Saturday, September 2, 2017

Labor Day Weekend Reading Roundup

The 80/20 reading to writing ratio assails me like a geomagnetic storm, and there were four prose pieces I had to finish reading before I could start this post: stories by F.X. Toole, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, and Monica Arac DeNyeko, plus an essay by Dubravka Ugrešić (translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac). One author from the USA, two from Uganda, and one from Croatia. The writing is excellent and goes from cynical to horrifying, heartbreaking to satirical.

Onward. Here is 2017’s Labor Day in the USA’s 80/20 reading roundup:

1. A poem by Alejandra Piznarik:


Mama told us of a white forest in Russia: “… and we made little men out of snow and put hats we stole from great-grandfather on their heads … ”
            I eyed her with distrust. What was snow? Why did they make little men? And above all, what’s a great-grandfather?

2. A poem by Jan Wagner (translated from German by David Keplinger) is dope. Click here.

3CA Conrad is a crazy wild treat. Check out the blog.

4. Highlights from urban lit is a regular part of my shop talks, the uninhibited energy and linguistic mashups of the street coloratura that I love so much, and this knockout is from the recently released Ratchet Wives Club: Atlanta Edition (N'Dia  Rae).Here are a few choice bits: 
  • wasted like a drunk white bitch on vacation in Cancun.
  • especially since a bitch was still fly.
  • Now the cops are going to be all in my shit! he barked.
  • My pussy became drench.
  • I was doing all of this for my husband and damn it, he better had survived.
  • You’re a fraud ass bitch.
5By way of compare and contrast: here’s Willa Cather describing “one of those extravagant passions which a handsome country boy of twenty-one sometimes inspires in an angular, spectacled woman of thirty.”
Or Anais Nin: “The (eyes) had in them the roving gaze of the mariner who never attaches himself to what he sees, whose very glance is roving, floating, sailing on, and who looks at every person and object with a sense of the enormous space around them, with a sense of the distance one can put between one’s self and one’s desires, the sense of the enormousness of the world, and of the tides and currents that carry us onward.”

6. After reading a long poem by Walt Whitman (originally untitled, later known as “Song of Myself”) I explored the genealogy of the style I use, the seminal innovators of Language, minimalism, conceptualism, imagists, call it what you will. I’ve written elsewhere about working in the wilderness until I started to notice and clues and markers of others who had been here before me. It encouraged me, as I would hope mine would someday encourage others were the tables to be turned. And so for the record I’m just going to name some names: Craig Dworkin, Robert Grenier, Aram Saroyan, Clark Coolidge, Brian Joseph Davis, Monica De La Torre, Joseph Kosuth, Harryette Mullen, M. NourbeSe Philip, Ara Shirinyan, Jonas Mekas, Larry Eigner, Jeff Derksen, Bernadette Mayer, Charles Bernstein.

7. It was pure fortuity that a second exploration enhanced and expanded upon the first. I came upon a book, a collected poems, in Spanish, by the Mexican Efraín Huerta. My Spanish being poor, I read what I could as I paged through the volume when voila: the poemínimos. Late in Huerta’s career, he developed a new short form of poetry called poemínimo, which combined elements of aphorism, epigraph, and haiku with humor, irony and cynicism, culminating in a book 50 poemínimos (1978). Come to find out these poems belong to a Latin American tradition of short poems by writers including fellow Mexican poet José Juan TabladaUn día (1919), the first collection of haiku published in the Americas; the cosmopolitan Ecuadoran poet Jorge Carrera Andrade’s Microgramas (1940); Ana Rosa Núñez, Cuban-American; and Flavio Herrera of Guatemala. There are more, you are invited to go deeper into short poems at the international level, including haiku and similar, short forms. Charles Trumbell has written extensively on this.

8. Unexpected business had me in Alhambra, California, and it turns out that the city is named after a book by Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra.  Based on his travels to the Moorish palace in Spain, Irving published his book in 1832 and revised and completed it in 1851. It is a beautifully written travelogue that gives a good description of Spain in the early and mid 19th century, as well as folklore from centuries prior.  The “Tales” and other writing by Irving that I discovered in the “complete works” gave me a new appreciation for a writer who’d I’d previously known only for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.” 

9On this site, a gallery of texts and images, comes a collection of dreams by Maureen Miller presented as emails, a hilarious and inspired commentary on our digitally interconnected, self-obsessed culture. Even the footnotes are LMFAO funny. (Reminds me of Rafael Pérez-Torres now at UCLA, but I studied with him at UC Santa Barbara. He loved footnotes.)

10OK. Gotsta pay the rent, so here’s the link to my Randy Stark Amazon Author’s website, where you can find my most recent book. It’s only a buck!

Before I go, a tip o’ the sombrero to Jerry Lewis—he owned Labor Day weekend with his telethons. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Shop Talk

Somebody said 80 percent of writing is reading. Below are brief comments about the most delightful and/or astonishing books and authors that have been part of my 80 percent during the past few months. (And this is in addition to the abundant flow of brilliant writing available on the internet.) This is the best time ever for readers! 

My Favorite Thing is Monsters. A graphic novel by Emil Ferris.  And I loved the graphics but the novel part was overly plotted for my taste, although it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book, so swept along was I by the graphics. The mood of the piece is pretty grim and dismal but again just looking at the graphics is enthralling. And the discerning reader will value and delight in the art history seminar that runs in the background.

Babette Babich is a philosopher and university professor. She has many books in print and a ton of articles online. I recently read two essays: “Angels, the Space of Time, and Apocalyptic Blindness,”--which the title itself compels reading and as do some of the keywords: “endtime, holocaust, humanity”-- and an article about the excitements and frustrations of starting a philosophy journal—the similarities in the politics of academic philosophy journals and the politics of literary journals are blatant.   

Litanies Said Handedly, “scored scourings meant/for the tongue-trigger” are part of a good attempt to recreate on paper the excitement of a Ralph La Charity performance (as I remember them anyway from Seattle back in the day; and this video is a reminder, too). In addition to the performance pieces where “Yes. There is another way to say it” and words “descend in a rush/tripping off the tongue,” The poetics swing and the collages rock. Some other observations can be found in the review I contributed on the book's Amazon page. 

Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture, by Lisa Robertson, is set in Vancouver, Canada, as the 20th century became the 21st and is a exquisite little production all unto itself, modest in its packaging, a geode upon opening, text and images about architecture, space, place; erudite and whimsical and serious (History of scaffolding, or Spatial Synthetics: A theory.) and beautifully expressed in word and design. The Index at the back of the book is hilarious. Like all the others mentioned in this post, there is a lambent mind at work. 

“I’m going to dump it all in. Everything that occurs to me or everything I see…This will be my museum. I’ll put it all down here on the page…” A Handmade Museum is a collection of prose poem observation and assemblage by Brenda Coultas of the detritus of the Bowery, objects in trash cans, and dumpsters and vacant lots, archaeological attention paid to discarded items and anthropological attention paid to discarded human beings, as well as odd reflections on all-American oddities, such as “a 60 foot tall Santa that marked the turn-off to Holiday World. Over the summer he was painted into King Kong and rented out to grand openings. If you see either Santa or King Kong, please remember, they are one and the same.” Sometimes her writing reminds me of Gertrude Stein: “He hated to fly, he preferred the ground and traveled by land and not the sea either.” A lovely book.

27Hammerheads Circling Ever Closer, by Catfish McDaris, is so funny and erudite and nasty and violent and crude and poetic and surreal…I made some other observations about the book that can be found in the Amazon review section.

Martha Rosler is an artist and writer, and her essays about art, creativity, and hip urban space are terrific. One essay I read discusses gentrification, the creative class, and the professionalization of art. Another I downloaded is a history of, and aesthetic thoughts about, documentary photography). You can find many of her articles and images of her art work on the internet. Do yourself a favor.

Look, a book of poems by Solmaz Sharif, is about war, the effects of war on human beings, direct, indirect, Iran, Iraq. My favorite in the collection is Reaching Guantanamo, letters from a wife to her husband imprisoned at the U.S. base. (I’m assuming that’s the case; sometimes you really have to spell it out for me.) The letters are censored and the redactions are jarring, and what’s censored, that white space throws an additional light on the words that surround it. I was impressed by the technique, how the poet paced the letters in sequence, and then the contents within each letter, thereby creating it’s own emotional imperative and momentum.

Finally, and continuing in the more somber Memorial Day theme, what I am about to quote informs the life of Joanna Kubicka Fenn but has not circumscribed or inhibited it. To the contrary.: poignant and full  of zest is how I would describe the life chronicled in this wonderfully written memoir, Weaving the Strands of Life. But the passage below is an excerpt from a story from Joanna Kubicka Fenn’s childhood, a memory, hiding in an apartment house laundry room in the city of Lwow in Poland, during World War II as Russian fighter planes were bombing the city. And it speaks to our time. 

“It was that laundry room that was used as a bomb shelter. On the outside the windows were covered with sacks filled with sand. Big piles of them. Inside there were wooden benches under the walls. Whenever the alarm sirens went off, everybody went to that cellar. As my mother had this sleeping baby in her arms, and me, people let her have the most comfortable seat—the wooden cover of the toilet. The door to this cubicle was long gone, maybe burned for warmth, who knows, but still it was sheltered from drafts, and I suppose a little safer.

“And then came the night when a bomb hit know I still can hear the long whistle of the bombs…and how it usually ended with a boom, sometimes even with a shaking, when the hit was near…but this time it was different…that night, the whistle became a roar, a boom surpassing all other booms and a quake incomparable to the other quakes. The sand bags must have been blown away from the window, because a powerful blast rushed in. People were flung against the walls, and one lady, who had been standing in the middle at the time, was hurled onto the floor and spun around…just like a toy top…round and round and round…and my mother grabbed me and tried to cover my eyes…but I wouldn’t let her, because it was fascinating to watch…something queer was happening to that spinning lady…she was losing her face…and her arms…she was becoming bloody pulp…right there…in front of us…And then she slowed, and slowed, and stopped , and after all that movement, she was just lying still. I wanted to run to her and tell her it’s all right, she could get up now, but I didn’t, because what was lying there didn’t resemble her at all.”

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Going Like This With the Mustard

Two book cover updates by Neil Novello. Much obliged.

O clap your hands, all ye people; shout! Hear this, all ye people; give ear!

The elegant movie about the eloquent James Baldwin got me thinking about the early 1960’s, I was an impressionable youth in those days who also followed sports. We lived in Albuquerque, and the University of New Mexico at that time had one of the great track teams in the nation. One of the stars on the team was Adolph Plummer. I idolized this great athlete. He competed in individual events and as a member of a relay team. Adolph Plummer set the 440 world record of 44.9 seconds in 1963. He won an NCAA title at that distance a year earlier. I tried out for the junior high track team thinking I was going to be the next Adolph Plummer. He seemed to me elegant and eloquent and fast.

Been trying to jump start Spring, and there are buds and blossoms on the peach tree and the apricot tree, but I proclaim this the coldest and dreariest Winter in several years. 

I compiled a paragraph of threads from an online discussion board.

I’m reading Solzhenitsyn. It is depressing. Russian literature is wonderfully depressing, yes? Beautiful but depressing. I really like Solzhenitsyn, but there's more depressing books by other Russian authors, yes? Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, for example. Notes from Underground by Dostoevsky almost destroyed my mind with how depressing it was.  I'd say that's the most depressing book I've ever read.

And when I get in that heavy mind, I write things like this:


Noisome pestilence infects my lungs.



It was scary as fuck.

Or, when I really stretch:

Not sure what was accomplished.
Scaling the Polymentality
To change the art form
Not just to get more sensitive
Not just tweak the existing
Duct tape on stalagmites
Hospice for fish
Skidding on jazzy rays of bird-blest
From pre classic to post neo late
Which helps make me
The cold blooded creator
The lighter of the harpsichord bonfire
That I am.

But that’s not the tone I like to set.

I’ve been entertaining audiences for more than 50 years. 

And the tone I want to set is more like:


Window seat in the parlor car.



A year of crazy changes.

And then, stretching out, one I started, called "At the Deli":


How’s my sunshine?


I talk like I’m singing


With everything.
Easy oil.


Positive languor.




Super cool about it.


You could go like this
With the mustard?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Acting is Our Business Here

Even though February seems to be arriving early around these parts, and I’ve been slow out of the gate in my artsy endeavors for this year, my only regret in life remains not being born with a scholar’s mind—so things aren’t bad at all for me, not at all.

I tried to be an intellectual.  From my “unbaked and doughy youth” to the “sans everything” countdown I’m currently in, I’ve tried converting my common, country-fried mind into a cultivated scholar’s intelligence: I’ve attended college, I’ve read encyclopedically, until my eyes were raw as rain, books and posts and pdfs, but no dice.

Nevertheless, the visceral sensation derived from reading and listening to brilliant minds is fabulous and so I keep scrolling, keep searching, keep following threads. With the internet there’s no end to it, discovery is perpetual.

And it was through reading, probably an online magazine, maybe something that had Hymn to Life by Timothy Donnelly in it, or maybe a mention of this video by Sondra Perry, and there was maybe a mention, somebody might have recommended or referenced Karen Barad’s book Meeting the Universe Halfway.

In the intervening weeks since I first mentioned the UC Santa Cruz physics professor, her awesomeness numbers have gone off the chart in my head as I got more into her book, even given the (optimistically) five or six percent of her thinking/writing that I (luckily) do comprehend.

Her book is subtitled “quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning.” There is a wealth of discussion of academic theories about the “nature of identity, being, meaning and causality.” She coaches me through terms like interference and diffraction, position momentum, waves and particles, indeterminacy not uncertainty, post-humanism. She combines intellectual brilliance and hard core academic writing with a teacher’s patience (compassion?) for the dense reader like me. And she goes far afield in bringing back elucidating evidence and backup to her arguments. Her erudition allows her readers to help themselves to a giant bag of eclectic corroboration, footnotes and appendices, including poetry.

She both led me to and was part of the immersion of words, a self-administered treatment that I use when my own “stuff” just ain’t coming. “We are part of the nature we seek to understand,” she writes, and as to demonstrate that I begin the immersion, the word spa as it were. Primary sources and spinoffs from her work include (but are not limited to): Niels Bohr, Alice Fulton (from whose poem comes the title of Barad’s book) and Richard Feynman and CaridadSouza and, of course, Michel Foucault.

So not only was I luxuriating in Barad’s book and the writings of some of her references, there were other sweet refreshing stars in the constellation, such as Habib Tengour, Inga Abele, and Joe Keppler, not to mention my fortuitous foray into the dramas of Shakespeare and Pirandello.

Shakespeare’s Richard the Second and Henry IV, part 1 are suffused with poetry, and the nonsense talk All’s Well That Ends Well (“First Soldier:  Bosko chimurcho.” “First Lord: Boblibindo chicurmurco.”) cracked me up.

Luigi Pirandello won the Nobel Prize for literature in the 1930’s. I skipped around the room when I came across this line in his Six Characters in Search of an Author: “Acting is our business here. Truth up to a certain point, but no further.” That seems to capture the motivation of my writing: entertainment, delight, beauty, and truth up to a certain point.

Finally, and it’s funny to me, no matter the topic--philosophy, politics, art, sex, architecture, literature, physics--it seems like, somebody is citing Michel Foucault. And through it all, he is sighted at a donut shop, perhaps enjoying drip coffee and red velvet donut, perhaps thinking about a seminar he attended earlier in the day. (His essay on rose pruning techniques remains to be discovered.)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Surfing the Interstices

It’s hitting:  W.G.Sebold and Karen Barad; symphonies by Anton Bruckner (he might be God, I don’t know).

As long as I don’t have to face reality, I’m happy to be awake. There’s a Playboy After Dark vibe here in the crib. That's a Georgia O'Keeffe, by the way.

A million words for rain, not one for tomorrow. “The miracle of always” according to Lisel Mueller (although she was referring to something else). I resolved to change my name to Lucky.

You have the heart of a champion.

Honey, I’m from where do you think?