Wednesday, March 28, 2007

On Piles

Piles of Books, Hercules Segers

How heartening it was to find this image by 17th century Flemish artist Hercules Segers.
Piles of books beside beds have been around for a long time.
My inventory includes:
Grief Lessons By Anne Carson, translations of plays by Euripides; Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences by Kitty Burns Florey; The Unfolding of Language (still!); Threads by Jill Magi; thisconnectionofeveryonewithlungs:poems by Juliana Spahr; The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai; Caffeine for the Creative Mind; Concordance by Mei Mei Bressenberger and Kiki Smith; Museum of Words by James Heffernan and so on.
But these are books I must finish. And like other folks I'm sure, I read several at the same time: one before falling asleep, another in the car while waiting, a third at the gym. And I'm writing too -- my friend (a screenwriter) and I are emailing each other work daily -- no commenting, no editing. Just write and email. Revision can come later. I like to zig zag back and forth between the processes. Along with the reading and listening and looking. All to feed the nigh

Monday, March 26, 2007

Spring Fever

Lorine Niedecker

from Next Year or I Fly My Rounds, Tempestuous

January 1935
Wade all life
backward to its
source which
runs too far

The satisfactory
emphasis is on
Don't send
steadily; after
you know me
I'll be no one.

Jan.-Feb. 1935
To give
heat is within
the control of
every human

March-April 1935
Her under-
standing of him
is more touch-
ing than intelli-
gent; he holds
her knees with-
out her knowing
how she's boned.

April 1935
I can always
go back to
kimonos, wrap-
arounds and

July 1935
I talk at the top
of my white

Sept.-Oct. 1935
All night,
all night,
and what is
it on a post-


Oct.-Nov. 1935
That's sweet
on a target -
nobody'd know
the ham line.
Holes are too
late nowa-
days. One
freak ass to

December 1935
tiation of acro-
bats, moon-eyes

and downward
mouth. Round-
acres intrude
a nose where
no listening
ever came.
Smooth out the
substance of your
acetelyne worry.

These are selections from a found poem of Niedecker's that Jenny Penberthy, who edited Niedecker's Collected Works, discovered during her research. Each aphoristic poem was pasted on one of those desk calendars, the kind with the hopeful homilies, apparently as a gift to Louis Zukofsky. Penberthy says the poems reminded her of Dickinson and I felt that too as I typed the excerpts -- thought of D's Wild Nights. I'm drawn to the form and fragment. She wrote them by hand and punched holes in them and tied them all together with red ribbon so there's the making of a day book in a way. And the freedom of her language -- so unconstrained. Sometimes it's good to break away from the boundaries of the blank page and see what happens.

When Ecstasy is Inconvenient
Feign a great calm;

all gay transport soon ends.
Chant: who knows -
flight's end or flight's beginning
for the resting gull?

Heart, be still.
Say there is money but it rusted;
say the time of moon is not right for escape.

It's the color in the lower sky
too broadly suffused,

or the wind in my tie.

Know amazedly how
often one takes his madness
into his own hands
and keeps it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On Spring

A tune of non-being
Filling the void:
Spring sun
Snow whiteness
Bright clouds
Clear Wind.

The death poem of Zen monk Daido Ichi'i who died on the twenty-sixth day of the second month in 1370 at the age of 79. From a collection, Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death. These are written in the last moments of the poet's life, a kind of bon voyage song as the next journey begins. Seems particularly appropriate with last night's convergence of seasons. The image of the writer on the cusp of 2 worlds, pausing for a moment with pen and paper, to make note of transpiration, expiration, crossing over, is poignant this morning -- with /snow/bird call/sun out my window.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Drawn on the Wall: Sol LeWitt

Some instructions from Sol LeWitt I copied in my notebook during a recent visit to Dia Beacon. The image above is not from Beacon...and doesn't actually capture the detailed intensity of his Drawing Series at Dia. The graphite pencil made on the walls recall the childish impulse to mark up all those walls in the halls of authority -- classrooms, bedrooms, store fronts, highway abuttements. Here are his sentences. I have added line breaks.

A straight line is drawn
from a point halfway
between the center of the wall
and the upper left
corner to a point
where two lines
would intersect if one line
were to be drawn from a point
half way between the mid
point of the top side and the
upper right
corner to the mid point
of the bottom side
and a second line
were to be drawn
from a point half way
between the mid
point of the top
side and the upper left
corner to the midpoint
of the right side.

A broken line is drawn
from a point when 2 sides
would intersect
if all lines
were to be
from the end
point of the straight
line to a point
half way
between the mid
point of the left
side and the lower
left corner and a second
line were to be drawn
from a point half
way between
a point halfway
to the mid point
of the bottom
side and the lower
right corner to a point
half way between
the mid point of
the top side
and the upper left
corner toward
a point which
is half
way between the mid
point of the left
side and the upper left
corner and whose
length is equal
to the distance
between the second
point of the not
straight line and the mid point
of the top side.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Molly's soliloquy: thought is the thought of thought/happy st pattys day

and the castanets and the night we missed

The boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O

That awful deep down torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like

Fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes

And all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and

The rosegardens and the Jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and

Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the

Rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used to or shall I wear a red yes and

How he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as

Another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he

Asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my

Arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts

All perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will


Thursday, March 8, 2007


Detail from Jeff Wall, A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai), 1993
Detail fromA Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) 1993 Transparency in lightbox 2290 x 3770 mm
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At MoMA some amazing photographs -- huge scenes by Jeff Wall, a Canadian photographer. Instead of the typical photos bounded by an 8x11 or 11x14 or some other 19-th or 2oth-century paper size or frame, these are HUGE (like Gursky) -- landscapes, street-corner-scapes, room-scapes. Such incredible light too, some of which comes from the light boxes that hold certain photos. Also the detail that large negatives can capture is so apparent. One amazing landscape of a river scene with mountains in the background offered clarity, as if the air had been sharpened by lightning. I loved the portrait of an artist as he drew a preserved forearm from an anatomy lab.

Also the photo above -- A Sudden Gust of Wind, based on a 19th-century Japanese woodcut. The flying pieces of paper, the scarf and hats swept up in the breeze, sheen on the water -- it's great the way Wall has re-imagined Hokusai's narrative. And Wall's photo is as much an invention as Hokusai's print. He "painted" and staged the scene. The technology of the camera, the computer and its software let photographers move farther away from the aesthetic constraints of documentary. These tools work like paintbrush and palette.

So story-telling lives on, even as we debate its necessity. Narrative comes under assault -- visual and written works of art are imagined as broken, as collages of color and sound. Don't get me wrong, I love a good story. I desire beautifully made descriptions and melodies and portraits. But it's true we live in brokenness. Stuff happens. Is it chaos theory? There's no rhyme or reason it seems. Perhaps that's why we prefer the tapestry of plot over the torn or shredded cloth.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Goodbye Agnes M.

I said goodbye to some of her works from the 1980s hanging at Dia:Beacon, the so-called Field of Vision series, not her title. The paintings were leaving Dia to return to owners. I remember when I first found Agnes Martin -- her show at the Whitney. My kids were little and I was buried in diapers and chicken nuggets and legos. I escaped one day to view the exhibition. It was as if I had traveled across the country to New Mexico and her desert. I didn't want to leave and visited the show several times before it closed. This was an awakening time for me, like attending a revival meeting, something exploded inside. But there was also tranquility in the work, in all the neatly measured lines and colors, in the collision of well-made ocean blues and desert sandy browns. The order was compelling, compared to my chaotic life. I envied Agnes, though that's an emotion she'd disdain. I got lost in her field again today.