Alec Soth's Archived Blog

July 27, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 3:05 am


A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts

by Wallace Stevens

The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur—

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten in the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light,
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full

And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,

You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,

You are humped higher and higher, black as stone—
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.

July 20, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: circles n\' bunnies,poetry — alecsothblog @ 5:09 am



from SELF-PORTRAIT IN A CONVEX MIRROR

by John Ashbery

As Parmagianino did it, the right hand

Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer

And swerving easily away, as though to protect

What it advertises. A few leaded panes, old beams,

Fur, pleated muslin, a coral ring run together

In a movement supporting the face, which swims

Toward and away like the hand

Except that it is in repose. It is what is

Sequestered. Vasari says, “Francesco one day set himself

To take his own portrait, looking at himself for that purpose

In a convex mirror, such as is used by barbers . . .

He accordingly caused a ball of wood to be made

By a turner, and having divided it in half and

Brought it to the size of the mirror, he set himself

With great art to copy all that he saw in the glass,”

Chiefly his reflection, of which the portrait

Is the reflection once removed.

The glass chose to reflect only what he saw

Which was enough for his purpose: his image

Glazed, embalmed, projected at a 180-degree angle.

The time of day or the density of the light

Adhering to the face keep it

Lively and intact in a recurring wave

Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.

But how far can it swim out through the eyes

And still return safely to its nest? The surface

Of the mirror being convex, the distance increases

Significantly; that is, enough to make the point

That the soul is a captive, treated humanely, kept

In suspension, unable to advance much farther

Than your look as it intercepts the picture.

Pope Clement and his court were “stupefied”

By it, according to Vasari, and promised a commission

That never materialized. The soul has to stay where it is,

Even though restless, hearing raindrops on the pane,

The sighing of autumn leaves thrashed by the wind,

Longing to be free, outside, but it must stay

Posing in this place. It must move

As little as possible. This is what the portrait says.

But there is in that gaze a combination

Of tenderness, amusement and regret, so powerful

In its restraint that one cannot look for long.

The secret is too plain. The pity of it smarts,

Makes hot tears spurt: that the soul is not a soul,

Has no secret, is small, and it fits

Its hollow perfectly: its room, our moment of attention.

That is the tune but there are no words.

The words are only speculation

(From the Latin speculum, mirror):

They seek and cannot find the meaning of the music.

We see only postures of the dream,

Riders of the motion that swings the face

Into view under evening skies, with no

False disarray as proof of authenticity.

But it is life englobed.

One would like to stick one’s hand

Out of the globe, but its dimension,

What carries it, will not allow it.

No doubt it is this, not the reflex

To hide something, which makes the hand loom large

As it retreats slightly. There is no way

To build it flat like a section of a wall:

It must join the segment of a circle,

Roving back to the body of which it seems

So unlikely a part, to fence in and shore up the face

On which the effort of this condition reads

Like a pinpoint of a smile, a spark

Or star one is not sure of having seen

As darkness resumes. A perverse light whose

Imperative of subtlety dooms in advance its

Conceit to light up: unimportant but meant.

Francesco, your hand is big enough

To wreck the sphere, and too big,

One would think, to weave delicate meshes

That only argue its further detention.

(Big, but not coarse, merely on another scale,

Like a dozing whale upon the sea bottom

In relation to the tiny, self-important ship

On the surface.) But your eyes proclaim

That everything is surface. The surface is what’s there

And nothing can exist except what’s there.

There are no recesses in the room, only alcoves,

And the window doesn’t matter much, or that

Sliver of window or mirror on the right, even

As a gauge of the weather, which in French is

Le temps, the word for time, and which

Follows a course wherein changes are merely

Features of the whole. The whole is stable within

Instability, a globe like ours, resting

On a pedestal of vacuum, a ping-pong ball

Secure on its jet of water.

And just as there are no words for the surface, that is,

No words to say what it really is, that it is not

Superficial but a visible core, then there is

No way out of the problem of pathos vs. experience.

You will stay on, restive, serene in

Your gesture which is neither embrace nor warning

But which holds something of both in pure

Affirmation that doesn’t affirm anything.

above: Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror, c. 1524 by Parmigianino

July 13, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: Papageorge,poetry — alecsothblog @ 12:02 pm

Untitled (from a notebook dated 1978)
By Tod Papageorge

Mid-spring, mid-morning – into the park
and downtown through the shimmering air,
each flush and pulse of light flashing quicksilver
through a net of dust, leaf and pollen.
Step by step, a camera hanging from my neck
beats my heart.

Green like the incontrovertible season,
I move through the high, untended, tow-tipped grass,
supplicant, trainee, hunter, mule,
out here to photograph,
to call this intoxication to account
and press these lawns and palings
into pictures

July 9, 2007

Poetry and Papageorge

Filed under: Papageorge,poetry — alecsothblog @ 11:07 pm

The photographer (and Yale professor) John Pilson recently sent me a fascinating document – a review of Edward Weston’s 1946 MoMA Exhibition written by Clement Greenberg (click here for the PDF). At the conclusion of this fascinating text, Greenberg writes the following:

If one wants to see modern art photography at its best, let him look at the work of Walker Evans, whose photographs have not one half the physical finish of Weston’s. Evans is an artist above all because of his original grasp of the anecdote. He knows modern painting as well as Weston does, but he also knows modern literature. And in more than one way, photography is closer today to literature than it is to the other graphic arts. (It would be illumination, perhaps, to draw a parallel between photography and prose in their respective historical and aesthetic relations to painting and poetry.) The final moral is: let photography be “literary.”

Tod Papageorge most definitely agrees. It seems he had literary ambitions for the medium from the beginning:

Photography and poetry have been yoked together for me since I first picked up a camera in 1962. In fact, I became obsessed with photography virtually from that moment, an obsession ignited because I saw in it a way to make poetry – which I’d tried doggedly to write for the three previous years – without suffering the anguish of sitting in place and ceaselessly sifting words together (not imagining how much more pain being a photographer could extract). – from Papageorge’s essay, Words for Pictures, in his book Passing Through Eden.

Papageorge’s clearest articulation of this relationship between photography and poetry is made in his introduction to Garry Winogrand’s book, Public Relations (1977):

A photograph is just a picture – or, as Winogrand would have it, “the illusion of a literal description of a piece of time and space.” It is as wanton a fiction as any description; but it is also, of course, a particularly convincing one because it so specifically locates and describes what it shows. As a poet knows that the words he chooses for his poem will, by their particular combination, resonate with a power that is the gift of language itself, so a photographer has at his disposal a system of visual indication that, even without his conscious deliberation, will describe the world with a unique, mimetic energy.

Auduen’s observation that “it is both the glory and the shame of poetry that its medium is not its private property, that a poet cannot invent his words,” could also be said of the photographer’s relation to the things of the physical world: that he cannot invent them. By being fictions and, at the same moment, returning their subjects to us with a compelling fidelity, both photographs and poems work with the same surprise. Atget’s beech trees will never shade us, any more than Frost’s birches will, but both have been given a “local habitation and a name,” both mediate between our experience and our sense of the-world-as-it-apparently-is, and both strike us an if they were simultaneously remembrances and revelations.

The genius of Passing Through Eden is its structure. It is the “particular combination” of pictures that makes them resonate. Many photographers forgo this ambition and assemble their pictures in categories and clumps (Friedlander is a good example). Others, like Arbus, stack all of their chips on the individual image. I suspect Winogrand didn’t care about any of this, he was too busy making pictures. What make Passing Through Eden great is that Papageorge did care:

Since I believe—and teach—that photography is, for some photographers anyway, a practice at least as close to writing as the other visual arts, I thought why not put my money where my mouth is and make something that exposes that belief by demonstrating it not only with pictures, but also in the literal way the sequencing of those pictures parallels and, to some degree, calls up the elemental narrative we all know. – Tod Papageorge, from an interview with Richard B. Woodward, 2006

July 6, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 12:03 am

The Motorcyclists
by James Tate

My cuticles are a mess. Oh honey, by the way,
did you like my new negligee? It’s a replica
of one Kim Novak wore in some movie or other.
I wish I had a foot-long chili dog right now.
Do you like fireworks, I mean not just on the 4th of July,
but fireworks any time? There are people
like that, you know. They’re like people who like
orchestra music, listen to it any time of day.
Lopsided people, that’s what my father calls them.
Me, I’m easy to please. I like ping-pong and bobcats,
shatterproof drinking glasses, the smell of kerosene,
the crunch of carrots. I like caterpillars and
whirlpools, too. What I hate most is being the first
one at the scene of a bad accident.

Do I smell like garlic? Are we still in Kansas?
I once had a chiropractor make a pass at me,
did I ever tell you that? He said that your spine
is happiest when you’re snuggling. Sounds kind
of sweet now when I tell you, but he was a creep.
Do you know that I have never understood what they meant
by “grassy knoll.” It sounds so idyllic, a place to go
to dream your life away, not kill somebody. They
should have called it something like “the grudging notch.”
But I guess that’s life. What is it they always say?
“It’s always the sweetest ones that break your heart.”
You getting hungry yet, hon? I am. When I was seven
I sat in our field and ate an entire eggplant
right off the vine. Dad loves to tell that story,

but I still can’t eat eggplant. He says I’ll be the first
woman President, it’d be a waste since I talk so much.
Which do you think the fixtures are in the bathroom
at the White House, gold or brass? It’d be okay with me
if they were just brass. Honey, can we stop soon?
I really hate to say it but I need a lady’s room.

June 28, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 11:54 pm

Cameras Came Then to Replace Descriptive Paragraphs
by Martha Ronk

If description could outpace effusions of feeling,
serif or sans serif, punctuated with dashes and in Amherst,
could one say it was a peculiar summer.
I tried to like what I’d always liked and tried to get there
sooner rather than later.
I’d forgotten I liked orange until
on a scale of one to ten the petals ranged themselves
like swallows on the telephone wire
flying off at the sound of someone’s coming.
Something should have been a topic—
I had thought it out and left nothing to chance,
but the people kept arriving
never thinking to find the appropriate word for
what they were taking in and writing down.
One snapped a lily between finger and thumb
and one had hair like spilling rust.
The obscurist wind came up close and I remembered
thinking I’d been feeling the same way before.

June 22, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 2:34 am

Pigeons at Dawn
by Charles Simic

Extraordinary efforts are being made
To hide things from us, my friend.
Some stay up into the wee hours
To search their souls.
Others undress each other in darkened rooms.

The creaky old elevator
Took us down to the icy cellar first
To show us a mop and a bucket
Before it deigned to ascend again
With a sigh of exasperation.

Under the vast, early-dawn sky
The city lay silent before us.
Everything on hold:
Rooftops and water towers,
Clouds and wisps of white smoke.

We must be patient, we told ourselves,
See if the pigeons will coo now
For the one who comes to her window
To feed them angel cake,
All but invisible, but for her slender arm.

June 15, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 1:17 am

The Seventh Inning
by Donald Hall

1. Baseball, I warrant, is not the whole
occupation of the aging boy.
Far from it: There are cats and roses;
there is her water body. She fills
the skin of her legs up, like water;
under her blouse, water assembles,
swelling lukewarm; her mouth is water,
her cheekbones cool water; water flows
in her rapid hair. I drink water

2. from her body as she walks past me
to open a screen door, as she bends
to weed among herbs, or as she lies
beside me at five in the morning
in submarine light. Curt Davis threw
a submarine ball, terrifying
to right-handed batters. Another
pleasure, thoroughly underrated,
is micturition, which is even

3. commoner than baseball. It begins
by announcing itself more slowly
and less urgently than sexual
desire, but (confusingly) in the
identical place. Ignorant men
therefore on occasion confuse beer-
drinking with love; but I have discussed
adultery elsewhere. We allow
this sweet release to commence itself,

4. addressing a urinal perhaps,
perhaps poised over a white toilet
with feet spread wide and head tilted back:
oh, what’delicious permission! what
luxury of letting go! what luxe
yellow curve of mildest ecstasy!
Granted we may not compare it to
poignant and crimson bliss, it is as
voluptuous as rain all night long

5. after baseball in August’s parch. The
jade plant’s trunk, as thick as a man’s wrist,
urges upward thrusting from packed dirt,
with Chinese vigor spreading limbs out
that bear heavy leaves—palpable, dark,
juicy, green, profound: They suck, the way
bleacher fans claim inhabitants of
box seats do. The Fourth of July we
exhaust stars from sparklers in the late

6. twilight. We swoop ovals of white-gold
flame, making quick signatures against
an imploding dark. The five-year-old
girl kisses the young dog goodbye and
chases the quick erratic kitten.
When she returns in a few years as
a tall shy girl, she will come back to
a dignified spreading cat and a
dog ash-gray on the muzzle. Sparklers

7. expel quickly this night of farewell:
If they didn’t burn out, they wouldn’t
be beautiful. Kurt, may I hazard
an opinion on expansion? Last
winter meetings, the major leagues (al-
ready meager in ability,
scanty in starting pitchers) voted
to add two teams. Therefore minor league
players will advance all too quickly,

8. with boys in the bigs who wouldn’t have
made double-A forty years ago.
Directors of player personnel
will search like poets scrambling in old
notebooks for unused leftover lines,
but when was the last time anyone
cut back when he or she could expand?
Kurt, I get the notion that you were
another who never discarded

9. anything, a keeper from way back.
You smoked cigarettes, in inflation-
times rolled from chopped-up banknotes, billions
inhaled and exhaled as cancerous
smoke. When commerce woke, Men was awake.
If you smoked a cigar, the cigar
band discovered itself glued into
collage. Ongoing life became the
material of Kurtschwittersball.

June 8, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 3:41 am

Kissing Stieglitz Good-Bye
by Gerald Stern

Every city in America is approached
through a work of art, usually a bridge
but sometimes a road that curves underneath
or drops down from the sky. Pittsburgh has a tunnel—

you don’t know it—that takes you through the rivers
and under the burning hills. I went there to cry
in the woods or carry my heavy bicycle
through fire and flood. Some have little parks—

San Francisco has a park. Albuquerque
is beautiful from a distance; it is purple
at five in the evening. New York is Egyptian,
especially from the little rise on the hill

at 14-C; it has twelve entrances
like the body of Jesus, and Easton, where I lived,
has two small floating bridges in front of it
that brought me in and out. I said good-bye

to them both when I was 57. I’m reading
Joseph Wood Krutch again—the second time.
I love how he lived in the desert. I’m looking at the skull
of Georgia O’Keeffe. I’m kissing Stieglitz good-bye.

He was a city, Stieglitz was truly a city
in every sense of the word; he wore a library
across his chest; he had a church on his knees.
I’m kissing him good-bye; he was, for me,

the last true city; after him there were
only overpasses and shopping centers,
little enclaves here and there, a skyscraper
with nothing near it, maybe a meaningless turf

where whores couldn’t even walk, where nobody sits,
where nobody either lies or runs; either that
or some pure desert: a lizard under a boojum,
a flower sucking the water out of a rock.

What is the life of sadness worth, the bookstores
lost, the drugstores buried, a man with a stick
turning the bricks up, numbering the shards,
dream twenty-one, dream twenty-two. I left

with a glass of tears, a little artistic vial.
I put it in my leather pockets next
to my flask of Scotch, my golden knife and my keys,
my joyful poems and my T-shirts. Stieglitz is there

beside his famous number; there is smoke
and fire above his head; some bowlegged painter
is whispering in his ear; some lady-in-waiting
is taking down his words. I’m kissing Stieglitz

good-bye, my arms are wrapped around him, his photos
are making me cry; we’re walking down Fifth Avenue;
we’re looking for a pencil; there is a girl
standing against the wall—I’m shaking now

when I think of her; there are two buildings, one
is in blackness, there is a dying poplar;
there is a light on the meadow; there is a man
on a sagging porch. I would have believed in everything.

June 1, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 2:42 am

When I watch in-flight movies, I only choose comedies. There is something about the mix of confinement, cheap wine and comedy that just works. On yesterday’s flight to London I watched Music and Lyrics. The movie stars Hugh Grant as a washed up 80’s singer (like Andrew Ridgeley – other guy from WHAM!) who reinvigorates his career with the help of Drew Barrymore.

The best part of the movie is the music. The film perfectly captures the happy emptiness of pop songwriting. I remember listening to an interview with the writer/director Marc Lawrence on Fresh Air. While most of the songs were written by Adam Shlessinger from the band Fountains of Wayne, one of the tunes was written by the director’s 13 year-old son. Clyde Lawrence also wrote the theme song to Miss Congeniality when he was 8.

After the movie, I started reading J.M. Coetzee’s book Disgrace. Instead of a washed-up pop star, this book is about a washed-up professor. But the following passage had me thinking about pop music:

This year he is offering a course on the Romantic poets. For the rest he teaches Communications 101, ‘Communications Skills,’ and Communications 201, ‘Advanced Communication Skills.’ Although he devotes hours of each day to his new discipline, he finds the premise, as enunciated in the Communications 101 handbook, preposterous: ‘Human Society has created language in order that we may communicate our thoughts, feelings and intentions to each other.’ His own opinion, which he does not air, is that the origins of speech lie in song, and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlarge and rather empty human soul.

Is it any better if this song comes from Wordsworth than George Michael? Would I be a happier person if I put down the Coetzee book, ordered another wine, and watched Meet the Fockers?

All of this brings me to the Friday Poem. I was saddened to hear about the recent suicide of the poet Sarah Hannah. It seems that Hannah was always drawn to darkness. She wrote her Ph.D. thesis on Sylvia Plath. But just like my airplane movies, she clearly longed for something sweet and light:

The Colors Are Off This Season
By Sarah Hannah

I don’t want any more of this mumble—
Orange fireside hues,
Fading sun, autumnal tumble,
Stricken, inimitable—Rose.

I want Pink, unthinking, true.
Foam pink, cream and coddle,
Miniskirt, Lolita, pompom, tutu,
Milkshake. Pink without the mottle

Or the dying fall. Pink adored, a thrall
So pale it’s practically white.
A tinted room beneath a gable—
Ice pink, powder, feather-light—

Untried corner of the treble.
I want the lift, not the lower.
Bloodless pink stalled at girl,
No weight, no care, no hour.

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