Sunday, May 1, 2011

poetry everywhere in May

Note from New York

It is May, and cherry and peach blossoms decorate the sidewalks, while tulips red and yellow and white gleam down the middle of Park Avenue and in the flowerbeds of Fifth Avenue coop buldings. People smile.

Let it never be said that my city paid little attention to its wild life. No indeed. A while back, it was Pale Male and his partner, expulsed from a handsome coop building on the East Side of Central Park, outside of which they had built their nest – all firm and lovely on an iron ledge with proper support, admired by many sitters on park benches with camera sights trained on the red-tailed hawks. At the expulsion, New Yorkers in droves protested, the coop board relented, and the support was once again constructed. Pale Male changed partners, eager filmmakers filmed, and one would have thought the affair forgotten.

Ah, but now two other such hawks , Violet and Bobby, have constructed a nest outside the 12th floor office of John Sexton, the president of New York University, way downtown and there are three eggs about to hatch. On them is trained a Hawk Cam video mounted by City Room. It is very noticeable that Violet is the colour of the NYU banner, so it is all perfectly arranged. For the birth, we have been reading in the daily New York Times how that works: the shell is broken with a fierce special tooth, there only for that reason in the chicks, each called, says the expert John Blakeman (master falconer and hawk breeder), an "eyass." We know that Violet and Bobby have lined their nest with "soft grassy insulation," that they have been sitting with great devotion, and that Violet is turning the eggs frequently and showing great agitation. At this writing, we are waiting with bated breath.

On the other side of town, Wagner’s Valkyries have arrived, in force. The set designer LePage’s “machine,” that mammoth and incredibly expensive Thing that has planks moving up and down and lifting as a ceiling or mountains or a sky, and occasionally, making creaking and groaning sounds and causing singers like Deborah Voigt as Brunnhilde to slide down them, also permits the planks to be used as horses for the galloping sisters. Very clever. The voices are super-superb, with Bryan Terfel as Wotan, Jonas Kaufman as Siegmund, and Stephanie Blythe as Fricka, and the night I went, you could definitely hear the voices over the creaks. In the celebrated farewell scene when Wotan declares to Brunnhilde that he will no longer see her sparkling eyes, that she will no longer serve him wine in his cup or glimpse him at all, I suspect that those who had not brought tissues with them regretted that – it was certainly my case, and my regret.

Magnificent exhibitions, including C├ęzanne’s Card Players still on at the Met museum, and, at MOMA, a German expressionism in prints – where Emil Nolde’s water mills, in different colors, are only matched by his seascapes, full of roar and life. The highlights, besides Franz Marc’s quite delightful World Cow (globalism gone red and good-humoured), were the gigantic and violent posters of wartime.

Both the gigantic Abstract Expressionism in New York and the smallish Picasso’s Guitars are remaining for the moment. About the former, the witty Peter Schjeldahl exclaimed that the only pity was that some day, as soon now, that show would depart.

The New York poetry scene is thriving. All sorts of chapbooks are appearing, in the Lost and Found series, run by the CUNY Poetics Document Initiative (, spearheaded by Ammiel Alcalay, under the aegis of the Center for the Humanities of the Graduate School of the City University of New York.
Previously unpublished texts by Muriel Ruykeyser, Jack Spicer, Diane de Prima, Robert Duncan, and even 
The Correspondence of Kenneth Koch & Frank O’Hara: 1955–1956 (Parts I and II), etc. Poetry readings are everywhere, as usual and more so. Rosanna Warren is reading from her new collection Ghost in a Red Hat, as well as speaking of her forthcoming and long-awaited biography of the French poet Max Jacob, with the well-known critic Christopher Ricks. To our collective delight, John Ashbery, America's most illustrious poet, has just translated Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations, appearing with Norton this spring of 2011.

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