Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Certain Slant of Sunlight

I just reread the truly special Ted Berrigan collection of poems, A Certain Slant of Sunlight. I hadn't read these in over a decade, and I experienced them as wondrously fresh today. It is one of my favorite book of poems. Although there are many wry  moments, and some mildly and humorously cranky, it's a book of poems that really carries the air and pleasure of sunlight hitting in a particular way. The poems all have Berrigan's unique conversational lyricism and almost all of them contain little surprises, unexpected turns of phrase. I remember once reading or hearing that art or poetry is supposed to make the familiar strange. I think Ted Berrigan's poems are so comforting and elevating because the both familiar and strange at the same time.

Famously these poems were all written on blank postcards, which gives them all a similar length, but within this space the poet goes in so many directions, and the poetry is more expansive than it is contained.

Here's one of many, many good ones:


 for Dick Jerome

How terrible a life is
And you're crazy all the time
Because the words don't fit
The heart isn't breakable
And it has a lot of dirt on it
The white stuff doesn't clean it & it can't
       be written on
Black doesn't go anywhere
Except away & there isn't any
Just a body very wet & chemistry
which can explode like salt & snow
& does so, often.

And some random favorite lines:

"never be born, never be died."

"... O lovely line that doesn't give an
    inch, but gives."

".... I had the unmistakable signature
of a mean spirit."

Friday, March 27, 2015

Free Cell

Years ago I had the pleasure of hearing Anselm Berrigan read from a wonderful long poem, "Have a Good One", at the Poetry Project. Since then, at so many random regular moments, when I hear myself saying "have a good one" to someone, I hear echos of that poem. So even though it took me over five years to finally sit down and read it, I feel like it's been a part of my quotidian life all this time, in a way that I thoroughly enjoy.

Free Cell contains three poems: "Have a Good One"; "Let Us Sample Protection Together"; and "To Hell With Sleep". The first and third poems are long, and the central poem is a sturdy two pages.

The book works marvelously as whole. I was mesmerized throughout "Have a Good One", drawn in and out through the writer's perceptions, images, declarative statements, and play with language. Humor woven through the whole, wry and quiet and smart.

Like I said, the phrase that the poem hinges on is such a familiar and regular utterance. Seeing it beginning each section, had a strange effect, as if I were walking through the poem and greeting each section as it began. This poem, and "To Hell with Sleep" are beautifully arranged on the page in non-traditional forms. My favorite sequences were those that began to the right and slanted down left. This did two things: something about it was vaguely trance-engaging, as the downward motion seemed accentuated; and something about it was jarring and disruptive, as the eye has to move counter to reading habit. The length of the poem is just perfect, the roaming quality, and the soft release at the end.

There are so many segments I want to share here, but most of my favorites are on the page in a way that I know this blog won't capture, so here's one that I particularly like and is all left justified:

Have a Good One

They went for it is not
the droid I'm looking to

for convivial disengagement
from soul. For that I've come

to your cadaver's waltz
of a special place for

lonely childhoods. I wasn't
lonely until just now, love

all around like an historical
landmark. They'll be

expansive, those original specs.
That rusted gate has to meet

its own dignitay. Get
as they say, your own.

Loneliness will merely gnaw
at our vocabulary.

The final poem, "To Hell with Sleep", has a veering, into and out of consciousness feel to it that also engages language through disruptions of expectations. Like "Have a Good One", it carries emotion and social observation within these lovely frames on the page.

The middle poem is really spectacular. I won't quote it in full, but it can be read here:

I am looking forward to reading more Berrigan poetry books!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Without/Color (Part II)

I was able to catch the second part of Figureworks' exhibition Without/Color yesterday. The first part explored the absence of color in three artists' work. On view now features three different artists. In these pieces the figure bursts forth. The richness of color in the two rooms carries nuanced levels for experiencing color and the human form.

Fred Hatt's drawings place various figures against a black background. They are drawn in differently colored lines, and looking at them is a marvelously dizzying experience where you see one form enter the next. Adding to this effect are 3-D glasses for the viewer. This separates out the different colors on the already dynamic drawings -- pulling forward some and enhancing the layering.

Each room of the gallery includes an arresting sculpture by Howard Eisman. These two pieces are made of fused glass on hammered copper, and in each a figure appears suspended. These pieces have so much going on in terms of sheen and the delight that comes through the surface of the sculptures. The seafoamy blue/green background of one turns to a deep indigo surrounding the joyfully embellished female.

Arlene Morris' paintings are truly fascinating. The surreal juxtaposition of imagery -- interiors alive with wildlife, including a blanket of blue owl faces -- provide a new take on the portrait and still life. Kahlo and H. Rousseau come to mind. I could look at these singular worlds forever, as each painting contains many discoveries and secrets.

The explosion of color in all three artists' work is even more powerful in the context of the earlier part of the show -- the memory of Without is a lovely unseen backdrop for this art. This show is on view until March 15, 2015 at 168 North 6th Street in Williamsburg.

(Pictured top is a detail from one of Hatt's drawings; next a detail from Eisman; two details from Morris' paintings)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Don't Let Me Be Lonely

Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine is a beautiful reflection on mortality and subjectivity in the late post-modern contemporary age. It is a prose poem divided into segments which are separated by images, usually a TV screen filled with static. The static seems to represent the noise of the larger commercial world that we are continually bombarded with and through which and in spite of which we strive to find perspective.

The writer's voice is filled with a warm sadness; it creates a gentle intimacy with the reader. The writer's subject is condition of being a body in the social world. Don't Let Me Be Lonely contains both longing and acceptance, mourning and loss, and finding "in this life in this place indicating the presence of."

An excerpt:

"It occurs to me that forty could be half my life or it could be all my life. On the television I am told I don't want to look like I am forty. Forty means I might have seen something hard, something unpleasant, or something dead. I might have seen it and lived beyond it in time. Or I might have squinted my eyes too many times in order to see it, I might have turned my face to the sun in order to look away. I might actually have been alive. With injections of Botox, short for botulism toxin, it seems I can see or be seen without being seen; I can age without aging. I have the option of worrying without looking like I worry. Each day of this life I could bite or shake doubt as if to injure or kill without looking as if anything mattered to me. I could paralyze facial muscles that cause wrinkles. All those worry and frown lines would disappear. I could purchase paralysis. I could choose that. Eventually paralysis would sink in, become a deepening personality that need not, like Enron's 'distorting factors,' distort my appearance. I could be all that seems, or rather I could be all that I am -- fictional. Ultimately I could face reality undisturbed by my own mortality."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

At This Moment

On view at the Shirely Fiterman Art Center at BMCC is a wonderful exhibition of faculty art, At This Moment. It features a range of styles and mediums and is a thoroughly dynamic and impressive show that includes numerous beautiful painting. The artists in the show are:
Marina Adams; Yevgeniya Baras; Aisha Tandiwe Bell; Tess Bilhartz; Robert Bunkin
Lynn Braswell; Simon Carr; Betty Copeland; Josephine Culkin; Tim D’Agostino; Elisa Decker; Donelle Estey; Eric Holzman; Ana Garces Kiley; Pat Genova; Xico Greenwald; Joseph Haske; Sarah Haviland; Ann Hjelle; Dikko Faust; Michael Leigh; Susan Leopold; Eva Machauf; Charles McGill; Crys Moore; Kazimira Rachfal; Thaddeus Radell; Jessica Ramirez; Judy Richardson; Owen Roberts; William Reed; Erik Saxon; Adele Shtern; Rachelle Street; Janet Esquirol Sylvan; AC Towery; Joan Thorne; Michael Volonakis; Phil Weisman; Amy Westpfahl; Nina S. Young.

The works I am posting here that I photographed during my visit to the gallery are "Chair Study: Presence or Absence" by Pat Genova which I thought was particularly evocative; a close up of Robert Bunkin's intense "Egyptian Head - Barnes"; a close up of the delicate and beautiful "sucede que mecanso de ser hombre" by Ana Garces Kiley; and the energetic and fun "Lamp" by Josephine Culkin.

It's definitely a great show!

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Overnighters

The Overnighters is an intricate documentary. It is a portrait of a unique man a local pastor (Reinke?) who helps home hundreds of job seekers in a small North Dakota town. At the same time it is an exploration of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness in the US today.

Unemployed job seekers from all over the country were drawn to the town in North Dakota because of its oil fracking business and the relatively high minimum wage of $15 an hour. Upon arriving many learn that there is no available housing because prices have risen so much. In response, a local pastor lets the men stay in his church, setting up cots and allowing people to sleep on the floor as well. He has house rules but he doesn't seem to turn anyone away -- even people with multiple felonies. The documentary follows several of these men over time.

The drama of The Overnighters centers on the parish and the town's reaction to these transients in their midst. The pastor wants people to feel religious sentiment towards those suffering and struggling to overcome obstacles, but they respond with hostility. The pastor's inner conflicts about his mission to help the overnighters and his obligation to to his parish and his family are delved into.

I found this documentary to be very engaging, painful, important, and dramatic (in spite of rather slow pacing). Searching for information about it online I saw it somewhere described as a "modern day Grapes of Wrath".