Monday, October 19, 2009

BECALMED : A 10 Minute Play by Liz Duffy Adams, Part II

CALIBAN: You’re back.

MIRANDA: I’m back.

ARIEL: Slumming?

MIRANDA: Back for good, back forever, exiled. Again.


ARIEL: Exiled?


MIRANDA: I’m exiled, it was a disaster, those people are lunatics. I thought they were so beautiful, so lovely, so kind. But I couldn’t please them, they had the craziest ideas. All I did was go to bed with men. Why not? They’re such fabulous creatures, all stubble and sweat and smooth flesh. Just looking at them made me want to kiss them and touch them and roll around on them with my clothes off. But it made everyone lose their minds. Just go absolutely nuts. And the more I loved them the less they liked me till suddenly it was Go get out back in the boat you fishy whore. Brave new world my ass.

CALIBAN: You can roll around on me naked, heh heh.

MIRANDA: We’ll see.


MIRANDA: We’ll see, we’ll see, I may. You’re a monster but I think I’ll miss the touching, now I’ve gotten used to it.

[She sees the staff ends finally.]

What are you doing? Give me that.

[She takes the staff halves.]

What are you still doing here, anyway? Didn’t my father free you?

ARIEL: Why didn’t he come back with you?

MIRANDA: He’s dead.

[They stare at her.]

I know. But he is. They burned him on a pyre and fireworks shot out. Scared everyone witless. I still can hardly believe he’s gone. He would have protected me from the rabble, but it was after the funeral they all turned on me. I’ve lost everything. Except this island, and these bits of wood. So I guess the question is, am I my father’s daughter, or not?

CALIBAN: He’s dead?

ARIEL: He’s really gone?

CALIBAN: He’s dead?

ARIEL: He’s gone for good?

CALIBAN: He’s dead?

MIRANDA: The sorcerer is dead. Long live the sorcerer. As soon as I fix this. Don’t bow. It’s not going to be like before.

CALIBAN [confused]: It isn’t?

MIRANDA: No. I’m not going to be a tyrant like my father.

ARIEL [skeptical]: You aren’t?

MIRANDA: No! Well, I’ll hold absolute power at first, of course. That’s all you’re used to. And I can see you’ve let the place go to hell, so we’ve got that to deal with. Easier if there’s someone in charge. But eventually, when you’re ready, I’ll teach you guys how to think for yourselves and we’ll be a democracy. Or a parliamentary monarchy. Or something.

ARIEL: Right. You’ll give up power.

MIRANDA: I will.

ARIEL: I’ll believe that when I see it.

MIRANDA: Shut up.

ARIEL: You’re all the same, you idealists; velvet gloves aching for a fist.

MIRANDA: Fuck you.

CALIBAN: Hey, hey—

ARIEL: Nice, very parliamentary.

MIRANDA: Stop goading me!

ARIEL: You’ve got the staff, why don’t you use it? Afraid to rule over a fairy and one half-assed monster?


ARIEL [continuous]: You aren’t your father’s daughter, you’re just an everyday random little orphaned slut.

MIRANDA: I said shut up!

ARIEL: Make me.

MIRANDA [brandishing the staff]: Be still I command you!

[She has put the staff back together. Special effects! Thunder and lightening! Ariel and Caliban cower. Even Miranda is staggered.]

CALIBAN [aside to Ariel]: That’s more like it.


ARIEL: Welcome home.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

BECALMED: A 10 Minute Play by Liz Duffy Adams, Part I

[On a beach. A tall pile of sand where something has been dug out of a deep pit. Caliban, a young man/monster, is sitting on top of the pile. He’s holding two ends of a long staff, splintered and rough where it was broken. He’s twisting and turning it, trying to make it fit back together. He keeps at it, with dull and dogged concentration; he’s been at it for a long time. Ariel, a sardonic young fairy, appears, magically, dropping from the flies or popping out of the ground. Caliban ignores him, continuing to puzzle over the staff.]

ARIEL: That won’t work.

CALIBAN: Shut up.

ARIEL: You’ll never get it.

CALIBAN: Shut up .

ARIEL: It isn’t fixable.

CALIBAN: Shut up.

ARIEL: Not by you.

CALIBAN: Shut fucking up I command you.

[Ariel, who’d been about to speak again, promptly swallows it.]

Go fly a fucking girdle around the earth why don’t you.

ARIEL: That wasn’t me, that’s from—

CALIBAN: Get out!

[Ariel disappears. Caliban keeps working at the staff. He sings an artless song.]

Oh I’ll be the king of the island
Because I’ve got the staff
Oh I’ll be the king of the island
Although it’s broke in half

When I put it together
How happy we’ll be
The ruled and the ruler
The fairy and me

Oh I’ll be the king of the island
Because I’ve got the staff

[Ariel reappears, slightly winded.]

CALIBAN: That was fast.

ARIEL: Obviously.


You’ll never get it.


ARIEL: I command you to stop.

[Instantly Caliban stops and looks at him.]

Give that to me.

[Caliban comes down off the pile of sand and hands the broken pieces to Ariel. Ariel climbs the pile of sand, and begins trying to fit them together. Caliban stands uncertainly for a moment in silence.]

CALIBAN: What do I do now?

ARIEL: Whatever you like.

CALIBAN: Come on.

ARIEL: What?

CALIBAN: You know. It’s your turn. Command me something.

ARIEL: Not in the mood.

CALIBAN: Not fair. I did you.

ARIEL [mocking]: You did me.

CALIBAN: I gave you one. Give me one.

ARIEL: Alright fine alright go fetch some wood.

[Caliban instantly looks resentful, goes off.]

CALIBAN: Fetch some wood, fetch some wood, I’ll fetch him some wood one of these days. I should be king of the fucking island, me me me me me me me…

[He’s off. Ariel works away at the staff. He lays the pieces down end-to-end and points at them.]

ARIEL: Mend.

Come together.

Be as one.

Even from beyond the seas you’re ruining my life. “Then to the elements be free and fare well.” [bitterly] Right. And leave show business?

[Caliban comes back in empty handed.]

ARIEL: What’s this?

CALIBAN: No wood.

ARIEL: What do you mean?

CALIBAN: There’s no more wood. It’s all cut down. Nothing bigger than a twig from end to end of the place.

ARIEL: Then fetch some water.

CALIBAN: No water.

ARIEL: Excuse me?

CALIBAN: Well’s dry, spring’s brackish, and the stream’s filled with dead fish.

ARIEL: That can’t be good.

CALIBAN: Birds are gone too.

ARIEL: Migrated?


ARIEL: You ate all the birds?

CALIBAN: Have to eat something don’t I?

ARIEL: Well, that’s it for me. I’m off. I’m not staying on a brackish bare dead-fishy island with one greedy rapacious half-witted monster for company.

CALIBAN: It’ll be alright. Soon as we get that fixed, we can put everything back.

[They stare at the staff ends gloomily.]

Or I could bash you over the head with one of the ends and eat you.

ARIEL: I command you not to do that.

CALIBAN: Is it still your turn?

ARIEL: Yes it’s still my turn.

CALIBAN: You’re no good at this. When he commanded me I knew it.

ARIEL: Well he’s gone isn’t he. How do you think I feel, you command like a three-day-dead carp.

CALIBAN: Fuck you.

ARIEL: We talked better when he was here too. Verse and everything.

CALIBAN: I know. You suck.

ARIEL: That’s it. I’m gone. I’m out of here.



[Caliban dives for the staff, gets one end, Ariel has the other end, they circle around swiping at each other and missing. Maybe Ariel disappears and reappears to avoid getting hit. Altogether, an ineffectual sweaty grunting ridiculous battle. At the height of it, a small dingy enters suddenly as if thrown up onto the sand out of the sea, and a young woman is thrown out of it onto the sand. Miranda. Caliban and Ariel stop and stare. Pause.]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Poem by Gabbert and Rooney: Vision Looks Outward


“Making is thinking”—can it be true?

Function perfectly married to form? (It had to be shiny, it had to be this gleaming blue.)

Many wrong attempts. Men in black suits. Black soot.

Volunteers are encouraged for the hands-on demo, but must wear safety gloves.

The hand is the window to the mind, Kant said. Or so somebody said.

Edison slept only minutes per day. I don’t mind giving up my literal dreams.

The best inventors are bright, but uneducated & disorganized.

Tesla dreamt of flying machines.

We see our inventions against the sky-colored backdrop of our inner eye.

How else to satisfy our sense of proportion?

We have yet to master the direct perpendicular climb. The body breaks down before the technology.

There are reports of restlessness among the investors.

That’s where we are, riding just to the point of maximal change.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

New Book Forthcoming from Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney

The new book by Kathleen Rooney and Elisa Gabbert was a collaboration between them, one of a rare breed in the poetry world.

One Poem by Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney


“Women have more nightmares than men, though the scent of roses can improve their dreams.”—Harper’s Findings

Lightning has no special affection for
women, it’s women who are drawn to a
smell of ozone & a camera flash.
Are roses objectively romantic?
Is it real & did it happen? Dreamy
melodies in a minor key? You may
experience reduced fragility,
even euphoria. But the damage
of the admixture to flighty young things
is apparent as an undercurrent.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Poems from The Sea by Rauan Klassnik

Rauan Klassnik is the author of Holy Land. He resides in Mexico, where he works as a cutman for amateur boxers. He speaks Afrikaans, and when there's no boxing he's a fluffer at cockfights in his adopted land. His e-chapbook Ringing is out now.

Three Poems from a set called The Sea


Two girls are dragging a bag of trash. Blossoms drift down. I skin myself. Graft them on. And on. In a trance. Saving us all. Last night something was crying. On the balcony. In the sky. River. Garden. We searched for it. And searched. Lonely. Hurt. Dying. In the darkness crying. Like a sun dying. We gave up. Lay down. Smashed into a billion pieces.


Angels stand round me——wings curved in. And a bell starts ringing. Monkeys. In the tallest trees. Howling. And we’ll sing to them. Till they doze off. And we’ll shoot them. Down like dust——skull-white fire. There are so many ways to die. In your sleep’s a favorite. Dogs curled up. A small shrug. I want fire. Eyes. Hands. And teeth. Come to me.


Flowers, shot through with stars. Bent. Trembling. Fired in heat. Smeared——at my feet. So majestically. So perfectly. Birds. Fish. Nets. Cold-burning: everything.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Yorker Poem Reviews : The French Exit

A controversy brews here at the terrific blog by Elisa Gabbert called The French Exit.

It's about blogging on the general badness of New Yorker poems. A necessary activity? I think so.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Snakeskin Calls for Submissions

This from Jessy Randall...

Dear poets (and potential poets),

I am guest-editing the February 2010 issue of the online poetry magazine Snakeskin ( The theme of this issue is WORK, including housework, homework, yard work, paid work, any kind of work.

Please send me up to six poems on the topic. No previously-published poems. Simultaneous submissions are allowed. No attachments – poems should be in the body of the email.

The deadline is December 1.

Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might be interested.

Jessy Randall

Friday, September 25, 2009

Exploration vs Construction

My recent posts have been easy to misinterpret. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback via email (though not many comments made through blogspot to the posts) but I want to clarify that I think the work of people like Ashbery and Octavio Paz and Rimbaud and newer poets like Klassnik and Aase Berg can be powerfully moving and stand on their own. (I'm sure they will all be relieved.)

But much of the value of Ashbery and his heirs, for my purposes, is the exploration they do, which can be used, even mined, to build bigger structures. To create cohesive works that hang together, convey ideas beyond the atomic, simplest unit, and open the language to freshness and invention. I don’t think I necessarily accomplish that in all my stuff. The poem of mine I’ve linked to on the right is not really indicative of the main body of my work, which I haven’t sent out very much.

A poet I used to like and really can’t read now (Merrill) said that prose doesn’t aspire to poetry, but poetry to prose. That makes sense to me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Wars Part III - riverrun...

Another note about dislodging words from their traditional meanings (if the reader will agree there is such a thing as the traditional meaning of a word.)

If you reduce a word to shape and sound primarily, then you're creating drawings and music. That's certainly a way to write. But a word divorced from its idea, its meaning, is no longer really writing.

What some writers have done from the last century to now is try to reduce the words or phrases of their writing to as brief and atomic units of meaning possible. This is another way of reducing the power of the writing.

Joyce's approach to making up words increased the number of their meanings in the Wake, and compromised plot and perceptible action. Time itself is so fluid in that book that, as he intended, there are no obvious beginnings or endings but a continuous stream of behavior and thought.

I think that's an incredible approach, wildly original and stimulating. But I think it will always remain inaccessible to a general, non-writer or scholar readership. Not that all books should be written for the broader public, but those that aren't should accept that their impact will be limited.

I often think of One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of the best-selling books of all time. I think that it demonstrates that dense books with a plethora of metaphors can also be connected to characters and plot and action and a recognizable arc.

Again, I sound like a Social Realist, and I'm not. I'm just saying that writing that puts stylistic innovation over essential communication should always expect to have a narrower impact. You could argue that change starts at the top, i.e. among the elite. That impact from those changes is felt more broadly than that from popular writing.

I haven't developed these ideas fully yet. In future posts they will be better explained.

The Wars Part II

Thank god Kirsch has spoken against Ashbery, some of whose work I love. He really has created more glittering monsters than any contemporary poet, both in his poems and in his influence on others’ poetry. I can’t say it better than Kirsch, who suggests that much of Ashbery's style amounts to amusing nonsense, and that by draining words or phrases of their usual significance, Ashbery acquires an aura of transgression. It’s this that seduces so many of the young. Both in the community of writers and that of editors.

I like C.D. Wright but I agree that there is a disregard for non-poets as readers implied in her work. Perhaps the failure of contemporary poetry to attract a readership of non-poets (with the exception of a few, probably, like Billy Collins though who can know?) has to do with this eschewing of directness, even simplicity. I must sound like a totalitarian leader calling for Socialist Realism, inveighing against the decadent movements of cubism and surrealism. I’m actually just trying to point out that maybe there’s a reason the readership of poetry might be lower than in previous years.

Charles Mingus said complexity is easy, simplicity is difficult.

Yes these questions are quite broad, but honestly it’s the broad questions about this topic that engage me most. I don’t give a fuck about soft surrealism. I will say that I don’t believe most people think in as fragmented a manner as Leopold Bloom. Or C.D. Wright. I don’t believe Joyce's or her writing is an honest attempt to transcribe her thoughts or communicate clearly whatever her thoughts happen to be. And that poses a distinct challenge to non-poets in my opinion.

Should writers care about communicating clearly? What’s communicating clearly? What’s an idea? This interests me too, but it’s a bit esoteric, just like much contemporary poetry is.

My father argues that the most important opinions on any industry or endeavor come from laymen. They are not, he says, as likely to be seduced by meaningless nuances and sophistry.

The foremost question I ask about a poet is whether she works to be understood.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Wars

Everybody knows there's a war on. More than one. I figure if it bleeds, it leads, so let's go into it. The war is between the courteous and the discourteous poets, according to Adam Kirsch in his 2008 book The Modern Element.

He cites C.D. Wright (below) as the current caliph of discourtesy. He lauds Derek Walcott more vigorously than anyone in his book. (I won’t get into the politics around Walcott’s appointment brouhaha in England.) And Kirsch alleges weaknesses in the poetry of John Ashbery and that of his legion of followers (as close to heresy as a contemporary poetry critic can get, I think.) More on that later, but I’ve already tipped my hand.

There are many wars. The war is also between soft surrealism and its opposites or complements (which are what?) Between canon-definers like Harold Bloom and his opponents. These wars resemble the New York-centric battle in theater between “uptown” or mainstream plays (Lincoln Center and Broadway) and “downtown” or alternative plays (seen in small theaters with a strong emphasis on the poetic and the non-representational.) I don’t know the names of the warring camps in the world of the novel, and I’d like it if someone told me. I can read and tell that Blake Butler differs from E.L. Doctorow, but I’m not sure how to refer to that difference.

Do these differences matter? Yes, to those who care about writing. If you’re reading this blog, you are in that category (whether you like it or not.) But it also matters to those who don’t care about literature and theater. Perhaps they are not engaged in some of the new stuff out there because the writers are making choices that disengage the reader. Though some might disagree with me, I argue that that is a bad thing.

I’m not really worried about writers. I’m worried about readers. That in itself is a radical position to take, from what I gather. Shouldn’t writers only worry about themselves? No, goddamnit. Yet worrying about readers is associated with a compromise of vision, a desecration of the temple of the Self, and considered akin to writing thrillers for money.

I’m as willing as the next guy to write some poems that are fun but so elliptical or obtuse that to most people they would be considered near-gibberish. But I sat at a poetry reading in Brooklyn about a year ago in which most poets were spewing out lines that they thought were inventive in relatively unrelated sequence. One used the words “useless wizards,” to her delight and the audience’s as well. I couldn’t say for sure what the words had to do with the rest of the poem or whether she was referring to poets with them.

Poetry has always been a little discourteous in that metaphor is not plain speaking. But the question is whether metaphor and other poetic devices are employed to engage the reader in something larger than just the "wizardry" of the devices. (A slightly tortured metaphor.) Because while that wizardry is pleasing to some extent, if it's not used carefully for other, perhaps deeper purposes, then it remains a technical mechanism, and that on the most superficial level. More a machine than a work of art.

These days, if a novel makes little sense beyond the arbitrary meanings created by the words in juxtaposition, it’s considered dense and poetic. What does that say about poetry? (Other poetic novels that I read, such as Butler’s Scorch Atlas, have not been at all devoid of cumulative sense, of course.)
More on this in a following post.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Little Giggles Open like Books by Andrew Lundwall

This poem, from La Petite Zine, strikes me like a David Lynch movie. Fragmented but held together by a sinister American aesthetic.

In the first and third persons, the poem smash cuts from belt buckles to cigarettes to broken heineken bottles. Heineken? Fuck that shit! PBR! The word american comes up three times, and illinois comes up once. I get the sense that the other presence in the poem is somebody on the verge of a dramatic act, which underlies what I see as the feigned indifference of the narrative: "just okay."

The whole thing has a neo-Platonic terror to it: american living room 9m body odor affordably." Atmosphere is the word here, and the best description of eyes I've seen in awhile: "trembling egg sockets."

Congrats to La Petite Zine for putting out this almost-unhinged, swinging screen door of a poem.

Dominoes by Kevin Allardice

This piece in GULF COAST by Kevin Allardice is a work of flash fiction that provocatively sketches the lives, and brushes with death, of three people. To summarize flash fiction seems even sillier than summarizing a short poem, but here goes. The first character is a painter whose Parkinson’s turns him into an abstract painter against his will. The second is an architecture student who becomes inspired by the painter. The student learns he has spatial dyslexia, then tries to kill himself in an Ithaca gorge but fails. The third is an investment banker who, for reasons I don’t quite understand, administers morphine to her cancer-stricken father instead of the arsenic he requested because she read about the student’s suicide attempt.

There are quite a few lines in this piece that vibrate with a tension and resonance that surprise my ear. I enjoy phrases like “the well-ordered precision of his cities beginning to blur and bounce,” which are abundant here. And everybody loves interlocking stories. The themes of transformation, and of the pollination of ideas that lead to the final transformation in life, stand out strongly and I appreciate that. What I can’t grasp are what in a longer work might be called plot holes. The author says that the failed-suicide article led to the banker changing her father’s euthanasia drug. What does one have to do with the other? The connection is not nearly as strong as that between the painter’s work and the student’s outlook. And wouldn’t an art student who becomes an architecture student understand that he had spatial dyslexia long before being diagnosed with such?

In a short work with so many good ideas, though, the complaints seem like quibbling. They don’t detract from the power of a piece that limns the boundary between deliberate action and accidental consequences. A fiction that asks big questions and invents a tone resembling a scientific case study mixed with obituary written by a poet. For these reasons, Allardice’s Dominoes (a heavy-handed name) spurs me to look up further work by him and follow it closely.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Standard by Greg Gerke

This is not the kind of work I usually like, but if I am cultivating an anti-aesthetic then it's a good place to start. (By anti-aesthetic I don't mean I will spend time writing about and publishing stuff that I don't like. I'm not opposed to negative reviews, but I do believe that engaging with work that's useless is useless.)

Back to the review. This piece of flash fiction, published recently on Night Train as one of their weekly offerings in that genre, brings us into a marriage. It's a first person narrative that swerves from a Kafka-cum-Bukowski description of employment at the post office to a paranoid and touching fantasy about his (presuming the narrator's male) wife's possible employment there too.

The pivot in the story, which features a hilariously, deliberately uninventive scene in which "we make love," is the question asked by the narrator of his wife. When he arrives home, she always takes the car out for eight hours. Is she waiting for him to return or waiting for the car, he wants to know.

Gerke distills the world of a couple into the words and actions of a few moments, and then the impressions their asses make on the sofa. My biggest problem is the ending's reference to "our slight, slightly broken bodies." That seems as soft as the couch.

The beginning promises something more bracing as an ending, something with a bit of the chill that Max Brod spent his life promoting. With the diversity of tones in this piece, it's not surprising that he found it difficult to pull off all of them. I will read more Gerke to pursue what he manages to accomplish on other subjects.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why Ishmael's Dog?

In the novel that thrills and vexes me as it does many readers, Melville introduces Bulkington, a character who appears for the length of two pages. He figures nowhere in the plot, and the author laughs at the brevity and insignificance of Bulkington's life. Yet he includes him, with the following phrases:

Wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable; deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington.

Why do we hear about Bulkington and not about Ishmael's dog? There's no mention of the latter in the novel, the animal is my fiction, but the mystery of what we leave in and what we keep out fascinates me. That's why Ishmael's Dog.

My intention is to publish flash fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction and reviews that assemble an anti-aesthetic. An abrupt rebuke to prevailing ideas. Works that make us shut up and listen, then respond out loud.

Thanks for joining me in this endeavor.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sous Rature

The new issue is online with an incredibly ambitious poem by Alejandro Crawford. Kudos, now give me a minute to figure it out.

Also in the same issue we find this punchy little number by Stephanie Strickland.

I have read a few more, and will post about them when I've thought further on them.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Watched Prospero's Books again

It's great. I can't sit through all of it (as I mentioned elsewhere, I'm a half-philistine) but I love it anyway.

Gielgud speaks all the lines, it takes place on a fucked up Baroque fantasy soundstage. A living painting.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Emily Kendal Frey's poem BRIDGE

This appears on Sink Review: I post the entire poem below, but you should check out that entire issue of SR.


I thought I could hear him crossing a bridge.

Underneath it, the city flared like an ear.

I dialed his number many times.

There are hills and then there are bigger hills.

I decided to walk home but everything was burning.


When a poem is called Bridge, you might not think of suicide jumpers, but I do. In Emily Kendal Frey’s short poem, we get no overt description of one. We do get a pleasing compression, and a subtle set of images for the most part. Along with an allusive finesse that directs our attention toward the subject without forcing anything on us, the piece promises and almost delivers a coup de grace.

The city flaring like an ear is an original, evocative and totally successful simile. The dialing-his-number line is moving because it’s clearly about his death or disappearance, or at least departure, and while we’ve all heard of this syndrome among people who’ve lost loved ones, I’ve never read it in a poem. That it’s left alone is good. The “hills” line is a terrific one that also stands on its own. Finally, the last line breaks the spell. “Everything was burning” is too general, and to my mind little histrionic even if the darkest implications of this poem are true. I would have preferred an image of a single thing on fire, perhaps. I can’t picture “everything was burning” as easily as I can picture one (or even several) conflagrations. Perhaps a failure of my imagination, but that’s something I’ve found in the writing I like most; the metaphors are surprising in their specificity.

Overall, I really like this writer’s work, including her other poems published in coconut ten. I will be looking out for further publications from her.

My current reading, Part Million

Books I'm reading:
- Gotham: A History of New York to 1898. For the research.
- Lonesome Dove: for the funny. Antidote to Blood Meridian
- Prose. Poems. A Novel - is on its way. Can't wait.
- Light Boxes - Shane Jones - to check out what the hype is all about
- World's End - TC Boyle - for the research and the antic, brilliant, sometimes cartoonish style.

Others to come...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Yorker Poems Aug 31 2009 : Wilbur

Because these poems by Richard Wilbur come from someone respected as a master, whose impact (such as it might have been) has already been felt, they perhaps shouldn’t be expected to advance the art further. But they don’t take any risks that I can detect. And for the New Yorker to dedicate all the poems in an issue to him is striking because the implication is that he has a lot to say to us and to the art. Here goes:

The House is a sonnet, with those awkward word choices that often accompany the need to rhyme. Wilbur has vast experience rhyming, but he gives us a house she “had not entered yet, for all her sighs,” to rhyme with eyes. The words chime, but “for all her sighs?” She never entered the house despite having sighed a lot? Sighs normally would have allowed her to enter? Sorry to be obtuse, but it doesn’t make sense to me.

The description of the house takes up the middle of the poem. There’s “a widow’s walk above the bouldered shore,” which I enjoy very much. The other couple of lines about it are perfunctory, a death-knell for such a short poem.

Then a reference in the fourth to last line implies that the woman at the center of the poem is dead. The piece states that the house was a “haven fashioned by her dreaming mind.” I think I’m supposed to be moved by that fact that the house isn’t real, but I’m not. O, you are men of stones!

The poem finishes with a line that comes out of nowhere, “Night after night, my love, I put to sea.” I like those words and hate them at once. They’re not connected to the rest of the poem in imagery, or in voice, which shifts from third to second person. But I like them because they remind me of To the Harbormaster by Frank O’Hara.

There’s an undeniable gravity to lines about putting to sea, as it’s a momentous and life-risking endeavor even when it’s a daily (or nightly) thing. To be at sea is a phrase that’s stuck in the language because it’s evocative. But the fact that he’s putting to sea... what does that have to do with the house? I think the sea belongs in this poem more than the house does. I don’t really care by its end what her relation to the imaginary house was particularly, because I’m more interested in his reaction to her non-presence, and his being at sea. He loved her because she loved the house? Why?

Like many poems I read, this one is a tease. It tries to sidestep its own main thrust and get at subtlety that way. A cop-out. Maybe I’m being deliberately dense because I think we excuse much elision in the name of not being too direct. I want confrontation. A poem is not considered on-the-nose unless it confronts its subject without invention. With invention, it’s brilliant to address a subject directly.

I’m a stickler for making poems about precisely the essential, most significant subject matter in it and not surrounding something meaningful with the extraneous.

Flying, the second of the three Wilbur poems in this issue, is just terrible. Rhythmically awkward, not inventive in language or idea, barren of striking images. It does present a risk to us: read it and risk boredom and annoyance. Apologies but I don’t want to dissect it further.

A Reckoning seeks to be Yeats. Incidental Yeats, almost. Rhythmically, in its subject, and in its structure it harks back to the great Irish master. The poem’s very direct about its matter, which I appreciate, and it’s somewhat funny. I forgive that the first stanza portends a poem of much greater heft because of the effort at comedy. But it rhymes forgiven with shriven. It contains the lines “Well, I shall put the blame/On the pride that’s in my shame.” Not sure what pride in shame means. It says what it means to in a way that is awkward (again), and its argument contains no risk or surprise. It is simply regular and metrical and a poem only because of that.

To publish these pieces indicates to my mind an editorial choice uninterested in advancing the art. This editorial choice has preferred saying something to us, in particular with the putting to sea image. I appreciate that. I only wish there was more on offer.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New Yorker Poems - Aug 24, 2009 : Dunn, Digges, and Carson

Stephen Dunn's If A Clown is better than your average New Yorker poem. The piece is nearly as funny as you might hope. And it's a breezy but serious consideration of comedy, foolery, jesterhood and their location in life, which is sometimes ruled by disappointment and fear.

What could be sadder, my friend thought,
than a clown in need of a context?

That line really gets me. Because all clowns are out of context, which is what makes them funny, and clowns at all. And all clowns are sad. So I like.

But some lines are unearned. Referring to a clown who needs a ride, the narrator asks...

would the connection
between the comic and the appalling,
as it pertained to clowns, be suddenly so clear
that you’d be paralyzed by it?

First off, we don't need to hear "as it pertains to clowns." I don't know how the NYer editing process goes, but that one slipped by everyone, don't you think? And without that little insert, the line is very serious and not really in context itself. Hard to explain without reproducing the rest of the poem, but follow the above link and tell me if you agree that there is a jarring, contrived suddenness to that line.

I mean, I want the connection between the appalling and the comic to be made and explored, but it's sort of name-checked and not fulfilled. The imaginary tear is a great touch, but the idea at the end that the birthday boy's relationship to disappointment would be forever altered seems to me too big a claim. I'm probably being a philistine (again) but that's another unearned bit to my mind.

Overall, though, the piece is a nice consideration of the role of the joker, and should be a prose poem. What's with the needless line breaks in this one?

The late memoirist and versifier Deborah Digges' The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart is pitifully facile.

The title is the opening line, already revealing her preference for redundancy. (I know, some great poems do this, but it's really a wasted opportunity, I think.)
Check out the rampant cliche and needless repetition that follows.

The wind through my heart
blows all my candles out.
In my heart and its rooms is dark and windy.

And here's Digges on her dresses...

And my dresses
they are lifted like brides come to rest
on the bedstead, crucifixes,
dresses tangled in trees in the rooms
of my heart.

I guess it's hard to like a poem when you consider its central metaphor a cliche and its style, a mixture of refrain and expansive tone with mannered syntax, obnoxious.

Come the bees now clinging to flowered curtains.

Come the bees? Really? Finally, she relaxes a bit, and then ends on a note of strange semi-foreboding with direct tones of mortality. I just don't have any idea how this fits...

It is cool here, quiet, a quilt spread on soil.
But we will never lie down again.

I will look at Digges' other stuff to find out why she was acclaimed.
Anne Carson has a power unlike most poets writing today. The intimacy of her poems jolts us, and yet doesn't remind me of the confessional poets. I think that's because her work seems both more grounded and more phenomenal, archaicallly elevated. But I'm writing here of her book Glass, Irony and God, instead of the subject at hand which is her recent NYer poem Epithalium NYC. The poem begins with a bracing moment...

I washed my hair the morning I got married put
red boots found license woke C. set off for City

Then she observes an arguing couple on a bench next to theirs in the park, and an older man speaking to his late wife as he sits alone on another seat.

She includes the Statue of Liberty at the end for reasons that could be stretched to make sense but really shouldn't be. The poem promised more to me in its opening lines than it delivered. I wanted to hear something more about her marriage (presuming the narrator is a woman, of course) and less an anecdotal portrait of other couples. It was like a scene from a movie - newlyweds get hitched quick, and then think twice when watching a bickering pair shortly thereafter.

I think I expect too much of Anne Carson.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Texas Thing

When I read Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, I gain some understanding of the Old West, and the Texas that preceded the one I grew up in. I enjoy the characters, the humor, and see the points he has to make.

When I read Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, I realize why Texas is the way it is now, in a way that's so deep that it explains me, in part, to myself. It's bigger than Texas, actually, which few things are.

More Reflections on Art and Social Change

A bit of an unstructured post follows: read at your hazard.

Many people say that art should not consider social change in its creation. Some of my favorite critics, like Harold Bloom. Poppycock. There is some terrific stuff that vigorously asserts its social conscience, of course, from the opera of Peter Sellars (the director) to the novels of TC Boyle to the theater of Tony Kushner (which Bloom praises and which he influenced, according to the playwright) to the work of Milan Kundera to any number of others.

There's also Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, which anyone reading this blog knows has obsessed me lately.

An Ahab-like character named the Judge reports through dialogue with the character called only the kid that, to the Judge's dismay, the latter has grown a conscience following their campaign of mercenary killing.

But no action or language on the kid's part really demonstrates that conscience, at least to my eye. The Judge, that great amoral havoc-wreaker, child-killer and Indian-massacre-specialist, antagonist of the whole thing, tells the kid that he saw this conscience develop and that it betrayed weakness. That's how we learn of the kid's change. But we are not subject to the kid's side of the moral debate. The book is an exploration of darkness, for whatever that term is worth. Therefore darkness has the stage, the floor, and the bar and balcony for that matter.

For me the book is a sustained moral commentary. Its ability to shock is its power. And the recoil that we experience repeatedly is our reason for reading, and it's a sign of our conscience, our humanity. Our humanity is recurringly invoked.

McCarthy's violence in that book does not desensitize us to it, though it's relentless. The book's brutality is surprising enough to awaken our disgust and pity and terror.

No Country For Old Men
, by contrast, goes through the motions and makes violence a tool toward no particular end but its own portrayal.

Our opinion of European conquest in the West informs some of our reaction to Blood Meridian. The cruelty of the "whites" is portrayed more graphically and with a loving attention to detail, and the Indians and Mexicans are not given equivalent arias of bloodshed. Minor ones, but not serious and central ones.

I think there's a pretension among writers who pen supposedly amoral work that they can assemble words that defy our conscious judgments. I'm not saying that violence can't be aestheticized successfully, and that something like Hamlet doesn't offer a transcendent, redemptive picture of blood retribution to some extent. (that's a vastly more complicated topic, of course). But all these works rely on our basic sense of right and wrong to provide astonishment when whatever we conceive of as justice is defiled.

Sigh. I wonder if anyone else has written more online about this book. I saw this blog post the other day and read it with interest (it's from 2008.) But I just can't seem to shut up on the subject. Oh well. I know my brother likes this stuff.

Ugly Duckling Presse: Twelve Windows

Just finished reading Twelve Windows, a short book of short prose poems by Jamey Jones. Some of it was quite impressive.

I awake to the helicopter in my chest.

Muscled techno bravado

everything seemed immensely ghost-ridden.

another idea about to open.

a woman mixing men up.

This is bone music

As if solitude were inherited

Lines I don't like at all:

He folds a mountain like a ten-cent stamp. (why ten-cent? of course that's the question but why are we asking this question?)

yawp - in my opinion, that's a word heavy with Whitman and sort of dangerous to invoke. Unless you're truly Whitmanian.

All things plain and mostly mutual

...but for the way you nerve your going...

You sleep in a world of your own.

Your codependent tussled winter darkness. (???)

Remembering pointed time constructed, lucidly deconstructing.

Lines about which I'm undecided:

Are we poetry or prose or trees or star clusters? I guess I like this one.

My issue with most prose poems is, I think, not an uncommon one: how easy they seem to write. How lazy some writers of them are. How they seem to discourage compression, angularity, and tautness. But this book does show itself capable of real invention. Which makes the sort of numbness of the whole hard to interpret. And difficult to accept.

I didn't feel, after a few of them, like these poems were collectively taking me anywhere. You dream minor bars of a song, says a poem called Days, and in one sense that line described the book. I appreciated the poems about the scattering of ashes of the deceased, but they were anomalies, and not the most graceful, or to my mind thoughtful, poems here.

I admit to preferring Rauan Klassnik and Aase Berg, who are towering over newer prose-poem writers, but I think Jones has the raw stuff to make a better book that could be visible above the smaller structures that surround it. If I get a chance, I will read more of his stuff in other publications and post follow-up thoughts.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Future Reading

I plan to take on more contemporary novels in my reading soon. It's difficult to find ones that I like, as I am pretty picky and narrowly focused on work that will assist me in some way in my writing. Another book in that category is Johnny One-Eye, which is a fanciful rendering of Manhattan in the Revolutionary War era. Not that fanciful, as its pretty well researched. Not much of a magical realist approach, more of just straight comedy in a historical setting.

In my novel The Floods of New York I'm having a tough time weaving the story of the Reynolds family, which I invented, into the stories of other folks who have documented histories on Manhattan. I think the main trouble will be in the period after settlers arrived in the 17th century to the end of that era, and then after the Civil War.

More soon.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Partial Immersion Reading Part II

Add to my list below Moby-Dick and Don Quixote. Those are in the category of One Hundred Years of Solitude, where I am constantly looking back at them, and forward to them.

Partial Immersion Reading

Books I’ve dipped into recently:

Mason & Dixon - Pynchon : stopped at the talking dog. Might try to push through that. Definitely has relevance to the novel I’m writing called The Floods of New York, which is also historical fiction on American soil that covers that time period in part.

The Iliad: The gore and vanity and heroism and cowardice all are staggeringly rendered in Robert Fagles’ translation, and relate to what I’m writing. But I’m not writing about the gods, so it sort of repels me a bit too.

Censoring an Iranian Love Story – Shahriar Mandanipour : Amazing, Kundera-esque, but because it's cosmopolitan and experimental, not aligned with my novel.

Our Lady of the Flowers - Jean Genet: going back into it briefly based on enthusiasm from Rauan Klassnik ( Not relevant very directly to my current novel, but great. Its freedom is almost intolerable.

Shame – Rushdie : A great magical realist tale of Pakistan/not Pakistan. Read most of it once. Tonally has some distant relations to what I’m trying for.

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Marquez : Perennially involved with that book.

Reading some research books for my novel, most of which are only partially relevant so dipping into them.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Blood Meridian and Moby Dick

There are so many aspects of Blood Meridian that are subversive. The refusal to delve inside the characters, defying much literary convention. Their actions, and statements, are their characters and why should that be different? What does it matter how tormented a character is unless he says or does something about it. In that sense, it's like theater or film. Little opportunity to go inside the heads.

There are also descriptions that highlight the insignificance and meaninglessness of human actions. The wild poetry, and often archaic language. These I think are also subsersive - of our expectations and our philosophies of meaning.

Moby Dick is clearly the main precursor, as the front cover blurb says. Where does Blood Meridian fall in the pantheon of American novels, then? Not that I'm one to decide this, but the book speaks as eloquently about the American dream as The Great Gatsby in my opinion. Just the darkest aspect of it. It avoids the potboilerish aspects of All the King's Men. And it almost captures the scope and sweep of Moby Dick.

Interestingly, while it's funny in spots, it overall lacks the humor of Moby Dick. But I don't fault it a lot for that. It's as dark as any literature I've read. Darker I think than Macbeth. There are benign characters in Macbeth, of which there are pretty much none of significance in Blood.

Bloom talks a lot about the character of the Judge, naturally. He suggests the Judge is Moby Dick rather than Ahab. I disagree because Moby Dick is nature, and not a philosopher, as opposed to Ahab, a man and driven by idea.

I think Blood Meridian is more subversive than Moby Dick but less universal. The men in Blood Meridian are shaped by nature, in both major senses of the word, just as Ahab and the crew are. But their acts are not motivated so personally as Ahab's is. We feel that Ahab burns to the bottom of his soul with his quest. In Blood Meridian the Judge has his convictions, and his passion for capturing the world in his journal is strong, but there isn't the same consuming fire for a single objective. The Judge appears to be more philosopher than feeler, but Ahab is both.

But Blood Meridian is more subversive than Melville's great book because Moby Dick doesn't present as directly the atrocity toward each other that we are capable of. It doesn't ask us to consider war so much as battle. Just a thought.

What do you think?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Blood Meridian Thoughts

Reading Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian now, as my brother has long suggested I do. The poetry of violence. It's a catalogue of horrors, a litany of atrocities. A gruesome masterpiece. I understand the comparisons to Moby Dick and The Iliad.

A near-total absence the interiors of people's minds and emotions, just a procession of actions that astonish the reader with their brutality, drawn with the most beautiful visual descriptions I've ever read on a sustained level in a novel. Not just visual, either. A mule that falls off a cliff is "absolved of memory in any living thing." Stuff like that.

Sometimes the novel strikes me as an effort to shock, and then when I get done recoiling I realize again that nothing that he's thought up hasn't actually happened. Not that he found every grotesque act in the copious research he did; just that nothing we can conceive of doing to one other hasn't been done.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Just back from Spain

More on this in subsequent posts. Noted that I missed something called Sine Wave Goodbye while I was gone, a theater company named The Paper Industry's latest "ugly opera." Sounds fascinating.

Meanwhile I was in the home of duende...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Familiar Disguise

In considering Lear, I've been fascinated by Edgar and Kent. Their loyalty, their dogged devotion and their self-disguise. And in the case of Edgar particularly, the disguises that are necessary for children to take on in order to approach and relate to a parent.

We all deny ourselves to fit with family to some extent. Edgar and Kent are extreme cases, and the latter is not a blood relative. But Cordelia bravely and perhaps stubbornly doesn't fashion herself to her father, and suffers exile as a result.

Ruminations on Plays

Well, it's been awhile since I've posted. I've been reading lots of plays - Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg.

And by Horton Foote, Dividing the Estate.

And King Lear.

Also saw August: Osage Country on Broadway, which sort of kicked off this round of thinking.

Been consdering some obvious points: how central family is to drama (and comedy for that matter.) And the question that I use to interrogate new plays these days : if the characters are not related, why? What I really see is not necessarily that wholesale dysfunction is all that interests us. But that we don't know who we are except in relationships, and the family provides the tonic and dominant notes in the symphony of self.

More on this soon.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Some Quotes I Like

In men whom men condemn as ill
I find so much of goodness still,
In men whom men pronounce divine
I find so much of sin and blot,
I do not dare to draw a line
Between the two, where God has not.
~ Joaquin Miller ~

I make the poem of evil also.
~ Walt Whitman ~

I can't live when it lives
It won't live if I die
Machine has no heart to give
Heart it takes could be mine
- Soundgarden

No one can save
The pure or the brave
No one can save them at all
Grow and decay
Grow and decay
It's only forever

Friday, April 17, 2009

Because There's this British Playwright No One's Heard Of...

I’ve been rereading Macbeth and some of the psychology of it has thinned out for me.

When the witches first declare that Macbeth will be King, Banquo asks him “Good sir, why do you start; and seem to fear/Things that do sound so fair?” What’s interesting to me about this is that Banquo immediately endorses the prophecy despite its hugely bloody implications. At the very least it calls for the death of the king. On my current reading, I recoiled from this avarice, and found the subsequent eagerness of Macbeth to consider murder (within the same scene) an almost totally alienating development in my identification with him.

What’s so different from the first times I read this play? I think one obvious thing – the prediction of the witches doesn’t seem as wonderfully felicitous to someone who’s tread the territory of the play before. Shakespeare relies on that bit of psychology heavily here I think – but the charm of being told you’re being promoted by some witches and then getting that promotion doesn’t seem enough to me now to warrant all-out regicidal thoughts. Yeah, maybe the superstition was more common in that place and time but my first readings didn’t result in this jarring disconnect.

One thing that also occurs to me is that one reason we’re motivated to assume the kingship with Macbeth precisely because the battle he just fought was so bloody. We want to be relatively safe, like Duncan. Not on the front lines risking everything all the time. So for a warring Thane like Macbeth it’s almost a matter of life and death to assume the kingship.

Also, the way I usually think of the play is that Macbeth doesn’t consider killing the king until his wife encourages him to do so. That’s not true, to my surprise during this reading. She just fixes him on the goal.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Aase Berg's With Deer

In speaking about With Deer I will try to defy the hyperbole and the self-induglent metaphor used to review and blurb books these days, but I may fail.

I think this book is powerfully original and cohesive.

I have been processing the book slowly. The first poem was a shock to me, and since I've had longer to think about it than about the others, I will address it in the post. Then I will probably write a longer review for another site or for some unsuspecting print publication if possible.

The poem itself...

His fingers search the bottom of the tarn for the water lily's black vein. Still the love beast breathes. Still he suckles the fox sore on my weak wrist. In the distance the wind is slowly dying: the night of nights is coming. But still the fetus lily rests untouched. And still his fingers search the bottom of the tarn for the water lily's black vein.

Addressing this poem, I should say that the first line's immediacy and clarity seized me. I doubt seriously whether this poet would cite Seamus Heaney as an influence, but I feel that kind of relationship to the natural world here. What follows pleasingly breaks that idea down.

The love beast breathes, suckles the fox sore. We see perhaps a love beast injured, breathing to the narrator's surprise. And we wonder what a fox sore is and why it would be suckled. I looked around online for some explanation of what fox sore would mean in Swedish, but I found out that it just means "we're reading an inventive and bizarre poem."

Then the wind is slowly dying - an unfortunate cliche here. But I think writers are not supposed to care about the occasional lazy phrase anymore. Doesn't make sense to me, especially in a short poem. The night of nights is coming; this line sets the tone for the book. What she's created here is an atmosphere of the wounded, the half-healing, the natural world taking over and yet falling apart. What happens to daylight in Sweden during winter might have something to do with this.

The lily becomes an untouched fetus, an unformed entity which would not respond well to being fingered by the man. Or "his fingers." And the lily's vein eludes those fingers at the end. The delicate is evasive, and the source of beauty, perhaps rotted itself, is still inviolate. Still. Nothing has really changed.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Musical TNT

On Tuesday night I saw, with my friend Shawn, Prokofiev's Second Symphony performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Putin's fave conductor Valery Gergiev. It was amazing. A bit overly dramatic and repetitive at times, but edge-of-your-seat energy and these cliffhanger stops that robbed you of your breath.

Apparently, he thought that his second symphony was a failure. He didn't stop writing them for ten years like Rachmaninoff after his second, but he did think the piece was too wild and didn't hold together. Sounded great to me.

Then they played the Seventh which wholly sucked. When I was listening to it I thought of this Henry Miller quote from Tropic of Cancer, about a Ravel piece he heard that began with a bang and ended with a whimper:

"There was something heroic about it and he could have driven us stark mad, Ravel, if he had wanted to. But that’s not Ravel. Suddenly it all died down. It was as if he remembered, in the midst of his antics, that he had on a cutaway suit. He arrested himself. A great mistake, in my opinion. Art consists in going the full length. If you start with the drums you have to end with dynamite, or TNT. Ravel sacrificed something for form, for a vegetable that people must digest before going to bed.” - Henry Miller

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I used to dislike contemporary novels and stories that centered on murder or featured it as a major plot point. I don’t feel that way about classics, where it’s part of the collective subconscious already. And not mysteries or other “genre” stuff where murder’s the whole point. But literary stuff where it feels like a murder was tacked on to give the story closure? I will think of specific examples soon, but I’m blanking now. But we all know what I mean, right?

I don’t really put in that category William T. Vollman, or that other quite graphic writer Dennis Cooper, who are both fascinated with violence, though the latter probably more with sex. They are experimenting consciously with it and not using it to shore up the drama exclusively. It’s part of the fabric of their writing.

But generally my thought has been that most people don’t live their lives murdering or being murdered, so why should fiction disproportionately focus on it?

It dawned on me very recently that if fiction is to condense our fundamental realties, then murder has to be front and center. As we all know, most societies are founded on killing and supported by it. The winners of world wars, and tribal and clan warfare, and internecine rivalry populate the world today. We are a world of murderers, or the descendents of them. We are heirs to slaughter. So I would like to write about that: about our inheritance, and what we do with it today. End of polemic. For now.

Sweeping Statements About Literary Journals

I like them and I don’t. Bold, I know. My faves are Cannibal, and Monkeybicycle. What don’t I like?

Sometimes I don’t like the diversity of voices. By that I mean it’s confusing to read so many different writers in a short span, hard to get into a groove.

Even if it’s carefully “curated.” The thrill of finding a surprising piece, something really impressive, is sometimes worth the effort. Like this by Evan Smith Rakoff in Ploughshares.

Novels have the unity I’m looking for, but I can never get past page 70. I’d like to read a succession of really great 70 page novellas. But I never buy novellas. And what’s a classic novella? I mean, an indispensible one? See?

(All I can think of is maybe Notes from Underground, Dostoyevsky. What else?) My attention span is to blame? Or literature? I’ll blame literature.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

boring boring boring boring

I'm reading this book by Zach Plague and it rocks.

A review if I finish it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Thought On Ishmael

I’m sure a Melville critic has said this before, but at the end of Moby-Dick, with the ship destroyed and Ahab dead, Ishmael calls himself an orphan.

Doesn’t this mean the boat was his family?

And that Ahab was his father?

I suppose I could go off on how the whole thing is an Oedipal fantasy fulfilled but I won’t. That's probably been thoroughly covered too.

As many also know, D.H. Lawrence and Carl Van Doren were among the first to champion Melville's work after it had largely been forgotten. This is Lawrence's classic study that captured his view that Meville ranked with Whitman and other greats.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Rationale(s)

I really should have a Carlos Fuentes book. Kundera recommends Terra Nostra. But hell, now that I have it it's too long. Selling it. They won't buy it - shelf space. Salvation Army!

Since he made his rep on an early book, how about The Death of Artemio Cruz? Oh shit, it's so experimental it will require real concentration to read it. And the book is not contributing to my thinking about my own novel.

Oh, here's Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen recommended on a blog somewhere. The first ten pages are exactly what I need. Then it becomes a Gilbert Sorrentino book. Almost.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fifty-Two Stories

I just read a good story on fifty-two stories. By Blake Butler, it's called The Copy Family. I don't know if you italicize the names of stories or not. And I don't give a fuck. Because I'm hawd.

working on my novel

It's disruptive to my reading to work on this novel I am embroiled in, called The Floods of New York.

The critical eye I'm squinting through at my own pages jaundices my view of others' work.

When I encounter a passage that doesn't strike my fancy, I feel too acutely disappointed, both in my writing and that of just about any novel I'm reading.

Given the difficulty I have reading entire books, I'm inordinately happy about having finished Moby-Dick this summer. But anything short of that is hard going now. Ridiculous, I know, but a fact.

The novel I'm reading now, Johnny One-Eye by Jerome Charyn, is terrific. So I'm having less of this problem with it than with some others I've labored with recently. But my condition is still a suboptimal way to live, you know?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I Save It Up

Because my company's firewall doesn't allow blogspot through any more.

Anyway, I've been thinking I blog like an old man.

"Listen here, sonny! This is what I read, and you should read it too! And here's what I think on this subject..."

But I guess I am a cranky old man. What does blogging look like if I'm not blogging like an old man?

This was my best score on Guitar Hero.
Oh my god, did you see the Jonas Brothers movie?
Read my chapbook?

Nah, I'd post about all those things.

Not Knowing

You know, Donald Barthelme once told me, in one of his books (Not Knowing,) that you can't fucking plan it.

That's fine, but then how do you get a line like "Many years later, standing in front of the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia recalled the day his father took him to discover ice," or however opens.

Not that a huge amount of that book wasn't improvised, or however you might describe unplanned writing. But Marquez himself has said he planned that thing thoroughly. So? Not knowing.

Unsung Novels

SHAME by Salman Rushdie, the Muslim infidel.

BEAUTIFUL LOSERS by Leonard Cohen, the singer-songwriter.

I suppose they're not truly obscure. They're both available in your local Enormous Retailer of Books. I would throw in THE BOOK OF DANIEL by E.L. Doctorow.

A really obscure one that's good, and also by a musician, is a book called I, FLATHEAD by Ry Cooder.

Another one I like that isn't a novel, and I don't know how sung it is - SADE: AN EROTIC BEYOND, by Octavio Paz. Soft surrealism take that.

I like things everybody else likes

Borges. And no, I'm not linking to Amazon's copy of LABYRINTHS.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Because We All Know Movies Aren't Literature

I saw the new movie WATCHMEN.

I've only read bits of the graphic novel and found that the print version and the movie had similar flaws: Dr. Manhattan is practically a god, and the others have no explanation that I can see for their superpowers - why is Ozymandias so fast? Because he's smart?

For my money, IRON MAN is the best superhero movie of the last decade.

But who's counting? I mean, peace sells, but who's buying?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Because We All Know Poetry's Not Literature

Check out Rauan Klassnik's new e-chapbook, Ringing.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Because We All Know Sci Fi's Not Literature

I've been re-reading lots of sci fi recently. PKD and Willam Gibson, my favorites.

Think about the boon to the world it is that Philip K. Dick was mad. He gave America its own Kafka/Borges/prophet. He helped change the expectations of a genre. He reinvented paranoia as an aesthetic sublime. And he wrote 16 novels in 2 years!

I'm crushing the dementia beneath the pavement with my bare hands.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thank God for the Lettuce

The burden of reading a poem to the entire nation and the world, on the occasion of a particularly historic inauguration, is tremendous of course. I commend Elizabeth Alexander for reading a poem that was not obscure, not meant only for an audience of poets, that did not subscribe to the current preference for language over sense.

Not that a poet would dare be so impertinent, but you never know.

Still, the line where she invoked the dead who "picked the cotton" in this nation lost its impact when she saw fit to include "and the lettuce." Need I say why?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Literary Thrillers Part One

I have been reading a bit of "genre" fiction that has a literary bent recently. Financial thrillers in particular. A great one I'm going through now is by Peter Spiegelman.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Lorca's Poet In New York

I just read again Mark Statman and Pablo Medina's translation of Lorca's Poet in New York.

Check it out. It amazes me each time I dip into it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Novels and Social Change

One interesting thing to me about novels and some other art is that while it can be prophetic (Kafka on the rise of bureaucracy and false incrimination under secret-policed states) the prophecies don't manage to stop the crimes they anticipate.

To my mind this is a problem with readers more than it is with novels themselves. In other words, if people more carefully interpreted great works of art, they would find the necessary humanizing wisdom to avoid most catastrophes. My idea, not one limited to me I think, is that where we fail as a species is not in the pursuit of science, but in the pursuit of humanities.

The tough thing of course is that part of the glory of the humanities is they can be interpreted so many ways. And another sobering fact is that if a writer as great as Shakespeare couldn't change human behavior, perhaps no one can. But I don't like that idea.

Better teaching could be the essence of it? There is always Ayn Rand's argument that Shakespeare was an amoral genius. And that books like hers influence behavior because they're trying to do so. Who can deny that hers have influenced behavior? The public ranks Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead as numbers one and two best novels of all time? And Reagan, Greenspan and dozens of neo-cons cite her as a determining influence.

So is it perhaps that novels could influence public opinion if they simply tried harder? I honestly believe they could. I mean, the artists who resisted Communism clearly had something to do with its overthrow. And theoretically, novels with a different message than Rand's and with perhaps more artistic merit could be written that make an impact. Who knows?

Fiction Reviews and Interviews

Regarding fiction reviews and interviews, I go to Bookslut and to New York Review of Books and to identitytheory and find them helpful.

However, there is something lacking there in my opinion. Perhaps what I’m looking for is lit crit more than reviews. But I share in the widespread dissatisfaction with the premises of many literary critics today. See this document on Marquez. That’s a dissertation, granted, but it’s part of the problem in my opinion.

I mean, what I’d really like is to find someone with a strong point of view who really digs into a variety of authors’ work. Something like Ron Silliman’s site, but which is not dedicated to poetry but fiction. I’m sure that’s out there. Maybe somebody can help me find it, once I let people know I’m doing this blog.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Review of Holy Land by Rauan Klassnik

Check out my review at Cutbank here, or click below cover to buy the book from Black Ocean Press.