Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Dollar, Dollar, Year End Review Scholar

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son--that He knows of!
 –Big Book of Jokes for the John 3:16

A Red Death, Walter Mosley.  I like Devil in a Blue Dress better, but I’ll probably read the next in the Easy Rawlins series, White Butterfly, if for no other reason than to complete the Old Glory Trilogy, if that’s what it’s called.  Never much of a flag-waver, though, I’m in no hurry.  What is it with mystery writers these days?  Always a gimmick.  Right, Sue Grafton? 

 Primitive Mentor, Dean Young.  My favorite books by Young are Turbulence, Strike Anywhere & Skid, but PM has some good poems in it.  I wouldn’t dare presume to tell you which ones when surely you’ll know when you read them, won’t you?

Selected Poems, Louis Zukofsky.  I like early Zukofsky better than later Zukofsky.  His early poems are fairly accessible, but a transformation, if not a metamorphosis, occurs roughly somewhere during his 800 page–that’s right, 800 pages, not lines–poem “A,” which I’ve learned  he always called “A” whenever he talked about “A” since that’s what he called it, “A,” so his later horse carbon thou art / turbine knife life wife eating / green beef (grief) foxy / you meet you look so handsome / Charles Man- / son non- / dairy creamer pristine / cleaner than / a cattle saddle / wintergreen ideal spleen sat / concubine conundrum / bongo 8:2 the  bari- / tone hava cuppa java / mitosis platypus L=(A=N=G=U)=A=G=E=(I=S=H) poems impress me not so much.  That said, whatever that is, I enjoy his “translations” of Catullus, though, long out of print, that gem of a collection sells for about a gazillion dollars used, yet I recently found it for $15.  Woohoo! 

Greed, Ai.   Ai gives voice to the pervert, pedophile, rapist, murder, assassin & priest–all the same person, as the old joke goes.  Kidding aside--for you won't find lots of chuckles while reading Ai--these poems reflect the deviance & dirt of existence in such a way as to make the spellbound reader rubberneck to view the train wreck of the human condition in its basest form.  Not only nameless degenerates & lowlifes, but the infamous & famous, such as Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby & J. Edgar Hoover, also come forth with their twisted histories.  Be sure to keep an eye out, er, for a cameo by Sammy Davis, Jr.

To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf.  Although Woolf is one of my favorite novelists, To the Lighthouse doesn’t make my short list of favorite novels. I prefer Mrs. Dalloway (sheer lyrical brilliance) & Orlando (ditto, despite the royalty crap).   Even so, if the uninitiated were to ask what one book by Virginia Woolf to read, I’d recommend To the Lighthouse–this is my third reading–if for no other reason than it’s Woolf’s most important novel.   Beyond that–as well as beyond Woolf’s ususal lyricism, which she reportedly tired of hearing about–To the Lighthouse creates not only vivid character sketches, as her novels are wont to do, but also portrays, with rhythmic strokes of her pen, new & varied perspectives "of her old antagonist, life." 

Les Fleurs du Mal, Charles Baudelaire, trans. Richard Howard.  In this bilingual text released in 1982, Howard emphasizes thematic structure in an attempt to bring Baudelaire into 20th century American lexicon, free of the rhymes that have impaired myriad other translations of Baudelaire like a syphilitic infection.  Good stuff!

Ultramarine, Raymond Carver.  Carver’s a great short story writer, one of my all-time faves, but I’ve always been rather lukewarm on his poetry. For me, it’s never been that Carver at times seems too simple (as he writes in “Simple,” “It is that simple”), or that the characteristically terse Carver leaves what I consider (who am I to say?) extraneous lines in these simple poems (for instance, the last line of “The Gift,” the last poem in the collection), but more that he exhibits a tendency to sentimentalize.   Again, who am I to say?   However, reading these poems, I’m starting to warm up.  As the Delfonics are to Max Cherry (Jackie Brown, 1997), so too, in my view, is Carver the poet pretty good  

The Springhouse, Norman Dubie.  Like the Delfonics, Norman Dubie is also pretty good. Some of my favorite poems in this collection are “The Duchess’ Red Shoes,” “The Trolley from Xochimilco” & “Oration: Half Moon in Vermont.”  If not the best 35¢ I ever spent, it may be the smartest. 

Poems Written in Early Youth, T.S. Eliot.  Which makes the half-dollar I spent on this very flimsy collection of poems mostly from Eliot’s uni days seem a tad overpriced, though I am surprised that “A Fable for Feasters” hasn’t been made into a Broadway musical . . . yet.

The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford.  I’d read this book in grad school, but I’d forgotten everything about it, so I read it again & I believe I may know why I’d forgotten it, for The Good Soldier may very well be the most boring novel I’ve ever read.  I just plain don’t care about the lives of two well-to-do couples in Europe–no, there were the eight years in India, though it may have been longer, or at least it seemed that way–at the turn of the 20th century, especially as told by the dullard of a narrator who inexplicably recounts events & conversations to which he had not witnessed & whose way of telling a story, that is, the way that people tell stories when they tell them to one another, doesn’t make for a great novel, as he suggests at the start of Part 4, if I recall, but rather makes life, death, even sex–yes, people are fucking all over the place, though he is, if not blissfully then imbecilically, unawares–about as exciting as, well, a Ford Madox Ford novel.  Here’s hoping that keeping a blog account of the books I’ve read helps to remind me not to repeat my error & ever pick up this colossal turd again.

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace.  I found this darkly humorous novel–it has several actual LOL moments–intelligent & innovative, despite bouts of stereotyping & gratuitous racial epithets tossed off with disturbing ease.  The endnotes, which I enjoyed the novelty of at first, became annoying after a while, especially given that the storyline is already disjointed & the book extremely long–much, much too long–to begin with, though it may be more accurate to say, “end with.”   A good read, yes, but in dire need of an intervention.

Endless Life: Selected Poems, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  I recently heard someone call Ferlinghetti the best of the Beats.  Well, that got me thinking & you know what that means.  Several Advils later, I found myself reading Endless Life.  I generally like Ferlinghetti & many of the poems in this volume in particular–“The World Is a Beautiful Place,” “In a Time of Revolution for Instance,” “Director of Alienation,” for example–but as for best of the Beats, I thought, what about Ginsberg?  After all, his name has become almost synonymous with the Beat movement, for what little that’s worth.  I mean, lots of people consider Dali the epitome of surrealism when, in fact, Breton took great pleasure in removing Avida Dollars from his select group.  (People, ha! They’re the same heads-up-their-asses dumbfucks who vote for goddam Democrats thinking that they’re progressives when the slimy ass-kissing motherfuckers support the same bullshit neoliberal agenda as their cocksucking GOP asswipe counterparts, for fuck’s sake!)  With that in mind, next thing I know, I’m reading . . . 

Howl & Other Poems, Allen Ginsberg.  Ginsberg’s signature piece, “Howl,” begins strong, but it’s too long & unwieldy for Ginsberg, despite his gift for making adjectives out of anything & everything, to maintain the energy & intensity of the opening lines.  Indeed, much of this much anthologized title poem seems simply a reiteration of Kerouac’s classic On the Road in Whitman-esque verse.  Which you prefer, I suppose, says more about you than it does about the  works themselves.  Personally, I think “A Supermarket in California” is a better poem.  As for which Beat beats the other, Ferlinghetti wins this round, but the war isn't over.  The war is never really over.

The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon.  I read this book several years ago & now I’ve read it again.  I like it better this time than the last.  If I were a student whose assignment was to write an essay on some aspect of the novel, I might discuss Pynchon’s use of satiric names, such as Dr. Hilarius, Mike Fallopian, Emory Bortz, Stanley Koteks, et al., as a morality play type of allegory in which the ideas that the characters represent are more important than the characters per se, which should sound sufficiently & speciously literary to earn my usual A, but since I’m not a student, to hell with it.  To change the subject: anyone else curious about the Inherent Vice movie?  Admittedly, whenever Hollywood adapts a novel to film, I have reservations–not for, but about. Thankfully, though, it would appear that James Franco has nothing to do with this one, so Kim Jong-un needn’t get involved.  Say what you will about the oft-maligned leader, but at least he’s trying, allegedly, to spare the public from another Franco fiasco, which I’m sure The Interview is.  I don’t know why he’s vilified–Kim, I mean, not Franco, who should be vilified, not only for his wont to chew the scenery in every movie in which he’s appeared, but also for  his horrendously debauched adaptation of Faulkner’s masterpiece, As I Lay Dying.   That’s not just one bad movie but, considering its gratuitous use of split screen, really more like two bad movies.  As for The Interview, let us not forget either the involvement of that other bad ham sandwich, Seth Rogen.  Dismissing him as an actor is easy-peasy–he’s not really an actor–but whether he’s producer, director or screenwriter,  his movies play like bad point-&-click games. (See, for example, The Green Hornet, or better yet–trust me–don’t.)  Obviously, I don’t agree with Kim--or whomever is responsible for the hack & subsequent threats--I’m a pacifist–but at least he (or they) are taking a stand. Sure, he could follow my lead & refuse to shell out cash to watch such trifling crap at the theater, but to be fair, I doubt that he, like any other world leader, has to pay for anything.

William Carlos Williams: The Poet & His Critics, Paul L. Mariani.  In this exhaustive, if not exhausting, overview of critical essays written about Williams, Mariani, through the chronological presentation of his research, not only provides a solid introduction to Williams’s poetry, but also gives brief glimpses into the poet’s life. The reader learns of Williams’s temper, his early failures, his ill-advised angry responses to criticism, his relationships with other poets, his reasons for publishing mostly in little magazines & his frustration with the so-called big boy magazines .  However, Mariani is not so much Williams’ biographer as defender, for he quickly pooh-poohs any negative assessment  of Williams as misguided.  In a similar vein, Mariani also questions why so little attention has been paid to Williams’s short stories & novels. (I question why so little attention is paid to my poetry, but that's a concern for another post.)  If Williams’s fiction is largely ignored, his plays are all but forgotten, having received almost no critical reviews.  Mariani speculates that Williams’s somewhat leftist leanings may have something to do with this.  While Mariani’s writing is dry & at times as awkward as the all too frequent references to Williams as “the old man,” one cannot help but appreciate the monumental amount of research that went into its compilation.  The harshest criticism I could level at Mariani is that he allowed his biography of Hart Crane to serve as the basis of James Franco’s The Broken Tower, but that, once again, is a concern for another post.

Related posts:

Three Quarters in the Jukebox
Half-Year Half-Assed Reviews
The Quarterly Review, Spring 2014