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Showing posts from October, 2010

Whale Sound and Other News

Nic Sebastian reads my poem "Childhood Punishments" at Whale Sound. She reads it much more quietly, reflectively, than I do. I like her interpretation very much. You can lose a Saturday listening to the growing archive of poems.

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GASPP: A Gay Anthology of Singapore Poetry and Prose is reviewed by the gay Asian website Fridae. I hope the major papers in Singapore will have the guts to review it too. The book is carried by independent bookstores, but no news yet about the big chains.

"Scottsboro Boys" the Minstrel Show

John Kander and Fred Ebb teamed up for the last time to write "The Scottsboro Boys." (Ebb died in 2004.) The musical provocatively revives the racist theatrical tradition of the minstrel show to "tell the truth" about nine young black men convicted wrongly of raping two white women in rural Scottsboro, Alabama, in 1931. In doing so, the musical "deconstructs" the assumptions of white superiority that underlay the minstrel show. It also demonstrates how art forms associated with African Americans are rooted in the experience of slavery.

In an interview, 83-year-old Kander said that he had actually directed minstrel shows at a boys' camp in the 1930s. They were a part of the national culture then, performed without much thought about their offensiveness. The 1930s are not really that long ago. They are within living memory.

As Haywood Patterson, one of the nine men, Joshua Henry was a powerful and charismatic presence on stage. John Cullum played the di…

Conceptual Art at Dia and Elsewhere

Visited Dia at Beacon last Saturday with GH. Was entranced by Sol LeWitt's Drawing Series, an on-site work that made the rooms into a chapel, and Robert "Spiral Jetty" Smithson's glass and mirror sculptures. I would have liked to go to the edge of Michael Heizer's negative sculpture, North, East, South, West, but it was cordoned off by a glass barricade. The former biscuit factory was a beautiful place to view the art. I had never had as strong a response to Conceptual and Minimalist art as I did that afternoon. It needs the space it cannot get in museums. Even Andy Warhol looked good here, represented by the serialist work, Shadows. Lunch was in a diner in Beacon, with T and D, and S who was visiting them from London.

On Sunday, GH and I walked round Williamsburg, looking at recent and new condominiums. GH is working on converting a commercial building for residential use, and so took lots of photos of windows, doors and walls. He was excited to stumble on a hou…

"Payday Loans" on Amazon

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Poets Wear Prada Press is printing my chapbook Payday Loans through Amazon's CreateSpace, a print-on-demand publishing service. So I can now be found on Amazon, and you can buy my book here. My copy, which arrived this afternoon, looks very good. It is perfect-bound, not saddle-stitched as before, and the glossy cover is sturdier. And the sequence of 30 sonnets, organized by the month of April, still costs the same: US$10.


Hearing Naipaul at 92Y

V.S. Naipaul was climbing out of a cab when I approached the 92Y. He was a small man and leaned heavily on the arm of his bigger, younger wife. At the Y to promote his latest book The Masque of Africa, he read from the Gambon section, in which a French-educated biracial Gambonese lawyer speaks about the forest at the heart of African religions. Ultra-civilized himself, Naipaul read the account of magical rituals and secret rites in the voice of an interested but detached reporter, conveyed through prose at once transparent and artful. The interview segment was less successful, The interviewer asked convoluted questions but gave Naipaul too little time to respond. The questions were also too abstract. Last night tested Naipaul's faltering memory, but did not give the storyteller a chance to mesmerize.

Poem: On Reading "Not a Muse," an Anthology of Women's Poetry

A rough draft.


On Reading Not A Muse, an Anthology of Women’s Poetry
I am not a woman, have never made love to a woman and will probably never make love to a woman since I prefer a man’s sweet nerve.
Reading this anthology, subtitled the inner lives of women, I wonder what a thing a woman is.
I think she is my sister crying at the other end of the line, in a different continent, who not so secretly worshipped and resented me but now asks in wild abandonment, “Why can’t you keep it in?”

"Oriental Wares"

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KM forwarded me this video of Singapore in 1957. Produced by the Malayan Film Unit, it advertised to British travelers the charms of a visit to Singapore, "the world in miniature." KM asked me if this was the Singapore which I grew up in. I remember from the 70s Van Kleef Aquarium, the sights and sounds of the amusement park, the smells of roadside hawker stalls, but I don't see the crowded shophouse in Tanjong Pagar that hold my first memories of home, or the new housing estate of Telok Blangah Crescent, to which I moved at the age of five, and where my parents still live. Of all the exoticized figures in the film, I identity most immediately with the woman in the Malay dance hall, waiting for a white man and his dance ticket.


Rose Kelleher's "Bundle o' Tinder"

Rose Kelleher's debut, the winner of the 2007 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, is full of familiar pleasures. The precise observation of "Rays at Cape Hatteras." The witty image of "Mortimer." The sharp social satire in "Hybrid." The reformulation of myth in "The First Uprising." The formal inventiveness of the exploded sestina "Random Sextet." The musical punch-line in "Neanderthal Bone Flute." The carefully served-up poignancy of "The Rectangle."

The risks taken in this book are ones of content, and not of perspective nor of style. There are poems about famous sadomasochists, underaged weed smoking, an Adam's apple fetish, and a killer whom the speaker knew when they were young, all carefully labelled "Perversity," kept away from other sections named "God," "Science," "People," and "Love." It would have been far more provocative to assign the weed to "Scien…

Eshuneutics reviews Bob Hart's "Lightly in the Good of Day"

"Bob Hart’s first full-length book of poems, published by Bench Press, is evocative work: in an almost magical sense of that word for the poems read like conjurations. As Jee Leong Koh notes in an effective and thoughtful introduction, Bob is a Robin, a Robin Goodfellow, a Puck of Midsummer. True, he is also a kind of Prospero, who as performance poet/mage understands the dramatic nature of words...." Read more.

The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival

This year the Dodge Festival was held in the city of Newark. I attended it on Friday, with TS and a few students. In the morning, we heard Michael Cirelli, Dunya Mikhail and Oliver de la Paz in NJPAC. One was hip, one was sentimental, one was lyrical. Then we walked over to the Horizon Foundation Theater, in the Center for Arts Education, and heard Kyle Dargan talked about race and poetry, and why it is nearly impossible for a poet to be in a relationship with another poet. 
Finally we heard Billy Collins, Rita Dove and Sharon Olds. Collins was his usual witty self. Of all the poets we heard that day, I was most impressed by Rita Dove. Her new book Sonata Mulattica, about the biracial violin prodigy George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower who inspired Beethoven and helped shape the course of Western classical music, sounds ambitious and achieved. Olds read odes to douche bags and tampons. 

A Nest in Hudson Valley

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Just returned from a visit to GH's friends who have lived for ten years in Woodstock, in upstate New York. We took the Trailways bus from the Port Authority Bus Terminal to Kingston. T and D picked us up, and drove to lunch at a small restaurant in Phoenicia. After not finishing the short (!) stack of pancakes--buttermilk, blueberry, pumpkin--we looked into the small local library and a few curiosity shops, before driving to the Kaasterskill Falls, painted famously by Thomas Cole. GH and I left T at what we thought was the Falls and hiked along the river. Not realizing that the Falls was ahead of us, we turned round after a while, and came back to the waiting car.


Photo by GH

T and D's house was a treasure trove set in a landscape of riches. Every inch of wall and floor and countertop held or was covered with painting, photograph, carpet or sculpture. There were kitschy worker dolls from Mao's era. A home-made chandelier of branches draped with Christmas lights presided ove…

Musical Tastes

We watched two plays together so far, but yesterday was our first joint concert. GH loves the passionate virtuosity of the soloist in concertos, and Joshua Bell was in fine form last night when he played Sibelius's Violin Concerto in D minor with the New York Philharmonic. GH also liked the full-blooded Romanticism of Richard Strauss, in his tone poem Don Juan.

I liked both works but preferred Debussy's languorous Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, which opened the program, and Hindemith's inventive Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes of Carl Maria von Weber, which closed the evening. GH disliked Debussy for his lack of structure, and Hindemith for his lack of direction. He values clear musical design, just as he values clean lines in architecture.  I am biased towards structure and clarity too, but other people have persuaded me that delicacy can be beautiful, and disorder invigorating.

I should not exaggerate the difference in our aesthetic preferences. When we both saw t…

Poem After Four Months of Silence

The body of an ageing woman
Is a memory —Eavan Boland, “Anna Liffey”

The first fluency has left me. Sex has acquired history. I grow afraid of repeating myself unknowingly. Love, new man, old enemy, you enclose me with your mouth. Go slowly.

Gay and Working Class Arts

GASPP: a Gay Anthology of Singapore Poetry and Prose will have its pre-launch in KL, Malaysia, on 17 October, and its official launch at a popular gay club in Singapore on 29 October. Details here, and the dishy cover. I have a poem in it.

Editors Ng Yisheng, Dominic Chua, Irene Ho and Jasmine Seah provide this book synopsis:

GASPP is Singapore’s first anthology of writers who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and otherwise queer. It’s the combined work of 35 authors, translators and editors, who’ve contributed poetry, short fiction, memoirs, essays and experimental writing in English, Mandarin and Malay.Between these covers, you’ll meet a loving couple struck by HIV, a lesbian lawyer confronted by her past, a voyeur in a New York library, an alarmed government censor, and a bomoh with a magic formula that keeps gay men faithful.Romantic, sensual, hysterical and bizarre, these works are a testament to the range of voices that constitute queer literature in Singapore today…