I Am Big. It's the Pictures That Got Small

for those wonderful people out there in the dark

28 May 2007

Two Years: I Am Bigger


I Am Big. It's the Pictures That Got Small is two years old today!

25 May 2007

It's Towel Day

Do you have your towel with you?

24 May 2007

Poetry Thursday: Talking It Up

This week's Poetry Thursday task was to incorporate dialogue into a poem, to take the poetry of talking and blend it into a poem. Of course, with speech, you also introduce other dramatic and narrative elements into a poem, which is a nice way to stretch what poetry can include.

My poem for this week is a part of sequence that invents a parallel life for Matthew Barney, imagining if he were three inches taller and had a shot at a professional football career in the 1990s (fulfilling a childhood dream), rather than becoming one of the most important visual artists in the United States. So earlier in the sequence, he becomes famous for playing with the then Los Angeles Raiders, and he parlays that fame into a life of celebrity-hood. Of course, he's not a complete sell-out, and he strikes up a romance with Miranda Richardson. Yes, you may ask whose fantasy this really is about.

Obviously, the romance with Miranda Richardson is a complete fiction, but it’s nice to think about. In the early 1990s, she won attention for a number of films, especially her work in The Crying Game, as an IRA terrorist (Ireland does figure into Barney’s Cremaster Cycle), which led to her role of Viv Eliot in Tom and Viv. And so I could see their paths crossing in L.A. at some point.

The poem takes up an image in one of Barney's films, the Cheetah-woman, that reflects his interest in metamophic tropes: it creates beautiful and ugly and memorable and frightening and horrific and poetic imagery in his work. So I decide to let Miranda undergo her own beautiful transformation in this poem--why not?

Also about Matthew Barney, everyone in the New York art world knows that Barney’s companion is the Icelandic rock star Bjork, but everyone really hip in the New York art world doesn’t mention this fact. Leita, by the way, is not Icelandic for cheetah, but for another word word.

And finally, this poem starts with one of those night-time conversations, that falls away to sleep, and then to dream, and then a little beyond.

Miranda Richardson, or the Cheetah-Woman

Miranda? Miranda, are you awake?

Yes, Matthew.

Do you know the Icelandic word for Cheetah?

Icelandic? Cheetah?

Yeah, what does an Icelander call a cheetah in Icelandic?

Is Icelandic a language? Don’t people in Reykjavic speak some other language? I mean, don’t they call their language something else?

No, I’m sure it’s Icelandic. What else could it be?

And a cheetah? Why would there be an Icelandic word, a real Icelandic word, for a cheetah? Where would they run into one?

We say cheetah, and I was wondering what they say.

But cheetah is hardly an English word, isn’t it?

So, you don’t know then?

Sorry, love, I have no idea.

Miranda is falling
asleep, on their bed, beside
bowls of figs, black cherries, grapes,

and olives, and it is Lush
, Billy Strayhorn, from earlier
in the evening, that accompanies

Miranda’s falling, now through L.A.,
later New York, then London, the usual
homebound arc, through the questions

of “What’ll I do next,” with
Vivien Haigh-Wood’s biography
on the floor. In the morning, she’ll

wake quite restful, unblemished,
but now, in this falling, along
her temple and across her thighs

and calves, appear spots, white
then blackening, and then hair,
curling from her vagina, spreading,

over her buttocks, over her legs.
Over her closed eyes, a hint of almonding,
a down-turn in the mouth, but nothing

so definite, and then a slight softening,
fattening of her flesh, slight, across her
belly and torso and breasts, and then

her nipples become blond, flatten,
almost indistinct. As with any
man’s, Matthew’s penis hardens,

while he watches malefully
with longing. He doesn’t touch
the cheetah-woman, this strange

British anthromorph, especially while
she’s still falling to her sleep,
after a long day already, after

his silly questions that are a wonder
to her, and a trial, too.
Miranda is in London now,

somewhere between adolescence
and childhood, nowhere near
Iceland or Ireland, and she is

circling in her sleep-dance,
purring in her sleep-fall,
leita, leita, leita.

17 May 2007

A Little, Very Little, Humor and Poetry: Poetry Thursday

Thank you, Maggie Ward, for introducing me to Richard Brautigan when I was a 16-year-old kid in Boise, Idaho.

Yes, Brautigan is something of a lightweight poet, a kind of hippie and hormonal Henny Youngman of a poet. (This image is of Youngman, by the way, so very not Brautigan.) Anyway, she gave me a copy of his Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork, and I delighted at his one joke, haiku-ish poems. And I realized I could readily write that kind of poetry, too--all it needed was a irreverence and punch. Here's one such example I wrote, probably when I was 17:

Writing a Poem While My Love Fondles My Penis at 6:00 a.m.

I have two choices.

* * * * *

Well, you get the idea. But as such, Brautigan's work was a great introduction to me about how some poetry can operate like a really good joke, in which you have to get the audience to participate, to fill in the gaps, and in which you have to use language most economically, and in which you have to rely on the most concrete and ordinary of images.

Of course, I kind of grew out of that stage, wanting to throw in more into my poetry, and so I've more or less abandoned those one-joke poems, though I do see that on occasion, that irreverent streak will appear. Often, I'll choose to use humor to deepen a fairly serious poem, to get at a scathing point that only a good laugh can expose. But even so, I'll go back to something like that Brautigan moment, where I must indulge in that simple, single joke that arrives from the most simple, immediate, and unadorned observation.

Here's such an example from a collaboration between me and my son (then 13-years-old):

Gallup, New Mexico

Carson buys a turtle man
doll from a Navajo girl
at the Mexican buffet
diner. The food is
bad. Jim says,
“I think the turtle man
is the Navajo spirit for
Death to the White Man.”
Carson says, “That’s
okay. I’m buying it
for my sister.”

* * * * *

15 May 2007

Nothing More Needs Saying

Regarding the news about the death of Jerry Falwell: Ron Godwin, executive vice president of Liberty University, said he was not sure what caused the collapse, but said Jerry Falwell had "a history of heart challenges."

To the left, of course, is Tinky Winky, the Teletubby who was so famously outed by the Rev. Falwell.

06 May 2007

Oh, the Humanity

Seventy years ago today was the explosion of the Hindenburg. My good friend Joe Pacheco, a former New York City School Superintendent who has come back to writing poetry after a fifty year hiatus, was recorded by "Morning Edition" on National Public Radio, reading his poem, "Where Were You on May 6, 1937?" I think Joe's reading of the poem is even better than the poem in print.

04 May 2007

Beauty, Beauty, Beauty

Today is the exception that proves the rule for me, as I am about to participate in my first, and perhaps only, meme.

Thank you Rethabile, and the suggestion of this meme. His own response to it was so striking, layered, and thoughtful, I just had to carry it on, in kind. Simply, the meme is to complete the thought, "The great imperative of my life has been . . .".

Thanks to John Keats' famous equation about truth and beauty being about all ye need to know, I have to a degree abandoned the truth search. It's just too difficult, murky for me, and I find myself agreeing completely with Joan Didion's view about those shouting their moral truths and acting on their moral imperatives:

You see I want to be quite obstinate about insisting that we have no way of knowing – beyond that fundamental loyalty to the social code – what is “right” and what is “wrong,” what is “good” and what “evil.” I dwell so upon this because the most disturbing aspect of “morality” seems to me to be the frequency with which the word now appears; in the press, on television, in the most perfunctory kinds of conversation. Questions of straightforward power (or survival) politics, questions of quite indifferent public policy, questions of almost anything; they are all assigned these factitious moral burdens. There is something quite facile going on, some self-indulgence at work. Of course we would all like to “believe” in something, like to assuage our private guilts in public causes, like to lose our tiresome selves; like, perhaps, to transform the white flag of defeat at home into the brave white banner of battle away from home. And of course it is all right to do that; that is how, immemorially, things have gotten done. But I think it is all right only so long as we do not delude ourselves about what we are doing, and why. It is all right only so long as we remember that all the ad hoc committees, all the picket lines, all the brave signatures in The New York Times, all the tools of agitprop straight across the spectrum, do not confer upon anyone any ipso facto virtue. It is all right only so long as we recognize that the end may or may not be expedient, may or may not be a good idea, but in any case has nothing to with “morality.” Because when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble. And I suspect we are already there.

Didion wrote that more than 40 years ago, and if anything, we are in a much deeper bad trouble now--or so it seems.

Thus, these big "truths" inevitably are predicated on self-serving interests, matters of convenience, really, and so I have grown to be rather distrustful of them, whether spoken from the palatial gardens, the Oval Office, the pulpit, or the set of Oprah.

But what I do get is the beauty thing, and it scores my various identities and orientations: poet, husband, professor, parent, ugly American, inconsistent liberal (cold libertarian and weepy proletariat), environmentalist, devout agnostic, amateur scientist, Boise State football fan, and more. Beauty is the great imperative in my life. Whether formulated in the elegance and difficulty of Einstein's theories, evident in the flight pattern of the Swallow-tailed Kite, woven in the textiles of 13th-century Persia, sounded in the improvisations of Sidney Bechet, choreographed by Martha Graham, or expressed by dear Father Walt Whitman, whether local or cosmic, wheter sacred or profane, beauty is that one good, hopeful thing we can create, recognize, and revere. Beauty allows me to shed my skin, to love others, to love the world and the stars.

Oh yes, I know that beauty has its decadent side, its narcotic and numbing effects, but I generally think of those quallities as being only so much ornament, and not quite the real thing. And so beauty exacts from us the demand to be intelligent, discerning, sensitive, open, humble, and responsive--and without those disciplines, humors, and spirits, we are in deep, deep trouble, far worse than what Didion has described.