To the Point

There comes a time in every epoch when pragmatism simply evolves into extreme acquiescence and surrender to the forces of apathy and do-nothingness, a guarantor of the status quo in all of its easy, democratic criminality--its fortress of greed.--TL Simons

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Nader Smiles

Ralph Nader gives everybody hell in this piece over at CommonDreams.

In the U.S. politics is as much about charisma and popularity as it is about issues, unfortunately. Nader is not flashy but rather more of a dry intellectual, an obviously brilliant man, one the mainstream has difficulties understanding. He doesn't have the goofy smile of the "everyman" candidate like George W. Bush, who had a down home elasticity and actor's touch that tea-party conservatives find attractive.

Liberals prefer Obama-like wit and articulation to Nader's radicalism because the biggest fear liberals have is losing the right to remain outlandishly hypocritical. I tend to favor honestly stupid conservatism, which is rampant in America, to the two-faced greed of liberalism. Stupid conservatives will give you an argument that is laughable. Liberals in their quest to create a Utopia will murder you.

Bush to me always seemed like the kind of guy I'd want to smash in the mouth with my devastating right hand, but millions dug the stupid grin and bumbling rhetoric. One of the great mysteries, I guess.

Nader has always been marginalized by corporatism, of course. That started long ago when he went after General Motors for making unsafe cars.

I like Nader. I think he might have made a good president. It would have been interesting to see how things played out in such a fantasy.


Friday, July 30, 2010


My favorite 90s band.


Lucinda and Willie

Two legends knocking out one beautiful song!


The Traditional Country Blues

I never cared for his dad's music, but Grampa was sensational. Young Hank III is carrying roots country to the summit. Hank would be proud of the kid's voice and phrasing, a charismatic meld like his own.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Extremes of Self

I've been in the middle of a move and occupied for the past couple of days with much else besides my current writing projects. I've moved into a new building, or rather an old building that has been remodeled. My computer problems persist and will likely continue to hassle me until I can find a way to secure a new hard drive, so I'm starting this post on my laptop. If something happens I'll finish it up later on a borrowed computer somewhere.

Moving is a drag, of course. After an early rush of moving around the country for various reasons, such as work and a general restlessness of youth that seems to be a part of every young person's experience, I settled into a routine in Portland. I lived in one apartment for 12 years. I had an amazing deal on a one bedroom in Northwest Portland, where most rents went through the ceiling as the neighborhood evolved from a slacker/hippie haven into a gentrified shopping mall.

I had a nice landlord who appreciated the fact that I lived there so long and always paid my rent on time. A couple of tenants living there when I moved in in 1989 are still there. They feel the same way I felt about the place. It really was the best deal in the neighborhood by 2001 when I moved out shortly after 9/11. I would have stayed but I'd had a nervous breakdown and couldn't work and I couldn't find the right kind of help. I'm not even sure I knew I needed help either, which is fairly common among the mentally disturbed when they do not see the most common realities in the same light as those around them. I'd fallen into a deep depression without really understanding what was happening to me.

The best way to describe the effects of my illness is to make a list. I lost interest in everything. I became reclusive, which is in my nature to begin with, but this time I went deep under cover. I developed an irrationality about many things. I lost three jobs in three months. I couldn't string a spoken sentence together without garbling it, and then, strangely, I took to practicing my speech in public before it was my turn to talk. In other words I started talking to myself. A few rows broke out over my rudeness and impetuosity, which again are aspects of my nature, but at that time I had taken things to the extreme, or rather something had caused me to lose control.

I must be very careful how I say this. I would hate for people to misunderstand. I am better now than I was five or six years ago. I had until then never given suicide much thought. I seemed to skip over the feeling in my youth, a common age--along with the very old--for certain personality types to more frequently think about and act out suicide. I could never understand the drama that always seemed to play out among my high school friends, for instance. I never understood the cliques and the intrigue that sprouted in the hallways and the personal vendettas and jealousies that flared up all around me. The whispering conspiracies. I would hear fragments of conversation that astounded me, rumors, supposed secrets and sorties of accusations and counter accusations. I'd suddenly see a girl crying and I'd think, what the hell is that all about? She was fine a second ago. Thus the niche-age for suicides, when the world is a passion play.

At age 48 I began to obsess about suicide. Was I having a second go at youth or what? I realized that I'd known several people who had committed suicide slowly, or in several cases rapidly, by drinking too much. They were powerless to stop drinking, to the point that it appeared they simply did not care if they lived or died. My brother Lyle seems to have gone that route, dying an alcoholic in an Alaska rooming house, cut off from his sons and our mother. And I had an uncle who overdosed, likely on purpose, on opiates. And I often wonder about the circumstances of my father's death. I knew he had mental problems, for he had been committed for a time years before I was born. He was a drinker. Could he have drove deliberately off Highway 20 and into a deep ravine? Had he quit on life in an instant of remorse?

Among these types there is no ultimate reckoning in other words, no apparent struggle with the "demon booze." No desire to quit, or so it appears.

I'd seen yet other types battle the bottle. They had a fundamental remorse that clung to their every movement. When I was a bartender I could see them at the bar in the middle of the struggle. Should I have another? Yes? No! Yes! No... It played out like an existential exercise. Am I a drinker? Am I man enough for this? Depending on the fellow's mood his remorse might win one day while the exuberance attached to drinking became irresistible the next.

I had become like the man I've just described. I didn't want to crash into the wall, or into the ravine, with the full force of my habit. I wanted to live, yet I could find the darkness at will. I could go deep within the sorrow of a drunken spree and stay there all night, or I could get happy, fill the bar with my laughter and, though shy, even tell a story to a group of pals. That was my nature, my personality.

Then I fell apart. Was it the drinking? Or did I have an awakening? The suicidal thoughts crashed through my defenses all at once. I had become something other. I wasn't who I believed I was and I realized I had come to mid-life without knowing. Without knowing.

Isn't that something? It was one muthafukin' mid-life crisis my friends. It was brutal. So far I have survived.


Monday, July 26, 2010

from Alt-Everything

Ruler/Dependent Archetypes in 20th Century Imperialism

Prior to the outbreak of World War I the exploitative conditions for Imperialism were carefully guarded by the powers that controlled Europe, until emerging nationalist movements in the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires disrupted the equilibrium of the Austrian-Hungary and Istanbul regimes. The subsequent imbalance contributed to the evolving nature of ruler/dependent relationships. Monarchical methods of governing through kin and patronage were dying, as nationalistic ideals deflated centuries-old paradigms of human interaction. Societal pressures, sparked by revolutionary political ideas, made the drift to egalitarianism unavoidable, and would by the mid-twentieth- century, overtake England and France.

The mutual dependency of the Empires and their subjects began to erode as Hapsburg and Ottoman expired. The pretenses of the ruling class then turned buffoonish and unreal as Imperialists and their subjects began to lose traction. Imperialists developed crises of consciousness as the masses lost dependency. Imperialists and their subjects saw the falsehood of socioeconomic and political deference within the old system. Many of the old tenets of those relationships were eroding. The resultant imbroglio of the European psyche gave war impetus within idealized conceptualizations of the form and meaning of freedom before the rise of fascism.

To understand the broader implications of the ruler/dependent relationship and the process of decolonization in the history of the European twentieth century, one may turn to Burmese Days, George Orwell’s 1934 novel depicting the erosion of British Imperialism in Southeast Asia. It is important to look at stories such as Orwell’s to appreciate how the impact of Imperialism must ultimately be reduced to moral tales about individuals. In Orwell’s novel, individuals become the barometer of the meaning of the author’s political world view, which matters less than the meaning of his characters’ lives in the political landscape of the colony. In this sense, Burmese Days is a story about the erosion of the old ruler/dependent relationships among the novel’s corrupt colonial administrators, their businessmen friends, and the locals.

The novel is simple and compelling. Its characters are rendered archetypal. The protagonist is a lonely, white British timber merchant named James Flory. The thirty-five year old Flory despises the racism of his white acquaintances while living in a town sparsely populated with Englishmen. His best friend is a native local doctor whose deference to white men embarrasses Flory. His girlfriend is a local whore, whom Flory abuses. Early in the story, the mostly older and less culturally sensitive members of the town’s European Club are disappointed to hear that they must select one local to join the Club. The order has come from London and is obvious tokenism. Nonetheless, Flory’s doctor friend and another native, the highest ranking local magistrate in the community, plot to win the position. In the meantime, an attractive niece of one of the European Club’s members arrives in Burma and Flory falls for her. His love for her is idealized, as she is no more sensitive to the plight of the locals than her uncle or the other racists in the town. Flory loses track of his moral self in pursuit of her. He loses the girl, his friend is ruined by the political gamesmanship of his rival for the coveted club membership, and Flory kills himself.

Obvious metaphors abound in the archetypal rendering of the novel’s characters to suit Orwell’s model of Imperialism. Flory, like a disgruntled abolitionist in the American Revolution, loathes the injustice he sees everywhere around him. Yet he is powerless to make a difference within the constructs of the political situation that has him tethered to the old ruler/dependent paradigm. He is bothered by his doctor friend’s sycophantic acceptance of whites and London’s politics, but Flory is incapable of changing the man’s world view. The doctor foolishly collaborates with the spirit of Imperialism, hoping to gain favor with the powerful men who rule his people. Later in the century, a man with a similar moral compass would have fit in comfortably at Vichy.

Flory loathes himself for the treatment he deals his whore and he soothes his rancor by tipping her well. The gender politics occurring in the novel are profound, as the girl returns again and again to take the money. She is utterly dependent on Flory’s cash.

The novel’s love story is a further entanglement of idealism and reality for the protagonist. In this case, Flory’s love interest is neither as bright nor as sensitive as he believes. Yet, his loneliness won’t allow him to see her as one of the despised enemies he has constructed in his view of Imperialism. His flawed view of her is his own fault and indicative of how human frailty can repeatedly derail idealism, because Flory’s opinions of his countrymen matter little to them or to the politics of his nation. As a white man in Burma, the ruler/dependent paradigm has clearly marked his position and understanding of himself, even if he is unwilling to accept its ramifications.

With the onset of the love story, the selflessness that has given his existence a comprehensible form is destroyed. His love interest’s ultimate rejection matters to him because he hasn’t really understood what she represents in the political world he has created inside his head. Flory is convinced her politics have no significance, but for her they do. She is appalled by his love and acceptance of the mores and culture of the Burmese. He is blind to the individual power, or ego, she holds as the niece of an important Imperialist. She has learned her uncle’s politics and accepts them as the complete truth. She looks in horror at Flory, whom she equates with the savage locals.

Two aspects of the ruler/dependent formulation then clash in the love relationship. First, the niece is dependent on her uncle’s world view and is inoculated against transcending it. Second, Flory is, without recognition, dependent on the Imperialist in the young woman’s social conditioning, just as his friend and whore are dependent on him. His inability to see as much leads to tragedy, a kind of war upon himself that culminates with his suicide. In the end, he has not done as well psychologically as the other characters in the novel in coping with the erosion of the ruler/dependent paradigm.

Burmese Days is a bus stop along the road leading to the end of British Imperialism. Its psychological sketches track the erosion of the ruler/dependent relationship in a very short time frame, which amounts to a glimpse of the degradation implicit in Imperialism from Orwell’s perspective. The end of the novel places the individuals who were dependent on Flory in new circumstances, wherein they lose the benefit of their former dependency. Flory’s doctor friend is forced to take a lesser post and work long hours to survive after losing the coveted position in the European Club. The whore rues not saving more of Flory’s money, for her looks are fading and she is losing her desirability. Flory’s love interest turns her amour to a fellow Imperialist from the Club.

And the highest ranking local magistrate who managed to join the European Club over the loud protests of its members? So thorough were his political machinations, and so ruthless were his applied desires for status and power, that in the decolonization period after World War II on through today, he would have made a perfect dictator. Orwell the visionary even made him as fat and disgusting as a cartoon dictator—the perfect archetype.


Dear Mr. President

One presumes you had access to or knew all along about the trove of Afghanistan War documentation that has surfaced via WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Yet you persisted in your quest to expand the war. At what point in your ascendancy did you make this pact with the corporate hooligans who must have told you to jump aboard the kill machine or be banished? Was it during your first campaign in the Illinois legislature? Or your run to the U.S. Senate? Or did your sudden dash past Clinton in the primaries happen precisely because you took the payoff --"give us permanent war and you get another day in the sun?"

President Obama, you are hope(less). The people were tired of dirty tricks and denial and the imperialist war machine when they voted you in over John McCain. And they remain tired of it. And all you can do is play the game that we were inspired to believe you might help finish off--the old game of Imperial Monopoly. It did not take you long to expose yourself as a fraud, Mr. President. Knowing this makes me sad.

Yours truly,


Diane Wakoski

I was studying poetry with Nancy Steele at Oregon when she turned me on to Diane Wakoski and this hilarious poem, which I'm not sure is supposed to be intentionally funny. Maybe it's just funny to my neanderthalian instincts, or maybe Wakoski is a genius. Either way...

from Dancing on the Grave of a Son of a Bitch

God damn it,
at last I am going to dance on your grave,
old man;
you’ve stepped on my shadow once too often,
you’ve been unfaithful to me with other women,
women so cheap and insipid it psychs me out to think I might
be put
in the same category with them;
you’ve left me alone so often that I might as well have been
a homesteader in Alaska
these past years;
and you’ve left me, thrown me out of your life
often enough
that I might as well be a newspaper,
differently discarded each day.
Now you’re gone for good
and I don’t know why
but your leaving actually made me as miserable
as an earthworm with no
but now I’ve crawled out of the ground where you stomped me
and I gradually stand taller and taller each

(read the rest of the poem at Poetry Foundation)


Sunday, July 25, 2010














































I was saddened this morning to hear that the cartoonist John Callahan has passed away. The extraordinarily gifted writer, cartoonist, musician leaves indelible memories behind. He lived courageously with the effects of his paralysis and accomplished much. I served him many cups of tea over the years and listened raptly to his stories. John had been close to death before in the last decade, but you wanted to believe it wouldn't happen this soon. This is a fucked up day, to be blunt.

The publication of the above cartoon created much controversy, as did a lot of his other work. I was particularly amused by the outraged and clueless "humanists" who castigated him for "making fun" of quadriplegics without knowing the artist himself was bound to a wheel chair. The moral authority they presumed to have always looked ridiculous after the fact, a circumstance John relished.

What more can you say? A great artist is gone. He was 60.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sam Hamill

Short History of Poets Against War

"In late January 2003, in response to an invitation to a symposium by Laura Bush to celebrate 'Poetry and the American Voice,' Sam Hamill declined; a longtime pacifist, he could not in good faith visit the White House following the recent news of George W. Bush's plan for a unilateral "Shock and Awe" attack on Iraq. Instead, he asked about 50 fellow poets to "reconstitute a Poets Against the War movement like the one organized to speak out against the war in speak up for the conscience of our country and lend your names to our petition against this war” by submitting poems of protest that he would send to the White House. When 1,500 poets responded within four days, this web site was created as a means of handling the enormous, unexpected response.

Since then, the 'accidental groundswell' grew to include poets from around the world. There are presently more than 20,000 poems in this, the largest poetry anthology ever published. Poems from Poets Against War have been presented in person, by invitation, to several representatives of the U.S. Congress; many of them have since been introduced into the Congressional Record."

I am proud to say I gave Sam and his crew my two-cents worth, though we all know poets don't count for shit among the "Masters of War."

i met a woman yesterday

who informed
me "there will
always be war"

who informed me
"they are all
bad people"

who grew angry
at my protestations
and walked away

who did not want
to hear me or see me
or make love

who made me see
we are chained to
this brutal thing


About My Reserves

I'm driving along an empty highway
I feel good about it
No enemy
No impediments
My moment of Dada

I'm filling my tank with a blank history
I feel the empty space
No Baghdad
No poor people
Crying for Mama

I'm drilling my own in antiquity
I feel my own face
No inertia
No soldiering for
The artiste democratica

I'm making my peace with tragedy
I feel its etched traces
No gangstas
No rapping for
Corporate America

I'm digging my quest for levity
I feel comfortable with my race
No discontentment
No forgetting my
Past or future place

I'm drinking with the young progeny
I feel their drunken disgrace
No resentment
No denying
Them this awakening taste


Fallujah Aftermath

Patrick Cockburn once again gets to the heart of the matter in this piece from the Independent, describing the health effects of the 2004 sacking of Fallujah.

That the U.S. population has not demanded a criminal indictment of the Bush/Cheney administration is further testimony to how cowed we are by the "Masters of War," the profiteers and their gaggle of attorneys, the corruptly aloof and placated technocrats, the fearful slave-workers of corporatism, the intellectually bankrupt pundits of the corporate media, the warmongering crush of the evil bastards that control Wall Street, the God-fearing saps of the Right with their foolish belief in a non-existent God and persistent praise of U.S. hegemony, the tacit approvers, the gun-toting survivalist geeks, the NASCAR watching, boob-tube-worshipping, American Idol cock sucking jingoistic mass of oblivion-seeking white turds...

Seriously, folks, something is dreadfully wrong.



He came up in 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird and he hasn't stopped working since. Robert Duvall remains one of the finest actors in the land. At eighty, his box office appeal is undaunted. His talent is unquestioned, his ability to find his character's core and create something completely compelling is absolute. Who can forget his turn as Lt. Col. Kilgore in Apocalypse Now, or his loving rendition of a bruised-by-life country singer in Tender Mercies?

What a gift to the art of cinema!

"You smell that? Do you smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' dink body. But the smell! You know - that gasoline smell... the whole hill! Smelled like... victory.
Some day this war is going to end..."


Friday, July 23, 2010

Idle Talk

I am a man of many grievances regarding Man's fall into the abyss. One of the most prevalent signs of intellectual decay that I sense in the world today is the cell phone.

A cell phone in the wrong hands is a weapon of psychological terror. It is an annoyance and a hindrance. It is the stink wafting from the technological cocoon that envelopes everything.

I think the cell phone is driving humanity over the proverbial edge, for the cell phone is destroying Man's balance, his intuitive reasoning and his grace and humility.

It has already ruined the lives of millions by making them dependent on the socially insignificant.

I long for the days before cell phone ubiquity.

I long for the days of peace and quiet and the days when humanity could conceal its utter stupidity behind the four walls of an office, or in one's bedroom or hallway, or in a phone booth with the door closed.

Now the cell phone encourages everyone to talk at once, and so much drivel cannot be good for us. It is destroying brain mass and inhibiting creativity by duplicating the same boring conversation of mankind a billion times every day.

"What's for dinner?"

"I don't know."

"I'll pick up a pizza."

"That sounds good."

Wonderful. I'm happy everyone likes pizza.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

You Just Want to Be On the Side That's Winning

William Astore on society's veneration of the modern American warrior.

"Ever since the events of 9/11, there's been an almost religious veneration of U.S. service members as 'Our American Heroes' (as a well-intentioned sign puts it at my local post office). That a snappy uniform or even intense combat in far-off countries don't magically transform troops into heroes seems a simple point to make, but it's one worth making again and again, and not only to impressionable, military-worshipping teenagers."

Astore is ex-military, a history professor, and often willing to cut the military too much slack. He makes some fine arguments in this essay but doesn't deliver the knock out blow. Neo liberals like Astore hold out for miracles and redemption in an agonizing wait for the military mindset to get it right. Eisenhower was the last great general and he had to wait for his sunset to speak the truth.

Astore gets a B minus on this one.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hip Hop Lyrics

Mitt Romney

Oh, shit!
You, Mitt!
Seein’ you, it’s no
payin’ rent,
bomb on my head,
bein’ dead
bombed out
third world blackout
Blackwater blimp,
bunker-buster pimp,
All you lack is luster,
your ideas slimin’,
down a slope, no hope
law and order goof, phony
free-market demigod,
under God, throwin’
daggers, dangerous tagger,
scrawlin' your Mormon message on
hate-filled walls, spinnin’
round and round for the rich,
the silver-spoon bitch who
slaps your skin and fills
your coffers, makin’ offers,
gold diggers, no
niggers allowed.
Oh shit!


Punk Lyrics


You got a bald head
and a thick neck and
sucky tattoos
sucky tattoos

You got a skateboard
and an attitude and
sucky tattoos
sucky tattoos

You got big tits
and bleached hair and
sucky tattoos
sucky tattoos

You got a big heart
and sick ideas and
sucky tattoos
sucky tattoos

You got a fast car
and bad breath and
sucky tattoos
sucky tattoos

You got a punk band
and a new CD and
sucky tattoos
sucky tattoos


You got sucky tattoos
You got sucky tattoos
Sucky tattoos
Sucky tattoos


Philip Levine

I am most interested in poetry that strips away the homeyness of existence and recognizes that we are in deep poop.

The 82 year-old Detroit-born poet Philip Levine fits the bill. Here he is on the rot of American industry, hard times, and the "gradual decay of dignity."

An Abandoned Factory, Detroit

The gates are chained, the barbed-wire fencing stands,
An iron authority against the snow,
And this grey monument to common sense
Resists the weather. Fears of idle hands,
Of protest, men in league, and of the slow
Corrosion of their minds, still charge this fence.

Beyond, through broken windows one can see
Where the great presses paused between their strokes
And thus remain, in air suspended, caught
In the sure margin of eternity.
The cast-iron wheels have stopped; one counts the spokes
Which movement blurred, the struts inertia fought,

And estimates the loss of human power,
Experienced and slow, the loss of years,
The gradual decay of dignity.
Men lived within these foundries, hour by hour;
Nothing they forged outlived the rusted gears
Which might have served to grind their eulogy.

Philip Levine


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Buying Spree

I may be able to buy a tube of toothpaste next week if the House follows up on today's 60-40 vote in the Senate to extend unemployment benefits. It will be wonderful to buy toilet paper as well. Carte Goodwin, the new Senator from West Virginia replacing the dear, departed Robert Byrd, cast the deciding vote. The wondrous Red Twins from my beloved Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, a pair of rare Republican Realists, jumped party lines to vote for the extension. The noted Nebraskan Moron, Ben Nelson, jumped to the Republican side because he's in love with evil.

The Republicans don't want to drive up the deficit in any manner that doesn't stuff their own pockets with free cash, which they squander on wine and whores while slothfully taking long vacations from real work and drinking enough whiskey to put a battalion of clowns into a permanent coma. They party at the expense of the working man, earning undeserved salaries, and then turn around and give the poor guy the finger. It's time to call it as it is, folks. The Republicans are degenerate, lazy, no good, social welfare-sucking scum who leech off the workers of America and then stab them in the back at first opportunity.

The Republicans are all about free enterprise until they get their hands on a no-bid contract. And then they're about grand larceny.

If you vote Republican, I don't want you on my blog. Get out motherfucker! I can smell your stink in cyberspace you rancid pig fucker. Come around again and I'll knock you on your fat-cat ass. Punk.

Have a good evening.


Read the only news with tits.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Buk and Noam

Noam Chomsky: The Antidote To So Many Lies

by Johann Hari
Noam Chomsky is one of the most hysterically abused figures in the world today. Even his critics have to concede that his work in the field of linguistics – beginning to decode the structure of how language is formed in the human brain – makes him one of the most important intellectuals alive. But when he applies the same rigorous method to figuring out how power – especially the American government's – works, he is pepper-sprayed with smears. He is a self-hating Holocaust denier, a jihad-loving traitor, a Pol Pot-licking communist, and on and on.
Read the rest of this piece from the Independent here.

the bluebird by Charles Bukowski
from The Last Night of the Earth Poems
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
in there.
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
you want to blow my book sales in
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be sad.
then I put him back,
but he’s still singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
and we sleep together like
with our
secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Tech Curses, Etc.

Been receiving some good tech/publishing ideas from a couple of readers. Thanks gentlemen. Anything you do to help the bumbling technophobe here is appreciated.

The first computer I ever owned was a Kaypro 2000 laptop. It was ancient when I bought it. It had a 3"x8" display screen about the size of the blogger text box I'm typing into now. I never figured out how the damn thing worked, to be honest. Somehow it stored and replicated info on one disk, I think. Could it have not had a hard drive? Goodness, just thinking about it blogs my mind. I think I spent more time wrangling with the tech than writing with the damn thing. I may have wrote a couple of plays on it before I finally gave it away. I took a little bath in the deal, having paid three-hundred for it. I turned it over to a friend before I threw it out my front window and into the street. I'd venture to say the computer was fine. I just couldn't remember how to use it from day to day. Typical of my every endeavor. Seriously, I have memory problems. Have since Jr. High. Wait, now I remember! It had a program disk...How'd that work...Hmmmm

Laptops have come up in the world since then, I'd say. Around the same time I owned the Kaypro, I found a Radio Shack laptop that worked off double-A batteries and had an even smaller display screen. I liked the Radio Shack model more than the Kaypro, though its memory was tiny in comparison. I could save about eight pages of single-spaced text in the RS laptop, so if I wanted to write a long piece I'd print out a couple of copies, delete the printed text and continue on with a new section of writing.

Before long I learned to just shorten up everything. I wrote a few short stories, holding them to eight pages or fewer, sort of experimenting with story length and brevity, trying to make something work. Not much did I'm afraid. I tossed most of those stories years ago.

I was thinking about output the other day as I wrote about Bernard Malamud. He wrote eight novels, not a terribly large number for a bestselling author. Most writers want to cash in on their fame and pump out as much as they can while the iron is hot. Malamud also wrote a handful of short story collections. He had trouble pleasing himself and took a long time making things sound right with his novels and stories. He rewrote a lot, many drafts, so it's not as if he wasn't working. He was seeking a sense of perfection, you might guess. Along with his teaching duties, the novels and stories absorbed all his time and he managed to produce very good literature, which is not something every prolific author can claim.

I'm not sure what this post has been about. Sort of a ramble, uh?


Friday, July 16, 2010

Letter Bombs

It is entirely something else now, but when I conceived of this blog I imagined it to be a conduit to my collection of plays at A year ago at this time I was brooding about not having a job and sending out dozens of resumes a week to various companies and hearing nothing back except a rare letter thanking me for my interest.

I was collecting unemployment at the time and working four to eight hours a day slamming out cover letters, fine tuning my approach to job hunting, and lamenting the old adage that says hunting for a job is the hardest job you'll ever have. At the same time I was writing a novel. Who in the hell is going to publish this? I thought as I finished a draft. It hasn't novelistic qualities at all. It's a mystery, but not really a mystery. It's a crime novel, but not one in the ordinary sense. It's social satire, but loosely constructed. It's an anti-war novel, but marginally concerned with war. It's a social novel, but has elements of the anti-social throughout. What is it? Well, I thought, it's slightly deranged, a stab at several genres at once and not a very good novel at all. But there it is, sitting there on my laptop, several weeks of work come to naught.

Then I discovered Lulu. I'd never heard of it, but searching the Web for publishers, I read a story about "print-on-demand." Lulu was mentioned prominently in the story, so I investigated. I soon learned how the concept works and I decided to give it a try. I got terribly excited, typing my novel up as per the web site's suggestions, decoding the Cover Design template (but not fully), creating an actual book. Before this happened you might say I was out of touch. I still am usually, tagging along behind the masses, out of touch with what is happening in the technological world, movies, science, contemporary lit, art, pop culture, etc.

Holy cow! This is the job I've wanted all along, I realized as I worked at making my own book. I don't need to write deferential letters to strangers trying to convince them that I am a sincere hard worker who will do their company proud. I can do this instead!

Well, one can't simply stop looking for paying work, which I haven't, but let me put it this way--I now spend more time with Round Bend Press than I do with my futile job search. (The economy is so bad in Oregon that I feel like quitting altogether and taking a tent into the woods; one would either die there or manage to live with the beasts. Or one could turn into a Ted Kacznski-like figure, writing incendiary tracts against capital. Without bombing anyone, of course, FBI guy. Not advocating anything here.)

I called my novel The Friends of Round Bend and self-published it at Lulu. The book wasn't ready to be published I discovered soon thereafter, having an assortment of typos and outright misspellings and a myriad of other problems (narrative, syntax, vocabulary, etc. etc.) All and all, a quite amateurish job filled with problems that I'd managed to overlook in my excitement to finally publish a book.

A slightly better issue of the novel is still up at Lulu. I decided in the end that until I rewrite it or completely lose interest in its possibilities, I'll just leave it there as a symbol of my subsequent efforts. It used to be said about Sherwood Anderson that he was a mediocre novelist and that short stories such as those he published in Winesburg, Ohio were as close to perfection as anything he tried. His novels were too episodic, critics said. They lacked the necessary cohesion of the novel form, which is organic and fluid in structure. Winesburg, Ohio is indeed an unstructured, informal novel inasmuch as all the stories in it are interrelated. It is pastiche and glimpse, but not novelistic in the usual way we define the concept. As short stories however, the book is masterful.

The ideal novel wouldn't have chapters; it would open with the first sentence and each subsequent sentence would make perfect sense relative to the previous sentence and the next sentence, so that if one sentence fell out of the novel the entire structure of the thing would collapse and be indecipherable. In a sense, this is what Hemingway was talking about when he said his method was to write "one true sentence" at a time until a story was told. To banish the extraneous would then be the ultimate goal, giving the novel a ringing truth like the best haiku. A long novel would break into a myriad of haiku moments. No padding or flowering, simply the author's voice giving recognition to a moment or an object or a thing. Nothing would even need happen in the novel if this were the case; it might perfect nothingness.

In my novel, Round Bend is an imaginary coastal town in Oregon. Here I tried to set the place in a physical reality drawn from an amalgam of known possibilities:

from The Friends of Round Bend

Located at Cold River’s confluence with the ocean’s quay, Round Bend Port has a natural beauty that is only partially obscured by the hub-hub of industry. Over the course of a century Round Bend grew around the bay with a careful purpose; to keep the scenic quality of the place and to maximize its potential as a port and center of commerce. It stayed small for many years, but like elsewhere in the 1950s witnessed growth and a realignment of accompanying challenges.

Now, some of the charming old buildings from an earlier era rose up from the bay’s shores, refurbished and aglow with red brick, while a smattering of newer condos and offices were designed to unobtrusively fit in. To the northeast, climbing the tree-covered slope of the Coast Range’s foothills, stood the homes, in various stages of decay or renovation, of the first developers of Round Bend’s boom times. The community had once been a leader in the export of logs, but with the shrinking of the timber industry throughout the region wood shipments had steadily fallen through the past decade or more.

There were other signs of sickness as well. Where three lumber mills once kept the community gainfully employed, one remained. Consequently, the businesses that once catered to them died slow deaths, replaced by start ups in new technologies, new recreation, new everything. Round Bend’s striving entrepreneurial class was making a great effort. Time would tell. Were things better now in Round Bend, or worse? The answer more or less depended on what the individual did or didn’t do with those opportunities that were available.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Malamud's New Life

Bernard Malamud taught at Oregon State College in Corvallis from 1948 to 1961 and took revenge on the university by publishing the novel A New Life, in 1961. It concerns an unhappy-in-love professor, his troubled women, his troubled self, and an east coast mentality plopped down in the Pacific Northwest. Yet the story is full of optimism too, providing a sense of the joyous discovery of place and rebirth. Malamud's third novel, A New Life was also his most conventional both in style and subject matter.

I went through a Malamud phase years ago, but remember only a few of his short stories, which I recall affected me very much for their insight and humor. I thought Malamud was a great writer, and that is generally the assessment of the critics. With the equally talented Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, he was known as a post-war sage of American Jewishness; his work scrutinized and revealed the inner lives of Jewish Americans struggling to survive in America's ghettos.

Bellow of course won a Nobel Prize and Philip Roth is a much revered living legend, but Malamud seems to have fallen out of favor with the reading public. Perhaps there was never enough Jewishness to go around with these three masters in Christian America. Anyone paying attention knows however that Malamud is a masterful story teller and deserves better than what he has received; a kind of benign neglect from a fickle public.

I remember his novels better. Of all his works, my favorite Malamud is The Tenants, the story of two young writers, one white and the other black, who live uncomfortably as neighbors in a condemned New York tenement apartment building. It works on two levels: as an examination of race relations in the U.S., and as a sort of Polaroid picture of the writing process as it plays out in Malamud's imagination. It's a stunning novel really, one you ought to read if you haven't.

On a fishing trip in the Cascades the summer (1977) I lived in Lebanon with my friend Bob Thomas, Bob and I met a retired Oregon State professor fishing near us one day and got to talking about Malamud. The fisherman knew Malamud well, having been in the OSU English Department with him. It seems Malamud published his novel about college life and left Corvallis about the same time in 1961.

It was probably a good thing, the retired English professor told Bob and I. A number of folks in the community didn't exactly appreciate their loose portraiture in the novel A New Life.

After his examination of a new life in the Northwest, Malamud returned to the East to reclaim his old life as a Jewish intellectual. He died in 1986.


Great Genius and Evil Genius

James Micael Curly at reminds us that Dylan penned these words 47 years ago:

from Masters of War

“Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul"

“And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
’Til I’m sure that you’re dead"

Good luck, Dick Cheney, and Bob, thank you for your great genius.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Prelude to a Home Run

Fisk was sensational that day, as this insane guy recalls the 1975 World Series. The Red Sox have won the World Series twice since coming so close in 1975. But 1975 still ranks among Boston's greatest years. Fisk and I both hit home runs in game six of the '75 World Series. Read about it in the salacious post below.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Home Run

Man, I am having all sorts of problems with my computer. I don't know what's wrong. I'm really stupid and a smart 3rd grader could probably tell me what to do, but I don't know any 3rd graders. My laptop, running Windows blah, blah, blah, is turning off repeatedly (crashing?) and when I turn it back on it struggles to restart and shows me a Repair function, and that sometimes does the trick, but today the Repairs window opened and then it died! On off, on off, on off, like some kind of girlfriend. And I kept rebooting, or trying to, and when I do this it does that, etc. Any good computer doktors readin' this? Is my hard drive crazy? Do I need a new computer, can mine be fixed? Has a virus like the one in my head attacked me?

(later on a borrowed computer I type this)

If you don't see me around much you'll know why. My computer is dead.

But before then, in recognition of the baseball all-star break I should quickly mention Carlton Fisk and the 1975 World Series and his game-six-saving home run that gave the Red Sox one more chance to win it all, but which they did not, because Cincinnati was too strong throughout its lineup, with heavies like Foster, Perez, Griffey, Morgan, Concepcion, Bench, Rose, and the rest.

I liked baseball back then, and particularly a pair of 2nd year stars playing for the Red Sox named Fred Lynn and Jim Rice, who would go on to have great careers in Boston. I think Lynn may have finished his career elsewhere, I'm thinking Anaheim, but I believe Rice played his whole career in Boston. I could be wrong about that, but it does not really matter. The point is I liked these players a lot, along with Carl Yaztremski who was the old-timer on the team. Yaz. Big-time player.

I watched that pivotal sixth game, sort of. I was in bed with Alice in Waterville, Maine. I'd had sex earlier in the day with Mary, and Alice came over and demanded sex right in the middle of the game. It sort of pissed me off, but I did my duty and started in with her, with the TV on and the sound down low so as to not disturb her concentration.

Fisk hit his home run right in the middle of our business. I got out of bed and whooped and jumped up and down because since moving to New England I had become a big Red Sox fan. I think I could have told you every stat about them, and I had watched all season long on TV as they won the pennant. I can't forget that; Hawk Harrelson was the color guy on the broadcasts with Steve Stone.

With Fisk's homer, I ran around in a circle hooting and hollering and then noticed something. Something having to do with my anatomy.

What are you doing? Alice said. Don't you want to finish?

Yeah, I said, soon as I'm done celebrating. It was incredible. A home run to win it!

It's just a baseball game. Who's playing?

I looked at Alice. She looked good lying on my small bed, naked, a little pale, whereas earlier she had more or less glowed pink.

I returned to the bed and finished up, circled the bases myself, feeling a little like Fisk, enthralled with how far and deep I'd hit it, keeping it in play somehow, with an act of will and and determination to come out a winner.

Alice didn't care much for baseball, I guess. I didn't lose interest until years later.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Gingrich Redux

Do you think Round Bend Press doesn't have its finger on the pulse of the nation, or what?

Mere weeks after winning the coveted Idiot of the Week award presented on an occasionally weekly basis by RBP, Newt "The Salamander" Gingrich is following up his dumb-book tour with a little sideshow in Iowa, angling for a dumb run at a certain high office. The job're not going to believe it...President of the United States of America!

It is our desire to keep you informed of the machinations of the malignant idiotocracy, the terrible, malingering, heartbreaking, cancerous spectre of idiocy, which is in full bloom now and sweeping across the nation, foiling good Common Sense, creating havoc and pooping all over the place like a sick kitty.

In that spirit, we proudly announce our Idiot for this week (drum roll, and what the heck, add a little tambourine and throw in a few bars of G harmonica for good measure).

Come on down, Newt. Pick up your second Idiot of the Week award!

Have you ever seen a worse painting in your life? I mean, can't the Republicans do one single thing right? How hard is it to find a competent artist to paint a bleeping picture?

I don't know whether I'm more disgusted by Newt or the artist, if that's what he calls himself. What a despicable display.

Good Lord! I can't stop looking at it...AAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!


Good Question, Sir!

The brilliant Les Leopold wonders why idiots are blaming the victim in our burgeoning unemployment picture.

Officially, there are five applicants for every job opening in the U.S. Keep in mind that the official stats are always low. Thousands upon thousands have been dumped off the unemployment rolls and are no longer counted in the stats because their unemployment benefits have expired. They are officially destitute and therefore insignificant.

The dumb asses on the Right seem to think all you need do is ask nicely for a job and you'll have one in a heartbeat. Talk about being out of touch. Employers these days are asking for a college degree and ten years of steady employment just to get a job pumping gas. A janitor must have a PhD., and a dishwasher must willingly sign a loyalty oath, pass three drug screening, kiss the restaurateur's rosy ass three times in the morning, and willfully submit to being sodomized by the head chef while being given fifty lashes with a wet noodle (it's a sick world).

The dumb asses on the Right believe that every unemployed person in the U.S. is a drug injecting reprobate with socialist tendencies.

The dumb asses on the Right can retire to their gated communities in the suburbs and wallow in their own excrement and tell us they don't stink of shit.

But we know differently, don't we? Well, don't we...

What a country, uh?


The Real Mark Twain

In popular culture today, Twain is “Colonel Sanders without the chicken, the avuncular man who told stories,” Ron Powers, the author of “Mark Twain: A Life,” said in a phone interview. “He’s been scrubbed and sanitized, and his passion has been kind of forgotten in all these long decades. But here he is talking to us, without any filtering at all, and what comes through that we have lost is precisely this fierce, unceasing passion.”

The reviewer in this New York Times piece writes that the real Mark Twain has finally been exposed upon publication of the old curmudgeon's unexpurgated autobiography.

Twain dictated the book over the the last four years of his life and left orders to suppress publication for a century. Ninety-five percent of what is published here has never been seen by the public at large. It ought to create quite a backlash among contemporary jingoists and flag wavers.

This could become a great scandal. I can't wait to hear the Texas School Board's reaction. Sounds like a great read.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Notes on Education

Two books are mandatory reading for educators coming up in the American system. One is Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and the other is Parker J. Palmer's The Courage to Teach.

Pondering Parker J. Palmer

Parker J. Palmer’s classic book, The Courage to Teach reminds me of Rollo May’s The Courage to Create. Their titles echo, but it is the wellspring of deep emotion both writers tap into while approaching their creation/teaching crafts that gives their voices resolve. I see their insights into creativity and teaching as inseparable phenomena linked by the necessities inherent in our peculiar humanness, and I believe that is the foundation of both writers’ visions. Here, briefly, is an interpretive reaction to Palmer:

With a great abstraction of emotion and a sense of awe, a functional spirituality/creativity grasps us at the onset of our lives. A baby forms deep and secure attachments to its mother within weeks of birth. It recognizes itself in a mirror by age two and begins to distinguish its otherness while setting out to explore the world of its senses—a highly creative endeavor. Early on, new stimuli create new sensations and overwhelming responses that come from the child’s prepackaged biological instincts.

Just as suddenly, the world intrudes on the child. If the child is fortunate, its mother and father immediately begin to expose it to elements of the world’s beauty—and guide it from darkness. They talk to the child with reason and love in their voices and share with it the great mystery of being, as they demonstrate the world’s goodness.

Then the child enters preschool under the care and diligence of secondary caregivers and teachers who value that child’s life as an individual. They will nourish it as a cause—for that is what a child represents, a cause that is greater than anything else on Earth.

Nothing else can touch the child’s importance—its innate creativity. For it is only through our recognition of the child’s sacredness that we can expect to witness advances in human culture.

A great segment of society, unfortunately, does not recognize the sacredness of the individual child, who must be taught to manage in the world. When parents do not recognize the sacredness of the child, and respond through their conditioned darkness to the child’s existence in harmful ways, we recognize the effects of poor parenting. Most often, poor parenting is linked to real poverty and stress.

Should we as a society be capable of recognizing the damage poor governance, through its conditioned darkness and impoverishment, inflicts on the sacred child? We should, but that is not where we are. Instead we allow our leadership to help design an impoverished culture by neglecting the sacred child.

Now, a great segment of society might argue that our leaders have done all they can to embrace the sacred child, given the limited dollars available to aid the poorly parented, and the stressed out government. If this argument is not rejected out-of-hand we are indeed doomed. If we do not elevate the sacred child to its rightful place in our culture—along with the sacred environment—there will soon be no point in continuing this cosmic exercise.

When poor governance damages culture, it is our responsibility in a democracy to repair the government. When poor governance promotes poor parenting by a systematic refusal to pay anything into culture, it is our responsibility to rethink the fiscal aspects of our present system.

In our present system of corporate socialism, those whom determine fiscal soundness pay lip-service to many groups and special interests. Rarely do they invest in those groups and interests, unless a payback in hard currency is foreseeable.

Corrupt reciprocal relationships exist between governments and business interests in most cultures. Dictatorships make an art of it, but crumbling democracies are just as at risk. It is not an accident that the wealth of our nation is funneling into fewer and fewer troughs. It is deliberate theft.

When it is too late to save the suicide victim, we often lament that we did not see the distress that led up to the act. We cannot afford to let our lamentations rule better sense when the sacred child is at risk.


American Exiles

Much of what I think and write springs from an at times appallingly regional point of view. As much as I would prefer to think internationally, I am first and foremost a child of America’s Pacific Northwest; more specifically, I am an Oregonian. My stripe of nativity is wide and deeply engrained, and I spend an inordinate amount of time reflecting on the synergy of mobilization and sense of place.

Around me I have witnessed Oregon’s growth of transplants, seedlings, people who have arrived here to begin anew, lured by geography and escapist dreams. This is not a mystifying trend. The transplants speak openly of the allure, the advantages of the environment. The social anthropologists’ documentation of migration and hope is vast; I do not need to recover their sense of what lies “beyond” in the imaginations of exiles.

I’m in a unique situation now (for me) wherein I meet many transplants, more than at any time since I first gave thought to the meaning of place as social experience. A jobless black man newly arrived here from Detroit said to me recently, “Of course I knew the economy is bad here. But I also knew it could not be as bad as Detroit. I had nothing to lose coming here.”

The argument is both a hopeful view and a curse generated by the ruling class in a new paradigm of intensified greed and increasingly harsh social distortion. It always amazes me to realize that everyone is here for a blink of time, yet we are infinitely capable of turning our little time-allotment into a life or death pursuit of wealth. That is not what we need from our every endeavor--other sources and goals should move to the fore. They must if we are to survive as a species, isn't it plain enough?

The trend to job loss in the U.S. exasperates the loss of place in the psyches of people; for its part, the Pacific Northwest provides a salve for some very open wounds created by the high-tech economy and neoliberal, global economization. Powerless to defeat moneyed interests, ordinary people caught in the contraction of the U.S. economy must renew their sense of comfort by reinvention. Often, and seemingly progressively, that entails reconfiguring place as destiny. If I am to suffer the indignity of poverty, the transplant can argue, I shall at least suffer elsewhere, for I have lost the faith I once held for my home.

My sense of this began naturally enough when I moved to Maine in 1974. I was an adventurist, like many of the young people I have met over the years who have settled here in Oregon. Maine, too, has as draws landscape and figments of possibility, and environment as refuge. I determined long ago that it was either there or here, that I would live and die in one or the other. I chose Oregon because of its power to transform my imagination within my rootedness, but I could have just as easily remained in Maine, in exile, or returned there, because I had reinvented or perhaps “found” my character there. Though I have not visited in many years, Maine yet draws me into its web of place and possibility. Who knows, perhaps I shall live there in the end, fall into a snow bank and take my last frozen breath. That is a popular and necessary way of dying there.

Of my sixty-years, I have lived all but six in my homeland. As much as any region in the U.S., the Pacific Northwest is marked by its provincialism, a quality that the American expatriate author Paul Bowles labeled, in a different context, “the sheltering sky.” In his novel The Sheltering Sky, Bowles draws a conflicted married couple into the intrigue and unsettling discomfort of North Africa, where Bowles had noted certain varieties of American expats unlike him were unable to foil their conundrum of exile and longing.

The Pacific Northwest has in its own manner become a "sheltering sky" for a new breed of exiles within an America that is barely recognizable from the country I knew forty years ago.

Darling you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go
If you say that you are mine
I'll be here 'til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go

It's always tease, tease, tease
You're happy when I'm on my knees
One day is fine, the next is black
So if you want me off your back
Well come on and let me know
Should I Stay or should I go

Should I stay or should I go now
Should I stay or should I go now
If I go there will be trouble
An' if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know…

The Clash

Tennessee Williams on Paul Bowles and the 1949 publication of The Sheltering Sky.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Memory and the Muse

I crashed hard today catching up on my sleep. Remembering feels like rigorous physical exercise, too rough for my dispirited core-self, draining. I do not have a solid enough grasp of anything I write here to consider myself an authority, so I enslave myself to the spirit of reverie. Ideas ebb and flow in my consciousness, and then it is as if I have no mind at all, as if I am floating through the experience, not actively living it. To describe this feels like the most difficult task I've ever confronted. Words crumble as I type. Who am I amidst this fragmentation? I can't write a sentence now. I lack cohesion. This may be an aspect of my particular order of depression. I have a drug. I took it this morning as usual, yet I feel broken.

What is remembering? It feels like an abstraction, at times unreal. One is disturbed by the gaps inherent in one's own history. Days, weeks, months obliterated. I kept a journal for a time when I was a young man working as an organizer. It fell apart as I realized I could not make it make sense. I never tried journal writing again. But, since starting this blog in April, I've seldom missed posting something every day, even if it was not up to the standards I'd prefer to regularly exhibit. But what are those? I've tried to find its essence, the meaning of my past. Today felt out of sync all day and I felt drained, so I slept.

When a man grows old

When a man grows old and his energy ebbs he turns to writing poetry

When a man grows old women look beautiful, but what can he do about it

When a man grows old he resents the machinations of politicians and kids

When a man grows old and his teeth turn yellow he scorns his friends

When a man grows old his poetry leaves him empty until he drinks a beer

When a man grows old night becomes stranger than the days of his past

When a man grows old time flows backward to a sense of what lasts

History is a miserable joke

History is a miserable joke told by a man with a monocle and an impaired ear who believes history

But even the autodidact knows history doesn’t happen--it is invented to make you feel as miserable as possible

Remember this the next time you shop in produce for lettuce that is fresh and free of dogma

You’ll be elated to find something good to eat

You’ll be saddened by the assassination of broccoli

If your muse is dead

If your muse is dead you must quit believing in her

Try drinking in the morning and shattering your illusions

Eat a steak, breathe in

Take a break from the deadly intoxication of words--roam at will

Stand in a clear field, listen to the maniacal bird that saved your life

Try dreaming

It is best left unsaid-- leave everything to the imagination

But hold on!

Another muse will come along and make you feel like a fool when she grins

Poetry can be such a drag

In the helpless morning

In the helpless morning when your liver assures you of your poetic cause

And you know greatness by its first name

And you fumble for a bite to eat while standing stooped at the kitchen sink

Readying to fall into a trap like Hem and Hunter

And you don’t have a weapon

You’d better put on some Mississippi blues

And pray

Even if you don’t believe in Jesus

Even if you are as naked as an old man turning to poetry

When after a few drinks

When after a few drinks poetry becomes an obsession, the story is about to end

When the dawn holds promise, the day unravels like a sure narrative biography

“This happened, but the other is a lie”

When the poet gets down to business he sees all of this in a glowing seed

When he is mesmerized by the details of his blood

When the neighborhood shimmers in a blazing light

When friends pass on

End of the story

to a painter

your silence is conspicuous

de kooning has crashed down on your head

turner has set your hair on fire

color has consumed you in flames

you are better off now

you are finally free


Friday, July 9, 2010

The Beat Goes On

And the beat goes on:

"The nation's jobs crisis is so catastrophic that, unless Congress acts on the scale of the New Deal, millions of Americans will experience extremely long periods of unemployment for many years ahead," Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, told a panel of the Committee on Ways and Means recently."

Read the rest of this strong essay by Adrianne Appel at CommonDreams.

The big boy Republicans are on vacation, collecting their outrageous salaries, visiting their top-flight medical caregivers, primping in the mirror, paying their mistresses to keep quiet, striking deals with rich friends, sailing their yachts, and so much more.

Will it ever change?

And Alexander Cockburn.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Poems of Humor and Protest

One of the City Lights Pocket Poets Series titles Bob Thomas sent to me when I lived in Maine in the mid-seventies was Kenneth Patchen's Poems of Humor and Protest, which Lawrence Ferlinghetti published in 1956. Patchen's book was the third in the City Lights venture, and still remains among my favorites. Patchen was a fantastic poet.

Patchen had a rough life, beginning with the loss of his sister when he was a teenager. Her death cast a pall over his life that he never completely transcended. Then, while still in his twenties, he was hurt when a friend's car fell on him as he worked on it. The accident damaged his spinal cord and Patchen suffered through a series of experimental surgeries, culminating in a final botched surgery that immobilized him. His wife, Miriam, took care of him and Patchen and her had a rare, completely dedicated relationship that produced a number of very fine love poems by the writer.

Patchen's success was marginal, partially because he was a committed pacifist during World War II, and he acquiesced to no one (and of course poets are marginalized in general in the U.S). If ever a writer was committed to the ideal of peace it was Patchen, whose job as he formulated it was to delineate the world's suffering and pathos to a sleeping public.

His protest drew the attention of many notable writers on both coasts of the U.S. Henry Miller wrote a laudatory essay about his life and work, and the Beats gathered at his feet. With Kenneth Rexroth and a few others, he founded the jazz poetry movement of the forties, an idea Jack Kerouac ran with in 1959's Mexico City Blues, 242 improvised "choruses" that Kerouac affiliated with Charlie Parker and bebop. For his part, Patchen read with Charlie Mingus as early as 1955. Unfortunately, their gigs were never recorded.

A decade prior to working with Mingus, Patchen recorded with John Cage for a radio program, work I've never heard, but can easily imagine is stunning if you understand Cage's work, an acquired taste like most experimental music.

(In Portland in the late seventies Dan Lissy, a well-known writer and musician, had committed to memory the entirety of Kerouac's book, a mammoth accomplishment. When Lissy recited the work you could hear Parker, I am convinced).

At mid-career, Patchen tried his hand with free-associative novel writing and penned The Journal of Albion Moonlight, a deep meditation on delirium and madness that is confounding in the manner of the "new novel," fragmented as open stasis and uninvolved with typical time-evolved narrative. It has a dadaist or surreal quality, comparisons of which Patchen, always obstinate, disputed. The book was brought out by James Laughlin's New Directions, another of that publisher's great coups, in 1961.

Patchen wrote one other long prose work, in 1945, titled Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer, which amounts to a long inside joke about novel writing. The book's protagonist must suffer all the indignity that a poor would-be author suffers in his quest to be heard. His shyness about the world's reaction to his work has him spelling hell: h--l, so as to not offend the good taste of the masses. Etc.

Patchen died in 1972 at age 61.

The Temple

To leave the earth was my wish, and no will stayed my rising.
Early, before sun had filled the roads with carts
Conveying folk to weddings and to murders;
Before men left their selves of sleep, to wander
In the dark of the world like whipped beasts.

I took no pack. I had no horse, no staff, no gun.
I got up a little way and something called me,
'Put your hand in mine. We will seek God together.'
And I answered, 'It is your father who is lost, not mine.'
Then the sky filled with tears of blood, and snakes sang.

Kenneth Patchen


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Real World Jobs

I have written here about my childhood work in the berry and bean fields of the Willamette Valley. But the fields were not my lone source of spending money every year. The harvest season lasted from June to the beginning of the next school year in early September, which left me seven months of free time to find other jobs to contribute to the scarce income my mother and I received from Social Security, benefits paid to us in the name of my deceased father. One should not wonder why my mother then was an old- school Democrat and Progressive Era sympathizer.

The New Deal saved America, despite what we hear these days from backward thinking Republicans and other reactionaries who would love to see the clock turned back on progressivism in general and the New Deal in particular. Without Social Security my mother and I would have been homeless and likely died. That is not an exaggeration.

The Bush administration's scheme to privatize Social Security in 2005 met a well-justified and quick death. If you need a barometer of how far out of touch Dubya was, think about that. Of the many asinine ideas he dreamed up, that one was perhaps the most asinine of all. I had to applaud the American people at the time. They effectively stuffed a sock in Dubya's mouth for once and spoke in his stead.

I had a paper route when I was a kid, but not the conventional kind. I sold Grit door to door, earning ten cents per fifty-cent sale. The newspaper/magazine was published weekly and my stack was delivered to my house on Saturday mornings. Weekends, I would hit the neighborhood hard selling in a long and wide sweep of the area around Langmack Airport, where many middle-class families lived. By scouring the area with my papers in a heavy-canvass tote with Grit lettered on it in bright, bold red, I managed to build a regular clientele. I became adept at picking the right house to approach for a sale. I looked at the front lawn first. If it was green, well-kept, manicured to perfection, clean and fresh, I'd approach the house and ring the doorbell. Generally, the woman of the house would answer the door and look at me like I was the cutest thing in the world, which I may have been.

"Grit, ma'am?" I'd say.
"Of course," she'd say, and I'd pull a Grit out of the bag, pass it to her, open my palm, and take the money. At times it was ridiculously easy, but at other times I guessed wrong. I had my share of contemptuous assholes to deal with, like we all do.

I made decent cash every weekend, enough to buy a steady diet of junk food and the magazines I favored, including hunting and fishing publications, hot rod magazines, Mad, and an assortment of teen music magazines that I would read to learn the lyrics of popular songs, especially the ones I heard on the radio by the Rolling Stones, whom I could never quite decipher without the text in front of me as I listened. Many people loathed the Stones because Mick mumbled when singing. I just looked the songs up to figure out what he was saying and then tried to sing along. I must say I was often surprised by what I read and how it juxtaposed with my first impressions of the lyrics.

Such is art.

I submitted my own lyrics to the magazines--they were always having "contests." Inevitably a letter would come saying I had real songwriting talent and that for a mere $50 I could have my lyrics published and presented to the stars and possibly have them sung on a record. My mother nixed the idea, of course, which didn't bother me at all because I knew a scam when I heard one. I think I took pleasure in resubmitting one song after another, always receiving a variation of the same lame return letter extolling my talent. It became something of a game I played, just to see how they would express my greatness each time.

When I wasn't selling newspapers door-to-door I worked in a restaurant for a family with a nearby eatery. Patrick's Cafe sat on the side of the road on Highway 20, just west of Thompson Lane. I don't recall whether laws prohibited kids from working like I did in that restaurant in the late fifties and early sixties. Perhaps they did, but I managed to get around them, and I became the official weekend potato peeler. That was my one and only job. I stood at a sink counter on a little riser and peeled a hundred pounds of potatoes, a morning's worth, and dropped them into a pot of water to be cleaned and diced by someone else before they were passed to the grill and precooked, or blanched, for morning prep.

I used to laugh when some hotshot kitchen manager would ask me if I ever worked in a kitchen as I filled out my application. I had the standard old-timer's line in waiting. Kid, I thought, I've forgotten more about kitchen work than you've ever known. The kid asked a harmless question and it's a harmless thought-reaction, but explaining oneself gets old every time.

I still have a difficult time with all the would-be Bobby Flays in Portland who think they're the shit. I could cook circles around most of those assholes if I wanted to, which I don't because I despise restaurateurs, having met few capable of telling me anything I don't already know. Anything I didn't know by age-ten.

The exploding food cult in Portland also sickens me like a food-borne disease. Nothing about food should make one as rapturous as some of these "foodies" claim to be after eating at the current great restaurant in town. Food is a charade now, a status symbol, like a car. Why not just eat and shut the fuck up about it, okay people? People are starving all around you. Respect that I don't care about your $50 plate.

Most phonies like this couldn't tell a Fly Agaric from a Morel if their lives depended on it, which they might. The Fly Agaric is poisonous.


Neo Liberalism and the Economic Rules of Engagement

Forgotten Casualties of the Recession


"Consistently ignored in reporting on the economic crisis is the dramatic toll it’s taking on America’s children. The prevalence of poverty has expanded dramatically in light of growing unemployment, accompanied by state attacks on social welfare spending that benefits the disadvantaged. Child poverty grew nationally to a total of 22 percent of all children in 2010, an all time high for the last two decades, and an increase in five percent over the last four years. Half of the poor are now classified as in “extreme poverty” – described as living in families earning below 50percent of the poverty line. The percent of children who are food insecure also increased to 18 percent in 2010. This growth translates into an additional 750,000 children nationwide who are malnourished."

Read the rest of DiMaggio's fine article here.

Nothing less than a war on the poor is at hand. Where is the outrage?


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

To Have and to Forget

Dean Baker over at CommonDreams makes a solid point when he says Republicans can wait out the gloomy economic realities of the present and expect voters to blame the poor economy on the Demos come mid-term elections in November. In fact, the GOP is playing its obstructionists' cards with temerity, cynically banking on America's forgetfulness. They simply expect Americans will forget the recent filibuster of the new stimulus package enlightened economists are calling for. Are Americans that forgetful and easily manipulated? They probably are. We'll know in November, I guess. Here is Baker's article.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Open Cinema

The Critics' Picks in the New York Times today is Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, a film I have not seen but would very much like to. Maybe I'll rent it later. This 1995 take on the American old west appears to attempt a more authentic portrayal of the times than the typical Hollywood movie about America's nineteenth century.

I'm curious as to how I missed this one. I usually pay attention to Jarmusch, a great filmmaker and disciple of independent cinema. Like John Sayles, he's famous for grabbing hold of his projects and locking them down within the parameters of his own vision, not some money manager's formulaic checklist of movie making principles, which is the habit of Hollywood.

Jarmusch and Sayles have mainly kept the faith in an era where it seems to be more and more difficult to complete a project on your own terms in the movie biz. The brilliant Coen brothers have managed to cross the aesthetic divide between Hollywood and independence, but they are not normative. They're simply overwhelmingly talented and original.

Jarmusch and Sayles always had the same organic wisdom. It's hard to tell why the Coens managed to play the game with more lucrative results, not that they reap the harvest like James Cameron, whose movies bore the piss out of me. They're just solid, tell funny and unique stories, edit with astonishing flair, and write great scripts that they let actors play with within the movie by keeping their minds open to on-set magic.

Jarmusch and Sayles do it as well as the Coens, but it appears personalities and business acumen and much else is the difference. Mmmmmm.

The premise and desire for authenticity in Dead Man reminds me of one of my favorite movies of the seventies, America's fertile and much missed glory days of film production. That is Michael J. Pollard's portrayal of Billy the Kid, in Dirty Little Billy. Take your rain gear and galoshes if you ever go to see this movie. It actually rains throughout the movie and things get plenty muddy, and Billy the Kid is a psychopath, just as he was in real life.

P.S., I just noticed the links don't work here, and I'm not rewriting them. The Times wants your subscription, evidently. Sorry about that!