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Alice Fulton

Poet Alice Fulton—whose work has been included in five editions of The Best American Poetry series, and whose latest collection, Felt, was named one of the best books of the year by the Los Angeles Times, in addition to being awarded the 2002 Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress—didn’t attend graduation from Troy Catholic High School. In fact, this recipient of both a Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowship says she was “a terrible student who got very bad grades.” She “forgot” to take her final French exam, and had to go to summer school to get her diploma. Her custom-made white graduation dress went unworn.

“I have to say, it shocked me,” admits Fulton, who is professor of English at her alma mater, Cornell University. “Sure, I was dreamy and depressed, but I didn’t think I was going to fail high school. I remember thinking, ‘The worst really can happen.’ But that wasn’t a bad thing—it woke me up. I applied myself more fervently from then on.” And there are certain advantages to being dreamy: Fulton says she wrote poetry all through high school, and was thrilled to have a poem published in the Washout Review, a small literary magazine from Schenectady. “If you take it step by step, it can happen,” she says. Subsequent steps for the young poet included publication in The New Yorker, The Paris Review and The Atlantic Monthly. Fulton, who grew up a block away from the Rensselaer Newman Foundation, will read from her works at the Newman Chapel & Cultural Center on Tuesday.

As for her graduation dress, it too has a happy ending. The gown, along with Emily Dickinson’s famous white dress—which Fulton saw at Amherst in the 1980s—were the inspiration for Felt’s enthralling six-page meditation “Maidenhead.” Fulton revisited her “un-graduation dress” in her mother’s closet, where it had been mothballed for 20 years in a zippered “body bag.” “I began thinking about other white gowns that have symbolic meaning, like bridal gowns, and about brides-to-be and virginity, and about Emily Dickinson and loneliness,” the poet says. “‘Maidenhead’ is not just about virginity and the hymen, but about how the head is the ultimate private space—we can never know each other’s thoughts. Our heads are far more private than any other spaces of the female body.”

With its longer, more lyrical poems, Felt, her fifth book, is considered a departure for the poet, who is lauded for her verbal pyrotechnics. “I wanted it to be long and I wanted it to meander,” she says of “Maidenhead.” “I like poems that start in one place and before you know it you’re someplace else, and then you’re drawn back again. It’s very vertiginous.” Or as the Los Angeles Times puts it: “Fulton’s lyrics travel at startling velocity.”

Like the poems within it, the title of Felt has layers of metaphor. “One meaning is, of course, the past tense of feel, which was interesting because I had never allowed myself to write directly about emotion before,” she says. “I thought that might be too manipulative; emotion had always entered my work indirectly.” The title’s other meaning is the textile. “Felt is made by different fabrics becoming tangled or crushed together into a mass that can’t be unwoven,” she says. “It doesn’t unravel, even if you cut it. So it became a metaphor for human interconnectedness, for the way that everything is a part of everything else and how we can’t extricate ourselves from others.”

Alice Fulton will appear at the Newman Chapel + Cultural Center, Burdett Ave., Troy, on Tuesday (March 4) at 7:30 PM. The free reading will encompass an informal Q&A, followed by a book signing. For more information, call 274-7793.

—Ann Morrow

The Situationist

Among the collateral casualties of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were a number of artistic works that were held up, altered or shelved out of concern that their content might be considered inappropriate in the tragedy’s aftermath. Surely you recall the Clear Channel list of songs deemed too sensistive for radio airplay, or the fact that Spider-man had to be re-edited to excise a scene of the hero spinning a web between the Twin Towers. Locally, independent film company DMG Films postponed its premiere of Dean Giagni’s new short film The Situationist, in which the protagonist, artist/anarchist Winston Smith, attempts to redeem New York City by blowing it up piece by piece.

Conceived, written and filmed prior to 9/11, Giagni’s film draws perspective from the Internationale Situationniste movement of the ’60s, which did precipitate a general strike in France but obviously fell far short of its goal of a worldwide proletarian revolution before dissolving in 1972. In The Situationist, Smith attempts to merge art and life by creating chaos and destruction as he prepares to mount his new exhibit. With its premiere screening now slated for tonight (Thursday) at the Albany Public Library, the filmmakers—who have made no changes to the film’s content—have issued a statement assuring potential viewers that the material is presented “in a mature and thoughtful manner,” while also reminding them that the film is about a terrorist, and is for mature audiences only.

The Albany Independent Film Forum presents The Situationist tonight (Thursday, Feb. 27) at 7 PM at the Albany Public Library (161 Washington Ave.). The filmmaker will speak and answer questions following the screening. Free. Call 427-4300 for information.

Ellis Marsalis and Sons

Ellis Marsalis, New Orleans jazz pianist extraordinaire, is accompanied by his prodigiously successful sons on a new album—The Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration—and on a current concert tour of the United States and Canada. It doesn’t seem possible, but this is the first time that all musical members of this estimable family have toured together professionally. In August 2001, the elder Marsalis retired from teaching music at the University of New Orleans. The occasion was marked with an all-Marsalis family concert, which inspired the album project and tour.

What else but familial affection could bring such high-profile musicians together? Trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis is busy with his own band, not to mention his involvement with Jazz at Lincoln Center and work with music education. Saxman Branford Marsalis has his own band too, naturally, with a full schedule of recording and touring. Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis has a career as a producer, with more than 70 recordings to his credit, and drummer Jason Marsalis has been in various Latin fusion and traditional jazz ensembles. (There is one non-Marsalis in the group: bassist Reginald Veal. Wonder how that happened.)

This mini-tour of North America features only five stops stateside: Newark, Philadelphia, Syracuse, Boston and Schenectady. Who says the Capital Region isn’t special?

Ellis Marsalis and Sons will perform at Proctor’s Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady) tonight (Thursday, Feb. 27) at 8 PM. Tickets are $65, $50, and $30. For reservations and information, call 346-6204.


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