Saturday, September 13, 2008

 

So far as I can tell, Reginald Shepherd and I agreed about two things, and perhaps two things only: the value of poetry and the idea that poetry has a critical dimension, whether individual poets choose to acknowledge this or not. What Reginald Shepherd & I did not agree about, for the most part, was the kinds of poetry we valued, or why. He really disliked my concept of a third-way poetics, perhaps because he understood that his own poetry was one of the best arguments for it. Shepherd took from all schools & created something entirely his own.

But what I appreciated most about Reginald Shepherd’s writing and his person was his ability, unparalleled in the world of letters, to address those with whom he disagreed about all else with great respect, dignity and humor. To argue with him was to participate in a debate at a very high level, in which you knew that he would give no ground unless he really felt persuaded by your point, and that he expected no less from you. He could be wrong, and I’m sure he felt the same way about me, but I never traded emails or comments in our various blogs that I did not enjoy, and that I did not come away from feeling less than enriched. His loss at such a young age is a profound one for everybody in poetry.

Shepherd’s page on the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog

Shepherd’s page at the Academy of American Poets

Omnidawn’s poetry feature on Shepherd just three days before he died

Shepherd’s “On Difficulty in Poetry

John Gallaher offers to send a chapbook of Shepherd’s to those who write for it

Reginald Harris on being “the other Reggie” in American poetry

Edward Byrne’s comment, plus a poem

C. Dale Young’s note

Cherryl Floyd-Miller’s note

Silver Downes response (plus a poem)

Samiya Bashir’s comment, and another poem

Matthew Cheney’s comment

Hedgie picks a different poem to quote

Didi Menendez picks “The New Life”

Brian Henry selects “Probably Eros”

Don Share’s comment

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Friday, September 12, 2008

 


Underestimating Gov. Palin comes at some risk

There is no doubt that John McCain’s choice of Gov. Sarah Palin has energized the right and given some badly needed CPR to his campaign. It appears that not picking a woman to serve as his running mate, Hillary Clinton or otherwise, has hurt Barack Obama’s campaign. It’s self-evident, I think, that Palin is intelligent & a superb speaker, whatever her beliefs, lack of experience, or level of corruption. I also think it’s self-evident that Obama’s long drawn-out battle with Clinton, which dragged on months longer than necessary, has exhausted his campaign and that right now, on the surface at least, it looks very much the same way Clinton’s campaign looked the day after Super Tuesday. As tho it had focused so long on a single goal (Super Tuesday for Clinton, gaining the nomination for Obama) that whatever came next appears to have been a surprise.

However, in the long run, I will be the one who will be surprised if McCain manages to pull this rabbit out of the hat on election day. Because, in the long run, I think picking Joe Biden has done Obama more good than picking Palin will have done McCain. On the other hand, had Obama picked a woman & had McCain picked Tom Ridge, old pro-life, not-much-of-a-speaker, Bush-appointee Tom Ridge, I think McCain would ultimately have won this election. Picking Palin instead is a game changer alright, but McCain doesn’t appear to grasp the game.

I know that’s counter-intuitive, but I think American politics are counter-intuitive, precisely because electoral politics are not national politics. As George W. Bush demonstrated quite effectively in the year 2000, thank you, national polling numbers mean exactly nothing. Nada. Zip. The real question – the only question – is which votes did you get where? A pick like Palin, that increases McCain’s victory in Texas and Alaska and maybe elsewhere in the Bible Belt, all states McCain was going to win anyway, has no real impact, except insofar as her coat-tails may decide some down-ticket races for local office. I can’t think of a single state that she actually turns from red to blue. At best, she mutes the remote possibility of Libertarian candidate Bob Barr tipping Georgia to the Dems, the way Ralph Nader tipped Florida in 2000 into the hands of the Supreme Court.

Joe Biden, however, has taken Pennsylvania from the toss-up category to blue, rather the same way that a Tom Ridge would have had just the opposite effect. With 21 votes in the electoral college, the shift of those choices equals a swing of 42 electoral votes, enough to have ensured McCain a victory. Biden is well-known in Pennsylvania because Delaware is functionally a suburb of Philadelphia, save for the very southern part of the state, which is a suburb of Baltimore. Plus Biden was born & spent a portion of his childhood in Scranton in Pennsylvania’s hardscrabble northeast. He talks the talk and people can see that.

In spite of national polling, and in spite of eight years of unparalleled incompetence and rapaciousness on the part of the Bush administration, this is going to be another razor thin election. With eight weeks remaining, there really appear to be just four states that truthfully are still in play, and which aren’t leaning clearly one way or the other: Ohio, Virginia, Colorado & New Hampshire. If Obama wins either Ohio or Virginia, all he needs is one of the smaller two to win. McCain has to win both those states, or three of the four, to beat him.

McCain and his camp actually do believe that this is an election about change, and that whatever feels furthest from business as usual is an advantage. As David Brooks put it in The New York Times the other day, “weirdness wins.” The problem with Palin is not that she has so little experience, but that she may have too much, and that voters will realize that she’s just one more pol, Mike Huckabee with a gun instead of a guitar. And there is no way you are not going to see that clip of McCain admitting he votes with Bush 90 percent of the time a thousand times in the next eight weeks.

But the reason that change is the issue for both parties has a lot to do with what’s wrong, from the war to the economy, which is worse off even than Obama is prepared to let on.

So I think this election ultimately is about economics. Not, according to his own admission, McCain’s strong suit. Nor Palin’s. Plus, according to Bizjournals, four of the ten worst metros for jobs right now are in Ohio, while two others are nearby in Michigan. That and the profound demographic shifts in recent years in Virginia work to Obama’s advantage.

But it was Karl Rove’s hypothesis that, once you broke the unions, manufacturing states like Michigan & Ohio would be more apt to vote like southern states, that their demographics are much closer to the American south than they are to either seaboard, and that many people in the manufacturing sector are in fact transplanted southerners with value systems the GOP understands well. Thus, in theory, the worse things are in Ohio, the better the GOP should do there. This election should present an opportunity to put this premise to the test. That’s why Palin’s job is to turn the election in yet another round in the culture wars.

But this is where I think Obama continues to show, as he did in beating Clinton by demonstrating that he understood the importance of the caucus states & the caucus process, that he understands the task before him better than any Democrat before him. And that’s why we have Joe Biden, a pol with distinct regional appeal, rather than somebody who bumps a demographic but whose impact is filtered out by its distribution throughout every region. There may be regions where the African-American, Jewish-American, Spanish-American, Arab-American, even Hmong- & Sikh-American vote is concentrated. But women account for roughly half the vote everywhere. The percentage who don’t mind the fact that Palin is to women as Clarence Thomas is to African-Americans is a fraction of that vote, and the places where it concentrates are in the (surprise) red states.

All of which suggests that, barring any major gaffes from camp Obama,unless the GOP can concentrate the powerburst impact of Ms. Palin on some geography, such as Ohio, all her presence on the ticket will have accomplished is to ensure the election of Barack Obama, regardless of whether or not he wins the popular vote. And until such time a female politician can demonstrate the kind of pull that shifts an important state from column A to column B, all this kafuffle over the so-called Palin effect is exactly that, the mumbling of cable talking heads who need something to yatter on about, and who certainly won’t choose news or the issues as an obvious topic.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

 

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It’s here. Twenty-nine years after I jotted down the first words (the opening lines of  Force” actually), The Alphabet is real, tangible, and weighs three pounds. It arrived in yesterday morning‘s FedEx shipment, the driver lugging a 30-plus pound carton up to my doorstep. Each copy is nine inches high, six inches across, two and one-quarter inches deep. So deep that you can print my last name across the spine in 34-point type. 1,062 pages. 260,764 words, not including five pages of notes. Since Rae Armantrout collaborated on “Engines,” not every one of those words are mine.

Geof Huth’s vispo, “The Construction of the Alphabet” looks terrific wrapping around the front & side of the cover (and reiterated as a theme visually inside), and Michelle Myatt Quinn’s design is impeccable. As I told one of my sons, visual poetry is virtually the only kind that doesn’t appear anywhere in The Alphabet. Having Geof’s work here both acknowledges that and to some degree incorporates it as well. If you are going to put this many of your eggs into a single basket, it’s important to get it right. And I must say that Alabama has. The book isn’t perfect – books never are. But it is extraordinary, at least as a physical object.

Geof gives the book & design not one but two video presentations on his blog. Geof calls it “the poetry publication of the year,” which is generous, but which would no doubt send out even more endorphins except that I used mine up completely just looking at the book when it arrived. I think one part of me must have worried that I never would live to see this volume, the way Spicer never saw Book of Magazine Verse, let alone The Collected Books. Later in the day I realized that I felt ill from having expended so much adrenalin.

The University of Alabama Press has put together a nifty offer to promote The Alphabet and also Jerry Rothenberg’s Poetics & Polemics, 1980 – 2005. A thirty-percent discount is available on either one of these books, which will then get you the opportunity to buy, for just $5 each, two additional books that are already classics: Bill Lavender’s anthology Another South: Experimental Writing in the South and Marjorie Perloff’s Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy. The offer is good until November 30. Click on the PDF file order form here.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

 

I finally got around to viewing How to Draw a Bunny the other night, and both the documentary and its subject are quite a bit better than its rating on Netflix might make you suspect. Bunny is a portrait of the late Ray Johnson, the inventor of mail art & an active member of the New York arts scene in the 1950s & ‘60s, close to Fluxus, part of the Warhol scene, and a man who lived the most austere life imaginable, even by Thomas Merton standards. His final performance piece in 1995 found him jumping off a bridge in Sag Harbor and swimming the backstroke generally out in the direction of Gardiner’s Bay & Long Island Sound. His body was later found in the water.

From the lengthy interview with the Sag Harbor chief of police – and extensive footage of Johnson’s home in Locust Valley taken either by the police or shortly after Johnson’s death – the conclusion of suicide was pretty much obvious, but even the police – usually not your best aesthetic critics – could see that everything had been set up as if it were a happening – a  genre at which Johnson excelled. All of his works (for the most part, thousands and thousands of collages) were either boxed up or turned facing the wall, with the sole exception, in the uppermost, furthest back room of the house, of a photo of Johnson himself, staring out (imagine an inverted tomb for an Egyptian pharaoh). Johnson’s earlier events included his participation in a poetry reading in which his work consisted of removing his belt and beating a cardboard box with it for twenty minutes, all the while hopping around on one foot, looking considerably “less hip” than anyone in the audience in a suit & tie, his hair cropped close (at other points he favored a shaved head). Johnson was also the person who brought Dorothy Podber to Andy Warhol’s factory where, anticipating Valerie Solanis by four years, she proceeded to shoot a stack of Warhol's portraits of Marilyn Monroe.

Johnson himself dropped out of the New York scene with a vengeance the day Solanis shot Warhol himself. For one thing, Johnson had been mugged the same day. And two days later Robert Kennedy was assassinated. How Johnson survived, both in New York & later on Long Island, is not clear from the documentary. There is not much evidence that Johnson himself ever worked for a living, at least not after his parents died, and he actively made it all but impossible to purchase his art. Yet when he died without a will, there remained a massive estate of works and over $400,000 in cash.

What impressed the police most was that people from all over the world started calling, each with a story about Johnson that might shed some light on his behavior. Many of Johnson’s friends were famous – John Cage, Christo & Jeanne-Claude, James Rosenquist, Roy Lichtenstein, Chuck Close, Diane Di Prima, most of whom are either in the movie or in the extensive (and equally interesting) “out takes” included on the DVD. All of the stories were remarkable, the chief notes, but they were all very different and nobody it seemed knew Johnson well at all. Even his closest compadres like Christo, Chuck Close or his beleaguered art dealers Richard Feigen and Frances Beatty. For example, Beatty had been working for 14 years to get Johnson to hold still long enough for Feigen’s gallery to do a show. It was an impulse Johnson deliberately, repeatedly undercut. Much of the film, in fact, is a recitation of various would-be collectors negotiating with Johnson over the price of some collage. Morton Janklow, the corporate lawyer who became a literary agent, sat for a portrait that consisted of a silhouette, which Johnson then reproduced 26 times and used as the foundation for a series of intensely worked collages. Every time Janklow asked Johnson if he could buy the series, Johnson’s story changed. At one point, he added an image of Paloma Picasso, Pablo’s daughter & a famous designer for Tiffany in her own right. The image, a photo taken by Helmut Newton, is very 1970s. She stands wearing a dress that covers only one breast, the other half hidden behind a glass of what might be whiskey. Taken from wherever Johnson got it – Life magazine is a real possibility – Johnson declared that any portrait of Janklow – the silhouette is almost entirely unintelligible in at least half of them – that had been “Paloma-ized” was now worth double the previous price. Another time, Chuck Close talked Johnson down on price by 25 percent, only to receive the collage minus its lower right-hand quadrant. Close also tried mightily to get Johnson to sell something to the Met so that he could include Johnson's work in a show of portraits from the Met’s collection. Johnson was his typical impossible self, but he sent correspondence art – a photocopied bunny with a name attached – to the Met’s librarian, knowing the institution’s practice of saving all correspondence. It looked something like this:

And Close did include it in the show, tho to say that it was in the Met’s “collection” was stretching it more than a little.

I used to see Johnson’s work occasionally in various intermedia/Fluxus-oriented publications throughout the 1960s & ‘70s, less often thereafter. Unlike Basquiat, who was equally an outsider – more so socially than Johnson – but who transformed his role on the edges of the Warhol scene into a moment of brief fame & fortune before he died, Johnson is – like every member of Fluxus save for Yoko Ono – an artist who never got rich and certainly did not get his due during his own lifetime. Not that he made it easy for anyone who tried. Perhaps only Richard Lippold, the sculptor who was briefly Johnson’s instructor at Black Mountainwhere else? – in the late 1940s, and who speaks as tho he had an affair with his student that lasted a quarter century, ever really got close. It was Lippold who brought the Detroit-raised Johnson to New York, and many of Johnson’s friends would have been Lippold’s also.

Much of the work around Fluxus, in particular, has always struck me as nostalgia for Dada, a kind of retro echo effect that suggests a derivative imagination, not for the most part first-rate work. Yet How to Draw a Bunny makes a superb case for Johnson as craftsman & visionary both. And as such, it’s an excellent example of how a film can really elevate the work of its subject (cf. Gustave Reninger’s Corso: The Last Beat, should it ever get distributed). Why is it that docs about these relatively obscure artists – or, in Corso’s case, famous but not taken seriously – so often provide much better treatment than do films about major artists like Kerouac or Bill Burroughs or Andy Warhol? Perhaps it’s because the film-maker understands his or her role not just in presenting the artist in question, but in making the case for a more serious, closer look than has previously been offered. With famous, successful writers and artists, it’s just presumed & accordingly the film never does the close reading, the serious work, it needs to accomplish. John Walter, director of How to Draw a Bunny, mostly has done anti-war films. But he’s almost made one of the best portraits of an artist I’ve ever seen. And he’s convinced me that Johnson is much more than a marginal fuck-up of the sort that make up the fringe of any large art scene. This film makes you realize that even when he was just emerging from the Black Mountain aesthetic, Johnson was already a powerful artist:

But as this film makes clear, that black square at the center of this work – the title is Calm Center – is, in fact, also a self portrait. Don’t take it from me. Ask Johnson:

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

 

Robin Blaser at 83

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Rae Armantrout reading
at Artifact
(MP3)

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Censoring Carol Ann Duffy

Duffy strikes back

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Salt’s Earthworks book series

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“The Dwelling Place,”
my first feature on what became langpo
is now online
& downloadable

Danny Snelson’s close reading
starts here

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Snelson’s my Dear coUntess
puts the trans
in translation

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Tom Beckett on The Difficulties
and its archive

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Scott Woods’ 24-hour reading
included a 47-minute performance of
The Chinese Notebook

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Close reading aloud
Gertrude Stein
(Al Filreis with Lee Ann Brown,
Jerry Rothenberg & Bob Perelman)

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Canadian additions
to the
Electronic Poetry Center:
Deanna Ferguson
Dan Farrell

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Ron Grant has passed away

As did Naranjan Mohanty

And also Robert Dunn

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Fully Awake:
The
Black Mountain College Experience
trailer online

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WPVM Asheville’s audio files from Word Play
include everything from Bly, Kinnell & Coleman Barks
to Jonathan Williams, Ken Rumble & Jessica Smith

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Coming in October,
The Massachusetts Poetry Festival

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Bruce Covey introduces Lyn Hejinian

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The purpose of poetry

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Poetry on the john door

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How they chose the Booker
(all 40 years)

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Strunk & Write

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Norman Fischer on Michael Krasny’s Forum
(MP3)

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Stealing books of poetry

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“The Big Read” –
Robinson Jeffers

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Literary tatts

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Claiming Poe’s bones

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One. Two. Three. Four.
Plump birds along the shore

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Sony e-book falls short

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The 104th (and last)
of Kate Greenstreet’s
”first book” interviews
is with
Kate Greenstreet

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¿Qué es la Poesía Visual?

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A terrific issue of
Fox Chase Review

§

Kendra Steiner
on why a non-blogger blogs
& reaches 10K visits!)

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Guy Davenport’s agrapha

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A “biography”
of Homer’s Iliad & Odyssey

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Hank Lazer’s selected essays

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Robert Giroux, the G in FSG, has died

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Rescuing Higginson

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Ted Kooser’s opera

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Simic Songs

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Perseus’ digital offering: Constellation

§

The operas of Charles Bernstein & Ben Yarmolinsky
(sound & video files)

§

Coming to Eugene, Oregon
September 10
Robert Grenier
at
DIVA

§

A tale of Verse & Wave

Talking with Beckman & Zapruder

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The Sixth Annual Australian Poetry Fest
(& a great photo of Alan Wearne)

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Chinese Poetry Festival
close by
Fenway Park

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Another idea for Buffalo’s “Walk o’ Fame”

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In Edmonton,
Poems for a Small Park

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Sad end for Happy Bookseller

Ditto for Madison’s Yellow Dog

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Writing in San Luis Obispo

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20 years later,
Mick Imlah’s second book

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Praising poetry
as an art form in itself

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Remembering Nissam Ezekial

§

Cynthia Ozick
pretending to be invisible

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Gateway literature

§

Songbird slams

§

A biography of Yehuda Amichai

§

so plain…intensely distinguished”

§

Kapil Sibal
the poet is a pol
(& vice versa)

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What’s needed is a philosopher
not a poet laureate

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The guerrilla poetics
of Kaia Sand & Jules Boykoff

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Tom Stoppard at 71

It’s only Rock ‘n’ Roll

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A mish-mash history of epics

§

Poetry, hiphop, Palestine

§

A profile of Robert Gray

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Sharon Olds anew

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Your Name Here

§

W. Virginia’s most widely published
African-American poet

§

Gary Fincke’s The Fire Landscape

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Suze Rotolo on life with Bobby
& in the Village

§

Phil Levine listening to Sonny Rollins

§

J.K. Rowling wins in court
over unauthorized
Potter dictionary

§

The future of travel writing

§

The Black Hole Wars

§

Jean-Michel Rabaté’s The Ethics of the Lie

§

What works
to protect intellectual property

§

When is ghost-writing a fraud & illegal
& when does it get you elected president?

§

George Lakoff
on the metaphor of Sarah Palin

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Wordle goes
to the conventions

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Saving the Olympics from kulchur

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Guerrilla galleries

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When the housing market
is topsy turvy

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Inside Francis Bacon’s studio

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Is Damien Hirst the art world’s Curt Flood?

Robert Hughes: Hirst is “tacky”

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Indian Supreme Court
exonerates
M.F. Husain
over nude imagery

§

America’s
first family of theater

§

Antioch dumps
Womyn’s Center Library

§

Perry Anderson:
What is
Europe?

§

There are now
over 950 names on
the blogroll

Thanks again to
Lynn Behrendt
for keeping the blogroll
up to date

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