A review of my first book of poetry THE RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT NINNY AND OTHER POEMS from the good folks at Pulsar Poetry Webzine - Short and sweet but hits the target!
Friday, May 25, 2012
70's REVIEW PROJECT - SPARKS - KIMONO MY HOUSE, GENE CLARK - NO OTHER, CHEAP TRICK - DREAM POLICE, THE ADVERTS - CROSSING THE RED SEA WITH THE ADVERTS, BIG STAR - #1 RECORD
KIMONO MY HOUSE by Sparks (1974) The Mael Brothers inability to find success in the US and subsequent relocation to the UK resulted in their refining of glam and producing the proto-new wave album-all cool keyboards, mechanically strummed guitars, hiccupping vocals, and Ron’s great songs – Hasta Manana, Monsieur, Thank God It’s Not Christmas, Falling In Love With Myself Again.
NO OTHER by Gene Clark (1974) Worth every penny of its legendary budget, Gene Clark takes the purity of his pop vision to new heights. His vocals and songwriting are as perfect as ever while still rooted in the traditional. The arrangements are epic not cluttered modern and sleek like a new skyscraper in an otherwise older neighborhood.
DREAM POLICE by Cheap Trick (1979) Never mind the mullet wearers who blasted this from the radios in their trans-ams when it first came out and never mind the world tours and FM patronage, this is a power pop album and a very good one. Heavier, faster, harder than most which makes it all the more enjoyable.
CROSSING THE RED SEA WITH THE ADVERTS by The Adverts (1978) With better songs than both The Clash and The Sex Pistols, this may be the definitive punk album. It certainly is the best sounding. These guys sound like they have been together for 20 years so tight are the arrangements and the songs like “The Great British Mistake” contain what I call punk wisdom.
#1 RECORD by Big Star (1972) Not so much the Velvet Underground of power pop as a continuation of the music of the 1960’s both in feel and attitude. Chris Bell was equal partners with Alex Chilton here and they produced great music – The Ballad of El Goodo, Thirteen, Give Me Another Chance.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Albert Cossery may have a better understanding of the people he writes about than any other writer I’ve ever read. If that sounds like it is a big statement, it is only because I am sitting here with mind blown after reading two of his books back to back THE JOKERS and MEN GOD FORGOT.
Cossery’s books take place in an Arab country sometimes implicitly described as his native Egypt sometimes as a fictional country not named but resembling Egypt very closely. Cossery himself was Egyptian but left in his early 20’s for Paris where he spent the rest of his life.
In THE JOKERS Cossery tells of a group of radicals who seek to bring down the corrupt bureaucrat who runs the city where they live using not violence but mockery. For example, after a law is passed banning begging, the jokers put mannequins dressed like beggars on the street which leads the police to attack them not realizing they are dummies and making fools of themselves.
Cossery is not a political writer like Naguib Mahfouz. He does not have an axe to grind for a specific target and seems to take everything in almost Buddhist type of way. Yes, governments are unfair but people are also responsible for the traps which they construct for themselves. Cossery uses humor better than almost any writer I can think of. He uses it to cut the narrative the way a cook might use a spice to make food palatable or more interesting. He uses it to make his characters ridiculous and therefore stop the reader from getting lost in too much emotion for them be it love or more likely hate.
One of the most interesting scenes in THE JOKERS is when a main character who has joined the jokers has a conversation with a friend who is a typical bomb throwing radical. The friend is angry because even though the jokers have had success in the campaign he thinks they are not serious and an insult to real rebels. It gets better when the leader of the jokers talks to the radical. In the end, the jokers’ way is shown to be the best but is ruined by the usual violence of the less enlightened.
Cossery’s writing is effortless and simple to follow. This makes his books fly by at supersonic speed. However, the images he puts to paper stay with you for a good long time afterwards. THE JOKERS is an amazing book-one that fleshes out so many characters in under 200 pages and one that has a message I totally agree with. It is much worse to be laughed at than opposed by violence.
MEN GOD FORGOT, Cossery’s first book, is a series of five long-ish short stories that take place in the same crowded slum in Cairo, Egypt. Cossery’s tone is not as light as on THE JOKERS but if anything his language is more superb. I also especially like how each story ends with one of the character’s having a huge revelation such as their poverty stricken life cannot last forever-the next generation or the one after will make it right, that old ways must disappear to be replaced by a chaotic future, that information is power, that love is all we have that is our own.
I also like Cossery’s description of women. They are not the main characters but they are sexual beings and fully fleshed out-This was a writer at least 20 years ahead of his time in these multi-dimensional depictions of women.
MEN GOD FORGOT tells incredible full realized stories of human daily life in the most wretched of settings. However, he finds reasons through his characters for them to persevere on. He is a champion and a hero and a crusader for his characters.
Cossery’s apolitical life of individualism coupled with his odd lifestyle-lived in a hotel for almost all of his life, eschewed personal possessions except for fancy clothes, slept with 2,000 women, and practiced a sort of studied laziness are described here in this obituary from 2008 http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2008/jul/08/anegyptianinparis
Personally, a good writer is lazy in the sense that he is an observer. He is lazy like a python is lazy, unmoving until his prey comes close and then it moves fast to snatch it. I imagine Cossery was a fabulous observer of life as all great writers are and he snatched what was important from it.
Friday, May 18, 2012
Recently saw part of a stand-up routine by the deceased comedian Patrice O’Neal. In it he said something along the lines of White America gave President Obama a chance, no they really did, they gave him two years. Of course, that’s sarcastic and meant to say they really didn’t give him a chance at all.
As anyone who has read my blog here and my now full poetry blog before it became that www.xanga.com/rgdinmalaysia since 2008 can attest to, I’ve gone full circle with the president from enthusiastic supporter to doubtful and on the fence to ex-supporter. My criticism of Obama has been from the left – his neocon foreign policy and his kowtowing to big business. I still feel his approach to getting legislature passed is incompetent although he has improved slightly in this area.
However, in the minds of the public at large, when all is said done and all the other subjects have been addressed – The war on women, the killing of Bin Laden, gay marriage and all the personal attacks, ( As I am writing this it seems like we are about to have another round of birtherism), it’s the economy that matters and the unemployment rate is still high in much of the country.
But there might be something else there too. Something that would be a catch-all for all the negative mythology directed at Obama – he’s not an American citizen, he’s a Muslim , a communist. All of this is bullshit and I think most Americans know it. However, in their hearts, Obama does not deserve a second term.
Why? Well I think it might be kind of a mix of concerns about the economy, some residual or even unknowing racism, as well as the subconscious absorption of some of the negative stories about him.
American can feel good about themselves. Whether or not Obama is re-elected , a black man or half-black man has been president. It’s something they can point to if anyone ever challenges America on racial grounds (and believe you me America is still very racist).
They made the token gesture. They supported a non-white candidate once for a brief period. This assuages any guilt they feel from history Now is it back to their comfort zone?
Personally, I wouldn’t mind if Obama lost. His record on foreign policy alone should deny him a second term but Romney would be worse and thus is the trick, the shell game of the two party system maintained.
Anyway, I still stand by my original prediction. Obama will win a second term but the election will be much closer than 2008.
Monday, May 14, 2012
There is a directness in the poetry of Zbigniew Herbert that makes it easier for the reader to immediately grasp and submerse themselves in his verse. There is no obfuscation, no unnecessary verbiage in his work. He also peppers his poems with historical references that one can share in as an extended metaphor for a similar experience.
“Writing must teach men soberness; to be awake” Herbert wrote and he came from a generation in his native Poland that had known much suffering. It’s a very sober generation. It’s a generation with no time for flowery BS.
What I most like about Herbert is his tone which reminds me of a less surreal Kenneth Patchen. He’s got the same slightly ironic, slightly whimsical tone. Herbert is a serious poet but his poems are not one of sadness.
He is also an erudite student of history. One who understand its patterns and also the role of tradition. This makes the poet better IMO as it means he understands his, the poet’s role, in the real world. He understand where it all fits and how to take it in and what to take in and what to exclude.
Here is one of my favorite Zbigniew Herbert poems http://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/zbigniew-herbert/i-would-like-to-describe/
Friday, May 11, 2012
A strategy is emerging against Mitt Romney that is being conducted on several fronts – in the media, through the speeches of surrogates, even from the White House itself. It is a strategy I wholeheartedly approve of and that is to break Mitt Romney down not by vicious personal attacks, not by policy differences (Mitt Romney has been on five sides of every issue – I’m not sure if anybody knows where Mitt Romney stands anymore on anything) but by personal ridicule. By telling the truth about Mitt Romney, he ceases to be a person people take even a little bit seriously and consequently becomes someone people laugh at. I think this is far worse than being hated.
It started with Romney’s gaffes during the Republican primary – the 10,000 bet, we can’t have illegals, I like firing people, I’m not concerned about the very poor. A lot of these gaffes gave the impression of Romney as a let them eat cake plutocrat out of touch like Marie Antoinette.
Then there was the general weirdness – the dog on the car roof, trees are the right height etc.
This is not to mention Romney’s flip flops-too many to catalog here but basically on important issue he has held at least three positions and he has often gone back to prior positions and then changed yet again. John McCain and Mike Huckabee hammered him on this in 2008 Republican primaries and it was very effective. This has kind of died away recently but will come up again I’m sure in the campaign ahead.
Add in Romney’s Mormonism….As an Atheist, I believe all religions are basically crazy but Mormonism is like Scientology without the spaceships. I recently read a book about Joseph Smith, the creator of Mormonism and he was basically the David Koresh of his day-A man who used his position as a prophet to scam sex with a variety of women including underage ones (Yes he was a pedophile like Warren Jeffers). Like L Ron Hubbard, he created a religion to sucker people, to further his own ends. Romney being a Mormon is a fair subject to bring up and I think one that most people rightly will view negatively.
The final ingredient is the story that was published today alleging that when he was in high school Romney was a bully who picked on two possibly gay students. The comparison coming a day after Obama’s statement on supporting gay marriage is inevitable and I believe was planned.
In the end, Romney doesn’t come off so much as a hated figure (like Nixon for example) but as a ridiculous one – weird, uncomfortable, unintentionally funny, not to be taken serious in any way. When they stop attacking you and/or arguing with you and start laughing at you, that’s when you’ve really lost the battle.
Bill Clinton did something similar to Bob Dole in 1996 but he didn’t have to mention Dole so much-Instead, he made Newt Gingrich into a combination fool/boogeyman and it worked.
The bottom line is even though I no longer support President Obama and am still looking around for a third party to get behind, his re-election chances are looking good.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
70's REVIEW PROJECT - ELVIS COSTELLO - THIS YEAR'S MODEL, ROXY MUSIC - SIREN, JONI MITCHELL - BLUE, GIL SCOT HERON - PIECES OF A MAN, SQUEEZE - COOL FOR CATS
THIS YEAR’S MODEL by Elvis Costello (1978) My personal favourite record of the 70’s. Costello harnesses an anger that is partly born of pure frustration, partly of negative encounters with other people (mostly the opposite sex), and partly mysterious. The Attractions were never better. They force Costello’s vocals along with incredible speed and precision.
SIREN by Roxy Music (1975) The peak of Roxy Music’s run of amazingly original futuristic records. Here Bryan Ferry’s vision is the most crystal clear-the lounge lizard as trendsetting icon, filled with regret. The band jams behind him in a way that would be copied by every British band in about five years after this record came out.
BLUE by Joni Mitchell (1971) Mitchell delivers her deeply personal, literate lyrics with such ease that these songs seem to be coming out of her spontaneously. Her off kilter song constructions remind me of Morrissey and the spare backing only increases the beauty, the power. A milestone for singer songwriters.
PIECES OF A MAN by Gil Scott Heron (1971) The revolution may not be televised but the bleak pictures Heron paints of inner city life(unemployment, drugs, crime) and institutionalized racism over a light semi-improvised jazz soundscape is the next best thing.
COOL FOR CATS by Squeeze (1979) The Difford/Tilbrook songwriting partnership really came into its own on Squeeze’s second album. Combining Beatles/Kinks influence, a more melodic take on pub rock, and some electronics, the clever tunes here are only helped by Tilbrook’s sweet McCartneyesque tenor (especially when contrasted with Difford’s bass harmonies).
Sunday, May 6, 2012
My third book of poetry TRAVELS WITH THE ANTI-JOHNNY APPLESEED is on track for an Oct or early Nov. release....Here is the possible cover
Thursday, May 3, 2012
Currently, I’m in the grip of an intense good mood. It’s not unusual for me to be in a good mood these days but this is very intense....As I tweeted “I hope I’m not going crazy”.
I’m on the fence about what happiness is these days. On one hand, those around me when I was young always used to tell me happiness was in your head and you just had to tell yourself to be happy. That didn’t make much sense to me as I recognized material concerns must be addressed at some point. You can hypnotize yourself to believe anything.
But later in life, I had money a house and many of the material things I wanted but was miserable. There are some things that must be present for happiness to germinate and take hold.
Now, I find myself in a situation where I can view my life in a way that is much more balanced. Call it taking a breath and calming down an seeing the overview if you will but I am able to do that.
Happiness is satisfaction, it’s also reality, some combination of the two. I have goals in life I have not yet met but as long as I am trying and am satisfied with my effort that’s not going to get me down.
So I’m happy and it feels good and there’s no secret. It’s all about the moment. It’s also about creating your own reality....What kind of like would make you happy? Is that life realistic? Is it doable?
At some point, barring fate and the pitfalls of a negative attitude (something I know only too well about....It held me back for years) You will find yourself at a point where life feels good and that’s the most important part of all-When you are happy don’t deny it....A lot of people hate happy people well ignore them and if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, write it in your blog, let the good feeling wash over you.
Recently, my father sent me a volume of Stephen Spender’s poetry. I’m a huge fan of Spender as I wrote before here http://rgdinmalaysia.xanga.com/689505456/some-thoughts-on-stephen-spenders-poetry/
This particular collection has a poem in it I’d not read before entitled THE FURIES. It is a lengthy poem, five pages in total, and deals with an upper class mother‘s attempts to shield her son from the world and the son’s eventual death in combat during a war.
Lengthy poems are tricky. The longest one I’ve ever written is a page and a half. It is only my opinion but I consider part of the challenge of writing poetry to be brevity. Keeping it brief is a consideration of the form.
But that’s not to say there aren’t good long poems. I like a lot of TS Eliot’s longer poems and back to THE FURIES....Spender has divided the verse into three parts. He is telling a story so this is a function of relating narrative. The length helps create the dichotomy between the safe world of the mother’s estate with its details of canned hunting trips and a safe but dull bride for the son and the last section wherein the boy goes out to serve his country away from a situation his mother can control and gets killed.
The last image is of the corpse of the son on the battlefield his eyes “at last wide open”. That’s a striking final image....Death showing someone what life really is but does the poem need to be this long?
Well it’s a good poem but probably not. The verbiage does not get in the way but there probably could be less of it. I understand why there is so much though because I do it myself – The pile-on effect of adding more and more details is fun and addictive for both the reader and the poet.