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An excerpt from Bulabula 1, a painting currently hanging in my show at Lyman-Eyer Gallery in Provincetown

A Ball Rolls on a Point

The whole ball
of who we are
presses into
the green baize
at a single tiny
spot. An aural
track of crackle
betrays our passage
through the
fibrous jungle.
It’s hot and
desperate. Insects
spring out of it.
The pressure is
intense, and the
sense that we’ve
lost proportion.
As though bringing
too much to bear
too locally were
our decision.

–Kay Ryan

I am consistently drawn to Ryan’s work. Her poems are often epigrammatic, taut, terse, slightly off kilter, smart. All qualities I admire.

David Kirby honors Ryan’s work by drawing a comparison with those towering figures in American poetry, Whitman and Dickinson:

Emily Dickinson, hands-down champ at writing poems that are as compressed as Whitman’s are sprawling…

But of course there is no real competition between the Whitman who boasted “I am large, I contain multitudes” and the Dickinson whose niece Martha reported that her aunt once pretended to lock the door to her bedroom and pocket an imaginary key, saying, “Mattie, here’s freedom.” In other words, Ryan’s are the biggest little poems going.

Rather than hunting down the world and making it cry uncle, Ryan likes to create an elastic space the world can enter and fill.


A poster hanging in a coffee shop window on Smith Street promotes yet another Walt Whitman event. My friend Michael, a Whitman scholar, told me there is some kind of Whitman commemoration going on in Brooklyn every month.

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In terms of square miles, Brooklyn is New York’s second-largest borough, after Queens; in terms of population, it is first. If Brooklyn were a city, it would be the fourth most populous in the United States. If Brooklyn were a country, its chief exports would include artisanal pickles, eco-friendly yoga wear, Red Hook-made Saipua soap (responsible for every store smelling like clove geranium) and books written by men named Jonathan.

***
In Brooklyn, material goods matter, but other things matter more.

***
Proteus Gowanus…in a former box factory, is the kind of place whose founder could get a MacArthur genius grant. Loosely speaking, it is a museum. Here are some of the things you will find in its labyrinthine rooms: an exhibit of neo-shaman art, ephemera having to do with morbid anatomy, a Reanimation Library that houses odd books (“Sex Lives of Animals Without Backbones,” “the Gun Digest of Exploded Fireworks Drawings”), and, every Thursday night, a meeting of the Fixers Collective, whose members will attempt to repair any broken thing you bring in…Proteus Gowanus has the best gift shop in the world. There are banned-book bracelets, orange glow-in-the-dark bicycle vests that say “UNINSURED,” and a CD of songs whose lyrics are taken from the journals of Lewis and Clark.

These excerpts are from “Borough Haul: Are you hip enough to shop in Brooklyn?” by Patricia Marx, a must read survey of the material world that is Brooklyn (The New Yorker, March 8, 2010.)

***
Everyone says it was the art galleries and edgy performance places that were drawing the public. But I think it was the consumption spaces—the stores, bars, and cafes where you could look through plate-glass windows and see people living a kind of aspirational life, but in a low-key, affordable way. Brooklyn came to be understood as a place of creative consumption.

Sharon Zukin, author of Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places (with a chapter called “How Brooklyn Became Cool.”

Brooklyn in 2010 has more like the ambience of Lower Manhattan (Soho, Tribeca, LES) that I found so intoxicating when I arrived in the early 1970s than any other place I know. Like a bubble under the tablecloth, the best stuff just keep moving around. But for right now, it has lodged itself southeast of Manhattan.

warrenw.jpg

Rosanna Warren was the featured poet on Thursday night at the Luce Program in Scripture and Literary Arts at Boston University. Well known as a much-loved teacher and award-winning writer and translator (and the daughter of Robert Penn Warren), Rosanna cast a spell on me. Her work is carefully incised, with richly drawn streaks of imaginal flight.

She cycles in and out of many of the same themes that attract me as well. I wasn’t surprised to learn that she began her early adulthood as a painter rather than a poet. Her proclivities draw her to transcendence, to the earth, to the power of art and language to alter everything.

I was particularly moved by some of her most recent pieces. Three poems from a series called “Mistral” felt like a significant departure from her previous work and abandon the armature of a classical, more structured poetic approach. These poems have a mysterious and unnamed force coursing through a haunted hallowing of the past, so they are well named.

She also read several poems that were written about the recent death of her dear friend Deborah Tall, author of From Where We Stand and A Family of Strangers. This poem, dedicated to her friend, appeared in The New Yorker earlier this month.

A Kosmos

You lay in your last sleep, not-sleep,
head tilted stiffly to the right on the pillow
at a sharper angle than when you bent over poems,
year after year, and we plucked at each other’s lines,

as if now you considered some even starker question.
Your I.V. tubes were gone. Your arms were bruised.
A blue cloth cap enfolded your pale, bald head.
It was too late to give you the lavender shawl I’d imagined

more for my sake than for yours.
Your mouth was suddenly tender, the mouth of a girl.
You had come very far, to come here.
Never one not to look at things squarely,

now you looked inward. Who knows what you saw.
And when, weeks later, we gathered
again at the house to say those formal farewells,
I went up to your study looking for “Leaves of Grass”

and found, instead, your orderly desk, unused,
your manuscripts neatly stacked, the framed
photographs of your girls, and, like a private message
from Whitman, who saw things whole, the small

dried body of a mouse. A kosmos, he, too. He, too, luckier.

.
Publications by Rosanna Warren: Verse translation, Euripides, Suppliant Women (with Stephen Scully) (1995); poetry: Departure (2003), Stained Glass (1993), Each Leaf Shines Separate (1984), Snow Day (1981); ed., The Art of Translation: Voices from the Field (1989); “Sappho: Translation as Elegy,” in The Art of Translation; “La fontana e la pietra: Petrarca contemporaneo,” Studi e problemi di critica testuale (2006); “The Contradictory Classicist: the Poetry of Frank Bidart,” The Threepenny Review (2002); “Orpheus the Painter: Apollinaire and Robert Delaunay,” Criticism (1988); “Selected Prose of Gérard de Nerval” (Transl. with commentary), Georgia Review (1983).