Archive | September, 2014

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
CINAT-EVENTSY-2-642x360
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.

Simona David Interviews Me Today at 1pm EST on WIOX

8 Sep

WIOX

Simona David attended my writing workshop at the Festival of Women Writers in Hobart, New York, this weekend and afterward asked to interview me for her radio show! We sat down in the lovely Wm. H. Adams Antiquarian Books, where she asked me about how I got my start as a writer, who my mentors are, and the book I coauthored with Paul Maher Jr., Burning Furiously Beautiful. The interview airs today at 1pm EST on her show “Accent on Mondays” on WIOX, 91.3 FM in the Catskill Mountains.

Simona is an author as well. She wrote the essential art guide Art in the Catskills and Self-Publishing and Book Marketing: A Research Guide. It was so great chatting with her and getting to know her and her work.

“On the Road” Turns 57!

5 Sep

OnTheRoad

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road turns fifty-seven years old today! It’s such a vibrant work that continues to inspire people to pick up a pen or hit the road that it’s hard to believe it’s been around for so long.

The above picture is what the novel looked like when it first came out. Paul and I actually emulated its design on the title page of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” which I personally was excited about! Since 1957, Kerouac’s novel has undergone many, many cover transformations. I talked about the significance of these design changes here. And I talked about On the Road’s “girly” makeover here.

The novel has since inspired other artists, such as Tim Z. Hernandez, who actually tracked down “the Mexican girl”; Larry Closs; Jonathan Collins; and J. Haeske.

The film adaptation (you can read my experience going to see it here), which has a long history, came out recently and starred some of Hollywood’s biggest names. It sparked a lot of dialogue, including whether Hollywood was glamorizing the Beats.

Of course, even when it was first published, On the Road received criticism for its morality or lack thereof.

Despite these digs at its morality, one of the creeds I’ve heard over and over again — and with which I disagree — is that On the Road is a book only for teenagers.

And if you’re not a teenager and you read On the Road, it supposedly makes you undateabable. Unless maybe you’re a woman.

It seems like everyone has an opinion about On the Road. What’s yours?

What’s Your Sign, Man?

3 Sep

I went to Philly the other day and visited the site of printer and author Benjamin Franklin’s house. To get there, I had to pass through this little tunnel:::

franklin

The sign made me laugh. Imagine being so famous that historians noted not just the site of your house but the little passageway you walked through to get there! His house is no longer standing, but excavations show aspects of the infrastructure. The signage there is equally humorous, as it seems to reveal a strange relationship between Franklin and his wife, Deborah Read. He seemed very concerned about her ability to manage the household and seemed to think she might burn the whole place down. I was so fascinated by his strange letters to her that when I got home I did a little digging into their relationship. It turned out that our Founding Father wasn’t in a traditional marriage! Apparently, he had proposed to dear Deborah but her mother didn’t approve of him so while he was traipsing through merry old England, Deborah married some rake who took her money and ran, never to be heard of again. Ben and Deb technically then entered into a bigamous, common-law marriage. They had two children together and also raised Franklin’s illegitimate child. They don’t teach that in the history books in school!

* * *

Maybe one day Lowell will put up a bunch of signs pointing out where Jack Kerouac went to church and where he wrote while he drank. My friend George Koumantzelis, who is the nephew of Kerouac’s friend Billy Koumantzelis, recently brought Grant Welker’s article “Is Lowell missing the Kerouac beat?” for The Sun to my attention. Welker writes:

Lowell has a small park with a memorial on Bridge Street dedicated to Kerouac and has a walking tour organized by the National Park Service, but it doesn’t have a permanent center — a museum, library or open-to-the-public childhood home — dedicated to the writer, whose popularity continues to grow here and abroad more than 45 years after his death.

In the meantime, we can still laugh about the signs Constantine Valhouli made!

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What books on Benjamin Franklin would you recommend?

 

People Who Write Got Me to Answer a Proust-style Questionnaire

2 Sep

people1people2people

 

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, a Ghanaian-American writer living in New York who wrote the heavy coming-of-age novel The Powder Necklace, recently interviewed me for her blog, People Who Write. She asked the best questions!

Happy Labor Day!

1 Sep

delay

Here’s to hoping your Labor Day plans don’t look like how my travel plans went the other day….