Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Six books, five authors

King for a Queen and Stuck on a Bad Nigga by Chanel Q.; The Turner House by Angela Flournoy; The Fall of Japan by William Craig; Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish; Hello Devilfish! by Ron Dakron.

I read for entertainment, hoping always for a tour de force, regardless of genre. Use of language is paramount, and style matters more than plot, although a jolt of the appalling may help clarify one’s thinking. So, bold and original works for me, stupid and over-the-top is good, excess I’m all in favor of. I like to be dazzled with flamboyance and bullshit, or authenticity and taste, in epic or flash, from the rodeo to the ballet as far as how words move across the page.

The city, the urban situation, informs the six books discussed here. And when language transcribed from the street comes to the page rendered faithfully to its purpose, I sit up and take notice. Here are two smokin’ samples from Chanel Q.:

  • Full-sleeve tats, face tats, thick chains, True Religion jeans and banging kicks everywhere. It was like a who’s who of Chicago’s finest trap daddies and hoes and I was right there in the middle of them all. 
  • You find out about that boy of his, that Troy. How he rolls, how he fucks, where he lays his head, where he mama at when he up some bitch’s pussy.
And then an angel arrives and writes a beautiful novel, formidable and fierce and as urban as you can get with almost no profanity because the vernacular is so well written.  The Turner House is a radiant story of a family 13 kids and their two parents living in Detroit in the late 20th, early 21st century, created in a steady, writerly language, so vivid and pretty, themed with hope, and strength, and inspiration, represented by this passage:

It reassured Lelah that the ghetto could still hold beauty, and that streets with this much new life could still have good in them. On both sides of the Turner house, vacant lots were stippled with new grass. Soon ragweed, wood sorrel and violets would surround the crumbling foundations, the houses long burned and rained away.

After the glimpses of black lives in contemporary Chicago, Baltimore and Detroit, William Craig chronicles another time—1945, the end of World War II in the Pacific theater—and other lives—Filipino—and another city—Manila, for example. 

Manila, “Jewel of the Orient,” had been systematically burned to the ground by the desperate marines and sailors of the Japanese Navy, acting under orders to deny the capital of the Philippines to the enemy. During MacArthur’s three-week siege in February 1945, Filipinos had died by the thousands as Japanese troops, inflamed by desperation and reckless abandon, had used them mercilessly. Mass rapes, multiple assaults on young women and little girls, had been perpetrated in streets and hallways. Columns of men and women had been doused with gasoline and set ablaze. Others had been tied together and bayoneted to death. In hospitals, nuns, nurses and patients had been stripped, raped and killed. Mutilated corpses had lain everywhere among the ruins. Manila had paid a terrible price for its freedom.

Continuing the urban and now Asian thread, the Lish book is a contemporary love story, set in the lower depths of New York City, between a homeless young American male military veteran back from the Middle East wars and a Chinese woman, immigrant, undocumented, and scrambling to stay alive working in menial jobs such as housekeeping and food service. Because the surroundings and situations are so basic and desperate, I kept waiting for the novel to break out into Cormac McCarthy-esque savagery, and hoping it wouldn’t; and while formidable tension and menace is created, Lish has a different world view. The story contains unexpected, almost breathtaking acts of mercy, unexpected because they occur in the unrelentingly dangerous, rough, cold streets of poor, urban America, but breathtaking also because they are strong and simple kindnesses, true acts of mercy, not based on bartering sex or drugs or weapons, the touch of a saint.

What endeared me to the Lish book is how he treats his Uighur protagonista, Zhou Lei, how she uses language to navigate the alien world she finds herself in: yes there is the need to learn American English, but her deportable status creates a residency of off-the-books, low paying survival jobs which means working with other Chinese who speak dialects which she doesn’t know, not to mention the language of the Guatemalans and Hondurans and other Central Americans who make up her workplaces, people from India, Syria, Pakistan, people from Africa.

Not too many people knowing what’s Uighur people.  I just think no matter any kind of people, to stay in the US it’s not easy right now.

For me, a monolingual English speaker, it is interesting and exciting to be living in the USA right now, witness to the evolution of English prompted by our variety of communities and races and ethnicities. Lish is good at capturing the melding speech. Zhou Lei on:

  • Chinese medicine:  “It can cure many things that the Western medicine feels helpless.”  
  • Or:  I will invite you the real Chinese food.
  • Or:  You go to party. I’m not jealousy.
  • Or: He ask if he make it spice or not spice.

I call it an affectionate look at language synthesis, and Lish is on the down low, quiet and naturalistic, his spare English prose helping to frame the poetically emerging new language. 

But Ron Dakron is over the top, bombastic and freaky about it.  He uses the same American-Asian hybrid, but he calls it Manglish!: With wordage like I touched a tiny sawdust or Let’s have a biology.”

And he situates his satirical, comic riot bizarro megamonster lover’s brawl in yet another urban area, Tokyo (whose landmarks, while routinely destroyed by giant movie monsters, are not as often destroyed by giant movie monsters as you may think. In fact, some experts say Tokyo is only the 10th most destroyed by giant movie monsters city in the history of motion pictures.)

The giant Devilfish versus the giant Squidra. Battle. Big scary monsters powered by “love—that rogue emotion that paves your heart with hot pink asphalt, that excuse for any excess,”  combined with hello kitty killer tropes and memes and epistemes as well as a frenzy of remarks aggressive, intelligent, sexist, insightful, rude and playful and crude. After all, “Brains are magic tricks done with meat.”

It’s all loud and ginormous and fast.  And while Dakron’s gigantors are destroying (figuratively and in real time) each other and civilization like it was a saloon in a bar brawl in the Old West, I’m also loving the Gertrude Stein pheromones being released to the millionth degree in the Manglish-aided lines of which four randomly chosen are these: 

  • I see much of a kitten here!
  • Her lateness angers me glumly!
  • Never use fate as your caterer!
  • I am bitter with cunning!
 The better part of the novel is outrageous and vulgar word play and cultural disquisition.  The observations are keen, and the comic timing is impeccable. A reader will probably be simultaneously laughing out loud and taking offense.  Or as the title character says: “What doesn’t kill you almost kills you—Hello Devilfish!”

Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Solstice, Northern Hemisphere, 2015

(from Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman) 

Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looks with its sidecurved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game, and watching and wondering at it.

Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with
            linguists and contenders,
I have no mocking or arguments….I witness and wait.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Reading In The Mobile Era

Links to, and brief comments on, three works I’ve enjoyed recently, each read on a mobile device.

(click here)
This novel of great humanity is set in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the 1970’s. It explores the tensions and entanglements between and among the homestead (“the flies, the smells, the fields and the rags, …stomachs which were seldom full, …dirt and disease…”) and black people and white people (here as represented by missionaries and convents).

Colonialism, post-colonialism, feminism, patriarchy, racism---there are many themes and subtexts in the book, but I was preeminently taken by the depiction of the relationship between the novel’s narrator (Tambu)  and her cousin (Nyasha), both young teenage girls, both born in the homestead but being “recruited” by the West, by the white culture. Nyasha has spent time at school in London, both girls are students at the missionary school in their home country, and there is much in the book about them navigating the two cultures. But Tambu and Nyasha are also teenagers, fresh and smart, full of life, and the author is right on the money in capturing the “lucid irreverence” of their behaviors, in front of their families, in front of their schoolmates, in front of each other---some of it laugh out loud funny. The relationship between the girls is so sweetly rendered, that when at one point they realize their lives are taking different paths and they are saying good bye to each other---man I was almost crying like a baby.   

(click here)

Reading in the Mobile Era, by Mark West and Han Ei Chew

Obviously if Nervous Conditions were written today, it would be a different book in many ways, one being the cousins would probably be using mobile devices to communicate and to read. This report, released by UNESCO in 2014, examines the use of mobile devices, and the increase in reading as a result.  The study (a free pdf download of 7.77 mb) was conducted in the countries of Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The leap from preindustrial to digital economies in developing cultures is much written about. This report is focused on reading, and shows that reading increases as texts are made widely available via mobile devices. The conclusions are optimistic

(click here)
If Nervous Conditions represents the past, and the UNESCO report the present, this novel is the future. Situated between realistic and science fiction, and a literary descendent of Frankenstein, there are also other genres at work and play---horror, humor, metafiction, mystery, thriller et al.

It isn’t a pretty picture of humankind, and the author’s viewpoint is almost consistently a downer, but that attitude is offset by an expansive, gargantuan and Wikipedic level of erudition combined with a circus of literary antics and stunts. At 638 pages the book is a beast, but very compelling.

Here’s one of the cute, more humorous passages from the novel to conclude this post. The narrator is a young man who has fallen hard for a gorgeous woman named Lorelei who is way out of his league. Nonetheless, they have gone together to a fast food restaurant. He’s loco in love and she is 

“…radiant in a light blue hoodie, white V-neck, and jeans. Lorelei was the kind of girl that could pull off wearing a Kevlar vest while reading Wordsworth. What a first-date story this would make for the grandkids. Her, impenetrable and romantic; me, lost and longing. Her slender fingers plucked up another fry, with a grace that concert pianists would covet. She slid it through the viscous surface of her shake, like the mother of Achilles baptizing her baby in liquid Lethe. Then a subtle twist of the fingers as she pulled it free, the milkshake reaching up after it, trying to hold tight, to fill in the emptiness her fry had drilled out, until finally gravity overtook it, and the chocolate stalagmite let go, dropped back into itself, a brief peak of nostalgia, until its tip tilted downward and wept its way back into uniform smoothness, all evidence erased and forgotten…Lorelei held the fry in her mouth, like a lollipop almost, and tilted her head to the side with bemused sympathy…”

I can say with pretty reasonable confidence that you’ll be happy with any of the three works mentioned above.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Starting You A Circus?

Attention Shoppers:  Ten days into the Golden Quarter a new book release from me, just 99 cent.

William Faulkner, his short novel Spotted Horses: early on one character says to another “Starting you a circus?” It is a hilarious story (with some heart-rending and fervent pathos).  I thought I knew Faulkner, but I didn’t know he could be funny.

Robin Coste Lewis.  You have to do some research to find her work, but recently she released this book and it is up for some awards.  She’s good (and she’s in Los Angeles!).

And for the third time in the past few months I quote and concur with Joe Keppler’s recent statement: “Philosophy, history, and art at the present moment seem to me alive with beautiful surprises.”

Friday, October 2, 2015

LOL: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1970 was awarded to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn "for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature".

Solzhenitsyn is, as Adam Mars-Jones puts it in The Guardian:  “a writer with few equals for his industry, capacious memory and the passion of his convictions.” 

But he’s also cynical and funnier then hell.  To demonstrate, I will set aside all the magnificent research and literary virtues and virtuosity comprising the novel August 1914 (set in Russia, the beginning battles of World War I between the armies of Russia and Germany, and premonitions of the Russian Revolution of 1917) and extrapolate a critique of large organizations. 

This won’t come as news to anyone who has worked in large bureaucracies or organizations, either at headquarters or in the field (knowing in your hearts that what’s going on back at headquarters is total bullshit).  But there is no little satisfaction in having a Nobel prizewinner pointing it out.

Solzhenitsyn shows organizational relationships, the tension between headquarters and the field, and the bureaucratic “cultures” that demand conformity to authority, where “‘look both ways’ [is] the rule for all on the hierarchical ladder.” and the power of rumor is treacherous. 

Here’s an example:  Solzhenitsyn describes an upper echelon type as a “colorless, indecisive, but painstaking major general [who] had never been on active service. He had served for many years in one staff job after another, more often than not ‘on special duties,’ and had been a general for eight years.”
Who among us, with bureaucratic time served at whatever level, hasn’t seen these “special duties” desk jockeys, with little or nothing to do of any consequence, trying to fill out their work days by making regulations for situations they’ve never experienced or jobs they’ve never performed? People, who as Solzhenitsyn continues to describe, “valued above all else undeviating observance of regulations and punctuality in collecting and dispatching directives, instructions, and reports.”

This behavior, of course, results in pervasive CYA actions, and  Solzhenitsyn is all over it: “Provided he acted in accordance with regulations, directives, and instructions a man could suffer any setback or defeat, retreat, be smashed, flee in disorder—and no one would blame him for it. Nor need he rack his brains trying to find reasons for his defeat. But woe betide him if he departed from instructions, used his own head, took some bold initiative—he might not even be forgiven his victories, and should he suffer a defeat he would be chewed up and spat out.”

Take for example the person who “had suffered only two real disasters in his military career: failure on one occasion to produce a piece of paper when it was asked for and an unfortunate misunderstanding with an influential person.”

OMG!  Failure to produce a piece of paper!  Pissing off a higher-up!  Two of the biggest sins in all bureaucracies. 

These executive suite minefields result in a leadership style which, according to Solzhenitsyn, is “distinguished by aversion to any sort of methodical work, absence of any sense of duty, fear of responsibility, and total inability to value time and use it to the full. Hence the sluggishness…the inclination to act mechanically…”

Distinguished.  The sarcasm isn’t just dripping, it is flowing.  And the sluggishness breeds incompetence, which in too many bureaucracies and large organizations, is perversely rewarded.

For example, Solzhenitsyn writes about one recently promoted person on an upward trajectory, a newly appointed Chief of the General Staff:  “He had held that position only four months, and the main effort so far required of him had been to prevent the war from failing to break out. That done, he had intended to remain aloof from subsequent menacing developments...How could he bring himself to refuse what was undoubtedly a great advance in his career?

More sarcasm:  to prevent the war from failing to break out.  And for that dubious accomplishment, a promotion. Indeed, how could the individual’s ego permit any other conclusion?

This nuttiness at headquarters then translates to the battlefield, the escapades and fails of the armies involved.  Solzhenitsyn describes leaders devising obtuse plans “to pin down the Germans (who were not there to be pinned) on the coast, so as to prevent them from reaching the Vistula (which was not what they were trying to do).”

“Friendly fire” usually epitomizes the ultimate in military (organizational) incompetence, and Solzhenitsyn doubles down in his description of such incidents, in one case adding:  “Again, no one was alarmed: Russian troops often opened fire on their own side.”

Of course it’s not just the Russians.  The dysfunctional memes are everywhere.  Solzhenitsyn describes German army attacks that “ended in absurd failure, with nothing working out as expected. More than once…wheeling squadrons were mistaken by [their] own infantry for Russian cavalry, fired upon, and scattered. [German] artillery opened fire on [German] infantry.”

Outcomes?  Solzhenitsyn wraps it up with this piece of analysis:  “So then, on 28 August, everything necessary had been done on the Russian side to ensure the enemy’s triumph and his revenge…”

Again, he’s writing specifically about armies, but it applies to large organizations and bureaucracies everywhere.  Everywhere.  I don’t care if you are in a buttoned up vertical highrise or the disruptive campus fun houses of high tech, human nature is what it is.  “Bad people always support each other—that is their great strength,” Solzhenitsyn writes. There are few exceptions. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Gold Standard

What People Do for Money, by Kandi Kane.  

Warning:  although the book begins idyllically—“It was early Saturday morning I was awakened by the birds loud chirping.”—all hell breaks loose quickly, and it becomes a brutal, nasty morality tale—evil vs. really evil—set on the streets of Detroit in a culture of killers, perverts, addicts, dealers, thugs, thieves, pimps and hos, with graphic descriptions of degeneracy, rape, torture, murder, you name it. 

But that’s a different post.  Like the blurb says, “When money and power take over the hood ain't nobody safe.”  This post is about language. 

Authentic, expressive writing, can be stylized or it can be like “The word on the street travel fast, Smoke and Slick was already on the scene.”  Whatever way, good writing gets in your head.  Even with all the butchery and bloodshed and the lewd and lascivious behavior going on in What People Do For Money, you can’t help enjoy, on a different level, the accuracy of the author’s descriptions:  for example, when the scene is “the Fat nigga Babymama house” you can clearly hear the risible scorn, as well as vividly see it in your mind’s eye.

Kandi Kane provides many examples of vibrant writing to choose from; for instance, replacing “there” with “it”:

·         When they entered the house it was two guys in the living room playing video games.

·         The house was full of shit on the floor but it wasn't no dog around.

·         It was so many drug dealers present they took…”

·         It was a bunch of guns in the room he grabbed them too.

·         It was a 45 and some Kush in the car.

And I’m a sucker for the use of “had went”:  “A few days had went by so we…”

And, finally, the sampling and mixing: “Light bulbs and dollar signs start going off in their heads.” Or, “Money was the root to all this evil that we had been experiencing. We had crossed a road where we couldn't turn back…”

The plot also gets tangled up in itself and all the killing and mayhem—a few more paragraph breaks would help—but  man, this is what the 99c genre for literary entertainment should be—this is the gold standard by which all 99c entertainment literature should be measured—when it comes to the precious use of language.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Market Deli


Market Deli
Foot reflexology
Income tax
Dry cleaning


They’re super friendly.
Billions of satisfied customers.


Lowest prices of the year.


Just like this.


Playing cards and rum.


With sparkling stain fighters.


That girl gets kind of scattered.


Free tapirs.
My husband will kill me.


Laundry detergent.
32 loads.




Said Dante is going to do
Something exceptional in his life.


How to apply for a job. 
She said through the computer.
It’s the only way.


On back seat of motor bike.
Or be a male biker’s companion.


I’m yeah.
I just uh.


Aisle 9.


Flavored cream cheese?


Dad pushing a wide stroller.


I mean you talk about a numbers game.


Look in my phone and see
If I had your contact information.


Everything your pet needs to stay wild.


Javier’s at that awkward stage.


Real quick.


I eat it all the time for lunch.


Just for you.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

I Love This Cultured Hell

You pass three large feed lots coming in from, or leaving out of, the north end of town, and there’s another feed lot on the south end.

He’s dressed for success in camou slacks, black work boots, a green and brown houndstooth sports coat, a USA flag do rag on his head.  He’s walking her to the school bus stop.  He’s her dad, and he’s holding her hand, and she loves him and is proud of him.

I remember the raging of AIDS in the late 1980’s.  I remember the healing services at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Seattle, mid-week, at night.  Men gathered, praying.

The school bus goes up the hill and the road curves left carrying it out of sight behind a rise. Inside the bus, the kids blaze in thrilling English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, French, Tagalog, German, Armenian, Russian, Japanese, Farsi, Khmer, Punjabi, Arabic, Hmong, Navajo.

I am awed, entertained and inspired, on a daily basis, by the quality of so much of the literary art I see on the Internet and in the journals (paper or electronic); new writers, international scope, artistic intrepidity. But…why do so many adepts of new media (mis)use it to perpetuate and valorize memes that went out in granddad's time? 

Action, guey, action!

(The title is borrowed from the poem America by Claude McKay.)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Sunday Post: Reading Matters

“…a desperado is better at comedy than an eccentric, you walk out the door, there’s a car waiting.”  Bernadette Mayer

“the car had an open top that he never looked out of as he drove straight ahead.  An iron mushroom.”  Clark Coolidge

Throughout this 2015 northern hemisphere summer I had the opportunity, and the time, to read freely. I hit it hard. The continuum was beautiful, “discovery” (like the two writers above) or “re-acquaintance” (Zora Neale Hurston or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) two after two, three after three, and the next leading to the next, and the next, a profusion, an explosion, exponential growth.  (I think I know what exponential growth is:  kind of like my Facebook “People You May Know” list after Friend requests get confirmed.) 

Here’s a mash-up of some of the authors’ names and/or titles of written works (and maybe a quick comment):

Anne Waldman; Peter Munro, Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques; John Keats, Poems; Willa Cather:  One of Ours, Death Comes for the Archbishop; Guy Davenport; Anne Carson; Jenni Rivera;  Vilum Flusser; Alina Bronsky (a pseudonym and I called “her” out on it in my review); Violet Duke (modern romance writer); Joy Williams; Annie Proulx The Shipping News; Kurt Vonnegut Cat’s Cradle; Evan Rail Why We Fly; Thomas Ligotti; Claude McKay (1889 – 1948); Michel de Certeau; Maxine Hong Kingston; Rebecca Solnit; Kate Wilhelm; Yrsa Daley-Ward; Robert Frost; Charles Slater; Gertrude Stein; Sam Pink; Chelsea Hodson; David Gordon; Arthur W. Goodhart; Terri Jenkins-Brady; Jules Verne (under the sea and center of the earth, great fun); Herman Melville; Robert Louis Stevenson; Kafka, The Trial, The Castle, both long and dull compared to shorter works such as Metamorphosis and A Country Doctor, to name two.

(BTW A Country Doctor is a “must read” IMHO.  From Wikipedia:  "Psychologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of British Columbia published a report in 2009 using A Country Doctor as the variable in a study testing what impact reading absurdist tales has on their cognitive skills. The study showed that reading the story improved test subjects' ability to find patterns. Their findings summarized that when people have to work to find consistency and meaning in a fragmented story, it increases “the cognitive mechanisms responsible for implicitly learning statistical regularities.”)

And finally, a line from Drop Dead Perfect, a cop and crime thriller by Rick Murcer, which I read in one evening after getting home from a long drive in heavy traffic—it was the perfect escape, and I couldn’t stop until I reached the conclusion.

“He was on top of the heap when it came to being an asshole sometimes, but he did all the hard things right.”

Looking forward to autumn!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Saturday Evening Post

Thomas Merton, champion of, and cheerleader for, hermits and contemplatives said it was dangerous to enter into solitude “merely because you like to be alone.” This morning I passed by a person who looked like a victim and recent escapee of just such a trap, the scariest guy I’ve ever seen, actually, and he’s staring at me?  Apparently, my strict diet of heartless artichokes, reindeer sausage and vodka hasn’t had the desired results.  Then I realized I was looking in a mirror.

So, instead, let’s change the subject and talk about books. What is a book?  Just another device you have to carry, but one that doesn’t take pictures and you can’t call or text anybody, and except for its own subject matter, not very smart. And as for the flatulent raptures about typeface and ink and paper—not to mention the erotic longings for the “feel” of the physical book—bullshit.  Here.  Feel this.  In other words, compared to a screen device, a book is pretty much useless.

Nor do I consider the loss of brick and mortar bookstores to be that great a loss, except to the livelihood of the proprietor (and employees, if any)—I don’t miss the precious bookmarks or the bookstore cat, not to mention all the titles they don’t have in stock but they can order it for me.  Hell, I could have ordered it myself from a screen, at a substantial discount, and had it delivered to my door without leaving my recliner or missing a single play in my NFL package.  I’ll take a screen anytime.

That being said, the introduction of the implant that obsoletes all devices---oh that glorious day is the only reason I can come up with for wanting to live any longer than I need to.  Otherwise, death is still my first choice, and pretty much all I think about. (But in a good way.) 



Important document inside.
Important plan information.
Important privacy choices.
Do not discard under penalty of death.


And so much more.


Charm, romance, and color--kaputski.

My heart sits vacant.
Kneejerk flowers.


That’s a good question.


It’s Mocha Monday every day!


Entering eternal life.


My support network
Is in worse shape than I am.


El career de Randy.


His life has been added to his cart.


He wishes he were
Soon to not be.


You won’t find me
Buying additional lives.


In the grave.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labor Day Blogathon

Work Song --- Nina Simone 

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; show a man how to fish and he’ll hate you for the rest of his life.  --- Stephen Thomas

Work and capitalism.  To me educated in the UsA iit’s the same thing.  I’ts tats and multi-platform environments, USDA choice ribeye roasts, and the frisson of courtroom bombshells.

With the exception of a tiny minority of half-wits, no one believes in work anymore… --- Giorgio Agamben

The hard way is a worthless instrument these days, as obsolete as a roofing specialist in a world without sky.  There is no honor to Sisyphus; Camus is wrong.

The horse was created to pull and carry, the bull to plow, the dog to keep watch and hunt; man, however, was born to embrace the world with his gaze. --- Cicero

With his gaze.  Doesn’t sound like work to me.

They say hard work never hurt anybody, but I figure why take the chance.--- Ronald Reagan

Thursday, September 3, 2015


The quality and quantity of the artistry, all media, on the web and off-web, continues to be thrilling.  Pay no attention to the basura behind the curtain.

Artist Peggy Zask shaming the safe and genteel 100 % mild aesthete:  “I’m not putting up paintings on the wall where you can stand back and go, ‘Oh, that’s so masterful! She really knows how to catch the likeness of that mustang running in the wind.’”

Abishag, Ira, Kezia, the companion blog to the novel Three Wise Cats is back and being updated regularly. If you want to be able to brag you knew about the novel before it became a blockbuster movie, then you better buy it now!

In the Fall 2015 Rattle (#49) Peter Munro’s interview is interesting.  So is his work

Steve Cutts has an exuberant cynicism.

Speaking of regular updates, Melanie Swan has been busy this summer.  If titles like “Popup Dining as Distributed Autonomous Space” entice you to read more, or “Smartgrid Life:  Block Cryptosustainability,” then this blog is for you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang

I was fact-checking my post.  The Shakespeare phrase I am using as a title is also the title of a popular, award-winning science fiction novel published in 1976 by Kate Wilhelm. (I ordered the book, a classic, and am adding it to my Labor Day reading list.) 


Loons, egrets and grebes in speculative activity, insects riding light waves, and in the reedier section red wing blackbirds mounted like warning strobes. A great blue poker-faced wader parses the creek, the detritus vomited up on account of yesterday’s storm--rubber balls, Aristotelian logic, Styrofoam cups, diapers, beer cans, Euclidean geometry, candy wrappers, energy supplement ampoules, a broken violin, 50-quart coolers, dental picks—a supersweet stench ascending from mauve scum.

 (Shakespeare, from sonnet LXXIII)

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hautboys and Torches

  • Sliders is a new sequence in Summer Session.
  • The Labor Day holiday weekend in the USA is a little more than a week away.  I’m hoping to spend the time reading--something awful, something so colossally horrifying that I will be upset for weeks.  In other words, something by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  (Cancer Ward, The Gulag Archipelago, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, por ejemplo.) So I bought August 1914, and can hardly wait to get started.  
  • Recently became aware of two young writers:  Yrsa Daley-Ward and Lucy Corin
  • The young man doesn’t use Twitter because “it’s only words.”  He demands pictures, images.  I argue, not in favor of Twitter, but in favor of words, the concept that words, arranged correctly, can create images, too.  If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then a thousand words will also be a picture, if you’re doing it right.   
  • I’ve basura-buried three broke neck finches in the past week.  A beloved pet is missing. Existence can often be harsh.  But we follow the living on Facebook. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

From the Mediterranean

Masks from Ghana on one wall.  The glass sliders they face muffle the shore pound of the sea.  The photos on the third wall are from their frequent trips to Africa, she and her son and her husband. A door in the fourth wall leads to the emptier parts of the house.

Listening to Beninoise pop music. She’d reluctantly moved back to Valencia.  It’s been long enough. Come on.  Let’s go home.  And she’d returned to the continent only once since, and then only to Lusaka, a year after the accident, to attend memorial services.   

She misses getting together with the women in their neighborhood, joking with each other about childrearing prowess, bragging about punishment techniques, one would admit to spanking but “open hand only” and still have to defend herself from wild threats by the others to call child welfare. And the sign-ups for soccer, flag football, the cost of cleats.

Digital control.  Media, phone, media, lighting, room climate, security, the red light shows game on.  The jet skis in the yard, tarped and covered with pink and white and brown and gold blossoms and leaves.   

Too many masks.  And on the other wall the frames are out of alignment, or the pictures are slipping out of the matting, or the frame is empty and you just see the wall behind it, or there’s just a grimy dusty outline of where a frame was, or just a nail. 

Song lyrics in French and English.  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Announcements, mid-August

I’ve updated my website, and Summer Session

My favorite headline to write for my blog up to now, and maybe forever, is the one for July 15, 2015, that is Joseph Keppler’s quote: “Philosophy, history, and art at the present moment seem to me alive with beautiful surprises.” 

I saw that huge today, taking my time on the internet free associating poetry and other literary arts magazines and sites and blogs.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Thar She Blows!

Here are a few notes regarding some great to good literary experiences—a novel in verse, a novel in collage, and two “regular” novels—I’ve had recently, plus a link to my newly added-to Summer Session (which I need to bring to an end here pretty quickly because the wacky academic calendar tells me the “fall” semester begins August 17th).  

red doc>, by Anne Carson, published in 2013.

what is the difference between
poetry and prose you know the old analogies prose
is a house poetry a man in flames running
quite fast through it.

Has nothing to do with the topic.
That’s from the book, and the reader gets both the house and the man in flames running. This is the third time I’ve read red doc>, and, just like the first time, just like most of my experiences with Anne Carson writing, much of it sailed over my head—I can’t spoil the plot, but, so virtuoso and enthralling is the writing, that when she’s at her best (in the parts my comparatively illiterate self can understand, that is) Anne Carson is the greatest thing going right now.  I don’t think there is a better writer working.  Prolly because Ms. Carson “teaches ancient Greek for a living” (wacky academic?) there are a million allusions and metaphors that are way scholarly, but the drive of the book, the accessibility isn’t compromised.

I always come away from an encounter with Anne Carson intellectually refreshed and artistically inspired.  In fact, I’m fin to declare Anne Carson Month, maybe in October, and read everything by her I can get my hands on, prose and poetry, immerse myself.  And as another example from red doc>, this is part of a description of a student who became a psychiatrist: 

…his teacher at med
school called him a
minotaur who swallows
other people’s labyrinths.
good, I’ll do psychiatry he

Une Semaine De Bonte¢, (A Week of Kindness)A Surrealistic Novel in Collage, by Max Ernst, published in 1934. 

In Seattle in the fecund 1980’s, there was a lot of collage and Xerox street art, posters, flyers, cards and what not, stapled to any wood surface available,usually covering "Post No Bills" warnings, to advertise punk bands, artist openings, poetry readings, etc. This book may have been a stimulus to those creations. 

Max Ernst, running with the Dadaist and surrealist crowd from Zurich and Paris in the early part of the 20th century, cut out pictures from old textbooks and catalogues and then arranged them in a narrative collage, divided into “themes and elements” for each day of the week, and called it a novel.  Few of the collages, or mashups to use current argot, make sense and almost all are ridiculously hilarious. 

I have a hard copy of the book, and haven’t seen an offer of an ebook anywhere, but the images would look awesome on a tablet screen.  Somewhat sexist and misogynist, reflecting the times and the unfortunate attitude toward women in the art world, Une Semaine seems nonetheless to be a crucial artifact in the surrealist record. 

Moby Dick: or,the White Whale by Herman Melville, published in 1851.

Trace the route of the whaling ship Pequod, departing New England, sailing around the tip of South America and into the Pacific in pursuit of the white whale.and there’s no way to not be fascinated by the intrepidity of the Nantucketeers and their bloody three-year tours aboard the whalers; by the same token, there’s no putting up with, in this day age, all the expository filler in Moby Dick.  If it were just one “thar she blows” after another, bam bam bam, it would be a better read because Melville is excellent at writing about the violent, perilous life and death chases at sea.  With all due respect, I say include primarily scenes involving the Pequod v. whales almost exclusively and cut out the extraneous backstory, eliminate the corny  philosophizing, and discard the Whale Anatomy 101 class reader-style descriptions.  Throw in some Captain Ahab madness, the metaphysics of one deckhand (Pip), and then season with a judicious use of weather verisimilitude, and you’ve got yourself a neoclassic. Otherwise, I’m afraid the book faces eviction from the pantheon. (Melville will, of course, still be represented by Bartleby,the Scrivener.) Right now Moby Dick the novel is too long by half. 

And, while I like the following quote, it only takes up space in the novel (maybe someone can publish a separate collection of adages and aphorisms):  “Not seldom in this life, when, on the right side, fortune's favorites sail close by us, we, though all adroop before, catch somewhat of the rushing breeze, and joyfully feel our bagging sails fill out.”

Broken Glass Park, by Alina Bronsky, published in 2008. 

The narrator of the novel is a Russian student who lives with her younger brothers and sisters in an immigrant’s ghetto in Germany.  The action takes place shortly after their mother has been murdered, an act the girl witnessed.  Her goal is two-fold:  avenge the murder, and keep her brothers and sisters together as a unit with the help of an adult relative who came to Frankfurt from Novosibirsk.  The narrator is actually helpless to realize the former, and the latter becomes the substance of the book.

Being 17, the girl, Sascha, (thinks she) knows everything, and she’s got a mouth on her, so the first part of the novel contains some fresh, smart-ass critiques of her (our) world, urban youth, migrants, either disaffected, or affected  differently, taking the world they have been born into, united by music and their internet-based intelligence.    

The insight into the struggling immigrant experience—“On the first day of school my classmates stared at me as if I had just climbed out of a UFO.”—be it Russians in Germany or Mexicans in the USA or Japanese in Brazil, is fully depicted.   Unfortunately, the sharp sound and fury at the beginning dissipates; the author turns soft, doesn’t go hard the whole book.  And Broken Glass Park turns into a melodramatic non-page-turner populated along the way by a creepy father and son tagteam lusting after her body, as well as some weepy, gooey reconciliation scenes. 

So the jury in my head is still out when it comes to Alina Bronsky.  The potential is there, clearly.  I’ll have to read another book by her to see what the trajectory is becoming.  Plus the name Alina Bronsky is a pseudonym---why?

Well, until next time…

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Calling It Like It Isn't: The Fulminating Delirium of Nothingness (Latour)

While searching for an outlet in the airport waiting area, I got to thinking about America’s second favorite topic, the death of culture--the death of books, the death of writing, the death of critical thinking—attributable to wireless technology, the internet, and the mob of methods and devices:  social media, e-mail, i-Tunes, tablets, smartphones, etc.

We, members of the traveling public here at Gate 14, are a representative sample, pecking and tapping and posing and performing in front of our devices, our wireless devices. Because of this some call the USA “a beauty queen democracy,” a “professional wrestling narrative,” an “ideologically vacant dictatorship of likes.”  

I thought about the term “wireless.”  It is so easily considered an benevolent adjective insinuating a crusading technology that has “released” us from some stricture, “liberated” us from some burden, “unloosed” us from the shackles of some chain gang of thought, when, in fact, the fetters of “wireless” technology have so bound us in technology we look like mummies.

Thought itself is now under digital control.  That horse is already out of the barn and the door is closed tight.  But wireless synonymous with freedom?  That emperor has no clothes. Sort of the way the word “transparency” has become a crowd-sourced delusion when used by government to imply open proceedings when the fact these days more official documents are considered confidential, more proceedings are held in closed door secrecy, than ever before.  As Bruno Latour writes: “transparency is a special form of darkness.”

Twitter feeds and social media posts in their brevity, so the argument goes, constrict the art of writing, and in their multiplicity, and speed of transmission, and visual imperative, leave only nanoseconds for reflection.  Popups, alerts, interruptions apps, add-ons, questions, updates, LOL, turn this on, turn that off, IMO, do this, click on, enter, do you do you do you. And look at the way we walk, like mummies, seeking outlets to charge our devices.

Naturally, this attracts attention.  Paul Virilio labels it an “occupation,” the immediate and overwhelming onslaught of now. “This occupation places us under surveillance, watching us, scanning us and evaluating us, revealing us and it is increasingly present, increasingly accepted as a fate, a destiny.  Promoting progress means that we are always behind; on high speed internet, on our Facebook profile, on our email in box.  There are always updates to be made; we are the objects of daily masochism and under constant tension.”

The results of that occupation are described by Giorgio Agamben: “banality as a result of lack of history, or self-centeredness, an inculcated sense that you are never wrong, there’s simply a different set of facts, sharing, statements so vague as to be irrefutable, culture, change, sloppy statistics, the system collapsing in on itself, with too much info, decisions made on sloppy stats, what passes for serious thought, intellectual celebrity.”

Mike Kelley talks about the consequences of that loss of historical perspective:  “Perhaps because people have a short attention span, you can get away with illogical developments if you make them unfold over a long period of time.  People will assume that it is logical because they can’t remember what happened before…I would use the same terms, but I’d say something totally in opposition to what had been said half an hour earlier, and nobody would know.” 

While I cannot argue with the symptoms, I do not agree that the portents are negative.  In fact, I think it is fair to say the symptoms are, in most cases, welcomed, if not simply disregarded.  “Loss of cultural memory becomes the price of staying perfectly current,” writes Stewart Brand. A price most Americans are happy to pay.

The proof, the smoking gun of this digital nous, and the emperor’s new clothes, can be found in reality television.  Once upon a time, mired in an unenlightened funk, I used to ignorantly argue that reality shows were worthlessly ersatz because they were not “real”:  who really lives with a camera crew in the house and following them around? 

But I’m person enough to admit my error.  There are people, plenty of them, who live their lives with 
a camera crew around—and crews range from selfie-size (one) to entire production teams. And the popularity of these shows, and the value they add to brand after brand after brand, sets the tone for our culture and the standards for our future, moving beyond good and evil, closer to like two hard clotheslines and a neck breaker.

I mentioned all this to Debra Symmes one afternoon at Anna’s CafĂ©.  (And by the way, my compliments to the screening room people.)  Now the whole town is talking about it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Regaining Visual Contact

I’ve pretty much pared my physical book collection (library?) to art titles and tours de force, and one of those tours is the nine stories that comprise The Jules Verne Steam Balloon by Guy Davenport.  (Available for astonishingly cheap thru Amazon.)

As I was updating my website and thinking about new blog topics, and, of course, sex is always topic numero uno, I happily remembered the plenteous sex scenes in the Mr. Davenport’s book, and their joie de vivre descriptions—among a million and one additional virtues contained within the stories—including wit, erudition, and a breezy, accessible style—which I haven’t the ability to do justice to, other than enjoy. For example, a scene of, shall we say, spirited and enthusiastic  coupling climaxes with something to the effect of “and she came like a brass band passing the royal box on Liberation Day.”

Hasta luego.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Summer reading: Jenni Rivera and Sam Pink

Books by Jenni Rivera (Unbreakable, an autobiography) and Sam Pink (Rontel, a novel) were my reading recently. 

As a child, Jenni Rivera knew she wanted to be a performer. She was smart, talented and pretty, almost a baby face, but she was SO street.  A Latina growing up in tough, workingclass,  multicultural neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area, and throughout her life right up to the very end, she was a fighter.  She’d fight girls as well as boys, women and men, with fists and objects and words.  As she describes in her autobiography, trouble always seemed to find her, manifested in bad choices of boyfriends and husbands (very bad, in some cases), misplaced trust, and just plain negative shit.    

A memorable passage in Unbreakable describes a teen mom, with a 3-year-old daughter and pregnant with a second child, no dad in the picture, living in a converted garage, no car, getting up at 4 a.m. getting herself and her daughter ready, securing the little girl in the child seat on a ten-speed bicycle, and then peddling to the child care center, then across town to her community college classes, and then to her job.  And dreaming of being a performer.

Improbably, she rose from these unglamorous beginnings to become “the most acclaimed Spanish-language singer in the United States.” This young mother became a powerful force in Mexican American culture, playing to sold out crowds at Staples Center, Gibson Amphitheater, and other venues in Los Angeles. 

Her popularity spread across the country (and in Mexico), and her story—the tough Chicana from Long Beach, California, who raised five kids with or without fathers around, the obstacles she overcame, (more than a few of her own making) and her songs, composed and recorded in popular Mexican music styles—resonated profoundly with Latino audiences, particularly women.  They adored her.  Her records sold in the tens of millions.  Later, in addition to musical enterprises, she starred in reality television shows, and was beginning a movie career when, in December of 2012, she was killed in a plane crash in Mexico on her way to a performance.  She was 43.

Unbreakable is, of course, a show business autobiography, released after her death, and there is a lot of promotional b.s. that I’m sure was added by other hands. And the book is explicit in its descriptions of events and relationships.  Jenni Rivera’s ritmo and style in her music is not necessarily evident on every page of the book, but her life is a hell of a story.  

While Jenni Rivera was a Latina with a fierce desire to succeed and live large, the narrator of Sam Pink’s novel, Rontel, is a 29-year old white male, single, no kids, no ambition, who lives, minimally, both in the middle of Chicago and deeper still in his twisted imagination.
The novel opens on the narrator’s last day of work, he has been laid off.  He shares an apartment with his brother (living on unemployment) and seems to be a somewhat depressed and perpetual slacker.  Except for when he’s with his girlfriend (she works and has her own place!) he’s got a lot of time on his hands, and the book is a bizarre odyssey of listlessly looking for a new job as he travels the public transportation system of Chicago, and a crazy album of the people he encounters.  The narrator combines outrage, resignation, and anomie, all at the street level—and not Bling Street either, not Pimpmobile Street; no, these streets are down and out street, and burnt out Brains Street, and missing teeth street, and crazy people street.  And he gives the damaged their due. He can discuss pot pie with the best of them. 

Unlike Jenni Rivera channeling her anger into performance, Pink’s narrator internalizes the strange eruptions of (often transgressive) imagination, like mental asides in the apocalyptic drama in his head. Some examples:

I got off the Blue Line train and went down the stairs into the transfer. In the long, tiled tunnel between the Blue Line and the Red Line, I imagined flames slowly building at each end of the tunnel, with no time or way for me to get out on either end. So I just stand there screaming and flames fill the tunnel.


Paying for my food, I imagined myself accepting change from the cashier then floating sideways out of the sandwich place. Just, out the door and up into the sky. Not too fast, not too slow. With enough time to fully enjoy it.

And sometimes he goes way off on a polluted stream of sick consciousness. For instance, he sees a dead cat in the street, mangled in such a way it looked as though someone had run over the carcass, had “peeled out” on it, in fact.  And then his mind takes over:

That seemed funny to me—someone “peeling out” on a dead cat. And for a few seconds, the thought of someone peeling out on a dead cat made me completely lose my mind. Anybody in Chicago could’ve robbed me or murdered me or whatever and I wouldn’t have known what to do. Insane!

This is alterity similar to the brain stem flowering in a Robert Williams nightmare.  Now the obsession and the afterburner thrust to the next level:

Couldn’t stop thinking about someone “peeling out” over a cat carcass. And how I’d have to watch, even if I closed my eyes to it. How the mouth of the cat carcass would shake terribly at me as the tire spun. And how, yeah, it’d be fucking awesome if a magic key came out of the cat’s shaking mouth—a magical key that took me on a magical journey and ended up, somehow, with me being born as a baby eagle but like, with the mind I have now (why not).

Who would, just out of nowhere, think of that?  That’s the level of innovation of Mr. Pink, superb at recreating the rhythms of speech among the burnt-out cases his narrator travels among, and nicely confident at the controls of seemingly runaway mental train.  (Also of note is the re-creation of a post-fight interview with a heavyweight boxing champion, a tour de force of inflection, timing, and description.)  There’s a spontaneity to all of it that seems effortless and improvised, but I’m here to tell you, it can only be done by an artist, and it takes a lot of work.

I enjoyed both books.