Tuesday, August 31, 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 played Faninal with simpering obeisance. As the Cavalier of the Rose, responsible for presenting Sophie (Christine Schäfer) with that silver engagement symbol on behalf of  the Baron, Graham looked splendid in her silver suit, a match for the silver and peach gown Schäfer wore. The direction unraveled a little at the end of the act, when Octavian hurried back on the stage to tell Sophie to wait for him. His movement, and protestation, seemed out of place.

Act III, the tavern scene, where Octavian tricked and shamed Ochs, by dressing up as a maidservant, suffered from poor stage directing. The pacing was uneven and a lot of movements unmotivated. Still, when the Marschallin gave up her claim on Octavian in favor of Sophie, singing that she will learn "to love the love you have for another," the combined aria was magical. If, like a presiding goddess, she had set the plot, and the masquerade, into action by nominating Octavian as the Cavalier of the Rose, she was still human enough to suffer the pangs of regret.

Tonight I will go and watch John Adams's Doctor Atomic.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

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 past is still bedeviled by it. To illustrate his point, Dalrymple told the interesting and complex story of James Kirkpatrick, the Resident of Hyderabad, and upper class Khair un-Nissa. The story involved a painting of their two children, who were sent to England for their education, against their mother's wish.

From Walter L. Reed and Marshall P. Duke's essay, I learned about Ulric Neisser's Five Kinds of Self Knowledge. The ecological self is directly perceived in relation to the immediate physical environment. The interpersonal self, also directly perceived, is established by emotional rapport and communication. The extended self is based on memory and anticipation. The private self is how we experience our isolated consciousness. The conceptual self draws from a network of social assumptions and theories about human nature in general and our own selves in particular. The division of selves is interesting and suggestive. The authors suggest that there is an authoring self that creates all the other selves, but sometimes loses control over their development and significance.

In the aphoristic essay "Truth in Autobiography" Gyorgy Konrad seems to be especially concerned with the control and the freedom of the self. Apparently contradictory are these two evocative passages:

Making people write autobiographies was also the main event in the ritual of political detention. They gave you the time to do the job, and the idea was to include as many names and details as possible. The testimony would be examined to expose internal contradictions and compared with that of others to expose contradictions and untruths. Then screenwriters would work up the material.


It may be arrogant to see our lives as novels, or it might indicate no more than the ability to read. The question is whether I shaped my life's plan myself or simply read it like an already drawn up blueprint. The autobiographer can tell all sorts of secrets about himself, his writing being no criminal confession or declaration in an official report. What he writes cannot be used against anyone. Not even against himself, because I have no control over who I was yesterday, or who I will be tomorrow. So when I write I not only elude the authority of others but also my own.

Friday, August 27, 2010

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 earliest days. I was also fascinated by the tale Maya Jasanoff tells in her paper "Cosmopolitan: A Tale of Identity from Ottoman Alexandria" about the 18th century French dragoman (interpreter) Etienne Roboly who was arrested and jailed on the basis that he was a subject of the Ottoman Emperor, and not of France. The hybridity with which he lived his life in cosmopolitan Alexandria caught up with him.

Inga Clendinnen's paper "The Power to Frustrate Good Intentions, or The Revenge of the Aborigines" was yet another good read. In it she examines the relationship between Australian anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner and his Nangiomeri informant Durmugam. Respectful, even admiring, of Stanner's field and advocacy work, Inga showed persuasively how Stanner's account of Durmugam, and the latter's colonised tribal society, was deeply influenced by the scientist's own biography, despite his nuanced understanding of the place of anthropological research. In Stanner's view,  if history was "the narrative of how one thing leads to another," anthropology was the study of "the constants which persist when one thing is leading to another. . . . Anthropology postulates change and, mainly, studies continuity. History postulates continuity and, mainly, studies change." Stanner looked toward a new "social history" to identity "the persistent relationships which impose limits and directions on what change can be in a particular society."

After analyzing the fallacies in Stanner's thinking, and the discrepancy between his thinking and his action of calling on the force of White law on behalf of his friend Durmugam, Inga concludes that in the Nangiomeri man Stanner "was haunted by an unstained vision of the physical hardihood, intellectual sophistication, and spiritual exuberance of the "Traditional Aborigine."" In contrast, Kenneth Read, in his The High Valley, is much more aware of the emotional nexus between anthropologist and subjects. Inga describes Read's mode of attachment to his subjects as "a kind of generalized sensuousness. He knew the succor he could draw from the line of a shoulder, the curve of a lips, the warmth of his new friends' startlingly comprehensive hugs (these could include affectionate grabs for the genitals)." A professional skepticism like Stanner's is not enough. The anthropologist needs also to be aware of his desires.

Inga's conclusion is superb. It generalizes the anthropologist's problem to everyone's. "I sometimes think," she writes, "that the captivation of the imagination--the tension between attraction and analysis, between our fascination with difference and our desire to overcome it--lies at the heart not only of the anthropological enterprise, but of all serious expeditions beyond the limits of our skin. An inflamed curiosity is especially essential if we are to keep the hope of transcultural understanding alive."

Monday, August 23, 2010

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 to cook the human race in the heat- trapping gases released by its own arrogance. Because a fictional character can exhibit only so much awareness of his own thematic utility, Beard doesn’t notice any of this, merely regarding himself as a colorful eccentric. But readers will see him for what he is: a figure so stuffed with philosophical straw that he can barely simulate lifelike movement.

Even McEwan's celebrated prose did not cover the thinness of the novel. Kirns was devastating on it, calling the performance "an exquisite bore, with all the overchoreographed dullness of a touring ice ballet cast with off-season Olympic skaters." Kirns could also have called on the author's reliance on cliches. The epigraph to the novel quotes from John Updike's Rabbit is Rich, but having just read Updike's Rabbit Redux, I was even more disappointed by McEwan's morality tale.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

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 show of Durer drawings at the Morgan. The engraving Adam and Eve (1504) is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The show I actually went to see was Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design. It was informative. I learned how the period prized the picturesque above the beautiful. One source of inspiration was actually Chinese gardens, descriptions of which were brought back by Jesuit priests. Instead of building strictly symmetrical gardens, the new designers tried "To consult the Genius of the Place," in Pope's formulation. However the hermit hut, designed for meditative retreat in many of these gardens, seemed overly precious from a modern perspective. Wordsworth was an amateur enthusiast of garden design. Olmsted and Vaux were influenced by the new ideas in their design proposal for Central Park.

LW, who went with me to the Morgan, told me about the collagist Anne Ryan at the Met Museum, and so I went to see her work. She was impressed by how much Kurt Schwitters could compress and evoke in his small collages, and so turned to that medium. I thought the works on display were uneven, although there were many beautiful ones. The one I liked best was most rhythmic, with brown verticals like tree trunks, green triangles, and red diamonds. Facing the Figure was a small show of American figurative painters. My favorite painting there was by Richard Diebenkorn. His painting of a reclining woman reminded me a lot of Matisse, in its composition and use of color.

So many things to see and do in New York but the summer is coming to an end. The green is tinged by yellows and browns. The campfire was an omen.

Friday, August 20, 2010

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.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

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 III. The combination, fired by racism, proves to be combustive. Mim, Harry's sister who works as a high-end prostitute, arrives in Section IV as an unlikely deus ex machina.

Adrift between a world that is dying and a world that is struggling to be born, Harry is a living portrait of Middle America at the time of the moon landing. If the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement divided society then, the novel shows how people came to hold such opposing views, how they abandoned them, and how they wavered. In this way the novel speaks to our present ideological divides: it undermines complacency, softens rigidity and blasts self-righteousness. It also puts sex where it belongs: at the center of all our discussions.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

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, spanning 180 feet along Dundas Street, was like the transparent hull of a ship. Louvre doors opened from it to the exhibition rooms. The museum had the largest collection of Canadian art. The Group of Seven painters were on show, but their many works depicting the ice-bound landscapes of the country did not resonate with me. One Canadian painter who did worked in Abstraction. His name began with D.

photo taken by GH

In contrast with Gehry's sensitive redevelopment, the entrance to the Royal Ontario Museum looked as if the Deconstructivist crystal, designed by Daniel Libeskind, crashed into the original building. Throughout the trip GH pointed out to me the detailing and materials of buildings I would have missed on my own. Clothing stores, restaurants, hotels, covered public walkways, parks: his eyes ate up everything.

We especially enjoyed our walk in West Queens West, after a nice brunch at the Drake Hotel. This formerly bohemian neighborhood was becoming gentrified. Design stores and art galleries jostled cheek by jowl with barber shops and news agents. Attracted by a huge exotic wall mural, we walked into what looked like a parking lot, only to find ourselves in the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art.

Here I was entranced by the monumental painting "Casa de Musica (VIP Room)," 2010, done in cold blues and greens. Paint became metallic, ceramic and fabric in the hands of Dorian FitzGerald. It was a part of the show "Empire of Dreams: Phenomenology of the Built Environment," featuring artists from Toronto. In the same show, An Te Liu formed "Cloud" out of air purifiers, ionizers, sterilizers, washers, humidifiers and ozone air cleaners hanging from the ceiling. It was a witty work, but did not engross the eyes.

Saturday evening, we ventured into the gay neighborhood along Church Street. We watched a couple of drag shows, which were unexpectedly bad. We did not go into Woody's, a set on Queer As Folk, but danced at Fly, which lent its balcony to a number of scenes on that show. The crowd was quite diverse in terms of age and ethnicity, many Asian guys. A couple of skinny butterflies flitted from kiss to kiss. We gave up waiting for the show, and walked through the town at about 2 AM.

The MegaBus journey back home was interrupted by incidents. The driver was detained at the customs for not having the right papers. At Buffalo airport, a bag was missing, and after some confusion found. GH was furious, but also quick to take action when needed. He had little tolerance for incompetence and accident. The bus pulled into New York City at 1:30 AM. We had traveled for more than 13 hours.

Ganymede Unfinished

A tribute to John Stahle, Ganymede Unfinished, edited by Bryan Borlandis available today through www.siblingrivalrypress.com. 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 of Ganymede Unfinished on that day will go toward the cost of the memorial.

Monday, August 16, 2010

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.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

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-understanding, that

In me there was the soul of the prostitute
of the saint of the one who lusts for blood and of the hypocrite.

The Italian reads much better:

In me l'anima c'era della meretrice
della santa della sanguinaria e dell'ipocrita.

The whore is indistinguishable from the madonna, the private from the public. Rejecting the labels other people try to pin on her, Merini concludes with humorous self-deprecation, which is also a form of defiance, that she is "only an hysteric."

There are many fine lyrics in this selection, but one of the strongest poems is an extended meditation, written in a looser verse. "The Cry of Death" moves not so much by logic as by repetition and excess of imagery. The reader is swept past the occasional cliche by the torrent of thought, until Merini arrives at a formulation that is at once clear and obscure:

Here on the unhappy veranda, the woman
who is no model and who has no fear lies veiled for-
ever in a popular ovation that already has seen collapse
the doubt of luck and the luck of doubt.

The public, the "popular ovation," may be certain of her luck, but they do not see the unhappy woman on the verandah, who could let herself fall.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

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 adequately the state of mind under which we believe, or the subjects of belief as they are presented to our thoughts". To represent this activity of mind, Newman turned to fiction....

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

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 off in the reunion scene, when Humbert meets Lolita, married and now called Mrs. Dolly Schiller, and realizes the damage his impossible love has caused. Humbert writes of the moment after he left the Schillers:

At this solitary stop for refreshments between Coalmont and Ramsdale (between innocent Dolly Schiller and jovial Uncle Ivor), I reviewed my case. With the utmost simplicity and clarity I now saw myself and my love. Previous attempts seemed out of focus in comparison. A couple of years before, under the guidance of an intelligent French-speaking confessor, to whom, in a moment of metaphysical curiosity, I had turned over a Protestant's drab atheism for an old-fashioned popish cure, I had hoped to deduce from my sense of sin the existence of a Supreme Being. On those frosty mornings in rime-laced Quebec, the good priest worked on me with the finest tenderness and understanding. I am infinitely obliged to him and the great Institution he represented. Alas, I was unable to transcend the simple human fact that whatever spiritual solace I might find, whatever lithophanic eternities might be provided for me, nothing could make my Lolita forget the foul lust that I had inflicted upon her. Unless it can be proven to me--to me as I am now, today, with my heart and my beard, and my putrefaction--that in the infinite run it does not matter a jot that a North American girl-child named Dolores Haze had been deprived of her childhood by a maniac, unless this can be proven (and if it can, then life is a joke), I see nothing for the treatment of my misery but the melancholy and very local palliative of articulate art. To quote an old poet:
The moral sense in mortals is the duty
We have to pay on mortal sense of beauty.

This passage is morally profound and deeply humane. If we truly understand the harm we have done to another, what forgiveness? To think ourselves forgiven is to render life absurd, a "joke" as Humbert puts it. He has to bear his burden of guilt, just as Lolita has to bear her burden of memory. And art, a supreme value in this artful narrative (which cannot resist making up a poetic couplet and calling it a quotation), is only palliative. Humbert can only maintain this depth of insight, for a moment, before he goes off to duel, in a comical scene, with his double, Clare Quilty.

And if the quoted passage is still too much about Humbert, he moves closer still to moral understanding when he stands on a hill and hears the "melody" of children playing in a town below, and knew "that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita's absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord." And so the first-person narrative convicts itself, for in writing itself, it has to silence Lolita.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

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 lunch we browsed at the Harvard Bookstore. SK bought a history of China put out by HUP. I was too lazy to lug round a book, and so bought nothing. We decided to skip the art museum, and went to see MIT instead.

The atmosphere here, compared to Harvard, was palpably less solemn, more nervy.  There was no center to the confusing jumble of buildings in eclectic styles. The faith here was not in tradition, but in technology. Science was less theory (or fact) than application, has less to do with causes and more to do with curiosity. If I were passionate about science, I would join MIT instead of Harvard.

In the evening, we watched the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company perform Othello in Boston Common. The action unfolded so quickly from the start that it must rival Macbeth for tightness of plot construction. Seth Gilliam was too short to play the Moor. When he stood beside tall willowy Marianna Bassham, who played Desdemona, the couple looked somewhat comical. He could not make up in intensity for what he lacked in height. Bassham was a trivial flirt, and so it was hard to see what Othello saw in her, besides her blond hair and pale skin.

Most damaging to the production was James Waterston's Iago. He was a mere manipulative villain, more suitable for melodrama than tragedy. His soliloquies addressed the audience, and so became public connivance instead of private colloquies with a troubled, hateful self. The best acting in this production directed by Steven Maler came from Dan Roach. His Cassio was young, naive, vulnerable. He spoke Shakespeare with clarity and feeling.

We stood in line again, this time for Edge@ Club Cafe. The floor was too crowded for real dancing, and so I danced on stage, with some others, for a while. The clubbers were more diverse in ethnicity, age and appearance than the places we visited the last two nights. I saw a few ethnically mixed couples, but not many.

Friday, August 06, 2010

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 sight.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

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 beautiful naked young lads. The compositions were highly original (particularly the Virgin and Jesus, and the dethroned king entangled in red cloth), but the gallery was narrow and dark, and so the overall effect was rather gloomy. Livelier was the Abbey Room, in which the American artist Edwin Austin Abbey painted a richly colored mural sequence depicting The Quest of the Holy Grail. The figures here--knights, ladies, queen--were dramatic rather than allegorical. The sequence was a gigantic storybook. The ornamental rafters made the ceiling very striking.

After leaving the library, we walked to the Museum of Fine Arts. I did not like the staid grey building, but the new American wing, to be opened in 2011, poured out of one side in sun-lit glass. I liked the Velazquez portraits of the two-year-old prince and his dwarf, and of the Infanta Maria Theresa. Van Dyck's Saint Matthias was also very powerful, with his deep sidelong look. I also loved the early Matisse nude, seated on a chest of drawers, strongly modeled in the light, looking out so boldly. There was also an exhibition of John Singer Sargent's drawings for the MFA murals. He drew a wonderful African American nude, Thomas E. McKellar, whose body became the model for the painting of Atlas and other classical heroes and gods.

In the evening, we picked up a chicken, cranberry and walnut salad, cheese, bread and bottle of Gewurztraminer and picnicked at the Hatch Shell along the Esplanade before listening to Beethoven's Symphony 2 and Bach's Concerto for Two Violins. Performed by the New Symphonia Orchestra as part of the open-air Landmarks Festival, the music was a stirring accompaniment to the sunset over the Charles. Later that night, we had a drink at Club Cafe, where a fundraiser for LGBT prisoners was transitioning into a karaoke session, and gyrated to the Latin beat at Rumor.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

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 Atlas and her band at the town gazebo. We were joined by a friend, R. Many couples and families picnicked too on the lawn. An American flag flew from a gigantic flagpole. It was a scene out of small-town America, as GH said. A "yummed" me and pronounced me open of heart. Nancy had a rocker's voice. KH and A who considered themselves her groupies planned to attend the party for her new album. After the concert, KH drove us to Two Mile Hollow Beach, and left GH and I there for a walk and whatever boys got up to when left alone at night on a beach.

The next morning, the girls went fishing in a boat, promising to bring back fresh fish for lunch. GH drove to the Springs General Store, which Jackson Pollock patronized when he lived in the area. There was a photograph of him and wife Lee Krasner in the store, and a print of the painting he exchanged for a bag of groceries. After breakfast, GH and I went back to Two Mile Hollow Beach. It was nearly empty on that Tuesday morning, and we talked, drank, read, and sunbathed when the sun finally came out of the clouds.

KH and A hauled back a great catch of fish (bass, blue fish). We had the freshest fish for lunch that I had ever tasted, fried in crumbs and grilled. A big salad GH made, and a bottle of Montepulciano, and a bottle of Rose completed the meal. It was a perfect visit. We might not have been exactly living off the land during those two days, but we made an accommodation with it.

Monday, August 02, 2010

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

Sunday, August 01, 2010

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."