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Posts Tagged ‘surrealism’

Staff Picks: Mandolins, Meaning, Mr. Cui

October 7, 2016 | by

René Magritte, photographed by Duane Michals.

The Surrealist painter René Magritte apparently dressed like a banker (dark suit, tie) but under these “innocent allures,” a friend recalled, he “was a very revolutionary personality.” That makes him rather like the subject in his 1964 painting Le fils de l’homme, in which an apple obscures the visage of a man dressed in a suit and bowler: we see him but do not see him. Such is the sense I have of him throughout the newly published Selected Writings, a collection of unpublished bits and bobs written between 1922 and 1967. Of his own paintings, he observes, “What I paint does not imply that the invisible is superior to the visible: the visible is rich enough to create a poetic language, evoking the mystery of the invisible and the visible.” Though he withholds full meaning, his meaning is there. And when he writes, “It is difficult to think while thinking of nothing,” I know exactly what he means. —Nicole Rudick

Yesterday, after Rita Dove was named a finalist for this year’s National Book Award for Poetry, I read her 1986 collection Thomas and Beulah, a harrowingly gorgeous book that traverses the earlier half of twentieth-century America by way of Dove’s maternal grandparents. Comprising two parts—Mandolin, for Thomas, and Canary in Bloom, for Beulah—its forty-four elegiac poems reimagine the couple’s past, beginning on a Mississippi riverboat and moving effortlessly through the years from courtship to curtains, kneading in the somber truths of the era: the suicides of the Great Depression, the lynchings of black Americans. We see Thomas sleeping in his work barracks, wooing Beulah with his tater-bug mandolin, walking under the viaduct where men have jumped. Of all the poems, though, I find Beulah’s to be the most beautiful, her sorrow subtle yet profound. From “Daystar”: “Later / that night when Thomas rolled over and / lurched into her, she would open her eyes / and think of the place that was hers / for an hour—where / she was nothing, / pure nothing, in the middle of the day.” (You can listen to Rita Dove read from Thomas and Beulah here.) —Caitlin Youngquist Read More »

Staff Picks: Snails Eating Snails, Sailboat Lust, DISSS-CO!

April 15, 2016 | by

The Tarot Garden in Tuscany.

I’ve been impressed by Robyn Schiff’s new collection, A Woman of Property, especially the faithfulness with which it renders the buzzy dread of parenthood: not the fear of begetting but the fear that begetting occasionally begets. To see the world through Schiff’s poems is to see it magnified by motherhood and aswarm with potential menace. The collection includes poems about anthrax and swine flu, “unbearable / supercolonies of ants,” even the slow-motion spectacle of a snail eating another snail. (“Wolf snail rewinding / common snail up its trembling spool, // the wheeling / of the whelk / inside the whelk.”) The poems’ forms are often as relentless as their subjects—it’s the rare stanza that ends on a full stop—but they have their purpose: “The lyric makes me sing,” she writes “what I did not even / want said, to get to stop having / to keep thinking // it.” —Bobby Baird

I was just extolling the artistic virtues of Niki de Saint Phalle to a friend on Monday, complaining about how she’s discussed so infrequently and exhibited so rarely in the U.S. So Ariel Levy’s essay in the latest issue of The New Yorker was a welcome surprise. Levy’s focus is Saint Phalle’s fourteen-acre Tarot Garden in Tuscany, which she worked on for decades. It’s a site I’m keen to visit, especially given Levy’s apt description: “It is as if a psychedelic bomb had exploded in the most picturesque part of Tuscany.” Saint Phalle’s interest in the Tarot, her expression of an overt, joyful eroticism, and her assertion of her own creative value and purpose—especially in relation to intense, passionate affairs with male artists—remind me of her contemporary, Dorothy Iannone, who is likewise under-recognized in this country. Yet Saint Phalle, like Iannone, was never in doubt of her power: “If I didn’t want to be a second-class citizen,” she said, “I would have to go out into the world and fight to impose myself as an artist.”—Nicole Rudick Read More »

The Nose

January 26, 2016 | by

An operator treating the carbuncled nose of an obese patient, James Gillray, 1801. Image via Wellcome Library

A lot of things are a century old this year: Boeing, Roald Dahl, the Professional Golfers’ Association. Another is Akutagawa Ryūnosuke’s short story “The Nose,” published in January 1916 in a student magazine called Shinshichō. 

“The Nose,” which bears no relation to Gogol’s famous story of the same name, is a pretty standard parable about vanity. It stars Zenchi Naigu, a Buddhist priest with a massive schnoz—he needs aides to hold it aloft with a stick during meals. This is, as you can imagine, kind of unseemly, so Naigu undertakes a series of drastic schnoz-reduction measures, only to realize that his newly unembellished nose makes him even more self-conscious than the original had. He tries to catch a cold so his nose plumps up again. It does. He is at peace. And—scene! Read More »

More Paintings About Poets and Food

February 20, 2015 | by


Djordje Ozbolt, Poet Smoking, 2014, acrylic on board, 27 ½” x 23 5/8”.

Tomorrow’s the last day to catch Djordje Ozbolt’s show “More paintings about poets and food”—a welcome nod to Talking Heads’ 1978 album More Songs About Buildings and Food—at Hauser & Wirth.

Ozbolt grew up in Belgrade and now works in London, where he’s lived for many years; though he denies any kind of “East-meets-West” tensions in his work, his paintings evoke the kind of rambunctious, vivid satire of Western culture that comes best from outsiders. Ryan Steadman, writing in the New York Observer, calls Ozbolt “a master of the deadpan historical zinger … While an artist like John Currin seems to begin from a kitschified American view of classical painting (think Norman Rockwell), Mr. Ozbolt pointedly razzes the medium’s deeper history (a history that reflects our own) in a way that a New-Worlder never fully could.” It would be easier to shrug off his paintings as jokes if they didn’t reappear, some hours after seeing them, in one’s nightmares. I don’t know how Ozbolt burrows so deep into his subconscious, but I applaud him for it; he’s found a labyrinthine, underground network of our bugbears and bêtes noires. In Delivery, for example, a raven makes a brisk descent with a glazed donut in its beak—it took me a while to make the connection, but eventually I was brought back to the scene in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks wherein Waldo the Myna Bird is executed above a tray of jelly donuts. This is America, people: whenever birds and baked goods meet, suffering is sure to follow. Read More »

The Verb to Be

February 19, 2015 | by


André Breton in 1924.

André Breton’s poem “The Verb to Be” originally appeared in our Spring 1985 issue.

I know the general outline of despair. Despair has no wings, it doesn’t necessarily sit at a cleared table in the evening on a terrace by the sea. It’s despair and not the return of a quantity of insignificant facts like seeds that leave one furrow for another at nightfall. It’s not the moss that forms on a rock or the foam that rocks in a glass. It’s a boat riddled with snow, if you will, like birds that fall and their blood doesn’t have the slightest thickness. I know the general outline of despair. A very small shape, defined by jewels worn in the hair. That’s despair. A pearl necklace for which no clasp can be found and whose existence can’t even hang by a thread. That’s despair for you. Let’s not go into the rest. Once we begin to despair we don’t stop. I myself despair of the lampshade around four o’clock, I despair of the fan towards midnight, I despair of the cigarette smoked by men on death row. I know the general outline of despair. Despair has no heart, my hand always touches breathless despair, the despair whose mirrors never tell us if it’s dead. I live on that despair which enchants me. I love that blue fly which hovers in the sky at the hour when the stars hum. I know the general outline of the despair with long slender surprises, the despair of pride, the despair of anger. I get up every day like everyone else and I stretch my arms against a floral wallpaper. I don’t remember anything and it’s always in despair that I discover the beautiful uprooted trees of night. The air in the room is as beautiful as drumsticks. What weathery weather. I know the general outline of despair. It’s like the curtain’s wind that holds out a helping hand. Can you imagine such a despair? Fire! Ah they’re on their way … Help! Here they come falling down the stairs … And the ads in the newspaper, and the illuminated signs along the canal. Sandpile, beat it, you dirty sandpile! In its general outline despair has no importance. It’s a squad of trees that will eventually make a forest, it’s a squad of stars that will eventually make one less day, it’s a squad of one­-less-­days that will eventually make up my life.

Translated from the French by Bill Zavatsky and Zack Rogow.


Studies in Latrinalia, and Other News

November 24, 2014 | by


Photo: Conway L, via Flickr

  • A 1950 letter from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac—“16,000 amphetamine-fueled, stream-of-consciousness words” that inspired Kerouac to rewrite On the Road in a more breathless vein—is up for auction.
  • A chat with William Gibson: “I’ve always embraced the fact of any imaginary future becoming archaic. Imaginary futures are about the moment of their creation, they aren’t about the real future. Ultimately every imaginary future will be read as an artifact of the moment of its creation.”
  • The language of poker: Today’s players are the strong, silent types, “But many of the earliest tournament pros … were famous for blustery speeches, part of an aggressive style of banter meant to put their opponents ‘on tilt.’ And while these players were haranguing their opponents, they would watch closely to see what clues—‘tells’—leaked out under pressure.”
  • What’s the meaning of the writing on the bathroom wall? “The most common type of graffiti was ‘presence-identifying’ (just scrawling your name, for example), but men were identifying their presence more than women. Women, on the other hand, wrote more insults … When a woman goes into a women’s restroom and finds herself surrounded by only women (in a room full of mirrors, no less), she may very well become hyper-aware of the fact that she is a woman. People might be putting on makeup, performing their gender, and behind closed doors, they’re dropping their pants. Meanwhile, next door in the men’s room, dudes are standing next to each other at the urinal, aggressively not making eye contact, trying to ignore the miasma of testosterone that I assume hangs in the air like a fog.”
  • Are the British simply too polite to be any good at surrealism?