Saturday, November 24, 2007

During my last few days in Barcelona, I took advantage of my metro day pass and my articket to visit several tourist sites and museums in town. Usually I stay as far away as possible from tourist sites, but I had visited the Sagrada Familia in 1998 when it was still covered in construction cloth and wanted to see what had been done with the Cathedral in the past nine years. The one really amazing thing about El Bruc was the Montserrat mountain range and surrounding landscape, which really revealed Gaudi's influences.

The Sagrada Familia in and of itself is quite an architectural feat. Replete with multiple styles enveloped into the nooks and crannies of the Basilica, the towers and all the adjoining Cathedral structures. I also went up to Parc Guell in the northern part of the city and walked up high above Barcelona. From where I stood I could look out over the entire city all the way to the Mediterranean sea.
Parc Guell is really beautiful. The trails are lined with cactus and palms, cedar pines and local trees I'm not familiar with. And entering from the Infinite Staircase on the western end of the park, I walked through and arrived in Parc Guell from the back. Gaudi's mosaic architecture, the colors and the green just make this a really fun park to visit and to be in. Just spending time there made my exit from Spain really, really wonderful.

On my penultimate day I made a point of visiting Barcelona's Jewish Quarter, or what used to be known as the Call (it still is). It's the site of Spain's oldest synagogue, dating back to the 3rd century of the Christian Era. What remains are ruins - the walls, the doorway, the windows...and dye baths from when it was turned into a "tinteria" (dye factory) after its destruction in the 14th century, when a massacre wiped out a large portion of the Jewish Quarter. Anyway, I went to visit the Quarter to try and get an understanding of the emotional weight, and physical appearance of where Jews were living prior to the Inquisition. What must it have been like?

Well, I know what it was like when I went. A very charming man (I didn't get his name) informed me that the donation would cover a tour of the synagogue. So, I gave him my 2 Euros, and he pulled back the curtain to reveal... the synagogue! Complete with chairs covered in plush red seating for the (apparent) services. Enough for a minyan, of course (that's 10 people). He spun in place to the right and showed me the dye baths, spun in place to the left and showed me the ancient walls. Informed me of the history of the Torah and then left me to my own devices.
It was great. And I could imagine the synagogue packed with people on Fridays and Saturdays...and for bar mitzvah's. It was sweet. And I also sensed this combination of vigilance and a knowing....the knowing that comes when your people have been living somewhere for a long time; the vigilance from histories of persecution.

That same day I went to the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB)'s show on Apartheid. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Amazing exhibit. Similar to my MACBA experience, the curators of this exhibit created a multi media space that engaged the historical, scientific, artistic and political dynamics and contexts of Apartheid in South Africa. The show specifically discussed the development of the concept of race and racism, originating in African colonial contexts and extending to the Holocaust. For example, the "African Village" zoos that were so popular in the 1920s and 1930s throughout Europe (not to mention the Worlds Fairs), and specifically the proliferation of the Venus Hottentot imagery. The exhibit also included references to U.S. racism, the Holocaust and the U.S. Black Power movements. Two of my favorite quotes from the sections detailing South African resistance to Apartheid:

"Strijdom, you have tampered with the women. You have struck a rock, you will be crushed."
by Lilian Ngoyi when she and Helen Joseph led 20,000 women in a protest against the amplification of the national identity pass system (August 9, 1956)

"Africa my beginning and Africa my end...they lay their sponges over the soil and soaked the resources to fill their coffers..."
by Poet Ingoapele Mandingoane in an underground gathering in the Miholti Black Theatre, Soweto, 1978

And this image, titled "The People Shall Govern" (photo by Eli Weinberg, from the Robben Island Mayibuye Archives) stopped me in my tracks for a good minute:

As an artist, Spain revealed its weighted history to me. I loved Barcelona, and was fortunate enough to be hosted by wonderful friends. I also came to understand the importance of specific criteria for creating new work. Not all residencies are the same, and Can Serrat, while very jovial, is a good place for people who work well with lots of distractions. Who can focus in the middle of a storm. The visual artist studio spaces are also fantastic.

I'm glad to be back in the Americas, though I look forward to future trips over the Atlantic. Always a powerful experience, though the flight is the same as if I was going from New York to Califorina. Something about crossing water, though, always strikes me. Always.

Friday, November 09, 2007

So yesterday I left the shelter of the mountains of El Bruc and headed into Barcelona - the great city of Catalunya. Those who know me might be shocked by the fact of my having left a residency space to enter a big city with all of its distractions. Well, I needed some envelopes and the local papeleria "La Vanguardia" doesn't have any right now. So, I headed into Barcelona. While I was there, I visited MACBA - the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona - to check them out. That in and of itself made the trip in worth it. Next time I'm in the city, which will probably be when I leave, I might go back and I'll definitely be checking out the Centro Cultural Contemporani de Barcelona - which is right next door.

So what was so great about the MACBA? Well, I happen to love the tail end of the modern/formalist arts movements. They had an exhibit titled: Sota la bomba. El jazz de la guerra d'imatges transatlantica. 1946-1956 which can be translated as "Dropping the bomb. The jazz of War, Transatlantic images from 1946-1956". It was a brilliantly curated exhibit which took full advantage of the MACBA's architectural layout - a maze of rooms with walls that open out to the building's glass visage where you can catch glimpses of the brilliantly graffitied walls of the church on one side, and the crumbling walls of another church-turned-gallery along a large plaza on the other. And the exhibit itself featured works of French, Eastern European, U.S., and Spanish artists from the post WWII period, with an emphasis on French-U.S. artists. Sure there was a lot of Jackson Pollock, who I cannot stand as an artist or historical persona, but there was also a great deal of work by Antoni Tapies, and Franz Kline and Mark Rothko and William de Koonig. The paintings were accompanied by video - not just artistic videos but movies and films (like Hitchcock's Rear Window) - and by historical texts, newspapers, journals and the materia prima of cultural production from the times. All aspects of cultural life were explored, and interrogated. It was fascinating.

Right next door, as if it wasn't enough to stand in front of Kandinsky's "Ascension Legere" for 15 minutes (which it wasn't), was an exhibit on Joan Jonas' work. Quite out there. Incredibly self indulgent and typical of that early 70s performance art aesthetic (yes, okay, DEFINING), BUT the video pieces were fascinating. I sat and watched them, amidst the performance debris, for a long time. Trying to capture all of the distinct visual layers simultaneously occupying two and three dimensional space.

So, though I was really, really glad to come back to El Bruc at the end of the day and lay my head down in the comfort of a warm bed amidst the quiet of the mountains, I'm glad I went in for my envelopes and art. I also walked and saw a couple of Gaudi's buildings. Eeh. Interesting, but I saw a ton of his work when I was in Barcelona in 1998. So, it doesn't move me in the same way anymore. Though it's definitely beautiful and definitely interesting. Just not Kandinsky.

Anyway, I'm off to try and find a form in which to write some poetry.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Yay! UC Irvine's Department of Spanish and Portuguese announced it's 2007 33rd Chicano/Latino Literary Prize winner in the genre of Novel. I received Third Prize for the unpublished manuscript, Anacaona's Daughter, and the other winners were:

Silvio Sirias – Meet Me Under the Ceiba (First Prize) and Gary Winters - The Deer Dancer (Second Prize).

Congratulations to the other winners. I am very honored to be a prize winner in the 33rd year. Thank you to the Prize committee and the judge, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith.

Hell yeah. If you're in NYC on November 8, check it out:

Thursday, November 8, 7PM

Cosponsored by Poets & Writers

Wouldn't quit the day job--but you love poetry nevertheless. A panel discussion with Alice Quinn, (Poetry Society of America/The New Yorker), Deborah Garrison (poet/Alfred A. Knopf editor), and Joseph Legaspi (poet/Kundiman codirector), moderated by Quang Bao on getting your poems and manuscripts edited and published.

A frank conversation about creating a life as a poet, including residencies, mentoring, anthology projects, self-publishing, MFA programs, teaching and public readings. A conversation about the mechanics of getting published--and expert, friendly advice about maintaining a life in the professional world of poetry.

@ The Workshop
16 West 32nd Street, 10th Floor
(btwn Broadway & 5th Avenue)
New York City

$5 suggested donation

Call 212.494.0061 for more information or check http://www.aaww. org

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

An interview with A. Van Jordan in The American Prospect, November 2, 2007. An excerpt from: Where Physics, Poetry, and Politics Collide.

Clark: With Quantum Lyrics as your third poetry collection, how has the cross-cultural, cross-racial communication evolved? Any surprises?

Jordan: If physics had a Race Theory, my hypothesis would be that we have more to fight for together than we have reasons for which to fight each other. The older I get, the more I see the proof. It's always been there. Any strides made in civil rights came from a joint effort between blacks and whites, men and women, straight and gay. Einstein embodies this theory. Who would think that a Jewish immigrant from Germany and Switzerland would be a champion of civil rights in America before World War II? Einstein had great foresight in this way.

He gave up his German citizenship as a teenager before World War I. Adults living in Germany during World War II couldn't see the horrors ahead, but he intuited it. I think he saw the same conflict coming in America with the '60s, which he never witnessed. It's one thing to think of how prescient Richard Wright was with Native Son and Black Boy before the '60s, but he felt the sting of racism his whole life as a black male living in Jim Crow, pre-Civil Rights, pre-Brown v. Board of Education America. Einstein had a very comfortable position as a Princeton professor and international acclaim and respect as a genius. He didn't have to have the empathy that he expressed. It's as preternatural a gift as his insight into relativity.

Clark: In "Quantum Lyrics Montage," you note the controversy over the paper in which the equation E=MC2 first appeared. The lead-in reads, "... in a Russian publication, both (Mileva) Maric and Einstein's names appear; in subsequent printings, only Einstein's." What do you think about poetry's role in collective memory, of drawing out voices that were erased through sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination?

Jordan: I think those voices are beating hearts beneath the floorboards. They clearly exist, but many want -- and, more accurately, really hope -- that they will just go away. Poetry has a long tradition of chronicling the history and culture of society. In this way, I suppose these voices are working in this tradition.

Clark: Also in "Quantum Lyrics Montage," we see Einstein at a forum held by Philip Lenard, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who denounces "Jewish physics." How is that dangerous mix of intolerance and science present today? Who, like Einstein, might be able to say: "Let them taunt; my mind is taut"?

Jordan: Unless he runs for public office again, I think Al Gore will be able to quote that line. Like most great leaders, I think he's most effective when he isn't beholden to a political party but dedicated to a cause. I read his book The Earth in Balance long before An Inconvenient Truth, and it's clear that Gore is a futurist. He can forecast what needs to happen long before the need is evident to others; that's a sign of genius, as I see it.

Wynton Marsalis will be able to make this claim because he understands the importance of keeping tradition alive, while pushing to extend the boundaries of it. I hear a lot of criticism of the Lincoln Jazz Orchestra and of Marsalis as an ambassador for jazz. The truth is, jazz would become an art form held sacred in Japan and Europe more than America if it weren't for the work he's doing. It is our national music. Period. It's for America what classical music is to Europe. By keeping a finger on the pulse of its tradition, we never lose its direction. Blood on the Fields is one of the most underrated jazz albums of all time.

Spike Lee and John Sayles would round out my top four. Both of these filmmakers allow for a discussion of race in their films that most Americans are afraid to have in their communities, classrooms and churches. Their work is cathartic for the entire nation: those who dare watch them in the dark, those fortunate enough to have a theater in their community showing their films. There's a near pathologic fascination with the horror sub-genre of slasher films, which is as feebly plotted as a porn film for gratuitous misogyny. The slasher film and the hyper-violent, Tarantino-esque films are packing theaters, but despite the important films both of these filmmakers have made, I don't think they have a blockbuster between the two of them. If Lee and Sayles had the following of James Cameron or Steven Spielberg, the country would have a more truthful conversation about race, which is still a source of tension as we can see by the Jena 6.

Clark: Have you written poetry about the Jena 6?

Jordan: : No, I want to, though. I need space between these events to write about them. I'd need to talk to people from there, too, people involved. I don't write poems about events like these and simply imagine the voices; I approximate the emotion as much as possible when the primary source is unavailable. In this case, the people are alive and vocal. So, I'd have to ask why I would write a poem about it, first. That's a heavy responsibility. What can I say in a poem that they can't say themselves better. At that point, the poem would have to transcend that daily conversation and live up to my definition of poetry: the highest form of communication. For that to happen, though, I'd need time to digest this phenomenon of Jena and the varied responses to it. I'd want to get it right. My mother went to that school, so I'd probably start by interviewing her and move forward through time.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

I'm at Can Serrat in El Bruc, 40 minutes north of Barcelona, Spain. El Bruc, and the artist residency is at the base of the Montserrat mountains and monastery. The air is crisp, cool and Mediterranean. Cold at night. Looking at Montserrat, Y.C. and I observed that Gaudi's work makes complete and total sense. That in essence, it's in conversation with the landscape here. The mountain seems to have flutes of rock plunging up from the earth. In the late afternoons, it's coppery - a shift from the cool green snakeskin color it has in the mornings.

I'm here to work on a novel and some poetry. On the way over from Austin, I stopped in New York City and did some things. I had a wonderful time giving several workshops - two at the Little Red School House and one for the Living Out Loud! series - at Washington Irving High. It was fun. The young artists and thinkers were inspiring as usual.

I also got to check out the Caribbean Art Show (Infinite Island: Contemporary Caribbean Art) at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. That was really wonderful and fascinating. Some of the themes of the show were transnationalism/globalization and identity; religion and spirituality; pop culture. I think my favorite pieces were: Raquel Paiewonsky (b. Dominican Republic 1969). Levitando: A un solo pie (Levitating: On One Foot), 2003; Christopher Cozier (b. Trinidad 1959). Tropical Night, 2006; Kawtchou, by Maxence Denis; and a piece about Bronx Boricua gangs in the 1970s (I have to look up the artist and content so later on details). And what was most fascinating was that the show was having a conversation with the Caribbean Biennials of the past few years - one I saw in Santo Domingo and others that I've seen catalogues for. There is something really deep happening in the Carib sea waters.

It was certainly a lift from seeing the exhibit: Eternal Ancestors - The Art of the Central African Reliquary exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That was such a disturbing exhibit that I've decided I'm going to dedicate an entire blog page to discussing it. So, not now, but later.

Anyway, I'm off to read for a bit. To get inspired to work tomorrow.