Saturday, November 17, 2007

 

Kenny Goldsmith’s
playlist
for November
in the NY Times
(Marie Osmond does Hugo Ball,
Charles Bernstein, Christian Bök,
Joseph Beuys, La Monte Young, Terry Fox,
the complete Beatles, more,
all with MP3s)

§

Profiles of
Sawako Nakayasu
&
Aaron Kunin

§

Confronting
aesthetic diversity

§

A profile of
Ron Padgett

§

Ange Mlinko
on
Tom Pickard

And here also

§

Slammin
with
Saul Williams

§

Two poets of Buchenwald
translated by
Fanny Howe

§

A review of
the most recent
volume of
The Grand Piano

§

Ananda Rajakaruna
& a specific moment
in the evolution of modernism
in Sinhala verse

§

A belated obit
for Bill Griffiths
makes it finally
to The Times

§

Ditto Jane Cooper
& The LA Times

§

A memorial reading
for
Dmitri Prigov,
Sunday, Nov. 18
at the Bowery Poetry Club,
NYC
(Scroll down)

§

The New Criterion’s
Roger Kimball
is ready to take on
Norman Mailer
now that he can’t fight back

Dick Cavett
remembers
when Mailer could
& did
still bring it on

Robert Fulford
&
Kyle Smith
just generally
despise Mailer

Jim Lewis
has a more complicated
response

Cynthia Crossen
blames it
on fame

But Suzanne Fields
was charmed

§

Mailer’s ghost
loomed large
over the
National Book Awards

§

Bob Hass
deservedly won the
National Book Award
(Sherman Alexie &
Denis Johnson
also received awards)

Cold Front’s
National Book Award
Value Pack

§

The end
of the
Great American Novel?

§

Picador
abandons
hardbacks

§

The Dead Novelists Society

§

Nat Hentoff
on
Fred McDarrah

§

Japanese Women Poets:
An Anthology

§

Academy of American Poets
Poets Forum Reading
MP3s
(Lyn Hejinian, Robert Hass,
Frank Bidart, Susan Stewart,
Rita Dove, Galway Kinnell,
Sharon Olds, James Tate,
Robert Pinsky, Kay Ryan,
Ellen Bryant Voigt, Gerald Stern,
Carl Phillips)

§

The Olson documentary
comes to
his undergraduate school

§

Hart Crane
in
Brooklyn

§

A Peter Ciccariello
I just
got completely absorbed in
which I link here
to say I’m sorry
for having, for two days,
misspelled his name
(a problem it seems
of a wandering i)

§

Late Poems
of
Lu You

§

Talking with
Susan Gillis

§

Poetry
on the rails

§

C.K. Williams
hasn’t
”come very far”
in 71 years

§

Memories of my melancholy
Iranian censors

§

Getting naked with
Carmine Sarracino

§

A profile of
Tanya Davis

§

The need for a Complete
T.S. Eliot

§

Andrew Motion
on the new
Ezra Pound biography

§

Searching
for the right myth

§

Ugly Umberto

§

Nashville’s
new formalist

§

Judge rules
that intent
defines poetry

§

“Poetry has no serious contenders
as the English national art”

§

Jacques Barzun
at 100
has become a hero
to the right

§

As the audience ages,
so do fiction’s characters

§

Do geezers rule
at writing?

(The John Llewellyn Rhys shortlist:
those over 35
need not apply)

§

Studs Terkel
& the Popular Front

§

Reed Whittemore
telling it slant

§

Have all the gay stories
already been told?

§

In Canada,
the big chain stores
will start selling books
at
U.S. prices

§

Bookstore browsing
in the
Pioneer Valley

§

The National Council on
Bookstore Tourism

§

Bookworm
Paradise

§

The challenges
indie bookstores
are facing

§

Community college
to print its own
text books

§

Thirteen
new bookstores
that opened
in October

§

The literary scene
in Iceland

§

Harry Potter’s auntie
takes on
Samuel Beckett

§

Poetry in Pacifica

§

A short profile
of
Michael Collier

§

Poetry at
Ohio State

§

Language study is up
at American colleges
(Arabic has more than
doubled)

§

Scholarship
in the digital age

§

Social networking
as a part of
reporting

§

Lost in the library

§

Results of the
Pimp my Bookcart
contest

§

Creative writing
on
Craigslist

§

Fighting
libel tourism

§

Best practices in
fair use,”
cinema division

§

Against
improvisation

§

Talking with
Aesop Rock

§

Talking with
Jim Dine

The prints of
Jim Dine

§

On seeing Edward Hopper
through the eyes of
Alexander Nemerov

§

Violette de Mazia’s
defenders
come forth

§

Rothko sells for $34.2M,
Warhol’s “Liz” for $23.7M

&

Koons’ “Hanging Heart”
for $23.6M

§

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

 

The new issue of Damn the Caesars, Richard Owens’ magazine out of Buffalo, technically vol. III, is worth reading, even if it also is troubling in some old familiar ways. Owens knows that the editorial positioning of content in a journal is, in and of itself, a syntax, an exposition, an argument. He is masterful at this, indeed one of very best since, say, Clayton Eshleman in knowing what to put where.

DtheC starts off with a longish poem – a single 327-line stanza, the lines themselves stretching most of the way across the page – by Thomas Meyer. “The Magician’s Assistant” is so atypical of Meyer’s mature work that it is by definition a major publication. I can report also that it’s a terrific poem, dense, fresh, surprising, full of wit, a great read. It more than justifies the $10 price of the magazine.

The Meyer piece starts off the opening section of the journal, containing also work by Steve McCaffery, Karen Mac Cormack & Dale Smith. All are given a substantial space to work with – excluding one Korean feature, the journal gives each contributor an average of 8.5 pages, and everyone seems to have taken advantage of this by sending in their very best work.

The Korean feature is the volume’s second section, a selection of five major contemporary poets – Ko Un, Kim Seung-Hui, Ynhui Park, Lee Si-Young & Chonggi Mah – between the ages of 55 & 77. Ko Un is of course world famous & two of the others have significant U.S. connections (Chonggi Mah, having been an M.D. in Toledo, lives part of the year in Florida). The English versions, by Brother Anthony of Taizé with the help of three native speakers, are first rate. Everything here reads like poetry & can be judged on its own merits, rather than taken as an approximation.

The third section again contains the poetry of four English-speaking poets – the late Bill Griffiths (who must have died while this was in press), Stan Mir, Peter Finch & Thom Donovan. The selection by Griffiths, a long untitled poem in 22 parts and a short essay on David Jones’ inscriptions, are quite wonderful. We’ve never had anyone quite like Griffiths in the US, a one-time Hells Angel with a Ph.D., a terrific ear & great love for detail.

The fourth section consists of a 20-page selection of poetry by Andrzej Bursa, a brilliant Polish poet who died of congenital heart failure at the of 25 in 1957 (that is him on the left in the image above, the cover of the issue). In a five-page introductory essay, Kevin Christianson, one of the two translators, compares Bursa variously to Dorothy Parker, Phillip Larkin, ee cummings & the Beats, which mostly tells you that Christianson doesn’t read contemporary poetry. The poems here, however, sound like they were written just yesterday, maybe by a sharp young poet taking workshops at St. Marks. You’re more aware here of the scrim of translation between reader & “original” than with the earlier Korean materials, but on the whole these are very good.

The last general section contains the work of six poets – Sotère Torregian, Michael Kelleher, Richard Deming, Rachel Levitsky, Jonathan Greene & Billy Childish. Only Childish, one of the key figures of anti-conceptual British Stuckism, is new to me here. Since Childish appears to have published some 30 books, made many records & painted over 1,000 paintings, my lack of familiarity suggests either (a) I need to get out more or (b) British work still has a terrible time with U.S. distribution. The Torregian is especially interesting, given this latter-day surrealist’s & one-time NY School poet (he’s lived in Northern California for decades) apparent reticence toward publishing. The piece is a photocopy of a “petite” essay on Mahmoud Darwish, “The Poet as Outlaw.” As essay, the piece looks closer to notes for an otherwise impromptu talk, but it’s fascinating to watch the poet thinking, which is what this deeply annotated piece really is.

But what really struck most in this issue is a tone that shows up almost satirically in Childish’s “I Come With Shin Bones Like Knives.” Here is its first stanza, the extra spacing part of the original:

it is wonderfull being a man
and
washing your body down at the sink
in the early morning
with a flannel rough as a badgers arse

And here, a page later, is the final stanza:

this
is my shit
and it smells good to me

This is almost Archie Bunkerville in its masculinist take on the world. It does, however, serve to call attention to the rest of Damn the Caesars as a whole. And here I note that I misspoke above when I suggested that the issue led off with work by Thomas Meyer. There is, in fact, a short epigraph facing Meyer’s first page with a quote from Michael Palmer’s “The Flower of Capital”:

Politics seems a realm of power and persuasion that would like to subsume poetry (and science, and fashion, and …)under its mantle, for whatever noble or base motives. Yet if poetry is to function – politically – with integrity, it must resist such appeals as certainly as it resists others.

Editor Owens makes something of the same point in a final essay that looks at the editing process under the belligerent heading of “Take It or Leave It.” Pointedly, Owens writes:

This journal is no different. It is implicated in precisely the thing it aims to critique – exclusion and the willful production of scarcity. This is, after all, a print journal, and, as a print journal, limits are immediately imposed upon the range of things it can do.

So let’s take a quick peek at who is being limited through exclusion. Mostly it’s women. The current issue has 15 contributors outside of the Korean selection, of whom just two are female, 13 percent. One of the five Koreans is female. By page count, it’s even worse – Karen Mac Cormack, Kim Seung-Hui and Rachel Levitsky have just 13 pages or eight percent of the 162 pages given to content. Let me put this another way: 92 percent of the content is by men.

Nor is volume III exceptional in this regard, going back through the archives, one quickly realizes that of the 101 contributors to the journal’s history (a big second volume, plus all four issues of the first) whose gender can be identified (I failed in the case of Jan Bender), only 18 have been women. Volume II, with 24 percent of its contributors being women, is the best Damn the Caesars has ever done.

I know that this plays into Stephanie Young & Juliana Spahr’s critique of a gendered poetry world (PDF) in the new Chicago Review as well as the statistical analysis (PDF) done there by ChiRev editors Joshua Kotin & Robert P. Baird. In general, Kotin & Baird focus on more institutional publications, The Nation, New Yorker, Paris Review, Poetry, Southern Review, TriQuarterly, than they do the likes of Damn the Caesars, tho Spahr & Young are kind enough to include Silliman’s Blog where they’ve done some impressive work counting noses & calculating percentages.

It’s one thing to suggest, as I have at times, that we are in the midst of a long historic transformation between the roles played by various genders and that different moments and/or stages are discernible along the way, and a journal like DtheC that behaves as if the 1950s were still the present. Eight percent? At least the Allen anthology 43 years ago got to nine with its four contributors out of 44.

All of which leaves me with this very uneasy feeling – a sense that Owens’ afterward may in fact be as much a prophylactic against such criticism than a statement in & for itself. On the one hand, this is a wonderful issue with much great stuff worth reading. On the other, I have a hard – impossible – time imagining any woman ever wanting to buy this issue & I have to confess that I myself come away from it feeling very sad indeed. And I don’t think that was the editor’s intent.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

 

Books Galore, Festus, Missouri

Of books as a system

Pierre Bayard’s first chapter

Talking with
Pierre Bayard

§

Supreme Court disses
Amiri Baraka

§

Talking with
Aram Saroyan

§

Adam Day’s
Roar Shock

§

A profile of
Glenna Luschei

§

Talking with
Robert Hass

Placing Bob Hass
& Mark Strand
on a spectrum
that stretches
all the way from
Robert Lowell
to
John Berryman

Completely flustered
by that old avant-gardist,
Robert Hass

§

Big Brother
is reading your verse

§

Poetry & terror

§

Norman Mailer
reading
at the
92nd Street Y

Mailer
on Bush & Iraq

§

Talking with
David Amram

§

The Poetry Farm

§

Secret librarian handshake

§

A profile of
Lawson Inada

§

Remembering
Nima

§

Philip Schultz’ Failure

§

Leonard Cohen
with
Philip Glass

§

Voicing Emily

§

David Trinidad’s
confection-laced
Late Show

§

Arab poets
at Jack Hirschman’s
International Poetry Fest

§

A fall reading tour
that includes
20 separate colleges

§

On the road movie

§

Poets’ mugs
adorn
poets’ mug

§

Jean Valentine
once again in
The New Yorker

§

Pinsky wins
lifetime award

Pinsky on
Margaret Atwood

§

A poet worthy
of the
Mütter Museum

§

Anne Stevenson,
Paula Gunn Allen
&
Sineád Morrisey
receive
Lannan Literary Fellowships
for their poetry

§

Canadian
bookstore rage

§

When it comes to rereading,
The Bible
comes in behind
Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

§

History poems
from
Canada

§

$1 million demand
to ensure
a poetry reading
by cowboy poets?

§

James Michie
has died

§

A “cringe-making” book of poetry
by the Tory candidate
for mayor of
London

§

Vairamuthu
unplugged

§

Jay Rogoff’s
Long Fault

§

Robert Bly,
reduced to
parodying himself

§

Six Minnesota
quietists

§

A novel from
Ha Jin

§

As Albee nears 80

§

Re-launching
the real
DIA

§

A defense of public art
in
Philadelphia

§

A new eye
in
Houston

§

The Radioheadexperiment

§

Žižek:
Resistance is Surrender

§

Andrew Sullivan
reads this blog

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

 

Tom Wilkinson has been a professional actor for over thirty years, tho it’s only been in the last decade that he’s been rightfully acknowledged as one of the best character actors of his generation. Often he plays fairly buttoned-down types, so it’s a special pleasure to see him cut loose in Michael Clayton, Tony Gilroy’s film of corporate suspense, in a role fit for a somewhat older Philip Seymour Hoffman. Wilkinson is a top trial lawyer for a firm that specializes in defending sleazeball corporations, this time a food-processing conglomerate called uFront. It’s a class action that has been dragging on for years because it involves the death of many a Midwestern farmer, and, in a deposition in Milwaukee, Wilkinson’s character, who is bipolar in addition to being a “killer” litigator, has gone off his meds & goes over the edge, stripping naked in front of the teenage girl he’s in the process of deposing, as well as two teams of astonished attorneys. Almost lost in the chaos that ensues is the little detail that Wilkinson’s planning to give the plaintiffs the smoking gun memo that will seal the fate of his client.

Wilkinson’s bread scene – you’ll know which it is instantly – is an actor’s master’s class, given here by one of the greats. Wilkinson’s isn’t the only outstanding performance in this film, which comes oh so close to actually working, the other being Tilda Swinton channeling Carly Fiorina as the corporate counsel for uNorth, overwhelmed at trying to contain the damage created by Wilkinson, trying too hard to be ruthless in a job for which she doesn’t feel qualified. I would say that this is one of Swinton’s best quirky acting roles ever, except for the fact that I’d probably say that about almost all of her characters over her career – she is one of the very best actors alive and is completely brilliant here. Watching her face half-hide a million rapid-fire emotions is one of the very best things about Michael Clayton, which as I said comes oh so close to working.

Michael Clayton is Tony Gilroy’s first directorial credit, having made a successful career writing thriller screenplays – the Bourne trilogy most notably – and he does a decent job with his own script, or at least with his actors, as the story gets away from him. The first thirty minutes of the film are simply terrific as it spins out so many narrative threads without picking them up in any predictable fashion that the viewer’s head feels ready to burst just keeping track. That’s my kind of fun and, at this point, I was completely taken with this film. What follows over the next 89 minutes doesn’t entirely fulfill the promise of this opening sequence, and that really is the tale of Michael Clayton.

The title role of course belongs to George Clooney, who knows that a movie star’s first task is to be himself regardless of his character, which function he performs admirably in somewhat difficult circumstances. What George Clooney does best is smile – his grin has made him very wealthy & very famous – but Michael Clayton is a character with very little to smile about & Clooney dutifully tones it down a notch. Clayton is a fixer for the law firm employed by uNorth, something of a protégé to Tom Wilkinson’s character, the person dispatched to handle “messy” personal situations that can get in the way of client relations. Indeed, the first part of the film has him being dispatched up to Westchester to aide a client who has just committed a hit-&-run of a midnight jogger out there in the ‘burbs. His job is to hold the customer’s hand and get the best possible local criminal defense lawyer there before the police show up at the front door. In this case, the customer is a jerk with serious anger management issues who wants to blame the victim. Clooney is having none of this and lets the customer know it. On his way back, he stops to look at a trio of horses under a tree on a hill. As he stands staring at the horses, his car explodes.

That’s the basic set-up and a lot to handle right there. On top of this, we have a plot about a failed restaurant, Clooney’s gambling addiction – seventeen years with a top law firm & he’s at risk to being jacked up by loan sharks over a relatively small debt – his relationship with his brothers (one a cop, the other a druggie) and his son Henry, whom he drives to school tho he doesn’t live with the mother. Add to this the corporate plot lines & you have far more than Gilroy can control. The scenes with the family – without fail – are sodden & sentimental, yet they turn out to be crucial in setting up what will become the final plot-twisting finale. On the one hand, major plot lines never get resolved – remember the guy with the hit-&-run – while others tie off so neatly that you can see the big narrative bow: ne’er-do-well lawyer succeeds by relying on family / family values trump murderous corporate prerogatives. Yeesh.

Clooney actually does a decent job here, but it’s an impossible circumstance. He’s never quite desperate enough for his circumstances because desperate isn’t something George Clooney does. His awkwardness in the family scenes is only half because of the narrative context being presented. The result is a picture that leaps into another dimension whenever Wilkinson comes on screen during its first half, whenever Swinton is on screen mostly in the second. The other notably good role here belongs to Sydney Pollack of all people, as the head of Clooney’s law firm. Pollack is invariably irritating whenever he acts, but here Gilroy milks it for dramatic effect. It’s another of those little touches that make this film a fine time to watch actors as the narrative heads south.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

 

The last time I saw Norman Mailer on the television – I never met him personally – he was on C-Span2 on one of that channel’s all-book days, talking at Austin where presumably his archives are going. Shrunken by age, he looked elfin. Except for the ears, which frankly were vast. How odd, I thought, that time alone can do that to us, rendering this larger-than-life character into something more closely resembling a hobbit. Or maybe time and bourbon. Hearing him speak, however, particularly on the subject of America under George W. Bush, you could tell that he had lost not one scintilla of the razor wit that made him such a unique writer.

One test of a great novelist, any great writer really, I’ve always thought lay in the size of their vocabulary and the ease with which they deployed it. I always come away from Shakespeare, for example, hyperconscious of how much more there is to the language than what I normally hear in daily life. Just this past week, after a phone presentation with one of the customers on my day job, a multibillion dollar global systems integrator, I got an email from the lead person on the customer’s team, thanking me for using the word “loquacious” & reminding him that a world existed where such terms could be used.

After the high modernists, especially Joyce & Faulkner, the two novelists who do the most to expand one’s vocabulary are Henry Miller & Norman Mailer. DeLillo & Pynchon aren’t bad in this regard, either. Miller of course is better known for the frankness of his writings on sex, but it’s the vocabulary’s scope that persuades me, not just the use of an occasional four-letter word.

With Mailer the two books that I find matter most are Armies of the Night, easily the best prose work about American political life in the 1960s, and the remarkably off-kilter Why Are We in Vietnam? I’ve always felt that latter book was an attempt to channel a later version of Jack Kerouac in a way that directly anticipates, of all people, Donna Haraway & Greg Tate. Here is just the first paragraph of “Intro Beep 1”:

Hip hole and hupmobile, Braunschweiger, you didn’t invite Geiger and his counter for nothing – hold tight young America – introductions come. Let go of my dong, Shakespeare, I have gone too long, it is too late to tell my tale, may Batman tell it, let him declare there’s blood on my dick and D.J. Dicktor Doc Dick and Jek has got the bloods, and has done animal murder, out out damn fart, and murder of the soldierest sort, cold was my hand and hot.

It doesn’t quite work, which actually proves to be an important part of its charm, critical to the linguistic vertigo that sucks the reader in. 224 pages of this can feel exhausting, but you aren’t actually going to open up to the work until you get to that moment, not some sort of suspension of disbelief, but rather through disbelief completely. It’s a move that takes Mailer out of the pallid circuit of Bellow, Roth, Doctorow & Updike & places him more fairly against Kerouac, Olson, Melville. While I like Doctorow, only Mailer can write with the intensity, word to word, of those poet-novelists even if it doesn’t come through in everything he did.

Here be some links that popped up in the days since he died:

New York Times

Village Voice

London Times

New Yorker

The Nation

Kansas City Star

BBC

LA Times

London Telegraph

Associated Press

Salon

Salon (again)

Time

San Francisco Chronicle

The Guardian

NPR

Chicago Tribune

Huffington Post

Boston Globe photo essay

New York Sun

Tributes from various folks,
including the President of France

From around Atlanta

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