Saturday, January 31, 2004
gutter handled sly
handled string supply
--from "A final hay(na)ku"? by Joseph Garver
Thank you, Joseph. Much lovely to you, too. But keep in mind: nothing is final until the final lady sings.
Friday, January 30, 2004
I desperately wanted to love JACKSON POLLOCK: MEMORIES ARRESTED IN SPACE, a verse biography by Martin Gray (Santa Monica Press, 2003). After all, I picked it up because...I desperately love the paintings of Jackson Pollock.
I also bought the book because I was intrigued by the Acknowledgments and Introduction sections' descriptions of Gray's approach. From Acknowledgments: "Memories Arrested in Space is a verse narrative in iambic trimeters on the life and art of Jackson Pollock." Gray then goes on to say in the Introduction:
I use a form of trimeter ... In 1997 and 2001 I used the same meter to narrate the lives and artistic endeavors of two other remarkable characters, the painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) and the saxophonist composer Charlie Parker (1920-1955). In each case all my sources were from books, which I treat with scholarly objectivity. I follow a principle evident in some very old forms of narrative--for instance, the Icelandic family sagas--that as a storyteller I am free to report what people do, what they say, and what others do and say about them, but never to presume to know what, behind the evidences of action and speec, they are feeling or thinking. The author as psychologist, as novelistic intruder, is debarred from this space species of narrative.
The exclusion of the subjective commentator has a particular and striking consequence: that "imagery," figurative textures, symbolism, the decorative apparatus regarded by seminar students as indispensable to poetry, are virtually absent from my text. An image is the writer's attempt to explain his subject, or to explain himself in relation to his subject. My steady purpose is to oblige the subject to speak for itself, effacing my own presence, leaving interpetations to the reader. Memories Arrested in Space is not without metaphors, but they are the common, faded metaphors of ordinary speech; they are not figures upon which anything significant hinges; attention is never directed to my fluency while the reader is properly intent on the flow of the narrative.
It's an interesting approach from which Gray crafted a 7-part book exceeding 200 pages. But, does it work? As biography, it's a series of anecdotes which I feel ultimately limits any new revelations not already present in existing biographies. And, by "revelations" here, I don't mean new facts so much as new ways of looking at Pollock's life -- else, why bother to write a new biography?
As poetry, I also feel it ends up short. Now, Gray anticipated my response -- he writes in his Introduction:
Readers meeting the poem for the first time may be disappointed, or frustrated, or even resentful, because this writing defies common expectations of poetry as something multi-layered and elaborately textured. It is not that; it is simple, spare, seemingly a little naive; and yet prosodically subtle and ultimately compelling, the beat driving the reader on, insistently or implicitly, to the tragic-heroic close of the story.
So, first, it's always awkward, isn't it, for someone to defend critically one's work -- the fact that Gray writes something then introduces it himself as "prosodically subtle and ultimately compelling." I mean, most people simply can't praise themselves with the grace with which I praise moiself. But, okay, let's move on from that digression.
I do concede that, in this book anyway, there, indeed, is something about the trimeter beat that encourages the reader to continue reading past boredom. But it wasn't a particularly strong force and, for me, I suspect that I kept reading primarily because I'm so into Jackson Pollock so that I generally read anything about the dude. I think it's relevant here to point to Chris Lott's assessment of Gray's other book BLUES ON BIRD which takes a similar approach. Though I have no problem with "long poems," I generally have the same dissatisfied feeling that Chris said he felt (and thanks for taking the time to reply, Chris):
As poetry, the book fails on a number of levels. I am ambivalent--even a little negative--about long poems, so I naturally found it hard going. I kept wondering: why isn't this just composed as prose? What is the form adding to the content? As a match for the subject matter, poetry can be seen as a technique to try to capture some of the more mysterious and subtle aspects of jazz. Writing in an engaging manner about music, like writing about visual art, is hard work. But in this particular case I didn't find the content demanding the form, or much writing that took on a different character because it was approached as verse.
Relatedly, kari edwards backchanneled me as regards my earlier post (Jan. 28; scroll down) on Gray, which I'd conflated into this "Alpha Male" theme:
yes, Alpha Male theme, but who cares... Jackson Pollock can not be presented in simple narrative verse, (where is the flow, rhythm and energy of Pollock's lines..) this was a deeply troubled individual who made some of the greatest art yet... who leaped into the void..... and I suppose from a Luce Irigaray feminist read could be seen as phallocentic..... and that aside, the writing seems so unweighty, not worthy of someone who broke a 5000 year tradition of representational art...
Indeed, kari. There are some places in the book that show a brief sparkle, but this is about as good as it gets with this sample:
Jackson Pollock made
a painting titled One
spare yet opulent
intricate yet plain
iinherent yet unique
apparent and yet real
this painting floats in space
huge yet miniscule,
anxious yet serene,
a live organic thing
a form which stimulates
the human mind to dream
and organize a whole,
our part of nature that
is one fine synthesis
as rocks seas clouds trees flowers
and the mind of man himself,
More often, though I find it all rather banal, like this one:
Roy Pollock died in March
a disappointed man.
Roy thought his youngest son
had become a bum
and Jack felt guilty that
he had failed his dad
in having no career.
While art was nebulous,
it was not practical.
The flatness reminds me of second-generation superrealist painters who posess sufficient technical skill to occasionally elicit comments about their ability to paint minute details, but whose images are ultimately forgettable for failing to engage the mind and heart, thereby sink themselves into memory.
Here's my theory on this book's "failure" for me. First, I'd never heard before of Gray who is described in his back cover bio as "the author of the internationally acclaimed Blues for Bird, an epic biographical poem on the life of jazz great Charlie Parker. Gray is also recognized as one of the world's foremost scholars of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poetry, and is the editor of the Penguin Classic annotated edition of Tennyson's Idylls of the King. Gray has published poems on Charlie Parker, Gilles Villeneuve, Amedeo Modigliani, Osip Mandelstam and Cesar Vallejo, and has taught at several major universities across Canada. He lives in Victoria, British Columbia.
But it seems to me that Gray approached this project more as an academic rather than a poet -- he had a paradigm (the trimeter) in which he wanted to fit in a project, and fulfillment of that paradigm was sufficient for him. Gray should have been more loose -- a lot of artists and writers set up constraints/paradigms from which to begin the work....but the most effective are often those who allow the process to expand, if need be, beyond the beginning thoughts. In Memories Arrested in Space, the work may have met the rule of trimeter but .... yawn.
Equally significant, I believe, is this aspect of Gray's approach: "My steady purpose is to oblige the subject to speak for itself, effacing my own presence, leaving interpetations to the reader."
Does this mean that the project's success necessarily depends on the underlying material -- the separate effectiveness of such source material as Steveb Baufeg abd Gregory White Smith's biography, Ellen Landau's Jackson Pollock or B.H. Friedman's Jackson Pollock, Energy Made Visible? But, crucially, Gray was the one who still had to choose and then sift through the material, e.g. which aspects to annotate, excerpt, quote. Right there -- Gray had to insert his "I".
By now, this should be an old story: subjectivity. Gray's project is flawed because Gray tried to do the impossible -- get his eye away from his "I". Maybe Gray should offer up a project not denying his personal investment in such -- but that would ... require him to get beyond theory and expose himself more, no?
The tepidness of Gray's project also serves to make me even more appreciative of Basil King's MIRAGE which offers a poetic autobiography. I've written about it before (see my January 4 post). I am tempted to say -- and so shall -- that perhaps one reason, synchronistically, that King is more successful than Gray is that Gray sought to work with an inherited form while King de facto extended poetic form. Click here and see an excerpt from King's MIRAGE which, since it's an autobiographical work, is an apt work with which to compare the excerpts from Gray's approach that I'm posting here.
But there are much gold to be mined still in existing forms, so this can't be the real reason. Ultimately, I feel Gray failed in Memories Arrested in Space because he relied on mere gimmick. Poetry is bigger than said gimmick, just as Jackson Pollock's life and art is surely much more complex than Gray's ending stanza:
Elizabeth Frank concludes
her Pollock study with
this fine sentiment--
Pollock journeyed to
his soul's interior
and his art bears witness to
what he found within.
True. But the kind of truth that might as well be delivered from behind a lectern instead of...being sung. But I suppose that's what happens when...presumably the singer doesn't exist...
Lick the blades
The skin of my palms
Their edges masquerading
For false soothsayers
--from "Slave, Where The Fuck Is My Candy?" Pettycoat Relaxer
It occurs to me -- and also occurs to me how belatedly such revelation occurs to mischievous moi -- when I amuse moiself, I sure like to play hard. Thanks Carl and Michael.
And Carl! That photo of the lady and HUUUUUUGE dog! Hilarious! How I look forward to such days of serenity with moi puppy Achilles!
Thursday, January 29, 2004
I'm delighted to discover two blogs: Steve Tills' Black Spring and Geof Huth's Visualizing Poetics Blog. Perusing through the latter reminds me of Jose Garcia Villa, a poet who's never far from my mind and heart. I edited the recovery work on Villa entitled The Anchored Angel; I've also long thought that if I ever wrote a biography on a poet, it would be on him. Anyway, Geof Huth's posts evoke Villa's comma poems -- which Edith Sitwell, by the way, never respected. Sitwell may have supported Villa, most notably by helping Villa's most famous poem "The Anchored Angel" find print in the Times Literary Supplement -- but Sitwell had the poem printed without any of the commas that Villa had written after nearly every word. Amazing how poets can be so bloody arrogant, eh? Well, okay -- so mebbe not so amazing.
Anyway, here's an excerpt from my Editor's Introduction to The Anchored Angel:
One of Villa's most controversial innovations were his "comma poems" -- a comma after nearly every word partly, he says, to effect a "time movement" whereby the poems are read with a slight pause after each comma. I do find a difference in reading the same poem with or without adhering to Villa's suggestion (though I do not privilege one mode of reading over the other). I found that the pause after each comma facilitates a meditative mode in reading the poem that, in turn, enhances the intimacy between the reader and the text. In a fast-paced world, Villa's commas can help create another door to that "space" where the reader may best be able to pay attention to what the poem is saying -- a place where the reader releases life's mundane realities to commune as directly as possible with the poem (or any work of art). Indeed, Villa's comma technique evokes for me the intentions of the 3rd and 4th centuries B.C. designers of the acropolis at Lindos. The visitor to the acropolis must climb a hill through a series of entrances which were designed to be non-parallel, so that the visitor must turn left or right to go to the next entryway. By forcing the visitor to walk on this meandering path, the architects intended the visitor to concentrate on reaching the acropolis, thus leaving his/her worldly concerns behind at the foot of the hill. Presumably, the visitor's mind would then be "emptied" by the time the visitor reaches the top of the hill so that the visitor will be fully focused on the goal of the trip -- pray at the Temple of Athena Lindia on the acropolis. Similarly, Villa wished the commas to facilitate the reader's focus on reading -- and responding to -- each word within his poems.
Though I mention the Hellenistic Greeks, I note again how Villa's comma technique remains fresh in its affinity with the mindset of certain contemporary poets. His commas remind me of 1999 Pulitzer Poetry Finalist Alice Notley's use of quotation marks in her 1992 book, The Descent of Alette (Penguin). This long poem is comprised of individual phrases, all of which are indicated by quotation marks. Notley explains her technique as a rhythmic unit: ". . . they're there, mostly, to measure the poem. The phrases they enclose are poetic feet. If I had simply left white spaces between the phrases, the phrases would be rushed by the reader-read too fast for my musical intention. The quotation marks make the reader slow down and silently articulate-not slur over mentally-the phrases at the pace, and with the stresses, I intend."(6) Notley's "intention" as regards timing certainly seems similar to Villa's thoughts on his commas.
There are those who do not admire Villa's use of commas; I have heard his technique called pretentious or irrelevant. Such criticisms remind me of what Pico Iyer once said about the comma: "The gods, they say, give breath, and they take it away. But the same could be said-could it not?--of the humble comma. Add it to the present clause, and, of a sudden, the mind is, quite literally, given pause to think: take it out if you wish or forget it and the mind is deprived of a resting place. Yet still the comma gets no respect. It seems just a slip of a thing, a pedant's tick, a blip on the edge of our consciousness, a kind of printer's smudge almost….Yet what is so often used, and so rarely recalled, as the comma-unless it be breath itself?" (7) In my view, Villa's comma poems offer his detractors an easy whale in a barrel to shoot; after all, by Villa's own acknowledgment, he believes there is poetic value to the commas but certainly the reader can disregard the commas as well. In addition, Villa compared his use of commas to "Seurat's architectonic and measured pointillism -- where the points of color are themselves the medium as well as the technique of expression: therefore functional and valid, as medium of art and as medium of personality." I empathize with Villa's way of thinking. That is, though I do not always read his "comma poems" the way he suggested, I respect Villa's approach based on what I have learned in the writing studio communing with my own Muse: the process of art-making often requires experimentation.
As everything -- all of one's experiences and concerns -- may influence the poet's concerns and, notwithstanding certain poems where the technique seems manifested artificially, Villa's use of commas was also inspired by his interests as a visual artist. Villa's early artistic impulses were expressed through painting (subsequently, he turned to writing fiction as a result of reading and admiring Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, then permanently became a poet after discovering e.e. cummings who became one of Villa's most admired poets). His early paintings -- which Villa was reluctant to reveal publicly -- have been described variously as resembling the covers of the Saturday Evening Post to being "in the manner of Velasquez."(8) Villa's interest in the visual arts was akin to that of cummings whose poetry, too, was influenced by his painterly concerns. In some ways, Villa's "comma poems" could also be said to prefigure the outlook of contemporary conceptual artists who use words in their paintings, but suggest that the viewer look at the works from a "design" versus "definition" standpoint - i.e. what the words visually look like versus what they mean.
Villa experimented. All poets, all artists, should feel free to do so. And some experiments fail. And some experiments succeed. And some experiments succeed specifically due to prior failures. Whether certain of Villa's poetic experiments failed is not for me to tell others: I believe in the reader's subjectivity and that each reader should come to his or her own conclusion. Moreover, Villa's experimentation was compelled honestly. This is not to say that one should not critically judge the results, but I don't believe that one should scoff (as some have) at Villa's experimental attempts in the event the results do not move us to praise -- should not Villa's efforts be lauded instead as proof of an artist's continued explorations? Such aesthetic evolution is often fraught with difficulty, as illustrated by Villa's own life when he stopped writing poetry with decades still to live ... Yet, while he was writing, Villa tested -- challenged! -- language: Villa did not subject himself to the English he inherited; as critic Epifanio San Juan, scholar Jonathan Chua and poet Luis Francia note in their essays, Villa tried to make English his own. To be a poet can be an act of rebellion against one's environment through the creation of the poem's alternate world; in this sense, a poet can be like Lucifer, the angel who fell from Paradise. Against English as "God," Villa moves me, too, because he rebelled in the manner that a poet or "pioneering Genius" must be as indicated in Lyric #45:
…I commend to you the spirit
of Lucifer, who was most beautiful
And wore in that proud skull
Rebellion like a jewel exquisite. . .
Brightest of archangels and brightest
Of demons -- proud, incomparable Lucifer!
I alone of all men remember
And praise that magnificent zest
That sent God frantic to abuse
And doom this First, pioneering Genius.
Undoubtedly, Villa was arrogant. But without that arrogance -- or any of his other personal pathologies -- would Villa have been able to go up against "God" as he wrote his poetry? What type of a human must a poet (reared within a religious environment) be or become in order to write such lines as:
Between God's eyelashes I look at you,
Contend with the Lord to love you,
In this house without death I break His skull
I ache, I ache to love you.
I will batter God's skull God's skull God's skull!
I will batter it till He love you
And out of Him I'll dash I'll dash
To thy coasts, O mortal flesh.
He'll be broken He'll be broken He'll be broken
By my force of love He'll be broken
And when I reach your side O Eve
You'll break me you'll break me you'll break me.
I consider the act of "recovering" Jose Garcia Villa from obscurity to be important for several reasons. Most importantly, I wish to recover Jose Garcia Villa because his works move me -- what I considered the works's aesthetic merit compelled me to develop this project. I also wish to release this book because he can provide an important role model for younger generations of Filipino Americans. I believe this is particularly important in light of recent controversies over adverse portrayals of Filipino characters in various literary works, mostly written by non-Filipino authors; in the aftermath of such controversies, some have posited that it is unfortunate that such portrayals cannot be balanced by other works by Filipino writers who are not as well-published as writers of other ethnicities. Thus, my audience for this book includes Filipino Americans who are unaware that their literary heritage includes a poet once aligned, though uneasily, with the modernist icons of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Wallace Stevens.
Nonetheless, though Villa has been labeled "modernist," and while his experimental tendencies also offer postmodern credentials, I consider Villa's poetics/poetry to fit within a broader context -- "broader" because artistry should not be encapsulated by frameworks set up by critics or those who define literary canons. Art transcends the "canon." ... I originally chose Filipinos to contribute essays to this project because I was looking for writers who remember or are familiar with Villa. But perhaps it is fitting that his re-introduction to readership in the United States is facilitated by Filipinos who do not see Villa as an "Other" in the way non-Filipinos have (e.g. Sitwell who exoticized Villa into a "magic iguana" or the postmodern critic who excludes the poetic landscape Villa called "Doveglion"). As Filipinos, the essayists share a colonial past wherein English was introduced to the Philippines as a tool of imperialism.(12) The postcolonial Filipino understands that Filipino artistry should not be contextualized only by a canon who sees the Filipino as an outsider, as an "Other."
...I am compelled to keep emphasizing Villa's experimental nature because it reflects, I believe, what San Juan cites as Villa's admirable refusal to obviate his subjectivity. Remember that it was 1930 when he first immigrated to the United States. Villa did not write the "ethnic" poems exploring his culture, that were expected of him as an ethnic American writer. Decades later, Asian American poets would come to decry how mainstream or canonical forces would seek to claim that their poems cannot be "Asian American" if they do not address ethnic concerns. In this respect, Villa's approach to his poetry also augured that of contemporary Asian American poets who would later battle this form of racism that sought to subjugate their poetry.
Ultimately, however, what matters most is whether Villa's work merits a book that "recovers" his writings and makes it available to an audience largely unfamiliar with his work. As the poet Ted Berrigan has said, "Poets deserve to be judged by their best self, their work." As an angel, Villa fell to earth and anchored himself here with us. If Villa flies again, it can only occur now through the reader's response to his writings. In his poems, Villa the Poet -- Villa's "best self" -- begins to live again, as in how he wrote:
It is what I never said,
What I'll always sing -
It's not found in days,
It's what always begins.
But a poem needs a reader to reach fruition. A poem might only be able to begin. You, the reader, offers the possibility of the poem's completion. Jose Garcia Villa has written his poems. He has invited us to them: he writes, "I am waiting for you in a house of song."
Dear Reader, the next step is yours. Perhaps, as you read, you might consider a suggestion in another of Villa's poems: "It takes tenderness to perceive."
Here is Jose Garcia Villa's poem -- but WITH the commas as he intended:
THE ANCHORED ANGEL
(Genesis' fist, all,gentle, now)
Anchored, entire, angel!
He, in,his,estate, miracle,and,living,dew,
Crown, Christ's,kindle,Christ! Or,any,he,
Fever. Verb-verb, king's,spike-who,propels,
Deadlock, prince. And,noun,
Of,all,nouns: inventor,of,great,eyes: seesawing,
his love-flecked eye!
And,watch,again, Genesis' phosphor,as,
--Or,there,ahead,of,love, vault, back,
Lie,down, sweet, by,the,betrayer, tree,
To-fro, angel! Hiving, verb!
And, rear, the,eucalypt,towns,of,love:
--Anchored, Entire, Angel:
Through,whose,huge, discalced, arable,love
Bloodblazes, oh, Christ's,gentle,egg: His,terrific,
Understand a dog's nature and respect it. Such respect means learning his vocabulary so you can communicate with the dog effectively (vs anthropomorphizing). This approach eliminates categorizations like "alpha male," "dominant/submissive", et al. Categorizations cause preconceptions.
Before I can train Achilles, I must train myself.
Thank you, Brant -- Achilles' new trainer. You also help train me in Poetry.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
YaY! Jean found her photo of Achilles which she thought she'd lost when her system crashed!!! Here's my baby at 14 pounds:
I love moi dog -- can you all tell?
How can I not be besotted with him? After all, he adores my cooking! No one does kibble the way the Chatelaine pours it into his steel bowl. Tomorrow, I'm going shopping for a cookie jar -- to hold his dog biscuits!
But he's so Alpha Male!!! So, tomorrow, he gets a new trainer -- the one we've been using is too soft, a lady who trains dogs by giving chicken treats for obedience. But he's outgrown "The Chicken Lady" -- not tough enough for moi pup. So, tomorrow -- Brant, a human Alpha Male.
Groan. There is nothing more irritating than watching Alpha Males go at each other....I hope they don't talk football...next thing I know, Achilles will be belching beer breath at moi...
Jean, I'd love for you to post pictures of your dog, too! Gracie, the Gracious Pitbull....!
Correct moi if I'm wrong (yeah, right: someone correct me ...) but it seems relevant, as regards the Alpha Male theme, to quote this excerpt below from a book I'm now reading: JACKSON POLLOCK: MEMORIES ARRESTED IN SPACE, a verse biography by Martin Gray. I'd not heard of Gray before but he wrote what the back cover claims is the "internationally acclaimed" BLUES FOR BIRD, an epic biographical poem on the life of Charlie Parker. I plan to write on Gray's treatment of Pollock soon, but am curious to know if jazz aficionados Jonathan Mayhew or Chris Lott know -- and have an opinion of -- BLUES FOR BIRD.
Anyway, I'm posting this excerpt below because, as regards Alpha Males, it depicts the shrinking penis effect, "penis" here being the described diminishment in (financial) value to having the scrotum made visible (gads -- where moi mind goes...):
At a dollar seventy-five
(his hourly rate to start)
Jack cleaned up monuments.
Soon his wage went down
to a paltry eighty cents.
Why was his pay reduced?
When working on a horse
(its rider Sheridan
the Union general)
Jack scrubbed its phallus up
until the scrotum shone
and from the gaping crowd
who watched him at his work
burst out loud guffaws.
we can attribute said loveliness to moi puppy Achilles as well.
When Achilles first came to grace the mountain, he was 14 pounds. Today, four weeks later, he's 30 pounds. He more than doubled his weight in a month. Extrapolate -- and also given his genes as his Mom was rated the No. 1 German Shepherd in the U.S. for 2003 and his Dad was rated the No. 1 German Shepherd in North America in 2001 (click here to see the kind of dogs from whence he came) -- Achilles may hit 80-100 pounds when he's six months old and, as an adult, should be somewhere between 100-125 pounds.
So, the thing is, there's a road between the Iron Gate and where the Chatelaine lays down to sleep -- it's an ascending road that extends for nearly a half-mile. I often take Achilles for walks down to the Gate and then back up to the fortress that is our home. And we used to race each other up and down the mountain. Now, it is critical that I always beat him in these races because Achilles, being a particularly strong "Alpha Male" is also being trained to believe that moi is an effective dominatrix. It's a race against time, peeps -- I must train Achilles to believe I dominate before he actually becomes physically dominant.
So these said racing games obviously means: I screwed up.
Though I used to beat Achilles in running when he was younger, it is becoming almost impossible now to keep up with him. In the most recent races, the Chatelaine found herself lapsing to such ruses as pulling on his leash to stop him while pretending to look at something unusual by the side of the road (her lovely chest heaving as she hid her gasps) or to look at the view.
Yeah, dealing with Achilles has firmed moi ass but what's the point if, someday, he can turn around and bite said ass?!
Which reminds me -- all the Alpha males I've ever met always wanted to bite moi ass...oh, but I digress -- and that's another story for another time....(cheerful sigh! Oh, these amusement poetics!)
Let me not dissemble: I am not only not stupid but probably brilliant.
However, I'm also one lazy ass.
So, the key to whatever teeny (and I mean teeensy) success I've experienced, to date, is not due to my brilliance which I'm generally too lazy to exercise. The key, instead, has been ...uh, a particular strategy to which I hew: SURROUND ONE'S LAZY SELF WITH BRILLIANT PEOPLE WHO MAKE YOUR LAZY SELF LOOK BRILLIANT.
Got that? Okay. And so one of these peeps who always make me look smarter than I am happens to be the visionary Leny M. Strobel, who posts today on her blog, as she references moi last two posts:
"The view from the valley versus the view from the mountain reminds me of this...and the possibility that a befuddled silence may be a good thing, too:
Structuralist semiotics and deconstruction are expressions of a culture and society which 'play it cool'.These are potent rationalizations...I want to suggest that they mask a more radical flinching; that the embarrassment we feel in bearing witness to the poetic, to the entrance into our lives of the mystery of otherness in art and in music, is of a metaphysical-religious kind. (George Steiner)"
Now, I'd wanna refresh moi memory on what the heck "structuralist semiotics" is again but....I'ma too lazy. Still, thanks Leny! But, just for the record here -- the only thing better than you writing about moi is....cooking for moi!
This is the only poem of mine that I've memorized.
Your belly rising
my view of Jean Luc Picard
I read it once during a poetry reading years ago at Barnes and Noble in midtown Manhattan. Lunchtime crowd of mostly suits who paused at the unusual sight of a poetry reading ... at a Barnes and Noble in midtown Manhattan. Anyway, while introducing another reader, I tossed that faux haiku out because I thought the suits would appreciate "Star Trek" whether or not they appreciated poetry. The response from said suits: A RESOUNDINGLY BEFUDDLED SILENCE.
I know those in the valley look up to see grey sky. From the mountain, I see the other side of the fog seen by those below. Above the fog, the sky is sunlit cobalt. A clump of treetops spear through the mist to form an island in the distance. Loneliness is knowing you are the only one seeing blue shimmer at you. I shall bind my wings, descend today. Already, I feel my car lights blinking red to cut through the grey haze. The color wheel is wrong. Red, mixed with grey, creates blue.
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
These are the house wines at Galatea this week:
I've got tons of these (though they're difficult to get a hold of) so this will be my white house wine for a while: 2000 Kistler Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay. For reds:
1996 Spottswoode Cabernet
1997 David Arthur Cabernet
1998 Parson's Flat Shiraz Cabernet -- I have to laugh: the winemakers put "1998 A.D." where the year is on label...but I always appreciate the Australian sense of humor. Btw, their back label sez: "This wine has a lifted boysenberry nose with lovely vanilla overtones of oak. It's full of chocolate and mint, rich blackcurrant fruit and has a full bodied palate of long, lingering fruit flabors." Yadda....
...which recalls a recent and very amusing conversation with a poet who I know (though he tries to downplay it) is very interested in wine, to wit -- said poet asked via e-mail, "When a wine writer says, 'It has wonderfully ripe peach modulated by gooseberry, which will acquire a mango edge if cellared for years,' I want to know: How can he know that? I mean, if all gooseberry turns mango after a while, then the information is trivial and hardly worth noting. But if this is something particular to this wine, how can he know this before said years-long cellaring has occurred?'"
After poking a wingtip through his computer screen to ruffle said poet's hair, Moi replied:
"Okay, so taking the text literally, even if all gooseberry turns mango, that doesn't mean the information is trivial in that it might encourage a reading oenophile to cellar the wine (rather than drink it early) if that oenophile wanted to taste liquid mango. But also, if it is particular to the wine, one way in which he can know the effect of long-term cellaring are the precedents (if any) set by other such bottles [from the same vineyard] which had been cellared [for years]....
"I'm speculating, based on the description, that the wine being addressed is of a type of wine that consistently elicits a certain type of description. For instance, one knows that one can almost always ascribe pineapple, tropical fruits, bananas etc to a d'Yquem without even opening the bottle....
"Ultimately, of course, it's bad writing -- the notion of acquiring a mango edge if cellared is just... pretentious, even if proven true. The way to have done it (if true) is to say something like -- Other bottles from this winery have acquired a mango edge upon long cellaring, or something like that....
"I draw on wine writing for my poetry precisely because they're usually metaphorical and over the top. As you know, I'm often over the top....but enchantingly so, don't you think?
"And she pecks his nose before unfurling to fly..."
Relatedly, before January ends, Moi should wish moiself a Happy Birthday, though belatedly. My peeps will know that before THE CHATELAINE'S POETICS, there was CORPSEPOETICS and, before such, the beginning of it all: WINEPOETICS. Moi blog was started on January 4, 2003 via WINEPOETICS. In fact, I originally started my blog as a fundraiser -- trying to persuade certain oenophiles to donate funds for one of my poetry book projects...so that I was writing posts that (often arbitrarily) juxtaposed wine and poetry interests. The fundraising was successful but, Preeen, the blogland clamor persuaded me to continue blogging and here I still am preeeening at you!
Anyway, here's a reprise of my very first post:
Saturday, January 04, 2003 WELCOME TO WINE POETICS
This weekend, I drank Poetry as defined by the Descendientes Palacios: Bierzo 1999, a red wine crafted by Spain's young superstar winemaker: Alvaro Palacios, and his nephew Ricardo Peres. A scion of a famous Rioja family, a former student at Petrus, and the maker of the great Finca Dofi and awesome L'Ermita, Senor Palacios looks for areas in Spain which have steep limestone hillsides containing hundred year old vineyards. The Bierzo is made from one such area that grows the Mencia grape. I found it difficult to articulate what I was drinking as the Bierzo accompanied my meal at Roux in St. Helena. But I knew the wine was the most elegant I've enjoyed in recent weeks (that encompassed the fabulous 1995 Leonetti Cellar Merlot for Xmas and the 1982 Pavie for New Year's). The Bierzo is full-bodied, but weightless -- "weightless" like how Robert Parker sometimes describes the best of Lafite. One can say that the Bierzo contains dried fruit (e.g. black plums), roasted herbs and spice, but no wood (like cedar or oak). But that description doesn't even come close to describing the wine.
And this impossibility of articulation hearkens to the same elements that irritate, that nag, that tickle, and, finally, that seduce me into writing as a poet. In fact, my entry into fine wines was not so much due to my enjoyment of wine but through noticing and then being charmed by the wine-tasting jargon into which oenophiles often lapse (and they lapse into the language lamely, pathetically, but also gloriously: c'mon, when someone describes a wine with such an intriguing and itch-generating word like "unctuous," I want to taste how!). I began exploring fine wine because I wanted to explore the language of wine lovers. And, ultimately, that exploration led me to move to my current residence in Napa Valley where I am surrounded by seemingly unending rows of vines -- one of many versions of my writing reality which, after all, may also be the task of the poet.
Wine is one of my sources for poetic inspiration because, like paintings (another source of inspiration), its experience is impossible to capture with words. Poetry is not words but what lurks between, behind and atop words. So whenever I discover something difficult to articulate, it inevitably becomes dropped into the cauldron in which I simmer the broth that overflows with my poems. (Yah, I'm a witch but that's another story....). When I formed a multidisciplinary arts publisher in 2001, I called it "Meritage Press" after the word "meritage" which was created by California winemakers who made wine in the style of, but did not want to call it, "Bordeaux." I thought Meritage to be an appropriate appellation in the sense that poets make, not inherit, language. (For more information on my "press" (pun intended), go to www.MeritagePress.com.)
"Wine Tasting Notes" is one of 12 poems sculpted for my "Poems Form/From The Six Directions" project (which is described at http://www.oovrag.com/%7Eoov/essays/essay2002c-1.shtml). New York-based quiltmaker Alice Brody ekphrastically made a beautiful quilt in response to my poem (toast to you, Alice!) which was exhibited twice in 2002 through "Six Directions" -- and may you all enjoy it, too:
WINE TASTING NOTES
An expanding idea
shifts scale to larger than life
imagery from pictorial to abstraction
tone from silent to aggressive
“yet in each there is a common commitment”
suggest a world worth experiencing
by celebrating the perplexities
“This is not a vase”
“This is not a river”
the plankton beneath the wave
radiating from green into gold
with the onset of wet sunlight
Other wines recently tasted and recommended are: 1999 Monte Antico Toscano (my best value for quality in 2002, making it my favorite table wine until I drank through my supply; 1999 Domaine Du Mas Blanc Banyuls Fortified Red; 1997 Behrens & Hitchcock Oakville Merlot; 2000 Fournier Grand Cuvee Sancerre; 1998 Peter Michael Cuvee Indigene; and 1997 Peter Michael Cuvee Le Caprice.
Welcome to WinePoetics!. Each post shall include wine recommendation(s)....and the rest shall be Poetry!
Monday, January 26, 2004
I'm currently reviewing submissions to Best Filipino American Poetry 2003 (BFAP). This is a one-time project, unlike the annual Best American Poetry ("BAP") volumes; BFAP was intended to show a selection of poems by contemporary Filipino American Poets as a companion release to PINOYPOETICS.
Still, almost as soon as I'd sent out last year the Submissions Call for BFAP, I began having second thoughts on the project. I've long turned a jaundiced eye on the whole BAP series which partly inspired BFAP. "Best"? Not to say the poems chosen aren't good or even great -- but "best"?
So, I officially announce the retitling of BFAP to be
SOME OF THE BEST FILIPINO AMERICAN POETRY.
The book, then, would still accommodate my original intent to put together a sampling of poems by contemporary Filipino American poets. But the new title, I feel, no longer implicitly excludes others who may be as deserving (but never responded to the call for whatever reason -- perhaps including the dismissing of the notion of the importance of figuring out what's the "best" poem out there). Poetry, after all, is not a fixed pie -- for a poet to write a great poem doesn't mean supplanting the possibilities of another poet's great poem. More importantly, the qualifer of "Some" doesn't insult literature by relegating the judgment of "best" poems of the year to the subjectivity of one individual, no matter how well-intentioned said individual editor may be.
The whole Best American Poetry shindig is a flawed idea. I should have known better than to use it as a reference, thereby using an unsound base for a new project. If you build on shakey ground, it'd be just a matter of time before the big bad wolf comes strolling by to blow it down with a mere sneeze (or whatever the effin' fairy tale I'ma mangling here).
Meanwhile, here's a poem below that probably will make it into BFAP. No, it's not one of my poems. Unlike as has happened in BAP, I don't put lovers, spouses or like-writerly-minded protegees into this anthology. So I'ma not gonna put myself in BFAP because, after all, I sleep with myself.
And when I wake up, I usually look at myself in a mirror.
From the forthcoming SOME OF THE BEST FILIPINO AMERICAN POETRY (2003):
FIVE ABOUT FLOWERS
By Jon Pineda
One summer I could not walk into one of the rooms where we lived
without first seeing them spread about, watered, in handfuls. Daisies.
Remember this story about the couple, when they were dating
he had given her flowers, & she hid them in a book, let them dry
in between the pages. Petals became paper & the paper petals.
The bulbs you can break apart like loaves of bread, the damp husk smell that stays
on your skin for days until one night, there is no washing it away, you wake
from it lingering on her lips. Pink flowers, petals caught in a sway.
They want you to think the fireworks, brilliant streaks of green & pink,
are like flowers in the night sky, but the ash rains down on the crowd.
The papery blackness, pieces of the dome no one has ever seen, burns.
In the papery white smoke stretching like a wing from the side of the train.
This wing spreads across the platform & joins with others waiting to leave.
Some hang out of windows & try to reach those below--There now,
someone says & lifts up roses, knocking against the cold glass.
Trying to get your attention.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: He that keepeth thee will not slumber...The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: He shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth and even for evermore.
--Psalms (marked by a lavender ribbon in A Rush of Wings by Kristen Heitzmann)
She didn't expect this, though it's a result that transparently bears its own logic: the longer she hides behind the Iron Gate, the more difficult it is for her to meet fallen angels who failed to hear her calls over the past seven years to "Gather, gather, gather..." on the mountain -- the mountain sculpted by Pygmalion after stone became flesh for Love.
Did she shut the Gate too soon?
Yet she had been so certain she had locked the bars barely in time to yank back her flesh from deliquescing into light.
"See, I have refined you, though not as silver, tested you in the furnace of affliction." -- Psalms
She did anticipate the necessary occassional forays beyond the Gate. What are the odds that she'd stumble across the one dark angel who should have been among the first to enter the "found" cathedral on the mountain? A mountain ribboned by natural springs and rivers all bearing Holy Water? Where all trees are limned by stigmata? Where owls hide precisely because they know to bow before Prayer?
Where angels must hide from mortals who would pluck out the diamonds centered as pupils in each of their bloodshot eyes? Where angels possess the power to fell mortals with mere glances -- oh, rapiers of light also sheathed by veins? Where angels will never hurt mortals, and thus remain forever "fragile" to the despair -- then occasional and inevitable engendered cruelty -- of humans unable to accept what they perceive as guaranteed solitude?
Sunday, January 25, 2004
At times an inarticulate rip, a gap forcing the fissure of fabric. Comes the infamous heart unfolding, a rip, a small mashing noise in the chest, sucking of blood. Mimicking a valve crush in velvet for the costume drama....I want to complete a lawn, a durable rosebush, a flock of gladioli, anything. And would compromise myself immensely in the twilight were it so. And have. Immensely might answer it well. Grow like a giant B girl in a sci fi "B.' Be bigger and better and busting out all over. Eat the world. Eroticize this incompleteness I love so well.
--from "Nightjar" by Jean Vengua (reprinted in Behind The Blue Canvas)
Well, Jean was blue not too long ago and now she's sent a letter on blue paper to the Chatelaine, who first thought it a fallen piece of sky before she realized the black lines were texts rather than birds.
Eh, something like that.
Here's what Jean writes upon receiving her Contributor's Copies of moi short story collection Behind The Blue Canvas to which Jean had written the introduction (some of youse are asking so I'll tell that I expect it to be available through Amazon over the next couple of weeks; they just listed the title but ignore the "Out of Stock" reference as that means Amazon is just waiting for their own copies):
Thanks for inserting my "B-girl" quote, along w/the introduction.
I like the gothic type, and, as you mentioned, the slighly funky third world materials used for the book itself. I almost wish I could've mentioned something about that (in the Intro), vs. what in the U.S. would probably have come out very slick and artsy & refined. Hey I'm feeling very good about your book, and looking forward to the panel discussion in May. Yes, it may tweak our relatives unfavorably, but I like how the book casts erotic lines across the ocean between the U.S. and the Philippines. Also, I think that my use of a quote by Don Van Vliet is going to have some interesting effects, if anyone actually pays attention.
Interesting thing is that there is something of a Van Vliet/Beefheart revival right now, because his band, "The Magic Band" has recently reformed (thanks to a big PR push by Matt Groening who sponsored them to perform at the big pop festival held last year on the Queen Mary in Long Beach), and they are now touring in England and had a big gig sponsored by Mojo Magazine at the Royal Festival Hall (UK) this last weekend.
Thanks for the note, Jean. Incidentally, Jean has posted a nice painting, "Feather Times Feather" by Van Vliet on her blog. And her reference to the "panel discussion in May," relates to how it looks like there'll be a San Francisco book launch for moi book on May 9 during this event at the San Francisco Public Library downtown:
"Transcending Nostalgia: Filipino Writings in the Diaspora" (Bay Area Launch for Beyond The Blue Canvas by Eileen Tabios; Not Home, But Here ed. by Luisa Igloria; and OurOwnVoice ed. by Reme Grefalda)
Other panelists are expected to include Jean, Leny Strobel, Reme Grefalda, Barbara Reyes and hopefully Luisa Igloria. More details will surface closer to the event (or, wassup Barb? Hope planning meeting went well...).
The sense of becoming disturbingly real to oneself, that point where the interior conversations begin, like daylight picking its way over a bridge, over there to the further shore to shine its brightest. The difficult shell halved and the sparse interior looked into, a voice appearing and disappearing with the light that fell on one's single self. Difficult to arrange this monodony. A necessity, the act of discovering where the self starts, hears itself, and repeats the instructions. Where dreams tumble these directions, pile them one on top the other until there is the night harvest, and afterwards, the search under the haystack for the heir.
--from SEEKING AIR by Barbara Guest
It's an honor to serve on Kelsey Street's Board primarily for the authors it represents, including Barbara Guest. I admire poets who keep writing and writing and writing. Please to put on your calendars this notice just received:
Barbara Guest will be reading from New Work
Sunday, February 29th, 2pm
Mills College in the Heller Library
I rarely post on these quizzes, but I couldn't resist the cleavage -- I'ma just laden with mystery. Thanks to Michaela for the link -- love your result, too!
You are the mystery woman
Which Ultimate Beautiful Woman are You?
brought to you by Quizilla
Saturday, January 24, 2004
You are raising your eyes from a page to whisper to a candlelight that flickers as it dodges the wind gushing from an open window: “How will I survive the forthcoming revelations as regards your unspeakable fragility?“ You hear a pearl split to become known as a half-moon.
Somewhere, a teacher ends a class by lowering herself on a mat. Before a crowd of acolytes, she bends forward and over her crossed legs, her right hand clasping her left wrist behind her back. She forms the yogic seal in gratitude to all as everything is existence. She forms the mudra as she offers, “Bless yourself, bless all beings, bless yourself again.“ Behind closed eyes, she sees a white light. After wiping her tears away, you will bury your face in her hair and smell a rose immortalized at the peak of blooming. After bathing in warm, white light, she opens her eyes to rise.
-- from "Enheduanna #3"
...you in my skin, we begin to see
together the eye-narrowing glimmer of wind
shifting along an ocean's silver surface,
the curl of a leaf dropping
on a different continent, pencil-thin
smoke rising behind ten thousand mountains.
Of course, we spot the "hole"
defined by sailors as "no wind."
You fall so deeply into my skin
we fling ourselves to topple
the barrier into a parallel universe
where you and I no longer need
to imagine each other. Where you and I
unlock our fate from the aftermath
of missing each other in a city
we once shared for decades.
You fall so deeply into my skin
you detoxify me
from my addiction to a cloudy mirror
and release me into the “necessary
blindness” of the night
required for my hands to flail
about so widely that they finally
encounter you now falling
asleep in my skin
where, yes, you dream
me dreaming we are not dreaming
as you fall deeply into my skin.
-- from "Enheduanna #20" in Menage a Trois With the 21st Century
I'm proofing the manuscript for my next book, Menage A Trois With the 21st Century (thanks again to poet-publisher Jukka). The poems in it are all written a la "first draft, last draft" (with a few minor exceptions). I describe this approach in a paper that will be published soon in the Spring 2004 of MELUS. Here's an excerpt, which also references the first poem in my book ("Venus Rising in the 21st Century") that's still available online at Nth Position (thanks to poet-editor Todd Swift):
from "MAGANDA: Thoughts on Poetic Form (A Hermetic Perspective)"
One stroke bone
The stroke of unknowing
The brush of all things
--from "One Bone Stroke" by Painter Max Gimblett
Of the poems in this collection, the Venus poem was the most recently-written and, in my view, the most well-formed at its birth. Since I believe a poet's task includes perceiving and connecting dots of synchronicity, I find it logical that "Venus" was written in the middle of the night. The sixteenth-century poet and Spanish Carmelite St. John of the Cross has stated, "For the intellect, faith is also like a dark night." I need not belabor how, in a culture where Poetry is marginalized, to be a poet is an act of faith. To believe the Poem is its own creature separate from the poet's self is also an act of faith. To empty the mind and move out of the Poem's way is yet another act of faith. To love a Poem is Faith.
Menage a Trois includes my Gabriela Silang series -- where I tried to create a new life for Gabriela in the 21st century. I'm going to feature the brief introduction here, because I know some of you peeps may be interested in different challenges to so-called ethnic American literature (this is a different way from the story-telling based approaches more commonly taught....and also shows my own way of melding memoir and fiction):
The Philippines became a colony of Spain in the 18th century. After witnessing the colonizers’ ongoing abuse, the Filipino Diego Silang started the Ilokano revolt against the Spanish authorities. Following Diego’s assassination on May 28, 1763, his wife Gabriela Silang carried on the crusade for freedom to lead one of the longest (possibly the longest) local rebellion against the Spaniards. Nonetheless, she and her soldiers were finally captured and subsequently hanged. When Gabriela Silang died on September 20, 1763, she was 32 years old.
I wrote these poems to create a new life for Gabriela Silang in the 21st century. I was moved to this attempt after thinking that I didn’t wish to continue her victimization by allowing her life’s conclusion to be a fate she didn’t want: expending her life battling foreign conquerors.
I inserted details from my life because I sensed that I best could speak for/about Gabriela by not denying who was then speaking on her behalf. Colonialism erased Gabriela’s wish for a life; I didn’t feel she, in turn, would want to erase me. Synchronistically, not much is known about the Philippines’s first woman general for Gabriela lived during a time of scarce written records. Not only did this lack facilitate the insertion of my own thoughts and experiences, but it also encouraged the elliptical or abstract nature of some of the poems. Ultimately, I believe these are “Gabriela Silang” poems to the extent they manifest a sensibility combining loss and desire.
Here's a sample Gabriela poem (first published in Matrix, Canada):
“LOOKING PAST THE BIRTH”
As Gabriela Reconsiders Everything
(--after Claudia Rankine’s reading of “Plot” and Doug Aitken’s video “Into The Sun”)
I am learning not to yearn
for amnesia. As when I see
shoving through air
like husbands with bruised eyes—
Black dimes interrupt the sun’s glare:
an experience familiar to
travelers visiting “Namibia
in search of pure light”—
But thermodynamics of farewells
yield “the scent of armpits,”
the spoor of exhaustion. Until
what holds up the room is
a riding crop
propped against a wall—
The thin leather line
cracks a field of vision
and if, as you say, “each cut
generates a new affair”
I am not surprised—
For centuries, woodcarvers
on the limbs of virgins and saints,
eyes wide and white
to manifest exaltation—
Yesterday, a long-lashed poet
clad in Prussian silk sweetly
declared, “I am in love
with the stock market!”
Somewhere, a typhoon
has failed to devastate
a landscape brimming
with violets, turtles, and dandelions—
I feel a memory
surface from days of unremitting light
when I ignored all ancestors
to stare directly at the sun:
the cool dimness of a cathedral
where hands penetrated marble bowls
for holy water whose oily musk lingered
on my filigreed fingers
as if to sheath my flesh
against all that will come
all that will not come
and the accompanying relevance,
if any, of Love—
can also be encapsulated in Merriam-Webster's word of the day:
maieutic \may-YOO-tik\ adjective
: relating to or resembling the Socratic method of eliciting new ideas from another
Professor Collins often uses maieutic logic to encourage his students to explore and understand the various facets of a problem.
Did you know?
"Maieutic" comes from "maieutikos," the Greek word for "of midwifery." Whoever applied "maieutic" to the Socratic method of bringing forth new ideas by reasoning and dialogue must have thought the techniques of Socrates analogous to those a midwife uses in delivering a baby. A teacher who uses maieutic methods can be thought of as an intellectual midwife who assists students in bringing forth ideas and conceptions previously latent in their minds.
Friday, January 23, 2004
My life as a tattoo, over at Conchology's
Someone Call an Ambulance:
A Dramatic Interview with Gabriel Gudding
Thanks for the Shout-outs, Michael and Tom.
seeing you blaaawg!
And a belated but very sincere Thanks to Bill for continuously supporting my poems through Moria. I'm in great company in the current issue with other poets: Camille Martin, Peter Ganick, Andrew Lundwall, Trevor Landers, Bruna Mori, Ann Lederer, Shane Plante, Petra Backonja, Crag Hill, Sandra Simonds.
Please to check the Marsh Hawk Press Blog for details on a poetry contest for the
FIRST ANNUAL MARSH HAWK POETRY PRESS PRIZE.
Prize includes book publication and $1,000 -- to be judged by Marie Ponsot.
Last but not least, thanks to all the poets who keep writing Hay(na)ku, e.g. on the As-Is Blog. Apparently, the Hay(na)ku may be taught at a "Poetry for the People" course at U.C. Berkeley this semester. Well! And to think this form was developed partly through poetry blogland!
Tatang wants to know if this fallen angel can play poker. I rarely play the game, Hon, but when I do no stake is too high...
I once played poker at an artist's colony and cleaned out everyone of their laundry money (artist stakes were nickel, dime and quarter bets). Of course, that wasn't a real victory for me -- I might have had clean underwear but I was the one having to sniff through unwashed clothes for a week or two. That conclusion, of course, says a lot about ... gambling. And also says a lot about poetry.
Here's an off-the-cuff double hay(na)ku:
if I check
a poker bet
As Kimiko Hahn advises in Black Lightning, when it comes to Poetry, "leave the map at home."
Post deleted for engendering negative energy.....
Post deleted for engendering negative energy.....
Post deleted for engendering negative energy.....
Thursday, January 22, 2004
Well let me start with the WORD and the WORD are
DAMN IT TO ALL HELL!
So, for the past four weeks, my beloved (said word "beloved" is tossed out between gritted teeth) puppy Achilles has been staying in the kitchen because he's still being potty-trained. Well, he'd been very good, showing he can control his bladder to save his various droppings for the glorious outdoors, of which outdoors there is after all plenty on the mountain. So, today, the devoted Chatelaine expanded Achilles' borders from the kitchen to add the hallways and foyer for the availability of his pitter-pattering feet.
Not only did he pee in the foyer but he POOOOO-ED! The Chatelaine had to hike up her skirts to fall on her knees to scrub away like Cinderella early on in that fairy tale. Damn it to all hell. Moi has never been intimate with dog shit before!
Pause. You know -- this reminds me of a peep once joshing, "What would I ever forbid?"
I believe I replied, "Animals, piss, polyester ... and witnesses"....but I digress (though amusingly so, don't you think?)
Anyway, potty training also reminds me of Poetry -- i.e. why Oulipo and other constraint-based methodologies are so useful to many poets. Not that I'm dismissing the paradoxical effect of how restraints end up freeing the imagination. But, sometimes, it works like puppy potty training: give peeps an expansive space and some become so befuddled by the additional scope they piss and shit on it.
Expanse, peeps and critters. It can be a beautiful thing -- now control the bowel movements and deal ... with a Grace not at all requiring a single paper towel.
The chatty Chatelaine thinks she'll follow up on some blogs. First, on Ivy's description of her submissions process, the Chatelaine remembers her first year as a writer, following her career transition from finance to poetry. During her first year of writing poems, she had swamped the North American continent with poetry submissions....all arbitrarily sent out; she, indeed, hadn't read most of the journals to which she sent her poems. From that first year, she had about a 30% acceptance rate -- such that some of her "baby poems" appeared in some well-respected journals. That's when the Chatelaine realized, there's no such thing as an expert in poetry -- it's all subjective. And then later, the Chatty One also would realize...subjectivity includes the social, with all the pros and cons thereof....
On another blog, Leny notes:
If I understand Steiner right, he is arguing that all the secondary and tertiary discourses (reviews, dissertations, criticisms) about art, music, poetry, are what distract us from experiencing the meaningfulness of the art itself. On the other hand he writes that he will not ban these discourses or eliminate them but he sees the limit of the role they play in conveying meaning. Better still, he said, if we can learn how to be artful in our own approach to art and lessen our dependence on the academic/scholar or critic who makes an easy offer on meanings, this 'real presence' can be experienced more directly. Unmediated transcendence. // Note to self: okay, I've heard this before. This is what Eileen and other poet-friends have been saying all along.
Yadda. "Unmediated transcendence." Yadda.
The sheer momentum of it all, facing the sun,
Collects the surrendered skin.
Filaments that never crossed the eyelids'
Undersides leap about unsorted,
Lifted by their enormous sleeves.
Only the clenched teeth, or the bitten lips
Connect the heart to its pulsing, the shaken
Spaces to their breaths, harmonics of oranges."
--from "Sui Veneris / The Poet of No Return" by Ricardo M. de Ungria (quoted in "The Caustic Surface" from BEHIND THE BLUE CANVAS)
Tabios' stories are not predictable, and they swerve into poetry, even as a musical note might bend into _blues_. What makes these narratives blue? The fact that love exists, suffers and enjoys, alongside that which is distant, cold, calculating, imperative. "Keep your eyes open," commands the object of one artist's desire in the story, "Blue Richard." In the midst of struggle, in the midst of cultural disjunction, diaspora, and subjection, the artist is drawn to the authoritative voice that makes everything seemingly easy, simple, fluid."
--from Jean Vengua's Introduction to BEHIND THE BLUE CANVAS
A moment. For a moment, even the eagles froze in flight, surfing the whirlpools of air over Galatea. A moment. For the Chatelaine was touching for the first time her new book: BEHIND THE BLUE CANVAS. A moment.
Galatea and its creatures felt their Chatelaine touch the book, even though the Chatelaine did so miles away in San Francisco where she had ventured to pick up the shipment from her publisher. Galatea and its creatures whispered: Yes, Babaylan -- and so it was foretold: you are a maker of books. They don't all have to be your words. But, this one -- this one you also made because, once, as a two-year-old [Baguio City, circa 1962], you proclaimed to the world: I make books!
Suddenly, the land creatures all fell on their rumps. "An earthquake!" a quail squealed and, uh, quailed.
"No, you silly quail," a long-eared rabbit proclaimed. "It's Rapunzel shaking her golden hair!"
The Author pauses to tell 9.7 million peeps, you see, the mountain right now is covered with pale yellow grass stalks -- or they look like grass to the uninitiated. But they're really the hair of Rapunzel who lives at the top of the mountain...Anyway...
And a deer asked, "Why is Rapunzel shaking her locks?"
With floppy ears, rabbit replied, "Because, truthfully, the Chatelaine detests her latest book...but it's out there now!"
And Galatea's animals drooped their furs and feathers at the thought of the Chatelaine detesting her book. The rabbit sighed, flip-flopped his long ears, and sadly noted: "Yep. No one ever promised the Chatelaine that she would only make books that make her .... smile."
Thus, the Author -- reluctantly -- features an excerpt from "The Lucidity of Detachment," one of the stories in BEHIND THE BLUE CANVAS (Giraffe Books, 2004):
Memory: Reel 1
I approach you wearing a dress of green silk -- a shade of green after sunlight falls on leaves newly-washed by rain. Your eyes are as gray as the steel door you have opened for me. Unexpectedly, I sense my steps falter at the thought of you opening a door into the room where your poems spill from your beleaguered pen as smoke spirals from your lips. I know too well that this is the room where you peer into your wounds. And though, outside, it is daylight peeling off its layers, I feel a saxophone note elongate in the night perpetually hovering about you.
I hope for a smile as I feel you shift your thighs to let me pass through the narrow entryway. But, as always, what I see in the slight twist of your lips, the furrow on your brow and the shutters over your eyes remind me of the aftermath from a flinch. As I walk towards the yellow wash of a window paned by smoked and cracked glass, I marvel at how long you've remained folded about the arrowhead stubbornly embedded in your heart. The last time you wrote about it, you mentioned a stepfather now dead and blood seeping from the etchings of a wrench.
"Green?" you speak, disrupting dust. "That's the last color I expected on you." I fidget, peep at your lips with a sideway glance. You have seated yourself in an old wooden chair, so old that the wood has deliquesced to silk, like the interior of your bellybutton. I had stroked that wood the last time I visited you in your writing studio, while you had stroked the welt between my thighs. "Welt" -- you have never called it a "pearl" or a "peony" because you profess to be interested mostly in the brutishness of language.
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Galatea's house wines this week:
2000 Kistler Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay
1998 Turley Napa Valley Zinfandel Moore "Earthquake" Vineyard
1999 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Precious Mountain
Imagine reading an article that begins (thanks Sweetie-peep for sharing):
The foul-mouthed parrot at Winston Churchill's side during Britain's darkest hour of World War II is still alive and cursing Adolf Hitler. // At 104 years old, Charlie can still be coaxed to repeat favorite sayings, such as "[expletive] Hitler" and "[expletive] the Nazis,"
What a hoot! Or is that a cackle? And here's another animal/aminal info from another e-mail just received, with said reference dedicated, I assume, to moi beloved puppy Achilles:
If you can start the day without caffeine or pep pills,
If you can be cheerful ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food everyday and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment.
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can do all these things,
Then you are probably the family dog.
I definitely believe many humans should try to be dogs...
The figures in the two small paintings are clearly Asian. But that's not what struck me as I bent over a low shelf in one of the booths at this weekend's SF Art Fair. Despite the poor light, I was immediately taken by the painterly surface of the works -- gestural, and yet with a Pop sensibility of flatness evoking Lichtenstein. I appreciated the way the works are both graphic (and, thus, reproduce well) and yet clearly show a relishing love for paint to create a thick-ish surface (an effect that doesn't necessarily come off in reproduction). This straddling -- disruption -- of what has been a binary in the hands of other artists (lush painterliness versus pop flatness) would come to make sense when I discovered the artist's name: Roger Shimomura.
I'd actually heard of Shimomura before, in the context of Asian American activism; in my experience, anyone who has worked in such activism would be cautious of abiding by paradigms set up by others. But though Shimomura was not an unknown name, this was the first time I'd seen his paintings in person -- and they are a revelation. Yes, Shimomura is an important cultural activist, as evinced by his upcoming show entitled "Stereotypes and Admonitions" -- of which a very helpful summation is provided at the Greg Kucera Gallery website. But, notwithstanding the importance of Shimomura's concerns, such wouldn't have sufficed for me to welcome one of his works to Galatea. First, he simply had to be a great painter -- and that he is. By mastering the painterly craft, Shimomura makes his stories and themes more compellling.
The three works I saw from the SF Art Fair are from an earlier exhibition, "An American Diary." The paintings are based upon the diaries kept by his grandmother, Toku Shimomura, while interned in Camp Minidoka, Idaho during World War II. The stories provide a conceptual underpinning more resonant than some technical/theoretical perspectives that led other painters to address the same formal issues of plasticity that has concerned Shimomura. Shimomura's is political, or socio-political, art that gives lie to the idea that "political" as an adjective to "art" is necessarily a diminishment. The catalogue for "An American Diary," for instance excerpts from a report by The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, and yet one can't deny the beauty of the works from a more "formal" aspect based on technique.
Shimomura, in fact, made me remember Susan Bee -- how her feminist concerns are neither diluted by or become the raison d'etre for her works which show her to be a masterful colorist. The two concerns -- political and aesthetic -- remain visibly equal in harmony; neither "colonizes" the other for a sum that becomes less than each of the parts.
Conceptual underpinnings deepen the work -- in both paintings and poems -- that presumably can be experienced in a vacuum (does the work stand on its own outside of explications?). What I appreciate about Shimomura, Bee and Ellen Gallagher (see below) is something similar I welcome in the works of such poets as Catalina "Catie" Cariaga, Harryette Mullen, Myung Mi Kim, Kimiko Hahn and other ethnic-American artists whose desire to "talk story" is not incompatible with furthering the poetic form. For instance, Kimiko's use of the zuizitsu cuttings that offers a different take on parataxis and collage is similar (to me) to how Shimomura's pop sensibility hearkens to Japanese wood block prints that utilize some of the same conventions in American comic books (e.g. black outlines that contain flat areas of unmodulated color).
It's also an approach taken by Ellen Gallagher -- whose name I cite as Steven Shaviro, recently posted an entry about her work; check Gallagher and Shaviro out at http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/ (this is the same Shaviro whose book, CONNECTED, OR WHAT IT MEANS TO LIVE IN THE NETWORK SOCIETY, has been the focus of recent discussion at the Poetics List).
Here's an excerpt from Catie's poem "Epilogue" (whose variations in typography -- i.e., size of letterings -- unfortunately is not something I can show through blogger):
"...make a game of counting each illogical construct / for example the barong Tagalog is a sheer, long sleeved European shirt, with French cuffs and collar -- worn with a T-shirt but untucked and outside of the pants; of course the humidity in the Philippines. But why is it customary? / I pick up a magazine; tear out all of the coupon cards and perfume samples. I pretend not to listen as if that will discourage the verbal flow; I'm not listening to him; but I am listening to him and I can chart the labyrinth of his chaotic reasoning / the barong Tagalog worn by the Filipinos, or should I say, the indigenous, in other words the natives / by that I mean non-whites, brown / this is of course, during the 17th Century / so what he means is that the Spaniards wore a tie and their shirts tucked inside the pants. It was one way to distinguish between the workers and owners on a plantation / in other words, a Filipino could get into a lot of trouble "impersonating" a European or mestizo by tucking in his shirt and wearing a tie / to my way of thinking, it survived as an insurrectionist gesture/ you see, the barong Tagalog has become the national tuxedo / at formal occasions / like in 1972 when he stayed up for 72 hours on the three consecutive nights of the National Democratic Convention, and how I left the TV on to keep him company / When heads of state (like President Bush) came to visit the Philippines, (to quote him, "keeping the world safe for Democracy") they are given a barong Tagalog to wear / so the Filipinos snicker at a colonialist in the mandatory indigenous costume..."
In the above excerpt, Catie collages together disparate historical references while personalizing through references to an ailing father; and note that her use of the prose poem form with slashes rather than relying on free-verse stanza with linebreaks might also be considered a diss against that oft-told criticism of many "multicultural" poems -- that they're just prose cut up into lines.
Last but not least, what all these artists share in common is the immersion in their crafts in order to know how to break the rules they inheritated about painting or poetry. In Shimomura's words:
"I have often told my students that if making art is of paramount importance in their lives and that if they are willing to commit themselves to hard work and maintaining an engaged mind, they will eventually be able to free themselves of everything they learned about art. I know from my experience that I have found this to be true.
"After years of studious concern over content, I feel that I have either reached or sunk to a level of security where ideas for my work flow, unconscionably. It seems that at some point I no longer felt compelled to project my own point of view toward the things that concerned me. I found myself more interested in creating a visual forum that expressed ironic and contradictory attitudes towards these concerns."
These words are uttered by a cultural activist and teacher (currently at University of Kansas) quite clearly engaged with history. But they are also uttered by one whose primary faith is in Art's ability to both address and transcend.
Sunday, January 18, 2004
The San Francisco Art Fair is taking place this weekend. So the Chatelaine just got back to the mountain after perusing said art fair today as well as visiting some local art collectors' homes. It's always interesting to see how people -- especially so-called "art collectors" -- live with art; homes usually offer a more interesting context than the four white walls of a gallery.
I surround myself with paintings and sculptures -- but I'm with whatshisface (perhaps Albee?) who once said, "I'm not an art collector. I'm an art enthusiast." I balk at the term "art collector" for several reasons, including that I believe much of the arts can't be captured through their public manifestations -- just as the words in a poem can't capture the totality of Poetry (let me interrupt myself to clarify; I consider "poem" to be the verse or other manifestation(s) the poets claim their poems to be; I consider the term "Poetry" to be the nature of what led up to the poem as well as what the poem engenders. All clear now? Yeah, right. But, to continue...).
To the extent that one wants to be acknowledged -- and publicly -- as an "art collector" rather than an art lover (though the two positions obviously overlap) -- one might consider that collecting itself can be an art. That one can collect art works, not from just putting objects together but to offer another dimension to the vibrant engagement with art. One collector from today's rounds clearly agrees my idea -- she contextualizes her collecting activity as spinning off from Duchamp and how Duchamp made her think/feel about art and life. Her collection relies on many works that could be characterized as "conceptual art" (embodied, for instance, in her collection of ephemera that would be of interest primarily to those interested in what the ephemera signifies rather than what the ephemera *looks* like).
However, in my experience (beyond today's experience), many art collectors don't offer a sustained personal focus (please note my use of "personal" versus "aesthetic" focus). In many cases, I often see a more social influence to the collecting decisions...which shouldn't surprise as (sigh) many collectors are art collectors for social reasons, rather than from a strong interest in what they're placing on their walls.
Still, whether to collect from a particular personal (or aesthetic) focus or not -- all approaches have their roles in a society where visual artists can use all the support they can get while they're alive. We all must pay the rent somehow! But when someone goes so far as to identify themselves as an "art collector," not offering their own unique sensibility seems to be a waste (how does one derive the sum of the parts?). It's not just a waste to those who might be interested to see how the collector came to group together certain art works based on preference or aesthetics. It's also a waste for the collector who, by implication, seems to have not challenged one's self to create a relationship with the art works that is more personal than, say, relying on dealers, curators and/or social arbiters.
The resulting collections often lack a personality as may be offered by their groupings (even when individual objects are marvelous). In such sense, the collector has missed out -- even though such a collector may not know of or be interested in what is being missed. Here, what was missed is the joy that, as in many things, occurs from a proactive and deeply felt and considered engagement.
When, for example, the poet Jean Joubert (trans. by Denise Levertov) says after Tintoretto's The Bather
The painter's brush has captured the most fragile
instant, suspended it: this moment
when the immobile brilliance of flesh and gold
flames, poised at its most intense,
on the brink of outrage.
the intensity that moved Joubert to feel that "brink of outrage" -- that vibrant living moment -- if not felt by someone bringing home an art work is a diminishment of experience. Without that passion, many collections become simply an inventory of a type of currency that disrespects art itself.
Coming up soon: my discovery from this year's SF Art Fair. Since moving to the Bay Area, I've visited this annual event, always trying to find someone new. In previous years, I discovered Stella Lai (with whom I'm now in the midst of a poetry/art collaboration -- YaY!) and Reanne Estrada. I'll write on this year's discovery soon.
This experience reinforced my belief about the racial politics of publishing. Prior to submitting, I had a hunch that the editor would choose the poem that was more “ethnic” over the poem that was contemporary and not culturally specific.... I knew that my work would be more appealing if I wrote race and culture in a way that added a gratuitous diversity to the collection of poems even if the poem was largely fabricated. Because I am an ethnic writer, I was expected to create ethnic work...
--Joel Tan, from his PINOYPOETICS essay excerpted in Jan. 7 blog entry
I am mostly interested in Poetry as an engaged and engendering act. So the Chatelaine was delighted to receive the following letter in response to her January 07, 2004 blog entry, which had excerpted from Joel Tan's essay in the forthcoming PINOYPOETICS anthology:
Through some circuitous route, I found your blog Chatelaine's Poetics and was stirred enough by the [Jan. 7] entry to reply. To respond to the paragraph which starts with 'This experience reinforced my belief about the racial politics of publishing,' I share some of my experience.
I'm a Filipino-born Australian, but I grew up in large part wanting to suppress what is Filipino about me. I denied my culture, even as it formed who I am, and my love of language and reading. When I was in Australia, I was, in essence, forbidden from speaking my native tongue, and so concentrated everything on English. I left when I was 10, and have only a vocabulary of that age. I do not speak Tagalog -- only simple phrases of which I feel mildly ashamed, wondering about my fluency, my ineptness. I've only been back to Manila twice now. The first time almost was 15 years after I'd left; the last time was last year.
In my poetry, I feel as if I'm still denying this aspect about me. My poems try to be placeless, without place, without a setting, without conscription of colour, race, and so on, which I find too inhibitive. Also, I do not want to be categorised as an Asian writer, purely. I just want to be a poet.
Anyway, I am responding to what you say is 'the racial politics of publishing' by saying that my choice was abstention. I used to abstain from mentioning my heritage in a lot of biographies requested of me. Part of that is also the glee of messing with people's heads, especially if they only know me from my bio and poetry. The visible surprise that I am Asian! That I can write and speak such good English. Maybe I'm too cutting.
Lately, I have been putting down the place where I was born, a turn in myself that is like a slow unlocking.
Thanks for letting me share this with you.
It's nice to meet you, Ivy. And thanks for writing. The whole history of ethnic-American literature, for one, would bely your thought that you're being too "cutting." Still, the issues you allude to are obviously complicated; I don't believe there's any one way to respond to the issues you raise -- I first typed "race." I think what's mostly meaningful is that you are clearly thinking a lot about it…and are open to change -- "putting down the place where [you] were born" is a step towards something, though you may not know yet where that road goes.
Meanwhile, I do appreciate your conflicts on this issue -- I also left the Philippines at age 10, by the way. For me, my approach has been a turning away from nostalgia -- to be open instead to how my position in the Filipino diaspora might affect the shapes of the poems I write.
Speaking of synchronicity, your letter also resonates partly because part of my current reading is David Mura's essay collection, SONG FOR UNCLE TOM, TONTO, AND MR. MOTO: POETRY AND IDENTITY. You may want to check out his and other books; David is a particular inspiration to me as his TURNING JAPANESE book influenced part of my decision to incorporate activism on behalf of Filipino poetry into my poetics. Here's a relevant excerpt, by the way, from David's essay written in response to Harold Bloom's Introduction to The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-1997:
In the world according to Harold Bloom, there are those who occupy the heights of objective judgment and the barbarians below. Or, as Bloom would have it, what he reads with pleasure and profit must possess lasting aesthetic value. Those who do not see that value have been blinded to the true purpose of literature by political or ideological agendas. In contrast, Bloom's judgment has nothing to do with his race, gender, sexual orientation, ethic origin or politics. He alone possesses no extraliterary agenda, no personal biases. If we point out that all of the writers he holds up to admiration are white and most of them male, we are replacing objective literary criteria with sociology.
Unfortunately, I am not convinced that Bloom's sight is so unequivocally acurate and godlike. When he proclaims that hius opponents are entirely preoccupied with the race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin and political purposes of the would-be poet, I see either a misunderstanding or a mischaracterization of their arguments. Surely characteristics such as race or gender can suggest areas of study that might aid in understanding a poet.
Anyway, for now, let me introduce Ivy Alvarez by referring you all to her blog: http://ivyai.blogspot.com/
I'm also featuring below one of her lovely poems below (previously published in Moorilla Mosaic: Contemporary Tasmanian Writing (Bumblebee Books, 2001):
a thin girl
living in between cloud fissures
scoops the fish from between her legs
and waits for the rains to stop
ripples center her feet
and the trees bend, bend
the fruit falls, burst open,
the seeds dart into the ground
the rain does not stop
in the five minutes it takes
for the man to rain leather
on her back
licks and snaps
the river is a-flood
risen and unfriendly
she can, if she thinks hard enough,
see her friends watch
a dog drowning, floating down
in a dog-ballet
watch them point
there are no fish between her feet
and the rain
bending the trees