Commentaries - August 2012
Every foolish drunken poet,
boorish vanity without ceasing,
(never may I warrant it,
I of great noble stock,)
has always declaimed fruitless praise
in song of the girls of the lands
all day long, certain gift,
most incompletely, by God the Father:
praising the hair, gown of fine love,
and every such living girl,
and lower down praising merrily
the brows above the eyes;
praising also, lovely shape,
the smoothness of the soft breasts,
and the beauty's arms, bright drape,
she deserved honour, and the girl's hands.
Then with his finest wizardry
before night he did sing,
he pays homage to God's greatness,
fruitless eulogy with his tongue:
leaving the middle without praise
and the place where children are conceived,
and the warm cunt, clear excellence,
tender and fat, bright fervent broken circle,
where I loved, in perfect health,
the cunt below the smock.
You are a body of boundless strength,
a faultless court of fat's plumage.
I declare, the cunt is fair,
circle of broad-edged lips,
it is a valley longer than a spoon or a hand,
a ditch to hold a penis two hands long;
cunt there by the swelling arse,
song's table with its double in red.
And the bright saints, men of the church,
when they get the chance, perfect gift,
don't fail, highest blessing,
by Beuno, to give it a good feel.
For this reason, thorough rebuke,
all you proud poets,
let songs to the cunt circulate
without fail to gain reward.
Sultan of an ode, it is silk,
little seam, curtain on a fine bright cunt,
flaps in a place of greeting,
the sour grove, it is full of love,
very proud forest, faultless gift,
tender frieze, fur of a fine pair of testicles,
a girl's thick grove, circle of precious greeting,
lovely bush, God save it.
After the translation from Welsh by Dafydd Johnston (slightly modified)
with John Bloomberg-Rissman
SOURCE: Dafydd R. Johnston, ed., Canu Maswedd yr Oesoedd Canol, or Medieval Welsh Erotic Poetry, Seren Books, Bridgend CF31 3AE, 1991, 1998)
(1) “Gwerful Mechain of Powys was active about 1480, and she is the only female poet of medieval Wales by whom a substantial corpus of poetry has survived. Her subject matter is varied and the erotic poems are only a small proportion of her work. … This [poem] is a reaction to poems by men, in this case the detailed descriptions of girls’ physical appearance which ignore the most important part of their bodies.” (Dafydd Johnston) But it is in this that the work points forward & back, to lead us to our own time & to the recoveries “out of a woman’s body and experience … as theme and source for art.” (A. Rich) In that sense too the work or vision may go back almost immeasurably before the time of Gwerful herself, but it is the sheer physicality of what she writes that now emerges to inform us & to link with acts of mind & body by poets & artists in our own time who have sought to bring the core facts of their lives (& ours) from a darkness in which the body like the mind was too long hidden. As with others in these pages the time & place for reading her is here & now.
(2) Writes Carolee Schneemann of her 1975 masterwork Interior Scroll, in which she performs nude while reading from a long paper text drawn serpent-like from her vagina: “I thought of the vagina in many ways— physically, conceptually: as a sculptural form, an architectural referent, the sources of sacred knowledge, ecstasy, birth passage, transformation. I saw the vagina as a translucent chamber of which the serpent was an outward model: enlivened by it’s passage from the visible to the invisible, a spiraled coil ringed with the shape of desire and generative mysteries, attributes of both female and male sexual power. This source of interior knowledge would be symbolized as the primary index unifying spirit and flesh in Goddess worship.”
(3) Denise Levertov: “Hypocrite Women”
Hypocrite women, how seldom we speak
of our own doubts, while dubiously
we mother man in his doubt!
And if at Mill Valley perched in the trees
the sweet rain drifting through western air
a white sweating bull of a poet told us
our cunts are ugly—why didn't we
admit we have thought so too? (And
what shame? They are not for the eye!)
No, they are dark and wrinkled and hairy,
caves of the Moon ... And when a
dark humming fills us, a
coldness towards life,
we are too much women to
own to such unwomanliness.
Whorishly with the psychopomp
we play and plead—and say
nothing of this later. And our dreams,
with what frivolity we have pared them
like toenails, clipped them like ends of
[From Levertov: Poems, 1960-67. New Directions, 1967]
A three DVD boxed set of Rudy Burckhardt's films has recently been released by Microcinema (the web page has a detailed summary of each film).
Burckhardt is well known for his cityscape photographs and what's best in the films is an extension of what is great in the photos: the street signage, the criss-crossing motion of people walking in the street, the buzz and hum of the sidewalk. The DVD collection also includes a selection of Burckhardt's zany narrative films, starring Edwin Denby, John Ashbery, Mimi Gross, Alex Katz, Neil Welliver, Larry Rivers, Jane Freilicher, Paul Bowles, Aaron Copland, John Latouche, Fairfield Porter, Anne Waldman, Virgil Thomson, Yoshiko Chuma, Grazia Della-Terza, Douglas Dunn, Harry Sheppard, and Red Grooms, among others, and music or texts by Joe Brainard, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, and Ashbery.
Jacob Burckhardt did a great job putting this DVD set together.
John Ashbery in Mounting Tension (1950)
Mimi Gross from Lurk (1964)
Mimi Gross writes me: Rudy was always sorry he cut out the scene with me in the lake wearing a long and wet dress when I became "ophelia-esque" totally "out of my mind" I don't know why he cut it out. a great anecdote is the night when Rudy had cut the film and showed it to Edwin, Red, me (to see it) and Frank O'Hara for music suggestions; after watching it, Frank O'Hara listed the music, scene by scene, from memory...and that is exactly what Rudy used, adding to the "melodrama."
Edwin Denby from Lurk (1964)
And while on this subject, just to mention Burckhardt's wonderful Mobile Homes (Z Press, 1979), photos with extended and hilarious captions, worthy of Joe Brainnard, though far more sardonic.
More on Burckhardt -- read Vincent Katz's bio.
Rudy Burckhardt is represented by the marvellous Tibor de Nagy gallery.
“They are gone, the pepper trees”
the more a man’s arms
to reach the woman’s
& the branches
can no longer bear
moss is foremost
if the mind will entertain
matters of fact
a tactile splendor
ferns & rind
the black a distance
deeper than a star
heavy as a heave
the layered cork & wood
cry out to you
or is it only
in your heart?
at the side a shadow
like a child
beside the fallen bodies
the last chance
a limb athwart
& shiny shadows
is there a black hole
here on earth?
a place so deep
that even leaves
over the swollen
the hairy wood
is like a man’s flesh
or a woman’s
a memory of where
we lived & swung –
our place in nature
to seat yourself
ache of trees
& ache of majesty
he who falls
only a little
the ferns take over
& the question
rattles our minds
where have the bodies
in the world is love
plain in our sight
the black hole
carved into the center
more what the woman gives
a field of light
down where the world
they dance together
taut arms rising
from dark trunk
in front of which
leaves her shadow* * her meadow
eager to draw him back
that which is lost
leaves only a wound
the mystery of light
more than the mystery
of something lost
the memory of where
guarded by snow
a scar that will not heal
between an island
& the main
blind spring arrives
the strange allure
of black on white
drives color from the brain
refraction from the eye
is every image that we see
seen from a height
& every block of wood
as stiff as stone* *as bone
receivers & believers
we let the shadows go
counting by threes
is learnt by rote
more as a number known
than by a bride & groom
the tallest tree of all
no taller than
those that surround him
the way that every count
leaves space & air
brought back to earth
of mute nature
waiting for the dead
to rise & shine
like stony ridges
schist & caulk* * chalk
no sign of verdure
but the layers
stacked each one
atop the next
offers a broken wall
a perch for demons
along the way
or hanging from
the rotted bark
a bed laid bare
the rank turd
firm in its nest
eggs & turds
the rest is barely
bark & sunlight
traces of a life
[NOTE. Arie Galles’s images of a single gnarled & weathered pepper tree begin as black & white photographs that he then translates, as with his monumental 14 Stations, into a set of twenty charcoal drawings, to which are added twenty poems of mine as linkages. My own procedures, after the fact, are largely improvisational, speaking to his images while maintaining a sense of distance & independence. To borrow from the medieval Japanese, the principle here is not one of direct comment or illustration but of something like juxtaposition &/or collage “wherein it does not matter that the upper and lower part are put together in a seemingly unnatural and arbitrary way so long as they cohere in the mind.” The whole suite of 60 drawings, "Graphite," consists of three twenty image sub-suites, "MoonFields, "CloudPoems" and "PepperTree," with accompanying poems – a work still very much in progress. In this posting, however, the poems stand simply on their own. (J.R.)]
With a remembrance by David Reed
I am sad to report the news that the painter Lee Sherry has died. Lee went to Reed College with David Reed, Leslie Scalapino, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Nina Wiener, and James Sherry, whom she later married. A marvellous painter, Lee had solo shows in the 1970s at the Susan Caldwell Gallery (NY). She designed ROOF magazine, where she was also the art editor. In addition, Lee designed a number of early Roof Books covers. She had significant relationships with the artist Porfirio DiDonna (1942-1986) and the poet Peter Seaton (1942-2010). She wrote a piece in tribute to Porfirio DiDonna for M/E/A/N/I/N/G #1 (1986) and wrote an essay, "Painting the Painting" for L=A=N-G=U=A=G=E #12 (1980). She is survived by her father and step-mother Bernard and Jane Sahlins. Her mother, Fritzie Sahlins, who with Bernard Sahlins was a founder of the legendary Chicago improvisational troupe Second City, died in 1991.
Lee Sherry page at M/E/A/N/I/N/G on-line
photographs of studio with paintings, 2012
See William Zimmer's 1983 review in Arts (attribution not confirmed)
photo ©1985 Peter Bellamy, used with permission. Painting by Sherry in background.
I miss Lee and I miss her paintings terribly.
In the mid ‘60s, at Christmas break, after a year or two at Reed College, I drove Lee and Nina Wiener down from Portland, Oregon to San Diego, where my parents lived, in my Volkswagen Beetle. They wanted to catch a cheaper flight from San Diego to visit Nina’s parents in the Southwest. Lee spent the whole time high in the back seat, reading and writing, while I tried unsuccessfully to flirt with Nina. We drove straight through, quite a few hours, and I must have been a little crazy to do it. I dropped them off at the airport and never told my parents.
By the ‘70s Lee was a fellow painter in New York and I visited her studio several times on the upper West Side. It was very funky, incrusted with paint as I remember it. We traded paintings and I really love the painting that I have. Sometimes we hang her painting over the lunch table in my studio and I have included it in a shows I’ve curated. The painting has really lasted well. It always looks exciting and fresh.
More recently, I visited Lee’s studio on the Lower East Side several times and sometimes we would go out to dinner. She would call and I would come over. A few times she also came to lunch in my studio and we would put up her painting so we could all see it at lunch. The last time I visited her studio was in 2009. Luckily on that visit I had a new cell phone and took images of her paintings and even snuck a few images of Lee. She didn’t want me to take her picture.
All fifty to a hundred paintings in her studio were made from two colors; the same orange (cadmium, I think) and the same blue (cerulean, I think). All the paintings consisted of circles of one of the colors on the other color – mostly orange on blue. Sometimes the circles were small, sometimes large; sometimes there were only a few circles in a painting and sometimes there were many circles.
Sometimes the circles were cropped by the edge of the painting and sometimes not. This all sounds a little crazy and certainly obsessive and I guess it was. But what was remarkable was something that I would have thought impossible. Each of the paintings was very different, very specific. Each had it’s own life, was fought for, and found in a way that only it could be found. Each painting was the record of a very different journey. There was no repetition. The clue that led me to see this was how her touch varied and was appropriate for what happened in each painting.
Lee was still very involved in each painting, still thinking about them all, and wanted to talk in specifics. Some paintings she especially liked and others she doubted. I loved them all because each was so “painted”. The more I look the more I didn’t understand how this could happen when each painting had so much in common with the others. Her talk of the distinctions and her favorites made me think about which were my favorites and my head started to swim. If I had to choose between them and take home just one or two to go with my other painting which would it be? Like Lee, I had favorites, but I became more and more confused. Then I decided that showing a large group of the paintings would be the best way to see them – even stacking them one on top of the other as well as hanging them on the wall – a room of paintings. I thought that if I were asked to curate a show and pick an artist I would invite Lee and show the paintings in this way. I don’t think Lee liked the idea at all, but she was polite and never told me that directly. To her, installing the paintings in this way would have prevented seeing each painting for its own qualities. She was probably right.
About a week before she died Lee called my studio to invite me over again. She had called before and I had put off going over and this time I didn’t return the call. She spoke to Rey Akdogan. Rey says that Lee was very cheerful during their conversation and very proud of her new paintings. I wish I had gone over. How had her paintings developed? I wish I had seen. They must be something really special.
photographs by David Reed from visit to Lee Sherry's studio in December 2009 featuring paintings by Lee.
and some Lee Sherry covers: