IMG_7361The novel Clio’s Mobile Home is a facet of my creative work. Several characters in my novel write poems; I am serious about writing poetry. I also work on short shorts, and short stories. They are all modes of thinking about identity, transcendence and beauty in contemporary life. Art keeps us aloft, but it is more than decoration. Its force can be astounding. The artist becomes an instrument, and art lives to tell the tale.

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Passion of the Slighted Chapbook

Once we become aware of something, we start to see it everywhere. The long-ignored thing, which existed but meant little to us, asserts itself with a vengeance, a passion of the slighted and overlooked.  

Thus my relationship with chapbooks, small book-objects, often handmade, that slide in your pocket, call to you whimsically because they’re cheap and they can.  

A panel at AWP literary conference sparked my appetite, reminding me of my days when I preferred indie records to corporate labels.  Last week when I uttered the words aloud – “How can I get into this world?” – it seems the chapbooks heard me and said, let’s give the chick a ride.  I sparkled to wonderful names such as Carrion Bloom, Eulalia, Small Orange, Sibling Rivalry, Ethelzine and my favorite name, Rinky Dinky.  

Immediately afterwards, I fell into a Webinar about the role of Jewish artists in Dada and Surrealism.  Jean Khalfa, professor at Cambridge, gave a wonderful lecture about outsider artists whose contributions and agitations were central to European modern movements.  In the First World War era, Romanian artists Samuel Rosenstock (Tristan Tzara) and Marcel Janco mocked and disrupted traditional art in small editions, disposable ephemera, etc., With ferocious wit and steely eye, they made Dada an underground force that shocked those stuck in a single language – “a minority wakes up a majority language.”  Isidore Goldstein (Isidore Isou), Moïse (Maurice) Lemaître, Benjamin Wechsler (Benjamin Fondane), and Salman Locker (Gherasim Luca) followed later, in the ‘40s, restlessly inventing vocabularies in the trenches of Surrealism, Surautomatism (Luca), existentialism (Fondane), Lettrism/Situationism (Isou). The work of these artist/thinkers has been rediscovered, visited with scholarly and public verve – I encourage anyone to go beyond this truncated listing to discover more.  

Finally– Paul Celan.  A little vellum popped up from Small Orange Press that recreates the world of Pierre Joris’ translation of “Todesfuge/Deathfugue,” Celan’s most famous poem.  (The recommendation came from Aviya Kushner’s “Being and Timelessness” substack.) Yet another example of a cultural migrant who was fierce about the recomposition of language (in this case German), leaving dominant linguistic forces in the wake.  

One quote floats from the lecture: “The totality of what is to be known allows anyone to create anything.” It’s scrawled in my notebook, separated from its “author,” a watchword of creative faith.

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Fat Drop Song

February gives us thinking waters
trees of dessicated lace
reeds hanging on memories of yellowness

The pause, the somnolence,
the hard work between the desert
and ecstasy

Then shoots of crocus grow fresh nerves
in last night’s snow banks.
And fat drops of melting snow slide
from the pitch of a roof, washing the 
lines of the parking lot slot white.

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Of Fiancés and Saplings

Poor fools!  Shivering but starting its 
percolation, sap begins to rise in February.

It has listened to the light, like others:
young shoots and lovers in strappy gowns 

with bare legs and backs who beat the dull
winter ache; no badger in a snug, earthen den

or splenetic suffering impacted cold.
They are visionaries, line of other-sighted

folk touching each other’s shoulders,
taking deep steps together in the dark.  

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Secret Face – Upon Observing Barbara Kruger’s Installation

A parking lot with rain:
How jagged the concrete
How silken its puddles 
Its poured-out watery silhouettes
Magic concentric circles
Fast like a dazzling tap dancer
Whose moves outpace the eye
Or a spinning vinyl in black light

How the mind anticipates what it sees
How a camera reorganizes pixels differently 
How a Barbara Kruger slogan reveals digitally
What the eye doesn’t see: 
An angry face in a vinyl LP
Sometimes the camera will unveil
Sometimes the surface is scrambled
That hidden message in the “White Album”
“Paul is dead” when dragged concentrically 

Backward.  Remember the walrus.  
Turn me on, dead man.  Kruger on
The collision of looking & being: 
The eye is the major player.  A threat 
to that eye is a threat to what it means
to live another day.

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Wind Chill Symphonic

Frost from people’s mouths, and vapors
like chilled aerosol rolling across a blurred surface,
and wind, a muffled character from offstage 
unwinding its repression; now sandals won’t do.

An artist made me hear silence with his
violin; at first, the irritation of a bow bothering
a string – people coughing, dropping pens.
But then ice shards talking?  Longer shards

with more between; the breath of dreamers
in the spheres, spectral celebration
and those who ease noise into quiet presence.

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Winter’s Other

Lushly, thickly
a polar bear hibernates
under our infinite skies, 

in our midst:
bristling white 
visiting behemoth.

From my tiny pane,
I see its heavy
lugubrious

breathing 
see its lungs, and fir
rise and fall

in branch 
and mind
and rise again.

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Memo for the Next Year

When I said I believed in lightness, 
I wasn’t kidding.  Over and over, I return –
not to escapism or fantasy or ostrich necks–
but to dissolving solidity, breaking up the world’s fixity.  

My holidays – as if a wild angel came reeling 
from the wings and slammed into despair – 
as simple as reckless laughter, unplanned, unbidden
or a piece of hot bread with butter and a shard of salt. 

The way of the heart – to be renewed every day, 
no matter how many times the heart breaks. 
Knowing that everything can be transformed 
into something else (see Ovid); that winged

leaps – words in whorls of motion, fugitive
emotion — lead to a poem, and person, that seeks freedom.

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Third Eye

“A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears,” Gertrude Stein famously said, in a tumult of the senses.  She was echoing Picasso, and the motif echoes loudly – as a rose is a rose is a rose — across Paris.  Curators and painters, it seemed, are tripping over each other to subvert the common pairing of eye & seeing.  Not that appearances fool the eye, but that appearance is a collaborative process and to seize a fuller reality, the artist employs (his mind’s eye) instinct, feeling, whole self, total focus, third eye, mind’s eye.  A juju, a mix of intoxication and inner penetration.  

For instance, Jean Cocteau recounts Picasso talking about the wife of a half-blind painter describing a castle as he painted it.   “…painting is a blind man’s job.  He paints not what he sees, but how he feels about it, what he tells himself about what he has seen.”

Sophie Calle, in several rooms of her massive show in the Picasso Museum, questions the nature of seeing by showing us the photographs of “the unsighted”: the last thing people saw before they losing their sight (i.e., a streetcar), and videos of people born blind standing wide-eyed before at the sea for the first time.  

Modigliani, in an exhibition at Musée de l’Orangerie, gives us portraits of familiars with filled-in eyes, or two eyes each sporting a different color.  Eyes with the holes of masks.  As masks, as people with expanded vision that see paradox, each eye seeing in reality a different, conflicting aspect.

And Rothko, after immersing us in color, color, color in a retrospective at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, pulls the veil: “I’m not interested in color.  It’s light I’m after.”  The forty-four candles of Hanukah have been lit and extinguished, and the times are dark. But light comes in many forms. Remembers the watchword: “It’s light I’m after.”  

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Lightness Lost and Found

Lightness of spirit! I had been chasing my joie de vivre, wondering where it could be hiding. I had been on the front lines of culture wars, in the trenches, laboring to talk to all sides. I was looking for the seams of illumination. But the heavy load became leaden; I acquired a leaden walk. Even when tamping it down, I felt leaden. Even in Paris, I said this has long legs. The world has long legs and arms, and every armature to invade our spirit.

Lightness of spirit – how? Lightness – how to remember giddiness, a spritz, a throwing off of weight?

I dreamed of a man leaning against a wall. Every time I looked, he had an open passage on his chest, as if his upper cavity were an aquarium. He had waves within him that surged and coursed but never overflowed. Three times I looked, and his chest was still transparent and full of bright water. It was the first night of Hanukkah. Magritte dans les rêves?

Then, with no warning, no reason, no nothing, all that heaviness lifted — oof! gone! — a clear surge of water swept through. It happens. I had to wait to touch the original part of self birthed by wonder. I had been burnishing my list of things I love about Paris and who wouldn’t be grateful, but I needed the bolt of light. Wonder again! The gray weather now still sits on my eyebrows, “la grisaille s’est assise sur mes sourcils,” but my eyes are seeing – the fabulous, in spite of everything. Including. Everything.

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A Spectacle and Nothing Strange

Rain in Paris, great whorls of it spinning, falling
as knotted string, strung pearls, bird’s nests,
gray hair, wire barbed or not, cat gut, old paint brushes,
tumbleweeds.  Clean your hairbrush, bad curtains
in strips, cloud shreds, albumen, cauldrons 
of bouillon, cassette ribbons, phlegm and tears
like liquid crystals. We came to unwind, stifle the contraction
of a muscle, ease psychic anxiety, thicken
the moment, elevate life from sorrows revealed —  
drizzle honey, find tea to paint with, 
wake with, dazzle our eyes, spy, spin words,
sun on a surfing bird, its bright wing, soon 
pink lakes that pool in the clouds,
see or imagine them.

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