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 

dip-3

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/

Video

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.

IMG_2702

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).

IMG_2704

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
AMATEURS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE. (137)

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.

IMG_2708

 

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

A Bit of Naughty-Naughty

When Henry Miller’s novel The Tropic of Cancer, appeared in 1935, it was greeted with rather cautious praise, obviously conditioned in some cases by a fear of seeming to enjoy pornography (95).
– George Orwell, from the essay Inside the Whale,  in All Art is Propaganda

IMG_2651

Ah, Henry Miller. We have something going on….Henry and I…. It began in the spring when I was bemusedly alerted by a shallow online quiz that my literary soulmate was M. Miller himself. Well. What to make of that, I hardly knew. I decided I better at least read his work which I wrote about here and where I blathered on a bit about the literary soulmate bit and Tropic of Cancer.

For the most part it is a story of bug-ridden rooms in workingmen’s hotels, of fights, drinking bouts, cheap brothels, Russian refugees, cadging, swindling and temporary jobs. And the whole atmosphere of the poor quarters of Paris as a foreigner sees them–the cobbled alleys, the sour reek of refuse, the bistros with their greasy zinc counters[...]the peculiar sweetish smell of the Metro, the cigarettes that come to pieces[...]–it is all there, or at any rate the feeling of it is there.
On the face of it no material could be less promising (96) -
 George Orwell, Inside the Whale.

Miller and I took some heat for my praise, but then, by pure good fortune I worked with a beautiful poet/artist/activist Cecilia Vicuña this summer and on my first day of work discovered that she had had a small but lovely correspondence with Miller. She adored him, his love and passion for life. I told her the trouble I was having convincing people of his (rather lovely) sincerity, she confirmed, on a personal level, what I had felt reading his book.

Good novels are not written by orthodoxy-sniffers, nor by people who are conscience-stricken about their own orthodoxy. Good novels are written by people who are not frightened. This brings me back to Henry Miller (129).

That, Orwell writes, after a thirty-something page discourse on the history of early 2oth century literature and the effect of politics: fascism, communism, laissez-faire capitalism and many more isms on writers and literature. But, yes– Miller, where were we?- after another of his novels Black Spring, was thrown on my path I started to wonder what was in the water–what was in my water?!  Over the course of the summer as I worked archiving collections of books, books about books, and the art of books with Granary Books, as well as Vicuña’s archive and copious notes and writing….I had compiled a long list of artists, poets, and books that I would read when I got some time. Orwell’s All Art is Propaganda was one of those books. He is, by far, one of my favorite essayist, and what a title! Imagine my lack of surprise when after flipping around reading the essays in odd order as to my interest, I came upon a quite long (45 p.) essay all about, yes, my dear soulmate Henry.

The truth is that in 1917 there was nothing that a thinking and sensitive person could do, except to remain human, if possible (136).

Inside the Whale is sweeping, discursive, and at the very heart, brilliantly true. Orwell elucidates on the conditions which make good novels possible, how politics affect writers, directly or obliquely, and how Miller’s insouciance, and refusal to get taken in by the flimsy dictats of nation, class, and persuasion, is so sincerely expressed that one can, if one lets oneself, marvel at his genius (a human scale of genius, but genius can be writ small).

Progress and reaction have both turned out to be swindles. Seemingly there is nothing left but quietism–robbing reality of its terrors by simply submitting to it. Get inside the whale–or rather, admit that you are inside the whale (for you are, of course). Give yourself over to the world-process, stop fighting it; simply accept it, endure it, record it. That seems to be the formula that any sensitive novelist is now likely to adopt. A novel on more positive, “constructive” lines, and not emotionally spurious, is at present very difficult to imagine (138).

Orwell’s essay is fascinating historically, but his concerns and thoughts transport the mere temporal- finding a way to stay human in any time is the challenge. For myself, I’m convinced Miller met that challenge, and had fun doing it, I am convinced he had a good heart, and if that is what makes a soulmate for me – I’ll take it.

*title from: From a mere account of the subject-matter of Tropic of Cancer most people would probably assume it to be no more than a bit of naughty-naughty left over from the ‘twenties (97).

The Luminous Interval

But O the sudden blasts of earth that sweep my breasts
and shake me to the bone!
O Zeus, the seas are heavy, and my unloosened locks
sink me like a stone.
-
Ángelos Sikelianós,  from Anadyomene, (211) – Modern Greek Poetry,  translation and introduction by Kimon Friar

IMG_2606

Eric Ryan doing underwater archaeology work in the Aegean Sea

It is a different experience to read a translator’s monograph, rather than a poet’s. Kimon Friar’s book, Modern Greek Poetry is comprised of the work of some thirty poets, but of course, the words come from one man: Friar. He begins his compilation with a very interesting history of Greek poetry and language, or languages- one written one spoken which began the split, but which has never been, Friar explains, so different from each other as the English of Beowulf would be to a modern English reader- despite twice the length of time which separates modern Greek from Classical compared to modern and Old English (13).  He then gives a short history of the “schools” of modern Greek poetry and the major poets within.

No cleft can be widened without desire of widening
Sometimes we become hourglasses
And sponges throb to every single drop of ours
-Andréas Embirícos, from Moment of Porphyry (351)

Poetry is a language of darts meant to pierce one’s soul. There were many poems in this book which took my breath away, and many instances, as in the excerpt above where I marveled at the skill of Friar- his use of the word “cleft,” left me in awe. Of course it is entirely possibly that it’s just me, but that’s as it will be, I found the word to be the door into the entire poem, grounding it in the corporal, the consonants’ journey from back of the throat to teeth, sensual and powerful. I don’t read Greek, I have no way of knowing if it is simply a case of a perfect transposing, or if Friar had to truly translate, search his mind to find the word that would transport a reader such as I.

OF SLEEP
I

Sleep came and lay between us
like a rival. He took your eyes
and closed them; he took your lips
and swept away your smile and your kiss.

Your pale hair was combed by the tranquil
waters of Lethe that bore your beloved body
away to the world of stars and shadows.

Filters of silence are forcing your sealed lips,
sleep-living voices our ears, and in you veins
I hear the deep rumor of the voyage.

II

You have emerged from the depths of sleep
with stars and seashells in your hands
and in your eyes the dark coolness
       of seas.

When you open them, I want to be the first to receive
their glance, that I may capture before it fades
the meaning of that world which has kept you away
       the night long.

-Alexander Mátsas

It was through a conversation with fellow blogger and wonderful poet Tom Simard that I was pointed in the direction of this beautiful work of Friars, and I thank him for the recommendation.  Of the poet’s represented, I was only familiar with Constantine Caváfis, but there again, I find the translators’s hand a fascinating thing. Friar’s choice of which of Caváfis poems to include was revealing of what pierces his own soul, and then there is Ithaca.

Last year while reading Caváfis I was working as a caregiver, and one of my oldest clients (over 100) loved the poem Ithaca. We bonded over our mutual sentimental attachment to Greece, the work of my father (who died when I was two) was much influenced by the Aegean and she and her late husband had taken a sublime trip to Greece early on (they met and befriended Mark Rothko on the ship over) to see some newly discovered temples…she had a sweet spot in her mind for the memory and with such a long life, the theme of Ithaca moved her deeply. But there were many poems in my book of Caváfis of more, shall we say- passionate verse…I lent her the book and she was a bit bemused by her nobel Platonic Caváfis writing so much about love, or even lust! That, of course, was what I most loved about him, but she wasn’t so much amused by her discomfiture as I was – oh I do miss her. But I digress…Modern Greek Poetry is an ambitious yet focused book….truly lovely lovely lovely. O my heart.

from DE RERUM NATURA

I move my body, and my soul moves,
I put it to sleep, it sleeps.
I love, and my soul loves,
It tastes my body and my blood.
I sniff the air, and my soul sniffs also.

It is I who hunger, it is I who thirsts
In my soul, it is I who suffer.
It is I who wound my fingers

(…)

We shall never have enough, O my soul. - George Thémelis (325)

No, we shan’t.

* Title from prologue of Nikos Kazanantzákis’ poem  The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises. “We come from a dark abyss, we end in a dark abyss, and we call the luminous interval life” (164).