Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Strange Years playlist

AL: As much as many poems are written in code — and one is especially suspicious of the ones that seem to be frank — yours are very much about pace and rhythm. They are lyrics for songwriters from the Beat era, and for the best rappers of today. How’d that happen?

NL: Funny, I thought I was writing lyrics for Satie’s piano works.... Do you want a Strange Years playlist?

— From “A Strange Conversation”, sx salon 21 (February 2016)

Over the years of start-and-stop writing, the sound-climate in which I composed the poems in Strange Years was musical as much as verbal. Sometimes snatches of melody worked themselves into the actual poems, like the “three piano notes” in “Reading History”. Sometimes it was a fragment of lyric. More often it was a tone, an aural atmosphere, a shiver.

Erik Satie, Gymnopédies (1,2,3); Croquis et agaceries d’un bonhomme en bois; Vexations

Frantz Casseus, Suite No. 1 (Petro, Yanvalloux, Mascaron, Coumbite)

Boby Lapointe, “Framboise”

Franz Schubert, Piano Trio No. 2 in E Flat Major

Richard Strauss, Four Last Songs (as sung by Gundula Janowitz)

Heitor Villa-Lobos, Bachianas Brasileiras (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9)

Rodgers and Hart, “My Funny Valentine” (as sung by Chet Baker); “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” (as sung by Ella Fitzgerald or Anita O’Day)

Ivor Gurney, “I Will Go with My Father A-Ploughing”

Igor Stravinsky, Ebony Concerto

R.E.M., “Strange Currencies”

Bacharach and David, “Anyone Who Had a Heart” (as sung by Dionne Warwick)

Matthaeus Pipelare, Een vrouelic wesen; Fors seulement

Local Natives, “Wooly Mammoth”

Billy Strayhorn, “Lush Life” (as sung by Johnny Hartman)

Traditional, “If I Were a Blackbird” [alas, I can’t find a version I truly like online]

Traditional, “Río Manzanares” (as sung by Isabel and Angel Parra)

Charles Ives, The Unanswered Question

And a lagniappe:

Traditional, “Congo Bara” (as sung by the Keskidee Trio)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Le voyageur

le voyageur

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Letters

I have just arrived at my hotel, I am waiting to check in. Porters hurry past, ignoring me and my small suitcase.

My friend surprises me. “You here?”

“Of course,” she says, “I’ve been looking for you. J is here too.”

At once I’m annoyed. “Why is he here?”

“He says he has all of your letters, and he wants to give them back.”

“What letters? I never wrote to him.”

“Nonetheless, he wants to give them back.”

When I wake up, I’m not sure what annoys me more: J’s false claim that I wrote to him, or the fact that I’ll have to take possession of these letters, carry them away in my small suitcase, file them among my papers at home, already too voluminous.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Find or make your space; or, Sunday thoughts

In the past seven and a half years, Alice Yard has hosted roughly three hundred public events, by my approximate count. These have included exhibitions and artists’ projects, performances, discussions, readings, and film screenings organised and curated by the three co-directors, my colleagues Sean Leonard, Christopher Cozier, and myself; the “Conversations in the Yard” series run by Sheldon Holder from 2006 to 2008; and events of all kinds organised by all kinds of people for which we lend our main space in Woodbrook and our adjunct Granderson Lab in Belmont.

This is not to mention the numerous activities that happen in the yard out of the public eye: countless hours spent by artists imagining and making, and by musicians rehearsing (almost every night of the week); conversations, meetings, brainstorms, informal workshops, chance encounters, photoshoots, video shoots.

We’ve hosted nearly three dozen artists, curators, and other creative practitioners visiting from outside TT. Our guests have included world-famous names who would make a splash in any metropolitan city, but often we've been most motivated and inspired by new, young artists, musicians, and writers near the start of their careers, who challenge us to respond to their energy and ideas.

This has all happened in a simple backyard in Woodbrook which we and our collaborators have reimagined over and over again -- the space continues to surprise us. And it has all happened with no paid staff and very minimal funding, raised from our modest resources and efforts. We’ve never applied for a grant or received one, and never had to pursue anyone’s agenda but our own. We’ve never been anxious about the resources we don’t have. Instead we’ve imagined the biggest things we can make happen with what we do have. It’s a modus operandi of improvisation, and an attitude of possibility. If Alice Yard had a motto, it would probably be something like “find or make your space.”

The original and enduring animating force that makes this possible is the generosity of Sean Leonard and his family, who have given so many people permission to play in their yard on Roberts Street. And the other fund of possibility we’ve been lucky to draw on is our always changing network of collaborators here in TT and around the world: artists, designers, writers, musicians, doers, and makers of all kinds who have responded with energy and eagerness to our invitation to step into the yard and imagine with us. Thinking about last night’s Douen Islands event -- and all the people who made it possible by sharing time, expertise, equipment, and labour -- I was struck again by the generosity of our network and its immeasurable value.

Small artist-run initiatives and contemporary art spaces like Alice Yard get asked a lot about “sustainability,” and usually what people mean is, how do you pay for all this? We’ve been criticised before for not being “serious” enough about finances and funding, and what’s implied is the idea that the value of a project like ours should be measured in successful grant applications, international donor relationships, plane tickets, and appearances in the art world’s social circuit.

We got to the point years ago of realising that “value” and “sustainability” mean something very different to us. What sustains Alice Yard is our sense of curiosity and the enjoyment of engaging with the ideas and imaginations of everyone who steps into our space. TT is a small and mercenary society where -- unlike some other Caribbean territories -- official culture institutions are weak, there is no tradition of private philanthropy, and no wealthy expat/tourist population to “support the arts.” Our agenda and our reward are to make room in our context for imagination and generosity, and serious work that at the same time is also serious play.

The motive is to keep ourselves challenged and fascinated, and in conversation with people who energise us. It’s as selfish and as selfless as that. As simple and as complicated as that.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Better a poem be nearly wrong than nearly right.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Arts of Strangers

You cut your own hair,
you wring your own shirt,
you do your own favours.

Monday, November 25, 2013

“It really is a nation”

“There comes a time in the history of a nation when its artists and intellectuals no longer feel a need to assert at all times that it really is a nation, with a culture of its own.”

— From “Brazilian Poetry Today”, by Paulo Henriques Britto, in the Los Angeles Review of Books

Saturday, November 23, 2013

And they all lived


Monday, November 18, 2013

When the horizon is a tightrope

Still from Touch (video, 2002), by Janine Antoni

Balance is a process, not a state. It means holding steady a centre of gravity: a negotiation among mass and momentum and energy. On this depends stability and mobility. The tightrope walker keeps moving, or else she falls, and her successful journey is an ongoing compromise between her own mass, tension in the wire, and universal gravity.

— From “A fine balance”, in the November 2013 Caribbean Review of Books

Sunday, September 01, 2013


paracauary silhouette

On the Rio Paracauary, Ilha do Marajó; 26 August, 2013

Tuesday, July 09, 2013



Wednesday, July 03, 2013


— What is wrong with a poem?
— All the right things.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013


a drawing of words

Thursday, March 21, 2013


At the cash register in a Manhattan bookshop:

Customer: I give Autobiography of Red to everyone I have a secret crush on.

Clerk: Does it work?

Customer: Not yet.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Now We Are Ten; or, Decline and Fall

Oh yeah, I have a blog. I forget sometimes. And two days ago it was this blog’s tenth anniversary — I forgot that too, until this afternoon. Not surprising, considering how infrequently I show up here these days, but ’twasn’t always so. Here’s a quick and scrappy graph depicting the plummet in the number of blog posts per annum, with the final point, weakly hovering just above zero, representing 2012:

I have no moral to draw from this pattern of hills, valleys, and plateaus, no autobiographical insights, apart from the obvious ones: I’ve grown busier (or “busier”) as I’ve grown older; and as online media proliferate, I’ve felt more and more ambivalent about using this particular medium to share personal “observations, discoveries, complaints, questions, obsessions.” (That’s what Twitter’s for, right?)

The graph does suggest when that ambivalence set in — about five years ago, which is roughly when I removed the blog’s traffic counter. I decided I didn’t really want to know how many people were reading it, and I’d henceforth treat the blog as a kind of semi-public scratchpad or commonplace book. And the past couple of years I’ve been keeping an actual daily (or near-daily) notebook, genuinely private, where I keep track of what’s going through my head with ink and paper. I suspect that’s where my blog “went”: into an older medium, one which feels more durable, one in which (I convince myself) I can think more “clearly,” whatever that means.


Or I could sum up my tenth anniversary thoughts like this:

all i can say

Monday, October 01, 2012

cousin arthur 
Untitled (Cousin Arthur Plays Mas)