The Daily

First Person

Upon Knowing I Must Soon Depart

September 28, 2016 | by

hummingbird

Hummingbird.

No, not dying. Not just yet.* But already, still at home, the feeling of jet lag begins. Time seems omnipresent, yet too brief. Birthday presents are opened early. I stare at the bag from the pharmacy. Is this any time to try the antipsychotic? (Prescribed for sleep. All doctors hate Ambien, and respond to hearing the name of the drug the way bushmen respond to the scent of wild boar, unless they’re otherwise occupied by appearing on a reality show.) Required reading has been abandoned; already playing hooky by substituting reading one writer for another. I believe myself to be the only writer now reading John O’Hara instead of Peter Taylor, which says nothing about either man, much about me, and has nothing to do with the antipsychotic, as I have yet to work up the courage to ingest a pill.

Fondly, I observe the hummingbirds in the garden: “Greenie” has been feinting during its swirl upward, plotting its faux midair crash into “Blackie” (we aren’t very original in our nicknaming). They sink rapidly, like floaters in opposite eyes, then rise again, in a complex spiral. We’ve been stumped about what to call the almost equally dark hummingbird who has two white spots on its back wings, if you call them wings. This one, we merely call, “the one with white.” (Move over, Wilkie Collins.) Read More »

On the Shelf

There Will Be No More Birthday Celebrations, and Other News

September 28, 2016 | by

The insignia of a master.

  • Mike Davis was an artist, and the irate company-wide memorandum was his canvas. Few in the history of humankind have recognized the savage beauty of this lowliest of media. But Davis—the erstwhile head of Tiger Oil Company, and now dead at eighty-five—shattered the limits of the form with routine ease, showing us just how big an asshole one man could be to his employees. Consider his memos a spin-off of the Theater of Cruelty: “ ‘There will be no more birthday celebrations, birthday cakes, levity or celebrations of any kind within the office,’ the boss wrote on Feb. 8, 1978. ‘This is a business office. If you have to celebrate, do it after office hours on your own time.’ … ‘Do not speak to me when you see me,’ the man had ordered in a memo the month before. ‘If I want to speak to you, I will do so. I want to save my throat. I don’t want to ruin it by saying hello to all of you.’ ”
  • It’s hard enough to get a human being to pay to read your book. Now robots are refusing to pony up, too. Google has just “fed” some eleven thousand books to its artificial intelligence, hoping to teach it how to talk like a real boy. But even though they’re rolling in the dough, Google didn’t pay any of the authors of these books, Richard Lea writes: “After feeding these books into a neural network, the system was able to generate fluent, natural-sounding sentences. According to a Google spokesman—who didn’t want to be named—products such as the Google app will be ‘much more useful if they can capture the nuance of language better’ … ‘The research in question uses these novels for the exact purpose intended by their authors—to be read,’ [Authors Guild executive director Mary Rasenberger] argues. ‘It shouldn’t matter whether it’s a machine or a human doing the copying and reading, especially when behind the machine stands a multibillion dollar corporation which has time and again bent over backwards devising ways to monetize creative content without compensating the creators of that content.’ ” 

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Look

Bare Shouldered Beauty

September 27, 2016 | by

Suellen Rocca’s “Bare Shouldered Beauty: Works from 1965 to 1969” is showing at Matthew Marks Gallery through October 22. In the late sixties, Rocca was part of the Hairy Who, a group of six imagist artists from Chicago; their exhibitions gained renown for their magpie approach, drawing influences from pop culture, magazines, comic books, and “trash treasures,” as Rocca’s collaborator Ray Yoshida called them. Rocca has referred to her work from this period as her “autobiography.” “I was this young mother making these paintings,” she told Hyperallergic last year. “It was a wonderful period. My son would take a nap and I’d rush to my knotty pine studio and work on a painting. Having a toddler and a baby and all these exciting shows, it was wonderful. It was a happy time.”

Suellen Rocca, Palm Finger, 1968, oil on canvas, 20 1/2" x 16 1/2".

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First Person

Change We’ll All Believe In

September 27, 2016 | by

Photo: Sara Kelly.

There’s a brand of New Orleans evening that begins on a whim, dissolves into multiheaded spectacle, and explodes into something else entirely. A few nights ago I was talking politics outside of C___, this chalky bar tucked between the French Quarter’s nether regions, and the question came up, there as in everywhere else in the city: Saints game or debate? Their run times conflicted.

A buddy of mine said of course he would watch the debate. What a question, he said, what a farce. He added something else about the future of Everything.

Another friend expressed ambivalence. Six beers sat on the table between us, his words rolling across their rims. Whenever we knocked the legs the bottles tinkled along in agreement. 

I was about to embarrass myself when the woman smoking quietly behind us—quite literally in the shadows—said that of course she was watching the Saints game. It wasn’t even a question. And before we could ask her why, she gave us a story.

Her name was L. She used to tend bar at C___.

She said: Read More »

Our Correspondents

Six More Public Cases

September 27, 2016 | by

madrid1

In March 2016, our correspondent Anthony Madrid began composing a set of quasi-kōans (on the theme “What is poetry for?”) for the Chicago arts and commentary magazine The Point. What follows is the second of two sets written for the Daily. (The first one ran in July.) Madrid’s unwieldy and indeed unusable title for the first set was “Both speech and silence are involved in transcendent detachment and subtle wisdom. How can we pass through without error?” His unusable title for the present set is “I always remember Jiangnan in May; where the partridges call, the hundred flowers are fragrant.” (Taken together, the two titles constitute Case 24 in the Song Dynasty kōan collection Wumenguan.)

Public Case 6: Ancient Chinese

Our teacher said: “Has anyone ever noticed that many of the most attractive ancient Chinese poets have the same ideas about poetry as modern American high school students? Anyhow, the themes are the same. What am I doing today. How am I feeling. What’s my philosophy. What can I see from where I’m sitting. What just happened. I am kind of a loser. What are my favorite quotes.”

One of the students said: “James Schuyler.”

Comment. It is hard for twenty-first-century USA poets to really understand old Chinese poetry: no surprise there. The surprise is that we find our own childhoods as difficult to “relate to” as the literary world of premodern China. We rub our eyes in disbelief when we have anything in common with either.

Tao Qian, James Schuyler, our own sixteen-year-old selves—of course they write about what they can see from where they’re sitting. What else can be seen? 

The truth is almost everyone has almost everything in common. The main exception is the people who are “too smart for that.” They make a point of not having anything in common with anybody. Read More »

On the Shelf

A Trash-strewn Alley of One’s Own, and Other News

September 27, 2016 | by

Outside Brancusi’s studio on the Impasse Ronsin.

  • Every artist needs an alley—some narrow, weedy, urine-soaked passage to call home. In the Paris of the fifties and sixties, an alley called the Impasse Ronsin was the alley to be: Brancusi, Max Ernst, Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, Martial Raysse, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Claude Lalanne all worked in a squalid studio there. (Those last four, as it happens, have all contributed portfolios to The Paris Review.) As James McAuley tells it, the artists shared “a single toilet but many beds, cheap food but priceless ideas … It was also on the Impasse Ronsin that, in 1961, Niki de Saint Phalle, a former cover girl, launched her career as an international artist with a literal bang. For her ‘shooting’ canvases, she, along with friends such as Robert Rauschenberg, would fire guns into bags that concealed pockets of paint. This was somewhat of a Ronsin ritual, as Yves Klein had done much the same with the ‘Monotone-­Silence Symphony’ the year before. He had conducted an orchestra as nude women danced covered in blue paint, plastering their bodies on canvas as they twirled. In both cases, what mattered was performance as much as product.”
  • Today in bold solutions for writer’s block: Alan Michael Parker spent a few months “writing and reading as badly as possible,” and he came out on the other side feeling much more assured about his work. Even if he hadn’t, though, the whole exercise sounds like a great way to kill some time: “I worked diligently to figure out what ‘bad poetry’ meant to me, and once I become empowered to disappoint, how I could appall myself in a poem. I felt vicious, intemperate, outrageous, sleazy, hysterical, cantankerous, willful. I made poems with unconscionable and irrelevant leaps, poems with overblown abstractions heaped upon abstractions (who will ever forget ‘the turpitude of forgiveness’?), poems with speakers pronouncing upon every character in sight (because ‘I’ always knows so much better than her or his family), poems with social toxicities heightened further by specious speechifying. I made poems that clanked and thumped, beset by sneaker-in-the-dryer iambs, and conversely, poems that used non-metrical speech oblivious to all considerations of sound, the kinds of poems that deserve to be chopped up, but are too often just divided into lines and called free verse.” 

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