Greetings readers, tinsel and light and sparkles and redemption and rebirth to those who welcome those sorts of things. Happy Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and other celebrations to all of you.
This month we bring you pieces centered on identity: fully embodying and understanding one’s self, and claiming the right to define oneself on one’s own terms.
Returning poet B.L. Nal’s pieces this month are inspired by the incarnational story of Christmas, where the Christian God took on the identity of a human being to rescue and redeem all creation. Her shimmering, delicate poems cause us to consider the layers of meaning various societies have given to the holiday, and to the life and person of Jesus. Many cultures have infused the season with their own traditions, beginning with the birthday of the ancient Middle Eastern carpenter and rabbi, to the European celebrations with red-suited bishops, carolers and snowy trees, to the international techie light displays and gift-giving extravaganzas.
Poet Linda Allen also draws upon the Christmas holiday as a motif in her cycle of three poems. She begins with a piece describing a winter snowfall, then another where the birds and outdoor scene echo her grief and wonder, and then a final poem which focuses on the widowed speaker’s bittersweet emotions. The natural world becomes a voice and vocabulary for her speakers, a way for them to communicate who they are and articulate their thoughts. Geese, trees, cold weather become not just a pretty landscape, but a common heritage, a way to refer to and thus talk about the same things.
Leah Fortier also uses natural as well as spiritual imagery in her poetic writings, rendering her speakers’ ‘ocean’ of memories through italicized fragments resembling an inner dialogue. Having the space to think, to sort through one’s own thoughts, is an important part of developing a personal identity.
In his poetry, Mitchell Grabois intersperses personal thoughts and memories with reflections on historical events, ethnic identity and American culture. His speakers use childhood innocence, rebelliousness, and wry humor as ways of coping, of existing within a changing world.
Emma Eisler’s poetic piece, like some of Fortier’s work, shows a speaker experiencing a complex and troubled interpersonal relationship. In “Flight and Fall,” her character longs to be heard, to be known for who he or she really is, rather than just seen as a symbol of the excitement and glamour of the carnival.
Arthur Gonzalez’ fantasy novel The Photo Traveler, as reviewed in Elizabeth Hughes’ monthly Book Periscope column, presents a narrator who discovers his ability to transport himself through time while escaping an abusive home situation. His moving through history to understand himself and his special role in the book’s drama resembles the internal journeys of Fortier and Allen’s poetic speakers.
Christopher Bernard reviews the current show at San Francisco’s Meridian Gallery, “By Mainly Unexpected Means -” This assortment of artwork, from 20 Silicon Valley artists (in residence at Palo Alto’s Cubberley Studios) combines the old and the new, the analog and digital, the human and the technological. Like Arthur Gonzalez’ protagonist, Gavin, the work travels through time, overlaying multiple layers of thought and history in order to better reflect and convey our world.
Amina Aineb illustrates the vulnerability of the individual in her poem “A Bizarre Way of Walking to a House.” Her writing evokes her young female speaker’s sense of being alone in an unsettling world.
Christopher Bernard’s review of poet Jack Foley’s new collection Eyes highlights the poet’s unique use of multiple voices within his text. Bernard’s piece emphasizes how Foley’s interlineated text encourages people to think rather than getting comforted or instructed, and to pay attention to language and form as well as content. By deconstructing identity in this way, Foley draws attention to the concept, and calls on us to do the hard work of creating ourselves and our world, infusing our words, lives and society with meaning.
The American Conservatory Theater (ACT)’s recent production of Beneath the Lintel, as also reviewed by Christopher Bernard, gives us protagonists with elusive personal identities. We have a murder mystery involving books, stories and libraries, where we are not sure who the perpetrator or victim really are, or even if they exist.
Isaac Shott-Rosenfield tackles threats to individual identity in his playful piece “Tempurpedic,” asking readers to consider how easily we reshape others into tools for meeting our needs. Martin Rushmere follows in this vein with his review of the Marin Theater Company’s production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, a drama which critiques the way social expectations define us and our relationships. In the drama, we see a husband forced to choose between love and honor, and a wife who chooses autonomy and self-definition over her roles as wife and mother.
Like Nora in A Doll’s House, Ayokunle Adeleye takes a risk to assert his beliefs. His strident poem in support of a Nigerian university faculty and staff strike states his position with clarity and without apology. Following in the vein of his earlier writings, he advocates for justice and government accountability and transparency within his home country.
Thank you very much for making Synchronized Chaos Magazine part of your December solstice and holiday celebrations! We wish you the light and joy of the season as you read.
My heart explodes for the new Motorola+Zine+ZN5
Creative Commons photo found on flickrcc.net
The death of my grandmother
made me want to get to the heart of things
I was only nine years old
but had an advanced sense
of the Holy and Hidden
I’d already been through spiritual crises
At seven I decided I wanted to become a rabbi
At eight my parents denied me
threatened to send me to Dozier School for Boys
a harsh reform school in the Florida Panhandle
where they hate niggers and Jews
They’d set me straight there at Dozier
said my father with a maniacal grin
They’d make me one of the “White House Boys”
put me in the cinder block bunker
painted white on the outside
unpainted on the inside
where they’d beat me as if I was a runaway
even if I was a Yid and and not a Nig
So get over your foolishness, boy
said my father in a thick and absurd
something he’d learned from some TV show
You ain’t gonna be no rabbi
At age eight
already a religious martyr
I wrote a two-page treatise promoting atheism
which I ran off on the carbon copy machine
and handed out to all my classmates
By the end of the week
they were all atheists
and refused to go to church
or Sunday School
or the Wednesday night supper
with its collection of jello dishes
full of suspended horrors
The superintendent kicked me out of school
and threatened to send me to Dozier School for Boys
I said: I been there
Do your worst, motherfucker
The Icelandic poet
came to America
to do a series of readings
While he was here he abducted
three small boys
He checked in early for his fight
He conversed amusingly with the TSA agents
He’d stowed the boys
in dog cages
No one looked very closely
so they flew through the air like that
crossed the ocean
In his homeland
in his little home isolated in the dark green forest
the poet turned the boys into trolls
not the kind of trolls you think
not sex slaves either
He kept them so entranced
they didn’t even think of their parents
their brothers and sisters
let alone miss them
Bio: Mitchell Krochmalnik Grabois was born in the Bronx and now splits his time between Denver and a one-hundred-and-twenty-year-
By Jack Foley
Poetry Hotel Press
A review by Christopher Bernard
[Note: In the opening paragraphs of this review, the interlineated quotations in italics are from “Villanelle” (for Ivan Argüelles), by Jack Foley, from EYES. This is an example of an interlineated text, sometimes called a “foley,” which is discussed later in this review.]
Hour: sunset; fire retreating. Hour
For many readers, EYES will be the most important introduction to the work of one of America’s most consistently interesting contemporary poets. That Jack Foley is not better known, and not yet placed where he clearly belongs, in the upper ranks of modern poets in the
Of thoughtfulness, sweet reverie.
English language, is, I believe, something of a scandal, even a disgrace to the literary establishment that historically has been so notorious for similar follies that “missing genius when it is right under their noses” has become the motto of many “publishers,” “critics,” and “academics.”
Let us talk about the stupidity of publishers. …
Given the futility of much of contemporary American culture, Foley’s work is likely to remain a minority taste until our cultural elites, craven before those great gods, popular
Let us talk of the darkening of thought’s tower
culture, the race to the bottom, and the hypercommercialization of the internet, at some point, out of sheer disgust, relearn self-respect they have forgotten and reassert the values that justify their existence, such as intellectual
Or of the endless reverence for money
courage, confrontation with shibboleths, questioning the authority of the local despot (whether an individual dictator or what has been called the “World Wide Mob”), and the slaying of sacred cattle.
At this hour: sunset; fire retreating …
When that happens, writers and thinkers like Foley may finally gain the place they deserve at the
Let us take the rotting floor!
human mind’s cold, clear heights.
Let us remember the reviews and their duplicity!
There are some benefits, of course, in the present state of things: while we’re waiting, we
Let us talk talk talk about
“happy few” will have him, like a banquet of all but excessively gourmet fare,
all to ourselves.
And as the main course in the banquet, we have this book: a brilliantly shaped selection- Foley’s work from the last several decades, printed in a large, spacious format, with a lovely design by poet, designer and musician Clara Hsu, and graced with a vigorous and munificent introduction by Ivan Argüelles, another of the Bay Area’s poetic masters (and another candidate for wider recognition when “the sleepers finally awake”).
Jack Foley’s work is that of a strenuously active intellectual, which puts him immediately at a disadvantage, of course. America must be only country where the prejudice against intellectuality is so great that even many of the writers run from the aspersion as from a rabid dog.
But Foley’s is a passionate intellectuality, and his work is the expression of a person as deeply humane as he is deeply aware. He is a poet in the ecstatic tradition of Whitman as refracted through the lenses of Pound and Olson and varieties of poststructuralism (where the open-faced smile of the American Emersonian, that happy existentialist, meets the European Nietzschean’s burned grimace), with bits of vaudeville, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and tap dancing thrown in, all of this mixed and blended in a mind, unique but all-inviting, individual yet multitudinous, a spirit deep as day and as broad as history.
And I say this, and believe it to be no exaggeration, no decorative purple patch, because Foley’s work comes out of the generativity of language itself, a generativity that is, to all practical purposes, and conceivably also to theoretical ones, infinite. He has taken many of the crude prejudices and inane rules of “writing,” the sorts of thing that make writing classes and writers groups a curse and a torment to the spirit (“write what you know, show don’t tell, find your personal voice” and the like) that has turned too much of contemporary “writing” into a game between faux naifs and their shadows, and turned them – rules, naifs and shadows, all – on their heads. As he explains in many a lucid philosophical aside, in both prose and verse (he is not afraid of dumping into the mix of mashup rhetoric, truncated phrase and quotation unchained, a workable abstraction or an unambiguous assertion of his own when needed and helpful), Foley writes not from the center of personality in its more limited manifestations, but from the center of language, which is the archetype of the open system, a generator of meanings that, within the possible frameworks of grammatical rules and systems of phoneme and morpheme, signage, and the like, as well as the hermeneutical practices available to the human species, is essentially without limits. Infinity is thus immediately available to us (as available as it can be to an ultimately finite creature) through language, as it is through mathematics, music and the other arts, and the night sky above us.
At the center of language we also find, curiously enough and mirabile dictu, the great putative value of American culture, though it is a value paid more lip service than real service to. And that value is freedom: the absolute freedom of the mind to fashion its own meaning and meanings out of itself, to fashion its world, to crush the given into eternally fertile and life-giving fragments, annealing and reannealing them, over and over, ever and again, into the wilding and scattering shapes, frottage and fractalage, of the spirit’s – my, your, our – ever-changing fantasies and desires. Foley’s work takes place in the great theater of meaning that is language: an open-ended circus, an epic that has no conclusion, an endless conversation between an infinite number of speakers. In Foley’s work there are only pauses; there is no closure. His work contains, as it opens out to, the unexpressed and the not-yet expressed, literally, as at the “conclusion” of the poem “Fragments.”
There are few ideas headier than these – indeed, this may be why Foley makes the literary and academic establishment uneasy, strikes them dumb and off-balance; hoping that thereby he will go away, that by ignoring him he will cease to exist. They laugh at him, nervously. His few supporters in the literary establishment are sometimes ridiculed for taking him seriously: “He’s avant-garde, experimental, modernist, postmodernist – an extremist, an outlier, not mainstream, an eccentric, yikes (look at the picture, he’s wearing a keffiyeh!), a t(Errorist?)!” All that crazy modern stuff was supposed to have died with Derrida, after Bush bombed Baghdad and Americans became terrified of being kidnapped in the middle of the night, renditioned to a black site, tortured, disappeared, droned. We’ve gone back to story-telling, flattering, coddling. We want fairytales and porn, modest entertaining little poems, unpretentious, a Harry Potter, an E. L. James, a Billy Collins, a Dan Brown, to keep us bottle-fed, giggly, comfortably napping; the last thing we want is a shaman (how 60s, how quaint!). We don’t want to wake up. We might have to change something. We might have to change everything. We don’t want to hear, in English or German, du muss dein leben ändern. And we don’t want literature to have anything to do with reality.
One had thought that all such weak spirits had perished generations ago – we were beyond such schoolmasterish meatheads. But apparently not – the follies of that time are enjoying a comeback. The 20th century is going to have to be fought all over again – from socialism to modernism, from labor unions to the freedom of the heartsoulspiritmind, from revolt to rebellion, from revolution to liberation.
Foley’s work is a reminder of what is at stake.
Enough of ranting, deserved, alas, as it may be; now to a little description. But how does one describe the unique?
At the center of Foley’s literary project (to use an old, but always useful, existentialist term) are a few simple discoveries: that “literature is made up of letters” and that language “speaks us” as much as we speak it, which discoveries (along with the modern notion of the mind’s, and therefore the self’s, unconscious and multifarious drives, in which the ego is less like a crystallized monument to its own ambitions (often our preferred self-image) and more like an arena of energies in constant interaction, frozen only, achieved like a work of art, a symphony, a novel, a poem, at its conclusion) made the multi-voiced poem not only possible but, in a sense, inevitable.
This kind of poem, as practiced by Foley, often incorporates other texts (the poet sometimes rewriting them, bending then, shifting them, shaking them, making them other, making them “wrong”; chopping them up, sometimes rough, sometimes fine, like a chef cooking his dish out of meat and meanings; Foley, the echt modernist, is in this the echt postmodernist as well, just as in his casting about in analog hyperlinks he discovered the internet of culture before the clever fellows of ARPAnet ever dreamed of the internet of technology) to create not so much collages as (as he calls them) “collisions” of texts, from which meanings are presented, produced, invented, hinted at, questioned, splintered, shaved away, blown up, shattered, destroyed, renewed, and then spun through the whole process again and again, in a perpetuum mobile of created meaning, which is the heart of language in its absolute freedom, which is human freedom itself, fantasy, dream, imagination: our only way out of the inferno of reality, our Paradise rose holding universal love in its infinitely opening blossom. It is like an enactment of Maurice Blanchot’s “Infinite Conversation,” without the gray continental flavoring, its flirtation with nihilism and despair; on the contrary, it is exuberantly cheerful (“energy is eternal delight”) and alive.
The immediate engine of this process in Foley’s writing is the question, sharp, and often humorous too, in its Socratic sense of perpetual undercutting of received understanding. In Foley, this does not lead by way of reductive approximations to a unitary meaning, as so often seems to happen in Plato’s dialogues (though often less so than is commonly supposed – many of Socrates’ questions are ultimately left open and not definitively answered; even Socrates seems to be aware that he had opened a Pandora’s box indeed; that all answers are provisional and only questioning is eternal – maybe the world began with a play of questions: “Quark asked: Why?—
Why not? said Higgs” And off we were to the races) and the wretched forced march of western philosophy that followed.
Foley’s way of questioning, like Socrates’ and like the German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s, open out into a plethora of possible understandings, undermining the received “wisdom,” the prejudices, the pre-judgments, that many of us bring to common concepts, and all of us to some of them. (What is a “personal voice”? What is “personal”? Isn’t it possible that nothing is personal, nothing individual, (“I am not an ‘individual,’” as Foley says at one point. “I am as divided as can be”), that we are all just made up of the scraps of other people, and those people are made up of the scraps of other people, and so on, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, et ad absurdum, and that there is no ultimate origin? And “what do you mean by ‘voices’?” anyway)
In this sense, Foley is a philosophical poet par excellence, though he practices his philosophy outside the bankrupt discursive practices of western philosophy (philosophy is of course not “dead,” pace Heidegger, Adorno, Derrida, Badiou, Agamben e tutti quanti: philosophy will die on the day that people stop asking questions: whenever you ask a question, you are “doing philosophy”; whenever you ask it insistently, so much so that it becomes a matter of life and death – in this sense Christ, Moses and Socrates are one (the defining Judaic question is the vertiginous set of questions “What is the law that I must follow? And why?”; the defining Christian question is “Why hast thou forsaken me?” and we are still waiting for an answer) – then you are “doing western philosophy”: it is the west that made a fetish of the question; elsewhere, before and since, people who ask questions too persistently are killed) – he seems to have been impressed, and perhaps influenced, by Heidegger’s ideas about language and being, his approach to ultimate questions that are never, finally, answered, and then has taken those ideas to the logical next step. And (as he has said in other situations) he has been influenced by the ideas of Paul de Man on deconstruction, though not to undermine language; on the contrary, to liberate it in literature, and by so doing, purify it, reminding us of what we have been doing all along: that language is our responsibility, a tool, an instrument. And that its innocence is our obligation.
Foley’s multi-voiced poems led, naturally, to his “choral” poems, which are performed by two or more voices simultaneously: some of his choral poems incorporate work by other writers (Foley also practices a kind of interlinear poem, called a “foley,” in which he adds his own lines between the lines of another writer’s work, turning the usually monologic lyric into a dialogue; a poem becomes a heteroglossia; all literature becomes overtly what has always secretly been: a wealth of talmudic marginalia).
For many lovers of poetry, especially those who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is fortunate to enjoy the poet’s bracing, sane and warmly human presence, the choral poems are Foley’s best known work. In a way, that is something of a misfortune, because these readings can give Foley’s work a superficial resemblance to the free-associational rhodomontades of the Beats and their followers, and what one sometimes misses, in the pleasant but sometimes half-baked theatrical experience of the contemporary poetry reading (no lighting, no music, no costumes, no rehearsals), is a sense of the extraordinary care with which these texts have been constructed; this comes across on the written page far more clearly than in the comparative limitations of a staged reading. One misses the visual element too, the placing of words and phrases, “marks,” like skillfully made drawings, woodcuts, engravings, on the page. The ideal experience of these poems might well be to simultaneously follow them on the page, like a musical score, while hearing them being performed.
In EYES we can most easily enjoy the expansive exhilaration of Jack Foley’s literally inimitable work, where no two poems are alike, where in some cases they can never even end, where each work is crafted to a unique shape, where voice becomes voices (“What are ‘voices,’ anyway?”)—a gift to the culture, the country, the time, however long it takes us to catch up to it:
we are not—
those masters of language
so that experience is
alive with random fragments seeking others—
not unity but constant interaction
I see this review has often wandered from its subject, and for that I apologize. But it is just one example of the stimulating power of Jack Foley’s work: it does not let you settle down even on itself for very long – it opens the mind to the mind’s many worlds, and encourages you to pursue thoughts, ideas, words, universes, out of the received sanctities, the limitations and limits, the presumed security and safety, of literature – out, into the open, as far as thought dares to go. It’s not the only way to write, of course, but it is certainly a valuable and hopeful one. It is, above all, liberating.
By the way, did I mention that Jack has a sense of humor, sometimes quite wicked? You don’t believe me? Read “The Marx Brothers Run the Country” and weep with laughter, my dears. (Our masters have been reading Jack Foley even if our critics haven’t.)
Christopher Bernard is a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, photographer and filmmaker living in San Francisco. He is author of the novel A Spy in the Ruins and the recent collection, The Rose Shipwreck: Poems and Photographs. He is also co-editor of the webzine Caveat Lector.
By: Linda Allen
There’s snow on the ground
It’s like God’s blanket of beauty
Nothing more comforting than snow
It’s like God’s way of telling humans to slow down and look around at the beauty in this world
Snow makes you want to cuddle up
With your honey
With your babies
Snow makes you want to cuddle up by the fire with hot chocolate and read a book
Snowball fights going on
Snowmen being built
Snow covered houses, cars, and trees
Snow brings smiles and joy to children’s faces all around the world
Snow blankets the world in beauty and love
Snow makes us forget the ugliness that happens in this world, if only for a little while
There’s snow on the ground
Blanket of beauty and love
Slow down and marvel at this world and all the beauty and possibilities
Snow, what could be more beautiful?
Christmas Day Snow
The snow covers the ground
Everything is white except the trees
The snow has to be at least 5 or 6 inches deep
She sits in the silence staring out of the sliding glass window
She sees the beautiful snow and it inspires her
Snow is like a blank canvas, it covers everything that is ugly
The wind blows softly; the birds are flying and singing do they see the beauty?
Do they see the beautiful snow?
Why are they here?
Didn’t they know to fly south for the winter?
The sun is barely over the horizon, the smell of turkey fills the house
It’s Christmas morning and she cannot seem to sleep,even though she has a head cold and two ear infections
She thinks about the people who have lost their lives this year, hoping and praying that the snow makes the tears disappear for just one moment
As they reflect on their pain for just one day for Christmas cheer
For days like this she thinks of the angels that are looking down and watching her, she thanks them for the snow
So Merry Christmas to all
Make snow angels in the snow for loved one lost and remembered
In love and memory of:
Michael Bennett (cancer)
Earl Bennett (cancer)
Roy Bennett (alcoholism-lung failure)
Three uncles that are gone, but never forgotten
Who’s That Baby in the Window?
Who’s that baby in the window?
She looks a lot like you
Her eyes are blue just like yours
Looking at her makes me miss you so much more
I see her and want to cry
You are gonna miss so much
Who’s that baby in the window
She smiles at everyone she sees
She brightens up my day
She reminds me of you
She makes me see you every day
Who’s that baby in the window
She’s fast asleep and I could watch all night
She looks the way you did when you slept
Can you see the angel we made from heavens window?
Who’s this baby in the window?
The perfect reflection of love
Love for me
Love for our daughter
Love for our country
You paid a high price for love, but the price was worth all the pain
Who’s that baby in the window?
The daughter of a hero
Gone but never forgotten
BEAUTY BY SURPRISE
By Mainly Unexpected Means—
Work from the Cubberley Studios
Curated by Theres Rohan
535 Powell Street, San Francisco
Through December 21
While I was passing the Meridian Gallery down Nob Hill the other lazy day, I let my eyes wander over the sign outside and was promptly stopped in my tracks by the title of the gallery’s current show. I am, I admit, a sucker for group shows: they usually include at least one artist I’ve never heard of worth the visit; so, in I went. And, after a discreet welcome by the eager-eyed staff (I didn’t have the heart to tell them I’m as penniless as most artists: the best I could give them was only words), I let myself sink into an hour of completely unexpected charm.
“By Mainly Unexpected Means—,” as it happens, displays work by 20 artists who have been active at the heart of Silicon Valley, where digital is king and the virtual world is bidding to take over whatever is still left of “analog” culture. That the totalizing grasp of such revolutions always fails (history, like nature, never letting any one thing succeed for very long) is some consolation; that at the very heart of Digitaland the material world and its spiritual extensions are so subtly celebrated makes at least this art lover breathe with relief. Not that the digital world is by any means ignored or scorned here: it is, however, used to deepen our humanity, not to try to replace it.
The exhibit comprises work by artists who have been in residence at the Cubberley Community Center, in Palo Alto. In the Cubberley Visual Artists Studio Program, selected artists are provided with studio space and engage in classes, exhibitions and related activities that bring together the arts and the local community. The current exhibit provides a selection of work by these artists.
And there is some very choice work here. Julia Nelson-Gal’s “Greetings From Kalamazoo” are scrolls made up of found photos and thread, stitched together in rows of narrow bands and suggestive of collage friezes and ancient reading scrolls expressing private fantasies and half-forgotten memories. Inga Infante has a series of little, gray metal boxes, all called (with delicate irony) “Wired,” lined up with dignity on a wall, with tops ajar like doors to tiny closets and lots of white space around each; with décor on the “doors,” wires impishly turned from the boxes (making the viewer wonder what they are connected to); inside the boxes, half-hidden, are curious objects and pictures.
Lois Anderson has a single, small but memorable piece, called “The Knowledge Factory”: a diminutive book made up of a couple dozen paper quires, bound with string so it can’t be opened, with “Withdrawn” ominously stamped, in institutional lettering, on wraparound paste-ons and a title “The Knowledge Factory student power and academic politics in America” making a statement that is clear, provocative and profoundly witty.
Sharon Chinen has perhaps the most sheerly beautiful analog work in the exhibit, with a series of exquisitely delicate pieces in the exhibit’s first gallery: wall hangings made of the thinnest wire and worked into, in some cases, spiderweb-like, in other cases nest-like, in still others crown-like, forms; expressing a combination of hardness and gentleness, strength and fragility, the kind of power that is only revealed through this kind of tenderness and control.
There are two video installations, either of which alone would make a visit to the exhibit worthwhile. Michal Gavish’s “Untitled Frame” is a brief film in which a transparent cloth seems to be hanging in a woodland, swinging in a gentle breeze; printed on the cloth, or appearing and vanishing in multiple-exposure, in long-bygone styles of painting, drawing, and photography, are the faces of an apparently Latin American couple, an older balding man wearing glasses, a woman with sad eyes and unregarded hair, people perhaps from the artist’s past, or from an imaginary past; the only sounds (projected from small speakers above and behind the viewer, who sits in one of two old-fashioned dark wooden chairs that themselves call up memories from early in the last century) of bird calls and distant traffic and the conversations of passersby on an unseen street.
Nora Raggio’s “Geo Wideo” is easy to miss, as it’s placed, alone, in a small room off the gallery’s main lobby, horizontally on the top of a small table. But it would be a shame to pass it over: it’s an example of digital tablet art; the viewer looks down at it from above and watches the piece slowly unfold in silence, screen passing across screen in random sequence and various divisions, revealing forms from nature: dense gray clouds, puddles spotted with tiny bits of natural detritus like floating splinters of stars, indecipherable blurs and flowing streams, and moving lattices of shapes: flowers, leaves, water.
Other standouts in the show include two large-scale archival pigment prints by Peter Foley, densely saturated photographs of interior architectural spaces: “Untitled Red” a pink-tinted empty space almost perfectly symmetrical, with a wrinkled, wall-to-wall carpet in shock red; and “Untitled Blue” a corner of an industrial room in the midst of demolition, viewed from a low angle, with a majestic rip across a panel of sheetrock revealing what looks like an old unused elevator shaft and a car with a door of cobalt blue.
Other work of interest includes photographs of a land installation by Linda Gass, curious “tools” by Ken Edwards, oil paintings by Ann McMillan and watercolors by Marguerite Fletcher, and metal serving platters wittily engraved with common, humiliating commands from childhood (“stand up straight,” “look at me when I’m talking to you”) by Marianne Lettieri.
A performance piece by Lessa Bouchard that is part of the exhibit will be performed on Saturday, December 7, at 4 pm. The exhibition also includes a small catalogue that includes an index of the artists’ websites for the curious.
Christopher Bernard is a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, photographer and filmmaker living in San Francisco. He is author of the novel A Spy in the Ruins and the recent collection, The Rose Shipwreck: Poems and Photographs. He is also co-editor of the webzine Caveat Lector.
David Strathairn in Underneath the Lintel
UNDER THE SUBLIME
Underneath the Lintel
A play by Glen Berger
Starring David Strathairn
Directed by Carey Perloff
American Conservatory Theater
A review by Christopher Bernard
Underneath the Lintel, the one-man play by Glen Berger that is receiving its first ACT production in San Francisco this fall, is a detective story of sorts, though the victim of the crime is not exactly dead – indeed, he is, or at least seems to be, anything but, and the crime is not murder, at least not of the usual sort, though what the victim is a victim of, is certainly most foul. There is even some question whether the crime’s perpetrator even exists.
Nevertheless, the play’s sole performer is most insistent that, if this particular victim exists, the criminal must exist also, and one finds oneself in the end agreeing with him, even excitedly so- if there is this victim, then there must be this criminal. And for reasons that will become clear, many of us will in fact want, even hope for, this very criminal’s existence. So in order to find the criminal, we must first find the victim. And that is where the story begins. Does the victim exist? And if not, where do all those drops of blood lead? To underneath a certain lintel?
(A lintel is a piece of wood (usually) that forms the top of a doorway or window, so “underneath a lintel” is the equivalent of standing in a doorway or leaning out a window. More about this later.)
But, before I continue, let me get some necessary housekeeping out of the way. First, this is one of the most completely successful productions at ACT that I have seen in years. There is an unusually strong balance of acting, producing, directing and scriptwriting that I don’t often find in local theater. The direction is discreet and focused; the acting is skillful, honest and selfless; the set is ingenious but not self-conscious, a back wall cluttered with paraphernalia from productions past, the sort of stuff you would expect to find in a small-town lecture hall, complete with carousel projector and little pull down screen, and the kind of bulky stairs-on-wheels you’d stumble over in a large, public library. And the play offers that blend of entertainment and enigma, puzzlement and illumination, strong feeling, deep thoughtfulness and humane comedy – philosophical in the original sense of the all-involving, all-tormenting, all-hopeful, and sometimes entirely ridiculous, search for truth that is the soul of all great love affairs – that theater, in the wealth of its humanity, can provide more effectively than any other medium.
A graying, slightly befuddled, one-time librarian from Poland (played with the deftest of touches by David Strathairn) walks onstage to give, “for one afternoon only,” a talk – or rather, as the play is subtitled, “An Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences,” as he says in his slightly tarnished English. He opens a battered suitcase, in which he says he has collected “scraps” of a life, “evidences” that he hopes will “prove a life, and justify another,” namely, his own.
One day, in 1986, as the librarian was cataloguing books returned through the overnight book-return slot at the library of the small city in Poland where he has lived and worked all his life, one of the books – a much thumbed and annotated Baedeker – had been checked out, according to the last stamp on the inside book slip, 113 years before. The librarian is, naturally, dumbfounded, though also, like the small town functionary he is, indignant and his bureaucratic prowess being put to the test, decides to track down the offender and extract the fine the library, in all its dignity, is due. This, unwittingly for him, leads eventually to a worldwide search – from London to Bonn to Beijing, from New York to Sydney – in a tantalizing quest for the elusive borrower of the spectacularly belated volume; a quest that will cost him his job, his friends, his country, perhaps even his sanity, and may prove to be never-ending, even futile.
At each station of his progress, if that is what one can call it, he picks up a piece of the puzzle, a rag-end of “evidence” of the existence of the borrower, a person he grows to believe is none other than the mythical . . .
One cannot really discuss this play in any detail without being in danger of revealing too much – and yet, if one reveals nothing, one is left without the pleasure of demonstrating to the reader just how deep this artful, profoundly thoughtful and deeply felt play eventually goes, far more than one could possibly have guessed from the frayed bits of evidence and hardly sublimely promising opening – and yet sublime it becomes. So, if the presentation here stutters now and again, withdraws, shies coyly and bids fair to be just a bit too oblique, the writer can only plead extenuating circumstances and, if anything, a great, even perhaps too great, respect for author and players and public. But here we go anyway.
We’ll let it sit at “mythical,” shall we, and let the implications unfold in all their many, searching, reaching, even over-reaching and, yes, tantalizing directions. But I can’t drop it entirely without mentioning that it has something to do with an incident, perhaps apocryphal, during the passion of Jesus of Nazareth, as he dragged his cross among the Roman soldiers through the alleys of Jerusalem on the way to Golgotha, past the homes and shops of the locals, few of whom had any idea who this person might be – just one more troublemaker on his way to what was probably a well-deserved end – when the poor fellow dropped his cross, to rest briefly before the door of a cobbler, where the cobbler was taking a brief break from his labors under his lintel, and, frightened by the looks of the soldiers, the crowd, the other criminals on their way to execution, and the bloody face staring up at him under a nasty looking crown of thorns, the cobbler told the fellow to shove off, get off his stoop, and keep going, and Jesus said he would do so, but the man would have to tarry here until he came again. And, according to the story, the man did tarry, and is still tarrying, until the second coming, or forever: the Wandering Jew, the victim of the one certain “criminal,” God.
Christopher Bernard is a poet, novelist, essayist, photographer and filmmaker living in San Francisco. He is author of the novel A Spy in the Ruins and the recent collection, The Rose Shipwreck: Poems and Photographs. He is also co-editor of the webzine Caveat Lector.
~Abrasions of Artifice~
…and she broke me…
Pried from the refrain of words…the posture of a white page and crystal silence~ Snapped back like a wet towel of reality~ I know not all the reasons for my crying~ Something in the welling of moments left unsung~ Testimonies of the broken, falling silent as stars—settling into dust beneath floorboards~ Our moments are squandered by intrusions of light~ Where the moon hangs paled and reticent against midday sky~ Let someone else swallow eternity, we say…before stepping back blindly into abrasions of artifice~
~Alone with the Formula~
Is low tide:
On water~ Simplicity of nature~
Skimming only the surface of that
Meridian between sea and sky~
I am drowning in the high
Tide of a numerical equation; less than zero; a negative
Sum~ There is no breath~ No light within
These depths where nature has
Left me alone with
/ Divide /
*Inspired by Kirk Morgan’s “In Prayer to His Goddess”
Cherished him enough
For that which he understands
Above all others~ This preservation of
Mystery~ Covenant of the sacred~ Guardian
Of the ineffable~ This absolute of necessity~ For
That which hands were never meant to touch and
Those words never meant to be spoken~ Tainted
By breath and defiled by the kiss of mortality
Destined for devastation by crafters
Who would exploit the dream~ Only waking dormant
Nightmares~ Adding insult to injury~ The clutched
Words we drive into the earth…soiling the
Sacred~ Damn these roots that
Have forged this
/ Divide /
Between him and I…interrupting
Ephemera~ Where all things
Transitory have no
The silence somewhere
Between rush and fatigue~
All is swallowed and spewed
By the sea~ Whitewashing the
Arrogance of material being
Stone, glass, porcelain~
Boot has a
In decomposition~ Even
The cigarette butt has meaning
I remember when I used to smoke~
Or when I used to eat meat~ I wonder
How many more things I will release
Kiss goodbye without blinking
In becoming infinitely
~No Prison in the Poem~
Plead for more
Of this beautiful nonsense~
Wrapping yourself in my abstractions~
Like cocoon and chrysalis~ You take it all to
Heart~ Take it personally~ But I cannot be
Imprisoned…even within my own poem~
My silence eludes you~ You
For understanding~ You see…I have tucked
The answers outside my own reach~
Thrown away the invisible
Key~ A mystery
Leila A. Fortier is a poet, artist, and photographer currently residing in Okinawa, Japan while pursuing her BFA in creative writing through Southern New Hampshire University. Her sculpted poetry is often accompanied by her own multi-medium forms of art, photography, and spoken performance. The use of italics in her text forms a symbolic representation of inner dialog while the tilde lends to the fluidity and continuum of her thought processes. Selections of her work have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, and German in a growing effort to foster cultural diversity and understanding through poetry. With over one hundred publishing credits, her work in all its mediums has been featured in a vast array of publications both in print and online. A complete listing of her published works can be found at: www.leilafortier.com
That each night they
Must mold to the
Shape of your
Head and neck
It seems it
Is always their
Fault that you
Perhaps they wish to
Turn to stone
Perhaps they wish that
They were not
In Defense of the ASUU STRIKE.
Resolved: ASUU strikes are utterly ineffective, totally uncalled for,
profoundly senseless, and the students are always the only victims.
Defense: It is no news that the Academic Staff Union of Universities
(ASUU) had, for the past three years, embarked on shorter warning
strikes over the non-implementation of its Agreement with the Federal
Goverment (FG) with the general public- and market women- haplessly
looking on and seemingly enjoying the show; after all, silence means
consent. Finally, the perpetual stimulus has reached threshold
potential and the whole nation runs amok over a long-foreseen and
imminent tetanic contraction. Abaa!
Where was the Senate during those calmer, but innoculating, times when
ASUU yelled and none responded. Wasn’t this the same Senate that would
rather cut off our petroleum product subsidy than starve their obese
allowances? Now that ASUU has thrown away its hearing aid we blame her
for a deafness we all share(d), a deafness we stubbornly refused to
acknowledge before now. Did we not know that following prior
innoculation, the (immune) response tended to be faster, stronger and
of longer duration? Did we think all was well with our ailing
varsities and the half-baked, hardly employable, products they churned
out- overcrowded and antiquated ovens that they have become?
Alas! It is now that we realise that the guillotine is not the cure
for the hailing head. The FG can spend N350m to renovate a residence
(of the permanent representative to the UN, we are told) but our
universities can rot for all they care! And ASUU must not go on
industrial action? Then who will?- and what will?
If U don’t want strike then what do U want? Silence? Mona Lisa
attitude: sad and smiling; suffering and smiling? That we Nigerians
have been known for the world over- and for a long time now? Dialogue?
Who, in their right minds, would dialogue with a blind government-
blinded to and by corruption in unthinkable quarters and to
unspeakable depths? Or why would an elected official hide behind
bullet-proof doors if not to hide his/her stench from the malnourished
polity s/he has lived off, an undying parasite that s/he is? And why
would a governor deny his own country, his own people, legal import
duty on the wealth he extracted from us anyway? And now that he
perceives we’re wasteland we must not benefit from his huge purchase-
nor must our professionals be employed on it. Greed. Greed. Greed. And
greed! But the river that forgets its source shall soon dry.
Alas, in Nigeria, your rights are not pre-ordained; you fight till you
are reckoned with. That’s the Nigeria we’ve come to see. (A Nigeria
where 16 trumps 19 in a majority vote. Where Governors enjoying
constitutional immunity cannot meet peacefully without invasive Police
interruption in their lodges. Where ordinary Nigerians cannot assemble
to protest unfavourable FG policies- and inactions on corrupt
purchases- without pervasive military occupation in our streets.)
So, if ASUU hadn’t gone on this strike would the Almighty Bros J- the
other, human, J- meet with them for 13 hours? If U think that’s a Yes,
why then did it take him 4 whole months? Not to be missed is the
fire-brigade approach- typical of Nigeria, alas not only in Sports-: a
lingering, festering, 4-month-old strike was to be called off in the
twinkling of an eye when the Paramount Ruler would not bat his eyelid
for 123 days- just because he has finally said so!
Nigeria we hail thee…
Oh, and to say that all students are the victim(s) of this strike will
be to commit the famous Fallacy of Composition: Alas, not all students
are jobless- and joblessly roaming about the streets- some of us have
actually taken this time-out to try our hands in some business or the
other, learn a trade, or practise our calling and sharpen our skills.
Life is tough, life is a competition; and strikes are just one of
those volcanic eruptions by which the strong and sturdy are separated
from the weak and feeble!
Perhaps another are those election violence we have to be part of
because our (literal) grandfathers still wallow in politics and will
not just dive in and be meals for the fish. They’d rather we wear life
vests- riddled with the holes of their mischief- and dive in to save
their sinking, stinking, political careers. So they can be President
or Governors, and Senators, and Honourables at all cost- human lives
Everything aforesaid is in my opinion, as is this: Anyone older than
the country Nigeria has no business whatsoever ruling in whatever
capacity. We’ve had enough of you; you’ve overstayed your (stolen)
welcome. An actor leaves the stage when the ovation is loudest, to
stay a second longer is for, in the words of the immortal Tai Solarin
which I will undoubtedly jumble up, the housefly to meet the toileting
bushman yet toileting. Ẹ lọ sẹ́mpẹ́. Una don try. Au revoir!
Ayokunle Adeleye. Undergraduate. Ogun State.
Flight and Fall
Give me a ticket to your carnival show
I want to watch you whirl through the big-tent
I’ll sneak in; ride on the wave of ten-dollar perfume and fallen dreams
Perpetual chatter, ersatz happiness
Performers whose illusions lure only the lonely
I’ll wait with you backstage
You’ll whisper in my ear,
“That’s the boy who flies the highest, but he’ll fall the fastest
That’s the girl who started out selling pocket candy and possibility”
“And which are you?” I’ll ask
You’ll look away and answer, “The girl who loves to dance”
But I already knew that
I’ll look at your arsenic eyes and licorice hair
At your tapping foot that’s itching to be free
Just like the rest of you
You’re the girl who loves to dance
So much she’ll die dancing, frail legs spinning
Hummingbird heart whirring in her final thrill
The lights and colors pull you away, on stage
And you never bothered to ask, “Which are you?”
Too entranced by the circus of your desire
Tunnel vision of all you wish to do
But if you’d asked, I’d answer,
“I’m the boy who loves to watch, so much he’d die watching,
Drown in the scent of cotton candy,
Spiraling flight of trapeze artists wishing for wings”
But even if you asked, you wouldn’t hear me anyway
Because for you, love has always been a softer shade