Saturday, January 05, 2008

 

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Mike Goldberg

19242008


WHY I AM NOT A PAINTER

Frank O'Hara

 
I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

For instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in
"Sit down and have a drink" he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there."
"Oh." I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color; orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it
ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES.



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Friday, January 04, 2008

 

Remembering Sylvester Pollet

§

The new poetry editor of The Nation
is Peter Gizzi

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42 years after Denise Levertov rejected
Jack Spicer’s
Two Poems for The Nation
they finally appear
in its pages
[subscription required]

§

“The most important
American love poet in living memory,
and certainly one of the most important
American poets tout court” –
Susan Stewart on Robert Creeley

§

Leslie Scalapino’s introduction to
The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen

§

Susan Bee, Emma Bee Bernstein & Charles Bernstein
reading from Hannah Weiner’s Clairvoyant Journal

§

Sardinian poet Peppino Marroto killed
in 50-year-old vendetta

§

Boog City 47
is an anthology
of
New York poets
(PDF)

§

The AWP convention is
sold out!

§

Becoming fluent in Beckett

§

Word!

Word not!

§

In New Orleans, one newspaper
expands its book coverage

§

Vandals trash Frost home

§

A boost to Pangasinan literature

§

Talking with Kaiser Haq

§

A profile of Jessica Purdy

§

Print-on-demand is expanding
the number of titles published

§

Poetry by the Mersey

§

The gloomiest poet in Britain

§

Young rhymer inspired by Dylan

§

Are e-textbooks any closer to reality?

§

World lit comes to Abu Dhabi

§

“It has not been a good decade for poetry”

§

Tom Wolfe leaves FSG

§

The importance of knowing
what you haven’t read

§

Academic librarians & rank

§

Do IRBs keep oral moral?

§

Why travel writing sucks

§

Talking with Roger Conover
about MIT Press

§

It’s not how long you live
so much as it is
how you live, as such

§

Weepin’ Willie Robinson has died

§

Fungus threatens Lascaux

§

Lee Friedlander,
walking through Olmstead’s world

§

Art vs. art history

§

Polis is this

§

Tech & the humanities muddle along

§

A bio of Alfred Kazin

§

Morris Dickstein on the memoirs of Geoffrey Hartman

§

What Have You Changed Your Mind About?

§

There goes the West Side

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

 

You start to realize that Todd Haynes has nailed it, produced something close to a miracle, a reasonably big budget motion picture with A-list players that is as intelligent as its audience, even before you’re through the opening titles to I’m Not There. Very close to the last thing I did in 2007 was finally get together with a number of friends, have a big old Cajun meal at Carmines & head over to the Bryn Mawr Film Institute where the so-called Dylan biopic is finally playing, albeit only at 1:30 in the afternoon & 9:45 at night. Tho the Bryn Mawr, in spite of its collegiate name, tends to skew to boomers, we saw it in a large theater with a sparse crowd – had everyone else see this film downtown? Or is it that the absence of a 7:00 o’clock show (which it got only for the opening weekend at the BMFI) is the kiss of death for a crowd that now likes to be tucked in bed before Jay Leno comes out to play. Still, this was a great, thrilling movie experience, one of the best American motion pictures I’ve ever seen. Period.

It’s not any single shot that convinces you of this at first – tho some of them are stunners, especially the pans of lines at what appear to be homeless shelters or food missions – is that Moondog waiting in line? – as it is the constant shuffle between shots, now in black & white, now in color, this image grainy, that one clear as contemporary cinema can manufacture. Everything you’ve ever heard about six different actors portraying Dylan, not one of them actually named either Dylan or Zimmerman, pales against the realization that this film is not six sequential vignettes, but rather going to be a continual shuffle of all six, from beginning to end, that its fundamental commitment is to keep you off balance from train ride to train ride. That is a brilliant challenge to take on, probably the most difficult thing any director can attempt. The film that follows is not perfect, but it is damn near close enough to keep all its major promises.

I had found myself finally approaching this film with some trepidation – how many times have I heard great things about a film only to be let down by the actual experience itself, which turned out not to be nearly as terrific as the film I’d imagined beforehand? I was almost certain that having heard so many of my friends – and especially my poet friends – rave on about I’m Not There, that I was in for another round of that experience. To my surprise, it was quite the opposite. I’d long ago stopped believing that American cinema could make a film like this – this was a level of complexity only possible in the longpoem – so when I actually began to realize just what Haynes was doing, I had a hard time sitting still in my seat. The last time I was this excited in a theater was probably the opening night for Antonioni’s Blow-Up or Godard’s Weekend, both of which came out 40 years ago. Those films at the time struck me – as does I’m Not There – as miracles, moments when the collaborative process that is a movie has come together to produce something extraordinary.

The secret to I’m Not There is simple – everyone knows the story, even down to the bullshit fictions of a childhood that Dylan put out early in his career, so there is no need here to tell it again (indeed, the weakest moments in the film are the few instances where Haynes does feel the need to recreate an historic moment, as such, whether it’s debacle of the civil rights award speech, Dylan the born-again preacher, the reaction to Maggie’s Farm at Newport, which Haynes at least has the sense to satirize – right down to Pete Seeger with the ax – or the fact that Dylan was always credited by the Beatles as being the first one to turn them onto drugs). Instead, I’m Not There most often references, alludes, plays with the details. Thus a twelve-year-old African American who calls himself Woody Guthrie finds himself riding boxcars with hoboes & tells them he’s been writing songs for Carl Perkins & playing backup for Bobby Vee (which in fact Dylan briefly did, Vee’s band being the one post-doo-wop Tin Pan Alley act to come out of the same Midwest North Country as little Bobby Z). It’s a point, like having Guthrie’s motto – This Machine Kills Fascists – scrawled on his guitar case, that makes sense only to a knowing audience (or, much later, Cate Blanchett as the Mighty Jude Quinn, alluding in passing to Brian Jones “and his groovy cover band”).

If you don’t know Bob Dylan, if you don’t know the details of the lore surrounding him, I’m Not There is apt to seem entirely opaque – why is a tarantula crawling across the screen? Why does Blanchett ride a motorbike off screen followed by the sound of a crash & a single (now suddenly in color) image of bike & body covered in the woods? Why do Quinn & Arthur Rimbaud & Jack Rollins seem so completely uncomfortable in their own skins when questioned & prodded by the media? What’s going on here with this paunchy, scraggly, middle-aged Billy the Kid, portrayed by, of all people, former “Sexiest Man in the World” (and one-time Paoli resident) Richard Gere? Most of the reviews – even extremely positive ones like that of Roger Ebert – have seemed at a loss with this sequence in Riddle, Missouri, a town that doesn’t show up on the maps of either Google or Juan de la Cosa. Readers of Chronicles: Volume One, however, will recognize it as what I think of as the San Rafael sequence from Dylan’s autobiography, where Dylan, burned out & bored, reduced to being an opening act for the Grateful Dead, has an epiphaney in the Marin County town about a new way of thinking through & enunciating his repertoire that will lead him not just to the rebirth of his music, with the albums Time Out of Mind (Platinum), Love & Theft (Gold), and Modern Times (Platinum), the latter making the one-time boy genius of folk the oldest performer ever to have an album debut at the top of the charts, but also return him as one of the hottest performing tickets in the music industry, even as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome has forced him off guitar apparently for good. Richard Gere getting back on the train – from which little boy Woody Guthrie was hurled into the river years before – is the most allegorical moment I’ve seen in ages in a major film. Finding his old guitar under the empty sacks & floorboards of the boxcar, complete with the ol’ motto covered by dust, all but ties a giant red ribbon on it. Gere’s own aimlessness up to that moment isn’t a problem of the film – it’s the theme, as such, followed by a closing sequence of Dylan himself doing an impossibly long sequence on harmonica.¹

Besides the story that everybody already knows, the other elements that hold this fabulous collage together are (1) Haynes’ sense of rhythm, which he only loses once or twice as scenes carry on too long (cf. the aforementioned Beatles’ appearance in the midst of the too-long run-up to the revelation of a BBC producer – made to look & sound exactly like George Plimpton – as Mr. Jones).; and (2) Cate Blanchett’s ballsy spot-on performance. Because the six Dylan surrogates and their tales are shuffled throughout, Blanchett’s on screen continually from beginning to end. If there ever was any question that she’s the best actor of our generation, this should put it to rest. There isn’t any role for which she wouldn’t be the right performer – she could do Barack Obama, Tony Soprano or Jabba the Hut if she had to, and she’d make a great Tinkerbell. Here you will be shocked to recognize afterwards just how many times her performance made you realize (a) oh yeah, Dylan’s a woman, (b) this really isn’t a guy in this role and, conversely, just how much of the time you were completely oblivious to the question of gender altogether. It’s never really the point Haynes is making, tho he clearly wants us to consider the degree to which Dylan benefits from being in touch with his feminine side (which is why the material confronting Dylan’s unreconstructed sexism – “I love women. Really I do. I think everyone should have one.” – is so important).

Haynes’ strategy makes great sense in trying to tell the story of someone for whom the contradictions are what matter most. I’ve noted before that my favorite part of any motion picture is almost always that period at the beginning where the viewer is being pummeled by details that have not yet gelled into a coherent & increasingly narrow narrative that resolves finally into a chase scene. Haynes has made a motion picture that strives to be entirely composed of opening moments. It’s amazing just how much of this he’s able to do. As the credits began rolling, I said out loud “I could see that again tomorrow.” When the time comes, I’m Not There clearly is a film to buy, rather than just rent.

 

¹ One of the small surprises of the film is just how much of the singing is Dylan himself, not the recordings of the “sound track” double CD, even tho that turns out to be the best collection of Dylan covers ever assembled.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

 

John Ashbery
on the PBS Newshour

§

Two views of the
MLA Offsite marathon

116MB MP3
of the event
(URL good for 14 days only)

Plus Al Nielsen’s slideshow

§

Dale Smith
on the future of poetry

§

137 proverbs & figures of speech
translated from the Vietnamese
by Linh Dinh

§

Remembering Landis Everson

§

The third best selling poet of all time

§

Lorca’s bed is a popular destination

§

An index
to 221 Poets & Writers articles
on individual writers

§

Pound, Walcott & Homer

§

The labors of love
vs.
the labor of adjuncts

§

John Allman’s Lowcountry

§

Morris Dickstein
on Mailer, Paley & Vonnegut

§

Librarian to the stars

§

On first seeing through the eyes
of North Andover’s poet laureate

§

The poet laureate of Illinois

§

Granta
a legend in its own mind

§

The “urban poet” of Colorado Springs

§

Moderation rules at the MLA

§

Narendra Modi’spedestrian poetry

§

Alice Quinn
on 20 years as poetry editor
of The New Yorker

§

“The best new journals” –
School of Quietude edition

§

New selecteds from the School of Q

§

William Logan
on Murray, Pinsky, McPherson,
Wright, Jamie & Hass

§

More in common with fiction writers” –
a look at the poetry of Matthea Harvey

§

A truly weird look back
at poetry 2007

§

Cowboy poet Roddy Nichols has died

§

Estonian poet Jaan Kross has passed away

§

Bush signs biggest dollar increase
to the NEA budget since 1979

§

Screen writers losses exceed $150M

§

Poetry book launch, Indian style

§

Armenia honors Peter Balakian

§

A New Jersey psychologist
engages Antiguan history in her poetry

§

Curing an arts addiction

§

Philosophy 2.0

§

Invoking Marx in Chinese journalism

§

This blog received
448,218
visits in 2007

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

 

My own note from last January 1st still seems to me the best possible advice:

My resolution for this year remains essentially the same one I’ve had for two years now:

Blog better, blog less.

There is, I think, a direct relationship between the two halves of this equation. But it is going to mean overcoming my own anxieties about blank space & silence. And maybe yours too.

There is, to my mind, no particular reason to revisit the same issues endlessly, tho I know I do have my own hobby horses. And there is no reason to write a five-page essay when a message this short can serve the same purpose.

I have an additional goal this year, which would be to get the blogroll into order. It’s wildly out of date and takes far too much energy to try to keep track of. I wonder if anyone uses it anymore as a stepping stone to other blogs?

One problem is that the fastest growing category of blogs other than new blogs is dead blogs. There is, so to speak, a lot of “churn” over the course of any given year. Further, as blogs have evolved, there are new kinds of them, for example for magazines, for events. Some people on this blogroll have as many as four separate blogs – my rule has always been to list the one I felt was most relevant to this list.

But it may be that it would be a much stronger list if in fact it was much shorter. One thing I’ve been doing has been seeing what percentage of poets seem to have a blog – with just under 1,000 poetry-relevant blogs in the roll to the left, a one-in-ten ratio leads me to my number of publishing poets in English of 10,000.

My goal in blogging, back in the dark dinosaur days of 2002, was to get other poets going in the process of thinking out loud in public, creating a public discourse. On that point, I’ve been successful beyond my imagination. A secondary goal was to talk about the books that mattered to me – if I haven’t had any success with that, I have only myself to blame. A third was to share my sense of where we were & are in the history of poetry, particularly in the United States. A fourth and not unrelated goal was to raise awareness of the School that Dare Not Speak Its Name and its institutional role in American poetry. A fifth was to have fun. In all, I can’t complain – but I’ve got a comments stream for that.

Perhaps the best result, for me personally, of doing a blog has been the almost instant education I’ve gotten as to what’s going on in poetry that I wasn’t especially aware of before I began this project. It’s changed my sense of who’s writing, why, where & even how. It’s really really really hard not to want the poetry of tomorrow to look just like what one is most comfortable with about the poetry of today (or yesterday, for that matter). But you and I know that won’t work. The poetry of tomorrow will have to be fully engaged with the world of that time, and the most we can do is to midwive it into being.

So this seems like a good point to acknowledge everybody who’s taught me something through this process, whether through a note in the comments stream, an email, a comment on a blog elsewhere or through sending me books, magazines, manuscripts, CDs & DVDs, hand-drawn envelopes, newspaper clippings or “excerpts” from package wrapping. Thank you for your generosity.

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Monday, December 31, 2007

 

What kind of year was 2007? If you judge by the books that came out – Rae Armantrout’s Next Life, Alice Notley’s In the Pines, collected editions of Whalen & Kyger, lots of good & great books, that whole shebang – 2007 was a good, even terrific year. But if you look at the loses the literary community sustained, it was a very bad year indeed.

Do the math. If there are – just to pick numbers that are plausible, reasonable – 10,000 publishing poets in English who have careers roughly of 50 years between the time when they first begin to turn up in print or in ezines and when they pass on, then we are very quickly going to live in a world in which 200 of these poets die every year. That we don’t quite have such numbers already has much to do with the degree to which the numbers skew young, not because many poets publish for a year or two then stop – tho that certainly is the case – but because the vast expanse of writers is to a significant degree fed by the unprecedented (if not unwarranted) growth in college level creative writing degrees. Still, looking back over any given year sometimes is just appalling when you think of the poets and writers who now are gone. Just a few of the voices we lost in 2007 include Tillie Olsen, Gene Frumkin, Michael Benedikt, Artie Gold, Emmett Williams, Nancy Shaw, Kurt Vonnegut, Sarah Hannah, Grace Paley, Mary Ellen Solt, Michael Hamburger, Darrell Grayson, Sekou Sundiata, Dmitri Prigov, Sandy Crimmins, Harvey Goldner, Gloria Helfgott, Liam Rector, Ralph J. Mills, Jr., Carol Bly, Siv Cedering, Margaret Avison, Aura Estrada, Tom Cuson, Bill Griffiths, Mary Rising Higgins, Sargon Boulus, Herschel Baron, Landis Everson, Norman Mailer, Jane M. Cooper, Sandy Taylor, Liam O’Gallagher, Diane Middlebrook, John Moritz, Sylvester Pollet & Vincent Ferrini. To this add many important musicians, such as Leroy Jenkins, Eric von Schmidt, Andrew Hill, Rod Poole, Luciano Pavarotti, Max Roach, Tommy Makem, Art Davis, Frank Morgan, Karlheinz Stockhausen & Oscar Peterson. To these lists, add the other important cultural workers who passed on as well, such as philosophers Jean Baudrillard & Richard Rorty, artists Sol Lewitt, R. B. Kitaj, Sigmund Laufer, Jeremy Blake & Theresa Dunan, filmmakers Ousman Sembène, Ingmar Bergman & Michelangelo Antonioni, photographer Fred McDarragh, columnist Molly Ivins & Elizabeth Hardwick, who co-founded the New York Review of Books.

Not everyone of these were people whose work I approved of or liked. I thought Hardwick had a pernicious impact on virtually everything she touched and said so in print. Baudrillard and I argued over the impact of celebrity on critical thinking. He was also the least considerate person I’ve ever met.

But some of these writers, like Artie Gold & John Moritz, I’ve long thought of as friends. I’ve slept in Gene Frumkin’s house & eaten his food – he was a fine writer & a wonderful guy. Others I’d met or at least seen in person, from Olsen – who may very well have been the first author to have given me a book as a gift – to Sembène. Many, even the non-writers, had an important influence on me in ways they themselves could scarcely have imagined. When I was a student at UC Berkeley, I used the school’s student rental program to get Kitaj’s portrait of Robert Duncan, which hung on my living room wall for a full school year. Lewitt’s sculptures are objects I’ve stared at long & hard because I sense that their aesthetic is very close to my own. So, in a completely different way, is the music of Leroy Jenkins.

Not everyone died at the end of a long & fruitful life the way Olsen & Ferrini did. Rod Poole got into an argument with a woman who nearly ran him over in a Mel’s Drive-In parking lot & her husband got out of the car & stabbed him to death. Dasuram Mahji, who wrote in the Dravidian tongue of Kui, died of cholera at the age of 35. In the 21st century. Orissa, the state where he lived in India, is one of that nation’s wealthiest. Darrell Grayson, who came to poetry while in prison, was executed by the state of Alabama in July. African-American, he’d been tried by an all-white jury & defended by a lawyer with no experience in criminal trials. Existing DNA evidence was never tested. In the 21st century.

Perhaps saddest of all, five people listed above took their own lives: Sarah Hannah, Liam Rector, Landis Everson & the artists Theresa Duncan & Jeremy Blake, a couple that also happened to live in the rectory at St. Marks Church. Of these, only Everson’s death makes even the slightest sense – he was not young & his ability to write had been cut off due to the effects of a stroke. But even he had recently had a book manuscript rejected by the publisher of his first book – disappointing certainly, but hardly the sort of thing that should cause anyone to walk out into the woods with a gun.

I have written before, and I almost certainly will write again, on the importance of recognizing & treating depression. It’s common enough in society as it is – but in the arts it’s an epidemic. One of the reasons I was so very glad to see Ken Rumble talk of his own challenges with this on CA Conrad’s blog awhile back is that bringing this up & bringing it out of the closet is the first step in dealing with it, both personally & in society. This is not to suggest that everybody should become macrobiotic, or that that is a program that will treat even a fraction of the depression that is out there, but it does apparently work for some, and getting help is absolutely essential for anyone in this condition.

It will be forty years, really, before we can intelligibly begin to talk about all the great writers & artists who were born in 2007 as well. Almost without question, that list will be much longer than the ones above. That’s the good news.¹ And that’s one other reason why the arts of the next generation won’t look remotely like the ones of this, or of any of the previous generations as well. If I’m around then, I’ll be 101 (and intolerably cranky). But since not one of my male ancestors ever made it to 75, I’m not going to worry about that.

 

¹ I was intrigued, reading Stanley Kunitz’ 1977 Paris Review interview the other day, to see him already talking back then about the impacts of the expansion in the number of poets over even the 1950s – this phenomenon is not new & Kunitz is right when he notes that it’s not just more writers, it’s more good writers as well, which is an infinitely trickier question to sort through in the long run.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

 

The conscience of Gloucester

§

Two readings by Philip Whalen
(over 2 hours total)

§

Big-time notice for Dorthea Lasky’s Tiny Tour

§

Hannah Weiner’s Open House
live at St. Marks

§

New poems by Adrienne Rich

§

Vincent Dussol on paths to iDEATH
in the work of Eleni Sikelianos & Ray DiPalma
(PDF)

§

Kurt Schwitters live

§

Hélène Aji on
poetry & autobiography
(PDF)

§

Remembering Sandy Taylor

§

Edward Byrne’s Poet of the Year

§

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s
Poetry as Insurgent Art

§

Property, poverty & poetry
in the life of Lorine Niedecker
(PDF)

§

NY Times poetry chronicles:
Kate Northrop, David Trinidad,
W.G. Sebald, Cathy Song, Paul Guest

§

Seth Abramson on the School of Q

§

The master of nonsense
(3 guesses who that is)

Autobiography & erasure in John Ashbery
(PDF)

§

Doug Holder on
poetry, community & the small press

§

Forthcoming British books
of & about poetry

§

Virgil now

§

Metaphor in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red
(PDF)

§

Eliza Jane Poitevent,
a 19th century
Mississippi poet

§

Sonja James on Jean Valentine

§

A short profile of Michael O’Brien

§

Iraqi poet Mohammed Madlum

§

Peter Klappert on the love poetry of
Richard Harteis

§

The poet-maker of Rishi Valley

§

The Bible on the head of a pin

§

Five academic publishers band together
to streamline production costs

§

Do writing programs work?

§

Story vs. literature
in the work of Philip Pullman

§

Around the World in 80 Poems

§

Whitney Smith on Katherine Young

§

Rumi in Virginia

§

Peter Schmitt treated
as a 19th century bauble

§

The first great Saudi novel?

§

Derek Walcott on Elizabeth Hardwick

§

Comics & literacy

§

A blundering review of Gay’s Modernism

§

Fiction in song

§

The Society for Minimalist Music

§

An assessment of Oscar Peterson

§

MP3s and the quality of sound

§

George Quasha’s Axial Stones

§

Jacob Lawrence at the Whitney

§

Jenny Holzer’s other paintings

§

350 PPM

§

Special props
to Erea:
reveue d’études anglophones

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