Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Democracy Is Such a Phony Word

Let me get this straight:  the US recognizes the self-proclaimed president, Juan Guaidó--a man who never ran for office--as the legitimate leader of Venezuela & dubs the rightfully elected president, Nicolás Maduro, a dictator. By what definition is that democracy? Observers, including Jimmy Carter, have repeatedly described Venezuela’s election system as one of the best in the world.  Those who fume over alleged Russian interference in US elections—which, even if true, are paltry by comparison--yet support Trump’s position in regard to Venezuela show their arrogance & hypocrisy. Also hypocritical are those calling US meddling in Venezuela "humanitarian relief" when the US sanctions against Venezuela were intended all along to cripple the economy & essentially starve Venezuela into submission to US dictates.  It is all eerily reminiscent of US machinations in Chile during the 1970s that ultimately lead to the assassination of its elected president, Salvador Allende, & placed Augusto Pinochet in power, as documented in Patricio Guzmán's brilliant three-part series The Battle of Chile.  Click to watch Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.  (Please note that the video for Part 3 doesn't have English subtitles, so I can only attest to the quality of Parts 1 & 2.)

Monday, February 4, 2019

Another SPA

I'm delighted to have 4 poems in Home Planet News #6.  Many thanks to the editors.

By the by, in case you missed them, you'll find links to other recent publications here, here, here, & here.


Friday, February 1, 2019

A Fistful More of Book Reviews

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee.  Agee strikes a semi-journalistic pose to depict the lives of three sharecropping families in the 1930s.  He admits taking poetic license in his descriptions, which range from objective observations of his surroundings, through lyrically meditative soliloquies on the plight of the poor, to digressive passages about movies & literature.  It's worth noting that all three families that form these case-studies are white. Agee attempts to overcome this lack of diversity by speaking for African-Americans as a self-proclaimed liberal.  I wish Walter Evans's photos were dispersed throughout the book instead of compiled at the front.  Regardless of these & other complaints, such as Agee's sometimes sexist views, it remains worth reading.

12 Million Black Voices, Richard Wright.  Wright speaks in generalities, as if the 12 million titular voices were one common voice, to present a portrait of America from a Black perspective.  On the upside, this strategy allows Wright to present a quick overview of African-American culture, but on the downside, it doesn't allow for an examination of the individual outside of group identity.  All in all, though, it's a good read.  Photos are intermingled with the text throughout the book, so thumbs up to that, too.

Still I Rise, Roland Owen Laird, Jr., with Tanesha Nash Laird; Elihu Bey, illustrator.  I'd highly recommend this book (a surprisingly detailed overview of African-American history given that it's rendered in cartoons) to anyone who likes to learn stuff without having to do a lot of research, e.g., me.   Laird released an update of the book in 2009 following Obama's election, but the version I read was published in 1997.  Regardless of the version you read, you'll enjoy learning about some of what's inexplicably left out of American history texts.

Anthology of Modern Japaneses Poetry, Edith Marcombe Shiffert & Yuki Sawa, trans.  As the title suggests, the majority of this anthology presents an overview of early to mid-20th century Japanese poetry.  Most is free verse, though a portion is dedicated to tanka & haiku. With translations of nearly fifty poets, Shiffert & Sawa provide a good introduction to the modernist era in Japan.

One Hundred Poems from the Japanese, Kenneth Rexroth.  Since I enjoy Rexroth's Chinese translations, I thought I'd give this collection a read.  What's especially nice is that Rexroth presents the poems (primarily tanka & tanka chains) in both original Japanese characters & romaji alongside his translations.

Will You Please Be Quiet Please? Raymond Carver.  I've been on a bit of a Carver kick lately, so why wouldn't I read maybe my favorite of his books?  Love these stories.  I remember the first time I read "Nobody Said Anything" over thirty years ago, I nearly laughed my ass off.  I still laugh today, but my ass is way too big to laugh off.

Swann's Way, Marcel Proust.  Despite the accolades this series regularly receives among literati, I've got to say it's a pretty disappointing prequel to Carlito's Way. 

The Smuggler's Handbook, Albert Goldbarth.  When I was younger, Goldbarth was one of the big poets--I have several of his full-length collections--but he's kind of disappeared these days.  Well, I don't see him at any rate .  What made Goldbarth's reputation in part was his ability to tackle--wish I could say the same for [insert name of the losing Super Bowl team for joke] defenders--diverse topics in creative, funny, intelligent ways, though he tends to run a tad on the wordy side.  Let's say "expansive" to be kind.  All together nowexpansive.  Fortunately, for those who've never read Goldbarth, this chapbook serves as a good introduction, a sort of Goldbarth Lite:  good poems, less wordy.  In particular, I like "Mnemonic Devices," "The Numinous," "The Smuggled," "In Delicate Times, We Delicately Choose for Connotation," & "Walking into Winter."

Imagist Poetry: An Anthology, Bill Blaisdell, ed.  Many good poems here, though I wish it featured more selections from lesser-known poets rather than dedicating most of the pages to the usual suspects.

Guide to Kulchur, Ezra Pound.  Pound writes in an off-the-cuff manner about a number of topics, literary, political, & otherwise.  His glib remarks are at times quite humorous, as when he claims Plato's call to ban poets from the Republic referred only to bad poets. Yet at other times, Pound is very disturbing, as when he writes glowingly about Mussolini.  I'm hopeful that reading Kulchur will enable me to better understand Pound's Cantos, which I've been reading, it seems, as long as Neil Young's been chopping down a palm tree, which is, at last count, 87 years.

Office Work, Jackie Clark.  21 very short prose poems (each a paragraph or less) purportedly written over a period of--well, I'd guess 21 days--almost as if journal entries of an office worker.  Fun read.

The Selected Levis, Larry Levis.  There's little Levis doesn't do well.  He's lyrical, literary, humane, touching, real, surreal, funny, sad, absurd, smart, meditative, & philosophical, yet extraordinarily accessible, for every abstraction is tied not to merely an image, but an extensive array of imagery.  This may very well be my favorite book that I've read this past year.

Angle of Ascent: New & Selected Poems, Robert Hayden.  Reminded during a discussion of Terrance Hayes' s "For Robert Hayden" of the controversy surrounding Hayden, I decided to revisit this collection purchased in my university days.  I'd almost forgotten what a great poet Hayden is.   Included are the much anthologized "Those Winter Sundays" & "Night, Death, Mississippi," for instance, but not, disappointingly, "The Ballad of Nat Turner."  It's a good collection--I've had it on my shelves since an undergraduate--but for a few dollars more you can buy his Collected Poems, which is what I'd recommend.

Forest of Eyes: Selected Poems of Tada Chimako, Tada Chimako, trans. Jeffrey Angles.   This collection, translated & compiled after the death of Tada Chimako (or Chimako Tada, as is often the English designation), shows the range of Tada's poetry, composed in both traditional Japanese forms as well as free verse & prose poems.  I especially like the surrealistic quality--or is it magical realism--of such poems as "From a Woman of a Distant Land" & "Chewing on a Eucalyptus Leaf."

A Moral Lesson, Paul Etraud, trans. Lisa Lubasch.  Fun-sized book of poems you can carry in your shirt pocket & still have room for your phone.  Hey, is it available as an ebook?  Fuck if I know.  If it is, buy it & read it.  If not, do the same.

The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, Michael Ondaatje. The English Patient guy presents an interesting mix of prose & poetry about (&, at times, supposedly by) the infamous outlaw, if that's what he was (the messiness of range wars makes classification difficult).  Warning: Prepare for "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" lodging in your loft (hopefully not the god-awful Guns n' Roses cover) for days on end if you read this book.

Phaedra, Jean Racine, trans. Richard Wilbur.  There's little I like better than Wilbur's translations. Well, actually, it's a rather long list of things I enjoy more, if I'm honest, but I am genuinely quite fond of his work as a translator.  His rendition of Phaedra proves no exception.

The Beard/VKTMS, Michael McClure.  Just because the ACLU defended The Beard against charges of pornography doesn't mean that it's great art, no more than standing up against similar charges transforms Larry Flynt into a fucking Picasso.  The Beard is a disturbingly stupid, needlessly repetitive "play" that dresses--or perhaps, more aptly, undresses--juvenile sexual fantasies as edgy artistic expression that, among other offenses, seems to justify rape.  After reading The Beard, everything else in the world--even the worst kind of psychopathic, sociopathic, & just downright pathetic tripe--is automatically elevated to a higher level of appreciation by comparison.  Thus, VKTMS is a better play, despite its artistic overreach & allegorical pretentiousness, than the aforementioned stain on humanity, though I hardly recommend it either.

Of Indigo & Saffron: New & Selected Poems, Michael McClure.  If you could gouge out your eyes like some ancient, incestuous king to disregard the ridiculous, mostly irrelevant imagery & blindly dig through the layers of self-righteous, sanctimonious excrement with McClure's disjointed, discarded shovel of logic,  you'd find buried beneath lie the bones of fairly common, if not indeed trite, poetic sentiments.  Even his constantly avowed belief in the oneness of all life reads like a print version of a political pundit repeating the selfsame phrases over & over (in ALL CAPS) as if volume wins the day.  For all this, his ubiquitous love of nature grants him the rare insight to observe that birds eat, fly, & poop.  Nevertheless, McClure's good for a few giggles.  At least that's what Kerouac said.

Fruits Basket, Vol 1, Natsuki Takaya.  OK, I'm probably not the target demographic of this manga series about teens & the Chinese zodiac, but I like the anime series, & as it turns out, the manga's enjoyable too, so you caught me red-handed & red-faced indulging in one of my guilty pleasures.

Earthling, James Longenbach.  In general, I like Longenbach's work, but I found this particular book a bit on the airy side.  If it were a souffle-- or perhaps meringue--where fluffiness is desired, I'd gobble these poems up like Mark Strand.  (This statement serves dual purposes: 1) These poems are Strand-ish in tone; 2)  Hunger is a recurring theme.)  I don't wish to be overly critical. Earthling's accessible, approachable, & many other complimentary terms, I'm sure, & yet it's unfulfilling.

Greatest Hits, C.B. Follett.  Aptly titled, for there are some great poems here: "How Straight is Straight, How Long the Inch (Consider)," "Lost and Found," & "Arms," to name a few.

Click here for another fistful.