Monday, October 31, 2016


The artist Kiki Smith and her photographer sister Seton grew up in the same town I did, South Orange, New Jersey, but are younger than I am and their home was in what was a wealthy neighborhood of big old Victorian houses when I was a boy, as opposed to mine which was in what was then a working-class neighborhood of mostly immigrants. I had no idea back then that their father was the internationally renowned sculptor Tony Smith.

I hadn't heard of him when I left home in 1960 but certainly learned about him and his work in my self education over the years that followed. I met Kiki later in the 1970s, briefly, when a composer/artist friend, Bill Hellerman, brought her and several other young women to my 35th birthday party which had mostly ended by the time they arrived in the apartment I rented in what by then was becoming known as Soho.

I don't think I ran into Kiki again until after I'd moved back East from L.A. at the turn of this new century. I doubted Smith, or her sister Seton, who I met briefly once years ago at a function, remembered who I am, but I kept up with their art and certainly knew who they were. But just as the local library and book store had no idea I had written an award-winning series of sonnets about South Orange back in the 1960s after I'd moved away, many locals had no idea who Tony Smith or his daughters were, back then or even today (in recent years one of Tony's sculptures found a permanent home in the main park in South Orange and many locals don't know what it is or who made it).

But that was partially remedied yesterday at a ceremony to honor the Smith sisters on the state, county and town level, including declaring yesterday Kiki and Seton Smith day! in what had been the local college when I was a boy and is now Seton Hall University. It was in the Walsh Gallery in the university's library at the opening of an exhibit of Kiki's art and Seton's photographs (it's all art but I'm trying to make a distinction to differentiate between the sisters).

The latter are monumental in size and people-less portraits of houses and other structures that haunted this viewer and evoked a sense of place so definite it made the title of the exhibit imperative. Kiki's small sculptures of birds on hands, or lithographs, prints, collages etc. of trees or insects or abstractions etc. express her unique vision so unobtrusively you can almost miss the subtle depth and resonance of their power.

Neither the impact of Kiki's art or Seton's photographs can be captured in reproductions, so if you're anywhere near South Orange from now until December 9th, check out this show, and if you can make it, there will be a discussion with the artists moderated by the equally unique writer Lynne Tillman in the same space on December 6th at 7PM.

As we used to say in the downtown Manhattan scene in the 1960s and '70s, be there or be square.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


"As my cousin, Pamela Merchant, wrote: Who is James Comey and why is he pulling this October “surprise?”
As some of you know, I was a federal prosecutor for many years and was at USDOJ during the Whitewater era. James Comey was a Whitewater special counsel.
I’m appalled by the 11th hour gamesmanship by Comey. The US DOJ and FBI have a longstanding policy of NOT interfering in elections. It’s unheard of for a federal prosecutor to pull a stunt like this so close to a Presidential election. It is especially absurd where there isn’t a suggestion that anything is wrong – just that there is another laptop that might contain e-mails that might have issues. I don’t buy for a minute that this isn’t partisan – or that Comey is the guy keeping his head down ( as some suggest in the attached article).
This isn’t the first time that Comey has violated DOJ/FBI policy in connection with the HRC e-mail investigation. This summer, he held a bizarre press conference where he announced that the FBI could not find sufficient evidence to indict Hillary Clinton in connection with the e-mails – but went on to state that Hillary Clinton and her staff “were extremely careless.” Declining to prosecute and then issuing a statement characterizing evidence in an investigation violates DOJ and FBI policy. There are strict rules that state that the DOJ and FBI may not comment on an ongoing investigation - let alone comment on a closed investigation. If the investigation is over, it’s over – there isn't a roundabout provision for mud slinging.. Comey was roundly criticized by legal scholars and former prosecutors for this stunt.
So, who is Comey? He is a U. of Chicago trained attorney and registered Republican until recently (during the afore-mentioned press conference he stated that he is no longer a registered Republican). He started his career at the white shoe firm Gibson Dunn before joining the Whitewater team. As we know, the Whitewater investigation didn’t uncover any wrongdoing on behalf of the Clintons in the financial fraud arena, but it did ‘unearth’ the Monica Lewinsky ‘scandal’ which led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Although Hillary Clinton was cleared – lots and lots of mud was slung.
Comey then joined the US Attorney’s Office for the SD NY where he worked on the investigation into Bill Clinton’s controversial pardoning of financier Marc Rich. The investigation went nowhere - -but – again - lots of mud was slung.
Comey ultimately became the US Atty for the SDNY and was lead on the celebrity Martha Stewart prosecution.
In 2003, during the GW Bush administration, he moved over to the Justice Department where he was #2 to John Ashcroft and, among other things, signed off on the use of water boarding, wall slamming and other forms of torture. [See the ACLU’s website for a good summary of Comey’s role in the various torture memos.].
In one bright spot, as Acting Attorney General, Comey refused to sign off on Bush’s mass surveillance and wiretapping program which had been justified by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez. Comey and then FBI Director Robert Mueller, threatened to resign unless changes were made to narrow the surveillance program. This incident is the one that Dems use to justify supporting Comeys elevation to FBI director.
When Gonzalez was promoted to Attorney General, it was time for to leave the government in pursuit of a more lucrative private practice. So, Comey spent five years as General Counsel and Sr. VP for Lockheed Martin (2005-2010) (the DOD’s largest defense contractor) and then joined an investment management firm. He later moved over to academia (Columbia Law School) and joined the board of one of the world’s largest banks, HSBC.
In one of Obama’s efforts to ‘reach across the aisle,' in 2013 he nominated Comey to become head of the FBI to replace Mueller. This was a tremendous disappointment to the human rights community because of Comey’s role in the torture memos. But, this would give him another opportunity to participate in another politically motivated Clinton investigation – this time into e-mails. Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
Today Comey has sent this extraordinary letter based on a new investigation grounded in a sex scandal involving Anthony Weiner. Oh, and they haven’t looked at the laptop yet-- More mud anyone?"
Charles Walsh

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Me and my oldest son, Miles, when it was just the two of us living in Manhattan back in the 1970s...he turns 47 next month!...and remains a beautiful person (ps: he grew out of needing glasses a few years after this was taken)...(pps: my old-man, post-op brain can't remember the full name of the photographer, Beatte, which hurts because she was a close and dear friend for years, may she please forgive me if she sees this...)

Monday, October 24, 2016


I met Hayden back in the '60s and encountered him over the years. We had a few differences, some that led to arguments. Sometimes he turned out to be right and me wrong, sometimes vice versa. Though I doubt he'd remember them as I always did. He was one of the few national stars of what we called in the 1960s The Movement. And there's no denying the impact he had on our generation, from the Port Huron Statement onward. if you don't know who he was, or much about him, here's the NY Times obit. My condolences to his wife, whom I also knew and admired, Barbara Williams.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


So there's a lot of real and faux outrage over Rump's threats to not accept the results of the election if he loses, with even the implication of violent resistance to that outcome. And a lot of that outrage posits that this is the first time in our history since The Civil War where that may be the case.

But, may I remind us all that in 2000 when the networks and voting results all called Florida for Gore, Bush Junior phoned his brother in a rage wanting to know how he could have let that happen and ordered him to make it unhappen.

And as part of the recount that was called as a result, Republican functionaries collected a crowd of out-of-state other Republican functionaries and bussed (or flew, I can't remember that detail) them down to Florida where they staged a white collar faux riot that intimidated the vote counters and the local and state authorities into caving and letting The Supreme Court overturn the will of the people.

Nothin' new under the sun as they say...or at least not much...

Friday, October 21, 2016


[I know it seems like old news already, because everyday Rump says something ugly]

Thursday, October 20, 2016


I don't know what year this photograph was taken, but it's in Ireland in the 1800s, either before or after my grandparents came over, and it has nothing to do with my family or clan as far as I know and yet when I saw it online and enlarged it, the man with the newsboy cap with his left hand to his chin...well, I felt like I'd seen that face in the mirror when I was younger, and I still make that gesture...

I remember once in a high school foot ball game when I got down on the line for the first play of a game, and the guy across from me from some other high school and I looked into each other's faces just inches apart and we both reacted because, again, it was like looking in a mirror. After that game I never saw the guy again and don't remember if I even got his name...

Life can be so unexpectedly revelatory in such mysterious head shaking ways....

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


His refusing to say he would concede if he lost the election should disqualify him, but so should so many other things he's said, and done. It may turn off those already turned off by him but it won't change his supporters.

She had more facts and reality based answers, and I know to her supporters, among which I classify myself, she won handily, but anyone still undecided is someone who hasn't gotten all the facts and/or doesn't believe them and wants to be convinced emotionally.

I wish she, and Democrats in general, slammed back at rightwing distortions with strong empathic clear and simple statements of passion repetitively as they do. Hilary started to do that a few times, like when she said he choked when he met with the Mexican president. But then she let him get away with soft pedaling that and getting emotionally emphatic about how he'd make great deals with Mexico and her deals did and will suck etc.

It's being declared a victory for her and will probably keep her well in the lead, but my guess is he might pick up a few points because she often sounded like she was reciting speech excerpts or policy points rather than expressing spontaneous passion. Hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Seems like it's Yul Brynner nostalgia year with the new version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN film and now the HBO series WESTWORLD based on the Brynner film back in the day. But that's not the reason I decided to check out HBO's WESTWORLD. It was the incredibly impressive cast, led by Evan Rachel Wood, one of the most underrated actors out there. Always brilliant even if the material isn't, and she doesn't let me down in WESTWORLD. Her performance so far has made me watch it, despite the seemingly de rigueur sadistic violence endemic to too much of cable TV and films these days.

The creators, Lisa Joy and Jonatan Nolan, play mind games beyond the original movie's simple premise, so that after only the first three shows I'm almost lost. But...with Anthony Hopkins playing his usual sardonic-and-probably-evil professorial genius and Ed Harris the seemingly sadist anti-hero, and Jefferey Wright and Thandie Newton committing their unique talents to playing what so far seem like hopeless characters, and more...well, I'm gonna keep watching.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


I began writing poetry as soon as I learned to write (there's a poem in my archives written to my mother when I was five in 1947), started sending poems to magazines in my teens (in the 1950s) and began publishing my poems in my late teens (the early '60s). One of the poets who influenced me at that time was Gary Snyder. I met him when I handset the original Windhover Press fine printed book REGARDING WAVE in 1969 (later published by New Directions from that version).

I have almost never been disappointed in Snyder's writing, and in the 1960s, especially, admired everything he wrote. That still holds true today, after reading this latest Snyder collection, THIS PRESENT MOMENT. Now in his eighties, and one of the last of his generation of poets to still be around, if not the actual last, this book is a fitting coda to his writing and poetry career.

Like an old athlete who doesn't have as many moves anymore as the young one, but can achieve the same results with those fewer moves, because he has the experience and expertise, THIS PRESENT MOMENT is a tribute to Snyder's poetic skills as much as any previous book. Here's just one example from it:

Young David in Florence, Before the Kill

Michelangelo’s David’s not a warrior,
not just a clever boy—he’s a cool young man.
Weight on the right leg, eyes left
brow crinkled, calculating, estimating
    the text says Goliath is already down.

Left arm to his left shoulder and the stone-pouch,
right hand down at his side,
holds the ends
     long leather sling straps—he has not
thrown it yet. Stands still, in a deep place
a hinge in time

and naked grace.

Firenze 2004

Friday, October 14, 2016


prizes are extremely arbitrary so who wins isn't obviously always dependent on quality of work...though the quality of Dylan's work is extraordinary (as in literally extra ordinary) even if it is often derived from other people's writing, musically, lyrics, and otherwise, but that is an ancient technique (see centos) totally indulged in and accepted in contemporary work and ever since modernism, so that makes him even more literary in a way... that said, I can see why some writers are offended by this Nobel since there are so many worthy poets and fiction writers and playwrights whose work has either been unrewarded or completely overlooked and deserves attention, and at least some monetary reward, and Dylan has already received all that...on the other hand his winning validates (and in a way elevates) almost an entire generation (now aged) and his impact on not only it but those that followed, whether indirectly or not...but the article is right to point out that the music field generally rewards its artists much better than the literary one of poets and fiction you can see...mixed reaction but mostly happy about it...

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Spent last Thursday night in the ER of our local hospital. Kidney stone. The rumors about how painful that can be are true, and mine wasn't even in the very large category. I couldn't rouse the few friends I called at 2AM so ended up, wisely it turned out, calling 911 and some firefighters in their ambulance came to collect me.

I had gotten dressed before they came and had a pretty good idea what the pain was (I'd had a bout a week before, either the same stone or an earlier one and didn't call anyone, but this time the pain made me feel like I was gonna throw up and pass out at the same time and that didn't seem fair to have someone find in the morning). They agreed it was probably a kidney stone and the worst of the pain occurred on the ride to the hospital. They say (meaning women who have experienced both) that it's as close to the pain of child birth as a non-mother can experience. God bless mothers.

But the reason I bring all this up is I noticed this hospital, one I've been coming to even before I moved back to Jersey in '99 (my father died there many decades ago) had changed it's name slightly, from a saint to a corporate sounding version of a saint (I guess if corporations are people according to the rightwing influenced Supreme Court under Bush junior, than corporations can be saints too). That made me a little wary.

When a doc didn't come to see me right away, and the nurse was all young girl sounding sweet but spent way too long digging around in my arm trying to find a vein for blood tests and an I.V., and when I asked if there was anyone on duty who specialized in drawing blood and inserting I.V.s (as I learned to do in this and other hospitals in my two decades of hospital emergencies) she chuckled as if it was a stupid question, and when I said she was hurting me more than anyone ever had in all the poking around in my veins that's been going on for decades, she chuckled that away too.

I never did see a doctor, only a "practitioner assistant" I think she said she was. I've had RNs do the work of docs and been better off for it, but this woman just told me what tests they would do and then the results and what the doctor, in an office somewhere, diagnosed and recommended etc.  Now I have three heart conditions so anytime I go to a hospital for anything I usually have a doc questioning me immediately, if not two or three (from other health challenges in recent years).

So that seemed to me an indication of corporate medical monster looking for ways to cut costs, one doc in a central office in this giant hospital emergency area telling assistants what to tell patients (I was listening to the ER patients in nearby "rooms" just divided by curtains and didn't hear any docs talking to them either). Then when I turned down strong pain killers but agreed to let them add Tylonol to the fluid in my I.V. the "pumps" that were supposed to do that kept failing, so that the same nurse had to keep getting replacements which also failed to work at all until one finally worked sporadically and kept beeping when it stopped prematurely and it would take quite a while for the nurse to come mess with it until she got it working again.

When it was time to go and have my I.V. removed, she was still messing around with the half broken pump so a man, who I'd watched remove the plastic bag from the medical waste bin without gloves (another man had earlier taken the normal trash can garbage and used those thin plastic gloves), and when I said something like "You live dangerously" he replied something meaning "It's no big deal" —but now with his bare hands that had removed the medical waste he was undoing my I.V. while the nurse was still distractedly trying to fix or stop the Tylonol drip.

I should've said, Hey man don't touch that thing that goes straight into my veins with your bare hands that just handled emergency room medical garbage, at least wash them in the nearby sink, but I didn't. It happened too fast and I was exhausted and wanted to get out of there. But I thought about the medical facilities and procedures in other "advanced" countries and how their life spans and death rates are better than the USA's and how tragic the skyrocketing infection rate in hospitals is here and thought, No wonder. Bottom line is not healthcare, it's CEO and stockholder care. One more indication of the decline of the empire.

Sunday, October 9, 2016


"Craven is the word of this election season. More people should look it up." —Fred Liberman

Saturday, October 8, 2016


Much needed break from politics and world disorder tonight at a local performance space that featured Monkeyworks, a jazz or maybe better description jazzy ensemble of electric and acoustic instrumentalists creating musical heaven and havoc seamlessly. Nothing like major creative chops whatever your choice of instrument or art coming together to infuse an evening with the highest life force humans can produce (in my humble opinion) to remind you (meaning me) of what's most important.

They were joined by vocalists (and guitar playing) Sarah LeMieux (talk about an angelically edgy voice, or edgily angelic voice) and Chris Koch (equally impressive and satisfying jazz/rock vocalist)...and in back of them all a screen projecting musical artist (and my good friend) Jim Coleman's manipulated film clips hypnotically matching the rhythms and power of the live music, improvising with computer and electronic control boards...mesmerizing to say the least.

What a fulfilling evening of creative genius. May we have many more.

Friday, October 7, 2016


The only way to defeat Trump is to elect Hilary. The only way to elect Hilary is to vote for her. Not Stein. Not Johnson. To reiterate: the only way to ensure Trump's defeat is to vote for Hilary.


Thursday, October 6, 2016


Me and my youngest at a reading I took part in at KGB Bar I would guess eight or nine years ago...he is now taller than me and turns nineteen tomorrow...may he live long and prosper...or more importantly be happy...

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Bing Crosby
Frank Sinatra

Billie Holiday
Jean Toomer

William Carlos Williams
William Saroyan

Marilyn Monroe
Marlon Brando

Thelonious Monk
Bill Evans

Ahmad Jamal
Eric Dolphy

Jack Kerouac
Frank O'Hara

Diane Di Prima
Bob Kaufman

David Smith
Mark Rothko

Jon Hendricks
Hubert Selby Jr.

Eva Hesse
Joe Brainard

Vanessa Redgrave
Van Morrison

[First spontaneous post brain-op list in a while, the impulse seems to be coming back after all these years...]

Saturday, October 1, 2016


Early in my Hollywood years I was hanging with Ralph Bakshi, writing a screenplay for his first live action flick that never got made. We would talk favorite jazz musicians and movies and directors and writers and usually agree, including when a guy we never heard of made the movie, PLATOON. We both said he was the real deal. Oliver Stone came on the scene with his own powerful slant on the truth, and proved how great he was with that movie and some that followed, like SALVADOR.

But after a while Stone seemed to lose control of the movie making process, overwhelming it with his paranoid indulgences that unreeled like wannabe great movies gone awry. Since then his output has been hit and miss, and usually some of both. For my taste, despite some dramatic contrivances and a dab of preaching to the choir, I found SNOWDEN, Stone's newest entry in his movies-based-on-real (and too often surreal) history, a return to the classic Stone artistry.

Others think SNOWDEN is marred by Stone's politics and conspiracy theories, but for my taste, it's a terrific movie ride from start to finish, including the depictions of computer stuff that is often undramatizable but in SNOWDEN Stone manages to make dramatic or at least visually compelling.

The casting is impeccable (except maybe for Clint Eastwood's son as a super nerd manager), especially Joseph Gordeon-Levitt who gets the real Snowden's physicality, from voice to posture and more, so perfectly that any real comparison of the two seems seamless.

And others shine through as well. Shaliene Woodley as Snowden's girlfriend does a great job, and Timothy Olyphant (a good guy I got to know some on the DEADWOOD set) is outstanding as a slimy career spy, as well as Nicolas Cage (another friend in my early Hollywood days—we both were in the same acting class—before he was Nicolas Cage) as an aging CIA computer expert reduced to teaching for questioning his bosses' bad (but politically prudent) decisions...

A lot of great acting work for my taste, and some nice writing, partly from Stone, and a rewarding supplement to the documentary about Snowden, CITIZENFOUR, (the director of which, Luara Poitras, is played with just the right touch of strength and behind-the-camera-self-effacement by Melissa Leo (an actress I've met and read some poetry with (other people's poetry) )...

SNOWDEN, a movie well worth seeing.