Saturday, April 14, 2007

Joe Scarborough's failure to make distinctions

The Imus Affair has been good for the cable talk shows this last week for the simple reason that it's freed any and all of the usual suspects from having to shuffling their talking points around intransigent political problems and allows them instead to opine, preen, pout, and shout over a simply grasped matter on which little or no
background information is required. It is a food fight, yes, and many things get said in heat over an event that is being spoken off in comically exaggerated terms.
It's been good for Joe Scarborough because it's let him reassert his conservative credentials ; his point , of course , is expected, but a valid one, which is why are rap artists getting off so freely for more offensive language than Imus ever uttered?
In the heat of debate--Scarborough's show can be a shout fest much of the time--Joe wonders why the New York Times, august institution it is, blesses vile rap language as genius and genuine poetry. Scarborough makes the common mistake of assuming that an individual critic's opinion on a consumer product is an official position of the newspaper. Joe, though, would be hard pressed to find an unsigned editorial on the OP/ED page endorsing gangster rap and everything mythos it indulges in. Joe, 'though, is not a stupid man and is well aware of the difference. It's a clever way for him to bash some liberals and the NY Times to reassert his conservative credentials and
make amends for the compulsive Bush bashing he's taken to in the last year. I don't mind the Bush bashing, nor mind that he's a conservative, but it's annoying when a smart guy plays dumb with simple distinctions to build up his credibility.

"GRINDHOUSE": a real grind, to the nub

There are few things sadder in Hollywood than watching a director's hot streak go cold, doubly sad when the freeze hits two directors in the same movie. Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill, Vols. 1 and 2) Richard Rodriguez (Spy Kids, Sin City), coming off critical and box office hits, evidently thought it would be a sure thing for them to combine their talents and mutual love of jacking up junky film genres and give the world Grindhouse. It sounded good when they batted the idea around, I'm sure; both would make an individual film as an homage to the slasher/zombie/car crash/women-in-chains flicks that used to populate downtown theaters that usually resided at the edge of the porn district, complete with scratches, missing reals, jumpy frames and melting film stock. The results are three hours of sheer send-up, accidental laughs, and more than a little tedium. "Planet Terror," written and directed by Rodriguez, is a labored parody of flesh-eating zombies, mad scientists, maverick Army squads, geared for maximum gross-out effect with the overflow of exploding heads, bloodstreams, severed limbs, and oozing pustules being popped. "Death Proof," Tarantino's offering in honor of the road movie, is talky, chatty, wordy, prolix in ways that stop being amusing and begins to feel like the time-killing schtick it actually is. That the talk, talk, the talk takes place among women rather than clubby male comfort he usually scribes these lines for is significant only in that even with women characters Tarantino reveals habit of over-marinating his best writing. At best, the dialogue is naturalistic and formal without showing a strain; one easily imagines anyone of their friends who switch their dictions in midphrase without a hint of pretension. Tarantino's problem, though, is that the writing becomes the showpiece and distracts from the narrative, what there is of it. By the time we encounter Kurt Russell and his serial killing stunt car, we are simply too stupified to thread the excess of chick-chat with any underlining irony QT might have in mind or any hint of homage or parody he'd like us to witness.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Don Imus Gets Canned

Don Imus is a crotchety geezer who, on his best day at the microphone, radiates an incomprehensible arrogance that cannot be traced to any innate talent or knack on his part. There is nothing intrinsic about Imus--not intellect, not wit, not looks--that is admirable or worth the stale sweat naked envy evokes. His talent, as it were, is his penchant for being an asshole, of not giving a good goddamn what others think of him. What is obvious is that he's that sort who merely wanted to be famous, and didn't care what he was famous for. It paid off, to be sure, since he's been marketed as that supposedly rare breed of iconoclastic truth tellers who actually say what the rest of us are thinking." It's claptrap and marketing, and the drive time audience loved to listen to the bellicose bile and offending slurs
for those pre-dawn excursions on the freeways to the office. His bad karma has gathered against him over all the years that he's been given a pass by bosses and media critics, and his recent fall, having been fired by both MSNBC and CBS in the aftermath of his "nappy headed hos" crack about the Rutgers Women's Basketball Team, strikes me as something he might has well have been asking for. Ideally, we will have seen the last of this frowning scarecrow and the rest of us can get on with things that actually interest us.But no. The story isn't going anywhere, and the experience of OJ, Michael Jackson and the debacle of Anna Nicole Smith staying for ceaseless, seamless, unending periods of time on our broadcast and cable talk shows remind us that American media is addicted to celebrity , obsessing over it as if it
were a religion,a metaphysically fixed certainty. The issue of racism and misogyny and other offenses are no longer the point; everyone wants to get their say in, everyone with half a a foot in the door of Fame wants to be associated with this farce, to the extent that the bad faith is boundless. Al Sharpton's fiasco with the Tawana Brawley and Jessie Jackson's referring to New York as "Hymietown" are not forgotten, but they aren't mentioned as the two of them bray and pontificate about injustice and all manner of foul words and deeds. The injustice, though, is that everyone having their say, even if what's uttered only mirrors that thing they claim to find abhorrent.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More from my record collection

I've been clearing out old music these days, giving discs away, selling them, and playing a few I haven't heard for awhile. Here some of the one's I've kept:

"Pursuance: The Music of John Coltrane" --Kenny Garrett

Kenny Garrett (alto saxophone), Pat Metheny (guitar), Rodney Whitaker (bass), Brian Blade (drums).

I guess I've been in a straight ahead mood lately, catching up with CDs I haven't played much since I bought them. Garrett acquits himself here on his alto, and allows himself to mess with Coltrane's' sacred phrases: a potent abstractionist when need be, but a man who's outgrown the old clothes and demonstrates an inspired re-tailoring of the material. "Giant Steps" has a swaggering waltz feel, with a sly, side long reading of the head, and Garrett's' improvisations come in deft, spiky explosions. Metheny remains a marvel of jazz guitar here, a continuing revelation since he more or less walked away from his fusion stance some years ago, and the bass and drum interplay between Whitaker and Blade tumbles and rolls nicely through out.

"Remembering Bud Powell" --Chick Corea and Friends

Roy Haynes (drums) Kenny Garrett (alto sax) Joshua Redman (tenor sax),Wallace Roney (trumpet) Christian Mc Bride (bass).

Yes, yes, I am playing a desperate game of catch up, and habits tend toward stellar tributes rather than primary sources, but this Corea Bud Powell collection is notable for, besides dense and cutting improvisations, is the quality of Powells' compositions. Corea resists the temptation to Latinise or fusionize the material and instead plays the charts straight--Powells' sense of harmonic build up and resolution is loopy, easing from sweetness to tart dissonance. All of which is the canvas for some good blowing. Corea reins in his extravaganzas and weaves around with a now untypical sense of swing. The efforts of Garrett and Redman are a reed lovers idea of heaven. Roney has a cool, crystalline tone , and his phrasing is meditative, reserved, nicely so, though one desires a Freddie Hubbardish scorch at odd times. Haynes and McBride are champs.

:Blues --Jimi Hendrix

A typical gathering of Hendrix loose threads, centered his outstanding blues guitar work: some tracks work better than others, the band is not always in tune , and sometimes drags terribly, but this is more than archival stuff for completest. "Red House" is included, always inspiring, and "Bleeding Heart", a truly mournful show blues work out that has only surfaced once or twice on some imports, has Hendrix digging deep into the frets. A live "Hear My Train A Comin'", originally on the "Rainbow Bridge" album, is a masterpiece of pure, blazing Hendrixism: Everything Hendrix could do right on the guitar is displayed here, the sonic flurries, the screaming ostinatos, the feedback waves that he turns into melodic textures with a snap of the whammy bar: this track ought to the one any Hendrix advocate plays as proof of the genius we speak about.

GO --Dexter Gordon

w/Gordon--tenor sax / Sonny Clark--piano / Butch Warren--bass / Billy Higgins--drums.

A 1961 gathering, a roll-up the sleeves where only the music mattered, from the sounds of things here. Gordon has such an easy gait on the slower, bluesier tunes, and an engulfing sense of swing on the faster tracks. And in between, any number of moods , his phrases whimsical, suggesting , perhaps, what Paul Desmond might have wished he sounded like if he would only dare step out of that glossy, modal style and burn a little. He might have garnered a bit of Gordon's humor. Billy Higgins is wonderful here, and Sonny Clark is a bright star through out: his chord work and harmonic turns brighten up the room.

Barbecue Dog --Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society

Cranky post-Miles fusion, highlighting the tone-dialing bass work of Jackson, and pre-Living Color guitar work from Vernon Reid. Lessons from everywhere--bop and Zappa, Miles and Ornette--some of this does not hang together as well as it might, but some tracks mesh to fantastic results: particularly "Harlem Opera". Quizzical and cubist.

Jazz at the Hi-Hat
--Sonny Stitt

w/Stitt--alto and tenor sax/Dean Earl--piano/Bernie Griggs--bass/Marquis Foster--drums.

Whether Stitt came up with this style on his own or did in fact cop from Charlie Parker is moot: this album, a 1954 live date with a strong band whose reputations are unknown to me, shows him playing as if he owned the style solely: the phrasing is fluid and ridiculously rapid, ebullient and melodic all through the melodies. Conventional fair, but pulsing bop, alive and kicking.

Ed Palermo Big Band Plays the Music of Frank Zappa

Superb selection of material--"Peaches and Regalia", "Twenty Small Cigars", "King Kong"--but you feel Palermo labored too hard to transcribe Zappa's music exactly. Still, the compositions stand tall, but the formalist air doesn't lighten. I kept wondering what it would have sounded like for Palermo to have a smaller band that substantially reworked Zappa's works, really messing with the moods, and extending. Maybe some one will see that through some day.

One of A Kind--Bill Bruford

w/Bruford--drums and percussion/ Allan Holdsworth--guitar / Dave Stewart --keyboards / Jeff Berlin-- bass

The King Crimson and sometime Yes drummer had occasional jazz-fusion sessions when he wasn't furnishing beats behind abstruse angst fantasies, and surprisingly, the music holds up well. There is not an amphetamine strain fuzz tone anywhere to be heard. What helps are good tunes, most by Bruford, that mix up funk, Zappa, and Prog-rock stylistics under unmannered conditions, allowing the instrumental work to mesh, mess around, and burn as needed. Holdsworth offers some impressive ultra legato lines, and Jeff Berlin is singular on the bass. Bruford, hardly a Tony Williams-like goliath, fusion monster, lacks some the swing you might like, or even the blunt Bonham-oid pow! to make this rock harder, but he's an able timekeeper who keeps the session forging ahead.

Zygote --John Popper

Curious to see if the Blues Traveller leader might extend his unique harmonica playing to some styles that might render his speedy riffing into something consistently resembling music, but NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Twice, I count, he lets us know that he's a terribly fast player whose blurring cascades overwhelm you, but even on these tracks he becomes directionless, wheezing, void of an inspiration except perhaps to think that if he plays real fast , all the time, he might live up to the offensive comparisons of to Coltrane that have been made by more than one nitwit reviewer. Sugar Blue is your man, if you need rapid fire harmonica work. The songs? They sound like a man ploughing a field without a horse. Cumbersome at worse. At best, tuneful, but not often enough.

Monday, April 9, 2007

American Idol's Pitch to Destroy Celebrity

It seems each cable talk show is required to have an American Idol segment in which commentators, critics and erstwhile political hacks try to assess the impacat of that show on American Culture, and more importantly, why such a mewling, tuneless, graceless ham like Sanjaya Malakar on the show. The subtext, if there is one, is who do we blame, producers, advertisers, network execs? Who is tampering with the voiting protocols?

Actually, one may as well blame the people who are voting for Sanjaya; the wise man noted that no ever lost money underestimating the intelligence (or the taste) of the American public. Sanjaya is this generation's Mrs.Miller or Tiny Tim, and what people seem to be responding isn't his courage, or even his "heart", that vague, schmaltzy quality the gullible will use to euphemize the lack of talent. Sanjay, in fact, seems heartless, even calculated--his wretchedness is put forth by design, for a purpose. What he does have is an unslakeable thirst for fame, wealth, the desire for center stage. He's that guy in drama class who was smitten with his porno doll looks whom we've all seen leering at himself in each mirror he passes; Sanjay wants to be stared at, adored. Every musical genre he deforests, each ballad he abuses, each uptempo song he ties to chair and takes a rubber sap to are all means to keep him on the air, under the spotlight, on the blogs and the cable talk shows no matter what is being said about his presence. It's about this fool attaining fame, no matter the cost.
His audience adores his singular ambition to be larger than life, and with the fact of there now being scads of famous people without a trace of measurable, observable talent might well be the End of Celebrity As We Know It.
That, of course, may not be a bad thing, since the alternative to watching pointless famed folks on TV is to pay attention to one another instead.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Tom Sleigh, Again

It's prudent to refrain from declaring someone a bad writer merely because you might dislike a particular piece they've written, particularly a poem. Bad poems happen to good poets who write them, and such is the case for Tom Sleigh, who's poem "The Hole" I slammed awhile ago when I first read it in Slate. Perhaps my case was over stated, but I still think it's a stinker, but lo!, doing a Google search on Sleigh produced a bounty of helpful info on him, and some of his poems as well, all of them ranging from pretty good indeed to absolutely splendid. Sleigh might be tone deaf occasionally--my own work is too often a drone one experiences in vacuum cleaner product testing laboratories--but he is , in essence, a solid crafts men, a genuine lyricist. His erudition creates resonance , not static, and what I especially liked is this poem:

After Midnight

After midnight in the summer heat,
the black river of the road flowing out and out,
windows rolled down, tires buoyant as water,

the car floats through the night gone still forever
around the hospital on the hill,
the neon of the ER turning the waiting eyes to glass.

Mist rises from the river,
the moon nowhere in sight,
only thick-leaved trees sweeping the cool black.

Secret in her power, like a sunroof
sliding open to the air, Athena touches you
and makes you, to yourself, younger, stronger

--vital as the river where rats
along the bank breed in the sweet grass
infusing the heavy air,

the radio tower
above the quiet city beaming
from its lone eye a voice sobsinging,

"Spring can really hang you up the most" . . . disenchanted
siren who sings you back into yourself
warily hoarding the charmed strength

of your middle age, your eyes not on the stars
but on a shadow under the trees
like Cyclops in his cave

praying to Poseidon to deliver you
to destruction even as you boast, "My name
is No Man, No Man is my famous name--"

the car hurtling weightless through the open night.

The lives of the gods are truly our own as Sleigh
invokes the classic paradoxes, challenges and tests in unpretentious language that sounds like it is actually addressing tasks that have weight, are a burden. All this rushing, hurrying, desperate conquests of obstacles are no less and no more important than the jitters of nervous gods on a hot night on Olympus, and as we humans struggle with torpor and fend off the urge to fall asleep behind the wheels of cars, we draw our strength from gods we've forgotten the names to. Similarity is everything, and it's merely a matter of scale --Herculean meets Walter and Mrs.Mitty---but the frustrations, satisfactions and the moods in between are the same.

The language as well is enticing, intoxicating, set up with verbs and adjectives that artfully stationed; the movement is tangible, as in the sharp, effervescent sweep of the opening.Fine, fine writing.

After midnight in the summer heat,
the black river of the road flowing out and out,
windows rolled down, tires buoyant as water,

the car floats through the night gone still forever
around the hospital on the hill,
the neon of the ER turning the waiting eyes to glass.

This is a panorama worth of John Dos Possos's from USA Trilogy, in a world where it would seem Harte Crane and Wallace Stevens have their personalities melded for a sense of the Supreme Fiction settled in a city we recognize as very much like our own.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

April is the cruelest month

It'd be interesting to have Bernstein meet up with Steve Kowit [] and see if they can hash out their differences. As Bernstein rails against the fact that National Poetry Month emphasizes a more accessible , "mainstream" style in order to secure an audience , all while sacrificing the brave work of more experimental, edgier, gutsier poets (like himself), Kowit argues in his essay that the difficult, the avant gard and the abstract poem had taken over the poetry main stage and choked out more accessible poets as a result. Each side seems to view it's aesthetic as an endangered species at the hand of their evil twin. Bernstein himself is a Language poet, a method that attacks the idea that traditional ways of writing about experience and ideas in poetic fashion accomplish anything like truth; in fact, Bernstein and friends would insist that traditional Western poetics are oppressive and express nothing but the hegemony of soul-crushing capitalism.

Language poetry, and similar radical styles before and since, are by nature limited to a small audience, less because the means of distribution kill potentially high sales of the works of Zukofsky, Charles Olson or Ron Silliman, but more that the originality of the new styles are constructed precisely to challenge, baffle, and mock the expectations of the general reader. Marginal poetries demand intellectual rigor, the argument goes, and those who stay the course and master the critical vocabularies will get "IT".
That might be the case, but the general audience instinctual dislikes being held in contempt by small bands of snobs, whether New Formalist conservatives or left-leaning Languagers, and the collective sensibility of the interested audience will seek things that don't precede on the premise that they're morons who need to be instructed by their betters.Poetry has been an elitist practice for decades, and the efforts to bring a larger audience into the fold and investigate the diversity of verse styles is a good think, regardless of the misgivings of the abtruse few. I doubt books will vanish, nor that experimental and radical writing will cease; more likely, such forms will most likely gain readers because of efforts to get buyers to invest in Dorrianne Laux or Frank O'Hara instead of Mitch Albom or Dwayne Dyer.I have to say that I've enjoyed a good number of language poets and their poems, having taken classes from more than one of them, and done readings with them in the past. Take away the political shell of their theory and you have yet one among the many avant gard movements that have contributed to the richness and variety of American verse.Their agenda and goals were limited , though, and the problem is that the good work was done early on; particular works of Bob Perelman are perfectly comprehensible once you discern the satiric shrift he gives the rhetoric of political and academic speech, Rae Armantrout's best work has a compressed self awareness that compares somewhat favorably with some of Dickens and Millay, and Ron Silliman's work extends the cubist angles that Gertrude Stein gave her more invigorated writings.The difference, one might say, is that they gave their devices a different name, though I think the techniques are largely the same, and the purpose of their writings is to force language to do things other than render the world into pretty pictures and have valorize the predictable responses of narrative personalities within the conventional framework.We see, of course, that the work was finished early, and what was legitimate experimentation , a desire to develop new ways of looking at the world through the sieve of language , became naught but another style, incoherent for its own sake.By the time I came across and met these poets in college during the late Seventies and early Eighties, their moment had already passed, and since then have ceased to be a leading force in the culture. The controversy over the language poets in the areas where these contentions matter abated some years ago, as we've seen the vital resurgence of meaning as the principle purpose of the poem. Houlihan's 2000 essay is many years behind the times, and it makes you think that this was an old, unpublished batch of resentment she had lying around until this opportunity to publish it online.I'm sure she's a fine writer and a nice person in real life, but one wonders as well what kind of trauma the language poets put her through to make her attempt to revivify a controversy that's no longer relevant to the state of the art.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

"The Hole" , a poem by Tom Sleigh

Few kinds of writing are worked on as hard as a bad poem; sometimes I suspect poets are aware that they've committed to an unworkable conceit and labor over it from pride, misplaced as it goes. Gonna make this son of a bitch work, goddamnit, no matter how hard it squirms and wriggles to get away. The reek of dried flop sweat never quite leaves the result. Tom Sleigh, otherwise a good poet, has one of them with "The Hole", published last year in Slate.From the first stanza where the wind is laughably compared to a dog trying to make a bed against the foul weather--rather hard to anthropomorphise the wind as a pooch let alone reconstruct our associations enough to imagine weather conditions seeking shelter against itself--to the self-conscious literary references to poets and their writings, I found Sleigh's poem dead on arrival. I object: wind is not like a dog , unless one lives in a cartoon,and the logic of having a weather condition digging for protection against itself reads like an insular joke about post-modern
self-reflectivity or , better yet, existential self-examination inspired by a light reading of Walter Kaufman. It takes too much explaining, it distracts
from the notion that Sleigh lacks a point to get to, or even an idea to develop through the stanzas. It is, in plain fact, bad writing, the depressed equivilent of the crowd who compose optimistic poesy and decorate their notebooks with hearts and roses.It's poetry written to fulfill a task: BE DEPRESSING,BE HAPPY!! This command-theme poetry caters to its respective audiences the way sundry and contrived pop music does; it allows the reader a fake sense of the poetic and reflective without any real work being done. Inspiration, the drive to side step obvious tropes and catch phrases and usual riffs, makes no appearence in this make-work effort.

One may, if they're inclined, sift through the images and dissociated images to get meanings and inferences to larger, buried controversies, but this poem is freighted with rather typical angst and dread. Sleigh's symbolism is the kind of thing one wrestled with in the fifties and sixties with Lowell, Plath and Sexton, disguised and not so disguised confession and perpetuated despair that sometimes resulted in striking, brilliant verse. The brilliant verse, remember,was the result of the poets trying their best to come up with a poetry of a sort that hadn't been composed before. Not all of it was good, some of it was especially self indulgent and grueling to the eye and ear, but there was genius somewhere in those lines, some of which emerged in particular poems. Sans the occasional spark, much of the work of Lowell, et al, seem less poetry and more the mutterings of

Sleigh's slide- show confession gets stuck , frames askew. It's a grab bag of corroded symbolism that he drags around in a burlap bag, trying to sell off for gas fare. It's just not very good.There are many "new" poetries making the rounds, as there always has been. I prefer poems that work structurally, whatever the style or technique. The poems shouldn't have language that is strained, labored, or needlessly opaque, vague or abstruse, there should be a fresh idea or perception at the heart of the writing.From the first stanza where the wind is laughably compared to a dog trying to make a bed against the foul weather--rather hard to anthropomorphize the wind as a pooch let alone reconstruct our associations enough to imagine weather conditions seeking shelter against itself--
to the self-conscious literary references to poets and their writings, I found Sleigh's poem dead on arrival. I object: wind is not like a dog , unless one lives in a cartoon,and the logic of having a weather condition digging for protection against itself reads like an insular joke about post-modern self-reflectivity or , better yet, existential self-examination inspired by a light reading of Walter Kaufman. It takes too much explaining, it distracts from the notion that Sleigh lacks a point to get to, or even an idea to develop through the stanzas. It is, in plain fact, bad writing, the depressed equivalent of the crowd who compose optimistic poesy and decorate their notebooks with hearts and roses.

There are many "new" poetries making the rounds, as there always has been. I prefer poems that work structurally, whatever the style or technique. The poems shouldn't have language that is strained, labored, or needlessly opaque, vague or abstruse, there should be a fresh idea or perception at the heart of the writing. Frank O'Hara, Dorrianne Laux, Kim Addonizzio, John Ashbery, Richard Tillinghast, Paul Dresman, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Paul Blackburn, among several slews of others who do the artful balancing act of writing in a manner that is both friendly to the ear, simulating spoken rhythms, with a heightened rhetoric that makes the expression memorable, worth a second and third read. The goal is to seem natural, and the writer's stance might be to consider what it is he or she might want to read if they were to spend some time with stanzas. What they share is not style or ideology but rather an ability to make me, the reader, stop a second and consider their thoughts.

Poetry,especially free verse, should just about never have itself as subject matter, nor should the poet refer to him or herself as a poet in the work. The self-referentiality is a dead give away that the poet is stuck for a transition and will instead digress among a plenitude of ready made discourses about poetry before getting on with the show, often times with ham-handed transitions from the poetry rap to the larger theme. The poet who refers to themselves as "poet" in a poem is often times bragging without a accomplishment to justify their pride; it's a conceit that maintains that the "poet" is the antenna of the race and is capable of greater perception than the poor, clueless reader.This marks an insecurity on the poet's part that they're not really sure of what they want to say, and it comes off as busy work rather than actual poetry writing. As such, it distracts, detracts , diminishes and otherwise gets in the way of what a poem ought to be doing, sans self-justification. A poem should be proactive with life, not the writer's library.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Emily Dickinson ponders immortality

Emily Dickinson, the mistress of compressed reflection, advances her belief in the probable darkness that follows death when she writes on the subject of the immortality of poetry. As with much of her work through her harbored life, there was a preoccupation with the concept that sheer nothingness awaited each of us. There was no "passing over", there was no seat next to God despite sermons and summons to behave righteously, there was no ethereal vantage point to see what writings were still read, which had been scrapped, which we rediscovered. Death was not a "state" one lapsed into as if it might be something one might come out of again; it was entirely non-being, bereft of potential. The fate of a poet's work, in popular regard and currency, were to be unknown once the lights went out. She doubtless refers to her own work with these lines:


The Poets light but Lamps— 
Themselves—go out— 
The Wicks they stimulate— 
If vital Light 

Inhere as do the Suns— 
Each age a Lens 
Disseminating their 

She seems to assert that the poem survives if it is vital and with that the meaning of the poem changes with each generation that it passes through. Author intentionality is relevant only when the poet is still alive and is around to make further arguments, write more poems to expand or contract their original thesis. Afterward, what the author intended to say, what they originally meant, becomes merely historical, and the poem assumes a life independent of its author's particulars. The poem, because it is vital, is adapted and absorbed by each succeeding "lens" "circumference" it passes through; vital poems and vital literature in general are a means for which the intellectual and cultural givens of age can confirm or critique the legitimacy of their habits of mind.
The text of the poem, or the author's thinking and intentions, cease being the end-all and be-all of interpretation since the work's passage through generations of readers and discourse presents a contemporary audience with something layered and laden with meanings and associations that are not easily dispensed with. The dialogues of a vital work have become as much a part of the poem as the actual words on the poet's tablet, freshly writ. This makes Dickinson quite contemporary in her thinking since it reveals an awareness that there is no metaphysical certainty that will lock her work's definitive and final meaning into place, for all time. Rather, she was aware that, seemingly, that so long as a poem continues to be read, it continues to be changed, revised, altered. She would have been an interesting person to discuss reader-reception theory with. I don't mean to say that what trying to grok what Dickinson is driving is impossible or useless; I think I overstated that part of my rant. Rather, I think it's impossible to read the poem in situ, by itself, sans outside references, which is how New Critics would have us take up the text. Generations of discussion and interpretation have become inextricable from a vital poem and, though one may well re-establish a poet's original set of concerns and the gestalt from which their poetics originated, that is not a place modern readers can profitably dwell for long. Our readings must engage decades of previous readings that have become inseparable from the vital work. The goal is comprehension, in terms of making a poem mean something to readers beyond the poet's imagining, and that means creating new contexts and criteria for relevance. That is something I positive Dickinson, always one aware of the nearness of death, had on her mind. Or something akin to it. I don't think Dickinson anticipated immortality, but it seems likely that she wondered how her poems would be interpreted beyond her life. She seems to have been of the mind that the poems, 'though fixed, as such, in the same scale of words, wouldn't be quite the same poems she'd written. Absent her voice to correct an erring view, she was aware that the poems would come to mean different things to commencing generations.

Friday, March 30, 2007


Fleetwood Mac
With Peter Green on vocals and guitar and Jeremy Spencer, slide guitar and vocals. Green is the attraction here, with a voice that sounds as if it's bubbling from the bottom of a river of black water, and a guitar style that remains a model of economy and emotion, an uncommon virtue in an era given over to conspicuous displays of chops. Particularly beautiful is his version of Little Willie John's "Need Your Love So Bad", a gorgeous blues pleading for love, unadorned. Green's singing is transforming.

Whatever Turns You On-- West Bruce and Laing

This is another cassette that's going to hit my trashcan soon. This is a grandiose, cluttered, sloppy, utterly phony release from good musicians who can't scratch up a good song between the three of them. Leslie West has his ringingly sweet guitar tone, Jack Bruce's bass work and keyboarding are busy as bees jacked on pollen, and Corky Laing, bless him, is one hell of a good rock drummer. An exception is the song "Token", which manages to be both arty and rocking all at once--power chords against a mystery time signature, nicely tensioned harmonies and verses from West and Bruce, a rousing riff out at the end. Power trios needn't be brain dead, as this track shows, but "Token" is also an aberration, for the genre and this band. It comes back to songwriting, as it always does; chops, vision, attitude, looks get you only so much credibility if the tunes are , say, underachieved.

This Land-- Bill Frisell

Frisell's twangy eclecticism works better here than on a good deal of his unfocused solo work; having Don Byron on reeds helps tremendously, suggesting that mystry session when Duane Eddy might have sessioned with Aaron Copeland in a Klezmer band.

Live In New York-- Jaco Pastorious

Some say Pastorious was the greatest bassist who ever drank themselves to death, and who am I to argue?What's obvious here is that he was especially thrilling when his band was gelling to the degree that the middle of long improvisations had a tight weaving that sounded like spontaneous composition, and too busy on the downside when matters were rote, overlong, lacking a center. This disc is gut busting in large part, though the ever-speedy Mike Stern riffs busily , armed with phase-shifters, phlangers and additional effects, not letting one measure to go unfilled with a dozen or so rote notes. Steve Slagle does some sweet and swift work on saxophone. Pastorious is a god, of course.

Wow--Moby Grape

Their first album, Moby Grape, is on generally considered one of the best albums done by a Sixties American band, and with good reason, but I've got a soft spot for their sophomore effort, the much-maligned Wow. It certainly deserved some of the critical slammings it received when it was released in 1968, as the band and producer had a batch of solid songs they wanted to gussy up, festoon and otherwise psychedisize in the trend of over-produced pop wrought by Pet Sounds and Sgt.Pepper. Large parts are made literally unlistenable--at the time of release, the band killed the "nostalgia" fad of the period that not only had one song written and performed in the 20's style, but which also required the poor stoner to get up and change the album speed from 33 and 1/3 to 78 rpm. The results were not amusing. Some songs come out unscathed, though, as with "Motorcycle Irene", "Murder in My Heart for the "Judge","Can't Be So Bad". At heart, a good bad fucked by drugs, ego, and mental illness, but what they had, briefly, was terrific talent. Jerry Miller was one of the best blues guitarist of the period, bittersweet and fluid in ways Mike Bloomfield never quite realized, Bob Mosely was a natural blues belter, and Skip Spence was an American Syd Barrett, fried before his time. Needless to say, I'm burning a disc of the best tracks and jettisoning the artsy remainders which are unlistenable and hopelessly junked up with effects.

The Idiot--Iggy Pop

Confirmed. I didn't like this set of Bowie-produced mood music when it came out in the Seventies, and I like it less even now. Iggy isn't especially interesting when he's given to reflection, confession, or other poetic indulgences. Avenue A is a more recent example of the side of him that sends you running. Iggy talking about his feelings may be an occasional compulsion he gives into, but it's not something he's turned into art. Our boy is a reactor, an angry cuss, a fast wit, an in-the-moment realist, and he rocks.

Port of Call-- Cecil Taylor

Repackaged sessions from 1960-1961 released in the States on an economy label called Past Perfect, this is a bit more comprehensible and, say, conservative than what Taylor and his bands are known for. An abstract heat still burns away, though, and there are great moments here; the ten minute piano deconstruction of "This Nearly Was Mine" keeps you guessing and anticipating where Taylor and his trio would take the Rodgers and Hammerstein chestnut, and "Things Ain't What They Used to Be"is rethought a dozen different ways by Archie Shep and Steve Lacy.

Flowers of Evil--Mountain

I play this once a year, and this morning was the time to do it; the studio sides have a repetitive pomposity you can get behind after a couple of stiff drinks, but the combination of Felix Papalardi's whiny voice singing his wife's bullshit lyrics can ruin any buzz you have going for you. It's the live material that kicks it, with lots of fat, snarling Leslie West guitar work getting twisted around a punchy set of slow, grinding, distorted hard rock. Yes, arrangements do count, even in rock and roll."Roll Over Beethoven" and "Dreams of Milk and Honey" are on my best live rock tracks ever. I might be the only one who likes this, but fuck it, it makes me happy.

Live at Bradley's --Kevin Eubanks

If you can forget the fact that guitarist Eubanks is Jay Leno's band leader and default second-banana, you gather that he's a classy jazz player; rhythmic, melodic, swift on the solos, but with emphasis on phrasing, pauses between passages. This is a pleasant respite from the copious amounts of the ever-busy Mike Stern I've listened to lately. Stern seems unable to leave a quiet moment alone and fills it with frantic riffing, not so much as technique gone berserk, a jazz version of wank guitar, but rather an accelerated directionlessness. An agile Jerry Garcia would be a better comparison. Eubanks, meantime, swings powerfully, with a light touch, a spry tone. James Williams (P) and Robert Hurst (b) do lithe work here. Good stuff for a drummerless trio.

Stepping Stone: Live at the Village Vanguard--Woody Shaw

Oh man, can this guy play the trumpet. I first came across Shaw on a couple of early Chick Corea sessions (or at least credited to him, part of the Laserlight budget series), and was floored by the range, ferocity and sense of development his playing had. Shaw was easily best of show. The wonders of Google led me to a series of albums he recorded as a leader, and this is the one I picked to start with. The only thing wrong with it is that Shaw died in 1989, obviously with a lot of great music in him still to play. Wild, blowing session, and next, I am going to reacquaint myself with Eric Dolphy's Iron Man, with a 19-year-old show matching the leader.

Earth Walk--Jack DeJohnette and Special Edition

A 1991 session on ECM, it's engaging if conceptually diffuse collection; DeJohnette as a composer/arranger can be irritating at times with his habit of inserting style changes with hardly a thought of a natural sounding segue. The charts tend to drift into the kind of "space chords" vamping where there's nothing to suggest a melodic underpinning, a lack of an idea, leaving worthy soloists like reedmen Greg Osby and Gary Thompson to play more frantically than otherwise would be called for. It gets the customary ECM Afro/Euro groove going about a third of the way through, which leads us to much rhythm interplay, spiraling, head-whacking flights from Osby and Thompson and, to be sure, DeJohnette's sure stick work

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A poem

I've been a bombastic blowhard of late, and have gotten myself into insoluable squabbles on other people's blogs. It occured to me that I've been writing the way Al Pacino acts:loudly and without variation in tone. Needless to say, there are those who think I'm a jerk who doesn't know what he's talking about. They're half right. I am a jerk , though I have my better moments. I often wondered what would happen if a poet I'd given a negative notice too met in actual circumstances; this poem is me answering my own question. A post on Stephen Burt's blog got me thinking along this line, and here is where I offer my face for a little chin music. If I've made you mad, imagine those are your knuckles meeting the stubble.

The Poetry
Critic Is Moved, Parts One and Two

I talk too much
when the room gets loud,
there's a shroud about my face
when I have something to say,

a siren is going off
just above my neck,

everything I think
about these words
someone else wrote
gets ugly as rabbit warrens
after they release the hounds,

my words sound
like I'm baying at the moon
because the heart that gets broken
didn't crack convincingly,
didn't fall to the rutted floor
loudly enough,
and soon, I say, yeah, so what,
we all get hurt, we all have a name
cannot stop singing
in the center of the night
as we drive from bedroom
to 7-11 for a can of coffee
and a newspaper we will not read,

make me feel something
that blasts me to through the wall
and over the lake, make my body clear
a line of fir trees where a road needs to be,

give some lift to your depression,
place some down in your graceful stride,
smile at me only when there's smoking gun
at your feet,

damn it all,
write something that moves me.


He drops his pen, rises
from the table and walks
over to where I sat,
filling the room with
every slur I could sustain,
he cocked his arm back,
he threw a punch,
the last thing I saw
was where he wrote "Fuck Off?"
on his knuckles
before his fist caught my chin
and I went flying backwards,
hitting my head against the wall.