Saturday, May 15, 2010


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Friday, May 14, 2010


Rae Armantrout’s
“uniquely broken heart”

Who is Rae Armantrout?”

Armantrout’s questions

“But what about the nipples?”
Blake Butler, Roxane Gay, Kate Zambreno & Amy King
on gender, publishing & more
(part 1) (part 2) (part 3)

A conversation with Kathy Acker
(reg. req.)

Brontë Sister Power Doll Action Figures

When you’re lost in the rain in Juárez

Sina Queyras unleashed

Talking with Marguerite Abouet

Smothering your mother with treacle

Marjorie Evasco’s Skin of Water

Charles Bernstein in Banff
(part 1) (part 2)

Rob Wilson on C.S. Perez

Official Catalog
of the Library of Potential Literature

Unrealized futures

Theory, literature, hoax
(Yes, this appeared in the NY Times in 2010!)

10 questions on poets & technology:
Amy King

Notes on 8 years of book blogging

Talking C. Max Magee

Google makes you stupid

Does Google’s book deal violate treaties?

Amazon to drop freebies
from Kindle “best seller” list

Talking with Saadi Youssef

Poets under 30 go MIA
(In fairness, the group reading of Ashbery’s “Europe”
& a reading by Kate Durbin & Cara Benson
were at the same time, no??)

Why are university presses so good for poetry?

Harriet’s move from blog
to aggregation
is a mistake

Ted Enslin’s I, Benjamin

Troy Jollimore on Gary Snyder

The Berks County Boys

100,000 rare books lost
in Oregon bookstore fire

Willits loses Leaves of Grass

The specialty bookshops of Cambridge, MA

The 2010 UCLA Campbell
Book Collecting Award

Chairs & poetry

Don Share & Paul Vangelisti
on the “uneven distribution of the future”

Does poetry matter?”

Jimmy Schuyler on Frank O’Hara

Jennifer Karmin’s “Aaaaaaaaaaalice”

A writers-in-residence program
that actually matters
& a journal to go with it

rob mclennan: “Alberta, Redux”

Norman Finkelstein on Burt Kimmelman

The Franz Wright critique of the MFA generations

Ralph Ellison’s Three Days After the Shooting

Marilyn Hacker’s “A Braid of Garlic”

A call to end Canada’s barrier to imported books

“A patch for your novel is ready to download”

Howard Junker, wandering poet,
making like Li Po (sort of)

What is Canadian literature?

Fence manifesto:
Please write poetry

Interrupture, a “word band”

Amelia Roselli’s The Dragonfly

Tagore at 150

Yeats & Arnold

R.S. Thomas & the Welsh

Simon Jarvis’
Wordsworth’s Philophic Song
(reg. req.)

On Samuel R. Delany on writing

Why men don’t read books

Paul Pines podcast

T.S. Eliot is not obliged to love me

Inna Grade has died

A profile of Lynn Xu

Talking with Corey Mesler

Daniel Pritchard on Daisy Hay’s Young Romantics

The Writings of Jonathan Bayliss

Jonathan Bayliss, 1926 – 2009

The perpetual life of Philip K. Dick

The Art of American Book Covers

Revisualising Oz

My first time, or I lost it to fine binding

Rob’s Word Shop

Scott Esposito on John D’Agata

Ed Baker’s De:Sire Is

Talking with Ed Baker

May 18, Norwich, UK:
An evening with Les Murray & Andrew Motion

Infinite regret: David Foster Wallace

A profile of Wallace from 1996

Henri Cole’s Pierce the Skin

Pittsburgh’s patron saint of poetry

Did Nick Clegg doom his party
by naming Samuel Beckett as his favorite author?

Love Over 60:
An Anthology of Women’s Poems

Jack Gilbert’s The Dance Most of All

Wine & friendship in Tang Dynasty poetry

Poetry of the 19th century Northwest

Talking Alain de Botton

What brought Twain fame

Walker Percy’s weirdest book

Martin Amis’
“remarkably tedious new novel”

“such an exasperating novelist

The curse of the English novelist

2 Books on E.M. Forster

Banned books you read in high school

The Uses of the Future in Early Modern Europe
edited by Andrea Brady & Emily Butterworth
(reg. req.)

Top 10 Absurd Classics
& not a word about Daniil Kharms

Adapting books to film

No such thing as silence:
John Cage’s 4’33

Andrei Codrescu on conceptual art

What color is this?

Crichton the collector

Crichton’s Johns brings in $29M

5 questions for the author of
The $12 Million Stuffed Shark

The mystery bidder

Amy Sillman:
How many lightbulbs does it take to change a painting?

How to display a contemporary work of art

Keinholz’ Roxys

The photos of Tinker Greene

Craig Kauffman has died

Avigdor Arikha has died

Warhol film curator, Callie Angell has died

The tramp

How to treat the burglar

Maps with an agenda

Intellectuals in the age of Obama

Wittgenstein’s Notebooks 1914 – 1916

Noam takes the day off

Levi Asher responds to Harold Bloom on
“The Jewish Question”

When is anti-Zionism also anti-Semitism?

Jupiter goes without a belt

Facebook friendaholics

A writer’s guide to Microsoft Office

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Thursday, May 13, 2010


Pepper Potts & Tony Stark in the original Iron Man

Because one of my kids owns the DVD, we prepped for Iron Man 2 by rewatching the original Iron Man last week. Big mistake. Numero 2 of the projected trilogy is but a shadow of the first film, which wasn’t any Macbeth or Godfather to start with. This is the case for two reasons. The first is narrative. The most interesting part of Iron Man lay not in the CGI or battle scenes, which were by-the-book fare at best, but in the development of the characters, particularly in the sexual tension between playboy-billionaire-turned-superhero Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) & his personal assistant Pepper Potts, played by & Gwyneth Paltrow, and also in Stark’s relationship with his best bud, James Rhodes¹, & even the primary bad guy, Obadiah Stane, played by Jeff Bridges. There is a presumption in the first film that we need to draw these characters out, and that’s at least half of its charm, given the quality of the character actors filling key roles. With the franchise established, director Jon Favreau (whose previous motion pictures were Elf & Zarutha: A Space Adventure) seems to feel that we already “get” the characters & can just cut to the chase, which is mostly what this film does, save for two subplots, one about Stark’s father, the other about his blood toxicity. The result is far thinner fare. The two other subplots, one about Pepper’s ascendancy to the CEO spot at Stark industries, the other about the presence of Natalie Rushman / Natasha Romanov (played by Scarlett Johansson) in the Stark inner circle are handled badly to the degree that they are handled at all. Paltrow, central as she is to the plot, has very little to do in Iron Man 2 except look great & scream a lot.

The second reason is a consequence of the first – not having to reintroduce or further develop the characters means not addressing the 800-pound gorilla in this film, the replacement of Terrence Howard as James Rhodes with Don Cheadle. Cheadle is a fine actor, but you never see – not once, not for a second – the softness & caring that is the essence of Rhodey’s intimacy with Tony Stark, something that was evident throughout the original Iron Man. There are conflicting stories as to why the switch – Howard was a difficult actor & got paid more than anyone else in the original film², more than Downey even – but the investment is evident onscreen. Howard’s a bargain at any price. This film is fundamentally unfair to Cheadle, simply because it makes a good actor look mediocre.

Not that this will impact worldwide sales any. There is a cynicism to this project that suggests that the producers did not feel much need to do it very well just because they have some terrific character actors in all the leading roles (save maybe for Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer), and even in some minor ones (Samuel L. Jackson, Jr., mails in his one scene as Nick Fury, making me wish they’d gotten Laurence Fishburne). Just fill it out with special effects & heavy metal music & take it to the bank. Getting the director of Elf to helm the project is just one index of how Marvel cut costs wherever it was felt they weren’t necessary. Like direction.

On the plus side, the roller coaster ride is mostly effective & these are some marvelous actors who have no reason not to chew on the drapery here, and for the most part do so with gusto. Johansson is surprisingly good in this respect. Mickey Rourke’s rogue Russian physicist is terrifyingly made up to look like Mickey Rourke. And I loved one tiny touch, likely missed by anybody not in the computer industry: when Stark arrives to open Stark Expo (a world’s fair of high tech weaponry, complete with Ferris wheel), one of the wannabes who rush forward to try & touch him is Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle & an industry exec known for his Tony Stark-like lifestyle, “as himself.” It’s a more knowing cameo than Larry King’s cadaverous presence or Christiane Amanpour’s one badly directed scene.

There is a trend these days to go with counter-intuitive casting in action-thriller flicks. Downey, Toby Maguire, Johnny Depp & Matt Damon all make unlikely action figures, Daniel Craig only a little less so. Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes is another case in point – who would ever have thought that this slightly built poster child for never giving up on drug rehab no matter how many times you have to try would become the Errol Flynn / Johnny Weissmuller of our time? On the other hand, imagine just how bad the Iron Man films would be, say, with Nicholas Cage. Downey is one of the great acting talents of our time and cartoon projects are ultimately a waste of his considerable skills, save for the quiet moments, which in this film involve Stark dealing with his father issues & the nasty problem that his artificial heart (no accident that his sidekick A.I. system is named Jarvis) is not so slowly poisoning his system. Stark carries a blood toxicity monitor that will come as a sudden rush of reality to any diabetic who wears a monitor for tracking glucose. It’s an odd touch, but Downey’s interactions with the monitor are among the very best parts of this motion picture. As one of my kids phrased it, Tony Stark is a lot more interesting than Iron Man.

¹ James Rhodes, nicknamed Dusty, was a major league baseball player with the New York Giants in the years just before Marvel came up with Iron Man. Primarily used as a pinch-hitter for Monte Irvin, he was a cult figure and, with Willie Mays, a superhero & household name because of his role in defeating the Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series.

² Apparently because he was the first one to sign on, before the producers redid the budget to bring the project in at a lower cost, partly by focusing on actors like Downey & Paltrow rebuilding their careers & willing to work for less. That Paltrow, who took time off to have children, is having to “rebuild” her career tells you way too much about what’s wrong with the film industry.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010


As my homies Ange Mlinko & Pattie McCarthy can both attest, there is not much more to the Paoli Library than a large room at the back of an ill-designed (but with an “historic” façade) bank. In the 15 years I’ve lived here, the bank name has gone from Core States to Meridian to First Union to Wachovia to Wells Fargo – I may even have forgotten one or two – as one institution has swallowed another in the ongoing quest to become Too Big to Fail. The library has continued on as though nothing has happened. The stand-alone PCs that crowded the center of the room when I first moved here in 1995 have web access now, but that literally is about it.

In the sallyport off the parking lot, which enables the library to be open on Sundays when the bank is not, the Friends of the Library have stocked a couple of small bookcases with either books withdrawn from the collection or donated paperbacks. Seeing among the latter an Elmore Leonard novel available for the grand sum of 25¢, I picked up Mr. Paradise & brought it home. It then sat on my fiction/memoir-to-be-read bookcase for a year or three before I picked it up in the wake of reading Herta Müller.

“What is that?” Colin asked when he saw me reading. “That doesn’t look like the sort of thing you’d usually read.” This, I replied, is an amuse-bouche, tho what I really meant was a palette cleanser, which is how I described it when Colin followed my response to his first question with another What’s that?

Elmore Leonard, I explained, used to write great crime novels about Detroit, notable for his unmatched ear for dialog. Then he got famous, got rich, got to Florida, had movies with the likes of John Travolta, George Clooney & Jennifer Lopez in them, got sober (good for him), and I’d long ago concluded that the hard edges had all been rubbed smooth & soft by the ravages of time. Now – now being a relative term since Mr. Paradise first came out in 2002, the same year that Frank Sherlock & CAConrad penned The City Real & Imagined, also the year I began this blog – he has returned in his fiction, this book at least, back to Detroit. I wanted something to serve as a break between Müller & whatever comes next, and Mr. Paradise looks like it would be just the trick. [You can read the first chapter here and samples of other sections at Google Books.]

Which it is, sorta. There’s no question about the hard edges having gone soft & squishy, but Leonard still has an ear – something, say, that Robert B. Parker never had, and likewise what separates someone on the order of Stephen King from hacks like John Grisham, Dan Brown or Michael Crichton. Reading Mr. Paradise is more like eating a rich dessert than an amuse-bouche, but functionally it let me get all the echoes of Müller’s prose (as translated by Michael Hoffman) out of my system, leaving no residue of its own.

Leonard adheres to the rules of the genre, but with his own special sauce, which is that everybody in the book tends to be a loser. Imagine, to use Parker’s Spenser for Hire series as a point of contrast, the affable but earnest bungler Spenser without the inscrutably lethal sidekick of Hawk & the presence of his lady friend the shrink. Delsa, the homicide cop at the heart of Mr. Paradise is not so different from Spenser, a little less of a wise-ass perhaps. But around him a dozen or so important characters waltz through Leonard’s motions, not one of whom is better than they ought to be, so to speak.

The plot, roughly, is this. The title character, who is dead pretty quick here, is an old criminal defense lawyer now in his dotage, waited on by a couple of former clients & whose one pleasure in life would appear to be a $950-an-hour call girl who has taken him on as her exclusive client for $5K a week. When Mr. P gets popped, and his lady friend Chloe along with him, wearing naught but her University of Michigan cheerleader’s skirt, Delsa steps in to solve the crime, and in the process finds himself becoming personally involved with Chloe’s roommate, a model by the name of Kelly whom one of Mr. P’s staffers tries to rope into a scheme of claiming Chloe’s “inheritance.” There are a pair of middle-aged hit men, some young gang bangers involved in a drug hit (one victim was cut up post-mortem with a chain saw & the book has a running gag – both senses of that word – about the number of parts involved), and both of Mr. P’s staffers have their roles to play, plus some additional cops & robbers, plus Mr. P’s daughter who ought to wear the sign “Plot Device” around her neck. In the end, the supposed bad guys are all caught, the supposed good ones safe & sound, somebody makes out very well on an inheritance, tho not whom you might expect nor what you might imagine, & Delsa can shower with Kelly to his heart’s content.

The problem of loserhood is a critical one for Leonard, because it’s what differentiates the periods of his work. In the early Detroit novels – I’ve never read the cowboy novels that began his career – there is a grittiness to it that comes across as very believable. In the Hollywood & Florida-based works, someone is often not a loser, and these works come across much as treatments for possible screen plays (which more than a few ended up as). Returning to Detroit seems at least like an attempt on Leonard’s part to get back in touch with that original grit that made his writing so different from others in his genre. But now, however, everyone – everyone – is a lovable loser, even the lethal bad guys. The hit men don’t like killing people – they’re not sociopaths – but it’s a good living. The guy who is orchestrating everything, the ultimate baddie, is almost as conflicted as the “innocent” model trapped in the middle of the plot. She spends less time lusting after her savior the cop than she does trying to decide whether or not to steal the inheritance all for herself. Nor is Delsa, with his serious boundary issues, sleeping with a suspect, any less compromised. The only character in the book who is presented entirely in negative terms is the wife of one of the hit men. But otherwise, this is a book written entirely in shades of grey.

Leonard was himself 78 when Mr. Paradise came out, pretty much the same age bracket as the dear departed title character, and the softer tone of his more recent work is not unlike, say, the more casual lyricism Robert Creeley took on in his 70s. The two writers make for some interesting comparisons – both were born in the mid-1920s and did their best work around the age of 50 – Creeley’s Pieces, Leonard’s Unknown Man No. 89 & maybe 52 Pickup – and one might argue that both found writing to be a most comfortable habit toward the end, pushing no envelopes whatsoever. I’ve always felt that Creeley was in no way obligated to keep pushing (and that Mabel & Presences suggested the limits of that approach in any event) – that Creeley had worked for decades to clear the ground for the writing he needed & wanted to do, and having found such ground had less need to head off once again into the wilderness. With Leonard, I find myself far less forgiving, and I wonder why. Is it that for him that ground wasn’t in his best work per se, but in the work that reaped the greatest rewards? That sort of just goes with the territory for genre fictioneers, no? Why hold Leonard to a different standard? Plus, one of his most successful works – twice made into a motion picture, once with Glenn Ford & Van Heflin, once with Russell Crowe & Christian Bale, 3:10 to Yuma was one of his earliest short stories.

I think it may be that I once had some sense, possibly foolish, that Leonard was shooting for the most honest of crime fiction and that led to dispassionately examining the character’s lives & their flaws & their language. Now I see a novelist who knows how to hit all the requisite spots in the form, but seems to have lost interest in the world it invokes.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010


David Chaloner

1944 2010


Monday, May 10, 2010


Andrea Brady:
Is there a Cambridge School?
[& Robert Archambeau replies]
(scroll down)

Talking with Lynn Behrendt

Diann Blakely
offers an in-depth look
at the state of southern poetry
(preface) (part 1) (part 2) (part 3)
(just for Tennessee)

Talking with Michelle Taransky

The Afghan Women’s Writing Project:
Out of Silence

Laura Moriarty on post-moot

Heriberto Yepez on Rae Armantrout
& the Pulitzer Prize
(in Spanish)

Libbie Rifkin on
Theory of the Avant-Garde

Catriona Strang’s Low Fancy

Jessica Smith’s roster of
contemporary female poets

Sandra Doller: “Like Sugar Like”

The Némirovsky paradox

Marianne Moore & her mother

H.D.’s desk

Talking with Celia Gilbert

Speaking with Rusty Morrison & Ken Keegan

The real title of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Talking with CAConrad

Is blogging dead?
(A: Not if you’re reading this)

Neil Gaiman:
Connect, don’t network

Aaron Lowinger’s
The House at 24 Huntington Ave

The new Galatea Resurrects
has at least 40 reviews
of more than 50 books!!

Samuel Greenberg & grammatic truth

Samuel Greenberg: American Poet

Robert Creeley on prosody & pacing

The future is uncertain
for Serendipity Books

An afternoon in hell:
contemporary writers on the classics

Retyping On the Road

Talking with Thomas Fink

Robert Grenier:
2 autobiographical interviews

Ashbery vs. Ashbery

Geof Huth on Paul Siegell

Patti Smith & Jonathan Lethem at
the PEN World Voices Festival

Retro-surrealism of the 21st century

Poetry & age

May 11, San Francisco:
Norman Fischer & Charles Bernstein
Radical Poetics & Secular Jewish Thought

May 12 in New York,
Ray DiPalma & Michael Lally

May 16 in Oakland,
Julian T. Brolaski & kathryn l. pringle

November in Arlington:
Computational Models of Narrative

Lemony Snicket on Jimmy Schuyler

Bill Murray
dwells in possibility

Larry King & e.e. cummings

William Burroughs
shooting Shakespeare

Howard Junker’s
Top Ten Poets Reading

Sentences about a favorite sentence

Ron Padgett in Scandanavia

Ten Walks / Two Talks by Jon Cotner & Andy Fitch

A reading by Jon Cotner
with Alex Karpovsky reading for Andy Fitch

Preparing for Charles Olson’s centennial in Gloucester

Esiaba Irobi in London

Edward Hirsch in Mumbai
without leaving home

Redefining Indian Writing in English

Edward P. Jones makes it to Oprah’s book club

Robert Hass & Kay Ryan

Robert Hass on Walt Whitman

Harriet goes tweet

A festival in Ashville
as though Black Mountain never happened

Honoring the dead at Potter’s Field

More books for the blind

a journal that seeks
“to blow the field wide open”

Writing vs. Composition

Larry Fagin in Austria in the 1950s

A two-part essay on the work of Zukofsky

Carlos Reyes on Rafael Jesús González

Yvette Neisser Moreno on González

David Mitchell by David Mitchell

David Biespiel:
Why aren’t poets more politically active?

Except when they are

How do you miss Silliman?”

Read free books online

LA Public Library is facing 15% cuts

Talking with a library custodian

2 mutually exclusive literary festivals
in Jerusalem

2 New Jersey writers
win a free trip to NY

The tweets of William Styron

Everyone’s a critic

Another review scam on Amazon

Ted Hughes, back in favor?

The two Raymond Carvers

John Latta
on some micropoetics

An old Bush speechwriter gets with the iPad

The “best sellers” on Kindle are all freebies

“the Hunter Thompson of Silicon Valley

Talking with Bill U’Ren

Frank Kermode: Eliot & the shudder

Getting around to not reading Ralph Ellison

Daniel Nester
on the necessity of leaving New York

Nester: how not to promote your book

Talking with Jake Berry

Getting books across borders

SMU closes down its press

A profile of Hugo Gernsback

Matthew Falk on Justin Marks

A life lived elsewhere

A history of Globish

Attempting to untangle Chinglish

Fragrant and hot Marxism

Doubting (R.S.) Thomas

A form of Japanese poety called Shaigin

Some examples

Poetry therapy can improve emotional health

Shaped verse from Rory Gates

Why are comic book movies so bad?

Kristen Stewart On the Road

Allen Ginsberg’s photography @ the National Gallery
(A podcast about the show)

Art since 1950

All of Donald Judd’s books

Kevin Killian on Brent Green

Green at Andrew Edlin in NY

Barry Schwabsky on Christian Købke

Daniel Silliman’s “It Sounds Weird”

Rockin’ in the Ph.D. world

Bruce Springsteen on Robert Pinsky

Dana Gioia: “To hell with period instruments!”

Charles Bernstein & Brian Ferneyhough’s Shadowtime
is now in iTunes

Franklin Bruno on Fela!
(subscription required)

Miles Davis passed out here

The house that Wittgenstein built
in Vienna
(now the Bulgarian embassy)

Who draws the borders of culture?

Paul Berman turns his ongoing narratives
of liberal betrayal
from the USSR & the CP to the Middle East

Heidegger the Nazi

Twitter’s contribution to history

Berlin after WW2

Fukuyama’s Nietzsche

The coming meltdown in higher education

Joshua Slocum:
Sailing Alone Around the World

The Language Fairies

Library scientists

Is this anything?


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