Happy 99th Birthday, Robert Lax!

30 Nov

circus

Robert Lax was born on this day in 1915 in Olean, in the Southern Tier region of New York.

Lax studied poetry with Mark Van Doren at Columbia University and graduated in 1938, right before Jack Kerouac arrived on campus. Similarly, they both took on a life of wandering. Lax worked for some prestigious magazines — The New Yorker and Time — and then joined the circus as a juggler.

Eventually, he found his way to the Greek island of Patmos. The island is known as a place of pilgrimage, as the apostle John had lived there. Lax himself went on to live here for more than thirty years, living the life of a hermit and writing beautiful poetry.

Kerouac indeed did end up getting in contact with his fellow alum. You can read his letter to him in Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters, 1940-1956.

Remembering Alan Ansen

12 Nov

disorderly

On this day in 2006 we lost Alan Ansen.

Today we celebrate his life and work. Ansen, a graduate of Harvard, was secretary to none other than the great W. H. Auden, who had come to New York City in 1939. He hung out with Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs,  Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso, and is even written into their works. By the 1960s, he had moved to Greece, where he lived on Alopekis Street in Athens, and hung out with other expatriate poets such as James Merrill (who went on to get the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1977), Chester Kallman (one of Auden’s lovers), and Rachel Hadas (who went on to receive the Guggenheim Fellowship).

Ansen passed away in Athens at the age of eight-four, but leaves behind his poetry and prose. Check out:

I think reading someone’s work is one of the best way to celebrate their life. Do you have a favorite poem by Ansen?

Remembering Ginsberg’s Teacher Lionel Trilling

5 Nov

trilling2

Lionel Trilling passed away on this day in 1975, at the age of seventy. He had lived through a lot: World War I, the Lost Generation, women’s suffrage, Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, the Beat Generation, Hippies, and Disco. It’s no wonder his politics, a topic on which he wrote, shifted and swayed and remain up for discussion.

Trilling taught Columbia’s Colloquium on Important Books, where among his students were Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr.

 

We’re All Kerouacky!

2 Nov

WereAllKerouacy02 copy

photo by author Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond

I had the great honor of opening the We’re All Kerouacky edition of Ronnie Norpel‘s fantastic reading series Tract 187 Culture Clatch — aptly* held at The West End — on October 1 with two passages from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

Ronnie’s an amazing host. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Ronnie for a while now. We first met at an event organized by RA Araya that she emceed. She’s also the author of probably the only sports book I’ve willingly bought: Baseball Karma & the Constitution Blues.

She organized a killer line up for the event:

WE’RE ALL KEROUACKY EDITION
celebrating Jack Kerouac on the
45th anniversary of his becoming
a Desolation Angel

Featuring:
Kerouac Covers by Jane LeCroy
Monologues from Larry Myers
with Janice Bishop, Tom Fenaghty & Ronnie Norpel
Author Stephanie Nikolopoulos (Burning Furiously Beautiful:The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”)
Music by Elliott Levin, Saxophone (Philadelphia)

I had so much fun mingling and chatting with others who enjoy Jack Kerouac’s writing. I loved seeing the way music and spoken word intertwined. It was a beautiful way to remember Kerouac’s legacy.

Some of my friends from the Redeemer Writers Group even came out, which was really special.


*I say aptly because the writers associated with the Beat Generation used to hang out at a bar called The West End. The Broadway bar closed down years ago, and this new incarnation is at 
955 West End Avenue.

 

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You can purchase Burning Furiously Beautiful via lulu.

Follow Burning Furiously Beautiful on Facebook.

Remembering Jack Kerouac

21 Oct

 

Jack Kerouac

March 12, 1922 – October 21, 1969

Jack Kerouac was only forty-seven years old when he passed away. The day before he died, he’d been drinking whiskey and writing at his home in St. Petersburg, Florida, when he suddenly felt ill. He called out to his wife, a Greek American from his hometown of Lowell, and Stella Sampas Kerouac got him to St. Anthony’s Hospital, where he ultimately died from his internal hemorrhage. He was buried in Edson Cemetery in Lowell, in the Sampas family plot.

 

 

My “Burning Furiously Beautiful” Reading at Lamprophonic

4 Oct

Lamprophonic

lamprophonic2

images via Lamprophonic

Right on the heels of my reading at the We’re All Kerouacky edition of Ronnie Norpel’s Tract 187 Culture Clatch, I was selected to read a section from Burning Furiously Beautiful at New York’s Lamprophonic reading series on October 3.

I was super excited when I discovered that I would be reading with one of my fellow New School MFA alums, Amy Gall! She’s gone on to become Program Manager at National Book Foundation, and I always enjoy hearing her perspective on the literary industry. The other readers that evening were Bill Adelson, Emily Chamberlain, Christina Quintana, and Marco Yan.  Each writer’s work was so unique. It was great to hear such different works all in one evening!

Lamprophonic was founded by Clare Smith Marash. I absolutely enjoyed working with Clare. She’s one of the most organized reading series organizers/hosts I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. If you’re a bit of a type-A reader, who likes everything laid out for you beforehand so you know where you are in the lineup, you will appreciate all the hard work Clare does. She puts you at ease with her encouragement and precision.

The Lamprophonic reading series is held at Bar Thalia (2537 Broadway). It’s attached to none other than Symphony Space, an Upper West Side performing-arts center with a rather illustrious history.

So many of my most favorite people came out for this reading! I’m so touched by all the great people in my life!!

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Discover upcoming Lamprophonic readings via the series’ Facebook page.

Discover upcoming Burning Furiously Beautiful readings by signing up for my mailing list (enter your email address in the form to the right of this page) and through the book’s Facebook page.

Remembering Juggling-Poet Robert Lax!

26 Sep

lax

Born in Olean, New York, Robert Lax studied poetry at Columbia, worked for The New Yorker, cofounded the Catholic publication Jubilee, joined the circus, spent thirty-five years on the Greek island of Patmos, and took up a type of meditation founded by Eknath Easwaran before returning to Olean just weeks before he passed away there on this day in 2000.

Lax never achieved the level of success that some of his colleagues did. He was friends with Columbia alum and Trappist monk Thomas Merton and the abstract expressionist Ad Reinhardt, both of whose work reached a wider audience. Yet early on in his career, Kerouac wrote to Lax, praising his work. The New York Times Book Review favorably reviewed Lax’s poetry book Circus of the Sun.

Lax’s work was collected by editor Jim Uebbing as Love had a Compass: Journals and Poetry. Here’s the overview from Barnes & Noble:

Every generation of poets seems to harbor its own hidden genius, one whose stature and brilliance come to light after his talent has already been achieved. The same drama of obscurity that attended the discovery of Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens is suggested by the career of Robert Lax. An expatriate American whose work to date—more than forty books—has been published mostly in Europe, this eighty-year-old poet built a following in this country among figures as widespread as E. E. Cummings, Jack Kerouac, and Sun Ra. The works in “Love Had a Compass” represent every stage of Lax’s development as a poet, from his early years in the 1910s as a staff writer for the “New Yorker” to his present life on the Greek island of Patmos. An inveterate wanderer, Lax’s own sense of himself as both exile and pilgrim is carefully evoked in his prose journals and informs the pages of the Marseille Diaries, published here for the first time. Together with the poems, they provide a portrait of one of the most striking and original poets of our age.

Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly said:

Lax is a somewhat legendary poet known primarily for two reasons: he traveled in a circle in the 1930s that included Thomas Merton, John Berryman, Robert Giroux and Ad Reinhardt; and he has lived and written on the Greek island of Patmos since the early 1960s. This combination of famous friendships and personal obscurity has added heat to his reputation but not much lighthis poetry has been obscured by his myth. This volume, however, will likely introduce Lax’s considerable poetic power to a wider audience. Uebbing’s introduction captures the essence of Lax’s work: “A simple response to a simple moment”; “much of his work is almost devoid of imagery.” Lax’s early poems are a mix of emotionality (“for we must seek/ by going down,/ down into the city/ for our song”) and formal experimentation (“black/ black/ white/ white/ black/ black/ white/ white”). But his finest work can be seen in the previously unpublished sequence of poems, Port City: The Marseille Diaries. Drawing on the people and places he encountered during an extended, down-and-out time in the city during the 1950s, in “Port City” Lax finally declares his mission: “I will sing you/ of the moments/ sing you/ of those/ possibly/ meaningless moments.”

Lax’s funeral was held at St. Bonaventure University. Excerpts of his poem were distributed.

Happy 118th Birthday, Fitzgerald!

24 Sep

442px-F_Scott_Fitzgerald_1921Photo circa 1921, “The World’s Work” (June 1921 issue), via Wikipedia

The man who perhaps best captured the glitz and the glam of the roaring twenties, F. Scott Fitzgerald, was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Fitzgerald is, of course, the author of The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, Tender Is the Night, and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” He was connected with a group of expatriates living in Paris, who became known as the Lost Generation.

It was this Lost Generation that inspired Jack Kerouac to come up with the term the Beat Generation when he was having a conversation with John Clellon Holmes one day. However, in many ways, Kerouac’s content is dissimilar to Fitzgerald’s. F. Scott — named after Francis Scott Key, the lyricist of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and his second cousin, three times removed (whatever that means!) — glamorized America’s economic boom during the Jazz Age, while Kerouac glamorized the American hobo that sprung up following the Great Depression. Yet, their language, their syntax, is similar in capturing all that jazz.

 

You might also like:::

Life Continues to Be Absurd: Saul Bellow, Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fizgerald, and Eugene O’Niell

 

Cinat Paints Light — and Dark — to Explore Spirituality

14 Sep
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Close up of one of Cinat’s paintings; image via Eventsy
The members-only networking club Eventsy invited me to attend a special viewing, co-hosted by CATM New York, of Argentine artist Mariano Cinat’s thought-provoking exhibition “New Works” in The Narthex Gallery of Saint Peter’s Church, located at 619 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, on September 12. From dark and haunting to fluid and ethereal, his work elicited a visceral response, an impulse to examine one’s own beliefs and feelings through the cryptic scenes depicted in the paintings.
Average-sized paintings, the canvases ranged from 12” x 9” to 69” x 48”. During the Q&A, Cinat explained that his work was a particular size by request of the Louvre. He said, “I wish they commissioned me, but it was more like a competition.” Untitled, the paintings felt like a cohesive collection covering three intertwining themes: the Classical world in earthy tones; the spiritual realm in light, bright colors; and a mysterious interior of saturated colors.
Displayed in a gallery situated within a Lutheran church, the paintings took on perhaps more spiritual meaning than the artist intended. This religious interpretation of the artwork was helped along by the press release, which stated:
Be not afraid of spiritual idiosyncrasies but rejoice in the continuity of life. Experience the nuance of a master of color and emotion as Cinat refreshes the senses.
Many of the paintings varied from landscape scenes reminiscent of the Biblical-era Middle East, showing walls like one would envision in Jericho and simple homes in which one would imagine people tucked away breaking bread together, to more dream-like settings suggestive of ascension into heaven.
In one painting in particular, hung on a far wall, an image of a cross seemed to shine over a stone wall. And yet, the artist himself seemed put off that his work might be interpreted through a Christian lens. When I told Cinat of the cross I had discovered, he asked which painting I’m speaking of. He informed me he had not painted a crucifix in any of his paintings and sounded incredulous that I had seen such specific religious imagery in work. He told me:
“I’m spiritual but not religious.”
I suppose we all see what we want to see in art, or what we’re predisposed to see. Interpretation is left up to the viewer. Despite his surprise at my reading of his work, Cinat himself prefers not to explain his art to viewers. He said to the crowd of onlookers:
“Each one of us interprets it in other ways.”
Though he did reveal:
“I have a search for spirituality, and light is an element I use. It’s not a real place.”
His painting of figures seemingly ascending into heaven, then, may just as likely have more to do with a state of mind. The spiritual significance therefore changes from the physical presence of heaven and hell of Judeo-Christian to perhaps a transcendence of one’s mind through meditation in an Eastern religion. It could even be a bodily movement from one dimension into the next through portals. Of course, one may also interpret the work through a more metaphorical lens. In that case, a viewer could see it as impetus for change in one’s life, of moving on from the past and entering a future full of potential.
While those paintings seemed more clearly tied to positive spiritual themes, there were a series of paintings that seemed more secular, more human, but perhaps too almost more sinister. Unlike the other paintings, which used the browns and blues readily found in nature, and which depicted outdoor scenes, these paintings ensconced figures dressed in flame-like red and deep violets in rooms pitched in black. As with the other figures, their poses and placement on the canvases suggested an almost hypnotic state. If taken with the others as a reflection on religious matters, one may view them as agenda-oriented leaders of the Church—whether cardinals or kings—because of the way the figures are clothed in rich colors as they move about an interior that though sparsely decorated is vast and foreboding. These paintings hearken back to the works of Renaissance painters such as Raphael.
Taken to a more extreme secular interpretation, these darker paintings bring to mind the psycho-sexual Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Cloaked identities suggest secrecy and positions of power.
But again, this is just what I personally saw in the works. They may actually be situated in much more real and less portentous places. Cinat said he imagines everywhere from Utah to Japan, as he paints in Harlem.
When asked during the Q&A what inspired him, Cinat said it was opera that had inspired his work. “I went to see The Magic Flute,” he said.

Fall Semester of the Redeemer Writers Group Announced

10 Sep

writers

Along with two other very talented writers and editors, Maurice and Nana, I will once again be hosting the Redeemer Writers Group after our summer hiatus. The dates for our fall “semester” have now been finalized:

 

September 22, 2014. 7-9pm.

October 20, 2014. 7-9pm.

November 17, 2014. 7-9pm.
The writing workshops are completely free and open to anyone interested. Please bring a one- to two-page work of your own writing in any genre that you would like critiqued to share with the group. We are a Christian-based group open to writers of all skill levels and genres. The writing workshop will be held at the Redeemer Offices, 1359 Broadway, 4th Floor, Main Conference Room. NYC.