Thursday, December 10, 2009

poem : Homage To R.S. Thomas

Homage To R.S. Thomas

Become one of us the gulls were saying
That night he
Rushed out stumbling on the jetty rocks in Wales
Believing the secrets of flight would soon be his
If he could risk it all and spread his arms
And fly out over the edge into the sea
But he became afraid. He became rational.
Fell down upon his knees and called for Christ to save him.
And the birds took flight
Crying their caw
Caw Caw
And he walked slowly back
Leaned over the railing
By the old ruined castle
Filled with yearning
Filled with Hiraeth

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

President Obama - as bad as Bush ?

I was appalled today to read that the Bush-era policy of the U.S. refusing to sign on to the banning of land-mines as over 150 other nations have done will be continued by the present administration. It was equally dismaying to see our President bowing and scraping to the Saudi king, and also for the sake of international business enterprise to the Chinese dictatorship. Further, President Obama continued and expanded the payments to banks and bankers and others of that greedy ilk, appointed a tax cheat as Treasury Secretary, kept Bush's man Bernake in-charge of the Federal Reserve, and kept Bush's man Gates as Defense Secretary, while sending Hillary Clinton around the world to sightsee the poor. But not to American Samoa, where the tsunami-ravaged people there have to count on the old FEMA gang. Bush's environmental policies continue without much substantive change. In terms of help for Native Americans, I continue to receive charity requests from American Indian groups around the nation noting that their situation hasn't changed one iota: poverty, unemployment, elders dying in unheated homes, children without any schoolbooks. It now seems it was a mistake to return to the ballot box. The so-called health care reform is not simply putting a bandaid on a cancer; as Andrew Cockburn points out in The Nation, it is a public relations scam which further empowers private insurance companies, and it does nothing to address the real problem of healthcare being a right not a privilege. We are, to the best of my knowledge, the only country on the planet which does not have universal healthcare, but a single-payer option wasn't even on the table. Those who out of ignorance or out of self-interest shout "socialized medicine" will, I take it, refuse to accept Medicare when they reach eligibility? Of course there is no insurance at all, certainly not Medicare or any of the medicare "gap" policies, which covers the cost of hearing aids, good ones beginning at $2000; so the hearing-impaired in America continue to suffer in silence. Perhaps Obama will surprise me when he announces what he is going to do about the wars, but it seems now he is committed to listening to the self-serving, death-oriented, narrow-minded military leaders, and the private "soldiers of fortune" and "getting the job done" as he has said. Is there a difference between this and Bush's "mission accomplished" or LBJ's believing McNamara and Westmorland in Vietnam? It's not that we haven't progressed any from that era - we don't seem to have progressed any from "The Charge of the Light Brigade."

(I don't maintain a Comments Box on these OMOO posts I have irregularly done over the past four years because (a) I would feel obliged to respond personally to comments (as Tom Clark does in his "Beyond The Pale" poetry blog) and I just don't have the good will, or perhaps the energy, to do that, and (b) reading other blogs, I see the plethora of nutters who drop comments into boxes and I really don't want to deal with that. Anyone who wants to seriously address me about something, can click on my profile to find my e-mail address.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Davey Graham Celebration

Those who love music and the sound of guitar especially and who are in London on the day will not want to miss this event: a celebration of the life and work of the late Davey Graham. On hearing of Graham's death, Paul Simon commented: Britain has lost its best guitarist. With thanks to Jill Doyle Lindsay, Graham's sister, for sending me the poster.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Paul Evans, THE DOOR OF TALDIR (Selected Poems)

A brief personal tribute, and my review of this posthumous Selected of Paul Evans (1945-1991), was published by Rupert Loydell @

The poems for this collection were chosen by Robert Sheppard, who also writes a decent enough introduction. The publisher is Tony Frazer (Shearsman Books).

Unfortunately, none of the poems Paul was writing during the last five years of his life are included in this rather small Selected, and the editor waffles on some, rationalizing why he didn't include an earlier poem,  "Dark &" in this text.

However, the book, despite its failures, and the omission of the last poems, gets my highest possible recommendation since all of Evans' other published books are out-of-print. 

In his essay "Paul Evans: A Book, Two Meetings And A Dream" published in THE EMPTY HILL (memories and praises of Paul Evans), edited by Peter Bailey and Lee Harwood, Skylark Press, 1992, Ian Robinson writes: "The light of his personality has gone, of course, but the light from the poems he wrote shines on: they shed a light over those of us who are left."

Here are two lyrics not included in the Selected, the first a "Poem improvised on the back cover of O.I.N.C." is dedicated to Lee Harwood, his good friend, and published in the final issue of Branch Redd Review (2002).

What's that
pale splotch
seen from a train

forty-five p.m.
to London (again)

I swear
I almost caught
the last primrose
of late spring.
He did
right smack
down the lens
of a shining periscope

the large
next to me
in the buffet-car
with "sensitive

ah Lee this is not
the Brighton Belle
I'm not a tripper
and my heart's not here

there goes a bluebell wood

Life, it is true
has not turned out
as I expected

the second poem is titled "let me explain (courtesy of Thomas De Quincey) (1834)"

"it is a great misfortune, at least it is a great peril, to have tasted the enchanted cup of youthful rapture incident to the poetic temperament. That standard of highly-wrought sensibility once made human experientially, it is rare to see a submission afterwards to the sobrieties of daily life."

yes, purple and impassioned
prose! it is to you I turn
to lose my tedious self
as in a mist (footsteps
of Leon Janacek I adore)

as in the mist
through which, one dawn
the soft body of
the Downs came clear

and in the hollow
east of Clayton
that white house appeared

glimmering there
in a light
I knew would spill
if I should breathe

And so I breathed
destroying as I must
the shape of everything
I love

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bright Star

it could have been worse. it could have been like the film of The Basketball Diaries (the worst thing in that film being the basketball, and the best the appearance of the author himself). it was, nevertheless, shlock, if quite pretty costume design shlock. it is a hell of a great "date" movie, no doubt, and far superior to violence howsoever stylized, or most digital/computer-generated animation. but it was BORING. i kept thinking, oh get on with it, just get on with it, and i must admit, the last 30 minutes, when the uninitiated learn that he is dying, is decent enough cinema, and would have done fine as a half hour BBC TV (one of the film's producers) slice-of-life special. one of the problems is that it follows the Andrew Motion biography as source. that would have been fine for a Philip Larkin biopic, but for Keats, Tom Clark's JUNKETS ON A SAD PLANET would have been better, especially given Jane Campion's bent toward the impressionistic. what the film chose not to mention (beginning as it does when Keats moves into the house in Hampstead) was that he studied to be a doctor, and so he knew right from the first drop of blood that he was doomed. in fact, you can visit the old operating room at Guy's Hospital in London where Keats would have observed surgeons in action, and the sawdust, cutting instruments, and fake blood on sheets make a frightening exhibition. not for no reason were doctors called sawbones. i enjoyed Campion's THE PIANO years ago, and her breakout film, SWEETIE, prior to that, but even with the best intentions, you can't do Merchant-Ivory without a Ruth Prawer-Jhabvala. of course, i am jaded. due to increasing deafness, even with a hearing aid i strain to catch more than half of the dialogue at best in a movie-theater setting, so i don't go to english language films much these days, but knowing the sad, and yes, tragic, tale, and the poems, i don't reckon i missed much. i did miss which version of LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI was used; the one where he is "in thrall" or the one where she is.... if it encourages people going to Keats' poems, and encourages love and romance and compassion rather than hatred, one could still say it is better than 80% of the films which continue to be made. and the large crews give the UK and Australian workers an earned payday, and why not. to say nothing of the actors. i didn't, however, much catch a cockney accent, and his working-class roots were a quite small leitmotif indeed. but then, it wasn't just class distinctions which caused Byron to rail against Keats. Keats had attacked, in his early poetry, the "neo-classicism" of the 18th century poets, whom Byron venerated. Keats wrote: "they swayed back and forth upon a rocking horse/and called it Pegasus." even after Keats' death Byron felt the need to retaliate, and personally. very nasty stuff. i must admit to being irked as well by the comment in the after-film credits that although Keats died thinking he was a failure (i'm not so sure about that!) that he is now regarded as one of the greatest of the Romantic poets. i would have said one of the greatest poets of any time in any language. but let that be. Tom Clark, in his brief take on Keats on the Vanitas blog (Sept. 18th), titled "Jim Carroll and the Imaginal Particular", writes what in my opinion is the best short piece of what used to be called "lit. crit." i have read on a computer site. it not only illuminates, it is "an active engagement with what the work proposes" (Lawrence) - which is what great "criticism" is. if Keats had consummated with Fanny Brawne, however, i have no doubt he would have been more than capable of writing deeply of psycho-sexual matters perhaps in an even deeper way than his "purity" permitted. or was he? virginal, i mean. no biographer has addressed this, but many in London feel that as a regular Cockney lad, he would have had sexual experience prior to meeting his great love. is his "purity" a myth, like The Virgin Queen? but why should anyone care about this anymore than we should care if Zukofsky insisted on Lorine's aborting, or even whether their probable affair resulted in pregnancy..great bio-pics of poets? well, Glenda Jackson did an admirable job with Stevie. a long time ago. and who knows? maybe it WAS really like that in some respects. cetainly, without Keats' consciousness and his yearning love we wouldn't have the great Odes. although it was filmed in Rome and in London, i didn't recognize much of what purported to be the Heath. there's no moving water on Hampstead Heath, just old oak trees, ponds. and swans.

(written as a quick riff, margate, new jersey, october 3.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

louche life : Jean Rhys, The Blue Hour

--- On Wed, 9/9/09, Bill Sherman <> wrote:

In the opening to her riveting impressionistic biography of Jean Rhys, Lillian Pizzichini writes:

"In the summer of 1912 the French parfumier Jacques Guerlin concocted a scent from musk and rose de Bulgarie with a single note of jasmine. He intended his new scent, which he called L'Heure Bleue, to evoke dusk in the city. The blue hour is the time when heliotropes and irises in Parisian window boxes are bathed in a blue light and the well-groomed Parisienne prepares for the evening....Its hints of pastry and almond make L'Heure Bleue a melancholic fragrence, as though in mourning for a time passed by." It was Rhys's favorite scent, a scent of twilight.

V.S. Naipaul, in an article in 1972 in THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, was the first great writer, (after Ford, and Hemingway) to appreciate her genius. Ford, always aspiring to be his conception of an English gentleman, was a poseur, saved by his writing abilities, and Pizzichini makes good use of A MOVEABLE FEAST, when Hemingway, under instructions from Pound not to laugh at Ford, sardonically transcribes Ford's chit-chat, letting Ford get himself just about right. Interestingly, Rhys and Ford and Stella Bowen (Ford's main squeeze until Jean appeared on the scene) and Jean Lenglet (Jean's first husband, and father of their daughter, Maryvonne) all wrote of the Paris betrayals, Bowen in a memoir, the others in novels. The entire affair was almost a replay of THE GOOD SOLDIER. QUARTET, her version of events, was Rhys' first published novel.

Pizzichini is at some pains to twice note that Jean was not taken with Hemingway's writing. However, in late-life letters to her daughter, Rhys indicates she is a "fan" and asks Maryvonne to send her a copy of FEAST, which she then says she enjoyed, though she disputed its veracity, preferring to read it as fiction, as Hemingway indicated the reader could. And Pizzichini paints a lovely picture of Jean sitting outside under a garden tree reading FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS (the greatest American novel of the 20th century, or was Mailer right when he said it needed editing?). Jean liked Hemingway, his "wolfish solicitude" helping her on with her coat at the close of Ford's bal musettes for Transatlantic Review.

Is she the finest British novelist of the past 80 years? In my opinion, she is. Naipaul's BEND IN THE RIVER, is an acknowledged masterpiece of the past fifty years, but not Graham Greene, Golding, Fowles at his best (THE MAGUS), Lessing, or anyone else in Britain can compare to her use of extreme condensation of language, le mot juste. Rhys is almost a French novelist writing in English (she fretted about how much influence Flaubert had on WIDE SARGASSO SEA). Long before Burroughs, she believed language was a dissembling virus, and the depth of noir in her writings, rivals even David Goodis's. Perhaps only Angela Carter's rococo beneficence in her last novel, WISE CHILDREN, (before she was taken with cancer and died at the height of her powers) and the best of her tales, the hearthwarming THE COURTSHIP OF MR. LYON, for example, can serve as effective literary counterpoint to Rhys' existentially disillusioned pessimism. No one writes more perceptively of the entropy of sexual love between man and woman, and the illusion of love, than Rhys.

Pizzichini beautifully and accurately writes: "The strange, compelling contribution she made to twentieth century literature draws on this wealth of emptiness. She writes about long periods of nothingness with an insight born of bitter experience...of the hallucinations that filled her emptiness. Her sentences use dashes and dots and form streams of words that have lost their bearings. The triumphant poetry of despair."

GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT is perhaps the first "postmodern" novel, and despite Charles Olson's supposedly being the first to use that word, to indicate a return to an archaic wholeness now fragmented, Jean-Francois Lyotard's definition still seems best to me: " The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself; that which denies itself the solace of good forms, the consensus of a taste which would make it possible to share collectively the nostalgia for the unattainable; that which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them but to impart a stronger sense of the unpresentable." The shuddering ending to GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT - a "distortion" Ms. Pizzichini calls it, of Molly Bloom's acquiescence, fulfills both definitions...."Jean did not parade her literary allusions, acquaintances, or associations. They bled into her writing. This makes her writing all the more subversive - an ironic echo, a passive-aggressive swipe at her masters."

Ms. Pizzichini's sometimes expressionistic approach has been summarily dissed in reviews in the U.S., from a rather condescending and insensitive review from the otherwise distinguished professor Lisa Paravisini, to hacks in the N.Y. Times Book Review and other places. However, although anathema to the Academy, this kind of biography, like Tom Clark's of Ed Dorn for example, or Byron Rogers' of R.S. Thomas, enables the reader to enter into the affinity the author has for her subject, and unlocks the imagination. Pizzichini seems to "channel" Jean Rhys almost as Olson did Melville in CALL ME ISHMAEL. It is a Heraclitean rather than a Thucydidean approach.

This is not to say that the biography is not accurate. This is the first biography since Carole Angier's work, and although a future biography in a future generation will be written undoubtedly which will be more "objective" and researched assiduously so we can know, for example, more about the quarrel in New York between Jean and Evelyn Scott, and other personal details Ms. Rhys would I am sure prefer the world not to know, THE BLUE HOUR is heartbreaking enough.

It took a long time for feminists and for women who were academcians, to take to Rhys' writing. Probably this is because, as Pizzichini notes, Jean after 1919 was never without a man. For a time in London she even supported herself by streetwalking. She always lived in genteel and insecure poverty, and more and more the poverty became less and less genteel. Living alone in her sixties, with her third husband in prison, she was arrested several times for drunk and disorderly conduct, and served time briefly in Holloway prison for assault, where she was inspired to write the great short story "Let Them Call It Jazz." After Max Hamer's strokes after his prison release, and then his death, she was tended by the most loyal of her friends: Sonia Orwell, Diana Melly, Francis Wyndham, and a young sculptor in Devon, Jo Batterham, who was with her when she died, age 88. "I do not see self-pity" Pizzichini writes "in Rhys's work or her life. I see an angry woman who had good reason to be angry, and whose vision was bleak....She was born into a world where she was not white enough, where she was made to feel unwelcome from an early age, and where she did not learn the social niceties to overcome such setbacks. Furthermore, whether she frequented the artistic demi-monde or conventional society, her peers were disinclined to indulge the female artistic temperament. Besides this, no one could judge her as harshly as she judged herself."

For those still not familiar with Rhys' writing, her own favorite novel, VOYAGE IN THE DARK, is as good a place to start as any. There is an informative online interview with Lillian Pizzichini by Anne Greenawalt on the web. Well worth reading. (Aug. 17th)

(Note.....In 1964/'65 in London, I was introduced to the work of Jean Rhys by the mother of the English poet, Kate Ruse (see, and I have admired, loved, and respected her writing ever since, and I would like to dedicate this post to the late Evelyn Ruse.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Leonard Cohen interview with CBC, edited for publication in The Guardian (UK)

'I'm blessed with a certain amnesia'

After his comeback to performing and Hallelujah's unlikely chart domination, Leonard Cohen has had a remarkable year. He talks to Jian Ghomeshi about love, death and taking risks.

(Friday July 10 2009
The Guardian)

What have you learned from being back on stage?

Leonard Cohen: I learned that it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I've been grateful that it's going well. You can't ever guarantee that it's going to continue doing well, because there's a component that you really don't command.

What component is that?

LC: Some sort of grace, some sort of luck. It's hard to put your finger on it - you don't really want to put your finger on it. But there is that mysterious component that makes for a memorable evening. You never really know whether you're going to be able to be the person you want to be or that the audience is going to be hospitable to the person that they perceive. So there's so many unknowns and so many mysteries connected - even when you've brought the show to a certain degree of excellence.

In 2001, you said to the Observer that you were at a stage of your life you refer to as the third act. You quoted Tennessee Williams saying: "Life is a fairly well-written play except for the third act." You were 67 when you said that, you're 74 now - does that ring more or less true for you still?

LC: Well, it's well written, the beginning of the third act seems to be very well written. But the end of the third act, of course, is when the hero dies. My friend Irving Layton said about death: it's not death that he's worried about, it's the preliminaries.

Are you worried about the preliminaries?

LC: Sure, every person ought to be.

Let me come back to the beginning of the first act. This was a brand new career for you that started in your 30s. How fearful were you of starting a second career?

LC: I've been generally fearful about everything, so this just fits in with the general sense of anxiety that I always experienced in my early life. When you say I had a career as a writer or a poet, that hardly begins to describe the modesty of the enterprise in Canada at that time - an edition of 200 was considered a bestseller in poems. At a certain point I realised that I'm going to have to buckle down and make a living. I'd written a couple of novels, and they'd been well received, but they'd sold about 3,000 copies. So I really had to do something, and the other thing I knew how to do was play guitar. So I was on my way down to Nashville - I thought maybe I could get a job. I love country music, maybe I'd get a job playing guitar. When I hit New York, I bumped into what later was called the folk-song renaissance. There were people like Dylan and Judy Collins and Joan Baez. And I hadn't heard their work. So that touched me very much. I'd always been writing little songs myself, too, but I never thought there was any marketplace for them.

Some people would think it's ironic to go into music to make money, given that it's not necessarily the most lucrative of professions for most artists.

LC: Yeah, I know. In hindsight it seems to be the height of folly. You had to resolve your economic crisis by becoming a folk singer. And I had not much of a voice. I didn't play that great guitar either. I don't know how these things happen in life - luck has so much to do with success and failure.

People talk about the fact that you've written songs that you've almost grown into as you get older. How did starting a career in your 30s inform what you were writing?

LC: I always had a notion that I had a tiny garden to cultivate. I never thought I was really one of the big guys. And so the work that was in front of me was just to cultivate this tiny corner of the field that I thought I knew something about, which was something to do with self-investigation without self-indulgence. Just pure confession I never felt was really interesting. But confession filtered through a tradition of skill and hard work is interesting to me. So that was my tiny corner, and I just started writing about the things that I thought I knew about or wanted to find out about. That was how it began. I wanted the songs to sound like everybody else's songs.

You say you've always been fearful of everything. When did you give yourself permission to think of yourself as, and call yourself, a legitimate singer and musician?

LC: You cycle through these feelings of anxiety and confidence. If something goes well in one's life, one feels the benefits of the success. When something doesn't go well, one feels remorse. So those activities persist in one's life right to this moment.

Have the women in your life been a source of your strength or weakness?

LC: Good question. It's not a level playing ground for either of us, for either the man or the woman. This is the most challenging activity that humans get into, which is love. You know, where we have the sense that we can't live without love. That life has very little meaning without love. So we're invited into this arena which is a very dangerous arena, where the possibilities of humiliation and failure are ample. So there's no fixed lesson that one can learn, because the heart is always opening and closing, it's always softening and hardening. We're always experiencing joy or sadness. But there are lots of people who've closed down. And there are times in one's life when one has to close down just to regroup.

Are there times when you've lamented the power that women have had over you?

LC: I never looked at it that way. There's times when I've lamented, there's times when I've rejoiced, there's times when I've been deeply indifferent. You run through the whole gamut of experience. And most people have a woman in their heart, most men have a woman in their heart and most women have a man in their heart. There are people that don't. But most of us cherish some sort of dream of surrender. But these are dreams and sometimes they're defeated and sometimes they're manifested.

Do you think love is empowering?

LC: It's a ferocious activity, where you experience defeat and you experience acceptance and you experience exultation. And the affixed idea about it will definitely cause you a great deal of suffering. If you have the feeling that it's going to be an easy ride, you're going to be disappointed. If you have a feeling that it's going to be hell all the way, you may be surprised.

Do you regret not having a lifelong partner?

LC: Non, je ne regrette rien. I'm blessed with a certain amount of amnesia and I really don't remember what went down. I don't review my life that way.

Even in the face of a very successful record that you made in 1992, The Future, do you think dealing with depression was an important part of your creative process?

LC: Well, it was a part of every process. The central activity of my days and nights was dealing with a prevailing sense of anxiety, anguish, distress. A background of anguish that prevailed.

How important was writing to your survival?

LC: It had a number of benefits. One was economic. It was not a luxury for me to write - it was a necessity. These times are very difficult to write in because the slogans are really jamming the airwaves - it's something that goes beyond what has been called political correctness. It's a kind of tyranny of posture. Those ideas are swarming through the air like locusts. And it's difficult for the writer to determine what he really thinks about things. So in my own case I have to write the verse, and then see if it's a slogan or not and then toss it. But I can't toss it until I've worked on it and seen what it really is.

What do you consider your darkest hour?

LC: Well I wouldn't tell you about it if I knew. Even to talk about oneself in a time like this is a kind of unwholesome luxury. I don't think I've had a darkest hour compared to the dark hours that so many people are involved in right now. Large numbers of people are dodging bombs, having their nails pulled out in dungeons, facing starvation, disease. I mean large numbers of people. So I think that we've really got to be circumspect about how seriously we take our own anxieties today.

How much do you reflect upon your own mortality?

LC: You get a sense of it, you know - the body sends a number of messages to you as you get older. So I don't know if it's a matter of reflection, I don't know that implies a kind of peaceful recognition of the situation.

Is there a way to prepare for death?

LC: Like with anything else, there's a certain degree of free will. You put in your best efforts to prepare for anything. There are whole religious and spiritual methodologies that invite you to prepare for death. And you can embark upon them and embrace them and give themselves to you. But I don't think there's any guarantee this could work, because nobody knows what's going to happen in the next moment.

Are you fearful of death?

LC: Everyone has to have a certain amount of anxiety about the conditions of one's death. The actual circumstances, the pain involved, the affect on your heirs. But there's so little that you can do about it. It's best to relegate those concerns to the appropriate compartments of the mind and not let them inform all your activities. We've got to live our lives as if they're not going to end immediately. So we have to live under those - some people might call them illusions.

Let me ask you about Hallelujah, because it's been an interesting year for Hallelujah - it took on a new energy. A song that you wrote in 1984, and it appeared at No 1 and No 2 on the UK charts, and your version was also in the top 40. What did you make of that?

LC: I was happy that the song was being used, of course. There were certain ironic and amusing sidebars, because the record that it came from which was called Various Positions - [a] record Sony wouldn't put out. They didn't think it was good enough. It had songs like Dancing to the End of Love, Hallelujah, If It Be Your Will. So there was a mild sense of revenge that arose in my heart. But I was just reading a review of a movie called Watchmen that uses it, and the reviewer said "Can we please have a moratorium on Hallelujah in movies and television shows?" And I kind of feel the same way. I think it's a good song, but I think too many people sing it.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Mammals and Birds

The previous post (July 1), photos of dolphins and whales being slaughtered for sustenance through the winter (though there is no food shortage), and for cottage industry products in the Faroe Islands (Denmark), was e-mailed to me after being uploaded from the site which lists itself at the bottom left of each gruesome photograph: It is an Arab website. Although it is true that much of the Muslim world has been targeting Denmark due to the cartoons picturing Muhammad, and the Danish government supporting the rights of its people to freedom of expression; nevertheless, the photos, unhappily, are accurate.

Perhaps it is time to support SEA SHEPHERD, not just Greenpeace. Greenpeace can't be everywhere, and it has become very bureaucratic, though they have demonstrated indisputable courage in the southern oceans. SEA SHEPHERD is more confrontational as a rule on the high seas now, in the struggle to end whaling. Perhaps it is more like PETA, on land, one of the best of the large animal rights organizations.


BIRDS, the new chapbook by Allen Fisher (Oystercatcher Press, 2009) just in. It is good to read Allen out there expanding a tradition of shifting discourse within the poem, first noticeably appearing (at least in English) as leitmotif in Dorn's GUNSLINGER, Books I and II (prior to its becoming more and more of a comic-epic, as in Chaucer and Pope), and at about the same time, quite independently of any American models, in the poetry of Asa Benveniste. J.H. Prynne took up this organic way of writng (natural, because it is present in the synapses of mind), and HIGH PINK ON CHROME (1975) is seminal. That distance which Dorn notes in GUNSLINGER "between here and formerly" is carried in Fisher's sequence into a hard-edged politcal space as the poet takes a train out of London and sees:

...a culture too
late for recovery to
avoid narrative traps to delineations
of low blow whistles to
demonstrate sonic coherence
or some parody of fairness

In the sequence of ten poems, hard riffs, which he calls "Proposals" - there are echoes of the methodology of Bill Grffiths's having the sound register slightly before the sense, and the post-Beat imaginative catalogues in Eric Mottram's poems, where the things which are creative energies are strung together like beads on string, what that often misused word "parataxis" signifies. In a different way, Allen Fisher's early work was a part of the innovative mainstream of The British Poetry Renaissance, 1965-'80, where "the matter of Britain" became a psychogeography, in the work, say, of Iain Sinclair. 30 years later, Fisher takes each line out into indeterminate space before melding it or sometimes defamiliarizing it, with a time cross. He wants a "negative entropy". The machine begins its exodus:

His thick neck and head lean from the
train with internal comprehension
of the departure moment and return to
a forward seat to narrate the occasion
he drives the engine out of the station over
exit junction towards the straight rails north
sound of a mallard a moped
a sheet of ice skidding
down a roof hitting
the pavement

These ten poems of ten lines each (except for one of 11 lines), like Braques's latelife bird paintings, are single-voiced rather than cubist and earn a lucidity rather than a turgidity. In his multi-voiced work after PLACE, Fisher thrashed through phases of fragmentation which disguised or rejected most lyric personisms and the merely decorative. Having moved laterally some, away from the turbulences of the more opaque procedures of GRAVITY AS A CONSEQUENCE OF SHAPE, which occupied him for 20 years, this little chapbook may herald a change.

Elaine Randell, Carlyle Reedy, Paige Mitchell are three on the English side of the pond who also have worked with this mode of lyric non-linear. They would make a nice Penguin. Among the younger poets, the poems which Claire Crowther recites on her website, and one of hers published by Carrie Etter (no relation to the great west of Chicago poet, Dave Etter) on her blog for June 27th, are excellently surprising, as is the generous sampling from Jennifer Moxley on that same blogsite on June 30th.

Among les jeunes in contemporary U.S. poetry, I like very much what I've seen of K. Lorraine Graham's book TERMINAL HUMMING (Edge), a 21st century use of Kathy Acker/Patti Smith, or Pam Burnell (UK). Also referenced on June 30th, on Jessica Smith's "looktouchblog" is an interview with Graham by Elisa Gabbert, on "The French Exit" (June 25th).

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

something rotten in denmark

As Fred Neil wrote in his song The Dolphins: "I only know that peace will come / When all hate is gone..."

Monday, June 22, 2009


Or At Least Like Zurito

be as Manuel
in Hemingway's The Undefeated

"Few men realize that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings. The courage, the composure, the confidence; the emotions and principles; every great and every insignificant thought belongs not to the individual but to the crowd; to the crowd that believes blindly in the irresistible force of its institutions and of its morals, in the power of its police and of its opinion."

---Joseph Conrad.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Law In New Jersey

Recently here in south Jersey a state trooper (NJ State Police Officer) was acquitted in a jury trial after he ran a stop sign at 70-75 mph at night on a small New Jersey backroad in pursuit of an alleged speeder, and without his flashing lights or siren on. He rammed into a minivan killing two teenage girls (driver and passenger) age 19 and 17. The jury, acting on what the judge had noted constitutes a criminal act under these circumstances (as, apparently, it does in many other States as well), voted unanimously for acquittal, because a police officer in pusuit should not engage a siren or flashing lights until the gap between the speeder and the officer in pursuit is being closed. He claimed not to have seen the stop sign. The state trooper had to pay several hundred dollars in fines and court costs, and his attorney is now asking that he receives all of his back pay for two years prior to the trial after his suspension, and also that he be reinstated as a state policeman.

There was a civil suit settled out of court compensating the family in the amount of 2 million from State police funds paid by taxpayers.

The local papers reported the daily presence of contingents of state police officers present in the courtroom during the trial, but no news sources speculated as to whether this phalanx had any effect on prosecutor, judge, or jury.

(addendum, June 19th: Just in case anyone doubts that NJ is, covertly, a police state, Trooper Higbee has been reinstated at full pay - $67,000 a year, and will undergo firearms proficiency testing before being re-posted.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Kamala Das

I first came across her work in the "Poetry of India" special issue (#10, 1968) of Allen De Loach's INTREPID. This particular issue was guest edited by Carl Weissner.

There are 2 hyperlinks on Silliman's Blog (June 12th) to pieces written of her: A respectful N.Y. Times obituary by Margalit Fox (June 9th), and a warm personal tribute by Pritish Nandy, whose poetry also appeared in INTREPID (#10). Kamala Das has several YouTube videos, and there is a sensitive essay @ (June 13th), in their "obituaries" section. She converted to Islam at age 65 in 1999 and took the name of Kamala Suraiya.

Born in Kerala to a Nayar family, she wrote initially in Malayalan. Here are 2 excerpts from early poems written in English by her in that issue.

from "Convicts"

There was a time when our lusts were
Like milticoloured flags of no
Particular country. We lay
On bed, glassy-eyed, fatigued, just
The toys dead children leave behind,
And we asked each other, what is
The use, what is the bloody use?

from "The Descendants"

We have lain in every weather, nailed, no, not
To crosses, but to soft beds and against
Softer forms, while the heaving, lurching
Tender hours passed in a half-dusk, half-dawn and
Half-dream, half-real trance. We were the yielders,
Yielding ourselves to everything. It is
Not for us to scrape the walls of wombs for
Memories, not for us even to
Question death, but as child to mother's arms
We shall give ourselves to the fire or to
The hungry earth to be slowly eaten,
Devoured. None will step off his cross
Or show his wounds to us, no god lost in
Silence shall begin to speak, no lost love
Claim us, no, we are not going to be
Ever redeemed, or made new.

And in that same issue there are some early poems by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. Mehrotra was the third of the three candidates for the (now tainted) Oxford Professorship, and he says that he will keep his name in the running. The Oxford electors there could do far worse than offer the position to Mehrotra, who was certainly one of the wild ones as a young man, and they thus could avoid yet another faux election.

Friday, June 5, 2009

3 in 1

For obvious reasons, I don't like the title of those two Tarantino films. 40 years ago, also in Bangkok, poet and long-time Trappist monk Thomas Merton, was found dead in his room - via supposedly accidental electrocution - just before he was about to deliver to a Buddhist assembly a talk about the Vietnam War, which he opposed.

Initially led by a hyperlink on a May 31 post by Angela Veronica Wong on her "smart stuff" blog, I can now join the growing chorus of praise for Suheir Hammad's poetry.

Although somewhat boringly written, but definitively researched, W.J. McCormack's BLOOD KINDRED, does what no full-length biography of W.B. Yeats had done peviously. Only Indian scholar V.K.N. Menon, in a text favorably reviewed by Orwell over 60 years ago, dared to delve below and retrieve the sinister black box of his politics and prejudices. For example, Yeats had accepted the Third Reich's Goethe-Plakette (1934) from Nazi Oberburgermeister Krebs, and he was a supporter of the 1930's Nuremberg race laws, and during the Spanish Civil War describes democracy as "muck in the yard." In other letters and documents and drafts for poems, McCormack uncovers writings like a reference to a "Negro girl who lived near Sligo" Yeats noting "she is among those our civilization must reject" (p. 266). McCormack, Chief Librarian, Edward Worth Library, Dublin, and formerly Professor of Literary History and Head of Department, Goldsmiths' College, U. of London, discusses Yeats specifically in relation to Ireland and Irish politics, including the IRA, and concludes: "He gave comfort to democracy's enemies, to decency's enemies, to the enemies of art and culture." "Et Tu, Willy...? Modernism and Fascism" is the title of a brief piece I am writing.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Film Recommendation


(& also briefly noted: recent lit. crit. essays I liked - Ange Mlinko in THE NATION (June 8th); Robert Polito on Kenneth Fearing in HARRIET blog under "articles")

Sunday, May 24, 2009

English Lingo

Now that Ruth Padel's smear e-mails to journalists concerning Derek Walcott, prior to the election, have been made public, one ponders the curious use of language used by Ms. Padel. After admitting that her e-mails called attention to "The Lecherous Professor" - circulated anonymously to electors - she said: "I'm very, very sorry he pulled out." And Oxford historian Oswyn Murray, one of her chief supporters, said: "I'm standing behind her." The London Sunday Observer commented: "He refused to be drawn further."

addendum, Wednesday, May 27: click here @
and scroll down to the bottom for Michael Horovitz' excellent take on the whole business and its relation to poets and poetry.

addendum, Monday, June 8.....Not that the incest-ridden world of American poets and poetry is any less tawdry (and even more obvious). In THE NATION (issue of June 15), a weekly newsmagazine which purports to be both independent and left of liberal in its politics (despite its policy of accepting adverts from all groups, including the right-wing and firms raping the Amazon of its natural resources) there was, for the first time ever in that journal, an entire page devoted to poetry; actually, it was one page with one poet and one poem. Brathwaite. Well, perhaps not my cup of tea, but always interesting, and a major Caribbean poet. And with "Kumina" he achieved greatness - at a heavy price. But to whom is this new poem dedicated? Peter Gizzi. And who is Peter Gizzi? The poetry editor of THE NATION of course.