Sunday, January 01, 2012

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 appreciative evaluation as a "senior" faculty, having taught for fifteen years altogether in Singapore and New York. The school's sponsorship of my green card has passed the Department of Labor and now waits for the approval of the State Department.

Re-reading Coleridge, Wordsworth and Keats during the summer to prepare for my new Romantic Poetry elective, I found myself transferring my preference for Keats to Wordsworth. I was somewhat repelled by the adolescent gorgeousness of Keats's language. I now like Wordsworth's plainness better. He also has more to say about human and familial relationships. Another poet with whom I spent much time was Anna Wickham. She is not a first-rate poet, but her feelings are indomitable and true. She is an original, like Stevie Smith, though they strike very different tones. In the pages of PN Review, I found Raymond Queneau's wonderful poems about Paris. In prose, I continued to read and admire John Updike. I read Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest, and then In the Beauty of the Lilies. He is tremendously life-affirming. The other prose discovery was Simone de Beauvoir's enlightening The Second Sex.

The de Kooning retrospective at MoMA was tremendously powerful.  It bore out Peter Schjeldahl's assessment of him as the greatest American painter. I also enjoyed very much the Cone sister's collection of modern art at the Jewish Museum, and the complementary show of the Steins' collections at the San Francisco MoMA. Matisse is still my favorite Master.

In music, the All-Sibelius program by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Colin Davis, was memorable. Nikolaj Znaider played the Violin Concerto in D minor beautifully. Most thrilling, however, was the Miro Quartet's performance of Beethoven's late String Quartet in A minor.  I lost my feelings for Eliot's "The Four Quartets" but made an incomparable gain. Listening to the late string quartets while walking to school in November and December remains enfolded in my memory. I did not care for the adaptation of Bach in the White Light concert Passio-Compassio, but the whirling dervishes were special. After the excitement of Strauss's Rosenkavalier last summer, I swore I would watch more Strauss. I did not do so in 2011. I must this year.

I watched a lot of bad films this year. Judging the Lambda Awards this year, I read Paolo Pier Pasolini's poetry. It led me to his challenging films: political, allegorical, provocative. I enjoyed Joseph Marston's Maria Full of Grace about drug mules, and Azazel Jacobs' Terri about an overweight boy. Rustin Bayard was rescued from relative obscurity by the documentary Brother Outsider, shown at the People of Color Conference in November. Katori Hall's play "The Mountaintop" focused on the face of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr., but Angela Bassett, as the chambermaid and angel, stole the show from Samuel L. Jackson. The best theater I watched this year was courtesy of SW: The Classic Stage Company's production of Anton Chekov's Three Sisters. Has mildew been sadder?

Last year was not outstanding for travel, partly because of the cost of renting and furnishing a much bigger apartment. During the summer, we went to SF, and had a wonderful few days driving around Napa Valley. VM and JF drove us to Storm King on a beautiful sunny fall day. The weekend trips to Woodstock and Kingston were always a welcomed change of air. This last week was spent in Buenos Aires, which I will say more about soon.

I did go back to Singapore this year, after a two-year absence. It was good to catch up with family and friends, harder now with my sister and her family since they are living in New Delhi. I was very happy to read at Books Actually from my new book of poems Seven Studies for a Self Portrait, published in January 2011, and launched in two book parties in the homes of HS and VM. Last year I read at bigger venues out-of-town than in previous years, at Salem's Peabody Essex Museum, at the Asian American Studies Conference in New Orleans, and at the American Literature Association Conference in Boston. The readings saw a deepening association with Asian American poetry, a connection strengthened by reading Tim Yu's book of criticism Race and the Avant-Garde. My poetry was anthologized in Carcanet Press's New Poetries V. I did not achieve my goal of publication in a major American journal. Perhaps this year.

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