Showing posts from June, 2009

Willa Cather’s “My Ántonia”

The novel is deceptively artless. Its plainspoken language, so fit a match for the Great Plains pioneers it describes, can appear almost naïve. But it is not. According to Wikipedia, Cather’s first novel Alexander’s Bridge was heavily influenced by Henry James. She abandoned the Master’s ornate style in favor of a simpler language when she wrote about the Nebraskan homesteaders she knew while growing up.

Narrated by Jim Burden, the novel is his coming-of-age story when he moved from Virginia to live with his grandparents on a Nebraskan farm, after the death of his parents. The five books trace the different stages of his life. In Book I, he was a child who fell in love with the pioneering life. Book II narrates his teenage years in Black Hawk, a small town, when his grandparents grew too old to farm. In Book III Jim was a student at the University of Nebraska. About to enter Law School, he returned to Black Hawk for the summer in Book IV. In the last book, he returned to Nebraska again…

NYC Pride 2009

Last Sunday I marched with the Gay Asian & Pacific Islander Men of New York, or GAPIMNY for short. Our theme was Beach Outing in the Heart of the City, which I thought was refreshingly non-ethnic. It also gave me a chance to walk down Fifth Avenue in my swimming trunks. Armed with a toy bucket, I distributed to Asian-looking guys in the onlooking crowd cocktail umbrellas on which was taped our group's website. Since I also gave out umbrellas to whomever wanted one, I was soon emptying my bucket.

Photo taken by DH

Q-WAVE, our lesbian counterpart, had the brilliant idea of flying two eye-catching home-made kites from extended fishing poles. The fish-shaped kites flew and dove as directed by those bendy poles. I carried one of them for a while, and felt the force of the wind against the pole. 

Photo taken by RK

From Fifth Avenue the march turned into 8th Street and Greenwich Village, down Christopher Street, past Stonewall Inn, before ending at Hudson Street. Our section of the march…

Herman Melville's "Billy Budd and Other Tales"

This Signet Classics edition collects together "Billy Budd," "The Piazza Tales," and "The Town Ho's Story" from Moby Dick. "Billy Budd" is based on the Harvard edition. There is a helpful "Afterword" by Willard Thorpe that explains Melville's turn to writing short stories for the magazines, after the commercial and critical failures of Moby Dick and Pierre. The "Afterword" (1961) also points to the critical controversies over the meanings of the more ambiguous stories, such as "Billy Budd" and "Benito Cereno."
I did not enjoy "Billy Budd" as much as I thought I would. The eponymous character is too much a symbol of Adamic innocence, and too little a human being. The interest in the first part of the story lies in the narrator's homo-erotic attraction to Billy, an attraction displaced on to Billy's admiring companions. But since Billy is as blandly exciting as a porn star, the displ…

When is like enough?

I don't love swimming enough to find a pool in NYC to swim regularly, but I do love swimming. The outdoor pool at Grove Hotel is small and cold. It is also too shallow at one end. Nevertheless, I swam happily for 40 minutes yesterday afternoon. This morning, turning round for another short lap, I remembered that my father taught me to swim, in the public swimming pool next to the Bukit Merah Bus Interchange. That pool, like so many things in Singapore, is gone. Behind locked gates, the empty pools stand like huge scummy cisterns. My father is not a great swimmer, but he knows the basics. School swimming lessons finished my swimming education. When I am swimming, I often imagine myself floating like a fetus in my mother. Since I am thrashing vigorously, and not floating, swimming combines the joy of independent action and the security of a womb. 
Before my swim yesterday, TCH and I walked along the beach to the Pines. I love beach walks too, and this one by the Atlantic was especial…

Promising their love

Arrived on Fire Island yesterday with TCH, for a five-day stay at the Grove Beach Hotel. I was here two summers ago, alone, not having met TCH yet, and this summer I am here with him as an ex (and more). We had lunch at Cherry's Bar, where I had written the first part of "Fire Island," and where the drag performance in the heart of the sequence took place. This time, I plan to work on revising the ghazals. 
The bar was holding its annual Drag Attack competition, and a young queen who called herself Trashy Couture walked away with the golden blender. A few women there looked as if they could have been in drag, but were not. It was a jolly demonstration of gender indeterminacy. An older gentleman, with curly ginger mustache, kept warning me that I had to "pay" for the food and drinks TCH was plying me with. Another man, in just the right togs, wore a jacket that said "Mr. Fire Island Leather 2001." Competitions are a kind of communal ritual here. 
At nigh…

I will be on TV tomorrow

Apology: The network lost the DVD and so did not broadcast the program. My apologies to everyone who tried to catch the show. I will let you know if I have a new date. 
I am reading my poetry on the Poetry Thin Air Cable Show, revived by George Spencer and Mitch Corber. The program will be broadcast on Manhattan Neighborhood Network Channel 67, this Wednesday between 12:30-1:00 AM (EST).

If you don't get MNN Ch 67, don't worry. You can get the internet stream by following the instructions below.

1. Download Windows Media Player here
2. Click on your channel 67 stream, here

1. Download Windows Media Player here
2. Download Flip4Mac Player for QuickTime viewing here
3. Also download VLC media player from this page
4. Now, click on your channel 67 stream, here

Note: Try it now, or well before the show starts.

P.S. Any connection problems, email Mitch Corber Tuesday evening 9–11 pm ( He will offer 1-on-1 phone support, so leave him your phone n…

Father's Day at Citi Field

Just one more post today. About the Mets versus Rays game I watched yesterday with TCH at the new Mets Stadium. The $850 million Citi Field is a beautiful structure, fronted by the Jackie Robinson rotunda. The steel girders rise above the brick walls in an impressive show of strength and aspiration. Inside, the passageways are bright and airy, lit and refreshed by the openness of the steel frame.
It was Father's Day at the stadium. The big screen showed interviews of the players talking about their dads. The expected treacly stuff. The starting pitch was thrown by a kid, whose dad stood proudly by him. Fathers-and-sons won prizes sponsored by one company or another. The American genius for packing sports, entertainment and commerce into one enticing package. The whole Father's Day a-do affected TCH, who attended the game to distract himself from thinking he was not with his children on this day. We were supporting the Rays, the team his parents in Florida support. 
At one point …

Two Cautionary Tales

TLS June 19 2009

from Marina Frolova-Walker's review of Klara Moricz's Jewish Identities: Nationalism, racism, and utopianism in twentieth-century music:
Schoenberg's desire to ensure the supremacy of German music through his own work is well known, but Moricz shows that these concerns were not merely aesthetic:
[Schoenberg's letter to Alma Mahler, August 1914] I never had any use for all foreign music. It always seemed to me stale, empty, disgusting, cloying, false, and awkward . . . . Now I know who the French, English, Russians, Belgians, Americans, and Serbians are: barbarians . . . . For a long time this music has been a declaration of war, an attack on Germany  . . . . Now we shall send these mediocre purveyors of kitsch back into slavery, and they shall learn to honor the German spirit and to worship the German God.
Even the rise of the Nazis failed to cure Schoenberg of his German supremacism. From his American exile he lamented the fact that the Nazis had failed t…

What's Wrong with a World without Limits?

TLS June 19 2009
from "World without limits," a version of the Presidential Address to the Classical Association, delivered by Richard Seaford:
As I argued some years ago in Money and the Early Greek Mind (2004), the pivotal position of the Greeks in world culture stems largely from the fact that the sixth-century polis was the first society in history (with the conceivable exception of China) to be pervaded by money. Coinage was invented  towards the end of the seventh century BC, and spread rapidly in the Greek city-states from the beginning of the sixth.
The new and revolutionary phenomenon of money itself underpinned and stimulated two great inventions in the Greek polis of the sixth century, "philosophy" and tragedy. "Philosophy" (or rather idea of the cosmos as an impersonal system) was first produced in the very first monetized society, early sixth-century Ionia, and--even more specifically--in its commercial centre Miletos. The tendency of pre-moder…

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s “Selected Poems”

Edited by Peter Fallon, this selection of poems comes from 6 books published over a period of 29 years, roughly one book every five years. Chuilleanáin was 30 when she first published Acts and Monuments in 1972, and 59 when she published The Girl who Married the Reindeer in 2001. In the first book she imagines herself reading “in a ruin/ By a sour candle” and compares the future death of a lover to a plane crash in which

You will be scattered like wreckage,
The pieces every one a different shape
Will spin and lodge in the hearts
Of all who love you.

In the last book death has come, and taken away people the poet loved. “Agnes Bernelle, 1923-1999” is a moving elegy that compares, with considerable tact, the departed with a spider “that makes her own centre every day,/ Catching brilliantly the light of autumn.”

Besides the fictions and facts of death, the poems also say life is a journey, traveling often by water. Born in Cork, Ireland, Chuilleanáin traveled to Oxford for her studies, and, la…

Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 (1901-02)

Lorin Maazel conducted the Sibelius this week. I heard it on Wednesday, and had one of those musical experiences in which everything made sense. Sitting with TCH in the second row of the orchestra, I could see the involvement in every string player's face. No sidelong smirk or knowing look. Just immersion in the anguished grandeur of the music. The second movement was particularly absorbing. The third moved into the fourth without a pause. In the fourth, the contrasting themes became one, and sounded as if they were supposed to be one all along, but was unfortunately separated by history, by time. 
From the program note:
When Rimsky-Korsakov remarked of Sibelius's Second Symphony, "Well, I suppose that's possible, too," he may have been referring to the restless sense of duality that seems to govern this score. The pastoral sunshine that bathes the opening of the first movement is soon swept away by icy winds; rather the opposite happens in the third movement, wher…

Martin Buber's "I and Thou"

"The world is twofold for man in accordance with his twofold attitude," begins Buber, translated by Walter Kaufmann. The twofold attitude to the world, I-You and I-It, is elaborated and contrasted at length in the First Part of this three-part treatise. The world as experience and use belongs to I-It, whereas I-You establishes the world of relation. When I encounter the Other (nature, human being, or spiritual being) as my You, he is not a thing among things nor does he consist of things. As You, he fills the firmament, "not as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light" (p. 59). 
The Second Part explains the history of the human race as an unfortunate increase of the It-world, and calls for a return to I-You. The Third Part argues that, whereas all other I-You's must lapse into I-It, the only eternal I-You is that which inheres in our relationship with God, the eternal You.  Relation, and not union, with God. 
I am glad I read Buber'…

A Poetry of Reconciliation

From Octavio Paz's "Poetry and Modernity," translated by Eliot Weinberger, The Tanner Lecture on Human Values, delivered at the University of Utah, 1989:

For the ancients the past was the golden age, the natural Eden that we lost one day; for the moderns, the future was the chosen place, the promised land. But it is the present that has always been the time of poets and lovers, Epicureans and certain mystics. The instant is the time of pleasure but also the time of death, the time of the senses and that of the revelation of the beyond. I believe that the new star — that which has yet to appear on the historical horizon but which has already been foretold in many indirect ways — will be the star of the present, the star of now. Men and women will soon have to construct a morality, a politics, an erotics, and a poetics of present time. This change toward the present naturally involves the body, but it need not and should not be confused with the mechanical and promiscuous h…

"Intertwined Ink"

Poet and essayist Molly Fisk says about Holly Rose Review's Passion issue: 
"I’ve never coveted a tattoo — I saw too many withered forearms at six a.m. on old longshoremen in San Francisco’s Eagle Café. But Holly Rose Review tempts me. Its images are dreamy and fierce, woven in and out of the poems as if they always had belonged together. Browse through the second issue on Passion — sampling pomegranate seeds from Pamela Johnson Parker, watching the mechanical spring hook of knee from Jee Leong Koh and Cengiz Eyvazoy’s green-faced self-dismantling Salvador Dali — and see what you think about this intertwined ink. I like it."

"A Polycentric Literary Heritage"

TLS June 12, 2009

from Terence Hawkes’s review of Michael Holzman’s James Jesus Angleton, the CIA, and the Craft of Counterintelligence:

Holzman’s brisk, uncluttered book offers valuable access to previously untapped material on Angleton, who became the first head of the Counter-intelligence Staff of the CIA. In particular, it makes incisive use of his years as a student of English at Yale and the influence on him of the New Critics and modernist poets of his day.


[William Empson] identified a kind of universal, all-purpose ambiguity in human relations which melted simple-hearted trust and wrought havoc with lame notions of truth and clarity. One kind of dramatic irony may result:

Irony in this subdued sense, as a generous scepticism which can believe at once that people are and are not guilty, is a very normal and essential method . . . . This sort of contradiction is at once understood in literature, because the process of understanding one’s friends must always be riddled with such in…

In memory of Audrey McGinn

Audrey died of cancer on the morning of May 8. She was my classmate in Marie Ponsot's poetry thesis workshop, a year-long course on shaping a sheaf of poems into a book. She looked younger than her age, dressed carefully, almost distinguished, and talked with the soft and musical precision she must have advocated in classrooms for years.

I do not have her manuscript now, having thrown it out, along with other manuscripts from that class, during a bout of spring-cleaning. I do not remember its title. I remember the poems are about her grandfather and World War One. The poems are about Audrey's memories of her Scottish grandfather, and her journey, through art, literature and travel, to find out the meaning of the war. 
Some of the poems relied for their effect on stock images of that war, such as rats in trenches. Other poems put up with too much literary freight. But there were poems that stopped my heart: a collage of memories written in long, lonely lines; a narrative about …

Reinforced Concrete or Platonic Realm

TLS June 5 2009
from Tom Holland's review of Theodore Ziolkowski's Minos and the Moderns, and Cathy Gere's Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism:
Far more than the narratives associated with other legendary captials--Troy, Mycenae, Thebes--"the matter of Knossos" came with comparatively little baggage attached. No wonder, then, that throughout the twentieth-century, this combination of a clean cultural sheet with an undoubtedly archaic resonance should have inspired so many writers and artists to jump onto the Minoan bandwagon.
Many of the novels, poems and paintings that [Ziolkowski] describes in his book were veritable mazes of symbolism. So potentially resonant is a figure like the Minotaur, for instance, and yet so lacking in culturally sanctioned signification, that it seems that he can be made to stand for almost anything. Indeed, perhaps it is precisely the ability to play Theseus, to pin the monster down, to defy the tendency of the Cretan myth to overwhelm…

Unica Zürn's Drawings

I am so glad that VM asked me to see the drawings of Unica Zürn at the Drawing Center. The exhibition brings together for the first time 50 ink and watercolor works on paper spanning from the early 1950s to her suicide in 1970. Zürn was introduced in the 1950s to the practice of automatic drawing by her partner Hans Bellmer. The drawings that came out of that are strangely compelling.

They are mostly of animals, but animals combined into one finely detailed mass. From that scaly, feathery mass protrude beaks, webbed limbs, snail-like whorls and finny tails. Most noticeable are the eyes looking out at the viewer from unexpected places. And one eye usually serves as the starting point for the accumulation of lines and details, as the artist described it in The Man of Jasmine (1967):

“All her life obsessed with faces, she draws faces. After an initial moment when the pen “swims” hesitantly on the white paper, she discovers the place assigned to the first eye. It is only when she is being w…

Alan Ayckbourn's "Norman Conquests" 3

I saw Table Manners three weeks ago, and Round and Round the Garden last Thursday, both time with TCH. Garden concludes the trilogy triumphantly, if concludes is the right word for a trilogy so cunningly constructed to cover the same weekend in three areas of the same house. 
I remained deeply impressed by Jessica Hynes's Annie, trapped not only in a house, but in her own person. The third part of this trilogy belonged to Ruth, played by Amelia Bullmore, with a beauty that constantly suggested a handicap. In the first part, Amanda Root was a brilliantly controlling Sarah, and Paul Ritter was her very funny and passive husband, Reg. Ben Brantley, in his NYT review, suggested that they were all in love with Norman, because he represented their longing, unrestrained ids. The whole cast persuaded me they were actual people, and not actors inhabiting a role. 
The business with the deck chairs between Ruth and Tom (Ben Miles) was choreographed to humorous perfection. Stephen Managan, who …

Rhetoric and Ruthlessness

TLS May 29 2009
from Brian Vickers' review of Renaissance Figures of Speech, edited by Sylvia Adamson, Gavin Alexander and Katrin Ettenhuber:
Sylvia Adamson discusses synonymia, a figure that was central both to classical courtroom eloquence, as a device of vehement emphasis, and to Renaissance writers seeking copia verborum, fertility of utterance. . . . Reading rhetoric depends on recognizing a figure's form and function, and the failure to detect a synonym may have created "one of the notorious oddities of St. Matthew's Gospel," where Jesus is described as riding into Jerusalem on two animals at once: the disciples "brought the ass and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon" (Mt 21:7). Adamson points out that Matthew had failed to realize that Zechariah, the Old Testament prophet whom he cites as prefiguring the event, used the figure synonymia to emphasize the lowliness of the Messiah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zi…

Two Poems in Holly Rose Review

A poetry and tattoo journal, Holly Rose Review reprints my poem "Brother," and publishes for the first time "Valentine to Volume." You can read the poems and hear my reading of them as well. I am not a huge tattoo fan, but must say that some of the tattoos are quite fascinating. Tattoos look to me so permanent a mark on the body; they seem less susceptible to constant revision.
Serendipitously I am in the same issue with two Singaporean tattoo artists. Daphne Lazarus organized Singapore's first body suspension show in conjunction with the country's first tattoo convention. I have no idea what a body suspension show is, but the name sounds mighty interesting. Shane Tan's tattoo appears on the cover of Holly Rose. He specializes in Japanese art tattoos, and you can see more of his work on his website

Reading at Wholesome Earth

Mike Geffner curates the Monday Inspired Word Reading in the Mexican restaurant Tierra Sana in Forrest Hills, Queens. I read there last night, but not before drinking a delicious zapari (white wine and lime), and a couple of sample-sized cups of merlot. 
I read ten of my ghazals from "A Lover's Recourse," and they went down very well with the audience. It changed my strange idea that my ghazals are better read than heard. The emcee described my reading as Shakespearian, by which she meant, I would like to think, sonorous and cadenced. She elaborated later that my voice was so soothing, that she would like to fall asleep to it. I'm not sure what to think of that compliment. 
I was the sixth reader of eight altogether. Eight different readings were a lot to absorb for an evening. No open-mic. During the earlier part of the evening, what sounded like a religious service was taking place in the private function room at the back of the restaurant. I could not make out the S…