Beige Weekend

Last weekend I read in a series curated by the poets Truong Tran and Jacob Evans’ at Truong’s apartment in the Haight-Ashbury here in San Francisco. Truong is not only an award winning poet but in recent years has turned his attentions to the production of visual art, and being in his apartment is like visiting a fabulously outfitted gallery. His work is sometimes conceptually based, often in multimedia forms and some of it looks incredibly labor intensive. It was like being in a candy store; you could never be bored because there's so much to look at. My co-readers were Natasha Loo, a former student both of mine and of Truong's, who stole the show with her earthy, cheeky poems about the body, and Linh Dinh, one of my favorite poets who has been out West for a few weeks (now gone alas).

Truong Tran at home

I read one long paragraph from Barf Manifesto and then the whole of “Girl Body,” the essay/story/memoir I wrote for the forthcoming online feature on the "Gurlesque” curated by Lara Glenum for the winter issue of Action, Yes. Linh Dinh is an intense reader: from where we sat behind him we could see him leaning over into the crowd, as though making a deep bow, approaching them in a literally physical way that was strangely mannered and effective both. Our friend the artist Bruno Fazzolari was there, and he reported that Linh’s looming presence scared him at first (“I couldn’t look at him”) but after awhile he too was won over, by a mesmerizing performer.

Linh Dinh and Rachel Loden

I got to meet Rachel Loden too, for the first time ever, even though I've known of her work for many years. When Kevin and I came out onto Ashbury we could see Steve Abbott's old apartment looming ahead under the streetlamp, in the moonlight it looked ghostly and pale like a slice of wedding cake.

Steve's apartment on Ashbury Street with the beautiful little balcony his daughter Alysia would wave at us from.

In the early days of the New Narrative movement, Steve's apartment was a gathering place for parties, classes, and all-round stimulating chat. It was eerie to be right there but no longer having access to its smoke-laden embrace. Kevin and I both felt intense pangs of missing Steve. Steve coined the term New Narrative and introduced Bataille—among so much else—to the acolytes of NN.

Then we went on to a party—Gerald Corbin, his boyfriend Craig Goodman, and Karla Milosevich all have their birthdays around the same time of the year and they combine them to host one huge party every year just before Thanksgiving time. The parties always have a theme. One year it was “Catholic School,” one year “Senior Prom.” This year it was “Beige Room.” Sort of vague but we dressed up as beige as we could and scuttled over to the Mission from Truong’s place.

Craig Goodman wearing a head rest on top of his head as a head-dress.

The DJs were going crazy playing the music with the most beige connotations, which actually covered a wide spectrum of music. Everyone's outfit matched everybody else's, and some took on party names that seemed beige, names such as "Ashley." John Koch came as the late Yves St. Laurent, scattering French phrases like blase confetti:

"Je ne regrette rien"

Elliot Anderson and his boyfriend Bill always have the best costumes. One year for “Studio 54” they came as Jackie and Ari Onassis. This year they represented a movie that they claimed is the beigest picture of all time: Woody Allen’s Interiors, his Ingmar-Bergman-esque drama of a family in the terminal stages of ennui. Elliott was Geraldine Page, so wan and forlorn she winds up walking out to sea, leaving husband EG Marshall to marry the life-affirming, always dressed in red Maureen Stapleton (Bill).

Note the urn—it represents the ashes of the bourgeois family.


This Saturday! Me, Linh Dinh, Natasha Loo!

We'll be reading at the San Francisco home of Truong Tran—right down the street from where Steve Abbott used to live. This unique house reading series curated by Jacob Evans and Truong Tran has been happening since 2005, almost in secret, but not quite. There will be wine, poetry, and weirdness. Come and listen.

554 Ashbury at Haight
7:00 PM

I'm beyond thrilled to be reading with Linh Dinh. He was born in Vietnam in 1963, came to the US in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England. He is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), four books of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006) and Jam Alerts (2007), with a novel, Love Like Hate, scheduled to be released in 2009.

I don't have a bio for Natasha Loo, but she took a couple of classes with me at SFSU and I can attest she's a wonderful, vibrant writer. One of my favorites.


Fowle Barf

Kate Fowle (NY, NY) during her recent visit to San Francisco.

Barf Gallery

Here's a smattering of new Barf photos I've been meaning to post forever. I'm thrilled by all of them, but life can sometimes over-ride the drive to put one's thrill into action. Can't help but think I'm leaving something out. If you've sent me a pic and I haven't posted it here, please nudge me and I'll put it up ASAP.

Alex Burford's coffee table.

Rodney Koeneke. This was taken on Halloween, thus Rodney's strange red eyes.

Rodney's son, Auden.

And finally, a 3-part series by Donna de la Perriere's cat, Little Sister:


Venetian Holiday

Back in May Kevin paid a call to artist Raymond Pettibon's new place in Venice, and Raymond sent him back to San Francisco with a cache of unfinished pieces, requesting that Kevin and I look at them and interact with them and perhaps suggest some new and additional captions. So all summer long we've had the luxury of living with all these wonderful drawings. (Among them was the picture I used on the cover of Barf Manifesto.) Last Saturday Kevin and I flew down to LA, pictures in hand, for our long-awaited consultation.

Kevin and Raymond in Raymond's Venice studio space.

It was a short but intense visit—we arrived at Raymond's studio around 3:30 on Saturday and left at 5:30 on Sunday, but other than a few hours of sleep the three of us were together nonstop. We did very well with all this togetherness—in fact we had a great time. Raymond's a wonderful conversationalist, and he spent a lot of time talking in depth about his art practice in a manner I hadn't heard before. Kevin and I were particularly struck by how much narrative lurks behind even his most disjunctive works. We wouldn't be able to see it ourselves, but once Raymond started telling us what a piece was "about," the inevitability of that interpretation would jump out at us. As well as being a great stylist, he's a great storyteller and political rabble rouser.

Regen Projects, Pettibon's long-time Los Angeles gallery, is staging a two-part exhibition of his work. The first phase was up earlier this autumn, and phase two, "The Cutting Room Floor Show," opens December 13. The earlier show was all about classic Pettibon—the punk-inspired iconic images of Manson, Gumby, Vavoom, atomic bomb, Nixon, etc. The forthcoming show is much more complex, relying heavily on Pettibon's recent experiments with collage.

A detail from one of Pettibon's current collage pieces,
with Mickey Mouse sprouting from Walt Disney's head, like a tumor.

In the studio, the work was grouped in several piles, including one on the Iraq war, one on Hollywood, one on crime—and many pieces involving the Statue of Liberty I'm not quite sure what his plans are for.

Raymond's collage work felt so transgressive in that he's cutting up beautiful pieces and reinserting them in other works. I didn't realize how much I associate collage with cheap, discarded materials—magazines, etc., or for writers, degraded materials such as Google search results. Think of the collage work of Jess or Max Ernst. But here Raymond was literally destroying thousands of dollars worth of work everytime the scissors hit the paper. The excess of Bataille had noting on this practice.

Captions that Kevin and I suggested were drawn from Moby Dick, from the recent campaign of Sarah Palin, Jack Spicer (surprise!), Kylie Minogue (surprise!). I brought Academonia with me and a couple recent unpublished pieces. Raymond said that normally when he draws material from books, he rips the pages out of the book, and often rewrites liberally.

Here's Raymond inserting snatches of my prose-poemy "Girl Body" into a collage:

The heroine of "Girl Body" is Sally, the fun-loving little sister of Dick and Jane from the baby boomer readers I grew up with. It seemed to match Raymond's illustration of the girl on the teeter-totter. In the passage inked along the bottom I rely heavily on material from the Dick and Jane books I've reworked and tweaked:

Another close-up. In this piece, Raymond's inked in a line from my cut-up, "Cunt Norton" (which is itself a collage of "Burnt Norton" and porn):

The overall theme of the drawing is art school orgy:

As is well known, it takes Raymond sometimes decades to finish a particular piece. He'll add a line here, a new image there, then put it away on a shelf to return to years later. This Robinson Crusoe island pastoral is actually a recent composition:

The passage at the bottom is from Jack Spicer's serial poem "Helen: a Revision," one of the new works in the collected Spicer book.

We have no idea if any of this material will end up in the show at Regen Projects next month—or if it will be relegated to a dusty shelf in Raymond's studio for another five or ten years—but it was fascinating to work on these and other pieces. I started out so timid, but by Sunday was bossing Raymond around, like my true self was shining bright.

Another thing we brought down was a selection of the photos Kevin's been taking this summer of various writers and artists posing with life-size genitals drawn by Raymond. I posted a few on my Facebook page, and Facebook removed the one of Kevin and threatened to close my account if I posted any more obscene photos. Here's Raymond holding his infamous genitals:


First Copy

News flash!!! We were on our way to Los Angeles—about which more later—and this package was on the stairs from Wesleyan. Kevin grabbed it, and it was his first copy of the collected Spicer book, which he has been editing with Peter Gizzi. The book is gorgeous. He showed me the part in which he and Peter thank a whole bunch of people, and then especially me and Liz Willis. Peter, congratulations. Liz, you're the only one who shares my pain. The book is out next month.


Day of the Dead

I went to Day of the Dead with Sara Larsen. It was okay. Thousands of people, mostly Mission-type hipsters, which made my heart sink a bit, but the energy of the crowd was good. Drumming and dancing, so many women in bridal gowns. Sara and I agreed in would be great to march in lacy bridal gowns with lurid black and white paint on our faces. The procession filled the streets and only went a few blocks—in a loop from Bryant and 24th down to 25th, down to Mission, then back up 24th to Harrison, then back to 25th to the park. It took 2 hours to walk, and walking that slowly was exhausting and profound. Carrying candles, surrounded by skeletons, it like it felt like we were all on a treadmill towards death, no matter how trendy we were.

The altars in the park were beautiful and sad. Some of them, such as the one above, were designed to be communal altars. Such a stark contrast to the party mood of the endless procession. Suddenly, stillness and everybody all serious.

Other altars were private altars, which you could add to. To the altar above I added one of the yellow roses from the altar I made for my mom on my kitchen table. I chose this altar because of the dogs and cat. My mother loved animals and volunteered at the thrift store run by her local humane society.

Here's Sara placing pictures of her grandfather and uncle, just to the left of my mom's rose.

On a lighter note, here's my favorite image from Halloween:

Ron Palmer, Erin Morrill, Kevin Killian



Yesterday was the one year anniversary of my mom's death, so for the first time I've decided to celebrate Day of the Dead. This evening I'm going to the celebration in the Mission, but in the meantime I cleaned my kitchen yesterday and made a little altar on the table. My mother's name was Winnie Bellamy; she was born Winifred Barbara Hoff in 1931. She went to a technical high school and a couple of years before I was born, at the age of 18, she married my father, Byron Bellamy. I feel blessed—and very lucky—that after a lifetime of a difficult relationship, my mother and I became increasingly close the last 10 years of her life. It's not that I didn't feel loved, but I often didn't feel liked by her. I once read in some Jungian book, back in the days when I'd read Jungian books, that the daughter can embody the mother's shadow, which seemed to sum up our relationship. My mother was efficient, clean, and could live comfortably on a small budget. She was terrified of my emotionality and dissatisfaction with the cards I'd been dealt. She used to say to me, "Life is rough, you deal with it." Self-examination and ultra-sensitivity are not conducive to surviving the rigors of working class existence. After my dad died, when she was living fairly comfortably on his pensions, my mom became much more vulnerable and self-examining, eventually converting to Lutheranism. Her heart opened so much, with new layers of compassion and tenderness, not just for me, but for everyone. Dealing with lung cancer and the loneliness of life after my father deepened her. But she always had an enormous ability to enjoy life, for pleasure. She had a wonderful sense of humor and laughed a lot. She was charismatic, and during the last years of her life many people helped her out, and they acted like it was a gift to do so.

On the far left we see the feet of one of my mom's Italian blown glass clowns. She gave me the clown a few years back, and I keep it on my desk. The picture on the left is my mom when she was young. On the right she's sitting on my dad's lap. In the foreground are 3 of her rings. The one on the left is a friendship ring, her first wedding ring. She gave me it many years ago. The one on the right, I believe, was her upgraded replacement wedding ring. The one in the back, I'm not sure of—in Indiana, those wall of diamond chip bands are very popular, at least among my mom's social set.

This is a Mother's Day card I made for my mom in 1961—decorated with school pictures of my brother Joey and me.

This is a birthday card I made for my mom, from even an earlier era.

Kevin bought the yellow roses for the altar. My mom and I both love yellow roses. I gave her a bunch during my last visit to her, when she was suffering tremendously—and apologetically. The roses said you're not a pain in the ass, the roses said I'm happy to be here. She embraced them.

My brother and I bought a spray of yellow roses for my mom's coffin. Kevin took this photo. I never would have taken it, but it's on my computer, so here it is.

In the end I got what we all crave—she accepted me, liked me, and she loved me unconditionally. And I totally loved her as well. Through her I was able to fully accept and cherish the working class life I fled from all my life. I miss it, and I miss her.