from The Pigeon Tunnel

Larry is reading The Pigeon Tunnel, a collection of memories by John le Carre. Over breakfast yesterday he read this excerpt to me about the transition from the Soviet Union to Russia, which made me laugh out loud:

…in 1993, criminalized capitalism had seized hold of the failed state like a frenzy and turned it into the Wild East. I was keen to take a look at that new, windy Russia, too. It therefore happened that my two trips straddled the greatest social upheaval in Russian history since the Bolshevik Revolution. And uniquely–if you set aside a coup or two, a few thousand victims of contract killings, gang shootouts, political assassinations, extortion and torture–the transition was, by Russian standard, bloodless.

Posted in Prose, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Does anyone say it better?

robert-hassAfter the Gentle Poet Kobayashi Issa

New Year’s morning–
everything is in blossom!
xxxI feel about average.

Robert Hass

Posted in Poetry | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Happy Holidaze

xmas 2016

img006

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

Monday poem

dunnI don’t know why I haven’t posted anything by Stephen Dunn before. He’s a wonderful poet. You might think of this if you happen to be at a tedious holiday party:

Don’t Do That

It was bring-your-own if you wanted anything
hard, so I brought Johnnie Walker Red
along with some resentment I’d held in
for a few weeks, which was not helped
by the sight of little nameless things
pierced with toothpicks on the tables,
or by talk that promised to be nothing
if not small. But I’d consented to come,
and I knew in what part of the house
their animals would be sequestered,
whose company I loved. What else can I say, Continue reading

Posted in Poetry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

More art, more women

Monday in NY, a little rainy but not terribly cold. I am going to see the Agnes Martin exhibit today at the Guggenheim, a museum I have enjoyed since I was a teenager first coming to the city on my own.

I am thinking about all the foremothers, today, the poets, authors, artists who blazed a trail with their creativity, despite the contempt they often encountered. Like Amy Lowell, who was often derided, but wrote, wrote, wrote.

lowellLacquer Prints (by Messenger)

One night
When there was a clear moon,
I sat down
To write a poem
About maple trees.
But the dazzle of moonlight
In the ink
Blinded me,
Continue reading

Posted in Poetry | Tagged , | Leave a comment

After the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?

picksimg_splashThis is a line from Mirele Laderman Ukeles’ Manifesto, written in 1969. Part of the avant-guard art scene in New York in the sixties, after having her first child she noticed there was no time for art–only maintenance: diapers, cooking, cleaning, dressing, undressing. The basic idea of the manifesto is that maintenance is art. You can see the full Manifesto here. It includes these intriguing paragraphs.

“C.        Maintenance is a drag; it takes all the fucking time (lit.)

The mind boggles and chafes at the boredom.

The culture confers lousy status on maintenance jobs = minimum wages, housewives = no pay.

clean your desk, wash the dishes, clean the floor, wash your clothes, wash your toes, change the baby’s diaper, finish the report, correct the typos, mend the fence, keep the customer happy, throw out the stinking garbage, watch out don’t put things in your nose, what shall I wear, I have no sox, pay your bills, don’t litter, save string, wash your hair, change the sheets, go to the store, I’m out of perfume, say it again—he doesn’t understand, seal it again—it leaks, go to work, this art is dusty, clear the table, call him again, flush the toilet, stay young.

D.          Art:

Everything I say is Art is Art.  Everything I do is Art is Art. “We have no Art, we try to do everything well.” (Balinese saying)…

E.         The exhibition of Maintenance Art, “CARE,” would zero in on pure maintenance, exhibit it as contemporary art, and yield, by utter opposition, clarity of issues.”

I was so intrigued by these ideas (having spent most of my adult life in Maintenance) that I came to New York to see her 50-year retrospective at the Queens Museum.

sanit18n-2-webThe photo above is of Ukeles standing inside an arch she created from used, signed workers gloves, walkie-talkies, subway straps, valves, lights, gauges, etc.  It’s one of the more visceral pieces at the Queens Museum show. Because most of her work is performance pieces–washing a stage or floor or wall and engaging others to participate, a ballet of sanitation trucks or snow blowers or other heavy equipment, a piece where she invited workers to see one of their eight hours of work as maintenance art and photographed them–much of the work is shown as video or photo with documentation.

In 1977, Ukeles became the artist in residence for the New York Department of Sanitation. Although her residency was unpaid, the title gave her a platform to conceive and find funding for a wide variety of projects. In her project  Touch Sanitation she went to all five boroughs to shake the hands, thank, and talk with every one of NYC’s 8500 sanitation workers.

22SANTIARTIST4-master675

touchsanOther projects, such as a visual bridge of recycled materials overlooking the dumping of garbage onto barges at the 59th street pier, were never funded.

Recently, she has been engaged in the transformation of garbage “our garbage, not their garbage.” She has created hallways of recycled garbage, videos of the garbage process and proposed radical redesigns for expired garbage dumps, most notably Fresh Kills, on Staten Island.

Her ideas about the invisibility of maintenance workers, maintenance art as revolutionary, and garbage as an essential concern of art seem visionary to me. I’m only sorry that I won’t get to meet her in February, when she will lead a tour of the Fresh Kills project.

Posted in Art | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Resuming…

I have been too dispirited for my normal blog posts, but life goes on, inexorably.  Here is a poem about this particular time:

limeMediation in an Election Year, 2016

When the house she and her husband
built by hand went up in flames
just after they finished
the intricate panes of the central rose window,
Margaret Sanger, sixth of eleven
children, gave up on things material
and devoted herself to what we call
(because of her) birth control. Antique
methods: the pessary,
a little boric acid, the douche,
imported from Europe. She was jailed
just for saying the words, the idea
“un-American.”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWhat is it to be
“American”? Is it sitting among lime trees
at the garden table of a house borrowed
from a wealthy friend
who summers at Martha’s Vineyard? Continue reading

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

Post election

Casa-del-MarWe’ve been in Baja all week; it was supposed to be a rest and celebration. Of course, it hasn’t been that. While it’s been weird to be in a tropical non-USA paradise, the indifferent, perfect ocean has been some consolation.

And Larry, ever that man for black humor in a bleak hour, this morning came up with: “I hope I haven’t gotten too tan to get back into the United States.”

That will have to do for now. Though I did sign a petition to revoke the electoral college.

Posted in Philosophical | Leave a comment

Dismantling the labyrinth

IMG_3009No, it’s not because of political chaos, it’s just that the labyrinth has become too labor intensive. I decided to have a little pond and rock garden instead. The first step is digging up plants I want to save–easy to do after the rain–and pot them for the short term, to replant after the stonework and pond are done.

It’s looking a bit trashed at the moment, but I made a discovery in the process–not a giant asparagus, but a flowering of aloe: Continue reading

Posted in Garden | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Pinsky

PinskyI took Robert Pinsky’s new book of poems with me on a trip this weekend, but when I came back, I opened his Selected Poems to this, which has the flavor of the cantor in the Jewish service, the singing, incantatory lines that I love:

Biography

Stone wheel that sharpens the blade that mows the grain.
Wheel of the sunflower turning, wheel that turns
The spiral press that squeezes the oil expressed
From grain or olives. Particles turned to mud
On the potter’s wheel that whirls to form the vessel
That holds the oil that drips to cool the blade. Continue reading

Posted in Poetry | Tagged , | 3 Comments