Tuesday, November 25, 2014

That Hill

by Mark Saba

That hill. What was it about that hill?

It was a hill that made his heart jump, a yellow brick that seemed too bright for cars and busses. Too clean.

Today is a day for a dreamsicle, a quarter in his hand, a walk up the long, long hill up from his grandparents’ house and up to the flatter road, then on to that hill. He doesn’t often walk up that hill; he usually only sees it from the back window of their car.

But today he is walking with his sister Katie and yes they are going to walk up that clean bright hill. At the top there is a movie theater. Halfway up there is an ice cream store. But they will not go there, she says; they will go instead to the top and around the bend. There will be another store and that’s where all the dreamsicles are. He usually doesn’t want a dreamsicle but today he does.

They are going up. He watches the bricks and they are not really as clean as they look from the car window. There is a bit of paper here and there and tired looking grass every few bricks, and big oily spots. But there is ice cream at the top and now ice cream in a big store halfway up and they’re not stopping there.

Katie has a loud voice. Sometimes he thinks it is louder than his mother’s or his grandmother’s. Now it is very loud as she explains to him that they just don’t sell dreamsicles in the big ice cream store. They are passing it anyway and there is the yellow hill beside him.

A wide blue car is coming down, turning into the ice cream store which is really a milk store because Katie just said so. And she can read, or else she pretends to which is what he really thinks. But he doesn’t like to fight with her when there’s something to look at. The road.

But soon he has to think about breathing instead because Katie walks fast. And it’s summer and sometimes in summer you can’t breathe because the air is full of steam.

“Wait.”

They’re already at the top. Come on, come on, says Katie, but no he will stand right there and not talk but breathe.

Below them is the hill now, coming right up to their feet and to Katie’s twisted up face. God will get her for making those faces. Standing above the yellow road which isn’t yellow anymore, but brown or red.

There are hills far back. They are hills against the sky that is faintly blue and the hills gray. A little smoke comes up behind them—between him and the hills comes the yellow road turning brown or red, the old red school, black and gray and green rooftops, busses and streetcars. But he doesn’t see any of this; he only knows he must look at it while Katie pulls him by the shoulder. He will not know or see it for many years. After twenty years he will slowly come to see it, while living in a similar land very far away.

*****

Later they are on the streetcar. He, his sister, and his mother. His mother is sitting quietly the way she usually sits; Katie is asking her things and sometimes she answers Katie. But he has a big seat to himself. He has already looked at all the faces riding with them. Now it is time to look out the window. There are other hills—they go up and down and the streetcar goes back and forth. He doesn’t see the hills; he feels them because the streetcar feels them and he is with the streetcar.

Every single day he wishes he could ride a streetcar. On the streetcar he doesn’t feel like talking. When his mother talks to him he hears her but he doesn’t turn his head; he doesn’t talk. He’d rather say something to the people outside the window, and they can’t hear him.

Some stores go down and then come up again; then he is thrown back a little on the seat and he has to hold on. Sometimes a pigeon flies along with the streetcar; sometimes it is gray and purple or brown and white and one time it was mostly white. That was a good pigeon to see.

Then there is a pizza store with a little green man holding up a big circle pizza, with brown dots on it. Once he saw a big dark sky, and thunder he could hear, and smell. On a hill way out is a line of tall crosses, a place to put people after they die. And there is a place to put fire engines, a place to put a lot of cars, a place where grandfathers go that has dark windows and pink lights like worms, a place where his mother has a friend and they go to visit her.

Balls roll down streets after people lose them. If they are big speckled balls you can see them but if you’re in a streetcar you can’t get them.

Once when the streetcar stops there is a pet store. Now he will tell her he wants a parakeet. Like Lois next door has, but not that color. One that’s blue. He’ll tell her. Not now, after the streetcar ride. He’ll teach it to talk. To say shut up hello I want some pizza and ice cream.

But there is where the doctor is. He doesn’t like the doctor with the cold hands and bald head that gives him shots every week. He smells like new clothes. New clothes are bad to smell and wear. It’s bad to get them new on Christmas morning instead of toys.

There’s the place where all the new cars are parked with big price tags in their windows. New cars are good to smell. Candles are good to smell too and there they are in the window with statues of church people. Church people don’t live, but you can look at them and look at them until their faces shine. And the man with the big voice starts talking all around you. Everyone gets up and sits down and then again.

There’s an older boy on a red bike like he’ll have. He’s going so fast he’s bending down and passing up the streetcar because it stopped. Another grandmother is getting off slow. Nobody is saying anything until she is off and holding a bag hanging down her arm. She is walking away a grandmother like his down the new hill with big ugly toes coming out the front of her shoes like his grandmother’s, who smells good.

It’s okay to close your eyes if the sun feels like it. The streetcar’s going around a bend now with the sun on it.

She wakes him. The streetcar man is waiting for them to get off. He’s not friendly from behind but then he is if he turns around.

The ground feels moving. She has to use his hand to go across the street. Across the street where his father is sitting in the goodsmelling car with candy, waiting.

Copyright 2014 by Mark Saba. All rights reserved. Originally published in the Folio Club’s Drawing Issue (issue number seven) in 2014.

Image: Mark Saba, self-portrait, oil on canvas.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

It’s Here... The Folio Club’s Drawing Issue!

For its seventh issue, the Folio Club reverses its usual proportions of text and art, to devote itself to the visual. The Drawing Issue features dozens of stunning black-and-white drawings by a variety of remarkable artists. These include the late American painter Louise Oliver, whose work is accompanied by an affectionately idiosyncratic appreciation by her son, the acclaimed performance artist and storyteller Edgar Oliver; New York actress and artist Regina Bartkoff, whose creepy-but-sweet surreal sensibility floats hauntingly into the issue while her affinity for the work of Louise Oliver inspires a superb prose portrait by Romy Ashby; Bosnian-born Sanya Glisic, marking her second Folio Club appearance with a dazzlingly imaginative set of chess figures; and Belgian cartoonist Max de Radiguès, whose frontispiece provides an irresistible image of the artist at work.

Cover artist Onsmith seals the issue’s identity with a glorious wraparound cover (pictured above) and an unforgettable sequence of drawings on the theme of loss. Short, highly distilled prose pieces by Mark Saba and Robert Pranzatelli bookend the issue with stories that double as considerations of visual perception. All this, and more, awaits readers in this distinctive volume, a literary magazine morphed into something akin to an artist’s book.

READ AN EXCERPT from the new issue, courtesy of the Paris Review. We are honored that the Paris Review chose to present on its blog two excerpts from this issue: Edgar Oliver’s remembrance of his mother, Louise Oliver; and Romy Ashby’s essay on Regina Bartkoff and her love of Louise’s work. The excerpts are accompanied by slideshows of drawings by Louise and Regina, also from this issue.

ABOUT US, in case you’re new here: The Folio Club is a literary magazine founded in 2009 that focuses on short fiction and story-like essays, presented alongside indie comic art. Named for an unfinished satirical sketch by Edgar Allan Poe that depicted a zany, dysfunctional writer’s group, it features a small handful of contributors on a recurring basis and combines underground influences, classic literary values, and indie comic art into a perfectly integrated whole. All issues are currently available in paperback book format, with vibrant, full-color wraparound covers, and can be purchased via Amazon or B&N.com, or requested from your favorite bookstore, online retailer, or library. (Beginning with its second issue, the Folio Club became available to booksellers via book wholesaler Ingram.)

Images, from top to bottom, by Onsmith, Louise Oliver, Regina Bartkoff, and Sanya Glisic.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Coming soon… The Drawing Issue

For its seventh issue, the Folio Club reverses its usual proportions of text and art, to devote itself to the visual. The Drawing Issue features dozens of stunning black-and-white drawings by a variety of remarkable artists.

It will be published in June 2014. More information will be posted here soon.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Pirates & Plans

This blog has been catching up on its beauty sleep for a long while, but the Folio Club continues to post on Facebook and is now in the midst of hatching secret plans for our next issue.

In the meantime, issue six has been generating hugely enthusiastic responses. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do.

Image: Preliminary sketches by Onsmith for the cover of Folio Club issue number six.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Folio Club - Issue Number Six

At long last, and just in time for your holiday shopping, the sixth issue of the Folio Club has arrived, replete with brilliant drawings by Bosnian-born printmaker Sanya Glisic and Folio Club cover artist Onsmith (including a dynamic collaboration between the two that morphs between abstract and representational art); two irresistible essays by Romy Ashby that touch on French subjects in New York; a dreamlike tale in French and English by Robert Pranzatelli; a charming autobiographical story by Mark Saba; and much more.

As you can see from the image above, this issue is wrapped in another great Onsmith original: a delightful depiction of one of the ways stories are made.

(Where to buy? FC6 is already available from Amazon here and will be available from other outlets soon. Better yet, ask you favorite local bookseller for it, and support the indie spirit this holiday season!)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Painting a Disappearing Canvas

Readers of the Folio Club are happily familiar with the stories of Mark Saba, which grace each issue. What you may not have learned yet, however, is that Mark is also a noteworthy poet. Now, thanks to Grayson Books, everyone has a chance to find out. The marvelously titled collection Painting a Disappearing Canvas has just been published: its gorgeous cover, seen here, features a painting by the author. (Yes, Mark is also a painter!) Learn more about the book here.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Day in New York

That Saturday—as fresh and blue-skied a spring morning as one could possibly want for a stroll up Fifth Avenue—I walked happily, block after block, a Jersey boy on a pilgrimage to the Upper East Side. I was twenty-four, an aspiring writer in whom certain tastes had already settled deep and firm: favorite author, Truman Capote; favorite band, Blondie; favorite artist, Andy Warhol. Warhol had died a year earlier, and now the much-anticipated Sotheby’s auction of his estate promised a public view of the artist’s massive and wildly eclectic accumulation of possessions, all of which would be on display prior to the auction itself. On display today, April 23, 1988; which was why I, a young man with no interest in auctions and no intention of bidding, was headed to Sotheby’s to seize a once-in-an-eternity opportunity: to walk through a momentary museum of Warhol’s acquisitions before their dispersal.

“That painting looks like the Duchess.”

“Oh, she’d like that. She’s got a fascination with nudes.”

I did not recognize the speakers, but that bit of overheard conversation reached me as soon as I entered Sotheby’s and began milling about. Not far behind me, near the entrance, a television news crew was interviewing a handsome young gay man with a gigantic Mohawk haircut; he told them he was an artist and that his appearance was necessary to attract attention to his art, and he easily connected this concept to Andy Warhol, or perhaps to Warhol’s wig, I don’t recall which; but somehow between his presence and that stray remark of the friends of the Duchess (and was she a genuine Duchess? Or was that a nickname? Or was “she” a drag queen friend of Andy’s?), I felt that I’d stepped into Warhol’s world.

Around me, and in the spaces that I and many other visitors would soon explore, rested Andy’s expansive collection. Beyond the amazing reality that one guy had amassed it all, its oddest attribute was that its mad mix of elements—a Fred Flintstone watch next to a Cartier, junk jewelry next to treasures fit for royalty, American Indian artifacts a stone’s throw from subway-graffiti-inspired paintings—somehow all fit together. As I wandered, the definite unity of the whole wacky assortment made me wonder: Is it possible to have great taste in garbage? And I understood differently a remark Warhol had made: “I just like everything. Everything looks so great.” Because walking through Sotheby’s everything did look great, and I wished it could stay together as a museum. Items that caught my eye, but were only small curiosities on their own, fed into the larger elusive “something” of Andy’s treasure trove. Here, for example, was an Andy Warhol Director’s chair; a display of giant Coke bottles, giant crystals, and a Campbell’s soup can full of smaller crystals; a TV script for Truman Capote’s “Children On Their Birthdays” inscribed “Happy Birthday dearest Andy—Truman”; and art by both the French cartoonist Hergé, who had autographed a pencil Tintin page to Andy, and by John Lennon (a “John Lennon Bag”). Whatever power these things might each hold in isolation couldn’t compare to their role here, as part of a vast network, in tandem with, for example, art deco objects or a brilliant canvas that Warhol had painted with Jean-Michel Basquiat.

In this, their cumulative effect, Warhol’s possessions hinted at a central aspect of his artistic legacy: his uncanny ability to combine two seemingly contradictory qualities, the selectivity of the artist and the inclusiveness of the insatiable collector. Viewed en masse his works are an overwhelming portrait of his times and culture: guns, flowers, celebrities, cows, skulls, balloons, electric chairs, cupids, shoes, money, advertisements, and so on, all in an unprecedented array—and I haven’t even mentioned the soup cans and Brillo boxes (or the films, the live events, the interviews-as-performance-art). While few of his own works were part of the Sotheby’s sale, they were, of course, everywhere in the consciousness of the browsing visitors.

The boldness of his color choices, the innovation of his silk screen technique, and the acuteness with which he selected images that he could position on a pedestal, so to speak, and endow with iconic status (and, despite the acuteness of his selectivity, his ability and desire to find more and more and more such images) allowed him to take in and epitomize American culture with deceptive simplicity (and, make no mistake, a green Mao is an American image, just as a camouflage Statue of Liberty is a deceptively simple way of making multiple statements at once). Like many artists, but with far greater effect than most, Warhol could stand back pokerfaced and let a painting “read” in different ways simultaneously. Is his vision of Marilyn Monroe, in garish make-up and depicted like a mass-produced object, intended as tribute, putdown, critique of Hollywood culture, wisecrack, or deliberate provocation? Is his cow wallpaper art or anti-art; product, décor, affectionate joke? Is his camouflage Statue of Liberty a political statement, an aesthetic statement, or “merely” a conflation of two aspects of American culture? Are his works charged primarily with philosophy or with the profit motive? Are they symbolic, symptomatic, or existentially empty?

To say his ironic wit was double-edged is a reduction: in his best paintings the possibilities are far more than double and the wit unquantifiable. He combined the virtues of abstraction (ambiguity that allows for flexibility of meaning and interpretation; near-endless possibilities for decorative and symbolic resonance; freedom from the more stifling aspects of specificity) with the solidity and “thing-ness” of representational art—and while seizing the possibilities before him, he mixed distillation and accumulation in unprecedented ways; he became the artist as consumer of everything.

Admittedly, not all the items at Sotheby’s fed my enthusiasm. I browsed Andy’s bookshelves to peek at what he had read, or perhaps left unopened: the books included The Two Mrs. Grenvilles by Dominick Dunne; Stardust, a hack biography of David Bowie co-written by a friend of Andy’s; a High Times book of drug lore; Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins; Dali, a book about Warhol’s surrealist hero; and the Ed Koch opus Mayor—nothing I’d be tempted to add to my own bookshelf. All of these books, however, feed in their different ways into or off of the celebrity culture of which he was a part, and in which he made himself into a kind of icon, revered (not always for the right reasons) by younger artists.

*****

When I recall that spring Saturday now, twenty-two years later, it’s not only the Warhol auction that comes to mind but the entire weekend. After I left Sotheby’s I walked to the Whitney Museum of Art and looked at Warhol’s Mao, his Flowers, a Self-Portrait, Green Coke Bottles, and Ethel Scull Thirty-six Times; also Jackson Pollock’s Number 27 (about which I had once written a poem), and many other works for which I had a youthful breathless reverence. Then I headed to the New York Society Library, simply because in his book Music for Chameleons Truman Capote had mentioned it as a “pleasant shelter” where he had met Willa Cather in the late 1940s. The library had, I found, the right ambience for that kind of literary anecdote; tasteful, elegant, and sleek, it fit the image I had conjured of a perfect place to come in from the rain and fill one’s notebook by writing or one’s mind by reading. The essay in which Capote had told the Cather anecdote had originally been written, like much of Music for Chameleons, for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine.

Eventually I walked all the way from the Upper East Side through midtown, downtown, and into and around Greenwich Village. Then I took a train back out to New Jersey to see my friend Phil West sing and play guitar that evening at a coffee house called The Other End, on the campus of my alma mater, Drew University. It all made for a long and exhausting day, but a satisfying one. Phil stayed over at my apartment in Morristown—I cooked rice in the wee hours of the morning because he had never eaten dinner and was starving—and on Sunday morning we ate at a favorite local restaurant, Calaloo Café, and discussed Europe: my recent trip to Italy and France, and his experiences there in the past, an “exotic” contrast to our day-to-day lives of mostly menial work and low-budget living.

All these years later, Phil and I are still good friends; and though my cultural tastes have expanded, Capote remains a cherished literary inspiration and Blondie is still my favorite band. As for Warhol—my interest in him waned for some years, having been satiated after I had read thousands of pages by and about him, and had sufficiently experienced his works. At times, however, the bright ingenuity of his paintings still delights me. In the odd way that a life often has of following and weaving together its most resonant threads, my own life led me to several years of work in an art museum that included Warhols in its collection, and later to a publishing job in which I’ve served as publicist for books about Warhol; but these facts are tiny points amid the vast weave of cultural influences in my life and the synchronicities and intersections of those influences with, within, and throughout my reality. When I think back on not merely the “bright ingenuity” of Warhol’s paintings but the bright ingenuity of that long-ago spring day in Manhattan, what resonates is its freshness and my wide-eyed receptiveness, and how well its blue-skied grace looks now, shining like a precious object amid a vast network of collected moments, some of them junk and some of them treasure, but all together suggesting a definite unity, the selectivity of the artist and the inclusiveness of the insatiable collector.

Originally published in the second issue of the Folio Club. Copyright 2010 by Robert Pranzatelli. All rights reserved.

Image: Andy Warhol, Flowers.