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Showing posts from January, 2012

Everyman's Library: "Villanelles"

Got my copy of Villanelles yesterday, edited by Annie Finch and Marie-Elizabeth Mali. Published as part of Everyman's Library Pocket Poets series, the book has a lovely cover and handles well. More books of poetry should be published in this handy format. My poem "Novenary with Hens," written so long ago for PFFA's Apprentice Challenge, nestles between Carolyn Kizer's line from Valery and Steve Kowit's grammar lesson. Besides the (largest) section on contemporary villanelles, there are sections on the (brief) tradition, villanelles about villanelles, and variations on the villanelle. A little treasure chest.

Gypsy and Porgy and Bess

Watched Gypsy in school last Thursday. A very engaging student production. Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents. Mother Rose was hungry for stardom for her daughters. When the older one June eloped, the younger one Louise bore the brunt of maternal attention until she gained fame as a stripper and renamed herself Gypsy Rose Lee. The musical also bore witness to the fall of vaudeville and the rise of burlesque.

Then on Sunday, with TB I watched The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, directed by alumnus Diane Paulus, and adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks and Diedre Murray from the original folk opera by George Gershwin, DuBose, Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin. Crippled Porgy took Bess in after her man Crown killed someone and had to flee. Crown returned to claim his woman, and Porgy killed him after a struggle. I have not watched the original, but was told by a colleague that the adaptation cut a few of Porgy's arias, and so shifted the attention to Be…

Mary di Michele's "The Flower of Youth"

You read up on a great writer and director, what he wrote and what others wrote about him. You find affinities in thought and temperament, though you live in different times and places. You fly to Italy for an academic conference and make the pilgrimage to the writer's grave at Casarsa. There, sitting on a bench shaded by cypress, weeping for a man you have never met, you hear a voice whispering to you in Italian, which you don't know how to write, but find yourself transcribing. Translated into English, the voice said,

I leave the city and discover the sky,
The world is bigger than I realized,
Where there's nobody the stars are myriad.

That was what happened to Mary di Michele, according to her book's prologue, and what inspired her to write The Flower of Youth. The title is the same as that of the volume of verse Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote in dialect about his coming of age in the countryside during World War II. The verse that di Michele heard at Pasolini's grave…

Sam Mendes's "Richard III"

Last night, at the BAM Harvey theater, Richard III, directed by Sam Mendes, played to a full house. The production was the last to be mounted as part of The Bridge Project, a British-American collaboration. I enjoyed the Project's King Lear last year, the eponymous hero played by Derek Jacobi, and so looked forward to the play about the infamous, hunchbacked king. 
Kevin Spacey, as Richard, was disappointing. His performance stayed on a single note, that of a growling menace, that did not have any shade or space in it. His seduction of Lady Anne was utterly unconvincing because there was no charisma or sex appeal in the portrayal. The humor when speaking lines that are not supposed to be humorous was broad, almost farcical. Richard was almost a cartoon character in Spacey's hands.
The other actors were not particularly memorable, except two. Chandler Williams played the Duke of Clarence with restrained dignity. The scene of his execution was poignant, the tragedy accented by t…

Poem: "Emphasis"

Poem written on January 13 and revised two days ago, after reading it at Cornelia Street Cafe.

Emphasis
The night when the nuptial song inside the body had to be taken out by emphatic sign language
              Kim Hyesoon, “Ghostmarriage”

Sign language had not meant to lay a hand on her but song looked only in the mirror when she sang. After crossing his heart seven times and still failing to turn her face, he reached for her with his hands.
She looked at him from eyes as placid as a cow’s while her mouth squeezed the udder of her body. The squirts of sound tasted warm, and for a while he did not know to thank his hands or her singing.
He thanked her the only way he knew, shuddering into the soft places where his hands had pounded. The song wrapping its tenderness around the sign, when he spilled his seed he could almost speak.

Loved and Lost

WL and I watched the French movie Domaine (2009) at the IFC last Monday. A story about a gay teenager (Isaïe Sultan) who loves and then leaves his glamorous aunt (Béatrice Dalle) when she descends into alcoholism. Trust the French to glamorize a woman by making her a Math whizz. There is insufficient substance in the plot to hold the attention, but the cinematography is beautiful. The script, written by the director Patric Chiha, is rather self-consciously literary, with stage-managed echoes and parallels.

"Steam: The Turkish Bath"

Directed and co-written by Ferzan Ozpetek, this is a subtle and beautiful film about waking up from one's unhappiness. Francesco and Marta run a small design firm in Rome. Marta has been cheating on her husband. When Francesco's Aunt Anita dies in Istanbul, she left to him one of the few remaining hamam or Turkish baths in the city. Intending to sell the bath at first, Francesco is warmly welcomed into the family running the bath, attracted first to the daughter, then to the son. Seduced by Istanbul, he decides to stay and re-open the bath.

His affair with the son is discovered by his wife who breaks up with him. To help her understand his feelings, Francesco shows her the letters his aunt wrote to his mother about falling in love with Istanbul. After he was stabbed by a hired thug of a ruthless developer and died, Marta finds herself staying on to complete Francesco's project, the re-opening of the hamam. I like very much how the film shifts midway from Francesco's pe…

Poem: "A Town Called Road" (first draft complete)

A Town Called Road
After the departure of the gods resembling desire
            Tada Chimako, “The Town of Sleep”

First Report
The town looks open as the moon looks open. It shines faintly and faraway even on the inside. A silver road cuts through the heart, if a heart can be called a heart when it heaves like a ship.
In the north, the local woods are taciturn unless they are asked for a light, and they will unfold from their sleeves a light and their mouths will open.
It is easy to take a wrong turn. The south, also called misleadingly the port side, tilts towards the ships.

Second Report
The trade in hearts is thriving like nowhere else. A full-grown heart goes for a thousand dollars in broad daylight.
It is considered an act of deep friendship to bring out from the kitchen and open a fresh heart. Feelings, however, must be put aside; a gift is a favor to be returned.
On TV public men speak by turns of the nourishing taste of a good heart. Down by the docks, on the far side, I have s…

Poem: "A Town Called Road: First and Second Reports"

A Town Called Road
After the departure of the gods resembling desire
Tada Chimako, “The Town of Sleep”

First Report
The town looks open as the moon looks open. It shines faintly and faraway even on the inside. A silver road cuts through the heart, if a heart can be called a heart when it heaves like a ship.
In the north, the local woods are taciturn unless they are asked for a light, and they will unfold from their sleeves a light and their mouths will open.
It is easy to take a wrong turn. The south, also called misleadingly the port side, tilts towards the ships.

Second Report
The trade in hearts is thriving like nowhere else. A full-grown heart goes for a thousand dollars in broad daylight.
It is considered an act of deep friendship to bring out from the kitchen and open a fresh heart. Feelings, however, must be put aside; a gift is a favor to be returned.
On TV public men speak by turns of the nourishing taste of a good heart. Down by the docks, on the far side, I have seen a young w…

Poem: "A Town Called Road: First Report"

A Town Called Road
After the departure of the gods resembling desire
Tada Chimako, “The Town of Sleep”

First Report
The town looks open as the moon looks open. It shines faintly and faraway even on the inside. A silver road cuts through the heart, if a heart can be called a heart when it heaves like a ship.
In the north, the local woods are taciturn unless they are asked for a light, and they will unfold from their sleeves a light and their mouths will open.
It is easy to take a wrong turn. The south, also called misleadingly the port side, tilts towards the ships.

Poem: "One More Dispatch from a Distant Land"

One More Dispatch from a Distant Land
When I was fifteen, becoming a woman frightened me. When I was eighteen, being a woman struck me as loathsome. Now, how old am I? I have become too much of a woman. I can no longer return to being human; that age is gone forever. My head is small, my neck long, and my hair terribly heavy.
Tada Chimako, “From a Woman of a Distant Land”

It was the most exquisite form of torture yet invented. The schools trained us to be rigorous scientists, subtle logicians, discriminating literary critics, scrupulous theologians. We were given every form of encouragement. Then we were overtaken by our bodies. We bled heavily without a wound. We joined with men, hoping to be shattered, but only mild pleasure, if not disgust, happened. They, on the other hand, cried like babies or dogs and wanted the same for us.So we faked it and after a while could not tell the body’s rumor from the world’s reality.
I am one of the luckier ones. I stopped dating and threw myself in…

Jorge Luis Borges's "Labyrinths"

There are marvels in Borges's mazes, but there are no monsters, or more precisely, the monster is the maze. The thin line between fiction and fact, the multiplying paths of choice, the confusion of chance and fate, the interdependence of memory and forgetfulness, the regressions of infinity: these are the speculative themes embodied in his short stories, which are ostensibly about secret cabals, German spies, an endless library, ancient sacrifice, murder mystery, theological controversies, and the failure of a medieval Muslim intellectual to understand the Greek categories of comedy and tragedy. Borges takes a popular genre, such as crime thriller or science fiction, and, by exploring and subverting its conventions, exposes our assumptions about reality. My favorite stories in this collection are "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis, Tertius," "The Garden of Forking Paths," "The Library of Babel," "Funes the Memorious" and "Death and the Compass." …

Labyrinths: Buenos Aires

Laid out in a grid, the streets of San Telmo should have been easy to navigate, but the perfectly symmetrical arrangement meant all intersections looked roughly the same. All corners were right-angled. Inside the maze, it was hard to remember what direction was North or West. The streets were named after countries in the Americas, and so we wandered all over the map, in Peru, Bolivia and Estados Unidos. In which state was the old-styled parilla we liked at which we had dinner one night? What was its name? On our last afternoon in Buenos Aires we stumbled on La Poesia Cafe.

*

Friday afternoon milonga at the Confiteria Ideal. The mazy footwork of tango crossed the palatial dance hall. After a set of songs, the dancing couples separated and returned to their own tables. The women sat along one wall like a gallery of yellowing portrait photographs. The men hardly touched their beer. A short elderly woman threaded her way through the small tables to ask me to dance. I shook my head and smi…

2011 Highlights

I have always thought of this blog as my electronic memory, but I don't often call up earlier posts, unless I am searching for something specific. Coming back today from Buenos Aires, where the new, and not a review, was uppermost on the mind, I do not want to let the first day of this new year go by without summarizing 2011, the first year of the second decade of the old-new century. So I trawled the blog-posts of this past year, to remind myself of last year's highlights.

The most momentous event in my personal life was moving into a new apartment with GH at the end of February. I re-discovered how little patience I have for home decoration. Fortunately, GH had all the talent and passion necessary for doing up the UWS apartment on 86th Street. We threw two parties and everyone was full of praise for his taste. He knew when to leave well alone. On living together, we complement each other when we are not fighting. I am very thin-skinned. At school, I received a very appreciat…