Monday, October 15, 2012

Written to my best friend Neil.

My reading at the Legion of Honor was so fucking good. 

Like, everyone was prepared and dressed up and performed well--at the top of their games--but it was also just a magickally good day too. Perfect, cloudless, sunny, but still a tiny bit breezy, day. Everyone in a good mood and excitedly expectant, prepared and focused at exactly the right level together. Everyone arriving on time and dressed to the nines and feeling as good as they looked. 

Great turnout as well: by start of guided tour time (with the exhibition's local curator, Julian, narrating), we had about 40 - 50 people in tow, by the end of the tour, about 45 minutes later, it was more like 60 - 70. 

No one had problems during the tour either. Everyone read clearly, slowly, and loudly enough for anyone in the large (or small) galleries to hear each word spoken. 

Hollie and Zarina in particular looked like glamorous movie stars (or minor goddesses) in their gold getups and up-do hairdos, but everyone looked great in their fancy dress clothes. 

The people on the tour were both attentive and engaged by, and with, the writing--to almost the same level as with the artwork. It was truly incredible.

We moved from room to room, Julian delivering his even, informative text, then one of us poets sliding gracefully to the forefront, taking the focus onto themselves, and covering the crowd with an intensely focused perspective, a condensation that all present could understand and relate to. Each poet bathed them, the willing crowd. Covered them in a coating of words, images and emotions. 

That is the beauty of this exhibition in general, its genius: it is so human and relatable. Its narrative is so personal and so familiar: that most potent of fleeting loves. Many of us, who have lived life for any extended period of time, have been through what they went through, or at least, know of someone close who did. 

We know their intense and unexpected attraction: undeniable and irresistible and immediate. We have felt that confirmation from the universe: "This is correct, this is the most right either of us can feel or do right now", hoping it will last forever, not sure how long this forever will last, not caring about it, not caring what anyone else in the world is doing, just bathing in that singular golden light of love together. 

And each of us could also relate to the abject pain of love suddenly and irrevocably lost. 

While the "Breakup Room" was one of the smallest spaces, it was still intense enough to have two poets claim it, to claim a  necessity to write about it and read within in it. That too was a perfect solution: one man and one woman, both writing about the electric resonance of the artworks created during this personally awful and messy time for Man Ray and Lee Miller both. 

One of the poets in conversation, talking in tandem, with a page from a personal journal, a notebook, a sketchbook, covered in a neat but obsessive scrawl. Over and over and over again, sometimes on top of each other, like a desperate spell or incantation written, pathetic honesty in graphic form, the name "Elizabeth" repeated over a lightly drawn line drawing, a portrait of Elizabeth Lee Miller herself, simple and clean, and so faint as to almost seem erased, but not completely. 

The other poet flying with huge wing flaps into the twilight sky behind the mismatched reds of her giant painted lips, Lee Miller's. Zarina's reading golden with the heat, the voice, of a woman finally freed from male domination. The gold of new scars and liberation.

After they broke up, he was obsessed with her, Man Ray, but only in small body parts, could only take her in small doses: her lips, maybe one of her eyes, blurry with motion. He was haunted by passing time. He tried to destroy her. He was haunted by her eyes, her voice, her lips, her hair. Haunted. Lonelier than he could ever remember being, ever. That kind of desperation. And who hasn't felt that? 

At that mid-point in the tour, you could feel that we had them: anyone distracted or doubting at the beginning were now riveted and expectant of what could possibly follow and where we'd end, emotionally and thematically. The crowd seemed to grow more dense with each passing room and each completed poetic performance. 

Soon I found myself growing expectant: we were approaching the second-to-last gallery--the one before mine--the Lee Miller war photography room, small and painted dark and unable to hold all the people on the tour, which also seemed apt to the subjects of both the photos, and the poet's chosen focus and particular words. 

Mariama kicked off her shoes (even that seemed right), took my professor's hand, and mounted the wobbly library step stool, pausing long enough for the crowd to focus and grow appropriately silent. Then she hit them with it. With a tapestry in black and white that flew in and out of many of the photos in the room. Her choice to stand in the corner facing out was also perfect. It made her body seem smaller but more solid, allowed her voice to grow in size and quiet intensity. She had her poem memorized, so there was little visual distraction. Her voice building upon itself, the story growing, layer upon layer, emotion woven into emotion, making the horror and loss and subtly masked sadness of the photos personal to each of us in the room and to those in the gallery space adjoining. Once again, magickal and perfect. Of and by the moment.

And with its completion, I moved quickly through the crowd, into the last gallery, moved with force toward my mark: directly under the lit mobile of wooden hangers, in the middle of the half-circle alcove, on the far side of the room, just before the pocket of late-in-life shots and the entry to the exhibition gift shop. Zarina, who I'd be reading just before, her poem like a bookend to mine, already near to her position. I waited for the folks standing, talking, under the mobile to move, then swooped, turning to face the side of the crowd, who were now listening intensely to the words of the curator, many completely unaware of what was coming next.

Julian pushed through the small cluster of watching tour members and handed me the cordless mic. I fluidly raised it to my mouth and raised my folded paper in tandem. And then I went to that place that I've always gone when speaking or reading or acting or playing in front of people I don't know personally. It is a place so very familiar, like a kind of self-hypnosis, similar to where I go when I make art alone in my room. The words, while not memorized, were still so familiar that I could focus on my delivery: an even and soothing cadence, my chocolatey baritone floating words on the audience like rose petals on the calm black surface of a pond. Between lines I waited. I waited for that push-pull feeling given like a whispered request from audience to performer: "Yes, we're ready for more now." And each time I felt it, I gave it. And before I knew it I was finished. I turned to my left and handed Zarina the microphone with a quiet, but confident smile. The crowd was applauding and I was bending slightly at the waist, mouthing "Thank you" and turning slowly from side to side.

Then Zarina read again. This time in a voice closer to my own: filled with introspection, the quiet of accepted loss, which can only come with passing time. Her poem was like another pass through the subjects that I touched, ended with a finality that gave the tour its needed conclusion. 

Julian spoke one last time after, and Renee gave us all introductions before we slowly headed up the stairs.

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