Saturday, January 31, 2009

Best Gay Poetry 2008

From the press release on Amazon:

Best Gay Poetry
is a new annual series collecting the best gay poems of the year before. It offers both poetry aficionados and casual gay readers an easy way to keep abreast of the field and find poems that speak to their experience.

Editor Lawrence Schimel has brought together a diverse array of poems and voices, not merely in their poetic style and form, but also in how gay subjects and themes are addressed. Drawing on poems published in journals, anthologies, and single-author collections, Best Gay Poetry 2008 offers up the cream of the crop of what was published in 2007, gathered together in one handy volume. Featuring work from 50 gay poets, readers will find herein a mix of established poets and exciting new voices, including Carl Phillips, Rane Arroyo, David Bergman, Timothy Liu, Brad Gooch, Reginald Shepard, Jeff Mann, Steve Fellner, Jee Leong Koh, Steven Cordova, Jericho Brown, and many others.

Best Gay Poetry 2008
also includes an annotated bibliographic round-up of relevant gay-interest poetry books published the year before, making it an invaluable research tool for both institutions and individuals.

Philosophers and Wolves

TLS January 2, 2009

from Ali Smith's review of Sylvia Townsend Warner's New Collected Poems, and Valentine Ackland's Selected poems:

But settling in with Ackland in Dorset in 1930 did bring Warner alive, out of "this death I have say so snugly in for so long", and the couple stayed together, with a couple of rocky periods, in their open relationship for four decades. As Bingham, Ackland's critical guardian angel, writes elsewhere, "the presence of Valentine in her work is one way in which Warner represented the possibility of an alternative society; the revolutionary ideal as she was actually living it". By comparison, though, Warner sublimated her poetry to Ackland in much the same way as she, a woman who loved musix, simply stopped going to concerts because concerts bored her lover. If her lover needed to be The Poet, then she wouldn't challenge her for the role. 


from Mark Vernon's review of Mark Rowlands's The Philosopher and the Wolf:

Rowlands's thoughts on "externalism", as his view of the connection between mind and world is called, developed in part because of his relationship with Brenin [the wolf he raised]: "I think there are certain thoughts that can emerge only in the space between a wolf and a man".


TLS January 23, 2009

From Felix's review of Fernando Baez's "A Universal History of the Destruction of Books":

In the aftermath of Stalin's death in 1953, "a strange episode", we are told by Fernando Baez, took place regarding the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. "Levrentiy Beria, the chief of Soviet security, died nine months laer, and shortly thereafter the publishers of the encyclopedia sent letters to subscribers informing them that they should remove the article on Beria and replace it with a postcard of the Bering Sea, included with the letter."

. . . The Soviet authorities did not in fact send out postcards of the Bering Sea, but replacement pages. They also, with touching helpfulness, enclosed razor blades to help with the excision.


[Extract from Matthew Battles' Library: An unquiet history:] "When the People's Liberation Army invaded Tibet, it razed monasteries by the score; hundreds and thousands of books went up in flames. The distinctive form of the Tibetan printed book--long narrow codices printed from wood block, clad in saffron covers sewn with crimson thread, a format centuries older than Gutenburg's Bible--nearly ceased to exist. Monks and refugees brought whole libraries over the border to India by horse and mule, where they not only founded new libraries but started new presses, keeping the craft of the Tibetan book, like a lineage of lamas, alive."


TLS January 30, 2009

from Martin Pugh's review of Sheila Rawbotham's Edward Carpenter: A life of liberty and love:

One of the many virtues of Rowbotham's book is that it puts Carpenter's homosexual experience into context. Despite the scandal generated by the Oscar Wilde case, the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 was not widely enforced. Moreover, the homosexual trade of upper- and middle-class London represented only one aspect of late-Victorian sexuality. In Yorkshire, Carpenter encountered a different culture based on rural, working-class communities of men for whom it was routine to be naked together for swimming or even athletics, to dance together in the absence of women, and to share beds for lack of space. As a result they often grew up without the self-consciousness about physical contact that afflicted the higher classes and were willing to take sexual encounters with men in their stride before and even during marriage. By explaining how Carpenter settled down to live with George Merrill in a stable relationship that lasted decades while continuing to enjoy encounters with other men, Rowbotham shows that a homosexual lifestyle was feasible despite the severity of the law and society's disapproval.


[The scandal of Wilde's trial] did not stop Carpenter publishing Love's Coming of Age in 1896, in which he made the case for legalization of homosexuality on the basis that it was congenital, that private behavior should be beyond the province of the law, and hat legal regulation was impractical and encouraged blackmail--in effect the modern, liberal case. 


from Ian Thomson's review of Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli's Sonnets, translated by Mike Stocks:

In the six years between 1831 and 1837, Belli wrote an astonishing 1, 950 sonnets in the coarse-tongued dialetto romanesco. The majority were set amid the card sharps, prostitutes and other low-lifers of Rome's Trastevere ("across the Tiber") district, where a monument to the poet stands today. Belli conjured pre-Risorgimento Rome and the life of its common people with journalistic verismo, yet his sonnets were never intended for publication, as Belli feared charges of obscenity. Instead, he circulated them privately in manuscript among a circle of friends and admirers, including Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beauve and Nikolai Gogol. As a poet, Belli was "a rebel to the point of subversion", said [Primo] Levi, yet he remained a political conservative, who worked as a censor (somewhat hypocritically, given his bitingly anticlerical verse) for the papal government, and scorned Garibaldi as a red-shirted bogeyman.


Belli's Roman milieu, with its Caravaggesque gallery of tavern boys, podgy prelates, whores and conmen, not surprisingly captivated Anthony Burgess. In his novel ABBA ABBA (1977), he created a fictional meeting in Rome between Belli and John keats, who died in the Piazza di Spagna in 1821. 

Leon Edel's "Henry James: The Middle Years 1882-1895"

The middle years of a writer's life are, perhaps, less talked about than the exciting beginnings of his early years, and the achieved satisfactions of his late ones. If the writer begins well but falls off, we may look at his middle years for explanations. If a writer begins well and ends better, we may not even see any middle to an apparently uninterrupted rise. The middle seems irredeemably transitional. Given the linearity of a biography, Edel's account of James's middle years does lens the transitions in that writer's life and art, but transition, as Edel sees it, is an absorbing story in and for itself. 

Having established himself socially and literarily in London, James still had to write constantly for his upkeep. The magazines did not pay enough for his tales, essays and criticism to maintain his comfortable life. These were the years before international laws for intellectual property rights were legislated, and so his work was republished without him receiving a cent for it. Hoping for a steady source of income, so that he could devote himself to writing fiction, James began writing for the theater. Though he enjoyed the creation of plays, he hated dealing with the world of theater, with its uncertainties, its messiness, its publicity, its commercialism. His unease with this world almost predicted his eventual failure, though this installment of the biography ends with the opening of his first play in London, Guy Domville

These years not only saw James venturing into a different genre, they also witnessed the broadening of James's sympathies. His Calvinistic attitudes towards life became more flexible, more tolerant. Edel describes the change with acute insight:

Henry had finally abandoned his American innocence. He could still portray it as subtly as of old; but he himself now understood it as never before. He was aware that what he had visioned as "corrupt old Europe" represented a splendid facade of civilization, formed over the centuries, behind which existed all manner of things Americans might judge harshly, and regard as evil--but that this facade also concealed a life of liberty; and that it offered a veil of public decency, codes and standards of judgments, with which to protect "the private life." To have a private life was to have freedom; and a loss of freedom, he said, "was the greatest form of suffering." To be impervious to others' judgments and others' meddlings was to have freedom: and this is what Henry had been discovering ever since he left Quincy Street in 1875.

This more tolerant understanding is not an inevitable result of living in a different culture. Another person may find his prejudices reinforced by the constant comparisons that expatriate living enforces on him. But, for an artist, this flexibility is crucial, if one wishes to take on all of life as one's materials for art. Flexibility allows for all manners of elaborations. 

Henry's most significant male friendship of this period was with the French writer, Paul Bourget, the first of Henry's literary disciples. Henry had been influenced by the older French writers, but now, in turn, he would influence one of their own, and one who would be elected rapidly to the Academy. 

The main story of Henry's friendships, however, is his relationship with Constance Fenimore Woolson, the grandniece of James Fenimore Cooper. As Edel tells it, Woolson, an elderly, deaf novelist was in love with Henry, who was perhaps not conscious of misleading her with his attentions until it was too late. There is no evidence that the relationship was physically intimate, but Henry hid their deep intimacy from his family and friend. The affair organizes, in a sense, the story of Henry's middle years. If the period begins with their introduction to each other, it also ends when Woolson fell--perhaps threw herself--from her apartment, and died. 

The effect on Henry was devastating. Obscurely guilt-ridden, he mourned deeply for her, at a time of his life when he had mourned the death of many family members and friends. More, he was baffled by the way she died, and insisted, quite without basis, that if she killed herself, she must have done so out of temporary insanity. By living, and leaving, her life on her own terms, Woolson denied Henry the easy deployment of her death for his art. Critics have pointed out that the premature death of Henry's childhood friend Minny Temple inspired the death of the young  American heiress Millie Theale in The Wings of the Dove. Edel's valuable addition is to show the significance of Woolson's death for the novel's depiction of the power of the dead to change the life of the living. 

Friday, January 30, 2009

At the end of the pier at Santa Cruz

This post by Mark Doty reminds me of my Christmas romantic mishap at Santa Cruz. Doty reflects on Robinson Jeffers' affinity with the Pacific Coast, in the latter's poem "Animals." To my mind, after three visits, San Francisco remains an improvised township. It's where ambition goes to put down his burden. 

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Listing on Poets and Writers

I just listed myself on the directory of Poets & Writers. I doubt anything would come of it, but you never know. I am constantly surprised by how friendly cyberpals are, and how people reach out to each other, for one thing or another. Submit to my journal. Check out my new book. Do you know XYZ? I have uploaded a new video. Do I know you? Happy anniversary! Follow me on Twitter. Do you have CDs for my radio show? Cute pix! Keep in touch. Come by Friendly Street.

I think it's too easy to be cynical about such possibly ephemeral connections, and I certainly don't think they should replace voice-to-voice, let alone face-to-face. I am just grateful for these contacts, however brief, with people all over the world who I would otherwise have no inkling exist, who have offline lives as complex, rich and dramatic, if not more, as mine. In their multiple invisible webs, these contacts, I hope, would open up new ways of coming to terms with difference, of accepting and living with the Other. The Internet is not just about to save the world, but I am a profile of hope. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Vijay Seshadri previews "Equal to the Earth"

Jee Leong Koh is a vigorous, physical poet very much captured by the expressive power of rhythm, rhetoric, and the lexicon. He is also, paradoxically, a poet in pursuit of the most elusive and delicate of human emotions. The contradiction is wonderful and compelling, and so are his poems.

--Vijay Seshadri, Author of The Long Meadow (Graywolf Press)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Cien sonetos de amor": I

Pablo Neruda dedicated Cien sonetos de amor (One Hundred Love Sonnets) to his wife Matilde Urrutia, and in his dedication he wrote of how their life in the fishing village of Isla Negra (85 kilometers south of Valparaiso, Chile) inspired these sonnets:

When I set this task for myself, I knew very well that down the right sides of sonnets, with elegant discriminating taste, poets of all times have arranged rhymes that sound like silver, or crystal, or cannonfire. But—with great humility—I made these sonnets out of wood; I gave them the sound of that opaque pure substance, and that is how they should reach your ears. Walking in forests or on beaches, along hidden lakes, in latitudes sprinkled with ashes, you and I have picked up pieces of pure bark, pieces of wood subject to the comings and goings of water and the weather. Out of such softened relics, then, with hatchet, and machete and pocketknife, I built up these lumber piles of love, and with fourteen boards each I built little houses, so that your eyes, which I adore and sing to, might live in them. Now that I have declared the foundations of my love, I surrender this century to you: wooden sonnets that rise only because you gave them life.

I am reading Stephen Tapscott’s translation, which gives the Spanish originals as well. I thought I would practice my basic Spanish by translating these poems, aided by Tapscott’s English version and a dictionary. I will most probably be overly literal, if not making outright errors, so if anyone wants to correct me, please do so. Working with Neruda’s sonnets cannot harm a better understanding of the form.


Matilde, nombre de planta o piedra o vino,
de lo que nace de la tierra y dura,
palabra en cuyo crecimiento amanece,
en cuyo estío estalla la luz de los limones.

En ese nombre corren navíos de madera
rodeados por enjambres de fuego azul marino,
y esas letras son el agua de un río
que desemboca en mí corazón calcinado.

Oh nombre descubierto bajo una enredadera
como la puerta de un tunel desconocido
que comunica con la fragancía del mundo!

Oh, invádeme con tu boca abrasadora,
indágame, si quieres, con tus ojos nocturnos,
pero en tu nombre déjame navegar y dormir.


Matilde, the name of a plant or rock or wine,
of what begins from the earth and endures,
word in whose growth the day first opens,
in whose summer bursts the light of lemons.

Through that name race wooden ships,
surrounded by swarms of navy-blue fire,
and those letters are the waters of a river
that pours through my charred heart.

O name discovered among tangling vines,
like the door to an unknown tunnel
that communicates with the fragrance of the world!

O invade me with your scorching mouth,
search me, if you wish, with your night-eyes,
but in your name let me navigate and sleep.

The sonnet’s structure is interesting. The imagery of the first and second quatrains is completely different: land in the first quatrain, and sea in the second. The land imagery of the first quatrain returns in the first tercet, while the sea images of the second quatrain return in the second tercet.

Within the first quatrain, the three land images of plant, rock and wine in the first line are developed in lines 3, 2 and 4 respectively. Varying that structure, the second quatrain organizes itself into two parts: “that name” and “its letters.”

The sonnet steps up the emotion in the sestet by beginning each tercet with an exclamation.

The first three sections begin with the invocation of the beloved’s name; the fourth delays that invocation to the very last line of the poem. The wit of the tercet lies in invoking the beloved’s name against her more threatening parts.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

From Raphael to Renoir

150 drawings from the collection of Swiss Jean Bonna are on display at the Met. Drawn from a variety of artistic schools in Italy, Northern Europe, France and Great Britain, they map a traditional art history chronology--Italian Renaissance, Dutch and Flemish Mannerism, French Rococo, classicism and Impressionism, British Decadence. 

Among the earlier pieces, the head portraits were most interesting to me. Head of a man wearing a turban. Head of a young girl. Though these were preparatory sketches for oil paintings, they are drawn with delicacy and feeling. In red, black and white chalk. In brown ink and wash. I wish they had put up a picture of the oil painting next to its preparatory sketch, for the sake of comparison, but I guess that would have reduced the space for the drawings themselves. Not all the drawings on exhibit were preparatory sketches; some were drawn for sale after a painting gained a following. Among the Italians, I was most taken by the drawings of Andrea del Sarto; among the French, Boucher.

Of the later drawings, I was drawn to those executed with boldness and simplicity. I love a Degas that depicts a woman bent over her basin, washing the back of her neck. I don't like Gauguin's paintings, but his drawing of the head of a Tahitian woman is noble. After looking at so many fine faces, I was happy to come upon Goya's grotesque figures in a small drawing. There is no Hogarth in the exhibition. 

The landscape drawings, curiously, were of little interest to me. They seemed entirely preparatory work, whereas the figures, even the sketchiest ones, convey the charm, and pathos, of ephemerality. 

Friday, January 23, 2009

"Taking Reality by Surprise"

This small book, by Christophe Domino, gives a generous selection of Francis Bacon's paintings, including  six foldouts of his triptychs. It also gives an interesting series of photographs of the artist at various ages in his London studio, the walls covered like a palette with daubs of paint, the floors littered with what looks like the debris of a bombed-out room. Bacon was a handsome youth, and he retained his good looks into old age, and so it was a surprise to read in the book that he hated his looks; his self-portraits, like those he drew of friends, artists and lovers, mutilated the head ferociously. 

The text organizes itself into four chapters. The first, "Turning towards Painting," sketches the outline of Bacon's life. The second, "Creating an Oeuvre," traces the development of his career. As the title has it, the third chapter, "A Maker of Images" explains the different aspects of Bacon's image-making, including its obsessive iconography, the use of the photograph as a visual springboard, and the scale and formats of the paintings. In the fourth chapter "Unlocking the Valves of Feelings," the writer attempts to explain Bacon's mature artistic aims, often quoting Bacon's own articulate comments on his goals. 

I particularly like what Domino says in a section subtitled "From spasm to spasm":

Movement in Bacon's work means not only movement of the whole body or one of its parts, but also immobility and suspension, which are just another aspect of movement. It has its different modes: walking, cycling, . . . making love, . . . but also falling; and it has its instruments and indicators (the discs and arrows, borrowed from technical imagery, give explicit indications). And with the thick white splotches sometimes placed on the image itself there is also movement of the paint (rather than in it). When a body sits or stands or holds itself steady--these situations are the result of a host of tiny internal movements, which involve a degree of violence. These movements correspond to different movements in the paint, to sweeping or rubbed effects, and to the splitting and multiplication of the image, to a change of viewpoints, fragmentation and disjunction until the human 'envelope' finally tears apart. The effect is of a world that is wounded, mutilated, torn in two. But this is precisely how it is with the body itself, the fragile, suffering body that is in a state of permanent flux, and that senses its existence more fully through suffering.

An appendix to the books quotes from Daniel Farson's anecdotal biography of Bacon. Farson records Bacon saying:

I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence and memory of the past events as the snail leaves its slime. 

The repetition of "snail" evokes the "trail" of human presence. "Slime" is the right word for Bacon's use of paint. 

Christopher Hennessy previews "Equal to the Earth"

In his second book of poems Equal to the Earth Jee Leong Koh digs deep into the rich soils of ancestry and history, of sexuality and identity, of (exterior) place and (interior) voice.

Koh's capacious mind and rapacious imagination draw on sources and inspiration as varied as Chinese history, the plum blossom, Spinoza, a book on anal sex, E.M. Forster's notebooks, a poet's rejection slips, the epistolary relationship between Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva, a straight man's tale of a great blow job he enjoyed, Keat's abandonment of Hyperion, and more. His poems are like the sexy nerd you meet at a bar, the one you really want to get to know better-- with his glasses and tie on and nothing else.

In several poems on gay themes, Koh sets himself apart from other gay writers, grappling with how to construct his own sense of sexuality but also playfully celebrating what it means to be different, even among the queers! Koh also is keenly aware of his gay father figures. In the stand-out poem "Pickup Lines" he imagines come-ons from Hart Crane, Auden, and Cavafy.

His poems contain what poems must, the paradox of both the personal and universal. Whether recalling his father's stories about Karma or passionate sex with a lover in a bathroom at work, Koh's writing brings the reader's emotions and memories to the surface. His poems are in turns sexy and sensual, poignant and pointed, somehow emanating from a singular voice that shows confident formal control as they conjure moments of magic out of the thin air of human history and personal drama.

-- Christopher Hennessy, Outside the Lines: Talking with Contemporary Gay Poets, Univ. of Michigan Press

Monday, January 19, 2009

Review of Miriam Stanley's "Get Over It"

Get Over It
Poetry by Miriam Stanley
84 pages. Rogue Scholars Press. 2009.
ISBN: 0-977-1550-6-4
ISBN13: 978-0-977-1550-6-4

The subjects in Miriam Stanley’s second book of poems are depressing—mental illness, divorce, man’s inhumanity to man—but their effect is not. These poems, burning with anger, hurt and despair, give a light that does not dazzle nor flicker, but stares steadily at the world that meets its eyes.

The book is organized according to three broad topics. The first group of poems describes Stanley’s work with mentally ill patients. The second deals with familial relationships, including a grandmother’s Alzheimer’s, and a marital break-up. In the final group of poems, the poet extends her vision to take in historical and current political conflicts, in particular, the Israeli-Palestinian situation in the Middle East. What unites these disparate strands of experience is the perspective of a Jewish woman, a troubled feminist; what lenses these different scenes into a cohesive film is an artist’s eye.

Stanley works as an art therapist in the New York City hospital system. The poems about her work are most powerful when they see with an extraordinary precision and sympathy. In “A.B.,” a boy who suffers from schizophrenia is first seen in his “tattooed palms,” then his “cigarette burns,” and finally “the black roses on his teenage back.” A woman who stopped talking after the age of 14 has shoulders that stooped like “a white flag” (“Christine at the Clinic”).

The speaker’s perspective in these painful poems is never condescending; instead, the therapist frankly owns up to suffering from a mood disorder herself. The poet does not aspire to anything as grand as T. S. Eliot’s “wounded surgeon” but describes herself wittily as a “Peer Counselor,” the title of a layered poem about a therapist dressing up as a patient for an office costume party. Beyond self-implication, the speaker grants the broken humans of these poems their essential mystery. In the strongest poem of the group, “Fire,” the therapist smelled smoke one day on the clothes of a patient, and the poet thought of the Sabbath candles, and how “no one can touch them.”

In the second group of poems, Stanley turns her observant gaze on herself and family members. There are moving poems here about a grandmother’s mental deterioration, and its effects on those around her. The most interesting poems, however, are those that struggle between the feminist goal of gender equality and a woman’s desire for love in the face of advancing age. Again, and again, in these poems, the speaker conceives of her loveless situation, and of her romantic hopes, in terms of a living space. “So here I am at 44,” the speaker muses, “watching Flip This House, and/ Trading Spaces” (“Chanukah Makes Me Want to Christmas Shop”). The names of the reality shows underline, ironically, the fantasy of instant change. Confronted with the reality of divorce, the speaker in “Linoleum” is obsessed with the gashes and bumps in the fake maple floor covering, and dreams of smooth and glossy “laminate.” Quite unconvincingly she proclaims, “I have mastered want,” before admitting more honestly that “I’m sick of being a feminist,/ I want to marry wall to wall/ carpet.”

The security of a conventional marriage is altogether seductive, so much so that when she lives with, but not marries, a bohemian lover, in “Two Hundred Square Feet” of a mess, she finds herself wishing for “an apartment with an actual bedroom,/ a floor with corners empty and clear, “ and feels, in wishing this, she is cheating on him “with the invisible.” As the last quotation suggests, the achievement of these poems lies in investing the material world with the intangible stuff of longing. In “Backyard,” a wonderfully complete poem, the speaker confesses she wants badly the deck chairs and the grill but, alas, they do not belong to her. Still, sitting on the deck and reading, she enjoys the passing moment of possession, and invites the reader to “see me lean like water finding its level.” We all need a container, a room, in which to shape our lives; the need is as much spiritual as material.

The scope of the last group of poems is tremendously ambitious, covering as it does varied figures like Methusaleh, Thomas Cranmer and the Dalai Lama, and diverse historical events like 1924 Crimea, 1958 Congo, and 1959 Cairo. And so it is little wonder if the poems here are more uneven in quality. Observing the deadly conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the New Yorker in the speaker conceives of her own city as the unlikely meeting ground of opposing faiths and cultures. There is more than a touch of the good citizen in such a conception, a leavening that makes those poems feel less real. The greater passion and craft, I think, have been devoted to the poems about Jewish history and its present.

In these poems about survival, the fragment figures as the potent trope. The fragment may be “The Seashells” the speaker smuggled through Israeli customs. Back in New York City, when coworkers celebrate Christmas, the speaker takes out and strokes her “calcium fans” in order to “cling to the reef of my own history.” The strong poem “The Ruins of Tel Aviv” begins with the unseemly “disrobing” of “layers of walls” but ends with the proof of History, which needs no concrete and so fears no ruin:

The Bauhaus sea ascends; carries tides of passed olim,
striated beds of one hundred years grow a district.

History builds its mansion as roofs collapse.
Our proof, our presence, unassailable and rising.

The tidal cadence of these lines is near-irresistible.

The last poem of the book meditates, appropriately, on the “Aftermath” of the Maccabee uprising. In it, the poet distinguishes between fathers’ and mothers’ responses to the death of sons in war. The farmer describes their sacrifice complacently as “First fruit,” and his wife retorts that one does not suck one’s own marrow. When battle is resumed, and the men go to the front, the women stay behind in the dust of empty towns. In those sad homes, the women, “safe as a cluster of oranges,” tell stories about the war. The poem ends quietly, even hospitably, to accommodate these female voices: “The war is written about by scholars/ in kitchens./ The rain is a welcome guest.” The mixture of scholarship and domesticity is masterful. Welcome is the perfect last gesture of an open-hearted woman.

In this book, not only does Stanley find a living space in human dust, but she also throws it open to everyone.

Network and Floating Population

TLS January 16 2009

from Joe Phelan's review of Robert Crawford's The Bard: Robert Burns, a biography:

Through his membership of the Freemasons, his participation in the Tarbolton "Bachelors Club", and his friendship with like-minded people of his own class and background, he found ready support and assistance for his earliest poetic efforts, and encouragement for his desire to have his songs and poems published. It was not a wealthy patron, but his Irvine friend Richard Brown who first suggested that he send his verses to a magazine for publication. Such networks enabled Burns to develop and sustain a sense of the value of his literary output independent of that placed on it by wealthy supporters who drifted into and out of his life. Unlike John Clare, he was no reduced to debilitating social and intellectual isolation by the withdrawal of patronage.


Both [Robert] Fergusson and Allan Ramsay provided him with validating examples of a vernacular poetry which drew on rather than apologized for the strength, energy and occasional ferocity of everyday speech. Burns also found in this Scots language tradition his characteristic stanza, the "Standard Habbie", the shorter fourth and sixth lines of which provide the perfect vehicle for his ruminative asides and biting comments. 


from Robert Crawford's review of Alastair Reid's Outside In: Selected prose, and Inside Out: Selected poetry and translations:

Reid now articulates a Scottish nationalist position . . . but also an internationalism that has been commitedly, gleefully nomadic. It is expressed in such Stevensoian essays as "Notes on Being a Foreigner": "By the time I have finished dinner, I find I have to make an effort to remember the place I left--how it felt, at least. Matches and toothpaste are the only continuities; once they are used up, the previous existence from which they came has withered and died". This delight in eliding and eluding "continuities" animates the writing. In essay after essay, Reid's relish of the outsider's fly-by-night elusiveness is counterpointed by the companionable tone of his prose. "I was portable, to the tune of two small bags," he writes in "Other People's Houses", recalling that from childhood he felt "oppressed by permanence and rootedness".


In a revealing moment, he rejoices in a puzzled visiting census-taker who encounters him with Borges and some American friends in a rented St Andrews house. The census-taker decides, "I think, Mr Reid, I'll just put you all down under 'Floating Population'". 

Care for a bowl of cha?

The editors of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal emailed yesterday to say they have accepted my poem "Razminovenie, or Nonmeeting" for their February issue. Cha means tea in Chinese.

From the journal's website:

Cha is the first and currently only Hong Kong-based online literary quarterly journal dedicated to publishing quality poetry, short stories, creative non-fiction, drama, and reviews written in English, as well as photography and art. It has a strong focus on Asian-themed creative work or work done by Asian writers and artists. It also publishes established and emerging writers/artists from around the world.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Arendt and Specificity

The New Yorker, January 12, 2009

from Adam Kirsch's article on Hannah Arendt, "Beware of Pity":

When she came to write about Rahel's [Rahel Varnhagen's] life, then, Arendt brought to it a passion and a personal commitment born of her own experience. No one could have believed more seriously than Rahel in the cultivation of the spirit. Yet to Arendt she appears as merely the victim of a terrible illusion--"the hapless human being, the shlemihl, who has anticipated nothing." The lesson that Arendt drew was that a beautiful soul is not enough, for "it was precisely the soul for which life showed no consideration." To live fully and securely, every human being needs what Arendt calls "specificity," the social and political status that comes with full membership in a community.


As she wrote in 1941, "One truth that is unfamiliar to the Jewish people, though they are beginning to learn it, is that you can only defend yourself as the person you are attacked as. A person attacked as a Jew cannot defend himself as an Englishman or Frenchman. The world would only conclude that he is simply not defending himself."

The Imperial Vision of a Plant

TLS January 9 2009

from Sandra Knapp's review of John Hemming's Tree of Rivers: The story of the Amazon:

Undeterred [Alfred Russel] Wallace wrote a book about his travels, then immediately set off for South East Asia, from where he sent a famous latter to Darwin enclosing an essay entitled "On the tendency of varieties to depart indefinitely from the original type"--which goaded Darwin into completing his masterpiece On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection.


Seeds of Hevea brasiliensis had earlier been planted with great success in Malaysia, and establishing a source of quinine was deemed equally important. Some might characterize this as stealing or, more hysterically, as "biopiracy", but plants of importance have always been taken by people wherever they go. Coffee, for example, now the mainstay of many Amazonian economies, was taken from Ethiopia--I suspect if you asked many people where coffee was native, they might say Brazil.


from Gillian Beer's review of Jim Endersby's Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the practices of Victorian science:

His [Enderby's] splendid exploration of archives in New Zealand, the United States and Britain has yielded all sorts of fresh material. This includes the vivid presence of William Colenso, an unorthodox and lonely man with a rare appreciation of Maori language and culture--and something of a thorn in the side of Joseph Hooker. The long association, and the conflicts, between these two men allow Endersby to bring to life the stresses between metropolitan scientists and their distant informants. These were not social only, but concerned with professional recognition: Hooker took no notice of papers pubished in the colonies and refused to concede the particular worth of local knowledge. A system of barter prevailed in which presents of books and instruments from Hooker ensured the continued supply of specimens even while he sought to repress any attempt to name "new" varieties or species except according to his chosen nomenclature. Hooker included illustrations in his books that Endersby describes as "the imperial vision of the plant, defined in the metropolis and exported back to the colonies, to tell their inhabitants what 'their' plants really looked like".

This struggle, sometimes concealed in Hooker's letters beneath politesse, sometimes peremptory, had a larger intellectual frame as well. Since almost no plant specimens are identical, the search was for an ideal stable example, probably a composite description, rather than for the significance of slight deviations. That, of course, was the flaw that Darwin perceived in the "natural system". Such slight deviations were for him precisely the means of evolutionary change.


from John Guy's review of Jonathan Bate's Soul of the Age: The life, mind and world of William Shaekspeare:

In a captivating section, Bate attempts to reconstruct Shakespeare's library. The thirty or forty books it contained include Golding's Ovid, Noth's Plutarch, Florio's Montaigne, Chaucer, Caxton's Trojan history, the chronicles of Ralph Holinshed and Edward Hall, and perhaps the Geneva Bible.

. . . Yet Bate underestimates the significance of claiming that Shakespeare owned one. The 1561 edition, with its marginal annotations, was certainly the most read Elizabethan Bible translation, but it was not the official one. Only a genuine Protestant--certainly no recusant, "church papist" or conservative in religion--would have chosen it. The dedicatory epistle, for example, would have outraged Queen Elizabeth, since it emasculated sacral monarchy and the Queen's role as "Supreme Governor" of the Church. Bate concedes that, elsewhere, the phrasing of Shakespeare's biblical allusions often resembles the officially sanctioned Bishops' Bible, thus weakening his own case for Shakespeare's ownership of the Geneva translation.


from Patrick McCaughey's review of Andrea Riccio: Renaissance master of bronze, at the Frick Collection:

Riccio's "The Shouting Horseman" . . . is rightly regarded as his supreme masterpiece among the free-standing bronze figures and is emblematic of the Donatellesque. The strange radiance of this work, the electric charge which it exudes, springs from the rapid transition from the rough serrated surfaces of the horse's mane and the horseman's helmet, armour and contorted face to the smoothness of skin and body. The former absorb light; the latter radiate it. The effect is of horse and horseman caught in a blaze of sunlight.


from Daniel Karlin's Commentary on Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:

We owe the Rubaiyat to one of FitzGerald's closest friendships, with a brilliant young scholar, Edward Cowell, later the first professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge. Cowell suggested the study of Persian to FitzGerald in the winter of 1852, and FitzaGerald too it up only because, as he told Frederick Tennyson, "it is a point in common with him, and enables us to study a little together". . . . But we also owe the poem to the loss of this friendship, because in August 1856 Cowell left England to take up a teaching post in Calcutta. His parting gift to FitzGerald was a copy of a manuscript he had recently come across in the Bodleian Library--a fifteenth century compilation of the rubaiyat attributed to Omar Khayyam. . . .

. . . The setting for FitzGerald's intensive study of Persian juxtaposes intimacy with distance, and desire with acceptance of loss. The first translation of Omar, the "Englishing" of his sceptical spirit, is imprinted, so to speak, with Cowell's absence.


The poem accordinglt begins at dawn and ends at nightfall, and in the course of this symbolic day the speaker meditates on "Human Death and Date", mourns the transience of life, confronts his mortality with courage, with indignation and with gaiety, but without what he regards as the illusions and consolations of religious faith. Only the present moment has value; past and future are equally unreal. It is one of the poem's many fruitful paradozes that this proposition can only be understood from a perspective like the speaker's: one that takes in the whole cycle of time, historical, mythological, cosmic. A second such paradox expresses delight in drunkenness, and in sexual freedom, in terms that bring the pleasure of sensation close to that of oblivion, of self-unmaking.


His attitude to translation is summed up in a phrase that has become the rallying cry of "free" translators against their literalist opponents: "Better a live Sparrow than a stuffed Eagle".


from "Then and Now," Kathleen Nott's 1959 review of the first English translation of Karl Popper's Logik der Forschung:

Professor Popper deals, then, with the problem of induction very simply: he shows that it does not exist: and a principle of induction is therefore a logician's dream. Scientists do not behave as Bacon thought--industriously gathering "countless grapes ripe and in season" so that the wine of science may flow . . . . They work the other way round. They fling out hypotheses: and they test these, not prove them, by controlled and selective experiments. Science is the quest for truth, not the possession of it. It is also the challenge to refutation, it seeks not primarily the verification of its hypothesis but the kind of evidence which might falsify them . . . .

Friday, January 16, 2009

Gustavo Dudamel conducts Mahler's Fifth

The young Argentinian conductor (he's turning 28 in two weeks) drew a committed performance from the orchestral players last night. The performance was impassioned yet cogent. The opening funeral-march movement was massive and moving. The slow movement, the famous Adagietto, shimmered with tenderness. A massive, multi-layered work, the symphony has five movements organized in three parts: 

Part 1: Funeral March: With measured step. Strict. Like a Cortege
xxxxxxStormily. With greatest vehemence

Part 2: Scherzo. Vigorously, not too fast.

Part 3: Adagietto. Very slow
xxxxxxRondo-Finale. Allegro giocoso. Lively

Though fiendishly complex, it seemed last night all of a piece from beginning to end, its unity that of a scale of emotions. 

Before the Mahler, Pinchas Zukerman played Violin Concerto, Op. 30, written by Oliver Knussen (b. 1952) for him. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Good Italian Vegetarian

A colleague recommended Quartino, and it was a delicious experience. Nestled at the beginning of Bleecker Street, between Bowery and Lafayette, the cosy bar and restaurant was patronized by a young collegiate and professional crowd. Very laid-back in atmosphere but careful in the presentation of the food. I had a dish of fettucine, with avocado and tomato mashed to form a thick, creamy sauce. My date tried the whole wheat ravioli with kale. The ravioli was soft and moist, and the kale nicely done, not overly bitter. The flourless chocolate cake was a little too fudge-like for my taste, but it came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which makes everything taste good. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Poem: What We Call Vegetables: Fruit


Ripe gulps of fat,
we bloat purple
in the broad face.

We boat sperm,
and blow blood.

We are the fruit
and the bearer
of fruit. To the end

we bear sunlight,
we bear nightshade.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Poem: What We Call Vegetables: Bulb


When we unbutton
our skin, our whole
body slips through,

and leaves behind
more fleshy skin
for unbuttoning,

and skinnier body
for slipping through
the shrinking hole.

The rounded life.
An onion. A mouth.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Poem: What We Call Vegetables: Root


We sat for Cotan
like old grandees,
orange from skin

to core. Carrots
are no fruits. We
fired through earth

the green baize flare
flowering into
Queen Anne’s lace,

and recoiled
into the soil.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Poem: What We Call Vegetables: Tuber


We sample Adam
and so his sons
name us yams.

We stem from hunger,
tough-skinned, brown-fleshed
God. We dream

of endless eating,
large and portable
power for good

but raise a chief,
and then an empire.

Closely Related Varieties

TLS January 25 3008

from Frederic Raphael's review of Graham Greene: A Life in Letters:

In two long 1948 "letters", of a formality that betokens the status which The Heart of the Matter had clinched the matter for him, Greene spells out . . . his notion of the writer's shifty role in society: "Isn't disloyalty as much the writer's virtue as loyalty is the soldier's?". 


TLS June 13 2008

from Eileen Magnello's review of Andrew Robinson's The Story of Measurement:

The Romans, with the expansion of their empire, brought their own system of measurement, which became the most widely adopted in the Western world. It used different parts of the human body to provide various standards of length, such as the digit (the breadth of the middle part of the first joint of the forefinger), the palm (which measures four digits across the palm) and the foot (sixteen digits or four palms). The Roman mile equalled a thousand paces, and their yard was the length of a stride; but for King Henry I (1068-1135), the royal yard was the length of the arm, which equalled three feet. 


from Jim Enderby's review of Robyn Stacey and Ashley Hay's Museum: The Macleays, their collections and the search for order:

The photographs . . . vividly illustrate the stunning beauty of Macleays's insect collections, and perhaps that is enough to explain his passion. Many of the butterflies, for example, are exquisite in themselves, but even the humblest examples look extraordinary when arranged into neat rows, with closely related varieties and species placed alongside one another. At first glance, each insect wing shades into the next and the whole page seems to ripple with iridescence, even when the specimens themselves are mostly brown or yellow.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Poem: What We Call Vegetables: Stem


We spar, we spear
softly, secretly,
your gut. We spare

most of you
our acrid smell.
A few get us.

Asparagus, Proust
says, perfumes
my chamber pot.

As do doctors.
As do saints.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Twelve Poets on the Left

TLS May 30 2008

from H. R. Woudhuysen's "Bound to please":

For Larkin, two sorts of books needed to be readily accessible: "Within reach of my working chair I have reference books on the right, and twelve poets on the left". No doubt some of his poets (who included Barnes, Praed, Whitman and Frost) could be found at the Fair in early or interesting editions.

I first read "reference books" as Work, and "poets" as Pleasure, but realized they were Work and Work, since Larkin reaches for them from his working chair, and refers to them as if they were his hands. So, my twelve hardworking poets--in other words, huge quarries for my work--are:

1. Shakespeare
2. Milton
3. Pope
4. Keats
5. Whitman
6. Stevens
7. Yeats
8. Eliot
9. Moore
10. Auden
11. Larkin
12. Heaney


from Zinovy Zinik's Commentary piece "Dinner party test":

A major poet can be both a politician and a hermit, but major poetry is unthinkable without a major readership. A poet who renounces the social power of the word is considerably worse than King Lear when he decided to put the loyalty of his daughters and subjects to the test by abdicating, because a king without his crown is still a king by lineage, but a poet who condemns his words to eternal solitary confinement is no poet.


from Theodore K. Rabb's review of "El Greco to Velazquez" at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:

This last collection, though unrecoverable, has prompted one of the delights of the exhibition: a recreation of the shelves of Lerma's camarin, the cabinet where he displayed ravishing examples of glass and ceramic objects from home and abroad, whether Venice, China, or the New World. Unlike the Kunstkammer, filled with unicorn horns and other peculiarities that delighted princes elsewhere in Europe, the camarin's elegant linkage of domestic utility with public art was a particularly Spanish interest. Lerma's, however, was by far the most spectacular instance, and the homage in Boston, with a few dozen shimmering objects, can only hint at the beauties that must have adorned the camarin in the Duke's palace in Madrid.


from Clare Griffiths' review of "Heart of Darkness: Ivory carving and Belgian colonialism" at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds:

Examined at close quarters, ivory can confound expectations. It has the creamy translucence one would imagine, but perhaps more notable is its grain, like the year circles in a tree trunk, with a marbling that casts waves across the surface. From a distance, all this resolves into the smoothness of bone; near to, it suggests the character of wood, with its depth and warmth.

Poem: What We Call Vegetables: Leaf


To make a living
we traded home
for sun, endured

the cold, adopted
Chinese customs,
Italian cooking.

Our passports read,
Spanish vegetable,
country of birth

unclear, Nepal
or imperial Persia.

Poem: What We Call Vegetables: Bud

What We Call Vegetables


Not rose, lotus,
nor aster, but

curtly called
we are cut

from flowering
and curdle into
a bunch of fever,

fractured crystals,
edible fractals.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Leon Edel's "Henry James: The Conquest of London 1870-1881"

There is a certain exhilaration in seeing Henry James move, seemingly inexorably, to the success of Daisy Miller, and the even greater achievement of A Portrait of a Lady. James turned out to be a shrewd entrepreneur of his genius, earning a living on his literary labors, writing less journalism as his fiction commanded higher prices, and so becoming independent of his family at Quincy Street, Massachusetts, as he tried New York City, then Paris, and finally London. 

In Paris, James did not think very much of the circle around Flaubert, which included writers like Maupaussant and Zola, and they did not embrace the American either. His deepest literary friendship was with another expatriate, Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, whose realism James admired enormously. The Russian was about twenty years older than James, and so was a kind of brother-and-father substitute for the lonely bachelor living on his own. 

James was a very professional writer. Mornings dedicated to writing, afternoons and evenings were invested in social visits, dinners and salons. He was not only making connections but was also gathering material for his novels. The great houses of England opened their doors to this handsome young American whose intelligent talk entertained and impressed. Edel's writing never flags in its liveliness, but yet another visit to another country house is only interesting to a certain extent, and even encounters with other literary lions, like George Eliot, give a flavor closer to gossip than epiphany. 

It is the perennial problem of penning a life of a writer, particularly an author like James who, essentially, did nothing else. The life is in the writing, and what life there is outside the writing is not the most vital part of the man. 

Monday, January 05, 2009

Reading at Bengal Curry

Bengal Curry is an Indian restaurant, in Murray Hill neighborhood of NYC, just one and a half blocks below Chambers Street. Mike Graves and George Spencer have a really cosy reading going on there every Sunday starting at 5.30 pm. After two or three featured readers, the open-mikers stand up from wherever they are eating their goat curry or lamb briyani to toss off their poems. The audience is convivial and attentive, even if an occasional customer walks in to pick up an order. 

Last Sunday I read there, with Obsidian as the second feature. I read two poems from Payday Loans, one from Equal to the Earth, and then the seven "Translations of an Unknown Mexican Poet." Tara, my roommate, came to hear me, as did Laurie, with her friend, who is Laurie too. Big encouragement, that. I also sold two more copies of Payday Loans

Saturday, January 03, 2009

from Leon Edel's "The Conquest of London"

Before the conquest of London, Henry James tried surviving in New York City, and then laying Paris to siege. The passage, a graceful conclusion to this part of the biography, describes his farewell to Paris.

He had written a long article on Balzac before taking up residence in the French capital. And now, on the eve of leaving, he wrote another. This time he reviewed Balzac's letters, lately published. They fired his imagination. For the first time the story of Balzac's fierce dedication, his methods of work, his stubborn professionalism, his grandiose sense of metier was told in detail. Certain phrases from the letters were to be echoed again and again by Henry in his correspondence with his family during the coming years. He seems to have been fascinated by Balzac's Napoleonic promises to those nearest him: glory justified everything, glory would pay for everything. Henry saw in this a "magnificent egotism" and an "incomparable power." As Henry prepared to cross the Channel, he could say to himself that he had now fully mastered the lesson of Balzac. He too could possess, as artist, a kind of massive egotism; he too was not to be swayed from his course where his craft was concerned; and he too would try to fill Quincy Street with the reflected rays of the glory he was certain he would attain. Ambitious and resolute, Henry left Paris without regrets. It was but one more step in his advancing career. He had "tried" New York. he had by now spent a full year in France, largely in Paris. He was about to try London. In his journal a single phrase gives us the best reason for his departure: "I should be an eternal outsider," James summed up.

I'm not leaving Paris for London, or New York for anywhere else (for the time being), but, leaving the Old Year for the New, I am fired by Henry fired by the French master. Resolution and Independence! Glory or Death!

Friday, January 02, 2009

George Tooker at the National Academy.

Founded in 1825, the National Academy is an honorary association of arts, a school of fine arts, and a museum. The last, located in a block north of the Guggenheim, is housed in one of those impressive mansions looking into Central Park. I paid my first visit today, to see the retrospective of the twentieth century American painter, George Tooker.

Painting with egg tempera, he kept alive the tradition of figurative painting when his contemporaries were turning to Abstract Expressionism. His paintings on show can be very broadly divided into two categories: works of social criticism, and figures in landscape or in some other framing device. The former made him famous when his claustrophobic painting "Subway"(1950) was exhibited at the Whitney and bought by that same museum. In that painting, commuters, looking lost and furtive, wandered round the corridors and stairs of a subway station. 

In "Government Bureaucracy" (1956), official eyes surveyed citizens through holes in the frosted glass of service counters. These social paintings are primarily interesting for their striking use of repetitive patterns: the steel bars caging the bank tellers, the cubicles in an anonymous office, the white beds in a morgue-like hospital ward, the narrow lunch tables in a diner. The repetitions suggest powerfully the alienation of modern life, and the insidiousness of faceless bureaucracy. 

That same compositional skill with repetitions is deployed, on a much more intimate scale, in paintings depicting human figures framed by a blue-tiled ledge or sitting on a deep red carpet. A few of these figure paintings were the most affecting works in the exhibition. I particularly liked "Windows VIII," in which we see a young shirtless black man, his head resting on his arms raised against the top of the window. 

His Saint Sebastian pose is entirely appropriate since he is a portrait of Malcolm X. The lavender curtains on both sides of the window look like frail columns of a temple that a young Samson, imprisoned in invisible chains, could have pulled down. The figure is backlit in orange, whose effect is, surprisingly, not garish, but warm, and shows off Tooker's skill as a colorist. 

This painting is a noble portrait, so much more subtle in its effects than another that shows Martin Luther King Jr., as Christ, breaking bread with two white men. The later figure paintings--pale imitations of Renaissance masters--lost the vocal flesh of "Windows VIII."

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Thoughts on the Old and New Years

I'm reading this afternoon at the Bowery Poetry Club for the 15th Annual Alternative New Year's Day Spoken Word/Performance Extravaganza, called EX TENEBRIS RISING. Alternative to what, I hear you ask. No one has told me, but my guess is alternative to the new year's reading at St. Mark's Poetry Project. Both Bowery and St. Mark's are great New York institutions, if the former has a reputation for grungier experimentation. I have read in both places, St. Mark's more recently, and I am looking forward to reading on the huge stage at the Bowery again. Given three minutes, like all readers, I will probably read three sonnets from Payday Loans, to see if I could sell a few more copies of the book.

The last days of 2008 were spent proofreading the galley for my new book, Equal to the Earth (Poets Wear Prada Press, March 2009). Roxanne, my publisher, has been marvelously patient as we went back and forth via emails over the smallest detail. That collaboration would have been impossible with a big press, though it is not certain with a small one. Besides correcting typos, I also made some revisions to the poems, especially the last sequence "Fire Island." Who was it who said a poem is never finished but only abandoned? There is a feeling of abandonment--both senses of the word--in casting the poems on the waters of the world. What will return with the tide? Roxanne made a number of suggestions that improved the pacing and rhythm, and I am grateful for her eye and ear throughout this process. 

The cover. I proposed its design, as I did for Payday Loans too. Roxanne reproduced my crude mock-up and decided on the lovely font for the title and author. 

I think I have seen too many Rothkos this past year, not to be influenced by this religious painter. I like simple forms that suggest much, and the three bands of colors, I hope, suggest the themes and the methods of the poems. Is there such an art term as abstract figurative? There should be. I hope this simple cover conveys something of the sensual serenity Matisse's paintings give me. That Rothko was a naturalized American also appeals to me. I am going to apply for permanent residency this year, and so the question of my relationship to the States has become more urgent than before. 

I have lived here for five years four months now, almost twice the length of my life at Oxford. If Oxford happened round the cusp of my twenties, and Singapore occupied my twenties, the USA is taking up my thirties. More accurate to say New York City, perhaps, since I cannot imagine living anywhere else in the States. My Christmas trip to San Francisco reminded me how much I love NYC. A good friend wished me rootedness, among other blessings, in the year ahead. Rootedness has not been my goal, but should it be? Reading Edel's biography of Henry James, I draw strength from that writer's cosmopolitanism, how his rootlessness does not vitiate his writing. His novels, however, work and rework the same ground, the relationship between America and Europe. One has to root one's work in something, one thing. I used to think of myself solely as a love poet (the lover is a whole country), now, having been questioned by Marie Ponsot's workshop and Marie Howe's new book, I also think of myself as a religious poet. God is not dead, and the big questions in this century circle round the proper relation between God and human. 

The Indian myths, in this matter, are immensely suggestive. They form a body of thought so different from Christianity as to provide a counter-force. Now that I have read the Ramayana, the Bhagavad Gita, some of the Puranas, and Roberto Calasso, I should tackle the mountain of the Mahabharata. The third force in this world of the spirit is Chinese Taoism. I have loved Zhuangtze since I read him at Sarah Lawrence. Time to go to the earlier texts, to Laotze. There is so much to read, and so little time to do it. Courage fails.

A body of thought. I used that expression so unthinkingly, but the body is vital to my mind. The body is the mind, or, at least, the mind as we know it. Someone asked me recently why sex with many partners is so important to me. My knee-jerk answer, kept in my mind, was that sex inspires my life and poetry; since gay sex is never reproductive, I associate a variety of partners with fertility and potency. Promiscuity is promise. Of course there are baser answers to that person's question, but there are higher ones too. Still more mysterious is the sensation of traveling from body to body, connecting to each one for a while. That sensation is kin to my homelessness--rootlessness, if you wish--and to my desire for intense, though brief, connections. How could it be otherwise if one is seeking the Ideal, which is, by definition, not the real though the real gives access to it. When a good friend suggested that I would never be contented with a monogamous relationship, I said I could be, if I were fucking, and fucked by, God. No reason to settle for less.