Friday, January 19, 2018

JACKIE FENNESSY R.I.P.

This photo has some marks on it but it's of Jackie when he was young and I knew him best. We grew up in the same neighborhood a few blocks from each other. His family had about ten kids in it with one who died as a boy, and mine had seven with one who died as an infant. And eventually we became part of each other's clans through the marriage of his oldest sister and my third oldest brother, at the time a cop.

Jackie was a few years older than me and had a reputation as the toughest kid his age in our area, despite his diminutive size, or perhaps because of it. One of my clearest memories of him was when I was about ten or eleven and him thirteen or so. An older and much bigger kid was causing some trouble, threatening to pick up and throw a smaller kid. Jackie was there and smaller than either of them, but he stepped into what was only words at that point and said something like:

"You think you're a big strong guy?"

"Yeah, stronger than your little"...whatever....

"I bet I can pick up something you can't."

The big guy couldn't resist so he took Jackie on, and Jackie spit on the sidewalk where this was all happening and said, "Go ahead, let's see you pick that up."

The big guy became flustered and said something like "F*ck you, nobody can pick that up." And Jackie said something like "If I do, you leave this kid alone." The big guy agreed. Without hesitation Jackie wiped his shoe over the spit and turned it up so we all could see the spit on the sole. The big guy turned red with anger and frustration but left the other kid alone.

I saw him in fights a few times too and he always won. I never lost—because of my persistence guys would just get tired of beating me and call it a draw—but I very rarely won, Jackie always did.

We also worked together in my father's home repair business, where Jackie was always pulling pranks. One of the first times we worked together, I was probably fifteen and him seventeen. We were sent to a job cleaning the gutters on the roof of a big house in one of the wealthy parts of our town. We put a forty foot aluminum ladder up to the roof, and while Jackie held it, I scrambled up. Once I was up there, he laid the ladder on the ground and went off in the truck, leaving me to do the job alone and then lay up there smoking until he came back to pick me up.

He was also known for talking so fast (a trait our families shared in general but they way outdid us) some people thought he was speaking another language, or doing what was called back then double talk, a kind of jokey sped up mixed up jargon that some comedians did as their trademark talent. So when I asked him where he'd gone and why he'd left me up there on the roof for a couple of hours, he laughed and said something I never understood and gave up trying to.

Jackie Fennessy was a unique presence in my life and world growing up, and it was always a treat to see him when I did on occasion ever since. My condolences to his wife and daughter, and to his many siblings, and nephews and nieces and cousins and extended clan.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

DOLORES O'RIORDAN R.I.P.

When I heard yesterday that Dolores O'Riordan had died, it felt like a personal and devastating loss. I never met her and, like most of us, knew her chiefly as the lead singer for The Cranberries. But her historic place in the popular music sphere (although her voice, and the band's arrangements, were often more punk (or new wave) than pop) isn't what I reacted to most. It was her Irishness and how comforting and at times challenging it could be to my sensibility.

Though "Zombie" and "Linger" are the tunes most cited in the obits being written about her, for me "Ode To My Family" has always been the song that touches my heart the most, and in what other music video have you ever seen someone playing with a hurling stick and ball (hurling is the Irish national native sport that is one of the most excitingly fast paced and no nonsense games in the world, or at least it certainly seemed so when I was a boy)...

Monday, January 15, 2018

MY MARTIN LUTHER KING SONNET

When Martin Luther King was shot I felt the
sudden shift in the atmosphere, like trying to
breathe underwater. It was three years since
Malcom X’s assassination and my new radical
friends and reading had opened my eyes to the
realities of class in the USA. Malcolm verbally
attacked white folks with impunity, but the
minute he decided it was not about race but
about the poor and the wealthy, BAM! King
spent years fighting racism and despite attempts
on his life and tons of threats seemed invulner-
able, but as soon as he organized a poor people’s
campaign talking about the haves and have-nots,
BAM! I wondered if the Marxists had it right.

(C) Michael Lally 2018

Saturday, January 13, 2018

ANOTHER FAVORITE QUOTE

"Well, listen, everything's weird. You tell me something that's not weird."   —Bob Dylan (in an interview)

Friday, January 12, 2018

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"A few months ago, I took my wallet full of money and credit cards and a large suitcase to a limousine that drove me to the airport and 7 hours later I was in Ireland driving to a luxury hotel. A few days later, I was standing in the stone barn in Raheendanore where my paternal grandfather for whom I am named, the oldest of 14 children, slept before he left for Brooklyn 35 years before I was born. The cows and the horses shit in that barn and I suppose he went outside the barn and around the back to shit there himself. I had spent the previous night in a re-constructed oat barn on a nearby farm which had been ingeniously converted to a luxury guesthouse. Dada had two years of schooling...... Grandma had one year and the house she grew up in in Ballinlough was a stone hut serving as a chicken coop when I first went to Ireland in 1972. (The house that replaced it was a nice cottage but still didn't have running water or a toilet when I was last there in 2010.) Still she knocked my father on the head when she heard he called a kid up the block a derogatory ethnic term and told her pride and joy, "He's as good as you are."...... On the other side of the family are famine Irish who sent three sons including my great-grandfather to fight with the Union. One of my great-grandfather's brothers, Daniel Curtin, is buried at Antietam. They all came from shitholes, I guess you could say..... I grew up in a nice house, went to Fairfield University, UC Berkeley and Columbia University, have two cars and two pensions, a profession I enjoy practicing and no complaints. There are lots of places I can go and things I can do today. I know where I came from and I remember the brave, loving, family-oriented, hard-working people who paid the price for the privileged lives I and my children are living.
What I really can't do is pull up the ladder they climbed to place me on top. I cant' pull it up and say to those down at the bottom, people who look different from my people, but have the same family-oriented, work-oriented values,"Sorry, times have changed. The country has changed, people like you are no longer needed. I guess it's tough in the shitholes you came from, but that's none of my business. The luck of America ended with me and mine."
I can't do that and if they start sending those kids back who grew up here, then I'm going to take all my meds with me and do my best to stand in front of the paddy wagons-----(Who do you think those wagons were named for anyway?)"

—William Lannigan

Thursday, January 11, 2018

OLD STYLE

After watching the TV series PEAKY BLINDERS I can say it was wildly inconsistent but wildly entertaining. Part of what made it so much fun to watch was the styles of that time and place as exaggerated by the show's creators, which evoked for me the family I come from, who weren't violent like the Peaky Blinders, but shared some other things with them.

My seventh-grade-drop-out father's attempts to create and run businesses to support me and my siblings and grandparents, and his brothers and their families when they needed help which in some cases was almost always, evokes Tommy Shelby, to me. And like him, one of my father's businesses was "making book" as they called taking bets on the horse races. I grew up, in fact, answering my old man's home repair business phone only to hear instructions for bets: "So-and-so across the board in the fifth" etc. And my old man worked with the political forces like Tommy as well.

So here's some shots that evoke for me the same kinds of immigrant Irish style of the times in the show and beyond.
my father as a young man with a cousin and Irish aunt c.1920
my father (white pants) and a friend on a trip to Florida in the 1920s
my father and my three oldest brothers down the Jersey shore c. 1932
my father and one of his younger brothers we called Lydie (his name was Michael Lydon Lally but since his Irish father was also Michael everyone called him by a version of his middle name, and yes, I did once have a conversation at a party with John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) about the name and turned out his people came from near where my people came from in Ireland) c. 1940.
my father, cigarette in mouth, with his youngest brother, John, behind him in striped tee shirt c. 1940
my father, his Irish mother, my oldest brother, my mother's mother and my mother and me during WWII c. 1944
my father in the dark hat and coat when he was an old man but part of the Essex County Democratic political machine and still stylish, early 1960s

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

THE CROWN, THE VIETNAM WAR, AND GUNPOWDER

People have asked me what I think about THE CROWN, and I say the casting for the royal family was great, and the acting by Claire Foy, Matt Smith, and Vanessa Kirby, who play them is terrific (though the role of Margaret's photographer love and eventual husband, Tony Armstrong Jones, was terribly miscast, Matthew Goode has nothing like the physical charisma the original had), and the writing is very good giving emotional and psychological depth to the royals, creating dialogue and drama that I doubt ever really existed. My guess is that the royals are as banal, shallow, and superficial as they seem to be, (and we know that factually Princess Margaret was a bigoted, racist, self-indulgent, narcissistic horror) and that being a witness to their actual private lives would be as boring as being a witness to their public ones usually is (which is why Princess Diana was such a breath of fresh air).

People have asked me what I think of the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary THE VIETNAM WAR, and I say I can understand the perspective of those on the left who feel it doesn't cover enough of the leftist perspective on and experience of that tragic mistake, or even those on the right who feel the same way from their side. But for me it is the documentarians' perspective that counts, and this is theirs, a work of filmic art that is relatively comprehensive, given the enormity of the subject, relatively balanced, and relatively successful, especially emotionally. I witnessed some of the scenes in the movie (the protest ones, including the throwing of metals by Viet vets, over the fence etc.) and lost friends in the conflict, so to re-experience this through the film moved me, despite the fact that given the chance I would have done an entirely different film on the subject.

People have asked me what I think about the recent three-part TV series GUNPOWDER, starring Kit Harrington, about the plot to blow up the English Parliament and King James I during the early years of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Though it had some moments of historically appropriate acting and writing (some great Shakespearean turns of phrases) and costuming etc, it also had scenes shot in ways that made Harrington seem like a boy in the presence of men (I guess for whatever reason as a producer he wanted to be shown as a small man compared to many of his followers, but then his director and cinematographer shot him in ways that at times made him seem boyish and even unattractive, which counters the main reasons audiences fell in love with him in GAME OF THRONES. So, in the end, it's not something I would recommend.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

I CALL THEM BOOKS

In the front of most of my books is usually a list of previous books of mine. Some people over the years have questioned my including what many call "chapbooks"—a term used for books that have no spine, so if you place them in the normal way on a book shelf you couldn't see any title or author names (usually they're either side-stapled, or saddle-stitch stapled as in most magazines).

Many only consider "perfectbound" books (i.e. with spines) to be "real books." I just never felt that way. Some of my favorite books would fall into the category of "chapbook" and as a result not be taken as seriously as they should be—and most often these are poetry books. They are also sometimes unique works of art, as objects, their covers and typefaces and designs making them precious in ways that add to the pleasure of holding and reading them.

So here are some poetry books without spines that came out in 2017 that I didn't get a chance to write about but I don't want to go unmentioned.

Douglas Crase's THE ASTROPASTORALS—a beautiful slim volume of poetry from Pressed Wafer—shares the poetic craft and impact of the late John Ashbery's work, while still articulating Crase's own unique poetic voice and approach to the question of what makes a good poem. He is known in some poetry-loving circles as a poet's poet's poet, someone whose work is like a rarely experienced delicacy that must be savored to fully appreciate.  Here's some lines from "Theme Park":

Too much of a subject can interfere,
Be a drag, so subvert the procedure to which it refers
That the wisest course is to visit it just for fun,
Have fun, and make a clean getaway—wisdom
Already shed in the shiver of pilgrim foot
On the longed-for soil.

Geoffrey Young's THIRTY-THREE, from above/ground press, is thirty-three sonnets from one of my favorite poets whose work in recent years is often published privately in such limited editions that most poetry lovers wouldn't get the chance to see them. But these poems were selected from those rare chapbooks so give a taste of what's in them. His poetry is always sharp witted and sharply witty in ways no other poet achieves. I have never been dissatisfied with any of his books (many being so-called "chapbooks"—he calls them that himself) nor am I this time. Here's some lines from "Smooch":

Will you follow the poem no matter where it goes
No matter who's standing in the way, who's dragging you down
Who doesn't get it, and can't hack it?
When you get to the finish line

If you've got five people still with you
You should kiss their fucking feet.

Mark Terrill's COMPETITIVE DECADENCE from newferalpress is a selection of poems (and photographs by James LaFratta) that once again confirm why I've loved Terrill's poetry since reading his BREAD & FISH (on my top ten list of favorite poetry books since it came out in 2002 from The Figures, a press Geoff Young was running back then). This new collection lives up to my expectations with his usual intensely accurate observations about what it means to live a fully conscious life. Here's some lines from "Idiot Savant":

Eye to eye with an animal—
no language in common and yet
nothing is missing—
while the beasts hunt other beasts
in the light that shines at night.
From which moments on
do all other moments
suddenly become subordinate?

Sunday, January 7, 2018

THE GOLDEN GLOBES

Missed the first half hour, but the next two and a half hours was pretty inspiring, lots of powerful speeches and comments about it being time for women to have parity in pay and opportunity and recognition and calling for an end to sexual harassment and abuse across the board in every situation and occupation.

The highlight being Oprah's acceptance speech (she won The Cecile B. DeMille award) that got a standing ovation and a series of stand-up-again ovations and brought tears to the eyes of many of the "stars" in the audience, and I'm sure to many viewers at home, certainly mine.

And Frances McDormand has got to be the coolest and most unpretentious award winner ever with her blunt manner and acceptance speech, and same for Barbra Streisand's little speech before she gave the award for best movie, first pointing out that they announced her as the only woman director to win a Golden Globe and that was in 1984!

And, as others pointed out, LADY BIRD won for best actress in a comedy or musical for Saoirse Ronan, and it won for best comedy or musical movie, but even so the creator of the movie, writer/director/producer Greta Gerwig wasn't even nominated for best director! Time's up indeed.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

PEAKY BLINDERS

PEAKY BLINDERS is an English TV show friends have been telling me for a while that I must see. So I binged the first season this week and can see why. Set in Birmingham, England, just after WWI ended, it tells the story of the Shelby family who run a gang called The Peaky Blinders. There was historically a gang called that but mostly before the war. This is a fictional story using some historical characters (like Winston Churchill) but mostly fictional ones to create a compelling mix of fantasy and reality all flavored with brutality.

It's as if Guy Ritchie had been hired to make BOARDWALK EMPIRE. Lots of contemporary music and authentic period other stuff, from costumes to stylized versions of the male haircuts of the time. The star is Cillian Murphy, an actor who never disappoints, and this may be his greatest performance yet. He's supported by spectacular performances by Paul Anderson as his older but less stable brother and Helen McCrory as his fearless clear-eyed (mostly) aunt.

If you don't mind graphic violence, it's an engaging if exaggerated bit of alternative early 20th century English (as seen mostly through the eyes of Irish, "Gypsies," and various other ethnicities) history.

Friday, January 5, 2018

ANOTHER OLD FAVORITE QUOTE

"...human affairs still continue to be the consequence of mistakes, misunderstandings, and myths."   —William Saroyan (from DAYS OF LIFE AND DEATH AND ESCAPE TO THE MOON)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

SOME RANDOM PHOTOS OF POETS AND MORE

 Joel Lipman, Michael Harris, Hubert Selby Jr., me, and Eve Brandstein at Poetry In Motion in L.A. c. 1987?
me and Rachel E. Diken Thanksgiving or Christmas in NJ 2016
me and Lee Ann Brown outside The Poetry Project at St. Marks NY early 2017

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

ANOTHER WAY TO PLAY

That's the name of a big collection of a lifetime of poems (subtitle: Poems 1960-2017) due out on April 24th from Seven Stories Press and distributed by Penguin/Random House.

I am humbled and honored by Seven Stories taking on such a big project for poetry, my poetry, and can't help feeling it is the reward for my lifelong commitment to poetry and my life as a poet.

I am especially blown away, as they used to say, by the quotes about the collection from poets and creators whose work I respect and honor. You can read them (but have to hit the phrase "see more" to get all that are posted) here:

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/564282/another-way-to-play-by-michael-lally/9781609808303/

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is receiving a lot of praise, and rightfully so. It's a sweet, small, quietly revelatory film. Some are criticizing it for being unrealistic in its portrayal of a sexual and romantic connection between two males in 1981, or for using two "straight" actors to play those roles, or for not actually showing their sex acts more explicitly. But I haven't read any criticism, though I suspect it's out there, that one of the two males is seventeen and the other older.

It's not a revolutionary film, and the story it tells is not unique or original. But it's still rare for a love story, or even a love-affair story, to be told with the leads being of the same gender, even if it is a bittersweet but poignant tale. I could quibble with the story details, but the script was written by James Ivory (adapted from a novel by Andre Aciman), who knows how to use brilliantly concise dialogue to tell a story.

The actors are all terrific, Armie Hammer fulfilling the role of an American hunk interloper with a restrained charisma, and Timothee Chalamet playing the smitten young man (though I guess in the terms currently used in our US culture since he is supposed to be seventeen, boy would be the term, or even according to some, "child") with charm and what seemed to me the realistic amount of human confusion.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is a throwback to numerous French romantic movies of the 1960s and '70s and '80s, only with the lovers being male instead of the usual heterosexuals. A "coming of age" (or at least of sexual initiation) movie the French have almost always done better than any other culture. The best descriptive term, especially in these times, for the whole ambience of the movie is "civilized"—in the best sense of that term.

And for me, the presence of Amira Casar was the icing on the cake, and as her character's husband, the currently ubiquitous Michael Stuhlbarg doing his usual great job elevating another stereotype (the repressed but oh so civilized art lover/professor) to more than meets the eye. The whole endeavor seemed like a refreshing respite from our current affairs, in all senses of that term.

Monday, January 1, 2018

FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2017

My number one favorite movie of 2017 and
the one I want to see win best picture Oscar:

THE FLORIDA PROJECT (and Brooklyn Prince
should win all the acting awards)

Other favorites (in no particular order):

GET OUT

WONDER WOMAN

LADY BIRD

THE SHAPE OF WATER

THE GLASS CASTLE

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI

THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES

PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN

THE BIG SICK

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

THE LOST CITY OF Z