Tuesday, December 28, 2010
My Favourite Books of 2010
1) W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn (1995). Surpassing The Emigrants in breadth, and Vertigo in depth, the late German writer Sebald produced a brilliant meditation on the fascinating trickeries of memory, interspersing archival and passed-on photos with historical excavation, personal sojourns, subjective mood shifts, fictional drama, biographical colour, natural and architectural splendour and decay, and elegiac heartbreak. Much has been made of Sebald’s unassuming gravitas, but perhaps underappreciated (though still praised) is the beauty of the writing itself, here as elsewhere translated into the English by Michael Hulse. Sebald was a hands-on overseer. Lines, sentences, paragraphs, and pages gather in pulses at once heady, hypnotic, and poetically charged with sound and suggestion. Some of the arcane details of Sebald’s masterpiece may be forgotten, but the people featured in these pages will be forever salvaged from the indifference of history.
2) Sean Burke, The Death and Return of the Author (1998). A challenging book-length essay, this densely-packed, intelligently argued, scholarly responsible, clearly linked, and convincingly concluded takedown of postmodern assumptions is a much-needed counterattack to the passively received blather of unstudied core pronouncements by Barthes, Foucault, and Derrida. Using call-and-response quotations, both comparative and contrasting, from the philosophical canon, as well as evidence from novels and -- most importantly -- from the anti-objectivists themselves, Burke highlights the contradictions, simplifications, and outright ironies and mistakes of much of the zeal for castigating authorial stance, meaning, and organic shaping.
3) Michael Harris, Circus (2010). The unfairly obscure Canadian poet Michael Harris produced, this year, his best book to date. Appropriately charged with flair and bounce, his inner-outer narrative of circus people has many layers, with much metaphorical worth. Lyrical acrobatics serve an enjoyable arc, but also use the weave as a stitch-pain in the memory for fascinating suggestions on performer and audience, the collective and the individual, conformity and creativity, and (not least) evil and freedom.
4) James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953). A passionate first novel, Baldwin wins on multiple fronts: an about-to-be-coming-of age story; an excoriating study of religious hypocrisy; a wise dip into infidelity and desire; a compassionate look into faith and loyalty, much of it scored with in-your-face as-is dialogue and brave, Old Testament organ-crescendo rhetoric.
5) Dave Smith, Fate's Kite (1995). The veteran American poet’s collection of searching thirteen-liners takes on spiritual concerns, but does it simultaneously with a unique sensual involvement and nostalgia. Just when one thinks the regret-o-meter might be tipping into the red, Smith devastates with a splash of wisdom on present-day experiences. The twists are fascinating, the tones gorgeous and powerful.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Barry Dempster's Blue Wherever
Monday, December 20, 2010
matt robinson's Against the Hard Angle; Kate Hall's The Certainty Dream
Unlike Against the Hard Angle, Kate Hall's first selection, 2009's The Certainty Dream, uses experience -- and imagined, removed, or general experience at that -- as an excuse to become entangled in philosophical conundrums. The nouns here are poured into a thematic mold (mynah, blackbird, crow, fish, boxes, houses), and one sees (or, as Hall would have it, imagines in confusion through sight) with an ontological excavation project rather than as glory or illumination or reverie. I use the word reverie with knowing irony since Hall's book is concerned with daydreams, nightdreams, or lucid just-waking-up states, but though suffused throughout by altered consciousness, the cohesive force of the book is one of frustrated logic. It's a neat trick, if one can pull it off, to conflate the irrationality of dreams with the impossibility of knowing anything with certitude, and for all time (more on that later), but the Cartesian focus of the book, despite its occasional attempts at levity, is both boring and poetically bankrupt.
As already alluded to, Rene Descartes gets the epigraph to the book's longest poem, the seven-part ten-page mid-book "Suspended in the Space of Reason: A Short Thesis". The mind-body split was outdated and mistaken even when Descartes proposed it from his re-formed beliefs. Without belabouring the history here, the procedure supports Hall in running the table for doubt as elevated thought and observation as conditional and, thus, ripe for an optative academic discourse-snore on ambiguity and perspective. It would help, intellectually, to hoodwink the reader into association by surface comparisons -- "All this is spoken in gestures/I am too tired to perform"; "I try to imagine all the fish suddenly going/belly-up but all I can worry about is/the dirty mirror" -- but this is poetry, not pure speculative pondering, so particularities, experiences, plausibilities have to enter at some point. And this is where even the philosophical framework and cornerstone crumble (the poems as musical journey never had a chance to leave the station): "Pascal's Wager" has to restate the famous hedge in an epigraph, for some reason. The poem then begins:
"We have a stainless steel pepper grinder.
When the kitchen light is turned on
there is another bubbled room reflected in the bulbous top.
This is the problem: duplicity is always shining
forth from ordinary objects.
Pascal developed his famous equations because he was losing
at cards and dice. We like to play games but only if
we get to keep our shirts."
As for the last sentence, I guess Hall has never read Dostoyevsky's novella, The Gambler. As for the rest, where does duplicity arise? From the objects?
Pascal's wager is of course a cowardly, insincere gambit. But worse, it's shallow reasoning. If God does not exist, we can lose much more by believing in him. We can lose the power of personal responsibility, individuated joy, and honest revelling in apogeal wonder.
"I waitress at a restaurant with limestone walls.
What I've learned is this:
some people like a lot of pepper and some people don't.
You can never tell."
First note the elevated forerunning after the ellipses. Then note the pallid attempt to give a believable setting for the argument. There's no life in the poem. The people are props, the objects originate in the mind and soon fade away, as do all objects merely projected, and the interaction is nugatory.
"God could be hiding inside the pepper grinder
and there you are, shredding him to bits
on top of your farfalle. ....
What are the odds? You can never be certain."
Another reference, or dreamed (remembered?) anecdote, involves being a croupier to others losing their shirts. But this is a faulty analogy, fatal in a poem which puts all its eggs in a fruitful speculative investigation. Gambling isn't about a one-off wager on the existence of God. It's an ever-repeating variation on win-loss probabilities that seeks to defeat the "game" in a large sample run. Of course, roulette or craps, as referenced here, are negative-expectation games. That is, they're mathematically impossible to win at. (Full marks to Descartes here, and Hall acknowledges as much in a different context in another poem.) But many wagers, over the long haul, are favourable to the gambler. Certainty, as conceived of in Hall's dreamworld, wouldn't be something to arrive at, or at least strive for, it would kill life as it cancelled mystery, and more fundamentally, is impossible anyway. We're all gamblers, every day and in every minute. Why the woebegone reaction to it? Actually, I'm much more in tune with someone railing against the fates, however preposterously (Dostoyevsky again) than I am with someone mildly disturbed by and in that state, and depicting it at an emotional remove. Or perhaps I just don't get the "subtleties", all the more powerful by being ushered in with clever ideas-in-dreams couching.
Hall's first poem in the book is a response to Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird". Stevens' poem has rightfully been praised as a supreme imaginative angle on art, perception, and reality; Hall's poem restricts the view to a private grumble about the uncertainty of that perception and its meaning. What a travesty.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
David Donnell's Watermelon Kindness
David Donnell's Settlements
One of the poems, "Geese", is for John Ashbery. Easy to make the link. Ashbery's stream-of-consciousness often bores me to numbness, but at least he takes you on a partial journey, entertaining for up to half a poem. Donnell, here and elsewhere, just likes to talk, like a weary (or more to the point, wearying) barfly on the upward trajectory of drink. The connective tissue is so slim, the poem(s) immediately fall apart, and more resemble a collection of bone fragments than a living body. Quoting here doesn't do justice since the full impact of the ADD irritation isn't borne without the entire poem. And I'm not replicating fifty or more lines here. In any event, if interested, just pick up a copy and turn to most any page.
Brahms gets two drive-by checks in two different poems. Interesting. I'm not a Brahms fan, finding the sonorities (though warm) indistinct and pulseless. My two favourite composers, Shostakovich and Haydn, were rhythmic dynamos, and I believe parallels on the latter two men to poetry I prefer are appropriate.
Like most conversation, the rhythms in Settlements are of the flat, occasionally subdued inflection, mode. I suppose the pull is for the curious juxtapositions: "Her underwear lying on top of my corduroy pants looks like/a surreal image of my connection to the country I grew up in and left foolishly" (from "Lakes").
But however curious the obstreporous barroom raconteur, there comes a time, fairly early in the evening, for the other patrons to look at their watches and consider other options. I made it, though, to three poems from the back before crying "Uncle".
Donnell is fond of the list poem, not surprising in one who likes to count without momentum or linkage.
He also likes to offer instructive, unembellished sentences devoid of interest, purpose, or investment: "South American sailors are religious and wear gold earrings." (from "South American Sailors"). But it's not all driver manual English. The lyrical sentence, seventeen lines down, ups the temperature and pleasure a quarter-degree: "Day breaks and reflects in the water like a long blue dream." Yes, a long blue dream. Evocative. Blue. Dream. That is long.
Donnell considers himself funny. "Skirts are interesting I like skirts skirts are great./Maybe I'll wear a dress on Monday./I've got fairly interesting genitals myself./A loose dark red dress with a tweed jacket in case it gets cold." (from "What Men Have Instead Of Skirts").
But it's not all fun and games. Donnell wants it both ways. There's a strain for profundity in several poems (though the humour in most poems is just as strained, as well). This is also from "Lakes": "Ideas are simple./Work is simple./I associate Jane with the country and simplicity./Karen with the city." Ideas and work are simple if you've never thought or worked. And if this long poem had worked, there would be no need for the explicit connection, which would have cancelled any joyful discovery in a crafted symbolic unfolding. But there was never any depth to uncover, so the reader gets a trite dichotomy unsupported by anything in the poem's full frontal.
Again, this won the Gov-Gen for poetry in 1983. How it got categorized as poetry in the first place is the riddle.
Up next: Donnell's "Watermelon Kindness" (2010).
Monday, December 13, 2010
Steven Heighton's Patient Frame
The casual conversational asides ("you see"; "But hell,/someone around here ought to know.") are at times unconvincing, but Heighton's best poems (in his five-book corpus) are among the best by anyone in this country, past or present.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Margaret Christakos' Welling
of dreams identify the image
most pendant. Can't, can you,
there's a blend, vacuum
& glut. Too much happens of anything
to report or order. Time
throbs & writhes"
The preceding lines are from Margaret Christakos' "Gulls", from Welling, her 2010 collection of poems. Her concerns, despite their anchoring in postmodern fascination, anguish, or flippant tom- (and jane-) foolery regarding the impossibility of accurately noting our own observations or (at least) of transcribing them to another, are nothing new. W. G. Sebald, in his extraordinary The Rings of Saturn, speaks from the perspective of another in conversation who noted "the scruples which dogged Flaubert's writing, that fear of the false which ... sometimes kept him confined to his couch for weeks or months on end in the dread that he would never be able to write another word without compromising himself in the most grievous of ways. Moreover ... he was convinced that everything he had written hitherto consisted solely in a string of the most abysmal errors and lies." Sebald, later in the same chapter: "The invisibility and intangibility of that which moves us remained an unfathomable mystery for Thomas Browne too, who saw our world as no more than a shadow image of another one far beyond."
I'm sympathetic to this obsession (and though Christakos changes things up by an interesting and ambiguous mix of imagined audience for the speaker, the thematic fixation remains), but I'd take issue with some of the quoted material in "Gulls". I agree that "Too much happens of anything/to report or order", but I don't see why observation has to be comprehensive. Boring into the corner of a Michelangelo is just as important as a distant, global sweep, is it not? Or from the painter's perspective, getting that corner to a place of great clarity (without ever succumbing to the complacent conclusion of perfection) is surely enough? Think of Madame Bovary, and then think of Flaubert agonizing for months about telling the truth.
Though I don't share in the idea of futility and anguish over ever revealing "the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth", I admire Christakos' different approaches to it. Unlike so many other dreary poets who keep the poetics in the realm of the suffocating classroom, she occasionally gets outside and integrates her ideas with spurs from nature, of the landscape and human variety. From the sub-poem "Birch" in the section "Barrel": "I turn & chafe. I misbeget the fruit of the other trees./Turdish shapes, all of you. A filament of sun widows me,".
From "The problem of confessionality":
"I don't think any of
us, even the "best" poets
among us, do more than signal
a portal that would
open on a room full of
To which I hasten to add: But when it's good, what wonderful squirming!
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Rob Budde's declining america
Not confident enough in letting his poems speak for themselves, Budde, in his “about the author” back-pages byte, reveals his credo: “He believes that counter-colonial, pacifist, anti-homophobic, anti-racist, feminist, and vegetarian thinking is the best path to planetary health. Rob was born in America but is working it out.”
The first section, “My American Movie”, eschews almost all punctuation for the (I suppose) creative diatribe of America as evil incarnate. It must take a particularly uncloudy mind to reduce the infinitely complex matrix of world politics and cultural interpenetration down to a blackened thumb over one specific section of the globe. I agree broadly (oops, is that sexist?) with some of his simple arguments, and disagree with others. However, there’s no nuance, context, expansion, or development in these viewpoints, which makes them uninteresting. But this is supposedly poetry, so let’s move on from the pulpit and enter the grove, study, or basement. Then again, the pulpit in this book seems to be portable, unfortunately.
“ “democratizing” the arab world into subservience a british imperial first strike toward a would-be world hegemonic megalomania it is not simply fantasy it is policy and legally (in florida at least) elected by corrupt business oligarchies so keep on trucking the expenditure for or against ruling all, cutting to the chase standing for thee”
And some people said subtlety went AWOL in contemporary poetry.
It’s not until Part Three’s “Assuming Depth” that the tap of poetics is cranked to full throttle.
"The word is combustible; odd, worn, ignored, and not absolutely sure of what it is referring to."
Thank you, third-hand Roland Barthes omniscient speaker.
"Passion, passive, past."
Smugness, mug, ugh!
This is easy, can anyone play?
Next section is titled “Software Tracks”. From “Rash”: “awry on the rocks”. Ha ha. How clever. A rye on the rocks. Get it? But wait. Wouldn’t the actual quote be redundant? Picky, picky.
The following poem is “Nausea”. Here’s an excerpt, without commentary. Enjoy! (Oh, I know, that word is now forever linked to capitalism’s phony fawning waiter bringing you the goose, stepping over the homeless people in the doorway, all of it cooked by illegal immigrants hectored all day on their twelve-hour shifts.)
"Unfashion-hypen-able. The real “thing”. Too much aboutism. Stand back. Let the subjunctive relieve the pressure, tantamount to contempt but the rain continues and there is no reason to stop. Categories everywhere and not one has galoshes. Debit card carrying unionist. No wonder lunch is hard. This is the end. Death synthesizes the least possible courage."
Would that the second-to-last sentence were so. But then I should be more mature and take Mr Budde’s advice from “Indices: Second Quarter Returns”: “it might just not be for you; let it go --” Or he could take his own advice vis-à-vis his caricature of America. There is some tag-end stuff to do with the idea that the tentacles of American culture have crossed the 49th and have already become ensconced in the Canadian psychological fabric. (Surprise! Olympics and an orgy of lumber.) It’s too late, I suppose. We’re all infected. At least barbeque season is over.
Evelyn Lau's Living Under Plastic
The language is dead, the narrative unfocussed, the emotions histrionic (“facing a future which came to greet him/like the military tank in the photo of Tiananmen” from “Father’s Day”). In “Return to Monterey Bay”, we have “I could not tell whether the storm brewing/in my body was discontent,/or disease, or the usual creeping fog/of malaise, if this fatigue was a virus,”. How can a storm be compared to “the usual creeping fog”, and to “fatigue”? But perhaps Lau realizes that dullness of limb and spirit doesn’t always translate into a drama worthy of the relentless repetitions in this book and in its even more dreary predecessor, Treble, the latter running on from the 27-45 line poems in Living Under Plastic to a frequently bloated 5 or 8 pages. As usual, the best storms in poetry are either truly lashing, or scary by their subtle or complex build-up and release.
Humour is only apparent unintentionally -- from “Mosquito Season”: “so full it burst with a wet sound/and a red splash between my palms.”; from Grand Canyon”: “the canyon exhaling next to us,/softly, the way water breathes,/dreaming in its sleep.”
The only poem I liked was “The Drowning”, and perhaps not coincidentally, it was the only poem which concentrated on the subject and not the comparative pain of the speaker. Even in its best lines, though, an egregious repetition mars what I’d hoped would be error-free: “the salt breeze/stirring circles into the sand, saffron smoke/from a lit flare smoking across the hills.”
I wouldn’t have spent even this much time on this book but for two reasons: I’ve already promised to at least mini-review every book I’ve read, or will read, on 2010’s GG longlist, however that plays out; and ever since Lau’s hugely popular Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid, published when she was 18, she’s achieved the status of literary untouchable. That happens to many writers, of course, but especially when it happens to one so young, it’s almost impossible to question praise heaped on oneself.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Sharon McCartney's For and Against
McCartney has shown a delightful felicity in previous books with stapling phrases into the memory. For and Against expands this strength with different material, and it’s a testament to her talent that rawness isn’t diminished by an attention to fluency: “lipping the languid/ sandbags staggered”; “Doc baffled, Bashful asserting himself,/Happy rabid.”.
Anger, disgust, depression (well, OK, that one gets plenty of play in many books), black humour, desperate longing, bitter denunciation: Canadians are much more comfortable in their reading and composing habits with the more muted dark emotions of regret, pensiveness, alienation and heightened self-pity. But McCartney is driven by a concern for connection and has little patience for the bogus compensations of "who needs it" pride or unearned hope. If the book is at times too unformed (“And leaving becoming/the only way to get anything back”), and hence, too driven to vague summation, it’s a small price to pay for the many more searching pieces of wise recrafting of disharmony.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Palmu is a rare name even in Finland. The character sounds like a great guy!
Runaway Jury Award for the Poetry GG
I enjoyed sparring and agreeing with Alex Good and Jacob Mooney. And it was the first time I've read all of the books on the final five for the poetry Gov-Gen. This space has been busy gathering moss and mildew, and a few crickets continue to rub their legs in the vicinity, but I plan to let work taper off until the new year, so I'll be taking time to read some of the many other titles on the year's GG longlist. I'll be posting mini-reviews of them here.
Congratulations to Richard Greene on Boxing the Compass.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Robert Finch's "Aubusson Castle, July 14, 1960"
laughed as the sun came laughing up from the river,
gazed through the arras of rain at its hidden weaver,
lived, longed, loved, lost, and sang what the heart stores.
Nightingales sang, too, in the leafy keep,
while horn and drum led time about the valleys
that guard this central rock whose kind portcullis
called poet and pen to waken dreams from sleep.
Now, in the dimming twilight of below,
bugles explode, rockets eclipse the stars,
commemorating a war to vanquish wars,
announcing the battle of song, due long ago.
Of the castle, only this one window remains.
Nightingales try the troubadours' refrains.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Chris Gilpin Reacts To Poetry Slam Slams
"In “The Shrinking Space of Poetry”, Betsy Warland claims that “Spoken word has grown in leaps and bounds; to my ear, however, the majority of writing performed is not deeply rooted in poetry.” I take exception to this backhanded compliment.
Warland is not the first page poet to disparage Spoken Word in this way. George Bowering declared that the poetry slam—which continues to be the grassroots engine of Spoken Word in Canada—was “crude and extremely revolting.” Paul Vermeersh wrote a long rant about how Spoken Word performances at slams contain no actual poetry. Such attacks from the literary establishment are widespread, and Warland’s comment is right in line with the rank and file of Canadian page poets."-- Gilpin
What is there to argue in the quotes? Spoken Word is rooted in poetry? It's not crude? (There are always exceptions -- I once saw a line dancer who transcended the "art form".)
First, the spelling is "Vermeersch". When an elementary mistake is made, it makes one wonder how closely he read the blog post. Second, the rant wasn't "long", it was quite clipped. ("long", here, suggests that it was unfocussed or irrelevant because of emotional overkill.) Third, Vermeersch's "no actual poetry" is harsh, but I sympathize with the conclusion. He's obviously been to a hell of a lot more of these events that have I. From my experience, it's a rather (there's that word again) crude affair. To parallel, while paraphrasing, Stan Laurel's death-bed wish to the nurse -- Laurel: "I'd rather be skiing right now." Nurse: "You don't ski." Laurel: "Right, but it's probably better than having all these needles stuck into me" -- I'd rather take up canasta than go to another slamfest.
"Warland offers no reasons why Spoken Word should be excluded from the realm of poetry, other than her ears, her aural impression. Why should we trust her ears? Is it because they have heard more “true poetry” than ours? Perhaps because they are refined ears, sophisticated ears, ears that can detect verse better than your average layperson. In deference, should we shelve our own impressions and accept the verdict of her superior ears?"--Gilpin
Ah, yes, the old "elitist" argument, without coming right out with the dreaded word.
I know nothing of Warland's poetry, or her competence for judging it. But her brief argument here is on the mark. Of course poetry is for the ears. And slam poets are all about creating special effects in the collective tympanum. Gilpin's argument in the brief byte above amounts to "Yeah? Says who?" (More on that later.) Extrapolating on sound, I hereby declare Haydn to be truer music than Eminem. But then, hey, that's just my "refined, sophisticated" taste.
"The point here is that page poets, subtly or brazenly, champion their education as the tool which allows them to write and understand “true poetry” while Spoken Word, filled as it is with ordinary folks, is not deeply rooted in the study of literature (which is what I assume Warland means when she writes "not deeply rooted in poetry")."--Gilpin
No. Warland discusses, elsewhere in the piece, her deisre to bring poetry to a broader public. Commendable, surely. And by what means? Education. I think her stance much too ideological (she clearly has designs on poetry as social tool), but it contradicts the claim that her approach somehow goes against the wishes of "ordinary folks".
Let's investigate those ordinary folks. (When "folks" are evoked, one can usually be confident that the speaker is assuming a stance of the patronizing spokesman for the downtrodden masses.) Click on Gilpin's home page, then hear his videos. It's ideology at its crudest. And it pushes all the populist buttons, giving "the ordinary people" what they want to hear. Corporate excess is railed against in "humourous" caricatures. It's about the message, no different a procedure (though different in tone) than the Sunday scolder, the ideology being the real focus. And the cruder the message, the more it goes with the crudest of representation (shouting, screaming, bombastic diction, shallow psychology). What's worse is when the only thing going for it -- the pamphleteering simpleness -- is wrong. Listen, if you can, to his satire (all the videos listed here are smirking, juvenile, simplistic satires) of T. Boone Pickens. Gilpin mocks him in the Texan bigger'n-the-world-accent for his orgasmic glee in successful oil speculation, yet Pickens was one of the first prominent oil tycoons to ring the bell for the harsh realities of Peak Oil. I'm sure Pickens has mud and blood on his hands (on more than one issue), but a more complex view of the man wouldn't have elicited as many smug applause haw-haws from the "ordinary folks" at the slam event. Of course, I'm being too kind. 3 to 1 says Gilpin wasn't even aware of his subject's history, on record.
Education shouldn't be championed? Look. Most people, here and in the U.S., read zero or a handful (at best) of books a year. Not books of poetry. Any book. Is that an elitist statement? No. It's a statement of fact. So if you want to reach a wider audience, you'll have to (ironically) enter the marketplace. Not the marketplace of ideas, but the marketplace of performance, which has more to do with that revolting consumer mania Gilpin and his audience decries than its opposite: economically profitless reading, reflecting, and yes, writing. Can commerce and art meet? Of course. Shakespeare made a few bucks. And good on Martin Amis for going for (and getting) the half-million advance. But that's not the driving force behind the art.
"Each old guard tries to expel the work of the avant-garde before inevitably embracing it. Ginsberg was castigated as a madman, and then canonized a few decades later with the rest of his bohemian friends."--Gilpin
Yeah, yeah, the performance poets of today are the "avant-garde". A quick comment. If you think you and your horse are the "avant-garde", you're not the avant-garde. The definition means that no one knows who the so-called breakthrough artists are, or where they are coming from. The artists are just as deluded as anyone else, actually more so. Poets are the worst judges of their own worth. It's obvious. And necessary. They have to have a thick skin to keep going. If one thinks of him- or herself as just another mediocrity, then what's the point? Others are always the judge. For every confident Pound, there are a million-and-one-plus who think they're on the cutting edge, either singly or as a member of a school.
Ginsberg's friends were canonized? Isn't that so .... oh I don't know, un-avantist? What, then, do we call former poets of the avant-garde? Oh, that's right. The establishment. Gilpin's argument is reversed. The old guard doesn't quibble about who's in, who's out. They're already dead. And their supporters have nothing to lose by heralding a new flavour. It's the new kids on the block who have that sense of outraged and outrageous entitlement. Who in the canon does Gilpin denounce? Well, that would be too "sophisticated" to descend to (note the dangling prep). Also, it would mean crafting something substantive. (Crickets.) Education?
"Robert Frost dismissed free verse as playing tennis with the net down; now it is the dominant form."--Gilpin
Frost was a grump. That doesn't abolish his argument. The larger point regarding free verse is that free verse is more difficult to do well than s0-called closed forms. As one jazz enthusiast said to another, overhearing some electrifying experimental sax player: "You have to get real good before you can play that bad!"
"Look farther back and the same story repeats itself over and over again. Even Keats and his Romantic cadre were at first written off as being little more than uncouth “Cockney School” youth whose lush whinings could not be considered proper poetry"--Gilpin
Ergo, Keats equals Koyczan.
"The great irony here is that although Williams warned that poetic forms must change with the times it is his modernist poetry (along with Wallace Stevens’ and T.S. Eliot’s) that has become the most mimicked by academic poets as a quick and easy route to publication. Donald Hall gave a name to the results of this academic mimicry in his wonderful essay “Poetry and Ambition”; he called them “McPoems.” He was right to point out that McPoems impress no one except other McPoets. They are inside jokes whispered in the back stairwells of the ivory tower, out of touch with today’s society. Yet they flood our literary market, tyrannizing our imagination with their outdated, exploded concepts."--Gilpin
In other words, "page" posts are mostly shyte. Ergo, performance poetry is the way forward.
But "page" poets have always been mostly shyte. A sense of elementary history would perhaps avail the mic-in-hand caller of some perspective.
"This is why Spoken Word audiences continue to grow. The 2009 Canadian Festival of Spoken Word featured 12 poetry slam teams—the most ever. For a week, the Victoria Events Centre was sold out every evening, 200 people inside, with a long line-up of people waiting to be let in—for the chance to listen to poetry! The finals were held in front of a crowd of 500 yelling and cheering fans."--Gilpin
World Wrestling Federation, or whatever they call themselves, make Spoken Word competitions look like a bunch of huddled basement kids screeching into tin cans, if that argument is followed to its logical conclusion. Monster truck rallies are also more popular with the "ordinary folks." The bells and whistles seems to be as garish and formulaic, as well.
"Is Spoken Word poetry? Of course it is"--Gilpin
The non sequitur, friend of any and all without a rational and developed line of thought.
"and it is rooted in the oldest of poetic forms: The oral tradition, the tradition that produced Beowulf and the epics of Homer"--Gilpin
What does Spoken Word poetry, as it exists in this time and space, have to do with Homer? If I write a bad poem (with justifiable review-pans), then enunciate it with braggadocio, is it therefore improved? And if not, why can't we reverse the process, and assess all performance poems through the written layout? Homer lives now, and is read now, because his poetry earns its way on the page. If Homer were alive today, and decided to go the Gutenburg way, the performance "poets" would laugh at him if they even knew of his existence.
"Word poets have studied these poems (three of the four of us on the Vancouver Poetry Slam Team have gone through the English Literature program at UBC, the fourth is a voracious reader),"--Gilpin
My gawd, they have BAs! (Prostrates dutifully.)
"The baby boomers of the 1960s and 1970s must wake up and realize there is a new movement afoot."--Gilpin
The boomer generation, by birth, ended in 1964, give or take two years. Even in the sub-generation (1956-1964), there's debate on how that back-half fits in with the stereotype. The increasing cynicism of the "Jones Generation" actually marks them out as being closer to the Gen-Xers. So perhaps we can coffin-retrofit the 70s into the early 50s.
The "new movement" started with Beowulf and Homer, remember? Here comes the avant-garde, again.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Paul Tyler's A Short History of Forgetting
ADAM NAMING THE ANIMALS
The opener is in six parts. I like that the voice isn’t identified as God. As the poem develops, the insistence on naming the animals becomes a baffling, physical struggle. It ends with, “the animals leapt away”. A thoughtful explanation on the search and desire for language as both song and necessary re-enactment.
IN PRAISE OF THE BANANA SLUG
Much humour and fun. The plentiful descriptors come tumbling -- or perhaps sliding -- out: “slick oil-skinned sea captains”; “heavily-spotted gummy glutton”. I’m partial to poems simultaneously lighthearted and reverent. Tyler aces the emotional complexity, and he also implicates himself into the scene without dominating it.
A deftly contoured exploration on the dual trade between work and sex. (What? It’s just a nature poem?) I enjoyed the title link with “little socialists”, and am trying to think of a diminutive British-Trotskyist athlete.
The description here is OK, but a concatenation of images -- unless superlative-- usually isn’t enough to carry a poem in and of itself. Even so, the tight observational parade of movement would have at least kept the poem afloat absent the jarring spiritual conclusion (“which is joy”) and the inflated cosmogony (“hum/of the beginning,/which is all that ever was.”)
The naming “Adam” here is Tyler, and “the animal” is the “co-evolved wiggler”. Fun with assonance in a curt but prolific list of designations.
A PRACTICAL APPLICATION FOR BEES
The successfully rendered tone is much like that in “In Praise of the Banana Slug”: warmth and worship. Here, the rhetoric is cranked a few notches, and bee applications are nicely incorporated into the attitude of gentle awe.
WINTER CHICKADEE OFFERING
The tight, nervous phrasing follows the cautious movements of the eponymous bird. The compound “prairie-licked, numb-knuckled”, “wind-pounded”, as with earlier entries, reverses the subject-to-object duality, and the curious relationship is comically defined in the last line (not given here) with an implied contrast to St. Francis of Assisi.
GOLDFINCH MISTAKEN FOR A SWALLOWTAIL
This didn’t work for me at all. The diction is unremarkable and the images are depleted to make way for a philosophy of reaction, the watcher of the watcher. Too removed.
The same operation here as in “Silverfish”, with similar, pleasing rhythms. The hyphenated word combining of “froth-whipped”, “, ”crud-fix”, “snail-slicked”, “hop-busking” again mimics the birds’ quick movements, and it’s clear Tyler has fun with these tags, much more so than poor Adam who had to start from scratch. I just hope the author doesn’t become too cosy with representation as procedure and statement.
When the subject is pets, I’ll take the simplicity of a Roethke lyric over the overreach (and overworked sentiment) expressed here.
This disturbing poem about abbatoir and prep cruelty and insensitivity is all the more disturbing for the curious absence of its speaker. The inhumanity rendered in eidetic bluntness calls out either for contrasting intervention or anguished impotency. And it doesn’t matter if the poem was -- to use that obnoxious, reverent phrase -- “based on a true story”. Whether true or imaginary, autobiographical or other-voiced or an amalgamation, I’d rather have a troubled speaker involved in any number of conflicting and conflicted options if it meant the opposite procedure in a few other good-as-is poems such as “In Praise of the Banana Slug” where the speaker appears in a meditative relationship with the observed. Blood spills; cynicism reigns. But despite hooking the reader’s pity effectively by image and beat, Tyler’s voice choice of disembodied narrator results (ironically) in a clinical dissection ending with the oft-used, trite profundity-variant, “its smile that won’t thaw”.
WINTER MOOSE, ALASKA
The ambiguity here makes for a better poem than “Pig”. The stanza breaks enhance the shift in focus.
LAST POLAR BEAR
Some deeply etched imagery here, striking, but also subtle in several places: “Cars jerk down streets like damaged cells”; “sheets of iceless light”; “rough-skinned drum of inlet”.
A SHORT HISTORY OF FORGETTING
The titular poem that begins section two is formed in long lines, and with twenty-five of them of similar length, the stretched-out voice (over twenty syllables in several linear unspoolings!) worked more as an obstreperous run-on than the mood (reflection) the speaker wished to evoke. And for a poem relying a good deal on a list, much of the detail was too general to be of interest or enlightenment (“things taken”, “belongings”, “pieces of the disorder”). And “no longer/recognizable” isn’t an excuse since minute surprise can still attach to indistinct objects. But after reading the poem many times, it became clear that Tyler’s objects are introduced more as stand-ins for an organizing idea (memory vs. forgetfulness). It’s a dialectic, unfortunately, in the Kantian, rather than Hegelian, sense. That is, memory has already been corrupted, but it’s certainly not true that “everything is forgotten”. To that, it’s also useful to quote E. D. Hirsch, who opposes the attitude which “mistakenly identifies meaning with mental processes rather than with an object of those processes.” However sincere the speaker or experiencer, Tyler’s objects appear as props, and have then to be inflated to achieve their transferring power.
SHORT HISTORY OF A WEDDING PHOTO
This is the poem “A Short History of Forgetting” could have been or could have become. Rich in speculation, sharp in image, and best of all, psychologically wise in its “sequel” life to the aforementioned poem, this rumination on an old café photo pulls the reader into another world while noting the larger and present world’s indifference or incomprehension.
THE FATHERS ARE DYING
I enjoyed the particularities here which actually blend into a believable fatherly Weltanschauung.
THE LIST OF WHAT WILL LAST
Subverting the speaker’s self-assurance with the same person’s list of memory evaporation -- “and certainly not the list” -- this litany is appropriately subjective though the turn would have been more effective, entertaining, and startling with a longer (if not Whitmanesque) roll call.
SHORT HISTORY OF TWO BUDDHAS
An enjoyable blend of image and rhetoric, I had problems with the tone initially (speaker-inserted, yet cool), though the gathering contrast of spiritual constancy with political/religious intolerance won me over with the buried rage (“buried, wide open”?). I would have liked, however, the two countries named (if the locales are indeed removed one from the other). Afghanistan and Sri Lanka? It’s understandable that poets, at times, shy away from the temporal, but I’ve always believed that the universal is more often than not enhanced by references to the particular. It’s often not necessary, but political context would have been appreciated, as well.
SHORT HISTORY OF FERDINAND VON ZEPPELIN’S DREAM
Unlike the previous poem, this is situated. Images are alive -- (“fat handshakes/of flame”; “twenty men, sudden sticks of light”) -- and Tyler’s typically terse phrasing amplifies the narrative force.
CANDLES IN THE SNOW
Syntactic twelve-line reordering which would have benefitted from a three-quarters or two-thirds paring.
Many poems (not just in this book) are either too short or too long for what they need to accomplish. Just as “The List of What Will Last” is too brief to work as reverie or counterpoint, “House Smash” (though a shorter poem) is pointlessly detailed, and because of its bloated cataloguing, increases the egregious glare of the abstract apex -- “This is how we fail the world”.
IF I WERE A PAINTER
This is nothing but catalogue, and it’s not redeemed by the vague and unearned last line, (“I’d paint this for all our dislocated gazes, for our half-intentioned lives.”)
Wonderfully evocative, exactingly shaped. I particularly liked the assumed emotion attributed to the players from the speaker/fan.
THE SAD BAKER
The transitions in this prose poem were difficult, perhaps purposely so. Unfortunately, those narrative segues blunted the emotion of what, at least, was a good idea. Hence -- (I can’t resist) -- the object didn’t rise.
This poem reminds me of Tyler’s titular effort in that the grasp is inadequate to the reach. I often trumpet ambition, especially so amongst contemporary self-congratulatory frippery, but if a poem fails its difficult scope, I at least prefer that it does so while going all in. “Sophisticated Sex” sets up an intriguing discrepancy, (different in each partner), between coital fulfillment and reality, but, unlike similar territory in novelist James Baldwin’s wise and fearless Another Country, the secrets droop in jarring poeticisms (“mind’s plush foyer”, “splayed plums”), dull, general revelations (“what matters shows”, “the body not a simple story”), and clichés (“The chorus hides sweetly in the wings”, “years bitterly/swallowed like stones”). The poem needed either a double shot of adrenaline or a fine psychological investigation.
Unremarkable yet effective in a character-scoring by compressed detail, I wanted more personal involvement here. What are some contrasts or similarities between and with the neighbour and the speaker?
“It’s prowling promise/to outperform desire.” Yes! And there are several other phrases almost as good. I also liked the strong, quick stresses of “near liquid slant-six pumping angel wings for/plugs.” Delightful from starting gun to end line.
The first poem in the “Urban Night Longing” section is faithful in mood to that header. But just as “If I Were A Painter” is all list, “Ante Meridiem” is all mood, and because of its narrow angle, an attempt to heighten that mood or introduce other elements into the mix could have popped the top off the perfume bottle. Instead, the result is an exercise, not a mysterious evocation, and what’s more, the too-frequent Canadian predilection for the precious first-person plural voice -- combined with the stock epiphanic diction of “moon”, “stars”, “alley”, “sleeps”, “opening”, “listen”, “wind” -- make this the weakest poem in the book so far.
THIS BOOKISH NIGHT
Tropes were strained and murky. At times, an obvious parallel was drawn (“Glowing paragraphs of high-storeyed/buildings”). What irked most, however, was the assumption that open-endedness, suggestion, in itself, somehow equals profundity or (at least) fascination (“you are stitched by possible endings”).
Inferior to Tyler’s “In Praise of the Banana Slug”, this commemoration is overwritten, the voice unconvincing. There’s nothing wrong with burning the midnight oil for a string of fortnights, but the lamp-marks shouldn’t be visible on the page.
The word “old” in the second-to-last line ruins what would have been a good phrase (“Perky old ninety-somethings”). The similes and metaphors, I suppose, attempt to mimic humorous flights of fancy by nectar-infused recipients (“greedy little bankers”; “like a hundred drunken Hemingways”), but I just found them disconnected, unimaginative, unfunny.
Similar to “Ante Meridiem”, “Tree Faith” dispenses with development, but, in its hushed, skeletal structure, offers little in the way of elemental idiosyncrasy or surprise. “Something crawls/around in you” is supposed to echo the branches “weave into air”. It’s, all of it, suggestion without power or believable connection.
I keep coming back to that “Banana Slug”. That’s a plus here because “Manitoba Maples” follows the same descriptive profusion, and is crafted with good cheer (“bug havens, bird bramble,/messed-up misshapen bouffant heavies”). It could have been a developing minus in that Tyler has found a cupola and is mining it with the energy of the workers in Emile Zola’s Germinal. No one should be typecast after acting in his first movie. And the poet’s first-book gaze shouldn’t be filtered through a glaucomatous aperture, so its heartening to see the observational highlight, here -- maples -- er … break new ground.
A SHORT HISTORY OF OUR FUTURE WITH THE ALIENS
A pallid, empty, unfunny sci-fi proposal.
CREATURE OF WORK
The psychological portrait is individuated though glancing. The subject matter cries out for narrative exposition, but I’m not sure Tyler cares (or is able) to develop human complexities with the same panache he lavishes on animals, insects, birds, and natural phenomena. And even in this truncated characterization, lines repeatedly trip over one another (“nothing/touches him. Rain arcs around him on his/cruel commute that never takes him home.”)
The shorthand declaratives (“Forget it, scooter”, “Listen, lightweight”) don’t have the snap of similar aggressive voices in poems by Karen Solie and Ken Babstock, for example. And the tone doesn’t earn any force because of the inadequate context. The sound here is akin to a carefully produced cover of an original, all the informing passion and rough edges muffled in an unintended caricature.
The changing of the seasons is such a staple of the poetic landscape that to write on that theme now is to go beyond cliché, beyond kowtowing to the canon, beyond rearranging the furniture, to a zone only successfully negotiated by ironic self-consciousness or dramatic new metaphors. Tyler opts for the latter (with one three-word exception, mentioned later), but the metaphorical thrust is a maladroit list (his fallback modus operandi) which culminates in a terribly integrated mythical enactment (“Cronus eating his children. The shattered house/of Job. Kali beading her tether of skulls.”). Yes, the first snow is sometimes a harbinger for fatal accidents amd hypothermia. And that first flake -- that’s one small flake for a person, one giant mound for personhood -- contains multitudes, to mix poetic allusions. But the pathetic fallacy of the oak, the overblown proportion of “pissing/jet cold brew down chimneys”, and the self-regarding wink “Proto-poetic provocateur” bury this poem in a winter of its own making.
How far Tyler’s come from naming the animals in that strangled linguistic garden. The relentless compounds pile up like the abused spring snow the poem’s addressee -- the plow -- shoves along. I like “climate abscess” and “synthesized sludge”.
THE HOUSE AT THIRTY-TWO BELOW
The personification of the house is much better than that of the oak in “First Snow”, though a few similes puzzle (“Ice brittles, shrinks like a clerk”; “shingles/rough as North Sea skin”).
“Rubbing snow’s grief into our flesh”. Ugh! To be grossly pedantic, snow is crystalline ice water and has never been known to harbour or express grief. Do “we” become “as snow” under certain temperatures and conditions? That insight has been logged before Eric the Red brandished his sword. If there’s grief, it’s experienced by the “rubber”, but this would mean creating characters, a complexifying and emotional challenge that is sidestepped throughout this book in favour of the “safe” route of nature-and-object personae. I realize metaphors are involved. But a successful metaphor has to work on both sides.
The first of nine poems in the section “Home” which close out the book, “Dressing Arthur” is convincingly consistent in tone throughout. There were problems with a few details -- I’ll never believe an invalid can muster the strength to let go “obscenities … from his gut” -- but their recounting in mundane sharpness (“V-neck wiped/with dinner”) is a welcome change from the proclivity outlined in the commentary of the previous poem. I also like that Tyler is a definite presence in the poem, though a proportional one.
THE WORDS OF PHYLLIS
Phyllis was nearing “the end of language”, but there’s no excuse for the clear-minded observer to cloak this poem in generalities (“Scripts, and snippets of songs/play through her”) and awkward metaphor (“the end of language,/its crumbling walls reveal her/spitting the gravel of her name.”).
GWEN ASKING THE TIME
After reading “Gwen Asking the Time” many times, lines and phrases refuse to be retrieved. The poem feels like it was created through a processing plant: attention to detail is exacting, but the sound is lifeless.
One of a handful of this book’s keepers, “Feeding Rena” is strong in metaphor and image, with fine summation (“her eyes, stones on a prairie road, watch everything and nothing.”). Rena will live.
The Wile E. Coyote-one-second-pause-mid-air-off-a-cliff enjambments are appropriate and highly effective. It’s not easy representing these lives, and interiors must be sought and conveyed with subtlety and clarity. That Tyler has gone three-for-five so far in this section is to his credit.
Good. I can see many things here. And with clear vision (either in experience or imagination), a transforming space is created for the reader. “[H]e staggers/toward you, ready to timber”, “tilts that boulder of a head”, are strong entries, presaging both mild fear and sadness.
SOME THINGS I KNOW ABOUT JACK
Jack's an interesting person, all right, perhaps one still in the early stages of dementia, though it's obvious he still possesses a strength of character lacking in many others of sound mind and body. And that's the good news, here. The details, "as is", didn't make it as a poem.
The run-on block paragraph is the perfect form for the frantic Alzheimer’s patient in this poem. A terrifying experience, Tyler chooses wisely by letting the scrambled narrative run its course. Excellent bites include, “our hands group like fish to catch her” and “the ground a narrow beam”.
“She wants to lead/you someplace holier.” “Want” is a sublime word choice. Powerful, understated, honest, concise, “Violet” is an obvious choice to close out this very good final section.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
I have found time to follow and enjoy the various lit lists lately, however, and thought I'd participate in the fun by pasting the top books, by sale, for three categories for the years 1962 and 1992. Any pre-commentary would blunt the results themselves. Oh, and also with recent blogo-slicing developments in mind, a reminder that comments are always welcome, though of course spam and sham will be flushed.
1. Katherine Anne Porter, Ship of Fools
2. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Dearly Beloved
3. Allen Drury, A Shade of Difference
4. Herman Wouk, Youngblood Hawke
5. J. D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey
6. Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, Fail-Safe
7. Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II, Seven Days in May
8. Irving Wallace, The Prize
9. Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy
10. William Faulkner, The Reivers
Critically Acclaimed and Historically Significant
Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire
Students for a Democratic Society, The Port Huron Statement
Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange
Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
Michael Harrington, The Other America
Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy
Edmund Wilson, Patriotic Gore
Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom
Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind
T. S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics
Fritz Machlup, The Production and Distribution of Knowledge in the U.S.
1. Dr. Herman Taller, Calories Don’t Count
2. The New English Bible: The New Testament
3. Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book: New Edition
4. Virginia Cary Hudson, O Ye Jigs & Juleps!
5. Charles M. Schulz, Happiness Is a Warm Puppy
6. Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, The Joy of Cooking: New Edition
7. Louis Nizer, My Life in Court
8. Frederic Morton, The Rothschilds
9. Helen Gurley Brown, Sex and the Single Girl
10. John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley
1. Stephen King, Dolores Claiborne
2. John Grisham, The Pelican Brief
3. Stephen King, Gerald’s Game
4. Danielle Steel, Mixed Blessings
5. Danielle Steel, Jewels
6. Sidney Sheldon, The Stars Shine Down
7. Anne Rice, Tale of the Body Thief
8. James A. Michener, Mexico
9. Terry McMillan, Waiting to Exhale
10. Mary Higgins Clark, All Around the Town
Critically Acclaimed and Historically Significant
Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man
Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses
Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men
Al Gore, Earth in the Balance
Edward O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life
1. Rush Limbaugh, The Way Things Ought To Be
2. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, It Doesn’t Take a Hero: The Autobiography
3. Naura Hayden, How to Satisfy a Woman Every Time
4. James Herriot, Every Living Thing
5. Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love
6. Sam Walton, Sam Walton: Made in America
7. Andrew Morton, Diana: Her True Story
8. David McCullough, Truman
9. Gail Sheehy, Silent Passage
10. Madonna, Sex
Monday, August 9, 2010
Anis Shivani's "15 Most Overrated Writers"
It's also predictably convenient how Shivani's larger argument has been ignored by those who benefit from the set up. On that issue, here's Shivani in his own words:
"As for the reviewing establishment, it is no more than the blurbing arm for conglomerate publishing, offering unanalytical "reviews" announcing that the emperor is wearing clothes ...
The ascent of creative writing programs means that few with critical ability have any incentive to rock the boat--awards and jobs may be held back in retaliation. ...
As for conglomerate publishing, the decision-makers wouldn't know great literature if it hit them in the face. Their new alliance with the MFA writing system is bringing at least a minimum of readership for mediocre books, and they're happy with that. And the mainstream reviewing establishment (which is crumbling by the minute) validates their choices with fatuous accolades, recruiting mediocre writers to blurb (review) them."
But then, Dana Gioia, Joseph Epstein, and Thomas Disch all said much the same things over a decade ago about the culture of poetry.
To summarize the main points of contention to Shivani's essay (commenting on them is superfluous):
"Mr. Anus should stop with the ad hominems!"
"He's never even read these authors. Who is Shivani, anyway? I've never heard of him till now. His writing probably sucks, and he's just envious."
"I've stayed up till 2 a.m. reading Amy Tan, so she must be a good writer."
"9 of the 15 authors trashed are women. It's obvious he's sexist!"
"This is so mean-spirited! Real writers, the greats -- or decent critics -- never had the time or low morals to argue viciously in the public sphere about other writers."
"Good or great writing needs encouragement! Without the support of institutions, many otherwise 'can't miss' writers would fold and fly away like a pup tent in a windstorm. And in any event, creative writing courses are all about building self-esteem, anyways, not producing the next Tolstoy or Dan Brown. Articles like these just make the Silliman brouhaha all too real -- one woman left literature altogether because someone attacked her work in a comment stream!"
[and my favourite irony guffaw:] --
"Anus should keep his hole shut! People should be able to express themselves however they like."
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Don Domanski's All Our Wonder Unavenged
When the author superimposes spiritual commentary on life-as-awe, things go south. It's not just that the reader is subjected to this unnecessary framework, but that the traditional spiritual truths revealed are badly formed, even wrongfully detailed. "Ars Poetica", as the name suggests, is loaded with these "statements". "but never scribble/a single sentence that will be weightless and endure//behind our backs words sign-off": I don't understand this contradictory belief. If all our words perish, what of the vast, epistemic spiritual record that even Domanski himself learns from and cherishes? If the answer is that the word only points to enlightenment, there's no argument here, as reality is relative and absolute. "to write is to enter the rehearsals of solitude": it's the other way around. It's been my experience, backed up by the same spiritual sources Domanski details, that silence (I'm assuming "silence" can stand in here for "solitude", though if not, I'm wrong and Domanski would have been better off choosing a much different word) is the ever-present stateless bedrock and precursor to creativity (writing, in this context). "what takes me through the field takes me home eventually/to the blank page": continuing with this same line of thought, "what takes me through the field" is a silent meditation, if I'm to read the poet aright (and I think I do in this case -- Domanski is skilled at constructing a cohering metaphysic), so there would be no sequential crossover involved since the same meditational quality would be the impetus for sitting down "to the blank page". A "rehearsal" would mark a duality, however subtly it's experienced. From the titular poem, "Cling to unity the Taoists said over and over" shockingly contradicts what many have suggested the philosophy of Buddhism can be accurately reduced to: "no clinging". 'Killing the Buddha when you meet him on the road' is purposely provocative so's to drive the point home. (Buddhism and Taoism, though culturally and tempermentally different, nevertheless cohere in core precepts, and Domanski reveres, and alternates between, the two allusive formations.)
I enjoyed the trip but not the (occasionally) intrusive speaker. I always did prefer choirs or musical soloists to the confession booth or the pulpit.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Gary Geddes' Falsework
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Sharon McCartney's Under The Abdominal Wall
Sunday, June 27, 2010
The Offal Office (Final)
Says the man who received sizeable campaign contributions from BP. In fact, of all the oil companies who helped place Obama in the circuitous office, BP was the largest supporter. Of course new regulations will be drawn up, and some token fines and wagging fingers will be dished out, but it's all for the assuaging of the public's mood.
"When Ken Salazar became my Secretary of the Interior, one of his very first acts was to clean up the worst of the corruption at this agency. But it’s now clear that the problems there ran much deeper, and the pace of reform was just too slow. And so Secretary Salazar and I are bringing in new leadership at the agency – Michael Bromwich, who was a tough federal prosecutor and Inspector General.
His charge over the next few months is to build an organization that acts as the oil industry’s watchdog – not its partner."--Obama
What Obama should do is hire an overseer (not a bureaucrat or bloated bureacracy) with up-to-date experience, and a long and sustained history, of oceanographic success, as well as one in similar standing with pertinent geological expertise. That way, BP (and other oil companies) can't hoodwink the "independent" watchdogs with bafflegab and cynical good intentions.
Michael Bromwich is a lawyer. He will have to appoint experts in the requisite areas to hold BP accountable. SinceBromwich isn't an expert in these areas, his decisions on who to target, hire, and trust on these issues will be hit-or-miss.
And, as stated earlier, if the expert is studied enough to challenge BP on any indiscretions based on an authoritative understanding of the complexities involved, does anyone actually think BP will allow Obama to put the arm on them?
"For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels."--Obama
And that's all this hypocrite is doing now. Talk is needed, obviously, though when people simply talk about the oil problem, solutions (and there needs to be many, various, and complex solutions) are all over the map in effectiveness. I was no fan of Jimmy Carter, but at least he dared to invoke the challenge of conservation and preservation to a national audience in the face of rampant consumerism.
What was Obama's campaign talk regarding the energy crisis? Oh, yeah. The worst of the options: ethanol. Terrible energy returned on what is invested, displacement of food crops resulting (already) in famine in India and Mexico, and unscaleable.
"The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be here in America."--Obama
Unbelieveable. He actually taps China as an example. China, whose record on regulatory malfeasance is alarming and systemic. Remember the lead-poisoned baby toys? The tainted milk? Yes, the officials responsible were murdered, something that U.S. banking CEOs need not fret about. But if it weren't for public outcry tied to desperately needed export markets, the silence would have been deafening.
China's billion-plus are now the world's leading car purchasers. Coal emissions are choking their urban centres. Environmental degradation is rife.
But of course the greater irony would be hilarious if it weren't so sobering. Obama's regulation-without-results bureaucratic expansion doesn't allow a climate in which small businesses can effectively set up those needed, cutting-edge businesses.
"We cannot consign our children to this future."--Obama
The rhetoric worsens. Obama's already consigned America's children to a future of penury and hopelessness. The foundation was scooped long ago, but the current U.S. president has accelerated the financial nosedive. (Oil scarcity and financial hardship are intimately intertwined. I've talked a bit about it in other posts, but it's beyond the scope of this piece to go into greater depth here.)
"The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny."--Obama
Stump rhetoric doesn't quite transform to the oval office. But here comes the meat-n'-potatoes:
"we have already taken unprecedented action to jumpstart the clean energy industry.
As we speak, old factories are reopening to produce wind turbines, people are going back to work installing energy-efficient windows, and small businesses are making solar panels. Consumers are buying more efficient cars and trucks, and families are making their homes more energy-efficient."--Obama
Unprecedented? I suppose if one confuses niche busyness and self-promotion with knowledge, seriousness, and long-range planning.
Wind turbines. Ha. Wind is a non-starter except for individuals in plains states or just off the ocean in Southern California, or for very small communities. Even here, there are many issues which make it problematic if not impossible for the long-term. As Spain is finding out, maintenance of the turbines is expensive, and needs (wait for it) increasing inputs of oil to run at all. Wind is sporadic, even in areas most amenable to its benefits. Massive areas are needed to build wind farms. It's simply not scaleable as even a minor replacement for oil.
Energy efficient windows. Again, a few drops from a barrel of oil. Efficient windows are very well and fine. Verna and I just installed our house with them last year. Our heating bill fell slightly. More important than energy efficient windows is turning the damn heat off when not around, wearing extra clothing in winter, being naturally more fit so circulation isn't slowed (thereby reducing personal heat), and a number of other mundane but effective options. This falls under the category of common sense. That an acting president is seriously floating these bromides in the face of Peak Oil is inane, and it misses the context in which the speech is given: namely, that oil, while Obama speaks, continues to blacken the ocean.
Small businesses are apparently busy making solar panels. I remember one of Obama's other thousand-and-one speeches given to convince the world what a wonderful job he's doing. He boasted about a single business owner who sounded hopeful about a solar panel start-up. This is the worst sort of anecdotal revelation. First, the entrepreneur was just beginning. Every business owner is hopeful when beginning. It's a prerequisite to counter all the hard work needed to generate momentum. Most businesses fail within the first year of start-up. Secondly, it was one anecdote. For every Arizona solar panel start-up, there are a thousand small organic farming start-ups squashed by the agribusiness behemoths who funded Obama, and who call the shots on subsidies, allowances, district rights, tax relief, and access to markets. The food industry is slightly more important than the energy efficient windows industry, but Obama's deflections will convince a few naive Greenies, I suppose.
Consumers are buying more efficient cars and trucks, according to Obama. That is a lie. National stats just in that SUV sales have increased the last quarter now that gas prices have fallen slightly. By the way, though gas prices will escalate to $4, $5, $9 and more, the more troubling event will be gas shortages. This can happen even when (as has been the case for decades) gas prices are being kept artificially low. And even to mention "energy efficient" cars and trucks is to see just how dangerous is the direction of federal bureaucrats, whether in the U.S. or Canada. Transportation technology is always supposed to be the saviour, but there are very real world and existing technological solutions to much of our travelling needs, namely trains and buses. Bikes, walking, car pooling, cutting out needless jaunts, arranging (if possible) one's environment so that it doesn't require numerous long trips per day. I could go on, but the dirty little secret -- and where Obama already contradicts himself in this speech -- is that energy efficient windows aka energy reduction is just a smokescreen for business as usual with no guilty conscience. What difference does it make if you trot out your garbage to be recycled if the oil-fed plastic in the waste is off the chart? What difference does it make if you buy a car with greater gas mileage if you're just going to be the sole occupant of the vehicle for long drives in the country gazing at the scenery? One looks in vein for a greater vision in Obama's speech, but after the rhetoric has subsided, all that remains are facile good intentions.
"Scientists and researchers are discovering clean energy technologies that will someday lead to entire new industries."--Obama
More lies. Not "will" someday lead, but "may" someday lead. And we've been hearing that talk for decades, too. The important temporal reality here is that "someday", even were it a given, is still too late. The time to act is not "now", as Obama says, but yesterday. I'm a betting man, and I'll give 10 to 1, against my desires, that after the oil eruption is off the news rolls, sweet dick will be done in any meaningful way, to address the comprehensive, expensive, massively transformative overhaul of energy infrastructure needed to effect any change.
Scientists and researchers have always been working on new energy options, on a scale possible to replace fossil fuels. What the politicians don't want to tell anyone, for fear of getting pitched out on their ears next election, is that all their hard work, ingenuity, and desire, haven't resulted in any meaningful replacement for oil. Whatever discoveries and avenues that have been followed -- hydrogen cells, waste products, carbon sequestration -- have proven to be incompatible with one or all of the following benefits that oil provides by way of price, adaptablility, safety, abundance, reliability, transportation smoothness and quickness, efficiency, storage, and most importantly of all, scale.
I'd go with ridiculously expensive and numerous nuclear plants for the next half-century while continuing to support resources for scientific exploration. Even if the glacial federal powers agreed on implementing the nuclear option, it would take 15-20 years for it to be finalized. And current economic resources, of course, make that far from a guaranteed outcome. The only promising long-term option I see at this point is ocean/wave generation. Research is still in relative infancy; who knows how it'll pan out.
The remainder of Obama's oil slick concentrates on more fluff and bluff. He concludes by exhorting his audience to pray. I knew Baby Jesus was behind one of those oil platforms.
Monday, June 21, 2010
The Offal Office (Cont'd)
To elaborate on the above with a bit more detail than in my previous response, the jury is not only out on whether or not the relief well will cap the eruption, it is scratching its head over whether or not the spewage will ever be contained and stopped. New reports have delayed the possibility for "success" from late summer to Christmas. Then there is hurricane season to get through. This year's natural Gulf coast assault is projected to be a particularly nasty one, and if a few category fours are in play, not only will relief operations be shelved, but hurricane winds could transport benzene particulates inland and northward many states. In addition, the ongoing video flow of the eruption shows microfractures adjacent to and removed from the gouged origin. The Oil Drum site has a detailed, technical analytic report from a geologist on the possibility that the outburst may never be capped. Furthermore, there are currectly thousands of other Gulf Coast deepwater wells with the same faulty blowout preventers (and other compromised safety components) ready to offer up their dark secrets. Obama suspended all other such drilling (within a week of Okaying it -- so much for foresight), but the problem then becomes one milder in exigent decisiveness, but greater in philosophical direction. I mentioned the Deep Jack deepwater hullabaloo some time ago, and how the "200 year boon" of the "find" in the Gulf was supposed to be a slam dunk. (The story disappeared like hydrogen gas from a leaky valve when the amount, technical plausibility, and pinpointed location of Jack were found to be more hope and hype than fact.) Deep Jack was 13 miles under water; this particular eruption happened at 1 mile. Technical proficiency -- what James Howard Kunstler calls "techno-triumphalism" -- is blindly lauded by most. BP fucked up largely because of economic shortcuts. But at 13 miles, all the safety precautions from a revamped and rewritten regulatory code (not possible anyway under the long-standing system of bought-out politicians) are puny (pardon the bad pun) when drilling is needed in uncharted waters.
"Needed" because, of course, if this disaster has shown us anything besides the greed of multinationals, it's that the low-hanging oil fruit has disappeared, and that next spring won't usher in more petro-apples. Likely, as drilling is suspended, a polluted BP (and other cos.) will rise, phoenix-like, from the bituminous coke and set sail for West Africa where money is not only King but Judge, and the U.S., already looking at the disappearance of 30% of their imported oil from a tanking Mexico-Cantarell, will be forced to rethink motoring-for-fun-and-convenience. The same energy binds apply to Canada, as well, of course. We're always smugly pissing on the wasteful States, but, per capita, Canada is slightly worse in oil usage. The U.S. has 5 % of the world's population and uses 25 % of the oil; Canada's numbers only look mild by total amount since at 1/2 of 1 % of the world's population, we use approximately 3 % of the world's fossil fuels. So, 6 times as much as the norm, rather than 5 times for the U.S.
I'd planned on commenting on the rest of Obama's oval office damage control say-nothingism in this post, but I've only repeated one sound-byte, and still have the rest to go through. More in a day or so.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
The Offal Office
"Good evening. As we speak, our nation faces a multitude of challenges."--Obama
No shit, Sherlock!
"At home, our top priority is to recover and rebuild from a recession that has touched the lives of nearly every American."--Obama
What you mean, "our", boss? I thought your biggest priority was to bail out Goldman-Sachs by transferring the remaining wealth of the middle class to the bankers while simultaneously printing more debt to create the illusion of "recovery" which, of course, will simply accelerate inflation and (ergo) systemic poverty and economic collapse. Guess I'm not reading the right hymn book.
"Abroad, our brave men and women in uniform are taking the fight to al-Qaeda wherever it exists. And tonight, I’ve returned from a trip to the Gulf Coast to speak with you about the battle we’re waging against an oil spill that is assaulting our shores and our citizens."--Obama
Gotta love that metaphor, what? But -- though Obama published two poems during his undergrad days -- he's not a poet, and neither are his speechwriters. An oil spill can't be compared to military combat. Tactics in the former case are often best employed in a drawn-out, infiltrating, subtle geographical coverage; waiting and watching (Obama thought the "important" video intrusion appropriate after 57 days) is not only the wrong course of (in)action, it's dangerous. Options, strategies, organizational wit and forceful mobilizations are imperative. But Obama, as usual, is content in simply appearing to do something. (More on that later.)
"we have directed BP to mobilise additional equipment and technology. In the coming days and weeks, these efforts should capture up to 90 per cent of the oil leaking out of the well."--Obama
Each word is important, n'est pas, poets and curious readers, viewers, listeners? "Should" capture, and my favourite, "up to". Of course, "up to 90 per cent" is a correct estimate if dreadnoughts per cent is recovered. The noble-prize winning scientists, the university think-tankers, and the geologists on the federal payroll just may have problems in enforcing their harsh economic solutions onto the BP powers-that-be to implement any of their creative proposals. But politics and energy makes for strange poop deck bedfellows. (And more on that later.)
"This is until the company finishes drilling a relief well later in the summer that is expected to stop the leak completely."--Obama
"But make no mistake - we will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused."--Obama
It's Obama who's mistaken if he thinks the general public, American and world, believes this obnoxious assertion. Yeah, congress can slap a fine of a million or two on BP (equivalent to the rest of us to charging a one-time GST payment on a pack of chewing gum -- wait! can
that plug the hole, perhaps?), but Washington has been slobbering all over the oil leaders' asses pre- and post-spill. Election funding -- and the American-Canadian "way of life" (luv that phrase). Obama is just a middle manager caught in a tight bind, like any other uncreative, compromising, beleaguered business manager trying to satisfy the bosses and his "underlings".
"Because of our efforts, millions of gallons of oil have already been removed from the water through burning, skimming, and other collection methods."--Obama
And scientists have now upped the estimate on the leaking oil: between 6 and 9 million litres a day are now spewing free. But to mention that would have been .... churlish, I suppose, in this need for a meaningless sing-a-long.
"If there are problems in the operation, we will fix them."--Obama
Ah, to be sanguine. I had more respect for Cretien after 9/11. At least he was out in the open playing golf, not politics. Federal bureaucrats know dick about stopping oil spills, and about securing the technological procedures in making sure they don't happen in the first place. But they have to put the thumbscrews on oil companies with respect to regulation with teeth. Reagan gutted the regulatory system, Clinton (through repealing the Glass-Steagall Act) put the final nails through the financial coffin, and Obama can't stop playing a sentimental tune on Nero's fiddle.
"Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness.
And this fund will not be controlled by BP."--Obama
No, it'll be controlled by federal appointees who, in turn, are comtrolled by BP. If the "independent" overseers make a "suggestion" that BP doesn't like, BP will tell Obama et al about it, and Obama, in turn, will tell the "get tough" boys to cool it. It's the same song and dance between the federal reserve, the U.S. Treasury dept., Congress, the five megabanks, and (not least) the regulatory "powers", all of whom recruit from each other, collude with each other, cover for each other, and share long histories with each other. When Obama retained Geithner and others from the Bush era, did anyone honestly still believe in "change"?
"In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party."--Obama
As I say, same as the first party. Party, party, party! No independence day. And who sets the claims? And what is the process and rationale for those claims, in serious consideration and follow-up, firstly, and secondly in amount, duration, comprehensiveness?
"Earlier, I asked Ray Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy, a former governor of Mississippi, and a son of the Gulf, to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan as soon as possible.
The plan will be designed by states, local communities, tribes, fishermen, businesses, conservationists, and other Gulf residents. And BP will pay for the impact this spill has had on the region."--Obama
Obama strategist: "Boss, the oil companies were as popular as firecracker enemas even before this spill. Now? Hey, just keep hammering that mantra home."
Obama: "BP will pay!"
British Petroleum is the fifth largest business in the world. The puny punitive damages possibly inflicted by Obama's administration is laughable contrasted to the natural hit BP (and other oil giants) have been taking during the long, slow decline in world oil production. When (not if) oil companies collapse like whoopee cushions assaulted by Sumo wrestlers' reclining bums, those same executives will simply move to a different area of energy interest, which they will then corner (with the help of massive government subsidies), and for the token (to them) and requisite kickbacks for governmental largesse. The history of Ford Motors, Firestone, the major airlines, and any other company that created and served the suburban build-out were not only encouraged, but inspired with cash, exclusive rights, tax write-offs, and overt destruction of alternative energy infrastructure. Even if BP were forced to liquidate and declare bankruptcy (ha ha), they'd simply resurface under a different name and be back in business, unscathed, with a minor procedural blip. Obama has to stop threatening to get tough. He has to get tough. But, then, as stated, it's obvious why that won't happen.
More on this anon. Time for a long nap.