Sunday, April 29, 2007

April is Poetry Month

Partial Clearance by John Koethe

Barely a week later
I'd returned to myself again.
But where a light perspective of particulars
Used to range under an accommodating blue sky
There were only numb mind tones, thoughts clenched like little fists,
And syllables struggling to release their sense to my imagination.
I tried to get out of myself
But it was like emerging into a maze:
The buildings across the street still looked the same,
But they seemed foreshortened,
Dense, and much closer than I'd ever realized,
As though I'd only seen them previously in a dream.
Why is it supposed to be so important to see things as they actually are?
The sense of life, of what life is like--isn't that
What we're always trying so desperately to say?
And whether we live in between them,
Mirror each other out of thin air, or exist only as reflections
Of everything that isn't ours, we all sense it,
And we want it to last forever.

published with author's permission

Historical Memory, by Kirmen Uribe, translated from the Basque by Elizabeth Macklin

Londres. Brixton auzoa. Eskuot batean hiru japoniar.
Afaria egin dugu. Bihar hegaldia daukat Bilbora.
Te beroaz Bigarren Mundu Gerra hizpide.
Japoniako zaharrek horri buruz ez dute ezer esaten,
kontatu du batek. Are gehiago, eskola-liburuetan
ez da gerrari buruz ia aipamenik agertzen.
Gutxi gorabehera, esaldi bakar hau:
“Bigarren Mundu Gerra
1942-1945 urteetan gertatu zen eta
Hiroshima eta Nagasakiko bonbekin amaitu”.

Hegaldian noa Bilbora.
Txiki-txikiak dira hemendik Bizkaiko etxeak.

London. Brixton. Three Japanese in a squat.
We’ve had supper. Tomorrow I fly to Bilbao.
Over hot tea, speaking of the Second World War:
The old people of Japan tell nothing about it,
one says. What’s more, in the schoolbooks
there’s nearly no mention at all of the war.
Or, more or less, this lone sentence:
“The Second World War
took place between 1942 and 1945 and
ended with the bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.”

Now on the flight to Bilbao.
The houses of Vizcaya are minute from here.

published with author's permission

Useful Advice by Carl Dennis

Suppose you sat writing at your desk
Between days, long before dawn,
The only one up in town,
And suddenly saw out the window
A great star float by,
Or heard on the radio sweet voices
From wandering Venus or Neptune,
A little hello from the voids.
Who would believe you in the morning
Unless you'd practiced for years
A convincing style?
So you must learn to labor each day.
Finally a reader may write he's certain
Whatever you've written or will write is true.
Then all you need is the patience to wait
For stars or voices.

posted with the author's permission

Anniversary by Mary Stewart Hammond

Tonight they were bringing my brother up from the deep,
nothing so grand as the sea, merely
a quarry in Georgia, barely
a mile or two wide and flooded
to a depth of 200 feet, no bigger
in the scheme of things
than a soup spoon's bowl,
but it held him, it cradled him,
this place vast as death,
small as life. It reduced him
to a speck in the universe.
The size of him, after all,
was vast and small.
It filled the spoon; it disappeared.

posted with the author's permission

Portrait of Man with a Lily by Linda Bierds

After the miniature by Hans Holbein the Younger

Through the window, winter,
black oxen slumped in the pastures. Someone's whistle,
then the chatter of wagon wheels as, carriage
by carriage, some king or black-eyed queen
bobs through the countryside, outrunning the plague.

In the clouds the ice storms gather. Cold sun
tints the ground to the roan of peaches.
And in a silk tunic, Hans Holbein studies

immaculacy: the dust-free room, the lint-free silk,
his wrists and lye-washed hands. Then he strokes
to the back of a playing card-some king
or flat-eyed queen-a tinted ground.

And waits, powders an eggshell, a peach pit, a stone
from the gall of a black ox. Waits. Sits
at the window, where high on the hillsides

dusk's pandemic wash
darkens the carriages, the clouds that offer
their white petals to the darkening province
of space. Until only a clatter

remains--wagon wheels, ice--as he bends
to the card, outlines in miniature
a swatch of cloak. Then smaller still,
a placid, wide-cheeked, tentative face.
Then smaller still, a lily.

posted with the author's permission

Swans by Henri Cole

From above we must have looked like ordinary

tourists feeding winter swans, though it was

the grit of our father we flung hard

into the green water slapping against the pier,

where we stood soberly watching the ash float

or acquiesce and the swans, mooring themselves

against the little scrolls churned up out of the grave

by a motorboat throbbing in the distance.

What we had in common had been severed

from us. Like an umbrella in sand, I stood

rigidly apart - the wind flashing its needles

in air, the surf heavy, nebulous - remembering

a sunburned boy napping between hairy legs,

yellow jackets hovering over an empty basket.

posted with the author's permission

Elements by Katie Hartsock

The air you breathe freezes
on your beard, rough strands
icicled and gleaming like the trees.
I bring my mouth to your chin
and with my tongue
I eat your breath.
We are walking in an ice land;
Does Iceland’s name mean Iceland in Icelandic?
Who names countries
by what they can’t be sure defines them?
The only hints the island lets slip
as to how hot the earth gets towards her middle
are the geysers, the springs, the steam billowing
like a rumor over the blue snow.
I take your gloved hand in my gloved hand
so that you might open
your warm wet mouth again, say
something you have not been taught.

published with author's permission

Friday, April 6, 2007

Charles Burnett's "The Killer of Sheep"

Last Sunday saw the legendarily unavailable film "The Killer of Sheep" by Charles Burnett. What a wonderful movie. Not much in the way of story, but the film has a gaze that's penetrating yet generous to its characters. One thing I especially loved was the constant stream of oblique glimpses into their lives. Example... filmmakers are always taught to get into a scene quickly without entrances and exits, to begin "in medias res." Burnett, instead, begins one scene with kids in a little handstand competition on their front porch. Clearly they're bored out of their skulls. After a good while of this, the father, coming home from work and in a "mood,' enters the frame, distractedly brushes their hovering feet away from his face, dumping the kids over, and lumbers in the front door. Somehow hilarious, and an entrance invested with so much psychological material. Genius rarely comes so offhand.

See it! Meanwhile, a good broad assessment of the film here, excerpted below:

The legendary South Central film “Killer of Sheep,” will be released for the first time in theaters on its 30th anniversary. The film, now in a beautifully restored 35mm print, will be commercially distributed for the first time.

Directed by Charles Burnett, “Killer of Sheep” examines the black Los Angeles ghetto of Watts in the mid-1970s through the eyes of Stan, a sensitive dreamer who is growing detached and numb from the psychic toll of working at a slaughterhouse. Frustrated by money problems, he finds respite in moments of simple beauty: the warmth of a teacup against his cheek, slow dancing with his wife to the radio, holding his daughter. The film offers no solutions; it merely presents life -- sometimes hauntingly bleak, sometimes filled with transcendent joy and gentle humor.

“Killer of Sheep” played at a handful of colleges around the United States and in some small European festivals before receiving the Critics' Award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1981. In 1990, the Library of Congress declared it a national treasure and placed it among the first 50 films entered in the National Film Registry for its historical significance. In 2002, the National Society of Film Critics also selected the film as one of the 100 Essential Films of all time.

“Killer of Sheep” was shot on location in Watts in a series of weekends on a budget of less than $10,000, most of which was grant money. Finished in 1977 and shown sporadically, its reputation grew and grew until it won a prize at the 1981 Berlin International Film Festival.

Thanks to Selva for calling my attention to that piece, and to Natalie for taking me to the pictures. - JSL

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Hang in there Chumley's

Chumley's has taken a shot in its ribs... an interior wall at the onetime speakeasy and literary institution at 86 Bedford has collapsed, and the Fire Department is on the scene (pic below). Let's hope everyone's first NY hangout doesn't get "86'ed."

A comment on notes: "There was a spring-fed stream that runs under the building and has eroded some of the original log base timbers that form part of the foundation. Bedford Street had a stream running down the middle of it back until the '30s. One of the reasons why the people in the community survived cholera outbreaks and stuff like that - they had a fresh water supply. Fiorella LaGuardia paved over everything - every street had to be able to fit a police car."

The shortest stories

Ernest Hemingway once said his best work was a story he wrote in just six words: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Here, by the likes of DBC Piere and Jeff Eugenides, are some other such flash fictions.

Thanks to the all-knowing Chloe Bass, TMP's L train correspondent, for the referral.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Charles Burnett!

to a screening last night, with French Natalie, of Charles Burnett's "The Killer of Sheep," which oddly this month celebrates is thirtieth anniversary, and its first theatrical release. It'd been in Limbo all that time because of a rights issue, a music rights issue I expect. What a brilliant film... or rather what brilliant filmmaking. More about this later.

The Main Point's L-Train Observer

The Main Point continues to encourage response, especially to posts on foreign affairs, points of history, Chile's counter-cyclical fiscal policy, and 20th century Russian poetry. Also occasionally fashion. Thus this guest post from TMP's friend Chloe Bass, a native New Yorker:

Dear Women of New York,

I was happy when the legging returned to fashion-prominence. In addition to the comfort aspect (leggings vs. tights? No contest), leggings also add a nice touch of 80s funk to any outfit. I'm not ashamed to admit that I miss the 80s (or the bit I saw), and judging by the wild popularity of 80s theme nights at bars and clubs, many of you are with me. I was even happy when leggings got back together with their old best girl, the oversized sweater. Whether paired with sleek boots or the still popular Converse high tops, this style is one I'll let stick. (Although I'll admit I breathed a sigh of relief that the tied-to-the-side t-shirt trend hasn't been widely revived.)

Leggings are wonderful -- they walk the delicious line between under- and over-garment. But ladies, let's not take things too far: leggings aren't pants. Judging by a few recent subway rides on the uber-trendy L train, it seems that many of you have forgotten that distinction. Leggings and a t-shirt? This isn't the gym. Leggings and a short sweater? Don't be ridiculous. I don't care how fit your legs are. You look silly. Even Cat Woman is embarrassed for you.

Keep the legging fresh and sexy: don't overuse it. Embrace the glory of clothing that calls attention to your shape metaphorically, not literally.

Yours everly,
Chloƫ Bass

Dalrymple celebrated again

Saturday yet another party for William Dalrymple and his deservedly-lauded "The Last Mughal," a chronicle of the Indian uprising of 1857. Dalrymple admitted lamentingly that he had, perhaps, the highest ratio of parties to reviews of any writer he knew. I'd go on but my companion, the anony-blogger Libertylondongirl, details the evening here, and I put together my blog so slowly that I could be scribbling it in my own blood without hurting myself.

Oh, Orhan Pamuk is taller than I'd imagined.

April Fools' Days much less fun when it falls on a Sunday. Long ago my old boss George Plimpton used to present me, come spring, with a new surprising bit of news... about the Japanese marathoner who'd misunderstood and thinking the race was twenty-four DAYS rather than miles, had gone missing from the Boston marathon, later spotted somewhere in northern Massachusetts. And so forth.

It was some years before I knew to watch out for him come April 1st. Once, having learned a few lessons from the master, I had some fun in turning the tables, about which another time. On such a day as today I miss such leg-pulling.