Saturday, March 17, 2012

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

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

'via Blog this'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 16, 2012

poetry is dead

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

a poem for the last guy who called me

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

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Conan the Mirror Lover

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

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

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

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The business

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mug Shot

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 5, 2012

Paul Breslin's Panic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 2, 2012

This Poem

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

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

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

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

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

A pointless encounter with Davy Jones

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

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

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

Thursday, March 1, 2012


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