Showing posts from March, 2013

Map Is an Unwelcomed Trope

"No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia" is the first installment of a three-part project of the Guggenheim UBS Map Global Art Initiative. I saw the exhibition on Wednesday and was impressed by the variety of works on show. June Yap, from Singapore, is the curator of the show. I don't know anything about South and Southeast Asia art, and so cannot tell whether the chosen artists are the usual suspects of the international art circuit. The Singaporean artist Tang Da Wu I vaguely know as an art pioneer, and his modern sculptural reworking of a Chinese story is pleasing in its abstract simplicity and emotional resonance.

Do read, however, the essay by Philippine art critic Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez, who is critical of the Guggenheim's belated attempt to "map" the world of global art. She questions how much leeway and resources the Guggenheim gave to June Yap:

What I’d like to know though is if she was enabled to spring any surprises, any ventur…

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

Heard last night the New York premiere of John Adams's Easter oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary (2011-12). The libretto by Peter Sellars is based on Hebrew Bible and Christian Testament sources, with texts by Dorothy Day, Louise Erdrich, Primo Levi, Rosario Castellanos, June Jordan, Hildegard von Bingen, and Ruben Dario. Gustavo Dudamel conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic beautifully. The Los Angeles Master Chorale sang.

According to the program notes, Adams and Sellars wanted to set the Passion in "the eternal present," like in paintings. This they did in the oratorio by having the biblical Mary and Martha running a house of hospitality for homeless women in Bethany, and, later, having them participate in the farm workers' strike against Teamsters and big growers. Also unusual was the depiction of Mary. Moving away from the conventional image of a "reformed prostitute," the creators made her a complex human being, suicidal, ecstatic, repe…

Fantasy Birds

Somebody had the bright idea of collecting Mary Oliver's bird poems, and voila! Owls and Other Fantasies was born. 16 out of 25 poems (i.e. about a third of the book) came from earlier books, as did 1 of the 2 essays. The book is obviously targeted at birders and Mary Oliver's fans; its commercial considerations overshadow whatever aesthetic merit it has.

The verse is best described as pandering. Its questions are obvious, its spirituality is tinselly, its consolations cheap. The first poem of the book begins:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. 
I want to shout back, "But I want to be good! I want to walk on my knees through the desert! Who are you to tell me that I don't have to?" Certainly not someone who tempts me with such an easy way out as "the world offers itself to your imagination." The cliches ab…

Facing the Light

Andrew's book of photographs and drawings of Arnold arrived last week. It's a beautiful book, a moving record not only of Arnold's life, but also of the collaboration between artist and model. From the back cover:

Arnold Ziza, a model from Manchester, came to the United Kingdown as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That transition changed his life and his sense of self. This book is a biography in images, a record of his outer and inner changes from late boyhood to early manhood. 
Produced with both imagination and passion, it's a gift that I cherish.

Everything Looks Beautiful

Philip Guston, "Shoes," 1972, oil on panel

Life got away from me, and so I've not been able to blog it down. So here's catch-up.

March 15 evening: GH and I attended a Singapore get-together at P and A's home. I was expecting an informal potluck event, but that showed how out of touch I am with my Singapore friends. A is Singapore's ambassdaor to the UN, and so lived in appropriately well-appointed circumstances. A man took our jackets, another tended to the bar. Yet another took away our dishes after we were done feasting on the buffet dinner. Fortunately P and A were a very down-to-earth couple. Unlike some of the suits there, A was wearing just shirtsleeves. They soon made us feel welcomed. I had not seen P for years, and was pleased to see that she has not changed in appearance or manners, at least not at first re-acquaintance. I met a woman who works for one of the UN bodies, and her husband who teaches management studies at Columbia. There was also a fic…

Happy Birthday to Me

I asked for one of Diana's dresses on auction, and he gave me a pocket Spanish dictionary. It comes with a virgin vinyl cover, he adds, in his best poetic manner. Oh well, tonight he's going to bring me to Bach, and there are tickets to the Southeast Asian show at the Guggenheim in the offing. He is a man after my heart...

Strong Opinions

The Best Poems of the English Language? Who could resist opening an anthology so named to see what's in it? Especially when it has the name of Harold Bloom on the front cover. It's typical of this giant of a critic's eternal self-confidence, of course, that he should name his selection the Best Poems. He begins with Chaucer, born around 1343, and ends with Hart Crane, born in 1899, and admits that by setting the latter limit, he is evading the difficult task of choosing the Best Poems by poets born in the twentieth century. Into his chronological net fall 108 poets (aside from Anonymous), with 24 given "in something like their full abundance." The 24 include poets that Bloom has always championed: Shakespeare, Milton, the major Romantic poets, Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Stevens, and Hart Crane.

No anthology is without its critics over who is in and who is out. Such quarrels are par for the course. Bloom himself throws down the gauntlet in the first words of his …

Speak, Memory

I finished reading Nabokov's Speak, Memory on Feb 17, during our stay with T and D in Kingston. It is a beautifully written memoir, full of tender things in it. Tender because irretrievably lost. Chapter Five, to my mind, is the best thing in it. It's about Nabokov's French governess, Mademoiselle. Having moved from Switzerland to Russia, she was not only geographically but culturally displaced. After she returned to her own country, she would speak of her time in Russia as her best years. The chapter leavens the prevailing pathos of the book with good-natured comedy.

I do find myself resisting Nabokov's style a little. It has that over-deliberateness with which James Wood charges Flaubert. To paraphrase Woods very roughly, both writers press the cold gel of a detail too hard, and so it bears the marks of their fingers all over it. It'd hard to give up oneself entirely to a lover who is not half-swooning himself.

More Apollo Than Dionysus

I heard the London Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski, twice last week. On Sunday, Vadim Repin was the spell-binding soloist in Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor. The performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 after the intermission was intelligent and nuanced, more Apollo than Dionysus.

Then on Monday Hélène Grimaud performed a highly individualistic performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4. The first movement was more frilly than strong. The second slow movement made up for the first. It sounded the depths, I thought. In the last movement, she seemed to be fighting against the music instead of playing it. It was a remarkable display of a fine musician imposing her will on a mighty music. I heard the Concerto in a way that I had never heard before, but was it Beethoven? 

I did not care for Mahler's Symphony No. 5 performed after the intermission. The orchestral effort was heroic: the five movements added up to 72 minutes i…

Poem: "Poetry"

Man with umbrella squats against a black background

Still studying Spanish A1.2, but thought I'd work on my Spanish by translating today's poem into la castellano.


It’s just a black umbrella bought some time ago from a fella outside the subway
but its broken spokes tinkle like a wind chime
against pelting rain and roaring drains.


No es más que un paragua negro compré hace bastante tiempo de un tipo a la entrada del subte
pero sus rotos radios tintinean como un carillón de viento
en contra de lluvia impacto y alcantarilla clamoroso.

Poem: "Love in the Third Year of This Affair that We Won’t Call Marriage"

Wrote this for PFFA's Valentine Contest this year. Based on popular vote, the poem came in joint second with Rachael Briggs's "Romantic Comedies Give Me the Screaming Me-Mes."

Love in the Third Year of This Affair that We Won’t Call Marriage

Faces have passed into memory through long beholding.
Separate accounts pay for joint conundrums.
There will be no trade of reading materials before bed, except books on relief from the public library.
Unspoken rule for eating out: the one that moves fast gets the inside seat.
Shoe size is an open secret.
Since the subject was handpicked, double digits must be corrected for bias.
Questions have been domesticated but not yet neutered.
Jealousy makes up a frolicsome threesome when it is not acting scopophiliac or agoraphobic.
Nicknames have stuck like darts.
Certain gestures have become shorthand for affection and disquiet.
Enough time has flown to speak with deep nostalgia.
A fight, when a fight could be spared, has all the vow…

Poem: "you stroke the cream paper with a pencil"

Image from Will Kemp's Art School website

you stroke the cream paper with a pencil

floor of a house a fishing rod a ladder’s step eyelids of a god
heart’s flatline flight of a ball line at the end it was a shawl
here or there short or long yours or mine right or wrong
a row of trees a dovetail joint a lottery queue trace of a moving point

Poem: "For All I Know"

My sis sent me two easy reads on India for my birthday, Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah MacDonald, and Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India by William Dalrymple. Reading the latter, and coming home yesterday, gave me this poem this morning.

For All I Know

When I come home, my neighbor does not bark, her dog does, short, sharp cuffings of the musty air, but she’s not home yet or else ignores my tramping up the stairs. In two years, I have seen her, maybe, three or four times. Once, with a young man her age never seen again, unlocking her door. On a Saturday, coming down the stairs with her dog, brunette terrier. Yet another time, she was alone, pushing open ahead of me the building entrance, sliding in her boyish hips. For all I know, she could be a dear votary of Yellamma, dedicated to sacred prostitution, one of the nine lives recorded by William Dalrymple in his Indian travels, or a hereditary singer of the Rajasthani epic of Pabuji. Do the singers even like…

Poem: "On My Way to a Photo Exhibition of Trees in New York City"

Photo by Benjamin Swett; cover image for his book New York City of Trees

On My Way to a Photo Exhibition of Trees in New York City

I’m walking into the wind. Now I know what the sail feels, the tiller in another’s hand. Now I know the sad flapping of clothes pegged to a short line. The street sign quavers on its metal stem like a cymbal struck. It is not a human sound, and the black coats, feet scratching the sidewalk, will strain in their drift toward a human sound, but, as Dante observed, before he heard the love that Francesca da Rimini bore for her husband’s handsome young brother, the lights are mute here. 

Poem: "Mira, Miro"

Borrowed from the library of Instituto Cervantes the MoMA catalogue of its 1993 Miró show. The catalogue essay Peinture-Poésie, Its Logic and Logistics by the show curator Carolyn Lanchner gives an interesting overview of Miró's oeuvre. What Picasso said to the young Spanish pretender became the opening of a new poem. I quoted, and, in a few cases, modified, titles of Miró's paintings for the rest of the poem. Miró loved poetry, and gave his paintings poetic titles. To my mind, it is somehow apt to incorporate and orchestrate his painting titles into a poem.

Mira, Miro
La Guitarra advised the Catalan peasant, pretend you’re waiting for the subway; you have to get in line. Wait your turn, after all.
Painting. A bird eyes the hunter in a pinkish Catalan landscape. Person throws a stone at a bird. Painting. Hand catching a bird.
A white bird floats above the carnival of harlequins. Painting. A yellow bird orchestrates a Dutch interior (I). (II). And (III).
The bird as a nightin…

Reading at Yippie Museum Cafe

It was kind of Sarah Sarai to invite me to read with her for Mike Graves's Phoenix reading series. The Yippie Museum Cafe on Bleecker Street has undergone a thorough refurbishment and now is a chill place to hang out. It was pleasantly filled with people and laptops this afternoon, and so we had a bigger audience for the reading than I had anticipated.

Sweta Srivastava Vikram was the first to read. Her work was concerned with understanding her multicultural and multinational background. She grew up in India and North Africa, before moving to NYC ten years ago. Her new book gave voice to oppressed women in India and the Middle East. After the reading I chatted with her and her husband, and found out that her sister-in-law lives at Telok Blangah Road, very near to my parents.

I read next, from Seven Studies and The Pillow Book. Then Sarah read, from The Future Is Happy, which I reviewed on this blog. She also read new poems. I enjoyed hearing her read, more so than before. I though…

Submissions Call for PFFA Anthology

Call for Submissions for “Try to Have Your Writing Make Sense - The Quintessential PFFA Anthology”

The Poetry Free-for-all will publish an anthology of poems – “Try to Have Your Writing Make Sense – The Quintessential PFFA Anthology” - at the end of 2013. For those of you who are new, PFFA was founded in 1999 by Béla Selendy and remains one of the preeminent online poetry workshops. It is still intent on the improvement of the writer’s craft. The anthology’s aim is to present the quality and diversity of work that has been developed and critiqued at the site.

Remember: We’re mean. We’re nasty. We’re merciless. We’re cruel. We’re vile. We’re heartless. We’re an evil clique conspiring to annihilate your self-esteem, so observe the following rules for submission or we’ll slash your soul to ribbons: 

• Only poems that have been workshopped in the critical forums at the site will be considered for publication. Those forums are: C&C, High, and Merciless.
• If you would like to submit work …