Friday, September 28, 2012

3/4 Time

Many readers link free verse with particular subject matter and associate unscannable poetry with atheism and anarchism.  Those who cannot distinguish dipodies from tripods are also apt to confuse free love and free verse.
--Harvey Gross, Sound and Form in Modern Poetry


The Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto Che Guevara. Because of its diary format, the writing becomes repetitious, but it's still better than On the Road. I read The Motorcycle Diaries after watching the movie, which competently captures the gist of the book. In fact, I don't usually say this, but the movie may be better than the book, though don't hold me to that.

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley. In nearly every movie "based" however loosely on Mary Shelley's famous novel, the creature is represented as a plodding monstrosity who can barely grunt out recognizable words, but in the book the creature speaks eloquently & moves with great dexterity. To make a sports analogy--the only kind that count--the creature's more Shaq than Shawn Bradley. For those who don't remember Bradley, watch Space Jam.(I'm kidding! You really don't want to do that.) No discussion of Frankenstein, no matter how slight, would be complete without noting that for a genius, Dr. Frankenstein is a fucking moron.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley.  As far as dystopian societies go, the one Huxley envisions isn't half bad. Lots of sex with infinitely willing & nubile partners is terrible how? I guess it depends on whether you're an Alpha or not, but that's always the case in class-based societies. Maybe that's one of Huxley's points. Anyway, soma sounds awesome; in fact, the World State highly recommends it & recreational sex for all you Alphas out there. The rest of you losers may want to read this book.

Mike Nelson’s Movie Megacheese, Michael J. Nelson. Any fan of MST3K (or Riff Trax) knows what to expect from this collection of essays.  If you don't find MST3K funny, then you probably don't have a sense of humor, so I recommend you get one, if not for your own sake, then for those around you, forced to endure your dimwittedity.  Anyway, the movies in these essays may be a bit dated, but Nelson's critiques remain humorously spot on. 

Monday or Tuesday: Eight Stories, Virginia Woolf. Having read this collection a few times, I'm slightly embarrassed to say I've yet to grasp all of these stories, but Woolf's usual poetic use of language makes this a worthwhile read. No doubt I'll read this again--& again & still not quite understand.

The Call of the Wild, Jack London. I'd forgotten the story's told from Buck's perspective. He's no "Woolf," heh-heh, but that dog knows how to tell a tail . . . er, tale.

Listen, Vladimir Mayakovsky. Among my favorite lines of these early poems come from "And Yet":

            And God will start crying over my book:
            these are not words–convulsions compressed into lumps.
            He’ll run through the sky, my poems in his hands,
            and, spluttering, show them to his friends.

New York Trilogy: City of Glass/Ghosts/The Locked Room, Paul Auster. Reading these stories I began to think of them as Mickey Spillane/Rod Serling hybrids. I don't say this as a criticism, but simply as an observation--er, impression. Should you read them--I don't know, should you? But why the hell not?

Kafka Americana, Jonathan Lethem & Carter Scholz. This may be my favorite read this year.  I especially like "Receding Horizon," which exploits the similarity in the names of Frank Capra & Franz Kafka & "Amount to Carry," in which the main characters--Wallace Stevens, Franz Kafka & Charles Ives--meet at an insurance conference.

Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, trans. Simon Armitage. I went to some major fucked-up parties in my salad days, but I don't remember anyone ever bursting in & challenging everyone to try to chop off his goddam head. Even if I hadn't been passed out atop a silver-sequined blonde at the time--just an anonymous 911 call from being tossed in the swimming pool & left for dead--I doubt if I would have found decapitation entertaining, but that's the 14th century, I guess.


Songs of Innocence & Songs of Experience, William Blake. I read both of these one afternoon while waiting for a haircut. You don't usually find Blake at barbershops!

On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin. Since I already understood evolution theory before I read this, the book was pretty much preaching to the choir.  Nevertheless, I'm sure I learned something, which I'll obviously forget. I can't remember anything these days.

The Collected Poems: 1952-1990, Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Yevtushenko wrote some important poems ("Babi Yar," for instance) & I found the literary, cultural, historical & geographical references informative, but among this mammoth 634 page collection are some of the worst poems this side of Leonard Nathan. For instance, in "I fell out of love with you . . .", the pervading image of a puppy scratching alternately at the doors of an estranged couple renders the poem, by default, irredeemable. You can fix the pup, but not the poem. Fortunately, I suppose, the poem doesn't have much imagery at all--most of it is pissing & moaning in the abstract. Some may recall that Frank O'Hara roundly criticized Yevtushenko, dubbing him "Mayakovsky's hat worn by a horse" ("Answer to  Voznesensky & Evtushenko"). At other times, Yevtushenko sounds like Yakov Smirnoff, as in "Knowing and Not Knowing." Then there's the forty page fiasco, "A Dove in Santiago: A Novella in Verse," which, if we take the title seriously, achieves the dubious distinction of being not merely a terrible poem, but also an even worse novella. Out of consideration for the reader, let me briefly note, rather than delving into the phethora of problems with this insipid piece, Yevtushenko's dismissive, chauvinistic attitude toward women poets & women novelists--by extension, we may infer his disdain toward women in general--yet this is but a peccadillo relative to the many literary & human astrocities he commits therein. To be fair, I like some of Yevtushenko's poems--"Meditations at the Back Door" comes to mind & the one about Che is okay--but too often he makes even Michael McClure seem like a competent writer. 

Poems of Exile;Tristia & The Black Sea Letters, Ovid, trans. Peter Green. In exile, Ovid continued to write, probably because he had nothing better to do, but also to petition his friends & acquaintances to intercede on his behalf so that he could return to Rome. Mostly, however deservedly, he whines. It marks quite a departure from Ovid's confident, if not audacious, persona in The Art of Love, which, according to the poet, is partly to blame for his exile (carmen et error:  a poem & a mistake).  No one would argue the exile poems equal the quality of his earlier works, but any Ovid, even an understandably whiny Ovid, beats no Ovid at all.


Some Trees, John Ashbery.  This book includes such classics as "The Instruction Manual" & "Portrait of Little J.A. in a Prospect of Flowers."  I also like "Illustration," "A Long Novel," & "Meditations of a Parrot," among others. In fact, it would probably be quicker to list the poems I don't like, but that would come across as negative.

Poems of the Night, Jorge Luis Borges. Lots of good poems in this dual-language collection of Borges' night poems, with various translations by Robert Fitzgerald, W.S. Merwin, Charles Tomlinson, John Updike & others. Two of my favorite poems,"The Suicide" & "Ein Traum," are concerned, to some degree, with subjective idealism, the former of which you may read below:

The Suicide

Not a single star will be left in the night.
That night will not be left.
I will die and, with me,
the weight of the intolerable universe.
I shall erase the pyramids, the medallions,
the continents and faces.
I shall erase the accumulated past.
I shall make dust of history, dust of dust.
Now I am looking on the final sunset.
I am hearing the last bird.
I bequeath nothingness to no one.

(trans. Alastair Reid)

Selected Poems, Blaise Cendrars (trans. Peter Hoida).  As a result of recently reading Yevtushenko's colossal, at least in size, volume of collected poems, I find myself reluctant to delve into books of any length. My general rule of thumb right now is that any poetry collection thicker than the width of my thumb is out. Thus, I passed on reading Berrryman's Dream Songs & Hart Crane's Collected Poems as I'd previously planned. Indeed, so great was my fear of once again being stuck in a book with few flecks of joyous light, plodding on & on & on without exit in sight, that I chose Hoida's selected translations over Ron Padgett's much larger collection of Cendrars. Intellectually I knew Berryman, Crane & Cendrars wouldn't be as mind-numbing as Yevtushenko, but I wasn't ready emotionally. It may seem I'm expressing regret, but if so, that wouldn't derive from this book. While I wouldn't characterize it as the best thing I've read lately, I would call it enjoyable & entertaining.

Show and Tell, Jim Daniels.  I like this book. A couple poems in particular I like are "May's Poem" & "Shedding the Vestments." Especially for those of you tired of stodgy, stuffy, snotty poets, I recommend Jim Daniels. I also recommend Jim Beam & Jack Daniels. I like to drink them together, chasing a shot of Beam with a slug of Jack & vice versa, then lie naked on the lawn, staring at the sky & winking back at the stars.

Blood Mountain, John Engels.I received this one of fifty specially bound copies numbered & signed by the author as a gift years ago from someone who, no doubt, would prefer to remain anonymous. It's a nice book, the poetry is rich in imagery derived almost exclusively from nature, but I can't say that any one particular poem stands out. Maybe "Dream Book," if it weren't so long & dull. In any event, I appreciate the thought.

Landscapes of Living & Dying, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Each time I've visited San Francisco, I've gone to City Lights Bookstore, but on none of these occasions have I ever met Ferlinghetti, only a few scattered "Ginsberg facsimiles & carbon-copy Keseys / . . . in old tennis shoes & backpacks" ("Adieu A Charlot").  Ok, I know he's nearly a hundred or whatthefuckever, so he's probably working part-time at most while contemplating retirement, but you'd think I would've run into him at least once. I've shrugged off the notion he doesn't really exist, but that he's instead a composite of various Beat & Beat-esque poets, originally created to serve as a figurehead for City Lights Publishing to avoid possible prosecution over obscenity charges for publishing Ginsberg, but too much historic evidence suggests otherwise. Anyway, this book's an interesting read, which is about as much as I want to say about someone who's apparently ducking me. I would also point out that I especially like "Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes," but first, an apology, sir, is in order.

Light in August, William Faulkner. The plot tends to plod a bit at times like an old mule in mud, but Faulkner's abundant storytelling skills & characteristic flourishes keep the reader engaged, though a date for the wedding is yet to be set. Not Faulkner's greatest novel, it's still a far cry better than most of the junk out there. Perhaps it's unfair to say that while living in Mississippi when, in fact, it never went beyond subsisting as a student, I tired of Faulkner primarily because of the constant barrage of anecdotes about him, but removed from that environment, I've come to wonder if he's not the best novelist America has to offer after all. I'm not saying that he is; I'm just saying he's pretty damn good.

In the Egg & Other Poems, Gunter Grass.  Some of you may remember the guff that Grass took for his anti-Zionist poem earlier this year. While I probably agree with many of the sentiments he expresses, it admittedly isn't a very good poem, but neither is it so bad that he should be banned from Israel. I mean, holy shit, everyone writes a bad poem from time to time. For me, that happened in 1985 or 86. It's hard to recall the specifics--something or other about sex, an allegory of sorts, I think--but I'm smart enough to know the art of good writing lies in revision, so I'm still free to go pretty much wherever I want--well, if money were no object. Which, sadly, it is. A huge fucking object. If it weren't, I don't know where I'd go, but I sure as hell wouldn't stay in this shithole of a shire like Bilbo Baggins' bastard son, I'll tell you that much. But I digress. The point is, I enjoy Grass's poems, such as "Transformation," "Epilogue," "Wrong Beauty," & one of my favorites:

Folding Chairs

How sad these changes are.
People unscrew the nameplates from the doors,
take the sauce pan of cabbage
and heat it up again, in a different place.

What sort of furniture is this
that advertises departure?
People take up their folding chairs
and emigrate.

Ships laden with homesickness & the urge to vomit
carry patented seating contraptions
and their unpatented owners
to and fro.

Now on both sides of the ocean
there are folding chairs;
how sad these changes are.

Incontinence, Susan Hahn.  Not sylvan with Disney-esque woodland critters, but Sylvian as in Plath-like depths of morbidity, these well-crafted poems,as Hahn says in "Half Price," are not about "sex, but despair / and death." If we let A represent despair & B stand for death, the following sophomorically suggestive illustration may perhaps help provide further understanding of Hahn's already accessible poetry:

Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut.  I know Slaughterhouse Five is his greatest work--you'll get no arguments from me on that score--but I've always liked Cat's Cradle, partially because as the first Vonnegut novel I read, it returns me to high school in my mind, a far, far better place than actual high school, which I hated every mind-fucking day of. Also, I like the way the prose flows in Cat's Cradle. Not to denigrate his genius for storytelling, but Vonnegut characteristically writes short, choppy sentences that--rather than the terse, stylistic manner of "Papa" (story tie-in) Hemingway--often seem kind of clunky. In Cat's Cradle, however, the story fairly glides across the pages, making it a delight to read. 

Into It, Lawrence Joseph.  Early in this volume, Joseph reflects that "in making the poem, Brecht's point, to write about trees-- / implicitly, too, to write about pleasure-- / in times of killing like these is a crime" ("Inclined to Speak"). This statement seems to function as the guiding principle behind these poems, whose subjects include genocide, terrorism, war, capitalism, imperialism, etc. For this principled stance, I applaud Joseph. Loudly. However, I have a complaint about the writing: he relies too heavily on "to be" verbs.   As I tell my classes, these verbs serve no purpose but to fulfill grammatical obligations & zippo else. You can't taste an "is" or feel a "was" or smell an "are" or see a "were" or whatever. I find the reliance on verbs of existence (as I call them) particularly irksome in poetry, a field in which grammar no longer wields Excalibur & rules supreme. (Imagists rarely wrote in complete sentences. Speaking of, Joseph needs to incorporate more imagery.)  Otherwise, good stuff.

Geography of the Forehead, Ron Koertge.  In "Why I Believe in God," the younger Koertge (one assumes) allegedly receives this advice from the Almighty in regards to poetry: "Don't be deep or obscure. Try and make people laugh." If this apocryphal tale were true, then a rich reward awaits Koertge in the hereafter for doing the Big Guy's bidding. The poems in this volume cover a wide range of topics--aliens, Superman, Frankenstein, etymology, wolves, werewolves, Jesus, the Apocalpyse, poetry, boy scouts, youth, old age, Flaubert, the Cisco Kid--each with a charmingly light touch. In fact, Koertge is laugh out loud funny at times, & while never obscure, he's sneaky deep, so maybe the omniscient one won't notice.

The Haberdasher's Daughter, Suzanne Levine.  Having attended a couple of workshops (not a couples workshop--there's nothing like that between us) with Suzanne inhibits my making a few of my characteristically off-handed, flippant remarks, which is why I normally don't blog about writers I know personally. Inhibitions are no fun--which helps explains why alcohol sales remain, in a manner of speaking, staggeringly high--so in short, kudos!

See also:

First Quarter Book Report
Midterm Report


Saturday, September 1, 2012

New Look

Returning visitors will note the design change of this page. If not, please do so now while I check on my laundry.  Ok, so you've probably realized by now that I finally bit the blogger bullet & switched to one of the new design templates. Here, "new" means introduced within the last four years or so. Thing is, I've been hesitant to alter my blog, but in my defense, well, I'm not exactly sure why. 

Anyway, with this "new" look, readers can now share posts with their friends on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, etc. with a single click. My friends on Facebook may have noticed that I recently shared several of my previous posts. I did so because I wanted people to read a few what I considered neglected posts, as well as to test the ease of this feature. Could sharing be easier? Of course, but psychokinetic technology is still forthcoming.

Also, if you like a post, but don't want to write a comment because you don't have time to put together a bunch of nouns & verbs & who knows how many punctuation marks, now you can register your "Reactions" by simply checking the appropriate box or boxes provided. I always appreciate feedback, especially the positive kind. Speaking of, your thoughts about the new look are welcome. So too are laundry tips. My damn towels are still damp!