Narrated by Edward E French, what begins as a subtle revealing, in just a short time becomes a haunting intrigue. If you’d like to hear what happens next, all books are 20% off until end of summer, with the code: gift
From Jack Estes, “I’m very sad to say that Russell Connor passed away last night, March 24th, 2019. He was a wonderful soul and a talented and imaginative artist. PBS published two books by Russell: Toys in my AtticandMasters in Pieces II.His great generosity and humor will long be remembered by those who knew him and his work.”
Russell Connor was born in Cambridge, MA, June 15, 1929. He had a BFA from Mass. College of Art and an MFA from the Yale School of Art, where he studied with Josef Albers. He lived in Japan and France and resided in Manhattan since 1970. He traced the origin of art history-inspired painting he did, for over three decades, to a youthful stint as what he called an instant expert on the art of the world, writing and hosting Museum Open House, a WGBH-TV series from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. http://russellconnor.com/
In addition to exhibiting internationally in museums and galleries, he has done covers and illustrated essays for The New Yorker and The New York Times’ Book Review. He also engaged in the production of films and videotapes about the arts, for broadcast and cable television, for which he won several awards. In addition to being the writer/host for two WGBH series, Museum Open House from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Artists’ Showcase, he hosted a series for Cable Arts, A for Art; a series for HBO, The Artist’s Eye; and a series on experimental video for WNET in New York, entitled VTR: Video and Television Review. He has produced and directed PBS programs for the Whitney Museum of American Art (as Head of their Education Dept.), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, The Asia Society, and The New York Historical Society, and documentaries on New York artists, funded by the New York State Council on the Arts. He collaborated on video art projects with Nam June Paik, Bill Viola, and William Wegman. Mr.Connor lectured at the School of Visual Arts, New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the DeCordova Museum School, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Worcester Art Museum School, the University of Rhode Island, the Tama School of Fine Arts, Japan, Hunter College of The City University of New York, The New School University, New York, Brandeis University, The Art Students’ League, The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the École des Beaux Arts, Paris. His paintings are in numerous private and museum collections. For a list of Exhibitions and museum collections, file:///Users/useryou/Desktop/CV,+Russell+Connor.pdf
My first day in Richard Hugo’s workshop, forty-some years ago, Hugo asked a second-year student to read his poem.“Robbie Loftus has beaten me up again in the boys can,” it began.
Wow, I thought, you can do that?I loved the voice.I loved that it named names, that I heard it talking to me.I loved the attitude behind the voice, the aplomb, the it is what it is quality when faced with the indignities of youth.I loved that by the first line it had me smiling.Thus, my introduction to Ed Harkness.Later that year, Hugo gushed over another Harkness poem (“The Man in the Recreation Room”); that it was formal, a villanelle, struck me as really odd.Only later did I understand how the mixing of these two impulses, the informal and the formal, gave his work its particular character.
One nugget of Hugo wisdom I still wholeheartedly endorse is that memorable writing has two subjects:the thing that snags your attention in the first place, and the thing you discover as you write—the true subject, the surprise, the thing you didn’t already know.The Law of the Unforeseen is a marvelous example of this dictum.As in his earlier collections [Saying the Necessary (2000), Beautiful Passing Lives (2010), and severalchapbooks], these poems concern themselves, outwardly, with family life, and the natural world of the Pacific Northwest (he has a special affinity for birds).But they’re never static, they keep cranking things another crank.
Throughout The Law of the Unforeseen there’s an urgent sense of the poem as an act of revolt against the effects of time.There are elegies for departed friends, and a heartbreaking, regret-fueled account of a poetry student murdered by her boyfriend.Increasingly, the stories he wants to dig up and preserve are those of his own ancestors.In “Photo of the Twins, Ca. 1897,” we meet the Savoy girls, Mert and Gert, their girlhood portrait colliding with what’s known of their later history.The urge to know them (and be known by them) is potent:“I want to think my kinswomen . . . would smile,” he writes, “or at least have understood . . .
my life’s work, which has been to rouse them,
raise them from their graves, to light the flash
that saves them, and saves the unsmiling
radiant world, against all odds, from oblivion.
In “Ax,” Thomas Harkness, immigrant from County Antrim, fibs his way into the Union Army at age 55; three months later, a ricocheting ax blade slices through his shoe and four inches of bone and tendon.As with the twins, we flash ahead to glimpse his later life, and finally his broken grave marker; the poem ends:
The ax has gone to rust, just as his stone
will fall away to pieces, chunks, gravel, grit,
and at last to dust, its inscription
reduced to a whisper in the elms.
Another poem starts with ahand-made wooden spoon from a thrift store—burn-scarred, its wear suggesting years of stirring by a left-handed woman . . .
perhaps living—wild surmise—
in Iowa in the thirties, baby
balanced on her right hip . . .
The “wild surmise” fills another eight stanzas—his capacity for empathy and his powers of invention both have hair-triggers, we learn.
The Law of the Unforeseen has no villanelles, but there’s constant attention to sound and design, line and stanza pattern. Tellingly, “New Year’s Eve,” the most harrowing of poems (recounting an adult son’s fatal heart attack and “one chance in a million” resuscitation) uses a fixed form with key words repeated.And there are a number of sonnets, “Coffee” and “The Lesson,” to name two, both powerful, both reminding me that a rhymed couplet can hit like a mallet.
For all the grace and accessibility and humor (he can be savagely funny), Harkness also possesses a vein of rock-hard moral outrage.It surfaced throughout the earlier collections —in “Spain, 1938”(Saying the Necessary), for instance, and in the remarkable sequence, “Five Angry Little Songs” (Beautiful Passing Lives).He loathes war, duplicitous government, faux patriotism, stupidity, untruth, and all the rest of it.In another of the new sonnets (“America, Great Once Again”) we watch a ten-year-old girl witnessing her mother’s beating by police:
. . . men
in body armor, one boot on the woman’s back,.
one on her neck, while others tie her wrists,
twisting them till she shrieks, her body slack
from writhing against what it resists.
The devastating “The Unfocused Eyes of Drones” begins benignly enough:
They’re dream wrens in the clear lake of day,
like toys, a slightly larger replica
of those model planes men play with
at the park on weekend to escape the house.
However (calling to mind Hannah Arendt’s phrase “the banality of evil”), it soon morphs into an account of a drone operator, somewhere in the American Heartland, dispassionately annihilating a target on the far side of the world—including the girl in red headscarf watering eggplants in the courtyard outside her home.Like you, perhaps, I’ve been profoundly demoralized by the 45th presidency; chilling as a poem like “The Unfocused Eyes of Drones” is, I find myself somehow bucked up, heartened by the sound of defiance; I’m reminded how critical it is for our artists to remain engaged.
Finally, The Law of the Unforeseen is a collection to celebrate, a book with range and heart, the product of intense curiosity and love of craft.If Hugo were still around he’d still be gushing.
Karen Wilkin gives a perceptive, intelligent review of Goodbye to Tenth Street, assessing which characters could be an amalgamation of past infamous people in the art scene of the time, as well as noting details within the story’s relation to art theory and history through Sandler’s lively book, which she notes is mostly a fun read, and I have to agree… “…Goodbye to Tenth Street is a must for anyone interested in an art world very different from today’s. Sandler immerses us in a time when artists sought aesthetic excellence, intensity, and—above all—individuality, striving to charge their work with their entire being rather than “strategizing.” (Except for the novel’s venal Neil Johnson.) Recognition and sales were, obviously, desirable and welcome, but in contrast to the present day, aesthetic values, rather than monetary worth, were life-and-death matters, to be wrestled with in the studio and, elsewhere, to be argued about, challenged, fought over, and even died for. Sandler vividly recreates the atmosphere in which such beliefs flourished. For facts, The Triumph of American Painting and The New York School are still essential, along with his two volumes of memoirs, with their privileged information. But for sheer entertainment, go to Goodbye to Tenth Street.”
Here is an unusually affecting book of poetry that takes into you the earthy life of a farm, with its many exotic pets, like yaks… it opens different territories for the inner life as she delves into beautiful, moving, drifting and chilling spaces. The cover pic of her book is of “Lady my very special cow friend- half holstein half brahma— a rather special being.”
Pamela (Jody) Stewart has published several chapbooks and five full-length volumes of poetry, the most recent being The Red Window (University of Georgia Press, 1997). Her work has appeared in a number of anthologies including Dog Music, New York: Poems and two Pushcart Prizes. A Guggenheim Fellowship took her to Cornwall in the U.K. where she lived for seven years. She’s happily ended up on a farm in Hawley, Massachusetts. https://www.thriftbooks.com/a/pamela-stewart/1281363/
“Elegance of Folklore, Dailiness of Farm Life”: An interview with poet Pamela Stewart
KIRPAL GORDON: First off, congratulations on the publication of your new book, Ghost Farm, by Pleasure Boat Studio. Cynthia Hogue wrote, “These poems have the crystalline elegance of folklore, yet Stewart also meticulously details the dailiness of life on a farm.” That combination of celebrating the everlasting amidst the ever-birthing-dying pours out on every page like the heart of a joyous discovery. I thought of Gautama under the Bodhi Tree and Demeter at Eleusis reunited with Persephone.
PAMELA (JODY) STEWART: Oh, thank you Kirpal. I was so happy to publish this book and Pleasure Boat Studio is a press I greatly admire. Supremely eclectic! Being naïve and ignorant and then suddenly caught up in raising animals has been profound for me: joyous, painful and accountable for my mistakes in a whole new way. If that soft red tube goes into a lung, I kill the lamb. If it doesn’t, I shape a good chance for its survival. Daily. But for health reasons I can’t really work in the barn anymore (pigeons, can you believe it?) and the farm is winding down. I miss it and I sure was in better shape when I did more chores. Yet it never leaves my consciousness. And in August we had a miracle lamb which meant some Ram got out or had a long reach last March. Mary– a Karakul/Shetland cross whose birth cheered up everyone.
KIRPAL GORDON: Taking care of animals is an ancient lifestyle and may lend a note to what Hogue called your “crystalline elegance of folklore.” Here’s an example that knocked me out:
PAGE BY PAGE
In the child’s tipped paperweight, snow drifts behind
the glowing village church into the dark green forest.
Between the pews, a woman in her red
housekeeping smock sweeps away pine needles, dust, hair-
pins and a few scraps of paper. She’s humming O Holy Night.
At the edge of this picture book, a wolf paces his thicket.
He’d like to curl safely into warm sleep
but hungers instead.
The geese need more than snow to drink so twice a day
the child presses the heavy door outward,
hauls buckets of warm water to the noisy flock.
The paperweight tilts on her dresser.
Most days this child forks the worst of the stained bedding
From the bred ewe’s fold, tipping her basket
onto the frozen pile out back. One day, caught in the straw:
a curbed spine, wrinkled nut of a head, four hooves
all slathered red. Poor ewe bleating and turning.
Everyone’s cold or stuck in small enclosures:
a farm, its fold, the paperweight and page. So the wolf
steps into the white meadow beyond manure stream.
He smells the lamb’s blood. You smell it too as your hand
reaches for the cold jug of vodka hidden behind the family Bible.
The details cohere cinematically while leaving plenty of room for interpretation. Even the title, “Page by Page,” had me hooked.
PAMELA (JODY) STEWART: Oh titles are always a dilemma. I thought of it as an illustration, but couldn’t use that (again) as a title and in truth the poem was inspired by a full-page magazine ad for Vodka with lots of white sheep faces and a single wolf face captured in the bottle behind glass. As though being the bold and beautiful wolf made you the exception and yet how threatening is the notion of a wolf-in-a bottle for the person who needs to “un-friend” the booze. I liked the picture’s ambiguity which has nothing to do with the sort of fairy-tale quality which took over the coloration of the poem. As I’ve pondered these references to folklore I realize how much I have been influenced by fairy tales and the pictures they made in my mind. Also in many of my poems, for reasons I don’t quite get, there is an undercurrent of threat to children which may arise from these same stories as well as how my psyche is compelled to translate them.
KIRPAL GORDON: In a recent local article on Ghost Farm, you were asked whether you think of yourself primarily as a poet or a farmer, and you laughed and said, “I know other people for whom poetry is their all-consuming life. It’s not my all consuming thing. It’s a part of me.” The distinction between being consumed by poetry versus poetry being a part of you is made so much clearer by a poem like:
MOHAIR On the rain-washed hillside the goats flow draped in that famous, diamond-tough fiber from Solomon’s Song. Its blaze shines lustrous as first love. I remember how my halo-ed sweater felt, how it held against those kisses of fright and need. A big buck watches from his pen. He’s waiting for longer, colder nights as his scent drifts downwind. One tattered doe, fleece torn by fever, also waits For that shortened day which stuns. There’s a cry from a distant forest. Windfall apples call the goats to graze. Their bright hair flows. These goats are in my charge — sheltered, not quite safe.
Jody, it’s the combination of the goats being “in your charge” with the lyric you make of their dilemma that makes a poem no one but you could write. I mean it’s music while also being scary and utterly real!
PAMELA (JODY) STEWART: I would like to celebrate angora goats even more with words; they are lovely animals but are probably best comprehended through sight and touch. We had a funny start with goats having picked up 9 cull does from a university which was disbanding goats. They were in god-awful shape, unshorn, no feet trimmed for a year easily, poorly fed and they were all bred! The sense of their fragility, and for some a bitter struggle to stay alive through a tough winter and birthing. A lot of their kids were very frail and some died. I think that set me up for the powerful sense of responsibility husbandry requires. When I am with the animals, or the memory of our experiences, I feel farmer. When I muse or ponder or am stirred to even a few words I feel – well not exactly poet, but possible poet: poem-writer.It gets all mixed up which is just how it goes.
KIRPAL GORDON: I think I last saw you in New York City when you gave a reading in midtown in the early Eighties. I think you were en route to Cornwall, thanks to a Guggenheim Fellowship, and I know you lived in the UK for seven years. What caused you to return to the States, to Hawley (near where you grew up) and to farming?
PAMELA (JODY) STEWART: I had the glorious Guggenheim though no job and as usual felt something of a misfit. When I traveled I met Ed—it was all very romantic, though now it’s nearly 30 years and many stories later – so I went and lived in Cornwall for 7 years. That was wonderful for me, though often difficult. I thought I’d lean at a window watching the sea and write great stuff! Be somebody! Instead I learned to make scones for Ying Chang who ran a little English café while her husband ran the Chinese restaurant. Oddly, I think Ying was the first Asian woman I ever really talked to. She was important to me. Anyway, the Thatcher years had caused dismal economics and fishing wasn’t much good where Ed worked so after returning for my Grandmother’s memorial service Ed decided we should move, I wasn’t so sure as I’d finally settled in. But we did come to westernMassachusetts where my heart lives when it’s in America and eventually we found a place with quite a bit of land and lots of privacy and that’s how Tregellys Farm started. With no electricity, no phone, gravity feed water and no idea what the bugger hell we were doing except that we would get a few llamas because they were cool. Then we attended the Heath fair in 1994 and returned with two Tamworth pigs and a pair of old-style Merino wethers. And it was active addiction from then on . . . . We had no idea where this would lead and had lots of ideas none of which became money-makers, but hey- “that’s farming.” However I am solidly aware that we were in the “gentleman’s” category compared to the local dairy farmers in this area who have kept their small farms going with a kind of grit and hard work I can’t begin to fathom.
I always was attracted to Hawley because great potatoes have grown here. It’s also tiny, all edge, no center. However, I’ve been an infrequent writer since life is very busy and mostly I’d just as soon sit down and read quietly with no one bothering me. Around 2001-2 we got a few yaks and through that met a number of Tibetans which is another story entirely. What can I say – it started with Ed going yak shopping and returning with two boys, Rupert and Horatio. Of course the little weekly newspaper took a photo and the next week, while having a cup of tea we looked out our window and saw a pair of monks striding past. They’d come to see yaks which they’d had not seen since they escaped to India. It was like breathing a moment of home for them. Before long we had a family live with us temporarily and another friend, a brilliant stonemason, has been living with us for about ten years now. While we are not real practicing Buddhists, we have a beautiful stupa on the farm which stands as a 9/11 memorial among other things. Here and there are prayer flags which continually get blown to pieces on windy Hog Mountain. Which is the whole idea.
KIRPAL GORDON: I recall you as a great creative writing teacher, open minded about form and content as opposed to representing a theoretical stance. In the era of the alleged “po wars,” such candor was especially courageous and skillful. Do you still teach?
PAMELA (JODY) STEWART: No I don’t teach. Sometimes I chat with friends about their work where I hope I am of occasional use and also ask for suggestions from them. I have no theoretical stances. I’m not sure if I even have ideas about poems or literature. I am intrigued by much but think some of it is just a great big bunch of publishing fussiness. Some of it can be interesting though. I believe in “Art” sometimes, because that impulse matters –- caring beyond the self matters. But not every worthy poem or poetic impulse is “Art”; why should it be? –that doesn’t mean our endeavors can’t have a perfectly good life of their own and earn our affection and respect.
KIRPAL GORDON: What do you make of American poetry these days?
PAMELA (JODY) STEWART: American poetry?There’s a lot of it! If it were ice-cream flavors we’d be flat on our backs. It’s varied, a wilderness, so many voices that were once “marginal” are right out there– you could read forever so I think we are lucky. But it’s also overwhelming so I find it difficult to sense if one thing is more important than another –cliché or not, I usually just like what I like. Then there are those blows from above like (non American) Fawsi Karim’s The Plague Lands which reminds me why “Art” is real and noble so I am deeply, joyfully humbled.
KIRPAL GORDON: Since the mid-Seventies, you have published a number of chapbooks as well as five full-length collections of poetry, the last of which was The Red Window, University of Georgia Press, in ’97. What projects are on your horizon and how can Giant Steps readers stay in better touch with all of what you do?
PAMELA (JODY) STEWART: Well, I have been working sporadically on a New and Selected sort of project at the urging of a few friends. It’s really hard because it’s important to me to have poems genuinely mine and not much influenced or helped by early teachers. Also I don’t have a big batch of “new” so I may never accomplish this. I haven’t published in magazines much lately though I am willing to try again this year. Also I am the literary executor of the poet Lee McCarthy and there is a folder of really delightful letters between her and Guy Davenport which I’d like to shape and offer somewhere. I just haven’t tackled it because I haven’t any house elves to take up the slack. Also my elderly Mom lives with me, my husband’s not too well, and we have 9 dogs who require letting in and letting out continually and our resident boy, Tenzin, is still in school. But I lead a most fortunate life. Thank you for letting me ramble on!
In Russell Hill’s The Egret, a grieving father wreaks vengeance on the hit-and-run driver who caused his daughter to die. This father, never named in the book, begins stalking the uber-rich and conscienceless Earl Anthony Winslow. As the tension escalates, so do the attempts on Winslow’s life, moving up from a gunshot to a poisonous snake bite to a Molotov cocktail and even to a hastily assembled IED. Although the book is deadly serious, this escalation of violence is faintly reminiscent of Wile E Coyote’s constant attempts to kill the Road Runner. Winslow somehow survives everything the grieving father throws at him, although several bystanders aren’t as fortunate. The father sees himself as an egret: patient, and deadly. Finally confronting his daughter’s killer, he says, “There’s a bird that is a stalker. It moves silently and when it finds the thing it wants to eat, it remains motionless until the thing is right where it wants it and then it strikes. Right now I have you right where l want you.” It isn’t the final act of revenge itself that makes this 161 page novella so fascinating, it’s the look deep inside the mind and soul of a man who compares himself to a bird. Author Russell Hill likes birds. He is best known for the magical realism of The Lord God Bird, in which two teens taking refuge in the Great Dismal Swamp encounter a bird long thought to be extinct. In that book, Hill visualized the ivory-billed woodpecker as ecology’s bellwether: learn or die. In this deftly handled novel, an egret delivers a lesson on how to kill. –Betty Webb, Mystery Scene Magazine
I was so engrossed by The Egret that I read it in one straight sitting. It’s brilliant, concise, poetic, gritty and deceptively simple with all the dark undercurrents of anger and nostalgia. – Max Jourdan, London filmmaker
In his novella, The Egret, science fiction writer turns to realistic—all too realistic—fiction. In this suspense tale, Hill writes in a lean, mean prose style that I associate with some of my favorite writers, including those household names of fame, Chandler and Hemingway….I also admire Hill’s use of a daring device–1st person POV, where it becomes ominously more and more clear the narrator, who has suffered what he believes is a terrible injustice, may not survive his obsession with revenge, that his elaborate plans to get even may end in ways he did not foresee. – Edward Harkness, The Law of the Unforeseen, Beautiful Passing Lives & Saying the Necessary
We would love to hear your thoughts! If you read The Egret, or any PBS books, please add a comment – it doesn’t have to be fancy or time consuming – on Amazon, Pleasureboatstudio.com or Goodreads. Thank you so much. Cheers to igniting indie buzz!
‘GOODBYE TO TENTH STREET: A NOVEL’ By Irving Sandler (Pleasure Boat Studio). Anyone drawn to postwar New York’s art scene that centered in part on East 10th Street should read the last book of Mr. Sandler, the art historian and critic extraordinaire who died in June. He was there in the late 1950s and early ’60s taking notes while the Abstract Expressionists made history, and he became known for his meticulous accounts of their saga. But here he offers a roman à clef filled with the unverified gossip, overheard conversations, and rumors of nooners and backbiting that were unsuitable to fact-based history (though a few historical figures occupy the margins). The tale — from charged studio visits to nasty exchanges at the Cedar Bar —has its own sad, sordid, unsurprising truth.
And this month, Small Press Distribution included
Goodbye to Tenth Street in their SPD Recommends.