The Amtrak from Penn Station to Durham took about twelve hours, leaving the city at daybreak, through rain, back lots of New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, semi-sleep half craddled by music from an iPod. With only a few albums on the machine, which I kept switching between: Vetiver, Syd Barrett Opel, The Stone Roses, Neutral Milk Hotel On Avery Island, Joanna Newsom The Milk-Eyed Mender, Juana Molina Son, Home Sexteen. I've never used an iPod before. It soothed my mind on the way up to New York and back. The landscape soaked in rain for most of the day, we had to slow down in Virginia because of flood warnings. The states are indistinguishable at first glance, only the color of the earth begins to change and the trees get thicker, a darker green as you move south. I wrote in my notebook at regular intervals, though less and less as the day wore on.
On Friday night I was able to go see my friend Marisol Limon Martinez's opening of drawings, "Words without Songs," at the Marquise Dancehall gallery in Brooklyn. The drawings were fantastic, each one accompanied by lines of poetry. I wrote down two that struck me (there were many more):
"Madness informs, descend into paradise"
"Pills are so very pretty"
The first one is accompanied by a tall building that's curving slightly, either collapsing or shaking from tremors, or maybe just blurring in the viewer's watery eyes. The second one is paired with a pill capsule with two sides, the left a solid color and on the right little effervescent bubbles. Marisol's work inhabits various forms simultaneously. In this case the drawings resonated also as stanzas in a longer poem on the wall, as well as a type of visual music, in the spacing and arrangement of the rounded-corner, cut black paper that frames each drawing and its words. They're placed along three walls at the back of the gallery, which has a large collection of rare LPs and a smaller section of used books, all in excellent condition.
The only piece without words is at the center of the far wall, surrounded by the other drawings which lead to a horizon drawn in silver ink on black paper, three times the size of the rest of the work. There is a knife and a gun in the air (I can't remember it all) and a small eye ball with flames rising from its iris. The interaction between text and image is wonderfully achieved, so that neither form disrupts or dissolves the other. The written lines are pasted onto the black frame around the drawings, which are done on grey paper. I'm writing from memory, so my impression could be distorted. Marisol's work, as always, is inspiring for many reasons. The subject of these drawings at times could be suffering, or the poet's awareness of suffering and the desire to acknowledge this presence and continue singing, not as an escape but as an equal counteracting force.
Earlier in the week I spoke to Mark's students about Caracas Notebook, which was fun and enlightening. I haven't been inside a classroom for several months and it was good to be there again. His students are now reading W.G. Sebald's The Emigrants, which I've had on my bookshelf for years and have just now begun to read. The second of the four chapters involves a German school teacher and the impression he made on the author. Sebald's description of that rural elementary school evokes the teacher's effort to change his young students through knowledge, for the sake of liberation (personal, aesthetic or spiritual, not political, though I realize this reading might simply reflect my own emerging anti-political bias). Sebald obviously appreciates the teacher's efforts:
"Indeed, Paul's teaching was altogether the most lucid, in general, that one could imagine. On principle he placed the greatest value on taking us out of the school building whenever the opportunity arose and observing as much as we could around the town—the electric power station with the transformer plant, the smelting furnaces and the steam-powered forge at the iron foundry, the basketware workshops, and the cheese dairy." (38)
What I mean by "anti-political bias" above is that I no longer trust any form of political action or discourse. I've come to realize how much I dislike and dread political realities, whether here in the US, in Venezuela, or anywhere else on our cursed globe. I'll continue to read the newspapers, watch the news, talk about politics, translate political Op-eds from Venezuela and so forth. But I see politics as a dead end for me as a writer.
I do see the blog as a form, as Eileen has written before. I don't really understand the form, nor do I always like it. At times it seems related to the journal or notebook. But the awareness of a reader implicit in the blog changes the words as I write them. In the notebook on the train, or here at home, I write for the sake of the black ink making stanzaic patterns or planting rows of prose, the indentation of the written pages, their growth over months. The list of "Books Read" at the back of the notebook reminding me of what texts I've chosen and how they might relate or crash against each other. The blog requires a public p(r)ose that in my case is helpful for delineating certain ideas or gestures that might somehow translate into my writing. Because of my devotion to the written and printed page, the computer screen offers a reminder of distance and dissolution, each day fading into an archive which will never quite achieve my intentions. An acknowledgement of our isolation and a type of failure one must write through or about.
I was very happy to find two recent books by Ugly Duckling Presse: Lewis Warsh Flight Test (2006) and Aaron Kiely The Best of My Love (2005). Both of them have such verses I know I'll return to often. I read the latter book on the train going south through New Jersey and later on in Virginia, green fields with white-capped puffs of cotton, brown rivers rushing below the tracks over huge boulders clustered along the shore. He writes:
"never meant to isolate
never clung to
each day putting sticks into the fire
that unites people
and nowehere else—
each day doing
that unite people
always the rituals
each day the rituals change
never the rituals that are stubborn and empty
never the rituals that put anyone ahead of someone else
always the rituals that unite"