Sunday, May 31, 2015

a visit with glenn and kent

i've been a great admirer of the poet glenn ingersoll for some years now so when he sent me his chapbook fact earlier this month i suggested that we should get together.  after all, glenn, and his husband kent, live in berkeley, a city that is a little over an hour's drive away.  furthermore, i turn 48 years old in a couple of weeks.  no spring chicken.  i want to get out of my shell and see, meet and visit writer friends when and while i can.  glenn said yes, let's meet.  so today i got into the prius, pointed it west, and in no time i was knocking on glenn's and kent's door.

berkeley is my favorite bay area city.  funky, laid-back and cool.  there is less noise and fuss than say san francisco, and berkeley is easier to navigate.  i don't like to drive.  i hate hunting for parking spaces.  s.f. is a miserable city for driving and good luck in finding a parking spot.  berkeley is a much better city for driving and parking.  the city, berkeley, reminds me a great deal of my own section of my own city.  berkeley is one of the cities i feel most at home in.

glenn and kent live in a two-story house filled with books and their two cats.  the couple live in a cozy, domestic bohemian home.  the conversation range from politics to poets and poetry to drag queens and sexual identity and the lack of time for long reading.  where i most feel simpatico with glenn was in his bookshelves which mirrored my own in layout and books.  i'm a nut for dwellings packed with books.  i can look at pictures on the internet of peoples libraries.  i blow those images up and see what books people own.  glenn and i have copies of the same books.  stuffed bookshelves feel like home to me.  when i looked at glenn's and kent's bookshelves sometimes i felt like i was looking into a mirror.

the greatest pleasure was looking across the table to glenn.  he has an intelligent and kind face.  when i got too gloomy with my worries over climate change and the future of our civilization glenn helped me come back to earth and enjoy the present.  kent is a good soul whose knowledge of the law, for he is a lawyer by training, and politics kept me at attention.

it was a lovely evening.  my only regret was that i didn't leave sac a little earlier so glenn, kent and i could hit up a couple of bookstores.  in my humble opinion berkeley is the greatest city for book lovers for it has very good bookstores.  even in our digital age books matter, at least to me, a great deal.  when i left their house i thought of driving over to telegraph ave where moe's books is located and do a little shopping.  but no, because it was after 10:00 pm.  the store was closed.  next time i said to myself as i drove down university ave toward the freeway.  but then i have a waist-high stack of books that still need reading and, i think, i should get thru those before i buy another batch of books.

we talked about movies too.  glenn asked me if i've seen the newest mad max film.  i have not.  we started talking about the franchise.  i told them about my memories of the first mad max film in 1979 and the excitement of watching the opening car chase between the cops and the the knightrider when my brothers and i walked into the theater during a matinee showing.  the pic blew my 12 year old mind.  we had a little disagreement about the quality of the first mad max movie.  i argued for its gritty beauty.  glenn argued that the road warrior is a better movie.  as for me i can not choose between the two films as they are both great in my opinion.

but liking a thing is subjective.  and the liking matters finally only to the individual.  the most we can do is explain our liking for a particular thing.  as for the mad max movies i am, alas, a fanboy.  oh, we talked about the walking dead too as both glenn and kent are fans of the show.

when i got into my prius and pointed it east toward sac i thought that we live in a small world.  glenn and i knew many of the same people in poetry.  as joseph brodsky said the land is only an extension of the space.  the gesture i make here would be the same anywhere.  poets are brothers and sisters no matter their age or era.  glenn and kent were very kind to host me tonight at their home.  we embraced as i put my shoes on and walked out their door.  what i can do is express my gratitude in poetry, friendship and love. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

movies and poetry

movies have always been a part of my life.  i can recall the summer of 1977, which was dominated by a movie called Star Wars.  the lines of people to see this film were astonishing. i had no idea what an impact it would have, both the movie and the response it provoked among the movie-going -- that is, nearly everyone -- public.  even today as i write this you can find dozens of fan magazines and internet sites devoted to the  Star Wars franchise.  even its creator, george lucas, recently had his face on the cover of Time magazine and was interviewed by bill moyers about the spirituality of jedi knights.  i wouldn't be suprised to find a book called The Tao of Yoda.  anyway, that summer i stood with my brothers in broiling heat along a wall in the parking lot of the century cinemas, which, when i think about it, was probably one of the first multiplexes in the sacramento area, for over four hours to see this space opera.  i remember that breath-taking scene after the movie opened when the camera panned to the red planet tatooine.  then the evil empire's star destroyer took what seemed like an eternity, for a ten-year-old boy, to pass overhead.  there are much better movies, of course, but Star Wars is such that it became more than a movie.  it was an Event.

such is the power of movies.  it would seem all the arts of this past century were influenced in some form by cinema.  and no one is more influenced, i would argue, than writers, especially poets.  ever since eliot was working on a manuscript tentatively titled, 'He Do the Police in Many Voices,' poets have styled grammar into montage, slo-mo, and jump-cut techniques splicing image into image, from High Modernism down to our own Post-Postmodernism (or whatever you'd like to call contemporary writers) that is influenced by cinema.  i think of john ashbery as being an example of this, as well as a poet directly opposite of ashbery, thom gunn.

so why is it so difficult to find a good movie about poets and poetry?  it would seem movies would be as obsessed with poets as poets are obsessed with movies since characters are, as often as not, loners bent on some kind of mission, kind of like writers.  for example, the hard-boiled detectives in film noir are sort of like poets since both are loners who work in mediums that underwrite the gritty and grotesque, as well as the sublime.  working in grammar will lead one to very dark places, and this journey is usually taken alone.  it is the same with the grim detectives of film noir.

i could go on and on, but i want to skim over cliche, or stereotypes, to wonder out loud why there is a scarcity of good movies about writers at work in the craft of poetry.  there are movies about poets, such as the recent film about verlaine and rimbaud called Total Eclipse, but the seldom work well for the poets are often shown as not-too-distant cousins of the families you find on the jerry springer show.  i mean, a movie about a poet will more likely be about his/her dysfunctional life than about the working life of a writer.  yet there have been movies about other artists, painters and musicians, that are inspiring, or at least, decent.  Basquiat was a quiet movie about a so-so artist with a major drug habit, and we needn't look too far to find the life of mozart in the film Amadeus with its bitter rivalries and soaring music as a triumph of filmmaking.  so come Hollywood is unable to dramatize the working writer?

perhaps the problem is not the writer-as-artist but that writing is an interior process, a process fiendishly difficult to film.  in her Nobel lecture, polish poet wislawa szymborska said poets' work is 'hopelessly unphotogenic.'  poets stare at a blank piece of paper or computer screen and scratch out a few lines, only to erase a couple a little later.  here are szymborska's comments about the intransitive nature of filming a poet at work: 'someone sits at a table or lies on a sofa while staring motionless at a wall or ceiling.  once in a while this person writes down seven lines only to cross out one of them fifteen minutes later, and then another hour passes, during which nothing happens. . . who could stand such a thing?'

the answer to that question is apparently no one.  even if Hollywood does make a movie about a poet -- and don't get my griping wrong because there are many movies about real and fictive poets -- the film will most likely fixate on his/her misfit nature.  take the movie bases loosely on charles bukowski's life Barfly.  overall it ain't bad but it would seem the character henry chinaski is some kind of gutter messiah who can only get drunk and get into fights.  and when he does pick up the chewed nub of a pencil, the camera stares blankly at him then quickly jumps to the next scene.  so we have no real idea if he is a poet at all, or how he writes, or what he writes about.

movies about musicians and painters are more successful, i guess, because one can visualize, or auralize, the artist's creative process.  for example, martin scorsese's short Life Lessons lovingly and obsessively details the painter lionel dobie, in action before a canvas.  there is a beautiful image of nick nolte as dobie rumpled and covered in acrylics, beholding his work-in-progress as if it suddenly spoke to him.  and, of course, it did speak to him -- we see him leap into the canvas with broad slashing strokes.  to show the action of writing, a filmmaker would have to take quite a different tack because it is not a physical activity.  one doesn't leap so dramatically into language, though the process and the finished poems might very well give one the shivers.

summer is indeed  the traditional time for movie-going, and poets are just as avid about films as the rest of their fellows, quickened by the need to sit in a refrigerated darkened room with dozens and dozens of others before a huge two-dimensional screen.  movies, it would seem, are our collective unconscious, written, as one early 20th-century wag said, in lightening.  as for movies about poets i'll quote a few lines of a poem titled, 'a film,' by the french poet alain bosquet and you can judge for yourself: 'now that my life is coming to an end/a director want to turn it into a film/. . .would i agree to play myself(?)/. . .i insist:/no profiles, please, no flattering grins./as for my books, whose fidelity i now find questionable/they'd better be signed by some other poet.'

[reprinted from poetry now (august 2001)]

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


poetry like diary entries
afraid to cough out life
sometimes the face that
sees you in the mirror

is in on the joke too
bad news bad news
as rimbe sd, what a ninny i am
lacking the courage to be in love with death

Saturday, May 23, 2015

absolute music

dig this live performance by rockabilly great gene vincent.  the time, 1963.  the place, belgium.  vincent and his band rip it up.  this is a pure shot of rock&roll.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

on the art of doing nothing

I need so much time to do nothing that I have none left for work.
--pierre reverdy

There are some who complain of a man doing nothing; there are some, still more mysterious and amazing, who complain of having nothing to do.  When actually presented with some beautiful blank hours or days, they will grumble at their blankness.  When given the gift of loneliness, which is the gift of liberty, they will cast it away; they will destroy it deliberately with some dreadful game with cards, or a little ball. . .I cannot repress a shudder when I see them throwing away their hard-won holidays by doing something.  For my own part, I can never get enough Nothing to do.
--g.k. chesterton

[quotes from 'in praise of laziness' by simon leys (the hall of uselessness: collected essays, new york review books, 2013]

Saturday, May 16, 2015

the happiest place on earth

i got home two sizes too small.  a real wreck.  feral.  mean.  cranky.  long, hard day and my energy went south.  pressed for time i stopped at the grocery store for some junk food: chips, doritos [two flavors] and ruffles with ranch dressing dip.  plus a diet pepsi for me and a bottled water for nick.  for i had promised to take nick to the drive-ins.  tonight.

my plan was to stop at jimboys tacos for some bean&cheese burritos.  these are the best in the world but super bad for you, loaded with fat and cholesterol.  then i wanted to stop at target for a new portable radio and some batteries.  drive-in theaters long ago abandoned those tinny speakers you would place on your car window for fm radio frequencies. 

but anna saw all the junk food i brought home and sensibly reminded me that that was more than enough crap to eat.  we should have something a bit more nutritious for dinner.  i made myself a sandwich and got some leftover pizza for nick.  i threw everything in a bag.  i grabbed a sweater and jacket and told nick to do the same because it will get cold once the sun went down.

i felt the squeeze of time.  the drive-ins would be, i know, packed.  get there near dark and you will find yourself stuck in a very long line and jockeying for a good place to park.  and i do not like to drive.  car culture, the kind i grew up knowing in the 1970s, is long gone.  traffic winds me up like a rubber band.

i didn't go to jimboys and i decided against the radio figuring the car radio will do an adequate job.  this gave us more time.  we got to the sac 6 drive-in theater a little after 7:00 pm.  nearly an hour of daylight to spare.  i began to unclench once we found our place in line.  and the line was short.

i became tamed.  i felt bad for my earlier cranky behavior.  i owed all of creation an apology.  the screen for the movie, avengers: age of ultron [2015], was crowded.  i found a position up front.  not great but a good seat for the action.  then nick and i locked up and headed for the snack bar.

if the drive-in is a body the snack bar is its brain and heart.  sac 6 drive-in theater has a snack bar like a panoptican.  a circle in the center of the grounds with the projection booth on top of the snack bar building.  the projection booth has always fascinated me.  i remember walking past the projection booth at a long defunct drive-in, mather auto movies, when i was about seven years old.  the movie was a bruce lee kung fu flick.  the projection booth at mather auto movies was smack in the middle of the parking lot.  the snack bar was in another building at the rear of the parking lot.  i walked past the projection booth.  it was a hot summer night.  summer in sac can get hot, triple digits, and in high summer it does not cool down even at night.  i walked past the projection booth.  the door was open.  i peered inside.  an old man, the projectionist, was sitting in a faded green recliner reading a paperback as the intermission shorts played on the screen.  i thought somehow a mystery of life revealed itself to me.  a mystery that i would spend my life trying to solve.

we walked the circumference of the snack bar.  nick pointed out an employee on the roof of the snack bar fixing the swamp cooler.  we watched him for a minute.  then nick and i looked at the playground equipment at the snack bar.  mothers and fathers and their children running everywhere.  a bbq stand was doing brisk business.  the line to get in the drive-ins growing longer.  we began to head back to the car.  nick wanted to get the money he left in the car to play a couple of video games. 

the employee fixing the swamp cooler was now on the ground right in front of us.  he turned to us in greeting.  i asked him about his work.  he was friendly.  i asked him about the projection booth.  i asked him if they have old film reels in the projection booth.  reels of old intermission shorts.  there is one intermission short that has become like the holy grail.  if you've been to the sac 6 drive-in theater in the 1970s and 1980s you know this intermission short.  i know it.  anna knows it.  a song with a line, 'mushy roomy room sauce', for pizza.  i wondered if they still have that old reel.

the man said, oh, you wanna speak to the manager, earl.  i'll go get him.

earl was a very kind man who started in the movie theater business as a projectionist.  he asked if we wanted to see the projection booth.  are you fucking kidding me?!

nick and i followed earl.  we walked up the steps on the roof of the snack bar and walked thru the door to the projection booth.  earl explained that the sac 6 drive-in now uses digital projection.  the movies come in hard drives.  every moment is particularly queued and specially timed for best performance.  earl explained that some theaters don't get hard drives.  they get their movies thru the internet, or satellite.

but there is a single old projector left.  earl explained its workings.  he showed us the reels used for 35 mm prints.  and the one giant reel that would wind the movie as it finished its projection.

earl hit my sweet spot.  here i am in the projection booth.  finally, after all these years.  all i needed to do to see it was to ask.  i asked earl about those old reels.  he showed nick and i a box of old reels.  35 mm prints of commercials and trailers.  used before the drive-in switched to digital projection.  i asked about the reels from the 1970s and 1980s.  he said those are long, long gone.  he told us we can each take a reel if we wanted.  i took a commercial for an old nintendo game and i took for nick an ad for pacific rim [2013].

the world has changed.  the projection booth was automated.  there is no projectionist.  as we were leaving i noticed a sink and a toilet, without walls and door.  i asked why is there a toilet in the projection booth.  earl told me that in the old days the projectionist would have to stay for the duration of the running of the movies.  if something went wrong he, or she, would need to act within a couple of seconds.  he or she could not afford to be away from the projectors.  thus the need for a toilet.

i thanked earl.  nick and i walked down the stairs on the roof the snack bar back to our car.  nick got the couple of dollars he needed to play a couple of games.  after that we set up for the movie.  i opened a bag of dorritos [old-school taco flavored] gave nick his pizza.  reached for my sandwich and settled back for the evening as the first trailer started. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

galatea resurrects #24

eileen tabios' essential, utterly indispensable, review journal galatea resurrects is fresh and alive.  you will find an assortment of hypersmart poets writing about their love of writing and reading.  i am fortunate to be in their company with two pieces in this issue.

first is a review of two books by the brilliant canadian poet michael dennis.  he is a poet i very much love and admire both as a writer and as a human being.  i wish to spread the word about michael dennis.  so click here.

second is an interview with the german buddhist poet stefan hyner.  i believe all poets are brothers and sisters regardless of age or era.  among my brothers and sisters are a handful of poets i consider my teachers in the art of reading, writing and living.  stefan hyner is one of my teachers.  click here.

finally, i bow to the great eileen tabios for her work, and her love of poets and poetry.   

Friday, May 08, 2015

i heard a climate scientist on NPR today say that the co2 levels in our atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million.  a level the planet has not experienced in over six million years.  the news depressed me.  i don't mean, like wow, bummer, kind of depression.  i mean a flattening of emotion.  a dead expression.

whence to comfort thine mind?  i haven't a clue.  the news is grim.  on many fronts, not just on climate change.  somethings are changing in our world.  but to what? 

i am an optimist by temperament.  but i am pessimistic too.  a happy pessimist is how the philosopher bertrand russell described himself.  me too.

will we get our shit together?  i have great doubt.  but i have great faith in people. 

the world is a beautiful place.  life is such a gift.

we have, each of us, six, seven or eight decades on this planet. 

how do you want to live?

Thursday, May 07, 2015


standing at the corner of k st and alhambra blvd

afterwork list of grocery shopping in my head and on my tongue

traffic always traffic cars and trucks in the rush to get home

i was there on the corner waiting for the light to change

that i may cross the street to the parking lot of safeway

and the light did change i stepped into the street

see a honda pilot turning left and barreling toward me

i freeze to gauge the car's trajectory

close but the driver sees me at the last instant

slams on the breaks then the window rolls down

and a woman says, sir sir i am so sorry i am so sorry

she repeats and repeats then drives away

chance is ourselves, said artaud

my heart in my throat i cross the street

decide on dinner at the taqueria

mexican food sounds good right now

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

while jeepers creepers 2 [2003] plays on TV [i like this movie, i can't tell you why, there is no rational reason for my affection for this film, i just like it, period, it is like a really bad movie i would see at the drive-in when i was a wee lad] i am catching up on a few emails.  i have a couple of books by canadian poet michael dennis beside me.   and i have clicked over to the bill knott archive.

you will recall knott passed away last year.  he is a presence i greatly miss, his PDF books and his blogs.  i am grateful to the person who archived and collected knott's blogs and posted them at his archive.  i thought they were lost forever.  in addition you will find the poet's PDF books and his artwork.  a treasure indeed.

i remember discovering bill knott in, i think, 1995.  his book the quicken tree was in the poetry section of that great record and book store, tower [speaking of tower records and tower books there is a new documentary on its rise and fall directed by colin hanks, all things must pass [2015].  damn i miss tower!].  knott confused me and made me laugh.  it was until a couple of years later that i really read knott in depth when i found his books, including his st. geraud book, at the sac state library.

in the 2000s knott started keeping blogs.  they would disappear as fast as they would appear.  one blog that was deleted by the poet -- thankfully it is archived -- knott waxed like a 21st century shelly about the beauty and talent of actress yancy butler, who starred in the short-lived TV fantasy witchblade [2001 - 2002].  genius writing.

i am trying to multitask, watch the film and write.  can't do both.  the creeper is about to swoop on the surviving three teens.  yeah, i know how it ends.  but i got to see it anyway.  right?!  gotta go!

Sunday, May 03, 2015

poem beginning with a line from a song by chris isaak

the world was/is on fire
it feels different because
the changes are faster
than human speed of thought
and action is in defense
while time sits on the sidelines
and catches its breath