Saturday, March 31, 2007


Another wake up in the middle of the night, this time during a sleepover of my little boy’s and two of his friends, some noise from one of them woke me and to get back to sleep I gave myself what I knew would be a very difficult task, to come up with an alphabetical list of favorite poems. Some were easy, because I’ve used them before in these lists I obsess over. Like the first two:

“Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” by James Wright
“Bread & Fish” Mark Terrill (the title prose poem in one of my all time favorite books)
“Counting Small-Boned Bodies” Robert Bly
“Danse Russe” William Carlos Williams
“Excuses” Terence Winch
“Fragment” John Ashbery
“G-9“ Tim Dlugos
“House of Morgan” Ray DiPalma
“I Remember” Joe Brainard’s book-length serial poem
“Jiffy Kimona” Kenward Elmslie
“Kaddish” Allen Ginsberg (my favorite poem of his)
“Linen” James Schuyler (one of his small in-the-moment poems I love so much)
“March 18, 2003” Michael Lally (if I do say so myself)
“New Personal Poem” Ted Berrigan
“Obsidian Point” Ken McCullough (the title poem(s) in “a triptych” book-length poem(s)
“Poem (Lana Turner has collapsed!)” Frank O’Hara
“Queen–Anne’s-Lace” William Carlos Williams
“Rag/Time” Robert Slater
“St. Roach” Muriel Rukeyser
“There is a cruel, messianic, dim, tribal intransigence” (first line of an untitled Simon Pettet poem and my recent favorite of his)
“Up” Blaise Cendrars (Ron Padgett’s translation)
“Variations on a Theme by Suburu” Jerome Sala
“Waiting” Ed Cox
“Xes” Michael McClure
“Yes or No” Elaine Equi
Z (I know there’s gotta be a poem I dig that starts with Z but I couldn’t think of any last night)

Friday, March 30, 2007


"My heart is where it belongs." —Jack Kerouac, VISIONS OF GERARD

Photo by Tore Claesson

Thursday, March 29, 2007


What a satisfying film experience.

There were obvious contrivances, as least to me, viewing it as a writer.

But they disappeared in the craft: the washed-out colors in the days of the Berlin Wall; the more subtle, underplayed for the most part, European style of acting; the depth of the character studies and of the plot, even with the obviously piggy bad guys etc.

Mesmerized me.

Not to mention the thankfully more normal human physical appearance of the actors, so common in films from other countries compared to our mostly physically flawless or stereotypical ones. (The leading man seemed to be showing a bit of a pot belly under his shirt, etc.)

I can see why it won so many awards.

And speaking of communism (which the communists in the flick kept referring to as “socialism” as they were wont to do) as I did in my last post…what a bitter pill (though there is no denying the benefits of being guaranteed a job, health care, education, pension etc. but couldn’t that have been accomplished without all the soul destroying aspects of “the party” apparatus?)

But hey, where are the American movies like this? Where’s our dramatization of what the new guidelines for interrogation, or lack of them, are doing to people in our military and spy agencies?

Where’s the lives of us?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


A woman in Houston pays 2,100 dollars—apiece—for three blouses in a store that caters to the wealthy, of which there are plenty. She needs three because after a few dry cleanings they’re not really any good any more, to her.

A man makes 32 million dollars in salary and perks running a corporation, and when he does a lousy job gets over a hundred million as a going away present.

Exxon-Mobil, or whatever the gigantic corporation’s name is, has just reported making more money in profits than any business or corporation in the history of the world.

When I applied for social security this morning in preparation for my senior-hood—the only white person in a room with hundreds of people in Newark NJ—they awarded me an extra fifteen dollars a month for the over four years I spent as an enlisted man in the service of my country in the early 1960s.

The cops and firemen in my neighborhood and clan when I was growing up made enough to afford a home, a life there, but these days no cops or firemen in my home town can afford to live there, or anywhere this close to New York City except for ghettos, otherwise they have to move a long commute away, out in what once was countryside and now is sometimes cheap, mass developments.

The fastest growing demographic of homeless people is children.

When the inequities were this extreme before in this country, the so-called “Gilded Age” or during the Great Depression etc., there were revolts afoot to address these and the rest of the obviously unconscionable conditions many people live with now.

So where’s the revolt?

There were a lot of hostile people in that Social Security office, some of their hostility aimed at me, an old gray-haired white guy. But it seemed racial, rather than a matter of class, though that too I assume.

I know communism, as practiced and pushed by the Soviet Union failed, and rightfully so, and that the right has managed to create the illusion in most people’s minds that socialism and liberalism are the same thing and that they have failed too.

But of course they haven’t, especially not in other so-called “industrialized nations”—but even if they had failed, so has capitalism, the way the conservative Republicans have practiced and pushed it.

So, except for the few demonstrators that turn out for the meetings of the billionaires who rule the world, why’s everyone else so docile?

Are the electronic toys and media distractions doing their job so well, people just don’t care? Or has the right manipulated the media so well people actually think it’s the fault of elite liberals or Washington bureaucrats?

Or is everyone just too tired from working so many hours for so little pay—more than any other “industrialized country”—to protest?

More work and less pay has become the standard default position for most workers for most corporations these days and the threat of no job or working at MacDonald’s has kept many of those people compliant I guess, but still, where’s the failed executive who understands the dynamics of contemporary corporations and is fired with rage against the inequities enough to use his experience and class privileged education and insider knowledge to lead a revolt of the masses—which now includes almost everyone who works for a living and isn’t a millionaire?

All these new leftist leaders in Latin America come out of that place, the anger at the huge discrepancies in economic rewards in their so-called “third world countries”—but now we too have those kinds of discrepancies, though with more toys, made by these and other “third world countries” for us to buy cheap.

Is that it? The “bread and circuses” that kept the Roman masses satisfied or distracted enough to not revolt against having their pockets picked by their leaders until it was too late?

Is it too late for us?

Are these questions rhetorical?

Sunday, March 25, 2007


A lot of women actors I know prefer “actor” to “actress” thus…

Anyway, before I get to the list(s) I mentioned might be next (work that you dug as a kid and don’t now, or didn’t get as a kid and do now) I realized in my “women artists” alphabet lists I hadn’t included actors, so here ‘tis, with the usual caveats, including the fact that some letters brought up several equally favorite actors, like “R” where my first thought was Vanessa Redgrave, but my second and third thoughts were Jamie Rose and Gina Rowlands, Or “W” I thought immediately of Alfre Woodard, but almost as immediately of Theresa Wright, and Kate Winslett. Or “M” Marilyn Monroe, Helen Mirren, Jeanne Moreau, Hayley Mills, etc. There’s many parallel alphabet universes.

E (?)
X (?)

Saturday, March 24, 2007


In an email to a friend yesterday, I wrote a line that I should probably copyright and put on a tee shirt and make a mint with.

But, the truth is, I've had lines of mine from copyrighted poems appear in other people’s poems and songs and books and plays and movies etc. for decades. And almost never made a dime or was even acknowledged.

I don’t mean that to sound self-aggrandizing, and it isn’t, because I’m not the only one to have that happen to them.

I also know someone will inevitably write or tell me that they’ve heard this line before. But I haven’t.

So for what it’s worth, and to put it on the record, what I emailed my friend yesterday was:

It’s God’s world, we just live in it.


Just a quick quote from Peter Singer, author of CORPORATE WARRIORS, a compelling book about the outsourcing of U. S. military to firms like Blackwater, (in last week’s TIME):

“An owner of a circus faces more regulation and inspection than a private military company.”

For “company” substitute “army” and you’ve get where we’ve come since W. took over. From a “citizen’s army” to a “Private” one. No accountability, for anything, from “war crimes” to the disappeared billions of our tax dollars. Thanks junior.

Friday, March 23, 2007


From a letter Martha Gellhorn wrote in 1967 after a selection of her war reporting was brought out as THE FACE OF WAR (one of my all time favorite books and looks at history as it happened) and she went on her first press tour:

“…The English jaunt was incredible: 8 cities in 5 days: Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast, Dublin. 8 Press Conferences, 4 telly interviews, 2 radio interviews; I never saw anything more ghastly. I fooled everyone by never mentioning my book but talking only about/against the Vietnam war…And I learned a lot because now I know, as fact, what I’ve always surmised: our rulers travel like this on a grander scale, everything arranged, straight from train or plane into waiting car to waiting reception to press conference to talk with one or more of their own kind. You never see the people in the street, you never are in the street; one place is like another; there is absolutely no contact ever with daily reality, with the strains and stresses of real life as lived by real people, and you are always the star, always telling, never listening, never learning. No wonder they rule us as if we were punched cards for a computer and they the computers. They don’t know anything else.”

And, as the perfect example of what Gellhorn is talking about, the people who live that way all the time, these quotes from transcripts reprinted in The New York Times, from Barbara Bush.

First, her comments to Diane Sawyer on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on March 18, 2003, the day before the invasion of Iraq, about her choice not to watch TV coverage of the war once it begins:

“Why should we hear about body bags and deaths, and how many, what day it’s going to happen, and how many this or what do you suppose? Or, I mean, it’s, it’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?”

And in 2005 while visiting the victims of Katrina at the Houston Astrodome:

“And so many people in the area here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this—this is working very well for them.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Last night I went to “the world premiere” of REIGN OVER ME.

Adam Sandler proves he can play both comedy and tragedy in this film, if he hadn’t already proven it. He doesn’t have the capacity of a William Macey to disappear into a character, he’s more a “movie star” than “character actor”—but in REIGN OVER ME, he exceeds anything he’s done before as far as range goes, making me laugh out loud, and shed some tears, along with the rest of the audience.

Some of whom were NYU students—like the ones sitting on each side of me who seemed like they might wet their pants in their excitement over seeing Sandler live, matched only by their excitement at seeing shots of their school in the film.

Some were the rich and famous—like Will Smith, with his wife Jada, who is in the movie, doing her usual solid job and looking fine but not as sweet and petite as I discovered she does in person.

And some were famous, and I assume rich, but also unbelievably beautiful—like Saffron Burrows and Liv Tyler, both taller than me in their heels, and I can pass for six feet.

And some were just famous, and maybe rich but not as rich—like Salaman Rushdie, who I couldn’t figure out what he was doing there except that he’s famous and it was a premiere.

But the point of this post isn’t how envious all that could have made me feel, and used to, not for the riches—which for whatever reason I never coveted and still don’t, though I envied the financial security—nor the fame—which I admit I used to desire but don’t anymore—but for the opportunity to do the work you love and get it out to the size of audiences most half-way successful movies eventually reach, and in the case of REIGN OVER ME, this should be an enormously successful film.

Not just because Mike Binder, its creator in every sense of the word (i.e. “writer-director”) is really good at what he does (see his last film, THE UP SIDE OF ANGER, to see how good a director he is, it’s Kevin Costner’s best acting job, period, not to mention how great the script Binder wrote for that film is) but because he has “the great Don Cheadle”—as he kept being called, correctly, last night—in it.

As far as I’m concerned Cheadle should have collected several Oscars by now. This film is in many ways an opportunity for him to also demonstrate his chops on both ends of the acting spectrum—comedy to tragedy—and as always, he does it spectacularly well.

Are there any caveats to all this praise? No. Any quibbles are too miniscule to matter in a film that addresses the angst of these times as directly as a film yet has, and still makes you laugh and cry, and both for good reason, even if you didn’t lose anyone personally on 9/11, or since.

If you go back over Binder’s films, he is slowly but surely becoming the heir to the legacy of his idol Woody Allen. A different sensibility, more of his generation than Allen’s, more Midwest than Manhattan (until REIGN OVER ME), more confidently sexual, and more varied, including Binder’s non-lead roles in his movies.

And (disclaimer) I don’t feel that way just because he’s an old friend who I knew when we both were broke and unknown. I have trouble faking appreciation for any art I don’t really dig, it’s not in me.

After I saw UP SIDE OF ANGER, I knew his talent had grown with the years (though he was good from the start, see his earlier flick COUP DE VILLE) and he was at what seemed the peak of his game, but as I told him last night, “Motherfucker, you ain’t peaked yet” (I revert to my younger street persona when I get excited, or angry) meaning simply that REIGN OVER ME takes his talent even further, addressing concerns even more “important” and necessary to be addressed before it is too late, for us as individuals as well as the human race.

Okay, that may sound a little over the top, but when I see what these times are doing to people who I love and admire, or just care about the older I get, as if they too were my kids.

Like when I checked the blogs I recommend down to the right, and came across a post on anger at strange duck, I felt the need to say what my dear departed friend and mentor Hubert Selby Jr. used to say to me, and he was the angriest man I ever knew (just go read his books to see how much his mind was like Nina’s in her anger post—or on her other website in her wipe-out-all-humans post—like his REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, the mildest in many ways, or THE DEMON, or WAITING PERIOD, et. al.). He used to say to me, “Anger is just a form fear takes” (which REIGN OVER ME beautifully demonstrates) “so what are you afraid of?”

I loved him, because he was as angry as me but transcended that anger to help others and still do the work some of us needed, or at least I did.

And now I get where he was coming from. The closer I’ve gotten to death, the more I want to stick around, despite the shit, and in gratitude for the beauty (like the lifeguard photo on nothing absolute or K’s photos on jimsonweed, or the jazz photos Tom posted on his site, coolbirth, and the music I love that they evoke, etc.).

Yes, at that “world premiere” last night in Manhattan I knew how to surrender the old fear that I had “failed”—because the paparazzi ignored me as I entered and later when I left—so that I looked forward to catching the subway to Penn Station and New Jersey Transit to my cozy apartment and laptop filled with some of my latest writings, and some of yours.

Pretty much the only thing we can control in this sometimes horrible, sometimes wonderful, mostly a combination of both, world we live in is our reactions (the point of Nina’s anger post as well as of REIGN OVER ME). And what I’ve learned is, if I close my heart to protect myself out of fear of being hurt any further, that closing only causes more “pain” (existential, psychological, mental, emotional, soul pain) for which the only relief is to open my heart again.

And the only thing I know guaranteed to open the heart is gratitude.

In my case, for another day of life, for the eyesight and the mental capacity to still write (and read and watch movies and appreciate beauty, like yours, and unlike yours) despite the pain of seeing my children’s struggles to overcome their own reactions to the problems of this world, and others I feel for like they were my children too, even some my age and older who feel like family, the human family, struggling to overcome the horror of death and destruction which is inevitable for us as well as for everything else, and all I can think of is the old carpe diem, seize the day, ‘cause who knows what tomorrow may bring, and all those old clichés.

REIGN OVER ME, check it out, with an open heart; you won’t be sorry.


From what I hear the critics have all panned this flick, as if it were out to impress critics.

Maybe they object to the gay jokes, both visual and verbal, or the slapstick clowning, including pratfalls (or whatever the equivalent on a motorcycle might be called), or the otherwise childishness of some of the humor.

All I know is, I saw it with a friend and our little boys and we all laughed our asses off, often for different reasons. Not many movies can do that.

Maybe you have to be a middle-aged man, or pre-teen boy, to get it. But I doubt it.

William Macey has never been funnier, or better (but only because he always seems to be at the top of his game, whatever he does). Put this role with—well, almost any other he’s done, but I’d choose his role in THE COOLER—one from the opposite end of the acting spectrum, and no one out there can top him.

Without this role he’s one of our best actors, with this role he’s the best. He outdoes Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell on the comedy end, and has already outdone most of the top actors on the serious end. Only Alec Baldwin has shone this kind of range, but even he hasn’t gone this far, or low some might say, in any of his comic turns.

But all the actors in this flick are first rate and all do their usual fine job, only in a way that makes it clear they’re doing it for fun as well as money. I’m not a big fan of Tim Allen’s, and his scenes might be the least interesting to me, but they work.

Travolta gets to make fun of his image, a little, and play the opposite, or unexposed side of the characters he usually plays, not to any artsy end, or psychologically deep revelatory end—it’s a broad comedy after all. But he does it well, as always.

The only one of the four main characters who seems out of place is Martin Lawrence. When I first saw him in Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING, I thought he stole the movie. I guess a lot of Hollywood felt that way, as he instantly was put on the road to stardom. But once he arrived there, he seemed to fall apart in his private life and be bouncing off the walls of his creative talents in his work, as if being as unique as he originally was, was too much of a burden to bear. Not the first time we’ve seen that.

But in WILD HOGS, despite the broadness of the comedy, something he is a master of, he seems subdued, as if, as the token “black man,” he is being forced to represent something more refined, or restrictive, or reserved, than this comedy is meant to include.

But he still does his job well and adds to the general fun and movement of the narrative.

Marisa Tomei also seems mis-or-under-used in her small role in this flick, but she’s still fun to watch work.

She unfortunately never seemed to catch on in Hollywood, in that way that paves the road to stardom, as if people really did believe the rumors that she was mistakenly awarded the Oscar for her role in MY COUSIN VINNY.

Not me. I was glad she won. She was so great in that role, she reminded me of every reason I had as a kid to fall for those exotic, to my Irish-American clan and background, Italian-American girls in the neighborhood or nearby. Because she was “cute” and sexy while still being as authentically that woman as anyone who has ever done that character before, and there have been many. I would have loved to see what she might have done with THE SOPRANOS.

I was so happy to see her in this flick, even in an unfortunately minor role, that I couldn’t stop smiling at the first sight of her, looking as cute as ever. Until they did a close up, that made her face seem a little too smooth and stiff and I couldn’t help wondering, not her fault but the times, what she may have had done to it and got distracted from her usual great job doing exactly what the script calls for.

Not even to mention Ray Liotta’s always weird intensity being used beautifully for the comedy it creates in this film, and other acting cameos I don’t want to give away that were just as pleasurable as seeing Travolta in the much bigger comeback role in PULP FICTION.

Hey, it ain’t John Ford or Kurasawa, but it made me laugh ‘til I cried. And a lot of other people I’ve since talked to as well. None of them artists or “in the business” or anything other than “normal” “working” people, but like the point made by Preston Sturges in his SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, sometimes, especially in tough times, (need I say like these?) the best thing an artist can do is give us something to make us laugh, even until we cry.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


If you own one of her paintings or drawings or collages or prints you should be thankful.

Has she reinvented painting like Braque and Picasso or Pollack and de Kooning? Not to that extent.

Has she created a unique body of work? Absolutely.

Is it all first rate? You bet.

Could I live in a house where the walls were hung with only her art? I’d love to be given that opportunity.

Can she live off her art? Minimally, with periods of much struggle and financial angst, for someone who has never cared for material things or owned much more than old men’s clothes to work in (paint, print, etc.) and a few party dresses in the old days.

She spends all her money on materials for her art, and the renting of climate controlled storage spaces for it (for the volume of her creativity she should be renowned, not even counting its quality), and whatever sparse living quarters she happens to be occupying, and for phone calls to buyers and other parties interested in her art, and to her friends for support.

She is the most dedicated creative person I have ever known, as well as the most unique, (not to mention a great friend for the past forty years).

When she still worked as a waitress in the old Howard Johnson’s in Times Square, where she befriended various musical creators dropping in between sessions on MTV around the corner, I kept expecting some perceptive writer to do a profile on her for The Talk of the Town section of THE NEW YORKER, or some human interest story in THE DAILY NEWS, or critic to discover her in the Arts section of THE NEW YORK TIMES.

But all she did was slave in that joint to pay for her one room crib in Queens, or wherever, and the storage space for thousands of prints and collages and watercolors and paintings and drawings, just the ones she kept in Manhattan.

Like a lot of us, she has trouble playing whatever game is seemingly necessary at the moment to be noticed or accepted or elevated to the attention of those few—and they grow fewer with every passing day—who control what most of us get to see or hear about that’s going on in the “arts” let alone the world (doesn’t it always amaze you, as it does me, that with all the channels we now get, the news stories always seem to be the same ones, or variations on the same theme for the day?).

But whatever the reason, or reasons, for her relative obscurity (and I’m as guilty as anyone, I just went back and added her to my “women artists” list because she is my favorite woman artist period and somehow I left her off when I first made that list) in terms of the greatness of her art, those who know anything about creativity, especially painting and drawing and collaging and printing, know Sylvia Schuster deserves a place in the pantheon of the great creative forces of our times.

She’s in mine.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


There are those who are falling into the rightwing trap of believing that the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans because the new Congress hasn’t stopped funding for the war. (I can get pissed off at the Democrats as much as anyone, see my recent post UNFORTUNATELY.)

That’s the same trap that got Nixon elected in 1968 and W. elected in 2000, because those convinced of the “no difference between Tweedledee and Tweedledum” voted for a third party instead, and the difference was in both cases thousands and thousands and thousands of lives lost to death and destruction as a result of wars waged or not ended sooner.

Yes, there are Americans and Iraqis dying as a result of the war continuing to be funded but if the Democrats end this war one day sooner than the Republicans would, all the lives lost on that day will be happy to stand up and say that there is a difference between the parties.

The rightwing became expert under Nixon at discouraging people who used to routinely vote for Democrats to vote for Republicans or stay home, and Reagan perfected their strategy, which deliberately sets out to make voting seem pointless, because they knew, as W’s people, that the majority of U. S. citizens lean more toward liberal issues and solutions than they do toward conservative ones in almost every area except where “conservatism” has been distorted and is now the opposite (i.e. conserving our forests and air etc.)

Are Democrats victims of the same need to raise inordinate amounts of moola to pay for campaigns that begin the day after the election that motivates every politician nowadays? Absolutely. Does this make them susceptible to lobbyists and “special interests” etc.? Yes.

But. And this “but” saves lives—they can counter the cowed rubber-stamping of the previous Republican controlled Congress with measures to reverse some of the damage the Bushies have done, and even if that reversal is only incremental, it can go a long way to relieving the suffering and death of people who might otherwise not have a chance.

That was the idea behind this post when I first put it up yesterday, before I heard objections to the whole point of the post I was directing people to on one of my recommended sites: coolbirth.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


In a series of early posts, I wrote about how jive the idea that “cream always rises to the top” is. Some of the greatest artists, in every form, remain underrated, unknown or unappreciated.

Saint Patrick’s Day got me thinking about this after an Irish-American friend and neighbor here in Jersey, who grew up in Brooklyn the son of a New York policeman, came back to my apartment with his little boy and mine, having spent half the day at the parade on Fifth Avenue and the other half on a nearby hill with our boys sledding and snowboarding.

I put on a selection of Irish music, beginning with Sinead O’Connor’s “This IS a Rebel Song” in which she sings to “my hard Englishman” “How come you’ve never said you love me/In all the time you’ve known me/How come you never say you’re sorry/And I do…..”

I followed that with John McCormack (one of the first recording stars, a tenor Louis Armstrong admired and claimed was a great influence on him!) singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” recorded in 1916 (!) followed by a recording of his from 1911 (!) singing “Macushla” then “The Irish Emigrant” from 1928 and a few others, including his 1939 version of “The Star of the County Down.”

Then Van Morrison’s version of that last song off the IRISH HEARTBEAT record he did with the Chieftans, and then from the same record Van’s “Celtic Ray” and the title song, both of which moved my wandering heart when I first heard them while living in L. A.

I ended this little musical selection with two of my all time favorite songs of any kind, the unfortunately defunct Celtic Thunder’s recordings of Terence Winch’s songs, “When New York Was Irish” (from their THE LIGHT OF OTHER DAYS record) and “Saints (Hard New York Days)” (from their HARD NEW YORK DAYS record).

I hadn’t listened to either in a while and was surprised at the impact they had on me.

Only two days ago, I drove my departed sister’s best friend, who was like another sister to me when I was growing up, to visit my oldest brother, a retired Franciscan friar living in a nursing home up near the New York border. In the car when we took him out to lunch, my sister’s friend, talking about a party, referred to the singing of “When New York was Irish” as the highlight, and my brother said, “Michael’s friend wrote that.”

There are, I think at this date, some 28 different recordings of that song by all kinds of singers and bands, since Terence and his brother Jesse’s band Celtic Thunder first recorded it in 1988. Many people I’ve met think it’s an old song they learned from their parents, even though it hadn’t been written when their parents taught them songs.

Others just take it for granted as a New York area Irish anthem that’s been around for as long as they remember. It’s been a much played, best selling tune in Ireland, as well as wherever the Irish have been or may be in recent decades.

It’s a classic, part of the culture, and not just of the Irish and their many tributaries, but even of other ethnic groups who just enjoy the tune.

If “When New York Was Irish” has become some kind of anthem, replacing “Danny Boy” and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” for recent generations of various Irish descendants, “Saints (Hard New York Days)” is “When New York Was Irish” II.

It looks back at an even more recent time, the 1950s and early ‘60s in New York’s Irish neighborhoods, referred to—just as over in Jersey where I was, or other towns and cities with Irish enclaves in those days—by parishes, the “Saints” of the title.

Listening to “When New York Was Irish” moved me more than ever, not in the way of nostalgia for “better days” but in reliving the dreams and pain of my parents and grandparents and calling to mind and heart their sacrifices and stoicism in the face of all the obstacles they overcame.

But “Saints (Hard New York Days)” kicked me in the heart and into relived days of my own, and the loss not of innocence but of hard realities that were transcended through the grace of shared experience and a tough spiritual surrender to that experience.

Ah, words elude me when I try to express what this song does to me. I can only say I was wiping away tears when it ended, overwhelmed with the beauty and artistry of Terence’s accomplishment. All I could say to my friend, equally blown away by the poetry of the lyrics and the emotional impact of the tune, “And he has to work a nine to five job, the man who wrote those songs,” to which we could both agree, “He should be exalted, honored, and given a stipend to live on for life after giving us those works of art.”

And I didn’t even bring up Winch’s books, which I’ve mentioned several times in my posts, but nonetheless can’t say enough about. His memoirs in the form of poetry and prose, like IRISH MUSICIANS, AMERICAN FRIENDS or THAT SPECIAL PLACE or the about-to-be-published BOY DRINKERS, outshine so many so-called “memoirs” cranked out by graduates of workshops that specialize in “creative non-fiction”—usually meaning altered facts to make a splash or neatly tie up a storyline “created” for a half-true-retelling of exaggerated “reality.”

But what I really wanted to write about is how Winch was ripped off by others in ways the early black blues musicians were, and early black rhythm and blues and black creators of rock-n-roll were. But no one is making a case for him, or pointing out the hypocrisy of “the man” etc.

But there it is. Terence Winch should not have to do anything except enjoy seeing his songs recorded and sung and played all over the world by various Irish and hyphenated Irish, as well as many non-Irish, singers and bands, or if and when he wants to, perform the songs himself, or with others, and be paid enough to spend his free time writing more, instead of going to an office to earn a living working for someone else.

PS: When I first met Hubert Selby Jr. he was working in an office in L. A. as a “clerk” making a low hourly wage, and most people I ran into thought he was dead or didn’t know he was the author of LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN, let alone other great books like REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, because they hadn’t been made into movies yet. Maybe some day someone will make a movie out of “When New York Was Irish” or
“Saints (Hard New York Days).” The only other thing I can think of is TERENCE WINCH IS THE REAL FATHER OF WHAT’S-HER-NAME’S BABY!

Friday, March 16, 2007


"While looking for the light, you may suddenly be devoured by the darkness and find the true light." —Jack Kerouac from THE SCRIPTURE OF THE GOLDEN ETERNITY

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


So the Democrats backed down on their move to force the White House to get permission from Congress for any military funds used in an attack on Iran.

And they did so, according to all accounts, because of the influence of “the Israel lobby,” which has generally been shown to be one powerful Jewish-American lobbyist with some control over large campaign contributions.

First of all, Jews everywhere should be protected from the kinds of anti-Semitic violence and discrimination that has too often been their lot throughout much of history.

But, this has nothing to do with that.

Yes, Isaraelis have a right to fear Iran when its president says that Israel shouldn’t even exist. Just as citizens of the U. S. have a right to fear Osama Bin Laden and his followers who say the U. S. no longer has the right to exist.

But one of the main reasons for Islamic hatred toward the U. S. is because of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. If a party or faction in the Isaraeli government gets enough power to force the Isaraeli prime minister to have to clear funding for all military attacks and invasions of other countries with the Israeli parliament, the Kneset, would it be okay for a “U. S. lobbyist” to intervene and make sure that didn’t happen?

Of course it’s more complicated than that. Our government shares Israel’s interest in keeping Iran—and the Shi-ite sect of Islam that makes up most of its population—in check to protect itself from attack, only our reasons are because, as Cheney made clear recently, these Shi-ites now “straddle the world’s most optimum oil reserves” which includes the Shi-ite control of Iraq, that we allowed and even encouraged to happen and now are regretting because they seem to be aligned with their Shi-ite brethren in Iran.

But another “of course” less noticed is, it is Israel and the U. S. who have done most of the attacking in recent years. Individual attacks on Israeli citizens and on U. S. citizens and interests have been carried out, but state sponsored attacks and invasions have only been initiated by Israel, the U. S. and Saddam’s Iraq.

If you were to take an objective measurement of what countries are most likely to initiate attacks and invasions of other countries, the record shows it to be Israel and the U. S. and Iraq under Saddam. Looked at from one perspective, the Shi-ite one, the axis of evil would be Iraq under Saddam (and therefore Sunni rule), the U. S. and Israel.

But now that Saddam is gone and the majority Shi-ites of Iraq are out from under his and his fellow Sunnis oppressive rule, naturally they don’t want to give it back, and every attempt by the U. S. and Israel to quash Shi-ite influence and control of their own territories and resources is seen as what it is, a total reluctance to let Shi-ites control the oil on their lands.

Just as it would have been total suicide for the Soviets to have launched a nuclear attack on the U. S., or anyone else, during the Cold War—and so they waged mini-proxy-conventional wars with the U. S. throughout Africa and Asia and parts of the Middle East—it would be total suicide for Iran to launch any kind of nuclear strike, or even conventional military attack, on Israel, so it fights them through Hesbollah in Lebanon and is trying to get a foothold among the Palestinians.

Just as we are now fighting Iran (and therefore Shi-ites in general) through supporting, as always, the Saudis (and richest Sunnis) bankrolling of Sunni attacks on Shi-ites in Iraq and Iran and Lebanon, etc.

For the current administration to change policy and support Sunnis, who were responsible for the attacks on 9/11 and for most of the deaths of American troops in Iraq, as they have recently done (though as always most of the media seems to not have noticed yet), and intend to do more of, vis-a-vis Iran, is understandable, because for them it is always about the oil.

But for the Democrats to back down and allow them to do this, out of fear of “the Israel lobby” and the campaign money it supposedly can make flow or cut off, is such a disappointment, and too cowardly almost to comment on. But I just did anyway.


As mentioned in my last post, here’s the lists of some favorite female artists I came up with the other night, with a lot of gaps (help me out here), despite the fact I could and did think of several for some letters, for instance for poets and the letter “D” I thought of an old obscure favorite from the 1960s Gail Dusenbery, and then of course Emily Dickinson and wait old friend and unique poet Tina Darragh and ditto Meri Nan-Ama Danquah and Diane di Prima, and then H. D.—Hilda Dolittle—and more! but resisted and went with first choice, and no family members):

Artists and sculptors:




Prose writers:




Music makers:

ROSS, ANNIE (with or without Lambert and Hendricks)
SIMONE, NINA (mostly the early recordings from the 1950s and ‘60s)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


One of the comments on that last bunch of lists in my previous post, about the number of women compared to men, got me thinking about “quotas.”

Back when the whole Republican-“big-lie”-“dirty-tricks”-style-propaganda was refined under Nixon and replaced the much more obvious and centuries old “divide-and-conquer” strategy of previous regimes, the right-wingers used “crime in the streets” and “urban crime” as code for “uppity” n-words.

But when the right wingers finally got their man in—Ronald Reagan—that became “welfare queen” which was code for a mythical black Chicago welfare mother who had many fathers for the numerous children she used to collect so much welfare she could afford to ride around that city in a Cadillac limousine!

But after Reagan failed to fulfill any of his promises—something which in typical “big lie” fashion his supporters insisted was exactly the opposite, as he increased the size of government more than any previous president, increased the federal deficit more than all previous presidents combined, increased the incidence of violent crime, pregnant teens unwed mothers, welfare recipients, and created a whole new class of families called “homeless” etc.—while pretending to represent “family values” as the first divorced president and the first who ignored some of his kids to the point of dysfunction, he became the right wing’s FDR or JFK or RFK or any of the other heroes of the “liberal left.”

So much so his right wing supporters want to replace previous presidents on money and build a monument to him on the mall in DC. They say it’s for “winning the cold war” by bankrupting our country to pay for a military build up that was completely unnecessary since it turned out all the “secret” “intelligence” that was always deliberately leaked about how the Soviet Union was capable of defeating our military if we didn’t spend more and more turned out, as usual with “big lie” style rightwing propaganda to be a big lie!

In fact the Soviet system was crumbling from within, and their so-called military might consisted of disgruntled underpaid troops who were deserting at record numbers and weapons that were falling apart and not being replaced. Anyone who was in office while this was going on, merely had to blow a strong breath their way and the whole thing would collapse, which it did, under Bush senior, who ignored the ramifications of the “end of the cold war” and failed to take advantage of the possibilities for a permanent world peace, but instead used it to distract us as his regime sold off a lot of what we used to think of as “America.”

Then Clinton came in and fulfilled all of Reagan’s promises by being the first president to actually cut the size of the federal government, cut the welfare rolls, cut crime rates, cut teen pregnancies, while at the same time not just cutting the deficit but making it disappear and turn into the largest surplice in our history.

Under such successful conditions it was difficult to come up with “dirty tricks” and “big lies” that worked, outside of revising the realities of Reagan’s regime and focusing on “family values” and the Clintons “liberal leftist” lack of them, despite what appeared to be a rock solid marriage in the face of wide spread rumors of his infidelities (by the way have you noticed that the top three candidates now favored by Republicans, Guilliani, McCain and Gingrich, have been married several times each, while the top three favored by Democrats, Hilary, Obama, and Edwards, haven’t?).

So the right wingers pulled out the old race card and replaced “welfare queen” (when it was exposed as a lie by the as-always-several-years-late media) with “quotas,” meaning the “affirmative” reallocation of opportunities for “black Americans” to even out two hundred years of being deliberately and “legally” discriminated against.

“Quotas” became the big code word that got the right riled up again, that and “the homosexual agenda” to turn “America’s” children into mini-gays and lesbians.

The “gay” thing worked better because “quotas” just didn’t have the ring of “welfare queen.”

And because “quotas” and “affirmative action” were difficult to defend in some cases. Like when a working-class white kid from a family that never had anyone go to college, let alone graduate from one, worked hard to make the grades and fulfill the requirements for entry into a university and was displaced by an “African-American” student from a “middle-class” family with parents who graduated from college and were “professionals” and who, the student, hadn’t done as well in entrance exams and high school grades etc.

These cases were rare, but enough of them added up to anecdotal evidence of what the right very adroitly labeled “reverse discrimination.”

In the face of Clinton’s successes, the whole “quota” tactic failed to rally anyone other than die hard right wing Clinton haters anyway, so it slowly disappeared, used in a few local instances to raise some money or rally the base, but basically discarded.

But now, in response to my last post, about “some favorite” artists in one of my obsessive alphabet lists, it is noticed how few females I include. In my comment on it, I mention a 1974 poetry anthology I edited—NONE OF THE ABOVE—that had fewer female poets than males, and only one “black” poet.

At the time there were many anthologies of black poets, and since I was trying to gather poets who mostly weren’t anthologized anywhere, I ignored a lot of my favorite poets who happened to be “black.” Though I regret to this day that I didn’t include Ahmos Zu-Bolton, a friend and a fine poet, and discover more un-anthologized black poets than the only one I included, Lorenzo Thomas.

As for the proportion of female poets, there were more in my anthology than in any previous poetry anthology that I know of, outside of ones that excluded men altogether.

And the reality is, that if I had edited a poetry anthology any time sooner, say from the late 1950s until 1974, it would have consisted of almost nothing but “black” poets as my favorites, just as any anthology I edited from 1974 onward would have consisted of more and more women and gay poets.

But at this point in my life, despite continued inequities, so much of the racial prejudice and sexist attitudes of my youth have almost completely disappeared (yes I know in wage differences and job opportunities there is still a way to go, but that seems mostly residual to me as actual attitudes have mostly progressed, even allowing for the occasional back lash) that a lot of victimization based on racism or sexism seems often to be as knee jerk as the right wingers hatred of Clinton and attributing everything he accomplished to the “great communicator” i.e. liar, Reagan.

(By the way is it as true for your friends as it is for mine that a lot of "liberal" women seem to not like or support Hilary over the other Democratic candidates? As it also seems to be true that a lot of "black" Democrats don't support Obama, mostly because they don't feel he can actually win, but a few because they feel he isn't descended from slaves originally brought to "America.")

To prove it was an incidence of trying to be honest about “favorites” when the choices were arbitrarily limited to one per letter, I promised next time I couldn’t sleep I’d come up with lists of females for all those categories in the previous post. I hoped it wouldn’t happen soon.

But last night I was awakened by a phone call in the middle of a sound sleep, and as usual, had trouble getting back to sleep, so I did the female lists right there, some of which turned out to be easier than the mostly male ones, because, in fact, there are many women "artists" I admire greatly.

This post is already too long, so I’ll include those lists in my next post. And maybe after that I’ll do some all “black” ones.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Another lying-in-bed-trying-to-get-back-to-sleep alphabet list led to several, starting with some favorite artists/sculptors:

INNESS, GEORGE (Thanks to Jaina for turning me on to him)
J (Jasper Johns is not one of my favorites)
LEONARDO (da VINCI, it was a toss up between L, D, and V)
T (Titian, Tinteretto, no favorites, I’m sorry)
UTRILLO, MAURICE (first artist I dug as a kid, bought a reproduction for my mom)
W (I just don’t dig Warhol or Watteu et. al.)

And then, when I just couldn’t come up with near enough names to complete that one, except for more artists I don’t dig, I figured I’d try an alphabet of some favorite photographers:

VAN SANT, GUS (Yes, he’s a photographer too; check out his book of large format Polaroid portraits, and not just ‘cause yours truly is in it)

Which was pushing my luck, so I went to something easier, some favorite prose writers:

DIPRIMA, DIANE (her memoir, Recollections of My Life as a Woman)
P (I ultimately just don’t dig Proust, sorry all you Proustaphiles)
WILLIAMS, WILLIAM CARLOS (his novels and stories)

Okay, so I couldn’t complete that list either so I tried poets:

JOHNSON, DENIS (Yeah, he started out as a really fine poet)

Unable to finish any of the above, I finally tried a list I thought would be easiest to complete—music makers:

VAN MORRISON (I know, that’s cheating, but I couldn’t leave him out)
X (No, this time I got it, “X” the L. A. 1980s band)

Any ideas for filling the gaps?

Friday, March 9, 2007


The front runners have problems. Rudy has too many things in his personal life and past that will come to haunt him, or should. His dictatorial style of mayoring, his firing of the best in his mayoral administration because they stole the spotlight from him, his callous treatment of his wife and kids, and now his falling into the trap most candidates do, trying to please the base by altering past positions, takes away from his one supposed strength, his solidness in the face of adversity.

Hilary says some great things about what she plans to do if elected, but she always says it as though that outcome is inevitable. Which shows confidence and strength, supposedly, but comes across unfortunately as a kind of entitlement because she is who she is. I like the woman, think she’s smart and most of her ideas I agree with. But she even bugs me.

Her biggest liability with her own constituency is her inability to recognize what most of us anti-Iraq-war folks were onto from the get go and admit she was wrong to vote Junior so much power to invade Iraq, as well as other conservative positions she’s taken either because she really is a very conservative Democrat or because, more likely, she wants to be seen as strong and moderate and able to align with the rightwing on some things.

But she comes off too often as uptight and programmed, as though trying to control her temper, or dismissive-ness of lesser intellects and mere mortals. At times I find her to have some charm and human appeal, but too often she seems distanced from any sense of common humanity, a losing trait for any politician.

McCain is a sad disappointment. Hiring the hatchet men who once worked for Bush to denigrate McCain himself, and his family, spread lies about them, etc. Now they work for McCain to do what? The same to his opponents? His terribly obsequious fawning to the right-wingers who rejected him and took part in the denigration of his reputation in his bid against Junior is embarrassing to watch, like a badly written movie which panders to all the worst things about audiences and goes so far it ends up turning off the very audience it’s trying to woo.

Obama so far seems to be holding his own against Hilary, and doing it without making too many mistakes. But his youth and inexperience may, when the campaigns really get started and the gloves come off, stick to him like the “wooden” thing stuck to Gore, obliterating whatever other great features these guys obviously possess.

Edwards has been saying all the right things, from my perspective, and doing it better than he did the first time around. But he still comes off a little too much like a cute kid, the “Ken doll” image that may also stick, come the real infighting among the Democratic candidates.

Mitt Romney is the rightwing version of the “Ken doll” syndrome, except his tall, square jawed handsomeness may make it possible for his supporters to project him as more the model for the GI Joe doll. But his Mormonism and his own flip-flopping will buckle his knees when the fighting begins in earnest.

Among the non-candidates, Gore is a favorite for the Democrats, as he well should be. Given his record, the integrity he showed, and lack of ego, in the contested election that was stolen from him, his loosening up in his life as a non-professional politician, his Oscar win, etc. But, too much baggage with the Clintons and his last run—i.e. losing his own state—to make him viable as a potential winner against a Republican with less baggage, if they can find one.

Chuck Hagel hasn’t announced yet for the Republicans, and I disagree with most of what the guy stands for, and has done, but his turn against the war, especially as a Viet Nam vet, has become as righteously bring-the-troops-home-and-fuck-you-if-you-don’t-agree as anyone protesting in the streets.

The favorite among the vets I know and have heard from, Jim Webb, the guy who gave the response to Junior’s recent State of the Union address, is articulate, tough, clear, honest, and smart enough to have used his response to make the president look like the chicken-shit privileged little boy he has always been. The biggest strike against him is his being a senator only since January, and having been a Republican until shortly before running for that office.

Unlike Obama, who hasn’t been a senator for that long himself, and whose only previous experience was being in the Illinois state legislature, Webb worked at the highest level of the federal government, including as a member of the Reagan cabinet, which to his credit he resigned from over some of the Reagan shenanigans, but as my friend Terence Winch points out, he still remained a Republican. But Webb’s also a much-decorated Viet Nam vet, with a son serving in Iraq, making him the strongest Democrat with military credentials around.

If you look at Obama’s record as a U. S. Senator, he hasn’t initiated a lot of great bills or achieved much, though what he has done has been positive, and he has been against the Iraq war from before it began. But Webb, in just the two months he has been a Senator, introduced a new G. I. Bill for all those who have served since 2001, which he did immediately upon taking office in January, and since has introduced a bill that would make it impossible for any military funds to be used in Iran, unless congress first approves it. He is definitely the Democrat out there now most capable of playing hardball with the Republicans, which among Democrats, only Bill Clinton has been able to do since Lyndon Johnson resigned.

I know a lot of people think this process has started too soon, but so many of us are looking forward to Junior’s time being over, that obsessing about his possible successor this early helps create the illusion Junior’s time to leave is that much closer. And, speaking practicaly, the more attention given to the race to become his successor, the weaker Junior’s position is as a lame duck president.

PS: Since Daddy’s team stepped in to rescue Junior from himself, and surrogate-dad Dick, they’ve been batting above average (politically that is), i.e. the instant response to the Walter Reed hospital scandal, appointing Dole and Shallala (or however the former Clinton cabinet member’s name is spelled) as front man and woman for a commission to investigate, was smart politics and an obvious break from the deny-everything posturing of the past several years.

Also appointing that supposedly brilliant general, Patreus (again sp?) was a smart move as well since he actually did get results during his time in Iraq, though his methods were dismissed by the Cheney/Rummy faction at the time, and has been much more honest in his assessment of the situation than any of the previous commanders were.

I too want the troops out now, but that’s not going to happen today, and in the meantime, any shifts that might mean less death and destruction on both sides, has to be seen as a good thing, better than the alternative, which is all we were getting for the past six or so years. I learned a long time ago, after the battles of the 1960s, that denigrating anything but absolute adherence to the most principled stand might feel righteous, but might also keep incremental change from happening that could mean the difference between several hundred, or even thousands of people living or dying if that change is thwarted because it isn’t enough to satisfy a noble but impractical, as well as intractable, perspective.

Thursday, March 8, 2007


"Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents, and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war, in which the folly or wickedness of Government may engage it?"
—Daniel Webster 1814

Tuesday, March 6, 2007


Finally got to see a movie some friends thought should have not only been nominated for an Oscar for best picture, but should have won it.

I don’t think so!

Is it beautiful filmmaking? Yes.

Is he a good story teller. I’ll say.

Are the images and fantasy creatures as original as the critics claimed? Not really. Just clever variations on what we’ve seen before.

Was the young girl, the movie centers around, compellingly brilliant in her acting? Absolutely. Was anyone else? Mmmm, maybe a couple of them, a little, but…not really.

Is it obvious this guy is a comic books, or graphic novel, fantasy freak? I mean the director/writer Guillermo del Torro. Man is it ever.

Is that a bad thing? Not for the imagery, or even for the story for that matter, but, for an understanding of what drama can do? Way too comic-book lurid and extreme, including the melodramatic payoff.

It left me pissed off at the attempt to manipulate my feelings through inducing sympathy for the innocent victims, and than victimizing them further as my reward for sitting through the whole thing.

Thanks, but no thanks. Next time I’ll just skim the comic book.

Monday, March 5, 2007


Somebody asks me how can I sit around writing lists of favorite cowboy or rock’n’roll movies when the world is falling apart.

The world is almost always falling apart. As is almost everything else—nations, families, relationships, bodies—when they aren’t coming together.

But this time the world literally is falling apart, vide the polar ice cap melting, etc.

Borges once wrote something like: all people are given bad times to be born into.

I was born in early 1942, very bad times. But like with everything—the world, nations, families, marriages, relationships, bodies—there’s almost always some good news with the bad, or vice versa.

In 1942 The USA was losing—hard to remember from all the WWII (which by the way I never heard anyone say as written, “double-u double-u two,” back then or since, if they had anything to do with it, but always as “World War Two”) movies.


But, and there’s always a BUT, WWII ended The Great Depression, got the economy moving, lots of jobs on the home front for those not being drafted or volunteering.

A lot of people were dying, some unbelievably inhumanly, in 1942.

BUT so were a lot of people in 1952, 1962, 1972, 1982, 1992, and 2002, before we even invaded Iraq.

Only for some of those years they were dying in places we didn’t care about, or notice, or our media didn’t.

Yes, these times are tough in many ways, for mother earth, for those who felt and feel compelled to join our various armed forces, or who feel they have no other option, and for Iraqi civilians—as well as civilians in the Congo still trapped in a war that seems endless and under-reported because it’s officially limited now as opposed to the open-ended killing that was going on there for years and was equally ignored for the most part by the media in the USA and therefore most of us.


Life is tough, there’s illness and betrayal, losses and failures and set backs and disappointments and reversals ad infinitum, BUT, there also are achievements, turn arounds, days of good health and tiny successes, sometimes even big successes, open heartedness, kindness, honesty, goodness, relief, even joy and harmony and peace.

I like movies and art and books and music and all that creative stuff because even as a kid it gave me a way to not only comprehend the variety of life experiences and perspectives, of its ups and downs and the balance there seems to be in all creation, BUT they also give me a means for staying in touch with what I share with all creation, as well as the aspiration to express that commonality by refining human expression to as close to perfection as possible, so far—the opera singer’s perfect high note, the ballet dancer’s perfect spin or leap, the movie actor’s perfect expression of grief or joy or relief, etc.—even when the creators of the art I’m digging aren’t aware that’s what they’re doing.

Sometimes it isn’t even their intention, or I’m the only one who seems to be getting something from a particular film or song or markings on a canvas or in a book etc.

When I was a kid I was sometimes teased or ridiculed or even abused for my love of the arts. Male children, where and when I grew up, didn’t give much importance to those kinds of things. Movies were mostly an excuse for a chance to kiss a girl or more, on a Friday or Saturday evening, though often it was more about throwing candy at each other, or goofing on the Hollywood clichés and pretensions, or looking for a fight or new girls to impress.

It was considered “faggy” where I came from to be too interested in the arts. Sports seemed to do it for most males. But for me, it was the arts, and when I watch new or favorite old films that still hold up, or read poems or novels or memoirs or look at paintings or sculptures or listen to songs or recordings or go to dance performances and the rest, it doesn’t give me “hope” because that’s about the future, it just centers me in “the infinite possibilities” of this very moment, despite the hard times.

Which doesn’t mean I can’t work to change the things I don’t like about the present, here’s the inevitable BUT, I can’t pretend that the reality of this moment is anything other than it is, as best I can understand it. And accept what is real, now, while working to change it

As my old friend Hubert Selby Jr. would put it to me, you can’t have up without down, right without left, hard without soft.

He’d point out I had a choice, if I was looking for pleasure, I’d better expect an equal amount of pain. But if I wasn’t looking for anything other than being present in this moment, I could take the pleasure, and the pain, of it, as all part of the same thing, being alive, right now, working for change or not, tough times or tender.

Or as experience has proven, most often both.

Sunday, March 4, 2007


Just caught UNFORGIVEN on the cable channel that shows Westerns. Maybe it’s a guy thing, or maybe an old guy thing, but I love a good Western.

Here’s a bunch of Westerns I can watch anytime:

STAGECOACH (the 1930s movie that made John Wayne a star, deservedly so)
RED RIVER (the only time Wayne was afraid as an actor, he said, was in his first scene with Montgomery Clift and his new kind of realistic film acting)
THE SEARCHERS (some critics consider this John Ford’s greatest film)
HIGH NOON (a supposed metaphor for McCarthyism, though I could never figure out which side it was a defense of)
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (another Ford classic, and one of many Westerns about Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral shootout, this one with Henry Fonda is exquisite)
UNFORGIVEN (Clint and Morgan Freeman with Gene Hackman? ‘nuff said)
DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (one of James Stewart’s many great Westerns, containing the classic and easily satirized Marlene Dietrich Germanic-accented frontier floozy—see BLAZING SADDLES)
THE WESTERNER (Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan are such a great match, maybe Brennan’s best performance, it’s almost a love story between the two of them!)
SHANE (Alan Ladd, Van Helfin, Ben johnson and Jack Palance, with child star Brandon deWilde in what many consider THE classic Western)
BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (some silly ‘60s nuances, but original)
THE WILD BUNCH (the underrated Ernest Borgnine holds this film together for me and makes it extraordinary)
THE GUNFIGHTER (Gregory Peck at his restrained best)
GUNFIGHT AT OK CORRAL (Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, 1950s titans)
TOMBSTONE (despite being over the top, and Dana Delany being miscast as Curt Russels’s Wyatt Earp girlfriend, it is still totally compelling, Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday gives maybe his best performance)

Saturday, March 3, 2007


I’m reading a biography of Neal Cassady, the inspiration for Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel ON THE ROAD. It’s called NEAL CASSADY The Fast Life of a Beat Hero by David Sandison and Graham Vickers.

There are details in it I hadn’t read anywhere before. Which is partly why I’m reading it, for those tiny satisfactions. But even if every detail in it were ones I already knew, I’d read it anyway. There are just some lives I am perennially interested in no matter how much I already know, or how repetitive the details. Why that is, is a mystery to me.

In Cassady’s case there’s some identification with his Irish ancestry, his spontaneously combustible personality, his compulsions and strivings, his wheelman skills and speed, his wandering-jones and speed-talker sex-obsessed street-philosopher energy.

Once, over breakfast in his apartment kitchen on the Lower East Side, Cassady’s part-time lover and old friend, the poet Allen Ginsberg, told me I reminded him of Cassady, and all I could think of at the time, in my ego-centric cocky thirties, was fuck that diamond-in-the-rough comparison—which I’d been getting all my life—because I thought I was more like Kerouac, the ethnic Catholic mystic romantic wordsmith poet.

But even before Ginsberg told me that, I had read a lot about Cassady. And he’s not the only one. Certain people’s lives have fascinated me, right from the first time my oldest brother, a Franciscan friar, gave me a book when I was a kid on the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.

But this “obsession” isn’t a general taste for biographies and autobiographies and memoirs, because only some lives keep me coming back for more.

For instance, I love Van Morrison, I never heard a recording he made that I didn’t dig. But I have no interest in his life at all. Whereas John Lennon—whose music I also love completely, with or without the Beatles—his life interests me infinitely.

It doesn’t matter if the bios or memoirs are accurate or poorly written or go against everything I believe that makes that life interesting to me, I still read it.

Here’s a list of people, about whose lives I read everything I can find:

John Lennon
Walt Whitman—I have read every biography or book published about him that I ever ran across in my lifetime. I always have a biography of him next to my bed, and no matter how many times I read the basic facts, the outline of his life, and whatever new take or angle or details the latest bio has, I find myself engrossed in his life again. I’m always rereading his collected poems and prose as well
Eva Hesse—the artist, whose work has been from the first time I saw it, among the art I cherish most, even if, for those who know her work, “cherish” seems like an odd choice of words
Lee Miller, the model and photographer and journalist whose work I dig and whose life continues to fascinate me
William Saroyan—the novelist, short-story writer, memoirist, playwright
Frank Sinatra
Jack Keroauc
Martha Gellhorn—novelist and war correspondent
Jean Rhys—novelist and short story writer
Veronica Lake
Samuel Beckett
Brendan Behan—the Irish playwright and memoirist
William Carlos Williams—the doctor-poet, who also wrote fiction and memoirs
Henry Roth—whose novels barely fictionalized his life, a life that continues to engage me on every level
Blaise Cendrars—the French poet-adventurer and memoirist
Rainer Maria Rilke—the poet and fiction writer and diarist who was born in Prague and wrote in German but did not consider himself “German” or “Austrian” or anything other than an “artist”
Frank O’Hara—the Irish-American legend of "The New York School of Poetry"
Ezra Pound
Thelonious Monk
James Joyce
Irene Nemirovsky—a recent addition after her WWII novels were discovered and published in the original French only a few years ago, and in English last year as SUITE FRANCAISE
David Smith—the sculptor
Bing Crosby
and my own, obviously

Friday, March 2, 2007


People have asked me why I didn’t mention the Oscar win for AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. I will now.

I was happy it won, because I thought it was a great documentary, and because the director of it was Davis Guggenheim, who directed the episode of DEADWOOD I was on, and as I said in my post on that experience, is one of the most decent people I ever worked with, or for, in movies or TV.

I didn’t see the other documentaries, so I don’t know if AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH was the “best” but it did its job really well. It took a lot of dry material, already known by most of us, but put it together in a way that made it entertaining and engaging, with the help of Davis Guggenheim and Al Gore.

I was a little embarrassed by the self-congratulatory feeling to some of the praise of Gore at the Oscars. It isn’t like Gore is the first environmentalist, or the most active, though he certainly was one of the few politicians to have the foresight to address it, despite the ways that was used against him by his political opponents.

I never met Gore, but judging from the public record, his own actions and speeches, he too seems like a very decent guy, as well as smart. I don’t doubt that if he was president the problems our country faces right now would be different, and a whole lot less foreboding. Nor do I doubt that our prestige in the world would be as damaged as it has been by Junior and his cohorts.

Would Gore have avoided 9/11. Possibly. He, and his advisors, were well aware of the terrorist threat from Bin Laden and Al Quida (or however you spell it). They were ready to address it instead of ignore it, as happened when Bush was handed the election by the Supreme Court.

And Gore certainly would have addressed environmental issues better, not being such a lackey for the oil business, nor would he have abandoned diplomacy for a policy of “preemptive war” nor condoned torture.

It was sweet to see him and Guggenheim accept the Oscar for their effort to educate a wider audience on the effects of global warming and leave them with a message of hope that there are still things that can be done to at least begin to slow the environmental damage down if not eventually reverse it.

Sometimes nice guys do finish first. Even in elections.


"I am not a liberal, not a conservative, not a believer in gradual progess, not a monk, not an indifferentist. I should like to be a free artist and nothing more, and I regret that God has not given me the power to be one. I hate lying and violence in all their forms...I regard trade-marks and labels as a superstition. My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and the most absolute freedom—freedom from violence and lying, whatever form they may take. This is the program I would follow if I were a great artist."
—Anton Chekhov from a letter

Thursday, March 1, 2007


I was interviewed, and asked to read some poems, in a studio in Manhattan before that recent reading with Howard Zinn at Cooper Union. So far, they've posted me reading a couple of poems in one take with some flubs, but if you're interested, just click on: But be forewarned, one of them is heavily X-rated.