Friday, March 14, 2008

 

Today’s note is a get well wish for Geof Huth, who happily has come through double bypass heart surgery this week with photos to show & stories to tell. Geof is one of our great visual poets & we’re really counting on him to help us make sense of the next half century as well as the last.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

 

The haiku of Phil Whalen

Alice Notley on Whalen

Letter to Tom Raworth on “Phil” vs. “Philip”

§

Margaret Atwood’s new opera

§

Reading Donald Justice

§

Mark Ford on Frank O’Hara

§

Chris Torrance’s Magic Door

§

Girl Talk:
a women’s poetry reading,
Saturday in
West Caldwell, NJ

§

The first ten years of Poetry
is now online

Plus both issues of Blast

§

Consequences of
displaying the books face out

§

Rita Wong & Magdalena Dorina Suciu

§

Charles Bernstein:
a poem for Eliot Spitzer

§

School director may lose his job
because of his poetry

§

Network faces suit if it doesn’t remove
Cathal O Searcaigh’s poetry
from
Katmandu documentary

§

Talking with Lisa Beatman

§

Six microreviews from Hank Lazer

§

Seven poems by Alan Davies

§

Not so sure the Corpse is still Exquisite

§

Howard Junker’s favorite play about litmags

§

Julia Harwig’s In Praise of the Unfinished

§

Todd Colby, talking with Jennifer L. Knox

§

Publishers Weekly
Bookseller of the Year
has been in
Pasadena
since 1894
(not a typo)

§

Allen Fisher’s marbles

§

Edna Coyle-Greene’s Snow Negatives`

§

The politics of William Burroughs

§

The stairbookcase

§

Seattle’s secret

But all is not perfect

§

Unfinished reviews

§

NPR & the culture of fakes

§

Poems to skate or row by

§

Mary Karr doesn’t know the difference
between Philip Larkin &
William Carlos Williams

§

Emmanuel Moses goes to Georgia

§

Alfred Corn against the term
New Formalism

§

Civil service poetry

§

Sean O’Brien pleads
for a return of the canon

§

The poetry deficit

§

The seven “great poets of the 20th century

§

“Our greatest poet

§

The humor of Leonard Cohen

§

Finding Auden “satisfying”

§

Alison Brackenbury’s Singing in the Dark

§

Ekphrasis by any other name

§

Reading in Iraq

§

“reading books is healthier than making them”

§

Another eulogy for Dutton’s

§

Comrade Fatso & the poetics of Zimbabwe’s history

§

The art of translation

§

The “Arab Booker” prize

§

Ten questions for Anne Rice

§

Facts & writers

On a safari to the authentic

§

The ghost of Wallace Stegner

§

With poetry “under your feet

Berkeley already has such a walk

§

Richard Wilbur to keynote
West Chester’s annual kitschfest

§

Another list that leaves off Kent Johnson

§

Adam Kirsch on Joseph Conrad

§

Dedalus saved from extinction…for now

§

Is that a poet in your pocket?

It is indeed

§

A YouTube just for poetry

§

Robert Frost’s Dartmouth lectures

§

The value of an audio book

§

The Lincoln Poems

§

The well-earned modesty of Stephen Spender

§

the clichéd figure of a self-absorbed poet

§

Looking for beauty in the ordinary

§

Write slowly argues the head of HUP

§

What is critical thinking?

§

Who was Roget?

§

The Žižek game

§

Where are the Derrideans now?

§

Censorship & genre

§

The politics of marginality

§

David Mamet moves right

§

Schwabsky’s Courbet

§

How bad is the Biennial?

The Whitney “is a wasteland

But one with social networks

Who’s there

§

Museums get an upgrade

§

An update on the struggle
to save Richard Serra’s Shift

§

A room with a hue

Reinventing color

My favorite “colorist
has a show next month
at the Cue Foundation in
Chelsea

§

The joy of boredom

§

Contempt

§

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Sonny Rollins

§

onedit 10 is well worth reading

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

 

The most successful actor in film history is the late John Cazale. He made five full-length motion pictures, every one of which is a film classic: the first two Godfather films, The Conversation, The Deer Hunter and Dog-Day Afternoon. The last of these finds Cazale, best known for his role as sad sack mobster Fredo Corleone, playing a bank robber opposite, of all people, Al Pacino. Based on a true story of a bank job gone wrong – the cops quickly surround the bank, but there are hostages & Pacino’s character turns out to be a natural with the crowd that soon gathers – Sidney Lumet’s best movie¹ plays not just with any memory we might have of the event itself on the evening news, but with our expectations of film genres as it gradually becomes clear why Pacino is robbing a bank – to pay for his lover’s sex change operation.

I thought of Dog-Day Afternoon last night as I was watching The Bank Job, which, although it is also about the robbery of a bank with unintended consequences, is a very different movie than Afternoon in all respects but one – just how much it plays with the audience’s sense of expectation. The Bank Job claims to be the account of an actual event – there’s not a lot of documentation for this, tho that may be because of official British secrecy – in which a local group of petty thieves are persuaded to dig into a bank vault that just happens to contain compromising photographs of the late Princess Margaret. Safety deposit boxes being what they are, there are a lot of other incriminating things to be had along with several million dollars in currency, jewelry & trinkets. Soon, everyone who has something to lose is searching for Our Gang.

What The Bank Job really asks is what would a franchise like Oceans 11, 12, 13 look like if, in actuality, their elaborate heists were in any way real. The answer is that not everybody lives to tell the tale. As presented in this deliberately unwieldy plot, the initiators are not just concerned with protecting the Princess’ reputation, but with the fact that Michael X, a black power advocate – in reality a pimp & drug dealer – has them & thus is beyond the reach of the law. But a local madam also keeps her photos of customers – including MPs & other government officials – in a box, and the local porn merchant keeps his books there with records of which cops are being paid off, how much, & by whom. The MPs & the cops – both the ones on the take & a certain officer Givens who is not – also have an interest in this project. As does even the undercover agent who has slept her way into the black power advocate’s entourage.

The first half of the film is very much a poor man’s Oceans XX, as Terry, played effectively by Jason Statham, a good character actor with looks that are just borderline leading man (imagine a younger & serious Bruce Willis), scrambles to put together a team after having been recruited by Martine Love (Saffron Burrows, whom Boston Legal fans will recognize as Lorraine Wellers), an old flame who, unbeknownst to him, has been busted for trying to ferret drugs in from Morroco. Two of Terry’s team come from his own garage, which specializes in the resale of stolen vehicles. To these are added a front man – they have to rent a nearby shop in order to have somewhere to dig from – in the person of a con artist turned men’s clothing salesman – and someone who knows about digging tunnels, a local Cypriot immigrant. Finally, when they get ready to dig, they decide they need somebody as a lookout & turn again to Terry’s garage, picking up the junior mechanic who has just married the bookkeeper. His job is to stay on top of a nearby building with a walkie talkie and keep them apprised of anything going on outside the bank.

Needless to say, much goes on, even tho the bank is closed all weekend. Not the least is a local ham radio operator who overhears the walkie talkie and soon has the cops in his bedroom listening in, trying to figure out just which bank is being targeted. I’m not going to recount what happens next here – the Wikipedia plot summary is over 1250 words long, and needs every one of them. I’m more interested here in two things. One is the narrative structure of undercutting genre expectations. The other is the role of truth claims in an otherwise genre flick.

Obviously the two questions are related. Director Roger Donaldson (Species, Dante’s Peak, The Recruit) and writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais (Across the Universe) flood the latter half of the film with so many threads of “X is out to get Y” that it is all but impossible to tell who, for example, suffocates the Cypriot or stabs the Colonel, loose ends that are never fully resolved. In the end, all of the “really bad” guys are dealt with, but one of the mates from the garage is dead as well as the undercover agent in the Caribbean. All of this would work more effectively if – and really only if – we had more of a sense of the gang as individuals, but Clement & La Frenais’ script here – and the film’s pacing is often right out of their work on the ersatz Beatles’ movie as well – is too hurried to spend time on non-plot-driven moments like character. In an odd way, even as they’re blowing up their genre, it’s taking the ultimate revenge on their movie.

The awkwardness & loose ends are, of course, justified by the claim that all of this is “real,” a claim predicated on the assertion that the writers got the story from one or more of the parties involved. Some of the details here – Michael X’s behavior, for example, including the murder of Gale Anne Benson – are matters of public record. Others, including Princess Margaret’s sexual behavior, are matters so widely rumored (e.g. her relationships with Peter Sellers or Mick Jagger, with members of her own sex, or with a gardener 17 years younger than herself) that they might as well be public record. But this is documentation much in the same way as we get in a film like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, in which we learn that TV game show entrepreneur Chuck Barris (The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, The Gong Show, Treasure Hunt) spent his off hours as a CIA hit man. You can prove that Chuck Barris exists, that he had these shows, even that he wrote the Freddy Cannon hit “Palisades Park.” But that doesn’t mean you can prove anything about a career in intelligence, let alone 33 assassinations.

Not unlike the robbery in The Bank Job, the film itself almost works. The raggedness at the end of the film is far more “real” than the neat summing up one might expect from an Oceans caper flick, but the trip to & through this moment just isn’t done quite as effectively as it needs to be. If, after all, this is all “true,” why does Terry’s relationship with Martine feel like such a studio stereotype? Keeley Hawes as Terry’s wife has a great, if small, part – her reaction to the whole plot, right up to the final scene, is one driven by a sense of what risk Terry has put her family in. If only every role had been governed with that same sense of necessity.

 

¹ From a career that includes The Pawnbroker, Network, Serpico, Fail-Safe, Long Day’s Journey into Night, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead & many of the great early television dramas.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

 

Back when mastodons roamed the earth & all television was in black-&-white, I could mosey up to Cody’s Books on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley & find, as part of its poetry section, the current edition of a publication known as the New Directions Annual (NDA). But even more significantly, at least from my perspective this morning, was the fact that I could also find last year’s edition as well, and maybe the year before that. These rather largish collections – NDA ran between 400 & 500 pages – did not disappear the way magazines tend to, the instant the next issue arrived.

In one sense, the New Directions Annual was a remarkable publication. The 1951 issue, to pick one example, included Tennessee Williams, Kenneth Rexroth, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Harold Norse, George Seferis & May Swenson. At that moment, Rexroth would have been the only one with any significant name recognition. The 1942 edition – a bit before my time – advertises Pound & Williams & Kafka as well as Christopher Morley & Katherine Anne Porter. The 1937 edition offers Cocteau, Stein, Williams, Cummings, Henry Miller, and William Saroyan. The 1952 edition: Edward Dahlberg, Ginsberg, Cummings, Kafka, Ashbery. Again: well before the publication of Howl or Some Trees.

By the time I arrived on the scene in the mid-1960s, James Laughlin was getting on in years & his unerring interest in “what’s next” was gradually being eroded by writing that was just an extension of the landmark advances he’d captured in his pages decades before. It’s worth noting that among the thousands of books I own, including the “San Francisco Scene” issue of The Evergreen Review & all the double-issues of Poetry from the 1960s, I don’t today have a single copy of any New Directions Annual. The contributors above are what can be found out from various rare book dealers on the web.

New Directions – the full title was New Directions in Prose and Poetry: An Annual Exhibition Gallery of New and Divergent Trends in Literature – came to mind this week because it was cited as evidence by one of two sets of folks who’ve complained lately that I’ve misallocated their publications in my “recently received” lists – putting both Zoland Poetry and A Sing Economy down as journals, when each is an annual anthology. A Sing Economy is a publication of flim forum, which tries to accentuate the non-journal nature of its annuals by giving each a new name. Last year it was Oh One Arrow.

My first reaction was that, if it were still being published today, New Directions Annual would end up on my journals list as well. It came out periodically – you could set your calendar by it, if not your clock – consisted of almost all new work or new translations, and there was no general principle of editing that you could identify other than an aversion to the School of Quietude. That describes, even to this day, a majority of the journals of poetry in the English language. And NDA wasn’t even restricted to poetry.

If I look at, by way of contrast, a volume like Reginald Shepherd’s Lyric Postmodernisms: An
Anthology of Contemporary Innovative Poetics
,
just out from Counterpath, it’s immediately clear that this is an anthology. It’s not a periodical, tho in fact Shepherd has edited more than one anthology (and I believe is currently editing another), and if he offered them on a regular basis from the same press, perhaps he could make an annual or biannual out of these projects. It’s immediately clear what the editing principle is. It includes work that has appeared elsewhere previously – the acknowledgements page is a dead give-away – which reinforces both Shepherd’s editing principles and the argument that it’s not a periodical. Indeed, Shepherd reinforces all of this by offering a statement on poetics from each of his contributors.

On any of these counts, neither Zoland Poetry or the different one-shots from flim forum pass muster. This doesn’t make them any less interesting, but it does make them less anthologies. So far as I can tell, the sole grounds on which they would be called such is from a desire to survive on a bookstore shelf longer than a journal, and presumably over by the poetry rather than next to Playboy or Popular Mechanics. Those are not ignoble desires, but they have more to do with the incompetence of bookstore stocking trends than they do the genres these journals would mimic.

A more complicated case might be The Grand Piano, the series of books being produced on a roughly quarterly basis by a collective of poets, yours truly included, documenting the history of Bay Area language writing in the 1970s. If I use my same criteria – does it appear predictably, does it have a clear editing principle, does it feature work that has appeared before – I get a different skew on the answers. It does appear predictably & in that regard is like a journal, but it has a strong editing principle – each issue has the same ten contributors, each time in a different order – and the work is being written precisely for the book at hand. In this sense, I wouldn’t call any volume of The Grand Piano a journal or an anthology, tho it partakes of some elements of each.

In like manner, there have been journals -- Chain was one, Poetics Journal another – that have focused each issue around a theme. Tho the editors of neither proposed their publications as anthologies, both come closer than either Zoland Poetry or the flim forum one-shots. Their publications demonstrate a strong editing principle above & beyond “what’s new.”

Does this really matter? I think it does in terms of how poetry gets organized on shelves, and also in our heads, and in how (and what) things get preserved. An anthology is always an argument and the book is better the stronger the argument happens to be. I think Shepherd’s volume, for example, is an excellent argument for what I would call Third-Way Poetics in contemporary America, but I also know that Reginald wants to argue against the notion that there is any such thing as third-way poetics – he has a completely different argument, and I think that’s a much more complicated discussion (which I hope to get to before too long). I can’t tell you what the arguments for A Sing Economy or Zoland Poetry are, though there is good work in each publication. What this almost inevitably means, though, is that, if I happen to be around in another 30 years, I almost certainly will still have Lyric Postmodernisms on my shelves, but these annuals will have moved – as journals almost always do for me – into some cartons in the attic.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

 

[Warning: There is a “spoiler” below, tho only if you don’t know Gregory Corso’s history or have never read his entry on Wikipedia.]

My very first thought, the instant I began watching Corso: The Last Beat, which opens literally on Mount Parnassus, was to wonder what Michael McClure, Gary Snyder or Lawrence Ferlinghetti must think of that subtitle. Ninety minutes later, sad to see this sweet movie end, its subject, Gregory Corso, now buried literally at the feet of his beloved Percy Bysshe Shelley in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, I realized that just like Kerouac’s tossed-off phrase that got taken over & caricatured by the media, the term Beat in the title here means many different things, only one of which – and perhaps the least important – would be beatnik or even beat poet.

Gustave Reininger’s documentary is many things – a partial history of the Beat Generation, an account of a particular school of poetics, a travelogue of important sites for poetry that ranges from the Acropolis to the Beat Hotel, San Remo Bar & Clinton State Prison, a partial history of the last four years of Gregory Corso’s life, even a mystery story with a remarkable ending – but most importantly it’s the tale of the end of life & watching a man summing up his victories & losses over the course of 70 years. So what I hear in that title now is the suffix that comes after Heart-.

The story is in fact framed by two deaths – that of Allen Ginsberg, right near the film’s start, which has some amazing footage of the entourage surrounding Ginsberg’s bed in his Lower East Side apartment as Allen lay dying from the after effects of a stroke in April 1997, monks proceeding through a death ritual, Patti Smith pacing, Corso literally draping himself over Ginsberg’s body as if to protect him, and that of Corso’s own death at the film’s end, told in a far more circumspect manner, even as we see him carted in a gurney to the hospital & watch family & friends all come to say farewell.

The “core circle of the Beats” in the telling here consists of just four people: Ginsberg, Corso, William Burroughs – who dies just four months after Ginsberg – and Jack Kerouac. Brion Gysin is mentioned, but only in passing. None of the western poets turn up at all. Instead, the gut of this film consists of following Corso as he returns to Europe to see the places that inspired him as a youth: Greece, his ancestral Italy & Paris. In Europe, Corso is not the wasted space cadet living modestly on royalties from a few books that sold in the millions in the 1950s, but a cultural hero to a generation of bright-eyed fawning youngsters amazed to see at last one of the figures who actually lived the romance they envision from the books of the Beats. Where Burroughs (Harvard), Ginsberg (Columbia), Kerouac (Columbia) all came from good educations with all that entails, little Nunzio Corso – Gregory is his confirmation name – got his in the Tombs & especially Clinton State Prison for various acts of petty theft (Corso’s greatest crime appears to have been the theft of a second-hand suit). Clinton was distinguished by the fact that it had, by prison standards, a good library, thanks to previous tenant Lucky Luciano, the original Godfather. The youngest inmate, Nunzio was encouraged in his self-education by the made guys who literally watched the youngster’s back.

The teenager who emerged from prison was a poet well before he first met Allen Ginsberg in a lesbian bar in the Village. Indeed, Corso somehow managed to get Archibald Macleish & others at Harvard to let him audit classes & even had his first book – The Vestal Lady in Brattle – published there before Howl & On the Road changed his publishing life forever (Lady was later incorporated into Gasoline, one of the best-selling books of poetry ever). In the film, Corso is presented reading from the same few canonical poems again & again (including “Sea Chanty,” written at Clinton State) – there is a great reading of “Bomb.” He comes across very much aware of himself not as a new formalist maudit, but as a satirist.

There are any number of genuinely magic moments in this movie, perhaps the first of which is Corso’s visit to Clinton State Prison where he talks to a group of young inmates, every one of them black. You can see their suspicion in their body language as Corso begins talking, trying to figure out why this character, who looks just one step removed from being a street alcoholic pushing 70, should be talking to them. But you can see their body language change as it becomes clear that Corso’s own experiences there parallels their own, and what begins as a painfully awkward moment turns into a real dialog. As he walks away from the institution, Corso has nothing negative to say about prison – it was literally his education, tho I don’t think that was exactly what the state of New York had in mind.

Even more profound is the story of Corso’s childhood. His mother abandoned him on the steps of Catholic Charities and disappeared when he was only an infant. His first poem, the aforementioned “Sea Chanty,” focuses on this primal experience. Corso imagines that she’s returned to her native Italy and is long since dead. His father, clearly a brutal man, farmed the child off to foster care and soon Corso was in & out of trouble with the law. When his father was in prison, Corso spent his days living on the streets & his nights sleeping on rooftops in Manhattan, all at the age of 13. Reininger is circumspect – too much so in fact – about Corso’s own marriages or his own role (or lack thereof) as a father & you don’t even get a sense from the movie that Corso died in Minnesota where he was being taken care of by a daughter.

Instead, we see Corso the son with functionally no parents. When in Italy, Reininger & Corso attempt to track his mother down, to find her grave. But there is no record of her, even tho in Italy all records go back to your birthplace, which should make people easier to find. At different points in the film, this becomes a foregrounded part of the narrative. Eventually, though, Reininger’s various attempts pay off. The trail leads not to some remote Italian village, but to Trenton, New Jersey, and to a small house in which his mother has been living for decades. The film actually captures the son, nearly 70, meeting his mother really for the first time. She is as amazed as he is, and other than insisting that he needs a haircut seems not phased in the slightest to have a Beat poet for a child.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

 

John Ashbery in Haverford

§

Serge Gavronsky’s Andorthe

§

Linton Kwesi Johnson, looking back

§

Al Filreis on the politics
of the School of Quietude (MP3)

Filreis’ Modernism from Right to Left

§

Remembering Vincent Ferrini

§

Matthea Harvey, talking with Jeannine Hall Gailey

§

The poems of Grace Paley

§

Rigoberto Gonzáles on Juan Felipe Herrera

§

A new view toward epigrams

§

Beatnik questionnaire

§

Official Verse Culture accepts Charles Bernstein

§

Lorca, Gray, Erba

§

A brief introduction to Louis Zukofsky

& an interesting discussion of Basil Bunting

§

New poems by Linh Dinh, Miles Champion,
Ange Mlinko & Arlo Quint

§

Mark Ford’s Frank O’Hara

§

Poets on Painters
has made its way to
Queens

A review of the anthology here

§

Ted Burke’s review of
The Age of Huts

§

Daisy Fried’s favorite word

§

Strand Books
now has web TV
in addition to
”18 miles of books”

§

TitlePage debuts
not with a bang, but …

§

Mary Jo Bang has won the 2007
National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry

§

Mary Jo Salter,
”part of the niggling history of taste”

§

“Minor” work

§

Celebrity poetry

§

Ray Davies, rock poet

§

Reginald Shepherd on why
disco is better than punk

§

The Petaluma Poetry Walk

§

Reading Ginsberg reading Blake

Bolcom’s Blake

§

nearly faceless creatures

§

Entertainment at its simplest

§

Auden in America

§

Norman Nicholson in Cumbria

§

Homer’s children

§

Talking with Daniel Crowley

§

The politics of laureateship

§

The laureate composes a verse

§

Poetry “comes from my heart

§

Baseball & poetry

§

The unpublished works of Arthur Miller

§

Indie bookstores in L.A.

& one in Beacon, NY

§

LibraryThing
& Library Thing Local
(the makings of a good list
of readings & events)

Coffee & the fate of libraries

§

Digital © rules stall in Canada

§

Serious readers have gone online

§

Why poetry matters

§

Slamming in Harare

§

Gemineye at St. Olaf’s

§

Ted Kooser’s valentines

§

One more non-diary

Fact-checking isn’t that hard

How to fake an autobiography

Kafka’s problem

§

Talking with Orante Churm

complete with flash fiction contest
(deadline: Mon., March 10)

§

The Amis family’s problems with race

§

A cult figure in Kashmiri verse

§

A profile of Narrative Magazine

§

Stan Brakhage’s last interview

§

Talking with Henry Hills

§

The Creativity Project of Oklahoma

§

Using the arts to “reseed” Dumbo

§

The best art in Houston
(& I include the Rothko Chapel)

§

Who owns art?

§

A profile of Alden Mason

§

Talking with Michael Rovner

& with Daniel Joseph Martinez

§

NPR director out

§

Italy updates authors’ rights

§

Access to web & world in Cuba

§

Tang Wei (but not Tony Leung)
banned for Lust, Caution

§

China’s none too happy with Bjork either

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