Friday, December 15, 2006

"BIRDMAN: A MEMOIR" by Lo Galluccio

Lo Galluccio
2 Clinton Street, Apt. 8
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 876-4534

Lo Galluccio is a poet/vocalist and the poetry editor for "The Alewife" a monthly newspaper in Camridge, Mass. Her most recent poetry collection is titled "Hot Rain" ( Ibbetson Street Press)

BIRDMAN: A memoir

“You were an emperor with a sword who looked wounded
like a birdman after a storm. Your tongue like a garter snake enchants me…”
Lo song lyric

I wore an army jacket with brass buttons, double-breasted and green and walked around the night in sunglasses. Gloss on night: darkness over darkness to see the night, to be alone. Taking the A train, I went up to Harlem one day to find Jean Michel Basquiat’s paintings. I’d run into blonde-haired and waifish Billy Martin (of Martin, Medeski and Wood) at the MoMA and for some reason, he also loved Basquiat. I guess part of that was Basquiat’s association with John Lurie, Bandleader of the Lounge Lizards, which Martin was a drummer for. John ran with Basquiat in their dope days, dope days that killed poor Jean Michel, that Lurie and others recovered from.

In a small Harlem museum, there was a ring of Crown King paintings, black with silver and gold and colored chalk. Basquiat invented his cartoon icons of America as an outsider. And I was feeling this in myself. I remember the exercise of taking the subway up there and staring for hours at the paintings to memorize them. To switch my right brain on and open up my imagination synapses. My soul trembled with delight and said yes to the inverse narcissism, the codes, the blackness and the bones of the paintings.

He became my favorite post-modern painter. He began to open up my eyes. Why were they shut tight? And why did I feel blinded? This I will come to.

Maybe the reason I called Tronzo Birdman, was the look he had on the Queen of all Ears CD, the Lounge Lizards record. You see him --bald with squint bright eyes – wise bright eyes and his funny bird nose at the camera. And that was the creature of a man who had mesmerized me with his anger and his guitar’s heavenly blues oratorios. He was my former lover and boyfriend, Tronzo. Most people downtown then in New York knew the Lounge Lizards was the hip white Duke Ellington orchestra of our day. Or Count Basie to the Jazz Passengers’ Duke. Still Birdman and Lurie were rivals of a kind. Tronzo was happy for the gig but he always found Lurie to be egotistical and too much a showman. I loved them both, though Tronzo would later say I was more like John because I had stage-presence, was the singer.

The reason I needed to re-configure my mind’s eye was because I’d been pink-slipped and put in a psychiatric ward by a man named Dr. Dollar a month or so before that. Dr. Dollar (real name) was a Southern psychiatrist to whom I’d been referred by several friends who thought I needed medication for my “depression.” After the Birdman cast me out I was punished for a suicide attempt in a way that forever changed my life. And this is a story about that, and about how grief will run it’s course. Larry explained to me that “pathology” means, in Greek, “the logic of grief,” not mental illness. Larry Joseph was my mentor back then; a brilliant law school professor who wrote a book called, “Shouting at No One.” Here in America we still pathologize our imbalances and emotions. I learned a harsh lesson that by trying to take my own life, it became the property of others who could lock me up. Lock me up away from the source of my suffering, but not heal it with deeper understanding or joy. No, it was yoga and the piano and winter and mysticism and love that do that…or almost do.

My father, Tony Galluccio, died when I was 15. A child of grief and unclear about real world machineries, psychiatries, confineries – after refusing pain medication for my busted neck, I took those same pain pills to kill me. And I fell asleep like a dream of dying, not a massive overdose or bloodletting like the Godfather’s failed lieutenant. The kitchen window in my small studio was covered up. And after swallowing 6-7 Naprocyns, I turned on the oven and fell asleep. I woke up an hour or so later, feeling queasy. And I knew I wanted to live, that it had been a childish attempt to erase my life, under the shame of losing his love, which had been so great. The Birdman, that is.

Let me tell you something more about the Birdman. He could play his guitar like a laser beam of violet blues light. He’d internalized the blues of the early 1900’s like John Lee Hooker or Blind Lemon. He had the ego of Santana or Hendrix. But he’d boozed when he first came to New York City and blown up at bandleaders and got into mighty trouble despite his mighty talent. The first night we made love together…it was a slow fade into dawn with him sitting behind me like a birch tree, his arms coming around me as we walked ceremoniously to the bed. Like a rocking horse he took me. He hadn’t been with a woman for awhile. It hurt me a little and I also loved his taking possession of me physically with ecstasy. The next morning we sat in his little kitchen in the E. Village and he wept. He wept and I knelt down before him. He said to me it was because of all the guys he’d lost to booze in Times Square. He couldn’t believe he was still alive and they were all gone. I was amazed at this display of sorrow, the intensity of the grief.
Already, I’d played my song, “Queen of Mars” for him, in rough form, and I’d already gone to dinner on India Row with him on Thanksgiving, both of us apart from our families. I felt like he was my guide, in love and in art. There I was in a cream-colored trenchcoat, looking like a French movie actress, working as a secretary when we first met on the Upper East Side. We were both staying with friends until we found places downtown, within a few blocks of each other. So when he cried and I thought to myself, “Oh, no, Oh, yes,” What do I do about this man? I either run now and keep going…or I say, I’m here for you and we’re together. Later I would write a poem about the little fisherman who would come into his head and ride the ocean of the tears he cried. It was called, “The color of January.” That day, I walked away, down 6th Street, knowing love, and knowing too, that even more than our damage and desire was the music. The music was what I wanted.

“Your eye a scar, slants bird toward me winging in.
And the corner of your eye…became a bird.
And the corner of your eye…became a bird.” Birthday, a song, Galluccio/Tronzo

It was at a Lounge Lizards’s concert. It was John Lurie, the actor and sax-man who always reminded me of an outfielder, with his stance and Roman God’s profile. It was my dream of a bomb going off – the color orange. It was another dream. Later I would look back and say, “Why didn’t I follow the message of the dream?” The only orange in my apartment was Tronzo’s amplifier, and the bomb exploding was him. That was what my psyche was warning me about. So, why not avert catastrophe?

I saw Lurie on stage and Tronzo was playing in the band. We’d been together for a year and collaborated on many songs. Our band, “FishPistol” delighted audiences in downtown clubs. I was Lucy to his Ricky. I was also just myself. When the Birdman took me home that night, angry I’d shown up at the wrong show time, and on his way to Europe with his trio, he snared me. In that apartment on 6th Street that reminded me of Amsterdam, where we’d written “Creamsplit” and “Birthday” together and I’d woken up early and gotten to Arrow Shirts to earn my living, Tronzo threatened to strangle me to death. See-- when you say Tronzo, it could be a Japanese gangster also. But it was also the Birdman who exiled me at 3:00 a.m. into a dark New York night. His plane to Europe cut through the sky and my stomach turned the next day when I felt my heart leave the planet Earth.

About a month later, after that suicide attempt, I woke up and threw up and felt okay. I was not okay about losing the love of my life. I was okay about death not eclipsing me. I was okay that fate had kept me alive. What really happened was this:

Instead of showing up for an appointment with a shrink at St. Vincent’s I called and told Dr. Dollar the truth. The hospital scared me. He called the police and five of them showed up at my door to take me to the psychiatric emergency room. It was a two-week incarceration in a locked psychiatric unit with idiot doctors and a bunch of poor trapped inner-city adolescents. The guard, when I’d signed in under coercion, said to me, actually said to me, “It’s like walking onto the moon, huh?” Too hurt and terrorized to speak, I didn’t say, “No kind of moon, I’ve ever seen.” My roommate was a girl named Cecilia. She talked and talked about her adoration for Barbara Streisand. The first night inside, I stuck my fingers in my ears to block her out. I didn’t sleep for 48 hours because I was afraid of what it would do to my mind’s eye. A tall man with white hair arrived on the ward who smelled of books and patchouli. I trusted him. He said to me that his wife had been an ex-model who couldn’t take aging so took 60 seconals and turned purple on her side of the bed. He was so depressed, he was having shock treatments. Cecilia had had them since she was younger. She painted. I grew to like her. It was a wild wild ride, a grim story. However, what finally turned things around was a fifteen-year old Latin girl named Danae. She had been walking around silently with her hands pinned to her thighs. She has been there for months. One night I watched Danae pick up a framed print off the main corridor –and there really was only a long one and a shortish one in an L-shaped ward—and smashed it on the ground. And she started screaming. “I’m too young to be in here. Let me outta here. I’m an artist and this just messes me up.” That’s what she yelled over and over to the nurse’s very uncomfortable astonishment. This statue of a girl, had completely flipped over into rage and a voice. It was revolutionary music to my ears. The next day she was released to her parents. Soon after, so was I. Not before I watched Cecilia straightjacketed; not before I was threatened with brain scans because they thought I wasn’t thinking “clearly” when I questioned their methods.

Then I wrote “Bright Star/Shot Horse”

"You take me down a corridor where dreams turn into television.
The color of your potions won’t replace the color of my visions.
You ask me do I hear voices. I hear voices like the sea.
You want me to take my trilophon, I drink my asylum tea.
The color’s red in my museum, it won’t fade in your cure for me…”

I didn’t want the Birdman to know I was in there. He found out anyway.
When I got out, the first night out on the town, I caught a cab with John Lurie. Think I had on the blue-striped shirt Tronzo had given me and some purple bell-bottoms with sneakers. When I told Lurie what happened, he said, “Sweetheart, you’re much braver than I am, trying to kill yourself.” “I could never do that.” I told him all the kids in the unit said, “mad this” and “mad that.” This was the same Lurie who plays it cool in the movie, Stranger than Paradise. He’s an immigrant who knew how to gamble and travel and bide his time til something better happened, free in America. That was the John Lurie with the penetrating eyes and the off-hand remarks and the temper flares just shy of real violence. Once I looked for work in stores in Soho with giraffes in them because he also reminded me of a giraffe.

So Lurie might have “killed” the Birdman for me. He carried me upstairs to his loft and I had on a 1950’s dress from a tour of Greece. He said he did that with all the girls. I laughed. And then that night, another dream, interrupted the action. Before we made love, I dreamt of Tronzo, my Birdman. It was a simple dream but we were together in bed holding hands. I was startled and guilt-ridden and knew he still had a spell over my soul. And I lost Lurie too for awhile. I lost Lurie forever until something very strange happened when I made my own first record. It had a queen in it too. And she was my double. The CD was called, Being Visited and on the front cover I was Queen of Mars, a song that almost healed me for good. Because the song was written in code about my father also. And Queen of Mars was the tarot card on the wall, maybe Queen of all Ears, and she was me. Long pink hair, and sharp teeth. She used men and was tricked by them, “my twin, my nemesis, Queen of Mars.” And there it was, the music given by those slide-guitar hands, come back to me. Like Ikkyu’s bird. A bird of paradise. Stranger, New York, than paradise. Birdman, John Lurie. -- you go to my head like champagne. Danae -- your bravery kept my heart from shattering. I was changed, but my soul remained.

Lo Galluccio

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Not To: New and Selected Poems. Elaine Terranova. (The Sheep Meadow Press. Riverdale-On-Hudson, NY 10471) $14.95

This is the second book of poetry from the “Sheep Meadow Press” that I have read and reviewed. The other collection was Richard Wollman’s “Evidence of Things Seen.” Both books were excellent reads and were handsomely presented. Elaine Terranova’s collection “Not To: New and Selected Poems” is poetry at its best: lean, cuts to the chase, striking imagery, and masterful metaphor. In the poem “A Story,” Terranova uses a woman’s “beautiful, impervious face,” as a jumping off point to examine our search for transcendence-- for the answer to the unanswerable:

“I spot on the street a woman’s
beautiful, impervious face
like a China plate. She is
talking to air. “That’s

the end,” she says.
“That’s all there is, that’s
my story.” I’m sorry
to have missed the good part,
hovering over us like vapor.

What drops at her feet?—
a bird, a leaf, a candywrapper,
something from the world.
I know that even without that
encouragement, she would go on...

Think of those people who call
middle of the night from
the impossibly far reaches of an old
friendship, new acquaintance…

It isn’t you they want,
voice thinning out to ether,
only access to the entrails
of the divine animal.” (68-9)

In the poem “In the Home,” Terranova uses the props of a small chair, a heavy rain, and a fleeting memory of braided hair with heartbreaking effect to describe her mother in her terminal dotage:

“My mother sits in the small chair
that is now enough for her.

Her fingers find the edge
and tap, tap
as if there is something
she is trying to remember:

the way she liked to braid
her long thick hair

in the terrible rain
that shut us off
from all the other houses.” (171)

Highly Recommended.

Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update/Dec. 2006/ Somerville, Mass.
A Few Words I Live By. Diamond Riley. ( $10.

Awhile ago a 16 year old Harvard Summer School student Diamond Riley sent me some poems, and told me she was going to publish a collection of her writings. I published one of her poems in my “Lyrical Somerville” column in The Somerville News, and several months later I got her book in the mail. Riley, whose poetry is conversational, writes in the first section of her book: “Ok, so you’re probably wondering what the purpose of this book is. Well, in a nutshell I basically want to help young people….teenagers like myself…see things before they happen.” Riley’s poetry concerns the pleasures and perils of the dating scene, the trial and tribulations of being a young African-American, and of forging an identity in a conformist youth culture. In this perceptive piece “Still Growing” the poet writes about the difficulties of growing from girl to woman:

“Damn, how hard is it to act like a woman/Everybody be killing me, complaining about not receiving the proper respect they deserve/…Did you ever think about why, you were treated this way?/No we want the cake and to eat it too/ We want to act like hoes and still be treated like ladies…/ Hell, I am not ready for the STD/ or to be, a mother of three/I am not ready to drop out of the school/ and later struggle for my GED/ I am not ready so…I choose to GROW UP.”

Riley is a spirited and proud of whom she is; as displayed in her poem “Who is Diamond Riley”

“ A Diva/with a name/to live up to/A realist/ who’s not afraid to tell it like it is/ A friend/ who doesn’t like to betray or be betrayed/ A girl with dreams/ who will conquer them all..”

This book will certainly be an inspiration to adolescents, as it talks the talk and walks the walk. It is also an inspiration because Riley did the hard work of compiling a collection and publishing it at the tender age of 16.
Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update

Monday, December 11, 2006

Poet Richard Wollman Searches for “Evidence of Things Seen.”

Poet Richard Wollman is the author of a new collection of Poetry “Evidence of Things Seen.’ (The Sheep Meadow Press). Poet Samuel Menashe writes of his work: “What Wollman speaks of, ‘the plain grandeur of the ordinary evening,’ is true of many of his poems.”

Wollman is a native New Yorker living in Newburyport, Mass. He was educated at Brandeis University and got his doctorate from Columbia University. He is an associate professor of English at Simmons College in Boston and co-director of the “Zora Neale Hurston Literary Center” at the college. I talked with Wollman on my Somerville Community Access TV show: “Poet to Poet/Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: Stanley Moss wrote that you are not afraid to “dirty your face and hands with the truth.” What do you feel he was getting at, and do you feel your poetry is “dirty” so to speak?

Richard Wollman: When Stanley Moss wrote that about me I didn’t know what to think at first. I think he means to look at things--“evidence of things seen,” might mean looking at things that on the surface might not look beautiful… it might be “the dirty feet of common people.” I think it defines the question I have: “What would God have us see?”

Doug Holder: In the poem “Interior Monologue of a Person,” you write of the thoughts of a corpse—a victim of the Nazi death camps: “The day they uncovered me, /I rested against a banker from Lodz. /A young girl’s cheekbone/ received my hand for eternity. / You can still see where the officer-physician/ took a scalpel to the light/ camouflage of the skin / to find what was impure in me.”

Where did this poem arise from? You seem to drape a scrim of beauty over this grim scene.

Richard Wollman: If there are any of my poems that haunts me it is this one. This was the hardest one to decide whether to include it in the book. This is a tough one to accept because of its grimness. I want the poem to be acceptable to me, the reader, and also the community I have in mind. They are a very particular group—survivors of the Holocaust. There has always been this sensibility since the Holucast, that poetry after the fact would be barbaric. Poets have stayed off the subject for many years. But now we are coming to a certain point of time where the survivors are dying off. There aren’t many left. I wonder who will sing for them. I happened to be a speaker at a rather large gathering for a Holocaust remembrance day. I thought if I could read some of my poems on stage I might have answer in regards to its acceptability. I got a partial answer. There were no objections, and a Rabbi who was with me said” You said good things.”

You do have to dirty your hands with the truth. Poets have to define and redefine what is meaningful. This is just the nature of change in the world. The poem we discussed is a way to get back to “singing.”

Doug Holder: How much does your Jewish background play a role in your poetry?

Richard Wollman: A large portion of the poems in this book are on Jewish themes. It is a home base. I begin there and move outward. I am from a Reformed Jewish background. I have always been intrigued with the fact that on my mother’s side (before they came to America) my relatives were all poets and Rabbis.

I started to write poetry late in life at age 40. It was spurred on by an anti-Semitic incident at my home on the North Shore of Massachusetts.

So my first poem was from a very real incident. Some of our neighbors took their discarded Christmas trees and barricaded our front door with them. This rattled me so, and caused me so much pain, that I responded by writing a poem. The poem was the only way to alleviate the pain.

Doug Holder: Your poem “Self-Portrait” is a fascinating piece, where you view yourself as a work-in-progress, unfinished: “in my unpainted chair.” Do you view the artist, as well as the art, a work of art as well?

Richard Wollman: If not a work of art, certainly a work-in-progress. There is an art to living the poetic life.

Doug Holder: What is the poetic life?


Richard Wollman: For me it means you don’t write your poems for entertainment or merely for esthetic purposes. It is a way of living. Poetry is not even the poetry on the page. I think the poem on the page is the last or best attempt to record some record of the poetic life.

Doug Holder; Where do you write?

Richard Wollman: I write in a third floor room in my home. It is a pretty dreadful place. It has a tiny, little window…it’s bare. Nobody wants to go up there. You have to restrict yourself in order to capture a piece of the world in your poem. I need poverty and solitude. I write better if I can feel the presence of my wife and son two floors down.

Doug Holder: You are the co-director of the Zora Neale Hurston Center at Simmons College in Boston. Can you tell me about that?

Richard Wollman: It is a brainchild of my colleague Afaa Michael Weaver. Afaa created a wonderful reading series of minority voices at Simmons College. We extend out to the community to reach the young students. Afaa also hosted the first “International Chinese Poetry Conference” at Simmons. We are gearing up to have a second in Oct. 2007.

Doug Holder: You are a member of the Pow Wow River poets, no?

Richard Wollman: Yes. We meet in Newburyport, Mass. Rhina Espalliat is the founder. It is a group of two dozen poets. We have a workshop once-a-month. We also have a reading series. Anyone can come to the workshop. It is amazing that in Newburyport you have so many accomplished poets. We push each other.

Doug Holder

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Helen Vendler: I seldom review poets under 50."

I don't know this sounds patronizing. I am a poet, 51, so my 40's are right behind me..I don't remember writing about TV shows and comics... This was in today's New York Times Book Review. It is an interview with Helen Vendler,noted critic and Harvard professor:

"Vendler seldom reviews poets under 50. 'They're writing about the television cartoons they saw when they were growing up. And that's fine. It's as good a resource of imagery as orchards... I didn't watch these cartoons. So I don't feel I'm the best reader for most of the young ones.'

As a major reviewer I think she should be better informed about poets under50. This seems very dismissive to me. I mean she writes about poets in the1700's,etc.. She must of studied the milieu back then. Then why not pay some attention to the younger poets. Ah! The academy.