Linen and such

The metaphor of human life as a fabric, a woven thing, is a bit worn, if I might be allowed the pun. The Moirai of ancient Greese were not weavers but spinners, as one spun the thread, one measured, and one cut the thread of a life, leading to the idea that social life is something like a tapestry made up of many threads. It is hoary enough to be a cliché, really, but I nonetheless found myself dwelling on it after reading William Davies’ The Happiness Industry, which is about, among other things, the fact that our current capitalist moment makes people so unhappy that their lack of desire to work is causing corporations concern, hence the push to sell us various forms of happiness and well-being. Of course, this only makes matters worse, for a variety of reasons that Davies nails pretty well, and among the solutions he offers is that we talk to one another more, and listen, and argue, and not get everything through a branded media stream (which is hard, given that many of us speak and think using the terms and concepts of that stream to define ourselves). So, I have been thinking about the fact that I don’t consider myself a particularly social person, I really like my solitude, but I also recognize that what he is saying is dead on. I guess I am fairly social: I teach, I have parties, I go to parties, I speak to people in a more than perfunctory manner on the street, in shops, and so forth—but part of me wants to cling to the solitude as well. And I don’t think Davies is suggesting we lose that, at all, but rather that many of us feel very isolated, and need help, and talking to another person is the only best way to do that.

All of which led me to the life is a tapestry metaphor, but rather than each person being a thread, I imagined each thread as every experience a person has, because our experiences do not happen in isolation. Even someone alone in the woods who has an experience, then dies without communicating it, had the experience as an individual made up of countless other threads. And we exercise agency upon them, we are not passively being woven from different threads: we take what we experience and judge it, value it, change it, color the threads and make knots and so on. So: every person is made up of these threads of social experiences, is connected to every other person by those threads, and is altering the threads as they find them. If you pull back, then, from the tapestry, you can begin to make out forms, borders, delineations between person and person, where I and you, made up of separate strands, become different people. In other words, a person can be alone, but can never be apart from the rest of humanity. The fabric is social life, and our identities are imprinted upon it by the way we act upon those threads we come in contact with.

Ok, more of listening to all the CDs in my collection. So close to being done, it only took 9 years:

872) Tom Waits: The Early Years; 873) The Art of the Japanese Koto, Shakuhachi, and Shamisen: A Selection of Old and New Chamber Music; 874) Paul Simon: Graceland; 875) Vas: Feast of Silence; 876) Tony! Toni! Tone!: The Revival; 877) Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party: Shahbaaz; 878) Lee Chabowski: Drinky-Poo; 879) Youssou N’Dour: Egypt; 880) Rosie Flores: Rockabilly Filly; 881) Soft Boys: Underwater Moonlight; 882) Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party: The Last Prophet; 883) Professor Longhair: Crawfish Fiesta; 884) ZZ Top: Tres Hombres; 885) Shootyz Groove: Live Jive; 886) Mitch Woods and his Rocket 88’s: Mr. Boogie’s Back in Town; 887) Blue Meanies: Peace Love Groove; 888) DJ Shadow: The Private Press.

Opportunities to gain perspective abound

I heard a commotion outside the window, so I went in the backyard and found a squirrel who’d fallen and, I believe, broken its back, because when it saw me it tried to run up a tree with only its front feet, dragging its lower half behind it. When I heard the commotion, I’d been fretting about part of a poem I was writing about the US highway system, trying to figure out how to get some reference to the Federal-Aid Highway act of 1956 in there while still sounding poetic enough. Seems like a pretty stupid thing to fret about, now. The squirrel made up the tree as far as the top of our fence, perched for a while, staring at me, breathing like a creature with a broken spine would breathe, then kept going, up the tree, one claw at a time.

Once he was gone, I let the dogs out to sit in the sun.

CDs I’ve listened too, as I listen to all the CDs I own, one at a time: 801) Box Set: Pere Ubu: Datapanik in the Year Zero(fuck yeah); 802) Various: I Put a Spell on YouL The Okeh Story; 803) Beastie Boys: hello nasty; 804) Funkmaster Flex & Big Kap: The Tunnel; 805) Mexican-American Border Music: Vol 1; 807) Randy Newman: Sail Away; 808) Blur: Parklife; 809) The Cramps: How to Make a Monster; 810) Petracovich: Blue Cotton Skin; 811) Joanna Newsom: The Milk Eyed Mender; 812) Solomon Burke: Home in Your Heart; 813) Jimi Hendrix: Electric Ladyland; 813) Zapp: Zapp; 814) Ornital: Diversions; 815) Space Time Continuum: Alien Dreamtime; 816) Blue Oyster Cult: Secret Treaties; 817) The Residents: Eskimo; 818) Paul Oakenfold: Bunkka; 819) Melanie de Biasio: No Deal; 820) Spacehog: Resident Alien; 821) Soundtrack: Three Seasons.

Pretty pretty

“An aesthetic response to forms is essential to the attainment of an authentic subjectivity and a creative self-illuminating awareness that is immersed in nature beyond the vacillations of personal emotion”

–Heine

 

The judgment of a thing as beautiful is typically predicated on comparison, that the characteristics of the beautiful thing are superior to another, flawed, less beautiful thing. Thus, beauty and perfection are aligned, beauty is the expression of the most perfect example of a thing, which strikes me as very Platonic. A better understanding of beauty, one that I’ve worked toward possessing without articulating it, is one of recognizing that everything is an example of perfection, and hence of beauty, and the hard work is not in discerning value by comparison with other things of the same class, but in being able to recognize, fully, the beauty of anything, in and of itself. So, a splotch of whitening bird shit on the sidewalk is beautiful in and of itself, though of course it is in a different class of things from a painting, or a symphony, or a skyscraper, or genetically modified seeds. I include the last because there are a whole class of things that I want to exclude, to say there is nothing beautiful about genocide, or torture, or my neighbor punching her six year old child in the head, surely there is nothing beautiful in these things. In fact, to say a thing is beautiful as not the same thing as saying it is right, though it’s very difficult to not make that leap, and the danger of trying to see the beauty in that which we fight against is a fatalism, the idea that we shouldn’t fight against something because we recognize it as beautiful, as perfect in and of itself.  Beauty is also not static, however, nor is perfection, and raging against a thing—murder, say—is not distinct from understanding its beauty. I can look at the Execution of a Viet Cong Guerilla and feel the horror a life ended, the sheer visceral shock of the blast, the wincing surprise on Bay Hop’s face (is death always a surprise, even if we see it coming? Is not belief in our own end something beyond human comprehension?), the offhanded nature of the act, and this horror does not mean that the photograph, first of all, is not beautiful and perfect, for it is, a moment of time as complete as every other, or even that the action itself is not beautiful, that is, as an act of brutality, it is meaningful, even is only to remind us of what we must fight against and, while it is not pleasurable, it is satisfying in it’s complete ugliness. I guess that’s what I’m trying to establish, that ugliness is not the opposite of beauty, it is simply a characteristic of beauty, a kind of beauty that we must work harder to recognize. Once we recognize it, we recognize our how much the thing is part of us, and we it, which sounds rather Buddhist: beauty is an act of apprehending, without attachment, how the qualities of a given thing engage the perceiver, for this engagement removes the distinction between thing and perceiver, even if the thing is repulsive, even if it only lasts an instant. Fatalism is not the necessary outcome of detachment, compassion is, so the apprehension of beauty leads to compassion.

 

CDs listened to by me (yes, they are all beautiful, though some are pursuing a model of beauty that makes me sad): 700) The Byrds: Box Set (forgot how much breadth there was to this band); 701) Steely & Clevie : Play Studio One Vintage; 702) Cocktails for Two: Romance With a Twist; 703) Guru: Jazzamatazz; 704) Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada; 705) St. Etienne: Tiger Bay; 706) Teddy Pendergrass: Greatest Hits; 707) Lovage: Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By; 708) Bad Religion: Stranger Than Fiction; 709) Redbelly: Scraps; 710) Kinky Friedman: Kinky Friedman; 711) Various: Songs of West Side Story; 712) 3 Mustaphas 3: Heart of Uncle; 713) Parliament: The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein; 714) Can: Ege Bamyasi; 715) Julie London: Sophisticated Lady; 716) Forest for the Trees: Forest for the Trees; 717) Cat Power: The Greatest; 718) Iris DeMent: Infamous Angel; 719) Loudon Wainwright III: Here Come the Choppers; 720) Alison Moyet: Essex.

 

Moving

Hey hey, new(ish) book of poetry by me available!

No Tribe, No Tribute
poems by Marc Pietrzykowski
Print: $13. 82 pages.
ISBN-13: 978-1479212637 ISBN-10: 1479212636

I am about to start moving this blog, the Pski’s Porch site, and also my music sites to Rebelmouse, in order to spend less time dodging spam and phishing posts. If you’ve never tried to host a website, you’d be surprised how many people think posting “Hey, love your site! I’ll be sure to share it with all my friends” and then linking it to “bigtit.cialis.xxxcom” will somehow work. I guess it must. So, sometime in the next few weeks, on to Rebelmouse.

Cds listened to (I can see the end. The last 2-300 or so are stretched out before me…):

672) The Staple Singers: Collector’s Edition: 673) Souad Massi: Deb; 674) Iggy Pop: Nude and Rude; 675) Rosemary Clooney: Sentimental Journey; 676) Michelle Shocked: Captain Swing (so sad, watching folks go mad); 677) Me’shell Ndegeocello: Plantation Lullabies; 678) The Pogues: Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash; 679) Taraf de Haidouks: Taraf de Haidouks; 680) Gogol Bordello vs. Tamir Muskat: J.U.F.; 681) Joan Armatrading: Me Myself I; 682) Mum: finally we are no one; 683) Bascom Lamar Lunsford: Ballads, Banjo Tunes, and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina; 684) Candy Kane: White Trash Girl; 685) Cowboy Junkies: at the end of paths taken; 686) David Bowie: The Singles, 1969-1993; 687) k.d. langAll You Can Eat; 689) Burning Spear: Creation Rebel; 690) Screaming Females: Ugly; 691) Freddie King: Live at the Electric Ballroom; 692) Fishbone: Chim-Chim’s Badass Revenge; 693) Meat Puppets: II; 694) Radiohead: OK Computer; 695) Jerry Lee Lewis: All Killer, No Filler; 696) Genius/GZA: Liquid Swords; 697) The Latin Playboys: Latin Playboys; 698) Renegade Saints: Fear of the Sky; 699) Prince: Lotusflower; 699) Ron and Kay Rivoli: Rving is the Life for Me!. #700 will be a Byrds box set.

Books Books Books

Yes indeed, just what the world needs, more books. Well, actually, yes, the world does need more better weirder books, methinks, and so I’ve started a publishing — company? cooperative? club? cadre? — some kind of tiny organization meant to produce and disseminate print and digital books. More reasons why at www.pskisporch.com.

Wow, CDs. I might actually be halfway through listening to all my CDs, in order, as has been the occasional purpose of this blog for most of its life:
574) Midnight Oil: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (forgot how great this was); 575) Brahms: The 3 Piano Quartets; 576) Richard and Linda Thompson: Hokey Pokey; 577) einstürzende neubauten: Silence is Sexy; 578) Los Lobos: Kiko (thanks); 579) Ethiopiques: Ethio Jazz and Musique Instrumentals, 1969-1974; 580) dredg: el cielo; 581) Michelle Shocked: Short Sharp Shocked (hell yes); 582) Los Jubilados: Cero farundulero; 583) BR-549: BR-549; 584) Tom T. Hall: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 and 2; 585) Outkast: Stankonia; 586) NRBQ: Peek-a-Boo, Best of; 587) Traffic: The Collection; 588) Michelle Shocked: Deep Natural; 589) Belly: star; 590) Sonic Youth: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star;  591) Patti Smith: Banga (good on ya); 592) Kolveri DJ Mix: Coolness with Softness; 593) Fishbone: Still Stuck in Your Throat.

 

Pots and Pans and Poetry Books, too

Possible Crocodiles, by Barry Marks. Brick Road Poetry Press, 2010

The Coal Life, by Adam Vines. U of Arkansas Press, 2012.

One of the things missing from a lot of the current poetry I’ve read is a strong sense of personality, that the poem in question is not simply a slight variation of the last one and the next one, but emerges from a sensibility unafraid to take chances, look the fool, leap into a crevasse…. I guess people are thus everywhere, not just in poetry: people tend to establish their personhood within a fairly limited set of largely environmental parameters, and even the biologically determined characteristics tend to find expression through cultural norms. If you like the predictability of people, and I think many people do, then this is a fine state of affairs. If you are more neophilic, as I am, then you get bored quickly and turn small talk snarly and weird at any opportunity. I am willing to grant that we live, in the USA at least, in a very conservative, corporatist, conformist period of history, but I’m not sure that accounts for the relentless predictability of so much art, and so much poetry, produced in the last 30 years or so. Then again, it takes only a little dipping into the stacks, reading those poets from the 1930’s or 1960’s or 1880’s to see that ’twas always thus, that most poems are apparitions of faces in the crowd, fuzzy and indistinguishable from the others.

 

Which is not to say that establishing poetic personality is a goal poets have abandoned, only that the means to establish this personality are also sharply constrained, and that the folks with the greatest say in what counts, poetically, rely on these means to recognize value. Let me get to the examples under consideration here, and out of the abstract: Barry Marks and Adam Vines are both Southern Poets because that’s where they both appear to live, and because their imagery often drifts toward southern elements and themes. Within that broad framework, they are, stylistically, very different poets: Marks is outside the academic style, Vines decidedly within it. Or, we could say that Marks is within the experiential style, Vines outside it (“experiential” is the best antonym I could think of for “academic.” One thesaurus suggests “ignorant” is the antonym, which says a lot about who writes thesauri). So: the academic style, the means of establishing poetic personality that Vines has chosen, involves choosing words that feel both obscure and phonically rich; writing dramatic monologues from the point of view of historical or otherwise notable figures; and using stanzaic patterns that appear “worked,” that is, are somewhat regular, at least graphically, with the odd non-stanzaic piece thrown in for variation. Here’s an example, one in couplets titled “Gauguin’s Bed”:

 

Between the sky and us, there should be nothing

except the high, frail roof of pandanus leaves

 

where lizards build their nests. The slender legs

of the moon and bamboo before us disentangle,

 

then rise at equidistant intervals

beside my bed: reedpipe of the ancients, vivo,

 

unraveling the sounds of night. Silence!

I want the silence before the “signets of hell,”

 

the dark tattoos, were pricked into the cheeks of women

who now, ghastly in their decrepitude,

 

prepare the little pigs behind their huts.

I still smell flowered tiaras the women wore

 

in their pirogues, see their strong bare feet stirring

dust on the paths to their lovers’ huts. I craved

 

that silence in you too, Tahitian princess—absinthe

at your crude lips, your hair a wild myth—sitting

 

here on my bed, until you said, “La Fontaine,

his morals are ugly—the ants…ugh. But the crickets,

 

yes, yes, to sing, always to sing!”

 

The poem is built on juxtaposition and reversal as much as it is on couplets—I can’t figure out why it’s in couplets, actually, except to look neater on the page—and assumes a readership who knows both Gauguin and La Fontaine, or at least that has the wherewithal to look them up. As such, it is very much a typically academic poem, as are all the poems in Vines’ book. It’s hard to find much fault with any of them, because they are so closely worked, and it’s just as hard to remember any of them, for the same reason:they are poems that seem born less of a desire to inspire than of the need to avoid fault-finding, to dodge the kinds of critiques that emerge in academic writing workshops (there are, of course, experiential workshops too, as Marks’ poems make clear). The poetic personality that emerges here is almost medieval, a careful, quiet scholar, scratching away with other scholars in a scriptorium, decorating the fringes of their vellum copies with bits of gold leaf.

 

I picture the writer’s workshops Barry Marks attends happening in a public library or community center, with similarly-minded writers of a less academic bent, where he can feel free to be naughty. I do not mean this to sound condescending, but it is clearly his aim, in many of these poems, to titillate a certain sort of person of modest moral character with sexually inflected, or vaguely political, or mildly experimental, slackly conversational poems. The sort of person, in other words, for whom poetry itself is still somewhat naughty, and for whom naughtiness is a prime element of sensuality. And within that sharply constrained poetics, he often succeeds:

 

Susan (nor her real name),

Lucia (pronounced loo-SEE-ah) and I

caught the company car to Kennedy.

We made small talk (tiny, really)

as the Russian driver weaved through traffic.

We got to know each other. Susan

was sailing to the Seychelles to sell. Lucia

was leaving for London. Like me she

was going home.

 

But only Susan got there on time so Lucia

and I got a drink and settled in, hoping

that something would open up on a later flight.

And when we knew we were well and truly effed,

we got well and truly wasted and took our vouchers

to the Marriott, drank some more and spent the night

crawling all over each other.

And she had lovely eyes

and an unlovely English accent, and of course

none of this happened. She caught her plane

and went home, and I caught my plane and went home,

but her name was Lucia.

I could not possibly improve on that.

 

(“My Story”)

 

What Marks loves more than all the women he ogles in this book, and what Vines loves as well, is the sound of words, as any poet worth their salt should. Salt is not the a spice, however, it’s a mineral that enhances the flavor of other spices and of the food you are trying to gussy up, so revelling in the sound of words to such an obvious degree that both poets here do is the equivalent of over salting, obscuring the personality of the dish, and thus of the cook. In their defense, this is one of the most common ways poets are taught to be poets in both the academic and experiential realms, which has a lot to do with the state of our poetic diet, rich in salt, fat (imagery–”show don’t tell”), and sugar (know your trends–”read contemporary poetry”). I like a cheeseburger and fries as much as the next person, but raw celery, scallops with carrot-ginger caviar, and huitlacohe souffle are all dandy too—and there’s room in the kitchen for so much more. Then again, for every El Bulli, for every food truck that appears like an ambulance, for every bushmeat maestro making the fufu sing in Lagos, a thousand smaller personalities appear, ready to emulate them. And that’s not so bad, but it ain’t transcendent.

 

CDs I’ve listened to the last few weeks, as I try to listen to all the ones I own:

562) Cindy Lee Berryhill: Garage Orchestra; 563) Boppin’ the Blues: Rockabilly Classics; 564) Ronnie Dawson: rockin’ bones (hell yeah); 565) Johnny Otis: 1949-1950 (hell yeah x2); 566) Bad Livers: Horses in the Mines (yet another whoop…); 567) Johnny Vegas: Dog; 568) Angry Inch: …And You Keep Laughing Still (hi Sean!); 569) Squirrel Nut Zippers: The Inevitable; 570) R.E.M.: Murmur; 571) Alice Coltrane: Journey In Satchidananda; 572) Butthole Surfers: Independent Worm Saloon; 573) Ladies and Gentlemen of Song: The Platinum Collection.

 

 

 

 

 

Stuffs and Things

I’m exhausted with coverage of the Republican party flaming out in the US, and I don’t even watch TV. It does seem clear we are witnessing the death rattle of the GOP, hence all the coverage of conservative heads discussing what bulbous phoenix will rise from the ashes… and like I said, I don’t even watch TV, or listen to the radio much, but I get enough out of the corner of my ear to put it all together. Then again, I don’t care: not about Republicanism, whether or not there need be such a counterweight to what Democrats and progressives propose is a topic for another day. It’s the coverage I’m sick of, it’s tawdry at best, and downright depressing in a worry-about-the-fate-of-the-species manner. But, it’s in the air, so to speak, and that’s my excuse for thinking about media coverage of the Republican primaries, circa 2012, when reading this tidbit:

the motion performed by us in consequence of irritation, are owing to the original constitution of our frame, whence the soul or sentient principle, immediately, and without any previous ratiocination, endeavors by all means, and in the most effectual manner, to avoid and get rid of every disagreeable sensation conveyed to it by whatever hurts or annoys the body. If the soul were confined to the brain, as many have believed, whence is it that a pigeon not only lives for several hours after being deprived of its brain, but also flies from one place to another?

That was written by Robert Whytt, an 18th century Scottish physician and researcher who showed, among other things, that the body of a decapitated frog would still respond to prodding it’s spinal column with a needle. Sounds like media coverage of the GOP death race 2000 to me.

But I have enjoyed:

Acid Sweat Lodge

Long Form

and for some reason,

RAW

lately.

CDs: 533) Bad Haggis: Ack; 534) The Jam: This is the Modern World / All the Mod Cons; 535) Benny Goodman: Rare Recordings, 1935-1936; 536) Deanna Kirk: Where Are You Now; 537) Schumann: Symphony 1, Symphony 3.

 

Charles Potts: Inside Idaho

For a few years, at the tail end of graduate school and the nose end of my post-graduate life, I wrote many reviews and essays about poetry, most of them very critical, some of them snarky, some even caustic. I’m not sure now why I chose to write that way, other than the books I was reading really did leave me feeling dry and uninspired, but soon enough the job of trashing even poems that I genuinely loathed became a chore. So, I stopped, but lately I have again felt the urge to write about poetry, instead of just writing poetry, to find some contemporary poets whose work I can dive into, read deeply, and learn something from. My only agenda is to try and stay away from the standard reviewers tool box: no poetic genealogies (unless absolutely necessary), no armchair psychology, no breathless-but-nonsensical praise; even if I dislike a certain kind of poetry, I will at least try to learn to read and judge it on its own terms. Then again, I might have another agenda, one (or more) that I’ve hidden from myself, and at least one goal of this project will be to investigate my own preferences and predilections, poetic and otherwise. I will try to do at least one a month, and if anyone has suggestions of poets I should read, please shoot me an email.

Charles Potts, Inside Idaho: Poems 1996-2007. West End Press, 2009.

Two-thirds of the poems in this collection appear culled from previous books by the author, which account for the 1996-2007 bit in the title, and also for the absence of a mention of “collected” works, since the bulk of the work here is new. The distinction between a collected works and a bundling of previous work with a substantial number of new poems is important to reading them, I think, especially considering the author here has written a huge number of books, none of which I have read. I am not reading through the entire story of Potts’ development as a poet, in other words, I am reading something about his development in a particular 11 year period, and about the choices he made to represent this period. It’s also possible that this is just a hodgepodge, that Potts didn’t have enough material for a new book so he borrowed some stuff from earlier ones, but I’m going to assume the choices were intentional.

The first two sections of the book, “from 100 Years in Idaho,” and “from Lost River Mountain,” are the previously published sections, leading me to believe they were written earlier than the rest of Inside Idaho. Already these titles indicate a strong attention to place, and to the state of Idaho in particular, and indeed most of these poems treat rural Idaho as both Brahman and Atman, so to speak, the source of inspiration and the form that inspiration takes, the diction, word choice, and so forth. Having never been to Idaho, I am further distanced from Potts’ work, but my first reaction is to assume all poetry rooted in a sense of place desires to transcend that place and seek a kind of universality, like the best work of Frost or Jeffers or Harjo &tc., but I’m not sure that reaction is correct. Perhaps rooting ones’ art in a particular geography through the use of distinctive place names, flora and fauna, cultural experiences, and so forth, is actually meant to resist universality, and my reaction is simply a prejudice that a work of art should strive to communicate something to every person. Come to think of it, resisting universality this way is in fact communicating something, and something universal: this place is unlike any other place. But now I’ve gone too abstract and in any case, the more I read these poems, the more I see that Potts is really writing about Potts, and Idaho is just where that happens:

I remember Idaho from some preposterous angles

With the good sense to leave out the private parts,

Unlike the other log cabin that Grandpa herb built near

Darlington with 1896 excised in the header

Still standing as a loafing shed with no foundation,

Or the Teppenyaki banquet after Dad’s memorial service

Where everyone went fishing for flipped shrimp in the air

(“The Homestead Act”)

Most of the poems in the first two sections—actually, most of the poems in the book—treat Idaho as a place of memories, a site for re-living, for comparing and annotating the poet’s present world:

Passing near Clyde in Little Lost

Where my mother wept and worked to teach

All eight grades in a one room school house,

Two golden eagles a mile apart,

One on the roof beam of a barn,

The other on the cross arm of a light pole,

Ignore my grand noisy motion in their panoramic eyes.

The Toyota Tacoma is too big and indelible to bother with.

(“Eagle Out”)

In each of these excerpts, Potts maintains some emotional distance from the Idaho that haunts him, which helps them succeed as works of art more than other, more directly emotional poems later in the collection. The raw emotion on display in the final section, for example (“Wild Horse”), has a more immediate effect on me because of lines like “I am responsible for children in a world about to unravel / And nothing I try to do about it seems to help” (“The Crumbs of Christmas”) and “Gone forever / But still here inside me / In my crying arms and bones” (“Wild Horse”), because they are naked expressions of pain, and thus I would like to comfort the speaker. Then I remember that I am reading a poem, and I’m not sure what to do with such expressions anymore. The poems in the final section are about Potts’ wife dieing suddenly, hit by a car while on her bicycle, but really they are about Potts dealing with that event, much as his poems about Idaho are actually about Potts dealing with Idaho, and perhaps that’s where my problem starts: such pain as Potts feels is real and palpable, and worthy of great sympathy, but when stated this plainly, it’s no longer a sad song, it’s a song that the singer has broken down in the middle of, sobbing. The idea that the song is so sad it causes the singer to break down in fact has dramatic potential, but Potts seems more interested in revealing what he felt than in creating a drama that will carry us along. The poems are, in that sense, unidirectional: he tells us something about how he feels, and we hear, but what we feel is not so important, which, in light of the tragedy, is understandable.

Understanding however, is not quite enough, as uncharitable as that must sound. The earlier poems work best when they sweep along, using sudden line breaks to propel the reader through an experience. The poems in the middle sections, “Lullaby of the Lochsa” and “Sunburnt Romantic,” take more chances with form and tone and so are more striking, both when they succeed and when they do not, and a concern with the poem as a made thing is most palpable here:

Just past a sign for Looking Glass

What about this famous Indian Chief

Rear View Mirror

Elderberries

Sung Dynasty clouds

Hanging in the tops of pine trees

Pilgrimage to Pahsimeroi

The granite on the roadside

Slick with water

(“Lullaby of the Lochsa”)

The reference to the Sung Dynasty in almost too much, given the poem’s shadings of classical Chinese poetry-in-translation, and this influence (along with classical Japanese) is scattered throughout Inside Idaho. More of it would be welcome, in fact, since a greater focus on the on objects of sense and less on what the poet was feeling or on sudden, bland philosophical ruminations (“How can beauty be so useless / Or does it have to be practical, any use at all?” –”The Wreckage from Red Hill”) would, I think, help many readers stay entranced. Again, though, I wonder if that’s the point: to my mind, good poems convey meaning while subduing the ego of the reader, hypnogogically lulling them into the world of the poet. If that idea holds, then suddenly wondering, after a fairly hypnotic section detailing a trip into the mountains, if the beauty of the world means anything has the effect of interrupting the reader in the midst of a revery with something a great deal more dull than mountains. Could this be the point? If it were done more regularly, and with more force, perhaps, but these moments are too artless in their artlessness to seem like the work of artistic intent, just as many of the poems in the final section are too focused on their own pain to seem like they are interested in comparable pains the reader might feel.

I have had little to say about the rhythm of the poems, since most of them depend on a visual, prosy rhythm, and are heavily reliant on sudden line breaks, as mentioned earlier, so the real rhythm at play here is the way the images are arranged, the way the different pictures and ideas “rhyme,” so to speak. It’s hard to imagine these poems being read, though I’m sure Potts reads them, I just have a hard time imagining what he does with them. As sets of images and impressions, the rhythms generally work, and there are enough interesting juxtapositions at play, as should be evident from the selections above, to keep me interested. I’m glad to have read these poems, and to have learned more about the person who wrote them—I worry that I have missed something, however, as I don’t have any desire to re-read them, which is something I value in a poem. Perhaps I need to learn to better value art as the transitory coalescing of sense impressions that is surely is, or maybe it’s a matter of scale. In any case, thanks for the poems, Mr. Potts.

 

Also, I listened to some CDs, as I continue to try and listen to all the CDs I own, in order: 528) John Prine: The Singing Mailman Delivers; 529) Kate Bush: 50 Words For Snow; 530) Andy Statman: Old Brooklyn; 531) Tom Waits: Bad as Me; 532) Marlene Dietrich: Das Beste 1929-59.

 

 

 

 

Dogs Dream of Dogs

I just finished re-reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, though the last time I read it was 20+ years ago, so there wasn’t much “re-“ in the re-reading. I remembered Dick finding out Abe North died, and I remembered the “crazy” passages that were supposed to be Nicole’s stream-of consciousness… and then I was stunned to discover, on the last page, that Dick’s exile to the U.S. included a long stay in Lockport, of all places. I’m fairly sure I didn’t even know where Lockport was 20+ years ago, and now I live here. So. The page after the book’s ending, the author bio page, indicated that Fitzgerald earned enough writing that he not only lived well, but lived very well, traipsing around Europe, following the moveable feast around. The idea that one could make a living at all as a novelist, as any kind of artist, always gives me a twinge—I’m jealous, because I have had to work at other things all my life on order to have the time and space to make art. Then the feeling fades, quickly, as I realize how necessary all that other work is to me as an artist and human being, and how liberating it is to that I don’t have to sell a story or poem to be able to eat. I suppose being independently wealthy, living off the “interest of my interest,” would offer more time for creative work, but perhaps not, and in any case, such a life is far too alien to my experience for me to adequately speculate on.

The question of whether art should profit the artist enough to survive, and how that might happen, and the compromises such production would inevitably involve, is an old one, of course, and a recent article by Scott Timberg on Salon.com seems to suggest that there was, very recently, a whole set of answers to this question that failed to bear fruit. Apparently, the internet was supposed to usher in a new Creative Class… I vaguely remember folks announcing this new order was imminent, that artists and folks who worked with ideas would have the ability, unmatched in human history, to make a living from their art and ideas. Distribution would be more fluid, less capital would go to large concerns, galleries, and so forth—I remember people like David Brooks and Richard Florida announcing this new world because I knew it was a pile of shit, and because I was surprised, despite myself, that people were buying it. Anyhow, the Timberg article is pretty thin, and the discussion that follows has the usual blog comment mix of good points, bad points, null points, and blabber (mostly blabber), but it is interesting to think about why so many apparently smart people keep getting caught up in these fantasies, what sort of wish-fulfillment is operating, and on how the people that foist these fantasies do, in fact, make a living foisting them. In a way, it’s another speculative bubble, an idea bubble that has collapsed for many people, just like economic bubbles do. It’s probably better to keep your earnings out of these kinds of markets altogether.

CDs: 500) Style Council Box Set. The design is as, well, stylish as one would expect, and there are a slew of great songs here; the only thing that mars many of them is Paul Weller’s lyrical lapses, far too many of the words here are simply trite. So, I try to pretend he’s singing in Bengali at certain points, and just enjoy the melodies and eurotrash groove. Works quite well with Tender is the Night, actually.

Reading Cowper on the Beach

I went to the beach twice this year, once to Destin, FL, for a friend’s wedding, and once to Rockport, MA, just because. And that’s the part that still confuses me a bit, the “just because,” the raison de la plage, and not just the reason for the beach, but for vacations in which doing nothing is the goal. Vacations crammed with activities are equally puzzling, and the reason they confuse me has to do with what they are vacations from. If I am following correctly, the message is this: most people’s lives–your life, sayeth the adverts–are stress-filled dashes along the edge of an emotional precipice, and we need to either spend a week or two each year being vegetative, or a week or two consuming as many “fun” activities as possible. A blend of the two is optimal for some people, a morning laying in the sun, reading trashy novels, followed by lunch at some over priced and over decorated joint, followed by jetskiing, then dinner, then dancing in a schmaltzy disco so everyone else can watch you dance while you watch them dance, then…. the activities are another way of becoming vegetative, of course, but don’t most people spend a lot of time doing that already? Staring at the TV? Staring at spreadsheets? And not nearly enough time dancing just for the hell of it? I would think something more meaningful, or edifying, or at least emotionally stimulating in a different way–something other than simple adrenal rush, or the dubious comfort of somnambulance–would help us return refreshed and healthily skeptical to our day-to-day lives. Maybe we wouldn’t be so ready to take the junk fed to us like baby birds.

Of course, I’m assuming a lot about the people I saw at the beach. Perhaps many of them did find edification, new ways of looking at life, spiritual restoration, as they lay on blankets with their headphones and sunglasses helmeted on their heads. Watching children play is certainly edifying, as is playing with them, and searching for beach glass seems to draw an interesting spectrum of people, as did scuba diving. But the overall impression I got from both beaches was one of desperation mixed with anger, the idea that this was our vacation and we’d better have fun, dammit, sort of like the imperative to enjoy New Year’s Eve. And of course, the idea that one should find something meaningful in one’s vacation just smacks of more work, yet another job to do… I spent some of each beach visit reading William Cowper, nervously ecstatic nature poet of the 18th century, because I thought he might bring me closer to the world I looked at once I put down the book:

                                                        Mighty winds,
  That sweep the skirt of some far-spreading wood
  Of ancient growth, make music not unlike
  The dash of ocean on his winding shore,
  And lull the spirit while they fill the mind,
  Unnumbered branches waving in the blast,
  And all their leaves fast fluttering, all at once.
  Nor less composure waits upon the roar
  Of distant floods, or on the softer voice
  Of neighbouring fountain, or of rills that slip
  Through the cleft rock, and, chiming as they fall
  Upon loose pebbles, lose themselves at length
  In matted grass, that with a livelier green
  Betrays the secret of their silent course.

Obviously, it is in poetry and literature in general and all art, in fact, that I find my own edification, and deciding that those who do not share this fascination are somehow missing an important part of life must seem a bigotry. But they are, because what I call “art” is the fabric of culture, it is how we learn to become, how we construct our identities and learn to live, and so much of it is so very, very destructive, telling us that the way to live is to consume, or submit, or accept mere distraction as a substitute for profundity.

All we behold is miracle: but, seen
So duly, all is miracle in vain.

I’m still listening to all my CDs, in order. I am roughly 1/3 of the way through them: 489) Rufus and Chaka Khan: The Very Best of; 490) Nina Simone: The Definitive Collection; 491) R. Kelly: R. Kelly (not sure where that came from, what a waste of talent); 492) The Roots: do you want more?!!!??!; 493) Nightstalkers: Drivin’ All Night; 494) Talvin Singh: OK; 495) The Countdown Quartet: The Countdown Quartet; 496) Parliament: Tear the Roof Off 1974-1980; 497) The Isley Brothers: It’s You’re Thing–The Story Of; 498) Boris: Pink; 499) David Thomas: Monster (this should really be a box set, there’s 4 cds, each one great. Oh well).