Thursday, May 2, 2013

Jeremy Lin Comes Out

Jeremy Lin Comes Out

Houston, May 2, 2013. In the wake of Jason Collins’ recent revelation in SI that he’s gay, Jeremy Lin told Houston sports radio KROK that “I’m tired of being in the closet and want the world to know that I am an NBA point guard, a Harvard man, and I’m Taiwanese.”

With these words Lin revealed that he is the first major-sport professional who is Taiwanese. So far, the response from other pro athletes has been positive. Charles Barkley, the former NBA All-Star, said, “I support the brother for his candor. It’s about time we had a new cause to lend our support to.”

Keyshawn Johnson, the NFL star who retired to become a sports commentator, added, “Jason who?”

Boomer Esiason, the NFL quarterback who is a professional Norwegian, chimed in: “Now Taiwanese boys and girls with athletic ambition will have a role model. But how long will it be before the NFL admits Taiwanese into the locker room?”

Lin’s announcement rocked Houston like a Roger Clemens fart, and the Texas sporting intelligentsia bombarded local talk radio with speculations about who might be the next jock to come out of what closet.

Among the nominees were Dallas QB Tony Romo who might reveal that his family name used to be Homo, NY Knicks marksman Carmelo Anthony who might admit he’s a secret member of Opus Dei, and Alabama coach Bear Bryant who might confess that he’s really alive.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Poetry Reading

I'll be one of 3 featured readers this Saturday, Feb. 16th, at the Yippee Museum Café, 9 Bleecker St., noon-2 PM. I invited Eileen Hennessy and Francine Witte to join me, because they are first-rate writers and readers. This will be varied and terrific reading, and an open-mic is included. So please be there and bring something to read in the open.

Phoenix Reading Series @ The Yippie Museum Cafe

Saturday, February 16, 2013

12—2 pm

9 Bleecker Street

New York, NY 10012


George Held, Eileen Hennessy, Francine Witte


 Francine Witte is a high school English teacher. She lives on the Upper East Side with her husband, poet and comic Mark Larsen. She writes poetry and flash fiction. In 2012 she received four nominations for a Pushcart Prize -- two for fiction and two for poetry. Her newest poetry chapbook is "Only, Not Only."

A seven-time Pushcart Prize nominee, George Held publishes widely both online and in print. His work appears in the current issues of I-70 Review, Drunk Monkeys, Wilderness House Literary Review, Deronda Review, Mobius, Plainsongs, and Verse Wisconsin, and the anthologies Connections: New York City Bridges in Poetry and Songs of Sandy. His most recent book is Neighbors Too (2013), a sequel to his children’s book of animal poems, illustrated by Joung Un Kim.

When she is not writing poems and flash fiction pieces, Eileen Hennessy earns her living as a translator of foreign-language documentation, studies languages as a hobby, and teaches courses in translation in the Translation Studies Program at New York University. Since the mid-1980s she has built up a lengthy record of publication in numerous literary journals, including The Paris Review, The New York Quarterly, and Confluence, to name just three. This Country of Gale-force Winds, a collection of her poems, was
published by NYQ Books in 2011.

$8 Donation

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Early last year I had occasion to read three debut poetry books, each by a woman whose work I was encountering for the first time. Their books made such a strong impression on me that I wrote an essay about them. I now want to share it on my blog and hope you will send it to others who might enjoy it. (The review of Kris Bigalk's Repeat the Flesh in Numbers will appear in Mindy Kronenberg's Book/Mark.)

Luckily, I will be reading with one of these poets, Eileen Hennessy, on Saturday, 16 February, 12 noon, at the Yippee Museum Café, 9 Bleecker St. Please come.
 3 Poets


In 1977 Robert Altman made a thoughtful movie called 3 Women, the idea for which came to him in a dream. Two of the women live in the same apartment and the third, who is married, lives in the same building, and their relationships shift during the movie. Today, it would probably seem inappropriate to use that title, and this film would be unlikely to become the cult movie it has, many women having firmly established themselves as independent agents beyond the scope of Altman’s treatment.

These thoughts arose after I’d finished reading three extraordinary first books of poetry, each by a woman of independent spirit and highly personal style. In ascending order of age, they are Kris Bigalk, Katrinka Moore, and Eileen Hennessy. Bigalk, a mother and teacher from Minnesota, has recently published her first poetry collection, Repeat the Flesh in Numbers (NYQ Books, 2012), a book primarily about a sensuous woman’s flesh and spirit that might be just “a woman’s book” in the hands of a more conventional writer. While Bigalk does address conventional subjects like marriage, family, and sex, she has a strongly idiosyncratic take that can result in memorable poems. “Exegenesis,” for example, might be the best poem ever written on menstruation: “I bleed / without permission, / without injury. / I bleed prophetic, a / waterfall, a flag, / a protest, an insistence / on rest.”

I mention that Bigalk is a mother because, among other subjects, her poems convincingly treat pregnancy, birth, and mothering, but do so in an idiosyncratic way. Thus we have the macabre “Dr. Barbie’s Abortion Clinic,” which conjures various taboo Barbie dolls, like “Morning-Sickness Barbie,” “Single-Mom Barbie,” and “Leaky Saggy Breast Barbie.” The poem concludes:


Step-Mom Trophy Wife Barbie –

                        that’s the kind of thing

                        a little girl should really

                        set her sights on.


Bigalk’s iconoclasm also takes on the biblical origin story by positing Eve as precursor to Adam, in “Apocryphon of Eve.” The first person/Person begins, “There was no rib that begat me” and adds that “There was no snake, no forbidden fruit,” and “There was no thirst for the knowledge of good and evil”; there was just love for “Adam’s body, the way it fit into /

mine. . . .” Only later, at Abel’s grave, did this sensuous woman understand what a disappointment she was to the Lord. Thus the poem subtly contests traditional views of Eve and woman and ends without resolution of the eternal question of our earthly purpose, if any.

If Bigalk sees the flesh repeat in numbers, they are the ones inscribed in our DNA. The first two poems in this volume, including the title poem, recognize that “in / the end cells practice themselves / to ruin, to death, to dissolution,” signifying that we are “the imperfect, the mortal,” but she sees her decline giving way to her son’s rise; not consolation but continuity. A strong, wise poet/mother, Kris Bigalk tells both her story and the history of humankind.

In Thief (BlazeVOX, 2009), Katrinka Moore uses the page as a locus for text as well as visual art, including reproduced images from paintings and drawings, examples of book-making art, and collage. Indeed, the book itself exemplifies the art of fine bookmaking, and Moore proceeds by way of esthetic juxtaposition and collage, pasting together disparate elements to make a collaborative yet new work of art. In this she brings to mind two predecessor artists, Susan Howe (b. 1937), an experimental poet, and Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), maker of small magical boxed assemblages of photos and bric-a-brac from his era.

Indeed, the title poem, “Thief,” mentions “cigar-box drawers” found in a roll-top desk and assembles such various items as “a framed topography of the moon” and “frayed postcards, tangled filigree chain,” and speaks in direct address to Archilochos, the ancient Greek poet. The facing page is an illustration of a topographical map with an insert of a pair of cranes from Hokusai’s Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji. The juxtaposition of prose poem (“Thief”) with an illustration on the facing page is characteristic of the way Moore works in this book. So are the sentence fragments that infuse her poem, one of which says, “Sings a string of words under her breath,” which is probably an example of her work’s self-referential quality. Another sentence fragment here is “Forager,” an apt describer of Moore the thief, who forages through and pilfers literary, cartographical, and visual documents to create her hybrid forms.

On the one hand, she will quote from Shakespeare in “Skimble, Scamble,” while on the other, she imports Into “Aeschylus in the Bronx” quotations “from Ted Hughes’s translation of the Oresteia and writing by students at the Bronx High School for Contemporary Arts”: “Jacqui in her skin tight dress is a cute / Clytemnestra but she’s pissed and whacks / Adinson/Agamemnon on the side of his head.” Later, in a girl named Jelani’s words, “Agamemnon sacrifices his precious daughter Iphigenia so Clytemnestra kills him . . . ,” and Aliya sings Clytemnestra’s welcome song:


                        Look at you now,

                        You low life son of a b—.

                        Now you laying there bled,

                        Still full of it.

                        Baby, you dead.        


That the left-hand margin and the bottom of the page reveal the lines of a page of notebook paper—on which the text has crookedly been pasted—both suggests the off-kilter nature of Moore’s project and reinforces the debt her tour de force owes to her students. The resulting poem is both tragic and comical, reenacting Aeschylus’ great drama in Hughes’s serious translation of it, and drawing on the Bronx students’ savvy handling of that drama, without condescension on Moore’s part. Her postmodern sensibility has deconstructed a classic yet has made it new, in Pound’s words, through an unlikely commingling and juxtaposition of sources.


The title of Eileen Hennessy’s This Country of Gale-Force Winds (NYQ Books, 2011) looks back to her parents’ Ireland and at her native Long Island, both places well known for stormy winds. Symbolically, her gales might evoke blowhards, authority figures, and the winds of change. “Cemetery, summer afternoon” in just ten lines characterizes her poetry, referring to both “country” and a coming storm: “This is no country / for plastic wreaths. // Along the

horizon, bridges of lightning bolted / to the charcoal sky. / Between two tombs, a man jerks off.”

The allusion to W.B. Yeats’s “That is no country for old men” (“Sailing to Byzantium”) speaks of Hennessy’s absorption in Irish poetry, while the last line carries the candor of Yeats’s Crazy Jane, a keen observer of uncensored reality. Hennessy combines both Crazy Jane’s peasant wisdom and the poet’s ability to juxtapose it with the pretensions (“tombs”) of polite society. The word-play (“lightning bolted to”) and the surprising incongruity in this poem’s ending also typify Hennessy’s fierce attention to language and rejection of conventional expectations.

When she ends “Crossing,” about a cross-country train ride, and tries “to measure how much farther I must travel,” she concludes, “I have not come all this country alone / for nothing.” Here her plain-spokenness, as it often does, sounds depths of theme and practice for this poet who rejects qualifiers in choosing the exact word every time. Despite the formality of her poetic line, she writes in free verse and eschews fixed forms.

Hennessy’s poems often address objects, like boxcars, or animals, like lobsters, hares, a worm—entities that can be only observed but cannot talk back. Yet she exploits such entities expertly to reveal some larger truth. In “Then the worm turns,” for instance, she says she once “smashed a worm,” yet “still shudder[s]” with guilt, for etymologically wyrm meant “worm, serpent, dragon,” that is, it was once deemed of equal value with other denizens of the earth itself. In the end, she’s aware, the worms will “have a party on my dock. / It will not be my party, yet / I will be guest and host.” That we will be food for worms has been a subject for writers since time immemorial, but Hennessy’s originality lies in her beginning with the introduction of worms into her compost pile and the confession of her careless stomping of a worm. From using and killing them, she arrives at an awareness of the ultimate role these “rulers // of death, decay, transformation” play in composting our bodies.

The one poem here that spans more than a single page, “Incandescence,” is arguably her most memorable, possibly because it is the only poem here that addresses another human being with whom Hennessy’s speaker has a personal relationship. He’s her lover, whose visit interrupts the narrator’s reading of a scene of multiple shipboard rapes by pirates of “their booty.” The ensuing sex between lover/pirate and speaker/booty conjures memories of other marauders and their captive women until her imagination takes over and calls up “my unit of female partisans” gang-raping her lover, with her “perhaps” penetrating his penis with “the long nicked blade / of my knife.” At poem’s end, after her female cohort wears the man out sexually, “tiring of you, I order you taken / to the woods and shot.”

The cold eye that Hennessy casts on life and death might seem distant from the warmth Kris Bigalk brings to her poems or the charged invention Katrina Moore brings to hers, yet that eye gleams with the passion and searing intensity of a woman who speaks for centuries of oppressed Irish women whose bodies belonged to the men who owned them. Did such a woman, she asks in “This is how her body,” after having borne endless “heirs,” “dare to dream / her body whole again, entire, unbreached?” If not, Hennessy has, rejecting the malarkey of female idealization in favor self-realization, seeing the body as


                        Not the gate of heaven, not house of gold,

                        not star of the sea. Not idol.

                        Not work of art. Just body.

                        Just self. For herself.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Scream

MOMA isn’t the first institution to turn Edvard Munch’s THE SCREAM into kitsch. Maybe it was kitsch to start with, but at least Munch was trying to create an image of genuine terror in the early 1890’s, when he painted it. One evening the sky turned “blood red,” Munch wrote, and “I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.” In fact, the evenings did look red at that time because of ash from the volcano Krakatoa, which had recently undergone a huge eruption. Was Munch also perhaps thinking of his sister Laura Catherine, at that time hospitalized for manic depression? And then, oddly, a photo of the Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza, made him look like the model for that painting.

Now on display at MOMA, The Scream has been turned into a commercial image reproduced on all matter of objects for sale in the museum shop: notepads, pens, tote bags, iPhone covers—you name it. The image of The Scream on whatever utensil or knickknack you desire.

What idiot would buy such a bastardized version of this masterwork? The same sort who would buy similar images of a Rembrandt self-portrait or the Mona Lisa or any other facsimile of great art for sale in museums worldwide. The version now on view at MOMA is the one for which, early in 2012, a collector paid just short of $120 million, the highest price ever for a painting sold at auction.