06 January 2007

Vivian Girls on the Run

While assembling a more final version of forthcoming poetry book, I decided to include several poems I'd written in workshops I've led over the past year or so: poems written while the group read long works by John Ashbery aloud.

So I got to thinking about Ashbery and then I noticed a DVD on my floor: In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger, an amazing documentary by Jessica Yu that Dana and I watched over the holidays, in the glow of Dana's electric menorah.

Ashbery based his exhilirating book-length poem Girls on the Run on the works of Darger, and the FSG edition of the book features a typical Darger painting on the cover. Darger got his images from all sorts of sources, including colouring books, kids' primers, comic strips, newspaper clippings, etc. And he put penises on his little girls. His most famous little girls were the Vivian Girls, about whom he wrote a 15,000-page novel (honestly) over the course of about 60 years.

Somehow the correlation between Ashbery's methods and Darger's methods hadn't clicked for me. Perhaps because I'm so goddamn dense. But Ashbery, too, often constructs his poems grabbing words and lines from other poets and other sources. Now, Ashbery's no outsider like Darger, but there is something similar in the results of what they do: for example, the fact that their works often seem simultaneously very current and from another era.

And as I write this, I think of another doc we've seen recently: The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Jeff Feuerzeig's bittersweet celebration of the outsider singer/songwriter. Johnston's garage studio looks a bit like Darger's one-room apartment: absolutely cluttered with evidence of obsessive work. And Johnston's art often borrowed from other pop-culture sources.

Perhaps John Ashbery and Daniel Johnston should collaborate on something.

Required listening: Firehose's version of Johnston's "Walking the Cow," with vocals by Mike Watt.

I was introduced to Watt and Firehose by my dear friend Joe Grengs. Good lord, it's been so long since I've written to Joe. I once wrote a long poem for him: "Say Fway Luh Looz." I have copies of a chapbook version I did of it. If you want one, let me know.

Over and out.


At January 07, 2007 12:36 pm , Blogger j-love said...

Thanks for the reminder about the Daniel Johnston doc. I've just put it on hold from the library!

At January 07, 2007 1:22 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

the new ken burns/michael moore inspired documentary industry is indeed a welcome relief from mindless spiderman/superman/rocky/star wars recycling. haven't seen 'em all but am trying to. so far, some of my relatively recent faves are: my architect, why we fight, in the realms of the unreal, 49 up, bukowski: born into this, tell them who you are, control room and orwell rolls over in his grave. plenty more to see and i will. all good documentary recommendations welcome.

At January 08, 2007 2:44 pm , Blogger speterme said...

Funny you should mention that. I read about Darger on Ron Silliman's blog a while back, but have not checked out the documentary yet. I've been meaning to check out the Daniel Johnston one, but Ann & I haven't had much time for movies. We spent the weekend ripping out cabinets, plywood, plaster and lathe in our kitchen. (You may remember how we covered our ugly cabinets with postcards & pictures of kids that friends sent us.) While hammering away, I had hooked up my iPod to our stereo. I had the pleasure of hearing Johnston's version of "Walking the Cow" pop up on the iPod. It was great to hear again. Definitely need to check out the movie. I was at the library with George & Eloia on Friday. George checked out a DVD of "Peter Pan." I found "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" about Wilco. George has greatly enjoyed "Peter Pan" amidst working on string, magic tricks, drawing and the multitude of other things he likes to do. I haven't had a chance to see any of the Wilco thing yet. Also, another music documentary of interest might be Michael Franti's documentary "I am Not Alone" detailing his visit to Iraq where he played for people in the streets as well as for some U.S. soldiers. Again, I haven't seen it, but his latest record with Spearhead is awesome, and I've heard good things about the film through the grapevine.

Mike Watt is playing regularly with the Stooges (yes, Iggy Pop!) including on their new record due out this year, and I also read that he was brought in to play bass on teen pop sensation Kelly Clarkson's new upcoming record. (Eloia got her last one from a friend for her birthday.) Watt is supposedly working on a new record of his own, too. He may be all over the airwaves later this year.

All the best in 2007. Thanks for the New Year's poem. I haven't talked to Joe in quite a while either. Hoping to meet his growing boy one of these days.

Thanks for writing a great blog.

pac, lov and undrstanding (nvr giv up!)

Stv Ptrmir
no man's land
minnapolis, mn
word verification: eidublg

At January 09, 2007 9:13 pm , Blogger Mike Blouin said...

definitely with you an the Darger thing but not sure if it's Darger that's cool or the idea of Darger. Eerie how he was so in tune with current (now) trends in visual art while being so definitively "out of tune" with, well, everything else? It's easy to find the art (which you've gotta like) but I have never seen a sample of the prose which makes you wonder. 16,000 pages may be an impressive achievement... or it may not. Could be less a sign of genius and more a sign of persistance. Both valuable I suppose... keep rockin' in the big town, we don't get to see too many of them doc-u-mentaries here in Oxford Mills...

At January 10, 2007 4:54 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

re docs: did i forget to mention the yes men, no direction home, the charles bukowski tapes and walmart the high cost of low price? all worth a viewing. love to see the wilco doc. one of these days someone will have to do one on xtc, dontchathink?

At January 14, 2007 1:44 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

more decent docs 2 see/rent: wild parrots of telegraph hill, deep blue, microcosmos, crumb, and time indefinite


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