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:
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!
Author James Anderson published with PBS ~ Jack Estes. Crown picked him up, but I wanted to give a shout out, along with this brilliant trailer for his latest release Lullaby Road.
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!
New York Times – The Best Art Books of 2018
The Times’s art critics select some of their favorite art books and books related to art of the year.
By Roberta Smith
‘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.
A bike ride past a small child in a blue-tarp homeless encampment stirs thoughts about society’s failures.
Even during our rainy months, as soon as I begin riding my bike, satisfaction flows into me quickly, like a sugar rush, just as when I was 6 years old, feeling the freedom of riding for the first time. But the real point is that I notice so much more at bicycle speed, and I want to notice.
And this morning would feel like too grand a luxury, too great a denial, to not notice the newest jury-rigged tarp strung between branches along the waterfront pathway, so stark and, yet, so full of determination, everything about its makeshift survival is admirable and horrifying at the same time. The layers of plastic persistence are etched into my brain.
I feel uncomfortable to think of it now, nearly as much as I felt then, when my first thought was what will our parks be like in 10 years as our city becomes more and more crowded and even more expensive, every tent standing alone and, yet, together in one continuous chain of poverty and addiction and a failing system of both health care and leadership.
A young man is standing on a sheet of muddy cardboard next to the tarp and for a moment the earth seemed to fall away under my feet. Because what else I see is tender and good and yet countless kinds of wrong in a country rich as ours: He (her father or brother, I don’t know), is holding a baby girl, maybe a year old. Their campsite is pretty tidy, but the one next to them is trash-strewn and reeks of urine and feces, the horrible smells we need to protect ourselves from.
I slowed, stopped, and without thinking said, “Good morning.”
He was a man battling some kind of chemical addiction; all you had to do was look at him to know it. To have no choice but to raise a child in filth and chaos is visible in the eyes. And I had this clear impression that I was seeing someone struggling to cope and losing his struggle at the same time. He looked at me, squinted, and said, sort of absently, “Good enough.”
I tried to continue riding as though nothing had happened, but the tension in my spine grew along with my guilt. I live with that image every moment now. I can’t let it go. A maternal anger has come over me. We don’t have time to work out what’s going wrong with the system, certainly not enough to save that little girl. I rode off wondering if her generation won’t even find homelessness newsworthy anymore because it’s so common.
My friends lean both ways.
One thinks that the homeless should be “rounded up.” That is exactly what she said. As if, like the sunspot she had lasered off her cheek, we can simply swipe them away, the whole problem disappearing if we apply enough heat.
Another started helping in a soup kitchen long before it was cool to do so.
My mother used to say: There but for the grace of God, go I.
I say: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the patience not to smack the head of the man in my building who said, “Mary Lou, Mary Lou,” repeating my name twice so that I, silly liberal, silly woman, would finally comprehend the world as he sees it. “What’s the point of more bike lanes if they encourage more people who can’t afford cars?”
“You are an imbecile,” I said.
It’s the kind of thing I say when I don’t say anything for a few seconds so that I can collect my thoughts.
It’s the kind of thing I say when I am fed up.
It’s the kind of thing I say when I feel desperate about our failings.
I tell you, homeless children are our truest failing.
The Robert Sund Poets House to now carry these Sund titles to simplify the ordering/shipping process. PBS was honored to distribute these Robert Sund books:
Poetry. Literary Nonfiction. Art. Edited by Glenn Hughes and Tim McNulty. Afterword by Glenn Hughes. After growing up in the Pacific Northwest, poet and painter Robert Sund was moved and altered by his encounter with the Southwest. He lived in Taos, New Mexico, and filled page after page with notes, poems, prose, and gorgeous paintings. This book is a limited edition which demonstrates Sund’s virtuosity and versatility.
Poems from Ish River Country collects the complete poems of poet, painter and calligrapher Robert Sund. Mr. Sund’s few published volumes of poetry and frequent public readings established his reputation as one of the most distinctive poetic voices of the Pacific Northwest, where he enjoyed a tremendous popularity before his death in 2001. His short, imagistic poems, in the tradition of William Carlos Williams and Kenneth Rexroth, distill the essence of the Northwest landscape and in plain speech celebrate themes of family, friendship, work and quiet contemplation.
Included here are the poet’s award-winning collections, Bunch Grass, which gave literary voice to the rolling wheat country east of the Cascade Mountains in his native Washington State, and Ish River, which celebrated the misty, riverine landscape of the Puget Sound country, a place, in the poet’s words, “between two mountain ranges where / many rivers / run down to an inland sea”. But the great bulk of this collection contains poems unpublished during the poet’s lifetime or published only in very limited editions. There is also a generous selection of his translations, from Issa, Buson, Basho, and most especially from the Swedish poet Rabbe Enckell, with whom Mr. Sund felt a close affinity.
From the site:
Like a Boat Drifting.”
Like a boat drifting,
sleep flows forward
on the deep water of dreams.
Drifts and drifts…
the bottom falls out of knowledge.
In the fragrant mist of dawn
the rower wakes,
picks up the oars, sets them,
and begins to row.
he labored in his dream
to be born
like a song in the mouth of God.
For more on Robert Sund &/or to order books:
PBS will continue to carry Notes from Disappearing Lake
“In a dark time, the eye begins to see…
This year, my eye sees one thing: There IS light at the end of the tunnel. So here is this year’s, somewhat polemical but hopeful, Thanksgiving poem.