Saturday, March 31, 2012

Harry Crews, Writer of Dark Fiction, Is Dead at 76 -

Novelist Harry Crews has died. As a bookseller, Crews was among the hardest of authors to recommend to readers looking for a new author, as his themes were steeped, drenched, saturated in the tradition of Southern grotesquery that made Flannery O'Conner and Carson McCullers notable. Crews, though, went deeper, got dirtier, got sicker that all the others and created a surreal, obscene and supremely satiric body of work that featured resilient heroes who were less heroic than they were stubborn, stupid or blessed with the last trace of good luck a cruel God would allow the world. Booze, sex, misfits,random perversion, he was the writer you read after you finished reading Willliam Burroughs  with the conclusion that you have read through the darkest corridors of America's sick sense of itself. Crews is just the writer to give someone a vivid idea that the depths of our rooted irrationality have only been lightly mined. The pure creations of America go insane. So said William Carlos Williams.

Keith Current TV Dismisses Olbermann

For all his strengths, Olbermann's real Super Power is that of Getting In His Own Way. It is one thing to rightly admire the courage of Edward R.Murrow , who fought with CBS in getting his coverage of the Red baiting senator on the air, but it's another to mimic the events in Murrow's life. Olbermann seems to thrive on conflicts with management. Neither MSNBC nor CurrentTV, from what I gather, interfered with what Olbermann wanted to cover or discuss on Countdown. From appearances, both channels allowed the host a wide, wide berth. Olbermann, though, turns minor dispute into an excuse for scorched earth reaction; no one, absolutely no one , neither management nor coworkers nor immediate, can remain around an ego this large and this fragile. I admire Olbermann tremendously and credit him with being the first on Cable TV to return fire on the Right Wing Noise Machine, but his usefulness in that forum, it seems, is over with.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Asbhery settles in for the long haul

Whether It Exists
 by John Ashbery
All through the fifties and sixties the land tilted
Toward the bowl of life. Now life
Has moved in that direction.We taste the conviction Minus the rind, the pulp and the seeds.
It Goes down smoothly.
And the field became a shed in ways I no longer remember. Familiarly, but without tenderness, the sunset pours its Dance music on the (again) slanting barrens.The problems we were speaking of move up toward them.

This may be the closet thing to straight-talk your likely to come across from a John Ashbery poem, a brief meditation on how emotional attachment to otherwise vivid memories wanes as you age. Yet even in it's brief two stanzas and spare outline, this poem manages to bring two signature Ashbery traits to its center, elusive but not aloof.It suggests that just as the planet is formed by forces of weather and natural occurrence, forces that exist precisely because the earth exists at all with innumerable ecosystems shaping its profile over a great many eons, we also come to be formed by the cumulative logic of our choices over time.

Where once youthful ego and naive philosophy gave us the surety that we were the captains of our own fate and were superbly equipped to navigate by invisible stars, we find ourselves with the slipping of years in cities, occupations and with hobbies formed by the life we thought we created from whole cloth. Man makes his tools, and then the tools make man. In Ashbery's poem, our enthusiasms have ceased to be passions, an animating force of character, and are now, wizened with years, tested by experiences great, tragic and mundane, a cluster of traits, inconsistent habits of mind that haven't a coherent center but rather a shambling direction; inclinations rather than agendas. The glory of planting one's flag on a patch of earth with it mind to transform that acre and the acres around into a kingdom that will bear your name on signs and in memory becomes a hallowed shape.

Not that we are required to remain hard wired in stubborn habits and soured romanticism in our old age; Ashbery is a poet who cannot help but remain engaged with the world that has usurped his youthful mandate. Even as days , weeks and months go by faster in old age, the poet views what was the soil which was his metaphor for self creation and brings something from decades of life; what was formerly merely raw material waiting to be formed by an aesthete is now filled with nuanced shades, tones, subtle rhythms in the closely details   of trees and their leaves, tall grass. The world again provides you with something to consider and absorb whenever you're finished tending the wounds of the ego that is recovering from a protracted disappointment.

At a later date I added color  And the field became a shed in ways I no longer remember. Familiarly, but without tenderness, the sunset pours its Dance music on the (again) slanting barrens. The problems we were speaking of move up toward them.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A debriefing against death

Paul Breslin is a superb lyric poet, that blessed species possessing the skill to convey complex perceptions and emotional breakthroughs in clean, uncluttered language that brings clarity to what might have otherwise gone unsaid. But not at the sacrifice of the music; there are chimes in the wind in Breslin's best work, grace notes that form the spare but richly evocative melody that might, at times, to underscore and even enhance our shared emotional underground. 

Joy, melancholy, despair, exhilaration, serenity; Breslin is a master craftsman who creates a tangible sense of the ambiguity between the images as they parade by. What intrigues me about his work is the way he is able to write as if he were still inside the experience, not apart from it; there is, almost always, the feeling that the situation is current, ongoing, in-progress. Paul Breslin is not so much reflective in his work as he is intensely aware of the forces that play upon him and the environment, material and emotional, that contextualize them.

"Inquest", a poem that takes the form, I assume, of police or therapist interview of a subject who has is still processing the loss of a mother or wife or lover, distills his virtues to the cadence favored by a bureaucratic psychology that insists on yes-or-no answers. The questions are direct, blunt, implicit in their expectation of equally terse answers; Breslin's replies are, in fact, brief and concise, but it is a concision that creates even more ambiguity and clarifies the mystery how one responds to life-changing events. These are the replies of a man who had for so long attached his own sense of identity to the personality, pulse, and quirks of another that his responses have the stark clarity that only a good stunning gives you. Suddenly, brutally, life does not make the sense it used to and there is the dread of having to create a meaning existence The images, stark and unadorned, reveal the ground-zero aspect; none of the old comparisons, the easy metaphors and similes that order and index the daily events, are of any use. This is a poem of someone digging climbing from the crater :

Why point to the mirror 
Where no one lives 
And the stars, which see no one? 

I longed to be no one, 
Like her ashes scattered 
Across the parkBetween where our brick 
Apartment had stood 
And the white museum 
That survived it:  
Free to fly 
Where the wind drives, 
Or, mingled with rain, 
Seep under the roots. 

There is no final say to the query, there is not a simple nor tidy rationale. The answer instead instead comes at the point when one considers their loss, ponders their purpose and desires that it all be over in some beautiful way,that the pain be dissolved and his essence be added to the soil, water and rocks that make up the earth from which all of us metaphorical arose from, to not be in the world and experience further pain and loss but rather merely reflect the doings of others, their aches, and joys. This poem presents us continuously with a rich stream of contradictory impulses and desires. I read the nervous, suddenly intense desire for release from the hurtful conditions of being alive and engaged with the world, but Breslin is not without a reality principle that reminds him that we go on, we go on, as Beckett would remind us, no matter the pain nor the drudgery of just waking up and scraping our feet to the shower in the darkest of mornings. He finally asks his interrogator questions and receives an answer in turn:
Am I free to go now? 
What do you think? 

The last question that keeps one awake to late in the night, filters into your dreams, makes your feet drag across the floor. We go on despite our loss because that is what we do.  The last part of growing up is the growing apart from the other and realizing that one will die alone and the purpose of life becomes the effort to not live the same way.

Monday, March 26, 2012


There is little else but ill will circulating through the tubes of the internet this morning, general grousing, gripes and jeremiads about little of consequence, although I would have to lend credence to the notion that a lot of anger is generated by site specific fears of losing one's financial security. This means that a good number of us in the work force, from upper management, mid management and the guys who wash out the trash dumpsters in the back of the stores we can't afford to walk into are worried that they might be invited into the boss's office and asked to close the door behind them. Not a fun way to start the morning, so I force myself to think only happy thoughts.  La la la la la la is what I sing to myself, and I imagine pink ponies with ribbons and rainbows and smiley faces all over the landscape. Next I turn to my Facebook page where one of my friends posted a video of Brit punk band The Exploited doing the least ambiguous song I will hear all month: FUCK THE USA.
The rainbows evaporate, the pink ponies eat some toxic ragweed and fall over and die. Red robins drop from the sky. The smiley faces are now flipping me off.

Later this morning there is a mood of subdued insanity as each of us smile tightly, the corners of our mouths jagged like upended hangers, boomer rang creases pushing the eyes and eyebrows into the leering slant of a deranged carnival clown. Everything is fine and all of are going to heaven in a white boat with Black sails, that seems to be what we are dreaming while awake, a promise of deliverance tempered with an omen for perpetual disaster. Free floating anxiety that wakes up ten minutes before you do and starts pressing the proverbial buttons on the control center that constitutes your dreaming self. Oh dear, oh my, the worst has already happened, although neither the West nor the East coasts have slithered into an angry, boiling ocean. That boiling sound is more of a gurgle, the coffee maker that has stopped working, producing scratchy gurgling noises; it gave me half a cup this morning and did nothing else other than engage that death rattle. Another fine day to begin the day, especially on a Sunday. And now here I am, wondering, what? What am I wondering?
I was reading a piece by Peter Whitmer about Norman Mailer's essay "The White Negro” while on the bus coming to work this morning and noticed that the day so far had the hue of a dingy wash rag. I lifted my eyes from the twitching pages I was trying to read to see someone standing at the bus stop where the bus had paused to pick up new passengers, spying a guy in a grey hoodie standing on the side walk looking into the bus, straight at me where I was seated.

Alien twelve tone gangster movie theme songs emerged from my pocket just then, my cell phone was ringing. I answered, staring into nothing but an interface crowded with blurred icons. "This is me" I answered, "Who are you?"
The voice didn't bother with an explanation or an introduction or a confession of any kind, rather, he issued a command.
"Let me talk to the other guy" he said. There was a burst of static, a high whistling shriek. And then the phone became very hot in my hand.

After lunch I turned off the computer and noticed that there was a tickle in the back of my throat, the sort of irritation that makes you think of wet sandpaper being the universal standard for raw flesh and blues hysteria. My throat felt the way Tom Waits sounds, amplified aggravation in the center of the soft tissue, red and familiar like a bully's smirk before he knees in the nuts and bitch slaps you more time when you try to sneak out of school via the custodian's entrance. There was nothing I could do about the damn condition at the moment, but I did have a half bottle of Tustin, some generic syrup for the alleviation of sore throat, cough and yet manly enough to expel the grubbily greased mucus from the deepest of chest resonating chambers. I drank it one gulp, a semi sweetened version of the cruel cures your grandmother used to force down your throat with a funnel and the business end of a high heel shoe. It was awful, and all at once the store room started doing jumping jacks, my stomach declared itself a sovereign nation, my eyes saw through the thickest walls of the building and could the lips of cops writing crime novels behind billboards when they weren't getting hummers from bums who need one more dime for some Blue Nun. I was stoned on something, and suddenly the phone rang, or I thought I did. All I remember, really, was that I answered something.

"Gewekeekek" I said into the receiver.
"Hi, I need a  red rubber octopus..."
I paused.
"Don't we all" I answered.
And then the sun exploded.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Just another bag of grumpiness

Terry Teachout, a conservative cultural critic  with hard to meet needs,  wrote some nasty things about the late comedian and talk show host Johnny Carson  after he passed away. No surprise, he received a good many emails decrying his slam.  He responded to those who chided him for his remarks with a drifting defense of himself, including a brief history of his employment as a professional critic. at the end of the response, though, Teachout more or less sabotages his own premise as at being a superior commentator.
Which brings us back to the late Johnny Carson. To those readers who didn't like what I wrote about him, I say: what's it to you? Why do you care? I'm just a guy with a blog. If you don't like it, start one of your own. That's the wonderful thing about the blogosphere--it puts all its participants on a potentially equal footing, something that was never true of the mainstream media. By all means feel free to get into the game. But let me give you fair warning: blogging isn't for the thin-skinned. If you were offended by what I wrote about Carson, wait till you start opening your e-mail.
Maybe it was the last flourish that insisted that blogging wasn't for sissies that prompted me to compose a snarky paragraph of my own; this was hot air from a stale breath.I wanted to write something in response to this last paragraph however late I was to the shoot out, but there was no commentary field provided. Not to let a gathering storm of bombast go to waste, I post my reaction here, eight years too late. This is what makes blogging fun.

"What's it to me? This is the kind of response coming from someone who hasn't a real answer for anyone,smart or not so smart, who finds the blogger's remarks about Johnny Carson (or anyone else) objectionable. You may be "just a guy with a blog", but we are right to assume that bloggers write in order to be read and to have an effect on those who bother to dial him up. There is a rather obvious desire to stir things up among the smart and the less smart among us. I would have a smart nagger like yourself would have found more clever ways to engage your detractors. Telling those you've offended that they can start their own blog amounts to saying that your opinions are a nothing special, that your writing is knee jerk and ceremonially routine, that you are in essence someone given to the pose but not the power of the truly great. It's not that I disagree with your idea that anyone can play this blogger game, it's more that you've admitted that your just another slob with an a dull butter knife to ply to the tangle of fretful art and commentary that tips your equilibrium. "

Brenda Hillman's Exhausted Dreams

“After a Very Long Difficult Day” By Brenda Hillman - Slate Magazine:

Any of us who have to work know the feeling of coming home after the worst of days , dragging the collected weight of tedium and exhaustion behind them. The dream that awaits, I would say, are the spartan pleasures, a simple meal prepared or reheated, a television show , a long bath, finishing a DVD one began a couple of nights previous, a silence on the couch that consists of no thoughts, only an engagement of the passive senses. Hearing seems  most acute, one hears the squeal and whining song of plumbing in other apartments, odd clicks and metallic bangs of central heating, the glow of lamp light that only obscure the clarity and shape of objects. And then, sleep, the nodding realm where the mind plants the gathered input of the day  it has just witnessed, judged and navigated on uncountable levels and from which dreams are made, the glorious, churning, twisting , unfolding subterranean universe of symbols that give an image over that which one no longer cares to consider.

Brenda Hillman's poem does, I think, a rather sweet job of conveying the sense of the twilight consciousness, the half awake state where one is not sure whether they are actually talking to someone or if their blurred sensibilities are replaying what was said and what was heard in the course of the day,the week, the month so far. It is a smart, well balanced choice to keep this in the form of a monologue, a portion of a string of ideas where what is done and the daily world, and what is said and heard, is uttered again , iterated and reiterated; long and difficult days coming from careers or from personal lives that have become so enmeshed in the complications of others that reflection seems possible only in the moments when exhaustion finally takes old of a fine mind that is already taxed, tired, approaching the dream state.

There is in the poem a neatly achieved sense of how things are conflated with other things they  resemble not at all except in comparisons inspired by weariness, boredom, the feeling that one feels drawn between people , places and things ; the speaker is robbed of her autonomy and there is a noticable, tangible sense of powerlessness residing in the dashes  that separate many of the poem's best lines. Boundaries here are violated with a light, subtle touch,one's talent, instincts, inspirations belong now to someone else and even in dreams there is only the symbolism that reminds you and perhaps instructs the worker that even in sleep we are beholden and wholly owned by the world we struggle with.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why Finish Books? by Tim Parks | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

Why Finish Books? by Tim Parks | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books:

'via Blog this'

The problem  of finishing novels, I think, comes from the simple fact that one has read so many of them over time that what one ends up recognizing are not conflicts, emotional complications and dramatic consequences but rather plot formulas.  Sad was the day when I had to admit that I could predict more often than not where a novel was going once I crossed the threshold of a novel's middle chapters;  a number of things were set in such a way, in such an arrangement of social types and temperament that there were only a thin selection of things the author could do with his resolutions. 

He would other wise risk ruining the  comforting elegance of the template he  selected; although most readers protest that they do not want to know how novels end before they read them, they have, none the less, that the mainstream novels they read conclude in a particular way. Not getting the ending they  expect amounts  to a betrayal in their view.  

I had for years worked as a bookseller with a speciality in literary fiction and maintained a regimen of read 4-6 books a week in order to be able to make informed recommendations to customers;  after awhile I found myself power skimming, allowing my eyes to skip or elide over whole chunks of  thick expository prose in order to finish the book. 

I  stopped reading so many books at once and these days I finish only two of every five books I start; I consider the ones I lay down forever as  not having passed the audition. The dilemma, I think, comes from writers who have all learned craft and techniques from the classroom. The writers I happen to like, love, admire were outside the academy, perfecting  their art in the small hours between the hackwork needed to make rent and  have regular meals.  Everyone learns irony and tragedy from the same set of course notes. That stops being true novel writing . It is instead a species  of   examples illustrating a principle. I  have no real desire to attend the same lesson plan again and again. 

Beat Your Drum, Not Your Meat, in the Public Sphere

Kony 2012-Jason Russell: Invisible Children co-founder arrested in San Diego for public masturbation, intoxication.: 'via Blog this'
The shelf-life for do-gooders and Junior Achievement Crusaders for Good Causes is getting shorter and shorter, as can be witnessed with the fate of the Kony 2012 video. Assembled by a San Diego based organization and placed on YouTube, it has gained  millions of hits with its exposure of the African warlord and his crimes against his country men and women . All was praise and all was righteous determination to rid the earth of this manifest evil--youth revolts and rises and rights the wrongs of their elders, yay!--but scant days after the post and the media saturation there came much criticism as to how the group spent the money and a deluge of cynicism toward the rising tide of "slacktivisim", the notion that merely being aware of a social injustice has an effect on the general gestalt of the situation and so leads to a positive change.

At any rate, Jason Russell, co founder of the group and maker of the Kony video , seems to have freaked out and decided somewhere in the recesses of his bleeding heart that the best way to respond would be to  get drunk , get naked and give himself a hand job on the streets of San Diego. The tragedy is that an uncontested evil is the reason Jason Russell stands a very good chance, at this point, to have a  potentially lucrative , though  probably brief career as a celebrity fuck up. Reality shows await. Jason, meet Dr.Drew. Jason, say hello to Sooki.

Friday, March 16, 2012

poetry is dead

a lone gunman blows the smoke barrel
and afterward falls asleep on the grass
in what used to be a park surrounded by
flora with smog coated leaves.
the screams from the public sphere
are faint, only one ambulance siren
is heard under the gratuitous rigmarole
filling restaurants and bus stops.
he dreams of the muse he just
shot through the dead, tired as he was
of clever words and contrary actions,
he aimed his pistol and let off a shot.
in his sleep he had no dreams
and when he woke up
he yawned and bought a newspaper,
making note that there was no advertising
no sports page either.

a poem for the last guy who called me

Notice every face
in the windows of habitual smirking,
love is nothing like the dollars in the drain,
sudden noises like  bottle caps dropping arrange hairs in old dramas,
there are no good reasons to soldier on,
lovely that we
are in line
awaiting tickets
to wait
in line.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Conan the Mirror Lover

This man gives himself a woodie.
And then there was the other night when I had the dubious honor of watching the remake of "Conan The Barbarian", an experience from which there is no recollection of the names of actors , directors or the gaggle of scribes who cobbled together the flimsy, inferior script. If there is such a thing, the film is a species of inept mediocrity, as there are examples of unstellar film making that at least have a level of technical acumen on display; "American Gangster" , directed by Ridely Scott and starring the quizzically droning Denzel Washington in a portrayal of an African American mobster, had at least a good look and was paced to the degree that one stayed in their seat, kept their eyes on the screen, curious to see how the other wise melodramatic tangle of film cliches turned out.

Plus, New York City was used well in this movie. Lovers of architecture got an eyeful of vintage skyscrapers; "American Gangster" was mediocre drama, but it was a first rate postcard, displaying the city in all its congested, grimy, soot-tinted glory. "Conan", on the other hand, achieves only the least likely outcome, making you sing the praises of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who starred in the original film. Arnie's Conan was a lumbering force of a nature, a hulking mass of perpetually raging masculinity that slayed, raped and pillaged with the singular emphasis for hurt and destruction that the new Conan, by an actor who's name I cannot (or refuse to)remember, does not.

The new Conan looks like a beef fed River Phoenix, with a face that is inward looking mass of narcissism; his two expressions are a smug leer and a grunting face that resembles nothing so much than a five year old boy's impersonation of The Hulk roaring "SMASH PUNY HUMANS".The look on this palooka's face is suitable for a porn actor staring at the woman he is having contract sex with, the  arrogant , grinning grimace of small kid staring at his army of toy soldiers and building block cities scarce seconds before  he smashes the entire diorama; it is a stare that reflects the illness of ownership, a warped view that says that what I see I created and own as a result. My senses brought the world into being and the power of my bulging muscles can return to the nothingness it once was. The violence, if one were to advance a theory as to how on screen dust ups, slashings and unrestricted carnage are a needed purgative for an audience's pent up aggressions, is piecemeal , weak, knock-kneed and , really, stupid. I felt stupid for watching it. I still feel stupid. That admission, of course, only confirms what some of you think of me and the long sentences I fill these posts with, but so be it. Alas, this time I am the fool for thinking that once, just once, I could appreciate this kind of movie as though I were still ten years old watching the after school action movie on Channel 7, wedged between dialing for dollars and the 5 o' clock local  newscast. It's way past 5 o'clock.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The business

An ex-wife sat across from me in our studio apartment some years ago smoking a cigarette and staring at me over the rim of a half filled wine glass. I hated wine, preferring beer or scotch, and this put me in a bad mood indeed: my worst days had me thinking I was a Hemingway man and that acting genteel would demolish what little self-respect I accrued during our frolicking quarrel of a common law marriage. I told here that I liked movies , books and music to be "fun". She was,and remains, smarter than I am, and had her own idea about what art should and should not be. She extinguished the cigarette in an ashtray and took a sip of wine, saying clearly that she loved me until the mountans became a cottage cheese of indeterminate materials, but she was of the mind to think that my flaw was that I was continually confusing fun with artistry.
"Art" is massive set of aesthetic activities that accommodates a lot of agendas in its generalized practice, the practice of "having fun" not the least of them. "Fun" is that sense of something that engages and provokes in someway a facet of one's personality that makes up the personalized and skewed way that one understands how the world works in actual fact.

Whether Cage piano recitals, James Carter solos, Fassbinder film festivals, or whatever gamier, tackier sounds cleave to ones' pleasured ganglia, the quality of fun, that fleeting, momentary state that defines an activity, is why we're attracted to some kinds of music , and not others. It's a legitimate definition for an aesthetic response, but the problem comes in the description of the response, the articulate delineation of what made a set of sounds "fun".

The point, of course, being that everything that is entertaining or distracting from the morbid sameness of daily life cannot be said to be exclusively in the domain of the willfully dumb, conceived in a massive expression of bad faith: what is entertaining, from whatever niche in the culture you're inspecting, is that activity that holds you attention and engages you the degree that you respond to it fully. "Fun", in fewer words.
It’s late as I write this, and  I'm listening to "Rush Hour" by Joe Lovano, composed and conducted by Gunther Schuller. A handy group of orchestrated compositions--"Prelude to a Kiss" (Ellington), "Kathline Gray" (Ornette Coleman). Lovano's tenor saxophone work is supreme against the sweeping textures of Schullers' orchestrations: ensemble and soloist work as choice extremes over the moodscapes. There's an ethereal steam brewing amid the extended blues choruses, bop cascades and serial investigations. This is the kind of pure musical work I wish Zappa had more time for.
I am amazed at Lovanos' control over his technique and inspiration: he seems to draw a cool, fluctuating of bends and slurs from his horn: his ability to step inside the tradition and then step out of it again to entertain some grainier abstractions brings Wayne Shorter to mind. Not that one stops at the comparison, only that Shorter comes closest to doing what's evident in Lovanos' inventions.

Credit to Schuller: he project recovers nicely, I think, from his undifferentiated patchwork of "Epitaph", a troubled labor of love.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mug Shot

Someone recently tossed out the coffee mug I kept at work, a cracked and infirm piece of pottery that had seen better days and superior cups of coffee than the foul brew that fills the break room with a the aroma of soggy scorched grounds. I didn't, though, mourn a bit, did not muse with tortuously extended metaphors over what the loss represented symbolically, was not , generally, willing to attempt the ironic connection between the manufacturing process and region of origin with geo-political concerns that are relevant, it seems, in another conversation.

What I thought was that crap, my cup is gone, dirty and cracked as it was, someone tossed my private property, it was mine, ugly and gross as it had become, it was my cup and it was my coffee that would have been in it on the fifteen minute break I am allowed by law but no, I am denied that, I am without coffee and now I have to go to the machine in the hallway and drink something less savory than the brackish blend our staff coffee pot contains. And that was it; my concern was local, not global, my solution was to move on to the next indicated thing, getting coffee from the machine and some minor-key grousing, not, shall we say, writing a paean to a cup that is, when all is said in done, only a material stand in for other matters, global and personal, that poet Michael Ryan can drum up in the composing of his poem "Mug".

There is a sense that Ryan wants to offer up a concentrated rant of a kind, an Albert Barth style tirade (or offer a tribute to John Ashbery with an investigation of how his mind associates the present world with the chambers of history the mind stores in so many sequestered boxes) in miniature, but even here this poem swells with literary bloat. Nothing sounds natural; there is no comic timing, no pauses for effect. There is the padded vocabulary of winking sarcasm that hides a contempt for the whole subject matter of ownership and the constructed ironies contained in the concept with grandiloquence , the hollow elegance of someone writing until a good line appears. All told, Michael Ryan would have done better by reducing this poem to something much sparser, nearly skeletal.

Better to leave the bloggy-asides out of the poem, I think, and leave the reader something truly tactile, visual and genuinely provocative as a result. The poem has lots of one liners, but lacks a single idea we can walk away with.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Paul Breslin's Panic

Panic is what I think of when reading our friend Paul Breslin's poem "Siren", that sudden whooshing, spiraling, dizzy-making sensation when some trigger, whether sound, sight, smell or something tactile, cause us for a moment to lose o focus and envision impending disasters that await us. The future is telescoped into a rapid stream of vivid and brief scenarios where all one thinks they should have done but didn't do culminate in irreversible catastrophes. It is the feeling of the floor falling from beneath your feet, your heart dropping to your stomach, your brain taking a psychic blow that rudely shoves the less compelling and more immediate concerns and forces you into a narrow corridor of fear. One's sense of mortality is heightened, every decision one has ever made is lethal and resulting in dire consequences. It's not a pleasant feeling, and it is during these moments, these panics, where one must breathe slowly, evenly. I hate it when that happens.

What is effective in the Breslin poem is that he offers not a long family biography in the way Robert Lowell might have, nor constructs an alternative symbolism to the intangible furies that challenge one's equilibrium, as Plath had done, but instead puts a square in the narrative, as the mania unfolds. Quickly, efficiently, with the fast and smoothly language that characterizes the sensations as accurately as any fleeting vision might have, we are in the midst of a consciousness suddenly sped up, cataloging what has and what might go awry.

I could swear it is saying my name,
a human voice full of pain and anger:
it's the police come to arrest me
for a crime so long concealed
I forget its name. Or my father's ghost,
crying he might have lived
had I loved him better. It's my mother
folding her arms and saying take your anger
someplace else, it doesn't belong to me;
my wife asking Is this good-bye then?
Or my daughter in childhood saying
hoarsely through tears, Dad,
how can you say that to me?

These are the moment when the ongoing dreads, doubts, and self-recrimination, buried, deferred and distracted  by work, projects, and time-being passions, all come to fruition, collected as a chorus; it is that nagging set of voices one hasn't tried to come to terms with that find an appropriate means to confront their owner. The submerged anxieties have been an undercurrent, a distant unease in this narrator's world, and now they have all emerged in a flash, a flashing panic, a siren, so to speak, grounding him on the rocks. Unleashed, they now color his existence, characterizing it as less noble and selfless as one's cover story might have had it.

The lesson , if there is one, is that the mortal coil is only something we visit for a time before we leave , and it's not uncommon for the middle-aged man or woman, the person in their late fifties or so, to review their motivation in the events of their time and to find themselves wanting for kind deeds, encouragements, genuine acts of charity. As friends die, familiar buildings are torn down, styles change, and the people one works with get younger, one feels isolated,able to share in the common stock of memory with fewer people who would recognize references, would chuckle or nod a certain names, dates, movie titles or writers famous in the sixties.

So many things were almost the end.
 At the fire station around the corner,
the engines are pulling away.
 So little to separate us
from the one the siren is for,
whose house flies into the air as cinders,
who lies on his bed turning purple and clutching his heart.
This is beautifully done; the siren is the alarm, it is the summons, it is the warning that something fateful is nearer than you think. One hears for decades that life is a gamble and that we conduct our lives on the general assumption that the odds are in our favor that we won't meet with fatal ends, nor will anyone else in our varying circles of association. What poet Breslin bittersweetly gets across, with little fanfare and not a trace of self-pity, is that the longer we are in the game, the narrower the odds become.

One can take this poem as affirmative if they choose, but I think that skirts the issue I think.Breslin is really getting at, that we are humbled by the encroaching realization that our time is shorter than we thought and we have less power than we supposed. It's about humbling the ego, not empowering, and there is nothing "affirmative" here to transcend the melancholy that settles in after the panic that comes at us in the first half. there are often times layers and meanings in a poem the author didn't originally intend; poetry seems to me closer to improvising jazz than, say, composing a lengthy symphony. My guess is that he had an idea of what he wanted to write about, had some notions of a particular image or phrase he wanted to employ, a loose framework, in other words. From there he constructed his poem and, I would think, judiciously edited it before presenting it for publication. Some things, whether notes played in a musical phrase, or particular images saddled with objective statements or rhythmic emphasis, just sound right together, seem to make sense in ways that are unexpected and not immediately graspable. With a poem, one goes with what a poet seems to be writing about an attempt to show a connection between the parts with reference to different sections of the verse. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

This Poem

This poem makes me think of coming back late from a party and discovering that the phone has been off the hook for a least half the day. Those of of us with nerves even the sniffling drivel of bad poets at sparsely attended open readings cannot rattle know the anxiety of the phone off the hook, the screaming, whining, whirling sirens of hell filling an empty room from shag carpet to cob webbed ceiling corner, satanic variations within the monochromatic scale, bristling fingers on a blackboard amplified with Glen Branca's Fender Twin Reverb, a sonic variety of nerve gas that is nothing less than the hungry ID demanding more pie, or that you bake one right now if no slices remain.

 This is sound intended to kill appetites and interest in community affairs; all one needs are books from which to paraphrase metaphors and contextualize the evidence of one's life until there are only footnotes and marginalia where a pulse used to be. There is the scraping of fingertips across a page of paper irritating to the touch, there is a click, a rattle in one's throat as instinct commands you to say something to void the emptiness, but there is only phlegm, a congealed incoherence suitable for a celebrity wedding.

This poem is a compost heap of vowels and their modifiers that was left in back of the garage in the wan hope that they'd be rich with meaning by the time spring air altered the way clouds form on the morning and evening horizons. Often enough we write things down so we would have ad libs and occasional poems to utter when the plumbing groans and the siren rhyme of the cold water streaming to tub and basin obscures the pleasant voice of a lover you remember through the concrete of missing minutes in the day.It is a series of disjointed gestures only a keyboard and monitor could create ; the screen fills up with words quickly as would a glass held under a drooling spigot. There is little to savor in the nonsequitors that abound, as each sentence doesn't end but rather just changes its mind; these stanzas have short attention spans, the music is the grinding of a mind taxing itself until each Hollywood Ending that didn't come your way  regardless of prayers and demands to powerful resources becomes blurs and then dissolve, like frames of cheap film stock on an over heated camera. 

This poem fails in ways far too ugly to bring into mixed company. This poem is like that noise, a constant string of phrases that are a constant noise textured with static and prickly heat. I would prefer to listen to someone continually busting open the Velcro fly on their old Members Only jacket. I imagine the being someone who would find placing his thumb on an old record turntable to be great fun, a reminder to himself and a warning to the world that entropy trumps ambition, needless ejaculations of fear and panic beat a massage and after dinner sex. The poem is finally about itself, not who ever he might have been addressing in whatever simulation of a life there is on the other side of his apartment door; we cannot, of course, escape the prison house of language, but there is a point where self reflexivity is merely a dodge, a distraction that we have yet another poet who is tone deaf to the art of collage, cannot construct an ear worthy pastiche, is unwilling to abandon the disguises and borrowed phonics and consider his future as an author of writing with uneven line breaks. 

This poem is the test pattern staring at you after you come out of a black out. The national anthem has been played and the stadium is empty, like this poem.

A pointless encounter with Davy Jones

 I met Davy Jones and Micky Dolnez  during the 70s in the men's room of the main stage area of the Sacramento State Fair, where they were performing as the Monkees with their songwriters Boyce and Hart. I noticed Dolnez teasing his Fro in the mirror while Davy Jones washed his hands. I went up to Jones and grabbed his damp hand and shook , telling him it was great to see them together again. I was schmoozing of course, thinking it more appropriate to lie to a minor celebrity rather than remind him that he was years beyond his prime.

"Yeah," said Jones in a dazed  monotone,  "it's really great to be back together".

 He looked like he was waiting for a firing squad to arrive. Dolnez finished fluffing his frantic billowing bouffant  and walked up to Jones. He looked like someone who'd been handed a note written in a language he couldn't read. He was in a hurry. He and Jones had to get out of there.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


My condolences go out to late conservative agitator Andrew Breitbart’s  family and friends for their loss, but he was, in truth, a hyped up and generally unlikeable sociopath who had enough media savvy to know how to make a living and keep his name in the papers by being a vindictive and ugly little troll. It was show biz with him, not politics, and what he did was a shtick that was no more elevated than what we've seen for decades in professional wrestling: he was willingly, purposefully being the Villain, the Man You Love to Hate. He was ruthless in making already repulsive Conservative talking points even uglier, and no amount of righteous indignation coming his way could slow him down.  I go with what Lawrence O'Donnell said last night in that the private Breitbart and the public Breitbart were two different things. According to him , and others who recalled their friendships with the deceased, AB was someone who got "into character" when the cameras were on him.There is , however, evil in the world; doing what he did in the media regarding public policy , turning it into a carnival, was an evil thing to do.His biggest asset was his lack of the capacity to be embarrassed or feel shame. Him dying so young is, in itself, a tragic event, but the loss of him his presence robs us of nothing . His death only reminds the rest of us that we've allowed our political discussion to be reduced to a geek show.