Showing posts from February, 2012

Between Empathy and Experience

Tribes, a new play by Nina Raine, asks hard questions about stigmatized identities and minority communities. The London production won an Offie Award and was also nominated for both Olivier and Evening Standard Awards for best new play. A new production opened on February 16 in Barrow Street Theater, New York City. It is acted by an all-American cast and directed by David Cromer whose production of Our Town last season won acclaim.

Billy (Russell Harvard), who is deaf from birth, lives with a family that has tried to treat him as if he has no hearing defect. He speaks to them using his own voice and understands them by lip-reading. He does not know sign language. Things change when he meets Sylvia (Susan Pourfar), who grew up in a deaf household and has lived mostly within the deaf community. She is not deaf but is becoming so. They fall in love and upon her encouragement he took up the job of transcribing criminal suspects to aid their prosecution.

Newly independent, Billy decides to…

"Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn"

Last Sunday GH and I went to the New York Historical Society to look at a few of its current exhibitions. "Harlem," a show of photographs by Camilo José Vergara, was only of passing interest.  "Hudson River School Highlights" was a small show of Romantic landscapes mainly by Asher B. Durand. We also saw "Urban Views: American Cities 1717-1986." That show concluded with a photo-montage of Canal Street, New York City, by architect and photographer Claude Samton. GH who lived in the neighborhood in the 1980's was very happy to see restored his memories of various stores selling art supplies, metal scrap and rubber tires.

After he left, I took in the wonderful show "Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn." From the Society's website:

Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn is the first exhibition to relate the American, French and Haitian revolutions as a single, global narrative. Spanning decades of enormous political and cultural changes, fro…

Revision: "Labyrinths"

Set in a grid, the streets of San Telmo should have been easy to navigate, but the symmetry meant all intersections looked the same. All corners were rightangled. Inside the maze, it was hard to remember which direction was north. The streets were named after countries in the Americas, and so we wandered up and down Venezuela, Perú and Chile, or did we wander east and west? The world map was useless. Here, in Buenos Aires, Estados Unidos was south of México.
Where was the oldstyled parilla al carbón we liked? What was its name? On our last afternoon we stumbled on La Poesia Café and sat beside Victoria Ocampo at the bar.
Friday afternoon milonga at the Confitería Ideal. The mazy footwork of tango crisscrossed the palatial dance hall. The light was the color of dust. After a set of songs, the dancing couples released each other and returned to their own tables. The women sat along one wall like a gallery of yellowing photographs. The men hardly touched their beer. A short …

"Getting Closer": Bridge, Kareva and Barskova

This Presidents' Weekend, I read three recent books by three women poets from different countries. Born in Wellington, New Zealand, where she now lives, Diana Bridge is the recipient of the 2010 Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry for distinguished contribution to New Zealand poetry. Aloe & Other Poems (2009) is her fifth book of poetry. I was turned on to the next poet by a TLS article. Doris Kareva is one of Estonia's leading poets. Shape of Time collects poems from three previous books. It is translated by Tina Aleman and introduced by Penelope Shuttle. I found a signed copy of Polina Barskova's The Zoo in Winter while browsing in St. Mark's Bookshop and bought it on the strength of the opening poems. She was born in St. Petersburg, then known as Leningrad, and moved to the States when she was 20. Regarded as a child prodigy, she published her first book of poems at age 15.

Bridge is a poet of seeing. A scholar of Chinese culture and Indian art, she writes h…

"Between Sculptural and Flat"

Last Saturday, after a dinner of fried chicken with R, L and S, we headed over to numberthirtyfive gallery for the opening reception of SAME BUT INDIFFERENT. The new show by Robyn Voshardt and Sven Humphrey consists of a large-scale video installation called Insert Pause Here, and photographs. I particularly liked the photographs, especially Domination of Red I and II, the titles of which allude to the Wallace Stevens poem "Domination of Black." The red photographs were intense, the blue ones cool. They were all both sharp and tentative. The press statement describes them very well:
Voshardt/Humphrey’s photographs experiment with similar regenerative concerns and derivative processes across media. Metaphorical edits and cuts appear as bold diagonals and gashes. Colors and patterns are intense and reflective, or densely black. The image origin or reference point from within the artists’ own archive appears deliberately negated or obscured. Some images began as drawings and…

"Midnight in Paris" Is Blond and Bland

I don't understand why Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is nominated for the Oscars unless they are all irremediable Francophile at the Academy. GH and I finally got round to watching it last night. The characters are one-dimensional, the humor weak, the pathos non-existent. You can see the plot turns coming from a mile. The message--"We all long for a Golden Age"--is hammered home mercilessly. The parade of famous writers and artists in Paris of the jazz age is relentless, a procession of cartoons. Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein? You gotta be kidding. Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams, the couple who find out that they are a poor match, are so blond and bland that they are like projections screens for passing vehicular headlights. Insipid.

No Celebration: "David's Birthday"

Marco Filiberti directs this overlong Italian soap opera. Two couples rent a beautiful house by the beach. A son returns and sets off longing in the husband of the other couple. The older man finally gives in to his desire, and the movie ends predictable in tragedy. The characters are clumsily sketched, the acting indifferent. Thyago Alves, the swimsuit model son, provides some eye candy. Massimo Poggio is ruggedly handsome as the tempted Matteo. Christo Jivkov plays the boy's uncle, who drops in with his depressive loneliness and then drops out.

Reprint Journal and Divining Divas

So nice when someone writes you out of blue, asking for permission to reprint a poem of yours, first published in an e-zine and forever archived in dusty electrons, because someone else has turned him onto you and he read your poem and admires it. Thanks, Tammy Ho of Cha for suggesting my name, and thanks, Reprint Journal, staffed by editors who refuse to divulge their names, for reprinting "If the Fire Is In Your Apartment." Republished today, Feb 14, the poem reads more than ever like a health warning about love. Thanks too, Shit Creek Review, for liking the poem first.

Another reprint appears in the anthology Divining Divas, edited by Michael Montlack. I am one of 100 gay men who contributed poems on their muses, according to the collection's subtitle. I love the velvety feel of the cover, with its Klimt look-alike. My poem "Study #5: After Frida Kahlo" is a part of the title sequence of my latest book Seven Studies for a Self Portrait. Thank you, Michael, f…

Poem: "Dragonfly"

Trying to escape its own fire a firefly dies
Yamada Mizue

Motorcyclist of the air, look out for oncoming summer, the roar of flies dangling like daredevils from tiny wings. You too are a devil, serpent, but fly at full stretch, with deadly purpose, at accidents. Look out for ponds, the frogs’ hunting ground. Throttle back, release. See water boil noiselessly. This is how all life began and you beget too, a Levitical line. Dragon, look out for the significant detail of yourself, the hardest job, goggle eyes, the long but useless legs, the shape a cross with two horizontal bars, the top for the nails, the lower, slightly larger, for powering up.

Hail Shostakovich!

Heard Orpheus Chamber Orchestra again last night, at Carnegie Hall. Did not care very much for the score or the playing of Tippett's Divertimento on "Sellinger's Round" with its English musical allusions.  Jean-Yves Thibaudet, the French pianist, came on next to play, with Louis Hanzlik on trumpet, Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor. First time I heard the piano concerto, and I loved it for its youthful brio. It brimmed with ideas and moved with zip. Thibaudet was poetic where the music was poetic and brash where it was brash. A tad too civilized, perhaps, but that might be my prejudice against the French.

After the intermission, we heard Honegger's languorous evocation of a summer morning. Pastorale d’été was quite lovely, if not exactly ground-breaking. Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings concluded the program. Lush and sentimental. I hated it. I thought the musicians were on auto-pilot. Here was where an original interpreter--a conductor, sa…

Poem: "A Poem to a Poet"

A Poem to a Poet
I am a poet, I have had my day For I have written one immortal line; Nor Greek nor Latin ever wrote more fine— The Poem: Edna St. Vincent Millay.
            Cora Millay, “A Poet to A Poem,” quoted in Nancy Milford’s biography of Vincent

You had pleasure at my making, happiness rolling in foam that on the scalloped shore raises to a gull shout and creaking oar an astonishing figure in an astonishing dress. Hardship you had also, the heavy progress from island to wild island, store to store, to have shut in your face the frightened door, before one dared receive you, your largesse. Mother! The name is too small for a lover, like Hestia who yielded her throne and fled. For dandelions, mustard, pig-weed, clover, abandoning the flowers of marriage bed, you search, jealous as Hera, the world all over. I am the best thought springing from your head.

Poem: "The Death Mask of Lorenzo de' Medici"

"The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini" at the Met is a fabulous show of paintings, sculpture, drawings and commemorative coins. It begins with artwork commissioned and executed in Florence, the center of the early Italian Renaissance, before moving to the courts of Milan, Bologna, Ferrara and Naples, ending finally with another burst of splendor in Venice.  If the profile portraits at the beginning of the show obeyed Leonardo da Vinci's advice to look for three important points of a face--forehead, nose and chin--the portraits at the end of the show examined the human face from many more angles. Along the way the Dutch influence is introduced by way of Memling and other Low Countries artists, to create a more psychologically acute and intimate style.

Almost all the people portrayed belonged to the wealthy or noble families of Italy. There are a few ecclesiastical portraits, including the unexpectedly voluptuous "Fra Teodoro of Urbino as Saint Dominic&q…

Poem: "Gertrude and Adrienne"

Gertrude and Adrienne
Shall I praise the former’s void or shall I praise the latter’s substance?
Taniguchi Den-jo, “Chiyo and Utagawa: Two Women”

Gertrude Stein of 27 Rue de Fleurus collected geniuses while Alice amused their wives with stories of the cats and recipes. The writer put down her words evenly like paint so that every word had its own value. The writer put down her words evenly like paint so that every value had its own word. I admire that. Adrienne Rich gathered Black Panthers and Vietnam protesters in her New York apartment. After they separated, her husband drove into the woods and shot himself. This writer breaks down the order of words and builds it up anew. There is an order that is not oppressive, if it can be found. Shall I praise the former’s tender buttons or the latter’s diving wreck?
American radicals, I think of you when I hear the presidential candidates.
After I wrote this and read it again, I realize that I have neglected two other duties. One, to thank Ali…

Poem: "In Death As In Life"

In Death As In Life
In some city, Trieste or Udine…
            Pier Paolo Pasolini, “The Day of My Death,” translated by Mary di Michele

Your mother wants her body donated to science, she wants             to be useful in death as she is in life,             to brain,             eye, uterus, and even skin researchers. She wants to be all used up.
We are more selfish. You wish             to be cremated and for your ash to run across             the Great Lawn             we live by, lift off like a warm grey scarf             before landing on grass you have traveled to.
I surprise myself by wishing             my ash dispersed over the sea south of Singapore, the city-state I have left behind.             That’s too far,             you complain. It’s not, I say. Come August I’ll show you the exact spot.

Winter: Five Poems

Winter: Five Poems

Those who compose poems must regard feelings as of foremost importance.
The Nun Abutsu, The Night Crane: Treatise on Poetics

Philosophy’s toothache a poet takes to be the throbbing of an open mouth.
You cannot walk toward the sun without trying to open your eyes, not here.
I rose to write, you moved the space heater to the workroom and went back to bed.
The day is growing longer but I am not waiting for anyone at the end of it.
To modulate without line breaks, remove glove, run hand over the lime tree.


I was probably too tired Friday night to give Gus Van Sant's Mala Noche, his first feature-length film, a fair viewing, but the desultory plot and lacklustre acting did not help. I remember vaguely, however, some beautifully shot street scenes. Based on the autobiographical novel by Walt Curtis, the movie tells the story of a young manager of a liquor store who falls in love with a Mexican lad, an illegal immigrant who cannot speak English.

Inception directed by Christopher Nolan was far more gripping. The whole dream-versus-reality setup is familiar, but within the genre's confines Nolan builds like his architect-thieves level after level of action and connection. The final action sequence, when Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) finally wakes up from a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream-within-a dream, is a rush. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays another thief Arthur. Ellen Page was yet another, the aptly named Ariadne. Tom Hardy is heart-stoppingly good-looking as Eames. It does not hurt th…

Reading at the Williams Center

On Wednesday the William Carlos Williams Cooperative held their monthly reading at the Williams Center in Rutherford, New Jersey. Ocean Vuong and I were there as the features. John J. Trause had kindly invited us to present our work after hearing us read together at David Lawson's reading at Jujumokti Tea Lounge in the East Village. One things leads to another, as they say.

I really liked the format of the reading. It always begins with someone reading from or speaking about Williams, this time John talking briefly about the new biography of that very American poet. The feature then comes on, followed by an open reading. And the evening ends with a last poem from the feature. If I ever organize a reading series, I will follow a similar format. It pays respect to an important past poet, it ensures that everyone hears the feature before reading for the open-mic, it makes time for the open reading, and it returns attention to the feature at the end of the event.

It was lovely to hear…

Ralph Fiennes's "Coriolanus" (2011)

I am not into modern updates of Shakespeare, especially those with a political axe to grind. Such updates seem to condescend to the audience, as if we cannot be trusted to draw our own conclusions from a straight production of the Elizabethan Shakespeare. In movies, the contemporary imagery also tends to overwhelm the Shakespearian language. Ralph Fiennes's modern adaptation of Coriolanus does not escape these pitfalls. The battle scenes, set in a war-torn city that could be Baghdad or Kabul, could have been lifted from any number of modern combat movies. The riot for bread played like an angry protest on TV. I was also struck by how inefficient film conventions are compared to those of the stage. When Coriolanus approached Aufidius to offer himself as an ally, the camera followed Coriolanus slowly through a dark tunnel to the enemy headquarters. On stage, he would have just appeared in Aufidius' presence.

But Fiennes managed to capture on the big screen the nuances of the com…