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The Little Review
Making No Compromises With the Public Taste
Poem for Monday 
Monday, 17th April 2006 12:11 am

Birds Appearing in a Dream
By Michael Collier

One had feathers like a blood-streaked koi,
another a tail of color-coded wires.
One was a blackbird stretching orchid wings,
another a flicker with a wounded head.

All flew like leaves fluttering to escape,
bright, circulating in burning air,
and all returned when the air cleared.
One was a kingfisher trapped in its bower,

deep in the ground, miles from water.
Everything is real and everything isn’t.
Some had names and some didn’t.
Named and nameless shapes of birds,

at night my hand can touch your feathers
and then I wipe the vernix from your wings,
you who have made bright things from shadows,
you who have crossed the distances to roost in me.


This poem is from one of the books reviewed in this week's Washington Post Book World, the annual poetry issue. Collier was my professor in an MFA program at the University of Maryland -- an excellent teacher, and I only came to appreciate him as a poet afterward. In this review, Frances Phillips writes of the "wild presence [of] the birds that land, nest, arise, devour, fall and sing throughout this book. Collier's birds are both fragile -- 'less than an ounce,/and are so little of water,/more hollow than bone' -- and ominous." In the poem above, "Collier envisions an array of extraordinary, colorful creatures: 'you who have made bright things from shadows,/you who have crossed the distances to roost in me.' Just as birds allegorically cross the distances, passing from the material to the spiritual world, their presence here echoes dream visits to the poet from the dead or dying. Collier's spectral visitors do not seem to be vengeful or haunting but instead draw attention to the places where one pauses in that passage from one state of being to another."

We went downtown today to the National Gallery of Art to see the Dada exhibit, to which I insisted on arriving by 1 p.m. to hear the score from Le Ballet mécanique. When this piece was first performed in Paris (written as a film score, but too long for the film and performed for an audience long before Antheil's dream of a performance on player pianos with automated percussion, as the National Gallery has staged it, was possible), it caused riots. Hemingway and Pound wrote about them. I first discovered Dada at the time I discovered The Little Review, reading an excerpt from Margaret Anderson's autobiography about the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, one of Dada's more entertaining US resident artists, and it was a real treat to get to see so much Man Ray and Tristan Tzara in one place, although the focus of the exhibit was on the European cities where the movement thrived; it was less overtly political in America.

Instruments set up for Le Ballet mécanique, including some of the 16 player pianos. You can't see all the fans, alarms, etc. in this photo!

There was a fantastic anti-totalitarian sketch about keeping the world safe for democracy with a brutal officer standing over chained citizens that I was really hoping they'd be selling as a poster -- chillingly appropriate at the moment -- but unfortunately the only posters were the better known Duchamp Mona Lisa with moustache and beard, LHOOQ. The exhibit is there till May 7th and I highly recommend it. My kids, interestingly, did not react as I expected; I thought the younger one would be interested and the older one bored, but the younger one found the music too jarring and the art too "stupid" (which it is in most cases, but purposefully so -- a rejection of representational art) while the younger one really got the political underpinnings.

Since we were already in the National Gallery, we walked from the East Building to the West Building to see the Cezanne in Provence exhibit (it's the 100th anniversary of Cezanne's death, so he gets a retrospective). He's not my favorite of the impressionist/post-impressionist crowd by any stretch, but he is kind of the link between them and the modern artists, so we probably should have seen that before the Dada exhibit but were afraid the kids would get restless and refuse to go back to the East Building. I love series of paintings that examine the same scene in different light, different seasons, different weather, etc., and he painted several of those at Mont Sainte-Victoire. I also was not familiar with his watercolors, and they are magnificent.

I actually managed to get work done today! Just the site columns and a few paragraphs of Erik Jendresen swearing that there really might be an eleventh Star Trek feature film possibly someday maybe, but hey, it's something (and the kids were happy to get two hours to play video games uninterrupted with their friends, heh). In the evening, of course, we watched The West Wing. It actually felt somewhat anticlimactic, I think because the funeral itself was at the very beginning and was more powerful than anything that came afterward. Of course political life must go on and Matt and Josh taking all those meetings were necessary developments, but there wasn't quite the sense of missing Leo that I expected, and the humor of Danny and Josh being unable to get laid because CJ and Donna, who are friends, can't admit to each other that they're sleeping with them respectively just seemed weird at the wake. Jed telling one funny story after another about Leo to fill the void, I get that, and even wanting sex to avoid thinking/feeling too much, I get that too, but the way it's played for laughs seems a little...I don't know. I didn't feel good about it, and while I have been ambivalent about Josh/Donna for a long time, I do not want to be ambivalent about CJ/Danny which I have thought was a great idea for years!

Okay, there are some great moments. Matt insisting that he has to talk to all candidates for Speaker of the House, even the one with no chance, and when he asks the guy if he'd support lobbying reform, the dialogue goes, "There's a perception that Fields is a..." "You want it, you got it!" "...White House lackey." Am tired of Amy again being the token one-issue feminist, make a woman VP whether or not she's the best person for the job or good for the administration, party, etc., but I do like how she talks to Matt, even though he then talks down to her...I do not get what Josh ever saw in her but at the same time Donna right now is being such a wet blanket that I'd almost feel better if she acted more like Amy! Then there's that classic Josh/Matt moment: "If you're looking for a 'yes' man, I'm not it. I'll be out in the lobby with Amy Gardner." What amuses me is that the issue isn't really the issue, as it were, or Josh would have come out and asked Matt's intentions concerning the Speaker. His feelings are hurt over the transition team stuff. His crush has wounded him!

But I really wanted Josh to have to go off somewhere and cry about Leo at some point. Didn't anyone from Jed on down have to lock himself in a bathroom to cry? I mean, CJ and Abbey get to do it in public. But the others. Sigh. Maybe I would feel this anticlimax less if I didn't know the show was in its final weeks, and more importantly, if John Spencer were still alive and that storyline felt more artificial, less real. The fantasy bipartisan administration is definitely artificial! And I am going to miss all these characters so much.

Monday is the kids' last day of spring break, so my last day of trying to keep up with their entertainment schedule! And the Wizards have made the playoffs, whoo!
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