Showing posts from August, 2010

Richard Strauss's "Der Rosenkavalier"

I am planning to receive a free education in Western opera by attending the Met's Summer HD Festival. Ten of the most popular productions from its Live in HD series are shown this week on a giant screen on the front of the opera house. I missed Tosca on Saturday, and The Magic Flute on Sunday, but watched Richard Strauss's comic masterpiece last night.

Act I was a sheer delight. Lyrical and philosophical in its meditations on love (who are we when we love?), the opera switched to the comedy of the Marschallin's morning audience, before returning to the elegiac note when the Marschallin (Renée Fleming) lamented the loss of her youth, and the inevitable future loss of the love of young Count Octavian (Susan Graham). The curtains came down on Fleming stroking her own mouth tenderly with a real rose. 
Act II, which took place in Faninal's palatial town house, was broader in its humor. Kristinn Sigmundsson was appropriately crude as the ignoble Baron Ochs, while Thomas Allen …

Eluding Authority

Finished reading Common Knowledge Volume 11 Issue 3 this afternoon on Christopher Street pier. Pankaj Mishra, the Indian novelist, has an eloquent essay on how the evils of colonialism can never be balanced by its supposed benefits. He took issue with William Dalrymple's book White Mughals for representing interracial relationships between British men and Indian women in the eighteenth century as happening beyond a mere handful of the elite. In his reply, "Assimilation and Transculturation in Eighteenth-Century India," Dalrymple defends his thesis ably. Most persuasive, to my mind, is the fact that over one-third of the British men in India willed all their possessions either to one or more of their Indian companions (bibis) or to their Anglo-Indian children. This situation changed with the abolition of the East India Company in 1858, and the imposition of direct rule from the Colonial Office in London. The imperial myth of racial superiority set in, and our view of the …

An Inflamed Curiosity

Five of my ghazals appear in Common Knowledge (Volume 16, Issue 3, Fall 2010), a journal published three times a year by Duke University Press, in association with Bar-Ilan University, in Ramat Gan, Israel. The poetry editor Belle Randall read my "Translations of an Unknown Mexican Poet" in PN Review, and contacted me. The journal editor Jeffrey M. Perl also liked the ghazals enough to publish them.

I was sent a couple of months ago an earlier volume (Volume 11, Issue 3, Fall 2005), and I started reading it this week. Conducted within its pages is Part 2 of a symposium called "Imperial Trauma: The Powerlessness of the Powerful." I enjoyed David Cannadine's paper ""Big Tent" Historiography" in which he reflects on the implications of the growing American dominance of the study of the British empire. He points out the Americans' inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that the USA is an empire, that it has been an empire since its earlie…

Ian McEwan's "Solar"

Just finished McEwan's latest. It's terrible. "A carefully crafted lesson plan," Walter Kirns calls it in the Sunday Book Review. I share the same judgment of the novel, but Kirns puts it more witheringly and wittily than I ever can. Here is a choice passage:

What makes “Solar” such a noble nullity is that it answers these challenges [of plotting] so easily, with such a quotient of stress-free mastery that they feel less like challenges than like problems in a literary exam the author has devised as a means of proving his own prowess. This may be Beard’s story, but it’s McEwan’s vehicle, constructed to let him pull all the showy turns of the major contemporary novelist and ambitious public intellectual: personalizing the political, politicizing the personal and poeticizing everything else. The tip-off is Beard, who’s endowed by his creator with precisely the vices — apathy, slothfulness, gluttony and hypocrisy — that afflict the society the book condemns, threatening …

The Garden and the Cage

Good weekend. Met GH's nephew S over dinner last night, at a Lower East Side Italian restaurant called Tres. He and his wife are light and sound installation artists. After dinner, we migrated over to the neighborhood garden, where we toasted marshmallows over a fire, put them with chocolate between crackers, and ate far too many of them. They are called s'mores, so I was told.

This afternoon, GH and I saw La Cage Aux Folles at Longacre Theatre. Kelsey Grammer (Georges) was a strong stage presence, but the show belonged to Douglas Hodge, who played Albin, also known as Zaza in the cabaret. Hodge, a classical actor who worked with Harold Pinter, was very funny, and very moving. The dancers "Les Cagelles" were terrific. First show I watched with GH, and I am glad we both enjoyed it very much. Musicals are great entertainment, when done well. As Georges said of the cabaret, they are "rather gaudy, rather grand."

Not gaudy, not grand is the small but exquisite …

Two poems in Mixed Nerve

Two ghazals published in issue no. 7 of Mixed Nerve, a seasonal journal from Hawaii. Tia Ballantine, the issue editor, reviewed my Payday Loans favorably back in 2007, and we've kept in touch since. Alison Brackenbury, also a contributor, is a familiar name. She has a new book out from Carcanet, Singing in the Dark.

John Updike's "Rabbit Redux"

My first Updike, and I exploded with pure pleasure. From the precise beauty of its descriptions. From its beguiling historical detail and allegorical meaning. From its nuanced understanding of men and women, particularly men, but also women, what they want, what they fear, what they fear to want.

The structure of the book is elegantly simple. It opens with a wife walking out on her husband, and closes with the probability of them getting back together again. Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom is a man who feels responsible for the world but helpless to do anything for himself, let alone the world. Each section of the book focuses on the people he feels responsible for. In Section I, they are mom who is suffering from Parkinson's, and dad who is constantly reminding Harry to visit his dying mother. In Section II, after Janice left, Rabbit took up with Jill, a young white hippie who rejected her rich family. Her friend, a young black radical, Skeeter, took refuge with them in Section…

Phenomenology of the Built Environment

Toronto is a cross between Singapore and Manhattan. Like my country, it is clean, business-friendly, and changing all the time. The building cranes are everywhere, though a number seems to have been halted by the economic downturn. The city has distinct and diverse neighborhoods, like Manhattan, and also like that island, Toronto is crazy about culture and the arts.

During a three-day visit, GH and I saw many buildings to love. King Edward's Hotel, where we stayed, had an impressive Old World lobby dominated by a huge royal portrait. It had nice modern touches too, like the long-stemmed flowers in long glass vases in the vestibule. The hotel set the tone for what we saw in the city: imaginative conservation alongside lyrical modernism. Frank Gehry's redesign of the Art Gallery of Toronto was only the most stunning example. Wooden ramps and walkways were threaded round the stone building, and they culminated in a sculptural spiral staircase.

photo taken by GH

The Galleria Italia

Ganymede Unfinished

A tribute to John Stahle, Ganymede Unfinished, edited by Bryan Borlandis available today The sample pages look fabulous, very much the gospel according to John. I have a poetic sequence in it. You can also buy copies at John's memorial, which is scheduled for Saturday, September 18, from 2:30 - 4:30 at the LGBT Center, 208 West 13th Street in New York City.  All proceeds from the sale ofGanymede Unfinishedon that day will go toward the cost of the memorial.

An Interview on Self-Publishing

Wendy Chin-Tanner interviews me at The Nervous Breakdown on self-publishing my poetry. Why do it? How do it? It's all, mostly, there. I also thank John Stahle, Andrew Howdle, Vijay Seshadri, Marie Howe, Christopher Hennessey, Lawrence Schimel, and Natasha Trethewey, for their help along the way.

Alda Merini's "Love Lessons"

Love Lessons is a selection of poems by contemporary Italian poet Alda Merini, translated by Susan Stewart. Merini's treatment of love is both intensely erotic and metaphysical. In fact, it does not distinguish between the body and the mind. There is no ironic posturing here, only passionate involvement. Despite the asymmetries of love--love unrequited, unequal, betrayed--the poems give the impression that Merini cannot help giving herself to it. Borne on her surging emotion, the reader is thrown, with her, against the intransigency of male lust. "Roman Wedding" concludes with this ominous, yet exhilarating, image:

Like a rock dividing waters,
a young and raging current,
recklessly, you will break me up
in the arms of a painful delta . . .
Out of this breaking arises self-knowledge, self-definition. The poem "Alda Merini" begins with a gentle ache: "I tenderly loved some very sweet lovers/ without them knowing anything about it." It moves towards self-…

The Latest Saint

TLS July 30 2010

from Bernard Manzo's Commentary piece on John Henry Newman, "The test of literature":

The Apologia has, in many ways, determined how the writings and the life of Newman have been interpreted--not least for those prepared to see him as a saint. It portrayed the "living intelligence", showing the gradual movement of the mind towards certain beliefs, and how that movement was felt and experienced. Newman declared that he had a "preference of the Persona to the Abstract" as a mode of explanation. He saw ethos and doctrine as correlative, and when examining a body of thought, he sought always to discern the spirit that animated it. He saw acts of thought as personal acts, reflecting the "moral temperament" of the thinker, and he considered "paper logic" to be a crude representation of the living mind, doubting whether acts of faith could be fully analysed: "no analysis is subtle and delicate enough to represent adeq…

The Triumph of Nabokov's "Lolita"

The novel begins and ends with "Lolita" but it is really about Humbert Humbert and his attempt to fix, in writing, the sublime effect of nymphets. Or is it? The challenge for Nabokov is to show, through an obsessive and self-reflexive narrative, the moral reality of what actually happened. Can fiction reveal truth? Not in the naive realist style that takes language as some kind of glass that needs only a good scrub for the world to come into full and accurate view. But fiction, suspicious of its own artifice, its own lies, its own egotism, that sees language as a fun-house of mirrors, uproarious one moment, terrifying the next, can that kind of fiction (for, after all, that is the only honest kind that can be written after Modernism and the World Wars) make the reader feel, not for the narrator, not for himself-in-the-narrator, but for others?

This is the triumph of Lolita. All the cunning that Humbert (and Nabokov) poured into the construction of this ambitious work pays of…

A Moor in Boston

Third day in Boston, last Friday, SK and I went university visiting. We walked round Harvard Yard and into troops of Chinese students touring what could be their future alma mater. SK told me that in China there is a flourishing industry whose sole service is to get local students into American Ivy League schools.

The last time I was here, six years ago, it was winter and the Yard was brown and hard. Now I was struck by how green it was. The Harvard Museum of Natural History put on a special exhibition on evolution. The exhibition text was somewhat strident in tone. It insisted that the theory was supported by "overwhelming evidence" and repeated that the theory was a "fact." I loved the glass flowers as much as I did before. So many grasses on display, that the show might be better named Leaves of Glass.

We had lunch at the popular Bartleby's Gourmet Burgers. There was a long line. My Michelle Obama (cajun, goat cheese) was good, but nothing special. After lun…

Boston's Green Man

We tramped along the Freedom Trail all yesterday, starting at Boston Common and ending up, drenched by rain, at Bunker Hill. The obelisk is undergoing restoration, and so we could not climb to its top. We celebrated instead by getting an ice-cream from the ice-cream van.

The highlight of the trail, for me, was our tour of the Massachusetts State House. Our guide, a sandy-haired young man, showed us the Representatives and Senate chambers, and the "Sacred Cod." The other highlight was the green man, a beautiful green-shirted apparition we kept running into at different points of the trail: Cobb Hill cemetery, Washington Bridge, on the gang-plank of the USS Constitution.

SK found a gay-friendly restaurant called dbar, out in Savin Hill. We had some fine food and wine there, beside a cute couple, and near a long table of celebrating men. The night we danced away at the Estate, in a dead alley next to Emerson College. Young kids, bad music, expensive drinks. No green man in si…

John Singer Sargent Painting the Town

The Chinatown bus took only four hours to pull into South Station. It was easy getting to Hotel 140, on Clarendon Street, by subway. When SK arrived, from Montreal, we walked a couple of blocks to Copley Square. We ate a simple lunch and dipped our legs into the fountain. SK is a now a proud homeowner, with his partner, in Paris.

We both liked the Boston Public Library's McKim Building very much. Built at the end of the nineteenth century. it was a library in a palace. The entrance hall had a vaulted ceiling, on which were lettered the names of thirty famous Bostonians. A deep triumphal arch connected the entrance hall to the main staircase. The steps were made of ivory gray Echaillon marble, mottled with fossil shells. The walls were a warm yellow Siena. From the landing, through a big window, the courtyard and pool could be taken in.

In the Sargent gallery, the American painter decorated its walls with the mural sequence Triumph of Religion. Many of the murals featured beautifu…

A Visit to East Hampton

GH and I had a great time staying with KH and A in East Hampton on Monday and Tuesday. The train ride out took about two and a half hours, and KH met us at the station. She looked so well in her blue sun dress. We went with her to the community garden where she picked some herbs (the smell of chives!) for our meals. This year a disease blighted many tomato plants in the garden but KH's plants escaped so far.

A flourishing yard shielded the bungalow from the noise of the road. Towering over the lush vegetation was a row of thin bamboos. The house had two bedrooms, a spacious living room, and a pool. Many interesting artifacts picked up from their travels stood around the house or on the walls. A cupboard designed in the Santa Fe manner stored bed linen. It was lovely to meet A after hearing so much about her. She was a tall graceful bronze. On the second day, she wore round her neck a horn of a deer which she designed herself.

In the evening, we drove to Montauk and heard Nancy Atl…

Visual Poetry

Avantacular Press, by Andrew Topel, puts out chapbooks of visual poetry. The covers on the press blog look stunning: striking, intricate and humorous. A virtual gallery.

THE WHITE WHITCH by daniel f. bradley, visual poetry collection

Ghazal, Ghazal, Ghazal

Qarrtsiluni publishes the second of the two ghazals they accepted from me. That brings the number of ghazals published to 22, out of a total of 49. Not bad. 22 includes the five due to appear in Common Knowledge this month. I have revised and rearranged the entire sequence, and submitted it to At Length, a magazine that specializes in long poems. They just reprinted extracts from Elizabeth Alexander's "Amistad."