Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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Friday, January 18, 2013


Daniel Mendalsohn, smart critic that he is, must have had a bad dream about the future of creative writing and decided that those scummy novelists have been living on the good graces of a gullibe reading public and a gaggle of conspiring critics for too long. Plugging his new collection of essays 'Waiting for the Barbarians during an interview in Lambda Literature , the oracular Mendalsohn feels the zeitgeist closing on him too closly and lets loose with some end-days declarations,among them that the novel is deceased.Hmmm...

I've been reading learned essays declaring the end of the novels for almost five decades and we've yet to see authors stop writing them or an audience stop reading them. That, in addition to the embarrassment of younger novelists who continue to write compelling prose narratives in subtle and innovative ways. This is the spot where those who agree with me can insert the last names of their current author preferences. I read this essay with a profound sense of deja vu and figured out that the scribe is himself recycling a set of assumptions--fundamentally, that the progress of literature has come to to the fabled "end" where every story telling device and structure is exhausted--that are put forward from time to time less to clear ground for new thinking on what literary art should than to merely start a ruckus.

Theater, radio, movies, painting, broadcast television and print books have been declared either dead or on barely working life support for years, yet all these forms are thriving. My question is when will editors see these essays as the canards they are and instead demand criticisms that is more interested in the style and intricate elements of a novelist's work instead of trying to cram him or her into a premature grave and throwing dirt on them. It's time, I think, that we throw the dirt back at them.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

T.R. Hummer's Trio of Doom

T.R.Hummer has Three Poems posted today in Slate, which delighted me to no end. This is a trio of swirling rhymes that will not stand for being mere decorations on that tall, swaying tree called literary style. Hummer has the musical sway and swing of Edgar Allen Poe, able to digress, elongate and contract a phrase at will, finding a tonality of both everyday things and historical memory. This has the snap and splintery detail of what Tom Waits does with his lyrics, but in this case, the author is more a witness than a persona recalling a location changed by time, personalities who thrived in the wallow of their eccentricities and who are now gone, replaced by urban professionals and Lego style architecture.

Hummer's trilogy addresses a set of conversations where it seems that the sweep of events and the acceleration of change, complicated by encroaching generations younger and hungrier than older denizens, all wind up in the dustbin, not swept by rather dumped, or pushed, as in off a cliff."Imperial" nicely echoes and paraphrases "Richard Cory" but rather than suicide being the inevitable curse, we have a personage of fame, wealth, prestige denied the right to be fully human and full of complexity; he is in a cage, in a sense mummified, locked up in symbolism, turned into a commodity of hope for a citizenship that he is by birth obligation inflexibly beholden to.

"Prince Albert in a can" becomes not a joke but a description of what someone's life has become. "Pandora Jackson" , In turn, is the story, spread over generations and variations of Diaspora , of beset upon peoples wandering the map for new homes, places of security where they may, in turn, thrive and build communities;  but all are uprooted again, leaving only the withered ghosts of the means of getting there, railroad tracks, maintenance equipment, box cars still and void of voices , We are crowded along until again we are either lifted again by Biblical promise, the Rapture , or left behind to scrape by in the hallows of the emptied cities and towns, subsisting until history itself is forgotten.

"Bloodflower Sermon" concerns the dark fact the homeless millions in our communities, but speaks finally to the supposition that the light of virtue, the light of truth,  leads us not to  Heaven but merely rids us of the veils of self-constructed mythologies we've sustained our daily lives with the clever rationalizations we've decorated the walls of Plato's Cave and shows us for what we really are, instinct-driven creatures given a gift of free will with which we could do great good or worsen the state of things of the planet, The echoes Delmore Schwartz beautifully, succinctly; Hummer suggests that in the raw state of nature, bereft of things and self-assurance, we find ourselves waiting to be judged. It is a calculus we dread, a trip no one truly wants to take.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Thomas Hardy Changes His Attitude

A lovely lyric for a cold, final day of a year that hadn't turned out as one hoped. Hardy's rhymes have the grace of being strong and lean, achieving both pacing and impact. There is an efficiency here that, aided with the purposeful emphasis of end rhymes composed of everyday things, the poem evokes the musing of someone in the grip of a bad mood that threatens to fester into a spiraling cynicism. Hardy is, of course, not committing philosophy here nor constructing metaphors to describe unknowable metaphysics as to the actual composition of mood and personality. 
The Darking Thrush /Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
    When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
    The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
    Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
    Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
    The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
    The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
    Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
    Seemed fervorless as I.
At once a voice arose among
    The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
    Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small
    In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
    Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
    Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
    Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
    His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
    And I was unaware.
--31 December 1900

He is not a Spenglarian, seeing culture as having peaked during a dubiously termed Golden Age, with matters of arts, politics, and spirit declining ever since. This is a conversation or part of it, something shared at the moment; it is an easy intimacy that lacks pretense, an expression of weariness that at first seems profound and permanent but which, more often than not, passes as we emerge from our thoughts and brooding and get on with our duties.

It's this limited scale, the smallness of Hardy's lyric, that makes the poem effective: a complete lack of pretense. He describes his world, creating a scenario where we know that the particular items in his realm are seen in the light of his mood, which is dour. Rather nicely, he makes this personal and eschews generalizations to the degree of insisting emphatically that the entire world is a depressing, hopeless place.  There is a genuine humility here--his bad feelings needn't be the norm by default. 

Seeing the darkling thrush is a plausible cure for his downcast mood; just as he seems incapable of telling precisely why he had fallen into a state of increasing unease, so to the song of the thrush lifts his spirits and provides him with the proverbial light at the end of the especially dank tunnel he found himself in. Deux ex Machina, perhaps, the hand, or at least a finger of the divine lifting the foul curtain that had fallen over his day. Hardy is smart enough a poet not to attribute the arrival of the thrush and its song to any purposeful agenda; credibly, thankfully, he lets us know that he lives in a universe where such interventions, whatever their nature, happen and that he has the senses to perceive them when they occur.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The signature is really a scribble

Writer -Director Tarantino jumps from genre to genre, I think, to disguise the fact that his interests are limited and that he is , in truth, making the same movie over and over. Some directors are stylish and have the skills to apply their particular signature touches to films without smothering the narrative in an excess of director personality, but QT isn't one of them.
Image result for TARANTINO
 His last three films, "Death Proof", "Inglorious Basterds" and now "Django Unchained" don't even rate as examples of Excessive Stylization; they seem, rather, to be successive durations of "signature touches". He reminds of myself as a kid when I bought the new Marvel or DC comic and skipped all exposition pages and skipped straight to the fight scenes and the inevitable destruction of Manhattan as heros and villains slugged it out. Skipping ahead, though, sacrificed coherence and grace, keystones to creating narratives, visual or otherwise.

 Tarantino's flaws are compounded with the surfeit of "good stuff" he  cannot keep his hands off of.We have nothing compelling, enticing, even vaguely interesting here. Despite some good scenes and the occasional flair for comic situations--QT's talent are for smaller, funnier, tighter scenes, not epic revisions of durable genres-- you anticipate not plot developments or character conflict but wonder when the next "signature touch" is going to bludgeon you with it's ham handed homage to directors who took their work far less seriously.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tarantino Unpacked

"Django Unchained   " is a listless bore. Save a couple of genuinely funny bits, this movie continues Tarantino's delusion that his style of hasty cross-referencing film genres, regardless of the kind of film he is attempting to make, is revitalizing, hip, and slick. This sloppy, pace-less, talky attempt at ironic effect.QT is a one-trick pony. You can not even say that he has a style; what he does seem more like a grab bag of shticks sewn together like Frankenstein's monster. In this case, what is on the table remains a dead heap. It's no good to blame the messenger for QT's latest venture in cinematic tedium. I wanted to like the film very much and kept waiting for some convincing, if stylized, storytelling. The principal fault was pacing, which was pokey and slack. Although his dialogue may appear on the page or the computer screen, Tarantino doesn't seem to have learned that film dialogue, even the conversation we consider "literate" or "bright," requires a ruthless efficiency.

The constant references to the cheesy tics and tacky tropes of old exploitation movies in Tarantino's work passed the point of being homages, tributes displayed in new films that, in themselves, are legitimate extensions of the durable genre. Cringe as he might, Tarantino has created his own kind of formalism, a post-modern template in which the borrowing of elements from other films is no longer a clever, brilliant, and innovative method of transgressing boundaries and revealing but has instead become what seems a knee-jerk response to a challenge to make a certain kind of movie. I agree with the assertion that there is a certain clubhouse knowingness about his films that distance the typical viewer from enjoying his films; the genius of genres is that the true masterpieces in Western movies, war movies, crime dramas, et al., is that they go well beyond the expectations of hardcore fans and appeal to a greater audience that recognizes something more significant than the mere satisfaction of genre expectations. The cliquishness is a buzz-kill and is, I think, more than cynical in attitude. All this mix and matching, bric-a-brac, and pastiche mongering assume, by design, that surprise is no longer possible with film narrative. The effect is like a bored six-year-old smashing once-loved toys to bits with a big, fatal hammer. That is not my idea of a fun date.

 The characters here, especially those played by Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio, chatted up considerable dust storms of hyperpolarization that would be the dialogue equivalent of a jazz soloist improvising for too long. This is at the sacrifice of momentum, a quality that isn't achieved in "Django Unchained"- try as I might suspend my disbelief, I was never convinced that the inevitable reckoning would result in the catharsis that even a hipster variation of a Jacobean revenge tragedy requires as a matter of form. Humanity and all its layered awfulness--lust, greed, avarice, revenge, slavery, racism, all those rotten instincts that create tension within individual characters who try to abide by codes of honor, decency, and respect which then are transformed into something much uglier and wrathful--are summarily smothered by Tarantino's heavy hand and instead used as premise-giving props as the writer/director hits all the generic marks. In doing so, QT seems like a less than agile man learning how to dance, following the shoe prints laid out on the floor, ", two THREE, one, two THREE..."

Saturday, December 22, 2012


It might be said that was impossible to make anger a boring subject for a poem until Aliki Barnstone tried her hand at it. "Anger" is set in situation a good many --too many-- of us recognize as awkward, strained, thoroughly unpleasant, a dinner for two who, sitting presumably at opposite ends of the table as they cut and chew their food with controlled strokes and grinding, manage a language in which they put each other on trial. Each has a turn to outline their argument , to make their case, the casing of civility chipping away with
every stroke of knife and stab of fork:
Yet we sit together at the table, each to serve
the other artfully poisoned morsels, point a fork,
and go on and on, watching the widening distance.

This would work, perhaps,if this were a fresher take on a soured relationship, but the poem treads territory that is too familiar, and Barnstone's greatest mistake here is over writing the scenario her template provides. The poem reads like a set up for a knockout punch that does not materialize from the corner she's trying to fight her way out of. It goes on too long, and the device of comparing this meal and its discontents to a trial is less a metaphor than a reason to write further , to add stanzas.
You say, "You should have listened to me,"
and, "But you had to be you, didn't you?"
Then I become the witness who testifies against me.
We deliberate all night, inventing counterpoints,
narrowing our vision at spears of candlelight
and we go on and on, watching from a distance,
as we appeal, go back to discovery, retry, seek
sympathy by recounting suffering and history,
though this defense may deliver the verdict against us:
The prosecutable element would have worked  if it were brief, even fleeting, and if it were a means to segue into something else about the world this couple thought they were living in contrasted the world they now perceive as they relationship, presumably, slowly grinds to a stop. Barnstone might have managed something genuinely poetic if there were a sign , in images, of how the reality has changed. Rather, "Anger" reads as if Barnstone were too fascinated with the mechanics of making her -trial conceit work; the poem is damaged by repetition, needless volume. It is a mistake of perception, the assumption that the length of a piece is a measure of it's value.
This length equals a long wait in a doctor's office.
Grating as well is the last stanza, where Barnstone's woman character, the "I" narrator, has a failure of nerve and instead wallows in the misery she and her husband/boyfriend make for each other:
our embrace will pull us down
through the shades, and we'll hold on to our grievances
and go on, too watchful, unable to get some distance,
reading and helplessly rereading the sentences against us.
Who amongst us does want to yell "get your ass out of there"?Barnstone clings to the relationship less for affection than for a reason to continue writing poems like this one. Poems written in bad faith about bad faith give evidence not just of bad, self-pitying verse, but gives obvious clues to an underlying disorder.I prayer is that Barnstone gets a relationship that is everything she desires it to be, and writes a poetry that doesn't reinforce a pathology.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Blues shuffle for a Happy Holiday

I stopped writing letters decades ago, a long time complain from ex girlfriends and college buds who think it a rude practice, or lack of practice (as the case maybe), but whatever the case in terms of  personal feelings,  it is safe bet, you betcha, that I likewise no longer send Holiday greeting cards. Being single might have something , or a lot, to do with my lack of communication, via card or actual letter, via our postal system; if I were cursed with the delusion that I would someday have a posthumous edition of my collected correspondence appear between hard covers and critics would be dissecting the personal peeves, bitches and irritations of an obscure poet and make believe grouch, I might have kept up with my missives. But no,  I just let the words pour forth, as they do on the Internet, in this blog or elsewhere online; those who care to tune in and gauge how sour my tone or exaggerated my hyperbole have become are welcome to drop in, strike up a chat, or surf elsewhere. Anyway, here is a greeting card of a sort, a nice blues harmonica solo Improvised the other day to a trusty blues backing track in A. Damn, there is some slick playing. I hope you all have the bet of Holidays and find something to enjoy here. My best to you all, always.

Bullets and bombs

There is no telling how  much the world will  become until enough political will is exerted to  bring an end to the terror easily acquired assault weapons bring to daily life. I had mentioned to a friend in passing conversation that my  favorite film of the year is the Brad Pitt crime drama Killing Them Softly, a dark, moody  tragi-comedy in which , yes, guns and death are central to the plot points and building tension among the fictional particulars. 

What wasn't fictional was my friend's response, a dedicated cineaste,  who indicated that the day he planned to see it was the hellfire events of Newtown, a fact that quelled whatever desire to see the film , let alone venture into a the public sphere. So we ask, when will America sicken enough of being made afraid by amoral powers that be with boundless cash reserves and demand that their representatives clamp a tight, effective and permanent lid on combat weapons finding their way to our streets, schools and church yards? 

The long term effect is frightful, a country staying away from sports events, concerts, movie theatres, restaurants, public schools,  polling places on voting day , staying in doors and hoarding their basic needs and amusements rather than take the chance a purposeful, unexpected execution at the hands of the angry, the mentally ill, the malignantly disgruntled who got their hands on guns ,  guns, fucking goddamned guns as the means of making their presence known. 

The Poetry of  Bombs
 What kills mearen’t the guns
you tote but your thinkingthat’s  in the chambers
and clips, the magazinesno one else can readbut still dread on hearingwhat they report. Language created the worldwhere tools can be made,and now language lives insidethe spare partswhose instruction manualsare a poetry of rage and revengetranslated into an idiom oftechnology that surveys theoutcome of anotherkind of  Big Bang Theory.. It’s not about beingleft alone any longer,your message, inscribedin manufacturer’s short handon casings spent  faster than
a drunk’s last dollar,
 Bullets whistle
the language
of your rightsas they pass thoughthe skulls of anyone who happens to be there, expecting nothing but the  light to change and cold meal warmed later in a microwave. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

2 old rock guitar albums

Bug Alley
Gary Hoey
This guy can play, but with the unusual twist of knowing what to do with his technique. Nice reworkings of songs, especially a trebled up rendition of Bach's "Jesus Joy of Man's Desire", where the rotating theme is insinuated between perfect barrages of notes and multi-tracked harmonies. Also, "Black Magic Woman" gets an adrenalized face-lift -the truth of the matter is that I'm as sick of Santana's version as I am of "Stairway to Heaven"--and he does a punchy reading of Dylan's judgment day blues "You Gotta Serve Somebody", recasting Mark Knopfler's recasting of Albert King in ways that maintains the searing , wailing ostinatos with the clipped rapid fire note clusters that bring Gary Moore to mind. He even does "Wipe Out" as if it were a jam to die for. Smarter than Steve Vai, a major player: refreshingly musical.

Monsters and Robots

I just popped Monsters and Robots out of the CD player, and the effect is exhilarating  There's some kind of fractured genius going on here, with all the metal / fusion/ funk / bluegrass cross over the boundaries so easily, and Buckethead's super-velocity guitar work punching up the action in ways that are sonic and lethal. Wow.  If Ornette Coleman were a shred guitarist, this is the full-kerang sonic scraping he’d give the world that braved an audience with him. Transmutation Live is a must have, based on this. There's a strong suggestion of Capt. Beefheart, with it's disconcerting sci-fi lyricscape and self-mythologizing, but this is the evidence that skilled pastiche is the dominant form at this point. Buckethead slices and dices the elements so well together that the channel-surfing dynamics make sense when the bits are linked, stitched and seared together with the speed-genius of the fret work.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Notes for an epigraph

Sometimes I wonder if I was born or merely set aside in another dimension of newspaper grey , launched into this world because what ever the case was running low on the premium designs. There is only a bit of eccentric preferences  is something I imagined being whispered before the precise time of my first curtain,  even if there is only the generic personality with him going into this  game, perhaps experience as he acquires months and then years will ignite original, something as forgivable as a personality. Then he may either shine upon the existence he has, or he can merely glare in the corner of the room, from the ceiling down.

It's a habitual thought, a shudder of doubt when staking hands or crossing streets or visiting people who and which are so familiar, to 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 look for is just out of focus, short of the designs I see and have drawn. 

As the case may be, I was fascinated by the notion that what was really happening amid all the bustling hustle of the life lived fully was going on off stage; I am not the only  one who has thought this, as there are Twilight Zone episodes and the like where a citizen happens upon a group of stage hands setting up the next scene in his life. It's a writer's conceit, I know,  and it smacks of all the obvious tenets of self-reflective, a literature that draws attention to it's own narrative artifice. It is , perhaps, because I am closer to the the punchline than I am to the day of my birth that makes me wonder whether there will be laughter, applause or groans and    tears when the last of me releases the grip . 

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 wing span, 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.