Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jason Collins Comes Out

Jason Collins (© Kwaku Alston/Sports Illustrated)
I continue to be tremendously impressed and moved by the courage of Jason Collins, a current NBA journeyman center and free agent, who announced yesterday in an article ins Sports Illustrated's current (May 6, 2013) online issue, "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay." With those words, he became and now is the "the first openly gay" male athlete playing in a major American male team sport. There have been a number of male and female athletes in individual sports--from Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King in tennis, to Greg Louganis in diving, and lesbians, bi and trans women athletes in team sports, as well as male athletes in pro sports overseas who have come out. In addition, Sheryl Swoopes and most recently Brittany Griner, in the WNBA, are among the black gay American women who have come out playing for major American team sports. But Jason Collins represents a double first--the first man, and the first black American man, to come out while still active as a player for a major American pro team. He finished this season with the Washington Wizards, after beginning it with the Boston Celtics, and has also played for the former New Jersey Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Atlanta Hawks. Though he makes clear in the article that he did not set out to be the first, he has instantly become a trailblazer with this amazing step, and he deserves the highest praise for taking it.

Collins's eloquent Sports Illustrated testament goes beyond just coming out, exploring his journey to those opening lines. So much of what he describes--the fear, the anxiety, the despair, the pain, the ambivalence, the self-delusion, the almost crushing desire to be accepted, to fit it, to not be any more different--are things many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer people have felt and still feel, sometimes after being out and living openly; coming out is and remains a process, and is never a final act, though that first step out, even today at a moment of fast-moving social progress and ever-expanding acceptance, at least among many in this country, of lgbtiq people, can often be the most difficult one, and for someone in Collins's position--a man of color, a professional athlete, a person raised in a Christian home, someone raised with black middle-class aspiration values--it probably did feel as difficult and risky as he describes. I am not a professional athlete, but many of the feelings he expresses are ones I and many people I know have felt intimately, deeply. Collins describes his journey in a way that welcomes all readers in, to understand what he has gone through, and where he hopes to go next with his life. It is a narrative of personal liberation, but it will probably have resonance in ways Collins has not ever imagined.

Many commentators online have noted how valuable Collins's comments will be for young people struggling with their sexual orientation, and I agree wholeheartedly with this. For young people of color, Collins, Brittany Griner, and many other out public figures probably will play a crucial role in self-acceptance. Seeing someone like themselves who is able to say "I am gay," who does not fall into the usual mainstream representations of queerness, will probably be invaluable. There are already many people who fit this category, but male professional team sport athlete was not one of them. Collins' coming out may also help people his own age and older who are grappling with their sexualities, and may help many heterosexual people who may still not accept and embrace lgbtiq people in part based on stereotypes, or who may still be carrying around abstracted ideas about who is lgbtiq. It may helped parents, grandparents, siblings--like Jason's twin brother, Jarron, who is straight--relatives, neighbors, all kinds of people who still have not been able to fully see the lgbtiq people around them, to see their humanity. Many of Collins's peers in the NBA like Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade, Emeka Okafor, Al Horford, Jerry Stackhouse, Metta World Peace, and Baron Davis, past NBA legends like Karl Malone and Magic Johnson, stars in other sports like pioneer Martina Navratilova and , as well as other prominent figures across the society, including President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Collins's former Stanford roommate Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III, and Oprah Winfrey, have all shown their support.

Collins's coming out may prove especially valuable to other male and female athletes who are not yet ready to come out or be out, to live openly publicly (though they may be out to those close to them), and have felt the same sort of pressures of heteronormativity and heterosexism, who because of homophobia believe they have to choose a spouse of the opposite sex and go through the motions of a relationship or a marriage, who have felt despair and because they don't see a single person like them willing and able to be out doing what they do, they feel they cannot be honest even to themselves. This is as true for white male professional team sport athletes as it is for black, latino, asian-american, native american, hapa, and other male professional team sport athletes. Jason Collins has opened that door, and walked through it, joining a number of amazing athletes, like John Amaechi, Kwame Harris, Esera Tuaolo, Roy Simmons, Dave Kopay, and others, who came out after ending their professional careers. It's unclear if any team will sign Collins, but given his talent, skills and determination, for the sheer sake of business, an NBA team would be foolish to pass him up. This doesn't mean there won't still be a bit of a freakshow, that homophobes won't rear their heads, that he won't meet with some rejection or indifference by teammates. I imagine he realizes this; we all do. Some of this backlash began almost as soon as the article and news broke. But he has opened the door, in a different but still significant way as predecessors like Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood did, and others, perhaps a small, single-file line, in the NBA, the NFL, the MLB, the NHL, and the MLS, will walk through, but even a few in one or several will be significant. So I cheer Jason Collins, and appreciate what he has done. I hope has the support he needs, and that all who follow him will be able to find and rely upon it as well.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Proust/Degas/Surrealist Drawing @ the Morgan Library

Over the last few months the J. P. Morgan Library in New York mounted three shows, each of which was worth the price of admission. Rather than a long disquisition I'll offer some brief thoughts on each, along with pictures, to give a sense of why I was glad to have caught them.

The Marcel Proust exhibit at the Morgan LibraryFirst, the Library memorialized the 100th anniversary of the publication of Marcel Proust's (1871-1922) Du côté de chez Swann (1913), better known in English as Swann's Way, the first volume in what would be come one of the masterworks of the 20th century, and of all literature, À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), with an exhibit on the background of the novel, Proust, and a trove of manuscripts, including letters he wrote to his beloved mother, the notebooks in which he took down thoughts towards Swann's Way, the handwritten manuscript drafts, and the bound, marked-up galley pages.

Though I was quite familiar with Proust's life and story, it was something altogether new to be able to view his handwriting, to note how he was unfolding his ideas on the page, and to study how he edited the opening of Swann's Way, crossing out a large swath of meandering prose and inserting in its place that unforgettable opening, "Longtemps je me suis couché de bonne heure." (For a long time I would go to bed early"), which in its rhythmic propulsion, idiomatic playfulness and grace, and narrative foreshadowing portends not just the rest of the first section but the entire giant work. The musical title itself, something I'd always wondered about, turns out to have been a bit of slang Proust was playing with; it literally means "Alongside Swann's home," which sounds awful for an English title, and was also controversial among French grammarians. What the exhibit also shows is that Swann's Way, initially rejected by nearly all the major Parisian publishing houses, was so long that the ultimate publisher, Grasset, who required Proust to subsidize its production (yes, this began as a vanity project!), demanded that the author lop off a sizable chunk from the novel's end, and, because Proust wanted the book to appear, he complied. The second volume, À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (In the Shadow of Young Girls In Flower, a/k/a In a Budding Grove) did not appear until the end of the First World War, in 1919. Despite the rejection Proust encountered at first, the estimation by many in Paris's literary world that he was a wealthy dilettante and socialite, and Grasset's own rather harsh editorial treatment of his work, there were admirers who immediately grasped his brilliance; the exhibit names two American literary masters who read him upon the book's publication in the original French: Edith Wharton, who knew she was in the hands of one of the all-time greats, and Henry James, to whom she sent Swann's Way, who also perceptively lauded Proust's genius. The seeds of that genius, cultivated and nurtured, are visible in this show.

Proust's notebooks
Proust's notebooks (note the illustrations on the covers
of these narrow, pocket-perfect volumes)
Proust's notebooks
Proust's notebooks containing notes and
drafts of what would become Swann's Way
Proust's corrections to the typed early version of Swann's Way
The typescript version of Swann's Way
with Proust's annotations and changes
Proust's Swann's way, 3rd galley version
The third galley (incomplete) of Swann's Way
on which Proust has inserted, on a piece of paper,
his famous opening line, "Longtemps je me
suis couché de bonne heure...."
Proust's galley for Swann's Way
Proust's galley, with the truncation
Grasset required, concluding Swann's Way
First editions of Proust's masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu
In Search of Lost Time (the complete,
multivolume text)

Miss La La (Anna Olga Albertina Brown, b. 1858-?), the amazing acrobat, 19th c. Europe
Miss La La (Anna "Olga" Brown)
There also was an enthralling exhibit focusing on French artist Edgar Degas's (1834-1917) drawings and eventual 1879 painting of the famous 19th century black aerialist, Miss La La (Anna Olga Albertina Brown) (b. 1858-1919?), at the Cirque Fernando, one of the popular mass entertainment venues in mid-century Paris. Yes, you read that right; Miss La La was an acrobat, born to a black father and a white Prussian mother, who performed with the Troupe Kaira and regularly transfixed Paris and other cities in Europe. Degas's painting, considered one of his masterpieces, required his usual intense preparation, but with even greater concentration, for while he was able to render Miss La La, suspended high above the circus floor by dint of her bite on a suspended from a rope, fairly easily, he struggled to capture the geometry of the circus building's ceiling and rafters.

According to the exhibit, Degas may even have had some help with the drafting of the arches and planes, though it is known that he studied the architectural plans quite carefully.  The preparatory drawings, pastels, and paintings of Miss La La on display all offered their own considerable beauty, and it was thrilling to move along the wall and note how Degas was working up towards the extraordinary painting, "Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando" (oil on canvas, 1879, National Gallery, UK), that resulted, though interestingly, Miss La La's racial identity is less evident in the final work than in the preparatory ones. What one notices in that final image is her floating form, inspired in part by religious iconography Degas was quite familiar with, as well as other circus images by peers, and that almost glowing, orange vault of ceiling and the arches and pillars holding them up, as carefully poised as the aerialist herself.

The exhibit did not say what happened to her, though Reggie H. sent a link with more information on her (can't find it on Wikipedia!), including that she was born in Stettin, formerly in the Prussian Empire and now part of Poland (Szczecin), and that was known various as Olga Kaira, Olga Kaire, la Venus Noire, “Olga the Mulatto”, “Olga the Negress”, “The Venus of the Tropics”, “The Cannon Woman” and “The African Princess.” According the Circus Girl blogsite, she continued performing up to the late 1880s, married an American contortionist named Emmanuel (Manuel) Woodson, and had a daughter named Rose Eddie Woodson, who was born in London in 1894, before giving birth to two more daughters who together became an act known as the "Three Keziahs." Apparently the last known recorded year of Olga's life was 1919, when she was listed on a US passport application. Had I the time I'd spend a bit of it trying to learn what happened to her. Degas, who had mixed-raced relatives on his mother's side, not only painted one of his greatest works when capturing her, but immortalized this extraordinary figure.

Drawing of Miss La La, Edgar Degas
A reproduction of a Degas pastel
Degas' preparatory sketch
A preparatory sketch (charcoal on brown paper), 1879
Pastel preparatory drawing, Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando
A preparatory pastel, on brown paper
(one of the most "Impressionistic" of
all his versions here)
Preparatory sketch for Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando
Degas' draft of the architecture
in the Cirque Fernando's ceiling
Edgar Degas, Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando
Edgar Degas, Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando
(oil on canvas, 1879)
Poster from *Degas's Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando* exhibit, Morgan Library
A poster featuring the Troupe Kaira
and highlighting Miss La La
Book detail from *Degas's Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando* exhibit, Morgan Library
An illustrated magazine, featuring
images of circus participants,
including Miss La La on the lower right
Book detail from *Degas's Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando* exhibit, Morgan Library
A book that includes a discussion
of Olga (Miss La La) and her acrobatic
partner, Kaira la Blanche (Theophila Szterker)

At the Surrealist Drawing Exhibit, Morgan LibraryThese two exhibits would have been enough for any museum visit, but there was also the Drawing Surrealism show to explore. A surfeit of energizing, deranging riches, filling two large galleries. Ego yes, but so much id! In fact it contained 165 works by 70 artists from 15 countries on paper, including many of the most famous Surrealist stars, like René Magritte, Giorgio DiChirico, Salvador Dalí, and Jean Arp, as well as some I did not expect, like Georges Bataille. Artists preceding or following the Surrealists, like Frida Kahlo also make appearances, and throughout the show gently guides you along the pathways of affiliation and influence. One highlight and delight was a painting by Wilfredo Lam, Surrealism's man in Cuba. There also were more recent non-Euro-American artists working in that tradition, which was a refreshing addition.

The show unfolds by emphasizing Surrealist techniques, including collage, automatic drawing, decalcomania, frottage, and some of the most striking imagery of all produced through the exquisite corpse method. Viewing this group of images made me want to gather up a group of friends, have a few drinks, and produce a few exquisite corpse drawings and texts for fun. (I just might have to do that.) A number of the works had this effect, though, which in a sense is in keeping with the Surrealist ethos. Unfortunately this show ended on April 21, so if you pass through New York you can still catch the Proust and Degas exhibits, but these Surrealist renderings won't be departing my memory anytime soon. Should someone mount a future show featuring these artists and works, perhaps pairing a bit of the poetic and prose works, music, and other artistic forms that also constituted Surrealism would make for quite a event. A participatory exquisite corpse dramatic or performance work wouldn't be a bad idea either.

At the Surrealist Drawing Exhibit, Morgan Library
One of the Drawing Surrealism exhibit rooms
Guillaume Apollinaire, La mandoline, l'oeillet et la bambeau, 1915-1917
Guillaume Apollinaire, "La mandoline,
l'oeillet et la bambeau" (1915-1917) 
André Masson, Battle of Fishes, 1926
André Masson, Battle of Fishes (1926)
(he uses sand on the painting, as you can see)

Wilfredo Lam, Woman and Bird, 1942
Wilfredo Lam, "Woman and Bird" (1942)
Frida Kahlo, El verdadero vacilón, 1946-47
Frida Kahlo, "El verdadero vacilón" (1946-47)
Victor Brauner, Anatomie du désir, 1913
Victor Brauner, "L'Anatomie du désir" (1933)
Exquisite corpse drawing (Breton/Duhamel/Morise/Tanguy), 1928
Exquisite corpse drawing (collaboratively
created by André Breton, Marcel Duhamel,
Max Morise, and Yves Tanguy, 1928)
Ellsworth Kelly, Brushstrokes Cut Into 44 Squares and Arranged by Chance, 1951
Ellsworth Kelly, "Brushstrokes Cut into 44 Squares
and Arranged by Chance," 1951

Sunday, April 28, 2013

In the Garden

For some reason I seem to recall hitting the garden much earlier in prior springs, but between work and the weather, it was not until this weekend that we were able to put plants into the ground.

As in previous years, we planted herbs and vegetables in the back, but no flowers this time. (C found places for new rose bushes in the front.) Between natural die-offs, the hurricane last fall, the long chilly (but not freezing) winter, and the slow-arriving spring, some of the backyard's longstanding perennial herbs didn't make it, but the African sage, the lavender (which for years we could not induce to grow, until we added lime to the soil), and the rosemary are thriving. We never planted comfrey, but its purple spears have formed a little forest beneath the lilac bush, which is now in bloom. The blackberry bush, severely cut back, also looks set both to flower and bear fruit. Among the flowers, the rose bushes, a single hyacinth, and the rhododendron bush, and the honeysuckle are also doing well.

Towering over everything is the river magnolia, with its full, healthy glossy, white-pink leaves, which are shedding, forming a carpet over everything, which I hope will have been completely laid by the end of the week so that we can rake it up and attend to the rest of the backyard. That should also give both us time to recover from the workout the gardening bestowed upon us. I am praying I'll be able to move my arms and legs tomorrow.

A few photos of the new plantings, which are mostly fruits vegetables we've had success growing in the past (broccoli, eggplant, basil) and some we've never been able to grow before (sweet peas, jalapeño peppers). We tried a new method our neighbor recommended to prevent weeds. Alongside the transfers we placed a lining of newspaper, which we covered with topsoil. Supposedly the paper admits the plant's roots but does not allow weeds (evening nightshade behind a perennial visitor along the fences) to bore through. I will try to add updates throughout the rest of the spring and summer.

The African sage
The ever-hardy African sage, which I had to cut back.
Sweet peas, onions, broccoli, eggplant, and hot peppers
Sweet peas, onions (there were wild onions
dotting the soil), broccoli, eggplant, cucumbers,
and hot peppers
Tomatoes (6 different types), basil, lemon basil, cilantro, jalapeño peppers
A bigger patch: tomatoes (6 different types), basil and
lemon basil, jalapeño peppers, cilantro
Vegetable plot
The same patch from a different perspective
Strawberry patch, cilantro, oregano, cucumbers
The strawberry patch, which was full of new shoots,
with oregano, cilantro to the left, and cucumbers
(rosemary is the far right)
Leaves remaining on the magnolia trees
The river magnolia, in bloom
(the butterfly bush is on the left,
a fir tree stands in the right distance)
Sweet marjoram, stonecrop (3 different types)
Another patch where we used to have lemon balm
and lots of other herbs, but nothing survived, so we
went with 3 types of stone crop (on the right)
and sweet marjoram on the left. We later added
a row of spearmint and peppermint behind these.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Poem: Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson (1965-1993), not the recent Pulitzer Prize winner but the late lyric poet bearing his name, was one of the promising British versifiers of his generation when he died of HIV-related disease in the early 1990s. A native of Stalybridge, Cheshire, he arrived on the London literary scene in 1984, and cut a stylish figure, while also producing poems very much in keeping with the mainstream conventions of that era. What began to set him apart was his fastidiousness with language and his openness in writing from the perspective of an openly queer young poet, taking up the thread that predecessors Thom Gunn, W. H. Auden and others had bequeathed him. Like so many queer male poets of that moment, of that generation, my generation, he was cut short before he even reached his prime. Johnson published one book in his lifetime, a second appeared only weeks after his death at 28; his Collected Poems, edited by Neil Powell, did not appear until 2002. Johnson's poems are usually only a few stanzas long, show almost no formal experimentation or elaborate wordplay, draw upon observations of nature, and often invoke an unnamed beloved, though he was quite clear who, in later years, this was: James Levondowski, his love for whom underlines many lines. Below is "Nocturne," one of Johnson's earlier poems that shows the talent he possessed and gives a hint of what might have been possible had he lived longer. All art is ultimately in part a memorial, and in the case of those many artists struck down before they were able to accomplish what they hoped to, it's but a tiny cenotaph, yet one that, especially in Johnson's case, keeps drawing us back, to read, and remember.


October makes censers
Of these wooded places.
Out of the cool ether
Of darkness strike the
Branching crystals of trees,
By night's definition
Of a rarer substance -
The texture of bark
Is wholly light's privilege.

The path leads us to
A locked gate we climb. There is
Tension in our nearness -
The feel of you, our hands
Clasped in recognition
Of their own engaged warmth.

In embracing we earth,
Here, where a stream's course
Through banks of cypresses
Designs a garden,
The motion of its cool blade
As purposeful as blood.

Now the spell of your voice
Concedes to other sounds,
Falling into dark air
That cherishes each note -
This water easing
Over known rocks, through reeds,
The soft consent of leaves.
Drawing me close, there is
Nothing you would not give.

December 1986

Copyright © The Estate of Adam Johnson, from Adam Johnson, Collected Poems, edited by Neil Powell, Manchester: Carcanet, 2003. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Poem: James Schuyler

James Schuyler, by Fairfield Porter
I don't think I've ever posted a poem by James Schuyler (1923-1991), a poet I was quite fond of when I was younger, and whose name and work are probably as well known as those of his great peers in what came to be known as the New York School of poetry: Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, Barbara Guest, and of course, the still-living, extraordinary John Ashbery. Schuyler probably was the least well-known during much of his writing life. He gave few public readings, never taught for any extended period of time, and did not receive acclaim until late in life (he received the Pulitzer Prize for the long, chatty, sometimes hilarious, often profound long poem The Morning of the Poem in 1981). But his work has a way of drawing almost any reader in, seducing you with its insistent, intimately colloquial tone and seemingly casual construction, until you pay attention and begin to notice what a skillful maker he is. He had a gift for giving heft to life's va et vient.

In thinking of poems having to do with the night there are a number in Schuyler's Selected Poems that might qualify, but I like the one below quite a bit, even beginning with the title, which places the reader in medias res, on a tip of something unfolding, while also placing her immediately within that first-person lyric consciousness: "I". But as with the poetry of O'Hara and Ashbery, to a different degree, there's so much that's still unclear. Who is "Darragh"? Why is the poetic speaker there? Why should we care? By the end of the poem, much as time has shifted from night to day, our understanding has grown, and this speaker whose memories, musings about nature and his interior world, reels us in.


lie in bed and watch the night
rise slowly, implacably, out of
evening, darkening
the lance-shaped leaves of that
nut tree whose name I never
can remember: only, those leaves
are too wide to be called
lanceolate: why, they're oval!
(A childhood memory, the
cookies that were called "fruited
ovals," molasses with a
white icing, that came from the
grocer, not made at home, and
oval.) When a firefly dances
into my view (a black window):
another childhood memory:
in Maryland we used to catch
them and put them in jars
and watch their silent, sexy
signal. We also used to tear
their phosphor off: children
can be real fun people!

Or I sit on the porch as
a light rain slants down
onto the pond Darragh made,
the wind riffling the water
and the rain making rain rings
on it. Oriane, the lurcher,
wants in, wants out, full
of the va et vient of life
(speaking of French, did
you know that in Paris bi-
sexuality is known as
voile et vapeur? I
like that).

Then we all pile into
the Toyota and rive off
into the
World of Roses.

Copyright © James Schuyler, from Selected Poems, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1988. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Poem: Prageeta Sharma

Prageeta Sharma,
Lantern Review's Flickr
photo stream
These are troubled times, but then one could easily say all times are so, depending upon one's perspective. There is an unsettled air that Prageeta Sharma (1972-) captures in her poem below, which also feels very appropriate to this moment, particularly in terms of its thematization of violence, particularly in the presence, in this sonnet, of firearms, and in the interpersonal violence it depicts, beginning in a dream (not, curiously, a nightmare), that bleeds out of that oneiric space into the lyric itself, into the speaker's interiority.

Read more broadly, it touches upon the underlying fear of the unknown--events, persons, the Other--that undergird our contemporary moment, this society, with its "dark-skinned male" or "Muslims" or "immigrants" a stand-in for any and every evil, every problem, every crisis, and state and corporate violence and surveillance, the violence of elites and capitalism itself, elude sustained mass, public critique. Only unlike the poem, whose 14-line sonnet form can contain the excess that threatens to spill over, there is no similar container for everyday reality. We would do well to listen to Prageeta here: "things are unexpected, people are terrible / sometimes," and "Events that are pleasantly unnoticed / are not about adventures."

This is the kind of knowledge that poetry often can best convey: like a lens that zooms in and simultaneously can pan all the way up and out. But you have to look through it. Look.


This rather tall Indian man shot me in a dream;
I thought I could just mosey up on him
and say in a protective but assertive voice,
I am a Hindu and he would put down his gun.
But he said you are my enemy and my unmarried hands
stung only for an instant, realizing this immensity
was fake immensity. And it goes to show you
that things are unexpected, people are terrible
sometimes. Events that are pleasantly unnoticed
are not about adventures, not about paranoia or silk turbans.
If you are my gun, put it between the mattresses, it will rest
underneath us like a holiday inside eternity. A firefly
    admits to light,
a ray gun, obfuscated, we both tumble before I look
the rather tall man in his angry Indian face.

Copyright © Prageeta Sharma, from The Opening Question, New York: Fence Books, 2004. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Digital Public Library of America Launches Today

Digital Public Library of America homepage
Utopian and pragmatic: these are the two poles that Robert Darnton, the eminent historian, Pforzheimer University professor and director of the Harvard University Libraries, identifies as guiding the process he and others dreamt up years ago, then began collaboratively developing two years ago in 2011, and which will come to fruition, when the Digital Public Library of America launches today.

"Háw-che-ke-súg-ga, He Who Kills
the Osages, Chief of the Tribe" (1832)
oil on canvas
George Catlin (1796-1872)
From the Smithsonian Institution
What is the Digital Public Library of America? It will be an online site that will make available to everyone with Internet access large portions of the already-digitized collections of many major American private and public libraries, archives and museums. While Google initially seemed the likely repository for the sorts of materials the DPLA will be hosting, its attempts--unsurprisingly, as a private corporation--to monetize access to the vast array of materials it has scanned in, and court rulings limiting full access to some of these materials, both have come to mean that Google may be a participant down the road, but the organizers of the DPLA have instead found private foundations to underwrite the project, and private and public institutions with extensive, already digitized archives, that they are willing to make available to anyone interested in exploring them.

Is the DPLA only open to people in the USA? Based on Darnton's comments in the New York Review of Books article linked above and what he has previously stated, the portal will be open to everyone able to access US websites. In addition, an immense storehouse of materials from Europe will be available via interconnection with Europeana, a super-aggregator of materials from 27 countries within and sponsored by the European Union. Darnton predicts that within a generation (or two, depending), a much vaster array of the world's materials will be available via the site. I immediately thought of the manuscripts stored in northern Mali that were thought to have been badly damaged when the northern part of that country fell under the sway of radicals who declared it an autonomous country, though it turns out they were not harmed as much as previously conjectured. A digital archive might be one way, alongside better material efforts, to preserve them for humankind.

Darnton appears to see only upsides to this effort, and I agree that it suggests to potentially extraordinary possibilities for knowledge preservation and production. I sincerely hope, however, that it also does not become an excuse, or the excuse, for financially strapped private and public institutions, organizations and governments of all kinds to eliminate or continue to gut physical libraries.  DPLA should be a complement and supplement, not a substitute or replacement, for the libraries we have, which deserve our fullest public and private support.

Now please excuse me while I go check out the DPLA.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Poems: Willie Perdomo

Willie Pedomo,
by Gabrielle Ramírez
The following two poems, though nominally night-focused, are really occasions for me to post work by Willie Perdomo, one of today's vital poets. I met him years ago when I was teaching on the Lower East Side, and introduced his work to my students, who like me not only fell in love with it, but grasped in it a way of seeing and understanding the world they were living in, while also learning how to write and read that world, how to put it into language and in so doing reshape it.

A native of New York City and son of East Harlem, his work extends and enriches a range of traditions, especially Nuyorican, Puerto Rican and African Diasporic writing, and he has received a raft of awards for it. I can recall the excitement that greeted his book When a Nickel Costs a Dime, which featured a CD (then a relatively rare addition) from which the two poems below come, and he has continued to publish, perform, teach, and reach, including creating a publishing house, Cypher Books, to issue the poetry of today.  Here are "Song for Langston," a poet whose influence runs through the arteries of Willie's work, and "Revolution," which is as relevant today, in this world of endless, oppressive "Stop and Frisk" policing, as it was almost 20 years, when Willie wrote it.


I sang all night
And cried all day

Been wait' for a
Storm to come my way

Drown the tears
Make soft the pain

I hope my prayers
Are not in vain


One night
Brother Lo told
Officer Rooney:

     take off your
     badge and gun
     and see if I don't
     bust your ass all
     the way back to
     the precinct.    

Copyright © Willie Perdomo, from When a Nickel Costs a Dime, New York: W. W. Norton, Inc., 1996. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Poem: Aaron Shurin

I cannot find my copy now (it is hidden among the shelves of writing study books that this summer will enjoy reorganization), but Aaron Shurin's (1947-) A's Dream (O Books, 1989), was one of those revelations that serendipity in a bookstore brought me. I had never heard of him or his work, pulled the book off the shelf, realized quickly that I could not put it down, and then read it a number of times, letting its lush, lyrical language seep in and steep. A queer text in theme and form, it enfolds you in its prose, particularly the sequence "City of Men," which I read as specifically about San Francisco, where Shurin has lived for many years and where he directs MFA program at the University of San Francisco, but which I analogized to many an urban setting.

What I particularly love about this sequence is the specificity in the elusiveness; there is something always both before you and just out of reach, like desire itself, though what also overshadows this series of poems is the AIDS pandemic, which was well underway when Shurin wrote the poems. The poems incorporate that horror, but also each day's quotidian beauties. About his work Shurin has said (according to Wikipedia): "Poetry remains for me an act of investigation, by which the imagination makes itself visible in a real world - and through which the inhabitants of that realer world become dimensional." As the little snippet below demonstrates (the "disappear" is not a typo, just to be clear), we can see an imagination crystallizing in words; desire, a life, a world rendered, in its complexity, as poetry.


I heard my name, the day rose and disappear over the beach. the day on each breath tasted my food,that night roll slowly cover in the cool, his face around my breast. the day inhaling grow pale and disappear, water on his way, up the shores hissing. under the night stillness inclined my morning beach, undressing the friend of my liquid, my most same. at evening while whispering from the bed by me, his way was accomplished. his full perfect arm a health of ripe waters. the day received moon laughing, love lay me that night.

Copyright © Aaron Shurin, from The Paradise of Forms: Selected Poems, Jersey City: Talisman House, 1999. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

In the Life @ Whitney Museum Today!

For any and all in and around New York, a wonderful event will take place this afternoon! Please come if you can.




SUNDAY, APRIL 14, 2013  2 PM   


For “in the life,”* artist and writer Gregg Bordowitz will host readings from the literary work of gay, male, African American poets and writers, who chronicled sexuality, illness, and death during the height of theAIDS crisis in the 1980s and ’90s. Many of the writers are now dead, and their works have been collected in anthologies, such as In The Life, edited by Joseph Beam, and Brother to Brother, edited by Essex Hemphill. Bordowitz will be joined by a diverse group of readers including Ari Banias, John Keene, Rickey Laurentiis, Glenn Ligon, Eileen Myles, Other Countries, Robert Reid-Pharr, and Pamela Sneed to pay tribute to artists such as Donald Woods, Essex Hemphill, Marlon Riggs and many more.

*In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology was a groundbreaking collection of writing edited by Joseph Beam and published in 1986.

Free with Museum admission; no special tickets or reservations are required. Members enjoy complimentary and express entry to the Museum.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Random Photos

So much has been going on of late, so the postings are arriving like a glacier. Here are some random photos from the last few weeks.
14th St. phone store
At a phone store, 14th Street
Fulton St. runway
Runway model, Fulton Street
Car accident, Raymond Blvd, Newark
Car crash, Newark
Street musician
Street musician, 14th Street
Salvation Army workers with homeless man
Salvation Army officers speak with a homeless man, 14th St.
Sixth Avenue, with the nearly finished Freedom Tower in the background
Sixth Avenue, with the Freedom Tower looming in the background
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal and the Met Life building behind it
Manhattan, from Bayview Park
Manhattan from Bayview Park, Jersey City
Looking in, West Village
Inside a building site
On a crowded crosstown bus
On a crowded crosstown bus, Manhattan
Police calm a domestic situation near Newport Mall
Police officers de-escalating a domestic scene, Jersey City
Pershing Square
Pershing Square, Midtown
Cards, early morning, Jersey City
Cards ready for soothsaying, Jersey City
Subway musicians, jamming
Subway orchestra, 34th Street Station
Buildings at Ground Zero coming into being
Ground Zero, still rising
Piglet, Warehouse Cafe, Jersey City
Piglet, Warehouse Café, Jersey