Pastels by James Romberger
Dorian Grey Gallery
November 19 – January 3, 2016
James Romberger is the king of pastels, legendary for his gritty urban scenes of the Lower East Side. These new works signal a shift that began a couple of years ago in France, toward views of peace and prosperity while preserving a socially critical eye. In this show, Romberger has traded the city as a primary subject matter and returned to his roots on Long Island’s North Fork.
Homes around the town of Greenport are the focus of several pieces. Among these, the nocturnes will knock your socks off. Architecture, with its connotations of security, is presented as aloof and remote. In “Pink Dusk,” evening is presaged by a ribbon of pink. Situated behind a protective fence, a two-story home is silhouetted. The driveway is lit up triggering competing associations: is this a warm welcome or a security measure?
“Island Nocturne” is keenly handsome. A barn style home is seen from the street. Framing it on either side is the Long Island Sound, its Prussian blue surface matched by a band of equally blue sky. The porch is brightly lit up, as is one second story window. But no humans are visible. Romberger manages to imbue this scene of tranquility and domesticity with sublime intimations. While the picture is unequivocally beautiful, the excessive lighting on the porch and on the horizon is also foreboding, reminding us of global warming and rising sea levels.
The show includes five still lifes, representing another thematic shift for Romberger. It’s fitting that among the yard sale items depicted, is a copy of Mythologies by Roland Barthes, whose theories observe how we see things and what their multiple codes signify. The book is paired with cutesy kitsch figures and a bouquet in a vase, all placed on a folded cloth. The compositional elements harmonize with each other, their various shapes forming a fluid and dynamic tableaux.
“Still Life #2” substitutes the book with an I-phone. An old-fashioned lamp casts a homey spell on the scene. If it weren’t for the I-phone, this inviting picture would be an acronym, evoking a nostalgic flashback to Sinclair Lewis’s bourgeois character Babbitt and his seemingly cozy reading chair. Echoing Barthes’ critiques of archetypes, the objects that Romberger chooses to include invite scrutiny regarding taste, the popular imagination and aspiration.
“Greenport Station” is an unabashedly sentimental masterpiece. The colors have skewed slightly toward Fauvism. Purple and gold clouds appear on the horizon. A red caboose is parked at an angle by the terminal. Here at the end of the line, we’re primed and ready for a magical excursion — and James Romberger provides our conveyance.
Two conversations, Friday, Dec. 12, late afternoon, dusk 1. Haitian cab driver, young man, beautiful
How are ya, thanks! This is terrific. Beautiful night…, where you from?
…I have two Haitian girls in my class—deux jeunes filles jolies, intelligentes, and ….how you say? funny!
Marant! Elles sont marant! …Been here since he was thirteen. Did some French school in Haiti. But here in New York he doesn’t speak much French. “I lost my culture.” Going to school again now. What are you studying? Oh he’s not studying in a school, just at the library. He goes there every day. Reads. So what do you study? Wanted to do criminal justice did two years in a school…. But realized there might be any jobs. Not jobs in courts, no jobs in police. Driving a cab now and studying on his own, not sure what, wants to learn something with his hands. He figures there’s always work for people who work with their hands. Tomorrow there’s a big march you know. Be terrible traffic. ? Millions March….. to protest the killing of black men by the cops…. He saw another march the other day, the traffic was stopped up and he got out of his car to see what was going on, he asked some people what was it about He doesn’t talk about that sort of thing with people…. you know I tell him I understand, he’s in the service industry Just yes sir, no sir….. I get it, that’s your business…. you make a living…. … So as we turn down 23rd st. at 8th Avenue he says, I gotta tell you a story. A friend of mine, my best friend, he drives a cab too and he was returning the taxi late one night to the lot in Brooklyn. There are so many taxis and so many cars of people who live there that often you have to park the cab far away, 10-15 blocks away. He parked the car and then he was walking to the lot. Two police cars pulled up one in front one behind they jumped out and one pulled out a gun. My friend he said, whoa like this he puts his hands up and the cops tell him to get up against the car. They ask him where he’s coming from and where he’s going and he says he parked his cab and he’s walking to the lot what is it what did I do? and they tell him that a store was just robbed in the neighborhood, they’re looking for a young black guy your age wearing jeans and dark coat. My friend he says something, whoa no that’s not me or something like that and they…. beat him. They beat him and they arrested him. They said he was resisting arrest. He was in jail for 6 weeks. At Rikers. I went there to visit him. Ohhhhhh that is terrible terrible place…. I was scared. They fined him fifteen hundred dollars. He had to pay. And they tried to take his license away, but the cab company didn’t do it. ….. OMG …. We pull up in front of the London Terrace Gardens. Thank God your friend is okay in the end thank God they didn’t take his license. He thanks me and says it was nice talking to you.
2. In the London Terrace Gardens visiting with Elsie and Teresa. We are drinking whiskey. Teresa tells the story of her son. Teresa: My oldest son he came here at 21 spoke no English nothing but he learn very fast and he study he went right into college today he is doctor, he is 40! But my younger son he was 12 when he came here. He real American guy. He study two years in the university but he didn’t want to do no more, so he decide he want to be a police. He want to help people protect them from bad guys. Now he a police! But Jessie, do you know anyone in police? My son he asked me, Mom I gotta get out of there. He work in housing project in Brooklyn. He only white face in whole place. All people hate him. He say he can see hate in their faces. He say everyone police get transferred out. But you got to know someone. He scared. I scared too. What he gonna do?
Text and photos: Jessica Slote, NYC, Dec. 12. 2014
by Jeff Grunthaner
The paradox of Chris Ofili New Museum Show, “Night and Day,” is the way he makes you believe “great art” without quotes exists, while simultaneously quoting from the great tradition of art as it exists in the Western tradition. Ofili is a painter who will routinely astonish you with a painterly bravura, while yet relying on traditional almost conventional pictorial strategies to compose his work. The overwhelming question is can an artist as skilled as Ofili, a black Londoner, who from a very early stage in career found success via Saatchi and the artists he collected, actually relate to the cannon is a way that matters? It’s not like the New Museum show, which echoes a show recently exhibited at the Tate, will make or break his career, but how does it contextualize itself in \New York? Is there an audience here perhaps more or less responsive than those found in other institutions elsewhere?
Chris Ofili’s career is rooted in a kind of hybridity that makes his extreme inclination for the conventional—a centered figure, generally a portrait—into something completely else. The intrigue lies not so much in the materials listed with the descriptions placed alongside his works, as much as the way he uses the materials. One has NEVER seen glitter or elephant dung used in this way. Not in a painting. And to be honest, if you have it owes everything to Ofili’s pioneering artistry. Few painters are as sensitive to the sculptural qualities of their media (oil, acrylic, what-have-you). This is what makes his paintings so wildly present, so absorbing in a technical way that TRANSCENDS THEIR SCALE. The genius of Ofili lies in his artistry, the solitude of a painter laboring on canvas. In this respect, he is quite possibly without peer.
And yet the genius of specialization can only go so far. Ultimately, what one looks for in a work, whether one is a disinterested connoisseur or a curious newbie to painting, is whether the art lives and breathes beyond the confines in which you take it in. Market aside, it’s unlikely that anyone will leave the Chris Ofili show feeling transformed—despite the artist’s dedicated commitment to incorporating aspects of the tradition in novel, personally expressive, even visionary ways. For the New Yorker, whether she be poor and struggling or comfortable and bourgeois, the theme of a black figure on canvas is not a startling innovation, to say the least. We meet this everyday when we transfer trains, which is not to say that every artist can rival Ofili in skill (few can, in my opinion). Nevertheless, THE MESSAGE BEHIND THE WORK, if message there be, lies in some dimly lit ether-realm of the facelessness of black folk trying to adapt to a society that rebukes them for reasons purely based on race.
Otherwise stated, Ofili falls flat in relation to the political import of his work, Of course, he’s know as a “political painter,” incorporating black faces into a space otherwise reserved for whites, and doing this in a way that vies, perhaps even outshines, their venerable classical models (at least to the mediated gaze of contemporary eyes). But what exactly is the space he inserts his figures into? It’s one thing to liberate the black figure into a space already carved out for it by the cannon; it’s another completely to give such figures their own freedom. To be sure, Ofili’s figures are not thematically restricted to representations of black folk—religious and pop-culture iconography plays a heavy role. Yet everywhere he seems to casually place the image of blackness into his pieces, juxtaposing it easily into the classical maneuvers of sculptural and cubist precedents.
This makes Ofili’s work feel all to comfortable and all-too-distant is light of current events in New York and the world around. There’s a sheltered, studio-quality to the paintings that makes them as aesthetically delightful as they are innocuous. What we’re impressed by is their skill, the way they resolve themselves into compositional gestalts. We don’t really see the world through them (perhaps due to Ofili’s penchant for the visionary), nor do we even witness a world that’s a plenum of plurality. Rather, “Night and Day” gives us an extended survey of how one artist’s practice relates and reflects—not so much redacts—the tradition of “great painting” in Western Art. Not only are Ofili’s paintings wholly rooted in the Western Cannon, but despite their “exotic” materials—elephant dung, most notably, but also glitter and other reflective materials—viewers are left with nothing or less than conventions. Brilliantly wrought, but utterly traditional.
It is exactly the denial of the reflective that makes Ofili the artist that he is. His work revels in surface, in the incorporation of exceptional and even symbolic media (elephant dung, glitter) into a wholly foreign tradition. True to his inspiration in hip-hop and other areas of pop culture, he initially tended to literalize these materials—as when he performed a David Hammonsesque performance work, pandering elephant shit to a public either indifferent or excited (he sold a few pieces, and even developed a piece out of it: “Shithead” (1993). But in the end Ofili submerges his materials into something unrecognizable. To be sure, there is tactility to Ofili’s use of elephant dung that feeds into the sculptural quality of his work. But this is not a political gesture so much as an aesthetic one. What I mean to challenge is Ofili’s importance as a “political painter.”
The contrast boils down to the expressivity of faces in Ofili’s work versus their expressivity qua paintings. In a work like “The Adoration of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars (Third Version)” (1998), Ofili paints a drugged-out looking figure against a visionary-psychedelic backdrop. The figure could be a boxer, or James Brown. Either way, it’s only an inspiration. Hands of praise or struggle emerge towards the figure. There’s no trace of reality in the portrait. The real-life model whom Captain Shit is based on simply isn’t there. The painting doesn’t speak to this world, but the world of pop-culture imagery. This is less a political move than a gesture. Remapping the iconography of everyday life can only take protest so far. What’s needed is to unmake images, to locate their historical origins, not merely create a pictorial confluence of different traditions melding together. Ofili, for his nonpareil artistry, doesn’t deliver this.
Happy Holidays from us and ours to you and yours!
Reflections Of Northern Brazil: The World Cup 2014 by Lucas Reckhaus
The airplane is packed with Mexicans. Oversized Sombreros, eagle feathers and
wrestling masks stick out above of the seats of the plane.
Beneath, vast fields of grass and sugarcane have given way to a deep green forest.
We’re on our way to Natal—the city of nativity—and one of the most northern
host cities of the World Cup. Getting this far already involved a missed flight out
of Newark—resulting in our missing luggage—a miraculous dash to JFK onto another
plane, and a layover in Sao Paolo before three more hours to Natal.
As the plane touches down, the Mexicans erupt like an Aztec volcano: a spontaneous
symphony of drumming, singing, screaming and clapping, all in perfect harmony. A
tear wells up in my eye…I’ve made it.
Our missing luggage turns out to be a blessing in disguise. The uncle who picks us up
is driving a car the size of a shoe-box; not remotely big enough to fit the two giant
suitcases, filled with tools, wheel-chair parts, clothes and presents, brought along by
Tony, plus the giant suitcase of his daughter Camilla, and my own bag.
The air is hot, the sun bright, the earth red, the smell is sweet. We leave the airport
along an unfinished highway—cobblestones along the edges are missing, grass and trees are yet
to be planted, unpaved earthen roadways branch off every so often—it was ‘finished’ only three
days ago. After the tournament, few expect it to be completed.
Natal is almost an hour away we’re told. There is a functioning international
airport right next to the city, but that was closed down in favor of building the new
terminal at which we arrived, far out in the middle of the jungle. Word on the street
is someone with political connections owned the land and made a hefty profit.
The towns we pass through are covered in yellow, blue and green. It is the first day
of the tournament and Brazil plays in one hour. Everyone is on their way to watch
the game. Three people packed on a motorcycle (barefoot) with a Brazilian flag
flying behind them pass us. We grace them with a loud honk!
Watching the game at at our host’s place, you can feel the excitement in the air.
Every touch of is met with groans and shouts from the neighborhood, watching in the
street. When Brazil scores, explosions sound.
Natal is changing. It is obvious as soon as you drive into the heart of town. The
center is filled with residential high rises, and our hosts are quick to point out one
of Brazil’s largest malls. Yet the city is not particularly compact, most people live in single
storey homes, protected by walls mounted with broken glass.
The stadium is dubbed “Las Dunas” for the famous orange-yellow-red dunes that
surround the city, and lead down to the sea. At night, when lit up, its resembles a
glowing sea-shell. Our game is a dud, neither the Greeks or Japanese can create any
kind of rhythm in their game. The Japanese fan block is great though, inhaling and
exhaling in a single breath with every move of their team, drumming non-stop.
Outside the stadium security is average. There are fan activities, and a Coca-Cola
sponsored charity event where poor children are sent a kind of party/care bag
signed by you, the privileged attendee… a pittance of a gift compared to the 11 billion in spending the
government chose to lavish on the tournament, instead of hospitals and education.
And then there is the rain, every day a monsoon for several hours. After two
straight days in the apartment we jump ship on an overnight bus to Maceio.
I’m sitting next to a boy of 12, he’s traveling alone to see his father. I’m impressed.
We talk through my broken Portu-Spanish about American popular culture, what video games are cool, TV
shows, etc. It’s the usual big names, though I struggle to understand his pronunciation at times. Outside the
bus passes through an endless landscape of small towns and houses along the road. Every so often people
gather together at a lone gas station or late night bar. Our own bus stops in time to watch the second half of England
against Italy in the Amazonian city of Manaus, the “Rumble in the Jungle.”
The Entire bus floods into the rest-stop, everyones eyes immediately scanning for the TV. For half an hour the place is
filled with people doing their best to watch, eat, and drink, all at the same time. The score is tied 1-1, but low and behold,
the Italians prove more cunning than the English and score. In the World Cup, history provides the guide to future success
and failure. English fans know this better than any. As we leave, I can see the waiters' pace slowing back down to their
usual late night norm.
We reach Maceio around six in the morning. My little friend says his father will pick him up,
but he doesn’t have a number for him. He is surprisingly calm. We leave him with a “best of luck” wish.
Maceio is the chosen home of the Ghanaian soccer team. Their hotel is next to
our building. The beachfront is lined with posters welcoming them as guests. I’m
impressed by the location. After the tournament however, it comes out that their
football association had been cutting costs, and that the team was unhappy with
the accommodations, oh well.
The best part of the beach is the reef. At low tide small boats will sail you out to the
shallow water teeming with fish. The full bar and grill with swimming waiters is the
kind of genius that only exists outside of America. The interior of the city is mostly lower middle class,
but it has all the amenities one would expect. Still, the action is down by the water.
The Festival Sao Juan is taking place. There is a competition in which dance teams
from all over the north perform. The story boils down to that of a shot-gun style
wedding between a bride and groom, capped by the appearance of the bandit.
The men carry toy guns, the women knives. The costumes and choreography are
exquisite. After each show, at least one dancer falls unconscious. Medics quickly assist them.
We order kebabs. The old women promptly takes them off the serving stick…last
year someone was stabbed and now they can only be presented that way.
Our bus ride back has a layover in Recife. At four in the morning, the bus stop is a
grim place. Its hot, flies circle the people at the one open bar. Stray cats roam in
plain sight. The entire second floor is closed off and looks like its been that way
for years. The exterior of the building is covered in soot. Later I read an account
of the child prostitution going on nearby, and how allegedly taxi drivers have been
advertising to tourists they pick up at the bus station….
After a brief return to Natal we navigate our way back to the wayward airport in the
jungle outside the city, and catch a flight to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil’s first capital,
and the African heart of the country.
Salvador lies on a bay. The old city is divided into two parts, high and low. A great
white elevator connects the two areas, and is one of the celebrated landmarks of the
city. In reality, the city is not divided between high and low, so much as rich and
poor, with a middle class navigating the world between the two. The “Arena Fonte Nova” sits in the intersection of these three worlds, with favela's looking down into the colossium on two sides, while a park and the city's new elevated subway grace the other two. Illegal venders selling beer and water line the ramparts leading to the arena for a half-mile. Fans move in to the stadium as if sucked in along veins leading to a pulsing heart. The Fonte Nova becomes dubbed the “The Stadium of Goals.”
In the tourist center, colonial buildings stun with their beauty, and sadden by their
abject state. Often only the façade is still standing. Centuries of dirt, graffiti, and
neglect are evidence of the longstanding disinterest of the government in maintaining
the historical past of the city. Yet new buildings have faired no better. The business part of town looks
apocalyptic at night. Not a light on, no one walking the streets, not a store open.
The buildings equally dirty. We are parking our car there en route to the barrio alto
for another carnival festival. As we look for a spot, people jump out at us to “assist,”
and “guard” our car. A common occupation in Brazil, but here the competition is
In the old part of town, high up on the hill overlooking the bay, the scene changes.
We emerge into a square packed with people dancing. Beer and Caipirinas flow
along the five hundred year-old cobblestones, music is booming out from a giant
stage, while in the center of the packed crowd, an island of vendors are selling food
and drinks. We stick together in a tight pack lest we be separated.
A street leads down-hill from the main square to an open area. Another music stage is set up.
I'm told this was once the place where slaves were publicly punished. Now it’s the scene of a dance.
Robin Williams, more than anything was an impeccable listener. Yes he could talk a light year a minute, but even then he listened.
We are announcing Tribes 2.0: Live from Steve's Couch ---as a way to keep the old Tribes spirit alive -- and keep a flow of new energy into the 6th St space. So Gander TV put in a camera and mic in 6th St for us.
The working dynamic here is that since Steve left 3rd St and the open door, every night a performance policy there, there has not been the kind of flow-through energy that sustained him and Tribes for a couple of decades. This is an attempt to find a way to find some new Tribes energy, to enter the digital world, and to have some fun with art.
You don't need to do anything different than what you always do here at Tribes, shoot the shit, heckle and read to the blind guy. The only thing that will be different is it'll be taped for people to watch live! (And there will be future events which we are in process of developing)
We will be setting up times and dates for people who want to participate. If you're interested please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Buy his book here: http://www.amazon.com/God-Revealed-Revisit-Enrich-Future/dp/1614486999 About Fred:
Every life is a unique journey, and each of us travels through life accumulating experiences and memories that ultimately impact how we behave in every moment. Like you, how I will interact tomorrow with my spouse, children, siblings, coworkers, friends, and even adversaries is impacted and altered by my unique accumulation of life experiences. It’s both an incredible gift and an enormous responsibility to realize that among my unique personal experiences, at least some contained revelations and messages from God. I’ve shared my experiences on this website to persuade you that God does in fact speak to us through our life experiences. As you read about my journey, I hope it will inspire you to be on the alert for future messages from God and to ponder your own past for messages you may have initially missed. I came to know God through my own contemplations, self-study, prayer, and revelation. That process has provided me with the foundation for a very strong faith and meaningful testimony. I recognize the value of early childhood training and education in a particular faith, with an emphasis on the Holy Bible. But that was not how I found God. Unlike many lifelong Christians, those of us who found our own way may have missed rich religious training in childhood. We tend to know what we believe and why we believe it and can often provide cogent and effective arguments for our theological positions. But we do lack the foundation of years of biblical studies and a familiarity with God’s Word with all its beautiful and well-articulated values and lessons. The stories I share on this website do not dwell extensively on my own theological beliefs. They are not intended to be a prescription for finding your own place in the family of believers. If you currently practice a particular faith and believe in God, then what I have written is likely to reassure you that God is living and working in your life and delivers timely and critically important messages to you through your own experiences. Whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or of any other faith, you can and should be on the alert for such revelations. I hope my experiences will sensitize you to the need to remain vigilant and tuned in. However, even if you are an agnostic or an atheist, I have included for your consideration a number of experiences that initially established my faith and later fortified it. Reading about my journey probably won’t alter what you now believe (or don’t believe). But I hope that reading about it, coupled with your reflection on your own life’s journey, will cause you to contemplate the possibility that God was reaching out to you and sending you messages along the way. Throughout my journey, I have very clearly seen God working in my life, delivering messages, fortifying my faith, and improving my ability to impact other lives, which has been one of my long-standing passions. My unique journey began like that of millions of other Americans, in an unremarkable and very typical lower-middle-class household. I was born to a working-class family of second- and third-generation European immigrants who worked hard to support and sustain a young family in a rebounding economy. My father worked long hours as an insurance inspector. He was simply a working-class guy collecting data for insurance companies at a relatively low level of income. But he worked hard and supplemented his income by following his real passion in life: playing the trumpet. It was his passion for his music—not his work in the insurance industry—that defined him and his life. His dedication to his passion affected my childhood and my adult life as I identified and pursued my own passions. Dad had a strong faith in God but rarely expressed it and did not regularly take the family to church. It was difficult for him to express the things he felt strongly about and he rarely revealed emotions to his family. But as I watched him handle life’s challenges, I came to understand the depth of his faith. Mom didn’t often express her own faith either. But she was less guarded with her emotions and did find occasions to express faith in God or rely on His direction and guidance. She too worked several low-level jobs during her life to help support our family, and she generally enjoyed being engaged in something productive. She was a lifetime learner and was eager to advance her knowledge, even as she became fragile and forgetful in her early eighties. I think the lack of formal religious training had both a negative and a positive impact on the future development of my own faith. On the negative side, I did not affiliate at a young age with any particular body of believers. I did not learn Bible stories with their inherent wisdom and moralistic values. And I did not have the benefit of worshipping and interacting regularly with other believers. But there were positive aspects to this background. I was not dogmatically indoctrinated into a narrowly defined religious belief system. I was inspired to pursue my beliefs independently and with an open mind while I contemplated and considered many difficult theological questions and objectively considered alternative answers. And most importantly, God knew I needed divine revelation to fortify my faith. As you’ll see, God was tangibly present in a number of my experiences throughout my life. In fact, that is the essence of my message. God revealed Himself and was there with a message when I needed it most, both to establish my faith and to strengthen it. And once my faith was firmly established, His messages guided the ways in which I would subsequently live my life and impact the lives of others. It was through numerous kitchen-table chats with Mom (even as an adult) that I gained self-worth and self-confidence. Ironically, although God or religion didn’t come up often in those discussions, a lot of moral principles did, and they became embedded in my psyche. Mom always encouraged me to work hard and to do so with integrity. She always emphasized doing what was right. Those chats may not have been formal Bible studies, but she often quoted the Ten Commandments and the “Golden Rule” as principles by which I should live my life. I believed her. I listened and I absorbed. Those extremely simple instructions from my parents and their demonstration of how to live accordingly have stayed with me for a lifetime. I have been blessed because my childhood memories are very positive. Those early childhood experiences with my parents piqued my curiosity about God and religion; they caused me throughout my childhood to follow up with Bible study and to question my friends and acquaintances who attended church more regularly than I. But I always ended up with more questions than answers, and the multitude of faiths practiced in just my own small neighborhood often resulted in different answers from different sources. It was all very confusing and complicated to a young pre-adolescent. I remember thinking that if I chose to study a single faith or denomination, I’d only get one perspective and miss all the others. How would I know which was right? On the other hand, if I pursued answers from every possible source, I would continue to be confused and would wonder if any of it made sense. And after all, I wasn’t trying to address deep theological questions. I was just a young kid who wanted to know if God was real, if God existed now or in the past, and if God could hear and would answer my prayers. Did God know who I was? Was He watching over my every move and protecting me? Were there really angels? I also wondered a lot about Jesus and what it meant to be the Son of God. How could God be a single person and yet also be in three forms? When people said God spoke to them, were they lying or delusional? Did God really speak audibly? Why couldn’t I hear God? And why did so many bad things happen in the world—often to such good people? My list of questions seemed endless. Simple questions like these eventually proved to be deeply theological after all. I didn’t have good answers then and I don’t have particularly good answers to all of them now, even after four years of study in divinity school. But during my lifetime, as you’ll see in the stories on this website, God’s existence was revealed to me and God did speak to me. Sometimes it was a seemingly coincidental event, but I knew it went far beyond coincidence and that God was simply saying, “I’m real and I’m here for you.” In other cases, God was revealing to me my own inappropriate behaviors and was admonishing me to recognize my wrongdoing and to change. God’s existence was revealed to me most dramatically through a mystical experience I had as a teenager while contemplating many of the tough questions about which I had wondered. That experience caused me to believe in an omnipotent, omnipresent divine power, and I have not stopped believing ever since. My faith has been strengthened not only through miraculous events and healings, but also through the undeniable messages God has delivered to me. My high school sweetheart and now wife, Sue Smolar, has remained my loving and faithful companion throughout this journey. We have shared the same questions and musings, and both of us thirst to understand the meaning of life and the role of God and religion in our everyday existence. Sue and I adopted three lovely daughters, Heidi, Dena, and Denise—two Korean orphans and one special needs child—when they were infants. Later, we miraculously gave birth to two boys, Zac and Corey. I continue to write extensively about my five children and our lives together, particularly about experiences in which God took an active role and delivered important messages, miracles, and revelations. In my early adult years I pursued my career aggressively—first as a teacher, then as a young actuary working in the insurance industry, and finally as the president of a Fortune 100 insurance company (The New York Life Insurance Company). I consistently followed my mother’s kitchen-table advice throughout my career and worked very hard, always striving to demonstrate integrity while being ever mindful of the “Golden Rule” and the Ten Commandments. My mother’s simple advice and encouragement have been with me always. We have attended churches of various denominations. I never felt it necessary to attempt to identify the perfect theological match for my own beliefs because I never felt the nuances of differing denominations were really that important. What seemed most important to me was my conviction that God truly exists as the creator of the universe and that He is a living presence in the world today, just as He always has been and always will be. The initial mystical experience I had as a teenager convinced me that God is real. That knowledge and faith has been reinforced many times in the ensuing years as the living God has spoken to me. Not long after that initial experience I also came to recognize and accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. My eagerness to speak to God, to pray for God’s guidance, and to watch and listen for His response has grown throughout my lifetime. I have never heard God speak audibly and I have never seen Him in a vision, but I know God has been (and is) there, and I know that many of my experiences were not mere coincidence. God has indeed been speaking to me and revealing things I needed to know, to hear, and often to act upon. I know I have the free will to take my life in any direction I choose—good or bad—but I choose to follow God and His teachings as depicted in the Holy Bible. My spiritual life has been a unique journey, but probably not unlike those of many who will visit this website. The way I have lived my life along the way has been far from perfect. I have faced and continue to face all the same influences and temptations that all humans face. None of us is free from sin, but all of us can rejoice in God’s grace and God’s forgiveness. Like so many of my business colleagues, I aggressively pursued a highly successful business career, often to the detriment of my family and the practicing of my faith. Because of my regrets over that, I retired at age fifty-nine from a career and position I loved in order to attend divinity school. In retirement (which is certainly a misnomer for me) I have better aligned my priorities and more directly pursued my passions. In addition to completing a master’s degree at Yale Divinity School, I have been writing, mentoring young executives, teaching, and remaining involved on boards of trustees of several institutions for whose missions I am passionate. I am convinced that throughout my life—throughout childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, and retirement—God has been there beside me, watching my successes and enduring my failures. He has just as certainly been involved where appropriate to strengthen my faith, to give guidance and direction, to answer prayers, to perform miracles, and to positively impact my behaviors. The stories posted on this website tell the story of my journey through tangible life experiences that started when I was very young and will continue as long as I live. My earnest hope and prayer is that you’ll reflect thoughtfully and constructively on the experiences of your own life as you read about mine—and that you’ll consider the reality that God has been speaking to you in a way unique to your needs. Every life, including yours, is a unique journey, one that is important to God and one in which He will provide guidance, blessings, and unconditional love.
Writer/Poet: Erika Simone
Spring has ascended
from its annual resting place
as indicated by
and plants leaning
east then west
and up uP UP;
they close at nightfall,
roots expanding below
ground to soak up
and the nitrogen
they call upon
for their own survival;
awaken at dawn, beside
sprouting hints of
verdant buds of
The tackling of unwanted growth,
the labor, the struggle, gratifying:
snip prune groom bloom;
you lay down rocks for landscaping limits,
watching the movement of
orange-breasted robins laying eggs
high in the hovering pine tree
who fly down, then up, to feed.
bushy-tailed rodents gather to consume what
other birds’ feeding has dispersed
on the ground below the hanging feeder,
and run away, bellies satisfied;
one tries (unsuccessfully)
to defeat the garden barrier
to consume vines of
squash and melon,
and, foiled, jumps
from the top of the fence
to the next yard’s tree.
. . .
Three doors down,
sun is rising:
fresh adolescent hearts
to the sounds of
digital alarm clock beeps.
joke around like
ruffians from 1979,
fall off skateboards
at high speeds,
laugh off their injuries;
do it again the next day:
. . .
Next door, contractors work
into the evening
cleaning pool filters
and preparing decks for sun;
the sound of hammers
echoes down the block:
one, two, three,
I'm through.” 1
Removed, you listen,
conflicted by your
one, two, three,
sun becomes hostile, browns
exposed skin and leaftips.
makeshift overhead sunshades
are put in place,
no wind to
fell their fragile frames.
late 90s Billboard hits
blast through cheap speakers,
and through fence;
“why did they complain
about previous neighbors?”
and you think,
“well, tit for tat."
. . .
as far as
and it’s yours,
your place in the sun;
now grasp through
layers of loam
for down-deep things
that will nourish in you
a blooming peace of mind:
all of which
close up by nightfall and
1) Plath, Sylvia. "Daddy." The Collected Poems. New York: Harper & Row, 1981. N. pag. Print.
© erika simone 2014
Review of Breaking Ground: Anthology of Puerto Rican Women Writers in New York 1980- 2012 (Abriendo caminos: antología de escritoras puertorriqueñas en Nueva York 1980- 2012) for A Gathering of the Tribes By Adriana Scopino
Like the figure of the woman facing a blue web in the painting la on the cover, Breaking Ground: Anthology of Puerto Rican Women Writers in New York 1980- 2012 (Abriendo caminos: Antología de escritoras puertorriqueñas en Nueva York 1980- 2012), the Puerto Rican woman poet in New York City is both her unique self and creative expression and part of the web of social, cultural and economic realities of the city in which she finds herself. Recent anthologies of Puerto Rican writing and poetry such as Boricuas: Influential Puerto Rican Writings - An Anthology Paperback by Roberto Santiago, Puerto Rican Poetry: An Anthology from Aboriginal to Contemporary Times by Roberto Márquez, and two anthologies from the 1990s, Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe by Miguel Algarín and Bob Holman and Puerto Rican Writers in the USA: An Anthology Paperback – May 1, 1991 edited by Faythe Turner, have included women writers or writers living in New York City, but none have set out to do what editor Myrna Nieves has done here. Each anthology is an artifact of a particular time and place. For Breaking Ground, Nieves assembled forty-six writers from twenty years of poetry readings at the Boricua College Winter Poetry Series to document a place and time in the evolution of Puerto Rican literature. Although the parameters of the anthology may seem narrow (the writings of Puerto Rican women poets and fiction writers who have lived in New York for at least ten years during the years 1980 to 2012), the results of the collection are panoramic: memoir, short fiction, spoken word, lyric, narrative poetry, erotica and use of both languages Spanish and English and powerful, unforgettable writing. Very well known writers such as Carmen Valle, Esmeralda Santiago (When I was Puerto Rican) and Sandra María Esteves, share these pages with writers not so well known to a wider American audience; well established writers next to up and coming writers.
While walking on Delancey St. this morning, I came upon a circle of five women on the sidewalk all facing each other. It was like a football huddle where the team connects to a mutual vibe of purpose before they disperse to play in their separate positions. Breaking Ground gives the reader this feeling because all the women in the collection are multi faceted artists and devoted to their communities as healers. Some of these poets do so not only by being activists but also by working their art directly with prison populations, health clinics and youth groups. And some of these women are healers as they broadcast the Puerto Rican experience of creativity- the producers, radio and television show hosts, playwrights, performance artists who bring their work to a larger audience or the teachers and professors who inspire in an academic setting, adding their voice to the literary canon. The anthology has the effect of a very diverse group of women connecting to each other through their art.
Nieves writes in the introduction that the writers that read at the series engaged with the audience on a variety of issues. This paradigm replaces the poet in the ivory tower for the poet on the frontline of social and cultural change. In the anthology the poets confront the realities of racism, cultural and social issues and misogyny. Two poems describe the first experience of awareness of separation from other children because of their heritage and how that first pain of being thought of as “other” manifested. In Diana Gitesha Hernández’s “Poem for Mami” the different foods she ate from other children at lunch contribute to a feeling of being different, “the only Puerto Rican in a school where/none had heard of us, yet/and they would say…/”Hey, Puerto Rico...ain’t that in Africa or something!?”(p.206). In Lydia Cortés searing poem “I Remember,” the speaker says, “I remember the teachers who said, ‘You don’t look Puerto Rican’/expecting me to say thank you very much/I remember overhearing some say Puerto Ricans/don’t care about their children, Puerto Ricans/aren’t clean/I remember the heat of shame rising up/changing the color of my face/I remember praying no one heard what the teachers said,/ no one saw my hurt red as a broken heart” (p.130).
Some poets write about knowing that their community is at a disadvantage because of racism and the social and economic conditions perpetrated by its corrosive force on the social fabric. Listen to the poem by Susana Cabañas “It’s Called Kings” “you know you are poor when you have to count your pennies in America to get high to forget how angry you can get in America in the land of milk and honey brother kills brother for a woman for a life for a piece of land we shoot each other up because we’re so angry we are so angry.” (p. 98). Magdalena Gómez, “A Colonization We Don’t Like to Talk About,” writes about the internalized racism of self-limiting beliefs in her description of what her women relatives in the Bronx felt they needed to do to survive. “These women are/the wheel inside/my forehead.” (p.200) .
Similarly, Cenén Moreno’s poem “El Pueblo Grita, Presente” is a kind of parable about the community at large responding to the devastating effect of racism, first by showing resistance to the government and then by organizing and speaking to each other, (quoting the column of the poem written in English) “The people speak to each other/ The Government becomes frightened/The people organize themselves/ The Government assumes/ a state of alert/ The people become/Responsible for themselves/ The Government attacks/ The People defend themselves/ The Government runs away/ The People create/ National Cooperatives/ The
Government cries out People/ The People Cry out/ Present. “(p. 284).
Many poets consider the impact of the White Culture and Latino Machismo on women. “Me robaron el cuerpo” (p. 245) by Nemir Matos-Cintrón is a devastating indictment of the patriarchy’s usurpation of a woman’s authentic experience of herself for images of what it can use and can control “ Me robaron el cuerpo y vendieron mi alma/a cosmopolitan/ a la alta costura a wall street/y me tallaron a imagen y semejanza/ de la mujer femenina mujer virginal la mujermujer”. Translated, these lines are: “they stole my body and sold my soul/ to cosmopolitan/ to high fashion to wall street/ and they carved for me an image and likeness / of the feminine woman the virginal woman the woman woman”. Similarly, María T. Fernández (A.K.A. Mariposa) in “Poem for My Grifa-Rican Sistah or Broken Ends Broken Promises” writes about the chemicals her and her sister put in their hair growing up to conform to an image of white beauty and how that made them feel. Thus the anthology shifts from macro to micro, the greater vision and how it is experienced on the individual level. Sandra Garcia Rivera’s poem “La Loca’s Response” (p.186), seems to respond with power and self love, likening herself to a righteous force of nature, to the misogynist culture’s label of women as crazy. “I/respond /with melody as chilling/as a sword fatally engaged - /in honor of Mother, /my song’s breath,/the scent of fresh burning sage…” (p.187).
Some younger writers look at racism in its new and subtle forms: Marina Ortiz’s gives a poetic answer to the question “what are you anyway?” in “It’s the Blood, Stupid!”( p.308). Raquel Z. Rivera’s “While in Stirrups” is about being interrogated by a white female gynecologist and the kind of sexual and cultural racism young women similar to herself experience (p. 345). Even the title of the piece suggests, through the vulnerability of the position, a power imbalance in the relationship to the culture at large.
Many writers take on the patriarchy’s distortion of relationships between men and women. Susana Cabañas “Oh man” (p.98) suggests that the abuse of women and the negative impact on families by men is also rooted in rage and a sense of homelessness in the new country. Esmeralda Santiago’s poignant story “A fuerza de puños,” (p. 350) is about a woman trying unsuccessfully and without support to escape a relationship, showing how machismo, another facet of the patriarchy, leads to abuse and divides women, in this case mother from daughter. “’Sister’ …Ain’t Nothing But” by Marina Ortiz shows the language with which Black and Latino men use to both put women on a pedestal and objectify women and see them only as things to be used (p. 309): “and when I hear you say come here sister/because you need to support your brother/because this is all the manhood we have left/because we have needs that must be met/” and how in that opposition women must find their own fulcrum. Nemir Matos-Cintrón meditates on how race enters sexual relations in “Revisiting Cuban Poet Nicolás Gillén’s Poem: “Todo mezclado” (p.247).
Related to this dilemma of division caused by the patriarchy, these women writers have written about how a kind of racism can pervade their own community. María T. Fernández (A.K.A. Mariposa)’s poem “Ode to the Diasporican” (p. 169) responds to racism within the culture: being looked Ídown on for not being born in Puerto Rico, “¡No nací en Puerto Rico./Puerto Rico nació en mí!”. Many of the poems in the anthology seek to unite differences in experience and creation that have formerly divided Puerto Ricans.
Many of the poems not only fight or oppose the forces of racism or the patriarchy but also seek to build bridges within the larger community. “I, Too, Am Black” a dynamic spoken word poem inspired by Langston Hughes by Caridad de la Luz “La Bruja” is one such example (p. 153). Along the same lines, Ana López-Betancourt’s poem “Orígenes” writes proudly of ancestors African and Puerto Rican, “The women have history--that’s all - / They chant like their tatarabuelas/They’re neither africanas nor criollas/” (p.219). Many of the poems explore the mystery of culture and heritage that causes connections, Sandra María Esteves “Spirit Dance” (p.160), “When Spirits dance Mambo/Elegbá opens the roads,/carnival colors fly in circles/Ancestors call our names/through drums that speak/mixing cultures in rhythms of/Spanish Saints with African slaves.” This is a poem that connects black and Latino cultures through mysticism and music. “Epopeyeas secretas” by Myrna NIeves (p. 298) looks at the matriarchy lines of Centroamérica. A poem demonstrating how women navigate the different streams of Puerto Rican culture and religion is Prisonera-Paula Santiago’s clever, lighthearted poem on “Mi religión” “¡Espiritista hoy, santera, aché, manaña,/pero el domingo, a la iglesia sin falta!” (p. 325).
These writers expound on a sense of Puerto Rico’s sweetness: how the old ways have survived. An example of maintaining a strong connection to the homeland through tradition is Nancy Mercado’s “Homemade Hot Sauce” (p. 257). Myrna Nieves writes about how the writer approaches reality, their sometime tenuous relationship with it, and how that is affected by the remembrance of the homeland, as in “Nonconformist,” (p.297). I like in this poem the switching between the two poles of reality and imagination and how it ends on the imagination: “This star-filled womb I inherited from my mother”. Another favorite for this reader is the final entry in the anthology by Anita Veléz-Mitchell (a writer born in 1916!) and her story “Aunt Lila’s Passion” which describes with great compassion the Puerto Rico of her youth and her aunt’s romantic and sexual suffering.
As Nieves says in the Introduction, the book seeks to inspire a greater understanding and appreciation of the variety of literary and cultural modalities that have emerged, “its hope of learning to value self and other.” She asks what is women’s unique experience of language that is found in this collection. There are Madeline Millán’s poems that bend, deconstruct and show the shifting ground beneath meanings, especially in a prose poem like “El Rastro” (p. 265), where words and feeling are slippery, “Si alguien que habla con palabras piensa por un solo momento ser dueño del sentido..” An example of a great lyric poem is Hilda R. Mundo-López “De que te quejas” (p. 292). There’s also a lovely poem by Lourdes Vázquez “Thalys” (p.404). Another favorite is Giannina Braschi’s frenetic, ironic and playful poem to NYC as its own character that is confronted by the individual poet: “El imperio de los suenos” (p.84) (The Empire of Dreams, what a great way to sum up NY). The second section concludes, “He visto con mis ojos los ojos de mi ciudad.” (“I’ve seen through my own eyes with the eyes of my city.”) It expresses that blending of place and soul that can happen for someone relocated. One of the writers I most appreciated was Sheila Candelario (p.104). In “Autoficción” she writes about the complicated relationship between herself and her unconscious and her art, “Soy el truco preferido de mi inconciencia.” (“I am the favorite trick of my unconscious.”) It clarifies how that makes her unknowable to others and herself.
I noticed how the selection for each writer can veer from lyric to politics. I am thinking of Alba Ambert’s “Habito tu nombre” (p. 37) a poem about the experience of love to the very political experience of the Puerto Rican Independence movement in ”El octavo continente (fragmento”) (p.40). Likewise, I am thinking of Maritza Arrastía’s “The World Guerillas Take the Front Page” (p. 53) to her poems on the spiritual connection to her mother and father “Poema a mis padres”(p. 48) or her poem to the mother goddess/Gaia principle, “Birth,” (p. 46). Nieves’ editorial choices show the great range and flexibility of each writer.
The great value of this collection is that it does not conform to a narrow view of literature based on academic poetry and thereby releases the opposition between poetry that is written for the page and poetry that is spoken. It demonstrates how the political anthems and lyric poems are part of one continuum. The writers in the collection seem to be speaking to each other. Raquel Z. Rivera’s thoughtful meditation on the history of her sexuality vibrates to Luz Maía Umpierre-Herrera’s poems celebrating her body, “my yellow margarita.” Read this wonderful collection and see for yourself.
Adriana Scopino is a poet and translator living in New York City. She has an M.F.A. in Poetry and Poetry in Translation from DrewUniversity. Her chapbook, Let Me Be Like Glass was published by Exot Books. Her translations of Argentinean poet Fabián Casas have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation, Great River Review and Mead: The Magazine of Literature and Libations.
Listen to me What it is No goddamned excuses Yawn, yawn, yawn Ask for more Yeah, yeah, yeah Fuck that shit I said, “No…” Well, excuse me Back and forth Working out good The blue shirt Tell the truth With open arms
Response to senior’s murder recalls infamous case
BY GERARD FLYNN | Although it has been 50 years since Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death near her Kew Gardens apartment, her brutal murder was evoked Monday evening at a vigil in the East Village, where another senseless act of violence recently took place.
Similar to the circumstances of Genovese’s death, Wen Hui Ruan — a retired garment factory worker, originally from China — was returning home alone at night Fri., May 9, when he was attacked on E. Sixth St. near Avenue D, just a block from his apartment.
A surveillance video shows his assailant approaching him from behind, then, in an extremely brutal attack, throwing the 68-year-old against a concrete wall, before viciously punching him once and stomping him three times on his head.
Ruan died the next day. Four days after the assault, on a tip, police arrested a local man, Jamie Pugh, 20, for the murder.
Provoking outrage among some in the community, however, the footage also shows passersby either witnessing the attack or its aftermath, but without offering assistance, as Ruan lies mortally injured.
Family members comforted Wen Hui Ran’s sobbing widow at the memorial. Photo by Gerard Flynn
Steve Cannon, the blind poet and longtime operator of A Gathering of the Tribes Gallery, was returning from dinner with friends and missed the attack by two minutes. He said he was appalled by what happened in the six minutes before police arrived.
After finally vacating his home / gallery in the former E. Third St. Tribes space due to an agreement with the landlord, Cannon recently moved to E. Sixth St. — right next to the spot of the murder. He sat at the vigil with Ruan’s family members, who sobbed uncontrollably, as well-wishers placed flowers before a makeshift shrine at the scene of the attack.
“By the time we got to the ramp he was coughing up blood,” Cannon recalled. He could barely contain his outrage as he recounted how a local woman, child in tow, screamed for assistance outside Cannon’s building, frantically ringing door bells, in vain. No one in his building came to her aid, or helped detectives in their follow-up investigation the next day.
“These mother f——- are so crazy they don’t know that s— can happen to them, too,” Cannon said.
Chinatown activist Karlin Chan also shared his indignation.
“This goes back to the Genovese murder,” he said. “This is a classic example. Maybe people didn’t want to get involved or were afraid, but at least you can go down the block and make an anonymous call to 911.”
Mourners were joined by local City Councilmembers Rosie Mendez and Margaret Chin and Borough President Gale Brewer.
Community board representatives were also present, as well as staff members for state Senators Daniel Squadron and Brad Hoylman.
Brewer, who lost a family member to violence, said she shared the councilmembers’ outrage over the shockingly violent assault.
Despite Chan’s claims that the attack’s ferocity suggests a racial motive, Mendez said she has no reason to believe that was, in fact, the case. It doesn’t necessarily mean area crime is increasing, either, she added.
“Violence happens and it happens here but it’s not happening on a daily basis,” she said.
Recalling how people saw the beating and walked on, Chin reminded everyone that such an attack “could happen to anyone.”
“Any violence in our community is our problem,” she stressed.