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

for those wonderful people out there in the dark

28 June 2007

Return to Poetry Thursday

Been away for a good piece of June, partly vacationing in North Carolina, but also caught up in attending to school matters and such.

And today, had to take care of Gerri post-surgery (a fairly minor outpatient operation, but surgery and discomfort all the same). I'm actually okay at playing nurse.

Anyway, between here and there, I've been playing with lots of disjointed images and ideas running through my head. I'm close to finishing my manuscript of what's tentatively entitled Gods & Money, with just a few gaps to fill in here and fill in there. So with these gaps, I feel an impulse to collect everything and dump it altogether. I'm sure there's some legitimate aesthetic to doing this, some psychological mining that's productive.

This one started with doing research on wrestling masks (don't ask why), which lead me to a Mayan limestone relief (and likely a stolen relic) at the wonderful Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Gerri had worked in Fort Worth a couple of years, and there's a great deal to admire in that city's cultural makeup. Of course at the Kimbell is the great painting L'Asie by Henri Matisse, among many fantastic pieces, and the museum itself is an exceptional artwork by architect Louis Kahn.

Of course, to get all this started in the poem itself, I had to use Bill Hailey's piano player Johnny Grande, and include a reference to Gene Vincent who's pictured above. Anyway, El Santo and Atlantis were wrestlers in the Mexican circuits; Mr. and Mrs. Tom May did indeed own L'Asie; and "Rocket 88" is the title of the first rock 'n roll song by Bill Hailey and the Comets. Rocket 88 has to be Johnny Grande's piano.

Whew. The poem is still too new, too wet in its development, for me to tell if it is holding together at all.

Go Johnny!

After Bill Hailey (y sus Cometas) in Mexico,
1961, has laid out the vocals for “Florida Twist,”
Johnny Grande at the piano calculates
a chord change so that it’s less Chubby Checkers
and more Gene Vincent. Ten years
of rock and a-rolling, hitting it big South
of the Border, outrunning the IRS—free and
clear of the Elvis blast. At the soundboard
with Bill is El Santo, the wrestler, and a writer
from El Universal. Johnny frowns as there’s
no leaping around it, frowns at the distraction
of Bill taking so much to La Lucha Libre, and
here is this Saint Spic, in a coat-and-tie, still
silver masked. The mask is the original made by
Don Antonio Martinez himself, whose last
wrestling mask would be the one he fashioned
for Atlantis in 1983, another Mayan-themed
piece, blue and white motifs, a warrior of peace
and ocean, a Mexican Gollum who rises
from the watery stone ruins, the very
image he saw at the Kimbell in Fort Worth, while
eating the basil pesto quiche his hosts offered
during an exhibition. Across the café, a limestone
stela, an eight-foot carving of a Mayan King,
the rock feathered with etchings, a tapestry,
and Don Antonio receives his Atlantis, whose
provenance stopped at 1969, a New York auction
where the Kimbell got the lot of Mayan relics
for a song. 1200 years after the artisans had carved
the relief, the Kimbell acquired Matisse’s
L’Asie, the one painting Don Antonio had
come to see, with its impossible reds, a woman
his Atlantis would give his life to. Don
Antonio himself would do the stitching
of the leather for this mask. And of the owners
of L’Asie? Mrs. Tom May of Beverly
Hills sold it off in 1954, after Mr. Tom had
died, after he had purchased the obscene
thing in 1951 directly from the Matisse gallery.
What could he have been thinking, holding
up this woman to the light where too much
light had spilled onto her face, holding up
this woman with uneven eyes and negro black
hair? Mr. Tom May smiles. He calls Harris
to set up the provenance papers. Don Antonio
smiles. Even El Santo would have been too weak
to hold up such a woman to such light—
only his masked stone god would have such
strength. Johnny Grande smiles. Everyone
in the studio is gone, and he casts the chord
up the scale, not down, getting it to groove
with something hotter than the Rocket 88
now jumping and burning beneath his fingers.

21 June 2007

North Carolina-ing

Back from a restful trip in the Cape Fear area of North Carolina.

Blue bottles in Minnie Evans sculpture garden at Airlie Gardens in Wilmington.

Me kneeling by some cool triangle seat sculptures, also at Airlie Gardens.

Live Oak at Orton Plantation.

12 June 2007

Pre-Solstice Siesta, or Cape Fear

I really do like the Martin Scorsese version of Cape Fear, which offers his own spin on Pentecostal/Catholic notions of sin and redemption, but the original 1962 version with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum is so clean, simple, and, well, ordinary in its morality that I find it arresting.

Anyway, I'll be heading to Southeast North Carolina, yes, and Cape Fear, too, for a little vacation time, to haunt the old haunts of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and slavery-labored plantations. But I won't be on any houseboats, and I don't believe I'll be stalked by any criminals I got lax in defending in court.

So until the Solstice, I'll be siesta-ing.

06 June 2007

Respite for the Good, Closure for the Ugly

June, the beginning of summer, even in poetry blogland, and so I wish to take note of two very different poetry communities, one closing doors and the other taking a break.

First, the good. My dear sisters at Poetry Thursday, Liz and Dana are taking a well deserved break from their venture. The entire purpose of Poetry Thursday was simply to celebrate poetry, by sharing weekly posts by participants. Unlike many poetry communities, it wasn't a location where a few self-anointed poo-bahs offer their pompous critiques or where unhappy poets vented against the entire Po-Biz. Rather, Poetry Thursday takes it cue from Montessori kindergartens, where you grab your mat, sit on the floor, and play games with the other kids, taking in all that is delightful.

Poetry Thursday grew to some over 200 participants, from North America, New Zealand, India, France, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, etc., with easily twice that in occasional visitors. It wasn't about workshopping your poems. It wasn't about networking with big name poets (though some did frequent the joint). It wasn't about keeping score. And the poetry shared was wide and varied, whether favorite lines from Keats, Browning, or Frost, whether original poems, from doggerel verse, to sonnets and villanelles, to formal experiments, to haiku, to lyrical open forms, to free-verse rants. It was about honoring the creation of poetry itself, celebrating the very good it does for us to write and read it.

Poetry Thursday represents the best of what an Internet-based community can be--inclusive, free-floating, playful, and celebratory. But keeping it going, bringing in columns, prompts, and reflections, managing the network and keeping the format happy-spirited takes a great deal of energy, and so Dana and Liz deserve this time off--besides, the forum is still open on Thursdays for us to share posts.

On the other end of the scale, I note the closing down of Foetry, a poetry forum which brought out the worst in a poetry community. Its focus was initially to expose fraudulent poetry contests, and on that score, Foetry was partially successful. Most famously it doggedly uncovered inappropriate judging at the University of Georgia and was relentless in exposing Jorie Graham's act of nepotism. But frequently, members of the forum would cast wild, reckless, and unsubstantiated rumors and accusations.

About two years ago, I ventured on their forum, trying to offer a corrective to one of their charges. Evidently, according to Foetry, there's a conspiracy between Harvard professors, the University of Iowa Workshop, and Colorado State University--this is a typical charge on the forum--which corrupts the Colorado Poetry Prize. For one example, they cite Dean Young who won the prize in 1995 for his book, Strike Anywhere. I had the temerity to point out that Dean Young had absolutely no connection to Harvard, Iowa, or Colorado State before winning the award. I was then roundly ridiculed, charged a sell-out, and mocked as an "academic" poet--oh, unlike nearly all the posters on Foetry, I used my real name. And still, their erroneous assertion about Dean Young remains uncorrected.

Since then, Foetry has stewed in its own bile. Yes, occasionally one of their claims would have merit, which only emboldened the community all the more, made them more sanctimonious and self-righteous. Predictably, the passing of the forum has gone practically unnoticed. The still open "good-bye" thread has fewer than a dozen different posters paying their respects. That's an accurate reflection of the import and impact of Foetry.

But what good did Foetry do? Yes, some changes in the language of contests themselves and in the standards supported by the AWP and CLMP, but the truth is that most poetry contests are on the up-and-up. And any contest will have an arbritrary quality to it, reflecting the limitations and biases and preferences of the editors, staff, and judges. If anything, Foetry reified the value of the laurel, by placing so much emphasis on who won what award, on who judged what award. It has done precious little in promoting poetry itself. Yes, I see that the Foetry folks have created a blog for "Post Foetry," and they're making a stab at providing information about contests and such, which reminds me that maturation is possible.

Even so, I look at the good of Poetry Thursday, the better place and space Dana and Liz have so generously and prettily designed. Rest easy, sisters. I can't wait for the playground to be open again!

05 June 2007

Poor Scooter, a Political Side Note

I don't know what's worse for Scooter Libby: the 30-month sentence Judge Reggie Walton meted out for obstruction of justice or the hopelessly banal and cliche-ridden letters of support on his behalf. Please shoot me if I have to rely on bland, generic testimonials from Donald Rumsfeld, or worse, gushingly icky letters of support from Mary Matalin.

Matalin's writing was an especially interesting piece of work (co-signed by James Carville), in what amounted to a defense of Scooter because he was good with kids. She notes how over one Halloween, locked away in an undisclosed location with Vice President Cheney (now, that is scary), it was Scooter who put together a makeshift Halloween party for the children. Okay, I like the neo-cons marginally better than your typical right-wing social conservative because they will drink and they will enjoy a good pagan holiday such as Halloween. But Matalin goes on to talk about what a "heartbreaking" event it had been up to that moment. Heartbreaking?

I can imagine Judge Walton reading this note, seeing how it might mitigate the fact that Scooter lied without remorse, relentlessly to investigators. That Scooter heroically sugared up his own kids surely must account for something.

But let me quote Matalin's letter:
On the many other occasions the children were forced to accompany Scooter and I [sic] on location with the Vice President, Scooter always arranged to have our work and schedules revolve around the kids. He always planned ahead and discovered the most fun and interesting activities for all of them. To this day, whenever I talk to my girls about attending any White House event, they always ask, "Is Mr. Scooter going to be there?"

My lifelong view, which has only been validated in adulthood, is that kids are the most honest and true evaluators of people. Watching my children with Scooter, and all children with him, you'd think he hung the moon.

This is touching in that Matalin is no doubt being quite sincere here in her praise of Libby as a gentle soul among children--that is praiseworthy indeed. But the argument here is appalling. Give Scooter a break because he's good with kids? Why wasn't he thinking about his kids (let alone the Constitution) when he was blowing smoke before the investigators?

Besides, Matalin then tosses out the facile and empty-headed (and irrelevant) idea regarding children being the most honest and true evaluators of people. Children don't fib to protect a loved one? Children can't be fooled by the kindness of a stranger? I understand what Matalin is trying to say about children here, but it's so patently and selectively contrived that it's a clear manipulation for sympathy and nothing more. In short, it strikes me as an especially ugly ploy to use one's children in this way.

So my friends, for whatever sentences are administered to me, please leave your children at peace, at home, unmentioned, in whatever statements you say on my behalf. Better yet, I would rather have you be silent--I'd much rather have your praise when I have done well. When I have done ill, I'd rather not have your testimonials, as they would be too painful to hear. And I would not use them so, just to get off the hook, as if that would work.