Chimera Song Mosaic
Monday, June 07, 2004
Et Remotissima Prope

Sometimes it is very hard to stop myself from reading; that's all I want to do. And sometimes it's nearly impossible to stop myself from writing because I am compelled to do it. And I think these urges could occur somewhat more conveniently. For example, I have the urge to write at the end of a semester when it's the very last thing I have time for, or else I have to the urge to read but not to write, and this includes not even writing comments on the papers that I am reading/grading. And I think the urge to read might be somewhat of a more passive urge, like I want to hear what someone else thinks, not what I think, to let their words and theories wash over me. But it's rarely ever like this, is it? I am always critiquing, always questioning, always engaging. And sometimes I have the strong urge to write exactly when I am reading and that of course is very disconcerting.

I can't even enjoy myself anymore, not while reading or even watching films or television or even when people are speaking (when I am cataloging what they are saying oftentimes, even the most trivial gossip). When I was in New York City, I watched The Lion King on Broadway--seemingly the most innocent thing. I already knew the story; it was only up to be to observe its translation onto the stage and transcription into textiles and onto the bodies of real life people. But no. I deconstructed it. I was angry because the characters the audience was supposed to relate to and sympathize with were depicted very much like "people" (hardly any animal characteristics--the young lions scarcely had tails!), and the antagonists, like Scar and the hyenas, were depicted in the most "animal" (and therefore most voyeuristically satisfying) ways. The costumes of the hyenas in particular were truly incredible. Timon and Pumba are good guys, and they were depicted in very animal ways. However, they also represented an inappropriate alternative lifestyle (and for this they are punished through animal depiction), one that the audience is supposed to be relieved from in the end when Simba turns away from it (sorry I am relying so much on the characters' names; I'm assuming everyone speaking and reading English has seen it)--a "Hakuna-Matata" way of life that shirks responsibility, adulthood, dodges heterosexual relationships, traditions, etc. The hyenas, however revolting they appear to be (and however much most people seem to hold contempt for them) actually are shown to have a much more egalitarian, honest, and non-sexist society (there is no leader, every dog for himself, and male and female hyenas are equal in size, strength, hunger, and brains--or lack of brains--on the stage. This exists in some real-life hyena societies, where females are larger, stronger, more dominant, and even have peniform clitorises). For me, I found myself sympathizing the most with Scar, who offered another life-alternative--that of the embittered recluse. I don't know what the creators of the story were saying with this, but I think it's interesting that he's such a compelling creature and is in fact more developed and spends more time on the stage (in the live musical) than any other actor! Even in the movie he's much more developed than the one-dimension Musafa, who simply seems to reinforce the traditional patriarchal society (a monarchy no less), helped, no doubt, by the unquestionable authority of the voice of James Earl Jones. Even the lionesses (the faceless and infinitely substitutable hunters/workers of the world) don't question it much. There's even the puzzle of the parentage of Nala--is she Musafa's daughter, as such a polygamous society would suggest? Or is she Scar's offspring, or was her male parent a lion of a different lineage? In the wild, the lion of the pride is replaced far more often than the human royalty they depict in the movie--unless that male lion has the benefit of some other lion helping him maintain his position--perhaps, a brother.

See what I mean? The Lion King: who cares? It just makes it very difficult for me to get any reading done. I read everything slowly, pick everything apart, digest it and learn from it (I hope).

But anyway, I had a great time in NYC. My Mom and my sister had so much fun (they were visiting for the first time), and my sister recommends the costume feature at the MET (Â?Dangerous LiaisonsÂ?). I didnÂ?t get to see it; I was doing other stuff, though I canÂ?t really remember what it was. I did get to see the Museum of Natural History for the first time ever, and I focused on the fantastic dinosaur skeletal displays and the dioramas (I just reread The Catcher in the Rye in the spring and had to see those dioramas). It was great seeing the dinosaurs with my sister because she explains the current evolutionary theories along the way and even argues against some of them (primarily semantics and oversimplifications). We missed the singing frogs and the stones from Petra, but they looked really interesting.

Although lovely, my trip probably wasn't very good timing for a few reasons. One, we missed Much Ado About Nothing, there wasn't anything going on at the Guggenheim, and not much at all poetry-wise. (Tho I did make a mini-pilgrimage to the old Barbizon, now the Melrose Hotel, where Sylvia Plath threw her clothes off the roof, if you beleive in The Bell Jar.) I stumbled upon the Zinc Bar, but it was music all the way, and I scoffed at used poetry for sale at The Strand. I didn't venture into the ubiquitous Borders or Barnes & Nobles, although they probably had better poetry sections. I found an independent bookstore on Madison Avenue & 80th-ish (Oops! What was I doing up there? That's not mine, Baby! Honestly!) and some cool, very elegantly executed reprints (Hesperus Press) for a good price (buy 2, get a third free):

Butterball, Guy De Maupassant*
Incest, Marquis De Sade*
Memoirs of a Madman, Gustave Flaubert*
On Wine and Hashish, Charles Baudelaire*
Dubrovsky, Alexander Pushkin*
Memoirs of an Egoist, Stendhal*

Also, not Hesperus Press: The Paris Review no. 169*; The Book of Salt, Monique Truong*; Little Black Book of Stories, A. S. Byatt*

But no poetry. I was all set to go to the Poet's House after a leisurely lunch at Blue Ribbon in Soho when I finally met up with Caeli (Montana poetry alum) at her apartment on the lower east side. The place looked like a tiny gallery, filled with her boyfriend's paintings and, of course, music. But most important was seeing Caeli because I hadn't in such a long time! She shocked me, as usual, by looking glamorous and doing something incongruous: she was holding a 16 oz. Budweiser bottle, the label turned toward me like product placement! Then she was drinking from it! I couldn't believe it; I was thoroughly charmed. Later we talked about it, and she told me that the Budweiser didn't mean anything. I figured it was some kind of statement--I mean, after the microbrews of Montana and Oregon, where do you go? But no, there was a perfectly reasonable explanation.

We went walking around her neighborhood and met up with some interesting people, friends of Kris, her boyfriend, and some writers, too. I had a hard time talking to everyone because I had so much to say to Caeli, but it was still very fun, and the restaurant was filled with vines and some raindrops and some funny, snowflakelike flecks of green seed that kept falling from the trees into people's hair. Then we went to a bar, the KGB, which I think was very appropriate since I am somewhat preoccupied with how to handle myself in Russia. Caeli and I drank vodka with club soda just to torture ourselves, and there was more beer--Baltic Classic, blue label. It's tasty and I'm pretty sure it will come up again while I am in Petersburg. Then Caeli and I discussed: Chick-Lit; the U of M brag-board; Dave Eggers; turning 30; Missoula reunion prospects; Poetry. All these topics increased our cynicism and neuroses, but in a good, uplifting way. I kept telling everyone that we hadn't seen each other in two years, but Caeli corrected me--it has been more like 4. Which is unacceptable.

The next afternoon, Lance and I met Caeli for some fancy cocktails at the Bread Bar and walked over to Chelsea Pier for some beers and some Fleet Week action. What was fun is that we got to see Eden, Catherine's old friend, for a little while. Kris joined us, and we sat in the sun for a long time. Eden kept coming by and hooking us up with lots of pitchers. But sadly we didn't get to talk to him much. He seemed good. No sailors showed up, but some suits.

We did not get any Fleet Week action. This is not the first time Sex in the City has steered me wrong. Although Lance and I did try to go to Chumley's one night and were turned away at the door by a bunch of beefy men in white uniforms. The sailors were having a private party. Two SWAT guys were across the street with machine guns. It's a pretty funny place to have a private party for people who are just in town for a few days. The sailors weren't enjoying themselves; they were all standing outside, shouting into their cell phones: "Yes! I'm here already! Ask directions--it's really hard to find!"

So you see, not such a good week for poetry or sailors. But lest this sound too much like travel writing, I'll offer a list of what poetry I did buy when I got back. After a day of rest, I headed straight for Brazos Bookstore, which has a great poetry section. I found:

Volt, no. 10
Knopf Mapguides, St. Petersburg*
Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss*
Gulag, Anne Applebaum*
Republic Sublime, Christopher Cessac
Source, Mark Doty
Trouble in Mind, Lucie Brock-Broido
BPJ, vol. 54, no. 3
Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, no. 22
MAR, vol. XXIV, no. 1
Cascadia, Brenda Hillman
Cusp, Jennifer Grotz
The Canary, no. 3
Conduit, no. 14
Speech! Speech! Geoffrey Hill
Miniatures and Other Poems, Barbara Guest
Given, Arielle Greenberg
Viper Rum, Mary Karr
Rattapallax 11
LIT no. 7
Deer Head Nation, K. Silem Mohammad
Winter Sex, Katy Lederer

I did not find:
Lure, Nils Michaels
Anything by Jack Spicer
. . . or Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge
old issues of McSweeny's (I don't like comics)*

Yes, I bought all of this stuff. I paid with my credit card (!). I even got impatient the day before and went to the local Barnes & Nobel and found:

Mother Jones, June 2004*
The New Yorker, June 7, 2004*
Music and Suicide, Jeff Clark
Middle Earth, Henri Cole
Sad Little Breathing Machine, Matthea Harvey

I spent a while marveling at the reissue of The Little Door Slides Back. I am very familiar with the first edition and wanted to note the changes. I don't like them (surprise!). I don't like the way the individual titles are lurid and huge, hanging above the poems themselves like advertising. I don't like the elimination of the <>. I kind of wanted to buy it just so I could tear through it (not physically, of course). I recognize this for what it is, a gathering binge. Only if I had winter next to hibernate!

I think I might horde books (rather than read them). I am worried that if I don't buy them, I will forget about them and never read them. Maybe I am trying to control when other people read (by keeping them off the shelves?), or maybe I am trying to slow down the publishing world (totally illogical). But if I have it my way, the rest of the summer, the month and a half when I get back to the Valley will be devoted to reading and writing and (hopefully less) thinking and (hopefully more) doing. There I won't have this lovely, physical access to things, can't consume literature at such an economical pace. Plus I won't have any money left to go anywhere. But I just can't buy all this stuff through the mail--it's too passive! And I resent the passivity of waiting for the mailman to bring me what I want. I must actively hunt down and kill these books and drag them into my lair, which looks suspiciously like a library, virgin forest that it is.

* Not poetry

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