Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Philosopher and the Wolf; Tom Hayden on The Long Sixties

To continue with the trip, we visited some knockout shops in London- especially recommended are John Sandoe, in Blacklands Terrace near Sloane Square, a quaint small two story shop where most of the staff are published writers- great literary magazines as well. Then there is the redoubtable London Review of Books Shop on 14 Bury Place, in the shadow of the British museum, and Housman's peace bookstore, near King's Cross, which is a terrific multidisciplinary progressive shop that has been publishing its own annual peace diary as well for more than 50 years now.

In Paris, in the wee hours of the morning at the venerable Deux Magots, for what has become the annual Limerick on the spot write-off.(with the spirit of bawdy Lord Douglas looking over our psyches)- On the subject of fetishes(not the only one that evening) here is one of my winning entries- and concededly mild as well--

In London, foot fetishist Hugh
contracted a hospital-borne flu
but I read in a letter
that he now feels much better
since they've reshaped his bed like a shoe

recommended- The Philosopher and The Wolf, (Pegasus Books), by Mark Rowlands, a marvellous example of how living with a wolf(whom the author would bring to the philosophy college courses he taught, where it sat inder the table and from time to time howled) is an experience utterly transformative . We hear that we are a simian species, engaged in dedeption or manipulation, whereas the wolf has a purer existence living for the moment and not always planning for pleasure in the future. A wonderful mind trip out of the species into greater comprehension of the role of non-human animals and our own strange place on earth.Truly transformative!

Tom Hayden, who wrote the Port Huron statement on participatory democracy in 1962,which laid out the basis for much of the social protest and change of the 60's,and was the President of SDS before it crashed in the 70's, and later state legislator and husband of Jane Fonda, has scribed a brilliant history of 50 years of activism, culminating in the beginning of 2009 with the first sign that the Obama years will be a complex period, and not a period of soaring straight line progressivism. A wonderful review of the last 50 years of activism, and of the continuing struggle against what Hayden calls the Machiavellians, those who use power and money to at the very least to reinforce and continue the status quo. Exceptional - it was published in 2009 by Paradigm Press and disappeared-will be in paperback in April 20111.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Magic In Europe;New Song-Just the Same

Coming back from two weeks in Europe,with particular pleasure in browsing the still vital bookshops and markets in Paris and London, we particularly recommend Village Voice Books on Rue Princesse in the 6th arrondisement for English language current and backlist, Galagnani's carriage trade Rue de Rivoli shop, that old reliable La Hune sandwiched between Cafe Aux Deux Magots and Cafe de Flore and most of all Jacques Noel's postage stamp sized brilliant graphics/art/ offbeat shop Un Regard Moderne, 9 Rue Git Le Coeur, in the heart of the Latin Quartier and opposite the Beat Hotel, since renamed, where Burroughs , Ginsberg, and friends hung out in the 50's and where Naked Lunch was pulled together.

To counter this spell of bourgeois activity,here is a piece we wrote ,inspired by thoughts of that great standard, "Little Boxes" by Malvina Reynolds and updated.

Just the Same
C 2010 by E Kabak

Investment bankers, hedge traders.
stock brokers,bond salesmen
they're all on their iPads now
and they all act the same

there's a young one and an old one
and a moustached one and bald one
reading Financial Times and the Journal
and they all think just the same

and they live in McMansions
and gated communities
and they all trade with impunity
and they all do the same

selling mortgages, sliced and diced up
and derivatives unfathomable
making millions, if not billions
from playing the game

on their cell phones,making bad loans
and currency and credit swaps
leaving footprints like cow flops
which all look the same

using tax cuts and loopholes
you could drive a gold truck through
holding largesse, such extreme wealth
but never the blame

and they think in dry numbers
and faceless equations
which they hide by evasion
and secret code names

there's a thin one and a fat one
even scarified and tattooed one
and they all call it socialism
if it means a level game

and their credo- maxing out wealth
is best for society
leaving few crumbs on the table
they all now declaim

there's a rich one and a richer one
and the richest one,and a wannabe
and they live so compassionless
but they all die just the same-

and all of them golems
who turn to dust just the same

Monday, November 29, 2010

Singing to the Plants by Stephan Beyer-

This is an absolutely brilliant cross- disciplinary study of Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon, by a scholar of ayahuasca, hallucinogens, religion , psychology and Buddhism who at various stages of his career has also practiced as an international trial lawyer and written two tomes on Buddhist practices.

This book(published by the University of New Mexico Press in 2009 and now available in paperback) discusses alternate states of conscious ness, discarnate entities, endogenous chemicals and sigma 1 receptors, the difference ( a la James Hillman ) between spirit and soul,hallucinations,schizophrenia the work of C.G. Jung and a host of other interwoven issues with a passion, scholarship and readability that is excelled by none in this field.
Here is a review in poetic form( to the tune of Singing in the Rain)

Singin’to the Plants-Copyright E Kabak 2010

I’m singing to the plants
Just singing to the plants
My stomach has emptied
In a marvelous trance

The sky’s a blue cup
But before you may sup
Go down to the soul’s murk and then you go up

In a deep dive you’ll delve
And see those small machine elves
They’re nothing but just
All your multiple selves

The spirits you’ll find
Whether fearful or kind
Will dazzle your senses
Which before had been blind

And go ahead and engage
With some gnome who’s a sage
Your active imagining is soon all the rage

So go take a chance
Let your DNA dance
While singing
Just singing to the plants…

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New titles-The Lost Art of Reading- Nomad Codes- Castro on Obama

Just finished The Lost Art of Reading, a terrific essay on Why Books Matter in Distracted Time by David Ulin, book critic for the Los Angeles Times.It's a brilliant take on how language collapses the distancebetween us and the author and brings us into the thoughts and perception of the writers and lets us see the world through his/her eyes.And how the high speed world of the internet,e-mails and text messages interferes with focussed reading and creates new brain activity,also intellectual but of a different duration and pattern.
It's a take on how reading helps empathy and a coherent view of life,how the reader becomes the book and how linked software and other creative use of a technology that's here to stay may also improve the reading experience and not lose its empathic, communicative aspects.
But it's also a cri de coeur about the slower and deeper experiential aspects of the reading process and how important it is to preserve them as they restore time to us.The distracted, continually addictive and interrupted experience of bouncing between multiplatforms acts to prevent empathy and deeper understanding, says Ulin. A wonderful and encyclopedic piece of work-highly recommended.
Published by Sasquatch Books, Seattle.

Erik Davis, chronicler of Burning Man and author of the classic and brilliant Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information, a book which treats a subject similar to that of The Secret Life of Puppets, by Victoria Nelson, has a new collection of short pieces out, entitled Nomad Codes, published by Yeti Books. This is an eye-opening and provocative assemblage of pieces on everything from Lovecraft to Goa and Transvestite Spirit mediums in Myanmar,tantric psychedelia, the late Terence McKenna,heir to the Tim Leary role of chief guru of advanced plant consciousness in the US,Jack Spicer, Burning Man, and Avatar. Good stuff, some pieces better than others but well worth the trip.

Ocean Books, a small left-wing Australian publisher, now gives us Obama and the Empire by-- yes it's he- Fidel Castro, a series a of articles written by Castro, dated from May 2008 through June 2010 and published prior hereto perhaps only in Cuba.

Castro is obviously of two minds about Obama, acknowledging on the one hand his brilliance and powers of expression opening to a woder world, but also , as he puts it, his role as the head of an imperial empire seeking to stay afloat, while at the same time beingopposed by what he deems extreme right- wing forces.
Some interesting stuff here, particularly the sharpness of Castro's brain, whether or not one agrees with his political point of view.
Fidel may have suffered some major physical setbacks, but they haven't affected his rhetoric or his edginess.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Finnegans Wake New edition released;Slavery is back in Style

The first revised/ corrected edition of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, the Ur book for this reviewer, has been released in Ireland by Houyhnhnm Press in an expensive(US $400) edition and even more expensive limited edition, edited by Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon, preceding its release next year ina regular trade edition by Penguin. A launch party was held earlier this week at the American Irish Historical Society in New York,accompanied by liltingly beautiful harp music, a speech by Danis Rose, who worked on the editing for 30 years(he also released a major edited version of Ulysses in 1997), and readings by many others, including Christopher Ricks and Denis Donoghue. It was quite an event and I will let my colleague and member of the NY Finnegan's Wake reading group Judd Staley summarize this exquisite evening:

Rose's talk was fascinating. He spoke for a while about the history of the project, which he and John O'Hanlon have been working on for 30 years. Apparently it all began with the question "Is FW coherent?" A close examination of one of the questions from (I think he said the Shem question, but that can't be right: that one's only two lines) led him to believe that there were textual problems, and so he embarked on a study of the manuscripts. He described Joyce's writing process as "like a mason building a wall": "not creating, but composing." The Wake is basically other people's words, taken from Joyce's reading and collected in the notebooks, layered together in order to create a beautiful "fairy tale."

He demonstrated the evolution of the text with a look at the first half-sentence, showing how it grew from the first manuscript (which began "brings us to Howth Castle & Environs! Sir Tristam...") through the first fair copy (adding "back"), through 8 (!) type-script revisions to give us the 1939 text. The new edition has a few variations even here: the spelling of "commodius" changes to "commodious," and the final "and" becomes an ampersand. Those are the ones I noticed.

Probably the most exciting thing about this whole project is that all of the synoptic text, reflecting all of Joyce's stages of revision, is in a hypretext format and will hopefully be available online eventually.

He then spoke about the last half-sentence. This was the best part of the talk. First of all, there are two new words in the new edition: "a lost"; so the sentence now reads "A way a lone a lost a last a loved a long the". He also said that the placement on the page is very important, to demonstrate the link back to the first page, as well as the link to "Paris, 1922-1939" (which, of course, combines with the last sentence to give us "A-L-P," the river of the first word). The new sentence now has 13 words, 7 of which are articles; both are significant numbers for Joyce. But the earlier drafts end differently: the original last sentence was "A bit beside the bush and then a walk a long the" (I think that's what he said; maybe somebody else heard it differently?) Rose spoke quite eloquently about the evolution of the tone of ALP's final soliloquy, as it grew darker when Joyce decided to "kill ALP." Rose suggested that the last words are not ALP speaking, but rather a "narrator." ALP's last words (according to Rose) are "The keys to. Given.", mirroring the last words of Christ dying in despair, before redemption. Then the narrator comes in, with the rhythm of ocean waves, laughingly delivering "the letter," which is of course to carry us back to where we started. He cited the "recirculation" of the opening as an allusion to the Roman ceremony of "recirculatio," a rededication of the city to the gods. It was really quite an explication.

Here's a poem/song we wrote called Slavery is back in Style--

Slavery is Back in Style
C 2010 by E Kabak

There is trafficking in humans,
And child labor as well
There are millions upon millions
Who are living in hell

There are workers in debt bondage
From the Danube to the Nile
Knavery’s omnipresent, and slavery’s in style

Slavery is back in style, slavery is de rigeur
From the laborer who’s mixing bricks
To the one who just now slaps manure
From the largest multinationals
To the government of Sudan
Everyone is playing at enslaving fellow man

Slavery is back in style
Our companies did it for a while
Working 14 hour shifts when you’re 14---
Just to make kids’clothes—it’s a little obscene--
And every night we go to bed
some worker’s dying in our stead
Prison labor here at home for victimless crimes
Toiling in the hole to eke out a few dimes
While you drive your SUV
Profit’s driving slavery
Trafficking in sex, she’ll smile:
"Slavery is back in style"

Right here in the USA
Many sweat for puny pay
The CFO’s soft whisper-The fourth quarter hurts-ow!
The CEO says “No sweat, we’ll just fire ten thou”
And though you may be very smart
You work now at the supermart
No benefits-you’re temps on trial
So you better hold your bile

Chain gangs walk in single file
People live in slum shitpiles
Tea Party folks may shout”Sieg Heil”
Slavery is back
Like a sneak attack
Slavery is back in style.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sympathy for the Devil

"I was there when B& N closed its store on the West Side
Made damn sure that Amazon never shed a tear or cried
Pleased to meet you let me work the spindle
But what's troubling you is demonizing Kindle

I was there when they just ended the Sunday book review
when chick lit trash and vampire cash made good authors kind of blue
sent the bookstore rents so high that they caused literary woes
caused the indies to shut down and replaced by all those Trader Joes...

Pleased to meet you-but I take no blame
for the CFO's who started up this game...."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Saul Alinsky, Martha Nussbaum, Martin Amis etal

Saul Alinsky was the great community organizer whose several volumes including Rules for Radicals were the inspiration for Barack Obama's community organizer mentors in Chicago, and thus provided the base learning for the bottom-up social media campaign Obama waged in 2008.Alinsky, who died in 1969, is now the subject of a new anecdotal biography by Nicholas von Hoffman,entitled"Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky" and published by Nation Books.
Alinsky was also, curiously the subject of a major paper written at Wellesley by Hillary Clinton; his texts are now being studied and applied by the tea Partiers as well.

Von Hoffman, who served as a top community organizer for Alinsky,is a journalist whose early work included the wonderfully titled late 60's book-"We are the People Our Parents warned Us Against."
This is a warm and revealing biography with a plethora of juicy anecdotes. In addition to speaking of Alinsky's service with John L Lewis and the CIO,and his pioneering of successful community organizing in Chicago and across the country for blacks and latinos( he was the mentor for Cesar Chavez, among others),von Hoffman repeats the heart (or perhaps another organ)warming story of how Alinsky was asked to help integrate black people into the labor force in Rochester NY at a time when Kodak and Xerox were virtually all white communities of employees. In a story, whose precept is that the threat of action is often more successful than the implementation thereof, the author tells us that Alinsky immediately spotted the vulnerability of Rochesterians in their frequent attendance of Philharmonic concerts. He advised the parties with whom he would do battle that his virtually all black clients had purchased a block of seats and would attend the next major weekend recital after eating an all baked beans dinner shortly before the music played.
The implicit threat of a "fart-in" was all he needed to begin the negotiation process.
Alinsky was a genius at practical, no nonsense organizing who could turn on a dime and who was not above making alliances with the liberal antifacsists in the pre 1940's Catholic Church in Chicago who were dedicated to the improvement of society through charity to advance his goals.
A wonderful read and most entertaining as well.

Martha Nussbaum, distinguished professor of law and Ethics at the Univ of Chicago Law School and the author of numerous important books, has just had published by Princeton University Press a critically important thin volume-"Not for Profit":Why Democracy Needs the Humanities". The thesis in a nutshell is that the shortsighted focus on profit and utilitarianism,without the liberal arts ,and particularly the Socratic method of engaging the mind to understand the complexities of the world and see the other side of lives on the planet in a sympathetic light, diminishes our ability to criticize leadership and damages our ability to resolve complex global problems.
I amtold that right before the 2008 market crash 75 %or so of the graduating class of Yale headed for investment banking as did many lawyers seeking to max out on money.

And this in a country that had such a fine tradition of forward-looking education influenced by John Dewey and others,like Nobel prize winning polymath Rabindranath Tagore, who believed that we make progress as a society and advance only by cultivating a more inclusive sympathy and understanding of others.In addition, that this capacity can only be brought forward by education that empahsizes global learning, the arts and Socratic self- criticism.

It reminds me of an essay by the childrens' and adult storyteller Russell Hoban,from a collection entitled "The Moment Under the Moment", in which, discussing the house that childhood builds in the mind,he says:
"[Such a house in the mind]is a safe house, a learning place where we test words and images and ideas to find out what rings true.It's like a safe house in a spy story-in it the secret agent that is the child's mind can stay hidden until ready to venture into the hostile city ...But it isn't the world that beckons that is hostile- "
"it's the grey city of the failed children of the world, the dry thinkers, the juiceless minds, the poison skulls that dream in numbers and megadeaths.They run the world, these failed children;they speak in all languages and in all languages their speech is vile. In bemedalled uniforms, in costly business suits and ties they mouth pompous words printed out by grey machines. Each one thinks the other is the enemy while the enemy, the monster they have called up together, sings to itself outside the window.The grey city is why the safe house of childhood is needed , and long after the child is grown this safe house is still needed in the shadows and the narrow alleys by the waterfront in the grey city of terror.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Barnes & Noble Toys, A Tribute to Tuli, and Steve Stern

Barnes & Noble, once the target of enmity from independent booksellers when it was achieving a strong market position in the bookselling arena at their expense, is now suffering and arousing the sympathies of many of the same audience which had previously turned up its collective nose at them.
This is because,perhaps, the unsuccessful venture with the B&N e-book, the Nook, and the competition for bestsellers from the Wal-Marts and Costcos of the world, which are underselling everyon,including B&N.
Now B&N,in an attempt to improve its margins, has started substituting toys for book space in and about he childrens' section of the store.
This is a truly sad day for book lovers.

Steve Stern, who writes in what Harold Bloom calls the "Yiddish sublime" and has been called the heir to Isaac Singer, has two new books out- Frozen Rabbi,just published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, and The North of God, a fable on the train to an extermination camp.

Suffice it to say that, for someone who spends a great deal of his time reading Joyce,Borges and Calvino and experimental fiction, (but who also appreciates fine traditional writing and finely etched characters,plot development et al), Stern's books are a revelation.
There is in "Frozen Rabbi" a love scene taking place in an immigrant's New York at the beginning of the 20th century between two Jewish immigrants (not sure in one case of the sexuality of one of the characters)that almost seemed to partake of the divine, it was so powerfully and brilliantly rendered.Stern has a mystical joie de vivre that permeates and radiates through his writing like no other English language writer I know.More on these two books later.

Tuli Kupferberg, of the Fugs, the great 60's poets' rock band,died last week. Ed Sanders, the other lead poet who occupied a place in the 60's as owner of the Peace Eye Bookshop in the East Village as well as a chronicler of the Beats and Hippies and continues to write and publish his glorious poetry,eulogized Tuli at a memorial service at St Mark's Church in th East Village on Saturday July 17. One song Sanders and the group sang was "Nothing",Tuli's Buddhist chant.
Here is my Nothing 2, which brings the piece up to date-dedicated to Tuli.

Nothing 2-
C 2010 by E.M.Kabak

TV news nothing
Docudramas nothing
Sitcoms/reality nothing
Rachel Maddow leaves nothing but a shadow
Nothing nothing nothing

Fox News nothing, NPR nothing
CNN and NBC nothing
Beck and Scar- borough
Are just a large Zero
Nothing nothing nothing

Conservatives nothing, liberals nothing
Teaparties and radicals nothing
Right left or any wing
Or Ism is a big NO-thing
Nothing nothing nothing

Faith based nothing, atheists nothing
Praying is saying nothing
The world’s great religions
Are naught but a smidgeon
Of nothing nothing nothing

Money nothing, honey nothing
Iron chefs are all bereft nothing
Prix fixe deals and meals on wheels
All food is rude and nothing

Hollywood nothing,Broadway nothing
Telluride’s a void inside nothing
Festivals at Cannes are one big NON-
Event nothing nothing nothing

Civil law nothing, crimes galore nothing
All courts and judges now nothing
Everyone’s a lifer
Running up a cipher
Nothing nothing nothing

Stocks and bonds nothing, credit swaps nothing
All bank accounts margin amounts nothing
Private equity bought
Adds up up to one big nought
Nothing nothing nothing

Knives and guns nothing
Automatics nothing
IED PTSD nothing
Bombs and shock and awe
Dropped by the drones of war
Why bother they’re nada, just nothing

Mercury Venus Earth and Mars Jupiter Saturn(are they cars)
Alternate worlds are nothing
All of the universe
Is just a multiverse
Of Nothing nothing nothing

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Book Expo- continued

Among the many intriguing titles from Knopf this fall are V.S. Naipaul's "Masque of Africa' where he mostlikely, (as he did in "Among the Believers" and his volumes on India,)will savage the belief in animism, Christianity, Islam, the cult of leadership and mythology. His "travel" tomes are every bit as, if not more engaging than his brilliant fictional portraits, and leave an indelible imprint in the minds of even the most cynical as well as thoughtful observers of the interplay between local culture and the global mise en scene.
Then there is another novel from Tom McCarthy, following his "Remainder" as well as Thomas Power's "The Killimg of Crazy Horse" We hope to read and review at length the three of these soon.

Notwithstanding the conglomeratization of publishing, it is plain that Random House continues, through its various imprints, including Doubleday, Crown, and Pantheon, to bring out high quality product. The fact that an author as talented as David Mitchell (his The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet comes out next month)continues to publish with RH is itself a shot in the arm for sustained literary success in American trade book publishing.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

New Bookshop, Book Expo and Other Tales of Inspiration

Rumors of the death of independent bookselling are not quite being borne out by developments. Last month, at 66 Avenue A, there opened a brand new used bookshop selling high quality titles. We visited there Saturday night- it has yet to be titled, and were impressed with the clean layout as well as the emphasis on photographic, film and art books, along with a good selection of fiction,poetry, and cult crit. et al. Brian, the owner, previously worked at Mercer St Books, and has assembled a first rate collection of very reasonably priced materials.
This is a terrific addition to a neighborhood already crawling with intelligent upscale people who can easily afford to keep an establishment of this quality in business for a long long time( we hope we hope we hope).

The emphasis on photography, by the way, reminds me again of the brilliant photographic bookstore Dashwood Books, open now a few years , which specializes in imports of wonderful (often signed) photographic works, and occupies a niche in the upper echelons of photographic book collecting, which has become a sport for the rich in the last few years.
A totally different and wonderful store where one views titles from Europe and Japan, and then can go down the street from the store at 33 Bond St to grab lunch at Il Buco,if his or her pocketbook can stand the denting.

Book Expo 2010

Contrary to reports received, BEA was not the disaster that some had expected it to be. Despite the fact that the show only rented the third floor at the Javits Center in New York,and took no space on floor 2, which in past years had housed the children's booksellers, miscellaneous vendors and the traditional autographing, and the fact that the main trade houses have stopped giving out proofs on anything resembling the scale they used to, there was enough pleasure for this reviewer to imbibe, particularly in the areas of small presses and university publishers.

Among the titles we are looking forward to reviewing are ,from Counterpoint, "Are We There Yet:A Zen Journal Through Space and Time by acclaimed naturalist and fiction writer Peter Maryo Matthiessen, who is never mentioned for, but probably deserves the Nobel Prize as much as any other American writer for his multifaried contributions.
Also from the same publisher is "The Etiquette of Freedom and the Practice of the Wild" by Gary Snyder and Jim Harrison.
Inner Traditions has a significant number of provocative titles, including The Pot Book,and"High Society: The Central Role of Mind-Altering Drugs in History,Science and Culture" by Mike Jay.

New Directions is publishing more Bolano- why not- but also bringing out new editions of Pound and Tennessee Williams,Julian Rios' inventive "The House of Ulysses" and a new collection of stories by vastly underappreciated 'Joseph McElroy, whose oeuvre ,from "A Smuggler's Bible" to "Women and Men" is remarkable.Kudos again to Barbara Epler and staff for another great fall list.

And then there is Odyssey House, the Hong-Kong based publisher of armchair and actual scholarly, beautifully illustrated travel books, encompassing wide-ranging discussions of history and culture on some of the most interesting remote areas of the world. Some of their fall new titles include the second edition of Afghanistan, a volume on Oman,Jewel of the Arabian Gulf,one on Iran,and "Asia Overland:Tales of Travel on the Trans-Siberian and Silk Road."This line of books is of the highest quality intellectually and aesthetically and I am looking forward to review allof the volumes.

More forthcoming titles in the next blog later this week.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Insectopedia by Hugh Raffles

I had the privilege two weeks ago to spend Friday evening in Gowanus (between Carroll Gardens and Park Slope) at a book and film party sponsored by Cabinet Magazine for Insectopedia, the brilliant a-z encyclopedia of essays in Entomology by Hugh Raffles, who teaches anthropology at the New School and is the kind of omnivorous scholar we sadly see so little of today in publishing. The Insectopedia ,published by Pantheon Books, offers a diverse entertainment on subjects as unusual as locusts in the Sahel, sex and animal crush videos(just found legal by the US Supreme Court on first amendment grounds),Kafka, the communication systems of bees, and the treatment by the Nazis of Jews as "lice"and the Holocaust to be as merely a delousing of society.
The evening was punctuated by video and aural displays and by Mr. Raffles' presiding over one hour of filmstrips, going back to animated Russian strips in 1912 dealing with an adulterous affair between a grasshopper and and a beetle,an award -winning educational French filmstrip in the 1940's, where the producer pointedly speaks of those who"suck on others being sucked in turn by their own parasites".
Then there was an experimental Stan Brakhage strip on moths and light and a Catherine Chalmers piece "Safari' with stunning close-ups of the bug eat world of some of our favorite insects. (By this time, my thorax was really acting up)

Chalmers is also the award winning author of a book on cockroaches showing some of them executed as if on death row. A commentary on capital punishment from across the species as it were.

All in all, a great evening,one that leaves one even more fascinated to read Edward O. Wilson's latest non fiction tract on the Superorganisms, those societies of ants and others,which operate for the benefit of the social system over individual lives (and whose decision points in their daily lives are governed by algorithyms parallel to the self -organizing pronciples of computers, since what their genes prescribe is not a literal life cycle, but as the author puts it, a program that is more like a molecular operating manual by which the colony asserts itself)

Bugs and computers- a nice combination- cockroaches can survive a nuclear blast and computers are anaerobic....

Which brings me to the last four lines of the famous story by the late Edward Gorey- discussing the disappearance of young Millicent Frastley-

They stunned her, and stripped off her garments, and lastly
They stuffed her inside a kind of pod,
And then it was that Millicent Frastley
was sacrificed to the Insect God.

ps -don't put borax in my thorax!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Secret History,and PEN Forum

Secret Histories, by Justin Spring,is the first major biography of the academic/novelist turned tattoo artist and gay male erotic writer Samuel Steward(1909-1993).Steward was an exceptionally brilliant man who taught in several western colleges at a time when to disclose one's sexuality would have been cause for immediate termination. He wound up at Loyola University in Chicago where he had a good career at the same time he began an epistolary relationship with Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas that ultimately resulted in their meeting in Europe on several occasions;he also had a number of interesting liaisons, including with Thornton Wilder.
All this while writing several fairly well- received, if not blockbuster hit novels.Steward also worked closely with Alfred Kinsey on his sex research , but it was his early 1960's decision to abandon the world of academia for a postion as tattoo artist in one of the rougher sections of Chicago under the name Phil Sparrow, as well as his beginning to write erotic novels with an S& M theme under the name Phil Andros,while still publishing under the name Samuel Steward , that goes to the core of this book.
Although Steward in some sense resembled his literary hero J Huysmans, the author of Against the Grain,La-Bas, and several other richly ornate novels of 19h century French decadence,Steward himself ultimately rejected the decadent and mystical in favor ofa forthright, no- nonsense acknowledgement of his own sexuality. It was this confessional honesty and his search for the healing power of truth, believes the author, that sets him apart from others.
Steward died in semi-obscurity in a shabby overcrowded bungalow in Oakland, Californa.surrounded by vast quantities of material in boxes on the floor.,
This book should ideally be read in conjunction with the one volume introductory autobiographical work penned by Steward, and perhaps his Phil Andros novels.

The World PEN author festival concluded a few weeks ago, a marvellous assemblage of talent with only a few missing,because of volcanic ash.Unfortunately, one of our favorites, Laszlo Krasznahorkai, the great Gogolian Hungarian author,was not able to make the trip.
At a session on the Future of Reading after Twitter, blogs and Kindle, Sergei Sokolovskiy, A Russina poet/essayist, gave his own slant on just what the future holds for us. His POV: that 100 years from now humans may no longer be the dominant species on the planet.Instead, that distinction may belong to sapient bacteria, who as of this juncture, are not known for their reading habits.

NB As of this date, according to the latest sscientific criterai, bacteria occupy a larger portion of the biomass of the earth than we do.With a right-leaningand property -oriented Supreme Court, could they use the power of eminent domain to evict our unicellular friends from the biomass?
Don't think too long on this one.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Charles Bowden,Lock-Picking, Slavoj Zizek, and Manuel Rivas

Charles Bowden, who lives in Tucson, a few miles from the Mexican border, and who writes, as one publicity piece pretty accurately puts it, about living a moral life in a culture of death, is a Thoreauian crank nature writer, essayist ,scribe of memoirs on the hazardous but beautiful life on the Mexican border and teller of true tales of drug- dealing and beautiful death in Chihuahua and Ciudad Juarez. Altogether a brilliant scribe of the dark side of life.
He has written several books on the southwest desert, a piece on Edward Abbey, numerous essays and now a multiple series on Juarez, culminating this year in Murder City, published by Holt and Dreamland, with black and white graphic drawings by Alice Leora Briggs, published by the University of Texas Press in Austin. He was recently in town to accept at an art gallery in Chelsea the Orion magazine award for book of the year, for Some of the Dead are Still Breathing, published in 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In this book, there are a number of excellent essays, but my favorite is an essay called "Serpent" in which he describes his life with a blacktail rattlesnake named Beulah that coiled up one day and settled next to Bowden on his porch rocking chair.

"I am clumsy...she can see that with her eyes, though she hardly relies on sight.And I am warm... I become a shape with a field of temperatures of different intensities, one so finely felt that she can perfectly target any part of my body. And I am irrelevant unless I get too close- She will ignore me if I stay six feet away. She will ignore me if I become motionless for 180 seconds.

If I violate the rules of her culture, she will work through a sequence of four tactics. First, she wil pretend to be invisible and hope I do not see her.If that fails, she will try to flee.If that fails, she will rattle in hope of frightening me away. And finally, if I am completely ignorant of simple courtesy and get within a foot or so of her, she will attack me.

...She herself is cultured. In her lifetime, she will attack maybe thirty or forty times.She will never attack a member of her own species. She will never be cruel. She is incapable of evil."

This is a wonderful essay on, as Bowden puts it, a man trying to get outside the cage of his DNA by living with a snake.Highly recommended.

"A Casual Introduction to Lock-Picking" was the title of one of the workshops at the 4th Annual Anarchist Bookfair, held last week on the premises of the Judson Church in Greenwich Village, which has served as a beacon light for civil rights for almost two hundred years now. I missed this intriguing course, sandwiched between the usual offerings dealing with globalization, radical parenting,the politics of disaster and other choice offerings. In fact, I missed all the workshops and only managed to attend the bookfair itself, which some have described as a "good knock-off" of the annual San Francisco anarchist book event, although somewhat smaller in scope.But I was intrigued by the course description-which reads in part:
"We will.. explore the mechanical components of pin tumbler locks in order to develop
an understanding of how subtle mechanical imperfections in the meshing of the components can be manipulated so as to bypass the need for a key."

Whoever wrote this could graduate to the course catalogue at Oberlin or Swarthmore Colleges , to be sure, or certainly the Advanced program for a Masters Degree in Pickpocketing, said to be taught in several Southern Hemispheric port cities. And ,one might add,surely coming to our own semi-depressed Northern climes soon as well.

Slavoj Zizek is by now the most famous cultural critic and philosopher in the Western world. A native originally of Slovenia, he now divides his time between academic assignments in London and in Ljubljana. His writings are the most prolific in virtually any corner of the arts and aciences, barring only Joyce Carol Oates. And on top of that, to see him in person, this unreconstructed mix of Hegel, Marx and Jacques Lacan,is to watch an inferno of a mind in operation.
His books are worth the price alone for their sizzling and unexpectedly wide -ranging criques of film and the popular culture, let alone politics and religion. There's a new one out from Verso,Living in the End Times - and I have already made the plunge into its endlessly fascinating pages.

Manuel Rivas is Galicia's most famous novelist, and northwest Spain's candidate for some serious literary prizes. Three of his works of fiction, beginning with Carpenter's Pencil, a brilliant novel of the Spanish Civil War, and two other works containing much folkloric poetic content, have been published here by Overlook Press. But his latest-"Books Burn Badly", just out from Harvill Secker in London, has been almost uniformly praised as a masterpiece- with comparisons in brilliance to Joyce and Marquez- But here is a writer who combines skillful prose on the day the Falangists burned libraries in Galicia - August 19, 1936, and also executed Garcia Lorca- with a poetically brilliant style of writing on the peoples and life of urban and village Galicia.
Here is a sample:

"Things spoke and fell quiet.Here were two perceptions that made a picture or a poem special.One speaking of things.Capturing the speaking of things, their expansive aura,their meaning and translating it into the language of light or sounds.The other, the falling quiet of things.Their hiding.Their being absent. Their emptying.Their loss.Relating or relecting that was another shudder.The first caused a frontal shudder. The second, a lumbar tremor."

We'll have more to say on Rivas, but this is a writer still comparatively unknown in this country, although his writings have been translated into many languages.Pay him heed and be uncommonly rewarded-the latest book is just delicious.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

David Remnick, Robert Coover and Charles Bowden

Lots to report- David Remnick's THE BRIDGE:THE LIFE AND RISE OF BARACK OBAMA" is the best political biography out perhaps since Robert Caro's trilogy(so far) on Lyndon Johnson. It traces the history of our 44th President up to his election, and is an in-depth study of how this uniquely talented individual created an ethnic identity for himself as well as political roots in Chicago out of a background as the product of an absent African father and somewhat absent but loving white mother, growing up in the more racially tolerant community of Hawaii.This biography may not please his most unthinking followers or detractors, because it is so well- researched,nuanced and well written. But it conveys the first fuller picture of Obama's youth and college and law school experience which were only touched upon in the famous DREAMS FROM MY FATHER.
Remnick's book, which begins with Selma, Alabama, and Obama's speech there in 2007, is filled with flashbacks and in depth analysis of the civil rights struggle as well as America's continuing journey to make itself a "more perfect union", as our President is given to say from time to time.

Remnick wrote it, amazingly, in only one year while continuing as editor of the New Yorker- a tribute,given all the interviewing(the ground for which was laid by his duly acknowledged researchers)and writing that had to be done to produce a 600 page text.
I have very few gripes about this tome- it replaced 5 equally worthy literary offerings I have been reading-and you know how good a book The Bridge is when you awaken at 330 am on the weekend, and push the other volumes on your king sized bed closer to the floor, grab the eponymous volume in question and bite off another 50 or so pages before drooling back to sleep.

Hardly any gripes here- except the use of "conspiracy theory' as an unthinking term to tarnish the Daniel Corsi's(Obamanation) of the world as well as the Jeremiah Wrights(AIDS was caused by the Govt asa plot against blacks)
Let's be careful we do not succumb to putting some of the other events in history, which were real conspiracies,like the Gulf of Tonkin, Watergate, and the Kennedy assassination, (guilt for the latter now having admitted by three dead Mafia leaders and in E Howard Hunt's confession)-- in the same basket with the loony tunes space aliens or Glenn-Beck invented stuff. As Peter Dale Scott points out in his epochal study- Deep Politics- there is a level of parapolitical activity that goes on in politics that the media does not prefer to report, and even less so these days given the lack of real investigative reporting and the conversion of TV newschannels into 24 hour tabloid entertainment channels.

But overall, kudos for Mr Remnick, though his magazine would be the last to blow the lid off the truth of the seamiest undersides of American politics, as compared to its continued good reporting but from the inside by the well-motivated but highly connected Sy Hershes of the world.

Robert Coover, who has now published 18 or 19 novels, one loses count, has scribed another gem of black humor- NOIR- in which this sage Professor of Lit at Brown University and master of the post-modern send-up, having skewered westerns in Ghost Town, now does the favor for noir mysteries.It's a terrific read. Sample this- when the endangered private eye,one Mr Noir,(one can't use "" more than once in any piece) observes two yakuza opponents, fighting not with bullets but for tattoo space with the body of a prostitute being used as a message board and one tattoo being overwritten by another-

Or check out this passage where the alky dick blames all his troubles on the amorphous City-and how She,that targeted anonymous urban entity counterattacks:

"So whenever I got juiced,I'd start railing crazily at her,calling her every dirty name I could think of at the top of my voice so everyone would know.'.....The one night I stumbled over a loosened manhole cover and fell and skinned my nose and that threw me into a violent rage and I strted screaming at her from there where I was lying.You did that on purpose! I yelled.There were noxious vapors belching out of the hole with the filthy cover, so along with all the other filthy things I called her,I cussed her out as a fucking steaming bottomless cunt,and as soon as I said that I knew I had the hots for her,and I knew she was hot for me.That sounds crazy, it was crazy, I WAS crazy, I've said that.But I had to have her and I knew she wanted it.It was all I could think about,to the extent I could think about anything at all.
Come and get me big boy, I seemed to hear her say that. But how do you fuck a city?
The only thing I could come up with was to jerk off over a subway entrance,but when I tried to do that it just made her madder.Maybe she felt insulted or demeaned or just not satisfied,but after that she really got vicious,.Mean streets?? Until then I had no idea.What before had been a subtle sleight of hand became more like an out-of-control-merry-go-round.Whenever I stood up, I got knocked down again.The streets and sidewalks buckled and rolled like a storm at sea, pitched me round,reared up and smacked me in the face.Who knows, maybe I was driving her wild with desire and those were just love commotions of a kind,but they were killing me and I no longer had amorous ambitions.Stroking her when I was down seemed to help,but whenever I tried to stand, she started in on me again.Ever get hit by a runaway building?You don't want that to happen to you.That's when I knew I had to get off the sauce."

Of course, this is not a totally uncommon theme- look at the cover of Rem Koolhaas' Delirious New York, with two of the City's skyscrapers going to bed with each other.Or Art Spiegelman's City of Terror trading cards, enclosed with Raw Magazine no2, with the latest installmentthen published of MAUS, one of which wasa drawing of a man entitled Chased by Buidings.Or consider the bizarre piece I once read in the tabloid Weekly World News, where an Australian chap was alleged to have sex with a manhole cover- because he found the city life so maddeningly erotic. Well there!
This is a theme worthy of more exploration. When I was a little boy- and some say I still am- I ventured forth into the City on the train from the burbs, and was terrified the tallest buildings would fall on me.Little did I know......

This writing is all reminiscent of the great rant, or as it was known in the 19th century, "brag' a la Davy Crockett and the river men of the Mississippi as well as Walt Whitman, that is echoed in The Public Burning of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Coover's brillaint send up- written in the late 1970's- of our would-be American Empire(how we fail to listen to our wisest voices).
In that tome, which I had the distinct pleasure of reading for libel pre-publication, the main character is a literary then VP Richard Nixon, and other chaptersare written by Time Magazine as The National Poet laureate et al. Check this passge out from our own beloved symbol Uncle Sam, recast as Sam Slick the Yankee Pedlar:

"Who-Who-Whoop-Who'll come gouge with me-who'll come bite with me?In the name of the Great Jehovah,and the Continental Congress,I have passed the Rubicon, sink or swim live or die,survive or perish,I'm in for a fight,I'll go to my death in a fight,-..You hear me over there, you washed-up varmints?This is the hope of the world talking to you-I am Sam Slick the Yankee Pedlar- I can ride on a flash of lightnin',catch a thunderbolt in my fist,swallow[savages] whole,raw or cooked,slip without a scratch down a honey locust,whup my weight in wildcats and redcoats,squeeze blood out of a turnip and cold cash out of a parson,and out-inscrutabulize the heathen Chinee-...Yuppee- I'm wild and woolly and full'a fleas,never been curried beneath the knees,so if you want to avoid foreign collision you better abandon the ocean,women and children first!For we hold these truths to be self-evident-that God helps them what helps themselves,it's a mere matter of marchin',that idleness is emptiness and he who lives on hope will die with his foot in his mouth,that no nation was ever ruint by trade,and that nothin' is sartin' but death, taxes,God's glowin' Covenant,enlightened self-interest,certain unalienated rights,and woods woods woods as far as the world extends."

Coover is a master writer. Read his books, all of them!

Stay tuned in the next day or so for a discussion of the great Charles Bowden , Tucson- based Thoreauian crank chronicler of the Southwest Desert and the Mexican border, with all its deaths and drugs thrown in. A great naturalist and essayist as well.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Marina Abramovic;Jose Carlos Somoza

Marina Abramovic, the 63 year-old Serbian born performance artist, who has been at the vanguard of this form of conceptual art,will have the first MOMA retrospective dedicated to a single performance artist, commencing March 14.
Abramovic, who was born the daughter of two war heroes in Yugoslavia, has been working her magic for 40 years now; her performances often in various states of undress, have varied from a 6 hour session in Naples-"Rhythm 0", in which she placed 72 objects upon a table in a Naples art gallery, including a gun loaded with one bullet, an axe and a knife, and stated she would resist nothing. This performance reprised and extended Yoko Ono's in 1964 when as a member of the avant- garde group Fluxus, she let others cut away her clothes.It ended ,miraculously, with the artist safe but witha lot of gray hairs, and after a close call when one person put the gun in her hand and tried to manipulate her fingers.
Abramovic had a partner Ulay(Uwe Laysiepen) for many years and to whom she appeared at times to be a karmic and Tantric twin. They ended their professional and personal relationship in 1988 by each starting a solitary walk at opposite ends of the Great Wall in China and months later meeting in the middle.

Abramovic, represented in NY by the Sean Kelly Gallery, where she has perfomed in recent years, also did a show at the Guggenheim In November 2005, reprising seven famous works of herself and others over a two week period.
It was entitled 7 Easy Pieces, and was mind blowung, to put it mildly.
Two new books are being published in connection with the show at MOMA to add to the already extensive oeuvre on Ms Abramovic- a biography of her by James Westcott, who was allowed access to her archives ,and the MOMA book, The Artist is Present, a wonderful series of essays , photos of performances, and descriptions by Abramovic, accompanied by an audio CD by the artist.
Marina Abramovic is an amazing artist of iron discipline and questing intelligence, Questioned about whether, in the aftermath of her divorce from her third husband, she would remarry, she replied, in a NYT piece this week, no never--my life is my life's work "I am too much woman for one man."

Abramovic will be present each day for the MOMA show seated at a table at which presumably members of the audience may wish to sit across from her for periods of time. Both the books and the MOMA exhibition are highly recommended,it goes without saying.

On a related subject, Jose Carlos Somoza is a Cuban born resident of Spain and a psychiatrist. He has written several mystery novels, two of which, including the Athenian Murders , have been punlished here.
His book "The Art of Murder", however, published in English only in the UK, is an astounding meditation on art and life. It concerns a form of art he calls hyperdramatism,in which actual human beings are the artworks themselves, and are painted and installed in galleries and in the homes of owners. They receive very high pay for a life of controlled non-movement that seems at first blush to be a variant of salvery. There are also those human ornaments, those who serve as food trays or lamps, sometimes illegally, and debauched affairs termed "art shocks" where the private guests of the owner and the subject of the painting may interact in a fashion that can be quite depraved if not dangerous.

The book is a decent thriller, but even more so, an exquisite meditation on the role of art and commerce ,if not exploitation, as well as the interface between human values and those of the governing aesthetic, especially where life and death issues are literally involved. What does it matter some would muse if the art survives-and the subject perishes..?

An amazingly provocative read.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Skyline Books Closes

From the NY Times Jan 31,2010-
SKYLINE BOOKS opened 20 years ago at 13 West 18th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas, a part of the already diminished Book Row. The owner, Rob Warren, who favors long hair and a tan beret, kept an eclectic inventory that tended toward Beat literature, photography and design. As his monthly rent gradually rose from $2,500 to $8,000, Mr. Warren paid the bills by selling signed first editions, earning $100,000 for a copy of “The Great Gatsby.” He had bought it, he said, from “a kid who wanted a few thousand bucks, which he took right up to Manny’s Music Shop and bought an electric guitar.” But Skyline can no longer hold off the rent increases or behemoth bookstores and Web sites. So Mr. Warren will begin selling online, taking with him the store’s beloved cat, Linda.

I have known Rob for many years, dating back to when he first opened the store- We were amazed he stayed in business that long. Rob had previously put in time at other places,the Strand, and is familiar with most of the book characters in the City. His shop was a great place for a tete-a - tete. And its scruffy surroundings never deterred book lovers from browsing and buying. Another blow to the bibliophilic solar plexus- Amazing that he stayed open this long. We wish him the best of luck on line and in new ventures.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Left Bank Books Moves to New Location!

Left Bank Books, that Elysian pasture of literary tenderness containing the best book -for -book used and antiquarian collection of literature in the City, is moving down the block from 303 West 4th St(near Bleeker and 8th Ave.)at the end of the month- well maybe the second week of February.The new location is at No.17 8th ave near 12th St.,where in expanded space it will take over premises previously occupied by Cheri, a vintage clothes store.
Left Bank Books was a quiet used bookstore run by the redoubtable Arthur Farrier, long-time Village resident with beret and playful sense of humor, when Kim Herzinger, who had previously taught English literature at the University of Southern Mississippi, and is a leading authority and author of several tomes on Donald Barthelme, bought and rechristened the store Left Bank in Jan 2005.This followed a move to New York City and his needc for a place for his humongous collection of first editions.

I have spent many evenings hanging out at Left Bank and mixing with a collection of offbeat Village visitors, displaced mystics and body therapists from all over the US,ratty book scouts digging through trash for buried treasure , European intellectuals passing through the City, and occasional nouveau riche blondes of the West Village needing a quick $900 fix for their more literary boyfriends, all congregrating there. What a proudly diverse collection of humanity in one of the most wonderful crowded browsing spaces and where literally every volume, from the four figure gems to the Twenty-five to Thirty five dollar items,is worth savoring.

Kim has accepted a professorial position in Austin Texas at the University of Houston-Victoria, but the store will carry on - run by the swift-thinking person who has often surprised me by turning up at the most unusual book fairs in the City-with a tart comment in tow.

This area by the way is close to the former home-many years ago occupied by the late Eric Schwartz, sole proprietor of Fantasy Archives, specializing in science fiction and fantasy. Eric sold to the public by appointment and in printed catalogues and lived upstairs in a walk up on 8th and 13th in a large room packed with bookcases, where the bathtub was filled with neatly stacked volumes that reached to the ceiling.When I once dared to ask Eric whether and where he slept, he pointed to a stack of three hundred books on the center of the floor and ,upon closer inspection, I saw that a small cot lay quietly buried underneath these sovereign science fiction volumes.

It's an area steeped in book history, even aside from the characters described in Ron Sukenick's legendary Down and In,a literary history of Downtown NY to be reviewed in these pages.

May Left Bank carry on its glorious traditions forever!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sarah Palin, Patti Smith,Harry Smith, Ahmadou Kourouma,

She Who Shall Go Nameless apparently had the Number 1 Best Selling Book in Hardcover in 2009, according to a recently published PW report.A close friend of mine,knowing of my predilection for consuming vast quantities of literature, told me in no uncertain tone that she hoped that I hadn't purchased a copy of "Going Rogue". I hadn't and still haven't, although I don't generally make it a practice to read this sort of material. But it says something about the never ending detritus read by the American public that this book and Glenn Beck's right-wing pale imitation of Colbert are at the top of the best seller list, as is again Ayn Rand , whose ghoulish self-centered individualism (Atlas Shrugged, the Fountainhead) has been revived after Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan and the whole sick crew of the Chicago School of Economics used its ill advised precepts to help dig the biggest hole in the American economy in almost a hundred years.
I must confess however that I did read "Mein Kampf" for the first time 20 years ago- sometimes it's good to read rants before they're adopted as the marching song in the streets. In the nameless one's case, however, it's just another trashy celeb bio more than anything,or is it more infectious than that?

Highly recommended are two books by reccently deceased author Ahmadou Kourouma from Cote d'Ivoire---Waiting for the Beasts to Vote and Allah is Not Obliged- the latter just out from Anchor Boooks in the USA- The first is a great piece of storytelling by Bingo, a West African storyteller(sora) and king's fool, recounting the adventures of Koyaga , dictator of the mythical Gulf Coast- a magico- satirical history of African dictatorship ; the second, written shortly before Kourouma's death,is the story of the last few horrifying years told through the eyes and pen of a child soldier. Both are worth pursuing here or in the UK.

Patti Smith has a new memoir out- Just Kids- which tells of her early life living on the cheap in New York with Robert Mapplethorpe before they became,separately, icons of our world. It's a sweet piece of writing from a fiercely intelligent and truthful writer-I remember her when she was selling books in Scribners-the once two level magisterial bookshop on 5th and 48th St She was as delightful a spirit then as she is now- Go Rimbaud, Go Johnny Go!

For a time Smith lived in the Chelsea Hotel and made the acquaintance of, among others Harry Smith.-Harry passed from our world in 1991- litle known beyond his fame in the music world but an enormous influence on the counterculture- He was a collector, an amateur anthropologist, painter ,and maker of experimental films -

His collection of folk, fiddle, gospel, hillbilly, blues ,cajun, murder ballads,religious ecstasy and various off- beat pieces from the 20's and 30's became the basis of Folkways Famous six LP Anthology of American Folk Music- which was probably the single most important collection -maybe the UR music piece used by Dylan , Van Ronk ,Baez and the entire folk+ movement- It introduced America to the Carter family, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Lemon Jefferson and many others. But Smith , who made experimental films (like the kabbalistic stick figured Heaven and Earth) as early as the late 40's and 50's and was a talented painter, has been forgotten in the dusty gloom of a life lived in the company of people like Alan Ginsberg but always somwewhat in the shadows. He was neither a member of the avant garde who would commercialize his work nor a bohemian associating with others in rebellion, so much as a transgressive toothless wonder-yes a bum in the old sense of the word-- who lived from flophouse to flophouse and hotel to hotel ,and had his art thrown out for failure to pay rent and chucked into Staten Island's landfills in the 60's. At last, after years of living in Boulder and being involved with the Naropa Institute , he returned to NY to accept a lifetime music award and died paranoid and convinced that he was being poisoned at the Chelsea hotel in Nov 1991.

The Getty Museum ,some years after devoting exhibitions to Smith's work, has issued a brilliant volume of essays dedicated to him, edited by Rani Singh and Andrew Perchuk.It is entitled Harry Smith-The Avant garde in the American Vernacular This tome helps restores Smith, personal warts and all, to the important position he held in American arts in the 20th Century.

As Keats said-on the act and art of listening and seeing---
Away Away for I will fly to thee
not charioted by bacchus and his pards
but on the viewless wings of poesy
I cannot see what flowers are at my feet
nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs
but in embalmed darkness guess each sweet
wherewith the seasonable month endows
the grass the thicket and the fruit tree wild
white hawthorn and pastoral eglantine
fast fading violets covered up in leaves
and mid-May's eldest child
the coming musk rose full of dewy wine
the murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves

and for this unexpected treasure, in decay and ecstasy- away away I will fly to thee

Friday, January 8, 2010

On reading in the NYT that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s name may have been spelled wrong and thus missed the no fly list

C 2010 Edgylit

Mr. Abdul\baluchi\shoebomb\in\gucci
You’re denied a visa
Ms. Fayez\bin\quetta\burqa\fatale\feta
You’ll have to go back to make pizza

If your last name’s six syllables or more than twelve letters
You’ll have to be go home or be shackled in fetters

Your name is too long for the no-fly list
And besides our experts cannot spell terra/wrist

They don’t know whether it’s Usama or Osama
The tea party birthers still spell it Obama
So let’s do away with this never-ending drama

If your name is too long, kitty litter
You’ll have to commit suicide on Twitter

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mary Daly Dies- Pat Me Down Poem

Mary Daly, radical feminist author and teacher and inventor of a new language for women- see "Pure Lust" etal , pased away. She was a revered teacher at Boston College,writer and leader in the LGBT movement -as innovative in her way as G Stein. Read her works- they will only grow in importance.

A few words----on the new airline rules

Pat Me Down
C 2010 Edgy Lit

Pat me down pat me down
Search me and take what is found
I won’t have fits or starts
If you touch my private parts

We will do what’s required
All our nerve ends are inspired
I’m a true patriot
All this terror makes me hot

pat me down I won’t frown
I am shaking in my knees
I will gladly do striptease
So please do what you please

Pat me down pat me down
I’m not nervous I won’t sweat
But forever in your debt
‘cause these patdowns make me wet…

An exhibitionist- it’s de rigeur
Loves that TSA voyeur!