Madhu Kaza's Accademia: A Tourist's Guide

I am so pleased to share with you Madhu Kaza's Accademia: A Tourist's Guide.  Kaza looks closely at Venetian art, "letting [her] attention land where it wanted," keeping alive rather than collapsing the gap between the art's contemporary moment and the present as she notices and marks her encounter with it in real time, seeing who is in the streets of Venice, in the paintings on the walls, observing what one might find by zooming in, attending to the small detail, seeing the discrepancies and resonances across time. Enjoy!

Accademia: A Tourist’s Guide*
Madhu Kaza


[detail of “Miracle of the Cross at the Bridge of San Lorenzo,” Gentile Bellini. c. 1500]

* Located in the Dorsoduro section of Venice, the Gallerie dell’Accademia hold a collection of pre-19th century Venetian art.


What if I walked through the doors of Europe (I am an immigrant, but not there; the doors swing open easily) casting aside much of my education, the narrow ways in which I’d been schooled to think about culture, history and art? What if I wandered through France and Italy not in a posture of submission, and not as a student of Western Civilization? I know Europe well, even if I’ve hardly spent any time there. I know how greedy (how desperate) it is for affirmation of its superiority to all other places. There is so much that is particular and beautiful there, no different from any place else with its own particular beauty.

What if I walked through the galleries of the Accademia letting my attention land where it wanted?

When I saw the painting, “Miracle of the Cross at the Bridge of San Lorenzo,” I wondered what the canals were like in the 15th century; today no one swims or bathes in the water. But I didn’t spend much time reading about Gentile Bellini and the nature and symbolism of the “miracle” he depicted. Instead this image made me think of the bodies of migrants and refugees that were in the waters off the Italian coasts. I’ve long been trained to look for beauty and to prostrate myself in the pursuit of knowledge. But I noticed when I had left the galleries that all the photos I had taken were of details, and that when I had looked at the paintings I had looked through them, reaching for something else: a correspondence.


[detail of “The Marriage of St. Monica,” Antonio Vivarini. c. 1441]

Why anyone might love Lila, the brilliant friend in Elena Ferrante’s novel, My Brilliant Friend, is because she is a brutal girl with a voracious intellect-- no saint. She won’t be loved by a man.

The Camorrist Marcello Solara has asked for her hand in marriage. She flatly says no and abuses him. She had already threatened him with a knife long before he fell in love with her. Perhaps that’s why he fell in love with her. In time (two thirds of the way through the novel), he begins to attend dinner every night at her parents’ house and acts as if he owns her anyway. She refuses to speak to him or acknowledge him at all. He tells her that if she begins to see anyone else he will kill her.

There’s a scroll of text at the bottom of the painting by Vivarini [not included here] that reads “this is how St. Monica was sent to her husband by her father and her mother.”


A woman not unlike “La Vecchia” was sitting on a bench near that hiccup of a bridge that leads inland from the Giardini landing. Giorgione’s portrait shocked me when I came upon it after all those 15th century paintings of Madonna and Child or of various saints in their blessed robes. Or portraits of noblemen. Giorgione flew across the centuries toward us, that is how it seemed. I felt suddenly that Giorgione was someone I knew, or could know.


This is a country of the old and the dying someone said to me. The woman on the bench at Giardini was smaller in frame than La Vecchia, her features more refined. She was not quite the peasant, but she was an ordinary woman. She sat with three other elders on that bench and the rest of them seemed jovial. She sat very slightly apart. It was how she held her hand, that’s what I noticed. In a fist, almost pointing to herself.

With time.

[detail of “La Vecchia,” Giorgione. c. 1506]


[detail of “Angel Announcing and Virgin Announciated,” Giovanni Bellini]

You’d know in any case that he was an angel by this detail. Messengers are always fleet-footed (winged near the ankles, in truth). Look at his beautiful sandals. Light of step, he touches ground but he is of the air, always about to lift away.

And the folds of the dress, like crumpled paper.


There was one Bangla child this morning on Via Garibaldi in bright blue shoes, scooting around with one hand on the handlebar of his blue scooter and holding a pink balloon in the other. He was maybe three or four, an age at which one delights in spells of worldly and bodily autonomy. Such was his joy and assuredness that I did not look past him in search of parents. But of the African and South Asian communities of Venice, those who live and work here, so far I have otherwise only seen men on the street.


They have always been here.

detail of “La Cena en Emmaus,” Marco Marziale. c. 1506]


He’s a beautiful man (in the 15th century way). When I look at the portraits, snapshots, selfies of our own times in which people are most often smiling, their expression reaching towards the viewer, I look for what’s not given, what’s unknowable. I search for a sign that a person has faced a camera and kept something for herself.


There’s no need to look for this opacity in 15th century portraits. The figures don’t reveal themselves easily. You can read the signs: the clothing, the color, the ornaments that demonstrate their status, but they remain recessive. And so, what delights me, here, is this hand, how it moves the portrait of the man forward. His hand rests lightly at that border, the threshold between his world and ours.

[detail of “Portrait of a Young Man,” Hans Memling]


I sat on the steps of Piazza San Marco, opposite the church, in late afternoon unable to move. I wasn’t yet ready to stand up and walk back into the sun. But something else, too. I felt in those moments that whatever was happening in the world, whatever there was to see, it was also happening here, but in the reduced form of stone and flesh. Then a group of Indian tourists walked by, weaving color back into the world.

In this portrait of Italians and Levantines, this is where I see Indians.

[detail of  “Sacra Famiglia con Santa Catarine e Giovanni Battista,” Palma il Vecchio]



Cities and Signs. In each city, perhaps, I will end up finding the same things, though differently arranged. A ruin, a library, a museum, a hospital, an orphanage, a wound, a gift. Built in the 16th century the Hospital of the Incurables was once a place for syphilis patients to come and die. Later it became an orphanage. Later still the building functioned as a juvenile court. I’m not sure if its true that the building now houses some part of the Academy of Fine Arts. It sounds true. And isn’t it true that there was a plaque on the same brick wall that said Joseph Brodsky loved this place?


Madhu Kaza was born in Andhra Pradesh, India and works as an artist, educator, writer and translator in New York City. Her performance work on the theme of "hospitality" has been produced in New York, Minnesota, Baltimore, Boston and India. She has published translations of poetry from Spanish and a collection of short stories by the Indian writer Volga from Telugu. She is at work on a novel currently entitled “Afterlife.”


Christopher Rey Pérez from [Forum]

                                                                                 --from Pérez 's [Forum]

This summer in the Hudson River Valley I met Christopher Rey Pérez and heard him read some work from a forthcoming manuscript. I liked him and his work very much. 

This is what he writes about the piece he has generously shared with us:  [forum] is roughly a 30 page text that sets up a personal curriculum of angelology in preparation for a forensic investigation of a series of crimes. Part of a larger manuscript called gauguin’s notebook, the text begins to write through Gauguin’s Tahitian journal, published in 1901, that chronicles an intense period of artistic, amorous, and colonial production for the painter.

The excerpt below weaves a variety of voices, building an epistolary and urgent community in a tonally resonant but anonymous place as in social media, but more local than that. There is vulnerability, silence, assertion, and insertion, textured depth. I look forward to reading the whole project.

Christopher Rey Pérez is the author of the chapbooks, On the Heels of Our Enemies (98Editions, Beirut) and 427-375 (LIKE Editorial, Mexico City). He is also the recipient of the 2014-2015 Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize from Lake Forest College. Currently, he writes for Intelligentsia Gallery and edits a risograph publication, called Dolce Stil Criollo. In December of 2015, he left Palestine, where he taught at al-Quds Bard Honors College for a period of 2 ½ years.


Announcing Dear Reader

Dear Folks,

I am very pleased to announce that my book Dear Reader has just been published by Ithuriel's Spear of San Francisco. The cover art is a detail from Amy Trachtenberg's stunning painting "Feelings Are Facts II."  You can find the book at Small Press Distribution.

Here's a peek inside:


But who shall be the master? The writer or the reader?
                --Denis Diderot, Jacques le fataliste et son maître, 1796

My friend Simone notes there are so many quotes. A sign of anxiety? The talkers and listeners in the rooms, or out on the highway.

The fatalist and his master narrate, desire, philosophize, serve, relate, exchange.

Out of master one might pull a mast, rig a ship, invent a star to navigate by.

The writing in this book was composed over a number of years. The three distinct series or projects--"after Oppen & Howe," "The Melmoth Letters," and "making mARKs"--begin in reading. "other lands" from the making mARKs series began with a book serendipitously found on the shelves at the San Francisco Public Library. It was a history of the bottom--asses, buttocks, fesse, and fissum. I took notes from the book but not a citation, and for some reason, I didn't check it out. When I went back to find it on the shelves, it wasn't there. The catalog contained no trace of it. The missing book: was it de-accessioned? Taken out of commission, hallucinated?

Google searches turn up "history from the bottom up," but no history of the bottom. "History from the bottom up" provides a useful starting point, however. Jacques is a servant, a valet, after all; he's good at unpacking a peripatetic, self-conscious labyrinth that turns continually astray. At the same time, history is gendered and sexed.

the nomadic "I" restless restive sometimes resistant, even
                                extant, recylces returns.

to the site/sight.

Everyday experience--gendered though not only, marked by class though not only--of words meaning more than what they say. Thus, words erupt out of, as if under pressure to be writ large, speak more. They struggle against autocorrect.

Sometimes for the pleasure of the local--the "nary" in binary--and other times for commentary as in:

pRimOgeniTure.  The  rot  in  such  a  system.

There is  pleasurable revision askance; the majuscule underscores as it works to unseat gendered subjectivity from the bottom up. The object--her--wrestles the presumed subject--he--in a playful revision of a children's song:

tHE subject takes a wife.


Or, sometimes a stutter:

organs InTerrupted by happiness bITter bijoux in the dark bITters.

"Reading NegativIty" emerged out of found (and then manipulated) language from Jocelyn Saidenberg's Negativity.

In "after Oppen & Howe," I wanted to apply Susan Howe's history lesson to talk back to George Oppen whose writing seduces, leaving no marks on the skin. I wanted to mark it up, while acknowledging the pleasure of its porosity, the sonorous holes gaping. A gap in which feeling enters. I want to call down and out history's [absent] feeling. Feeling and counter-claim enter the gaps.

To gape. Agape.

Reading and writing offer a model of transgression--of the individual subject and all its architecture--gender, class, sex, race. The subject--ideology's morphine.

The subject provides the tools for the struggle to come--a wall to chip away at with a spoon or unfolded paper clip. We seek a tunnel to the outside from at least this side. Guided by the stars of:

A [failed] belief in poetry.            nonetheless.

An intervention, intercession.

A record on the cave wall of the present.

Thursday October 22nd I will be reading with Jim Brashear at the Green Arcade in San Francisco. Hope to see you there!


Tanya Hollis's Parch and Dee Dee Kramer on Hollis

PARCH 2015 (Acrylic paint, plaster, pigment and rust on wood)

During July and early August, Tanya Hollis's PARCH, was on exhibit at the Right Window Gallery (curated by Kevin Killian), on Valencia Street in San Francisco.

The opening for Tanya's show--which sadly I missed because I was out of town--included poetry readings by Norma Cole, Dee Dee Kramer, and Kevin Killian, with the premiere of a new film by Jason Michael Leggiere, Wall of Early Morning Light (2015).

Looking at PARCH, I am reminded of an aerial view of the salt ponds as you fly into the Bay Area. You can't get enough of them. Tanya's work is beautiful and it registers catastrophe. Cracked earth residue in a time of drought. Parch. Your throat tightens. Extremity's rasp. 

Here's what Rob Halpern has to say about this work:

Tanya Hollis’s stunning PARCH offers a horizon from which we can see beyond the perils of our anthropocene. Like homeopathic medicine for the eye, the work’s elemental vision and geologic scale inform a feeling of drought as if transfigured from space, allowing us to see our own condition as if for the first time. Hollis’s sculptural canvases—exquisitely rendered with plaster, acrylic paint, pigment, iron, and salt—are parchments from an archive of the present. You cannot not see this work without risking oblivion (Halpern).

Dee Dee Kramer, poet, artist, archivist, and dear friend of Tanya's wrote a beautiful introduction for Tanya's opening. It traces the entanglements of friendship, art-making, work life, life-making. She's generously shared it with us here:

July 2015
Dee Dee Kramer

It’s funny to be here today, reading with Norma Cole, because a few months ago, when I read Laura Moriarty’s essay on the Poetry Foundation blog about Norma’s group show, I had been thinking about how I might write about Tanya’s work, and now here we are at Tanya’s show, maybe sort of in a similar situation.

How is the situation similar? Mostly, it’s similar because like Norma and Laura, Tanya and I have been friends for a long time, 20 years now. The situation is personal. I knew her before she was a San Franciscan and before she was an archivist. We were collage and garbage artists together in Buffalo. We were going into poetry-debt and wondering what to do for jobs. We decided to go to  library school while working in the Poetry Collection at UB with Michael Basinski. He helped each of us learn to work a job and make art at the same time; in other words, how to play the life game we are given.

I’ve watched Tanya make art all this time, over the course of most of her adult life. I’ve seen her with burlap, and paste, and  massive plastic jars of acrylic gel medium (matte, gloss), rope, rust (we were in the Rust Belt, after all), cellophane tape, sewing patterns, industrial product catalogs, encyclopedias, teeth, and pieces of machinery. A lot of words and newsprint. Canvas, fabric, yarn. Oil paint for awhile-- she got sick from that--the attic apartment (it was a beautiful attic apartment on Baker Street) didn’t have enough ventilation.

So the situation is personal, even to the point of our studios sometimes being in our bedrooms. And not just until we “make it” and move out.

One of the things that comes to my mind when I look at these slabs is Robert Rauschenberg’s “Bed,” but just the mattress-- no pillow or blanket or sheets. No bedding. This makes me think about care and neglect.

Right now, Tanya rents from Rob [Halpern] and Lee [Azus] and lives in their upstairs apartment, four blocks away from me. Last winter, she moved her bed to the smaller room. It had been in the front room, the bigger room with the better light. She talked to me when she was considering that shift, about what it had meant to have the bed in the central living area. What it would mean to move it.

Now that front, light room is her art area, and I’m assuming that’s where she made these pieces. But honestly, she made them so quickly I never saw. Somehow, during a workweek. I mean, it’s always a workweek. You take a couple of days off and then work like hell to finish.

I look at these pieces and I think of the archives (we each work in one now): the mess, the mold, the backlog, the markup language. The reference desk. Mold can be black, reddish, blue-green. If it smears, you’re in trouble because it’s active and will spread to other manuscripts and documents. For this problem, and for innumerable others--flood, dirty data, not enough room--Tanya’s the one who gives me advice on what to do: freeze it, hire someone, buy a shop-vac, use a Magic Rub eraser, use this style-sheet or software, and if you can’t download anything because you don’t have admin privileges, here’s how you do it by hand. Here’s how you talk to your manager. Here’s how you become one so you can get these things done.

We try not to “talk shop” much when we’re not on-the-clock, but it all seeps through.
These slabs show mold and rust, and are also or might be topographical maps that won’t fit into the flat file drawer. I don’t know where she will put them.

So, as I said, the situation is personal, but it’s also professional. Mike taught us how to put on the monkey suit. It’s a suit we break in and own. When I graduated from library school (a semester before she did), Tanya made me a Librarian’s bun and put it in a box with a label. It tied around my head with a blue satin ribbon. It was shellacked. The box was labeled “Librarian’s bun. Kaiser. Everyday wear.”

But I shouldn’t give the impression that we have too much in common, or that we’re together all the time. We’re not. We’ve lived most of these 20 years locally to one another, so we could come over. But often, we don’t see each other for weeks. Maybe that’s part of our intimacy--I know she’s still there even if I don’t see her. And there’s so much I don’t know or understand about her work.

I do understand loving the stuff while at the same time wanting to throw it all away. I understand being tired and wanting to sleep. I am her witness. I understand the threat of exposure. I’ve said that the situation is personal, but it’s also public. That’s how art and poetry are. How painful that can be. Because people can see. And it hurts if they do and it hurts if they don’t. The mortification of “Don’t look!” but also the despair of “No one sees!” As her witness, I see, at least some of it. And so do you. And sometimes, walking by the window, so do strangers.

How can I talk about a friend’s artwork publicly and for her benefit? I’m not sure.

I see the the gunk and adhesives that look like wounds and scabs and bandaids. I see her scratching, ripping, renovating, tearing, repairing, pasting, peeling, painting, knitting, chipping, sewing, brushing, covering, collecting and discarding. Decollage, one of Tanya’s modes, includes the connotations of becoming unglued, or unstuck, also of taking off in flight. This new work gives an aerial view from the ground, which is technically impossible. But here it is.

I read in this book about writer’s block that cynicism is when you don’t like the game as it is played, so you spoil it. It made me think about neglect again. Neglect would be not playing. That’s tempting, and I’m pretty sure we’ve both tried it. But not playing doesn’t work for very long without deadening us internally. So, and maybe this is pat, we come back to play with the spoils. This is how to work a job and make art at the same time (Kramer).


Notes: Fences, Stop Signs, Shifters, or, the Conditions of Community

June 2015

Recently in a workshop at Bard College with this year's  Language and Thinking faculty, we did some reading and writing around selections from several texts: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, James Gleick’s Chaos: The Making of a New Science, Fanny Howe’s “Bewilderment,” and in the group I was in, Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences About Writing, among other things. At the same time, I was thinking about all the ongoing crises here and around the globe, including those in the poetry world around Kenny Goldsmith’s performance of a reworking of Michael Brown’s autopsy report at the Interrupt 3 Conference at Brown and even more immediately Vanessa Place’s tweeting in Blackface of Gone With the Wind. All of this was reaching a crescendo on Facebook and elsewhere in social media in the experimental poetry scene in the U.S., just as I was leaving California. In New York before bed, I had begun reading Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. The question hovering over our thinking and writing in the workshop at Bard was what needs to be the case for things to be otherwise.

Last year watching the British crime drama Broadchurch, I found myself pleasured by the cinematic fetish of West Bay’s cliffs in Dorset—straw- colored and sheared to the sea, up against a panoramic sky, the sort of visual pageant infrequently found on American TV. The diegetic sound offered a counterpoint. Words were spoken, conversations occurred between characters; what did he say?  We understood none of it. What was it? Rewind. Listen. Hit play. Rewind. Listening. Disciplining ourselves, learning to hear English spoken otherwise.   “Otherwise” implicates a perspective. 

In the course of explaining how scientific revolution shifts the "historical perspective of the community that experiences it," Thomas Kuhn describes a psychological experiment. Subjects were shown a series of cards, including anomalous versions—a black four of hearts for example. Many people “without any awareness of trouble” articulated what they saw according to existing conceptual categories, for example, identifying the card as either a four of hearts or spades. Over time, some subjects experienced hesitation and an “awareness of anomaly,” eventually registering the discrepancy in the card while others “were never able to make the requisite adjustment of their categories" (Preface, 63-4).

Describe [something] you couldn’t recognize for what it was as it was happening… (Longabucco)

The first time I read at Small Press Traffic (SPT) back in the late 80s or early 1990s, I was in my mid-to-late 20s and SPT was in a white building on the corner of 24th and Guerrero.  C was there, though he would come to hate and stop going to these events. As soon as someone discovered that he was not a poet or artist, that person would begin to drift, eventually turning away.

Wearing a ribbed long-sleeved shirt in tawny yellow, I nervously perused books for sale.  The shirt fit like a cliché. In my memory, Kevin Killian found me in stacks, like the library, though SPT had, I think, nothing of the sort, the books displayed on ledges hip high, facing out at you. I remember he said something kind, made me feel welcomed. Strangely, I don’t recall what I read, but that I read with Jean Day whose work I was unfamiliar with, whose language is chilled marble. Now having excavated some of the history of that present (of which I knew nothing then), I realize, the audience, there to hear Jean, would have disliked, frankly, disparaged whatever I had read. Too embodied. The subject had not been cut-out. Poor subject. She didn’t even know it. Double b(l)ind.

You must have something to give in the economy of the field.

You must make yourself vulnerable.

You must espouse a recognizably radical politics.

You will attend many readings and say something positive to the author afterwards.

You must be fortified.

You should appear to be comfortable.

You will recognize that you are deeply uncomfortable.

We will not always say hello or be sociable.

We will feel our power and superiority over others.

We will feel brutalized by our disempowerment, so many silent cuts.

We will feel inside this community, held.

We will always feel outside this community.

We will be pleased to be included.

We will feel the sting of our exclusion.

We will try to be inclusive.

We will not discuss our feeling.

They will commit violence in the name of overturning it.

They will take up more time and space because they can.

They will disagree.

I will still need fellowship.

I will experience moments of startling depth and connection.

I will be sick to my stomach.

I sometimes wonder about the healthiness of participating in this community.

I am on the edge

 given the histories of you and you— (Rankine 140)

Look at the subjects. Look at who is refusing the subjects. The individual who is at the center of an author function can only stutter I I I I I I.  On the periphery are those whose mouths should be shut. Who should not have opened their mouths he said he knew where her mouth had been and it had been all over. “Who do you think you are, saying I to me?” (140). She called out a fact. And because this fact had a story—that the avant-garde in poetry has a history of white supremacy—and because he has been trying to keep the facts in order in line in his line of vision this speaker who is she was called a mouth.  Look at the pronouns.  He deleted his post.  But there were witnesses.

“Every scientist [poet] who turned to chaos [language, or contrarily, marked experience, the body] early had a story to tell of discouragement or open hostility” (Gleick).

Every scientist/poet who turned over the rock of white gendered supremacy anytime had stories of virulent hostility.  Threats. Words and their histories. Let us conduct autopsies on the practices and languages that are being used and by whom. Who describes my death? Calls for a mouth to be shut, uses a body.  In other words,  


Look at the street sign Jim Crow Rd.

[Photo: Jim Crow Rd. by Michael David Murphy
printed in Citizen]

Look at a world collapsing inside.

Look at the stop sign whose face that never reads Stop! has been turned away.

Look at the back of the stop sign all grey, or is that white?

Look at the shadow of the stop sign. It looks like a lollipop or the sign of a hanged man.

Look at the white houses with their black roofs.

Look at the white car in the driveway.

Look at how the white houses stand out against a blue sky.

Look at the white space against the black type.

Look at how the trees are dark against the glare of whiteness.

Look at the stain on the edge between the blue-black road and the yellowing grass.

Look at how you can’t see what the name of the crossroads is.

Look at the fence deep in the background.

In her latest book, The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson describes how during a book tour for The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning, a well-known playwright comments on her pregnancy asking her “how did you handle working on all this dark material [sadism, masochism, cruelty, violence, and so on] in your condition?” Nelson explains “the old patrician white guy …call[s] the lady speaker back to her body, so that no one misses the spectacle of that wild oxymoron, the pregnant woman who thinks. Which is really just a pumped-up version of that more general oxymoron, a woman who thinks” (91).


Writers, Verlyn Klinkenborg says, must authorize themselves. “No matter who you are” (37).  This is a claim that provides permission; in fact, is an imperative. I wonder about imperatives. I wonder about I’s who authorize themselves. Yet permissions are powerful. I know the necessity of authorizing oneself.  One needs a commons.  Step out onto the stage of this blog.

I’s and their authority cut all kinds of ways.  My I’s too. Foucault reminds us an author is subject to punishment. The author function provides a means for controlling the bewildering energy of a text. It puts up fences. An obsolete definition of the word authorize, the Oxford English Dictionary, says is “to vouch for the truth or reality” and yet, Rankine also cautions, “all our fevered history won’t instill insight” (142); however, "that man who is forced each day to snatch his manhood, his identity, out of the fire of human cruelty that rages to destroy it….achieves his own authority, and that is unshakable” (Rankine 126).

What is the space between I and I and you and we and they. What’d he say? What’d I just say? Say it again so I can hear we can hear       between

in  world of differences
                   who's there?

collective life              alive in the gaps

powers of departure

processes of becoming



Longabucco, Matt. Workshop at Bard College June 6, 2015
Gleik, James. “Revolution.” Chaos: Making a New Science. New York: Penguin, 2008.
Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Klinkenborg, Verlyn. Several Short Sentences About Writing. New York: Vintage, 2013.
Nelson, Maggie. The Argonauts. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press. 2015.
Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: an American Lyric. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2014.
Thanks to Matt Longabucco for the writing prompts that generated much of the work in this piece.