Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christopher Logue, R.I.P.

It wasn't until late 1962, when I was a young (21 year old) Teaching Fellow in the English Department of the State U. of N.Y. at Buffalo, doing an M.A., that I began to fully feel and understand the extremes of terrible beauty and transformative power of poetry, beyond any I had previously experienced. It was when I encountered the new English version/translation of Book 16 of THE ILIAD by Christopher Logue, first published in issue number 28 of THE PARIS REVIEW.

Here is the final section.

Coming behind you in the dusk you felt
-What was it? - felt the darkness part and then
Who had been patient with you,

His hand came out of the east,
And in his wrist lay eternity.
And every atom of his mythic weight
Was poised between his fist and bent left leg.
And it hit the small of your back, Patroclus...
Your eyes leant out. Achilles' helmet rang
Far and away beneath the cannon-bones of enemy horses,
And Achilles' breastplate (five copper plys
Mastered with even bronze) split like a pod.
And you were footless... staggering... amazed
Between the clumps of dying, dying yourself,
Dazed by the brilliance in your eyes
And the noise, like weirs heard far away.
So you staggered, blind eyes open,
Dabbling your astounded fingers in the vomit
On your chest.
And all the Trojans lay and stared at you,
Propped themselves up and stared at you,
Feeling themselves as blest as you felt cursed.
All of them just lay and stared
Except a boy called Euphorbus.
He took his chance and threw. Straight.
The javelin went through both calves,
Stitching your knees together, and you fell
(Not noticing your pain) and tried to crawl,
Towards the fleet, and - even now - snatching
Euphorbus' ankle, Ah! and got it? No...
Not a boy's ankle that you got.
But Hector's

Standing above you,
His bronze mask smiling down into your face,
Putting his spear through...ach, and saying,
"Why tears, Patroclus?
Did you hope to melt Troy down
And make our women carry home the ingots for you?
I can just imagine it!
You and your marvellous Achilles sitting,
Him with his upright finger wagging, saying,
"Don't show your face in here again, Patroclus,
Unless it's red with Hector's blood."
You fool.
You weak, impudent, silly little fool."
And Patroclus,
Shaking his voice out of his body, says
"Big Mouth,
Remember it took three of you to kill me,
A god, a boy, and last of all a hero!
I can hear Death
Calling my name and yet,
Somehow it sounds like "Hector"
And when I close my eyes
I see Achilles' face with Death's voice coming out of it."

Saying these things Patroclus died.
And as his soul went through the sand like water,
Hector drew out his spear and said,

Friday, November 18, 2011

Army tests hypersonic weapon over the Pacific - Are We Feeling Safer Now?

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Army tests hypersonic weapon over the Pacific - Yahoo! News
The Army on Thursday conducted its first flight test of a new weapon capable of traveling five times the speed of sound.
Read the full story

Monday, November 14, 2011

Joe Frazier.....R.I.P.

"In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries a reminder
Of ev'ry glove that layed him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
'I am leaving, I am leaving'
But the fighter still remains"

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Obama goes on another holiday....

As if playing golf every weekend isn't enough time off in addition to his other vacations, readers of my blog know that although I've visited Hawaii as often as finances and health allow (and tried for years to get teaching work there), and have spent even more time when younger in Polynesie francais, even for a time being granted a carte de sejour (Residency) there, I've never been to Guam, but I continue to be moved by the overlooked plight of the people there as evidenced in the blog titled "The Drowning Mermaid" and the blog titled "Peace and Justice for Guam and the Pacific". Guam is officially a part of the U.S. Empire and continues to be decimated by our increasing military presence there. Because of protests in Okinawa and Korea, mostly having to do with continued rape by American military scum of young native girls (and children) in both places, and the closure of some bases there, Guam, to where the military is beginning to further relocate, suffers. Our only South Pacific colony, American Samoa, with a large navy base, has been almost culturally genocided by the encroachment of our "culture" - if one can call cheeseburgers and vulgarity, culture. Perhaps it is too late to save Guam from the same fate. However, Obama did promise the people of Guam he would go there after the election to see what was going on with the military in relation to the people and the protest movement.  He has not done so. Thus I am appalled by Obama's going on yet another out of the U.S. holiday under the guise of meeting his fellow "leaders" - most no better than the dictators of China. First they all meet in Hawaii, obviously the preferred holiday spot for our President (a wonderful place to have grown up, but I do get a sense he was always an alienated outsider there - probably something like "repitition compulsion" working), for whom I have lost more and more respect as his time in office passes. Then he travels on to places like Bali and Australia (to firm up Australian support for the Afghan war) just as his wife travelled on taxpayer money (millions for the security detail alone) to Spain and India. & for what? To what end? Really, is he no better than the dimmest of all the right-wing dim bulbs, megalomaniac politicians and jejune hacks vying to replace him? Surely, he must be. Or is it all just the weapons trade and corporate Mammonism now.

(& this from the Honolulu Star-Advertizer (one of the daily newspapers): The managers of Iolani Palace objected to its closure during the gathering of Obama and the APEC oligarchs....22 protestors were arrested and removed from the grounds of the Palace and all workers summarily laid off during the time of the visit of Obama and the Asian dictators. These Hawaiians are supporters of the Sovereignty Movement in Hawaii - which continues to protest against the long continuing illegal seizure and annexation of the islands (before people there - though not a majority of native Hawaiian people, voted for statehood) and its militarization - the first incursion of the U.S. Empire outside of the mainland. It is the first serious secessionist movement since the Civil War. Obama never visits any island other than
Oahu, and always stays, when there, on the Kaneohe military complex (with its adjoining golf course) or at multi-million dollar vacation homes of his sponsors nearby.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Advice to a Prophet by Richard Wilbur

When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
In God's name to have self-pity,

Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind;
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,
Unable to fear what is too strange.

Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.
How should we dream of this place without us?--
The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,
A stone look on the stone's face?

Speak of the world's own change. Though we cannot conceive
Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost
How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,
How the view alters. We could believe,

If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,
The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,
The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip

On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn
As Xanthus once, its gliding trout
Stunned in a twinkling. What should we be without
The dolphin's arc, the dove's return,

These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?
Ask us, prophet, how we shall call
Our natures forth when that live tongue is all
Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken

In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean
Horse of our courage, in which beheld
The singing locust of the soul unshelled,
And all we mean or wish to mean.

Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose
Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding
Whether there shall be lofty or long standing
When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Alley Cat Allies @

Spending half an hour or so trying to help clean and winterize (and trap and neuter) in support of the feral cat population under the boardwalk in atlantic city, one sees that it is not cats who are dirty, but we humans. sadly, more and more homeless people are choosing to sleep under the jersey shore boardwalks, even in winter, rather than go to a homeless shelter. people have always slept under atlantic city boardwalks, and since the advent of casinos, more and more atlantic city has become a place which "caters to losers." i've been living on this barrier island (absecon island) with atlantic city at the north end, and three small suburban beach towns, ventnor, margate, and longport, to the south, sharing the island, for over 15 years. it is the closest beach and ocean to philadelphia, where i was born and raised, and my parents used to bring me here as a child. i sold the old row house in the Feltonville section of Philadelphia my grandfather built, and where i grew up, and to where I retreated for almost a decade after my parents' deaths in the 1980's. it had by then become one of philadelphia's most "troubled" neighborhoods, though not a hard-core ghetto, just the usual working-class/lower middle-class place plagued for the past 25 years with steeet crime, graffiti even on trees, drive-by shootings, and all the trauma of inner city life. eventually, i moved to margate, buying a small one bedroom condo apartment. now i have to sell that as well and live frugally somewhere for the duration since my funds are disappearing, like so many others in America. the 1944 hurricane wiped out the boardwalk in margate and longport, and the decision was not to rebuild, so the many miles of boardwalk now extend from the inlet at the northern tip of the island down through atlantic city and ventnor. pressured by pork-barrel interests, the municipalities chose to allow the often incompetent "army core of engineers" to build artificial sand dunes between the boardwalk and the ocean in atlantic city and in ventnor in order to protect the casino interests (initially the casino executives wanted to tear down the entire boardwalk so as to more effectively keep people inside) and the multi-million-dollar beachfront homes. now the dunes block the views of ocean from the boardwalk while reducing ocean breezes, and providing, some have said, a home for rats (certainly for rubbish). most people downbeach from atlantic city are quite well-off: doctors, lawyers, dentists, entrepreneurs and ceo's, investment counselors and bankers, and who knows what. but you can still see the signs of hard times everywhere. the atlantic city violent crime endemic to the u.s., businesses closing down, property values diminishing, workers laid off, etc. most all previous mayors of atlantic city over the past 50 years or so have been indicted upon or even before leaving office, and some have served time in prison, so i would venture to say atlantic city is one of america's most corruption-ridden cities. (of course, in current tv programs extolling new jersey's crass subculture, we lap up the romanticization of crime and criminals and even the lack of signs of intelligent life in general.) the casinos only made it worse. corzine was the governor before christie. so far he has managed to avoid prison while accumulating his fortune over the years as former head of Goldman-Sachs and buying his way into the senate and governorship. the current governor, who has brought back deer culls and bear culls and the cull of wild birds in the local wetlands sanctuary (Forsythe wildlife refuge - a migration route safe stopover for thousands of birds (for thusands of years) flying south for the winter and returning in the spring) is, like most all politicians, a great friend to the very wealthy, and to hunters. on a personal level, he is the most obese politico since Taft, and i reckon he is bound to spontaneously combust someday, like the character named Krook in Dickens' Bleak House. once, when queried about his weight when so many on the planet are starving, he responded by saying people who work at IHOP or McDonalds, etc., have to have jobs and eat too. if one takes a hard look at new jersey's cities, like camden and others (even the state capitol, trenton), one sees the results of the total disgrace to governance brought about by christie and his predecessors. so obviously, animals and animal rights, are not exactly anyone's priority - except for the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in the Brigantine area of south jersey. the first cause i ever donated any money to, in a beginning attempt 45 years ago, to help stop the slaughter of baby seals in canada, still continues as cruel and unjustified murder. on the high seas, Sea Shepherd is more than worthy of our support, if you have an interest in these things. Sea Shepherd and not Greenpeace, is now most effective in trying to stop whale-hunting and other illegal activities. the Japanese are probably the worst offenders, especially in their shark-hunting, cutting off the fins of the shark and tossing them back in the ocean to die horrific deaths so they can swill their shark-fin soup. we kill millions of sharks every year, usually in this manner. oceans are often called "shark-infested" as if the sea were not their natural home. not to mention the concentration camps/extermination camps for turkeys and other creatures we gobble up. PETA is in my opinion the best large activist organization in support of the non-human life with which we share the planet. but the slaughter of rare animals just goes on, from Ohio to Africa (where poaching is unabated, the rhino being hunted to extinction for the supposed medicinal value of its horn, exported primarily to china and southeast asia). natural habitat is destroyed so that developers and their sponsors (as human advocates of Mammon are called) can construct more and more houses and golf-courses and gated communties primarily for the mega-rich. well, Alley-Cat Allies is a small (though now national) animal protection group doing what they can for the cat population in atlantic city. the number of animals being put-down in overcrowded and underfunded animal shelters is sickening. i'm not an eco-warrior, not even, i must shamefacedly admit, a vegetarian (though i must say it would be nice to have at least one vegetarian restaurant on this barrier island; there's not even one in all of atlantic county). some of new jersey's boardwalks are constructed with amazon rainforest wood, although this practice was in-part stopped by the persistence and hard work of local activists here, pointing out not simply other alternatives to amazon wood but noting how so-called civic leaders were lining their pockets with these import deals while causing not just grief, but contributing to the many murders of amazonian tribespeople by the logging industry there and their hitmen. i suppose i have pretty much given up on people as the years pass.... however, "something further may follow of this masquerade".....

Saturday, November 5, 2011

a little light relief

THE PURIST by Ogden Nash

I give you now Professor Twist,
A conscientious scientist.
Trustees exclaimed, "He never bungles!"
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped on a tropic riverside,
One day his missed his loving bride.
She had, the guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor Twist could not but smile
"You mean," he said, "a crocodile."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Robert Duncan

re: politicians and Presidents and seekers of high office, an excerpt from "A Poem Beginning With A Line By Pindar"

...where among these did the power reside
that moves the heart? What flower of the nation
bride-sweet broke to the whole rapture?

...hear the factories of human misery turning out commodities.
For whom are the holy matins of the heart ringing?
Noble men in the quiet of morning hear
Indians singing the continent's violent requiem.

...hear the cries of men in meaningless debt and war.
Where among these did the spirit reside
that restores the land to productive order?

How sad "amid lanes and through old woods"
echoes Whitman's love for Lincoln!

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Sunset Of Kalaupapa by Sammy Kuahine

The Sunset of Kalaupapa
Smiles through the evening rain;
The tradewinds of Kalaupapa
Sing like an old refrain
There's music of romancing,
Moonlight and stars above;
Your magic charms, your dancing
Fill every night with love...

This snippet of lovely song is printed in Alan Brennert's 2003 novel, MOLOKA'I, a heartfelt and beautiful book, and although a traditional historical and sentimental fiction, far superior to most American novels of the past decade.

It is clearly well-researched, and uses as partial source material, an anthology of interviews with patients, THE SEPARATING SICKNESS (1979); and a wonderful autobiography: OLIVIA - MY LIFE OF EXILE IN KALAUPAPA (1988), by Olivia Robello Breitha, which moved me to tears when first I began reading it many years ago in Kaunakakai, and whose author is the dedicatee of W.S. Merwin's great and magisterial 300 page poem THE FOLDING CLIFFS.

There is still no vaccine to prevent Hansen's Disease, although antibiotics, now provided free by the World Health Organization, arrests its development in most cases. In 2010, there were still over 250,000 new cases reported worldwide and many many more unreported due to the stigma of this oldest affliction known to man. There remain over 10 million suffering from this disease. When it was imported from China, where it was endemic since earliest civilization there, Polynesians had no immunity to it, nor to the other plagues and blights visited upon them. King Kamehameha V created the settlement at Kalaupapa, with much pressure from American business interests, to isolate the infected from the general population, the first boatload of exiles arriving in 1866. "Sunset Of Kalaupapa" Brennert writes in his "author's note" at the end of his novel, is "the only known musical composition by a Kalaupapa resident." Like Moa Tetua, the 19th century Tahitian poet who also suffered from Hansen's, and whose songs were translated by Samuel Elbert and Muriel Rukeyser (and four of which were published by Eliot Weinberger) Samson Kuahine was blind.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Powell & Montgomery

Theories of War

Hemingway wrote
in Across The River
(maybe you have to be male
and of a certain age
to appreciate it, I
loved it, so did CCG
as I recall...

Monty wouldn't move
unless he had 8 to 1 advantage
& Powell upped that to beyond 10
or even 12 to 1 *

Chasen'd & wiser
he returns honorably
to criticize

* i.e. doctrine of "overwhelming force"

Friday, August 19, 2011

ZIZEK (on liberalism and capitalism)

from LIVING IN THE END TIMES BY SLAVOJ ZIZEK (Verso, London & New York, 2010)

For liberalism, at least in its radical form, the wish to submit peoples to an ethical ideal held to be universal is "the crime which contains all crimes," the mother of all crimes -it amounts to the brutal imposition of one's own view onto others, the cause of civil disorder. Which is why, if one wants to establish civil peace and tolerance, the first condition is to get rid of "moral temptation": politics should be thoroughly purged of moral ideals and rendered "realistic," taking people as they are, counting on their true nature, not moral exhortations....An anti-ideological and anti-utopian stance is inscribed into the very core of the liberal vision: liberalism conceives itself as a "politics of the lesser evil," its ambition is to bring about the "least worst society possible," thus preventing a greater evil....Such a view is sustained by a profound pessimism about human nature: man is a selfish and envious animal, and if one attempts to build a political system appealing to his goodness and altruism, the result will be the worst kind of human terror.....However, the liberal critique of the "tyranny of the Good" comes at a price: the more its program permeates society, the more it turns into its opposite. The claim to want nothing but the lesser evil, once asserted as the principle of the new global order, replicates the features of the very enemy it claims to be fighting....Behind all this lurks the ultimate totalitarian nightmare, the vision of a New Man who has left behind all the old ideological language....The tension internal to this project is discernible in the two aspects of liberalism, market liberalism and politcal liberalism. Jean-Claude Michea perspicuously links these two meanings of the term "right": the political Right insists on the market economy, the politically correct culturalized Left insists on the defense of human rights - often its sole remaining raison d'etre. Although the tension between these two aspects of liberalism is irreducible, they are nonetheless inextricably linked, like the two sides of the same coin....Today the meaning of "liberalism" moves between two opposed poles: economic liberalism (free-market individualism, opposition to strong state regulation, etc.) and political liberalism (with an accent on equality, social solidarity, permissiveness, etc.)....It is thus for necessary structural reasons that the "fight against discrimination" is an endless process which interminably postpones its final point: namely a society freed of all moral prejudices which, as Michea puts it, "would be on this very account a society condemned to see crimes everywhere."....What liberalism proposes is a value-neutral mechanism of rights, and so on, "a mechanism whose free play can automatically generate a desired political order, without at any point interpellating individuals into subjects." The nameless jouissance cannot be a title of interpellation proper; it is more a kind of blind drive with no symbolic value-form attached to it - all such symbolic features are temporary and flexible, which is why the individual is constantly called upon to "re-create" himself or herself. There is a problem with this liberal vision which every good anthropologist, psychoanalyst, or even perspicuous social critic is aware: it cannot stand on its own, it is parasitic upon some preceding form of what is usually referred to as "socialization" which it simultaneously undermines, thereby sawing off the branch on which it is sitting....This atomized society, in which we have contact with others without entering into proper relations with them, is the presupposition of liberalism....That is to say, whence comes the Stalinist drive-to-expand, the incessant push to increase productivity, to further "develop" the scope and quality of production? Here we should correct Heidegger: it comes not from some general will-to-power or will-to-technological domination, but from the inherent structure of capitalist reproduction which can survive only through its incessant expansion and for which this ever-expanding reproduction, not some final state, is itself the only true goal of the entire movement....Only in capitalism is exploitation "naturalized," inscribed into the functioning of the economy, and not the result of extra-economic pressure and violence. This is why, with capitalism, we enjoy personal freedom and equality: there is no need for explicit social domination, since domination is already implicit in the structure of the production process.


(& a personal footnote on how to turn a trillion dollar deficit into a surplus, create jobs, reduce the power of the greed-laden, and even restore a modest sense of u.s. exceptionalism as "the last best hope on the planet")

Cease all current wars immediately, keeping military might in reserve, and if necessary, employ in other ways, like overseeing proper food distribution to the world's starving millions.

Make it illegal for large corporations to outsource work overseas. (It would be fair to raise tax on corporations and the mega-rich back to what they were under Eisenhower or even Reagan (who is no right-wing icon when it comes to taxation levels on the wealthiest); however, there seems little point since tax lawyers, corporate accountants, et. al., would find loopholes.) To outsource continues to exploit people overseas by paying low wages, thus increasing the profits of the corporation and making other nations and peoples dependent on the greed of capitalist enterprise. (I note that multi-millionaires are now being called "job creators" when they used to be called greedy bosses or corporate criminals, and of course they create only that which brings more wealth to them. They have never been asked to prove they create jobs in the amount of hundreds of billions of dollars, which is the figure being bandied about.)

End all foreign aid to dictatorships (like Saudi Arabia) and all countries where our tax dollars go into corrupt pockets and an increase of their military power.

Create a National Health Service making medical care a right not a privilege as every other civilized country on earth has done. (This would also reduce the power of large insurance companies - insurance being perhaps the biggest racket in America. A side effect also might be more who are dedicated healers entering the medical profession, not simply people in it for the money.)

And as an almost equally improbable happening, perhaps someday the Supreme Court will reverse Sierra Club v. Morton, making Justice Douglas' dissent, and Justice Blackmun's dissent as well, the majority opinion. ....I suppose it's not impossible. Plessy v. Ferguson was reversed after all.

(added on Oct. 11th/Oct.12th)

Of course, to change the nature of the callous corruption which rules the U.S., we might begin with educational priorities, not simply more teachers and smaller class sizes, but, at the top, abolish athletic scholarships, since most who attend college in this way cannot put two sentences together without spelling or grammatical mistakes. (I write from teaching experience in two large American universities.) In fact, in big-money sport no professional athlete should be making millions per annum. Why pay men (and women) high wages to play children's games. As Charles Olson had said: "It is an excuse for homosexual behavior in public." But then we wouldn't have lawyers and agents using others as they do, and overpaid sportscasters, and coaches, and an entire absurd system of billionaire owners. Glued to TV or mindless in stadiums, it is an opiate of the people, although as a few professional athletes have had the forthrightness to admit, it reduces violent crime rates, in much the same way that prostitution reduces rape rates. It is a sign of our immaturity as a nation. Our educational system is a laughing stock. Higher education should be free to those who qualify. However, we have always been an anti-intellectual nation, ever since the Republic became an Empire. In fact, I believe that those with more than a few million in assets should be put under house arrest (if we can find enough honest law enforcement) until it is ascertained that their money was earned honestly. Ah, but then doubtless we'd have more prison overcrowding and abuse. The infrastructure of the country could be rebuilt and millions of unemployed put to work, but then those who live off the backs of people in developing countries and here will cry "socialism" as if capitalism were mentioned or enshrined anywhere in the Constitution as America's path. We could outlaw manufacture and distribution of "weapons of mass destruction" but the truth is that people here don't think of a decent and fair society for the most part, only more loot and gadgets and toys and celebrity-worship to fill the void.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

a poem by Philip Levine


"Our Miasma" the locals call it, city
of hills, old barrios, a great harbor.
The year is 1904, a war beginning
in the east. Deserters, anarchists, Jews
come for refuge. We could be among them -
though we aren't - men without women,
on fire with longing. I'll show you one,
my grandfather, Yusel Pryzkulnik, who performs
in the Cafe Tulipe. Look how he stands,
one hand thrust into his jacket pocket,
a cotton scarf around his throat, a gray fedora
tipped slightly back, and stares into the haze
of tobacco smoke and does not even blink.
You are not this man chanting Sephardic hymns,
you did not lose an older brother, dragged
off one dawn by the police in long gray coats
never to return, nor did you watch your father
hung for butchering a chicken on a Saint's Day.
He enters your life slowly, not in the song
that lingers above the drinkers, not in smoke
blown over water or salt spray or words
put down by me or even the whisper
of his own voice, raw, torn, and barely heard
above the roar of all the waiting wars.
Lisbon was his: the young - both rich and poor -
climbed the cobbled lanes of the Alfama
to wait for hours to hear the faint echo
of his private sorrows. Widows in black,
half-drunken sailors, men without mothers
went to hear music that was not music.
One day he was gone into no one knows what,
gone forever and the songs vanished with him.
Now, go to the mirror. Look: it's not you
as you thought you were, it's not me either,
it's not anyone we worked to become.
It's the spring of '99. The wild roses riot
along the fence, the lilacs are late
to cast their shades on the purple mounds
we bowed to, and again the dead have found
a way into the hearts we swore were stone.

(published in the UK in FIRE,(#21), edited by Jeremy Hilton, Oxfordshire, 2003)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Len Fulton

Others have written on and noted the passing of poetry maven and activist Len Fulton. I'd just like to add a public footnote that although I never met him, I know his interests were wide-ranging indeed and he was always open to publishing explorations in arcane areas. In his "small press review" (volume 34, #7/8, 2002) he published an essay of mine as a "Guest Editorial" debunking claims of decipherment of the RongoRongo script of Rapa Nui (Easter Island). And early on in his Dustbooks venture, he published the wonderful book of poetry, NIGHT CONVERSATIONS WITH NONE OTHER (Dustbooks, 1977), by my dearly-missed friend, the great Indian-American poet Shreela Ray.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Amy Winehouse : in lieu of a Kaddish

Amid the chaos of the final weeks of her life, Amy Winehouse could still be entrancing, writes Alexandra Topping

Alexandra Topping
Thursday July 28 2011
The Guardian

Sitting on the bar after closing time in her local in Camden, the lights dimmed and the doors locked, Amy Winehouse knew how to hold an audience, even before she became famous. After a night of drinks and laughter, she would perch her tiny frame on the bar, take up a guitar and sing.

"Everybody would just stop and be entranced," said Dougie Charles-Ridler, co-owner of the pub and long-time friend of the singer. In those days, Winehouse was a good-time girl with a big mouth and an attitude to match. "I remember when I first met her I asked what she did and she just said, 'I'm a jazz singer,' he said. "No one had ever given that response before."

But the picture friends paint of the woman she became is suffused with a different type of light. No longer able to chat to old friends undisturbed, or throw herself behind the bar to serve a few lucky punters, she would go into the pub on her own on a Monday or Tuesday, often in the quiet of an afternoon, stand in front of the jukebox and turn it up loud.

"Recently she'd always be with two bouncers rather than two friends," said veteran lads' mag journalist Piers Hernu, who had known Winehouse through friends and the Camden scene for years. "People wouldn't go up to her any more, she wouldn't talk to people. She just became increasingly alienated from her own world."

She was alone, it seems, for the last night of her life. During his 40-minute eulogy at her funeral on Tuesday her father, Mitch, said the singer had stayed in her Camden Square townhouse. After seeing a doctor for a routine appointment at around 8.30pm, she played drums and sang into the early hours, until her bouncer told her to keep it down. He heard her footsteps overhead for a while, then it went quiet. When he went to check on her in the morning she appeared to be sleeping, and it was only after checking again at 4pm on Saturday afternoon that he realised she was dead.

How she died remains unclear. A postmortem examination carried out on Monday proved inconclusive and, from the information released so far, the days leading up to her death seem relatively uneventful. On Friday she saw her boyfriend, the film director Reg Traviss, and they talked about the wedding they were going to. Winehouse was trying to decide what to wear. Her mother has said that at lunch on the same day the singer had seemed "out of it", but they had spent an enjoyable day together and among the last things her daughter had said was: "I love you, Mum."

On Wednesday, the last time Charles-Ridler saw her, she seemed in good spirits. "She jumped into my arms she hardly weighed anything and wrapped her legs around my waist," he said. Asking the singer if she was all right, he received a response that was typically Winehouse. "'Course I am, darlin'," she said, and walked off like Eric Morecambe.

The same night she made a surprise public appearance with her godchild, the 15-year-old soul singer Dionne Bromfield, at the Roundhouse. The video, if not painful, is uncomfortable viewing. Winehouse comes on stage and lifts Bromfield up with the force of her embrace. Then, dressed in skinny jeans and a black polo T-shirt she dances sporadically, turning to the drummer, laughing and turning away. When Bromfield briefly holds the microphone to Winehouse's mouth, she does not sing.

Some of Winehouse's appearances this year held promise for those desperate to see the singer back to her Grammy-winning best. During a five-date tour of Brazil in January some performances, such as a rendition of the Moulin Rouge song Boulevard of Broken Dreams gave a tantalising glimpse of the talent that had been obscured for many years. Then, after another stint in rehab in early June, Winehouse played a seven-song set to a small group of family and friends at London's 100 Club on 12 June. She was "coherent" and "back on form" according to according to one observer, while Mitch Winehouse, during his eulogy, called it a great night. "Her voice was good, her wit and timing were perfect," he said.

But then, just six days later, painfully, dramatically and very publicly Winehouse came tumbling off the wagon. On the first night of a "comeback" tour of Europe in Belgrade she appeared on stage an hour late. Visibly drunk, she seemed barely able to remember the lyrics she had written and was finally booed off stage by fans who had just wanted to hear her sing.

Days later her management cancelled the 12-date tour, saying the singer would be given "as long as it takes" to sort herself out. "Everyone was absolutely gobsmacked," a source close to the management told the Guardian. "The hotel had been told to remove all traces of alcohol, but what can you do? She is a 27-year-old woman and if an addict wants to get hold of alcohol, they will do."

Questions were asked about why Winehouse was touring, and why she had gone on stage, but those close to her had every reason to think she was "back on track" professionally, the source added. "There was no reason to expect a disaster, things had seemed on the up."

In recent days Raye Cosbert, Winehouse's manager from the Metropolis management company, and the co-president of Island Records, Darcus Beese, have taken pains to swat down reports that the shambolic performance had created a rift between them, issuing a statement saying they had always stood "shoulder to shoulder" to give Winehouse "our total support and all the love her huge talent and wonderful human spirit deserved".

But while few doubt that everyone in Winehouse's entourage label, management, family were doing their best to help her recovery, a source close to Universal, Island's mother label, said that after seeing the Serbia performance: "Everybody was shocked she was doing anything. It was very odd to us. Obviously it didn't help, it couldn't have."

Mitch Winehouse said this week that his daughter had been off hard drugs for three years, and was trying to tackle the alcohol problems that were so painfully apparent in Serbia.

"People focus on the drugs, but the biggest problem was Amy's alcoholism," said Hernu. "It had the worst effect on her little frame. It basically gave in."

Winehouse's addictions whether to drink, or the harder drugs that seemed to control her life for years have been played out in the public arena. The photographic documentation of her demons appear even more ghoulish now: Winehouse with her trademark black eyeliner swoops smeared across her face her pink ballerinas caked in blood and dirt and her then husband Blake Fielder-Civil's face covered in scratches in 2007; barefaced, distressed and wearing only a bra and jeans...

And her death, like her life, has been lit by the glare of dozens of camera flashes. At the messy and makeshift shrine outside Winehouse's home, with its vodka bottles and cigarette packets, flowers and portraits, some fans cried. Others took oddly awkward photographs of themselves outside the place where she spent her last hours.

One fan, waiting to watch her coffin go past outside Golders Green crematorium on Tuesday, said the incessant coverage had pulled fans closer to her. "We saw her deterioration every day, in every picture," said 18-year-old Amy Swan. "It was like we were on a journey with her. So many people just wanted her to get better."

But there were others who wanted her to play up to her hellraising image.

Musician Liam Bailey, who became friends with Winehouse after she signed him to her own label Lioness Records, described going to a Pete Doherty gig with her last year. "I was gobsmacked by the attention," he said. "There were people offering her drinks, saying they loved her, other people throwing stuff, saying things I don't want to repeat. And all the time the bullying from the paparazzi was horrendous."

Propping up the bar at the Hawley Arms, not a seething den of iniquity but rather a tastefully decorated, candle-lit pub with a rock'n'roll edge, Charles-Ridler said Winehouse could find no respite from it. "She couldn't go anywhere, it was always in her face," he said. "And she was the most anti-fame person. She could play in front of 60,000 people and then be in here, and much happier, pulling pints the next night."

The fact that she could no longer do that added to her isolation, said Hernu. "Coming back to England, London and more specifically to Camden didn't seem to work for her," he said. "She couldn't do what she loved which was bouncing around Camden talking to everyone. She was bored and she was lonely."

The analysis of what caused her eventual demise, on Saturday 23 July, aged 27, will be dissected minutely over the coming weeks. But, said Charles-Ridler, those who peered into her life should also take a moment to look at their own.

"Yes she did this to herself, yes she was self-destructive, but she was a victim too," he said. "We all have to take a bit of responsibilty, us the public, the paparazzi. She was a star, but I want people to remember that she was also just a girl."

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Tree Of Life

If you are homosexually inclined, especially if you fancy young boys, this is the film for you.  An experiment in narrative, it rips off the "new American cinema" of the 1960's, most notably Bruce Conner's Cosmic Ray, Ed Emshwiller, and the work of Stan Brakhage.  It also plagiarizes freely from Truffaut's Les Quatre Cent Coups, and even offers digital dinosaurs to adults who are intellectually challenged.  The acting is almost non-existent, Brad Pitt unconsciously parodying his best work in, say, Fight Club.  Set in Waco, Texas, home turf for the director Terence Malick (who got his start studying with the gay academic philosopher Stanley Cavell), its time frame is decades before the FBI early Clinton years burning of the cult there, and the churchy depression-years characters, including the aggressive and generally horrible little Freudian urchins, are all death-in-life American rural lower middle class noir.  The visual pomposity, particularly the underwater work, highly influenced by the late-life photography of Leni Riefenstahl, often is stunning, although the huge amounts of money spent on the film could clearly have been better spent feeding thousands of starving people and used for vaccination against disease in the Third World.  Everything in the film is derivative, from Sean Penn's corporate Alphaville to the oh-so-clever sign reference to Kevin Spacey.  In the end, all the characters are transported Rapturelike to the director's image of la-la land. Like Spielberg's ET or Cameron's Avatar and other idiocies which have contributed to the dumbing down of America, Tree is really a good reason to support Godard's view of the crumbling of what was greatness in Hollywood pre- and post WWII cinema, and a good reason to see Jean-Luc's Film Socialisme.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Stevie Smith (1902 -1971)

Looking at the fine poems Tom Clark has posted of Stevie Smith's work on his blog, Beyond The Pale, I had additional thoughts which then I realized were too cumbersome for even several comment boxes, so, although I am not as head-over-heels with Stevie, I do think she may just be the best of female English poets of the last century. (Although Denise Levertov once said to me: "At heart, I'm English".) Not that I wish to create thoughts of hierarchy, and there are 20th century American women poets who for me are "better" - broader in scope, in innovation. However, what Stevie did was to meld English "insouciance" with sardonicisms worthy of Bukowski, Dorothy Parker, Philip Larkin. Glenda Jackson, who portrayed her on the London stage and later in the film, "Stevie" did the best job of portraying a poet in film I can remember seeing. Smith's work is almost polar opposite to, say, the later work of American transatlantic poet H.D., and her greatest poem "Winter Love".

Smith's most famous poem is the brilliant "Not Waving But Drowning". She could be quite nasty, and this shines through, for example, in the 4 line anti-American poem "The Little Daughters of America" which condescending and snide tone was typical of the English sensibility from 1939 to Pearl Harbor. And even to this day. But her genius in her use of Englsh tone and diction makes the 4 liner into something amusing and yet not.

Admirals Curse-You and No-More
Set their compasses and sailed for war.

I am sorry that all the little daughters of America
Should be involved in a thing like this; upon my word.

She could be equally nasty to her own countrywomen. "This Englishwoman" is a 2 liner:

This Englishwoman is so refined
She has no bosom and no behind.

Like Patchen, she accompanies most of her poems with whimsical but hard-edged drawings, often as wry as the poems themselves.

She can, on the one hand, be capable of compassion, and when she turns her use of diction to this end, the result is moving in the most rational and most extraordinarily quintessential English way. Here for example, is the close, her "Envoi" as she calls it, of "A Soldier Dear to Us":

Tommy and Joey Porteous were killed in France. Now fifty years later
Basil has died of the shots he got in the shell crater
The shrapnel has worked its way round at last to his merry heart,
I write this
For a memorial of the soldier dear to us he was.

Bitterness and psychic pain were modes she understood, note the poem "I Forgive You" and its revelations of resentment and pride, and condemnations of same encoded in the tone. In the drawing of the poem, Stevie has the woman lying on her sofa/bed in a state, and the man, frowning/unsmiling, sits on a small chair and says to her:

I forgive you, Maria,
Things can never be the same,
But I forgive you, Maria,
Though I think you were to blame.
I can never forget
But I forgive you, Maria,
Kindly remember that.

Then there is this, "The Broken Heart":

He told me he loved me,
He gave me red roses,
Twelve crimson roses
As red as my blood.

The roses he gave me,
The roses are withered,
Twelve crimson roses
As red as my blood.

The roses are withered,
But here on my breast, far
Redder than they is
The red of my heart's blood.

He told me he loved me,
He gave me red roses,
Twelve crimson roses
As red as my blood.

She withdrew considerably in her life, living with her aunt and their cats (of whom she wrote lovingly in her trademark quirky manner). Here, in "My Cats" she seems to morph into a witch:

I like to toss him up and down
A heavy cat weighs half a Crown
With a hey do diddle my cat Brown.

I like to pinch him on the sly
When nobody is passing by
With a hey do diddle my cat Fry.

I like to ruffle up his pride
And watch him skip and turn aside
With a hey do diddle my cat Hyde.

Hey Brown and Fry and Hyde my cats
That sit on tombstone for your mats.

She and her "lion Aunt" lived in a semi-detached house at the end of a row of houses, in what was then a NE London straight-laced suburb. Born in Hull (Yorkshire), her father left to pursue a career at sea, and her mother died when Stevie and her older sister were quite young. Her aunt raised her, moving the family to Avondale Road, Palmers Green. "A House Of Mercy" Stevie calls it. Here are three stanzas from the poem:

It was a house of female habitation,
Two ladies fair inhabited the house,
And they were brave. For although fear knocked loud
Upon the door, and said he must come in,
They did not let him in.

There were also two feeble babes, two girls,
That Mrs. S. had by her husband had,
He soon left and went away to sea,
Nor sent them money, nor came home again
Except to borrow back
His Naval Officer's Wife's Allowance from Mrs S.
Who gave it to him at once, she thought she should.

Now I am old and I tend my mother's sister
The noble aunt who so long tended us.
Faithful and True her name is. Tranquil.
Also Sardonic. And I tend the house.

She chose not to meet up (at least not in time) with Sylvia Plath, one of her great fans, who had written to her in Nov. 1962; just a few months later Plath was gone. No one really cared for Plath that winter in London; she was just thought of as the ditsy American wife of the poet Larkin called "The Hulk". The poem "Mabel" is undoubtedly about Plath, written shortly after her suicide:

In her loneliness Mabel
Found the hiss of the umlit gas
And in a little time, dying

Stevie lost all of her Jewish friends after the publication, pre-world war 2, of "Novel On Yellow Paper" due to the careless and perhaps not even conscious anti-semitism which was then and now so ingrained in the English sensibility (brilliantly delineated by Philip Roth in his "Christendom" chapter of his novel "The Counterlife"). She insisted she never meant anything by it.

In "Voice From The Tomb #4" she wrote, echoing Dickinson at the beginning, with a touch of Sir Thomas Wyatt at the close:

I died for lack of company
Did my dear friends not know?
Oh why would they not speak to me
Yet said they loved me so?

She claimed she wanted interruption from her solitude in her discursive longish poem "Thoughts about the Person from Porlock" offering aesthetic distance from her loneliness in her bemused thoughts of Coleridge. Other exceptional narratives include "The Frog Prince" which inverts the fairy-tale/myth, and "Angel Boley" which deals with child murder, based on a 1966 case. The pathos of failed love is a recurrent theme, as in "Pad,pad":

I always remember your beautiful flowers
And the beautiful kimono you wore
When you sat on the couch
With that tigerish crouch
And told me you loved me no more.

What I cannot remember is how I felt when you were unkind
All I know is, if you were unkind now I should not mind.
Ah me, the power to feel exaggerated, angry and sad
The years have taken from me. Softly I go now, pad pad.

As Frances Spaulding points out in her excellent "critical biography" titled simply "Stevie Smith" (Faber and Faber, 1988), she was drawn out of isolation in the 1960's, more often than not by Michael Horovitz, to read at his various events and gatherings of a Bohemian nature often bringing poetry and jazz into closer communion. As Spaulding also notes, she was able to "imbue her work with, Seamus Heaney argues, 'a sense of pity for what is infringed and unfulfilled.' The tragic note sounded in her work is, however, made buoyant by a humour that keeps despair at bay; breezy commonsense, shrewdness and stoicism combat melancholy. Nevertheless her stark moral sense denied her comforting illusions and drove her to confront stupidity and cruelty, loneliness and loss." The poems "invite laughter" but they "are not frivolous" - are "dechirant" as the critic for "The Listener" (17 October 1957) remarked, and it is not surprising that "no amount of sociability could veil her isolation."

And at the end of her life, in what we would call hospice, suffering from a brain tumor:

I feel ill. What can the matter be?
I'd ask God to have pity on me
But I turn to the one I know, and say:
Come, Death, and carry me away.

Ah me, sweet Death, you are the only god
Who comes as a servant when he is called, you know,
Listen then to this sound I make, it is sharp,
Come Death. Do not be slow.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Remembering Mike Waterson, a born storyteller

To see this story with its related links on the site, go to (by Colin Irwin)

Remembering Mike Waterson, a born storyteller

The singer, who died on Tuesday, had a passionate belief in folk song as a voice for the true values of the working class by Colin Irwin.....

Anybody with even a passing interest in British folk music will be choked by news of the death of Mike Waterson, who passed away on Tuesday.

Not only was he one of the great interpreters of traditional song, throwing himself into a narrative with all the mannerisms and instinctive inflections of a born storyteller, he was a master of wordplay, writing what he would self-effacingly describe as "ditties", whether Rubber Band ("We're the band to catapult to stardom/ We'll never get wound up, we're never slack") from his classic 1972 album Bright Phoebus with sister Lal; or the celebrated A Stitch in Time, inspired by a newspaper story he'd read that describes, in delicious detail, the highly ingenious revenge of a battered wife who sews her drunken husband into his bed while he's asleep.

Even last August, already looking alarmingly frail on one of his final stage appearances at the Waterson family's emotional homecoming gig at Hull's Truck Theatre, he still managed to steal the show when baggy brown jumper, trademark flat cap, pint of ale in hand he giggled like a naughty schoolboy and sang his latest masterpiece Tea's Made, hilariously pillorying drinks machines: "The milk is in small saches that you can't get in no-how/ And it tastes of burning plastic and it's never seen a cow/ So do not use this cafe/ Join the picket line with me/ Then they'll have to find a robot/ To drink their fucking tea. "

In the obituaries that will follow over the next few days, Mike will quite rightly be heralded as one of the key figures of the British folk revival for his long-running role in the Watersons, the Yorkshire singing family whose dynamic voices and instinctive harmonies galvanised the nascent folk scene back in the day and whose early career was guided by the great folklorist Bert Lloyd. "He asked us to sing a song once, which we did, and then he asked us to sing it again," Mike told me, recalling early days with his sisters Lal and Norma. "When he asked us to do it yet again we said are we doing it wrong? He said: 'No, it's pure indulgence because it's giving me so much enjoyment.' He told us we had wonderful mixolydian harmonies. We all looked at eachother and when we got home we went to Hull Library to find out what it meant."

With his long dark hair, sullen looks and scrawny physique, he was the coolest looking bloke on the planet back then. Check out the brilliant Derrick Knight documentary Travelling for a Living from 1965 and you'll see a dude who makes Liam Gallagher look like Val Doonican. No wonder the Watersons were dubbed "the folk Beatles". But, like the rest of his family, Mike never had any interest in fame or celebrity. He was a great singer with a passionate belief in folk song as a voice for the true values of working-class men and women and his main motivation was to put that music back in the hands of local communities. When the rigours of touring took its toll, he was quite happy to give it all up to paint houses and build boats, quietly knocking out his "ditties", living in a farmhouse in north Yorkshire and rejoining the family on their odd musical adventure.

A couple of years I spent a magical afternoon with Mike and Norma Waterson in Robin Hood's Bay where the pair of them bickered affectionately about everything under the sun, from rising stars of the modern folk scene to widely divergent memories of Eliza Ward, the grandmother who raised them after their parents both died young. The anecdotes were long and rambling, the images colourful and vivid and the opinions sharp and passionate. And now Norma is slowly recovering from major illness and Mike is gone. It's good to know a new generation of Waterson-Carthys has emerged to carry the baton, but the sense of loss today is still immeasurable.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Pasternak

Could Pasternak have saved Mandelstam from his arrest and exile which broke his physical and perhaps his mental health even prior to the extremes of poverty he and his wife suffered after his release and before his second arrest and subsequent death in 1938? Anna Akhmatova is ambivalent on this point but wonders about it in her essay on Mandelstam in MY HALF CENTURY, her selected prose, (Ardis Publishers, Ann Arbor, 1992).

"At the close of his letter to Stalin, Bukharin wrote: 'And Pasternak is worried as well.' Stalin stated that an order had been issued so that everything would be put right for Mandelstam. Stalin asked Pasternak why he hadn't exerted himself on Mandelstam's behalf, saying, 'If my friend were in trouble, I would do everything to help him.' Pasternak replied that if he hadn't done anything, Stalin would not have found out about the matter. 'But why didn't you turn to me or to the writers' organizations?' 'The writers' organizations haven't been involved in matters like this since 1927.' 'But isn't he your friend?' Pasternak hesitated and after a brief pause Stalin continued his queston, 'But he's a master, isn't he?' Pasternak answered, 'That's beside the point.' Pasternak thought that Stalin was testing whether he knew about the poems and that was his explanation for his shaky answers. 'Why are we spending all our time talking about Mandelstam? I've wanted to have a chat with you for a long time.' 'About what?' 'About life and death.' And Stalin hung up." (pp. 102-103)

She goes on to say (footnoted p. 375) that "Everything about this phone call requires the utmost scrutiny." Akhmatova also notes that Zina, Pasternak's wife, "hated the Mandelstams with a passion and thought they had compromised her 'loyal husband.' "

Well, who knows what one would do in a situation when you could be imprisoned, tortured, killed. Pasternak may well have been trying to save his own skin, in addition to aggrandizing himself and insinuating himself further into Stalin's good graces. It happens all the time, this cowardice, dissembling, back-scratching, brown-nosing among writers and poets, reference the recent controversies surrounding the actions of the young Milan Kundera. Or the egregious example of Gunter Grass in his Waffen SS days.

Or the refusal of poets in London to help organzise, provide a venue for, or even, out of fear, attend any readings in support of Salman Rushdie after the fatwa was issued.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


(Here's a poem by Yeats, written 1937, which speaks to me.)
His chosen comrades thought at school
He must grow a famous man;
He thought the same and lived by rule,
All his twenties crammed with toil;
"What then?" sang Plato's ghost.  "What then?"

Everything he wrote was read,
After certain years he won
Sufficient money for his need,
Friends that have been friends indeed;
"What then"? sang Plato's ghost.  "What then?"
All his happier dreams came true -
A small old house, wife, daughter, son,
Grounds where plum and cabbage grew,
Poets and Wits about him drew;
"What then?" sang Plato's ghost.  "What then?"
'The work is done,' grown old he thought,
'According to my boyish plan;
Let the fools rage, I swerved in naught,
Something to perfection brought' ;
But louder sang that ghost, "What then?"

and this, by Hopkins (with thanks to C.F. for reminding me of this poem decades ago)


to a young child

MARGARET, are you grieving
Over goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no not mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Camille Claudel

Auden, schoolboy Marxist, writes that he "pardons" Paul Claudel, and doubtless thought nothing of his idol, Eliot, imprisoning Vivienne in an insane asylum for life, as did Claudel his sister. Hugh MacDiarmid, in a different context, wrote:

In spite of all their kind some elements of worth
With difficulty persist here and there on earth.

i.m. Marie Balvet

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


As much homage to the joie de vivre of the late Eric Rohmer as to the Jacques Demy/Michel Legrand classic Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, Francois Ozon's charming and quite radical and poetic film, Potiche, stars the iconic Catherine Deneuve, and Gerard Depardieu, carrying well his weight and his brawler's face.

It used to be that Hollywood made sophisticated, intelligent, even intellectual and subversive rom-com, but that was long ago in the days of Tracy/Hepburn, Frank Capra, Preston Sturges. With the death of Larry Gelbart, and except for Woody Allen's brilliant edginess, American film comedy now is geared to what is lower than the lowest common denominator.

Although Casablanca among other American movies remains my sentimental favorite, the most outstanding films are more often than not, French. From Les Enfants Du Paradis, still possibly the greatest film ever made, through Cocteau's Orphee, to J.P. Melville's noir, to early Godard and the nouvelle vague, revolutionizing both cinematic technique and substance, form and content, it is clear that the finest achievments in French cinema are unsurpassed, matched only by the best of Welles, Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa.

Following the second generation of nouvelle vague directors: Jean-Jacques Beneix (director of David Goodis' The Moon In The Gutter) and Luc Besson, his work spiralling downward after Subway, and Nikita, and Leon: The Professional (perhaps because that film, Natalie Portman's first, was panned, unfairly, by just about every American film critic as paedophilia), Ozon's films might emerge as a third stage of French film-making development after Godard, Truffaut, Resnais, and their colleagues, although Potiche is simply a lovely light-hearted (yet simultaneously serious) divertissement. And Catherine Deneuve luminous as always.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Just as foreign visitors to the U.S. East Coast don't go touring around the disgrace to governance which is Camden, New Jersey, or the wasteland bits of Filthadelphia across the polluted Delaware river, Americans visiting Barcelona don't see any parts of that city inhabited by the characters of Inarritu's film BIUTIFUL. In fact, most Americans abroad are content to shut their eyes to poverty and oppression, just as they do in the homeland. Just as Woody Allen did when he filmed his London-based comedies, or his Barcelona one. Not a lot of laughs in squalor. Film-makers who choose to shoot abroad do so for the same reason as corporations outsource their jobs, and also of course to have a holiday.

This remake of the Kurosawa film is relentlessly sad, haunting, and frightening, and as other film critics have done, I recommend it primarily for the bravura performance of Javier Bardem, and, in fact, the superbly riveting acting of all of the cast under the direction of Inarritu, one of the "three amigos" of contemporary Mexican cinema. Most serious non-English language films are better than 90% of the movies coming from Hollywood studios, although the rubbish is lapped-up by Americans desirous of innocence (etymologically the same as ignorance) and anti-intellectual entertainment.

The film would have been even better (though more uncompromisingly severe) if it had not copped out with its "Miracle in Milan" (De Sica) coda. Bardem seems (consciously or not) to have channeled to great effect, after his illness in the film takes hold, the Dustin Hoffman walk of the Ratso Rizzo character in "Midnight Cowboy". If it were not for Bardem's box office appeal, BIUTIFUL would be more than a bit much for American audiences, who are more and more dumbed-down with rom-com, simulated violence, big-money sports, and celebrity worship as the years pass. That certainly makes it easier to control the populace and ensure that there is no significant political discourse, just personal and corporate greed, which, as long as it still trickles-down, like a golden shower, to enough of the masses, keeps the "loose confederation of millionaires and billionaires" securely in power and makes mockery of democracy.

Living as I have done for fifteen years on a south Jersey barrier island, one island away from the notoriously twee Ocean City, I was curious as to why, in one scene, Bardem conspicuously wears an Ocean City, NJ, sweatshirt. I'm not sure if there's a reason for this. I would doubt it has anything to do with Ocean City being the place where Grace Kelly's family maintained a summer home well over 50 years ago.

The people who live in the world of BIUTIFUL are as recognizable as the people who sleep under the Boardwalks here, or in homeless shelters on Absecon Island, where the monstrous casinos of Atlantic City at this island's north end provide a backdrop to a place which "caters to losers" as the late writer and my good friend, Christopher Cook Gilmore, once put it; or who huddle against the biting cold winds on iron grates under which the subway roars in the decaying city where I was born and raised, and which was America's first capital. There is no "Homage to Catalonia" in BIUTIFUL, just a compelling naturalistic exploration of what our world is becoming.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


(for ongoing information, read The Drowning Mermaid blog.)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Photos released in campaign to save uncontacted Amazonian tribe | Environment |

Photos released in campaign to save uncontacted Amazonian tribe | Environment |

You (we) who live now on U.S. coasts : is your Boardwalk of Amazon wood, the taking of which contributes to little holocaust after little holocaust. I was on the Amazon River for a week a decade ago. How beautiful, and how magical the appearance and then the disappearance back into the Rainforest of the People.

& the Caboclos people, people of the river, perhaps like Twain's people of the Mississipppi 150 years ago.

Earth may become as Rapa Nui was. The last trees cut to move the Moai into place. Money has become our Moai.

One morning you awaken and suddenly you are on the Amazon. Then one day a few days later, awaken again, and it is a dream, a dream of the Amazon!

We go down some small tributaries to a lake area where there is some local settlement. Here the kids in canoes bring their pets to show: a sloth, small parrot, snake, monkey, - like cats or dogs....They seem to come from nowhere, to appear suddenly from some sacred river places to which they then disappear.

Saw two stray thin white cats near the little park down by the Manaus harbour docks at night while wandering around the city. I had wanted to feed them.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Made In Dagenham / Another Year

MADE IN DAGENHAM is an uplifting counterpoint to the bitterly accurate portrayals of working-class life presented by Mike Leigh, for example, in his great film, VERA DRAKE. "We make a lot of films about the working-class in Britain" the director of MADE IN DAGENHAM, Nigel Cole, notes, "but they are often laments, complaints, or simply bleak." In the great heyday of British cinema, there was Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Runner, and Billy Liar, to name but three. The latter introduced Julie Christie in her breakout role as everyone's archetypal 1960's woman, playing off against Tom Courtenay's stay-at-home Northerner.

Iain Sinclair's essay, The Raging Peloton, in the current (January 20th) issue of London Review Of Books, makes a good companion-piece to Made In Dagenham, dealing as it does with cultural history, politics, and the relation of the bicycle to faux socialism.

We see the plethora of bicycles coming and going from the Ford Dagenham factory, pedalled by the workers there who could not afford a car. With the inimitable Bob Hoskins taking a lead role with Sally Hawkins and an excellent supporting cast including Miranda Richardson as Barbara Castle, MADE IN DAGENHAM is an unsentimental look at the way of life effectively destroyed by Margaret Thatcher and the Tories before Tony Blair, selling out the Labour Party's socialist ideals in order to take power, buried it forever.

The mode is resurrected some in Mike Leigh's most recent masterwork, ANOTHER YEAR, his film of middle Britain's no-exit misery, with the best-we-can-hope-for almost cartoon "happy marriage" of Tom and Gerri, sunk into their soggy allotment, and with their goody-goody son and his sudsy-extrovert occupational therapist girlfriend, balanced against denial, dysfunction, disappointment, despair and death, with a stunning performance by Lesley Manville as Mary, in the throes of her lonely, sad, and drunken descent, and by all of the Leigh ensemble. ANOTHER YEAR is a kind of British response to Eric Rohmer's Parisian up-beat joie de vivre if you will, a take, as Leigh has said on "how to give love and affection" without going over-the-top, which is to say, stiff-upper-lip, have a chat, and drink your tea.

MADE IN DAGENHAM is, despite its one Dickensian death, an attempt at a feel-good well-paced feminist movie which pulls no punches in its Retro look at UK life during the time when most Americans regarded Britain only through the superficial lens of "swinging London" and music for export and Carnaby Street fashion hype.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Clearly the film of the year. Just this side of schlock, it is, nevertheless, an Aronofsky original, assimilating the obvious influence of THE RED SHOES (the Powell-Pressburger master-take on the Diagelev-Nijinsky relationship, with Anton Walbrook and the wonderful Moira Shearer) and the less-obvious influence of Polanski's REPULSION. The most knowledgeable and the best review so far was by Roger Ebert, accessible on his website. Probably, in the future, BLACK SWAN will be released as a DVD double with THE WRESTLER.

It is a film exploring the nature of artistic genius, dedication and commitment, and its relation to psychological imbalance and madness. It is a must-see for any involved in the creative process, or any serious cineaste.

The Zen archer dissolves the target, and great art is not a matter of technique and craft alone, but of inner vision. Sophocles' Oedipus blinding himself, Bunuel and Dali slicing the eye, VanGogh severing his ear to try to silence the Meniere's. Baudelaire's "derangement", Ahab's "I'd strike the sun if he insulted me", Lawrence's dark gods, the "riot in the soul" from which some, like Conrad, via Marlowe stepping back from the abyss saying "the horror! the horror!" or Melville's Ishmael, are given to witness, and some, like Hart Crane, or Tsvetaeva, or Sa Carneiro are not. This is no Romantic notion of suffering for one's art, but a compulsive necessity to unleash the psyche, to go to that place where, as Yeats would have it: "who can tell the dancer from the dance"...

Frost, DESERT PLACES; Edward Thomas, 13.1.17

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it - it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is, that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less -
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars - on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

The sorrow of true love is a great sorrow
And true love parting blackens a bright morrow;
Yet almost they equal joys, since their despair
Is but hope blinded by its tears, and clear
Above the storm the heavens wait to be seen.
But greater sorrow from less love has been
That can mistake lack of despair for hope
And knows not tempest and the perfect scope
Of summer, but a frozen drizzzle perpetual
Of drops that from remorse and pity fall
And cannot ever shine in the sun or thaw,
Removed eternally from the sun's law.

That was Thomas's last poem (or at least the last one we have) before he was killed by an artillary shell blast at the Battle of Arras. It is numbered #144 in THE COLLECTED POEMS AND WAR DIARY, 1917 (Faber and Faber, 2004).

Edward Thomas was Robert Frost's best friend. Frost mourned him all of his life, much as Henry James mourned the death of his friend, Robert Louis Stevenson.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Friends of Edith Piaf

Tens of thousands
-Red-winged blackbirds-
Falling from the sky

If we Americans believe the current
explanations being floated - i.e. it
was fireworks, it was lightning,
it was the birds' poor eyesight,
then we absolutely deserve
a future POTUS
far to the right
of Palin or Huckabee

(ps. March 10th) millions upon millions of sardines dead at Redondo Beach Harbor. The official explanation: They all "got lost" and ended up here where they depleted the oxygen in the water.