Archive for January, 2009

Ballets Russes

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Mood: in-between | Drinking: tea

ballet

For my birthday last fall, my friend K gave me a documentary called Ballets Russes.

I have been a big fan of ballet since I was a wee small thing and my mother took me to see The Nutcracker one holiday.

Unfortunately for my ballet ambitions, I am tall, curvy, and clumsy — and nothing close to flexible, so dancing sur les pointes was not in the cards for me. But I have always harboured a special fondness for dancers that is likely, if I’m being honest, backlit by the green light of jealousy.

Dance in general and ballet in particular is an art form that never fails to amaze me. Perhaps I love it even more because I have no talent for it.

So I knew I was in for a treat when I sat down to watch Ballets Russes, the story of Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Original Ballet Russe.

It’s a brilliant documentary, if you’re at all a fance of dance — or of adorable, elderly Russians. I was especially taken with Nathalie Krassovska, one of the founding members — and prima ballerina — of the Ballets de Monte Carlo.

In the documentary, Ms. Krassovska, then in her 80s, dyed black hair coiled atop her head, dons a leotard and swirls about a studio, attempting to recreate the grace of her youth. Something about that moment struck me, made me think about how fleeting beauty is, and how we are in our primes for such a blink of an eye.

It reminded me of one of the last things my grandmother said to me, the day she died, as she struggled to catch her breath walking to the car. She looked up at me with a twisted smile, faded eyes still flashing, and shook her head, “Whatever you do,” she said, “don’t get old!”

“Too late, Nana.” I replied. And I wasn’t really joking.

Of course, this all brings us down to a poem that I wrote, inspired by Ballets Russes and Nathalie Krassovska in particular, but also by my own grandmothers…

Ballets Russes

In monochrome film she is sylph-like,
an ingénue sur les pointes in the footlights,
a fairytale spun across the stage.

Effortlessly she holds her audience.
They time their breaths to each fouetté,
gasp as one with each grand jeté, and
when she pauses, mid-arabesque,
and smiles,
they shriek
they swoon
they die.

Add technicolor and seventy years,
and she is no longer Balanchine’s baby ballerina,
her limbs weighed down with age, unnaturally
bowed with arthritis. In her hair, chemicals
mimic the color of youth, as her violent red lipstick
bleeds into the lines that whisker her mouth.

The mirror behind the barre
reflects her decline, yet she points her toes still,
attempting elegance in orthopedic insoles,
gnarled fingers striving for grace
but falling far short of grand pose.

Then the music begins
and she closes her eyes,
disappearing once more
into sublime black and white.

-Lo, who gets older every passing second.

Inaugural

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Mood: Ebullient | Drinking: Waiting

wash_monument

I shot my mouth off a lot on Tuesday.

Giddy with the dawning of a new era, I got all sassy on facebook and talked smack about inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander.

I really have nothing against the woman herself. I just felt her poem to be middling-to-average, and her delivery of said poem was awful.

Perhaps I took it a bit too personally because I was so excited to have a contemporary poet standing up there on that bright stage, in full view of the entire world. I cheered when she appeared and was all full of goodwill and go get ’em, girl.

And then she spoke, and I was a bit deflated.

Granted, whoever planned the order of the ceremony did her no favors by placing her after all the big hoopla, and so the crowds, whose toes were probably a bit frozen by then, couldn’t be bothered to sit through a poem when the big moment had already transpired.

If she had been placed right after the invocation, she probably would have fared a bit better.

Someone also brought up the point about nerves given the huge crowd, the national stage, etcetera, but let me say this: I have performed in front of tiny rooms and huge auditoriums and outdoor concerts full of raucous teenagers and I would take the hundreds of thousands of faces any day over a small, intimate gathering. Big crowds are cake.

No, I’ve never performed in front of all the living Presidents of the United States, with Oprah in the front row and CNN cameras staring me down, but I’m quite confident I could have pulled out a better reading than Ms. Alexander.

So that’s what I said, more or less, on facebook on Tuesday. And then somebody called me out, challenged me to put my pen where my mouth was and write something myself, since I was so dissatisfied with the poem in question.

And that’s what I’ve spent the last 2 days doing. I’m sure inaugural poets get more than 2 days to craft their work, but I’m not really trying to one-up anyone. Not really. It just became important, sunddenly, to put my finger on what exactly it was I wanted to say about January 20, 2009.

As I started writing, I found that my focus was very simple. It was all about hope. So I wrote about the steadily burning hope I felt on that day, and the hope I’m sure so many others felt as we watched it all unfold.

I borrowed a few words from Nietzsche, from Dr. King, and from President Obama himself. And although I’m sure my chances of being invited to read at such a historical event are quite slim, if I were, this is a poem I would not be embarrassed to read there…

Harbinger

Hope does not automatically spring eternal.
It must first be ignited and after that, fueled.

Constantly it must be sheltered,
lest it be crushed
by the brutal jackboot of prejudice

or wither into obscurity beneath the negligent gaze
of the well-intentioned ignorant.

If hope is indeed the “worst of evils,”
prolonging the torments of the living,
it is also, by necessity, the best of pleasures,
making the work of living worthwhile.

While we breathe, we hope,
for without,
breath blows in vain
heart beats only out of habit
and all of it ceases to mean anything lovely.

It has to begin somewhere, so why not here
this winter morning, under limitless frigid sky,
why not here where we have gathered together
so when the books are written, we can say
we were there.

Why not here where we wait, guardians of the day,
assuring one another by our presence
that this hour has really come.
This moment is really ours.

Take the hope from its hiding place
deep in your chest
and pass this warm light
from hand to hand
quickly
carefully.

Watch as faces
begin to share a telltale glow
and a path appears
where once there loomed an impenetrable wall.

Once, a man had a dream.
Today another man stands
and raises his hand
as evidence of things hoped for,
the embodiment of things not seen.

While there is hope, all is not lost.
While there is hope, courage can be found.
While there is hope, there is momentum,
the sudden possibility of change,
the eternal probability of joy.

Give us a reason to believe and
we will hew from the mountain of despair
a stone of hope.

And with that stone
we will bring down giants.

-Lo, who finds that it always comes back to the knife edge of hope.

Just a Little Taste

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

Mood: Dabbling | Drinking: Soon

nibble

A bit of poetry housekeeping, if you don’t mind.

I’ve been neglecting to mention that I have two poems floating out and about in the world of print, and now seems as good a time as any to mention them.

Last fall, Donna Marbach published an anthology of poems about women called Remembering Faces, and I have one poem in between those pages, “Little Sister”.

Donna is on the east coast, so you’ll probably have better luck finding the book there — if you want to hunt it down, contact Donna through her Palettes & Quills website.

A more recent publication came off the presses just this month — the latest (4th) issue of Nibble, a poetry magazine published here in the Bay Area by Jeff Fleming.

My poem “Farm Cat” is featured in that publication, along with a great many other fabulous (and short!) poems. To get your own copy or find out more about the magazine, visit the Nibble website.

And last but not least in this newsy little update: I am no longer languishing in the land of the unemployed. I am, as of last Monday, once again writing for the man. Which means my sushi habit and shoe shopping sprees are no longer endangered. Huzzah!

More to come later… I believe I’m going to be posting a new poem shortly, as soon as I run it through my writing group one more time, and I’m already working on a new cinépoem for “Bright Neon Love.”

No rest for the wicked. Or the Type A’s.

-Lo, doing that thing she does.

Applique Something Shiny

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

Mood: Endless | Drinking: Tea

car_lex

Oh. My. God.

I have been waiting sooooooo long to show you this cinépoem and at (very) long last, it’s finished!

Homeland Security is up on the cinépoems page and also on YouTube.

We shot it in Santa Cruz, CA in August with two gorgeous ladies, Carly & Lex, and a couple of masks. The poem (which is included in The Secrets of Falling) is a very dual-natured sort of beast, as you’ll hear, and so is the cinépoem. Michelle & I are really happy with how it all turned out.

Big ups, too, to our fine composer, Aaron Purvis. He created a delightful soundtrack that fits perfectly with the mood of this little poem, and I can’t thank him enough.

So go. Enjoy our new little story

Lo, with Elmer’s edible paste.

Bernal Reading

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

Mood: Industrious | Drinking: Sweet Tea

berrygood

Starting the new year off with poetry and a berry photo. Just because I can.

On January 17th, I’ll be reading a few poems as part of the Bernal Yoga Literary Series in San Francisco.

Each reading is followed by a reception, and there is a suggested donation of $5 to $10 to cover expenses.

The Winter Series on January 17th will feature poets Roxane Beth Johnson and Brian Teare, novelist Suzanne Rivecca, and several local writers and poets including myself.

I will be reading three poems: two new ones and one from my book The Secrets of Falling.

You can find more information about the Literary Series here.

Hope to see you all there!

-Lo, finding new words for the New Year.