Bill Kushner, In Sunsetland With You, Straw Gate Books, 2007.
An ominous and surreal pall infects this bittersweet collection by two-time NYFA Fellow Bill Kushner, who pairs a character named Billy with Abraham Lincoln. Billy is cast as a simple, wayward lad, innocent but seducible. Lincoln is an adult with “hairy arms.” Yet he also embodies an unattainable quest. These two encounter other characters and provide a rhythmic structure, as does the liberal and musical use of repetition.
Vernacular is gnarled and garlanded in a balanced combination. Kushner is going for the jugular as he opines. Lines hiss and spit and bite, snarling like Catullus only to capsize in a wave of Whitmanesque sentiment. “More shall we fly together/ of our dark dark midnights/ in search of America, that far lost/ country, I say no more.”
The last poem breaks away from Kushner’s parables. Here the cartoon aspect disappears. The pain of loneliness is countered with the joy of sex as the author navigates diary entries on a “sad slushy” morning or a “Night sitting alone in some cheap… place.” Penury is lamented but glorified. Companionship is lost and found and then remembered and eulogized. Strains of Ginsberg’s exalted desperation bubble up and win us over: “I wander naked weeping through Chinatown.”
Wise and wicked, Kushner winks as much as he winces.
Janine Pommy Vega, Trans., Estamos Aqui: Poems by Migrant Farmworkers, Bowery Books, 2007.
As a teenager, Janine Pommy Vega fell in with the Beats and later traveled the world. She spent a lot of time in Peru and became fluent in Spanish. For many years now she has lived in Woodstock and paid the rent by teaching workshops to “those behind the bars.” As a translator she is, how they say “simpatico.”
Some of these poems by migrant farmworkers are like jeweled oral histories. The best recall the same spirits that visited Lorca, Paz and Neruda. There is danger. Witches and ghosts flit by. Lovers are separated. Places are missed. Consolation is found.
In a poem by Humberto Hernandez, a man plants a tree. “I made sure to plant you with love/ You are so special.” Each season, the poet asks his friend, the tree: “How many promises of love/ And secrets will you keep?” We should be very glad these people are tending our food, as Vega points out in her introduction.
The poems are presented en face, across from “Gota de Agua” by Romulo Bernardo Cortéz, we read of “Drop of Water.” The author extends water as a metaphor with dead-on effect. “Please…/ take me to the contour of your lips/ and convert this simple drop/ into the moist diamond/ of a tender kiss.”
Nate Pritts, Sensational Spectacular, Blaze VOX, 2007.
Ah, to be young and full of energy, as “feet barely touch/ the ground… running straight out.” Nate Pritts writes like a receiver barreling down the field to catch the long bomb. He’s a conquistador in a funhouse. He’s out to explore the universe and carry on.
The collection begins with a quote by Kenneth Koch who “never mentioned… friends” and then presents 24 catchy poems about friends. Trips, games and conversations shift from quirky patter to philosophical dictums. Grand ideas evolve from communal pursuits.
In “Outcasts of Infinity” Pritts notes “whenever one… gets down in the dumps/ it’s up to the rest of us to come to the rescue.”
The next section, called “Big Crisis,” shows Pritts to be a metaphorical metaphysicist (think of John Donne). He starts with implausible images and turns them into elegant equations. “Each thought in my head is a missile/ … and each thought chunk is an explosion of me.” Several thoughts and “Booms” later, and Pritts has reinvented an amorous entreaty.
Prefacing the last section, “The Brave and the Bold,” Pritts cites Coleridge: “well they are gone, and here I must remain.” Yet he returns to the shorter friend poems. The only problem with this book is the repetition. Too many friends and fast feet.
ContributorJeffrey Cyphers Wright
ARTUR SCHNABEL AND JOSEPH SZIGETI PLAY MOZART AT THE FRICK COLLECTION (APRIL 4, 1948)By Lloyd Schwartz
JUNE 2023 | Poetry
Lloyd Schwartz is the Poet Laureate of Somerville, MA, the Frederick S. Troy Professor of English Emeritus at UMass Boston, the longtime music and art critic for NPRs Fresh Air and WBUR, and an editor of the poetry and prose of Elizabeth Bishop. His awards include the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and Guggenheim Foundation, NEA, and Academy of American Poets fellowships in poetry. His poems have been chosen for the Pushcart Prize, The Best American Poetry, and The Best of the Best American Poetry. His latest collection is Whos on First? New and Selected Poems (University of Chicago Press). He was born in Williamsburg.
Sayre Gomez: Renaissance CollectionBy Jake Romm
SEPT 2022 | ArtSeen
Los Angeles based painter Sayre Gomezs exhibition of new work, Renaissance Collection, currently on view at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, Italy consists of five paintings focused on the eponymous collection of apartment buildings by developer Geoff Palmer. Palmer is notorious for being both a sleazy and rapacious figure in the LA real estate scene, and also, something of an idiot, having once claimed that The Italians actually settled LA before the Spanish and Chinese.
Channeling Robert Ashley: Object Collection at The BrickBy Dan Joseph
DEC 22–JAN 23 | Music
At its core, Automatic Writing is a kind of ritual magic rendered on magnetic tape. Imbued with a sense of occult-like mysticism, it transforms sound and language into a surrealist psychological space. Developed in the studio over a five year period, Ashley wrote that Automatic Writing became a kind of opera in my imagination that conjures a set of four shadowy characters. It is this hallucinatory auditory space, this imaginary opera, that Object Collection sought to animate on the stage.
The Morozov Collection: Icons of Modern ArtBy Natalia Gierowska
MARCH 2022 | ArtSeen
The Morozov Collection: Icons of Modern Art brings to light the forgotten story of Russian brothers Mikhail Morozov (18701903) and Ivan Morozov (18711921), who amassed one of the worlds most spectacular collections of Impressionist and modern art. It is the first time that the Morozov Collection, which comprises nearly two hundred paintings and sculptures, has been shown outside Russia.