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Showing posts from December, 2011

Discovering Raymond Queneau

PN Review 202 is filled with interesting translations, of Jean-Paul de Dadelsen by Marilyn Hacker, Hester Knibbe by Jacquelyn Pope, Pier Paolo Pasolini by N.S. Thompson. I like most the poetry of Raymond Queneau, translated by Rachel Galvin. The fourteen short lyrics from his book Hitting the Streets describe his walks about Paris with a keen eye and a sharp ear, and an imagination that is lively and sympathetic. "The Concierges" observes an "old verdigrisy grey-beard/ sobbing in his doorway." "Rue Paul Verlaine," with its amulet of a street name, begins with a vision of a street that the street hardly understands:

Sometimes I have a strange, penetrating vision
Of a street made of off-white and maternal tin
on either side the walkway beats like a wing
while the road bears all the weight of its being
The ghosts of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, besides that of Verlaine, haunt these poems as well as these streets. "Rue Paul Verlaine" is written in the so…

"Enlightenment" Music

This was a while ago: GH and I heard the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center on December 11 Sunday, at Alice Tully. The program was Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Romantic Sinfonia in C major for Strings and Continuo (1773); Heinrich von Biber's Mystery Sonata No. 10 in G minor for Violin and Continuo, "The Crucifixion" (c. 1674); Georg Philipp Telemann's unusual Concerto in D major for Four Violins (c.1720) and his Suite in G major for Strings and Continuo, "Don Quixote" (c. 1726-30), very picturesque; Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto in G major for Cello, Strings, and Continuo (after 1720) and Johann Sebastian Bach's Concerto in E major for Violin, Strings, and Continuo (before 1730), played the least satisfying of all the pieces in the program.

I particularly enjoyed the playing of Amy Lee, who seemed to secure a rich tone from her violin consistently. Ida Kavafian, who played in most of the pieces, took a mercurial delight in fiendish technique. …

Nancy Milford's Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay

Savage Beauty does not dispel the impression that Edna St. Vincent Millay was a major life but a minor poet. This well-written biography quotes many poems in full, including "Renascence," which early won Millay warm admiration from poets and editors, and financial support for an education at Vassar. The biography occasionally grades the poems it quotes, saying of one "extraordinarily lovely" and of another "masterful." It is, however, more interested in identifying the addressee of the poems, and other details from Millay's life. A discussion of the style of "The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver" begins insightfully but ends too quickly by linking the harp with a woman's head to the lap loom on which Clara Millay, Vincent's mother, wove hair for a living. Interesting identification, but it is surely not the last word on the poem.

Matters are not helped when emphasis is placed on the astonishing attraction of Millay's low reading voice. …

"The Tillman Story"

I found this documentary film while flicking through Netflix. The film is directed by Amir Bar-Lev and narrated by Josh Brolin. The story, when it broke in 2007, passed me by completely. One more bullet into the corpse of belief in the integrity of governments. Pat Tillman, an American football player, enlisted in the army after the September 11 attacks. When he was killed in Afghanistan, the military lied to his family that he died from a firefight with the Taliban. Apparently they did not want to make an unpopular war even more unpopular by reporting the death by friendly fire of an All-American athletic icon.

The family, in particular, the mother Mary 'Dannie' Tillman, pursued the truth of what had happened, and found the cover-up extending all the way up into the Bush White House. It was infuriating to watch in the film Donald Rumsfeld and military top brass claim forgetfulness regarding a confidential memo sent to them about the friendly fire. Led by Democrats, the Congre…

Poem: "Do You Think I'd Let You Go?

Do You Think I’d Let You Go?
In the winter he had the reddest cheeks of the Lincoln College crowd who included me and you. He was not popular like Darren, looked puny beside Anthony, but in the winter he had the reddest cheeks. He walked out on you and the kids, you wrote, in the New Year. The older boy is difficult, the younger came down with swine flu in the winter. He had the reddest cheeks of the Lincoln College crowd who included me and you.

for Sara

Poem: "I Do, I Do"

I Do, I Do

In me (the worm) clearly is no righteousness, but this—
persistence

H.D., “The Walls Do Not Fall”

I’m eating my way through the books of dead women poets—
Aemilia Lanyer’s garden where Eve is blameless
the robin-eye in Elizabeth Bishop
Phillis Wheatley’s bird- of-paradise
the swart swan song by Marianne Moore
Anna Wickham’s strangled cry the tunes of Li Qingzhao
Annie Finch, not the American anthologist, the Countess of Winchilsea
the living are eaten too
Elisabeth Bletsoe’s Sherborne Woodcock, Pied Wagtail, Starling
Molly Peacock Rita Dove
And one born in Ghana whose name is
a birdcall Ata Ama Aidoo

Poem: "Gingko Leaves"

Gingko Leaves
I go to the things I love with no thought of duty or pity
            H.D., “The Flowering of the Rod”

When I put down my book and step out of the dream into the poky kitchen, the counter stained with sauce, to chop celery, bell peppers, mushrooms into cubes and stir them into sliced chicken for Monday’s dinner, I am not going to love, my love, I am going to duty.
When you rage against the computer for being slow or not doing today what it did so quietly yesterday or eating up your files or not saying what is wrong, and I come to you to put my hands on your shoulders, I am not going to love, my love, I am going to pity.
I go to a river, its waters secretly continuous, out of love, to wet gingko leaves that renders the earth their ground, to a glass of wine, loud dance music and men in trance. These things I go to with no thought of duty or pity, as when you turn in bed and wave me on with a kiss.

Thomas Bradshaw's play "Burning"

In a Slateinterview about the New Group production of his play Burnings at Theater Row, directed by Scott Elliott, Thomas Bradshaw explains that his characters are so different from mainstream theater's because they say what is on their mind and they do what they want, without hypocrisy or self-deception. "Where my work departs from traditional drama," he says, "is the fact that my characters pretty much have no self-awareness and are almost acting on pure id. There is never any subtext in my plays." It is a bold artistic aim that is mostly but unevenly achieved in Burnings.

Two partnered white men adopt a 14-year-old white boy for help around the house and for their sexual satisfaction. A successful black painter commits adultery against his white wife by visiting a black prostitute. A white brother-and-sister pair swear to uphold their deceased parents' neo-Nazist beliefs. All of them say what they want, and pretty much do what they want in the next scene…

Poem: "Cold Blue Eyes"

Cold Blue Eyes

My Brother, if we are not careful, we would burn out our brawn and brains trying to prove what you describe as “our worth” and we won’t get a flicker of recognition from those cold blue eyes.
Ama Ata Aidoo, “A Love Letter”


Trying to prove my worth, I am burning out my brawn and brains.
Burning to prove my brawn, I am trying out my brains and worth.
To prove my brains, I am trying out burning my worth and brawn.
To prove my trying, I am burning out my worth, brawn and brains.
To Brains, prove I am trying my brawn and burning out my worth.
To Brawn and Worth, prove I am trying out my, my, burning brains.
My brains and my brawn trying to prove I am burning to worth?
I am burning, my worth, brains and brawn prove to my trying out.
Trying and burning brains, out to prove my worth, I am my brawn.
Out, burning brawn, trying to prove my worth, I am my brains and.
My trying worth, burning out to prove my brains and brawn, I am.
Trying to prove my worth, my brawn and brains, I am …

Poem: "I Understand and I Wish to Continue"

Mark Burnhope suggested I write a poem taking off from the title, after he visited this blog and read the warning page. Thanks, Mark!

I Understand and I Wish to Continue
Before he comes home, tired and faintly greasy from office disappointments and crowded train, I flick open my laptop to get off the head of steam accumulated from an hour of workout at the gym.
The two men, one darkhaired and toned, a regular, the other faircolored and fresh from his “first time,” the website-speak for a solo jerkoff shoot, greet each other’s body with no surprise but with speed
suggesting desire. They know the routine, as do I, first one, then the other, sucking the other’s dick, the tongue, through circles that it draws, darting, the thrilling amble like an elephant’s into the ring.
The shouts mount in well-timed urgency, released like flying handle bars and caught again on return. The head falls backwards before the camera locks on his dick when he can’t help what his body does.

Poem: "Abstract Shapes"

Abstract Shapes

those abstract shapes of who I was which she found so much easier to love
Julia Alvarez, “Folding My Clothes”

The army uniform that I hated my mother spa every Saturday, and rested on a bamboo pole to dry with her flesh-colored bra.
The supporter of my oppressor is my oppressor too. My mother is an oppressor who does things for me, like your mother for you.

Simone de Beauvoir's "The Second Sex"

Finally finished reading Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex last Monday. "One is not born, but rather becomes, woman," so translate Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier that resounding challenge. So many terrific things in de Beauvoir's analysis of how one becomes woman. Nietzsche is transmuted into the existentialist project of self-transcendence. Part One rejects the idea of female destiny, as promoted by biological, psychoanalytical or historical materialist views. Part Two recounts the history of women from the hunters-gatherers to the twentieth century, highlighting the theme of patriarchy and its need for woman to be the Other. Part Three tackles the sexist myths about women, elaborated by Montherlant, D. H. Lawrence, Paul Claudel and Breton, before looking at how Stendhal romances real women. All that in Volume I.

In Volume II Parts One and Two, de Beauvoir describes the lived experience of contemporary Western woman, from her childhood, through sex…

Harmonic Intervals

TLS November 25 2011

from Julian Bell's review of "Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan" show at the National Gallery:

Perhaps variety is what this exhibition, this collection of the outstanding remains of a one-man civilization, is best fitted to offer. If you seek the coherence to all these phenomena you might need to turn to the scientific vision behind them, as Martin Kemp did in his illuminating book Leonardo da Vinci: The marvellous works of nature and man (1981). There you are led to consider the concept of the movements of the mind as a special case of a comprehensive investigation into movement. Whether through cogs and pulleys or through their fleshly equivalents (a parallel sometimes made explicit in the show's anatomical drawings), whether through patterns of plant growth and rock formation or through the workings of water and light, all that appears before our eyes must be governed by movement, a universal process organized around harmonic in…

Brother Outsider

I was in Philadelphia, from Wednesday to Saturday, attending my second People of Color Conference. My first experience of the conference took place in Denver, and I wrote about my impressions of that conference on this blog. Learning from that experience, I decided to be very selective about the talks and workshops I would attend, and so had a much more pleasant time than before. It was also fun to be with KH and A.

The highlight of the conference, for me, was the screening of the documentary feature film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, directed by Nancy D. Kates and Bennett Singer. A Communist briefly in his youth, a lifelong pacifist, and an openly gay man, Rustin has been erased from traditional accounts of the civil rights movement in the States. He mentored, however, the younger Martin Luther King, Jr. and organized the 1963 March on Washington. After the screening, during the Q&A, a black female teacher from Alabama swore that she would fight to right the record…

Umbrella's Fifth Anniversary Edition

Umbrella, a journal of poetry and related prose, celebrates its fifth anniversary with a special showcase of Carmine Street Metrics poetry. I have a poem in it. Congrats, Kate Bernadette Benedict, on five good years. Thanks, Patricia Carragon, for first publishing the poem "The Children and the Swans" in the Brownstone Poets Anthology. Thanks, Eric, for asking me to read for Carmine Street.