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Posted inBooks

Bern Porter’s Found Poems

Nightboat Books is, according to its website, “a nonprofit publishing company dedicated to printing original books of poetry and prose, and bringing out-of-print treasures back to life.” Bern Porter’s Found Poems, a collection previously published in 1972 by Dick Higgins’ Something Else Press, is surely one of those treasures, and we are fortunate now to have easy access to such a singular text.

Posted inArt

Under the Sign of the Gnome

The central thing that distinguishes Chris Martin from his forebears (Forrest Bess, Alfred Jensen, and Simon Gouveneur) is his meshing of visionary symbols and images derived from mass culture, particularly from the world of popular music. He has paid homage to James Brown, “the hardest working man in show business,” in a number of collages and paintings, including, in this exhibition, “Reverend Al in Mourning” (1989 – 2011), which is a large painting made of industrial aluminum foil, which includes a photocopy of a tiny, grainy newspaper photograph of Al Sharpton mourning the legendary singer. The other distinguishing feature is his slyly anarchic humor. (It’s hard to imagine Forrest Bess telling a joke).

Posted inBooks

Flying Forward into the Zone

Varamo is only the sixth novel by the Argentinian writer César Aira to be made available in English, but the premise already sounds like an Aira-parody: one night in Panama in 1923, a government employee without a literary bone in his body composes a future masterpiece of Central American poetry and, as often happens, never writes another word again.

Posted inArt

Alone Among The Living and the Dead

I met Simon Gouverneur in the late 1980s, when I gave a lecture at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Something that I talked about that afternoon prompted him to introduce himself — I am guessing it was Wifredo Lam. We sat in a drab conference room. For the rest of the afternoon, before I caught a train back to New York, he and I wandered through dangerous territory, which was the problematic relationship between art and race. He was happy to speak to someone who was sympathetic to his quarrel with multiculturalism, and its ideas of essentialism and who shared his interest in visionary art and painters such as Piet Mondrian and Alfred Jensen.

Posted inArt

Toppled

I can’t say I wasn’t charmed by Marble Sculpture from 350 B.C. to Last Week’s title, though it’s a tad overblown. And I was pleasantly surprised by the almost gauche clutter I encountered on the gallery’s routinely Spartan first floor, with thirty-one midsize-to-extra-large artworks from wildly different historical periods crowded together like refugees from an intergalactic conflict.

Posted inArt

The Struggle for Coherence

The other day, at a small cocktail party, a literary agent told me that he liked writers who knew and wrote for their audience. Our conversation soon sputtered out because I didn’t see any value in disagreeing with him. A few minutes later, a writer confided that he would keep working on a manuscript only if he could morally, ethically and esthetically justify what he was doing. For each of them the work itself could never be justification enough. It had to appeal to a larger power.

Posted inBooks

Some Sentences to Relax With

As I sometimes — or quite a lot of the time — find myself disposed to avoid the demands of work and household, my favorite dodge is perusing much read books for those “juicy” parts that I’ve doted over for years. Samuel Beckett’s Murphy is just the right book for this kind of time wasting: It’s a novel about an indolent, hapless, emotionally paralyzed man. He’s a loner, out of step with the world, torn between desire for his mistress and the wish to sink further in a self-involved fantasy world. The eponymous un-hero Murphy (he really can’t be called an anti-hero as his chief aspiration — a catatonic state achieved by rocking in his rocking chair — barely qualifies as anti-anything) is securely held by what Blake called “mind forg’d manacles.”

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