Sunday, May 29, 2011

"The Irises" by Lisa Russ Spaar

Although I think I get the general drift of the poem, this verse does not work in any pleasurable sense. Dickinson, the obvious model here, is a difficult poet to emulate; he cribbed and dashed poems, notes and asides were a massive examination of her particularly stationary existence , private notes, in a sense, and since she made little or no effort to have work her work published, it's not far afield to think her technique, revolutionary as it was, was a private language that was  an ingenious way to have a conversation with her muse, the linger suspicion that all is not settled on matters of appearance alone.

Dickinson's writing, compact and profound when it wasn't merely odd and stoically twisted, was a subtle interrogation of a conspicuous yet minor metaphysical concern; what is the stillness beneath the still of things like? Only posthumous publication and the creation of a critical language of her poems made her peculiar syntax a public matter. Lisa Russ Spaar tries to extend the style to a longer poem that contains ,say, two or more layers of inference than the two or three Dickinson dealt with and the result is a lack of poise or balance between the disguised intangibles.

Dickinson's dashes had the effect of revealing a mind that could contain two fully formed thoughts simultaneously and offer up a larger irony regarding the size and weight of first impressions being modified with a witnessed passage of time. Spaar could have well dealt with the mysteries of a garden and the creatures that inhabit the tilled terrain--she appears envious that while she takes away beauty from the plot, the fly takes away something tangible, seeing how her aesthetic gratification none the less keeps the mysteries of the garden a secret and that what the fly scurries off with, busy, busy, busy, is likewise a mystery to her--in more direct language, less fussed with, less cloaked under a thick sheet of allusion.

This reads as if it were worked over much too long and too hard; neither the idea nor the images flow easily. Perhaps it was tweaked mercilessly in the rewriting, altered, pruned and substituted to make a clear idea seem opaque and hard to follow. The obscurity sound willful. This was not fun , it was not inspiring. Spaar has written better. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron, RIP

I was saddened to read that poet-singer-musician Gil Scott-Heron has passed away at the age of  62. He was one of those musician-writers who was a pioneer, someone who Had Done It All First and from whom generations of younger artists still take inspiration and work in his shadow. Along with the work of the Last Poets, it is possible to opine that what we acknowledge as the art of Rap/Hip Hop would not exist. It's possible to debate the merits of  hip hop over the long run, but it is indisputable that Gil Scott-Heron was instrumental in changing the way musicians and writers  viewed their artistic mission. Not many people are game changers to that degree,and that,  along with the intensity of the actual work, commands respect. Without the work of GSH, what we would have would be something quite different and , I think, quite less potent. What I found especially powerful in Gil Scott-Heron's work was that he was one of the very few at the time to harness his rage , his anger into a art that , beyond being a powerful joining of minimalist musical and rhythmic forms and street-level irony, was his tendency for self-criticism. "The Revolution Will Not be Televised" is as powerful piece of truth telling as has ever been created in musical formation; to this day , the message rings true, for us all not to be distracted by the dog and pony shows centralized corporate media throws at us, to get off our couches and get busy creating the change we wish someone else would bring us  and entertain us with.

We have to be our own Messiahs. so said Gil Scott-Heron.

Music for trick knee

The late Jim Dewar, the fine lead singer
for Robin Trower's first two albums.

Old guitar riffs do not die as long as I live, as they are the soundtrack of many a routine and daily walk up the stairs to work, treks to the stores, adventures in scattered beach area parking lots, the journey to the forbidden and familiar knowledge behind a girlfriend's front door. Or the entrance to a doctor's office, for that matter. I had often joked  that each of  us requires a “signature riff”,  a power chord mini-anthem  ourselves that with which we have on constant mental standby as we go about our routine tasks and  past times; I often imagine the open  assault of “Mississippi Queen” commanding a room's attention once I enter, if only to perform the mundane obligation of paying a gas bill.The theme song changes, to be sure--there is no channel changing that's faster  or more assured than what goes on the car radio dial of the mind--and there are those days when what I carry in my imagined soundtrack in my imagined movie are the genteel whispers of Paul Simon's three-hankie whining, the grating,  rusted scraping of  early Velvet Underground, the  guitar amnesia of  Larry Cor yell. It varies according to mood and what lies on the to-do list that day. (Not that I actually have a to-do list. 

It's actually what I remember to get around to accomplish, get over with, or finish from an earlier, half-hearted attempt. I am not so organized. I am a fifty-eight-year-old man, almost fifty-nine, who has the personal habits of, say, your average 17-year-old, just in college, in his first off-campus apartment, with a room of his own). That said, the last few days have been one of stupid-making idleness, since I tripped in my apartment earlier in the week and ran my already-game knee into something hard and unforgiving. The last four days have been missed work, icing the swollen knee --no breaks or fractures, thank goodness-- and diving into an old record collection. Some of this stuff does not sound so bad;

Robin Trower, for example; the former Procol Harum guitarist, is very possibly the only Hendrix inspired fret specialist who fully established his own distinct approach to guitar melodrama while still maintaining the ethereal quality of his Mentor's style. Twice Removed from Yesterday, his debut, was a wonderful tone poem start to finish, emphasizing mood and atmospherics, by way of the dreamier parts of Electric Ladyland. His choice of Jim Dewar, ex of Stone the Crows, for a lead vocalist was inspired, a gritty, soulful belter whose lower register gravitas gave the core idyll ism of the lyrics something very solid to wrap around. "I Can't Wait Much Longer" is that rare breed of power ballad that actually manages to make you feel the ache of heart that hungers for a love that won't reciprocate. 

Bridge of Sighs veers from the mystical tone and lands on a hard rock style, with a solid grounding in r and b grooves: solid riffs and rhythms, charging solos, veryyyyyyyyyyyy fluid guitar work. Where the first album was strong on thick overlays of guitar tones and coloration to produce a spaced-out elegance, Bridge shifts more towards hard rock and rhythm and blues, up-tempo, hooky riffs and blockbuster vocals. Dewar and Trower are as fine match of lead singer and guitar hero as we've seen emerge from the cantankerous era  of Sports Arena rock, as finely twined on production and material on their these two releases as Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were on Led Zeppelin's entire body of work or, more appropriately, as Paul Kossoff, guitar and Paul Rodgers, vocals, were in their seminal blues-rock band Free. The secret might be that the two of them are aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses--they compliment each other with nuance, style, a  bit of emotional reserve that makes the tension of their best songs here--"Day of the Eagle", "The Fool and Me", "Too Rolling Stone"--continually satisfying. Trower is a blues guitarist at heart and knows the value of fluidity and restraint; during his solos,  he continues the vocal line established by Dewar and seems to continue the tale in choice selected notes, not words. Dewar himself is perhaps the best of the British blues vocalist, a rich, grainy baritone with a supremely dark texture.  This band, to be sure, had a penchant for writing the phony-baloney Dungeons and Dragons fantasy lyrics that laid waste to two generations of budding Ira Gershwins, a subject and concomitant imagery wholly unsuitable for the quality of Dewar's voice--imagine  Little Milton singing "In the Court of the Crimson King". In these instances, Dewar sounded silly, blustering, bombastic; this is a lesson that bad songs happen to good singers. Ironically, the supreme example happens with this otherwise fine album's title tune. Overall the swirling guitar melodrama, Dewar intones with his best game face and sounds more like a dog barking at car lights casting across a garage wall rather than a strong bluesman. I vote for the bluesman every time.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Fuck Dylan

Bob Dylan is 70 years old, and I say so fucking what? It is time to stop worshipping this guy. I don't care how many good songs he's written, no one deserves the kind of sycophantic , unquestioning adoration this man has received. We are critical of all other things in our popular culture--rap music, Lady Gaga, name your pet annoyance--but Dylan gets a pass despite the over praise and reviewers over exposure. The molding heaps of cliches of what's already been written about Bob Dylan over the last give decades and ponder some as yet unremarked upon essence about the songwriter. What this was, though, was a bit of head scratching , a desperate attempt to force some enthusiasm for a subject while at the same time avoiding saying what everyone is painfully aware of: Dylan has had it as a live performer, and that his genius is something that is long ago, left in another generation's hey day. What this cliched-clogged "review" is saying, in essence, is that Dylan gathered a paycheck with little regard for presenting the music as his audience remembers it, and the faithful kissed his ring and gave him fresh roses. It's a sad thing that Dylan has become a professional celebrity. He has become a bore, and it's painful to read reviewers who insist that he hasn't.The alternative is up to each of us, individually. It is one thing to have a hero while young because he or she sets an example of how to be your own person, apart from the creature comforts of conformity. This, however, should be the transition point where we discover our own interests, trust our own instincts and take the risks that are of our choosing; we should become our own heros. We should have grown up and embraced an interesting world of music and art quite beyond Dylan; we genuflect to him, however, even as we gain speed into our sixties. We cannot get over our youth , we have aged badly in some regards. Our worship of Dylan , for good or ill, becomes the same thing as claiming that Lyndon LaRouche is merely misunderstood. This strips Dylan of his true worth and makes him merely another dime store cult hero. Enough. Fuck Dylan.

What the wind gives you

I was reading "Falling Man", Don DeLillo's tired and drifting buffet of angsty metaphors that attempted to typify a post -9/11 New York with the various miseries an inane act of performance art can induce when those locked in their Big City rituals view the act askance and from afar. I was on the bus and this student had gotten on, an Italian who'd discovered the ass crack aesthetic of Skater Style; he was standing in front of where I sat, trying to find some joy in DeLillo's peerless yet neutral prose when I noticed this unshaven European was unwashed as well.

His back pack , jeans and skateboard stank of the aroma of several weeks of being unwashed, dirt, grease, dust , urine and spatters of dried feces made for an aroma that flew under the radar. I was about to read something about a business man viewing the performance art piece, an artist dangling from a scaffold in public space , engineered to look like he was one the 9/11 victims who chose to leap to their death rather than be burned alive.

The point, I supposed, was to replicate famous photo of the Falling Man, the jumper snapped during his fall, seconds before he slammed to the earth, to his death. The business man, with a lot on his survivor-guilt ridden plate, was about to deliver a nuanced account of how the material incidentals in his life formed a running commentary in a city that has had the spirit burned out of it. The bus door opened rather suddenly, a wind blew in along with the boarding passengers, and the Italian's sedimented body odors hit my nostrils ; my head seemed to cave in, I seemed heavier, cell phones rang and sirens blared. I closed the book, looked at my much. I opened the book and looked at my watch again.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

After the end of the world

I hope I wasn't the only one who thought they wouldn't have to go to work this morning because of the scheduled  Rapture, but here we all are, at our ritual stations, drinking coffee and scanning the  Internet and papers for clues about why we continue to arise each day, shrug off the sleep and commence toward a day of being productive. And self-supporting.  So what would it be like to wander the streets after all the good and righteous people have been raptured and taken to the righteous side of God's throne? This strays into Rod Serling territory; in  Twilight Zone the episode titled "Time Enough At Last" episode I found an especially pleasing, actor Burgess Meredith played a cranky, near-sighted misanthrope who would like nothing better than to have everyone on earth vanish as if into dust, so he can be left alone to read his stacks of beloved books. A bank employee, the diminutive grump, steals away into an unattended vault and, for reasons I can't recall right now, is rendered unconscious.

When he comes to, he is alone, the people of the city have disappeared, there is only him and the empty streets of what we presume to be New York City, no crying children, no loud teenagers, jackhammers, telephones, car horns, miserable bosses, whiny customers, it's just him and the unscathed material things of the city. The character is, of course, overjoyed, as he had no use for people anyway and wanted only to eat and sleep and read his precious books. He was, at face value, an unsympathetic goon, for what is the point of reading books if not to find some metaphorical context of yourself in the world full of other people. More simply, what is the point of reading if  it doesn't occur to you that what you've just read would be a more pleasurable experience by talking to others about it? The bookish troll played supremely well by Meredith, though, has no such inclination, his readings are only bricks in the wall he has constructed around the scant remains of his humanity; he wanders around the empty city, he finds a library, and we finally see him on the disheveled library steps with the tomes he has stacked high because now he has "all  the time in the world" to read without the annoying habits of people.

Tired from his gathering and stacking of books, he sits down, he takes off his thick -lensed glasses and  rests them precariously on one of his stacks so he may rub his  sore eyes. The  glasses, in turn, slip off the stack and onto the cement steps, where they shatter and otherwise slip from his grasp. The curmudgeon is finally viewed, as the camera pulls back, feeling about the steps amid his assumed bounty of books, looking for his glasses., doomed to a severely blurred world where there is no one to help him.

Sartre's play "No Exit" contains the famous line "Hell is other people".  Presented with the light irony of  Serling's scenario, I would venture that there's no greater hell than being a man who is fervidly creating the engine of his  own permanent unhappiness. Can any of us imagine having a grandly tragic tale to tell but without one receptive ear to tell it to?  Hell is a dead microphone in an empty theater. I will finish my coffee, turn off my computer and go to work, somewhat relieved that the Rapture has at last been delayed. It is of critical importance that I discuss all the unimportant things I've done and said in the last 24 hours with friends and associates who, as well, have their items of  trivial yet utterly crucial things to discuss over coffee, a cigarette, a burrito during a lunch break.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Notes on the Rapture, sort of

The world is supposed to come to a foretold end, or at least many of us who've been selected in secret on high are due to abruptly depart for Heaven's Gate Station, but my guess that most of us will still be here on the 21st,  our for casted day of divine interdiction, May 21st. Those who won't be here are the ones who leave via the standard methods, death by natural causes, horrible accident or suicide, or skull crushing boredom. I do have, though, a poem about the Rapture I wrote about five years ago, an extended musing on what it might be like in neighborhoods to have  people just vanish, leaving their material things, including their clothes, in a lifeless puddle behind them. 

I posted the poem soon afterward at supremely inbred poetry board referred to as The Gazebo, where a group of seemingly smirking sycophants followed the lead of the crotchety , fumble phrasing alpha dog and criticized me for writing a poem of such blind faith in Christian mythology; the fools hadn't a nickel's worth of irony amongst them and thought my poem was an profession of faith. 

I  quickly let them know what I thought of their summary skills and used words intended to give offense; I  used  the fact that I'd been banned by these nitwits as a something to brag about.  Should I mention that I am thin skinned above all else? On the subject, I used to work in downtown San Diego at a bookstore in Horton Plaza, and as I walked from the bus stop toward the mall I would pass a retail space that was being used by a store front church; in the window someone had placed their artwork of The Rapture in action,crude, blocky depictions of an urban landscape of those who had been summoned, post haste, by God. 

They were seen leaving their clothes on the streets and sidewalks and ascending toward Heaven in gleaming, garish swirls of bright colors,  genitals and female breasts obscured by convenient swirls of tri-colored mist. What was disturbing wasn't so much the idea of  an impending Final Judgement, but that the painting  , in it's minute detail, featured a bus driver being elevated from the vehicle he was driving; while he was being taken to join his Creator, the suddenly driverless bus was shown running a red light and crashing into oncoming traffic. If Heaven were a night club, the doorman would be performing summary executions on those who didn't look cool enough to get through the door.
Here's the poem:


The mailman drops his parcels and
falls to his knees in the middle of the street

as a light comes through the clouds and
makes the commotions of the city radiate

gold tones like the frozen poses
of ancient photographs

found under the stairs of every parent’s house
that aging children have to close.

You see the mailman on his knees and wonder
why he’s praying, hardly aware of the increase in light

or the music that blares all the big band music of
trumpets and saxophones that disguise the grind of

passing cars, it’s such a shame that religious fanatics
are hired to deliver the mail, you think, so much depends

on what comes through the System, envelopes full of
what’s owed and what’s not covered by any plan

that can be written down; you run the water in the sink,
you wonder where did the clouds go?

There is no rain anywhere,
says the radio announcer,
and the light is tremendous all over the globe,

there is not a dark corner
in any corner or nook on the earth,

And then the radio gives out to static, and the TV
releases itself to snow, the music in the street is very loud

and swinging hard to the left and the right and then right down the
middle as all the notes scurry brilliantly through the hedges

and up the driveways, into the homes with each reed instrument
improvising disembodied melodies that form their own sheet music,

That is a very loud set of speakers in that passing car, you think.
and the radio announcer cuts through the music and says something you

hear as that millions of people all over the world have just vanished in
plain site under bright light and big bang music, gone in a wisp and puff of smoke,

You look at your watch and note that it’s time for lunch,
the clouds have fallen over the city again, the sky darkens,

the shapes of the neighborhood take on their deep hues again, saddened
with history, dense in dumb witness to what never ends,

You stop, look out the window; you turn off the water you ran,
in the middle of the street, by itself, flat on the cement,

The mailman’s bag and his clothes,
topped by his hat, kissed by a cool breeze.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

notes on more dead horses

The generation of  New Journalist  who emerged during the 60s and 70s were indeed post modern in their coverage of events-- whether the writers themselves were modernists in sensibility is irrelevant to work they did. Post modernism is defined, in the usual quarters, as the eclectic jumbling of categories and styles, the blurring of distinctions of generic distinctions, and transgressive of boundaries that were formerly considered sacrosanct, immutable, unyielding.  Now that post modernism is as old hat and near useless as anything other than an historical place holder for a series of shallow ideas, we find that the what was called the pomo gesture in the work of the hungry journalists, that of treating their subjects and their contexts as though they were part of an explicitly literary, i.e., fictional framework, is important chiefly because it availed the writers a means to write a compelling prose. Less important than compelling readers to few the world differently—Ezra Pound’s assignment for all the Modernists—the importance of the books the style produced lies in their adherence to some rather conventional ideas of what constituted a higher quality of writing.

The work evident in Armies of the Night, The White Album, In Cold Blood, The Electric Cool Aid Acid Test, Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas, and other sublime and less-sublime examples of the approach fulfill what's come to be the givens, and even clichés of post-modern writing. It's not unreasonable to think that writers normally considered Modernists would take what's thought to be a post modern strategy in order to achieve perspective that normally form would make more difficult. Carrying about the matters involved in a story hardly disqualifies a work, or a writer, from being post modernists. The cool, ironic stance that is supposed to problematize and “make strange” the conditions of narrative formation seems more as a pose critics who have a curious aversion for writing that is meant to illicit a galvanizing reader response: it sounds more like a good rap than good reasoning.

I do not have a problem of with the conflation of the emotional with the rational, since that is the point of writing and making an argument in the first place. One may use whatever the current wisdom insists are formal means, or one may engage the current species of avant-garde slash and burn in order to make their case, but the point is coming to an end that somehow makes a point, or has created an enlarged and vivid sense of the studied particulars.

In any event, New Journalists never as a group never referred to themselves as "post modernists", and the style, now faded somewhat, has been absorbed by the culture as an accepted style for very mainstream consumption. The news story-literary-narrative scarcely raises an eyebrow today. But the judgment of history has these writers, nominal modernists perhaps, performing the post modern gesture, interrogating the margins of genre definitions, and making impossible to regard news reporting quite the same again. The conflation of reason and reason is exactly the kind of writing literature ought to be engaged in, whatever slippery pronoun you desire to append it with. Being neither philosophy, nor science of any stripe, fiction is perfectly suited for writers to mix and match their tones, their attitudes, their angles of attack on a narrative schema in order to pursue as broad, or as narrow, as maximal or minimal a story they think needs to be accomplished.

The attack on modernisms' arrogance that it was the light to the "real" beneath the fabrications that compose our cosmology, is grossly over stated, it seems, vastly over regarded: Pound, Eliot, Joyce, and Stein, arguably literary modernism's Gang-Of-Four, did not, I think, tell us in any specified terms exactly what that true reality was, or what it was supposed to be, but only that the by dicing up, challenging, making it strange and making it new could we challenge ourselves, as artists, and as readers that new perceptions, and new ideas about the nature of the world could be had.

Individually , each writer had a different idea of heaven that they wanted the world to become--Pound was ultimately a befuddled, albeit fascist sympathizer, and Eliot became a conservative Royalist (and their anti-Semitism is problematic for anyone looking for real-time heroes)-- but so far as the principle thrust of their work, which was away from the straight jacket of accumulated literary history and toward something new and different that renewed the possibility of art to engage the times in an aesthetically relevant manner, is scarcely diminished in power merely because it came before.

I agree with Fred Jamieson on the point that Post Modernism , in effect, is a restating of the modernist project. Writing is an argument so far that the central impulse to write at all is to make a series of statements about oneself and one's experiences in the world , and reach a satisfying conclusion, some "meaning" at the end of the discourse.  Barthes notes that  the effort to achieve fixed meaning is doomed, as experience is not an static event, but a fluid movement through time that a writer's perception of changes moment to moment, text to text. The argument is thus not one sided, but multi-vocal, complex, interwoven within perceptions that argue amongst themselves within in the writer and onto their pages, in the extension of characters, plot, instances, local, active bits of imagining where the goal, is finally to attempt to resolve contradiction, arrive at something absolute in a universe that seems to permanently with hold its Absolute Meanings during this lifetime, and to achieve, somehow, some peace, some satisfaction. But no: the argument persists, the imagination soars, the old certainties cannot contain either the unset of new perceptions, nor can sooth a writer's restlessness. In literature, the conflation continues, reason and emotion color each other, the eyes shut, hoping for vision, a clear path, but the writing continues, the sorting through of experience continues, the unease continues, the world changes radically and not at all. That post modernism's over all mission is to notify us of the limitations of our tropes, our schemes, and our rhetoricized absolutes seems redundant to what literature already does.
Lew Welch said that you don’t write unless you can’t do anything else; writers are powerless to write in ways other than the urge dictates, regardless of what crit

Sunday, May 15, 2011

notes on a dead horse or two

More than ever, I believe The Fountainhead, to be a dangerous book. This may worry a point already mulled over here, but one cannot just pass-off this book's implicit assertion that mass destruction is justified in the name of "higher values" whose substance supposedly overrides the need to respect and protect human life. It is only irrational romanticism and literary convenience that Rand softens Roark's destruction with an empty structure.  Roark is the hero of all those ruggedly individualist libertarians whose opinions sound as oddly uniform as Comuntist Party USA position paper, but shed of the that odious veil, he's pretty much the prototype of the perplexed goons and gangsters whose lives are committed to making the world notice them by the most miserable means available. 

I've little problem with "enlightened self interest", a general concept where one pursues their own agenda with it in mind that their goal is not just to fulfil their own wants and needs but also benefit others in doing so. One "does well by doing good" when they realize that their rights are coherent and effectively applicable in larger social and cultural contexts. 

Rand lops off the "enlightened" part and effectively tries to make an intellectual defense for adults, males for the most part, to act like three years olds and essentially demand that the world bow to their self-defined genius and all the pulverizing engineering it takes for said genius to be foisted on the community. It's a childish view, the mewling of King Baby, and it is, frankly, solipsistic to a degree that approaches a species of mental illness. 
The existence of God can neither be proven nor proven in absolute terms, and is that belief in either proposition requires an act of faith, faith being a firm belief in something for which there is no proof . The acts of faith, in William James' estimation in his writing in Varieties of Religious Experience, is the relevant quality to watch; if the belief and the dictates the faith espouse result in helping its membership adjust, adapt and find purpose in a world that subjects them to all sorts of catastrophies and seeming cruelties, then that is reason enough . The existence or non-existence of God comes out of the equation: we look at the results of the faith, and see how it's contributed to the General Good; the description and standard can apply to believer and atheist alike.

Noted pop musicians in twelve step meetings often seem bursting at the seams to tell other members what it is they do and what their latest projects are. It's a testimony to most of them that they contain the impulse to brag and speak in a general way. Bill Wilson had the same dilemma, in terms of keeping his vanity in check, and wrote about in in both the book Alcoholics Anonymous and The Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions. It was a fitting thing for me to read that the man who warned against being the AA big shot had to live up to his own advice.

Eric Clapton's celebrity doubtlessly shields him from any blow back concerning his well publicized battles with booze and the needle , mostly because the public is quick to forgive those who've gone astray but who have gone to well-publicized lengths to clean up their side of the street. We see the same thing happening with Robert Downey, a repeat screw up and jailbird who a few years ago just made it a point to work as much as he could, prove himself reliable, bondable, professional. It paid off, as he more or less owned last summer's box office. In their cases, celebrity might work as a sufficient substitute for the lack of anonymity, but it comes down, again, to whether the famed addict or alkie has willingness to change their lives. Talent figures into it as well; fans just want Clapton to play blues guitar and prefer to see Downey peform well in good roles, and are willing to suspend their misgivings over their bad habits provided the entertainers do just that, entertain.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


"Kick Out the Jams" was a regional hit when released in 1968, mostly in Michigan and Ohio, where the band did most of their touring. The single charted on the local top 40 lists distributed in the Detroit area by WKNR and WXYZ (the "brothers and sisters" version). It classifies as a hit , though a small one at the time.They were considered for years to be one-hit wonders after they broke up. While the rest of the world kept its eye on Iggy and praised the Stooges (rightly so) for their genius and influence, fellow Detroiters MC5 were pretty much ignored by virtually everyone , excepting a few hearty encyclopedists, who even then didn't give the band their due. The 5 were not a hip band to admit to liking. Revisionism is a wonderful thing sometimes, and in the last 9 years or so the MC5 have been rehabilitated by some thoughtful writing.  The release of their three albums pretty much solidifies their reputation as creators of punkoid sound thats' been influential years beyond their time. Now everyone seems hip to the MC5, and is willing to admit their importance.This was not always the case, though, as it wasn't that long ago when their name and music seemed consigned to the the filthiest portion of the dumpster.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Hemingway at his best./

Ernest Hemingway is, in fact, grossly under-appreciated for his best work, specifically "In Our Time", "The Sun Also Rises", "To Have and Have Not". So much gets accomplished in such a stingy choice of words! His was a different world than the one we live in now, and his accounts of the world, is, at its highest, sublime. At his worst, he wrote sentimental gruel whose bathos so thick you could use it for mortar. A string of posthumous novels hasn't helped the reputation, and have served to obscure the real accomplishment.  There is the issue that Hemingway’s obsession with masculine stoicism and the adherence to a personal, difficult to communicate code of honor as a means to transcend the stumbles, betrayals and petty grievances of a rudderless world is a set up for a  bad end.A man who holds himself to a standard he knows he cannot live up in the least is essentially giving himself permission to seek a twelve gauge solution.

We witness that in the string of post humus novels where the famous style turned into self parody, but at his best, his absolute, crystallized greatest, it’s precisely because that he had issues with his masculinity that he tried to work out in his fiction, is a large part of what makes him great. The point of literary study is empathy as well as analytical comprehension. Hemingway may have fallen short of the self-actualization, but his fictive attempts, at best, resonate and move, and achieve transcendence even when he did not.  Stylistically, I prefer the spare evocation of Hemingway's agony over the auto didactic fumbling of D.H.Lawrence, another writer of mixed blessings. Where Lawrence wanted to be a philosopher more than a storyteller, a lecturer rather than a sympathetic ear to his characters, Hemingway had an intimacy in his work, the sense of being within the innermost circle of a community  who, among themselves, needed the fewest phrases to convey the most complex of emotions. The dialogue between Jake and Lady Brett in The Sun Also Rises  in clear yet oblique reference to the war  injury that left the protagonist impotent is a a brilliant exercise in getting across what was then unspeakable in way that couldn't be mistaken. We could say the same thing for the love scene in To Have and Have Not, a tired, grinding, ritual grudge fuck performed from habit rather than desire; this is not to say that I prefer the grim and gruesome expressed in sparing terms, but that I admire the particular finesse  Hemingway had in creating scenes that resonate loudly with as few effects as possible. It was a limited roster of techniques, of course, but what he did with it was beyond the instincts of most other writers seeking to become a voice for something greater than themselves.Let us say that at this point I am more likely to pick up Hemingway's books for another go round, since he fulfills the most important requirement; he is a good read  after all the issues are , for the moment, set aside.
Perhaps it is a male thing, that these are matters that a reader might have to be intimate with in order to enlarge their appreciation of the work, but I think not. More, I think, it comes to personal taste, as in, if one does not care for the way Hemingway described his universe, fine. But I don't believe the ability to relate emotionally to a text need be restricted to gender, nor should it be limited to any other smoking gun criteria. The college professors who instructed me through his work were men and women, and the women, I have to say, win for inspired lectures, wedding appreciation with critique, understanding the poetry of the struggle, and why the struggle was futile.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Hemingway at this best

Ernest Hemingway is, in fact, grossly under-appreciated for his best work, specifically "In Our Time", "The Sun Also Rises", "To Have and Have Not". So much gets accomplished in such a stingy choice of words! His was a different world than the one we live in now, and his accounts of the world, is, at its highest, sublime. At his worst, he wrote sentimental gruel whose bathos so thick you could use it for mortar. A string of posthumous novels hasn't helped the reputation, and have served to obscure the real accomplishment.  There is the issue that Hemingway’s obsession with masculine stoicism and the adherence to a personal, difficult to communicate code of honor as a means to transcend the stumbles, betrayals and petty grievances of a rudderless world is a set up for a  bad end.A man who holds himself to a standard he knows he cannot live up in the least is essentially giving himself permission to seek a twelve gauge solution.

We witness that in the string of post humus novels where the famous style turned into self parody, but at his best, his absolute, crystallized greatest, it’s precisely because that he had issues with his masculinity that he tried to work out in his fiction, is a large part of what makes him great. The point of literary study is empathy as well as analytical comprehension. Hemingway may have fallen short of the self-actualization, but his fictive attempts, at best, resonate and move, and achieve transcendence even when he did not.  Stylistically, I prefer the spare evocation of Hemingway's agony over the auto didactic fumbling of D.H.Lawrence, another writer of mixed blessings. Let us say that at this point I am more likely to pick up Hemingway's books for another go round, since he fulfills the most important requirement; he is a good read  after all the issues are , for the moment, set aside.

Perhaps it is a male thing, that these are matters that a reader might have to be intimate with in order to enlarge their appreciation of the work, but I think not. More, I think, it comes to personal taste, as in, if one does not care for the way Hemingway described his universe, fine. But I don't believe the ability to relate emotionally to a text need be restricted to gender, nor should it be limited to any other smoking gun criteria. The college professors who instructed me through his work were men and women, and the women, I have to say, win for inspired lectures, wedding appreciation with critique, understanding the poetry of the struggle, and why the struggle was futile.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Keeping it dumb in black and white

"...democracies are fundamentally anti-artistic. "
A door without a frame is not unlike a question without a desire to know.
That's what I heard , just walking by the patio , a man and women geeked out on wine and Sherman cigarettes discussing whether free elections are hindrance or a boon to the artist. They seemed to think that the contenders for power appealed to the primordial fear of a hypothetical Mass Man in order to foment their unspoken desire to consolidate their resources; only the black and white world need apply. But , in truth, it is  ;ess that democracies are anti-artistic than they are resistant to the notion that aesthetic concerns and artistic expression are reserved for a cultivated elite.

Democracy rejects this sublimated priesthood on principle, and opens the arena, the galleries so that more who wish to do so may engage in the intuitive/artistic process and keep the activity alive in ways that are new and precisely relevant to the time--this is the only way that the past has any use at all, as it informs the present day activity, and allows itself to be molded to new sets of experiences. Art is about opening up perspectives, not closing them down, and that is the democratic spirit at its best. 

Otherwise, the past is a rigored religion, and history is an excuse for brutal, death wish nostalgia.

Tucked out

The times have changed to the degree that women who wear revealing clothing are no longer offended when you make note of what they're revealing. Everything is permitted , it sometimes seems, and the surfeit of goods and the lack of time for concomitant indulgence renders all those options invisible. Our choices become more than a distraction, they become a hindrance, and how you judge whether a day was a success or not was how well you resisted, no, ignored the allure of what used to drive you crazy with yearning.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


I could sing all night
if the lights never changed
and if the radio played this song
again and again,
it’s a riff that rubs me
the right way in traffic
it’s a chorus making downtown
a party of long ribbons
and faired tap shoes,
the motor purrs and growls
with each keyboard grunt
and grunting guitar,
this car just rocks
when there’s no one I have to
return it to.
This is the curse of
owning things
that merely own you in exchange,
Cars, toasters, hand guns and
and magazines hug your
face with a deep kiss of need,
What I receive is nameless
and elusive, some music, some smoke,
dry ice vapors and a wallet that
floats away,
that’s how light it’s gotten,
Money is air, invisible but potent,
I owe money I’ve never seen
to people I’ve never met,
Like you, shuffling your debit cards
and saying prayers that don’t seem
to soar as high as interest rates
or blood pressure,
you should be dancing
for all the coin we owe,
This moment , right now,
on the street that vibrates
with orders on how to drive
when to cross and what to smoke
the thirty yards from the public entrance,
the world can stop and we perk our ears to
listen to an imagined needle scratching
the surface of percussive vinyl,
The bass line and the grunts of soul singers
are all the advice we need; they called decades ago
when we started to toss our cash out from
Wall Street Windows,
They advised
Do the jerk, baby,
Do the jerk now!M

A sonnet I wrote

I thought this effort   was a decent attempt at the loose-fitting sonnet form, as practiced by Ted Berrigan and featured in Gerald Stern’s engagingly gangly book American Sonnets. The distinction between these efforts and the Elizabethan sonnets one parses in college courses is that the “loose-fitting” form (my phrase) is an attempt to bring the particularly American instinct to confess and promote one’s idealized personality in free verse, ala Whitman and Charles Olson , with the limits a more formal structure. The results satisfy nearly no one but those who appreciate perversions of form, with the hope something new emerges. Sometimes something does. I was hoping for comments on this slight effort:

Sonnet 16  

A sign of the cross and a sign on the door or just sign
yourself out if it’s a weekend pass you’re dealing with, 

sign yourself up for a moment in the sun when youhave your tax refund check in hand, give us some cash for 

the diversions that approach the distraction level
of morons who get their exercise reading the labels 

on records as they go ‘round and ‘round on the
phonograph, signs of life in a living room, your parents 

house and sofa, I am hiding behind a chair before the light
switch is flipped and a panic like business plans that come 

undone where you signed a dotted line that ends up
being a perforations around your wrists, like you see

on butcher’s charts, you know, under the sign that reads

Interesting, and as often happens on the forums, the first response to the poem brought something else in the poem to think about other than how well it works as an amateurs attempt at  more structured verse. A poster with the moniker Th Paine asked How many people will understand what you mean when you refer to record labels spinning around on a phonograph?

Good question. Who would have thought that LP's would be something that reveals your generation? I remember years ago talking to a young man , twenty years younger than I at least, about various matters. When it came time to say goodbye, I said "I'll see you on the flip side". He looked puzzled as we shook hands as asked me what I meant by "flip side". In an instant I realized that he was too young to remember long playing albums, vinyl, and briefly explained that before Cd's records had two sides, side A and side B, and that the phrase meant the other side of the record. It was no big deal , of course, but it was informative that I was now old enough that some of the cultural references I'd been using for decades were now potentially incomprehensible to younger adults.

Friday, May 6, 2011


 I  like loud and distorted guitar, old school, in the form of jamming power trios, those guitar-bass-drums shootouts where the downbeats started at debated counts and the length of improvised middle section was undetermined and unpredictable. Improvisation, riffing, vamping, monochromatic chord mongering, the center portions of this species of spontaneous noise took it's stylistic cue from several generations of black American blues geniuses and took their clear, elegantly expressed formulations of anger, pain , dread and joy and tweaked the pentatonic elements to a narrowed strain of white male rage, performed at volume levels beyond endurance levels , with the nimble, simple, eloquent rhythms and solo configurations of guitar , harmonica, banjo being replaced with a waves of distorted notes bent to their furthermost pitch of emotional credibility.
It was perfect for the smoky ballrooms I went to in the late '60s, 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. The impact was more important than configuration. There was joy when, in Detroit where I lived, I came upon the MC5 and the Stooges. The 5 were every car Detroit had manufactured being tossed off the top of the Penobscot, the tallest building in town; they had a speed and power only the fury of an accumulating gravity could provide, and half the fun of watching these guys batter, abuse and flail their instruments while the wiggled and wrenched themselves in hip-thrusting deliriums was the expectation of their metaphorical car crashing, smashing into the hard, metal strewn concrete below. The Stooges were, on the other hand, the guitar that was tossed off with a violent fling at a bad rehearsal and left on, still plugged into the amp, humming and crackling the whole night; Ron Ashton's guitar work was perfect, imperfect, with a wood-chipper rhythm, a perfect three and two-chord background for Iggy Pop, who's psycho-sexual explorations into the outer areas of teenage impatience would make you think of a zombies severed arm. It still twitches across the blood, the hand is still making grasping motions for your neck, you realize that even death cannot stop this force that requires your attention.

Reading Bei Dao

Bei Dao is an especially fine poet , and I thought it would be a relief to read some work from a contemporary Chinese poet who better brings together a modern diction with the tradition of image clarity found in traditional Chinese verse. Pound's translations are so loose in their relation to the original tongue and intent that many specialists consider them to be not translations at all but wholly original poems instead. This perspective makes the poems a bit more approachable, and presents us with the idea that Pound's misreading of Chinese aesthetic led him, all the same, to develop his notions of a twentieth century poetry where the image prevails over sentiment and empty rhetoric. Bei Dao, of course, has the sure-footedness I don't think Pound ever achieved in this area. While Pound was busy mimicking an old old style (or what he took to be what an older style would sound like) ,Bei Dao neatly builds surely, delicately, all things in balance, indeed, not an idea but in the thing.

Branch roads appear and disappear
in the hands of trees.
Where did the fawns go?
Only cemeteries could assuage
this desolation, like tiny cities.

The thinking comes after the poem, for the reading to resonate with. Our fine poet here performs his art beautifully, the presentation of the perception.Here are other poems he's written,scaled back to a sparkling essence of perception,
translated by Eliot Weinberger :


Wind at the ear says June
June a blacklist I slipped
in time

note this way to say goodbye
the sighs within these words

note these annotations:
unending plastic flowers
on the dead left bank
the cement square extending
from writing to

I run from writing
as dawn is hammered out
a flag covers the sea

and loudspeakers loyal to the sea's
deep bass say June


Teacher's Manual

A school still in session
irritable restless but exercising restraint
I sleep beside it
my breath just reaching the next
lesson in the textbook: how to fly

when the arrogance of strangers
sends down March snow
a tree takes root in the sky
a pen to paper breaks the siege
the river declines the bridge invites

the moon takes the bait
turning the familiar corner
of the stairs, pollen and viruses
damage my lungs damage
an alarm clock

to be let out of school is a revolution
kids jump over the railings of light
and turn to the underground
other parents and I
watch the stars rise

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sketches drawn with a broken hand

Striking images alluding to opaque , disquieting personal episodes used to be the thing I insisted a poem be, a constantly streaming series of broken bits rendered in sufficiently harsh terms that seemed to want to perpetuate a pain. I am lucky to have had a series of professors and poets who suggested, even required me to read far beyond my reading preferences; I would have small poetry collection had I not broadened my horizon. It is unreasonable to demand that poets write with the same depressed acuity as Sylvia Plath, and I think equally irrational for poets to attempt the mimic her singularly downcast genius.

Leslie McGrath's poem , "The Mouth of the Mind", nonetheless treads the excessively forged confessional path in order to offer up a scenario that recalls Mark Strand's "The Dreadful Has Already Happened". Strand, whom I don't care a great deal for as a poet, does however have a lyric ability where a musical of how to start a phrase, what to make of it in mid turn, and where to finish up, and his poem is a masterpiece in how to convey wordless woes and worries without sacrificing flow. McGrath , odd to say, is no Mark Strand (at his best); her emphasis , blunt and less willing to provide a reader with a verbal ease to segue between the clashing elements of her nightmare, seems to reduce the ratio of what can be understood on an intuited level and make her awful recollections into garish totems , a bric a brac of crummy self image. Strand's poems features the poet leaving the baroque verbal garnishments in the spice cabinet for a change and crafting instead a scenario of  fluid strangeness, creating the most effective surreal effect;  a narrative line that seems that it ought to resolve itself but which only deepens ever so slightly in its contradictions the more one re-reads to see if they've missed something vital. It's meaning is undecidable, but the presentation is compelling.

The baby did not scream, but I remember that sigh   
when I reached inside for his tiny lungs and shook them   
out in the air for the flies. The relatives cheered.   
It was about that time I gave up.

Now, when I answer the phone, his lips
are in the receiver; when I sleep, his hair is gathered   
around a familiar face on the pillow; wherever I search   
I find his feet. He is what is left of my life.
This is something of a silent film, significant family members and friends involved in a ritual that is required for reasons that are with held. Every small thing finds negation, each gesture of warmth and security is undermined by sullen looks and currents of anxiety; what we're made aware of, though, is that through the  temperamental extremes there lies those short moments of peace, serenity, the lack of the nagging noise that converts the banality of the world into storm warnings and shots over the bow. The sadder bit of it all is this calm that requires the most effort to arrive at.

Bear in mind that I enjoy a surrealistic, non-sequitor style; even with that, though, a certain playfulness is expected, a particular joy in presenting the world and memory of it in alternative versions of What Happened is required, if only to prevent the odd bits of phrase making from becoming a humorless shelf of unfocused melancholy. Her imagery is heavy handed and lacks a memorable phrase or unusual. The segues from baby bunny rabbits, alive or dead, dinner tables, stray bullets on a counter salads full of wasted money are not especially convincing that this was anything worth writing a poem about; it seems more an unrefined extract from a dream journal that is intended for a therapist or an astrologer than it is for a readership who are interested in how the language might again escape the truism that everything worth saying or expressing in verse has already been said. McGrath's crabby, snippy, self satisfied anguish does not express the inexpressible in terms of the forgettable. It is, though, a confirmation that writing a good poem is not something just anyone can do.