by Leonard Gill
Osing will be reading from the book at 6 p.m., and, though he's retired from the University of Memphis writing program, he's continued to publish his poetry widely. Carlson, retired too from teaching in the U of M's English department and creative writing program, wrote of the fishing life in Hatteras Blues a few years ago, but he's also engaged in printmaking and collage. His artwork showed up in Osing and Carlson's La Belle Dame (also from Spuyten Duyvil), but it's gyotaku he's turned to now.
Gyotaku? It's a form of printmaking once done by Japanese fishermen to record their catch and count of the day — prints of fish, using the fish itself, to capture eyes, fins, scales, and all. They're prints that have captured the imagination of Osing as well in "Gyotaku," one of two long poems he's written for Theaters of Skin:
"… And gyotakuists believe/ it's truly all in the skin, the way it lies/ full of life in the minimalist picture frame./ The ink is carboniferous, dyed, over which/ pressed rice paper registers everything."
Let Osing further explain his and Carlson's working together:
"I had been engaged in reading a good deal on the roles that horny but proper-with-money, imitation bourgeois men foisted on women. So we did a little collection of my dramatic monologues and Tom's collages, under the title La Belle Dame — Keats' famous poem, of course, whose title we borrowed with total irony. She is the forbidden perfection of art and for which the poet languishes and is held. 'We're caught in a trap, I can't get out, because I love you too much, baby,' as Elvis sang.
"Desire is the most manipulable human behavior. Commercials on TV, songs on the radio, billboards by the highway … so very much proffers wonderful sexual satisfactions, if only you'll buy this or that, do this or that. Your physical self is somehow just not yet adequate. It's a Calvinist nightmare. And they who meant to stifle the body and its thoughts have concluded by making us behave and obey the body for true fulfillment. The forbidden sensual becomes the commanded."
And Theaters of Skin?
"When Tom went into Japanese fish prints on rice paper, I went with it as possibly representing conflicts of interest between the skin — the outer life one might be obliged to live — and innermost being, which is the mind talking to itself."
Carlson, for his part, is somewhat more down-to-earth when asked about his collaborations with Osing, Theaters of Skin in particular:
"Two old-fogey professors who thought the retirement choice was either write books or make birdhouses" is how he described their working relationship. And he continued:
"I got interested in gyotaku, the ancient Japanese art of 'fish rubbing' — you buy a fish, cover it with printer's ink, place rice paper over it, and rub until the fish impression appears. Then you paint on it or whatever. I was fortunate to have access to the weirdest fish in the world at the Vietnamese market on Cleveland. It took awhile, but I got pretty good at it.
"Why am I doing collage, fish rubbings, etc.? I'm not sure. I worked with verbal things — teaching literature, writing — my whole career, and somehow I got rewired and am doing visual things. And I didn't want to build birdhouses." •