Saturday, June 14, 2008
Then Clark Coolidge read, introduced by Tom Orange, and afterwards, the program told us, at 1:10 sharp Ann Lauterbach was to give a gallery talk on the work of Joe Brainard. Well, it was late in the day by the time Clark Coolidge finished reading, and yet we wouldn’t have had it any other way. The Coolidges continued their fashion triumph, and I took a secret photo and sent it off to my bud, the Toronto bookseller, novelist, and fashion expert Derek McCormack, asking for his help in writing about their outfits. “I'm having a devil of a time describing these clothes,” Derek fired back. “I so want to find the perfect precise word to describe the white jacket that Clark Coolidge is wearing—it’s such a common shape, but what is it called? It looks to me like windbreaker, though that's such a vague term. It’s a drawstring windbreaker. It could also be considered a drawstring anorak. Couldn't it?” I agree, Derek. “It seems sailor-ish, though—like a sailing coat or sailing jacket.” In my view it was Clark’s salute to Maine and its proximity to the Atlantic whaling trade. “I wonder if it was first made way back when for military boys. It looks a little like a snow smock.”
What about Susan, I asked.
“Did Susan Coolidge belt her shirt? I like her sandals—sort of gladiatory, which was all the rage this summer. I sound like summer's over, which it sort of is, I suppose, in the fashion world. I did an article on gladiator sandals for the Post. I liked the low gladiator sandals. Alaia did amazing ankle-high sandals. Alaia is a master—I get goosebumpy when I get to see his stuff in stores.” Well, the mystery lingers on but as you can see I had plenty to chew on during the brilliant 45 minute reading Clark gave of some largely unpublished work.
We got up, stretched, then dashed off to a small room was filled with some of Joe Brainard’s Nancy pictures, in a grouping they called “If Nancy was...”—such as “If Nancy was a Willem De Kooning.”) I used to love Nancy, in fact every day for a year when I was 7 I cut out each strip as it appeared in the daily Long Island Press, which dates me I guess: I expect for many of the young people Nancy will be no more a legible signifier than Kilroy poking his nose over a fence, or those strange moon symbols carved into outhouse doors in 30s documentaries—that people will just look at her and shrug or, if they’re high, just sigh, “Wow.” Lauterbach managed to make these random thoughts irrelevant as she spoke to her own acquaintance with Brainard, and with his real-life boyfriend the poet Kenward Elmslie, and she rode purposefully to the heart of the mystery, Brainard decision to give up art and just to sit by the side of the lake in Vermont and let others have careers, make things. It is always a painful subject to ponder, I think especially for we artists, for though his actions seem inexplicable—well, he had AIDS but as we know thousands of artists with AIDS continued to burn that candle all all ends, brilliantly, into the long night—I suppose some imp might get into any of us, at any moment, and we too would never write again. Could come on me tomorrow. I might not even make it to the end of my Orono account.
Maybe the artists of the 70s were especially attuned to this phenomenon of “full stop.” I remember for years that Clark Coolidge wasn’t giving readings; people said he had forsworn them entirely, something about him not being able to hear the beat. Then one day he began again; and one day Bob Kaufman started talking; and Oppen began to write again, and so forth, but for Joe, not so much. What about that Tender Buttons logo? Lee Ann was right there, sitting on the gallery floor and playing with her remarkable daughter Miranda—I should have asked one of them, for I had always believed that Joe broke his vow and made that one last little pansy as a gift to Lee Ann, but maybe it was just some old number from the back shelf of his prolific past.
On the bus I sat in front of Justin Katko who was finishing up a creative piece for the open reading that would crown the evening’s events, and behind Rebecca Weaver, and I think this is where I really started to feel panic about my paper, which was coming up quickly—oh my God, it was going to be that very evening and I still hadn’t really proved any of my points. My paper was going to be about John Wieners and his turn to wearing women’s clothes at a certain point in the 1970s. Somehow I planned to discuss his “Three Carols for Myra Breckinridge” in the context of the “turn to drag,” as I called it imitation of the oft-repeated “turn to language.” But what did the one have to do with the other? A close reading of the three poems might help—three poems that I figured, my audience would not know, since apparently they had never been reprinted since 1978. Were figure and ground too discontinuous in my talk? How does transvestism connect with transsexuality—which is where I wanted my paper to go? If I spoke fast enough—or perhaps slowed things down to a dead crawl, the way Kathy Acker used to do when she feared she was losing her audience—if I spoke a certain way could I befuddle the audience into believing that my argument was sound? Behind me Justin Katko was apparently writing something too, out loud, ditto Becky Weaver , though she was silent. Others on the bus seemed suave and carefree, it was just our little section sweating. My brain was pumping out these little gasps of “Oh my God!” like I was Woody Allen meeting Mariel Hemingway for the first time. And yes, it was hot.