Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hunter Brumfield photobombs the 'Snow White' mirror selfy

Poetry Scores is hustling to put together a celebration of Anne Sexton's poem "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" this Friday at Mad Gallery.

We'll have a good number of contributing artists turning the poem into music, voice and visual art on Friday night, so we will want to offer them a couple of drinks. Schlafly Beer always generously helps us to do this, but some people prefer wine, so we like to buy a big bomber of red wine to augment craft services.

We translate poetry into other media and tend to look to the poem for answers. Right there at the beginning of the poem, Sexton says the virgin has "lips like Vin Du Rhône," like wine from the Rhône Valley, so I picked up a bomber of Cotes du Rhône.

Then a funny thing happened. As I sat the wine down on my basement floor, a cave cricket appeared, apparently out from under the bomber of red wine as I sat it down. It really did look like a magic act. One moment there was a bare patch of bare cement, and the next moment a cave cricket was crawling out from under where the wine got sat down.

The funny thing is, I felt really haunted in this basement after Hunter Brumfield III ended his life. The haunting came in the form of cave crickets. Our friend Tim Rakel had a bug-infested Hunter haunting of his own at that time, the subject of the Union Electric song "Bugs," which Poetry Scores co-published.

My haunting felt especially acute, since the day Hunter killed himself was the very day I moved into this house. In fact, Hunter was going to help me move that day, so in choosing to end his life one of the great many things Hunter must have considered was that he would be blowing off helping me to move into this house.

In the house in Dogtown we had been renting, whenever Hunter and I hung out, it was always in the basement, and in the new house, had Hunter lived and not died, I am sure the basement is where we would have hung out together. So the cave crickets that swarmed my basement so dramatically after Hunter's death felt like a pathetic manifestation of Hunter's spirit, a last weak attempt to hang out.

The experience made me want to write a novel about the scenario, which I managed to do (after I had failed for many years to complete many previous attempts at novels). So at that point I decided to accept Hunter's continued collaboration, however crazy that might appear to others. It seemed to be going somewhere.

I relate this experience to something the British potter Bernard Leach said after the Korean potter Yanagi passed. Leach and Yanagi did their best work bouncing ideas off one other, and after Yanagi died, Leach said he managed to continue their collaboration. "Yanagi is gone," Leach wrote, "but the friendship has deepened."

So when a cave cricket came crawling dramatically, as if magically, out from under a bottle of wine I had translated from an Anne Sexton poem, I realized I was forgetting something. Poetry Scores had not invited Hunter to contribute to the Anne Sexton project!

Hunter was the drummer in the Poetry Scores house band when he killed himself, and probably would have been the drummer in Ann Hirschfeld's "Snow White" band had he lived. Dead men don't drum, and least not reliably on a rehearsal schedule, but we had been inviting Hunter to put work in our art shows. Poetry Scores always has permitted the repurposing of existing work, so we just take one of Hunter's paintings or prints in circulation, retitle it from the poem at hand, and give Fred Friction Hunter's drink tickets at the art show.

As a matter of fact, when that cave cricket amazed me by crawling out from under that bottle of red wine I had translated from an Anne Sexton poem, what else should I lock gaze with but a closeup portrait of Iggy Pop that Hunter had painted, staring me down from the wall?

This painting was a gift to me from the collection of Fred Friction. Andrew Torch and I curated this painting into our art invitational to "Phantom of the dreams' origin," where it took on the title, after the poetry of Andreas Embirikos, "Tranquility did not exist."

As I stared into what Hunter tried to paint into Iggy Pop's eyes, I knew I could find "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in there somewhere. This poem appears in Sexton's book Transformations, and Hunter Brumfield was Mister Transformation -- in my novel that started with the cave cricket haunting, the Hunter character kills himself, in part, to shift shapes. To break on through.

I looked into the poem and I found Hunter and Iggy right away, right near the bottle of wine they had crawled out from under in the first place.


No matter what life you lead
the virgin is a lovely number:
cheeks as fragile as cigarette paper,
arms and legs made of Limoges,
lips like Vin Du Rhône,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes
open and shut.


There, I saw it: "open and shut." The eyes in this painting are wide open, but at the same time the man behind the eyes looks hideously shut in. He is at once absolutely open, and utterly isolated. Open and shut. That might also say something about the passageway between the dead and living: open and shut.

I got all excited and wrote to Poetry Scores' guest curator for 2013, Heather Corley, asking if she would accept Hunter's piece into the show at the last minute. Like all of my other ideas for this art show, her answer was no. (It is widely agreed that my influence as an art curator is something Poetry Scores needs to shift shapes far from.)

But I had a backup plan. Poetry Scores board president Scott Intagliata had a brilliant idea for an open commission for people to participate in our celebration of Anne Sexton. His idea evolved into the Snow White Mirror Selfy, where (appropriately for a poem about looking in the mirror) people are invited to translate "Snow White" into the 21st century tradition of a selfy, taking their own picture in a mirror and titling the photograph using a quote from the poem.

So Hunter has photo bombed the Mirror Selfy. Here is his Snow White Mirror Selfy, "open and shut."

"open and shut," by Hunter Brumfield III, after Anne Sexton,
on loan from the collection of Fred Friction

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