Sunday, December 30, 2007

Random googling on my name

Sometimes I have to see what surfaces when I type "Carlson Elephant House." This is how I discovered I'd had a poem on Verse Daily. Or that I'd gotten a good review for The Elephant House. Or that another review is in the works... Yesterday my search pulled up more than a tire or boot from the meta-ocean. The Elephant House made it to the 30 book list of "Some Recently Published Books of Poetry You Might Want to Read"! Thank you John Hewitt and the Writer's Resource Center. Woo-hoo.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

And then there are great readings

So from the worst venue, to the best. I asked Matthew Thorburn to read with me (I'd loved his reading at the Center for Book Arts). After a book exchange he decided I wasn't a random loon and I set it up no less than three times at Book Culture which went through, count 'em, three events coordinators. But it was all worth it... Enough people filled the seats, the book store provided wine and nibbles, and the gracious Kelly Amabile--the new events person--made us feel most welcomed and did lots of promo. Jeanne Marie Beaumont introduced us, delightfully, and Matthew read his thoughtful lovely poems. He takes time with them, they broaden. And although we write quite differently, we share some streaks of humor and subject matter. Go buy his book of poetry, Subject to Change.

I enjoyed reading this time. More than I ever have. I'm finally getting more relaxed up there on the singular side of the podium. My aunt Sonya bought a copy of my book, which really touched me, not a lot of poetry books among her political bios. I read some of my new shaped poems, showing them first, like a picture book. It was so lovely seeing faces I know and love among the audience and some I didn't, and they seemed like they were enjoying themselves.

Matthew had a good time. We enjoyed meeting his wife. See his blog. Thanks for doing this with me Matt. Here's our Book Culture interview, I think Matthew reads less junk than me...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Reading with the stars and curry

I've had terrific readings and then there are the ones that are funny later. The Phoenix Reading Series at the Bengal Curry restaurant offered blasts of door-opening chill, take-out customers, fluorescent ambiance, and a chugging soda machine. Luckily, I was reading with Margo Berdeshevsky and Yerra Sugarman. Alicia Ostriker (really good poet) sat in our audience along with Michael Graves the organizer (selling his book) and three attentive guys who also came for the open mike. See this story about the readings.

Yerra (middle of photo) read from a long sequence about an aunt, coma, and holocaust. There were lines of heartbreak that made me want to read them to figure out how she wrote it.

Margo (on left) turns out to be a childhood friend of my painter friend Jada Rowland. I heard how she fell through the ice in a pond near Jada's home on Staten Island when she was 7... She is still taking risks, she explores the role of myth and healing in the face of disasters from war and nature--she volunteers and reports in these places. Like Jada she used to be an actress; she read with enough passion that even the poori customer looked up.

After all that really good heavy stuff, I decided to drop some levity. I read my new shaped poems, many of which are with a twist. The three guys waiting to read brightened up, although with such a small audience it felt odd to mention lust. Alicia chuckled.

Best of all, I traded books with my fellow readers and the three of us had dinner with Alicia. Even if our waiter blundered our orders at Elephant & Castle the conversation about poetry, teaching, travels, and our lives, was a delight.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Wow! Alimentum wins design award!

I've been co-designing, with Peter Selgin, each of the five issues to date of the wonderful journal Alimentum: The Literature of Food. It won in the in New York Book Show 2008 category of General Trade / Quality Paperback! I get to go to the swanky reception March 11th, 2008. Too cool. Fun magazine, with poems, stories, non-fiction, interviews, and things that are clearly undefinable but always about food. Buy one, makes a great holiday gift too.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Witching Hour at the New Museum Opening

It is not often I choose to be in the hottest spot in town and raise the age average just by being there. Last night after an annual dinner with my college buddies (Bœuf bourguignon, shooting pool, sipping port, and spinning vinyl 70s albums) in the burbs, we got a ride from our friend Len to the opening of the New Museum in downtown Manhattan. After waiting on line at 2 a.m. for free standby tickets, we were in.

The coat checker looked at us and said "you're up late, aren't you?" Did she say that to anyone under 30?

The inaugural show, "Unmonumental," celebrated collage, found objects, and unusual juxtapositions, such as a crotched yarn dumbell curving into a clay grip or glowing fluorescent tubes piercing sofa beds...

The dealers were long gone, but the crowds when we were there had to be 90% emerging, as in young, artists. The people--dancing and laughing--were more fun to watch than the artwork, much of which fell into the art school project camp with a few notable exceptions. I loved the Louise Nevelson (sans black spray-paint) inspired fountain of chair and loveseat frames, the 7 points-of-view video story (tip your hat to Rashômon), and the slowly melting life-sized naked wax woman candle--haven't we ALL had days like that.

Jim noted that even if you didn't like a piece you had to admire an obsession that makes an artist sew thousands of buttons onto a mattress.

I made friends with a trio of artists who desperately wanted some gum so I shared my Orbit mint mojito with them and we bonded. I was yelled at by a museum guard for taking their photo as they stood in front of the elevator doors. "She must be new, they are all new, you should be able to take a photo of your friends when there is no art showing," said the guy. We all chewed our gum vehemently in agreement.

On the top floor a man served bags of red candy and all down the stairs red hots and Swedish fish were ground into the new white floors and a thousand eager finger prints grayed the doors... Target, a huge sponsor, somehow made their red logo artsy and cool in the skylight lounge.

Len, who works with museums, was delighted with the architecture--open with skylights--and mission, "there is no permanent collection, you know," he gestured, "ephemeral pieces like the melting wax woman drive traditional curators and collectors crazy."

We got to bed by 4 a.m. When we finally crawled out, the first snow had powdered fire escapes and rooftops.


Jim and I with our bags of red candy

Len with Target logos

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What takes sixteen sticks & four hearts?

Last night my friend Len, who always knows he can call me at the last moment, invited me to join him for a free percussion concert in the Winter Garden. By percussion I do not mean the construction going on at night in the pit of the World Trade Center... this was the uber talented and hip group So Percussion performing three pieces of new music. They played beads, coils of metal, flower pots, xylophones, and a variety of drums. The music was melodic, varied, enticing, and recorded live for the New Sounds Live radio program at WNYC 93.9. I loved it all, but by the last piece I was ready for it to end, percussion is not soothing, like mime or opera in subtitles, it takes extra concentration to enter their world. Funny how less makes more in ignoring perspective or light source in painting or writing haiku, people take some choices away and what is left evokes all.

The talented Ms. Lisa Moore played a variety of percussive instruments and mostly the Steinway grand in the Martin Bresnick piece as images by Goya filled the stage. I did this sketch of her. But Arvo Part's Fratres for Percussion Quartet and Paul Lansky's Threads were just as wonderful, even without the pianist.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Eye of Sauron rises over SoHo

True story.

Russ, who works where I do, saw a woman fall to the pavement in front of the rising Trump Tower. "You OK? What happened?" He helped her up. She said she was OK but she'd been looking up up up at it and lost her balance. "Don't look at it, it's evil," says Russ. "Yeah, it is," she agreed.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Autograph sketch book

When I sit and listen to people chatting or reading from their books my hands need something to do. As a kid I doodled non-stop, filling sketchpads and margins on mimeographed homework sheets. When I didn't have paper or pen, I nibbled my nails. Now I create a portrait and autograph book at the same time. It is, in fact, my restless fingers disguised as a project.

I draw them in pencil. If they are still moving their lips, I add some watercolor. Then I provenance it, put in my signature, and go after the poet or novelist with zeal. "Your autograph, please?"

"Oh, oh, is that me? You did that here just now?" and rarely, "please send me a copy."

At the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs last weekend, John Crowley gave an amazing reading from a work not yet in print, about the sexual coming-of-age of an unusually challenged and gifted young man.

Crowley uses a fountain pen with the same rusty brown ink I like. You have to love an author who uses the same tools.

I also enjoyed Patricia A. McKillip reading from a new novel that features a young and impressionable budding author. Very funny and apt. I sat up front and probably scared her, as I imagine I do for all of them. Sorry. It's either the sketchpad or sitting on my hands... Thank you all, my unwitting models, in pose and prose.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Sitting on the steps at Yaddo

I just spent four days in Saratoga at the World Fantasy Convention. One afternoon I snuck away with two artists (Donato and Alan Beck) to paint in the gardens at Yaddo, the famous artists' retreat that I hope, one day, to attend as a poet.

The gardens were winter ready, rose bushes clipped and covered with straw, fountains drained, and fragile bushes wrapped in wire mesh. Workers in the distance were busy with terraces. The sun came out and lit the fall golds and the little red berries in the bushes, the last pink roses, and off in the distance the imposing main house loomed--stone--from the crest of the hill.

But it was cold. I was painting with gloves on. First I took out my program from the conference and sat on that. The marble steps still radiated chill into my posterior. Rummaging in my purse there was only one other choice--I sat on my poetry book. I carry two copies around always in hopes that someone will stop me and say "hey, could I buy that copy of The Elephant House off of you?"

Then I just had to laugh, here I was at Yaddo--sitting on my own book. Brooding really. So I sat there laughing to myself. Then I look up and some inmates of the big house are walking in the garden. Oh God, I thought, did they see me laughing to myself, will they think I'm nuts? My second though was, of course not, I blend in just fine, this is an artist's enclave. I'm sure there are plenty of folks here that liken themselves to hens.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy 75th Birthday Helen Carlson

It was a crisp and sunny October 30th.

Projecting my mother into the present gets harder after 32 years...

The black hair would be mostly white and she'd need bifocals; but unlike her mother's they'd be progressives in light-weight black and silver titanium frames. I suspect her opinions on everything would be just as snappy, even if everything has changed.

I'd give her a &75.00 dollar Starbucks card (she would love the espresso shots) and a soft sweater in her burnt oranges. More than that, I'd take her to dinner with my daughters, my husband and me. But that is too small a group, I'm sure she'd have a bevy of fellow teachers, poets, and eBay ephemera merchants to toast her. We would make her laugh...

Too bad she can't be here, it would have been a hell of a party.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Emoticon at Princeton

Touring campuses with my daughter and ex is like falling down a rabbit hole. I imagine an avatar of my daughter jauntily walking from dorm to classroom as buildings are named and the campus briefly fills in and falls away behind us. Down and down we fall.

I'm wondering "why are looking if we can't possibly afford this, would she be happy and challenged here, why do so many of them wear those preppy wool jackets, does everyone belong to an eating club?" By this you can see we spent yesterday touring Princeton. "Very pretty," says Caitlin, referring to the stone and ivy clad walls and vistas of trees obligingly multi-hued. We heard about revolutionary war battles taking place on campus "right here a musket shot from Washington made a dent under the ivy," the 6-to-1 ratio of students to profs, the senior thesis, and the joys of a year abroad.

Just as our group of 20 was about to walk into another history drenched quad someone shouted "I HEART PRINCETON!!!!"

"Wow, yeah," shouted back our tour guide, adding that such unsolicited comments were usually much worse. But how perverse that the word love, represented by a heart symbol online, should then be used in a shout that is clearly seen in the shouter's mind as a text message.

Caitlin whispered to me, "at UCON they shouted: 'Send me your virgin daughters.'"

Friday, October 19, 2007

My first digital life drawing

I drew this with a wacom tablet and digital pen. I sat next to another laptop artist who told me I might consider NOT emulating natural media. "Draw it like it is done on a computer," she urged me. I'm sure she is right. Faced with something new, you can't help but look back. Gutenberg's press emulated monk's calligraphy, the Model T looked like a horseless buggy, and I used the "pastel" mode in Photoshop.
I peeked at the forward thinking artist. She was doing something wild with a starfield, superimposing the model on infinity. Maybe next time...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stickley to the Man

I work near furniture showroom windows. Half of them have Italian sounding names and feature chrome, black leather, and glass. The other half have earnest Anglo Saxon names and feature oak, orange pillows, and golden lampshades. Both sell single's pads to corporate bonuses. To afford even the merest of foot stools in either camp is beyond my means.

I've been thinking about the yin / yang of the colors in the windows. One is a medley of browns, hugging just one warm corner of the color wheel; the other zips from blacks to whites and generates electric sparks of accent color. There are no pastels. In fact, it is the anti-pastel. I think you have to go to Martha Stewart to find those tints.

And where is the showroom window with the couches and chairs I really need? Surfaces that resist cat, dog, teens, and my own casual gestures with foods and liquids? Where? You too can shop at the Salvation Army Boutique, Housing Works, and shops liquidating during bankruptcy. Some of my furnishings were inherited from my Grandma Rose, another sort of liquidation. Think eclectic, please.

If my rooms were placed in a showroom, nobody wanting to create an impression would buy. But you could walk in and get comfortable in no time.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rolling in Dirt with Eiko and Koma

My daughter Natalie tells me that only freshman pronounce the "Wang" in The Wang Center with an "a" so I learned "it's wong to say wang" and now when you visit Stony Brook University, you can sound smarter than a freshman.

Natalie is taking a movement class and one of the visiting dancers, Eiko, of Eiko and Koma, taught her class warm-up exercises. She rolled gently on the floor and showed them all how to stretch like animals in "delicious movements." Natalie said Eiko was a lovely old hippie who mentioned her sons were embarrassed by having parents perform in the nude.

"Eiko and Koma," my husband said, "I saw them once, they roll around naked very very slowly, you go into a zen-like state watching them. Hmmmm, I'll stay at your parent's house and read science magazines with your dad." So I went to the Wang with my daughters.

The title was Mourning, it wasn't going to be jolly. We were seeing it in previews, the premier will be October 18th at the Japan Society, New York City.

The stage was covered in thick dirt. Two semi-clad middle aged people lay on the dirt. A tree-like prop hung in the back of the stage. Off in the wings a woman, Margaret Leng Tan, sat at two pianos, one a grand, the other a toy. Which reminded me of a dog show with big and toy breeds except dogs don't have 88 keys. Of course toy pianos don't have 88 keys either and I wasn't close enough to count the octaves of wee keys...

After a long wait, in which I heard a great deal about shopping at a Long Island Mall from people sitting behind me, the man and woman began to roll very very slowly in the dirt. The rolling and movements changed and the music changed I was aware that Eiko and Koma were exploring natural and unnatural, human and animal, experiences of death and, finally, recovery and rebirth. The rebirth involved some fresh leafy branches that they carried and rolled through. Do they get scratched I wondered.

The zen-like state, as experienced by this viewer, was very close to nodding off, which my daughters observed with stifled mirth. They particularly liked how I made it look as if I was tilting my head to see better.

Tan's artistry on toy piano was surprisingly moving and odd and memorable.

We stayed for the Q&A since Natalie's class was there and expecting to write a report. Some people asked if it was all spontaneous. How odd that anyone should think so, it was clear to me that everything was choreographed, thought out, designed. Eiko and Koma were warm and humorous.

We agreed that if we saw it again we'd get more out of it. Like mime or shadow puppets, a new art form that takes getting used to.

"How was it?" Asked the stay-at-homes.

"Slow, slow rolling," I replied.

Monday, October 8, 2007

"Possess Your Own SoHo" sez Trump

Near where I work, a Trump condo-hotel-luxury-tower is going up. Soon it will block all the morning light as I head for the office. Thanks Donald for the gray carpet.

I cannot stop wondering why I would want to possess my own SoHo. Couldn't I possess other more worthy edifices? Such as my own mind, for instance, it shows signs of being periodically vacant. Maybe I'd rather possess my own Paris (not Hilton) or possess my own really good diner on Rt. 347, the one with the moist grilled chicken and crisp but sour pickles? And what about all the other places that don't make it into the Trumpamerican skyline? Possess your own Levittown. Possess your own plot at Pinelawn Cemetery? Possess your own dreams, possess your own verse, repossess your own passion. If you must possess your own SoHo, please do it quietly and among consenting adults.

The traffic gets awful around here when folks try to drive to New Jersey after work. For some reason once drivers see the Holland Tunnel signs they no longer pay any attention to traffic laws, lights, cross streets, their memory of yesterday's commute, and pedestrians. They express their desire to have a revised reality by honking. I've seen traffic cops ticket one guy after another and none of them can stop themselves! They honk, they gridlock, they get ticketed, it's another form of possession I guess...

I was plotting a route across the mess when a woman in big sunglasses saw me looking at the satanic "Possess Your Own SoHo" sign and shook her fist at it. She shouted her story. Her neighborhood association had been so busy fighting towers of glass a little north of here, that they'd figured SoHo would quash the Trump thing. But nobody got on it. So, quite legally, Trump's tower goes up, up, up. Air rights. And once one too tall building comes in, it brings in more and when all the rich folks move in, out go us artists. "My daughter," she told me, "just graduated art school and do you know where she's moving, where she can afford to live and be an artist?" I didn't know. "Philadelphia, Philadelphia! That's where they're all going--forget Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Queens, no artists can afford New York City anymore."

Ok artists, you and Rocky can now Possess Your Own Philly. Really.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Jazz, models, and a glass of wine

Tonight I sketched while listening to a jazz duet, two models posed in fascinating angles to each other, and I sipped a glass of Merlot without spilling any of it. There is something richly perfect about life drawing at the Society of Illustrators.

The last few weeks I've sketched on my laptop using a digital pen and wacom tablet. And it was fun, the unfamiliarity of the medium--slippery plastic--and the odd disconnect of drawing on one thing and having the sketch show up elsewhere, kept me off balance as well. It lead to fairly wild stuff (for me) as I grabbed brilliant hues from photoshop and gave up any desire to have it look like anything.

But tonight, I just felt I had to draw with charcoal again, I love how it can dig into the tooth of the paper and give sharp lines or sweeping smudges. Once I get going, all my fingers get involved in rubbing the shadows into being. I draw and I see bone and muscle and attitude in the posture, in the way one person's ratio of sharps and curves repeat over their whole body. Sometimes the models made each other laugh. The shorter model took brave athletic poses with arms raised and body twisted.

Hard work, for the models and mucisians. Pure fun for me. And the jazz was so right for the room, inventive but smooth. The guitar was red, red as a tomato and the trumpeter wore red shoes.

Some of the regulars came by and were disappointed to see I was back to the ordinary magic of paper and pencil.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Books I thought I'd love/lug forever...

I'm going through boxes of books. Books that had been dampened by a fire in my building and then neglected in storage for six years. I finally emptied the storage unit and the boxes ominously filled one and a half rooms in my apartment (who really needs a dining room?), I ignored them for another six months.

My high school age daughter told me that she'd really appreciate me going through them now so she won't have to inherit and toss them herself. I concede, it is time.

When I first got a job in publishing the pay was low and the free books a balm to ease the endless macaroni and cheese dinners and bring your own p b and j lunches. I worked at some great houses and took home some great books. I can hold The Old Gringo and think that I designed the interior of a Carlos Fuentes book--and I'm in my late-twenties again, working at FSG, feeling so proud of it, learning everything I can from the great designer Cynthia Krupat. And it is all good. But am I really seeing the mildewed, warped, and faded thing that is staining my palms?

Cynthia designed with a passion for ornament met with an equal passion for simplicity. In opposites colliding, great book are designed. In those days before desktops and Quark and InDesign... she'd photocopy ornaments and use those photocopies as the actual image on the mechanical. I remember asking her why she didn't use a better quality image, why not get a professional photo made of the 19th century sorts and dingbats? She told me she wanted the distressed look the photocopy gave it. That's when I realized designers play with their tools and invent their rules.

I designed or created endpaper maps for a lot of books. Didn't read all of them. I just loved the idea of owning them. A book, like a brick, put into a wall of my efforts. My apartment used to hold over 2,000 books. The books made me feel smarter just looking at their spines. Book lust is insidious, you feel as if you own a piece of someone's mind. But how many plots, histories, verses, and anthologies does one need shouting from the shelves?

I have come to see that a bit of clear wall, a place to hang a photo or painting, would be better than owning the monographs, how to succeed in..., or the unforgettable Encyclopedia of Mucosal Immunology. And the better books? Even there, isn't it enough to know I was busy for years without having to lug the physical remains of small creative endeavors? If poetry evokes the world with concision, my library too can pare itself down to what really counts. Besides, the books are still in the library or available on the internet. If I ever want to reread The Old Gringo, I'd rather have a copy that doesn't make me sneeze. I don't even remember the plot.

My household will soon be making contributions to Housing Works for the books that didn't get water damaged. You can buy them there.

I can always tell who is fairly new to working in publishing, they're gleefully taking the freebies home. Beware freebies, beware.

Friday, September 28, 2007

First of all

I went to a play last night.

Got out of work at 6. Cut though SoHo and the Village while the golden hour threw sky onto west facing windows. Reflections of cloud and brick bouncing onto the glass of other buildings. Sunset, cloud, edifice. A whole recursive cityscape.

I was listening to dance music on my old iPod that gets me walking fast, but not so fast I wasn't noting all the places that weren't. I last worked down here 15 years ago. Elephant and Castle wasn't there. Neither was Anglers and Writers. And then I was cutting through NYU and here what wasn't, goes further back. My mom used to take me to all her college haunts when we visited NYC. Sutters was gone long ago but I still remember the shock of eating my first eclaire, the creamy with all those alternating layers of crisp...

But to really go back, try seeing what can be done with Medea. The Dutch theatre group, Drood Paard (Dead Horse), at PS122, did a modern adaption that was unlike anything I've ever seen. No masks, no linear narrative. Just three members of the chorus restraining themselves from "acting" and commenting on what they cannot do as bystanders. The parallels to politics--2007-- were there but restrained as well. Surprisingly, much of the dialogue was borrowed from Pop lyrics. Even obscure lyrics. Beetles to Punk garage bands...I'm sure I missed a lot of them. But somehow it all worked, even with their accents--obla dee, oblah dah, life goes on. Medea emerges as dangerous narcissistic priestess and not mother of the year. But we knew that. Love, greed, treachery, promises, jealousy, bribes, and retribution. Murder of innocents. Jason is the shallow kind of guy that always has one good reason to leave his woman or overthrow a king. He wants. Shiny, shiny.

Less successful, my group felt, were the slide shows that divided the play. I was reminded of post modern poems that indulge in ekphrastic non-linear journeys...unless you can do it justice, don't do it. The slide shows weren't boring, but they just could have been so much more. They didn't play with visual language the way the dialog did.

My friend G. and I are going to start a writing group. I'm going write a 10 minute play. An exercise. At the very least, it'll help me to write better dialogue or dramatic monologues in my poems. It is so easy to get insular. The job. The things I am used to doing. Drood Paard's Medea reminds me that experimental theater really does take risks. And without risks, art gets tame.

I loved how the original passions and ideas of the play emerged despite all the stagecraft, actors, props, and sets that weren't there.