Friday, June 29, 2012

HOSPITAL by Charles Webb

The poem "Hospital " by Charles Webb is a perfected bit of crafted babble, a three note mantra spoken and sung by someone doped up and being wheeled through institution corridors, from one room to the other, meeting employees in variations of the same work clothes running tests, taking samples, adjusting lights and dials on machines, writing items on clipboards and inputting data into computer stations, smiling, whistling pop tunes under their shallow breathing. It is a delirium and the mind, of course, is not out to lunch but aware of and making note of everything that is going on--the curse of it all is that the mind cannot finish a sentence, complete a thought, find a frame or a metaphor to contextualize an experience that is sufficiently unreal and dreamlike. The mind, though, can sustain a rhyming, punning set of extrapolations on what the deeper mind registers and finds dreadful.

Charles Webb manages to maintain that balance between an indecipherable cleverness, nearly falling with great weight and speed into resolute incoherence, but this, as I take it, being the record of a drugged up mind or perhaps a mind suffering an organic derangement, this is the struggle to remain at or near the surface of consciousness. This made me think of those many times I had in the hospital while younger, about to go under the knife, after the needles and the ether had been applied--the world was recast as one fish eyed lens and the soundtrack was such that it reminded me of slowing down a turntable and then increasing the speed again quickly.
“ Hospital “ as a swaying, visceral rhythm that is not always pleasant--panic, giddiness, elation, more panic follow one another quickly, seamlessly, without pause or explanation. This poem is an achievement, a successful evocation of sensory overload.
The Supreme Court surprised everyone by upholding most of the  contentious Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, and needlessly to say Democrats are ecstatic and harshly conservative Republicans are  popping their veins and turning red in the face with the kind of raging mania you thought only comic book villians could muster. It is a lot of work to stay that angry and so blind sightedly dedicated to depriving millions to affordable health care as matter of dubious principle.  That dedication suggests mental illness more than rationally applied principles; I never thought it made economic sense to to allow people to get sick and land in emergency rooms where the rest of us have to pay  for their visit with higher insurance premiums. I would guess that  conservatives, at least those who  know have the natioanl megaphone,  consider Meaness as a sport they excel at.  My hope, our collective hope, is that voters see through all the malarkey and smoke that is being blown our way and that we deprive them of their arena.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fiction for fugitives

"Looking at this thing makes my neck hurt" Bonerface said, looking up

to the top of the Watertower he was standing under with his friends, a loose conferderation of high school buddies, musicians and other semi-employed types who were now in their early forties, years from their graduation date and year boo predictions, standing under a Watertower in the middle of a public park, a spot that had become a hang out for no other reason other than convience to homes and jobs , basic, bonehead familiarity, and the fact that few of these guys ever gave up the idea of being on some kind of cutting edge where street credibility was everything. Middle aged men with nothing else to do but wait out the duration of their drug of choice before they could go home, or to work, which ever they individually remembered they were in line for.

Bonerface rubbed is neck and took a long toke of a joint of skunk weed  that was being passed around. Ferg took the joint as he looked up as well, studying the underside of this huge Watertower, a large vat supported by six supporting legs that were as wide as small houses on chopped up lots of land. An ache developed in his neck, and staring at the criss-cross pattern of beams, joists and joints in a murky , rain-drenched dark made Ferg feel profoundly powerless in the center of his stomach. The earth seemed to move away from his feet;gravity seemed suspended. He passed the joint along without taking a hit and looked at Bonerface, who was now playing an invisible guitar. Fingers scurried along unseen frets, notes plucked out the air with a sound that came up from under the street, the mission of the muse to make this park electric, electric,

Bonerface sang something to ease the pain in his neck

"dDEedeeeeeeeeediddly GREUndelliddlybomp!bomp!Bomp! wheeddly wadiddddddddddddididididididididily WHAmzitridddddddddley wheedlyWHammylidlle dlalotta BOMP BOMP!!!"

"Nice power chords" said Grelb, a friend who actually finished a year of college who made a half a living selling record reviews to dozens of adult magazines , titty mags and fast beats, he liked to joke, "nice runs and scat shattering sonics there, and the chords come nicely placed, "BOMBgoddamnedBOMP, and that opens up the rest of the night, the stars above to a terrifying extreme of get down…"

Bonerface shrugged , sang more riffs, this time something that resembled Hendrix , if Hendrix played marches.

"Good for the pain the neck" said Ferg.

"Whatever" said Grelb" because you know one of these days one of us is gonna get married, get a real job, or just die from so much hanging around doing nothing but living on little else but minimum wage and alcohol, and wher will that leave the rest of us, under this Watertower…."

"Beats the willies outta me" said Ferg, "You move on, I guess, you see better movies. Better yet, you become a movie yourself. You may still die at the end, but at least it's a death that means something, hokey though the moral may be…"

"You shoulda been a film critic" said Grelb, "you have a way of filling the air with sentences that evaporate quickly after sounding so pleasant after you said them…"

"Anymore whiskey?"

"Yeah" said Grelb, producing a bottle from the picnic table where the small felllowship did their weekend drinking. He handed it to Ferg.

"My neck still hurts" said Bonerface,"I mean shit, that thing is tall…"

"You need to stop looking up like that" Ferg muttered, "we been coming here since we graduated, off and on, and you still have to stare up at this thing the minute you take your first punch offa bomber?"

"My neck hurts".

"I'm gonna be sick" said Grelb.

"Pussy" said Ferg, " call yourself a son of Irish pride? Go ahead , be sick…"
"Cut some slack, her, Ferg" said Bonerface, "it's not as if you haven't been the one broadcasting their lunch recently."

Ferg rubbed his jaw, reached into his pocked and fished out a smashed back of Camels. He took one out of the creased pack , jabbed it between his lips and lit it with the last dry match he had, cupping the flame as it seared the cigarette tip. The burning end glowed in the dark, highlighting the counters and lines of his palms. The smoke felt good as it seared his throat. A good burn, he thought, burn away this bullshit.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


The Guardian on Facebook:

Brilliant as she has been , Joni Mitchell has also had made nearly as much music that is, shall we say, in equal measures underwritten, bombastic, pretentious, just plain pretentious. She coveted the sobriquet "genius" more conspicuously than any pop star I can remember--even self mythologizer Dylan rejects the
application of the word to his name and has suggested , in a sense, that his
most arde

Mitchell is an intelligent artist, but she is sorely lacking at times in subtler ways of looking at things; there are some things that are obvious to others that simply hasn't the humility to make note of. She complains of Dylan's lack of authenticity when the whole notion of art and being an artist is based in large part on creating things that are inauthentic; the very words "art" and "artist" are intrinsically linked with the word artificer, a term that means, in general, some designed, made by hand, an unnatural addition to what is already in place. She bemoans the lack of authenticity and forgets, perhaps, that she, Simon, Dylan and Leonard Cohen, poet-songwriters of the Sixties, were storytellers more than anything, fictionalizing their feelings, their politics, their biographies in the interest of a good yard, a good line, a good insight. Authenticity , I would argue , has more to do with feeling that a writer succeeds in creating, not the emotion he or she in fact feels. She is grumpy, to be sure, but this will not suffice as a justification for her ire. She is famous and cranky and frankly it's a tedious dirge she replays every chance she gets.
nt fans should get lives beyond their record collection--and she has produced albums that have tried to force the issue. Her stabs at art song, serial music , jazz material , and feminist surrealist have given us mixed results at best. The fatal flaw in these ambitious efforts were that the worst elements of them were so impossibly precious and self important that they summarily dwarfed what fresh ideas she might have had at the time. Her on going arrogance and bitterness leaves a bad taste.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

“Forbidden City” by Gail Mazur. - Slate Magazine

“Forbidden City” by Gail Mazur. - Slate Magazine:

We have a perfect alignment of opening phrase , "Asleep until noon I' m dreaming..." and the contents of a the sort of dream that occurs when you force yourself to slumber long after the body and brain have had the amount of rest they require. For me, a long time believer in my right to sleep in on days I have no obligations of work, family or friends, I wake up in starts, clutch the pillow tightly and and close my eyes into a squint to block out the light straying through the curtains. 

The dreams that come are not depictions of happy places, serene surrealism or the wondrous unfolding of secret meanings; the brain has already kicked in with an agenda of things to be done that day, to be considered, and because I've chosen to sleep longer against the common sense limit, the thoughts express themselves in images where dark secrets and social anxieties and unresolved items of self-acceptance and the like create perplexing scenarios. I wake up feeling drugged and battered about. I slept in and paid the price of remaining in dreamland by being made to witness the locks on the various compartmentalized open up and see the unconsidered and undisclosed contents emerge and perform dramas and comedies of antic proportion. 

It's a disturbing experience, and there is nothing I want more than a strong cup of coffee to pull me from the powerless wallow in my pool of imagistic uncertainty. This is , in effect, is the filing system of the unconscious mind, attempting to classify and  categorize what the errant napper has decided to put off until tomorrow. The brain , though, does not forget and it does not forgive procrastination, as what   we have ignored in our waking lives will visit us again at those hours when are supposed to be recharging our bodies minds and souls and that mind, irritated to be sure, will nag us until we wake up, exhausted. 
Mazur's poem has that feeling, a jet streamed slide into a play that amounts to an accumulated series of anxieties involving a relationship that has become deadened; the structure is unsound.

Friday, June 15, 2012


 Seems that we all have rocks in our head, or at least the idea of rocks, notions of round hard things that can damage us if they strike,  solid masses of earthen material that defy our ability to out think them. Stupid rocks. Ideas get in the way of things, a tenet shared by flightier versions of zen and more solid versions of a modernist decree. The essential point is that one cannot know anything about rocks until they retire from the debating society: all the focusing on how tight one's theory is as it clashes with the dense physicality of reality is like taking a trip only to worry about the contents of the luggage. You can win the argument and walk away with nothing but a fleeting smug satisfaction that your designs held fast. Zbigniew Herbert's poem "Pebble" offers us a picture of the title entity as something that is gleefully self-contained, caring less about the content of our arguments or the character that makes them.


by Zbigniew Herbert

The pebble 
is a perfect creature

equal to itself
mindful of its limits

filled exactly
with pebbly meaning

with a scent which does not remind one of anything
does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire

its ardor and coldness
are just and
full of dignity

I feel a heavy remorse
when I hold it in my hand
and its noble body
is permeated by false warmth

---Peebles cannot be tamed
to the end they will look at us
with a calm and very clear eye

An interesting contrast for this poem would be Paul Simon's song "I Am A Rock", recorded when he was in Simon and Garfunkel; the most notable difference between the lyric and Herbert's poem is that Simon, at the time, was suffocating in his mannered seriousness. 

 I Am A Rock
by Paul Simon

A winter's day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

Don't talk of love,
But I've heard the words before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

 Simon eventually became a solo artist and shed the freshman composition overreach of his earlier poetic style. He developed a consistent sense of humor and revealed a superb sense of irony; best of all he pared back the dried garlands of creaky literary language from his work and was able to convey his subtler points in a fluid tongue that was informal, direct, understated. He decided to abandon Big Themes--Alienation,  Despair, Inability to Communicate--and instead take what was in his own backyard.  But he did write some grandiose statements while he was a serious younger man who hadn't yet learned to live life like it were a loose suit. Everything was so damned important, so damned serious. How serious he considered it seems nearly comical in retrospect.His desire to be a rock was the extrapolated angst of a teenager who had been hurt in love and is aghast at how cruel the world has turned out to be, It is, if we recall, a young man's first experience of having his idealism betrayed by an intrusive and uncaring world. "..and a rock feels no pain" is what S and G sing in the refrain and it comes across as whining and a wallow. Teens like myself, sensitive and eager to experience the bigger world in a hurry, related to this paean to self-pity; it is a song I have been embarrassed to admit to ever liking. It seems like only a modified version of the typical Bobby Vee or Gene Pitney three-hankie wounds of the heart that held the music charts not long before.

Herbert, in contrast, has his rock, his pebble more precisely, seem like nothing less than an entity unto itself, neither representative of anyone's anger nor a metaphor for anyone's bad experience. The pebble, in fact, is offered up as an example to be noted, studied, emulated in some sense;

The pebble  
is a perfect creature  
equal to itself  
mindful of its limits  
filled exactly  
with pebbly meaning  

"...filled exactly with pebbly meaning. " This goes along with a notion from William Carlos Williams' idea that the thing itself is its adequate symbol. This was something that I had heard by way of Allen Ginsberg in a broadcast some years ago, and it stays with me because it really does get to the heart of much of the modernist poetry aesthetic, which was to cleanse the language of the freight of a several hundred years of metaphysical speculation and restore the image of the thing as something worth investigating in itself. Herbert presents us with an item that is minute and already perfect, complex and intriguingly self-sustained; it is a mystery for us to parse on terms outside our egos. His is a poem that invites a reader to discover the world with it mind that we have to abandon our filters and templates and formula paradigms that gives phenomena an easily classifiable meaning.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I posted this originally in 2010, and thought it appropiate to republish now in honor of  one of the great storytellers, the late Ray Bradbury.-tb

It was my good fortune to happen upon a Ray Bradbury panel at the 2009 ComicCon in San Diego,where the Master himself was taking and answering questions from a large, adoring crowd. It was , of course, a love fest for one the pioneers of fantasy and speculative fiction, an appreciation for a writer many of us have a lifetime's relationship with this imagination. For all his work in pre-Code horror comics, pulp fiction magazines and paperback books, considered for years to the be the Red Light District of Literature, his oeuvre is one those rare productions that have proven to be something everyone else, from critics to mainstream media, have had to catch up with. The callowest of lit-crit 101 pronouncements are applied here: does the  work have legs, and do you marvel at the style and techniques the writer used to move you along with the narrative . A good writer  is able to overcome a reader's objection to fantastic tales; the writer who's work remains current is the rare breed who's tales transcend the genre from which they originally sprang. So one learns how to get  adult" about those pulpy fantasies that gave you pleasure when you were a teen, someone still learning about the world through the stories one heard.You have to say that you did a fair and accurate summary of Bradbury's career and a fair estimation of his work. If you’re a good genre writer and you stick around long enough, you have a very good chance of having a host of recently minted book critics and biographers elevating you the higher ranks of Faulkner or Twain.
It's happened a dozen or so times , particularly in the mystery/crime arena with the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett. Sometimes the shoe actually fits, given that Chandler and Hammett were both innovators of form who had their lyric flights and coolly compressed melodramas informed by a tangible and subtle played romanticism.

Others have been less believable, as in the case of Jim Thompson, who is genuinely creepy and entertaining, but lacks music and wit, or James Ellroy, who mistakes intensity and encroaching unreadability as requirements of writerly worth. Elmore Leonard resists the temptation to let critics and upper echelon authors seduce him with praise and a general invitation to take his work more seriously; he is the kind of professional you most admire, someone who continues the work, writing one brilliantly middlebrow entertainment after another.Would that a few of our "serious" authors adopted the work ethic and wasted fewer pages and less of our time with their reputations.Some writers literally beg to be taken seriously; they implore us to read their novels deeply and let the philosophical conflicts resonate long and loudly.Has there been a John LeCarre novel that hasn't been compared to the world weary speculations of Graham Green's ambivalent attaches and minor couriers wrestling with the issue of Good versus Evil under a shadow of a silent Catholic God? Has there been a discussion among fans of James Lee Burke that didn't slip into a tangent about the American Southern tradition, with Faulkner's and Flannery O'Conner's names repeatedly dropped like greasy coins? It's not such a bad thing, though. LeCarre and Burke are fine writers and do manage to provide a complex settings where the moral battles take place in their work. Their presence in the high rankings needn't make anyone squeamish.

Stephen King, try as he might, will not remain on the top shelf no matter who places him there. He is the master of premise, one great and magnificent idea after another, but then he goes soft in the head and rushes through his novels with flights of illogical that even excusing them as part of a horror novel's delirious nature cannot excuse the slip shod execution. Bradbury? He is very good, sometimes even brilliant in all his amazing convolutions, and I think it would do everyone a great favor to not burden him with the weight of "literary importance". There are issues and morals and philosophies galore slithering through the paragraphs of his stories and novels, but Bradbury above all else is fun to read. I think it's enough that he be admired as craftsman with a slight touch of the poet. Bradbury, however sage we might wish him to be, never shed the basic rule of all professional writers go by; you need to be read by an audience that wants to be entertained.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sea Gods

 It's been an occasional pleasure of mine to collaborate with a visual artists, their vision, my poems interpreting that vision. An old friend, Jill Moon, created this sculpture for the city of Ocean Beach, California (with able assist from Matty Welch). This poem I devised when I viewed while in OB to absorb some good old fashioned community  counter culture vibes is my perhaps sad attempt to tell a tale that has less to do with Jill's sculpture than whats' been rattling around my empty can of an imagination. In any event, that piece inspired this piece. I hope you enjoy both.

The same old gods guard
the parking lot by the sea,

winds make the clouds over the
horizon darken, the ocean seems to boil,

ships no longer need sails or sextants
to make their way around the globe,

it is the day and night of the satellite,
reading the ruins of the earths hard face,

tankers full of oil, the promise of
brown skies and asthma,  inch toward land,

sea gods with tri-colored scepters rising from
the foaming surf to part the waters,

refineries on the coast line hum with  the making
of canned fury, a promise of  more jobs in

valleys choked with brown air, full of cars
going to that parking lot by the sea,

to visit the sea gods in crowns and fins
and draped in a kelp that carries a memory

of  fish that swim elsewhere now, or not at all.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

God's nod

"The Buddha was silent  about the existence of God".

Likewise, God is also silent about the existence of God. Unfortuately, not everyone agrees; to have silence be a key to any metaphorical doors that might open up and reveal a metaphysical superstructure of even further quiet and calm is simply too much.Their God is a busy multitasker, making decisions, running the Universe and beyond. It's heresy. Interesting that's these people who make all the noise regarding his greatness and kindnessI am something of a terse Kierkegaardian: i arrive at something that feels like proof of His/Her existence when I stop wading through murky theological concepts and take an action with whatever reserves of faith that I have. An act of faith. Whatever the results happen to be are not so much God's  will for me as much as it is the next thing he wants me, all of us, in our own ways, to attend to. I  suspect that even God does not the  know the outcome of the actions we take. He is there, though, to offer to turn up the light in our search for an inspiration.  All we need do is ask . And be realistic enough that God will not answer us in ways resembling a bungled sign, a letter, phone call or email. The occasional hunch or inspiration, yes. Everything else  is too flashy.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Post-Literacy or Super-Literacy? | Quarterly Conversation

Post-Literacy or Super-Literacy? | Quarterly Conversation:

Daniel Pritchard does a fine overview of Douglas Glover's new tract," Attack of the Copula Spiders", an polemic that seems, judging from the examples cited in the review, seems to be the exhortations of yet another language-police blowhard . The basic premise is that although there are more of us buying books or book related products, that despite the fact that more books are being published and purchased in the the various media than ever before, the sheer volume of words between covers has made our sense of how to make a sentence work most effective has lost it's musculature. Our syntax has gotten flabby.

The short and  the expected of the book is that    he desires a return to when writers and critics cut to the quick and made a sentences connect like a sock in the jaw. For all the heat Glover tries to generate , though, there is a lack of even the lightest wisp of smoke. Most of us will be better writers, for sure, if we learned the basics and studied those writers who revealed techniques that created an expressive and most memorable style, but the simple fact is that most of us who are otherwise competent with words, construction of sentences and the compositional fundamentals that come with that are not very expressive or memorable in our lives as writers.

 Most of us are average, routinely fluid in the mechanics, but otherwise tone deaf to the fickle element of style, the quality that makes technique in something become artful, elegant, forceful. In short, I suspect Glover realizes the obvious point that quantity diminishes quality and wrote this grumbling tract so may hear himself grouse. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012