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Showing posts from January, 2011

The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church

LW has been introducing me to some of the best shows that came through town. Last night, GH and I joined her at St. Ann's Warehouse to watch "The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church," a monologue written and performed at a furiously voluble--or volubly furious--speed by Daniel Kitson. The show, which won an Edinburgh Fringe First Award in 2009, tells the discovery of a trove of letters written by Church when Kitson was house-hunting in Yorkshire. The first letter Kitson could read, still sitting in the typewriter, was a suicide note. What followed was one obsessive man's quest to understand another obsessive man. It was a most compelling performance, with no other prop, but a notepad, a glass of water, a restless body and a voice that hurries over its occasional stutter.

A Self-Governing Ensemble

TB and I heard Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall last night. Founded in 1972, the self-governing ensemble performs without a conductor, rotating musical leadership roles for each work. The program last night: Schumann's Overture to Hermann and Dorothea, Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Krzysztof Penderecki's Serenade, and Brahms's Serenade No. 2 in A major.

I enjoyed the first and third movements of the Prokofiev, but was hooked by the Penderecki. From the program note: "There are Baroque leanings in the opening Passacaglia, referencing the compositional technique that builds variations over a constant repeated pattern. Penderecki's Passacaglia roils the underlying ground, but nearly every figure shares the distinguished stamp of three chromatic notes rising or falling, the layers interwoven with imitation and counterpoint. The Larghetto, with its lush harmonies and emotional intensity nods to the great string serenades of the 19th centur…

The Coen Brothers' "True Grit"

Less than impressed by this re-make of a John Wayne classic, both adapted from a Charles Portis novel of the same name. Good acting from Jeff Bridges (Rooster Cogburn), Hailee Steinfeld (Mattie Ross), Matt Damon (LaBouef), and Josh Brolin (Tom Chaney). Beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins. Sympathetic score by Carter Burwell. But the story is just so-so. Young girl hunts for her father's killer with the reluctant help of a drunken U.S. Marshal and an insecure Texas Ranger. As was expected of me, I admired Mattie's gumption, appreciated Rooster's dishonorable honor, and liked LaBouef's show-off. And I was mildly bored, because these characters did not surprise me or themselves. If this is a Western classic, no wonder the genre has never had much appeal for me. I have read reviews that try to see the film as a postmodernist take on the genre, but that interpretation does not persuade me. What is left in me is a couple of surrealistic, non-essential scenes. The man h…

Honors for Stephanie Bart-Horvath

Stephanie Bart-Horvath, who designed my new book of poems, art directed and designed Dave the Potter, which just won the Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scot King Illustration awards for 2011. Congrats, Steph! This achievement follows last year's 2010 Pura Belpré Award for Book Fiesta, which she also art directed and designed. I am lucky to have such a fine designer for Seven Studies for a Self Portrait.

Desire and Unseen Orders

TLS January 12 2011

from Julian Bell's review of Deanna Petherbridge's The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and theories of practice:

... Klee's notion of "taking a line for a walk", or Matisse's "desire of the line"...
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from John Ray's review of British Museum exhibit "Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead":

O my heart of my mother, my heart of my forms, do not stand against me as a witness, do not oppose me in the tribunal, do not incline against me in the presence of the Keeper of the scales, for you are my spirit which is in my body, the god with the potter's wheel who moulded and made safe my limbs. Go on to the happy places to which we speed.

In ancient Egypt, these were the words that were needed during the judgement of the dead. The subject's heart is being weighed in a balance, in the presence of the most awesome of the gods. In the opposite pan of the scales is the feather of truth, and the heart of the righteous is require…

Inheriting Craziness and Other Courtesies

Thomas Fucaloro read from his new book at Cornelia Street Cafe last evening. inheriting craziness is like a soft halo of light, published by Three Rooms Press, collects poems about family, love and the commercialization of modern life, and their persistent tone is comical self-deflation. The speaker in them almost always manages to be bathetic and pathetic at once. The main poetic strategy is one of juxtaposition, of different registers, images and situations.

Thomas is a very likable reader, and his poems make plain their desperation to please. This desperation is a source of the poems' strength, but it is also a cause of their weakness. They are made to give a big pay-off only at the end, but occasionally the ending does not deliver. The last poem he read last night "Tom and Jerry" delivered in his quite inimitable manner. What seemed to be a poem about sexual appetite wound up to be a poem about self-division. It is refreshing to approach existential angst through the…

"Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom"

Watched Salò (1975) last night. Found it to be as disturbing as it is reputed to be. I almost retched when the Duke forced one of the girls to eat his shit, with a spoon. The power of an image. My room may not be the cleanest place in the world, but it is not a pigsty. When the victims were treated to a banquet of feces, however, I could almost smell and taste their fare. Worse followed when they were tortured by scalping, branding, cutting of tongue and gorging of eyes, while the four Fascist libertines took turns to watch from a window. I looked at the victims through their torturers' binoculars.

This update of Marquis de Sade was intended by its writer and director Pier Paulo Pasolini to be a critique of Italian Fascism. The Republic of Salò was the Fascist-occupied portion of Italy in 1944. The film began with the Duke, the President, the Bishop and the Magistrate giving their daughters to each other in marriage as a way of sealing their pact. But the visceral images of horror…

Let This Year Be

The Flea's Broadsheet No. 12 has just been published. Poems by various hands, including my bloody one.

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I am hooked on Updike. I finished reading Rabbit, Run yesterday (my first e-book), and felt I had discovered a new guru. Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom knows he is made for something better than a stale life with wife and kid. Running off in pursuit of the good, without a map or a destination, he leaves behind him a trail of pain and disappointments, a trail that ends in a tragedy. What elates me is how, despite all kinds of social and personal pressures, Rabbit finally rejects responsibility for the tragic accident. The easy way out was to accept responsibility and so be locked into a socially sanctioned but personal intolerable reunion with his wife and kid, but Harry runs off, for the third time in the novel, winged by the painful and dubious joy of being alone responsible for one's life.

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What does Rabbit say to me as I look with GH for an apartment in which to star…

Poem: "No Snow Day"

No Snow Day

We counted on a Snow Day,
counted on impassable roads,
on schools closed at long last,
even if for a day, counted
on sledding in the morning
and, when tired of the wind
flattening our face, counted on
shimmying under our sheets
to feel the cold melting into
a pool, we counted, we did,
on a Snow Day, on being
irresponsible as the dead,
on a likable stammer, a shuteye,
but the snow never came.

Poem: "Terrorist"

Terrorist

“the one no-one could put a stop to
stopped herself before night fell.”
—Marina Tsvetaeva, from Playacting, trans. Christopher Whyte

She was the flying ball
at the end of the string
and the white hand at
the other end spinning.

She was the blue string,
winding round the hand,
that brings the flying ball
closer and closer in.

Poem: "Sculptor"

Sculptor

"The sun is unique, but it strolls through every city.
It belongs to me. And I don't intend to share it [...]"
-Marina Tsvetaeva, from Playacting, trans. Christopher Whyte

"Not marble, gold nor bronze, but branches
disfigured by snow or burrowing insects.
Christmas lights budding from plastic vines.
Magnetic tape gutted from cassettes. Spark plugs.

"She is dressing up a totem or a room, she thinks,
but ends up fixing another memorial to him,
not the husband who feeds the dogs and walks
the two dueling ones, but the handsome druggie son."

Poem: "School Teacher"

School Teacher

"Friendship's against the rules, and loving you's
impossible!"
-Marina Tsvetaeva, from Playacting, trans. Christopher Whyte

"Too much, too much school in you!
Perfect hair. Unhappy family.
Your habit when coming to the phone
of authorizing, This is she.

"You took nothing for granted, ever.
Drew in your books with a steel ruler.
You graded every night and every day
was preparation for another."

Stephen Burt's "Close Calls with Nonsense"

Over the New Year weekend, spent on the bus and in the Woodstock home of D and T, who kindly took in a pair of holiday orphans, I read Close Calls with Nonsense, Stephen Burt's collection of essays on contemporary poetry, in particular, the kind he baptized Elliptical in an earlier article. To that article (included in this collection) he appends a 2004 postscript, in which he defends the notion of such a poetic "school."

I think it is interesting to try to identify the common features of several vital poetic styles, especially if they seem to develop in response to the historical moment, and if they attract emulation by younger poets. But such an identification could have the effect of rendering poets who do not write in such a style even more invisible to the literary public. This is of course a natural consequence of championing any particular school. Burt is a gentle champion. He does not make grand claims with evangelistic fervor for the Elliptical poets but invites…