Saturday, November 22, 2008

 

I know only one person who’s truly a member of my generation – Yanks on the high side of 60 – who claims not to know where he was or what he was doing the moment he learned, 45 years ago today, that John F. Kennedy had been shot. This friend is a former member of the rock band, the Beau Brummels.

In my case, I was attending Latin class, a senior at Albany High, when someone came to the classroom with a note to send me to the principal’s office. The teacher read the note aloud. Since I was a member of the stage crew – where all the geeks-before-our-time hung out – and thus responsible for converting the school gymnasium from a basketball court into an auditorium for a school wide assembly, I was needed downstairs at once as the president had been shot. I was in the school’s front office when word came that he had died.

I know also where I was & what I was doing when I first heard of the mass suicide in Jonestown 30 years ago this month, as I do the instant someone on the Mission Muni turned their boom box up full blast so that we heard that George Moscone & Harvey Milk had been shot & killed, also thirty years ago this week. I was actually on my way to City Hall where I had planned to buy my monthly Muni pass for December, which I then did. They hadn’t even closed off the building as a crime scene by the time I got there. I have a memory of watching deputy mayor Rudy Nothenberg in a grey three-piece suit sprinting across the large rotunda on some terrible mission, and you could hear the total chaos up the grand flight of stairs that led to the mayor’s office & those of the board of supervisors. Later that morning, after I got to my job at Central City Hospitality House, just a few blocks away on Leavenworth, the staff at “HH” and more than a few street people who used its drop-in facilities chipped in so we could purchase a bouquet of roses that we took as a group to lay on the steps of City Hall.

I can remember also the last time I saw Moscone alive (at a Basque restaurant on upper Market Street a few weeks earlier), even the last time I saw his killer Dan White – I was having lunch at a restaurant on Golden Gate Avenue called Knights with a young lady who was a secretary for criminal defense lawyer Charles Garry, whom I knew from his work with the prison movement. At that very moment, Garry was with his latest client, Jim Jones, in Jonestown (Garry escaped by running into the forest). I don’t have a memory of where I was the last time I saw Harvey Milk, but that’s because the peripatetic Milk seemed to be everywhere all the time. Until suddenly he wasn’t.

When I was boy, my grandmother would talk about the two great public tragedies in her life – the attack on Pearl Harbor & the death of FDR – she was in the kitchen for both events & the radio figured heavily in each tale. And anyone who can read this knows what they were doing September 11, 2001.

Such moments are burned into our memories and become part of a secret rhythm of our lives. They blend in with the more gradual horrors of daily life – like when in 1982 I realized that Dick Gamble, the housing agency bureaucrat I sometimes worked with who would be the first person I knew to die of AIDS, was really sick. Off hours, I would see him dressed to the nines in black leather, quite a change from the suits of his day job, and I ran into him on the bus one day after I’d returned from teaching at UC San Diego. He’d already left his job because he was suffering from what was then being called “the gay cancer.” He looked so pale & fragile & so incongruous in the assertiveness of his leathers. In just a couple of weeks he was gone.

This is the nightmare side of Joe Brainard’s great poem, I Remember, himself a victim of that plague. Once you “get it,” the literal words of Brainard’s poem almost don’t matter. What counts is how the specificity of things, what the French poet Francis Ponge would call their nature, construct our own identities. And these large scale tragedies turn out to be the details we all share.

Now most of my neighbors here in Chester County could not tell you just who Harvey Milk was, let alone George Moscone or Dan White. Maybe the forthcoming Sean Penn movie will change that for awhile, but I rather doubt it. I wonder just how many of the kids attending Bayard Rustin High School in nearby West Chester understand, or have even heard of, the difficulties the great civil rights leader had because he was gay at a time when that simply was illegal. Not so long ago. Indeed, I wonder just how many know that Rustin was a great civil rights leader. I can recall also just where I was the day Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech & am aware that it was Rustin whose hard labor made that event happen.

Because of how all these hinge events fit together, one recalls details that would otherwise be lost. That lunch in Knights in 1978 was the only “date” I ever had with that woman – she’d seen me on the bus reading History and Class Consciousness, we’d had a short conversation &, after she got off, she ran after the bus to shout her phone number up at my window. But over lunch it became clear enough that she thought I was too serious & political, and that I thought rather that she was not serious or political enough. (And to work in the office of Charles Garry?!?) She’s a country & western singer now, living in Nashville, with a few albums out on her own label. Her husband is her manager, or maybe vice versa. Would I know any of this had not Dan White walked in just then with an entourage. He was, at that moment, trying publicly to persuade Moscone into reappointing him to the post he’d resigned from just a few weeks before. Milk was openly advocating that the mayor appoint anyone but the homophobic ex-cop.

I would like to think that such moments might be behind us, but I know they aren’t. Humankind’s brief journey on this planet has never been easy. The state of California is still arguing over the civil rights of its gay and lesbian citizens. This is one argument that Pennsylvania hasn’t even yet begun. And the forces of bigotry haven’t abated so very much. Maybe that’s why I feel the election of Barack Obama may yet prove to be more important symbolically than politically. After all, when he was born, his own parents’ interracial marriage was illegal in roughly half the states of this union. And what were they afraid of? They were terrified of babies like Barack Obama.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

 

Change We Can Believe In

Three of the finalists for the National Book Award’s prize for fiction had not yet been born when winner Peter Matthiessen began publishing. Matthiessen, 81, received the award for a revised edition of his 1990’s trilogy, Shadow Country. Matthiessen previously won a National Book Award in the nonfiction category 29 years ago.

Matthiessen is known among poets as one of the founders of The Paris Review, a journal that has been sclerotic and unreadable for decades. Mark Doty, an affable quietist who writes as if the Review has yet to be invented, took the prize for poetry.

Honorary awards were given to Maxine Hong Kingston and Grove Press founder Barney Rossett. In addition to bringing out books by William Burroughs, Charles Olson, Frank O’Hara & other post avants who wrote as though the Quietist world was a Victorian relic, Rossett published Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry in 1960. Not quite half a century ago.

As if to stress the award’s independence from the trade book industry, this year’s ceremonies were held on Wall Street.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

 

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

 

   

Recently Received

 

Books (Poetry)

Kostas Anagnopoulos, Various Sex Acts, Insurance Editions, Jackson Heights, NY 2008

Rae Armantrout, Versed, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT 2009

Brandon Brown, Camels!, Taxt Press, Oakland 2008

Asher Ghaffar, Wasps in a Golden Dream Hum a Strange Music, ECW Press, Toronto 2008

Ben Hersey, This is What We are Up Against, The Chuckwagon, Southampton, MA 2008

Daniel Kane, Ostentation of Peacocks, Egg Box Publishing, no location given (but perhaps Norwich, UK), 2008

Paul Foster Johnson, Refrains / Unworkings, Apostrophe Books, no location given 2008

Mark Lamoureux, Astrometry Orgonon, BlazeVOX, Buffalo 2008

Gian Lombardo, Aid & Abet, BlazeVOX, Buffalo 2008

Rebecca Loudon, Cadaver Dogs, No Tell Books, Reston, VA 2008

Hilda Raz, All Odd and Splendid, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT 2008

Brandon Shimoda, The Alps, Flim¹ Forum Press, Slingerlands, NY 2008

Grzegorz Wróblewski, Our Flying Objects: Selected Poems, translated from the Polish by the author, Adam Zdrodowski, Malcolm Sinclair, Joel Leonard Katz & Rod Mengham, Cartalia Poetry Series / Euipage, Cambridge, UK 2007

 

Books (Other)

Benoit B. Mandlebrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature, W.H. Freeman & Company, New York & Oxford, UK 1983

Jean-Luc Marion, Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness, translated by Jeffrey L. Kosky, Stanford, Palo Alto 2002

Jean-Luc Marion, In Excess: Studies of Saturated Phenomena, translated by Robyn Horner & Vincent Berraud, Fordham University Press, New York, 2002

 

Journals

Fence, no. 20, Winter 2008-2009, Albany, NY. Includes Michael S. Harper, Daniel Kane, Joe Ashby Porter, Shelley Jackson, Srikanth Reddy, Sina Queyras, Catherine Meng, Rae Armantrout, Ranbir Sidhu, Jordan Davis, Stephanie Strickland, Brandon Shimoda, Brian Kim Stefans, more.

 

¹ Not a typo.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

 

Russian avant-garde books digitized

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Bob Holman & Pappa Susso on the Griot Trail

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Translating procedural poetry

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Erik Davis on the new Jack Spicer collected

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Close reading aloud
Ezra Pound

Texas gets papers from the
Ezuversity

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Downloadable archives of the
Joe Milford Poetry Show

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Minnie Bruce Pratt
in Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry
(PDF)

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Didi Menendez’ new blog
shows a better way
to present PDF online

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Jonathan Lethem’sLostronaut

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A film of John Giorno reading
that runs 10 hours & 6 minutes

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Jonathan Lethem on Roberto Bolaño’s 2666

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Close reading Aaron Belz

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Peter Cole:
”Things on Which I’ve Stumbled”

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Political poetry is back”

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Is anyone blogging
the Modernist Studies Association conference
in
Nashville (hint hint)?

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1956 recording of Gary Snyder found

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Two dozen full-length readings,
talks & discussions by
John Ashbery

Reading “The System,”
Ashbery’s most important poem

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Poetry & the “long haul

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Michael Dirda on Paul Auster

Talking with Auster

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Farid Adil Mansuri,
Gujurati poet exiled in
New Jersey,
has died

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James Merrill, poet of excess

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Reading Rae Armantrout
in Joe Brainard’s pyjamas

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A report of Rae Armantrout at the Folger
by someone who wasn’t there

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Philadelphia,
where the free library was invented
by Ben Franklin,
threatens to shut 11

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In Charlotte, indie bookstores struggle,
used bookstores fare better

A used bookshop in the mall

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I never metadata I didn’t like

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Welsh poet sets off
a tiff with the wing nuts

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Michiko Kakutani on Burroghs & Kerouac

The book Kerouac co-wrote
13 years before On the Road

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Talking with Emma Trelles

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David Orr on the letters of Ted Hughes

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Boston tries to usurp Poe

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Zadie Smith: realism or not?

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Translating Creeley into Spanish
(with a seriously out-of-date bio note)
(PDF)

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The Joyce of Ing Glitch

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Jordan Davis on
Yusef Komunyakaa’s Warhorses

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War poetry by Isaac Rosenberg

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Jake Adam York’s A Murmuration of Starlings

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Talking with Renee Burton

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Alexandr Solzhenitsyn & Edward Said

§

Mary Karr on Bly’s Kabir

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The function of place
in teaching English

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A bookstore organized by geography

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Whitman & his brothers at war

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Jeanette Winterson on T.S. Eliot

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Wittgenstein & biography

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Slam narratives

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Poetry vs. science

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In Taipei, a poetry festival

English-language work at the festival

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T.C. Boyle: advice to young writers

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Do book prizes discriminate against women?

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Toni Morrison’s A Mercy

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Atiq Rahimi wins the Goncourt

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Man Booker Prize or not,
The White Tiger is a dud

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The five-foot bookcase

More on Mortimer’s folly

& more still
(Are we anxious yet?)

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Maurya Simon has a poem read
by Garrison Keillor

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Chaucer for dummies

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Carol Muske-Dukes
is California’s new poet laureate

In San Luis Obispo County,
James Cushing is named

In Wisconsin,
Marilyn Taylor appointed to the post

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Living with Roald Dahl

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Kafka on the day job

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NPR coverage of the Miami Book Fair

§

Neil Gaiman:
the “most famous” unknown author

§

Camilla Paglia
on how she produced
Break, Blow, Burn

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Robert Kenney overcomes his introduction

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Rosetta Reitz has passed away

§

George Lewis on new music & the academy

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Lost Beatles epic
or Paul wanking off

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A director is fired
for supporting the Calif. Hate Amendment

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Vispo in the Mad Hatters Review

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Graphic Novel Reporter starts now

§

A.S. Maulucci on the eidetic

§

Gehry’s new spin
on his hometown museum

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Schwabsky: the art world explained

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What is art for?

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Why a downturn in the art market matters

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A gallery tour by Charles Bernstein

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Oranges & sardines at UCLA

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Talking with Vivienne Westwood

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When is advertising sexist?

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Editing the New York Times

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The Chicago Tribune lays off John Crewdson,
whom I’ve known since elementary school

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Outsourcing TV news anchors

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A 15th-century scroll
with a serious vispo sensibility

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Hitler’s library

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A do-it-yourself library
for women in
Tehran

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Barack Obama on libraries

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Talking with Joan Halifax

§

I, Susan Pollack, to Gloucester

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Does genius exist?

Does Malcolm Gladwell?

§

Do public intellectuals still exist?

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Remembering John Leonard

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Why you suck as a teacher
(or maybe don’t)

§

Žižek’s Obama

& James Wood’s

§

The wild wordsmith of Wasilla

§

A love letter to Fox News

§

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Monday, November 17, 2008

 




Grace Hartigan

1922 2008


Hartigan with Frank O'Hara

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