Saturday, December 26, 2009

Eying or Eyeing

1. This is the first holiday season since we moved to California that Mark and I have spent together. It's been a nice combination of laying low (cooking, movies, walks) and socializing--we spent a nice Christmas Eve with the California branch of Mark's family, and this evening we're going over to the Rothenbergs'. In a few more days, we're headed to Ensenada. I've long fantasized about blowing off the entire winter holiday season and instead getting out of the country, so this is a step in the right direction.

2. All the climate change involved in the travel from here to Florida and back again has irritated my skin. I've got a patchy red rash that almost resembles hives. It's uncomfortable, and it makes it difficult to wear makeup.

3.Back from a hoop class with Michelle. After a year of thinking that working with more than one hoop would be completely impossible, it's so much fun to be playing with two and have it start to make some kinetic sense.

4. My attempt to keep my hair short is finished. Having short hair requires getting regular hair cuts by stylists who actually know what they're doing, and stylists who know what they're doing cost money. My hair is neither super curly nor super thick, so nearly any fool can cut it when it starts to get long. Therefore, I am growing my hair out again.

5. For Christmas, Mark got me: 1) Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds, by Bernd Heinrich 2) Feelings Are Facts: A Life, by Yvonne Rainer and 3) The Silk Road Gourmet: Volume One: Western and Southern Asia, by Laura Kelle. They're all super cool books that I've been eying a long time.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Lester, with traces of the roasted red pepper soup he had for lunch still on his beak.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Still in Florida. Last we had a rainy thunderstorm of the sort that never happens in southern California. All the heat and the green here is kind of amazing. The shore birds are nearly the same, although I saw a lot of  Solitary Sandpipers, which I haven't seen around Carlsbad. They must be migrating.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Headed to Florida on Thursday morning.

1. Backbend (wheel) with feet at the wall into a backbend with feet on the wall into handstand into a walkover. It feels good to have a super challenging Sunday yoga class.

2. Still playing around with some off-body moves with two hoops. Coordination with on-body moves comes a lot easier.

3. Nearly finished with my paper on Nightwood. I didn't really have time to do anything especially ambitious. I wonder if I could do a critical independent study in the winter or spring quarter? It's interesting how an image search for "Nightwood" doesn't immediately give me any results that have anything to do with Djuna Barnes' novel.

4. In the last movement for theater class of the quarter, I sprained my toe, but I also stood on someone's shoulders and tossed a ball back and forth between my hands. It was kind of amazing when I finally relaxed and settled into the posture--my bones were perfectly lined up above the person basing me.

5. Dear professors: please tell your TAs about your plans for grading at the end of the quarter early so that they can schedule their travel plans accordingly. Dear TAs, ask the professor you are working with about this at the beginning of the quarter so that you don't accidentally make plans that mess with the professor's plans.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

You can stop reading whenever you want

Whenever I let one poem take up a whole page--or, rather, when I really let white space take up the whole page, I think something like: "This is lame. And precious. And I know that 'precious' has very gendered connotations." And then I change it back so that the page has text all over it. I don't want there to be very many rests in my work. I don't want to encourage my readers to rest in my poems. I want them to be, at best, carried away, overwhelmed, energized, breathless. Turned on.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Pauvre Pierrot

It's been a while since I've blogged. Blame work, school, and a bike accident that wasn't but could have been very nasty. I have some fabulous bruises, but that's all.

This morning I've been reading Rachel Zolf's blog The Tolerance Project, a collaborative writing project with eighty writers, artists, and thinkers from across Canada and the United States. Rachel is the author of Human Resources, and winner of the 2008 Trillium Book Award for Poetry. So, why is she in an MFA program? Rachel Zolf is Canadian, and when her female partner got a tenure-track job at a university in the USA, she was not able to legally move with her to New York because their relationship is not legally recognized by US immigration authorities. Becoming a student was really her only other option for obtaining a visa. In her Statement to MFA Workshop October 13, she writes:
...what is most important for my project is that it is a collaborative take on the MFA as an institution within larger state apparatuses. That is the key concept behind my project, a deconstruction of how “authors” and “voices” are created through the process of the MFA, linked with how difference is “tolerated” (or not) in general in the US. I wanted to provoke a look at how the MFA works as a process, by deliberately blowing up the authorial creation and feedback process beyond this room. There is a long tradition in the art world of looking at the workings of art institutions such as art museums and art collecting practices and the creation of the artist as a commodity.
If Carolyn Forche had been more present at George Mason and they'd had more funding for me, I might have gone there instead of doing an MA at Georgetown. In fact, I think my critique of MFA programs only became fully developed when I left the east coast and found that not even community colleges wanted to hire me to teach. On the east coast, no one cared that I didn't have an MFA. Most of the major east coast cities have active poetry and arts communities that aren't centered on MFA programs. In other words, I don't think I was fully aware of the degree to which MFA programs were becoming the norm and the ways in which creative writing is professionalized in the US.

I suspect that the farther you get from the city in the US, the more likely MFA programs and educational institutions will be central to art communities. That's an undeveloped argument, I know. But where are the poets going to hang out if you have to drive to the bar? You hang out at school, I guess. Some one give me counter examples.

I'm taking a brief break from typing up my comments to the other people in my poetry workshop--I'm still irritated by the way submitting individual poems to workshop really discourages things like abrupt tonal shifts and strange juxtapositions. I fall into descriptions: this poem is doing this here and that there, that poem is doing that there and this here. I look for strangeness and moments of disorientation. I ask about other poems and refer to previous poems and try to extend the context of the poem as far beyond the workshop as I can. I don't like how workshopping encourages writing for workshopping.

I do like having an immediate group of readers. That's nice. Everyone in my class is intelligent, thoughtful and creative. But more feedback doesn't equal better feedback. Just like after every reading I give there's almost always a woman who is slightly older that me whom I've never met who wants to give me a lot of specific suggestions about the pace of my reading, my clothing, and how I need to learn to breathe differently. I know that my feedback on other people's work has as much to do with me as it does to do with their poems. Obviously.

I am enjoying all the reading and discussion that I'm doing for both the workshop and the other seminar on Modernist aesthetics and art movements. I'm remembering things that I like, reading things I've read, reading a lot of things I haven't read. In some cases, I'm evaluating my relationship to things that I respected but thought I wasn't that interested in.

Example: it turns out that I might actually be more excited by Fanny Howe's work than I previously thought.

Example: now that I've had to read some more Donald Revell, I can be much more articulate about why I really dislike it.

Example: I've never written about Modernist theater or performance. In fact, out of all the major a-g Modernist, I've probably read Artaud and Beckett the least. It's exciting, then, to read them and others and think about a genre that I haven't thought much about.

When I was doing my MA at Georgetown, I felt pressured to make every seminar paper full of amazingly brilliant critical insight that would somehow be relevant to the field. Now I don't mind if I use my term paper as an excuse to think about and learn about things that I want to think about and learn about. I don't care so much about the field. If I have any academic career ahead of me at all, which is doubtful, it's certainly not going to be based on my ability to write normative academic articles. So, in the meantime, I get to read Artaud and Beckett. I get to think about Jacques Copeau and the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, especially the years it was in New York, and also Charles Dullin. How Artaud's name comes up constantly in the work of the artists and actors who were busy reviving/changing/rejecting pantomime and thinking about a more physical theater centered on actors and gesture.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chessie the Manatee

Way back on October 3, 2005, during the last autumn I lived in DC, I wrote a brief blog post about Chessie, a manatee who swam up the James River all they way to Richmond, Virginia--although now I can't find any verification that this was an official Chessie sighting.

Chessie, originally from Florida, was radio tagged and tracked by the US Geological Survey's Sirenia Project--although he apparently got rid of his tracking device in 2001. In 1995, Chessie swam all the way to Rhode Island. According to the Chessie Watch page (which hasn't been updated since 2004), there hasn't been an official Chessie sighting since August, 2001, although a younger manatee has been sighted in and around Virginia Beach. You can read more about Chessie's in his bio.

Anyway, I bring to your attention a comment left this afternoon by Mr. Case of Virginia Beach, VA on that very old blog post of mine. He says:

"I saw a manatee today at noon at Rocketts Landing; it was swimming slowly downriver."

Well, Chessie, if that was you, we wish you well. In fact, whoever you were, we wish you well, and recommend that you start heading south before the water gets too cold. Go, manatee, go!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Specific Information

My adventures in MFAland continue to be interesting--I've posted the last two sequences of things that I workshopped in Rae Armatrout's class to my poetry drafts blog, See it Everywhere. I've been doing some visual stuff, but I'll need to noodle with that a bit longer before I post it anywhere.

In Rae's class we're reading Claudia Rankine's, Don’t let me be lonely and John Ashbery, Robert Hass, Jorie Graham, Donald Revell, & Lyn Hejinian from the Hybrid anthology. And then also Hejinian's Against Closure essay. Predictably, I deeply dislike the Revell. I've heard Claudia Rankine read from Don't let me be lonely at least once. The doodle above is from when she read at UCSD on January 25, 2006--that must have been one of the first readings I went to after moving here. That book is, among other things, a devastating examination of American loneliness, and so a good introduction to living in the San Diego suburbs.

This week is Futurism and Dada week in the Modern Art Movements and Aesthetics with Michael Davidson. We're reading some of Peter Bürger's Theory of the avant-garde; The argument of this book is incredibly familiar to me at this point, but it's good, I suppose, to be actually reading it. We're also looking at Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto, Loy's Feminist Manifesto, and several pieces by Schwitters, Huelsenbeck, Tzara, Khlebnikof, Ball, etc.

In Movement for Theater we continue to focus on honing "neutral" movement. We've also started working on some basic tumbling and acrobatics--somersaults, standing on each others' shoulders, and some basic flying techniques that resemble what I've practiced in acro yoga. And handstands, which I'm always glad to do. All of this is incredibly fun and stimulating, but I'm not yet seeing a path towards how I'm going to use it in my own work. Thus far, my attempts at movement in performance feel muddy and confusing.

Research into my family history has yielded interesting information: 1) Comanche great grandmother 2) Dutch ancestors, in addition to the Scottish ones that I already knew about--they all came through New York 3) A lot of my ancestors on both sides of the family lived in and around Tippah, Mississippi. The ones that didn't stay in New York went south, typically. 4) References to marriages in Jamaica--but no specific information.

Friday, October 09, 2009

I think that the "neutral" walk is much harder than standing on someone's shoulders.

1. I'm a bit embarrassed by how much my weeks at UCSD leave me completely exhausted.

On Thursday, I got up early as usual to go to my theater/movement class. We stood on each other's shoulders and practiced "neutral" walking, which isn't really neutral at all--more like walking without character, or walking with the character of a white man from Europe or North America with excellent posture and an unusual level of evenness.

That afternoon, I was completely useless, much like a squashed bug or a pile of warm laundry. I know those aren't especially unique comparisons, but that is what I was like. A friend from high school once described me as being like "an elf after the holiday season." So, I was like a squashed bug, a pile of warm laundry, or an elf after the holiday season.

2. Wednesday was the first event in the New Writing Series at UCSD.

Part of my funding for my MFA comes from a research assistantship connected with this series. Nikolai, my fellow RA, and I have been running around all over campus for the past three weeks trying to get everything organized. Like so many administrative and organizational jobs, the tasks themselves aren't difficult--what's difficult is getting everyone and everything to coordinate in at least a semi-functional way. Example: getting a key to the performance space where there readings are held required signatures from three different people, one of whom doesn't really have an office and rides around campus on a small green utility cart, as well as a tutorial on the sound system for the space.

About an hour before the reading, Nikolai and I went to set up the space. However, the numeric code to the door, which had worked on Tuesday, did not work on Wednesday. Inexplicably, the art department had given me a code that would work for only one day instead of the entire quarter. Because I'd left my cell phone at home that morning, I had to borrow a phone to call facilities, and finally the police, to let us into the building. The police and facilities kept asking me for "the number of the building." The performance space in the visual arts facility, of course, does have a number, but it's not located anywhere on the building. Randomly, I had a map of the department in my bag, which had the numbers of the buildings. The Visual Arts Facility at UCSD is confusing enough to need its own map.

The policeman tried thirteen keys before he found the one that would open the space. All of this happened about 10 minutes before the reading was supposed to start. Fortunately most of the faculty as well as the readers, Rosmarie and Keith Waldrop, were a little late arriving.

3. I am emotionally available for irony

Baudelaire! Baudelaire! Baudelaire! Baudelaire! Baudelaire! Baudelaire! Baudelaire!

I am quite sure that I use irony as a way of identifying with others as well as distancing myself from them.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

My work also sounds so mean and ironic. It is mean and ironic, but it isn't all mean and ironic.

Today was our first day actually workshopping in the poetry workshop I'm taking. It wasn't so bad. Everyone's comments were, in general, insightful and mostly helpful. There were a few that were very helpful.

All that said, I don't think my work is well suited to a workshop format. I write in long, messy sequences. I don't really write discrete poems--so I have to submit these weirdly excerpted chunks. Things that seem strange shifts in tone, diction & form, etc, usually are, but they also typically have resonances with what's happening later. I write very very loose rough drafts that get revised a lot--a lot--and I also do a substantial amount of reorganization.

I suppose what I have is a fairly boring kind of nervousness. I'm really not used to showing people rough drafts of my poems. I'm used to showing them third or fourth drafts--given the way I write, I'm not sure how useful a first draft is to really look at.

In and around our exhaustion with work, Mark and I have been talking about emotional availability in poetry. We haven't particularly defined what this is, and it's not "authenticity" or the opposite of irony or sarcasm, but whatever it is I feel like my recent work lacks it a bit. I want the sense that anything can come into the poem--I'm good at letting in things like roadkill, or the extreme exhaustion of the person sitting next to me on the bus this evening who kept falling asleep on my shoulder all the way from La Jolla to Carlsbad. However, I'm not so good at letting in the sunset over the beach out the window, or the pelicans and cormorants.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Yeah, I haven't read Notes on Conceptualisms. I would, however, like a "Sobject" T-shirt.

In MFAland, gradschooland. Reading and rereading, among many things, Henry James' "Beast in the Jungle" (which I mistyped as "Beach in the Jungle") and The New Sentence.

I like how "sentence" is "oración" in Spanish, and that it's feminine. La Nueva Oración. In English, a sentence is more about the conventions of writing than speaking. The closest English word to oración is, of course, oration, though oration is rather formal, dignified and ritualized. Latin orationem--"speaking, discourse, language, prayer."

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Sufficiently Hierarchical New Sir Sequels

This is the first complete week of classes at UCSD--but I don't have to be on campus on Monday, so I'm here trying to clean and organize my desk and put away my clothes.

Thus far, the only class I've attended is a graduate movement for theater class with Charlie Oats. It was incredibly fun, and the mime/walking exercises we did were challenging. On Tuesday I have a poetry workshop with Rae, and on Wednesday a class on Modern art movements with Michael. I'm TAing for John Granger's nonfiction class and one of two RAs for the New Writing Series.

Even though I've barely started, I'm already feeling exasperated--not with classes, but with being back in the structure of a university and having to deal with the irritations of interacting and being confined by said structure. Please note, I don't wish that I were still teaching ESL, or that I were still working in business, or even in public policy. It's just been a while since I've had to deal directly with the particular passive-aggressive type of behavior that academic bureaucracies (and probably most types of bureaucracies) enable. In a university, communication tends to happen indirectly and is always filtered through a variety of complicated channels--rarely does someone tell you directly what to do. Of course, there are things that you are absolutely supposed to do, and there are hierarchies, but one can't admit them directly (at least not in the humanities). It takes a while to realize the difference between a suggestion and a command.

I won't bore you all with the details of all the running around me and the other RA have done for the New Writing Series thus far, but it's been quite amazing. I'm looking forward to the Winter quarter when in theory we'll both know what we're doing, how things work, and where things are.

I organized my manuscript files, and found a half-finished manuscript called The Death of a Toad that's a kind of mashup flarf conceptual piece. I don't know what it is. As a manuscript, it suffers from theory head and a lack of energy, but it's full of ridiculous language. One section is called "The Sufficiently Hierarchical New Sir Sequels."

I feel dramatic and melancholy, and like most of the people I love and events I want to go to are on the east coast. It's been too long since I walked home from a party.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tengo preguntas

¿Por qué el perro está raspando y en qué está raspando?
¿Hay un perro en la piscina?
¿Cuándo alguien escribirá una review del Tarareo Terminal?
¿Come se dice "How long will it take me to master hoola hooping around one leg?" en Español?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Summer is over, but I went to the beach today.

  1. SPD sold out of my book, so Rod has sent them more!
  2. I am impatient for reviews.
  3. Or, at least, stop telling my friends and my boyfriend what you think of my book and tell me instead.
  4. No autumnal clothes for me for a few more months. The best I can do is wear jeans and sometimes a light sweater, but that's pretty much true all year round here.
  5. Remembering how funny Dada is: "Dada will kick you in the behind and you will like it." I like the fact that they say "behind" instead of "ass."
  6. Jerry is coming all the way from Amherst to visit!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Now that I'm beginning something new, it might as well be over.

  1. Not bored with Language Poetry. Not bored with John Cage, either.
  2. I haven't even started classes at UCSD yet, and I already have to look for funding for next year from a grant database made for PhD students, not MFAs. Oh well. If I don't get funding for next year, I just won't go back.
  3. Been grading all. Day. Long. That's why I couldn't meet with you at 4pm.
  4. Convinced that real estate limits mobility. Unless one is rich or bought one's real estate in the 70s, 80s or before.
  5. Missing good bookstores.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Trip Report Part Five: Back in Paris

I've been promising the final installment of our trip report, so here it is!

Mark and I like to begin and end our overseas trips in the same place. This is partly practical, of course, since it's usually more cost effective to fly in and out of the same city. But I think it's nice to end one's travels in a place that doesn't require all the initial effort that getting to know a new place as a traveler usually does. After an easy train ride from Brussels-Midi to Gare du Nord (during which we ate sandwiches and some of the chocolate I'd bought), we easily exited the station (no complicated navigational moments) and walked down the hill to the same hotel in the 10th. It was too early to check in, so Mark went to check email, and I sat at a cafe and had a croque monsieur and a cafe creme, even though it was a little late for cafe cremes.

Another reason to return to a place you've already been to is because, inevitably, there are things you haven't done and seen that you want to do and see. Once checked into our hotel, we walked down to the Marais to visit the Carnavalet Musée de l'Histoire de Paris. The museum is in an old, Renaissance style hotel, and is full of paintings and other objects related to, duh, the history of Paris. The photograph above is a small section from Dubois' "L'espoir du bonheur dédié à la Nation." On the boat are Louis XVI and Jacques Necker. I am not sure who the robust, bare-chested ladies are supposed to be.

That evening, we headed down to the Latin quarter with Joe and Laura for some drinks and food.

By the time we got to the actual food part, it was rather late, but that didn't affect the taste of my duck confit, or the cheese plate we shared at the end of the meal. I wish I could remember where ate, but I see why that restaurant is a favorite of Joe and Laura's--it was warm, inviting, full of people, and served thoughtfully prepared versions of classic French food.

The next morning, we headed out to the Bois de Boulogne for a picnic, where we met Cole Swenson and Laura Sims and her partner. I don't think I'd seen Cole since Mark and I moved to San Diego. And even if my memory is wrong, it had certainly been a long time. It wasn't especially sunny, but we managed to talk, eat pate and lounge about successfully. Joe and Laura's son, Julian, played with the travel hoop I'd brought with me--it's the orange and red thing you see on my bag.

That evening, Mark and I had a very lovely dinner at an Italian restaurant back in the 10th, just off the canal. I don't enjoy going out for Italian food usually, especially in San Diego, where it's usually mediocre, overpriced and the waiters push bottles of wine on you that you don't want. I think that, somehow, the mediocre overpriced Italian restaurant is really a definitive element of San Diego food culture--and probably all US cities. Mediocre overpriced Italian food is ideal for those with unadventurous taste looking for a fancy meal. But enough of my rant. We had a leisurely meal of basically just a pasta course and some wine. The waiter didn't chastise us for only ordering one course, didn't try to sell us another bottle of wine, brought us a second carafe of water when we needed it, and generally left us alone to have a pleasant evening together.

On our final day in Paris, we went to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. Mark emphatically joked that he wasn't going to kiss any slimy tombstones, which was fine, but we did see evidence of other people kissing tombstones. I confess that I might have tried to at least touch the memorial for Abelard and Heloise, but it was being restored, so I couldn't get close enough.

Oscar Wilde's grave had the most kiss marks and attention--even more than Morrison's grave, which only had a trio of German punk girls burning candles.

No one was visiting Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, or even Colette, which was the last grave we visited:

I'll leave out the irritating story of our many failed attempts to eat lunch after our visit to the cemetery, and also of how difficult it was to buy tickets in advance for the train back out to the airport. Instead, I'll skip right to the end and tell you that we visited Joe and Laura again that evening for a drink and some final goodbyes, and that we made a salad for dinner in our hotel room.

So, how was our trip to Paris, Belgium and Amsterdam? It was wonderful. Alice Notley didn't move to Paris until she was in her 40s, so I have a bit of time to plan how Mark and I might move to Amsterdam (or Brussels, or Paris, or Barcelona--which we didn't visit on this trip, of course, but which is nonetheless one of my favorite places). Until we move, though, we'll just have to scheme about how to go back. Soon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Countdown to MFA Land

I don't start classes at UCSD in earnest for two more weeks, but I have plenty to do in between now and then with orientations, paperwork, and obsessively calculating the best bus and train routes to get me from Carlsbad to La Jolla sans car. When I lack blogging energy, I resort to lists. So, a list:
  1. The picture above is of Lester, of course, on his jungle gym in my study. He's been especially happy and defensive of his jungle gym, and the small stuffed elephant he's perched on, ever since he realized that he could pull paper over his head there--just like he does in his cage.
  2. I've been teaching a weekly hoop dance class with Kristen every Thursday from 4:15-5:15 pm. We meet at Magee Park (258 Beech Avenue Carlsbad, on the West side of the 101 before the lagoon). I think I have about two readers from Carlsbad, but out and hoop with us. Bring your friends. The class is offered on a donation-basis through Bodacious Living Yoga.
  3. Speaking of yoga, two nights ago I dreamed that I was practicing on a very large flying carpet which was flying over a jungle landscape.
  4. My father's other brother, David, passed away last week from cancer. David's always been a bit of a mythological figure for me. When he and my dad were kids, David drove a railroad spike through Dad's shoulder (not long after they had started Sunday school). In the early 90s, a horse fell on his head and he was in a coma for two years. After he woke up, he came to live with me, my brother, Dad and Mary in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The night before he arrived I dreamed he barbecued our dog, Cabal. In fact, he and Cabal got along well. For a period of several months, David slept in our living room and wore his cowboy hat to my brother's cross country meets and my flute recitals. Eventually, he left when a woman got in touch with him about his son. He ended up living in Angle Fire, New Mexico, panning for gold and carving walking sticks. My aunt said that he passed away peacefully, surrounded by friends. I am dedicating all my yoga practices to him this week.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A post about the last leg of our trip, again in Paris, is coming. In the meantime, please read Mark's post, Maintaining Quality of Education in California’s Public Universities, which has several links to information about how to become more involved in the struggle to maintain a quality education for California students enrolled at state universities.

Warning: the editorial in the Sacramento Bee is totally maddening.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Trip Report Part Four: Brussels

I loved Brussels instantly. If you're skeptical of my ability to love a place I don't really know, then know that I felt immediately at ease there--relaxed and strangely unalienated in a way that's difficult to feel in unfamiliar places. Bruxelles (yes, I'm going to spell it differently every other time I write it) was very familiar in many ways--it's a cosmopolitan, international, multicultural political city with a reputation for being cool but not as cool as it's close neighbors Paris and Amsterdam. I don't want to overstate the ways in which it's similar to DC, but the similarities are there.

When Mark and I arrived at Bruxelles-Midi, it was nice to actually get out and leave the station instead of waiting in it, as we had already done twice, to catch a train somewhere else. It's not a huge city (a little over one million people live there), but it's incredibly diverse. Aside from the French and Dutch speaking Belgians, there are people from all over Europe as well as north Africa, Turkey, Asia, and elsewhere. There are some estimates that about half of the people who live in Brussels are not from Belgium, and a substantial number of people who live in Bruxelles speak neither French nor Dutch as a first language. All over Bruxelles, people speak to each other in second, third or fourth languages, and it's difficult to make accurate assumptions about where people are from. I love this.

We experienced a slightly higher than normal level of disorientation when we left the station, and it wasn't clear whether we needed to catch the metro, tram or premetro to get up to our hotel in Ste-Catherine. My first encounter with a stranger in Bruxelles was indicative of all the others: I asked a woman, in French, which metro, tram or premetro we should get on, and which direction we should go. She was incredibly polite and patient and didn't switch into English or ask where I was from. Instead, she showed me on the map where we had to go, and pointed me toward the premetro station (which was, counter-intuitively, underground).

Ste. Catherine (shown above) was easy to get to, and, as it turns out, a hip place to stay--not that I knew that when I booked our hotel. I just chose that location because I didn't want to stay in one of the overpriced and touristy places on the Grand Place. The neighborhood had a nice combination of both homey and fancy bars and restaurants, as well as several Asian food markets.

In fact, the presence of Asian food markets made Ste. Catherine (and Brussels in general) seem very different from Paris, for example. In Paris, you should speak French, and if you would like to eat food that is not French, you should order it in a French way. Paris does have plenty of culturally mixed neighborhoods--but they are exactly that--specific neighborhoods, like Belleville. Aside from kabob shops, ethnic restaurants and markets in Paris don't seem to exist much outside of those specific neighborhoods. I love French food, and could gladly live on crepes, cheese and charchuterie until I died from a heart attack. Still, I felt it was significant to see such cultural variety in food in a neighborhood without any special multicultural distinction.

We met Philip Meersman and Rozalina Petrova (both shown in the very first picture) in front of the church on Ste. Catherine and walked towards Place St-Géry. Philip was one of the people who performed after Mark and I read in Ghent. I hesitate to characterize Philip's work--I wouldn't call him a sound poet, because that seems too narrow a term for the kind of diverse work he makes. While he clearly is interested in the relationship between sound, image, language and meaning (the poem he performed in Ghent was in six languages) he also works in theater and plastic arts. It's a bit cheesy of me, but I'm going to quote Mark's description of the performance, since I think it is both accurate and insightful:
Philip Meersman also performed a poem that was not technically a sound poem but that solidified my impression about the relation between sound poetry and cultural context. His poem was in six different languages, not all of which were known to any single person in the room except for him, with the result that at least some portion of his poem was only a sound poem for every member of the audience. It wasn’t meant as a display of language virtuosity, though it certainly was also that, but as a very pointed exploration of what it means to be able to understand other people or not.
Even after just a few hours in Brussels, it was easy for me to see why a writer would want to work with a variety of languages. Here's a brief quote from one of Philip's poems, "La paradoja del paradero del comienzo (Una localización española)," to give you more of an idea of some of the stuff he does:

Preguntas y problemas:
Dónde está el coche
Dónde está mí
Dónde está me
Dónde está yo?
teoría atómica
teoría cuántica
teoría de la relatividad
teoría del caos

Dónde está la profesora

Dónde está la consejera
Dónde está el examen
This poem (you can read the rest of it here) makes me want to return to a project I stared ages ago working with some of the text in Practical Chinese Reader Volumes One and Two.

The weather was wonderful, and Philip and Rozalina are both great conversationalists, so after scoring an outdoor table at a bar across from Les Halles St-Géry, we easily passed several hours talking (and drinking--in my case, a pleasantly sour geuze). Afterward, I had a notebook full of recommendations for everything from where we should eat to which chocolate shop was the best. For posterity, here is a picture of the Halles St-Géry, the point from which all distances in Belgium are measured:

Eventually, Philip and Rozalina had to head home to prepare for work as well as the huge Ghent Festival. We parted ways, and Mark and I went off to eat some very delicious Thai food. The two women sitting at the table next to us could have easily been State Department bureaucrats. They were EU bureaucrats, of course; I felt right at home. Later we wandered back towards Ste. Catherine to a local bar off the square. I don't remember the name, but the few folks in there seemed overly suprised that any tourists would be there at all. Two men sitting next to us struck up a conversation, which me more or less managed in French, Spanish and English--a pretty typical encounter in Brussels.

The next morning I went out to the original flagship location of Le Pain Quotidien, just around the corner from our hotel, for coffee and a croissant. After that, Mark and I walked over to the Grand Palace (immediately above) and farther along to the Royal Quartier and the new Musée René Magritte at the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. I have an unfortunate mental block with Surrealist painters--I love how Magritte plays with the difficulty of reconciling words, images and objects, but did he have to paint so many nude women? The history of art is the history of painting nude women, I suppose, and I like Magritte enough to be frustrated with him. Still, the new museum houses the largest collection of his work that exists, including a few films. In fact, if I'd had the luxury and time to go back, I would have especially liked to spend more time with the films.

After the museum, we attempted to eat some sandwiches in the lovely Parc de Bruxelles and only barely managed. It rained, but we found shelter under some trees. Here's Mark post-lunch:

After lunch, we went back in to see the main collection of the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts. The collections were strangely organized and difficult to navigate. For me, the highlight of this visit was Hieronymus Bosch's Temptation of St. Anthony.

On our way back to the hotel, we walked past La Fleur en Papier Doré, the bar where René Magritte and later members of the COBRA movement hung out. We didn't have a drink there, though; it was kind of expensive. After a rest, a shower, and a quick run on my part to Elisabeth Chocolatier for chocolate and cookies, we went back out to La Mort Subite for a pre-dinner beer. The geuze was the best I had the entire trip. Why isn't geuze more readily available here in the US? Sigh.

After La Mort Subite, we wandered (we did a lot of wandering in Brussels) back over to the area around the Grand Palace to sit in another bar and, yes, drink another beer--they had Delirium Tremens on tap! Later, we ate dinner outside at a different but equally tasty Thai restaurant back in Ste. Catherine. It poured rather fantastically right after we finished our meal, so we took shelter at Bizon Blues--a bar that was styled like an American place even though they seemed to play mostly British rock. We enjoyed some jenever and then a Rochefort 10. The Rochefort 10 was good, but I think the 8 is still my favorite; it's just as flavorful, and less boozy.

We ended our evening at the Monk, and I really don't remember what I drank there--that's the kind of effect that a Rochefort 10 has! Still, I loved how the bartender moved in and out of different languages without even flinching. The Monk was cool, but not too cool:

Mark and I spent less time in Brussels than anywhere else on our trip, but, as I've already said, I really enjoyed my time there. Having spent much of my life as an expat, it was so comforting to be in a city where everyone spoke a different language and where, for the most part, that was ok. I could live in Brussels, and I mean that in a practical way as well as an oh-I-wish-I-wish kind of way. The weather there sucks, but I live in a place known for its great weather, and truly, if weather is the first thing that people mention about a place, you know that means that the rest of it is maybe not worth mentioning.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

O Say Can You See: DEADLINE EXTENDED to August 20!

Dear Readers--

You have perhaps seen the announcement for this forum that I'm co-curating for with Becca Klaver for Delirious Hem. I wanted to let you all know that the deadline has been extended, so send us all some fabulous work. Details are below!

Nonverbal Reviews and Adaptations of Women's Poetry

***Deadline extended to August 20!***

Mina Loy, Surreal Scene, n.d. Collage on painted background, 12 5/8 x 9 1/2 in.
Courtesy of the Jean Farley Levy Estate © Estate of Mina Loy.

What book, chapbook, performance, or poem by a woman poet published/presented in the last year or two has left you speechless? How might that speechlessness manifest itself visually, sonically, or through another nonverbal medium?

Please create a response to this piece; your response can act like a review, adaptation, homage, investigation, companion piece, Frankenstein, child, or any mash-up of the aforementioned. In August, all responses submitted will be featured as part of a forum here on Delirious Hem.


Are all words banned?
Although the projects should not be text-based, words are not banned.

I want to create a response to a poem published in 2007. Is this too early?
Nope. We mean "published in the last year or two" loosely.

Can I create a response to a book written by:
a) a man?
b) a biological male who identifies as a woman?
c) a drag queen?
a) No. b) Yes. c) Yes, if they self-identify as a woman.

Can non-Pussipo members participate?
Yes. If you'd like to forward this call, feel free.

Can men participate?

What file formats can you accept?
For videos, Blogger can accept AVI, MPEG, QuickTime, Real, and Windows Media, 100 MB maximum size. For images, jpg, gif, bmp and png images, 8 MB maximum size.

Responses might include videos, songs, performances, photographs, or photographs of visual pieces, but are not limited to these, so please query if you're not sure if Blogger can support your format.

Questions, submissions, stating your interest: Please contact K. Lorraine Graham (klorraine[at]gmail[dot]com) and Becca Klaver (beccavista[at]yahoo[dot]com).

Due date for submissions: August 20, 2009.

Please feel free to forward this call!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Trip Report Part Three: Amsterdam

I'm going to resist blogging about fashion, teaching ESL again, health care, the f-ed up state of California, Flarf, and disjunction and instead focus on the third part of my trip with Mark: Amsterdam. When we were still in the planning stages of the trip, Tom Orange said (over the phone) "well, are you going to Amsterdam?" We blinked, a little stupidly perhaps, and started planning to go to Amsterdam. And I'm so glad we did. While I loved Paris, I felt quite at home in Amsterdam among the bicycles, cheese shops, drugs, prostitution, pragmatism, canals, fries, art, boutiques selling fashionable bicycle-friendly clothing and the fabulous socialist health care system.

On the 13th, we took a very easy train from Ghent to Amsterdam, through Brussels. In theory, it's quicker to go through Antwerp, but in reality it rarely is--Helen said that the train connections in Antwerp don't always work very well, and the communication between Belgian and Dutch trains is often, well, off.

After a disorienting exit on the south side of the train station in Amsterdam, we found our way to our apartment in the Jordaan district, which was close enough to the city center to walk but far enough away so that it was a bit calmer and there were fewer 20-some British youths smoking up. All of Amsterdam is ridiculously beautiful, Jordaan in particular--it's full of canals, bars, cafes, vintage clothing stores, boutiques, and cheese shops (more on those later). We walked around the neighborhood, bought a few things to keep in our apartment refrigerator (beer, milk, cereal & bananas). That evening, we headed down to De Pijp to meet with Cralan Kelder.

Cralan was one of the editors of Versal, the print publication of wordsinhere, a writer’s collective based in Amsterdam. Cralan grew up in Amsterdam, if I remember correctly, went to school in the states, and then returned to Amsterdam. It was interesting to talk with him about the different writing and arts communities there. He pointed us towards Boekie Woekie, an artist-run bookstore of artist books and visual poetry. It was closed every time we went by, but it seemed very cool.

Although Cralan, his partner and his children were all getting reading to fly to the US the next day, he still made time to hang out with Mark and I. The three of us and his daughter went in search of some Ethiopian food, but unfortunately the restaurant was closed. Never mind. Instead, we wandered through the Sarphatipark to a falafal place not far from the Albert Cuypmarkt. It's too bad that I don't have a decent picture of Cralan, or of the falafals or the french fries we had, which were easily the best we ate on the entire trip. But I do have a picture of the park:

The sun was out even later in Amsterdam than in either Paris or Ghent, so we still had plenty of light in the sky when we had to eventually leave Cralan to his packing. We headed back to our neighborhood and found a bar in which to spend the rest of our evening hours. I love travel because it brings be in contact with ideas, things and people that are unfamiliar to me, but I also love the way time slows down in a new place. While we sat at that bar on our first evening in Amsterdam, it felt a bit like we'd always been sitting in a bar on a pleasant summer evening in Amsterdam. It was a pleasant feeling.

The next morning we walked down to the Van Gogh museum--Cralan had lent us his annual passes, so we didn't have to wait in the long line to get in. The museum has an impressive collection of Van Gogh, obviously, but also a collection of other 19th-century art--mostly by Van Gogh's friends and contemporaries. I'm always disturbed by the story of Van Gogh's life--and thinking about it makes me thankful that I am both physically and mentally well--but I was happy to see several pieces I'd never seen, including "Wheatfield with Crows."

After the museum, we walked back up into the Jordaan district, and stopped at De Kaaskamer Van Amsterdam, a cheese shop that specializes in local Dutch varieties--I wanted to buy something of everything, but instead I limited myself to several different types of farmhouse Goudas--one old (Rypenaer V.S.O.P.), one young (Le Vieux Gris) and then an organic medium-soft gouda-like cheese called Boeren that the cheese guy suggested. How happy am I in this picture?

We eventually made our way to a small bar called De Zotte that stocked a variety of Belgian beers (no, we weren't sick of Belgian beer. In fact, we are still not sick of Belgian beer). The bar was quiet, and a good place to spend a rainy late afternoon.

We ate a very basic and healthy dinner of sandwiches at a sort of loungey place by a canal. More memorable was the very tasty cold jenever we had at a very cozy brown cafe later that evening.

The rain stopped rather late in the evening, so our last stop was at a lively outdoor cafe back in Jordaan. I was done with alcoholic at that point, so I got some fresh mint tea--something that people all over Amsterdam seem to drink at any time of day.

The next morning (the 15th of July), we headed to Cafe De Balie to meet Megan Garr and Sarah Ream, both writers, and editors of Versal magazine, which I mentioned above. Versal seems to do a good job of being a forum for many of the translocal European literary communities as well as other writers and writing communities outside of Europe that have a complex relationship to being local or, er, not local--there are commonalities that exist which aren't necessarily the same as a totalizing kind of globalization. Megan's editorial in issue 7 of Versal has some interesting thoughts about translocality and is worth getting a hold of.

In my post on Brussels, I'll talk more about how relatively calm and at home I feel in communities and places where there's a kind of localism that isn't completely based on geography, culture or even language. For now, here's a picture of Megan, Sarah and Mark enjoying mint tea and translocal conversation:

Eventually, Megan and Sarah had to head on their way, and Mark and I wandered down the road to Cafe De Jaren for some lunch and to meet Jaap Blonk, Rozalie Hirs, Samuel Vriezen, and Frank Keizer. Mark blogged in some detail about the sound, music and poetry work that all of these writers do. I began thinking more about some of my own attempts to work with sound and music in recent performances--some more interesting than others, obviously--and again came to the conclusion that I would like to work with some of the languages I know other than English. But how? Well, we'll see. I'm looking forward to playing with some of these ideas when I start at UCSD in the fall.

After lunch, Rozalie had to head off, but Samuel, Jaap, and Frank took us over to Poëzie Perdu (above), a bookstore and performance space that hosts writers, musicians and other artists throughout the year. There's a fairly extensive archive of podcasts from previous events on the website. Here's a picture of Frank and Samuel showing us around the bookstore, which left me wishing that I could read Dutch, and also eager to start some translation projects from languages that I actually can read:

That afternoon, we wandered back to our apartment via the red-light district, which was noticeably full of British people and actually quite tame. In the evening, we headed back to the edge of that same district for dinner, where I ordered a "goat cheese burger" that ended up being made entirely of cheese, instead of just a burger with goat cheese on top of it. Next to us at the restaurant was a table of about six or seven standardly handsome young men who kept up a running commentary of all the women who walked by. They were offensive, but I liked how the moved between Dutch and a very American style English. After dinner we went into another brown cafe for some jenevers. You can see the old bottles of genever in the window of this picture:

As I've already said, I'm glad that we went to Amsterdam, and I'm glad that we managed to connect with so many writers and artists there--not an easy thing to do during the summer when many people are on vacation and out of town. Since this post has taken me forever to write, I'm now going to try and end it quickly (and gradually correct typos later): I loved being in Amsterdam, was really excited by the poets and musicians I met and could easily see living there.

In the next few days I'll post something about Brussels!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Trip Report Part Two: Ghent

This second installment of my trip report is a bit longer than the first, and more detailed. Why? Because--admit it--you probably know nothing about Ghent, so a few extra details won't hurt.

On July 9th, Mark and I took a train from Gare du Nord to Brussels and from there a train to Ghent. For the past three years I've had a substantial number of French-speaking Belgian students, mostly from Brussels, in my EFL classes. But Ghent is in the Flemish part of Belgium, a place where most of my French-speaking students have never been, so I was glad to experience this other part of the country first hand.

Belgian politics is quite complicated--there are six separate governments (and parliaments), each with their own federal, regional and linguistic divisions. Some things, like education, are dealt with by the linguistic divisions. Roads and infrastructure are managed by the regional divisions and the federal divisions deal with things like finance and law. Even though there's currently no working national federal government, the country operates very smoothly.

Things did seem to be running very smoothly in Ghent. The city has a well-preserved medieval center but it also has a large university and much larger than Bruges, to which it's inevitably compared. Even in the summer with many of the students gone, Ghent felt like a thriving small city.

We were fortunate enough to say with Helen White during our visit. I initially "met" Helen virtually, through the work that she does with Krikri, a fabulous organization that highlights a range of contemporary poetic ativity through festivals, performances, projects and workshops. In 2008 they organized the Zaoem festival, and Helen was kind enough to use some of my pieces for the visual poetry exhibition. More recently, Helen organized Infusoria: an Exhibition of Visual Poetry by Women from Three Continents, which brought together work some of the most compelling contemporary visual poets from Belgium, Canada, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Turkey and the United States. My special edition of Foursquare snuck in there, too.

So, Helen is clearly a stellar organizer and curator. She's also a fabulous host, which I'll talk more about in a minute. However, I also want to mention her own work. Helen's visual poems manage to be complex and delicate at the same time. One of my favorite pieces by her is "A Planet Like Pluto":

You can learn more about Helen and her work through her website.

Helen, as I said, was a fabulous host. During the three days we spent there, Helen took us all over the city, cooked tasty quiche, and maintained a refrigerator stocked full of cheese and beer. I won't tell you about every beer we drank or every cathedral that we went in, but here are some of the highlights of our time in Ghent.

1. Beer. Belgium's reputation for good beer is completely justified. While in Ghent, I drank numerous Trappist and abbey beers that I'd never had before, as well as a variety of lambics and gueuzes. My favorite was by far Rochefort 8. Rochefort 8 is perfectly malty and not at all boosey. We sat outside, even though it was really very cold, and drank beer at Het Waterhuis Ann de Bierkant:

We sat inside at Trollekelder and drank beer when it was raining. Helen very wisely chose to have a coffee:

We had beer with lunch and dinner, beer with friends, beer after the reading. You get the idea.

2. The reading was incredibly fun. I'd never before read to an audience of predominately speakers of languages other than English, so it was a challenge to put together a performance that would work in that context. Mark performed some pieces from Temporary Worker Rides a Subway as well as The End of America. I performed some sections from Terminal Humming and also my 2006 Dusie Chapbook, Diverse Speculations Descending Therefrom.

This photo is blurry, but it captures the mood of my performance quite well:

After Mark and I performed, other people in the audience also came up and gave short readings/performances. I was grateful to hear work from so many poets who were new to me. Here is Jelle Meander, a poet and musician--and one of the other Krikri organizers--performing a sound poem:

Xavier Roelens, Olaf Risee, Tine Moniek, also performed that evening, as well as (if I remember correctly), two other men who recited some more traditional Flemish poetry. The event ended with an improvisation around the pig we'd all been admiring. There's a lot to be said about the work people performed that evening, and especially about the context of sound poetry in Belgium (and, as we later learned, the Netherlands). In a country with three official languages (Flemish, French and German) and rather intensely local debates about what language is spoken where and by whom, sound poetry seems both daring and practical. Mark and I talked about this a lot on the trip, with each other and with the poets we met. You can read more of Mark's thoughts on the subject at his blog.

And then, we went to the bar, drank beer, and played with a mysterious blue balloon. It was a very late and lovely night. (Left to right: Lies Van Gasse, Tine Moniek, Xavier Roelens & Olaf Risee):

3. Medieval and Renaissance Architecture and Art. As I've already said, Ghent has a well-preserved medieval downtown. On just about every walk, we spent a lot of time admiring the buildings and the canals. The Sint Baafskathedraal (Saint Bravo Cathedrdal) was especially interesting. The cathedral was built, of course, in stages over hundreds of years. We went there to see "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb," an early Flemish polyptch panel painting by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck. My favorite panel depicts the pagan writers and the prophets of the Torah rushing forward to worship and adore the mystic lamb of God. Virgil is in there somewhere. I love how calm and unexcited their faces are.

Sint Baafskathedraal is also lovely in its own right.

We also went up the tower of the Belfort in Ghent. I'm not especially afraid of heights, but even I was a bit daunted by the height and the very narrow walkways along the outer edge of the bell chamber. Here's the view overlooking the town hall, which is the large building on the left.

3.2 Helen, Mark, Xavier Roelens and I took a trip to the Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Ghent, which has a great collection of Medieval and Renaissance Flemish work, including several by Hieronymus Bosch (but not "The Temptation of Saint Anthony," which we saw in Brussels, and which I'll write about later). Bosch's work is beautifully detailed and grotesque--it did look proto-surrealist, although his depictions of heaven and hell are probably pretty consistent with the medieval literature of his contemporaries.

The museum also had an exhibition of works on paper by Raoul de Keyser, the artist in residence. In retrospect, I realize I was a bit familiar with de Keyser's work because of an exhibition of his paintings about two (or three?) years ago in New York. I didn't see the exhibition (because I live in San Diego), but there's a brief article about it in the Brooklyn Rail. Most of the pieces at the Museum voor Schone Kunsten were pencil or charcoal on paper, and I could see how he moved from doing work that was mostly figurative to work that is more abstract.

4. Mark and I had read about jenever, a kind of gin, before we'd left on our trip, and were eager to try some. With Helen, we went to a bar that specializes in jenevers, next door to Het Waterhuis Ann de Bierkant (where we first drank beer). There are two types of jenever: "Oude" (Old) and "Jonge" (Young). Confusingly, though, this distinction has nothing to do with age, but with distilling techniques. Either way, I prefered aged versions of both types, and in general prefered the oude jenevers to the jounge ones. Some jenevers are flavored with fruit or chocolate, but those weren't my favorites. On a rainy afternoon or evening, of which there are many in Beligium, sipping a jenever in a warm, cozy bar feels perfect.

5. Helen took Mark and I to meet Godfried-Willem Raes and his robot orchestra at the Logos Foundation. The foundation specializes in collaborative music and dance concerts that involve interaction between people and the robots. Godfried and his team have developed not only the robots, but a variety of human interfaces, including microwave radar and wireless gesture control. Yes--wireless gesture control! Although he's still working on perfecting this technology we saw Godfried conduct the orchestra with very subtle movements of his hands. These are some of the instruments:

And here's Godfried in the back setting up the orchestra to perform. Note all of the wires coming out of the computer.

Several composers have written pieces specifically for the robot orchestra, which now has forty robots, including organs, bell-machines, a double string hurdy-gurdy, the player piano, a vibraphone, an accordeon and a sousaphone. You can read a more in-depth description of the robots here on the Logos Foundation website. Finally, Helen, who has performed with the orchestra, wrote a longer piece about it for the Infusoria blog that I urge you to read.

I'm grateful to the creative energy and generosity of Krikri, and especially Helen, for making our visit to Ghent possible. I think that I'll have to find a way to be back in Ghent sometime soon.

Look for the third installment of this trip report, on Amsterdam, in the next few days.