Vol. 10 No. 39
July 07 - July 13, '98

Pearl Poems by Vincent Katz Paintings by Tabboo!
(Powerhouse Books, 1998)

Review by Liesa Goins

"Poetry and Art Create a Unique Portrait of New York in Pearl"


Manhattan may be contained in 24 square miles, but defining the city is a much larger task.  Whether they love or loathe the island, artists and writers use New York as a muse, albeit an elusive once.  Writer and chronicler of New York, E.B. White described the city as a poem.  In Here is New York, he wrote, "The city is like poetry:  it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines."

            The poetry, noise and music of New York have inspired another set of artists in Pearl (powerHouse Books, 72 pp., $30).  Poet Vincent Katz and artist Taboo! collaborated to release a cohesive work that ________ New York in an otherworldly, fantasy-like mood that is tinged with enough reality to make sense of it all.

            "I'm influenced by the New York School of poets," Katz says.  "Poets like O'Hara who are always writing about the city.  I'm documenting moments that go by.  So, I'm documenting a day, and the flavor of New York -- or the part of New York I'm in will seep into my writing."

            In a way Pearl is one long poem.  Katz, who has published four other books of poetry as well as a book of translations from Latin, wrote Pearl over time as one meditation.  He kept a notebook and wrote.  The resulting poems were condensed but kept in chronological order.  As one cohesive piece, Pearl (the name of a poem in the collection inspired by and named after the album Janis Joplin was recording when she died and which was released after her death) paints a portrait of a towering New York from Katz's tiny perspective.  As smaller pieces, Pearl transforms a concrete city into an undulating organ full of life and color and some ooze.

            Katz writes in a stream-of-consciousness style that evokes Allen Ginsberg's naked thoughts and language.  "I got to hear Allen Ginsberg speak often and talk about poetry," Katz says.  "I believe in his philosophy that the personal can be revolutionary.  That you can reveal your deepest secret in poetry."

            While he doesn't reveal his deepest, darkest secrets, Katz scripts daily conversations into poignant prose.  The mundane becomes mystical thanks to his reverent and careful placement of language.  He creates a landscape that holds magic like the city itself.  In the title poem, Katz writes "Everyone's sleeping in poly chromy/ chambers alight with tower's/ roof, and cold soups allow/ a cough...."

            Adding to the liminal aura is the vibrant art of drag queen and artist Taboo! (Stephen Tashjian), who Katz credits with bringing a "dreamy flamboyance" to Pearl.  Taboo! has recently had his paintings installed at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and is on display at Wooster Gardens (588 Broadway at Prince Street, 941-6210).  On the page, Taboo!'s acrylic images maintain their depth and energy.  His subjects are all skylines painted from memory.  The buildings are all hazy, almost mushy, painted with thick, broad strokes that threaten to collapse into each other.  The backgrounds are skies with the hues of a setting sun or deep night which capture a city in transition, waiting for something to happen.

            Katz says that the collaboration between himself and Taboo! was a synthesis of similar energies and sensibilities.  He doesn't worry about his words becoming an accompaniment to a coffee table art book.

            The overall effect of the book, says Katz, is an elegiac one.  He says there seems to be an overall sense of loss.  While the book swerves into other areas, "Pearl" itself remains in an area of introspective darkness.  Katz reveals his interest in the soap opera General Hospital juxtaposed with pessimism about the future.  Overall, Pearl ends on a simplistic expression of the relationship between art and New York.

            "I've poured out my heart to the city/ City's got to give something back soon."


Pearl is available at Rizzoli Bookstores