Sunday, June 25, 2017

MY LIFE 2

Most of my poems on this CD are x-rated, but this one sums up the perspective I had at one point earlier in my life (when I was still in my fifties):

Friday, June 23, 2017

BEATRIZ AT DINNER

This movie could have been so good. Great casting, great subject, great opportunity to do some deep consciousness raising (as we used to say) about the state of the country and the world. But...it finally fails, for my taste, because it chickens out, with an ending that was revolutionary when Kate Chopin wrote it for her novel THE AWAKENING at the end of the 19th Century, but is a cop out in 2017.

What could have been an inspiring call to action, or at least an exposing of the hypocrisy of the elite (not like we haven't heard that before) instead ends up not just giving up but totally despondent. Salma Hayek does a terrific job in the leading role (as does everyone else) but what she's given to work with in some scenes is so disjointed and/or weirdly patronizing (for a film supposedly attacking the Trumpian style patriarchy with John Lithgow brilliantly, as always, portraying the Trumpian) I ended up not only leaving the theater frustrated and angry and disappointed, but once again wishing that movies about women be written and directed by women.

This incredibly serious subject that focuses on not just a woman but an immigrant woman, is written by a white male most famous for comedies. I guess I admire his good intentions, but maybe they would have been better expressed by handing the idea over to a woman writer who hopefully would have seen the sexism of the ending, which insults the character Hayek has so diligently done her best to represent.

I don't know, go see it yourself and tell me what you think.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

THE INTRODUCTION OF COLOR

This photo looks like it was taken in 1949-50, when we got a thirteen-inch-screen TV and our living room was always full of folks watching the new-fangled device. The photo too was displaying new-fangled technology, being in color, or what passed for it at the time.

From the viewer's left to right, the back row is my grandma Dempsey, who lived with us, my cousin Rosemary who often stayed at our place, and on the couch my mom, my Aunt Rose (Rosemary's widowed mother), somebody else we can't see, and my brother Robert. Those on the floor are my cousin Micki, who lived down the street, my cousin Mary Lynn, who lived next door, my sister Joan, with me confronting the camera, my ever present black cowboy hat with white stitching hanging down my back. Everyone in this photo gone now, except for Mary Lynn and me.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

JOHN REED'S FREE BOAT

John Reed's FREE BOAT is a brilliant and challenging tour de force. Which could be said about every book of his. Like his using lines from various Shakespeare plays to create an entirely new, unique, post-modern yet totally intelligible, Shakespeare play: ALL THE WORLD'S A GRAVE. Or his sequel to ANIMAL HOUSE: SNOWBALL'S CHANCE. Or his seemingly conventional but lushly original Civil War historical romance A STILL SMALL VOICE. Or his satirical take on contemporary "American" "culture" as a seemingly THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS extended acid induced riff THE WHOLE. Et. al.

But first two disclosures. When my oldest son, Miles, was five and moved in with me in New York in the Spring of 1975, (his sister Caitlin joined us for the summer and eventually joined us permanently), his first real friend was John Reed. So John has been a lifelong friend of my son's, and of mine. Second, I've got a thing about books that mix poetry and prose.

When I was a teenager in the 1950s and first read Dante's VITA NUOVA, I fell in love with that mix (whether mostly poetry with just a dollop of prose, or more prose thank poetry) and never fell out. Some of my favorites off the top of my head are William Carlos Williams's SPRING AND ALL, THE DESCENT OF WINTER and PATERSON; Jean Toomer's CANE; James Schuyler's THE CRYSTAL LITHIUM and THE HOME BOOK; James Haining's A QUINCY HISTORY; and a whole bunch of my books: ROCKY DIES YELLOW, CATCH MY BREATH, JUST LET ME DO IT, ATTITUDE, HOLLYWOOD MAGIC, IT'S NOT NOSTALGIA, and IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE (wow, another list from my post-op brain).

The structure of FREE BOAT is closest to my first mix-of-prose-and-poetry love, Dante's VITA NUOVA. In that book, a collection of Dante's early poems written to his lifelong obsession, and first true love, Beatrice, the poems are interspersed with prose explantations of the poems or further explication of the themes in them etc. FREE BOAT appears to extend that poet/commentator model, but from a 21st-Century perspective.

Though Reed's FREE BOAT is the first book of his that seems to finally come out of his real life experience, it's interspersed with fictitious, and at times fictitiously sensationalized, elements. Which means a lot of the explanations, as well as the poems themselves, include post-modern approaches like an unreliable narrator, language games, deliberate misdirection, juxtapositions of images and phrases, and even words, that seem to be intended to create confusion but also fusion, of unlike ideas and interpretations (and other John Reeds' google info?), creating a kind of series of language and "biographical" mini-explosions and excursions. There are lots of photos too, some of, or including, the author at various ages, others of the many other "John Reeds" to be found on Google, or images related to the author's life or the lives of other John Reeds, etc. leading to more revelations and some more obfuscations.

Despite all the "experimental-writing" (a term that used to be used for anything untraditional back in my day) aspects of Reed's FREE BOAT, the poems in it are often in the form of traditional sonnets, though most of them blow that traditional poetic form wide open (and sideways and otherwise) to accommodate the twists and turns of the seeming murder-mystery plot of the memoir-esque facets of the book. I suspect FREE BOAT will not be to everyone's taste (though it is to mine). But its brilliant intellectual virtuosity and creative originality cannot be denied.

YEP


Sunday, June 18, 2017

FATHER'S DAY

me & my youngest c. 2004 in from of the place in Jersey I rented at the time
me & my oldest children c. 1979 in a loft I rented in NYC in what later became "Tribeca"
me & my father and two of my three older brothers, our two sisters, mother and grandma c. 1952 In Belmar NJ where our grandmother had a bungalow 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

ON THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF TED GREENWALD'S DEATH

A great poet and writer and thinker and philosopher and advisor and character and personality and friend...

Thursday, June 15, 2017

KENNETH GRAHAM R.I.P.

Kenny was one of my oldest friends. I've known him since we were kids. We grew up in the same town, and I mention him in some of my poetry, including in The South Orange Sonnets. We spent time in each other's homes. When we were teenagers we made trips to Manhattan, we double dated, crashed parties, and shot hoops. He was always the calm one, I was always restless.

His father drove a taxi that had its office beneath the apartment his large family lived in back then (we're talking the 1940s and '50s). Kenny was the oldest, and since I left town at 18, I didn't get to know his siblings except for his late brother Raymond, just below him in age. Both Kenny and Ray towered above most people and were natural athletes. Ray was offered a basketball scholarship to some college but joined the paratroopers and ended up in Viet Nam. He survived battles but succumbed to other health challenges in later years.

Their mother was a strong voice against racism in our community. Their father, as I remember him, was more reserved, like his oldest son. Kenny was pretty unflappable. I was all high energy and outrage and addicted to new experiences. Kenny never lived far from where he grew up and adapted his athletic abilities to tennis, becoming a private coach on his own time and a school coach for his nine-to-five.

When I moved back to South Orange in 1999, after being away for close to forty years, the first person I ran into was Kenny, and he immediately made a joke about a girl I was dating in 1959. We had a lot of chuckles over the years. I had expected to see him at my 75th birthday party last month, we talked on the phone beforehand and I emailed him about it but he never showed up and I missed him being there.

But that had been my experience when we were teenagers as well. Sometimes he just wouldn't show and no questions would be asked. Only a few months earlier, he had called me and said he was just thinking back on the old days and there weren't many people around who were there except us. We talked for a long time about those who were gone or we'd lost touch with, had some laughs, and some quiet moments. It was a good, loving conversation that I am now very grateful we had.

Kenneth Graham (as he chose to call himself on his Facebook page) was a calming presence everywhere he went and will be remembered for being an exceptionally decent and kind person. My condolences to all his family and friends.

Monday, June 12, 2017

DAY OF REMEMBRANCE

This photo was taken of me in 1972 when I was thirty, at the start of the few years when I began experimenting with my sexual identity. The photographer was an older man who said he was in love with me. He was a public figure and very closeted, a macho WWII combat veteran who despised "sissies" which I imagine is why he somehow provoked me to capture my more macho side at a time when I was making the first attempts in my life to NOT come across as macho.

There were very few examples of publicly self-identified "gay" men, or lesbians, let alone anyone talking about fluidity in terms of sexuality. I hated the term "bi-sexual" (as I was taught to by the man who was the first male I shared my sexuality with as an adult, who said calling yourself "bi-sexual" was a cop out, because it allowed you to enjoy the pleasures of sex with whoever you wanted without the consequences of being identified as a gay man).

So when I was included in "gay" poetry anthologies in the years that followed, I'd always mention in the bio section that I hated labels for sexuality, that my experience was that there were as many kinds of sexual experiences as there were people, but if I had to pick a term I'd use "pansexual."

The one exception in the poetry world was Dick Higgins, who became a friend and who wrote a line that I used to quote constantly back then (and unfortunately I cant reproduce the way it appears in his poem because of the formatting limitations on my my blog and Facebook): "look behind the eyes//i said and i say//worry about the plumbing later".

The reason I bring all this up is because today is the one year anniversary of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The kind of gay club I danced in and partied in back in the early 1970s in DC and NYC and San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Miami, Florida, during my travels then as an openly "gay" poet and man, despite the fact that I was always in sexual relationships with women as well at the time.

There's a quote from the artist and poet Joe Brainard (a man I was in love with, and was lovers with over the years though the sex was minimal and pretty unsuccessful) that I can't remember exactly, nor find at the moment, that said something like: Every day is the anniversary of something horrible. And that's true. And overwhelming.

But nonetheless, today's one-year anniversary of the death of those forty-nine people in that club and the trauma still experienced by those who survived the carnage, reminds me, at least, what I discovered in that period of sexual experimentation, that there are as many ways of being oneself as there are selves, including the multitude of selves we each contain.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

WONDER WOMAN

I could say a lot of things about the WONDER WOMAN movie. Like I'm glad I saw it on the big screen. I could certainly say a lot of positive things about it like Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is perfection. But then so is Connie Neilsen as her mother and Robin Wright as the general of the Amazons. I could have gone on watching the first part of the movie, set in the land of the women warriors, with no men, for the entire length of the movie and been quite satisfied.

And I could quibble with some things. Like, wait a minute, where was she hiding that shield? Or, is the plot meant to imply that people working for peace really secretly want war? Or, I'm really happy that it was directed by a woman and stars a woman action hero, but I wish the next one will be written by women as well, unlike this one, because I think it would be even more insightful about strong women. (Also, why cant I find a movie poster that has the usual credits for stars and director, instead of ones that only have images of Wonder Woman but not even the full movie title?!)

But in the end, the one thing I can and want to say for certain about the new WONDER WOMAN movie is this: 'bout feckin' time.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

SWEET DAY

Exhausted but fulfilled after a day at New Jersey's first ever South Orange-Maplewood Book Festival. Tons of authors and poets and panel discussions and book lovers. The panels I attended were stimulating and inspiring, the level of insight into craft and purpose was so high my mind is tired.

I was fortunate enough to take part in a panel with other poets about social and political activism in relation to poetry and hear some great responses to our current challenges. Lively discussions at the others, including one about gentrification and its impact on the health of all those involved in it, the newcomers and the displaced (best line of the day from Mindy Thompson Fullilove (author of ROOT SHOCK): "Facism is bad for your heath!") (the other panelist was Peter Moskowitz, author of HOW TO KILL A CITY).

I'm already looking forward to the second one, a year from now.

Friday, June 9, 2017

LAST MINUTE REMINDER

Tomorrow at 10 a.m., 10 Durand Rd, Maplewood, NJ 07040 as part of the Maplewood South Orange Book Festival, please come out for The Poetry of Hope and Social Action
Tina Kelley, Theresa BurnsMichael Lally Danny Shot, and BJ Ward 
Post-election, poetry has emerged as a way to channel the uncertainty that comes with regime change. Five poets share work that focuses on justice, resistance, and/or ways to bolster spirits and protect the disenfranchised in uncertain times

Thursday, June 8, 2017

AUTHOR PHOTOS

The backs of three of my books: ATTITUDE (taken by Edie Baskin), CATCH MY BREATH (by Susan Tenant), and CANT BE WRONG (by Robert Zuckerman).

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

IF YOU'RE NOT IN THE OBIT, EAT BREAKFAST

If you have HBO or can get access to HBO documentaries, this is one to check out. Maybe you have to be my age to find it as fun and inspiring as I did, but I don't think so. Carl Reiner steers us through interviews with, and the activities of, people ninety and over. A hundred-year-old, still working professionally,  piano-playing song writer; a hundred year old runner still participating in track events; etc. Some are famous and most are accomplished and "of means"—as they used to say for rich folks—so that obviously might help with their attitudes. But not all are, which implies it's not always that.

They talk about what they think gives them not just their longevity, but their vitality. Still exercising in most cases, some more than others, some still dancing or doing yoga or writing or doing comedy or etc. All enjoying life still, active and mostly self sufficient. There's younger folk, Jerry Seinfeld for one, sharing some of their own philosophy of how to have a happy and active life, but mostly it's just really old people making me look forward to hitting my own nineties in fifteen years.

After watching this I turned it off thinking bring it on.

Monday, June 5, 2017

THIS COMING SATURDAY MORNING EVENT (10AM)

The Poetry of Hope and Social Action
Tina Kelley, Theresa Burns, Michael Lally, Danny Shot and B.J. Ward
The Burgdorff Center (Theatre) Maplewood NJ
Post-election, poetry has emerged as a way to channel the uncertainty that comes with regime change. Five poets share work that focuses on justice, resistance, and/or ways to bolster spirits and protect the disenfranchised in uncertain times.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Fields of Athenry is a 20th Century Irish song about the 19th Century genocide incorrectly called "the famine"...it's a wife's lament to her husband in a prison ship because he dared to rob some corn the English overlords had in storage but wouldn't let the starving native Irish have access to...it's my clan's anthem because my Irish grandfather grew up outside Athenry (pronounced Athen-rye) and the husband in the song is named Michael as was he and obviously me...this is my oldest child Caitlin singing her own lyrics (rewritten with the help of my older boy Miles and his mate Hannah) for me at my 75th birthday party (unfortunately the video won't post here on my blog but you can go to Facebook and see and hear it: