Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Characters for hire

As the evening settles in early and I am still here in my pyjamas reading stories by others and poems by students my mind wanders round to the issue at hand: I have all these characters and mini situations that occur to me, but no desire to take them out for a walk and see how they do in the world. So, I offer them up to you, fair fiction writers that you may well be. All I ask is that you let me know who they become if ever they do, and what you name them.

Jobless 20somethinger, man, obsessed with watching the goings-on through the windows of a hospital opposite the apartment where he lives in a mid-sized town. Rarely if ever leaves home. Has binoculars for zoom view. Living vicariously? or suffering vicariously? Big smoker, thanks to his roomate who comes and goes providing groceries, criticism and packs of Marlboro Reds. Not a computer dude.

Woman, psychic but in denial that being psychic is possible. Late thirties, scientist specializing in genetics, well off. Often required to go to "functions" and to kiss up to potential grant providers or pharmaceutical companies who fund her and her lab's work. Likes to dress up for these, hates the socializing. Lives with longterm boyfriend who makes good living, he likes his independence and that she is independent though both want kids now. One night, at a cocktail party to launch a new partnership with Pfischer, an old woman comes up through the milling crowd and grabs her arm, staring deep into her eyes. She has a long flash of herself about to be robbed by that same woman. When the old lady lets go and quickly snatches the purse of our scientist and charges for the elevator, our scientist is stunned immobile by what she imagined now happening. As the momentary daze wears off, she chases after the old lady who turns, hands her her bag, and says "You need to know what you are capable of". Our scientist snatches her purse back and turns to return to the party, only mumbling shakily, "a fluke, that was."

Lesbian on the cusp of thirty, this woman has always appeared very rational, and still does, but inside she has a wild, imaginary life where she believes strongly that she is being watched 24/7, and therefore behaves in little ways, especially when totally alone, as if on camera. When she meets new people she often suspects they are part of the plot to learn more about her, so is evasive when asked questions or makes things up. But now, she is falling in love with a total stranger who is equally opaque when it comes to discussing her past or job. As things progress, will the inner life of our main charater begin to seep through the fissures of the outer one, especially as she grows more desperate to know her new partner?

Man, bald except for tufts of soft white hair not unlike bat-wings flopping over his ears, early 60s, a widower, comes home to his small house in the suburbs to find it has burnt down. Puzzled as to why no one called him about it, especially since he has lived in this neighborhood for over 30 years, he stands there for awhile. No one comes out of their house to see whether they can offer him comfort or an explanation. Perplexed, he goes to a local cafe where he borrows the laptop of another client to email his two children (who are now grown and living with their own families on opposite sides of the country). He announces that he has decided to take early retirement from his well-paid accountant job and head out on a trip.

Math whizzes, these two high school juniors, boy and girl, not a couple, decide they want to do a summer internship with the FBI. They think, after all, it is a riot that the FBI even has such a program. However, FBI internships aren't available for people their age. So, their first step must be to fake i.d.s thoroughly enough to even get their applications through the door. Both are generally not political, but love puzzles, and finding out what really goes on in the FBI and whether the system is as full of holes as they think it is, is the adventure they figure will get them away from the dull, smalltown community they have been living in and prepare them for writing the coolest MIT entrance essays ever, guaranteeing them a spot.

Monday, January 19, 2009

ArtSeen III: Julie LeGrand

The third in the monthly series of articles on visual artists living in Paris is JUST UP today at Richard Nahem's "EyePreferParis" site. More of a critique and reflection on her work than the past two, this short article is accompanied by some great photos by Antonio Meza (freelance photographer friend in Paris, who also took the photo above of Julie LeGrand). Meza's photos with the artist and her work as well as her showing her work to Virginie Poitrasson and I, are a lot of fun. Other pics on the EyePreferParis site are from shows at the Château de St Ouen and the Galerie Anton Weller that represents her work here in Paris.

To read the article,
go to the January 19th post entitled "ArtSeen III: Julie LeGrand", at Direct Link:

Previous ArtSeen Articles:
Artseen II: Seulgi Lee
Artseen I: Kate Van Houten

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tattoo Flash

The down-the-lane neighbor came home twice a year. He arrived in a milky polyester suit and red tie. Changed into khakis, but couldn’t talk anymore. “Don’t they take speech out East?” Betsy asked, popping a fat pink bubble. “All I know,” Ted said, figuring perhaps we wouldn’t regret mice tattoos if we couldn’t see them ourselves—or if he told us a good tale, “is that in New York City they’ve got colorful high-rises and people sit for days in traffic jams.” Seemed reasonable enough. I held up the mirror so Mary Ellen could see. She wriggled and wrinkled her nose. Well, could be worse, I thought, at least the apples look real.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hitotoki Paris

By the by, check out Hitotoki Paris and my new short prose piece which Lauren Elkin just put up on the site today!!! It is Gilded angels taking off from Châtelet, Bastille, Invalides at : I am super content to be a part of this place-based project, and I adore the photo of Paris fashion... with gas mask!!!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

12x12 at University of Iowa Press

12x12: Conversations in 21st-Century Poetry and Poetics Edited by Christina Mengert and Joshua Marie Wilkinson

"Bringing together penetrating conversations between poets of different generations as they explore process and poetics, poetry’s influence on other art forms, and the political and social aspects of their work, 12 × 12 restores poesis to the center of poetry. Christina Mengert and Joshua Marie Wilkinson have assembled an expansive and searching view of the world through the eyes of twenty-four of our most vital and engaging poets. Punctuated by poems from each contributor, 12 × 12 brings together an unparalleled range of poets and poetries, men and women from around the world, working poets for whom the form vitally matters."--Univ of IA Press website

A few years back I was honored to receive an email from two poets I did not yet know, Christina Mengert and Joshua Marie Wilkinson. They invited me to participate in an anthology, which would include my poems but also a creative "conversation" I would arrange between myself and someone I considered a mentor. I thought of many people, but in the end selected Laura Mullen, my MFA director from CSU, and someone whose work I admired and continue to follow as it expands to explore increasingly exciting ways of using language (see my review of her most recent mindblowing book from FuturePoem Books, Murmur, in How2journal).

Laura and I entered into a back and forth email conversation about conversing on poetry. Questions, quotations and thought processes emerged, and eventually we ended up with the collaborative text where we speak to each other on the page that is now being collected into 12x12.

More exciting even than seeing the poems in this collection will be to hear what others think of this dialogue, and to read the conversations of the other poets who were invited to participate.

Contributors to 12x12

Jennifer K. Dick–Laura Mullen
Jon Woodward–Rae Armantrout
Sabrina Orah Mark–Claudia Rankine
Christian Hawkey–Tomaž Šalamun
Christian Hume–Rosmarie Waldrop
Srikanth Reddy–Mark Levine
Karen Volkman–Allen Grossman
Paul Fattaruso–Dara Wier
Mark Yakich–Mary Leader
Michelle Robinson–Paul Auster
Sawako Nakayasu–Carla Harryman
Ben Lerner–Aaron Kunin

It has been a long time coming, but Christina Mengert and Joshua Marie Wilkinson have done a fabulous job of making sure their project came off the shelf and into the light, and with one of my favorite University poetry presses in the States to boot! It is SO exciting to see the 12x12 is forthcoming in APRIL 2009--so feel free to ORDER YOUR advanced COPIES NOW, available online at University of Iowa Press (click title at top of this post to go directly to order page, or to read more anthology blurbs)!!!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Delectable Paris...What this cold season's good for.

To return from cold Iowa to cold Paris is not ideal. Yet the city, especially at night, is so vibrant. As in Iowa, Paris saw snow this week (as pictured on the awning the Le Gulf Stream café under my building, left, taken early in the morning as I headed off to teach my first class this month). But the weather this week wasn't so cold as to keep Parisians away from the Tuileries gardens, or sweet treats under the fantastic site of La Grande Roue (my pic at right) last Sunday. La Roue was quite a sight, bright white with the golden lights of the Crillon tumbling over its balconies as if the gilded waves of light might spill into the Place de la Concorde's sleepy winter Sunday night traffic. Behind the wheel stand the long lane of trees still lit for Christmas along the Champs Elysée, and farther to the left a golden Tour Eiffel sparkles once an hour since 2000. All in all, the city of lights earns its title.

This is also the best season for visiting expos and museums as they are empty (after all, what tourist wants to freeze their toes off in paris at this time!). Museums and cinemas are warm and full of inspiration for the chilled writer. But I also find right now my focus on the world is more visual than language oriented. Therefore I have been carrying my camera everywhere, in part inspired by photographer friend Jennifer Huxta and her constant documenting of the world she lives in, the Vardas film and seeing lots of photos in expos this month. Here are a few pics reflected in the window looking out at the Grande Roue from the Jeu de Paume with Marielle and I reflected in the windows. We caught the final day of the Lee Miller expo, a treat--especially with the documentary film on her life.

January is also the season for dinners at friends, if lucky by a fireplace (as I did the other night after work with Agnès, who invited me over to help finish the leftover foie gras from New Years and to curl up on her couch, watch a movie, read, look out at frozen Belleville in -11°C temps).

But this season is also full of sweetness, hot chocolates, chai, or the lovely frangipan treat that goes with this week's holiday: la galette des rois. It hits the boulangerie stands once a year, to celebrate the three kings bearing gifts to Christ, but really is an excuse to gather again with friends or family for dinner and dessert. Here is a homemade galette baked by Antoine, alongside my picture of some in the Le Notre window at the Bastille shop, and then a pic of our fabulous post-holiday dinner at Virginie Poitrasson's place with Michelle Noteboom, Jennifer Huxta, Virginie Poitrasson, Fred Forte, and Antoine. We drank champagne again for the dinner, but Virginie broke out a fabulous cider for the galette!

And now, perhaps back out into Paris, or under the covers of the bed with a good book (reading Lyn Hejinian's Saga/Circus (Omnidawn Press, 2008)--another great book from her, reviewed by John Herbert Cunningham !!!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Paris, Paris, Paris... & Agnès Vardas on Les Plages

Back in Paris, a Friday night, the world vibrant and alive after a cold, snowy, icy Christmas in Iowa. Though far brighter than days here, that Iowa cold makes Paris feel soft, walkable. I returned the 31st to go out party-hopping with Angès, Pascale, Carole, Najira and others, dancing, singing and enjoying the freeflow of champagne after wonderful homemade fois gras by the fireplace at Agnès' as we rung in the new year 2009 (May it bring you all joy and inspiration!).

Now, after a few days inside, I head back out into the world, off to meet friends (Cole & Anthony) for drinks before they do the reverse trek back to Iowa and DC, then more friends (Marielle and two people she has not seen for a few years, Ralph and Sabine, a German and Frenchwoman living in London) for more drinks (the season of vin chaud) before heading to a Southern Chinese restaurant for affordable spicy dishes of all sorts with Marielle. But the highlight of the evening is seeing the film about Agnès Varda, Les Plages Varda--a docu-autobiography of this filmaker and photographer that many have come to love.

During Les Plages Varda, a film I only felt sure I would find enjoyable on some flat aesthetic level, I laugh at her wonderfully purple hair, am touched by her accounts of losing friends and husband, am energized by the references she makes throughout to artists, filmakers, actors I admire (from Catherine Deneuve, Jane Birkin, Truffot to Harrison Ford, Jim Morrison, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol), but most of all I am swept away by the various random images threaded through the film:

A series of trapeze artists swing above the sea. For a moment Varda rests her chin on the shoulder of a wooden chinese acupuncture statue (or that is what I think it is), A series of desks and computers and people answering phones propped atop a pile of sand on a manmade beach in the middle of a street (in Paris?). The snaps blogged here are from Getty Images, thanks, and are not the precise moments which struck me, but are near them.

I am reminded also of my own memories as she recounts her own, going to the Palais Chaillot for the William Forsythe piece a few years back, or the days I spent alone on Venice Beach in California at the end of a cool November in 2004 trying to shorten the talk I was going to give at UCIrving's Diasporic Avant-Gardes Converence. The light of the beach and the pier in her film was the light I lay on the sand in, listening to the sea, thinking of the poems I was talking about (those by Myung Mi Kim and Claude Royet-Journout). Dusk coming on as I grew chilly, not unlike this Chris Markeresque black & white of the Venice Pier (by Nitsa, c 2000-2007)

Throughout the film on Varda, I felt like making my own films of still images mixed up with sped-up moving images, all overlaid with either a voice over or music, or both. Making one of my new neigh-borhood, the 10th, in Paris, these as-of-yet not overtouristed backroads, sari-selling shops and their Indian restaurant neighbors such as my favorite, Dishny, on rue Cail, of the lovely bookstore with its red red awningcalled Litote across from one of many overpriced Franprix shops, the eternal roadwork on the tiny block of rue Louis Blanc between Fbg St Martin and Lafayette, the tiniest block, always under work, where the construction blocks a long fruit and vegetable seller's wares from the eyes of any potential clients. And then, reality returns. I am not a filmmaker, nor even a mediocre photographer--but this film, counting the life of one person across that of many others, makes me think, ah, if only I had the most minute inkling of the techniques!

As Marielle and I step out of the theater, braced for the cool midnight air billowing under and around our scarves, we are blasted by the bright lights of the police halting the traffic at Place de la Bastille so that a huddle of roller skaters and roller bladers might WHOOOSH past. A Friday night regular event, which we realize is not even to be missed in this cold. Seems perfect, delightful, fantastic after this film, right in line with all the craziness we witness or partake of in life.

And then I return home to the many books awaiting me on my desk, recalling the instant in Varda's film where she goes to a brocante and buys old pictures with a friend who buys old books, much as I would. My house, having grown this past year, already teems with volumes, and the excitement of the new ones I just got over the holidays, such as My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer, edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian, orLaird Hunt's novel, The Exquisite, by Coffee House Press. There was also the delightful surprise of today when I received two chapbooks by poet and friend Matthew Reek in the mail: Sieve, from Other Rooms Press, and Love Songs and Laments, from Goss 183: Casa Menendez available also through So, off to bed it is, with a rich array of images as of the dream of anothers life, and the words of many to accompany them.

To end, a second image of Iowa in the snow, both by Samuel Calvin collected in the Calvin Collection at the University of Iowa. This one, from Feb 1896. Iowa City still looks the same in snow.