Sunday, July 29, 2012

Whattaya know?

 I was making one of my constant vain attempts to clean the apartment when I came across a dog-eared mass market of Danny Sugarman's Jim Morrison memoir No One Here Gets Out Alive. Sugarman passed away in January of 2005, and a little bit of a flash back was all I needed to drop the broom and delay the clean up. Sugarman had the fortune and infamy to have been hanging around with the Doors since he was a mid-teen, and spent a good part of his adult life cashing in on the fact. During the Seventies he was scheduled to do a college reading in San Diego, and the editor of a local music weekly I wrote for at the time gave my name to the events organizer to be  Sugarman's "local poet" opening act.  
I didn't care for Sugarman's writing, but there was money in the deal, so I went and did the deal, and found old Danny to be a very nice guy indeed. Not a shred of detectable ego . It was the most enjoyable fifty bucks I've ever earned. I have to say that the least enjoyable fifty bucks I ever earned was having to read No One Here Gets Out Alive for a review for a local underground paper. Even as a young man who hadn't yet outgrown his obsession with the late Morrison's confused poetics and drunk posturing.I thought Sugarman's book was too much of a love letter, a mash note he couldn't stop writing. That said,  I will add that I remember Danny Sugarman being a  super guy, friendly, supportive in my own writing. He bought a copy of a chap book I brought to the reading. Alas. The apartment, you guess rightly, is still cramped with stuff and dusty as ghost town plates.



'via Blog this'

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Loose Fitting

(A slight expansion of a previous post.-TB)
I thought this small verse I wrote  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.  A side comment, the phrase “loose fitting” comes from  the last time I bought a near pair of jeans, forty bucks  worth for one pair, a cut of denim termed as such, looser than what you  would normally purchase I suppose. It maybe a euphemism  for sizes intended for those recently widened in the     waist line and who tip the scale more than they had. None of this, though, ads gravity y to the sonnet, which is precisely what it is, nearly weightless, but nice all the same.

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 you
have 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.  It’s a relevant to ask   how many people understand what’s  meant by an oblique reference  to phonograph record labels spinning around as they play. 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 CDs records had two sides, side A and side B, and that the phrase meant the other side of the record. The long and short of his wasn’t crucial to anything at hand, nor was it that interesting to anyone, 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. Existentialism   returns to toss another bowling ball down that long empty hall called a mind: life is incomprehensible outside the meaning you create for it, and the terms of that meaning , subtle though  they maybe, are quickly made obsolete by perversions of old definitions, and changes in technology. "Flip Side"  has no slang currency. It has precisely the same resonance as that of an old man on a bus trying to tell a college student about his glory days of seeing the MC5 and the Stooges in a Church basement on Detroit's 6 Mile Road. The student's eyes are off in a stare, his head plugged into his telephone, pizza joints, barber shops and tattoo parlors stream by the passenger windows. So we should remember this : wear the moments like it were a loose fitting garment, and bring a change of clothes.

Friday, July 20, 2012


There events in our lives that are so stunningly horrible and unexpected that the only response, it would seem, is silence, the ghostly quiet that follows a bloody battle, the closed mouth response that takes over after all expectations and assumptions about decency, order and general goodwill have been pulverized.  "The Dark Knight Rises" had  premier midnight showing in Denver this morning and a man shows up, wearing a mask, heavily armed; he releases a gas bomb and begins to open fire on the crowd; twelve are dead, scads injured. Nothing makes sense. 

But we do have yammering media reiterating the same    spare facts, repetitions occasionally seasoned with one talking head's glittering generality . It's not that we can't stand not knowing, it seems to me, it's that we can't stand the silence . We need to talk. And critics, it seems, need to seem serious about their jobs no matter how tangentially a bit of horror  touches their area of expertise. Salon's film reviewer Andrew O’Hehir just couldn't pass up the chance to opine on something where opinions are useless.

The shootings in Denver are awful, evil in their intent and effect, an act of a deranged man, a "lone nut", that has , so far, left twelve people. It makes all of us heartsick to think of twelve gone from this world due to one person's delusions ; it makes me even sicker that a professional stress monger like Andrew O’Hehir is already wringing his hands with this inane, vapid column attempting to establish who is responsible for letting this massacre happen.When confronted with the horrible, the ugly, the unthinkable, the truly tragic, the likes of O’Hehir respond with copious amounts of scapegoating, finger pointing, general pouting. I venture this a way for writers who make a living interrogating the ebb and flow of pop culture make themselves feel relevant when events makes everyone's interests and passions seem absolutely trivial. This sort of writing appears to be an attempt to moralize, but the tone, uncentered and lacking any real point, seems less like an argument or more like someone talking to themselves after an accident. It is babbling of the first order, disguised as commentary. Shame on O’Hehir for feeling compelled to add his two cents. Two cents buys you nothing.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dating in the '90s

Dating is one of our interaction rituals where we test our theories of what will happen to us in circumstances that  have yet to occur. Getting older is the tempered good fortune of realizing how funny your initial notions were in the first place. As usual, we are the last ones to get the joke.-tb


Little slivers under the nails
 are what I thought about last night,
wood splints and the corroded pinch
of tongue tip to battery acid
when there was no other way
to find out what something felt or tasted like.

I was throwing a pass
 as clumsy as downs
directing traffic.

I complimented
 her on the way
the lights
of the ATM blended
with the blonde depth
of her avalanche of mane.
She was finished
 pressing buttons
 for the night.
She took her cash, transaction receipt
 and card and tucked them all
into her wallet.

 “Ready?” she asked.
 My hands searched
the bottoms of my pockets
 which now weren’t deep enough.
 I told her
 that I was tired and
was going home to sleep
unless she wanted
 to come over and watch TV,”
or “something.”

She said thanks,
 but after months of
 trying to get tickets,
 tonight was a matter
of uncompromised agendas.
But no where as pristine
as the terms of
the gut feeling that
 addresses me in first person
 and babbles headlong into a perfect night
for a long
drink of water
to go with
the bitter pills that were
found  near evening’s end,


Tuesday, July 17, 2012


I am not against difficulty, I am not in favor of dumbing down poems in order to attract larger readerships, and I don't think the non-specialist reader insist, as a class, that poets have their wear as unadorned as sports writing. The gripe is against the poet who cannot get away from making Poetry their principle subject matter, by name. Not that each poem about poetry is, by default, wretched; there are bright and amazing reflexive verses indeed, but they are the exception to the rule, the rule being that a medium that ponders it's own form and techniques and ideological nuances too long becomes tediously generic.

 The problem, it seems to me, is that some writers who haven't the experiences or materials to bring to draw from will wax on poetry and its slippery tones as a way of coming to an instant complexity. It isn’t complexity, though, since  something that is complex can , with effort and expertise, be unpacked, bit by bit.  What is achieved, though, is something we call a muddle, a confluence of ideas that lacked salient clarity to begin with and which are not fitted together in terms of making a working relationship toward a more developed structure but instead piled one on the other, like half read magazines in a waiting room. Connections between what is superimposed over the other are ironic, at best, and always unintentional. One could manufacture a theory about the clutter, make it it conform to the particulars of some nested set of buzz phrases that produce more clouds than sunshine, but then the theory becomes more important that what it was supposed to bring to conversational exchange.   Rather than process a subject through whatever filters and tropes they choose to use and arrive at a complexity that embraces the tangible and the insoluble, one instead decides to study the sidewalk they're walking on rather on where it is they were going in the first place.

 I rather love ambiguity, the indefinite, the oblique, the elusive, and  poetry can be ruthlessly extended in it's rhetorical configuration to encompass each poet's voice and unique experience; the complexity I like, though, has to be earned, which is to say that I would prefer poets engage the ambivalences and incongruities in a sphere recognizable as the world they live in. First there was the word, we might agree. But those words helped us construct a reality that has a reality of it’s own, and I  am more attracted to the writer who has tired of  spinning their self-reflexing tires and goes into that already-strange world and field test their language skills.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The hiss in history

"Desert Sounds" By Howard Altmann. - Slate Magazine:

It's the desert and it's too damn hot and things about are still, motionless to the extent that you swear you can hear their atoms expand and produce a muted groan . There is a crackle to the things that move, an irritating grate when the rustle of clothes rubs against perspiring skin and seem to slather the salt of sweat deep into the pores. Everything is cast under a light you can't keep your eyes open for. It is the punishment for merely being alive . Howard Altmann creates this precise sense of the desert with his poem "Desert Sounds", a meditation, of a sort, on the inflamed emptiness that is the desert stretches where the imagination starts to notice the induced surrealism of what is close, torched and motionless.

The iguana is still under the rock.
Blossoms unfurl scents over coiled snakes.
Saguaros arm their shadows
With the long legs of daylight.
And whose limbs got buried where
The grand inquisitor unearths deeply.

So it goes in the Sonoran desert.
Sky shows its teeth with cacti.
The mouth of civilization spits out sand.
Who are we, who are we?The heart of the blue-throated hummingbird beats
Up to twelve hundred times a minute.
 There is the lingering feeling that you're waiting for something to emerge, for some dramatic event to take over this scorching endurance contest and provide a relief to both the heat and the tedium. Yet it remains, ruthlessly itself and defying the metaphors a literate poet might want to transform the surroundings with. Altmann is skillful in his use of straight-forward language and in the spare, delicate construction of appropriate metaphors that work in a tight, sense-filling manner with closely observed images:  the sight of blossoms unfurling their scents over coiled snakes is doubly suggestive, sensuous and deadly , and works perfectly well without a literary trick to make them more compelling-- this reveals an subtle Imagist influence that considered extensive use of metaphor and simile wrong and even injurious to poetry's ability to offer a new way of viewing what is actually in the world about us.

Altmann is wise enough to realize the two things he has joined in a sentence are extraordinary on their own terms. When he does  offer a metaphor, it is  quick, neat, fast as the eye that perceives the image and the mind that is its witness, " Sky show its teeth with cacti". Not a profound image, that is, nothing that ransacks  author and reader memories of vaguely recollected disquisitions on metaphysics, but it has the mark of elegant simplicity. It is apt, it is direct, it enhances a perfect expression.

Friday, July 13, 2012

what poets dream about

Poets dream about writing poems about moonlight , still waters , vapor escaping from a yawning mouth on a cold night , love that will not reciprocate no matter the intensity or rigidity of your yearning and, I wager, writing poems about poems besides said still waters, under said moonlight. You write about what you know about, so goes the advice, and it often seems that all the poet knows about is his medium and the  mewling, drooling, soft headed language required to filll pages and eventually books with the kind of poetry that is steadfastly unsure in what it wants to say, or at least get at.

 It is, however, not a situation isolated to the New Yorker, as it is a habit of mind that filters through the versifying consciousness regardless of politics, preference, or where the poet thinks they are in the relative standards of quality. Save for the few instances where the habit results in a brilliant gem of cadenced self-reflection, it is the worst sort of navel gazing, to employ a cliché.

 To employ a fresher simile, it's the drone of a specialist of who cannot talk about anything else. Poets are supposed to have mastered their craft and then enter the world. Too many of the writers that find sanctuary in the journals have reversed the process. I am not against difficulty, I am not in favor of dumbing- down poems in order to attract larger readerships, and I don't think the non-specialist reader insist, as a class, that poets have their wear as unadorned as sports writing. The gripe is against the poet who cannot get away from making Poetry their principal subject matter, by name.  

Not that each poem about poetry is, by default, wretched; there are bright and amazing reflexive verses indeed, but they are the exception to the rule, the rule being that a medium that ponders it's own form and techniques and ideological nuances too long becomes tediously generic. The problem, it seems to me, is that some writers who haven't the experiences or materials to bring to draw from will wax on poetry and its slippery tones as a way of coming to an instant complexity. Rather than process a subject through whatever filters and tropes they choose to use and arrive at a complexity that embraces the tangible and the insoluble, one instead decides to study the sidewalk they're walking on rather on where it is they were going in the first place.  
I rather love ambiguity, the indefinite, the oblique, the elusive, and I do think poetry can be ruthlessly extended in it's rhetorical configuration to encompass each poet's voice and unique experience; the complexity I like, though, has to be earned, which is to say that I would prefer poets engage the ambivalence and incongruities in a sphere recognizable as the world they live in. First there was the word, we might agree. But those words helped us construct a reality that has a reality of its own, and I am more attracted to the writer who has tired of spinning their self-reflectivity tires and goes into that already-strange world and field test their language skills. 

Wallace Stevens, perhaps the most beautifully oblique poet America has produced, can be said to have written poems about poems, but I think that misses the point. Our latter day mainstream reflexivists  are enamored  of the their own broad readings and wind up standing outside of poetry  thinking they have a better idea to what a poem should be. 

The concern isn’t the poem, but the abstraction, an inversion that has the erudition outsmarting the inspiration. Stevens was smart enough to familiarize himself with the philosophical propositions regarding the problems associated with the world we see and the world as-is; his genius was that he created a metaphorical systems that could deal with poetics-as-subject and still give us something beautiful and wholly musical.

 I am beginning to suspect that the problem might not be that poets are writing too many poems about poetry--the tradition for the bard to reflect on his craft and his relevance is very long established in world literary history--but that of the tendency of editors to select or solicit these sorts of works. If one looks further into the works of the New Yorker poets cited in the story, one would notice that they respectively manage to engage life outside their craft ; the body of work is not always as suffocatingly one-idea as it may seem here. Editors, I am tending to think, need to be more open ended as to the subject matter they consider suitable for the magazines or journals they write for.

Lester Bangs is Still Dead

The Weeklings -

There is nothing more pleasurable than getting hot and nasty and railing against the elements of pop culture that have, over the decades, made you a miserable, prickly son of a bitch. This makes for the endless lists you find on the internet informing us of what are the worst movies, who are the worst poets, who are the biggest phonies in the arts; it is a culture of complaint where the evil tidings never cease and the invective, borrowed, retooled and hastily installed for the following rant against someone's string of bubble gum rock hit singles,  flows, splinters, shreds and generally assault what is assumed to be the pervasive valley of lowbrow gruel that makes up the symbolic substance of our inner lives. I  have an aversion to the worst, simplistic grue the popular arts clobbers us with and appreciate distinctions made by the likes of a Mencken, a Dwight McDonald, a Robert Hughes. They passionately delineate the morbidly sentimental from the fresh, the expressive, the honest, and the truly original in the panoply of artist's work available to us. But I generally look askance at lists like this one  Salon has published that highlights the foaming contempt of  Sean Beaudoin. I don't know where else Beaudoin has written and will admit that this man knows when to use a comma, where to place a modifier, but the sort of controversial hate he tries to generate borders on self-induced hysteria, some kind of volume you hear from a three-year-old who is obviously attempting to sustain a  loud crying jag to manipulate their parents.

 Our disgruntled pundit here keeps it loud to keep our attention; there was a collection of rock and roll reviews, edited by veteran review Jim DeRogatis entitled Kill Your Idols, where a selection of younger critics reviewed a representative sample of classic albums. What might have been an exciting collection of essays by intelligent writers with no generational vested interest in the albums --actual criticism, in others words, a discussion of what works and what is less sustainable in the music of the Beatles, Dylan, The Stones, The Band--turns instead into a dumping ground of bile and contempt for older rock and roll and pop. It was a grueling, monotonous set of performances, leading one to the idea that there is nothing more boring than a bored cynic. 

Another task of criticism is, plainly, to remain interested in the milieu they choose to cover. Duncan Shepard, the brilliant longtime film critic for the San Diego Reader, left his post when his enjoyment diminished. I respect that. Beaudoin does something remarkable in that he succeeds in creating torpor in a much briefer space:  his column, if read top to bottom, has the dulling effect of working next to loud machinery.  What is remarkable about this article isn't what Beaudoin has to say about overexposed, passe, and otherwise dulling pop artists, but rather his manner of expression; his prose is the perfect expression of what Harold Bloom meant by his idea of the Anxiety of Influence, that every writer alive is competing with and trying to show up their influences. You can imagine Sean as an earnest kid himself imagining the shimmering presence of Lester Bangs, Mencken, and others looking over his shoulder while he types in a fit of convoluted fury, nodding to one another that young has got it. Beaudoin hasn't got it--these paragraphs are overstuffed with metaphors, similes, and colliding qualifiers that serve up more noise than clarity. The writing tries to be funny and winds up instead as merely out of breath. This is the perfect example of someone not writing an essay but trotting out their shtick.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


I wrote this poem years ago, during the first Bush administration, when things were tougher than a microwaved steak and the country and culture collectively seemed ready to go insane with an cumulative anxiety that was then ready to turn us to undifferentiated lemmings running toward the cliff. A considerable time , in the time of Obama and the Tea Party, the trivial pursuits that have become the things we draw swords over is no less visible than it was back then; I think the shit stinks even worse because we all know it's shit and yet no one can is brave enough to cease the insanity and do something nice, kind, caring, you know, Christian.  -tb


The white people
have gone crazy
in the back seats
of All American cars
looking for the sex life
that fell between the cracks,
meanwhile screaming the rudeness
of Romantic love
that finds them
hung-over in court
too early in the morning
of a business day
where they'll tell the Judge
that it's only rock and roll
and that there was something in the way
the singer dropped his "g's
and a manner
worth noting when the guitarist
grabbed his whammy bar
and that all they did was taking
Creeley freely and pile into
the four-wheeled remains of a rumored prosperity
and drove into
the running gag reflex of the night, down a blvd.
filled brand names and bored cops,
cruising to get "some", to find "it"
and where "it" lived,
a slobbering example
of failed bonding
locked into habits
where even as their language of outrage
is bought
and shredded
in magazines
whose pages stick together
just as they did
in the parking lot after last call,
harassing the cocktail staff
that's going home,
they'll stick to principals
familiar and vague,
like that song whose words you never memorized
but tried to sing anyway, with a hushed secret at the core of the chorus
Saying that love is somewhere
just around one of these thousands
of and that it'll shake your hand
if you drive long and far and often enough,
if you've the gas
to complete the journey, the journey
Celine dreamed of while lying in bed,
staring at ceilings, concluding
that his language of outrage could only
describe the surface details of wrong turns,
that it had been bought and sold in a tradition
of literature that speculates about how wonderful
our lives might have been
if only the dream hadn't ended
when we opened our eyes,

Our eyes are constantly
getting used to the dark
absorbs every inch of brick
in parking lots
behind buildings and under bedrooms
of others who've made
their peace with
the sameness of the night,
the radio blares
more guitar solos
emerging from the
static of stadium
drums and strumming,
crazed cadenzas
whose neurotic notes scurry
and cleave to a neuron receptor
and keys a change
in the brains chemical balance that changes
the language of what the nights' really been about,

But we remain where we are,
white heterosexual males bond
by nothing more than
the chain sawing motion
of jaws lifting and falling
on the pillows and
sofa cushions in
desert motels
in time to the pans of a camera
on the silent television
where it's nothing but a wall full
of clocks telling
the time in
three separate
time zones while
temperatures are mentioned where
anger and rain mix in the fields
and valleys of economies
based on pride,
some abstract grip on selflessness that
needs no sleep
as do the bodies in this room,
dead to the world when the
engine blew, when the gas ran out, when
the last drop in whatever bottle of
cartoon labeled beer vanished on the
buds of a tongue
whose thirst could not be slaked by?
promise of fortune or even
water, pure and free of lies,

We sleep in shifts until
our time here runs
out on us,
until the phone that rings
everyday for twenty minutes on end
stops finally and leaves
the house quiet
from stairway to attic to porch,
with only the whir of the
refrigerator engine
starting up
and filling the stale,
stale air that
used to carry
mean jazz, drum boogie,
scratched riffs of declarative guitars,
the frets of God announcing
a life worth inventing in the notes
that passed through the room,
the boredom,
we realize in frozen moments
that any excuse for getting
out of the house
is a magic trick
that's performed after
they've shown you
where they've hidden the mirror,
"language is the house
where man lives",
let us say
that this life is
like being a fish
that cannot describe the water it swims in,
endlessly at 3AM
when only the coffee at
the 7-11 has the
aroma of anything
real enough to make
us think of getting
out of town
with one suitcase
and a bus fare,
next to a god-damned big car,
five shoulders
to the wheel
and no one able to drive
between towns , from carnival to still spot
where ever we could
pitch tents and trailers
and set up Ferris wheels that
would rattle against a
large scowling moon
hovering over
Modesto and Turlock
on dry August nights
when dollars are
grimy with mung from
many a farmer's and mechanic's hand,
power chords slice through
the speakers, destroy the cracked dashboard,
your face is slapped
with a power
not your own,
it comes down to something
that's a secret
that even The Judge won't cop to it
before he lowers his voice,

"The beat goes on,
the beat goes on,
the beat goes on,
the beat goes on…"

We can do better
this far away
from our past,
we have something
we've turned toward,
a light in eyes, a sun
that shines a light
those blades of
grass and long
stemmed flowers lean toward
even when clouds
and the stammer of fire eating transistors
sizzling from car windows distort the
image in the minds' eye,
I see a city where we come
and plant our feet on lawns
where we can sit
and plant in turn
new seeds, ideas
of a future worth having,

let's lean into the sun,
into the sun,
ride bicycles into the sun
on the road that becomes
a ribbon around the
heart of the world

Monday, July 9, 2012

An Idea of Fantastic Moonlight

An idea of fantastic moonlight
on the water's wavering surface,

we are concentric in our desires
for the rest of the meal,

it's only during full moons
when the dogs feel like singing

and the trains and trolleys,
running along parallel tracks,

to screech and whistle and yowl
into the black slants of downtown

in the blue grey sheen of lunar gleaning
that makes the land and the seems arid

and thirsty with desire as all the cars
rattle in line and the steel wheels

grind around the bends of the tracks that
move between buildings of cracked brick
and scarred, grey cement,

cutting through old neighborhoods
where trains are go to and come from
places distant as the face of the moon
rippling and quivering in snaking white lines
from the horizon, over the water,
to the beach and the mirrored hardness
of the sand,

I want to you scratch my back
and rub my neck,
you are saying, turning around in your seat,
your computer screen on a web page decorated with

floral print and drawings of naked men,
there is so much left to write about before deadline,
there's a mountain of data that needs indexing and
some other line of scrutiny, you place a finger
over my lips, you say Listen and there are barking dogs,

car horns and train whistles sounding
in cryptic orchestrations, shrill,
and thirsty among the ashen hues
the full moon brings us,

its time to let data just pile up
so we can pile on each other

and books fall to the floor
as they would in perfect love stories

the camera pulls away and floats to the window
to settle on an image of the full moon,

the full moon would be smiling, yes
but no, not that, clouds drift over the orb

and the world loses some of
the grey glow,

yet the sound don't change, whether trains, dogs, cars stalled on an over pass,

both of us stuck on each other,
noises stuck on the black tarp of evening.

Bogus Jive, Brother Man

Cody Walker is a joker, it seems, given to giggles, giddiness and guffaws in the pursuit of cracking himself up on jokes perhaps only he and select coterie of friends and fellow travelers would get. His poem on the latest Slate , "Update",is an exercise in a man chortling loudly in the back row.And even if a reader was fortunate to "get" Walker's interior monologue of skipping rhymes and cross-referenced literary forms, it's my modest guess the number finding this bit humorous would be lesser still. No matter, since I am as well in the habit of cracking myself up, imagining lines of dialogue among unlikely characters and personalities in improbable circumstance, chewing the fat on absurd and discreetly vulgar subjects.

It would be something like a three year old playing with his toy cars, conjuring one automotive disaster after another on a strip of wood paneled floor quickly imagined to be a ten lane interstate, or a six year old, when the young mind grows out the crashing spectacle of accidents and now imagines characters, recognizably humanoid, with distinct personalities, representing abstract, if two dimensional virtues, with attending voices. All this fills a mind with busy talk and scenarios, in the casual preparation for engaging the real life imagination will help them , with prayers, survive and thrive in.

Later still, in the far throws of adulthood, there come the private totems, the hallowed reference points, the memorized conventions of morning cartoons, biographies of great poets and advertising jingles, conflated to essential absurdities one tears down and reconstructs and tears down again as the surging mood to distance oneself from the drudgery of work and obligations; one takes flight, throws water balloons at the canon, paints the icons in garish colors, makes unlikely partners of dissimilar virtues in order to reveal some space in one's consciousness where logic and hard rationale
haven't invaded and tamed. Then comes the "eureka" laugh, that fast, hard snort of being elevated above the physical place where you stand, momentarily transcendent, untouchable. I do this often enough alone, at home, whether writing or reading a book, and too often, perhaps, at work, where such outbursts
are evidence of a mind being on other things other than the bottom line, and it is for those seconds when all things are reduced in stature, made equal in
size. It doesn't last, of course, and soon enough the
euphoria evaporates into the hard facts in front of you. But it is nice when it happens.

I should also make it a point to relate that I just about never try to relate what it was I found so funny to anyone I'm around; the description defy anecdotal reiteration, most times seeming sketchy and bizarre when I do try. The punch lines are too private, the references mired in that roiling swamp of a consciousness that cannot be brought to public view without the mediation of
thoughtful consideration and editing. And even then it would be dubious whether an audience would find the reason for my fleeting giggle worth the effort to listen to me bray on.

Cody Walker has decided to bray on.Walker's poem isn't a great one by any means, and is such that you wonder once again what Pinsky's attraction to it was. The rhymes are trite, the subject attempting to lane change across style barriers with the worst kind of ham-handed self-reverentially readily found in the most grating post-modern poetry, and there is what can be a smug -knowingness that saturates this brief operation. We have a scenario where a bright boy , trying to regain his equilibrium after the departure of his girlfriend/wife/significant other, invests himself with the powers and abilities of his great heroes from comic books and the scant readings of top shelf authors. He becomesStar Trek:The Next Generation's Data ("I've also rerouted...
my neural pathways..."
 )and Superman , with a mention that he has also re-routed "fjords", an oblique reference to the opening of the fifties TV program where the Man of Steel is said to be able to "...change the course of mighty rivers..." 

And so it goes through this short poem, a desperate playfulness abounds, a growing hysteria mounts, a breakdown threatens, all this stewing while the narrator seeks the blessing of the over-cited Nietzsche guarantee , to paraphrase a paraphrase, that what what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. What Walker intends is unclear--that the social constructions that result from our innate need to have life have purpose and meaning are finally inadequate? That mistaking experience as merely the means with which we test the veracity of our philosophical models is to lose sight of actual value?-- but what there is here is minor, indeed, worth a laugh, perhaps, but worth a laugh in the sense that what's funny is a reader's belief this tightly packed box of a poem merits a close textual reading. Walker wrote this as a knock off, I suspect, something to be put deep inside a collection as an off key note, a character-giving bit of dissonance insanity.It makes my case that mental anguish does not necessarily result in good poetry.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be: Compelling and irritating - Slate Magazine


A few years ago a member of the Nobel committee charged with choosing who wins the august prize every year complained that American writers were collectively immature, self infatuated and generally provincial in the fiction they write. Granted , this was during the W years when few in the world had nice things to say about anything coming from the United States, let alone its literature, but this novel, as described, underscores the substance of the the committee member's complaint: even in sections some defend as a self aware joke, the trials and tribulations of a generation that is simultaneously over network and incapable of discourse that isn't cast as an ironic aside to their own sense of absurd specialness sounds less inviting than a forced tour of your own living room. It is a low grade egomania .

We realize , however that the author in question, Sheila Heti, is actually Canadian, although born in England , and that the committee member was referring to his pained experience with writers born in the United States, The remarks remain a useful analog, however ,  so lets amend  my original remark (not that there is anything truly original about it; bright Canadians who think they are geniuses, even in an ironic sense, are about as annoying as stupid United States citizens who haven't a clue that they are inappropriate, chest thumping galoots.

While I don't disagree that the Nobel judge was demonstrating his bit of provincialism by accusing American writers , as a whole, of being immature and self-infatuated. His basic gripe, though, it dovetails  with a slew of youngish, bright and utterly uninteresting writers who cannot write fiction that even pretends to see beyond the vanity of being young . 

There is a time in most people's lives when what later seems like obvious truisms seem so profound; many of us for a time, think they are profound and true because we assume that we're the only ones who who have had these ideas. Further, some of us take longer than others to realize that what we think are special insights and ironic readings of the world are mannerisms that have been borrowed from movies and books and that they've been practiced in the mirror too often for too long. Sheila Heti sounds like that kind of writer. The problem with being the center of the universe is that if, after a while, you don't lighten up, the gravity will crush you. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Oakie doakie

There are only big words
describing small things
when the vapor clears,

like, does it really matter
who left their
styrofoam coffee cup
in the microwave,

who is suffering because
my belt came from  a cow
on the wrong side of the planet,

does your bank      account
actually throb with desire
when you shop online for
midget harmonicas
like they used to
play in  movies
you watched when young
late night
in the basement
of a Michigan home?


I kissed you thirty years ago
before the music stopped
and I've been dancing   ever since
decades and many miles
keep us apart,

I remember every punch line
but forget the jokes they go to,
your dog
in the photos you mailed me
is beautiful
and missing all the same.

No, I   will not die my hair,
leave  your chin as it is,

let us use knives to cut out our food
and live
a little longer
in the playground.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Marilyn and Tru sitting in a tree...

"Marilyn Monroe and Truman Capote Dance" By Patrick Ryan Frank. - Slate Magazine:

This is intended to be a lyric of sweet imagining, a tale of what if the tragic likes of Monroe and Capote solace, at least briefly, in each other's arms. Of course it would during a dance, a room full of sweeping music, the senses lulled , seduced and distracted from the grimmer things that lurk for both of them outside the room, with one of the two speaking that now is the moment to be in, that nothing else really matters nor should bother them, not as long as one of them leads and the other follows in time to the music. 

Just a dance— just sweet, like everybody sweetly else, a man and woman sweetly moved. I know no one forgets the ugly things they’ve known, and yes, I know that love, for us, is sweat and panic and some cameras, but it’s still love, and we’ve done nothing wrong. So let them laugh and then forget it all: those drinks and pills, hands wet, that man who, grinning, made us dance so here we are, we’re dancing. Let’s just pretend that one of us—who would remember who?— slipped through the grand and glittered dark and said, Hello, fella. Hello and take my hand. 
Poet Patrick Ryan Frank does a fine of sustaining a tone that keeps the poem's speaker anonymous--it appears that neither the personas of Monroe or Capote are speaking, issues of gender and sexuality are handily avoided, or at least obscured to the extent that it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine that both dancers are speaking as one. Still, this is something you find in a paperback novel that purports to reveal some inside secrets of the famous, powerful and tragic that reduces their stature to the mere sentimentality . The references to drugs, to media, to a world in general that seeks them out and in order to both adore and destroy them , are to be expected in a piece that cannot re-imagine these iconic figures beyond an interesting premise.

 This fails both as poetry and barely qualifies as gossip, albeit a well-intentioned gossip. This might have been a poem that speculated about a what sort of plausible but unexpected set of things these two might have discussed in such close embrace,the irony and tension might have been subtly and intensely expressed without reference to their real world celebrity, but Frank has done otherwise. Rather than imagine what was inside the magic space between them, that mutual private time where titles, professions and other signifieds fell from them, it becomes merely tacky, an episode of "Dallas". Why would be interested with such trivia this poem offers? 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hunter S. Thompson: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 review by Matt Taibbi. - Slate Magazine

Hunter S. Thompson: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 review by Matt Taibbi. - Slate Magazine:

In celebration of the  40th Anniversary edition of Hunter Thompson's gonzo masterpiece of political writing "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail", Slate writer Matt Taibbi writes an extensive essay on  why  HST still matters in our  current climate of  dread and drudgery.It is a nice commemoration, but I'm not persuaded that we could have learned anything more than      we already have from the late writer; what newer readers would learn is what we did, after time, that HST  could be wildly entertaining and then dependably repetitive in his subjects, his insults, his tone.  Truthfully, Thompson's reputation as a writer is based on a very small body of quality  work. I am willing to cede that Hunter Thompson succeeded , momentarily, at being a Great Writer for a couple of books, but the bitter truth was that while he was long on rage , he was short on other elements that keep a writer interesting over a career. Those qualities are insight, nuance, a curiosity about people and their circumstances beyond what mere appearances. 

Mere appearence, though, sufficed too often for Thompson, as his conceit, dove-tailing tellingly with his appetite for high powered stimulants, was that he could walk into the room full of characters and size the situation quickly. His concern was pacing over all, the attempt to simulate the down hill careen of a waiter carrying too many hot dishes from the kitchen. For all the energy and paranoid genius Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas and his Campaign Trail book contained, it amounted to the best expression of the limited set of riffs Thompson. 

He was not especially engrossing as a political thinker--we read him for his vitriol. His attraction for invective , I imagine, was because it was easy and that it was a convenient means to get to the bottom of one typewritten page after another; the rhythm of the constructed persona of being the most wasted man alive bravely inveighing against the stupidities and inequities and the  utter  mendacity of the world in which he finds himself would go into hyperdrive. 

For some this suggested automatic writing, the idea that HST  was channeling some Truth hidden behind the barriers of bullshit and pretense, a voice greater than his own. Perhaps, but for me it was the writing of someone who was working what became a tired set of rhetorical ploys. Thompson plainly never had the chance to transcend his moment of transcendent genius, as had, say, Norman Mailer, himself an egotist with a certainity that only he could get to the disguised truth of things. Mailer settled in for the long haul, abandoned much of his writerly eccentricity and produced a series of brilliant books of fiction and nonfiction in his late career; there are other things to discuss about Mailer than his antics.

There are many who would like to consider Thompson our generations H.L.Mencken, but I would say the departed Hunter comes up short: even a writer as caustic as Mencken would , often enough, vary his tone and write about matters that didn't need to be vilified, crucified or witlessly mocked. Thompson never had the chance to try anything truly different.