Thursday, December 1, 2016

Quick Hits on Select Lit 4

A Twelve Step Guide, Jason Bredle.  A surprisingly amusing chapbook in spite of its sobering title.

A Dog's Heart, Mikhail Bulgakov.   A stray dog that becomes human couldn't help but remind me of Kafka's "A Report to An Academy," about an ape in a similar fix.  Both stories are clever, but Bulgakov is hilarious.  I may like this even better than The Master & the Margarita, which, by the way, is mighty, mighty good.

Hinduism Made Simple, Shalu Sharma.  Despite myriad mechanical errors & awkward, if not ungrammatical constructions, this free ebook is immensely informative.  It helps dispel many of the stereotypes & mythical mystifications (or perhaps mystical mythifications) surrounding Hinduism, making the religious practices understandable to a devout agnostic such as myself.

The Roar Beneath, Donald Mangum.  I'll tell it to you straight, as comedian Stewart Lee would say, like a pear cider made from 100% pears: Don Mangum is a friend & former classmate.  He wrote such a glowing blurb for my latest collection, Walking in Chicago with a Suitcase in My Hand, that you can practically read my poems in the dark, so if I told you I had nothing but praise for this novella, you'd probably say I'm biased.  Well, fair enough.  Don't just take my word that Mangum is an expert craftsman who blends mystery, adventure, romance, & the minutia of everyday life on the Gulf Coast just before Hurricane Katrina with humor & intelligence.  Read C.M. Johnson's review of the book here.  Better yet, read the book & decide for yourself.

The Ogre's Wife, Ron Koertge.  I enjoyed Fever so much that I immediately leapt headfirst & headstrong into The Ogre's Wife, a collection of poems loosely concentrated--like frozen fruit juice, perhaps pear cider (see above)--on the characters, creatures, & sundry stuff of fairy tales.  If this book were a lake, enchanted or not, I'd probably have broken my fucking neck, but fortunately for me, I hadn't extended the metaphor.  Anyway, it's an enjoyable collection, but I like Fever, not to mention Geography of the Forehead & Making Love to Roget's Wife, better.

The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolaño.  I decided to read this novel after reading a Bolaño poem in my Visceral Realist poetry discussion group.  Well, to be honest, we're not actually Visceral Realists.  At least I'm not.  The Visceral Realist movement, if you want to call it a movement, which I do merely for convenience because I don't now what else to call it, never produced a noteworthy poet--unless you consider Bolaño a Visceral Realist, which I don't.  He's quite good, so I felt bad that I'd not read him before, but I plan to read his posthumous novel 2666 soon, or at least by the end of 2666.  Also, I'm currently reading his collected poems, however slowly, for if you want to know the truth, I'm not feeling altogether all together these days.

Swerve, Jeffrey Skinner.  I didn't like this chapbook when I first started reading it, but I began to like it, so when I finished, I gave it a second reading.   Maybe you should, too.

Ubik, Philip K. Dick. Now nobody can say I haven't read Dick.

The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff.  I first came across this book twenty odd (& how) years ago when my son was little more than a toddler.  I figured if I were going to watch the cartoons--as well as read the original A.A. Milne stories that the Disney characters are very loosely based on--I could use that experience to improve my understanding of Taoism. I can't deny that at the time I enjoyed Hoff's use of Pooh's adventure to explain Taoism.  The Taoist's easy-going, come-what-may prescription for happiness appealed to me as a single father raising a young boy.   However, rereading this book now, crusty curmudgeon that I've become, I find myself taking a more critical view.  For instance, Hoff seems to miss entirely the point of the Pooh song Cottleston Pie, whose nearly nonsensical verses better illustrate the folly of syntactical expectations & logical fallacies than the tenets of Taoism, but Hoff, albeit ironically, tries to force the lyrics to fit a Taoist belief system.  Square peg, meet round hole.  Very un-Tao, dude.

Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, trans. William Scott Wilson. After watching Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog,  I snagged Hagakure off the shelf of a small, artsy bookstore in Brooklyn.  Struck by the selfless dedication that Forest Whitaker's character displayed toward his career as a professional assassin, I'd planned to use the teachings of Master Tsunetomo as a way to rededicate my life to poetry.  Since I couldn't give up--if giving up were easy, I would have given up the ghost & his mangy spectral mutt years ago--I figured what I needed was to devote myself with even greater fervor to my art.  Sadly, instead of an illuminated path to success, I found myself constantly trying to make sense of one unrelated episode after another that usually ended in acts of extreme & senseless violence. Then, of course, there was Hagakure.

Selected Stories, Ernest Hemingway.  The reviewer placed his fingers on the keyboard.  He contemplated what he should say about the book he'd recently read.  After all, he had read many books by Hemingway in the past, not only stories, but novels, too.  The reviewer leaned back in his chair.  He remembered reading The Sun Also Rises while a freshman in Dr. Walther's literature class at college.  As a student, the reviewer had liked the novel so much that he'd read For Whom the Bell Tolls on his own during the summer break at his parents' home.  He didn't remember anything else about that summer, but he remembered sitting on the red metal glider in the backyard reading For Whom the Bell Tolls.  When he read the novel again many years later, he decided it was Hemingway's best book.

As the reviewer skimmed over what he'd written, he discovered that he'd not talked about this collection of short stories.  He'd talked about his reading experiences in his salad days.  He wondered if he used to digress to this degree, for example, when he'd written theme papers for his literature classes.  Probably not, he decided, for he'd always made good grades & had graduated with honors.  He hadn't written about Hemingway for Dr. Walther's class, but Wallace Stevens, probably the reviewer's favorite poet.  Several professors in the English Department at the university had predicted the reviewer would enjoy a successful career as a poet himself.  In the years that followed, the reviewer had enjoyed some minor success, but he felt dissatisfied with his career, if it were fair to call it a career, especially in comparison to Hemingway & Stevens.  Apparently, the two great writers didn't like each other.  Hemingway, the story goes, had once punched Wallace Stevens in the face at a party in Key West. 

Focus! the reviewer told himself angrily, annoyed again with his digressions.  After he'd typed the name of the book & its author, the reviewer realized he couldn't recall the titles of the stories other than "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" &  "Soldier's Home."  He kept his fingers on the keyboard, as if this would force a rush of titles into his memory.  He knew that some of the stories came from The Nick Adams Stories & The Snows of Kilimanjaro & Other Stories.  Still others came from additional Hemingway short story compilations.  The reviewer had enjoyed reading these collections, what he'd read, yet he didn't enjoy this recent collection as much as he had the others.  He wondered if that was why he couldn't remember many of the titles.

As he sat as his desk, he told himself to retrieve the book from his bedside table. That would mean climbing the stairs, he thought.  He was too lazy to climb the stairs.  He didn't consider himself lazy by nature.  Usually he wasn't lazy, but now he was lazy.  Recalling one of the stories was "The Revolutionist," he wrote that down before he forgot.  Then he remembered "A Very Short Story" & wrote that down, too.  There was a story about a matador.  Hell, he thought, there were lots of stories about matadors.  The stories were about matadors, he wrote, except when they weren't.  The reviewer smirked..  He liked what he'd written because it was true & it meant he wouldn't have to climb the stairs, which he really really really really really really really really really didn't want to do.

Want more?
Quick Hits on Select Lit 3
Quick Hits on Select Lit 2
Quick Hits on Select Lit
Fistful of Comments about a Few Books I Read This, Er, Last Year

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Found Poem: Trochaic Monometer Sonnet

         overheard at DNC headquarters

fuck you
fuck you
fuck you
fuck you
fuck you
fuck you
fuck you
fuck you

fuck you
fuck you
fuck you
fuck you
fuck you

& you too


Analyze that, Harvey Gross . . .



Sunday, October 2, 2016

Poetry Reading

I'm pleased to announce that I'll be reading at Taylor Books on Thursday, October 13th at 6 p.m.  The reading will feature poems from my latest collection, Walking in Chicago with a Suitcase in My Hand, as well as select works from previous collections & new poems.

Many thanks to Taylor Books for hosting this event.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Go Green!

Partisan Democrats claim that even though Clinton’s a progressive (as if), a number of conservatives prefer her to Trump, which goes to show what a dangerous, incompetent megalomaniac he unarguably is. However, it's hard to fathom that notorious neocon Robert Kagan would have endorsed Bernie Sanders were he the Democrats' nominee.  Kagan, no matter how dangerous he may consider Trump, would surely deem Sanders’s platform equally dangerous. It's also highly unlikely that George H.W. Bush would have suggested, even on the sly, that he’d vote for Sanders.  Regardless of his disdain for Trump, he’d probably have kept his no-new-taxes lips shut rather than offer support to a self-proclaimed socialist.  Nor would The Arizona Republic, outside maybe a special April Fools’ Day edition, ever have endorsed Sanders.  Given that polls continue to show her running neck & neck with dumbass Trump, the point to extrapolate from these endorsements is not that Clinton is the right candidate, one who draws support from divergent political sectors, but rather that Clinton is the right-wing candidate, one whom conservatives back because she’s a neocon, too.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Quick Hits on Select Lit 3

The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler. Well told story, but the ending seems rushed & unsatisfying. I guess Chandler had a deadline to meet, not to mention rent to pay.

The Stranger, Albert Camus.  I like The Stranger better than The Fall, which I found artsy & pretentious, yet less than Marcel loved his mother. I keep telling myself that I need to read The Myth of Sisyphus to get a feel for Camus’s nonfiction, but I avoid it, for whatever reason, like The Plague.

Daisy Miller, Henry James. For me, James is escapist literature. A story about well-to-do Americans hobnobbing with the creme de la creme of European society is, from my perspective, as farfetched as busty magical girls in frilly dresses flying heavily armored unicorns into outer space to protect the planet from giant mechanized invaders from the darkest recesses of the cosmos. Is a subconscious desire to be "amongst them" (the rich shits, not the giant robots) possibly the reason I enjoy tucking into a James book from time to time? Fuck if I know, though the ending of this particular novella seemed like an easy out for the author, who perhaps tired of his own stuffy characters.

The Darkness Around Us Is Deep: Selected Poems of William Stafford.  An uneven collection--actually, it's 138 pages, so I guess it's even--Stafford wrote more than a few amazing poems.  You can read one of my favorites, "At the Bomb Testing Site," by clicking here.

Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin.  I'm sorry.  I tried to read this, but I couldn't finish it.  Or to put it simply:  I'm sorry I tried to read this.

Why Does the World Exist? Jim Holt. I’d hoped for a more scientific answer to the question of what conditions existed prior to the Big Bang. If nothingness preceded the existence of the universe, how is possible for something to come from nothing? If chaos existed prior to the universe, exactly where did that chaos–those unassembled atomic/subatomic structures that would eventually come together to form our universe–exist if the universe itself didn’t yet exist? (I don’t know where it existed, to paraphrase former veep Al Gore from an episode of Futurama, but I know where it didn’t exist: the universe.)  Since scientists apparently don’t know, Holt spends the better part of his book in metaphysical contemplation, recounting conversations & interviews with personages from literature, philosophy, & science trying to crack open--if not crack, then pry--the old philosophical chestnut, Why is there something instead of nothing? Fortunately, I enjoy metaphysics. I find it stimulating to seek answers to questions that are more than likely unknowable, for as they say at gift-giving occasions, it’s the thought that counts. Yes, in case your wondering, this book was a gift–a very thoughtful one at that.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston. Some rough edges, some disturbing passages, but still & all, an interesting, enjoyable read, well worth your time, whatever you're doing now, whoever you are, yes, by god, you: read it!

Trout Fishing in America, Richard Brautigan.  In this loosely constructed narrative, Brautigan employs a plethora of humorous & unexpected metaphors & similes to relate the story of Trout Fishing in America, which is not merely a way of life, but a life-form itself.  I see Trout Fishing in America as more a poem than a novel, more poetic even than Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt, Brautigan’s book of lineated free verse. Though it too is an enjoyable read, Brautigan seems to let a preconceived, perhaps ill-conceived, definition of poetry stifle his wonderfully bizarre imagination at times. For the most part, I found Trout Fishing in America, which had set around on my shelves since high school, immensely rewarding.  Hell, I may re-read it yet again.

Fever, Ron Koertge.  In "Since You Asked," Koertge describes his style as "conversational, or maybe loquacious / like someone trying to pledge a good sorority, someone / who can't stop talking about her stuffed animals."  He's not, as he admits later in the poem, one of those "people who can lean into a sonnet with their stethoscopes," who "count perfect iambs" & "think deep / thoughts while snow . . . collects on the brims of their somber hats."  Instead, he says, he's "long-winded" & "go[es] / on like one of those blue highways through Montana with / an occasional joke or simile like a roadside attraction."  Yeah, I can see that.  He's also a pleasure to read.

This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein. Picking up where The Shock Doctrine left off, Klein makes a strong case that neoliberalism not only lies at the root of inequality, but also at the core of environmental degradation.  Rather than depending on white coats in laboratories to invent miracles--the questionable science proposed thus far may cause more danger than good--Klein believes the way to repair this ailing planet is to change the economic system from one that promotes greed to a more egalitarian one, for as long as profits are valued more than the earth itself--more than life--the destruction of the planet will continue. While the topic is bleak, as Klein herself admits, she manages to provide a glimmer of hope by citing numerous examples of people taking action against carbon-emitting assholes & winning.

The Metamorphosis & Other Stories, Franz Kafka.  Thanks to years of therapy, I may not always grasp the seemingly unending depths of the spiraling psychological dramas that Kafka's characters commonly convey, but what can I say that hasn't already been said about Kafka?

Reparation, Roy Bentley.  An interesting group of poems about the Vietnam War from a soldier’s viewpoint, published by Pudding House, which also published my two chapbooks, Here's How & Greatest Hits, neither of which is available now that Pudding House has apparently & unfortunately gone out of business.  You can find most of the poems in my chappies in my two full-length collections, Nearing Narcoma & Walking in Chicago with a Suitcase in My Hand, available for purchase from the publishers, as well as from Amazon & other book dealers.  If your local bookstore doesn't carry them, as often is the case with poetry collections, ask if they'll order a copy for you. If, on the other hand, you'd like either chappy--maybe both--it's possible for you to buy directly from me via this blog.  Just send me a message in the comment section so that we can make the necessary arrangements. (I should be clear that I'm talking about selling my chapbooks.  I'm not actively trying to sell my copy of  Bentley's Reparation, a fine book in its own right, though I'll listen to offers.) 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Mood Medicine: Eine Kleine 3 Hund Nachtmusik



WARNING:  EASY TO BE HARD (1969) is intended for treatment of erectile dysfunction.  Do not listen to EASY TO BE HARD if you are allergic to schmaltz, as contained in EASY TO BE HARD or other THREE DOG NIGHT song, or any component of EASY TO BE HARD.  An erection that lasts more than 4 hours is a frequent side effect of puberty.  If you are under the age of 18, stop listening to EASY TO BE HARD & exit this site immediately.  Discuss your health with your doctor to ensure you are healthy enough for sex if your doctor's up for a little action.  If you experience chest pain, dizziness, or nausea during sex, you’re doing it wrong. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Self-Promotion Begins at Home

I have several new poems online:

"Imitation of Immortality," a parody of Cesar Vallejo's "Black Stone on White Stone," is up at Linden Avenue Literary Journal.  (Actually, I was unaware that it was posted until recently, so you'll have to look in the Archives for the June 2016, Issue 49.  You need to scroll down to find my poem, but you can read other poems along the way.)

Bindlestiff has posted a couple of my poems, "The Birth of Venus" & "1981" in its inaugural issue (Summer/Fall 2016).  It may not look it, but "The Birth of Venus" is a tanka chain sonnet.

Marathon Literary Review has published "The Meaning of Life"  (Issue 10, June 2016).  In case you missed it, you can also find "Off to 'Nam, That's Where" in Issue 8.

Great thanks to the editors & all the good people at the above magazines.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Book Review

I'm excited to see a review of my latest poetry collection, Walking in Chicago with a Suitcase in My Hand, in the current print issue of Rain Taxi (Summer 2016, vol. 21). Since it's the print issue, if you want to read the review, you'll need to purchase the magazine. (Of course, there are other reviews as well as features & interviews.  Click here to see the table of contents.) Many thanks to the folks at Rain Taxi & to Jordan Sanderson for his insightful review.      

Monday, June 13, 2016

How to Teach Poetry

I recently watched Uta Koi, an anime series about early Japanese poets, & while I have more than a few criticisms of the show, the innovative scope of the program didn’t escape me.  It’s hard to imagine that Disney, Nickelodeon, or any other US cartoon maker would even consider producing a show centered around the lives of poets.  American audiences don’t want to watch hand-drawn cartoon characters that, rather than rendered with four-fingered hands, big eyes, bulbous noses & squiggly lines for ears, are realistically depicted.  Research shows (i.e., I surfed YouTube for a couple hours) that when Americans watch cartoons, they want anthropomorphized animals & what with the technological advances, preferably CGI-rendered ones.  Well, when in Rome, Ohio, as they say, try the apples, so I’ve worked up an idea to pitch to Disney--so don’t any of you smug fuckers who ripped off my Rock’em Sock’em Robots movie get ideas.

In Poetry Zoo–my working title–each episode begins with zookeeper Hilda Doolittle shutting the zoo’s front gate at closing time.  One of only a handful of poets depicted as human, H.D. possesses the Doolittle family’s ability to talk to animals, a talent she deftly demonstrates as she strolls through the natural habitat zoo, stopping to chat & recite poetry with such luminaries as T.S. Elephant, Ezra Panda, Sylvia Platypus, Walrus Stevens, Marianne Moose, Emily Dik-dik, Lambkin Hughes, Myna Angelou, E.E. Lemmings & Hart Crane, among others. Since American poetry is steeped in British poetic tradition, episodes would also highlight major British poets, such as Giraffe Chaucer, William Snakespeare, Gerard Manatee Hopkins & Matthew Aardvark.

Additionally, special episodes would feature different schools & eras of poetry.  For instance, when the jeep that Game Warden, Lord Byron, a foppish human cartoon character, is driving breaks down outside the zoo, he shows H.D., as he flirts with her in an outrageously comical manner, that he too possesses the gift of conversing with his animal friends & colleagues from the Romantic age: Samuel Taylor Moleridge, John Kats (ironically, a bobcat), Percy Bysshe Shellfish & even lowly, cantankerous William Wormsworth.  Another special episode would feature H.D. visiting the Central Park Zoo, where she meets New York School poets Frank O’Hare, Kenneth Koala, John Ashytitibery, Barbara Goose & James Skylark.   On a “Day in the Country” episode, H.D. meets W.H. Otter, Robert Frog, Ant Sexton, William Cardinal Williams, Gullway Kinnell, Louise Dück, William Wren Warren, Carl Sandpiper & Philip Larkin.  Oops! I almost forgot Rita Dove & John Crow Ransome.

I’ve often complained that one reason that many Americans don’t like poetry is that they don’t understand it & the primary reason they don’t understand it is due, in large part, to the way in which it’s taught in schools. My hope is that this series will educate & entertain, as Sir Pheasant Sidney, in a possible future episode, cites as the purpose of poetry in his rather cannibalistic cookbook, An Apology for Poultry.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Don't Let Partisans Use Your Understandable Fear of Dollary to Scare, Shame, Coerce, Chide, Goad or Otherwise Bamboozle You into Voting for Clump

After historic levels of voter fraud & suppression in the primaries, whatever the outcome of the (un)Democratic Convention, rest assured that I’m not voting for the historically presumptive nominee, Hillary "Nuke'em" Clinton.  The “lesser-evilists” among us will say that such a decision serves only to help Trump, but the lesser of two evils argument is a fallacy. Such a strategy rewards & perpetuates the corrupt system that continues to provide us with corporate-crapped candidates, such as this year’s esteemed heaps, two potential felons, Clinton & Trump. Jesus Maria Rojas Alou, it’s like choosing between Hitler & Mussolini. Trump, by virtue–now there’s irony for you–of his desire to be “associated with interesting quotes,” has called dibs on Mussolini, so that means Clinton is fucking Hitler. (No, I’m not seriously comparing her to Hitler. I’m saying she’s having sex with Hitler.) Hypothetically, if you had to choose between Hitler & Mussolini, how do you vote? Well, if you say Mussolini isn’t as evil as Hitler & you’d vote for him, I hope you’re proud of that vote when the blackshirts kick the fuck out of you & leave you sprawled in a pool of blood & piss in an alley, staring up at the boot ready to crush your skull. If you say you’d vote for Hitler, somebody should punch you right in the fucking face, you antisemitic asshole. Morality would dictate that you not vote for either, yet here we are in 2016, with a greedy, lying, blood-sucking, neoliberal warmonger on one side of the aisle & The Donald on the other & we’re asked to vote for the lesser of two evils.  That’s fucked up.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Thanks, Obama?

Here’s an example of what drives me nuts about partisan politics.  A meme of sorts floating around on Facebook begins by mocking the misinformed right-wing fear from 2008 that Obama would “take away our guns,” then goes on to credit Obama for lowering the unemployment rate, providing insurance coverage for millions, & making marriage equality the law of the land.  All this strikes me as a bit of a non-sequitur, yes, but more importantly, disingenuous considering that 1) a Supreme Court ruling brought about marriage equality, not Obama, who, at best, offered only lip service & even then, only after a change of heart to match the shift in public sentiment; 2) the ACA (aka “a marketplace for healthcare”) leaves millions more uninsured as well, & the exorbitant deductibles on mandatory insurance--insurance, let’s not forget, doesn’t equal coverage, much less healthcare--make them impractical & uneconomical for many who are forced to pay for the policies nevertheless.  I won't mention that Obama deemed single-payer too disruptive to consider during the healthcare reform debacle--oh, wait! I just did; 3) unemployment rates were actually higher during Obama’s presidency than during the Bush administration.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the following unemployment rates:

2001
4.7
2002
5.8
2003
6.0
2004
5.5
2005
5.1
2006
4.6
2007
4.6
2008
5.8
2009
9.3
2010
9.6
2011
8.9
2012
8.1
2013
7.4
2014
6.2
2015
5.3

This isn’t to suggest that the policies of Dubya (average unemployment rate a little over 5%) were better than the policies adopted by Obama (average unemployment rate almost 8%), for unemployment figures are often misleading, but rather to point out that austerity measures, supported by the Republican Bush & continued & appended by the Democrat Obama, don’t benefit the working class.  The aforementioned meme ends on the gleeful note that “I still have my guns.”  It’s true—Obama signed zero legislation strengthening or enacting new gun control laws.  However, aren’t “liberals” supposed to favor tougher gun laws?  If so, why celebrate Obama’s inability to do anything about gun violence in America?  Isn’t that one of his failures as a president, after he promised after Sandy Hook to do something about it?  Before I’m falsely accused of being a Republican, let me assure you that I’m far from such a despicable, fucked-up thing.  My point is that we should hold all our representatives, regardless of party, to the same standards.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Quick Hits on Select Lit, Part 2

Writing the Australian Crawl, William Stafford.  I’ve read this book of essays & interviews countless times–well, at least I’m not keeping track–because Stafford’s simple approach to the task of writing helps me clear the path through my mind's clutter so that I can continue the pursuit of poetry, whatever that's worth. It's not that I doubt myself as a poet, but I'm on life's harrowing back nine & I'm tired of schlepping my clubs around alone on the links, whacking my Titleist Pro out of a trap unbeknownst, reading the greens, silver Dead Aim putter in hand, for nobody but me, teeing off with my Big Bertha Alpha 816 Black Diamond into the great void unknown.

Collected Fictions, Jorge Luis Borges.  “Good stuff,” an enthusiastic Chuck Barris said. The stubby finger at the end of the raised arm of his rented tuxedo pointed in a quick flick at the TV audience as he introduced, with the aplomb of a carnival sideshow barker, “Gene, Gene, the Dancing Machine!”

Death Takes Practice, Erik Leavitt.  Not a bad little chappie, though I would be remiss if I didn’t tell Leavitt that Wendy’s doesn’t sell milkshakes, a fact that totally wrecks the verisimilitude of “For Dave Thomas, Founder of Wendy’s, Dead at 69.”  How am I now to believe the self-same speaker’s claim that “a hunk of space rock / just rippling the waters / . . . drifts past in the dark”?  Those ketchup packets that Leavitt asserts “grief finds us in” suddenly seem phony & wrong, like ordering a Whopper at McDonald’s, an irredeemable mistake akin to blaspheming the holy spirit, or worse, eating at Arby’s.

An Animal I Can’t Name, Raegen Pietrucha.  In this winner of the Two of Cups Press Chapbook Contest, centering around the aftermath of the sexual molestation & rape of a young girl, I’m left with a good many unanswered questions.  For instance, why did the publisher decide to use a font size of about, I don’t know, 2 point?  Tiny print.  Lawyer-like.  How small is it?  If Pietrucha coulda-woulda-shoulda named the titular animal, the reader’d probably be none the wiser unless having first procured a Sherlock Holmes-style magnifying glass.  A shame, my bleeding retinas aside, because otherwise it’s an attractive, well-constructed chapbook with perfect-binding & color cover.

Landscape Portrait Figure Form, Dean Rader.  Let me begin by saying (as if I need your permission–just try to stop me) that I generally like Rader's poems.  He exercises an aesthetic akin to the one that Dean Young advocates in The Art of Recklessness.  This serves Rader well in "The Poem Chooses Its Own Adventure," for example, or "Self Portrait As Wikipedia Entry."  However, recklessness risks conveying a cavalier attitude toward one's work.  I don't mean to bad mouth Richard Lovelace & his cronies in any way. My point is that revision has a black eye these days–possibly from hanging out all hours in sleazy dives on the wrong side of town with a bunch of 3rd rate hacks–but if utilized judiciously, revision can improve writing that doesn’t come across so much as “reckless” but as “careless” or "lazy." Not revising–I’m not saying Rader doesn’t revise, I’m just saying–results in some rather bad writing at times.  Take, for instance, "Veduta Americana."  After ending the first of seven numbered sections, "They are sad / and hungry, and the desert is so cold," Rader inexplicably feels the need to repeat these prosaic at best, amateurish at worst, lines again to begin the second section almost verbatim:  "and the desert is so cold, and they are so sad / and so hungry. . ."  Sigh & double sigh, yet I struggle to publish my poems.  In "A Page of Spring," the second section appears in its entirety:

                II.
                Once upon
                a time

                there was
                no time

                only
                the page.

What's wrong with these lines, you'll need to decide for yourself.  I'm stopping here, for  ever heedful of Walter Sobchak's (The Big Lebowski) admonishment re strangers, I don't want to ride Rader's ass because 1) he's not a bad poet; & 2) I don't swing that way, though maybe I should if it would help my career.

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius.  "Do nothing without purpose," Aurelius advises, if we wish to live a noble life. This has long been my mantra, for I'm doing nothing without purpose all the fucking time.  Aurelius offers Christ-like advice, suggesting, in so many words (lingua latina, at that) that we turn the other cheek when we're done a disservice, that we, in essence, love our enemy.  In fact, he gets downright preachy, at times sounding like my beloved sainted mother (requiescat in pace) as when he espouses that money, success, praise & such trifles don’t matter in the long run when you consider that all of us, from the least to the best, will someday die & once we’re dead, none of these earthly concerns matter. Besides, don't question the gods. They know what's best, etc., etc.  Yeah, OK, thanks, Mom. I get it. Death is The Ritz.  Thing is, until I'm dead, I'm pretty sure I'll need money, not bullshit about how fucking great the gods are & shit.  As for my limited success & lack of recognition--well, now you're pissing me off. To be fair, if a buttload of books on Buddhist thought that I'd read in my angry youth--now I'm a cantankerous old fart--failed to convince me to rid myself of earthly desires, Marcus Aurelius’s clunky argument never stood a chance. Nevertheless, I’m glad I finally got around to reading Meditations, which I received XX-some years ago at no cost as the result of a shipping error from a then upstart online bookstore.

God’s Grandeur & Other Poems, Gerard Manley Hopkins.  With a middle name of Manley, Hopkins is easily the most macho of all poets, albeit in a Village People sort of way.  He’s also does a fair share of Bible thumping--which is why I avoid him.  As a poet, Hopkins's claim to fame is Sprung Rhythm, which he explains thus:  "Sprung Rhythm . . . is measured by feet of from one to four syllables, regularly, and for particular effects any number of weak or slack syllables may be used.  It has one stress, which falls on the only syllable, if there is only one, or, if there are more, then scanning . . . on the first, and so gives rise to four sorts of feet, a monosyllable and the so-called accentual Trochee, Dactyl, and the First Paeon.  And there will be four corresponding natural rhythms; but nominally the feet are mixed and any one may follow any other.  And hence Sprung Rhythm differs from Running Rhythm in having or being only one nominal rhythm, a mixed of 'logaoedic' one, instead of three, but on the other hand in having twice the flexibility of foot, so that any two stresses may either follow one another running or be divided by one, two, or three slack syllables.  But strict Sprung Rhythm cannot be counterpointed.  In Sprung Rhythm, as in logaoedic rhythm generally, the feet are assumed to be equally long or strong and their seeming inequality is made up by pause or stressing."  Well, sure, that seems pretty clear, but if it's not, I swear to God's fucking grandeur, there's more.

Dating the Invisible Man, Gwen Hart.  The number of sonnets, sestinas & villanelles in this chapbook suggests that Hart likes to experiment with form–something that I like to do as well–which translates into something that I like that about this book.

The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer.  Chaucer's strategy of allowing individual members of a disparate group of travelers to each tell a story provides the reader with a variety of tales, some heroic, some comic & some dull as church.  I wish I could say I read this in Middle English from beginning to end, but in all honesty--or at least most--I didn't & realistically, given its length & my ever advancing age, I kind of doubt if I ever do.

Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison.  I liked the characters in this novel better than the plot.  I know many today believe plot isn't important & I agree up to the point in which I don't care for it.  So as not to spoil the story for those who haven't read it, I'll  state my dissatisfaction, if your pardon the pun, cryptically:  Dying's easy--it's living that's a bitch.  However, as I said, I liked the characters.  I found Pilate Dead--the character names were nearly Pynchon-level cool--particularly interesting because I once met a guy at the Y who didn't have a navel either.  I'm not making this shit up!  Some 30ish year-old rando, as the kids say, who seemed a little unbalanced, maybe slightly mentally impaired, too, pestered me for half an hour to play him in a game of one-on-one.  I really didn't want to--admittedly, I'm a bit of a basketball snob--but I finally gave in, thinking I could mop the floor with him, then get back to my workout.  When he took his shirt off for the game, I noticed he didn't have a navel. It wasn't merely that he had his shorts pulled up Urkel-style.  If anything, he was wearing them under his button-less belly. It made me feel a bit uneasy, if not strangely ill, so I tried not to look.  I put the game away as quickly as possible--I'm a force of nature behind the arc & he wasn't much of a player--then told him I had to go. When I told other people later about the guy who didn't have a navel, they rolled their eyes as if I were crazy, but the Certificate of Sanity displayed on my study wall suggests otherwise.

Masters of Atlantis, Charles Portis.  After I got over my initial disappointment that it wasn't the adventure story on which Disney based its hit movie Atlantis: the Lost Empire, I enjoyed this quirky novel about obscure cultists, if that's what you call them, who protect the secret wisdom of Atlantis, if that's what you call it.

And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, William S. Burroughs & Jack Kerouac. This novel, based on a true story, is one telling of the incident that many say triggered the beginning of the Beat Movement.  With this in mind, perhaps the only thing worse than Kerouac & Burroughs's writing styles is their ethics.  I mean, these two erstwhile struggling writers apparently helped a murderer receive a lighter sentence--two years for murder--by concocting a story specifically to appeal to an anti-gay 1940s American justice system. In fact, from what I've read,  it's possible that both Burroughs & Kerouac gave false depositions, i.e., they committed perjury.  If so, that makes them the Ray Lewises of literature, though it should be pointed out that Ray Lewis, morality aside, was actually a good football player.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Walt Whitman’s Birthday Suite: A Collage

O my rapt verse, my call, mock me not!
I am Walt Whitman, liberal and lusty as Nature . . .
The hairy wild-bee that murmurs
and hankers up and down, that gripes
the full-grown lady-flower, curves
upon her with amorous firm legs, takes
his will of her, and holds himself
tremulous and tight till he is satisfied.
O to have life henceforth a poem of new joys!
No dainty rhymes or sentimental love verses for you . . . ,
Not you as some pale poetling seated
at a desk lisping cadenzas piano,
But as a strong man erect, clothed in blue clothes,
advancing, carrying a rifle on your shoulder,
Let him who is without my poems be assassinated!

–Walt Whitman & Matt Morris

[Note: the above lines come from “By Blue Ontario’s Shore,” “To a Common Prostitute,” “Spontaneous Me,” “A Song of Joys,” “Eighteen Sixty-One” & “Respondez.”]

Friday, May 6, 2016

Revising "Theories of Time and Space"

One of the many reasons I like my poetry discussion group is that it introduces me to poems that I might otherwise never know.  For instance, recently we talked about Natasha Trethewey’s “Theories of Time and Space.”  If you’re not familiar with the poem, you can read it on various online sites (or, if you keep it on the hush-hush, you can read it below):

Theories of Time and Space

You can get there from here, though
there's no going home.
Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you've never been. Try this:
head south on Mississippi 49, one-
by-one mile markers ticking off
another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion - dead end
at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches
in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand
dumped on a mangrove swamp - buried
terrain of the past. Bring only
what you must carry - tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock
where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:
the photograph - who you were -
will be waiting when you return

–Natasha Trethewey

It’s a good poem, despite a few minor flaws that can be remedied rather easily.  First, omit the opening lines.  “You can get there from here, though / there’s no going home” is not merely a play on one cliche, but two, & two wrongs don’t make a right–or “write,” if you prefer.  The point is starting the poem with a cliche is not only unnecessary, but ill-advised.  But let’s not stop there.  Let’s cut the next sentence as well: “Everywhere you go will be somewhere / you’ve never been.”  As far as I’m concerned, it’s too vague to convey much meaning.  More importantly, it unnecessarily impedes the poem's progression.

Instead, Trethewey should begin the poem: “Try this: head south on . . . ” Beginning with this imperative thrusts you, the reader, into the poem immediately as you’re asked to conduct an experiment to test a particular theory, the “mile markers ticking off / another minute of your life,” instruments used to measure time & space.  This is the biggest revision I have in mind, but probably the most important.

A less drastic revision concerns a line break, which, I’ll admit, is a personal preference.  I basically agree with Trethewey's breaks, with the possible exception of the line beginning with “riggings.”  I recommend breaking that line: “riggings of shrimp boats are loose / stitches in a sky threatening rain.”  I like the image of “riggings . . . are loose” transforming (via the delay of the noun that “loose” actually modifies) into “stitches in a sky,” but, as I said, this is a matter of preference & a minor point.

Several lines further, the phrase “tome of memory / its random blank pages” seems too heavy-handed, especially when the poet could have expressed the idea simply as “random blank pages of memory.”  Finally, toward the ending, the colon after “picture” isn't exactly grammatical–not that poems have to be.  However, the way I see it, it makes more sense to replace the colon with a semi-colon or, even better, a period & begin the new sentence with a capital letter.

After these revisions, Trethewey’s poem reads as follows:

Theories of Time and Space

Try this: head south on Mississippi 49, one-
by-one mile markers ticking off
another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion - dead end
at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose
stitches in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand
dumped on a mangrove swamp - buried
terrain of the past. Bring only
what you must carry - random
blank pages of memory. On the dock
where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture.
The photograph - who you were -
will be waiting when you return.

As a side note, for what it’s worth, as a student many years ago at the University of Southern Mississippi, I traveled State Route 49 many a weekend, driving my old Dodge down to the coast for a taste of  the nightlife–at about 100 mph.  Sometimes I think it’s amazing that I’m still alive.

Anyway, thank you, Natasha Trethewey, for the enjoyable poem–& you’re welcome!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Singing Instructions

A challenge in a poetry discussion group I’m in--as part of a broader discussion of what makes a poem a poem, a question arising from the discussion of what distinguishes, say, a prose poem from flash fiction--was to rewrite Julio Cortazar’s “Instructions on How to Sing,” if we may consider it a poem, by breaking it into lines, a distinction traditionally made in distinguishing poetry from prose.

While I like prose poems--for example, those by Russell Edson, James Tate & Louis Jenkins, to name but a few--I prefer writing in lines & stanzas because it allows me to control how the poem looks & reads, rather than leaving the poem subject to such random elements, depending on its venue, as margins & page size that dictate the way paragraphs appear.  Of course, none of this speaks to the question of what a poem is as much as it addresses what makes a poem better.  At least that's my opinion, be it ever so humble, which it isn't.  

Since I, sad monoglot, neither read nor speak Spanish, I based my rendition of Cortazar on online translations, particularly one by Paul Blackburn, as it appears in Cronopios & Famas, as well as a translation by my son, Aaron.  Although he's not posted or published his translation, I can provide a link to a recent publication of his poetry here to give you an idea of his skills as a poet & just to brag on him.

Anyway, my interpretation/rendition follows:

SINGING INSTRUCTIONS

Step one, trash every mirror
in the house, drop your
arms to your sides, absently
eyeball the wall, forget.  Sing

but one note, listen
to it from inside yourself.
If you hear—though this
occurs quite a bit later—

a landscape flooded with fear,
bonfires between stones
where silhouettes, scantily
clad, squat, believe me,

you’re on the right track.  Ditto
if you hear a river, boats
painted gold & black
ferrying down it, if you

hear fresh bread, fingers
caressing you, a horse’s
shadow.  The next step is buy
an instructional guide for

vocals & a claw hammer
tailcoat & please don’t
sing through your nose & just leave
poor Mr. Schumann alone.
 



Monday, April 18, 2016

Silence

            
                 for Richard Brautigan

























Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Quick Hits on Select Lit

Flush, Virginia Woolf. Woolf plays her usual winning hand in this unlikely novella about Liz Browning's pooch.

An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume. You’d think that someone like Hume, legendary for his questioning conventional thinking, would also question the prevalent racist beliefs of the 18th century, but sadly, such is not the case. If you can somehow look past the blinding bigotry, though, he’s Wile E. Coyote level super genius.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy. Spoiler alert--the title gives away the ending.

Stepping Stones, Seamus Heaney. Heaney gives his unique twist to this cover of the Monkees hit single & fucking nails it!

Lost in the Funhouse, John Barth. Brilliant collection of stories!  More fun than a freaking funhouse barrel of funhouses!

The Body Artist, Don DeLillo. Although DeLillo has a distinctly distinct voice, this novella reminds me of something that a young Haruki Murakami might write.  No cats, though.

Martín Flores & the House of Dreams, Lucinda Grey. Finally! a book of poems about a virtually unknown golfer--does anyone remember Flores from any of the many PGA games on Sega?--off the links & out of his element in various slice-of-life situations. It’s sort of a chapbook-length treatment of Weldon Kees’s Robinson poems, with Robinson replaced by the Most Interesting Man in the World (who himself was recently replaced), to varying degrees of humor.

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Bertrand Russell.  I admire Russell’s ability to talk about philosophic concepts in a way that makes them easy to understand--in this case, socialism & anarcho-syndicalism--but what the hell is it with philosophers & bigotry?  (See above entry on Hume.)  In fairness, this book was published in 1919 & Russell's views on race do a 180--well, maybe a 135--degree turnaround by the 1950s.   Aside from his wrongheaded racist views, he also expresses several inexplicably positive, yet erroneous views about egalitarianism in the USA, which today, despite Russell's bold predictions, has the rotten distinction of being one of the worst countries in the world in terms of disparity between classes.

Man & Superman, George Bernard Shaw. Oh, I don’t know. It’s misogynistic & semi-antisemitic–duh, it’s based on Nietzsche, yet another (sigh) philosopher.  On the bright side, it’s clever, which is more than you can say about the egocentric, ethnocentric, downright emetic, big-mouthed bigot Donald Trump, but I digress.  Point is, I fucking hate Trump, who, given his desire to be associated with interesting quotes, shouldn't mind my mentioning his ignorant ass here, since Shaw is a pretty witty quote machine.

Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow.  Aptly titled, for like ragtime music, I don’t have any strong opinion about it whatsoever, one way or another.

Thérèse Ranquin, Emile Zola.  My god, it's too fucking long.  [Insert "That's what she said" here.] Poe would have knocked out a tale like this in 30,000 ham-handed words or less, the ever clever Dupin solving the caper quicker than an orangutan scaling a lightning rod.  Much better than this psychological melodrama is Zola’s Germinal, which I enjoyed reading some 30 years ago.  Sadly, I don’t remember anything about it--the book nor the past 30 years--other than something about rooftops & the vague memory of champagne that taste(d) like cherry cola. Zola, Z-o-l-a, Zola (Repeat & fade).

Dome of the Hidden Pavilion, James Tate. Reading the last collection of one of my all time faves, the late, great James Tate, made me sad in spite of the poems, for there will be no more--unless some bookworm digging around Tate's old papers unearths some great unknown pieces & publishes them posthumously. Digging around. Unearth.  Great unknown.  Such puns border on disrespectful, which I certainly don't intend to be, or rather, I mean not to be.  Death is a grave matter--well, you could opt for cremation, which, like this book, I recommend.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Candidates Debate

Col.. Bernie Sanders (left) and Hillary Clinton (right) square off in New Hampshire
Perhaps the highlight of this "heated" debate between the two Democratic candidates for president occurred when Hillary Clinton called herself a true political progressive because she believes in progress.  This Clyde Crashcup-esque definition (it's an older reference--look it up) allows Clinton to label not only herself as a progressive, but also President Obama. who's progressive like Flo of Progressive Insurance in that they both are in the business of drumming up sales for insurance companies.  Really, I'm sure most politicians consider their warped visions of the world as progress, i.e., an improvement.  Few would claim, however accurately, that theirs is a regressive platform, meant to return us back to, let's say, the feudal era.  Thus, by Clinton's definition, possibly anyone who's ever run for office anywhere is a progressive.

The problem lies in how you define "progress."  If you define "progress" as continuing to back neoliberal imperialism via the military industrial complex, then Hillary the Hawk is about as "progressive" as you can get, what with her constant saber rattling re: Syria, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, North Korea, etc.  If you define "progress" as allowing the current Chicago school economics to continue to gouge & exploit average Americans & people worldwide, then Clinton, who believes that invoking the toothless, feckless Dodd-Frank Act--it's almost as powerful as the EPA, which did such a wonderful job of protecting the people of Flint, Michigan--will put an end to financial inequality & Wall Street corruption, then you're not just drinking the Kool Aid, but you've also been hitting the lead-poisoned water in Flint & I mean hard.

Some claim voting for Clinton is progressive because she's attempting to become the first woman president in the U.S.  I have no problem with voting for women--for what it's worth, I voted for Jill Stein in 2012--but I don't buy this notion that any woman, regardless of her politics, would be progress.  Margaret Thatcher broke the glass ceiling in the U.K. in the 80s, but I'd hardly call her administration progressive.  I'd call it fucked up.   Besides, if gender is all that matters, then might I mention that Carly Fiorina is running on the Republican ticket, but I wouldn't vote for her either. Furthermore, if the primary (ha!) concern is with breaking social barriers, I could make a case that voting for Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would be progressive--by virtue of such, for lack of better word, logic--since either would be the first Latino president, but I hope to hell that you don't cast such a vote, not because they're Latinos, but because they're far too conservative . . . as is Clinton.

Monday, February 1, 2016

HELP! SOMEBODY JUST RAN OVER MY BLOG!!!

If you don't know, I like to play basketball.  This surprises some people who don't believe
anyone over the age of 40 can do so.  I'll concede that I've lost a step or two over the years,
but what I've lost in hops & speed, I've gained in pounds.  While I'm allowed to make jokes
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
doesn't mean I need orthopedic socks because I don't--repeat don't--have varicose veins.  

Apparently, though, the people at the pharmacy where I recently ordered a new pair of ankle
braces didn't get the memo on that.  Imagine my chagrin--it looks, if I may offer assistance
to the imagination-challenged, a little like a bear that mistook a nest of hornets for a honey-
as I tied my shoes.  Who knew my back would be so out of whack from shoveling snow?  I
get it:  I'm old.  That doesn't mean I should quit doing anything that's not sponsored by the
International Shuffleboard Association (ISA).   For one thing, I don't like shuffleboard &
for another, I don't like being disrespected by shoe salespeople or online pharmacies.  





Friday, January 1, 2016

Fistful of Comments about a Few Books I Read This, Er, Last Year

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway.  In those long ago days when I first read this Hemingway yarn, I played a lot of guitar--all six strings, well, sometimes four or five if some broke--& wrote songs about anything & everything.  This novel inspired two songs, "My Baby Maria" (You're so funny honey / twice as sweet & good as money / I don't know you might be / the Easter Bunny) & "Big Hotel" (Staying in a big hotel / Baby it's okay yeah), the latter supposedly an allusion to plans that Robert Jordan made with Maria.  While these songs are an obscenity in the milk of your mother, this novel may be Hemingway's best.

Here, Stephen Berg.  Since I retain aspirations of my poetry appearing in American Poetry Review, I'm loath to make negative comments about Berg, not only a co-founder of APR but also the author of "several important collections of poetry," according to the book's bio note, though given my reluctance to pay reading fees for magazine submissions, it's probably a moot point, regardless of whatever I might say here about Here, such as Two poems about dogshit. Really?

Gulf Music, Robert Pinsky. Similarly, since I still aspire to gain recognition in poetry circles, I consider it imprudent to criticize, potentially antagonize Pinsky, a former U.S. poet laureate & by all accounts, a wonderful human being, but I have an ever so tiny bit of criticism about the Thing section of the book.  First, why the page long definition & etymology of the word thing?  It seems maybe just a touch condescending, or at best unnecessary, but gracious as Jesus with a bad haircut, I forgive & move to "First Thing to Hand," subsection 6, "The Other Hand," in which Pinsky says, "this . . . one too has felt a breast, a thigh, / Clasped an ankle or most intimate / Of all, the fingers of a hand."  (Note: The phrase "the fingers of a hand" seems like line padding. Where else would the fingers be? Well, er, I mean . . .) While I understand the reasoning that, to a sentient hand, fingers might be particularly intimate, this progression sets off my bullshit detector. It reminds me of the bad comic who describes a woman as having the most enormous pair of--pausing for effect, he sips his water then concludes--eyes. Likewise, following a list of breast, thigh, ankle, the logical next step isn't fingers unless the aim were humor, which it's clearly not. It simply rings false. It's the kind of shmaltz that a shmuck poet spews--no, not Pinsky, who, let's remember, is a decent sort, but rather some dumbass I knew from workshops in school--who wants to show how sensitive he is by declaring that holding hands is, when you really think about it, better than sex itself, a sentiment that, ironically, he puts forth in hopes of getting laid. My advice: Don't be that guy. Otherwise, the book's all right.

S-E-X, Jeffrey Roscoe. Not a bad chappie, but with its title, the poems surprisingly lack the promised sexual (mis)adventures. This, one may argue, jibes with the puritanical spelling of sex on the cover; i.e., sex is a word not spoken in the polite circles these poems speak to. Alternately, one may counter that the word, printed in all caps like block letters on a marquee, creates false expectations. (If it weren't a small press book of poems, I'd label it a cheap sales tactic.) That's not to say there's no mention of sex in the book, but nothing explicit & not enough, what with the internet & all, to justify the titallating title. Still, as I said, it's all caps OK.

Searching for the Ox, Louis Simpson. Shortly after I read this enjoyable book in which Simpson writes what seem to be semi-autobiograpical poems about growing up in Jamaica, I swung & missed at a slow-pitch softball question served up right in my wheelhouse during a trivia quiz that asked for the name of the Jamaican born poet who won the the Pulitizer Prize in 1964. No free dinner for me at the James Joyce Pub that night, sad to say.

23 Things They Don't Tell You about Capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang.  Chang explains in lay terms many--23, to be precise, like Michael Jordan--of the most striking fallacies of the ever growing global trend to embrace neoliberalism, carefully dissecting & refuting commonly held assumptions & tenets of free market econimists. For instance, not only is the idea of a free market a myth (there are always regulations--you can't just show up one day on Wall Street with a bag of stocks to sell), but the notion that a free market is the best way to grow an economy also has no historical basis. In fact, Chang provides myriad examples of how the world's strongest economies were built via regulations & strict governmental oversight.  If I have a complaint about this book, it's that Chang, a revisionist who believes that capitalism is the best econmic system available, rejects socialism based upon common misconceptions about it.  While I disagree that the current system needs only to be tweaked to make it work--revisions only rearrange--I'm glad that Chang feels the need to sound the alarm about the dangerous spread of neoliberalism.  Wake up, sheeple!

The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein.  In this classic, published in 2007, Klein details how neoliberals--or as they are better known in the U.S., neocons--use disasters, whether natural, like Katrina in New Orleans, or artificial, like the invasion of Iraq, to institute regressive & repressive laws, all in the name of profit.  Klein discusses in depth the origins of Milton Friedman's Chicago school laissez-faire capitalism, its implementation in Pinochet's brutal U.S. backed dictatorship in Chile, & its continued utilization in Poland, Russia & elsewhere. Friedman's "disaster capitalism" is a major cause, Klein argues, for the increasing disparity between the haves & have-nots.  If your primary source of news comes from mainstream corporate media, reading this book may very well change the way you see the world.

Bushido: The Soul of Japan, Nitobe Inazo.  An informative read for any anime lovers out there who want a little background on not only the way of the samurai, but also traditional Japanese customs in general.  Sure, I guess there are other reasons to read it too, but I read it because even though I'm ancient, I still watch lots of anime.  You know, maybe too much.

The Georgics, Virgil.  The Georgics depicts Caligula-esque sexfests, replete with beastiality, for which Romans are renowned, or so you may begin to wish halfway through Book 1, but no, it's about farming & duller than Hesiod's Works & Days, which is saying something, believe me.  A notable exception is Book 4, ostensibly a guide to beekeeping but actually about human society, which, despite its didactic nature (ha!), nevertheless strikes me as the most interesting book of The Georgics, a pastoral written posthumously in 1820 to celebrate the coronation of that great patron of the arts, King George IV of Britain.   

Don Juan, George Gordon Lord Byron.  It's an extraordinary pleasure to find someone whose sense of humor is ahead of his time.  In that sense, Byron is the Monty Python of his day.  Indeed, Byron seems almost postmodern at times. However, by the book's end, the narrator no longer limits his satirical digressions to taking potshots at most notably Wordsworth & Southey--funny stuff--but turns his asides into a thinly veiled defense of Byron's personal morality, continually under attack by the tightly corsetted Regency society. Devil take it, while I understand the impulse to take pokes at hypocrisy, I own that I tired of his fustian tarradiddle & wished he'd returned his attentions to his rakish tale rather than pulling caps with mostly unidentified fribble. Still it's a good read.

The Prelude, William Wordsworth.  Ever since I, as a young poet, read The Prelude, Wordsworth greatest work, duh, I have, generally speaking, preferred the relatively experimental 1805 version to the more polished, possibly pompous, 1850 edition.  As a writer, I see the reasons for the revisions that Wordsworth made to his youthful text, but I also recognize the danger, if one does not revise carefully, of cutting the very heart out of the piece.  On the other hand, the art of good writing lies in revision--I've said so many times myself--& for most writers not named Alexander Pope, it's probably a bigger mistake not to revise. 

The Rum Diary, Hunter S. Thompson.  Despite limitations re: subject & voice, Thompson is actually a competent writer, much better than another celebrated substance-abusing writer, Jack Kerouac, whom some revere, god knows why, as some sort of god.  Thompson's prose is lean, clean, clear & concrete, whereas Kerouac is quintessentially clunky & cluttered with abstruse abstractions.  Thompson mostly comes across as gritty & honest, while Kerouac's affectations, arbitrary allusions & pseudo-philosophical generalizations seem misguided attempts at creating something akin to literature, which, I guess, kitsch is.

Visions of Cody, Jack Kerouac.  Yeah, I know!  If he's such a terrible writer, why do I read him?  Well, why do you introspectively inspect your dirty digit for the primordial particle dangling, with hoary hairs sticking extrenously out, on your philosophical fingertip in a parabolic paradox that you've picked from a nefarious nostril?  Why gawk & gander like a gauky goose at your steamy, stinking magenta-tinted stool,watching poop & paper splendiferously spinning around the solemn sun like something hot shot from a cosmic slingshot off Uranus & Cody, squating like a beer-bellied sumo wrestler in a Japanese woodcut, too real to display at garish galleries of Paris, as Duchamp knows, or Madrid, Vienna, Rome or even old New York,as Bill Burroughs knows, as he certainly knows, until everything inside, outside & the sweet marmalade cream of Polaris in between the other worldly wafers, not Eucharistic, but unholy & divinely human & huge, all of it, disappears down the shiny wet slit where shit goes when you, with a twinge of guilt, flush as if having an orgasm?  Clearly, Kerouac is, by way of analogy, the turd-booger of arts & letters.  (Sorry if I've taken my joke too far.  I don't hate Kerouac nearly as much as I let on.)  To be fair, Kerouac serves a useful role as a veritable train wreck of what not to do as a writer & I can't make myself stop rubbernecking the carnage as I zip down the freeway getting the best goddamn blowjob of my life. 

Clark Gifford’s Body, Kenneth Fearing.  Great book, well ahead of its time!

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath.  Reading about suicide hardly seems a prudent choice, in light of my own emotional difficulties, but having put off finishing this novel too long, I came away sad, yes, very sad, but with a newfound appreciation of Plath. OK, so maybe she's a bit overrated in the pantheon of poets, so maybe her work, albeit awesome, is frequently characterized by the weaknesses one may find in most twenty-something poets, so she never lived to acheive her full potential, so what? This is a powerful portrayal, albeit fictionalized, of a person, who, by the way, just happens to be a caricature of Plath, struggling with a dehabilitating emotional disorder. Of course, the myth of Plath continues to supercede the reality. Take, for instance, the apocryphal tale of her suicide.  She didn't die with her head in a gas oven as is commonly told; in the U.K., it's called a cooker.


Want a fistful more? Read Fistful of Comments about a Few Books I've Read This Year 3