Thursday, September 30, 2010

Can they be serious?

And can Newsweek's descent into irrelevance become even sillier?

Doesn't he look a little like Travis Bickle?

Believe it or not, the little prick pictured carrying the sign, Andrew Shirvell, is a Michigan Assistant Attorney General, a serious job intended for people without serious mental defects.

Shirvell has fixated on openly gay current University of Michigan Ann Arbor student president Christopher Armstrong, organizing demonstrations, following him around campus, and blogging about him weirdly. Armstrong obviously feels threatened by this strange little toad-like person's attentions, and has filed to get a restraining order, maintaining that Shirvell "has been following (him) around throughout U of M's campus and Ann Arbor unnecessarily, blogging about (him) extensively using bias and bigotry and poses a threat to (his)...personal safety", according to the court papers. The University apparently concurs, and have taken the extraordinary step of banning him from the UM campus, after warning him about criminal trespass. For his part, Shirvell somehow appeared on CNN the other night, claiming that Armstrong was intent on establishing some sort of "radical homosexual agenda" and apparently insinuated that Armstrong has been hosting Gay Sex parties to "indoctrinate" straight students into a "homosexual lifestyle."

His boss, Michigan Attorney General (and failed Christianist heterosexual) Mike Cox, thinks the situation is hunky-dory. "Here in America, we have this thing called the First Amendment, which allows people to express what they think and engage in political and social speech," he told Anderson Cooper, before asking him how often he exfoliated. (People of Michigan: this is what you fucking get when you elect Republicans to these offices).

Here's hoping Armstrong gets his restraining order, though it's only fair to hope that Shirvell gets what he deserves, too (go here to urge his removal from the public trough). It's tempting to think that somehow the little pustule is merely scratching his itch, the only way he knows how—reacting to his own lack (he's never been kissed—you know, in the right way—the way he yearns for). If so, perhaps there's someone out there whose own self-loathing matches his—one day, on the picket, as they handcraft hate-speech onto poster board, they will reach for the same magic marker. Their hands will glance, and real magic will ensue...(Yeah, I know—double-fucking-ICK...the idea of Republicans screwing is best left in a far corner. Very far. Behind lots and lots of stuff. Unexamined and uncontemplated.).

Far as the Gay Sex parties, though, isn't that rightly a community relations project? Can't everyone agree that anything that keeps frat-boys off the street is a good thing?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pavarotti Vs. the Space Aliens

Face it, the human race is a disappointment. Everything we require to construct Utopia is in front of us, and we choose instead—depending who we are, what our trip is—to tacitly permit, or passively enable, or even actively erect, a world that is terribly unjust, even desperate for many, and hell for many more. It's tempting to believe what Sontag said about White People being at fault, but who are we kidding? We're all doomed by the same flawed chromosomes. Genocide has flourished on every continent, practiced by every race, within the relatively brief span of the last century. People all over the world don't have enough to eat, die every day from famine, from preventable diseases, from natural disasters, from innumerable wars, and their after-effects. I remember Churchill commending America for the Marshall Plan—"the most unsordid act in history," were I believe the words he used—but even excepting the obvious fact that he, himself, was a person whose bigotry precipitated the deaths of more than a million Indians (not to mention the Irish blood on his hands because of the black and tans), one must realize that this "unsordid act", taken at face value, was so mainly compared to the usual course of human history and behavior. We were, are, and will be for the foreseeable future, a barbaric lot. The planet is warming, true, due to our unbridled appetites and our massive egotism, so maybe we'll all be gone soon, and it will be academic. Nature can heal itself, and start over. I dunno. If so, we'll be the only losers. Earth will be fine. Earth will go on, and it's unlikely anyone will note that we were ever here.

I wonder sometimes how I would vote, if I was an Alien—you know, from outer space, like Klaatu—looking upon the human race, dispassionately, to decide its fate. It would be tempting to tell old Gort the Robot to just have at em. How would we defend ourselves, if push came to shove?—how would we demonstrate to a superior species that we just need more time to evolve, that the seeds for basic goodness, and perhaps even greatness, are in us, still gestating, hard to see sometimes, but there, nonetheless?

That's where the Maestro comes in. I imagine the aliens assembled about us. They are giving us one last chance to justify ourselves before they end us, forever. We gather together—what will we do? Who can state our case? We think of combinations of great legal minds, great statesmen, and orators. We think of strategies for argument, themes for vindication—and someone strikes on the idea. So simple. So true. One man shall state the argument. One man will plead our case, and show that we are worth our many faults. One giant man.

Pavarotti strides across the forum to a microphone. Lifts his head, simultaneously sweeping his cape foreward, over his hunched, proud shoulders—he is ill, with cancer, and knows he has just little time left—and in his eyes, we see the majesty that human life is capable of summoning, the lamp of its untapped genius, the soaring goodness that lives at its heart. He clasps his hands together, and opens his mouth—it is Puccini's Nessun Dorma—and the aliens understand.

They cry, alien tears (they smell like old fish—the tears, I mean).

And we are saved.

Watch the video, if you doubt it (unfortunately, it merely a link, not the video itself. Don't be a lunkhead, hit the damn link, and see for yourself. Then meet me back here).

Pavarotti Last Performance "Nessun Dorma" Torino 2… - MyVideo

There. You could see it, couldn't you?—assuming you don't speak Italian, of course, that might tax the illusion (not knowing what the lyrics mean makes them some of the most beautiful poetry ever written—understanding could only be a letdown).

When I feel doubtful about the potential of our species, this is one of the things I do. Stand outside myself, and watch Pavarotti, pleading for his people. I love this version, his last public performance. During the break in his singing, when the orchestra plays to the chorus (this is the human race allowed to have a brief word, before the Maestro sums up), the look on his face is magnificent—it is the pure joy of existence, it is the unbridled, ecstatic exultation of the spirit, achieved by the alchemy of our highest art. In that moment, and as he soars to his conclusion moments after, I know—in spite of all evidence to the contrary—we will muddle through. And even somehow deserve to.

Teddy Ballgame's last hurrah

Yesterday marked the fiftieth anniversary of Ted William's last ballgame.

The picture above is a good representation of that fluid, graceful, gourgeous swing of his—long, measured, but still incredibly quick, and with impeccable form. Williams had it all, as a hitter, great talent, and dedication to his craft. No one was more prepared, or worked harder at hitting. I've read that Williams would psyche himself up for games by taking batting practice in an empty Fenway. "I'm Ted-fuckin'-Williams," he would scream, between screaming line drives. "I'm the greatest fuckin' hitter in the whole fuckin' world!" When he came up with the Red Sox as a gangly 20 year-old, he explained that he didn't expect a lot from his career—just enough that when he walked down the street after he'd retired, people would point at him and say, "There goes the best hitter who ever lived." Well, he didn't quite make that—losing 5 prime seasons of his career to war didn't help, but no one is Babe Ruth, anyway—but he was good enough to make the case, certainly a better overall hitter than 2 contemporaries he was often compared to, Joe DiMaggio, early in his career, and Mickey Mantle, later. A shame he didn't give the rest of his game the attention those guys did; but then it was surely easier being a great player for those Yankee teams, always playing for something more than simple individual glory. A hard thing to throw your body into those dog days of August, when your club is floundering from contention. And Boston certainly was never an easy town for anyone...

John Updike was at the game, and wrote a famous essay about it, and about Teddy, too. Give it a read, it is really superb...

We must love one another or die

Auden died in his sleep, in Vienna, 37 years ago today. Already he felt an antique among latter twentieth century culture. What might he who "(did) not know what is worse/the anti-novel or free verse" have made of this new century? A mixed bag, probably—he'd have made some noise about the computer age, but he would've been compelled to join it, I think. Would've had a blog, probably—what fun that would've been—and he would be a voice of reason and humanity, as he ever was.

The above picture of Auden rests atop one of our Poetry book cases, along with those of Yeats, Plath, and Pasha. It is a very young Auden in this picture; the tweed jacket with the dark shirt makes him look raffish, I think, as does the fedora, and his rather jaunty lean against the column. The pipe is a nice touch (it makes him look months older). His unlined face affects seriousness, and there is a sense of satisfaction in his bearing. It is the same bearing any picture taken in the 60's or 70's would've revealed—so central it was to him—although by then, the lines on his face had faithfully recorded his many, many sins.

I remember after September 11, Auden's September 1, 1939 turned up everywhere, prescient as it was. As you may or may not know, he did not permit its inclusion in his Collected Poems—he had come to regret his choice of words for the last line of the penultimate stanza (We must love one another or die) as being hyperbolic, even false. Most of us who love him, I think, would disagree, recognizing the Romantic closeted in his person (and appreciative of it), though Auden disdained the idea, on principle.

In a time when fanatics threaten our future like no time since the early decades of the last (ruined) century, the values he stood for—compassion, humor, and decency, expressed from a place of intelligence and refinement—are especially comforting, and necessary. And in the absence of a contemporary Auden to make sense of our still new (and ruining) century, the original will do quite nicely. From 1937, one of my favorite poems, As I walked Out One Evening:

As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
'Love has no ending.

'I'll love you, dear, I'll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,

'I'll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.

'The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.'

But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
'O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.

'In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.

'In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.

'Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver's brilliant bow.

'O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you've missed.

'The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.

'Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.

'O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.

'O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.'

It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Does Barack Obama Believe in the Constitution?

I know that sounds like an outlandish thing to say—but what happened to the guy who campaigned for president on a platform of transparency??? I would really, really love to hear our constitutional-scholar president explain a few things...beginning with his administration's repeated, aggressive overreach for power.

Glenn Greenwald, from Salon:

"At this point, I didn't believe it was possible, but the Obama administration has just reached an all-new low in its abysmal civil liberties record. In response to the lawsuit filed by Anwar Awlaki's father asking a court to enjoin the President from assassinating his son, a U.S. citizen, without any due process, the administration late last night, according to The Washington Post, filed a brief asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit without hearing the merits of the claims. That's not surprising: both the Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly insisted that their secret conduct is legal but nonetheless urge courts not to even rule on its legality. But what's most notable here is that one of the arguments the Obama DOJ raises to demand dismissal of this lawsuit is "state secrets": in other words, not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are "state secrets," and thus no court may adjudicate their legality."

The Agitator:

"There are no mitigating factors, here. Obama is arguing the executive has the power to execute American citizens without a trial, without even so much as an airing of the charges against them, and that it can do so in complete secrecy, with no oversight from any court, and that the families of the executed have no legal recourse.

"You can’t even make the weak argument that the executive at least has to claim this power in the course of protecting national security. Because it doesn’t matter. Obama is arguing that he has the right to keep everything about these executions secret—including the reasons they were orderedt—merely by uttering the magic phrase “state secrets.” In other words, that this power would only arise under a national security context is deemed irrelevant by the fact that not only is Obama claiming the president’s word on what qualifies as “national security” is final, he’s claiming the power in such a way that there’s no audience to whom he would ever need to make that connection.

"So yeah. Tyranny. If there’s more tyrannical power a president could possibly claim than the power to execute the citizens of his country at his sole discretion, with no oversight, no due process, and no ability for anyone to question the execution even after the fact . . . I can’t think of it.

"This is horrifying."

Who the hell did we elect? If he is truly misunderstood on these issues, why does he not address them directly, and explain himself? If he is the man we thought he was, why does he not understand that our fucking hair is on fire over these issues—anyone who loves the constitution would understand that—why does he instead berate and belittle us, trying to isolate us from the mainstream?

Obama Still Kissing Right-Wing Ass

Read in the Huffington Post that Nicholas Marsh, the Justice Department lawyer whose prosecution of Ted Stevens was thrown out by Obama's AG, Eric Holder, committed suicide Sunday. From what I've read, Stevens was guilty of accepting bribes, although if the government didn't follow the rules, I have no problem with the judgement being vacated—indeed, I expect it, because I believe in the rule of law, including and especially as it pertains to government's evidentiary burden, and the presumption of innocence. I have read, though, that Marsh was victim to a quick judgement, and would ultimately be exonerated. Either way, the human cost in this matter was steep.

If Obama wants to know why so many of us think he's been such a grave disappointment, he needs look no further than Holder. Even discounting his abominable continuation of the cover-up of Bush-era torture, his failure to defend Miranda, his efforts to read our emails without due process, et cetera (and there's been a fuck of a lot of et cetera, too), there is his Obama-like weakness in failing to replace the Bush-era U.S Attorneys, and his oh-so evenhanded treatment of Ted Stevens (a thorn in the ass of working people for the past 40 years), contrasted with his indifference to the railroading of a Democrat persecuted by Karl Rove and one of the U.S. Atts he's too weak to get rid of. Amazing that Don Siegelman still has to fight to keep his freedom—in spite of jury-tampering and malicious prosecution—while the piece-of-shit prosecutor, Leura Canary, still has her job, and her husband (who's an even bigger piece-of-shit) and Karl Rove (maybe the biggest piece-of-shit of our lifetime)—both of whom orchestrated this fucking travesty of justice—skate.

Last year, ninety-one former state attorneys general (Democrats and Republicans) filed a friend of the court brief supporting Siegelman's appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing that "clear legal standards are required to protect individuals from politically-motivated prosecutions based on conduct that is ingrained in our campaign finance system and has always been considered legal." In other words, this prosecution is unprecedented and wrong. The facts in this case are more clear cut than they were in the Stevens case, and aggravated by the fact that Siegelman was actually innocent. Yet Holder bends over backward for Stevens, leading to the suicide of a young prosecutor of good reputation who may (or may not) have violated the rules, while not only will he not move to vacate Siegelman's prosecution, he fights Siegelman's efforts, at every opportunity, retains the Republican hack who colluded to make it happen, and continues to protect her from scrutiny, or even basic compliance with the congressionally-mandated investigation of the prosecution. With friends like these...

This whole thing stinks, top to bottom. And it's a perfect example of why I'll be holding my nose when (and if) I vote for Barrack Obama again.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Winning the War on Dope,16 Ounces at a Time

Folks are strutting just a little safer from the Reefer Menace tonight, at least on the streets of San Saba, Texas.

In a coordinated sweep utilizing the resources of city and county law enforcement, The San Saba Police, led by Chief Ray Riggs, and the San Saba Sheriff's Dept., led by Sheriff L.A. Brown, raided a Dope House on West Taylor, and arrested a notorious Dope-Pusher, recovering one pound of Marijuana Dope in the process. "This in no way puts a dent in the (Dope) problem on our streets," Sheriff Brown modestly cautioned, with characteristic modesty and caution. "But it is a good hit and lets them (Dope-Pushers, Dope-Users, Dopes-in-General, Democrats) know that we are still out here."

(Believe me, Sheriff Brown, they know—and that's the straight, um, you know, um...dope)...

In other news, the combined efforts of the Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers resulted in the interruption of a card game, taking place in a detached garage located on West Wallace. No arrests were made, but a pinochle deck was confiscated.

Happy Birthday Pasha

Pasha would be 67 today.

This is part 3, from Asa Jesus Proveda, one of my favorite of his poems:

in the dry creek bed where asa laid his heart
to rest where they found his daughter
in two inches of red mud

a rose grew there like a sweet black fist

it only opens at night
someone planted a simple cross
of leaves and ash in the month of October.
they say you can hear singing there, soft
joyous noises & the sweet sigh of the soul's
release. leaves are drawn to this place,
leaves & black roses. they say if you sit
there your eyes will close of their own according
to each is seen the singular
fruit of this place.

in time some thirteen moons
three in total eclipse
two old homeless Chicanos
built there shelters there because they said
at night there are unlimited stars,
'cept they said it in Spanish—it's
a peaceful place for dominoes and the water—
when it runs—tastes like sweet bright fire.
& they call the creek Theresa
after Asa's daughter. To this day it runs
sweet & clear, cool & clean beneath
the evening sky
rare black roses
open every night. save one. that would
be the day asa blew his head away.

life—this creek fragile. fragrant
hard to believe yes. hard & delicate
as ever
but if you come the old men say bring
your heart for there will be
no more

merciful beheadings.

I was faithful as possible reproducing this poem; never fully understood Pasha's theory of capitalization (or periods, commas, or linebreaks). He printed these poems off to be read by himself at a poetry event, probably never imagining that others would look at it. Nevertheless, since he's not here to ask, I let it alone.

"life—this creek fragile. fragrant hard to believe yes. hard & delicate as ever"

Goddamn, Pasha...So very true, and so very you. And it gets me every blessed time...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Flood (revised)

That spring, the green water
behind the Pink House demented
into a white-capped river

while the western sky spat fevers,
fanatic and raving, viscera howling
along the creek’s carved battlements,

swelling over its sides past giant pecan
trees, swallowing the pasture whole
beyond. One of Van Maddox’s cows

was gathered in the tempest, tossed
around like a fat tree limb, and impaled
on a splintered stump seven miles away.

A fawn clinging to a pile of debris
luged past the Pink House and dreamily
beheld terra firma blur from meaning,

awed by the strange new world
of gush and torrent, bloody tongue
at the ready, longing to caress

dark feathers that circled rocks
downstream, at journey’s end.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Tale of friendship, among scattering mashed potatoes

I worked flipping burgers at Sonic Drive-In when I was 16, and strangely enough my manager was John—dope-smoking, gym-exploding, brisket-purloining, Nick-hating John, who I told you about several posts ago. This was where John and I became friends, a friendship which endures to this day. And this post is about friendship.

John had a temper in those days, as any of his friends would attest. He also had a strong sense of justice, and didn't suffer dumb asses gladly (per my earlier story—somehow, we became friends anyway). There was also the look, which we were all familiar with. John was the most amiable, laid-back guy in the world until someone provoked the look. It was as if a dark cloud descended on his person, and you could see him clenching his teeth, and narrowing his eyes. We all knew what happened next, and as his friends, it was incumbent on each of us to try to: A) remove John from the presence of the dumb ass, B) remove the dumb ass from the presence of John, or C) mitigate the damage. I wasn't a particularly good friend on the night I'm going to tell you about, because I effected none of these things.

I was 17 at the time, and we'd been out drinking all night, John and I, along with our friend Fish. I don't believe we were especially drunk, but we were really hungry, and at around 2:30 in the morning, we walked into Denny's to gorge ourselves. It was really busy, a Friday night I believe, so busy they were asking people to share tables. They seated us at a corner booth that already held 4 or 5, placing chairs at the end which John and I sat in, while Fish squeezed onto the edge of the half-moon bench seat, to our right.

It was companionable, for the most part. I was in a good mood, as was John, and everyone at the table chatted pleasantly, except for the guy sitting directly across. He just wanted no part of me. He was about 30, with Elvis sideburns and slicked back hair. He muttered something about "fuckin' hippies" when we sat down, and kept glaring at me, and whispering to his friend next to him, who kept telling him to shut up. John noticed right away. Look, I didn't give a fuck—I thought he was kind of funny, actually, and it was no skin off my ass if he didn't like me—but I could see the cloud descending on John. I made a few jokes, and finally John laughed about it, and I thought everything was alright. When they served our food, I dove right in, two-fisting my burger and fries, sort of oblivious to John and Fish. I did notice my friend across the table, though, growing more agitated, mumbling more about long-hairs, before saying, loudly, and looking directly at me:"Dirty fuckin' hippie." I laughed, may even have spit cola from my nose—it was just such a stupid thing to say—and I forgot, temporarily, about John.

I remembered, though, when he sprung from his chair in one fluid motion across the table, and began beating the hell out of Side-Burns. Mashed potatoes and meat loaf went flying everywhere. John was on the table, stomach first, left hand around the guy's throat, right hand pummeling him with blow after blow, while the guy flailed around and tried to free himself. It took us probably 30 seconds to accomplish that—John was on a definite roll—and by the time we did, the guy was pretty bloodied up. The police were already out in the parking lot, apparently, because they were there in seconds. They carefully listened to the stories of everyone present at the table, and the waitstaff, then proceeded to arrest Side-Burns, who by this time was fairly depressed by the whole thing. As they led him away in hand-cuffs, we waved goodbye, though his eyes were swelling up pretty badly by this time, so he probably couldn't see us. And Denny's replaced everyone's meals for free, which was probably the highlight of my evening.

As I remember it now, I'm really glad John didn't get arrested—there were several other occasions when neither of us was so fortunate—and also strangely touched by John's act of friendship. Reminds me of when Captain Call beat hell out of the Yankee who was quirting Newt. It was ill-considered, but heroic, in its way. And frankly, both Side-Burns and the Yankee had it coming. So there you go...

In honor of John, two songs: Brian Wilson's classic ode to friendship, I Get Around; and the late great Phil Lynott's twisted ode to the bonds between boy-men, The Boys Are Back.

(John—I miss you, brother...See you in Texas, soon, I hope)...


That spring, the green water behind the Pink House
crazed into a white-capped river. The western sky
spat fevers, fanatic and raving, viscera howling

through the creek’s carved battlements and swelling
over its sides past the giant pecan trees to the pasture
beyond. One of Van Maddox’s cows was gathered

in the tempest, tossed around like a fat tree limb,
and impaled on a splintered stump seven miles away,
beneath a grinning afternoon sun. A fawn clinging

to a clutch of debris luged past the Pink House
and dreamily witnessed the vagueness of terra firma
blur from meaning, ready to accept the strange new world

of gush and torrent, bloody tongue longing to caress
dark feathers that waited on the rocks, at journey’s end.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Happy 114th, Scott

Though the poor sonofabitch is not here to see it, today is Scott Fitzgerald's birthday. Scott is one white Irishman who makes up for a whole passel of crazy ones like Hannity and O'Reilly and Buchanan (the latter of whom I inexplicably have a soft spot for). I'm gonna link to a really fine article about Scott that I read at another blog, with some interesting ideas about Zelda, and a really superb letter Max Perkins wote to Scott about Gatsby. I will link to this, though, after the jump, so I can make a few pithy personal observations first—so understand I expect your attention 'til then.

Scott Fitzgerald shook me up pretty good, first time I read him (this is not the jump I was talking about. It's coming soon, just hold your fucking horses, okay?). I was 13, and I was sick at home—so sick I missed two days of football practice, the first time (in six years, at the time) I'd ever missed it. I lay on the couch those two days, and read This Side of Paradise, riveted and changed by the experience. This was a book written by a romantic young man for other romantic young men. Looking at the book today, it is not nearly as together as his other novels—it is uneven, sometimes overly dramatic, and often verges on being contrived, even precious—which could be a description of me, and any number of my friends, at that age. I was terribly impressed by Amory Blaine, and especially by his philisophical-socialist soliloquy in the last chapter, and by his epithet, at the end: "I know myself, and that is all." Of course, I didn't know myself, and that was far from all, but the book began a life-long love of Fitzgerald, as well as many other associations born from it. It also began the slow undoing of my life as "football player", although I would play several more years. My hair would grow longer, my thinking more radical, and coaches would no longer dominate the hierarchy of influences that governed my thought and behavior. As WWI liberated Amory's thinking, he had liberated mine. Gatsby is my favorite novel, and I come to it over and again, but when I was a teenager, I liked the book, but did not love it. Amory crowded (and clouded) my perception, and I really couldn't see the difference until I read both books again later, when I was in my early twenties.

At any rate, here's to Scott Fitzgerald, a great Irish-American novelist, who knew a thing or two about idealism, and youth. Here's the link I promised, a really good read.

(That was the jump. You may leave now)

White People: Can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em

White people in this country are coming unhinged.

Okay, now comes the part when you say, "Hey motherfucker. You're white." To which I say, yeah, but I'm Irish. To which you retort that Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly are Irish, too, to which I have no answer, except mortification.

The late great Susan Sontag famously said that "Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary governmet, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Balanchine ballets, et al. don't redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history." She later apologized, because of the obvious unfairness of lumping all cancer patients with white people.

I don't know that I agree with her central premise entirely, but pictures like the one above make me ashamed enough to wonder.

The savage spirit of stupid is gone viral, among us. Its face is undeniably white. The savage spirit of unbridled greed and entitlement threatens the security of this nation, which Jefferson called "the world's best hope." This face is white, too.

So, someone tell me, please—how exactly was Sontag wrong?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cherokee Creek, Late Summer

After the Pink House, a ragged tangle
of pasture, then green water
sleeks glossy mossed bottom
and pecan trees green weltering space.

Water murmurs its name
which is the sound of God
and thirsty earth turns,
full-blooded, to receive it.

Everything desires immersion,
God's tendrilling finger
touching center, drenching
long drops, and light.

This, in the Country of the Pink House,
is referred to as grace.

Racin' in the streets

When I was 15, I met a group of guys at my friend P.J.'s house one day to play basketball and hang out. When I walked in, I saw John, a guy who would become one of my closest friends, but who I only knew that day by reputation. He was 17, and I knew him as the guy who had been delivering our papers for as long as I could remember. You'd see him zipping down the roads of my neighborhood, steering with his knees while he fired papers with both hands, cigarette dangling from his mouth, rock and roll blaring from the radio. Being a bike rider, it was especially necessary to watch out for John's battered green maverick, cause he damn sure wasn't watching out for you.

Yeah, John was dangerous, and it was whispered by some that he smoked dope (which was true) and had blown up the Junior High School Gym (which was not true—he did, though, blow out a bunch of the gym's windows during a pep rally, which was pretty damn cool, because the fire department had to be called, and everyone thought the school was under attack by student radicals or something). I had also heard that a few months before, John had been skateboarding down 19th Avenue one Saturday afternoon, and, being hungry, had run over and stolen someone's barbeque right off the pit, while they lounged in anticipation across the lawn.

Obviously, he was no one to be trifled with, and I got off entirely on the wrong foot with him. When we were playing ball on the driveway, he thought I was playing too physical, kept saying, "Foul, motherfucker," and glaring at me. When we went inside to raid the refrigerator later, and P.J. put The Beach Boys on the turntable, I started laughing. "That's for teeny-boppers and old ladies," I said. John got right in my face—he already didn't like me, and now he knew why. I was a dumb ass. "You're a dumb ass," he said. "The Beach Boys are great. Brian Wilson is a genius." I don't remember what my response was, but I didn't go there to fight. I do remember being kind of amused by the idea, and later on, when we all piled into John's maverick to go and play at the high school gym, I remember that John guarded me the whole afternoon, trailing me furiously across the floor, muttering and glowering.

Of course, John was right. I was a dumb ass. In future times I would discover Brian Wilson's greatness, and cringe at the callowness of my earlier ideas. I try and remember this, when I'm in a social setting, and some twenty-something inevitably says something about Elvis being unimportant, the Beatles being overrated ("dude, the stones are better, dude"), or Springsteen being trite, or pop, or precious, or whatever the fuck the dumb ass idea-worm in their head tells em to say (hey, I know him well, he's lived in my head for years and years. He says to tell y'all hello). We all believe lots of dumb stuff before we learn the most important lesson we'll ever learn—how little we know, and how little we're ever gonna know. And then we're ready to learn at least a little something.

Two versions of Racing in the Street, for your enjoyment, recorded almost 30 years apart. The first, recorded in '76, three years before he'd laid it down on vinyl, is like performance art. The second, fron just a few years ago, is more reflective and even sadder, I think (and Bruce plays piano, unaccompanied). The opening music to this song just breaks my heart—Springsteen's good at that. And lyrically, this is as good as anything he (or anyone) has done (if the worm in your head is telling you this is just a dumb song about racing, realize that he knows nothing about metaphor, and tell him to shut. the. fuck. up.). I love the Lyric:

Some guys they just give up living
And start dying little by little piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up
Then go racin' in the street

You come from a blue-collar town like I do, you know that when a guy comes home from work, he doesn't loosen his tie and mix himself a drink. He washes up. Because he labors, and his work is sweaty. And if you come from where I do, you know guys like these, and maybe you've even experienced what he alludes to, soft summer nights that unfold operatically, events that gather momentum until they crescendo—although that moment itself, when it finally happens, is often softer, more like the blossoming of a night blooming orchid, around some remarkable thing or a gush of feeling. It can be haphazard, like a chance meeting, or a woman's smile, or it can be as simple as feeling your heart pounding inside the roar of a perfectly tuned muscle car finding its rhythm—but the nights are not troubled by sameness. Every opera plays out differently, and every orchid has a subtly different fragrance.


For all the shut-down strangers and hot rod angels
Rumbling through this promised land

—here's the great Bruce Springsteen—twice—doing Racing in the Streets:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I am currently enthralled by Ted Hughes, in a way that has seldom happened.

Yeats is My Poet; he is magnetic north to me, pointing way to my truest self.

Stevens somehow brings me into his singular universe, if I let him—if I surrender to his rhythms, and his conceits—and at the end, I become attuned better to my own.

Eliot quite often moves me; we share weaknesses, I think, both of us too often mesmerized by the past.

Auden is my companionable poet, who I can read in good times and bad, and who makes me laugh and feel happy to be human.

Dickinson is my first love; I fell for her in grade school, when I discovered that she was nobody too, and referred to angleworms as "fellows", and when I grew older, fell deeper for her ability to find ecstasy in stillness, to mock death as if it was a house-servant, and for her strangeness, her insolence, and her audacity.

I fell for Plath the moment I read "Lady Lazerus"—I love nearly everything in The Collosus and Ariel, but it was not necessary, to seal the deal. The fierce feminine intelligence at work in that poem, beguiling language and consuming men whole, was enough.

But in Hughes, I am discovering.

It is exhilerating, and I will report soon.

For now, have a look at Ted Hughes' "Crow's Fall":

When Crow was white he decided the sun was too white.
He decided it glared much too whitely.
He decided to attack it and defeat it.

He got his strength flush and in full glitter.
He clawed and fluffed his rage up.
He aimed his beak direct at the sun's centre.
He laughed himself to the centre of himself

And attacked.

At his battle cry trees grew suddenly old,
Shadows flattened.

But the sun brightened-
It brightened, and Crow returned charred black.

He opened his mouth but what came out was charred black.

"Up there," he managed,
"Where white is black and black is white, I won."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Franzen-fuddle, Franzen-Stein

This is not a story, but it should be—it's just too fucking precious...

Perhaps you've seen the blurbs about Oprah's new book club selection, written by none other than the NY Times Officially Sanctioned Genius, Jonathan Franzen (that I read this in the Times makes it all the more perfect). Okay. Freedom's supposed to be a great book (The Times says so, it must be true). But Franzen and Oprah have a history, if you'll remember. Way back in 2001, Franzen ruffled Oprah's rather ample plumage when, after his novel The Corrections was picked, he suggested that her selections tended to be decidedly "middlebrow", and further said that being among her selections might actually hurt a writer's reputation (and sales) among men. The resulting hubbub (or hullabaloo or brouhaha, if you prefer) resulted in his being disinvited to appear on the show. Ouch.

What bears consideration here, and what connects these dots to the newest Franzen-foofaraw (I'm so very, very pleased I was able to say that) a few days ago, requires an examination of the names comprising Oprah's booklist in 2001, and prior: of the 46 selections, 31 were written by women ("schmaltzy" is another word Franzen used to describe these writers, if your keeping score at home). Since 2001, though, of the 22 selections made, 18 have been written by men—Oprah hasn't selected a work written by a woman in more that 6 years, in fact, when Carson McCullers and Pearl S. Buck were chosen in '04 (fine writers, but hardly contemporary). And now Oprah has selected him again—and he has oh so graciously accepted.

Could his lack of objection of being included among the list this time have something to with its decade-long cleansing of the "schmaltzy" and the "middlebrow" from its ranks? Does the fact that before he opened his mouth more than two-thirds of the selections were women, and since 80% have been men, play into that perception? Has Oprah become even more sexist than the NY Times? Is Franzen a woman-sneering creation of Lorin Stein, one of his biggest supporters (you see where I'm heading with that one, don't you?).

Though the media appears to have missed it, this story just keeps on getting better all the time...

Fineman to the HuffPost

Very interesting story—Howard Fineman is leaving Newsweek after thirty years, and becoming a senior editor with The Huffington Post. Intriguing implications, not only about Newsweek, which seems to be spiralling down the drain, but also for the new internet media in general. I've been visiting the Post since its inception five years ago, when it was little more than a blog. The model of using unpaid columnists and news gathered from various traditional sources has served it well. What the addition of old-guard heavyweights like Fineman means is anyone's guess.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Poem by Pasha Allsup

(This is actually the last page of a longer poem. It was untitled.)

Below the level of the sea I vomitted up a towel and spat fevers.
the weathering rock of logic crumbling
center to circumference more insubstantial ephemeral
shadows arose where once stood human form. They all seem like shadows
to me now. I passed inside to out and only an inch away,
I passed the heat of living bodies with every breath I chose to take.

Glacial slow growth
of the soul unto God handwritten & castaway
it's the vigilant & patient nature of my individual pain.
I don't know who told me
there are no telephones where I'm going.
The desert remains unfaithful & clearly, clearly ahead of its game.
A disturbing absence
of simple explanations & setting impossible moons like earthen-ware bowls
suddenly at ease & gratefully so.
I returned the sticky sweet smell of a neighboring well.
Inescapable teeth of shimmering, heat-hungering knocking holes
the sand cascades, the sand howls & sleeps steals and marches
in parade.
Leave it to its own fierce device, the message high grade
stage four non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
is an ennobling gift from the Angel of Pointless Causes
I've been passing for human all these years "front to back".

It's just like me & those like me we fancy life near
the closer edge—the dunes vaguely smell of juniper & burning pinon
near the alder thicket. We smell of poverty, injustice, & fried-white bread.
We smell of squalor & a crushing xenophobia of the outside world—its
undocumented dreams.

Lately, I never wander far from the miserable road signboard sucking
ramada brush & the creosote slick rock sandstone domes & delicate
arches rent & overgrazing.
Life is a simple stake fool's gold devotion
just work up your claim rosetta laughter & the occasional
"I vomitted up a towel" to work my claim
first & last. I mean there's not much else to do.

I was born 8 Ahua Pop 11 Yax handshield—
mmm...You can call me Pasha—& moved into the desert eleven centuries ago
from Yaxchilain, a long dead sparrow to the wringing weather.
Uchribi chokokolat harbor lagging in the misted garden.
Round buttons I have for eyes. Still the water stone the tide I turn
pithekoussai'ee brown as my November garden, dead squashes, dead
waterlopes & stringy bean shells lathed from solid granite pews like
obsidian flake leg & limb, & long forgotten talks with God who
read & always reads me like ox scapulae liberated from its host oracle
bone by a righteous blade.

& might I say God—Good Lord Jesus—
it's good
to be alive.

Pasha Allsup, Poet: Sept. 27, 1943-Sept. 19, 2005

Paula Jane and I met Pasha in 2003, at a poetry reading at the old Sacred Cup coffee house in Austin, on Manor Road at Salina Street. Thom the World Poet introduced us, and for that I'll always be grateful. I'll never forget his reading that night—it was a poem called There Is No God But God, and it sent shivers down my spine, as so many of his poems did. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of it. Pasha rarely had his work appear in print, although it was better than nearly everything I read. From then on, though, after becoming his friend and feeling free to purloin, I would abscond with his copy of everything he read, so I have a small archive of his poems.

Pasha was originally from the flat earth and big sky of Amarillo, and arrived in Austin in the 80's. He was a regular at the old Chicago House, and the founding member of the Blue Plate Poets, who also included Mike Henry, Robert Lee, Marlys West, Alicia Erian, Joe Hoppe, and later Tammy Gomez. Pasha performed often at the Slam, but I believe he transcended that form and its limits; he was a terrific reader, though, and I will never forget the deftness and sensitivity and sometime ferocity of his delivery. He was an absolute original, and a poet to his core.

All the time we knew Pasha, he was dying from Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Paula Jane performed with him a number of times, at various venues, usually hosted by our friend (and local poetry impresario) George Leake. I remember one event in particular, in '03 at Quack's on Duval Street, where Paula Jane and Pasha and another friend, Steve Pressler, were all on their game and rolling, each taking turns firing off their poems in a kind of rite of celebration of poetry's joy and possibility—one of those moments when you know you're seeing something astonishing (George Leake is responsible for providing the forum for a number of those moments, and everyone who loves poetry in Austin is indebted to him—I know Pasha was, as are Paula Jane and I). It was at one of George's events that Pasha performed for the last time, late in '04, at Spider House, outside on the patio. He was wobbling quite a bit that night, and I was worried that he wouldn't make it through, but he did, as always, and he was fantastic. Hospice care came soon after, although not long before he died, he was removed from it—"Not dying fast enough," he said, with a wry smile and a laugh. The worst part was that they took his morphine away, and the pain was pretty bad, as you can imagine. The cancer was eating his bones, it had metasticized all through his body. The end came quickly, certainly too quick for me. I'd seen him about a week before, and he seemed to be rallying a bit. When I left, he got up from bed, and walked me out—he usually wasn't able to do that—and we lingered there at the door, and talked about his new guitar. As I hugged him before going, he seemed more vital than I had seen him in more that a year, and I permitted myself to hope the impossible. He gave me that smile, the one you see in the picture, and that's the last time I saw him.

In an earlier entry, I asked you to look in the eyes of another poet, and I ask you to do that again—look into Pasha's eyes, and look also at his smile. You can feel the gentleness and the humor and the light emanate from him, like a great wave of humanity, safe from the encroachments of darkness, whether it comes from people or from events or from motherfucking Non-Hodgkins stage 4 lymphoma. It is the light of our being, it is the kindness we are capable of being, and the good we can find in ordinary things, if we will just see it.

That's what I see, anyway...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Goodbye, Tea-Partiers

Found this at Andrew Sullivan's blog, and it's really extraordinary. This is called an "ant mill".

According to Wikipedia:

An ant mill is a phenomenon where a small group of army ants separated from the main foraging party lose the pheromone track and begin to follow one another, forming a continuously rotating circle. The ants will eventually die of exhaustion. This has been reproduced in laboratories and the behaviour has also been produced in ant colony simulations.[1] This phenomenon is a side effect of the self-organizing structure of ant colonies. Each ant follows the ant in front of it, and this will work until something goes wrong and an ant mill forms.[2] An ant mill was first described by William Beebe who observed a mill 1,200 feet (365 m) in circumference. It took each ant 2.5 hours to make one revolution.

I am obviously filled with hope. Will soaking Glen Beck with bleach do the trick?

Game Faces On. Ready to Rumble.

No, it's not the storied Four Horsemen of Notre Dame football glory.

Nor is it Fordham's fabled Blocks-of-Granite.

No, this motley bunch is the editorial staff of the Paris Review, circa 1965. George Plimpton is, obviously, bottom left; to his right, Thomas Guinzburg; top left, William Pène du Bois; top right, Donald Hall. I found this picture at the Paris Review blog, noting Guinzburg's death last week, at 84. He was one of the Review's founding editors, and of the four pictured, only Hall, a poet and former Laureate of the U.S., remains.

Also read that the new, reformatted Review rolled out a few days ago. They also have a new editor in Lorin Stein. Since the death of Plimpton in '03, they've seemed a bit rudderless—this is, after all the second redesign, and third new editor, in those 7 years. Here's hoping the new regime, and the new look, has at least half the panache and integrity as the original—they have a hell of a legacy to live up to.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Look at this fucking hipster

Came across this article in The Telegraph about a collection of "affectionate" letters Oscar Wilde wrote to magazine editor Alsager Vian in 1887 (they're being auctioned off), causing me to think about Wilde, and the tragedy his life became. Considering the moral climate he lived in, it is remarkable he lasted as long as he did, and his relationship with the poisonous Bosie Douglas obviously did not help.

I've always loved him, and this is probably my favorite of his depictions (although this one is cropped—don't get the full Oscar-effect without seeing the flamboyant dress—he was among the first, and still greatest, of the hipsters). It was reading his early poetry when I was a teenager, as well as De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol that originally made me a fan, and the more you learn about him, the greater your affection for him becomes. His eyes hold the key, I think. He was a brilliant guy, no slouch at Greek and Latin like Bill Shakespeare was (he graduated with double-firsts, from Oxford), famous for his verses, plays, and novel, and his wit was known and feared by the pompous and the satisfied everywhere. But have you ever seen eyes more tender, more vulnerable, than these?

If you haven't read The Ballad of Reading Gaol, I encourage you to do it. Wilde wasn't originally incarcerated at Reading, confined initially at Wandsworth, where he was forbidden books or even writing impliments, and nearly died from illness and injury. When he was transferred to Reading, the Londoners at the train platform jeered and spit at him. He completed his term there, and from it created the referenced poem, which would be the last art he would make. These verses are selected from near the end of this long poem:

They think a murderer's heart would taint
Each simple seed they sow.
It is not true! God's kindly earth
Is kindlier than men know,
And the red rose would but blow more red,
The white rose whiter blow.

They hanged him as a beast is hanged:
They did not even toll
A requiem that might have brought
Rest to his startled soul,
But hurriedly they took him out,
And hid him in a hole.

They stripped him of his canvas clothes,
And gave him to the flies;
They mocked the swollen purple throat
And the stark and staring eyes:
And with laughter loud they heaped the shroud
In which their convict lies.

I know not whether Laws be right,
Or whether Laws be wrong;
All that we know who lie in goal
Is that the wall is strong;
And that each day is like a year,
A year whose days are long.

With bars they blur the gracious moon,
And blind the goodly sun:
And they do well to hide their Hell,
For in it things are done
That Son of God nor son of Man
Ever should look upon!

The vilest deeds like poison weeds
Bloom well in prison-air:
It is only what is good in Man
That wastes and withers there:
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,
And the Warder is Despair

For they starve the little frightened child
Till it weeps both night and day:
And they scourge the weak, and flog the fool,
And gibe the old and grey,
And some grow mad, and all grow bad,
And none a word may say.

Yeah, great stuff. Still makes me sad and angry, thinking of it—not only that it was done to him, a man who never hurt anyone, and who added to this world far more than he took—but that the kind of cruelty and despair he endured still happens, mainly to the poor, the uneducated, and the abused. All in all, we are still a barbaric lot.

Another thing occurred to me—everyone always talks about Wilde's reputed last words—something like, "This wallpaper is hideous—one of has to go!", or some such, which is droll, and typically Oscar. But I remember another thing he said to his old friend Robert Ross a day or two before that I like better—sad and touching, and still funny: "When the last trumpet sounds, and we're couched in our porphyry tombs, I shall turn and whisper to you, `Robbie, Robbie, let us pretend we do not hear it.' "

Surely, God reserved a special place for Oscar. How can you not love him?

Here, there be monsters...

I was led to this article written by Robert Fisk, The Independent's venerable middle-east correspondent, by James Walcott's blog (always an entertaining read).

Fisk asks:

"Did 9/11 make us all go mad? How fitting, in a weird, crazed way, that the apotheosis of that firestorm nine years ago should turn out to be a crackpot preacher threatening another firestorm with a Nazi-style book burning of the Koran. Or a would-be mosque two blocks from "ground zero" – as if 9/11 was an onslaught on Jesus-worshipping Christians, rather than on the atheist West.

But why should we be surprised? Just look at all the other crackpots spawned in the aftermath of those international crimes against humanity: the half-crazed Ahmadinejad, the smarmy post-nuclear Gaddafi, Blair with his crazed right eye and George W Bush with his black prisons and torture and lunatic "war on terror". And that wretched man who lived – or lives still – in an Afghan cave and the hundreds of al-Qa'idas whom he created, and the one-eyed mullah – not to mention all the lunatic cops and intelligence agencies and CIA thugs who failed us all – utterly – on 9/11 because they were too idle or too stupid to identify 19 men who were going to attack the United States. And remember one thing: even if the Rev Terry Jones sticks with his decision to back down, another of our cranks will be ready to take his place.

Indeed, on this grim ninth anniversary – and heaven spare us next year from the 10th – 9/11 appears to have produced not peace or justice or democracy or human rights, but monsters. They have prowled Iraq – both the Western and the local variety – and slaughtered 100,000 souls, or 500,000, or a million; and who cares? They have killed tens of thousands in Afghanistan; and who cares? And as the sickness has spread across the Middle East and then the globe, they – the air force pilots and the insurgents, the Marines and the suicide bombers, the al-Qa'idas of the Maghreb and of the Khalij and of the Caliphate of Iraq and the special forces and the close air support boys and the throat-cutters – have torn the heads off women and children and the old and the sick and the young and healthy, from the Indus to the Mediterranean, from Bali to the London Tube; quite a memorial to the 2,966 innocents who were killed nine years ago..."

Fisk is among a dwindling number of journalists with gravitas, making these comments seem even more chilling to our (my) frayed sensibilities. The Savage and the Stupid among us are empowered by their savageness and stupidity as never before in our lifetimes, and are forsaking the sanctuary of reason-obstructing rocks for the light of day (and the Lincoln Memorial) in ever-increasing numbers.

As referenced in this article, during the last of Fisk's several interviews with Osama Bin Laden, the world's most sought-after Caveman told him: "Mr Robert, I pray that God permits us to turn America into a shadow of itself." It seems evident that we've been doing a pretty good job of accomplishing just that, ever since.

Great Poem

From the New Yorker, couple weeks ago. It's by Australian poet David Musgrave:

On the Inevitable Decline Into Mediocrity of the Popular Musician Who Attains a Comfortable Middle Age:

"O Sting, where is thy death?"

Have to admit, that brought a tear to my eye—who says poetry doesn't engage its readers on an emotional level anymore?

(Works just as well if you substitute "Bono" for "Sting", by the way)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Franzenfreude": Much To-Do Over Something

The to-do over Jonathan Franzen's worshipful NY Times reviews ("Franzenfreude", apparently) and its implications spilled over onto the pages of Slate Tuesday. Meghan O'Rourke's Can a Woman Be a "Great American Novelist"? is a good read, as is most everything she writes over there. To think this all started from a couple of innocent tweets nearly tempts you to think it's all just a twitter in a teacup, but the seriousness of those larger issues involved say otherwise. Loren Stein's well-taken (by me, at least) but unfortunately framed point notwithstanding (calling Picoult's and Weiner's criticisms "fake populism" only engages the question half-way, it seems to me, and its pejorative edge was not helpful), the evidence seems undeniable: although women may account for more words written today than men do, and thought they buy more books than men do, and while they may occupy more and more positions of editorial authority (not to mention slots in writing programs), the game is weighted heavily against them. The Times favors male writers with their attentions by a ratio better than 2 to 1, and that reflects the hinterlands landscape, too, pretty damn well.

Regarding how gender affects perceptions of literature these days, O'Rourke says:

"All we can do here is speculate. But one example comes to mind, concerning a New York Times review of Schooling, a poised, ambitious debut novel by Heather McGowan, which made use of stream-of-consciousness and other experimental fiction techniques to tell the story of a precocious girl who has an intense relationship with a male teacher at her boarding school. The reviewer—a man—concluded that such difficult, "fissuring" techniques were justifiable in Ulysses, when Joyce was writing about Leopold and Molly Bloom and a post-war world, but not in Schooling because, "By comparison, the small, private story of Catrine Evans and Mr. Gilbert at the Monstead School has no greater reach. Where is the experiment in this experimental fiction?" To this reader, the reviewer's outright dismissal of crucial issues in female experience—the way male desire shapes female ambition and sense of selfhood; the way authority is always located in male attention—betrayed a telling assumption about the smallness, the unimportance of women's experience. Ironically, his very dismissal only underscored the significance of the issues Schooling was exploring."

I think part of the reason for this is obviously history. Numbers may favor women now, but the canon is largely written by men, which gives the work of contemporary men the benefit of being more similar to that which is known best, making it seem perhaps more superficially resonant, and probably causing readers not familiar with (or sensitive to) the contemporary landscape to ascribe it with more gravitas, as literature. Regardless, male themes and styles are given a benefit of the doubt not accorded equally, and it is a thing which must change, and that women should insist upon changing.

In a blog entry covering some of the same ground last year, O'Rourke discussed Leah Hager Cohen's apparently fussy review of Kate Walbert's A Short History of Women. Expecting Cohen to engage "old dichotomies and demolish them!" in her review, she was disappointed with her approach, thinking it too grounded in old thinking, calling the review a "prime example of...literary Stockholm Syndrome, in which women reviewers and writers all too eagerly embrace the sexist—and hell, yes, let's call it what it is—terms by which women's writing is still evaluated." Strong stuff, and while I haven't read the review in question, I believe she was spot-on with the analogy, in general. It is a thing I've noticed before—Camille Paglia picking over the bones of Susan Sontag, for example, in her unending quest for Harold Bloom's drooling approval. And I seem to remember Naomi Wolf's accusation against Yale a few years back, regarding a 53 year-old Bloom's sexual advances upon her 20 year-old person, when she was an undergrad there. There was the expected vituperation and caterwauling from Paglia—she has many of the same fuck-the-facts-and-go-for-the-throat instincts of her current hero, Sara Palin—but what was confusing to me was the chorus of indignation and disapproval directed at Wolf from nearly every quarter (just a few examples can be seen here, here, and here). Maybe there's something wrong with me, I dunno—but I thought her story was compelling, and her reasons for telling it transparent. Among the most disappointing forays into the debate came from Meghan O'Rourke herself, in a rather misleading and hyperbolic exercise in tongue-clucking titled Crying Wolf: Naomi Wolf sets back the fight against sexual harassment. Two-thirds of the way in, she informs us that she, too, is a Yalie, who also studied with Bloom—any chance there's some kind of literary Stockholm syndrome going on here, as well?

O'Rourke's a good writer, and undoubtedly possesses a first-rate mind, so maybe I'm being a little unfair. And, parenthetically, I have to wonder if, as a writer, she might sense a lttle irony juxtaposing the quoted text above with her comments about Naomi Wolf from 6 years ago. But it does seem to me, outsider that I am, that the power is really already in women's hands. They only lack the will, and the cohesion, to exert it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Other day, we're leaving the parking garage near the university, after having lunch at the Indian buffet. Reading the signs, I realized I didn't know the name of the street the restaurant was on, a road I've used several hundred times since we moved here (temporarily), last year. I realized, too, that I don't know the name of the restaurant, my favorite in Ann Arbor.

I’m not good at noticing things, extending to items more substantial than street names, and to a degree that would be embarrassing to relate. I put most of myself away in a little box when Weaver died, and hid it, where sometimes I can’t even find it. For a long time I kept her alive by living, vampire-like, inside the pain—which was probably all of me left outside the box that was real— but I let that go, when I met Paula Jane. And set Weaver free. I still retreat inside myself, sometimes—back to my cell, like a lifer who gets parole, frightened how big the outside world has become. Guess I’ll always be like that, not altogether here, or there—just sorta hanging, in between.

Her red and black Dodge Sprint was driving at a high rate of speed on the Texas City levee, the early morning hours of September 15, 1979. It’s the spot where high-schoolers often go parking—bodies of water on both sides of a steep embankment, a one-way road heading north to the flood-gate, with Galveston Bay to the east, which was to a driver’s right. Somewhere along the way, she lost control and rolled off the road to her left, her vehicle hurtling down the grassy incline, coming to rest upside down at the bottom, beside one of the man-made lakes that were created from the displacement of sod that created the levee. It is an ugly, unnatural place to die.

I don’t know how long she remained there unnoticed, but someone said she was alive, even talking, when help came, and remained so for a little while. It took more than an hour to extract her from the mangling, though, and she was gone when they finally did. I don’t permit myself to really think about that.

Anyway, this is from the Glen Falls, NY, obituary index:

Weaver, Teri Lee died 9/15/1979 age 18 Texas City TX Obit date 9/18/1979

That’s it. All I can find. No other mark, on the World-Wide-Motherfucking-Web. Like she was barely here. But that’s not true. She was here, and she mattered, very much.

I loved her. I want you to love her, too, even if it’s only for as long as you read this. I want you to know she walked among us, and that she got a raw deal. I want you to know that she deserved a hell of a lot better, and that the spark of her life was so strong that I can still feel its residual warmth. She was beautiful, no doubt. Hair, chestnut brown, and wavy, giving way to little loops past her shoulders; she wore it long, and sometimes tied it back, revealing little rings that sprigged and flowered around her ears. She had a little gap between her front teeth, and when she was thoughtful, would bite her lip, and do this little clenching thing with her jaw, creating these little dimples on her chin. Her perfume…Well, even now, after all this time, it makes me nearly catatonic. (No, I can’t describe it—it would be like telling you what light smells like, or how air tastes—I just don’t have those words). She was brave, and she was fearless, and she was let down by just about everyone. Especially me.

This is what I remember, but fuck, I don't know what it means, how much it's connected to the reality of who she was. It is a thing I feel, a tight little ball in my chest, that I can never adequately explain or describe. All I can try and do is get close, and maybe it will click with you, maybe you’ll have some idea of what I mean, and who she was, and then you will honor her, too.

Just remember there was a girl. Her name was Teri Weaver. She died when she was 18, and leaving the Earth, took much of what was good, what was bright, and what was living about it with her.

Yeah, just remember that.

I wrote this about her, years back. It’s called "Weaver’s Ode":

Never forgiven this earth
which gave, then took you away.
Cold, careening rock
that hid you under dirt.

Never forgiven the stupid boy
more in love with Love
than love could take;
Who for the sake of Love and Pure
spent your love away.

All was finished that time ago.
Unforgiven, all we turn
and spin, breathe and be
as if you hadn’t been.

What more to say that isn’t said?
Nothing left, but for that I’ve bled
and leave undone—

So sleep, and well, my dreaming one—

And the face of night, which is become
the ghost of all your days, but touched
will turn to one—one light, and such
as star or sun that heaven’s never seen—

And you will be free
(of all.
Of me.)

Dreaming better dreams.

Last line was sorta robbed from Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger (“Dream other dreams, and better!”)—only steal from the best, I always say.

So, yeah, that’s it. Dream on, Teri. Dream better, and sleep well. I’m here, in my little box, or half-paralyzed out there, but either way…Yeah, I remember.

I’ll always remember.

Didn't we win an election a few years ago? Or was I dreaming?

If you're familiar with the tar sands oil extraction happening in Alberta, you know that it is an environmental disaster. According to an article I read at the Huffington Post, we're importing the practice here.

Money quote:

"According to a WWF report, oil sands extraction produces three times the carbon emissions of conventional oil production, and three barrels of water are required to produce a single barrel of oil. In Canada, this has reduced water levels in the Athabasca river to alarming levels. For Utah, a state where water is already extremely scarce, the consequences could be immense. According to, the proposed Utah oil sands project, operated by Canadian-based Earth Energy Resource Inc., would occupy 213 acres in eastern Utah within the Colorado River watershed, which supports 30 million people. "The total amount of oil produced by this mine over seven years of operation would cover just seven hours of American oil demand - a tiny blip on the radar. However, it will take millennia to restore the watershed they are about to destroy," John Weisheit, Colorado Riverkeeper and Conservation Director of Living Rivers, tells the blog."

Okay, let's recap, shall we?

The Illegal detention and torture that occurred a few years ago remain not only unpunished, but unrecognized by our government. Innocent individuals who suffered both remain unable to obtain satisfaction at law because the Obama government will not permit it. Indeed, Obama's assault on our civil rights rivals his predecessors.

Tim Geithner and Larry Summers are running our economic policy—Paul Krugman is persona non grata. We're claiming mission accomplished in Iraq, even though more than fifty thousand troops are there. Afghanistan is fucking out of control. The Obama administration announced their support for off-shore drilling mere days before the worst oil spill in history was caused by an off-shore drilling rig—hardly surprising, since they've really done nothing (talk doesn't count) to prevent the strip-mining in West Virginia, or provided any meaningful leadership to enable new climate legislation. Bush's U.S. Attorneys still dot the roster, because Obama is too timid to replace them, and the watered down health plan we finally got is being reviled in every quarter without meaningful resistance, and even Obama seems to be running from it now.

Tell me again—who the fuck won???

Monday, September 13, 2010

More Shelley (for fuck's sake)

Paula Jane and I had a conversation earlier today regarding Matthew Arnold's comment about Shelley. She was concerned that I was too glib in my criticism of him, and in my implicit assessment, perhaps taking too much for granted in my estimation of what the commonly held opinion of him—and perhaps of Shelley—might be.

I am not a particular fan of Arnold's, but neither am I a particular detractor. I find his poetry boring, in the main, and am unlikely to challenge Harold Bloom's assessment that it is derivative. Of his career as critic, I am familiar with him by reputation—first, as one who is credited by some with being the first "modern" critic; second, his ideas about "morality" (or his morality, as is inevitably the case with those who blather on about it), and the responsibilities of poetry (it would've been good if he thought originality to be among those); and last, his offensive opinion about Shelley's effectuality, derived I believe from his judgement of Shelley's character.

People generally do not realize that Shelley has not always been Shelley! for everyone. His work was suppressed for many years, and demeaned by pompous, conservative, empire-minded types who dominated 19th century British discourse, motivated by his perceived godlessness, his aggressively democratic ideals, and his flouting of conventional morality. Indeed, his death was celebrated by some in London, and for generations Shelley was remembered mainly by other poets, other radicals, and by university students, each generation of the latter drawn to him by his unique, quintessential vitality. It was in the twentieth century that he ascended to the first rank canonically, thanks to the New Critics.

Arnold is as handy a villain as anyone regarding this cynical undervaluation of the Shelley canon, especially since he considered himself to be so very, very important as critic. Perhaps I was unjust ascribing him a tin ear, though I'm damned if I can remember any music in his poetry. I was, of course, playing upon this idea of him being some kind of bridge to the modernists, who themselves were bridge to an era in which tin ears were the rage (belonging especially to those who raged, often against things musical).

The idea that Arnold, or anyone would try and question the intellectual seriousness of the author of Queen Mab, Prometheus Unbound, and The Masque of Anarchy—the latter of which influenced Thoreau and Gandhi rather profoundly, and through them, millions of others—is a little perverse. But even beyond that, without even taking these works into consideration, because, obviously, Arnold couldn't have known about their influence over future events and generations (or approved of it, probably, if he did), the idea of Shelley as being "ineffectual" makes me want to slap somebody. No, he's not some middle-class toad huckstering Victorian morality, which smugly ignored millions who were ground beneath the heel of empire. He has, in contrast, quickened the blood of people who love poetry for nearly 200 years. He represents idealism and passion, and the irrepressible power of music. And he's Shelley, for fuck's sake—he's Shelley.


Been reading about Ted Hughes and Willie Yeats all evening. A common thread between them—and just about everyone who loves poetry, I suppose—was (and is) Shelley.

Matthew Arnold called him "a beautiful but ineffectual angel"—the latter judgement obviously erroneous, yet interesting mainly for being an early example of the resentfulness of the tin-eared, cloaked in the comforting illusion of intellectual superiority.

Shelley's reputation has been rehabilitated these past years, though his truly complete poems remain difficult to find, and I wonder sometimes how many sufficiently appreciate his genius, and legacy. The mention of his name is enough to quicken my pulse; yet above all, to me he is a poet not only of uncommon music and power, but of great light.

As I am among the Northern Tundra, nearing the brink of winter, here is a verse I will hold closely, the next few months—from Ode to the West Wind:

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind

(alas, good Shelley never lived in Michigan—good thing for poetry, else these ecstatic verses may not have been conceived)

(just kidding, of course)

(sort of)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

No Comment

Pumpkin Boy is not responding to rumors—

—that he is, in fact, The Great Pumpkin.

(He's not, though, in spite of any phony mystique he may be trying to invent by not putting this rumor to rest. I'm with him every Halloween, man, and believe me, he's too jacked-up on sweet tarts and jolly ranchers to go fucking anywhere, much less becoming airborne or anything—this is one bloated pumpkin-ass that just won't float.)

(In the picture, though, those are his actual words. What I mean is, he really talks in text bubbles. Don't know where he learned it, but it's kinda cool. Paula Jane gets pissed off when he leaves em laying around the floor, though, so he's kinda sensitive about that—yeah, he has a few hang-ups. Moreso I think than the typical, boy)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11, part 3

Finally, more Elton, from Almost Famous.

Auden told us that each man is trapped in "the prison of his days." That may be true, but he isn't trapped alone—Thank God—no matter how oppressive his burden may seem, or how dark the hour of night.

Subway's no way for a good man to go down
Rich man can ride and the hobo he can drown
And I thank the Lord for the people I have found
I thank the Lord for the people I have found

From 1972, still earnest and still brilliant (and wearing a groovier shirt)—Elton John:

September 11, part 2

When I was a kid, Cat Stevens was one of my favorites. Had a lot to do with something I sensed about his spirit, I think; he seemed like such a gentle guy, and I was drawn to his perception of the world. When I was feeling bad, I brought my troubles to him. He conveyed such tolerance, and empathy—I'd lay the disc on the turntable, set the needle in the grooves, and something about Cat's music made it all seem better, or made my burden feel a little lighter because it was shared.

Next thing I know, he's not Cat any more. He's converted to Islam, and changed his name to Yusuf Islam. Auctioned off his guitars, and I only read about him every couple of years, some humorless comment from him in the paper about Islam or western culture that made him seem like an alien. In '89, after he was widely reported to have been supportive of the fatwa demanding the murder of Salmon Rushdie, I was sure that Cat was gone, forever.

Happily, this is not so. Persuaded by his children, he has slowly emerged, and is singing his old songs, and writing new ones. And Yusuf Islam or not, he is Cat, or at least a synthesis of the two. The kindness in his eyes is unmistakeable.

On this day, especially, when the proposed erection of a mosque can stir millions to intolerance, it is good to remember that our humanity connects us too deeply for the trivialities of isms to ever really cleave us apart.

Yusuf Islam, performing another song featured in Almost Famous—and unmistakeably Cat:

September 11

Several things we could talk about.

Ted Koppell pointing out, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, that Bin Laden accomplished everything he wanted and more from the September 11th attacks, to the point that an argument can be made that he has effectively won.

We could reminisce about the late Susan Sontag, always good for some pithy truth:

"Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a 'cowardly' attack on 'civilization' or 'liberty' or 'humanity' or 'the free world' but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word 'cowardly' is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): Whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards."[

Or we could knock around Newtie the Narcissistic Nutjob's new (straight to DVD) movie, America at Risk: The War with No Name (trailer: "This is the end of times, this is the final struggle")—just in time for holiday giving (perfect for encouraging the apocolyptic fantasies of your own narcissistic nutjob—how is your Uncle Dufuss doing these days?).

Yeah. None of that sounds very appealing just now. Counting our troops lost, nearly ten thousand Americans dead, and the counting of Iraqi and Afghan dead makes numbering our own seem jejune. Extremists of every ilk have made out alright, as have those who feed on the war machine, and the bloodsuckers on Wall Street, who seem to be able to manipulate every fear into some kind of misdirection that works to their advantage. The rest of us are less for these past 9 years, and the most galling loss may be the withering away of our illusions about the strength of our republic and its principles.

Fuck all that.

I love the movie Almost Famous. When we saw it in the theater, I realized, 20 or 30 minutes in, that I was seeing something extraordinary, something I would always remember. I whispered in Paula Jane's ear, This is why I go to the movies. She nodded agreement, enchanted as I was. The main reason is, I think, that this film captures rock and roll—not the blood and guts, but the essence of it—what I love about the music, why I turn to it over and again and for different reasons, throughout my life. Love the scene on the bus, after Russell had fallen out with the band and stormed out, and partied all night with "real" people. He was forced, by practical necessity—contracts, obligation—to rejoin them, and as he sat there in the front of the bus, the tension was thick and each person was absorbed in his or her own fears and resentments. Then the music started to play. And as if by miracle, they were healed. And that's true—rock and roll has healing properties. I know it.

I'm really glad, too, that Cameron Crowe chose an Elton John song to sell this pivotal scene (and for another, to great effect, further into the movie). It's easy to forget, seeing and hearing Elton today, just how fucking good he was, especially before he was ELTON JOHN.

So, yeah..Elton, from 1971. Looking very earnest, and brilliant. Wearing a swell shirt. And singing a song that can heal what ails ya (if you let it).

(btw, the psychodelic stuff in the intro only lasts for a moment or two)