Saturday, November 01, 2008

Today’s note comes from Joe Biden:.

If we get out the vote, we will win this election it's as simple as that.

Now, here's where you can help.

We need to fill more than a million volunteer shifts all across the nation between now and Election Day.

Our team has put together a simple way for you to get out there and make the difference.

Find your get-out-the-vote volunteer location now, and sign up to help when you can.

This election isn't going to be decided by TV ads, news cycles, or the polls. It's going to be decided by people talking to voters about Barack and the issues that matter and then getting them to the polls.

This week is our last chance.  It's either the change we need, or four more years of the same.

And it's up to you.

Find out where and when you can get involved, get out the vote, and make history on Election Day:

I hope to see you out there this week.

Thanks for all you're doing,


Friday, October 31, 2008

My sons are sixteen-years-old, and nothing on this planet holds more disdain for the activities associated with being a “little kid” than someone who is 16. This includes trick-or-treating, a social ritual left over from our pre-industrial past that I have learned to despise with an intensity almost as great as that I see in my kids. My reason is simple – it’s not that I object to people dressing up or going house to house seeking treats – it’s that the commercialization of this holiday, virtually the colonization of it, by the processed nut industry has made it a form of Russian roulette that we have had to deal with because one of my boys has serious food allergies. Specifically, he’s allergic to all forms of seeds and nuts, and could go into anaphylactic shock should he come into contact with same. This means not just no raw nuts like the ones you see in the image above, but no peanut butter, no hamburger buns with sesame seeds atop, no soy sauce, no boxes of Wheaties manufactured on conveyor belts on which nut traces may have been found, no plain M&Ms, not just the ones with nuts. My son once had an allergic reaction to some kids opening a jar of peanut butter for a “craft project” at a summer camp, even though they were in an open barn at the time and he was sitting nowhere near them. When he flies, we call the airline 48 hours in advance to let them know that they can’t serve nut products as snacks, and then we pray that nobody has snuck peanut-butter crackers onboard. Constant vigilance is the only recourse and it’s an anxious way to live. He carries his Epipen to friends’ houses and we keep several at his school. In one case, we convinced the school to adopt a no nuts policy, and another had a more modest nut-free area of the cafeteria. In order to keep it from being stigmatized, the school saw to it that this area got first access to post-lunch recess. Parents would call up because so-and-so wanted to sit at his table tomorrow and could they bring almond cookies? They often seemed surprised that the answer is no.

The degree to which the chocolate & nut manufacturers have captured Halloween as their private holiday over the past 15 or so years is truly frightening. Our solution in the years that we had to deal with this was that the kids would go out trick or treating but could eat none of their spoils until they got home. We would invariably have left-overs of what we had been giving out, and would trade one package of Starburst or Skittles for every Reeses, Snickers or M&M we got back. When I worked at IBM I would take the nut candies to work – until one of my coworkers asked me not to because he was allergic to nuts.

Now that my own kid is nearly grown, his allergy has abated somewhat – he’s more apt to just get violently ill than suffer a quick and painful death. And because my wife has diabetes, we now have packets of raw nuts in various places, tho never mixed with our food supplies. We still won’t have any “wet” preparation like peanut butter around. And every couple of months we see an article about somebody dying because they didn’t realize that pasta al pesto contained pine nuts or whatever. In one case awhile back, school bullies rubbed peanut butter in the face of a student.

I saw this article on Wednesday and it made me think I should mention this here. I also thought to post this link to In general, I can’t imagine handing out allergens to a population, kids, some of whom might react to them. And I can imagine some of the younger ones not even knowing that they might have an allergy to some of the stuff that’s handed out with the best of intentions. It’s time to take Halloween back from the corporations.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fifty years ago, the Giants moved to San Francisco when I was a 12-year-old boy, the perfect age for a kid to fixate on the hot new exciting team in town, particularly coming from a family of baseball fans going back at least to the days when Casey Stengel managed the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League. Since 1958, I have been rooting for the local National League team to win a World Series. The Giants during that period have made it to The Show exactly three times, losing to the Yankees in 1961 (if only Willie McCovey’s line drive had been a foot higher, Bobby Richardson wouldn’t have speared it out of the air & Mateo Alou would have not have been stranded at third base), to the A’s in 1989 in the Earthquake series (made especially joyless since the team that won was the only American League club I’ve ever felt any affinity with), and most recently in 2002 (the team was eight outs from a 5-0 victory when the Angels came back to win game 6 & then game 7 the following night). But the last real emotional connection I had to the Giants was with Barry Bonds, of whom I am still extraordinarily fond (as I was also of his dad, Bobby, likewise a Giant thirty-plus years ago), tho team president Peter Magowan’s brother Robin is a poet I’ve known & liked, both the man & his work, for decades.

The Phillies had been to the Series a couple of years before we moved here in 1995, but they were already in a downward spiral by the time we arrived, finishing third in 1995 & dead last the following year. From ’95 thru ’97, they never once even won 70 games. Finishing last in ‘95 allowed them to pick second in the next major league draft & they selected J.D. Drew, who then refused to sign with a team that dreadful, choosing instead to play with an Independent League ballclub, sort of the ultimate ignominy for a sports franchise. As a consolation, the Phils got the first draft pick again the following year & selected Pat “The Bat” Burrell, who had been the MVP of the College World Series with the University of Miami. Burrell, now an aging outfielder, doubled last night – the last of the Phillies starters to make a contribution – & it was Eric Bruntlett, pinch-running for Burrell, who scored the winning run, driven in by Pedro Feliz, whom the Phils had signed as a free agent over the winter, coming from the San Francisco Giants.

Considering that the Phils are one of the most power-oriented teams in baseball, it is worth noting that they won three of the four games in this year’s series by just one run. J.C. Romero, one of the keys to baseball’s best bullpen, became the first Puerto Rican pitcher in history to win two World Series games. The MVP was Cole Hamels who made five superb starts in the post-season and became the third youngest pitcher ever to win a World Series game (the two ahead of him are Ray Sadeki of the 1964 Cardinals – Sadeki would later be traded to the Giants for Orlando Cepeda in the most infamous deal of that team’s history – and an old-time Boston hurler by the name of Babe Ruth). The closer, Brad Lidge, on his knees in the photo above, had a season in which he was perfect, never once blowing a save. The team’s record with a lead after eight innings was 80-0 for the year. Basically, that’s impossible. But it also means that 23 times in 2008, they won when they did not have a lead after eight innings – that’s also close to impossible. And yet, as anyone watching this series could see, this was a team that often was its own worst enemy, leaving runner after runner on base. The Phillies stranded 16 men on base last night, the Rays just five, the last one being pinch runner (and Creeley-Ashbery-Hejinian reader) Fernando Perez.

All of which is to say that last night’s victory reached about as far back into my psyche as a baseball game can. The last half inning (which Bill Mohr reminds me was the top, not the bottom, of the ninth) was the first time ever I can remember my whole family watching a baseball game on the telly together. That was as satisfying as it gets.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Donna Stonecipher reading in Budapest

September 1, when I wrote to praise Donna Stonecipher’s Souvenir de Constantinople, Noah Eli Gordon sent a note to the comments stream that read:

Her book The Cosmopolitan (just out from Coffee House) is wonderful, by far one of the very best things I read all summer – all the more impressive because it’s markedly different from the one you mention here.

Having now read The Cosmopolitan, I’m pleased to agree with Gordon. The Cosmopolitan is a terrific book & in many ways it is quite a bit different from Constantinople. One way in which it’s not is that both books engage the novel. Which is to say narrative framing in the broadest conceivable sense. There are contexts in which I’m sure somebody reading this book and something recent by David Markson would be more apt to identify The Cosmopolitan as the novel.

The Cosmopolitan consists of 22 sections, each of which is entitled “Inlay” followed by a number & then, in parentheses, the name of a source, ranging from Walter Benjamin to Plato to Thomas Mann. Kafka turns up three times, Elaine Scarry & Ralph Waldo Emerson twice. Each of the 22 inlays consist of a series of numbered sections, almost entirely one paragraph long, ranging from nine to fourteen per inlay. Each inlay also contains one paragraph that is a quotation & is situated somewhere in the middle, centered on the page. In many of these inlays, the quotation is the one apparent appropriation from the source. It is, in fact, what is inlaid.

Each paragraph is pretty much a perfect vignette or tableaux. The sections accumulate toward an indeterminate, but coherent whole, tho there does not seem to be any great sense of narrative building from one inlay to the next. More than anything, The Cosmopolitan demonstrates just how much power is available to the writer who trusts indeterminacy, who believes that things add up, but not to the zero sum game of vulgar narrative. It’s a perpetually impressive feat. Here is “Inlay 8 (Claude Lévi-Strauss)” just to underscore my point.


He was born in Kaya, Burkino Faso, but now he’s living abroad. She was born in Frankfurt, Germany, but now she’s living abroad. She was born in Seoul, South Korea, but now she’s living abroad. He was born in Vancouver, Washington, but now he’s living abroad.




And if she ran the city through a sieve, as she sometimes imagined doing, would she be left with only the natives, pedigreed and pure? Everybody, eventually, goes down the Philosophenweg, gaping at hieroglyphic heirloom roses and beetles with supersvelte legs.




He’s like me, he said. He has an inner map of hotels all over Europe. And it was true: if we met a man from Cologne, he’d get a faraway look in his eyes and eventually work the conversation around to say, “. . . and tell me, do you know the marvelous Hotel Dom?”




As for me, I would choose to infiltrate foreign territories via the spice route rather than the silk route. Nutmeg, mint, cinnamon, aniseed, turmeric, cardamom, the hotel, the parliament. I sat in the reproduction victoria thinking about the myth of the bequeathal of the family house.



“I hate traveling and explorers.”




She was born in Montpellier, France, but now she’s living in London. He was born in Miramar, Argentina, but now he’s living in Tokyo. He was born on an island in the Caribbean, but now he’s living in Paris. She was born in Bangalore, India, but now she’s living in L.A.




“Bloom where you are planted,” read the inspirational poster tacked up in her childhood classroom. She remembered the school’s aquarium glowing dimly in the main hallway, and how the fish fulfilled some edifying dictum she could never, tiptoeing by, definitely figure out.




But she had long since shed that skin, and that skin and long since shed her: the school no longer existed, except as an album of crumbling images in a small number of non-commemorative minds. Oh, there’d been so many worms – back when one was an early bird.




The Pizzeria Inez became the Curry House Inez became the Sushi Inez, and all the while Parisians hurried past on their way to cafés recently overtaken by Chinese immigrants. Everyone goes down the Passage d’Enfer eventually, hushed by the shuttered windows and doors.




From the airport alone, you could fly to Geneva, Fez, Malta, Alicante, Berlin, San Francisco, and Luxor. We’ll do that one day, he said. We’ll arrive at the airport with one suitcase each and fly to the destination that seems to us to hold the greatest promise of annihilation.

Anyone who has read Tristes Tropiques, will recognize the Lévi-Strauss quotation, which may seem odd given his background & profession (and given his place within his profession). But when he describes – at length – the experience of walking through the streets of India, overwhelmed by the suffering of poverty, with money in his pocket, the disparity between his role in the world & that of a third-world beggar invokes a whole host of issues that make his hatred of travel palpable, even reasonable. Travel is guilt, tourism borders on genocide. No wonder, say, San Franciscans so despise Fisherman’s Wharf, or residents of New Orleans shun the French Quarter. Behind every Potemkin Village…. Lévi-Strauss’ lone sentence cast against this globe-trotting sequence of images is like a knife that cuts through whatever might seem fashionable.

Indeed, I think Stonecipher is at her best here when her sources are, like the anthropologist, extra-literary. In those instances, these pieces engage the world in ways quite unlike anything else I’ve read in poetry – Cole Swensen might be the most approximate kin to Stonecipher as a writer, tho I have no way of know if they’ve ever met. (They also, by pure coincidence, sit side-by-side on my bookshelves, compliments of the alphabet.)

To have two great books in less than two years is almost obscenely ostentatious. I’ve learned, I should note, that it took a long time for Souvenir de Constantinople to come to print – editors found its indeterminacy threatening – so it may not be that Stonecipher is some demigod capable of writing twin masterpieces in one season. But she certainly has announced herself as one of our major talents. Further evidence that this is a great time if you happen to love poetry.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Main Street Meltdown


Vispo in Poetry


Magdalena Zurawski’s The Bruise


Prepare for the World Series
by reading Ashbery, Creeley
sez Ray’s outfielder

The first Library of America volume
of a living poet
Collected Poems 1956 – 1987
by John Ashbery

Mark Scroggins
on the Ashbery LOA volume

Talking with John Ashbery (PDF)

Pierre Matory’s The Landscapist
trans. By John Ashbery

Ted Burke on
Ashbery & the Quietists


Tony Hillerman is dead


A collaboration betwixt
Anne Tardos & Lyn Hejinian


2 books
everyone should own


Cleave poetry


The trailer for
CorsoThe Last Beat


Dodie Bellamy’s “Body Language”


Kerouac’s scroll
is in


Bill Knott on Mallarmé


Frank O’Hara’s blog

Frank O’Hara & Harry Redl


Mary Karr on Paul Guest


Talking with Jed Rasula


The Booker prize runner up


Donald Hall’s
Memoir of a Life in Poetry


A cook’s tour of collaboration
with an Aussie accent


Recording of a Tom Pickard poem


“Upholsterers’ Moon (Part 1)”
by Joshua Marie Wilkinson


A new (unedited) poem by
Lisa Fishman


Ronald Johnson’s Arc 55:
The ABC Spiral


A profile of Ron Androla


Bitter Haiku: Soap


David Kirby on Brenda Shaughnessy


Fondness for the typewriter
as punk nostalgia


The graveyards of Long Island
& the poets, painters
& hoi polloi therein


The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry
mostly online


Views on self-publishing


Eliot Weinberger’s China


In Amherst, the Jeff
is set to close


Sylvia Plath on her competitors


Talking with Dorianne Laux


Ryan Eckes
set to music




Talking with Boyer Rickel


A reading by Charlie Simic (MP3)


Colette Labouff Atkinson’s Mean


Toni Morrison’s A Mercy


Talking with John Updike


Talking with Michael Robinson


Jim Dine in Walla Walla


Anthony Braxton:
”I am not a jazz musician”


What’s the frequency, Kenneth?


A tip of the cap
to Tony Tost’s
Supplement to
Imagining Language

Sunday, October 26, 2008

As bad as that blown call at first base was last night, it made that last inning – with a five-man infield and that wild final play, an inadvertent suicide squeeze topped with Evan Longoria’s vain scoop of the ball way over the catcher’s head – all the more delicious. People outside of the Philly area might not have noticed, but Tim McGraw actually poured some of his father’s ashes on the mound last night right before the game. Tug McGraw was on the mound the last (and only) time the Phillies won a world series.

Random thoughts: Has there ever been a worse baseball announcer than Tim “PanamaMcCarver? He’s an embarrassment …. Many in the Philadelphia area never saw the homers by Chase Utley & Ryan Howard as Comcast suffered an “equipment failure” that last for over a half hour …. Also, the Philly baseball franchise is older than the city of Tampa Bay by about eight years …. One final thought – if this series goes to seven games, and it easily could, Old Man Moyer (two years younger than “youthful” Barack Obama & only a year older than Sarah “The Moose” Palin) would be the starting pitcher. Could the season come down to watching 25-year-old hitters trying to hit a 74-mph “fastball?”


I corrected the link to Pam Brown’s photos in Friday’s link list, and dropped the one to Julio Cortázar’s Final Exam, which I had likewise mis-linked, but could not find again. If you blogged a review of that book within the last week or so, drop me a note.