The East Side

The past several days I’ve been going the East Side of Manhattan.  For good reason.  One was to hear famous and soon to be famous African poets read their work at the Ford Foundation–a reception organized by Elizabeth Alexander for the African Poetry Book Fund.  The Fund is the brain and heart child of Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani–also there was Matthew Shenoda.  I was invited through the other wonderful Patricia, Patrica Jabbeh Wesley, a great poet/scholar and exurberant force of all things positive in this world.  She was super dynamic, everyone was. But getting there meant taking the East side express which is super crowded and navigating Grand Central –at least I remembered how to get to the Ford Foundation, with the UN Building and Tudor City to its East.  A couple of nights later I had drinks and dinner with Major Jackson–who is writing great poems; teaching all over the joint and is now a distinguished professor at the University of Vermont–he’s also a proud papa and has found the wife he’s been searching for.  Good for him.

Then today, I joined Nita Noveno, a terrific Filipina-American writer who teaches at CUNY and who is just so smart and pretty and wise and we had lunch at the Asia Society (shivering) while outside the air just got thicker.  After the lunch, I suggested we go see the Diane Arbus exhibition at the Met Breuer–Nita was like what?  I explained that the Met has taken over the  uptown Whitney Museum space as the Whitney is all the way downtown–she was kind of skeptical.  I am glad we walk into the think air for a few blocks and found our way into the museum.  Here’s my thoughts on the Arbus exihibition:

The Diane Arbus exhibition at The Met Breur is really important. There’s something about looking at an artist’s work as it changes-the nuances, the sudden shifts. Arbus’ has been so analyzed and analyzed and that it is great to see things not seen before–the be in a fresh place with her. The city she encounters is no longer here and yet–the odd intimacy she captures; the “performing” children–they work in circuses, in vaudeville, as “city kids” showing off; the actual performers: singers, freak show actors, female impersonators; and the “ordinary” who are not so “ordinary” all in glorious black and whites and grays in small format (for these days). Indeed it is a shock to see the large format photographs-all famous in the last gallery. They seem not so much a step into the major leagues as a kind of huge shift away from something that could no longer be done or expressed–am not sure of how to say this. They did not seem like a culmination of practice, but a recognition that the practice no longer worked. Walking through, well actually meandering through the installation was a kind of treat. It reminded me of my first few years in the city, taking a new path, finding a new way to get from the East Side to the West; from Canal Street to 23rd, all by foot. Please see this exhibition. See if you can discern the beauty, the pain, the comic, the silly and the dream in her work.

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