Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A great reading: Terrance Hayes & Natasha Trethewey at 92nd St. Y

My friend, prize-winning poet Sharon Dolin, teaches poetry at the 92nd Street Y and is in a position to take folks like me to great poetry readings as her guest.

We hailed a cab in a cool April drizzle and were soon catching up on our lives as we splashed through Central Park.

I was moved and transported by both their works. Terrance Hayes is tall! He speaks to the audience as if you were sitting comfortably at a table with him. I started to draw and soon was so absorbed by his narratives, his moves, his cadences, that my pencil stopped and time went into that alternate reality that too rarely happens. I loved his bubbling excitement with language even as the subject matter pierced me. He's good. Really really good. I ran to the library and took out Wind in a Box, and the voice is there. Best read aloud, I can almost hear him whispering behind my flat midwestern vowels.

Natasha Trethewey is assured and polished, I had the impression she prepares every word she says. Her invocation of Gulfport reminded me of the social fractures across my childhood years in Baton Rouge. Her poems are lyrical and wrenching. Of course, I was on the white side of town. Being the child of a white and a black parent, and having an appearance that can "pass," Trethewey had an uneasy position in the deep South. She has the most expressive eyes. I loved drawing her. She draws on history and myth. I took out Native Guard (won a Pulitzer in '07), which also has a series of poems about civil war black troops on Ship Island. 

Read them. If you haven't already.
And yes, more autographs.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

When book design gives you bragging rights

So how cool is it to have Dick Cavett and Sandy Marshall lean on me? That is DICK CAVETT's head on my shoulder! Very cool. Made we want to whistle the overture to Candide.

Cavett interviewed Marshall, in the performance space at the Drama Bookstore near Times Square, about the biography he wrote, BEATING A DEAD HORSE, on the life and times of his father, Jay Marshall, a highly respected master magician and big personality. I designed the book, including photoshop adjusting & repairing the 700 or so photos and ephemera for print. All 69 chapters plus illustrated front and back sections. A lotta work on a very tight schedule. Of course, the biggest amount of work was writing the tome. And it is truly a great read, I kept getting distracted as I built the book in InDesign. I worked closely with Sandy and his wife Susan getting the images selected and placed. Susan and I worked on the cover design. She had the idea of featuring old and young Jay, showing his career span.

While at the event, I also sketched JC the camera guy on my left and the two guys talking in front of me. And collected my autographs, natch.

Jim and I were treated to a dinner with Sandy and Susan, along with several magicians that kept making cards, cups and preconceptions appear and disappear across the table. I was in open jawed wonder at the tricks. Could not see how any of it was done and I was THIS close. I did ask the quieter half of a magician couple if her husband was like this at home. "He never stops, never," she said, with a hint of a sigh. Hmmmm. I think I will stick to my lyricist. He occasionally taps beats and syllables on a table or thigh, but never pulls honking red noses out of his pockets.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fruity-G Featured in National Zine! (click image to see all of it)

Fruity-G, Second Interview "Snow Day"

Our roving reporter caught up with F-G this Sunday as he was sun bathing on his penthouse ledge.

Q: I hate to ask, what's with the white stuff, are you getting a bit of Christmas this April?
A: I'm not chillin' this is powdered egg shell. My personal trainer says it'll give me strong roots. And my personal parole officer can tell you it ain't that kinda snow.

Q: I hear your hit single "Growin' Into My Pot" has swept campuses across America. What is your secret Fruity-G?
A: Yo yo, I got one word for you: Green. I spread the leafy mojo power.
Plant a seed,
grow a weed,
plant a pit,
get my wit!

Q: Any truth to the rumor that you have been seen with Miss Tangerine?
A: We just friends, I got no main squeeze.

Q: Well listeners there you have it, America's most eligible citrus is still up for grabs.

Fruity-G, small Grapefruit Tree, The first interview

My daughter Caitlin handed me a germinating citrus seed on her last visit home. I planted it. In more ways than one. The story of this intrepid tree will be recorded in this blog.

Q: Well it's great to have you in the big apple but how does this compare to your birth state?
A: I'll always love Flo bro, but this city ledge gives me edge.

Q: Some say grapefruits are too sour to love, what do you say to that F-G?
A: Yo Yo, I'm sharp and sour, big and bad, sweet to eat when you call me daddy, honey.

Q: I understand you can grow up to 30 feet (10 meters) high?
A: I'm high right now man.

Q: And your trunk will sprout thorns?
A: I'm Fruity-G, I'm already thorny!

Q: So...Ah...F-G, I hear you have a new single out this fine Spring day?
A: Yeah I do it's "Three Leaf Love" and it be hot!

Q: Well, Fruity-G, it has been a real pleasure having you grow on us, any last words for your fans?
A: I'll just sing the refrain from my platinum hit:
Take the sun with the rain
Take the sun with the rain
Take the night with the day
Take the night with the day
I'm growing your way baby
I'm coming to stay!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The big "It's me" ah-hah moment

You know the friend who spends years complaining that the kids/job/parents/mortgage/spouse/bad knee/ADD/PMS  are the reason they were never a writer/painter/composer/athlete/actor/messiah? I have news for all the excuses. It's you. It has always been you.

Or more correctly, "It's me."

I used to think that if I only had time and opportunity I'd finally figure out how to write prose and paint in oils. Not to mention develop good work habits, amaze the critics, and work off that bit of a tire around my hips. Now that I have more time, have I used it wisely? Lovingly vesting my finite hoard of hours on every long frustrated yearning? Nope. And the only person I have to blame, utterly and irrefutably, is me.

I'm the one who read books instead of doing push-ups. 'Twas moi who wrote a hundred first chapters to various novels and nary a last. I'm the one who felt transformed by the William Kentridge show at the MoMA (here's to pressed and vine charcoal and really dirty fingernails!) but didn't actually dig out my charcoals and do a self portrait. It's me. It has always been me. Call it nature, nurture, or proof that free will is slave to hidden sloth. It's me.

Consider the other friend who sets out to do things and virtually nothing stops them.  They open art institutes, businesses, travel the world, perform, become philanthropists, and earn PhDs; they do this by not getting in their own way. Instead of excuses, they have puzzles to solve.

So how do I go from dreaming to doing? Bypass yearning. Yearning is a mix of regret and daydreams; past and future. Yearning takes me out of today. Today is the blank page, the hands on a pen or keyboard. Every day, practice craft, be it writing, designing, or drawing and forgive myself when the results aren't great. Give the muse room to show up. Pay attention to how it feels to learn. Celebrate the small achievements. Keep going. Part of saying "it's me" is finding out what I really love, and honoring my choices. A day at a time. In the time of a day. It is me. My choice. That's  liberation.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

When everyday is Tuesday, the freelance life, part 1.

I get a call, a friend asks "can you join us at this great [fill in the blank] tonight?" I ask, "is this Tuesday?" "No," they reply with withering scorn, "today is Saturday!"

I understand their annoyance, really, I do. I too used to work in an office and the weekend release program was what I lived for.

But honestly, every day is Tuesday in my freelanceland. I work every day. The sun comes up, the computer goes on, some coffee and eats go in, and my fingers keep busy until the sun goes down, I take the dog on a walk, food gets made, news, prose, or flicks are consumed, and suddenly it is time to go to bed and do it all again. Add in the occasional hours in the laundry room and a monthly meeting of my writing group and there you have it, my life.

I brought up this Tuesdayness to the writing group yesterday, was that Tuesday? No, no, it was Friday. The office jobbers looked at me in a kind of horror. The other freelancers nodded knowingly. "You need to make the weekend different, make one day you don't work at all, really, it is important to do this," said Andrew Kaplan, sagely. This advice has its precedent in genesis, so I suppose it is a universally acknowledged mandate to the freelancer.

Maybe I will make Tuesday my new Sunday, a day of non-work, when museums are open and I am free to contemplate this human condition, on walls and on walks far far away from my keyboard and deadlines.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Red Letter Day!

No, this "A" is not borrowed from Hawthorne; it is for Alimentum. As you may know, I co-design this literary magazine and lay out all the issues. Last issue (number 9), Paulette Licitria, the publisher, invited me to illustrate the interior. So I did the spot drawings. And I agonized over them. I don't wear the artist's smock as often as I do the writer's overalls. Paulette sent me a lovely review of the current issue in New Pages and there were really nice things said about my art!!!! CLICK HERE!

I will excerpt the best bits:

"Like a still life painting, the fiction pieces, poetry, nonfiction, artwork, interviews, and illustrations gathered in this issue are artfully placed to bring each piece into the best light....One of my favorite poems is “The Origin of Fruitcakes” by F.J. Bergmann. This is partially due to the illustration (one of many) by Claudia Carlson, of two jitterbugging fruitcakes with strawberry eyes. The poem itself is equally animated in its attempt to understand the genesis of such an unusual food." 

So thank you and reviewer Melinda Rich!

Now here is the second red letter. The "B" is for Benu Press. I was invited to submit a poem for a new anthology forthcoming from Benu celebrating social justice, many months ago. I sent in some work that was gently rejected by Steve Fellner who asked me to please, try, try again.

I tried. For months I wrote ponderous or flippant verse. I can't come at it directly.

Then today, to the sound of jack hammers and crews pouring new sidewalks I had the angle I needed. I thought about the street artist Hani Shihada who arrives every spring and paints chalk portraits of both saints and his heroes, from Obama to Michael Jackson... I wrote the poem in half an hour. Sent it to Steve who accepted it right away, and now I have a contract to sign. WOW.