Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Balls & Strikes

Vancouver Public Library workers are striking. Strike blog here.

After considerable pressure by librarians, researchers and the public, Congress has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to restore its library network. In the fiscal year (FY) 2008 Interior Appropriations bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee orders EPA to
reopen the closed libraries. Last year, EPA closed its Headquarters Library in Washington, DC, to visitors and walk-in patrons. EPA also closed several regional libraries, the toxics and pesticides library and the Ft. Meade Environmental Science Center Library. The EPA is revising their library and website and asking for input. If interested go here. There is currently legislation aimed at weakening the TRI (Toxic Release Inventory) database.

View support by congressional district for Iraq War support.

The Hollywood Librarian trailer

Damien Jurado

For those of you who don't know the work of this extremely talented Seattle musician, here is an older song recorded live at the Tractor Tavern, Seattle. Enjoy.

And another, muy beautiful, from the knitting factory, nyc

Just in

The winner of the Bulwer-Lytton (who actually wrote the sentence "It was a dark and stormy night") Fiction Contest for pathetically bad writing was just announced. The winner is Jim Gleeson of Madison Wisconsin. Risking copyright lawsuits, his winning entry was:

Gerald began--but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them "permanently" meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash--to pee.

Want to read more (I don't) visit their site.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Read a Pack a Day

Thanks to Miguel for this. Tank Books of the UK is the launching a series of classics packaged like cigarettes -- same size, flip-top cartons with silver foil wrapping and sealed in cellophane. Speaking of little books, Hanuman Books were favorites of mine. Just 4.5 x 2.8 inches. I wonder if they are still in business???


Yusef Lateef - Eastern Sounds
Wolfgang Muthspiel and Brian Blade - Friendly Travelers
Matt Wilson -
Arts and Crafts

We had a friend stay with us this weekend who is one of those celestial forces that holds a universe of friends together, Moira Keefe, along with her husband Charlie Oates who tries to stay out of the way. Old friends from the Moms & Margaritas days in Missoula. Moira is very very funny. Check out the clips on her website if so inclined.

And speaking of Montana, we' re off in a few days. 102 in Mizzoo.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

PostModern Generator

Thanks to an anonymous commentor.
Now you too can sound like you know what you're not talking about with the PostModern Generator. The PomoGen can generate text that is as meaningless as it gets, yet has that "haze,"
that sheen of Heavy Theory. Deflect your own meaning. Why let the experts have all the fun? Will help you get into any lit and/or theory program, possibly even mean great scholarships. Go to
http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo or click here.

Book of the Day!

The Poetry of Richard Milhouse Nixon. My favorite:
My Position
Up to the Time
Has been
Quite frankly
Told me
A damn bit
Of this.

I don't think that one's in the Kama Sutra.


How many times have you gone to the shelves of a library or bookstore searching for a particular item and found something totally unexpected and wonderful? Or searched for a website and found another equally interesting? Or were talking with someone about an unrelated topic and they mentioned a film they’d seen? Probably quite a few. The way this synchronicity, or chain of events ends in a new find (music, movies, books, trout streams) is an exhilarating component of life. It keeps us surprised, and open to what the world can give us. It happens to me almost every day. Avenue Montaigne, a movie that slipped into a discussion about Steve Goodman of all people, was a find. But a more unusual chain was this: read an insightful review on the life and work of Susan Sontag in a recent New York Review of Books by Eliot Weinberger. Had known his work as a translator of the Mexican poet Octazio Paz. Decided to see what we had in the library under his name, and turned up the amazing poems of Bei Dao, whom he also translates in conjunction with Iona Man-Cheong. Bei Dao, I find out, is a haunting, passionate and often disjunctive poet, who has been incarcerated as a dissident since Tiananmen Square. Powerful stuff. Published by New Directions, this led me to consider this remarkable and revolutionary press that has possibly opened more doors into experimental and international literature than any other. Their unassuming little black, white and grey publications have given birth to worlds, universes. Thinking about New Directions, and that concept, literally a new direction caused me to choose an alternate route to work today. In doing so, I ran into a friend and had a conversation I wouldn’t have had. The friend recommended another book. Cause and effect. Interdependent origination. New books. Life goes on.

Monday, July 23, 2007


I was tempted to let Pico Iyer, with his sprawling and sparkling review in The New York Review of Books (June 28, 2007) have first and last say regarding the Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje's latest novel, Divisadero, if one can in fact call this book a novel, a question I find less and less interesting as time goes by. But that would be letting the professionals, the paid men, go unbaited. And while I have no real complaints with Iyer’s review, it seems to fall short on several accounts.

Iyer calls Ondaatje a poetic writer, and gives a number of examples. And indeed Ondaatje is a stunning writer, a writer that can quite literally take your breath away, a writer who has copious tools at his disposal. And while this reference to poetic might have at one time been useful, the realm of poetry has so expanded, that I might offer a grocery list up as an example of poetic (say Ted Berrigan’s) language, especially if it contained Pepsi, and be correct.

Ondaatje is a writer who is, much of the time, unabashedly Mandarin in style. (A comparable, though quite different writer is James Salter.) The reader will not find a Joe, a Bob, or a Susie anywhere near this book. These people live in other towns and books. Rather we find Dorn, Roman, Anna, Marie-Neige, Claire, Coop, Mancini, Lucien, The Dauphin and others. The deliberate attempt at the obscure, and at sophistication in Ondaatje at times reminds me of what I began to dislike about Barry Lopez – a prose so overly baroque it became rococo, and its life artificial. Yet Ondaatje is too good for that, too alive, too flexible, too angry and too labile. The sections of the novel read differently, as if language was rendering landscape to the degree landscape renders the language. Coop's adventures gambling have a spare, isolate flavor, compared to the passionate and introspective opening, the sensualism and humor in France.

MicahelOndaatje is also an aphorist, and scattered throughout his novels are bits of found or discovered wisdom: Everything is collage, even genetics; There is a great history of people being given the wrong book at some key moment of their lives; We think in our youth, we are the centre of the universe, but we simply respond; There is a hidden presence of others in us. Who is this narrator who collects these scraps, these landsapes, these people? Who although not omniscient per se, seems to possess an authority beyond any one character, excel at discovery, natural history, exact researched detail, and have such great tolerance for randomness.

The story is an elaborate and erratic one, and as is Ondaatje's typical fashion, inhabited by persons displaced for a variety of reasons. It begins by following three characters – two sisters (Anna and Claire) and their step-brother (Coop) through childhood in rural California. A cataclysm of violence breaks this family apart and the novel as well. From here the threads run largely separate, and some, such as Coop’s, die out entirely. Other’s enter in mid-stream, and in what is perhaps a risky move, Ondaatje shifts the novel into the life of a dead writer (Lucien) that Anna is researching, and shifts locale from the American west to France.

The novel is a collage of sorts, although it moves in a very different trajectory than Mosley’s Socrates Fortlow books. Those vignettes tie together in linear time, and arc toward a more classic character development. In Divisadero, the whole of the book is shattered, and when you think the pieces will be woven into resolution, they begin to shift relentlessly. So much so, that it becomes obvious within a hundred pages that you have entered another book altogether, and other books (such as The Three Musketeers) play parallel roles as well. The world of space and time becomes not just malleable, but particularized as well – is it energy or matter? What is this creature Michael Ondaatje has created? Is it really a novel? Will it sell? When one has created a strange and miraculous creature do those things even matter? It is for readers and time to answer these questions, and pose others.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Do We Dewey?

Here's a public library that is leaving the Dewey Decimal system behind in favor of a more "Barnes & Noble" approach. The new Perry Branch of the Maricopa County Library District outside Phoenix. No card catalog, no numbers. Their director, Harry Courtright states that most people don't know what the numbers stand for anyway. Rather, books are shelved in subject "neighborhoods." For more on the story, click here.


I just attended an excellent presentation by Anne-Marie Deitering of Oregon State University entitled Learning 1.0 in a 2.0 World: Explore, Create and Share. It appears on her blog. Very innovative use of free web technology.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Socrates Fortlow

By Walter Mosley’s own admission, Socrates Fortlow is a violent man, a solitary man. Picking up the thread of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and jumping coasts from New York to Watts, Socrates is an unlikely, but potent spokesman for the social situation of African Americans in today’s America. At times philosopher, moralist, father, friend, lover, survivor, and political commentator, Socrates is simply one of the most powerful figures in literature I’ve encountered in a long, long time.

We initially catch Socrates, whose mother couldn’t teach him to read, but thought naming him after a “smart” person would influence his future, living a near homeless life as a bottle and can collector in Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (1998). The trajectory traced in this loosely connected collection of vignettes is continued in Walking the Dog (1999). Socrates befriends a boy involved in a murder and attempts to heal him. He eases a cancerous best friend into death. He teaches countless people the worth of their lives. He gets a job. He gets a better job. He visits the ocean. He adopts a dog. But underneath it all the very earth shifts and heaves. There is no stability in the life of Socrates Fortlow.

Socrates is a violent man, and he wrestles with this violence ever day. It was violence that propelled him to murder two people and rape a woman. It was violence that kept him incarcerated for 28 years in an Indiana penitentiary. It was violence that kept him alive every one of those days. Socrates Fortlow is a study in male violence, and rather than being an outright condemnation of that violence, his tales are explorations, investigations of that violence. Socrates sees his act of murder and rape over and over in his dreams. He sees Watts in flames. He carries this around as he tries to better his life by getting a job at the Bounty Supermarket, by taking the boy Darryl under his wing. But it flares up like an errant spark and engulfs him.

It is my firm conviction that Walter Mosley, most noted perhaps for his Easy Rawlins novels, will go down in what we call history as one of the most influential black writers of the past (and possibly this) century, in a large part for these books. They moved me in a way few books can, and left me begging for a continuation. And even with another Fortlow book, which I am not aware is forthcoming; a continuation is all it will be. Death is the only conclusion to a life, and a life is a collection of moments, a pastiche. The moments that compose these books are among the finest rendered in contemporary fiction. I urge you to enter his world, spend a few hours. What you take away won’t leave you.

The Baby Lottery

There is a wonderful review of Kate Trueblood's new novel, The Baby Lottery, in the Seattle PI. Go here to read it.

Monday, July 16, 2007

We’re in Collage: Divisadero, Socrates Fortlow, Wolfgang Tillman

Many things have come together recently to turn my life into the obvious pastiche it is, or perhaps they’ve fallen out, or shaken out – regardless, I lie in pieces. In both sense of the word lie.

First has been travel – the displacement of going to DC, Chicago, and then more locally and recently Winthrop and Twisp. Driving up state highway 20 toward Rainy and Washington Pass listening to the Dead’s Europe Tour ’72 version of Jack Straw made a direct connection to the Dorn character in Michael Ondaatje’s newest novel Divisadero, particularly that sense of western space, that electric, cosmic distance the Dead, the poet Ed Dorn (who is captured a bit in Ondaatje’s character), and Kesey, Cassidy, Brautigan, McClanahan, Stegner et al captured, and that is currently exposed, explored and fractured by Richard Ford or Tom McGuane, or in this case, Ondaatje himself. So this cosmic space, and the electrical storms shattering lightning against the blackened sky and mammoth peaks objects of thought, desire, perception and consciousness drift, settling into transitory arrangements, only to break apart again.

Divisadero, a collage of sorts, a collection of stories connected primarily by place and character, but not moving towards any narrative conclusion, thwarting it even by plunging backward in time away from conclusion. And then collaged with that collage, the collections Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned and Walking the Dog by Walter Mosley which feature Socrates Fortlow, one of the more improbably protagonists in contemporary fiction. These “novels” are actually collections of vignettes, much the same as Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, that again intersect character and place, in the case of Mosley, Watts. There is a trajectory to these two books however, a trajectory of growth in fact, but it was probably not mapped in advance. And the underpinning of this foolish exploration that few if any will read, was the exhibit by Wolfgang Tillman at the Hirshhorn Museum, an exhibit of photographs that was deliberated arranged as an extensive collage or installation. Tillman himself comments on the aspect of his work that compels him to explore placing certain photographs next to others, a drive more artistic, but perhaps not notably different that placing photos next to each other in an album. And this impulse or recognition of placement is not unique to art or albums. We place things on a table in certain ways, and as my wife Joan said recently what she reads is always influenced in some way by what she just read. Texts interact with texts, moments with moments.

So three novels and an exhibit. I want to explore details of each in future posts.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


If you haven't checked out LibraryThing yet, take a look. It's an incredible resource for writers and readers to connect through their book holdings, interests, recommendations, etc. For example, I searched language poetry and retrieved a list of books tagged as language poetry, a list of the people who tagged them, a tag cloud of related tags, a list of related terms, and the last ten books tagged as language poetry. At 16,000,000 plus books, LibraryThing is becoming a very potent online tool.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Why Read?

A friend said to me the other day, he did, that he didn't understand how people could read popular literature when there was so much worthy literature (say Dickens) to read. And while we didn't have the time or desire to pursue this much further, it is an intriguing question, and deserves consideration. Particularly because I have, at times, had the same thoughts and compulsions, and yet also read the occasional page-turner myself.

There is obviously no easy answer, or perhaps even complete one, to this question, and notables such as Roland Barthes take up the question in books like The Pleasure of the Text. But then why read that?

Obviously we read for a number of reasons: to learn something, to be entertained, to enter another world, to experience the sensuality and musicality of words put right, to confront ourselves, to escape ourselves, and so forth. A writer typically reads with at least part of an eye on craft, and I confess that if there is little working in that area, I soon abandon the book. On the other hand, I'll tolerate minimal craft for good plot, characters, situations, humor, and so on.

But I think we can focus the question a bit more sharply. Why do people gobble up, in enormous quantity, the absolute crap that often ends up in the best seller lists, airport kiosks, etc.? Why aren't people reading work that is more profound, more worthy of being read. Certain writers, such as Mary Higgins Clark, James Patterson, and John Grisham have become literal factories, pushing books out in assembly-line fashion, and making certain people very very rich in the process.

Most of the "popular" books are genre books -- thrillers, mysteries, romance, science fiction, and so forth. Genre books are typically formulaic, predictable. The writer consistently and predictably manipulates the reader's emotions through a set of devices. Given that, people who read these books must want both the emotional manipulation and the predictability these books offer. They want to step out of their worlds into worlds that offer an escape, but an escape that is not too imaginative. I'm making judgements here, and with any judgements there are exceptions, but let's see where this goes. These same readers do not want to haggle with language. They do not want language that is obvious to itself, either by erudition nor syntax. Language in these texts functions as a conduit, and the more invisible the conduit, the better. The same is true of situations. In a genre book, the narration is typically straightforward, the situations non-bizarre. Airplanes do not turn into butterflies above our nation. They stay airplanes.

The questions underlying these desires -- for predictability, for non-confrontative language/syntax, for emotional manipulation, for escape, seem to be propelling this massive consumption of books which would better have remained trees. And the profits are feeding a giagantic machine that reproduces the same or similar code. Why people want this from their reading, or at least want it primarily and consistently, is beyond me.

Monday, July 9, 2007

More Poem

Here's another from the DC trip. This was on the juxtaposition of two paintings in an installation by John Baldessari at the Hirshhorn.

Two Men

after Fifi by Ed Paschke, Study for the Crucifixion by Thomas Eakins, adjacent

Is there more of a contrast? These

two men, the Christ head tipped into shadow, flesh

pasty, arms raised to the cedar planks awaiting

nails, and Fifi, leering, sensual, chin tipped head

thrust into the world, garish by nature, coiled

hair of pomegranate wire. One becomes a ghost,

a wafer when placed on the tongue dissolves, the other

sneers eat me at your own risk; I am virulent beautiful

disease. They both stare out at me. I will not wither,

I will hang on a wall, they say. I will not fall, I will rise


Friday, July 6, 2007

Art in America, cont.

Overheard in the National Gallery Sculpture Garden:

"I'm really art-ted out." Young woman to her male companion.

"My dad is not a lawyer." Young man to another young man.

"How can time be a circle when there is no such thing as time?" Man in a blue vest.

Thursday, July 5, 2007


As part of my reportage on the DC/Chicago trip I'll toss a few poems that I wrote. Comments always appreciated.

Also, a book we all need to "check out" :: Upbeat by David Amram, Paradigm Press. Due out in October.

Art in America

Two black men push an untitled folded
iron circle (this could be a huge coin folded against

currency) by Ellsworth Kelly up a gravel

path adjacent to the Hirschorn Sculpture
garden. The rubber wheels of the cart bog

in gravel. The men sweat, strain, their muscles

bulge. One of the men wears a stained
shirt, the other sports a Wizard’s cap. These are

hard men but iron is harder still. The sculpture

is worth more than the men
will earn in a lifetime. Off to the right side

the trickle of water in a fountain, trick of light

and shade on red brick, people sitting on benches
talking. The men move slowly. Sweat runnels

down their bodies. Suddenly the symphony

of conversation in the garden is engulfed
by sirens, heightening as they close in, closer,

closer, so even the bent iron sings, a nest

of molecular hornets becoming more
and more enraged.