Tuesday, December 4, 2012

22 Short Pieces



one:Nothing yet to be made of the day but some wet hair clinging to the nape of the neck, coffee that's too hot to power down, a groaning neighbor regretting last night's play-making. I type a bit, reach into my pocket and come upon a to-do list of things to finish. It was folded a dozen times, it seems, each crease deep as wrinkles in an experienced skin.
I made the list a week ago.
Every deadline has lapsed, every task is incomplete. I hate myself for some minutes, sip at the coffee, cringe at the cold hair teasing the wet locks adhering to the back of my neck.
Time to go.
 
two:Hair cut, short, bristles. Cold wind cuts through the spiky clump like a lawn mower taking out a large section of unruly grass. Chill of the night as the night sky falls over a line of roofs that vanishes against a black tarp of starless sky, replaced with strings of lights that burn like the head lamps of stalled cars on a strange road that curls around a mountain range no one has seen from the air.
Why did I get a haircut. Yeah, that's right. That woman on the bus asked me if I watched Jerry Springer.
No, I said, I don't.
Well, she said, breathless, breathless, you look just like Jerry Springer, and I got on the bus and you were sitting there looking out the window and then you turned around and I said Oh My God, there's Jerry Springer.
I'm better looking, I said.
And my god, she continued, you look just like Jerry Springer, and I'm looking for cameras and a microphone, but you said you don't watch Jerry Springer...
I've seen it once or twice, I said, but no, I don't watch Jerry Springer...
But I said, Oh My God there's Jerry Springer, but you said...
And so the woman who cut the hair wrapped the towel around my neck and asked me what she could do for me.
You know the kind of hair cut middle aged guys get when they're trying to hold on their fleeing sense of youth? Short and spiky, almost punk rock...
So you don't mind if it sticks up?
Nope, I said, let's bring it on home.
Number three clippers?
Yup.
Okay...
And a fine hair cut it is, I thought outside the store, feeling the bristles with the tips of my fingers. Strange to the touch, soft, and grey. Grey as the sky was that day. Wet. Drops. Rain. A downpour. Rain.
 
three:Tapping a finger on a hard counter top does make time move faster, nor convinces others in line that your cause is greater than the needs of the others in line. He looks at his watch, the third time in under three minutes and ponders what is at stake as the bank line crawls, inch by aggravating inch, toward an open window. Everyone seems calm, collected, even the children hanging on to their mother's hands are quiet , eyes wide and seemingly transfixed on a puppet show that is playing for them in a dimension on their eyes uncover. Tapping the folded paycheck and deposit slip against the watch he just looked at makes matters worse; now he knows what time it is, too late to ditch the line in order to be in the office on time, too late to even call a taxi , too late to do anything but wait.
 
four:Down time, and she thinks of the city that unfolds before her from the hotel window, and thinks of all the people and all their histories in the buildings she can spy from the writing table she sits at, people with families sitting at desks of their own or standing, running between rooms with important papers or calling some one with news of either business or of home life or maybe even plans to be made for when ever leisure time evinces itself, she thinks of lives trapped in jobs in careers or marriages or cars on the freeway going to the suburbs after five or to the center of the insanity near the break of day, when the sun is still cold and the coffee is too hot to sip without a burn on the tender upper or lower lip that quiver at the thought of another day smiling to clienteles that are themselves people trapped in their concentric circles of routine, longing for a time when they might only have to stare from hotel windows in a city not of their residence, abstracting the lives of residents and keeping them at bay, at once, in the distance of a long fog that circles around the end of an imagined peer while small white and yellow lights illumine what remains of a visible coast line, vanishing toward Mexico, ah , she thinks, it's time to leave, ah, she thinks again, adieu, farewell...
 five:On most nights after most days I stay sober long enough to make it without a drop to midnight, when the whole thing starts again, though I might nap for three or four hours about things that fill the emails and answering machines with an unaddressable fear of what waits beyond the next recognizable landmark, a school or burger franchise, a dread that creeps up behind the words and sends a tremble through the hand either holding a pen or motioning over a keyboard, a panic takes invades the language we use to tell the world, our friends, our bosses and lovers that we are ready, that I am ready for what  intensity this day and this day alone brings me,

"This machine never sleeps, it's all waiting, again, the sadness and stresses of the bad coffee and miscounted change for the pastry, the news about all the missing children after bombs change the face of cities that don't have a chance against the results of advertising, there is no sleep, I think I would be thirsty but for..."
But for other dreams, perhaps, that I have where I am drinking all the time from endless streams from silver faucets, and I only become thirstier, hungrier, more aware of a world that still spins and complicates itself."
I don't know what any of that means, but this is another morning, it seems a good time to put on a shirt, clean socks, pants that still have a crease, thinking through the shave and the ride to work and the endless faces with an infinite selection of expressions to match the bottomless contents of their respective packaged miseries, of your face alone at home in a light that makes your entire head a sphere of such cloud-clearing joy that all such hours of slog and trod are worth the hassles with price checks, gift certificates, phone calls from amnesia victims , you offer me a soda and a steak, a kiss, something like that, that's what I think when I don't drink,
 and I find that I miss you all the more.
  
six:Joe Lavano and company are playing a sweet set of notes on the player, linked saxophone choruses that skip beats and chase rhythms that crack and break and then regroup in a wonderful, witty, winsome apparatus that configures each grunt and growl through the reeds into a continent of pitches, dialects, musical communities that keep their accents while the borders stretch and the dialogue gets more exciting, profound, the differences falling aside like clothes that are useless in the hot climate, where only similarities are noticed, distinct, memorable, a democracy of crazy time keeping.
 
seven:I like my coffee in the morning with a newspaper from a work before. It's so stimulating to be always catching up with the news, to stroll up to head line rather than have it run me over with an urgency only neurosis can sustain. I drink the coffee, I rustle the pages, and find something satisfying that what I'm reading is no longer news, but history, over long enough to make sense in a world where mornings are an hour of warning shots saying beware of the day ahead, go back to bed, go back, go back…
 
eight:Good morning, good morning, ah silly me, yes, a newspaper that is a week old, how quickly, how fast the days are enshrined in foot notes and commentary, our Instant Boswells have entombed is in print that is already fading and turned brittle to the touch, the microfilm is cracking as I turn the wheel in my memory of the graduate library looking up the major incidents of Bernard Shaw's great New York City adventure, I was yearning for coffee while in the stacks, a newspaper that at the time would have been one from the same day I woke up, that, a cup, a paper , and table on a patio to read and sip and opine into a nearby wood on a vacation that doesn't have a calendar to contain it, no work, no phones, just me and a cup, a paper and clear skies, and I might as well say, some birds to fly over head to cry out and leave their mark as my mind attempts to unmoor itself and drift with the eddies of current events, I wake up, yes, startled, an electric jolt, and shake my fists at the birds, five clenched fingers against the clouds, no good, I wish she were here, I look for a phone book, a phone, I wonder how it is she can get on with her life after the history we've had...
  
  nine:Sometimes I wonder if I was born or merely set aside in another dimension of newspaper grey and was launched into this world because what ever the case was running low on the premium designs.
Its a habitual thought, a shudder of doubt when staking hands or crossing streets or visiting people who and which are so familiar, so complete in intimate nuances and shared knowledge that they seem alien and strange, like specimens under glass in a museum I keep visiting for a lesson that just keeps turning the corner to the next gallery when my hard shoes hit the tile. Everything I looking for is just out of focus, short of the designs I see and have drawn.
Believing the world is seeing beyond the box scores and trusting what it says on the certificate; the biography has already been started, a page of facts that have gotten absurdly complicated, in love their own inventory of details that are pressed now in their uniqueness, creased and pleated, ready for rough waters I imagine await at the end of the map, where boats fall off and drift with sails full of solar wind until I wake up and yawn and scan the items on the table, the newspaper, the dirty bowls, someone else's pack of Marlboro 100s. The universe is reassembled, seamless as death itself.
Years ago I wondered if there was life on other planets precisely at the time when she left me, or asked me to leave, I wondered who else in this darkness knows this hurt as well as I?, and I stared for hours at her apartment\ as if trying to make the walls fly away, to lift her off the sofa, away from her meal , and bring her into my arms where I stood in the dark, next to a payphone, with out change to call out far enough to the wilderness where there is only wind and tall grass, maybe houses at the bottom of canyons that you see from jets leaving your home town before you enter the clouds that will drag on the wingspan, I would stare and the walls would stay where the carpenters intended them to remain, there was nothing to see, but I stared harder, right through the building, to the stars I knew were there, receiving radio waves, TV shows, thoughts of strong desire translatable only by action, hear me, hear me, who else shivers in a dark corner in unique misery, genius of articulated regret, who else speaks when no language gets the purity of the idea right, just right, thus forcing one to live in craziness, at the end of the alley, drinking from bottles I've pealed the labels from?
As usual , the stars don't answer, they don't say a word
 
ten:In front of things adorning the lawns of our town, I abjure to squint of cranes and deers, jockeys with faces white as the walls of empty gallery stoic as they are in their enameled resolve,
Not here or there nor on any brush in sight can relief be spelled in a flick of the wrist , a motion that captures the tone and twist of a minute in this day when all the frustrations seemed they might just dissolve like thin sheets of sugar under warm tap water and just wash away, there is not a gesture that lets me let go of things short of releasing all fingers from around the neck of the idea that is old, inert, unable to be redefined or made new by new paint on old boards.
The doors of the houses are wide open , dogs whimper and yelp their routine protest about weekends out of the town, in the back of the truck, it’s broad daylight, the sunlight is spread like miles of smiling bed covers over the happenstance of my moods in this moment, the newsboy pitches my newspaper to the roof, again, it’s business as usual, a full schedule of things to do or lie about doing.
Should I continue with my walk to the beach in a constricted stride, suffering the thoughts of phone calls that seemed to be about everything that was never said until the night past and hysteria goes back to sleep, my mind seems a cave with deep, blurred echoes of what we talked about, the impossibility of the desire, the attraction to fires, bright lights at the end of cigarettes?
Damn these animals and doors, damn this daylight, damn the world and it’s orderly progression.
 
eleven:Not here or there nor on any brush in sight can relief be spelled in a flick of the wrist , a motion that captures the tone and twist of a minute in this day when all the frustrations seemed they might just dissolve like thin sheets of sugar under warm tap water and just wash away, there is not a gesture that lets me let go of things short of releasing all fingers from around the neck of the idea that is old, inert, unable to be redefined or made new by new paint on old boards.
  
twelve:My tie cuts off the blood to my head and my socks have holes in them that are as old as toe nails that continue to grow years after clipper ships found new shores to set foot on, you imagine water everywhere along with the music of pipes ringing during hot showers, you hear the streaming sirens of lost songs glide along your body, slide down your breasts, your hands find a motion that is fine for trilling along the unsaid syllables that fill the room with steam and then you discover and are dumbfounded by the fact that your panty hose vanished during the night and there's no telling where it went, now there is steam coming out of your ears, come, I say, and let's have our usual breakfast, black coffee and two cigarettes, any style.
thirteen:Morning light crawls over the street as the fog recedes back to the corners of the earth that are invisible in the glare of spring and summer days.
"It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood" is song I hear coming from the next room.
A devastated newspaper is spread over the breakfast table.
"Nothing beats a great pair of legs" I say, and this gets your attention. You're walking around in your underwear, toothbrush in your mouth, feeling around the lunch counter for a pen so you can write a check to the School District
 to cover the cost of a class field trip to the Zoo. You tilt your head, and try to grin around the tooth brush.
"Nothing beats a great pair of legs except maybe a full house" and you laugh; grab the first pen that appears from a layered surface of bills and memos, and then yell "Emily, turn off the TV and put on your shoes, I have the check and I'll be ready in a minute."
The TV doesn't go off, and you go into the other room, and the yelling commences again, more threats, tears, the beams of the pitched roof raised with threats of no desert, movie or field trip if Mr. Rogers doesn't vanish from the TV screen, Emily stands her ground and you pull on a skirt, a hand made shirt, two shoes from the prop department, you're ready to go.
"Won't you be my neighbor...?"
Emily turns off the TV and sings to herself as she readies herself for school from a time zone only six year olds live in, she sings lyrics that have never been written and won't be sung again, she abides by rules that are correct, substantial and relevant only to this instance and then no more and never again, I can hear you drumming your fingers on the door, I can almost hear you tap your toes in those drama department shoes that are too small even for your ballerina feet.
I'll be at the hotel all day, answering phone calls from all over a shrinking world where everyone says hello and good bye in accents that sound like their ducking gun fire in towns baking under cruel desert suns or from penthouses or office towers that try to reach the sun and conquer it with incredible piles of theoretical money that catch fire in the glow of hubris,
All I can say is "One moment please" and connect everyone to Room Service, House Keeping, The Bar on the Roof, rooms where the guest hasn't emerged from for three days, or, sadly, tell everyone who wants to stay that we are sold out, every room has a paying customer, so sorry, no please don't threaten me, sorry, I cannot take your money, please understand, the rooms are all occupied, so sorry, please don't threaten me, lower your voice, sir and madam, please stop screaming,
I realize my joke has it wrong, so wrong, a full house never beats a great pair of legs.
 fourteen:Too many minutes have dropped off my watch in line at the movies buying tickets.
So many minutes are lost as the microwave beeps along it's growling, turning, chirping away, turning the food inside into something that's hot as guns in Duck season but unrecognizable as anything I'd want to put in my mouth.
The library shelves bear their spines with titles that allure and beckon from under their fine dust patina, but all I can do is wave them on, bid them goodbye, there is not enough time left in the week after all that fast food and instant coffee, so many rapid distractions keep me on my feet, spinning in the spot where I ought to be sitting, passing out when I ought to be absorbed in small print, foot notes, facts that didn't exist until I read them, but there is no time left after doing all the things that save us time, This is an affliction I don't have time for.
Could I have THE 24-hour flu instead?
 
fifteen:The lust of italics is obvious, the wake of roses taken seriously, off-kilter are the fingers making a path through your hair, a new part where a comb finds the soul under the brain that keeps you wondering about the world,
Those nights, half asleep, a small fist raps your back, you say it wasn't you, but floorboards groaning the way they do in old houses that sag in fall, swell in summer, contract in winter, and all that's left for spring is laughter and fear when everyone goes out doors again after dark, testing door knobs, it wasn't you , you say, only the house or some such thing,
Shared chills or beads of sweat, the double “s” molding prevailed, every position and posture on the mattress a buried language of what wasn't said any of those times when working was more heartache to keep for an idea of love that seems to choke because nothing seems funny anymore, nothing weighs less than an unwanted ton, we change positions as if speaking too fast for court reporters,
"I hope I don't dream" you say. " or if I do, let it be of a big black wall with nothing on it, just blackness, blackness..."
The apartment is so quiet that it is the refrigerator that sings us to sleep, a high and ghostly whistle coming from it's deep frozen stillness. We drift off as headlights flash across the ceiling and car radios play music pulled from the air from other states, we drift off while the house sinks deeper into an earth that wants it all back.
 
sixteen:She crosses the street after standing at the corner for minutes that seemed nothing less than hours. He watched ,thinking of lyrics to write. She stood at the corner, jabbing the button of the pedestrian signal box, looking across the street as if to see if perhaps a store she wanted to get to before they closed might have flipped the sign over in the door, from "open" to "closed". As if she could see through all that traffic.
I know, he thought, a song about a guy watching a woman trying to cross the street while he tries to imagine a lyric he might or might not write. The irony, he thought, or was it just laziness? All these bagels are cold and hard as tile. He lights a cigarette, dumps the match in his ash tray. The woman is across the street, and vanished into a parking structure.
"May I have another Latte?" he asks a passing woman carrying a tray to the cafe service station.
"I don't work here" she says without breaking her stride.
seventeen: Your tastes are sweet and deep in the dish of everything a library shelf can give you, yet there are no poems nor pieces of prose that tell you the elusive truth that someone else has walked over that same patch of ground, that same square of cement where you felt the ache of falling in love quite literally, off a cliff and into a void that seemed a swarming mass of mist moving in gyrating tirades of insanity as your head just spins with a name and the blurred countenance of hair, lips, eyes, pouting lips streaking by like finger paints left in a drizzle, your heart just fizzles and calms down, it rests a beat after so much running up and down the same stairs where to visit and leave the footprints of where you've been, yes, it seems no  else has walked in shoes quite your size nor entered the stream in precisely the same spot where you might have slipped on the rocks and seen death in a flash of melodrama that the same cartoon we remember seeing when mornings were merely black and white TV and screaming clowns pouring glasses of milk for a silent, frightened room of children who were mystified why anything like this was happening to them. 
eighteen:You and I have watched lightning exploding silently behind the dress grays of twilight and we’ve kept on saying that the world just doesn’t work anymore and then laughed, drank more rum, sang an atonal riff before a garbled, tongue clucking solo, and then watched the lightning again for hours while it lime—lighted the small patch of trees and the few blocks of curving intersections you and I called home and thought diseased when we had a good buzz while walking past displays windows in shops we couldn’t afford to browse in on the blocks getting torn down, buildings coming down and nothing left standing but firewalls and brick chimneys, the world didn’t work anymore around the sidewalks we walked, you and have stood in the rain nursing paper cups full of Pepsi and Meyers, sad to see the neighborhood go because some one was getting rich while we were getting drunker luxuriating in the melancholy that the turf no longer reminded us of why we were angry about being cheated and being different from the rest, our misery was a shadow that followed us that even the lightning couldn’t cut through and remind us again what it was we were drinking to forget.
 
nineteen:There is only the other side of the road when you come over, the other side of the tracks even though we live no where near a train yard.
I bow to your good looks and great legs and the meals you’ll make before you even notice that You’re tired of the sound of my voice on the voice getting real close to the speaker, becoming a grainy whisper alone the wireless sky,  “Maybe we should keep our apartments” you say, “just so that both of us have some place to go, you know, if all this turns out be only a mess, a mess...”
You drop a fork in the kitchen sink as the water runs over the lettuce, birds alight and fly toward the sun that is going away, “I give in to you’re wisdom” I tell you, “Whatever you think is the right thing to do...”
Across the street is a million miles away and the bedroom doesn’t exist at this precise minute, my magazines stack higher than any man’s ever seen,
But not every night is heaven when there some things missing from around the house when I look around,
This side of the street seems to be sliding off the face of a cliff that is losing the earth that gives in a severe inch with each storms that comes from the south or the north, each blast of electric guitar, every plane you took up to know when there is only me in an empty room older than I planned on being, more alone than what the law allows.
 twenty:What I’m not saying is that you ought to park campers on your front lawn, tire tracks deep in the mud that is slowly becoming merely mire with each rain that happens by.
Nor do I endorse leaving old couches and refrigerators in the alley three garage doors down or dumping in on empty lot where combinations of abandoned furniture and appliances can stare at the world that passes by them, mute as if in unending astonishment that anything comes to a finish..
What I am saying is that you don’t have to give away all your clothes because churches don’t fill the pews as do movie theatres or ball games during a series where so much depends on ball being hit by a stick that might fly over the cheap seats and into a window, into history that is.
Religion hasn’t been as good as the movies in decades anyway, and those kinds of ball games are rare , being , as it were, miracles true and factual, the only place where prayer makes sense and the game is more important than what any man or woman wants to with their appetites.
Find yourself a face to kiss and leave the Laundry undone just for day, wait until the net day off to sharpen the knives for battle (while I pray that day never arrives for that reason), stop for a moment and think about what you’ve been thinking about.
and when you’re confused enough, come see me, when I’ll put on some coffee and we can read each other from any book the house, my treat.
Twenty one: Lawn
It is just another day of lawn mowing in lethargic shoves, sweating under the arms under the sun's smarmy glare while the blades stroke and grab and cajole armies of sodden leaves to relinquish their height, their standing, their destiny for the good of the land, the glory of the hedges.The smell of cut grass piled up becomes the legacy of the day, futures are based on what aromas filter from the back of the garage where blades of another kind turn to compost, break down into their essentials compounds and trace results, energy dons a new suit of clothes and leaves a trail for more life to come.
I stop pushing the lawn mower, lean on the handle. Pretty girls in summer dresses of bright, corpulent patterns walk by, hand bags and head phones waving free.
Part of me wants to wave back; part of me wants to be left alone.
The kid next door works on his car in the driveway. Engine parts are strewn about his feet.
The oil stains soak the cement. The leaves on my crescent hedge are turning brown as mud.My mouth is dry and I crave water.It's astounding what can happen when nothing is going on.
That's why I am not a painter; I never developed the art of not-getting-it-right. Rather, I'm still amazed of things in and of themselves, doing nothing, undressed of human perception or ideas, things just falling apart of their own accord unburdened with conceits of glory, glee or horrible, terrible, inconsolable sadness and terror.An uncle of mine worked a farm his entire life and all I remember were several generations of farm machines left out in fields or behind sheds, rusted out and useless years after they rolled from the factory, and when I asked him about what he was going to do about them, he just laughed and said he planned to do exactly nothing because there was nothing to be done, no emergency to attend to."Those parts aren't hurting anything where they are" he said," I have a farm to run, not a garage.
My job is to make things grow, not go..."
Our fathers and their fathers knew something about things in this life running down, new things appearing as if out of the ether.
Swallowing hard, I push the mower onward in the path we've been blazing through the deep, molding grass. Onward, says the general, to where the sky kisses the edge of the earth/
twenty two:Just tell the band to strike up a song that blends well with the color of a crowd whose faces blur in swirls across a whirling ballroom floor, high hats and tom-tom drums and cowbells filling the city blocks with locomotion that doesn’t stop until the clock hits the last minute of the last hour.
Everyone stops swirling to get their coats and then their cars to return to their homes and apartments that stopped seeming so extraordinarily alive with the things they brought to the rooms and hung up on the walls.
The music stops at midnight and the only thing you can think of now is how your feet hurt, how many hours to sunrise and the start of your term on the clock and in the customer’s face with service you know you wouldn’t hand your dog after the biggest mess he could produce on the rug you brought home from an enclosed mall.
But it’s late on the road, rain falls with an even temper, small fists bang the roof since the start of history, there are fields of applause your going through in the city on this drive, you drum the steering wheel as she leans against the glass, humming lightly, racing drums and quicksilver trumpets grow winged feet and chase one another from station to station to station on the AM dial.
She starts to sing something you don’t understand as the wheels seem to hydroplane over the asphalt, saxophone blasts a whole in the clouds and the moon is on you as you slow down the car coming to the apartment house,
Love seems to lasts forever in ash-silver light, you think, coming to the garage, the music cutting out and static going off like firecrackers on a string under the stars of a night full of train wheels singing along the rails with steel wheels
Clouds meander over the moon once more, the light is gone, there is only a garage full of tools and dirty boxes of unpacked stuff you never want to find.
Her eyes are closed, her head against the door, oh, to dance across the city in top hats, long sideburns, and long white gloves like we used to dream it would be always, this is what you’re thinking,
She sings a song without the words, nonsense syllables filling in spaces where lyrics used to be crooned,
“Do you know the words”, she asks, “do you know the name of the song?”
“Sure do” you said, switching off the ignition and tapping your forehead, “it’s up here somewhere, lost forever.”
   

Search for the perfect umbrella

Jesus of grunt.

The difference between religion and philosophy is that religion tends to be a closed system of faith that postulates a cosmology it insists is absolutely true. While there may be traditions within particular religions of theological debate regarding the interpretation of a religion's tenets, these matters, however subtle and finely reasoned they maybe, have limits as to what can be said and done. A religion is a matter of faith, without material evidence, regarding the state of all existence that beyond the limited interpretation of a finite set of core beliefs cannot be questioned.
 For the worth of religion in material terms, I subscribe to the  elegant qualifications William James laid out in Varieties of Religious Experience, crudely paraphrased as being that if a set of religions convictions provides a community with values, ethics and the moral basis for fair  laws that allow the members to usefully and creatively cope with life's circumstances, enables them to cooperate and share in enterprises that are beneficial both themselves and to the whole, are able to empower  the members to be generous, kind and responsible so that a community is strengthened with a generally understood purpose greater than the petty desires of the individual , that is justification enough for a person's belief in invisible forces. This sounds sane and , I think, fairly reasonable. The comedian in me, though, also remembers poet John Ashbery's sentence from his introduction to the collection he edited about avant gard art, "We would all believe in God if we  knew he existed, but would this be much fun?"  

 Organized religion purges those clerics and theologians whose ideas go too far off the reservation and undermine a faith's fundamentals. Philosophy, though related to religion in the sense that it grapples with large concepts and abstract notions has, at its core, a notion that skepticism is a virtue and has a methodological rigor that questions, tests and interrogates propositions, ideas, concepts; philosophy preceded science as an intellectual endeavor and it was from philosophy that early scientists got their discipline, the constant testing of their ideas and theories.

 Religion, I'd say, refines itself through theological sophistry to adapt to whatever historical moment the institutions finds themselves in, that is, they change according to current fashion.It's not a stretch to say that the basis of the practice is to continue to seem relevant in light of  a world that becomes more complex seemingly as research forces the formerly mute , mysterious and unknowable essence of reality to yield yet more of what is behind the curtain; the matter goes beyond merely being fashionable . It has everything to do with power, as those who have the power to explain the universe to populations have the power, ultimately, to keep them ignorant, afraid and vindictive or free them from  mendacious superstition.  Science, on the other hand, changes it's thinking on the basis of verified facts: If new facts don't fit a theory, you change the theory, not ignore the facts. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

"Chinamen Jump" by Frank O'Hara



As we love at night
birds sing out of sight,
Chinese rhythms beat
through us in our heat,
the apples and the birds
move us like soft words,
we couple in the grace
of that mysterious race.


O'Hara comes as close as anyone I've read to the sound of a speaking voice in his poems  and still create a heightened language. This is the sort musical ear that makes for memorable images and declarations in a memorable poem. O'Hara's  opting for the everyday, the simple utterance, and the plainly and exquisitely rhapsodic is a reversal of sorts; instead of the poet comparing the joys of the senses to the condition of a Heaven one must live righteously to enjoy , if they wish, after an dreary and dry death, the poet says that heaven is more the state of being that  is needed here. There was no need to wait for joy; mouths were made for more than hurling curse words and insults, hands were made for more than forming fists and grabbing weapons.


At night Chinamen jumpon Asia with a thumpwhile in our willful waywe, in secret, play

affectionate games and bruiseour knees like China's shoes.



He is, it's always seemed to be, always in some state of love, all the joy and agony and humdrum inbetweens of being enrapt in another person. Or en-rapt by his passion. Energy and elation are what O'Hara's constant themes seem to be, and what he has over his peers is a zaniness to treat the world as if it were a cartoon.

The birds push apples throughgrass the moon turns blue,
these apples roll beneathour buttocks like a heath
full of Chinese thrushesflushed from China's bushes.

O'Hara, art curator and critic, a City Poet who embodied the idea of the urban center being the place where a population gathered and traded their art as well as their goods and services, writes here as man living in a city full of surprises, intrusions, movie marquees, galleries, relentless hustle and bustle. There is the loud blaring of music, movie soundtracks, news stands with screaming newspaper headlines, unending traffic. New York, the town he wrote about, is all chaos and bustle that nothing implacable unless one goes for the flooding of their senses.  This is the murmur of lovers in doorways after a late dinner at a nice restaurant who at first seek to get out of the rain but then, as they huddle in each  other's arms, find themselves falling into the  depths of their senses , the smell of hair, the scent of after shave, the touch of a unspoken fabric, where heaven on earth is created less as mists, clouds and music from far corners but rather as that safe huddle, the embrace that is a barrier against pleading car horns and angry drivers cursing each intersection that stops them with nothing but colored lights and book of laws they haven't read. Nothing matters in this city poet's metropolis when the authority of the senses are engaged and heeded and the newspapers all suddenly become written in punch lines. This is a life that is meant to transform the brutal material of the sidewalk and the cement and steel of the skyline into punctuation marks for the river of moods shared imaginations unleash. The only way to leave this city was by laughing out loud.


As we love at nightbirds sing out of sight,
Chinese rhythms beatthrough us in our heat,
the apples and the birdsmove us like soft words,
we couple in the graceof that mysterious race.

Here we are treated less with an accurate description of making love than an evocation of the experience itself, a billion China jumping at night to move the earth and Frank O'Hara and his partner rocking their own world with their own kind of rattle and hum, with Chinese jumpers, birds and fruit coming to mind as things that move the irreplaceable O'Hara to new states of desire

Sunday, December 2, 2012

DOLPHY WAS GOOSING THE LOW END NOTES


DOLPHY WAS GOOSING THE LOW END NOTES

Dolphy was goosing the low end notes from his bass clarinet , a solemn, fluid tone that swam between the other fragments of drums, bass and teen-dream pianistics, a pulse that made the speaker cones rattle and the juice in the glass Blue poured form himself to shimmy sensually in the water glass that held it. Blue needed to go the store for some birthday candles because his girl friend had the idea that if they burn down the house with a simple incendiary device, a short candle in a roll of toilet paper in the hall closet where the hand towels and cleaning products were stored, they could collect the money from the insurance money she thought Blue had taken out on the four poster disaster where she slept next to him every night in a room with no windows, on a mattress with no springs. The sagging in the center of the mattress meant backaches by the boatload.
 Blue, though, didn't buy any fire insurance for the house, thinking it was silly to do since neither of them smoked. He was in no mood to be yelled at , though.

 He turned up the Dolphy record, scraping guitars and abbreviated saxophone copulated in every molecule the room contained, his head was swimming in terms that amounted to wishful amnesia. He would go to the store and get the birthday candles, they would set up the incendiary device and the house would burn down, a glorious blaze that would light up the night air in this criminally inane neighborhood, and then he would tell her the truth, point blank, blunt and cruel, honey , I never bought insurance for this house and there are no checks coming our way. But on the way to the store he stopped by the Velvet Hammer lounge for a quick snort, maybe two, two that became twelve ; the next thing he knew he woke up behind the wheel of his car, which was going near 80 miles an hour over the Mission Bay bridge.

They found his car in the bay later that night, but they didn't find him. He was never seen again. "All he did was play that atonal shit" his wife told police when they talked to her. She showed no emotion. "I said either this shit comes off the stereo our you hit the road. Dumb fucker."

Nothing in the store was over five dollars


Nothing in the store was over five dollars , so Brake thought nothing of it to get a bag of cell phone cases for a sweet deal of a buck and a quarter. He gave the cashier a five, pocketed his change as he released a satisfied snort , and walked out of the store.

Then he remembered he was still in Clairemont, at an intersection that had chain coffee shop, an adult continuation school and Church full of garble tongued snake handlers on the other three corners. Just beyond a grove of dead crab apple trees he could see the High School Science building roof, a bleak and dreary twp story slab of flyweight construction from which the American flag was seen caught tangled in the chain and pullies of the flag pole.

The flag wrapped around the pole as the wind made sharp corner of the item flap listlessly like an animal caught in a trap who's reflexes spasmodically twitched and pulled against the inescapable of the steel tooth device. Brake thought of Thanksgiving dinner and dropped his bag of cell phone cases, remembering he had no cell phone and no phone number either.

Killing Them Softy: great crime drama


The conventional wisdom regarding Brad Pitt's new film, Killing them Softly, is that it is an abomination because it had a pathetic box office yield in its first weekend . Such are the fortunes, I guess, when how little a film makes over rides the critical concern of how good a film is. Killing is my favorite film of the year , adding more evidence to the notion that Brad Pitt has handily transcended the curse of being a Ken doll to being a versatile film actor; his portrayal here of Jackie Cogan, a cynical, methodical hit man who is called in by Mob higher ups to investigate a robbery of a Mob protected card game and then extinguish the lives of those responsible as a means of warning other street punks from attempting the same gambit, is subtly detailed and nicely mannered depiction of a character who has a grasp of what he is , a contract killer, and the world he lives in, an America where everything is a brutal business transaction. 


Cogan, a lean presence, is the only one in the Game, this particular crime environment, who hasn't addled his senses with drugs, booze or the destructive reaches of delusional rationalization. In a dark,rainy, cold, urban terrain l of decrepit side streets, ratty warehouse districts and freeway overpasses , we witness a noose composed of criminal short sightedness slowly tightening around the necks of petty hooligans and thugs as their sloppy , double-crossing plans to a quick and easy provide the means of their eventual , violent deaths. "Killing them Softly" has the inevitability of a great Tragedy--American crime fiction at it's best , in the guise of Elmore Leonard, Jim Thompson , James Ellroy and Cornell Woolrich, delivers the same bleakly poetic warnings against untoward Pride as does Euripides, Shakespeare or O'Nell-- and Cogan is the only one who understands the situation and certainly the single personality with the focus and method to do what needs to be accomplished. Indeed, this merciless, pragmatic hit man is the only one who understands the terms of this convoluted gaggle of greed and stupidity. Cogan dispatches the elements that have disturbed the city's criminal equilibrium with a perfected mechanical precision. Erratic  punks  creating more ruckus than  riches are not long for this crime world where mob bosses, like any succesful level of management, prefers profit tGo see this film.o employee quirks. Dead problematic thugs cease to be a problem.

 Beyond the oddly  alluring industrial grit of the  crime story itself--a revealing series of conversations where the quirky fuck ups reveal the poetic and vulgar limits of their world view--there are intriguing backdrops that offer themselves up as a critique of the culture at large, particularly the 2008 Obama/McCain race for President where we see, on newscasts observed on televisions in various rat hole brass, the political parties making promises to help the working man while we watch working men, cheap, minor gangsters, struggle , hustle and screw each other for whatever advantage they can get. All this said, Andrew Dimkins, writer and director, has done a superb job with this film, in the overlapping of the three principle story lines that merge at a credible expedient pace, and with the photography, which fashions a dark, noirish feeling in the perennially raining darkness of this film. Superb performances as well by James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins and Ray Liotta as well. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Say what you see

The meaning of a representation can be nothing but a representation. In fact, it is nothing but the representation itself conceived as stripped of irrelevant clothing. But this clothing can never be completely stripped off; it is only changed for something more diaphanous. So there is an infinite regression here. --Umberto Eco, The Limites of Interpretation

Umberto Eco some essays, and a book on the matter of over-interpretation, that argue, crudely paraphrased, that observers who've divorced themselves from a need to act upon their judgments on things and events have no recourse but to keep discoursing, interpreting, giving things and events even newer, subtler descriptions until the chatter isn't about what ought to be done in order to effect the way we live but rather about how can we continue to contrive more speech for its own sake.

There was an idea, formerly, that critical theory would describe and diagnose a particular set of problems, and then would prescribe a slate of actions that ought to be done to rid the world of the defined problems: there was a tacit agreement to stop theorizing and to start implementing the radical remedies. Revolutions do not happen by those who hover over the water cooler or  yell at their unblinking tv sets.

Praxis, theory into practice, from Gramsci. Praxis, though, is something the left has forgotten about, gun shy perhaps with advancing any set of ideas that might somehow be construed by the politically sensitive as racist, ageist, sexist, and so on. The ability to name the world in front of us contained the possibility to rename it as well, and then change it. Our theoretical left has taken refuge in poetry and novels and refuses even to discuss what their objects are talking about in the author's terms, exhibiting a convenient nihilism.  

The right isn't afraid to name, nor to advance their cause. There is a living embodiment of political will behind their description of the current situation, and it would be Post Modern Tragedy that we've theorized ourselves into submission.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sons of the Pioneers




Another in the long series of abbreviated versions of Dylan songs that each contained the by-then formula Byrds/Sonny and Cher arrangement of jingle jangly guitars, over-stated drumming and , just for kicks, a chorus coooing an off key "ahhhhhhhh" in the background. Harrison's talk-singing is impeccably British, charming as a generic trait of Carnaby era artifact, but toothless as an interpreter of one of Dylan's finest, most acidic song-poems. Whatever his technical limits as a singer, Dylan 's nasalisms conveyed attitude, unwavering its combination of exhasustion and disgust. The small talk between Harrison, son of acting stalwart Rex, and  Gary Lewis, son of spastic comedy icon Jerry, is typically lame reparte. It's lameness is the funniest thing about it.

Met a Dude


Met a dude on the Boardwalk in 1973. He had long hair and wore jeans, as did I.
I leaned against the sea wall and played few gasping notes on a harmonica I pulled from my back pocket. It had candy wrappers and clods of hair crammed all through the reeds, and the metal cover plates were crushed. It sounded like a robot death rattle.



"Bad shit, bro" said this dude, "I mean, Paul Fucking Butterfie
ld gonna shit his pants when you step up."
"Thanks" I said, "smoke a joint?"



"Fuckin A right on with your shit".



Without a word we ducked into an alley and fired up a doobie. It was a rainy day, the sky was grey and two story apartment houses in Mission Beach seemed to sag like wet bags of French bread left on a back porch in the dampest days of April.



We never saw each other again. I never thought it worth mentioning.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Philip Roth calls it a day


  1. I developed a bad habit of announcing that Philip Roth was not my favorite novelist before offering a considered opinion on particulars of his that I had just read, opinions, oddly enough, that were generally favorable to the work. Despite my protests , there were times I argued that what Roth was doing as a novelist was singularly brilliant, obsessed and varied; Roth might have had just a few themes and, but unlike a good many serious writers his age, he continued to find new ways of invading old ideas. Above all else, he favored story over fashioning a glittering prose style to reinforce old prejudices. Roth is not my favorite writer, as his prose style isn't as graceful or elegant as others of his generation--not Cheever, not Mailer, not Updike, not Didion, not DeLillo.

     As stylists, writers of breathtaking prose, they are Roth's superior, but there is in each of them a theory of the novel that they are bringing forth in their respective bodies of work. Although I have gotten more  sportsman like thrills from  Mailer and had my heart torn   out  by the ongoing heartbreak of Cheever's tales of sad, alcoholic men, it was Philip Roth, who superior novelist in many respects .

     The particular theoretical prejudice about what the novel needs to be, the obligation to make a story perform in a manner that is determined by intellectual conceit even without the author's awareness, is all but missing in Roth's prickly collection of novels. Anger, lust, rage, hatred, jealousy, self loathing and grotesque self-infatuation are the hot button emotions in his acidic comedies and tightly coiled melodramas. Roth is a combination of craftsman, inventor and moral interrogator, showing a series of characters in bad situations who are forced to make decisions that result only in more misery an recrimination, un-buffered by the convenient cushion of irony. 

    There are no neutral corners in Roth's fiction, even to the extent that the author, who has a readable if decidedly poetic method of getting his thorny characaters and terrains into the world, of not offering the reader the distancing , ease giving relief of a simile burdened style. His punchlines and catharses have the effect of body blows.   I realize that I have read about ten of his books over the years, a goody amount I thin, and I realize belatedly that I been reading books by an American  Master. Regardless of ethnicity  or creed, Roth is the master  showing his following how human beings create their own customized versions of Hell by doing nothing more than following their bliss.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Elvis : Poet/Destroyer


It's been argued by rock and roll philosophers for some time that Elvis Presley was everything truly rock and roll are supposed to be, a cross-pollination of gross historical contradictions that meet, fuse and give rise to an expressive result that is fundamentally insane. In this instance, it is the mythological fusing of what is said to be the innate sexuality and vitality in African American blues and the slave culture that created it, and the inbred, Christian determinism that filters through the racist and goony backwaters of the American south, a strand vaguely disguised by the soft soaping pathos and lilt of Country Music. Elvis wrote this poem, a klutzy bit of doggerel, and gives us a clear example when these combating buts of cultural DNA find a place in the same utterance:

ODE TO A ROBIN

"As I awoke one morning 
when all sweet things are born, 
a Robin perched upon my sill 
to hail the coming dawn. 
It was fragile, young and gay 
and sweetly did it sing,  
and thoughts of happiness and joy 
into my head did bring. 
I listened softly to his song 
and paused beside my bed, 
then gently closed the window 
and crushed it's  fucking  head."
A recording of Elvis reading the poem to some friends can be heard here. 

 The result is a volatile example of pure ID, an insatiable appetite, a force so uncontainable that when left alone without the pieties of Church hymns and the sleepwalking good manners evinced in most public moments, the urge is to destroy the world, kill what is delicate, turn what is held as beautiful and permanent into a smashed, crushed, trashed path of rubble and bloody guts. Elvis is said to be the Ur Punk, a barely contained insanity that will inevitably find freedom and its full expression in demolishing the house of excuses we pass off as firmly planted foundation of moral certitude. ““The pure products of America / go crazy," wrote William Carlos Williams. Elvis, among others, fulfills the prophecy.

Little Killing Ditty: a poem by Christian Wiman


An honest poem we find, a portrait of a minor league serial killer who sings a song celebrating a fellowship of sports personalities preferring live and unsuspecting targets, a song that not so much helps ease a personal sense of guilt and remorse so much as it aids the gun holder to bypass compunction junction altogether.  There is in the tone a feeling of recollection in photographic recall, and yet none of the detail is characterized by regret; the narrator merely describes what had happened clinically, almost aesthetically. What is provided here is the poet as gun man studying target and terrain as if it were a landscape not to be lived in but merely converted into something approaching an aesthetic experience; the thing his eyes show him are not things in themselves but rather phenomena upon which he is to exercise his whims and will upon.

 In the guise of honesty the narrator admits that he will not feign regret, sadness, will not practice a false self-recrimination, but will rather honor the moment and the buffering code of the hunt that shields him from any sense of connection to the living things he killed in the pursuit of the hunt and its lethal consequence. 

This reads not so much as a warning to readers about the seduction of weapons and their purpose or even a portrait of a personality warped beyond redemption. It reads almost as a boast, a wallow in one's moral numbness toward the pointless kill.

I wouldn't disagree with that. In fact, the poem seems to be a recollection of formative experiences rather than a telling of what one's current hobby happens to be. The details have that feeling of someone describing details that are only just then revealed to the narrator as they rummage through their memories for parts of a their history. The telling, however, has a flat affect, with empathy being all but nonexistent; the sequence makes me think of someone with a blunted sensibility that assumes that things in the world are problems to be solved, goals to be attained. It is a bloodless equation where the birds represent nothing other than targets to be brought down with the right tool, the gun he holds.

 He will not betray this moment with false regret; he will not compromise the perfection of his achievement. In the in long backward glance we are supposed to imagine what the adult sensibility might be--bloodless, non pragmatic, rigid, cold, and detached. This may be the poem's one failure, the lack of an ironic turn to humanize the suffocating narrowness of this world view. It is hard to read something with a narrator who seems more than satisfied with such a joyless existence. But sympathy is not the poet's task here, I suppose. The main purpose is to make us uncomfortable. To that end, it is a smashing success.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Chatter



"Richard Noel" is Harry Thomas' slap at obscurantist modernism in all its forms, resisting the lure of diffuse and the oblique for the clipped, staccato version of Rudyard Kipling. The British Poet would have furnished the fife and brass to accentuate and enliven the rattatatat of the military drums. Thomas' poem is a rhythmic straight jacket, the confined emotionalism of someone trying to keep their bleeding heart to a steady, unexcited beat. If only if he'd actually let it all go to provide us with something fiercer, more explosive than this soggy parody of Hemingway's latherings about a Personal Code.


To finish the long profile**his grade depended on,the afternoon before**the surgery, alone,he worked late in the library.**I saw him typing away.On my desk were his ten pages**the first thing the next day.  Over the years I, too,**have had hard things to face.But when did I once summon**such fortitude and grace. 
It is admirable, one supposes, that a student gets their homework turned in on time despite an affliction, but this tribute , with the hushed bathos , seems very, very silly indeed. But there's that element of "Gunga Din" that valorizes situations one does not know intimately although one fees they should, and so attempt to compensate by inserting themselves uselessly into the narrative, flagellating themselves for theoretical cowardice in the face of someone who is merely doing the best they can with the hand they've been dealt. Contra Susan Sontag, Thomas exoticizes the sick, the afflicted with this sappy rhyme. There is something remarkable in the attempt to overstate a point using such a crabbed rhetoric; the clichés and the conventional wisdom toward the sick and the afflicted area boiled , chipped and chiseled to their irreducible essences, leaving only a salty residue of uninteresting thinking. There is ossification here, there is poet tasting, but there is no poetry, such as we understand it. So what does one do to mend this tendency of amateurs to compose and distribute these stanza'd insults to the eyes? Exactly nothing. Nothing can be done to cure the lagging tastes of the naive.


There is that large faction of the otherwise diminutive poetry audience that likes its verse rhyming, rocking in a cadence that suggests a three-legged clogging competition, stanzas that are morally coherent and as comprehensible as a stack of pancakes, and the seldom discussed aspect among the rest of us self-declared elites fighting back gag reflexes is that this more or less a permanent state of affairs in this odd and contentious corner of the literary world. For all the chatter some of us offer up about being ecumenical. inclusive and appreciative of the broadness contemporary contains with regards to style, aesthetics, and the subtly differentiated concerns each of the coexisting schools collectively undertake to have their respective poems achieve their results, many of us choke with contempt and despair over the obvious if unacknowledged truth that doggerel, poesy, poet tasting and all the loutish rest are permanent fixtures in the literary culture that thrives beyond the ramparts. There are no mass conversions forthcoming when it comes to convincing the rest of the poetry world that they’d be better off reading the stronger stuff. Consumers know what they want to read, and the amateur poet, not beholden to particular school of poetics or allegiances formed while they were a graduate student, will write exactly how they see fit, daring, strange enough, to write poems that make sense.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Cream's usual suspects


Jack Bruce is not the stuff that harmonica heroes are made of, but his playing on "Train Time" from the Wheels of Fire album live sides was a big motivator for me to pick up the harmonica. That, along with seeing the original Butterfield Blues Band in a no age limit Detroit folk club called the Chessmate in the same period, the late Sixties. Bruce, while lacking chops as we currently define them, had tone, energy, drive, and soul. What he was doing with the harmonica was a mystery to me then, a mystery I had to solve. I am still playing harmonica 46 years later. I am still trying to solve that mystery
The Cream reunion was a significant disappointment; in the day they were hungry and ambitious and arrogant enough to think that they were the best on their respective instruments. This certainly fueled the long jams they embarked on. There were energy and an interplay that is still palpable in their live recordings from their period. Clapton was certainly a much more aggressive guitarist than he is now. The reunion was weak tea compared with the old days. Although everyone played well, generally, the performances were lifeless and make work. No one seemed into the performances.
This is a world away from jazz musicians who, as they get older, generally remained determined to play near the top of their game, that each performance of something from their repertoire was a unique and original artistic experience. This marks the difference between genuine improvisation and merely competent riffing.
Ginger Baker’s lugubrious drum solo, “Toad” by name, was the only percussion piece that I could fall asleep to; it wasn’t unlike getting used to the screaming and the crashing dishes in the apartment next door and falling asleep. That’s sad. The principle thing he did for me was to motivate me to discover the glories of other drummers, jazz drummers mainly. Jack DeJohnette, Tony Williams, Buddy Rich, Billy  Cobham,  Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones. Jones and Baker had a drum battle decades ago in New York City, with Baker and his ramped up drum set and Jones himself, the master behind the fury and pulse of John Coltrane’s finest improvisational extravaganzas, setting up a small kit. From what I read in Rolling Stone, Jones gave Baker several lessons in drumming that evening, proving that is not how many dream heads and cymbals you have, but what you do with them.
Eric Clapton has earned the right to be called a blues guitarist—no one sounds like him when it comes to this basic and beautiful musical style. He does, though, have a history of going through bands the way gluttons plow through pastries. A few years ago he did a series of concerts with fellow Blind  Faith member  Steve Winwood, with whom he performed a smart cross-section from their respective bands. It was a great combination, Winwood ’s and Clapton ’s singing a perfect blend of blues brine, and Clapton playing some the best guitar he has ever done in his career. Really, he makes much of his previous live guitar work sound workmanlike and perfunctory—on this session, he came alive.  The problem is having to wait decades for him to get inspired to play with feeling and conviction results in many other things not getting attended to.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dylan and Genius: A Long Goodbye Kiss


Bob Dylan, I think, is a class of artist who had an enormous, galvanizing, revolutionizing style for a period of his career, years in which he released an impressive series of albums, from Another Side of Bob Dylan up to Blood on the Tracks, that is one of those bodies of work that are untouchable works of genius . Fitting perfectly well within his interesting notion of the Anxiety of Influence, Dylan's songs and lyrics in that period so profoundly changed the nature of what popular songwriting can be that all songwriters, regardless of style, write in the shadow of that genius.


Younger writers can write further into the direction they believe Dylan was headed, taking further risks, bigger chances, or they can go in the other extreme, writing away from the pull of Dylan's gravity, writing in a way no less risky and perplexing as those who become Dylan apostles. Dylan's case, within that of songwriting, is comparable to that of Shakespeare's, an influence so vast that no artist, even those who intensely dislike the work, can ignore the artist; lesser writers, "weaker” writers as Bloom would put, cannot help but be influenced by the profundity of the work that has gone before. Like it or not, it is a standard that compels you to make a stylistic choice. Genius, though, is fleeting, and Dylan's ability as such was that it came out of him in a flow that was, I believe, effortless, nearly savant-like, requiring less craft than a brain that was firing on all cylinders and producing a language that seemed to compose itself. But genius leaves a good many of our great artists--it is a spirit, perhaps, that takes residence in a person's personality long enough to get the work done and then leaves, sometimes quickly, sometimes gradually.


Other things come into play as well, such as a change in why one engages in the kind of self-interrogation that writing essentially is; Mailer dropped his high style, my favorite style when he came across the Gary Gilmore story and wrote in simpler terms as his fiction become more nuanced and rich. This is was a plus. Allen Ginsberg became a Buddhist and fell in love with the notion of "first thought, best thought" and essentially transcribed his continuous notes to himself, unedited, unmediated by literary qualification, in the effort to present a truer, constantly evolving face to the public in his books of poetry. Much as I like the reasoning and dedication, AG's poetry became far, far less exciting, interesting, became far less good. For Dylan, after his motorcycle accident, he has taken up with simpler more vernacular language, and we see the good it offered he and the listener, with John Wesley Harding and  Nashville Skyline. The language was simpler, and the sources from which Dylan took his inspiration, folk tales, old songs, country western bathos, navigated closely to the banal and hackneyed, but we must admit that Dylan had the skill, the instinct, to manage his language no less artfully than Hemingway would have done at his prime and kept matters enticingly elliptical at the heart of things: there are ways to create a sense of what you're getting at without too much artifice and pretension, useless . He was masterful in creating simpler lyrics that still drew you in and still kept you making intelligent guesses. Hemingway, this virtue wouldn't last, in my view; Hemingway fell prey to depression and concerns of his virility and sought to write his way out of his depression, the result is a series of late-career books that lack the grace or conviction or the brilliance of insinuation of his great work; he veered toward self-parody. Dylan's work, post Blood on the Tracks, became alarmingly prolix and parochial in ideas and a contrived rural diction that sounds completely false, the phoniest I've heard since the quaint southern tales of Erskine Caldwell.



I know that Dylan has always trafficked in clichés, but what he did previously with stale phrases was to subvert them, place them in unexpected juxtapositions, and cleverly invert their meanings to expose their shortcomings. He is not doing that these days--rather I think the good man just starts writing something without an inherent sense of where to go or when to stop or where to edit and seems to write in an attempt to maintain equilibrium. He seems to need to hear himself write; it is more the process than the result that matters. His use of clichés or banal phrases seems more stitchery than rehabilitating the language; they are means that he can connect his stanzas, do patchwork on an incomplete idea.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Not a slob

Writer Seth Stevenson pleads his case that he is not a slob even though he chooses to wear his clothes in their "natural state", wrinkled. I look at my chewed nails and mismatched socks and think that the author's tone is a bit fevered, that is to say desperate for an idea against an encroaching deadline, that makes this incidental rant sound strained in it's musings, but it does me a bit of good, something like a brief pyschic swim in the stream of conscious . It's the next best thing to being alseep, and certainly better than being knocked out. I imagine, in the sweetly cushioned luxury of italicized print:


 I am not and have never been a shambling , unpressed mess; I have, in fact, been merely ahead of my time, a setter of a trend that took decades to take root and is only now emerging from the far margins of the culture and now entering the culture. Puckered pant legs, unevenly buttoned shirts, half tucked, and open fly, a tie that has the skinny end longer than the fat end. My visage is the cover or every cover of GQ yet to be published.

Goofy daydream is over, of course. I remain a mess at times, hurried and unmindful of both appearance and tone of voice, although I have made significant progress in being well put together than not, more often. It is about progress. And clothes do look better pressed, crisp and clearly indicating a preference to among other human beings than in a man cave, in my underwear, twitching on internet commentary streams. The civilization we are longer sure is civilized is full of threats , vulgarities and gross stupidity that result in wars and soul-killing greed; we are nervous when we meet someone who hasn't tucked in their shirt no combed their hair. Being unshaven is grounds enough for a few of us to apply for a gun permit. Look sharp, though, assures us that the person confronting us is staying within the accepted limits of mutual consent. 



More likely, we suspect, the said well groomed person is merely remaining within of what their smooth shirts and sharply creased pants allow; sudden movement and postures of violence ruin the stagecraft of how one assembles themselves before hitting the streets from their  abode. Whatever the case, we prefer order and peace and quiet, both on the streets and on our back. But Stevenson's view on the matter did provide the premise for a brief, lovely daydream.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Criticism is an art, but it is not Art

Criticism, really, is never as hard to write as poetry, fiction or drama for the simple reason that the heavy lifting has been done for the critics by the creative authors under scrutiny. I concede that good criticism, interesting criticism, intriguing rants can entail a good amount of head scratching, research and critical thinking, but critics and other varieties of opinion-givers are building on what is already in place,the creative work. And what was there to begin with, though influenced, of course, by tradition, formalized training, influences of previous generations of bards, novelists and playwrights, are nonetheless created from scratch by the individual writer; in any sense it is more difficult to put together an imaginative work  of writing from nearly nothing at all .

 Criticism, even if artful, thoughtful, full of intriguing digressions, asides , sidebars and made magnificent by brilliant conclusions, is ,at base level, remarks, brief or extended, on the creative work that  was in the public sphere prior to the commentary.

 Criticism is not equal  to the art itself--unlike Art (taken as a general concern), criticism cannot exist by itself,in itself, for its own sake.  I do think criticism can be artful,memorable, important, can actually be an expressive medium on its own terms, but it remains secondary to the actual work. Like the artists,though, I would give the critic the right to respond to a work of art, something that has been created and entered into the marketplace , in nearly any manner he or she chooses and would encourage the critic to be as subjective as they can be.

Criticism is not an "objective" form, and insisting that it is  only perpetuates a mythology. The critic , the most interesting critic, I think, is someone who comes to a field knowing something about the form, has a good working knowledge of the broader field surrounding the issue-- aesthetics, theory, history of form and what  then current ideas might have helped shaped ideas of what constitutes art--and is able to present their preferences and  biases and contradictions and exceptions in a manner that is conversational, intense, thoroughly in love in with ideas as to how poems could/should/can effectively express experience and convey perception.

The only thing the critic needs to do is to present his or her case , yay or nay, in the best, clearest voice they can muster, with no sacrifice in personality. Personality , in the hands of a good writer, is style and style is the majority reason why I read  certain writers, whether poets or essayists, and pass up  others.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Your tv stole your library card


There are increasing  legions of pundits who are marketing the idea that television makes us smarter. The fact that this is presented as a topic for serious discussion straight faced, with not a trace of irony, is more likely evidence that TV has succeeded in making us measurably dumber. Not stupider, mind you, just dumber, which is tendency to accept mediocrity across the board in the kind of false-consciousness that embraces the equality of all cultural matters and mediums .God has a cruel wit if what we have are  real people with fake lives watching TV shows full of fake people acting out real ones. Social anxiety disorder is a real condition, though we dispensed with the trend of making every discomfort a disease and just referred to sufferers as either existentially perplexed, or more simply, "neurotic". 
Any good post-war coffee cooler philosophe knows the cure to the constant fretting and despair: GET A LIFE, or at least create one. In the current age, we  can start with turning off the TV and getting a library card, for nothing makes you smarter as well has reading books , one page at a time, at pace where you're allowed, or rather compelled to develop sound thinking.

TV has replaced the ability to abstract with the mere capacity to summarize, which is the difference between synthesizing information and formulating a solution to a problem under inspection, and the other merely a form of inventory taking, hardly more than putting everything in specimen jars, labeling them, and categorizing them in a method that renders the information inert, useless, and mere clutter. We're coming to approach ideas like statistic laden sports fans who have amassed data very quickly but have nothing they can do with it. TV, as fine and brilliant as some of the drama has become, does not provide for a structure through which critical thinking is possible, as would the reading of books. With the latter cannot argue with the screen, cannot add to a conversation under way. It remains entertainment best assessed with other disciplines hopefully read from books that were thoroughly interrogated by personalities that are aware that images are fleeting and forgotten, but words are forever and therefore powerful.

It's misleading to argue that TV overall is better and more brilliant than it was in the past and that as a consequence viewers have become smarter as they interact with the subtler and more complex programming. To my mind, the ratio of quality programming to the rot is about the same, ten percent to eighty percent (in descending order); those shows that one isn't embarrassed to admit to watching,but the promise of cable television never materialized as you might have hoped. With some exceptions, we have five hundred channels with nothing to watch, to paraphrase Springsteen, and what we have, really, are millions of viewers who are knowledgeable about scores of things of little consequence at all.

Being able to link the difficulties with the current Michael Jackson trial with the daily debacle of the O.J. Simpson murder case in the minutest detail is not the same as garnering information that would help you devise better ways to educate, employ and protect a community. Television only makes you smarter about television, and I chance it to say that what people remember about Hardball are Chris Matthew's volume and how well or badly his haircut might have been, and not the details of his questions to his political guests.

The situation hasn't made us any smarter in ways that make interaction more successful; most of the discussion that one places so much stress on occurs in the murk of the internet, alone, in private,  where one is freed of really learning anything about from the edification and enchantment of face to face conversation. The phenomenon to the consumption of pornography, which is definitely not a group activity.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Accidents will happen

Peter Campion is a poet who's written some things that have given me the proverbial pause to refresh myself--that is , strum my chin, emit an elongated hmmmmmmmmmmm, transport myself to some melancholia place of the mind to align his imagery with the patchy glimpses of a huddled past that constitutes my memory of things. Sometimes it works rather well, his sudden associative leaps from one situation to another one wholly other than what he started with. It doesn't work here, not at all, in this gasping, breathlessly articulate poem. A poet, like anyone else, needs to find a coping mechanism in order to sort through the drama of a near tragedy--the goal being that the recent trauma be accepted as something that has happened, past tense, and that one can go forward with their designs and desires knowing more , philosophically, morally, psychologically, about why the daily grind is less the grind and more a privilege.

Campion has perhaps performed that to his satisfaction with this poem and , I imagine, a sequence of poems contemplating the harsh facts of the fragility of his life and that of his family, and to that end I hope he has recovered a sense of balance in his negotiations of the everyday and the journey into future uncertainty. I wish, though , he had written a better poem--I find "El Dorado" to be dreadful and pretentious. It's one thing to begin this piece with a description of the aftermath of an accident, a description that is too finessed, the images primed for a movie opening, an artfully arranged post-accident beautifully filmed on an empty Iowa highway. It's difficult to leave the creative writing lessons where they belong, in the shoe box in the garage along with all those other blue booked samples from a younger enthusiasm for over participative verbs and adjectives. Campion does not put is the shock, place us in the psychology of a world shattered suddenly and only coming together in shards, hard bits and pieces. The hardest thing , at times, is for the poet to leave the sound of his voice back at the kitchen coffee, next to the Ipad and the coffee maker. This is not about the situation , the accident, it is about, instead, Campion's comma-driven articulation of the list he made of things he noticed while having a near fatal experience. This suggests that this a poet who imagines cultivating miserable experiences so he would have something to write about. Please note that that I don't think Peter Campion looks for trouble in order to secure subject matter; rather, it's that his particular style of articulation just bleeds this poem of any real power.

As does his penchant for random and willful dashes of book learning. The middle sequence of" El Dorado", is an unconvincing parallel development, but I would ask this quite beyond this senseless and zany insertion of native custom in a poem otherwise situated at the side of Midwestern highway is why the poet felt compelled to dust off his lecture notes and to squint at his marginalia? It is a rather nice trick Eliot and Pound could pull off , make this leaps and strange alignments of reference points and images and so achieve an expanded mood ; for all the talking these poets did in the course of their formal publication, they were writing from within their dread, their terror, and through the instincts of good editing and good ears (over all) could make much of they juxtaposed against resonate vividly, richly. Campion's effort is feeble, unexpected, gratuitous. It is one of those things writers do that do not work but which leave readers plenty of waddle room to debate the effect of the poet's cultural imperialism. What does that , though, is reveal more about the readers than it explains what the poet was thinking or what he actually accomplished.