Showing posts from January, 2013

Gerald Stern Tells It as Is

Heard Gerald Stern read on Monday in a private home just around the corner from where I live. The reading was organized by PL, held under the auspices of the ALSCW, of which I am a new council member. Talked with SS about the conference and the panel on translating Asia. HS introduced me to RW, who seemed very nice. Then Stern read, and talked, for about half an hour. I liked the more compressed poems better, especially a powerful one about the uselessness of cultural assimilation. You still have to pack your leather bag and go when they tell you to. "Tell" is, of course, an euphemism. Stern's parents were Polish and Ukrainian immigrants. There is a lot of truth-telling in his poetry.

During the Q&A, I asked him about the controversy over Rita Dove's anthology of American verse, whether his sympathies lie with the editor's principle of "diversity" or with Helen Vendler's "aesthetic" critique of Dove's choices. Given the hedging so…

"Temple Art" in Kin

My poem "Temple Art" has been published in Kin. Thank you, Diana Bridge and China, for the inspiration! Thank you, Scorpion!

Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"

Watched this afternoon the Steppenwolf's production of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? A colleague described the attacks that husband George and wife Martha direct against each other as corrosive. And she is right. But I was surprised by how moving and tender were some of the quieter moments of the play. The couple need each other as much as they hate each other. George (Tracy Letts), who married the daughter of his college president, is a coward and a failure as far as his wife is concerned, but she needs his need for her, her need exacerbated by her fear of abandonment. Martha (Amy Morton), who is alcoholic, is emasculating in her taunts, but George wants to be punished for his obscure guilt over the deaths of his parents.

Their love-hate relationship is played out in the form of horrendous games in front of their guests Nick (Madison Dirks) and Honey (Carrie Coon), games like Humiliate Your Host and Hump Your Hostess. When Martha breaks the rule of one o…

Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925

Fernand Léger, "The Discs" 1919

The MoMA show is huge. Picasso and Kandinsky open it but it quickly expands to look at the network of artists all across Europe--including America--producing abstract art. The show is organized mostly according to countries: Russia, France, Germany, Italy, England, the USA. Artists who moved to work in a foreign country are grouped with their colleagues, so the two works by Marcel Duchamp are placed with the work of Stieglitz and other Americans. I love his painting "Movement from Virgin to Bride," which counters Kandinsky's valorization of the spiritual in art with Duchamp's preference for the sensual. It was a treat to see works by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell representing England. Gino Severini is also a stand-out for me. There is a wonderfully frilly painting by Giacometti, so sensationally different from his sculptures. Best of all is the work of Fernard Léger on display. It is rhythmically vital and yet reassuringly st…

The Stupendous Budapest Festival Orchestra

The Budapest Festival Orchestra was stupendous yesterday afternoon. Under the baton of its founder-conductor Iván Fischer, it rollicked through Shostakovich's "Selections from Suite for variety orchestra in eight parts" (1950), finessed Bernstein's "Serenade" (with replacement Dutch violinist Liza Ferschtman) and rendered Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2 its fulsome due. I thought the first movement of the Rachmaninov was a little sluggish, but the rest of the symphony was played with such  emotional conviction that I fell in love with the music all over again.

I had to rush off, abandoning AH, to meet EN for dinner before the NYC launch of the journal Asymptote. We had a good soto ayam at the Noodle Bar on Orchard Street, and then walked over to the Living Theater for the launch. It was lovely to meet Yew Leong's friends, poet and translator Yu Yan Chen and contributing editor Dylan Suher. Of all the readers, I particularly enjoyed hearing Cole Swense…

Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude"

As I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, I kept thinking of how much Salman Rushdie owes to this novel when writing his Midnight's Children. Not just for the general method, now labeled magic realism, but also for particular incidents such as the plague of insomnia and particular characters such as the old prostitute Pilar Ternera. Was Rushdie electrified by the discovery that the language that generations of Buendias tried to decipher in the parchments of the gypsy Melquiades is Sanskrit? Did his discovery establish a personal link to the Muse of Marquez's city Macondo so that one novel directly inspired another? I felt such a connection, though in a far smaller way, when I read that Melquiades died on the sands of Singapore. The island-state is still a killer of the imagination.

Rushdie's brainchild in Midnight's Children was to dramatize the history of post-independence India through the life of one magic child Saleem. In doing so, Rush…

A Tribute to Iris Berman

I met Iris Berman at Cornelia Street Cafe, at a Pink Pony reading, some six, seven years ago. She read a poem from her flower series, I seem to remember. She dressed like one of those British women you see in BBC films, a floral dress cinched with a ribbon around the waist. Did she once wear a straw hat? She died of cancer some months ago, round about the same time as Brant Lyon, another regular of the Pink Pony. According to Roxanne Hoffman, Iris and Brant hated each other and did not speak to one another though they lived in the same block.

Iris's collages are part of the group show now on at the Active Space. Curated by Daria Kostina and Irina Danilova, Brural: Peripheral Visionbrings together works by non-mainstream artists from Brooklyn and the Ural region of Russia. I did not know that Iris was an artist as well as a poet. It was a deep pleasure last night to see her collages. They revealed a feel for shape, color and texture, and a way with words, for many of the collages …

Goh Chok Tong's Visit to FCBC

I am surprised by how much this incident is affecting me. I thought I have moved past my former religious life, left it behind in Singapore, but like tin cans tied to a dog it has followed me and is rattling me. I am posting the incident, and my response to it, here on this blog, because I want to remember that the past is not yet past.

When Emeritus Senior Minister of Singapore Goh Chok Tong visited Faith Community Baptist Church on 13 January during a Sunday service, Senior Pastor Lawrence Khong took the opportunity to deliver a hateful anti-gay message. Among other things, he said:

We affirm that the family unit comprises a man as Father, a woman as Mother, and Children. This is the basic building block of society, a value foundational for a secure future, a premise fundamental to nation-building.
and warned ominously that

We see a looming threat to this basic building block by homosexual activists seeking to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code.   Examples from around the world …

Reading Queerly!?

I very much enjoyed reading last night for R. Nemo Hill and John Marcus Powell's series Reading Queerly!?. The Pink Pony was a wonderfully eclectic venue, though the music from the bar was a little loud. Met Ivan Steiger Galietti, who read two poems by Pier Paolo Pasolini in both Italian and English, one the supplication to his mother, the other a more political piece. Ivan said that he fell in love with Pasolini's poetry at the age of sixteen and met the great man himself in Rome. Lorenzo Pozzan read the beginning of Whitman's "Song of Myself" with much feeling. He is a very good-looking young actor. The open-mic was short but good, anchored by Nemo, John Marcus and Eric Norris. I sold two copies of Seven Studies and one copy of The Pillow Book.  Thank you, my friends, for coming to the reading--EN, TH, AH, R and AS. This is a reading series to which I will return, for its atmosphere of appreciative comaraderie.

Poem: "Concierge"

My first 7/7 effort for the new year: write a poem a day for one week, starting on the 7th day of the month. Not sure if the draft is any good, but I wrote about people about whom I don't usually write: politicians, scientists and actors. The first part, with its matter-of-fact tone, is at odds with the rest of the poem. The Millay section (Vincent) is factually inaccurate since she did not die in Paris, but I don't know if that fudge really matters. I could change her to someone else. The poem is a gallery of characters and may be added to.


Guardian of the gate, a doorman, I greet your visitors and keep out the street.
On rainy days I whistle for your cab and stow your bags carefully at the back.
I salt the sidewalk so you won’t slip, after the snowfall has been cleared in heaps.
When power goes down, as in the earthquake, I provide candles, like my medieval namesake.
And when you are gone, I hold the parcels for your return.
Welcome back, Mr. Ceaușescu! I almost…

Two Film Adaptations

Torch Song Trilogy (1988), watched at home last weekend, is a film adaptation of the Tony-winning Boradway play by Harvey Fierstein. In the film Fierstein reprises his role as Arnold Beckoff, a gay man looking for love in 1970's New York City. He is really the heart of the show, funny, witty and poignant, though Anne Bancroft is a scream too as his domineering mother, and Matthew Broderick throws himself bravely into the part of Arnold's young, modelling lover. Arnold's drag performances, with a cast of other queens, reminded me of the recently watched Magic Mike, but the latter was a skinny latte compared to the frothy blend of humor, psychology and melodrama in Torch Song.

I wanted to like The Namesake the movie, just as I wanted to like The Namesake the book, but both were ultimately disappointing. The book has more going for it. If it does not have enough plot, it does at least have the pristine prose of Jhumpa Lahiri. The movie tries to be epic by covering the story o…

Helen Vendler on Sylvia Plath

I was lucky last night. MB, a friend of KS, had a free ticket to Helen Vendler's 92Y lecture on Sylvia Plath, and I was free to take up the offer. Vendler's parents knew Plath's parents, though the two daughters did not meet. A year younger than Plath, Vendler followed the poet's publications in different magazines; Plath's mother would announce her precocious daughter's successes in her Christmas cards.

In Vendler's introductory remarks, she characterized Plath as an elegaist, a didactic poet (both parents were teachers), an unsuccessful poet of seasons because she saw only the extremes of black and orange, a lover of traditional poetic forms, a diligent experimenter with stanzaic form, a poet who avoided writing in sequences because they diluted the taste on the tongue, and who learned to deploy flat sentences because they were irrefutable. Vendler also detected the influence on her early poetry of Auden, Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, Dickinson, Stevens, Moo…

Eshuneutics on "The Pillow Book"

"... The Pillow Book is a book of changes. It is about massive shifts within a person’s life. But it is done with such delicacy that these changes are floated through, not as in a surreal dream, but with a sense of meditation." Read the whole review.

"Obvious to sight and touch"

Eighteenth-century Women Poets, edited by Roger Lonsdale, is an eye-opener. Julia Briggs described it in The Times as "a brilliant and original anthology." Both epithets are just. It is original for no one before Lonsdale thought to look at eighteenth-century poetry by women for anything more than historical interest. The anthology is also brilliant because the discriminating taste of its editor ensured a selection of the liveliest and wittiest poetry of the time. The poetry becomes its own argument for its continued relevance and strength. The voices, from a cross-section of classes, are varied and individual, particularly those of Annie Finch (Countess of Winchilsea), Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Mary Jones, Mary Leapor, Susanna Blamire, Anna Lestitia Barbauld, Anna Seward, Charlotte Smith, Ann Yearsley, Elizabeth Hands. Even lesser talents are represented by one or two of their most distinctive contributions. 
Lonsdale's informative introduction gives the historical co…

A Year in Review and a Resolution

The year, in retrospect, was full. The most important event arrived in the mailbox. I received my green card in March, and so can call myself a Permanent Resident of the United States of America, in addition to being a Citizen of Singapore. I am very thankful to my school for sponsoring me, especially the Academic Dean, not only for her leadership in driving the whole process but also for her acumen in changing lawyers when the first lot turned out to be inept. The Registrar spent many hours too on the paperwork. My former department head was also very supportive and helpful throughout the long application.
Being a PR means that I don't have to renew my work permit or get a travel visa in order to return to the country. I got in the PR line for the first time when returning from the school trip to China. That trip was particularly memorable for taichi in Green Lake Park, and for volunteering at a school for migrant children, both in Kunming. It was lovely to visit Dali again, a c…