Monday, September 27, 2010

Myopic Books Reading & Translations: Ana Cristina Cesar & Paulo Leminski

On Saturday evening, as part of the great Myopic Books reading series that Larry Sawyer organizes and runs, I participated in a reading to honor two new books, both translations by wonderful writers: Daniel Borzutzky's new translation of Chilean poet Raúl Zurita's Song for his Disappeared Love (Action Books, 2010), and Kristin Dykstra's translation of Cuban poet Omar Pérez’s Did You Hear About the Fighting Cat (Shearsman Books, 2010).

Paul Martinez Pompa reading
Paul Martínez Pompa

After last night's reading, at Myopic Bks
The audience after the reading

Larry Sawyer at the Myopic Reading
Organizer Larry Sawyer

Kristin Dykstra, Paul Martinez Pompa, Daniel Borzutzky, and I
Kristin Dykstra, Paul Martínez Pompa, Daniel Borzutzky, and I, after the reading (taken by Gabriel Gudding)

Paul Martínez Pompa and I also read, and because the event was celebrating translation, I read translations of two poets I've been translating over the last few months, Brazilian writers Ana Cristina Cesar (1952-1983) and Paul Leminski (1944-1989), both of whom were contemporaries of Zurita (Pérez was born in 1964), and are highly regarded in contemporary Brazilian and South American letters.  Both also have been linked as part of the loosely affiliated "marginal poets," an affiliation based in part on their novel and somewhat experimental, though differing approaches to poetic style and address.

Cesar was a queer São Paulo-born poet who studied and spent time in London, before later living in Brasília, and her poetry often unfolds like conversation, or dialogues, the intimacy enhanced and mitigated by her wide range of references, allusions and irony.  Her fame has steadily grown since her death, by suicide, at the age of 31. Leminski, whose ancestry included African and Polish roots, often played with rhyme and rhythms, while also incorporating poetic forms such as haikai and haibun, drawings and calligraphy, and other languages, such as English.  I find myself drawn back again and again to the work of both, and was delighted to have an opportunity to read some of these publicly. I am posting one translation by each below.  Enjoy!



O coração tem pouca ironia de tardinha
Segredos carnais à flor da pele
poemas descarnados aguardando

A vida recusa transportar-se para outeiros
buracos cavados por doninhas
ervas que florescem

O coração tem pouquíssimo fôlego na piscina
Nos quintais dispara úmido
Nas salas fechadas cuida das buzinas

A vida se encarrega das janelas
mas acaba descendo em correria
Não cabe Não suporta Não tem peso


The heart has little irony in the late afternoon
Carnal secrets on the surface of the skin
skinny poems, just waiting

Life refuses to carry itself off to the hills
holes dug by weasels
grass flowering

In the pool the heart has almost no breath left
In the yards it fires wet
In closed rooms it avoids car horns

Life is put in charge of the windows
But it ends up plummeting in a rush
It does not fit Gives no support Is weightless

Copyright © Ana Cristina Cesar, from Antigos e soltos: poemas e prosas da pasta rosa. Organized by Viviana Bosi. Rio de Janeiro: Instituto Moreira Salles, 2008. Translation © by John Keene, 2010. All rights reserved.


É e é

    Dura o diamante
Dentro da pedra pura.
    De agora em diante
Só o durante dura.

It is and it is

    The diamond endures
Within the pure stone.
    From now going forward
Only the meantime holds on.

Copyright © Paulo Leminski, from From Leminskiana: antología variada. Selection, chronology and prologue by Mario Cámara. Critical texs by Maria Esther Maciel, Célia Pedrosa and André Dick. Testimonies by Augusto de Campos, Décio Pignatari, Haroldo de Campos, Waly Salomão, and Jorge Mautner. Poems by Régis Bonvicino. Bueos Aires: Corregidor, 2005. Translation © John Keene, 2010. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Hiatus

Well, September is nearly over, and I haven't blogged for weeks. A huge part of that has been returning to Chicago and Evanston to teach, part of it derives from ongoing projects (writing, university-related activities, etc.) that have left little time to do anything beyond tweeting, email, and reading others' blogs, and part of it is not being able to keep up with the fast-barreling train of current events, many (most?) of which I want to write about, but.... At any rate, I hope to start blogging a bit more soon.

After my first day of classes
Board after my first class, Topics in African-American Literature: 20th and 21st Century Black Avant-Gardes, last Tuesday

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Protest & March to Support Islamic Cultural Center

At the invitation of Miriam R., one of my former fiction students, I joined her and a friend of hers at the rally, at City Hall Park yesterday, on behalf of the Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center, which originally had merited little commentary or negative reponses, until blogger Pamela Geller, disgraced former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, fanatical talkshow host Sean Hannity, and others demagogued the issue, mischaracterizing both the center (which is not a mosque, or masjid) and its location (not at Ground Zero, the former World Trade Center site, under which I passed at least 2-3 days every week this summer on my way to the 4, 5 or 6 trains and thus the New York Public Library's Research Branch at Bryant Park, but two blocks away on Park Place), thereby provoking a racist, anti-Muslim furor that has not yet fully waned. Believing strongly in the principles of religious freedom, free speech, and separation of church and state, I decided to commemorate 9/11 by attending the rally, which was only a block north of the memorial for the victims but several blocks away from the anti-Islamic Center protests, and am posting a few of the photos from it and from my post-rally gambol around the area with Miriam below.

The Park 51 site
A 9/11 truther, just outside Ground Zero
At the rally, before the march
A veteran, supporting the Islamic Cultural Center
People raising placards and signs as an anti-Islamic van drove by
A reporter waiting to deliver her remarks
Reporters from a Japanese news crew
Fashion-forward photog
A fashion-forward photographer
Young man being told by cops he must take a different route
The media
Gathering on the State Court House steps
Some people after the march, gathering on the State Court House steps, at Foley Square
A friendly young Christianist we encountered after the march
Anti-Islamic Center protesters
A Christianist with hateful sign

Monday, September 06, 2010

Happy Labor Day + Benn Michaels, "The End of Boom Culture" & Contemporary American Fiction

Happy Labor Day, readers.  Or should I say, let's all hope for happier labor days to come soon. 128 years after the first U.S. Labor Day was celebrated in New York City, the position of American workers, especially blue-collar workers, is precarious. As I need not tell any readers of this blog, 2 years ago the country began suffering its worst economic calamity since the Great Depression, the result of decades of terrible economic and political policies, from rampant deregulation and laissez-faire-ism to crony capitalism and supply-side tax policies that cumulatively undermined the foundations of the national and global economies.

Over this period the gap between wealth of those at the top of the US economic ladder and those at the bottom has widened to oceanic proportions; labor unions are at their weakest levels of influence and workers not in top management positions are in their most tenuous state in the last 100 years; the Supreme Court has taken an aggressively pro-business viewpoint in its rulings, most recently in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission; and both major political parties have increasingly legislated in favor of the richest and corporations, and have ignored and even demonized the needs of the poor and working-classes.  Today, in a country built by labor, we face 9.7% official unemployment (and upwards of 16% unofficially), with the already poor, black and latino men, undocumented immigrants, and younger workers disparately and negatively affected.

After the White House pushed and Congressional Democrats further trimmed an inadequate stimulus/jobs bill package in 2009, against the recommendations of some of the nation's top economists, the administration and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate did not sustain an argument on behalf of the evident but limited successes of this bill, or the need for more additional stimulus funds to create jobs in the short term and strengthen our national infrastructure for economic success in the future. Even with the historical backdrop of failed Hooverism and FDR's example, they have often seemed to be more concerned with and cowed by the Wall Street barons, who were bailed out on the backs of millions of everyday Americans. In addition, the White House and Democrats have been reluctant, grossly so, in pointing out how the economic, political and ideological approaches of the Republicans led to this disaste. Because of this silence, this void, right-wing populists, funded by the likes of libertarian billionaires, have filled the gulf, leading to the sort of Orwellian-palooza on display a week ago at the Beck rally in Washington. The tangible results are a potential November electoral sweep by the Right and few real gains for the average worker.

On tonight's PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer, there was a segment (not online yet) focusing on the struggles of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union International (RWDSU) workers at the Mott's apple sauce plant in upstate New York. Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Inc., despite rising profits and burgeoning sales, tried to force the 305 workers at its Mott's subsidiary near Rochester, New York, to take a $1.50/hr wage cut, and reduced benefits. The RWDSU workers stood their ground, and since then, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Inc. has also not budged, hiring temporary replacement worker at far lower wages, and pocketing the difference.  The CEO, meanwhile, is making well over $6.5 million per year, more than most workers at the plant or any plant in the US or anywhere else would earn in several lifetimes. On The Newshour, the Dr. Pepper spokesperson not only complained that the Mott's workers were paid more than prevailing wages in the area, and repeatedly cited "competitive[ness]" as the reason to stiff them, but without a bit of irony mocked the fact that forklift drivers at the plant earned $20/hr., averaging out to $41,600/year.  (The report noted that replacement forklift drivers were earning far less than this, or about $9/hr.)  Yet when asked about the CEO's high salary, and the gains by executives, the company spokesman claimed that was a side issue! Meanwhile, the union workers are still not working, and because of the high unemployment rate, desperate temporary replacement workers are readily taking their jobs.

Similar conditions exist all over the US. Corporate profits are up, and many companies are sitting on their cash; for them, as for economists, the Great Recession has "officially" ended. Yet they are not hiring, and the country is not creating enough jobs, especially decent-paying jobs, fast enough.  Beyond the potential wipeout of the Democrats, the disillusionment of their base, the exasperation of progressives, we shouldn't forget that the people likely to gain power could care even less about average workers--they held up renewing unemployment payments without blinking an eye--than the people currently in power.

If you do think about workers today, think also about how you--we all--might improve the situation for the majority of us.  Are corporate profits, which for years now haven't accrued to workers and sometimes not even to shareholders, and megasalaries for CEOs and upper management, the ultimate sum and goal of what companies exist to do in the world? Do workers, and the communities they--we--belong to, communities here in the US, no longer matter? Is capitalism, as we know it today, as it's operated in its neoliberal and libertarian forms for several decades, insufficient for the world we live in now? Doesn't "society" exist, and if so, how can ensure that it operates not just for the richest few, but for the many--the majority of us?

Sunday, September 05, 2010

September It Is + Abolishing Tenure? + Warburg Institute Woes

Now that Labor Day is upon us I'm finally returning from my little blog hiatus. As I mentioned back at the beginning of August, I had a number of blog-post stubs from July that I needed to finish, but I ended up devoting my energies to other things for most of this month, so I ended up reconstituting most of them into the photo spreads that precede today's entry.  Out of necessity my focus has turned to the upcoming school year, which begins in a few weeks. I have two courses, a graduate fiction workshop and an undergraduate African-American literature class, both of which I'm excited about, and several graduate and undergraduate advisees that I've been working with. Things are humming along.  I'm not, however, looking forward to the seasonal, geographical uprooting.  But such is life. On to the rest of this post....


Continuing on the higher educational theme, I've seen several different articles and blogposts over the past year on the topic of academic tenure and its possible tweaking or abolition, and have been meaning at the very least to point to them on here, but then I came across Christopher Shea's essay in today's New York Times, which revisits the issue in a brief discussion of two books.  One is Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — And What We Can Do About It (Times Books, 2010), by Queens College emeritus professor Andrew Hacker and journalist Claudia Dreifus, the other Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities (Knopf, 2010) by Mark C. Taylor, a professor of religion at Columbia University.

I admit not to having read either of these two books, though I have followed Andrew Hacker's work for years, and have often found his arguments on higher education illuminating and persuasive, and I did read Mark Taylor's previous, above-linked New York Times piece, that Shea cites, "End the University As We Know It." I thought it unnecessarily outrageous.  In both cases, I will take Shea's word about the arguments of each book, which in Hacker's and Dreifus's case range from getting universities out of the research business altogether and focusing on teaching, to Taylor's push for greater cooperation with business and use of "efficiency-enhancing technologies" (the Internet?). Nothing that new in either case, really. Both, it appears, also believe that tenure, as it's currently constituted, ought to be abolished, and Shea points out that rather than coming from conservative critics, in the cases of Hacker and Taylor, both are ideologically on the left.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Recent iPhone Drawings

As I mentioned a month or so ago, I'd been trying out the iPad C'd gifted to me, and was enthralled with using the AnimatorHD software on it to create animations, but I've also used it to draw as well. I have not ceased drawing, especially life drawing, with my iPhone, however, and continue my subway portraits and outdoor sketches whenever I can.

One of the things I've been trying is different styles, colors, line thicknesses, to see what I can come up with. My very first drawings were pretty much all line, then I moved to full-color ones, and since this past spring I've moved into grayscale images, but one of the cool aspects of the digital pieces is that I can save them and rework them in different formats, so that my original black-and-white drawing of poet Bob Perelman from earlier this spring became a color portrait without being completely redone (though it did take some effort).

Below are a few of the many sketches I've done over the last month or so; I keep thinking that I may have to return to taking the El on days when I'm not so pressed for time in order to keep my practice up. Enjoy!

Man on PATH

Woman in subway station (iPhone sketch)

Man on PATH (iPhone sketch)

Man on PATH (iPhone sketch)

Man on PATH (iPhone sketch)

iPhone sketch, on the PATH

Man in Bryant Park (iPhone sketch)

Man on PATH (iPhone sketch)

Man on PATH (iPhone sketch)

Woman on PATH (iPhone sketch)

Empire State Bldg. (iPhone sketch)

On the WTC Path (iPhone drawing)

Man sleeping on PATH (iPhone sketch)

On the 33rd St. PATH train (iPhone drawing)

Friday, September 03, 2010

September Comings & Goings (Artists, Fat Beats, Almanacs)

While on my way from one place to another, I happened upon a corner display of colorful, witty series of vernacular paintings and decoupages in SoHo that stopped me in my tracks. After a little bit of conversation, I learned that the pieces were the work of, who works in a range of media and whose deceptively simple imagery contains more than its sly share of political and social commentary. (That it was on display outside an empty storefront in SoHo only flavored my impression.)

I particularly liked the LLC-Storefront assemblages (I couldn't afford one on this go-round), which are visible along the bottom row of the two photos right below, but I did get a tiny $20 painting that had a delightful image (Gordon Park's famous "American Gothic, Washington, D.C.") collaged in. (Check out his hat in the photo below too; it's part of his Shotgun series, just as t-shirt was part of his Ties series of paintings.) All of the pieces I saw offered stories, both readily apparent and more complexly embedded in them, a few of which Patrick-Earl expounded on for me.

Do check out his site; all his pieces are for sale, at reasonable prices for original artwork in New York.
Patrick-Earl's pieces, SoHo
Patrick-Earl's display, in SoHo

Patrick-Earl's display
The display from another angle

Patrick-Earl (r) and an admirer
Patrick-Earl and an admirer of his work


Though a fan of hiphop music, I never spent that much time in Fat Beats, the legendary underground hiphop music store on 6th Avenue, but I did stop in a few times over the years, and would often encounter the self-distributing, aspiring rappers as I passed below its windows on my way to NYU's campus, or in the opposition direction towards the PATH station on 9th St.

Like so much of 1990s New York City, and especially the West Village, Fat Beats has now closed its doors, in part because of the economic shifts in the music industry and because of the still-too-high cost of renting in Great Recession-era New York City. The store's closure underlines the impression I had of the very rocky state of affairs in NYC, despite all the official pronouncements. Just a few weeks ago I was on 8th Street, once the shoe bazaar to rival them all, and lighted up and lively well into the early hours, and not only was the block between 5th and 6th Avenues eerily dark, but it was somnolent as well. Yes, NYU has yet to start back up, but that wasn't a problem 5 and certainly not 10 years ago....

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Food & Gardening

An eggplant on the vine
An eggplant on the vine

An eggplant on the vine
An eggplant on the vine

Eggplants from the garden
Some of the harvested eggplants

Eggplant w/ two cheeses and onions
Eggplant with onions and two cheeses (with homemade wheat bread)

Wednesday, September 01, 2010