Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Hammer [museum]. Startling. L.A. as found art. Fresh inventive Thek. And some ho hum Ruscha. Women needed.

Yesterday I went to the Hammer. [On the corner of Wilshire and Westwood in L.A.]

The first thing I do is sidle into a dark room to watch a Paul McCarthy video, grotesque puppets, a fabulous mockery of Disney, grunting. A human puppet simulation asks a puppet puppet insinuating questions and of course the puppet puppet just sits there. Things turn crappy, literally. I move on. The point being, I've been in a dark room, take the elevator up, and walk into the main floor which startles me.

The Hammer is a treehouse of a museum. Stepped out of the elevator, left the stairwell, and I am looking north and west to the hills and sun from a massive wraparound terrace.  Slim trees reach into the space. Sun, at least yesterday, pervades. Like the Getty, the Hammer uses Los Angeles' beauty in its readymade glory.

Exhibits?  Paul Thek, for one.  An artist who matches the space--joyous, sweet, mournful, detailed, dying like dry leaves on the terrace. Sontag dedicated Against Interpretation to Thek.

The museum's standing collection is small but every painting is extraordinary. They just are. Maybe, because I've only seen a few previously in traveling exhibits, their newness to me helps but I spend enough time staring at art to be, not inured but able to expect a level of special. These exceed mere special. Someone has an astounding eye.

The bad news is the Ruscha. Ed R. illustrating or accompanying Kerouac text. It's been done and done better. At that point there is no excuse not to include an exhibit by a woman.  This all male, male on male thing is tiresome.

The poster for the Thek is misleading. A male figure diving into a pool. A set up for Hockeny-esque work which isn't what Thek painted. Cheap tricks are cheap tricks. The Hammer is a great museum in its airy way and should be above such.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wherein the author thinks she is witnessing the End of Days but discovers it's just the end of the day

The weirdest thing happened last week. I was leaving work at 5:30, heading uptown but still in Tribeca, when teams, bevies, squads of white men in dark slacks and white shirts open at the collar (it was a hot day) streamed up a side street, moving en masse toward me. 

They looked similar to southern Baptist preachers (via movies) and I wondered if they were running from end-times, which, apparently, had started on Greenwich and threatened Hudson Ave.  Tribeca does not have imposing skyscrapers so I didn't know what office they could possibly be coming from.  (Hey. I knew they weren't missionaries; they had the blessed corruption of the less-than-sacred in them.)

If I'd been Midtown or Downtown or some other neighborhood where Fortune 500 companies had headquarters or corporate settlements, as it were, I wouldn't have been surprised, though even standing outside, say, the old Lehman Brothers (R.I.P.) wasn't the same experience as this. Every other office I'd worked in had lower and higher level workers in the mix, the mail team, the proofreaders, the cafeteria crew, the assistant; non-whites and women.

The next day at lunch I kept an eye out, and the day after I found myself surrounded by some of their homogeneous midst when I got take-out on Beach St. I still had no clue and was reluctant to inquire after their origin. The day after, I happened to amble down to Greenwich at lunch and observed their like yet again, looked over to see an odd building hidden between apartment structures. It was a corporate Citibank outpost.

Mystery over, they were bankers and traders, maybe in a trainee incarnation. No mystery, but still the odd image of clones or pod people, evolving.  Night of the dead living. Each person is an individual but group the persons together and isolate the group, make it all of one type, and it gets weird.  My father had his weirdness, but not that weirdness, hallelujah.

Happy Fathers' Day.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Stephen Page hears, samples, and reviews The Future Is Happy.

Stephen Page has written a delightful insightful sampling review, a list review. Here's an excerpt.

A saxophone in Count Basie’s band. An Ode by Keats. George Harrison’s guitar. Cain. St. Sarai carrying infant Jesus. A Jewish Emily Dickinson hiding in an attic. Moses breaking tablets. Baden-Baden, Germany. Miss Piggy. Tijuana. Jodie Foster. Billy Bob Thornton. Denzel Washington. Ingmar Bergman. Laurence Fishburne. The Rosetta Stone. Superman’s mother. Clark Kent. Orpheus. The Oregon Highway. An angel. The goddess Venus. Jim Thorpe. New York. Rilke. Skin cancer. The Married with Children television series. Jack Kerouac. My Favorite Martian. A Woolworth’s store. James Joyce. Ulysses. Ithaca. Penelope. Helios. Socrates. Kilimanjaro. Jason of the Argonauts. California. Conan Doyle. Jenifer Lopez. The Ritz-Carlton. Strawberries. Woody Allen. A labyrinth. Walt Whitman. Sméagol with his ring in his pocket. Holden Caulfield. Humbert Humbert. Jane Eyre. Mecca. The Zig Zag Man. Such are the many allusions, images, and sounds used in Sarah Sarai’s eclectic collection of poetry, The Future is Happy.
Special thanks to Page for hearing the rhythm in my work. He's right, I'm not a formalist but I hear.

The full review is posted at Stephen Page's blog.  Originally published at "Group Pen B.A. Book Reviews" -- a site no longer live.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

How dare you, V.S. Naipaul. + I like to think of myself as a stately pleasure dome.

Dear V.S. Naipaul,

Gosh darn. Thanks for your trash talk on culture. I can't wait to see you and Philip Roth go all girlfight over who has the worst time reckoning himself to his anatomy.

You told a journalist that all fiction by women was sentimental, narrow and inferior, and thus, you sly cat, you got me, a woman, thinking. Think about that! Oddly, though I read several of your books when I was in my twenties, I can't remember titles, plots, if I liked them or didn't. Just sayin'. In terms of sentimentality, however, I wonder about the following books which I can remember reading when I was in my twenties.

Madame Bovary. The women kills herself. Loves goes wrong, society is a hard place for a woman, and so she paints her lips a tasteful blue and falls into the big sleep. Sentimental? If she had become a whore on the streets of Paris it would be less sentimental.

Anna Karenina. The woman kills herself. Karenina is a more engrossing book than Bovary but not quite as finely stitched--Flaubert is a real real careful writer, even I could tell that and I have a vagina and breasts. Russian society is a worse place to live in than Bovary's society and Anna chooses death by the D Train. Sentimental?

D.H. Lawrence, works thereof. Granted that for those of us of a certain age it is hard to disengage from images of Alan Bates and Oliver Reed man-wrestling on fur, when we think of Lawrence. Still Lawrence writes of Big Love and not Salt Lake City style. Sentimental, Sir. Lawrence is sentimental.

Karl Marx was so fully human in his love of each person's capacity for fulfillment and so fully committed to creating a world where that is possible, that well, he must be sentimental. Cause that ain't happening anytime soon. Certainly not equality for men and women, not as long as your types smirk and strut.

Proust. Well, no one would accuse a man who creates seven volumes of written memorabilia in search of lost times sentimental. Would they? A thousand-page docket of hard thinking? Nu-uh.

The Lake Poets? Nuttin' sentimental in a field of daffodils or a stately pleasure dome. I like to think of myself as a stately pleasure dome, but that's something altogether different.

Bold Lord Byron on whose verse butter melts? He's a wonderful poet but in disfavor, in some circles, for that boldness which is sentimental in its own way.

What about some of the great saints? Theresa, John of the Cross, Francis? Isn't it implicit in such kick-butt faith a level of sentimentality which allows us to believe the unseen.

Though I've read him, I'm going to take a pass on Rabelais here but I cannot ignore the sweeping gestures of Cervantes and his windmill-dualist as sentimental.

Clear-headed and divine though he was, Spinoza expressed some sentimentality in his notion of us ending up on a far star. And please, there nothing as sentimental as one of Leibniz’s monads. Those guys and gals are all about pulling out their handkerchiefs and showing us they cannot go in or out because they are monads, boo hoo. I'm tired of it!

Blake? Thomas Hardy?

I loved reading every book and author mentioned above. Except you who I neither like nor dislike as I cannot remember one thing about your novels.

Yours until the end of this posting,
Sarah "Sentimental Me" Sarai

p.s. Have you read Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead?  I doubt it.
From some of my sisters. . .
From One Writer To Another: Shut Up, V.S. Naipaul by Diana Abu Jabar

In a Sentimental Mood by Danielle Pafunda

Sentimental, Narrow, Women’s Writing. Alas, Alack, Anon! by Roxane Gay

**The gorgeous monads available here. (If you don't know Leibnitz look elsewhere for what a real monad is. This monad is a computer thing but lovely.)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Review: G.E. Schwartz, LVNGinTONGUES, poems in a different margin

 Lokesh Khodke*
G.E. Schwartz writes with one eye on "our dust" and the other (our third?) on us--us--here. I just read his chapbook LVNGinTONGUES (Hank's Original Loose Gravel Press) and now want you to read it.

It's a flow of poem, LVNGinTONGUES, an aggregate of short poems unfettered by titles, which makes me wonder if titles aren't a needless colonizing marker:  Hey, folks, let me tell you what this here poem is about!  (I use them but that's no excuse.)  Instead of being drawn to a title as we expect, in Schwartz' chapbook we are thrown to an unfamiliar place, a different margin, a place slightly disquieting, riveting and dislocating, over there, on the other side.

And thus (and through poetic alchemy) prepared for death in all its daily guises and for a greater death. We are reminded of our fragility and of that which is awe-inducing.

WHITES or blacks, linen
or porphyry,
one in the same to the
same of us --
but out where dust
is blown -- there's a tomb
built of clay and bronzed
that should make us

These poems are written as quiet revelations of the dark hope that we are even capable of wavering.  That if we can't transcend, we can know our lack, our inability.  Better to realize that, say, I can't become Gerard Manley Hopkins, than to be so dulled I toss the book aside and return to t.v. and Ruffles. (That's me speaking, though I know Schwartz a bit and thus know he likes Hopkins. I saw Schwartz read down here--he lives upstate New York--and know he appreciates the gifts (jazz, friendships).

THROAT-HAWK nightscreaming
stand     up leave the rest
of us on the table
when life is with you
are struck across time
bark at strangers
feed the incorrigible
appetite of edifices
shadow dust, hate the light

. . . the incorrigible appetite of edifices . . .   Yeah. I say yeah however I read the word edifices--our culture, our corporations, the body as structure . . .   (And oh, I suppose the capitalizing of the first words of each poem serves as an ex officio title.  Maybe the eye needs something. Anyway it's a nice touch.)

The ultimate disclaimer is that Schwartz reviewed my book, here. And so with that frisson of joy that someone who has insight into my writing is so intelligent and gifted himself I recommend these poems. oH, i assuME the title IS A NOd to lanGUAge poetrY.

Hank's Original Loose Gravel Press. PO Box 453, Arroyo Grande, CA 93421. $7.
*Beautiful painting, Edifices, by Lokesh Khodke. Found here.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Religion Switching . . .a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. . .

Maybe I've said this before, but when I was in my early twenties, I decided I needed limits.

I was at the Bodhi Tree, a bookstore of mysticism, religion and of course a little tripe east, west and in the middle.  The sun was setting, maybe I was looking out a window or onto a courtyard, hard to be specific some thirty years later but there was sun and however many miles I stood from its thousand hot tongues I was close enough to its Pacific reflections to feel the distant yet present love of the universe.

Classically inclined, I'd been working my way through writings of the saints west and east. Dope-smoking and contemporary I read Be Here Now (Baba Ram Das) and other books which were great reads at the time and maybe still are.  I was always reading.

But at that moment, that point in flowing time which has no one point in point-of-fact and perhaps no point other than its own silky flow, I knew I needed restraining. I could go anywhere and did, mentally and spiritually and psychically.

You will stay in the west, I said. (I was you.)  That means Christianity, Judaism, Islam.

Note that I was not limiting my reading. Reading cannot be limited. I was limiting my joining. I can't quite say if this transpired before or after my two-year once-a-week training at the Healing Light Center (Rosalyn Bruyere is a real deal aura reader, per the UCLA Dept. of Kinesiology and she just is) or other interests and ventures. It was definitely years before I taught at a Catholic high school.

I'd been trucked over to the Annie Besant Center in high school by my Christian Science mom, though I can't say why, exactly. It might have had something to do with guitar lessons. My Jewish father believed, to his credit, but didn't quite have the gene for spirituality qua place-in-the-heart to hobby I did, my mom did, two of my three sisters did.  (The third sister would not allow so much as a Thanks, You! before a big meal, which reveals a ungene to be respected.)

Hopefully some reader or other is tracking this posting because I cannot figure out where I am right now (in the writing, not my body).  But lifetime-wise, I did stay within Sarah-proscribed guidelines, which were, I admit, partly a matter of style--I dreaded seeing those super serious westerners being so obviously devotee-like when it came to all things Buddhist. That sort of public demonstration of faith has been discredited by luminaries such as Hafiz, Rumi, Jesus, and every single religious person of serious intent. And my intent is serious. God help me.

But also I believed it to be a good idea and though I've had regrets, as a married person regrets her or his beautiful choice when there are so many gorgeous choices, I stayed on track.

Thus here I am, writing this because someone urged a short-lived discussion on a poetry listserv about Buddhist poetry, one of my madeleines (I buy them by them by the dozens) and it got my mind a'wandering. See the problem?

What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4: 14; not sure which tr.)
***painting by Richard Bizley

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

W. G. Sebald and the crummy gift of history

A seacow. Stellar saw and described them
for the non-indigenous.
I had some challenges getting into After Nature, W. G. Sebald's first and final work (first book written but last published), which is historical, biographical and autobiographical. No daffodil fields in After Nature, even if Sebald did move to England from Germany in his twenties and stay put until his accidental death some thirty years later.

I set the book aside as a full-on read and dipped into portions randomly, and a few weeks later started at the end with the final of three sections, the autobiographical poem. His parents being adults during WW II, Sebald had the crummy gift of history going for him.

Then I returned to the second section, about Georg Wilhem Steller, a botanist who accompanied the brooding explorer Bering into the Arctic. Here are melancholy, troubled Herr Bering, Europe's savaging of indigenous peoples, and Stellar's gloomy death, and poetic ambiguity. Nature has her way. Oh? with a godless ??? Lutheran (of course) from Germany.

At Tyumen they carry him out of the sledge,
drag his half-petrified body
out of the ice into the fire,
into a furnace house.
Now begins alchimia,
Steller recognises the mortem improvisam,
the stroke and all its appendage,
sees his death, how it is mirrored
in the field-surgeon's monocle.
Such are you, doctores,
split lamps,
thus nature has her way
with a godless
Lutheran from Germany.

Back to section one which had at first won my heart, being poetry and art history all-in-one. It's about Matthias Grunewald, a late-medieval painter of, needless-to-say, sorrow, the man of sorrows, His holy mother, angels. Like Stellar, Grunewald saw European barbarity: pogroms and quashed peasant rebellion.* The lines feel telegraphed, a not uncommon sensation for a reader of poetry, but this reader didn't think they had been telegraphed on the same day.

But the bodies of peasants piled up
into a hetacomb, because. As though they were mad,
they neither put up any resistance
Nor took to their heels.
When Grunewald got news of this
On the 18th of May
He ceased to leave his house. Yet he could hear the gouging out
Of eyes that long continued
Between Lake Constance and
The Thuringian Forest. For weeks at that time he wore
A dark bandage over his face.

What made the reading difficult is the almost arbitrary nature of line breaks and stanzas in the first section. I thought it was me, fresh off of three some months of researching streams of information for a client. I thought I could not bear one more fact. But on looking at it again and on noodling around the Internet to read other impressions of the book I feel safe in agreeing with myself about the first section. (Michael Hamburger's translation is not the issue.)

On the first of October the moon's shadow
slid over Eastern Europe from Mecklenburg
over Bohemia and the Lausitz to southern Poland,
and Grünewald, who repeatedly was in touch
with the Aschaffenburg Court Astrologer Johann Indagine,
will have travelled to see this event of the century,
awaited with great terror, the eclipse of the sun,
so will have become a witness to
the secret sickening away of the world,
in which a phantasmal encroachment of dusk
in the midst of daytime like a fainting fit
poured through the vault of the sky,
while over the banks of mist and the cold
heavy blues of the clouds
a fiery red arose, and colours
such as his eyes had not known
radiantly wandered about, never again to be
driven out of the painter's memory.
These colours unfold as the reverse of
the spectrum in a different consistency
of the air, whose deoxygenated void
in the gasping breath of the figures
on the central Isenheim panel is enough
to portend our death by asphyxiation; after which
comes the mountain landscape of weeping
in which Grünewald with a pathetic gaze
into the future has prefigured
a planet utterly strange, chalk-coloured
behind the blackish-blue river.

I also feel confident in recommending After Nature. A little struggle and disappointment in a beautiful read is good for a poet.

*[An exceptional exploration of the Grunewald section by Dorothea von Mücke is available here.]