weird facts about yr neighborhood
so I’m reading this revolutionary war spy novel, The Spy, that takes place in Westchester county, which was a neutral ground during the war (“The county of Westchester, after the British had obtained possession of the island of New York, became common ground, in which both parties continued to act for the remainder of the war of the Revolution. A large proportion of its inhabitants, either restrained by their attachments, or influenced by their fears, affected a neutrality they did not feel.”)
but I don’t know much about the revolution, so I keep having to look stuff up
here’s the weird couple of facts: Marble Hill is politically part of Manhattan because the creek used to run north of it and there was a bridge that was important during the war, King’s Bridge (which would have been at West 230th Street) that was taken down in 1916, when the original Spuytin Duyvil Creek was filled in. The Spuytin Duyvil Creek that’s by your crib is actually a shipping channel connecting the Hudson River to the Harlem River Ship Canal which was built in 1895. What I’m not sure about is whether the placement of the mouth of the creek was moved…
In the neutral zone
Both sides’ irregular forces
Compete to steal
Whatever cattle are left, to plunder
was as light as feathers.
Neutral just means chaos
In the face of a father’s final blessing.
Donald Ringe describes this demilitarized zone as a “moral wasteland where conflicting principles are at war and the only law is might…”
There needs to be a buffer between our intentions and the intentions of our enemy
Where we all get lost.
Bio: Francis Raven is a Washington, D.C., based poet whose books include the volumes of poetry ARCHITECTONIC CONJECTURES: POEMS ABOUT THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT (Silenced Press, 2010), Provisions (Interbirth, 2009), Shifting the Question More Complicated (Otoliths, 2007) and Taste: Gastronomic Poems (Blazevox, 2005), as well as the novel INVERTED CURVATURES (Spuyten Duyvil, 2005). Her poems have been published in Bath House, CHAIN, Big Bridge, Bird Dog, Mudlark, Caffeine Destiny, and Spindrift, among others, and her critical work can be found in Jacket, Logos, Clamor, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, The Electronic Book Review, The Emergency Almanac, The Morning News, The Brooklyn Rail, 5 Trope, In These Times, The Fulcrum Annual, Rain Taxi, and Flak.
My Life in Art
When I first came to art, I wanted it to be different. I wanted it to feel absolutely strange. I wanted it to make me feel completely different. As I’ve gotten older, songs that make me feel more like me have become much more meaningful to me
I have this memory of buying my first CDs: I was in 7th grade at The College School, an experimental middle school in Webster Groves, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. After school, I would walk down Big Bend Blvd. and walk to my friend, Elizabeth’s, house. I don’t think we smoked pot yet, but we were close. Actually, what I remember most was her house, a Victorian with a big wrap-around porch; I remember her porch and how we would walk down the hill to a park and read Sassy, the original Sassy, a distinction anyone of my age will recognize. On the way to her house, I would pass Streetside Records.
On one trip to her house, I stopped in the store. I didn’t know what I wanted except for a Jane’s Addiction album that I had heard Elizabeth’s sister, Rose, playing. I bought that, but I wanted something more. I wanted to experience the limits of human experience packaged in an easy-to-play format, which arrived, at the time, in a lengthy cardboard box. I decided on my purchase entirely by name alone: 10,000 Maniacs, which was prominently displayed in the College Radio section (a category of music that unfortunately does not exist anymore). Of course, I was disappointed. 10,000 Maniacs is a fine band, even really good, but they are just not about the limits of art or experience; that’s just not their shtick. But I didn’t know that until I got home. It was the album with Orange and Planned Obsolescence on it; both songs that I still listen to and which sound exactly like that era. At the time, however, I had no idea that there even was such a thing as an era; youth is blissfully pre-historic. But purchases, no matter their era, always have a way of leading to more purchases. I didn’t necessarily have taste, but I knew what I wanted. I wanted ecstasy in art. And art has a funny way of wanting to be raised to the level of taste.
Around that time, I started reading and writing poetry; I became part of a poetry scene focused around Mokabe’s Coffee house. I’m not sure if the poetry was any good for my age; it is still too much of its time. There was a resurgence of beat poetry, but I had no concept of such a renaissance; it was merely natural. I stayed up all night digging on Kerouac and Lamantia and Rimbaud and Burroughs and Kabir and had no idea how anything fit with anything else. Since I didn’t understand that I was standing in an historical moment I couldn’t see anything else as being a part of history. It’s true, then, that the young cannot be historical materialists. But they can feel the ecstasy of what they are experiencing.
I bought Patti Smith’s Horses after reading some of her poetry. Of course, I ended up loving Patti Smith. Just the idea that anyone could be that artistically impassioned, could be that crazy, mesmerized me. But I also wanted the experience Michael Stipe had when he first heard her. Stipe was an army brat who spent his high school years in Collinsville, Illinois. Ethan Kaplan, writes of an earlier interview with Stipe where I learned of his interest in Patti: “When Stipe was 15 and in high school in St. Louis, he happened upon an issue of Creem magazine under his chair in study hall. Patti Smith was on the cover, looking like ‘Morticia Adams.’ Stipe went and bought Horses, which he claims ‘tore my limbs off and put them back on in a whole different order. I was like ‘Shit, yeah, oh my god!’ then I threw up.’” In that instant I wanted to be Michael Stipe, not so I could be lead singer of an immensely popular band, but so that story about finding Patti Smith could be mine. This was the story that really made me realize the power of art to transport us.
After a while, I became a pretty good young poet so I was blessed with some really good mentors who guided me through the history of art. Since we only experience the present, we need others to teach us history. This history led me through art for the next few years.
I am 30 now, married, sober. I want art to be a little less strange now, a little more human. I have gone in for the human story, for masters of the modest poetic. I have started to welcome that human story.
The modest poetic is colored by disappointment, regret, by time passing. Yet, it is not about living every moment as if it were your last. It is about the choices that people make every day; that is why it is modest. Thus, while the strange art that I loved as an 18-year-old (and which I still love now, but in a changed way) was often about the present, about the moment, about the new, the art of the modest poetic recognizes that life is long and full of consequences that matter. Thus, I want to feel more than dramatic weirdness; I want to know why I should feel this strangeness and I want to both know that others feel it too and why they feel it.
On my honeymoon, on Kauai, I read Updike’s Rabbit books and was moved and understood why I was moved. That is, the story had prepared me to be moved in certain ways by character. Updike shows the history of a disposition towards the world, which made me realize that the history of my own disposition towards the world could be understood by way of a narrative.
While the earlier work that I loved focused on the incomprehensibility of the moment, the later work seemed to say that the world, our choices, our lives, were understandable under the lens of a narrative. Why has narrative become so much more important to me? I suppose because my own life has a narrative. I am, for better or worse, the self that made certain decisions, did certain things, read certain other things, etc. As a 30 year old, I am no longer the sine-qua-non of my life. I am somebody who has been some places.
Of course, nobody expresses the regret and hope of life better than Bruce Springsteen. Loving Springsteen was really a turning point for me. At first, when I was younger, he didn’t sound weird enough. He sounded too straight, too much like somebody else would listen to him. But then, his songs gave me stories that I could relate to; but that wasn’t really the strange part, which was that I wanted to relate to something, that relating had become important to me.
The increased importance of relating to others made me more empathetic in my aesthetic life. I wanted to relate to more different ways of life, belief, and culture and I found that art was a way of doing this. Of course, this is completely obvious, and is at least one of the main reasons that the arts are funded at all, but for me, it was a revelation that was deeply felt. For example, I don’t know anything about football. I’ve never played it and I don’t understand the rules. But a show about a small town in Texas whose entire culture is completely focused on football, Friday Night Lights, sucked me in. It is simply dramatic; nothing radical occurs, but they are human stories as they say, as I say now, as it is something I like to say now. That is, it produced the empathy within me to care aesthetically about lives and games that in my ordinary life I would not care about. Somehow, its emotional authenticity allowed me to recognize my own emotional life in that of the characters. That is, it made me feel similar to others and that is what I want from art now. I’m sure my tastes will change again, but I’m growing into these ones now.
There are stars up over the ocean
And I know because I have seen them.
Like words written mutely in the sky
And I know because I have read them.
Tiny sea beacons to guide all who between the waves still malinger,
Little dots shining bright
That the darkest of night
Cannot cleanly obscure.
Molly Wilmes, is a BFA Sculpture candidate at the Art Institute of Chicago.