Sunday, July 27, 2014

welcome to sweden

it was 100+ degrees yesterday.  what better weather for a trip to the california state fair.  i don't think anna and i have missed a date with the fair since the start of our relationship.  maybe in the early days we didn't go to the fair.  anna for years actually worked at the fair as a representative for the construction firm she was employed at.  the business was backyard sheds.  anna's boss would often get prime real estate at the fair grounds and contruct a couple of large and awesome sheds to lure customers in.  there are people whose prime motivation in going to the state fair is to buy stuff.  the late writer david foster wallace called in the essay about the illinois state fair, 'a supposedly fun thing i'll never do again,' called these people, 't-shirt people' because they often bought and wore t-shirts that read, 'zero to horny in 2.5 beers,' at the state fair.  sometimes i would keep her company as she womanned the booth.  invariably, it seemed, the men who would lurk and sometimes buy sheds would ask me questions about relative shed construction.  when i directed their queries toward anna these men would be nonplussed because a young woman was a veritable fount of all sorts of constructions knowledge.

that was the 90s.  maybe times have changed for the better.  triple digit temperatures are too hot for anything much less trekking on asphalt among tens of thousands of others at the state fair.  i said we've not missed a fair in many many years and we were not going to miss the 2014 california state fair.  it was the only time we could go this year.  last weekend we just returned from a holiday.  the week before that were the preparations for our holiday.  this weekend was the last weekend of the fair.  hence, we toughed it out.

the local newspaper, the sacramento bee, wrote an op-ed piece critical of the fair as being the same old-same old.  duh!  that is why we love the fair.  the california state fair is a showcase for the state's agriculture -- a multi-billion dollar business -- and features like the state's counties.  my favorite of favorites attraction is the counties exhibits where each participating county builds a diorama highlighting its charms.  there seems to be fewer counties participating.  i didn't count how many dioramas there were at this year's fair but the number of participating counties numbered somewhere around a couple dozen.

the state fair has a comfortable scuzziness that i love.  i dig the carnies, the barkers, the crowds, the food vendors, the rides, the attractions, the bands, the neon, the long-running monorail train that lifts passengers 30 or so feet into the air and takes them on a tour of the fair grounds.  i am older now.  i try to take it slow.  i try not to rush things.  but one only has so many hours in this life.  i spent maybe 10 minutes at the fine arts exhibit.  i like looking at the paintings, videos and sculpture made by california artists.  i had to rush thru it because i had to catch up with anna et al.  but before i left the exhibit i leafed thru the folder containing the bio notes of the artists.  one artist, richard n. longo, whose painting of dilapidated roadside attraction i found quite charming, was brief and in very big font that said his education and little else.  i liked longo's matter fo fact and brief CV.  i liked his painting.

earlier nick and i stood under the meat-eating sun [image courtesy of a poem by dylan thomas] to watch two motocross stunt riders do somersaults and handstands as they leaped into the air via a very steep ramp.  the ease by which these riders performed their maneuvers had me thinking they do these tricks all time and could perform them in their sleep.  yet the thrill of their performance was fresh for me and nick.  we both cheered these two riders like idiots at a depeche mode concerts.

people watching is a bloodsport at the fair.  you wanna see human life at its most variable go to the state fair. 

we met our great friends, b., c. and their son j.  we rounded out the evening at the midway. nick and j. rode a few of the rides. nick is becoming braver as he gets older.  summer time night and the lights of the midway can take your breath away.  we ended the night at the rodeo grandstand where we sat and watched the fireworks conclude the day at the california state fair.  the rodeo grandstand was our little secret for many years to watch fireworks.  i think it was b. who first led us there a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.  back then it was only us at the grandstand.  now there are scores of people.  the bleachers are not crowded by any means but there are scores of people who have the same reason as us for being there.

we got home and we were wide awake.  first we had to shower and wash off the dust and scunge of the fair.  then we watched a little TV.  anna DVR'd a couple of episodes of the new sitcom welcome to sweden starring greg poehler as a hollywood accountant who moves to stockholm in order to be with his swedish partner.  the show is goofy, sweet and funny.  the best part, for me and anna, is that the characters speak swedish  -- with english subtitles. we don't know swedish at all but i can recognize many of the cadences and intonations of the language.  also, the show is shot in sweden and we recognize many many features of the summer home the characters stay at and the city of stockholm proper.  i think of sweden as a kind of second home.  or home away from home away from home.  i've lived with anna -- who is swedish, her mother is born and bred in sweden -- for so long that i think of myself as swedish.  why not.  i am a citizen of the republic of poetry.  i am a citizen of the world.  all the countries of the world are not alien to me.  but for sweden, well, it shall always have a large part of my heart.  summers in sweden.  might there be more in our lives.  but do they have state fairs?   

a simple matter of perfection

when she gets on the playboy's boat
her mouth stutters every reason
not to go with him
each reason met with a reasoned
retort until she takes off her
wig and declares the final reason
because i'm a man

to wit he replies
           no one is
               perfect

 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

a quick note:

please see that i've added three blogs to my links, rebecca loudon, john olson and kris hemensley, each poet utterly brilliant and fun to read, get to clicking!

roller disco

feeling half-past dead we strap on our skates -- the four wheeled kind you put on your feet -- and  square the circle or is it an oval skating counter-clockwise to early 21st C synth-pop and early to mid-80s dance music where i come alive feel my blood pumping for the first time in a hundred years ill-fitting skates blistered against the scungy walls chipped paint plinks and dips in the floor i can barely stand on my feet i can hardly rock i can only just roll nick hugs the walls while i do my best to mug and show off to anna while minding one small slip up and i take a very big trip where my ass will greet the floor

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

dailies

this is a postcard from my travels: swirls of dust grasses yellowed and bone dry a peek thru the scrim of trees reveals clear-cuts from the lumber co. vast swaths of treeless desert but at night in the meadow the sky light neon stars and waves of gases from the milky way where i point upward toward the fast moving satellite and wonder if it is broadcasting a sitcom or radio show and think upon this thin view of an enormity that sits mute and indifferent of my gaze and my awe

Sunday, July 20, 2014

let us now praise a famous man

being on holiday means, for me, being outside the news cycle.  i hadn't read a paper all week, or access the internet.  i read today's, sunday, sacramento bee [anna and i are long-time subscribers to the newspaper, in paper form], and i was reminded of some of the writings of second and third generation NYC school poets who often, it seemed to me, write about this and that including getting the NY  TIMES and declaring that 'there was nothing good in there.'  the news is bad, always.  i am tempted to say, same old same old, but that is rather crass.  instead, the world is fucked up.  each dip into the news cycle proves that axiom.

when i got back yesterday afternoon anna filled me in with the latest in world atrocities.  some local.  some international.  she told me, too, that the actor james garner died at the age of 86.  a nice span of life.  a beautiful actor who played his characters with humor and lack of ego.  i grew up in the '70s and '80s.  i am a child of the '70s and one of the great TV shows of that decade is the rockford files.  james garner played the PI jim rockford who lived in a trailer in a parking lot at the beach with his father whom he called by his first name, rocky.  the show would always open with a phone call to rockford's answering machine.  the entity calling was usually a collections agency trying to get rockford to pay a debt or some unhappy client who is so pissed off. . .

that phone call set the tone of the series.  jim rockford was a laid-back everyman who managed to get the job done and solve the crime.  garner played rockford with such grace and wit, such laid-back charm.  i remember one episode when two thugs are waiting for rockford inside his trailer.  when jim walks in he knows the two men are there to cause harm to jim.  rockford does not get all bad-ass and beat the bad guys to a pulp.  rather, he says something along the lines of, aw man! then gets the shit beat out of him.

there are very few of us who lived through the 1970s who do not love the character of jim rockford and the actor james garner who played the character with such precision. 

garner also starred in one of my favorite western comedies of the late 1960s, support your local sheriff! [1969].  garner's character is a bit of a charlatan who takes the job of sheriff for the pay.  he uses his wit and ingenuity to become a great lawman.  my favorite scene, which anticipates garner's role of jim rockford as a charismatic everyman who uses laid-back charm and wit to either cope or conquer, garner's sheriff finds that the cells in the jail have no bars to keep prisoners in the cells.  a local painter is refurbishing the jail with red paint.  garner's character asks for the paint can.  then he splashes red paint on the floor where the bars would be at the jail cell.  when garner's first prisoner notices the lack of bars in the cell  garner casually draws the prisoner's attention to the splashes of red paint on the floor of the door of the cell.  he says, 'that's what happened to the last prisoner who tried to escape'.  the stunned prisoner jumps back into the cell and stays there.

in the history of hollywood there are not a lot of actors with the pnaache and cool of james garner.  he was sort of a bodhisattva of actors.  he seemed to lack ego.  garner's characters were men who were flawed but wise and stuck around in their wisdom to teach us all how it means to be alive.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

what i'm at

i've been on a week-long holiday.  last week were the preparations.  this week was the actual vacation.  the source word for 'vacation' is 'vacant' which means back in the way olden days persons of means would leave their abodes vacant for part of the year and live in their summer homes.  nowadays we all know what we think we know about vacation, particularly in the united states: two weeks off work.


i like the word 'holiday' better.  it is more of an occassion.  'holiday' means a day or days reserved for special celebration.  we go on holiday to escape our ordinary lives.  we go either physically and/or mentally to a space and/or a place and hope we can participate in a few activities we normally don't do and for our efforts we can relax.

but what about our ordinary workaday world?  shall that be fit only for drudgery and toil?  this i have found, often when we make that attempt toward making a special celebration, when we attempt to leave vacant our ordinary lives, we find that our lives stay with us even so.  we take our turmoils and troubles with us and those activities that are meant to leave us feeling relaxed can add to our stress.  we can't escape the inexorable fact of being us.

what then and how.  at any rate, i've driven several hundred miles.  nick, anna and i spent a few days on the coast of california near the village of mendicino.  the beauty of the mendicino coast in breathtaking.  the eco-lodge [there were art and lit journals in the room!  and and and there were lit journals and art mags found at the check out counter of the local grocery store!  holy shit!  i was in heaven] was wonderful and the adjacent vegan restaurant was top-notch and delicious.  nick said he found a place that he feels like he fits in.  then nick and i went camping for a few days with his cub scout pack.  everything in that camp: leaves, trees, animals, tents, food, hands, clothes, coffee, water, even dirt, was covered in a fine layer of reddish-brown dust.

but when we got home we had a birthday party to go to for our great friends' child's 11th b-day.  i scraped off as much reddish-brown dust off our things as i could.  i shaved off my hobo beard.  now we've just returned.  i'm am pleasantly exhausted and happy to be home.  in the end, i couldn't make vacant my ordinary life.  i found i could make a holiday of the life i have been given.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

the ten thousand things years

a couple of days ago i was listening to a radio program while running a few errands after work.  the story: how to build signs or symbols that can be understood by people living ten thousand years from now.  to teams of eggheads were given such a task.  the reason: nuclear waste has a half-life of like forever.  it is deadly for several millenia.  how do you make warning sign of the dangers of nuclear poison for people who will not know our languages, not know our cultures very well, when meanings change over time.  how do you communicate with people who will develop into something we can't know.

which got me thinking about my own silly ego.  my writing/reading.  all the ten thousand things that try us, burden us, worry us to an early grave.  seriously, even shakespeare won't last for ten thousand years.  all our quibbling and bickering, our jockeying for a small space of light, will amount to nothing.  i'm not saying why bother.  i'm suggesting that the ego can get in the way.  in the end if it doesn't matter in ten thousand years, why fret.  do your work.  get on with it.  and don't practice assholeism.

ah shit, crudely said there.  but you get the drift.

which put me in mind of my own beloved art and the people who practice it.  i want to celebrate all of it, poets, poetry and poems.  i want to read and write until i die.  i want you to do the same.  i try to give up my ego.  i belong, to quote a poem by james dickey, to the world.  i will do what i can.

which brings me to the canadian poet michael dennis.  i've quoted him here and there on this blog before.  i wrote to dennis a few weeks ago telling him how much i love, what i've read of it, his poetry.  he responded by sending me three of his books.  i'll write a review come november for eileen tabios' review zine galatea resurrects.  in the meantime i want to talk a little about dennis' chapbook forgiveness, my new sideline [proper tales press; 2009].

the poems in this short chapbook are travel poems.  the poet and his wife journey to croatia and russia.  dennis writes a deceptively simple poetry.  these are poems using common language.  they are usually narrative.  and they have an open humility that i find lovely.  take for example this poem.

     Hockey Night in Croatia

     in the last month I've butchered six languages
     and misunderstood six different currencies
     today, in Croatia, on a small island, Cres
     hidden on the Dalmatian coast
     a store clerk, where I bought a notebook
     and another bottle of cold gassy water
     refused to believe I wasn't Russian
     I practically had to sing my national anthem
     and show him my hockey scars

     not that Russians don't have hockey scars
     but Canadian doctors sew a straighter line

 a short, clear, concise piece of travel writing.  what i find astonishing is how dennis breaks the line.  each line sings its piece and leads toward the next line.  the fluidity of the language is remarkable.

dennis is also a poet of our insane world too.  domestic intervals and travelogues populate this book but so do the turbulence of terrorism.

     Last Words to Allah

     I press this button and all is glow
     all noise begins and ends
     I press this button and I am mist
     I am vengeance
     I press this button and serve my father
     as I turn to deadly rain
     I even the score that morbid more

     I enter this eternal darkness
     thinking glory

     I remember strapping on my future
     like a wedding shawl
     putting the bomb on
     and for the first time in my life
     understanding I had a future
     and what that future was

     hear my last song
     as it rings out of my memory
     and blasts 
     into yours

this poem is quite a feat.  no accusations and no judgment, at least not located in the text.  rather, we are given the mind of a man intent to destroy for god.  we can argue that the act of writing this poem is a political act.  but the content is even-handed and controlled.  it is not sympathetic to the bomber.  the poem exists in its own, to use the phrase coined by the late joseph brodsky, plane of regard.

still, michael dennis is a generous soul.  a person who embodies poetry.  not very many of us would title a book of ours with the declaration of forgiveness as a practice.  he is a poet for the ten thousand things.  who knows, michael dennis might be here still ten thousand years from now.


Monday, July 07, 2014

quote unquote

Those who prefer their principles over their happiness, they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness. If they are happy by surprise, they find themselves disabled, unhappy to be deprived of their unhappiness.

--albert camus [from notebooks - 1951 - 1959]
forwarded to me by my friend the poet tim kahl in response to our ongoing discussion about art, unhappiness and happiness