Friday, June 09, 2023

Somerville artist Jael Whitney's work is full of 'glitches'



I know many people have glitches in their work. But here is an artist who celebrates them. Have if you will--one--Jael Whitney.

First off --how has it been for you working as an artist in the "Paris of New England" Somerville, MA.?

I love living and working in one of the communities with the highest per-capita of creatives in the United States. I have found that the artistic community here is very welcoming, and a lot of my opportunities to exhibit have come from people saying my name in rooms where I wasn't present.

You are a practitioner of Glitch art. One could say your work is full of glitches. In laymen's terms what is Glitch art—are you trying to see the wildness behind the tangible, ordered world?

I like that description. I often describe my work as w3rmwood as utopian and apocalyptic visions of the future through creative destruction of data. Readers can also try it out for themselves by downloading apps like Glitch Lab or Mirror Lab.

You identify yourself as a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. How has Native American culture, spirituality, music, etc... informed your own work?

I think about the relationship between indigeneity and technology a lot. One of the pieces I've attached is one that I'm working on for the Indigenous Student Center at MIT. I created it by glitching a photo I took when some of my Indigenous Communities Fellows were meeting with indigenous MIT students at the Center. In some ways our survival in these lands is a "glitch" - colonialism didn't want us to be here, but we still are.

Why should we view your work?

 Glitch Art is an emerging form of digital art that explores the intersection between technology and aesthetics. There are several active glitch artists in the Greater Boston area, including Allison Tanenhaus and Deb Step. I would check them out too so readers can get a broader sense of what "glitch art" can be.

The Pearl Diver of Irunmani By Marc Vincenz


The Pearl Diver of Irunmani

By Marc Vincenz

White Pine Press

ISBN: 978-1-945680-60-1

141 Pages


Review by Dennis Daly

Slicing through the surface of airless consciousness toward unfathomable truths can excite the artistic imagination into a rather unique understanding of being and self. Marc Vincenz in his new book, The Pearl Diver of Irunmani, concocts distinctive and curious metaphors from these rarely explored oceanic depths with their hitherto undetected, and sometimes priceless, gems.

Many of Vincenz’s poems are disguised narrative pieces seemingly connected with a dreamlike, almost metaphysical logic. His sparse, but poignant, imagery belies the substantial emotions and mnemonic thought subsumed within.

A Crest of Memories, Vincenz’s opening poem, details “some other knowledge,” where mortality’s threat and the confrontations of life are held in check. The poet commences this poem of love with a complaint and a question,

When the wind becomes

my heart and I undo

your eyes on night’s

other edge, a bitter

taste floods my tongue

like a nub of tamarind.

The absence drinks

you dry and you re-

call the reasons

for forgetting and why, why

you’ve learned to sleep

in that shadow memory.

What is the sound of love

In this dark hour of death?

Life’s breath takes center stage in Vincenz’s poem Nephesh. Sometimes translated from the Hebrew as “soul,” nephesh inhabits both humans and animals in a hierarchical way. Night terrors and memories fill the mass of humanity with history and godliness. And godliness is nothing if not alert to particulars at varying levels. Consider the transformation that comes with understanding in these lines,

Surely everything is interior.

An ancient fear, primordial

almost. Therefore all this

flesh and bone armoring the heart?

The forest, the ocean,

the mountain—also

all daunting, no?

And who has the most ferocious eyes?

a reclining figure sighs;

and suddenly as if by magic,

at that unsure moment,

everything transforms

and we burst into song.

Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am), famously said Rene Descartes in his Discourse on Method. An active consciousness (or thought) proves existence, and beyond that, well…. In his poem, To Discover Descartes, Vincenz exalts being and the small truths derived from it, but acknowledges a concomitant loneliness, both pushing back and profound. The poet confirms his alienation, albeit opening illumination, in the interior of the piece,

And those thousand eyes

of mammalian

longing. O, to sleep

among the scavengers and predators

but alive in the dark,

obliterated in the pavilions

of the insects, in the wake

of pollen and fragrance,

everything filled in and used,

but barely used up. The sparkles

that catch the light of the passing

cars or trucks carting

consciousness, or perhaps,

more aptly, a self-

consciousness edging toward

the warmth of morning.

Dreamtime pervades each of the luminous shores that slither under the watery universe of human memory. Drawing on Past Lives, Vincenz’s poem, which explores the nature of death and mindful life, pictures a dazzling morning in the preternatural beginnings of innocence. Childlike with wonder these lines strike home,

It’s too early still,

what’s visible, not awake,

what’s awake, not yet visible.

What’s audible is running

away with itself—

upwards, the stars still present,

winking into silence.

beginning their dream

of bone and flesh,

of dazzling storms,

an endless text

leaping from planet

to planet, flowers-

and trees- and fossils-

to-be, a power of such

beauty above and below in the pitch

beyond death, where worlds

are repainted again and over

in shadows, where a curious

child is hypnotized

by a future unknown—

and then, the dream

subsides and walks

into itself

Consciousness flirts and flutters. It has no truck with stability. Vincenz’s delicate poem Enchantment on the Islands moves lightly with a looking-glass narrative delineating a beginning, a climax, and a denouement in logical succession. Love’s logic, that is. Or, perhaps, humanity’s interior search for truth. A metamorphosis at the heart of the poem enchants,

someone suddenly

took my hand

and drew me through

the wave of weeds.

As far as the tarnished

tinsel she led me,

through a thin tangle of myself

she led me, no maps

no sense or hint

of technology,

and we tumbled

in the grasses and the leaves

mirroring the quilts

of clouds, to a space

where joy and awe communed,

and soon, we sprouted

wings, clamoring

for distance…

Alone with oneself silence governs in a dive to find the right word, the right phrase, the pearl that unpuzzles the surrounding chaos. Here the poet conjures up the sums of deceit until the right combination delivers the sought after, defining truth. In his piece, Every Subterfuge, Vincenz enters this watery frontier of tightening depth. Aquatic voices stream past him as he reinvents himself as the subject of being. A personal history nudges at him,

How much has sunk in,

bled into your pores

over the years: the salt,

the hard calcified shells,

the ink of invertebrates—

it fills you with clear, warm

blue, and all the waters

in a tight embrace,

the voices borderless,

the tones tied in knots

then freed again, pieces

of a puzzle spread through

another heaven where almost

everything flies, fragments,

plumes and scars

After reading Vincenz’s exquisite collection of poems, the reader rises to the surface of self with an often startlingly new appreciation of life and its sometimes stifled, but then omnipresent, insistent, and musical voices. Here drawn-in breath turns sweet and poetic comprehension begins anew.

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Red Letter Poem #163

 The Red Letters



In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.  To my mind, all poetry and art serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.


                                                                                                          – Steven Ratiner





Red Letter Poem #163





Leaving Friends on a Spring Evening 



I left

blessing them with rainwater

I shook from forsythia petals.


Some people––

like the feeling

of sound


when the spirit 

escapes from a tiny bell

or wind chimes––




                        ––Mary Bonina



During an interview I conducted with Seamus Heaney many years back, the great poet spoke about “the extra voltage in the language, the intensity, the self-consciousness” that helps give poetry its distinctive quality.  “It's a kind of over-doing it.  Enough is not enough when it comes to poetry…This extra-ness may be subtle and reticent.  Or it may be scandalous and overdone.  But it is extra...”.  But the question every minimalist poem forces us to consider: how much is just enough?  Enough to create that neural tingling as the disparate provinces of the mind suddenly light up, revealing their unexpected connections.  To engage the great archive of sound we carry within us, vibrating in resonance (or dissonance) with this new syllabic music.  Or to make us believe in the unique consciousness somewhere behind those inked signs or spoken phonemes, presented as if for our ears alone.  Like Seamus Heaney (who was famous for his rich music and inventive narratives), Mary Bonina tends to create complex texts that carry readers along on their strong emotional currents – but not this time.  This poem is as spare a piece as I’ve seen from her and reflects the minimalist impulse most Western writers attribute to the legacy of China, Japan and Korea, whose poets worked in very brief forms, many centuries before our own.  Sometimes, poets feel the need to toughen diction, test our skill, by making a simple contour drawing convey what we’d normally do in a thousand layered brushstrokes.  Or sometimes, we get the sense (as I believe Mary has in “Leaving Friends…”) that we are creating a most precarious balance, and even a feather’s weight, misplaced, can topple the whole creation.  That’s why I decided to comment only after you’ve negotiated the 29-word mobile she’s hung shimmering from the page.


If you’ve read much Asian poetry, you’ll remember there’s a long tradition of leave-taking poems, spurred by the fact that many of these poets worked as government officials; when old friends were forced to journey to the far reaches of the empire, they were keenly aware this embrace might be their last.  As the speaker here departs – after what we imagine was a wonderful gathering – did she purposely anoint her friends, or was this the mere happenstance of passing beneath the forsythia?  And when she pauses to look at these familiar faces, it seems she is experiencing right then the emotional surge that will propel her to the notebook page.  I certainly recall occasions when I could feel my skin tingling – with delight? with fear? – at the apprehension of our shared emotional depth/mortal fragility.  She closes the poem with the simplest of declaratives: “Some people. . .are” – but in that intervening parenthetical flash, the speaker feels the full benediction of their shared moment.  Mary and I had a fine discussion as to whether to offset that quiet awakening with commas or em dashes –because, in so carefully-etched a creation, even the smallest choices bolster (or jeopardize) significance.  And if some people simply are, do we dare pause for a moment and remember how many dear faces are not?


Mary is the author of two poetry collections and a memoir – all from Cervena Barva press – and her poem “Drift”, a winner of UrbanArts "Boston Contemporary Authors" prize, was engraved on a granite monolith outside Boston’s Green Street Station of the MBTA Orange Line.  She’s been honored with a number of fellowships including from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and was awarded a VCCA-France residency at Moulin a Nef in Auvillar.  I find her longer narrative poems entrancing (two new ones will appear in future installments of the Letters) – but I’m delighted to see how far-reaching are the ripples from so simple and delicately-tossed a pebble.




The Red Letters 3.0


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