Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Remembering Don Belton

Don BeltonI must admit that I'm still in a bit of shock at the news, passed on Blabbeando via Twitter this afternoon, that writer and professor Don Belton (left, Indiana University English Department website) was found stabbed to death in his apartment in Bloomington, Indiana. I'd only just seen Don this past spring, at the Associate Writing Programs conference, in Chicago, and we'd chatted a bit, about his fairly new job at Indiana University, life, and a few other things. I realized I hadn't heard his soft voice, his gentle laugh, and his always kind words in so long, and I was delighted that I'd run into him. We said we'd be in touch, and as so often happens, though I did think about him from time to time, I figured we'd run into each other at some place or another, most likely Fire & Ink III, in Austin. It was a while since I'd seen him; perhaps the last time before this spring was at another conference some years back, and that tended to be where we ran into each other, though I've known him for at least two decades dating back to the time that I was a member of the Dark Room Writers Collective.

At that time, Don was already a published writer and known in the literary world; his wonderful novel, Almost Midnight, had appeared in 1986, and it heralded a new wave of works, including anthologies and volumes of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and drama, by black gay male writers. His novel in particular was important to me as a young writer, much as Randall Kenan's first one was; the assurance of the voice, the daring subject matter, and the fact that this young writer had produced it were all tremendous inspirations. Don subsequently edited Speak My Name (1989), a volume of writings by black men, across sexualities, on masculinity, and it's perhaps the book by which he's best known. He taught a several different institutions; for years, I believe, he was living and teaching in Minnesota at Macalester College, and also taught at the University of Michigan and Penn. Don was incredibly smart, and very much in the vein of figures like Samuel Delany and Melvin Dixon, or Thomas Glave and Randall Kenan, creative writers who can also drop critical and scholarly science. His knowledge field ranged from contemporary film and visual art to American and African American literary and cultural studies, and he had lectured all over the globe, including in Paris, São Paulo, and Abidjan. Amid the writing, teaching and travel there was the daily living, and I can't say what Don was up to for most of the years we knew each other, but I do recall asking people from time to time where he was and what he was doing, and hoping that he was okay and finding a place where he might flourish.

It is especially heartbreaking to learn, therefore, that he is now taken away from us, and in so brutal and inhumane a manner. He was only 53. I cannot help but think of all of the black gay male creative and critical talents who have gone well before their time; when I was in my 20s and 30s, handfuls, in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and older, were taken out by HIV/AIDS, heart attacks, cancer, and mental illness. Last year, another very talented figure, Lindon Barrett, was murdered in his home, and Reginald Shepherd, a brilliant poet, died of cancer. Both were in their 40s. I cannot express how saddening these losses are; it's like a silent, ghostly war is raging alongside the many ones we see every day and cannot stop, no matter how hard we try, and I feel like they have marked the entire adult years of my generation. Recently I answered a few questions for a younger writer about Melvin Dixon, who died in 1992 at the age of 42, and I'll link to his blog when he posts my responses, but in lieu of that, I think Melvin's moving appeal from his final appearance at OutWrite, would be as apt for Don and so many others: "Remember me, remember my name."

Rod 2.0, one of the most informative news sources out, has more information on the case.

Reggie H. posts his incredibly informative and thoughtful article on Don at the Noctuary.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Free Music From M+KO

Free, great music!

From the dynamic duo of Mendi + Keith Obadike!

Give yourself a no-cost holiday gift!

Download it and enjoy!

(/exclamation points off)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays

Christmas poster, Soho
Grafitti-poster in SoHo, NYC

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, as well as Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanzaa, and to those who do not, Happy Holidays and Seasons' Greetings!

For a little holiday music infusion, here's a favoricious playlist by the one and only Mr. EJ Flavors, starting with none other than Donny Hathaway singing "This Christmas" (you can't go wrong with that!).

For a little holiday art, here's a rare New York Times treat: original fiction, by one of the finer practitioners of the short-short/microfiction/prose poetic forms: Lydia Davis. She begins: "I Know we’re supposed to be happy on this day. How odd that is. Usually I’m just nervous — probably because I’m supposed to be happy. I think about other years." Read the rest at the link!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

60 Makes a Bill + Pushing from the Left

Delivered, but not sealed or signed--yet, and the US Senate's version of the historic yet problematic health care "reform" bill, that is. With 58 Democratic votes and the those of the two independents who caucus with them, the Democrats passed the severely gutted, lobbyist-shaped, and insurance industry-and-Big Pharma-friendly health care "reform" legislation. Now it heads to conference, where some contentious issues must be ironed out before it can be revoted up by both houses and then sent to President Barack Obama to be signed into law. Despite his aloofness from the turbulent Congressional debates, he's said he'll now get involved. I'll believe it when he does it.

Senate Democrats
Senate Democratic leaders announcing the passage of the legislation

The Senate bill
  • has no government-run health insurance (i.e. public) option.
  • has no Medicare buy-in for people under the current age of eligibility. (A recent Quinnipiac polled showed 56-38% support for the public option and 64-30% support for Medicare expansion.)
  • still includes the very mandate that President Obama campaigned against, and does not "cover" 30 million new people, but forces them to buy insurance under penalty of fine.
  • has weaker subsidies than those in the House bill.
  • includes a problematic excise tax.
  • does not include safe drug reimportation, though the president campaigned on this.
  • bars undocumented immigrants from buying insurance on the available exchanges, out of racism and spite.
  • includes anti-abortion provisions.
  • does not cover all Americans citizens.
  • does not really kick in for 4 years, by which time the GOP could repeal most of it or even the whole thing.
  • did not emerge from the "transparent," televised (on CSPAN) negotations the president promised, and instead has lobbyists' wishes and demands all over it, making it, sad to say, liable to critiques and attacks from the right-wing, who offered no substantive reform proposals of their own.
Most problematically, it not only doesn't dramatically "bend" the cost curve, but it fails to ensure 1) affordable insurance for ALL Americans, and 2) cut the excessive US spending on health care, which results of from industry profits, waste and inefficiency, a fee-for-treatment approach, and many other sources.

In case anyone has forgotten the USA health care costs per person exceed other industrialized countries by a wide margin.
Total health care spending per person, in 2007:
USA: $7290
Switzerland: $4417
France: $3601
United Kingdom: $2992
Average of OECD developed nations: $2964
Italy: $2686
Japan: $2581

In part this results from our reliance on a for-profit health care system, and despite his campaign promises, the President is doing little to change this. The huge disparity in costs is one of the main reasons progressives--labeled as "insane," the "Internet left fringe," "the left of the left," "on hallucinogens," etc.--by the President's spokespeople and media commentators and pundits--were pushing for either a universal single-payer program or a robust public health insurance option. This cost disparity, and the rising cost curve, are unsustainable without serious damage to the US economy and Americans' well-being.

The Senate's bill does include some worthwhile measures. It does bar the denial of health care based on pre-existing conditions, for children and for adults. It pushes Pharma to cover the doughnut hole. It includes funding for community health centers, which could provide more comprehensive and preventive health care services. It will allow more people--single adults--to buy into the Medicaid program. It also extends funding for Medicaid and Medicare, while streamlining the latter. In the event of a catastrophic illness it provides federal reinsurance to private companies that provide insurance for their employees. It funds training and education programs for non-physician healthcare professionals. So it's not totally worthless. But in terms of providing universal, affordable, high-quality care, and, to use the neoliberals' favorite concept, "choice," it falls--from what I can tell, FAR--short.

Nevertheless, one of the most credible critics of the legislation and the process by which it wound its way from rhetoric to near-law, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, argues in its favor. As he writes:

And for all its flaws and limitations, it’s a great achievement. It will provide real, concrete help to tens of millions of Americans and greater security to everyone. And it establishes the principle — even if it falls somewhat short in practice — that all Americans are entitled to essential health care.

Many people deserve credit for this moment. What really made it possible was the remarkable emergence of universal health care as a core principle during the Democratic primaries of 2007-2008 — an emergence that, in turn, owed a lot to progressive activism. (For what it’s worth, the reform that’s being passed is closer to Hillary Clinton’s plan than to President Obama’s). This made health reform a must-win for the next president. And it’s actually happening.

So progressives shouldn’t stop complaining, but they should congratulate themselves on what is, in the end, a big win for them — and for America.
Jonathan Chait, after a revisionist account of the 2000 election, agrees. So I guess it's a go--but also a strong reminder that for better legislation in the future, progressives will have to be relentless and, when necessary, willing to let the President and Congress know they do not have us in the pocket. No matter what Rahm Emanuel says.


One of my Twigente, Keraflo, posted this link to Cenk Uygur's Huffington Post article on moving President Obama (and the Congress) to the left. I agree with everything he's saying. Silence abets the status quo, which is what the majority opposed last year. Yet if we uncritically support the Obama administartion, criticizing only its right-wing opponents while not calling the president and the Congress when they fall far short of "change we can believe it" and not grow cynical, which strengthens those already in power.


Yoweri MuseveniRod 2.0 has been up on the grave situation facing LGBTQ people in Uganda, where a viciously homophobic Anti-Homosexuality Bill is making its way through that country's parliament. In his most recent post on the subject, he notes that Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni (at right, silobreaker.com), has decided not to intervene directly to stop legislation that would harshly penalize people suspected of being LGBTQ, despite having given assurances that he would do so to US authorities. Museveni is now saying he will try to convince his party, which has a parliamentary majority, not to support it. The original legislative proposals went so far as proposing capital penalties--death--for LGBTQ acts. In this post, Rod links to an article suggesting that the opposition party, the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), will oppose the legislation. This is unlikely to stop the bill's passage, but will register that it, and the toxic homophobia promoted by senior figures in Uganda's government, do not have tacit, universal support.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

iPhone Drawings 3.0

A few more recent iPhone drawings (the complete set are up at the Jstheater Flickr set):
Giardini Naxos (iPhone drawing)
Giardini Naxos at night (click on photo to see the entire image)
Salvatore Padrenostro, Italian poet (iPhone drawing)
Poet Salvatore Padrenostro (I make him look a bit sleepy, but he wasn't; it's the challenges of drawing eyes with one's thumb and index finger)

And back in New Jersey and New York, on the trains:
Man on PATH (iPhone drawing)
A man sleeping on the PATH
Man on PATH (iPhone drawing)
A man reading a poster, on the PATH
Woman on PATH (iPhone drawing)
A woman in conversation, on the PATH
Man on subway (iPhone drawing)
A young man reading, on the subway (MTA)
Man on subway (iPhone drawing)
A man on the subway (though I think I quickly sketched in a PATH background)
Man at Uniqlo (iPhone drawing)
A cashier at Uniqlo (the line was very long, so I had a small window to sketch him)
Man on PATH (iPhone drawing)
A man on the PATH

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday Round-up

A few blips today: What wonderful news that Mexico City will become the first capital in Latin America (and the third in North America, after Ottawa and Washington, DC?) to ensure marriage equality, with its city assembly's passage of a same-sex marriage bill. The bill passed 39-20, with 5 abstentions. According to this BBC News report, the bill changes "the definition of marriage in the city's civic code - from the union of a man and a woman to 'the free uniting of two people.'"

I meant to post a congratulations to Annise Parker on her victory in the Houston mayoral race a week ago (December 12), but that post vanished into the ether, so let me belatedly do so. Parker becomes the first out lesbian to lead one of the US's top 5 largest cities, and probably among the first to lead a major city in one of the former states of the Confederacy.

Annise Parker, Mayor of Houston
Annise Parker, Houston's new mayor (Advocate.com)

Speaking of leadership, Drew Westen, the noted linguist, author of Metaphors We Live By and The Political Brain, and Emory professor, has a devastating article in today's Huffington Post on Obama's lack of leadership, laissez-faire style and content-free politics, and their effects on policies and the Democratic base and independents. (I'll try to write more about this tomorrow.)

Though he may be hands-off when it comes to major issues (the health care reform bill, the global warming/climate change/green technology crisis, the ongoing economic debacle, etc.) or too much of a Bushite (with his own "surge" in Afghanistan, continuation of infinite detentions and the Patriot Act, refusal to prosecute the criminal element that led the US over the last 8 years, etc.), Obama has been very good about appointing Latinos to government posts, many of them Harvardians. He's outpacing both W and his avatar*, Clinton. On the symbolism joint, he's got his act together.

Thomas E. Perez
Thomas E. Pérez, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division (mainjustice.com)

In case you were wondering what's in this crapola insurance and pharma-giveaway bill we're all supposed to get behind and believe is the best thing since Medicare or Social Security, McJoan at DailyKos gives a rundown. It's many eggs short of a dozen, no matter how prettily Sheldon Whitehouse and his colleagues try to dress up the carton.

Speaking of Avatar, which I haven't yet seen but am rather curious about, not everyone is rhapsodizing the film. Annalee Newitz at io9 asks, "When will white people stop making movies like 'Avatar'?" Nihilistic Kid offers a funnier but similarly cogent political take. And poet Ruthellen Kocher poses important questions about colonialism and how to discuss this with her youngster when seeing the film.

Annise Parker, Mayor of Houston
Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, in Avatar (telegraph.co.uk)

Speaking of colonialism, client states, and warmongering, I keep asking anyone who'll listen: what is really and currently going on in Iraq? On the flight overseas, I came across this New York Times article about black Iraqis. Why hasn't there been more reportage of this? Does the President, a great inspiration to them, know or even care what's going on over there?

I am behind on New Yorkers (by weeks now--this means my graduate fiction students next quarter may not have to read so many of this year's stories), but I enjoyed the snarky piece, "To the MAXXII" (only the audio slideshow's online) on Pritzker Prize-winning artist and architect Zaha Hadid, who's finally seeing her visions realized. Why does the writer keep commenting on her clothes, though? Would this happen to a male (st)architect? Also, Joan Accocella's short commentary on Geoffrey Chaucer-related books and Peter Ackroyd's butchered "translation" of The Canterbury Tales was a highlight. Note to authors: some books do not need to be "updated."

Lastly, it appears that residents of Laredo, Texas, a city of over 250,000 people, will be without a single chain or independent bookstore very soon. Barnes & Noble is closing its "profitable" B. Dalton outlet there, because it's not...bringing in enough money! Disgraceful.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snowpocalypse + Geoffrey Jacques New Book + Odds & Ends

The snowpocalypse came and...there's a lot of snow. Yet the world, including that part of the world here in the northeastern US, still exists. I admit to being inured to both the cold and snow after so many winters spent in Chicago, where you really do get cold weather (it was 7-11°F just a few days ago when I was there, which is cold) and lots of snow, including weeks on end of snow (was it last winter or the one before where the snowfalls seemed to stretch on indefinitely?). So it's been a bit humoring to watch the frenzy around this northeaster. Every TV and radio pronouncement seems to require an exclamation point. C, like many people on Twitter, reported to me on the hurlyburly at the supermarket and the home improvement stores. The local airports have shut down all flights, and some people have been stranded for 24 hours or more. Even bus service has been suspended, leaving only that 19th century technology, the train, for non-auto intercity travel. Because of the snow! And yet last night, when I went over to New York City for an event, quite a few people were out and about, walking through the swirling and shifting drifts, thronging the lower level of the Apple Store on 14th St., bustling up 7th Avenue and down Christopher. They obviously hadn't gotten the panic-stay inside-fret for the end of life as we know it memo. Today we shoveled and salted the front and the walk, and by midday, despite the sliver of sunlight, the sidewalk and roadways were visible. In the backyard a splendor of birds, one as red as a poppy, another with a flaming orange beak and breast-feathers, settled temporarily in the leafless lilac, before scattering about the yard. And the pride of cats that calls our backyard home remained unseen, though their tracks dotted the white quilt that stretched from the back porch to the wall at yard's end. The snowpocalypse arrived, and life goes on. As I tweeted earlier today, for today's #snowpoem:

Under its white quilt
the frozen street lies silent
indoors we watch films


Last night, as I mentioned, I ventured over to Manhattan, despite the snowstorm, to attend a book launch party for poet and critic Geoffrey Jacques at the Skoto Gallery in Chelsea. Geoffrey, who provided the afterword for Chris Stackhouse's and my book, Seismosis (1913 Press), has just published his first critical study, A Change in the Weather: Modernist Imagination, African-American Imaginary (U. Mass Press, 2009), an exciting and penetrating, carefully historicized and argued exploration of some of the previously underexamined sources of translatlantic Modernism. One of the book's many insights is its discussion of the effects of black urban geographic distribution on Modernist poetics; as Geoffrey and I discussed last night when talking about the figure via whom I first learned about Geoffrey (because of his incisive critique in the Threepenny Review), Wallace Stevens, in addition to all the bright colors, the exotic place names, the unusual terminology, there are also lots of Negroes in his poems. Lots. Geoffrey unpacks this presence, these presences--he said that that letter in the literary journal, which Tom Ellis pointed out to me years ago, was the starting point--across a range of authors and works, while also tracing the influence of other popular and expressive cultural genres and forms such as
blackface minstrelsy, ragtime, advertising, vaudeville, and Tin Pan Alley. Geoffrey even got an opportunity to school me a bit more on Stevens as "aesthete," and his relation to Victorian predecessor A. E. Housman. Without question A Change in the Weather is a book worth diving into, as soon as you can, and also check out Geoffrey's collections of poetry, including Just for a Thrill (Wayne State University Press).

Poet & critic Geoffrey Jacques
Geoffrey Jacques (at right) and a friend
At Geoffrey Jacques' book party
Book party attendees

On display at the gallery were sculptures and 3-D drawings in metal by Nigerian artist Olu Amoda. I was only able to chat with him briefly, but he explained a few things about his work, which he creates from found objects in Lagos, where he has been working since the early 1980s. He also talked about his process to me, noting his desire to go beyond "drawing" as it's traditionally understood, moving from the medium of paper and canvas into metal, various welders taking the place of pen and pencil. Adoma also described one set of 2-3 ft. figures as being inspired by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka's famous play Death and the Horsemen; he suggested that instead of the usual relationship between humans and props, or sculptures as props, he wanted to animate the usually inanimate. The expressivity of his metal forms definitely gave them a sense of movement, and liveliness.

Nigerian artist Olu Amoda
Olu Amoda
Olu Amoda sculpture
One of Amoda's sculptures, from the Death and the Horseman series
Olu Amoda sculptures at Skoto Gallery
The Death and the Horseman series
Olu Amoda drawing, in and on metal
One of Amoda's drawings, on/in metal
In Chelsea, during the snowstorm
Chelsea street (W. 20th St.), during the snowstorm


On another note, I've got so much catching up to do. First, congratulations to Washington, DC's City Council, led by Republican David Catania, for passing a same-sex marriage bill and for having a mayor, Adrian Fenty, willing and eager to sign it. As conservative as Southern-influenced Washington can sometimes be compared to other parts of the East Coast, let alone the rest of the country, but not always. This was a particularly hopeful sign in light of the collapse of the marriage equality push in New York State earlier this month, the horrible reversal in Maine, and the ongoing intransigence of the Obama administration and Democratic-controlled Congress to repeal hateful laws and policies like Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and to pass the Employment Non-Description Act (ENDA). Now, on this issue at least, DC must become a beacon casting its light north, south, east, and west.

I also have been meaning to note the passing in November of Jeanne-Claude, legendary partner of and co-artist, for over half a century, with the equally legendary Christo. It was their spectacle in orange, in New York's Central Park, the sublime (to me) and crowd-pleasing "The Gates," with which I inaugurated this blog back in February 2005. (Actually Jay Wright and Rainer Rilke came first, but should that be a surprise?) That blogging moment feels like a lifetime ago, but the drama surrounding the installation, and then the anticipation and subsequent experience of heading uptown and walking through the series of sunset-brilliant standards, is quite vivid. That was only one of Jeanne-Claude and Christo's public triumphs; they also famously, or notoriously depending upon your perspective, wrapped an atoll and Berlin's Reichstag building, among many other structures, natural and manmade, in plastic; erected umbrellas in California; and raised an "Iron Curtain" on a Paris street. Christo plans to continue their ongoing projects, and it wasn't until well into their careers that Jeanne-Claude was credited with her central role in their projects, but thankfully she was, and together she and he pushed the boundaries of public and conceptual art and sculpture while also devising new and interesting means of political expression. Jeanne-Claude's vision and savvy, so key to Christo's, will be missed.

Nielsen has announced the immediate closing of media watchdog Editor & Publisher, and, personally more devastatingly to me, Kirkus Reviews. Librarians and bookstores will probably lament the latter shuttering, while quite a few authors, slammed in the pages of Kirkus, may not. I personally had a very positive experience with the publication; it gave Annotations one of its first reviews, a very laudatory one at that, that appeared to set the tone for all the ones that followed in the first months after the book hit the shelves. My publisher was both amazed and pleased beyond belief--or relief, perhaps. But beyond my personal experience, it's important to note that the loss of yet another major book reviewing organ can only be viewed as a loss for contemporary American letters and publishing. As fine as so many of the online review publications are, none has the history or scope of publications like Kirkus. What are we to do, though? Perhaps a not-for-profit is the way to go. Will a consortium of wealthy authors (Tom Clancy? John Grisham? Terry McMillan?) bankroll its establishment? How then to keep it in print? What would a sustainable model look like? These are pressing questions every author should be thinking about.


The Senate Democrats are finally set to pass a severely weakened version of health care reform legislation. It's shorn of a public option, of a Medicare buy-in, of a drug reimportation measure, and of several other features that President Barack Obama promised during his 2007-8 campaign; it does, however, have restrictive anti-abortion and anti-immigrant language, weakened subsidies, and a funding mechanism tied not to increased taxes on the rich but on so-called "Cadillac" plans, and, worst of all, the very mandate that Obama decried in Hillary Clinton's and John Edwards' plans. It will thus deliver 30 million new customers, at penalty of fine and under financial duress, to the health insurance, pharmaceutical, hospital, and medical device companies. This is not what Obama and the Democrats promised last year, nor what they were elected to deliver, and yet progressives are being urged--when not being insultingly called "insane" or "batsh*t crazy"--to swallow our desire for a fight and a superior bill, and support this dreck. In the Senate, they'll probably do it, and it'll probably also happen in the House with minimal adjustment, despite Speaker Nancy Pelosi's own promises, meaning this train-wreck a bill will become law. The president, who has cut deals with health care lobbyists (cf. Tom Daschle, among others) and Big PhrMa, are determined to sign whatever crosses his desk, no matter how awful.

One of the few contemporary journalists I trust, Nobel laureate economist and opinion columnist and blogger Paul Krugman, says that this bill will be better than nothing, and can serve as a beginning step in reforming health care, but even he agrees that it could be a lot better. Much better. Journalist Matt Taibbi, however, says, in concert with former DNC chairman and physician Howard Dean, that the Democrats ought to scrap this crap and produce a better bill via reconciliation. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refuses to go this route, and the Washington Village consensus* is that it can't be done. (Why?) So this mess, opposed by all 40 Senate Republicans despite Obama's endless conciliation and machinations--for them to serve as cover?--is probably going to pass. And the Democrats could pay a serious electoral price in 2010.

Ultimately, I think Krugman is right that the longterm effects will be positive even if they don't address some of the key structural problems with our health insurance system (such as the for-profit motive that's a major source of the steadily rising costs), but if Obama keeps screwing up and following Bill Clinton's playbook of moving further to the right and slamming the Left base, we could end up with a GOP Congress and, worse, a real Republican in the White House in 2012. Perhaps Obama and the Democrats will wake up before then instead of reverting, as always, to their neoliberal, corporatist, Third Way default policies. If neither does, Lord help us, because though we know we can live under GOP misrule, the next iteration will only be that much worse.

*Nate Silver also says it'd be difficult, calling reconciliation an "insidious myth." Well okie dokey!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Poems: Claude McKay, Emily Dickinson, Issa + Snow Poems

In expectation of the snowmageddon to come, I got to thinking about poems about snow or in which snow, snowfalls, snowflakes, snowstorms, and the like, play a key role, as a central image, as a metaphor or simile, to serve as frame, and so on, and so here's a poem that's probably not read or discussed that often, in double sonnet form, by Claude McKay (1890-1948), "The Snow Fairy," from his 1922 collection, Harlem Shadows. The snow here both serves as a metaphor for loss, despite its beauty, and also sets the stage for melancholy; the lyric voice is reminiscing about a lover who, as temporarily as those "snow fairies," magically brought a bit of "summer" along, joining the lyric speaker in his bed, before departing at dawn, evanescent as snow (or any season, winter or summer) itself. McKay writes many poems like these, though I don't think he's known for them, but they are treasures nevertheless. And so:

The Snow Fairy


Throughout the afternoon I watched them there,
Snow-fairies falling, falling from the sky,
Whirling fantastic in the misty air,
Contending fierce for space supremacy.
And they flew down a mightier force at night,
As though in heaven there was revolt and riot,
And they, frail things had taken panic flight
Down to the calm earth seeking peace and quiet.
I went to bed and rose at early dawn
To see them huddled together in a heap,
Each merged into the other upon the lawn,
Worn out by the sharp struggle, fast asleep.
The sun shone brightly on them half the day,
By night they stealthily had stol'n away.


And suddenly my thoughts then turned to you
Who came to me upon a winter's night,
When snow-sprites round my attic window flew,
Your hair disheveled, eyes aglow with light.
My heart was like the weather when you came,
The wanton winds were blowing loud and long;
But you, with joy and passion all aflame,
You danced and sang a lilting summer song.
I made room for you in my little bed,
Took covers from the closet fresh and warm,
A downful pillow for your scented head,
And lay down with you resting in my arm.
You went with Dawn. You left me ere the day,
The lonely actor of a dreamy play.

Copyright © Claude McKay, 2009. All rights reserved.

That got me thinking about other poems in which snow, winter, and so forth figure centrally. Of course I have already posted Wallace Stevens's sublime "The Snow Man" on this blog (back in April 2007). What are some others? I got to thinking, and tweeted the following, creating (I gather) a new hashtag, #snowpoems, in the process. I even posted a haiku to get things going.

White christmas dreams, fears
of the snowflakes that will come
wanting to remain

When in doubt, haiku. So far, though, solo. (Though Nic P. did retweet the haiku--thanks Nic!) If you're on Twitter, add to the list, please!

McKay's poem made me recall one of Emily Dickinson's (1830-1886) gems, Poem 1669, "In snow thou comest," with its drumtight use of metaphor, allusion, prosody, music. The figure addressed here is winter itself, as a means for talking about life:

In snow thou comest --
Thou shalt go with the resuming ground,
The sweet derision of the crow,
And Glee's advancing sound.

In fear thou comest --
Thou shalt go at such a gait of joy
That man anew embark to live
Upon the depth of thee.

Here's another, by the great (Kobayashi) Issa [小林一茶](1763-1828), which uses a sign of winter's (possibly temporary) departure, metonymically, as a springboard to depict life and its possibilities:

The snow is melting
and the village is flooded
with children.
So what are some other "snow" poems? Among the most famous in American literature, of course, is:

Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"


Guillaume Apollinaire, "La blanche neige"
Francisco X. Alarcón, "Iguanas in the Snow"
A.R. Ammons, "I Come In From the Snowy World"
John Ashbery, "What Is Poetry?"
Emily Dickinson, "Snow flakes"
Rita Dove, "The Snow King"
Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Snow-Storm"
Anne Hébert, "La neige"
Nizam Hikmet, "It snows in the night"
Denise Levertov, "Praise Wet Snow Falling Early"
Edna St. Vincent Millay, "The Snow Storm"
Gabriela Mistral, "Mientras baja la nieve"
Eugenio Montale, "Here is the sign"
Quincy Troupe, "Snow and Ice"
Walt Whitman, "To a Locomotive in Winter"

What are some that come to your mind? Let me know and I'll add them to the list.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Back to the Future: Chicago

Recently I was forced to confront the fact that my brief fall quarter sabbatical is winding to its close. In July of this year I ended the lease on the Chicago apartment I'd been renting for several years, because the likelihood of finding a decent subletter for the rest of the summer, or for the fall quarter, especially given the flood of apartments on the market, was minimal. But I have to return in January--sorry, novels!--to resume professing, so I had to head back out to Chicago to find a new apartment. I did, it's done. (My top choice, which supposedly no one was looking at, somehow rented within minutes of my filling out my forms at the realty company. Hmm. I also had to deal with the usual suspects who, either upon seeing me or hearing my voice, began going on about "good credit" and "what do you do?" and "how long have you been teaching at..." and "what do you teach?" and so on. I now can urge them, politely, to visit the Google. One elderly woman, however, seemed bent on insisting that I was starting my first gig. I did not rent her large but horribly kept apartment, naturally.) Being back in the Windy City feels like moving through a familiar yet foggy landscape; I know it well enough not to have to think about it that much, and yet it always keeps me somewhat off kilter. I also feel my melancholy rising as soon as the plane touches down on the tarmac at O'Hare or Midway. But so it is.

Commuting in either direction grows less and less pleasurable with each passing year. I'd have thought that at Newark and O'Hare that, 8 going on 9 years after 9/11, that procedures would be streamlined, but unfortunately this is not the case. Often some arbitrary element is introduced to heighten the Kafkaesque aspects of the experience. This time I had my bags searched at Newark because my electric toothbrush and batteries, which I have managed to carry across the country and to foreign countries multiple times without a problem, looked like a "knife" (???). Perhaps they were in the grip of metaphor, who knows? Also at Newark, a woman at the security gate was demanding that people have their passports or IDs readily open for inspection, the tone of her voice almost at a threatening pitch. (You have to show both anyway, so what's the big deal if you take a second to open them up? The line was moving briskly.) At O'Hare, the security lines were clotted like bad arteries, barely moving, and several people were anxious they might miss their flights. I wasn't, since I knew mine, to Newark, would be delayed. And it was! First by 30 or so minutes, then by 45 more, then we sat on the tarmac and...I was almost having erotic visions of high speed trains by the time the plane finally ascended above Lake Michigan, though I haven't read anything by J. G. Ballard in over half a year.

On the flight out I ended up watching Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky (1938), which I'd seen before, on VHS, some years ago. (That was during the summer when I decided I need to catch up on as much foreign and pre-1950s American cinema as my video and bank accounts could bear.) I also used to periodically listen to Sergei Prokofiev's cantata version of the score on CD, but I haven't done that--or listen to a CD, for that matter--in a while. Watching Alexander Nevsky this time, what struck me were three things. First, how completely Eistenstein grasped the use of space, particularly deep shots, to convey a sense of the story's intrinsically epic and heroic, almost mythic nature, and also its grandeur, exaltation, utter importance. This was especially evident in such different scenes as those of the fisherman in the water, or Nevsky's forces massed on the edges of the lake as the Teutonic Knights (i.e., the Germans) approach. Second was Prokofiev's score, which works both as an abstract musical piece, but also in stirring accompaniment to Eisenstein's images. The music in the scenes leading up to and through the slaughter of the Russians at Pskov by the Teutons, who are some of the most scary-looking villains I can recall on screen, chilled me to the core, while the post-battle passages conveyed the Russian triumph, and also, as was Eisenstein's aim, hopefulness, quite seductively. Once or twice I found myself perhaps too carried off by the music, but Eisenstein's scene-making rarely let this last long.

Nikolai Cherkasov, as Alexander Nevsky, in Eisenstein's eponymous film

Third, the acting, whose expressiveness, gesturality and blockiness derived both from specific conventions espoused and promulgated by such eminent figures as Vsevolod Meyerhold, with whom Eisenstein had worked, and the just prior silent movie and much older stage traditions, sometimes struck me as cartoonish. Even taking into account the differing conceptions of acting--and the striking difference from American/Hollywood approaches, such as the Method, nevertheless among some of the secondary characters, the acting verged on being unnecessarily comical. Nevsky, as the noble hero, presented the right amount of reserve, perhaps too much for a similar film today (though no US filmmakers could make such a film nowadays), but the other characters seemed sometimes almost on par with Will Ferrell or Ricky Gervais, smirking, goofy, a bit too hammy. After I settled into the story, though, this didn't bother me as much. Lastly, the fact that the film is propaganda still does not bother me at all, or rather, I think I apprised it the first time I saw it as I did this time, with an acknowledgement of how crucial its propagandistic subtext was at the time it was made. (I feel this way about other films of this sort, like Mrs. Miniver.) What I did note this time was the sinister portrayal of the Church in abetting the Germans' crimes. The creepy-looking priest--for the story takes place before the Reformation--doesn't bat an eye as the Russians are tortured, and this, I thought, was as much a slap against the Roman Catholic Church's silence on Hitler as, under Stalinism, against religion's role in bourgeois rule and oppression. I plan to rewatch October again soon, to refamiliarize myself with its visual language and narrative strategies, but also to see if it's the same film I remember as clearly as I did Nevsky.

One of the things I noticed while back in Chicago was the increase in empty storefronts in many of the neighborhoods I tend to frequent. Rogers Park, Edgewater, Uptown, Andersonville, and Lakeview all had even more plate glass façades bearing "For Rent" signs than when I left. There were a few stores that I could remember that have now closed in just the past 6-8 months, but a number I couldn't; so many had cycled through one particular venue near where I lived during my first stay in Chicago in 2001 that I tried to visualize what had been there just last year, and could only bring up a restaurant of some sort, or perhaps it was a deli. It is good to see that a number of longtime businesses, with affordable leases, I gather, are in place, and some of the very arts-oriented businesses that sprouted up along the Morse-Glenwood Arts corridor in Rogers Park are still operating, but I do wonder whether landlords are still holding out for high(er) rents, there simply aren't enough people with access to capital (i.e. loans) to open businesses or keep them afloat, or what. I probably should check on the economic climate rather than relying on anecdotal observation, but I was particularly surprised by how many new storefronts on Clark and Broadway were now empty.

One thing that was also surprising was how many condo buildings are still going up, or perhaps I was just hallucinating them. I thought this might depress rents in the areas I was looking at, but those appear to have fallen only a little, and not as much as would seem reasonable. I'm not sure what's going on. Perhaps the landlords have enough cash or have paid off their mortgages so long ago that they aren't really pressed to rent out units. Maybe they are in denial. Who can say? I do know that one building I lived in shortly after returning to teach at the university has now been gutted and renovated, in a moderately appealing fashion, and now the landlord wants a really unreasonable sum, if you ask me, for what could be easily found for $50-$100 less just blocks away. Eventually they'll figure this out, or the economy will improve and resolve the issue, or both. Or neither.

I also had my first encounters the new parking system. You get less time for the same amount of money, naturally. But, and I'm sure everyone else has figured this out, the new parking authorizations--vouchers?--appear to be portable. Or maybe I'm not reading them carefully enough. Am I missing something? Each machine does stamp a unique code on each ticket, yet unlike the old meters, unless the meter-reader is carefully scrutinizing the machine stamp, you don't have to stay at your original spot and either lose money or sacrifice a Muni-meter voucher for a regular meter, and thus lose money, since the entire city now consists of Muni-metered streets. I tried this several times, and even accidentally missed placing a new 15-minute voucher in my car window, yet the cop who passed by to inspect it simply glanced at all the ones in the car and walked on by. Hmmm. Maybe for once I should thank Mayor Daley?

Parking vouchers
On Clark Street, in Lakeview

Whenever I'm back in Chicago I find myself having to suppress the urge to comment, even to myself, about how cold it is. There's always a day, nevertheless, when it's impossible to do so, and that day was earlier in the week (Tuesday?), when the temperature dropped down to about 11°F, though I believe the newscaster reported that with the wind chill it was 7°F or lower. Fortunately the place I stayed was warm enough, but parking the car and walking the several blocks was a challenge, even with warm clothes and hat (buff). At some point I lost my gloves, as I always do (they simply will not stay in my coat pockets, so I may have to resort to that old childhood standard, that the wife of a professor at MIT I once temped for also found useful, which is clips or closepins, to keep them attached to the coatsleeves), which will necessitate a trip, I'm glad to say, to Uniqlo in SoHo. I am hoping that they have gloves comparable to their really cool-looking thermal underwear, which, like everything in the store, come in so many bright colors that I'm in a trance only minutes after setting foot in the door. Really, any excuse to go there is welcome. Now, how to get them to open up a branch in the Third City.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

More Photos: 4th Int'l Poetry Festival in Caltagirone

More photos (and click on them to enlarge!)

Salvo Padrenostro
Salvatore Padrenostro, reading his work

Giovanni introducing Ottavio
Giovanni Miraglia introducing Ottavio Fatica

Me with Ottavio Fatica
Me with Ottavio Fatica, during the reading of his translations of Elizabeth Bishop's poems

Maria Attanasio giving her great intro
Maria Attanasio, delivering her great introduction of Rosaria LoRusso

Rosaria LoRusso reading her work
Rosaria LoRusso reading her work

Me reading with Giovanni Miraglia, my translator
Me and Giovanni Miraglia, as I read a poem and he prepares to read a translation

The steps, with Presepe/Nativity Scene
The stairs/La Scala in Caltagirone, with Presepe, at night

The stairs, Caltagirone
Another view of the stairs/La Scala in Caltagirone, by night

Landscape of Catania region
Countryside near Catania

Catania poster
Wall in Catania

The former Bourbon prison, Caltagirone
The former Bourbon Prison, in Caltagirone (the Bourbons still rule Spain and Luxembourg, and ruled France, Sicily, and Italy)

Along Tysandros Way, Giardini-Naxos
Tysandros Way, Giardini Naxos (mountains leading to Taormina in the distance)

The beach and Schisò Castle
Schisò Castle, with fishing boats and the beach, Giardini Naxos

Public gardens, Taormina
Public Garden, Taormina

Islands near Taormina
Islands near Taormina in the Ionian Sea, as viewed from the Via Luigi Pirandello

Passageway, Museo Hoffmann

Giovanni, Ottavio and I
Giovanna Giornato, Ottavio and I

Villa Patti, Caltagirone
Villa Patti, in Caltagirone

C and Emmanuele
C & Emmanuele, on the morning of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception Day, in Caltagirone

Immaculate Conception procession, Caltagirone
Feast of Immaculate Conception procession, Caltagirone

Immaculate Conception procession, Caltagirone
Feast of Immaculate Conception procession, Caltagirone

Travelogue: 4th International Festival of Poetry, Caltagirone

We are back, and what follows will probably read like an unbroken chain of superlatives, so forgive me in advance, but the trip to Sicily, to attend the 4th International Poetry Festival in Caltagirone, was one of the most remarkable experiences I have ever had. I am still in a daze at how wonderfully we were treated, received, welcomed, embraced. So as I did the night of the reading, and again almost immediately upon reaching New York, let me thank all involved: Maria Attanasio, one of Italy's finest writers, whom I invoked on this very blog last April and then fortuitously met a few months later, last spring, in Chicago; Josephine Pace, the patient, marvelous poet, businesswoman and festival coordinator, who treated us like we were family, which is to say, in the best way; translator and intellectual Giovanni Miraglia, who translated my work with great nuance and delicacy, creating new rhythms and to my ear greater beauty in the Italian; ALTAVOX, the arts organization behind the event; and all the wonderful people whom we met and spent time with during our trip, including Giovanni Guarino, Maria's husband, whom I also first met in the Windy City, and who fed us a meal fit for the gods; Gaetano C., though very busy, he served one of our ever patient hosts in Caltagirone; the brilliant Nic Prezzavento, who taught us so much about Sicily, Italy, and everything else; Miriam, ever sparkling and one of the friendliest people you could ever come across; artist Emannuele, who didn't speak English but communicated with us nevertheless; translator Manuela Cardiel, whose version of Hagib Tengouz's famous long poem I'm really looking forward to reading; Gaetano, whose b&b, Three Steps to Heaven, on Caltigirone's landmark La Scala (steps) we stayed at when we first arrived; Josephine's daughters, who joined us for several meals; fellow festival poets and translator Ottavio Fatica, and his wife, translator Giovanna Giornato, Sebastiano Burgaretta, Salvatore Padrenostro, and Rosaria LoRusso; Caterina and all the staff at the exquisite Hotel Palladio, in Giardini Naxos, the beautiful resort town below the historic mountain redoubt of Taormina; all of the students at the Liceo in Caltigirone, who came prepared to speak English and ask me great questions; Nino, who initially met us in Catania and drove us to Caltagirone; and everyone else who made our visit so unforgettable. As I will say for years to come, "Grazie mille!"

Josephine Pace, poet & host
Josephine Pace, our host, in Caltigirone (the famous steps are in the distance)

Rather than give a detailed travelogue, I will touch upon some of the highlights, beginning with the visit with the classical and modern foreign language students in Caltagirone. I figured that they would be sharp as lasers and engaged with the material I'd provided, but what truly blew me away was how enthusiastic this packed room of high schoolers, on a Saturday no less, were. They came ready to ask questions, engage in a dialogue, and hear me talk about and read some of my work. After introductions by the school's principle, one of their language teachers, and Josephine and Giovanni--Josephine broached issues of not just literary but also cultural translation, and Giovanni unknotting some of what he saw as the threads in my work, both talks at a level that struck me as what I'd likely hear in introductions at the college/university level in the US. I read a snippet of a statement I'd sent along beforehand, and which they'd thoroughly read, before reading a few poems, one--"Ten Things I Do Everyday"--in tandem with Giovanni's translation, a bit of prose, and then taking questions. And they were very good ones. One student wanted to know about the relationship between my sense of Annotations as a long poem and the sorts of epic poems they'd explored, like the Iliad and the Aeneid; another wanted to know about the influence of classical music in my work; yet another wanted to know how I began writing poetry; and one of the students was, as any readers of the book are, curious about what Seismosis meant. But this is only tiny portion of the questions I received. A little more than an hour later, we concluded after I read a second poem, "Serenade," that Giovanni had artfully translated into Italian, and then I posed for pictures with the students, whose cheers and excitement really would have been enough to carry us back to JFK if Alitalia hadn't.

The main cathedral in Caltagirone
The baroque Cathedral in Caltagirone (note the multicolored dome, covered in locally manufactured tiles)

Between the visit with the Liceo students and the Festival, C and I had a short break, so we decided, after a bit of discussion and with Josephine's and Maria's assistance, to take the bus to see Taormina, one of the important historical cities in Sicily, and its Ionian seafront resort town of Giardini Naxos. To get there, we had to take a bus to Catania, our original flight portal into Sicily, and then connect at the airport via bus to head north. We had thought of driving, but after seeing the aftermath of an accident on our initial trip from Catania to Caltagirone, we decided to place our faith in someone more familiar with the areas roundabouts and autostrade. Because it was winter, Giardini-Naxos was sleepier than it is during the summer months, when people descend from all parts of Sicily, Italy, Europe, and the world to flock its streets and beaches, as many others, from J. W. von Goethe and Oscar Wilde to D.H. Lawrence and Knut Hamsun, have in the past. But it was still lovely to sit out on our balcony overlooking the almost unbelievable vista, or walk along the seafront, watching the clouds and light shift in ever more painterly combinations. We also noted the stylishness of the residents, as we did of those in Caltagirone, a city of 40,000 known primarily for its ceramics industry and baroque architecture; it would be unusual, we concluded, to see such fashionableness in a similarly small American town unless it were very close to a major city. The Sicilians, however, are second to none in style. We also sampled the delicious seafood, highly recommended by our hosts, including one "opener", which included the best preparations of sardines I've ever had (also among these antepasti were squid, octopus, mussels, prawns, and several types of local area fish, prepared in ways I'd never tried before). After this, the delicious pasta was truly an anticlimax.

Caltagirone rooftops
Rooftops of Caltagirone, visible from the Three Steps from Heaven B&B

You cannot visit Taormina and not see Taormina, so we took the bus up the winding, hair-pin curved Via Luigi Pirandello--one of Sicily's famous figures, of course--to the top of the hill, then walked a bit more, before reaching one of the historic gates that led to the main strip, now mostly full of high-end stores familiar (Dolce and Gabbana, Armani) and less so (Danielle Alessandrini, Parisi). We wondered, given the economic climate even in Italy, who could afford to patronize all of these shops full of true fabulousness (the wine or shoes or coats alone would have melted the heart of the most miserly), but they seemed to be doing better than their peers in New York, go figure. Dotting the landscape were the various treasures of the city, such as the 10th century Palazzo Corvaja, the 13th century Duomo, the Renaissance baroque fountain, and a host of other churches and historical sites, including a police headquarters that had regularly-spaced Stars of David carefully carved into its facade, leading us to believe that it had once been a noteworthy building for the Jewish population in the area. Two of the most important sites we ventured to: the beautiful Public Garden (Giardino pubblico), which surprised me primarily because of the large number of cacti (!) specimens on view--a particular type of prickly pear cactus, the Fico d'India, is a Sicilian specialty and symbol--and because it appeared to be a cute cat hangout; and the Greek(-Roman) Theater (Teatro Greco), perched on a seemingly-impossible promontory, with some of the most spectacular vistas imaginable, and still mostly standing despite having been erected in the 3rd century BCE (and then rebuilt, in the Roman style, in the 2nd century BCE). We wandered beneath it, alongside tourists from Spain and Germany, and then climbed up to the top to take pictures, stare in amazement, and consider the countless layers of history that it embodied. We also learned that if you are there at the right times, you can see performances of classical plays on its main stage, or musical events. I highly recommend it whatever the season.

The students before my talk
Some of the Liceo students before my presentation, in Caltagirone

Returning to Caltagirone a few days later, we stayed on the Piazza Umberto, just a stone's throw from the city's main cathedral, whose dome is covered with some of the locally-produced, beautiful, multicolored tiles. As we did before heading north, we saw some of the Old (la Città Vecchia) and New City (la Città Nuova), the old being what had been rebuilt since 1697, after an earthquake destroyed much of the medieval and earlier foundations, leading to the city's distinctive baroque architecture, and the new city spreading outwards down the mountain. Among the sights we visited was the Villa Patti, with its polychrome façade, and foundations dating back to between 600 and 900 AD. (Many thanks to the caretakers, who were kind enough to open the museum for us.) Since it was the holiday season, we were on hand to catch the procession of locals, and some of the celebrations, in honor of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which reminded me of my Catholic upbringing, but also of the processions we've witnessed elsewhere, like Santo Domingo and Salvador da Bahia. (Tiny Caltagirone appears to be as much of a city of churches as Brazil's third-largest city.) We didn't enter but frequently passed the old prison, dating from the time of the Bourbons, nor the old Jesuit College, as well as many other landmarks, such as the old Christian, Jewish and Roma quarters, and the first house built outside the Roman Wall. (Emmanuele even pointed us to the Srilankese area not far from where we were staying). Perhaps most prominent were the stairs, whose summit gives a panoramic view of the entire town and much of the valley, and which we walked not only down, but up--once with luggage!--multiple times. Crowning them, as with many important sites, were the Presepi, or Nativity Scenes, and we learned that Caltagirone even has a Museum of Presepi. I was too obtuse to ask if this was a Sicilian specialty, but the ones we saw were lovely. I must add, in this hodgepodge of a paragraph, that another highlight of Caltagirone--and our entire trip, including the meals on Alitalia--was the food and wine. At no point did we have a bad meal, and most, whether in a restaurant or someone's home, were stellar, comparable to the heights of Caltagirone itself. Even the simplest components, such as the Sicilian (blood) orange juice, or the bruschette, or the cannoli or homemade sausage or sundried tomatoes, to more elaborate ones like Sicilian-style cous-cous, or the pasta with asparagus, peas and Sicilian-style ricotta, or baked fish with breadcrumbs, or pasta with mushrooms (funghi) or pistachio sauce, were marvelously cooked and presented. I certainly have a greater appreciation for Italian wines, especially the local Nero D'Avolo. It sometimes felt as if we were eating nonstop, which is something everyone I've ever known who's visited Italy claims occurs, and perhaps we were, but I managed to have lost a few pounds--how?--perhaps because of all the walking, and would recommend a Caltagironian--Sicilian--Italian--diet to anyone. I'd love to try it again myself!

Giardini Naxos
The balcony view from our room at the Hotel Palladio, Giardini Naxos

The festival itself spanned two days, and was held at the Museo Hoffmann, a former fornaccio, or brick factory, now transformed into an eyecatching venue for art. On the first night, poets Salvatore (Salvio) Padrenostro; Sebastiano Burgaretta, a former professor of classical languages and highly regarded folklorist; and Ottavio Fatica, from Rome and one of Italy's most renowned translators of English-language literature, all read. I had the great honor of accompanying Ottavio after he read some of his own poems, when he presented his translations of three poems by one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century, Elizabeth Bishop--"One Art," "Roosters," and "Sonnet"--by reading them in the original English, which he followed with his superb renderings, which managed, despite Italian's quite different rhythms, to preserve Bishop's sense of rhyme and, from what I could tell despite my limited Italian, her particular pitch. I was extremely nervous, but realized as I was reading "One Art" that I could almost have recited that poem from memory so deeply was it etched on my consciousness. I only wish I could understand Italian better so that I could have appreciated all three poets' works, and the fine introductions by Maria, Josephine and Giovanni, so much more. One aspect of the reading that I particularly liked, and wished more American readings included, was a short dialogue between introducer and poet; from what I could tell, it helped warm up the atmosphere, create greater intimacy with the audience, and also offered a window into the poet's aesthetic aims and perspectives. I am going to try to see if this will fly, though I think the almost clockwork manner in which American poetry readings proceeds--intro, reading, Q&A, booksigning if there are books, reception--is pretty set in stone. But perhaps not.

The stage at the Greek Theater
The stage at the Greek Theater, with Giardini Naxos, Schisò, the surrounding regions and the Ionian Sea in the distance

The second night Rosaria LoRusso, hailing from Florence, and I read, and despite again being nervous--so nervous, in fact, that I nearly melted like a torched candle in the museum's chilly catacomb-like halls--I enjoyed myself tremendously. After a lively introduction by and short conversation with Maria, Rosaria read first, and again, though I did not understand the vast majority of what she read, I can say that her passion, particularly in her long, final poem which channeled Hafiz, truly impressed me. In terms of my own reading, I should state for the record that I have taken MR Daniel's and Keith Obadike's great suggestions about "plosives" to heart, and also did not drop 1) the microphone or 2) my papers! I was able to proceed without a hitch. Giovanni offered his introduction, and then we read, I offering short pre-poem patter in English (which most of the audience could not understand, of course), then reading the poems in English, and then Giovanni presented his Italian translations of the poems. (I also want to thank Ottavio, who carefully reviewed all the translations, and offered some great insights, even revealing to me layers I had unconsciously registered in the work.) I was worried that one of my longer poems--I only read 8--"How To Draw a Bunny" would bore the audience to tears, but when Giovanni got into the Italian, they were laughing right along, which was very heartening, because the aim of that piece and the series of which it's a part is to be both funny (in the senses of comical and queer) and profound, as the work of the artists it invokes, Ray Johnson and Nayland Blake, both are. Giovanni had even spotted the allusion to Walter Benjamin in it, and after the reading, when I spoke with a young woman--whose name, I'm so sorry, escapes me--I realized yet other layers, including Jeff Koons's outrageous metallic bunnies, were also signifying in it as well. I also must say that I took a chance I rarely do, to good effect, by trying an interactive, hiphop inspired poem, to bring the audience in. Years ago, shortly after Tupac Shakur died, I wrote an interactive poem on his behalf, which has an aleatory element in it; the final word is epistrophic, which is to say, it can be any word the audience chooses, and repeats throughout the entire poem. I've never read it aloud, perhaps because the opportunity has never presented itself, but when in Giardina Naxos I read online that the Vatican had selected a Tupac song for its official Myspace playlist (???), I knew I had to try it. And, I'm happy to say, I think it worked; certainly everyone got into it, and while I didn't extend it as I might have with an English-speaking audience, everyone got to create the poem and bring the evening to a fitting crescendo. Best of all, C took both pictures and videos of both readings, so I'll be able to post the latter soon so you can see it all for yourself.

C & I at Greek Theater
C & I at the Greek Theater

I'll end here by saying that I'm still recovering a bit from jet lag and temporal readjustment, but I also still carry a glow, as well as a great deal of Italian, from this wonderful experience. I cannot recommend Sicily, and especially beautiful little Caltagirone, Giardini Naxos, Taormina, and Catania, enough, and hope we can return for a visit sooner rather than later. I extend my thanks to all whom we encountered, and can say that perhaps more so than any point in my life, to quote Jimmy Santiago Baca's famous line, "Poetry is what we speak to each other." We truly did.

Maria introducing Sebastiano Burgaretta
Maria Attanasio introducing Sebastiano Burgaretta

Grazie mille alli mi amichi molti e nuovi e a presto, arrivederci!