Friday, August 24, 2007

Found in Hanging Loose: Art by Zevi Blum / Poetry by Writers of High School Age

"During the day
we have impromptu ice cream parties on the screen porch
to catch the sugar while it's frozen."
-from "Summer," by Clare Jones

In a very general sense, what gets published in literary and little magazines (artistic publications with a vision apart from the popular or commercial) are literary and artistic works of the circus--works on the outskirts of the larger culture, in tents along the side of the road, pulling carts full or trinkets and whistles, wearing scarfs and outlandish hats; wanting badly for their fanciful productions to be heard, seen, enjoyed (wanting, really, only to entertain), but content enough to go on performing either way, whether people stop to watch or simply continue on to other, more practical, destinations. Where would we be without such distractions of the spirit, such waylays to the everyday, light fantastic adventures of the imagination?

At least for now, such questions don't have to be answered, as there thankfully exist literary magazines, circuses, street artists, high-flyers, tightrope walkers, and the carnivalesque etchings of Zevi Blum. This month, Blum's work can be found in quality reproductions in the latest issue of Hanging Loose magazine, published in Brooklyn, NY. The issue contains a wealth of work by Blum, whose etchings fill the front and back covers, in addition to more etchings on eight color glossy pages inside.

Blum's colorful etchings (each seemingly composed of a hundred pastel shades) revel in the unusual and unordinary, and in doing so they are satires of the modern world, where the unusual is so hidden that it's oddity is multiplied to an absurd level when it finally reveals itself. The theme of all Blum's etchings is, according to Oxford Gallery's James Hall, "that of human inventiveness gone awry," and so they are cousins to such works as Alice in Wonderland, Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, and the paintings by Brueghel the Elder or Hieronymous Bosch. They are the sort of works that excite language in the mind of the viewer--words such as fantastic, trippingly, arabesque, vaudeville-- but do not, in themselves, cry to be interpreted. Like the circus itself, the only desire of Blum's etchings is to entertain; to entrance the viewer through humor, mystery, and fantasy; to disorder the mind towards enjoyment. (But, if you still want a lucid and penetrating interpretation of Blum's work, see James Hall's aforementioned essay on Blum's website.)

Blum is a proficient and practiced artist; born in 1933, he has taught at both Ithaca and Cornell and shown his artwork in many galleries. And such training in his craft is evident in the patience and skill it must take to create his intricate and imaginatively detailed artworks. Some artworks give us the opposite reaction; not one of admiring the studied ability of the artist, but instead causing us to marvel over the raw inventiveness of youth. Also in the recent issue of Hanging Loose, is some unexpectedly powerful poetry from young artists in Hanging Loose's ongoing series, "Writers of High School Age." All of the poems featured in this section are moving works filled with touching and absorbing poetic language and unique images. Sure, they might not compare to a "Sailing to Byzantium," but they have their a distinctive flair of charisma and energy that one can only find in the young. The poems seem fresh and internal--internal in that studious unaware quality of monks and artists, a quality that come naturally to the majority of those without yet 30 years into the world.

Above all, the poems of these young writers is memorable. Some, due to their subjects, publish themselves in readers mind more surely than others, such as Naomi Forman's lesbian-tinted prose poem, "Summer Lovin'" ("I shiver in the dry heat of our cruel Arizona July"), or Rosetta Young's poem of youthful compartmentalization, "When We Were Countries" ("The broken kind, with borders like horseshoes"). But none of the poems are as powerful as Clare Jones's piece about the aching humid heat of a Louisiana summer, "Summer."

"The AC shuddered, sighed, and passed out last week," Jones begins her poem, "curled up like a cat in the ducts and died." The writing continues to evoke suffocating feelings of entombment in the unrelenting hot. In her poem, Jones captures a truth about living in a humid southern climate: when the summer heat is at its peak, it saps not only people's strength, but it also dulls the edges of their thinking. Jones writes: "I can't remember--/ about the way you said.../ I've lost it now." There is a stifling quality to the entire poem, as though the voice is trying to make it through the subtle summer madness to the fresh air of autumn. The voice shifts constantly between "we" and "I," as though the narrator is struggling to be heard beneath the communal suffering of the weather. She calls a last time, "wake up," only for the unflinching heat to instantly reply, "dissolve," because, in end, the heat "leaves not a trace behind."

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