Wednesday, January 30, 2008

And all the fucking just seemed so sad

I finally saw Kara Walker at the Whitney. It was kind of a weird experience. So many of the cut-outs were familiar to me from all the press the show has been getting, and there was something under-whelming or off about them. Not that they weren't powerful and not that in real life the installations aren't more complex and evocative, but I just felt kind of lost and sad, like I was inside the head or the sketchbook of a very lone and tormented soul. And I didn't like the feeling.

At the same time, I thought the images were very beautiful, but I felt guilty about this. White liberal guilt, of course. Where there's oppression, there you will find beauty. Perhaps. (??)

I was most taken by the video installations, where the cut-out sillhouettes were treated like puppets (I'm sure there's a very common term for this and that I am a retard), they were on sticks, moving to a story line. And all the fucking just seemed so sad. I had a very creepy sense of being a child and being exposed to intrusive and scary sexual stuff that I don't understand by that I know is icky.

Anyway, I thought it was brilliant, but I didn't like how it made me feel.

It reminded me of Henry Darger, being inside the twisted and intimate imagination of a very unique and talented mind.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lydia Davis in The Believer

I read a terrific Lydia Davis interview in The Believer. Her writing, which is so purposeful and unique, oppressively so, makes it very clear that she has to be a purposeful and unique thinker, which she is. She talks about the difference between stories and poems, a kind of obvious question given how short and penetrating her stories are. She talks about stories having to be more elastic, and containing some element of narrative, no matter how thin or elusive, how intimate or coded.

She mentions a number of writers who I'm now more curious about, several of whom I've never heard of: Edson, Peter Altenberg, Francis Ponge (who I love), Rae Armantrout...

Rear Window

After a long day at work, feeling overwhelmed, stressed and exhausted -- nothing better than Hitchcock and Chinese food. I always like Rear Window, there is a sweetness to it. A naivete. That capturing such contrived vignettes of people's lives can give you insight into them, that you can see depth. The depth just isn't there. Its never more than a pantomime on a Hollywood set. But that's what's so good and watchable about it. It never really makes you uncomfortable. You never feel like a voyeur. Because, in this movie, no one's privacy is invaded. Everyone is so clearly performing. And yet it works for me. Like Chinese food and miniature Milky Ways.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Grizzly Man

David and I watched this documentary at his house this afternoon. It came highly recommended by a professor of mine. It is a fascinating and depressing story of this confused, good-natured, but poorly adjusted fellow who goes off to live among the grizzlies in Alaska every summer. He does this for over a decade, and takes incredibly beautiful, clear shots of the bears and other animals. The director, Werner Herzog includes more awesome footage of the landscape. The guy, whose name I've already forgotten, is a bit of a narcissistic weirdo, and you feel kind of embarrased for him playing in front of the camera. There is something so child-like in his self-absorption that you forget that he has placed himself in a very seriously dangerous situation. There are shots of him talking to bears and tapping them on the noses! Eventually he and his girlfriend are mauled to death by one of them. You see footage filmed just hours before their death. David thinks if he hadn't died it wouldn't have been interesting, but I think it still would have been a unique character study. Although obviously his death adds pathos and drama.

The Weight of Water

My brother and I watched this horrendous movie at his house last night. It was dreadfully slow. A photographer is on an assignment about a 100+ years old murder of two women, and she and her husband and another couple try to make a relaxing weekend out of it. The non-tension between the couples is juxtaposed with a not uninteresting story about a household of sexually repressed Norwegian settlers. Elizabeth Hurley is gorgeous, but pointlessly so. Sean Penn is in it too, inexplicably, and he looks painfully bored and uncomfortable throughout. At one point my brother said, "I don't know who I feel sorrier for, us for having to watch it, or them for having to learn the lines and act it." Well I suspect they got paid a lot more for their pain than we did for ours.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

For Your Consideration

I watched this last night at my brother's house. It's by Christopher Guest and is along the lines of Waiting for Guffman, etc. Cast comprised of all the usual suspects. Although their humor and style has become a bit overly familiar at this point, it was still very enjoyable. Largely because of the performances. It's about the making of a terrible movie, Home for Purim, it's promotion and reception, all amid bogus rumours of an Oscar nomination. My ever and always favorite is Catherine O'Hara who, as far as I'm concerned, steals the show in everything she's ever been in.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Team America: World Police

A little boring, a little cool. A little funny, a little infantile. Nothing much of this and nothing much of that. Not the worst way to spend an hour and a half of one's life, but there are many, very many better ways.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Dancing Tableaux Vivants

Tonight I went to a wonderful performance and lecture with Bill T. Jones and an English Professor named Arden Reed at the Metropolitan Museum. I brought my class and a few friends of mine. It was an unusual evening that started with an excerpt from a Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane piece called Artful Time: Dancing Tableaux Vivants. An unusually heavy man sat on a stool with his back to the audience, a white sheet wrapped around his waist, and a woman in male-type underpants stood to the right, also with her back to the audience. She had a sheet that was wrapped around her head (I think, now I'm not sure anymore) and flowed to the floor. She twisted it very very slowly, manipulating it in a beautiful way. They both moved incredibly slowly. Incredibly slowly in this hauntingly beautiful way. They were kind of like ghosts and statues at the same time, and there was this thick loneliness that I am beginning to think I see everywhere.

Then Arden Reed and Bill T. Jones talked about stillness and movement and looking, and Arden Reed talked about tableaux vivants. The whole time slides were being shown in the background and at one point they showed this awesome film that was Bill T. Jones dancing, except it was very very slowed down. I mean, maybe I'm remembering it wrong but I think they stretched four seconds of movement into eight minutes. It was creepy and strange watching that degree of slowness, and you could really, really see the shapes the body takes when it moves. It was one of the most eerie things I've ever seen. There was an inhuman quality to it that I can't explain. Watching it was kind of challenging, it produced an actual physical sensation in me and made me slightly lightheaded.

The evening ended with another excerpt from Artful Time, and it was wonderful to see it again. All the talk about seeing, and illusion, and time, and presence and absence, brought me so much more deeply into the piece. Sometimes too much contextualizing and explaining of art makes it less compelling to me, more like, "oh yeah I get it, what next?" But this opened up the experience for me in a way that made me feel graced, if that makes any sense.

Also, the lighting was wonderful. Because it was so still and slow, you looked at the stage very much like a painting (or tableaux, duh!), and the bodies, the drapery and the lighting itself was beautiful on its own.

I also want to add (I know this is getting long-winded and indulgent) that I think Bill T. Jones is a genius. I've heard him speak and seen his company perform before and I truly think he is one of the greatest artists of our time. When he talks about being an artist, about being present to the world - the phenomenal world as a poet I know would say - and to our bodies and emotions, about resisting so much of what is deadening in our culture, I feel inspired in the sense that there is something about living artistically that anyone can attain and which is profoundly important to be aware of, even just as a possibility. His complex and sophisticated use and understanding of narrative, poetry, movement, history, visual art, and memory is just astounding.

Okay, I'm done.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mr. Brooks

Oh, this movie was pretty terrible. I didn't hate watching it; it had some not quite totally cliche things in it. It wasn't terrible, but that might be the best thing I could say about it. I just needed something to watch, anything, after a long, long day of teaching.

Demi Moore is in it, looking severe and joyless as usual, and I will take this opportunity to say that I have always found her to be wooden, a very ungenerous, self-centered actress. I can't stand her in everything I've seen her in.

Jeni Olin at the Poetry Project

Last night, an incredibly fabulous reading by an incredibly, impossibly fabulous poet. Jeni Olin read a selection of new "pharmaceutical" poems and a few of her slightly less recent wonders from Blue Collar Holiday. Every poem is an intense, complex revelation. I've never heard poetry so dense and layered -- without being too... erudite? ... self-congratulatory? What I mean is, no one, absolutely no one but Jeni Olin can make so much happen at once. Anyone who hasn't read her work, well, they really need to.

from Ho Chi Minh:

I don't always seize the human pathetic moment
The fluctuating anguish of day-to-day, minute-to-minute living
Where you reign so transparent & in relief in my pantheon of failed crushes
I could make bark rubbings of your arterial tree
You could never leave me alone & then you could.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Eileen Myles in The Believer

I bought this issue yesterday because it has an interview with Lydia Davis in it and I am fascinated by Charles Burns; also The Believer online is where I heard of Dean Young.

I was thrilled to find an essay by one of my favorite poets and celebrities, Eileen Myles. "Lost in Canada: a 3,600-word advertisement for my missing notebook" is a meandering, casual, conversational piece of musings about, well, notebooks. Writer's notebooks. But it opens up in all these unexpected places. It's the best kind of essay, like you're in someone's mind. But not. The writing seems effortless. But not.

Because I'm a narcissist, it has to of course somehow resonate with my personal sense of inadequacy to be truly brilliant. So, the piece didn't make me want to write. It made me feel like shit for not being a writer. That means something is really, really good.

Here's an excerpt:

"... when I had broken my ankle jogging around the outside of the apartment building of someone I met at the MacDowell Colony and had a great affair with. Our affair brought on the end of her relationship so now she wouldn't see me so I was running. I thought she would feel my presences somehow. My proud urgency. I twisted my ankle on Sixth and C. It was like an earthquake of pain and two junkies who had just copped were standing there nodding right into my eyes. I'm howling in pain and they're thinking wow-pain. It was like we were in a museum and I was some Egyptian thing."

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Kinky, by Denise Duhamel, is a collection of poems imagining the interiority of Barbie. Barbie gets to travel and work and experiment with sex. She goes into therapy, and twelve step programs, toys with religion... All the while silenced, physically limited, incapacitated by her dollness. The wit of each poem is permeated by sadness of her impotency.

I am considering using some of them in my class on the body.

Here's a sample:

Antichrist Barbie

She could turn her head all the way around
like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.
Her bare high-heeled feet were begging to be nailed,
Jesus-style, to a cross. Mothers saw their daughters' dolls
levitate above pink carrying cases,
the tip upside down, arms straight out to their sides.
Barbie's an angel, cried the little girls who loved her,
who would mortgage their souls to be like her,
who would do anything she asked.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Born on the 4th of July

Middle brow melodrama with a message (war is bad, Vietnam was worse). Whatever; it was fine.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Frontline: Medicating Kids

I just reviewed this Frontline program, Medicating Kids, on the use of drugs for what I consider the very spurious diagnosis of ADD & ADHD. There are so many problems of logic with these behaviors that get labelled diseases and it is upsetting that the Frontline piece isn't more critical. Unfortunately I've found that they are often sensationalist and much more mainstream than I think they think they are. I will use this in my class as a glimpse of the mainstream side of the issue, have students try to look at the way the program is skewed, and give my lecture from the more critical perspective...

Friday, January 4, 2008


I didn't care for Persuasion, the movie that is. It's the only Austen novel I haven't read. The story is rich with a lot of emotional depth, and all the secondary characters are wonderful, particularly the heroine's hypochondriacal, whiny, manipulative sister Mary. But the main character herself left me cold. I didn't like the way the actress used her face and her big brown eyes. Always staring and looking mortified and being so subtle with any expressions of joy. I guess I just didn't like the actress. It's difficult because so much of her role was internal, but still I think someone else would have pleased me more. Also, the love story was so buried underground that the climax seemed to come out of nowhere. When her foppish father is asked for Anne's hand he says "You want to marry Anne? Whatever for?" It's a funny line, but honestly I felt the same way.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Poetry Project's 34 Annual New Year's Day Marathon Reading, St. Mark's Church

I enjoyed the first day of the new year, as I almost always do, at the Poetry Project's Marathon reading. However, this year I didn't volunteer and do the WHOLE thing, as I normally do. I was only there for about five hours.

It was, as always, wonderful. A really special and unique, yet comfortingly familiar, ritual. All the usual suspects were there. The same mixture of genres, etc.

Some highlights: John S. Hall wrote a 13-ways-of-looking-at-a-blackbird poem about cat vomit that was brilliant and that captured the unpleasant minutiae of my life with wonderful poetic precision; I wish I had written it. A beautiful performance by Philip Glass. The musical and existential genius of Sparrow/Foamola (my favorite song was the one that discusses how easy it is to mend a shirt compared to darning a sock, described as one of the top three rock songs ever written about sewing). And a walkie-talkie poem performed by Brendan Lorber. Half the poem was read over and out on a walkie-talkie, and it was really terrifically effective. And many others, as well as many poets that I was disappointed to miss...

I bought two poetry books: The Origin of the World, by Lewis Warsh, which I'm already in love with, and Satellite by Matthew Rohrer, whose A Hummock in the Malookas I loved when it first came out.

Yes, I loved my new year. I truly did.