Monday, July 30, 2007


My little boy went on a sleepover the other night but got restless and called at quarter to one. After I talked him into trying to fall asleep there, he called again at quarter to three and asked me to come pick him up.

He woke me both times out of a sound sleep, but after going and getting him and driving him home, I was wide awake. So, lying in bed, trying to get back to sleep, after the usual deep breathing, prayers, ideas for new books, plays, etc., I finally went back to the old standby of an alphabet list.

Having recently seen HAIRSPRAY with him, I started thinking about musicals, and thought that might be an interesting list: favorite Hollywood musicals (meaning live action movies in which the characters break into song and/or dance, often in non-performance situations) and found it incredibly easy to come up with more than one for most letters, as musicals have always been one of my favorite movie genres, despite the less-than-macho cache of just the idea of singing and dancing interrupting real life.

So I tried to keep each letter to the bare minimum of Hollywood musicals I truly can re-watch anytime. Here’s what I came up with:

BORN TO DANCE (Eleanor Powell, the incredible dancer, with the young Jimmy Stewart!)
CABIN IN THE SKY, CAROUSEL, CARMEN JONES (Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte were the best looking screen couple in Hollywood when this was made), and CABARET (before Liza Minelli became a caricature of herself, or maybe this was where that process began)
EASTER PARADE (weak story, but worth it to see Garland and Astaire together)
FLYING DOWN TO RIO, FOOTLIGHT PARADE (Cagney as a tough guy Broadway producer), 42nd STREET, and FUNNY FACE
GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (early Busby Berkley spectacular), GUYS AND DOLLS, and GREASE (I’m not crazy about the way this musical trivializes part of my own experience, but it’s still pretty entertaining, and my littler boy digs it)
HOLIDAY INN (Astaire and Crosby) (A HARD DAY’S NIGHT could be here, of course, except it isn’t a “Hollywood” musical)
IT HAPPENED IN BROOKLYN (Sinatra and Durante, what can I say)
JAILHOUSE ROCK and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (both are a little weak for me, but both also have unforgettable numbers that make the movies worth seeing)
KING CREOLE (my personal favorite Elvis flick)
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (I’m not crazy about the music, but the story and the cast are pretty entertaining)
NIGHT AND DAY (a Hollywood version of Cole Porter’s life, but still, Cary Grant and Cole Porter songs? Pretty sweet)
OKLAHOMA (you gotta see it on the big screen to really get the beauty of its artistry) and ON THE TOWN
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (both versions, the 1936 Bing Crosby one, where he’s supposedly in small town New Jersey, plus Louis Armstrong has a number, and the 1981 Steve Martin entirely different, and much heavier flick, but worth it for what Martin was trying to achieve and for Chris Walken’s dance number) and THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstat!)
RENT (another one I’m not really crazy about, but there’s something compelling in the theatricality of the attempt to show more “realistic” natives of Manhattan than previous musicals)
UP IN CENTRAL PARK (because I like Deanna Durbin movies, a Hollywood star barely remembered today, and not my thing when I was young, but in retrospect she was an incredible singer/actress of a type that couldn’t compete with the raw emotional talent of Judy Garland or the younger cutesy lovably talented Shirley Temple, but much like the almost forgotten screen dancer Eleanor Powell, Durbin was so confident in her talent she seems like some kind of proto-feminist—like a singing Nancy Drew—as does Powell, strong girls and women who don’t break down or give up or give in, and the story line isn’t bad for a musical either, New York Irish again)
YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH (Astaire and Rita Hayworth!) and YOUNG AT HEART (I’m not crazy about Doris Day, and you certainly can’t ignore her in anything she’s in, but if you can distract yourself when she’s soloing and tune in for Sinatra’s numbers, it’s a sweet film) and YENTL (I know, I know, but as I said at the time in Streisand’s defense, first of all, she’s an incredible singer who changed popular music forever when she was barely out of her teens, and second of all, what avant-garde performance artist would have the nerve to play a young woman disguised as a boy when she’s hitting middle age? Plus Amy Irving is wonderful, and Mandy Patimkin isn’t bad)
ZIGFIELD FOLLIES (this 1946 flick is the only time Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire danced together, ‘nuff said)

Sunday, July 29, 2007


(or any of the other arts, for that matter) I thought this article [by the great actress and acting teacher, and my great friend, Jamie Rose] was worth quoting in full:

by Jamie Rose
The Real Deal

Recently I was at a party and overheard someone say in a derisive tone “he describes himself as an actor but he’s only had one job in the last five years.” I had to join in, “That’s interesting. How often would he need to work for you to consider him an actor?” The person looked uncomfortable and couldn’t come up with an answer.
What is an actor? Is being an actor about how many jobs you book? Having representation? Making money? If so, how much do you need to make? And what if you haven’t worked for a while? How long does one need to be out of work to no longer have the right to call himself an actor? Three months? Three years? And who gets to decide the length of time?
It’s remarkable what people will say to actors. Once, when I was on the phone discussing rates with a car insurance salesman, he asked me what I did, and when I told him that I was an actor he said “Someone once told me that if someone says they’re an actor you should ask them if they make their medical to find out if they’re the real deal. So” he asked, “do you make your medical?” I was astounded at his rudeness—I replied “Well yes actually. Now tell me, did you meet your sales quota last month?”
I have the blessing of being an acting teacher as well as an actor and my students are a constant source of inspiration. Being in class with them every week keeps me connected to what being an actor really means. Dedication, determination and most important, the heart of a champion.
I am reminded of the Dodgers in that amazing game in 2006. It was the 9th inning and the Padres were winning 9-5. Figuring that their team was beat, the Dodger fans had begun to leave the stadium. Then, at the bottom of the 9th, the Dodgers came back and hit four consecutive home runs--only the fourth time that’s happened in an inning in major league history. Then Garciaparra hit a two-run homer in the 10th and the Dodgers ended up winning 11-10. Now, if the Dodgers had lost their heart in the 9th—thought to themselves ‘we’re obviously losing—there’s really no reason to keep trying since we don’t have a chance’—they would never have won that game.
I have a student with Parkinson’s disease. This guy is one of the best actors in my class—very talented, but what blows me away is his heart. He has a full-time job, his arm shakes like crazy when he’s tired or nervous, and yet he shows up every week rehearsed, his lines cold, and plays full out every time he gets on the stage. When that arm really gets shaking we say he “wears his heart on his sleeve.” I don’t think the deal gets anymore real than that.
I have another student who also works a full-time “straight” job and is tremendously talented. He is so driven by his desire for excellence that he almost always has two scenes going at any given time. He is always meticulous about every aspect of his craft. The other day I received this email from him:
“…after 9 years of busting my ass, doing drops on lunch breaks, class, workshops, mailings, student films, working survival jobs that suck the soul out of me,…I have had a grand total of about 3 auditions for paid gigs…If I could ever get in the damned room, I could do some damage.Then again, no one said it was going to be easy, did they?”

This actor has the heart of a champion.
I don’t believe that being an actor has anything to do with how much money you make or what kind of recognition you get from the industry. When someone is lucky enough to make their living solely from acting that’s wonderful. But what really impresses me is what an actor does when he is not working.
Do you have the heart of a champion? Do you keep playing full out when the fans are leaving the stadium and it looks like there’s no hope? Are you an actor? The real deal? The answer is in your own heart.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Wish I had been cast in the Christopher Walken role. What a blast it is to watch him dance with Travolta as an overweight 1960s Baltimore housewife, or watch Walken attempt to be funny and still come out creepy as always.

The movie has its flaws, but overall it’s great entertainment. The thing Travolta has always done best is let us see his enjoyment at being up there on screen. When he doesn’t do that, the films usually flop.

Back in the 1980s, my oldest boy Miles, performing with his junior high (or “middle school” as they’re called now) chorus in Santa Monica, surprised me with a solo on “Oh What a Beautiful Morning”—because he knew OKLAHOMA was one of my favorite musicals, he told me later.

He was such a success with the audience, I couldn’t stop gushing about it aftterwards. But with his usual modesty, he diverted my attention from him to a classmate, built much like the slightly older star of HAIRSPRAY—the seventeen-year-old Nikki Blonsky—only Hispanic, and with a more operatic voice, who, he said, was very nervous before the show, but he told her “People just want to see you having fun on stage, then that makes them have fun” or words to that effect, and I remember thinking, how fucking insightful.

And in HAIRSPRAY, even creepy Walken is obviously having fun, as is Michelle Pfeiffer playing an aging beauty queen (and channeling Sharon Stone somewhat), and Queen Latifah (channeling Pearl Bailey a little) which I would credit the director with, but it was Travolta who held out for their hiring and whose enthusiasm and commitment seem to have influenced them (I would guess, having been around movie sets for a few decades and watching these things transpire).

But the real find of the flick, as several critics have already pointed out, is a charismatic young actor-singer-dancer discovery, Elijah Kelley, who, as the leader of the black kids and creator of new dances, consumes the screen when he is on it.

The story is he wasn’t a dancer before two months of rehearsals, but now he’s the hottest screen dancer since the young Travolta made his dancing debut in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, and Kelley can sing and act too, better than almost anyone out there right now. And he’s incredibly handsome.

Equally talented was Zac Efron, the kid who plays the white heart throb Clint—who my nine-year-old informed me was one of the stars of the unbelievably successful Disney TV movie musical, HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL. He can sing and dance and act incredibly well too.

Hopefully, the success of these two musicals bodes well for more musicals hitting the screen. One of my most embarrassing indulgences when I was young and trying to be a real tough guy, was how much I loved musicals, which, back then, could be pretty tough themselves at times, though there was no defending the sudden outbursts of song and dance even if it was Sinatra or Brando or some other alleged tough guy attempting it.

But the Hollywood musical is such a great “American” innnovation, it would be well worth reviving the genre as not just a once every few years event, but as a regular feature at movie complexes around the country.

The one thing that made it possible for me to indulge my love of musicals as a young man, was that all the great jazz musicians would do their versions of the tunes that came out of the better Broadway and movie musicals of that time. Even these cool cats could dig the beauty and power of great show tunes.

Not that HAIRSPRAY has songs as good as the great shows of the distant past, but it's still an enjoyable experience. Does it make integration look like it came pretty easily? Yep. Does it also, as almost always in Hollywood’s version of history, make it seem that overthrowing segregation was inspired by a white person rather than courageous blacks who had been fighting for decades, even centuries, before 1962, the time the movie is set in? Yep.

So it doesn’t work as history, the way say DREAMGIRLS often does. But as entertainment, HAIRSPRAY mostly succeeds.

My one quibble, besides the oversimplified and whitewashed history lesson inherent in it, and the miscasting of Walken instead of me (just kidding) (barely) was the under use of Amanda Bynes. I’ve known her child TV persona for years, from my little boy watching kid shows. She’s been one of the most accomplished comediennes, as well as actresses, I’ve ever seen, old or young, since she was nine or so. On TV she originated many of the ideas for skits she did in her pre-teen version of the Carol Burnett show, many of which were as funny as the original, or more so.

Now fully grown and a knockout, she plays her scenes in HAIRSPRAY with her usual panache, but could have been used to much greater effect if given the chance. I look forward to her getting a starring adult role in a film that puts her beauty and screen charisma, as well as comic chops, to better use.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007



Twenty-five years ago, around this time of year, the two biggest collections of my poetry to date were published: ATTITUDE and HOLLYWOOD MAGIC.

I basked in the glow of their reality in my life and in the life of the world, as I saw it then.

And though there are those who even today tell me one of those two books is their favorite of all of mine, and there were those then who said it as well, the fact that neither drew any attention in the form of reviews, even in the alternative press, contributed to an already developing sense of disillusionment with the literary scene and led to my not publishing another book for over a decade—fifteen years to be exact.

But with the perspective of age and a lot more living, I’ve come to appreciate all of it, and especially be grateful for the lovely opportunities I’ve been given in my life to share my creative energy.

So, I thought I’d show you (with the help of a friend’s scanner, gotta get me one of those) what those two books looked like, especially HOLLYWOOD MAGIC since it’s pretty scarce these days.

The publication of these two books was only the second time I used any images of myself on the covers, or anywhere else, in any of my books (there’d been almost twenty by then). I chose the photos and the colors for the covers, pink and gray, because they were my favorite colors in the 1950s. I had a “charcoal gray” suit that I wore a “charcoal gray” shirt and a pink knitted tie with, the kind that had a straight edge at the bottom. I thought I was cool when I wore that to the only eighth-grade graduation party I was invited to.

HOLLYWOOD MAGIC was published by the then L. A. poet Dennis Cooper’s Little Casear press. He took my suggestion for the front and back cover. The photo by rock’n’roll photographer Lynn Goldsmith was taken with one of those motorized still cameras that the pros started using back then, so she could catch my hands mid finger popping.

ATTITUDE was published by Hanging Loose Press, run by a poets collective that included Bob Hershon, Dick Lourie and the late Ron Shreiber. They didn’t take all my suggestions for the cover. Alex Katz agreed to let them use a portrait he painted of me back then as part of a series he did of New York poets. The pink and gray I again suggested were present, but not the way I imagined them (as on HOLLYWOOD MAGIC).

The photo on the back was taken by Edie Baskin, who was the photographer for Saturday Night Live back then, in its early years. She also did a lot of rock-n-roll photographs. I was introduced to her by my then loft mate and love, composer Rain Worthington, whose day job was printing Edie’s photographs for the TV show every week in a darkroom in the loft we shared in “Tribeca” (when it still was sparsely populated with artists and dancers and etc. living there mostly illegally) often coloring them by hand in that way that made them so distinct at the opening of the show. She also sometimes shot the show when Edie was out of town.

I had just turned forty and moved to L. A. when these two big books came out, and I stepped on a few toes in my enthusiasm and appreciation of what seemed like such good fortune at the time, behaving like I thought it was my destiny. Until I became disappointed at the lack of any reviews for them, although there were a few mentions of how I had “sold out” to Hollywood here and there in the alternative press.

From the perspective of twenty-five years later, I’m delighted that these great ladies chose to photograph me gratis and let me use the result of their work on my books and elsewhere, and that the publishers were willing to publish these two big collections of poetry and prose, and grateful that I had that moment in the ring light, if not the spot light, of attention from people I cared about and admired for their own work, as well as readers I didn’t know but was happy to have, and still am.

Life sure is a trip, ain’t it?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


POCKETS OF WHEAT by Geoffrey Young
TED by Ron Padgett
OVER NINE WAVES by Marie Heaney

Just finished these three books, which I had mostly read before, one way or another, and all are terrific in their own ways.

I’ve written before about Geoffrey Young’s poetry, and quoted from it, and recommended it, especially his sort-of-selected-poems LIGHTS OUT, which contained some poems from the original printing of POCKETS OF WHEAT back in 1996.

This new edition of POCKETS OF WHEAT includes several more drawings by James Siena, which in person are huge (60” x 40”) but here reduced to around 5”x3” to fit the format of the book.

Geoff’s poems are always brilliant, often poignant, and sometimes hilarious. Like the poem that opens this collection, one of his most famous:


I hear
from my

on the
back of
my checks

Geoff had a press for years called The Figures, which published some important books, including Ron Padgett’s “Personal Memoir of Ted Berrigan”—TED, in 1993.

I read Aram Saroyan’s copy at his place in Thousand Oaks, California, back when it first came out. But that first reading was all about me, in my mind, about the way I knew Ted and understood him compared to the way Padgett did.

My background and upbringing was much more similar to Ted’s than Ron’s was, but Ron knew him longer.

Like me, Ted came from an East Coast, working-class, Irish-American background, served in the Armed Forces and went to college on the G. I. Bill. He was also a lover of words and a compulsive reader, among other compulsions we shared.

Ron was in high school and Ted in college when they met. Ron’s later wife was Ted’s girlfriend when they met. They moved to Manhattan around the same time and sometimes shared apartments. They wrote poems together, and their individual poems had a big impact on the New York poetry scene of the 1960s and ‘70s.

This memoir, published a decade after Ted’s untimely death at forty-eight, is written in a spare, almost notational style that not only suits the subject but Padgett’s perspective on him, which is sometimes highly critical, almost angry.

Part of that he addresses himself a few times in the course of the book. And it’s balanced by affectionate anecdotes that capture what made Ted so uniquely lovable.

And part of it is just the usual thing we humans do when talking about others, publicly or privately, we make assumptions, or at least I certainly have and most people I’ve read and listened to have too, that other people are like us, and therefore when they deviate from our norm they are abnormal.

For most of my early adult life I truly believed, for instance, that everyone was as full of as much lust and sensual desire as I was, to the point of viewing almost everything through the prism of that desire.

I sincerely believed that if others weren’t expressing their lust or that they were driven by their sexual and sensual passion, they were lying. It was only as I aged and learned from experience that humans are often as unalike as they are similar that I began to understand that not everyone was hiding an inner me inside.

The reason I mention all that is that Padgett uses some amateur psychology to diagnose Ted’s reading habits as “compulsive” and an obvious “escape” from the realities of his childhood and later his adult life.

Being a compulsive reader and writer throughout my life, and still, I understand the grain of truth in Padgett’s perspective, but I also understand that that’s just the way my particular mental metabolism works, that I need to be reading many books all the time to satisfy the curiosity in my brain about what’s in them, and how others perceive things and
to feel I am having a dialogue with other minds that are capable of comprehending mine.

Why this would be considered “escaping,” while concentrating on a single book read more slowly, or devoting more time to teaching or talking to others etc. is less of an escape (and from what exactly? Life? Isn’t the activity of reading as much a sign of life as breathing or running or talking on the phone, etc.?) escapes me!

But let me leave you with one entire chapter, 15, from TED as an example of how honest Padgett is trying to be, and how succinct and precise his choice of words is, with his usual lack of pretension or condescension:

“It distresses me to think I’m writing a lot of bad things about Ted. Why are they the first things that come to mind? Because I still feel some resentment toward him? Resentment for the way he treated himself, for the way he died and left us?
Ted, I loved you.”

OVER NINE WAVES is Marie Healey’s selection and interpretation of “Irish Legends”—some well-known, some not so.

Most translations, or interpretations, or retelling of these stories that I have been hearing and reading since I was a boy, are so turgid or detailed they read like sections of the Bible that are little more than boring records of who begat whom, only in THE TAIN, and other versions of ancient Irish classic tales, it’s more like lists of what the hero wore, or a list of Gaelic names and terms that no ordinary reader could possibly comprehend.

So Healey does a service by judicious editing and use of accessible terms, making her retelling of many of these famous stories much simpler and easier to understand.

I thank my friend, the poet Ray DiPalma for passing it on to me, as I do my friend, Geoff Young for giving me a copy of Ron Padgett’s TED, as well as his own POCKETS OF WHEAT.

And if the fact that these people are my friends (I’ve known Ron Padgett for decades as well) makes you assume that’s why I‘m recommending these books, you don’t know me very well.

I used to assume that when people praised the work of those they knew it was because they were their friends, and often that may be, but just as often it is the other way around, they became friends because they dug each other’s work and the talent that produced it.

Check out one or all of these books and you tell me.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Why is it that the rightwingers think that if you criticize their theories and justifications for their leaders’ actions (i.e. Bush/Cheney et. al.), you’re an “America hater” but if they criticize your position and perspective as represented by various politicians or publications etc., they’re feckin’ (as the Irish say) “patriots”?!

It’s hypocritical and dreary. If Clinton pursues Osama Bin Laden under his administration, it’s because he’s trying to divert attention from Monica. And if his anti-Osama, anti-terrorism policies succeed in limiting or completely eliminating terrorist attacks on US soil, it’s coincidental.

Then when it happens on Bushie Junior’s watch on 9/11, because he dropped the ball Clinton and Gore handed him and his people about the terrorist threat, it’s somehow Clinton’s and Gore’s fault!

But if then there are no more terrorist attacks on US soil under Junior, it’s suddenly the result of his administration’s policies, including the war in Iraq, which even his own analysts and experts declare has produced many more Al Queda supporters than there were before the invasion of Iraq.

Then they defend that invasion on the grounds that Saddam was a villain, which he was, and try to tar the critics of the Iraq war as pro-Saddam!

But they never bring up the Saudis, the best Arab friends to the Bush family and their financial empire, who have been financing not only Al Queda and other terrorists for decades, but who finance the madreses (sp?) the all male schools which are the only place poor Arab boys can get schooling in most Arab countries, schools that teach only one thing, the jihadists’ interpretation of the Koran as an imperative to kill all infidels.

So if you rightwingers really despised what the fundamentalist Islamists are doing in the world, you should be demanding that the Bushies invade Saudi Arabia and depose that kingdom’s rulers for a democratic government that would truly be our ally and stop bankrolling the jidahists around the world (and while you’re at it invade Pakistan and not only get Osama, but return that country to democracy and cease their support of the madres schools and the jihadists who run them and recruit future suicide bombers and Al Queda “fighters” out of them).

And the weirdest thing about all these rightwing politicians and pundits is almost none of them, close to zero, ever served their country in the military. Every one of my brothers that lived beyond infancy served in the military, as I did, for over four years, and as did many of the prominent Democrats in the Clinton administration and among Democrats in congress during the Clinton years and since.

I could go on, and so could you probably. I’m just reacting to comments on recent posts and e mails I get, and other rightwing attacks out there on the net and the media in general.

But the best response I can give to all of that, is something that came to me when I was praying and meditating to get my blood pressure down from the original attack that sparked this post, the inner voice came to me loud and clear saying:

“Don’t let others control your emotions with their fear.”

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Okay, enough with the Irish, what about the French? I’ll come up with a favorite French film alphabet list one of these days, but meanwhile, here’s these two recent releases.

I had heard mixed things about both these flicks, but Peter Case recommended LA VIE EN ROSE on his blog, so I checked it out last night and was glad I did.

As I commented on his blog, the acting is superb, the editing poetic, and the camera work often really good as well.

And though there are details of the story that demand more explanation, the overall effect of the movie makes up for that.

I said it was more like a post-modern epic poem than the usual three-act play or movie format.

And as Piaf, from her late teens to her death when still in her forties—though in the movie she appears to be more like ninety—Marion Cotillard is incredible.

Though at times maybe over the top, a bit of a caricature, she still manages to create a portrait of “the little sparrow” that is as unforgettable as her many recordings.

And any movie that has Gerard Depardieu in it, even in as small a part as he has in this one, is still worth seeing, as far as I’m concerned.

Even if you’re not a Depardieu or Edith Piaf fan, which I am, I think you’ll be moved by her story and impressed by the way it’s acted and told.

As for RATATOUILLEl, even if it’s a Hollywood (Pixar) version of the French, it’s still another really well made flick.

There’s some beautiful artwork in the computer renderings of not only the “cartoon” rats and humans, but in the landscapes and architecture and lighting. Check out the opening scene, set on a rainy day in the French countryside, for instance.

Even the more two-dimensional closing credits are well done, designed like late 1950s early ‘60s advertising and fashion drawings, ala Warhol in his early artist-for-hire phase.

And Peter O’Toole,as the voice of the food critic “Anton Ego” is also worth the admission price.

Is it a little corny at times or too cute? It’s a kid’s movie! Of course it has its sappy moments. But it also has a lot of surprises, and captures pretty realistically the types of people and melodrama found in the kitchen of many upscale restaurants, at least according to the stories I’ve heard from relatives and friends who’ve worked in them.

And the denouement is pretty surprising for a kids’ flick, or even a romantic comedy, like RATATOUILLE essentially is. If anything, it reminded me of the best of that genre from old Hollywood, just updated in focus and subject matter (gourmet cooking).

I don’t know how it will translate to the small screen, but in a small theater with a big screen, it was like a visit to an unexpectedly fun art gallery, or discovering an old Hollywood romantic comedy that I’d never seen before and found delightful.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Had trouble sleeping again the other night, too many late night sweets, and thinking about my two posts about ONCE, I came up with an alphabet list for favorite movies about the Irish, with a few letters stumping me.

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (Hollywood version of New York Irish, when I was a kid, but I still dig it and always will—I used a still photo from it on the cover of my first “underground bestseller” book of poems: ROCKY DIES YELLOW)
DANCING AT LUGHNASA (the pre-Christian Irish feast the title refers to is coming up, on August 1st) and THE DEAD
GANGS OF NEW YORK (despite the miscasting) and THE GIRL WITH THE GREEN EYES (who remembers Rita Tushingham, besides me? I had a crush on her in 1964)
JAMES JOYCE’S WOMEN (the great Fionnula Flanagan at her best)
LEAP OF FAITH, A (a moving 1996 documentary about trying to bridge the gap between Catholic and Protestant children in Northern Ireland amidst the troubles)
NED KELLY (the 2004 version with Heath Ledger I mentioned in a recent post)
TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, A (another old-Hollywood version of New York Irish, but poignant and pretty realistic for the times)

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Not only is ONCE now one of my all time favorite movies, but the CD of the music from the film is now one of my favorite recordings.

I’m up in the Berkshires, visiting my grown kids and grandkids with my nine-year-old, happy as I can be with all my progeny, as well as enjoying the incredibly lush natural beauty of the countryside (although I have to admit, I’ve always dug the country most through window views from houses or cars or trains, rather than actually being out in the woods looking out for bears and snakes and getting bitten by insects, possibly tics, etc.).

At any rate, my older son Miles, a bassist—and a really good one despite his modesty, in all kinds of bands since his teens—has been teaching himself the guitar, mastering some of the trickier Beatles tunes, and other songs, including the great opening duet, FALLING SLOWLY, on the ONCE soundtrack.

As he was working it out on the guitar one afternoon, I sat down at his “antique” 1960s electric piano—an instrument he has also taught himself to play—and I played along on its shortened keyboard to his guitar playing, as best I could. After the song ended, he taught me the chord changes and we played the song again, several times, getting it down better and better each time.

After one particularly good rendition, that moved me playing it almost as much as it did hearing and seeing it done in the film, I slipped into my usual cocktail jazz piano styling and we started jamming on the changes, turning it into our own, as Miles did some beautiful jazz chording, as well as melodic improvisations, that made me feel like we were a less masterfully unique, but no less intense, version of those old recordings of Bill Evans and Jim Hall!

Even if you don’t play an instrument, I think you’ll dig this soundtrack.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Just to riff on the administration’s latest scare tactics to distract—unfortunately too many—people from this administration’s many failures and failings and fuck ups and scandals, I will personally guarantee your protection, from all terrorist attacks on your home, IF, and only IF, you READ MY BLOG.

And for those who have been reading it, I hope you’ve noticed that YOU HAVEN’T BEEN personally attacked by terrorists in your home yet! You better keep reading!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


The following was the entire entry for e. ethelbert miller's blog yesterday, July 16th, and is why I have his blog on my recommended sites (the last list down on the right side of my blog):


"Iraq is better without Saddam Hussein than with Saddam Hussein. Without a doubt."
- Mario Vargas Llosa

All I can say is that I was in Iraq when Hussein was in power and I'm still here today. Geez.
Things were bad under Hussein but look at the country now. Look at all the people who are refugees. How many dead? How many wounded? Llosa should write fiction and let the Iraqi people speak for themselves.

Monday, July 16, 2007


I’ve seen all the Harry Potter films so far, with my nine-year-old, and I still had trouble figuring out some of what was going on in the latest—HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX.

For one thing, the actual “Order of the Phoenix” looked like it should have been the central idea of the film, and wanted to be, but was lost in way too many extraneous or truncated scenes.

I haven’t read the books but know that those who have were terribly disappointed in this latest adaptation, and I can see why. There were several possible plots inherent in the story, even as it appeared on screen, but were never fleshed out or followed through on, or if they were it was done so choppily or abruptly, that there was no emotional impact (like the major student betrayal in the flick).

Though it wasn’t a bad movie for my nine-year-old and his friends, even the ones who had read the book, because the screen was so busy with attempts to cram in as many plot points as possible, their eyes were filled with images that seemed to satisfy them.

I’ve read criticism of the special effects, but they seemed to me as good as the usual for this series. What didn’t seem as good as usual was the use of the adult actors in the character roles.

The usual great British talent used for these films was given short shrift, with very few of them having more than a scene or two to do any real acting, and even then they seemed to have been directed to make their characters even more two dimensional than they originally were, with the exception of Imelda Tauton in the role of Dumbledore’s new nemesis.

I don’t particularly like Michael Gambon, so since he took over the role of Dumbledore, I’ve been aware of how much I miss Richard Harris. And poor Helena Bonham Carter seemed to be wasted entirely on a role so obvious and unsubtle it made clear how much she was misdirected.

The writers and the director are to blame here. But in the end, I have to admit, the movie kept me engaged, even if critically, so that the time sped by pretty quickly and I can’t say it felt wasted. I enjoyed much of the spectacle and seeing these young actors growing up before our eyes (it’s like a more condensed fantasy version of that “7-up” documentary film series on real British children).

But I have to say, I can’t imagine by the time the films are completed that these “kids” aren’t all going to seem a little old for the roles. But it’ll be fun to see if that will turn out to be true or not.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


We're All Gonna Die

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Columnist

Friday 13 July 2007

We are all wired into a survival trip now. - Hunter S. Thompson

Who can forget the incredible scandal that erupted back in May of 2002? Around about the middle of that month, details began to emerge about the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing that specifically warned Bush about Osama bin Laden's determination to strike the United States.

Wait. Actually, everyone forgot, because two days later, the Bush administration unleashed a blizzard of dire warnings about impending terrorist attacks. FBI Director Robert Mueller intoned such attacks were "inevitable," and the Department of Homeland Security announced the imminent, explosive destruction of all American railroads, along with the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

Who can forget the incredible scandal that erupted back in June of 2003? Over the course of two days, reports emerged about serious doubts held by the CIA regarding the credibility of the administration's claim Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger. On the heels of this, Congress unfurled its 9/11 report, which criticized all levels of the Bush administration for its performance before and during the attacks.

Wait. Actually, everyone forgot, because the Bush administration unleashed another blizzard of warnings about impending terrorist attacks. Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security warned terrorists were, once again, preparing to attack the United States with suicide missions using commercial airliners as bombs.

Who can forget the incredible scandal that erupted back in December of 2003? 9/11 Commission chairman Thomas Keane declared the attacks of 9/11 should have been prevented. The next day, a Federal appeals court ruled against the administration on the case of suspected terrorist Jose Padilla, stating Padilla could not be held indefinitely without being charged.

Wait. Actually, everyone forgot, because the Bush administration increased the terrorism threat level to Orange and claimed more suicide planes were about to come zooming out of the sky. Six international flights were diverted due to potential terrorist actions of some passengers who were later identified as an insurance salesman, an elderly Chinese woman and a five-year-old boy.

Who can forget the incredible scandal that erupted back in May of 2004? Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared on Meet the Press and stated the intelligence on Iraqi WMD he'd been given for his UN presentation had been "inaccurate and wrong and, in some cases, deliberately misleading." Horrifying new pictures of the torture, rape and murder of prisoners by Americans at Abu Ghraib prison became public. The American military accidentally bombed a wedding party in Iraq, killing 40 civilians.

Wait. Actually, everyone forgot, because FBI Director Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft announced they had reports from multiple sources of al Qaeda's "specific intention to hit the United States hard." The threat levels were not raised, but dire warnings of impending catastrophe were offered by the administration for the next several days.

The recipe is simple, like the directions on the back of a shampoo bottle. Damaging reports of Bush administration malfeasance emerge. Warnings of imminent terrorist-borne doom immediately follow, all spread far and wide by said Bush administration. Lather, rinse, repeat.

There are many more instances of this curious timing to be found, but apparently, no one in the administration is concerned this dubious pattern - spreading fear among the populace to change the subject, an act of terrorism itself - might start to wear thin.

Who is going to forget the incredible scandals of June and July of 2007? The Bush administration leaves Nixon in the dust by commuting the prison sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. This action strongly suggests the existence of a quid pro quo between Libby and Bush's people to cover up the criminal activities of powerful officials like Vice President Dick Cheney, who had recently claimed his office wasn't part of the executive branch to avoid handing papers over to the National Archives.

The administration deploys spurious claims of Executive Privilege to avoid subpoenas regarding the patently illegal NSA wiretapping of American citizens. That privilege is extended to deny Congressional access to Harriet Miers, former White House counsel, regarding the issue of fired US attorneys. Contempt charges are threatened against Miers, and the NSA subpoena stonewall comes closer to getting openly challenged in court. Alberto Gonzales is exposed as having lied to the Senate in his testimony about FBI abuses of the Patriot Act.

Few of the benchmarks for success in Iraq are met. Desperate to halt a tide of GOP defections from his Iraq policy, Bush again coughs up the totally discredited link between 9/11 and Iraq, saying, "The same people that attacked us on September the 11th is a crowd that is now bombing people, killing innocent men, women and children." The House again votes to withdraw American troops from Iraq. A new Harris poll on Bush's approval rating is published. The number reads 26 percent.


Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff all but guarantees devastating new terror attacks against the United States this summer. He bases this warning on a "gut feeling." White House spokesman Tony Snow threatens that withdrawal from Iraq would bring terrorism "to a shopping mall near you."

Meanwhile, al Qaeda is alleged to be as secure in Pakistan and Afghanistan as they were before 9/11, yet no one in the administration connects this new security to the drain of resources happening in Iraq. Additionally, no one in the administration points out the fact that, if Chertoff's gut is indeed correct, and we are indeed attacked again, responsibility for that attack will fall upon those who manufactured war in Iraq. Never mind the fact that if an attack is allowed to happen, even a minor one, more of our constitutional rights and protections will be eviscerated by the very same people who failed to stop it again.

Will everyone forget about the scandals of June and July 2007 amid these deadly warnings of coming death?

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


I just finished reading three books of “fiction” by three women writers:


Gellhorn’s book is a collection of three long stories (or short novellas) published in 1965 by Simon and Schuster.

Drew’s is a novel, set almost entirely in Africa, published in 1996 by Coffee House Press.

Powers’ is a relatively short (43 pages) chapbook collection of short prose pieces that sometimes read as prose poems, sometimes as short short stories, sometimes as mini-essays or mini-memoirs. It was published by Future Tense Books in 2005.

All three are terrifically well written, in three distinctly different styles, and satisfied me in three equally distinct ways.

Though born and raised in the U.S., Gellhorn spent most of her life outside the U. S., covering wars as a journalist, and writing novels and short stories about the kinds of people, and their lives, she encountered in all her travels and expatriate homes.

The three stories in PRETTY TALES FOR TIRED PEOPLE take place mostly in Europe, and all are about loss, in some cases tragic loss—of love, of reputation, of family, of life.

They are told in a careful and clear way, that maybe wouldn’t make you feel like you had an emotional stake in the characters, or their stories, but at least they have an old fashioned satisfying closure to them and don’t drop off into an abyss of irony or lack of any expectations, as in so much of contemporary short fiction.

The pleasure for me is not just in the appreciation of a well told story and the satisfaction of getting to see the arc of someone else’s life and choices resolved, one way or the other, but in the intelligence of the writing and the sophistication and understanding of the author’s intellect—not judging, not pleading, not looking for any knee jerk reaction, just telling a good story about how humans can fuck up their lives, or the lives of others.

Hey, like I’ve said elsewhere, I feel like I’ve been in a relationship with the long deceased Gellhorn ever since I accidentally stumbled on a long out of print, first edition hardcover copy (with miraculously the dust jacket intact) of a WWII novel of hers in a pile of junk waiting for the garbage collectors outside a neighbor’s house years ago.

Ever since then, since most of her books are long out of print, whenever I pass a used bookstore I check it for any Gellhorn treasures. PRETTY TALES FOR TIRED PEOPLE I picked up on that recent weekend in the Berkshires, after my reading with Terence Winch, when we stopped in a used bookstore on the main drag of Great Barrington. It’s another hardback first edition with dust jacket intact, and I bought it for twelve dollars.

Isn’t it odd that I could buy this treasure, at least to me, for less than it would cost me to buy a paperback reprint, if and when her books ever do begin to be reprinted?

Eileen Drew’s THE IVORY CROCODILE was given to me by the author not long after it was published and we were both in Minneapolis-St. Paul to read from our latest books, mine also published by Coffee House Press around then (a collection of poems called CANT BE WRONG—everyone always wants to stick an apostrophe in there, but I meant “Cant”).

Somehow it got lost in one of the many piles of books I’m always carting around through the many moves I seem to make (probably nine at least since then) to be rediscovered after my latest move to the apartment I’m in now.

It’s a novel told from the point of view of a young “white” woman who spent her early childhood in Africa with her family and mythologized the experience to the point that after returning to the U.S. (or being returned, her family kicked out by a fictional African dictator that could be one of several real ones) all she wanted was to get back.

She does, when she’s old enough, as a volunteer for an educational group, assigned to teach English to high school age students in a remote village in a fictional African country, run by a typical dictator of the time (c. 1970s) taking advantage of Cold War politics to maintain his rule while oppressing his people, et-unfortunately-cetera.

The end of the story brings it somewhat up to date (c. 1990s) but the bulk of it is set in this fictional African country of Tambala, in this remote village.

The clash of values and standards and experience and traditions—let alone of the future and the past, women and men, whites and blacks, the educated and the ignorant—makes it a compelling story not only of these fictional characters but of the reality of “culture clash.”

It’s well told. Once I got into the story and let myself be taken to that time and place, I was rewarded with a good read as well as a lot of thought-provoking ideas about my own experiences caught in various cultural clashes and how they were or were not resolved.

When I finished it, I didn’t feel cheated, as I too often do in contemporary fiction, even, or especially, the most touted examples of it. There seems to be a general misconception in a lot of contemporary “literary” fiction, that any kind of resolution besides an ironic one is not true to life, as if the kinds of miraculous coincidences, or satisfying or tragic outcomes, we all have experienced aren’t real!

At any rate, THE IVORY CROCODILE doesn’t do that. It resolves the story in a clear and precise way. Tragic maybe, but not ambiguous or ironic, except in the ways it stimulates thought about the contradictions between the images we have of living a romantic existence helping others to resolve their problems while escaping our own, and the reality of no escaping them.

Magdalen Powers is a friend. She created, set up, designed, and maintains my web site (I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to do that). We met decades ago in Portland, Oregon where my late friend, the poet Jim Haining was living at the time.

He got me some poetry readings up there, and when Maggie, being a friend of Jim’s, showed up for the first time at one of them, we became instant friends.

I liked her writing right from the beginning. Which was a relief. It’s always awkward to read the work of friends, or potential friends, fearing you might not like it, and then what?

But in Maggie’s case, I dug it. And it has only gotten better. This collection, THE HEART IS ALSO A FURNACE, has the ring of not only her unique personality and perspective, but of a great and unique voice in the literary world.


Quirky, yep, unexpected, definitely, honest, to a surprising degree, manipulative, never, sincere, without a doubt, fast and yet as though suspended in time, oddly yes, baroque, if I understand the meaning of that word correctly yes, aloofly ironic as so much of today’s fiction, no sir, original, more than I ever expected, satisfying, completely.

Check out any or all of these books and authors, see what you think, and let me know.

Friday, July 13, 2007


SICKO is a really good movie.

Michael Moore’s critics, on the right and the left, seem to be mistaking Moore for a lawyer, or professional historian, or professor, or politician.

He might be capable of being all those things and more, but, what he is now and has been since ROGER AND ME, is a filmmaker.

And he makes terrific films.

SICKO, like all his films, made me laugh, made me cry, taught me a few things, and never left me wondering why I bought a ticket to see it.

In fact, never, while watching a Michael Moore movie for the first time in a theater, have I been bored.

If you want to characterize Moore’s filmmaking, I think the best analogy is to the court fools or jesters of the old kings and emperors.

They were the only ones, among the usual court entourage and officials, allowed to expose the official lies and tell the truth to, and/or about, the monarch. But, they had to make it funny.

That’s what Moore does.

Is it a stunt to sail to Cuba to emphasize the point that the so-called “terrorists” confined at Gitmo in defiance of the Geneva conventions and the U. S. Constitution get better healthcare than many ordinary U.S. citizens? Sure, it’s a stunt.

But the point of the stunt is still true. The infant mortality rate and the average lifespan are better in Cuba—even though they’ve been suffering under a U.S. embargo for over forty years, and are a poor “third world” country—than in the richest country on earth.

But then the health statistics for a lot of countries are better than those of the U.S.

Something’s rotten in Washington, D.C., and Moore just points out where the stink is coming from.

Hooray for Moore, and raspberries to anyone too uptight or rightwing brainwashed to pretend his movies aren’t as entertaining and engaging as they truly are, or that his facts aren’t marshaled in the correct fashion or aren’t based on the reality out here in “managed care” land.

It’s no wonder Moore has replaced Teddy Kennedy and Bill Clinton as the man the righwingers most love to hate.

(PS: How come they can find $135 billion a year for the Iraq War (as others have pointed out, that's over a quarter of a million dollars a minute) but can't find the money to provide universal health care?)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

d. a. levy

Speaking of great writers from my generation (my Dale Herd post):

d. a. levy was a poet sometimes associated with the Beats, or with the small press movement of the 1960s that grew from the 1950s small press scene into a genuine broad-based phenomenon, of which levy was one of the stars.

First he was a local star in his hometown of Cleveland, where he faced harassment from the police, and other civil authorities, for his small press publishing and his poetry readings etc. As many poets and small press publishers did in those days.

And a national star for those of us who were part of that national small press scene, publishing our own alternative and “underground” newspapers and magazines or running small presses that published books of poetry and such, or wrote for them and had our own little chapbooks published.

He was a big influence on my own development on that scene, and my choice to make my poetry home there. His early death, questionably by his own hand, and even if suicide, seemed at least partly influenced by the unfair treatment the police and others were giving him.

He put out a newspaper that was what mostly got him in trouble. I still have my copies of it. It was called THE BUDDHIST THIRD CLASS JUNKMAIL ORACLE.

Mike Golden—another small press poet and publisher on the alternative scene back in the day—edited and introduced a collection of levy’s poetry and collages published by Seven Stories Press in 1999 called:


Check it out if you want to have a window into the 1960s in a way no movie or book written to date has yet captured. And to see how widespread his influence was (though like many a star in that decade he was dead by age 26, whether by his own hand or someone else’s).

And check out this post on Nightlight to see how his influence is still present for many of us.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I caught NED KELLY last night on cable, with Heath Ledger in the title role, as the famous Irish born 19th-Century Australian outlaw.

It’s a great movie, for my taste, and his performance is stunningly powerful, especially considering his age and that he was most famous for being a hunk in earlier roles.

And then, within only a couple of years he did BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, another impressive performance as an entirely different, even opposite kind of character

This made me think of other actors who played two incredibly different roles almost back to back and kicked ass in them, often unexpectedly.

Like Freddy Forrest, when he first made an appearance in movies, at least to my notice, as the driver in the Bette Midler vehicle THE ROSE and then followed that up as “chef” in APOCALYPSE NOW. I remember not even realizing it was the same actor!

Or an even more stunning, in many ways, double acting accomplishment was Jennifer Jason Leigh playing two entirely different characters, but both prostitutes, in LAST EXIT FROM BROOKLYN and MIAMI BLUES, within a year or so of each other.

Or for that matter, Alec Baldwin playing the ex-con in MIAMI BLUES only two years after playing the preppy husband in BEETLEJUICE.

There’s the obvious great examples of this that don’t need to be mentioned, like Brando’s comeback performances as THE GODFATHER followed by LAST TANGO IN PARIS, two entirely different characters and portrayals.

Of course Brando, Morgan Freeman, Tom Hanks, Vanessa Redgrave, and other masters of the craft have done these back to back totally different performances. But you expect it from the recognized greats.

It’s a surprise, though, in people you haven’t heard of or didn’t expect it from.

I’ll think of some more for a future lists of them, maybe an alphabet one if I can do it.

Meanwhile, you have any examples you can think of?

Monday, July 9, 2007


"...Had the president wanted to placate the Weekly Standard crowd, he would have given Mr. Libby a full pardon. That he served up a commutation instead is revealing of just how worried the president is about the beans Mr. Libby could spill about his and Dick Cheney's use of prewar intelligence.
Valerie Wilson has a suit pending. The Democratic inquisitor in the House, Henry Waxman, still has the uranium hoax underlying this case at the top of his agenda as an active investigation. A commutation puts up more roadblocks by keeping Mr. Libby's appeal of his conviction alive and his Fifth Amendment rights intact. He can't testify without risking self-incrimination. Meanwhile, we are asked to believe that he has paid his remaining $250,000 debt to society independently of his private $5 million "legal defense fund." —from Frank Rich's July 8, 2007 Sunday NY Times Op Ed piece "A Profile in Cowardice"

Sunday, July 8, 2007


RJ Eskow is a friend and brilliant blogger, who often contributes to The Huffington Post, and whose own blog, nightlight, is on my short list of favorites that I check pretty much every day.

Beside his intelligent and perceptive writing, he has many other talents, including being a fine and knowledgeable musician, which is why his posts on music are always informative and entertaining.

Anyway, he nominated me on his blog for something called THE THINKING BLOGGERS AWARD, for which I am highly grateful and humbled, since RJ is one of the finest bloggers on the net in my, and many other reader’s, opinion.

The idea is to nominate five blogs that make you think, and I was in great company (I suggest you check the others out), which included a blog I wasn’t aware of by my old friend Peter Case. I just added his to the list of blogs I recommend on the right, which I try to limit to blogs I actually read, most of them by friends whose thinking I admire and respect.

But now, in order to keep this thing going, which I guess is the polite and grateful thing to do, I’m supposed to nominate five of my own favorite blogs, ones that I find provocative and engaging, that cause me to think, or rethink.

So here goes:

1. Jimsonweed—is the first blog I check every day I go online. It’s the blog of a friend and L. A. poet, who started it as a place to display his photos, and occasional thoughts on them and other things, in his quest to “photograph all of L. A.” I lived in L. A. for seventeen years and since moving back East haven’t missed it once (just my friends there). But I would miss this blog if it ever went away.
2. Nickpiombino—a recent addition to my recommended blogs, Nick is a New York poet I’ve known since the 1970s, whose voice is unique and whose perspective is generous but thought provoking.
3. Coolbirth—was started by my friend “Alameda Tom” in response to my starting this blog. He did it so he could help me with any technical problems I might encounter, so that he could figure them out on his blog and then advise me for mine. The generosity of his taking the time to do that is a reflection of his big heart, as is his blog, which bounces between the personal, the technically useful, and the discovery of “cool” things out there in the universe to be aware of.
4. Eethelbertmiller—a DC poet and friend for decades, e’s blog keeps me up to date on not only the DC scene but on aspects of the poetry world I might otherwise be unaware of, as well as his own perspective on politics, both literary and “real world.”
5. Erictrules—another old friend, whose travel e-notes on his web site is like a blog, but whose actual blog, though he only occasional posts on it, offers a perspective different from my own, though at many points they do converge. He reminds me of things I’ve forgotten, and makes me aware of things I didn’t know. Much more world traveled than me, a bit younger, but also a poet and performer, he was best known in the early years of our friendship as a New York professional clown (I think called Cumezee Bozo, if I remember correctly) who ran for mayor there back in the 1970s. Not the only clown to do so, but the only professional clown, as opposed to professional politician, to do so.

So, there’s my five. I could have added a few more, like English poet Tom Raworth’s blog which is one of the most unique and engaging I know of, consisting mostly of musical links and altered art and photographs to make political statements, along with personal and poetry world photos and short videos.

Or “language poet” Ron Silliman’s blog, which I check most days, not only for his perspective on events in the poetry world, but to keep up to date on that world as Ron often posts lists of links to poetry related articles etc. Or RJ Eskow’s nightlight itself, which would have been my first nominee, if he hadn’t been the one who nominated me and that would have defeated the purpose of passing these nominations along.

Once again, I’d like to thank him for including me among his distinguished nominees for this “award,” and hope you all find me, as well as my nominees, worthy.

Friday, July 6, 2007


I noticed two things after yesterday’s post, one was I don’t mention much fiction on this blog, and the other was how long it had been since I’d seen a book from Bill Zavatsky and how happy I was that his latest, and I think his best, had finally arrived.

Then I thought of writers, like Zavatsky and me, to mention just two I know personally, who had long periods between books at some point in their life. And that made me think of Dale Herd.

Allen Ginsberg once told an interviewer that Herd was his favorite prose writer.

I once wrote a rave review of one of Herd’s collections of short stories for The Washington Post, in which I claimed Herd as the Hemingway of our generation.

Not that Herd changed the nature of prose style with his books, as Hemingway did, but that Herd captured the sensibility and perspective of his and my times as well as Hemingway did his (IN OUR TIME was always my favorite book of Hemingway’s).

Herd’s writing is as well crafted as anything of Hemingway’s, and more consistently so (a few later Hemingway books are not up to his own standards, while all of Herd’s are up to his).

But there hasn’t been a new book of Herd’s published in too many years. He has been writing for the screen in the interim, and raising a family of three boys, all top athletes at a young age, including the oldest, who is a high school hockey star and will be playing for Bowdoin College next year.

Dale was writing a novel the last time I read his work (part of an earlier unpublished novel was done as a stage piece when I was living in L. A., my second wife played one of the characters in it). If anyone deserves to be published, just on the record of his books published back in the day, it’s Dale Herd.

I don’t know if his books are available through your local bookstore, but I’m sure they are on the internet, as is most everything else, so if you’d like to read a master of prose and a true chronicler of the human condition, including individual and specific details often overlooked by other writers, check out these collections of short stories by Dale Herd:

EARLY MORNING WIND and Other Stories (Four Seasons Foundation 1972)
DIAMONDS (Mudra 1976)
WILD CHERRIES (Tombouctou 1980)

If you like great writing, you won’t be sorry. I still reread Herd’s books on a regular basis, and I’m never disappointed. They remain three of my all time favorite books of fiction.

Here’s a sample, the very first story in EARLY MORNING WIND, and the shortest, called “Eric:”

“She had a kid asleep in the bedroom. I asked her if she wanted to ball and she said yes. She got her gun six times. I told her I was selling my car and all my belongings and buying a sailboat and sailing to Australia. I said she could go but she’d have to pay. How much she said. A dollar thirty seven I said. She said not bad. Then she said how much for Eric. I said ten thousand dollars.”

Thursday, July 5, 2007


These are two very different authors with two very different recent books.

Alison Bechdel’s book, FUN HOME, is another graphic novel loaned to me by my friend Lisa who thought I might dig it. I usually find graphic novels pretty boring. But this one kept my attention more than most.

Bill Zavatsky is a poet, whose latest book is X MARKS THE SPOT.

Bechdel wrote and drew FUN HOME, a memoir, which like many these days centers around a family secret that contributed to a family mystery that heightened the drama of Bechdel’s life.

I had sympathy for her growing up suspecting she was a lesbian, in a family in denial about that reality. But I also found the truth bent at times in ways easily documented just by going back and reading previous panels of the story. That kind of thing, when it goes unacknowledged by the author, leaves me a little bugged.

It also bothered me that among what seems like thousands of blurbs on both the front and back covers, and inside covers and pages, the first blurb on the top of the front cover claims FUN HOUSE was “TIME MAGAZINE’S #1 BOOK OF THE YEAR.”

I can imagine it being the #1 graphic book of the year, since I don’t know much about that genre. But I can’t imagine there weren’t better books among the thousands and thousands published over a year’s time. In fact, I could name a few that could have been my choice.

Zavatsky’s X MARKS THE SPOT, a slim collection of narrative poems, is mostly concerned with the poet’s past and how it interacts with the present, as well—a poetic memoir that will never be named “#1 BOOK OF THE YEAR” by TIME magazine. His life story would never be seen as dramatic or sensational enough, or as aligned with contemporary “memoir” publishing standards as Bechdel’s.

In his sixties, Zavatksy seems to have been humbled by life, and willing to humble himself on the page before the reader, if that helps him get closer to the truth of that life.

There are many poems in X MARKS THE SPOT I identified with (we’re both around the same age, stopped publishing poetry for a number of years after some early success, and both started out as jazz piano players, from ethnic Catholic backgrounds and working-class neighborhoods in the Northeast, etc.). But I believe they’re good enough that anyone of any age and experience could identify with them (as there are many areas where he and I had entirely different experiences in our lives and various careers, including those various careers, children, locations where we lived as adults, number of marriages, etc.).

I was touched by the humble sincerity in these poems, by the craft that went into their seeming simplicity. I felt like I had read a memoir, a very satisfying one that I wished there was a sequel to, and hopefully there will be. Zavatsky’s poems created the kind of connection with me, as a reader, that I look for, and long for, in books, that sense that I have entered the world of another human being, whose insights and observations make me feel not only less alone in the struggle to accept life’s inevitable struggles and sadness, but also in the capacity for creative engagement and joy even in the midst of those struggles and that sadness.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

George W. Bush is One Tough Hombre

By Paul Begala

07/03/07 "Huffington Post" -- -- Tough enough to execute Karla Fay Tucker -- and then laugh about it. Tough enough to sign a death warrant for a man whose lawyer slept through the trial -- and then snicker when asked about it in a debate. Even tough enough to execute a great-grandmother who murdered her husband -- after he abused her. A friend of mine at the time asked Bush to commute her sentence, telling him, "Betty Lou ain't a threat to no one she ain't married to." No dice.

Mr. Bush is tough enough to invade a country that was no risk to America, causing tens of thousands of civilian deaths and shedding precious American blood in the process. Tough enough to sanction torture. Tough enough to order an American citizen arrested and held without trial.

But if you're rich and right-wing and Republican, George is a real softie. As George W. Bush demonstrated in giving Scooter Libby a Get Out of Jail Free Card, he is only compassionate to conservatives.

What does it say about America in the age of Bush when Judith Miller spends more time in jail over the Valerie Plame smear than Scooter Libby?

One thing it says is that Mr. Bush and his partner in crime, Dick Cheney, believe they are above the law. The commutation of Libby confirms the belief that Mr. Libby lied to the FBI, perjured himself to the grand jury, and obstructed a federal criminal investigation in order to cover up the role Bush and Cheney played in smearing Joe Wilson and ruining the career of his CIA operative wife.

The arrogance of the act is astounding. In commuting Libby's sentence, Mr. Bush did not follow his own Justice Department's guidelines, which do not recommend commutations unless the convict has begun serving his or her sentence, and has dropped or exhausted all appeals. Of course, Mr. Bush is free to disregard those guidelines, as President Clinton did when he pardoned Marc Rich. The Rich pardon was wrong, in my opinion. But Marc Rich was a fugitive financier; Clinton did not benefit at all from Rich's crimes. Scooter Libby is a Bush-Cheney operative who may well have been doing Bush and Cheney's bidding when he obstructed the investigation into how and Valerie and Joe Wilson were smeared. (By the way, like many Democrats I spoke out publicly against the Rich pardon -- which Scooter Libby helped to arrange. Let's see how many Republicans have the character to speak out against this injustice.)

It's interesting that we still have the capacity to be shocked by the extra-legal acts of this crowd. They came to power by stealing an election, by staging a near-riot to stop the counting of ballots in Miami, and by virtue of a Supreme Court edict that has joined Dred Scott in the judicial hall of shame. From that day to this Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have held the rule of law in contempt.

And we still have 567 days to go.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


That “Scooter” Libby was pardoned by Junior!

That right wing Republicans (I refuse to call them “conservatives,” because they are no more “conservative” in the true meaning of the word, let alone the political meaning of it, than Bill Clinton is, though, come to think of it, he certainly achieved more so-called conservative political goals than any Republican has, i.e. made the federal government smaller, balanced the budget, reduced the welfare rolls as well as teenage pregnancy, reduced crime—hmmm, he achieved almost all the goals Reagan set out for himself but in fact did the opposite in his eight years in office—as well as prevented any 9/11 from happening on his watch, etc.) seem gleeful that Libby was pardoned and were incensed by his sentence in the first place, for perjury, i.e. lying to a Federal Prosecutor and Grand Jury!

That the same right wing Republicans were adamant that Bill Clinton should have been found guilty and not only prosecuted but impeached and thrown out of his presidency for doing exactly the same thing. Oh, but of course, Clinton was lying about a private sexual affair with a consenting adult, Libby was lying about outing a CIA spy and therefore endangering national security as well as the lives of other spies and their contacts, thus, once again, the right-wingers who would like to be identified as “conservatives” prove themselves not conservative when it comes to the protection of the constitution, let alone the country, just when it comes to sex!

And that OCEAN’S THIRTEEN is a let down, after the original, then the first remake, and then the sequel to the remake—despite the same outstanding cast, (with the absence of Juila Roberts and Katherine Zeta Jones being made up for by the presence of Ellen Barkin and Al Pacino playing more or less themselves) which includes the usual charm of Brad Pitt and George Clooney, who were all given an incredibly badly written, as well as barely humorous, script to work with, probably written by hundreds, or rewritten I should say by hundreds of un-credited writers (I have done un-credited rewriting on scripts so I know how that works, though my rewrites were always vast improvements over the originals! And I’d be shocked if they weren’t!)!

Monday, July 2, 2007


I had a beautiful weekend in “the Berkshires” of Western Massachusetts, where I got to do a poetry reading with Terence Winch at poet Geoff Young’s gallery in Great Barrington.

In the audience were old friends I hadn’t seen in years, as well as newer friends. My two grown children were there too, and my youngest child and grandson and godson and daughter-in-law, who is also a long time friend.

Terry read from his newest book, BOY DRINKERS, as well as from the book Geoff Young’s press, The Figures, published, THE DRIFT OF THINGS, and some newer unpublished poems.

My grown kids were moved, as I was, as I’m sure everyone there was, by the deep and profound sentiments and observations in his poems, as we all were moved to laughter by the humor in them (I had tears in my eyes from both reactions).

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The ride up and back was as good as the rest of the weekend, traveling through the lush green of summer landscapes, with Terry and my little boy, and my good friend, poet Simon Pettet.

The stay there, at our friend Karen Allen’s home, was full of deeply satisfying conversation and much laughter. And music, after I sat down at her piano to riff around on some blues chords and found everyone joining in on various percussion instruments, my little boy and grandson carrying the beat with a precision and artistry that amazed us all. Then later my older son playing bass with my godson on guitar, more punk than blues jamming ensued.

These are the kinds of experiences that so enrich my life I can hardly keep from bursting with gratitude.

But life is ever changing. And as my old friend, the artist Sylvia Schuster has said: “Everything’s always fucked up and good at the same time.”

Because the weekend ended in Terry returning to Washington DC, Simon to Manhattan, me to Jersey, and my little boy to his mom, while my grown children and grandchildren and Karen and my godson remained in “the Berkshires.”

And then to help me to accept the end of a weekend spent with so many people I love, I ended up at a local gathering of friends, at which I shared a story about an upsetting phone conversation I had just before the gathering, in which someone I loved revealed some meanness from her husband that included the “n word” used as part of a nasty, as well as racist, put down.

There was an African American friend at this gathering, who let me know she was angry with me because in telling this story, sharing my anguish over my friend’s suffering, I actually used the word and didn’t substitute the phrase: “the N word.”

When I tried to defend myself, saying I never used that word in my life, except in writing where I was quoting a racist character, as I was in this story I told, and that in fact in the 1950s and ‘60s I had been beaten and harassed and worse for defending people from that kind of racism, and over the years had physically thrown people out of my various homes for using that word, she cut me no slack.

Every time I said I never use that word myself, she reminded me that I just had. And when I said I was quoting someone, she would remind me that even so, I had said it and I could have said instead: “the N word.” I tried to point out that wasn’t what this man used, he used the word itself, and the dramatic point of the story would have been diluted if not missed by substituting that phrase.

I’m obviously a pretty outspoken person. Back in the 1970s, poet John Ashbery once introduced me, to a class he was teaching, as “the X-rated poet” and others have objected to the graphic sex in my writing as well as the foul language in my writing and often in my every day speech.

I have been trying to stop cursing since my first words, which two of my older brothers told me were curse words. I have successfully put a brake on my cursing at times, but once I get emotional about something all bets are off.

I don’t want to offend anyone. When I was younger I did, part of being young perhaps, at least for some of us. But I no longer want to offend anyone, nor need to. But it is difficult not to. I called someone a “twit” in response to a right wing parroting comment on one of my posts recently and instantly regretted it, but didn’t edit it or censor it because I have great reverence for the truth, not as some absolute possibility, but as an ideal we can only approach, never fully achieve, and thus I have no desire to start censoring or editing anyone.

As much as some words might offend someone, the truth of who is using them and for what purpose can be very helpful to reveal, by allowing them the freedom to say them and thereby reveal themselves for what they truly are. Which is what I was trying to do, reveal the man who had said those words for what he truly was, by quoting him accurately.

But my friend said I should not have, no matter what my purpose, whether quoting someone to reveal their racism and nastiness or not. This argument has been going on for years, and I’m not going to settle it here.

I remember that old Lenny Bruce routine, which caused such a stir. He’d look out over his audience and start characterizing what ethnic groups were there by using the offensive slang terms for each. It wouldn’t have worked if he had substituted the phrase “the N word” or for Jewish people, “the K word” etc.

It would be impossible anyway not to offend someone with almost any words we use.

For instance almost everyone, including most notable historians, refer to the years in the 19th Century when the population of Ireland was depleted by two thirds as a result of death and emigration caused by the repercussions of a series of potato blights, as “the famine.”

Whereas those of us who seek to get closer to the truth know that there was no “famine.” There was deliberate genocide.

Because, aside from the Irish Catholics who were refused the help that was offered by not only various governments, including the USA, but by Frederick Douglas and other freed slaves here, as well as by native Americans, like the “Choctaw,” no one else in Ireland suffered any “famine.”

The deprivation of the Irish Catholics during those years was initially caused by the failures of the potato crop, but worsened and sustained by the failure of the English authorities who ruled Ireland then to allow any help to get through (in accordance with their theories of “laissez faire capitalism”).

But the reality was, if you were English living in Ireland at the time, or an Irish Protestant, you didn’t starve. In fact, nothing even resembling a “famine” was anywhere in your life other than the reality that you could now kick Irish Catholics off your land, because they couldn’t pay the rent, either in a share of their tiny patch of now blighted potatoes or in the money made from them, etc.

Just as for decades and decades you could get into a fight or worse by using the English name for the city Northern Irish Catholics call Derry, but the English and Northern Irish Protestants call “Londonderry.” There are instances like this across the board, for every ethnic or other kind of group, for words that can offend.

I know that in the history of the USA African slaves suffered in many ways worse than any other group, and that “the N word” was used as a part of the cruelty that caused that suffering (although Native Americans certainly suffered more death and disease and displacement en masse, as a direct result of genocidal government policies).

But I also know there are very few groups in the world, and certainly in the USA, who don’t have a history full of suffering caused by other groups or the powers that be, and that though being sensitive to anything that recalls that suffering is human and understandable and nothing to dismiss, being oversensitive to it can sustain the pain rather than contribute to a healing of it.


"the dialectic says jump and I jump" —Chris Mason