Fall and What to do With It

The strange, broiling summer has given way to a strange, schizoid fall season, my nose is a-flutter with ragweed, and the blankets on the bed have multiplied. I have no idea how much of the erratic weather of the last few years is due to global climate change, and how much of that is due to human activity, but scientific consensus seems indicate the answer to both questions is, “a lot, maybe less, likely more,” and so another fuzzy layer of anxiety is woven into the zeitgeist, a future of refugees and food shortages, a JG Ballard eventuality seems more and more likely. Or, I’m getting older, and was already cynical to begin with, and all the wonderful potentiality embedded in the future will flower in ways I cannot imagine, let alone anticipate. Perhaps a human life is just long enough to think the whole species is going to shit, and that’s somehow an evolutionary advantage… ah well, doesn’t stop me from wanting to make a spectacle of myself in various ways: I read recently at a local bookstore to launch my first novel and nascent publishing company; I’m having a pub crawl and reading on Saturday, just because; I’ll be in 2 bands playing scary songs at a Halloween party on Oct 26th; and my next book of poems, a collaboration with visual artist Mary Leary, will be out around the same time, late October/early November. All of which should sound like bragging, or at least marketing, but I’ve listed these things because I’m still not sure why I bother, other than it makes me feel better to write and read and make art and bla bla bla… but why? Common answers: creativity relieves emotional tension (maybe, but it causes at least as much as it creates, and whither the need to share the output); art communicates and our lives are lonely (I suppose, yes, but making intensifies this loneliness, the sharing of it can help, but can also further isolate); I’m a big show-off who wants attention (ah, if it were that simple, I don’t crave attention and would rather be anonymous, still trying to figure out how to make that work)… I’ll go with Jim Sturm‘s explanation for now:

[…] I have no idea and, secondly, the reasons are unimportant. Depending on my mood, on any given day, I could attribute making art to a high-minded impulse to connect with others or to understand the world or a narcissistic coping mechanism or a desire to be famous or therapy or as my religious discipline or to provide a sense of control or a desire to surrender control, etc., etc., etc. Whatever the reason, an inner compulsion exists and I continue to honor this internal imperative. If I didn’t, I would feel really horrible. I would be a broken man. So whether attempting to make art is noble or selfish, the fact remains that I will do it nevertheless. Anything past this statement is speculation.

Works for me, for now. Wondering about other people’s art helps me get at the question, or dig the hole deeper, so recently I’ve read The Invisibles again (gets long in the tooth by vol 7, I’m afraid), gotten lost in the Frank Book, discovered Gregor von Rezzari and Blaise Cendrars, wept at Beasts of the Southern Wild and countless other works (I like art that makes me cry)… I also grabbed, more or less at random, three recent poetry bundles to compare: Steam Laundry, by Nicole Stellon O’Donnell; My Pinball Brain, by Carol J. McKelvey; and the latest issue of Colorado Review.

Steam Laundry is a narrative series of poems by an author who has clearly spent a great deal of time studying poetry with like-minded folks, so it’s carefully written, sometimes gripping, sometimes not so gripping, uses nice font and plenty of clean white space, all the usual markers of a book by an academically trained poet. And, as such, it has most of the usual virtues and vices of such poetry: some lovely language and gentle cadences, attention to imagery, and an overarching plan–all the things that are supposed to add up to a poetic “voice”–on the virtuous side, and some terribly dull patches where language, imagery, and too much concern for consistency on the side of vice. The poems that stitch together lists from real historical documents add little, but having a focused historical narrative helps drive the whole project, so while it’s not WG Sebald, it’s clear what O’Donnell is trying to do. And at least she seems to care about making people want to read her work, unlike the Colorado Review  poets–no, that’s wrong, of course they care, the poor scribes who have to invent an edge to be cutting about within the confines of the literary-theoretical complex, but they only really care about their peers. The idea is to defamiliarize the reader by making shards of text and image and syntax, an old idea that had pretty much eaten itself (in other words, become institutionalized) by the 1970’s, but here it is, again, propped up and wheezing. Instead of defamiliarizing people who know what defamiliarizing is, why not try to reach those who could give a shit, instead of defamiliarizing each other like a group of junior high kids groping each other in the rec room, transgressing the way they were taught to transgress, thereby feeling naughty without actual risk, transgressing within the safety of the wood panelling and flavoured lipstick. Why not? I dunno. Every poem seemed issued forth from a putty machine. Sad. Honestly trangressive, without even trying, is My Pinball Brain, poetry as outsider art, written by someone who clearly has not studied with other poets and teachers of poetry in the academy. Much of it is not very good, and much of it is strangely affecting, and instead of an author photo on the back, there’s a picture of a baby monkey. Of the three books, this is the one I read the most, because it was so different from the others and from what is generally considered good poetry I had to teach myself to read it in order to understand what worked and what didn’t. In other words, it defamiliarized me. Cheers.

CDs, as I listen to all I own, one at a time: 594) Omara Portuondo: Buena Vista Social Club Presents; 595) Mozart: Cosi Fan Tutte (Simon Rattle); 596) Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians: Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars (worse than I remember, which is bad); 597) Deep Forest: Deep Forest (no idea where this came from); 598) Mission of Burma: The Horrible Truth About Burma; 599) The Waitresses: Best Of; 600) The Buzzcocks: Operator’s Manual—-and yahoo! Now that I’ve hit 600, I get to listen to a box set. And this time, I’ll go back to writing about the music… you promised…