Tuesday, June 26, 2007

ALA & Garrison

I'll probably have several ALA/DC related posts, but I didn't bring a laptop and computer time has been ridiculously hard to get. But...
I just attended the final keynote session, Garrison Keilor featured. I've long been a fan, for many reasons, and he didn't fail me now (a bow to the little feat). His talk was a somewhat rambling monologue of how he has related to, and existed in, libraries from youth to this day, including one funny story about a library where the librarians were men who all smoked pipes. But in a nutshell, and this is to do the entire monlogue a diservice (I'll link to it if it becomes available), he championed libraries as place: places that were true landmarks, and in some cases pinnacles, of democracy. Places that anyone could enter, read an astonishing diversity of work, sit in silence and think, write or dream (the only other places I can think of in a city to do this are churches, and to a lesser extent parks), and that in this librarians and libraries have a tremendous responsibility. In an age of political tough talk, machismo swagger, and outright threats, libraries and librarians are more authentic defenders of democratic liberty. At times moving, boring, whimsical, enlightening, hysterical, GK is a true American legend, and a champion of the word, the book as object, and like Kerouac, Whitman and others, the true, honest and generous American landscape.
Briefly, on other notes, I'm reading the latest novel by Michael Ondaatje (Divisadero) and was pleased to find a reference to the poet Ed Dorn. That alone, to my mind, makes it worth reading.
All for now.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Off to ALA

I'm off early tomorrow to the ALA (American Library Association) conference in DC and I hope to be blogging a bit there. But most excitedly I picked up spankin new novels by three of my favorite authors at our local independent book store Village Books (shameless plug): Falling Man by Don Delillo, Devisidaro by Michael Ondaatje, and After Dark by Haruki Murakami. I look forward to many secluded hours tucked away with these and a glass (or two) of wine after the day's craziness eclipses.

And it is also my intention to use this blog to share current poetry, so here is the first of those:

Jersey Shore


I’m reading a book about a man who

died, but it shifts about

in time, so he’s not really dead. The book reminds

me of water. And yet that rectangular black

hole, the thud of dirt on the pine

coffin empty of soul is a metaphor that propels

the book forward from the beginning, Yes, he runs

up the beach laughing but there is the icy claw

of water on his feet, chased by the waves

on the Jersey shore, where he spends his boyhood, or

rides the bus with his brother, the slap of waves harder,

and the novel is a study of the novelist

who is not dead yet, but will be soon because he’s old,

the slap of waves harder now, even though the book sold

millions and millions of copies, made millions and millions

of dollars, and on its pages a solid black ink, and on its

pages that have now flown throughout the world, its dead

character lives, he dies but lives, and it is a paradox

this book that lives and dies with every moment, as we read

his words, see his face glow with joy, true joy like a candle,

hear his words, not like song, but more a drone, the hum

of life, the words, and those of others too, others too, those

he touched, who touched him, and they too voices that add

to the book, and they too live and die, are slapped by

the waves that shape the book, the waves from the Jersey

shore, the waves that continue even when the book is finished

and closed and laid on the table.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

James Lee Burke

Has remained one of my favorite mystery writers over the past twenty years or so. Up until recently the Dave Robicheaux books, set in New Iberia, Louisiana, have, to my mind, far outweighed anything else he's written. Part of this is due to their authenticity, and part to the extraordinary character development, particularly of Robicheaux, that Burke has developed over nearly 20 novels. But I'm beginning to have a subtle change of heart. I'm just finishing In the Moon of Red Ponies which is set in Montana, the Missoula area, and features Billy Bob Holland, a former Texas Ranger turned lawyer. Burke lives in the Missoula area, up Grant Creek, part of the year, and in New Iberia the rest, but his earlier Montana-based novels seemed excessive in their attempts to be authentically Montanan. They included so much local color, often crammed, jammed, exaggerated and compressed into what seemed a Montana Realtor's wetdream. Passages approached being ludicrous. Added to this was Burke's frequent tendency for non-stop action. Certain novels are so tiring to read that one can't imagine anyone actually surviving them. If the weren't shot they would die of fatigue. In In the Moon of Red Ponies however artistic balance is achieved , and it is, to my mind, an exceptional novel.

Burke's primary characters (Dave Robicheaux and now Billy Bob Holland) are morally complex, carrying with them acts of past violence they will never outlive, decisions that have gone bad, and demons that haunt their dreams. They are violent men who live by their own code, cutting Faustian deals when they have to. But they have huge hearts, are at times too trusting, and more often than not take the side of the underdog. And they fiercely defend their families.

Dialog is often cryptic in a Burke novel, to the point where one feels the speakers were either kicked in the head by a mule, or need to be. Burke has, over the years, mastered the art of insider dialect, much like Elmore Leonard. He also has the tendency toward ellipsis, so his dialog sometimes reads like a series of riddles or unintelligible remarks. These books are page turners in a sense, but you often have to earn them.

Another tradmark of Burke is his evocative, almost idyllic depiction of the natural world. At his best he's a stunning writer, and his followers rave about his poetic renderings. He creates an almost Edenic world where humans have trespassed, and the best humans, still tresspassers, attempt to undo the deeds of the worst. Nature to him is sacred, and he can be compared to the best nature writers and landscape painters who attempt to evoke a spiritual, pantheistic dimension from their art. It is no mistake that Holland and Robicheaux live in remote locations surrounded by nature, and often observe and comment on what they witness. "Through the side window I could see steam rising from the metal roof on our barn and, farther on, a small herd of elk coming down an arroyo, their hooves pocking the snow that had frozen on the grass during the night." (Billy Bob Holland at his home west of Lolo, Montana.)

It is probably no coincidence that there are similarities between the work of Burke and Cormac McCarthy. Burke was born in Texas, McCarthy now lives in Texas. They both attribute a spiritual significance to nature. They both investigate violence, and use it as an aesthetic. In In the Moon of Red Ponies Burke creates a character of such apparent evil, omniscience, and sociopathology that he approaches the mythic dimensions of Anton Chigurh in McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. Still, there are major differences, and Burke wanders on the more arable side of the fence far more than McCarthy, who when criticized for including substantial Spanish dialog in Cities of the Plain, stated simply that if one didn't like it one didn't have to read it. Accessibility is rarely that much of a problem in a Burke novel.

I actually met Burke once, driving with a friend and neighbor of Burke's, Dexter Roberts, up Grant Creek Road north of Missoula. He was jogging, and we stopped and talked. He seemed like a southern gentleman, gracious, and sincere. He had a darkness about him as well that I didn't see him out-running on that sun-sprayed mountain road. I wish him a long life and many more books.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Gals

I am an admitted slave to Divas, though not (necessarily) the operatic kind. Ever since I saw Odetta (yes, Odetta) at the Earl of Old Town in 1966, then in relatively quick succession Grace Slick, Joan Baez, Michelle Phillips, Janis Joplin, Nico, and Joni Mitchell, I have been enamored of the commanding woman with the voice of angels, or demons Patti Smith and her clarinet), onstage.

So…..

Gal Costa’s newest CD, her 36th if I’m not mistaken, Hoje reveals a woman at the peak of her talent, a woman who has been, and will hopefully remain a force in Brazilian Music. Born in Salvador, September 26 1945 as Maria da Gra├ža Costa Penna Burgos, Gal turned 62 this year, yet the songs on this CD still possess the seduction, the rhythmic edge (largely thanks to three outstanding percussionists: Daniel de Paula, Marcio Forte, and Cesar Camargo Mariano), and the powerful vocal ease and control she has always shown. The band follows her like satin clinging to a body, and at times gently leads, particularly keyboardist Cesar Camargo Mariano, who is a Brazilian musical archetype, once upon a time playing piano and producing Jobim’s historic album with Elis Regina, Elis e Tom. From her hippy roots, and after the political exile of her two favorite composers Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, Gal was faulted for becoming stodgy and traditional in her choice of music, to which she blamed lack of good material. Critics responded that she was ignoring a raft of new and emerging songwriters. Hoje (issued also as Gal Costa Today) is her answer, though hopefully not her final one. Check it out.

Lafeen's

As close to found poetry as I've come in awhile, the overheard conversation from the "old farts table" at Lafeen's Donut Shop.

"I like long wood."
"I like long wood too.
"Twelve inches is too damn short."
"I like it about fourteen."

(I could go on. OK)

"The wife likes it straight in but I like to twist it."

(They were talking about firewood. Maybe.)

Lafeen's, a great little slice of Americana that will one day be mysteriously trasnported into the depths of the Smithsonian.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Yes!

One of the most verily superb little movies I've seen in a long time was a film I watched last night entitled Yes. Written and directed by Sally Potter, who has previously directed The Man Who Cried, The Tango Lesson, and Orlando, among others, the film foregrounded an extramarital affair between an Irish scientist and a cook (previously a doctor) from Lebanon, and the issues it explored, brash and unflichingly, were those of ethnic and religious war, immigration, religion and love. One aspect of these investigations were the frequent narrations by housecleaners, maids and other "invisible" service people. A peculiar, and at times charming, at other times bothersome, feature of the movie is that nearly all dialog was in rhyming iambic pentameter. Use of verse gave the movie a quirky, archaic feel, implying a sense of timelessness to the relationships depicted. Thanks to fine performances and a lot of off and slant rhyme, this actually worked far better than it sounds like it might. Joan Allen, Simon Abkarian (who has worked primarily in France, but surfaced recently in U.S. cinema in Casino Royale) and Sam Neill are the primaries. Intruiging choreography/camera work and an excellent soundtrack, featuring original music from the multi-talented Ms. Potter, complimented the experience. Hints of household cleanser, chives, sexual secretions, oxygenated blood and mortar dust.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

More to Cleveland Than

the Cavs. Larry Smith, via his wonderful efforts via Bottom Dog Press has just published d.a. levy & the mimeograph revolution. d.a. levy (pronounced in the mode of midwestern dialect da levy, as da bears, da bulls, etc.) was the most imaginative poet to ever not move from Cleveland (a city I have never been to and most likely will never go). "i have a city to cover with lines," as levy said, and try he did. Unfortunately Levy died and Cleveland remains. Hence the Ca(l)v(e)s. But levy did much more than write -- he was a force of poetry, readings, publications, a veritable onslaught against the dread daily grind of unimaginative drones that dull the imagination to death. This is to date the definitive work on levy, containing biographical information, interviews, critical work, and levy's own work (poems, drawings, letters). The book is smartly put together, includes a dvd film about levy by Kon Petrochuk. One of my favorite pieces is the interview with Ed Sanders, but there are many riches here. enjoy

Monday, June 11, 2007

His Inner Cat

Collected Krazy Kat Komics & review in June 14 New York Review of Books. "S'funna, but I dun't see no stomm. The sky is klee. Paul Klee?

Three Movies & a Weekend

This weekend I saw 3 movies and a lousy NBA playoff game.

The first was The History Boys. What a wonderful film! Focusing on a group of young men in 1980s Britain at Cutlers' Grammar School who are trying to get into Oxford or Cambridge, this coming-of-age film touches on two uncommon themes. The first is the joy of imagination and learning, and the second is an uncompromising, boisterous and bouyant exploration of adolescent sexuality. The primary vehicle for both of these themes is Hector, an incongruous, somewhat bumbling gay or bi-sexual teacher in his 60s, who teaches General Studies, a loose-fitting coat that includes poetry, theatre, sexuality, and antics. Emotive and expressive, Hector is unapologetic of his "misdeeds," highly critical of where education is heading (a quantifiable sterile regurgitation), and genuinely affectionate towards his students. Throw in a new teacher who is to "ready" the boys for the entrance exam, and a demonic head-master, and a marginalized history teacher, and you have the stew. The ending is a bit predicatable, but the film is totally worth a net-flicks account, a good bottle of chardonnay, and a new sofa.

The second was Spiderman 2. Another wonderful film, although a bit silly and overplayed at times, it's primary exploration is the dark complexity of superherodom, and more specifically, the choices Peter Parker is forced to make (or feels he is forced to make) to fulfill his role as Spiderman. This movie manages to upend many cliches, and quite accurately present Peter as a conflicted soul. And who could hate Peter? What's the matter with you Harry Osborn?? Just cause he killed your dad. There are some very moving scenes -- the subway for instance.

The third was Shaun of the Dead, which interestingly enough was ranked higher by IMDB voters that either of the other two. I didn't finish Shaun of the Dead. I didn't find it all that funny, or interesting, but was more bothered by something else entirely. I was bothered by its use of zombies. To contextualize this, I have been thinking a lot about human violence over the past several years, and having numerous discussions to that extent. My own observations indicate that humans have always enjoyed the privilege of allowing themselves to do violence against other humans who have been categorized as sub-human. There are many ways this has been accomplished over history: through race, religion, mental retardation, criminality, gender, and so forth. Whatever the mechanism, the sub-humanized humans are then available for whatever forms of torture, death, etc. the "real" humans feel warranted. Zombies, along with most video-game villains are to my mind the latest crop.
I have to confess that I do not rule out violence in movies, books, music or anything else carte blanche. I think violence has a place in art, a profound place, and can be used for aesthetic, emotional (or hyper-emotional) and moral purposes.
I have also found in my discussions with others about violence that many people believe we are by nature violent, and that violent urges are as innate as the desire for sex or food. To these people, violent video games, violent films (such as Kill Bill), or even sports, often have the purpose of draining off, in a safe fashion, some of these violent urges. Many of these same people would argue against theories that claim excessive violence desensitizes, or heightens violent urges. I am not certain I subscribe to these views.
But in trying to sum up, and I'm drifting afar afield, what bothered me about Shaun was that zombies were used to display, often in a comic fashion, aggression and violence to human-like (I read sub-human) creatures. Given the lack of any real tension or horror in the film (unlike Romero's Night of the Living Dead), zombies were merely creatures to hack apart and spurt blood. While it would be easy to dismiss Shaun of the Dead as a light-hearted comedy, silly, studpid, or even a sweet evolution to adulthood for loser Shaun, I came away with a yet darker vision of contemporary pop culture than I had before I saw the movie. Luckily the other two gave me hope. Now if only the Cavs can win one game.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Authors, Authors

Two (relatively) recent finds for author interviews (video and print) are Authors@Google and Powell's Author Interviews. Sherman Alexie, the current interviewy (interviewee?) (weepY?) tells of hitting Virginia Tech the night of the shootings to hype his novel Flight. If you know of, or have read this novel, which features a young "terrorist" you understand the situation. Alexie said he didn't mention the book. Not once. Also of morbid coincidence is the fact that Kurt Vonnegut, who Alexie quoted in epigraph, died a week before that. And then oddly I just talked with Bruce Beasley about his new project, paradoxology, (according to the Greeks) and two-headed cows. I saw one once, in Montana. It had to be put down.
And at least one old stand-by, The Paris Review Interviews, these are the benchmarks, the nuts and bolts of author interviews, typically author-to-author. The entire interviews available via .pdf for download.

I Prefer Fords

A singer I have become overly enamored with lately is Frazey Ford of the Be Good Tanyas. Her breathy/breathless vocals possess a casual, almost careless sensuality, and an oft-slurred precision that is at times vocalese, at times jazz, yet always girded with the underpinings of lonesome, Appalachian, old-timey music. Ford prefers minor keys, and her best performances, to my mind, songs like "Scattered Leaves," "Rain and Snow," or her own "The Junkie Song" all contain predominent minor tonality. This is a band, that in an age gone blitzy with humor and prozac, are not afraid to confront human fraility and despair. One of their most amazing songs, not sung by Frazey Ford but by Jolie Holland, who has since left the band for a solo career, is Townes van Zandt's "Waiting Around to Die." The depth and emotional power in a song like this is terrain we typically steer away from. It does not laugh-track well in a culture gone silly with flip cynicism or raw anger. Yet it is the underbelly of Iraq, the failing of our health care, the pain that is rampant worldwide. Last night I watched Stephen Colbert hack out "Smoke on the Water" on a V-neck guitar and realized that more people were watching him than would ever watch the Be Good Tanyas. There might have even been a few who thought it was music. And then I thought of Paris Hilton alone in her jail cell and I put on "Waiting Around to Die" again. Just something about that song I guess.


Thursday, June 7, 2007

Bowie, not Jim, not David

When I was in high school in the early 60's in Chicago I spent a fair amount of time in the Hyde Park area. My cousins lived there, and a particular cultural and artistic vibrancy existed that was absent in much of the city. Musically, I stumbled on at least several public outdoor events, some at a park area along Lake Michigan referred to as "The Point," that involved musicians associated with the AACM. It was at one of these that I first heard the great Lester Bowie play his horn. Last night, out of pure randomness I played a CD called Zebra by Jack DeJohnette featuring Lester Bowie. It's lovely, minimalist, repetitive melodic music, designed and produced by Tadayuki Naitoh, among others. Several hours later my son called from New Jersey, having just returned from a concert at the Blue Note featuring Jack Dejohnette, Larry Goldings and John Scofield. I had no idea he was going to the show.
It is perhaps a bit strange that I grew into young adulthood with the Art Ensemble of Chicago as my favorite jazz band. Not your typical entry into jazz, but one that has served me well. And Lester Bowie has remained a favorite, his Avant Pop album is simply fantastic. So Lester and Jack DeJohnette will float through this day.

***********************

You've gotta check out:

The Weepies

whose Deb Talan wrote the song "Tell Your Story Walking" after reading

Jonatham Lethem's

Motherless Brooklyn. Which you should also check out.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Idiom/Didion

Remember, all that wander are not lost. Although I followed a car with that bumper sticker once and began to wonder.
Finished the Didion, and have to say that The Year of Magical Thinking is a potent book, and geological in structure, created out of repeated elements/sediments, phrases/conglomerates, volcanic ruptures, techtonic shifts, the composite and fragile of a life, a family, a marriage. I hadn't read Didion before, although owned Slouching Towards Bethlehem for a number of years. People sometimes live with you who are silent. Speaking of silence, no woman has ever said "Liverwurst" to me the way Ingrid Bergman did in Spellbound last night. (Has anyone written more screenplays than Ben Hecht?) And the line by Peck that she looked either like a librarian or a school teacher was great culture. Shock.
And speaking of women, a form of women as Creeley has sd, Sandy Hurvitz. What does Sandy Hurvitz mean to anyone? I thought of her the other day in a conversation with someone about Jim Pepper. Sandy, who changed her name to Essra Mohawk in the early 70's, was a Zappa discovery. Her first album, Sandy's Album is Here at Last, is hit and miss, though she had a somewhat thin, dreamy voice, peripatetic (all who wander are not lost), and the backup band Zappa assembled, jeremy steig (flute), jim pepper (tenor sax), donald macdonald (drums) and eddie gomez (bass) was quite terrific. Sandy/Essra is a Philly girl, was once Uncle Meat, and wrote a song, Change of Heart, which was a hit for Cindy Lauper (another Philly girl), whose Time after Time was a hit for Miles Davis. It all comes back to jass.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Didion/Idiom

I am struggling through the last several pages of Joan Didion's memoir through the lens of grief and death, The Year of Magical Thinking, now a Broadway play starring Katherine Hepburn, and when I say struggling I don't mean that the writing is poor -- it's an obsessive attempt to process grief and mourning -- but that it's an obsessive attempt to process grief and mourning, and thus not the most pleasant thing to read. But as is typical, it's driven me in tangential ways to order, via the Blockbuster account, Panic in Needle Park (Al Pacino's 2nd film), which she co-wrote with her now deceased husband John Gregory Dunne, as well as Hitchcock's Spellbound, to which she compares the recurring vortexes in her life. And now I also see that Blockbuster, in their over-anxious urge to please, has shipped Shaun of the Dead and Laurel & Hardy: Sons of the Desert/The Music Box/Another Fine Mess. I have to admit we are glad to be out from under the compulsion of Six Feet Under (all five seasons in six weeks) and I Love Lucy. So it's off to the races, as they say. Whoever They are.

Careful with that Ax Eugene

Was thinking this morning of those early morning bikes to work, Wodruff Nursery, in Eugene, OR along the Wilamette River, mist rising, herons rising, fish dimpling the surface, late 70's. Difficult, outdoor work, the scent of bark mulch. Who was I reading? Spicer, Duncan and Helen Adam come to mind, the early goths. Often I am permitted to enter a meadow. One of the truly great lines of poetry. And music, wooden music, CSNY. Several outdoor Dead concerts, in Hillman's terms, the entry in a mythical celebration, and Patti Smith and her clarinet, and the Talking Heads, the perfect blend of order (Tina, Chris and Jerry) like a perfectly wound swiss clock, and DB like swiss cheese through it all. Cheers, all.

Monday, June 4, 2007

First Step

Well as they say, whoever they are, the road to paradise begins with one step. This then is that step.
I've been deliberating a blog for several years, and have created a few via courses I've taught, and had my students create others, but I really didn't want to commit until I felt I had a good idea of a focus, or foci, and until I felt I could keep a consistent flow going.
My foci aim to be library/information science matters, poetics/poetry/writing, the arts, music, and anything else that is too slow to flee. As Ed Dorn said of his revered Rolling Stock, "If it moves, Print It."
If any faithful readers emerge, I sincerely hope we can share work and ideas.
Imua.