Friday, January 25, 2008

The Public Life (4)

Okay, I'm not feeling very public right now, have some kind of bug, but I thought I'd take a minute to note that the interview Bob Edwards did with me and Pablo about Poet in New York is available from audiophile (I was able to buy it and an interview Edwards did with David Lynch, this for Jesse who is a major Lynch fan, for a total of less than five dollars).

Publishers Weekly mentioned the interview today ( As Pablo noted to me in an e-mail, every little bit helps.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Public Life (3)

The Bob Edwards Show, in which he interviews me and Pablo about Poet in New York, airs tomorrow on XM. After that you can go to his website and it will be avaialble as a podcast.

The Public Life (2)

Tuesday was a strange and wonderful day. Two poems from Poet in New York were featured on Poetry Daily, Rigoberto Gonzalez wrote the most wonderful review on the Poetry Foundation's blog, and Elissa Schappell gave us these words in the new Vanity Fair (February) Hot Type column:"Poets Pablo Medina and Mark Statman re=translate Federico Garcia Lorca's Surrealist masterwork Poet in New York (Grove). Post 9/11 Lorca's lamentations on racism, violence and loneliness ring truer than ever."

I worked on four new poems and the semester started. How good can life be?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Public Life

Okay: an admission, I'm not a daily blogger. I don't seem to put photos on my blog. But I make no claims to be a daily blogger, a photo poster. So what do I claim? That when the urge comes to blog, I will blog. And here I am, after a slightly lazy early part of the day, reading the paper, thinking about the football Giants chances tomorrow, I got serious and worked on some new poems for most of the afternoon. Six to be exact. They all need a lot of work and I'm not sure how good they are. Three of them are for my anti-memoir, the other three are for, well, they are just there, to go into the file of poems 2007- which eventually will become something.

Most of my time this past week has been spent finalizing my two new courses for the spring. Spanish surrealism feels like it's in very good shape--I like the readings a lot and have begun to think seriously about what paintings from Miro, Dali, Picasso and Varo to focus on. I wasn't able to put these on the course syllabus but I will be able to give them to the students at some point early in the semester. I put the reader together (it only lacks Lorca's play El Publico/The Public which Lorca started while he was in New York and finished when he returned to Spain. It's his most surreal play and it's also one where he acknowledges his homosexuality (something he publicly begins to do in his writing in Poet in New York). As for my advanced poetry class, since the focus is on the long poem, we'll read three "short" long poems to start the semester, Eliot's The Waste Land, Ginsberg's Howl, and Notley's September's Book. The second half of the semester we'll read Eliot's Four Quartets, this the idea of the "long" long poem. Of course, the students will be writing their own long poems along the way.

Thursday and Friday were Poet in New York publicity days. Thursday Pablo and I did an hour long interview with Bob Edwards for The Bob Edwards Show which is on XM satellite radio. I'm not sure of the air date, but once it airs, if you don't have satellite radio you can hear it on the website or as a podcast. Pablo and I thought this went well--Edwards asked good questions, had a nice easy manner--felt quite relaxed as soon as we started and I'd been feeling very nervous before.

Friday we taped for the WNET (Channel 13 in New York) show New York Voices which will air February 12 (this is a date change from February 5 which is the day of the big primaries and so they wisely moved it). Once this airs, it goes into their archives so you can go to their website and see it. The shoot, I have to admit, was exhausting. It went on for three hours. Rafael Pi Roman, the interviewer (like Bob Edwards), really knew his stuff and he asked some very good, thought provoking questions. It's interesting how being interviewed is not like teaching (where one does most of the questioning). You don't know what's coming, have to think fast. Pablo and I walked out exhausted but feeling pretty good. The interview as another form of our collaboration.

Today Pablo left for Las Vegas, won't return to NY until AWP 30 January. Our book party is on the 31st. So far we've been getting some nice responses to the book (the Daily News did a small piece on the book for their Latino section --it mainly focuses on Pablo, which makes sense, given the section's audience). You can see this on-line at the Daily News website.

So that's a little bit of the life lately.

Go Giants!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

More Spanish Surrealism and a Celia Cruz poem

I think I'm getting a better sense of how this course will be put together. Start with some writings from Breton and Aragon, kind of a background of French surrealism, then go to a discussion of Spain in the 20's and 30's, from the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera in 1923, to the Republic in 1931, to the beginning of the Civil War in 1936. I'll introduce the Generation of 27 (the relationship with the Generation of 98) and the backdrop both of Madrid (Residencia de Estudiantes) and Barcelona. Then we'll start with the poets, a talk Lorca gave in NY and in Cuba in 1929/30 on Imagination, Inspiration, Evasion, then some poems from Poet in New York, Lorca's "Ode to Salvador Dali",followed by Alexandre, Guillen, and Alberti (I'm having trouble finding Cernuda in translation so I may offer these in the reader because I think there are some students registered for the class who speak Spanish). After that, we'll turn to the painters, with statements by Miro and Picasso (plus a Picasso poem) and a long section from The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, which we'll read while we look at their paintings. The next section of the course will deal with theater and film. We'll read Lorca's El Publico (The Public) and a partial text of Un Chien Andalou. We'll screen Un Chien Andalou and L'Age D'Or. After that, I hope we'll have enough time for each student to give a five-seven minute presentation of their final projects (this could take the last four classes of the semester).

At any rate, that's where I am in my thinking. It's taking up a ton of time to think about how to make all this material fit into the semester, but I think I'll manage.

A poem from Celia Cruz:


there’s no clear way to grow
not tall
nor old
nor along with the winter day
this street this afternoon
the sun is blinding
you turn the other way
to watch the walking shadows
walk with you
some teenage girls
in one beautiful voice
stand on a corner and sing
there’s no way here for me to take you home
separated out
their voices wouldn’t seem so
but together
energy and
the way words and meaning
don’t matter
just song
their laughter
what else do you want to hear?
it snowed this morning
the sky is blue
all day there were little things
dishes, clean-up, straighten up
slow down, baby, one girl sings
a sudden deeper solo
voice among their voices
you wonder
is there someone for her now
she’d sing slow down to?
she’s young and tall
steam surrounds her face
and her friends just watch her
swaying, swaying
slow down, baby
slow down

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Surrounding Myself With Spanish Surrealism

These last few days I've really been immersing myself in what seems to be a strange subject, Spanish Surrealism. Strange because there's a way in which it doesn't exactly exist, at least not in the way one would think of French Surrealism, which it is influenced strongly by. I've been thinking a lot about the poets (Lorca, Alexandre, Alberti, Guillen, Cernuda), the painters (primarily Dali and Miro, with some Picasso, although there's your tip-off that Spanish Surrealism is going to be something else), and Bunuel. I think the key in all this is the influence that Breton's manifesto of 1924 has on the Generation of 27, but that the Generation of 27, in being less interested in automatism, and also less interested in Marx than they are in Freud, can only take Breton so far. When Breton issues a new manifesto in 1929, which addresses the need for political engagement (which would make sense to the Spanish, given the growing tensions in Spain), Breton comes out for the communists (which alienates a lot of French surrealists, who suddenly are no longer included in the Surrealist world). But this creates problems too for the Spanish, who number the communists as only one of the many forces that support the Republic (the socialists, the anarchists,the democrats, etc). In addition, French Surrealism seems more of a response to WW I and to modernism, dada, etc. whereas for the Spanish, there's more a sense of trying to find a more unified (and modern) way of thinking about art, literature, etc. Thus the poets, for example, are drawing on the influences of the Generation of 98, of Gongora, etc. Lorca has his great surrealist moments in Poet in New York and there are isolated moments where we see this again (his ode to Dali for example). I think Blood Wedding links the lyrical, the dramatic and the surreal, but it certainly doesn't fit in with conventions (viz Breton of Surrealism). Lorca's idea with La Barraca was that he could create a theater that would serve to unify Spain. I don't think a unified France is Breton's project.

This all interests me because I'm teaching a course next semester on Spanish Surrealism and I'm realizing that it's much more complicated and interesting than I'd anticipated. Getting all the material together is exciting but taking up a lot of time. Which images to use? Which poems? I think with Bunuel I'm going with Un chien andalou and L'Age D'Or. Disturbing in all this is how few women there are to even be able to think about. Remedio Varos does some interesting work in Paris, some exquisite corpses, but few women surrealists emerge out of Spain (culture?).

On other fronts, New Year's was spent in a very home-like way. Jesse and I cooked dinner using his new wok--early in the day we made steamed dumplings, and for dinner we had a quick fried fish in a soy/ginger/white vinegar sauce that was quite good, along with sauteed chinese noodles with garlic and chinese sausage. We watched The Gay Divorcee and Shall We Dance and then at midnight there was champagne and confetti and then bed-time. Today was spent on a traditional lentil stew (ham hock and pigs feet) and lots of college football in the background, while I though some more about Spanish Surrealism. I think I've worked out the details on my Advanced Poetry class (more on this later) so the semester, which begins in three weeks is coming together. Teaching new courses is always fun but the first assembling of material I find a little daunting.

Happy New Year to all! Un abrazo fuerte!