Drinking Deep

Perhaps it is all a matter of the opportune moment. The first moment was not opportune because, even if neither of us was unripe for love, we were both unripe for our love: a fundamental distinction (97). 
—Machado de Assis, Epitaph of a Small Winner

Originally published in  1880 in Brazil, under the title of Memórias pótumas de Brás Cubas, Epitaph of a Small Winner  is a clever, wry (bordering on outright cynicism), but ultimately, a poignant look at a man whose seemingly intentional shallowness affords him the dubious satisfaction of a winner who doesn’t quite realize that there was no game. Maybe that is too harsh, after all the narrator, Brás Cubas, is dead and that does change, I imagine,  one’s involvement  in life, even when the tale consists of the story of said person’s life.

The story is composed of chapter headings and brief vignettes of Cubas’ childhood, unremarkable career and romantic adventures. Chapter 139 for instance simple entitled: How I Did Not Become a Minister of State:

And this is how the chapter reads, verbatim:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I can’t help loving him—that mocking mirth that I find so endearing. But I crave tenderness too. No doubt, he would scorn my attachment to the romantic aspects of his tale. Machado began his writing career with two novels, both of which I read: Helena and The Hand and the Glove, that are of deep romantic sentiment. I loved the former but grew ever so slightly irritable (the tiniest bit) with the later which seemed a mere rehashing of the first. Machado must have irritated himself because by the time he gets to Brás Cubas, he is unimpressed with the heart’s tireless ability to fall in love. Or so he pretends. His unromantic examination of the illicit loves and lovers in this story is countered by moments of small acts of kindness (accidental or not) and true love, which exposes the all-too-common human fear of exposing sentiment. Reeling from his first broken heart, determined to throw himself overboard a ship, Cubas encounters the captain of the ship who is a secret poet of sorts, composing odes to the moon and dirges for his dying wife. Inspired by this contradiction of a tough ‘manly’ exterior and poet-boy interior, Cubas goes on to love another day.

“A storm coming up?” I said.
“No,” he replied; “no; I am drinking deep of the splendor of the night. Look: is it not heavenly!”
His style of speech belied the apparent nature of the man, rough and wholly alien to flowery phrases. I stared at him; he appeared to relish my surprise. After a few seconds, he took me by the hand and and pointed to the moon, asking me why I did not compose an ode to the night. I replied that I was not a poet (46).

The problem with love is that it resembles madness, and Cubas has a fear (and fascination) of insanity. He falls in love with Virgilia, the woman of the “opportune moment”  above, and although their love may  have come to its moment, the moment, unfortunately, has gone to her marriage to another man. But, in the very spirit of Machado’s earlier romantic stories, the heart loves whom the heart loves. The difference here is that Cubas is somewhat stingy with his love, which in the end means he is stingy with his very life. To be a poet of one’s life is to let the madness touch the soul, let the heart swell with the moon. Otherwise one’s story ends on the negative. Not in the sense of an antonym of the positive, but in the sense of a void, a nullification…a worm eaten meaninglessness.

I have half a mind to delete this chapter. Some may find it offensive. Yet, after all, these are my memoirs, prudish reader, not yours (151).

Dirge of the Efemulated

It seems she had a sudden fit of insanity while shopping at the market. 
–Rosa Rosà,  A Woman With Three Souls (part 7.)


F.T. Marinetti, the de facto head of the Futurism movement of the early 20th century, was a pretty prolific articulator of the ideas and aims the ‘anti-artistic’ movement sought. Whatever one thinks of the art that resulted, his manifesto, printed in Le Figaro (although Italian, Marinetti often wrote in French for French audiences whom he particularly sought approbation) is set at a high pitch. The movement proclaimed allegiance to  speed! and youthful vigor! But things, for me,  go off the rails in his 11 point diatribe. Here, for instance,  is number 9: “We will glorify war–the world’s only hygiene–militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for and scorn for woman,” at the risk of pointing out the obvious, it is pretty odious and ridiculous. Given no. 9, it may surprise one that there were women involved in the movement (interestingly, many of them not native to Italy).

She was fading away and disappearing like a ghost, yet retained, until the last second, her self-awareness, amazed and frightened by the aggression of the new personality (part 1.)

Rosa Rosà, née Edith von Haynau, born in 1884 Vienna, was one such woman. She married an Italian journalist and changed her name, rejecting her bourgeois upbringing for the progressive, exciting promise of Futurism! (I feel that the exclamation point should be henceforth included to indicate the intensity as well as, subversively, the silliness). Rosa Rosà was the mother of four children and her views of what it could mean, in the future, to be a woman are quite interesting and truly progressive. I am not sure how she stomached the vitriol that permeated Futurism! at large, but her ideas were refreshing: embracing the potent sensuality of femininity alongside the power of the maternal feminine.

Giorgina Rossi was young, but her youth was starting to collect dust (part 1.).

Never mind the scorn, it was the indifference and decomposing dust that interested Rosa Rosà. Her short novel, The Woman With Three Souls is a fascinating consideration of the female side of Futurism.

Briefly stated, Madame Rossi is altered by a lightning strike which hits the chemical lab of Professor X (maybe Y or Z, I can’t remember–they consult one another–the point is, X, Y or Z is alarmed at the strange going-ons within the lab and hires a detective agency to investigate whether the effects of the event have permeated outside of the laboratory walls. They have).

A variety of different sensations had converged in one central point. She felt a great surge of vitality, in her very being, altering her personality and her thought process. Her feminine sensibilities seemed to multiply exponentially in a passionate burst of sensuality that had been completely unfamiliar to her until that moment (part 3.).

This nondescript, (not ugly but unattractive) woman is suddenly infused with her own sensuality, she experiences an “intense vitality “ and is “endowed with predatory instinct” (part 8.).

Giorgina, within days, passes through three metamorphoses. The first is the sensual woman. Pejoratively stated: the femme fatale, but her’s is a realization and communication of the sensuality of her sex.

The second is her intellectualization. Posited as a masculine trait I went off on a tangent to find a word that denotes the female equivalent of ‘emasculate.’ Sadly, I was unsuccessful. I resorted to coining my own: hence, ‘efemulate.’ How else to describe the notion that one’s essence can be stripped by emulating the opposite sex– or, more pointedly, the expectations of the behavioral norms of the opposite sex? When Giorgina stands on the market square intellectually raving, the reaction to her sudden efemulated metamorphosis starkly exposes the historically  limited view of femininity.

[Giorgina was driven to] eloquently deliver an illogical speech, replete with vague scientific terms, describing with ease marvelous discoveries that do not exist” (part 8.).

News of her ravings makes the front page of the papers alerting professors X, Y and Z to the anomaly’s effect. The name of the paper is The Awakening and I couldn’t help wondering if the reference to Kate Chopin’s brilliant novel was intentional.  After all, only some thirty years separates the stories’ publications and compellingly overlapping theme of a woman’s autonomy being seen as a form of insanity.

But it is the third soul and metamorphosis of Giorgina that is especially moving. Writing a punctilious letter to her traveling husband about the mundane trivialities of her days and the going rate of beets, she suddenly includes an epic sensibility for the infinitude of love:

You are not here, and I love you. I love you without knowing who you are or where you are. I do not know if you are a body, if you are a soul, or if you are simple the projection into the Infinite of all my desires, of my thirst for Unreality” (part 8.).

She poignantly articulates the profundity of love, and maternal love, which is really, simply universal love. It is not the individuality of love, but rather the universality of love (a love for all babies) that is one of the keenest effects of motherhood.

I love you more than ever, because I know this love will never try to invade this remote corner of freedom, which must be my own” (part 8.)

Nevertheless, the status of ‘the wife’ or ‘the mother’ has, historically, reduced a woman. Not surprisingly, upon receiving the letter, Giorgina’s husband quickly returns home fearful of her sanity. A woman of sensuality, intellect and eternal love has long been considered mad.

Rosa Rosà’s optimistic take on Futurism! was that her woman of three souls would be the inevitable future: women would escape the dastardly quagmire of the madonna/whore complex; they would have intellectual freedom without the stigma of efemulation. In the future they would, at long last, be free to be women.

And Never Mind About The Bewilderment

Too bad for you, beautiful singer
unadorned by laurel
child of thunder and scapegoat alike
from “A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me”, Peter Gizzi

IMG_2641I was lent a few books written by the poet Peter Gizzi recently. One of which is was meant for German publication. It is a dual-language publication entitled, Totsein ist gut in Amerika. It had a section at the end entirely in German, which I therefore couldn’t understand– was it just an afterword? Biographical? It looked more interpretative, but as I don’t really know I amused myself wondering how the bits in English related to the  long consonant-heavy words written in relation to them. A digression, I will admit, but that is a quality I love about a physical book, the details that place it in a specific time and place, or in this case, misplace. First of all, reading and holding a book of poetry is a different experience from reading a single poem (particularly online), but one becomes more aware of the thing as an object when one is not the particular audience for whom the book was produced. I kind of delighted in experiencing the book from that slight oblique angle.

A chromosome has 26 letters, a gene just 4. One is a nation.
The other a poem.

- from “Eclogues”

Gizzi, a friend of the late Robert Seydel, (whose artwork adorns this edition’s cover and to whom the book is dedicated) shares Seydel’s sense and sensibility of arrangement. Writing is necessarily a process of  composition, but the arrangement is a subtle art: how one image, word, or sentence flows patiently to the waiting consideration sets the timbre. Gizzi’s poems are of an observer’s poignant acknowledgment of  the details that surround, strike a fancy, or sink into the soul.

23. In space the letterforms “I love” oscillate in waves.
– from “Apocrypha”

Threshold Songs published by Wesleyan Press has some of the same poems and is a lovely beautiful book: simply, but prettily, bound. It has a slightly more somber timber, and many of the poems have a tighter rhythm. “Modern Adventures at Sea” is the last piece– perfectly placed at the lingering end.  It is deeply affirming of our humanity: our questions, our barely controlled lives which are completely out of any real control. That we manage stay afloat most of the time is the miracle, adventure and beauty or our voyage.

When lost at sea
I found a voice,
alive and cresting,
crashing, falling
and rising. To drift,
digress, to dream
of the voices. Its
grain. To feel
its vibrations. Pitch.
Its plural noises.
To be upheld
in it, to love.

The last book was Ode: Salute to the New York School, it is a cento, (“a late Roman verse form made up of lines from other sources” (43)) in this case New York poets from the 50s to the 70s. In this breezy form something wonderful of the zeitgeist of that period shines through. In the back Gizzi delightfully explains that he “wanted to express the latent desire for lists and order, and to create a texture to accommodate the eros inherent in research” (43).  I love that. It’s true, of course! and so perfectly expressed I laughed aloud when I read it…accommodate the eros inherent in research, indeed!  What odd creatures we are!

To know is an extreme condition
like doubt, and will not rest.

–from “Nocturne”

Ultimately what I found so deeply appealing of these works is that Gizzi is not trying to know, not trying even to understand. His poetry, by a sort of reserved observation, therefore creates a simplicity of impact, and the reader feels it with poetic intimacy. The doleful beauty of it all– this life, its song, its journey, “just a little green untitled,” we are more than all that we see–there is goodness here.

Lines Depicting Simple Happiness

The shine on her buckle took precedence in sun
Her shine, I should say, could take me anywhere
It feels right to be up this close in tight wind
It feels right to notice all the shiny things about you
About you there is nothing I wouldn’t want to know
With you nothing is simple yet nothing is simpler
About you many good things come into relation
I think of proofs and grammar, vowel sounds, like
A is for knee socks, E for panties
I is for buttondown, O the blouse you wear
U is for hair clip, and Y your tight skirt
The music picks up again, I am the man I hope to be
The bright air hangs freely near your newly cut hair
It is so easy now to see gravity at work in your face
Easy to understand time, that dark process
To accept it as a beautiful process, your face


* Title from “Periplum” pg. 182 Totsein Ist Gut In Amerika
** “just a little green untitled” from “Fin Amor” Totsein ist Gut in Amerika pg.148

Drinking the Stars

“We can’t always be unlucky, in my experience. And so, my dear friend: courage, patience, and resignation” (Barbe-Nicole Clicquot quoted 117).
Tilar J. Mazze, The Widow Clicquot 


A few years ago when I was in the restaurant business I had the pleasure of attending a champagne tasting hosted by Veuve Clicquot. A champagne tasting! Hosted by The Widow! It was quite a treat.  The gentleman who led the event was one of the nine vintors that was employed by the company. He delighted our taste buds with comparative joys and regaled us with tales of the company’s history while mentioning  a book that had been written about the widow Clicquot. The book has remained in my memories until recently when I finally requested it from my library.

“Come quickly! I am drinking the stars!”  (apocryphal quote of Dom Pérignon 31) 

“I am drinking the stars” – oh, how lovely, gee I hope he said it!  The account of the history of “the devil’s wine,” (as was dubbed by those, like Pérignon, who was actually enlisted to rid the wine of the damnable bubbles that erupted in the processing) is a fascinating story on both historical and technical grounds.

The  champagne that François and Barbe-Nicole tasted wouldn’t have been a pretty blond color, either. We would probably describe it as rosé. The finest wines from the region were a brownish pink. In fact, one of the earliest uses of the word champagne as a color described it not as the pale golden straw hues of the twentieth century, but as “a faint reddish colour like Champagne wine” (26).

In these very early days of champagne production, (to which we have the English, rather than the French, to thank for its earliest appreciation) Barbe-Nicole Clicquot and her husband began their company. But before it was even establish, M. Clicquot died. The story of how the twenty-seven year old widow carried on and audaciously made the company what it is, as well, along the way, inventing techniques to improve the production and quality, is quite remarkable.

In the end I did find the book to be somewhat wanting. It is unfortunate that there is a dearth of emotional content to fill out the sketch of this remarkable woman but I became impatient with the attempts to fill in or speculate as to what Clicquot (or anyone else) may or may not have been seeing, thinking or feeling at any given time–I can’t help feeling that this would have made an excellent article for the New Yorker rather than a full length book. Nevertheless, it remains a fascinating and delicious bit of history. Yes, we are drinking the stars!

*Photo from a delightful pin-up calendar of harvesters and  winemakers: http://punchdrink.com/articles/behold-a-calendar-of-nude-french-wine-harvesters/


Things got out of…hand

My son Marco is in the soon-to-be-released indy film, The Strange Eyes of Dr. Myes. It pleases me excessively to see him in the trailer…


the water’s fine

“All art is or was modern in its time, daring and new, demonstrating a constant change in seeing and feeling. If revival had been a perpetual virtue, we still would live in caves and earth pits. In art, tradition is to create, not to revive.” – Josef Albers, Design, 1946 (quoted in The Arts at Black Mountain College, Mary Emma Harris, 107).

Robert Motherwell, Ile of France, 1945

Robert Motherwell, Ile of France, 1945

My last gasp of summer reading that I squeezed in came from my interest in Black Mountain College – ostensibly a quasi precursor to the college where I graduated high school from (North Carolina School of the Arts – they have a high school for the arts within the University). But I didn’t know of that confluence until nearly the end of my reading. What I did know was that Black Mountain College was a really interesting and influential place. Lasting twenty-four years with a total of around thirteen hundred students (1933-1957) in the mountains of North Carolina, an experiment in education was lived out. A spirited, innovative, creative, floundering, democratic ideal of what a meaningful education alive in the world might look like.

Clemens Kauscher, Lake With Dock,1948

Clemens Kauscher, Lake With Dock,1948

Albers felt that “only dynamic possession is fertile–materially as well as spiritually.” He distinguished between the usual possessiveness or industriousness of the student who mindlessly accumulates and memorizes facts and theories to be regurgitated on an exam to please the teacher and the “dynamic possession” of the student for whom experience and action is an integral part of the learning process (15).

Peter Voulkos, Round Bottle, CA., 1953

Peter Voulkos, Round Bottle, CA., 1953

Albers, one of the founders of Black Mountain College had been a teacher at the Bauhaus.  Fleeing Germany and its fascist government, the ideals of democracy, particularly the expansion of community interests flourishing through hands-on education and art, in both the form and function of aesthetics and creative expression, were some of the very progressive and fascinating experimental ideas in the Black Mountain College education.

“What is the nature of an experimental action? It is simply an action the outcome of which is not foreseen. –  John Cage, Silence, 1961 (quoted, 107).

Alexander Reed, Untitled Drawing

Alexander Reed, Untitled Drawing

My interest was peaked by the truly impressive array of artists and thinkers that took part in the experiment. Besides, Alders, some of the notable participants (to me) were Cage, Buckminster Fuller, Allen Ginsburg, Willem De Kooning, Charles Oslon, Robert Creeley, Anaïs Nin, William Carlos Williams, Merce Cunningham, as well as the artist whose work I have included here….it just goes on and on…amazing. Anni Albers, Josef’s wife, brought her extraordinary weaving and textile skills to the college, which I mention not only because they are beautiful but also because the artificial separation between “craft” and “art” was consciously ignored at Black Mountain College. Art for art’s sake is wonderful, but art in form and function is also a worthy pursuit requiring a finger to remain on the pulse of the mundane in a way that Art needn’t, necessarily. And we need art in both the profane and sacred realms…a teacup can transport just as well as a tempest, after all.

The visionary aspects of Black Mountain were holistic, ambitious in their creative freedom, and obviously difficult to maintain – how does one administrate an institution that stands for anti-administration and anti-institutional ideals? Not easily, and not for very long, apparently. But that is hardly the point. The point is that people try – they try over and over again, and the creative results are extraordinary, the human inspiration invigorating. Everything is cyclical, but to have the nerve and verve to let the cycle run is a testament to the spirit of life.

Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled, 1952

Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled, 1952

Today, it seems to me, so much emphasis is put on the material concept of “success.” “Failure” is anathema to our culture – but it is truly the “failures” that make life flourish. That’s where all the beauty and all meaningful success is fomented.  That is one thing Bucky Fuller’s genius proved, with his “magical world of his mathematical models” (151), he was, after all, the self-proclaimed most successful failure ever!  And any school that strove to recognize that is pretty great, and successful, in my book.

Undaunted, [by the failure of his geometric dome due to cost cutting inadequate materials] Fuller explained that failure is a part of experimentation and that “you succeed when you stop failing” (151).

I would only add that success, and learning, depend upon it.


*All photographs (except for the Reed drawing) are out of another very fine book, Black Mountain College: Experiments in Art edited by  Vincent Katz, in which four long essays accompany copious images of the art produced and inspired by Black Mountain College.

** Title taken from John Cage’s poetic response to the controversy over an exhibition of Rauschenberg’s all white paintings in 1953, (page 230):

To Whom
No subject
No image
No taste
No object
No beauty
No talent
No technique (no why)
No idea
No intention
No art
No feeling
No black
No white no (and)

After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing in these paintings that could not be changed, that they can be seen in any light and are not destroyed by the action of shadows.

Hallelujah! the blind can see again; the water’s fine.

John Cage, Printed in Emily Genauer’s column in the New York Herald Tribune, December 27, 1953.





The Planet is a Hummingbird

The stream & the poem, & no-sky,
what I write, worn down, in the apt
in the dust. & every piece of paper &
every nub of ink & every key of the type
writer is a bird (8). – Robert Seydel, The Book of Ruth

IMG_2699I spent some of my work hours these past few days assisting (in a very minor capacity) in the hanging of the Robert Seydel show soon to be shown in the Neilson Library at Smith College. Seydel’s The Book of Ruth (2011) was being published at the time of the artist and poet’s unexpected death. It is a beautiful, moving, and poignantly whimsical novel (broadly construed) of Seydel’s alter-ego Ruth. Ruth lives with her brother  Sol (or Saul); she is friends with Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell (she is in love with Cornell); she is full of stray thoughts collected into a nest of her rather lovely soul.


I’ve been studying my hat. Men twitch at it, very clearly, or they don’t, in the street. So odd, feathers on a woman’s head. Sometimes I imagine all sorts of things. When i walk *** the pavement tilts up to me, to delineate my way. A sensation then of glory sometimes.  A STaR at my forehead. Roussell-vision. Ruth of the tents. Boulevard Queen. But a rabbit more likely (on my path). Hare under hat. Mine’s no longer so lustrous. Does Joseph notice? (116)

I love everything about that passage. Its stark femininity: woman, Queen- that’s Boulevard Queen, thank you very much! rabbit- Ha! yes – more likely…and oh don’t I know a thing or two about lusterless hair?!…Seydel poetically conjures his aunt: a woman, clearly, of profound sensibility, described by her nephew: a man of complex artistry. The confluence is a visual wonder, and a moving narrative of the heart as told by the mind.

The mind runs poorly but is still sweet (66).


The book is beautiful, and the show of Seydel’s work (notebooks, collages, pieces of Book of Ruth) is extraordinary in its comprehension of the power of Seydel’s voice and vision.

Art is fodder for the day I need. Flushing is next to heaven, Joseph: Park Way to the star. I love you. Love my lob-stir art. The green things near the store sprout. Sol shld be sun unto himself. Let me dance, moon to sun, crossing w/ my picture. The rabbits /are/ the stars.

or let’s be as someone sd Americans are

I was struck by so many of Seydel’s lines, sucked into an eddy of philosophical musings (a weakness of mine, I’ll admit)…just one, which gives this post its title, was on page 66, “The planet is a hummingbird.” Yes, I think to myself, and I can’t help holding the bird’s animated image in my mind while pondering that line, and yes, we flutter and hum, we are at constant motion, looking for something sweet, all a shimmering blue and green, fragile, pulsing planet….we are the planet, we are a hummingbird.



* Robert Seydel: The Eye in Matter exhibition in the Book Arts Gallery of Neilson Library, Smith College, September 2–December 15, 2014.