In Praise of Elizabeth Murray

1. A great contemporary artist, Elizabeth Murray, died this week. Her work was bold and aggressively dynamic, and she was completely comfortable with bright color, compositional chaos and pop culture references. In this sense, it makes sense that she was married to the poet and gadfly Bob Holman, who is also comfortable with these three things. It’s through Bob that I once met Elizabeth Murray.

It was at a big pre-opening party/reading in April 2002 for Bob’s then-brand-new Bowery Poetry Club. I was introduced to Elizabeth but I didn’t know she was the well-known modern artist. I chatted with her for about fifteen pleasant minutes about the Lower East Side, spoken-word poetry, the Off-Off-Broadway drama scene in the 70’s. She mentioned that she did some painting, and I remarked that I sometimes dabbled in painting myself. It was about two hours later that somebody mentioned to me that Elizabeth was Elizabeth Murray.

Judging from my one encounter, she was as vivid as her canvases. And if you look at her canvases you’ll know that that’s very vivid. Our thoughts are with Elizabeth’s whole family, and Bob and all their children, in this sad time.

2. Poet Liam Rector has also died. Syntax of Things shares a poem.

3. A new DVD release of Jerry Aronson’s great Beat Generation documentary The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg features a whole lot of good things on a second disc. Highlights include video from a memorial at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine featuring Ed Sanders (carrying his original paperback of Howl), Bob Rosenthal, Anne Waldman and a great, moving performance by Patti Smith reciting to the chiming tones of Philip Glass. You know I recently complained about a sup-par Patti gig, but this is Patti like she oughta be. Overall, I think the Allen Ginsberg memorial I attended in 1997 at St. Mark’s Church was less rehearsed and therefore better, but all of these events are good enough for posterity.

Other special features in this new release include interviews with William S. Burroughs, Ken Kesey, Peter Hale and many others. But the main reason to buy this movie remains the main feature, which tells the story of Allen’s extremely odd childhood and life. Ginsberg’s life was an uncompromised inspiration; he even had a great death scene, surrounded by friends and Buddhist rituals. This film tells the whole story.

4. Amber Simmons has something to say on A List Apart about a particular type of writing: the often banal “copy” writing required for any type of website. Web writing doesn’t have to be anorexic.

5. William Safire better watch out. The Oxford University Press is muscling in on his turf with columns by linguists and etymologists like Ben Zimmer, here analyzing the origin of “mob”.

6. This is a noteworthy newsy bit about a book that tells toddlers how not to be gay even though they were molested by their uncle (via Maud). But what really makes me like this piece is the closer line: “What ever happened to One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish?” Exactly what we were wondering.

7. No WAY! According to Lux Lotus, the award-winning Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie will finally be available in bookstores, and Adichie will be appearing at an “Upstairs in the Square” event with Katherine Lanpher and Craig Finn on September 13. I’ll be there to enjoy.

8. The Sundance Channel just ran the old movie version of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. I’d seen it a long time ago but wanted a fresh look. The verdict? Despite the well-known pattern of awful movies based on Kurt Vonnegut’s books, this isn’t bad at all. Check it out if you get a chance.

2 Responses

  1. I want to extend my deepest
    I want to extend my deepest sympathy to the family of Elizabeth Murray.

    I’m always hearing on PBS about the MacArthur Foundation, so when I read that Elizabeth Murray received a MacArthur award, I went looking, and discovered this interview on the PBS website. I like how she references both abstract expressionist Willem DeKooning and comic book artist Bob Kane (the interview spells it “Cain” in error). I was also touched by how she once thought about creating a comic strip, because I used to want to do that when I was a kid.

    Her art is salient, gorgeous, and fun.

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