Today, only a few poems
(some famous, some not yet known)
and a little prose.
Stay Home. Stay Safe.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
you say I breathe too loud and write too often
and cry too loud and often
and speak unexpectedly
and when I am not there I think of you so
densely that doors slam for no reason
lamps swing and objects rattle and throw themselves
into the void beneath
believe me I see why this bothers you
but brother you ask too much you ask
for my annihilation and my transparency
and you see I cannot give up haunting you
because for years there was nothing and then there was you
and between nothing and you I lost my citizenship
my nationality my east
and my west
I lost the certainty of sundays and sunrises
my capacity to read the sign and the seas and the signs in the sea
[19022016 haunted house]
Pictures at an Exhibition
Lying on a thin mattress spread out underneath a piano in Vienna’s Museum of Art History, listening to what the piano man called “Italian shmaltz”, and which was only minimally different from the Chopin he’d played previously, I wondered. Was this really ‘art’? Or glorified lounge music in an unusual setting? And did it matter, at all? I enjoyed myself, I knew that. I loved the fact that I was lying in the museum of art history, staring up at the ceiling and the underbelly of the grand piano.
I was visiting Ganymed Dreaming, the latest iteration of the Ganymed events in the museum. Though there is some background story to the format, the idea is actually rather simple: Artists invited by the curator choose paintings on the museum’s walls that they then riff on. They dance, they write texts for actors to work with, they play music. And though there is a certain ‘event’ character to the whole thing, this is not going to be a debate about the purity of art in an age of commerce, or marketing, or theming. What made me wonder whether poor Ganymed was maybe tripping rather than dreaming was the insistence of some of the participating artists on their work’s importance and artistry. Sometimes, it seems, too much art doesn’t lead to the sublime, but to the annoying.
It could have been so enjoyable. There were performances, such as the one with piano that left me smiling. There was a collaboration between a dancer and a singer, Lampedusa, that, in its rawness and unflinching portrayal of suffering left me unable to stay in the room—and I consider that a success. There was a blind actor describing Breughel’s Spring, a painting that may have existed. And there was a piece that made me want to write about the entire evening, a well-known Viennese soprano beating a gong, reciting a monologue which, as the listener is told halfway through, is that of Vladimir Putin speaking. I found the gong recital horrible. It struck me as an unnecessary attempt to be political, experimental, maybe even funny—though in what philosophy of humor I would not know—and it was a major annoyance. Even worse, when I read reviews of Ganymed Dreaming, it was this particular performance that was singled out for praise by the critics.
So there I was, ready to vent my mildly angry confusion, ready to explain to the critics why they were wrong, ready to write a fiery piece about the overratedness of some kinds of art, about the silly game of talking about culture and praising the mediocre, the moronic, the pretend-smart. I would find eloquent phrases about the horrible things that happen when something simply doesn’t work yet screams at its audience “Look at me, for I am art!”, not to mention when those whose job it is to explain art to the public then make a big deal about it. I would critique what I felt to be cheap politicizing even though I fully agreed with the sentiment behind the piece.
That’s when the doubt crept in. Maybe underneath my veneer of self-righteousness there was a philistine after all? Maybe I was finally being presented with the bill for being so arrogant towards people who didn’t “get it” when I considered something artistically valuable? Also, how could I strike a pose as a writer that would get the readers on my side, one that would allow them to identify with me and not the artists I critiqued? How would I be able to express my enjoyment of the performances that made the evening so positively memorable while maintaining a cool detachment in writing about the gongful Putin monologue? Would I strike a tone of honesty, cynicism, or confusion—which would best represent my feelings, but would make for a confusing reading experience? Was it simply arrogant to presume that I could write about art performance?
And from there, a cascade of increasing doubt started. I tried to introduce other pieces to show that I was ready to accept “difficult” art and then harp on about the difference between Lampedusa‘s raw effect on me and the Putin gongery’s lack of emotional connection or cathartic potential. I didn’t even manage to properly describe Lampedusa. I wanted to describe the simple beauty of Marino Formenti’s piano playing, and how he had engaged in an honest and touching dialogue with the audience, explaining to us what the Lorenzo Lotto portrait of a young man had done with him, and how he would try to play music for us to bypass our brains and give us the gift of a mild touch of a similar experience. And I found that I couldn’t even do such a simple thing justice. My plan had then be to finish my glorious rant on the last performance I saw, in which a naked actress directed our gaze across her body by commanding us to look at her, by playing with our shame, guilt, and pleasure (paging Dr. Freud). A thrilling experience, playful and direct, and wouldn’t it be the perfect way to end what would otherwise have been an exercise in whining? Too bad I didn’t even manage to write about a piano player’s performance of Chopin and Italian shmaltz.
I guess this is what differentiates the finished piece of art from an amateur’s feeble attempt at critique. The finished piece of art has the assertiveness of going ahead and doing it. It knows when to stop questioning and just do, as much as that may be a tortuous process in and of itself. It offers itself up for the critic, even if said critic may be a friend or part of the same circle and inclined to write something nice for the evening paper or some less anachronistic medium.
The Vladimir Putin gonging massacre was still horrible, overrated in the media, and in dire need of a child pointing out that the emperor is butt-naked, not to mention overpaid. I still wish there had been something else to fill these ten or something minutes of my life. But the soprano went out there twelve nights in a row, recited the libretto and beat the gong for one group of visitors after another. All I’m offering you, dear reader, is the confusion this has left me with, and the ramblings of my disenchanted mind—the difference, possibly, between the artist and the critic.
 In Greek mythology, beautiful young Ganymed was “taken” by Zeus to serve the Gods as a cup-bearer. In Baroque painting, his beauty and scantily-clad body were what painters seemed most interested in. In 2010, the producers “wenn es so weit ist” launched their first series of evening performances that centered around Correggio’s Ganymed painting in Vienna’s Museum of Art History, as well as other paintings chosen by participating artists.
Krista to Mary
Mrs Segura Mrs Segura
Do you know Do you know
That your cake that you baked
Made it into a poem
Where a hoppityhop eats your sugar
Out of a prize-winning hand
Watch your sugar Mrs Segura
Travel across a wild and troubled land.
“Make up a story… For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.”
— Toni Morrison
The Real Prayers Are Not the Words,
But the Attention that Comes First
The little hawk leaned sideways and, tilted,
rode the wind. Its eye at this distance looked
like green glass; its feet were the color
of butter. Speed, obviously, was joy. But
then, so was the sudden, slow circle it carved
into the slightly silvery air, and the
squaring of its shoulders, and the pulling into
itself the long, sharp-edged wings, and the
fall into the grass where it tussled a moment,
like a bundle of brown leaves, and then, again,
lifted itself into the air, that butter-color
clenched in order to hold a small, still
body, and it flew off as my mind sang out oh
all that loose, blue rink of sky, where does
it go to, and why?
A Poetic Romance
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.
Nor do we merely feel these essences
For one short hour; no, even as the trees
That whisper round a temple become soon
Dear as the temple’s self, so does the moon,
The passion poesy, glories infinite,
Haunt us till they become a cheering light
Unto our souls, and bound to us so fast,
That, whether there be shine, or gloom o’ercast;
They always must be with us, or we die.
Therefore, ’tis with full happiness that I
Will trace the story of Endymion.
The very music of the name has gone
Into my being, and each pleasant scene
Is growing fresh before me as the green
Of our own valleys: so I will begin
Now while I cannot hear the city’s din;
Now while the early budders are just new,
And run in mazes of the youngest hue
About old forests; while the willow trails
Its delicate amber; and the dairy pails
Bring home increase of milk. And, as the year
Grows lush in juicy stalks, I’ll smoothly steer
My little boat, for many quiet hours,
With streams that deepen freshly into bowers.
Many and many a verse I hope to write,
Before the daisies, vermeil rimm’d and white,
Hide in deep herbage; and ere yet the bees
Hum about globes of clover and sweet peas,
I must be near the middle of my story.
O may no wintry season, bare and hoary,
See it half finish’d: but let Autumn bold,
With universal tinge of sober gold,
Be all about me when I make an end.
And now, at once adventuresome, I send
My herald thought into a wilderness:
There let its trumpet blow, and quickly dress
My uncertain path with green, that I may speed
Easily onward, thorough flowers and weed.
There is no such thing as ‘I have nothing to write about’.
Life has more than enough to offer, subject-wise.
Don’t give up.
Keep on writing.