Archive for April, 2012

What the hell do I know about reviewing poems? Don’t ask. It doesn’t matter. I like poems, therefore I will speak on poems. Or write on them. Or write about them. Substitute prepositions and verbs as you will. Nonetheless.

The Malady of the Century (Futurepoem, 2012) is not anything you, I, or anybody I know would recognize as poetry. This does not mean it is bad. I enjoyed it from start to finish, so much that immediately began to reread it. Maybe it’s the Jew in me celebrating a brief and inappropriate Simchat Torah. The book is a genre-bender. It can be read and probably is being read as poetry, but there aren’t any line breaks to recognize. Good luck with your scansion, bitches. It’s got the form of prose, but there is no narrative.  The uncertainty feels good. I embrace it. For a long time, prose writers have tried to be poetic. Leon maybe a poet trying to be prosy.

The book is full of lovely juxtapositions, like this one: “The year I was born Saddam Hussein killed 140 men in a town called Dujail for attempting to assassinate him. I mostly listened to Phil Collins and Whitney Houston in the succeeding years.” These lines convinced me to buy the book.

Leon’s intention is to capture the superficial without critiquing the superficial, to even convert the superficial into poetic beauty. Excellent. The superficial has enough critics, and they are deserved. What it requires is artistic rearrangement, revision. It must be seen in a new way. The first lines suggest as much: “The state of my text is an act of worship to a black female God that told me to worship capital … This is what makes my poetry so friendly to the void in the world … The text in these books is to give the audience hope for life today because a black female God told me to.” This passage, a great play on old school calls to muses for inspiration, sets the tone for the work.

The most interesting section is “Right Now the Music and the Life Rule,” a catalog of women, at least some of whom are real (welcome back to relevance, Mischa Barton!). These are passages of almost pure surface, yet as the catalog lengthens, we get the sense of the speaker’s simultaneous vacuity and aesthetic sensibility. “The look on her face is like she is in another world. One where perfection and beauty exist only. She is surrounded by 12-inch records and has totally smooth skin and breasts that are barely visible in her Miss Sixty shirt.” These lines suggest a desire for purity to be found in pure stimulation. Later: “her hair is cut Godard-like like a lot of them these days. All the hideousness of war lies elsewhere. We can forget the world here and yet simultaneously be reminded of it. She has a subconscious bravado. Right now the music and the life rule. She is the real Venus de’ Medici.”

The last section, “Adults Only,” is not a recap so much as a clarification of the speaker’s position, fingering a tear in his sweater. He smells it. It has the “ambience of finery worn by the whole of the zeitgeist.”  He is not only immersed in the superficial. He has seen it everywhere and we—even those of us who don’t watch The Bachelor, listen to Phil Collins, or dance all night—are all implicated.


Posted: April 24, 2012 in but whatever

He performed his daily graces and spat.

       The apple core said to wash up.

A mouthless yapper. He knew the type. 

       Wash, the core said. The tiles are splotched with mud and raisins and spinach stems and pills and centerfolds

       and standing juice. 

And you? He asked. 

       Toss me out. Forget, if not forgive. Prayer won’t save you from waste. Sanctify this kitchen-slash-dining room.

His mouth watered. He spat again. Rose. He would not yet believe in apples and 409.

one night in paris, or maybe many, why not? I met Laird Hunt last month, when he read at UNF. My colleague, Duncan Barlow, teaches his novel Ray of the Star. Duncan’s students have recommended him to me. But I’d never read any of his work. I haven’t read a significant percentage of the people I ought to have read or people have told me to read. It would take many lifetimes to make a dent in that list.

Anyway, I met him. He impressed me as quiet, patient. I’ve always wanted to be quiet and patient. Alas.

His book, The Paris Stories (Marick, 2010), has enhanced my impression. These are quiet, lovely vignettes. Dreamlike. You might have heard about me and dreams. But I can explain. There is a kind of stripped-down lusciousness in them. That sounds like a contradiction, but have a sample:

“It was still of course, very late, and he was still, of course, asleep, and if he was moaning or turning he was moaning or turning too softly to be heard, and then I was asleep and then awake again, but not very awake, because it seemed to me I saw, across the room near where my ghost had sat, a pale shimmering, much like a pale white rose, although I do not know what color rose it was the man in the aforementioned anecdote had burned.

“I burned a preying mantis once.

“Doused it with engine oil and lit it.


 Something lovely swims underneath these lines. They suggest style, but also approach. Hunt moves quickly from long meditative sentences to quick bursts, surprising turns. The dreamlike narrative consciousness weaves in and out of moments.

But these are not dreams. The noun is consciousness. Everything offered is deliberate, and everything offered is done so quietly and patiently. Hunt offers no round characters. There is a “he” and a “she,” but these pronouns don’t necessarily refer to a single man and woman. Instead these stories are  tied together by patterns and images which are repeated, developed, and examined from a variety of angles. The image of a ghost above, for instance, is repeated and hinted at throughout this work. From the first sentence, this is a book of shadow-people and shadow-objects solidifying and dissolving. Men and women appear and disappear, or simply visit, everywhere.

Everywhere, even when we’re in Kyoto or Kentucky, is always Paris. In his afterword, Hunt suggests that the book is not about Paris. But it does explore Paris, both the concrete city and the city in our brains. Both are real.

My Office Space Cherry, Busted

Posted: April 16, 2012 in but whatever

                 Random thoughts while watching Office Space last Saturday…

                 I’m told this is the cinematic touchstone of my generation.  Wasn’t it Independence Day?

                 Michael Bolton’s a fine side character.  Lily white, dorky, limp with hate.  Resembles me in the mid-nineties, only I rocked a Samhain t-shirt, never a tie.

                 Who am I kidding?  He is me.  Today.  In spite of the weightlifting. 

                 Mike Judge is one inconsistent writer.  Even in this movie, he drags us through swamps of boredom.  The relationship with Jennifer Aniston’s mechanical.  I won’t pin that entirely on Aniston’s acting anti-skill.  That business where they’re hanging out and then when he freaks on for sleeping with Lumbergh was just plain weird.  The inconsistency’s most clear in that sequence, because even as I was bored by the relationship, I enjoyed the terrifying dream vision of Lumbergh having sex while drinking coffee.   

                 Milton is the least healthy character I’ve seen on film.  Marlon Brando looks better, falling in the garden.

                 I could never work in a fucking office.  Not one day.

                 The fiancée prepared kale chips.  Surprisingly delicious.  I’m serious.  Good-bye, Doritos.  It’s over.  Pack your shit, etc. 

                 Man, it’s nice to watch a film in which race is no subject at all, either for joking or didactic commentary. 

                 Lumbergh is a well portrayed slab of rotten human meat. 

                 I want a red Swingline stapler.  Yo, kids, this is what I mean about elevating the unexpected object to one of significance. 

                 The gangsta rap cuts are perfect for this film, drawn in early and acquiring more excellence with time.  I finally understand that Family Guy sequence. (Note: sorry about the sound quality.)

                 Prior to Saturday, I’d never seen Office Space.  What does this mean?  Anything?

Note: I would’ve taken a picture but, um, we ate.              

                Let me speak on behalf of shrimp, my fourth greatest love.  Fellow Jews call it trafe, but shrimp is our perfect food.  A jumbo shrimp is an ounce or so of protein in a protective but not impenetrable shell. It can be cooked any way you like: grilled, boiled, fried, sautéed, seared, etc.  It goes with any sides.  It can be enjoyed hot or mild.  Almost any cooking spice will reveal a new, fine flavor, though I don’t recommend nutmeg. 

                More than fish, crabs, bodybags, corrupt cops or the smell of piss baking in the streets, I associate shrimp with New Orleans.  They make me stupid with nostalgia.  I remember eating them by the pound at an age when I didn’t eat.  Every so often, Dad and I used them for bait.  I’d rip off the head and stab it with a hook.  Simple psycho fun for a kid, much more fun than fishing. 

                Last night, I made a shrimp etoufee for the fiancée and our neighbors.  We went for middle class nuttiness, folding napkins, pulling out the china and crystal.  The neighbors brought over some good wine.  Briefly I though just how nutty this was: creole dishes go with beer and whatever you’ve got around.  This is food for just folks.  But it was a pleasant nutty.

                Shrimp can be ruined: just keep cooking the fuckers and you can make useless rubber on your stovetop. But an etoufee is pretty easy creole. If you’ve got fresh shrimp, rice, and a hell of a lot of butter, you’re in good shape.  It’s the last night of Passover, you should obviously try out this recipe, which I ripped off from Emeril.

2 lbs. fresh large shrimp

2 onions, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

4 sticks celery, chopped

5 cloves of garlic, chopped

Half a stalk of green onions

A generous helping of parsley

Salt (to taste)

Cayenne pepper (to taste, start with a teaspoon)

1 cup water

1 tablespoon flour

1.5 sticks of butter

                Get your sauté pan hot on medium heat.  Melt the butter. Halfway through the melting process, add the onions, celery, and green peppers.  Cook for about ten minutes, till the onions and celery are translucent and everything’s got a buttery sheen.  Add the garlic and cook about a minute or two.  Then add the shrimp, salt and pepper.  Cook till the shrimp start to turn on both sides.   This should take about four minutes.  While they cook, mix the flour with the water.  Add to the pan and stir.  When everything starts to thicken, turn the heat to medium low.  Taste to see if it’s peppered to your liking.  Add more if necessary.  Let this cook 8 minutes.  Then add the onions and parsley.  Cook two minutes.  Serve over rice.  For sides, French bread and soft butter.

Re-read Harry Crews’ Car this weekend. In it, a man attempts to eat a car. The novel was written in the early 70s. It has been sixteen years since my virgin experience with this book. Some notes…

I still admire Crews’ attention to the mechanics of every situation. His mission is to make the bizarre seem absolutely possible, to make you see it. The mechanics of how a car could be made digestible is done in the most straightforward manner possible: “he told how the metal would be cut into half-ounce lumps, how the lumps would be sterilized, how the doctor had put Herman on a special soft diet to protect the stomach from the metal, how they would put the seat covers and windshield and  other unswallowable matter into indigestible capsules…” The language and delivery neuters the strangeness. The extreme is made normal. Crews didn’t want to be known as a Southern writer or Gothic novelist or Southern Gothic writer-novelist, but the connections between himself and O’Connor and Welty are clear enough enough…

I’m much more weirded out today by his faith in the 19th century traditions of the novel. No experimentation in point of view (Car  is written in a by-the-book omniscient 3rd person), paragraphing, dialogue form, sentence structure. Even fragments are few and far between. Crews wrote in the postmodern era, but he never felt postmodern tension…

I felt nostalgic … how could I not? … the lines conjuring memories of baggy shorts, AC/DC, nights outside Smathers Library, my nose an inch above the text … imagining the man reading it to me …that southern grit voice, rough and intelligent … I heard it then and now, across a dog’s lifespan … time unsealed …

There’s something comforting in that traditional form.  A reader doesn’t have to work hard to piece together meaning. He just has to follow the story. This was Crews’ purpose from start to finish. A novel is not an essay. It is not philosophy. It is not a joke. It is a novel and a novelist must tell a goddam story. There’s his voice again. If you don’t hear the grit in those italicized lines, you’re missing half the point, maybe more…

Which isn’t to say this novel isn’t intelligent. In the mid-70s, Crews had our culture pegged. Herman’s one-man show anticipates our reality TV spectacles. Actually, we haven’t yet reached the Herman stage. But if you’ve ever seen Jackass, you won’t be surprised when this car-eating shit pops up on NBC…

No one writes a dirty whore like Harry Crews. “Some whores can open their mouths and let a man fuck their throats. It’s a beautiful trick, but it’s not something you can learn. You’ve got to want the cock in your throat … everybody loves a specialty act. But you think a whore like that quits whith her fortune? Of course not. Because finally she’s not doing it for the money, anyway. she’s doing it for the love of cocks. and she keeps that throat of hers in service as long as there’s a man who wants to put something in it.” Margo’s statements about fucking are gold through and through…

Re-reading is a nostalgic act, a kind of mourning, a Kaddish. I don’t try mimicking Mr. Crews any longer. I haven’t in a long time. But I read him out of respect, remembrance, fondness for one of my foundational writers. You’ve got to have a couple of these guys or gals, writers who suck you into the game, who give you that first spark. I’m proud to say he was one of mine.

I dreamed. Sounds banal, I guess.  But it’s weird for me. Started last week. Some day, time I didn’t mark. That doesn’t matter. The deal is that I dreamed plenty as a child, stopped late in high school. That’s about 20 solid years of black sleep. 

Maybe that’s why I don’t believe in Freudian vocabulary and its bastard offshoots, the layman’s psychoanalysis. I’ve never believed in talking them out, in pondering them. The cheap symbolism of dreams in literature makes me itchy with hate. 

When people discuss their dreams, I veg out. 

But last night I had some sort of dream sequence involving an ex-student and I riding in the cab of a train-length pick-up along I-295. Newt Gingrich showed up. I taught a cramped class of people I didn’t recognize. The room was full of ladders. My boss was there, mocking my efforts. 

My dreamlessness weirds people out. Really? they ask. Are you sure? Not even a nightmare? A wet dream? 

My wet dreams ended with Dial MTV and Tawny Kitaine. The 80s, man. 

Their questions have an ominous tone. They suggest that I’m one psycho cat. 

That may be true. Dreams are seemingly universal experiences. That I had them once, lost them, then gained them back last week, suggests I’ve had a true outlier experience. People have never been jealous of that experience. 

You will not get me to parse the meanings behind these images. Dreams are chemical productions.  Memory may be involved. So too might intuition. But they have no significance, no story logic, no message from either God or the unconscious.  Newt Gingrich, Barack Obama—there’s no real life difference between these men. In a dream there is even less distinction to be made. They could be anybody. The significance is made up, all made up. 

For me, the timing is significant. It is early 2012, not 2011 and not 2013. I’m getting married. My book’s coming out. My dreams are back. Part of the human fold, though you cannot dream my dreams and I cannot dream yours. It’s a happy time, I guess.  So, thank you Newt Gingrich. Thank you, boss. Thank you, ladders. Stick around, in whatever shape you please.