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Showing posts from March, 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 do…

"The Jewel in the Crown"

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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 separabl…

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 ne…

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."
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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 2…

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 …

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. 
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Last night VM invited me to see whether her home, not so far from mine in Woodside, would be a good pl…

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 thro…

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
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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 a…

My Virtual Book and Birthday Party

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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 commen…

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, …

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 pu…

Rainbow Book Fair on March 28 Sat

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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
Jee Leong Koh, POETS WEAR PRADA
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
Erik La Prade, POETS WEAR PRADA
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. 

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.

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


HIGHLIGHTS:
--Daniel Mendelsohn selects six Cafavy poems just for us
--Richard Canning goes to Paris to cover the Yves Saint Laurent art auction for …

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, assa…

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.
Shaw: 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 …

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…

Poem: I Am My Names

I Am My Names

A.

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.


D.

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.


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.


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.


S.

What burden does a birthplace lay
on the shoulders of maturity?
What claims belo…

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

Poem: I Am My Names (V.)

A. D. F. M.
S.

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.

Poem: I Am My Names (S.)

A. D. F. M.

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.

Poem: I Am My Names (M.)

A. D. F.
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.

Poem: I Am My Names (F.)

A. D.
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.

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.16…

Poem: I Am My Names (D.)

A.

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 …

Poem: I Am My Names (A.)

I Am My Names

A.

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.

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.

"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 P…

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, sa…

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.