Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Travel Poem Revisited

On the Bus Through Tennessee, circa 1995

Two white-haired ladies up front ask each other
"What's your favorite Bible verse?"

A foreign man discovers he is going the wrong way towards Knoxville.
"Son, there are 5 Knoxvilles," the bus driver shouts.
We make an unscheduled stop to let the man out.
"And they wonder why we're late," the driver huffs.

"Trust in the Lord," answers one of the Bible ladies.

A woman wearing many rings on both hands
gets out her red lipstick, red as her red plaid muumuu.
"This little suitcase has been to Egypt," she tells the Bible ladies.

"Oh, you couldn't pay us to get on an airplane,"
the Bible ladies answer.

Out the window we pass small hills
of furrowed orange soil, shiny new trailer homes
and weathered wood buildings, their roofs as orange as the dirt.

We stop in some small town to refuel and watch
a crowd of beauty school girls with short, crimped hairdos
enter their place of instruction.
Haircuts half-priced! a faded sign proclaims.

Two college girls on the bus laugh at the beauty school girls
and talk about their favorite night clubs.
"We went to this techno-music place, "one says.
"You know, with real fast music, but my dumb sister
danced just the way she always does, snapping her fingers real slow.
I was so mad at her, we didn't stay there long. Why couldn't she
look around and see the way all the other people were dancing?"

A man boards, a bug-eyed man wearing snakeskin boots
with real snake heads sprouting out of the pointy toes.
He says something to the Bible ladies, but they ignore him.
They talk about how pretty the daffodils are,
out there along the highway.

Coming closer to Nashville, all the people below in their tiny cars
begin to look different, more glamorous and souped-up,
wearing fancy western wear, satin touring jackets,
bouffant hairdos and theatrical makeup, like they are
all candidates for the Country Music Hall of Fame.

"Woo-eee, Nashville!" a young soldier shouts,
and all the passengers look around at each other
and smile, roll their eyes, or sigh.

We are glad to get where we are going,
glad to pack up our lunch bags and magazines,
glad to leave this stuffy bus
and its weary assortment of ragged humanity behind,
glad to be hurrying towards people
we can tell stories to, stories about all the strangers on the bus,
so very glad to see people who know us and call us by name,
so glad not to be strangers anymore.

- Keddy Ann Outlaw

This week finds me without fresh words, so I dug out an old poem and dusted it off. Don't think I've been on an intercity bus since then.... Train travel appeals to me. Years ago, I went clear across Canada by train. And once I went by train with a group of friends from Houston to New Orleans - great fun. This winter, I'm digging in at home. I traveled to NY in December and that should hold me for awhile. They say it snowed in 49 of 50 states last week. We had one frost in Houston so far, and I'm hoping that was it for our winter. Wherever you are, hope you are staying warm and faring well.

photo by KAO: Winter Sky

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni

Remember when geodesic domes were cutting edge? You don't see or hear much about them anymore. Sebastian Prendergast lives in one. His grandmother took him in some eleven years ago when his parents died. Their dome on the outskirts of a small town in Iowa is a weekend tourist attraction, and Simon's job is to man the gift shop. Because his Nana is a die-hard devotee of R. Buckminster Fuller, Sebastian has learned plenty about the man and his philosophies. Indeed, Nana seems to expect Sebastian to follow in Fuller's genius and do something very big with his life on Spaceship Earth. Poor Sebastian doesn't get out much, which is not a natural condition for teenagers. Thus begins The House of Tomorrow (Amy Einhorn Books, 2010)by first novelist Peter Bognanni.

Sebastian gets booted out into the world when Nana gets a tad manic following a hospital stay. Bunking in with one of the families who recently visited the dome, Sebastian gets a taste of non-dome life, including various junk foods, punk music and church. He becomes buddies of sort with seventeen year-old Jared, a moody, sarcastic, chain-smoking heart transplant patient, and also develops his first crush on Jared's sister, Meredith. Jared presses Sebastian to take up the bass guitar. Together they form a hasty punk rock band they name The Rash. Hilarious!

Bognanni's writing is so tight, I can see this as a screenplay, something along the lines of What's Eating Gilbert Grape? Without being too obvious about it, the bone structure of this quirky novel's development follows the classic Hero's Journey blueprint. Sebastian slays many dragons and emerges on the brink of young adulthood. All the characters are well-developed. This is not just about teens, nor is it written for teens, although certain teens would surely enjoy it. The House of Tomorrow reaches across generations, displaying underlying human frailties and foibles in dark comedy. You don't have to like punk music to hear its rhythms and nod your head to its offbeat sounds. I might not have picked up this book were it not for my TLA Lariat duties. I'll be chuckling over it for months to come.....

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage @ the Menil Collection

I knew next to nothing of German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887 - 1948) but because a friend reminded me he was a collagist, I made sure I got over to the Menil Collection today, where the show Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage runs through January 30, 2011.

Largely abstract, using mostly found materials in collage and assemblage, in Schwitters' work I saw elements of expressionism, surrealism, Dadaism and cubism, to name but a few of his styles or influences. His collage work began around 1918, when he coined the term "Merz" to describe his style and or philosophy, meaning "to make connections, if possible, between everything in the world." (source: Menil Collection Kurt Schwitters brochure) I find this description incredibly delightful. I love collage because it seems to me to be a wild and vast, wide open picture frame where almost anything seems possible, where an artist is able to just about rearrange and remake the world. As in poetry, disparate metaphoric elements come together making what seems like magic happen. Schwitters is a pioneer of collage and assemblage, and today I learned that I much appreciate his aesthetic.

Schwitters' modern art was banned by the Nazis, and so the artist fled Germany in 1937, and he never lived there again. For the rest of his life he lived in Norway, Scotland and England. Recreated at the Menil is a portion of his Merzbau, a grotto-like construction he built in his home in Hanover starting around 1923. A walk-through sculpture/assemblage/installation, the Merzbau was a playful assortment of niches, arches, columns, planes and angles, serving not only as a studio but also as a gallery and gathering place. It was destroyed during World War II. I'm glad I got to see this reconstruction, which has never before been shown in the U.S. Because of its visionary playfulness, the Merzbau reminded me of the Houston Orange Show, a marvel I would like to revisit again soon.

The Menil show concludes with a few works by Twombly, Johns and Rauschenberg, just a few of the artists clearly influenced by Kurt Schwitters. Revolutionary and innovative, Schwitters also worked as a typographer and poet. For a thoughtful Wall Street Journal review ("Lost in Found Objects" by Richard B Woodward, January 5, 2011) of the Schwitters show at the Menil, click here.

image: MZ443 (?)/Untitled (kao) by Kurt Schwitters, 1922.