Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Two Coats

This week I saw "On the Waterfront" for the first time. I know. It's terrible. I am the opposite of Frank O'Hara. I never watch any movies. I've hardly seen any movies. When I lived in SF, Jocelyn Saidenberg would take me to the movies and because of her I saw La Dolce Vita, which I think is the best movie ever, but that's another story. But anyhow, I am TAPPING this semester and that's basically like being a TA in training. It's for a Cold War Culture class. So I had to go to the screening of "On the Waterfront". And it revealed a lot to me about my childhood. See, when I grew up in NJ it was the '70s. There weren't many white immigrants coming in from anywhere. We were sort of a fluke that way. At first we lived in an older suburban neighborhood that still had traces of its farmland roots. But by the time I was ten, Edison was all suburban sprawl.

My family was the only family in the neighborhood that I knew of, until my early teens, that wasn't American. My parents were professionals, so we didn't have any need of living in an urban area in a Polish community, or at least not after my mother got pregnant with me. So we were this Polish family in the suburbs. I had to go to the mall and ask the saleslady questions for my mom. She was embarrassed of her accent. That kind of thing. Of course there was a Polish neighborhood in Brooklyn (Greenpoint before the hipsters came) but my mom always spoke of it as this terrible place filled with lowlifes. We never went there. So clearly there was a class thing separating my parents from the Polish community we could have had. I guess all I am trying to say is that we lived in the suburbs and everyone around us was non-ethnic white. Or at least that's the way I saw it as a kid.

So when I was watching "On the Waterfront" this weekend it felt really familiar in this strange way and I started to remember that when I watched TV alone as a kid I sought out films that I thought were set in "Brooklyn". Like, I think, I must have watched a lot of James Cagney movies without even knowing it. And I am wondering now if I hadn't watched "On the Waterfront" by accident. Because I remember always wanting to be a guy like that. A guy with a Jersey or Brooklyn accent and kind of tough and working class. I remember going into the basement and looking through old clothes, hoping to find a leather jacket and then finding some seventies blazer and putting it on and looking in the mirror and feeling like I was sexy like the Fonz. I was maybe six. But it makes sense now. All the guys in those movies are Irish or Italian. It's the closest thing to being Polish in NJ. It's like I watched this old black and white world to try to understand my own immigrant experience, which was neither urban nor working class. But that Hoboken or Brooklyn world seemed like where a family like ours should have landed and didn't. Of course all the guys in those movies were Catholic and Catholic School I had plenty of. I understood the role of the priest in all those films. Those people were white like me, I thought.

And so it was especially interesting to notice Marlon Brando's coat this week because it is a plaid coat not unlike the one in my novel. And the one in my novel is based on a real coat I bought on the men's sales rack in the mall in RI. But the coat, it was so much like Marlon Brando's and when I got it at 19 or 20, I felt like I did in the basement in that terrible blazer as a kid. And so I am wondering now, if I hadn't seen the film as a kid and if Marlon Brando's plaid coat is the only thing I remembered from it. And then there was another coat. A leather coat that I dreamed of in college. And after I woke I walked out of the dorm onto Thayer Street and bought a coat just like the one in my dream. And a few days later I realized it was just like the coat Springsteen wears in the band shot on the back of The River. And of course I wanted to be like him, too, when I was a kid. And even now, but I avoid playing air guitar in front of mirrors, lest I be caught. But Springsteen -- he was Irish/Italian Catholic, much closer in age and place to me, and the coolest thing ever.

So in college I got these two coats. One was for Brando and the other for Springsteen. But when I bought them I was really buying them for my six-year-old self, who really wanted to believe "I could walk like Brando, right into the sun, and dance just like a Cassonova." But, of course, I was just a nerdy middle-class Polish school girl, reading books and stuff. In my mind, though, I looked better. I was much cooler.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Philadelphia, etc.

Saturday late afternoon my friend Mary Kalyna picked me up at the Philadelphia airport, then we picked up CAConrad and we all went back to Mary's place for a sleepover party. Mary and Conrad are what I miss most about living in Philadelphia. We spent the night eating pierogis, stuffed cabbage, and borscht, all made by Mary's mom. We talked about scary things like Nostradomus, nuclear winter, and how Bush might bomb Iran, if Obama is elected. And we talked about annoying things, like bad dates and lazy neighbors. And then we watched Sarah Palin on SNL. Totally boring, we thought. The next morning we saw Colin Powell endorse Obama on "Meet the Press". Mary and I nearly wept. I was grateful for Powell's criticism of the Republicans' derogatory use of the Muslim religion. It was nice to hear a general criticize his own party for being racist. Can't exactly say that Powell is part of the liberal media or has a leftist agenda. Seems like his criticism would most likely be taken seriously by the people who need to hear it most.

That afternoon we spent in the museum with the Australian poet Pam Brown, the poet Frank Sherlock, and my parents. We were killing time until 4pm, when Pam and I were scheduled to read with Ron Silliman. I was excited and antsy about my reading, so the thing I remember most about the museum is the chocolate pudding. It's hard to look at art when you are getting ready to perform. My dad managed to tell us his entire history with Hooter's (the restaurant). It's a story I'd like to get on video tape and post to youtube. I was also grateful to have a little time to talk to Pam. I always enjoy hearing what foreigners find odd about our country. See was shocked by the gossipy article on Cindy McCain in the New York Times and was bringing it back to Australia to show people that such things counted as news here.

The reading itself was well-attended. Pam and I struggled with the microphone, but it seems from the audience response that we managed ok, despite our own discomfort at the stage. Pam's work is published by Salt Press. Short angular poems, spirited with a sense of humor, though not overly comical, just enough to handle the gravity of the work, something I very much respect in poems. I am looking forward to reading her work on the page. I usually absorb a lot at readings, but less so, when I am one of the readers. I'm not generally able to overcome my own nervousness to be a great listener.

Ron's reading I heard more of, because he read after me and there was a short break between our two readings. I am always reminded when I hear Ron's work that LANGUAGE poetry is realism, an extension of the Williams tradition. It seems that the idea of LANGUAGE poetry in the poetry world at large seems at odds often with the actual work. People love to hate what they haven't read in this case. But they most likely would dig it. I mean, who doesn't love poetry with lots of concrete nouns in it? My mother, whose native language is not English, had an easier time understanding Ron's work than mine. So to all of you who like to call any "cryptic" poetry, Language Poetry, do your homework and update your vocabulary.

My dad played official photographer. It was a little embarrassing. As soon as I get the photos, I'll post them.

My next readings are in Durham on November 20th and in NYC on December 9th. After Christmas, the reading schedule gets more intense, so lookout, especially if you live in the mod-west.

Jacob Russell wrote a nice review of the Philadelphia reading

Monday, October 13, 2008

Philadelphia Reading on Sunday, October 19th!

Pam Brown
Magdalena Zurawski
Ron Silliman


Hosted by CAConrad

108 S. 13th St., Philadelphia

Sunday, October 19th, 4pm

Pam Brown lives in Australia and is co-editor of Jacket Magazine. She has published many books and chapbooks including Text thing (Little Esther Books, 2002) and Dear Deliria (Salt Publishing, 2003) which was awarded the New South Wales Premier’s Prize for Poetry in 2004. She collaborated with Seattle-based Egyptian poet Maged Zaher on a collection of poems called farout library software (Tinfish Press, 2007). Her most recent book, True Thoughts, was published by Salt Publishing in September 2008. Her next collection, Authentic Local, is forthcoming from Papertiger Media in 2009. She keeps a blog you can see HERE.

Magdalena Zurawski was born in Newark, NJ in 1972 to Polish immigrants. Her work has been published in American Poet: The Journal of the Academy of American Poets, The Poetry Project Newsletter, Rattapallax, Talisman, and other magazines. She lives in North Carolina where she is working on her PhD at Duke University. The Bruise is her first novel and won the Ronald Sukenik Innovative Fiction Prize. Her blog is HERE.

Ron Silliman's long awaited collection THE ALPHABET will be available for sale and for signing. He is the author or editor of twenty-six books of poetry or criticism, among them The Age of Huts (compleat), Tjanting, ABC, Demo to Ink, Paradise, ®, What, Woundwood, and the memoir Under Albany. He edited the landmark poetry anthology In the American Tree, and has received a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, two Fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts, and three arts commission grants from the state arts councils of California and Pennsylvania. His widely read Silliman's Blog, a daily journal devoted to contemporary poetry and poetics, has become a major force in online literary criticism. He is a member of the Grand Piano collective.

This note shamelessly stolen
(and somewhat adapted)
from CAConradEvents

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Why Hobbes's LEVIATHAN is Worth Reading...

...even if you are not a monarchist:

1) This passage reminds me of the opening scene of Proust:

The most difficult discerning of a mans Dream, from his waking thoughts, is then, when by some accident we observe not that we have slept: which is easie to happen to a man full of fearfull thoughts; and whose conscience is much troubled; and that sleepeth, without the circumstances of going to bed, or putting off his clothes, as one that noddeth in a chayre. For he that taketh pains, and industriously layes himself to sleep, in case any uncouth and exorbitant fancy come unto him, cannot easily think it other than a Dream.

2) And this is where Lisa Jarnot found her lemur (maybe):

The unformed matter of the World, was a God, by the name of Chaos.

The Heaven, the Ocean, the Planets, the Fire, the Earth, the Winds, were so many Gods.

Men, Women, a Bird, a Crocodile, a Calf, A Dogge, a Snake, an Onion, a Leeke, Deified. Besides, that they filled almost all places, with spirits called Daemons: the plains, with Pan, and Panises, or Satyres; the Woods, with Fawnes, and Nymphs; the Sea, with Tritons, and other Nymphs; every River, and Fountayn, with a Ghost of his name, and with Nymphs; every house, with its Lares, or Familiars; every man, with his Genius; Hell with Ghosts, and spirituall Officers, as Charon, Cerberus, and the Furies; and in the night time, all places with Larvae, Lemures, Ghostof men deceased, and a whole kingdome of Fayries and Bugbears. They have also ascribed Divinity, and built Temples to meer Accidents, and Qualities; such as are Time, Night, Day, Peace, Concord, Love, Contention, Vertue, Honour, Health, Rust, Fever, and the like; which when they prayed for, or against, they prayed to, as if there were Ghosts of those names hanging over their heads, and letting fall, or withholding that Good, or Evill, for, or against which they prayed. They invoked also their own Wit, by the name of Muses; their own Ignorance, by the name of Fortune, their own Lust, by the name of Cupid; their own Rage, by the name Furies; their own privy members by the name Priapus; and attributed their pollutions, to Incubi, and Succubae: insomuch as there was nothing, which a Poet could introduce as a person in his Poem, which they did not make either a God, or a Divel.