Showing posts from December, 2012

O Carib Isle!

On Tuesday we arrived at Chateau Cervantes in old San Juan. The hotel was done up in a sharp, moden style, but it was strangely empty. We wandered down to the promenade by the bay. The promenade was opened in 1991 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas. GH loved the bluish tiles paving the roads. The city wall rose on one side of the promenade. It opened in the San Juan Gate, through which visiting Spanish dignitaries used to pass into the city. A little square by the right side of the gate was very charming. It had a little fountain and a pool. The colors were so brightly present. We had a very late lunch at Aureole, a restaurant bar across from San Jose Plaza. Our first taste of how slow service was here.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around the narrow streets, peeking through wrought iron lattices into homes, GH photographing all kinds of architectural details. I especially liked Salvador Brau Plaza, with its wide and gentle slope. On …

Pick, Pick, Pick

Nice morning surprise. My Pillow Book has been selected as a Staff Pick by Wendy Chin-Tanner at Lantern Review. Thanks, Wendy and LR!

Had a wonderfully relaxing time at Aires Ancient Baths yesterday afternoon. GH and I luxuriated in a series of pools of different temperatures. The 97 F warm pool was a gentle introduction. Going from the 102 F hot pool to the 61 F cold pool was supposed to improve one's blood circulation. The propeller jet bath prepared one for the massage, which we added to the bath package and were very glad that we did. My favorite tub was the salt water pool at 100 F, in which one surrendered oneself to the water and floated. There were a steam room too and a lounge to drink tea. The baths were patronized by straight young couples on the day that we were there.

We had dinner afterwards at Thalassa, a Mediterranean and Greek restaurant, also on Franklin Street. The fish specials and on the menu were displayed in ice. I chose the Lavraki, which came with royal gr…

He Saw First

Last weekend, in DC, I saw Ai Weiwei's show at the Hirshhorn Museum. His work attempts to marry sleek formalism with political protest. The two aims clash, in my view, neither arising organically from the other. Is a huge serpent made ingeniously out of knapsacks really the most emotionally convincing way to protest the deaths of children in a Sichuan earthquake when their school collapsed due to poor construction and regulation? Ai has obviously learned a great deal from American minimalism during his stay in New York City in the 1980's. The application of these lessons to Chinese issues seems to have been unproblematic in his practice, and that is the problem of his art for me. His art is made for Western consumption. In two big photographs, he shows his middle finger to both the White House and Tiannanmen Square, but only in the latter is the image of the Great Helmsman poked in the eye. There is nobody in the White House photo.

Nam June Paik, "Zen for TV" 1963/198…

R. Nemo Hill's "When Men Bow Down"

I thought of writing about the power of observation in R. Nemo Hill's book of poems When Men Bow Down, and how that power undergirds the philosophical statements in the poetry. I thought of writing about the quiet authority of the poems, how they do not need to shout or leap or flash for attention, but find their way to something akin to epiphany but much more understated, a kind of understanding. I thought of writing about the gay sensibility of the book, how it is so refreshingly different from what passes for gay poetry nowadays. I thought of writing about the book's craftsmanship, its adroitness with blank verse, rhyming couplets, quatrains, sonnets and ghazals. I thought of writing about the achievement of a Western but non-exotic view of places such as Bali, Java, Myanmar, and Thailand, for with the same sympathetic but rigorous eye the American speaker looks at a young homeless couple in New York City, a teenage junkie in San Francisco, and his aging parents in Massape…

Julith Jedamus' "In Memory of the Photographer Wilson 'Snowflake' Bentley..."

How right that a poem about perfection is nearly perfect! The strongest poem in the book, to my mind, is written “In Memory of the Photographer Wilson ‘Snowflake’ Bentley, Who Died of Pneumonia after Walking through a Blizzard Near Jericho, Vermont, December 23, 1931.” It is about a man killed by the perfect beauty that he sought.
Composed in lines of three strong beats and in terza rima, with its unavoidable associations with hell, purgatory and heaven, the poem consists of six sentences. Three and its multiples govern this poem.
The first sentence describes the beauty of snowflakes, the subject of Bentley’s photography.
Beauty was, for him, cold, hexagonal, perfect in all its parts, beheld
once and once only.
Just as a snowflake is hexagonal, the poem has six sides or sentences. The idea of “parts” supports the listing of Beauty’s qualities, a device that is over-used elsewhere in the book, but is justified by its subject here.
The second sentence inverts the syntactical order o…

Paul Muldoon as Himself

Was lucky enough to take a weekend class with Paul Muldoon at Poets House. Two afternoons of poetry with the man whom the TLS called "the most significant Engish-Language poet born since the Second World War." Right from the beginning of the class he insisted that we don't write our poems, but that our poems write themselves through us. I don't think he meant that in any mystical sense. Rather, in calling us to remove the ego from the writing, he reiterated Eliot's theory of impersonality.

In reading our work, he was very quick at sniffing out not only weaknesses in the poem's language and construction, but also their influences, like Heaney, Bishop and Williams  He thought that the ending of my poem "Eve's Fault" has not sufficiently advanced from its beginning. He is himself a poet of rapid movement, of course.

Many of his remarks were too woven into the discussion to be quoted without lengthy explication of context. The following bon mots st…

Matisse: In Search of True Painting

I have not seen the show yet, but bought the beautifully produced catalogue at the Met. All the essays examine the show's focus: Matisse's work in pairs, trios or series. Landscapes, still life, interiors, nudes--these genres at the heart of Matisse's painting--saw intense experimentation in the re-working of an original. What is striking about Matisse's pairs is that they were very often painted in the same format and size. These were very controlled experiments. More radically, they were also shown by Matisse as finished paintings in their own right. The sketch was traditionally hidden from sight but not Matisse's. Later in his career, he showed, together with the painting, the photographs that documented the progress of the painting. He was responding to the charge of easy conservatism. He insisted that he was a painstaking artist who was constantly pushing the boundaries of his art.

Of Interior in Yellow and Blue (1946) and Interior in Venetian Red (1946), Mat…

Collected Poems of Sara Teasdale

Familiar only with her short lyrics, I did not know that Sara Teasdale attempted dramatic monologues in her early book Helen of Troy and Other Poems (1911). They are very readable though they are insufficiently dramatic. Marya Zaturenska, who wrote the insightful introduction, rightly describes Teasdale's work as poignant, but not tragic. Still, one comes across luminous passages like this one spoken by ill-fated Helen:

I will not give the grave my hands to hold,
My shining hair to light oblivion. 
The great bulk of Collected Poems, however, comprises lyrics. Here are the anthology pieces such as "Coney Island" and "Let It Be Forgotten." Teasdale probably wrote too much and wrote too easily, for a lot of the work is unremarkable. Images of trees, flowers and birds abound. She achieves a more distinctive note when she turns to her contemporary life as an upper-middle-class woman for inspiration. So in the poem "Jewels" she compares turning her eyes fr…

Books Virtually

Books Actually, an independent bookstore in Singapore, now sells on-line. You can buy my latest book The Pillow Book for SGD15.00 (USD12.30), including shipping. Go check out the many wonderful books on its list. Congratulations, Kenny and all at the store, on the launch!