Thursday, April 26, 2018

A three-fer for the last Thursday of Poetry Month: Kayla Krut

In the best Robert Frost tradition, here's two poets trespassing on Palomar Mountain, 2009: "Whose woods these are, I think I know./His house is in the village though;/he will not see [us] stopping here to watch his woods...." 
One of my assumptions is that writing poems is a process of discovery, so if I link to three poems by a poet, it will show a range of that process. Here are three from Kayla Krut, a poet I've known since she was in Mary Ann Loes 5th grade class at Del Mar Heights Elementary School. Kayla later earned a B.A. in comparative literature from U.C. Berkeley and an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan. She's currently teaching in Vienna, Austria on a Fulbright. Here's one of her recent poems anthologized in the San Diego Poetry Annual:

He Laid Down 
Our group of friends floated 
back home, dancing into the kitchen. 
I leapt up on the counter. 

My lover, who was not yet, then, 
lost his arm elbow-deep in 
a produce box, feeling for limes. 

He brought a handful up, 
a long stray lemon. 
They rolled all over the island. 

Not-yet-lover slid a silver knife 
from its block; brutally sheared 
the green fruit into rondelles. 

I was not watching, he had 
his back to me when I heard another 
friend cry out for him. 

Neon blood hugged the knife, which 
he laid down. His full hand quarantined 
what lime was clean; 

and he turned to offer me 
his injury—surely an accident, although 
he sure turned fast. 

I remember a December afternoon when I got the feeling Kayla didn't want to write. She was a busy kid and had a lot going on. It was near the end of the semester. Her mom, Mary Ellen, had got us together for a writing session at The Pannikin in Del Mar, which was a classic melange of caffeine and print. Hot chocolate can do a lot, but it has its limits. 

Simon Ortiz once told said that poetry is telling a story only the way you can tell it, so I told Kayla about the poet Jim Milner surviving the Cedar Fire a couple of months earlier. His wife Galen Blacklidge didn't make it out. Kayla listened, wrote and later read her poem at a fundraiser for Jim. 

Jim’s Song  
The worst thing in the world
Is stolen love
A sleepless night where you are
Overwhelmed with grief and gratitude
They sink you into the dark

Grief is desolate beauty
A crimson fire screaming itself hoarse
Its beauty is blinding
Its destruction is great

Charred skins of long oaks
Tended to for decades
Flutter past as you slouch down, sobbing

No leaves, the remaining are off the tree and toasted
They are still warm to the touch  
Kayla picks up the mic to read "Jim's Song" at a fundraiser for Jim Milner, 2003.

Kayla wrote "Jim's Song" in the 7th grade. 

This three-fer of Kayla is like watching a time-elapse movie of a flower reverse-bloom into a bud. The sprouting, planting and tilling had already been done by everyone who had ever read to Kayla, especially Mary Ellen. But if there was a moment when I thought Kayla was going to become a poet, it was during a conference when she was in 5th grade. She had written several poems that semester, and as I recall, she liked all of them better than "The Rock." It was an assignment. She didn't like the chant of "the rock," but I was drawn in to how she emerged from the rock again and again with idea after idea. Ordinarily, I would have suggested revising for sensory detail, but Kayla seemed past that. I think I advised her to cut some words and try some different line-breaks but retain the arc.

The Rock 
The rock
like a still locomotive,
dead on its rails
The rock
smooth and silent.
The rock
under shady trees like
squid ink covering a mass of ocean.
yet air.
A boy
blond, blue-eyed
The boy
by himself, bored.
The boy
picks up the rock.
The rock
picked up and skipped
across water by
the boy.
The boy
could not throw without
the rock.
The rock
could not skip without
the boy.
Unknown strengths of
tossing trains under
squid shadows.  

The poem was later published in a county-wide anthology of student poems. At the time I thought it was an excellent example of the process from invention through publication, the moment in conference when she revised being the essential step of making a piece of writing more of what it already was.
Kayla gives me a copy of her first chapbook, 2002.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Remembering John Oliver Simon

This morning I’m missing John Oliver Simon. To me he was a poet, translator, maestro of poetry & administration. Always a compañero. His love of Latin American poetry was a expression of his humanity that one continent could not hold. Whether it was teaching poetry, working with cool experience through administrative tumult or joyously presenting his own poems, he was a mensch. I cannot let him go yet, so I look to his poems.

After meeting John Oliver at a California Poets In The Schools (CPITS) retreat in Marin, I invited him to San Diego County for a couple of readings & workshops at CSU San Marcos and Casa Familiar Community Center in San Ysidro. I’d been working with bilingual students in Escondido and Pauma, so I’d been tagged along with a half-dozen other poet-teachers to conduct workshops in San Ysidro where Spanish has been the language longer than English. Oddly, the director of the poetry project never appeared at the community center, so I suggested we bring John Oliver to give us an in-service. He’d directed The California Heritage Poetry Curriculum and was bilingual.

After the workshop, we walked across the border to El Patio Tijuanense on Calle Plaza Santa Cecilia. I’d been there before with poets who called a table near the religious shrine “the poets’ table.” A couple of poets invited us to sit down, and after some conversation about mutual acquaintances, the talk turned to Gonzalo Rojas. Red Dragonfly Press had recently released John Oliver’s translations of the Chilean poet. Here are a couple of stanzas from one of John Oliver’s translations of Rojas’ “What Do You Love When You Love?”:

What do you love when you love, my God: the terrible light of life
or the light of death? What do you seek or find, what
is this: love? Who is it? Woman, with her depth, her roses, volcanoes,
or this red sun, which is my furious blood
when I enter into her up to the final roots? 
Or is it all a great game, my God, and there is no woman
nor man but one body only: yours,
split up in stars of beauty in fleeting particles
of visible eternity? 
I´m dying in this, oh God, in this war
of coming and going among women in the streets, of not being able to love
three hundred of them at a time, because I am always condemned to one,
to this one, to this only one whom you gave me in the old paradise. 

And Rojas’ original: ¿Que Se Ama Cuando se Ama?

¿Qué se ama cuando se ama, mi Dios: la luz terrible de la vida
o la luz de la muerte? ¿Qué se busca, qué se halla, qué
es eso: amor? ¿Quién es? ¿La mujer con su hondura, sus rosas, sus volcanes,
o este sol colorado que es mi sangre furiosa
cuando entro en ella hasta las últimas raíces? 
¿O todo es un gran juego, Dios mío, y no hay mujer
ni hay hombre sino un solo cuerpo: eso tuyo,
repartido en estrellas de hermosura, en partículas fugaces
de eternidad visible? 
Me muero en esto, oh Dios, en esta guerra
de ir y venir entre ellas por las calles, de no poder amar
trescientas a la vez, porque estoy condenado siempre a una,
a esa una, a esa única que me diste en el viejo paraíso.

Latin American poetry was John Oliver’s poetry. The poets at El Patio Tijuanense thought of John Oliver as a Latin American poet. So it seemed fitting to me that he published some of his poetry in Spanish without translation. Here is a Neruda-esque poem of questions by John Oliver:

¿Por qué esconden
como los defines
adentro Del Mar
en la boca de una niña?
¿Por qué no nos muestres
tus preciosos chicles
para que todo el mundo
se muera de belleza? 
¿Ya masticadas
van a salir de la tierra
como piedras blancas? 
¿O dime por qué
no los traques de una vez
para sembrar los campos
con flores calor de boca?

Here is my translation although, apologies to Maestro Simon, but I want non-Spanish speakers to imagine a poet-teacher encouraging a student to write a poem as if chewing gum:

Why hide them
in a girl’s moth
like dolphins
in the ocean? 
Why don’t you show us
your precious chewing gum
so the whole world
can die from the beauty? 
After chewing
will they be left on earth
like white rocks? 
Tell me why
you don’t chew them all at once
to sow the fields
with flowers hot from your mouth?

Later John Oliver and I were asked to write essays about our experiences in San Ysidro for an anthology. My essay had included a story about the City of San Diego taking a fire engine from San Ysidro after annexing it. That story was the first thing Casa Familiar director Andrea Skorepa told me before I started the after-school poetry workshop. As a poet, I took it as a cautionary tale about taking and giving.

The anthology’s editor, however,  wanted something more suitable grant writing, and I sensed he felt the story somehow reflected negatively on San Diego. The editor insisted on cuts, but I thought Skorepa’s story had been my introduction to Casa Familiar. It felt as if I was being asked to write a grant instead of an account of the after-school workshop.

Later John Oliver told me he had been asked to cut his essay, too, which had included a meditation on the long lines—poets must talk about lines—crossing the border and the significance of the religious shrine in the bar and too add boiler-plate prose designed for future grants.

I must’ve had a look on my face because, John Oliver shrugged and said we have to be arts administrators sometimes even though poetry is more important because that’s what gets us a seat at the table.

In El Patio Tijuanense, I’d told a story about my futile attempt to hunt ducks in Quitupan, Mexico. John Oliver tried to cheer me up and on, “Brando, para el pato salvaje, volando a la velocidad de la poesía” (for the wild duck [a nickname for French Canadians without visas] fly at the speed of poetry). It was good advice, some words I should thank John Oliver for everyday.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Deer Lit: Every Night Is Halloween, Part IV

A student asked about Rick Bass' "Antlers." He had to write about it for another class. "What's it about?" he asked. It was a fast break between two classes: 19 students streaming out, 20 streaming in. In 10 minutes of prep to reset, what could I tell him?

If setting in a story is a often a metaphorical cue related to theme, "Antlers" has something Halloweeny about it.

"It's about animals as masks for people," I guessed. The characters have a Halloween party at which everyone straps antlers to their head. There's a woman who can't be alone and moves from man to man in the small town but refuses intimacy with the bow hunter. Is he hunter or prey? The narrator, who is not the bow hunter, has his heart torn apart when she leaves him, just as--in a different scene--the bow hunter explodes the heart of a buck. 

Monsters everywhere. Monsters who hunt monsters. "Look at the bowhunter's face on the final page," I say. He said he would and moved against the current of the incoming class.

But something stuck in head. It was those antlers that made me remember the title poem of Sharon Olds' Stag's Leap. It's a poem in a cycle that turns, but what I love about this poem is the turn from the self at a moment when many other writers would have indulged the self. To love at this moment is a divine act.

Stag’s Leap

Then the drawing on the label of our favorite red wine
looks like my husband, casting himself off a
cliff in his fervor to get free of me.
His fur is rough and cozy, his face
placid, tranced, ruminant,
the bough of each furculum reaches back
to his haunches, each tine of it grows straight up
and branches, like a model of his brain, archaic,
unwieldy. He bears its bony tray
level as he soars from the precipice edge,
dreamy. When anyone escapes, my heart
leaps up. Even when it’s I who am escaped from,
I am half on the side of the leaver. It's so quiet,
and empty, when he's left. I feel like a landscape, a ground
without a figure. Sauve
qui peut—let those who can save themselves
save themselves. Once I saw a drypoint of someone
tiny being crucified
on a fallow deer’s antlers. I feel like his victim,
and he seems my victim, I worry that the outstretched
legs on the hart are bent the wrong way as he
throws himself off. Oh my mate. I was vain of his
faithfulness, as if it was a compliment, rather than a state
of partial sleep. And when I wrote about him, did he
feel he had to walk around
carrying my books on his head like a stack of
posture volumes, or the rack of horns hung
where a hunter washes the venison
down with the sauvignon? Oh leap,
leap! Careful of the rocks! Does the old
vow have to wish him happiness
in his new life, even sexual
joy? I fear so, at first, when I still
can’t tell us apart. Below his shaggy
belly, in the distance, lie the even dots
of a vineyard, its vines not blasted, its roots
 clean, its bottles growing at the ends of their
blowpipes as dark, green, wavering groans.
 Happy Day-20 of Poetry Month.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Three poems by Monica Navarro

I, Monica Navarro and Ayzza Comacho share a laugh with Genny Lim on SD County Ed TV.
I've been posting at least one poem a day for April, which is National Poetry Month. Some of the more popular posts have been about K-12 poetry, so since it's Thursday, I thought I'd post three by a poet I was blessed to work with K-12.

Here's a poem Monica Navarro wrote in 2nd grade:


Strawberry Diamonds

One rainy afternoon,
my grandpa and I went shopping and saw flowers.
The blossoms opened their mouths to say,
“I am the most eautiful of all,”
but we ignore them and walk on
to the strawberry plants.
They lift their leaves and I see
a worm hiding from the birds.
“I am the ripest,”
“I am the juiciest of all,” and
“Come and get me.”
I pull out my wallet
and we buy flowers and strawberries.
At home Grandpa and I lant them in the sun
where they shine like diamonds.”

 The following year she wrote a poem that had an edgy honesty for a 3rd-grader:


Blinding Yellow

I have yellow hate so strong and bright
it blinds my eyes. I can’t see anything,
but my sister sees me and says, “Monica,
stop pretending you’re blind.”
“I’m not pretending,” I say and then
bump into a wall and it hurts,
a red baseball hitting my head.
My sister laughs and jumps away to tell our mother.

Monica's high school didn't have writing residencies, but she wanted to write for a contest. Over the years she would email me poems, so when David Avalos was creating his installation Mi Corazón Escondido, I knew one of her pieces inspired by history would be perfect:
Kings of Their Cities

He always told me,
"La familia es todo.
Siempre acuerdate de donde eres,"
was most likely his second favorite line.
He was my first educator,
counselor
peer.

I saw the way he came home from work
every afternoon
covered in dust and smelling of the land.
The way his fingers always felt so rough
in my hands
the deep lines in his face
that had been born
from spending so many hours under the sun.
You could hear his old white truck
driving in over the hill to the house
before you could even see it.
I found it inexplicably amusing
how he would sit on the front steps
untie his mud encrusted boots
take off his hat
to fan his face with.

I was his first grandchild
and his querida.
We had an old large circular porch
in the backyard where
we would sit for what seemed like forever
listening to the beat up old radio play rancheras
and the songs of his old barrio in Michoacan.
With me on his right leg, a beer can on his left,

we sat, and he talked,
talked about his old country
where everything was beautiful.
Talked about how he brought our family
over from Mexico.
I could hear the pride in his voice.
He imprinted our family history
into me like a typewriter upon paper.
In summer when it was too hot to talk,
we would sit listening to
everything alive around us,
balancing each other out like scales

During family parties,
the old men would sit
in the shade of the orange trees.
He would hold me on his lap
and I knew he was proud of me.
They talked about the family,
complained about their wives,
and discussed everyone else’s business.

You could tell the men became excited
when they talked about their cities in Mexico.
They way they rearranged themselves in their chairs
and stumbled over their words
as they hurriedly began narrating their memories
as if they were afraid the taste of these stories would soon disappear from their tongues.

In this way I came to imagine
the land
we came from
to be so special
that it could make old men laugh
and remember being young again.

Driving through the fields in the old white truck,
he would explain to me
how the plants grew and what they needed to live.
He was always trying to teach me
about life through metaphors and old stories,
as if how the trees’ needs for sun and water
to produce the oranges and lemons for picking
would somehow teach me
about growing up in my own family
and becoming someone from whom
people could learn,
someone whom people could look up to.
This man was my grandfather;
my abuelo.
With me on his right leg, a beer can on his left,
we would sit listening to
everything alive around us,
balancing each other out like scales
Poetry has a lot of magic. To find it young and keep it across time is a spell worth casting again and again.

David Avalos' with a flush of hidden hearts: front, Carlos Von Son, Monica, Adrian Arancibia; back Avalos and I. 

 

  

Place Poems III: "local-looking"

As I was reading James Dickey's "In the Marble Quarry" to study his sense of "organic form," I was  
surprised to find the phrase "local-looking" lodged into a passage about sculptures emerging from blocks of stone. Of course, one of the most famous sculptures of all time emerged from what was believed to be a flawed block of marble: The David.

Dickey's move from the great sculptor to the poet himself covers the distance from Florence to Georgia, not that all poems need to cover that much distance. But as a field editor for the San Diego Poetry Annual, I am frequently disappointed to read through so many submissions that never look locally. 

Dickey writes,
     ...the original shape
Michelangelo believed was in every rock upon earth
     is heavily stirring, 
     surprised to be an angel//
***
     but no more surprised than I
to feel sadness fall off as I myself
     were rising from stone 
     held by a thread in midair,
badly cut, local-looking, and totally uninspired,
     not a masterwork 
     or even worth seeing at all
but the spirit of this place just the same,
     felt here as joy.
Would I rather read a hundred more free verse poems about the pace of New York/Chicago/Los Angeles than one more poem in which the content is determined by form so that it is the perfect union of form and content about nothing nowhere?

Please notice that I'm not saying that I don't want to read poems in form. Nor am I saying I don't want to read poems about someone's inner space. I just want to read poems formed or in-formed by the place that has formed and in-formed them. That intersection of self and place can often arouse in me a "spirit" of "joy" as a poem lifts a moment from time's flow and suspends it on the sky of the page.

There is some weight to Dickey's metaphor that poems are sculptures, light ones perhaps twisting regardless of line length, or just as bad, freighted with nowhere-ness so the thread of interest snaps well before I turn the page or get to the final line. In organic form (Dickey disliked the term "free verse"), content in-forms the shape of the poem. 

The thread of interest runs both ways, of course. A poem could be about my hometown, but if it doesn't connect with the spirit of the place in the first stanza, I'll probably stop reading. So it isn't enough to set a poem in SoCal; setting needs to touch--dare I write it?--spirit.

A reasonable objection to this aesthetic would be that it ignores interior settings. I agree. By the laws of geography and astronomy, there will always be more good poems about places removed from SoCal than there will be about SoCal. All the more reason for me to find the rare poem set beneath my feet.

And just to assure you that I look beyond SoCal, here's an introduction to an anthology I co-edited for Writers' Ink in San Diego:  
If titles count, A Year in Ink is about what the writers who tumbled into the extreme southwest corner of the U.S. decided to submit halfway through 2011.  No more, no less. And that’s enough.  
It’s not easy writing in San Diego. I don’t want to name names, but we are the town that proved “New York, New York” wrong: just because you can fake it there doesn’t mean you can fake it anywhere. As poet John Peterson noted, you can tell San Diego isn’t really a part of the rest of the U.S. because of the extra set of immigration check points at the county line on I-5, I-15 & I-8; it gives the impression no one wants to hear what we have to say. A calendar of “Southern California Poetry” managed to name 48 poets without one San Diegueño among them. A careful reading of certain “California” poetry anthologies shows that one of the best career moves a San Diego poet could make would be to relocate to San Francisco and die.  
So what’s a San Diegueño writer to do? Write and publish.  In a previous edition of A Year in Ink, former Union Tribune books editor Arthur Salm wrote, “I confess to being a contrarian [when] it comes to the literal idea of writers as a literal, physical community….But a figurative, literary community? Oh, yes, indeed.” One good confession deserves another: any community that doesn’t manifest some point-at-able aesthetics is not a community but a multitude waiting for a miracle. It’s not just the bound pages but what’s on them that matters. Oh me of little faith. 
So what are the significant poetics of San Diego? In these pages, can a regional accent be heard? Do the form & content of these poems resonate with this time & place? Most of these poems have right margins like the coastline if you’re facing Tijuana. Sorry, neo-formalists. These lines break where image or music need to; it’s a border thing. It’s a form manifest. And it’s neo every day.   
Reading submissions, I did discover a consistent characteristic: most have nothing to do with San Diego during or around 2011. Yet 2011 was an astonishing year in this old city. The ocean that largely defines it changed. A cold current came ashore farther north than it had in the past, bringing with it black jellyfish that drove swimmers from the water. A photograph of a large fin among surfers in Cardiff went viral and raised discussions about sharks frequenting our coast. A band of Kumeyaay Indians put the name of their casino on the old Sports Arena, just off the historic Kumeyaay Trail to Playas (now called “Rosecrans Street”). The Pala Band of Indians continued their battle to purchase back their ancestral homelands in Warner Springs, a volta in the poem of history.
Poetry, however, favors an intimate persona over a public one. The whispering of subtext can’t always be heard in the public voice of “we.”  
In poetry saying something while making it sound interesting is risky business. In a poem like “jazz is e.e. cummings,” if the poet can run a line of euphonic imagery in one direction, pivot without losing flow and avoid running in the ruts of the literal, it will be fine. We like our music imbued with more than sound. Poems like “Silent Movie,” “How the World Sounds” and “Why I Married Him” all have that music & luminous imagery that draws me.     
In a sense, “Why I Married Him” is a solid representative of  San Diego poems: first, it has nothing to do with San Diego; second, it’s about leaving someplace (in this case, Milwaukee); and third, the poem ended up here. Most importantly for me it eschews the obvious and finds awe: 
I lived without music then, cut off
from the Rain Prelude and nocturnes
of fog, but the bridge! It buzzed –
no, not like a giant bumblebee,
but only as a metal bridge can sing, 
from the maws of Bethlehem Steel.
“Familia Anclada” (anchor family) is another poem about leaving or at least needing to leave. It’s a poem that doesn’t offer an answer but raises the right questions.
She cannot cross the desert 
with her babies,
The able kids are throwing gang signs
in the alleys littered in crime scenes
In “What I Know,” Red-necked Phalaropes stop over at Mono Lake on their way here. The birders walk in “single file” on the path through the rare environment: “each soft step/we take in this tender landscape/says we wish to be nowhere else.”
So does each poem in this anthology. At least for 2011.
This anthology represents a community, a point of culmination from many directions. One morning in The Ink Spot, Kelli Wescott, Tammy Greenwood and I sat around that big table upstairs while the fierce sun lit the poems & prose.  Kelli kept track as Tammy and I introduced pieces to each other, like planning a dinner party:  “Seat this chapter beside this poem because they have a lot in common to converse about.”
So cook last year and cancel the calendar. This place of pages is rocking, and it looks as if we’re going to party for the rest of the night. 
Those were some poems from that year and place. No "London" by Blake. No 'Innisfree' by Yeats. No Langston speaking of the Euphrates or muddy Mississippi. My interest in setting might sound like a real estate agent's mantra--"location, location, location." Yes, the central location will ultimately be in the mind; nevertheless, it's from the roots of endangered plants that gives a voice its distinct resonance. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Remembering James Luna


This morning I am missing my neighbor James Luna. We worked together at Palomar College, but we weren't just colleagues and So Cal guys; I loved his work and went to his installations whenever I could.  He showed California in it's complicated beauty. This image from the Chris Eyre movie Bringing It All Back Home shows James on an exercise bike while Marlon Brando in The Wild One rides along behind. James was a great installation artist and a "sacred clown."

I could go on about why I love Eyre's movie about James' work, especially this shot, and James would expect me not to be quiet, but I just can't this morning. When an installation artist like James passes, the loss is too great to talk about immediately because it was James' use of his body and voice within his art space that can never be replaced, but later we will try as he did in making his Chapel for Pablo Tac. To feel that loss, I think James would say that home was more important than art, so at La Jolla there's a great piece missing this morning.

I want everyone "down the hill" to have a sense of what we've all lost. I wrote the article below for The Union Tribune around 1995. It's not up to date because over the years James gave much more. Just a month ago after dinner  he shared a movie he made using The Beach Boys' "In My Room."

James Luna told us, "we got it all...so tap it down." We will do so.

James LunaWhen James Luna says, "I'm a California dude," he doesn't mean that he surfs. He means that he knows who he is. And who he is an installation/performance artist who uses traditional Native American art forms as well as surf music and video.

Ironically, much of Southern California does not know about Luna though he is nationally respected performance and multimedia artist. Luna may have performed and had his work in some the most prestigious museums in the United States--including The Whitney Museum of Art in New York and the Smithsonian Institute's Museum of Natural History--but he has yet to present a performance piece in San Diego County where he is a member the Luiseño Indians at the La Jolla Reservation in North County (He has, however, exhibited installations at Centro Cultural de la Raza, and his "Artifact Piece" from the Museum of Man later gained international attention at The New Museum of Art's Decade Show in New York).

On August 21, The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in La Jolla will present Luna in a lecture/performance that brings local audiences as close to a Luna performance as they have ever been. Whether the evening at MCA conclude as Luna's performance did at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts--with the audience either standing on their feet or falling in worship at Luna's--is yet to be seen.

"Let's get this out front: theater is not what I am, though there are any number of similarities," Luna says. "Installation is very broad and that's one of its strengths. I approach it as I approach a painting. I don't think about acting. I am not a trained actor. But that's not to say that I don't script or monologue. I do, but it comes out of the art."

Many of Luna's monologues emerge from the objects he creates. As multimedia art, Luna's verbal expression cannot be separated from his visuals. He uses anything he can to get his point across. In his performance piece The Shameman, Luna portrays an enterprising shaman who sells objects that combine such disparate materials as condoms and a tennis racket, a cellular phone and a buffalo horn.

Many artists lecture on their work, but few move back and forth between two-dimensional and performance work as Luna does. Consequently, Luna's lectures are unusual. "James' lecture is unlike anything we've done," says MCA education curator Seonid MacArthur. "His use of sound, movement and music in his performance pieces will be new for us...he's not so much about ritual as he is about combining his heritage and sense of ritual with humor."

Luna's lectures did not always include performance. "I do this a lot and found that showing slides or video of a performance didn't do it," Luna says. At MCA, his lecture will include excerpts from Artifact Piece, Places for People to Meet and The Shameman.

"I am not a trained actor," Luna emphasizes. "I am a visual artist when I do a performance piece, which comes from a different place than where actors come from," Luna said. "And I am not just about Indian issues . . . that should be clear in Shameman because there were other issues in that piece. I'm a therapist, used car salesman and an evangelist."

Luna is a California dude of this century, if not the next: "I use pop imagery because I like it. It makes a nice soup, a blend. . . . Political art gets caught up in being the victim and loses sight of the whole person."

Humor is a good portion of Luna's recipe. "I've had people come to see me thinking I'm going to do a nice tom-tom dance. And as I unload, they realize this isn't what they came to hear," Luna says. "But they have every right to leave--or to laugh."

The laughter at his performance of Shameman at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts was loud and long, coming from an audience primarily made up of Indians. Those who came to see him dance to a tom-tom instead saw him fancydance to Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy."

Luna asked the audience to hold hands: "It's not easy to hold hands. That's the feel of humanity," he told the crowd." Touch that white person. Come on you rich Arizona Indian."

In The Shameman, Luna's sense of humor cuts deeply in two directions: first against "shamans" who sell spirituality and secondly whites who buy it as a commodity. America may not be a happier place since European contact complicated land, language and religion. But at least America is a funnier place with white people here.

In "Notes on My Art Work #674," Luna writes, "I am not a healer but can be considered a clown." And clowning has its own healing power; as Luna says humor is "the first step in recovery."
"That's an Indianism, to be able to laugh at ourselves," Luna said, discussing the sharp satire in Shameman. "We are really more alike than we are different." It's the humor in Luna's work that lets the audience get close enough to feel where the painful wounds are between us.