Saturday, December 10, 2011

In Vancouver

It has been quite some time since I posted, in large part because I have taken a new job and moved to Vancouver.  This was sort of in the air around the time of my last post (Birthday Blues) but it hadn't been nailed down and I didn't want to jinx it.  My overall impressions are good, though I would say the cultural scene is thin compared to Chicago.  I am enjoying my job much more, despite the huge amount of work required to get the regional travel demand model up to snuff.

I've been alone these past two months, but my family joins me up here Jan. 3, which will be the acid test of whether I will be relocating here permanently.  For me, it was certainly the right move.  It remains to be seen for them, though my son is certainly excited about the move.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Birthday blues

So this is what 41 feels like -- eh.  It's hard to say how I would feel under normal circumstances but at the moment I am under extreme pressure.  I have been fixing up a condo to sell (in a difficult market) and am still trying to unpack from a move (and reduce the paper, books, CDs, etc. that I have in my life).  Work is marginally better than before, but my attention is focused on a job opportunity that seems incredible, but would require a move across the country -- and far more stress at the family level.  Just waiting to hear if I am getting a job offer is stressful.  Still, I do have more hopeful prospects in the medium term than an awful lot of people, and I should not forget that.

Not surprisingly I have not been writing much, but do have some notes here and there.  I still intend to wrap up the sestina project.  And hopefully the two plays that are competing for space in the back of my head.  More when I get a chance.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Last few days of 40

So I'm getting the midlife blahs.  I've definitely been "stuck" for quite some time, as are most of the people I know.  I did a lot more things earlier and just in general had more energy.  By my mid 20s, I had my own poetry chapbook (self-published) and edited a poetry anthology of subway poems (there was interest from publishers but sadly gaining the necessary permissions was simply too hard and it was not published).  I was also wrapping up a Masters Degree in English from University of Toronto.  By the time I was 28, I had a Masters in Transportation from Northwestern (which then gave me a very different career trajectory from any of the humanities majors I knew).

By my mid-30s, I finally wrapped up my Ph.D. in sociology and my son was born (indeed he was born during the revisions due after my defense!).  I'd had a pretty good career to that point and had assisted on some very innovative regional transportation models in New York and Columbus, OH.  And then things started to derail, particularly at work.  This is also when I started to gain weight, certainly in part because of needing my energy to help look after the baby.

Towards the end of my 30s, we moved to England, which was quite an experience and it did give me a temporary jolt, plus I was able to see many of the great cities of Europe and their museums.  But England was not for me nor for my wife.  However, my daughter was born there, and that sort of completed the picture.

I've been saying for a few years now that I would work on this book on infrastructure, but given the hiring freeze at most universities, I just can't see it makes any sense to complete that or to take the time to turn my dissertation into a book.  I've definitely been in a slump, particularly career-wise, since returning to Chicago, though my interest in the arts has grown.  Every so often I work on my desk-drawer novel.  But more seriously I wrote a full-length play (unproduced as of yet) and two shorter pieces.  I have two more partially completed plays and I am writing a bit more poetry.  Still, it is hard to shake the feeling that from my mid 30s on, I just haven't done enough (and certainly haven't exercised enough).  It's easy to blame the kids, but the truth is I could find the time if I really wanted.

So just a few more weeks and I turn 41.  Anyway, there may be a major change coming down the road and I am hopeful that the first part of my 40s finds me back on the right track.

Looking way ahead

Every so often I try to figure out what I will be following the next season.  There are always surprises of course, particularly from the smaller companies that don't get full press releases in the Trib. for example.  Or plays that get such great reviews, I rethink my initial decision to pass.

This year is a little different in that I expect to be leaving Chicago at the end of Sept. -- though with relatively frequent visits through Jan. or Feb.  So it isn't clear enough that I would get enough value to subscribe to anything, and indeed I just let my membership at the Art Institute lapse.  But I can at least think about what is coming down the road.

It looks like I will somehow be able to make the first plays in most 2011-2012 seasons:
Red -- combined Goodman/VG
Mourning Becomes Electra -- Remy Bumppo
Naomi Wallce's The Fever Chart -- Eclipse (actually the final play in their season!)
Halcyon -- Family Devotions
A Behanding in Spokane -- Profiles (not entirely sure I want to see this, but I may go under the right circumstances)

It is a lot less likely that I can make the following, but I'll see if I can arrange it so I can be in town for the following:
Penelope -- Steppenwolf (Dec-Jan)
Invisible Man -- Court (Jan-Feb)
What We're Up Against by Theresa Rebeck -- VG (Jan-Feb)
Camino Real -- Goodman (March-April)
Emperor of the Moon -- Halcyon (TBD)

Camino Real is probably the least realistic, but the one I want to see the most (and there is supposedly a Tennessee Williams fest, wrapped around that) so we'll just see how it goes.


I decided that since Red was playing in Vancouver, it would be sufficient to see it there (I'll go mid-January).  I am sure the level of professionalism won't be as high as at the Goodman, but I already saw it on Broadway with Alfred Molina and neither production will likely match that.  I did see Family Devotions, Fever Dream and Mourning Becomes Electra.  I skipped the others.  As far as the future productions, I have tickets for Penelope at Steppenwolf but will bag all the rest.  If Halcyon does Emperor of the moon some day, then I might try to schedule a trip to Chicago.  After reading Camino Real, I decided I definitely wasn't going to plan a special trip to Chicago to see it (and our travel plans changed to the point that I wasn't going to be in Chicago in January).  On the other hand, I decided to squeeze in Elizabeth Rex (by Timothy Findley) at Chicago Shakespeare in late Dec. and that might end up being my last Chicago play, so I hope it lives up to the hype.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

David Foster Wallace

Very much in line with my famous last works entry, I found that they have retrieved hundreds of pages of an unfinished novel by David Foster Wallace and his editor has done his best to piece it together into a novel called The Pale King.  His perspective here: pale-king in guardian

A slightly longer critical take on the novel as it stands (with perhaps too many spoilers for some people's taste) can be found in Slate: Pale King in Slate

I have to say, the Slate piece makes the novel sound like something worth reading, though I probably can hold off at least until this comes out in paperback or is in second-hand shops, whichever comes first.  I have a complicated relationship with DFW in that I knew his early work (esp. Broom of the System) before he broke big, and I think he works best at that scale.  Infinite Jest frankly seems the work of a writer who has lost his way and become far too self-important and self-indulgent.  I doubt I'll ever finish the entire book.  (Which is how I also feel about Bolano -- who may also be worth including in this overall list -- 2666 is a massive book he just barely completed under the wire before suddenly passing away.  I did not find The Savage Detectives at all worthy of the effort it took to read it, and I suspect strongly I would feel the same way about 2666.)  Anyway, for whatever reason, the set-up of The Pale King appeals to me.  I worked for a summer at a survey center where we processed completed surveys, a place nearly as boring as the IRS office that DFW is surveying in this novel.  For a short time, I knew many multiples of 52 by heart, since we would calculate annual earnings from their reported weekly salary.

On the whole, The Pale King sounds like it was close enough to being a solid piece of work that the average reader/casual fan of DFW will be glad it is available to read, not only academics writing dissertations and super fans who will read every scrap he ever wrote.

I don't think I have any other suicides on the list from before, but that does add a different twist.  Not to be too morbid, but the artist is actually the author of his or her own end, as well as having control over what will be their final work as well its level of completion.

Moving Blues

So we have been preparing to move for a while now, and moving day came and went (Sat. the 9th).  I am still exhausted.  We still need to spend some time going back and getting smaller things (like toys) and a lot of loose paper (my responsibility unfortunately) before we are ready to list the place on the market.  But we really need to have it up there soon.

Anyway, Sat. the movers had stuff moved over by about 1:30 pm (it was a 5.5 hour move!).
We managed to unpack the TV and while I couldn't get the computer ready, I did have a laptop, which proved crucial.  We went off for lunch at a bar/restaurant (far more bar than restaurant) near Unicoi.  We made it back and the Comcast man showed up.  It took him a while, but we ended up getting cable, internet and phone by 5 pm.  I probably did a little bit more, but we pretty much collapsed.

Sunday I put up blinds in my daughter's room and our bedroom.  I brought back a laptop so my wife could have some internet service.  I can't really remember what else I did.  My son and I did "sneak away" for a break at the Jazz Showcase to see Joe Lovano.

Monday I spent a lot of time looking through boxes in the office.  I put up the blinds in the office and rearranged the desk a bit.  I finally found enough cables to get the real computer and printer set up.  I did not find everything I needed for the older computer.  I may kind of put that into storage.  I'm going to put the LP player into storage.

Tonight I will try to put up more blinds and change the toilet seats.  I'm pretty close to having more bookcases ready, and that will help me get through a lot of boxes.  I am going to try to go through books and clothes and get rid of a lot of stuff.  Of course, I always say that.

So my father-in-law put up some blinds and I hung the rest.  So that's done.  One toilet seat cover is changed.  The other needs to be returned, as it is the wrong size.  Fortunately, it stayed in its package so it should be returnable.  Hoping to get some stuff onto shelves (probably CDs).  It's still overwhelming but it could definitely be worse.  We can function at a low level.  Maybe I'll get the bed put together tonight or tomorrow.  Right now it is just resting on the floor (actually not so bad with the box spring).  This weekend it looks like I'll have to spend most of my time at the old place getting it ready to list on the market.  Our agent was reasonably encouraging.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sestina #2

I still can't track down the scrap of paper with a sestina stanza on it.  I was on the train the other day and wrote out two stanzas for a second sestina.  I hope to wrap this up this week.

While I often recall a fairly placid childhood, almost ideal,
when I probe deeper I recall fights.
I was always a bit contrary, particularly through college;
I did little to hide my scorn for organized religion
and above all Reagan, with Reagan-worship common among our neighbors,
and yet at the time I wondered why I wasn't more popular.

Indeed, I was not very popular, but I was not a total pariah.
I had a few friends, though even this situation was not ideal,
for these were fragile friendships,
based not on proximity, for none of my friends were next-door neighbors,
but more on a shared perspective that comes from being an outsider.
We papered over our differences, since we implicitly understood our bonds would not survive much testing,
let alone any knock-down fights.
By high school I had learned to hold my tongue around them (most of the time) on the subject of religion.
Still, I have seen none of them, nor contacted any, since I left for college.

In college, I did come into my own and found several groups that I fit into.
I think it would still be a stretch to call myself "popular," but I didn't feel like such a freak.
Speaking of freaks, religion claimed the mind of one of my early friends -- David -- who had seemed so normal
when I re-encountered him after a span of many years.
He seemed to have an ideal life
and a great family life (with games that I only could play at his house)
-- though I've learned the grass is almost always greener in the next door neighbor's yard.

In any case, we weren't strictly-speaking neighbors either in elementary school or high school when we reconnected
(after they moved to the 'burbs for the better schools and the college-prep courses).



popular fights
ideal religion
neighbors college

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Best art blockbuster shows I have seen

I have not updated this blog as much as I would like.  I have written a piece of my next sestina, but the paper I wrote it on appears to be in another bag.  I may write about some very bold panhandler I encountered yesterday, but I will probably let it pass.  I could write about an exciting job opportunity, but will hold off on that.  Now I do plan to write about this ridiculously pompous (yet youngish) academic I ran into at my panel at the Urban Affairs Association meeting, but perhaps that can wait for tomorrow.

I let my membership at the Art Institute of Chicago expire (as I don't expect I will be able to use it enough to justify the cost).  So I did go over on Thurs. and then took my son on Sunday to soak the whole thing in, as I will certainly be going less in the future. 

They had a nice special exhibit on early French art, though this isn't really that much too my taste, aside from a really beautiful alterpiece (didn't like it enough to buy the $35 catalogue, however).  So I thought I would try to cast my mind back to the best of the "blockbuster" art exhibits I've seen over the years.  This will definitely change with time, as I remember more I attended.  I'll be sorting them roughly with my top favorites at the top (natch).  Probably worth noting that I was simply too young and not in New York at the time for the first blockbuster Picasso show at the MoMA in 1980 (that kind of started this trend along with the King Tut exhibit in 1977 -- to which I was definitely too young to be brought) and not yet in the region for MoMA's High/Low show (in 1990).

Matisse show at MoMA (1992) -- only art exhibit I've been to where there were scalpers involved
Matisse Picasso -- MoMA Queens (2002)
Max Beckmann - MoMA Queens (2003) -- I actually scheduled a worktrip to NYC to make this show -- it was definitely worth it
Cezanne and Beyond - Philadelphia (2009) -- I honestly can't remember how I got away for this show, but I did.
Abstract Expressionism show at MoMA (2011)
Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde -- Art Institute Chicago (2006)
Monet to Matisse: Painting the Modern Garden -- Cleveland Museum of Art (2015) -- I managed to sneak away to this show before all the tickets sold out in the final weeks.
Cézanne in Provence - Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence (2006) -- actually a smallish exhibit but seeing it in Aix made it special indeed
Highlights from Barnes Collection seen in Toronto and the National Gallery, DC (1993-4)
Caillebotte exhibit - Art Institute Chicago (1995)
Jeff Wall saw at Tate Modern and Art Institute Chicago (2007)
Picasso and American Art - Whitney (2007)
Picasso and British Art -National Gallery of Scotland,  Edinburgh (2012) Honestly, the British artists in the show did not compare that well to Picasso and generally seemed kind of second-rate.  I don't recall feeling that way at the Whitney show, but it was  still very cool to be checking out a show in Edinburgh.
Kandinsky: The Path to Abstraction - Tate Modern (2006) -- certainly an impressive exhibition
Kandinsky: Compositions - MoMA (1995) -- a more focused show but quite nice
James Rosenquist: A Retrospective - Guggenheim (2004) the best show I've seen at the Guggenheim, though Picasso in Black and White (2012) was also a good show.
James Rosenquist: Time Dust, Complete Graphics: 1962-1992 (1995) an impressive show in a small museum in Madison, WI. One of those things I just stumbled across, making it a bit more special.
Robert Rauschenberg: Combines - Metropolitan Museum (2006) -- seeing these all in one place and in person definitely gave them extra "presence" and made them more interesting
Edward Hopper - Whitney (2006) -- set off a series of current Hopper retrospectives
Frida Kahlo - Tate Modern (2005)
Mexican Modernism and the Art of Gunther Gerzso, Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, Chicago (2004) -- kind of special since it was such a surprisingly good exhibit at a very obscure museum about a subject (Mexican modernism) I knew nothing about.  Really liked a number of the Gerzso pieces.
Georgia O'Keeffe: Arts and Letters - Art Institute of Chicago (1988) -- My family traveled to Chicago for this, mostly because my mom wanted to see it.  Even though it was only a few years before the Matisse show, my memories of it are definitely more vague, though I certainly recall enjoying it and doubling back to see the paintings a second time.

I suppose I am getting ahead of myself a little, but I am planning on heading to New York in the summer of 2016 to see a Stuart Davis exhibit, which I'm confident will make this list.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Famous Last Works

This may become a running feature.  While there has been a cottage industry in books about the last words of various authors, artists, political figures and celebrities, I am more interested in their final works of art.

I would group them roughly into the following categories:

  • Accidental last work -- the last work, particularly of a film maker, that would normally only be considered a mid-career film but is credited with transcendental meaning because of the sudden death of the artist.  Intimations of mortality are often read back into poets' work as well, and here I am thinking of Ted Berrigan's Sonnets.
  • Summary work -- a film that was completed late in an artist's career and one in which he or she did seem to be trying to synthesize and/or recap a large body of work.  Kurosawa's Madadayo serves as a kind of summary film, though one could argue that Rhapsody in August or particularly Dreams would have been even more apt as a final career note (proving that Kurosawa was more prepared than most).
       Joseph Heller's Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man would seem to fall into the category as well, particularly as it was completed before Heller's death but then published posthumously.

  • Staring death in the face work -- these are particularly interesting and come from middle aged artists and writers who have become very aware of their mortality (often due to the onset of cancer).  One work that fits this category to a T is Tony Judt's memoir The Memory Chalet, which was actually dictated to an assistant as he was dying due to complications from ALS.  I will definitely be discussing The Memory Chalet and some of Judt's other late work in future posts.
       Many of Dennis Potter's works were written while staring death in the face, and indeed, many comment about this in a meta-theatrical way.  His final, final works were the scripts for the television min-series Karaoke and Cold Lazarus (starring Albert Finney, who is in a late career stage of his own).  I have not seen either, but will attempt to in the near future.  The scripts themselves are readily available.
  • Indian Summer work -- a subset of the staring death in the face work.  These works come about when an artist or writer has been deathly ill but gains enough energy to complete one last, often short, valedictory work.  The two that come to mind most readily are Carol Shield's Unless and Meteor in the Madhouse by Leon Forrest, though my understanding is that the executors had to make some decisions about the Forrest work, since it wasn't 100% complete.
Which leads me to the thorny issue of posthumously completed works
  • Desk drawer novels
  • All but finished last novels
  • Unfinished work, sometimes wrestled into shape by executor
  • Completed by committee/hired gun
The first doesn't hold too much interest, from this admittedly narrow perspective.  The last doesn't either (such as the latest attempt to complete Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood).  The second category is probably the most interesting in terms of revealing anything about the author (and I would think Forrest's work probably does fall here).  The third is primarily interesting for editorial decisions.  One of the more famous examples is Ralph Ellison's Juneteenth, which 10 years later was published as Three Days Before the Shooting that was three times as long (1100+ pages!) as Juneteenth.  Hard to believe that anyone but the hardest core English lit. major would find it worth tackling that -- or that it should signify anything more than Ellison's crippling fear he would never be able to follow up upon the success of Invisible Man.  My understanding is that Ellison wrote and wrote and wrote but never really found his way in this second novel, and the editors hacked away to make it somewhat digestible.

Another recent interesting case where the editor had to take the exactly opposite case is Nabokov's The Original of Laura where the "book" is literally composed of reproductions of the notecards Nabokov was using to work up the skeleton of the novel right before his death.  No one was brought in to flesh this out (perhaps impossible to even attempt to imitate his style) and the result is really less than a working draft.  If I had to choose between the two, I'd rather read Ellison's overstuffed unfinished novel than a series of notecards.  I suspect I won't ever read either all the way through.

As I read through more of these other, actually completed final works, I will have a few things to say about each, and of course I'll want to keep adding to this list in progress.

Update (10/11/2015): I have been reading the new translations of Clarice Lispector's work.  Her last novel, A Breath of Life falls into this category of a final editor needing to shape the scraps she had written into a book.  Perhaps not quite as extreme as The Original of Laura, since the text was written out, i.e. it wasn't just a glorified outline of a novel, but it's hard to tell if this is really what Lispector would have wanted.  I really am not enjoying this, but then again, I also strongly disliked Água Viva, which is similar in style to A Breath of Life, though it is not her last proper novel (which is The Hour of the Star).  Reading these two in quick succession is basically enough to put me off her for a long time.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lists - Museums

In some notebook, I have a list of the top museums in the world, based on my personal taste, which coincides with a preference for "modern Masters," essentially the tail end of Impressionism through Abstract Expressionism with some Pop Art thrown in for good measure. On the whole, I am unimpressed with contemporary art, though there are always some exceptions, particularly for current artists who display at least some evidence of craft, rather than a reliance on conceptual art. Anyway, these are museums I've really enjoyed, and in some cases have been able to return to again and again.

1. MoMA (NYC)
2. Musée d'Orsay (Paris)
3. The Hermitage (St. Petersburg)*
4. Metropolitan Museum (NYC)
5. Museo del Prado (Madrid) (On top of the Goyas and El Grecos and Velázquezes one might expect, they have many of the most important Hieronymous Bosch panels. I will simply have to find a way to go back some day.)
6. Tate Modern (London)
7. National Gallery (London)
8. Louvre (Paris)
9. Museo Reina Sofía (Madrid) (Can one rank a museum this high just for one painting (Guernica)? -- well I guess I just did)
10. Art Institute of Chicago
11. Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam) (I would probably have ranked this higher but it was always under construction when I visited. Still has an stunning collection of Rembrandts and Vermeers.)
12. National Gallery of Art (DC)
13. Philadelphia Museum of Art
14. Museum of Fine Arts (Boston)
15. Courtauld Gallery (London)

* This is cheating a bit, since it is the only one I have not visited in person, but I have seen traveling exhibits drawn from the Hermitage as well as several catalogues. This is basically the only museum remaining on my "bucket list," except perhaps also the Uffizi, though honestly I can't see visiting Russia until Putin is out of the picture and perhaps not even then, depending on what happens after him.

It will take me a while to rank the next 15-20. I should note both Berlin and Vienna are great art cities collectively, but the individual museums were not in the top 10, mostly because I do have a preference for seeing at least some early 20th C. art mixed in with the older European Masters.

Honorable mention (for now):
Centre Pompidou (Paris)
Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
AGO (Toronto)
Tate Britain (London)
Whitney Museum (NYC)
St. Louis Art Museum (world's largest Max Beckmann collection!)
Guggenheim (NYC)
The Belvedere Museum (Vienna) (home to a major collection of Klimts)
Museum of Fine Arts (Vienna)
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Madrid)
Walker Art Center (Minneapolis)
Cleveland Museum of Art
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
J. Paul Getty Museum (LA)
Hirschhorn Museum (DC)
Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam)
Milwaukee Art Museum
Alte Nationalgalerie (Berlin)
Pergamon Museum (Berlin) (far more of an archeological museum like the British Museum, but some amazing holdings)
British Museum (London)
Victoria & Albert Museum (London)
Phillips Collection (DC)
Corcoran Gallery of Art (DC)
Frick Collection (NYC)
Manchester Art Gallery
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston)
High Museum (Atlanta)
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (Copenhagen) (This would have been ranked higher, but virtually all the of French impressionist and Post-impressionist works were hidden away due to renovations on my one and only visit. So sad.)

Rome's modern art museum was indeed fairly disappointing, and the Italian art on display in various villas and museums was fantastic, though not quite a perfect fit to my preferences. However, actually visiting the Vatican Museum was truly a once in a lifetime experience, and I'm so glad I went.

If I do make it to Florence one of these days, there is a reasonable chance that the Uffizi would crack the top 15, despite not having any modern art, much like the Louvre.

I just realized that I left out the Philadelphia Museum of Art with its major collection of cubist art. Whoops! I'll probably have to get that in there in the top 15, and maybe bump AGO down (done). Hmm. I've never seen the full Barnes Collection, though I saw the highlights when that was on tour. If the collection does end up opening down the street from the Philadelphia Museum, then I'll certainly make the trip. (For a very one-sided take on this issue, check out The Art of the Steal.) The Barnes Collection probably wouldn't quite crack the top 15, but would probably fall between 16-20 based on what I have seen of it.

After their recent expansions, the St. Louis Art Museum is very near to cracking the top 15 and the Cleveland Museum of Art is pretty close to the top 25 as well, though I might change my mind again after another tour of Europe...


I really like lists, except those that make me feel a bit bad, like lists of things I still haven't accomplished. 

If I can figure it out, I will probably put the lists in their own separate section.

For now, let me put together a list of quasi-academic topics that probably could be turned into papers, but given my career trajectory I won't bother with, but instead will just muse about in this blog:
  • non-events (outcomes that are widely predicted to come to pass but don't for one reason or another)
  • a comparison of two such non-events - the (non)-construction of the Westway in Manhattan and the unbuilt Crosstown in Chicago
  • impacts of casinos at the regional level
  • an systematic approach to studying regions
  • the informality of African suburbs
  • a somewhat jaundiced view of the state of academia

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My son's artwork

This will have to be its own section, but I will post a few of the best pieces of artwork by my son (created between ages 5 and 6).

A space scene (in a kind of charcoal)

Big train (hints of Franz Kline?)


This last one was inspired by Lyonel Feininger's painting: Carnival in Arcueil.

Broken sestinas

Many years ago, I wrote poetry with some frequency.  I have been indulging in far more creative writing recently, though mostly writing plays, and I have been inspired to write a few new poems.  I actually have a somewhat ambitious project, though one I do not expect to complete by my tentative due date of April 29.

Most people that follow poetry are aware that traditional forms, as well as rhyme and even meter in many cases, have been eschewed by contemporary poets.  Robert Frost complained, “Poetry without rules is like tennis without a net.”  However, this battle has been lost, and indeed, poems with short lines and strong rhymes can sound very odd indeed to modern ears.  Certainly much of my work would be considered free verse.  However, there are some interesting cases of poets taking conventional forms and twisting or bending the rules.  One example that inspired me a fair bit was the series of "sonnets" written by New York poet Ted Berrigan: The Sonnets.  In some cases, the only thing sonnet-like about these poems is they have 14 lines, but cumulatively they have a strange draw.

Somewhere along the line I got the idea to write sestinas and to bend the rules.  A sestina is a fairly elaborate poetic form with seven stanzas and strict rules about how words are to be repeated.  More information is here: Sestina rules.  I'll include my first attempt (written as a junior in college) below after describing the rest of the project.  As you'll be able to see, I do stick to the proper ordering of words but they may be anywhere in the line, not specifically at the end.  There are also extra lines, not part of the pattern, in some of the stanzas.

My idea was to take these broken sestinas and use them to write a poetic autobiography (taking extreme poetic license).  Forty seems to be a good number, given how long each poem is.  I'll probably write at least one proper sestina, but most will be twisted in some way, including having shadowy secondary patterns within some of the stanzas.  My goal is to wrap this up before I turn 41 at the end of April, but I suspect I started too late to complete it in time.  I will post them as they are completed.

The original broken sestina:

Something is stuck deep in her purse.
She gropes, unwilling to use her eyes.
Finally, she brings up a lost key.
From the windows of moving cars comes music.
She sinks down on a bench, facing the street.
It all seems vaguely unreal, a dream.

It was the craziest dream -
Stones were pouring out of the sky
as if it were a purse that had burst its seams.
People ran screaming, trying to get off the street.
Wounds gaped red.
They covered their eyes and cried.
The rocks pounding against cars
beat out a crazy rhythm,
like the music of a demented god.
No one knew the key to make it stop.

In the fading light, he squints.
At his feet, lies a rusting key.
He remembers an old dream
of standing behind a club,
listening to music faintly through the door,
needing a pass of some sort
if he was to come through the front.
This has no secret value, he decides.
If he had found a wallet or a purse,
then he could have expected a reward.
He moves on, he turns his eyes down.
He wants to see everything on the street.

The street is identical to the others.
Even the houses are alike.
At six o'clock, a thousand hands,
each holding a key,
turn the locks of a thousand doors.
Two thousand eyes peer into kitchens.
One thousand "Hello"s are shouted.
In one house,
something awful has happened
that could not happen
in his worst dream.
Dinner is not ready.
A note lies on the table.
Her purse is gone.
She has left.
She will dance to the music
that she has never heard before.

He walks quickly,
moving in time to his own private music.
He picks her out, new to this street.
He grabs her purse from her shoulder
and spins away as she tries to scratch him
with the key she held in her fist.
He is gone before she has screamed.
It was easier than he ever imagined it.
He is surprised.
In his next dream
and all the ones after,
he sees no eyes glowing,
hears no accusing voices.
His cousin had said that that would be the worst.

He sits down at the piano, pulls his bench up.
Her eyes close.
The music transports her,
as in a dream,
to a completely foreign land.
She no longer hears the street noises;
she wants to cry, for it is so beautiful.
Then she realizes that he has been playing
the same note off key for several minutes.
She listens a little longer to make sure.
She stands up and exits,
not bothering to slip the program into her purse.

It is in her purse that she keeps her glass eye.
It lies wrapped in a wad of tissue paper,
surrounded by old lottery tickets
and already cancelled stamps, torn from envelopes.
She knows that somewhere in there
is the key to a wind-up music box.
The street is cooled by a persistent howling wind,
and one day, she will be able to cash in on her dream.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


This is my second attempt at blogging -- with my first from about five years back scattered like so many electrons.  I hope to be able to pin this first post.  I ultimately would like to set up four or five main content areas with posts under each: creative writing, children's artwork, musings on theater and literature and last, but certainly not least, discussions from the perspective of an urban sociologist (and frustrated academic type).

The rules are fairly simple.  It's my blog, and I will not hesitate to moderate and delete comments that I don't care for, for any reason, and if necessary block users who are abusive (or totally clueless).  But I don't think it will come to that.

In the very unlikely event that I publish material from the blog in another format -- and if I feel that comments left on the blog should be incorporated to establish context of my own rambling thoughts or to convey more fully an interesting debate -- then I will attempt to contact the poster before publication but will publish regardless if unsuccessful.  There will be no financial compensation if I publish comments left on this blog.  Leaving comments on this board will be taken as acceptance of these terms and conditions.