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Showing posts from March, 2011

Cameron Conaway interviews me

After reading my poem "Study #5: After Frida Kahlo" on the Bench Press website, Cameron Conaway interviewed me for the National Examiner. We spoke about Singapore, Bench Press, writing in poetic forms, and my latest book.

Conaway was the 2007-2009 Poet-in-Residence at the University of Arizona's MFA Creative Writing Program. A mixed martial artist, he is the author of "Caged: Memoir of a Cage-Fighting Poet," (forthcoming Fall 2011 from Tuttle Publishing). He currently resides in Bangkok.

3rd Annual Rainbow Book Fair

The Fair, which moved back to the LGBT Center in NYC this year, was well attended. My table, shared with Roxanne (Poets Wear Prada Press), was in a side room because I arrived too late to get a table in the main hall. Still, I managed to sell five copies each of Seven Studies for a Self Portrait and Equal to the Earth. It was a good idea to give a discounted Fair price, and to discount further the purchase of two books. Two copies of Eric Norris's fiction Terence were also sold.

I read for the Poets' Salon, curated by Nathaniel Siegel and Regie Cabico, and for Rachel Kramer Bussel. The first was better attended (at least during my time slot), but the second had a better room where you could actually read without a mike and be heard. WL and Eric came to hear me read. GH came just after my reading and so missed it. I was happy, however, with all their show of support. 
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After the Fair, I attended the opening reception of Valerie Mendelson's group show at Westbeth. Themed "…

Bill Bell's essay "Selkirk's silence"

In his TLS March 18 2011 Commentary piece, Bill Bell explains the vast institutional apparatus established by the early nineteenth century--supported by religious interests, government agencies and philanthropic organizations--whose sole purpose was to instruct and enlighten the British colonial reader. He disagrees, however, with postcolonial critics like Elleke Boehmer who argues that the British Empire was "essentially a homogeneous textual exercise" [Bell's words]. Instead, he points to the subtle but significance resistance put up by individual colonial readers writing in their journals or putting together their libraries.

He quotes Nicholas Jose writing on the presence of highbrow literary texts in the Australian bush library at Borroloola in the late nineteenth century:

The library encapsulates both a time and a place. It demonstrates the ties that bound the British Empire and the English-speaking world together. . . . I thought of the books as physical objects, an…

Was Friedrich Nietzsche 'the first psychologist'?

The header comes from a Commentary piece in the TLS (March 4, 2011) by Brian Leiter. Leiter tries to show how prescient Nietzsche was in anticipating recent results of empirical psychology. I am intrigued by the connections, but also at the same time uneasy. Not only are these experimental results debated in the scientific community, as Leiter admits, but they do not seem to me to escape Nietzsche's own perspectivist critique. Are they another case of finding what you are looking for? Here is Leiter on the psychology studies:


[Of moral philosophy] Nietzsche's general view is that moral judgements, not only those of the philosophers, are "just sign language of the affects", a view recognizable to any student of contemporary psychology as winning support from, for example, Jonathan Haidt's work on moral judgement, such as his well-known paper "Ther Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail" (2001).

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[Of the unconscious] The Nietzsche who laments, in The Gay Sci…

Mark Singleton's "Yoga Body"

TLS March 4 2011

from Wendy Doniger's review of Mark Singleton's YOGA BODY: The origins of modern posture practice:

The word "yoga" occurs in this text [The Rig Veda], but only in the primary sense of "yoking" horses to chariots or draft animals to ploughs or wagons (the Sanskrit and English words are cognate, as is the English "junction"); and then, secondarily, designating the effort of "yoking" oneself to do physical labor.

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Many contemporary yoga practitioners cite this text [Patanjali's Yoga-Sutra] as the basis of their praxis. But Patanjali says nothing about the "postures" other than remarking that the adept should sit in a manner that is relaxed and conducive to meditation and breath control. On the contrary, he speaks of cultivating "aversion to one's own body".

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One yogic text composed some time between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries, the Hatha-yoga-pradipika ("Illumination of the Yoga…

John Updike's "Rabbit Is Rich"

What's extraordinary about Updike's art is how ordinary his materials are. No sensational subjects like pederasty, pandemic or terrorist plot, although Rabbit Is Rich teases with the possibility of incest. There is couple swapping, on a vacation at the Bahamas, its treatment is, however, neither moralistic nor voyeuristic, but sympathetic about human desires and fears. No epiphanic event: Pru, Harry Angstrom's daughter-in-law, falls from the stairs, but keeps her baby. She does not change, and neither does her feckless husband, Nelson.

Instead of sensation or epiphany, Updike offers in this third installment of his Rabbit tetralogy, the lived experience of a Toyota salesman in 1979, who has become rich because of his wife, who is struggling against the decay of age, who feels constantly threatened by a sullen son, and who reads Consumer Reports with a seriousness devoted to the Bible in an earlier age.

The last trait is a clue to the extraordinary nature of ordinary Harry. D…

Two Fir Trees

Turning 41 today, in GH's childhood home, in Miami Township, about half an hour outside of downtown Cincinnati. GH's parents have been most lovely in welcoming me to their home. His mum, E, is making me a blackberry pie for my birthday. His father's energy is undissipated. He is carving a large wooden medallion for the new community center; at the center of the medallion is the face of the president William Henry Harrison, who died in his 32nd day in office, due to complications of pneumonia, the first president to die in tenure. N, GH's father, is also working on a new table, to be made of cherry wood. His energy, barely contained, sometimes comes forth in a burst of song or nonsense plosives, or in a tattoo of drumming fingers on the table. 
We will go to GH's church this morning, have lunch with his friend K, and then have dinner with his friends L and S. He has been busy sorting out his things, in order to decide what to drive back to NY, and what not. His paren…

The Thursday Special

I will be celebrating my 41st birthday in Cincinnati. Who would have thought? Flying out there today, with  GH, to meet his family and friends. GH will meet his clients too, and drive back furniture he stored with his parents. This will only be my second trip to the American Midwest, after the writing residency at Nebraska City. Cincinnati is just north of Ohio River and Kentucky. GH told me that there is a high place where you can see Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois all at once.

Last night, he took me out for dinner at a French restaurant in the neighborhood. I chose Bistro Citron after hearing about it from a colleague. It was a bright, cheery place. My crispy duck on wild rice, with orange sauce, the Thursday special, was delicious. Before dinner, GH had surprised me by giving me a good-looking black travel-bag, a toiletries bag and underwear. He looked for days for the perfect bag, with the right look, color and price. He likes to give practical gifts.

Yesterday afternoon, I ran acros…

A Delicate Composition

PN Review has just published my Pillow Book in Issue 198. Reading it on the train, while lugging home my birthday present from my sister, a George Foreman Stainless Steel Open Grill, I was hit by a sharp nostalgia for Singapore, which is my past. Here parade its people: my parents, of course; Lawrence, my scout patrol leader, and a girl guide called Samantha; Elsa who sang beautifully; Yisheng who wrote The Last Boy; the army warrant office who still cannot be named; Thomas, the willing enlistee; my first students; the critic Gwee Li Sui; Margaret. Its places also return to the mind's eye: Radin Mas Primary School; Raffles Institution, Mount Faber; my old bedroom; the Botanic Gardens; the columbarium; the weddings in Chinese restaurants; the interview room of the Public Service Commission; the passport office.

The piece was suggested by Michael Schmidt, who asked me a few years ago to write a prose work about my poetry for the journal. I tried but could not write the required pros…

Catherine Breillat's "Anatomy of Hell" (2004)

No point looking to this film for narrative or character, because you won't find either. Directed by French provocateur Catherine Breillat, "Anatomy of Hell" is about the power of images to elicit strong emotions like loathing and aggression. A woman pays a gay man to "watch her where she is unwatchable." Inside her house, which quickly becomes a metaphor for the female body, the woman (Amira Casar) strips naked and lies down in bed like a Renaissance nude but in a room lit like an operating theater.

The man (porn star Rocco Siffredi) began as a voluble and complacent observer but very quickly became a silent and helpless participant in the woman's search for her sexual identity. He hates the weakness of female flesh, because it reminds him of his own mortality, and so he punishes it by sticking his dick into her anus and, on another night, by sticking the handle of a rake into her vagina. He is both fascinated and repelled by vagina fluid, rolling it on hi…

Remarkably Simple and Highly Complex

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted the New York Philharmonic in a program titled "Hungarian Echoes." I heard it, with LW, on Thursday.

Hadyn's Symphony No. 6 in D major, Le Matin (1761) was composed as the first part of three "Times of the Day" symphonies, the other two being No. 7, Le Midi (The Noon) and No. 8 Le Soir (The Evening). Having been newly appointed Vice-Kapellmeister to Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, and having just revamped the musical staff, Hayden was keen to show off his brilliance at composition to his new employer, and to consolidate his relationship with his musicians by writing for them virtuosic, concerto-like passages. I especially like the third movement, which changes from a Menuet to a Trio midway, launched by the unusual combination of bassoon and double bass, and featuring a rare role for the viola.

The second work was György Ligeti's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1985-86/88). Pianist Marino Formenti replaced Pierre-Laurent Aimard, wh…

"Three Sisters" by Classic Stage Company

Caught my first Chekhov play last weekend, "Three Sisters," by Classic Stage Company, directed by Austin Pendleton, using a translation by Paul Schmidt. A military family, left stranded in a small town when the patriarch died, longs to return to Moscow, to civilization, culture and society. Their dream is shown up by the course of the play to be futile, as each of the three sisters (and their brother) makes her accommodations with a diminished life.

The eldest sister Ólga Prózorov (Jessica Hecht) accepts a promotion to be headmistress of the local school. The second, Másha (Maggie Gyllenhaal), opens her heart to the married battery commander, Vershínin (a wonderful Peter Sarsgaard) only to be crushed when he has to leave with his troops for a foreign posting; herself married, she has to live on with the pedantic schoolteacher of a husband who she knows can never understand her. The youngest, Irína (radiant Juliet Rylance), whose birthday celebration opens the play, plumps o…

Best Canadian Poets 2010

Tonight I heard the Best Canadian poets (from the annual anthology, now in its third installment) read at St. John the Divine Cathedral. I had forgotten that the cathedral, in this case, one of its chapels, which made no difference, echoes too much to hear a reader well. Molly Peacock, the current poet-in-residence at St John, a dual citizen of both the USA and Canada and the Best series editor, introduced the poets.

In her remarks, she proposed a tentative distinction between American and Canadian poetry. The former cannot assume that its audience will stay to hear it, and so has to grab their attention from the get-go, whereas the latter assumes in a friendly fashion that the audience will go along with it for a walk. Then she read a poem from the anthology to illustrate her point. The poem, about an interview that Billy Collins gave in Canada, made gentle fun of the ex-American poet laureate's prescriptions for writing poems. It was certainly a friendly, likable poem, which res…

First Night in New Home

We opened a bottle of champagne, had some cheese sticks, talked. Went out for dinner at Botticelli, a quiet local find. Then came home, unpacked some, and slept very soundly. My first post in my new home. The living room window looks into the back of the low apartment buildings on the next block. The back windows, lit up in warm yellows, look more beautiful than those on the front.