Monthly Archives: June 2011

blake’s job


Illustration XI

Recently a friend of mine shared a poem by William Blake, bringing to my mind Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience and his Illustrations of the Book of Job.

I was introduced to poetry in the most perfunctory of ways in high school, with a heavy emphasis on Anglo-Saxon literature. Geek I am, I would read through the textbook on the school bus home, thinking about the poems we didn’t learn in class. Though I considered myself an existentialist in my teens, I still found Blake’s poems radiant, and perhaps they comforted me with their simplicity and purity.

Blake’s faith was a cornerstone of his life and work. That’s part of why I always found his Illustrations of the Book of Job so interesting. He created his Illustrations by manner of drawing, watercolour, engravings and etchings. Each illustration contains Blake’s interpretation of the Book of Job using visual art and language to retell the story. The Book of Job is basically a part of the bible about a man named Job whose faith in God is tested. And I mean tested. In the course of the story, Job is plagued by misfortune, tempted by the devil, and suffers physical, emotional, and mental pain. Yet, his faith never wavers.

Blake created Illustrations of the Book of Job in 1825, only a few short years before his death. I always felt that Blake might have created his Illustrations while feeling his mortality, and perhaps his own faith was being tested toward the end of his life.

Needless to say, after all this thought about it, I wanted to read the book. When I opened it up, a piece of paper fell out, revealing a poem I had written nearly 15 years ago. It was so strange to find. I quickly realized that I had written the poem while I was at work. At that time, I worked in a bakery each day from 6am until noon, after which I would walk to the train station and then take the train to Manhattan to go to school.

I was attending The New School, taking late-afternoon and night classes on scholarship, and exploring the village with very little money, haunting areas surrounding Washington Square Park, Bleeker and Houston. Back then, the east village was not what it is today. Back in the day, one could hang out around St. Marks and buy LSD on the street, and the “questionable” area started much closer on Avenue A. I had been going into the city since I was a teenager, when friends played shows in the closet sized basements of east village bars. We were all underage, but we didn’t drink and they didn’t mind. It was all cool, loud noise; chaotic music, punk kids.

The time in which I went to The New School was a very transitional time in my life, and it also was what author Stephen Cope would call a “transformational space”. It was at The New School I first started writing seriously, and, most importantly, when I first began thinking of myself as a writer.

The poem I found isn’t exactly a great poem, but I love how I responded to Blake’s Job. It brought me back to a time and place where nothing in my life was stable or certain. I wanted to be a writer; I knew that would be a difficult path to travel. Yet it seemed that everything in my life had led me to that path. And there I was; young, unsure, and full of wanton desires, confronted by the absolute faith of William Blake.

Reading Blake at 8:30 am, working
at the bakery; “the letter
killeth the spirit giveth life, it is
spiritually discerned”

And I wonder how, 171 years later,
I can be moved by the words of a
long dead poet, by the faith
of the truly religious
“oh that my words were printed
in a book, that they were graven
with an iron pen and lead in the
rock forever.”

And I wonder will I ever behold
such a strong message, when I
live in a world where god
was pronounced dead
on the front page of a newspaper
I want to believe in something –
“behold he is in thy hand; but
save his life.”

Blake, mentor, friend, guide
this troubled spirit, ease
this poet’s heart
I etch these words on transient
paper with a found pen
and I do not hear god’s voice
except maybe when I stand by
the ocean, looking at the place
where the sky and water meet,
all that blue, that feeling
of eternity – “how precious
are thy thoughts onto me, O God,
how great is the sum of them.”

I think maybe, possibly, I hope –
is that strong enough?
Should I believe
in myself completely?
and then could I believe in you?

It would be easier if there was
not so much pain and violence
and disease and death
in this world
is that the price we pay
I would rather you strike down
this sodom and gomorrah, I
shun this world, but I was born
into it, and I’m still longing
for a miracle
in this concrete hell,
what is my purpose, I am half-mad
with asking that question
knowing the paths set before me
as clearly as stopping by the woods
on a snowy evening, “And I only
am escaped, alone to tell.”


cog

He says I’m nothing
but a goddamn whore, and its true
I take his money, in the soft fold
of touch, I let his hungry mouth
onto mine, allow his searching hands
to feel the topography of my body
and it is a grim reality; I prostitute
my affections and he is greedy, he wants
and wants more, he is not content
ever, he wants woman, he will take it
when he can, he will take it from me
because he knows I have nothing else
and my own want is stronger
money, that cursed root, into which
nothing can grow, it unfurls itself as a
painful and knotted spine, that branch
lifting from the dirt, reaching desperately
and uselessly towards the sky

Originally published in Mannequin Envy


lady lisa lyon

Lady Lisa Lyon, by Robert Mapplethorpe. 1983.

I’ve written about Robert Mapplethorpe before but in a very general way, so I wanted to take a little time and focus on one of his photographs and why I love it so much. This particular photograph is from a series Mapplethorpe did with Lisa Lyon.

Lisa Lyon is an interesting woman; she had studied fine art in college before she began bodybuilding. She entered the first IFBB Women’s World Pro Bodybuilding Championship in Los Angeles, June 16, 1979. She won the title; it was her first and last bodybuilding contest. Afterwards, she was asked to pose for Playboy, which she did, once. She also had a “workout video” in the 1980s. Her collaboration with Mapplethorpe stands out as definitive art, erotic storytelling.

Lisa Lyon appears to be the perfect model for a series on the female body which shows the strength, power, and beauty of the female form. Lyon considered her work in the realm of performance art – art of and from the body. These photographs are erotic and highly sexual, but there is also an understated elegance and artistry that frame these images.

Looking at the above photograph, I love the simplicity of the lines, the mystery of the shadows. I love how the black corset offsets pale skin, making it seem luminescent, vulnerable. The way the body is shot actually blurs gender; it could be a male or a female body. I also love how the photograph plays with femininity – the frilled lace of the corset looks so light, so gentle and female. The garter to the right is pulling and pressing taut against the skin – it seems rough, violent, not female at all – yet, that is an aspect to feminine sexuality, a part that we stereotypically do not attribute to women.

The position of the body and the adornment of it is also reminiscent of BDSM (bondage and discipline, sado-masochism). On the surface level, the photograph is simply showing an image. However, just the image brings to mind so many different connotations. If someone is open sexually, she or he would be open to the represented image. If a person had sexual preconceptions that conflicted with BDSM, she or he would be more resistant to the represented image.

It is very interesting how much we attach to our sexuality; having a limited language in which to express what it means, what it is, within, beyond, the physical body. In many ways, I feel that Mapplethorpe began to explore BDSM because he was an artist searching for truths; he wanted to explore the body and to engage in the most honest expression of sexuality.

This website provides an extremely thoughtful and comprehensive essay on the collaboration between Lisa Lyon and Robert Mapplethorpe. Overall, www.all-art.org is an excellent site; check it out!


something inside me

Last Saturday I was driving; an already long trip was made longer by heavy traffic and intermittent rain. I hadn’t seen my lover in a week.

While taking a deep breath, I stumbled across a radio show on one of the “local college stations” – 89.9 FM WKCR. The program was called Something Inside Me. It’s a truly wonderful blues show featuring electric and acoustic blues, and includes detailed information about the recordings, and all sorts of anecdotes and stories about the artists.

For the first time, I heard KoKo Taylor. Now, I am wondering how it is that I’ve made it thus far into my life without hearing her sing. My only consolation for finding her now is … having found her, which is in itself a gift. I can’t really describe why hearing KoKo Taylor sing touched me so deeply, but it did.

When I had some time, I looked up some information on KoKo, and discovered that behind her amazing voice was a beautiful, tremendous soul. I also came across a really good interview of Koko by James Plath: Queen of the Blues: KoKo Taylor talks about her Subjects. I’m going to transcribe a little of the interview here:

CLOCKWATCH: Some articles and Who’s Whos indicate that you were born in 1938, while others say 1935.

TAYLOR: Now . . . when was I born (laughs). Why don’t we go with ’38.

CLOCKWATCH: Then in 1953, when it’s generally acknowledged that you came to Chicago, you would have been only fifteen ?

TAYLOR: Well, the truth is, I came to Chicago when I was eighteen years old, but the truth is, as long as we talkin’, I might as well tell you that most womens don’t like to tell their age. And I’m one of them that don’t, because usually as a whole they say the truth will set you free. But sometimes, the truth will mess you up if you talkin’ about they age (laughs), so I just wanted to make that statement. You know, I just did a new CD on Alligator, Force of Nature, and there’s one song that I wrote myself and it’s titled “I’m Your 63 Year Old Mama.” And everybody talk to me or say anything about that song, the first thing they headline is, I’m sixty-three years old. And, really, it made me feel like I wished like I hadn’t wrote that song. And this is the truth, because they want to title that with my age, you know what I’m sayin’? I don’t get upset about it or anything, but I just don’t especially feel like my age has to go all over the world in every part and every detail (laughs).

CLOCKWATCH: In another interview you talked briefly about being the daughter of sharecroppers in Memphis, Tennessee.

TAYLOR: Yes, that’s very true. My father, my mother were sharecroppers, if you know what that means. They were people that lived in the country on a cotton farm and this is what we did as us kids grew up. We grew up workin’ in the cotton field, pickin’ cotton, choppin’ cotton, or gardening–hogs, cows, chickens, and all this kind of carryin’ on. But it was a good life, growin’ up in the country, it was one that I enjoyed, one that I always remember and refer to. In a lot of ways I miss that. But we was a poor family. We was a family that, you know, my father and mother, they didn’t have nothin’, but they always said, “Money is not everything. What’s really’s important if a family has love. Where there is love, there’s richness,” and I always felt very rich because we had a family of love. And even right today, without my mother and father, I have a family here with my daughter, my son in-law, my two grandkids–now I got a brand new great grand-baby in the family–and, I mean, it’s plenty love. We still don’t have nothing, we still poor, but we loves each other and we have each other to embrace. And I feel very proud of that, because there’s a lot of people that I meet out here on the road . . . .

I talk to people. People come up and talk to me. I was down in Charlotte, North Carolina just a week ago, and this lady came up to me and she say, “Could you sing a song for me?” she say, “And I don’t know what to tell you to sing.” She say, “I just know that I’m very depressed.” She say, “I don’t have nobody.” She say, “I don’t think it’s nobody in the world really loves me or care about me.” She say, “So if you could just find a song that might would help me,” she say, “I would appreciate it.” So I did this song, “I’d rather Go Blind.” When I finished, she came over to me and she was cryin’. Now, I didn’t know what to sing. I was gonna sing “I’d Rather Go Blind” anyway; even if she hadn’t said nothin’ to me, I was gonna do this song. She came over to me and the lady was cryin’ and she say, “That song that you sung, it fitted my predicament,” she say, “and it really touched my heart.” She say, “How did you know that’s what I wanted you to sing?” And I told her, I said, “I didn’t know what you wanted me to sing, but every song that I do, I try to do something that will reach out to someone, touch someone, because this is how I feel, and this is how I want it to be.”

In other words, my career, my singin’, a lot of people ask me, “What is the blues? What does your music mean to you?” To me, my music is like a therapy. My music is healin’, you know? It’s healin’, it’s therapy, it’s encouragement. I try to sing the type of songs that make people happy. I try to sing a song that’s gonna touch somebody, to make them look up, pep up, feel good about themselves, encourage them–have a lyric that will encourage them in some way or another–and that’s what this song did to this lady. And I was so touched by what she said, how I made her feel, until I almost had tears in my eyes, because I feel good when I feel like I have did somethin’ to help somebody–if it’s no more than make them feel happy or feel wanted, or feel loved, or feel that somebody, somewhere, really care for them. And these are the type of things that keep me going strong, keep me influenced with my fans and with younger people and older people.


mailto: drift station

One of my poems is being shown June 3 – June 24 at Drift Station Gallery and Performance Space, as part of their current show, mailto:, an exhibition built around the open portal of an email address.

mailto: argues for a curatorial practice akin to chaos theory or aleatoric musical composition – that the initiation of a specific but open structure creates unexpected and diverse results. As the digital files (up until this point infinitely malleable and scalable) reach the printer, they are made manifest as fixed, physical objects; when hung on the gallery wall they each represent a small document in a curatorial process divorced from the geographically-focused perfection of the unique art object.

An electronic catalog with all emails received, including an essay by curator Jeff Thompson is available for download. View my submission and Download the PDF catalog here!


we have gone to the beach

After spending time at the beach, I sometimes think of Cynthia Huntington’s book of poems, We Have Gone to the Beach.

It’s a well loved book of mine – one of the ones I’ve travelled with. The book itself is dog eared, worn. The pages are familiar to touch, having been read so many times. Something spilled and seeped into the book at some point, leaving rorschach prints and stains on wrinkled paper. This early book of poems and her memoir, The Salt House, are still with me, and have probably influenced me in important ways.

I grew up in Long Island, New York, with a mother who was deathly afraid of the ocean. Her fear was not unwarranted; she had almost drowned twice. As a result, our trips to the beach were very infrequent. My sister and I were not allowed to go past our ankles in the ocean, and even that was risky. Thankfully, we were content just to be there, to create elaborate sand castles, collect shells and rocks, and look at the ocean.

Neither of us inherited her fear; to my mother’s credit, she brought us for swimming lessons starting at an early age, and each summer, we were to be found at the local swimming pool. I love the water, any body of water, really. But there really is nothing like the beach.

There is something about the enviornment, the way the ocean drops into the horizon, the way the tide moves, that soothes me in a deep place.

The beach at night is beautiful, mystical even. There is so much space, salt and sand; the sky is all stars. The moon is reflected in the ocean, glittering on the surface, drawn by the energy of her changing face. The beach during the day is still beautiful, but usually there are more people, so the energy and dynamic is different. Yet, it is impossible not to feel the power of the environment – sea, sand, sky.

So tonight, after dinner, I took my children to the beach. It’s something we do, it’s part of our summer routine. After 6 and until sundown, the beach is still open and it is free. Throughout the summer, bands play at the Jones Beach Theatre, and the acoustics lift the music into the surrounding air.

It is a ridiculously short drive, but expansive. In the car we listen to music and talk. The children point out things they see – something funny or interesting on the bike path, clouds in the sky, the sun, an early moon, boats, water, people fishing. We sing. It almost feels like as we travel towards the beach, we become lighter.

We have gone to the beach. We left our shoes in the car. I walked behind the children as they ran across the sand to face the ocean. Then we walked over the wet hard sand, letting the rushing tide swell around our ankles.

We have gone to the beach. The children wrote their names in the sand. They collected shells, some to keep, others to make into necklaces and still others to paint. We passed a beautiful sand castle, impressively large and decorated with a pattern of spiraling clam shells. We passed a sand sculpture of a turtle so detailed, big enough to sit upon; we were in awe.

We passed families, groups of people, couples kissing, moms and dads, little kids, big kids, old men and women. We passed people fishing, poles stuck into the ground; people flying kites, tossing frisbees. There were people walking, people standing at the water’s edge, people sitting and staring at the ocean. We have gone to the beach.

We didn’t really talk. We walked, we picked up shells. We ran from the rolling tide when it came too fast. We laughed at a seagull carrying a crab in flight. The sky was such a clear blue, turning so many different shades. The sun was a hot orange glow, burning into the horizon. And when we left, it was like something had been healed, something I didn’t even realize needed healing had been restored.

We have gone to the beach.

Is that all?
Is there nothing else to say, no ending,
before the song takes over, beating
to swallow up instances – save one more thing – you
wonder why there is no ending, why we can’t look back
without undoing the story. I don’t know how
to step out of it and make a talisman of incident,
to say “this” before we’re taken, swallowed up
in that endless complaint of song and calling back
and moan. Then memory sets life beside life.
As if you could choose.
And if I choose to write you: “We have gone,”
it is another we
or it is in the past already, altering,
unless you follow and find me, today among the others
who we are, the ones we have gone away with.

excerpt from
We Have Gone to the Beach, by Cynthia Huntington


fat tuesday’s cool noise

did exist. Maybe fat tuesday still exists. I can’t seem to find it anywhere on the web, but it could still be primarily a print journal.

Sometime during 1996, fat tuesday created an experimental audio edition instead of their usual print copy. The result was fat tuesday’s cool noise, an audiocassette (!!!) of poetry, monologues, plays, and short stories.

I had come across the journal somewhere in NYC, and knew Bukowski had published some of his work there. I took a chance, and I was beyond excited when they accepted one of my poems in that experimental edition.

I love that this was my first poem published, and that this was the first place I published my work.

fat tuesday, wherever you are xo

writing

I’m not immune to wailing
burning half moons into my arm
where tracks could have been
should have been
I’m afraid I’ve said too much.

I’m afraid of green neon words
short skirts, my upper arms
and ink: piercing my skin
scarring the page
I’m afraid I haven’t said enough.

I’m afraid of fire, the red
hot body, beaded sweat and
singed skin
I’m afraid of being heard.

I’m afraid I’m losing my mind
I scream across the page
and write to save myself
I crash
against the keys
of this
typewriter
I refuse to crumble
I’m afraid no one has heard me.

I’m afraid no one has heard me.