Saturday, June 14, 2008
And yes, it was hot. The bus let us off at a weird corner of campus--it was, in fact, where most of the conference attendees were being housed, the dorms of Doris Twitchell Allen Village, where registration was too. My mind went blank and I couldn’t think of where to go nor which way the next conference events were—I felt disoriented, like Ronald Reagan waking up from his operation in Kings Row, and not feeling his legs, and crying out, “Where’s the rest of me?!” only I was crying out, “Where is Neville Hall?” Anyhow it was blazing hot out—Death Valley hot, Stephen—and stricken with thirst, I dipped my head into the Doris Twitchell Allen Village in search of a water fountain and once again found myself face to face with the august portrait of La Allen. I loved the idea of a whole village being named for this archetypal Maine celebrity, the Anna Freud of Maine, Anna Freud except tremendously mannish, sort of like FDR in this heroic bas-relief portrait of her. She spanned whole eras of the 20th century, and in fact she lived until she was 100, so when Hillary Clinton said, “It takes a village,” one suspected it was Doris Twitchell Allen Village she had in mind. Touching to think of Twitchell Allen spreading her “talking cure” across whole generations not only of U-Maine students but the visiting poets and scholars over whose sleeping forms she prevailed nightly and daily.
Age one hundred! Last summer I was at Art Basel and one of the art students of Frankfort’s Stadelschule described making a video projection about Basel’s #1 citizen, Albert Hoffman, who would appear on his birthday every year from his balcony above Basel’s High Street, waving to his beloved Baselians. Well, who was Albert Hoffman, I asked the student, the Canadian artist David Catherall. He looked at me as if I was out of my mind. “He invented LSD,” he replied witheringly, and with reason. Like the way heroin seemed to keep Burroughs or Keith Richards exactly the same, arresting the normal aging process entirely, LSD kept Albert Hoffman young and vigorous until his sudden death this past April at the age of 102, just as psychodrama, which Twitchell Allen invented, preserved her youthful energy for decades. Check her out on Wikipedia, which has a tremendously femme photograph, in dewy Greer Garson soft focus, of the woman I know only from her visage mounted in her Village. Thirstily I drank deep from her fountains then went on my way, refreshed, to find Neville Hall and to look up the panel organized around Clark Coolidge’s poetry. But despite it being hours late, they were not ready to roll yet.
The lobby was deserted, and so dim after the harsh lights of the afternoon sun I was blinking like an earwig. A sudden shift of movement from one far off corner caught my eye—it was the napping form of Chris Nealon, preparing for his panel by taking forty winks, sensibly and enviably.
Finally I took a chance on getting into the museum to see the show of Art of the 1970s, and a small crowd was milling within. I think I was the only guy there, but we all sat or stood around in the room in which Bernadette Mayer’s installation was playing of “Memory.” If I understand correctly, she shot a roll of film every day for a month, then had a month’s worth of slides of daily life projected onto a screen while she recorded eight hours’ worth of memories of that one month. The materials for this work of art are stored with her papers at the archive for new poetry at UCSD, and this reconstruction used about a week of the material, thus only two hours worth of talking.
You can’t miss Ed Bowes, who must have been Bernadette’s boyfriend at the time; he took a lot of the photographs and turns up in the frame himself again and again, vertically, horizontally, diagonally. The following month I met the man himself, thirty odd years later, and he still looks pretty good. He is now married to Anne Waldman, small world department! The eerie thing about Memory is that Ed and Bernadette must have been living very close to the building of the World Trade Center, for the towers are rising in these slides, while Bernadette’s voice, itself very different than the way she sounds now, narrates an “I do this, I do that” list of different things she did and said that month, but you can read all about it in her book Memory, one of the key 20th century texts.
I took a picture of Kim Lyons next to Jasper Johns’ gleeful print, a stack of triangles built out of what look like Pixy Stix, for her blouse looked just like it, its angles and colors rhyming in a slant. This Johns image was the official image of the conference and we all saw it 30 times a day because it was on the cover of the conference program and many, during tedious or lengthy presentations, were reduced to staring at it for comfort as it lay open on their desks or clutched to their yellow legal pads. I was wearing an Apache shirt from Agnes B,. gray and black stripes pulled tight across my stomach, and the wavy lines of a pair of Bridget Riley “Op Art” prints nearby was a good focus for my shirt. I’ve got the print right now, of the snap Kim took of me, my shirt, those Bridget Riley squares. I look fat and happy, like “some pig.” As we exit the gallery, Kim whispers, well, we’ve found a good use for conceptual art—it makes nice backdrops for souvenirs. I wonder if they still make Pixy Stix or if anyone remembers them—they must feature, in fact, in one or another edition of Joe Brainard’s “I Remember.”