Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Carl Phillips' "Quiver of Arrows"

Reading his poems in The New Yorker, I have always been struck by their air of quiet intelligence. When I heard him read at last year's Sarah Lawrence Poetry Festival, I thought, here was the real thing. The authority of experience, thought and craft. The testing faith in language. The last three days of my spring break were spent reading his Selected Poems, Quiver of Arrows, and the experience was akin to falling in love. 

The poems describe a rich interior landscape--love, grief, reason, violence--in syntax that grows increasingly baroque in the later books. The late style of Henry James comes to mind, especially when later poems refer to the need for "fine discriminations." The complex sentences are broken up, refracted, sounded, by the use of short lines, and so the versification produces an extremely private, meditative and yet dramatic voice, a voice that weighs its sound at every turn. In some poems these discriminations could be refined into airy nothings; they don't have the grounding of novelistic plot. But the best poems qualify heartbreak into knowledge. 

Read straight through, the books also seem to develop a personal system of symbols. Besides the recurrent image of the bruise--and the magical return to unbruised flesh--other symbols like the horse and the arrow acquire complex meanings. The horse is, among many things, animal, sex, captain, the West. The phallic arrow points to the linearity of lives. The title of the collection comes from the great poem "As from a Quiver of Arrows," about the death of a friend. The poem's litany of questions enact the grief and angst of those left behind in a quiver. 

Other favorite poems are "X," "Death of the Sibyl," "Alba: Innocence," "From the Devotions," "A Kind of Meadow," "The Gods Leaving," "The Kill," "The Point of the Lambs," "As a Blow, from the West," "Late Apollo," "White Dog," "Bright World," "Forecast," and "Break of Day." The religion in many of these poems is suffused with light while acknowledging the shadows. It listens for the bell, and the dying of the bell. 

Sunday, March 29, 2009

"The Jewel in the Crown"

Just finished watching the last episode of "The Jewel in the Crown," the fourteen-part serial produced by Granada Studios and first broadcast on British independent TV in January 1984. Based on Paul Scott's Raj Quartet, published between 1966 and 1975, the serial focuses on the last days of British rule in India. Peter McLuskie gives here the interesting context of the serial's broadcast and subsequent role in the debate over the deregulation of television in the late 1980's. 

Following a commentator on the serial, McLuskie describes "The Jewel in the Crown" as the least nostalgic and most troubled of the cycle of productions in the early '80's that looked back to the glories of the British Raj. The trouble, writes McLuskie, "may have less to do with the serial's overt politics and more to do with its form and style." This is an interesting statement, but it is also potentially a misleading one, for it implies that style is separable from its political content. 

The serial's use of voiceovers, flashbacks and newsreel inserts does unsettle the narrative arc, much as Paul Scott's novels are supposedly freighted with the use of multiple perspectives and collage-like narratives. My instinct, however, is to relate these modernist techniques to the serial's political content, specifically, the outsider figure of the homosexual, a trope that McLuskie makes no mention at all. A surprising neglect since the tortured figure at the heart of the serial, the only character who spans all fourteen episodes, is that of the villain and closeted homosexual Ronald Merrick. 

Merrick, played by Tim Piggott-Smith, is marked as an outsider not only by his sexuality, but also by his working class background and non-public school education. Like many outsiders, he both despises upper class privileges and yearns for them. As a police inspector and later a military intelligence officer, he performs the Empire's dirty work effectively because his belief in white supremacy has none of the troubled ambiguity that upperclassmen like Guy Perron (played by Charles Dance) and Sarah Layton (Susan Wooldridge) allow themselves to feel. To the extent the serial unsettles the narrative arc, it calls into question, exposes the underbelly of, the complacent story that Empire tells itself. 

If to pay attention to the serial's conscious design is to give credit to its political intentions, it is nonetheless important to see what makes this political message palatable to the eight million viewers who followed the weekly serial when it was first broadcast. To the more progressive section of the audience, the message bore the familiar cast of a well-known moral: power corrupts.

To both this segment of viewers, and the more general audience, it was also reassuring to see evil--focused in the person of the homosexual--punished. Merrick is not merely killed by Indian nationalists, he is cut up gruesomely in his bedroom. His Sapphic counterpart, Barbie Batchelor (played by Peggy Ashcroft), an elderly missionary and so also a social outsider, dies alone in a mental asylum. On the other hand, Guy Perron and Sarah Layton, the far greater beneficiaries of Empire, their heterosexuality established by their simmering romance, emerge from the throes of Indian independence not only unscathed, but with their virtue intact. 

Peggy Ashcroft and Tim Piggott-Smith
Photo from Goodman Associates

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Steve Tills's "Rugh Stuff"

This is not so much a review as a response, since I am not a golf player and do not understand the sport argot that constitutes the material, metaphor and metaphysics of this ambitious book of poems. Reading this stream of mostly short, untitled poems, I am the small animal that leaps from floating log to floating log, finding a slippery hold on some comprehensible utterance before the water's momentum carries me forward again. The run is not only desperate, it is also thrilling. For despite the poem's obscurities to this reader the complex orchestration of voices, syntax, and lineation is extremely compelling, and I read the book from beginning to end with a rush of excitement.

The book wants us to believe that golf is the Game of Life. The sport is a world of male camaraderie and competition, not only between men of similar ages but also men of different generations. The author, in his bio, explains helpfully that he plays frequently "with his father, his brother, his nephew, his brother-in-law, and others he's known since he first swung a club . . . when he was eleven, forty years ago." The green is thus the one place where the men can get together to Do Their Thing. The maleness of this world is further accentuated by the pervasive sexual double entendre: shots, holes, balls, traps. The poems do not depend for their effect on cheap puns, but the puns are part of their swing. The golf course is referred to as "she," in much the same way as sailors refer to their ship, or patriots refer to their country: it is adventure and dedication, sacrifice and love. And on that putting green, the poems enact male excitement, accomplishments, rivalry, condescension, anxieties, and consolations.

If these poems adhere to William Carlos Williams' preference for an American idiom, they also draw strength from e. e. cumming's playfulness with typography, radical linebreaks, punctuation, and the use of one part of speech for another. I hear in the repeated appearances of a character called "Stetson" an allusion to T. S. Eliot. Seen from this angle, the Waste Land is transformed into a golf course, a bathetic change, perhaps, but one determined to show that the same angst exists in the relatively rarefied air of the golf club. Instead of seeking an ascetic discipline, as in the end of "The Waste Land," Steve Tills tries for the perfection of a swing, while knowing that perfection is not possible, not even desirable, perhaps. This poetic statement appears in my favorite poem of the collection, a poem I hope it's okay for me to quote in full, in order to persuade people to buy the book and read it for themselves.

Golf is several games of some

Fools for illusion and a selection
of stix laid out, end
over end by, bye, (in the grip of)
these pools of perfection, the knot
in everything until nothing's
the score that adds up

over 'nd over, odd collection of clumps
in the mixed baggage, the fixed
delusions of manure, the fat split-second
chants for par done, cries from the prefect's lie,
the perfect knife, the bleeding
and dirigeable walk in the park,

four hours sot for high
flawless pause
XXXXXXXXXXXat the flop
of a once grounded life.

For hours short of a perfect
sky, for years unescorted
by a well-rounded wife,

fort built by boy
cloistered in stances,

a foot in the cave
back turned to glances, a hack
of the true san-s-lots
future romances,
"If everything's perfect, then nothing's
the impact when shadows try

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Network, Form and Personal Relations

TLS February 20 2009

from Jon Garvie's review of David Singh Grewal's Network Power: The social dynamic of globalization:

He offers detailed accounts of how the English language, the gold standard and neo-liberal economics all, at various times, rose to international dominance. In each instance, he finds that power grows because of the increasing size of a network, rather than because of any intrinsic value. 


Oliver Reynold's review of art exhibition "The Roundhouse of International Spirits: Arp, Benazzi, Bissier, Nicholson, Richter, Tobey, Valenti in the Ticino":

His [Bissier's] philosophy is clear from a remark he made to Benazzi, the sculptor forty years his junior: "Sculpture is born within the self, and it is not a mere formal problem."


Henry de Montherlant famously claimed that happiness always writes white. Here, in the contentment of Bissier's final years, his brush seems unable to help itself: happiness paints what it sees.

TLS March 20 2009

from Joshua Cohen and Thomas Nagel's "Faith in the community: A forgotten 'senior thesis' that signals John Rawls's future spiritual force":

Taking up the historical framework of Anders Nygren, the thesis criticizes the infection of Christianity, through Augustine and Aquinas, by the ethical concepts of Plato and Aristotle, according to which ethics is concerned not with interpersonal relations but with the pursuit of the good by each individual separately. In its hellenized form, Christianity treats God as the supreme object of desire. Rawls objects that this misses "the spiritual and personal element which forms the deep inner core of the universe".

The idea that ethics is fundamentally a matter of ensuring appropriate interpersonal relations, rather than pursuing ultimately desirable ends, has close affinities with Rawls's later view that principles of justice are not founded on any account of the good to be pursued but specify fair terms of cooperation among free and equal persons. His early opposition to a goal-directed ethical framework foreshadows his later opposition to teleological conceptions of morality, whether utilitarian or perfectionist. 


The moral importance of the separateness of persons, a fundamental theme of Rawls's work, is strikingly anticipated in the moral and religious conception of community that lies at the heart of the thesis. . . . Although the term "community" may suggest otherwise, the human fellowship in which we realize our nature does not destroy the separateness of individual persons, but is founded on an affirmation of their distinctness. Here is a revealing passage:

We reject mysticism because it seeks a union which excludes all particularity, and wants to overcome all distinctions.

Since the universe is in its essence communal and personal mysticism cannot be accepted. The Christian dogma of the resurrection of the body shows considerable profundity on this point. The doctrine means that we shall be resurrected in our full personality and particularity, and that salvation is the full restoration of the whole person, not the wiping away of particularity. Salvation integrates personality into community, it does not destroy personality to dissolve it into some mysterious and meaningless "One".


To be sure, essential elements of Rawls's account of individuals in liberal political morality are nowhere suggested in the thesis: for example, the idea that persons are self-authenticating sources of valid claims, with a capacity to form and to revise a conception of the good, and the capacity to take responsibility for their ends. Still, Rawls's later insistence on the importance of the distinction between persons generalizes his claim in the thesis that personal relations are "I-thou" relations, and that the "thou" is not interchangeable.


The later Rawls was also concerned about egotism--more generally with the social damage wrought by a preoccupation with relative position. But he thought that a just society could forestall the damage by establishing "equality in the social bases of respect"--specifically, by ensuring equal basic liberties, establishing fair equality of opportunity, and allowing only those socio-economic inequalities that provided the greatest benefit to the least advantaged. . . . Moreover, in the social union of justice as fairness, citizens accept that conflicts of ultimate value are inevitable and that the most intractable conflicts are not egoistic or egotistic but are due to conflicting ideals. In Rawls's mature theory the conflicting interests and ideals that create the need for a specifically political conception of justice are not an expression of sin, but the consequence of human reason and judgement working under favourable conditions.


This brings us to a particularly striking continuity between the thesis and Rawls's later views: the rejection of merit. One of the most famous and controversial claims of A Theory of Justice is that a just social order should not aim to distribute benefits according to desert. Rawls does not reject the idea of moral worth or merit entirely, but denies its suitability as a basis for determining distributive shares, or any of the other entitlements of persons in a well-ordered society. 

[from the thesis] The human person, once perceiving that the Revelation of the Word is a condemnation of the self, casts away all thoughts of his own merit. . . . The more he examines his life, the more he looks into himself with complete honesty, the more clearly he perceives that what he has is a gift. Suppose he was an upright man in the eyes of society, then he will now say to himself: "So you were an educated man, yes, but who paid for your education, so you were a good man and upright, yes, but who taught you your good manners and so provided you with good fortune that you did not need to steal; so you were a man of a loving disposition and not like the hard-hearted, yes, but who raised you in a good family, who showed you care and affection when you were young so that you would grow up to appreciate kindness--must you not admit that what you have, you have received? Then be thankful and cease your boasting".

August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone"

This work is a part of Wilson's 10-play cycle that explores the African American experience, decade by decade, over the course of the twentieth century. Wilson was born in 1945 and died in 2005. "Joe Turner" takes place in 1911, in Pittsburg, where most of the plays take an inhabitation and a name. The playwright's note gives a clear idea of his aims in this play:

It is August in Pittsburgh, 1911. The sun falls out of heaven like a stone. The fires of the steel mill rage with a combined sense of industry and progress. Barges loaded with coal and iron ore trudge up the river to the mill towns that dot the Monongahela and return with fresh, hard, gleaming steel. The city flexes its muscles. men throw countess bridges across the rivers, lay roads and carve tunnels through the hills sprouting with houses. From the deep and the near South the sons and daughters of newly freed African slaves wander into the city. Isolated, cut off from memory, having forgotten the names of the gods and only guessing at their faces, they arrive dazed and stunned, their hearts kicking in their chests with a song worth singing. They arrive carrying Bibles and guitars, their pockets lined with dust and fresh hope, marked men and women seeking to scrape from the narrow, crooked cobbles and the fiery blasts of the coke furnace a way of bludgeoning and shaping the malleable parts of themselves into a new identity as free men of definite and sincere worth.

Foreigners in a strange land, they carry as part and parcel of their baggage a long line of separation and dispersement which informs their sensibilities and marks their conduct as thy search for ways to reconnect, to reassemble, to give clear and luminous meaning to the song which is both a wail and a whelp of joy.

The poetry in this note appears too in the language of the play, a language which is justly described as "lyrical realism." There are passages of great and simple beauty that dignify the speakers without making them sound artificial or pretentious. Bynum Walker, a rootworker (i.e. a voodoo man, played by Roger Robinson), spoke piercingly, in a long monologue, of his encounter with "the shining man," and his longing to find him again. The poetry is balanced in the play by the more earthy speeches of wind-bag Seth Holly, and his good wife, Bertha, the owners of the boarding house where all the action happens.  The originality of language has also a structural function. When Martha Pentecost--the run-away wife whom Herald Loomis has been seeking for ten years, with their daughter in tow--finally appears and spouts Biblical cliches, quoting Psalm 23 at one point to the tormented man, she is seen for the voiceless woman that she is, unlike Loomis who has to work out his own salvation and learn to sing his own song.

Though the language of the play is striking, the structure is less satisfying. I can accept, and appreciate, the abrupt intrusion of the supernatural, when Loomis suddenly sees, and declaims, a vision of skeletons walking on water, and becoming flesh when they are cast on land. Bynum Walker's haunting vision of "the shining man" has prepared me for this more dramatic episode. But the late entry of a Bible-rattling Martha Pentecost throws the play's terms of argument into disarray. At no earlier point do we get the sense that individual salvation has to be won from a submissive and coercive Christianity. 

Instead, we have been engaged in a very human drama of love and abandonment, with various characters experiencing, or telling, first of one, and then of the other. The transience of relationships is matched poignantly with the transience of these newly-freed migrant lives. The only house in the play is the boarding house, which can only provide temporary, payment-by-the-week accommodations. Joe Turner, who forced Herald Loomis to work for him for seven slavish years, is not only a figure for the white slave-master, but he is also a figure for the inner drive that forces us to love and then leave. 

The production, directed by Bartlett Sher, was mounted by the Lincoln Center Theater, under the direction of Andre Bishop and Bernard Gersten. In 1907 David Belasco built the theater which he called Belasco Stuyvesant, and shorted to Belasco in 1910, the name it retains to this day. It is a beautiful old theater, with faded wall murals, column capitals that glow like lanterns, and small circles of stained glass in the ceiling, 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

History of the Ghazal

An informative and immensely readable history of the ghazal, from its beginning in Arabic poetry to its spread to Spain, Africa, Persia and the Indian sub-continent, written by David Jalajel. Niranjan Sarker follows it up by examining the "Ghazal as a Form of Urdu Poetry in the Asian Subcontinent."  The essay concludes with a short clip of Waseem Barelvi reciting a ghazal in a 'mushaira' (poetry meet). 

Creative Responses to Life

Chatting with AH recently, we talked about the value of creative responses--poem, art, video, reading etc--to someone's work, responses that go beyond leaving a blog or Facebook comment. Don't get me wrong. Such comments are always welcomed; they are human impulses amidst the electronic pulses. To respond creatively, however, requires a different level of reflection and commitment. 

It requires a giving of the self, so that not only does the relationship between person and work change from I-it to I-You (in Buber's terms raised by AH), but a creative response changes the initial term from it to I too. We humanize ourselves by giving creatively of ourselves. 

And that's what AH has been doing by responding creatively (and critically) to my work for so long. His new poem, written in the form of my sequence "I Am My Names," is a further instance of his humanity. 


Last night VM invited me to see whether her home, not so far from mine in Woodside, would be a good place for a book party. Stepping into her apartment, I was immediately struck by the simultaneous display and non-display of things. Sure, her many paintings hanged on the walls, but hanged so casually, even carelessly, that they were not really hangings; they just happened to be there. A beautiful cabinet stood in a corner but was so eminently useful for holding a rich confusion of objects that it became less a showcase and more a family trunk. 

In the kitchen hanged photographs of luscious fruits--mangoes, oranges, papayas--taken by a photographer-friend in Brazil. On a side wall were comic drawings done by VM's son who is about to graduate from the School of Visual Arts. Over the kitchen counter was a small delicate painting by JF, VM's husband. VM taught him to draw that.

In the living room, paintings of gardens and woods bring the mysterious, fairy-tale, outdoors inside. VM has been working on a series of still lifes centering on a cognac bottle. One bottle standing in front of a thick pattern of branches and leaves also presents that pattern through its glass at the same time. 

I had my first gin martini ever, with olives. Conversation flowed freely, from drinks to dinner: their families, my family; styles of cooking black rice; expatriation (JF is French American); our ambiguous relationships with English; etymology; the French film "The Class" which we all praised; the Bonnard exhibition at the Met; the exercise of power in the classroom and the workplace; the wines; Obama; how VM and JF met. 

It was creative talk, talk that took up a great variety of topics, meditated and expanded on them, before passing them to the next person for further elaboration or transformation. Assertions remained assertions but wrapped with thought. Hesitations were given their honored place. Contradictions sounded like counterpoint. The talk moved between public and private realms, without a sense of boundaries or hierarchies. I felt I was in the company of genuine artists, who love life so much, love it with so little ego. 

Monday, March 23, 2009

D. A. Miller's "Jane Austen or The Secret of Style"

Miller's book-length essay is a delightful and thought-provoking read. Its thesis is that the heart of Austen's style lies in "a failed, or refused, but in any case shameful relation to the conjugal imperative." To obliterate the signs of a shameful spinsterhood, she adopts a style that polishes all human particularities from the narrator's voice, and achieves a kind of impersonal, ironic, universal objectivity. But the escape into style, Miller contends, will still leave traces of the personal.

The first part of the essay, "Secret Love," supports the thesis by reading allegorically an episode from Sense and Sensibility. Miller acknowledges that allegory is rare in Austen, but argues persuasively for the usefulness of such a reading of the Dashwoods' visit to Gray's, the London jewelry shop, where they see Robert Ferrars selecting a toothpick case. Jewelry, pervasive in Austen, is always either given by a relative or lover, in token of union through marriage or common blood. The jeweled case, so fussily selected by the "unheterosexual" Ferrars, does not signify any attachment to marriage or family; it is style for style's sake. The spinster, like the homosexual, does not possess social signification of the sort granted to married men and women. Or as Miller puts it:

Behind the glory of style's willed evacuation of substance lies the ignominy of a subject's hopelessly insufficient social realization, just as behind style's ahistorical impersonality lies the historical impasse of someone whose social representation doubles for social humiliation. 

Miller points out that the realism of Austen's works allows no one like Jane Austen to appear in them. There are happy wives and pathetic old maids, but there are no successfully unmarried woman. The second part of the essay "No One Is Alone" argues that Austen's style presupposes and enforces its author's own "under-representability." It looks at the insufficient Neuter of a narrator in Northanger Abbey, and then the accomplished Neuter in Pride and Prejudice, and Emma. In the mature novels, the heroines employ their wit, or style, to court men's attention, and their fall, accompanied by self-lacerations about their excessive wit, is rewarded by getting the man they want, as well as the marriage state, and estate; they become recognized by society as Persons. The plot is saved from cynicism by the heroines' naivete and good faith. 

"Austen Style not only knew whereof it spoke, but also spoke without any apparent experiential implication in such knowledge," writes Miller. It is a paradox of divine omniscience, but it is also a paradox of divine melancholy, in which "an impersonal deity unceasingly contemplates the Person that is its own absolutely foregone possibility." In the third and final part of the essay, Miller expands on this divine melancholy by examining the free indirect style in Emma. He finds the eponymous character the most fully realized in Austen's oeuvre. The chapter "Broken Art" also judges Persuasion a failure of Style as constituted in the earlier books, since, there, Style becomes personifiable, idiosyncratic, instead of objective. Sanditon, written when Austen was dying, is read as a crumbling of the Style when wit deteriorates into mere wordplay and alliteration.

Emma allows us to envision the utopia of a double perfection, the perfection of Style matched by that of Person; Sanditon reaches towards the perhaps more feasible state of their double, their simultaneous annihilation. 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Call for Retakes of My Work

Someone suggested I ask people record themselves reading my poems or make videos of them, for posting on Youtube, Facebook and my book blog. I think it would be really interesting to get other people's take on the poems. I will call them Retakes. No prizes, just the joy of making. So if you are interested, send your Retakes to jeeleong.koh@gmail.com. My new book of poems, and the details on Retakes, can be found here


Last night, I read my poems for the thin air cable show that George Spencer and Mitch Corber are reviving. I've been interviewed for radio before, but not TV. The interview took place in George's apartment in the Village. While waiting for our turn, Eric, Miriam and I sat in the kitchen chatting about David Lynch and John Waters, and downing red wine. When it was my turn, I went to the living room where the lights and camera had been set up. 

First time meeting Mitch. He read me a fine poem about a woman, using the Shakespearean metaphor of accounting, with an echo of Eliot. His voice was very controlled, very impressive. He was the director, producer and cameraman while George interviewed me about Frank O'Hara and slant rhymes in Payday Loans; my relationship to the English language; my attraction to Philip Larkin; ars poetica; the water imagery in my poetry. 

The show will be broadcast on a local TV channel. I hope to get a tape of it afterwards. 

Friday, March 20, 2009

My Virtual Book and Birthday Party

0745: 15 minutes to my Book and Birthday Party. It's snowing. Not forecast.

0800: Posted the first reading on the book blog. Started drinking. Here's to me.

0820: Emailed Donna de la Perriere, my latest Facebook friend, about the party. Also exchanging Fb emails with Devin Jeyathurai, about good writing creating its own audience. 

0830: Many kind wishes for my birthday and book, via Fb, Gmail or blog. Thanks, everyone. Iris N. Schwartz just emailed her wishes too. Am listening to Dvorak's "New World" now, so as to stop myself from listening to myself. KC Trommer is the first to email me about the reading: "i love the virtual book party and the planes passing behind your voice."

0845: Faridah Ahmad gives the thumbs-up on Fb for the reading. Elsa Yow, a friend of many years, writes: "Thanks for the reading. Very enjoyable and meaningful way of spending birthday with you!" 

0855: Harry Rutherford, an online friend of some years, is the first to comment on the book blog: "Nice to hear you read your poems--always interesting to put a voice to a person, as it were." Ah, voice on the screen, and voice in the flesh, so to speak. The difference between a man and a man, as Goneril says. Larry Weisman, who has always been so generously critical of my work, chats on Fb: "Beautiful reading." He likes the jets passing overhead too.

0910: Mark MacIntosh (Australia) emails on Fb: "Hopes for a fantastic future for you, and your poetry." Lai Meng congratulates me on the blog. Larry Weisman follows up his Fb chat with a blog comment: "Loved the biographical poems you read. Now the love poems coming up--what more can one ask? . . . I can't decide if your controlled, eclectically-accented voice makes you more real or even more mysterious and ethereal."

0920: Harry bought a book through Paypal. Thanks, Harry! vmh (aka Vicky) is here at the party, whoopee! Still chatting with Devin about Jaguars and Jeeps, and the derailment of metaphor. 

0935: Emailed Graham Foust, my latest Fb friend, about the party. This is multi-tasking in action! The problem is that my guests cannot or don't talk to each other. Not a good party if you get to talk only to the birthday boy. It's still snowing, large gentle flakes. 

0959: Birthday greets from: Nicholas Wijaya, Sebastien Rochier, Irene Chan, Simon Bill, Ashok Banker, Nels Highberg, Karri Sriram, Lisa Sanchez Gonzalez, Hui Ching, Michelle McGrane, William Delis, Jeffery Seow, Tamiko Beyer, Garrett Brown, Keith Higginbotham, Tammy Ho, Michael Lynch, John Fitzgerald, Slimi Karim, Nashira Priester, Isaac Xu, Andres Lopez Martinez, Sarah Sarai, Chris Mooney-Singh, Rus Bowden, Kevin Maxwell, James Norton, Lori Williams, Susan Richardson, Mike Moulders, Jesse Hudson, Lawrence Schimel, Darrick Sampson, Elle Wrathall, James Wilk, Milton Lee Norris, Yusoff Shariff, Stan Guingon, Robert McEvily, Jen Hamilton-Emery, Susan Solomon, R. Nemo Hill, Christopher Hennessy, David Lawton, Beth Johnston, Nelson Loh, Bradley Schleyer, Nabina Das. 

1048: Birthday greets from: Ernie Wormwood, Marysia Wojtaszek, Jose Dimayuga, Gabriel Tan, Leanne Davis, Jenny Dirksen, Nesrin Eruysal, Colleen Ryor, Brianna Martina, Larry Jaffe. Still chatting with Devin, who is now sitting on a park bench somewhere in Singapore, reading Stephanie Dowrick's "Creative Journal Writing." I'm listening to Lang Lang play Beethoven.

1100: The SST party is definitely winding down now. From the time I posted the first reading, 41 visits were made to the book blog. 18 from USA, 8 from UK, 6 from Singapore, 3 from Canada, 1 each from Australia, Mexico, Israel and Korea, and 2 from unknown locations. Julian Mendez Perea writes: "love your blog, it's soooo long." Vicky bought a book! Yeah!

1225: More birthday greets from: Norse Lantern, Michael Geffner, Tara Safronoff, Sandie Angel, Russell Ragsdale, Alissa Heyman, Mary Deal, K. A. Shott, Elizabeth von Uhl, Morgan Harlow, Patricia Ryan-Chilton, Allison Westmont, and Christopher Heyworth. Thanks, guys!

1305: I sold a third book today! Thanks, Rui. Now listening to Anne-Sophie Mutter play Bach.

1310: And more birthday greets from: Jelica Gavrilovic, Ian Erentz, John Erianne, Reese Lakota, Brooke London, Paulette Turcotte, Kevin Maxwell. 

1455: Bill Hare wrote 15 minutes ago: "I dropped by and listened to your interesting reading. It brought back memories of my trip to Singapore to hear you read about Tiger Balm Gardens. The New York City references were also interesting as I can relate to the pulse of the big city, having been there as well. You opened up vistas to some fascinating places. Thanks again."

1540: At 2.40 PM Julene Tripp Weaver wrote on my wall: "I'm listening to your words now, lovely reading, powerful words. Thank you."

1614: Posted the second reading on time, at 8.00 (GMT)! Howard and Patty just walked in. Jess Witte writes, "I love the quote about you being the sexy nerd one wants to get to know better!" Patty bought a book! Thanks, Patty!

1628: Andrew sent me a most beautiful birthday card, an early watercolor of his. It sits at the top of this post.

1636: Pamela Kallimanis writes on Fb: "Your thank you poem reminds me of a line in Heather Mchugh's work. It's the speaker saying: "I said, 'I love you. And you, you said, "thank you.""

1645: J. P. Dancing Bear writes on Fb, about Hopper's "Night Shadows": ". . . even though we like to think that a trip around the sun brings us back to the same place: the sun itself has moved: but we habitual creatures like to say things: nothing's changed: same ol' same ol': but even our skin is different: that shadow changes with the light: as you step through it again tonight."

1730: Birthday greets from: Willie James King, Chad Parmenter, David Melville, Neil Aiken, Elizabeth Dalkeith, Lucia Galloway Dick, Dan Foley, Diana Sampey, John Burroughs, J. P. Dancing Bear, Suzanne Gray, Kevin Wisher. Thanks, everybody!

1742: Andrew is the first to comment on the GMT reading: "I remember Francis Bacon writing somewhere about the pain in his painting, the scintilla of pleasure exacted from the precision of pain. Two poems, "For Lonely" and "New Year Resolution" gain from your reading voice: they have a sharp loneliness within them . . . even a sense of aloneness. Beautiful."

1750: Emilio is just coming in.

1820: From 1100h (when I last counted) to now, 91 visits were made to the book blog: 66 from USA, 8 from UK, 3 from Singapore, 2 from Canada, 1 each from Mexico, Norway, China, Czech Republic, Ecuador and Ireland, and 6 from unknown locations. That makes a total of 132 visits since I posted the first reading. 

1825: Tara Benton brought me my birthday dinner, from my favorite Thai place. Darling Tara!

1954: Okay, I'm back. 6 more minutes to the EST Party!

2000: Posted the third reading. Greg Bynum has just walked in. 

2020: Kate: "what a beautiful voice."

2030: Greg comments on the book blog, "It was good to hear your voice, and especially the poem about loneliness & smiling at fear--that moved me." Bela is the fifth book buyer at this party! Thanks, Bela!

2035: Time to open the champagne!

2045: Lucia bought a copy of the book! Thanks, Lucia. This champagne is good.

2100: Karen wrote on the blog, "Your voice is an important part of it, too--it carries and opens to the listening ear such a steadily inviting sense of words and their balance/ play/ sound on multiple levels, a table spread with visual, tactile, sensory, subtle-hearing experience." 

2110: Greetings from: Sherry Thrasher, Steve Tills, Lee Herrick, Noel Bordador, Fabiene Fleury, Gene Auprey, Lucile Barker, Gwee Li Sui, C. Dale Young, Mark Etheredge, Sinjin Larsen, Christine Brooks, Barbara Jean, Luke Feldman. Thanks, guys!

2115: Greg bought a book! Number 7. Thanks, Greg. Emilio dropped off a money order at the post office. Number 8. Thanks, Emilio. 

2140: Birthday greets from PFFA: Alexandrite, Hyrdo, Vicky, Howard, jwcarpenter, BrianIsSmilingAtYou, Mrs Harris, Emilio, Skeeter, Bela, Annie, and Barbara Jean.

2210: I'm going to call it a night. From 1820h to now, 59 visits were made to the book blog: 43 from USA, 5 from Singapore, 3 from Canada, 1 each from UK, Australia, Sweden, and Ireland, and 4 from unknown locations. So the grand total for all three readings are: 176 visits. 127 from USA, 17 from UK, 14 from Singapore, 8 from Canada, 2 each from Australia and Ireland, 1 each from Mexico, Korea, Sweden, Norway, Israel, China, Czech Republic and Ecuador, and 12 from unknown locations. Thanks, everyone, for coming to celebrate my birthday with me.

Now I'm going to party for real. Go dancing. 

Roland Barthes's "A Lover's Discourse" (2)

From the chapter monstreux (monstrous):

2. The lover's discourse stifles the other, who finds no place for his own language beneath this massive utterance. It is not that I keep the other from speaking; but I know how to make the pronouns skid: "I speak and you hear me, hence we exist" (Ponge). Sometimes, in terror, I become aware of this reversal: I who supposed myself to be pure subject (subjected subject: fragile, delicate, pitiable) find myself turned into an obtuse thing blindly moving onward, crushing everything beneath his discourse; I who love am undesirable, consigned to the category of the bores: the ones who bear down too hard, who irritate, encroach, complicate, demand, intimidate (or more simply: those who speak). I have monumentally deceived myself. 

(The other is disfigured by his persistent silence, as in those terrible dreams in which a loved person shows up with the lower part of his face quite erased, without any mouth at all; and I, the one who speaks, I too am disfigured: soliloquy makes me into a monster: one huge tongue.

I have not been blown away by A Lover's Discourse, though I have every expectation and eagerness of being blown away, such is my state of receptivity. Much of what it says about love feels derivative, and its constant references to Goethe, Proust, Freud, Winnicott and company make me want to read those original authors instead. Then perseverance uncovers such gems as the one quoted above. The gem of absolute truth. 

To water down Barthes's claim is to lose it completely. It does not matter how we write, with what degree of awareness, knowledge, empathy or irony, or with what devices of style and format--indirection, allusion, pun, indentation, blank space. So long as we speak or write as lovers, so long we stifle the other's voice under our own discourse. Not only is the Dark Lady silenced by Shakespeare's speaking, even the aristocratic Young Man, whom the poet flatters with all manners of obsequies, is rendered speechless by the poet's speech. We think we hear through the poet's art the subtlest depiction of the Young Man, and then we remember that we have not heard from the Young Man at all.

But the poet-lover must keep speaking (I spent half an hour this morning listening to the recording of my readings for my party), to survive as a poet and a lover, even at the cost of disfiguring his beloved and himself. No way around this knife. He might try for friendship, instead of love, for friendship has the deep rich warmth of old oak panelling. But to give up love is to give up sublimity. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Distraction and Concentration

I feel as if I am holding down three jobs. Not only teaching and writing, but also bookselling. Since last October, I have been networking on Facebook, in order to promote my new book of poems Equal to the Earth (to be released in April). This means making new friends, inviting them to join my book blog, answering emails. I've also been Twittering, to see if I can create some buzz that way. During term time. I wake up at four to get it all done. 

Not everything feels like work. There is the pleasure of conversation, in one case, real, and not virtual, conversation. There is also the pleasure of imagining lives so different from mine, whether they be modeling in Italy or hiking north of Galilee. Though I started out resenting the work of bookselling, I am beginning to enjoy the sense of control I have over the whole enterprise. This was brought home to me on Monday when a friend who also has a book coming out from a small press told me that there has been no communication from her publisher, let alone the kind of consultation I enjoy with Roxanne. 

This week of Spring Break has given me time to prepare for my Virtual Book and Birthday Party. I relearned how to use the Audacity software to record my readings. Not being tech-savvy, I recorded my readings without stopping or editing, and so you will hear them warts and all. Then I had to learn how to upload an audio file on Blogger. In order to do so, I had to find a free hosting site, and finally settled on box.net. 

This morning I tried uploading my MP3 files on Facebook but the application did not work and I gave it up. While struggling with Facebook, I became distracted by Google Sites, and spent a good two hours setting up a personal website. I am of course making the beginner's mistake of spreading myself too thin by having too many platforms. But I am amazed that things on the Internet have been made so much easier for a technophobe like me. 


Distraction and concentration. Last night I finished reading the fifth, and final, volume of Leon Edel's biography of Henry James. I started reading Volume One in December, and now it is March. The reading was fitful, most of it done during school breaks and long weekends. Coming to the end of the massive Life, I read "New York 1950-Honolulu 1971." I take the dates to mark the start and the end of the writing of this biography, though the dreaming and conception of such a work presumably began even earlier. So, at least, 21 years to research and write this Life. 

Highly unlikely that those 21 years saw an uniform level of work, an equal intensity of focus. I imagine there were highs and lows, times when the stitch was dropped, times when the cloth bunched up, and times when the purr of the sewing machine was the only sound heard. But the Life showed no sign of those varying times. It flows, seamlessly, a narrative of great grace and penetrating insight. Its triumph is the imposition of form on chronological chaos, the making of a Life out of a life. 

The writing of three mature novels and two works of autobiography, the deaths of family and friends, the worry over one's literary legacy, the body's decay, the ambiguous relations with younger writers, the Great War: these were less events than happenings when they happened, but in Edel's hands, they become events, they acquire proportion, weight and texture, they join up into a beautiful tapestry. Life is not art, but Edel has done what James says art must do: "It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance." Edel shows why James's life is interesting and important. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rainbow Book Fair on March 28 Sat

Coordinated by Perry Brass, the Rainbow Book Fair takes place at the LGBT Center, 208 West 13th Street, NY, on March 28 (Sat) from 11-6 pm. I will be manning the table for Poets Wear Prada Press. I am also reading in the first reading session.

Reading schedule for Rainbow Book Fair

First Session: 11:15 to 11:45
Norman Beim, GNYIPA
Gene Kahn
Robin Glasser, Phaze Press
Steven Rivellino, Eighth Sea/Xlibris
Pamela Sneed, Vintage Entity Press

2nd Session: 12 noon to 12:30
Perry Brass, Belhue Press
Herukthuti, Vintage Entity Press
Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, Vintage Entity Press
Bobbie Geary, The Graeae Press
Marquette Carney

3rd Session: 12:45 - 1:15
Francine Trevens, T & T Classics
Timothy Brough
Shawn Stewart Ruff
Carren Strock
G. Winston James, Top Ten Press

To be a temperature

On the occasion of the centenary of Robert Browning's birth, Henry James gave a talk under the auspices of the Academic Committee of the Royal Society of Literature. In the talk "The Novel in The Ring and the Book" James described the sense of place--Tuscany and Rome--in Shelley, Swinburne and Browning:

Shelley, let us say in the connection, is a light, and Swinburne is a sound--Browning alone is a temperature. 

I think that is a mighty fine way of putting things. It makes me want to be a temperature too, with its associations of temper, temperament, tempered. To be a temperature is to touch the whole skin, and through the skin, to get under it, and not just appeal to the eyes or ears. It is to be a whole climate. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Poem: Novenary with Hens (A Revision)

Novenary with Hens

I couldn’t count to ten till I turned eleven.
The chicks were soft and yellow. One was jet.
One, two, buckle my shoe, nine and a big fat hen.

They scratched the grass beside the shop for men.
They were the best present a boy could get.
I couldn’t count to ten till I turned eleven.

Mother called out from above. That was when
I stepped back—three, two, one—and on my pet.
One, two, buckle my shoe, nine and a big fat hen.

The grass turned black. Its head was not broken.
Father could fix it but he was not home yet.
I couldn’t count to ten till I turned eleven.

The Shopgirl cried out, Poke the thing back in!
The tiny mitten was mewing for its gut.
One, two, buckle my shoe, nine and a big fat hen.

My hands did what the Shopgirl said. Even then,
I couldn’t save it. Now I can’t forget
I couldn’t count to ten till I turned eleven.
One, two, buckle my shoe, nine and a big fat hen.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ganymede #3 Issue

Now available: GANYMEDE #3 ISSUE: a literary/art print journal by and for gay men published three times yearly as a paperback book in New York. Essays, fiction, poetry, photography, reviews. 6x9'' perfect bound paperback, 200 pages.

Purchase: Print $12 or PDF download $6 at lulu.com:

Details, full contents, and readable sample pages here.

"It¹s so exciting what you are doing..."
--gay novelist and critic EDMUND WHITE in an email to the editor

"At a time when gay print journals like Blair House are folding (or turning into forgettable blogs), Ganymede, after only two issues, has jumped into the front rank of this crucial genre and now dominates it. Essays and stories are first rate when they're not even better, and the photo portfolios are simply fantastic. Not to be missed."
--Erik Mitchell in AssociatedContent.com

--Daniel Mendelsohn selects six Cafavy poems just for us
--Richard Canning goes to Paris to cover the Yves Saint Laurent art auction for us
--rare reprint of Glenway Wescott¹s only explicitly gay story (1938)
--NINE spectacular portfolios of cutting-edge gay photographers from around the world
--new fiction and poetry from new writers

The God of Carnage vs. Offenbach Overtures

TCH and I watched Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage, translated by Christopher Hampton, directed by Matthew Warchus, at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, on West 45th Street. TCH told me there was some controversy over renaming the theater after some big dead executive rather than after someone in the arts, like a writer, actor or producer. Tidbits of information like this one remind me of worlds beyond my ken. All the stage is a world unto itself.

Christopher Hampton also translated Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which I watched last year. He translated Reza's French play into English for its London production, and then into American for Broadway. Besides references to American places and events--strange I cannot remember any from the play, a fact which perhaps proves these references superficial to the play--the characters swear Americanese. 

Two couples meet to talk about a fight between their sons; their attempt at sweet reason quickly degenerates into verbal, and more than verbal, assaults. Jeff Daniels plays Alan, a ruthless corporate lawyer for a pharmaceutical. Hope David plays Annette, his wife, a well-coiffed woman who likes to smooth all rough edges. On the other side of the ring are Michael, a household goods store owner (played by a tremendous James Gandolfini) and his do-gooder wife, Veronica (played by Marcia Gay Harden). Alliances shift throughout the play; at times, the men gang up against the women, at other times amoral Alan and moralistic Veronica find common ground in their enormous egos while Michael and Annette discover a spongy empathy in each other. 

The men were better actors than the women though the latter came into their own as the play went on. The dialogue was sharp, and its descent into drunken debate convincing and funny (Reza agrees with Matthew Warchus that she writes not sad comedy but "funny tragedy.") Some of its symbols felt heavy-handed. For instance, in an act of helplessness, Annette pukes all over Veronica's treasured art books (representing Civilization), and the latter sprays perfume, like her morals, over the books to get rid of the smell. 

The play flirts with nihilism, but finally dances away from the abyss. It talks about humans being mere animals but in highly civilized tones. It is an eloquent exposition, a well-made play, but it is not a ground-breaking play. I did not feel very much for the four people at the end of the play; I did not much care for what would happen to them afterwards. I would not be so hard on the play if the play did not advertise its ambition so signally. It entertained, but it did not challenge.


The same could be said about the second and third dances in the Paul Taylor program I watched at the New York City Center last night. Changes, a New York premiere, was danced to pop music sung by The Mamas and The Papas. The dance movements were vaguely sixties-ish, but without depth of realization or surprise of renovation. 

The third dance Offenbach Overtures offered a pastiche of classical ballet and the aristocratic tradition (balls, duels, romance) that underwrites it. There were genuinely inventive and witty passages, but a lot more that looked repetitive and uninspired. Infantile was the supposedly comical struggle between the Seconds which distracted attention from the insipid dance competition between the Duelers. 

The first dance Danbury Mix, to the music of Charles Ives (of Danbury, Connecticut, as the program noted) was also not quite satisfying in its inchoateness of meaning. But at least the piece reached for something more than mere replication or pastiche. In its different uses of an individual-versus-the masses format, it explores, to my mind, the meaning of American individualism in a mass democracy. It aims for a degree of abstraction, which I think is crucial for aesthetic power, if dance wishes to move away from (modern and traditional) narration. 

The dancers were committed and enthusiastic. When they danced as a corps, they presented beautiful and vibrant symmetries. What they seemed to lack was charisma. The only dancer who exuded that strange quality was James Samson. His good looks helped, but more than that, his movements were open and embracing at the same time. 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Debate between James and Shaw

In his autobiography on Henry James, Leon Edel gives not a little space to the debate in letters between James and George Bernard Shaw over the purpose of art. The trigger was James's play The Saloon, a dramatization of his short story "Owen Wingrave," in which a young pacifist from a military family died bravely like a soldier for his pacifism. Shaw objected to the play's determinism and hopelessness.

It is really a damnable sin to draw with such consummate art a houseful of rubbish, and a dead incubus of a father waiting to be scrapped; to bring on for us the hero with his torch and his scrapping shovel; and then, when the audience is saturated with interest and elated with hope, waiting for the triumph and the victory, calmly announce that the rubbish has choked the hero. and that the incubus is the really strong master of all our souls. Why have you done this? If it were true to nature--if it were scientific--if it were common sense, I should say let us face it, let us say Amen. But it isn't. Every man who really wants his latchkey gets it. No man who doesn't believe in ghosts ever sees one. Families like these are smashed very day and their members delivered from bondage, not by heroic young men, but by one girl who goes out and earns her living or takes a degree somewhere. Why do you preach cowardice to an army which has victory always and easily within its reach?

I do such things because I happen to be a man of imagination and taste, extremely interested in life, and because the imagination thus, from the moment direction and motive play upon it from all sides, absolutely enjoys and insists on and incurably leads a life of its own, for which just this vivacity itself is its warrant. . . . Half the beautiful things that the benefactors of the human species have produced would surely be wiped out if you don't allow this adventurous and speculative imagination its rights.

James went on to say that the only way in which The Saloon could be "scientific" would be that it be done "with all the knowledge and intelligence relevant to its motive." As for people wanting not works of art but "encouragement," James could only reply that works were "capable of saying more things to man about himself than any other 'works' whatever are capable of doing." The Master concluded that he viewed with suspicion the "encouraging" representational work. It would be necessary to determine "what it is we have to be encouraged or discouraged about." 

Me: My sympathies are entirely with James on this matter, but I am also stirred (who would not be?) by Shaw's passionate words. 

Roland Barthes's "A Lover's Discourse"

Our readings are embedded in our lives, even as we embed our lives in our readings. This book by Barthes came into my hands through a developing friendship with a lesbian colleague, SW. A gesture of empathy and help, does not the giving also savor of Eros? At any rate, there is dissemination, if not insemination, and I gratefully receive it. 

The trope is particularly appropriate to a striking passage in the chapter on "Absence." Translated by Richard Howard, Barthes says:

2. Historically, the discourse of absence is carried on by the Woman: Woman is sedentary, Man hunts, journeys' Woman is faithful (she waits), man is fickle (he sails away, he cruises). It is Woman who gives shape to absence, elaborates its fiction, for she has time to do so; she weaves and she sings; the Spinning Songs express both immobility (by the hum of the Wheel) and absence (far away, rhythms of travel, sea surges, cavalcades). It follows that in any man who utters the other's absence something feminine is declared: this man who waits and who suffers from his waiting is miraculously feminized. A man is not feminized because he is inverted but because he is in love. [Bold emphasis mine]

The spinner's thread: I am also reading, with a reading group that includes SW, The Odyssey (translated by H. D. Rouse), and so cannot help but think of Penelope, spinning her wheels at home, and Odysseus, driving into the winds of chance. Also thinking (reading and living, living and reading) about the passive reply I sent JPO who wrote after a spell of silence, I wonder if I should have taken a more muscular stance. Would he like that better, or less?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Poem: I Am My Names

I Am My Names


I hear the drum of my father’s life
most clearly when I sit at night
to type my poems of love and love.

His soft signal is growing soft.
I strain the harder to hear the drop
of ardor in the mountain air.

My name is Answer. I am a son.


A thousand rooms wait for a call
that says they are a special space
and not a room out of a thousand.

Condoms confirm the poem’s shape
the fierce cock disavows and breaks.
Between the condom and the cock,

my name is Double. I am a lover.


I could not move nor take my eyes
from Shiva’s magnificent butt
that boasts the beauty of a face,

so, when Parvati opened her eyes,
she turned the naked impiety
into the first flame of the forest.

My name is Forever. I am a poet.


The world is never what it seems.
It is far more interesting
to see the hidden affinities:

the boy and girl lie side by side,
the lion by the slab of lamb,
the garden promise by its rot.

My name is Mind. I am a homosexual.


What burden does a birthplace lay
on the shoulders of maturity?
What claims belong to a small country?

Declaiming against its measurements,
I learn the burden of its song,
and long to make the earth a poem.

My name is Singapore. I am a question.


I’m North or South or East or West,
the bending rivers, the relentless roads,
or the broken skylight of a roost.

Old Famine brought me everywhere,
taught me to hear a fire’s maw,
and answer with the tune of food.

My name is Variable. I am Chinese.


Each day revises the day before,
the text begun by baby talk,
the walk advanced by toddling aims.

The hands grow quicker than the eye,
the head suspicious of the heart,
resigned, and then redaction halts.

My name is Anon. I am a father.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lesbian Separatists, Indian Jazz, Mumblecore

TNY, March 2, 2009

from Ariel Levy's "Lesbian Nation":

The lesbian separatists of a generation ago created a shadow society devoted to living in an alternate, penisless reality. There were many factions: the Gutter Dykes, in Berkeley; the Gorgons, in Seattle; several hundred Radicalesbians, in New York City, along with the smaller CLIT Collective; the Furies, in Washington, D. C.; and the Separatists Enraged Proud and Strong (SEPS), in San Francisco. There were outposts of Women's Land all over the United States and Canada--places owned by women where all women, and only women, were welcome. "Only women on the land" was the catchphrase used by separatists to indicate that men, even male children, were banned from Women's Land (and they often spelled it "wimmin" or "womyn," in an attempt to keep men out of their words as well as their worlds. More


from Gary Giddins' article "A Passage to India" about jazz musican Rudresh Mahanthappa:

Jazz musicians have two fundamental goals: creating music that keeps listeners wondering what's next, and finding a novel context within which to explore old truths. (There are no new truths.) Whenever a musician achieves this synthesis, usually after years of apprenticeship and exploration, a rumble echoes through the jazz world. Such a rumble was heard last fall, when the thirty-seven-year-old alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa released an astonishing album, "Kinsmen," on a small New York-based label (Pi), quickly followed by another no less astonishing, "Apti," on a small Minnesota-based label (Innova). The breakthrough had been a long time coming, and, curiously enough, it justifies ethnic assumptions that Mahanthappa had for much of his career been working to escape. 


While Mahanthappa was at Berklee [College of Music], his older brother teasingly gave him an album called "Saxophone Indian Style," by Kadri Gopalnath. As far as Mahanthappa knew, "Indian saxophonist" was an oxymoron, but the album amazed him. Gopalnath, who was born in 1950, in Karnataka, plays a Western instrument in a non-Western context--the Carnatic music of Southern India (distinct from the Hindustani musical tradition of Northern India). Gopalnath, who generally plays in a yogalike seated position, has perfected something that jaxx saxophonists have been attempting for decades: moving beyond the Western chromatic scale into the realm of microtones, a feat harder for wind instruments, whose keys are in fixed positions, than for strings or voice. Jazz players, such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Albert Ayler, had gone about it by varying intonation, blowing multiphonics (two or more notes at the same time), or squawking in the upper register, where pitches are imprecisely defined. Gopalnanth does none of that. Using alternate fingerings and innovative embouchure techniques, he maintains faultless intonation while sliding in and out of the chromatic scale. Full article


TNY, March 16, 2009

from David Denby's "Youthquake" on mumblecore movies:

Mumblecore movies are made by buddies, casual and serious lovers, and networks of friends, and they're about college-educated men and women who aren't driven by ideas or by passions or even by a desire to make their way in the world. Neither rebels nor bohemians, they remain stuck in a limbo of semi-genteel, moderately hip poverty, though some of the films end with a lurch into the working world. The actors (almost always nonprofessionals) rarely say what they mean; a lof of the time, they don't know what they mean. The movies tell stories but they're also a kind of lyrical documentary of American stasis and inarticulateness. The first mumblecore film, by general agreement, was Andrew Bujalski's 2002 "Funny Ha Ha," a sweet-natured account of a young woman's post-college blues. But the style wasn't named until 2005, when the sound mixer Eric Masunaga, having a drink at a bar during the South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW), in Austin, used the term to describe an independent film he had worked on. The sobriquet stuck, even though the filmmakers dislike it. In the films I've seen, however, the sound is quite clear. It's the emotions that mumble. More.

Poem: I Am My Names (V.)



I’m North or South or East or West,
the bending rivers, the relentless roads,
or the broken skylight of a roost.

Old Famine brought me everywhere,
taught me to hear a fire’s maw,
and answer with the tune of food.

My name is Variable. I am Chinese.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Poem: I Am My Names (S.)



What burden does a birthplace lay
on the shoulders of maturity?
What claims belong to a small country?

Declaiming against its measurements,
I learn the burden of its song,
and long to make the earth a poem.

My name is Singapore. I am a question.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Poem: I Am My Names (M.)


The world is never what it seems.
It is far more interesting
to see the hidden affinities.

The boy and girl lie side by side,
the lion by the slab of lamb,
the garden promise by its rot.

My name is Mind. I am a homosexual.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Poem: I Am My Names (F.)


I could not move nor take my eyes
from Shiva’s magnificent butt
that boasts the beauty of a face,

so, when Parvati opened her eyes,
she turned the naked impiety
into the first flame of the forest.

My name is Forever. I am a poet.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Dryden Ensemble's "Versailles"

For my birthday, JM gave the gift of a ticket to the concert Versailles, a program of Baroque music and readings she conceived for the group she leads, the Dryden Ensemble. TCH and I attended the concert at Trinity Church, Princeton, this afternoon.

The music pieces alternated with readings from the letters of Elisabeth Charlotte (a German princess who married Philippe I d’Orléans, the brother of Louis XIV), the memoirs of the Duc of Saint-Simon, and Moliére’s plays. The readings outline the story of Elisabeth Charlotte: her arrival at the French Court as a young naïve bride; her unhappy marriage with the homosexual Philippe; her antagonism with the King’s mistress Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon; the king’s death; and finally her own death. Roberta Maxwell read as Elisabeth Charlotte while Paul Hecht read as the Duc of Saint-Simon.

The music was composed by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), Louis Couperin (1626-1661), Marin Marais (1656-1728), Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe (c.1640-1700), and François Couperin (1668-1737). I liked particularly Marais’ Muzette I and II (from Piéces de violes, Livre IV), played by the two bass viols, in the first half of the program. In the second half of the program, the readings and the music came together powerfully to convey the pathos of the lives. Marais’ Prélude (from Suite in A Minor) was a standout for me.

Poem: I Am My Names (D.)



A thousand rooms wait for a call
that says they are the special space
and not a room out of a thousand.

Condoms confirm a poem’s shape
the fierce cock disavows and breaks.
Between the condom and the cock,

my name is Double. I am a lover.

Ars poetica for thin air cable show

George Spencer asked me if I would like to be interviewed for the thin air cable show which he and Mitch Corber are reviving. I sent him some recent poems. He also asked for an ars poetica, and so I sat down this morning and wrote this:

Ars Poetica?

I have two ideas about poetry that do not seem to go together. One idea is that poetry springs from a desire to be loved in the way we were loved as infants. Though society tries to civilize the desire by imposing proportion, reason and language—form, in other words—the desire remains transgressive, unreasonable and inarticulate, and so invites new forms of civilization. The other idea is that poetry arises from the seriousness of play. It is a glass bead game, as Herman Hesse has it, played by masters of the art, celebrated by the community, accompanied with prayerful meditation. Desire and play share common elements, of which restlessness is one. To my mind, however, they are fundamentally different approaches not just to poetry, but also to life. I try to hold on to both approaches in my writing, but sometimes one dominates and emerges as wit, or the other wins and sounds out as a cry.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Poem: I Am My Names (A.)

I Am My Names


I hear the drum of my father’s life
most clearly when I sit at night
to type my poems of love and love.

His soft signal is growing soft.
I strain the harder to hear the drop
of ardor in the mountain air.

My name is Answer. I am a son.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Laurent Cantet's "The Class" ("Entre les murs")

TB suggested watching this move last night, and I am glad we made the trek to the Angelika. School drama in a French suburb, with imperfect teacher and trying charges. What does it mean to be French? The movie is based on an autobiographical novel, Entre les murs, by François Bégaudeau, who plays himself in the movie filmed with three HD video cameras. The junior high students and the school staff all come from the same school. Their acting is so natural that they make Sean Penn look artsy in Milk. The talk has the unpredictability and indirection of real speech. Manhola Dargis has a good review of the movie.

Monday, March 02, 2009

"The Winter's Tale" at BAM

This "Tale" was produced by BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), The Old Vic, and Neal Street Productions, under the aegis of The Bridge Project. In his Director's Note, Sam Mendes explains that The Bridge Project was born of "a wish for artists, collaborators and audiences on both sides of the Atlantic to experience one another's work, talent, and artistry in the theater." 

So, from Britain, Simon Russell Beale played the jealous King of Sicilia, Leontes; Rebecca Hall played his queen, Hermione; Paul Jesson played Camillo, a Lord who would not poison the king's imagined rival; Dakin Matthews (American) played Antigonus who is killed by the bear; and Sinead Cusack played Paulina, wife to Antigonus. Beale as Leontes and Cusack as Pauline were outstanding. Hall was moving at her trial scene, but lacklustre elsewhere. 

The other country Bohemia was predominantly populated by Americans. Josh Hamilton played Polixenes, the King; Michael Braun played Florizel the Prince; Morven Christie (Scottish) played Perdita who thought she was Bohemian until she discovers her royal Sicilian identity; Ethan Hawke played Autolycus, a rogue. Richard Easton and Tobias Segal played Old Shepherd and his Son with great liveliness and comedy.

The play itself is hard to perform. After the first part's intense psychodrama of sexual jealousy, it changes, after an interval of sixteen years, into a light-hearted pastoral. This production updated the sheep-shearing celebration into a county fair out of the Midwest, complete with picnic tables, guitars, and red, white and blue balloons. The directorial decision puzzles me. (But see the comment by nelsonnyc.) Ethan Hawke as Autolycus was not funny enough, and the young couple in love was not compelling enough to lift the dragging plot. The last scene, however, when Hermione the statue came to life, and was reunited with husband and daughter, was magical. 

Charles McGrath on John Cheever

The other thing that happened to Cheever’s reputation was that it was hijacked by revelations about his personal life. In the ’80s it began to emerge that Cheever, who was married with three children and wrote so warmly about the joys of family life, had been a disastrous alcoholic, almost drinking himself to death before miraculously recovering in the mid-’70s, and was also a closeted, self-loathing homosexual. The family initially tried to spin the news a little, but it nevertheless made the life, and not the work, the focus of attention. His became more nearly the story of a guest on “Oprah” than of a great literary artist. In 1992, a year after his extremely revealing journals were published, Cheever was even the subject of a “Seinfeld” episode in which Kramer, smoking some Cuban cigars, inadvertently burns down a cabin belonging to George’s girlfriend’s father. All that survives is a metal box containing some letters from Cheever. One of them, which the girlfriend reads aloud, says: “Last night with you was bliss. I fear my orgasm has left me a cripple. I don’t know how I shall ever get back to work. I love you madly.”
Read the article.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

My Review in Gently Read Literature

Gently Read Literature has just published my review of Miriam Stanley's book of poems Get Over It. The journal also publishes reviews of fiction and non, and is looking for reviewers for books in its stacks.