|April 19, 2012|
An Amorous Couple in a Landscape, Jan Steen, 1626-1679
From The Brooklyn Rail:
What makes sex so interesting to write and read about is not the two or three lines, paragraphs, or pages of coitus, but what comes directly before, after, and in between them.
It is rare, in an anthology this voluminous, for the work to remain so consistently intriguing from beginning to end. What comes to the surface is the breadth of compassion each writer displays for the contradictions and varieties of life, and the characters at play in it. The book is roughly divided into thematic sections; it moves from the human condition, reflected in sex, to the mundanity of the act, to the opposite of erotica, deviant behavior, sexual violence, some verse, and finally essays about sex or sexual behavior (my least favorite section).
“Maupin Row,” by editor Ron Kolm, depicts an educated couple living in a redneck shack that’s too cold for intimacy in winter. Through resourcefulness and sheer desperation, the couple turns to date nights in their pickup. The male narrator writes: “We finally came up with an ingenious solution to solve our sexual woes; we’d hop into our half-ton pickup truck, drive to the East Tennessee State University parking lot, and fuck in the cab while keeping the engine running and the heater on.”
A classic line of sexual ennui comes from a short stanza in Hortensia’s verse, “Another Night In Gotham”:
After i come and
Before he does, i get bored
Rami Shamir’s dissolute characters barely have a chance to come up for air in their spin cycle full of dashed hopes and dreams, as one character comes face to face with the reality of just having had sex with an HIV-positive partner, and muses: “life sucks out the thunder and the flash really really quick.”
J. Boyett continues to keep things real in “Names Are Removed” by deftly portraying a landscape of sex and love, a place where memories and images are disjointed and brief, overlaid, on top of one another in a kaleidoscope of missed opportunities, aborted launchings, and regret. At the end of a contemplative jag, Boyett’s character muses: “I feel things about J. But the odds are that, by the time you read this, I won’t feel very much about her anymore at all.”
Sex and gender are given a humorous send up in Chavisa Woods’s poem,: “What Are You Some Kind of Angry Dyke or Something?” which includes such pearls as:
When I’m fucking a woman
With my hand
I’m just a lesbian
When I’m fucking a man
Who used to be a woman
I’m a queer
And when I’m fucking a woman
Who used to be a man
I’m probably really straight
How Western Europe Developed a Full Scientific Method
The lone survivor of traditional Western European ‘scientific’ culture is science. It has survived because it is now the handmaid of technology, without which contemporary civilization would collapse utterly. Anyone who doubts this should try to get a research grant for genuinely “pure” research.
William Kentridge and The Benefits of Doubt
He had started the series from inside Plato’s cave, so when William Kentridge launched his sixth and final Charles Eliot Norton Lecture with a retelling of the story of Perseus, he gave familiar things back to his audience — the myth itself, and art’s gesture of circling toward origin at closure.
Where Rivers Meet
What is a map, and which maps are memory’s or imagination’s to invoke, and then how? What lies in the incantatory power of names, or in the pull North or South, West or East? What is time, what is memory, and what’s imagined about these plain facts here, or about writing as close to them – those descriptions and settings – as possible?
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Critics have long held that, even if Cervantes was at least somewhat aware that his work would be successful, this was only because he knew it was funny, and hoped that, in reading it, as he famously wrote in his first preface to Don Quixote, "the melancholy would be moved to laughter, and the merry made merrier still."
Maybe the reason Michael recites poetry whenever we are in the natural world, rather than, say, when doing the dishes or taking out the trash, is to attempt to narrate, to hold within the bounds of language, a kind of beauty, joy, fear that we will never completely understand.