Monday, December 26, 2011

Best Books of 2011- Nos 6-10

6-Unoriginal Genius by Marjorie Perloff,University of Chicago Press. Famed Professor of Poetics Perloff(Professor Emerita at Stamford U) takes us on a journey through the poetics of copying, citation, and constraint based writing. Landmarks along the way include Walter Benjamin's Arcade Project, Charles Bernstein's opera, Susan Howe's the Midnight, the Oulipo and Kenneth Goldsmith's summary of CBS am traffic reports. The one volume that will get you up to speed on how to read and enjoy the new poetics.

7-El Narco, Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency by Ioan Grillo(Bloomsbury Press)British journalist Grillo's dazzling report from on the scene about how the cartels have been transformed into a major criminal insurgency, with due consequences for the US. Based on interviews and on the scene coverage by this ourstanding journalist now residing in Mexico City. Chilling.

8--Romain Gary- A Tall Story by David Bellos(Harvill Secker UK). Bellos, Professor of French and Comparative Lit,Princeton U.,is already well known form his brilliant biographies, including of Georges Perec, the Oulipo master, as well as translating much of Perec's work, including Life: A User's Manual and a recent text on the nature of translation.Here (in a book shamefully not yet published in the US) he gives us the biography of Romain Gary,whose life moved from Vilna to immigrant status ,to airman in UK with the French resistance, diplomat(French Consul General in Los Angeles),celebrity spouse(Jean Seberg) to best - selling author, the only man to win the French Goncourt Prize twice. This, included the creation of a fake identity- that of Emile Ajar, under which he avoided the requirement that the prize could only be won once by an author.And it eventually earned Gary the scorn of critics.
The many lives of a most unusual man-and the role that deception plays in our own self-constructed lives.Wonderfully written and a fascinating study in the nature of identity in this world.

9-This is Madness by Darian Leader(Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books,UK). An absolutely riveting book by a psychoanalyst on the nature of psychosis- and how those afflicted use delusions and other seeming badges of lunacy to construct their way through their own conditions to a kind of mental equilibrium. Replete with Lacanian analysis beautifully explained ( for a change) and lots of examples from practice and history.With special chapters om Aimee(Lacan's famous patient who stabbed well-known French actress Huguette Duflos outside a French theatre), The Wolf Man, and Dr Harold Shipman,who put to death in excess of 250 persons by morphine injections. An enriching study on what triggers psychotic outbreaks and what can remedy psychosis.A plea for individual- centered treatment in an age of compulsory drugs and uniformity.

10-Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas- A long,demanding but brilliant masterpiece from the author of A Book of Memories, called the most important novel since WWII by Susan Sontag. Published to mixed reviews by a bunch of Anglo- Saxon reviewers who by and large have neither the time nor the temperament to enjoy a book so heavily based on the politique of the body,nor willing to read a novel whose transcription chapter by chapter does not flow with the ease of reading expected by some, this is yet the one novel where the politics and aesthetics of sex interfaces with the history of Hungary and Central Europe from the years of World War 2 through the Hungarian Revolution to the dismantling of Communism.The beastly self in all its turgid glory,in juxtaposition to the rational and socially acceptable self- a rambling tour through espionage, duplicity, repression and death and the emotionally tangled lives of the many characters who step in and out of its pages.Not to be missed, especially for its epic descriptions of marathon sex and its relation to our emotional lives. Called an example of bad sex writing by a few critics. some may yet find it the ultimate in sticky fingers and slippery epiphanies.

These books should be available from, or the publishers directly

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Best Books of 2011

Here is the long promised best ten list of 2011-not in any particular order of merit-

The first 5-
1- The Origin of Aids by Jacques Pepin( no, not the culinary expert), published by Cambridge University Press. I first learned of this incredible tome in a NY Times piece dated Oct 17, 2011 in the Health Section. Pepin is an infectious disease specialist who teaches epidiemology and the like at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec.Pepin uses his own medical knowledge, plus years spent in the bush in the Congo running a medical clinic plus years of research in Africa and French libraries. He traces the history of AIDS, from the first time it jumped the ape to human bloodstream circuit, estimated some time, based on testing of preserved samples, around 1920- 1930 and probably occurring in rhe Cameroun, to where it was transmitted into the Congo and languished there until- and this is the key to the medical mystery , a series of disease amplifiers occurred that created the first epidemic in Africa in the Congo, to its ultimate transition,probably through Haiti to the US, where it blossomed and was reexported.
Along the way, there are fascinating sidebars on Tribal anthropology, Belgian colonialism, plasma infection in an operation controlled by the once feared head of the TonTon Macoute( secret police of Papa Doc Duvalier), sex tourism and the like.

But the major amplifiers occurred initially in the Congo where the Belgian colonists, anxious about controlling the spread of diseases like African sleeping sickness and other illnesses from the locals to themselves, engaged in an obsessive weekly program of vaccinating the locals -with needles that were not properly sterilized. After a period in which there was perhaps a very small number afflicted with the AIDS syndrome, which had jumped from ape to man probably through a cut hunter scenario, the disease finally began to multiply. That, plus the growth in population centers following the end of colonialism where particularly some urban areas had male to female ratios of 1.5-1 as a result initially of much greater male migration into urban areas compared to females,encouraged the increased practice of urban prostitution for unaccompanied females trying to make ends meet.Here the author segues fromm medical expert to sociological researcher and builds a convincing case that it was these practices and the excessive but unsafe vaccination that constituted the first two disease amplifiers.
It's a much shorter step from there to the importation of large numbers of French speaking Haitians into Kinshasa(once Leopoldville, named for the brutal and avaricious King of Belgium, who once owned the entire country in his own name and had thousands if not millions of rubber worker workers killed and enslaved under his regime). They(the Haitians) were needed in the newly formed nation, which had come to independence without a trained class of French speaking government bureaucrats.
It's a few more short steps from there to Haiti,infected blood plasma( a little more speculative here, ) and sex tourism to where the disease ( in a different strain) spread to the US.
But the thrust of the book is on and in Africa and it is a peculiar combination of medical research, local experience in the bush as well as detailed sociological and historical research and clear writing that make this text the most fascinating of mysteries explained about as well as one could possibly expect. Perhaps not a final answer but a brilliant exposition. One of the best books I have ever read!

2-Memoirs of a Dervish by Robert Irwin, Profile Books UK.
This is the astounding memoir of Robert Irwin, the dean of scholars on Islamic culture in England, and the author of numerous classic texts and novels, including the classic study of the Arabian Nights:A Companion,and For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and their Enemies, with its criticism of Edward Said's philosophical polemics, as well as a number of novels,including The Arabian Nightmare and the humorous Satan Wants Me, a send up of the cult of Aleister Crowley.
This is an unorthodox memoir about growing up in London, and going to Oxford during the swinging 60's days, and as a pot - smoking anarchist , but not a progressive leftist. Instead, Irwin sought his solace in Sufism, made several journeys to Algeria taking religious instruction in Mostaganem and studied under the esoteric guidance of those in England and North Africa. A wild journey into another counterculture-one of wild communal dancing and the quest to be a holy fool from the dean of Arabists in the West. As anyone who has read and cherished Irwin's writings should know, despite disagreements with his political hammerings of the Franz Fanon's and RD Laing's of the 60's, this is an engaging and wild trip as only Irwin can deliver it.
(available thru

3-The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch by Ladislav Klima(Twisted Spoon Press, Prague)- This is one of a number of English language translations of classic Czech literature, in this case from Klima(1878-1928) who was a mentor to the celebrated writer Bohumil Hrabal and the Plastic People of the Universe( a much later group). It is a sophisticated piece of decadence a la Maldoror by Lautreamont, mixed in with a strong Nietzschean will. Ostensibly a tale of how a prissy key adviser to the Kaiser is brought under the will of a lower class mesmerizing wife, who marries him , then relegates him to a position of supreme inferiority, until he engages in savage retribution and ultimate self- detroying perversion- at another level it is the hallucinatory tale of a man obsessed by Will and and a radical subjective need to become God. It is a classic darkly comic and obscenely funny piece of writing, - not for everyone but a wild excursion indeed. True black humor.

4- The Secret Tradition of the Soul, by Patrick Harpur(Evolver editions ,Berkeley, California). From the author of Daimonic Reality and The Philosopher's Secret Fire, a template for those seeking the answer to the role of the soul in our lives and its
place in the great traditions of culture from Greek philosophy and Renaissance alchemy to Romantic poetry and the Jungian aesthetic pyschology practiced by the late Jmaes Hillman. A clear, concise life-altering view of the underappreciated role of the soul, as opposed to the more abstract spirit in our religions and culture. A handbook for more meaningful living through the imagination.Highly recommended.

5- Harry Belafonte- My Song-(Knopf) A great American life, from a Jamaican immigrant family who came to fame in the 1950's to 60's entertainment and civil rights - with detailed involvements with Paul Robeson, Eleanor Roosevelt, John and Robeert Kennedy,Sidney Poitier the civil rights movement, Nelson Mandela , Fidel Castro and Clinton, and from a man who has never hesitated to call it as he sees it- from the progressive left.This is a no bullshit autobiography.

Please note- These books should be available from , or from the publishers directly. Nos 6-10 coming next.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Tree Falls

Each tree that fells a power line

Is a sign of rebellion

Against the electro-insectoid grid

Of parallel poisons

The self-organizing superorganisms of technology

The faithful leaves are martyrs moving in one direction

the sussuratingembrace of coiled death

When the music of the wind blows a whistle sharpens its jagged edges

And though the hedged assemblies may cut down the oak and the maple

They only expose the wired lunacy to the mouths of rodents

One set of sharp teeth can interrupt a communications system

And hold back the surge until the crowd awakened takes justice into its

own hands

The field of judgment is infinite.

C 2011 by E.Kabak

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Irwin Corey as Panhandler-Pynchon Speech

Little did I know, when I was stopped three weeks ago in a cab across 35th st for a light, that the nonagenarian panhandler with the hat emblazoned with Remove our Corrupt Government and Uncle Sam is A Bully on its brim - would turn out to be,according to today's NY Times,Irwin Corey, the 97 year old comic actor and master of doubletalk, who raises money for progressive causes in his free time and who lives nearby in a $3.5 million dollar carriagehouse. ( His wife recently passed away at 95).
I did contribute to his cause- and in exchange he ceremoniously passed me a copy of a newspaper, which I stuffed into my bag of lunch books and upon returning to my office before the witching hour of 2pm gingerly took out, hoping it would contain the prophetic ravings of the esoteric underground-
It turned out to be the Voice, and I kept it as a souvenir because it seemed a special,magical encounter.

Here is Professor Corey' famous doubletalk speech at the National Book Awards in 1974, accepting the award for Gravity's Rainbow and as authorized by Thomas Pynchon:

Professor Irwin Corey:
However... accept this financial stipulation - ah - stipend in behalf of, uh, Richard Python for the great contribution and to quote from some of the missiles which he has contributed...Today we must all be aware that protocol takes precedence over procedure. Howewer you say - WHAT THE - what does this mean... in relation to the tabulation whereby we must once again realize that the great fiction story is now being rehearsed before our very eyes, in the Nixon administration... indicating that only an American writer can receive...the award for fction, unlike Solzinitski whose fiction doesn't hold water. Comrades - friends, we are gathered here not only to accept in behalf of one recluse - one who has found that the world in itself which seems to be a time not of the toad - to quote even Studs TurKAL. And many people ask "Who are Studs TurKAL?" It's not "Who are Studs TurKAL?" it's "Who am Studs TurKAL?" This in itself as an edifice of the great glory that has gone beyond, and the intuitive feeling of the American people, based on the assumption that the intelligence not only as Mencken once said, "He who underestimates the American pubic - public, will not go broke." This is merely a small indication of this vast throng gathered here to once again behold and to perceive that which has gone behind and to that which might go forward into the future...we've got to hurdle these obstacles. This is the main deterrent upon which we have gathered our strength and all the others who say, "What the hell did that get?" - We don't know. We've got to peforce withold the loving boy... And as Miller once said in one of his great novels- what did he ... that language is only necessary when communication is endangered. And you sit there bewildered, and Pinter who went further said "It is not the lack of communication but fear of communication." That's what the Goddamn thing is it's we fear - communication. Oh - fortunately the prize has only been given to authors - unlike the Academy Award which is given to a female and a male, indicating the derision of the human specie - God damn it! But we have no paranoia, and Mr. Pynchon has attained, and has created for himself serenity, and it is only the insanity that has kept him alive in his paranoia. We speak of the organ...of the orgasm...Who the hell wrote this? And the jury has determined to divide the prize between two writers - to Thomas Pynchon for his GRAVITY'S RAINBOW. Now GRAVITY'S RAINBOW is a token of this man's genius...he told me so himself...that he other words, have been more specific, but rather than to allude the mundane, he has come to the conclusion that brevity is the importance of our shallow existence. God damn. Ladies and Gentlemen. To the distinguished panel on the, on the dais and to the other winners, for poetry and religion and science. The time will come when religion will outlive its usefulness. Marx, Groucho Marx, once said that religion is the opiate of the people. I say that when religion outlives its usefulness, then opium...will be the opiate...Ahh that's not a bad idea... All right...However, I want to thank Mr. Guinzburg, Tom Guinzburg of the Viking Press, who has made it possible for you people to be here this evening to enjoy the Friction Citation - the Fiction Citation. GRAVITY'S RAINBOW - a small contribution to a certain degree, since there are over three and a half billion people in the world today. 218 of them ... million live in the United States which is a very, very small amount compared to those that are dying elsewhere...Well, I say that you will be on the road to new horizons, for we who live in a society where sex is a commodity and a politician can become a TV personality, it's not easy to conform if you have any morality...I, I, I said that myself many years ago...But I do want to thank the bureau...I mean the committee, the organization for the $10,000 they've given out...tonight they made over $400,000 and I think that I have another appointment. I would like to stay here, but for the sake of brevity I, I must leave. I do want to thank you, I want to thank Mr. TurKAL. I want to thank Mr. Knopf who just ran through the auditorium* and I want to thank Breshnev, Kissinger - acting President of the Unites States - and also want to thank Truman Capote and thank you.

New York City still is a special place to work- even in the middle of midtown , clogged with lanes and superrich detritus. A good nose ferrets out the jewels.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Amy Winehouse- The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Five days before Amy Winehouse died, I wrote this revision of the 1930's standard below

Boulevard of Broken Dreams Redux

C 2011 by Ed Kabak

I walk along the street of sadness

The boulevard of broken dreams

Where every lover and his mate

Are tossed upon the jaws of fate

and lives are shattered at the seams

You’re high today, then crash in madness

when darkness fingers your moonbeams

And every lover and her mate

Are locked inside a velvet gate

Whose latchkey’s made of broken dreams

This is where we are confined now

An endless dance on wearied feet

Our souls are lost,and we're too blind now

to what could make our lives complete

The joie d’ vivre that once had thrilled you

Has fractured into tiny screams

yet every lover, every mate

Still bet on chance and still they dance

The boulevard of broken dreams

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kabul-Old Hotel True Horror Stories and Books to Read

The suicides attacks and fires at the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel inlate June brought back sweet and sour memories of our encounter in 1971, when the hotel was newly opened. We were on a 5 week self- conducted tour of Afghanistan,India and Nepal- the first leg of which encompassed 10 days in Kabul, with trips to Jalalabad(source of much intrigue these days) and the Bamiyan valley , where we were escorted through caves to stand on the top of the legendary Greco-Buddhist Buddhas statues carved out of the cliff- two huge monuments that were a prime attraction for visitors and a reminder of Afghanistan's confluence at the center of many worlds- a crossroads of civilizations(until theTaliban, at the urging of Wahhabis detroyed them before September 11,2001.)

Who can forget that bizarre trip in the early 1970's when the King was still in power and the most dangerous thing to do was to sleep out in the open, and be exposed to bandits and cutthroats.
That first night- in the Spinzar Hotel,we watched the geckos run down the wall ,gazed out at the open stalls still lit; the skies over the thrusting jagged Hindukush peaks were blazing with stars .And then we casually went to the Afghan music room in the hotel, not yet daring to venture out since we had landed just before dark that afternoon and the night and timeless uneasy feeling in the air was just a little bit threatening.In this small upstairs foyer we listened to an Afghan version of the oud played by a young soldier off duty while another Afghan man tried to dance with the newlywed spouse who was wearing a long dress but not a burqa)-
I had to politely cut in to discourage his efforts. But those were the days when the university students were not veiled, nor were the koochi(nomads) and one third of the population seemed to be nomadic.
The last night we were there my lovely wife was just recovering from dysentery encountered at the aforesaid Intercontinental Hotel, where we were assured that the water filling our canteens had been thoroughly distilled and purified.Not! Shortly after returning to the hotel the next day from steaming Jalalabad she felt seriously illand
She remained in bed the last two days we were in Kabul. The last night, after receeiving reassurance from a local Afghan physician, who advised chewing on lemons, she was strong enough to struggle down to the dining room and order tea and bread-
For my part, having been sickened by the smoky smell of aged mutton cooking in the streets(the aroma made fecal matter seem ambrosial)- I told the waiter that I would prefer my own food and proffered a can of Chef Boyardee Ravioli bought from one of the"gourmet" stores on Chicken St-
He replied "you do not like our food sir" and I countered that I was under doctor's orders to eat Chef Boyardeee once a week-(Please remember this is a country where the Pathan code of hospitality,best exemplified by the Taliban's refusal to turn Bin Laden over to the West in 1999 since he was entitled to all the privileges of any other guest) obliges strangers to invite one into their home for dinner ; one does not want to give insult under such delicate circumsytances.
So I gingerly walked into the kitchen,and made the surprised staff remove ten inches of stale oil from an iron pot that looked as if it were minted at the time of Timerlane- and that was the best meal we had in Kabul...
We never made it back to Afghhanistan, despite plans to visit Mazar-I- Sharif, but if one wishes to read a great work of literature and crazed travel writing, Rory Stewart's The In Between Spaces, an account of his winter's journey by foot after 2001 from Herat to Kabul over the Hindukush, is one of the most compelling solo travel accounts of all time.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Robert Jay Lifton-Witness to an Extreme Century

Robert Jay Lifton, now in his 80's, has graced us with numerous works of psychology and history focusing on some of the more extreme traumas and events of our 20th century past- from thought reform and brainwashing by the Chinese, to the hibakusha-the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the meaning of living through a nuclear holocaust- to the way that the Nazi doctors were able to reconcile their respective Hippocratic oaths with carrying out torture and horrible medical experimentation on concentration camp victims.The discussion of how Nazi doctors and others make use of a kind of psychic numbing or mental separation from the horrible acts one is contemplating or engaging in, is as startling today as when I first encountered it thirty years ago in Lifton's writing. As is Lifton's poignant and brilliant mosaic of the horrors of the bomb and living in its aftermath. The descriptions of how a city like Hiroshima was literally wiped out of existence in a few instants are alone worth the price of admission to these pages.
These canvasses as well as the Vietnam war are covered in a detailed moral memoir of an engaged life that has just been published as Witness to an Extreme Century by the Free Press. Lifton was both an analyst and activist on many of these issues and has written on the protean man- always changing attitudes and consciousness, cults like Aum Shinryiko in Japan and numerous topics dealing with history and matters of human survival.
What stands out for me is his perceptive analysis of what he calls "totalism"-a totalistic mental environment in which "eight deadly sins" are present-

1-milieu control of virtually all communication in the environment
2-mystical manipulation from un uncertain source above
-3 the demand for an absolute purity of good to defeat an absoolute evil
4-the cult of self-confession(eg inChina)
5-sacred science,meaning claims for doctrinal truth that is divine and scientifically "proven"
6-loading the language--
7- doctrine taking precedence over person,with doubt considered as an aberration or personal flaw- and
8-dispensing of existence/and or the right to live between those who have a right to existence and others who ,unfortunately do not.

In this approach to totalism is much of fundamentalism , claims for national exceptionalism and superiority, cult behavior,and other aspects of authoritarian and doubtless minds.

This is one of the most important memoirs I have ever read.Cool, level headed and with some optimism too for the survival of our species, despite the ugliness of the last 100 years.

The photo above of the mushroom cloud is of Bikini atoll in the Pacific where the US conducted above ground nuclear tests right after World War II and allowed military photographers to view the explosion from less than a mile away.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bloomsday and Al Goldstein;Robert Jay Lifton-Witness to an Extreme Century

I celebrated Bloomsday(June 16, the day in 1904 that the entire events of Ulysses take place)at Left Bank Books, the fine antiquarian/used bookshop on 8th Ave between Jane and West 12th st.
While numerous readers declaimed from various chapters of Ulysses, when it came my turn, I read sections from the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapter of Finnegan's Wake, wherein Joyce expounds on the great feminine archetype of life-giving waters, the Liffey, and in the course of doing so buries hundreds of hidden names of the world's rivers.
As if this treasonous activity weren't enough, I then proceeded to read from Selected Joyce Letters, a one volume abridgement and selection of new and previously expurgated letters published after the death of Nora Joyce, James Joyce's wife, and edited by Richard Ellmann.
In the course of doing so I explained how I found Joyce through Al Goldstein, the once famous publisher of Screw magazine and first amendment warrior.
The circuitous route went like this: I was just beginning my legal career, doing First amendment work and libel readings, when I saw the cover of the then current issue of Goldstein's sex tabloid Screw, brazenly announce the publication of just published smutty missives from James Joyce to his amour,the Irish actress Nora Barnacle in 1909.
Naturally, Al Goldstein, who was never one to turn down an opportunity to push the boundaries of free expression, took the most juicy letters just published in the Ellmann edition, and sprayed or splayed them all over the pages of his magazine.
My assignment as fledgling attorney was to write the obligatory infringement letter on behalf of Stephen Joyce and the Joyce Estate, it being understood that it was unlikely they would engage in court proceedings.
We did so, and shortly thereafter left for vacation in Afghanistan , India and Nepal( those were the days when one could still safely take one month vacations)
When I came back, numerous people visited me and asked what I was doing with multiple copies of Screw magazine in my desk drawers. I explained that these were potential plaintiff's court exhibits and asked why they had entered my office and were prowling though my desk.
All I got In return was a knowing smile...

Thus I learned two inportant lessons-1- always lock your desk when you leave on vacation and 2- James Joyce, who wrote the steamiest prose I had seen must be worth reading- So I ventured beyond the Portrait of an Artist and Dubliners into the encyclopedic dayworld of Ulysses and night world of Finnegan's Wake and life was never the same...
And it was from one of these letters that I read last week, the one sent on Dec. 16, 1909 which says F*** me in multiple imperative phrases ,each for a different and unusual position,and continues with "Basta basta per Dio -[soon I shall be in] Trieste... I shall be happy there-I figlioli,il fuoco,una buona mangiata, un caffe nero,un Brasil,(the children, a fire, a good dinner, a black coffee, a Brazil cigar)
...A hundred thousand kisses darling!
It's as hot now as it was `102 years ago...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Guyotat at World PEN Voices; BEA 2011

The photo is of the great French novelist Pierre Guyotat, who appeared at several fora at the PEN World Voices festival recently concluded, including the afore-captioned one at Maison Francaise with Edmund White.Guyotat, who is often described,somewhatsimplistically, as the heir to Rimbaud and de Sade, first came to national attention with the publication of Tomb for 5000 Soldiers(Tombeau pour cing cent mille soldats), an obsessively brilliant rant of atrocities in a military zone which evoked the Algerian war.Eden Eden Eden,which followed, was one uninterrupted stream of violent sexual activities/expressions, censored for many years by the French Government.He has proceeded , through Prostitution, printed in French and not here in English except through a brilliant recasting of language in a short piece by Bruce Benderson, to continue to subvert the French language. Coma, reprinted this year in English by Semiotexte, describes his breakdown and recovery as a writer many years ago, and he is now expanding his writing style to a confluence of memoir and language subversion, which makes easier reading for some. An altogether brilliant man and fantastic writer.NB:Red Dust has published the aforementioned Bruce Benderson's unique translation and commentary on Prostitution, which is a marvellous feat of reinvention of vocabulary akin to the translation of Perec's lipogrammatic "A Void',a three hundred page novel in French without the letter "e" brilliantly recreated in English by Gilbert Adair.

BEA 2011 starts this week; we are attending and focussing on these titles, which among others will be reviewed in these pages.(We will also cover and review the state of University Press publishing, the legal ramifications of limited library use of e-books, the state of the market and titles from small independent presses, and the mise en scene in publishing today.

Again, the following are but a few of the more obvious books we will treat in detail- The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, whose writings are finally getting as much attention in his home country as they have for decades in Europe, The Last Word, Mark Lane's summing up on the Kennedy Assassination from Skyhorse,and new works by Anne Enright,Kenneth Goldsmith, Carlos Franz, JMG Le Clezio, and the titles of Dalkey Archive, North Atlantic Press, Archipelago and a host of others. Off to the races!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


C 2011 by E.M.Kabak

Someday we’ll close Guantanamo
Someday we’ll end all wars
Someday we’ll stop treating nations like a domino
And bust the financial whores

Someday we’ll stop pushing sugar and fats to folks
While millions are chewing on bones
Someday we’ll stop all the PR hoax
Someday stop killing with drones

Someday we’ll stop selling radioactivity
And building cell phone towers
Someday we’ll end our brutish proclivity
Someday we won’t abuse power

Someday we’ll end deception and stealth
And the sheep will be safe with the fox
Someday there’ll be a cap on wealth
And thought won’t default to “Lock”

Someday the rich will pay their taxes
And tribalism will dissolve
Someday we won’t push the earth off its axis
Who knows? We may even evolve.
(I might just bet on it)
Who knows-we may even evolve.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Coalition Partners;Janet Malcolm

For the perished-
Coalition Partners
C 2011 by E.M.Kabak

Ordinance, shrapnel
Depleted uranium
Cesium, strontium
Creeps in the cranium

Rocketing weapons
Rampant radio-

Cores of reactors fueled now with Mox
Atomic dust seeps into our timed clocks
Anti-aircraft guns, bombs’ thunderous noise
These are our coalition partners’ new toys

Nuclear reactors built on a fault
Human but seismic in greed and gestalt
Truth is briskly washed out to sea
Daily regimen- catastrophe

Tsunamis and earthquakes ,plutonium spewing
It’s unsafe to eat or do what you’re doing
Our coalition partners- don’t hold your breath-
Disease, deceit, destruction and death

Janet Malcolm, the fearless New Yorker writer who specializes in a rarefied prose combining astute reporting with fine edged character study and more than a touch of psychoanalysis and the craft of a fine novelist, has just published her latest, Iphigenia in Forest Hills,(Yale University Press).

It is an expansion of her celebrated article in last year's New Yorker on the trial of Mazoltuv Borukhova, the Forest Hills Uzbeki doctor who was tried and convicted for engaging a relative to murder her estranged husband/dentist in cold blood in front of her daughter, shortly after suffering what appears to have been a totally unjust decree of losing custody of the child.
Malcolm, who is also the subject of a long interview in the new issue of Paris Review, casts a broad net, catching human folly in the family court system, in the conspiracy rantings of one of its representatives, in the Uzbeki community,male- dominated as it is, and in the judiciary, among other places.
No one escapes the scalpel. Here she is on the trial judge:

"[The Judge] is a man of seventy-four with a small head and a large body and the faux genial manner that American petty tyrants cultivate."
Here again-
"The court documents do not reveal what was actually going on between Borukhova and malakov during the dissolution of their marriage.The documents are a crude allegory of ill will peopled by garishly drawn, one-dimensional characters. But some truth leaks out of every court document, as it does out of everything written or said."

In the stable of fine writers deployed by the New Yorker,including such stalwarts as Lawrence Wright, Janet Malcolm may well be the lead horse.You can also pick up her recent book on how Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas escaped the Holocaust without leaving France, as well as her earlier works on Plath and Hughes , the Jeffrey McDonald murder trial, and her "In the Freud Archives", the subject of a long and ultimately unsuccessful libel suit by Jeffrey Masson against the author.

One rarely finds an author whose characterizations are so apt and prose so accurately and unforgettably etched.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nuclear meltdown: A Premonition and Past prophecy

The nuclear meltdown in Japan this weekend and our continuing blindness to the risks of nuclear power and nuclear weapons reminds one of the Ferlinghetti poem
American Roulette, first published in pamphlet form 35 years ago, even before Chernobyl and Three Mile Island- Here is an excerpt:

If things go on like this
cockroaches will inherit the earth
they are actually just waiting
upsidedown in hidden corners
for us to fuck up even worse
And when we do
they'll just throw off their disgusting disguises
and come right out in the open
larger than life
and march down the boulevards
like live tanks
spraying stored up DDT
which was sprayed at them for years
and which they've saved up
for just such an occasion
as the end of the world.....
when for instance
the Jupiter effect triggers California earthquakes
far worse than 1906
which naturally cause every nuclear plant West of the Rockies to crack their reactor cores
and leak live white death
over all
which really shouldn't bother anybody at all
for after all weren't we assured it wouldn't happen
by the SF Chronicle and
{several named corporations}and dozens of other multinationals
who contributed a total of at least
$$$$$$$$$$$$million dollars
to defeat the California anti-nuclear proposition
and hide from us the facts
that there is still no known and approved
method of storing atomic waste and that
pure plutonium really isn't dangerous at all
and that live reactors can't really leak at all
especially in the San Andreas fault
Any anyway the fault lies in our stars
and not in our selves at all

Two and a half weeks ago I woke from a powerful dream in which I was standing on the shore,inside of a large vertical glass cylinder to protect myself against large waves coming in to shore- Outside the glass structure an roundish owl-like flying demon with piercing eyes and a huge fire spitting dragon with a tremendous scaled wingspread rapped mercilessly against the glass

death- or resurrection by fire and water-

when we will ever learn? when will we e-ver learn?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Hard Ground by Michael O'Brien and Tom Waits

Here is the blurb from the University of Texas Press about this book:
Michael O'Brien got out of his car one day in 1975 and sought the acquaintance of a man named John Madden who lived under an overpass. Their initial contact grew into a friendship that O'Brien chronicled for the Miami News, where he began his career as a staff photographer. O'Brien's photo essays conveyed empathy for the homeless and the disenfranchised and won two Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards. In 2006, O'Brien reconnected with the issue of homelessness and learned the problem has grown exponentially since the 1970s, with as many as 3.5 million adults and children in America experiencing homelessness at some point in any given year.

In Hard Ground, O'Brien joins with renowned singer-songwriter Tom Waits, described by the New York Times as "the poet of outcasts," to create a portrait of homelessness that impels us to look into the eyes of people who live "on the hard ground" and recognize our common humanity. For Waits, who has spent decades writing about outsiders, this subject is familiar territory. Combining their formidable talents in photography and poetry, O'Brien and Waits have crafted a work in the spirit of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, in which James Agee's text and Walker Evans's photographs were "coequal, mutually independent, and fully collaborative" elements. Letting words and images communicate on their own terms, rather than merely illustrate each other, Hard Ground transcends documentary and presents independent, yet powerfully complementary views of the trials of homelessness and the resilience of people who survive on the streets

And it's totally accurate- when you read the gritty poetry of Waits, in juxtaposition to the faces and the stories of the increasingly large number of homeless people in America,many of whom thrown out of homes by disastrous health situations,it almost makes a sham out of speeches like the one delivered in Tucson by our great orator President, for this is a country that,notwithstanding its tremendous wealth, and even with the decline from unitary superpower, still has the capacity to offer basic social protection to those less fortunate than others, but turns its back on them and on their dreams,while granting virtually every last wish of those of mega-Mammon status.

News fromLibya- Hard Ground with poems by Tom Waits

(Photo of Benghazi residents learning to use anti-aircraft weapons)

Wouldn't it be a lot of fun
to use an anti-aircraft gun
to stop the propaganda and the bleating

wouldn't it be just so much fun
to use the anti-aircraft gun
to stop corrupt Congresses from meeting

wouldn't it be a lot of fun
to bring financiers in the sun
with subpoenas for an in court meeting?

wouldn't it be a barrel of fun
to stop the sale of the automatic gun
at least while our hearts are swiftly beating?..

Stay tuned for the review of Hard Ground, a collection of photos and short life profiles of the new homeless accompanied by poems from Tom Waits- to be posted tomorrow

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Valentine to a Celestial Body

C by Ed Kabak

Maybe the wind is schizophrenic
The sky is depressed when it’s blue
Maybe the clouds are catatonic
When the eye of a storm passes through

Maybe the stars have paranoia
Celestically prancing apace
And maybe the moon is often bi-polar
Those times it averts its whole face

Maybe the trees and mountains and valleys
Are demented by flowers and rain
Maybe the oceans rivers and gorges
Disordered are flowing insane

Maybe the earth is confused and deluded
Confined by its gravity too
For even the sun was manic depressive
Until it fell crazy for you

Sunday, February 6, 2011

AWP Conference;Bridge St Books; Multiple recommendations;

I was fortunate to have attended the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference and Bookfair last week in Washington,D.C..This event, which features hundreds of seminars and readings,and 600 exhibitors,honors among other things the nation's poets and poetry programs, as well as MFA and seminar programs.It is the one place to see Susan Howe,Rae Armantrout(Pulitzer Prize winner),as well as a host of other poets from Rita Dove to Yusuf Kumunyakaa, Carolyn Forche,et al.Writers including Jhumpa Lahiri,Joyce Carol Oates, Mary Gaitskill and Junot Diaz were in attendance, but it is the plethora of literary magazines, small presses and the like that stamp the uniqueness of the event- New Directions was one of the largest exhibitors- Really refreshing-
I attended a couple of readings one night at Bridge St Books, 2804 Pennsylvania Ave, just over the M st bridge.Bridge St is a lovely two-storey building owned by Philip Levy, who grew up in the area, and managed by poet extraordinaire Rod Smith, who also teaches at the Iowa school.The first floor of Bridge St Books contains some good fiction and nonfiction new titles, art, film and theatre, but it is the second floor with its fabulously chosen fiction, philosophy, and especially poetry and poetry criticism that gives support to the claim by many aficionados that this is the best small to medium independent bookstore on a book for book basis.And the discerning book buyer here will find over and over again titles seen nowhere else, even in NY or San Francisco.
One great new title is Against Expression, an anthology of conceptual writing edited by Kenneth Goldsmith and Craig Dworkin(published by Northwestern U.Press), which covers a wide swath of writing from Duchamp to Beckett to William Burroughs to numerous poets, Oulipian writers(Georges Perec) and a host of others whose found, appropriated, and material written under mathematical or other constraints can change one's views forever about the poetry of unoriginal genius, as Stamford Professor Emerita Marjorie Perloff would have it.

One writer included in the anthology is Vanessa Place. She is the publisher of LA based Les Figues Press, which publishes an avant-garde collection of surrealist and Ouliponian works.Place has herself written several books,including La Medusa, and other works including"Dies" a giant book consisting of one extended sentence . Place is also a criminal defense appellate lawyer specializing in sex abuse and violent predatory crimes. In Tragodia, Pt I Statement of Facts she has assembled a remarkable number of narratives fashioned from court testimony virtually verbatim that dwarfs any contemporary gothic. Marjorie Perloff, the author of the brilliant "Unoriginal Genius, Poetry by other Means in the New Century",(University of Chicago Press 2010), has called Vanessa Place's new work a superb piece of conceptual writing. It's the first of a three part series, with the second devoted to the procedure of the cases and the third volume to appeal and resolution. The publisher in this case is LA based Blanc Press. Buy it- your interest will not be Ms-Placed.

Karen Palmer's Spellbound: Inside West Africa's Witch Camps is a record of the Canadian journalist's time spent in the witch camps of rural Ghana, where hidden colonies of women exiled after the accusation of witchcraft proffered against them in a society caught between tradition and modernity eke out a bare existence.These women suffer a horrible plight from the use of witchcraft as a means of social control. The book is a complex and well researched piece of reporting and concerned journalism from a reporter who lived and worked in West Africa. Highly recommended. (The Free Press, 2010)

The Last Jew Of Treblinka, a memoir by Chil Rajchman, one of 60 survivors of the Nazi extermination camp,has finally been published in English for the first time in 2011 by Pegasus Books; it was first translated from Yiddish into French in 2009, (having been written in the1940's ).I read it all night and cried myself to sleep in the hotel room in DC. Treblinka was not a concentration camp cum extermination facilities like Auschwitz with its sister death camp Birkenau, but one of four camps the Nazis built in Eastern Poland solely for the purpose of extermination.Approximately 1 million people were killed in that mechanized slaughterhouse between 1942 and 1943 when it was closed down. Gitta Sereny has shown in her brilliant book Into That Darkness, (an account of Treblinka and her interviews with Franz Stangl, the commandant who was captured in South America and sent back to Germany for trial (he was convicted and committed suicide shortly after the interviews and after being handed dowm a life sentence.),that the Treblinka story is one of the most frightening tales of human evil , occurring in an advanced European culture in the middle of the 20th Century.

There were only several hundred Jews chosen upon arrival in the stinking trains at Treblinka to survive. Their job was to do the heavy work as the hundreds of thousands sent out of the trains immediately upon arrival were whipped in the "tube", a line between Nazi or Ukrainian thugs with whips, on to the gas chamber. Thousands were despatched this way each day.
The author served as a "barber",, having to cut the hair of all female lost souls for subsequent industrial use, then transporter of the bodies to the places they were burned and eventually the crematoriums, and later as a "dentist" where the task was to pull off the gold teeth of the fresh corpses and extract valuables hidden in body cavities as fast as possible.

The Jewish inmates of Treblinka staged a rebellion on August 2, 1943. 600 of them escaped, but many were found and killed by Germans, Ukrainians, or Polish villagers in the forest. There were only 60 or so survivors and only three or four of them attempted to capture and memorialize in writing what had transpired at this death camp.

The book is short, factual,and its power comes not from metaphor but from the salient facts of bearing witness against the slaughterhouse- of Treblinka and history. Much too important not to be read by every living soul with a conscience, and even more for those without one.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dining out in Yemen- redux; John Ross Dies

The news of the revolt in Egypt and Yemen makes it timely to repost this piece on dangerous dining in Sana - the capital.

Sometimes the greatest culinary surprises are buried deep in our literature. Thus, for example in the 1991 travel adventure Motoring with Mohammed by Eric Hansen, a fine essayist and writer of whimsical travel a la Eric Newby and Redmond O' Hanlon,we find the author shipwrecked off the coast of Yemen. Rescued by the Yemeni military on Groundhog Day 1978, he and his group of sailing compadres are brought to the capital, Sa'na,an ancient city with fine mud-brick tower houses that dot the skyline and convey along with the many delicate minarets the aura of Scheherezade. There in the country reputed to be once the home of the legendary Queen of Sheba, he stays with an American Peace Corps worker, who recommends to him at his specific request an authentic Yemeni restaurant not frequented by tourists.(How many times have we naively made the same request ?)
We next find him waiting in line to enter an underground eatery with no name displayed, being borne up by the surging crowd in the air and pressed down the "foot-worn" stone steps to enter an inferno of hot earthen ovens--There he is forced to climb over the tables one after another to reach an open chair and winds up being wedged between two quite heavily armed men.They proceed to instruct him in the fine art of attracting the waiter's attention by hitting him with moistened spitballs made from their napkins. (I would love to do this in French Laundry or Taillevent in Paris(and who could object, surely not the French poodles perched under the tables)-it alone would be worth the cost of the meal although in the Oyster Bar in New York it might take a very long toss, with the significant air resistance entering into the calculus )

He then strikes the waiter in the shoulders with some precisely thrown overheads, and orders Salah, a highly spiced potato, garlic, and mutton stew, covered in a frothy sauce called bulba made from whipped fenugreek paste and served in an earthenware pot so hot it leaves scar marks on the table.

And of course it is delicious.Eating with his fingers and energized by the chilis, the author pays the bill and leaves the restaurant in an opium-like daze.

Now that is the kind of dining experience even those of us who have taken far-flung journeys dream about!It's the perfect wave -that once in a lifetime experience of dangerous and delicious dining,from which, even within the constraints of that dreaded word "tourism" you emerge presumably alive with your adrenalin and gastric juices in free flow.
For me, this evoked memories of a trip 30 years ago to the famous Moti Mahal restaurant in Old Delhi, where you trace your steps down narrow alleyways to a step down raffish joint with what was considered by many India's best tandoor cooking. The butter chicken there still melts on my tongue, and it was predictable many years later when the chef was cajoled to go to London to open a well-financed "branch" in Covent Garden that the inevitable comparisons would be made-
I sampled the cuisine in this upscale dining establishment on a recent trip to London
It was quite tasty, subtle, well prepared but lacked the touch of brilliance of the original-
What is it about underground restaurants- are they close to the axis of the world- do they draw sustenance from the roots of the tree of life so that when they cook their pungent specialities one remembers them for a lifetime.

John Ross, the radical poet and independent news writer, author and intimate of the Zapatistas, who wrote several early books on the movement, has died at 72 of liver cancer in mexico where he spent most of his time(other than his beloved Mission District in Sf), and where he wrote ElMonstruo- a kaleidoscopic history of Mexico City .(he moved there in the early 80's a day or so after the big earthquake) I met him twice, the first time on the occasion of his publishing that entertaining wild text"Murdered by Capitalism" blurbed by Thomas Pynchon, a great on the streets history of various left wing movements in the US. John was an inspiring, no nonsense ex "Red Diaper" baby from NY's Upper West Side, who has seen it all and who never pulled a punch.Ross brought together in his own lifetime the 30's radicals, SDS and the 60's rebellious as well the anti-globalist movement, in addition to his involvement with the Zapatistas.

On the barricades, a thorn in the side of authoritarians, he cut quite a figure with his bedraggled beard and much worn clothes- From the mission blog:

"In his later years, even as he struggled with cancer, Ross always woke at 7:30 a.m., according to his friends. He continued with a U.S. tour for his last book, El Monstruo. When here, he was known for walking around the Mission with his distinctive cane and black and white scarf, and going to Café La Boheme on 24th Street each morning for a double short latté, according to the café. “He was almost deaf in one ear, and had one eye gone,” said Bell. “He had an imitation eye that sometimes popped out.”

That eye was allegedly harmed in a fight with San Francisco police in 1967. The fight, Bay Guardian Executive Editor Tim Redmond said, broke out when Ross tried running for a spot on the Board of Supervisors. Afterward, he was removed from the ballot because of his felony conviction for resisting the draft. Later on, The Guardian, his employer, held a fundraiser and poetry reading at Café La Boheme to purchase the glass eye for Ross.

“He was one of the most amazing writers I ever worked with,” said Redmond. Ross walked into the Bay Guardian looking for a job in 1984 after “the campaign against marijuana planting raided his house [in Arcata] and destroyed all his stuff,” he said. All Ross had were his “clothes and a few bags of marijuana in his backpack.”

“Everyone knew he smoked marijuana morning, noon and night,” said Bell. “He totally disproved that pot ruins your memory, because he was razor sharp. He could tell you the middle name of a lawyer who worked on some random case in 1971,” she said."

Goodbye Dear John- voice of truth- always in the face of authority, the highest goal of journalism -R.I.P.