Saturday, October 30, 2010

Still more notes

The conflation of reason and emotion is exactly the kind of writing literature ought to be engaged in, whatever slippery pronoun you desire to append it with. Tension, anger, conflict, a war between impulses that are global in scope but local in context. The goal isn't a resolution of conflict, as that would be mere preaching and the extension of convenient dogmas; what's more interesting and likely closer to the cold shiver of recognition is in how things end. Being neither philosophy, nor science of any stripe, fiction is perfectly suited for writers to mix and match their tones, their attitudes, their angles of attack on a narrative schema in order to pursue as broad, or as narrow, as maximal or minimal a story they think needs to be accomplished. The attack on modernism's arrogance that it was the light to the "real" beneath the fabrications that compose our cosmology, is grossly overstated, it seems, vastly over regarded: Pound, Eliot, Joyce, and Stein, arguably literary modernism's Gang-Of-Four, did not, I think, tell us in any specified terms exactly what that true reality was, or what it was supposed to be, but only that the by dicing up, challenging, making it strange and making it new could we challenge ourselves, as artists, and as readers that new perceptions and new ideas about the nature of the world could be had. Individually, each writer had a different idea of heaven that they wanted the world to become--Pound was ultimately a befuddled, albeit fascist sympathizer, and Eliot became a conservative Royalist (and their anti-Semitism is problematic for anyone looking for real-time heroes)-- but so far as the principal thrust of their work, which was away from the straightjacket of accumulated literary history and toward something new and different that renewed the possibility of art to engage the times in an aesthetically relevant manner, is scarcely diminished in power merely because it came before.

I agree with Fred Jamieson on the point that Postmodernism, in effect, is a restating of the modernist project., although I suspect the critic was as much interested in preserving his own relevance as a critic as he was in establishing new distinctions to a topic that has, if nothing else, perfected the practice of topic drift. His implication is that postmodernism is critical of the culture it ironically reflects; this stance would keep Jamieson, a dutifully abstruse  Cultural Marxist variant, in things to writing about. Or write toward, as the good critic's style is to introduce things he intends to address and then to defer, endlessly it seems, until some clarity is brought, by him, to the terms and context of his impending discussion. He is, it may be said, the image of the lecturer who assumes the podium without his notes organized, assuming he has noted in the first place. Jamieson, in fact, is something of an ironic example of postmodernism less as a stylish choice or determined practice than as result of trying to wear too many hats; it is more important to act as though you have a point than to actually have one to begin with. Jamieson has his insights and critical genius, of course, but too often it takes a good while for him to warm up to his actual set of talking points. Writing is an argument so far that the central impulse to write at all is to make a series of statements about oneself and one's experiences in the world and reach a satisfying conclusion, some "meaning" at the end of the chat.Roland Barthes noted that the effort to achieve fixed meaning is doomed, as experience is not a static event, but a fluid movement through time that a writer's perception of changes moment to moment, text to text. The argument is thus not one-sided, but multi-vocal and relentlessly complex, although that complexity is the layering of endless snippets of conversation, debates and discourses that challenge, contradict  or ignore the tropes of the chatter that coincide with them, simple ideas, cliches and tropes that are given an unintended complication and ironic juxtaposition by simply having all  the talk occur at   once, like a room full of radios blaring loudly, tuned to different stations with an infinite amount of clarity. These are interwoven within perceptions that argue amongst themselves on their pages, in the extension of characters, plot, instances, local, active bits of imagining where the goal, is finally to attempt to resolve contradiction, arrive at something absolute in a universe that seems to permanently withhold its Absolute Meanings during this lifetime, and to achieve, somehow, some peace, some satisfaction. But no: the argument persists, the imagination soars, the old certainties cannot contain either the unset of new perceptions nor can sooth a writer's innate restlessness. In literature, the conflation continues, reason and emotion color each other, the eyes shut, hoping for vision, a clear path, but the writing continues, the sorting through of experience continues, the unease continues, the world changes radically and not at all.  The postmodernism's overall mission is to notify us of the limitations of our tropes, our schemes, and our rhetoricized absolutes seems redundant to what literature already does.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Last stop for a used hankie

At face value, the poem "About My Mother" By Adam Zagajewski appealed to me; I like the idea of the rushing stream of words, breathless and minimally punctuated in their rush to the last crystallizing image; when it's done well, when the subject catches a little considered incident of experience and riffs on it briskly, quickly, ending, finally, on a surprising note in the run, that nuance you didn't know existed between the words you'd use to objectively outline your emotion, the effect is exhilarating. 

When it works, that is. The secret is creating the feeling that the writer, were just as surprised by the ending as you hope the reader will be. When it doesn't work, the effect is a desperate assembling of random clauses, unconsidered, a piling on of things that happen to be in the room of memory one is rummaging through for something to write about. "About My Mother" reads as just that sort of poem, something composed to have written something, a short form limning of a problematic relationship with one's mother. The narrator recalls things said, meals made, silent gestures in response to his presence in the same room, presented in a tone that does not mean quite mute an otherwise undercurrent of anger and regret; you know where this is going, you know the destination this poem has in mind for you-- 

when she
compared herself to Beethoven going deaf,
and I said, cruelly, but you know he
had talent, and how she forgave everything
and how I remember that, and how I flew from Houston
to her funeral and couldn't say anything
and still can't. 

This is meant to take our breath away, to elicit a surprised gasp, to make us feel someone had just walked over the spot we will eventually be buried, but it comes as no surprise. It's unreasonable to think of this poem as calculated; the last image was conceived first, and everything else was composed afterward, the delivery system for the punch line. The details that come before are a conspicuous set up for this melodramatic ending; the reader who has done the due diligence and read and studied the confessional tendencies of Robert Lowell or Sylvia Plath might find this template familiar, like a route to work they take five days a week on public transportation. The poet's mute regret at the funeral is merely the last stop through a scenario that scarcely deserves remarking upon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Salon, take your own pulse

Salon's Mary Beth Williams wonders in a  recent article   if actor Charlie Sheen can be saved from his drug addicted ways. It's a content provider's dream, a topic needing little research, or original analysis. One need only arrange established facts in an accurate timeline and then join the chorus of hand wringers who've been virtually drooling over the actor's repetitive misadventures. Besides the ongoing tales of infamy, it's a depressing sign of what passes for cultural commentary.Where is Dwight MacDonald when we need him, a loud scorn who can beat back the rising tide of  baroque trivia clogging the talk of the town.

 Sheen will likely die a sad and predictable death that awaits nearly all practicing alcoholics and drug addicts (unless he has the fabled "moment of clarity" and achieves the means to keep the epiphany bright, shining and alive), and what I wonder , after all these years, is why this marginally talented actor's relapses are still considered news.True enough Sheen has squandered the considerable resources he has to sober up and clean up, but it's telling that much our entertainment medias squanders it's opportunities to highlight and promote the best of what our artists, authors, poets, film makers, actors and instead maintain death watches over those celebrities who cannot get their lives and careers back on track.

The rise of 24 hour news cycles and instant Internet updating, of course, turns the daily mishaps of Sheen, Lohan and others into something of a low overhead gift for a growing class of journalists, the gift being that of the serial relapser who will dependably screw up again , and again, and provide a meaty grist for the mill. This is the kind of ongoing situation that fills many column inches, fills hours of airtime, and generates unending Internet blather and videos; little investigating, research, or analysis is needed at all.These are the stories that write themselves, and the pity of it all is that this makes the media not reporters of events nor historians, of a sort, who bring coherence to an onslaught of new information, but rather game show hosts officiating over a vulgar, ritualized form of public suicide.

And we? We cease being interested citizens seeking knowledge about how our society works politically, culturally or how it succeeds or fails in it's quest to make ours a more decent place to live.We're reduced to being little more than ersatz sports fans reading insanely irrelevant articles like whether Charlie Sheen is beyond redemption in prestige publications that used to know the difference between what's important, interesting and crucial and what's mere noise, distraction, trivia.

Charlie Sheen is powerless over drugs and alcohol and his life, outside of work, is unmanageable. The phone calls for new jobs, though, will stop coming, sure enough, and this pitiful man's saga will rapidly change from merely sad to being tragically fatal. Our media, though, which is to say the technologized projection of our national conversation, is seemingly powerless over the existence of celebrity fuck ups.
And the inability of any brave editor or owner to change the terms of that conversation suggests a malignant unmanageability; unable to fix what's wrong in our lives, we've been turned into routine bigots exchanging our bad faith over the metaphorical backyard fences and cracker barrels.



Nobody wins.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The DiagnosisThe Diagnosis by Alan Lightman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars




Out of the DeLillo playbook, a business commuter gradually loses the use of his limbs, and his confronted with medical experts who disguise their inability to treat him and render a diagnosis by having him submit to yet more tests. A novel full of comic moments and sleights of hand-- the father's relationship with his son is sad stuff, two-hankie time-- but there is strong feeling of what the world would be like if all the things that we plug into stopped giving us the illusion of information and clarity and instead added to our anxiety, increased oh-so-slowly another ten or twenty degrees. Lightman isn't the most graceful writer, but this novel works rather well. One will note the shared concern with DeLillo, who wrote a kind blurb for this novel: nominally intelligent citizens who realize  too late their trust in the priesthoods of specialists and jargon masters have not only not aided them in their real or imagined crisis, but in fact made their lives worse.


Feast Of Love 

-- Charles Baxter 

The author-writing-himself-into-the-novel gambit is strained at this time, but Baxter makes it new again but receding, almost immediately, to the background as the chapters give themselves over to the characters' voices that confide their habits and whims of love, the very stuff of their breathing. A surpise, a pleasant surprise, this. 



Sunday, October 24, 2010

Influences bring us through the future


I've entertained the notion that at some point my writing skills would improve to the extent that I would no longer feel beholden to the many writing heroes who inspired me to pick up a pen and learn how to type. This around my late thirties to mid forties, when  my resume was long with many stints in unrelated trade, a fact that signaled that what I'd live through constituted the fabled "paying one's dues"; I hadn't made a fortune, but I had my own voice, my particular flair , my signature verbal devices, at last.  Thinking that, my prose became bloated and needlessly baroque, and my poetry ceased in large measure to be about expressing the inexpressible in unforgettable terms--John Ciardi's definition--and became, instead,  a pale, if prolix, carbon of John Ashbery.  While I was rethinking my position about whether a former influence still had relevance to my chosen craft, I came across this in a discussion forum about writer's and writing:
Guys like Pynchon and Barthelme are analogous to the Sex Pistols and the Ramones; we owe them a debt, but their art is no longer a relevant response to what is actually happening now.
I  had been going back to my acknowledged masters --Hemingway, Cheever,  Mailer in an effort to learn again what it was they had learned while on their trek toward their famously distinct styles.Some one you owe a debt to is always relevant to your current situation. This is the reason that we acknowledge what we owe.

Thomas Pynchon is certainly relevant to the current situation, and I agreetake Timothy Mallon's comments aboutMason & Dixon: a original take on the historical novel that skews the mouldy texts of mythology and history in a fresh, "made new" manner. Pynchon, along with Don Delillo with his tour-de -force Underworld, are both at the center of American writing, ironic, one supposes, since we are in a time when the current fashion is to insists on the resolute lack of center, or a knowable, defining presence under the surface of things, under the disguises of material.

While it seems to me that Wallace is something of clever if lazy archaeologist writing funny , and long descriptions of snapshots of a reality he barely even tries to understand, Pynchon and DeLillo are relevant to a that search for coherence, the unifying set of references, that might connect the world that's been made with the universe it's been constructed in. Both authors are relevant because , truthfully, the honor the notion of the Search, the Quest for defining, that is literature at it's most compelling, the books that bring generations back to the shelves looking for the titles.

The late work has only gotten stronger, broader, and more concise with the kind of rigor, style and humor, ultimately, it takes to write a literature that brings a digitized culture into the next hundred years.                   




The things of the world we grow up quickly vanish, the language we learned to express the needs of the self in relation to another is supplanted by another species of cant, unrecognizable as to what psychic wire it's supposed to resonate with.

Both writers are intrigued with systems, hierarchies of meanings, colliding matrix's of name-giving authority that makes the explicated terrain, the perfect sphere of a democratic society, a tag-team wrestling match.

Both authors wonder what went wrong, and seek the language, the metaphors, that can describe the loss, and perhaps give us pause to make sense again of the eviscerated cosmology.

That both writers have stressed a quest, of sorts, at the heart of their post modern fictions nails their relevance in place. The search ultimately collapses, as it usually does in credible fictional stretches, but the relevance is that the language of the writers, of their characters in situ gives us ways to think about ourselves: it furnishes us with an imaginative vocabulary that is revitalized beyond the easy-street defeatism that lurks behind the present vogue for unearned irony. Wallace is a good writer when he cares to be, and he may yet find greatness through a long succession of books. But he still riding the coat tails of his betters.
 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bob Guccione

The passing parade of celebrities passing away makes one sigh, to feel vaguely sad, to feel a tinge of nostalgia when the sensual life was the undercurrent in all our affairs. And then we put down the obituaries, read the entertainment page or write a letter to the editor; we forget who it is has left this thin shell of existence and involve ourselves in all of its immensely complex, nuanced, impractical doings. Yes, I feel saddened, but come one, life goes on, things change no matter what I think of how wretched existence became after I entered my forties. Fuck celebrity worship. And fuck Bob Guccione , the recently deceased publisher of Penthouse, dead as cracked leather at age 79. He was a cartoon of a man, a posturing boor with money. I understand an autopsy has revealed that the man was blind in both eyes and that the palms of his hands were extremely hairy. What I feel sorry for in his case are the years I lost thinking idiotically that women specifically and the world, in general, owed me unlimited riches and pleasure by the bushel. His magazine was concentrated assholism.Well, no, I just made that up, the bit about him being blind, with extremely hairy palms. But it is an apt summation of his contribution to consumer culture, ratcheting up the untouchable, rescinded sexuality offered by Hugh Hefner's Playboy and laying the ground, so to speak, for reducing a generation of young men to masturbating mass of materialistic wanna be's who couldn't come up with a creative idea but who could dream up an endless rape fantasies against women as a kind of revenge against unnamed powers that forced them to live anonymous, mediocre lives. Guccione's product was an escape to some perverse idea of the Good Life where the reader is Man Who Is Owed. What came from that was a sustained vulgarity many of us abide; many of us contributed to Guccione's bank accounts, one magazine purchase at a time.

The NetFlix Report: "Changing Lanes".

Getting around to some old movies , courtesy of the NetFlix miracle, and I decided to catch up on a Ben Affleck/Samuel L.Jackson film form more than a few years ago, Changing Lanes.  It thought it was a decent enough Hollywood "message" film, though it had the dopiest premise imaginable. It's not that I object to happy endings -- in this case, each of the characters played by Sam Jackson and Ben Affleck realize the exact nature of their wrongs and wind up doing the right thing by the world and themselves -- it's that I want the fictional solutions to seem fictionally plausible. The concentration of the events into one day snaps credulity, and while you're wondering whether this is an alternative universe where there are 76 hours to a day, the film drags way too much in key areas. 


Jackson and Affleck are both quite good here, but in the crush of the events that are eating our protagonists up, there is too much reflection, too much self examination, too much fortuitous circumstance for the characters to redeem themselves. Irony is fine, but Affleck's pragmatic do-gooding at the end is too much of stretch, theatrical without being dramatic. Like the film as a whole.  


It's a cinch that Affleck, who is having a comeback lately with a growing reputation as a director--the buzz is that he ought to hang acting altogether and stay behind the camera, calling the shots--has spent sometime pouring over this flawed drama and thinking what might have been better. He, and we, are benefiting from his mistakes. 

New poem

I started blogging about seven years ago as a means to get my unpublished poems on the web, and in the evolution , of sorts, my emphasis shifted to reviewing and commentary, a variation of my activity in the seventies and the eighties when I was a music critic and occasional film reviewer. It was the suppressed academic in me coming forth, a personality trait that wanted nothing to do with the mush and incoherence of poetry (at least so far as writing it myself) that instead yearned for some hard headed clarity. It's not that it hasn't been fun--reviewing is , in itself, an adventure , an exploration in those subjects in which you've been immersed to discover, at last, what your opinion happens to be.

Yes, I love to think, whether good ideas or bad. Writing poetry, though, subsided, I had little to say, my images and ideas repeated themselves, my older material read more like unedited transcripts of inane rants than expressions made in a craft (emphasis on craft). So I stopped, more or less, writing poetry for two years, and concentrated rather on the critical side of things: having an opinion on everything is the easiest job in the world, until you tire of the sound of your own voice. Frankly, my prose had turned into a bleat and bray, a species of barn yard sarcasm. But there is hope, I guess: I've started writing poems again, as a means to loosen up the mental machinery that aligns words with thought. Some of them are not so bad, so please bear with my vanity as I offer this up, a lyric on recollection,
the waiting for the "it" of expectation to come through the door, or to seep under it.



Simple grace would do the trick

Simple grace
would do the trick
if there was anything
simple about grace.
tricky as it is.

I've tried drinking soft drinks
perched like a robin
on a limb, but there is
as much spill as thrill
as the horizon teeters
and telephone poles
out number tree tops
of likely places to land.

Walking on glass and hot coals
likewise get me nowhere near the center of things
where all the tension is released from my muscles,
the headaches abate, and my appetite returns.

You asked me once
what made me happy
and I imagined
an empty glass and
calendars stacked in the attic
next to the noise makers and paper slippers.

Your eyes, I said, your eyes
make me happy, the blue and green pools
I fell into when I lifted my head from
books, magazines, cheap airport novels,
when I turned my face from
the television and saw you writing letters,
talking on the phone,
staring out the window
to what might over the hill,
the tree tops, imagining who makes their way home
and pays what's come due
'though the world seems
to dissolve like
sugar wafers dipped
in angry, boiling water.


Where was the grace we wanted,
walking between bullet streams
and falling bricks to the end of the day
where ever after
was a calendar without pages?

On the other side of the street,
a bike chained to a bus stop signed, waiting for its master
for as long as it takes.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Stuff and stuff

It does no one any good to pretend that Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" is a poem; it is, in fact, a badly aged piece of propaganda that these days radiates the grim nostalgia of an audience that has gone beyond mourning their lost youth and instead wonders who will mourn for them. I was one who took up the cause of rock and pops lyrics being "the new poetry" in the late sixties and early seventies, but I didn't know much about poetry at the time and had no real basis for any claims I made. Poems and lyrics are different crafts, the difference being that song lyrics are not usually interesting, arresting, or effective as language unless joined with the music they're meant to work in concert with. One can't recite "Desolation Row" or "Hey Sixteen" without recalling and missing the original Dylan and Steely Dan melodies. Generally speaking, perhaps too general, a real poem, though musical through various means to achieve euphonious, ringing and hooky results, read very well aloud, off the page, without the music to bolster the effect the worlds would have on the reader's/ listener's pleasure center. Realizing, of course, that poetry and songs are linked throughout history, let us fast forward to the current situation and realize that poetry is stand alone, by itself, a medium of words, not musical notes. Poems as we regard them, though, do just fine, sans melody, provided the poet does the work of doing interesting things with the sounds of their word selection. That said, Mitchell has a genius of a strong variety, and her lyrics achieve a poetic shading that rises above the host of self-serious tunesmiths who consciously strive for a literary feel; where others sound for the most part as though they're trying in earnest, Mitchell shows no strain at all. There is ease of expression, unusual turns of phrase, remarkable associative leaps. The difference needn't be mysterious. Mitchell is simply a better lyricist than most of her contemporaries, and better than the artist who claims her as an influence.


RECORD PEOPLE
Written by Melanie Safka

Record people ain't like others
They give bullets to their lovers
They get T-shirts and they get buttons
They go from having to having nothing

Movie people make the moves
Record men live in the grooves
They're always flying to better weather
They go swimming in the middle of the winter

Ma, I'm on the move again
You see, I married me a record man
We gotta move to California
Oh Ma, I guess this is goodbye
You see record folks live very high
To shake the hills of California
Wanna shake the hills of California

I was shot down right in the middle of the fog
Shot down, poor thing
She was shot down, oh she was, poor thing mmm
Was shot down right in the middle of the thought
In the middle of. . .
Shot down, oh, I was shot down, shot down, shot down

Oh Ma, I'm on the road again
You see, I married me a music man
We gotta move to California
Oh Ma, I guess this is goodbye
You see record folks live very high
To shake the hills of California
I'm gonna shake the hills of California

Lawyers who become producers
They schuk and jive the golden goose
Movers and comers who write and publish
Chicken parts, rhubarb, hot ones and rubbish

Ma, I'm on the move again
You see, I married me a session man
We're gonna move to California
Oh Ma, I guess this is goodbye
You see record folks live very high
To shake the hills of California
I wanna shake the hills of California

Record people ain't like others
They give bullets to their lovers
They get T-shirts and they get buttons
They go from having to
Go from having to
Go from having to
Go
 


Melanie is an underrated lyricist, I think, who has cursed her hits Top  "Candles In the Rain" and "Brand New Key"; having pop hits for some songwriters diminishes stature, some critics assume. How could anyone presume to write a song that many listeners wanted to hear more than once? Gauche and gross.  This lyric, though, does yield meaning when merely reads it on the page,  her rhymes are interesting. Her colloquial language fits the narrator's persona well; chatty, catty, just a tad sardonic, someone addressing the myths of Hollywood success through a thinly disguised refusal to suspend disbelief. What the lines cry for, though, is the absent melody. Unlike formal poetry, which would require the writer to make these lines come alive as page poems through a mastery of rhythmic and euphoric techniques that would make the piece a literary object, the lyrics get their push but the lift, lilt and folded nuances of a melody that , in turn, is anchored in place by chord structure. Though the lyrics here, in themselves, communicate the author's intent, the punch, the sweet spot, as it were, is missing. The melody is required for full effect.

_____________________________


Barry Afonso comments: Glad to see someone is showing Ms. Safka some respect, finally. But to your main point … I think the rigid distinction you draw between song lyrics and poetry is just a tad arbitrary. What do you make of someone like Edgar Allan Poe, for instance? By today’s standards, “The Bells” is practically a song lyric; in fact, it has been set to music as recently as the 1960s. Poems published in American popular magazines were often turned into commercially-successful songs during the 19th Century. Best-selling poets like Edgar Guest and James Whitcomb Riley likewise wrote the sort of rhymed, sentimental-to-clever verse that is very close to old-fashioned songwriting. As far as I can tell, the modern distinction comes from the loss of rhyme in poetry and the increasing separation of “serious” verse from pop culture. These are developments that did not have to happen. Yes, it is true that pop song lyrics frequently rely upon melody to round out their ability to express themselves. But this is certainly not always true, no more than every mouthful of words spewed out at a poetry slam qualifies as“poetry” according to your definition. There IS a difference between a lyric and a poem, but the line between them can be ambiguous and porous. Art is like that sometimes.

TED: Art is art because it's an expressive mission in constant flux, which means that the definitions are of what a lyric or a poem happen to be are slippery suckers indeed. Fact is, though, is that Poe was a mediocre poet, an arch-romantic rhymester given to obsessive surface effects because, I believe, he realized the vacuity of his content. One never responds emotionally to Poe's cadences; rather we appreciate them for their scansion, which is a distinction as banal as his best rhyming work. For all the talk of poems and lyrics being arbitrary distinctions at best, one needs to admit that the aesthetic of poetry has changed dramatically since the days of yore; reciting rhymed verse is more likely to seem affected and goonishly cute than stirring; there is always the genius who will rhyme brilliantly and with emotional power, but said poets are rare things. The upshot is that rhymes sound stilted, mannered, over thought to the contemporary ear. Recited sans music, one is greeted with the feeling of a peg-legged man pacing a creeky wood floor. As awful as so much free poetry can be, the poets do not, by default, sound ridiculous reading their work. Theirs is a different kind of banality altogether, starting with the waste of their parent's money to send them to a writing program.

Barry: These changes you cite in poetry are not marks of progress, only shifts in fashion. Rhyming seems anachronistic and even goofy in the modern era, but hell, a toga looked pretty good on Caesar Augustus. The times favor the sort of artistic expression that suits them best; the new innovations are not necessarily better, only more appropriate. Eddie Poe (and Eddie Guest, for that matter) may be stilted and corny, but they are still poets. And the likes of Dylan and Mitchell (and Lady Gaga) may well be their inheritors.



Ted: All the same, the criteria of what makes for credible poems has evolved along with the style in which poems have written; although one may take from the past and revolutionize it to some degree, it's a new set of idioms that make up the current sensibility. Dylan and others may also be the inheritors of what Poe, Crane and still others have done, but they do so in the practice in another art, related to but distinct from poetry, which is songwriting. Dylan is a songwriter, not a poet.

Absorbine Jr: Jack, I must dip my toe into the warm broth of this discussion to bring up the case of Leonard Cohen. Did he cease to be a poet when he began writing songs? Don't his song lyrics echo the same themes and techniques as his work for the printed page? I think these questions need to be faced frankly and squarely, lest we give birth to firing squads.

Man Tied to a Chair: The lyrics to the song "Sisters of Mercy", written as lyrics, remain lyrics. In that case, Mr.Cohen is a lyricist, a songwriter. As the author of the haunting poetry sequence "Flowers for Hitler", he is a poet. He is a poet and a songwriter, and we appreciate what he does in either in both fields by related, but finely distinct standards. Poetry, written for the page, in a tone closer to vernacular speech, has greater range and may make use of more literary devices and is, as a result, capable of greater depth of feeling, allusion, association. Given the skill of the page poet, the poems have a life, a musicality when they are read aloud. Song lyrics, no matter how "poetic" they sound (or indeed, how actually brilliant they may be), are confined to the contours of the melody they accompany. Cohen songs, Costello Songs, Dylan Songs, Mitchell songs, Hendrix songs sound stiff, silly and vaguely pretentious when read aloud, as speech, sans melody. Ours is not an age of great rhymed poetry.

Grelb: Do not forget, my red-combed comrade, that many song lyrics are written first, with melody applied afterward. The confines of the rhyming form are restrictive, but so are many other literary conventions. It may well be true that the lyrics by the songwriters you cite sound silly or pretentious when they are read aloud. This is not, I submit because they rhyme. Rhyming does not damn all of the verse of the pre-modernist era to the realm of non-poetry. The very fact that most critically-accepted poetry does not rhyme today probably means that rhyming will eventually return as a revolutionary gesture. For better or worse/You read it here first.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The death of browsing

Mark Savitz describes and details us in a Slate article about his job as a used book seller; this is not, though, the work of someone who maintains a store front, nor the work of  a local library selling off their excess holdings at a bargain price. Savitz is a professional, as he describes, going through dozens of volumes at time with a scanner hooked up to a PDA advice that, in turn, searches for the book information on various Internet data bases and , in turn, gives him an idea as to how quickly he can turn a particular book, and how much he can mark it up in the process. This is not someone you want to be next to the next time you enter one of the diminishing ranks of used bookstores. The manner, as I've seen, is brusque and professional and , it seems, hoarding,after a fashion.

The change in the business model was expected among book lovers at some deep seated level, but I pretty much concur with the "elderly man"'s that Mark Savitz is an asshole. As informative as the description of his scanning equipment, use of Internet data bases, pricing schedules and work routine were, his article has the reek of a jittery self-defense; he wants us to understand him as a man in desperate times trying to squeak out a living , that he's aware that he's among the bottom feeders in the ailing book trade, that we should understand the reasons for his plight and trust he'll again return to the ranks of normal readership.

It doesn't wash, and Savitz's facile defense/apology of his practice doesn't reduce the psychic stink he and his scanner bring to the sales he shows up to. Browsing the stacks at used book stores was one of my absolute pleasures, and relishing my purchases afterwards an absolute joy. Rubbing elbows with the likes of impatient opportunists like Savitz and his like has soured the experience; that I consider nearly unforgivable.

Alice Cooper - No More Mr. Nice Guy



When they were on the money, Robert Christgau rightly placed the Alice Cooper band in the tradition of one-shot, rebel-yell garage bands like The Count 5, the Standells, and the Music Machine. The evidence of that is everywhere on their alb...ums, with cool distortion punching up guitar riffs that grabbed you by the neck, tersely alienated lyrics, relentless backbeat. The band, especially Alice, though, loved spectacle as well and committed themselves to extended psychodramas that teased the edge of Jethro Tullish plod -and- thump. Those pieces are not rock and roll and, we may note, are generally not discussed, let alone played. But mention this tune, "I'm Eighteen," "Under My Wheels," "Be My Lover," or "Elected," then an enthused bull session ensues.  At their best, they were among Detroit's. 


Best.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Doggy Downer

Colin Pope wants us to regard our pets differently , in his poem "Doggy Heaven".The intent is less satiric than ironic, I think, and it's irony that that's too easily arrived at. It's the equivalent of someone putting on their cleanest dirty shirt and thinking that they've truly dressed their best.Despite a plenitude of qualifiers that attempt to make the details resonant in dimensions broader than the thrilling conclusion poet Colin Pope has in store ("empty storefronts","All the rows of 10-penny teeth /gleaming in the forever sunshine, /latching onto slow and ghostly bumpers",) the sweetened descriptions of everything things are unconvincing as the sort of poetry that catches you by surprise. The issue is that Pope didn't frame his argument as indirectly as he needed to: for all the quaintly outlined affections of man for his dog given here, you know you're being set up for a punchline. Expectation of a surprise ruins the surprise itself, with the last bit being an anticlimactic bit of noise , a dissenting against the original conceit--life is better with dogs-- that's more irritated contrarianism than it is a revelation of an otherwise obscured truth.




That given the gift of love and companionship
we soldier through our lives feeling heroic

turning back to see them following, and then
outside the pearly gates, nothing
but an unanchored line of people

that goes on forever. –
Colin Pope seems to enjoy the work of Billy Collins and here, at least, tries to for the compressed , phrase-making lyric that makes the former Poet Laureate's alternately memorable and predictable. Collins, though, has a superior sense of balance between the lightly described particulars in his poems, the everything things he mentions, and the erudition that frequently emerges; he has the gift of making it seem that his tone is conversational, and the easing from household chores to eastern philosophy is a natural habit of mind. Pope's poem is brief, but it still borders on being a lecture on what is false in our emotional lives; 'Doggie Heaven" is, perhaps, a general indictment just this side of seeming bitter.


The delicate and problematic issue of humans and their pets, particularly the issue of how we project our unresolved issues upon them, is better addressed by poet Thomas Lux, in this poem:



SO YOU PUT THE DOG TO SLEEP


Thomas Lux



"I have no dog, but must be
Somewhere there's one belongs to me."
--John Kendrick Bangs



You love your dog and carve his steaks
(marbled, tender, aged) in the shape of hearts.
You let him on your lap at will


and call him by a lover's name:Liebschen,
pooch-o-mine, lamby, honey tart,
and you fill your voice with tenderness, woo.

He loves you too, that's his only job,
it's how he pays his room and board.
Behind his devotion, though, his dopey looks,

he might be a beast who wants your house,
your wife; who in fact loathes you, his lord.
His jaws snapping while you sleep means dreams

of eating your face: nose, lips, eyebrows, ears...
But soon your dog gets old, his legs
go bad, he's nearly blind, you puree his meat
and feed him with a spoon. It's hard to say
who hates whom more. He will not beg.
So you put the dog to sleep, Bad dog.



There is much to discuss here, but I think it suffices to say that Lux lets the details he arranges bring you the twisted irony of the last couple of lines. He gives you a definite a character in the second person and sticks with him, a handy way to engage our curiosity, and presents a swift, pithy history of the owner's affections with his pet and, in doing so, subtly reveals our culture's collective problem with aging and it's refusal to realistically confront the issue of death. Unexpectedly, from seeming nowhere, we find that Lux is really talking about Blaming the Victim. This is the kind of poem Pope may have wanted to write

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Heaven Will Wait

My life ends in the curves
of parenthetical Edens

because the sands and not the sins
of the shoreline are all that washes away.

My life under manna trees is endless peering into the frayed cotton balls
that look like clouds stuck in the fronds scratching the air

and leave the claw marks of jets in the sunset writing a single,
swirling line that loops in the wind coming off the desert,

Manna falls from the sky and not from trees,
and wise pearls do not drop from any pair of lips in the distance,


This is to say my life is a pain in the neck
when there is no television reception and the sky at night is
all there is to find some sign,


Signs that mark the road up the highway ,
 a ribbon vanishing into the perspective of  neat, uncrowned hills,

 it’s never a sunset I seek,

rather a sunrise over water that makes music
and the sight of women playing chess.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

some notes on Allen Ginsberg's "HOWL"

Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" is over a half century old now, and it will do us no harm to review the first stanzas yet again, for the are as vatic, volcanic and visionary as they were when they first saw print in 1955.The transcendent beauty of a inflamed mind that's suddenly and completely found an articulation for the unspeakable has never been captured better. "Howl" was the perfect bit of literary insanity to appear in a decade where America had collectively laid down and played dead:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves
through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York.
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after nigh twith dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls,

incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the motionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,

who sank, all night in submarine light of Bickford's floated out and sat through the stale beer afternoon in desolate Fugazzi's, listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox...
(c)Copyright 2005 The Estate of Allen Ginsberg.

"Howl" is one of the most important and influential poems of the 20th century, and it simultaneously invigorated free verse with the range of its rage and honesty, and spawned a generation of imitators who composed indulgent and lazy lines that were more pose than poetry. This is a poem that speaks from the middle of the century with a voice gorged with collective anxiety and spiritual hunger for an element that would counter technologized conformity and the loss of authenticity. Its long, Bible-cadenced lines have resonated into the century following its debut, and it's likely that succeeding generations of disaffected yearners will find the poem's scalar cry appealing for the way it touches on those soul-demolishing duties that are difficult to identify, impossible to purge yourself of. The real paradox of "Howl" is that it's a poem, a great poem that addressed the great unwashed elements of American culture and their plight outside the mainstream which is now very much part of the Establishment it railed against and, in some sense, sought to disassemble. Only truly great pieces of writing do that, and regardless of what one thinks of the later Ginsberg work where he abandoned Blake an visions and allegory in favor of a relentless and largely inane species of self-reporting, "Howl" is the inspired and wonderfully sustained work of a young in full control of the language and rhetoric he was using. It's a masterpiece by every criteria, and it remains a powerful indictment against repression, censorship, the closing off of the soul against experience and vision. Even as its been absorbed into the American canon, it continues to transgress against expectations of conservative decorum and other constructions of serene and apathetic community relations; it continues to howl, quite literally, over the fifty years since it's publications. In the increasingly control-freak environment of that pits paranoid nationalism against civil liberties , "Howl" and it's piercing message is perhaps more relevant than ever.The fact that one still finds room to discuss the poem's politics and philosophical biases seriously attests to the quality and originality of Ginsberg's writing; mere political tracts, like Baraka's "Someone Blew Up America", will grind you down with polemic and are rapidly, gratefully forgotten.

Ginsberg was among the very few American poets who broke through the larger culture because he was, to coin a phrase, the right man at the right time. The conformity of the fifties, the anti-communist paranoia was sufficiently alienating enough for enough citizens to rebel and push against the barriers of a socially enforced tranquility. The fact that he was, at the time, especially potent in is writing (as well as being a brilliant self-promoter of himself and his friends) doubtlessly aided him in the ascendancy. These days, it's Billy Collins who has the amazing fame and fortune, writing smaller, more conventional, masterfully composed epiphanies of an everyday America that may exists only in the imagination; he is exactly the right poet to come along at time when millions of citizens are weary of nonconformists and their rights. This isn't to suggest a cyclical theory of recent history, but I do find the positions of both poets ironic, if unintentionally polar."Howl", poem, vision, political screed, confession and testament in one, is read and debated over and over again, its choicest lines cited, each quote resonating and stinging as great work ought to. A great poem.


There is an unfortunate hip cache that has formed around this poem and all things Beat in general--needless to say, both he and Kerouac became iconic and brand names, products to be sold with other units from the store shelves of corporate America these once-young men belittled and disowned--but a reading of "Howl", a verbal exclaiming of it's wonderfully and brilliantly reaching imagery makes all such commercial aberrations vanish from our concern. The integrity of Ginsberg’s masterpiece is intact, and it still manages to strike a center in the soul that avoids the intellect all together and makes one wish to take a deeper breath and blow a long, bopping solo on the first saxophone some angel hipster might hand them.

Oops, there I go again, seduced by Ginsberg's muse and speaking in images that cannot be verified or affirmed by proper critical tools. Just as well, for "Howl" is anything but proper. It is rude, joyous, rambunctious, and full of itself and in love with the world that seeks to shun its premises and assumptions. Much of great American poetry is like that, and Ginsberg's poem is still with us, an exhortation to not let the dull grind of conformity murder the spirit by the inch.Allen Ginsberg himself succumbed a little to his reputation and began to consider his every journal entry, seemingly, as credible poems in their own write, with the reader interested in the crafted music of words brought together left out in the cold as the poet's late publications concentrated more on the accumulated inanity of relentless self reporting. But he did write "Howl", and for this poem, along with "Kaddish" and "Super Market in California" (among others) his greatness is assured. 

The real paradox of "Howl" is that it's a poem, a great poem that addressed the great unwashed elements of American culture and their plight outside the mainstream which is now very much part of the Establishment it railed against and, in some sense, sought to disassemble.Only truly great pieces of writing do that, and regardless of what one thinks of the later Ginsberg work where he abandoned Blakean visions and allegory in favor of a relentless and largely inane species of self-reporting , "Howl" is the inspired, sustained work of a young in full control of the language and rhetoric he was using. It's a masterpiece by every criteria, and it remains a powerful indictment of repression, censorship, the closing off of the soul against experience and vision. ven as its been absorbed into the American canon, it continues to transgress against expectations of conservative decorum and other constructions of serene and apathetic community relations; it continues to howl, quite literally, over the fifty years since it's publications.

In the increasingly control-freak environment of that pits paranoid nationalism against civil liberties , "Howl" and it's piercing message is perhaps more relevant than ever.The fact that one still finds room to discuss the poem's politics and philosophical biases seriously attests to the quality and originality of Ginsberg's writing; mere political tracts, like Baraka's "Someone Blew Up America", will grind you down with polemic and are rapidly, gratefully forgotten. "Howl", poem, vision, political screed, confession and testament in one, is read and debated over and over again, its choicest lines cited, each quote resonating and stinging as great work ought to. A great poem.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Poets and Readability


Charles Bukowski is a poet of whom very little of his work goes a very long way. I admire the absence of all unneeded images, and do place somewhere in the Hemingway league as a writer who can be spare without being chintzy. That said, his minimalism gets monotonous after awhile, and his lonely-old-drunk persona, declaring over again and again to speak for the dispossessed and the marginal, becomes its own sort of sentimentality: the fact that Bukowski became aware, early on, that his constituency expected certain types of poems from him forced him, I think, to stylize himself into a corner he never managed to get out of. Not availing him of different kinds of writing made him, finally, a bore. The truth of his loneliness, of his drunkenness, made him into a patsy for an audience that was too young, by and large, to have enough life to write their own stories. Buk became a one trick pony: his best material is his earliest, like Henry Miller, and like Miller as well, became a self parody without knowing it, Ezra Pound is some one who has given me eyestrain and head aches in college, something I can't forgive him for. He didn't give me anything that was remotely connected to the idiomatic language he idealized, the truly modern voice that was to be of its own time, a period sans history. It's a totalitarian impulse to try to live outside history, or to lay claim to it's reducible meaning, both matters Pound thought he adequately limned, but the problem was that his verse is leaden, dressed up in frankly prissy notions of what The Ancients had been up to aesthetically. The effect was perhaps a million dollars of rhetoric lavished on ten cents of inspiration. I didn't like him, I'm afraid. If Pound's poems work for reasons other than how he wanted them work, fine, which can be explicated interestingly enough with entirely new criteria extraneous to the author's aesthetic/political agenda, but it begs the question, really. It confirms my belief that Pound was talking through his hat most of the time. In this case, based admittedly on my learned dislike of his poetry, I think he gussied up his theories in order to usurp the critical commentary he knew would follow his work: no matter what, all critics had to deal with Pound's flummoxing prose before they could render an assessment, a trick he garnered from Poe, and one deployed by Mailer, a somewhat more successful artist/philosopher/critic (though failed poet).

T.S. Eliot had better luck combining the two virtues: The Sacred Wood and some of his other critical assessments have merit as purely critical exercises, self-contained arguments that don't require Eliot's work to illustrate the point. Eliot's poems, as well, stand up well enough with out his criticism to contextualize them for a reader who might other wise resist their surface allure. The language in both genres is clear and vivid to their respective purposes. Pound, again, to my maybe tin-ear, really sounded, in his verse, like he was trying to live up to the bright-ideas his theories contained: The Cantos sound desperate in his desire to be a genius. Pound seemed to me to have the instincts of a good talent scout. I'm grateful for his remarks to his fellows, but I wish reading his work wasn't a path I had to go through in order to find the better poets.

Unlike Frank O'Hara, dead too young, but with such a large and full body of brilliant--yes, brilliant--lyric poetry left in his wake. O'Hara, influenced by some ideas of modernists, got what Pound tried to do exactly right: he mixed the dictions of High and Low culture in the same stanzas with an ease that seemed seamless, he juggled references of Art, TV, movies, jazz , theater along with the zanily euphemized gossip of his love life, and was able to render complex responses to irresolvable pains of the heart--and heartbreak is always a close kin to his rapture--in lines that were swimming in irony, melancholy, crazy humor. This is poet as eroticized intelligence.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ken Schoppmeyer, San Diego Blues Harmonica Genius, 1942-2010


There are those who know me principally as a harmonica player, and some folks have asked how I  learned to make actual music from an instrument that resembles nothing so much as a toy. Practice, I would answer, practice, practice, practice, and listen, listen , listen, a condition just as important. I listened to harmonica genius Ken Schoppmeyer  through the Seventies and in the Eighties, when  he played locally, and the fact of the matter that it was outright envy of his style, expertise, his easing finesse that compelled me to keep playing, playing, playing. It was a shock to hear the other day that Ken Schoppmeyer was found dead at the start of  Septemeber in an Oceanside hotel room,  an apparent suicide .Like so many others, I used to go see Ken Schoppmeyer and his King Biscuit Blues band play at the Mandolin Wind in Hillcrest during the '70s, and to this day I have never heard a better blues harmonica than he. He had the unique combination of grit and elegance, able to perform a sweet, melodic slow blues and wail on an uptempo shuffle; his tone was warm and well rounded, his choice of notes were inspired, his solos were sublime. He was an inspiration to my own harmonica playing; though I never came close to sounding like him, Kenny Schoppmeyer certainly inspired me to keep playing all these forty or so years later. God speed , Mr. Schoppmeyer.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Waking up to the cruel coffee

Innocence, it seems, is a nice way of saying ignorance, which would imply that the gaining of wisdom is a hard process, full of rude awakenings, startling revelations, melodramatic shifts in cosmology as one continually learns that the neat scenario one had while younger , with their neat and simple relationships predicated on convenient cause and effect, is grossly inadequate. 


God gave us senses so we may learn from our experience and cobble together as we go along, a practical philosophy of everyday life. Wisdom, if you like. It seems that one is likely to realize that they are a victim whether they like it or not, and that the blissful sleep of ignorance of one's state of being exploited and abused is illusory at best. Norman Mailer had once said that he thought stupidity was a choice people make , and ignorance, likewise, often enough seems a willful defense mechanism that relieves one of their obligation to use their senses to grow and work within the world as an active, creative agent. This is the crucial issue for Blake, to believe in a God will intercede and make everything okay with a kiss and a feather or a promise of endless bounty on the other side of this life, or that one is here with the senses a Creator gave him or her, with a brain that can process and organize experience into a framework, narrative perhaps, the keeps the world that is both fluid and coherent. 


The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe in it willingly. --Wallace Stevens


 The belief in a fiction, I assume, is that one believes less in the fiction's generic outline of the relationships between personality and the delicate details of the atmosphere , and more that the fiction works as a means that enables individual and collective imaginations to commit themselves creatively to what other wise would raw, unknowable data. We are the author of our own book, so to speak, we are all writers of a particular fiction that enthralls us, and the key to a belief in an operative narrative form is to realize that we can change, alter and modify the fiction as needed. Not that it's an easy thing to toss off, as an after thought. But we make our narratives from the things we do , and this reminds me of the oft-quoted line from Vico, paraphrased here: Only that  which man makes can man know.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fuzzy thinking

Nothing lasts forever, we can agree, as we realize anything made by man falls apart in time, but there remains the question as to what sort of art, the vainest of ways to make a living, will last a generation or so beyond the artist's dying day. I'd say the artists whose work lasts are those whose obsessions are about their process, their art-making, not their notices, their contracts, or the amount of air kisses and flattery one of their shows inspires. History, however it comes to be made, and who ever writes it, is a metaphysical dead end the better art makers side step, and instead make the punch and panache of their invigorated wits count in the strokes of the brush, the curl of the paint scudding over the surface, the blurring and clarifying of forms, shapes, colors and its lack: painting, coming from the modernist angle that still seems a sound and malleable way of handling the hairier knots on the chain, comes as where the world ends, the limit of what the eye can see, the forms the eye is blind to but the mind, muddle that it is, tries to imagine in a sheer swirl of perception. It is about the essaying forth of projects that strive for a moment of perfection that suddenly dies with the slightest re-cue of temperature, it is always about the attempt to convey a new idea. The articulation of the perception may end in inevitable failure, but the connections made along the way, the bringing together of contrary energies made the attempt and its result worth the experience.  This seems to be the material that the shrouded groves of History recalls, the earnest and frenzied striving of artists who are too busy with their work to realize that history may, or may not, finally absolve them of strange rage for paints and brushes.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Things die, and no one knows why

It's September 11th, around 6:30 in the morning, and MSNBC is rebroadcasting it's real time coverage of the terrorist attack on New York's World Trade Center that killed 3000 people nine years ago. It's dramatic footage, the emotions start up again, the rationalizations commence anew about what the world has come to, the chatter of news reporters, camera men, politicians, witnesses  fill the room. Nine years ago the air was composed of equal amounts of horror and incomprehension, so much death and destruction for reasons as yet unknown. No one knows why this happened.  A fatal guesswork became our national past time.

It's suitable , I suppose, that what Robert Pinsky has chosen to share with the poetry readers of Slate Magazine this week deals with the passing of people, places and things from our lives, suddenly, abruptly, without explanation. The poem has it's charms, although it dwells too much on how it sounds rather than what it conveys: it's a trifle too well made to be wholly convincing for a topic we are warned has no satisfying resolution.



Bats Perish, and No One Knows Why
Reeves Keyworth


Secluded in their cold arcades of rock,
embraced by a thousand reverberating kin,
bats have perished and are perishing.
The plowboy in the field, dreaming of love,
perishes, and the scorched grub,
disclosed in the moist earth.
Spiders and the spiders' children perish:
the hawk, the stylish dragonfly, the trout.
A beetle cocks its blurred eye
at the underside of a leaf and perishes.
The lizard perishes, and the famished fox.
The mule's body subsides and sours on a riverbank.
The worshipers perish and the mourners:
the strenuous celebrants, the terrier with his grin,
the best-loved child, the browsing herd of pigs.
The tongue perishes, and the eye.
Lamentation and praise, incantation, song,
the resolve of the wolf, and the wolf's prey—perish.
The grassland perishes in fire;
the ant drowns in a waterspout.
The bear, the bat, the water rat,
the woman leaning on her windowsill,
the protozoa sunning in their sluggish green:
perished and perishing. No one knows why.


People and things are essentially viewed here as leaving this life doing what it is they do on a daily basis; these are rituals, poems, prayers, beseechments and be-ratings that bring the collective voices to the highest pitch of vocabulary , these are raptures and negotiations and plans laid out and explained that clarify the meaning of specific actions , and yet there is intervention over all. For all the songs, odes, rants, rages and contract law , for all the daydreaming and scheming, for all the knowledge of the world and survival skills man and animal alike have respectively accrued, there is intervention, interruption, that point in existence when existence ends and whatever strategies that have been devised with the language of social and legal interaction no longer apply.
One's declarations , combined with the last set of gestures and positions one happened to be in, are instantaneously ironic as soon as one keels over, drops dead, grasps the chest, croons the rhythm of the death rattle; but why is it ironic? That's always the curious element of  things in this world, constructions of language that are intended to be blue prints for what it is we're supposed to build  in the community of men are turned into fancies and fantasies as soon as one reaches their expiration date. It is a moment of  terror, that microsecond when you realize that you've been negotiating and and auditioning for entrance to Heaven after the lights go out; death is a dark room we all enter . No one comes out the other way to tell us how good the party is, if there's an open bar, if your aunts and uncles are there with a list of things you never did for them. Terrifying stuff.
Keyworth's poem crystallizes the situation as we uses a rich language that skillfully describes the generalized world of everyday people  and creatures in the field dropping dead amid their daily rounds, but a language that cannot penetrate the last barrier between the world of appearances and reveal those things only God has an inkling of. And so it is with the commentators, Couric, Brokaw, the whole lot, talking to witnesses, experts on terrorism, first responders:  whatever the rhetoric happens to be, all they can really talk about is what they saw , how they reacted. Our life , Keyworth implies, is an attempt to create narrative that accommodates each instance, every contingent. That narrative is always destroyed.

And no one knows why