Saturday, August 30, 2008

 

One of the New American poets who seems to be receding fast from view is Joel Oppenheimer. A one-time student at Black Mountain & a contributor to Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry, plus for many years a regular columnist with the Village Voice, Oppenheimer died at the age of 58 twenty years ago. Today there is a bare bones stub at Wikipedia, nothing at the Electronic Poetry Center and just 20 copies of all his books combined in the warehouse at SPD. If it weren’t for more copies of work available through the rare books network of Abebooks.com, and his papers at the University of Connecticut, plus one book you can read most of via Google Books, he’d have largely disappeared altogether.

Part of the problem, no doubt, is that Oppenheimer was part of the New York-Projectivist/post-Projectivist scene, that included Paul Blackburn, Armand Schwerner, Clayton Eshleman, Jerry Rothenberg, Michael Heller, Robert Kelly, Diane Wakoski, George Economou, Ed Sanders, Jackson Mac Low & others. This scene seemed to go in different directions after (a) Blackburn’s death, (b) the transformation of Caterpillar into Sulfur & (c) the diaspora of these poets away from lower Manhattan, especially to Southern California. I don’t recall that Oppenheimer was ever really a part of the scene around Caterpillar, tho, and it may be that his job with the Voice had already taken him away from the Blackburn-centric world around St. Marks before Eshleman’s journal really got going.

Still, like the Zen cowboy scene on the West Coast around Coyote’s Journal, which was quite apart from the Beat scene even if it included the likes of Gary Snyder, Lew Welch & Phil Whalen, New York likewise had a scene that was quite distinct from what one nominally thinks of as the New York School. Without somebody to step up to the preservation of Oppenheimer’s work, he in particular is at risk of becoming one of the disappeared.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

 


Barack Obama & Bob Casey in Paoli on April 19

The word I least expected to hear at the Democratic Convention in Denver this week was the name of my home town, Paoli, PA, population 5425. Paoli is but one portion of Tredyffrin township¹, which in its 300 year history, has elected exactly one Democrat to the local council. But there was Bob Casey, Pennsylvania’s conservative Democratic senator, on the dais Tuesday night, proclaiming that he supported Barack Obama because he knew Barack Obama, partly because he had traveled with him “from Pittsburgh to Paoli” during the Pennsylvania primary.

Our one Dem, Paul Drucker, won a couple of years back &served mostly to wake the slumbering GOP, which promptly organized and made him a one-term pheenom. But the demographics of these here ‘burbs are changing, and Paul has a decent shot at the state house of representatives this coming November. Ironically, it’s been the Republican impulse to approve every new real estate development deal that has made the area affordable for folks moving out either from Philly or one of the inner suburbs. Right now both a steel mill and a golf course have been plowed over for new town home communities in the immediate vicinity. Thirteen years ago, when we moved here, this was the border between the suburbs and Pennsylvania ’s farmland. Now you have to drive at least 30 miles west to find that divide. A little more development & the GOP won’t be the majority party in Paoli or Tredyffrin.

 

¹ Townships are an odd governmental unit that I’d not come across until we moved to Pennsylvania. They aggregate multiple towns &/or parts of them – Wayne, the town David Brooks has memorialized in two books as “Paradise,” is partly in Tredyffrin here in Chester County, but also partly in Montgomery & Delaware counties as well. Paoli’s two real institutions are a post office and a volunteer fire department. Tredyffrin includes the local government, police & parks, but the school district combines Tredyffrin & a neighboring township.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

 

The tribes of art

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11 new poems by
Linh Dinh

Nguyen Quoc Chanh
translated by Linh Dinh

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Grammar police
busted as vandals

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Nine poems
by Namdeo Dhasal

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Rain Taxi reviews
The Age of Huts (compleat)

One of my favorite early poems
(i.e. pre-Ketjak)
is now available on the web

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Recordings of readings by
Adeena Karasick, Jaap Blonk,
Gregory Betts & Gary Barwin

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Kenny Goldsmith’s “New York Trilogy”

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Tracie Morris down under

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Top ten endangered languages

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The most widely spoken
English dialect
in the world

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Forrest Gander:
”Homage to Translation”
plus
”A Clearing”

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Noah Eli Gordon
on 3 great chapbooks

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More by Geof Huth
on the cover of
The Alphabet

Geof visits SPD

Visiting Richard Lopez & Richard Hansen

Geof on 2 booksellers in Berkeley

“a strange netherworld
between work and art”

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The Daily Planet
agrees with Huth
about Berkeley bookstores

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The idea of artists
in a museum

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Sven Birkerts:
Pensées

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Rushdie wins apology

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Emily’s tryst

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Anne Waldman:
”Che Guevara Came to Me in a Dream”

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In Macedonia,
the 47th Struga Poetry Nights

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One more reason
to avoid
contests that promise
to publish your book

Narratives of poetry publishing

§

Claudio Magris
”The Self that Writes”

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Moleskine vs. Rhodia Bloc

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Joshua Corey
teaches creative writing

§

Norman Mailer:
werewolf autobiography

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Tim Gaze
has a perfect name
for a visual poet
(Noology)

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Hyphenated authorhood

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Talking with Kanwar Dinesh Singh

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Talking with Siri Hustvedt (MP3)

§

Paul Auster’s bait & switch

§

What is the least literary
place of all?

§

School of Quietude Everywhere

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Mary Karr on Meghan O’Rourke

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What Darwish’s death tells us of Palestine

The view from Pakistan

§

50 perfekt German poets

§

Publishing & social networks

§

Buffalo’s Cultural Walk
stubs its toe

§

Book reading declines among college students

§

What best sellers say of a nation

§

Robert Burns & Michael Jackson
(yes, that Michael Jackson)

§

Plumly’s Posthumous Keats
reviewed in The Economist

§

Honoring Ed Lahey

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Justin Marks & Ana Bozicevic-Bowling

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A profile of Ibé Kaba

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Poets of the laboratories

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Chase Twitchell
on selling Ausable

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The return of Ulysses

§

A Russian conductor
returns his native Osettia
to perform

§

Pierre Boulez
at 83

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Tim Davis in Zurich

§

T.J. Clark on Matisse

§

Scrawl

§

Unmentionables
hung out to dry

§

Was Leger simply tossed?

§

A tip of the hat to
Almost Island
for a terrific new issue

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

 

One of the happenstances of being on vacation is getting to see a film a second time that one would not necessarily choose to see twice, in this instance The Dark Knight, about which I wrote here. I did not, as it happens, find much that I had missed the first time – notably who were the hostages dressed as clowns in the final confrontation scene. And how one particular officer telegraphs being “bought” by the other side even in the first scenes of the film.

More interestingly, tho, was how the violence plays a second time. As before, the only true moment of gore other than the creation of Two-Face is the self-stitching scene with Bruce Wayne & Alfred early on in the film. Now, however, all of the later scenes of violence – the blood & guts suggested rather than shown – is continually being foretold, seconds, even minutes before. The disappearing pencil trick, for example, is very different when you know where it is going. As a result there is only one surprising moment of violence in the film – when the Batman wannabe bangs against the window. And, with these other moments expanded, the film feels far more violent and dark than on first viewing. The second time through, it really does feel as tho the Joker’s perspective is very close to that of the director.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

 


Matthias Steiner of Germany won gold in the heaviest weight class in Beijing

As a kid, I used to watch a lot of sports on television. It didn’t matter if the event was a sport  I deeply loved and played a lot, such as baseball, or was one I couldn’t imagine playing ever – such as boxing, which took up all of prime time on Fridays. Of course, what was on television in the 1950s, when there were just three networks, was a tiny percentage of what there is now, with ESPN, ESPN-2, the Sports Channel, the Golf Channel, a channel just for road racing & such pay packages as MLB-TV for baseball. One could watch sports 7 by 24 if one wanted. Indeed, one could watch a single sport 7 by 24 if you were willing to pony up to do so. I suppose that we’re just a few years away from universal access to all of the sports all of the time. At that point, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to watch any of them – the inundation level simply reduces the competition to a level of irrelevance. I’ve always thought that baseball lost something special when its customers no longer had to skip out of work for a day to attend a game.

So I can’t say that I’ve been riveted to the Olympic coverage the past couple of weeks. I enjoyed the whiz-bang of the opening ceremonies (I’d seen some of the choreography, it turns out, right here in Philly several months ago) & saw most of Michael Phelps’ races, thoroughly dominating a sport about which I care not a whit. But the two sports I really enjoyed watching were beach volleyball & weightlifting, the latter of which turned up at odd hours on the extended cable coverage of the games.

I’ve rarely played volleyball & have been dreadful whenever I tried, but as a kid I used to play a game called tetherball, where a ball is literally roped to the end of a pole. One player serves and the two combatants try to wrap it around the pole in their direction, not that of the opponent. My usual opposite in these games was my best bud from the middle school years, Bruce Downing, who later on would grow up to become an All-American volleyball player. The last time I saw Bruce, who now is a science & computer teacher in the East Bay, I noted just how much tetherball – the court was in his backyard – resembles the blocking game at the net in volleyball. Which is exactly how I watch volleyball today. Beach volleyball feels like the real deal to me, unlike the hyped-up variant on hard courts indoors with larger teams that make it almost impossible to see the strategies being used.

Weightlifting is a sport I got to know by accident in the early 1980s. I was working as the director of development & outreach at the California Institute of Integral Studies, then located on the border between the Mission & Noe Valley in San Francisco, and I was looking around for a way to stay in shape. The Sports Palace was a gym down the hill on Valencia & proved quite a bit less expensive than any of the other gyms in the area. What I didn’t know when I signed up there was that half of the U.S. Olympic weightlifting team worked out at the gym, including Mario Martinez, who won a silver medal in the 1984 games (which I believe is still the best an American has done in the past quarter century). In those days, there were three gyms in the U.S. where a “serious” weightlifter could aim for competitive mastery – the Sports Palace, a gym in Colorado Springs & another in York, PA (home, not so coincidentally, to York Barbells). I was fortunate to get trained on free weights by Jim Schmidt, who in those days coached the Olympic team some years & served as the trainer in others. As I soon learned, the Sports Palace was so widely known, that it was used as the location for a Streets of San Francisco episode that focused on a homicidal weightlifter who killed off his opponents. This had been the acting debut of one Arnold Schwarzenegger, who in those days was just starting to gain credibility as a thespian of a certain type.

While I was generally pathetic myself, I could always see exactly how far away from the very best in the world I was, a great motivator. Weight training is still my favorite form of exercise all these years later, and I’ve benefited greatly from Schmidt’s tutelage. The Sports Palace itself closed down, a victim of San Francisco retail rental costs, tho I hear that Schmidt has a gym now somewhere down the peninsula.

Martinez got the silver in 1984 in part because that was the Olympics where the Soviets boycotted. There is, of course, no Soviet Union today, but what that nation’s disintegration left in its wake is a series of countries that all tend to be quite good at this sport, and take it seriously. Thus, for example, in the men’s 94 kilo category, the winner was Ilya Ilin of Kazakhstan. He was followed, in this order, by lifters from Poland, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Cuba, Iran, Russia, Germany, Spain, Ukraine, Moldova & Moldova.

No Americans competed in this weight category, and indeed just seven Americans competed in weightlifting in the Olympics at all, four of them women. Women only began to be allowed to compete in the 2000 Olympics, and I believe the last US medal of any sort in this sport was the bronze won that year by Cheryl Haworth. Haworth finished sixth in her weight class this year, as did Melanie Roach, the best the U.S. could do.

So even a sport as elemental as weightlifting – it’s just you and gravity and mass – is changing. Watching the Olympics in 2008 was all about change – new vaulting platforms for gymnasts, new suits for the swimmers that have made all existing records obsolete, new sports (my favorite is a version of handball that looks like a combination of soccer & dodgeball), new rules for extra innings in baseball. It seems inevitable that in a few years, skateboarding & other extreme sports will all end up being included in the Olympics while some of the more traditional ones will disappear or else become marginalized, a fate that could happen to weightlifting.

One change that I have not been fond of this year has been the largely dishonest way the medal competition has been handled in the media. In past Olympics, the media has routinely reported this by counting first-place finishes as worth three points, second-place finishes as worth two and bronze as worth one. This year, instead, they’re simply totaling the medals without regard to finish. The result is that most coverage shows the U.S. as having won the most medals by virtue of finishing second and third so often. As of early Friday morning, when I calculated this, the actual medal count under the old system would have looked like this:

                                    Gold           Silver           Bronze       Total        Points
China                               46                 15                  22             83            190
United States                  29                 34                   32              95            187
Russia                             16                16                    19              51             99
Great Britain                   17                12                    11              40             86
Australia                         11                13                      7              31             66

Since the first four columns are how this is being reported on the official Olympics website, no doubt official decisions were made to ensure this kind of reporting, but it should be instantly clear just who benefits from not taking into consideration whether your athletes won gold, silver or bronze.

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