Sunday, August 29, 2010

What Walt Whitman did



Loathe him or not, Walt Whitman heightened our sense of the spoken word and prepared the ground of poetry that would slough off the tired, oppressive, once-revolutionary techniques of generations past. Whitman's reputation rests on perhaps a few dozen poems from the thousands he wrote , butand it is those few dozen poems that galvanized generations after him to set their own terms, standards, conditions. it is that latter tradition that got my attention, and it is the one that recognized the musical power of a cadence not so contrived in it's elevated aspiration. I can understand an appreciation of the old masters --Shakespeare and Shelley knock me out each time I consider their work--but I prefer a poetry that is involved in the current zeitgeist and which conceives a sense of wonder (above and beyond what mere senses alone can convey) that is not merely a grandiloquent
nostalgia.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Power Lunch

Lets meet each other
between the pauses
and stammers of our speech,

reach across a stable table
we've yet to spill drinks upon,

all these years we've been
walking in and out of
each other's dreams
and we still can't see
the moon nor the sun
we we most need them,

we can't argue with a map,
we cannot shake a finger at a class ring,
we shouldn't discuss the soup we cannot reheat,

I will put down my phone
and walk five hundred miles

If you lay down your laptop
and sing like you used to, 
 it will a bag lunch over the expressway,
soda and pocket pitas on  a pedestrian bridge
enclosed in steel netting,
old times and short laughs
watching cars drive to smoke stacks around the bend.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Pocket" by Matthew Zapruder


This seems to be more chatter than literature, more posing than poetry, seeming to be an appealing cross between Billy Collins and John Ashbery. I mention Collins because there is the inordinate concern from the author with his position among a set of everyday items he finds himself among, and Ashbery adds the spice of indecisiveness; the narrator's mention of a hard , tangible thing introduces a new thought.


That new thought circumvents a monologue on the previous set of particulars that might have been interrogated by the poet's wit, and so forth. Pocket, in essence, is an effective, if not so tidy metaphor for what a pocket actually contains--the wallet, the rubber bands, the loose coins and alien scraps of paper and mystery material, the lighters, the keys, the cell phones, the comb with the clumps of matted hair; all are things that have only one thing in common, a pocket they've been crammed into and retrieved from, an accident of unpurposed circumstance. Poets, however, are the culture's engines for meaning creation, making a connection through narrative invention the as-yet unperceived connections between things that otherwise haven't a relation other than location and ownership.


Zapruder approaches this subject not as a treatise on the pocket, but rather an impressionistic evocation of it being a negative space, a black hole of a kind, a place where stray things get crammed until a further determination is made, a fate that usually winds up being the loose change dish, the file cabinet, the desk drawer, or the trash can. This winds up being a clever, chatty analogy for human consciousness itself; our waking lives are operated as a place where experience is crammed , willy nilly, into an infinite closet where what we've done, tasted, gone is all stored in no discernible pattern but who's culminating weight eventually demands witness and explanation. Zapruder's bemused pocket philosopher begins to speak of and muse about pockets and their contents, but his attention is distracted to something else he his reminded of, a sight or a sensation of scant relation to his starting premise.


I like the word pocket. It sounds a little safely
dangerous. Like knowing you once
bought a headlamp in case the lights go out
in a catastrophe. You will put it on your head
and your hands will still be free. Or
standing in a forest and staring at a picture
in a plant book while eating scary looking wild flowers.
Saying pocket makes me feel potentially
but not yet busy. I am getting ready to have
important thoughts. I am thinking about my pocket.
Which has its own particular geology.
Maybe you know what I mean. I mean
I basically know what's in there and can even
list the items but also there are other bits
and pieces made of stuff that might not
even have a name. Only a scientist could figure
it out. And why would a scientist do that?
He or she should be curing brain diseases
or making sure that asteroid doesn't hit us.
Look out scientists! Today the unemployment rate
is 9.4%. I have no idea what that means.


I have no idea what that means, he says, and still he goes on to the point of exhaustion,  talking as the details of old thoughts and half memories occur to him; there is a Beckett-like element here, the need to speak and create in words the objects that no longer reflect the good graces of personality or resonate with one's history in a community. One's words, in essence, are bricks in a wall  against the yawning dread of being an anonymous cipher; in a way, this monologue is a way for one to announce that one has arrived, one has been here, one does not wish to be anonymous after decades of struggle and argument .What I enjoyed here is the notion is that the narrator is talking over himself, interrupting his own narrative. This is thinking unmoored and rudderless, without a sail in the stream of conscious. Where the focused writer excludes particular facts and associations on a subject and selects those materials that are germane to an argument that's already formed (or for which there is a formula one tries to follow), Zapruder's is stuck trying to talk about everything that comes to him before he fades himself; there is rather nice line at the end of the poem, of the black box beeping for attention at the bottom of the allegorical sea the airplane has crashed into.


some little of this work resembles the masterful associative drift of John Ashbery, but it would be another New York Poet, Frank O'Hara, that Zapruder has a closer kinship with. Like O'Hara, Zapruder's narrators are alert and lively in their being in the world; they share the same intention of responding to their experience as it unfolds. Zapruder,though, is more meditative, though, and figures less to form a a full fledged tale, as O'Hara was able to do, and instead produce a college effect , with elements both sublime, banal and even ridiculous finding a footing in the same sentences, a gesture made plausible by an internal punning. The names of things are parsed, the definitions are said aloud, something else comes to mind, a segue is created to keep the music going. There is an improvisational element in the poems, and and there is much to recommend to Zapruder's particular ear for assembling a nonlinear discourse with oddments that do not jar or clash without a satisfying effect. There is , I suppose, the need for some readers to demand conventional metrics, rhymes and devices as a means to have poems conform to a role of explaining or reaffirming an abstract and usually wistful notions of something Perfect and True behind the appearance of things.


The pocket, the consciousness, the deep and limitless sea, all repositories of things that are crammed, stored, secreted away under cramped covers, limitless lost things with stories that have stories we imagine that we're required to tell. Poetry, chief among our narrative methods, can only tell so much until we become part of the accumulated backlog . We cannot tell these stories quickly enough, we don't have enough time nor people to listen to what we've done and what we think about it all. And our cell phones are beeping, people calling with news they just have to share with us, this moment, right now.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's a gas, gas, gas

This is what you get when you give a Rolling Stones classic some real vocal fire power. Thelma Huston's gospel-edged rendering lifts the song from the back alley , saloon slurring that made Jagger's original a masterpiece of bottle cap fatalism; Houston's sonic wail is transcendence over tough details. Jagger seems stylishly situated in his droogy ways. Houston is empowered by her survival and goes onto the next level, someplace other than the neighborhood that did her ill. 


Her accelerated interpretration aligns her in spirit with the John D.Loudermilk song "Tobacco Road" (and the same named Erskine Caldwell novel) , where the narrator has become stronger for the travils visited upon her (or him) , that they will leave the place of their birth and brutalized upbringing in order to  make a fortune, and then return with a  wrecking ball and a blow torch. Houston might not be that vindictive, but she does seem just as motivated as the protagonist in the Loudermilk song.


The funny thing about 'Tobacco Road", though, is that best known versions, by the Nashville Teens and Edgar Winter's White Trash, undercut the emphatic rage of the lyrics. The Nashville Teens, from England,  sound like a bunch of mumbling , pre--droogy  proto slackers who radiate a slump shouldered uninterest in expressing their emotions, let alone articulating their desires of revenge . The Edgar Winter version highlights the band leader scat-screaming , weaving his histronic garble with the blues-bronchitis rasping of co-lead singer Jerry LaCroix; it's a drawn-out, in concert performance that is about as evocative as the typical drum solo by a third billed band at the Sports Arena during the Seventies.
Perhaps there's an unreleased Thelma Houston version of the song locked in a vault that might yet make the light of day. It should be said here that I prefer Houston's version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" to Aretha Franklin's version, recorded some years later.  The dancer in this video, of course, are absurd and unfunky.

Thelma Houston appearing on the British television show "The Price of Fame" sings "Jumpin' Jack Flash", which she recorded on her classic album "Sunshower". The album was produced and arranged by Jimmy Webb and released on Dunhill Records in 1969. This was Thelma's first solo album before signing wi...




Monday, August 23, 2010

2 movies, 1 song

Following



The first film by Christopher Nolan, this has the out-of-sequence narrative style of "Momento", detailing, in a notably shattered way, the intensely strange relationship between a would-be writer, desperate for things to write about, and a professional burgler. While the viewer has a task assembling a linear storyline from the piecemeal details offered, the movie is compulsively watchable, and there is a sense of a the "normal" everyman being seduced by a bad influence and used as means to achieve dishonorable ends. Well done.

______

Apocalypse Now Redux

This is one of the most problematic of American movies, a long, grandiose piece of pseudo-philosophy imposed on a concise, lyrically morality tale by Joseph Conrad Despite the flaws, the gaping gaps in narrative logic, this film displays much brilliance;while the film doesn't hang together as a coherent narrative, it does have more memorable, quotable set pieces than any film released in the last fifty years. The release of the "Redux" version got my attention because one of my college professors, Jean Pierre Gorin, worked on a particular section of the film, not used in the first release, concerning a French plantation who's owners considered their land French soil. As featured in "Redux" it was flat and talky, really nothing more than a long monologue on the history of Western interference in South Asian affairs, an erstwhile defense of Imperialism; the cast, eating dinner while the owner prates on, looks dumbfounded and without the slightest idea of what they're doing. Additional footage with the Playboy Bunnies offer up some callow laughs, but the gaiety , I think, is more from relief the added tedium ; I think Coppola and his editors came as close to the best version of the acknowledged mess they had to deal with as anyone has a right to expect.

___________


Dirty Work
Steely Dan


This is the song that says everything you wanted to say at the end of a relationship that ends poorly, what you would have said had you thought of it at the time.Nothing inspires like a love affair gone sour; Elvis Costello and Amiee Mann are examples of writers who do terrific work when an ex puts the hurt on them. It makes for more memorable tunes than what Joni Mitchell does, who's relationships, according to her career narrative, just kind of end for no reason just as her songs just seem to go on, with no justification.It's an experience everyone has, and it's a condition that transcends differences. When it comes to getting your heart broken, we all have a story to tell.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Crabby Hermit


Gail Mazure loves the telling detail in her poetry, a quality that can make for an intense reading of somone linking  the fluidity of experience with the  silent witness of inanimate things that happen to trigger an associating spree. She fares less well with  "Hermit". One of her shortcomings as a writer is a tendency to prattle; we witness a strenuous comparison of human habits and the observed , repetitive activities of species of crab in their natural environment. It's been remarked too many times that the act of perceiving something changes the nature of the thing being studied, and here I'd had have to reason that the intent hasn't anything to do with the crabs and more do with the convenient wallow that are the poet's projected short comings. The title is the tip off, and the punch line comes at you too soon, too often, over to great a length.

One might note the digressions and find wonder in how she deliberates on Aristotle and the ancient Greeks who first syllogized about their place in the world of appearances but the effect here is drift. There is awareness that the poet tends to imbue the natural realm with characteristics mirroring concepts one identifies human activity with, but this stepping back from the metaphorical apparatus originally mounted in place serves only, I think, to introduce more intellectual clutter, that crabs are actually subject to Darwin's terms of natural selection.

The irony is something you see coming right at you, conspicuous as a Barnum and Baily clown on a Wall Street trading floor; it is not the hermit crab that resembles human, but the rather the reverse. All of the things like emotion, poetry, philosophical speculation might merely be expressions of species behavior who's base motives are to feed, propagate, survive. Arriving at this point is not unlike listening to a bad joke a hundredth time from a friend who can't remember that you've already heard it, a hundred times.But we arrive at punchlines again; they ought to be efficient, quick, punchy. The good poet knows when to stop.  One elaboration is too many , and a thousand is not enough.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Some notes

An associate was recently doing his best to demean and diminish the status of literary critics at recent pot lock I happened upon. He pointed me towards a computer monitor and told me the address of his book blog. His most recent post was basically the same rant he was delivering at the party I quote him thus:

Academics determine what is taught, but they do not determine what is "literary". Literary, like language, is determined by use.

Use by critics among others, I think, not the general readership alone. Books can have an extraordinary appeal to a vast public, and it is among the critics tasks to study what the basis of the appeal might be, and then to make distinctions among the elements, to give or detract value to specific works, their genre, and techniques. A concept of "literature", a kind of writing that does the reader a tangible good with a malleable knowledge that can be applied to one's life with good effect, is a creation of a university system where critics had to justify the systematic study of poetry, fiction and drama. The literary criteria has since trickled down to the larger, popular discussions among the public, not the other way around.


Academics hardly try to eliminate works from the ranks of literature: more often than not, the aim is to bring works into the fold, though no one, whatever degrees they do or do not hold, will ever be convinced that the mass and popular use of Danielle Steele will confer upon her literary qualities that will have her stock rise amongst academics, critics, what have you. This is an activity that comes from a critical discourse that makes such a conversation possible beyond a popularity contest.It's not that the best criticism claims to create the things that makes writing ascend to greatness, but only that it gives those things names that make them comprehensible to a larger, curious audience. But the terms are not locked, not fixed: literature changes given the changes in the world its writers confront, and so the terms of discussion change to, lagging, perhaps, a bit behind the curve. It's less that descriptions of literature fail, but instead are forever incomplete.


Literature, by whatever definition we use, is a body of writing intended to deal with more complex story telling in order to produce a response that can be articulated in a way that's as nuanced as the primary work, the factors that make for the "literary" we expect cannot be reducible to a single , intangible supposition. Use is a valuable defining factor, but the use of literature varies wildly reader-to-reader, group-to-group, culture-to-culture, and what it is within the work that is resonates loudly as the extraordinary center that furnishes ultimate worth, varies wildly too; there are things that instigate this use, and they aren't one determinant, but several, I suspect. A goal of criticism, ultimately, is not to create the terms that define greatness, but to examine and understand what's already there, and to devise a useful, flexible framework for discussion. Ultimately, the interest in useful criticism is in how and why a body of work succeed or fail in their operation, not establishing conditions that would exist before a book is written.

Myths, as well anyone can describe them, are working elements of our personal and social psychology, and whose elements are "modernized"-- better to say updated -- as a matter of course. Declaring a goal to make them relevant to the slippery degree of modernist convention sounds is an insight best suited for a Sunday book review.




Jung and Campbell are ahead on that score, and Eliade certainly stresses the relevance of mythic iconography strongly enough: current gasbag extraordinaire Harold Bloom advances the case for mythic narrative ,-- borrowed in part from Northrop Frye (my guess anyway) -- in the guise of literature, constructs the psychic architecture that composes our interior life, individually and as member of a greater set of links: the stuff helps us think ourselves, personalities with an unsettled and unfastened need for a center aware of its adventures in a what comes to be , finally, an unpredictable universe.

Bloom argues, somberly, that Shakespeare is the fount from which mythic forms find a contemporary set of metaphors that in turn became the basis for our modern notion of dramatic conflict, and argues that Freud's genius lies not in his scientific discoveries, but for the creation of another complex of metaphors that rival Shakespeare's for dealing with the mind's nuanced and curious assimilation of experience, the anxiety of influence in action, as process, and not an intellectually determined goal to navigate toward. The point is that modernization of myth is something that is that is already being done, a continuous activity as long as there are people on this planet...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Grating American Novelist

Time magazine has Jonathan Franzen on its cover, declaring him as an Great American Novelist. Notice how they side a troublesome tiff by not citing him as The Great American Novelist; the equivocation avoids a snarling morass of complaints from every contentious page boy with a BA in Literature who are compelled to snark regardless of the validity of a sweeping statement. Franzen is one among a few (or one among many, depending on how charitable you feel like being) Great American Novelists. The problem, of course, is that Time has decided to write about one novelist, one who made headlines when his novel The Corrections was an Oprah book club selection who then caused a ruckus when he remarked that he thought that , to paraphrase, that his novel was of a better grade than her regular picks. That made headlines, and Franzen walked back his caustic comments, doubtless at the insistence of publisher,publicists and agents , a lot that are assigned to sell books, low brow or lower. Franzen looked ridiculous and spineless, which confirmed my opinion of The Corrections,  foot dragging comedy , pockmarked with a surfeit of "literary" sentences that were with lyric lift or keen on insight.Franzen is a good, but not a great American novelist; he is , rather, John Cheever crossed with Robbe-Grillet, and reading him and his sufferings, real and fictional, is less inviting than having Charles Manson as your barber. The best I can say about Franzen is that he writes inordinately well for the little he actually has to say.



Blank Villianelle by Ron Spalletta

Reflective grief forces language to cut the losses incurred by smoldering metaphors that oftentimes confuse instead of clarify the ache of loss. It seems to be the case that in time of pouring over the memories and mementos of who was here and what they said and what they left behind after their passing creates an ache that is sometimes described as a wind whistling through a hole in your gut. In my case, it is the feeling of quite suddenly feeling that the floor beneath me had given way and that the only thing that was certain was the abyss that awaited me, something I would imagine feeling should I ever be in an elevator when the cable snapped. It is , in essence, the sharp fact that something has been removed from your life that cannot be replaced.  Ron Spalletta's poem, Blank Villianelle,  seems a perfect expression from someone attempting to put into words the combination of emotion and texture that is the grain of recollection; what comes to the tongue is the filtered essence of details that might otherwise overwhelm you . It has an articulate bluntness that desires not to be mistaken for anything other than a representation of the dull, sad ache of sadness.
Blank Villianelle
for Patricia

As long as you want
almost never is
as long as you want,


or it is much longer.
He will not live
as long as you want,


but his forgetfulness
will last as long as memory,
as long as you. Want,


at once desire and privation,
is the work of his disease.
As long as you want
him, you return to watch hours
unravel. Are they hard as yours,
as long? As you want




to let go of the ghost,
you say "but I'll stay
as long as you want,
as long as you want."


People don't live forever in our memories because those with the memories don't live forever, a knowledge that is at the core of all our grieving  and drives us to move on, to the next stage in our own journeys. Promises made, kept, betrayed, a set of agreements, pacts, shared secrets upset by intervening mortality; this is the moment one would realize that one chooses to live in the present tense because there is no other way to negotiate that hard corners of a life intended to achieve and grow, and that the regret of how we've conducted ourselves up to the fateful moment is an irony that seems inevitable. It seems a condition of living with the capacity to use language as the buffer against the panic a random universe creates. But as authors of our own fate, we realize, finally, slowly, that the story ends only when the author drops the pen . The story, of course, will be picked up by someone else who will mistake the particulars as their own,  therefor original.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Open Reading

(None of this happened.-tb)
Grank stared at the microphone that was staring back at him, and as his eyes adjusted t the dark, he could see a room full of hooded, shaved, tattooed and love starved waifs and curbside geniuses looking at him, clutching notebooks of assorted thicknesses, scraps of paper, waiting their turn on stage, waiting to see what he had. Grank tugged at his collar, dropped his neatly typed sheets, and began to rant. Horrible feedback washed up to the stage from the coffee bar. Grank made the most of the vibe he’d been given.


“SWEEET NUTZOID NAZI CURLING IRON





MAKES MY BLOOD GROWN WAN AND PALE
MEANING BUSH AND CHENEY UP TO NO GOODNESS GRACES,
LOOK HOW UGLY YOUR FACE IS,
ALL WE HAVE IS EACH OTHER
AND THAT’S LONELY SIDE OF SLABBING TRUTH
THAT GETS MY HANDS TITHER AND WITHER AND GRITHER
IN GRITS AND CROCERIES, ALL I SAY IS UP THE SYSTEM
AND FIGHT THE POWER
DON’T BE SO SOUR
YEAH, MY BALLS ARE SOUR,
JUST GIMMEE SOME TRUTH
OR ELSE LEAVE ME BE
WHAT IT IS
WITH MY RAZR MESSAGING UNIT,
ALL RIGHT??”

Grank was in a trance, raised his arms as if receiving great wisdom from cloud gods watching from just above the whirling ceiling fan that only seemed to make the coffeehouse hotter, he was in the groove , he had the √©lan from Ceylon, he was indeed the PaduchaBazooka©, and as he lowered his arms and raised his head, ready to open his eyes and witness the stunned silence that was is genius’ calling card, something struck him in the head. He opened his eyes in time to see a coffee mug come flying at him and then feel it , painfully, smash him in the nose. Then someone hit in the back of the head with the microphone stand. His eyes were closed again as he collapsed to the stage and curled into a ball as the steel toed tips of a dozen Doc Martin boots dug their treaded thickness into his ribs.

“Your poetry poetry blows donkey dongs in H-E- DOUBLE HOCK STICKS” someone screamed before they kicked Grank in the head.

“Tough crowd” was what Amos said as he leaned over the table to make the remark to Shelltone. Shelltone closed her notebook and took a sip of her Hammerhead.
“Yeah, these Fray guys are a real tense bunch”.

“Uh huh” said Amos, who then arose to get his licks in.

Ted stood up rather abruptly and critiqued the poem from his table. He knocked his cup over the manuscript he brought with him.


"Transcendent of post-Objectivist language obsession and locked in a Central Modernist tonality that bridges the outer edges of lesser avant gard traditions that emerged in urban centers at the end of the last century. One would be better off reciting a calculus equation or making the case for Don Blanding's pre-rigored corpus than putting with with this serpentine nonsense." The crowd applauded and

Geoff yelled "Go!"

And then the sun exploded.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The assassin left his bullets on the breakfast counter

Someone named Anis Shivani got some column space on the Huffington Post web site for one of those grousing name-writer round ups in which the erswhile essayist attempts to consign his choices to the gaping dustin of history. The piece on the 15 Most Overrated American Writers  has entertainment value, to be sure, and the intent is provoke an argument  with large number of readers. We are in time of of blogs and
well written, if unexceptional views--some opinions, like some novels, are more interesting than others from the chorus. Shivani has standards, he has tastes, he has grievences. Welcome to the club.

An interesting read, although I have to say that the summaries of the respective writer's sins are hasty and owe much to what others have remarked; the comments on Vollman and Ashbery are evidence of contempt without much inspection of the work. As for Collins, Gluck, Grahame, more or less spot on; being easily understood or hard-to-get are successful only if you're a good writer with a surface quality that makes the respective obviousness or obliqueness worth the time to read them.Well, it is bullshit, and it's a practice that goes back aways in our contemporary literary history. Mailer wrote "Some Children of the Goddess" and "Quick and Expensive Comments on the Talent in the Room" where he spoke of his contemporary...es--Jones, Styron, Updike, Burroughs--in mostly dour terms, the main being, it seems, that they all, excepting Burroughs, liked genius. Gore Vidal opined on a host of PoMo writers like DeLillo and Pynchon in his essay "American Plastic", which had nothing nice to say about the youngsters taking up the pencil. Tom Wolfe wrote a manifesto after he published "Bonfire of the Vanities", saying we need a return to the Social Novel, and that He, Tom Wolfe, was the novelist to show everyone how. Jonathan Franzen, Dale Peck and a host of others have written minor key manifestos of their own to varying degrees of response.

What they have in common, this five decade self indulgence, is that no one, no where writes very well, and what gets said is an assemblage of straw arguments, points that once may have been salient at one time but are now so hackneyed and over repeated that the description is even more formula and stale than the writing their trying to be a corrective to. The targets are indeed too easy in this piece, with the intent seeming to be more to insult book sellers than to give a heads up to unsuspecting readers or to Speak Truth to Power. Shivani sounds like an addled bookseller himself, becoming ...uncorked at a store party after he's heard one more boilerplate praise for a so-so writer. It's a small world with a circuitous stock of conversation topics; the problem with being a bookseller , if Shivani did, in fact, ever happen to be one, is that one reads to keep pace of who's new on the scene; you tend to stop reading for pleasure.

This was my experience when I worked at Warwick's Bookstore in LaJolla, California, when I was reading up to four novels a week; power down, develop a sales pitch and a shelf-talker blurb, go on to the next book. After I left, I stopped reading fiction and read history and criticism instead, saying absolutely rude things about those I had previously praised, all these up and coming scribes. My remarks were, of course, unfair and bitter, and so I suspect that Shivani is a similar state of detox. It would have been more interesting if he'd gone after some recently deceased writers with big reputations--Norman Mailer, John Updike, David Foster Wallace--or had tackled living writers who are frequently mentioned in articles as naturals for the Nobel Prize for Literature, like DeLillo, Joyce Carole Oates, Philip Roth. The collective reps are a hornet's nest of contention, to which Shivani's remarks would have been more compelling , given the enormity of that suggested task.The Huffington Post squib, alas, was too easy to write, too, too easy to assemble. Something braver would have made the diversion more memorable.

Friday, August 6, 2010

History stammers when it repeats itself



U.S.!
a novel by Chris Bachelder



Chris Bachelder is a lovable prankster who likes to turn the nicely fitting glove of literature inside out. while the rest of us are looking for meanings and various forms of significance in the interior decorating of conventional fictional devices--to this day, we all yearn to have poets and novelists to tell us The Truth-- Bachelder prefers to spray paint on the props and show us the cluttered backstage of these settings. And better yet, he rather likes in tying the shoelaces together of the pompous, the serious, the bizarrely sanctimonious. "U.S.!" has him imagining a world where the true believers in an American Socialist Revolution manage, through some vaguely revealed ritual of magic realism, to bring the dead activist novelist Upton Sinclair back to life; back to life the poor, steadfast, solemn socialist does, looking increasingly awful and putrid at the edges, going on the lecture trail, writing and publishing more of his cardboard narratives, trying to convince an amazingly uninterested citizenry the exact nature of what's killing them. Nothing comes of this, as expected, and the intrepid Lewis finds himself talking himself hoarse , only to find himself being killed violently and then ingloriously resurrected yet again. A surreal fish-out-of-water story, Bachelder has a perfect ear for duplicating the static prose of the late novelists, and excels at demonstrating the striking contrasts between those who think that literature can make populations shed their entrenched and deeply rooted versions of Bad Faith and rise to the selfless cause of The Common People; this is a story of where the idea of the progression of history toward a final and just time, intersects with a culture where history does not end anywhere at all. Rather, it splits off into many tributaries, a crossroads every five metaphorical miles.Upton  Sinclair , tragicomic figure he is, stops at each of them, scratching his head as to which road to take

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

L.A.CONFIDENTIAL

I had the good fortune of seeing this film for the fourth time last night, and I remain with my opinion that this is one of the finest American movies of the last fifty years. If nothing else, director and co-writer Curtis Hanson has turned an dense James Ellroy novel (who's en-jambing attempts to make his fiction seem to the reader that they're actually in the mind of problematic crime fighters makes him unreadable)l into a riveting crime drama. In the midst of a ...city defined by corruption, three cops of varied circumstances find their duty-bound moral centers.The performances of Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey and Guy Pearce are perfectly defined in their respective moments-of-clarity, those culminating incidents that make the jaded, cynical and brutish personalities find common cause in the murders they're trying to solve , and their resolution to discover and reveal the truth regardless of personal consequences, are nuanced and work wonderfully off of each other.There is not a hint of showboating, scene chewing, or mulled over mannerisms.

Dark, serious, peppered with a bitter wit, this film as well has a terrific look, from the editing , which is smooth and seamless , to the photography, which sustains the dark noir tradition while not slavishly trying to recreate the classic look of older films. The dark color scheme and the night lighting in this movie are gorgeous, a glorious thing to see in a macho drama where three hard headed alpha males breakthrough the confines of ego and pride and commit themselves to something bring their skewed universe into balance.

Best yet, Hanson does not attempt to make the resolution too pretty, too Hollywood typical; the carnage, killing and generation of misery that had to be gone in this quest for a simulacra of justice remains conspicuous : the racism , misogyny and homophobia that inhabit this world do not vanish, feelings between offended and offenders are not salved; Los Angeles in the late Fifties remains a corrupt cesspool, with just a hint of  any kind of spirit of reform. This drama is concise and precisely localized, a case of ethics conquering avarice in a single , particular string of incidents. The taste of cruel irony is barely concealed by the movie's end. There is not a false note anywhere.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ron Silliman shuts down his comments section

It's a sad thing that Silliman felt he had to shut down his comments section, but I understand his weariness with having to act as the lunch room monitor . The image persists, I suppose, that poets are as a class more sensitive, intelligent, intuitive and respectful of the feelings of others , and that as a class wouldn't be caught dead being intrusive, abusive creeps, but my experience on line shows otherwise; a good many , that is to say, too many poets who are drawn to comments blog with a large readership seem uniformly convinced that they, as individuals, are unrecognized geniuses who have convinced themselves that the anger they constantly brew is a righteous call to speak a blunt truth to those whom they've judged as frauds, posers, fakes, or merely mediocre. It's self righteousness, of course, and the exchanges one might have with the practitioners of unprovoked invective is an extreme test of one's patience.

The desire on the sort Silliman is tired of dealing with isn't to exchange views , but only to attack and achieve some perverted pride in proving that their intellect and energy are dedicated to little more than maintaining a unceasing stream of hurtful things to say to people they don't know. There are times when the poetry forums I've participated more closely resembled the political free for alls that are in abundance on the internet. It's a full time job to maintain order and civility on forum with a dedicated topic, and I suspect that Ron Silliman has more interesting things to do with his time than keep watch over the willfully immature. Poets and poetry readers are not immune to being jerks. What of the rest of us?

Maybe we'll have to turn off the computer and find someone , in the flesh, to talk to these things about. How important is poetry to us anyway. Important enough to get out of our seats and go into the community where we live to support poetry by attending readings, buying poetry books, forming live, in person discussion groups about poetry?  Do we care enough about the importance of the work of poets to dare discuss it in real world circumstances where we would find better, more considered phrases with which to disagree with one another? Or find out how interesting those we disagree with actually are once we take a risk and get to know them as more than an example of an enemy ideology?  Could there be a rebirth of wonder?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Another Hollywood Ending


I remember perhaps a half dozen cheesy sci-fi movies I saw when I was a kid that ended  their paper mache melodramas with the words "The End?" , with that big fat question mark hanging there like a  chewed thumb hitching a ride a to Endsville. Other clever sign offs for the post-nuke operas was a flimsy variation, "The Beginning?". One of these gamy contrivances even went so far as to have two survivors, a man and a woman, go through their paces without revealing their names until the final scene. Their names? If you don't know this, turn off your computer and get a library card: Adam and Eve.