Thursday, June 30, 2016

CREATIONS AND THEIR CREATORS

That's me and J. P. Donleavy, author of THE GINGER MAN, around 1977 at the only 9 to 5 office job I ever had. I was a writer and editor at The Franklin Library for less than two years (I quit after being asked to fire someone under me who didn't deserve it, and because the office life was killing me). I was interviewing him, but you can see by my expression what I thought of him.

At the time I was a big fan of THE GINGER MAN, but in that moment was rapidly becoming not a fan of the author. In this encounter I found him unfriendly, petty, and just so arrogantly dismissive of seemingly every author but himself, I went home and threw the book out.

I've done that with other writers and creators whose work I dug but who disappointed me in their personalities and/or beliefs. But I gradually let go of that reaction, realizing most of us are imperfect, and if any of us create something that has an impact on the world in what we see as positive ways, maybe we can forgive the creators for being less, sometimes a lot less, than we expected.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

FREE STATE OF JONES

A friend of mine made a comment more or less about how she always goes into a Matthew McConaughey movie not liking him and comes out loving him. The man himself sometimes seems almost a caricature of self importance, but he can act in a movie better than most and once again in FREE STATE OF JONES kicks ass, in every way.

You've probably already heard that this film is about a rebellion within a rebellion, when an entire county, and more, in the Southern most part of the state of Mississippi fought against the Confederacy during The Civil War and managed to win for a while. But it's about so much more as well and goes far to correct the old Hollywood movie myths about the noble cause and the romantic South etc.

It's great story and the movie adheres to most of the actual facts, which makes it even more compelling. It's director and co-writer, Gary Ross, was humble enough to spend many years studying the history of not only the man who led the rebellion, Newton Knight, but of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Mississippi, before writing the script.

And the cast is perfect, with some of my favorite movie actors, including McConaughey, the too often underused Keri Russell, and the amazing Gugu Mbatha-Raw (check out her performance in BELLE, one of my favorite films, also based on a true story that makes a history lesson dramatically enlightening and engagingly sexy). Relative newcomer to movies, Mahersala Ali's performance in FREE STATE OF JONES is worth the price of admission alone.

I highly recommend watching this in a theater on a big screen, because the battle and crowd scenes, and even the intimate scenes, are so beautifully shot and lit and art directed that you'll want to get the full effect only the big screen can deliver.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

LAST MINUTE REMINDER

Don't forget this Tuesday, June 28th, at 8 PM at Gotham Comedy Club, 208 W. 23rd St. I'll be reading some poems on a bill with other poets and story tellers and more, including the great Elinor Nauen (one of my favorite writers)....there's a cover charge etc. but it's worth it just for John Fugelsang, let alone the rest of the line up. Be there or be...sorry you weren't...

Friday, June 24, 2016

A MIDDAY MINI-RANT

By my perspective, the vote for Britain to leave the European Union is a seeming victory for the little guy who feels oppressed by forces outside his world that seem to control so much inside it, but also a victory for the racist and xenophobe and rightwing hater of change that benefits anyone but the self (often the same people). And all these folks' fears are fanned and manipulated by those in the uber "conservative" elite whose addiction to power and money makes them dangerous to all of us, now more than ever.

As is clear from the reactions to this huge shift in the balance of power and the money needed to sustain it, affecting almost the entire world, it looks at first glance, and even second and third, that it could be a forecast for more rightwing political triumphs (and catastrophes for most of us) to come, including the possible election of Donald Trump.

The main factor in the victory of the right-wingers was the poor turnout among the young, who overwhelmingly were for staying in the European Union but didn't bother to vote. If that occurs in the USA in November, Trump could well pull it off. And there could be the same impact as we're seeing today and will see more of when the actual dismantling of the British connection to Europe begins and continues for years.

At first it'll be the markets riled up, but then it will mean less freedom and even fewer job opportunities, as well as more divisiveness and turmoil. Trump's crowing this morning (even if, as usual, he has his facts all wrong), as are the rightwing nationalist xenophobic political parties throughout Europe, who may follow suit leading to the dismemberment, or at least diminishment, of the European Union, our greatest ally economically and politically. If Trump's elected, our biggest ally might be Putin, if we're to believe Trump's ratio of criticism and praise for other countries and their leaders.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

GENIUS

GENIUS presents a conundrum: How can I not appreciate and even love a film that's all about the love of books and writing? And yet, how can I appreciate let alone love a film that casts (is this trend never going to end?) Brit and Aussie actors in roles that are quintessentially "American"?

The subject matter is the relationship between editor Maxwell Perkins (thought to be responsible for much of F. Scott Fitzgerald's and Ernest Hemingway's reputations as geniuses) and the writer he edited the most (as in: cut) Thomas Wolfe.

Wolfe was said to have been a giant of a Southern man, so naturally Jude Law plays him, and does a great job making him a giant of a personality, at times lyrically brilliant but too often obnoxious. And Colin Firth plays Maxwell as a gloomy gus obsessed with words on the page at the expense of his family life.

Both are terrific actors and usually fun to watch on screen, as they are often in GENIUS, despite their accents, especially Law's, wandering. In another crucial role Nicole Kidman plays an American "Jewess" (as the character is called) supposedly much older than Law's Wolfe! Fortunately Guy Pearce only has a few scenes as Fitzgerald, and does a decent if totally inappropriately cast job.

In the end, I loved the subject of the film, and some of the artistry of all involved, even when it was to the detriment of the story and film. I'm glad I saw it and hope it sells some tickets so other movies about we who love the written word will be financed and made. But if those are about "Anericans" is it possible to find actors from the USA to play them?

[PS: Laura Linney was the only one perfectly cast, and she did her usual great job as Maxwell's long suffering wife in an otherwise thankless role]

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

ANOTHER LIST

Too many friends of all kinds have died, but after losing two poet friends in the past week, I found myself making a list in my head last night of some poet friends who’ve died over the years. Some died way before their time, others were older but are still missed, and some were better known for other things, but all wrote poetry I dug. (I used Google when I couldn’t remember what year they died, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some):

Ralph Dickey 1971
Walter Lowenfels 1976
Joel Colton 1980
Ted Berrigan 1983
Edwin Denby 1983
Lee Lally 1986
Darrell Gray 1986
Tim Dlugos 1990
Etheridge Knight 1991
James Schuyler 1991
Ed Cox 1992
Audre Lorde 1992
Jim Brodey 1993
Donald Britton 1994
Joe Brainard 1994
George Starbuck 1996
Allen Ginsberg 1997
Gerald Burns 1997
Lotus Weinstock 1997
Kathy Acker 1997
Dick Higgins 1998
James Haining 2000?
Roland Flint 2001
Kenneth Koch 2002
Hubert Selby Jr. 2004
Ron Schreiber 2004
David Hilton 2005
Lorenzo Thomas 2005
Ahmos Zu-Bolton 2005
Robert Creeley 2005
Ed Smith 2005
Barbara Guest 2006
Robert Trammell 2006
Michael Benedikt 2007
Steve Shrader 2007
Ann Darr 2007
Liam Rector 2007
Merilene E. Murphy 2007
Bob Callahan 2008
Thomas M. Disch 2008
Jonathan Williams 2008
Michael Gizzi 2010
David Franks 2010
Paul Violi 2011
Scott Wannberg 2011
Adrienne Rich 2012
Anselm Hollo 2013
Harvey Shapiro 2013
Wanda Coleman 2013
Bill Knott 2014
Robert Peters 2014
Allan Kornblum 2014
Rene Ricard 2014
James Tate 2015
Lynn Manning 2015
Bill Berkson 2016
Ted Greenwald 2016

Monday, June 20, 2016

LATE NIGHT MINI-RANT

Everyone who buys into the rightwing (originally, because if a majority of "Americans" vote they would always lose) propaganda that there isn't any difference between Democratic and Republican politicians just needs to look at the way the four minor gun regulation laws that were brought up for a vote after Orlando and Murphy's filibuster failed to pass in the Senate today, because every Republican but two voted against them and every Democrat except one voted for them. If there were just a few more Democrats in the Senate they would have passed. Party does matter in many areas, especially when the NRA warned before the vote that anyone who voted for gun regulation would suffer the consequences at the polls which means they plan to spend millions on bringing down Democrats who voted for some minor gun regulations (like closing the gun show loophole etc.)...why the feck would the National Rifle Association spend so much money on defeating Democrats IF THERE ISN'T ANY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE PARTIES!?

And PS: ask anyone suffering through the heatwave in the Southwest that is breaking all records and is just another of the thousands of examples in the last few years of the impact of climate change if they'd rather have those who believe in climate change and want to do something about it or those who don't running the government. Those in the Fox/Rush/et. el. bubble will obviously continue to believe their masters' propaganda (and the testimony of the two paid for by big oil scientists who argue the evidence still isn't clear out of a thousand who argue it is et-endlessly-cetera....

Sunday, June 19, 2016

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY

The top photo shows my dad and six of the seven children he and my mother had (a brother between me, in my mothers arms, and my sisters, died in infancy) on the back porch of our house in South Orange NJ, during WWII...

...and the bottom, a favorite because of the tender way my father is touching his two most troublesome kids, the youngest of my brothers and me, I would guess around twelve (unfortunately my father's hand touching me is cut out at the bottom but believe me it's there), in Belmar, NJ in the 1950s, with a few of my siblings, my mother and her mother, who's little "bungalow" we were in front of.

Friday, June 17, 2016

TED GREENWALD R.I.P.

(photo by Charles Bernstein)

"love returns what you sent"  —Ted Greenwald (from The Life)

Ted Greenwald was my beloved friend since the first time we met in New York in the early 1970s. He was a much more consistent friend than I was, as he was consistent in every way. He had the same unpretentious haircut and casual clothes style the entire time I knew him (with the later addition of glasses the only concession to time passing that I ever saw).

He was also a consistently original poet and writer and thinker and conversationalist and observer and minimalist (despite also being one of the most prolific poets ever, including writing book length poems, but always in his minimalist style, as his takes on his life and his surroundings were succinct in detail and rendering, even when they did go on...if that makes any sense, and I hope it would to him)...and the author of not only a unique poetic style but of one of the most original approaches to an autobiography (CLEARVIEW/LIE) in existence...

His sister, the filmmaker Maggie Greenwald summarized him best in these lines: "He was brilliant, infuriating, prolific, erudite, tough, all NYer all the time, a badass till the end. He loved a good conversation most of all...I adored him."

And here, from a 1977 book NATIVE LAND is his poem (and an example of his skill and originality):

AIRY RUSHES PUNCH

Airy rushes punch my shirt
Through a window of sunset dirt
And send me reeling like a lure
Through the water nerves of America
Once on the other side of somewhere
I relax and become someone else
Not that I behave different
Just behave less often
The sky offers me solace and office space
And stars I keep in drawers
Wear nothing
But a little mist and halo
I will imagine myself
A sympathetic headlight
Knocking on the door of the night
To borrow a cup of sugar
From the beautiful neighbor
Who's moved in
Without even the clothes on her back
"Would it be possible
To borrow a cup of sugar"
"Sure     Sit down
Make yourself comfortable"
I ease down in the big dipper

BILL BERKSON R.I.P.

Poet Bill Berkson had movie star good looks and a true gentleman's manners. Every encounter I had with him from the almost fifty years we knew each other was a pleasure. Our backgrounds couldn't have been more different, and yet we shared some things in common despite that. Others knew him better and were closer to him, but no matter how well you knew him, if you knew him you will miss him. Condolences to all his family, friends and fans. And here, from a book of his I randomly plucked from my shelves is a poem from his 1975 book ENIGMA VARIATIONS:

Poem

Like angels, I can only arrive
On the point of your admiration,
And what kind of thing is that
For a grown man?
                             But what I really want
Is to do what I can
For nothing in particular,
Letting the black holes rip,
As they may, through your lives,
And golden light on the stones
just before sundown, anywhere.



And I've had this quote in my head since I wrote down from his book RECENT VISITORS back in 1973:

Buddhism says it is possible to get your
mind together like the wings of a butterfly.
It is also possible not to get your mind
together and still exist like a butterfly
but with no wings.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

MY QUEER YEAR

As most who know me or my writing well already are aware of, I spent about a year from mid 1972 to mid 1973, identifying as a gay man. I hadn't had a sexual relationship with a male since childhood, and in later life wouldn't either, but as an act of opening up to all the possibilities and moving forward as a supporter of the feminist and gay "revolutions" as they were called at the time, I experimented with other men sexually and was advised by the "gay revolutionary" who was advising me that calling myself a "bisexual" would be a cop out since I would get the benefit of being with gay men sexually but not the stigma and oppression of being identified as gay.

So, I "came out" at a time when even my "gay revolutionary" advisor was still using a phony name to avoid the repression and oppression, much of it legal still, of being identified as "gay." As a result, some friends never spoke to me again, and I lost my job as a college teacher, as well as was criticized and dismissed by former friends and fans in leftist politics and the poetry and literary worlds. I'm not any politically correct martyr, since I went on to be mostly seen as a "straight" man later in my life and to accrue the privileges that came  with that.

Unfortunately I don't have any photos of me with any of the male lovers I had, which I would love to post in solidarity with the Orlando victims. But here are two shots of me during that period, one trying to make as gay a pose as I could at the moment (in the tee shirt celebrating the beautiful Vietnamese spokeswoman for the North's side in peace negotiations [taken by Tom Wilson]) and another in a more typically angry posture defying anyone objecting to my new "gay" label [taken by Len Randolph], and in a shot [can't remember who took it] with the late, great poet and friend Ed Cox who "came out" while he was living in a then "straight" commune in DC with me and my late wife Lee and our children and several other adults, and which eventually became a lesbian feminist commune before I finally moved out.



Wednesday, June 15, 2016

ME BEFORE YOU

After days of heartbreak and tears from the tragedy in Orlando, it was somehow a relief to sit in a movie theater and shed tears for a romance-novel style contemporary Brit version of a LOVE STORY type fantasy. Especially with the adorable leads, Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin.

Clarke, known for playing the most powerfully self confident and ambitious character perhaps in all mythology/history (in this case in the TV version of GAME OF THRONES) proves she has not only the best pair of eyebrow acting chops since Joan Crawford, but also the widest range of maybe any actor in movies right now.

The screenplay by Jojo Moyes, based on her best selling novel, is obvious and contrived at times, okay most of the time, and the direction by as far as I can tell first time movie director Thea Sharrock, is almost TV commercial slick, but the movie still works because of Clarke's and Clafin's charm and big screen charisma.

Despite the controversial ending, ME BEFORE YOU is a pretty sweet escape movie at a time when we all can use one.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

FYI

If you're anywhere in the neighborhood of midtown Manhattan on the evening of June 28th, my old Poetry in Motion partner is doing her updated version of a spoken word cabaret night at a comedy club with lots of brilliant word crafters and me, so check it out (it ain't free and there's no food this time but the line up is worth it):

Monday, June 13, 2016

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"The Orlando Killer is not really a Muslim extremist. So far authorities can't find any direct connection to a group. Anyone who pledges allegiance to al-Nusra, Hezbollah, ISIS and others is totally mixed up, since these groups seek to destroy each other. No, by all accounts, according to a co-worker, this murderer was seething with hatred of women and gay people, and any number of other things. Hatred and male ego is the religion for this guy. Islam is just a suit of clothes to wear to the murder prom."   —Hilton Obenzinger (on Facebook)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

TRAGIC DAY'S MINI RANT

No matter our gender, sexual orientation or identity, religion, skin tone, age or political beliefs, we are fellow humans.

If anyone attacks, harms, or kills any human, no matter their gender, sexual orientation or identity, religion, skin tone, age or political beliefs, that person is an enemy of humanity.

Just like the Nazi war crimes, the Orlando massacre was a crime against humanity.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

CALL HER APPLEBROOG

I have a new artist to add to my favorite artists list: Ida Applebroog. And a new documentary to add to my favorite documentaries list: CALL HER APPLEBROOG. The legendary pioneering filmmaker of the 1970's and '80s downtown scene, Beth B, has created a film about her mother, the artist Ida Applebroog, that is both revelatory and celebratory.

The revelation is Applebroog's art and story, mother of four known by her husband's name, Mrs. Husband's Name, reinventing herself and her name to become a pioneer of cutting edge art in the 1970s when she was in her forties, with hard edged takes on what it means to be a woman in a world, and in relationships, where others have the power.

Applebroog became a presence, even if a shy one, on the downtown scene about the same time as her daughter Beth B was doing the same as a filmmaker. Now they're forever joined in this documentary in ways that are unique. The film celebrates Applebroog's art but also her survival as a creative force and author of her own destiny.

The filmmaker doesn't just skim the surface or offer easy and obvious explanations for her mother's creative and life choices, nor does she sugar coat the dark aspects of her mother's history and motivations that led to her transformation. But her camera and editing skills create a work of art as personal and powerful as her mother's creations (with the help of a perfectly calibrated musical soundtrack from her life partner Jim Coleman (of Cop Shoot Cop fame, or notoriety).

If you appreciate art that's deeply, and at times confrontationally, personal yet accessible and often wittily tough, but poignant, I highly recommend you get down to the new art theater on the Lower East Side, The Metrograph (a work of art in itself) and catch CALL HER APPLEBROOG while you still can.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

GONE BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN

almost a year since the late great Lynn Manning, dear friend and great poet/playwright/performer/activist passed
here's photo of Lynn and me in L.A. c. 1990

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

ANOTHER LATE NIGHT MINI-RANT

I've been supporting Bernie Sanders since he first ran for office in Vermont (and as part of my morning spiritual work to clear my mind and open it to all the possibilities of the coming day I've been praying for him for many years) because his positions are close to mine. If I were to accept any political label it would be Democratic Socialist.

So I go to this thing last Sunday for the publication of a collection of previously uncollected Allen Ginsberg poems with poets and others who knew Allen well reading and speaking. When it's question time someone asks how the panelists think Allen would have dealt with this election.

Activist and write Eliot Katz, who's written a book about Ginsberg and politics, says no one can say for sure how Allen would react. He says he introduced Ginsberg to Bernie Sanders when Sanders was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and is planning on voting for Bernie in the primary in New Jersey, but if Hilary gets the nomination he'll vote for her and quotes some statements of Ginsberg that make him think Allen would support that.

Then Bob Rosenthal, Ginsberg's personal assistant for decades, who is writing a book about that called STRAIGHT AROUND ALLEN, reads a poem Ginsberg wrote about Bernie and admits in his first presidential vote in 1968 he opted for The Peace & Freedom Party and later realized that it was the same as voting for Nixon. And that Allen was very aware of the '68 debacle the split among Democrats caused, and he too thinks Allen would support Bernie but would vote for Hilary if she got the nomination.

But the questioner, and some other Bernie supporters there, didn't understand or care what was said, because instead of asking questions about Ginsberg and his poetry and life and new posthumous book, some people made vitriolic statements about Hilary and how no one should vote for her. When in response Katz said Hilary had supported women's causes, one woman yelled that Hilary has never supported women or women's causes!

This echoes posts I've been reading on Facebook from some of my Bernie supporting friends, whose combination of rabid attacks on Hilary and whining about the unfairness of every aspect of this election season if it impacts negatively on the results for Bernie has deeply disappointed me. If anyone truly believes that a Supreme Court nomination of Trumps' would be better than one made by Hilary, I seriously question that person's motives. And if it is the idea that Sarandon suggested that a Trump win would bring on the revolution, then I seriously question that person's understanding of reality.

Monday, June 6, 2016

ANOTHER NEW LIST!

As most of you know, I was a compulsive list-maker since childhood, in my writing and my mind, walking around making lists of favorite movies, sometimes alphabetical, etc. but after my brain operation in 2009 that compulsion entirely disappeared. Whenever I tried to even force myself to think up a list of favorite whatever, I'd entirely lose interest after one or two items. So the recent return of an occasional urge to make a list seems like a promising development. Usually I have to go to Google for help and force myself to stick with it, but this list came relatively easily whole lying in bed the other night, and then when I wrote it down I saw it added up to fourteen lines. So here is my: 

FAVORITE NONFICTION-PROSE BOOKS SONNET


HERE COMES, THERE GOES, YOU KNOW WHO
GENESIS ANGELS
THE FACE OF WAR
THE VILLAGE OF LONGING

BIG SUR AND THE ORANGES OF HIERONYMUS BOSCH
THAT SPECIAL PLACE
A QUINCY HISTORY
EARTH HOUSE HOLD

RECOLLECTIONS OF MY LIFE AS A WOMAN
SMILE PLEASE
MAGPIE RISING
SPECIMEN DAYS

CLEARVIEW/LIE
SKY




[books by William Saroyan, Aram Saroyan, Martha Gelhorn, George O’Brien, Henry Miller, Terence Winch, James Haining, Gary Snyder, Diane di Prima, Jean Rhys, Merrill Gilfillan, Walt Whitman, Ted Greenwald, and Blaise Cendrars]

Sunday, June 5, 2016

THE LOBSTER

This is a difficult movie to recommend. The cast is pretty terrific, the writing is original, the camera work and directing are mostly great. But it's a fantasy with a lot of unanswered questions and a challengingly mostly unsatisfying resolution.

It's contrived, but that's the point, or the point is to make metaphors out of the contrivances to help explain the complicated confusions of relationships and loneliness.

As you may have gathered from the trailers or interviews, Colin Farrell stars as a man who has lost his wife and has entered a "hotel" at which he will be challenged to find a mate or suffer the fate of being turned into the animal of his choice.

There are a surprising number of laughs in the film, as well as insights into coupling and solitude, but there are also big holes in some of the premises the dystopian vision is based on.

All in all, as the friend I saw it with said, I'm glad I saw it but wouldn't ever want to watch it again.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

MUHAMMAD ALI R.I.P.

I met him twice. The first time was around 1967-68 in Iowa City where he had come to give a talk, one of the ways he made money to support himself after his heavyweight champion title was taken away from him and he wasn't allowed to box professionally because he refused to be drafted into the Viet Nam War. As he said in his speech later that night, "No Viet Cong ever called me nigger."

My first wife, Lee, and I were meeting with the University of Iowa's Catholic chaplain about the Christening of our firstborn when Ali showed up to visit the chaplain. I don't know if the young, hip, leftist priest wanted us there as witnesses to their friendship, the basis for which they may have explained but I no longer remember, but whatever the reason it was a special event for us.

Ali was taller and more handsome than in news photos and film, and his hand seemed enormous when I shook it. But he also seemed humble and easy going. It was an odd gathering, Ali and I were the same age, in our mid-twenties, my wife a year younger, the chaplain a few years older, me and my wife and the priest all what this society calls "white" and Ali "black."

But it seemed like just a simple social occasion. We sat around and talked and drank something, tea or juice or whatever, and it all seemed very natural and normal and yet at least my wife and I knew it was extraordinary.

A few years later, at Temple University in Philadelphia where The Black Panthers had called for a conference to work out the agenda and goals for the upcoming Constitutional Convention in DC the Panthers were organizing where they hoped to rewrite The Constitution, I met Ali again because I was a delegate to the gathering which ended up overflowing an auditorium with the more than ten thousand anti-war and Civil Rights activists that showed up, and once again shook his hand and was blessed by that warm and embracing smile and presence.

As I can't stop saying in my old age, I am a very lucky man for the life I've lived, and being in close proximity to Muhammad Ali on those two occasions are just two examples why. He was and will remain on so many levels "the greatest."

Thursday, June 2, 2016

DEM WAS DA DAYS MY FRIENDS

Helena Kallianiotes and me in the late '80s in East L.A. at her club, Helena's, where I had done a few fundraising poetry readings using movie and TV stars reading the poetry of East Coast friends, leading to her asking me to do a weekly reading series, I said it was too much work but she introduced me to her friend Eve Brandstein who became my partner in that venture that was first called The Temple Street Poets, if I remember correctly, but after her club closed in the early '90s we moved the weekly event to other clubs, eventually ending up at Cafe Largo when it opened (contributing to the club's early success and cache)...Helena was famous back then for a small role she had in the film FIVE EASY PIECES as a hitchhiking angry lesbian, if I remember correctly...she looks angry in this photo, which she could be occasionally...but I totally dug her...