Tuesday, April 30, 2013


I miss the early days of CNN when I could turn on the TV any time and actually see news stories. I know, everyone says because people get their news now from the Internet they don't watch the evening news like they used to (and I still do), but the original CNN was like the Internet in that it was constantly reporting news stories as they broke and covering a lot of ground.

The news I get online seems fragmented, narrowly focused and endlessly—like network and especially cable news now—more commentary than news. It also covers an extremely limited number of stories and then either repeats them ad infinitum or has endless commentary from the same old talking heads.

There are exceptions. But they are few, and limited as well by their bosses and the corporations they serve. I know this isn't a new perspective, and like duh we live in a corporatocracy so that's the way it is, but I just really miss those old days of early CNN when I could turn the TV on anytime and see what was going on in the world. And as limited as the amount of stories and the focus seemed then, it now seems way expansive compared to where we are now.

Monday, April 29, 2013


"I take my work very seriously, but I don't take myself very seriously." —Robert Altman

Sunday, April 28, 2013


This link.


"His whole life was a million to one shot" was the tag line. Which audiences knew could be said for Sylvester Stallone at the time and this his first flick. I remember the audience getting to its feet and cheering in the movie theater, as if Rocky or Stallone could actually hear them. Or just out of pure exuberance over the ending. An old style Hollywood-musical type ending, at the peak of the emotional and musical crescendo (rather than the usual arc ending with a coda that brings it all back to the new normal the plot was aiming for, which in this contrary case made a sequel inevitable and even necessary).

The series may have gotten away from Stallone and everyone involved. Stallone may have gotten away from himself (though the last in the series is actually pretty good and is based on the idea of Rocky and Stallone coming back to their roots), but this first flick was better than I remember. I watched it tonight with my oldest son visiting from the Berkshires and we both were struck with how really moving this flick is.

Stallone made a lot of tough choices with the screenplay, especially the counterpoint of sentiment and raw, almost exaggerated, disappointment. Heightened realism you might say. It worked, and still does. A treat to watch.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Just stayed up late to watch a movie that wasn't even that good. But I'd never seen it before and it starred Randolph Scott. And no matter how corny, or Confederacy apologist, or easily dismissed a movie might be, if it's got Randolph Scott in it I can't resist.

Scott was kind of the anti-John Wayne. The usually gentlemanly cowboy who usually lived by some higher code, unfortunately too often the mythical honorable Southern rebel who had been fighting for the mythically honorable lost cause.

But he was also rumored to have been having an affair with Cary Grant when they lived together in Hollywood and was outed as "gay" after his death, though I don't know how anyone can prove anything like that without having been there themselves.

When I was a kid none of that was known or even suspected in my world. All I knew was I loved the way Randolph talked, moved, rode a horse, drew his gun, fought and mostly smiled at the women. He had a charismatic charm that never made him as big a star with the adults as he was with young boys and girls. And his most artistically and commercially successful flicks included bigger stars with him.

But even in those terrible tributes to the glory of the old South, I still love to watch him on screens of any size. And though I'll be tired in the morning for staying up late to catch a throwaway old Western with him and Dorothy Malone, who had her own B movie charismatic charm, and then to write this, I feel deeply satisfied. Like the old Saturday movie matinees used to leave me feeling. Thanks Mister Randolph Scott for that.

Friday, April 26, 2013


Robert Penn Warren & me c. 1978 NYC
Joel Lipman, Michael Harris, Hubert Selby Jr., me & Eve Brandstein c. 1990 L.A.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Interesting that since Bush/Cheney changed the rules, peace activists have been put on watch lists and if they try to leave the country are pulled aside and interrogated and some aren't even allowed to get on a plane.

But a guy the FBI, CIA, son of the KGB and who knows whatever "intelligence" agencies were tracking gets on a plane to the country his family fled as refugees because they were afraid for their lives and flies back six months later and none of these "intelligence" agencies notice, or probably more accurately, none give him a hard time because he isn't a peace activist after all.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


As some of you know, I've been a list maker all my life. It was one of the strongest aspects of my personality and the way my mind worked. If I met you for the first time at a party I'd probably ask you to name your ten favorite movies or five favorite books or something like that.

I made lists in my head all day long and fell asleep making them. My poetry and other writing was full of them. Litanies, triplets, top ten top twelve etc. lists. Trying to fall asleep at night I'd make them difficult enough to strain my mind so that before I got to the end I'd be asleep. Like favorite movies with one syllable titles from A to Z, etc.

Then I had that brain operation in November of 2009 and as soon as I came out of the anesthesia it was apparent to me that a lot in my brain had changed, including the compulsion to constantly be making lists. So whereas "lists" was the top category in this blog archive up until then, after that I only made one or two, and those I had to use outside sources to compile because the reality remains that even when I feel like trying to come up with a list I grow bored of the whole idea after I come up with only one or two items.

So several weeks ago I started compiling on my phone some rhymed couplets (at least their last syllables rhyme in my mind) of favorite writers who don't write in English or American. I used my bookshelves to do it. I'm not done, still have some names with none I can find to rhyme with, but decided to post what I have just to include a list on this bog for 2013:


























Lao Tzu


St. John of the Cross


Monday, April 22, 2013


I met him once that I remember. Studio 54 of all places. Me pretty full of myself and not impressed with the star studded gang I was with, but already dug him. We got away to the balcony as I remember it (there was a balcony right?) and sat up there in the semi dark talking, me telling stories, him more just being and accepting and in a very gracious and calm way enlightening.

A real treasure.

[No need to post a photo or a YouTube video of one of his recordings or performances. They're all over the web today. I'll just sit here in the semi-dark and remember the man.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


"death isn't hard to get used to, it's the getting used to death that's hard to get used to."  —Michael Lally (1965 journal entry, later turned into a poem)

Saturday, April 20, 2013


The other night I got to go to the opening of a Broadway play by an old friend. Lyle Kessler's ORPHANS first opened in L.A. in 1983, when Lyle and his wife, the actress Margaret Ladd, lived down the street from the house me and my second wife moved into that year in Santa Monica. Lyle and I became instant friends. He was and is the calmest and most reasonable friend I think I ever had. And I became a great admirer of his work, especially ORPHANS when I saw it then in its original run.

After all these years, after being on stages around the world, and having a movie made of it, ORPHANS has finally come to Broadway. Man was it worth the wait. If you are anywhere near the city and there are tickets available, this is a totally entertaining show that engages you through every beat. And the acting is so delicious.

Alec Baldwin, another old friend I first met not long after I met Lyle, is as great as always and gets to use a lot of his enormous range, from comic to cool to poignant to enlightening. Ben Foster, who I've been a fan of for years after seeing him give great performances in movies, is a treat to watch live on stage in a role that demands an incredible range as well.

The actor I was least familiar with, who is the third member of the cast and is on stage most in the play, Tom Storridge, was the big surprise. He gave a seamless performance that kept me riveted, reminding me of a young Daniel Day-Lewis, like some original mix of that great actor's performances in MY LEFT FOOT and LAST OF THE MOHICANS.

The director, Daniel Sullivan has so many Tony and other nominations he's in the Theater Hall of Fame. It must have been a challenge to deal with the loss of the original actor in the role Ben Foster had to fill without a lot of rehearsal time, let alone the tabloid attention over that, but the power of Kessler's writing and the richness of the characters makes it difficult to mess up.

The play evokes the spirit of early William Saroyan or aspects of Frank Capra's work but is really too unique to even describe without creating misconceptions. I was afraid it might be too unique for Broadway critics, but I suspected it would delight an audience and it sure did. The response was visceral from the moment the curtain rose. The audience gave itself up to the performances and dialogue and story and was richly rewarded, and expressed their gratitude with every burst of laughter or mesmerized and focused silent attention.

Just thinking about it makes me want to go see it again.

Friday, April 19, 2013


I'm seeing a lot of blogs and Facebook posts generating comments condemning Islam and/or immigrants. So I just thought it might be time to make some things we all know, or should know, clear.

The worst violence ever perpetrated in this country was caused by European immigrants against the original natives of this country.

Second worst violence was started and caused by fellow citizens who decided they didn't want to abide by their own country's laws if it meant giving up their slaves, or initially keeping them but not being able to expand the territory in which that was legal.

So if any one group is going to be generalized as violent, it would have to be first Anglo-Americans and second Southerners, as they caused the most violence ever in our history (and before you send comments, many in my extended clan live in the South and I'm not disparaging Southerners, or Anglos, I'm criticizing those who make generalities based on prejudice, pre-judging a group based on some in that group's actions etc.).

Most deadly "terrorist" attack in the USA before 9/11 was perpetrated by a rightwing "American"—Timothy McVeigh.

All the presidential assassins in our history were American citizens. (One was the son of Polish immigrants, but he himself was "American" and another, Lincoln's assassin, was the son of English immigrants.)

It is also pretty clear the majority of all those who caused all the violence referenced above were Christians, or at least brought up as Christians.

[It also seems clear that most of the death and destruction caused by "our side" in our last three big wars (the little ones as well actually)—i.e. Viet Nam, Afghanistan and Iraq—was caused by "Americans" many of which, most of which in fact, were also Christians.]

That said, whoever causes death and destruction to anything on this planet besides rats, cockroaches and mosquitoes, sorry, I am against.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


So not only did a majority on the Senate vote for the new compromise gun regulation law calling for background checks, and the arcane contemporary use of "the filibuster rule" used to nonetheless determine the bill failed to pass (!)...

...but the bill represents similar regulations that The Republican Party, even some of their more rightwing members, supported in the past, when our president wasn't African-American. Hmmmm....

(Not that they wouldn't have done the same if Hilary or Gore were president, it's their shift to the far right that has led to this temporary impasse, temporary because I have faith that enough people will react to their cowardice and rectify this situation in the next election, or maybe more hope than faith only because of the amount of money the rightwing gazzilionaire backers will pour into campaigns that will be full of lies about what the bill really has in it, as they did with the Healthcare bill and other centrist compromises Obama and the Dems have come up with.)

But the main point I want to make is for all those who continue to propagate the myth that there's no difference between Republican and Democratic politicians in Washington, cause the reality is, as President Obama made clear in his response to the failure of the bill to pass, 90% of Republicans voted against it, 90% of Democrats voted for it. That's a real difference, no matter how disappointed you might be in the Dems, they are still usually on the better side of the issues.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


As I understand it, the NRA gun manufacturers' lobby (they certainly aren't the gun owners' lobby since many gun owners were for the new gun regulation compromise law) not only stops (or the right words I guess are buys a stop to) any attempt to make gun owners even half as responsible as car owners, but they are also behind keeping gun powder from having taggants so it can be traced.

Therefore, the NRA and the cowards they buy in Congress are not only for protecting mass murderers of students and children and other innocent people by buying votes that insure their right to not have to pass a background check or be restricted in the amount of bullets their gun magazines can carry, but they are also into protecting the makers of bombs that cause death and terrible destruction to human bodies like the ones in Boston.

Way to go NRA. As for the Senators and Representatives they own, I would so love to see this generation do what they did in the '60s and get together a million people to march on Congress and stay there until the cowards pass a law that is supported by a majority of the citizens that are this country.


Watched this documentary on PBS tonight and was riveted, heartbroken and ultimately in a state of deep disappointment with the unfairness that is so prevalent in our society, especially in our justice system, for those who can't afford to buy it (and even for some who can, now and then, e.g. Martha Stewart).

With the so-called "sequestration" rolling out, our justice system is getting even more crowded and under served then it was becoming anyway because of the prison-for-profit corporate takeover. One of the saddest scenes in this documentary, THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, was when two of the victims of the injustice that was the "Central Park Five" case, who were well spoken and clearly well educated, spoke proudly about getting their college degrees while unfairly away in prison for most of their youth and early adulthood and then mentioned that that education-in-prison program had been eliminated.

As anyone who reads this blog even on occasion knows I'm a big fan of old movies, especially from the 1930s and '40s. One of the main themes of prison movies back then was how bad wardens and unfair treatment of prisoners led to bad things but reformers who treated prisoners with fairness and gave them some true rehabilitation triumphed. Now, when I watch those movies, or ones that include the crude and brutal prisons of even earlier times, I think about how our society has lost all compassion, or I should say a lot of our society but not all, for maltreatment of prisoners and the bad justice meted out to the poor and often innocent young men, especially so-called "brown" and "black" men, our prisons are disproportionately full of.

Anyone who remembers the case of "The Central Park Jogger" that dominated the news in the late 1980s, should see this documentary, as should anyone who cares about justice, discrimination, police malfeasance and the well being of fellow human beings.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


No words can convey the healing that's needed in the world. My heart goes out to the families and friends of those who were killed, and to those who were injured and their families. But not just in Boston, and not just today. And not just in Newton and Aurora and other places in our own country where violence perpetrated by misguided humans has taken its toll recently (I remember Kent State and Jackson State).

And not just in our own country but all over the world where what happened in Boston today happens all too often to others who don't speak our language or quite share our benefits. And sometimes when things like this happen it is people from our own country that cause it, whether here or elsewhere. All human, all too human unfortunately. Maybe the perpetrators are deranged, maybe just misguided, maybe just angry, like the cops who beat Rodney King were, or the men who planned and carried out 9/11.

Violence has always been a part of human life, since Abel and Cain. We embrace the spirits of those who are murdered and their loved ones left behind, and we support and honor those who risk their own lives to prevent these kinds of occurrences, or to respond selflessly when they do. As our hearts go out tonight to those struggling to survive their injuries, those being forced to face the results of them, and those just frightened and even traumatized by the violence and carnage.

There are people dying everywhere today, may peace come to them all and to their loved ones.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Just came back from watching my oldest son, Miles, play some wicked bass with guitarist Rob Sanzone, and drummer Jason Schultheis, who form the core band that backs Jordan Weller in Jordan Weller and The Feathers (playing next week, April 20th at The Gypsy Joynt in Great Barrington, Mass.) but tonight playing without Jordan, so almost all instrumentals.

They did some Dick Dale and other famous instrumentalists who had hits without vocals, but mostly jammed their own improvisations, or compositions, that had the audience dancing in their seats and shouting their enthusiasm.  Miles was blowing some tight bass and Jason and he were clicking so smoothly that people were coming up and commenting on it to me, and Sanzone, as always, was doing things with his guitar that only the greats can do.

It was fun, sometimes so mesmerizing it was hypnotizing (like any great jam) and satisfying. And my youngest son and my grandson, Miles' boy, both drummers, were there, with a friend, digging it too. How lucky I am. Going to bed grateful, as I always try to do, but tonight don't even have to try.

Friday, April 12, 2013


I've written many posts about Terence Winch's work, both his poetry and prose and songwriting. See almost any entry for March 17th. He is my dearest friend, but I feel thoroughly justified in saying even if he wasn't I'd be a fan of his work, all of it.

His last book. FALLING OUT OF BED IN A ROOM WITH NO FLOOR (Hanging Loose Press) is one of the best introductions to his poetry you could want. His memoir about his life as a traditional Irish musician (and songwriter) THAT SPECIAL PLACE (Hanging Loose Press) is maybe the best introduction to his prose. But every book of his is worth reading, for my taste, and a lot of other poets' and writers' taste too.

Garrison Keillor has read Terry's poems on NPR many times. His poems have been published in the yearly anthology BEST AMERICAN POETRY several times. His original song WHEN NEW YORK WAS IRISH has been recorded close to thirty times (maybe more than that now) by different groups and individuals and was a hit in Ireland when it first came out and has become the anthem of New York Irish.

His newest book, LIT FROM BELOW (Salmon Poetry), was published in Ireland and consists of ten line poems, a form he came up with, that read and feel like a new kind of sonnet, one where the last four lines are unnecessary. Some still end with rhyming couplets: "Sometimes a piece of paper redolent of perfume/destroys every passing thought in the room" (from "Small Piece of Outbreak"). Terence himself says on the back of the book that the ten-line form "encouraged a definite economy, a terseness, which I think makes them more compact and faster than my four-door, luxury model poems."

Always humorous, even when most deeply serious, or vice versa, Terence's work embodies the human experience more accurately and completely than that of most poets and writers and songwriters. This book is a one off, sui generis, and in that way not the most emblematic of Winch's work, but still worth checking out. I'll leave you with a poem he dedicated to me which uses this ten-line form to great effect, and again, accuracy:

for Michael Lally

At first, the same old disintegrating memories
the significant details of his past, the you know
what I mean.  Not bad for a guy who made himself
out to be excessive, deeply irreplaceable,  the life

Of the party.  The plot is full of revelation.  The forest
remains unchanged.  He laments.  He sees God in a foot
note on sex and blood.  Americanism hangs in the closet
with a suit of old clothes, the green hill just a dream.

The morning sky has a trace of it where he prays.
In the clearing, the right word breaks out across the gap.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


I'm still working through the pile of poetry books but dedicated this week to just posting about some of them. Two more to go before I write about other stuff. The first of the two is BASKET (Accent Editions) by Annabel Lee, a New York poet, who now lives in Jersey, is an old friend, has been a publisher (Vehicle Editions, which published some classic books, including Ted Berrigan's TRAIN RIDE and a collection of love poems of mine called JUST LET ME DO IT) and can play the guitar and sing classic Appalachian tunes as good, and sometimes better, than many from that area.

This is a seminal book for Annabel, her first real full collection, made up mostly of a poetic form she invented for herself, short poems with thirty-four syllables, obviously twice the length of what too many "Americans" incorrectly reduced the Japanese haiku to. They have that same kind of zen feel of a quiet revelation, or epiphany, through the observation of some small scene or action.

These chronicle Annabel's observations about her adventures, including romantic, her travels and her encounters. With the succinctness the form demands, but a clarity that's her own, the best of them resonate long after they're read, or even engage in a way that elicits rereading.

Here are two examples that face each other on two pages (my copy isn't paginated so I can't say what pages they are) and seem to say so much with so little about the scenes and people in them that they read almost like very short stories or mini-screenplays:

34: how mapling dies down

sap season starts fast
Heather's a busy bee
then it's over — the course of the moon
as buckets fill the fires burn
until slow becomes

34: the first time

the potter said: I've learned
from my experience in life
anything that's worth
talking about
you're not going to get it right
the first time


Ken McCullough started out as a professional baseball player, in Baltimore if i remember correctly, and ended up a backwoods poet, mostly in the Midwest. When we were students at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop back in the 1960s, before the proliferation of university and college writing workshops, he lived in a cabin in the woods, as I remember it, despite his city cred.

I don't think we've seen each other in person for decades, though I keep up with his life changes through a mutual friend who's closer by. And I've kept up with his many books, and recently received his latest, BROKEN GATES (Red Dragonfly Press), a collection of poetry from more recent years. One of my favorite books of poetry is his 2003 book OBSIDIAN POINT (Lone Oak Press). It's a good introduction to the man, his  life and perspective on it, and his writing. And in many ways, it's his most emblematic and yet most unique book as well.

BROKEN GATES is his latest and is the poetry of an older man. Still with his hands in the soil and the rugged lifestyle (with poems about his—or someone's he lives with—horses, and functional gardening, more like small farming and his rural dailiness) but with a more nostalgic tone. He was always reflective and he's still more active than I'll ever be, but he's also, at least from my perspective, more gentle on himself and accepting.

Anyway, I'm happy he keeps writing and getting the work out for those of us who care, to keep up with him that way. Here's an example of what I'm trying to say about this collection's feel, at least for me:

The Temple

At night, the ocean soughs
                           through leaves
    of ancient maples
       surrounding our bedroom

and the neighbor's elk
                like startled whales
        in the distance.

         the eight wind chimes
on our tenant's porch
                 start clanging.

I will have to tell him soon.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


So in this series of posts on new poetry books I've been reading, and digging, mostly by old friends, the cool thing is that each poet has a different approach to what a poem can be. I think any reader daunted by some of the books I'm recommending this week, wouldn't be by others. Like Yvonne de la Vega's TOMORROW YVONNE, Poetry & Prose for Suicidal Egotists (Punk Hostage Press).

Yvonne is an L.A. poet, singer, musician, dancer, spoken word performer, and much more. This is a collection of pieces that she's been reading and performing around L.A. for decades, some newer than that, but a lot have been knocking live audiences out for a while. Including me.

I'll quote my own words that I wrote for her to use on the back of the book:

"Yvonne de la Vega is our steampunk poet laureate, mixing not only the classic and the contemporary in poetic tradition and personal expression but doing it in her uniquely original way. There is no one in the world of poetry quite like her, or the world of anything for that matter."

I hope Yvonne doesn't mind if I reveal that I first dug her as one of the "native girls" who rushed out to meet the plane on the TV show FANTASY ISLAND. Discovering her that way was like the first time I caught Rosie Perez dancing on IN LIVING COLOR. But Yvonne is also the woman who Herb Albert wanted to, and did, record when he heard her read one of her classic poems, "Flamenco Sketches."

She's a self taught performer poet in the classic tradition, and when she's cooking her poems are as much music as language. Many of her best known classic pieces, like "Everything Pink," are too long to quote here, but I'll give you a shorter one that conveys the power of her approach at its best:

In Being My Father's Daughter
                                 -for Daddy, Silvero Duro de la Vega RIP
               June 12, 1928 - May 8, 2007

Because laying on the bare hardwood floor
is too gentle and aesthetic and still
does not offer that masochistic solace, and
because crawling under the bed to weep is
only an instinctive feral urge,
it seems the next thing
that might do it,
that may finally satisfy and replace the urge
to cut my face with an exacto knife, would
be to
break something,
smash all the windows, burn my guitars,
topple the piano, club the TV to pieces,
slash my sofas like the D.E.A.
break all my dishes
...and etc.,
Still, playback of the sequence
"madness as medicine" only
proves that
out of every single object in my home
I can't find one single thing
that can present to me
the perfect punishment,
here and now needed
so badly...
Daddy & I were deemed "wild eccentrics".
Infamous, the both of us from L.A. to Manila.
We remembered being peacocks in a past life together
we never gave a shit about
what the Family thought.
la la la...
I could jump off the roof,
I won't die but it'll hurt.
I did not kill my father.
But someone else did.
Yet I am guilty,
after longing to be with him all
these lost but hopeful years.
Of not being at his side to kiss his mouth at his final sigh,
breathing in to catch and hold his fleeing ghost inside me,
for just one moment for the parting in this lifetime,
our spirits' last embrace
here and now. Instead,
I was fucked up, drunk and jacked up in Hollywood,
when I should have flown straight to Luzon days ago.
I was the worst daughter
he was a worse Father,
which is why I was his favorite, and why
every man
I've ever truly loved
is exactly
Almost Him.

[PS: I might add that Yvonne's prose Preface to the book is worth the price of admission alone, like an introduction to her voice, her life, her unique personality—seductive and engaging, impressive and effective. And the design of the book is pretty cool too. All in all worth grabbing.]

Monday, April 8, 2013


John Godfrey is what some might call "a poet's poet"—meaning, he isn't as known in the wider world as he should be for a body of work that is unequaled. His attention to detail, both in the vocabulary of his poems as well as the New York City streets his poems reference, is exquisitely refined and yet as tough and raw as some of the neighborhoods he travels.

Some words fellow poets have used when describing Godfrey's poetry are: "elegance," "exhilaration," "soul," "heart," "genius," "uncommon," "gorgeous" and "irresistible." This is an excerpt from a review I wrote back around 1982 in The Village Voice of my one time favorite book of his, DABBLE, Poems 1966-1980 (Full Court Press):

"The mysteries of language and feeling Godfrey's poetry simultaneously unravels and creates go beyond the specific city scenes or situations they refer to. The best of his poems are a brilliant blend of lyric vulnerability and hard-edged precision—sensual and intelligent at the same time."

In his latest collection TINY GOLD DRESS (Lunar Chandelier Press), he continues to display his unique way with language and its use for description that is precise and accurate without ever being ordinary or expected. Not an easy accomplishment. Though every poem he writes is evocative in myriad ways, including romantically, the clear-eyed realism of his encounters and observations as he relates them in his songlike succinctness anchors them in my consciousness more concretely than many more familiarly accessible poems by better known and rewarded poets.

But John isn't just an insider's favorite because of his seriously unique command of his language and lines, there's a modesty and humility to his poetry as well, no cleverness for its own sake. Just the lyrical realities. Here's an example from TINY GOLD DRESS:

 Lip Print

Derangement of ventilation
Breathless mounts the bus
All we who notice
The savant the untrustworthy
the stained with heat
Why do I supplicate
when her skirt hugs

She weaves without jostle
through inhospitable standees
Lip print on sip lid
Stimulates herself
like chez soi
Coffee breath with pardons
Avenues by fast

Pink-on-brown stripe
from shoulder strap
Ear buds, R&B head bob
Necessity and freedom
Tall words for attraction
One time seen
The bus kneels

Sunday, April 7, 2013


So April is national poetry month. The idea of a month being about some subject matter or art form, or anything, seems pretty silly, but it did remind me that I haven't kept up on posts I've been meaning to write about books of poems I'm reading, mostly by good friends.

I have three stacks of books on my end table. One for fiction, one for poetry and one for nonfiction. The nonfiction is the highest stack, but the poetry one has the most books (the nonfiction books are usually twice or sometimes even four times or more as thick as the poetry books).

So in honor of the month's dedication, silly or not, I'm going to fire off a series of posts on some of these poetry books over the next few days, starting with Harry E. Northup's WHERE BODIES AGAIN RECLINE (Cahuenga Press), the book that was sent to me first out of the ones I intend to write about. It's by a poet who wrote one of my favorite books of poems in the past.

Northup lives in L.A. and works as an actor you have seen in movies, because he has been in a lot of classic contemporary films since one of his first appearances in MEAN STREETS. He is the definition of "character actor"—always playing a unique character, no matter how small or large the role. You can look up his acting resume for yourself, and there are some excellent interviews with him about his acting career online that I have linked to before on this blog.

But it is as a poet that I know him best and consider him a true original. He has experimented with different approaches to the poem, but in recent years two strategies have determined the way his poems work. One is a diaristic, narrative, usually-not-much-more-than-page-length poem that feels lyrical in its rhythms and imagery and yet is as precise and concrete as a good newspaper story.

Though similar in some ways to Frank O'Hara's "I do this I do that" poems about daily life, because of Harry's distinct voice and the circumstances it rises out of, there is really no one comparable. One of my all time favorite books of poetry is his REUNIONS, which collects a series of these kinds of mini-narratives scene setters. I recommend this book to those wanting an introduction to Harry's work, or to poetry in general. Highly readable, and despite his unique life, easy to identify with, I believe, for anyone.

His latest collection of poems, WHERE BODIES AGAIN RECLINE contains only a couple of these narrative, easily accessible snapshots of his life and times, but is dominated more by the other way he structures his poems, which is out of juxtaposed images that evoke personal meaning but sometimes indecipherably.

These poems are almost like litanies of imagery with obvious significance to the poet, an invitation to watch a short film of the imagery in his mind at the moment of writing, as it were, as opposed to the actual circumstances of his life at that moment. A lot of the language is repetitive along with the images, making it seem like the poems may even be, at least in some instances, cut-ups of previous or later poems, recycling specific words and images in a serial loop.

Many of the poems in WHERE BODIES AGAIN RECLINE seem to follow specific patterns, though every time I felt I determined what those patterns were, another poem would contradict that uniformity of structure. The perspective is almost of someone describing with no embellishment a series of symbols in a painting or collage. Some of the imagery described is abstract or generalized (lots of geometric shapes) and some is more specific (lots of arrows). When it works, the poetry attains a kind of sui generis quality. I'll leave you with an example:

night before birth

a man makes a fist & puts it down
on a pile of gold coins — an eye
turns sideways — those men
hungry for money turn away

a gold path moves through dark-
ness & curves down — curves &
curves under & holds his hand
white-winged plane above large

blue hand — while men frame
their thoughts with white wings,
wars, hunger, hurricane, loss
never falter — our hands cease

listening — form an apex to
protect a pan catching falling
coins — grasses, fires, buffalo,
golden edges of darkness remain

calm, are encased in breakage
son denies father, unleashes
water, white roses, constant
arrows, burning light all too

many to stop burning frames of
houses — sunflowers & lilacs foam
over waterfalls — pipes, cigarettes
iris, sky, center, far blue, near

death — flames rush around the eye
feathers lift webbed petals, brother
dwells on his own capturings; what
vast pyramid behind the iris

the sun, the holi burning — turn the
light on to kill — one feminine eye
above spreading the blue fan
a hand rotates the royal blue iris

a hypodermic needle fronts the closed
eye — propeller upward, like an
upsidedown table, spins, flames sweep
man walks on burnt-out transient

heart, sparks of light emerge, shine
death, like golden leaves, spring out
death flies, scatters light, lines attach-
ed to sunlight, our sorrow dead, green
rows of arrows, curve, spring, red night

[PS: I hope I transcribed this exactly like it's in the book, the "holi" may be a typo but it is there, and I like it.]

Saturday, April 6, 2013


"All these years I have not had to remember these things. They have remembered themselves."
—Black Elk (from BLACK ELK SPEAKS I assume)

Friday, April 5, 2013


Milo O'Shea was one of those character actors almost everyone knows by sight, though they might not know his name. He was so memorable that when we see his image we can recall the way he sounded and moved. A unique presence on stage and screen.

Usually when I tell anecdotes about people who have passed who I knew in some way they're pretty positive stories about all concerned. But the only one I can remember about Milo, besides that the few times I was around him he was dynamic and engaging and fun, but once I wanted to see a play he was in and he was kind enough to get me a house seat when I called and told him how much I wanted to come see the play. But then because I got involved with a woman who wanted to go too, or had some other issue with my going that particular time, I called him at the last minute to say I couldn't make it, and though he was obviously exasperated and I felt like a fool, he did not make me feel worse but was rather gracious, and only sounded slightly fed up with dealing with my romantic quandaries.

Here's the NY Times obit for a man who many will miss and I will always wish I hadn't been such an idjit to.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


Today, as many of you I'm sure are aware thanks to the Internet and its many reminders, is the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Like many of us who were alive forty-five years ago on the day when the news came that MLK had been shot dead, I remember where I was. But it doesn't matter.

What matters is the world has changed, especially here in the United States, for the better in many ways that can be directly or indirectly attributed to the example, the presence, the activism and words of Martin Luther King Jr.  Even in my clan's ancestral home, Ireland, King's nonviolent marches and demonstrations against segregation and the treatment of African-Americans as second class citizens in their own country inspired the non-violent marches and demonstrations of Northern Ireland's Catholics against their oppression as second class citizens in their own country.

I'm still waiting for the definitive biopic, the movie that will do for Martin Luther King Jr.'s story what so many other biopics have done for fellow citizens of the USA who have had much less of an impact.
In the meantime, I have his collected speeches which continue to be inspirational.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


My favorite show on MSNBC is The Rachel Maddow show, but I have to admit, tonight watching some of the new eight o'clock show that precedes hers, ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES, I dug it.

I can see why others might not. It doesn't have the kind of confrontational sizzle of the show he replaced with Ed Schultz, or the celebrity cache of Chris Matthews and Reverend Al, but those guys didn't keep my interest. Hayes, and the people he had on when I was watching, did. Mostly because I didn't recognize them (I didn't watch his other show), they were not the same faces I've been seeing for what seems like years on every MSNBC show (and often on other network "news" shows as well, like NBC and CNN et. al.) and they, the experts he had on the panel at the end of the show tonight, were all much younger than those same-old-faces and more hardhitting when it came to the facts, in a nerdy kind of way.

I like nerds with lots of facts and research and opinions about stuff most "news" shows never cover let alone have facts to bring to the table or strong opinions that don't seem vetted by the higher ups etc.

I'm gonna keep checking in on ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Sorry, not sure who took most of these photos, but they're of old friends of mine, some no longer with us, and thought I'd share them:

Robert Slater & Ray DiPalma NYC 1977
Bruce Andrews, Lee Lally & Nathan Whiting at Trinity College DC c. 1970
Scott Wannberg L.A. (actually "the valley") c. 1995 
Frank T. Rios (also "the valley") c. 1995
Terence Winch DC c. 1975?
Ralph Dickey (I think Iowa City c. 1967)
Simon Pettet & Nance Boylan NYC c. 2005?
U Sam Oeur Iowa City 1968


The original 1951 version of ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD was on TCM tonight in honor of the opening day of the baseball season. Unlike a lot of my poet friends and acquaintances, and poets and writers in general, I'm not a big follower of baseball. I was as a kid, and I still tune in for the World Series usually, but I never got into the minutiae of the sport the way so many I've known do.

But there are a lot of baseball movies I like (I may have made a list of my favorites at one time or another before the brain operation removed my compulsion to make lists) and this one I didn't remember seeing though I suspect I probably did at some point (another thing the brain operation seemed to remove is scores of movies I'm pretty sure I saw, maybe even more than once, but when I watch them it seems I never saw one frame of them before).

As Osborne pointed out, it's better than the remake with Danny Glover (which I do remember watching a few times with my now fifteen-year-old when he was younger—and enjoying) because it doesn't use special effects to flesh out, so to speak, the angelic forces, it just uses the audience's imagination mostly.

Another thing that's fun about it is the odd leading man stature of Paul Douglas, a regular in leading roles in my boyhood but a highly unlikely movie star. For one thing he starred in his first movie at 42 (around the same time I did but his was good and a hit and mine was very much not either) playing pretty much the same character he continued to play, a working-class rough neck lug type who usually had a heart of gold, or mush. But the truth is he's fun to watch and was a natural (he came from the world of sports having been a professional football player and sports announcer, as Osborne pointed out).

The other was the lovely and mismatched leading lady Janet Leigh (mother of Jamie Leigh Curtis and wife for a while of Tony Curtis, and a woman I was totally in love with for much of my boyhood and young manhood and actually got to meet in person a few times in my Hollywood years when she was older but still lovely in every way). And a supporting cast from kids to oldtimers that were all part of one of those wonderfully deep Hollywood benches, so to speak, totally and reliably entertaining.

Not on anyone's greatest list, I'm sure, but a great way to mark the opening of the season, baseball, not Spring. For that we'll find another film, though today was certainly Spring like here until late afternoon when it reverted to winter or Fall again (part of the unnatural fluctuation that makes the rightwingers think "global warming" is a misnomer, but we don't have to explain that again, because you probably already understand the science of it, unless you're one of those rightwingers, in which case no scientific explanation will change your already made-up-for-you-by-your-rightwing-masters mind).