Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Muh’fuh’in' Cold Blues

I came home from workin'
Fell in the muh’fuh’in' bed
Didn’ watch no teevee
I been sleepin instead
Baby this muh’fuh’in' sickness
Make me wanta lose my fuh’in' head.

I got a muh’fuh’in' cold, baby
I caint taste my food
I got a muh’fuh’in' cold, mama
Or is it the muh’fuh’in' flu?
Well this muh’fuh’in' coughin'
Give me the muh’fuh’in' blues.

I gotta goes to workin'
Caint lie around and sleep
My body got the fever
I just sniffles and I sneeze
And If I don’t goes to workin'
Muh’ fuh’ers gonna fire me


When I come home from workin
Gonna load my .45
Gonna show that muh’fuh’in' virus
I don’t play that fuh'in' jive
Yeah just one us muh’fuh’ers
Gittin outta here alive.


--Willie "Leadbone" Johnson

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Modern Poetry: It Goes to Eleven, dammit!

Lorin Stein, the third intrepid soul to attempt filling George Plimpton's Gucci cleats at Paris Review, has written a few comments for Ta-Nehisi Coate's blog at Atlantic Monthly, which are interesting, and worth the time of anyone concerned with the state of literature these days. Especially instructive, I thought, was his take on what literature means—or can mean, when it is not unnecessarily exclusionary—to a pretty broad spectrum of people:

"...For what it's worth, I have also been one of the people who say they don't like stories or poems. It wasn't actually true when I said it. (I suspect it's not true in general.) What annoys me is the idea that I should like a story or a poem, just because somebody took the trouble to write it. We are indeed competing for limited airspace. With apologies to Ezra Pound, a story or poem needs to be at least as involving as an expose by David Grann, as tough-minded as a comment by Hendrik Hertzberg. Which is to say, it must if possible be even better written.

"Literary writing (or, if you prefer, imaginitive writing) has certain advantages of its own, none of them weakened one bit by technology. It can often be funnier than other kinds of prose. It can deal more humanly with sex. It can say shameful things about family life—not by treating them as scandals but, on the contrary, by showing that they're normal. More sins are confessed more deeply, through the screens of verse and make-believe, than you will ever find on a talk show or reality TV. Literature gives the best accounts of intimacy. Lena McFarland is right—you may not learn stuff you didn't know from a work of fiction. But there can be great comfort in seeing the troubles of daily life put into words of power and beauty.

"And as David Foster Wallace observed, literature has a way of making you feel less alone. TV doesn't do that. It entertains and entertains, but there is a part of you it gives the silent treatment. In my experience, even the Web can you leave you feeling lonelier, once you turn off the computer. Fiction and poetry connect you, or they can, to something bigger and quieter and more lasting than the day you had at work. The question of posterity is fascinating. Some writers hope to live on, through their words, after death. Some write for the present day. Either way, they take us out of the moment and out of our smallest selves

Over the past several years, I've participated in a number of discussions bemoaning the status of poetry and fiction among the sensibilities of the Great Unwashed; there is no doubt that many numbers of people, whose counterparts from other eras read (and purchased!) poetry and fiction as a matter of course, no longer do. One theory receiving lots of play is that people are becoming dumber, and, because of technology, there are too many interests competing for the attention of the narrowing few who can get it—"it" being, of course, the complexities of modern poetry. Another explanation, and something I think anyone writing today should ask themselves, is how much of this is self-imposed? Seems to me the literary community in some ways resembles Tony Hendra, explaining Spinal Tap's shrinking audience. No, the appeal of poetry isn't waning—God, no—the audience is simply becoming more selective.

Interesting question...

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Great White Wave: The Savage and the Stupid

So we're cruising down Main Street, on our way to Whole Foods, a cliche redeemed in part by my dangerous new beard, when a pick-up pulls even on our right, and its driver begins shouting shit about Obama at us. "Obama, boo!", was apparently the first thing the silver-tongued bastard said, undoubtedly responding to the sticker adhering to the bumper of our car (purely from laziness, I assure you). Paula Jane flipped him off--good girl--and momentarily we lost him, when several cars in front of his slowed to turn. I could see him, in the rear view mirror, straining to catch up--catching up is always a very large deal to big brains like this one--and as we prepared to turn left into Whole Foods, Paula Jane was insistently telling me not to react, when he did. As he passed us, though, his fatass white moon face beamed the kind of self-righteous satisfaction particular to moon-faced fatass white men--bred from generations of self-hating mothers, and animated by the certainty that they've fucked the world over for generations now and will continue to fuck it over for many, many more. "Obama sucks!" was his clever riposte, his twisted wet lips mouthing the words with witless lunatic glee Glenn Beck would've envied. Zooming past, he reinforced the sentiment by repeating it on a P.A. system (a must for the contemporary racist zealot).

Paula Jane thought the incident was kind of funny. If it wasn't so illustrative of a madness that is roiling through our consciousness, I would probably agree. There are millions of crazy people out there, certain not only that Obama's presidency is illegal, but also that he is a socialist muslim intent on establishing a military dictatorship that will enforce his real agenda of banning guns, requiring abortions for white people, and establishing Islam as the national faith. They are being abetted in their insanity by the usual suspects, with the same aim as always, gaining power and wealth by any means necessary. And the wave of crack-brained crackers will probably lead the republicans back to power in a few months, and that won't be funny at all.

I blame Obama for some of this. His timidity, and his misplaced efforts at concensus building, cost valuable time, and momentum. Perhaps he's not the student of history that I thought, or maybe he believed he was too exceptional to require instruction from the past. Either way, he's made a number of mistakes, for which he deserves blame. However, progressives are the aggrieved party here--though tea party posturing will enable an over-reaction, a right-wing wrecking ball to smash what's left of the New Deal, and to accelerate America's drift into a Corporatist (Fascist) state.

Disappointing as Obama has been, though, he is better than Bush was, and immeasureably better than what would take his place. And as weak and vascillating as the Democrats have been, at least we're still in the game. If the corporatists regain their majorities, it will be a cold, cold day for almost everyone.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Miss Judith and the Preacher Share a Dream

Miss Judith sees the Preacher—
—anticipating Cosmos, condensed
to his beginning. Bound within his cell
husking eviscerated bits of stars
plummeting, depthless:

Is everything out there bottomless
as this mirror of mirrored gloom?
Can anything be proven deeper?
Or will he turn to stone?

A voice echoed, within his walls.
On the flutter of an eyelid, everything turns.

The Preacher sees Miss Judith—
—aphids in her hallway, creeping under the door
of her room across the floor, slowly
up the bedpost and over
fresh linen.

Vaguely green and winged, in league
with the goddamn ants.

Nothing left to eat out there, not a leaf or petal
with any juice. They’ve eaten the dishsoap, too.
Carapaces of ladybugs litter the patio steps,
viscera and thorax brittled underneath—

They are scurrying along her skin now—
what will they eat when her sap is gone?

The sun has given them the world.

They are filling her mouth and nose.

On the flutter of an eyelid everything turns.

Miss Judith and the Preacher see one another—
—he, backlit by a neon sign, surveys the sky at 3 am
balanced on a rail atop the freeway's upper level.

The clouds move because I tell them to.

Closing his eyes, he pitches ahead.
Filled with grace, and plummeting
He will fetch the coming day.

The earth will open to receive him.

Miss Judith smiles and gives witness
when solid earth dissolves to vapor.
She glides through space, tilting to the sun
fleshless, earthless.

For a moment, remembers:
Inside out, inside out
I am transfigured into my imagination.
Who will feed my cat?

They Dream of her Cat:
On the flutter of an eyelid,
says starving cat to startled frog,
everything turns.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Story About a Sow

I want to tell you a story, about a feral sow, a dozen piglets, a boozy November night, and a couple of drunks with guns. This story has assumed mythic properties, I think—and lessons can be construed within the narrative which overarch the story itself, and the personalities involved (the drunk with a gun being an archetype Texans know quite well, for example. There are others, too). I created a sequence of poems from it, poems I rather like; perhaps on some other day I will print them here. When I do, you will see that I have omitted and embellished and glossed, although the meat—so to speak—was true.

It was after Thanksgiving, more than ten years ago, when my friends Gus Paulus and Terry Vedder came to camp and hunt at Spunky Holler, my family's place near Cherokee, 120 acres located in North San Saba county, a half mile down Hwy 16 from the Llano county line. I met both when I was managing a Godfather’s Pizza in Clear Lake City a number of years back—each was an employee, and ultimately a manager, in my restaurant. Vedder was a nice enough guy, serious and thoughtful—from Minnesota, originally, and he spoke with the slow, understated, Scandanavian/Cannuck accent-thing they’ve got going on there. He had a wide streak of stubbornness, especially when he believed he was right, which was most of the time; and was known for being blunt to the point of cruelty—we called him Terry the Terminator, because whenever we needed to fire someone, he would volunteer to do it.

I met Gus the day he was released from prison—Harris County Jail, he says now, but since the poor bastard’s faculties are turning to mush these days, one must take his recollections with a grain of salt. He had been jailed for possession of terroristic materials or something—he was a proto-terrorist—and had been sprung only a few hours when he applied for a job at my restaurant. He was a sight—gangly and vaguely insolent, wearing his prison-issued suit and tie, and desperate for the opportunity to start over. His old boss, Nina, was a friend of mine, so I took a gamble on the young criminal; a gamble that turned out pretty well, because Gus was a great employee, probably the heart of my staff there, in spite of his mild sociopathy, and prodigious overuse of alcohol and other intoxicants and hallucinogenics.

We’d left Godfathers many years before the evening I’m telling you about. I was living in Lampasas at the time, and drove over to visit late in the afternoon. They’d set up camp already, had been hunting most of the day, and were pretty liquored up. A storm had blown in, which shortened the hunt. It was a norther, a pretty good blast, and it was getting colder by the minute when I arrived. Gus and Vedder were at each other’s throats, as usual—Gus had lectured him about pissing near the feeders or something the day before, and Vedder was adamant that the deer had been hiding in their camp all day in spite of the human smells, so Gus didn’t know what the hell he was talking about—this is the gist of it, I think, though undoubtedly I’m forgetting some of the nuances and refinements. Someone suggested we drive into Llano to warm up, and have a few beers; after 30 minutes of arguing about that, and another 30 waiting for the two of them to primp and fuss with their hair, we drove—or rather I did, no way those two were driving anywhere—the 10 miles or so into town.

Llano is the county seat of Llano county, and has a population of about 2500…The nightlife is not scintillating, consisting then of 3 bars; one on the North side of town, a rather dark, sinister joint with no name, and a clientele that frightened Vedder ("I've seen Deliverance, I don't need to live it"); another on the east side, called the Granite Bar, I think, which was completely empty except for a strange and chatty bartender named Lyle; and finally another joint at the corner of Hwys. 16 and 29. It was a rathole, but it had a few pool tables, a decent crowd, and a jukebox which consisted of the Chicken-fried hits we expected, but also had some Skynrd, some Allman Brothers, and some Wet Willie—not a total loss. We stayed for several hours, Vedder and I having an agreeable time drinking and playing pool. Gus, however, was teetering over the edge—he was entering full-on Pirate Mode, a particularly appalling state of drunkenness where he would mostly sit and leer, gesticulate and mumble wildly. Everything he said in this state resembled aaarrrggghhh or aaaeeeemorphrrr or hehehehehehemuggamugga—and we knew from past experience that it was best—for us— to just leave him be. One particular honky-tonky angel in attendance, a lovely creature of vintage age and origin who had apparently left her dentures at home, seemed to speak the same pirate dialect. She and Gus passed the time grunting maniacally at each other, between spinning themselves around on their barstools like wild and grossly malformed children. It was a disgusting display to be sure, and when two o’clock rolled around, prying them apart was difficult, unwieldy, and strangely satisfying. Gus sat whimpering pirate crap in back of my van nearly the entire way back.

A few miles from Spunky, though, he must've forgot about his wench, because he began giggling and fucking with the back of Vedder’s head—Vedder would turn around and they would begin slapping each other like schoolgirls, until I pulled the vehicle over and separated them. This had happened on several occasions already, and I could hear Gus ginning up for a repeat performance when I turned off the highway to the dirt road that led to the pasture. It was a moonless night, and the grass on each side of the narrow road was several feet long, and swaying markedly in the prevailing north wind. I was two-thirds of the way down, and nearly to the corrall, with one eye on the back seat, and one arm extended, fingers limbered, ready to poke Gus in the eye once he started fucking with Vedder’s head again, when out of the tall grass a huge feral sow darted in front of the van. I had no time to stop. With a terrible thud, we rolled over the poor creature, crushing it. I parked immediately, and we hurried out to see what we could do. My taillights illuminated the animal in a sickly red glow, as it lay twitching and dying at the edge of the grass, a huge and jagged gash torn from its shoulder, blood pooling beneath it, and flowing to the road’s sunken middle. As we approached, it lunged at us, with every bit of strength it could muster, narrowly missing Vedder’s leg. At this point, it was certain to each of us—even Gus, who had regained the power of speech—that the sow was suffering such terrible pain that something would have to be done. Gus and Vedder hurried to the van to grab their guns—loaded pistols, which they had brought in addition to their deer rifles—and when they arrived at the pig, they began to argue—naturally, because they argued about every-fucking-thing—about who the angel of mercy should be. At first, Vedder relented, and told Gus to do it—to which Gus made a snarky remark about Vedder’s lack of marksmanship being a cruel punishment for a dying animal, anyway. At which point Vedder said there’s no way in hell Gus is gonna do it, cause he’d enjoy it too much. To which Gus replied by asking Vedder, Are you gonna eat it? To which Vedder angrily rejoined, Hell no I’m not gonna eat it, I’m not a fucking hillbilly. Gus insisted that it is immoral not to eat what you kill, therefore it would be immoral for Vedder to take the shot, and Vedder pretty much went apeshit, screaming that he’d never heard logic like that in his entire life, the goddamn animal is already dead, we’re just ending its misery, what the fuck is wrong with you, and all the while the animal was twitching there at their feet. I went back to the van to grab a flashlight. At this point, I was sort of hoping they would maybe shoot each other—I didn't bring a gun--only they needed to do it quickly, because the sow was in obvious pain. When I came back, though, and flashed the light on, a new development was revealed. A couple of tiny, rat-sized piglets had appeared. And they were nursing on the sow.

Others came out of the high grass, squealing and squirming for position, sucking the last milk they would ever get from her failing body. This sight interrupted their argument, forthwith, and dispelled any illusions of levity that may have been born from the gruesomeness of the original scene. We were each immediately affected, saddened, awed to silence, and probably a little sickened. There still remained the work of the sow. Neither seemed to have the heart remaining to do it. Vedder thought maybe we should wait for them to finish nursing, to which Gus and I said, no, it won’t make any difference, somebody end this animal's pain now. Gus drew up his pistol, and just as his finger was tensing on the trigger, Vedder bent over to look more closely at the piglets, directly in the line of fire. Gus exploded, What the fuck are you doing, and Vedder retorted What the fuck are you doing firing your weapon without saying you’re gonna do it? How was I supposed to know? All the while drifting closer to the sow, which was lifting its head and reaching for Vedder’s leg. Reading our reactions, I guess—because this happened very quickly—he dropped his arm, suddenly, and killed it with a single shot to the head. After this we were all quiet again, for a little while at least, watching as the orphans fed, desperately, on their mother’s stiffening, emptying body. Another argument ensued shortly, though, when Gus theorized that the most merciful thing to do would be to shoot the piglets, too, because they didn’t have a chance without the mother. Both of us acted horrified by the idea, but I think we knew this was true, even as the two of them went back and forth with admonitions of bloodthirstiness and bleeding heart disease. We also knew none of us would be able to do it. There was nothing to do—both choices were hard and brutal, but the easiest was to do nothing. Eventually, as the argument continued, the piglets dispersed into the grass, relieving us of any discretionary burden. Gus made a half-hearted attempt to find them, and when he was finished he and Vedder loaded up the sow in back of the van. Somehow along the way Vedder had agreed to BBQ her the next day—tacitly, I think, in the way of familiar old married couples—and when I dropped them off at camp, they set to work skinning and gutting.

When I came by the next afternoon, part of the sow was on a spit, above a waning fire. I declined a portion—it was gamey, but pretty good, considering, Gus said—at which point he and Vedder began arguing about barbeque sauce or something.

I thought about the bones of all the animals I’ve stumbled across, along the slope of the holler. Undoubtedly, the pigs would join their number, although their soft bones would probably turn to chalk pretty quickly. Abrupt, how their world and life was turned upside down accidentally, by haphazard collision with the late twentieth century. It is the crack in the teacup that Auden talked about—we know it is there, and choose not to look. We altered something of the natural order that night in the pasture, and those tiny creatures suffered pain for it, which would not abate a moment for the remainder of their brief lives. It was in our power to prevent it, but we didn't.

Just this once, and probably accidentally, Gus was right.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Plantation Slavery in Texas, 2010

I want to thank George Leake for sending me a link to a really amazing article in this week's Chronicle, detailing the shameful history of the Texas Prison system, its roots in plantation slavery, and the unfortunate influence its example exerts across the country...A remarkable, important story...

(Good to know the Chronicle remains the last outpost for real journalism in the city...Easy to believe, sometimes, they exist only to shill South-by, or provide snooty movie reviews...Then an article like this comes along, reminds you just how important they are)...

Friday, August 20, 2010

American Gulag: The Prison Industrial Complex

From an article I read at Raw Story:

Analysts at North Carolina's crime lab omitted, overstated or falsely reported blood evidence in dozens of cases, including three that ended in executions and another where two men were convicted of killing Michael Jordan's father, according to a scathing independent review released Wednesday.

While this is hardly surprising—seems like every few days we see a similar story, whether it stems from fabricated evidence in Dallas County or prosecutorial misconduct damn near everywhere—it is a fresh reminder of where we are tending...The United States already has the largest prison population in the world, with minorities, mainly African-American males, comprising about seventy percent...Private enterprise has latched on to the profit potential represented by inmates, providing incentive (even greater that institutional racism) to keep em coming...It doesn't require a paranoid imagination to connect the dots here with America's fascist drift...

More than ten percent of black males between the ages of 25 and 29 are incarcerated...Check out Angela Davis' article (Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex) at Third World Traveller—well worth the read...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Two Cultures" My Ass

So I'm reading the news at Raw Story, and come across this headline that reads Magnetic mega-star challenges black hole theory...I click on it, chuckling to myself, What has that Bono gone and done now?—only to find, once I begin reading the story, that the magnetic megastar referenced in the headline is a literal star, of a particularly large size, and possessing magnetic properties...You know, literally...Naturally, I was a little deflated (and pissed off--who the fuck do these science guys think they are? So fucking literal and everything—playing their little Science Mind-Games, no doubt)...

Well, I read the story anyway, and the thrust of it is that a star located within a cluster known as Westerlund 1 derived from a magnetar that is believed to have possessed a mass at least 40 times greater than the sun—so great that the result should have been a black hole, and not the relatively svelte neutron star that it became...It's posited that this mysterious outcome was achieved because the star somehow "slimmed to a lower mass", causing it to develop into a neutron star...This occurred ostensibly because the star was born with an evil twin!!!

"The answer, says the paper, could lie in a binary system: the star that became the magnetar was born with a stellar companion. As the stars evolved, they began to interact, and the companion star, like a demonic twin, began to steal mass from the progenitor star."

So, I'm trying now to remember if Kirstie Alley ever acted on a soap opera (and wondering if she has a twin), when, scrolling up the page, I take a good look at the accompanying illustration:

Tell me that's not Bono's eye!!!

Pretty spooky shit, right?

Just goes to show—there's no reason to ever be intimidated by Science. Approach it with a skeptical, but open mind, and you never know where it'll lead...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lady Gaga: The Early Years

Paris teens charged in bare-breasted robberies
By the CNN Wire Staff
August 18, 2010 2:13 p.m. EDT

Paris, France (CNN) -- French police believe they've gotten to the bottom of a series of robberies in which teenage girls exposed their breasts to distract men withdrawing money from Paris cash machines.
Two teenagers have been charged with three hold-ups, but they will be prosecuted as juveniles since they are under 18, according to the Paris prosecutor's office.
Police say that on August 7, a man inserted a card into a cash machine in central Paris to withdraw money when two young females approached him and asked for money. The girls waved a newspaper at the man in an attempt to distract him, but the technique didn't work.
So the girls tried another strategy: One of them bared her breasts and put her hand on the man's genitals while the other took the opportunity to withdraw 300 euros, police said.
The two teenagers also are accused of stealing a total of 400 euros in two other Paris ATM robberies on August 17, the prosecutor's office said.

Okay...So the guy inserts his ATM card, enters his passcode...The girls approach, and one of them lifts her shirt with one hand, grabs his crotch with the other... He is so—discombobulated—that he doesn't notice when the other girl finishes the transaction, and pockets the scratch...(That's a fairly high level of discombobulation, wouldn't you say?)...

Seems to me these guys have a very high threshhold for embarassment—also seems that after a few moments, grabbing become fondling, and initial surprise gives way to participation...

As a footnote, I think the first girl deserves some degree of commendation for her practical display of rapid problem-solving—waving the newspaper was a perfectly terrible idea, I grant you, but the fact that she remained undaunted and persevered is downright inspiring...The Scouts give merit badges, and the Junior of Chamber of Commerce gives awards and even scholarships for similar resourcefulness...I'm sure the French have some way of rewarding their own Junior Achievers...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fear and Loathing, up to the minute...

"There is no human being within 500 miles to whom I can communicate anything -- much less the fear and loathing that is on me after today's murder....No matter what, today is the end of an era. No more fair play. From now on it is dirty pool and judo in the clinches. The savage nuts have shattered the great myth of American decency."

Hunter Thompson wrote that the day Jack Kennedy was shot. It's the first time he used the phrase "fear and loathing", which resonates with me more these days than ever before. The business about the savage nuts resonates, too—we're up to our ears in em, aren't we?

Thompson also said that the right have always considered democracy to be a tribal myth. I think this is probably true—they've been biding their time, sharpening their knives, for a long while—since the days of Hamilton, I expect—waiting for the day when the veneer could be peeled away, and the niceties seen for what they are. The ideas of Madison and Jefferson were and are just so much hoakum to them—balm for the dummy masses, eliciting the behaviors they needed to transact business; because the American experiment was always and only a business opportunity, and the sooner they get down to their business—to the nub of it, without distraction—the better. For business, you know?

We are living in dangerous times—the gloves have been off for awhile now, and the stakes plain to see. They do not fear examination or discovery. Karl Rove figured that one out—if you throw enough shit at em, with sufficient relentlessness and without any hint of shame, people will lose the ability to distinguish it from shinola or rose petals or crude oil. Rove used the religious right to force the last 10 years down our throats. Next, they're gonna use the paranoid fear generated by the most savage of the current nut class—the fear of, and hatred toward, undocumented brown people. I read that 49% of voters currently support the repeal of the 14th amendment; even if that number is inflated, it will soon be true. I feel it in my bones, the fear and loathing gone viral among us. Someone will be singled out, and the fix is in, so the Liars and the Thieves and the entire blood-sucking class will skate. As they usually do.

Obama thought he could reason with them. Hell, he invited them into his cabinet, for God's sake. And not like Lincoln did, in spite of all the bullshit we read at the beginning—Lincoln knew Goddamn well who his enemies were, and I don't think Obama does. Hell, I'm sure not Obama's enemy, but the White House seems to blame progressives for a lot these days, though mainly I think maybe they're pissed off cause they know we were right. Harry Truman, like Lincoln, always trusted the common sense of the American people. I remember he said that farmers were the most thoughtful people in the world—all that time behind a plow, with nothing to do but think—and that all you had to do was give em the facts. Tell the truth, he said, and they'll come round. In 1937, on the floor of the senate, Truman said:

"It makes no difference if the billionaire rode to wealth on the sweat of children and the blood of unpaid labor. No one ever considers the Carnegie libraries steeped in the blood of the Homestead steel workers, but they are. We do not remember that the Rockerfellar Foundation is founded on the dead miners of the Colorado Fuel Corporation, and a dozen other performances...People can only stand so much, and one of these days there will be a settlement. We shall have one receivership too many, one unnecessary depression out of which we will not come with the power in the same old hands."

Of course, these days you'd be hard-pressed to find voters who know what a receivership is—and good luck explaining, even if you can tear them away from their video game or internet porn long enough to hear you out; what they really wanta know is, what's all this stuff about anchor babies?

Forty-nine-fucking per cent…Can’t you just feel the stupid in the air?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What exactly is a Kardashian?

I see her name all over the Huffington Post sometimes...And she was Reggie Bush's girlfriend or something, I remember that from the playoffs last year...And she's been sniffing around Miles Austin...

But why is she famous? What does she do? I was mystified, 'til I came across this picture...

I get it. She eats small children.

(And apparently she specializes in the annoying ones)...

Have to admit, I had her pegged differently...Just goes to show—what may appear to be a vapid, fame-hungry wart on the ass of popular culture may actually be a heroic human being, performing a socially-necessary function...

To quote Joaquin Andujar—"One word in America says it all: You never know"...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Thoughts on Plath and Yeats and Hughes (and me and you and everyone we know)(and whatever's really out there) (or in here)

The conventional wisdom regarding Sylvia Plath—and this is true across the spectrum, whether you ask the feminists who co-opted her after her death, or Ted Hughes, who many blame for her death—is that she was set on her course long before she ever met Hughes, or even decided to become a writer, by unresolved feelings from the loss of her father. A lovely villanelle, which she wrote while an undergrad at Smith, betrays more than common angst, I think; it's called Lament:

"The sting of bees took away my father
who walked in a swarming shroud of wings
and scorned the tick of the falling weather.

Lightning licked in a yellow lather
but missed the mark with snaking fangs:
the sting of bees took away my father.

Trouncing the sea like a raging bather,
he rode the flood in a pride of prongs
and scorned the tick of the falling weather.

A scowl of sun struck down my mother,
tolling her grave with golden gongs,
but the sting of bees took away my father.

He counted the guns of god a bother,
laughed at the ambush of angels’ tongues,
and scorned the tick of the falling weather.

O ransack the four winds and find another
man who can mangle the grin of kings:
the sting of bees took away my father
who scorned the tick of the falling weather."

(Almost makes you feel sorry for Ted Hughes, doesn't it?)

Similarly, Plath is regarded as being among the most self-obsessed of poets. I don't know that I agree—for one thing, that particular category covers a hell of a lot of ground. For another, this conclusion is too easy, driven usually by nothing deeper than her status as the best and most influential of confessional poets, and even motivated sometimes by sexist drivel cloaked as high-minded polemic. However, from reading her poetry and her journals, there seems little doubt that Plath was one who had a vivid interior life, and a strong sense of every moment. It is also true that her denouement can be considered an act of wanton self-absorption.

It seems obvious that within the cipher of competing interests inhabiting perception, a sense of loss can inflate the relevance of Self dramatically. That it seems so readily apparent to me may be because it happened to me. I experienced what I can only describe as a galvanic loss, and it's not an exaggeration to say that I barely—slimly—survived it. I well recall the certain and joyful feeling that art, manifested especially through the keening miracle of poetry, represented—reality hyperactuated, divested of the extraneous—the irrelevant—along with the sturm and drang that adheres to consciousness like barnacles to the hull of a boat. When Yeats, in part 2 of Blood and the Moon, declared that Bishop Berkely “proved all things a dream”, intuitively I agreed, given leave to do so by this heightened sense of my Self; when he asserted, then, that “this pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world…(would) vanish on the instant if the mind but change(d) its theme”, I nodded emphatically, and heavily underlined the text, reflecting as it did my own faltering, ungainly relationship with awareness.

Like the whirling digits on a slot machine, our thought revolves uncertainly around the sprawl of creation. So much depends on the the accident we wake to. What of Plath and Hughes, and their well-documented collision with each other? Or of we—colliding no differently, really, with one another, or with the furniture, or with our own feet—equally uncertain, but captivated (at least for the moment, I hope) in their wake? No matter where the spinning reels end, the ultimate choices we're offered are guesses for everyone else. No one else sees from where I do, or you do, or they did, and our communication is impoverished by these limitations of perspective, as well as those of language and imagination. The smallness of the spaces we ostensibly inhabit magnifies this potential estrangement, and can create reservoirs of incredible loneliness, especially when our little windows of reality are threatened by seismic shifts that rearrange the ideas we stand on; none can be more dramatic, or frightening, than the loss of someone we love. And when our window to the external world is altered radically, the only calm place that remains for us to escape is inward. And even though tenuous bonds with the external world can be reconnected, once one has lived, surrepticiously, locked within one's self, the temptation to remain there, as well as the ease of doing so, can be narcotic.

Which is, perhaps, where Yeats connected to me, and probably to Plath, as well.

He was a major influence on Hughes, too, and not only because of his craft. As much of his work was wrung from the sadness and loss of Ireland's "heroic" past, Plath's is haunted by the rotting away, and the aforementioned end of her father, when she was all of 8 years-old. “I’ll never speak to God again,” she said, and while we have no way of knowing if this is true, I think it accurate to say, from reading her poetry, that she became a critic of human experience, and remained one until she ended her life—like the humans in Ted Hughes’ fable, who sent round to God asking that He take their lives back. God’s response was to demand that the hand/voice in his nightmare create something better than man. This was the origin of the crow, the figure at the center of the cycle of poems for which Hughes is probably best known; it would not be a stretch to see Plath’s voice and the crow’s as being similar.

Joyce Carol Oates has said Plath was victim, in part, to the effects of her virtuosity as a lyric poet upon her “precocious imagination”; “How quickly," says Oates, in The Death Throes of Romanticism: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath, “these six-inch masterpieces betray their creators!” In that vein, Plath does seem to revel sometimes in her isolation: “It is so beautiful, to have no attachments!/I am solitary as grass. /What is it I miss?/Shall I ever find it, whatever it is? “(Three Women) while appreciative of the benefits accruing to inanimate objects (“No thirst disturbs a stone’s bed”, Child’s Park Stones). According to the first draft of Elm, the “stigma of selfhood” is among her fears, though: “I am terrified by this dark thing that sleeps in me,” she says, in the final version. “All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.” Oates refers to the self-examination (crucial) to the lyric poet as being “the deadly mirror”—choosing the lines “I am not cruel, only truthful—/The eye of a little god”, from Mirror, to begin her essay. She argues, nearly persuasively, that this poem contains the seeds of Plath’s undoing—“the audacious hubris of tragedy… illustrate the error of a personality who believed itself godlike.” Plath shares with Yeats the intellectualized ideal of the perfection of Nature without Man (and his damned intellectualizing); yet along the way, she has, according to Oates, and in the words of D.H. Lawrence, “lost the cosmos.”

As evidence, she cites numerous examples of Plath’s “otherness”, of her seeming indifference for other humans, extending, sometimes it seems, to even her own children. In spite of the “stigma of selfhood”, she looks increasingly inward; and while she praises the unspoiled ideal of creation—sans the human factor, that is—her poems are seemingly the reality she prefers—even grieving, in Stillborn, of their inferior relation to reality: “It would be better if they were alive…But they are dead, and their mother near dead with distractions.” How easy to equate this version of Plath with Yeats’ gold enamelled deathwish from Sailing to Byzantium.

But it's not the whole story—it never is, is it, when we start trying to deduce people through their art, or from what other people say? To me, Plath was something different. Nobody's fool. Brilliant and strange and deeply cynical about human beings. Savagely honest, and pathologically driven—but not the empty vessel some portray her to be. Beautiful and funny and bemused and disappointed, she was the human embodiment of Crow...

A subject for another post.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

No Country for Gold Men

Been thinking a lot about Plath these past few days, and some of my thoughts brought to mind the bold desire Yeats stated in Sailing to Byzantium:

“Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.”

This has been bugging me a little—isn’t the only thing humans can conceive of that can exist "out" of Nature the intellect itself? And that is only within the constricting idea which insists upon the human mind as distinct from Nature, rather than in it, and of it. The antipathy expressed toward the external in this mindset is profound, ignoring the possibility that the human imagination is an expression of Nature—often idealized, and often distorted, but sometimes—as within the best of poetry—joining its highest, most genuine, realization. Only this kind of awareness can truly create Yeats' "artifice of eternity", if this kind of artifice is really desired. Obviously, the forms crafted by the Grecian goldsmiths represent what I'm talking about, in Yeats' mind—

However, "the fury and the mire of human veins" (Byzantium) are not compatable with the possibilities of the poet's imagination. So it's all kind of mind-fucking anyway...But I think it might be rather destructive mind-fucking—may lead to a bad place...

Yeah, the lout and the fool and that damn school troubled Yeats considerably...The "filthy modern tide", whose "spawning fury" wrecked his ideal for Ireland--"Base-born products of base-born beds"—like me, undoubtedly. And probably Ralph Emery. I guess that's the reason for the disconnect here—otherwise, why the need to distinguish higher possibility from Nature—from the rest of us?

Kinda hurts my feelings (and I'm not entirely kidding)...

Yeah, well...More later...

Ralph Emery

go see for yourself



The Thing

Watching one of those chicken-fried hoe-downs—"Pop Goes the Country", hosted by Ralph Emery, who has this enormous dead animal on his head (very disconcerting, and it feels like its staring at me). I dvr'ed a bunch of these shows from the RFD channel (quality programming like this is obviously the reason everyone should have dish network).

Ronnie Milsap came on, few minutes ago. I used to like ol' Ronnie when I was in high school, and it's kinda nice seeing him again. Now he's sitting at the piano, singing a medley of pop songs (originally sung by women, a strange, curious choice). "You're No Good", was the first one, now "Let Me Be There"...and I really can't tell you how good it is, cause Ralph Emery is sitting next to him on the piano stool, and that damn thing on his head is hypnotizing me. There are mean beady little eyes inside that thing somewhere, I'm sure of it, and I think it has somehow burrowed into Ralph Emery's brain, because when he was talking to Charlie Daniels a few minutes ago he called him "funky" about 3 times, and I swear, at one point he reached over and stroked Charlie's hair—could he be planting one of those things in Charlie's head, too?

So, now, like I said, he's sitting next to Ronnie, and Ralph is casting these furtive glances his way, and, you know, Ronnie is vulnerable...'Cause he's fucking blind, you know? And even though this ostensibly happened in 1975, I feel sure it's happening right now—I think Ralph Emery winked at me, man! Jesus!!!—Although, intellectually, I know this can't be so—

Reaching for the remote...Must somehow destroy this thing before it...telepathically... reaches across the decades...and though i can tangibly feel a force trying to induce me otherwise...I have managed...to turn it...off...

Silence now...I can feel...the thing's influence...waning... My God, what was it? Did it infect Ronnie? Charlie? This is impossible to know... i just googled Ralph Emery's current image... He has to be 80 now...And there is a different thing on his head now, a sleek gray animal which appears to be dead. One thing I feel pretty sure of, though--if I could peak beneath it, and see the top of his natural dome—something I expect no one has seen in many, many years—at the very least a slight indentation would be revealed...Most likely, though, it is a crater...

And Ralph still has furtive, crazy eyes...