Tuesday, July 31, 2007
A Strictly New York Joie de Vivre:
Celebrating the Work of Frank O’Hara
With Billy Collins and Paul Violi
Presented by the National Book Foundation
The poet Frank O’Hara (awarded the National Book Award for Poetry posthumously in 1972) was a key figure in the postwar New York School of poets and painters which includes poets John Ashbery and James Schuyler, and painters Larry Rivers and Jasper Johns. His deceptively straightforward poems are in fact complex representations of a revolutionary sensibility. O’Hara’s influence on succeeding generations of poets, as well as on the cultural landscape of New York City, is undeniable.
Poets Billy Collins (ed. The Bronx's only Poet Laureate!) and Paul Violi (ed., funny guy, witty poet) will read from O’Hara’s work as well as their own, and discuss O’Hara’s continuing influence on contemporary poetry and the literary culture of New York City. Billy Collins was United States Poet Laureate from 2001–2003; he has published eight collections of poetry and edited two anthologies of contemporary poetry. Paul Violi is the author of twelve poetry books and has been published widely in magazines and anthologies. His many poetry awards include grants from The American Academy of Arts and Letters and The Ingram Merrill Foundation. He teaches in the New School graduate writing program and at Columbia University.
Poet and critic Craig Morgan Teicher will moderate.
The really great thing is that the reading and discussion will take place by the Farragut monument! And we all remember Farragut, right. That famous line...
Damn the torpedos! Full speed ahead...
Oh, you bet it's going to be great. For a great article on Frank O'Hara, click here.
If one is a mirror to someone's art
Everyone's poems will be published.
The shitty truth is they'll care.
There really must be a miracle boldly
hidden somewhere around here.
It's good to be wrong.
Since you made them, you should
fix them without my consent.
Don't say nothing 'till I get out of prison.
The body is not a book to be read critically,
for every morning the waiting time lengthens.
Which reminds one of what we too must do
to become thought. You could write the very next line.
I do not say that I know what to do with you.
We must prevent the unity from crashing.
We have come to do battle. We have lost.
But the sky is about to break open.
Mere men alone do not create community. It is the manifestation of the ideas of men (and women), and sometimes, the creation of a physical space to encourage the gathering of friends, family, colleagues, strangers for often nothing more than a cup of coffee and a pastry (often breakfast, lunch and dinner). Cafe Trieste in North Beach. The Onyx Cafe in Los Feliz. Bruno's on Bleecker St. in Greenwich Village. Well, the Trieste is still there at least. But Bruno's, like the Onyx and so many others, is gone.
Bruno's was never renowned as an intellectual or hipster hangout. Most of those places closed ten years ago. It was, however, a genuinely sweet place, with a particularly delectable fruit tart, a family-like atmosphere, awesome coffee and late hours. As a passing musician lamented, "This place used to be where you could get a cup of coffee at 2 in the morning. And now they're gone. New York is driving out all it's artists." Oh, you noticed?
Why is Bruno's closing? Greed (a.k.a. Rent hike). I don't know how much they paid, or what the rent went up to, but if a successful business like Bruno's is shutting down, it doesn't look like any small business on Bleecker still has a chance once their lease is up. In the words of Iris Dement, "So long, now/Kiss it goodbye." On West 4th street, not far from Bruno's, a Day Spa just closed. The new asking price for 1750 sq. feet? $30,000 a month! And Bleecker Street is so much more popular.
Last year, popular Bleecker Street grocery store Strawberry Fields closed. In its place? A Reiss boutique. The owners went to a great deal of trouble to make the nondescript place fit their hipper-than-thou requirements:
To begin the process, the firm stripped down the 5,000-square-foot space back to its bare bones and examined the interior’s existing traits—including its lackluster qualities. Ultimately, D_raw determined that balancing the industrial backdrop with organically-inspired concepts would result in a more visually-engaging space. In essence, their goal was to create an antidote to industrial overload by bringing in the natural elements of a garden.Lackluster qualities? Industrial backdrop? Organically-inspired? How about the fact that you hardly see anyone in this hell hole of pretentious design? How many people who used to buy their eggs, milk, butter and bread in Strawberry Fields now shop there? Zero! In fact, how many people who live in the neighborhood shop there? None! Though--since I enjoy fiction so much--I'd love to see a survey.
It would be one thing to say that market prices are driving the little guy out of Manhattan's retail businesses. But the fact is, the market itself is being falsely created. Bleecker Street's reputation as being a cluster of flagship designer boutique stores, was actively solicited, with real estate brokers deciding to create a neighborhood at far above market price. And we let them do it because, by the time we find out it's happening, you see signs about greed on the window. But how long will these oh-so-cutesy designer boutiques last? How many will maintain a presence on Bleecker Street for 70 years, as Bruno's did, not to mention the entire span of there overvalued 10 year leases? Suffice it to say--and ya heard it first, folks--not many.
Things change, sure. But who is deciding how they change? In an effort to keep NYU from razing more historic buildings to install gaudy glass highrise condos, Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Historical Association is fighting the good fight. But he's saving the buildings, but not the businesses in them. Hmm... Got to do something about that.
The good news is that there's another Bruno's across town on La Guardia. The other good news is that Rocco's--that other renowned, late-night Bleecker Street bakery (which happens to be right next door to the former Bruno's--is still open and going strong. This summer, TRP has been gobbling down their delicious lemon ice at the rate of two a day ($1.50 for small, not too sweet, perfect for hot, humid conditions.
Here's a poem for Bruno's.
In Memory of a Bakery
I usually went to Rocco's in the old days,
when there was a choice. Not Bruno's.
It was nice to have a choice. But if I wanted
a fruit tart, it was Bruno's hands down.
Now there is no choice, or rather, only one.
Bruno's is gone. Bruno's is gone.
There's a sign on the window that
mentions something about greed,
and the destruction of a neighborhood
on the best block in the village.
While I stand in shock reading it, a
few people emerge from the basement
carrying the last of the giant mixers
they've just purchased at discount prices.
Well, Rocco's is still open. At least. So far.
And I usually go there anyway. So far.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
The play is part of The Strawberry One-Act Festival, Series F. The possibly only performance will be Saturday, August 4th, at 5 p.m. at The American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54th St., 2nd Floor, between 8th and 9th Aves. Tickets are $20. Reservations: 646-623-3488. Admission is for four one-acts, including Naughty Cats, H.O.V., Orphans of the Digital Era and Ashtrays for Vodka. After the performance, audience members, as well as online viewers (tapes of the plays will be posted), will vote as to which play they enjoyed most. The play with the most votes moves on to the Semi-Finals, then Finals, and then the playwright of the winning play becomes eligible to submit a full-length play for development support. During the festival, the audience also votes for Best Actress, Best Actor (here's a hint: P. C-A-R-L-A-F-T-E-S), and Best Director.
Sounds like a lot of fun! Hope to see you there. For more info, check out the Riant Theatre Website.
Friday, July 27, 2007
See your own words become part of new poems! Experience the collective nature of the universe! Enjoy yourself for once already! See you tonight at Cornelia Street (29 Cornelia Street, between W. 4th and Bleecker). Doors open at 5:45, sign up to read before 6. Admission $7, includes a free beer or wine.
All poetry. No fiction. No music. No comedy. No crap.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
The Bronx is best known as the borough no one goes to, and most people try to leave, and yet somehow, everyone claims to be from! But, as Bronx Noir demonstrates, it has a wonderful charm all its own, both in the past, as in Joanne Dobson's sweet Sedgwick Ave. tale "Hey Girlie" and in the present, most notably in Abraham Rodriguez Jr.'s tough South Bronx tale "Jaguar." Editor S.J. Rozan did a great job of putting the Bronx book together, by dividing it into areas of the Bronx. Collectively, the stories cover the entire Bronx borough, from Rikers Island to Riverdale. Plus writers include unknowns as well as famed crime writers like Lawrence Block. Check it out at Akashic Books.
With 14 books already in the works and 12 more on the brink of publication, covering major cities worldwide and quickly going into translation, the Noir series is one of those screaming success stories we all dream about. Kudos to Noir series developers Tim McLoughlin and Johnny Temple, not to mention Akashic Books itself for taking the risk to begin with.
"Le secret de l'aciton c'est de s'y mettre."
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Turns out there was a big power outage in San Francisco. In SOMA. Where the Giants play, where BART runs, where I spent nine months once--literally: for nine months, except for an occasional trip to North Beach, I never went North of Market Street! Hmm....What is the sound of Barry Bonds' record winning home run if it's hit during a blackout?
Supposedly the power is back on now. For almost everyone. But craigslist is still down. Reminds me: During one blackout there, a poor friend of mine had no power in his loft for 3 weeks! He was the last one they turned back on. Crushing blow to his ego.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Akashic Books is a Brooklyn-based independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction by authors who are either ignored by the mainstream, or who have no interest in working within the ever-consolidating ranks of the major corporate publishers. Sounds like our kind of publisher! Get to know them better with two cool events this week in NYC.
Bronx Noir Book Launch Party
Tuesday, July 24, 7pm
Partners & Crime Bookstore
(44 Greenwich Ave., Manhattan)
Come celebrate the latest installment in the award-winning Akashic Noir Series with editor SJ Rozan and many of the other contributors to the volume. Launched by the summer '04 award-winning, best-seller Brooklyn Noir, Akashic Books continues its groundbreaking series of original noir anthologies. Each book is comprised of all-new stories, each one set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the city of the book. Brand new stories by: Jerome Charyn, Lawrence Block, Suzanne Chazin, Terrence Cheng, Pat Picciarelli, Abraham Rodriguez Jr., Kevin Baker, S.J. Rozan, Steven Torres, and others. BEER, WINE, and other refreshments will be served.
How to Beat a Child the Right & Proper Way
by Colin Channer
Thursday, July 26, 7pm
Joe's Pub (425 Lafayette St.; $12 admission)
The New York Times has called Channer's story a "tour de force" and this enhanced reading has been likened to the work/performance of Spalding Gray. A must-see event. Channer is the author of Akashic Books' The Girl with the Golden Shoes and editor of Iron Balloons, Hit Fiction From Jamaica's Calabash Writer's Workshop).
Both events sound great! And you can meet Akashic's managing editor Johanna Ingalls and talk up your own project! They're always looking for really good material.
E-mail Akashic7@aol.com with any questions, and more information can be found at www.akashicbooks.com.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Our first meeting was great: The poet of the week was that great New York (West Greenwich Village) poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Her poem "City Trees" was a natural for our purposes:
The trees along this city street
Save for the traffic and the trains,
Would make a sound as thin and sweet
As trees in country lanes.
And people standing in their shade
Out of a shower, undoubtedly
Would hear such music as is made
Upon a country tree.
Oh, little leaves that are so dumb
Against the shrieking city air,
I watch you when the wind has come,--
I know what sound is there.
Personally, I'm a big fan of the "My candle burns at both ends" Millay, but candles and trees don't mix!!
Poem in hand, we high-tailed it to the lovely Time Landscape garden (corner of West Houston & Laguardia), where we read the poem, then whipped out our handy New York City Tree Identication Guide book, and strolled the garden, correctly identifying a few elms, a cypress, and a ... hmm... um... what the heck is that tree? It looked like a Witch Hazel, but closer examination showed a more jagged-edged leaf. Two days of research by the wonderful Linda and finally, we recognized--but, of course!--it was a Beak Hazel tree.
Why the sudden interest in trees? Well, besides the fact that they're there, generally longer than most of us, Tree Identification is a great hobby that you can do alone or in groups! So, let's say your poetry group partner(s) can't make it one week--no big deal!--you just jog out to the nearest park and use that now-free time to identify trees!
We're sticking with Edna for next week's session, trying to understand her poem "MacDougal Street"--a weird piece that has multiple interwoven voices seemingly talking about completely different things. Hey, just like most conversations between two people!
If you're in the area next Friday before 5, drop by LaPalette at 50 MacDougal Street (get the connection?) where we'll discuss the poem, before moving on to the Northwest corner of Washington Square Park.
Photo by Hubert J Steed. Visit his great website full of pictures of New York City by clicking here.
Friday, July 20, 2007
But--hooray!--The New York Times was there! And they wrote a review of the Lew Tabackin show that made me regret not going. Hopefully, I get to the Birdland shows in early August.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Now he's back with a trio, playing tonight and Thursday at Small's (West 10th St. next to 7th Ave.), as a warm up for an August 1st through 4th stand at Birdland, with special guest--you guest it!--Toshiko Akiyoshi.
I stopped by Small's tonight while the gig was in progress and chatted with the doorman. Asked him how the crowd was. "Well, medium...you know--it's jazz." How about the new music of the great Lew Tabakin? "His music has gotten a lot more spiritual." Oh? "Well, let me put it this way...I love autoharp. But not the way Alice Coltrane plays it." A-ha! A hardcore be-bop man! Must be a drummer. They always get the shaft when the front players turn spiritual. Or maybe a violin player?
Not entirely convinced, or perhaps because I'm not opposed to a dose of spirituality in music now and then, I plan to head to Small's for the Thursday 9 pm show. See Lew again. Check out his flute playing, and report back. The most exciting thing of all will be the chance to check out Small's itself, which, since being sold to piano player Spike Wilner in April has improved its sound system and its schedule, but kept the intimacy for which it's famous. It's about 1/2 the size of the Village Vanguard and has such a homey feel you get the feeling you're visiting a close friend. Admission is $20, which includes a drink. Hope to see you there.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Where do things disappear to? In the age of the internet, you would think EVERYTHING was online, and could be referenced. The only thing I can find that matches my memory is the image above, from fellow blogger Ann Althouse (http://althouse.blogspot.com). This is the one I mean! It almost made me like cats enough to get one!
Anyway, point is, all these little popisms from my youth ("Suppose they gave a war and nobody came," "Keep on Truckin'," not to mention, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you," have certainly, thankfully faded, as pop iconics tend to do. But they ARE real. And--at least in the case of the "cute-phrase" posters, they can be understood without knowing the original source.
Being somewhat involved in the Branding business, a business which is based on being subversively psychologically manipulative in every aspect of anything related to a company, I wonder if it's possible to develop a cute, iconic item these days without it being blasted to death by the rules of Branding.
What would have happened to the little "Hang-in-There" Kitty had it been branded? Logo, color palette, website, business card. Stationery, T-shirts, dolls, coffee-cups, key chains. Cross-marketing, vertical marketing, covert celebrity endorsements. Candy, cookies, (god forbid) cupcakes, games, books, and soon...a movie. Then a musical. Then a movie of the musical. And naturally, paid-for poetry and rap references.
All of which doesn't sound like that far-fetched an idea. In fact, if anyone would like to help fund an exploratory cost-benefit analysis for the project, please send your contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org
Ain't life grand?
Wait...Now there's another idea...
Monday, July 16, 2007
www.myspace.com/threeroomspressms including a poem each by Jackie Sheeler, Peter Carlaftes, Karen Hildebrand, and Kathi Georges.
It's interesting to hear audio versions of poems. According to Robert Pinsky in The Sound of Poetry, "Poetry is a vocal, which is to say a bodily, art. The medium of poetry is a human body: the column of air inside the chest, shaped into signifying sounds in the larynx and the mouth. In this sense, poetry is just as physical or bodily an art as dancing."
In listening to the four poems now online, I think the real spirit of the poems comes through. Part of the reason, naturally, is that the poems are being read by the authors themselves, which never hurts. But the main reason is that they are four solid poems, which, if read by any human, would add to the deeper understanding of the poems.
Last Friday, while hosting a poetry reading at Cornelia Street ("Son of Pony"), several readers snuck in readings of short fiction, instead of poetry. Don't get me wrong: I love fiction. But poetry is so clearly superior as an oral form of art. The fiction was BORING (even though on the page it might have been interesting). But the images you paint in fiction are like the drawings of an engineer, as opposed to an artist. There's no music in the lines, except in the case of poetic fiction writers (none of whom were present on Friday).
It's odd that the term "spoken word" was invented to describe oral poetry. All poetry is really best read aloud; therefore, all poetry is "spoken word."
But speaking of "spoken word": If you want to know the source of the phrase, make plans to go to Cornelia Street Cafe on Saturday, July 28th for a live performance by Poez (accompanied by Stan Baker, the human television). Poez is a long-term New York street poet (long, as in 40 years as a poet), and many credit the invention of the term "Spoken Word" to him. Jackie Sheeler hosts. Should be pretty amazing.
Sunday, July 1, 2007
The party started with a solo electronica-bass slot by The Bass Player from Hand Job, a fascinating musician who swirled loops and samples with live music and added several cutting edge snippets of original poetry throughout the show.
Up next: the delicious Karen Hildebrand, whose poems are like a literary version of Emmylou Harris, poking into the oft-hidden deep feelings underlying even everyday experiences like softball games in the park, or a bus trip across town. Hildebrand hit her stride with a wondrous piece about a woman entering the abandoned apartment of her lover, who has recently--and suddenly--passed away. The eeriness of seeing a half eaten donut, or the Yellow Pages unexplicably opened to the letter "T," is well-realized in this heartfelt work. Other work included several poems from her masterful TRP book One Foot Out The Door.
With an interlude by The Bass Player about what being "Punk" is really all about, Bronx-born poet Peter Carlaftes took the mic, and ripped into an eight-poem set that emphasized his gift for making beauty out of the horror, and doing so with an incredibly comic sense. His fictional piece about being awakened by two cops while asleep in a car parked in the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge was uproarious, and the crowd seemed to enjoy the piece as much as Carlaftes himself. All the work he read is available in his FIVE books of poems on Three Rooms Press: The Bar Essentials, Sheer Bardom, The I Can't 'O Cantos, Drive By Brooding and Nightclub Confidential. All five, in their third to fifth printing, are available for a cool $20. Email email@example.com to order.
Poet laureate* Jackie Sheeler took liberties with her work, by presenting it in a chillingly-effective "electro-poetic" form, in which she combined live reading of her poems with pre-recorded loops, reverb, and other vocal distortions. The effect was amazing--even more so because the work from which it stemmed, poems from her new book to[o] long (Three Rooms Press, $8). Her work is great for juxtaposing the smooth, soft things with harsh street reality. Love under the gun. The imagery in this particular book is amazing in its fresh originality. Consider:
You can have your safe, small and tight and beige, utterly spiceless, the lowest common denominator. Flat shoes, a flatline, whispers. Passing every lie-detector.
Safety is a pinned-on white carnation.
I’ll take feral eyes in the flick of a stricken match, the slick risk of one forbidden mouth, breath enough to hurricane the flaming wall of dreams and decorate a crazy life with orchids.
Hooked into the electronic whirlwind, this piece was a call to rebellion of the individual soul. Thoughout the room, everyone sat up a little straighter, as though realizing their own secret source of inner strength to live life as they chose to.
Capping off the show was a strong performance by poet Kathi Georges, reading from her new book, Punk Rock Journal (Three Rooms Press, $8). Georges wove her poetry with music by The Bass Player from Hand Job for a fabulous rocking set that drew from her experiences as the editor of The Eye bi-monthly, a newspaper that covered the bountiful punk rock scene in the Los Angeles area in the early 80s. Each piece built from the last, starting with "Nancy on a Carpet Ride," dealing with the culture that breeds conformity; to "A Show In Light Tells Time," which explores Georges' personal point of departure from mainstream blandness to a newfound love for punk rock. The mix of words and music worked extremely well and evoked a deservedly enthusiastic response from crowd.
Click the links above to get to the first of several videos to be released on YouTube. We'll be coming out with a high-end DVD of the show, suitable for holiday gift-giving, within the next few months.
*Jackie Sheeler, Poet Laureate of Riker's Island
Photo: from left: Karen Hildebrand, Jackie Sheeler, Kathi Georges, The Bass Player from Hand Job, Peter Carlaftes. Photo by Allen Martin.