Chimera Song Mosaic
Thursday, May 22, 2003
Tomorrow I’m going to Houston to visit my sister, Reagan, and my cousin, Lisa (and her daughter, Sintia) and spend memorial day ensconced in my mother’s house with those four women. My sister and I have ambitious plans to continue our museum tours, but Lisa’s infectious, post-PhD-work attitude will most likely compel us to lounge by the pool. (Maybe I should have just said laziness?)

But the last time I was in Houston, my sister and I went to the Menil Collection, which is my favorite museum in the world (barring the Musee D’Orsay, of course). It’s not even really a museum—more the rotating private collection of John & Dominique De Menil, which features an emphasis on Surrealist works (some fabulous Magrittes) and stuff collected by the Surrealists, such as “primitive,” Oceanic art—“souvenirs & fakes”—etc. I go to the Menil Collection as much as possible and even once thought it would inform an entire manuscript—each poem was to be titled by an object collected by a Surrealist, such as “Janus Fly Whisk,” “Rattle in the Form of a Mythic Raven,” “Coconut Seed Resembling a Buttocks”—you no doubt get the attraction, but I was largely disappointed in the poems produced by this project (although one, “Praxinoscope,” is going to appear in an upcoming issue of Indiana Review), and decided to more or less give it up. Perhaps I was overwhelmed by the task—or maybe some of the titles were just too great by themselves. My favorite one: “Anthropomorphic Bullroarer.” How do you improve on that? Anyway, maybe this will entice somebody. I am kind of getting excited writing about it.

The best thing about going to museums with Reagan is that you don’t need to read the descriptions or rent one of those ear-things. She correctly identified every earth goddess deity on display (she tripped out over the Cycladic ones) and even knew some comparative time periods. I would check the tags for accuracy and say things like, “Hey, this one’s from Paros! I’ve been there.” And Reagan would say, “Yes; it’s Cycladic,” but she’s never been to Paros. Between the two of us, we would actually amount to one smart and well-traveled person.

The time before that we got about halfway through the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (in its brand-spanking new building) and saw Paris in the Age of Impressionism: Masterworks from the Musée d´Orsay (kind of disappointing next to the real thing) and lots of gorgeous sculptures by Rodin. Reagan wants to go back and complete our tour this weekend; we’ll see how that goes.

About a month ago, I made the 6 hour drive from Mission (where I live in the RGV) to Houston for an explicit reason: to go to the Kevin Young / Joyelle McSweeney reading. I got an email from Fence and had a hankering for a reading of elevated, experimental—how shall I describe this?—quality. It was some effort to get there by 7:00 PM on Friday (hey, I do have to work—but not much!), but it was worth it. Ms. McSweeney made it worth it with her coy and dimply reading and her response when asked: “What do you think of Russell Simmons’s Def Poetry Jam, and what is it doing to poetry?” And McSweeney said, “I think it’s great. That people are listening to poetry—any kind. And the fact that you bring this up as a point of contention between these two different poetic sensibilities proves that poetry is not dead—that people are willing to discuss it and argue over it.” This is primarily a paraphrase, but I hope Ms. McSweeney won’t mind because her message is so good. She may have gone to Iowa, but she’s no snob. ;)

I was excited to see Kevin Young because I had been flirting with the idea of purchasing his new book online for some time. I am slobbering over the title in more ways than one: Jellyroll: A Blues. His reading was humble, also dimply, and shyly sexy. People who are familiar with blues rhythms will be rocked and/or rolled by this collection. I can’t resist including a line from Nina Simone’s “Jellyroll” here:
“I could go for a ride on your sweet jellyroll
but I wouldn’t get nothin’ for my juicy, juicy soul.”

After these two great personas read, I couldn’t resist buying some titles and standing in line like a groupie. I was a little awh-shucky. The place was packed; each writer must have sold 75 copies of his and her books. Which is why I want to briefly pause and give snaps to Brazos Bookstore of Houston. It is a wonderful store that hosts readings frequently (and does them up right) and has a great selection of POETRY! I like to test bookstores I visit while traveling. This one passed. I found every hip title I was looking for, including some oldies. I picked up Timothy Donnelly’s Twenty-seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit (which I narrowly missed purchasing in Cambridge’s Grolier Poetry Book Shop—that’s actually a good story. I was accused of stealing. On my birthday). --I just got really sidetracked--

Oh yeah! I love this bookstore. I will be back for more. Oh yes. But for now, H-town, bye-bye—see you manana.

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