Thursday, December 26, 2013

New York, 1981

an excerpt from
THE ICE LENS, A Heathen Romance
by Paul West
a novel coming soon from Onager Editions

ONCE  YOU KNOW what you’re doing you can start all the way up at the Arctic Circle. I did once. Then, as the season changes, you work your way downriver and, as it gets warmer and warmer, even in that time of year, you keep your nose and head clear by chewing a strong mint. One of those that burn. I always ask my employers for a long scoop with plenty of flex in it so that, when I bend over the pool to scoop up the frogs. I can get the right amount of traction, if that’s what it’s called. The moment arm is long enough, anyway, between where you apply the force and the place you hold the pole at. Then in one graceful lunge you can fling the frog high into the trees, out of the pool into the greenery. Yes, my beauty, there’s an art even to that. I see them now as they soar, catching the sunlight on their backs, and I sometimes hear the birdlike flutter they make as they fall through the branches and the little plop as they land, wondering what the hell happened. They’re not tree frogs after all, they know that.
  The trouble is, they keep on coming back. It must be the same frogs. How many frogs can you have in the area of one pool? And it took me a while to figure it out. Then I saw. They weren’t coming back for the pale blue water, ever more lucid than I was, which might rank as bubbly in the kingdom of the frogs, but for the flight. They really liked flying, sweetheart, but what bit of them registers anything at all told them it was grand to sail through the air like that, not having to swim or to try. So, all down the Hudson, there have been frogs starting little flying clubs, soaring clubs, until of course winter closes everything down. Not that they have clubhouses or lapel pins. These are frogs after all, with proud and trivial imaginations. It may take them a day to get back to the water, only to be fished out again and launched; but it’s worth the long haul after the concussion of landing, then the tussle through long grass or bracken, and the night march up the lawn until, plop, there they all are, ready to be sent into space. The chlorine water can’t be that nice, can it? You can tell the old hands from the beginners. The old hands try to get on to the mesh of the scoop before you’ve landed them whereas the others dive away, not having known the joys of flight. If the word can get around among frogs, it never seems to. Only the old stagers know what’s coming, and all the others must think they’re pure wacko, heading for the pool only to be thrown out of it. Time and again. I guess their landing gear is good, from long practice. Kind of rubbery anyway: that’s what they are. They bounce and they look quite streamlined whereas your toad makes more friction in the air. It is mainly frogs, anyway.
So you see, precious, as I work my way back south from late August on, there’s lots of frogs for company, and I sometimes feel like the president of All American Airlines as I go about my chores, getting some of them up to two hundred feet. The wait for the little dry splash of their landing can be really long, and you sometimes wonder if they’re coming down at all. I like this better than the movement northward, when I have to leave at the beginning of the season as all the pools open up their hearts and begin to twinkle. Heading north with a cold heart is a wild thing to have to do each year. Or it was. I never worked on indoor pools. And outdoors are hardly worth it, only for the frogs, I suppose, although there are certain effects of light, I mean light-effects, I might give an arm and a leg for on a temporary basis. When big lozenges of skyblue float on the bottom as if they were breeding or just jostling one another. When toward evening the water surface looks violet and you could go lick it and get a purple taste. That kind of thing. Maybe that’s what the frogs come for first of all, until they get to fly. North or south, it’s confusing.
Sometimes I’ve seen half a dozen of them waiting by the pool wall for me to net them and hurl them skyward. Six in one go? You may well ask. I have never done it, maybe because being a bit simple-minded or at least single-minded I can attend to only one frog at a time, although a group launch isn’t out of the question, honey, if I could only get those already in the scoop to sit still while I catch the rest.
Those frogs amaze me. They wait all night for an airlift the next day. The pool owners amaze me more though. They ask if they can use the skimmer after me, but most of them don’t have the knack, the timing, the muscle coordination, that sweep of the pole I have developed over the years like a fisherman casting far out over the waters. Then, of course, you have kids and they want to stand under the trees to catch the frogs when they fall. But how would they do that? A frog will pitter and patter from branch to branch, going this way and that, before it reaches the ground, and you can’t tell them apart from the leaves, except when the year is well on its way. If I was going to stay in the job, precious, I’d buy my own skimmer and then I’d always get it right instead of being at the mercy of whatever pool things you find from home to home. When there are no frogs I move on fast. When there are a lot, I tend to linger, overcleaning the pool, fussing with baskets and the pH.
I go upriver slowly, but, rejoicing, I come home fast, back to the city, which is always a winter place to me, whereas I associate the river with summer. I open their pools, I find the leaks, I fire the boilers, I trim the filters, I fold up the covers and stow them away, I clean up the ladders and the floats. I hardly have time, in May and September, to write my sweetheart saying I am overcome with work; but you never bug me, do you, you leave me to my job. You are hardly likely to unstick yourself to come and help. That'd be too much, you'd be too much of a honey if you ever did that. I like being alone with the frogs.

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PAUL WEST is the author of 50 books. He has received awards from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Lannan Prize for Fiction and the Halperin-Kaminsky Prize. He was named a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library and a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government. He has also been a runner-up for the National Book Circle Award and the Nobel Prize for Literature. 

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Monday, December 23, 2013

A Letter from Richard Russo

An Open Letter to My Fellow Authors

It’s all changing, right before our eyes. Not just publishing, but the writing life itself, our ability to make a living from authorship. Even in the best of times, which these are not, most writers have to supplement their writing incomes by teaching, or throwing up sheet-rock, or cage fighting. It wasn’t always so, but for the last two decades I’ve lived the life most writers dream of: I write novels and stories, as well as the occasional screenplay, and every now and then I hit the road for a week or two and give talks. In short, I’m one of the blessed, and not just in terms of my occupation. My health is good, my children grown, their educations paid for. I’m sixty-four, which sucks, but it also means that nothing that happens in publishing—for good or ill—is going to affect me nearly as much as it affects younger writers, especially those who haven’t made their names yet. Even if the e-price of my next novel is $1.99, I won’t have to go back to cage fighting.
Still, if it turns out that I’ve enjoyed the best the writing life has to offer, that those who follow, even the most brilliant, will have to settle for less, that won’t make me happy and I suspect it won’t cheer other writers who’ve been as fortunate as I. It’s these writers, in particular, that I’m addressing here. Not everyone believes, as I do, that the writing life is endangered by the downward pressure of e-book pricing, by the relentless, ongoing erosion of copyright protection, by the scorched-earth capitalism of companies like Google and Amazon, by spineless publishers who won’t stand up to them, by the “information wants to be free” crowd who believe that art should be cheap or free and treated as a commodity, by internet search engines who are all too happy to direct people to on-line sites that sell pirated (read “stolen”) books, and even by militant librarians who see no reason why they shouldn’t be able to “lend” our e-books without restriction. But those of us who are alarmed by these trends have a duty, I think, to defend and protect the writing life that’s been good to us, not just on behalf of younger writers who will not have our advantages if we don’t, but also on behalf of readers, whose imaginative lives will be diminished if authorship becomes untenable as a profession.

I know, I know. Some insist that there’s never been a better time to be an author. Self-publishing has democratized the process, they argue, and authors can now earn royalties of up to seventy percent, where once we had to settle for what traditional publishers told us was our share. Anecdotal evidence is marshaled in support of this view (statistical evidence to follow). Those of us who are alarmed, we’re told, are, well, alarmists. Time will tell who’s right, but surely it can’t be a good idea for writers to stand on the sidelines while our collective fate is decided by others. Especially when we consider who those others are. Entities like Google and Apple and Amazon are rich and powerful enough to influence governments, and every day they demonstrate their willingness to wield that enormous power. Books and authors are a tiny but not insignificant part of the larger battle being waged between these companies, a battleground that includes the movie, music, and newspaper industries. I think it’s fair to say that to a greater or lesser degree, those other industries have all gotten their asses kicked, just as we’re getting ours kicked now. And not just in the courts. Somehow, we’re even losing the war for hearts and minds. When we defend copyright, we’re seen as greedy. When we justly sue, we’re seen as litigious. When we attempt to defend the physical book and stores that sell them, we’re seen as Luddites. Our altruism, when we’re able to summon it, is too often seen as self-serving.

But here’s the thing. What the Apples and Googles and Amazons and Netflixes of the world all have in common (in addition to their quest for world domination), is that they’re all starved for content, and for that they need us. Which means we have a say in all this. Everything in the digital age may feel new and may seem to operate under new rules, but the conversation about the relationship between art and commerce is age-old, and artists must be part of it. To that end we’d do well to speak with one voice, though it’s here we demonstrate our greatest weakness. Writers are notoriously independent cusses, hard to wrangle. We spend our mostly solitary days filling up blank pieces of paper with words. We must like it that way, or we wouldn’t do it. But while it’s pretty to think that our odd way of life will endure, there’s no guarantee. The writing life is ours to defend. Protecting it also happens to be the mission of the Authors Guild, which I myself did not join until last year, when the light switch in my cave finally got tripped. Are you a member? If not, please consider becoming one. We’re badly outgunned and in need of reinforcements. If the writing life has done well by you, as it has by me, here’s your chance to return the favor. Do it now, because there’s such a thing as being too late.

Richard Russo
December 2013

This posting courtesy of The Authors Guild, 31 E 32nd St., Fl 7, New York, NY 10016  

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Excerpt from Foozler Runs


by Stephen Poleskie

from Fozzler Runs, a novel, published by Onager Editions

“BEST RESTAURANT AROUND these parts. . . .” the man behind the desk in the tiny, smoke filled motel office boasts, pointing to a picture of the place on the calendar hanging behind him. He should have added that it was the only restaurant, at least in walking distance.
           A huge green dragon winks on and off, alternating with the words GEORGE’S in red neon and RESTAURANT in blue neon. This must be in some reference to Saint George, Johnny supposes, or perhaps there are dragons here in this Pennsylvania wilderness that he is not aware of. High stepping in his low sneakers, Foozler has made his way through the quarter mile of wet snow, suffering the splashing of the eighteen wheelers rushing past on the roadway. While these monsters are dressed in enough lights to illuminate a small city, only the usual two headlights in front are useful as an aid to the driver’s forward vision. Not expecting to see anyone tramping along the highway in the snow, Johnny has received several snow baths along with his close shaves.
            Not wanting anymore traffic violations, Johnny has left his car at the motel. He felt the walk would do him good. The moisture working its way through his thin canvas shoes tells him he has made yet another wrong decision.
            “God bless you, honey. . . . Are you catching a cold?” the waitress says, returning with Johnny’s cup of tea. He had rejected her earlier offering of coffee. Coffee always appears automatically in these truck-stop diners; asking for tea means you are different, deserving of a good wait.
           “Aachoo!” Johnny sputters again, covering his mouth with his hand. “It’s not a cold. I just got my socks wet. . . .”
            “Better take them off then,” the waitress suggests to John’s surprise. “I wouldn’t want you to catch a cold. Give me your socks then. I’ll hang them over the grill there. They’ll dry off while you’re eating.”
            Perhaps he is old-fashioned, but Foozler still appreciates the constraint of manners. Despite all the other odd things he may have done before, Johnny never takes his socks off in a restaurant.
            Foozler looks around at the men sitting around him at the counter—tired truck drivers, stocky, mostly bearded men, wearing baseball caps turned around the correct way with words like MACK and PETERBILT printed on them. The drivers’ inevitably overweigh midsections are wrapped in wide, black elastic belts designed to support their backs and kidneys. The sour odor of sweat, from long days of fatigue and fear, radiates off their bodies.
            The truckers snap-inhale their cigarettes, then exhale the smoke out their nostrils in twin plumes. Are these the dragons of GEORGE’S? John wonders. With elbows digging into the Formica counter top, the drivers sit there staring into their black coffee with glazed eyes, a base, almost bestial expression on their faces. Having eaten, they have attained one of the few goals in their daily lives, and are quietly waiting for their dinner, and their Quaaludes, to digest so they can get back on the road.
            “Woowoo! Hey Marie . . . how come you never offered to dry my socks?” the big man sitting next to Foozler says, winking at him. Johnny hopes the man is only winking at his own joke.
          “Aaachoo!” Johnny tries to stifle his sudden sneeze into a handkerchief, not so much out of politeness, as no one here seems to care much about being polite, but rather not to draw anymore attention to himself.
            “Hey dude, give Marie your socks . . . next it’ll be your shirt and your pants . . . then who knows . . . har, har, har,” the man next to him says, jabbing his elbow into Johnny’s ribs with a force that surprises him.
            Tossing wrinkled dollar bills on the counter, the MACK and PETERBILT hat wearers get up to leave. They suck on toothpicks as they swagger toward the door: “Watch yer socks, buddy . . . don’t let Marie put them on the grill . . . she might just serve them up to the next customer that comes in here, har, har, har, har. . . .”
            With a roar of exhaust and a grinding of gears the two truckers rattle off into the still falling snow. Six other chrome and steel leviathans idle in the parking lot under the amber floodlights. The diesel engines are never shut off on cold nights like this for fear they will not restart, and also to keep their drivers warm, who are sleeping in the bunks behind the cab.
            The temperature outside has fallen to the lower double figures. Cold air, blown in through the open door, runs across the floor, finding Johnny’s feet.
            “AAAaacchhhooooo!” Johnny sneezes again, louder than before.
            “Really! You better take those socks off, honey, and let me dry them before you catch your death.” Marie says. She puts her hand on Johnny’s arm, leaving her touch linger longer than just a casual contact.
            Wanting to avoid any further comment, and perhaps because he is beginning to fear he may actually be catching a cold, Johnny reluctantly removes his foot coverings and hands them over the counter.
            Marie wrings the damp fabric into the dish sink, then moving aside a few hand towels, hangs the socks on a small rack below the grill. She wipes her hands once on her apron, picks up a breaded fish fillet that has been thawing on the counter, pats it three times, and then plops it into a pot of boiling grease.
            Well at least it’s my fish sandwich, Johnny thinks.
            “So . . . what brings you out on a night like this, honey?” Marie asks, trying to sound off-handed. “I mean, I can tell you’re not a driver . . . and you’re not from around here.” Marie stirs the fish patty with her thongs. A white cumulus of grease escapes up the vent.
            “I’m from New York.”
            “New York! Wow, that’s a great town.”
           “Not the city . . .  upstate. My tires are worn down; they made me get off the Interstate. I was heading south.”
            “Jeez . . . my tires aren’t too good either. I hope I am going to be able to get home. The cook and the other waitress have already left . . . they’re all going to a Mardi Gras party. Another girl was supposed to come in, but she hasn’t shown up. It must be the snow.”
            Marie places Johnny’s fish sandwich in front of him, her head leaning closer to him than necessary. “You enjoy your dinner now, honey. I’ll be right back to see if you need anything else. . . .” she says, patting his hand.
            Marie makes her rounds of the other customers, asking the ubiquitous question: “Is everything okay here?”
           One of the truck drivers mutters something to the waitress that Johnny cannot hear, and laughs, a vulgar kind of laugh. Paranoid, Foozler wonders if something might have been said about him.
            “Oh, you get otta here. . . .” Marie responds, dismissing the man with a wave of her hand and walking away.
           The fish burger actually tastes good. But then Johnny has not eaten anything all day. He covers the fries with ketchup, trying to conceal their origin as flavorless potato pulp forced into crinkle shaped molds.
            “God! It’s too quiet around her . . . especially since it’s Mardi Gras,” Marie announces, leaning over the counter to get to the jukebox selector mounted in front of Johnny. Her body is so close to his that he can smell her scent. She flips through the selections, brushing her arm against Foozler again, slowly, purposefully. John can see her breasts, squeezed together, creating a white valley in the pink V of her uniform. She presses the letter C, and then the number 9. “Now here’s one I really like. . . .”
            Signaled from this remote source the huge juke box at the end of the room, the kind you don’t see anymore, a real classic, all glass, and chrome, and neon lights, begins its robot-like action of spinning the disk.
            Na, na, nah. Now baby, I may be lower than a green snakes belly . . . but you could carry a jar of jelly . . . underneath me while standing up wearing your high-heel sneakers. . . . Na, na, nah. Now baby, I may be lower than a green snakes belly. . . .”  The song blares on, bouncing out lyrics from another era, a sensibility that has passed.

           Johnny’s mind gropes back to a dingy recording studio in New York City. Marijuana smoke fills the room, empty Scotch bottles line the counter tops. He has been there for the past twelve hours, with only cold pizza to eat. The band was arguing. They didn’t want a song—the one that was being played on the jukebox this very moment—on the album that they were making.
           It was not a song they had written. Nevertheless, the producer wanted it included; he owed a favor to the songwriter, or was screwing him, or something like that. Their manager had compromised, claiming the song was not really that bad, actually rather kind of catchy. They had tried six or seven versions of the song, about 36 takes, each one more pitiful than the last. But the song “Snake’s Belly” arguably one of the worst songs ever written, somehow had caught on, and became The Artful Foozler’s only runaway nationwide hit. Johnny has not heard the tune played on a jukebox in a good many years.

            “That’s The Art Foozler!” Johnny blurts out.
            “Yeah . . . I love ‘em,” Marie says. She is doing a little dance, a kind of twist, between the counter, getting into the music, shaking her body, feeling the beat, lost in the rhythm, no longer a middle-aged woman, but a teenager again.
            “Woo! Wooh! Go for it Marie!” someone shouts. Other customers are clapping their hands.
           Johnny can see Marie’s nipples standing out on her shaking breasts. He feels a firmness growing between his legs, a heat he has not felt since his wife’s death. Marie keeps bouncing, smiling; she is dancing just for him.
            “. . .snake’s bbeelllllyyyyyyyyy. . . . Yeah!!!”
            The music stops; the frisson passes.
            “Whew!” Marie says, wiping her hair from in front of her face.
           The truck drivers applaud politely, and then go back to smoking and staring at the dregs in their coffee cups.
          “Oh god. . . . excuse me,” Marie says to Johnny. A ripple of sweat runs down her neck and disappears into the crevasse of her breasts. “I just got carried away there for a moment. It’s The Artful Foozler . . . they are my favorite-ever group. Actually, they’re still pretty popular around here, the jukebox plays “oldies.”  But you don’t hear anything about them anymore. I read years ago that the lead singer killed himself, and then the group broke up. Have you ever heard of them?”
            “Heard of them,” Johnny replies. Although he fancies himself a humble man, Foozler is vainglorious to the point of wanting to be envied. “Hand me two of those spoons there. . . .”
            Tapping the spoons on the counter top, Johnny beats out the exact drum solo that they just heard on the record.
           Marie tilts her head and listens intently. “Hey! You are good. Then you have heard The Artful Foozler before. . . .”
            “Heard them! I was one of them!”
            “What do you mean?” Marie says, placing her arm on John.
            “I’m Johnny Foozler . . . I started the group, and was the drummer!” he exclaims.
            “Ya don’t say?!”
            Marie places both her arms on Johnny. Close up, almost intimate, she stares into his face, trying to recall an image from a record jacket, a group of carefree young boys, with long hair and sun glasses. They were trying to look arrogant and self-confident, when in reality they were actually diffident and insecure. Marie superimposes the various images over Johnny’s no longer young face, his head bristling with a short and unkempt shock of gray hair, tufts bristling too long on his eyebrows, and from the openings of his nostrils.
            “Jeez. I know which one you are,” Marie exclaims, stepping back from John. “Like, you’re the one with the big nose!”
            “The big nose? . . .” Johnny repeats, sounding offended. Yes, his nose did appear a little too large back then, however, over the years his face has grown up to match his nose, and there are women who think him even more handsome now than when he was younger.
            “Oh! I didn’t mean it that way,” Marie retreats. “I mean your nose wasn’t ugly big, it just was . . . well . . . bigger than any one of the other guys in the group; if you know what I mean. Oh god . . . what am I saying, eh . . . anyway, I’m really pleased to meet you. What did you say your name was, again?”
            “Johnny . . . Johnny Foozler, the one with the big nose. I was the drummer.”

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STEPHEN POLESKIE is a writer and artist, he has published six novels and numerous short stories. His artworks are in many major museums including the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate Galley in London. He is currently a professor emeritus at Cornell University.

To order Foozler Runs from Amazon click here

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

International Book Discounts

Not Just the French: Argentina and South Korea Debate Limiting Book Discounts

While limits on book discounting in France and Germany receive much more attention, Publishing Perspectives took a recent look, in separate pieces, at how pricing and discounting is shaping the book market in two countries with vastly different reading and book buying cultures–Argentina and Korea.
In Argentina, state-mandated price controls help bricks-and-mortar bookstores thrive, while in Korea, which has no such restrictions, the success of a discount book chain is sparking calls for fixed pricing. In both countries there’s debate over whether the need to preserve literary diversity should trump the free market.
Argentina implemented book price controls in 2002 following a devastating economic crisis. The fixed price law, known as the “Defense of the Bookstore Activity” act, requires books to be sold at the same price at all stores until 18 months after a book is first published. The situation today, reports Publishing Perspectives:
In Argentina book business remains robust, having sold more than 50 million books in 2012, worth an estimated revenue of $535.7 million. According to the Cultural Information System of Argentina (SINCA), the country’s 2,256 bookstores are responsible for 80% of total book sales, with sales equally divided between hundreds of independent bookshops and a few large chains.
Price is not the only key to the success of Argentine bookstores, however. Publishing Perspectives describes a country of passionate booksellers, intelligently curated selections and bookstores serving as cultural centers.
In Korea, where book consumption is at a 10-year low, used book chain Aladin is under fire for discounting policies some are calling “reckless and myopic,” says Publishing Perspectives (which based its piece on a story in The Korea Times). While officials are debating a law forbidding more than a 10% discount on new books, some say the law would be useless because Aladin routinely sells new books as “used.”
Dong-Asia Publishing, recently said that it would no longer sell its books through Aladin’s network. The company’s president, Han Sung-bon, says that despite the risk, it’s the right decision.
“Aladin’s used-book stores are masquerading as second-hand book shops, but they are essentially discount shops aimed at moving new books. These shops have been encouraging twisted, unconventional discount activities that are hurting the health of the entire market.”
Aladin denies the accusation and says newer titles make up only tiny portion of its sales.

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Article Courtesy of: The Authors Guild, 31 East 32nd  Street, New York, NY 10016

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Saturday, October 26, 2013


Diane Ackerman and Paul West at home in Ithaca, NY, 2013

BORN IN AN ENGLISH VILLAGE, in the shadow of Sherwood Forest and the Sitwells, Paul West has lived in Ithaca for over thirty years.    
     “I am a country boy, born and bred,” he says. “I like trees and lawns, animals and huge silence.”
     He seems to have spent most of his time here writing in the lamp-lit hours of deep night, while the rest of us mortals slept, because he somehow managed to write nearly 50 books, most of them novels that are wantonly stylish, wickedly imaginative, and often tackle how Good tilts with Evil in the world, while also being irreverently funny.
    When not writing, he would bask in every drop of sunshine, listening to classical music, or swimming—sometimes simultaneously—until he turned the color of teak. Although he’d painted and done collage when he was a student at Oxford, afterwards he poured his creativity into writing, and he really hadn’t touched a brush in 50 years.
    Then one night out of the polychrome blue, at the age of 82, after two strokes had confined him to a wheelchair, he woke at 1:00AM, climbed out of bed, found a set of old watercolors, and painted all night long. The same thing happened the following night, and every night since. By now he’s amassed hundreds of artworks—watercolor and mixed media—all created with his left hand and abundant joy, in night owl flights of imagination. His work is tender, provocative, and funny.
    West’s most recent novel, The Invisible Riviera, is published by  Onager Editions. The book's cover features one of Paul's water colors. A chapter excerpt from this book can be found in the February 2013 postings of this blog. See the sidebar to your right.

    West has been the recipient of numerous prizes and awards, including the Aga Khan Prize, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, the Hazlett Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Literature Award from the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a Lannan Prize for Fiction, the Grand-Prix Halperine Kaminsky Award. He has been named a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library, and a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government, and he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013


Helen Frankenthaler and Steve Poleskie, 1964
A look back at the highly influential Pop Art screen printing atelier, Chiron Press, and its founder Stephen Poleskie.

by Deb Ripley

From 1962 to 1968, Chiron Press was the ground-zero of the fledgling Pop Art scene. Founded in a tiny storefront on 614 East 11th Street in New York City, it was the first print atelier in New York City, indeed in the country, devoted to screen printing for artists. Andy Warhol (1928 – 1987), Roy Lichtenstein (1923 – 1997), Larry Rivers (1923 – 2002), James Rosenquist (b. 1933), and Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929) were just a handful of the artists who made silkscreen prints at Chiron.

Chiron Press  (named after the mythical centaur) was the brainchild of Stephen (Steve) Poleskie (b. 1938), an artist who had worked for 3 months as a printer in Miami doing commercial  screen printing jobs, a skill he picked up after reading a free booklet from the  Sherwin-Williams Paint Company.  In 1961 Poleskie moved to New York City and rented a studio on East 10th Street near Tompkins Square Park, with the intention of furthering his art career. Since the 1950s, East 10th Street had been a hotbed of the downtown New York art scene.  Abstract Expressionist painters such as Willem De Kooning (1904 – 1997), Franz Kline (1910 – 1962) and Milton Resnick (1917 – 2004) maintained studios nearby.  The Tenth Street Galleries – a series of artist-owned co-operative galleries often run with no staff and very little money – formed a nucleus of alternative and avant-garde art spaces. The Judson Memorial Church, located on Washington Square South near East 8th Street, operated a gallery that debuted works by Tom Wesselmann (1931 – 2004), Jim Dine (b. 1935) and Claes Oldenburg in 1959.

Living on East 10th Street, Poleskie got to know with many of the scene-makers of the day. He befriended Raphael Soyer while taking his art class at the New School.  He met Elaine and Willem deKooning, Frank O’Hara (1926 – 1966), Louise Nevelson (1899 – 1988) and Rivers. He was introduced to Leo Castelli and the Pop artists that were just starting to show at the Castelli Gallery.

After fielding numerous questions from other artists about how to make screen prints, Poleskie recognized that there was a need, and in 1963 he opened a shop (initially called Aardvark Press) at 614 East 11th Street and became the master printer. Within a short period of time he was swamped with jobs.  It seemed he was the only person around who not only knew how to make screen prints but, more importantly, could communicate with artists to translate their vision into a print. Since screen printing was, at that time, only used for commercial ventures such as billboard printing, Poleskie’s artistic background and connections made him a perfect conduit. Poleskie's studio assistant was a young Yale MFA graduate, Brice Marden (b. 1938).

The very first prints made at Chiron Press  was a suite of four by Alfred Jensen (1903-1981), an abstract artist who painted in grids of brightly colored triangles or squares, often incorporating numerical systems.  Poleskie recalls that Jensen lived next door on the third floor and he could often hear the artist begging his dealer Martha Jackson to send him money. In the end, Jensen paid for the prints himself – the bill for the whole job was $400.

With a long waiting list of galleries wanting their artists to do silkscreen prints, Poleskie was able to move the operation to 76 Jefferson Street and took a partner, Neville Powers. Because of its low rent and good light, 76 Jefferson Street became a magnet for artists. Later, recognizing the large number of artists who lived and worked in the building, such as Marden, Neil Jenney (b. 1945), Janet Fish (b. 1938), Valerie Jaudon (b. 1945), Richard Kalina (b. 1946), Poleskie, and Chiron Press, MOMA mounted an exhibit in 1975 called “76 Jefferson Street.”

In the early stages, Chiron Press had no fancy equipment. Poleskie used a handmade wooden table to make the prints. He didn’t have any drying racks so he used clotheslines. His only ventilation was an open window. He didn’t have a phone – it was located in the bar downstairs where the bartender would take messages. Although later screen printers had artists paint on clear acetate and then transferred the images photographically, Poleskie preferred to use real silk to support the stencils to receive the images, and to squeegee the prints by hand.  He also hand-cut all of his stencils from lacquer film  It was a time consuming process, but the results were brilliant, saturated colors so emblematic of the early ‘60s that are the hallmark of Chiron Press prints.

Chiron Press printed Lichtenstein’s very first screen print “Brushstroke,” in 1965. The artist was working on a series of Brushstrokes paintings for Castelli Gallery that were a satirical response to the emotionally laden gestural painting of Abstract Expressionism. But Lichtenstein was also interested in drawing a picture of a brush stroke as if rendered by a commercial artist. Since screen printing was also a commercial process never intended for fine art, “Brushstroke” was a perfect graphic expression for Lichtenstein.

Warhol worked with Chiron on two occasions to make sculptural prints which bear an affinity with Oldenburg’s large soft sculptures of the period. The first, “Paris Review” 1967, was an enormous liquor bill, measuring 37 x 27 inches, with die cut holes to resemble punched receipt holes. The other, “Lincoln Center Ticket” 1967, was an enormous ticket stub measuring 45 x 24 inches printed on opaque acrylic, published by Leo Castelli Gallery to commemorate the Fifth New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center. It is interesting to note that the artist himself was a prodigious filmmaker who produced 12 films in 1967 alone.
Chiron Press was one of the first to work with women artists. Marisol (b. 1930), Nevelson, Elaine DeKooning (1919 – 1989) and Helen Frankenthaler (1928 – 2011) all made prints there.

Pop Art was not the only focus of Chiron – in fact the prints created there track the divergent artistic movements of the time. Another forerunner of Pop Art was Nicholas Krushenick (1929-1999), who made hard-edged abstract paintings with a Pop sensibility. His brilliantly colored silkscreen “James Bond Meets Pussy Galore” made at Chiron in 1965 demonstrates a highly original vision.

Poleskie’s own prints created at Chiron during 1967 were abstract and geometric meditations on landscapes. He has said that living in a crowded city such as Manhattan, he could only imagine the landscape, “I lived in the city and thus could not see the land, but it was there – in the advertisements, behind the cars, the soda pop, [and] the cigarettes.”

In 1968 Poleskie sold Chiron Press so that he could devote more time to his own artwork without the distractions of the city. He moved to Ithaca and accepted a teaching position in the Art Department at Cornell. He is now a professor emeritus.

Despite its brief 6 year duration, Chiron Press was responsible for a major shift in how artists used printmaking in their creative process. From strictly industrial uses, screen printing has risen to a fine art form. The sheer volume of influential artists who made prints at the Chiron Press atelier reads like a who's-who of the art world of the 1960s and many would achieve art superstar status later. 

A short list of artists includes: Richard Anuskiewicz, Allan d’Arcangelo, Elaine DeKooning, Jim Dine, Rosalyn Drexler, Sherman Drexler, Helen Frankenthaler, Alfred Jensen, Allan Jones, Al Held, Robert Indiana, Alex Katz, Ellsworth Kelly, Nicholas Kruschenick, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Mangold, Conrad Marca-Relli, Marisol, Robert Motherwell, Louise Nevelson, Claes Oldenburg, Steve Poleskie, Larry Rivers, James Rosenquist, Raphael Soyer, Robert Stanley, Saul Steinberg, Ernest Trova, Jack Youngerman, William Walton and Larry Zox.

article courtesy of artnet/insights

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Sunday, September 22, 2013


The Face of Fear  (a memoir excerpt)

Emily Rhoads Johnson

MOST CHILDREN HAVE an inborn fear of darkness, and I was no exception. My bedroom closet, which posed no threat during the day, at night became a fearful place that harbored monsters of every description. An evil creature lurked under my bed, waiting to seize my ankles the moment I stepped to the floor. But, like the monsters, most of my childhood fears were figments of my highly active imagination. All but one, that is. And that all-too-real fear was to haunt me for years.  

On a cold night in January, 1946, a six-year-old girl named Suzanne Degnan was abducted from her Chicago apartment. The story hit the headlines of The Chicago Tribune the next morning, and my fourth grade classroom was abuzz with the news. Although it would be months before all the facts came out, we knew that someone had climbed a ladder to the girl’s bedroom window, snatched her from her bed, and carried her off to who-knows-where to do who-knows-what.
My mind churned with images of what it must have been like to wake in the night and find a monster hovering over you. A real one! To start to scream and have something stuffed in your mouth to shut you up. To be carried down a ladder and off into the night. But imagining wasn’t enough for me: I had to know every detail surrounding the case. Every day after school I would sneak down to the basement to search through the newspapers that my mother had carefully hidden away in a barrel. And every day my terror mounted. I read that the kidnapper had left a ransom note demanding $20,000 for the girl’s return. I read that a suspect had been arrested, then released for lack of evidence. I read that more suspects, dozens of them, were arrested then let go when they were found to have reliable alibis for their whereabouts that night.
And then I read something so horrific that it made my blood congeal in my veins: the girl’s severed head had been found in a sewer.
My fear escalated with every new, uncovered fact. Still, I had to know it all, no matter how gruesome. Soon after her head was found, a leg was discovered in another sewer. Then a day or two later, the other leg, then her torso, and finally her arms. The police learned that Suzanne had been dismembered in the basement of an apartment building near the Degnan home. The janitor, an immediate suspect, was quickly cleared, and the manhunt continued. A month after the kidnapping, whoever had committed the crime was still out there somewhere, possibly searching for another victim. And it was going to be me. I knew it.
The fact that my bedroom was on the second floor, miles from the ground, did nothing to dispel my fear of being the kidnapper’s next victim. Climbing the stairs to my room every night became a dreaded ordeal. What my reasoning was I don’t know, but I began closing my eyes when I climbed the stairs, blindly feeling my way upward, one hand on the banister. Once I got to my room I would open my eyes just a slit and gaze at the floor while yanking the window shades all the way down; then I would throw a towel over my dresser mirror. Any movement reflected in the glass, even my own, filled me with terror.  

It was comforting to know that my parents’ bedroom was next to mine and could be reached in a matter of seconds. I insisted that my door be left open at night, but this created another problem. The door of my room faced the front of the house, and over the front door hung a heavy iron lantern on a long metal chain. At night the lantern swung very slightly back and forth, back and forth, sending eerie shadows dancing across my bedroom walls. Sometimes the shadows were long skinny arms that shot out to grab me. Sometimes they crawled over the ceiling like enormous spiders. They darted, shrank, swarmed, slid into corners, ready to pounce. My only escape was to burrow deep under the covers and shut my eyes tight, praying that sleep would take me before the shadow monsters did.
You may be wondering why my parents weren’t more mindful of my fears, and why they didn’t seek help for me. Today when a heinous crime occurs, especially one involving a child, not only are schools quick to talk openly about it and offer counseling, but parents are encouraged to sit down with their children, talk about the incident, and help them work through their fears. Not so in the 1940s. Then, the accepted procedure was to keep silent about any subject that might “disturb” a child, be it financial woes, divorce, serious illness, death, or violent crime. It was in child’s best interest, experts believed, to pretend that such things didn’t happen. Then along came television and the jig was up. With real life right there in front of them on the TV screen, kids could no longer be fooled into believing that deep down every human being has a heart of gold, or that life is all Good Humor bars and roses.
But back to the story of Suzanne and her abduction. After the Chicago police spent nearly six months arresting and releasing 370 suspects, they finally settled on a young man known for committing burglary who had no alibi for the night of the kidnapping. William Heirens, a seventeen-year-old university student, was convicted not only of killing Suzanne, but of murdering two other women prior to the kidnapping. He was given three consecutive life sentences. Until he died in 2012 he continued to insist that burglary was his only crime, and many believe that the newspaper stories of how he kidnapped and murdered Suzanne were complete fabrications.

My own reaction to Heirens’ arrest was overwhelming relief. This man was the killer; all the papers said so, and I had no reason to doubt it. The fear that the crime had instilled in me, however, took years to overcome. I did stop climbing the stairs with my eyes shut and eventually forgot to cover my mirror at night. But it was a long time before the monster in my closet stopped wearing William Heirens’ face.

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EMILY RHOADS JOHNSON is the author of three middle grade novels and a biography about George Rhoads, her artist brother. “The Face of Fear” is an excerpt from her memoir-in-progress about growing up in Evanston, Illinois, in the 1940s.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Feeding Animals on 9/11

Sleeping Cat, Robert Corless, 1968-73

Feeding Animals on 9/11

Tim Keane

MOST OF US know the ritual. Usually the personal remembrance happens ahead of the 9/11 anniversary, over drinks, among friends, after references to 9/11/2001, to ‘the morning of.' "I remember where I was. . . ." Often, in my circles, it's triggered by a charged comment by me. "Now we have this Syria-insanity," I say, or something along those lines. Not that the day of 9/11/01 and its human toll and our military's global vengeance, in 9/11's endless wake, are on my mind. Except when they are. Like breaking news.

Whenever I listen to people recite the narratives about the 'morning of,' September 11, 2001, I find they are recalled with a convincing memoirist’s zeal, and often set in time zones and locations thousands of miles from New York City. And when it is my turn, I think of my own 'morning of' story as too banal to share. The stories other people tell involve how they related to or were with other people as "it" happened. But I was at home alone with two cats watching TV. My 9/11 story is so boring that I have, in more unethical flashes, considered inventing a whole new ‘morning of' story for myself. "Would you believe it? I was escorting tourist friends in the elevator toward the top of the Empire State building when we heard. . . ."

A native New Yorker I am old enough to recall the curiously macho grade school bragging in the Bronx about our city having "the biggest building in the world" back in the mid 1970s, when the Towers were almost complete. On a school trip I was taken to the roof of one of the towers. Like millions of other New Yorkers, I'd lived with those twin, often brightly lit, boxy behemoths my whole adult life, especially when I needed to navigate south and west from confusing parameters of lower Manhattan. That much is true. But on September 11, 2001, I was at home in lower Westchester. Tuesdays were my day off from teaching that Fall term. My girlfriend at the time, who was in the habit of watching morning TV, wasn't there with me, yet, from a habit I'd picked up, I had the TV turned on as if she were. Martha Stewart's homemaking show, if I recall correctly. Background noise. I looked forward to a non-teaching day, a reversion to summer—a day home, blue skies, warm temps, and a half-assed plan to work on some story drafts and read Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma, which had just been republished. This is far as I get in recounting my morning of stories. It's boring. It lacks any of the inter-human drama I hear in other people's stories—viewing the event live before a family dinner in France, or watching it at a pub in Australia, past midnight, or crossing the Brooklyn Bridge with coworkers, in horror. Even days after the attack, I heard harrowing stories from friends whose lives were in genuine danger—one who watched people dive into the water near the Staten Island Ferry slip to escape the torrential downpour of debris, and another who spoke about colleagues on the 80-something floor of the south tower who were told that the fire in the opposite tower was no reason to evacuate their own offices.

But my story? I was off from work. My cats cried for morning food. I was resisting being their manservant, letting them pace around and cry. I was about to get on with the day when CBS News interrupted to display a live image of a smoldering gap at the top of one of the Twin Towers. Still I very nearly turned the set off—not another if it bleeds it leads distraction—nothing's more abrasive to a creative writing day than absorbing the manipulative hysteria of TV news alternating with laundry detergent commercials. Animals needed to be fed. Pretty big hole, there, I thought, maybe no one was in those offices yet. Then onscreen, live, an explosion in the neighboring tower. Rewind. "Can we run that again, Sam, in slow motion for our own eyes for the eyes of our viewers at home?"  Huh? Was that an airliner banking into an office building? You bet it was, wing and all. My wide open day was closing in fast. I thought, that 1993 truck bomb attack on the WTC. Back then I was actually living in Manhattan—I had a better day of story for that attack. Now, I realize, they’ve come back to finish the job. Keep the TV on.

A few phone calls didn't go through, neighbors knocked on my door and for a few minutes I viewed the spectacle from the roof—a distant skyline with two smoking chimneys. Leaving the rooftop, I came back to the apartment, the cats still paced around, more irked, more hungry, oblivious to the abstract human plotline, their only connection to these human commotions an occasional twitch and flick of their ears as first responders' sirens, even in lower Westchester, began to scream and head south.  I watched TV. “Our keeper is staring at something move on that box of light," the cats might have deduced, "he's absent from here." After the towers fell and I shared disbelief by phone and had made sure my family and friends were safe, I got around to feeding the cats. One can and a half of 9 Lives. They had almost forgotten feeding, or given up on me getting to it. Stepping up to feed them, surrounded by their excited cries, their long waving tails and up-gazing eyes, and then crouching down to their level to put the dishes of food on the floor, running my hand over their fur as they dug in and ate, a sense of sudden consolation and proper companionship and genuine existence eradicated the unfolding attack and flooded me with peace. Watching them eat, I was somehow back within the world as it is. I was present among creatures who don't commit interspecies homicide, let alone suicide. I had thoughts that seemed childish yet faultless: animals don't build skyscrapers or pray to God or organize Pentagons. Cats don't invade countries or hijack jumbo jets and, more ludicrously, crash those planes into buildings in order to kill other cats.

Later that day, after visiting family and soaking up the televised, ever evolving narratives—box cutters and flight schools and Dick Cheney and How This Changes Everything—I returned to my apartment where the cats were curled on chair cushions sleeping peacefully in fetal positions. For some reason, their docile, present figures reminded me of a paranoiac scene near my street that day, namely a single Westchester cop car that stood guard at my local train station, as if he were expecting a team of terrorists to hop off the 5:38 train to Scarsdale.

I'd fed the cats so late that morning; they weren't yet hungry by evening. I made one last round of phone calls and turned off the TV and watched the cats sleep. If there's a moral to this non-story, its clarification is going to take time, years maybe. But I thought of the cats on 9/11 when I read, or re-read poet Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies. In the eighth elegy the speaker articulates the profound unfavorable differences in the consciousness about Being that separates humans from animals. Mindful of Rilke's other famous poem about the eye of the panther, I always read this elegy as referring to cats when it alludes to animals. That in turn conjures my own morning of 9/11/01. As the poem describes human beings as those who are trapped in a state of looking rather than being, of expecting rather than immersing, I think back to that bizarre spell of disoriented hours in front of the TV, where my own being was in abeyance, tormented by anticipation and memory, running through histories that were mine or not, feeling dread and anger about living in other people's stories. A magnification of every day existence filtered through a political attack. All this displacement of consciousness that morning had been in contrast to my ever-present cats and their poised behavior and their assertive prowling. They moved around me perpetually indistinguishable from their existences. Lucky them.

If I understand the poem correctly, Rilke writes of the animal's consciousness as superior to that of humans because the animal's being is its essential alertness to its worldly existence, moment to moment. The animal is. And is not introspecting about that existence. The animal is not cursed by alienated self-analysis that marks human beings as largely bystanders to their own being-here. Compared to animals, we are but half-alive slaves to a future we keep imagining or straining after:

                                                But its [animal] own being
                                                is boundless, unfathomable, and without a view
                                                of its condition, pure as its outward gaze.
                                                And where we see future it sees everything,
                                                and itself in everything, and is healed for ever.

The poem is, I think, optimistic. By following the animal-exemplar, we might regain a form of being as pure aliveness. But instead, we seek through anniversaries and announcements, or from personal essays and declarations of war, a specter of a life. We attend to spectacles that are themselves signs of the same divorced condition; we expect "breaking news," both inwardly, through constant reflection, and outwardly through updates and bulletins, all to try to settle an ongoing disturbance between expectation and a universe that treats us like a guest. In the world but not able to be of it. Rilke writes:
                                    We know what is outside us from the animal’s
                                    face alone: since we already turn
                                    the young child round and make it look
                                    backwards at what is settled, not that openness
                                    that is so deep in the animal’s vision. Free from death.

Rilke's poem goes on to compare the animal to a child who somehow stays in the womb forever. This isn't the same as his saying that the animal is a fetus that hasn't been born into the world; the living animal's utter participation in the world is as unchanging and as reciprocally immediate as the fetus' relation to the enclosing womb.

The uninhibited gaze and pace of my two cats on the morning of 9/11/01 reveal that "boundless unfathomable" capacity which is signaled by the animal's unsealed eyes and its unrestrained ambulation. Here, without qualification, without a TV. That animal presence confronts us with our human absence. We are absent because of retrospection and anticipation, absent in a retreating spectatorship, absent in figurative and literal wars with this world, in a constant bracing against the environment, in a frustrated withdrawal from surroundings. "Hunker. What's going to happen next? Nothing will ever be the same."

Not unlike the day of the JFK assassination, whose 50th anniversary approaches with its own morning of, afternoon of, evening of stories of its generation of witnesses sure to flow, 9/11/01 was, in the end, for me, a day of non-stop repulsive spectatorship. That out-looking was shared by all human beings who had the perverse luxury of a few hours of access to a television set, if they weren't being shot at or bombed or starved by other human beings. Animals surely are inherently better than all that.

When we share morning of 9/11 stories we might be sharing an unspoken, pan-human embarrassment about what it is we humans do with existence—and even now, what we (that is, we as America) do with it still, in extremis, onward. The President has something to say about the Middle East. I bet he does. We tune in. Unlike the animal's gaze, Rilke writes, "our eyes are/as if they were reversed." We've glued our existence to inner and outer screens.
What consoled me about the otherwise banal act of feeding my cats on 9/11 is that they weren't watching Breaking News out of lower Manhattan; it wasn't their cataclysm and it wasn't their structures crumbling. Instruments like a television set and airplanes answer human existential need for distancing, a need from which animals are exempt.

We describe those who maim or rape or kill fellow human beings as "acting like animals." I know for a fact I thought of that absurdity as I fed my cats that morning. As the fire sirens blasted and a military helicopter flew over the Cross County Parkway and my cats ate their food, that phrase hit me—acting like animals—and almost made me sick, a hypocritical libel against animals. Which it is. Worse than animals, some say.

Perhaps those two animals I was lucky to live with and Rilke who I have been lucky to read, show me, in some way, that 'my morning of 9/11' tale isn't as meaningless a story as I had assumed:

                        And we: onlookers, always, everywhere,
                        always looking into, never out of, everything.
                        It fills us. We arrange it. It collapses.
                        We arrange it again, and collapse ourselves.

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Tim Keane is author of the poetry collection Alphabets of Elsewhere (Cinnamon Press). His award-winning writing has appeared in Modern Painters, Shenandoah, Denver Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Reader (UK) and numerous publications. He teaches writing and European literature at BMCC, CUNY, in lower Manhattan

Image: Robert Corless, Untitled (Sleeping Cat), 32" x 48" oil on canvas, ca. 1968-1973, photo Paul Moran, 2013, © estate of Robert Corless


Tim Keane
Robert Corless

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