Sunday, December 29, 2013

Henry Darger ... throwaway boy (a bio)

Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with several hundred drawings and watercolor paintings illustrating the story. Henry Darger.
It was not an easy read but as I am fascinated with the artwork of Henry Darger I just gulped Henry Darger, Throw-Away Boy: The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist, a bio by Jim Elledge.

Not sure if "tragic" begins to cover it. A slum life in an old Chicago as bad as or worse than old Five Points New York. Poverty, filth, a mother who died when Henry was four, his father a drinker, Henry abandoned to the streets and various charity institutions, including the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children -- which reminded me of the second season of American Horror Story's asylum. He was preyed on and violently throughout childhood and teens.

Words like "gay" and "queer" seem free and open, defiant at least, compared to what Darger experienced or how he experienced his sexuality, as much as closeted homosexual does, although they are all the case.

I kept fighting with the author's depictions, wishing astonishing biographer Deidre Bair was writing this so I could find more light in Darger's life, but given Elledge's extensive historical research into Chicago in the late 1800s, early 1900s, the predatory nature of the streets, and Elledge's researched conversance with secret lives and gay culture, I can't blame him for the realities of Darger's life, and his (Elledge's) imaginal descriptions--reading into Henry's thoughts and actions; not always differentiating speculation from fact. It's a style, one I'm not used to. I could be wrong in my reaction.

Henry Darger's life had few comforts. But he had a friend/lover for years, although I wasn't entirely sure how accurate Elledge was but anyway--thank god! And when he was working as a janitor--his lifelong career--he wrote thousand-paged novels and painted, constructed his spectacular and fantastical art (outsider art --- "...produced by people who for various reasons have not been culturally indoctrinated or socially conditioned" -- a blessing, I suggest).

Not an easy read because of subject matter, but Henry Darger's courage, and his way of working on and out childhood impressed me. Maybe moved me forward.

POSTSCRIPT. Darger's work was discovered posthumously by his landlord Nathan Lerner (an artist) -- who knew him and thus understood he wasn't the predator so many art critics accused him of being--without having met him or known anything but the paintings. Oh the dangers of psychological criticism!  Of trying to figure out the artist rather than the art!  Lerner had Darger's gravestone inscribed: 
Henry Darger, Artist, Protector of Children.  And that's what the work is about.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Wallace Stevens: ...of the two dreams, night and day... "Hymn From a Watermelon Pavilion"

Something's wrong lately. I'm in a deprivation mode. I am become especially inept at the balancing act between work and all-I-love. So before I left for work this morning I told myself to read a poem. There are no windows of opportunity in my mornings. There is a half-hour of bathing, brushing, the luxury of coffee and I'm off. My life is "obscured by sleep."

But this morning I stalled and opened my new Wallace Stevens collection which I bought at the Strand on Sunday to replace my old Wallace Stevens collection. It had finally crumpled like a beautiful ghost in an Alfonso Cuarón movie. A Hayao Miyazaki animated film.

Sunday, I'd asked a nimble Strand clerk to climb the stepladder, which he ably did. Well and good. But as he handed me two books he indicated one and said, "Here's a good place to begin." Grrrr. I held my tongue and paged but couldn't hold it in, turned to his perusing self at the other end of the poetry section. "I'm not beginning." He grinned.

What an ego I have! And what a lie. Of course I'm a beginner.

Someone must have come before me to my new collection as it fell open to:

Hymn From a Watermelon Pavilion

You dweller in the dark cabin,
To whom the watermelon is always purple,
Whose garden is wind and moon,

Of the two dreams, night and day,
What lover, what dreamer, would choose
The one obscured by sleep?

Here is the plantain by your door
And the best cock of red feather
That crew before the clocks.

A feme may come, leaf-green,
Whose coming may give revel
Beyond revelries of sleep,

Yes, and the blackbird spread its tail,
So that the sun may speckle,
While it creaks hail.

You dweller in the dark cabin,
Rise, since rising will not waken,
And hail, cry hail, cry hail.
Wallace Stevens, The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (1982)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Uche Nduka's IJELE. 1 poem. 1 suggestion: buy the book, already

I am unable to reproduce the exact margins of the original (I should start off saying). On the page this poem is a) justified; b) with of course specific breaks resulting from either/both justification and choice. So just buy the book, okay?

c) Comment 2. I am swept away by Uche Nduka's Ijele (OVRPS/Overpass Books, 2012). These are deep stirrings detailed observations - the stuff that has to be told to someone but who besides poets find the someone (readers) and time (furious writing regardless of obligation). Nduka has me nodding assent & recognition also baffled by his minute facility to key into the internal and external with unabashed honesty and (abashed or un) wit.  Again. Buy this book. I saw him read last month. Wow. Like that.



    the dawn points at a blistered tree. we are homesick for the key to a canon of delight. someone should arrest the bloodthirsty sidewalk. that river over there should go on trial for bonding with doom. waving at doors we pulse through tightropes. the fight of black fables does not upset a querying duster. (as these hieroglyphs remind us.) yet we are not in support of chewing the curd of desperation. we are not in need of the grip of quotation marks. the dawn points at a barefaced turret. we keep our briny watch day by day. over us tumult exults. over us a compass explodes.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Day 1 of Advent Brings Brodsky & a Great Poem

A Poem for Christmas

Imagine striking a match that night in the cave:
use the cracks in the floor to feel the cold.
Use crockery in order to feel the hunger.
And to feel the desert - but the desert is everywhere.
Imagine striking a match in that midnight cave,
the fire, the farm beasts in outline, the farm tools and stuff;
and imagine, as you towel your face in the towel's folds,
the bundled up Infant. And Mary and Joseph.
Imagine the kings, the caravans' stilted procession
as they make for the cave, or rather three beams closing in
and in on the star; the creaking of loads, the clink of a cowbell;
(but in the cerulean thickening over the Infant
no bell and no echo of bell: He hasn't earned it yet.)
Imagine the Lord, for the first time, from darkness, and stranded
immensely in distance, recognising Himself in the Son,
of Man: homeless, going out to Himself in a homeless one.

From Nativity Poems by Joseph Brodsky, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002
(I am told this poem was translated by Seamus Heaney. If any wise person can verify, please do so. I know Heaney is one of the collection's translators.)