Clues to a Lost Woman: The Photography of Francesca Woodman

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Examination of the art of photographer Francesca Woodman, who committed suicide in 1981.

"Look Down, Don't Look Down"

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One afternoon during the fall of my senior year, I found myself camped out on some industrial tile near the Hamden High School pool with a spiral-bound reader, halfway through Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Concrete Relations with Others” and already drowning in his words. Pursued-pursuing. Transcendence-transcended. Being-in-Itself. I was highlighting a chapter of Sartre’s philosophical treatise while waiting for my girlfriend’s swim meet to begin, but every time I made it through a few sentences, I found it difficult to breathe.

The Shadow

The Red Book, a collection of writings written by Carl Jung over a period of sixteen years, was recently published by Norton, inspiring a revival of interest in the Swiss co-founder of psychoanalysis.  Jung began composing the book after breaking with Freud, at a time when he was undergoing a mental crisis.  He spent the next few years in relative isolation, formalizing what some would later see as a more humanistic version of depth psychology.  Some of the ideas he came up with during this period have now become commonplace terms in psychology, as well as broadly used cultural and poetic notions: the concept of the introvert and extrovert as basic personality types, the anima and animus-forces within us represented by the opposite sex which, if embraced, can lead to higher awareness.  Jung came up with the hypothesis of archetypes, or instinctual patterns of perception and behavior that are shared by humankind.  He also formalized the idea of the “shadow” element within the mind, a hidden or dark side of the ego, our undeveloped or inferior side, which can isolate and harm us if we fail to recognize and understand it.

While Jung gave a name to an amoral and potentially “dark” side of the mind, the idea is of course as old as dragons, devils and demons.  The pulp fiction, comic-book series and radio show The Shadow became an often-imitated model for popular dramatizations of “what evil lurks in the hearts of men” and the trickster figure who fights against it.  Several of the contributors to this issue explore different corners of the dark or destructive forces in human nature.

Christopher Wall’s essay “Look Down, Don’t Look Down” describes a rash of suicides during the 2003-04 school year at New York University, where Wall had taken a job. He writes about the phenomenon of suicide contagion in the broader context of a narrative about individual susceptibility to group influence, both the beneficial kind and the destructive kind.  Thomas Larsen’s “The Saddest Music Ever Written” describes Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings; it is a compelling portrait of a sublime piece of music that has been used for every occasion from the radio announcement of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death to commemorations of the victims of September 11.  Michael White’s “The Bard of the Bottle” is an unapologetic and moving memoir of White’s friendship with poet and fellow drinker Tom McAfee.

Kristine Somerville’s feature on Francesca Woodman describes Woodman’s fragile, evocative photographs, often set in crumbling, abandoned houses or barren surroundings.  Woodman’s remarkable body of work vividly juxtaposes a world of dreams and reality, appearance and disappearance.  Woodman’s is a story made all the more poignant by her mysterious suicide at age twenty-two.

Susan Ford’s story “Of Questionable Provenance” takes the form of a reminiscence by a rare-books dealer about a flirtatious friendship with an accomplished but mysterious fellow art conoisseur-a friendship with a surprising and unsettling discovery at the end.  Tien-Yi Lee’s “How I Came to Love You Like a Brother” is set in New York City, the heart of the melting pot, where a young woman of a Chinese immigrant family tells the tale of her sister Lucia’s marriage to an ambitious, older Israeli immigrant, Yonah, owner of an organic-foods store.  Lee’s story is partly about how an unlikely sense of family can develop in the aftermath of tragedy or trial.  “Florida Lives” is Dionne Irving’s grim tale of a debt- and drug-distressed husband and wife who leave San Francisco for job opportunities and a fresh start in Florida. There the couple’s superior attitude toward their working-class neighbors proves ironic in light of their own pathetic lives, which are spiraling out of control.

The poets in this issue show how the reality we see can be as distorted, slanted, or ephemeral.  In Danielle Deulen’s poem “Corrida de Toros” a contemplation of stars leads to the reflection that each of us is inhabited by the violence of the cosmos and by the light and darkness we make in our own lives. Whether evoking the exhausted masses in “Revolution” or the haunting ideas of a French psychoanalyst in “Lacan at the Carousel,” Deulen shows, too, how our bodies and past actions create historical shapes and shadows that point to where we are now.

In his poem “Love Song with Ruin,” Paul Guest’s speaker tells us that it is “Important, I think, /to accept the testimony of a shadow.”  Guest’s poems are amiable, deeply felt, full of conversational gusto, yet also strikingly alert.  Several of them concern our negotiations with the shadow.  Maureen Seaton’s persona poems explore the self as someone or something else.  Seaton implies with humor and pathos that the self is both continuously made anew and continuously a shadow of what it once was.

Brian Beglin talks with novelist and short-story writer Aimee Bender about an unlikely kind of shadow in their discussion of her latest novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.  Bender’s child protagonist, nine-year-old Rose Edelstein, is burdened with the ability to discern people’s emotions, down to the most hidden ones, from food they’ve prepared. On the question of what we don’t know about ourselves-a question that preoccupies Bender-the author says, “No one is aware of what they’re feeling every moment, all the time. You don’t know, and then you realize there’s something lurking under the surface that affects how you are in the world.”

A Conversation with Aimee Bender

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Brian Beglin conducted this interview over the phone and through e-mail with Aimee Bender in May and June 2010.

Poetry Feature: Paul Guest

Featuring the poems:

  • LOVE SONG WITH RUIN
  • EROS POETICA
  • SINCERELY
  • INVOCATION
  • FORGET

Poetry Feature: Maureen Seaton

Featuring the poems:

  • When I Was the Virgin of Westchester
  • When I Was The Donna Reed Show
  • When I Was Infertile
  • Metastasis (featured as Poem of the Week, Nov. 11, 2010)
  • Helplessly Hetero

 

Metastasis

(Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, Hutchinson Island)

When the glaciers armied through Florida, like anywhere else, they left a mess of rocks and sand and animal bones behind them. They did this peacefully over a long period of time, and the animals felt peaceful as they died in the crush of ancient cold, and present-day sea creatures poking through deserted coral remember nothing of those faraway deaths. Yet when the moon presses down on the Atlantic like the whole hard body of God, even the smallest worm on the reef will admit to hearing a moan in the ocean’s bed. And if you’re standing on shore past your bedtime, Northern creature warmer than you’ve ever been in winter, and the moonlight pins you like a moth to the side of the old sea-eaten hand-built bench, you can hear it too — you don’t want to, you shake your head against it, but it’s real and mixed up with every other sound that’s ever occurred up and down this killer beach.

First Meeting

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Hey there. My name is Connie Aderholt, and I’m an alcoholic.  From way back.  About the time I changed from Conrad to Connie after a baseball player, that was when I got hooked on hooch. All kinds, canned brew to cinnamon schnapps, Mateus to single barrel scotch. Fifteen, just barely, brought to it in a shed behind the Starfest Café by Ellie Winston, who was stripped to heels, hose and a choker ribbon with a quart of Beam raised high in each hand.

Into History: A New Terrain of Women's Poetry

Reviews of:

  • Sarah Kennedy, Home Remedies, Louisiana State University Press, 2009, 70 pp., $17.95 (paper).
  • Frannie Lindsay, Mayweed, The Word Works, 2009, 76 pp., $15 (paper).
  • Rebecca Foust, All That Gorgeous Pitiless Song, Wave Books, 2010, 80 pp., $15.95 (paper).
  • Sara London, Tyranny of Milk, Four Way Books, 2010, 100 pp., $15.95 (paper).

How I Came to Love You Like a Brother

The full text of this story is not currently available online.

At the mention of the other woman, our mother spat. Once, I suppose, she would have wanted to know more, like what did he do, or how old were the children, or what were their names, or did they play musical instruments, and she might have told him that Lucia could recite thirty Chinese poems by the time she was three, or that she was a real talent on the flute, or that Lucia’s great-grandfather, originally a poor rice farmer, escaped from Qing militarists to become Sun Yat-Sen’s right-hand man in 1912.

Poetry Feature: Danielle Cadena Deulen

Featuring the poems:

  • Corrida de Toros (featured as Poem of the Week, Jan. 4, 2011)
  • Fig
  • After the Twentieth Century
  • Lacan at the Carousel
  • I Want You Dangerously
  • Revolution

 

Corrida de Toros

From earth, each star

is a likeness of the other, which is why divination

is impossible — the constellations are not Braille, but piercings,

wounds in the neck of a bull.

 

Perhaps the sky is a matador’s scarlet.

Or, no — perhaps the sky is the stadium in which we sit, watching

the bull, the banderilleros stabbing his neck, the way he falters,

throws his head wildly, his yellow eyes trying to focus

on the source of pain–

 

The men are drinking from leather flasks of wine and the women

avert their eyes, or a few young men avert their eyes

and some young women lean toward the scene so far forward it seems

they’ll fall out of the sky

 

toward the earth again, where their bodies will be trampled

or swell with children. The mothers fret at this,

their fingers drawing near the frayed ends of their daughters’ hair

as if their children were fabrics they could weave

without touching. Everyone is yelling kill the bull,

 

except those who murmur I want to die

into their palms, into the palms of their neighbors

who turn back to their wine, or stand and begin to weep.

The bull staggers and we swarm into the arena

 

to drive steel points trussed with ribbon

into his crest, his throat, his knees — until the matador

drops his sword, sprawls in the dust. Night shifts around us,

mud-dark and furious — clouds like white foam in the mouth

of the sky, and we stare a long while

 

at the scene we rendered, trying to recall

how we arrived. Slowly, the curved horn of the moon

rises. Lament settles in the stadium tiers.

Some in the crowd begin to chant there is no balm

to assuage the mark of the body.

 

Others sing there is no star that leads us away from ourselves.