Saturday, December 13, 2008

 

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Friday, December 12, 2008

 


photo by Erica Jane Kaufman

Beverly Dahlen Fest

Saturday, December 13

3:00 PM

Timken Lecture Hall
California College
of the Arts
1111 8th Street
San Francisco

including,
in addition to Bev,
  Stephen Vincent
  Lauren Shufran
  Charles Alexander
  Jocelyn Saidenberg
  Bruce Boone
  Elizabeth Robinson
  Rob Halpern
  Kathleen Fraser
Ron Silliman¹

A native of Portland, Oregon, Beverly Dahlen has lived in San Francisco for many years. Her first book, Out of the Third, was published by Momo's Press in 1974. Two chapbooks, A Letter at Easter (Effie's Press, 1976) and The Egyptian Poems (Hipparchia Press, 1983) were followed by the publication of the first volume of A Reading in 1985 (A Reading 1977, Momo's Press). Since then, three more volumes of A Reading have appeared. Chax Press published A Reading 8 10 (1992); Potes and Poets Press: A Reading 11 17 (1989); Instance Press: A Reading 18 – 20 (2006). Chax Press also published the chapbook A-reading Spicer & Eighteen Sonnets in 2004. Ms. Dahlen has also published work in numerous periodicals and anthologies. A forthcoming issue of Crayon will publish poetry and her essay on beauty.

 

¹ By word only, alas.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

 

Poetry readings in the White House?

A new Federal Writers’ Project?

Top 10 “to dos” for Obama on culture

§

Flarf vs. conceptual writing

But the best responses seem to be on
Lime Tree

Thomas Basbøll’s treatise on how to write flarf
Part 6

Jordan Davis reads Drew Gardner

§

The most dangerous man in publishing
(It was true 50 years ago)

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Le Clézio:
The book is the best tool

§

John Ashbery on Thomas Lovell Beddoes

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The Best Canadian Poetry in English
is launched

One place where reading is rising

§

December 13 at Morden Tower
Newcastle, UK,
a celebration of the life of
Bill Griffith

§

Notes on Mandelstam

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Woeser’s selected poems

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David Foster Wallace’s last book

§

Nathaniel Tarn’s Ins and Outs of the Forest Rivers

§

The Letters of Allen Ginsberg

§

3 Egyptian poets

§

Milton’s shadow

We need another Milton

§

Remembering Thomas Merton

§

Brandi Homan’s Hard Reds

§

Roberta Beary’s one-minute reading

§

Top 10 reasons to go to poetry readings

§

Reviewing The Capilano Review
(Are literary mags obsolete?)

§

Lucille Clifton’s Voices

§

Walt the plumber?

§

Talking with “failed poet” Charlie Plymell

§

William Logan
gives whining a bad name

§

Lisa Jarnot’s Black Dog Songs

§

Des Imagistes

§

Information architecture for digital libraries

Case study:
the State Library of Victoria, Australia

§

Talking with Arielle Greenberg

§

Frank O’Hara & Stephen King

Shurin & O’Hara
on one of the better short lists
of the “year’s best”

Reading Meditations in an Emergency

§

Best poetry books of 2008” –
The
St. Louis view

§

Ron Silliman vs. Lyn Hejinian

Mark Scroggins reads The Age of Huts (compleat)

And The Grand Piano, part 4

§

Dear Regime: Letters to the Islamic Republic

§

Who’s ever heard Virginia Woolf?

§

Neoliberal poetry rant (PDF)

§

Larry Eigner
in the American cleave

§

A bookstore closes in Maine

As do 3 in the South

§

Reviewing a bookstore
by the quality of
its food

Seattle is serious
about its bookstore’s cafés

§

Abraham Smith’s Whim Man Mammon

§

Remembering Kersey Katrak

§

New Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect

§

How to edit a children’s dictionary

§

Audio interview with Jaap Blonk

§

The problem with book clubs

§

John Kinsella’s Divine Comedy

§

Prepping for the MLA meat market

§

Harvard stops hiring

§

Fishing is not dying in Gloucester

§

Heather Banks’ Still Life Without Pomegranate

§

Talking with Washington laureate Samuel Green

§

Celebrating Donald Finkel & Constance Urdang

§

Sylvia & Ted – the reality TV show
(keep scrolling!)

Saving Sylvia

§

Rochelle Ratner’s Ben Casey Days

§

A.D. Winans remembers Jack Micheline

§

Talking with Hugh Fox

§

The “writing crisis

§

H.L. Hix asks 20 questions

Answers from
Jill Alexander Essbaum
Alex Stein
Christopher Davis
Charlotte Innis

§

Larissa Szporluk’s Embryos & Idiots

§

40 years ago this week
Doug Engelbart & friends
changed the world

§

A memorial service for Studs Terkel

§

Todd Gitlin on Bernard Henri-Lévy
(free registration required)

§

News of the newspaper business

§

What’s black & white & completely over?”

§

Farewell to the contemporary art bubble

§

Merce Cunningham at Dia Beacon

§

When the choreography includes Anne Carson

§

Listening to Elliott Carter

Carter’s sixties

& his seventies

§

Robert Ashley:
Three Operas
coming to La Mama

§

Baltimore Opera cancels season,
files for bankruptcy

§

Gaudi’s gaudy masterpiece

§

The museum behind an “invisibility cloak”

§

Life after Galactica

§

10 stories you missed this year

10 worst predictions

§

LOTS to read in the new
Reconfigurations 2

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

 


L-R: Viktor Bychkov, Anni-Kristiina Juuso & Ville Haapasalo star in the 2002 film Cuckoo

A couple of weeks ago I saw a film that I have not been able to get out of my head. Two of the other foreign films I’ve seen lately have been by the director Fatih Akin, German by birth but Turkish by heritage, a subject that films like Head On and The Edge of Heaven tackle with great insight. I’d read something somewhere that wondered, since the U.S. was able to elect an African-American as president, when precisely would Britain have a Jamaican, France have an Algerian or Germany a Turk? Then, quite by coincidence, I read Perry Anderson’s two long articles on the 20th century history of Turkey in the London Review of Books. Then Akin’s films popped up, again a coincidence, and now I’m quite curious about this society that lives right on the edge between Europe & Asia and that, until the end of the 19th century, was a world power. Turkey’s relationship to its own internal minorities, including the remnants of an Armenian population wiped out in a very deliberate act of genocide a century ago – an example that Adolph Hitler took note of – and the essentially stateless Kurds in the southeast, is no less problematic than Germany’s relationship to its own Turkish citizens. The problems of nations and peoples are no closer to being resolved in the 21st century than they were in the 19th. Or the 7th, for that matter.

Yet the film that’s been haunting me isn’t either of Akin’s, tho I’d recommend them both. Instead, it’s a little Russian comedy called Cuckoo, filmed in 2002 by Aleksandr Rogozhkin, something Krishna picked up at Blockbuster. This film likewise touches on the same issues of nation vs. person but does so with an interesting twist. The three primary actors speak Sámi, Finnish & Russian throughout the film & never manage to learn one another’s tongue. The Finn asks the Russian his name & the Russian replies “Get lost,” which he is then called throughout the rest of the film.

The set-up is fairly simple. It’s 1944, the last days of World War 2, and a Finnish sniper is being punished by his comrades, essentially sentenced to death. They’ve set him up for a suicide mission, chained him to a gigantic boulder, dressed him in a German uniform, and left him there to starve, or be eaten, or possibly shot or bombed as he’s more or less out in the open, unprotected save for a rifle that he uses only for its telescope. In theory he’s supposed to shoot as many Russians as he can before they shoot him. At roughly the same time, and not so far away, the Russian army has ferreted out a subversive and is sending him back to the main battalion and hence back to Russia where he almost certainly shall be shot. This officer’s crime? Writing poetry that appeared to praise peace. Two soldiers bundle him into a jeep and head off on their mission. As they proceed on the road, a pair of German fighters fly overhead. The two soldiers don’t recognize the planes’ markings, but the officer does. He asks if they can stop and let him relieve himself in the woods beside a stream. They do and while he’s off hidden in the bushes the planes return and bomb the hapless jeep, killing the soldiers instantly. While the blast wounds the officer, he’s able to make his way until he collapses.

At which point he is found by a young Lapp woman who literally drags him back to her nomadic encampment where she nurses him back to health with some reindeer soup made from milk & blood – there’s a great scene of milking the reindeer. A member of the last nomadic tribe in Northern Europe, her husband has gone off to war, never to return. She’s very resourceful, but also lacking in the personnel that literally make nomadic existence feasible. She doesn’t speak a word of Russian, nor, for that matter, Finnish. While she’s off burying the dead – she carries off a severed leg as matter of factly as if she were dumping garbage – the Finnish sniper is frantically trying to yank his chain and the spike that’s attached it to this boulder before some plane comes along and spots him in his German uniform. It takes days and the scenes of him methodically trying everything that comes to mind, grabbing at bushes to get together sticks to create a little fire, using the lens of his glasses to ignite it and the black powder from his bullets to generate a charge, are almost a film within this film. You would not at this point call Cuckoo a comedy.

It becomes one once he’s finally free and makes his way down to the encampment. He presumes the wounded Russian is militantly anti-Finn, the Russian presumes he’s a fascist – the Finn actually understands the implication of the word “fascisti” but can’t make the Russian understand that he’s not. The word “democracy,” or at least its Finnish equivalent, is not in the Russian’s vocabulary. Yelling out the names of anti-war novels (War and Peace, For Whom the Bell Tolls) or the names of authors doesn’t work either. The two men inherently distrust one another, but for the moment have to leave the other one alive. Meanwhile, Anni, the Lapp widow, thinks they’re becoming fast friends. They’re useful and she’s been without a man now for four years. She doesn’t feel particularly deprived by these circumstances.

Much of the rest of this film is watching the three characters develop relationships without understanding one another’s language. They talk to one another as if they’re being understood, but the listener invariably hears only what he or she wants to hear, and responds accordingly. They keep this up for over an hour. It’s a brilliant, even stunning tour de force.

This may sound like a very thin premise on which to build a motion picture, but it’s not a one-joke trick so much as a meditation on language, expectation and interpretation. I suspect that this film works best if you know one – but only one – of the three languages, tho my own feeble Russian vocabulary – never more than a hundred words to begin with – has eroded over the years, so it would be more accurate to say that I understand the sound of Russian more than I do the language. Sámi, on the other hand, sounds unlike either Finnish – which it is related to – or Russian. The script is carefully written, although I wonder if the jokes that come cross in English subtitles work quite the same way listening to this film in any of its three primary languages. For example, Rogozhkin, who wrote as well as directed the film, never allowed Anni-Kristiina Juuso, his Lapp star, to see the entire script (which was in Russian), instead giving Juuso her lines in Finnish – she’s a Lapp radio broadcaster in addition to her acting – who then translated them herself into Sámi.¹ A fair amount of the cognitive dissonance between the three gets muted – or I presume that it must – when one is reading subtitles all in one language. Is it really the same film? The broader acts of cultural misconnection – as when the Finn builds a sauna that the other two find useless, or when he tries to explain to the Russian that he studied philosophy in college and wanted to be a poet but lacked the talent – work much better in the context of the film than they do writing them out here.

I won’t explain how this film turns out – there are major plot twists and serious risks involved, not to mention a long mystical sequence when Anni wolfishly attempts to howl one of the characters back to life by blowing in his ear – other than to note that the rules of comedy prevail. Tho in the end, when you see the officer marching back to Stalin’s Russia in 1945, rather than to, say, south to Helsinki, you have to wonder if he has done any more than to delay the doom that awaits him.

In some sense, this is a film intended to be viewed by foreigners. Not in the way that a French flick with Juliet Binoche is targeted at the American market, but rather because it positions each of us unalterably as foreigners. If we can’t get all of it, it teases us with the possibility that we didn’t get any of it. Subtitles only complicate the problem.

You can imagine Wittgenstein just loving this film. This is, after all, something of his later vision of the problem of language. Just because we speak and write the same tongue, I think you can understand what I’m writing here. And you think you understand what I’m saying. Yet I know I have readers who profoundly don’t get it, or who get it exactly wrong. And I know that just because I’ve never – not once in over 40 years – been able to finish a poem by Richard Wilbur or Mark Strand without nodding off doesn’t mean that this is necessarily the only conceivable response to their writing. But the people who gush over such work might as well be Martians. It’s impossible to know exactly how to value what they’re saying, when what they say seems to be so totally against the evidence of this grey, bloodless conformity. Yet I was struck, moved even, by Kirby Olson’s confession in the comments stream the other day that he doesn’t “get” poetry that’s not funny – that closes off maybe 80 percent of literature, something he’s actually paid a salary to teach. And it explains why the poets he does value, even at their best, lack subtlety. The chromatic changes of a Larry Eigner poem are, for me, sometimes as intensely beautiful as a clear summer sky. And there’s nobody I’ve ever read, not even Dickinson, who comes close to Eigner’s ability to make statements of great complexity appear utterly simple.

Cuckoo does a great job of showing how people who can’t possibly communicate actually do get things done, not so much in spite of it all as through it all. A lot like an Eigner poem, it feels pretty simple when you watch it. But if you’re like me, you’ll be playing it over in your mind weeks & weeks later.

 

¹ I’ve been told – tho I have no way to judge the validity of this – that most Finns have never met a Sámi speaker. It’s true that there are just 20,000 Sámi who speak nine different related languages, tho Northern Sámi accounts for 75% of this. And they’re spread out across the northernmost reaches of Norway, Sweden, Finland & Russia. I’ve only once met a speaker of Lenape, and yet here I live in the center of what was once the Algonquin nation.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

 

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Monday, December 08, 2008

 

Stuart Z. Perkoff
a great profile by John Macker

§

2009 NEA Fellowships announced –
only Quietists need apply

Two books of poetry
(Linda Gregg & Alan Shapiro, no kidding!)

in the
L.A. Times’
”Favorite Books 2008”

§

No one listens to poetry.”

The San Francisco Chronicle
review of
My Vocabulary Did This to Me:
The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer

§

Dale Smith on Philip Whalen’s Collected Poems

§

Talking with Ryan Murphy (MP3)

§

Kerouac’s scroll arrives in the islands

§

Aram Saroyan on
The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan

§

Uncle Milty turns 400 on December 9

§

Poetry & terror

§

The Write Stuff
a reality TV show
about writers

§

The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets

§

Reading Ange Mlinko’sSecuritization

§

Geof Huth reading
Robert Grenier’s Dusk Road Games

§

Reader’s report with a little YouTube:
Oscar Bermeo, DeWayne Dickerson & Camille Dungy
at Books & Bookshelves in
San Francisco

§

Martial the modernist

§

Haim Gouri’s civil war

§

A biography of Yehuda Amichai

§

Two Egyptian poets

§

A Kurdish poet in exile

§

Memories of Beirut

§

Marjorie Perloff on William Logan’s Hart Crane

Neil Hampton on the same

Logan fires back

§

Obama vs. Lincoln as poets

§

Kay Ryan’s “Believe or Not” poems re-emerge

§

The guessing game intensifies

“The laureate’s poetry is irrelevant”

§

Louisiana laureate Pinkie Gordon Lane has died

§

An old dispute among laureates

§

The California laureate in the Hamptons

§

Talking with Greg Mbajiorgu (Wota Na Wota)

§

Fanny Howe’s “My Father was White But Not Quite”

§

Mark DuCharme’s The Sensory Cabinet

§

Sally Doyle on Poetry in the Schools

§

Flarf plus
the conspiracy revealed

Thomas Basbøll’s epic examination
of how to write flarf
(Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5)

§

A profile of Joe Stroud

§

Whitman & his brothers

§

Crisis Sonnet

§

Yolanda Coulaz,
tomboy poet

§

Trade publishers cut back

§

The Book Bench:
A New Yorker blog

§

Mini-reviews in the NY Times
for Orhan Pamuk, John Ashbery et al

Norman Weinstein on Ashbery’s Collected Poems

§

Poetry and poverty make lovely music”

§

Three-word titles

§

Talking with C.P. Aboobacker

§

Mary Karr on Thomas Lux

§

Trying to recall why
anyone thought
Lionel Trilling
was important

§

A Creeley lyric
Tom Waits should sing

§

Talking with Kenneth Hart

§

Where does “the best” come from?
(Oz version)

§

Margaret Hasse’s Milk and Tides

§

Mariani’s Hopkins
(maybe it’s better than his WCW)

§

The lack of debt in fiction

§

Two readings by cowboy poets

A profile of 92-year-old cowboy poet
Clarence Carnal

§

Rudy Wurlitzer’s The Drop Edge of Yonder

§

Reversing the manuscript to published text process

§

Artists’ books in New Jersey

§

Andrew Topel’s collabs
with Reed Altemus

§

Museums crush sporting events

§

Resurrecting Plath’s play

§

Art Lange on Anthony Braxton’s
Complete Arista Recordings

§

Collab of the year:
Sonic Youth, Led Zep’s John Paul Jones &
M e r c e   C u n n i n g h a m

§

Talking with Eliot Carter

§

Bob Dylan & Billy Collins

§

The anxiety of being Paul

§

Ignoring the blues

§

Waves of music

§

Chronicling the decline of the Gannett newspaper group

§

You’re a better man than I,
Philo T. Farnsworth

§

Roger Ebert:
Death to film critics!

§

Real end-of-the-year lists,
2007 edition

§

Illiteracy in high places

§

The T.S. Eliot quiz

§

The three New Yorks

§

The “dumbest generation

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