Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Learning Spanish, Writing Poetry

A beginner's guide to learning Spanish and writing poetry, in one book. Hugo Hiriat is an amusing and non-fussy guide to writing poetry. The Spanish is scattered all over the book, and so presents an unsystematic but memorable lesson. Hiriat's example of a poem in five-syllable line:

Quien fuera parte
de la plegaria
que solitaria
mandas a Dios!

His book is a good supplement to more conventional textbooks, whether of the grammatical or conversational sort. It is a reminder of the creativity required to learn a new language truly. Hugo Hiriat, born in Mexico City in 1942, writes for magazines and for the stage.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Joan Mitchell: Les Bluets 1973

Discovered Joan Mitchell's art in the Feb issue of Poetry. She was the leading painter of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists. Poetry has a bunch of people write about her work and person. The most interesting is the piece by Marjorie Perloff, who saw the figuration in the abstract-looking work Meditations in an Emergency ca. 1967. Les Bluets 1973, in Center Pompidou, is utterly gorgeous.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Abstraction, Hallucinations and the Immune System

from Patrick McCaughey's review of the MoMA show "Inventing Abstraction 1910 - 1925":

I have never seen Malevich better displayed or better served as an artist. His excitement at his discoveries in abstraction becomes our excitement. At last we are shown, not just told, how right his boisterous claim was: "I destroyed the ring of the horizon and escaped from the circle of things, from the horizon ring that confines the artists and forms of nature." 
The Malevich wall comes hard on the heels of a well-chosen group of Fernand Léger's "Contrast of Forms" (1913). They are at once Léger's extension of Cubism and his major contribution to abstract art. They share the high seriousness of Picasso and Braque, the same intense investigation of pictorial form and the same sense of substance and matter. The power of their blue-and-white cylinders grinding their way through the painting, pushing aside the white-and-red rectilinear blocks, has the drive and conviction of an artist locating the basis of painting itelf, of unending conflict and tension between line and colour, form and space....

TLS Feb 8 2013


from Raymond Tallis's review of Oliver Sacks's Hallucinations:

Until the French psychiatrist Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol gave them their current name, hallucinations--seeing or hearing things that are not there--were called "apparitions". This captures their profoundly disturbing nature... 
Their power to terrify may be in part due to their content, but even the most benign hallucination is deeply unsettling precisely because, as Sacks says, there is no "consensual validation". Nobody else can see, hear, feel, smell or taste what you are experiencing. To be in the grip of such incorrigibly private experiences, adrift in a world populated with items that others cannot confirm, is to be sequestrated in the most profound solitude. Even before we speak, we will point our things that we see and desperately want to share with others. Joint attention to items that we all agree are before us is the basis of a common human world. The involuntary perceptual dissidence of the one who hallucinates reminds us how frail and transient is our occupancy of this world; and how, even when you and I are side by side in the sunlight, each of us may be sealed in the privacy of our minds. 
His [Sacks's] first attack [of migraine], when he was three or four years old, took the form of a shimmering light, which expanded to an enormous arc stretching from the ground to the sky and underwent a series of brilliant transformations before his left visual field emptied. He was lucky that he had a mother who recognized what this was -- a prodomal migrainous aura which in his case was not succeeded by a headache -- and was able to reassure him that he was not going either blind or mad.

TLS Feb 15, 2013


from Richard P Novick's review of Thomas Pradeu's The Limits of the Self: Immunology and biological identity:

This led to the formulation, by Frank MacFarlane Burnet, of the paradigmatic self/non-self rule which states that the immune system rejects any antigen that is neither a component of the self nor is identical to one, thus endowing the individual with a unique biological identification tag.... 
The novelty of Pradeu's Continuity Theory is his proposal that the (vertebrate) immune sustem is not, after all, primarily focused on defence against invading pathogens and foreign tissue; rather, it is central to the normal functioning of the organism -- including biochemical regulation, removel of absolete and aberrant cells, and repair of damaged tissue -- and is based more on tolerance (acceptance) of endogenuous ("self") antigens and of our essential microbial community than on surveillance for novel and potentially dangerous antigens. First described in a paper with E. D. Carousela in 2006, it proposed that immune recognition and rejection is based on the continuity of exposure to antigens: antigens recognized by the immune system are of two types -- those that were present at the time of birth and continually thereafter, which are tolerated rather than rejected and are regarded as "weak", and those that are novel, which are rejected on initial encounter rather than being tolerated and are regarded as "strong".

TLS Feb 15, 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013

Built for Speed and Not for Comfort

from Fiona Gruber's review of Andrew L. Erdman's Queen of Vaudeville: The story of Eva Tanguay:

Her song titles convey her racy appeal. "I Was Built for Speed and Not for Comfort", "Go As Far As You Like" and "That's Why They Call Me Tabasco"were delivered while wearing a series of outrageous costumes which included a dress made entirely of Lincoln pennies. These she threw, one by one, at the audience; as her biographer Andrew L. Erdman comments, it is probably the only known case of a stripper tipping her audience rather than vice versa. The money theme continued with a dress made entirely of dollar bills; another resembled a swaying, see-through chandelier, and she also favored flags and coral (the latter costume weighed 45 pounds). It is not for nothing that Erdman compares her to Lady Gaga, of beefsteak frock fame, and her imitators were also plentiful at the time. Mae West is reputed to have modelled herself on Tanguay in her early days, opening her vaudeville routine in the 1910s with a song entitled "I've Got a Style All My Own", a claim undermined by its similarity to Tanguay's earlier number, "It's All Been Done Before But Not the Way I Do It".

TLS January 25 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Erotic in Asian American Poetry

(Q Thomas Bower)

Happy Valentine's Day! Ocean Vuong guest-edits a portfolio of poems on desire and love over at the Margins, the on-line journal of the Asian American Writers' Workshop. The lovers-poets are Cathy Linh Che, David Mura, Joseph O. Legaspi, Lee Ann Roripaugh, Timothy Liu and Victoria Chang. I have a poem, "Eve's Fault," in it too.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Joined SoundCloud yesterday. I uploaded my reading of "Study # 5 Frida Kahlo" very easily. The website also provides recording. It looks like a good place to store and share my sound files. The website allows easy sharing to Facebook and Twitter. The community looks interesting too, with professional classical musicians and composers on the site. It will take a while to get to know people.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

An Unlikely Pair

Watched Beautiful Boxer (2004) with GH Friday night. Based on the true life story of Parinya Charoenphol, a Muay Thai boxer who underwent a sex change to become a woman, the movie was a sweet and sensitive call to be true to oneself. In the case of Nong Toom (Asanee Suwan), the call does not only mean to become the woman that she has always felt herself to be, but it also means not to allow oneself to be commodified in the arena of Thai kickboxing.

There was a touching last scene in which Nong Toom, transformed into beautiful Parinya Charoenphol, watched a little boy fighter imitating her make-up and gestures. He looked so miserable that it was obvious to her that his father had put him up to it, so as to attract publicity. She wiped off his lipstick and told him to be himself. Another moving scene took place when Parinya saw in the mirror Nong Toom bidding her farewell. She bade her past person farewell somewhat sadly. We may be happy to get what we want, but that does not mean that we are not sad to lose what we had.

Sorapong Chatree was excellent as Nong Toom's coach, Pi Chart. Somsak Tuangmkuda puts up a gutsy performance as Pi Chart's wife, Pi Moo. The movie was directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham, and scripted by him and Singapore writer, Desmond Dim.

Last night we watched the documentary on Bill Cunninghan, the veteren New York Times fashion photographer. It was directed by Richard Press. Cunningham is a man obsessed with photographing what New York City is wearing, not just in high society but also, and especially, on the streets. His memory for fashion is remarkable. He can spot in a fashion show the theft of an idea from another show more than ten years ago. Other photographers at a show position themselves at the end of the catwalk so as to shoot the front profile of the model. Bill Cunnigham sits by the side of the catwalk instead. He wants to capture quickly what he sees coming towards him and away from him. That quickness produces the spontaneous charm of his shots.

I also admired very much his strong desire to be independent. To be free to do what one wants is very difficult. It is even more difficult if one is paid. For years and years, Bill Cunningham lived in a tiny room in the artists' lofts above Carnegie Hall. He does not need much, and so preserves his independence. One must be contented to have very little, if one is to have complete freedom. In their quest to be free to do what they want, Parinya Charoenphol and Bill Cunningham are unlikely, but true, bed-mates.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

"What fire is in mine ears"

Last night, GH and I watched the production of Much Ado About Nothing by the Theatre for New Audience, at the Duke on 42nd Street. The performance, very well directed by Arin Arbus, was crisp and funny. The only truly bad idea was to have John Keating play Verges like Kramer from the sitcom Seinfeld. Maggie Siff was a terrific Beatrice, rapier-sharp and emotionally nuanced. Jonathan Cake, as Benedick, had some good moments, but relied too much on the physical tics of American sit-coms.

Neither Michelle Beck as Hero nor Matthew Amendt as Claudio was particularly memorable. However, Robert Langdon Lloyd, who played Leonato with such noble civility in the first three acts, achieved a tragic intensity in Act Four befitting King Lear when he ranted against Hero for her supposed immorality. Don Pedro (Graham Winton), the Prince of Aragon, broke the illusion by stumbling over his lines a few times, though it was opening night. Saxon Palmer who played his bastard brother Don John could not project his voice. The Dogberry scenes worked because John Christopher Jones did not try too hard. 

Despite the unevenness of the ensemble acting, the production was very enjoyable. The music played a significant part. Liam Forde (Balthasar) had a very sweet voice. The accordian played by Spiff Wiegand brought a rustic Sicilian atmosphere to the world of the play. The set was equally idyllic. On the left of the stage, a big but low-hanging tree stood, balanced on the right by a swing. The scenic design was by Riccardo Hernandez.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Two Poems and a Review in QLRS

Two of my poems, "Haibun" and "Singapore Buses Are Very Reliable," have just appeared in the latest issue of the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore. In the same issue, Thow Xinwei wrote what I think is the most perceptive review so far of my "Pillow Book." I'm humbled to be read with such critical intelligence and sympathy.