Saturday, July 31, 2004

Tom Beckett at Vanishing Points of Resemblance on poet Jim McCrary.

Monday, July 26, 2004

a few years ago I served time in grad school.  after finishing what seemed a life sentence of hard labor I find myself thinking of a seminal text I used for an intro to critical theory, and a later illustration on how humanity is defined often by those who live on its margins. 

my subject was Queer Theory and the book was Gender Trouble by Judith Butler (Routledge 1999).  Butler's investigations on the societal constructs of human gender was an eye-opener.  but I chose to present Queer Theory to the class because our varied sexualities are the essences of our common human being.  and quite frankly I despise any sort of classifications we place on any group of persons.  for I think persons are both individual and plural at the same time.  there are groups of writers but those groups are composed of single individuals, each possessed of unique talents and abilities.  one may be "queer" simply by not accepting the stifling binary systems we must endure in our daily lives. 

so I wrote my paper and presented it to the class.  I must have done a pretty good job since one of my classmates at the next meeting took me aside and produced a photograph.  it was a picture of a middle-aged couple, a man in drag, and a woman.  my classmate told me it was her parents.  her father got out of the closet only a few years previous, though I don't quite recall her saying her father was gay, but he certainly was a cross-dresser.  at any rate, after the initial shock caused by her father's confession to his wife they stayed married and have become best friends.  best friends is something his daughter emphasized to me because before he came out he was bitter, angry and hurtful.  her father, she told me, became a new man and is so much happier, and after a bit of hesitation his daughter has learned that love is love after all whatever its manifestations.

to point out our ways of thinking about sex and gender is often hateful is to be terribly obvious.  one is neither this nor the other.  I recall a prof. telling me that there had been studies of the writings of men and women to find if women use grammar, syntax, sentence structure differently.  what a waste of time.  writing is either/or and both at the same time.  sexuality is often aligned with the evils of our worlds.  but why, I ask, since we are creatures made of and through our sexual urges.

several years ago I read an essay by Sallie Tisdale in Harper's where she openly spoke of her love of pornography.  and yes, she meant the stuff bought and sold at "adult bookstores," though I've wondered why we call such material "adult" but those who like the stuff are deemed "puerile."  later she expanded her essay and published Talk Dirty To Me: An Intimate Philosphy of Sex (Doubleday 1994), and it was one of the most liberating and refreshing works on pornography, and our stifled attitudes toward sex and sexuality, I have read.  where Butler's book is far-reaching in political and philosphical explications, Tisdale's ruminations are open and candid about one writer's life and thoughts on sex, sexuality and images of sexuality.

I find writers' attitudes toward porn a little odd.  I have in mind an interview with an Irish poet in a recent issue of Verse.  the poet in question claimed he wanted to capture a bit of the expressive qualities found in porn: coldness and distance, but he made great pains to assure the interviewer that he was not the least interested in pornography at all.  well, I guess, but I recall another quite dissimilar attitude by the writer Samuel Delany in a glossy gay mag that lamented the disneyifaction of Times Square, how the porn theaters were being shuttered.  I delighted when Delany said something along the lines of, now where will I go to get off? 

a writer would think taboos have long been broken when Ginsberg wrote of being fucked in the ass by bikers and screaming with joy.  perhaps I have it wrong and poets are indeed writing of sex, I enjoyed Jeff Clark's first book, The Little Door Slides Back, partly because it seemed written with a quiet love of S/M, in language not explicit, but open.  experimental writing needs more of that.  it needs greater amplitude and combustion.  a poem cannot compete with images of attractive men and women.  it does not need to, since grammar is what makes our very DNA.  the poet's desire is enacted by language, and made stronger for it, since no subject, or lack of subject, is deemed untouchable.  self-censorship is worse sometimes than governmental and societal forms of negation.  to change your life you must change your language, and that change comes with risk, for there is always someone ready to stop you.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

I've been meaning to write a little review of this book, Douglas Blazek: A Bibliography of the Published Work 1961-2001, edited, with an Introduction, by James Den Boer (Glass Eye Books/Blue Thunder Books, 2003) for it is one fat work detailing the publishing history of Mimeo Revolution legend Blazek. 

Blazek lives and writes in my hometown, Sacramento, which turned out to be home base for many Mimeo poets.  I've been told, perhaps by Blazek, that d. a. levy was persuaded and intended to move here before that fateful night in Cleveland.  the mind reels at what we have lost when levy died.  however, we do have Blazek, and now this indespensible book as a map and guide to those wild times of the 1960s and 70s when a group of writers led by Blazek and his press, Open Skull, and his magazine, Ole, broke open the stifled canned academic literatuers by doing it by themselves. 

these poets, who published and dessiminated their own work via mimeo presses, were thriving in a vital era of change, for there were other writers, Beat and Black Mountain, doing their own busting open of academe.  at any rate, change was happening and it was the Mimeo poets who have moved outside the mainstream, and to date, have not received the critical recognition long due to them. 

Den Boer does a fine job in his Introduction illuminating the historical resonance during the era of the Mimeo Revolution:

The Beats were of course the first to be contentious, but I think that for Blazek, d. a. levy, D. r. Wagner and many of the other energy-givers, there was a more reckless, tendentious, even more courageous urge than the Beats often showed (and certainly less of the quasi-religio/ mystical and "literary" attitude).  These poets of the Mimeo Revolution had "turned on" the imaginations of their readers with talents ignited by a powerful and optimistic belief in the imperative of change -- a belief in revolution that engaged both the political and the personal.
yet far more than an historical book that documents the work of these poets Den Boer has done an outstanding job of gathering most of the published works of Douglas Blazek, a poet whose energies eschew any sort of "ism" or label.  Blazek is still alive, writing and publishing and his work has, like all writers in it for the long haul, changed.  and why should it not change?  Den Boer again:

He is not now associated with any particular group of poets; he lives a somewhat hermetic life dedicated to poetry and personal transformation, studying the writings of a wide range of poets and thinkers of diverse disciplines.  He is now more serious than playful; concerned with the way art anchors its verities and sets up its revelations; with nuance, overtone and implication of meaning, and the precision of language that elicits power and pleasure.  His poetry today is more intricate and complex, yet more clear and streamlined, than before. 
Den Boer has achieved a work of love and honor to the life and writings of a brother poet.  it is breathtaking to consider how much Blazek has written and published, over these past 40 years.  a careful reading of the published poems reveals Blazek the craftsman poet for he often published and revised versions of the same poems, and that through the years a single poem printed in mimeo form, say in 1968, had metamorphed into a different creature entirely, by say 1975 in Ploughshares.  another poet may take issue with Blazek's need to rewrite previous poems but one cannot claim Blazek an undisciplined, unambitious poet.  an ambition for the poetry, and the life of poetry. 

for ordering info you can email James Den Boer through Paperwork.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

last night moving the car into the driveway for the night I heard on the radio "Here & Now" by the '90s outfit Letters To Cleo, and have had that song stuck in my head since.  it is a catchy tune, but what I like about it is how lead vocalist, Kay Hanley, phrases, how she uses her voice, however limited in a style that sound awfully untrained, but pretty, and how the seeming artlessness of her singing is actually part of her art, the stuttering, the notes cut short, the high pitches and low notes.  how Hanley uses her voice as an instrument to achieve maximum velocity.

such singing gives great pleasure, to me at least, and reminds me how Exene Cervenka, of the great punk band X, used her voice.  Cervenka has a brilliant instrument in her voice, listen to "Nausea" from their debut Los Angeles, for its sweetness and anger.  she is a younger sister to Patti Smith, in what seems untrained is part of its beauty.  and when Cervenka sings harmony with John Doe, especially in a song such as "Unheard Music," I swear my life, at that moment, has achieved an ecstatic state. 

such voices, stuttering, screaming, loud, (un)controlled, sweet, sexy, human, angry and loving makes me want to live at the first intensity.  such music makes me glad I am alive.  surely there is a poetry that does this as well?

and today I read U.K. poet Martin Stannard's review of first gen. NYC poets and realized here is a kindred spirit.  he may not have caught up with the pure joy to be had in Schuyler's work, but here is a poet whose got it.   for Schuyler reminds me a bit of Cervenka's singing: brilliant, loving, angry, stuttering and pitch-perfect.  if I ever had to label myself as a writer I would use something like, um, 20th-gen.-NYC-school-second-cousin-twice-removed-to-CA.  but, hey, I ain't into labels. 

but Schuyler's poetry, and his prose work (a book I read and reread in times of stress, The Diary of James Schuyler, ed. by Nathan Kernan (Black Sparrow Press, 1997), makes me want to drink up, eat a big meal, and have great sex.  it's all there, warmth, humanity, experimentation, love and friendship.  Schuyler lived life large and his is a poetry that recreates life, and I mean life, not simply his, but LIFE, all in caps.

here is a poem that I love

Wigging in, wigging out:
when I stop to think
the wires in my head
cross: kaboom.  How
many trips
by ambulance (five,
count them five),
claustered, pill addiction,
in and out of mental
the suicidalness (once
I almost made it)
but -- I go on?
Tell you all of it?
I can't.  When I think
of that, that at
only fifty-one I,
Jim the Jerk, am
still alive and breathing
deeply, that I think
is a miracle.

Collected Poems (FSG, 1993)

don't know if this is one of Schuyler's anthology pieces, don't care really, what I love is its simplicity and courage to be awe-struck.  that courage is what drives the poem, and saves it from being an example of the school of confession ala Sharon Olds.  it makes me glad to be alive in my own life.  what more could a reader want?  I've heard Boston poet William Corbett is editing Schuyler's letters, can't wait to read them.


Tuesday, July 20, 2004

trying to think up something to say to Steve's review of my chap. at  Black Spring gracias hermano, I'm at a bit of a loss for words.  

Monday, July 19, 2004

got home from a long,
hot walk from work, and
waiting for me, Score 19,
lovely journal. 
gracias Crag.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

received yesterday from David Larsen:
Freaky If You Got This Far
a collection of texts and images with the title written by hand in red ink.  a highlight is the poem "Charlton Heston Reads the Bible". 
Syrup Hits
another collection of texts and images dedicated to the art, I think, of ingesting codiene and the effects of war on the individual.  many of the images have been borrowed from the old Beetle Bailey comics.  the collection is a surrealistic romp of dread and humor. 
Smokers Die Younger
an anthology of poems by Jim Berhle, Del Ray Cross, Nada Gordon, David Larsen, Cassie Lewis, James Meetze, Catherine Meng, K. Silem Mohammad, Christina Strong, Alli Warren and ed. and introduced by Stephanie Young.   it is based on the theme of smoking with graphic anti-smoking illustrations taken from the packs of Canadian brand cigarettes.   each poet was sent a flattened package with the aim of composing directly on the package, which has been reproduced en face of the poems. 
as a former smoker this book struck a chord.  I miss the ceremony of smoking: the sound of packing a pack of smokes, lighting the cig with my old Zippo, the intake and release to joy.  fuckin' A.  last night, over at my brother's house he produced two cigars.  we went out back to smoke and drink.  first cigar I had in a long time.  it was wonderful, and I enjoyed how my bro took his time unwrapping the cigars (mine, he said, was an Ashton) and then took his lighter from its holder, cut the ends, and lit them against a beautiful dusky sky.  oh yeah!  here's to the lost of art of puffing.
Dogma '01 Manifesto
Larsen's love of self-publishing is detailed in his manifesto, which is modeled  after filmmaker Lars Von Trier's Dogme95 Manifesto on the art of movie making.   brilliant stuff, and I urge every writer/reader to read it and adopt some of the aesthetics/ethics of Dogma '01. 
and but so Larsen's books brings to mind 'zine publishing to this old punk rocker.  his books are wonderful to read and have in the hand.  Jim McCrary also frequently self-publishes, which bypass the regular routes of po-biz, and creates an atmosphere of anarchy and control, much like the old punk labels, such as Alternative Tentacles and SST back in the '80s.  DIY, brothers and sisters.  fuckin' hell.

Check It Out 
it's been a great pleasure to work with Tom during our interview.  it is now published in Jacket 25.  check it out, brothers and sisters, all comments are welcomed.  feel free to email me regarding anything on your minds. 
Tom was very generous and kind re: the interview on his blog, however, he has been a perfect gentleman throughout my often pesky, and persistant, questions.  whaterever defects in the interview belong to me.  


Wednesday, July 14, 2004

the poem doesn't want
to achieve the condition
of song but a few feet
of film will do

the poem's final dot
a wrap
the book
in the can

Sunday, July 11, 2004

a couple of months ago I had dinner with the poet Douglas Blazek, his companion Rachel, and two other couples. it was a lovely, pastoral setting, in the garden, of a warm late California spring evening. and one thing I noticed about all the guests, and our hosts, was that most, if not all, were not native Californians. that alone ain't all that significant, who cares where a person is from, but I'm always fascinated to hear persons explain how they got from here to there to here and so on again.

because I live in my natal city. in fact I bought a house about a mile and half from my birth place: Mercy Hospital. you can see my neighborhood, if you are so inclined, in the opening shots of the movie American Beauty. I've ranged a bit in my 20s, but always came home. I've said in an earlier post that I consider myself a citizen of the world, that I have for as long as I can recall. and so what does it mean to be *local*?

right now the Olympic Track and Field Trials are being held at my old school. which is a good thing for Sacramento, though I find watching Track and Field events pretty boring. I live about three miles from the campus, which makes driving through it, which Anna and I do quite often, a pain in the butt. what the hell. Sacramento wants to be a world-class city, even renamed the airport Sacramento International, though the last I checked you can't get international flights. oh sure, you can fly to SF or Chicago, then get on another plane to your destination, but not a direct flight from Sac to wherever it is you want to go in the world. with that logic, by extension, I have an international drive-way: I can drive to SF, then get on a plane to take me to Stockholm, or wherever.

but I'm being unnecessarily harsh. Sac is my town, for better or worse. why do I live here, and not moved to my favorite city, San Francisco? complicated questions, indeed. Esquire, back in the '70s and '80s, did a little interview with writers titled, "Why I Live Where I Live." we all must live, work, write and read someplace, but why do you live in your city? what makes the "local" for you? do you consider yourself a "local" writer, what is/are its meaning(s) to you as a poet? Why do you live where you live?

received this weekend Black Spring with poems by Jim McCrary, Chris Murray, Layne Russell, Steve Tills, Stephen Ellis, kari edwards, Catherine Daly, and Brent Bechtel. highly recomended with a hilarious photo on the back cover. get thee here to secure your copy today.

also, received a thick packet of poetics from Kansas poet Jim McCrary. quite an armfull in fact, which I read in one long sitting between parties (two B-day parties fell on the same Sat.). McCrary, who lives in Lawrence, which was the home of William Burroughs and the late, great film director Herk Harvey (his film, Carnival of Souls, is a masterpiece) frequently self-publishes his work. to say that I was mighty floored by these poems is an understatement. that McCrary decides to bypass mainstream, or otherstream, publishing by doing it himself puts in mind a DIY ethos, to this old punk rocker anyway, that is all too unfamiliar in po-biz. dig it, brothers and sisters. here is a poem from a postcard poem published by the Tansy Press:

Doc Holliday

The Last words
of Doc Holliday
as recorded were:
"This is funny."

No doubt about it
the man had a way
and metaphysics.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

this evening after work stopped by my favorite newsstand, Newsbeat, where the proprietor carries an enormous variety of lit. journals. often I feel a bit guilty for not subscribing to excellent, exciting publications like Crowd and The Canary and supporting them by having me on their subscriber list, but I also want Newsbeat to continue carrying these journals. so I buy them there at the store where Doug give me what he calls, "the 10% discount for poets." though I never told him I'm a writer I guess he figured it out because I buy a lot of the stuff.

and but so today I picked up the new, new to me at least, Call ed. by John Most containing work by Ron Silliman, Christian Bok, Allen Fisher, Jordan Davis and much more. overall a handsome thing with very good writers. but the real find was the joint issue of Verse and the online journal Jacket. both are favorites, and I've read the online version many times, but it is a great to feel the weight of the magazine in the hand, with its portability and smell of paper. yeah, it is fetishizing but what the hell. also, I noticed Michael Heller reviews books by late U.K. poet Richard Caddel that appears to be absent in the online version. okay, I won't give up either print, or online publications, but I do wish I had bought the journal New American Writing when it did an earlier cross-fertilizing with Jacket.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Anna and I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 yesterday at The Tower Theater which is one of two local cinemas that regularly screen independent and alternative films in Sacramento.

Moore's movie is a powerful, moving document which brought me near to tears in several passages. I say that with all humility, and it was good to be a in a theater filled with individuals with similar reactions. I mean I could hear people crying and blowing their noses during some of the more harrowing moments onscreen. and yet, despite the film's enormous power I wonder if it will only talk to those already of like-minded views, and will not touch those who are in support of this administration's willful recklessness.

I've read and heard many criticisms of the movie, but I've not heard any critic of Moore dispute the filmmaker's charges. the only criticisms I've read are personal attacks against Moore and his film as agitprop. every leader has his apologists. I do not know if those apologists will dismiss this film as nothing more than the ravings of a Bush-hater since the movie, because it is a movie and not a long, critical work, only touches upon its points.

but I would argue Moore was too kind to Bush, Cheney et al. the film has its flaws to be sure, it only skims the surface, Moore could have gone more for the jugular re: Bush's motives for waging war (which is examined but not fully analyzed), our press' gung ho attitude for the war (which is touched upon but not investigated), the absence of truthful journalism (I was surprised by many of the images since I had not seen most of the footage Moore uses broadcast on American news agencies), and a more fully-fleshed analysis of the Bush/Saudi link.

I could go on however what puzzles me is the lack of outrage in our electorate. Cheney last weekend snarls at Patrick Leahy to "go fuck himself" then declares he felt better about it afterwards is alarming not in Cheney's feelings (after all I am glad he feels so good) or in his choice of words, but how no one has really, even outspoken critics of this administration, censured Cheney and Bush for being so arrogant. need I remind people how Kerry a few months back stumping on the campaign trail was recorded as saying something along the lines of "yeah, those Republicans are really awful" and how the Republican leadership were outraged at such language and made their anger well-known.

well, I'll file it away under WHAT THE FUCK and move on. at the end of the movie I was feeling very patriotic. Anna and I later went to her mother's house for BBQ and fireworks, and I marveled that even with this administration in power Michael Moore can still make a film heavily critical of it, and how in the U.S.A we can view the movie without government censure, yet.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

it is a very warm day here in the valley, and so before going out to do a little much needed yard work, thinking on the interview with Tom Beckett. it is an illuminating experience, very much a collaborative process, one that I have learned much from.

now to work on it a bit more.