Posts from — May 2011
Dehors! L’histoire des graffiti à Bruxelles
By Sara Marilungo
Neerpede Park is a huge open air art gallery. Little known by the people of Brussels and surely not included in any tour guide or do-it-yourself journey in Belgium, it lies on the outskirts of Brussels, Eddie Mercks metro stop.
The pillars of the three flyovers that cross the park have become the favourite spot of Brussels’ graffiti artists to show dozens and dozens of works of street art.
“Neerpede Park is one of those places that I call ‘no-man’s land’,” says Adrien Grimmeau, art historian and professor at Iselp, a contemporary art centre in Brussels. “Brussels’ graffiti artists moved away from the streets of the city centre, where there is less control by the police and they can make works that sometimes require up to 10 hours, sometimes even two days”.
Grimmeau has recently written the first book ever about street art in Brussels. The book, titled Dehors! L’histoire des graffiti à Bruxelles and published by CFC-editions, will be released on the 15th of June on the occasion of the exhibition Explosition. L’art des graffiti a Bruxelles – a title in between the French “explosion” and “exposition” – at the Musée d’Ixelles of Brussels.
“I chose this title for the book for two main reasons: first of all “Dehors!” – get out! – is what the teachers say to the kids who misbehave in class. Graffiti art is made by young people, often children who were considered “rebel” at school. Secondly, I say “Dehors!” to the readers of the book, but also to the artists and to myself. Enough with the museums, go look for art in the streets!,” says Grimmeau.
The exhibition will show pictures, sculptures, paintings and installations made by almost 20 artists with a street art background. It aims to show how the artists who exhibit in the museums sometimes come from a background which is anything but academic.
The book tells the history and evolution of graffiti art in Brussels from its origins in the ‘80s until now. “It is a way to speak about Brussels, its youths and its street art,” says Grimmeau, who collected interviews with some of the most famous graffiti artists of Brussels’ milieu, namely Bonom, Muga, Obes, Na and Defo, five artists who differ in terms of topics, typology of art forms and techniques.
“During the ‘80s graffiti was a more social and political art. Afterwards, in the ‘90s, hip hop became an out-and-out underground cultural movement linked to music, rap and break-dance. Differently form today, the graffiti of the ‘80s and the ‘90s were mainly made of letters and few images in poor and degraded areas of the city,” says Grimmeau. These graffiti were also often inspired to comics, of which Belgium boasts a rich tradition. However, Grimmeau explains that the graffiti artists of the ‘80s mainly drew their inspiration from American comics, in particular Vaughn Bode. “It was more ‘cool’”, explains Grimmeau with a smile. “I know for sure that graffiti artist read comics, but it is not ‘cool’ to paint The Smurfs – Les Schtroumpfs – on the walls.”
“Now it is different. The artists want to show a different way to look at the city and take it back. They don’t want to change the world, maybe they want to make us smile or surprise us. They want to tell the people to look around themselves. “
Not only spray then, but stencils, fonts, stickers, images, tags and out-and-out paintings.
Grimmeau calls them neo-graffiti, in order to highlight these artists’ will to increase the interaction with the city and with the spot itself where the painting is realized.
“Graffiti are more site-specific, which is also what happens now with works of contemporary art in the museums.” For instance, in the case of Bonom, there is always a reason for the animal painted on a certain building. Grimmeau mentions the example of the fox falling on the wall of a building in Place du Congrès. At the feet of the Colonne du Congrès et de la Constitution there is a flame – the flame of the Unknown Soldier –, which blazes endlessly. Looking carefully, the orange fox looks like a flame pointing at the sky. “Nowadays, in most cases graffiti artists are not inexperienced people, but they come from art schools and they want to bring art out of the museums and the schools, in the streets.”
Grimmeau notices that in the recent past Brussels’ authorities, as often as not, built “architectural monstrosity” ; in one occasion they even destroyed an art nouveau building by the architect Victor Horta. “Graffiti artists don’t paint on the walls because they hate the city, but in order to make it better and more beautiful. It is also a way to claim the public space as a social space.”
For instance, Obes believes that the city belongs to everybody and that everybody is allowed to express him or herself creatively. But if the city belongs to everybody, then someone may not agree with the graffiti. “As a matter of fact, it is difficult to come to an agreement. Here in Belgium we are very good at making laws and regulations that don’t please anyone, precisely because they’re aimed at pleasing everybody.”
Graffiti in Belgium are illegal and, differently from other cities in the world, there are no walls legally used for street art display of graffiti. For this reason, most of the graffiti artists interviewed for the book had problems with the law on several occasions. For example, Defo and Obes went to prison for some days. The artists are often required to repay substantial amounts of money for damages.
Bonom is the most famous graffiti artist in Brussels. He painted some beautiful graffiti of animals and dinosaurs, even if half of them have been removed. However, not even Bonom is protected and he often had problems with the law, according to Grimmeau.
“The whole graffiti process is contradictory because sometimes these artists are summoned by the authorities to paint public places, such as the tram station De Wand,” says Grimmeau.
Beside Neerpede Park , there are other “concentrations” of graffiti in the vicinity of the cultural centre Recyclart, nearby Gare du Midi o in Le Marolles, an historic neighbourhood in Brussels where, since the ’60s, artists have been meeting to make art and discuss about the problems of the city. “It is the soul of Brussels,” says Grimmeau. However, most graffiti are made along the metro lines, such as the line from Gare du Midi to Gare Central or between the station Pennenhius and Bockstael, in the neighbourhood Laeken.
Near the metro stop Porte de Namur, Bonom painted several buffalos that create the illusion, for the people observing from the metro, that the animals are running. “There are at least 20 buffalos. Even before he discovered Blu’s animations, Bonom revolutionized the way of looking at graffiti in the metro lines of Brussels: once the graffiti were painted on the trains and moved with the trains, now the trains move and the motionless graffiti come to life.” A similar dinosaur was painted by Bonom near Etterbeek Station.
In collaboration with Iselp, Grimmeau also organizes “graffiti walking tours” for organized groups of several people. You just need to contact Iselp to make arrangements.
Graffiti Art | Belgium
About the writer:
Sara Marilungo has an MA in journalism from Independent Colleges of Dublin. She is a freelance writer in Dublin, but temporarily resides near Brussels. Her work has appeared in the Italian webzine www.nuok.it, and occasionally for other websites and newspapers. She also received a degree in Italy in Communication Science with a thesis about contemporary art and philosophy of languages. This article appeared in the online magazine www.nuok.it, in Italian. This is its first publication in English.
For more information: http://saramarilungo.eu5.org/
May 15, 2011 Comments Off on Adrien Grimmeau: Graffiti in Brussels
“Draw until your hand feels numb…”
An Interview with Herb Moore
by Mike Foldes
The following interview with cartoonist Herb Moore was conducted via e-mail exchange in April 2011.
Q: When I look at your drawings on your web site, it seems like I’ve seen these somewhere before. How long have you been at this, and where does your work typically appear?
Herb Moore: I was a doodler in school but it was more to escape listening to the teacher than for a love of drawing, ha, ha.
Mike, I’ve been in this business for twenty years and have worked at almost every major studio in Hollywood, with the exception of Dreamworks and Sony, but I’ve pitched project ideas to both. I’ve spent most of my time working at Warner Bros. and so maybe some of their style rubbed off on me, ha, ha. I was always a fan of the Warner Bros. cartoons when I was a kid because the characters seemed to have some bite to them. They developed some great characters and character duos. Now I’m working on Phineas & Ferb, during the day, and it has to be one of the best productions that I’ve ever been on both because of the staff and the show itself. Finally, my website has been an opportunity to showcase some of my personal work as well as a place to host any new content that I create. I’m soon to release a new animated short titled, “Duffy McTaggart and the 19th Hole” and I’m co-developing several mobisode series of animations for a client outside of the United States. I’m very proud of animationsoup.net and I look forward to creating even more content to showcase at my website.
Q: Where did you study animation techniques, or did you have on-the-job training?
HM: I passionately studied animation on my own as I obtained my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. I knew that I needed to draw as much as possible, and really had no solid guidance as to what I “should” do exactly, but I wasn’t going to be stopped. Once I got my foot in the door at my first “industry” job, that’s when finding work became a little bit easier. I actually learned more on the job than I possibly could have been taught in school. I’ll admit, an education in an animation program would have helped, but really, once I got my foot in the door, and I demonstrated my desire to work hard and learn, I did fine, (and will continue to).
Q: In becoming a cartoonist, did you distinguish between what apparently came naturally to you and the classical concepts of ‘fine art’? In your mind, what’s the distinction?
HM: That’s a heavy question for a lite mind like mine, ha, ha. As I studied “fine art” in college, I initially knew I needed to draw as much as possible and fine art allowed that, but what I gained was an appreciation for true art and what it takes to create it. I knew that I could tell an entertaining story, as well as act funny, and I felt that I could back that up with great drawings “eventually,” as I worked at drawing, but I had no appreciation for what it actually took to create through art. Fine art to me is the ability to create something artistically that can be appreciated in one way or another, that is unique, born out of it’s creators experiences, feelings, imagination, and is one’s own personal expression. Wow, that’s good stuff, I have to write that down.
Q: I take it you’ve worked with quite a number of other cartoonists over the years. Who do you recall as being most memorable, or fun to work with?
HM: When I worked at Warner Bros. several years ago, I worked with Bob Doucette who was probably one of the most enjoyable artists for me to work ever with because he was so pleasant, as well as extremely talented. I learned so much from him and had a great time. Currently, Rob Hughes at Disney is the most fun because he knows funny, he knows how to make people laugh with his artwork, as well as his writing. I have never laughed so hard as when I’m working with Rob. I have been extremely blessed to have worked with some very talented and enjoyable people who have eventually turned into great friends.
Q: What do you think of the “Beavis and Butthead” or “South Park” programs? Anime? Any favorite styles?
HM: I love animation, unless it’s totally crap and I just don’t watch crap. Shows like “Beavis and Butthead”, as well as “South Park”, are great shows. I was so happy when “South Park” won an Emmy a few years ago. It’s hard for me to say I have a favorite style, but I will say this, I love independent animation productions both feature films and short form. Some of the most creative and well thought out animation seems to come from independent productions.
Q: Herb, I imagine both hardware and software have changed a lot since you started out, and there is the fear technology is taking over for pushing pencils and papers (people). How has the business changed technically since you started out and is how is demand these days for good cartoonists? Where is that demand coming from (if it is)?
HM: Things have definitely changed but technology is simply allowing us to do more things faster. Yes, you have to know more than just how to draw but the possiblities in animation are broader today than ever before. Personally, I believe “demand” for talented artists and animators is quite healthy these days, in most if not all areas of animation. And, you don’t have to live in Los Angeles or New York, etc., to be consistently busy within this industry. The internet has obviously open up a lot of opportunities for animators and I only see that increasing. Also, animation in the games business is growing rapidly, all due to the blossoming of the digital age.
Q: What computer programs do you find most helpful to produce your cartoons?
HM: I use Sketchbook Pro for creating and developing ideas, such as backgrounds and characters, and then I do my animations in Adobe Flash. I often use Photoshop in creating or touching up artwork for my website or for presentation. I’ll also use Adobe Premiere to assemble my animatics as well as my final output of my latest animted short film.
Q: Any tips for the aspiring cartoonist?
HM: Well, yes. Not only do you need to draw until your hand feels numb every waking hour of the day, and you must continue to study great shows, films and great stories, but you have to be technologically prepared for drawing on digital tablets, like the various Wacom tablets, and you have to know a variety of software, and then be able to manipulate your images in different ways. Younger people have such a great opportunity to impact the world through their creations because we’re linked together now more than ever, so be prepared.
Visit Moore’s web site at: http://www.animationsoup.net
May 1, 2011 2 Comments
“Get rid of the crow
… enter the cave”
Maria Mazziotti Gillan is an American poet who grew up speaking Italian in an Italian immigrant family in Paterson, New Jersey. She received the American Book Award in 2008 for her collection, All That Lies Between Us, and the 2011 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers. Gillan is the founder and executive director of the Passaic County community College Poetry Center, which publishes The Paterson Review. She is a full professor and Director of Creative Writing in the English Department at Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York. She has many books to her credit, and her poetry has appeared widely, including previously in Ragazine. She is the mother of two children with her late husband Dennis Gillan. Gillan’s efforts on behalf of young and unknown poets and writers has made her an inspiration to students and acquaintances alike. The following interview took place in April 2011.
By Emily Vogel
Q: Most of the time, when I read someone’s poem, my first question pertains to whether or not the poem is autobiographical. Sometimes, it is difficult to tell because the poet might conflate true event with elements of fiction, or the autobiographical aspects are merely obliquely autobiographical. The difficult part about autobiographical poems is that it might make the poem and/or the poet susceptible to a kind of “vulnerability.” Your poems speak from the heart, and evoke both empathy and emotional reactions. Could you say something about the autobiographical nature of your poems?
Maria Gillan: For many years, I wrote poems based in the English literary tradition and I was anxious to hide behind language, images, and literary references. Then when I was 40, my first book was published, and a graduate school professor said, “You know, it’s in this poem about your father that you find the story you have to tell.” Then I thought, well I don’t have to be an English Romantic Poet, maybe I can be just what I am – a wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, grandmother, an Italian American – and write poems from those perspectives. I began then to write more directly and specifically about events and people in my own life, and to be as honest as I could be about what my life was actually like. It took me a long time to have the courage to write with honesty, specificity, and directness. Gradually, I made my language plainer and plainer in an attempt to lessen the distance between myself and my reader.
Q: Your collected book of poems, What We Pass On, speaks a lot to the “shames and eventual triumphs” of growing up Italian-American. I know that when you were young, you and your family spoke exclusively Italian in the home, and that you were presented with the challenge of essentially “straddling and reconciling two cultures” in order to establish an identity and develop a poetic voice. To what extent do the pain and/or healing of your assimilation into American culture still influence your work?
MG: My ethnicity and attempts at assimilation have fostered my sense of connection to all people who are outsiders. Consequently, I think that my own struggles with assimilation and with spending so many years trying to erase what I was will always be part of my work. I think that shy, introverted, foreign little girl that I was has never left me and is always there inside, even when I think I’ve left her behind.
Q: You write a great deal about family. What advice would you give to emerging poets about exploring the depths inherent in family relations, with all the hurts, celebrations, challenges, and wealth of love in order to weave these into their poetry?
MG: The advice I give to emerging poets is that they have to get rid of the crow in their minds, the one that tells them everything that is wrong with them. The crow will try to stop them from descending to the deepest places inside of themselves, the place I call the cave, where all their memories and experiences, good and bad, reside. The cave is where they have to have the courage to go, if they are going to write, if they’re going to be honest enough to search for the stories they have to tell. It is in specificity that we find the universal, rather than the other way around. The mind does not control the poem. It is the old woman or old man who lives in our bellies, who helps us to be wise truth-tellers. We need to learn to trust that inner voice, and not to depend on the intellect to guide us.
Q: You also write a great deal about your late husband’s illness. What difficulties and/or reliefs have you experienced while exploring this in your work?
MG: My husband got sick with early-onset Parkinson’s disease 25 years ago, and I have been able to survive, I believe, by writing about this very human experience of losing someone I love over a very long period of time. I don’t think I could have survived the pain and terror of this experience without my poetry. I hope by exploring the complications of love and illness that it will help other people who are going through similar experiences to realize that we’re all human, and they shouldn’t expect perfection from themselves or others.
Q: Recently, I heard you read a relatively new poem, which employed “parallel/simultaneous narratives” in order to get at the sentiment of the poem and the experience. It was about (for our readers) watching birds on the television in one setting, while also attending to your ill husband at the hospital. There seemed to be a discontinuity of “time” and a juxtaposition of two typically unrelated things, while at the same time these two experiences seemed to reconcile and inform one another. The poem was very successful. As a teacher of poetry, how do you explain this overlap and weaving of narratives to students?
MG: For me, “Watching the Pelicans Die,” was a very difficult poem to write, because I could not confront my husband’s final weeks directly, and it became commingled in my mind with the BP oil disaster. The black slick of oil on the sand and water made me incredibly sad at a time when I was watching my husband die, and watching his hands go black at the tips. The poem is a howl of sorrow for the world and also for my husband. One of the prompts I give my students is to go back and forth in a poem between two seemingly unconnected things, and find something in common between them to use as a thread to weave the poems together. I did that with this poem, but I think more than anything the sight of that dying pelican brought back my husband’s death, and I wrote the poem a couple of weeks after he died. When I started writing, I had the image of the pelican in my mind, but very quickly, the poem took off and seemed almost to write itself. I do believe that happens when you let go and let instinct take over. I swear it’s as if the pen is moving by itself. I try to encourage students to let go when they’re writing. Sometimes, when they think too much, the poem is wooden and ineffective. I want a poem to make people laugh or cry or to make the hair on their arms stand up. I really believe poetry is rooted in the body, and that we react to it by smiling or crying or laughing.
* * *
The Dead Deer on the Side of the Road
When I see a dead deer on the side of the Rt 17 west,
its hind legs pointing up to the sky, stiff as sticks, its body
crumpled and still
I think of you in the ER cubicle at Valley Hospital, your
eyes suddenly blank and staring, your body motionless.
A doctor says “he’s gone” and closes your eyes. Just
moments before your breath was a loud rasping in your
chest, your fingers turned black at the tips, and the doctor tells me,
“you know, don’t you that he’s dying? He
probably only has an hour at the most.”
When I see that dead deer, the way life is gone from it,
I cry for you and for the deer and for all the other creatures
lost. I talk to you, as though you were actually in the car
with me and could help me carry the cup of grief
that I try to balance in my hands.
Too much death surrounds me now, my mother, father,
sister, best friends of forty years, all gone and I mourn for
them all, but you who were with me forty six years, you are
the one I am afraid to grieve for, afraid that if I start I will
have to know that I will never fill the space your going
leaves. I pretend to myself that you are still with me in our
family room as in this car. It is only when I cry for the deer
that I am able to cry for you. “I love you,” you said, the day
before you died. When I came into the room you turned
to me with a smile that filled your face with light. I will carry
that smile in my memory like a talisman, a worry stone that
I can hold and touch when I am most alone, most afraid.
The EPA Comes to Binghamton, NY
The EPA says there’s a dead zone in the Susquehanna
River that is growing wider with each day.
Nothing can survive in it.
Some days I feel there is a dead zone in me
as the world I knew, the one with you in it,
has vanished, and the world around me
with its dying lakes and rivers, its endangered
water supplies, its polluted air, grows larger.
As a child, the air smelled fresh and sweet,
even on 17th Street in Paterson, New Jersey
and the stars were huge and visible in the sky.
Why do we ruin everything we touch with our greed
and hunger? We used to eat fresh snow in a cup
with espresso and sugar. Are we ever grateful
for what we have without wanting more? How carelessly
I held you in my arms when we were still young and you
could still travel, your hand in mine in Italy and France,
Spain and Portugal, in theaters where we watched
the plays and movies we loved, in the museums we visited,
the folk concerts. It wasn’t until later that I realized
what I’d lost and now, how heedless we’ve been
with the prefect beauty of the world, how ashamed I am
of all I have held and failed to protect and cherish
Emily Vogel is poetry editor of Ragazine.
May 1, 2011 3 Comments
Ramadan, 2010 | oil on canvas | 52 1/4 ” x 61 1/2 “
“All Black: Paintings That Have To Do
With How The Light Works”
An interview with Karen Gunderson
by Mike Foldes
The following interview took place by e-mail exchanges from September 2010 thru April 2011, during which time Gunderson had shows in Santa Fe and Bahrain …
Q: Karen, let’s start with the basics? Can you tell us where you’re from and what life was like growing up there?
Karen Gunderson: I was raised in Racine, Wisconsin. My father was a World War II veteran/hero and damaged by it. He earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Croix de Guerre and citations from all over Europe. He was in the Battle of the Bulge and was one of 20 men to come back from a company of 200. I guess he had a reason to drink. He was brilliant mechanically. My mother was kind of high strung. A really hard worker, very smart and she wanted to be loved and have fun and be appreciated. My dad was very stoic and my mom very verbal. I work hard like my mom, but I think I am more stoic like my dad. I was an only child, so my friends became my family. In fact, I am still very close to a number of my childhood friends.
We moved when I was seven to Blaine Avenue and had some girlfriends as well as boyfriends and a front yard and a back yard.
Q: What are the first things you remember that gave you the impetus to make art? What visual experience? Or, was it the first set of watercolors your parents got you when you were 5?
KG: I think I was around 10 or 12 when I had a heightened perceptual experience that probably made me the artist I am today. My parents had been fighting and I felt out of control… or as I perceived it… crazy. So I went outside and thought what would a crazy person do? I proceeded to touch the ground, the grey cement. I brushed my hand across the top of the grass. I traced the lid of the garbage lid. I took the branches and leaves of the weeping willow tree in the back in both my hands and moved with them, back and forth, then I touched the begonia petals on the plants on the north side of the house. All this and more happened while walking around the house many times. On the last trip, I knelt on the grass in the front and peered under the bushes that were up against the house. The dirt was black and crystal like. There was a leaf of clover and then suddenly a shiny black ant climbed up the stalk and across the green petal. The ant was so big. Then I turned, holding the ant in my mind and imagined him on the huge maple tree near the street. The scale shift was visceral and intense, as was the experience of getting up from the ground and being aware how everything changed each time I got higher or moved my head. Each change was a different perspective. I never told anyone until a few years ago about that day of experiences. I kept it a secret, but I knew then that it had made me become different or maybe I was already different to have experienced it.
Q: OK, so what was it like being a “different” kid in the neighborhood? Were you a closet artist? Did you start drawing or painting right away, or was it evolutionary…. Jr. high, high school, college? Were your first subjects some of the things you saw during this epiphany?
KG: Actually, I wasn’t a “different” kid. That’s the thing. It was my secret. I rode bikes, wrestled with the boys, played with my girl friends… all quite normal. I became a public person… one that was about being popular, and involved with school and cheerleading and later the local theatre guild, and stuff that was involved with achieving and being social and making my father and mother proud of me. I kind of knew that that was what I could give them, because the part of me that was different I couldn’t give to them. And all along, when I went to the feeling place of the loneliness of an only child I had my secret. And also secretly and a part of that place, I was very shy.
The art started in high school a bit. And I went to Wustum Art Museum summer classes on the lawn to learn to draw. There was a good instructor whose name escapes me. I think that is where my confidence to be able to draw started. But my friends Linda Winchester and Joe Wilfer were the artists in high school. I was more involved with the public stuff. Images with changing perspectives which were part of my epiphany didn’t come into being in my work until Graduate School.
Q: Was anyone in your family involved with art?
KG: My Grandpa Gunderson whose father came from Norway was a housepainter in Wisconsin. I remember his hands were hard and gnarled and I learned later that they were totally arthritic due to working in the cold a lot of the time. As a hobby, he used to paint furniture in the “Norwegian marbleizing” style. I never realized he was marbleizing until I went to Norway and saw the same painting on pillars in churches and walls. Apparently the Norwegians had no marble, so they made their own! When he retired, he took all his old leftover paint from the houses and began painting on pieces of cardboard. He used a lot of invention in the way he paint the images of trees or mountains or sky and when he wanted to put something in that his arthritic hands couldn’t do, he would cut something out of a magazine and paste it on the painting and then kind of paint on it a bit to integrate it. I have two of them and they are prized possessions to me.
Q: Where did you study?
KG: College, I went to Wisconsin State University, Whitewater… a very small school at the time. I was majoring in Elementary Education. I think I got a D in piano and got the sophomore blues, so I quit in the middle of my sophomore year. My English teacher Ben Collins told me that I was too smart for Whitewater and should be in a better school like Santa Barbara. I got a job at Johnson’s Wax and worked in the Frank Lloyd Wright building’s great workroom. It was wonderful being in the space of that building. The spaces alone were constantly changing, as were the vantage points from every step. I had intended to save money and go to a great school, but soon I got involved with the local Theatre Guild again and kind of blew everything on clothes and eating out in restaurants. But I hated working 9 to 5 and so I decided to go back to Whitewater and I was determined to get a great education there if I had to pull it out of the teachers. I never got below a B from then on. I took a drawing class which was required for my major and one day, Tom Parker and Francis Coelho and John Stevenson stopped me in the hall and said they had seen my drawings and that I should major in art. What they said connected for me and I called my mother to ask her if I could change majors and she said yes if I would still get a degree to teach because she didn’t want me to be a starving artist. Considering my family background, I would need a job. Also, being an artist meant that I was going to do something that was not an approved or normal profession for someone from my family. By becoming an artist I was cutting a big part of myself off from my family. They were always supportive of me as a person, but I think they thought I was becoming a stranger to them by being an artist…something that they didn’t know about.
I went to Graduate School at the University of Iowa. I received a MA in Painting, followed by an MFA in Intermedia. I believe it was the first degree of Intermedia in the United States.
KG: Clayton Bailey, Tom Parker, John Stevenson, Francis Coelho and Ben Collins were my most influential teachers during college. And then there were Stuart Edie and Hans Breder during graduate school.
The students in the art department were very industrious. We would be in the studios painting or drawing or doing sculpture or clay or prints or art history beginning at 8 am and working until about 10 every night. Following our intense day, we would all go out drinking and playing pool at the local downtown dive. We were a fortunate group. Twenty-one of us graduated in art and art education and eleven of us got assistantships to graduate schools. Something clicked in me during that time about making art. My art was something I could be in charge of… not necessarily control because I was still learning that. And it was the first time my secret way of looking at the world could live in my everyday world that included other people. It also increased my secret shyness and made me more afraid because what I was doing meant so much to me and I was suddenly vulnerable to the world’s view of something that was all mine.
Q: What are your earliest memories of making art, or wanting to be an artist?
KG: I remember drawing a fish when I was about 4 that I was delighted with and my mother loved.
Q: When did you know this is what you would be doing for the rest of your life?
KG: I had conflicting feelings when I was in college. On the one hand, I wanted to learn to be a Montessori schoolteacher and take the knowledge to someplace poor and teach the children like Maria Montessori had. On the other hand, I wanted to be an artist, which wasn’t all that respected in my family. After all it didn’t put a roof over anyone’s head, but being an artist won out. Especially because I got an assistantship at the University of Iowa and I knew I could teach college somewhere and do my art.
Those days you could get a job.
Q: When we met in the late ’60s, you were teaching art at The Ohio State University. How did the environment there differ from what you had at Iowa?
KG: I went to graduate school at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City and the environment is one of calm and patience. Very different than Wisconsin and very different from Ohio State. Upon graduating with an MA in Painting… working with Stuart Edie and an MFA in Intermedia… working with Hans Breder, I went up the road to teach at Cornell College. I was 25 years old, had really long hair, drove a 1964 356C red Porsche and my boyfriend’s 350cc Yamaha motorcycle. I wore mini skirts and over-the-knee yellow vinyl boots. I also had had a 90cc Honda for all of graduate school that I drove in all kinds of weather.
I was very welcomed into the Art Department, but until I actually had conversations with other faculty members, I was clearly left out of the community. After I got to know people, I got included more. But although it was a nourishing environment, I was definitely on my own again. The good thing was that everyone in the art department, including students, was excited about what they were doing, but it still had that feeling of calm and patience.
Ohio State was very different. I met some great people there including you and Cheri and Larry Camp, but the feeling in the Art Department was more impersonal. That might have been because it was so big. There were forty men and me and another woman who I think taught weaving part time. I got patted on the top of my head or my tusch almost every day. I don’t think they took me very seriously and there was a real passive aggressive streak there.
Q: You had a long working relationship with Sol Lewitt. How did that influence the way you approach your art and the style that you have?
KG: One really great thing that happened when I taught at Ohio State was that I met and became close to Sol Lewitt. He had come out to do a wall drawing… a real beauty. His influence on my art has been great. When I hold him in my consciousness, he demands that everything about the piece is in the piece. I eliminate anything that doesn’t get to the point. Maybe that is the most important thing I have said in this whole interview. His personal integrity to focus on the art and not get caught up in the exclusivity of the art world is also really important to me. I really admire and care for his widow Carol and their two daughters Eva and Sophia. What they are doing with his estate is important and it feels like they are doing things the way he would want them to be done.
Q: I loved the cloud paintings and cloud pieces you were doing at the time. How did these come about?
KG: The clouds all began in Iowa. They were a new experience in a way. The clouds in Wisconsin change very fast. A whole weather system can change in about ten minutes…very dangerous for those sailing on Lake Michigan. When I was in graduate school in Iowa, the same clouds would hang around for days. And you could see the weather coming a week ahead of time.
Again, there was a sense calm and patience… and looking up, which came to mean hope.
Q: You seemed at the time to have a great interest in poetry and literature. Are you still a ‘fan’?
KG: I used to go to poetry readings all the time at Iowa. The poetry workshopbrought some amazing poets. I still love to go to poetry readings and to read poetry. Besides your poetry from so many years ago, which I have saved, I feel connected to a number of poets…that I read all the time. I really respect and admire John Yau, Hanford Yang, Gerrit Henry, Tod Thilleman, John Ashberry, Mark Daniel Cohen and Donald Kuspit. Mark is writing my catalog essay for the exhibition. So much gets said in less words and it is so much more than that. For me, poetry is a distillation of experience or thought and a relationship with the sound of the words. It is actually more than I can say. So yes, I am still a ‘fan’.
Q: You moved to New York in the early ‘70s. How did that affect your work?
KG: When I moved to New York in 1973, I had to start using acrylic paint because I was living in a loft that I shared with my graduate school friend, Suzanne McConnell, and my studio opened up to the platform I had constructed for my bed. I invented a way to paint with sponges and kind of drawing the paint on by squeezing the sponge. I was continuing the cloud series and including images in the clouds.
Q: Your circle of friends and business associates in the art world?
KG: I kept my old friends from Ohio and Iowa and Wisconsin… in fact they happily used the opportunity of my living in New York City to visit the City. But before I moved to New York, I went there and met Mark Richard and Lucy Feller who were introduced to me by Steve Fox from Iowa. The Fellers were wonderful people and they liked my art and to help me, they had a brunch for their collector friends where they introduced me and my work. I had come back, bringing a number of pieces… one to replace theirs which they had purchased and had been broken in transit. Among the collectors was Paul Schupf. I still count Paul as one of my best friends. We had the same eye for art and similar principles and I can to this day, trust Paul to be honest and to care. I met lots of famous people through Paul…Leo Castelli, Irving Blum, Henry Geldzahler, Alex & Ada Katz, to name a few. I remember one evening that Paul took me to dinner and we were with some lovely people from the Tisch family and it was really interesting and I was talking so much that I didn’t eat much. They insisted I take home my dinner along with some extra cookies, all of which I am sure cost more than my rent for the month. I always felt the need to touch base with my own reality, so after that magnificent evening, I went to Magoo’s where I saw my friend, Julian Weissman. I asked him if he liked leftovers and he said yes. I didn’t at the time, so I gave him mine and he walked me half way home. We’ve been married now for 31 years, and have a great son, David Weissman.
Q: What do you regard as your ‘big break’ as a working artist?
KG: In terms of importance, first there is Julian and also David. Without his support, and David’s understanding and care, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I have done. Julian has helped me at every crossroad and been my spiritual as well as physical support throughout our life together. Let’s just assume that Julian permeates everything…as does David. Chronologically, the first break was the opportunity to come to New York City with a job. I taught a class called Perception with a composer and a dancer, (I was the visual part) at NYU School of the Arts for three years. The knowledge was amazing, as were the students. The students were actors, dancers and cinematographers and they were brilliant. It allowed me to move to New York and get a loft and also gave me the time to paint. Break #2, I had my first one person show at Gloria Cortella in the Fuller Building. It got reviewed in Art News by poet/critic Gerrit Henry and Margaret Pomfret in Arts.
But when I met Elaine deKooning through Julian, Break #3 and she suggested me to Aladar Marberger at Fischbach Gallery, that really began things. Lots of reviews and lots of sales and the experience with Alidar was great. He really believed and promoted his artists.
A lot of times my big breaks are meeting and just knowing people. They are supportive guides in a way. From being in the Florence Biennale and winning second prize in painting, I got to know the amazing scholar and writer John Spike and his also amazing wife/writer Michele. Meeting and knowing Jonathan Silver and his wife Barbara, Michael Brenson and Sharon O’Connell, Kocot and Hatton, Lars and Bente Strandh, James Young and Lisa Ades, Sanford Hirsch and Debbie Beblo, Ellen and Sam Newhouse… these are all important people to me. I look to them for their example of hard work, talents and invincible spirits.
Q: What’s it like to be an artist, a mom, a wife and a businesswoman?
KG: Being an artist is my addiction to life. If I can’t paint, I get cranky. On the other hand, being a Mom gives me some perspective on life. It is something even more important than my art. Not that I would ever stop making art, but the day to day of being David’s Mom takes precedence over the art. As a wife, Julian’s and my careers are not the same, but related and so it is not exactly easy, but understandable. In years past when Julian was running public art galleries, we had dinner parties for the artists. It was fun because I learned to cook and I loved the artists he showed. To answer your question about being a businesswoman… I am not a good businesswoman. I think I have a problem with that because it involves dealing with the world outside of my art. I love sending emails to friends when I have a show or something coming up, but I don’t think about promotion as in “careerism” because it doesn’t feel right.
Q: Do you think women have a tougher time than men these days making it in the art world?
KG: As always, I think the toughest part of being a woman today has to do with money. (Maybe it is true for men too.) When someone has some success, there is a competitive feeling that comes out in a lot of people. People can get mean. Also, there is still the reality that people feel women shouldn’t get paid as much as men. I personally love it when rich women stand tough
and make people pay top price for their work. That makes them even richer and more powerful. That will in turn make it easier for the rest of us in the future.
Q: Who in the contemporary art world have been your strongest influences?
KG: Sol Lewitt, David Hockney, Grace Hartigan are the most contemporary influences. You didn’t ask what art I liked. Actually, I like the work of a lot of living artists…G.H. Hovagimyan, Meg Abbott, Kocot & Hatton, Lars Strandh, Deborah Kass, William Beckman, William Richards, Hans Breder, Brenda Zlamany, Robert Mangold, Yvonne Jacquet, Robert Gober, Clayton Bailey, Tom Parker, Donald Sultan, Cindy Sherman, Alex Katz, Eric Fischl, April Gornik, John Torreano, Vija Celmins, Tim Hawkinson, Scott Daniel Ellison, Frank Stella, Odd Nerdrum, Mark Tansey, Jess, Janet Passehl, Fredericka Foster, Jack Ox, Daisy Craddock, Catherine Behrant, Dennis Farber, Jaroslaw Flicinski, Gary Kuehn, John Walker, Susan Ebersole, Michael and Carol Venezia, Kim Keever, Maciej Swieszewski, Andy Goldsworthy, Becca Smith, Michael Torlen, John Walker, Alex Frances, Paul Zelevansky, Nancy Hagin, Mary Miss, Barnaby Furnas, Ana Mendiata, Linda Benglis, Omar Rashid, Rahim Sharif, Esther Senor/Carmen Cifrian, Kareem Al Bosta, Rocio Garriga Hinare, Ali Al Mahmeed, Samia Engineer, Balquees Falkro… those are artists I like and admire… for influences other than contemporary, Jonathan Silver was really important to my painting, and I really liked Jack Smith, and then we have to go to Art History including Chinese Northern and Southern T’Sung paintings of landscapes…especially the vertical mountains.
Q: I understand you recently moved your studio into a portion of your loft. Will your paintings get smaller?
KG: I doubt it.
Q: How do you work? At night? With music?
KG: Being a mother, I learned early on that I can work at any time.
These days it is preferable in the morning because I am more rested.
I put on old movies while I paint. Since I have seen them all, I don’t have to watch them. I can imagine what is happening on one of the sides of my brain and that becomes kind of a white noise and on the other side of my brain I can look at what I am doing and think about that. Also, if I get interrupted, I can stop the movie, then when I go back, I am in the same place, so to speak.
Q: What is the evolution of your ‘black’ paintings? Do they come from a dark space inside, or are you simply exploring another way to manipulate light?
KG: They began as underpaintings of my last show of cloud paintings with Fischbach Gallery in 1988. Three things were going on. One, my dealer Alidar Marberger was dying of AIDS and I wanted to do something great for him. So I made the entire gallery a sunset with a cloudless painting with varying shades of blue to the gold magic time of the day on one side and the far end an almost all black painting of clouds that were overpainted with cerise red. All the paintings had secondary images in them, and most of them were presented in different ways. Some went into corners, some went around corners and one went onto the ceiling. These are installation shots of the exhibition.( http://www.karengunderson.com/fischbach.htm )
The other thing is, I needed to change the way I was painting the clouds… invent a new way to show the light and the forms, so I painted the cloud forms with black paint, let the paint dry and then painted against the grain of the brushmarks with color. That takes us to the third thing. I had quit drinking. I found I had a lot of energy and I was not afraid of my dark side anymore. Before I had painted my cloud paintings almost as a way to escape… to leave earth behind. Now I was feeling grounded and connected to the paint and the painting in a new way.
After the show, with Aladar’s permission, I left the gallery. He hadn’t been there for at least three years and he said he was never going back because he was collecting disability. He was my champion, so without him there, I didn’t feel like I belonged. I continued to work with the images of kind of cloud-like forms in black and then painting color over the strokes as in the exhibition at Fischbach. Then one day I painted an all black painting and left it that way. My great collector Blaine Roberts saw it and wanted it, so it left my studio. I went back to the black and color and then a couple months later, I had two paintings of entirely black paintings in my studio, drying, waiting for me to paint on them and my friend Jonathan Silver came over. He said, “Leave those paintings alone. Just give them a couple of weeks Karen.” I always trusted Jonathan and that was the true beginning of the black paintings. It isn’t just manipulating light. It is a different way to paint images. Black paint has always been used abstractly. Using black paint to paint the images and using the light to show the forms becomes an experience. It includes the viewer, the body of the viewer and the movement of the body of the viewer. I want my painting to be an experience… a physical experience as well as an emotional and intellectual one. The paintings change as the viewer moves up/down or right/left. The images I choose have to do with how the light works. With the images of water, we see the light reflected off the surface of the water. It is the same thing with my paintings, we see the water because of the light reflected off the surface of the painting.
And the experience of water is that it is always moving and as the viewer is always moving it reinforces that experience. The moon painting changes just a little from left to right… only to show us the volume of the moon, but the most important thing about the moon is that it is glowing and that you can see craters and shadows and it connects with all the myths of the moon — for me, anyway.
The landscape paintings to date are of the mountains seen from Tibet. I have never been there, but I think Tibet is really fascinating and important and I want people to hold it in their minds to protect it from destruction. Because the paintings are monochrome, it helps us to focus on the varying forms and shapes and spaces… which change as we pass by them.
The constellations are my way of fighting cynicism. There is always the negative in the news. I guess it is the nature of news. I personally think people like the adrenalin rush that one gets from fear. I probably do too because I like action films, but for things that last… like Art, I want to remind people of events that I think are revolutionarily positive, like when the Berlin Wall came down, or the passage of the Abolition of Slavery. The constellation paintings are harder to see because they need absolutely perfect light to be seen to the full effect. By painting exact days and locations of the constellations, I also want to remind us that things happen at different moments everywhere and what we do individually and collectively is important and also to try to pay attention to what is happening… or will happen… in the case of Apophis Near Miss.
The Portraits are reminders of powerful people who each accomplished things in the world for their countries. In those paintings, black is a metaphor for history and the people are stepping into the light for including them in our lives today.
Q: What advice would you give a young person about becoming a working artist in this political and economic climate?
KG: Well Mike, I would tell a young person or anyone who is becoming an artist that they should first figure out how they are going to make a living other than from their art…they say on Broadway “Keep your day job” which holds true for artists as well. Then I would tell them to make art that is relevant to themselves and/or their time…no matter what anyone else says. I have always believed artists are shamen. Their art in the world is like pebbles thrown into a pond and they have ripple effects. So they also need to take responsibility for the importance of what they make. I would love it if people would look at the world and think of what would make it better and then make that thing that helps or heals or just makes people think. I would tell them to locate themselves in a place w here they feel comfortable to live their lives, and a place where they will push themselves to struggle in the context of their art. I would tell them to socialize with people and friends who are interested in their art and who they are interested in. One good reason to go to Graduate School is to meet a community of friends that they will bond with for the rest of their lives. I would suggest that if they are fortunate enough to exhibit in a good gallery in NYC, they should trust their dealer to price and promote their work…but to keep a good eye on it and to help wherever it is appropriate. And finally, I would tell this same person to feel really lucky because they get to get up each day and see the world from their special, perceptual, intelligent and sensitive eyes. They get to live that day looking at the world from their unique experience of themselves…it’s a great way to live.
Karen Gunderson, Artist
View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.
Gunderson’s work is represented by ClampArt in New York City, New York; William Siegal Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico; and, Frost & Reed, London, England.
“Karen Gunderson: Constellations, Moons, and Water”
May 5 – June 11, 2011
Thursday, May 5, 2011
6.00 – 8.00 p.m.
For more information contact:
521-531 West 25th Street
New York City 10001
Tuesday – Saturday,
11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
May 1, 2011 Comments Off on Karen Gunderson, Artist/Interview
“There is always some idiot
smarter than you.”
An Interview with Janez Vlachy
By Mike Foldes
Janez Vlachy was born in 1954, in Ljubljana, Slovenia, as he says, “A small country, two million inhabitants. Two hours from Venice, Italy, the best cappuccino in the world.” His parents both were economists and his grandparents “were something extra. One came a long way from being a shepherd to studying law in Wien, Austria. That happened a lot at that time in
Europe, if someone was poor but observed for some potential, usually church provided money for education. He was an officer in the Austrian army in WW I. Later on, in WW II, when we were under German occupation, he talked a German officer out of destroying the city bridge. That was quite a bit of courage, I suppose. A civilian talking in perfect German, feeling as an officer talking to a younger guy! “The other one was Czech, playing a clarinet in the Philharmonic in my country.
Vlachy has no siblings, but says he “always wanted a brother, or at least a sister….” He studied economics at university, but felt “misplaced”. “Those guys are so without humor!” He quit everything and started taking photographs. When he won some awards in juried shows in Europe, he also quit his day job (as an economist) and devoted full time to photography.
Vlachy likes to tell jokes. His best, he says, is this: When my wife came home, she said: “You know what I saw when walking through the woods? Five lizards – those black and yellow colored ones.
I answered: “Can you imagine what they said they saw when they came home?”
The following interview was conducted via an e-mail exchange in March and April 2011.
Q: When did you start taking pictures?
JV: About 25 years ago. I started with my family. I never read a book on photography in my life (it shows, ha). I’m too lazy for that. It must come intuitively. I look and learn. Mistakes and strong will, that’s the best teacher you can wish for.
My work was published in Graphis Magazine NY photography books several times, along with some famous names, and I’ve had exhibits in Tokyo, Prague, Montreal…. For me this was a great recognition of my work. I am most grateful for that; it gave me self-respect, some confirmation that you are doing okay. My Nudes 4 photographs in Graphis (in print now) appeared alongside images by Sheila Metzner, Herb Ritts, Albert Watson, Mark Seliger, Joyce Tenneson, Lisa Spindler, and portraits of Johnny Cash, Mick Jagger, Bruce Willis, Elton John. It is also great inspiration, which you need for your future work, as well as the feeling of contributing as an artist to the hectic world around us.
Q. What kind of camera(s) do you like/use? In what situations?
JV: I use a Bronica middle format for my model shots. For City Scapes I use a wooden 4×5 Wista field camera.
Q: The cameras you use are not digital, so, where do you do your printing? Do you have a preferred paper, processing technique?
JV: I do transparency film, used to get it developed in two hours, now I must wait two days. I scan my work then jet print. I want the scans to be same as my work, color, contrast.
Was just trying Hahnemuhle paper. Very close must say.
Q. What do you think of the state of commercial photography today?
JV: It’s as good as it gets. (There are) so many good professional photographers out there. I think that sometimes it is hard for a photographer to make better work because of the limitations of the taste of the customer.
I especially like the modern photography of food. I think there is no more leeway there, some images are really art. Also in fashion I enjoy good images. I like Vogue, especially Italian and German editions, those guys are the best in the world. They really pushed the limits. Of course there is no limitation in creativity or budget. But then you see a simple image, maybe some erotic fashion shot, and your eyes take a rest. I say to myself: This guy is good. So simple and strong.
Q: What do you see as the direction of photography as art?
JV: It changed incredibly a lot over the last 20 years. From side A (on an LP) it went to side B or even C. By side A and changing to B or C on an LP, I mean that photography changed its subject, stepping down from angels to mankind, going to places it has never been before… Searching and searching for new approaches.
It is hard to think it will slow down, nothing has. Look at the music, the modern styles like Acid, Lounge… they evolved into something even more update. But I cry at some old traditional melody like “Danny Boy”.
The same is happening with photography. Everybody is a photographer. More now than ever. But the quality is well defined. Old masters are still going strong, still fresh, unique, original. All that takes time and sensibility. I’m talking about sustainability, intelligence and ability to observe and see things.
That has never changed. The profession should be more professional — the modern curator has too much voice, or (is on an) ego trip. Always something new, searching for new rational tricks for the cost of quality. That is the way of modern photography. Too much energy lost on a wish to be original, too much tautology.
And with a digital post production we have new possibilities, new combinations. There should be no fight between New and Old, there also should be no win (? Do you mean Victory?) of the New. Sadly today I observe that the Good-old-feeling must fight for its own right to exist. Show me your guts and I will tell you who you are: that should be the only criteria for the quality of work. Added value, that’s the name of the game. This world needs more sensibility, humanism and understanding.
That’s where art kicks in, photography also.
Q: Who have been your greatest influences and how did he/she/they influence you to see the world as you see it?
JV: Maybe the greatest influence was that girl some years ago: she changed from walking to running. With that also her face changed, the expression. It started me thinking, something so unimportant and yet so beautiful.
When I discovered photography, it was Ralph Gibson. We actually met once in his New York studio. I called him, told him I’m a photographer from Europe. He said, “Come over if you have time.” I mean, that was really something. I was calling my hero and he said to (come) visit him. Ha. We spent two hours talking. I told all my friends, you can imagine. I still call him every so often; he doesn’t remember me anymore, I’m sure. But today a nice thing happened: I got mail from a Beijing student painter. She wants to use my images for her paintings. That’s funny, a photographer being an inspiration to a painter. Ha, that’s a good one.
Q: How has politics shaped your approach to photography?
JV: There is no connection to my work.
Q: What effect did the conflicts in Slovenia have on you?
JV: Only bad for my creative happiness, otherwise no influence on what I photograph. Just bad feeling, like now with the Japan disaster and Libya war … makes me sad.
Q: What are you plans for new projects, commercial or personal?
JV: Working on exhibits for Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Houston, Texas. We shall see. There are also some prospects in Miami, Florida, but it’s the galleries’ turn now.
Also my Boston rep gallery, Tepper Takayama Fine Arts, is very active and making me some good PR coverage, especially since the book on NASA astronaut Sunita Williams (mother Slovenian, father from India) is coming out with my portrait of her on the cover.
Q: How long have you been able to support yourself with photography and what did you do before that “to survive”?
JV: Actually I have some hard times right now. I am working on a new subject, a new exhibition that is almost finished. It’s my 45″ work, “Night City Scapes and Jet Engines”. I want to give it some modern name like: “Stop for Coffee”, or something like that, not connected to the subject of the work. That’s very modern in Europe now.
I was doing a project for world known Akrapovic Exhaust Systems, one of the best pipes high-tech manufacturers for motorcycles and F1. A friend of mine was traveling America with their exhaust pipes, with people asking him where is he from, how come he has Akrapovic exhaust, does he know him … that kind of thing.
The images made it to Graphis NY Annual (2009) advertising book. I was lucky, a guy trusted what I was doing. Actually it was his wife. Some day they will make an exhibition of the works in Tokyo, ha. What more can you wish for? It was done on my almost 100 years old 8×10, the lens same age. The light source was a spot light a friend of mine made from a can of beans, ha.
Q: Anything you care to add?
JV: I would only like to add the two wisdoms I sent you already, if they fit the profile. You can skip the joke of the lizards if you want to.
“For someone who doesn’t know much, he knows a lot.”
And, “There is always some idiot smarter than you.”
Graphis Advertising Annual 2009. The original transparency is 4×5″, done with an almost 100 years- old lens. That was quite a project. The tubes looked photogenic when I first saw them.
But when laid down on a surface, it was hard to do anything, to change from what they were to something sophisticated, as they are. Considering that the guy (Akrapovic) is a genius and started in his garage, dreaming the shapes of tubes, thus making them better than the whole Japan Motorcycle industry. When a delegation from Japan came, they couldn’t believe their eyes. After three weeks of throwing away all the film, I came to this final solution. The background is a shirt wrap paper, doing a perfect job in this situation. My wife goes crazy by all the stuff I salvage. It’s hard for her to understand the pre-vision of my thinking process. But that is the old age fight between the sexes. When I contacted the Graphis, they gave me a two-page spread at my disposal to arrange at my will. As mentioned, the light I used was done from a can of beans and a cut paper in front of it making the shadows.
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To see more of Vlachy’s photography visit his website at:
May 1, 2011 3 Comments
The Sialkot Lynchings:
A Year Without Justice
Pakistani independent journalist Zaira Rahman has followed the story of two young men beaten and lynched by a mob in a neighborhood of Buttar village during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2010. Nearly a year later, the outrage remains, and still no one has been called on to account for the crime. The following article for Ragazine provides some background on the event, and sheds light on how difficult it has been to enforce either civil or religious law in a tight-knit community where kinship and friendship outweigh the ideals of Justice.
By Zaira Rahman
August 15th, 2010, was just another day for most of us, but for two brothers from Sialkot, Pakistan, that day became the most horrifying ever. It was the day that took their lives away and ended their youth brutally. This is the true story of Mughees Butt (17 years) and Muneeb Butt (15 years) who were killed by the residents of a town for a crime they never committed — under the very nose of law enforcement officials. This story is being told so the world knows that even in these progressive times, in some places the value of life is nothing. It is simply worthless.
There are too many versions of the incident that I have come across during my investigations to tell them all. In addition are the stories from a number of journalists who covered the story, who spoke with witnesses present at the crime scene, and to family members of the two brothers. The background of the story is crucial and might help us connect the dots to understand just what happened, and who was responsible.
Just one week before the lynching incident took place, both the brothers went to the suburbs of Buttar village, in the outskirts of Sialkot, to play cricket. However, they had an argument with a gang of local youth who wouldn’t allow them to play cricket. Thus, a fight broke out between the brothers and the locals, and Mughees and Muneeb left the ground.
On 15th August, 2010, the brothers returned to the same cricket field again in the early morning after keeping their fast, since it was the Holy month of Ramzan (Ramadan), which is considered very precious and sacred by Muslims. When they were on their way back on a bicycle, the trouble began. The boys saw a crowd was gathered in Buttar and there was some commotion. The young boys could not help being curious and stopped by to see what was happening. Perhaps, they should not have been so curious. The locals were angry because a robbery had taken place. One of the villagers was severely injured by the robbers, and later on died.
It is said that one of the youths who had argued with the brothers the previous week shouted in mere vengeance that the brothers were friends of the robbers. That false accusation was enough to trigger the already angry crowd, who for no other reason, without logic or thought, started beating the boys with sticks. The two teenage boys could not escape the wrath of the barbarians who had became a law unto themselves on that sacred day of Ramzan.
Surprisingly, the mob beating of the boys allegedly took place in the presence of Sialkot District Police Officer Waqar Chauhan, and eight other police officers, though some reports claim there were at least fifteen police officials present at the crime scene. The younger brother, Muneeb, was injured badly in the beginning, and almost immediately lost consciousness. After beating them with all their might, the two boys were handed over to Rescue 1122, a local organization whose purpose is to assist locals in emergencies.
However, in this case, subsequent investigations revealed the Rescue 1122 staff members showed utter negligence by not calling immediately for medical assistance. Since the 1122 staff never moved the boys to a hospital, the mob again started beating the boys to death. Thus, this is no mere accident. It was murder by an angry and unreasonable mob that was facilitated by the police officials and Rescue 1122 personnel in broad daylight in Buttar village, in the outskirts of Sialkot.
YouTube Videos Recount Beatings
Sadly, it was one day after Pakistan’s 63rd Independence Day. This incident talks greatly about how much (or how little) we have progressed in these years as a nation. What can we say when the law enforcing agencies and organizations that are supposed to help the citizens are involved in such criminal acts? How can we talk about progression when illiteracy rules the minds of so many – who could not realize that it is inhumane to beat two unarmed boys for hours? How can those who killed two innocent boys preach about Islam, when they could not even respect the sacred Holy month themselves? How come it is okay to kill kids so easily in front of law enforcing agencies? Do we even have the right to talk about human rights when countless people who witnessed this public killing opted to make videos for their entertainment rather than standing up against the wrong?
What is shocking is to see that with hundreds of witnesses, countless images and extremely strong evidence in the form of live videos of the entire incident, we can see that justice is still being delayed. Last year, when the incident took place due to the media coverage and protests by common citizens, the Pakistani government announced that this case will be solved within a few weeks, but we can clearly see that nothing of the sort has taken place.
As for the police officials at the scene, some witnesses said the police themselves tied the boys’ hands and returned them to the crowd so that they could be lynched. At that point, there was no stopping the mob. Mughees and Muneeb were beaten to death. The amateur video, that not everyone has the stomach to watch, shows clearly what happened that sad day. The video footage, widely available on the internet, is extremely painful and heart shattering. People, like myself who have seen the footage to seek the truth, can never take out those images out of our minds.
Unforgettable Images Not Enough
The brothers were beaten with sticks by numerous men. Muneeb, the younger brother died quickly, but the elder brother suffered for some one and a half hours. It is said that he was begging to be killed quickly just to stop the pain. Even as the brothers died for something they had not done, the angry crowd didn’t realize the crime they themselves had committed. The brothers’ dead bodies were paraded around the neighborhood in an open truck. And the final touch to this brilliant act of cruelty was that the boys were hung by their feet to a pole like some dead goats, just minutes away from the police station.
Their first post mortem report was not accepted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Thus, the bodies of the lynched brothers were re-examined again in September 2010 by senior doctors appointed by the Supreme Court. Upon investigation, it was discovered the two boys were good students and were never involved in any criminal activities or illegal acts. On the false claims, that the brothers were dacoits, it was not surprising to discover that the boys were unarmed and no (stolen) valuables were recovered from them.
On the other hand, Buttar’s chief of police, Waqar Chouhan and regional police chief Zulfiqar Cheema, were under scrutiny for negligence on their part in the entire matter. Cheema is alleged to have encouraged extra-judicial executions in the past. The officers present at the crime scene were suspended, but most of the people involved in the crime managed to escape, or were freed on bail. The case is still being handled in the courts, but the process is slow. The latest news I have read is that one of the accused is arguing that it is irrelevant to use the camera footage as evidence in court.
Family Trusts in God
The family of Muneeb and Mughees, have left everything on the hands of God. They lost their sons for no reason in a country where life has no value. They hope that God will give them justice for the way their sons were brutally killed, and how their bodies were humiliated even in dead. Their father was relieved that at least the court absolved his sons of all the charges of robbery; but, they are waiting for the day when justice will be delivered and all the culprits involved in this mob killing are punished.
Meanwhile, this very sad and inhumane incident that took the lives of two teenage boys, must not be forgotten. They were killed by illiterate local people who seem unable to listen to anybody in a sane manner. And two curious boys who set out one morning to play cricket, returned to their homes with mutilated faces and crushed bodies that were nearly unrecognizable to their loved ones.
Since life is so uncertain, should people stop leaving their homes? In a country, where law enforcement officials themselves can encourage such acts of violence because they know they can get away with it, who would feel safe?
For most people, the two boys were just a story that lasted a few weeks, that angered some of them enough to turn out to protest. The protests got the attention of higher level government officials, but for the family of these boys, the loss is eternal. I know these brothers are not alive to fight their own battle, but as caring humans we must work to ensure this tragedy is not forgotten, and to see the guilty are punished.
While it is not absolutely relevant, if these two boys were like Raymond Davis (the CIA station head in Pakistan accused of killing two people in Lahore, and who was freed after paying “blood money” to their families), their case would have been resolved quickly. However, since they were two innocent local and very common Pakistani boys, for the time being their souls will wait for justice, and we will have to see if it will take a good ten years or longer to give them that miraculous justice!
Zaira Rahman is a writer, blogger, copy writer and animal rights activist. She lives in Karachi, Pakistan. Rahman has an MBA in marketing, is author of “Pakistani Media: The Way Things Are” and co-author of “If Mortals Had Been Immortals and Other Short Stories”. Her previous article in Ragazine was a Bollywood film review.
May 1, 2011 Comments Off on Zaira Rahman/Pakistan
“… writers writing in a way
that seemed like writers writing
the way people talked …”
An Interview with Lyn Lifshin
by Emily Vogel
The following interview took place via e-mail in April.
EMILY VOGEL: As a poet I can admit that at thirteen I also had aspirations to be an actress. And ballet, well, it was intense from the time I was six until fourteen years old. Anyway, let us commence this interview. Can you tell me who or what has inspired your aesthetic choices with regard to poetry?
LYN LIFSHIN: Well it is an amazing coincidence that I got this question right when I am for the weekend at my place in New York where all my older books are.
How did I get started? I am told, around three years old on a trip from Barre, Vermont to Middlebury , Vermont, where I grew up until college, I am told, (while) looking at the trees, I told my mother it looked like the trees and leaves were dancing. And she said I’d probably grow up to be a poet (though she named me Rosalyn, thinking that would be the perfect name for an actress). I think as the first born I got a lot of attention, a lot of books, but one I really remember and just grabbed from the shelf is “Now We Are Six”, by A. A. Milne. I adored the story of Pinkle Purr and the poem about Alexander Beetle and Butter Cup Days and Binky…. I loved that book, and how it survived I’ve no idea, but it was given to me when I was three. There’re a few little scribbles in it, but pretty amazing – it is in great shape.
I started school at six, but skipped many grades because I read well before starting school. I had a simply wonderful third grade teacher who had us write poems every day. I still have a little blue notebook with those hand-written pieces, many based on things she’d bring in: a bough of apple blossoms, melting snow. So I had an early love of poetry. By fifth grade we were reading Milton. Being terrible in math, I am lucky poetry came easily.
I’ve often told the story of how I copied a poem of Blake’s from “Songs of Innocence” in third grade and showed it to my mother and said I wrote it. She was amazed I knew words like “descending” and “rill”, and not surprisingly she ran into my teacher, told her how amazed she was that I had written such an amazing poem. As a result, I had to write my own poem by (the following) Monday. And I had to use “descending” and “rill” in it.
So I got off to a good start really. My father, who I had little relationship with, showed one of my few poems to Robert Frost, who wrote on it “Very good images, sayeth Robert Frost… bring me some more poems.” By the time I had more, he was dead. But that bit of praise went a long way in giving me confidence. Still, I started in theater in college, and then, feeling I needed a way to have a real job, I majored in English literature with a minor in art history. I thought I would get a Ph. D., get a good job and then write. Though I finished all the course work for a Ph. D., got all “A”s , passed Italian and French language exams and had 100 pages of a dissertation written, somehow, as the department said, there was a personality conflict between their new English faculty member and me. And in the end, I walked away from finishing the degree.
EV: So it is evident that your mother was a great influence on your poetry, and also the teachers you had in elementary school. When I was in fifth grade, we were introduced to the limerick form. Could you tell me a bit about what forms have inspired you and which forms you are devoted to?
LL: When I left SUNY (State University of New York), Albany, I walked out into traffic with no idea what I would do. I knew, or felt, I wanted to be as far away from anything Academic as possible. I painted for a while, was asked to display my paintings, have a very few on my web site. I took a job at an entertainment TV station. During the quiet weeks, I began to type up the few poems I’d started. I ordered a copy of Len Fulton’s “International Directory” – a slim stapled, I think, directory at the time, and sent requests of sample copies to every magazine listed. I got a quick overview of what was being published. And, I wanted to get as far away from academia, as far from 15th and 16th and 17th century literary.
I started sending out poems that summer, and luckily the first submission (actually the second – the first submission – I can even remember the mail box I sent it from — two haiku pieces – two variations of the same poem ) was accepted. I was thrilled. It was from Folio magazine, an attractive magazine from Birmingham, Alabama. That was followed by an acceptance from Kauri magazine, a poem, the first of many they would accept and publish.
It was an extremely exciting time. I was daily finding wonderful poems that thrilled me. I’d done my Master’s thesis on Dylan Thomas, and an undergraduate thesis on Federico Garcia Lorca. And had my rough draft of Wyatt and Sidney – I still really love Wyatt, but I discovered poets like (Charles) Bukowski and Anne Sexton and (Sylvia) Plath … writers writing in a way that seemed like writers writing the way people talked: William Carlos Williams … it was like finding jewels every day.
When I began to write, I wanted to read and publish in the least academic magazines I could. I was charmed by Wormwood Review, Marijuana Quarterly, Goodly Company, Trace, Lung Socket. I avoided any magazine with a university connection. Of course, that changed eventually, but I wanted magazines like The Outsider with their special Bukowski issue. These are the magazines I submitted to, read, collected.
I was happy to publish regularly, to be the most published poet in Rolling Stone. I was chosen early on as one of one hundred most promising young poets – that was special to me. It attracted mostly good attention, but one well known promoter called, wanted to send me air fare to come out to LA to see if I really looked as good and interesting as I seemed in that photo. I didn’t go, but the one phone call triggered at least one poem that is in my new book, “All the Poets (Mostly) Who Have Touched Me Living and Dead,” All True, Especially the Lies.
Now, my tastes are much more catholic. You can get an idea of some writers I love (not all — there are so many), in the three anthologies I have edited: “Tangled Vines,” “Ariadne’s Thread,” and “Lips Unsealed”.
As for forms I am addicted to, I’d say there are none. Sometimes I try my own vaguely like a villanelle, but with its own variations. I wrote haiku early on and some sonnets, but I have not worked with form that much.
EV: It seems that your philosophy for poetry is that it is a daily practice, not just an occasional hobby. Being a poet myself, I have more than once been accused of “poetry as obsession.” Do you find that poetry can be addictive, or that it is just simply one of the necessities of daily life?
LL: I would say yes to all the aspects of obsession, addiction and something I have to do every day. Once I said that the word in the Eskimo language for “to breathe” is the same one as to make a poem. I believe and feel that. Of course I am obsessive about a lot: ballet, ballroom , horses, Abyssinian cats, horse like Ruffian and Barbaro – velvet, clothes, silk, soft leather…. So “Yes” to all you suggest!
EV: You have obviously written an enormous amount of poems. Do you ever get stuck in the rut of an image, word, phrase, or topic that wants to be recycled? In other words, what have been your experiences with “writer’s block” and how have you overcome it?
LL: I should cross my fingers before saying I rarely have writers block. Ironically, in college I was afraid to take a creative writing course, afraid I would have nothing to write about.
I am pleased my new book “All The Poets (Mostly) Who Have Touched Me (Living and Dead: All True, Especially the Lies,” is out and getting strong reviews, “…a tremendous book along the lines of John Berryman’s Dream Songs” … “mind candy” … “witty … lusty … a feast of words.” If you are a poet, know a poet, or are wild for the secrets of writers you may never have heard before, this is a book you shouldn’t resist.
things I have and
come from this
smoke. I’ve been
waiting the way
brought inside two
years ago stays
suspended, hair in the
wind it seems to
float, even its
black seeds don’t
pull it down
tho you don’t under
stand how any
thing could stay
LIGHT FROM THIS TURNING
I have lost touch with
the wind you brought
in your hair
and lilac hills.
bites into the river
and the river of lost days
floats over my tongue.
Love, you are like that
distant water, pulling
you turn me
apart from myself
like some frightening road,
something I don’t want
Still, let my
hair float slow through
this new color,
let my eyes absorb
from this turning
that has brought us
here, has carried us
to where we are,
NOT THINKING IT WAS SO WITH YELLOW FLOWERS
At night I
full of muscles
that aren’t you.
Later the fear
when I woke up
I thought it
the air was so
New Books by Lyn Lifshin include “Ballroom” and “ALL THE POETS WHO HAVE TOUCHED ME, LIVING AND DEAD. ALL TRUE: ESPECIALLY THE LIES.” Recent books include “The Licorice Daughter: My Year with Ruffian,” “Another Woman Who Looks Like Me,”Following Cold and comfort”, “Before It’s Light, Desire” and “92 Rapple.” She has over 120 books and edited four anthologies.
For more information, visit: www.lynlifshin.com
May 1, 2011 Comments Off on Lyn Lifshin, Poet/Interview
Mount Desert Island across Frenchmen’s Bay
By Chris Mackowski
Introduction: In “My Coastline,” Chris Mackowski perfectly blends human affect with the meaning of place. Place, quite simply, is where you live, where human neurology, memory, and meaning is shaped by the landscape and the people you interact with there. As Mackowski shows, as much as we now like to live inside with our technology in hand, our most powerful experiences take place in the natural world, providing one of the few contemporary contexts in which we are connected to our evolutionary roots and a much longer history than that of our lifespans. Mackowski’s Maine coast is the source of his deepest emotional currents, and his piece brings us into them, lets readers experience their specificity and source that resonates with the specificity of our own.
— Leslie Heywood, CNF Editor
But it’s early March. Those throngs of visitors are months away. Memorial Day Weekend typically opens the floodgates and then the visitors will come and come and come. And they’ll come through those high months of summer. They’ll come into September and well into October, the leafpeepers who will want to see the blazes of color splashed in among the dark stands of evergreens.
In 2009, 2.5 million visitors came to Acadia National Park. But even in the harsh heart of winter, for which Maine is so legendary, “no one” still means around ten thousand people a month. Most of the Park’s roads, unplowed, remain closed. Most of the Park’s hiking trails, iced over, remain inaccessible. Most of the Park’s seasonal programming, suspended, remain unavailable. And still some ten thousand people visit.
I’m here not as a tourist but because I consider Maine “The Homeland.” My family moved to the state when I was three, and I’ve lived here, on and off, ever since — nearly forty years. My mom left; my father stayed. Growing up, I spent summers and holidays here. I attended two years of high school here. I attended graduate school here. My daughter was born here.
But that’s not why I think of Maine as “The Homeland” — not really. Rather, the pink-granite cliffs and gnarled spruce forests of the coastline are, literally and spiritually, my touchstone, and I return as often as I can.
I didn’t make it to my father’s for Christmas this year as I usually do. The resultant yearning grew strong enough that I decided to take time for a visit over Spring Break. So here I am in early March.
And here I am on this coast on a day that could not do more to cast itself in desolation. A thick cloudcover, sweeping in ahead of a low-pressure system, has grayed the late-afternoon sky. Temperatures hunker down in the mid-twenties, but a wind blows in from the sea, adding a dash of nip and salt. The landscape exists in a pallet of shadowy browns and grainy blacks and cold, cold whites. Vast dunes of snow top the beach and cluster on the sides of the nearby hills.
Sand Beach runs in a shallow east-west crescent for 290 yards, with steep cliffs at either end. Spruce trees rise spire-like from nooks and crevices along the cliff faces. In today’s dim light, it looks like fire swept through them and left everything black, but I can still see the full branches, which needle away the illusion.
One January after I was married, two of my fraternity brothers came to Maine to visit, and the three of us decided to climb the western cliff. “Swing the car around from the parking lot and meet us up along the Park Loop Road,” I told Heidi, who stayed at the foot of the cliff with one of my brothers’ girlfriends. I didn’t know at the time that the number-one cause of death at the Park came from falls while people are hiking and climbing. We knew only what our young testosterone-fueled bravado was telling us: Icy slopes be damned! We’re young, fit, and invincible!
We somehow made it to the top without dying, even Dorfman, as roundly out of shape as he was. From the beach, Heidi captured our invincibility in a photo: my brothers and me standing at the top of the cliff, side by side, arms crossed, silhouetted against a white sky. “Yeah,” it says. “You got business to take care of? Talk to us.”
* * * * *
Normally when I return to The Homeland, I pilgrimage to the top of Cadillac Mountain, named for the same man who founded Detroit, Antoine Laumet, who had given himself the title Sieur de la Mothe Cadillac shortly after coming to the Maine coast from France in the late 1680s. At 1,530 feet above sea level, Cadillac stands as the highest spot on the island, and it’s one of the first places in America you can see the sunrise. From the sea, Cadillac looks bald, a pink-granite desert of a mountain from which the island, Mount Desert Island, gets its name.
For four years, I worked as news director at a radio station in nearby Ellsworth. On slow news days, I’d drive down to Cadillac over my lunch hour. I’d find a spot at one of the pullovers and eat my salad. Sometimes Heidi would add a bowl of Jell-O. I could watch the streams of cars, sunlight glinting off their windshields, snake up and down the mountain road, three and a half miles from the spruce and cedar forest at the foot of the mountain through the Krummholz zone of stunted shrubs and gnarled bushes that stretches to the top.
At Cadillac’s summit, I can watch the boat traffic leave little white wakes across Frenchman’s Bay. As the tide goes out, I can watch the sandbar materialize between Bar Harbor and Bar Island just a few hundred yards off MDI’s northeastern corner. On summer afternoons, I can watch the thick cotton fogbank come in from the ocean. Long tendrils on the fog’s leading edge leap up and over the islands in the bay, pulling the rest of the fogbank behind them until it blankets each island out of existence, rolling northward over everything. From above, it looks like virgin snowfall.
Another favorite spot along the Acadia coastline is Schoodic Point, a peninsula some four miles across Frenchman’s Bay as the seagull flies. By car from Bar Harbor, it’s a circuitous forty-five-mile drive. Because of its relative remoteness, Schoodic gets far fewer visitors than the parts of the Park on MDI. The tip of the peninsula faces the open sea, so it affords one of the best spots for watching storm waves pound in from the open ocean, wild, spectacular, raw.
My dad and stepmother got married at Schoodic — a wedding my brother Matt and I were not allowed to attend because my mother still harbored storm-powerful bitterness toward my father following their divorce. My dad still loves Schoodic, and on days when he ventures from the farm in the direction of the coast, he makes his way to the peninsula.
Heidi and I used to escape there, too. We’d sit and watch the waves crash in, sometimes moving close enough to feel the sea spray on our cheeks. In the parking lot one day, we fed part of a loaf of stale bread to the gulls. They plucked scraps from my hand until I ran out of bread, then turned all Alfred Hitchcock on me. While the birds dive-bombed me, Heidi laughed and took pictures. We threw ourselves into the car for safety and, together, laughed loud enough to drown out the sea.
On the forest-covered edge of one of Schoodic’s cliffs, we made love one afternoon. On a later trip, I went back and took a photo of the sunset from that spot. I had it enlarged into a poster and framed, and I gave it to her for a birthday present. For years, it hung in her office at work until she changed jobs, and then she hung it in our kitchen. I don’t know where she has it now.
* * * * *
Sometimes I go Downeast — that stretch of Maine coast that runs northeastward from MDI to Lubec at the state’s easternmost tip. It was my dad’s adventureland when my brother and I were kids. We camped on the beach at Pembroke and dug clams at Marlboro. We watched the reversing falls at Dennysville and watched whales off Eastport. After Heidi and I got married, we went on many of those same adventures; after Stephanie was born, she came with us.
I particularly like Jasper Beach south of Bucks Harbor, a half-mile beach consisting not of sand but of tumbled stone. There are a million million stones at Jasper Beach piled in a great crescent-shaped dune. The rocks, bigger than fists and potatoes near the top of the dune, and smaller than a thumbnail near the low-tide mark, have all been worn smooth by the sea. When a wave rushes through the stones, the water hisses as it withdraws. Heidi and I used to spend hours walking the beach, studying the stones, each a self-contained galaxy of color and pattern. We collected those that struck us, only a handful or two, and kept them in a tabletop fountain at home.
Sometimes I’ll go to the very tip of the country, to Quoddy Head State Park, the easternmost point in America, where I like to watch the sun rise. It lifts itself, face flushed red with the effort, up out of the sea. The granite bluffs at Quoddy Head rise straight up out of the sea, too, tall and lonely.
I don’t have the time on this Spring Break trip to venture Downeast, and even Schoodic is too far for me to go this late in the day. The road to the top of Cadillac is closed at this time of year. Sand Beach will do. I’m overdue for a visit.
The Park Service normally collects a $20 entrance fee, good for a week’s worth of access—but when I make it to The Homeland, I can only ever visit Acadia for half a day at most, so the access fee rankles. As someone who works for the NPS, I believe in its mission, and in particular I believe in preserving this park, but I don’t believe in price gouging. But at this time of day, at this point in the season, I knew the tollbooth along Park Loop Road would be closed.
I’ve never had Sand Beach to myself before. Today I share it only with a wind-eroded snowman who sits just above the high-tide line. He has dried seaweed for hair and driftwood twigs for arms, outstretched wide to embrace, to defy, the winter wind blowing straight in off the sea.
In the second year I was married, Heidi and I came down to the beach on a March day much different than this one. It was a Saturday, so we were both off work. Temperatures flared into the upper seventies. We bundled up our five-month-old daughter, grabbed my acoustic guitar, and drove to Sand Beach. We walked through shin-deep snow to get from the parking lot to the granite stairs and down onto the sand.
The beach itself was clear that day, and the breeze hardly noticeable. We shed our shoes to feel the warm sand as we walked to the beach’s far end. There, we made a little camp for ourselves and I got out the guitar and played the three songs I knew over and over. Our daughter, Steph, sucked her binky and wondered what to make of us, young and foolish in love and sitting on the beach in March. In photos from that day, she’s all bundle and blankie and big eyes and binky. It was her first time there.
Heidi and I had a tradition when we visited Sand Beach: I would walk, barefoot, a few feet into the surf and face her, arms outstretched to say, “Here I am!” and she would take my picture. For years, a collage of those photos hung in our bathroom.
Today, my photo goes untaken. I briefly consider peeling off my shoes and wading into the water and striking my pose, just for old times’ sake — but decide not to. It’s too cold, I convince myself, although I know the real reason is that it will depress me. I know this because seeing the snowman in that same pose of outstretched arms has already stirred feelings I’d rather not feel. If I stood in the surf, I might melt away as surely as the snowman would if he stood there instead.
* * * * *
While I have the beach to myself right now, bootprints in the sand indicate someone had been here not long before me. The boots made deeper impressions than mine. A dog’s tracks wind back and forth across them. Like me, the person walked in more or less a straight line from the granite steps down to the water. The way the rising tide erases the bootprints, it looks like their owner simply walked in an unbroken stride down the beach and into the surf. The return set of tracks tells otherwise, but I wonder what it would take for a man to walk out into that surf and never return. On a day like today, on a beach as desolate as this, who would ever even know?
The water is far enough down the beach, away from the high-tide mark where the snowman stands vigil, that I know the tide has only just turned. It rises and falls as much as twenty feet along this stretch of coast, taking about ten hours to rise or fall.
Rather than follow the bootprints back up the beach, I decide to walk along the crescent to the beach’s far end. In the dim light, the sand looks the color of stained parchment. I stay within fifteen feet of the water’s edge, where the wet sand remains packed down and paper smooth, awaiting the writing of my footprints. Further up the beach, where the sand is dry, my steps would leave indeterminate craters, but here each footfall leaves a firm, distinct impression. Yet when the tide rises, the clearest record of my passing will wash away.
There are few sand beaches like this north of the midcoast region. That’s because, in geological terms, the coast of Maine is so young. As recently as ten or twelve thousand years ago, what’s now the Maine coast had been an interior range of hills. Then a downward shift in the earth’s crust submerged the edge of the continent. In a way, then, the old weathered rocks that look like Time itself actually represent the fresh face of the planet. In ten thousand years, the surf has simply not had enough time to pound the rocks into stones and the stones into sand. Erosion happens on a tinier scale than that: a chip here, a chip there, ground together into smoothness under the tumbling waves. Sea currents then move that sand around, up and down the coast, in and out from shore, tumbling, tumbling, smoothing, smoothing.
The protection offered by the cliffs on either side of the cove makes this an ideal, if rare, location for that particulate to come to rest. The waves constantly deposit sand and scoop it back up again. The churning water is alive with sand.
That metaphor’s not much of a stretch, I realize. It’s hard to see now in the late afternoon gloom, but a handful of sand contains a million traces of life. Mixed among the tiny crumbs of granite and quartz are purple flecks of mussel shell and greenish flecks of crab shell, pieces of urchin spines and crab carapaces, and miniscule chips of bone.
The sea has heaped the sand into a dune that stretches yards beyond the normal high tide mark, clearly identified by the necklace of dried kelp and rockweed that’s been pushed as absolutely far up as any wave can reach. The string of aquatic jetsam runs the length of the beach. On a warmer, friendlier day, I might walk its length to see if I might find any treasures: a crab shell, a mermaid’s purse, a strand of welk’s egg casing, although I might be more apt to find a plastic soda bottle, a six-pack ring, or a chunk of Styrofoam lobster buoy.
Behind the dunes, alive in the summer with beach grass and wild peas, a freshwater pond stretches out to the north. There’s always beaver lodge or two, great mounds of sticks that poke out of the water like heads, and at times I’ve caught glimpses of the beavers V’ing across the water. The pond freezes over in winter, but during the summer, the sun warms it like a cup of tea, an illusion made complete by the tannin from the surrounding evergreens, which stains the water amber.
Water drains from the pond through a shallow stream that cuts a course through the sand at the beach’s far eastern end near the base of the eastern cliff. One afternoon, as Heidi and I approached the stream, we came across a father and his two young sons playing along its edge. The water cut into the bank and a hunk of sand, like a miniature shard of glacier, broke away and crumbled into the stream. “Erosion!” shrieked one of the boys. “I see erosion happening!”
Heidi and I waded into the stream, which came up past our shins. Nothing lives in the stream this close to the sea because so many people tramp through it in the summer, so we didn’t have to worry about crabs biting our toes or anything like that. We sloshed upstream, past the boys and around the bend toward the pond. “Hey!” the shrieker called after us. “Do you know beavers pee in that water?”
We didn’t have to travel too far upstream before we felt like the only people on earth. We might’ve heard the shrill cry of kids playing on the beach beyond the dune, but the wind and the waves suppressed most of that ambient noise. Instead, we could hear—if such a thing is possible—the sunlight reflecting off the pond. We could hear the green of the marsh grass and the wide blue of the sky. We could hear our own breathing and the beating of our hearts as we stood there holding hands.
* * * * *
I must at least touch the sea. If the coastline is my touchstone, I must also touch sea.
Coastline is, by definition, the demarcation of land and sea. But the boundary remains in constant motion, shifting as the tide rises and falls, rises and falls, rises and falls. In that zone, land and sea exist together, never apart.
I walk into that zone, gauging my approach carefully, reading the sea, studying the height and strength of the waves as they roll in. I study the beach, too, to see where the water comes up farthest and where it hangs back. Finally, when I feel the sea’s same rhythm, I move down to the water’s edge as it moves up to meet me. I bend over and we touch, the sea and I. We touch.
Even in the summer, the water here seldom warms beyond fifty-five degrees, but that’s not what sends a chill through me. It’s an unknowable mystery allowing me to get close, for just an instant of an instant.
I say, “Thank you.”
I take a step back, then another, so I don’t get caught by any especially ambitious waves. A wet foot now would ruin what’s left of my day. But I don’t want to retreat too far. I feel too much awe to ever just run away. The ocean is so much.
What’s one little touch but everything and nothing at all?
* * * * *
The snow on the cliffsides glows translucent blue in the twilight. It’s time to go. I take one last look upstream in the direction of the frozen beaver pond, then one last look downstream toward the sea. Where the stream drains into the ocean, a cluster of rocks, like a colony of craggy-shelled turtles, hunkers in the waves. The rockweed that beards each rock flagellates in the currents that can’t seem to make up their mind if they’re coming or going.
I know the feeling. It’s time to go, but I want to stay. Even though I shall again take part of this place with me, part of me wants to stays. Part of me always stays.
I wonder how much I’ve left behind.
About the author:
Chris Mackowski is an associate professor of journalism and mass communication at St. Bonaventure University. He blogs for Scholars & Rogues <www.scholarsandrogues.com> and writes Civil War history for the National Park Service. His latest book, “Chancellorsville: The Battle and the Battlefield”, will be out later this spring.
May 1, 2011 Comments Off on Chris Mackowski/Creative Nonfiction
Film Clips from Leonora
“A dark drama of sexual sorcery and crippled creatures in the throes of a primitive passion that defies decency! A shadowy work of naked fury that will plunge the viewer into a cesspoolof sinister slime and shocking shame! Experience the excrement of Satanic savagery as it smears across the screen in a rage of voluminous vitriol. A work of brutal beauty and torrid terrors that will titillate the timid with its vision of a world gone mad with sensual secretions. Experience the wetness and rejoice in its recuperative re-birth!”
— George Kuchar
Catch the Ragazine preview here:
About the filmmaker:
Eliane Lima is from Sao Paulo, Brazil. In the early ’90s, she met Brazilian philosopher Claudio Ulpiano, became his student and friend, and decided to leave the music business in which she was engaged at the time. In 2007, she went back to school, attending Binghamton University in upstate New York, where she received a BA in Cinema. She is in her second semester of the MFA Film program at San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA.
Her film Djinn was included in film festivals in New York, Los Angeles and Cuba, and recently was an official selection in Sacramento International Film Festival with a screening at the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA. Djinn won two prizes in Los Angeles, The Best Student Short Film and Audience Choice at 2010 HollyShorts Film Festival; it was screened at the 2011 Liverpool Biennial, UK, and represented Brazil in the International Art Event, Identity Exchange 2011, at SFAI.
Leonora, a 6 minute, super 8 and 16mm, color and BW film, was inspired by the film Begotten and George Kuchar’s class, and was produced with the support of SFAI Film Department and an Eastman Product Grant from Eastman Kodak Company.
Lima is working on a trilogy, Fantastic Spaces in Cinema, inspired by “The Garden of the Forking Paths,” by Jorge Luis Borges, that includes studies of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, David Lynch’s Inland Empire, and Jan Svankmajer’s Alice.
Her short film Albertine is “on the side” while she finalizes support.
May 1, 2011 Comments Off on Eliane Lima Profile/Film
I Know Who Built the Pyramids
I came in cold.
Some guys I work with were gathered around,
staring at a paper, pinned above the time clock.
It was pinned in a crooked way, done in haste,
in a manner without regard for those eyes that fell upon it now.
Just a paragraph, colder than the winds outside.
Due to a lack of orders in our backlog,
we are looking for volunteers for layoffs.
Those who are interested see Human Resources.
The rest of the page reflected our faces, blank and drained of color.
The roof was leaking from the rain and melting snow.
Everywhere there were buckets catching drops of water,
and puddles were new leaks were starting,
Filling every bucket until they overflowed.
They’re looking for twenty guys,
if not more.
If they don’t get volunteers then
they look to the junior employees.
no one even tries to control.
We might all be locked out.
The leaks are overwhelming.
We might all be in the unemployment line.
No health insurance then.
Not for the guy who has cancer.
Or the two, who’s wives have cancer.
Or the two who are expecting.
But fears are quelled when we work.
When we use our hands, amidst
the pounding of the machines.
We break a sweat, and it’s zen.
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression,
and acceptance all before we clock out.
Even by break time,
the boys are cracking wise again.
I know who toiled under
those stones at the Great Pyramids,
who fruitlessly charged at the German trenches,
cut a swath through the Burmese mountain range,
because I work with them.
I’m proud to be counted among them,
people who keep their chin up,
even though it’s where they get hit
Unlike those we work for,
our wealth is in misery and hardship.
And we consume it with might.
The might of David when he shouted the Psalms to God
from the dark of a cave.
Yes, we can joke and smile,
even when we walk the gallows,
and ask the executioner,
“Are you sure this is safe?”
We can laugh now,
because it’s either
laugh, or cry.
About the poet:
Steven Oldford is an unskilled laborer and freelance writer. In all honesty, this is his first submission, resulting from encouragement by his former professor, Joe Weil. Oldford currently lives with his wife, daughter, and a mountain of student loans, in Hallstead, PA.
May 1, 2011 Comments Off on Steve Oldford/Poetry
The Truth About Love
By Eric Bennett
Kyon natters softly. His mouthful of little songs wakes Cho because it’s the sound of her son. She opens her eyes and gazes into his copper-coin face, her devotion the precise size and density of a four-year old boy. Uncurling from around Kyon, Cho flounders out from between lightly starched sheets – up and getting ready. Cho brushes the black wave of her hair and then slips into a cream colored camisole and nylons her skinny legs. A simple blue dress with long sleeves unifies her style into one appeal.
Finding matching socks for Kyon has eaten up years of Cho’s life. Every morning her hands become frenzied shovels scattering socks and misplaced toys in the dresser drawers until she finds a pair of matching socks and shoes. Then it’s, “Make the ears. Crisscross. Into the bunny hole. Pull them tight.” until finally, Kyon is socked and shoed and ready for daycare.
She collects her bags and then out through her brownstone door steps into the winter street. The sleet stopped in the small of the night but the morning is still shockingly cold. Cho’s scarf frames her quiet face, her wool coat an ocean in which both she and Kyon swim. They wait on the corner to hail a cab, every freezing minute stretching into the space of two.
The City is in Cho’s ears and the morning is all bang, bang, boom. Her impractical shoes make the shuttling of Kyon from taxi to the Tiny Years Daycare Center a teetering task. Kyon prattles all the while, his voice audible but not his words. Cho hands Kyon to an old woman with large ears, black eyes, and a “Hello. My name is…” sticker, but there’s no name written on the tag so it’s just “Hello. My name is… nothing.” Nevertheless, Cho trusts the nameless old woman to keep Kyon from a thousand accidents.
Cho jumps back into the taxi, her hair splashed across the back of the seat. She reaches for her scarf, bracelets sliding down her arm, and realizes it’s no longer there. How many scarves has she lost conveying Kyon from taxi to daycare, how many gloves, how many umbrellas, how many earrings? Really, I must be more careful, she thinks. But this is the last thought of Kyon she permits herself for the remains of the workday, rather, she concentrates on transforming herself into the dragon-lady of corporate advertising: frigid, bitchy and ready, if necessary, to use a Samurai sword to get her way. It’s not a role of Cho’s choosing, but it is a stereotype her boss expects her to fulfill. It is, after all, why he hired her – he likes Lucy Liu.
Stilettos punctuate Cho’s every move on the thirty-ninth floor of The Rockefeller Center with a fashionable snick. She fires the man with horse teeth. Snick. She lands a multimillion dollar account. Snick. She moves the deadline up three days. Snick. She abruptly answers her own phone because she fired her horse-tooth assistant. Snick.
“Cho Nahm speaking.”
“This is Mi-sook at the Tiny Years Daycare Center. I’m sorry. Kyon is crying.”
“I don’t understand.” Snick.
“Kyon won’t stop crying.”
“You called me because my son is crying?” Snick! Snick!
“I’m sorry, Ms. Nahm. Kyon has been crying for three hours. I’m sorry. I can’t make him happy. So sorry.”
“Are you asking me to come and pick him up?”
“Yes ma’am. I’m so sorry.”
Cho leaves the office in a flurry of snicks. And for nine blocks in the back of a yellow taxi, she is two schools of thought – corporate executive versus devoted mother. The corporate executive orders the cabbie to stop, the devoted mother asks the driver to keep the meter running while she gets her son. Cho enters the daycare center and the sound is suddenly overwhelming, like Grand Central Station, but diminutive. And there, there in the middle of it all is Kyon crying. He looks like an exhausted swimmer, red and drenched. Kyon’s relief gathers itself in his expression as soon as he sees Cho, who swoops down to hover like a hen nestling her egg. Together they become the still in the center of the room. Cho gathers the familiar shape of Kyon to herself, pressing kisses into the bend of his neck. She slowly pivots on her pointed heel to face Mi-sook who bows, hair draping. Then Mi-sook tilts her head upward and unexpectedly the bright look of discovery makes a sunrise of her face.
“His shoes are on the wrong feet.”
Cho looks at her blankly. Mi-sook doesn’t have the confidence to repeat herself, so she gingerly approaches Kyon’s feet, every mannerism a bowing apology. Quick, quick she unties one shoe, then the other. She juggles them to opposite hands and then quick, quick she ties one shoe, then the other. She looks up for approval. When Cho utters, “Thank you,” it also means “I hate you.” And, “Write your name on the nametag, stupid bitch.”
Leaning against the cold cab window on the way home, Cho watches narrow alleys and the lights on in every apartment pass. She hides from the driver’s rearview eyes behind a curtain of hair and listens to Kyon breathing as a child will do just before falling asleep, deeply. The cab slows, stops, and then idles in front of Cho’s brownstone. The porcelain sky shatters just then and sleet clatters on the sheets of sidewalk ice and car glass. Cho collects her bags, her son, and dashes to the door, splattering slush up the back of her legs.
Cho’s coat on a chair, shoes slipped off, heavy wet nylons piled on the first step to upstairs. Kyon’s quilted coat drenched, little hat hung, and yawning. And then Cho notices a vacancy on her wrist – her bracelets missing. She rushes outside in her bare feet hoping to find the bracelets between the front door and where the taxi was parked. She tips on her toes searching in the pelting sleet, but the bracelets are not to be found. Cho returns to the house and sits silent, rubbing warmth back into her feet. She contemplates the significance of the missing bracelets, inventing meaning when it doesn’t become evident. Cho begins to feel that Kyon has ruined her life. His neediness, his mismatched socks, his culpability in her disappearing accessories. The sharp-edged toys on the kitchen floor, the sleeplessness, the forever sticky face and fingers – all of it making her forget who she is and what she ever wanted.
Cho’s eyes become a mystery to Kyon. Sensing an atmospheric change, he hoards himself – mouth closed in fear, chin trembling. In a quiet yet quick explosion of movement, Cho collects Kyon’s wet shoes and moves to him kneeling. Without words, she positions him on the floor, his soles directed at her. And then, like so many times before, she purposefully jams Kyon’s shoes on the wrong feet. She yanks the laces tight while Kyon mouths the words, “Make the ears. Crisscross. Into the bunny hole. Pull them tight.”
The truth about love is that it isn’t always good. And the particular places from which Cho’s fury erupt, makes her immune to Kyon’s painful pleading. All Kyon understands is that his feet hurt and somehow, it’s his fault.
About the author:
Eric Bennett lives in New Jersey with his wife and four children. He loves trees without leaves and the silence between songs on vinyl records. His work appears in numerous literary and art journals including Writer’s Bloc, Fiction at Work, Prick of the Spindle, Ghoti Magazine, and PANK.
May 1, 2011 Comments Off on Eric Bennett/Fiction
Instructions for the Living, Part II
Remember that sometimes,
the dead do not go all at once.
Sometimes, the dead erode
like an unforgivable hillside.
This rise in the earth
from which you better viewed the world,
so unmoveable beneath the stomp
of everything else, is slipping away
in an unremarkable rain.
But so it is.
Their roots have let go of all they were,
bit by bit, until they hang
an embarrassing naked,
limp and pointing down at what was shed.
As if you needed a reminder
of what had been lost.
You find yourself wondering,
which piece was it?
Which piece, with its sloughing off,
turned him from father to shell?
The left hand’s refusal to palm
a morning coffee? A missing name
that even your dear and insistent face
could not call forth?
Do not do this math.
It is one of those things, like love,
that doesn’t need your permission.
How I Learned My Multiplication Tables
One is quiet, stoic, but knows more
than he lets on. Two is the mother of
everything else, even odd and unruly
children. Three is the artist. Four is a
sharp suit, he sets up the deals for Five,
the banker. Six likes to gossip. Seven
is a freak. Eight is almost there, pulled
together but still trying too hard. Nine
is who everyone dreams about. Ten is god.
They say this is what the married become:
An old mill, churning at nothing but the
water’s insistence; romantic in the forgotten
sense of the word. Sex will have
the satisfaction of a hard day’s work.
Your lover is your husband and no magic
is an everyday affair. To them
a heart must seem an appeasable,
if not bored, thumping marker of time.
There is a growing piece of my heart
that wants me dead. On days when it beats
the thick muscle of my chest I am filled
with soured wine. There is no mistaking
its sediment collecting in the corners
of my mouth. I am, each week, an unnamed
fear. Everyone who has ever loved me
becomes a fool. Everything I have ever touched
suddenly wishes it were whole. Every word
of comfort unspells itself. And when this
Tuesday afternoon, this Sunday before dinner,
this Friday before bed, is that last I want to see of it all
I find the man whose arms are old paths
and his mouth, a river. I go to him to drown.
In this ordinary small of a back I leave my ugly name.
This pocked and speckled shoulder I will bite until forgiven.
These eyes demand beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
until I breach from the sheets
a belated crescent moon,
glistening and spent.
God bless those who are so sure
what old love must be.
God bless the untroubled heart
that has never made love
to save itself.
About the poet:
Emily Kagan Trenchard began writing poetry while at the University of California, Berkeley, where her work was commissioned for an address to the graduating class of 2004. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies and she received an honorable mention in Rattle’s 2009 Poetry Prize. Emily holds a Master’s in Science Writing from MIT. She lives in Brooklyn where she is a co-curator of the renowned louderARTS Project Reading Series.
May 1, 2011 Comments Off on Emily Kagan Trenchard/Poetry
Digression on a Sign: Welcome to Sea Isle City
Where the sea grass by the bay can get to be twelve feet tall
and the dogs are so old they can’t be bothered to bark at passers-by.
They just come out to look at you and turn right back into their houses.
There’s something welcoming about a quiet dog.
My grandfather used to say most animals are nicer than most people.
Black bears, for instance, won’t come near you in the woods if you
sing loudly or clap as you walk. And if you’re a stupid, 19 year old
camp counselor and walk back out to your unit after a night off in
Main Camp with no flashlight and you come right up on a bear she’ll
just run like hell in the opposite direction you’re running.
My son might disagree—he was trapped in a latrine once, a black bear
scratching to get in—but he disagrees with me on most things, so maybe
I should tell him his teacher is wrong and you don’t need trigonometry
to be a functioning, happy adult. I don’t think I’ll tell him how I got
a fifty-seven on my trigonometry regents in high school, though.
He couldn’t keep that secret. Animals are better secret keepers.
My dogs, although the smaller of the two is pretty verbose in the
barking department, haven’t ever told any of my secrets, even after
they’ve had a drink. It’s disconcerting when animals are like people—
sheep cough, for instance, and when they’re mating porcupines laugh
like perverted old men. Trust me, this is not a good sound to hear
when you’re camping in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night
and you’re the only one awake. I always hated being the only one awake
at slumber parties when I was ten. I’d hear a weird noise and say “what
was that” and when no one answered I knew I was the last one awake
and I was responsible for the others, like the designated driver or the
mom who sets up the carpool.
Some moms try to make you feel guilty because it’s your third child
and you know he won’t die if he drops his pacifier and you just blow
off the bigger pieces of dirt and pop it back in his mouth. I wonder,
were these women really concerned for my baby’s welfare? I wonder
why they felt welcome to make such comments to me. I wonder too, at
road signs that say things like “Welcome to Sea Isle City” or Welcome
to New York State” or “Welcome to Pennsylvania,” as there’s no way
every single person who crosses town or state lines is actually welcome.
Some people are about as welcome anywhere as a porcupine in a latrine.
Did you know that if you don’t keep the outhouse doors shut porcupines
will come in and chew around the seat? They like the salty taste of the wood.
My ex-husband used to laugh about the time at his uncle’s cabin in the Catskills
When his uncle caught a porcupine and swung it around by its tail and let it go
and then it was stunned enough so he could bash its head in with a rock.
“They eat wood and wreck things,” he told the kids.
This uncle wasn’t all bad though, he once gave me “mountain coffee”
(with a shot of whiskey) at eight A.M. and said I would always be
welcome in his house because I helped him wash the cabin windows
with newspaper, which is the best for ending up with no streaks.
Porcupines don’t have too many redeeming qualities. They aren’t
really welcome anywhere, especially if there are dogs, even though
dogs are way more stupid than porcupines—case and point—my brother’s
dog tried to bite porcupines at least five different times, you’d think she
would learn, but you love them anyway, dogs, even if they’re too stupid
to stay away from what hurts them, unlike bears, who run from people
given half a chance and we don’t love bears, we love dogs because we
can leave them home alone all day and forget to feed them and they’re
still supremely happy to see us and welcome us unconditionally home.
How I Could Do It
He slept in a plastic crib-sized bed. It was like a racecar,
and the mattress sank with our weight as we read to him,
the smell of urine faint but definite. His dandelion-down
hair tickled my nose and I knew I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t
even read to him without choking. “What’s wrong, Mommy?
Sing!” he said, and I said “just a tickle, just a frog taste
in my throat,” but I sang a little, then he slept.
It was as if he knew. What if he wanted me in the night
on his father’s night? He wasn’t even four. Later I heard
small, soft vibrations–feet pajamas on carpet. “I can’t sleep,
he said. It was two AM. I was still up, still trying to decide.
“What’s wrong?” I said. He grabbed me. His neck smelled
like aspirin. He said “I had a dream about hands. I was afraid,”
which is why I decided not to decide, at least not tonight.
Then in preschool later that week: “He doesn’t listen.
He stands on his head. He laughs when we punish him,”
his caregiver said. “He hit Sarah with a train today.
Is there anything wrong at home?” They say children
internalize tension. I say, hey, he is loved. I pick him up early
when he bites the black-haired girl on the arm. Her mother
shows me the marks—two berry red half moons. He blinks
like he’s never seen them before. He says, “She tasted sour.”
About the poet:
Svea Barrett is a writing teacher and a mom of three teenage boys. Her chapbook, Why I Collect Moose, won the 2005 Poets Corner Press Poetry Chapbook Competition, and her work has appeared in The Paterson Literary Review, Samsara Quarterly, The Journal of NJ Poets, Caduceus, US 1 Worksheets, Ariel XXVII, and other online and print journals.
May 1, 2011 Comments Off on Svea Barrett/Poetry
End of the Day
By John Palen
After cleaning up the kitchen for the third time that day, Dave sat at the table with a cup of coffee and his list. The table was covered with a fresh cloth, green and yellow. The house was quiet and, except for the kitchen, dark. On a sheet of scratch paper Dave started a new list, beginning with uncompleted items: Iron clothes, vacuum bedrooms. Then he added new tasks he’d thought of during the day. An overhead light fixture in the basement hung loose on one side and needed to be reattached. The furnace needed to be drained. Before he was laid off he had neglected the furnace. One fall he had to pay $600 for new valves and sensors. Couldn’t let that happen now.
He heard a door closing upstairs, a flush, slippered feet on the floor. It was Diane going to the bathroom, going back to bed. Today was Tuesday. He added Wednesday’s tasks to the new list. Then he added tasks done daily. Wednesday was the day to clean bathrooms and mow. The main daily task was supposed to be looking for a job. “Looking for a job is a full-time job,” the human resources guy told him in a scripted 20-minute session the day he was laid off. For a while he believed it. Now he knew it to be untrue. He wrote “look for work” on the list every day, but there were few jobs, and he spent more time simply dealing with money — juggling credit cards, haggling with collection agencies, prioritizing bills. He and Diane were two months behind on the mortgage, heading toward three.
The refrigerator kicked on, triggering a 30-year-old memory. It was a memory that almost anything could trigger, especially at night. When he was 18, Dave had killed someone, a middle-aged woman. She ran a red light and he broadsided her on the driver’s side. The accident undermined him. His depression faded away after three years of therapy, but the fact that he wasn’t at fault didn’t eliminate his visceral guilt, or his memory of watching the woman die. Something dimmed in her eyes, slow but steady, like water draining in a sluggish sink until it’s gone. After that he knew two certainties: Terrible things can happen without warning; and there are points of no return, points from which no recovery is possible.
When he finished the new list, he put today’s list with its checkmarks and marginal notes into a drawer. It joined a stack next to the flatware tray. At first he’d thrown his lists away. Eventually he realized they weren’t reminders of things he needed to do. They were reminders of things he had done, disconnected pieces of the day, like floating debris he could cling to. About a year ago he began to keep them, dated and stapled, month by month.
Dave was tired, but he looked around the kitchen with something almost like happiness. It was neat and spotless. He liked to keep it that way, using a more-expensive, name-brand cleaner on counters, mopping the floor, scrubbing crevices with a toothbrush, In six hours, he’d be up for breakfast with Diane, a supermarket cashier on the morning shift. Tonight he wouldn’t risk waking her. He sat a few more minutes, then poured another cup of coffee. Suddenly tired of paying attention, of watchfulness, he carried the coffee to the family room, turned the TV on low and stretched his legs in front of the couch. After a while he slept. Brightly colored images played across his face.
About the author:
John Palen’s Open Communion: New and Selected Poems was published by Mayapple Press. Since then he has published chapbooks with March Street Press and Pudding House, and has recent work appearing or forthcoming in Clapboard House, Bare Root Review and Off the Coast. He lives in Illinois.
May 1, 2011 2 Comments
Not Fading Away –
Two Old Men, Two New Albums
By Jeff Katz
How to Become Clairvoyant – Robbie Robertson
One of the biggest surprises of 1987 was Robbie Robertson’s self-titled debut. Yes, he wrote nearly all of The Band’s classic hits (though ex- drummer Levon Helm would later angrily dispute that claim). Sure he was a fierce lead guitarist, but his singing had always been an unknown. Robertson didn’t need to open his mouth in a band that contained Helm, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko, a trio of distinctive vocalists that are topped in rock history only by John, Paul and George. Yet, Robbie’s voice on his eponymous release was a gripping combination of coarse speak-sing, straight narration and straining high-pitched wails of beauty. It was an immediate classic and worth the decade long wait from the The Band’s final studio LP, Islands.
Since then, Robertson’s recorded output has been sporadic, and How to Become Clairvoyant is his first new album in 13 years. As such, it is much anticipated and delivers. Robertson appears on the cover dressed, seemingly, as the Unabomber, but he presents straight forward rock and roll; nothing as threatening as Ted Kaczynksi.
The album is built around its guests: Robert Randolph, Tom Morello, Trent Reznor (a little of Reznor’s moody sound baths go a long way. Hey, I’ve seen The Social Network twice; I get it), Steve Winwood, and the most promoted of all, Eric Clapton. The Clapton-Robertson sessions date from the early 1990s. Clapton has made no bones about wanting to join forces with The Band after the demise of Cream, but until now there were only brief encounters in The Last Waltz and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies. The guitar and vocal interplay of the two is at the core of the record – Clapper is featured on seven of the 12 tunes, sharing lead vocals on the casually shuffling “Fear of Falling.” Stevie’s prominent organ bursts are also worthy of a shout out.
There are two musical and historical highlights. “When the Night Was Young,” about a certain youthful musician starting on the road, the road that would, for Robertson, turn out to be “a goddamn impossible way of life,” but for the then teenage Canadian and his band, the sights of Highway 61, God Bless America signs, and billboards touting guns and religious apocalypse were striking welcomes to the country that gave the birth to the music he followed.
“This Is Where I Get Off” is Robertson’s breakup song, 30 years late. Robbie makes it clear that he never wanted to leave the band, that he saw the growing alcoholism and rapid descent of band mates Manuel and Danko as the signal to move on. True? I don’t know. Certainly watching The Last Waltz would give one all the reasons they need to believe that Robbie had his sights on a new career of films and self-glorification with new friend Martin Scorsese. (They’ve worked on eight films together since). Were “the chances I’m taking against my will,” as Robertson sings? Hard to say. It’s an achingly wistful song, a soaring account of an unsure decision.
Scattered among the solid tracks is one big clinker. “Axman,” is of the worst type, in the tradition of tripe like “Rock and Roll Heaven.” Even the great Morello can’t save this singing laundry list of guitar gods. Despite that single lapse in judgment, Robbie Robertson has produced a superb record with How to Become Clairvoyant, adding significant bits of detail to the tales of rock’s past while not wasting a bit of time resting on prior accomplishments.
So Beautiful or So What – Paul Simon
I’ll admit that I am predisposed to like a new Paul Simon album. From the get-go, Simon’s solo work left Simon & Garfunkel in the dust and, among his peers (McCartney, Dylan to name two), Simon’s solo work has been an unparalleled run of excellence. The worst of his work (You’re the One, One Trick Pony and Songs from The Capeman) is quite good with moments of brilliance, and the best of his work (all the rest) are classics. Where does So Beautiful or So What sit among Paul Simon’s 12 studio albums?
The liner notes are off-putting and gave me pause. Written by Elvis Costello, they are grandiosely fawning and, for a second, I wondered if Paul was a little unsure of himself. He gets that way; after public failures like the movie One Trick Pony or the Broadway flop of Capeman, Simon tends to seek out a certain Garfunkel for financial, and perhaps artistic, rejuvenation. 2006’s Surprise was a top-notch recording, but not a hit was to be found.
No worries. So Beautiful is ridiculously good, bouncing effortlessly from the seriousness of Iraq and life after death to the goofiness of the secret of existence contained in an old Gene Vincent tune. “The Afterlife” is as funny a take on eternity as Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life, and it’s only 3:40!
I’ll admit something else; I don’t particularly like the obtuse lyrics that mark Graceland and The Rhythm of The Saints. Paul doesn’t need to try so hard to convey deep messages and wry phrases. So Beautiful is straight-forward in its poetry, hearkening back to Paul Simon and There Goes Rhymin’ Simon in easy humor and heartfelt emotion.
“Dazzling Blue” is an amalgam of Simon’s solo styles. Over tabla and clay pots, Simon strums a tale of a leisurely drive out to Montauk. It’s followed by “Rewrite,” where Simon thanks the Lord for interceding as he revises his work and his life, accompanied by djembe, glass harp and bass talking drum, in another fusing of the exotic with the common.
Clearly, Paul has mortality on his mind. The sixties legends – McCartney, Dylan, Robertson, The Stones, etc.) – have created something new: the aging, artistically valid, rock star. Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard: they’ve been rehashing their hits for 50 years. That’s true, to a small degree about the ‘60’s icons, but, album after album these guys keep producing fresh, vital music. I’m sure it keeps them young, but they’re not young, and they know it (well, maybe McCartney and Jagger don’t know it).
Simon has always ably mixed seriousness with comedy, but he’s at his happiest stuck in the ‘50’s. I saw that in full view when he sang doo wop background vocals for Dion at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert in 2009. (Clearly, that night was important to Paul too. He thanks B.B. King, who shared the bill, for turning him on to the recordings of The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet’s recordings, which Simon puts to use in “Love and Blessings.”) That affinity for basic rock, and a rededication to rhythm-based, rather than melody-based, tunes is what marks his pre- and post- Graceland albums. But So Beautiful or So What mixes the best of Paul Simon; super melodies over solid beats, with words that’ll make you smile as you think.
So, where does So Beautiful or So What sit among Paul Simon’s 12 studio albums?
— Jeff Katz is music editor of Ragazine.
May 1, 2011 1 Comment