Saturday, September 29, 2012

Regarding "The Master." Masterful but a Miss

I saw Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master at the earliest possible occassion--the Friday of its early release. There was the promise of pseudo-arcane secrets of pseudo-religion--that being the dangerous con, Scientology; a strong cast (though almost all white people). There was the fact of Paul Thomas Anderson, a great director who grew up in the San Fernando Valley (yay), aspects of which he nailed in Boogie Nights.

Here's the deal. The acting is great, as is Anderson's visual artistry, but the story lacks thrust and luster. Yes, Philip Seymour Hoffman's gusty bellow after slugging back bootleg poison brewed by Joaquin Phoenix' character thrills. And Phoenix is a slinking skanky marvel of a drifter. But the relationship between the two men doesn't carry the movie, and it is the movie's core.

I was reminded of the father-son relationship, touching and angry, in There Will Be Blood.  Not so riveting in The Master, even though father-son bonds, men succumbing to their more feeling portions, is one of Anderson's themes. Yes, there was hints of homo-eroticism, but so what, and isn't that in the eye of the beholder. (i.e., So what.)

Two actors who, in effect, had cameos despite strong billing, were riveting. Their implicit and untold backstories begged to be developed. One was Hoffman's movie wife, Amy Adams. (Hoffman's character, as you probably know is, is reputed to be based on Ron Hubbard of Scientology.) Anyway, Adams delivers a freaky-eerie performance as a woman not-too-far-behind-the-great-man. She authors at least part of his magnum opus and we spy on her as she dictates.  Is she taking dication from the spirits? Whew. Maybe that part's on Youtube.

The son-in-law was played by Rami Malek, blinking his children-of-the-corn eyes, innocent and sinister. I wanted lots more. Jesse Plemmons from Friday Night Lights and more recently from Breaking Bad was beautifully cynical about, and loyal to, his father (the Hoffman character).

But I got bored. Yes, The Master was masterful, gorgeous, splendid, cinematically intriguing. But not fully developed as a story, and not a story which, as presented, interested me. I forgive Anderson who perhaps does not ache for my forgiveness and hope he returns to cinematic storytelling greatness. Punch-Drunk Love definitely counts.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Regarding Warhol at the Met. Sorta Ho Hum.

I wasn't surprised by Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists Fifty Years at the Met. It's not that I don't revere Warhol for all sort of reasons, from his work ethic to his inventiveness to his knack for holding the spotlight, even unto death. And his Bowie-like looks, more Bowie-like than Bowie.

And it's not that I consider his art to be mere novelty, though novelty is part of its appeal; nor is is that I wasn't excited by the prospect of several galleries of Warhol. I wasn't, but hey. 

I was even less enthused when I realized the galleries were bursting with art inspired by Warhol. Simply, I couldn't imagine being enchanted and I wasn't enchanted. Though Regarding is fair-enough tribute considering the staying power of Warhol's slo-mo moment in history, and a reasonable enough exhibit to draw in crowds, not that the Met is suffering from inattention.

But not my thing. My thing, which I visited after the Warhol, is this summer's roof art, Tomás Saraceno's architectural sculpture Cloud City. See it, enter it, re-see the world in its presence. Before the Warhol I spent time with some no fail masters--Hals, Rembrandt, Steen.

The Warhol galleries abounded with lots of strong craft, much skill. Me with my standards, I want more than craft and skill at the Met. Warhol-inspired works which didn't disappoint were by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Vija Celmins, Takashi Murakami, Edward Ruscha, John Baldassari. True, I'm predisposed to those artists, to begin with, and Ruscha and Baldassari are Californians, which gives them a special glow in my book of glow. I'm not interested in Chuck Close or Jeff Koons, who produce crafty novelties. (I know some will fight me on Close.)

I rarely miss Met exhibits. My sense of obligation to my favorite museum--a sense that prompted me to the Warhol--is usually met with joy, delight, intellectual prodding, companionship of the soul. I'm not sorry I saw the Warhol, which was crowded crowded crowded. I'm never sorry I've visited the Met.
pictured: Burning Gas Station by Edward Ruscha.

Monday, September 24, 2012

From the "Bureau of Public Secrets" . . . literally

The original, presented, transliterated, and translated by Robert Aitken:
The old pond;
a frog jumps in —
the sound of the water.
Furu ike ya               
kawazu tobikomu    
mizu no oto              

Old pond!
frog jumps in
water’s sound

Now. Six more translations:

A lonely pond in age-old stillness sleeps . . .
Apart, unstirred by sound or motion . . . till
Suddenly into it a lithe frog leaps.
Translated by Curtis Hidden Page

Into the ancient pond
A frog jumps
Water’s sound!
Translated by D.T. Suzuki

The old pond;
A frog jumps in —
The sound of the water.
Translated by R.H. Blyth

An old pond —
The sound
Of a diving frog.
Translated by Kenneth Rexroth

Pond, there, still and old!
A frog has jumped from the shore.
The splash can be heard.
Translated by Eli Siegel

Old pond
     and a frog-jump-in
Translated by Harold G. Henderson

To read the other twenty-four translations, along with Robert Aitkin's commentary and analysis, go to the Bureau of Public Secrets' "Matsuo Bashô: Frog Haiku."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hocquard "...our understanding / of citrus fruits..." & a FREE link to Brett DeFries' review

CutBank Literary Magazine has reviewed Cole Swensen and Rod Smith's translation of the 2003, The Invention of Glass (Canarium Press, 2012), by French poet and verbal handyman, Emmanuel Hocquard. I did not expect to take a fancy to Hocquard when I began reading, for reasons I might explain another day, and, also--on general principles. I don't mind keeping a closed mind, now and then, and thrill in being caught off guard when it is uneasily pried open, when the soggy sodden gray matter gives up spark and explosion and results not in my being seared but in my humbling. Arrogance is merely a process and an underrated one, at that.

It would be cheesy of me to write more about the recently published (8/23/12) review, except it's intelligent, without attitude, by Brett DeFries, and available HERE. The following excerpt from Hocquard, again, translated by Swenson and Smith, is shooting sparks out of the smouldering crater of my clamshell mind. I'm allergic to shellfish. Miracles, every day.

When one speaks
of water, subject and object
form in the phrases.
There is
an abyss. Poetry
does not speak of the world.
World is a word
that flaunts itself
in order to be. The middle road
is an odd place
and it would be wrong to take
the tepid for the wise.
Given that
a phrase is always clear
ctenaire by analogy: one no longer
wants to be defined. To say the spoken
is within the speaking is
to take the void’s measure.
Wanted or not
he contrives to spread doubt
across the land.
Adventure also carries
this risk. After the war
a child bit
into a glass. The parallel
escapes no one. It has
no exit.
I eat an orange.
For the record,
Robert S. W. Sikorski
(grandson of the general who gave
their name to the helicopters)
wrote that one-line poem
which is no small contribution
to our understanding
of citrus fruits. And so,
a series of decisive encounters
that makes vertigo
switch sides.
Emmanuel Hocquard. The Invention of Glass. Trans. Rod Smith and Cole Swensen. Ann Arbor: Canarium Books, 2012.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

June Jordan, Lady Di, Paris

*See below
I understand the Diana cult but stand outside it. Offered the opportunity to tea-and-crumpet it up with someone legendary, it'd be June Jordan.

From the Random House website, a worthy exclamation: "There aren't any streets or postal holidays named for June Jordan, but she's cherished by and collaborated with her own share of landmarks: she has planned a new Harlem with R. Buckminster Fuller, sipped coffee with Malcolm X, gotten teaching advice from Toni Cade Bambara, co-starred in a film with Angela Davis, and written an opera with John Adams and Peter Sellars. But no June Jordan Day. Yet." (Click on June Jordan, after the poem, to read more.)

Though given how people in-the-flesh can disappoint, I'll take Paris as a stand-in.
Poem on the Death of Princess Diana

At least she was riding
somebody going somewhere
about love
June Jordan, 10/3/97 

*Map from Ninety years of Paris

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Slackline. Dear S —

But you sit at your window and dream of that message 
when evening comes. Franz Kafka, “An Imperial Message”

We know poetry and prose married and what sprang off their discrete union—yes, discrete, as numbers are—was a hybrid. The poem and the prose did not choose one last name or even move into the same house. Nonetheless they dare to speak their love, as the wordy will, and incessantly. Where was I? Oh, the offspring: The prose poem, which, in Slackline (Hank's Original Loose Gravel Press, 2012, $7),  Judy Roitman's latest chapbook, gets frisky with the epistolary form. 

Prose poem missives. Among other opportunities, they afford a reader a chance to spy. Me and my lesser angels appreciate that chance, or at least illusion of overhearing Roitman and her addressees — M — and S — and A — 

Spying, or, to be kinder, our curiosity, is why we read letters (of the famous and not)—the hope that the correspondence is without the fabrication, fantasy, or lie of straight-ahead fiction and poetry. If in the process of reading we're inhale a world view (and more) as is the case in Keats letters or the correspondence between Bishop and Lowell, all the better. That said, the epistolary prose poem is a hybrid's hybrid. 

The first letter begins, “Dear M —.” And then, “It's impossible, the walk around the reservoir and now this, a simple vessel in the kitchen, failed. Foxes all around us, even here, unrecognizable, the way they sit, watching or move without acknowledgment, their soft tails.” What a delicious mystery. But it's over soon and then we're onto “S.”

“Dear S — I tried to stop you but was stopped at the light.” Each missive (and of course the two I've quoted are each meatier than what than I served up), pulls in the reader, who is soon all ajumble, assuming it's true that the human mind seeks to establish order. The third, also addressed to “S —,” asks, “How come everyone I know seems to have a name that begin with S —?” There's more than one “S — ”? Or “M — ”? Abandon the hope of tidiness in favor of creativity's inconclusiveness. 

“H” (on page 22) is informed, in a sort of neighborly manner, “You told me about the snake but I didn't believe you and now it's become a milk carton left too long in the trash.” This is one of my favorites. Roitman conjures complementary memories — “children running up to you with their glasses on...” “The way you sat on your couch...” and “that fabulous blouse, the grey one with buttons.”

It is easy, and good, to identify with the combination of specificity of detail and seeming pulled-from-the-air reference—the mind at work, with its inherent logic, honed from a lifetime of dreaming, living, reading.

A third of the chapbook is graced with woodblock illustrations by Sally F. Pillar. They are charming, work well with the letters, and my only complaint with Slackline is the omission of Pillar's bio. 

Finally. These prose poems remind me of sonnets, in that, a question is posed in the first sentence or two, and in some way responded or referred to in the final sentences. Forms are reinvented all the time. Roitman may have had that in mind, and whether it was conscious or not, she's a well-read poet, and thus well-informed by the unconscious.

*The Kafka quotation was my choice and not referenced in the chapbook.

**Judy Roitman lives in Lawrence, Kansas. When she told me she was visiting New York at the beginning of the summer I set up a reading with her, Patricia Spears Jones, Elizabeth Macklin, and myself. We were in the garden at Unnameable Books in Brooklyn on the Solstice. I mention this in the interest of disclosure, which is never full, but always necessary.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Rain..."He wanted to go inside them / and live..." Naomi Shihab Nye

by Emily Carr
I woke up thinking it was raining and (almost) simultaneously realizing, yet again, that air conditioners drip into the airspace.

A thing is not what it seems, sometimes, anyway. Same with a person or a kid who is a person, although it is not so much subject matter or convergence of this poem and my morning brain rattle as the fact that I felt an urge to protect after reading Naomi Shihab Nye's "Rain."

 A teacher asked Paul
 what he would remember
 from third grade, and he sat
 a long time before writing
 "this year somebody tutched me
 on the sholder"
 and turned his paper in.
 Later she showed it to me
 as an example of her wasted life.
 The words he wrote were large
 as houses in a landscape.
 He wanted to go inside them
 and live, he could fill in
 the windows of "o" and "d"
 and be safe while outside
 birds building nests in drainpipes
 knew nothing of the coming rain.
 Naomi Shihab Nye