B. came to visit earlier in the month, and on Saturday, January 7, we went to a place called Lincoln Road, which is where all the wealthy people bring their dogs to rub shoulders, eat, stare at incredibly dressed people, and shop at high-end chain stores. B. treated me to dinner at Balans, a delicious Italian restaurant. We got to watch people wander up and down the street while we ate and had stimulating conversations about poetry. I love watching people interact. I love streets where the most beautiful strangeties (yes, I made up a word. Word) occur. For example, we saw this lady, and had to stop and watch her move like a graceful robot, with all the fluidity of an artist:
Daniela Viotti, Living Statue Artist
After a bit of research, I found this article. Cesar Lopez Claro was one of the artists for whom she modeled. Apparently, he was a close friend of Diego Rivera. Here is the story of her connection to him:
“He was looking for a new model after his old model moved to Europe. I went to his museum to interview and saw a long, fast-moving line of models there to be considered. At one point his secretary announced, ‘The master needs to take a break.’ I knew that I wanted to be the model of a master, so I sneaked into his private studio and I put up a base. Then I did the pose Camille Claudel used to captivate Rodin. In the silence of his studio I could hear the sound of graphite on paper and smell the perfume of his pipe. His secretary abruptly interrupted, saying ‘Sorry, I don’t know how this happened.’ And the master replied ‘Don’t bother me. I am working with my model. Tell the rest to go.’ I learned that day, that you have to take a chance to win.”
Cool, right? She’s elegantly beautiful too.
Sparky demanded to know why I wouldn’t take her out on the street with the other fancy dogs. I told her I would rather go with B., no offense to her furry face.
On to the Lucky Fish.
This last Thursday, I dragged my housemate to a poetry reading at Broward College. Aimee Nezhukumatathil was the featured poet of the first semester’s reading. She started her reading with a few of my personal favorites from her second book, At the Drive-In Volcano.
Tangent: This is a bit of a special book to me. When I transferred to Carnegie Mellon to finish my B.A. in creative writing, my very first poetry class was with Jim Daniels, who later became my much-admired thesis adviser and friend. We read 3 books that semester: At the Drive-In Volcano, Beauty Breaks In by Mary Ann Samyn, and Lowering the Body by Stephen Murabito. Jim was able to invite all 3 poets to give an informal reading and Q&A at CMU. Aimee was by far the sweetest and most beautiful. She explained how she tries to respond to every single fanmail. She also explained how she liked to personalize connections with readers even through autographs.
Aimee is an excellent speaker, with a clear, sweet voice and an easy stage presence. Her latest book, Lucky Fish, is a wonderful collection, perhaps her most insightful yet. Her poetry is clean and simple. She has a sense of humor and lightness not found in many of her colleagues. She is drawn to weird facts as a starting point for her poetry (something I should do as well, Sparky suggests). For example, January 19, over 30 years ago, was the last time it snowed in Miami. Also, there is a Center for the Apes in Central Florida, somewhere nearby, where all the monkey actors retire. All the Planet of the Apes extras, every chimp ever in a commercial, etc. The center is closed to the public except one day a year, which changes every year, because apparently they really don’t want people to go inside. (Sparky says monkey conspiracy).
Aimee also has a very keen sense of humanity. She brought 2 signed Broadside poster prints of Lucky Fish as incentive for the first 2 people to ask questions during the Q&A session. She was very aware of the fact that this reading was mandatory for the poetry classes. Brilliant! She also mentioned that, as a poetry exercise, sometimes she gives students this website, and asks them to write a poem about any phobia of their choosing. Her own poem, “Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia”, came from that exercise.
When I stood in line to meet her and get my book signed, I asked her about Kundiman Asian-American Poetry Retreat, which she had recommended to me when visiting CMU 2 years ago. She served as a faculty member several consecutive summers, although she said this year she and her husband want to have a quiet summer with their adorable 2 sons, and so sadly will not be in attendance. I’ll be applying for this summer, so wish me luck!
Sparky: You’ll need it.
Me: Shut up, boogerbrain. The worst they can say is “no”.
Sparky: Or “you’re an abysmal failure of a poet and therefore we must kindly decline”.
Me: …thanks…just “no” works too.
Sometimes I wonder if it is possible to claim persecution from pets. Anyway, read Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s book. It’s beautiful and funny.
If a man in China can keep ten thousand dollars worth
of caterpillars in a metal box underneath his bed
for medicine, then I want to collect flakes of light
for those winter months when we go a whole week
without seeing a slice of sun. The light I want to collect
is free. Can’t be sold as a cure for muscle ache
or to ward off evil eye. I write this in August. It should be
illegal to talk about snow in Western New York now…
(excerpt from “The Light I Collect”)