Saturday, July 31, 2010
The downside of Marcus is that he too frequently a lazy inquisitor of his materials, a maker of broad statements based on anecdotes, newspaper clippings, things he bookmarked or highlighted with yellow pen.The aggravation Marcus causes is easily seen in his book "Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads": he throws every wacky idea and reference he can at the slim information regarding the writing , recording and release of the Dylan... masterpiece, and seems curiously enfeebled in his attempt to make us think that the song is more than what it is. This habit, a trait a good editor would have blue penned out of existence, is what makes me loathe to think about how he'll come to treat the work of Van Morrison: a writer who is not satisfied to make their points, but rather to write a philosophy. Musicians are not politicians or philosophers, though, and Marcus is not Toynbee. The songs remain songs, bombast or no. As brilliant as any of the best art , literature and music in history, Marcus cannot get it straight that the masterpieces are the results, among many, froma cultural tumults, not the cause of them. You really can't blame academia for Marcus's increasingly dense meanderings, since even h...is glory days I always found him striving for the Grand Sweeping Statement. His problem is that he has never put forth a comprehensible thesis on which to hang his abstractions; he assumes , I think, that what he's getting at is implicit, and this causes him to skip over the niceties of making himself understood. Marcus is the victim of subject bloat, a malaise he's had since Rolling Stone. He does, as I said, still manage extended bits of insight in glorious prose--his talents are as a journalist, not a theorist.
As for Morrison, I agree wholeheartedly that Astral Weeks is a brilliant album. On the subject, though, he will be writing in the shadow of Lester Bangs, who's chapter in the "Stranded" anthology on the album, and particularly the song "Madame George", is one of the greatest pieces of emphatic,inspired, gorgeously rendered rock criticism of all time. It is a masterpiece of subjective criticism, something I would assign students to read along with examples of other brilliant critics like Manny Farber, Joyce Carole Oates,Randall Jarrell, Frank Rich (when he wrote theater reviews) and Gary Giddens. What I dread is that Marcus may consider himself in competition, Harold Bloom style, with the late Bangs and may attempt to top him with even grander , hastier effusions. Reading the new book will , as usual , a mixed bag of fresh fruit and stale donuts.See MoreThat being said, it is this determined wrong headedness that keeps me reading him and , in turn, keeps me thinking of new ways of complaining about his method.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
James Brown released an album decades ago who's title announced the 70's ethos in screaming , feel good disco beats:
"IT'S A BRAND NEW DAY, SO LET A MAN COME IN AND DO THE POP CORN!"Man oh man, I thought when I first came across that disc, flipping through albums at a Wherehouse Records somewhere in the San Diego beach area, this brother was about to implore us all to forget the past and to live for the moment and and create a path to a rosy picture but was overwhelmed, shoe-tips to fingered pinky, but a core primal nature the refused to let himself get preachy beyond a few monosyllables. Forget everything else, forget the revolution, the high interest on easy credit loans, the lack of money when the bills are paid, the unjust wars,the lack of gasoline, the ugliness of buildings staring down on your gaping mouth as you look up toward the cloud with the wondering of when will it rain money, it was time to dance, to frolic, to make the groove paramount in how one conducted themselves.
Dancing trumped every concern, and one didn't conduct themselves in any fashion, as that implies a measured, contrived and controlling manner of being in the world our spirits were forced to endure--it was a script, false, predictable, tested in the laboratories of predictability. James Brown always of using that microphone as a weapon when he was self-inducing one of his performance nervous breakdowns--right at the point when he was on his knees and his valet put the retirement cape over his shoulder--I'd seen this act a few times on television shows during the mid to late sixties--one wished he'd break the habit of the scripted break down and seize the moment with some genuine, crazed, hyena-eyed storm-bringing: GRAB THAT MICROPHONE AND SLAM THE BASE INTO THE VALET'S GUT! UTTER SOMETHING PROFOUND AND BASIC AND FREE OF VALUE TO AN AUDIENCE THAT EXPECTED TO BE ENTERTAINED IN ALL THE CONVENTIONAL DISGUISES FOR DISGUST.
Brothus and sistahs, wonez upon atime in a cassle so fine erwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwHHHHHHHHHHHgggggggggggggggggggggdigittty DooooRannnnnnygumption, yeahhhhhhhh, heh, hit me, hit me gain, up onna bridge, bidge, yassuh, a manz gotta slop sum stumbling facehangdown groanfactgor yassuh! Hitme again, yeabh ,babbybabybaby, eewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh, heh!"We might assume that there are cameras at this mythical point in JB's career, this point where his harnessed intensity broke beyond the conceretized limits of language and propriety and made him into a garroting example of what happens when the last brick finally falls from the last wall between chaos and organized ennui. The cameras would follow the crazed soul singer to the parking lot , where he screamed about magpies under a yellow, sodium street lamps. He would get into a car and then drive off , at once, at eighty, ninety, a hundred miles an hour, careening for a hundred miles, blasting the classical station and screaming the words of "It's a Man's World" while the static-prone station filtered a guitar quartet plucking out Bach organ solos while every abandoned furniture factory and machine shop in the Midwest sped by. State and local police, of course, were in close pursuit, and the result of all this confusion was a big dance party at the end of the highway, in the empty lot by the Piggly Wiggly and the TuVu Drive in, where Farrah Fawcett was on the screen in the film "Sunburn". The commotion, caused by car engines, car radios and James Brown screaming, yet again, into a bull horn about Teddy Kennedy and the Boat, caused the movie to burn and melt as it shown on the giant screen. Car horns galore blasted as drink cups and boxes of pop corn dotted the night sky.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
poems by Jeffrey Yang
ParrotfishThe life phases of a parrotfishare expressed in colors.By day,the parrotfish replenishes coral reefsands, and by night spinsits mucous cocooned-room. Is this art's archetypeabstracted from politics?Picasso thought abstraction a cul-de-sac. The CIA loved AbstractExpressionism. Hockney: "Idon't think that there is really such a thingas abstraction." Langer:"All genuine artis abstract."What do you think parrot-fish?
Monday, July 26, 2010
Sunday, July 25, 2010
It was perfect for the smoky ballrooms I went to in the late 60's, where the likes of Cream, Blue Cheer, Sir Lord Baltimore and Mountain belched, groaned and assaulted a beleaguered audience of addled brains with their instrumental abuse; on some nights the commotion and clamor reminded you more of a demolition derby instead of a unique engagement with a fleeting muse. Impact was more important than configuration.
Friday, July 23, 2010
In a poem that dealt , somewhat, with God and theology, I made reference to God's best ideas being "cloud bound"; a conservative on the board where I posted the verse took exception and proceeded to say all sorts of nasty things. This is a little bit of that exchange.
a glass of water
a pretense of rain
several men in a public bathroom stall
women named Jessee naming animals
toast, hot, buttered
no fuzzy dice
television with no sound
a handsome face moving its lips
no indirect route
a passenger seat
a broken window
the rock that broke the window.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Sunday, July 18, 2010
There is a good amount of log rolling here, with more than a clutch of poets intent on not giving away the game on which careers and reputations are built on, but one does admire the adroit skill that gets applied to the least interesting of the least tangible poems. What is even more interesting is that a good amount of the essays exclaiming the value of these poets under nominal review don't actually explain how the poets are successful at their tasks; more often we get an examination as to the poet's intention, and then a long run in eloquence describing results that I , for one, rarely witness.
I ought not generalize too much poets remarking on the work of other poets, since there is a difference between actual criticism-- evaluation based on close inspection--and the sort of careerist suck-upping one finds on the back of new books. There is the idea that some wag had put forwarded about poets who put forth their own theories about they and their associates do; the theory is more interesting than the poetry it discusses. It is, often enough, more poetic.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Impatience , though, implies something like film maker jump cuts, the jagged, abrupt , yammerng intrusion of one thought upon another, the overlay of images and opinions, the irrational mixing of personal history and visual detail from the present moment: the effect should be one similar to walking into a room where radio, CD players, televisions, internet and cell phones are all blaring at once, at full volume, with the same shrill , monotonous insistence. Shapiro's poem sags under the weight of a conventional narrative construction, weighed down with a string of specifics that kill the sensation:
Not gone, not here, a fern trace in the stone
of living tissue it can quicken from;
or the dried–up channel and the absent current;
or maybe it's like a subway passenger
on a platform in a dim lit station late
at night between trains, after the trains have stopped—
ahead only the faintest rumbling of
the last one disappearing, and behind
the dark you're looking down for any hint
of light—where is it? why won't it come? You
wandering now along the yellow line,
restless, not knowing who you are, or where,
until you see it; there it is, at last
approaching, and you hurry to the spot
you don't know how you know is marked
for you, and you alone, as the door slides open
into your being once again my father,
my sister or brother, as if nothing's changed,
as if to be known were the destination.
Where are we going? What are we doing here?
You don't ask, you don't notice the blur of stations
we're racing past, the others out there watching
in the dim light, baffled,
who for a moment thought the train was theirs.
This is more an impatient explanation by the poet of what he was trying to do with the poem than it is an a particular set of impressions of standing alone on a train station platform as thoughts invade awareness and then recede. The not so faint shadow of Hamlet attempting to speak to the ghost of his slain father isn't far off, and the poem suggests that a good many of us have incomplete conversations with our dead parents or spouses that we find ourselves conducting when the real world obligations are, for the moment, done with. But for all the emphasis on what rattles in the brain when it's tired and feeling rushed, the poem doesn't convince me. The writing sounds rushed, though, and in fact feels more like a convenient and easy to contrive self-dramatization than anything composed with assurance.
Where is the feeling of the world falling in? The nausea of the ground giving way under your feet? The lightheadedness when , in public, a host of repressed emotion and unresolved issues press upon you suddenly, severely, mercilessly? What's missing is the alienation effect, the familiar "made strange", in Bakhtin's phrase; the trains, the buildings, the cars passing by should be bereft of their normal assurances, including the easily conveyed sense of melancholy; this is a world that should seem, at least for the moment, possessed and defined by the dead. Shapiro, however, uses them as props instead to reinforce a conventional poetic sensibility, and misses a chance to write something genuinely strange and memorable.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Ergo, another poem about poetry, or worse, a poem about being not being able to write a poem; this is a poem about the writer's impotence to get to the heart of the things that make up his world, those things no human , motivated by imagination and the imperatives of free will, had a hand in designing, constructing, arranging in situ. The imagination is reserved, finally, for creating a mythology for how all these things arrived in the states and ethereal essences that are their allure--the narratives of what is already visible, complete, and unto themselves. Myths, poems, epic dramas used to be the way we explained to ourselves the formations, disruptions, and inevitable continuity of the world, that a creation of metaphorical structures could link us to a grand design greater than ourselves; our task was to abide by the revealed law of the poetically evoked and make our place within the narration.
Science , though, has hollowed out the myth, made the metaphors mechanical, reduced mystery to the level of the lost cell phone we will eventually find if we look hard enough. We know the connections between natural phenomenon, we realize the power of metaphor exists only in the arenas where the concrete facts and their theories are unknown, unimagined. So the metaphors are empty and the poet realizes he has no power to contain even the contents of his perception, and he stops writing and seeks rather to vanish back into the library to lick his wounds with another poem that confirms the sheer futility of being a poet in the first place. This poem is a stinker, a dishonest, whining stinker.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Now we find out from Salon that the comedian has turned into a right wing hate monger. He has found new things to smash with that sledge, ie, Obama, lesbians, Muslims, illegal immigrants, the unemployed. Who would have thought the Tea Baggers would need yet another comedian to mouth their confused crib sheet of screaming points?
Gallagher always seemed like he had a lifetime supply of bus tokens to Crazy Town even when he was in the mainstream of American comedy. Now that he's a foaming hate monger only makes him a more grotesque version of what's always been, an odd, strident, unfunny attention seeker. He is the guy we all know who wants to be famous no matter what it takes; smashing watermelons used to do it, and now he thinks he's upped his game by bringing talk radio into his repertoire. I suppose he's maneuvering to replace Dennis Miller on Fox News as their resident hack comedian yock monger, or perhaps a position on Andrew Breitbart's board of policy advisors. Should he get a job with Breitbart, I hope he can adapt to the company uniform, clown shows and a big red nose.
Friday, July 2, 2010
The Day Lady Died
by Frank O'Hara
It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me
I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness
and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it
and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing.This is New York City from the eyes, ears and walking feet of a man who knows the city and loves the many distractions and cluttered blocks of relentless activity, the commotion and hustle to get from one place to another. It is, of course, a poem of some knowledge and emotional response being contained under the surface, but when he arrives at the 5 Spot and listens to Mal Waldron open up on the piano, all the facts hit him in a hard rush. Billie Holiday, the singer who's experience-cracked voice could unlock the buried emotions of listeners all over the world, has died sadly, and O'Hara's response, deferred in the noise and hustle of city life, comes at him at last, as Mal Waldron plays, the truth comes out; he cannot listen to his beloved jazz quite the same as he had . (I; had the pleasure of listening to Mal Waldron perform live--he is an outstanding musician).
Balakian's narrative is longer, the effect is more accumulative than O'Hara's grief epiphany. There is the same set of distractions and sights the poet travels through to his destination, but while O'Hara seemed to be trying to sustaining a buoyant optimism, the events in Balakian's line are shaded with hints of a gathering melancholy, a sad state of affairs about to be revealed:
wanted to buy the Frankenthaler, a modest, early print,
minimal, monochromatic; surface and perspective in dialogue;
on 24th off 10th –the gallery still smelled like wood and plaster—
but I didn't stop, and when the train reached the Stock Exchange
the Yom Kippur streets were quiet, and the bronze statue of Washington
was camouflaged by national guard. I was walking my old mail route now
like a drunk knocking into people, almost hit by a cab
until the roped-off streets cut me at the arm.
It's hard to take in the sites and attractions of a city when you happen upon the site of the worst domestic terrorist attack in American history. There is numbness, a nagging sense that all the galleries, restaurants and marvels of classical architecture that New York City is famous for are no longer significant in dimensions that make our humanity seem insignificant, a lust shared by Ayn Rand and Albert Speers
At Broadway and Liberty
the fences wound around the bursts of dust rising
over the cranes and bulldozers, over the punched-out windows—
I stared through a piece of rusted grid that stood like a gate to the crystal river.
I was sweating in my sweatshirt now, the hood filling with soot,
as I watched with others drinking Cokes and eating their pizza of disbelief.
Zero began with the Sumerians who made circles with hollow reeds
in wet clay and baked them for posterity.
At Broadway and Liberty. At 20 floors charred and standing.
At miasma people weeping. Anna's Nail Salon, Diakichi Sushi,
the vacant shops, stripped clean in the graffiti of dust-coated windows.
Something blasted from a boom box in a music store,
something, in the ineffable clips of light,
disappeared over the river.
In another context "pizzas of disbelief" would be a perfect phrase to use when ironic whimsy is the mood, but it fits here beautifully, a skillful detail illustrating the silent, choking grief as the process of cleaning up the carnage of ground zero proceeds; the chaotic clamour and ecstatic in-your-face atmospherics that make O'Hara's New York so appealing from the outset of his poem, until the brilliant timed emotional collapse of the last line, becomes, in Balakian's poem, the groan, crash and hammering of a city laboring to bring itself together after an unimaginable calamity; the life of the city goes on after the loss of thousands of lives because it has to, and amid the cramped genius that is New York City a collective despair falls on those day timers who watch in various states of lingering shock. The mania of "The Day Lady Died", but without the ecstatic propulsion brings to his mean streets; O'Hara gives a picture of himself when he isn't poised or positioned to the talkative life of the party continually ranting about the genius that live in Manhattan. His shell has cracked, and even the sweetness of city life cannot keep him aloft. Balakian's narrator, I think, isn't trying to sustain any illusion of being up or feeling honored to be in a world class city--all else is scenery and distraction that must fade from concern until one contemplates the very air that incredibly, brutally changed around them.
Yes, one might say, we are clawing our way from under this rubble, but where are we going?