Tuesday, February 27, 2018

On ne sait jamais

(ma première chanson en français  à mon ami Franck Danican)

On ne sait jamais,
comme dit mon ami Franck,
quand il y aura beaucoup d’argent 
ou rien dans la banque.
Mais dans n’importe quel cas 
je prie: ne départ pas. 
Je ne voudrais jamais
avoir dire ‘tu me manque!’On ne sait jamais,
comme dit mon ami Franck
quand il y aura beaucoup d’argent
ou rien dans la banque.
Mais dans n’importe quel cas
je prie: ne départ pas.
Je ne voudrais jamais
avoir dire ‘tu me manque!’



One never knows,
so says my friend Franck,
when there will be a lot of money
or nothing in the bank.

But in whatever case
I plead: don't go away.
I never want to have to say
'I miss you.'


Statue of Limitations

Fatuous assurances that you’re okay
won’t make it go away,
now that your life attracts a splay
of epithets all braying an array
of every kind of rudeness
including lewdness.
Untold humiliations
have continued to amass
since that damned ass
who’d carved you up said that you
were the very incarnation of a Statue 
of Limitations –
at any rate, of his.
Oh to know the nature of the biz
employed by that divinity sans arms
with which she even now disarms
her Louvre viewers with her charms –
that dame from Milo, Venus!
If you hadn’t lacked a penis,
you suppose, or if you’d had a nose,
or if there were no foot with toes
protruding from your head 
it might a tiny bit reduce your dread
of knowing nothing better lay ahead.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Usher at the Wedding – The Strangeness of a Critical Mind

It occurs to me that even when I'm fiercely immersed in something –
hmm, when am I ever that? – I can't think even of a remote example:
okay, let's say, when I opine about Henry James' 'late' writing, and try
to explain what I love about its aural effects, I suppose I look for easy
and pleasurable ways to reinforce or, en passant, add credence to a claim,
but all these observations are made in passing. What they serve is a poetic
intent: to fashion a clarion call, not not to "make a point" (indeed I’m
almost only ever talking about One Thing), but to have it arise out
of whatever is engagingly at hand. If I find myself suddenly thinking up
an argument with a more scholarly scent (I suppose that's happened here
and there), like a flash itch to see something in terms of what I understand
to be semiotics – I play fast and loose with that, too: the aim is never
consciously to define anything, but rather give a visceral take on the sort
of minute limited breath of a thing that tends to interest me. I love playing
just a few notes. Example: choose any two contiguous sentences James wrote
after 1910 – like this, from a letter to his niece Peggy:  “I glory in the piling
up of complications of every sort. If I could pronounce the name James
in any different or more elaborate way I should be in favor of doing it.”
It’s perfect, personal and completely James. A kiss and a handshake.
I am driven by whim to find and settle on whatever caters to the whim.
But when the whim arises out of an immersion as odd and wide and full
of suggestion as mine is in Henry James, it will be a whim with a built-in
mission – certainly to underscore my view of the 'whole' – that is my overall
feeling called up by reflecting on something – someone – I love. Everything
I write, like each photo I take of New York, amounts to a love letter. But
as with anyone I love, I really do welcome departures – upsets – incursions
of something unexpected. With whatever or whomever you love, you always
want, I think, more truth. So it's not a masturbatory return to a fond fantasy.
The thing you return to is alive, not dead, and you seek in it and bring to it
evidence of the quirk, the unforeseen, the untoward kick & slap. Actually,
James' language gives this to me all the time. It's not some dreamy sea
of cadence; it constantly surprises; at its best it follows the mind so closely
that it recreates it. I find simply by charting my reactions to it, I establish
as much of a relation with it as I can imagine having. Not that it may not
rivet me to learn the facts about the Dreyfus Affair or Belgian soldiers
in the Great War, but they will be the ushers at the wedding. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Guywords on the Autonomy of the Arts.

What follows is most of an email I wrote to Reed in response to one he wrote me about going to the Frick house with a friend and their measured reactions to it, and more largely to 'visual art.' I don't dare paraphrase Reed so I won't say more than what he says (brilliantly) down there somewhere (a quote not a paraphrase) about the effects on him of looking at a painting or a photograph. The whole business got me to want to peer into this with a little more surgical care: "this" being the difference(s) between and among the Arts, how we think of and respond to them. 
The quartet of pics here are Reed and me about to play Mozart at an art exhibit which featured my stuff back in July 12, what I refer to as Pollock's big painting at MoMA, a wonderful pic of my mother at the age of maybe 20 sketching on some New York beach (maybe Coney Island, 1937, 38) and a melange of images I put together last year illustrating something about the nature and uses of a "studio." Down not too far below you'll a link to a YouTube recording of viols playing Couperin's Barricades Mysterieuses, which - as Annette Funicello probably said about Frankie Avalon - slays me. Anyway, you know, more Guywords.


What interests me - which you'll surely find of a piece with every Guyword you’ve heard or read from me - is the impenetrable autonomy of each of the arts. Not that we all don't and won't continue, in some mission to understand our experience of them, to compare their effects - what else can one do? - but comparisons however useful or inspired (is my love really like a red red rose?) don't take me far enough. And as you point out (the difference between time in music and time as implied in a painting, etc.) the ways we respond to them are fundamentally even biologically different.
The light bulb went on when I realized, reading your Frick email, the degree to which visual art did NOT move me is very like yours. This would appear to argue against something I once held to be certain: that I mostly perhaps only loved the arts I could do – I experience them, in fact, as if I had done them. Strike the “as if” in the case of playing violin: I love the music I can play haptically at least as much as music I only listen to. I just came upon this regaling recording of the Couperin Barricades Mysterieuses all done by viols. It proceeds from pizzicati to bowed strings, stage by stage (increasingly less pizz, more bow), so that by the last variation and the summary repetition of the theme the music is entirely bowed, and the harmonies esp of the last variation, which do strike me as more probing and profound than the previous two, make me actually cry. The mode of playing is at one with the ‘mode’ and meaning of the music – and the bowed viols give voice to it with such a sense of rightness.
But, again because of your email, another lightbulb is lit, which is that the experience I was having in response to the music was so music-specific – I couldn’t imagine feeling anything like it reading words or seeing images. And now I think again of your having become over time so much more enlivened by prospects of taking photographs – and developing a real skill in doing them – and somehow assumed that your response to all visual stimuli had similarly evolved or changed (not to suggest that they “had” to) in an equally enlivened way.
But then I read this from you –
“Is this, by the way, the secret meaning of photography and even painting, the way specific real things suggest unspecified (though not for that reason unspecific) imagined things, or things imbued with memory and thought? The trick must be to get your private suggestions to speak to someone with quite different ones.”
Which makes me think that there is a different kind of ‘work’ in responding to visual stimuli, especially those more complex prods to the eye like ‘serious’ photographs, painting, and other visual arts. (“Serious” as opposed say porno, or a photo of food, or a pretty sunset, which demand and receive essentially reflex response). It takes more work to see than it does to hear or smell or taste.
A strange kind of work, too. Viz me & the big Pollock in MoMA. I was – how old? – late 40s before I felt I “saw” it. Struck me like an arrow. I was oblivious to it before then. I have walked through the Frick similarly unmoved, presumably with the same potential to be moved, though who knows what will ignite it if at all. I may through some imposition of my idea of a Jamesian gestalt enjoy the dimensional visual etc impact of the Frick house and its timbres (i.e. what’s in the house, from Vermeer to the ornate late 19th century chair in the corner), that is apply a narrative to it, which indeed we do. In fact, as with reading (to make a specious comparison maybe), you have to work to find a narrative in a painting. Aptitudes (or talents) for a particular mode of response (yours for reading, for example; mine for the feel in my hand when I produce another of my baroque curves with a pencil) will probably dispose you to think kindly and more of whatever ‘art’ you’re good at it. And by the way get praised for. I think that’s very much in the mix.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

This Bearded Lady’s Dawn

In the workshop where they conjure souls – 
wherein your faint preliminaries first found form –
where ghostly emanations disproportionately warm
and large and cool and small first tentatively sensed their goals –

somewhere in that vast strange experiment, 
a tendril of exquisite change, the gift of chance,
began its embryonic and untrammeled burst of dance
which slowly spiraled up and out and into that grand firmament

to which all blessedness is drawn.
That was this bearded lady’s dawn.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Quora: my answer to "How liberal is New York?"


Guy Kettelhack
Guy Kettelhack, lives in New York City (1975-present)

Funny how certain questions sort of pop out and say ‘deal with ME!’ - probably for reasons only the “me” they cry out to can guess. What most powerfully intrigues me here is the word “liberal” which in this context (that is, as applied to New York City) would have to have two meanings: the political “liberal” voter, which generally means you want the Democrats to win, and “liberal” as in open to a wide variety of options and approaches depending on what serves your exigent aim - or lust or whim or dream: your vision of what you want to do or be or accomplish.
That second meaning of “liberal” completely defines New York, and it has, I think, since the Dutch landed in the 1620s. That openness to ideas and to trying new stuff that often defy convention - and the fact long proved that if you show New York you can do something, it will let you do it (in many cases whatever your c.v.) and expect you to do it again (only way I can account for having become a much-published writer): that’s the pragmatic beat of the place. And to me it’s the heart of our good fortune as a city.
It’s not something that can be sentimentalized however. The Dutch had entirely mercantile interests when they came here. They had no ruling religious doctrine like the Puritans and later groups like Quakers, Jews and Mormons: no strict moral code expected of everyone in the community. In fact, from the get-go, New York was a fairly rowdy but remarkably effective and very diverse group of people - from all over Europe, blacks who were not slaves (as well as blacks who were), people with individual mandates, but not mandates imposed upon them by governors (except for the basics: laws against murder or stealing for instance). This meant, sometimes, in some people, an arguably lax morality; frequently the ‘sins’ against the community were simply people getting drunk; but there seems to have been an overall happy interaction in the money-making enterprise they all were part of.
It’s precisely the lack of a single moral purpose, I think, that established New York City from its very beginnings as this country’s preeminent seed-bed of liberty. I don’t the mean the political “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” kind (although that was here too), but the liberty to live your life the way you wanted to from a pragmatic view. “Get outta my business!” kind of liberty. Apart from some ultimately unsuccessful attempts on Peter Minuit’s part to impose religious restrictions (against the Jews) - these were quickly quashed by authorities in Amsterdam, which was in the 17th century the city you would have wanted to live in - by far the most “liberal”urban area in the world - people were pretty much left to their devices (and vices).
New York really was Amsterdam’s child more than England’s, even though England took it over with almost no resistance from the Dutch (whose mercantile interests - in the form of the Dutch East India Company - had by this time largely transferred to another part of the world) in the latter part of the 17th century. However the English were a basically pragmatic bunch too, and they liked what the Dutch had done (not long after their takeover of New Amsterdam, they’d imported a king and queen from the Netherlands, William and Mary) and kept much of the laws and customs of the Dutch. No other community in North America had anything like this provenance. From its beginnings New York was singular.
But the intrigue for me here is that the driving impulse of the city has always been to make money. Manufacturing, selling, sending goods out by sea owing to New York’s extraordinary harbor and into the heart of the country northward and westward first because of the Erie Canal and the invention of the steam ship which transformed not only the availability of the goods, an economic boon and boom of tremendous proportions, but made New York kickass - turned it into a world power. This liberal (open to change & new ideas) thrust forward also interestingly meant that in the pursuit of profit, New Yorkers were producing excellence, really as a byproduct, in every single field and realm of human enterprise. City planning, artchitecture, fine cabinetry, silver, new inventions, machines of all kinds, clothing of the highest quality, world class museums, etc - which with a richer and more educated citizenry, boosted the arts to unprecedented heights - symphony orchestras, dance, theater, an explosion of creative energy - all of it goosed first into being by the city’s collective motive to make money. That this initially profit-driven impulse ended up creating many of the city and this country and the world’s greatest claims to excellence - the Metropolitan Museum, the Juilliard School of Music, Pratt and FIT and the National Academy of Design or Columbia University (& any number of other extraordinary universities), an explosion of theater from Broadway to Shakespeare in the Park — and then sports (boxing, football, baseball, basketball) - fashion (New York always has been a center of it) - music from Bernstein to Bowie - and restaurants of the highest order: is the mark of a city whose beating heart, first and last, was given its energy by lusting to make money and getting very good at it.
This kind of “liberal” impulse (unlike the pro-democratic-party political kind) did not, however, ensure what we think of as liberal politics. Many business people in New York City (like most of the whole manufacturing ‘element’ in the Northeastern United States who depended on the sugar and cotton the South produced for their economic success) had a vested interest in keeping the pre-civil war status quo what it was. Slaves were a necessary part of this and many many New Yorkers - whose profits were based on raw materials they got from the South - looked the other way or even actively supported the Confederacy’s aims. But far into even my experience of the city (I moved here in 1975) it was clear to me that you were not going to get a universal response to just about anything here. Unlike San Francisco with its strong unified gay population (for example) which produced a powerful united front politically, especially during the horrors of the worst of the AIDS epidemic, New York never coalesced around one single batch of people - even though in the ’80s when the AIDS debacle was at its worst, the ‘batch of people’ involved here, ACT UP, constituted some of the most dedicated and effective activists in the country and the world that one could have hoped for. But the size of the city, and the extent of its diversity, always I think has worked against any sense of it as a united bloc. Some people decry this; I actually believe that the city’s essential amorality (a consequence of its diversity) is an important part of what keeps it such an extraordinarily creative metropolis. It’s too full of irrepressible energy of every imaginable kind to “behave” - say, the way Boston or Philadelphia or San Francisco seem often to behave - in any predictable way.
So in this sense of New York’s liberal (open-minded) approach to getting things done, and not incidentally protecting the personal liberty that New Yorkers insist on in order to “get things done,” no community on Earth has New York beat. The political meaning of “liberal” (I-want-gun-control-you-don’t democrat vs republican, etc.) other respondents on this thread have discussed - all of whom anyway that I’ve read - seem to be making this point, similar to mine, that there are a lot of people here thinking and doing a lot of different things and that can have bewildering consequences. Therein lies much of what may sometimes be exasperating about this city, but also much, maybe most, of what it keeps so vitally alive and responsive.

About the Author

writer, violinist, artist1951-present
B.A. English Literature, Middlebury CollegeGraduated 1973
Lives in New York City1975-present
22.4k answer views2.2k this month

The Most Availing Influence of Friends

The moment
we discover 
everybody dies,
we seem to know
to comfort others.
Penumbral sighs
and shadowed cries
at mortal ends
evince the most
availing influence
of friends.
Full of tender
existential sense.
In all, a sweet



Something That You Drew

Wave hi! Look into his eyes.
Let him know you’re wise
to his disguise. That he is
neither figment nor surmise --
that reality is more than
dreamed-up fizz.
Yours as well as his. Is
endures. Is always will.
Don’t let him know
you felt a chill.
Don’t let him know
you’re not so sure.
Why is his waving hand so still,
his posture irremediably static?
Your answer is emphatic.
He’s something that you drew.
He’s what ephemeralities construe.
So are you.
What to do?
Be what ephemeralities construe.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Little Rude

Roast pig turning on a spit –
there is, of course, no hope for it –
there hasn’t been for quite some time.
Whatever eager piglet ran to climb
upon his mama’s breast to suck a teat –
wherever he discovered means to eat –
that’s all gone now. Now he’s dinner.
Doesn’t seem like he’s the winner.
Watch the crackling skin get brown:
watch the juices trickle down.
Watch the piglet turn to food.
It really seems a little rude.
And yet, my dears, not in the least
are we immune: we are a feast
for many populaces: like bacteria –
for whom we are a cafeteria
of tasty prospects, opportunities
to lick now this, now sample these –
to serve up succulently cellular amounts
of us, ‘til they get fat, and bounce
into repasts that other hungry mites consume.
Endlessly omnivorous: there’s always room
for more in this Existence –
which relies upon its own persistence
in the hunting down and following
and mad insentient swallowing
of bits of its own self:
until there’s nothing on the shelf –
until there is no shelf.


Monday, February 19, 2018

But No.

But No.

Surely this impurity would pass,
reflexively, like gas,
or vertigo.
But no.


Colonies of Mitochondria with Wit

The constituents of genius aren’t difficult to name. It’s
plainly made of multi-colored opal and varieties of silver,
and not the highest grade of either. It feverishly levers into
shapes and shades which, when the wind blows at particular
velocities from east to west, can wrest the generating beast
in it from its thick mineral mélange into the air, upon which
contact it flares ominously and spontaneously to combust.
Of course, wind almost never blows from east to west
and when it does (though not at best), the self-combustion
often ends in genius farts, not something in the sciences
or arts or other more arcane endeavors thought sublime.
That can happen too, of course, but it requires mastering
resources in another medium, a bit of tedium so many of
the rest of us resist because so long dismissed as lunacy: that
tryst with this existence known as alchemy, which out of fragile
luck and random chance mix with whatever lies inside those
Genius’ heads, or pants, to va-va-voom the energy of thought
into new synergy with matter – which with ridiculous simplicity
then scatters all the crackling intuitions, aperçus, purviews
and overviews of Genius Mind. But why is silver mixed
with opal catalytic? No genius knows, nor how to make
the thing it brings, before whatever sings into the ear
the song of how to get it to appear, that he or she or it or
colonies of mitochondria with wit will one day somehow hear.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

New Theories of Ecstasy

My city’s life takes place not least in her embrace
of trees, her stony dirt the "arms" they seem content
to grow in. But I don’t much (as such) like Nature:
that is, as it’s ideally conceived: a pristine space
in which no human intervention ought to leave a trace.
I’d as soon say swallows’ nests are artificial as some

say that glassy boxy buildings are. What is Nature
but the product of detritus from a blasted star?
Porno vendors, middle schools and K-marts
all are natural. Snarkiness is too, and so’s a Cuisinart.
All of that apart, my heart is nonetheless more
swiftly lost to fallen leaves than to Manhattan stores:

not because they come from trees, but because they 
are what Keats reminded us must always hold the truth.
They’re beautiful. Immutable and mutable. They crack
the whip of wonder quietly. Watching oak leaves 
float in city puddles easily relieves anxiety. Muddles
lessen at a glance. New theories of ecstasy advance.