Friday, January 02, 2009

 

Charles Olson today

Charles Olson,
who would have been 99 on Dec. 27,
reading ”The Librarian”
(YouTube)

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Billy Little died of cancer this morning

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Jack Spicer & the law

rob mclennan’s review

Jack Spicer’s My Vocabulary Did This to Me

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Investigating Ed Sanders

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Joe Safdie and Rae Armantrout
at Beyond Baroque

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Post-avant is here to stay!

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George Packer of The New Yorker
gets some mail
about his reservations about
Elizabeth Alexander
as the inaugural poet

Why do pols gravitate
to crappy poetry?

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The books & poetry of
John Martone

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2 new sets of DVDs of readings
in France
(includes Rae Armantrout, Charles Bernstein,
Rosmarie Waldrop, Jacques Roubaud, Keith Waldrop,
Norma Cole, Bill Berkson, Emanuel Hocquard,
Robert Grenier, Kristin Prevallet,
Jerry Rothenberg, Tom Raworth
& many more)

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Blanchot at 100
(15 YouTube videos
of the conference at Bard)

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Metonymy & encoding

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Elisa Gabbert on Stephanie Young

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Robin Tremblay-McGaw at the MLA

MLA notes

How not to interview

From the Chronicle of Higher Medication

A buyer’s market

Fear & interviews

On the plane ride home

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David Horowitz at the MLA

And here

And here

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Aileen Ibardaloza
on her mother reading
Eileen Tabios

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Didi Menendez:
Why I write

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Talking with Larissa Szporluk

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Carolyn Cassady speaks of Jack Kerouac

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Three-day-old Fish

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John Taggart’s There are Birds

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On first seeing Iceland

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The left bank of New England

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Michael Amnasan’s Liar

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Farewell to
3 poets named John

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J.D. Salinger at 90

The wisdom of Holden Caufield

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Eleven things writers should know

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Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler

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Laura Moriarty
reading from A Semblance
(YouTube)

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Quietism

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Positioning contemporary U.S. poetry by
reading Rae Armantrout
in The New Yorker

(in Spanish)

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Carey Perloff on Harold Pinter

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The Letters of Allen Ginsberg

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Donald Revell reading Rimbaud
(YouTube)

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Ahsahta comes to NYC

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Talking with Dmitry Golynko

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Anyhow” –
summing up an amazing year

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Talking with Harryette Mullen

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Form
is / is not
an extension of content

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“8 Found Poems from
Schaum’s German Grammar

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The Longhouse photo album
is a visual history
of poetry in
Vermont
over the last 30 years

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Gotham Book Mart arrives at Penn

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Saving Philly libraries

Score one for Mom

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Interviews with Seamus Heaney

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10 books that screwed up the world

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Christopher Arigo
reading from
In the Archives
(YouTube)

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“The Dry Tortugas” (PDF)

Talking with Molly Fisk & Yuko Adachi
about their collaboration

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The Corpse walks

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Mark Doty: feeling validated

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Preparing to be Susan Sontag

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A note on Hugh Fox

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Village Voice lays off Nat Hentoff

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Some bests

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Top 10 language stories of 2008

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Misogynist tagger
banned from carrying pens

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12 cross-sections of the
Ubuweb archive

§

Guerrilla Girls on Tour
New Year’s Resolutions
(here, here & here)

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LA MOCA should
”show its own

§

A profile of Jasper Johns

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Instruction art

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Naked Lens: Beat Cinema

§

Nathaniel Anthony Ayers
& the Disciples of Beethoven

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2008 Village Voice Jazz Poll Winners

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The Making of Americans the opera

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The Century Club

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No bailout for the arts

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Philosophers at work
& looking for more

§

The reader

And here

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

 

The 1960s didn’t begin with a single moment. One can identify certain days & changes, however, without which what we know now as the Sixties, with all that implies, could not have occurred. The first of these was the inauguration of JFK in January 1961. The second was the arrival of the Beatles, which could be dated from either the marketing blitz that accompanied I Want to Hold Your Hand in 1963 or from the much quieter release of Please Please Me b/w Love Me Do the summer before. The third was the assassination of JFK. The fourth necessary moment was the so-called Gulf of Tonkin incident on August 4, 1964, which pumped an enormous amount of political adrenalin (and human blood) into what had been a civil war in Vietnam. Once those four moments were in place, the die had been cast. And the Sixties didn’t end all that neatly either – really not until the last Huey plucked the final stragglers off the roof of the American embassy in Saigon in 1975.

Similarly, the 21st Century did not begin with the non-event of Y2K night itself, but rather on September 11, 2001. And it won’t surprise me in the slightest if a century from now historians date the start of the Teens with the inauguration of Barack Obama in less than three weeks. My gut tells me that the Teens will be the most intense period of change in this society since the 1960s. What I can’t tell yet, however, is exactly what kinds of transformation that might entail. But it will be technological, social, political, whatever else you might imagine – be sure when you make your own checklist to include one box for “All of the Above.”

Some of this change is generational – my age cohort (Bill Clinton, George Bush & I were born less than seven weeks apart during the summer of 1946, all “victory babies” of WW2) has held sway over much of the public stage for several decades now, to the frustration no doubt of those somewhat younger, as well as to those of us who cannot believe that the best this generation could come up with as political leaders were Clinton & Bush.

Empires peak long before their inhabitants recognize or acknowledge the downward slide. In the past century we have seen Great Britain go from a major world player to something today that is closer to a European equivalent, say, of New Jersey. I doubt seriously that any future historian will place the first moment of the decline of the American empire any later than April 1961, with the failure of the Bay of Pigs. Since then, in spite of multiple wars, the U.S. has not once successfully bent any foreign power greater than Grenada (pop. 110,000) to its will. Our infrastructure today is best represented by the levees of New Orleans. Our economy … well, our economy has so completely collapsed that we have George W. Bush nationalizing one industry after another.

Poetry in the 1960s went through some rapid transformations as well. The New American poets of the 1950s really didn’t take off as a social phenomenon until the latter half of that decade, but they found themselves quite unprepared to handle the changes of the Sixties. For every poet who got groovy with the counterculture (Ginsberg, McClure, Snyder), there were others who flat out were appalled by it, such as Kerouac. And even tho the 44 poets of the Allen anthology were comparatively young when it first came out in 1960, by 1971 Frank O’Hara, Charles Olson, Lew Welch, Paul Blackburn & Jack Spicer were all dead. By 1971 Ed Dorn, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka from 1967 onward) & Denise Levertov have all abandoned the poetics of their youth for what each felt to be a truer, more political aesthetic – tho each had a radically different idea of what that “truer, more political” position might be. In 1972, Phil Whalen moved into the San Francisco Zen Center. In spite of the founding of the Poetry Project at St. Marks in 1966 & the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in 1974 – and very soon thereafter because of the founding of these two institutions – the world as depicted in The New American Poetry was completely changed.

One impact of all these changes – several New American poets spent the last years of the 1960s jumping from one visiting professorship to the next, changing schools (and often enough grad student sexual partners) every single year until the end of the draft in 1973 put a sudden halt to the dramatic expansion of U.S. colleges that had been going on since the end of World War 2. Those that could hunkered down & got tenure. But there’s an entire generation of poets in their seventies working at Naropa, the college with the lowest average teaching salary in the country.

Where we are today is very different. Where there were a few hundred poets in 1960, and maybe 1,000 in 1970, we now have at least ten times that number, maybe twenty. There are at least 450 degree-granting creative writing programs, but less than 60 jobs for creative writing teachers that will come open this year. A majority of poets are women, something without precedent in the English language. But the distribution system is collapsing, as are such basic institutions of literacy as the library and daily paper. The internet has erased geography. The rapaciousness of the Bush regime has served as a pressure cooker for the entire society – it’s hardly an accident that somebody invented flarf, with its dedication to “bad art” and time theft on the job, and its favored device of Google sculpting, at this moment in history. Where conceptual poetics seems driven by a nostalgia that is its own form of denial as to how bad things are, flarf wants to convince you that it is capable of an infinite race to the bottom.

But a deep recession – a depression is not impossible – is about to change everybody’s idea of their relationship to a job. A president who is not a victory baby, and one who is not white and not stereotypically African-American either are going to change how everyone views government, not just the impressions of people abroad. I don’t think we can know just how profound those changes might be, but I look at polling that shows that people under the age of 30 have no problems with gay marriage, for example, and I realize why the far right is fighting so furiously on that issue right now. If they can’t put major stumbling blocks in place right now, then their world view will shatter in very short order – and they know this.

What I don’t know – I’m probably the worst person to ask – is what the other dimensions of this might be. Will Radiohead or Arcade Fire play the same role for the next decade that the Beatles did to the 1960s? Will there be a post-AIDS revival of the sexual revolution? Will there be changes in style – even in the function of style – in the next decade comparable to what occurred in the Sixties? What are the aspects that will be totally different?

One that I think is obvious is that globalization is much further along now than it was a half century ago. In my own extended family, I have nephews right now in Brazil, China, Cambodia & Germany. In two of those cases, this involves international marriages as well. My own sense of “our family” entails in-laws whose first language is obviously not English. And there are relatives who are entirely out of the closet as well. It’s not that there weren’t gay members of the family when I was growing up, but it’s not the secret it was then.

So I have no idea what the Teens will involve, nor even how long they might last. But I think we’re taking the first small step forward later this month – Rick Warren or no Rick Warren – and it promises to be one hell of a luge ride.

The poetry we will have once it’s over will turn out to be completely adequate to that world then. Which probably means that flarf will look quite dated & that conceptual poetics will be its own cul-de-sac of retro-sentimentalism. Langpo will seem as distant as Imagism. And the School of Quietude will act as if nothing has happened. But I think for any poet in their twenties or thirties – and for us oldsters who are still awake – there are tremendous challenges ahead. The Chinese may have intended it as a curse, but we live in interesting times indeed. And they’re about to get curiouser.



Wednesday, December 31, 2008

 

It is now becoming self-evident that right around the inauguration of Barack Obama, somewhere between the 18th & 25th of January 2009, this blog will receive its two millionth visit. Already visitors have clicked on more than three million links. I know this is basically one-tenth of what Matt Drudge had yesterday, but for poetry it’s not so bad. The run rate here for 2008 has been a half million visits and a million link clicks, numbers that suggest that there is an audience for whatever it is I’m doing. And the numbers continue to rise: the dates with the most visits ever (2603), and most links clicked (6734), are both within the past two weeks & this will be the first month in which links clicked exceed 100,000. Thank you for stopping by, for reading, for commenting, for arguing & especially for helping me to sharpen my thinking on any number of aspects of poetry.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

 


Harvey Milk taking the oath of office, 1978, photo by Bill Carlson

I knew in advance that there was no way the film Milk could live up to my own expectations for it. Like a Tolkien fanatic wondering what became of Tom Bombadil in Lord of the Rings, or a Harry Potter fan forever contrasting film to book, I have a hard – maybe impossible – time seeing Milk, the movie, except through my own personal experience of its narrative. Milk is perhaps the only “major” motion picture I’ll ever see in which I had, at one time or another, met every significant character in the film.

Some of the disjunctions between the film & my experience of its events seem just curious – a lot of the characters appear shorter in the film than their templates in real life, Cleve Jones & Ann Kronenberg in particular. Harvey Milk was taller not only than the 5’9” Sean Penn, but taller also than Dan White, the former cop & supervisor who killed him. There is one key scene in the film where 5’11½” Josh Brolin, who portrays White, is filmed from behind & below Penn’s shoulder, so as to give the impression that he’s towering over Milk in a threatening manner. It may be dramatically right to portray White as a bully, but it’s jarring to see the two of them in that physical context. I always thought that one of White’s myriad pathologies was something of a little man complex – he was pugnacious because he was compact.

The far greater absence, tho, is a narrative one – the absence of the People’s Temple massacre, the largest single-day loss of civilian life by anything other than natural disaster in U.S. history prior to September 11, virtually all of the victims having been San Franciscans, just nine days prior to White’s assassination of Milk and S.F. Mayor George Moscone. Because the Jonestown tragedy occurred away from the City, literally in the remote jungles of Guyana, it took days for the full extent of that tragedy – over 900 dead – to become known. It totally dominated San Francisco’s media in the days prior to White’s gunning down the two elected officials. If you were even remotely politically active in San Francisco, you knew somebody who had died in Guyana. Indeed, Krishna & I knew different people who’d been gunned down on the airstrip tarmac, the event that precipitated the mass suicide at the Jonestown enclave. Here too I felt at the time that if White’s attorneys were serious about making an honest case of innocence by reason of insanity, they would have explored the collective community shock during that week. The so-called “Twinkies Defense,” on the other hand, always struck me as a much more cynical strategy on the part of White’s legal defense team – they just wanted to give a homophobic jury something on which to hang anything other than a first-degree murder finding. “Twinkies,” the theory that White’s judgment was impaired by his junk food diet, presented an easier, if sillier, storyline for the legal team to present. There is no mention of People’s Temple, nor of Jim Jones, anywhere in Milk, even tho Jones’ church members formed an important part of the progressive coalition that got district elections passed & Moscone in particular elected to office.

I’m sure that the problem of how to handle all of this narratively has much to do with why it’s taken thirty years for a production of Milk to finally makes its way to the large screen. And director Gus Van Sant & screen writer Dustin Lance Black (mostly known heretofore for his scripts for Big Love) were almost certainly correct in omitting Jonestown from the narrative here. Which is precisely where films & “real life” diverge.

But with that very big caveat, Milk is a remarkably earnest attempt at giving a full sense of the narrative of Harvey Milk. It goes so far in its willingness to present the complexities as to show White, who resigned from his position on the new board impulsively because he wasn’t able to support a family of four on the full-time supervisor salary of $9,600 per year, asking Milk, who, in the theory of that decade, had no dependents, to push for an increase. Prior to district elections, the supervisor’s post was traditionally reserved for the idle rich, for lawyers like Bob Molinari or Quentin Kopp who could take the time away from their work & just function as rainmakers for the firm, or for successful business owners, mostly Republican. Dianne Feinstein was able to be a supervisor because her husband at the time ran a hospital. But what this film doesn’t say, at least not clearly enough, was that Milk did have a nonworking spouse in the alcoholic Jack Lira & wasn’t making it on his salary either. One of the characters in the film, in theory the manager of the camera store, also worked a second job at a copy shop in the Tenderloin so that he had at least one gig that paid. Harvey Milk died broke.

Milk is not Gus Van Sant’s finest motion picture – My Own Private Idaho would still be my own choice for that honor – but it is comparable in quality, say, to Good Will Hunting & miles ahead of Van Sant slumming for a paycheck in Finding Forrester. More than any other of these flicks, however, Milk is an important film, an important story, & I think these are the grounds by which this film currently is rated among the top 250 films of all time by members of the Internet Movie Data Base.

“Important film” is a cringer as categories go – we’ve certainly all seen I don’t know how many bad motion pictures about “heroic” individuals, most often as TV movie fare, that are uplifting precisely to the degree that they ring false. And Milk is unquestionably a passion play. We see Harvey in the closet as an insurance broker in New York, Harvey as a small-time entrepreneur in San Francisco, Harvey becoming politically conscious & then becoming far more politically aggressive than the “rich old queens” who supported San Francisco Democrats financially but never asked for anything in return. It’s a scenario through which Advocate founder David Goodstein plays George Washington Carver to Milk’s Malcolm X – and that parallel is not wrong historically. The film takes care to spend time showing how Milk put together his coalition of activists – this is almost half the motion picture – and doesn’t shortchange the tale of his vexed love life, including the suicide of Lira, his most recent partner, not that long before Milk himself was killed.

What’s different about Milk the movie is ultimately what was different about Harvey Milk the person. He did not, not once, not ever, “present as heroic,” so to speak. He was never the tall, dashing Castro clone, the good-looking beautiful face of the gay community. Nor, for that matter, did he come across quite as femme as Sean Penn makes him here. Had he been more financially secure & less politically inclined, Milk might have been one of those older gay men who in the 1970s were concentrated not in the Castro, but rather on Polk Street, really part of an earlier era (Polk Street was out of the closet by the 1950s, just up the hill from the Tenderloin where the merchant marine & many of the first-generation gay bars were). His taste in partners was certainly for younger men, but the image of Milk in a little Greek yachting cap & cravat is just preposterous – it’s precisely that he doesn’t fit any of the stereotypes – for gay men, for political radicals, for movie heroes – that makes Milk the film, like the person, something unique.

Which gets to the real reason for somebody not invested in this struggle – almost certainly the civil rights issue of the 21st century – to want to come see this film, and that is Sean Penn. Sean Penn is completely fearless in his portrayal of Harvey Milk. It may well be the best acting job I have ever seen, on a par – or better – than the very best of Al Pacino or Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s brilliantly understated & assertive all at once. It’s almost inconceivable that this is Sean Penn, he of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the former husband of Madonna, friend to Fidel Castro & Hugo Chavez. Whereas Hoffman, for example, has portrayed gay men with outsized personae, such as Truman Capote or Rusty the drag queen in Flawless, Penn has to rein in almost all the easy avenues to manifesting his character as gay, Jewish, political, entrepreneurial & deeply insecure all at once. I’d say he gets it 98 percent right, and if Penn were just a few inches taller, he’d have most of the rest.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

 

A lurid NY Times “review” of
Jack Spicer’s
My Vocabulary Did This to Me

And another in the LA Times

Was Jack Spicer sexy?

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A detailed,
multi-part look at
The Best American Poetry 2008
answers
my 20th question

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My list of upcoming marathons missed
Chicago’s
When Does It or You Begin (Memory as Innovation):
Writing, Performance & Video”
from Jan. 9 to Feb. 1

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Wishing it was
Will Alexander
at Obama’s inaugural

Oops, somebody’s read Venus Hottentot

An X-rated inaugural?

The NY Times weighs in

§

Gerry Meisenhelder,
poet laureate of
York, PA,
has died

§

Emma Bee Bernstein:
”What I Learned in School Today”

A Flickr memorial website
for Emma Bee Bernstein

Charles Bernstein’s website
with memorial service information

Nona Aronowitz on Bernstein

Remembering Bernstein

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New York Times obit
of Adrian Mitchell

Remembering Mitchell

And here

A Socialist Workers obit
with links to videos
from 1965 & 2008

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Tributes to Harold Pinter

Carlin Romano on Pinter

Pinter & Creeley on war

Pinter’s last interview:
”Cricket is better than sex”

Citizen Pinter

Pinter the poet

Pinter’s drama

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Remembering Dorothy Porter

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Steve Fama’s20 Great Poetry Books of 2008

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Gary Sullivan’s 2008 in review

Part 2

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A year’s worth of reading

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Close reading
one sentence
from Robert Grenier

§

In Holland,
an actual campaign
for Poet Laureate

§

I’m Dreaming of AJunky’s Christmas
just like the one Bill Burroughs used to know

A prehistory of the Beats

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Genealogy of the School of Q

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Seattle Poetry Chain:
Robert Mittenthal

Nico Vassilakis

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Being interviewed
without being asked

Ditto

§

3 questions for Ed Baker

§

Gary Snyder
on corresponding with Allen Ginsberg

Henry Kissinger & Allen Ginsberg
naked together on TV
(scroll down)

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Reading the journals you’re already in

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Alexander Trocchi:
Seize the world!

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Under the influence

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Flarf + conceptualism
(conspiracy theory)

Quietism pretending not to take sides

§

Spun Puns (& Anagrams)
in the work of Harryette Mullen

§

Poetry &/as sci-fi

§

Waiting for Sam Beckett

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Polis is What?
Finding one’s way in
The Maximus Poems,”
a talk Jan. 3 in
Gloucester, Mass.
(scroll down)

Black Mountain spirit lingers
in
Hickory, NC

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Dirk Johnson is posting
sections of Ronald Johnson’s
out-of-print masterwork
Ark online

§

Jack Kerouac’s Pull My Daisy
(or maybe
Robert Frank’s & Alfred Leslie’s)

§

Remembering the Rubiot in Tulsa
where in 1960
Ron Padgett gave his first public reading

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The poetics of Frank Samperi

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Love letter to a blogroll

§

Ezra Pound & Wall Street

§

Literature after the death of trade publishing

§

News after the death of newspapers

§

Washington Post, Baltimore Sun
something less than competitors
in the same market

§

The new Luddism

§

Books will survive!

§

Poetry & the British imagination

§

Talking with Abdel-Rahmen El-Abnoudi

§

Excavating Kafka

And here also

§

Patti Smith:
An interview, a review
& videos of a reading & song

§

Robert Bly turns 82

§

Zadie Smith: race & speech (MP3)

§

Lisa Russ Spaar’s Satin Cash

§

Kate Brady gets to profile Kate Brady

§

Beyond Baroque
finally has signed
a 25-year lease on its facility

§

Pastoral now

§

Poetry & the end of nature

§

Remembering Parveen Shakir

§

The Voynich Manuscript

§

Gerald Stern:
5 poems & a video

§

Boot camp with Brenda Shaughnessy

§

John Updike,
having become
”a David Levine caricature of himself”

§

Nabokov’s choice
of Russian poetry

§

Rachel Forrest
returns to poetry
with 30 poems in 30 days

§

The bard of despond

§

Coherence & the undergraduate English major

§

Fitzgerald’s characters & their schools

§

Giving voice to William Stafford

§

Young Susan Sontag

§

Interviews from “Seamus Famous

§

Phyllis McGinley & Revolutionary Road

§

Setting Kathryn Stripling Byer to music

§

Olivier Messiaen at 100

§

When Waiting for Godot
played at San Quentin

§

Shakespeare & Modern Culture

§

Whitman’s Lincoln
coming to Philly

A rare Whitman edition for auction

§

Wallace Berman & Richard Prince

§

Remembering Grace Hartigan

§

Michael Goldberg et al in Buffalo

§

Considering James Castle
from a great distance

Michael Andre on Castle

§

A new work from Yoko Ono
in The NY Times

§

A shake-up at Christie’s

§

Learning from Venturi

§

The return of Bruno S.

§

Penn Museum
cans research,
goes pop to survive

§

An alternate history of
Deep Throat
from inside
the intelligence community

§

In case nobody’s noticed,
this war ain’t over!

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