Showing posts from September, 2009

"Bull Eclogues"

I've completely rewritten the last poem of the sequence, and revised a number of the other poems. I decided not to use as epigraph Nietzsche's warning about fighting monsters because it sounds too moralistic for an introspective and lyrical sequence like this one. So back to using Ted Haggard's words, which represent for me not so much biography as a common state of being.

Bull Eclogues

“There's a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life."

The Cretan

You come out of the shower, warm and wet,
and towel your head with rough deliberation.
Those wide shoulders, untouched by a plough,
you wear like a smile, and the room smells clean.

I know I should have sacrificed you to God,
I should have raised the knife despite its stone
and saved its bullion in your bullcow heart,
I should have turned from fucking with a beast.

Instead I let you lash my legs to you,
haul me through contracting caves, and grind
into the ground the…

"Where's Al?"

Saw the MoMA show "Ron Arad: No Discipline" this afternoon with TH. Arad (Israeli, b. 1951) produces objects that aim to blur the boundaries between design, sculpture and architecture. Oh dear. I could not get IKEA out of my head when I saw the numerous chairs displayed on the shelves. There were ripple chairs, butterfly chairs, chairs made of stainless steel rods, carbon fiber armchairs, and chairs inside of another chair. I liked the monumental-looking one, scooped out of a huge twisting hunk of steel. The other favorite was "A Mortal Coil," which could conceivably function as a book case. The long sloping seat of "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie" looked like the back of a dog. Most of the objects looked like design to me, interesting designs, but still design.

I enjoyed the Conceptual Art show more than I thought I would. "In and Out of Amsterdam: Travels in Conceptual Art, 1960-1976" exhibited about 75 works by artists related to Amsterdam in one way …

"Bull Eclogues": "The Cave"

"Bull Eclogues" is a sequence of poems I am writing, in the voice of a Ted Haggard-inspired speaker. The central conceit is to compare Haggard to Pasiphae, the Cretan queen who fell in love with a bull. I've completely rewritten Poem Six, which covers his outing by the sex worker.

The Cave

To be found out sounds like a sharp relief,
for godless enemies, and not for me,
a wide primetime report--ripping sheets
off private beds--of public sentencing.

Or else it sounds like holy disbelief,
confusion in the ranks, complicity,
on stony floors the awkward scrape of seats
pushed back, the quiet airconditioning.

At home it makes a smaller sound, like grief.
The click of a light switch. No mercy
in the darkness or the light the house repeats,

but hiding for a time, however brief,
in me, as in my den, I hear the plea
of an unfired bullet in the drawer firing.


Steve Jacobs directs Coetzee's "Disgrace" (2008)

The film was utterly compelling throughout, from the first sight of Professor David Lurie's eyes peering from behind window blinds, to the last shot of him and his daughter Lucy going into her house. There was the danger of David Lurie losing all sympathy from the audience at the beginning of the film. (John Malkovich who plays him, said in an interview, that he could make any character unlikable.) But the risk is part of the bigger risk the film took: there will be no easy sympathy in this movie.

The shift in political power in South Africa leaves Lurie fearful, and this fear expresses itself in his concern for his daughter living out in the country by herself. When she is raped by three young black men, his worst fears are realized, and he seeks police action against the "criminals." His own earlier affair with a reluctant student he sees as Byronic passion and not as wrong. The latter understanding comes to him only through his daughter's experience.

Lucy, as play…

Elia Kazan's "East of Eden"

The movie came out in 1955, 3 years after the novel by John Steinbeck. It stars James Dean in his first major film role. Cal Trask, the black sheep, loves his father Adam (Raymond Massey) who favors the good son Aron (Richard Davalos) instead. When Adam's long-haul vegetable shipping venture failed, Cal Trask recoups his father's losses by speculating in beans. But Adam refuses to accept Cal's war profits. Cal hugs his father and begs for his love, in a scene melodramatic yet primal.

To take revenge, Cal tells Aron that their mother Kate (Jo Van Fleet), whom they believed dead, is actually living, and works as a madam. To escape the truth, Aron goes to war, and his departure causes Adam to suffer a stroke. Aron's fiancee Abra (Julie Harris), who transfers her affection from Aron to Cal throughout the movie, persuades Adam to show his need for Cal in order to save his son. This the father does, asking the son to get rid of the nurse and stay with him instead, and the fi…

Hearing Adrienne Rich at 80 at 92Y

Adrienne Rich first read at the 92Y in 1958, at the age of 29. Last night, she returned to open the Center's reading season, at the age of 80. The Kaufman Hall was full. When she walked on stage, the audience applauded warmly, and a group of women gave her a standing ovation. It was tremendously moving to see this slight woman, her head disproportionately big, sink into the armchair, shuffle her papers with trembling hands, and then read in a steady voice.

"All of her life she has been in love with the hope of telling the utter truth." What W. S. Merwin wrote of Rich reminds me of the choice between truth and beauty my classmates and I were asked to make and reflect upon in a workshop exercise. I wrote down "truth," but realized afterwards that it was what I felt I should choose, and not what I would choose. Truth seemed to be a nobler, larger, claim than beauty; it still seems so to me. It provides a real resistance, an unmovable rock against which one may pit…

Reading Neil Aitken's "The Lost Country of Sight"

When I roomed with Neil Aiken at the Kundiman poetry retreat in 2005, I recognized in him another migratory spirit. Neil was born in Vancouver, but grew up in Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and various parts of western Canada and the United States. When we met, he was doing his creative writing MFA at the University of California, Riverside, and two years later his first book won the 2007 Philip Levine prize.

A road runs through The Lost Country of Sight. A road that observes intently the country it enters, and leaves, and then re-enters. Individually keen, the observations do not, however, describe external realities so much as internal states. The poetry is essentially introspective. This is its strength, but also its danger. It risks making one country very much like another. Love, loss, longing--these psychological states are distinctly evoked in poem after poem, whereas Taipei, Hsin Chu, Kaohsiung, Saskatoon, Astoria (in Oregon), Los Angeles, they are really interchangeable in this poetry…

Jazz, Genes, and Jizz

TLS September 11, 2009

from Stephen Brown's review of Richard Williams' "The Blue Moment: Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue" and the remaking of modern music":

Try this experiment, sing the first seven notes of the major scale, doh, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti . . . and stop on that seventh tone, the "ti." You'll feel the aching incompleteness that so wants the satisfaction of a final "doh." This is the quality that makes "doh" the central tone of the scale, and makes us feel the other tones in relationship to it. A whole system of harmonies grew to support this centredness, granting the listener a reference place in musical space skin to the position in visual space that perspective grants the viewer of a picture. And like perspective, the tonal system was rejected by Modernists. In effect, there had been, by the 1930s, two "modern" revolutions in music: a violent one under Schoenberg and his twelve-tone system; and a ve…

The Pushcart Time of the Year

The poetry and tattoo journal Holly Rose Review has nominated "Brother" for both the Pushcart and the Best-of-the-Net. My second Pushcart nom. The first was "Childhood Punishments," put up by Kartika Review.

A Poetic Celebration of the Hudson River

Too tired to say much about the reading, but just want to note it on the blog. Hosted by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, at the newish Battery City Park Ferry Terminal, the event commemorated the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's discovery of the river that now carries his name. The poems were written for the occasion, and read by the poets: Eavan Boland's "The Port of New York, 1956," John Ashbery's "In One Afternoon," Toon Tellegen's "A Poem for Henry Hudson," Jorie Graham's "No Bearing and Disproportion" (an extract), Paul Muldoon's "Lines for the Quartercentenary of the Voyage of the Halve Maen," and John Koethe's "The Great Gatsby." Michael Schmidt introduced each poet. The ferry engine, coming by at regular intervals, competed with and accompanied the voices.

Proust on the boredom of writing

WL sent me this sentence by Proust:
For some time past the words of Bergotte, when he pronounced himself positive that, in spite of all I might say, I had been created to enjoy pre-eminently the pleasures of the mind, had restored to me, with regard to what I might succeed in achieving later on, a hope that was disappointed afresh every day by the boredom I felt on settling down before a writing-table to start work on a critical essay or a novel. "After all," I said to myself, "perhaps the pleasure one feels in writing it is not the infallible test of the literary value of a page; perhaps it is only a secondary state which is often superadded, but the want of which can have no prejudicial effect on it. Perhaps some of the greatest masterpieces were written while yawning." --Proust, "Within a Budding Grove" (trans. Scott Moncrieff, Kilmartin, and Enright), p. 530It is a provocative speculation, a wonderful excuse. I think the pleasure of writing is not a te…

Why I do not call myself an Asian American poet

Larina in the AAP forum asks:
Jee, I've found in some circles that poets of a particular ethnic background are sometimes bothered by an assumption that they were influenced by other poets of that ethnic background. Do you find that you are sometimes categorized as an Asian American poet and how do you feel about that?
And here is my reply:
I have been sometimes categorized by publishers, editors and readers as an Asian American poet. It bothers me because that designation does not describe at all my person and my poetry. Read more.

CHICAGO the musical

Watched this satire of media fame at the Ambassador Theatre yesterday afternoon with TB. Directed by Walter Bobbie, Choreography by Ann Reinking, Lyrics by Fred Ebb, Music by John Kander, Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse. The original production was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. Late 1920s Chicago was less a Scene than a matrix of social interactions; the orchestra on stage formed an integral part of the entertainment called American justice.

Bonnie Langford was a vivacious Roxie Hart who shot and killed her lover, and so gained, for a while, the notoriety that she had always longed for. Visibly past her sell-by-date, Langford's Roxie was fueled by a convincing desperation. Her husband Amos Hart was played by a very funny Raymond Bokhour. His rendition of "Mister Cellophane," as he swayed slightly on his feet, was entirely memorable. He filled the stage with his presence while remaining compactly himself. Tom Hewitt played the crooked lawyer Billy Flynn. He was …

Release of GANYMEDE #5

Gay men¹s lit/art print quarterly published quarterly in New York as a paperback book.
Table of contents and readable sample pages. Purchase (print or download) here.

--EDMUND WHITE on writing gay
--OSCAR WILDE's delicious 1889 dialogue on art, ³The Decay of Lying²
--GLENWAY WESCOTT's rare 1928 story of a little boy going to a ball in drag
--BERGDORF BOYS by Scott Hess: first of four parts serializing a complete novel, both witty and dark, about gay party boys in New York
--TEN gay poets in 36 pages--the finest survey of gay poetry in print today
--EIGHT cutting-edge gay visual artists from around the world
--SUSAN GLASPELL's 1917 story ³A Jury of Her Peers,² now a discovered text in feminist lit
--INDIE EYE returns with tips on obscure movies to rent, including the first gay Bollywood flick!
--The Paris of Our Dreams: the 19th-century transformation of Paris coincided with the birth of photography, and the rise of archival photographers who snapped parts of the city eithe…

Steven Cordova's "Working Authors Reading Series"

Steven Cordova kicked off his new reading series called "Working Authors" by featuring six poets from Best Gay Poetry 2008, edited by Lawrence Schimel. I read last night, together with Chip Livingston, Timothy Liu, Jason Schneiderman, Emmanuel Xavier and the curator himself. The room in the LGBT center was nicely filled up. I read "Glass Orgasm" from the anthology, and "Florida" and "Montauk." The last two worked well together. Despite stumbling twice, my reading I judge was compelling. TH and EN were there, as was SS who swopped her new book The Future Is Happy for mine.

The Friday before last I read at Cornelia Street Cafe, curated by Kat Georges. I did my best ever reading then. Hit every musical phrase with precision and made every structure sensible. The poems were mostly about my father, from the first section of my book. EN was there.

"A Room With a View" the movie (1985)

The Merchant-Ivory film is a travesty of Forster's novel. I know, I know, we are all supposed to be viewers sophisticated enough to know a film adaptation is never the book. But I am not objecting to the liberties the film takes with the book's plot. Nor am I protesting the irreconcilable features of two very different media. What bothers me is that the film exorcises the spirit of the novel. It takes what is an existential question wrapped in social comedy, and turns it inside out, into a comedy of manners decorated with philosophy, along with lavish sets, costumes and music.

This is most clearly seen in the character of George Emerson. When we first see him in the film, he is playing with his food, forming a question mark with it, and then showing the plate, with a roguish smile, to Lucy Honeychurch. His action is not in the novel. It slights the despair the young man feels in the novel, a despair born out of a sense that things in the world do not hang together. The questio…

Muir Web

TLS September 4 2009

from Peter Coates's review of Eric W. Sanderson's Mannahatta: The natural history of New York City:

On September 12, 1609, Henry Hudson, a British navigator in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, entered the river that now bears his name. He was searching for the elusive Northwest Passage to the Orient, and continued upriver for over a hundred miles in his yacht, the Half Moon. Neat the site of Albany, New York State's future capital, the water became too shallow for further progress and Hudson finally accepted that this wasn't the way to Cathay. The consolation prize was the discovery of the island that the local people, the Lenape (a branch of the Algonquin Indians), called "Manna-hata" [In the Algonquin language, "Island of Many Hills"].*One of [Sanderson's] project's most innovative contribution to historical ecology is the concept of the "Muir web". Named after one of Sanderson's heroes, John Mu…

Re-reading Forster's "A Room with a View". . .

. . . I have been impressed by the figure of Old Emerson who stands in the novel for the views of the American Transcendentalist, the Sage of Concord. Old Emerson is given to philosophizing, a trait at least potentially irritating if his words are not suffused with such human warmth. He speaks for direct experience, as opposed to reliance on authority and tradition, and for that most direct of experiences, sexual passion. A passage from Ralph Waldo's essay "Nature" (1836) is so pertinent to the Sacred Lake episode, when the three men stripped to play in a natural pool in the woods, that I wonder if Forster had the Sage's words before him as he wrote. The passage is famous.

To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly …

Martha C. Nussbaum's "Cultivating Humanity"

Subtitled "A Classical Defence of Reform in Liberal Education," the book presents a philosophical argument for world citizenship, and the relevant educational reform, as well as a descriptive picture of what is actually happening in American campuses. The argument enlists Socrates and the Stoics, in the main, to argue for thinking of ourselves as inquiring world citizens. The description of college reform relies on information gathering and hundreds of interviews from a "core" group of 15 institutions chosen to represent  different types of colleges and universities. The combination of philosophical and empirical approaches achieves what many polemics on higher education don't: a coherent and reasonable argument backed up by a rich picture of actual reality.

The world citizen, which American universities should produce, is characterized by three traits: Socratic self-examination, understanding of different cultures, and narrative imagination, the last of which …

The Academy and the New Worlds

Larina Warnock read my poem "Brother" on the Bench Press website, and liked it so much that she invited me to be the Guest Poet this month on the online discussion forum of the Academy of American Poets. She asked for a note on my poetics, and so I wrote something of my current thinking for her:
A forthcoming review of my new book says, quite correctly, that my language faces three directions: Singapore, England and the USA. Loitering at the place where three roads meet, my person cannot travel down all three and be one traveler, but my poetry attempts that impossible integration, and so records the successes and failures of that attempt. The disparate elements are not just those of place, but also of time, people, idea, feeling, and what lies below feeling. If modern life has been characterized by fragmentation, I sense a new—old—desire for wholeness. Wholeness not based on discredited formulas—for salvation, community or knowledge—but on new, and renewed, forms that realize…

Translations of an Unknown Mexican Poet (6): "The Pigeon"

This takes the place of the old No. 6.

The Pigeon

Even the light crumples in this city, let alone
the takeout menus thrust from street corners,
the flowers bandaged in cellophane, the fire
escapes, the fat-lidded women on the train.

In some back kitchen the men are crumbling
a bag of peas into the soup. In some back alley
the washing machines are muttering distractedly.
The light is still trying to straighten its wrinkles.

This is not a rat ironed flat on the road. This is
a pigeon. See the wings flattened out to feather.
See the white fluff still not completely blackened.
Affixed to the ground, the animal ruffles the light.

Hard to tell the difference but it is a pigeon.
Hard to tell the difference but it is still bright.

Li Yu's "A Tower for the Summer Heat"

The Ming-Qing playwright, novelist and publisher Li Yu (1611-80) is an ingenious writer, and he is proud of his ingenuity. Time and again the narrator of his short story collection Shier Lou (Twelve Towers) praises his own inventiveness, especially in subverting some literary tradition, cultural assumption, or social hierarchy. In A Tower for the Summer Heat, Patrick Hanan has selected and translated six of the twelve stories (or "towers"), enough to give a very good idea of Li Yu's range. I have read and enjoyed Silent Operas, Li Yu's earlier collection, but I think the Towers rise above the Operas.
The title story literalizes the imagination in the form of a Western optical invention, which a man deploys to court a local beauty. In the next story "Return-to-Right Hall," invention is embodied in a successful con man. The story proves that a reformed man is greater than a good man. In "House of Gathered Refinements" a homosexual ménage à trois ru…