Sunday, October 31, 2010

Stranger in Town

Cedar Sigo's newest collection of poetry, Stranger in Town, is formidable and elegant.

The poems differ in style, but the mature, reflexive, and always verbally extremely talented voice of the writer is clear and consistent.

The poems have a polished and statuesque quality -- by which I mean they are perfectly crafted. But the fine technique is by no means formal and dry; there is a quiet, steady urgency to them. An emotional stirring. The writing is virile and muscular, yet delicate and fragile.

I guess what I'm responding to is a core current of content -- the expressive wonder and sometimes disillusionment of the poet in the world. The poet navigating life, love, art, sex, friendship, etc, but always, always navigating writing.

There were so many parts I loved in this book. If I had to choose a favorite poem (and I really really can't choose just one) it would be the prose piece Portrait of Sara Bilandzija which begins: "Not an utter stillness but one with a sometimes buried sometimes flickering spark. It was only to be uncovered via talk and subsequent closeness. Preparing tea without a tray."

Other moments that particularly moved me:

"There was one beauty there to sing
& another to divorce me,
Tell me I needn't fear, be kind"

-- From Song

"...None of this

concerns the poem as pure entrance,

what I have allowed & what I might do...

Fix myself against a long drink, write

out any trace of formal training in praise

of Jack. Go back and visit rulers of the interior.

Let loose our new books and prints."

-- From Showboat

And the final line of Simple Gift:

"Do not temper the spirit."

Friday, October 22, 2010


Well, I finally finished Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, and I have to say, Wow!

It's an in-depth exploration of the emotional lives and psychological struggles of an American family and it delves into a number of characters with such rich, complex, observant detail that I found myself kind of mesmerized.

When I first started it (about three weeks ago?) I was immediately sucked in. Then it dragged, then it picked it up, and then it ended in a wonderful, powerful way. Left me crying and I will miss the Berglunds' presence in my life.

I have to say, my favorite part was the first half, the story of Walter and Patty growing up, their college years, the early part of their marriage. There was something lingeringly anti-climactic about the body of the book; in a way it never completely lived up to its promising start (much like all the characters).

But in the end I was won over. By his prose, by the devotion to each of the characters -- none of whom were totally likable, but all of whom were written with compassion and true authorly respect.

This book has gotten a lot of high praise, and it is certainly impressive and wonderful. However, as great a read as it was, I don't see this as such a groundbreakingly phenomenal literary feat that it seems it is being touted to be. Still, like I said, a great read.

Dusty Boynton at Denise Bibro Fine Art

Last night I went to a wonderful exhibit of art by Dusty Boynton! Dusty Boynton: Out of Line at Denise Bibro Fine Art in Chelsea is a really exciting exhibit of deceptively raw and childlike art. The paintings and drawings sort of crackle with emotion and suggested narrative.

There is something fun and joyous about this work, at the same time that there are dark and kind of frightening undercurrents. I guess that's what I mean by the word "crackle" -- there is so much visceral tension that you can almost hear the energy in the work.

The press release for the show states: "Boynton's new series of works on paper are rendered with exuberant, gestural zest, as she continues to delve deep into the realms of the inner child, emotional conflict, and psychology." This description very accurately captures my experience of the art: alive, happy, sophisticated and dark.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cedar Sigo at the Poetry Project

Last night I saw Cedar Sigo read at the Poetry Project! He is one of my favorite poets. Like all my favorite poets, he has a uniquely personal voice, an intimate ear and so much thoughtfulness, so much intelligence, so much loveliness in those poems.

He gave a great reading. But, since I bought his book and am going to read it this weekend, I'll write more about his work then.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mark Ettinger and Jim Page at Maryhouse

Last night I got to see Mark Ettinger, a beautiful and fun singer-songwriter perform with Jim Page. They were MARVELOUS.

They performed at Maryhouse in the East Village, home to The Catholic Worker, the radical socialist wing of the Catholic Church. The room was filled with protest posters and stacks of the paper, The Catholic Worker.

Mark and Jim were so great! They played to the intimate audience with so much virtuosity and ease. Jim played guitar and sang his songs with Mark playing bass and doing harmonies. The songs were traditional folk/protest songs and they were all very well written. Both performers have lovely voices that work very well together.

I was particularly moved by an anti-Columbus Day song, perhaps because of the timing. I was also struck by a song about "ghost bikes"-- because recently I read about a "ghost stroller" in my neighborhood (which apparently people think was an art project/joke, and not a memorial to a child).

Mark also sang his own songs, which were upbeat and beautiful. His friend Kate harmonized with him, and these pieces really brought the audience together and made for a great night.

I'm so glad I got to go!

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Last night I saw Howl at the Angelika.

It was wonderful, a really tight, beautiful, small, focused, important film.

It's focus is really the poem itself. How many movies, if any, have been made about a poem?

Several main sequences are interwoven: Allen Ginsburg reading the poem to an audience; an animated rendition of the poem; the obscenity trial surrounding the film; and a long interview with Allen Ginsburg. Spliced with the interview are small scenes of his early life.

I thought each worked surprisingly well. James Franco was perfect as Allen Ginsburg, and the interview segments were wonderful, so calm and human and writerly; it really seemed to capture the mind and orientation of the artist to the world and to his art. The animated sequences totally worked for me (although I can see people having trouble with them), and really showed a kind of underbelly of the poem. Least interesting to me was the obscenity trial, although the judge's speech at the end was beautiful and provided an important narrative arc to the movie, sort of establishing and foreshadowing the social and artistic impact Howl was to have.

I was very moved by this film, teared up at the end when they told what happened to each person, showing their actual pictures; and then, finally, Allen Ginsburg himself...

censory impulse

I read Erica Kaufman's collection of poems, censory impulse, last weekend in one sitting and it was wonderful.

There is a mysterious, intimate narrative arc to the whole book. Although each poem is excellent, I think censory impulse is not a book to be flipped through and read from here and there (as sometimes read poetry). Taken from beginning to end, something happens between these poems, a subtle transformation of voice, a coming to light.

Which is not to say the poems don't stand alone. Usually when I read poetry I put an asterisk on top of the page of poems I particularly like. This books is now littered with asterisks, as each one is beautiful and stands up with its own solid perfection.

One of many favorites:

via more than just warnings
i need to figure out how
to deal with being modern.

tenacious to consider anything
outside the physical. prefer
mucous to aggression, asthma

to"there's meaning for you
here." my only hobby is
to sketch my own profile.

a continuity scheme all dressed
up and feverish. turn to odor
for incarnations of our story.

presumed casual relations
begin with a broad concept
of the other. develop

the feeling component. sense
impressions turn around. shine
a spotlight. serve as a hub.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sara Powers and Jonathan Dixon at Barbes

Last evening I heard two wonderful prose writers read at Nelly Reifler's series at Barbes.

Sara Powers read from a novel in progress that follows a number of characters from college through the next thirty years of their lives. Her prose is very sharp, insightful, and lovely. The descriptions of college are spot on, unsentimental yet at the same time suffused in a subtle nostalgia.

Jonathan Dixon read from a blog/memoir about his time in culinary school. Again, spot on descriptions. Tight and witty prose. Very funny in fact. He is a very talented writer.

I am very much looking forward to reading these works when they are out.