Saturday, November 07, 2009

 


Lewis Turco, Morton Marcus & Vern Rutsala at Robinson Jeffer’s Tor House 2006

Morton Marcus

1936 2009

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Friday, November 06, 2009

 

So does the fact that what the Phillies have accomplished in the past three years – three Eastern Division championships, two National League championships, one World Championship – is more than the San Francisco Giants, the team of my youth, have accomplished in their 51 years in the Baghdad by the Bay, make up for my disappointment on Wednesday? No. Not really.

Already the mind starts to ponder just what the Phillies will need to do next year to (a) get back to the World Series and (b) be better than the Yankees (or whomever) when they get there. Seven of their eight everyday players have been there for two straight years and all eight should be back next year, although the Phillies have had a tendency of rotating out one outfielder per year, with center fielder Aaron Rowand going to the Giants two years ago and Pat Burrell to the AL champs in Tampa Bay last year. With Michael Taylor & Domonic Brown waiting in the minors that could happen again this year, tho my guess is not. Rather I think that they’ll start next season with the same outfield (including Ben Francisco as the fourth man), but bring Taylor up the instant something happens to Raul Ibañez. I don’t expect Ibañez to finish next season as a starter, but that’s okay. He’ll be a big improvement in Matt Stairs’ slot as primo pinch-hitter.

Stairs is just one of the bench players I don’t expect to see back next year. In fact, catcher Paul Bako & Francisco are the only bench players I do expect to return. The Phightins (you have to live in Philly to use that term, long i on the first syllable) had the worst bench of any team in the playoffs and it showed. It’s time to sign a better class of back-up players.

But the pitching is the real muddle. Brett Myers and Joe Blanton are, I believe, both at the ends of their contracts. Jamie Moyer is the oldest player in baseball. Pedro Martinez is gutty but running on fumes – less than half a season was more than he could handle this year. That leaves the Phils with Cliff Lee, one of the best pitchers in baseball, Cole Hamels, one of the most talented players in the game, J.A. (pronounced Jay) Happ, the probable rookie-of-the-year, as definite starters. I would actually anticipate seeing the Kyles in the number 4 & 5 slots next year: Kyle Kendrick, a young starter who got shoved into the minors by the crowd of pitchers on the mound this year, and Kyle Drabek, the Phillies’ top pitching prospect. If I’m Ruben Amaro, Jr., the Phillies’ general manager, I recognize that Myers won’t attract a big salary coming off a year in which he was injured, so I offer him a one-year contract with a club-option for a second and lots of incentives (both as starter & reliever) to motivate him. And if I’m Charlie Manuel, he’s my number three starter behind Lee & Happ. That leaves me with six quality starters, which is the minimum you need given the proclivity for injuries that come with throwing a ball 90 miles an hour.

Hamels is the real reclamation project here. He is one of the most talented players in the game from the neck down. But it’s what’s on top of his shoulders that keeps causing him to self-destruct the instant something goes wrong in a game. He reminds me, more than anything, of a very young Randy Johnson, the Randy Johnson of the Montreal Expos or the first few seasons in Seattle, all promise and very little to show for it. Johnson was 30 years old when he finally had his first good season with the Mariners and 34 when he first won 20 games. That could very easily be the Hamels story as well, but he won’t be 30 until the 2014 season. If I’m the Phillies I basically sit him next to Cliff Lee for the next few years to see how it’s done when it’s done right. Or, in their cases, left.

Jamie Moyer has one more year on his contract. If he doesn’t retire, I would offer him back to Seattle for that very famous player-to-be-named later, picking up much of his salary to improve my options as to which player that might be. If he does retire, I make him my roving pitching instructor in the minors in about two seconds. The man has forgotten more about pitching than most pitchers ever know.

The bullpen is an even bigger problem. Between Brad Lidge & Ryan Madson, the Phillies blew 17 saves during the season. Had they won them all (as they did the previous year), the Phils would have had 110 wins in 2009 and been the obvious favorites in the playoffs. Had Lidge not blown the hold in game three of the World Series, there very probably would have been a game seven on Thursday & the Phils just might be World Champions again. This is not a problem that can solved with just the players on hand.

There are several relief pitchers who probably deserve to come back – Ryan Madson, Chan Ho Park, Scott Eyres and Chad Durbin. I would want to hold onto J.C. Romero and see what happens when he can pitch in a whole season again. But Lidge lost his job as closer in the middle of the World Series once and for all. With the season on the line in the eighth inning in game six on Wednesday, Cholly – as the Phils call their manager Charlie Manuel – went with Madson. Can Lidge win the job back next spring? I’m skeptical and he’s got one more very expensive year on his contract, so I doubt that the Phils can move him. But I don’t think that Madson is the solution there either, nor Brett Myers (whom they could not use without re-signing Blanton). If I’m the Phillies, I’m taking whatever I might save on Blanton & Moyer & going out & getting the best closer available on the market. I might even toss in Ibañez or Victorino if somebody wanted to deal. Next year my bullpen looks like Lidge in the sixth inning, Romero in the seventh, Madson in the eighth & X as the closer. Barring major injuries (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, Cliff Lee), I think the 2010 season will depend very much on just who X is, and how good they are. Without a good closer, the season will be a long six months with a very sad end.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

 

4076583983_10672619b7_o.jpg

What it came down to, finally, was the fact that the Phillies almost never use the exaggerated shift that was created originally to counter the late Ted Williams, the apotheosis of the left-handed pull hitter, with the third baseman taking over at short, the shortstop playing second, the second baseman playing a short right field so that the right fielder can more or less literally back up to the right field wall. After Williams retired, nearly 50 years ago, the shift disappeared until it was resurrected against Barry Bonds during his enhanced era. Now it gets done by a lot of clubs on a number of hitters. But it’s not a great move and if the pitcher doesn’t know that he needs to cover third on any stolen base attempt or play that sets on-base runners into motion, it can lead to disastrous consequences.

So that when Yankee Johnny Damon stole second base, Chooch, the Phillies catcher (given name Carlos Ruiz), was throwing to a “shortstop” unfamiliar with the position and nobody covering third. When the throw pulled the displaced third baseman, Pedro Feliz, to the right side of the bag, the quick-thinking Damon hopped up from his slide and ran to third before anyone could get there to cover the bag.

And with the runner on third in the ninth inning of a tie game, Phillies closer Brad Lidge was afraid to throw his slider, a ball that drops into the dirt and can squirt away from the catcher. This left him in the position of throwing only fast balls to Mark Teixeira, the American League home run champion, & Alex Rodriguez, who will eventually hold baseball’s all-time home run mark. In short, batters who live off the fastball. Very quickly the Yankees were ahead 7 to 4 and it took Mariano Rivera just eight pitches to retire the side, putting the Bronx Bombers up three games to one.

From that point forward, the Phillies’ weaknesses – leaving men on base, hitting solo homers, and a pitching staff that was questionable once you got past Cliff Lee – became too apparent. The Phils held on to what had been a six-run lead in game five to eke out a two-run victory, but didn’t look especially good doing so. The Yanks twice had the tying run at the plate in the ninth inning.

Back in New York for game six, the Phillies looked like a composite of their weaknesses all year. Starting pitcher Pedro Martinez couldn’t bluff his way past Yankee designated hitter Hideki Matsui. After Matsui had driven in four runs, the Yanks tacked on three more (two of them driven in by Matsui) off the bullpen. Only one of the seven Phillies who walked off not-great Yankee pitching managed to score. Pedro Feliz failed to drive in any of the five men who were on base when he came to bat. And the Phils two biggest bats in this series coming into the last game, Chase Utley & Jayson Werth, were a combined zero for five at the plate, albeit with three walks. Jimmy Rollins & Shane Victorino, the two hitters who have to get on base for the power hitters to have runs to drive in, were a combined one for eight.

So the New York Yankees – who spent over $400 million (not a typo) in the off-season last winter to sign Teixeira, and starting pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett – have won their 27th World Series, having made the post season in 40 of the 106 years the majors have had one. Until baseball has some kind of true spending cap, those kinds of numbers will be pretty typical. All I can say is congratulations.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

 

Photo by Irving Penn, 1970


Claude Lévi-Strauss

1908 2009

“Writing is a strange invention.
One might suppose that its emergence
could not fail to bring about profound changes
in the conditions of human existence,
and that these transformations
must of necessity
be of an intellectual nature….

Yet nothing we know
about writing
and the part it has played
in man’s evolution
justifies this view.”

– A Writing Lesson, Tristes Tropiques

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

 

C.A. Conrad & Dale Smith
discuss Ed Dorn, AIDS & community

§

Kenny G:
seeking to define
“queer voice” in art

§

Rae Armantrout’s
reading at Kelly Writers House
Oct. 22, 2009

§

5 translations of Rimbaud’s “Voyelles”
all by Christian Bök

Gaga for Eunoia

§

2 translations of Creeley’s “I Know a Man”

§

Jena Osman, Craig Watson, Michael Gizzi
reading @ the Chapterhouse Café

§

Kit Robinson
reading at Xavier University

§

Ben Friedlander responds
to my post on his comments
re Marianne Moore

A third perspective,
this one with reference to music

§

An account of
the &Now Conference

§

Relevance & poetry

§

Barbara Jane Reyes
on indie publishing
(part one) (part two)

§

A poetry marathon in London

§

6 translations of Hans Carl Artmann
all by Rosmarie Waldrop

§

Charles Alexander’s “Pushing Water”

§

Jordan Scott
on the poetics of stammer

§

Robert Grenier
talks at Naropa, 1992:
“Drawing from Nature”

§

Chalk Editions,
publishing experimentalist e-books since July
(12 to date, some fairly hefty)

§

Tony Trehy
on the reading as
a test installation

§

October is the cruelest month

§

Deconstructing moi

§

Analyze your text

§

Objections to Google book scans
from the Chinese Writers Association

§

Talking with Kent Johnson

§

How Ashbery writes

The Winemakers

§

Penn Kemp’s ear

§

Poetry is better for your brain
than prose (duh!)

§

Talking with Justin Marks

A less rumpled version of Justin
at the Tusculum Review

§

A trick question for Raymond Carver

§

David Buuck
on EconVergence

§

Juliana Spahr
at Temple,
Thursday, November 5

§

Literature by the tweet

§

The 100 “greatest” writers of all time

§

Granger’s Index to Poetry

§

Cuba gives Hemingway’s papers
to the JFK

§

Yet another author’s heirs
fight over the estate

§

Who owns the comments stream?

§

The PennSound Anthology
of Restoration & 18th-Century Verse

PennSound Classics

§

LRB turns 30

§

A ceiling collapse
at Emily Dickinson’s house

§

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

§

Misappropriating poetry

§

Fielding Dawson’s
A Great Day for a Ballgame

§

How to write language poetry

§

Reading Aerial 8: Barrett Watten

§

November 12 @
Columbia School for the Arts:
C.D. Wright:
Concerning Why Poetry
Offers A Better Deal
Than The World's Biggest Retailer

§

Why Brian Fawcett quit writing poetry

§

Arnie’s acrostic

§

Why save dying languages?

The “universality” of English

§

Why save indie bookshops?

§

Is this literary history?

§

Where are poetry’s prodigies?

§

What is more “unwriterly”
than a poet’s blog?

§

A “rebound series”
for out-of-print chapbooks

§

Top 10 ghost-written books

§

Zombies, the classics & you

§

Summer with Empson

§

Talking with Karen Lillis

§

The white bookcase

§

Talking with Jayne Anne Phillips

§

Orhan Pamuk’s Lolita

Love as a relic, frozen in amber

Secret love

§

FBI “kills” VS Naipaul

§

Duo Duo
wins top Oklahoma prize

§

NDiaye wins the Goncourt

§

The Good Writing Awards
categories for fiction, even instruction manuels,
but none for poetry

What is “good writing”?

§

Something’s amiss with Amis

§

The book that changed your life

§

“As prose,
these lines are awkward and squeamish

§

The Poetry of Birds

& of the moon

§

Business & poetry

§

Adam Kirsch
on the author of the book
that, next to the Bible,
has “most influenced” Americans

§

Keats-Shelley Prize
goes to
DH Maitreyabandhu

§

Roth steps up his Nobel campaign

§

A profile of William T. Vollmann

The author was packing heat

§

“It is startling to recall
that Larkin died
less than 25 years ago”

§

Alan Bennett,
on writing a play about Auden

§

James Wright’s “Milkweed”

§

Hopkins: the odd man out

§

Frank Kermode on the authorized Golding bio

§

Complaints about women
writing misogynist fiction

are a “red herring”

§

Southern Review
cuts back

§

My God, the Suburbs!”

§

Newspaper circulation is crashing

§

The news of our demise
is premature,
warns The National Post

§

Profs suspended at Southwestern
may be charged

§

Hopeless at Hope College

§

Elle Magazine on Girldrive

Elline Lipkin on Girldrive

The women of Girldrive

Talking with Nona Willis Aronowitiz

Paradise Lost

§

Shock & Awe:
Futurism goes to war

§

Oron Catts’ bio-artwork

Bio-Poetics workshop
November 15
@ Woodland Pattern

§

Matthew Timmons’
Credit

§

The Museum of Death

§

Talking with Curt Worden

§

John Ashbery on Jane Freilicher

§

Hans Ulrich Obrist:
more connections between painting & poetry

§

Lawrence Ferlinghetti,
as fine at painting
as he is at poetry

§

Talking with David Hockney

§

Rosenquist on Rosenquist

§

The colorist

§

Liu Bolin: the invisible man

§

Art market bargains

One market where Lehman is hot

Slide show

§

Experimental typography showcases

§

The marvels of cathedrals

§

Here comes
Ice House Detroit

Art from abandoned housing

§

van Gogh’s letters

§

Lawrence Halprin has died

§

NY Times obit for
Maryanne Amacher

§

Litrock songs
(great website!)

§

No direction home

Bob Dylan’s secrets of aging

§

Norton Buffalo has died

§

Update on state arts funding
in Pennsylvania
from Andy Dinniman

§

A need for narrative

§

& thanks for all the fish

§

Readers of this blog
have now clicked on over
4,000,000 links
(plus visits are closing in on 2.5 million)

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Monday, November 02, 2009

 


Char by Man Ray (1933)

I had an “aha moment” reading René Char’s The Brittle Age and Returning Upland,the two volumes of mid-sixties poetry translated by Gustaf Sobin & released this year by Counterpath Press in a design that winks at the New Directions volumes both authors had. Char’s an Objectivist. Well, not an Objectivist really, but he is someone who echoes some of the same concerns that show up in American poetry in the work of Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen, Carl Rakosi, Charles Reznikoff et al, writers who were in fact his contemporaries. In this sense, Gustav Sobin, Char’s neighbor & protégé, whose own poetry has always struck me – as do the work of John Taggart &, in places at least, the late Ronald Johnson – as shaped heavily by Objectivism, seems the perfect person to have tackled this work.

This is not, I think, an instance of the translator turning his subject into a mirror of his own obsessions – the volume presents not only Char’s French originals, but, as an appendix, a number of variant translations by Sobin himself, apparently done in “an earlier period.” Nor is it out of any conscious parallel on Char’s part – he knew of American poetry, as it knew of him. The book’s rear cover quotes some lines by Williams directed to Char by name: René Char / you are a poet who believes / in the power of beauty / to right all wrongs. / I believe it also. While the poems of The Brittle Age (L’Âge Cassant) may look reminiscent of Stein’s Tender Buttons (& thus, by inference at least, Williams’ Kora in Hell: Improvisations), they’re nothing like them in tone or focus:

In fidelity we learn never to be consoled

*

No man, unless he be dead in living, can feel at anchor in this life.

*

How would the end justify the means? There is no end, only and forever the means, always more machinated.

 

However, these three poems could fit almost seamlessly into Of Being Numerous, George Oppen’s great poem of the same period. How is that possible? In what sense might these brief pieces conceivably capture the essence of Williams’ comment about beauty? If anything, the emotion of the first poem relies entirely on Char’s own obsessive commitment to fidelity in language, which is everywhere manifest in this volume.

It was Char, after all, who was Roland Barthes’ template of zero degree poetry in Writing Degree Zero, even if Barthes’ description sounds for all the world like early period Clark Coolidge. For Char does, like Zukofsky, like the best of Oppen, represent the turn toward language in the poem. Not in the aesthetic sense that one might think of, pointing to Baudelaire or Mallarmé or even Stein, but rather in the ethical one – where Char has a lot in common with Oppen, say, or with Ponge. Francis Ponge is the poet whom I’ve always thought of when I imagined a French equivalent for Objectivism. It is not simply his obsession with objects – “The Object is Poetics” the title of a key statement, intending very much both senses of that first noun – but the degree to which language & voice are intertwined in his thinking.

I don’t think of Ponge particularly when I think of Char, nor vice versa, but perhaps that’s a mistake on my part. Both were born within the same time frame as the Objectivists (dating from Reznikoff in ’94 through Oppen in ’08) – Ponge in ’99, Char in ’07. Both French poets died in 1988, four years after Oppen, a decade after Zukofsky.

All of these poets had their lives & careers disrupted by the Second World War. Char & Ponge were both active in the French Resistance. Oppen saw combat. In the U.S., the anti-communism & anti-semitism that led to the disappearance of most of the Objectivists from print & literary society between 1940 & 1962 prevented them from having the kind of international discovery of one another that one sees much more commonly today. It was, in fact, Cid Corman whose Origin first put both groups of poets together. But I don’t think I ever got the genius of Corman’s editing on this until I read Sobin’s translations.

As translations, they seem serviceable, but the appendix of variant translations – there are ten in all – tend to be more direct, more colloquial & more well constructed. Consider the opening lines of “Septentrion,” a word that is obsolete in English, refering to the North:

—Je me suis promenée au bord de la Folie.—

Aux questions de mon coeur,
S’il ne les posait point,
Ma compagne cédait,
Tant est inventive l’absence.

Here is the main translation from the body of the book:

—I walked along the edge of the Folie. —

To the unmentioned questions of my heart
My companion yielded,
So inventive is absence.

Here is the version from the appendix:

—I walked along the edge of the Folie. —

To the questions of my heart,
If none were forthcoming,
My companion yielded,
So inventive is absence.

I might have prefered “Which it failed to pose,” or even “Which I failed to pose” to “If none were forthcoming,” but there seems to me no way of avoiding the fact that Sobin’s earlier, rejected version is superior to the later “main” one. It better captures the cadence of Char’s logic that get irretrievably lost in inserting “unmentioned” into the first line of the second stanza. “Unmentioned” not only bloats the line, it’s a less exact rendering of Char’s original: unspoken would have been better.

This isn’t particularly a criticism of the book, however. Sobin has complete translations of the two volumes, and that’s what’s rendered here in the main body of the text. But he also has these other variations, some of which are considerably better than their counterparts in the completed project. One could have, I suppose, combined the two & only published the best versions. But this seems the much fuller view, showing Sobin approaching these poems not once, but twice. One wonders what cut short the earlier attempt. Either way, this is a wonderful book. Just be sure you read the appendix – some of the very best work is there.

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