Saturday, September 2, 2017

BiB 3

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood.  I subscribe to the theory that the more something's hyped, the more it's to be avoided. With that in mind, given the amount of hype this novel's generated over the years, including its recent miniseries adaptation on Hulu--which, for the record, I don't subscribe to--The Handmaid's Tale is surprisingly good.  If you ask me, the last chapter creates unnecessary problems in the narrative, yet Atwood proves, as usual, a worthwhile read.

Animal Farm, George Orwell.  Orwell demonstrates definitively that animals are really no better than humans in this satiric send-up of PETA.  For a further discussion of satire, click here.

Beloved, Toni Morrison.  A suspenseful, richly woven story, though perhaps it moves a bit too slowly & runs a tad too long, Beloved is, I'm ashamed to say, only the second Morrison novel I've read. Apparently, I can't urge myself enough to read her more often.

The Waves, Virginia Woolf.   I've read a half dozen Woolf novels, most of them two or three times--she's that good--but The Waves is kind of, to be kind, dull, if not indeed very dull. I wouldn't say it lacks imagination, but it's lacking in imagery for roughly the first 2/3 of the book.   While there are moments of Woolf's brilliance, too much of the narration focuses, if that's the right word, on disjointed, abstract, introspective, internal monologues, many of which concern aggrandized visions of the future conveyed via monotonous litanies of "wills" & "shalls" (but absolutely no "gonnas," puh-leze, as these people are quite posh, not your common street variety riff-raff).  Nevertheless, I kept reading like a religious devotee expecting my reward at the end.

Persuasion, Jane Austen.  Not Austen's best--I've read most of her novels--but I enjoy the diction of England's Regency period, so I decided to try another Austen, as in . . .

How to Do Things with Words, J.L. Austin.  While the title suggests that this is a how-to book on clever & creative ways to use words, it's actually a collection of the author's Harvard lectures, in which Austin delves at length into the way that words are used, i.e., how words function in sentences.  If you're interested in philosophical probing of the often pedantic world of sentence diagramming, by all means, read the hell out of this fucker.

Free Air, Sinclair Lewis.  In my recent run on dystopian novels, I mistakenly--while looking over the menu at a Mexican restaurant--downloaded Free Air, confusing it with Lewis's It Can't Happen Here, in which fascists take over the USA.  Since the first chapter of Free Air depicts tire tracks leaving swastikas in the dirt, I didn't catch my error until the middle of the second chapter, & by then, the entrees had arrived, so much as with my choice of Zacatecas, I lived with my mistake. Anyway, Free Air's a light but amusing story about class & culture shock on a great American road trip. Think On the Road set in the 1910s, only well-written.

The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx & Fredrich Engels.  I probably hadn't read Marx's Manifesto since college, but with "socialism" bandied about these days in all manner of dilution & perversion, I thought I'd give it a quick read.  It's basically a pamphlet that you can read in a single sitting--then read it again, for it's packed with information.  I'd forgotten the section that deals with socialism's meaning being usurped even back in Marx's day, though Marx makes it clear that socialism means the elimination of private property.  Thus, former Daily Show host John Stewart--who once identified himself as a socialist who doesn't believe in collective ownership--is, in other words, not a socialist.  Indeed, Stewart's even less of a socialist than Bernie Sanders, who despite his self-designation & proposals for sweeping domestic change, still supports American imperialism & the spread of neoliberal values through various military & economic means.  Both he & Stewart are, among other things, reformists in the mode of, if I want to be extraordinarily generous, FDR, also not a socialist. The Daily Show, on another occasion, re: the Occupy Wall St. protests, suggested private & personal property are one & the same.  While they passed this off as "humor," it is, unfortunately, a common misconception shared by running dog lackeys & others too lazy to Google the terms, much less read a 100 page pamphlet.  As a rule of thumb, personal property consists of things you can use yourself, without help, whereas private property requires the labor of others to make use of.  Conflating the two terms is a way to propagate fear that socialists will, say, take away your personal computer & make you go to the public library & stand in long lines for your turn on the state computer, a refurbished Dell with 2 MB memory--& just think about how horrible it will be when you'll have to stand in the same long line to use the community toothbrush, comrade!  The thing is, even in Marx's time, 90% of private property was already owned by the 1%, so capitalism provides just the illusion that private property is available for acquisition by the masses.   Some things never change unless you change them

The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser.  I'd first read The Faerie Queene as an undergraduate, so when I saw it named in an online list of the most difficult books to read, my initial reaction was, "It's about knights & dragons & stuff.  How difficult can it be?"  To be fair, I'd read only Book I in college, & while I'll admit the length of the entire work is intimidating--just be glad Spenser didn't finish it--it still isn't difficult unless you find such allegories as battling the seven daily--er, that is, deadly--sins hard to understand, even with Spenser providing a synopsis before each canto.  If anything, it's kind of dull after a while, what with all its stale morality.

Raw Heaven, Molly Peacock.  After reading The Faerie Queene, I can only take so much rhyming before I'm calling on Dr. Bombay to come right away to cure the barbaric strain I've contracted, but Peacock tosses an assortment of sight & slant rhymes into the mix, so the poems--which employ a conversational, if not light tone-- are less predictable than much rhyming verse, especially the bad kind, tends to be, such as Robert Creeley's "A Wicker Basket."

The Importance of Being Ernest, Oscar Wilde.  Wilde's wildest work.  Wickedly witty.

Wicked, Gregory Maguire.  An old friend--well, I shouldn't say that since she's much younger than I am--used to love Wicked, though it was probably the musical more than the novel, given how she'd break into a cappella renditions of "Popular" without provocation.   I wouldn't call this light reading--it's a huge tome with actually something to say about the perception of evil--but for an (harrumph) intellectual such as myself, I felt I was wasting my time & mind when I could have been nose-diving into . . .

Lobotomy, Dee Dee Ramone. Dee Dee (aka Douglas Colvin) is all over the place in this, um, autobiography, I said questioningly, as he cretin hops & blitzkrieg bops from the fifties & sixties in Berlin to New York in the seventies & the end of the century almost randomly, but, listen, I don't care.  It's still fun for Ramones fans & anyone with nothing to do & nowhere to go & interested in the punk rock scene.

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson.  Considering the way the story's commonly portrayed in popular culture, you'd expect to find a madman tearing through London like Jack-the-Ripper on every page, but this novella depicts nonesuch violent scenes, save those few conveyed after the fact via hearsay & confession.  However, Stevenson deftly shows Hyde's distinct lack of manners, which, I guess, some may view as monstrous behavior.

On Poets & Others, Octavio Paz.  Revelations about Soviet labor camps, precipitated in part by Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, created a litmus test by which Paz judged the political character of all leftists.  Those like Breton and Paz himself who denounced the Soviet labor camps are the good guys, while Neruda, Sartre, Aragon & others who didn't acknowledge, much less condemn, the labor camps--since they believed in the ultimate cause of socialism & felt that Western media was already rampant with anti-Soviet propaganda--were tagged as hypocrites & worse.  Paz seems to interject the artist's position on the labor camps as part of his literary criticism. For instance, Paz held Sartre in contempt as a philosopher, writer &, it would seem, a human being, based on the latter's position that many Western societies employ practices just as heinous, yet receive little attention in the press.  If you consider Michelle Alexander's take on America's prison system in The New Jim Crow (see below), Sartre's point (though he, too, later renounced the Soviet practice) seems particularly apt.

The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander.  Alexander presents a convincingly detailed analysis to show how a racially biased system of incarceration in America is used to create a subclass of citizens. While the second half seems a bit repetitive & less focused & I may differ here & there--well, when don't I--it is an extraordinary book & highly recommended.

Sometimes I Call Old Lovers, Bernadette Savage.  Some of the poems in this chapbook seem less finished than others, but my general impression is positive.  I especially like "Photo Album."

The Art of the Poetic Line, James Longenbach.   Even if he gets a bit repetitive, which for a book of this length is no mean feat--although it is an unkind criticism--Longenbach provides excellent analysis of the function of lines & line breaks.  I found the discussion of parsed & annotated lines, citing examples from William Carlos Williams & Marianne Moore, particularly engaging.

Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett.  In case you didn't know, I've played the title role in my community theater presentation of Beckett's masterpiece for the past Godot knows how many years. Tray bong.  Tray tray tray bong.

Want more reviews?  Click here & here.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Really Cool News

Subprimal Poetry Art is a really cool magazine.  You’ll not only see great poems there, but you’ll hear them too, as audios of many of the poets reading their work are provided.  Here’s a link to “My Great Depression,” which appears in the Summer 2017 issue.  While you’re there, you can click my name to find links to a couple other poems that have previously appeared at Subprimal.

Also really cool, Helen:  A Literary Magazine posted a video of “To F.W.” as part of its Friday Night Special series.  Click here to see.   It’s really, really cool & it’s really cool too that I have two additional poems forthcoming in Helen’s fall issue.

One more really cool thing:  both magazines pay!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Revising Robert Kroetsch

While I genuinely like Robert Kroetsch's "Sounding the Name," (which you may read here, & if no one objects, I'll reproduce it below)  a few tweaks here & there would amplify the emotional impact.

Sounding the Name

In this poem my mother is not dead.
The phone does not ring that October
morning of my fourteenth year.
The anonymous voice on the phone

does not say, Call Arthur to the phone.
Our hired man, a neighbor's son, quiet,
unpretentious, a man from the river hills
near our farm, does not turn from the phone,

he does not say, seeming to stress the time,
Your mother died at ten o'clock.  My sister and I
do not look at each other, do not smile
assuring each other (forever) that words are
pretenders.

In this poem my mother is not dead.
She is in the kitchen, finishing the October
canning.  I am helping in the kitchen

I wash the cucumbers.  My mother asks me
to go pick some dill.  The ducks are migrating.
I forget to close the gate.

For starters, since the mother's name doesn't appear in the poem, which isn't surprising, considering that most of us don't address our parents by their given names, I'd change the title to "Denials."  Next, I'd scratch the opening line "In this poem my mother is not dead."  As rule of thumb, I don't find it particularly helpful for the writer to identify the genre.  The reader is aware that it's a poem, one would hope, without being told.  On the other hand, by telling the reader, albeit ironically, that "my mother is not dead" in the first line, the poet tips his hand.  Withholding that information until later in the poem would increase its emotional payoff.

The second stanza stands as is, but I have a couple minor tweaks to the third stanza. In the context of the personal revisionist history presented, it makes little sense why the brother & sister would have actually smiled at each other upon learning of their mother's death.  Even if you can explain it, I doubt that anything essential is lost by pushing forward to the next line, where I'd omit "forever." Although it's tempting to rewrite the phrase "words are pretenders," I'm not interested in altering the poet's phrasing or diction.  If I were, I'd suggest using contractions to make the poem sound more conversational.

In the fourth stanza, once again I'd lose "In this poem my mother is not dead."  Instead, I'd begin, "My mother is finishing the October / canning."  I'd leave the fifth stanza pretty much intact, so the revised poem would be:

Denials

The phone does not ring that October
morning of my fourteenth year.
The anonymous voice on the phone

does not say, Call Arthur to the phone.
Our hired man, a neighbor's son, quiet,
unpretentious, a man from the river hills
near our farm, does not turn from the phone,

he does not say, seeming to stress the time,
Your mother died at ten o'clock.  My sister and I
do not look at each other, do not assure 
each other that words are pretenders.

My mother is finishing the October
canning.  I am helping in the kitchen.

I wash the cucumbers.  My mother asks me
to pick some dill.  The ducks are migrating.
I forget to close the gate.


Note:  The revision of this poem came about via a discussion in my weekly poetry group, to whom, head bowed, hat over heart, I extend my thanks.  For similar posts, check out "Revising 'Theories of Time & Space'" & "Singing Instructions."

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Books in Brief 2

A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf.  While I may quibble here & there over such things as Woolf's claim that Charlotte Bronte's supposed angry misandry betrayed her in Jane Eyre (too much New Critic in me to see such personal conjecture as meaningful) or the validity of gender- indicative characteristics inherent in writing styles (too much like Jungian mysticism for my tastes), Woolf's scornful analysis of male academics' domination in the literary world pretty much nails it.  Besides, Woolf may very well be my favorite novelist, so I'll leave it at "She's brilliant!"

Fear of Physics, Laurence M. Krauss.  Like many people, I enjoy mind-blowing theoretical concepts, such as string theory, even if I don't understand the science itself.  Krauss, despite his zealous reverence for all science & the almighty Nobel Prize (hallelujah & amen), does little to bridge this gap.  In fact, he loses a great deal of credibility when he repeats the ridiculous myth that Columbus proved the world was a sphere.  I suppose Aristotle--since Krauss calls philosophy a waste of time--doesn't count.  Krauss also apparently missed, while whacking off to "She Blinded Me with Science," I must assume, the episode of Myth America on TLC--which, to be fair, has been eerily purged from existence since it aired in the 90s--that pointed out that ancient Greeks depicted Atlas holding a sphere, not an enormous pancake.  To make matters worse, he also insinuates the heinous lie that the atomic bomb saved thousands of lives--in the same way that giving small pox to Native Americans did, I guess.  Krauss should read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.  As a matter of fact, everyone should. 

The Witness of Poetry, Czeslaw Milosz.  Milosz ruminates off-topic a bit, but from what I can gather, he doesn't like surrealism (although his poetry occasionally makes use of surrealistic imagery) & holds nothing but contempt for the Soviets.  While Krauss in Fear of Physics (see above) seems to consider everything outside of science as trivial, Milosz scorns such views as all too prevalent.  He links the emphasis on the sciences off-handedly, though accurately, to militarism; meanwhile, the humanities are mostly ignored.  Thus, as the title suggests, the poet needs to serve as a witness to history.  To understand Milosz & his poetics better, my advice is to read his poems. 

The Iron Heel, Jack London.  I really like the narrative frame of this story: a scholar from several centuries in the utopian socialist future annotates the memoirs of Avis Everhard, an early 20th century revolutionist.  However, while I share many of London's political views, scenes in which the leader of the revolutionists, Ernest Everhard, eviscerates various members of the oligarchy in impromptu debates read as incredibly cheesy.  (Note: Ernest Everhard is my new porn name, replacing my previous nom de porn, Johnny Longbow.)  The Iron Heel is often called a dystopian novel, but London's depiction of class struggle is no more exaggerated than, say, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle or John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.  The narrative frame lends a sci-fi feel, which makes it difficult to categorize as natural realism, a term used to denote much of London's fiction, yet to call The Iron Heel a dystopian novel suggests that a capitalistic society is in itself dystopia, which, yeah, I guess I can see that.

Superheroes: The Best of Philosophy & Pop Culture, William Irwin, ed.  Probably the best essay in this collection is Mark D. White's "Why Doesn't Batman Kill the Joker?"  White examines the question from both utilitarian & deontologist perspectives, introducing variants to the classic trolley dilemma.  I also enjoyed White's "Captain America & the Virtue of Modesty" & Jacob Held's "Can We Steer This Rudderless World? Kant, Rorschach, Retributivism, & Honor."  It was a free book, so I'm not complaining, but if I were to suggest some of the essays fall short of super or heroic, you may want to factor in that I read a substantial chunk of this book while waiting more than two hours at the DMV, which may have colored my opinion negatively.

Shakespeare's Sonnets; Narrative Poems, William Shakespeare.  My most recent reading of these two volumes served to confirm my opinion that, as a poet, Shakespeare's a better playwright, but as a playwright, he's a better poet than most.

Selected Poems of Thomas Hardy, John Crowe Ransom, ed.  At times, Hardy is deceptively simple; at other times, he's just plain simple.  An example of the former is Hardy's much anthologized "The Man He Killed," which insinuates that governments at war enlist the powerless members of society, the marginalized poor & working class, who fight one another--not because of substantive differences between them, but because of financial need--under the banner of nationalism, if not imperialism (though that's not quite the way my high school teacher explained the poem).  Hardy's "Ah, Are You Digging on My Grave?" is an example of the latter, of which the less said the better. 

Mythologies, Roland Barthes.  This highly varied collection of essays shows that philosophy doesn't have to be one abstraction heaped atop other abstractions in a great tire fire of abstract thought.  As entertaining as he is thought-provoking, Barthes interprets common images, icons, trends & attitudes of mid 20th century life as symbols of the cultural consciousness--but not in those words.

The Woman Who Discovered Math, Michael Cadnum.  If you do the math, these six poems come to--by my calculations, subtracting the introductory material & bio note at the back--only ten of the total sixteen pages.  The bottom line, factoring in the cover price of ten dollars, is that it doesn't add up to a book (& seems a bit skimpy for a chapbook, too, in my book).  Those of you with a head for numbers may extrapolate that this isn't meant to take anything away from the poet, for I liked what was there well enough, but I wanted to see more. 

Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork, Richard Brautigan.  As a teenager, I read Brautigan often, though the years & mild dementia have left me with but vague impressions of his books.  Generally speaking, I see Brautigan's novels--Trout Fishing in America, for example, which I recently reread--as collections of prose poems & his lineated verse as ideas for poems that need fleshing out, such as "A Moth in Tucson, Arizona" or "Robot."  However, Brautigan is enjoyable, if not, at times, hilarious.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury.  Once upon a time, TV stations used to show the movie adaptation of Bradbury's book with great frequency.  Back then, I think I enjoyed the movie, but I never read the book--until now, at which point I can't really remember the movie. As for the novel, Bradbury is skillful enough in his use of metaphoric language, but he seemed to be embarrassingly out of touch with race & gender issues in regard to literature, even for the 1950s.  Nevertheless, its brevity makes it a worthwhile read, though fairly insignificant to burn.  Maybe I'll watch the movie again sometime if I can find it.

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, George Gordon, Lord Byron.  It's not nearly as entertaining as Don Juan, yet Bryon seemingly has the ability to versify the stuff inside his head seamlessly.  Even when he's working in Spenserian stanzas, he comes across as somewhat conversational. Childe Harold's upper tier where travelogue poetry's concerned, if a bit dull, & if nothing else, I'm glad I finally finished it.

A Room with a View, E.M. Forster.  The plot may be predictable, if not downright formulaic, but Forster's easy prose & keen understanding of his characters' inner workings make this turn of the 20th century romance enjoyable, though the 80s movie adaptation kind of sucks.
 
The Performer, Michael Cantor.  Although this chapbook reads too much like a look-at-me-I'm-so-worldly travelogue, Cantor still shows his skills with a goodly selection of poems, including "For Trudy, in New York for Business," which appeals to my prurient tastes.

Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut.  While it pales in comparison to such Vonnegut classics as Slaughterhouse Five, Cat's Cradle or, one of my personal favorites, God Bless You, Mr. Goldwater, Breakfast of Champions is a smugly humorous social satire, illustrated with enough of the author's crude doodles to amuse almost any Vonnegut fan.  However, the rather gratuitous racial epithets & ethnic stereotypes are troubling, even for satire. 

Tristessa,  Jack Kerouac.  Perhaps the best thing about this incredibly horrible, thinly veiled semi-autobiographical, pockmarked schlock about junkies in love & Mexico, told by a moron with half a hard-on & a regrettable typewriter fetish that unswervingly serves as both an emetic & an example of what not to do as a writer--or as a human being, for whatever that's worth--is that it's short, so maybe there's a holy fucking god after all.  Classic Kerouac!


Read more reviews here.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Watershed Review

Just a quick note to say that I have two poems in the Spring Issue of Watershed Review.  Many thanks to all the good people there!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Catullus 16

Suck my dick & fuck you.
Aurelius, enjoy the taste of my cock.  Furius, you’ll like it up the ass.
You think, because my passionate poems offend
your sensibilities, that I’m a pervert.
Whatever debauchery you find in my poems,
it doesn’t mean I’m debased or my poetry less pure.
Thing is, my cunning wit isn’t meant for boys, but
for the old & hairy who need a little
seduction & few raunchy bits to get it up.
You who read my thousand kisses
& think I’m not a real man:
Suck my dick & fuck you.

---------------

Note: Although I studied Latin as an undergraduate, this isn't a translation as much as an interpretation based upon the many widely varied translations available, each lacking in its own way.  I want the poem to have the feel of playful spontaneity, as if the poet were speaking at an event, not unlike today's celebrity roasts, in which insults were traded in a joking manner.   

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Home Planet News

I'm pleased that I have two poems in Issue 4 of Home Planet News Online.  Many thanks to the good people at HPN.

It's tempting to say I first wrote "The Gray Hills Beyond" many years ago as an undergraduate, but so much of the poem has changed that it's more accurate to say that I conceived of its structure those long lost years gone by.  Judson Jerome, who wrote a monthly column for Writer's Digest in those days, said he liked it--back then, I called the poem "Lunch"--but passed on publishing it in Cedar Rock.  Over the years--I often play around with my old poems for ideas--both the beginning & the end have changed, so too the middle.  Pretty much the same could be said of me physically, heh. 

"The Devil's Playbook" came about as an experiment of sorts.  I've always maintained that a poem can be about anything, that no topic is off-limits, yet I began to question how much I practice that.  I tend to compartmentalize:  some ideas are for my blog, some are for friends, some for the classroom, some for poems & so forth.   But why?  Can't I put in a poem the kinds of things I'd post on my blog, talk about in a classroom, or say in conversation?  While there may be valid reasons--some pragmatic, some personal--why I might decide not to write about a particular subject in a poem (or talk about or post in my blog, for that matter), the idea is not to allow a preconceived idea that I've subconsciously constructed from the study of poetry to dictate what subject--& subsequently, style & language--is acceptable for the unwritten poem. Of course, some may argue, given that my poetry is already marked by unconventionality, that perhaps this isn't the best route for me to pursue, that perhaps I should instead pay stricter attention to my clucking, anal retentive internal editor more often, but those who would say so--you know who you are--should just fucking piss off.

Also, this month marks my blog's tenth year in existence.  Yes, it's hard to believe that I've maintained my blog for ten years.  Hey, if you're reading this, why not wish my blog a happy birthday!