Friday, July 28, 2006

More on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

Congratulations to the editor's of this book for winning the Ryga Award, named after playwright George Ryga, whose play The Ecstasy of Rita Joe was the first Canadian play I ever saw. Maggie De Vries apparently won the inaugural award for Missing Sarah, which I have yet to read but will put it on my list. In plain sight indeed: and only getting worse.

Fanny Howe

The Lives of a Spirit was originally published by Sun & Moon press in 1987. Last year nighthboat books republished it with a coda: Glasstown: Where Something Got Broken. I've had the book for several weeks now, and in that time I have had an intense relationship with it, picking it up, reading a page, maybe two, then wanting to let that linger, I set the book down. But when the next day I return to that place, the book has vanished. Later I find it next to Proust or Stein, and this morning, engulged in the new Penguin volume of the Icelandic Sagas.

Not surprising this shifting locations given Howe's mercurial quality. As Jordan Davis points out in a review of another Howe book, one I have not yet read.
The best work in each of her new books is literally astonishing—action, thought, and emotion come out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly. As much as any writer of recent years, Howe enacts what the South American poet Jorge Guinheime called hasosismo, or the art of the fallen limb, in which startling insights emerge and are subsequently concealed.
Hasosismo. An equally astonishing word, and an enviable insight. This flash is, perhaps the quality of writing that I find so pleasing, and so impossible to describe. Certainly it is partly that ecstatic presence. "I am seeking something solid at the center of human life," Howe says in this interview. Is this "hasosismo"? This simultaneously solid and morphing energy at the core of the work? Those wonderfully understated images: well cafted, firm, squat, elegant and still serviceable. From the opening line:
She chewed her braid and waited for her mother.
to the closing:
My bench is there, where I sit with folded hands.
and everywhere in beetween we see a skilled portraitist, a 19th century brush creating still, lush interiors, a woman looking out:
One morning around four she peeled the skin off an apple beside the warm radiator, (15)

It was a chill March dawn that opened and closed like folding doors, when I went to the lofty window framed by thick crimson curtains...I wore a shabby camisole under my factory grey... (31)

I leaned against the glass window...a dog's nose cupped warm in the palm of my hand (38)
Howe suggests that the book was conceived through
the lens of nineteenth century fiction (the Brontes, Hardy, the Russians) because their brand of naturalism was radiant. These novels gave me access to Paradise through descriptive language...
But this descriptive language is spare, shifting from scene to scene with a fadeout quality, a lyric more like a dance piece than novel, conflict rife in each movment.

This is exciting work--a child's book in Howe's own words, but I don't see that unless I think of it as being the voice of the child in us, the child looking up, the child seeking for signs of wonder and atonement. Perhaps that is what I resist and embrace about the book, its instructive and hopeful exploration of motherhood in narrative, an unyeilding self-examination through language, and narrative...made more complicated by the literal spiritual interrogation, the constant searching, the "seeking out his face in a cup." This last element is the one I'm least comfortable witnessing, let alone commenting on. But I'm glad its there. I'm glad Howe is doing this work. And I want to see what she finds in the seeking. I want to peer in over her shoulder, and as Rae Armantrout says on the back of this book "I trust her as much as I have ever trusted anyone."

Finally, a note about the production quality of the book. In a time when presses are opting for POD its refreshing to see a press, and a new press like noatboat, paying such attention to the paper quality and binding. This is a beautiful book. And I hear they are publishing more Howe this fall.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Quote of the week

This is my one day off. I want a talking girl.
--Emmet Ray, Sweet & Lowdown

I'm finally beginning to get to my half-finished posts...I'll start with Hesse.

Everyone is talking about Eva Hesse, the visual artist who placed her finger on the pulse of minimalism, altering its course profoundly in her brief, but stellar career. With simultaneous shows at The Drawing Center and The Jewish Museum, there is no doubt that Hesse will be influencing artists and writers in the coming years. What's so compelling about her work? The simple shapes, the muted, earthy colours, how she refigures the actual canvas itself? The slight variations in the colour? How these hanging pieces--stuffed with who knows what to make them take on shape--become like well worked glazed surfaces. A sculptural version of Hesse's drawings, an even warmer exploration of minimalism than Rothko, or Agnes Martin. And so wonderful how the canvases reflect on the gallery floor above.

Reptition 19, now on view at The Jewish Museum, looks slighltly different from the photo on the left (lifted from the MOMA site). The sculpture will be on for a while yet, but I tried to take a friend to the Drawing Center last Saturday and they were closed for installation (I was beginning to think of the DC as a permanent home for Hesse.)

The confidence of the line is what struck me the second time through the Drawing Center. Even when the lines themselves appear nothing more than squiggles and spurts there is a sense of purpose, as if laying out a text she lays line, after line, assembling a sense of movement and textures...restrained, or contained, chaos.

This tension continues to fascinate. Why is that so much work, poetry or visual, seems to not hold together? Or not hold together in a satisfying enough way? I keep coming back to Moure's Frame of the Book, and O Cidadan as examples of something that seems translucent in its architecture, sinews pulled beyond any imaginable thinness (for lack of a better word), and yet still strong enough for the reader to tiptoe across, witnessing the endless layers below... In a world where lucid (upbeat, accessible) is a dirty word, this question is even more crucial.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Oh Poetry...

Words on the art of poetry and poetry scams from Jordan Davis and Joshua Corey, and more on MFAs from Gabe Gudding and in repsonse Ron Silliman. This is generally a topic folks want to avoid publicly it seems to me (though I once heard Franz Wright rant at length about the evil MFA programs to an audience full of high school students and poets at a festival)...oh, and Mary Burger on fiction in the New Yorker...

An Apparent Event: A Second Story Anthology, ed. Mary Burger

From "The Boy Who Could Fly"
I wanted to write novels
because I wanted to know
what would happen
and why.

I wanted to know
what happens.
I wanted what happens
to be something I could know.

As if,
when he says, Oh,
naked and inside.

Does what happens
mean the thing
that happens
or is the meaning of what happens
something else again.

Is everything that happens
something else again. And
what do we call that.

--Mary Burger

from "Red"
The light fell through the glass and broke the
heart gently. I was not aware of any divergence from
the original plan. Only that the robbery was to be
smooth. And stole away did he. Now the aftermath
of thoughts which are ceaseless. A bullet through the
main artery and he had me swooning. Was this the
unthinkable five?

Red, in dictionary terms, is merely a word to be
looked up. Not spread all over the floor.
--Kristin Prevallet
I would love to post both the Burger and Prevallet texts in their entirety.
I would love to read them out loud in public.
I would love to be brave enough to hum in public too, just one note, for hours.
I would love to have endless hours to read such texts.
I would love to tell you all to go buy this anthology.
I would love to tell you all to create more texts like this, to send them my way in great herds, and trample me in my summer slumber...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Mary Burger

Sonny is one of the most exciting texts I've encountered in some time. Thin, agile, light as air, and condensed to the point of delirious richness, it possesses the sort of elasticity that I find irresistible. Bed time reading, subway reading, a steady companion in a narrative way--there is propulsion--but also in the random entry. Am I the only one who prefers a morsel of language to then linger over as the subway rattles along? I don't need to cling to the sentences in an orderly narrative, and neither does Burger.
The man who thrived for fifty years on work he learned at twenty served his country in the war in a munitions factory and burned his lip at break time drinking coffee from a mason jar.

As fallout rained down on the milk cows, as Strontium-90 was pronounced on the radio and overheard in grocery stores.

This man kept a balance in the bank. (34)
What confident precision this is, shifting from declarative to litany:
Who tried to kill herself but couldn't die.

Who packed her clothes and waited for the train.
always with pristine imagery:
The atomic cattle, like the atomic cat, grew small white stars where the fallout rained on them.
This world assembles, is liminal, is kaleidoscopic and angular as the author repeatedly detonates the banal:
Adhesive tape, the last thing added to the bomb.
I could simply list the lines that glistened and pierced. I could try to put my finger on the promise of the line, the exact blend of chaos and order that makes this book sing even as it reminds me of the tin, atomic air, the militarization of domesticity, the path we are all locked into, and yet it is impossible to put down. Or at least to put down for long...

A stack of reading notes on yellow paper awaits the healing of my wrist. Meanwhile, I'm going back to Burger. You can find out more the author and text here, and you can read an excerpt here.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Libertine

It took a while to get back to The Libertine, but I've finally had occasion to see the movie and have nothing but praise for everything from the photography, to the script, to the direction, costume, and thankfully, the acting itself. I was not convinced that Johnny Depp could pull off Rochester, that most lurid rake and wit, but his spit was spot on, and he held his wink in check. Elizabeth Morton, whom I haven't seen since Woody Allen's Sweet & Lowdown, was stunning...why don't we see more of her?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Virginia Woolf & Ethel Smyth

Anyone ever heard a composition of Ethel Smyth's? Anyone believe that she and Woolf actually had an affair? And what is it with the pipe?

Friday, July 21, 2006

NYC is design

Okay, so why doesn't Andrea Zittel have a line of furniture? Much more useful than Murakami's infiltration into the handbag business... Have you checked out Room & Board? apt? And have you seen what Todd Oldham is doing with the Laz-y-boy? I may well trade in my oily orange version of 70s suburban sloth...300 can choose from 300 colors, patterns and styles of material. It's awesome. Completely awesome. Oh, and this isn't going to happen in Brooklyn, but someone out there can do it...and let me know it feels.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Paradise Now

This movie is a must see. Paradise Now starts out on a typical day in the West Bank city of Nablus, where daily life grinds down everything in sight (from buildings to bodies...), and check points constantly see people circling in on themselves... But things change quickly when the two friends are chosen to carry out a mission in Tel Aviv and we shift into the last 24 hours of their brief lives. The movie is extremely well-crafted, exploiting the tension of time and physical restraints (bombs strapped to bodies), without going overboard. A study in confident story-telling...the script, the acting, the directing, all pitched perfectly.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

It's Hot in the city, and it will be hotter next Tuesday

@ Dixon Place (258 Bowery, 2nd Floor, btw. Houston & Prince)
Admission is $5 at the door.
Readings by: E. Tracy Grinnell, Paul Foster Johnson, & Sina Queyras

E. Tracy Grinnell is the author of Some Clear Souvenir (O Books, 2006), Of the France (a duration press ebook, 2004), Music or Forgetting (O Books, 2001), Harmonics (Melodeon Poetry Systems, 2000), and with Paul Foster Johnson, Quadriga (gong chapbooks, 2006). She lives in New York and edits Litmus Press.

Paul Foster Johnson's poetry has appeared in a number of print and online journals. He is currently an editor at Litmus Press and lives in Brooklyn.

Sina Queyras' most recent collection of poetry is Lemon Hound (Coach House, 2006). Last year she edited Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets. She lives in Brooklyn.

HOT! The NYC Celebration of Queer Culture has been happening every July since 1991 (hosted by Dixon Place), and it includes full length and shorter works in performance, music, theater, dance, literature, poetry, spoken word, puppetry, burlesque, drag, and circus. For more information visit

belladonna* is a reading series and small press that promotes the work of women writers who are adventurous, experimental, politically involved, multi-form, multicultural, multi-gendered, impossible to define, delicious to talk about, unpredictable, and dangerous with language. Please contact us (Erica Kaufman, Rachel Levitsky, Sina Queyras et al) if you'd like to receive a catalog and/or be placed on our mailing list.

*a deadly nightshade, a cardiac and respiratory stimulant, having purplish-red flowers and black berries.
belladonna* is grateful for funding by Poets & Writers, CLMP, NYSCA, and Dixon Place.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Hound will read a poem by Mina Loy on August 6th, and then part of a longer Stein piece with some excellent poets, on August 10th. I hear the air conditioning is very good...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Early morning, Chinatown. A block I hadn't discovered before. New York is like that though, you can discover a block only to realize you've aldready discovered it a year back...there's just so much to see.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Fabulous: one of the gate keepers at the NYPL

A lot of time at the New York Public Library this summer. Where better to work in the city? And one of these days very soon I'll check out the Book Art Exhibit and report back.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Quote of the week

If God is a capitalist we're all screwed.

dada at the moma

Much of this comprehensive show at MOMA will be familiar to those familiar with DADAists. Actually walking in to the museum/gallery felt eerie (not to mention full...there was barely any room to move). And the eerie was partly about the people, but also about the odd disjunct of seeing this art in such a space, all at once, and with so many odd musings and responses (they made me delete all my photos of said faces staring...). It was not unlike the moment I was walking in Pacific Center Mall in Vancouver and heard a Talking Heads song playing in a store for the first time...eventually you heard them everywhere but not at first. What could these people be thinking, I wondered? Are they actually hearing the lyrics?
So, given the populist moment, the real surprise of the DADA show, not surprisingly I suppose, is the women. Oh, yes, women. We hear about Duchamp, but we all think of Marcel, not sister Suzanne who was a formidable talent in her own right... We don't hear enough about Hanna Hoch, and I had never heard of this Swiss woman who made puppets...

Lawn bad, garden good

You have to love this project. I still don't understand why cities aren't FULL of rooftop gardens. This is a no-brainer to me. Studies have shown that added green space can bring temperatures down in concrete jungles. Not to mention extended greenlines, more spaces for birds...and way less chemicals than lawns, which after a few years in NJ I could only see as big chemical sponges.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

And the rain came: thunderstorms in Brooklyn

Lisa Robertson's Office for Soft Architecture

Oh, you just have to love a book launch at Value Village. This event falls under the category of "where I wish I was right now" instead of enduring the smog and 90 degree temperatures of the northeast...but as readers of the Hound will know, Robertson is a favorite, and Soft Architecture--published first by Clear Cut Press in Oregon, and now released by Coach House in Canada--is a favorite of the favorite. The essays here read as beautifully as those perfectly fit Levis you can't throw out, simple and elegant. But the simplicity is deceptive. Layers of sartorial and philosophical references, and hours of casual and rigorous thinking make these texts seem light. Surface, colour, depth, historical analysis, and grand walks--not the flaneur we have become accustomed to, the sense of which has been diluted it seems to me, by our constant referencing. The Seven Walks included here reignite the possibility of walking in the tradition of Stein and Woolf who bring so much to the movement of the language, as well as the seeing itself.

Villages des Valeurs (as it is known in Quebec), was a preoccupation of yours truly in the 80s. Haunting the aisles for suits of a certain cut, felt hats, vintage crepe shirts, tiki ties--or wide stripes a la David Byrne. I once found an orange Sandra Dee permanent press blouse with the price tag still on. Worn with pedal pushers once before it shrunk three sizes, it was worth the half dozen years I carted it around before finding the right moment to unveil it. As Robertson says, "in the House of V we luxuriate in the unoriginality of our desires and identities," and we covet what we haven't had the foresight, or the wealth to store.

The lustre of headless Barbies and I Dream of Genie lunch kits has faded a little (okay, only a little...), but I still get very excited over a well-tailored suit, or a particularly sly leather coat. And while the days of filling a cart up with clothes for a crisp twenty dollar bill have gone, compared to the price of vintage on Queen Street, or the East Village, VV remains a bargain. As for Robertson's book, like The Weather, and Debbie, it's one of those texts you come back to again and again and find something more to delight in. Not a "read-once" and never feel compelled by it again. And as far as any object or text is concerned is their higher praise than that?

Fishing, Central Park

Dykes to watch our for

Ah, the queer life. It just gets more interesting. Cartoonist and chronicler of all things lesbian, Bechdel, talks to the Village Voice.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Writing is not a commodity.

Writing is thinking made visible.

Writing is always forward (or backward depending on language and global positioning).

Writing is the space between this

And this (on the train, now


is only in relation to stopping whereas



Friday, July 07, 2006

What the hell? What a way to go. I had no idea what these two (or is that three?) were up to...

Go Ryan Knighton!

I always like to see a fellow Canadian grab some prime press. This week's Time Out features the Vancouver writer and his memoir Cockeyed, now out from Public Affairs (who is that??). Congrats.

Philly news

Sky, Italian Market
I'm going to have to start a section for Philly links now...starting with the earlier post regarding Zoe Strauss and now CA Conrad's blog. Oh, it's starting to seem like fun. And oh, yah, that heat wave finally broke.

Notes toward an essay on criticism

Never out of fear
Always with curiousity
Never with spite or malice
Always trying to make connection
Never with your own agenda
Always with a sense of possibility
Never angry at what you don't yet understand
Always mindful of the past

Looking at Pope's Essay on Criticism, he says "The gen'rous Critick fann'd the Poet's Fire,/ And taught the World, with Reason to Admire,"and why not? Be positive or not at all. Be critical but positive, why not? Criticism can build, or dismantle yes, but even in dismantling, or deconstructing, one can have obliteration in mind, or one can have reconstruction. Why not choose the latter? Why not with a mind to more? Delight & Instruct as they say, rather than piss on and piss off.

There are few nasty reviews that I've found justified. For instance, Kate Taylor's review of Judith Thompson's play Perfect Pie, a long while back now, asked a very good question: Why was this play not developed further? Can we not expect more from a playwright of this caliber? As an admirer of Thompson's, and someone familiar with both her work and play development in Canada at that point, I felt the questions justified. Furthermore the reviewer, it seemed to me, was not merely venting her own bias (ie: she just didn't "like" what Thompson was up to and was never going to "like" it), she was asking for accountability within the greater context of Canadian theater. Much different.

Pope again:
Avoid Extreams; and shun the Fault of such,
Who still are pleas'd too little, or too much.
At ev'ry Trifle scorn to take Offence,
That always shows Great Pride, or Little Sense;
Those Heads as Stomachs are not sure the best
Which nauseate all, and nothing can digest.
The art of reviewing, is after all, an art. So why not give it the rigor we expect of other forms of art? What I come back to again and again is the language, it's usefulness. Too much reviewing, it seems to me, is over-personalized. My students of writing know better than to preface any criticism with "I like" or "I didn't like" this or that work. Who cares what the reviewer likes and doesn't? Of what value is such criticism? What would happen if critics chose to write from a position of wonder instead? From a position of actively discovering or creating themselves, of being part of building a language (perhaps not a common language, I feel the most earnest of those 70s feminists tapping my shoulder just now) of creation... Not of emotion, not of pitting one's own emotional responses against a nation, but from a conscious position, aware of oneself in relation to the whole, teeming, fragmented, complex, certainly not one thing to any one person no matter how tightly one tugs on the leash...

Leave lover's quarrels for the bedroom...Or, as bell hooks might say, if you say that violence is love you don't have any idea what love is. I don't recognize being pulverized as love. This is, in Brossard's terms, "ill-communication." And perhaps Brossard at her strongest conveys this possibility. A rigorous tenderness. But having evoked the tender I must also say that I do not desire a noodley reflexive muscle all wet with batted, blind love-lashes...One might love the text, feel pleasure in it, and still maintain a critical stance. Furthermore, one must be able to understand projects that are not their own, in fact that are far from their own. This is, to my mind, what makes a good poet great. Not operating from a place of fear, needing to criticize anything and everything that does not mirror one's own project, but being able to look on differance with an eye of understanding, appreciation, and above all, for what can be learned and applied to one's own work. Moving forward, always, creating more.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Something for everyone in Philly

Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia

Oh, Philly just got a lot more exciting yesterday when I popped up from the greenline to discover this gallery. There were several inspiring shows: Sara Reisman's Soft Sites and Candida Hofer's Architecture of Absence, in particular. I was struck by the spectacle of absence, the suspended potential, in Hofer's photographs of spaces, usually grand in scale, and momentarily at least, empty. In New York one is always struck by any kind of stillness or absence since there is so little of it.* Hofer's approach to photography--a kind of minimalist archival impulse--reminds me a little of Burtynsky, though more subtle in its critique of social and historic moments. There is something absolutely classical about the single point perspective of these photos.
Soft Sites, riffing on the word's geographic root as a place of seismic activitity, are spaces in flux. The show includes "intangible aspects" and delightful metaphors that expand the categories of art as much as the location of it. Picnic on the Ocean, for example, which sees a Japanese and Korean artist meeting each other out in the ocean at the ideological and mythical border between those two cultures. Other pieces inlcuded a wonderful 3d image of a House Dreaming by Peter Dudek, Vinyl Penants and neon messages by Soledad Arias, and several artists working in the realm of the botanical, reminding us of our culture's war on "native plants", its arbitrary designation of weed, while reclaiming, or reconnecting citizens with landscapes that may be familiar and unknown. The wetlands we drive by, or peer out at from our train windows... In this case the legacy of Bartram's Garden.
A quick glance at Zoe Strauss's Ramp Projects brought me back to the city, to the people and the spaces we inhabit...I didn't have time to spend in the work (and shall return to do so), but I love the fact that she interacts directly with the streets and people using them. She even has a blog! She's awesome. And coming soon to the Whitney.

* Note the post of yesterday's Chinatown photos: not a predictable representation of Chinatown (though of course I took those too); the near-stillness (there is a pigeon, a man in the far right who has snuck into the park, on lock-down for some reason, and water moving...), seemed to me like striking gold.

Candida Hofer

rawlings reviews scream events

wish i were there!

Monday, July 03, 2006

More please, Streep that is

Warning: gushing ahead. Full on admiration for Streep, full disclosure that the wonky morals of this fantasy aside, the Hound loved The Devil Wears Prada, and has put the movie on the list of kick-ass moments for women. (Cate Blanchett playing Elizabeth is also on this list...and I hope I'll be adding the sequel, shooting now I believe). She's funny, she's frightening, not your typical queen of mean, in fact not since Life & Loves of a She Devil have I seen Streep have so much fun... And she looked fabulous as Miranda Priestly, editor in Chief of "Runway" magazine.
Okay, I haven't read the book and am not even tempted to, and yes, it's a commercial venture, mainstream, sappy music, overly pointed emotional moments, dripping with chick-flick dressage, the stuff of continental flights etc., but that's how hungry we are to see women with a modicum of power! This is how low we will slither to delight in a woman kicking some bloody ass... And Streep does kick ass. The movie is worth watching just to see Streep having so much fun being such a devil. But I was quite taken with the relationship between Priestly and her assistant, Hathaway (Whom I did not expect to like, but then why not? She was great in Brokeback Mountain.).
Of course at the center of the movie, and a question that is burning for me of late, is the question of power. Particularly women and power. How do women handle it? How do we get it and keep it? How do we pass it on? How do we mentor? This character shouldn't be a role model, but I love that she makes her assistants jump through more hoops than a pair of circus dogs...come on. They are learning the ropes--and one thing the movie shows is that being your best is work. And it is. Call me a sadist, but I dream of being pushed to be ever better...Who wouldn't want to have that kind of mentorship? Tell me honestly, those of you who are women, have you been mentored? Wouldn't you love to be mentored?
I made a list of powerful women in my life and I was surprised at the number--near twenty! I wouldn't have guessed that. My exact scientific methods shall not be disclosed, but I assure you the list of requirements was lengthy, but open enough to wind up with two 3 year olds as well as several over 70. The only thing we noticed that these women (females I suppose considering the 3 year olds...), had in common was that all of them did not defer to men. Otherwise they are quite different in their power and how they hold it.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Philly is Friendly; Canada has a birthday

Everywhere I go people want to stop and say Hey. These two were in the middle of Doggie Etiquette 101, which you can see works wonders...
But really, this is what it feels like to be outside of Canada looking in. Happy Canada Day all.

Tattooed Mama's

You get toys with your beer...