Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nobel Prize? That's So Chill

The university’s immediate response to the happy news regarding their physics department faculty member was displayed on every one of the traffic message boards saturating the campus roadways, thick as bees:


Congrats.  That’s how we talk to our Nobel Prize winners. I’m surprised the third line wasn’t CONGRATS DUDE. 

This verbal slovenliness brings me to related subjects, ubiquitous, lately, in literary journals, namely: the rotting of culture; the death of civilization; the demise of books, the profaning of reading, and how the internet and social media have caused the juvenilization, if not the complete degradation of human thought, and the concomitant threat to the new population of dimwits posed by armies of robots with artificial intelligence.  Of course, an addled citizenry is nothing new; the Lord God, back in the day, expressed to the prophet Jonah His sympathy toward the pitiful inhabitants of the great, beautiful city of Ninevah, people who “cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand.” 

But there is a new hotness among public intellectuals to describe ever more ardently the stomping classical culture has been getting, a swollen circus parade of articles having appeared recently, in serious but not strictly academic journals, by writers sore displeased (or so they lead us to believe) about the dumbing down of public discourse, hissing and wagging their heads over the technology-enforced obsolescence of the Gutenberg-style reading, the decreasing aptitude for critical thinking, the increasing inability to focus for longer than a few minutes, or 140 words, on any one subject, be it physics or Miley Cyrus, and the dangers these trends are presenting to democracy, or human being as we know it.  (Sometimes the complainers seem suspect, vested interests seeking to maintain their snotty elitist New York City-centric publishing privilege; well, my work is available on Amazon, same as Philip Roth’s.) Thus and regardless, there’s little doubt:  the end is near.  And it could be as soon as next week.

That’s a shame about physical books going the way of dinosaurs.  Somebody will have to be the last person on Earth to know what the poet Elizabeth Bishop was talking about:

“Open the book. (The gilt rubs off the edges
of the pages and pollinates the fingertips.)”

Of course poetry was a hard sell even in civilization’s (and publishing’s) halcyon days.  But, Elizabeth Bishop, she writes some nice lines; here are a few, randomly chosen from her collected poems:

“Four deer practiced leaping over your fences.”

“The bull-frogs are sounding,
slack strings plucked by heavy thumbs…”

“The beach hisses like fat…”

“The world is a mist…”

And on this one she was describing a large, old fish, a veteran, with hooks from past escapes ingrown into its mouth and with strands of broken fishing line still attached:

“Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.”

Back at the university, 24 hours later, the three lines on all the traffic message boards had returned to their previous verbiage:

11 PM TO 6 AM

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bill Shively, poet

Bill could write. He was a craftsman. He knew how to make things, and make things happen.  How do you know how to do these things? I asked him.  I get a book and follow the instructions, he said.

Bill could write and was prolific and promiscuous at it---he just wrote ‘em and sent ‘em out, wrote ‘em and sent ‘em out.  I’ve a collection of chapbooks and manuscripts, and a ton of letters, and pages and pages of (I think) unpublished poems, as well as poems that eventually found a print home somewhere.  He was disciplined as an artist, a writer who took the craft seriously, but somewhat undisciplined when it came to compilation.  A couple of times he requested his correspondents look for a certain poem he might have sent them last year or last week or something.  I chided him for that; his work was too good not to keep track of.  He kept it up.

Bill and I met at Red Sky Poetry Theater in Seattle in the mid 1980’s.  We collaborated on a few projects, and when the Bill Shively Band was formed, he extended a couple of invitations for me to “sit in” with them.  There was also a short-lived, 4-man collective that put out a couple of issues of a renegade literary magazine titled “Seattle:  No Ice.”  I had no business being in that company--- Bill, Joe Keppler, Ralph LaCharity, and me (a mere man among giants).  But it was thrilling.

We went our separate geographic ways, but over the past score of years Bill and I kept in contact, and visited on a handful of occasions, the best of the visits enhanced by the presence of his beautiful wife Anna.    

Over this past summer, while he was getting sicker and I was recovering from a different kind of physical issue, Bill and I managed to collaborate one last time with the upshot being the publication of his book s/he said.  Serendipitously, Michael Monhart, Bill’s close friend since the days of the Bill Shively Band, also helped with the book, and he brought it to our attention that here we were, working together again, after all these years.  

Good is an adjective easily attached to Bill Shively and his roles as friend, teacher, writer.  He was, to borrow a term from younger generations, authentic.  As of the night of September 28, 2014, our planet is down a good human being. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

When the site most closely resembles a laundromat bulletin board, my work is done

The effects of a far-distant hurricane brings summer in this locale to a hot and muggy conclusion. The season was a busy one for me; my timesheet is much of this blog.  Several projects were successfully completed, several others were started and at this writing are in various stages of progress.  My web site seems perpetually under construction (like certain segments of the US interstate highway system); one of those areas is the newly titled Screening Room, a space for links to artists, photographers, videographers, musicians, and writers who I like---all just a click away.  I recently added two links:  SoCal Salty, which is a site about (mostly Southern California) fishing, and the other is by world political journalist Andre Vltchek.  I don’t fish, and I don’t like to eat fish, but I’m hooked on good writing and the writing on this site, by John Sarmiento, aka SoCal Salty, is very good. Andre Vltchek caught my crypto-Luddite attention through an article about the prevalence and sovereignty of smart phones and digital technology in Southeast Asia.  He writes of the “gadgets” as having “fully overwhelmed” Southeast Asian culture.  He says the digital world has turned Southeast Asia “totally infantile.” And he concludes his observation: “What a joy for corporations, elites, military and the West, to manufacture and then control such societies!”  Does this “infantilization” in Southeast Asia remind us of anywhere else? 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

While listening to Brahms' Symphony No. 4

“In my best moments I think ‘Life has passed me by’ and I am content.” 
                                                                        ---Agnes Martin

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Red Shorts Diary

Happy Labor Day Weekend in the USA.  Check out the website and you'll see the re-worked Shaking Up The Whole Game has dropped.  The spirit and place of the book is perfectly captured in the cover (designed by Amber Wallace)  I was on my way, going somewhere, not sure where, frenetic and tumbling, and this book rolled me closer to it.  The dedication from the original was a pleasure to carry over to the e-version, as were the old skool poems featuring friends Neil and Peggy, and Bill and Anna.  This was a transition piece, presaging what was to come.  
There is a double jeopardy in poetry: it is the most “serious” of art forms, many of its practitioners almost supernaturally sensitive and deep (residue from the Romantic period:  all poets are geniuses, all geniuses are tormented, all poets are tormented).  Well, I graduated from the Dick Shawn school of poetry.  I didn’t seek out the form, I happened upon it, and laughed at my own audacity.  I’m still laughing, and still writing--a red shorts minimalist with show business in my blood.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Booty Battle

COMING SOON!  A bonus edition of Shaking Up The Whole Game, which was released as a physical book in 2008, is about to drop, and will be available two ways: as a free pdf on my website, and as a Kindle e-book selling for 99 cents on Amazon. Part of the bonus edition is the spawn of the original Shaking Up The Whole Game, and other parts are substantially carried over from the physical book---the old skool writing I was transitioning out of.  I didn’t notice it at the time, but my style was evolving even as I was writing the book; today, six years later, I can see I had no idea how much shaking was actually going on, like a booty battle between dance hall queens.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Early Morning Writings

The title of this post is also the title of the poem from which have been lifted the stanzas below.  (The poem is from a collection, The Happy Birthday of Death, by Gregory Corso.)  Not representative of Corso's style, the excerpts, numbered 5 and 6 in the poem,  nonetheless caught my attention.


The taxi stops at the 42nd Street library
---I don't understand


Two men look into each others eyes
---one shoe is missing

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Say What?

How to describe “my” style?  Not tweet, not meme, not text message.  Somewhere I read a poet’s work described as “epigrammatic and compressed” I like that.  Somewhere else, somebody else, “conceptual, minimalist.” 

Craig Dworkin wrote about Kenneth Goldsmith's “phatic back-channel fillers and voiced pauses that punctuate messages (all the ums and ahs and uh-huhs)” and Christian Bok described a robot’s poetry as “syntactically orthodox, but semantically aberrant.”  I go there sometimes, too.  

In fact, Christian Bok was reviewing something called RACTER, an automated algorithm that “gives voice to its own electric delirium.” The robot’s poem quoted below is hard to beat, robot or human being: 

“This dissertation will show that the love
of a man and a woman is not the love
of steak and lettuce.” 

So is this one: 

“A tree or shrub can grow and bloom.
I am always the same.
But I am clever.”

However, in the course of the review, there are 15 other examples, none of which rise above the level of a journeyman enjamber.  So, I don’t fear automation.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Let's Go

One of my summer projects is about to be completed, that of preparing and formatting for Kindle publication Bill Shively’s book of poems, s/he said, which drops in August, so watch for it.  Wise and entertaining writing that I guarantee you will enjoy.  Pretty, too. Like summer.  Like all the pretty sisters, Asian, Mexican, black and white and tan who have been catching my eye this summer---the pretty sisters and the cousins and mothers and brothers and dads, too.  Speaking of which, Melissa has updated her pretty photography blog And, the Dixie Chile Ranch has bell peppers!  Some of the prettiest you will ever see.  Here's a little something, a little sequence for the weekend:


Later on that night.


One of those things where
I'm like


I said hey I'm at work.
She said I'll call you later.


If two numbers
Be prime to one another
Their sum is also
Prime to each.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

With the Drought in the Back of My Mind

The form of this post is unintentionally similar to that of haibun, “brief prose pieces ending in one or two poems,” which I learned about from The Heart of Haiku, the Kindle Single by Jane Hirshfield, a long essay about Matsuo Bashō with righteous and plenteous examples of his haibun and haiku.  (I’m not a practitioner of either, but I enjoy reading them.) 

This morning I was the first at the bus stop, dawn just underway.  I waited and watched and listened to the rats running and squeaking through the shrubbery, and also the burly brown garbage trunk grunting and beeping and backing out an alleyway. I thought,“That’s why we have yesterdays.” And, to close, somewhat (five short poems instead of one or two) accidentally in haibun style: 

They just.
The main.
Like, uh.

For sure.

Yeah, no.


Maybe I’m.
Maybe I’m.


I know.
I know.

Friday, June 20, 2014

One Thing Leads to Another

One thing leads to another and I came across two poets who write in a style similar to mine.
I recommend them:  Craig Dworkin, and Robert Grenier.  As an example here’s a Craig Dworkin poem, a wonderful one, from his book Motes (a fabulous bargain at the Kindle price):
how sad for
those birds

Another recommendation---and a fascinating and easy two-day read---is The Professor and the Madman:  A tale of murder, insanity and the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester.  Behind the scenes in the creation of the OED.  Wiki-schmiki----how did they do it?  And where would we be without it?
Finally, this Saturday (June 20, 2014), the city where I live celebrates the Summer Solstice with a big parade through downtown and concomitant festivities and merrymaking everywhere else. I’ve not been a devout parade–goer in my time here, but this year, after what has transpired (and been overcome) in my family in the 12 months preceding, I’m ready to rumble, and am planning to blatantly defy doctors’ orders and binge on everything I’ve been specifically told to moderate or avoid---with gluttonous emphasis (or énfasis, as they say in Spanish) on spinach and broccoli and bread and cheese and wine, thank you very much.  If there is another posting after this one, we’ll know I made it.

Check out my website.

Friday, June 6, 2014 Shelley

Permeated by a sense of transition, this time of year in North America is redolent with graduations, summer plans, travel plans…travel…travel.
Amazon’s Kindle re-kindled my reading desires, and among the works loaded onto my reader, like giraffes and zebras populating the savannah, is the travel writing of Mary Shelley, essays and letters, some nearly 200 years old----200 years!----recounting her travels from England through Europe.  
Her observations are sympathetic in a general sense, her discourses on politics and art insightful, and her quite entertainingly bitchy and bratty impatience and exasperation with ugliness (people and geography) and inconvenience (transportation and lodging snafus) secure the impression that travel two centuries ago is, in its essence, not much different from travel today, sublime but also, as everyone who has done it right knows, hard work.  Mary Shelley’s travel writing is an ideal companion for when the journey gets tough.  Mary Shelley's Amazon page.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Remark on Inspiration

I rely on ballet for inspiration for my writing.  A choreographer, Mark Morris, says of his work: “I’m not that interested in the big hard steps.  My work is difficult and virtuosic in a way that isn’t exploding in midair; that’s something I’m not wild about seeing.  I want a wider range of dancing…”

I totally agree with him except for the part about exploding in midair:  I am wild about that shit.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Zyzzyva -- Congratulations on 100th issue!

The gold standard of West Coast literature, Zyzzyva, is celebrating the release of its 100th issue.  I have the honor of a short story,  "Mornings Begin at Dawn," appearing in issue #49.