Monday, December 19, 2005
I wanted to post a few of the results from the "bat test" assignment with my current crop of Creative Writing students at SUNY New Paltz. This is Creative Writing I -- theoretically, these are beginning students, at the bottom rung of the program's ladder. But they've done some wonderful work for me.
Mountain in the room where
Only mother bat soaring crazily
Across the moon can
Detect the cardboard cliffs
Wilted dizzy flaming leaves covering
Car wreck on the red rocks, charred from
Desert fire last December
After night when air disappeared
Everyone was caught walking with heads
Down hoods up
Hands pocketed eyes
Pinned open when Mountain was revealed
-- Jessica Ritacco
On the bed:
his sweatshirt and my black bag.
There’s an email on the computer screen,
a letter in my hand.
How did this happen?
Don’t ask. Just pack.
For the city:
I’d want my going-out
clothes: tiny top and tight pants.
Underwear of the sexiest order,
Going farther south?
Pack less and more,
good books to read.
Don’t worry about what you’ll wear to bed.
Forget the eyeliner, take lipstick instead
and your favorite flavor of tea.
To stay here
all you have to do is
shove that black bag
back under the bed.
Put his sweatshirt back on.
Step into the night.
A bat soars crazily
across the moon,
her mouth full of insects.
You watch her flight
and the blue clouds
bluer because you’re by the Mobil sign.
It's a warm night.
You don't really need the sweatshirt.
-- Jennifer Whitton
Tapping an ordinary pen
It looks blue, against her chin
This child of a bat soars
Crazily across the moon
Moving nimble fingers
Through hair tinged in a wheat colored hue
Her mouth full of insects
Spewing forth the flies as a foam
Cracking knuckles, coupled with scratching on a pad
Those studious contemporaries
Resting their heads on hands
While with legs crossed her foot played out a beat
A solitary crimson star
Stitched by hand, on a pant seam
This swirling motion can draw you in
As the muted boy attempts to speak
There must be so much more
Yet all I know are these
Aesthetic things, Lives of aesthetic dreams
She’s turning to leave, walking slowly.
-- Keith Donnelly
Monday, November 21, 2005
A while after this incident, I was mentoring a poet online, by email -- a poet who developed, and turned out to be very good. But at this point, everything she was writing was still labored, mannered, even tortured. She couldn't progress beyond sounding like someone who wanted to write Poetry.
Then in a depressed moment, writing me an email about her frustration and doubts, she tossed in a story about another time in her life when she was balancing self-confidence and self-doubt, between her first and second marriage, when she was testing out her sexuality and her ability to attract men. I started looking at the note, and there was a sureness to the language that I didn't see in her poetry, even a rhythmic sureness.
I started breaking it into lines, maybe dropping a word here and there, but otherwise not altering anything, and I was right. It worked. A found poem.
I sent it back to her...hey, take a look at my latest poem.
If I were a real Zen master of a teacher, I would have stuck to it...and it probably would have been a good lesson.
But...I ultimately gave her the poem.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
This was several years ago. I was visiting photographer Dan McCormack, and he invited me to go out and do some landscape shooting with him. I told him that I didn’t do photography at all any more…I had decided that I was either going to make a total commitment to it or nothing, and I’d chosen nothing. I didn’t even own a camera any more.
He said “Come on, it’ll be fun, I’ll loan you a camera,” and finally I said OK. So we went out, shooting B&W, walking through the woods. At one point I tripped over a root and the shutter was tripped. At the end of the day Dan ran the film and printed some contacts for me. It was as I had thought…I had some pretty but conventional images. You don’t develop an eye in one day. And there was one negative which was just a blur of squiggly lines.
So we fast forward a few months. Dan has an opening in a good gallery, and I go to it, and there on the wall, matted and framed, is my blur. And it looks great.
And the question I ask students, when I tell them this story, is: Whose photograph was it? Mine or Dan’s?
And my answer is, anyone who says it’s my image, and starts talking about intellectual property rights, or demanding shared credit, or getting a lawyer…will never be an artist.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Monday, October 31, 2005
This is a student poem from a few years ago – the first draft of a poem that went on to become much, much better – bright and sensual and well-realized.
The surf rushes forward,
falling with fury into a fluid fusion.
Waves whirl and intertwine.
Surges of synergic seduction plunge deeper
as they rise and tumble.
Ripples diminish, and bliss licks the shore.
The ocean’s caress recedes
and I, standing barefoot in the sand
And my response, or the relevant part for this blog entry:
You’ve already let us know that the poem is going to be about a romantic, breathtaking moment, by titling it “First Kiss.” So you don’t need to explain that.
You also don’t need to explain to the reader that surf is a crashing, exciting phenomenon. So ANYTHING you say about the waves will carry that. Which means that’s the one thing you DON’T want to say, because you’re saying it already. Adding anything about rushing, or fury, is going to be redundant, and will feel like overkill.
Richard Hugo, in The Triggering Town, talks about "writing off the subject." I'd add another, similar suggestion: "Writing away from the subject."
Not only do you not need to say what you've already said, you don't need to say what you've already suggested. It’s close to impossible to write total non sequiturs. If something pops into your head, no matter how disconnected it may seem from what went before, it's connected because your head is the one it popped into.
So the connections are there. They can’t help but be. And that means you need to trust us as readers to make those connections. We will make them...sometimes even better than you, the poet, will, because we expect them to be there. If we know a poem is called "First Kiss," we'll connect anything that follows to the experience of a first kiss (whatever our experience of a first kiss is). So write away from it. Don't describe a first kiss. Describe something else.
Here's a stanza from a poem called “Summer Haiku” by Alicia Ostriker. You can find the whole poem at http://www.poems.com/summeost.htm. The stanza reads
A mother bat soars
Crazily across the moon,
Mouth full of insects.
Now, instead of “Summer Haiku,” let’s call the poem
That night, a bat soared
Crazily across the moon,
Mouth full of insects.
Once we see the title "First Kiss," we're going to relate whatever comes after to the idea of a first kiss. We may read this and think -- this is a kiss she shouldn't have gotten into. This is a dangerous first kiss -- irresistible because of its crazy danger, because of the moonlight...but dangerous.
Let’s put the same stanza under another title from another student poem:
AFTER AN ARGUMENT WITH MY GIRLFRIEND, I QUESTION MY LOVE FOR HER
A bat soars
Crazily across the moon,
her mouth full of insects.
Uh oh. We're in the present tense now -- not looking back at the first kiss from a distance of time, but right there with the guy as his girl friend storms away, and his mind is full of doubts. Why is he looking at the sky, and not at her? Maybe because of the doubts. He wants to shut her out, at least for the moment. But he can't shut her out -- anything he sees is going to be relevant. And he sees a bat flying crazily across the moon -- the symbol of romantic love being crossed by the symbol of vampirism -- the creature who will first appear sexual and enticing, but will then suck the blood and the soul out of you. And in the speaker's mind -- because there's no way he could actually know this -- the bat is a woman.
Now let's stick it under a couple of other titles, drawn from poems.com (and without reading the poems, just grabbing the titles).
A DOG'S GRAVE
A mother bat soars
Crazily across the moon,
mouth full of insects.
He's visiting the dog's grave at night. He must be very lonely. And the solitary bat makes him feel even lonelier. But...it's a mother bat. Her mouth is full of insects for her babies. Even this world, bereft of a beloved dog, is full of life and nurturing in the strangest places...maybe? We have to read on.
A mother bat soars
Crazily across the moon,
mouth full of insects.
You make the interpretation.
Or how about this? Ezra Pound's famous two-line poem.
IN A STATION OF THE METRO
The apparition of these faces in the crowd,
Bats flying crazily across the moon.
So that's the bat test. What happens to your poem if you stick the bat stanza into it? Does it derail the poem, or is it still strangely on track? If it derails the poem, maybe you're too locked into literal meaning. If it doesn't, then think about where else you can go.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
1. Take the first five novels from your bookshelf.
2. Book 1 -- first sentence.
3. Book 2 -- last sentence on page 50.
4. Book 3 -- second sentence on page 100.
5. Book 4 -- next to the last sentence on page 150.
6. Book 5 -- final sentence of the book.
7. Make the five sentences into a paragraph.
8. Feel free to "cheat" to make it a better paragraph.
9. Name your sources.
10.Post to your blog.
And here's my pargraph.
I found Elizabeth waiting at the door of my office, standing at a respectful distance and watching as two men sat together in the evening and pored over maps and charts and tables. They looked up, and I could tell they considered me some kind of strange wild animal, as I laid on my American accent and my all-round toughness with a heavy hand. I knew I’d have to send the girl away. It troubled me in some mysterious way, yet also made me happy.
And my sources:
Ross MacDonald, The Ivory Grin.
Jessica Richards (me), Mistress of the Western Wind.
Wilfrid Sheed, Transatlantic Blues
George McNeill. The Plantation (an old friend I’ve sadly lost touch with).
D. M. Thomas, The White Hotel.
Monday, October 24, 2005
Monday, October 17, 2005
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Daniel's Clamor Contender will be up through the end of October, which means that this year we'll be staying open through the end of the month, so that people can get a chance to see it and participate in it. (If the weather is really cold and rainy and awful on a weekend day, we probably won't open).
For more information, check out Daniel's Clamor Contender wegsite at http://www.clamorcontender.com/
and here are a couple more images.
Monday, October 03, 2005
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Sunday, September 04, 2005
One thing we do each year at the concert is a 50-50 raffle -- makes a few extra bucks for Opus 40, and Lord knows we need it. Raffle tickets for a dollar, we keep half, the winner keeps half. But yesterday I kept thinking...if we're going around collecting a buck here and there, there are people who need it more. So I checked with Laurie and Pat from our board, got their thumbs up, and I when I went to do the drawing, I announced that Opus 40 would give half of its share to the Red Cross.
There was $500 total, so the winner would be getting $250. When we called out the winning number, a guy in the audience held up his winning ticket, and called out "Give my share to the Red Cross."
We caught up with the guy afterwards. His name is Bob Ryan, from Kingston, and Bob's wonderful and spontaneous generosity...well, we had to match it. The whole amount will be going to the Red Cross, in the names of Opus 40 and Bob Ryan.
Saturday, August 27, 2005
Here's a smaller sample:
The Education of Narcissus
From the jacuzzi, wreathed in scented foam,
He steps with his blow-dryer and his comb
To face that altar where all things are clearer,
To wit, his dressing table and his mirror.
He takes his inspiration and direction
By summoning the muse, his own reflection,
The which, in gratitude, he sweetly kisses,
This self-made-god, our latter-day Narcissus.
The poetry he writes, and thus inspires
Among his postulants, no more requires
A love of words or duty to the past
Beyond the headlines of the Tuesday last,
No binding strictures such as rhyme or meter
Or any length in excess of his peter,
The one tool of his trade he thinks so rare
He keeps it to himself, and will not share.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
So Dewey was visiting in the east this week, and he stopped by yesterday. We shared reminiscences of Bill Johnson, one of the great characters of this area. I told him that my first recollection of Bill came from when I was a small boy, and my parents warned me to never, ever, take a ride with Bill in his truck. Bill was a cowboy, they said, and he drove his truck as though he were riding a horse.
Sadly, the occasion never came up. I would have hopped in that truck in a heartbeat.
But Bill, who actually did know a great deal about motorized vehicles, since he made his living owning and operating heavy equipment, may have been from High Woods, but he was a real cowboy. I've never seen anyone, including Gary Cooper, who looked so much like a cowboy -- tall, blond, weatherbeaten, laconic, totally comfortable with himself.
Thinking about Bill made me think about High Woods when I was growing up. A tiny community of neighbors, neighbors who embraced with pride and affection this strange sculptor who was building this strange thing in their midst.
High Woods back then consisted of the church and the general store. The general store was owned by Henry Wilgus. The store was in the front of the building, and you could get Necco wafers or milk and eggs or fishing tackle. Behind the store area was a kitchen where short-order meals were prepared. The rest of the building was a huge room which contained a dance floor surrounded by tables. The tables were used for eating, drinking beer, and playing euchre. Little notes on paper plates on the wall told who had been skunked by whom. The dance floor had a jukebox that played 78 RPM records -- chosen, I believe, by Henry Wilgus. There was no rock and roll. The names of the songs were written in ballpoint pen, in Henry's handwriting, all capital letters, with dashes in between each word: SHRIMP-BOATS, MOCKINGBIRD-HILL, DAVY-CROCKETT, THE-YELLOW-ROSE-OF-TEXAS.
But the dancing was done on Saturday night, to live music. It was square dancing. There was a fiddler -- Perce, his first name was, and I've forgotten his last name, sadly. And a square dance caller. One tune remains in my head fifty years later:
The first two ladies cross over, and by the opposite stand
The second two ladies cross over, and you all join hands
You bow to your corner lady, and honor your partners all
You swing your corner lady, and you promenade the hall
If I had a girl, and she wouldn't dance, I tell you what I'd do
I'd buy her a boat, and set her afloat, and paddle my own canoe
This same verse and chorus were repeated four times, but it's not as repetitious as it sounds. In every square dance which calls for partnering up with your corner lady, and the opposite ladies crossing over, a repetition of four means that by the end of the dance, you will have danced with every lady in your set.
Wilgus's General Store is gone now, and with it, the ferryboat life preserver, painted white, that Henry hung from a tree as one came up the hill toward High Woods from Mount Marion, which read
HIGH AND HEALTHY
And nothing has replaced it. No convenience store--nor are we looking for one. So High Woods is now the church, and a wonderful church it is. They have an Easter sunrise service every year at Opus 40, weather permitting. And every Labor Day they have their church fair, with a bazaar and delicious roast beef luncheon. We go to the fair every year...but back in the days I'm remembering, the 1940s and '50s, things were a little different. High Woods is small now, but it was smaller then, and Glasco Turnpike was a little-traveled country road. So on the morning of Labor Day, the whole community would turn out at the corner of Glasco Turnpike and High Woods Road...in costume. Everyone in homemade costumes, even some homemade floats. We would parade around the High Woods block -- High Woods Road to Wrolsen Drive, back around to Glasco Turnpike and then to Church Road, where the fair would begin.
In the early 1950s, Harvey bought Bard College's old Model A fire engine. He needed it for the pump, to empty out his pools for fall cleaning. But he restored it beautifully -- new paint, polished brass, and the insignia, in gold paint against the fire engine red: HIGH WOODS NO. 1.
It worked. It ran, it pumped water. Harvey and Bert Wrolsen and a few others even took it and helped out at fires. But I remember it most from the Labor Day parades. There were two unofficial grand marshals: Harvey in his fire engine, Bill Johnson on his palomino. A community that took pride in its church and its great, strange work of art, in its sculptors and its cowboys, its farmers and quarrymen and old ship's carpenters. A community where a sculptor from Texas could woo and win an elegant lady from New York and Rome, taking her square dancing on Saturday night at the general store.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Friday, August 05, 2005
David, who writes about Weekend getaways, has recently profiled the towns of Catskill and Saugerties for the Times, and excellent articles they were.
We only know that this piece will appear on a Friday, sometime this month. I'll post more when I hear.
Saturday, July 30, 2005
I praise the brightness of hammers pointing east
like the steel woodpeckers of the future,
and dozens of hinges opening brass wings,
and six new rakes shyly fanning their toes,
and bins of hooks glittering into bees,
and a rack of wrenches like the bones of horses,
and mailboxes sowing rows of silver chapels,
and a company of plungers waiting for God
to claim their thin legs in their big shoes
and put them on and walk away laughing.
In a world not perfect but not bad either
let there be glue, glaze, gum, and grabs,
caulk also, and hooks, shackles, cables, and slips,
and signs so spare a child may read them,
Men, Women, In, Out, No Parking, Beware the Dog.
In the right hands, they can work wonders.
provide a safe and loving haven for abused and abandoned horses and farm animals—animals who have never known warm shelter, spacious pastures, good food, or the touch of a kind hand. Since 2001, CAS has provided refuge for close to 400 such animals, including horses, ponies, cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs, rabbits, and a variety of birds.We were there on Friday, which turned out to be a mistake...they're actually open only on Saturday and Sunday. I know from out experience at Opus 40 that it can be maddening to have people show up on the wrong day, just to look around, but the people at the farm could not have been nicer...all of them. They welcomed us, let us look around, even let Arick feed tomatoes to the pigs, including their newest one, Ozzie, a 4 month old Vietnamese potbellied pig.
Now, people who love animals -- especially animals that have been abuse by people -- don't always love people, and there's no reason why they should, necessarily. But the complete and genuine warmth of everyone there, and their graciousness to two people who showed up when they weren't supposed to be there, won our gratitude. Now, I don't recommend testing their patience by showing up on an off day. I know what that's like for us at Opus 40. But I do recommend going, and seeing the wonderful work they've done, and are doing, with abused animals.
We'll be going back (on a weekend), and we'll be supporting them with a membership. I think Arick is going to want to go back every weekend. I wonder if they can use a 5-year-old volunteer?
Saturday, July 23, 2005
Here's his obit from the New York Times, and here is his page and the Greenbriar Boys page at AllMusic Guide.
Monday, July 18, 2005
And I understand the reaction. It is mind-boggling to imagine one man doing it, even over forty years. And Lord knows it makes a lot more sense than my all-time favorite comment, which was dumb enough that only an art critic could have made it:
"I see such anger there!"
Well, OK. It's forty years of a man's life, and every emotion he ever felt has to have found its way there to some degree. You want to see anger, you can probably find it. But it's not going to be the first thing that leaps to everyone's mind.
And as immense as the undertaking seems, it's even more so when you consider how much of it was worked and reworked.
If you walk around to the south side of Opus 40 (marked with the arrow in the picture) you'll see an area where the stonework is more rough-hewn, without the lapidary precision that marks most of Opus 40. So you'd assume that represents early work, while he was still learning his craft, and you would of course be correct.
But why start there? Why not with the front ramp, or the central circles? And the answer, of course, is that he did start with the front ramp and the central circles. And as he developed his technique, he tore down those walls and rebuilt them.
Also, since his work was organic, not conceptual -- it grew from the work itself, not from a preconceived plan or architectural renderings -- he would sometimes find that the curve of a line, or the placement of a wall, was not quite right. So he'd tear it down, and rebuild it. The painter Peter Jones, who, like me, grew up hanging out at Opus 40, described it as: "In a way, Harvey was like a painter, and Opus 40 was his canvas. But where a painter will look at his work for a while, then take a palette knife and scrape off a little bit of paint from here and move it to there, Harvey would do the same thing with ten tons of stone."
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Shame on you for not telling me years ago about Rachel Loden. I "discovered" her today at Poetry Daily, and I followed that up by checking out the Wild Honey Press website, then an interview of Rachel from Jacket magazine in Feb., 2003, in which she mentions working with you. Wow. All this time and you hipped me to her stuff. Shame on you. I like her stuff
a lot, as you might expect, and wish I'd known about her earlier. So it goes. In any case, it's nice to see that stuff like hers CAN get published and it's for damn sure livelier and more fun to read than most of the stuff that gets posted on P D or Verse Daily, or in most littery mags for that matter.
So yeah, for anyone else I haven't told, Rachel Loden is very much worth checking out, and here's a link to the poem Bob saw on Poetry Dailly, "Miss October."
There's not a powerful tradition of political poetry in America, and the kinds of political poetry that can be so vivid in other cultures -- Yevtushenko, Szymborska, Neruda -- don't seem to work when translated into ours. They almost inevitably get soggy, and turn into cliche. Loden has found a distinctive approach which is the American voice we didn't know we had.
Monday, July 04, 2005
We went up today to see the Tomas Penning show at the James Cox Gallery. Here are some pictures, but they don't do the work justice, of course. Sculpture, especially that of a great sculptor like Penning, is so physical, as much about the stone as about the images made from it or cut into it. Penning was a master of textures, and his understanding of the relationship between stone and image passes understanding. I've been starting to work just a little with stone, and it does not encourage dabbling.
Cox saved these pieces from destruction, and posterity owes him a debt. If you live in the Woodstock area, see this show.
Saturday, July 02, 2005
She met a handsome young sculptor at a party, their paths crossed at another one, and one night he suggested that they go and see his place in the moonlight. This would have been around 1943.
As incredible as is Harvey Fite's accomplishment of forty years, it's equally staggering to consider how much had been done in the first five years. The center ramp and the central pedestals finished. "Flame" and "Tomorrow" carved and in place.
And all of it in the center of this 6-acre expanse of rubble, this huge abandoned quarry.
Did Harvey plan Opus 40 in advance? No, it grew organically from pedestals rising out of rubble, to a network of ramps and terraces, to a vast sculpture. But the sea of stone was there, surrounding this new work of nascent majesty, and Barbara could sense the mission of the young sculptor beside her. As she was to relate years later, the only thing she could think as she stood on that balcony, in that moonlight, was There'll never be room in this man's life for me.
And I've always imagined Harvey standing next to her, thinking, I'll never be able to get this beautiful, elegant woman to come and share my rough and ready life.
They were married not long after, and Barbara and her two boys moved into the house with rudimentary electricity and no indoor plumbing, and they began a life together.
Friday, June 17, 2005
The question crackled to me over a walkie-talkie, from the Opus 40 gift shop.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, he was," I said. "But why....?"
"Some visitors just asked," Sue said over the walkie-talkie. "You should come and talk to them."
It was a family, a mom and kids, including a ten-year-old boy. The mother asked, "Has anyone ever asked you that before?" I said no, this was a first. She explained that her son was dyslexic, and that he too was a talented sculptor.
Harvey was lightly dyslexic, and reading was a slow process for him. This gave rise to one of my beloved childhood memories. In the evening, Barbara and Harvey would sit upstairs, next to the big picture window overlooking Opus 40, and she would read to him: Gods, Graves and Scholars by C. W. Ceram (the pseudonym for his friend and neighbor Kurt Marek), Kon-Tiki and Aku-Aku by Thor Heyedahl, Stonehenge Decoded by Gerald S. Hawkins and John B. White, the historical novels of Mary Renault and Mika Waltari. And spoofs on history, like 1066 and all that: A memorable history of England, comprising all the parts you can remember including one hundred and three good things, five bad kings and two genuine dates by Walter Carruthers Sellar, and The Weans by Robert Nathan.
I wish all the luck in the world to the young dyslexic sculptor and his nurturing family.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
As an American who has lived in Europe for the last 24 years, I see on a daily basis how different the American and European economic systems are, and how deeply this affects the ways they produce, market and perceive art. America advocates supply-side economics, small government and free trade – all reflecting a belief that societies should minimize government expenditure and maximize deregulated, privatized global capitalism. Corporate freedom is considered a direct and analogous extension of personal freedom. Europeans, by contrast, hold to mixed economies with large social and cultural programs. Governmental spending often equals about half the GNP. Europeans argue that an unmitigated capitalism creates an isomorphic, corporate-dominated society with reduced individual and social options. Americans insist that privatization and the marketplace provide greater efficiency than governments. These two economic systems have created something of a cultural divide between Europeans and Americans.
The divisions between American and European arts-funding models are best understood if one briefly considers the changes that have evolved in U.S. economic policy over the last 30 years. Except for the military, there has been continual political pressure to reduce government. Even though the government’s budgets have continued to increase, arts funding has been particularly vulnerable to cuts. By 1997, the NEA’s funding was close to half its former high, and has only slowly regained some of its lost ground.
In its purest form, America’s neo-liberalism would suggest that cultural expression that doesn't fit in the marketplace doesn't belong at all. For the arts, the alternative has been to maintain a relatively marginalized existence supported by gifts from corporations, foundations and the wealthy. A system similar to a marginal and elitist cultural plutocracy evolves. This philosophy is almost diametrically opposed to the tradition of large public cultural funding found in most of Europe’s social democracies.
In culturally isomorphic societies, thought is less and less likely to move outside a pre-configured set of paradigms. In the 20th century, for example, we saw a culturally isomorphic essentialization of art in the "Gleichschaltung” of the Third Reich, in the Social Realism of the East Block, in the “Cultural Revolution” of Maoist China, and to an increasing extent in the mass media commercialization of culture in America.  Like the political divisions of the 20th century, these aesthetic orthodoxies reduced human expression to systemic concepts that tend toward the formulaic and reductionist. Since narrowed perspectives make it difficult to confront aspects of reality, a culture of self-referential rationalization evolves.
In the spirit of their mixed economies, Europeans would argue that many forms of artistic expression cannot be positioned or relativised within the mass market or its fringes. For them, culture must be communal and autonomous. They often see American culture as hegemonistic -- a totalizing and destructive assault on the humanistic, cultural and social structures they have worked so long and hard to create.
A general sense of the different perspectives concerning communal identity can be illustrated with an example now widely discussed in the States. Many Americans have seen how corporate-owned strip malls and Wal-Marts have deeply affected their cities and towns. The old downtown areas are abandoned as customers move to corporate businesses on the edge of town. Communal identity and autonomy, which are an important part of cultural expression, are replaced with a relatively isomorphic corporatism.
Europeans struggle to maintain a different model. Most cities and towns have thousand year histories that are reflected in the architectural and other cultural treasures of their various municipal centers. They employ zoning laws and other regulations, as well as public education, to protect their cities from the Wal-Martization that would be caused by embracing American-styled neo-liberalism. Europeans have large department stores and the occasional K-Mart, but their influence is kept within balance. They would consider the losses to their cultural identity caused by corporate uniformity to be too great.
.... Far from making music even more commercial, the European response has been to create a balance with public arts funding. In Germany, for example, cities with more than about 100,000 people often have a full-time orchestra, opera house, and theater company that are state- and municipally owned. A good deal of funding for these groups is set aside for new music. Europeans also administer this arts funding locally, and not from a remote Federal organization such as the NEA.
... In Germany, classical recordings compete strongly against pop. This is not merely a matter of history or coincidence. Europeans use their local public cultural institutions to educate their children and this creates a wide appreciation for classical music. The popularity is also based on a sense of communal pride. They support their local cultural institutions almost like they were sports teams. European society illustrates that music education leads to forms of creativity and autonomy that are often antithetic to mass media. The European view is not based on elitism or a dismissal of popular culture, but on an understanding that an unmitigated capitalism is not a seamless, all-encompassing paradigm - particularly when it comes to cultural expression.
...Germany, for example, has one full-time, year-round orchestra for every 590,000 people, while the United States has one for every 14 million (or 23 times less per capita.) Germany has about 80 year-round opera houses, while the U.S., with more than three times the population, does not have any. Even the Met only has a seven-month season. These numbers mean that larger German cities often have several orchestras. Munich has seven full-time, year-round professional orchestras, two full-time, year-round opera houses (one with a large resident ballet troupe,) as well as two full-time, large, spoken-word theaters for a population of only 1.2 million. Berlin has three full-time, year-round opera houses, though they may eventually have to close one due to the costs of rebuilding the city after reunification.
If America averaged the same ratios per capita as Germany, it would have 485 full-time, year-round orchestras instead of about 20. If New York City had the same number of orchestras per capita as Munich it would have about 45. If New York City had the same number of full-time operas as Berlin per capita it would have six. Areas such as Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx would be nationally and internationally important cultural centers. The reality is somewhat different.
If America’s Northeastern seaboard had the same sort of orchestral landscape as Germany, there would be full-time, year-round professional orchestras (often in conjunction with opera houses) in Long Island, Newark, Jersey City, Trenton, Camden, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore, New Haven, Hartford, Springfield, Providence, and Boston. California would have about 60 full-time, year-round professional orchestras. Like Germany, the U.S. would suffer from a shortage of good classical musicians. There would be little unemployment for these artists. With that much creativity, it is unlikely Americans would stick to European repertoire and models. Even with half the German ratios, a starkly American musical culture would evolve that would likely change history.
It is also essential and informative to place these numbers in the context of the dismal social conditions in almost all major American cities, since these are areas where classical music would normally thrive. A recent article in The New York Times, for example, notes that Philadelphia has 14,000 abandoned buildings in a dangerous state of collapse, 31,000 trash-strewn vacant lots, 60,000 abandoned autos, and has lost 75,000 citizens in recent years.  Regions such as the south Bronx, Watts, East St. Louis and Detroit, just to name a few, show that Philadelphia is hardly an exception. The populations living in our dehumanizing ghettos are measured in the tens of millions. It seems very likely that the problems with arts funding in America are closely related to the same social forces that have caused the country to neglect its urban environments. This naturally leaves many Europeans wondering why America is so intent on exporting its economic and cultural models.
The problems of arts funding are seldom the topic of genuinely serious and sustained political discussion. The cultural and political system has become so isomorphic that most Americans do not even consider that alternatives could be created to institutions such as network television and Hollywood. With only one percent of the military’s $396 billion budget, we could have 132 opera houses lavishly funded at $30 million apiece. (That much funding would put them on par with the best opera houses in the world, and as noted, likely lead to forms of expression more distinctly American.)
The same sum could support 264 spoken-word theaters at $15 million each. It could subsidize 198 full-time, year round world-class symphony orchestras at $20 million each. Or it could give 79,200 composers, painters and sculptors a yearly salary of $50,000 each. Remember, that’s only one percent of the military budget. Imagine what five percent would do. These examples awaken us to the Orwellian realities of our country and how different it could be. Given our wealth, talent, and educational resources, we are losing our chance to be the Athens of the modern world.
Another example of the loss of intelligent discourse is the discussion surrounding the current proposed $18 million increase for the NEA. This sum represents only seven-thousandths of one percent of the proposed 2005 U.S. budget, a number almost too infinitesimal to comprehend. And yet the topic is once again being opportunistically exploited as a political battering ram.
In Europe, by contrast, funding for the arts is a central platform of every major political party. Lively and varied artistic expression is considered one of the most important forums for national discourse. Politicians literally search for opportunities to speak about the arts because it is politically advantageous. The dialog is generally intelligent, meaningful, and carefully considered.
Sunday, June 12, 2005
This is not to be missed. Not for anything.
And I don't buy much music any more, but I'll get this one, because fortunately Tim Coakley identified it. Johnny Varro Swingin' on West 57th Street. How have I never heard of Johnny Varro before? AllMusic Guidesays he's been around since the 50s. They also peg him as a swing musician, which he is, but that doesn't begin to cover it. Here's a direct link to the album, which has great cover art as well. My advice - even if you download music, buy this one. We should be supporting our living jazz treasures.
Then I switch over to WFAN, where the game is still on, due to a rain delay, and I hear Gary Cohen's inspired call of Marlon Anderson's pinch-hit, game-tying inside-the-park home run.
So life is still good. You heard it here first.
Friday, June 10, 2005
Most common response? “What could be funny about that era?” Well, even back then, there were folks who found humor in it. Funniest of all, probably, was The Investigator, now available in its entirety on the Internet, a radio play by Canadian playwright Reuben Ship in which McCarthy dies in a plane crash, and starts investigating subversives in heaven. And you can find humor in anything if you're callous enough.
Still, it's true, that period remains harder to laugh at than some. Relatively few people even today are going to chuckle indulgently and say "Heh, heh, that Elia Kazan -- what a joker!"
Another interesting response, which I got today: "Is there a market for that?"
Interesting in that the answer is invariably "Yes and no." You are essentially always doing something there's no market for. There's a market for art in general - there are going to be a certain number of paintings bought and sold every year, a certain number of literary novels published. But your novel, or your painting? In a word, no. Maybe after the fact, but not before or during.
You can go to a publisher and say, I want to write a bio of Truman - and he'll say yeah, there's a market, or no there isn't. An editor may even come to you, and say "Richards, the time is right for a book on the 69 Mets, or global warming...or 9/11." But you can't sit down and think, "I know - people have been looking for a good story about little three-foot-tall creatures trying to decide what to do with a magic ring -- the first person to write that one will make a mint."
It's only later, if the novel is good enough, that everyone starts saying, "Hey, you gotta read that book about the Catcher in whatever - it really tells it like it is about teenagers and phonies."
Or, "Hey, you gotta read that comic novel about the McCarthy era.”
Monday, June 06, 2005
I don't know for sure whether this was true of Pope, although it may have been, to some extent. But it's a brilliant observation about what makes great poetry, and what makes great art.
Many years ago, we made up a coat of arms for Harvey, in a lighthearted moment. If I can find a copy of it anywhere, I'll post it here. But we needed a Latin motto. Harvey decided that he wanted it to be a Latin translation of the phrase "To speak in stone." We came up with in lapidem dicere, which according to my online translator is a butchery, but what do they know? I knew more Latin then than I do now; I probably knew more Latin then than they do now.
Anyway, I believe that Harvey did speak in stone. His original concept for what became Opus 40, when he first began it as a series of pedestals for large carved outdoor sculpture, was that his carved pieces would represent what was called in those days "The Brotherhood of Man." Harvey believed in one world, he believed in working for world peace, he believed that we are all one family.
A year or so before he died, my brother Jon interviewed him, and during the course of the interview he said that he supposed his original concept had gotten lost when he made his dramatic decision to remove the carved pieces and continue with Opus 40 as an immense abstraction. But I don't think so.
I believe that one can "speak in stone" in representational sculpture, and that Harvey did. But in making his commitment to what Opus 40 became, I believe that he found the way to express sculptural thought, rather than expressing thought translated into sculpture, and that Opus 40 is his true statement of his beliefs, and everything he held dear.
Saturday, June 04, 2005
Friday, May 27, 2005
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
If you start thinking you have something to share, you lose the humility. You're preaching to the reader. You're saying I know this, and this is important, and you sit there while I tell you about it. And you can't lose that humility.
On the other hand, if you don't assume you have anything to share, and you write anyway, just for the sake of what you may discover, and the hell with the reader, you're working from a point of view of total egotism, and you can't lose that either.
Monday, May 16, 2005
Saturday, May 07, 2005
This is the first piece of advice I give my writing students. And the last. And several times in between.
We all start writing for the same reason. Our first impulses are always: we want to write because we have something to say. We have thoughts we want to express to the world, and we have feelings we want to share with the world.
So we start writing, and before long (if we’re lucky), but eventually (guaranteed), we will realize something. And this is the mantra I want you to remember all through this course, and all of your writing career:
All your thoughts are shallow, and all your feelings are banal.
And once that realization hits us, we can react in three ways, all of them OK.>
We can say "OK, it's true. All my thoughts are shallow, and all my feelings are banal. So what? They're still my thoughts and feelings, and I just write to please myself." And there's nothing wrong with that. We just have to realize, then, that our writing is private rather than public. It's for our journals, and letters to our closest friends, and it's to be put away in attic so that someday our great-great-grandchildren can find them and say, "Wow, g-g-grandpa was really cool back in the 21st century."
Or we can say, "My God, it's true. All my thoughts are shallow, and all my feelings are banal. What am I doing? I'd better give up writing." And that's OK, too -- not everyone has to write. Just don't stop reading.
Or we can say, and we do say, if we're lucky or unlucky enough to be this kind of person, "My God, it's true. All my thoughts are shallow, and all my feelings are banal. That means I'm FREEEEEE!!!!!!!" And you are. You are no longer obligated to make sure the world gets your thoughts and feelings. You can explore words, and images, and all the possibilities of language.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
In the late 1960s Tony Price settled in New Mexico and discovered the Zia Salvage Yard at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He was inspired to use the detritus of the world’s most advanced nuclear weapons program to create an art that spoke to Man’s deeper instinct for peace. With grace and wit and brilliance he fashioned the forms of nuclear destruction into icons of peace in an eloquent appeal for sanity and survival. Out of the angry arsenals of terror Price created weapons of mass salvation and he called them Atomic Art.
For more information, go to http://newartsweb.com/atomicartist/
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
First day of my workshop with the teenagers. It’s probably a good thing that kids don’t know that when you walk into a classroom, you’re a hell of a lot more nervous than they are. That’s because you know, much more than they do, how much it matter. You’ve got this awesome responsibility not to waste their time, and to give them something to take away that’ll make a difference in who they are and what they understand.
In teaching a poetry workshop, I focus on giving my students tools for making poetry. I try to stay away from self-expression. That happens whether you encourage it or not. The question is how you’re going to construct the vehicle for your self-expression.
“Poet” comes from a Greek word which means “maker.” A poet makes something out of words. He/she is a carpenter, making a house out of words and sounds and rhythms and images, which someone else—many other people—will be able to move into and furnish and live in. A good poem doesn’t tell the reader how you feel; it gives the reader a structure in which to experience in a new way how he/she feels.
I started off by using a structure that I’ve used before.
I play the class a recording of Buddy Holly singing "Peggy Sue Got Married." It's from the "Apartment Tapes" - the acoustic demo tapes that Holly made in his apartment just before he died, of songs he planned to record later. I play the song, and then ask the kids for the data - and data only - of what they've just heard. They always start by saying Well, Peggy Sue got married. I say yes, but how do you know that? Well, he said it. Yes...so part of the data is words. And this is, in fact, what I'm looking for.There are words. Rhythm. Melody. A guitar. A male voice.
I play it for them again, and pass out a lyric sheet:
Please don't tell
No no no
Don't say that I told you so
I just heard a rumor from a friend
I don't say
That it's true
I'll just leave that up to you
If you don't believe me I'll understand
You’ll recall the girl that's been in nearly every song
This is what I heard
Of course, the story could be wrong
She's the one
I've been told
Now she's wearing a band of gold
Peggy Sue got married not long ago
What are the feelings in the song? You can't really talk about art without talking about feelings. If I told you I'd been to a concert, and you asked what I'd heard, and I said words, melody, rhythm, a guitar and a male voice, you'd think I was nuts. So we start making a list, and it comes out to be things like sadness, doubt, regret, nostalgia, uncertainty, envy, etc. Then I ask, who is the song about, and generally the answer is "Peggy Sue." Which is pretty much the right answer. Then I ask, how do you know all this stuff? How do you know that the singer feels sadness, doubt, regret, nostalgia, uncertainty, envy? Well, he says it. You get it from the words.
Then...and I can't really convey this in writing, you have to hear it -- I play the overdubbed version that was released commercially, and ask the same question again. What's the data? How has it changed?
It's changed by the addition of drums and an electric guitar. It's also changed - I generally have to point this out - by what amounts to the removal of the acoustic guitar. It's buried so far down in the mix you can't really hear it any more.
And the feelings? Are they different? Yes, they are. It's not the same song any more. It's more upbeat, lighthearted. It's a dance song. The sadness and nostalgia are gone - as a student once said, "It's like she's gone, but he's got a bunch of friends over, and they're partying and having a good time, and he doesn't care. He doesn't miss her." Also, with the hard edge of the electric guitar and drums (by Jimmy Glimer and the Fireballs) there's an edge of anger, of defiance -- a rock 'n roll edge. Who's the song about now? It's really not about Peggy Sue any more. It's about the singer. She's gone and forgotten.
So how can this happen? Same words. Didn't the feeling come from the words? Not that simple. Art is more complex than that. And - as one kid in this group said about the second version - he's just covering up his real feelings. He really misses her. And as another said about the first version - at first you think he really cares, then you think maybe he doesn't. And they were both right. Emotions are complex and often contradictory. Art makes us feel that complexity.
Next, I ask: There's a symbol in the poem. What is it?
That's easy - the band of gold. Right - and what's the band of gold a symbol of? That's easy - marriage. Right...but here's where it gets interesting. What's marriage a symbol of? Maybe not the same thing in each version. In the acoustic folkie version, it seems like a symbol of growth. She's gone on to a richer, more rewarding life...she's grown up. He's left all alone in a little room with his guitar. In the rock 'n roll version, it may be a symbol of limitation. She's grown up, taken on adult responsibilities, said goodbye to fun and partying and rock 'n rolling. But he doesn't have to do that...at least not yet. He still has his youth and his freedom.
OK, there's another symbol in the song. What would that be? A good class gets it...this one did.
The girl who's been in nearly every song.
Now, this is the line which takes this very good song and makes it exceptional. This is an incredible symbol. What/who is "the girl who's been in nearly every song"? In the acoustic-folk version, she's the girl you can never forget. Every girl you see on the street reminds you of her. Every song reminds you of her. In the rock 'n roll version, where she's gone and forgotten, maybe that line tells you "They're all the same. Girls are like buses - if you miss one, there'll be another along in ten minutes."
The girl who's been in nearly every song is a muse...the muse of rock 'n roll. If you're a sad guy sitting a room alone with an acoustic guitar, the muse maybe has moved on. If you're a rocker, with a band backing you up, then maybe it doesn't matter if Peggy Sue goes and gets married - rock and roll will never die, and girls will always go on inspiring songs.
And...the power of all that comes from the image. "Women are all the same...they're like buses, another one will be along in ten minutes" tells you what to think. "The girl who's been in nearly every song" opens up your mind to a range of possibilities.
Anyway...that's the idea. That’s where we started.
Sunday, April 10, 2005
First on the agenda, I'll be starting an 8-week Sunday afternoon poetry workshop for teenagers today, part of a program organized by Citizen Watch. The culmination of it will be a reading for the public on Sunday, May 29 at 5 pm. I'll be writing more about it as it goes on.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
The class will be five Wednesday evenings, from 5:30 till dusk, starting on May 11. Instructional fees are $100 for the course -- expect to pay about $50 for tools, if you don't have them already.
Call us at 845-246-8584 to register. If you've registered with John already, you can pay using Paypal at our Gift Shop .
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
1st Prize: A weekend at The House on the Quarry = Mike Baruschke
2nd Prize: A nigh at The House on the Quarry = Butch Coleman
3rd Prize: A 100.00 membership = Marie Baumgarten
Five 4th Prizes: OPUS 40 T-shirts = Kitt Molnar, Ruban Berkowitz, Liz Arbogast, Frank Jannotti , Marianne Burhans
Thanks to all who participated!
Thursday, February 03, 2005
Jeffers wrote in a long line, which Blogger won't capture. Probably the best way to read it would be to copy it and paste it to a page in your word processor.
That sculptor we knew, the passionate-eyed son of a quarryman,
Who astonished Rome and Paris in his meteor youth and then was gone, at his high ride of triumphs,
Without reason or good-bye: I have seen him again lately, after twenty years, but not in Europe.
In desert hills I rode a horse slack-kneed with thirst. Down a steep slope a dancing swarm
Of yellow butterflies over a shining rock made me hope water. We slid down to the place,
The spring was bitter but the horse drunk. I imagined wearings of an old path from the that wet rock
Ran down the canyon; I followed, soon they were lost, I came to a stone valley in which it seemed
No man nor his mount had ever ventured, you wondered whether even a vulture’d ever spread sail there.
There were stones of strange form under a cleft in the far hill; I tethered the horse to a rock
And scrambled over. A heap like a stone torrent, a moraine,
But monstrously formed limbs of broken carving appeared in the rock-fall, enormous breasts, defaced heads
Of giants, the eyes calm through the brute veils of fracture. It was natural then to climb higher and go in
Up the cleft gate. The canyon was a sheer-walled crack winding at the entrance, but around its bend
The walls grew dreadful with stone giants, presences growing out of the rigid precipice, that strove
In dream between stone and life, intense to cast their chaos…or to enter and return…stone-fleshed, nerve-stretched
Great bodies ever more beautiful and more heavy with pain, they seemed leading to some unbearable
Consummation of the ecstasy…but there, troll among Titans, the bearded master of the place accosted me
In a cold anger, a mallet in his hand, filthy and ragged. There was no kindness in that man’s mind,
But after he had driven me down to the entrance he spoke a little.
merciless sun had found the slot now
To hide in, and lit for the work of that stone lamp-bowl a sky almost, I thought, abominably beautiful;
While our lost artist we used to admire: for now I knew him: spoke of his passion.
He said, “Marble?
White marble is fit to model a snow-mountain: let man be modest. Nor bronze: I am bound to have my tool
In my material, no irrelevances. I found this pit of dark-gray freestone, fine-grained, and tough enough
To make sketches that under any weathering will last my lifetime…
The town is eight miles off, I can fetch food and no one follows me home. I have water and a cave
Here; and no possible lack of material. I need, therefore, nothing. As to companions, I make them.
And models? They are seldom wanted; I know a Basque shepherd I sometimes use; and a woman of the town.
What more? Sympathy? Praise? I have never desired them and also I have never deserved them. I will not show you
More than the spalls you saw by accident.
What I see is the enormous beauty of things, but what I attempt
Is nothing to that. I am helpless toward that.
It is only form in stone the mould of some ideal humanity that might be worthy to be
Under that lightning, Animalcules that God (if he were given to laughter) might omit to laugh at.
Those children of my hands are tortured because they feel,” he said, “the scorn of the outer magnificence.
They are giants in agony. They have seen from my eyes
The man-destroying beauty of the dawns over their notch yonder, and all the obliterating stars.
But in their eyes they have peace. I have lived a little and I think
Peace marrying pain alone can breed that excellence in the luckless race might make it decent
To exist at all on the star-lit stone breast.
I hope,” he said, “that when I grow old and the chisel drops,
I may crawl out on the ledge of the rock and die like a wolf.”
These fragments are all I can remember,
These in the flare of the desert evening. Having been driven so brutally forth I never returned;
Yet I respect him enough to keep his name and the place secret. I hope that some other traveller
May stumble on that ravine of Titans after their maker has died. While he lives, let him alone.