April 23, 2003

Oh, K: Thirteen Ways of Looking at This Letter

Oh, K: Thirteen Ways of Looking at This Letter
by Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker

K crashes in, kicking keisters to Kingdom Come, then kneels and wheels away, a silent knight vanishing with a final wink.

K's klaxon sounds, calling an echo from CH.

Kafka kidnapped K and held it hostage for decades. Well, who wouldn't?

Stuck in the swastika, cloaked in khaki, here comes K the fascist, the Nazi. its hells click. Look at the saluting goosestepper in profile, the Ku Klux Klan on parade. Bully K seeks out hard Cs to replace, as in Amerika (Kafka co-opted). With a single flick, K ejects the Republic and erects the Reich.

Oh, K, can you C? No, not in English, anyway. Go talk to S.

K flickers, a visible incognito, a face card turning from Jack to Knave and back.

Awkward as a coat hanger, K elbows its way into the middle of the alphabet; then it turns its back on J (the nerve! and such a noble letter, too) to grab innocent L at arms' length to keep its distance from the frou-frou frivolity of tickle and fickle, tinkle and twinkle.

When K falls for kitsch, C better watch out, because here comes a cascade of kaka: kiddie korrals, koffee korners, karma kameleons, and even kuter (stop!) crap. Kitsch thinks there's a shortcut to wit, but Kundera’s got its number: "Kitsch is the absolute denial of shit."

You can still feel the tongue of K in knurl, and knuckles rubs the brain.

German fairly bristles with Ks, including weighty words like kunst and kopf. In the late Thirties Krupp, anticipating the demands the coming war would make on printing, set aside an entire division casting Ks for printers, typesetting machines, and new highway signage. ("I'm Karl, I work in Italics. And you?" "I think you're making this whole thing up.")

K bears the weight of kiss and kill, of key and kind,
joke, fuck, look and luck,
knots and knowledge, think and link,
quick and funk and quirk and quark.

K is so cool it shoulda been kool since day one.

Q pairs up with K lots of times, most often at opposite ends of a word, as they form brackets for an ever-changing stream of vowels and Cs, of Ns and Rs. Here they talk over that parade of letters, usually about their respective remorae, U and C:

Q: They say I'd sound like you if we got rid of that U. As if I don't anyway. But what about opaque? or plaque? Does she have to be around all the time?
K: I know. I often catch C yawning behind my back. See? he's got no work to do for back or crock or stack, after all; but they say dropping C would make the words ugly. Too stark.
Q: You do make a cute couple.
K: Quiet -- N will hear you.

Posted by Jerome at 10:35 PM

April 22, 2003

Palimpsest: A Secular Sermon

Palimpsest: a Secular Sermon
by Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker

You are the palimpsest of history.

Ancient, ancestral forms swim like deep fish beneath your skin, silverlucent whispers of genius, still young, still vital, still wise.

You are a dense collage of these stubborn forms, which were torn from nature, forged in pain, goaded by fear, and "soaked in blood thoroughly, and for a long time."

How many generations fell in fury and ignorance so that you might speak with that tongue? Time's enormous pressures hide in the rhythms of your walking, in the way your forehead ages.

Your eyes have seen ten thousand decades; these eyes that dream the algorithms back into sturdy hands. And nothing fits those hands like this world, where death bends your life's bow to make it useful.

Your face may be your father's mother's face, but your person is yours alone to make, because you've set all the categories on fire. Those are no mild Platonic forms inside you, my sister, my brother; you're not some little gnostic spark -- oh no . . .

Deep inside you'll find that the heart of your heart is a whirling fire of furious refusal to hurl against the Abyss, against the Void, against the Nothing.

You are an unrepeatable creature, an unbelievable boon barging in from the great beyond. Refusing to rest in mere potential, which was your nearly-certain fate, you bucked the incredible odds by a hair, and cashed in your imaginary number for flesh.

Nothing could predict you galumphing through from the drop edge of yonder.

Nobody could measure the power of the unstoppable Now surging through your veins.

And not even you knew what to make of that infinity machine between your ears.

Look at you! integrated convolutions of pied beauty, blooming and booming in the winding banyan branchings of the actual Tree of Life.

You are much more than virtual machines, you are the most luxurious limousines Life has used since Life Itself rose up above Nature like the golden dream of a sleeping panther -- and took off, after more Life, and even better Life, into olam l'chaim -- time without boundaries.

Mark my words, Life will dance on all Its graves.

And now you may be ready to stand up --
to be stand-up --
no longer crouching under the arched eyebrow of irony,
you may come forth to fear only no difference --
to seek your Actual Size --
to embody delight --
and to mark with honor the History that made us all.

Posted by Jerome at 10:30 PM

April 17, 2003

Lesley/Leslie Dill: A Ten Year Survey

Leslie Dill: A Ten-Year Survey
by Jerome du Bois

Beware the withering hand of Leslie Dill. This bodiless bearer of blight drifts through the rooms of her ten-year survey at SMOCA, leaching the life from leaves, mummifying human forms, trailing skeins of skinny unreadable words, and parching every work of juice, blood, and above all, color. Let no sunrise’ yellow noise interrupt this ground. It’s mostly tea-stained cloth, grey wire, paper the shade of cicada shells, and I never saw black look sooo thin. When her hand comes to rest on the farthest wall (Divide Light#1, 2000), it even manages to drain the pain from its own meticulous dismemberment. Humans don’t bleed thread.

Dill shows other ways to create pain -- piercing, slicing, stitching, flaying -- with the flatness of affect one expects from a sociopath. No screams to swallow here. Emily Dickinson, the twisted sister of Amherst whom Dill uses as her muse, harbored malevolent passions under her tight white bodice. She used every one of those sadistic tropes: “I like a look of agony, because I know it’s True.” But Dill dessicates them all. A Thought Went Up My Mind Today (1996), for example, with a woman’s back peeling open, is merely an empty envelope, an elementary-school body-outline project without the stuffing.

Visionary (1995) is a tall cloth photo-piece showing a plain middle-aged woman in a white dress looking calmly out at the viewer. Thin blue lines run down from her mouth. The quotation under her capitalizes THRILL, and SUMPTUOUS, and RAPTURE, and AMAZED, and RAVISHED HOLINESS. But these feelings must be bursting out somewhere else. Absent emotions pervade these rooms like little black holes.

Even after ten years of reading her and, presumably, about her, Dill continues the Hallmark-hooey, hothouse-swoony image of Dickinson. But thirteen years ago Camille Paglia, in the final chapter of Sexual Personae, wrote the definitive take on this “greatest of woman poets” and original kitchen-drawer sadomasochist. Has Dill never read this revision? I doubt it; Paglia’s least sentence blows away Dill’s “emotions between the emotions.”

This self-described devourer of books, this word-lover, would rather tear up and tangle the poet’s powerful phrases than lay them out clearly. (The soul has bandaged mo.) Black thread letters stitched on black cloth do not make for legibility. When they’re ink-stamped in dribbling blotches along the bottom borders of some pieces, they become the visual equivalent of low-talking. Strung out on necklaces, they twist and turn but please do not touch. And deciphering the words in the wire works is like picking gnat shit out of pepper. Why does she want me to work so hard to simply read?

This degraded typography seems knowing, market-savvy, maybe a legacy of graphic guru David Carson. Her work is crawling with his kind of corrosive obscurantist deconstructions. This isn’t telling it slant, this is dangling your pomo credentials in my face. The wall works have a calculated, carefully-wrinkled commercial appeal. I can see especially the big pseudo-Duane Michals photos diminished to postcards and shrink-wrapped with dried flowers and a little hand milagro.

Poem Eyes (1995) is kitschy Klimt and again way oversized, as though Dill has seen too many of Beverly Semmes’s scale-is-all works. The long trailing drapery is unnecessary, cheap drama, as the catalog cover and inside photo implicitly admit: they both crop the piece two-thirds of the way down. Double Poem Ghost (1995) also hangs high up on the wall so you can’t read the words painted on the bodies, but you can revel in the pale, thin drapery which falls to the floor. The catalog crops this piece, too. (But wouldn’t they make precious money holders?)

There are other tells showing Dill’s enervated shallowness. For example, she seems inspired by the limpest thing William Blake ever wrote, something anyone would say: “All are capable of having dreams and seeing visions.” Waow. The aphorist of fire! and she chooses this inanity. Then, she makes yet another wire dress (not in show) as an homage to Frida Kahlo, who would set fire to it with her eyes and burn this disingenuous insult to her daily torture. And Punch (1998), a wimpy fist’s kiss on a kisser, was made by a woman who has never been hit.

Oh, Leslie Dill’s survey is trendy, thin, parched work, and it’s made me thirsty. You’ve been patient with this debut rant, so on the way to the pub -- it’s on you -- let’s close with Solomon Burke singing a verse of “Diamond in Your Mind,” by Waits & Brennan, which neatly combines poetry, dismemberment, and the juices of life:

Old Zerelda Samuels said she almost never prayed
Since she lost her right arm --
Blown off in a Pinkerton raid.
Then they lashed her to a windmill
With ol’ Three-Fingered Dave.
Now she’s 102, drinkin’ mint juleps in the shade,


With her good, strong hand. Here’s to living.

UPDATE: I was informed that I was misspelling Ms. Dill's first name. But if one Googles Leslie and Lesley, behold: very similar information. It's confusing, and if my catalog had not been stolen by someone down at Phoenix New Times, I would even now know how Dill herself prefers to spell her first name.

Posted by Jerome at 08:27 PM