Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Suddenly aware of the precariousness of home

Oh the wonders. Had a little fun with this found object. For the record, every woman who passed by stopped to ew and ah, over the house. One man did too, but he just wanted to take a photo...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Film bites

Derrida, The Movie is not what you would expect. At least in terms of the filmmakers themselves who often seem a bit buffoonish. But Derrida is so incredibly charming and energetic it more than makes up for their clumsiness…a must see. In fact perhaps a must-own.

Another must see is Capote, a gripping tale of moral intrigue. For nearly the entire movie I forgot that I was watching Philip Seymour Hoffman. He only popped up on one or two occasions—one, a crying scene that recalled Magnolia. The town scenes were so slow, but so achingly well crafted that they gave one the illusion they had literally entered into the 1960s. Katherine Keener was a pleasant surprise as Harper Lee and made me hungry for more about the author herself. But the real star was Hoffman of course, and the question of ethics, writing, and “genius”.

One to miss: the latest Pride And Prejudice. What a bore. Some of the supporting cast was good, but the director ought to be roundly pummeled. Blach. When will people learn that a scene, or a line of poetry for that matter, is not imbued with meaning just because its lingered over. Kiera, go watch Capote. The only reason to make it through this is Darcy. Matthew Macfadyen, the young man who plays him was excellent and the only thing that kept me watching. There have been some positive reviews of this in Time Out & elsewhere. Really? Go figure.

One I can’t wait not to see: Rent. Nope. Not even tempted.

One I'm curious about--Johnny Depp playing Rochester, the most notorious rake of all time? Yes, he was great in Before Night Falls, and yes, he did the pirate thing, but this is Rochester, this is John Malcovich territory, can he pull that off? Does he have the depth and grit for that? This is such a juicy role, such a great idea for a film...but Depp? Oh my, am I really giving this much ink to Johnny Depp? What's become of me? Ah, term is nearly done.

Reading Notes, 1

O Cidadan

The poem is love, is touching all ends simultaneously

The poet is stretched from shore


Reason is as reason does. Consider the event: poematica

poetry being the most unfiltered

of art forms, the most aware

of its own cost super 8 in a line length

redundancy of script notes

if love is deconstruction is it not also decreation?

Can decreation be a kind of making? a new making

Who is Georgette?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Women Blogging Women

Back in September I posted a note that said I was likely going to end my blogging adventure. Clearly I have decided not to. There are a number of reasons why, but the most important one may be—dare I say it—a question of gender. Tired old dialogue that it is, I notice there are not enough women engaged in the discussion of poetry and poetics. Over and over again the voices seem to be male, shouting out about this or that school or lineage…deciding what is important and what not in such confident and reductive tones as to shut out the more cautious, or considered voices.

Where, one might ask, are the women? Are there still more men writing than women? I think not. So why are there more men’s voices out in the world than women’s voices? I have my theories. Look to the deletions, the hesitations, the reflective responses…the women are still out there thinking, their voices not quite up for the often bombastic and instantaneous responses. Thanks to rob mclennan, who reminded me of this fact in a post months ago either on the poetics listserv or his blog—I can’t recall—but it was a sharp reminder of the need for our presence. Also Ron Silliman for a constant consideration of these questions.

With that in mind, and for what it’s worth, I will maintain a voice here.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Gertrude Stein was a Broad

Well, at least she had the swagger of one in her speech...check out the moves on this dufus reporter. Recorded at the Algonquin, and once more, thanks to ubu!

Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place, 1990

A day at Moma. This installation, by Gary Hill, which I stumbled upon on the way to the restrooms yesterday, was one of the highlights...complete report to come.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bartleby the Scrivener

Who would have imagined Bartleby on stage? Smushed as I was in a corner, at the edge of the stage with a cold and a lap-full of cough drops and remembering the longish experience of wading through the story I had my concerns about the experiment. But it was for naught. R.L. Lane has adapted Herman Melville's existential 19th-century tale quite ably. The set, the dialogue, the acting, all was quite perfect—and to my surprise, the play passed by with admirable lightness and speed.  

The play’s absurdist foundation seemed to me very relevant, and in post-play discussions—and in the The Times review—people suggested adjusting Bartleby’s medication. This thought never occurred to me either during or after the play. The matter with Bartleby is not so simple. And that’s really the beauty of the piece, and this production.

The only flaw I found was in the relationship between Standard and Bartleby. We see that Bartleby awes Standard in some way, and this fact is easily as absurd as Bartleby’s behaviour. This might have suffered from the decision to break in and out of narration. In this way, Standard tells us much of the story. Overall the narration works well, with seamless cuts in and out of action. But telling the audience one is “awed” by Bartleby, and one is “watching” Bartleby, isn’t as powerful as seeing Standard’s transformation. For as much as Bartleby becomes more Bartleby, in some way his presence allows Standard to become more (or less) standard…

An interesting production, worth seeing, particularly for folks interested in the process of adaptation, the play runs through Nov. 27 at the Blue Heron Arts Center, 123 East 24th Street, Manhattan, (212) 868-4444.

Journaling into Poetry

There are moments in Decreation where I hear Virginia Woolf’s acerbic wit slice across the page. This, the last stanza of GNOSTICISM IV, could be an entry from one of her journals:
At the moment in the interminable dinner when Coetzee basking
icily across from you at the faculty table is all at once
there like a fox in a glare, asking
And what are your interests?
his face a glass that has shattered but not yet fallen.
Cruel? I didn’t think it cruel, but if I thought of meeting Coetzee I would imagine a scene not unlike this…it made me laugh out loud on the subway last night on the way back from Fordham. It was a terrible, bracing night, limos lined up outside of Lincoln Center, lights ablaze, and even after a night of poetry a la Marie Ponsot and Jean Gallagher who just won the Poets Out Loud Prize (or contest, not sure which), I was very cold. Gallagher is a smart poet and I’m looking forward to her book, This Minute. And of course Marie Ponsot remains one of my idols: I aspire to be as engaged as she, well into her 80s and not only still writing and reading, but attending readings any given night of the week.

But back to Carson I go...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Jeff Wall

Photographs by Jeff Wall, from Tate Modern
Jeff Wall, Photographs 1978-2004 at the Tate Modern
Wall is one of my favourite photographers. He was the first photographer I encountered that broke traditional lines of composition, and the first that included non-glamorous, or rather, did not focus on traditionally beautiful characters. He was also the first photographer I encountered who used light boxes and offered such massive prints—or cibachromes.
There was something shocking about seeing Wall’s realism at the Vancouver Art Gallery in the early 90s. This kind of social commentary, The Storyteller, for instance, has since come to seem commonplace, but at the time, it was positively explosive. Perhaps because while I was at UBC working toward my BFA in creative writing, I was also working with a population of "youths at risk" and saw the underbelly of Vancouver like many seemed not to want to. Wall's photographs were a kind of testimony: yes, there were people sleeping under the bridges in Vancouver; yes, there were addicts shooting up behind the tulip beds on West Hastings and Burrard, and Robson; yes, there were twelve year olds out prostituting; yes, the drug problem in Vancouver was out of control; yes, there was plenty of racism in the city. All of these aspects of the city have no doubt multiplied, though I'm not sure how much awareness has...
Wall’s influence on Canadian photography, particularly the strong school of realism in Vancouver, can’t be underestimated. I’m looking forward to the show that includes not only Wall, but the sons and daughters of Wall. We'll see a more dynamic and innovative Canada that's for sure. Though his influence is by no means constrained by our borders.
Wall's newer work
is powerful, though in an entirely different way. In the photograph above, the view of the Vancouver harbour from an apartment (most likely on Wall Street in the city's east end) characterizes the ever-clashing worlds in the shimmering city. However, without the glaring social context, it lacks the power of the earlier work, or even other, newer work, such as the pieces on view recently at the Marian Goodman Gallery. The new work, and even some of the older work, did not seem nearly so shocking to me, now more than a decade into my relationship with Wall--and in the world of reality TV etc.. But it did to the New Yorker I was looking at them with. And through his eyes once more it seemed that someone had lifted the lid off of the dirty secret of my youth: Vancouver is a land of splendor, but not all is splendid, and certainly the splendor is not for all.

Monday, November 21, 2005

More on Virginia Woolf

This week's New York Times book section featured a review of the new book by Julia Briggs--who was here in the city on Friday night and whom I planned on hearing but due to multiple events, didn't make it to. In conjunction with the review the Times has posted the following resources. Quite an assemblage. You'll find the review here, and as soon as I can get my hands on it, you'll also find a review of it here...

Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn

At the entrance to Prospect Park, and I suppose a much more dramatic version of Columbus Circle, Grand Army Plaza is, as the name suggests, grand. However, historians point out that the plaza is grander even than Olmsted and Vaux might have been comfortable with. The triumphal arc, a Civil War Memorial and added some 30 years after the park’s completion. I decided to photograph it in the last few weeks because I realized that no one talks about it, nor does anyone seem to go there. I walk by once a week and this week was the first time I noticed anyone walking by it. Someone was in fact photographing it.
Not surprising I suppose, since the plaza is entirely surrounded by traffic: the plaza itself a kind of fountain entirely surrounded by rushing metal and lights. The prospect must have seemed delicious in 1932 when the version of the fountain we see today, was erected.
The Bailey Fountain, which currently stands in Grand Army Plaza, was built in 1932 by architect Edgerton Swarthout and sculptor Eugene Savage. The Fountain's construction was funded by Brooklyn-based financier and philanthropist Frank Bailey (1865-1953), who wanted to build a memorial to his wife Mary Louise. It features an elaborate grouping of allegorical and mythical figures, including Neptune, god of water, and a pair of female nudes representing Wisdom and Felicity.
Rumour has it that I live on a street that was once a soldier’s footpath and that at the corner was a garrison. Around the other corner there used to be a bar named The Teepee, and on my block once lived the largest Native American population outside of a reservation. The Mohawks who built the skyline took the subway home here, it would seem.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Ron Silliman @ Bowery

Great reading yesterday at the Bowery. David Shapiro and Ron Silliman. The kind of reading you can only get after years of thinking, reading, writing, talking, reading--resonant, lush, completely unpretentious. Just straight-up good work. And Shapiro--my God, very, very funny. Here's a recording of Silliman reading, as well as an interview by Amy King.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Gil Adamson & Shannon Bramer

Two writers I wouldn’t mind seeing more of, Adamson and Bramer have published consistently intriguing, dynamic work. Ashland, in some ways a feminist version of Ondaatje’s Collected Works of Billy the Kid, is an arresting, gritty read. From the title sequence:
In survival dreams I am bullet-proof, running, I resemble a cave, I go through myself. I tell myself that I exist, but basically: ha! There is no bone in my arm, no maharajah playing god in the hallway, no dark toothpick in the thigh…
These poems have as much bite as the world they depict; they are as hard-boiled as the women they present. Here, from Mary:
The midwife baptized the baby
with a cup of melted snow.
she said, “He won’t last,”
and he didn’t.
I love this narrator and would have went more places with her. That may be my only quibble, more please, more story, more bigger. In an interview with This Magazine Adamson says she is writing a novel set in the early part of the twentieth century in the town of Frank—famous for the mountain slide that buried it. I have long been fascinated by that event myself, and can’t wait to see what she does with it.

Bramer’s Refrigerator Memory contains some wonderfully, and as Prairie Fire points out, deceptively simple, prose poems. One of my all time favourites—which I had dog-eared in Grain Magazine where I first read it—is “Our Prosthesis”, winner of 2003’s prose poem contest:
On Saturday night I hid his prosthetic arm. He was drunk, it was easy, when he tried to run after me he stumbled, fell, hit his head on the corner of the coffee table. I was drunk too, sad, acting stupidly. Earlier that night he had been flirting with my sister and I felt neglected and negligible next to her in her pink sweater. I didn’t like the way he kept touching her with his false limb; I didn’t like the way she kept giggling at the strange feel of the plastic. I had paid for his prosthesis, after all, so perhaps this explains my possessiveness. When we got home we kept drinking. Before bed I started undressing him: his socks, his pants, his underwear, his sweater, his shirt, his arm. He came after me and fell. His forehead bled all over the carpet. I hid his arm in the basement. Dressed his wound. Put him to bed. Showered. Made tea. I read The Idiot until deep into the night. My sister doesn’t even know who Dostoyevsky is.
Deceptively simple, and highly readable, Bramer’s third book is a pocketful of joy with sufficient dark shadows and flickers of light in places most of us don’t want to venture into. Smart, too. Did I mention smart? Finally, Quill and Quire and I agree on something…

Quote of the week

In response to a question regarding the impact of French theories on the study of the humanities in America:
That was the gift of the French. They gave Americans a language they did not need. It was like the Statue of Liberty. Nobody needs French theory.
From Questions for Jean Baudrillard in the Sunday NY Times Magazine, or Baudrillard’s application for American citizenship, part 4, or French Theorists do French Theorists, the musical…

Friday, November 18, 2005

100 Most "Important" Canadian Books

The Literary Review of Canada, which until recently had Fred Wah as poetry editor—a fact that made me predisposed to liking it—has now published a list of the 100 Most Important Canadian Books. Why do we bother trying to fix such things? Worse, as one time sharp-toothed theatre critic turned novelist, Kate Taylor points out in today’s Globe & Mail, how can any such list exist without reference to Ondaatje? And that’s just the beginning of the problem…at the core of which one might ask why bother in the first place? Why not talk about the books in more productive ways? Why not start a dialogue? Why be so reductive? Why try to fix and identity? Why attempt to trace something so transitory? I just don’t understand this constant effort to “shut out” rather than expand and revel in the odd mix of things; what kind of productive dialogue do people think publishing this kind of list will inspire? What is the purpose of such lists? I ask you! Are there not more interesting ways to get at this question?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Wallace Shawn at Noho

He was ambling toward the door wearing the same green hunter’s jacket that he wore at the beginning of Vanya On 42nd Street and without thinking, both arms went up, There he is, I said, the God of theatre!
, he said, appearing to grow several inches in height as he came closer to the table.
You are Wallace Shawn?
For now, I was regretting only slightly, my tendency toward NOT curbing my enthusiasm…
I am.
I love your work.
You do?
And so on…not something I engage in as a rule, but who could resist? And I really am a huge fan, not only of his roles, but as a playwright himself (Designated Mourner...). In any case, now I know that Mr. Shawn will have two plays in the new year, one an opera actually, an opera that he said he had written with his brother when he was very young and no one would do, which had been heartbreaking and devastating, but now it seemed someone would in fact do it. An opera about piano lessons, where it will run I have forgotten (unlike Capote I do not have 94% recall…), but 42ndish I think. It’s not something Brecht would like, he said, twirling slightly on his heels. Shawn has also recently translated Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, which will run at the same time.

So of course, I watched Vanya again and enjoyed it, as I always do. I love the bleeding of life into performance—clearly no stretch where Shawn is concerned. I love the translation, Mamet’s adaptation, the direction, the space and the movement of the actors. I love how Chekhov segues in and out of monologues, how he orchestrates his characters, unbelievably deft. Actually, it made me think spatially. I mean I thought that rather than post text I wanted to photograph the actors' feet, the shadows, wood, light…makes little sense I’m sure, but that was my instinct.

Not that I am a great lover of such high realism in theatre, but Chekhov! And the play seems so relevant—urgent, in fact. That may have something to do with the production of course, and the acting. My God, the acting is perfect. On the other hand, the play’s sexism bothered me. Poor Sonia! And in some senses, poor Yelena. The women are either reviled, Mother, Yelena, or overly romanticized, Nanny. Hmmmm…how much has that changed??

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Zolf & Stephens at belladonna

As promised, a very brief note on the Rachel Zolf/Nathalie Stephens reading at Dixon Place. I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of Zolf’s Human Resources—a work in progress—and it was impressive on paper, but hearing it, even more so. One becomes aware of the many notes she strikes. Humorous and biting, she exhausts HR speak, folding the banal and oppressive into a fractured, abstract narrative:
The tyranny of subject-verb-predicate is neither emotional nor balance like belly or finger or the accident that no longer looks like a symptom. Any dissemination, distribution or copying is strictly on the receiving end I may be missing something here.
I had read, but never heard either Zolf, or Stephens read before, and it was good to hear them together. The work was so different, and yet so companionable.

Stephens new work is scrumptious. In compact, precise sentences that remind me of Lisa Robertson’s The Weather, Stephens creates a lyrically fragmented world that is both urban/rural/surreal: “In adornment and philosophy. In rivers’ edges and wrought bridges, rusted scaffolding.” And “After the wide-angled sea. The tall pines felled. The stones where some sit. The waters seditiously.” Stephens’ writing is in constant flux, but there is, in all of her work, a very calm center capable of gymnastic imagery and lucid thinking. Not to mention wit. She writes: “I went to Hell./It was the same city all over again.”

But this is not the same city all over again. And for certain it is not the same poetry all over again.

You can order both Zolf and Stephenschapbooks here and support belladonna while you’re at it. Zolf and Stephens also have books available through Coach House Books and The Mercury Press .

Bat Barbie

After a whirlwind of righting wrongs the world over, Bat Barbie takes a moment to reflect on the shores of Toronto Island.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Overheard Dialogue of the Week

If I bought that I'd have to buy a new house...

Don’t you have an empty wall in your Florida house?

Which Florida house?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Chelsea November

Detail: Rachel Whiteread's Chess Set at Luhring Augustine
There were so many great shows in on 24th Street this week that I could hardly have paid enough attention to each, and skipped anything that was not on the first floor. There were two shows examining text in art, photography from André Kertész, a multimedia extravaganza from Mike Kelley, painting from Marcia Hafif, David Salle, Jim Shaw, Tony Magar, Luis Gispert & Jeffrey Reed, and selections from The Imagery of Chess Revisited.

André Kertész, The Early Years
The photographs at Silverstein Photography are so tiny they resemble early 20th century trading cards; they are so tiny that the gallery has provided magnifying glasses to better see them. I post a shot of nuns here because who can resist a shot of nuns? Who can resist tiny photographs? In a career that spanned much of the 20th century, the Hungarian photographer catalogued images from the documentary to the surreal. This tiny catalogue, available from Silverstein, beautifully illustrates the young man’s early lyricism and wit.

Who is Mike Kelley? I had never heard of him before this weekend, and whoever he is, I can tell you he is larger than life. Now at Gagosian, a gallery where I’ve seen huge Richard Serra sculptures snaking through the cavernous depths, Kelley’s multimedia installation Day is Done has the feel of a back lot, or a carnival side-show/fun house.

Apparently this is a “feature-length "musical" composed of thirty-two separate video chapters. Each section is a live-action recreation of a photograph of an "extracurricular activity" found in a high school yearbook.” Uh, huh. Well, for such a vast show I was amused, but filled with a general sense of “who let this kid in?”. Yes, there are many fun bits, but I kept thinking of that irritating kid in high school, the one who feels so entitled that all the space and resources get tied up with his or her vision. This sort of project usually ends up bolstering one’s ego or illustrating a private fascination—not one that serves those outside of the original visionary.

Promotional materials state that
’Day is Done’ will exist in several different forms. The one being shown at Gagosian Gallery is a large-scale video installation consisting of sets and projection screens. Various scenes will be programmed to turn off and on prompting the viewer to follow the action throughout the presentational space. Several scenes will run simultaneously in order to promote the effect of filmic cross-cutting in actual space.
Sounds intriguing no? And I admit there were moments of delight: the spinning table top props, etc. But by the end I was no further illuminated than at the beginning, and while spin-off products seemed to be selling briskly, and the gallery doors kept swinging wide, I looked so obviously perplexed that one of the security guards asked if I was okay. “Yes,” I replied, “I just don’t understand...” and this time it didn’t seem to be because it was art beyond me, art making me stretch. I live to be made to stretch, to think—not to be bored.

In an interview on PBS Kelley states “I really dislike popular culture…it’s garbage, but that’s the culture I live in and that’s the culture people speak”. I want to suggest that perhaps his lack of understanding is what makes this so flat. It may be what people speak, but it doesn’t seem to be what Mike Kelley speaks… Still it’s difficult not to be in awe of the grandiosity here.

The Glaze Paintings by
Marcia Hafif at Baumgartner Gallery are a series of small, square panels of sheer glazed color. The gallery has odd angles and this gives the show a fragmented feel, hard to get a sense of the impact Hafif might have been going for. I wondered too, after seeing the Color show curated by the AGO in Toronto, what these paintings were adding to our experience/understanding of color and texture. On the other hand, her own text explains the project further. Each color:
annotated by the names of the colors involved in its making, such as Flesh Tint/Alizarin Crimson, Manganese Violet/Phthalocyanine Blue, Vermilion/Phthalocyanine Blue and Light Green/Indian Yellow; all are monochrome paintings constructed from two colors, made with the apparent precision of a dispassionate scientist. Hafif’s project, which is ongoing, involves every aspect of making a painting, from grinding the pigment into oil to deter mining the scale, proportion and mark.
So, in a way these are a kind of museum to traditional painting/making. At least this is what Hafif suggests. Paintings "can't be made" this way. And yet they are hanging right now on the walls in Chelsea.

David Salle’s Vortex Paintings, now on at Mary Boone are fun. They look like collage, as though they might be modeled after photoshopped photographs: the swirl (or vortex) of an anime figure layered over bastardized pop cultural wallpaper (people fucking while Snow White lounges on a bucolic hillside). Interesting enough, but I kept thinking that the sum of the parts was not quite satisfying: from color choice to the oddly realistic items floating in the paintings.

The most striking aspect of the Jim Shaw show at Metro Pictures is the 79 foot long theater backdrop of a jungle landscape that looks as though Georganne Deen has been let loose on it, though it’s not as fun—or meaningful as her work. In fact the same old “culturally exotic” bubbles floating like tiny clouds across the vast expanse. I am sure it is not just the fall fashion for artists to be layering in random cultural signifiers (9/11, Shrek with a ‘corporate evil’ sign, Abu Ghraib) without any real analysis… Am I missing something here?

After the barrage of empty signifiers, Tony Magar’s paintings at the Mike Weiss Gallery were a welcome change. “Absentee Universe” takes us away from the incessant pop culture references in some of the above shows, to a place of line and shape, color and texture. I was happy to be in the gallery, a calm spot on an otherwise overly stimulated gallery afternoon. Not that I have anything against pop culture references, but of late I have been annoyed by the gratuitous inclusion of imagery and concepts that are much more potent than artists seem to take responsibility for. In beautifully textured canvases that resemble abstract giants Jasper Johns and Robert Rauchenberg, Magar’s abstract canvases,
feature bold color juxtapositions and fluid, open spaces, where bio-morphic forms float in a state of perpetual flux. Magar’s colors are layered one on top of the other, revealing his subtle and delicate forms in distinct stages. Multiple layers of translucent paint result in immeasurable deep fictive space that one is able to drift in and out of effortlessly. (Gallery Guide)
There is a sense of the Taos calm in these paintings. While the gallery materials suggest that these are literally paintings of the cosmos, I didn’t take them that way. Rather I found them emotive of mood and lyrical urban sensory experiences. A calmer, more grounded experience than being in a room full of Miro, but just as delicious.

Stereomongrel by Yale MFA graduates Luis Gispert & Jeffrey Reed at Zach Feuer was a great little show that I was fortunate enough to catch before it came down this weekend. The photographs here all dealt with levitation in one way or another. Playful, imaginative and freshly conceived I was happy to be taken out to a desert, to a log cabin, to a backlot in some urban location, where we were treated to surprising human forms, fresh perspectives, and a wonderful sense of motion and wonder in the shots. The ten minute film was supposed to be the centerpiece, the photos the bonus, but for me the photos were the show and the film, well, it just didn’t grab me. All photos are available for viewing here.

Two shows on text in art, one successful and one not. Looking at Words: The Formal Presence of Text in Modern and Contemporary Works on Paper at the Andrea Rosen Gallery has some nice small moments, but I can’t recall them here because there was just too much, too scattered, and too various. The images, hung one on top of the other all the way up to the ceiling, were difficult to see let a lone read (scrawls on hotel stationary). One wonders how the curator or gallery thought anyone would be able to take this in…an interesting idea, and certainly an exhaustive show, but ultimately not a very satisfying experience. In fact, it made me suspicious of the idea of using text in art.

Jean Michel Basquiat at Stellan Holm

Thank goodness that I stumbled upon the
Stellan Holm Gallery which did a much better job of exploring the idea—and it’s an idea I have found myself preoccupied with of late. This show is smaller, much more focused. Paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Andy Warhol and others, allow the viewer to appreciate the text itself and understand its place, its context in art. A playful exploration that could have been slightly larger, the pieces selected here were all strong and a pleasure to see: Richard Prince’s “joke paintings”, Warhol’s font focused slogans, Basquiat’s more balanced use of image/paint and text, only made me want more. Kruger for example—but also a few unpredictable inclusions would have been nice. Well, and a woman of any flavour.

Rachel Whiteread at Luhring Augustine
The imagery of Chess Revisited at Luhring Augustine is part of a larger show at the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City. The ten chess sets here include work British artists of Sensation fame—at least three that I recognize, there may in fact be more. But Jake and Dinos Chapman, Damien Hirst, and Rachel Whiteread’s pieces were also the most scintillating. The clarity of concept here was so refreshing. Whiteread’s meticulously crafted doll furniture (kitchen vs. living room), on squares of vintage lino and carpet in her balsa wood game box was delightful. Really, the chairs, the tiny little pots, everything meticulous. She really taps into the color palate (again, not unlike Georganne Deen) of the 60s and 70s childhood. The penis heads from the Chapman brothers disturbing as usual, with African Afroed figures against the white, plaited figures show here. I still don't quite get what these guys are going for with the penis noses and, well, how do you describe those mouths??

Chess Set Jake & Dinos Chapman

It does make me want to go and visit the larger exhibition at Noguchi where work from the surrealist masters Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning are exhibited. Other shows I didn't cover here include Russell Young's screens of famous folks: loved the Elizabeth Taylor. Also an odd installation under the el. Photo on the slideshow below. For more shots see my art & artist slideshow--warning click to the end for more recent shots.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Structural Articulations: Caroline Bergvall's Fig

Fig is the latest from Caroline Bergvall, one of the poets who keep me blissfully reaching beyond my comfort zones. Bergvall is a London based text and sound poet of French-Norwegian nationalities. Her text pieces and collaborations have been produced internationally. I first stumbled upon her work on the nthposition website, and then heard her read at Bluestockings thanks to Rachel Levitsky and belladonna. She blew me away that night, and again this year when I heard her read at the Poetry Project. Stellar.

Bergvall's work is about the inscription of language on the body and in that sense touches the pulse of ecriture feminine.It blurs the boundaries of physical, sexual, and translative work, deriving as so much of this work does, from a bilingual French/English aesthetic. But what I admire about Bergvall's work is its absolute originality, its structural articulations. In this sense, Bergvall offers an exciting direction for feminist poetics, moving as it does out of the speculative and reflective into the active and shapely, incorporating a performative element that complicates our understanding of "meta-text". There is more to say here about this, but I'm still thinking, still trying to work this out, and so would like to look at Bergvall in conjunction with the poets included in Spahr and Rankine's American Women Poets in the Twentieth Century, not to mention texts such as Spahr's Fuck-You-Aloaha-I-Love-You, and follow up on this...

The second installment
of Goan Atom, Fig is a transcript of Bergvall's conceptual and constraint-based poetic practice. I wanted to make an analogy here about poetry and visual art being on opposite ends of the spectrum, but considering the work of Bergvall such a statement is impossible. While she is in many ways a conceptual artist, her art is text: poetry. The work is multivalent: repetition and variation are often overlaid with graphic, physically performative, or site specific aspects. The twelve pieces with prefatory notes, record her concisely crafted performances, each exploring language and materiality. They are not as constraint based as others (Christian Bok and Darren Wershler Henry come to mind) but they are as three-dimensional. Often I feel I'm encountering sculpture when I engage with these texts.

One of my favourite pieces is more pets, which you can hear if you click here. I give you the first section:

a more-cat
a more-dog dog
a more-horse
a more-rat
a more-canary
a more-snake
a more-hair
a more-rabbit
a more-turtle

The poem goes on to complicate itself with chains of words

a more-turtle cat
a more-turtle-more-cat dog
a more-dog-more-cat dog

And so on. (Fig 86-87)

In "The Oulipo Factor", American critic Marjorie Perloff notes the following about Bergvall's work: is derived from post-punk music and sound poetry as well as from literary movements like Oulipo. Her sonic, verbal, and rhetorical devices are extremely sophisticated, encompassing Duchampian pun, phonemic bilingual (French-English) transfer, paragram, ideogram, allusion, and found text. In their complex assemblages, these function to explore such areas as our conceptual approaches to female (and feminine) representation as well as the power structures within which these sexualities must function. The doll, the bride, the daughter, the mesh: these participate in any number of games at once sexual and verbal.
I love the description of "sonic" "rhetorical devices" and find the pieces "more pets" for instance, actually unlock whole patterns of language that I hadn't considered. The list of pets and the complications in the rest of the poem, provide not only a fresh, and heightened interest in the surface/sound of the words, but in the associations (particularly when the language begins to bleed from English to French).

Gong is the piece I first heard Bergvall perform for belladonna. You can hear it here thanks to the Kelly House sound files (amazing resource).
This poem is comprised of deliciously slippery phrases: "the girl laughing ejaculates in my hand" "Cixous climbs the ladder of her name". The phrases swirl, grounding us here and there, touching screen, sound, books, commenting on everything from Arundhati Roy to her (the author's) niece's feet.

You can also hear Bergvall read ambient fish from goan atom 1 online at EPC Buffalo where you will find a host of information about her. Download the chapbook, eclat from ubuweb.

Hey Vancouver, Bergvall will be reading at the Kootenay School of Writing on November 19th at 8pm.

Stay Tuned

... for more handcrafted pieces including another Chelsea round-up sizzling with Rachel Whiteread and Damien Hirst, Basquiat and Warhol; a note on Nathalie Stephens and Rachel Zolf's belladonna reading, and observations on the poetry of Scott Hightower and David Groff. All this and more. Oh, and news about the Atlantic Avenue developments.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

More Day in the Life of Brooklyn

Ongoing documentation of my neighbourhood in Brooklyn. I live about two blocks from the Atlantic Yards. The site of one of the most contested and potentially devestating/lucrative developments Brooklyn has seen in a century or so. The changes are rapid. Softskull Books used to be on the corner, now there's a showroom for luxury condos--already a half dozen large developments have gone up, more slated. The neighbourhood is still mixed. We're surrounded by treatment centers and Salvation Armys, but we're on the march. More on the development to come, but suffice to say that when we heard Frank Gehry was coming back to Brookyn to design the monstrosity it made it all the more confusing.

monstrosity is the operative word. The scale is massive: decidedly un-Brooklyn. It will devestate the area. Meanwhile there are some pleasant shifts. The antique stores on Atlantic have always been good, now they're just getting more and more interesting.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Hinterland Who's Who

Why not find out more about Canadian Wildlife? For a more complete story, click here. I've posted this before, but you know you can never have enough information about the beaver.

Overheard dialogue of the week

“I mean I know this class isn’t high on her list of priorities, but I have things to do too, and I have to give them up, so you know, she should at least be prepared…”

“Yah, or at least dress properly.”

Monday, November 07, 2005

More on Woolf's childhood

I look forward to the following publication being one who is extremely curious about the state of childhood on the life of writers—among all folks really. What I wouldn’t give to find a similar stash of writing from Gertrude Stein. I would spend the next decade comparing notes.
Hyde Park Gate News VANESSA CURTIS
Gill Lowe, ed. Hesperus Press, £14.99 NINE-year-old Virginia Woolf, her sister Vanessa and brother Thoby hatched the idea for a weekly family newspaper based on happenings at their house, 22 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington. The children would put the latest issue by their mother's armchair and then hide, delighted to hear her say "rather clever, I think".

The newspapers are preserved in the archives of the British Library, and are now published for the first time. The earliest extant copy dates from April 6, 1891 and further issues exist from 1892 and 1895 (when Woolf was 13). They provide a rich source of information on Woolf's childhood.

The newspaper, full of childish Victorian sentiment, included a long-running series of comic courtship letters: "Nora" writes that she loves her betrothed "with that fervent passion with which my father regards roast beef". Virginia's first attempt at a story came with 'A Cockney's Farming Experience', published in the August 1892 issue when she was 10. The story related the misfortunes of two Cockneys who "decided to purchase a small farm in Buckinghamshire"; it ran over six subsequent issues and ended with the welcome news that an old aunt had died and left the hard-up farmers a "jolly lot of money" (a prophetic conclusion, for 17 years later Virginia's old aunt Caroline Emilia Stephen died and left her a substantial legacy).

Saturday, November 05, 2005


Belladonna Welcomes Nathalie Stephens & Rachel Zolf
Tuesday, November 8, 7PM @ Dixon Place
(258 Bowery, 2nd Floor—Between Houston & Prince)
Admission is $5 at the Door.
Nathalie Stephens writes in English and French, and sometimes neither. Writing l'entre-genre, she is the author of several published works, most recently L'Injure (l'Hexagone, 2004), Paper City (Coach House, 2003), and Je Nathanaël (l'Hexagone, 2003). L'Injure was a finalist for the 2005 Prix Trillium; Underground (TROIS, 1999) was short listed in 2000 for the Grand Prix du Salon du livre de Toronto. Stephens's writing appears in various anthologies, including Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry (2005), Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative (Coach House, 2004), Breathing Fire II (Nightwood, 2004), Portfolio Milieu (Milieu Press, 2004), The Common Sky : Canadian Writers Against the War (Three Squares, 2003), La Cendre des mots (l'Harmattan, 2002), side/lines: A New Canadian Poetics (Insomniac Press, 2002), Mondialisation et Identité (GREF, 2001) and Carnal Nation : Brave New Sex Fictions (Arsenal Pulp, 2000). Stephens has presented her work internationally, notably in Barcelona, Chicago, Norwich, Ljubljana and New York. She is the recipient of a 2002 Chalmers Arts Fellowship and a 2003 British Centre for Literary Translation Residential Bursary. Some of Stephens's work has been translated into Basque, Bulgarian, Slovene and Spanish. She has translated Catherine Mavrikakis and Fran çois Turcot into English and R. M. Vaughan into French. On occasion, she translates herself. She lives between.
Toronto poet Rachel Zolf's practice is situated near the limits of language and the page. She creates polyvocal assemblages from found fragments, long poems that work by accretion with montage shock effects. Themes that include subjectivity, cultural identity, sexuality and trauma stew in wry anti-aesthetic language/lyric explorations of the modern familiar. Her second book, Masque (The Mercury Press, 2004), was nominated for the 2005 Trillium Book Award for Poetry, and the title long poem from her first book, Her absence, this wanderer (BuschekBooks, 1999), was a finalist in the CBC Literary Competition. She serves as poetry editor for The Walrus magazine.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Lisa Robertson, Office for Soft Architecture

Office for Soft Architecture
I’ve spent an hour this morning in Vancouver. Wonderful to pick up a book, in this case Lisa Robertson’s Office for Soft Architecture, and be transported to the musings and meanderings of one’s former life, especially when that author gives one new language, a sharper angle. From her meditation on Rubus Armeniacus, to The Fountain Transcript, Robertson catalogues the Vancouverness of Vancouver. I can’t think of more resonant writing about the city of Vancouver than this…various poets come to mind, George Bowering, Daphne Marlatt, Roy Kiyooka, Michael Turner, but I can’t recall a writer who has tapped into my own musings and magnified them the way Robertson does. She glints the surface, but then she penetrates unearthing a whole new structure with which to view the city. The effect is not unlike the first time I read Christopher Dewdney’s The Natural History.
…our city is persistently soft. We see it like a raw encampment at the edge of the rocks, a camp for a navy trying to return to a place that has disappeared. So the camp is a permanent transience, the buildings or shelters like tents--tents of steel, chipboard, stucco, glass, cement, paper and various claddings--tents rising and falling in the glittering rhythm which is null rhythm, which is the flux of modern careers. (15)
Included in the book is an essay titled Pure Surface, regarding the ubiquitous Vancouver Special, that particular box-like structure of (once) affordable Vancouver houses. The website referred to in the last line has an astounding catalogue of these dwellings—a feature of Vancouver that with distance has now become a kind of romantic fixation. In fact, over the summer, I spent quite some time photographing them (I also photographed trees and apartment buildings in the west end, another remarkable architectural aspect of the city). Note the two above, one in the more predicatable treeless state, and another, with a Monkey tree no less.

This book is further indication of the depth Robertson brings to her work. And like Anne Carson, her ability to marry the essay in a poetic form. It also establishes Robertson the philosopher and flanéur. I can’t help but think how lucky Paris is to have her there. But the west coast is not so easy to leave, so perhaps we will have more occasion to see the west coast through her eyes.
For more Vancouver photos click here.