Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dana Gioia; poet and public intellectual

In 2003, Dana Gioia walked onto the battlefield that was the National Endowment for the Arts and brokered a peace. He chaired the NEA for six years, longer than the Civil War. The George W. Bush appointee increased the agency's budget and worked to broaden its mission and demographic reach. Gioia is a widely published poet and essayist, a Stanford MBA and a Southern Californian who's come home, as professor of poetry and public culture at USC, whence all of California is a stage.

What's on your USC to-do list?

One thing that interests me is how a young artist makes a living in the U.S. I want to teach a class about, if you are a musician who wants to create a string quartet, a writer who wants to create a press or journal, how do you do it? The poet Donald Hall described himself as a one-man vertical conglomerate, a wonderful phrase. I'd like to encourage young artists to become a one-man or one-woman vertical [conglomerate].

Read More: LA Times article:,0,7799944.column

Friday, November 4, 2011

It rained in LA

And Angelenos have never before been so friendly. A man offered me the protection of his oversized umbrella, admitting he had in fact borrowed it from a coworker. The rain pushed strangers to crowd together at the covered lunch tables at the Whole Foods in Westwood. My impromptu lunch partner said she enjoyed watching the rain since she spent most of her day as a nurse in surgery rooms. Though the man who pulled a u-turn in front of me on Sunset may not have heard of hydroplaning. Luckily my Pittsburgh upbringing taught me how to handle ice and rain.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Go see the Bill Cunningham documentary!

"We all dress for Bill," says Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue. And after watching the documentary, Bill Cunningham, I know dress for Bill.

Cunningham has dedicated himself to capturing fashion both on the streets of New York City and on the runways. He has been known to call out designers when they've copied off of a past runway offering; he also noticed adeptly that Japanese fashion of the '80s resembled the clothing worn by the homeless in New York City.

A humble man, Bill Cunningham is able to discern the quality of fashion in large part because he removes himself from the celebrity, glamor, drink and social climbing that is so often conflated with fashion. In his acceptance speech during his induction to the French Order of Arts and Letters, he shunned celebrities in their free dresses. The trend of designers advertising through celebrities and their followers desire to be seen is the antithesis of how Bill conducts his life. He refuses to look at guests lists and often will feature an unknown woman in the New York Times for finding and stunningly wearing a dress.

He has hones and respects his craft, always retraining his eyes and evaluating the fashion he captures. He says that he isn't a skilled photographer: he simply shares how he sees the world. We are all striving to communicate to others our vision of the world. Few of us have the patience, dedication and sense of service to remain on a single topic for a lifetime. Though after viewing this documentary, I wonder if there is any other way to come close to sharing my own vision. Bill's complete dedication to capturing fashion is matched only with the one hour every Sunday he attends Mass.

Bill, take a picture of me! I'm working on a poetic look here in Los Angeles for you. Until then, may you find respite in your new home.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"a friend who believes"

video installation by Sarah Walko, Christopher Keohane and Jennifer Styperk

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Unconditional Pittsburgh

A transplant to Pittsburgh recently called the city generous. The Pittsburgh "left," for example, allows for the car at the red light to make the left turn when the light turns green before the oncoming car proceeds down the straightaway. Driving consists of a series of waves to let your fellow driver through; the rule of the road is ‘you first.’ We all drive safely and politely over rivers and through mountains in order to reach the fountain at the Point downtown during the Arts festivals, regattas, light-up nights, the Cultural Trust’s gallery crawls, and First Night.

During the lead-up to 2011, the acapella group, In Acchord, sings on the grand lobby stairs of the Benedum Center’s lobby. The 88mph! Steel Town Fire Goes Back in Time, fire-eaters, perform next to outside music stages. Space and 121 Seventh galleries hosted musicians including WYEP’s best bands. Tango, swing, and foxtrot lessons run throughout the evening. Children learn how to make puppets. The Gab Bonesso Comedy Show ran several times with a few Capitals fans in the audience each time. I am most grateful to the Pittsburgh Gospel All City Choir, all of whom add soul and comfort to that strange hour from 10pm-11pm during which we sit in a year that has become stale. But best part of First Night is that, instead of the ball dropping, with that terrible sinking feeling in your gut, the Pittsburgh New Year’s ball rises to meet the new year.

A few days after the fireworks off rooftops for the new year, I shop at the largest grocery store: the Robinson Town Center’s Giant Eagle Market District. After lunch at the café, I ask a café chef where I could locate the closest shopping cart. As I wonder to myself whether I should have said buggy instead, he smiles, and tells me to wait by the door because it was too cold to go outside. After which he proceeds into the parking lot and a few minutes later returns with a cart for me. Still smiling from that help, a Pittsburgher in a Steeler cap hands me his number at the deli counter and takes the place behind me in line.

How do you describe the special culture and manners of Pittsburghers?

I am grateful to the Traverse City Record-Eagle for appreciating poetry and writing about the poetic moments in our lives.

On Poetry: Snow and silence

It occurs to me that today of all days, right after whatever hoopla we got ourselves into this weekend, a little silence might be welcome. This poem may help....