Monday, September 27, 2010

Finding as Opposed to Making It Up

DUMBO held a three-day arts festival over the last weekend. GH and I caught the last day of it, on Sunday. In two open studios, sponsored by Triangle Arts, the artists painted the human figure with thick strokes but thin vision. In another studio, above the winning Galapagos Art Space, pop culture was given the tired old spin. There was a painting of a billboard advertising a beach vacation. In an open coffin lined with red satin, two silent boom boxes. The art we saw looked like the fag end of once-vital artistic styles.

The photographic shows were more interesting. The winners of a competition whose name I cannot remember showed a real eye for an interesting subject, and the technique for rendering it. One black rectangle was slashed by a white arm stretched out from the right edge of the photo. Another photo showed a black boy, on the cusp of adolescence, looking pensive in his baseball cap, one hand holding the controls of a video game in his room. My favorite juxtaposes young men playing baseball and tombstones in a graveyard. What would have come across as heavy-handed in a painting is lightened in a photograph by the grace of discovery, for the photographer did not make it up so much as found the divided place. 

There were more photographs, images of Brooklyn taken for another competition, in the powerHouse Arena bookshop. And art books. And beautiful tableware, made of clay or glass. GH liked the bowls that come in different sizes, made of two different kinds of clay. I followed him into a furniture shop to look at Danish design, and into a craft shop to look at woven cloths. Even when we sat down for lunch, he went to the store shelves to browse the design books there. His eye is hungrier for beautiful things than my ear is for the same. 

We shared a cup of peppery chocolate from Jacque Torres, and sat by the East River. Several wedding couples came by, directed by their photographers. One party looked like the Russian mafia. The day was overcast and cool, but rain did not interrupt the day's festivities. We went home, after buying dinner from Whole Foods. GH wanted to watch the first episode of the new season of The Amazing Race. I was quickly absorbed by the competition to get from Boston to the pit-stop in Eastnor Castle outside London.  The Buff Team, comprising of a hunk and a tinklebell, did not win. The nicer couple did. 

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Oliver de la Paz has a new book of poems. Requiem for the Orchard, a collection of poems about the poet's childhood in small-town Oregon and his new fatherhood, has a novelistic luxuriance of description. It does not have, however, the novel's interest of plot. When a poem circles round a dominant image, as in the mesmerizing "Self-Portrait beside a Dead Chestnut Horse," the words hang together. When an image fails to dominate with singular power, the poems lose their way. 

I was sorry that the terrific long poem "Requiem for the Orchard" is broken up and scattered in the book. I remember reading it as a single piece. The poem gains its power through sheer accumulation of detail, through the insistent ubi sunt. Broken up, the poem reads like more of the same instead of more.

The train of "Requiems" also clashes with the train of "Self-Portrait" poems and the train of "Eschatology" poems.  The preference these days is for a book of poems to possess a kind of track, narrative or otherwise. Done well, such a structure can make a book more than the sum of its poems. But this collection seems to have too many lines up running, and this commuter was somewhat bewildered, as a first-timer traveler might be at New York Penn Station. 

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