Thursday, December 22, 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 sonnet form. "Elsewhere" is in flowing free verse that imitates casual wandering, and discovers in the middle of the stroll, in the middle of the poem, an unexpected view of a sea port, before going on its way.

The sense of loss, however, is not far away from the sense of discovery or rediscovery. In "The Flies," the speaker almost whimsically bemoans that "The flies of today/ are no longer the flies of yore." In his childhood, the flies of yore killed themselves joyfully, by gluing themselves to flypaper, by shutting themselves in bottles, "by the hundreds, maybe the thousands." In contrast, the flies of today "watch their step."

These are transitory, delicate, sympathetic poems. I was surprised to learn from Galvin's introductory note that Queneau founded Oulipo in 1960.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"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. The young Danish cellist Andreas Brantelid was spotlighted in the Vivaldi concerto, and came off very well. His playing had a refreshing matter-of-factness about it. He carried his boyish good looks with similar nonchalance.

If Baroque, a term borrowed from art history, means bizarre, mannered or excessive, the concert program opined, then it is a term better applied to the period of Monteverdi (c. 1600s) extending as late as Biber (1670s). "The era of Bach, Vivaldi and Telemann," it suggested, "might better be called Enlightenment...." Alas, the popular term "Baroque" has stuck for this period, and so will continue to confuse new listeners.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

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. In returning to this over and over, Nancy Milford is but tracing the strong reactions of Millay's listeners. But this obsession with her voice has the unfortunate effect of marking Millay as a performer. Not only did she reach thousands through her reading tours, she also read on radio, reaching many other thousands. Her celebrity played a part, surely, in her decision to write propagandistic poetry against Fascism and American isolationism in the run-up to War World II. She was sincere in her political beliefs, but sincerity does not by itself create poetry. In a letter from that period, she talked about the need of a lyric poet to engage the world if she is not to say the same things again and again. Her political engagement, to my mind, is insufficiently self-doubtful. Her longtime friend and a poet Arthur Ficke expressed his reservations about her war effort "The Murder of Lidice" in a way that resonates for me:

I cannot, I will not, believe that this war is an ultimate conflict between right and wrong: and though I do not doubt for a moment that we are less horrible than the philosophy and practice of Hitler, still I think we are very horrible: and I will not, I must not, accept or express the hysterical patriotic war-moods of these awful days.


Millay's poetic sympathies lie with the High and Late Victorians. Her influences, as she describes them, are Tennyson, Browning, Hardy and Housman. She seems to have little to say about Eliot, Pound and Auden, and nothing to say about her female contemporaries like Marianne Moore, Gertrude Stein and H.D.. Milford refers to a satire in verse she wrote against T.S. Eliot that targeted "The Waste Land," but does not describe its contents, let alone delineate its poetics. Late in her career, Millay became the darling of the people and of collectors who lapped up the expensive special editions of her books. She seemed divorced from the poetry debates that raged around her, in Europe as well as her native America, and so the avant-garde, which she appeared to embody in the 1920s in the form of the New Woman, left her behind.

Still, belonging to no party or school, she found the freedom, and spared the time from her work, to recommend poets whom she believed in for the Guggenheim. What she said about the sanctity of a writer's work, apart from whatever politics he or she chooses to profess, is still generous and relevant:

Of the six writers I am recommending this year, three are definitely revolutionists, one is definitely a classicist, one is probably mad and the other is doubtless trying to recover from shell-shock. What are you doing to do about them? ... I have come loudly out into the open, and am running the risk of making an utter fool of myself. I think the Guggenheim Foundation cannot properly be administered on any other terms; we may not foster the conservative at the expense of the experimental; the solid at the expense of the slippery; we must take chances; we must incur danger. Otherwise we shall eventually become an organization which gives prizes for acclaimed accomplishment, not fellowships for obscure talent, tangible promise, probable development, and possible achievement.

Was she thinking of her own history when she wrote the last sentence? She emerged from the abysmal poverty of a small-town Maine childhood, after her mother sent her good-for-nothing father packing and undertook to bring up the three daughters, Vincent, Norma and Katherine, by herself. Clara Buzzell Millay took up the job of a home-nurse and had to be away from her family most of the time. Besides suffering the absence of a beloved mother, Vincent at a young age was responsible for the two younger sisters.  Milford is very good at conveying the power of this family romance for all the women involved, and scrupulous in detecting the darker undertones of abandonment, jealousy and anger.

Also detailed and interesting is her depiction of Millay's unusual marriage with Eugen Jan Boissevain, a Dutch American importer. He believed completely in her poetic gift and strove to provide an environment for its flourishing. Unwilling to play the part of the possessive husband, he gave Vincent the freedom to pursue her romantic obsessions, in particular, her love affair with the younger George Dillon, the future editor of Poetry magazine. It is true, however, that the balance of power in the marriage shifted when Millay's writing began to bring home the bacon. Boissevain became the manager of the household at Steepletop, the estate they bought, releasing his wife to focus entirely on writing. I am reminded here to Leonard Woolf, who spared Virginia of the many distractions against writing too. Leonard, however, had Hogarth Press. Eugen had nothing, but the protection of Vincent, whom he guarded with perhaps overbearing vigilance. Like many partnered writers, Millay could dedicate herself to writing because she could bank on others' dedication to her.

Monday, December 19, 2011

"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 Congressional Oversight Committee questioning them did not do its job. In his turn President Obama promoted the General who covered up the truth.

After watching the film, GH raged against the family for being stupid enough to enlist, and then to complain when the military deceived them. They should have known better than to support the war and believe their government. I was surprised that he was more upset by the family than by the government. When I told him so, he said that he assumes the government will fuck you over.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

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

Monday, December 12, 2011

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.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thomas Bradshaw's play "Burning"

In a Slate interview 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. But confusing the stated artistic goal is a half-hearted, unconvincing attempt to humanize a few of the characters, to give them egos and superegos, in addition to their ids. And so the neo-Nazi brother Michael (Drew Hildebrand) is shown to look after his disabled sister Katrin (Reyna de Courcy) with exemplary brotherly care, going so far as to masturbate her when she asks for sexual release while he is bathing her. The scene is extraordinarily tender and moving but, despite its incestuous overtones, is not the work of pure id.

Neither is the relationship between Chris the 14-year-old (Evan Johnson) and his playwriting boyfriend Donald (Adam Trese). Donald gives up the production of his play by taking Chris away from the household of the aging theater gods Jack (Andrew Garman) and Simon (Danny Mastrogiorgio). Chris, who reads Marquis de Sade on following one's natural desires, stays instead with Donald when the latter dies of AIDs.  Also unlike id-ish behavior is the understanding forged between the grown-up Chris (Hunter Foster) and the black adolescent Franklin (a terrific Vladimir Versailles) who bond over the fact that both their mothers died of a drug overdose.

By injecting a shot of psychological realism into some of his characters, but not others, Bradshaw confuses his avowed method and goal, and raises questions about his objectivity. By objectivity, I mean a writer's ability to view every part of his work with equal distance, like in Pinter. Instead of describing formally the workings of id, the play chooses sides in bad faith. All playwrights choose sides, but what makes it vexing in this case is Bradshaw's disingenuous claim to present action without judgment. Any arrangement of action must involve judgment, if only to decide on priority. All texts involve subtexts. In claiming that "there is never any subtext in my plays," Bradshaw is being insufficiently postmodernist.

One such subtext comes at the very end of the 2-hour-45-minute play. After Peter the successful black painter (Stephen Tyrone Williams) had sex with a Sudanese prostitute Gretchen (Barrett Doss), he had an epiphany that he was still deeply in love with his dead cousin Lucy, whom he glimpsed at the age of 9 having sex with her boyfriend. After he was killed by the skinheads, his wife Josephine (Larisa Polonsky) mixes his ashes with Lucy's ashes so that they can be together in death, if not in life. Apart from the fact that it is hard to imagine a betrayed wife doing that (and the forgiveness that Josephine dispenses to everyone automatically does not help matters), it is also striking that no one thinks to ask whether Lucy would want her ashes mixed with Peter's. She may be his one true love, but there is no clear indication in the play that he is hers. The fantasy here is clearly masculinist. The absent dead, as happens often in a literary work, becomes the text's unconscious.

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 burning out.

Burning out my worth, brawn and brains, I am trying to prove my…

Saturday, December 10, 2011

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.

Friday, December 09, 2011

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.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

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 sexual initiation and marriage, to old age. The description cites psychiatric studies, literature, gossip and history, and integrates these citations in the heat of imagination. Every man should read at least the three central chapters: "The Married Woman," "The Mother" and "Social Life" to try to grasp the world from women's eyes. de Beauvoir contends that if women can be said to own a Character, that Character is entirely shaped by her historical subordination to men. Part Three examines three justifications that woman has employed to deny her powerlessness. She has been the Narcissist, the Woman in Love and the Mystic. In Part Four, the last part of the volume and book, de Beauvoir reflects on the growing economic independence of women in the twentieth century. She finds that encouraging but insufficient for true independence. The old myths, the old models for womanhood, and the old system have tenacious roots, and will not be removed easily. Contemporary women find themselves trying to be both independent (as defined by herself) and feminine (as defined by men). de Beauvoir's analysis still challenges, I think, women who think that they can be both, and men who think that they can have everything.

Some favorite passages:

Of D. H. Lawrence's belief in monogamous marriage: "There is only a quest for variety if one is interested in the uniqueness of beings: but phallic marriage is founded on generality."

Of Stendhal's love of women: "...while he is walking around Rome, a woman emerges at every turn of the page, by the regrets, desires, sadnesses, and joys women awakened in him, he came to know the nature of his own heart..."

Of the lack of a penis: "It is sure that the absence of a penis will play an important role in the little girl's destiny, even if she does not really envy those who possess one. The great privilege that the boy gets from it is that as he is bestowed with an organ that can be seen and held, he can at least partially alienate himself in it. He projects the mystery of his body and its dangers outside himself, which permits him to keep them at a distance: of course, he feels endangered through his penis, he fears castration, but this fear is easier to dominate than the pervasive overall fear the girl feels concerning her "insides," a fear that will often be perpetuated throughout her whole life as a woman. She has a deep concern about everything happening inside her, from the start, she is far more opaque to herself and more profoundly inhabited by the worrying mystery of life than the male. Because he recognizes himself in an alter ego, the little boy can boldly assume his subjectivity, the very object in which he alienates himself becomes a symbol of autonomy, transcendence, and power: he measures the size of his penis; he compares his urinary stream with that of his friends; later, erection and ejaculation will be sources of satisfaction and challenge. But a little girl cannot incarnate herself in any part of her own body....

Of the need for action: "Violence is the authentic test of every person's attachment to himself, his passions, and his own will; to radically reject it is to reject all objective truth, it is to isolate one's self in an abstract subjectivity; an anger or a revolt that does not exert itself in muscles remains imaginary."

Of the attitude of straights to gays: "The homosexual man inspires hostility from male and female heterosexuals as they both demand that man be a dominating subject; by contrast, both sexes spontaneously view lesbians with indulgence."

Of marriage: "But the principle of marriage is obscene because it transforms an exchange that should be founded on a spontaneous impulse into rights and duties; it gives bodies an instrumental, thus degrading, side by dooming them to grasp themselves in their generality; the husband is often frozen by the idea that he is accomplishing a duty, and the wife is ashamed to feel delivered to someone who exercises a right over her." and "Eroticism is a movement toward the Other, and this is its essential character; but within the couple, spouses become, for each other, the Same; no exchange is possible between them anymore, no giving, no conquest. If they remain lovers, it is often in embarrassment: they fee; the sexual act is no longer an intersubjective experience where each one goes beyond himself, but rather a kind of mutual masturbation."

Of the link between marriage and colonialism: "Marriage incites man to a capricious imperialism: the temptation to dominate is the most universal and the most irresistible there is; to turn over a child to his mother or to turn over a wife to her husband is to cultivate tyranny in the world; it is often not enough for the husband to be supported and admired, to give counsel and guidance; he gives orders, he plays the sovereign; all the resentments accumulated in his childhood, throughout his life, accumulated daily among other men whose existence vexes and wounds him, he unloads at home by unleashing his authority over his wife..."

Of the lack of genius: "How could women even have had genius when all possibility of accomplishing a work of genius--or just a work--was refused them? Old Europe formerly heaped its contempt on barbarian Americans for possessing neither artists nor writers. "Let us live before asking us to justify our existence," Jefferson wrote, in essence. Blacks give the same answers to racists who reproach them for not having produced a Whitman or Melville. Neither can the French proletariat invoke a name like Racine or Mallarme. The free woman is just being born; when she conquers herself, she will perhaps justify Rimbaud's prophecy: "Poets will be. When woman's infinite servitude is broken, when she lives for herself and by herself, man--abominable until now--giving her her freedom, she too will be a poet! Woman will find the unknown! Will her worlds of ideas differ from ours? She will find strange, unfathomable, repugnant, delicious things, we will take them, we will understand them."

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

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 intervals.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

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 records when she returns to her state. A black male teacher, who teaches History, affirmed that his own research had led him to the same conclusion as the film's, that Rustin was a crucial figure in the struggle for civil rights. I was happy to hear the two teachers speak in support of the film and the figure.

The other film screening was also interesting. Why Us? Left Behind and Dying, another documentary feature film, followed a small group of inner-city African American high school students from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who explored why HIV infection rates are disproportionately high in black communities. Guided by documentary-maker Claudia Pryor Malis, the students interviewed research scientists and public health experts from both the USA and Africa, as well as HIV/AIDS activists and people in their own neighborhoods. Many causes were examined, including genetic, gender, social and psychological factors. The film was a frank and thoughtful look at a tough topic.

My interest in the conference turned out to be very much related to LGBT matters. I attended the workshop given by Rye Country Day School on the introduction of a Gay-Straight Alliance student club in the Middle School. The club caters to seventh and eighth graders. The students interviewed for the short video were mostly articulate about why it is important to support friends who may be LGBT. After the workshop, I was persuaded that more diversity work should take place in the Middle School at my school. Those years are crucial for the formation of identity and perceptions of others. The students grow more closed, more cynical, more brittle, when they go into the Upper School.

Before attending the workshop on the African American Iconic Images Collection, I had not realized that Philadelphia was a city of murals. Originating from the Anti-Graffiti Network in the 80s, the non-profit group has since been incorporated into the city government as the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Their murals encompass more than African American subjects and more than traditional mural techniques. The program evolves with changes in the city's neighborhoods. It is now looking to curate a collection of Latino images as well. It is also open to new artistic methods, such as the use of LED lights.

I took an afternoon off to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The twenty-five-minute trek from Marriott Downtown was worth it. The Rodin Museum, passed on the way, was unfortunately closed, but there was plenty to see at the PMA. It had a large collection of Impressionist art. I was particularly drawn to the landscapes of Camille Pissaro, which showed a great sensitivity to movement in the picture plane.  In one painting, a road disappeared into a vanishing point while a train sped towards the viewer. The painting of a walled garden was divided by strong horizontals.

I was also very pleased to see Marcel Duchamp's early paintings (like his wonderful The Chess Game) and later readymades, including the bicycle wheel and the fountain. His cubist Nude Descending a Staircase (Number 2) was also on show. The Mexican Modernists had their own gallery here. David Alfaro Siqueiros's War and The Giants were sculptural images. I cannot remember the name of the artist of my favorite image of the afternoon. A man was shown pulling his shirt over his head. The bent muscular torso was rendered enigmatic by the hidden head.

I ended my walkabout in the Museum's reconstruction of an Indian temple. It was a dark and silent space, in which to rest one's feet and recover one's breath. A temple to art now, it was a refuge from the city's unquiet life. I was sitting out, for a while. Bayard Rustin drew inspiration from Gandhi's belief in non-violence, and put his body on the line for causes that he fought for. That was a form of self-transcendence that is beyond me.

The next afternoon, I walked around the historic district in the direction of Penn's Landing at the waterfront. In Washington Square I saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which commemorates the war dead in the American Revolution. The entire square used to be a burial ground. The diagonal path took me through Independence Square, and then to the Carpenters' House, where the Continental Congress first met to discuss action against Great Britain. From Penn's Landing, I walked to the Korean War Memorial, put up by George W. Bush, and then to the Vietnam War Memorial. Pine Street, lined with beautiful houses on both sides, led me back to the downtown area. I stumbled upon Giovanni's Room, an LGBT bookstore, with a white-haired man behind the counter, before walking up Queer Street, 12th Street, back to the hotel. I had the illusion of taking quite a chunk of American history in my stride.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

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.