Street Piano

1. Sixty pianos have been placed around various New York City parks and plazas, providing a nice summer surprise. During the last five days I heard a soul ballad at Grand Army Plaza, Doo-wop in Washington Square, a klezmer melody at St. Mark’s Place, and, at Fort Greene Park, an unusual performance of a classical piece by a young kid who was either using Schoenberg’s twelve-note system or had his left hand in the wrong position. I also banged out some blues riffs of my own at Fort Greene Park before visiting the nearby Greenlight Bookstore. These pianos are part of a multi-city “work of art” called Play Me I’m Yours. I’m not sure exactly what it means to classify these pianos as an “artwork”, but they sure are pleasing the people of New York City (I especially notice a lot of parent/child interaction at these pianos) and I hope they’ll repeat it every summer.

2. “I do like a very quiet life,” says W. S. Merwin, who has just been appointed the new U. S. Poet Laureate. What a boring choice. Well, I haven’t felt a U. S. Poet Laureate since Donald Hall. The most interesting thing I know about W. S. Merwin is that he once got into a terrible battle with Allen Ginsberg and Ginsberg’s Tibetan guru over an episode of forced nakedness at a poetry party (this weird history is chronicled in a previous Litkicks article, When Hippies Battle: The Great W. S. Merwin/Allen Ginsberg Beef of 1975). Beyond this, I just see Merwin as a poet who wins a lot of poetry awards without (as far as I’ve ever known) personally touching many people. And I can’t help think of a recent article by Anis Shivani that eviscerates David Lehman’s annual poetry anthologies, and says something about our contemporary academic poetry scene as a whole, a scene more obsessed with status updates than Facebook.

3. Hail and Farewell: Jose Saramago

4. Images of Greystone, the New Jersey insane asylum where Allen Ginsberg’s mother lived, now abandoned.

5. Beverly Cleary remembers her early struggling years as a student at Cal Berkeley and a child librarian.

6. Sam Tanenhaus visits the John Updike Archive (more about this here).

7. Joel Weishaus on Mysteriosos, the latest book of poetry by Michael McClure.

8. A new magazine bears the delightful title Kerouac’s Dog. I know Kerouac was actually a cat person, but I like the name anyway.

9. Isabel Allende: "The Truth Shall Make You Free"

10. The origin of “kinda”, and other etymological notes.

11. How Google Editions is working with bookstores to sell e-books.

12. W. H. Auden at the 92nd Street Y.

13. Small Beer launches Weightless Books.

14. Bill Ectric interviews David Amram.

15. A blog about letterheads.

10 Responses

  1. I love that NYC does crazy
    I love that NYC does crazy stuff like set out pianos across the city to see what happens artistically. Someone could compose that one beautiful piece of music in public…wouldn’t that be grand?

    I love that Merwin was nominated for the Poet Laureate post.

  2. Thanks for the links
    Thanks for the links Levi.

    The Google Editions article is rather interesting. Amazon and Apple are definitely playing the device game yet everyone seems to subscribe to the “content is king” theory of the digital future which would give Google the advantage.

    Should be pretty interesting to see it all play out.

  3. 16. Christopher Hitchens has
    16. Christopher Hitchens has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. “I have been advised by my physician that I must undergo a course of chemotherapy on my esophagus. This advice seems persuasive to me. I regret having had to cancel so many engagements at such short notice.” — Hitchens in Vanity Fair

  4. I’m glad to hear that someone
    I’m glad to hear that someone else is as underwhelmed with Merwin as I. For some reason Pinsky causes me more outrage than most academics.

    When you say, “our contemporary academic poetry scene as a whole, a scene more obsessed with status updates than Facebook,” I agree but would strike the word ‘contemporary.’ In the 40 years or so I’ve been an observer and sometime participant in the poetry scene, academic poets have always had this problem. Their other problem is simply being boring as hell. You can define academic writing with one word: ‘caution.’

  5. I’ve yet to ever be
    I’ve yet to ever be particularly impressed by anything written by Christopher Hitchens but, yeah, I guess his health situation deserves a mention. Best wishes to Hitch-22.

  6. I appreciate W.S. Merwin’s
    I appreciate W.S. Merwin’s writing, especially THE SHADOW OF SIRIUS.(2009) That book of poetry, hardcover put out in 2008, won the Pulitzer Prize. I think he’ll miss being in Hawaii but he’ll
    have perks working for a year in DC. Levi, sorry you don’t appreciate Merwin.

    I also happen to like Michael McClure which you also appreciate.
    I don’t have a clue why you don’t like both of the above authors.

  7. Steve — I find Michael
    Steve — I find Michael McClure more playful and more experimental than W. S. Merwin.

    Maybe it’s just the predictability of the choice that I’m objecting to.

  8. Steve – I can’t speak for
    Steve – I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can tell you why I don’t like certain poetry, fiction, art, and music. It has nothing to do with ideology. My sole criterion is: don’t bore me.

  9. Thanks for the Tanenhaus
    Thanks for the Tanenhaus fizz-siphoner―a real corker! I was simply floored by this sentence:

    “Updike cultivated his embowered solitude early.”

    It’s not clear, but I suppose it was in reference to the Polly Dole house in Ipswich
    On a hunch, I looked up “embowered” in the Shakespeare concordance but it was a no-go; ditto for the Bible concordance. Finally, I just went with one of the on-line dictionaries only to discover that it’s an archaic transitive verb meaning “to shut in”. Henceforward, by force of logic, I’ll be almost bound to think “Sam Tanenhaus” when I think “primitive shut-in”.

    P.S. Levi, you could write a whole blog post on the power of transitive verbs to shape consciousness.

    P.P.S. Two summers ago at a Solar One program in Stuyvesant Cove I learned the number of trees that are cut down to print a single issue of the Sunday New York Times where Tanenhaus reigns supreme as editor of the Book and Week in Review sections: Hold on to your hats―75,000!

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!