Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tuesday Poem: "Question"


by May Swenson (1913-1989)

Body my house

my horse my hound

what will I do

when you are fallen

Where will I sleep

How will I ride

What will I hunt

Where can I go

without my mount

all eager and quick

How will I know

in thicket ahead

is danger or treasure

when Body my good

bright dog is dead

How will it be

to lie in the sky

without roof or door

and wind for an eye

With cloud for shift

how will I hide?

Swenson's poem is notable for its extended question, metaphors, and spritely sadness. Swenson knew how to shape a line. The body acts and shelters. I remember reading advice about writing poems; don't ask questions was among the suggestions. So much for that!

Tuesday Poem is an inclusive community of poets.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I left South Beach and came home to spring in New England. The red wing black birds are back. Quince is in flower.

The Jack in the Pulpit has come up in marshy soil.

The flowering trees have gone completely crazy. I think this is winterberry.

The exquisite timing of plants and birds has sparked a poem that begins, "I've learned to live without worrying."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tuesday's Poem: Candlewood


We go into the dark and the dark opens.
Boats tipped with light and the moon on the water.
There is no difference between the tree and the shadow of the tree.
There is no space between light and the wave coming shoreward.
No break between the voice and the word.
There is no difference between your breath and your dear life.
There is no end of you.
--Miriam Levine

"Candlewood" is the first poem of my collection, The Dark Opens, which received the Autumn House Poetry Prize.

The Tuesday Poem is "inclusive not exclusive" and is "designed to encourage poets to write poems and people to read poems."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Gay Pride Parade, South Beach

The mood of today's parade was exuberant. There were cheers for men in committed relationships. (The couples wore banners that stated the number of years together.) There were cheers for drag queens, lipstick dykes, Harley-Davidson riders, students, Mayor Bower, Miami Beach Commissioners, political action groups, mothers of gay sons. Some say these parades do no good. I don't agree. After so many years of secrecy and fear of violence, it's time to strut!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Murnau's "Sunrise" and Political Correctness

(Janet Gaynor, the good wife; George O'Brien, the farmer husband)

F.W. Murnau's Sunrise (1927) is a great film. If he had been ruled by politically correct views about the portrayal of women, he never could have made Sunrise, in which "The Man from the Country," is torn between his virtuous wife, "The Woman from the Country," and the evil "Woman from the City." (The characters do not have names.)

The city woman is sexually voracious and completely immoral. She urges the Man to drown his wife and come to the city with her. At one point he almost murders her. A Dr. Jeykyll and Mr. Hyde character, he, like the women, is bound by a stereotype. Then why don't these characters pall? Perhaps because the film is so visually entrancing.

Margaret Livingston, in silk stockings, bobbed hair, close-fitting cloche hat, plays the seducer with vampire-like passion. In one scene, she appears like a ghoul under a full moon. (Murnau was also the director of Nosferatu.)

Janet Gaynor is perfect as the wife in simple peasant dress, bun, endlessly affectionate to her infant child. Girlish, sunny, she wilts little by little because of her husband's betrayal, and then is terrified of him. As they sail out on the lake, she suspects he will try to drown her.

He comes close to killing her but stops at the last moment. Eventually they find their way to the city and are reconciled in a series of delightful scenes: restaurant, dance hall, photographer's studio.

Murnau has been called 'an Expressionist film-maker, so I've included the ghoulish "Portrait of Dancer Anita Berber," 1925 by the Expressionist Otto Dix, one of a group of "degenerate" artists banned by Hitler.

So what are we to do now? Make the best art we can! If we worry too much about political correctness, won't we freeze up and not take chances? Please tell me: What do you think?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Substitutes and Stand-In's

(Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova, born Winifred Shaughnessy)

Last night I watched Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand. He plays a toreador, swirls his cape, holds a sword, and poses but does no bull-fighting. Those scenes are spliced in from footage of actual bullfights. After a worrisome day, I thought it might be a good idea to have a stand-in to impersonate me during painful experiences. I could watch from the sidelines. My troubles were not serious, but if they were, would I want someone to experience them? No. The substitute would, in a sense, become a scapegoat, and I would no longer possess my life even to the small degree that I do--that we all do. In the bible, Abraham sacrifices a ram instead of his son. If I were a Christian I' would believe Christ was my stand-in. Suppose we could choose an animal for a stand-in? The thought is repellent. Freud believed that we live out our parents unconscious and unfulfilled desires. I hope this is not always the case.

My thoughts took a playful turn. Some say that every experience has already been played. We just repeat them, act them out, whether we know it or not. Those who do know are understudies waiting in the wings. Susan Sontag wrote that Gertrude Stein's work was comic because in all her writing everything was like everything else; everything had the same value, so there was no tragedy. Nothing is a big deal. I began to laugh at my little troubles.

Rather than wish for a stand-in, I'll have to be clever and avoid certain dangers. In the end I believe people can invent themselves. After all, I'm an American. Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filberto Gugliemi di Valentina d"Antonguolla became "Valentino." Winifred Shaughnessy became Natacha Rambova. No one can play them--at least not yet.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Regina Nuessle

"She passed away," the owner of Eutopia books told me, when I asked about Regina. "She was very ill; she closed the shop, and then she passed away." When I had seen Regina's farewell sign on the Galerie d'Arts Decoratifs, which had been next door to Eutopia on Jefferson Avenue in South Beach, I assumed Regina's business had not survived the economic downturn. It was shocking that she had not survived.

Regina's gallery was a triumph over entropy, the principle by which all things tend toward disorder. There was no disorder in her shop and none in her person. She wore only black or black and white, usually a white blouse with black pants. Her taste was strict, rigorous, elegant. On rare occasions her arrangements felt chilly. Though she was German by birth, having lived in Paris, which she thought of as her true home, she dealt, for some years, in French Art Deco furniture, and then as those pieces became scarcer began to sell mid-century modern.

One Christmas, about twelve years ago, shortly after we had bought a condo on Meridian Avenue, I wandered by her shop for the first time and saw her astonishing Christmas window decorated with various, colorful porcelain. Her windows were happenings. Often she would display the work of local artists; Ena Marrero was one. In Regina's window were Ena's fanciful animals and her curtain of marvelous stockings knotted with chunks of gorgeous glass. She also handled the work of architect Richard Meier.

In the shop Regina was all business. I never knew her to miss a day of work, but sometimes I would see her having dinner at Da Leo after she had closed for the day. Done with business, having drunk wine and eaten pasta, she would greet me with a lavish embrace. She would also let herself go with flowers, always dozens of white lilies--no other flower--which she would crowd into a vase. The perfume would seep under the door: intensely fragrant.

Easter morning, when the altar of the Community Church on Lincoln Road bore the weight of enormous vases of white lilies, I went to Regina's shop again; her sign with its "au revoir" was gone.

The shop was empty. Regina had her office on the balcony at the top of the spiral staircase. Below her meticulously organized work space, the elegant objects of her collection played with and against each other. I'll miss her and her creations.