeness to, and distance from, them. They had the effect of simplifying and heightening the poets' corpus to a gesture.

In the evening, Bob Hicok, Carl Phillips and Ron Padgett read. I liked Hicok's opening poem about Michigan, for its original approach to a worn theme. The other poems seem to me to lack a shape, and so their profusion of details and phrase-making loses me at times. Carl Phillips had my attention throughout his reading. Vijay Seshadri, who introduced him and the other two, described his project well: to prove ecstasy is more common than we think it is. My impression after hearing him: a tremendous refinement of the body into sensuous and intellectual abstractions. Ron Padgett could not be more different: determinedly everyman, and self-deprecating. He read a 14-minute poem about the world's meanness and kindness. It was the kind of poem I enjoyed listening to, but not reading on the page.

The Festival, since its inception, has always paired an undergraduate and a graduate poet to read before the featured reader. Last night I was taken by Natalie Park, an undergrad. Her poems thought their way out through metaphors.

Days: Josh Levine

Josh Levine

He could not remember a time
it did not rain
in him. He was not a cartoon
but there it was: no dry clothes. Not there
when mother kissed his tall man sliced
open by barbed wire. Not there when
Dicky wooed him with daffodils
lifted from the park.
Not here, mother and Dicky dead,
when he came home and undressed,
jacket, Oxfords, trousers, boxers drenched,
on one of those beautiful August evenings.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Days: Jehanghir Khan

Jehanghir Khan

He estimated the cab fare
from sugar to quietus,
and carried the mental sum in his mouth
when he took his first trick home.
He still remembered the man
had excellent teeth, and how sweet
the stirring, and then
the disappearing.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Days: Stephen Born

Stephen Born

Though he wore the body of a woman,
he knew he was a man. He didn’t care
to assume public privileges nor assert
private virtues. The knowledge
was not political nor moral, but tricky
like déjà vu,
flickered like memory,
and, sometimes, descended like understanding.
The honest men he spoke with
said that was how they knew it too.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Days: Ivan Spassky

Ivan Spassky

When the fog of blood cleared,
he found his right limbs
and then his left. The leg
had fallen like a walking stick.
The arm was screwed to him
like a door handle
he could not reach
to leave the relentless ward.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Days: Julio Marquez

Julio Marquez

He would have made a great father
but Steve did not want
another child,
and so he was a great uncle to Tim,
opening up the train conductor’s
cubicle, touring the repair yard
another weekend,
riding the new train before
any of his schoolmates had seen it.
On the R160B he had the wild idea
of leaving Tim in the car before
the train pulled away
from the station of changed circumstance.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

TLS April 18 2008

From Seamus Perry's review of New Writings of William Hazlitt, edited by Duncan Wu:

Hazlitt may lack Jarrell's mastery of the Groucho-like wisecrack, but in other respects they are surprisingly alike, as though defining the scope of a genre--the brilliantly crisp opening gestue, the dance of register between formally essayistic and freely conversational, the thrilling gift for an unexpected summative simile. "When you have read Paterson", said Jarrell, "you know for the rest of your life what it is like to be a waterfall"; "He seems always hurrying from his subject, even while describing it", said Hazlitt no less wonderfully about Shakespeare, "but the stroke, like the lightning's, is as sure as it is sudden."

*

Wordsworth and Coleridge called up his wittiest masterpieces of misgiving. "It is as if there were nothing but himself and the universe", he wrote of The Excursion. "He lives in the busy solitude of his own heart; in the deep silence of thought." That is superb, genuinely illuminating an aspect of Wordsworthian idiosyncrasy, and only Hazlitt could have said it.

Days: Oliver Coleman

Oliver Coleman

He was waiting to fly. He sipped
his Pepsi and couldn't say
what was wrong with it. He didn't know
he would go down over the Pacific
XXXXsomewhere
only the navy could name.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Days: Ken Murakami

Ken Murakami

He was marked on his wrist by urge,
the bar undergoing refurbishment.
The black walls stepped forward
for inspection. From a flimsy red
curtain, the go-go boys emerged,
one after another. They worked
on top of the bar, their feet avoiding
the glasses and emptying bottles,
their hands careful not to touch
the halogen lights in black brackets
fastened to the whitewashed ceiling,
their tight round butts lobbying and
contracting for his folded dollar bill.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

New York Writers Workshop

My mug shot appears on the homepage of the revamped website. You can read my poetry workshop description and bio there. I hope lots of people sign up. The Workshop also offers writing courses on memoir, children's fiction, playwriting/screenwriting, novel, and freelance writing for newspapers and magazines.

Days: John Okigbo

John Okigbo

When he was down he sank so deep
into his bed he could not get up
from its soft depths
no handhold in the hours no step
in the stairwell of his breathing no
Pierre to drag him up
by the neck
with the hempen rope of his voice.

Antonio Damasio's "Looking for Spinoza"

An affect cannot be restrained or neutralized except by a contrary affect that is stronger than the affect to be restrained. In other words, Spinoza recommended that we fight a negative emotion with a stronger but positive emotion brought about by reasoning and intellectual effort (12).

*

. . . his (Spinoza's) notion that the human mind is the idea of the human body (12).

*

Spinoza prescribed an ideal democratic state, where the hallmarks were freedom of speech--let every man think what he wants and say what he thinks, he wrote--separation of church and state, and a generoud social contract that promoted the well-being of citizens and the harmony of government (15).

*

Emotions play out in the theater of the body. Feelings play out in the theater of the mind (28).

*

The single word homeostasis is convenient shorthand for the ensemble of regulations and the resulting state of regulated life. . . . We can picture the homeostasis machine as a large multibranched tree of phenomena charged with the automated regulation of life. . . .

In the lowest branches: metabolism, basic reflexes, immune system

In the middle-level branches: behaviors associated with the notion of pleasure or pain

In the next level up: drives and motivations (hunger, thirst, curiosity, play and sex) Spinoza lumped them together under a very apt word, appetites, and with great refinement used another word, desires, for the situation in which conscious individuals become cognizant of those appetites.

Near the top but not quite: Emotions-proper

Top: Feelings

*

It is apparent that the continuous attempt at achieving a state of positively regulated life is a deep and defining part of our existence--the first reality of our existence as Spinoza intuited when he described the relentless endeavor (conatus) of each being to preserve itself. Striving, endevor and tendency are three word that come close to rendering the Latin term conatus, as used by Spinoza in Propositions 6, 7, and 8 of the Ethics, Part III. In Spinoza's own words: "Each thing, as far as it can by its own power, strives to persevere in its being" and "The striving by which each thing strives to persevere in its being is nothing but the actual essence of the thing" (36).

*

Emotion is all about transition and commotion, sometimes real bodily upheaval (63).

*

Any complex mental function results from concerted contributions by many brain regions at varied levels of the central nervous system rather than from the work of a single brain region conceived in a phrenological manner (73).

*

Feelings emerge when the sheer accumulation of mapped details reaches a certain stage. Coming from a different perspective, the philosopher Suzanne Langer captured the nature of that moment of emergence by saying that when the activity of some part of the nervous system reaches a "critical pitch" the process is felt. Feeling is a consequence of the ongoing homeostatic process, the next step in the chain (86).

*

For a while after an occasion of such feelings behins--for seconds or for minutes--there is a dynamic engagement of the body almost certainly in repeated fashion, and a subsequent dynamic variation of the preception. We perceive a series of transitions. We sense an interplay, a give and take (92).

*

And so it must be for brotherly love, the most redeeming of all feelings, a feeling that depends for its modulation on the unique repository of autobiographical records that define our identities. Yet it still rests, as Spinoza so clearly gleaned, on occasions of pleasure--bodily pleasure, what else?--prompted by thoughts of a particular object.

*

Likewise, pleasure and its variants are the result of certain map configurations. Feeling pain or feeling pleasure consists of having biological processes in which our body image, as depicted in the brain's body maps, is conformed in a certain pattern. Drugs such as morphine or aspirin alter that pattern. So do ecstasy and scotch. So do anesthetics. So do certain forms of meditation. So do thoughts of despair. So do thoughts of hope and salvation (124).

*

[Contrasting the human body and the airplane] The reasonable candidate for the title of critical elementary "particle" of our living organism is a living cell, not an atom (128).

*

The nerve sensors that convey the requisite information to the brain and the nerve nuclei and nerve sheaths that map the information inside of it are living cells themselves, subject to the same life risk of other cells, and in need of comparable homeostatic regulation. These nerve cells are not impartial bystanders. They are not innocent conveyances or blank slates or mirrors waiting for something to reflect. Signaling and mapping neuros have a say on the matter signaled, and on the transient maps assembled from the signals (129).

*

Social conventions and ethical rules may be seen in part as extensions of the basic homeostatic arrangements at the level of society and culture. The outcome of applying the rules is the same as the outcome of basic homeostatic devices such as metabolic regulation or appetites: a balance of life to ensure survival and well-being (169).

*

[From Proposition 18 in part IV of The Ethics] ". . . the very first foundation of virtue is the endeavor (conatum) to preserve the individual self, and happiness consists in the human capacity to preserve its self." . . . It contains the foundation for a system of ehtical behaviors and that foundation is neurobiological, The foundation is the result of a discovery based on the observation of human nature rather than the revelation of a prophet (170, 171).

*

The brain is imbused at the start of life with knowledge regarding how the organism should be managed . . . . Many mapping sites and connections are present at birth; for example, we know that newborn monkeys have neuros in their cerebral cortex ready to detect lines in a certain orientation (205).

*

The arrangement underscores the "body-mindedness" of the mind. The mind exists because there is a body to furnish it with contents. On the other hand, the mind ends up performing practical and useful tasks for the body . . . . The brain's body-furnished, body-minded mind is a servant of the whole body (206).

*

But what exactly is the indispensable contribution that the conscious-mind level of biology brings to the organism? . . . The answer, then, is that mental images would allow an ease of manipulation of information that the neural-map level . . . would not permit (207).

*

Now we should consider what the sense of self brings to the process. The answer is orientation. The sense of self introduces, within the mental level of preocessing, the notion that all the current activities represented in brain and mind pertain to a single organism whose auto-preservation needs are the basic cause of most events currently represented (208).

*

. . . [Spinoza] said, in The Ethics, Part I, that thought and extension, while distinguishable, are nonetheless attributes of the same substance, God or Nature. The reference to a single substance serves the purpose of claiming mind as inseparable from body, both created, somehow, from the same cloth. The reference to two attributes, mind and body, acknowledged the distinction of two kinds of phenomenon, a formulation that preserved an entirely sensible "aspect" dualism, but rejected substance dualism (209).

*

[From Part II of The Ethics] Proposition 15: "The human mind is capable of perceiving a great number of things, and is so in proportion as its body is capable of receiving a great number of impressions."

. . . Proposition 26: "The human Mind does not perceive any external body as actually existing except through the ideas of the modification (affections) of its own body."

. . . No body, never mind (212, 213).

*

The notion of "ideas of ideas" is important on many counts. . . . it opens a way for creating an idea for self. I have suggested that the most basic kind of self is an idea, a second-order idea. Why second-order? Because it is based on two first-order ideas--one being the idea of the object that we are perceiving; the other, the idea of our body as it is modified by the perception of the object. The second-order idea of self is the idea of the relationship between the two other ideas--object perceived and body modified by perception (215).

*

For practical purpose God is naure and is most clearly manifest in living creatures. This is captured in an often quoted Spinozism, the expression Deus sive Natura--God or Nature (273).

*

This path includes a life of the spirit that seeks understanding with enthusiasm and some sort of discipline as a source of joy--where understanding is derived from scientific knowledge, aesthetic experience or both. The practice of this life also assumes a combative attitude based on the belief that part of humanity's tragic condition can be alleviated, and that doing something about the human predicament is our responsibility. One benefit of scientific progress is the means to plan intelligent actions that can assuage suffering. Science can be combined with the best of a humanist tradition to permit a new approach to human affairs and lead to human flourishing (283).

*

First, I assimilate the notion of spiritual to an intense experience of harmony, to the sense that the organism is functioning with the greatest possible perfection. The experience unfolds in association with the desire to act toward others with kindness and generosity. Thus to have a spiritual experience is to hold sustained feelings of a particular kind dominated by some variant of joy, however serene. . . . Conceived in this manner, the spiritual is an index of the organizing scheme behind a life that is well-balanced, well-tempered, and well-intended (284).

*

Second, spiritual experiences are humanly nourishing. I believe that Spinoza was entirely on the mark in his view that joy and its variants lead to greater functional perfection (285).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Red Balloon betwixt Anthony and Cleopatra

I watched Hou Hsiao-hsien's "Flight of the Red Balloon" with the Librarian last Saturday, at the IFC. It was visually delicate and observant, but dragged, especially towards the end. Juliette Binoche was marvellous as the harried single mother.

Theater for a New Audience (a mouthful of a name!) performs Anthony and Cleopatra at The Duke on 42nd Street. The staging was inventive throughout. A tiled pool at the front of the thrust stage was pleasure pond, military aid, mirror of fate, ditch, and river. The paneled doors at the back of the stage opened for dramatic entrances and exits, revealing a corridor of power, and closed for impressionistic depictions of land and sea. In the battles scenes, the doors opened to show silhouettes of soldiers. Above the doors was a high playing area, from which the dying Anthony was lowered, laboriously, into the arms of Cleopatra in the tomb.

The acting was far less imaginative. Marton Csokas, playing Anthony, spoke as if he had a cold. Jeffrey Carlson, as Octavius Caesar, was shouting most of the time. John Douglas Thompson's Enobarbus had dignity and weight, but not tragedy. Laila Robins was a chameleon Cleopatra in the first half, but her variety narrowed dangerously in the second half. This performance reminded me how much the later part of the play depends on the acting of its two leads. Without brilliant actors, the second half dragged like a wounded snake (yes, it's an A&C cliche), and I felt relieved when Anthony and Cleopatra finally died. Randy Harrison, who plays the cutie in "Queer as Folk," was a creditable Eros. In soldier uniform, he looked appropriately young and vulnerable. After the performance, he walked past me just outside the theater, in a light-colored hood, with a female companion. He was shorter than I had thought.

Demystifying French wines

The Quarterback and I attended this wine class at Bacchus last Monday. The class was informative, and the wines good. The teacher was helpful but not terribly exciting. Reading off Powerpoint slides and notes is not the best way to excite your four students. I like having a copy of the Powerpoint slides, though. I am a swot.

France ties with Italy for most wine production, with Spain coming in third. 2.2 million acres of France are devoted to wine making. Marseilles was the first place (in 600 B.C.) to grow grapes for wine. After the fall of the Roman empire, the vines came into the hands of the Church.

The Vins d'Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC) in 1935 established rules and geographical boundaries for wine regions. The rules dictate what grapes could be grown, what the alcohol content should be etc. Below the AOC, there are the wines labeled Vins Delimites de Qualite Superieure, and below that the wines labeled Vins de Pays, or Wine of Country (i.e. rural). The labeling sounds more like marketing to me, than a real classification of quality. Saying "Cru" instead of "growth" sounds so much more posh. Sur lie, meaning on the lees, indicates contact with spent yeast.

Then the teacher brought us on a tour of the key wine regions: Champagne, Burgundy/Beaujolais, Alsace, Provence, Loire Valley, Rhone, Bordeaux, Languedoc-Roussillon.



In Champagne, quarries dug by the Romans in the chalky landscape now provide caves cool enough to store wines. Thr process of making champagne is poetry in action and words: fermentation, assemblage, liqueur de tirage, riddling, degorgement, liqueur d'expedition. During degorgement, the sediment in the wine is flash frozen, and then popped out by the 6 atmospheres in the bottle. Blanc de Blanc is white from white (i.e. Chardonnay); Blanc de Noir is white from red (only Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier). The prestige cuvee was first created by the winemaker Roederer for Czar Alexander II. We, on the other hand, tasted the Henriot Blanc Souverain. It is a Blanc de Blanc, golden in color, and citrus, apple and toasty in taste. I liked it, though I don't care very much for champagnes.

The main grapes in Burgundy are Chardonnay and Aligote (white), and Pinot Noir and Gamay (red). Chablis is closer to Champagne than to Burgundy, and so its wines taste more of that chalky, limestone soil. Burgundy itself is sub-divided into Cote de Nuit, Cote de Beaune, Cote Chalonnaise, and Maconnais. A common wine in NYC is the Pouilly-Fuisse which is from Maconnais. In hyphenated names, the first part refers to the town or village, and the second to the vineyard. Beaujolais is part of Burgundy but its red grape is Gamay. The oft-seen Beaujolais in NYC are Moulin-a-Vent and Fleurie. We tasted the William Fevre Chablis 2006: 100% Chardonnay, tasting of mineral, apple and pear.

Throughout its history, Alsace changed hands between France and Germany. Its wines bear German influence. It produces almost all whites, almost no blends, from Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir. We tasted the Otter Gerwurztraminer 2005. Gerwurz means spice. I learned "dry" means that all the sugar has been converted into alchohol, and so this wine was both dry and fruity. It was pure nectar.

Provence lying at the end of the Rhone River enjoys a Mediterranean climate. (That last sentence sounds as if it came out of a guide book.) Its light-bodied whites pair well with seafood. Its reds are full-bodied. The limestone gives the wine its minerality. We tasted the Brillane Cuvee de Printemps 2006. The quick legs on the wine glass spoke of its light body. It was cherries and raspberries.

The Loire Valley produces a great variety of wines, from a wide range of climate and soil. The Sancerre and the Pouilly Fume are made from Sauvignon Blanc. We tasted the Remy Pennier Chinon 2006 made up of 100% Cabernet Franc.

In Rhone, the northern parts tend to produce single varietals like Syrah, while the south blends its wines. Cotes-du-Rhone and Cotes-du-Rhone Village are sub-regions in Rhone, and not the whole valley. We tasted the Domaine de Pesquier Gigondas 2005 made up primarily of Syrah. I like this very much. It was fruit first, spice at the end of its taste.

Right bank is Merlot, left bank is Cabernet--I will never remember which is which in Bordeaux. I do like Merlot better than Cabernet, and so you would think I have reason to remember the basics. On the right bank: St.-Emillion, and Pomerol are the familiar wines. On the left bank: St.-Julien, Pauillac and St.-Estephe. The red grapes are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Savignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot; the white are Sauvignon Blank, Semillon, Muscadelle and Ugni Blanc. We tasted the Barons de Rothschild Reserve Speciale Pauillac 2004. It is a full-bodied red, and better with a steak than on its own, I think. We also tasted a dessert wine Chateau Villefranche Sauternes 2005. It was like quaffing down honey, but then, according to the teacher, desert wines should always be sweeter than the dessert.

Languedoc-Roussillon was ex-Spanish territory. It is the single largest wine producing area in the world--700, 000 acres. We tasted the Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays 2005. Done in the Bordeaux style, its taste was herby, barnyard and fruit. I did not like it much.

Days: Shi Hou Chang

Shih Hou Chang

He had a runner’s build but hated running.
He rooted
his toes
into the public park
and grew from his fingers
rose bushes.
He would not run, would not
ignite his lungs
and raze the flower’s thorn and leaf,
but let decay
take its slow, stationary course.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Days: Andrew MacIntosh

Andrew MacIntosh

After his workout, he took off
his shirt, and admired the man—
thickening shoulders, deepening chest—
the mirror returned to him.
He was so close to his reappearance
he could hug him
with his powerful arms.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Days: Carl Vincent

Carl Vincent

He came out of the writing class with Carl.
You don't know stress, he said, until you run
out of money, and your children
are hungry. You
go to the taxi garage, drive
for three hours,
and, with the tips,
buy something hot from the 24-hour deli.
Carl looked at the man climbing
into his black battered Ford,
and wished he had his nervous
authority.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Days: Mohammad Sharif

Mohammad Sharif

Today he held his tongue when Roy nagged about taxes.
Today he told father on the phone where to put his nose.
The skittish, bad-tempered animal in him
would still slash a man’s thigh to the bone,
or crunch a woman’s hand between its wicked teeth,
but today it responded to its reins
and so he dared to give it
a little lap of victory.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You can now buy "Watched You Disappear" here

I reviewed Patricia Markert's Watched You Disappear in February. Now you can read that review, and buy the book on the newly launched website of Five Spice Press.

Days: Matthew Gladstone, Jr.

Matthew Gladstone, Jr.

Tomorrow he would be headlines.
Tonight the house
was silent, the study was fireless.
He locked the safe.
Why did he bother?
Nothing was more definite
than tomorrow, unless
he unbolted himself
to free Margaret and the children.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Days: Wayne "Cutter" Koestler

Wayne “Cutter” Koestler

He signed up to put himself through college,
and they shipped him to Iraq
to keep the prisoners under stress
before MI interrogated them
again. He wrote almost daily
to Sergio workmanlike sonnets,
with an occasional
wrenching internal rhyme.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

TLS March 28 2008

From Christopher Reid's review of Modern Painters: The Camden Town Group at the Tate Britain:

The more likely truth is that Sickert was simply the first painter in a long tradition to point out that the reclining nude, a standard compositional trope, had a lot in common with the inertia of a corpse, and the scrutiny of the artist with the calculating gaze of the malefactor.


***

From Fernando Cervantes' review of Marjorie Trusted's The Arts of Spain: Iberia and Latin America 1450-1700:

In the 1920s, Jose Ortega y Gasset attempted to counter these myths with the argument that Europe was not the creation of the sovereign nation state but, rather, the result of a piecemeal and laborious cultural fusion of what he called the "Germanic" and the "Mediterranean" elements. What particularly interested Ortega was that this fusion had been attained Iberia earlier and more permanently than in any other part of Europe, so that the presence of those very elements that are often singled out as sources of difference and exoticism--like the fact that medieval Iberia housed the largest single Jweish population in the world, or that it formed an integral part of the Islamic Mediterranean for eight centuries--were in fact the most quintessentially European elements in Iberian culture. It was this supranational and multicultural fusion that made the Iberian world so uniquely and unmistakably European.


***

From Chris Morash's review of Bernhard Klein's On the Uses of History in Recent Irish Writing:

For Klein, these alternative understandings of the past are coded into the structures of the literary genres. Thus, he argues that the novel narrates events as continuity, drama as conflcit, and poetry as possibility.



***

From Phoeve C. Ellsworth's review of Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson's Mistakes Were Made (But Not BY Me):

In Leon Festinger's original theory, cognitive dissonance arises when a person is forced to entertain two mutually inconsistent ideas, which creates an unpleasant tension that motivates the person to engage in various mental gymnastics to minimize the dissonance, usually by denying one of the inconsistent cognitions. Elliot Aronson, Festinger's most distinguished student, showed that cognitive dissonance is most common and most excruciating when new information is inconsistent with one's concept of oneself as an honest, intelligent and well-meaning person, and that the urge to maintain a favorable self-conception usurps all other possible strategies for escaping the dissonance. Cognitive dissonance can be as immediate and powerful as the response to physical danger.


***

From Robert A. Segal's review of David Kyuman Kim's Melancholic Freedom: Agency and the spirit of politics:

[Charles] Taylor devotes most of Sources of the Self in tracing the changing views of the nature of the self. The distinctiveness of the modern understanding of the self is threefold. First is the stress on inwardness, which harks all the way back to Augustine but which, thanks to Descartes, stresses self-control and--thanks to Montaigne--self-exploration. Second is the "affirmation of ordinary life", which, stemming from the Reformation, means devotion to work and family rather than to a "higher" calling like monasticism. Third is the idea, stemming from Romanticism, of an "inner vocie of nature", heeding which involves turning to the external world to discover what in use responds to it.

Days: Richard Turnbull

Richard Turnbull

He was brought up in rural Utah but thought
it didn’t matter. Drawing was spirit
answering spirit, and spirit was everywhere.
That woman in the train reading the New Yorker
stared down a very deep well
—she was the well—after Jesus had left her.
The trick last night ran into
his body like Samuel to the door,
repeating “Speak, Lord.” But when he tried
to sketch himself—defeated
Moroni wandering among caves, the song
making its way up Mary’s throat, Ammon heaving
the stack of severed arms to his king—
the drawings came off
like gloves,
showing his mink paws.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Domaine Bertrand-berge Ancestral 2004

The Quarterback opened this bottle last night, which he bought from online wine store, the Wine Library. It was delicious. We finished it before dinner.

A Wine Advocate review from the Wine Library:
"Fitou is an odd appellation consisting of a seaside section and a detached, mountainous, geologically distinct backside whose southern tip abuts Vingrau in Roussillon. At this tip the Bertrands tend the roughly equal parts Grenache, Carignan and Syrah that inform their 2004 Fitou Cuvee Ancestrale. Smelling and tasting of juicy, ripe black raspberries scented with sage and scrub, and with a savory tartness of fresh berry right down to the seeds, this pure, elegant, and long if not especially complex wine is positively infectious in calling forth the next sip. Enjoy it over the next couple of years." --David Schildknecht

Days: Sam Won

Sam Won

His own snoring woke him.
One moment he was lost to himself,
the next a black light flicked on.
Swimming up towards that light,
his mind strained with an accumulated effort
that grew less
as the water gave way.
When he broke the surface, he saw
Kelvin curled up against him,
the position he—his boyfriend!—liked best,
his face mild as milk.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Days: D. J.

D. J.

He washed carefully,
glad to be out of the cold
that was reducing his gang at the pier.
He almost gave himself up to the Shelter
but remembered its ranks of army cots.
The stranger looked sane,
and he could hear him in the bedroom,
rattling down the blinds.
He dried himself with the thick, white towel.
The towels at home were washed to frayed white,
dirty with disappearing colors.
Here, with some luck,
he could do as he pleased, and the stranger
would not hit him
after they jizzed his sheets.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Days: K. Sullivan

K. Sullivan

He heard his mother cry on her seventy-fourth birthday
about trying to abort him in her second trimester.
The crying sounded like how he imagined
the wind would sound
in an abandoned apartment.
He patted her back, brought her a cup of tea,
got up and closed the windows,
sat down in the middle of his old room,
and listened out for the wind.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Days: Peter Morelli

Peter Morelli

He liked sun-tanning on Christopher Street pier
where other sun-tanners slept on the grass
like so many fish. He liked the idea
they were happy out of
their element.
The grass blades bristled, the ants
with their busy jaws scavenged
what the summer gas had poisoned.
But the sun-tanners were not dead yet,
they were dreaming
of limbs and lungs,
and the unaccustomed sun of mammal sex.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Days: James Li

James Li

He spent more time in the chat rooms
than talking with his wife. He tried
to feel bad about it but each try
created another virtual self, a new profile
for which he had to choose
height, weight, “shoe” size, cut
or uncut, what he liked.
A 6’2 blond Californian with a taste for SM
cried when his wife left for her mother’s house.
When he signed the divorce papers,
he lived in Alaska,
and weighed 260 pounds.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Days: William Lincoln

William Lincoln

At first he went to Cairo for the lads,
whom he saw from his hotel window
passing through the market stalls
like unacknowledged gods.
Then he found himself
passing for a local, winning
the confidence of the black-toothed elders,
uttering an automatic
prayer when the minaret floated
its call. He knew
he could never be a Muslim,
but he loved the religion’s seriousness,
the gravity
in the brown eyes of his young lover
who stepped out of a starry robe
to climb under his covers.

Rupert Goold's "Macbeth"

Saw this Macbeth at the Lyceum yesterday, with The Quarterback, and his theater friend from college. Garbed in Soviet uniform, the production took place throughout in a white-tiled basement, with steel kitchen sink, fridge, radiator, hospital trolleys, TV, and an old-fashioned elevator opening and closing its grille-jaws like hell's mouth.

Some of the scenes were brilliantly re-imagined. The bloody surgeon was rolled in on a trolley, by three nurses who then revealed themselves to be the witches. While Macbeth convinced the murderers to kill Banquo, he made himself a sandwich, a part of which he ate, before offering it to the murderers. Breaking bread and feeding one's bloodhounds at the same time.

Other scenes were terrific because of the acting. Michael Feast, playing Macduff, was utterly moving when he received news of his family's massacre. Brilliant throughout the play, Kate Fleetwood made Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene compelling and complex.

This production was chilling in its depiction of violence and dictatorship. It called up familiar but still horrifying images of body bags, interrogation, and torture. Macbeth's bloody head, held up by a triumphant Malcolm at the end of the play, could not but evoke Al-Queda beheadings. In its focus on horror, however, the production seemed to simplify Macbeth. None of Patrick Stewart's soliloquys sounded unexpected depths. He became a monster, but not, quite, a man.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sze Tsung Leong's "History Images" and "Horizons"

I remembered his History Images but did not remember his name, until I came across it again in today's NYT. Philip Gefter reviewed Leong's Horizons series now showing at Yossi Milo Gallery. The images below are from his website.

From History Images:




Beizhuanzi II, Siming District, Xiamen, 2004


From Horizons:


Canale della Giudecca I, Venezia, 2007

From the gallery website:

Horizons is an ongoing series of photographs, begun in 2001, that depict expansive but detailed views of a broad spectrum of environments throughout the world. The locations of the images may be distant in geography (including Mexico City, Cairo, Banaras, Lisbon, Isle of Skye, Tokyo, and Inner Mongolia, for example), and diverse in subject matter (ranging from pastoral landscapes, to monuments, to everyday spaces, to rivers, to industrial zones, to cityscapes), yet the photographs are linked by a horizon which continues in the same position from image to image. When placed side by side, the images form an extended landscape composed of an accumulation of varied continents, cities, terrains, situations, textures, and colors: an unfinished asphalt cul-de-sac lies before a line of tract houses in Victorville, California (2006); a boat drifts past icebergs in Jökulsárlón I, Iceland (2007); clumps of desert sand collect in front of a remote skyline in Dubai I (2007); red stone buildings seemingly hover over an opaque expanse of water in Canale della Giudecca I, Venezia (2007); beachgoers tread through mud on their way to the shore in Dungeness III (2003); boys play cricket in a clearing among electrical poles in Allahabad I (2008).

Viewed in a continuous line, the images suggest an unfurled view of the surface of the globe. This view, however, does not necessarily correlate with conventional perceptions of proximity and distance, as places in these images that are seemingly unrelated or unconnected may find themselves adjoined. According to Leong, “the distances separating near from far, familiar from foreign, inside from outside, iconic from quotidian, extraordinary from mundane, picturesque from unsettling, are never constant.” The relationships and gradations between these opposites that are suggested by the photographs—and the fact that the images can be rearranged to form different landscapes and visual sequences—are meant to reflect the complex and perpetually transforming relationships between regions, cultures, and nations that give form to the contemporary world and that shape the experiences of each individual viewer.

The images are photographed primarily with an 8-by-10-inch view camera, but also with 6-by-7- and 6-by-9-centimeter and 4-by-5-inch formats. Printed as analog chromogenic color prints, each image offers a finely grained density of visual information, rendered in the broad range of tonality made possible by the analog print. The exhibition will consist of over sixty pieces measuring 14 by 24 inches. . . .

Days: Mark, Paul Legaspi, Alvin Bradshaw

“What are days for?/ Days are where we live.” –Philip Larkin

Mark

He hanged around the locker-room
of the swimming pool, to catch
an able eye and hand,
and then took the train back to his lover
who was dying of cancer.
His lover’s name was Peter Weizman.
He told me his name was Mark.


Paul Legaspi

He devoted his life to fighting
for gay equality. He wrote to senators,
he called representatives, and appeared
before congressional committees.
Back home, after putting down his attaché-case,
he checked the mirror and remembered
he was ugly.
His colleague Alex thought he was beautiful,
but he never told him.


Alvin Bradshaw

He wanted to act,
and so he took the bus to the city.
He got bit parts in bit plays,
always hoping
that age would bring the right character part.
He played minor roles in life too—the one-nighter,
the Sunday fuck, the friend his friends went to
when they needed a hand.
Age brought him to a very small stage
which he dominated.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Glass City

Just finished the first draft of this sequence inspired by Hesse's Glass Bead Game. The sonnetinas form a necklace of voices: 1-4 from Amsterdam, 5-10 from Singapore, 11-14 from New York City. The key to the speakers is given at the end of the sequence.


Glass City

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?


*

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.


*

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.


*

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.


*

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,

sing against the city where one started
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.


*

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.


*

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.


*

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.


*

So beautiful and so untrue
is the idea of leaving home,
its beauty a ship with white sails,
its untruth a sea of wonder.

Afloat on aquamarine wonder,
I am searching if it's true
that a pair of rectangular white sails
could find a country to call home.

Every country looks like home
until I spot the lion wonder.
Every morning the blank white sails
beckon the heart with what's untrue.

So the untrue becomes a blue home
the beautiful white sails wander into.


*

The beautiful white sails wander into
the whirlpool of the kitchen sink,
clotted cheese, carrot bits, green
gum swirled down the city’s throat.

Some nights something at the throat
catches, the restaurant turns into
a tank, then I see in the dark green
water the plates and silver sink,

and after them the divers sink
down the comfortable throat,
their small lights algaed green,
their small bodies curling into

shrimps, into worms, sinking,
and turning, down the dark green throat.


*

Turning down the dark green throat
of my cricket man, instead he picks
my painting of the man peacock
to join his famous April show.

This blue is good, he says, for the show,
the brilliant up-thrust of the throat
as the man is turned into peacock.
It will go well with my other picks.

I look again at the one he picks,
imagining myself at the show,
the portrait of the man peacock,
the heavy brushstrokes at the throat.

Of all the throats I painted, he picks
the peacock for his April show.


*

The Peacock, for his April show,
The Greatest Magic Show On Earth,
will make the Building disappear
in front of twenty million eyes.

The hand is quicker than the eye.
The mind suspects the glass of show.
The night is cold, and so appears
the form of loss, the form of earth.

Broadcast round the round of earth,
electronically to our eyes,
the beveled Building reappears
to end the reassuring show.

The show on earth gives us two words,
one for the ears, one for the eyes.

*

One for the ears, one for the eyes,
with these street maps I walk the city,
to get to know, to love, this one,
its bridges, temples, kitchens, canals,

know it not for a casing, but a canal,
always a waterway for the eyes,
and for the ears a music won,
but never removed, from the city.

No, I am not a founder of cities,
I can’t raze houses to build canals,
I won’t be waiting for the phone
to cough to put out someone’s eyes,

but hear amidst the city, and eye
among the canals, there is one canal.


Key:
1. Tourist
2. Anne Frank
3. Jeremiah (in Rembrandt's painting)
4. Sex Worker
5. Returning Immigrant
6. Terrorist
7. Lung Patient
8. Bureaucrat
9. Weatherman
10. Parameswara
11. Waiter
12. Artist
13. Magician's Assistant
14. Walker-Lover

One for the ears, one for the eyes

One for the ears, one for the eyes,
with these street maps I walk the city,
to get to know, to love, this one,
its bridges, temples, kitchens, canals,

know it not for a casing, but a canal,
always a waterway for the eyes,
and for the ears a music won,
but never removed, from the city.

No, I am not a founder of cities,
I can’t raze houses to build canals,
I won’t be waiting for the phone
to cough to put out someone’s eyes,

but hear amidst the city, and eye
among the canals, there is one canal.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Peacock, for his April show

The Peacock, for his April show,
The Greatest Magic Show On Earth,
will make the Building disappear
in front of twenty million eyes.

The hand is quicker than the eye.
The mind suspects the glass of show.
The night is cold, and so appears
the form of loss, the form of earth.

Broadcast round the round of earth,
electronically to our eyes,
the beveled Building reappears
to end the reassuring show.

The show on earth gives us two words,
one for the ears, one for the eyes.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Turning down the dark green throat

Turning down the dark green throat
of my cricket man, instead he picks
my painting of the man peacock
to join his famous April show.

This blue is good, he says, for the show,
the brilliant up-thrust of the throat
as the man is turned into peacock.
It will go well with my other picks.

I look again at the one he picks,
imagining myself at the show,
the portrait of the man peacock,
the heavy brushstrokes at the throat.

Of all the throats I painted, he picks
the peacock for his April show.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The beautiful white sails wander into

The beautiful white sails wander into
the whirlpool of the kitchen sink,
clotted cheese, carrot bits, green
gum swirled down the city’s throat.

Some nights something at the throat
catches, the restaurant turns into
a tank, then I see in the dark green
water the plates and silver sink,

and after them the divers sink
down the comfortable throat,
their small lights algaed green,
their small bodies curling into

shrimps, into worms, sinking,
and turning, down the dark green throat.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

So beautiful and so untrue

So beautiful and so untrue
is the idea of leaving home,
its beauty a ship with white sails,
its untruth a sea of wonder.

Afloat on aquamarine wonder,
I am searching if it's true
that a pair of rectangular white sails
could find a country to call home.

Every country looks like home
until I spot the lion wonder.
Every morning the blank white sails
beckon the heart with what's untrue.

So the untrue becomes a blue home
the beautiful white sails wander into.