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.
Thing is, my cunning wit isn’t meant for boys, but
for the old & hairy who need a little
seduction & some 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!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Books in Brief

Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin.  As the title suggests, Baldwin's novel is deeply steeped in religious overtones, undertones & every nook & cranny between tones.  In other words, it's lots more religious than I like, which is not to say that Baldwin isn't a great writer or that the novel itself isn't worthy of a read. 

Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu, trans. Stephen Mitchell.  I like Mitchell's translations, if that's what they are, so I thought I'd give his take on Tao Te Ching a shake since The Tao of Pooh failed to enlighten me.  I'm still waiting . . .

The Overcoat, Nikolai Gogol.  As to the plight of the poor & powerless, is there justice? 

I, Robot, Isaac Asimov.  The cover of the edition I read shows Will Smith as Det. Spooner from the Hollywood "adaptation" of the novel, even though Spooner doesn't exist in the book--nor do the other movie characters--& the film's plot, well, I'd go as far as to say that paranoia about a robot revolution runs antithetical to the theme of Asimov's collection of stories about robots.

Snow White, Donald Barthleme.  I remember when Barthleme, after a reading, signed a couple of books for me, saying in his sonorous voice as I walked away, "An extraordinary pleasure, sir."  I don't know why, but that always makes me snicker.  Ditto this book.

Novelsmithing, David Sheppard.  Sheppard assures the reader that his method of novel writing is the bee's tried & true knees before delving into analyzing how novels work, citing numerous examples from movies rather than, I don't know, maybe novels, to illustrate his points.  Apparently, much novel writing can be learned from sitting down with pencil & popcorn to watch James Cameron's Titanic, yet Sheppard never explains--at least he hadn't by the time I quit reading--the movie's flawed point of view, for how can the survivor of the big blundering boat recall scenes when, in many cases, she wasn't even there when they happened?
 
Honey & Salt, Carl Sandburg.  Back when I was in high school, teachers would assign Sandburg for those days when we were to appreciate poetry.  I'm not sure--does anyone still do that?  Sandburg's probably the most prosaic poet out there, even more so than Robinson Jeffers or, one of my faves, William Stafford. 

White Stone: The Alice Poems, Stephanie Bolster.  Outside of maybe Denise Duhamel's Kinky, I don't usually like books dedicated to a single topic, but I found this collection of poems about two Alices--the one Lewis Carroll created & the real life person his character was based upon--informative & entertaining. 

Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil, W.E.B. Du Bois.  This collection of memoirs, stories, allegories, essays, etc., centered around the inequality that racism, sexism, & classism create, provides insightful analysis & social commentary.


Want more? Click here.


Friday, January 20, 2017

Inaugural Day Blues

Like many Americans, I don't like the idea of President Trump, so I'm boycotting the Inaugural Day ceremonies, which, admittedly, I would have done even had Clinton won the election.  Truth be told, I've boycotted inaugurations pretty much my entire life, though I can't say it's had any effect on the body politic. Seems rather futile, if you want to know the truth, whatever I do.

Given the biblical levels of doom that some predict a Trump presidency will bring about, it's kind of hard to figure how many of these apocalyptic prophets maintain it’s unfair to dub Clinton a weak candidate.  After all, they argue, she received nearly three million more votes than Trump, who received assists from the Russians, the FBI, the CIA, the BBC, B.B. King & Doris Day, among others, including Matt Busby, all of which is, as of yet, conjecture.

For what it's worth, I’ve long advocated for the popular vote—living in a decidedly red state makes my vote virtually worthless—but I wonder how many Democrats would be in favor of dumping the electoral college system if Clinton had won. I don’t recall hearing an uproar about its unfairness before the election. It's also worth noting that if you subtracted the roughly 4.5 million vote surplus that Clinton received in two states, California & New York, she would have lost the popular vote, too. This very scenario-- in which one or two big states skew election results in the national popular vote system--is often used, in part, as justification for the electoral college. Nevertheless, I still favor the popular vote: one person equals one vote, wherever you live, is the way I see it. 

It's almost funny, if it weren't for the horrific specter of a Trump presidency, to hear Clintonites register complaints about election fraud after they delighted in portraying Sanders supporters as poor sports & whiny conspiracy-theorist whackjobs for saying the primaries were rigged. Further, for Democrats to call the general election illegitimate due to foreign interference--considering the overt influence that America has exerted on other countries, such as Honduras, Libya and Ukraine during President Obama's administration--is Trump-level rich, especially when the alleged Russian interference consists of leaking the Podesta emails, which provide, among other corruption revealed, actual evidence that the DNC helped rig the primaries in favor of Clinton. 

O, irony, is there nothing you can't do?

Excuses & conspiracy theories aside, Clinton managed to squander, in a matter of weeks, a solid double-digit lead in the polls, then lost to a racist, sexist, dimwitted, big-mouthed, egomaniacal billionaire with historically ("unpresidented," if you will) low approval ratings even before he takes office, not to mention a notoriously bad comb-over. To use a sports analogy, it’s like Duke hoops blowing a 30 point halftime lead to Chattahoochee Tech, then blaming it on poor officiating.  No disrespect to Chattahoochee Tech--um, go Eagles!--but that’s textbook weak.

While I applaud the protests & resistance to Trump & his neoliberal agenda, it doesn't mean I ally myself with neoliberal, partisan hacks like Cory Booker, Chuck Schumer, Howard Dean, Clinton, or her regrettable, forgettable VP pick, Tim Whathisname, who quietly gravitates toward his role as a trivia night stumper at pubs nationwide. 

It's not that I don't see any differences between the two corporate parties, but rather that both parties, since they serve the same corporate masters, are demonstratively inadequate. Assuming we survive Trump, my hope is that someday soon we'll begin to see true progressives, rather than the close-your-eyes-&-make-believe variety that the DNC habitually give us, elected to office.  Maybe then I'll shake my Inaugural Day blues. 


Monday, January 9, 2017

Newsy Notes

--"Day of Reckoning" Is Here

It's true.  You may read "Day of Reckoning" in Rose Red Review (Issue 19, Winter 2016).  While you're there, you may read, among the many other fine poems in 3Rs, a selection from my collection Walking in Chicago with a Suitcase in My Hand, "The Giraffe," which appeared in a previous Rose Red Review.  Thanks to Larissa Nash.

FYI:  "Day of Reckoning" is a companion piece to "Apocalypse Eve," which appeared a couple years ago in The Legendary. You can find it & other poems by clicking here.

--Love Is All:  A Theory of Everything

I'm also very pleased that "In Love, in Theory" is part of the Love & Ensuing Madness collection published by Rat's Ass Review.  The poem is another example of my tanka chain sonnet (as are those that appeared in The Legendary).  Thanks to Roderick Bates at Rat's Ass Review

--Poetry Aloud

I'm reading at Empire Books in Huntington on Monday, January 16, at 7 p.m.  If you're in the neighborhood, why not drop by?  Thanks to Eliot Parker for arranging the reading.