... Normal was always right around the corner -- a 50's drugstore -- milkshakes for a quarter -- black coffee in thick white mugs -- white boys in duck tails pouring Crown Cola over black girls in white dresses -- newsreels just couldn't do it justice -- even colorized years later -- the shock of red -- how you never saw their faces in the same light again -- how every year the price went up -- how the trouble was never quite good enough to stop the endless rewinds the multiplication of names on marble walls
12×9 Watercolor, ink. One of 5. Originals, not prints or duplicates. (Image changed post spell check! )
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For generations, artists in the Euro-American traditions, like ancient Greek heroes, accepted the idea of posterity–the hope for an enduring place in history and myth, that they, and their work, might defy mutability–hope for a kind secular immortality; artists and poets might die, but art and poetry was forever. On the brink of collective human suicide–and even if we should survive our human-made catastrophes, it will be but for a blink of the universal eye–who can believe in such a thing, now?
I’ve been thinking about this for some time. My work will never achieve an enduring status, and even if it did–what posterity…? when, in a few generations, there will no humans left on the planet? And in the immensity of time, before the sun consumes the inner planets as a red giant, who can maintain the illusion of a lasting memory, of a lasting anything? What then, can take the place of that old fantasy–dead as the gods who belonged to that vanished world? What, but change itself? Like Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Seed. Rather than imagining, how works of art might endure, think of them in terms of what they do, as themselves, agents of change–which they are. As works of art and poetry have always been… done?
Lubricants to slide us another step into a future we can only know when we get there. The only past worth saving, is what will remain as we break the chains that bind us to it, the past that will survive, because it changes with us in a future we create together.
I was going over a Lifeprint ASL lesson, and was stopped cold with an imaginary question… I mean, question that only an act of imagination would answer.
I heard a voice when I read when I was a kid–maybe because i learned to read sitting on my aunts lap when she read to me–it was not my voice, it was the voice of the book.
Someone who has never heard, learns to read English (or other spoken language) as a second language. Reading, at first–for a native signer, would be translation from sign–until they were fluent readers.
This is what I was trying to imagine–what form do the written words take, when you have never heard them? Deaf readers achieve a reading, and writing fluency well beyond any that it’s like, when one is first learning to read a second language–it’s not translation. But what then is the relation to signing?
This is a startling thought… that there must really be comprehension that is meta-language–meaning, that finds itself in word, or signs, but is not identical with word or sign. A primacy of meaning before language.
Why does this seem so incredible to me?
Does this suggest that there is a language beyond language, that underlies all other forms of communication: I think of how animals communicate. I think of music: dancing… of all the arts.
Think about how it would change the world, if we were to understand, and treat, music, dance, poetry, the arts, not as cost-deficit sidelines, to be cut from schools to make way for serious subjects, but as the reason and purpose for everything else we do!
We need to raise food, because we need food to give us pleasure, and to make art! We need shelter and housing, so we have places we can make music. We need medicine, to stay healthy so we can dance and make poetry!
Make life for pleasure, for deep pleasure, and it will change the world.
(#433 Acrylic on canvas Dance!)
Began the day, inspecting the garden, reading Emily D… I’ve been systematically reading the whole of the collected poems, beginning to end. I skip around, read back and forth, but always keep to the sequential reading as well. Today, 564-603… 1862. A reference to Antietam… (Scarlet Maryland) in #562. She follows the news, and fuses intimate domestic scenes with distant events, the way she does with cosmic, biblical, religious references, deflating the latter, and casting a miraculous light on the everyday. Though there’s no deflation of what she has learns of the war, or human tragedy. #564 made my brain explode. I read with a dictionary at my side, and can only cover a half dozen or so a day. I write marginal notes in tiny letters with a mechanical pencil. The binding has gone the way of all impermanent things. Entropy everywhere. I should buy a new copy before I accidentally drop this on the floor, and all the pages scatter–hopeless to return them to order.
Thinking about how she follows the news… how, no matter how devoted one might be, one can only read to the last page. There’s an end to a newspaper or magazine. What would she have made of the internet? There is no end to the internet, or Facebook. One goes on clicking and clicking, until the clicks are what the ticking of a clock was for those who lived when there were still clocks that ticked… the sound of one one’s life being drained away.
We learn from Freud, as from novelists and poets, if we learn anything at all, that we can never “know ourselves.” We fool ourselves in too many ways, and what we are, our Truth, is never fixed, but always moving, always becoming, becoming something else. How much more the difficulty, when the object of our knowledge is at a great distance.
Or is it the other way around? –the closer to the center (should I say, the heart of our being?) –the less we understand, the less we can claim to know?
Closest to one we love, our knowledge approaches a zero point–though knowledge (always imperfect though it is) circles all the while like stars in a galaxy around the black hole of love, of self–around that center–with ts power to draw toward its eventual horizon–all that we believe we know: self & beloved, & love itself– & yet, remain untouched by mind–untouched, above all, by language, even while, in ways beyond our power to know–there from that dark, unfathomable pool, emanates the forces that shape language, all that we know, think–or think we know.
Is that how philosophy came to be captured in a word for love? And how, all the arts, all that has power to bring us to the end of knowing–are of the annihilating & generative power of love?
Love, the word we give to that manifold desire that can’t be named, or tamed–destroyer and creator of good & evil, end & beginning of all that we make & do, fusion of Vishnu and Shiva… Harihara.
I keep thinking, that had Dana Shutz kept that specific association to herself–the photograph of Emmett Till in his casket–that there would have been no problem. But then, it probably wouldn’t have been accepted into the Whitney Biennial, and there is its failure, both aesthetic and ethical. That it has to draw on the title for its power is a sign of it’s weakness, of it’s failure as a purely visual work.
I think that the power of any work of art–of any medium or form, lies in the veer from direct association, even if that reference is specific and representational. She chose an abstract and ambiguous rendering of her idea: so far so good–but then, maybe because she thought that’s what would get her into the show, she had to give in to the urge to Name it.
A public image as charged, and as specific to the people involved, as that photograph, is all but beyond the possibility of direct representation. The public caste is so strong, so loud, so opaque, that it defies penetration. What we might hope for in a work that comes out of an artist’s desire to respond to such events–is that it take us deeper, that it illuminate what we did not, could not see in the public image. That it strips away the title, the naming, from the received associations, and takes us to a place we had not, could not have imagined without it.
Sensational, news-laden titles are inexcusable shortcuts, evasions of the harder work of the imagination. Whatever merit or power this painting has, is erased by misplaced ambition, by the surrender to the utterly corrupted ideas of artistic “success” in a capitalist world
Rescued from the dusty basement, cleaned up and in my drawing studio.
There’s a history to this. In 2009 I began to hang poem cards on a dead tree on E. Passyunk, in South Philly, not far from where I lived. At first, I would find them missing, or torn on the street the next day, but I kept going back with new ones, and strings on can tabs, and ribbons, and decorated the poem cards with glitter, colored them with crayons. After a time, they were left alone. People began to notice, to stop sometimes to read the poems.
In the spring, the city uprooted the dead tree and planted a new one, a living tree. This piece is my memorial to the original poem tree. I wrote a chap book of poems: The Poem Tree. The words to the first poem in the chap book are what you see hanging on the branches. Those large leaves are American Chestnut, from Morris Park–trees that will die soon, long before reaching their climax growth–as all American Chestnuts do since the blight. So in a way–this is also a poem about the loss of The American Chestnut, a tree that was once the Queen of the Eastern Woodlands.
The Dead Tree (a poem)
a dead tree
has died &
I hang some leaves on the dead tree
with fine copper wire
& some aluminum can tabs
& some red plastic rings from my Spirit Stick
& a green ribbon & a single pigeon feather
from my Spirit Stick
(like a bird has come to pay respects & left a
I think the tree feels better
even though it’s dead
I know I would
Packing for the move. Came across poetry workbooks. This is a page, an abandoned effort from the summer of 2010– a year when I wrote more than 300 poems.
I might end that now:
… invisible prisms
bearing light — anyone