Box Gallery in Santa Fe

I first discovered BOX GALLERY when it was a warren of small rooms on Baca Street. That was when Baca Street was starting to “come up.” I loved Michelle, the curator/owner’s, taste. She had an eye for the small but dynamic, the little square or rectangle, abstract or figurative.
We used to call my mom, whose name is Frimi, “Frimi de Medici” because she likes to shop and patronize the arts. I got that from her. But without the budget of a Rockefeller, I couldn’t see how to buy. Then I discovered BOX. If I couldn’t have a floor to ceiling Frank Stella or a Rothko I could still have a real painting.
Michelle moved BOX a few years ago to the Railyard (which really has come up). Larger paintings now hang on her walls, but it is the small ones that still bring out the de Medici in me.
1611 Paseo De Peralta
Santa Fe, NM 87501-3728
(505) 989-4897

Kate Carr
Fabric Stack 4, 2009 / starched cotton / 5.5″ x 3″ x 3″
Fabric Stack 3, 2009 / starched cotton / 12.5″ x 3″ x 3″

Peter Voshefski
all acrylic on wood
Magic Tree / 2009 / 8″ x 6″
Mountains Can Be Spaceships / 2009 / 8.5″ x 10″

Live A Little

I wanted to like LIVE A LITTLE by Susan M. Love M.D. and Alice D.Domar Ph.D in part because it sports a chocolate covered strawberry on the cover. And the subtitle is “Breaking the Rules Won’t Break Your Health.” I’ve found Love to be helpful on menopause and an authority on breast cancer, but frankly these authors didn’t enlighten me on happiness. The premise of the book–that you don’t have to have perfect habits to be healthy enough–might relieve some readers of guilt. But I found it to be too much of a rehashing on the general, oft repeated, health advice for women, just with the addition of a moderate tone.
Particularly unappetizing is the approach towards sex. Each chapter has little quizzes (something I’m generally a fan of) but the most positive statement begins “My sex drive has changed over the years” which is hardly what I’d call live a little. So too the guidelines for medical testing seem overly pro-test–with yearly mammagrams suggested just at the time when these guidelines have been revised down.
Sometimes I wish I’d majored in the history of science in college. I love the way rational belief wars with culture and personal experience. I love that we’re motivated by things we just assume are real–really real–and not just temporary cultural assumptions. Health is one of those things, particularly for women, and for women as consumers of health. Is our health really our responsibility, as we’re told in article after article, or are our woes part of a public health demographic? At least LIVE A LITTLE doesn’t believe we can live forever by jogging and drinking bottled water. The book does debunk the myth that we need to drink eight glasses of water a day. (As well as the belief that we need eight hours of sleep) In fact, it does take a reasonable approach to health information. It just doesn’t go far enough beyond the strawberry.

3 Questions for Dana Levin

3 Questions for Dana Levin


1. What is you personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.

Line and stanza break actually interest me more than the line per se, though I do feel and teach a difference in affect between the long and short line. For instance, Ginsberg’s Howl just could not be as affecting, effective, if it were in little short lines: the poem’s urgency, its sense of claustrophobia and rage for release, depends on and is enacted by the rangy, bursting long line: a line so in desperate need of relief and liberation that it practically careens  off the page! 

So too, if you were to take an early WCW poem and write it as one or two long lines, it loses all impact, sense of “poem.” It becomes a fairly boring sentence. So often, these poems rely on short, heavily enjambed lines to evoke a sense of unfoldment-in-time, or deep noticing. 

I get excited about enjambment because of the drama it affords a poem. Line and stanza break go a long way towards signaling dramatic turn, emphasis. When Eliot says “Do I dare/disturb the universe” the white space following “dare’ is pregnant with hesitation, doubt, incipience. It’s an incredibly dramatic moment in the poem!

I also feel a close relationship between line-break and the pace of speaking. Not only in terms of breaking a line where a natural pause might occur in speech, but also to capture the sudden and intense moments that silence speech: confusion, shock, pain, epiphany, joy, grief–which brings us back to drama!

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?

Funny you should ask this as yesterday, while teaching an undergrad workshop, we were discussing the different effects enjambment might afford the poem at hand. I said, “I feel pacing in my body—I sort of dance with the lines of a poem—” and this is really true! Perhaps this has something to do with my general aversion to strict left-hand margin, long stanza, homogenously lined poems: can’t dance to it! Feels like marching.

And certainly my own ambivalence about being in a body has given me lots and lots of poems! Nothing like ambivalence for poetic fuel.

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

Professional jealousy, my own and others, while inevitable, is really a drag and so beside the point, especially in poetry’s little tiny world. So too the style-schisms: narrative vs. lyric vs. experimental vs. accessible vs. difficult vs. etc. I’m all for informed disagreement; it’s the knee-jerk nature of allegiance—even feeling one must pledge allegiance—to a poetic approach that feels destructive to me, especially as it prejudices younger poets’ reading lists. The older I get the more these arguments lose interest for me. It seems to me the tool-box for writing poems today is bigger and more varied than ever; should we not be reading widely, beyond our predilictions, to see how all the tools are being used? And what awesome, inventive, new-to-you poems such tools create?

When my friend GC Waldrep (a poet camping out on the experimentalist end of things) was recently asked in his own interview at Porter Square Books Blog, “Who is the most important poet not being read?” He answered: “By whom?” and went on to say:

“The saddest aspect of the various warring camps in contemporary American poetry is that even many poets are making a point not to read certain other poets, not to hear certain voices, certain songs. Years ago I was told, in all seriousness and with some heat, that I couldn’t like both W.H. Auden and Gertrude Stein. It wasn’t allowed. This is almost mind-bogglingly self-defeating, in terms of the possibilities that dwell in language.” 

I could not have said it better. Viva variance! 

Pure Land

of the autumn djinns–

His Consort, Golden-

You’d brushed by chamisa. A
honey-palaced air–

As if a smell
could be a place, musk-heavy and gold,
a glorious

Who could breathe in it.

Who got to breathe
in it

without a body, dimmed
of form–

Could the dead breathe,
scorched and bright,
in a sun come

to scour the skin from each waiting face,
snip the lid from each
sleepless eye–saying You

who’d wanted to feel
the true burn,
who’d wanted not meat

but light–

You must settle
with your deck of flesh–

an antique notion, I know.

This poem originally appeared in APR (July/Aug 2008). It will appear in my new book (my third), SKY BURIAL, due out from Copper Canyon in Spring 2011.

Some Observations from A Santa Fe Writer’s Spouse by Richard Feldman

Some Observations from a Santa Fe Writer’s Spouse–First in a Series

My wife, the proprietor of this blog, expressed an interest in having me contribute the occasional guest posting.  I’ve always thought that I could write well, but I’ve never pursued the craft beyond the opportunities provided by correspondence, my workplace, or outside professional activities.  I’ve fantasized its bringing me what I understand that other would-be writers fantasize that it will bring them–money, fame, and understanding and love from an audience that appreciates having their innermost thoughts and feelings articulated.

One of the major reasons I haven’t pursued my writing fantasies is the awareness that there are multitudes (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of other aspiring writers out there with similar dreams. Since I am interested in and try to respect the needs of others, however many degrees of separation between them and me, and since I’ve experienced life as being filled with plenty of satisfactions without having pursued writing for an audience, I’ve felt virtuous that by being reticent, I don’t add to the competition.

Since I moved to Santa Fe in 1996, I’ve come to feel surrounded by would-be writers. One of my former bosses (in a business that wasn’t particularly writing-focused) turned out to know my tax preparer because of having rented a cottage on her property for a year while he worked on a screenplay. Another boss has a novel in progress. One time I went to the dentist to discover that my hygienist had quit to be able to spend more time working on her screenplay (I’ve had a lot of problems with turnover among my Santa Fe dental and medical care providers, but that’s a separate topic).

Of course, Santa Fe is a place that has long been magnetic to aspiring creators.  I’m not sure which came first, all the part-time or seasonal jobs or the creative types who fill them.  My wife’s writing pal Renée has long supported her writing career by working at the New Mexico State Legislature, which, particularly during its brief legislative sessions (alternating 30- and 60- days beginning every January, supplemented by periodic even briefer sessions), provides extra income for the creative class in addition to other Santa Feans needing a short-term gig.  During the three years that I worked for Renée during session, I met a variety of self-identified writers and artists, of whom the most exotic perhaps were the santeros who appreciated the opportunity to pick up a little extra income working as bill clerks on the night shift.

But beyond those around me in workplaces and dentists’ chairs, Miriam and her community of writers-teacher-friends have provided me with years of opportunity both to observe firsthand and to hear countless tales about writers in their various habitats, dealing with their various creative and professional issues, displaying their various plumages (or outfits, as Miriam might say). Although the natural history of writers is not a field of knowledge with which I would have necessarily set out to become familiar, doing so has been entertaining enough.


Koan of Regret

I’ve been studying a koan with Zen teacher Joan Sutherland Roshi in her koan salon. It is the first koan in the Blue Cliff Record. A lot of things happen in this koan but the bit that claims my attention is when the Emperor fails to recognize Bodhidharma. Then he feels regret, in fact he feels it his whole life and has that regret engraved on his tomb.
      This part of the koan maddens me. First of all, isn’t compassion available to us moment by moment, and so how can the spirit of compassion be gone for good? Some of the traditional commentaries point to this.
      But mostly my problem is that I’m not big on regret. I don’t usually feel it. I might regret I didn’t buy land in Pagosa Springs when it was cheap, but that isn’t the kind of regret in the koan.
My friend Natalie is friendly with regret. She waxed poetic: “I regret I do not live in Cleveland.” She was showing off, that she could feel regret–that soft nostalgic emotion–for anything.
      My lack of regret is how I experience fate. Heraclitus said: character is man’s daimon. I feel not only that what is done is done (and therefor true) but that fate is what I seek, have even made.
      Bodhidarma crossed the river in the dark. Maybe I just don’t want to see that things are always coming and going, like the two lanes of traffic, upper and lower, glittering  at the bottom of the George Washington Bruidge, the beautiful suspension bridge of my childhood, on a winter’s evening.

For more information on
Joan Sutherland Roshi

Thinking About: James Baldwin

James Baldwin was born in Harlem, a simple fact, but one with far from simple impact on his character, destiny, and art. Baldwin was born in 1924 in Harlem Hospital His mother was Emma Berdis Jones, part of the African American migration from the south and away from segregation laws and the threat of the Klan. Baldwin never knew who his father was, and was raised by an often abusive step-father, David Baldwin. Harlem, with all of its conflicts, ambiguities, and social levels gave birth not to just James Baldwin the man but to Baldwin the writer. Even though he left as a young adult, never to permanently return, Baldwin’s formative experiences were those he would mine forever as a writer.
Herb Boyd’s biography of James Baldwin, Baldwin’s Harlem, makes this influence clear in all its details. Published by Atria Books, the biography chronicles Baldwin’s early years on hard streets made harder by the Depression. But Harlem also had tremendous cultural vibrancy. Although the literary movement dubbed the Harlem Renaissance had waned, important figures from it such as Langston Hughes still remained. Countee Cullen, a poet from the Harlem Renaissance, was actiually Baldwin’s teacher in junior high school. Theater, music, and politics still filled the air. And Baldwin observed, looking back from 1980: “The poverty of my childhood differed from the poverty of today in that the TV set was not sitting in front of our faces, forcing us to make unbearable comparisons between the room we were sitting in and the rooms we were watching, neither were we endlessly being told what to wear and drink and buy. We knew that we were poor, but then, everybody around us was poor.”
If the threat of the south was the Klu Klux Klan, then police brutality presented an analagous threat in Harlem. And class distinctions also flourished. While Langston Hughes, who had moved to Harlem, praised it Baldwin felt a resentment against the black middle class, and there was often tension between West Indian immigrants and the native born. In terms of class, Baldwin observed “There were two Harlems. Those who lived in Sugar Hill (the famous black middle class neighborhood) and there was the Hollow, where we lived. There was a great divide between the black people on the hill and us. I was just a ragged, funny black shoeshine boy and I was afraid of the people on the Hill, who, for their part, didn’t want to have anything to do with me.”
A commitment to his family and younger siblings kept Baldwin from totally leaving Harlem, but he moved to Greenwich Village as soon as he could as a young man, propelled by a need to get away–both as a writer and as a homosexual. Indeed, Baldwin soon became a permanent ex-patriot, first leaving for Europe in 1948. And while he was frequently ambivalent about Harlem, in particular condemning its ugliness and housing projects, the true love urban of his life was Paris, which he always characterized in glowing terms.Yet he never lost touch with American political movements, supporting the fight for Civil Rights, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers.
Baldwin of course is best known as a writer, the author of Go Tell It On The Mountain and If Beale Street Could Talk. However, the portrait of Baldwin that emerges in Boyd’s biography is a highly complex one, not just that of a prominent black writer in America bent on expressing personal and political experience. Indeed, Baldwin’s relationship with other black writers began, and remained, highly conflictual. He attacked pioneering–and famous–novelist Richard Wright by comparing him to Harriet Beecher Stowe, and calling them both propagandists. He feuded with Langston Hughes, and never credited Countee Cullen with much influence. In a way, Baldwin as a writer exemplified what critic Harold Bloom called “the anxiety of influence”–a desire to be seen on his own and as a self-made artist.
Herb Boyd doesn’t shy away from controversy in Baldwin’s Harlem. There is an entire chapter devoted to “The Jewish Question” which examines Baldwin’s relationships to individual Jews, and to the anti-Semitism he was accused of. However, this chapter asks as many questions as it answers, and in general Baldwin could be seen as conflicted on the subject, as he was on others. Even his relationship with Malcolm X, who he often revered, could be described as ambivalent. However, perhaps too much of the book is spent on detailing all of Baldwin’s literary feuds, some of whose interest has been dimmed by time.
Although conflict characterizes Baldwin as both man and writer, that conflict was also a source of creativity. Ralph Ellison, the revered author of Invisible Man roundly criticized Baldwin for his political involvement, saying “This is a great mistake you’re making, getting involved in the civil rights movement. The artist must maintain a certain esthetic distance.” But this was not James Baldwin, and his art did not suffer, and certainly nor did his conscience. Also, Baldwin knew when to be true to himself. His novel, Giovanni’s Room, is about a tragic gay love affair, and has no major black characters in it. Rather than being his ruination, as predicted, the novel is considered by many to be among his finest works.
Boyd is at his best at the center of his subject, what he calls “Harlem, Real and Imagined.” He writes: “To a great degree, Harlem tended to be just another character for Baldwin, he treated it with the same brush of contradiction he used on his other subjects. For the most part, though, Harlem was typecast as the lowlife harlot, consistently present in his non-fiction and only occasionally beautified in his fiction.” PAGE 125 In his introduction to the book, Boyd writes: “The Baldwin I have discovered through interviews, with friends and relatives, and his essays and novels is as complex and indefinable as I expected.” In the final analysis, it is not only Harlem which is a place of contradiction, it is Baldwin himself. And Harlem remains both a prison Baldwin escaped and a muse he always carried within him.

David Nakabayashi’s Little Oceans

David Nakabayashi
Little Oceans (#’s 12,13, 1,2, 6, 7)
all 2009, oil on wood / 5.5″ x 5.5″
These can be found at Box Gallery, on Paseo de Peralata, across from Site Santa Fe. (Except for the two I bought!)
1611 Paseo De Peralta
Santa Fe, NM 87501-3728
(505) 989-4897

two small paintings
of waves
sit in the nicho

I watch
the surf

white cap
blue green
changeable sky

in a place
meant for saints
I’ve placed water

and by extension
this bed’s
a beach

and when we woke up
this morning
I felt the sand on my back

Click images to view larger!


There is a beach

sea pale green to navy to agua
pink or pale beige sand

there you are
setting two plastic beach chairs
in the waves

there you are
carrying our daughter
on your shoulders

now you are gone

there is a beach

there are two figures
in the waves

they might be us
or in a snapshot from the fifties
someone’s mother and father

now you are gone

it is 8 o’clock
I am reading a book
I am on page 14

it is 8:15
I am on page 36

I miss page 14
where the heroine
peeled an orange
in the dayroom

although page 36
is also pleasant
it has a train
and a sense of regret

the hands
of the clock move
and my hands
turn the pages
of the book
until the heroine
walks along the beach

the sea pale green to navy to aqua
the shore pebbly

you’re gone