Friday, June 29, 2007


Writing about the film ONCE brought to mind other one-syllable movie titles. So I thought I’d see if I could come up with another alphabet list.

ANTZ (any movie with Woody Allen and Sharon Stone, even if only voicing cartoon characters, is okay by me)
BURN (one of the great eccentric performances by Brando, in a 19th-Century story of colonialism meant to be a comment on the war in Viet Nam which was still actively being waged when this was made, fantastic soundtrack too)
CRUMB (the disturbing but great documentary on R. Crumb and his beyond dysfunctional family, in a tie with CRASH which still holds up for me)
DAVE (anything with Kevin Kline in it I can get into, he’s always so committed, but I also love these kinds of light romantic fantasies about “what if…”)
ELF (ditto)
FREUD (Just because it’s Montgomery Clift playing him, even if the film is heavy handed, it’s still unique, as is FREAKS, but that highly touted one-of-a-kind film is too dark for me and seems so exploitative, though I’m sure the cast was happy to have the work)
GHOST (another romantic fantasy that I can still watch anytime, which is my requirement for any movie to be a personal “classic”—just as I can’t really watch GREED anytime even though that truly is a film classic—I know others who find GHOST too much, especially Demi Moore, but I think everyone in it did a great job, as did everyone in GO, but that seems a little more dated now)
HELP (not the best movie, or Beatles effort, but enough fun stuff in it, and period nostalgia, let alone some great music, and though I love HUD, it’s just too sour for me to re-watch much)
If…. (actually lower case “if….” One of the few movies to really capture the most sensational aspect of the mood of the 1960s)
JAWS (not because I really like it that much, I didn’t even like it when it first came out, but because I can watch Robert Shaw in anything anytime, and this is one of his classic performances)
KIDS (photographer Larry Clark’s too realistic portrayal—some say exploitative and sensational—of “kids” on the streets of New York c. late 20th Century, as much of a downer as it is, it’s a unique work of art)
LOOT (not a great adaptation of the Joe Orton play, but it has Lee Remick in it, worth watching any film for)
M (the classic German flick that made Peter Lorre a star)
NUTS (If you hate Barbra Streisand, which most people seem to, you’ll hate this, but I can’t help admiring her enormous talent, no matter how much of a diva that has turned her into, and here, for my taste, she kicks ass with the rest of the cast, though I have to admit, I can’t really watch this one again and again)
PI (which was actually the symbol for pi but I don’t have that on my keyboard—as murky and meandering as this movie is, it’s certainly original and well acted)
QUILLS (de Sade as played by Geoffrey Rush, almost a prelude to his role in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, only embedded in a more-or-less true story that’s pretty well done)
RAN (Kurosawa’s brilliant version of KING LEAR)
SHANE (even now knowing how short Alan Ladd really was, it doesn’t take anything away from the allegorical heroics of this classic Western, nor the sadness of Brandon de Wilde’s early demise when he was still in his teens)
TAPS (every time I stumble on this film on TV it grabs me, because the story is compelling and the acting superb, with tons of recognizable faces who later became giant stars, like Tom Cruise and Sean Penn, all obviously inspired by George C. Scott’s usual impressive performance—interestingly the most famous of the young actors at the time was Timothy Hutton, who was so good as a young man I wonder what happened)
U (couldn’t think of any)
V (ditto)
WINGS (very early Gary Cooper, his future stardom clinched with this role)
X (another loss)
YANKS (Richard Gere almost derails this movie in his starring role, not that he isn’t his usual endearing, at least to the women, self, but because his acting seems inappropriate for the period—WWII—but the flick is still worth it for Lisa Eichorn, another actor whose career never panned out the way her talent seemed to predict, and it has Vanessa Redgrave in it, one of my top three favorite actors, and Annie Ross, one of my top three favorite female vocalists of all time in one of her few acting roles)
Z (not as great a flick as it could have been, but a testament to the times and a reminder of the kinds of politically courageous films that should be being made today but aren’t)

Thursday, June 28, 2007


If I could choose two musical movies to frame my life as an “adult” (I’m making the assumption that the category of “adult”—in terms of age—is between twenty-one and sixty-five) it’d be A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and ONCE.

The Beatles black-and-white flick—one of my all-time favorite films—I first saw when I was twenty-two and it had just come out over here. As I’ve written before, I went into it envious of not only the Beatles but of other British groups that were beginning to take music gigs away from me and my musician friends at the time. But I came out of it wanting to be a Beatle.

I just saw ONCE last night at the local theater, where I finally qualify for the “senior” discount. It didn’t necessarily make me want to be the Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard, or his collaborator singer/songwriter in the film (and in real life as I understand it) Marketa Irglora, but it did leave me with the same sensation I had with the earlier flick from my emerging manhood, that these songwriter/musicians are terrific and I can’t help loving them (Irglora is adorable), and that the movie is terrific and inspiring and made me want to rush out and buy the soundtrack.

Though filmed in two incredibly different periods—styles of music and clothes and life and etc.—both films are shot mostly documentary style, and neither is afraid to focus on the music and let it carry a scene. And in both cases the musicians and their movies make you feel like you can do this too, or at least like you’d certainly love to give it a go.

ONCE is an Irish movie, filmed in Dublin on a budget of supposedly only 130,000 dollars and in 17 days. Shot on digital, without permits as I heard it, gives it even more of a feel of a documentary (as did the black-and-white stock and occasional handheld camera in the Beatles’ flick). There are scenes as true to contemporary Irish life as I’ve seen (and a Best Supporting Actor Award from me to Bill Hodnet who plays Hansard’s character’s dad in the movie). Though some Irish fans have written that Dublin has become much more wealthy even for immigrants than the movie portrays.

But aside from the obvious Irish angles in parts of the story and some scenes, this is a film about artistic creation, the compulsion to do it, the tunnel vision necessary to carrying through with the process, and the exhilaration of achievement when you’ve got something you’re proud of, as well as the satisfaction of others digging it.

But don’t let me oversell it. It’s a small film, mostly music, so if you can dig that, you should enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Giuliani wanted to use the 9/11 attacks to stop the scheduled mayoral election and thus allow him to continue being mayor beyond the legal limits of his term. Imagine what he might have done had he been president.

My mother always used to say, “There’s a little bit of good in the worst of us, and a little bit of bad in the best of us.” It was her way of keeping me right sized in my judgment of others.

This is equally true for politicians, Democratic or Republican. The thing that gets me isn’t that Republicans are all bad and Democrats all good, or that they attack each other.

What I hate is the hypocrisy and the lies. Attacking John Kerry for changing his vote in the Senate about the Iraq war is perfectly legit. But attacking his heroic rescue of one of his team, while under enemy fire, for which he was awarded a medal, when members of that team all testify to having witnessed his heroics, is just plain scumbag behavior.

Attacking Hilary Clinton for having done some financial shenanigans is okay, if she has done them, but painting her with the brush of financial crimes, such as the whole Whitewater fiasco, or whatever it was called, when the most expensive and longest running investigation in the history of executive investigations turned up absolutely no illegal activity (otherwise you know the Clinton haters would have had Bill impeached on those grounds and he and Hilary would still be in prison) is jive.

When you look at the limited political power and duties the governor of Texas actually wields, Obama has no less experience, and even more on the international level as a Senator, than Bush Junior did when he ran for president, let alone got awarded the office by the Supreme Court (or as The Bowery Boys used to call it: “The Extreme Court”).

John Edwards can legitimately be attacked for getting four-hundred-dollar haircuts. I understand any man’s compulsive obsession with his hair, it’s the one thing most men are vain about if they have any, but four-hundred-dollar haircuts when running for president, especially after the attacks on Bill Clinton for his even less expensive one on the L.A. tarmac that time when he was first in office, not very smart John.

Mitt Romney can be legitimately attacked for changing his positions on just about everything, and for claiming to be a “lifelong hunter” when he’s only hunted three times in his life and all those times were recent. He can even be attacked for his religion, if you think that the beliefs in that religion are a little farfetched for any reasonable person who happens to have the power to wage war. Just like it’s legit to attack candidates who don’t believe in evolution, like those three Republicans.

And by the way, if there’s “not a dime’s worth of difference” between the parties, how come there’re no Democrats who don’t believe in evolution? But we could go on all day about that one.

John McCain can be attacked as well for changing his positions on fundamental issues. And especially on his kissing up to Bush Junior and hiring the same people who worked for Junior when they attacked McCain in the primaries for taking positions (i.e. abortion etc.) he never took and for doing things he never did (i.e. have a child with a black woman, or as in one of the lies these people propagated against him, with a black prostitute!—rumors that were spread in pockets of South Carolina where the Klan still holds sway). McCain should be attacked for not being ashamed of himself for sacrificing his reputation as a stand-up guy to garner favor with the same rightwing Republicans who spread these kinds of lies about him in his run against Bush for the nomination almost eight years ago.

The point is, wouldn’t it be great if all the political ads we’re about to start seeing on TV every second addressed the aspects of a candidate’s record that are true and can be legitimately attacked and not made up shit or distorted shit that’s based on lies and prejudice and the worst in us.

Ma, I wish you were still with us. We could use your help.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


As mayor he was lucky to have a few exceptional people in his administration that helped turn the city around, especially in terms of crime. But in terms of race, it went backwards, as well as in other things, including civility.

For him to now be slamming Clinton (a cry I am sure the rest of the Republicans and right wing talk hosts will take up) for being “weak on terrorism” when it was Bush who ignored the Clinton administration’s warnings about Bin Laden (and don’t forget Bush took his more-than-a-month-long summer vacation—the longest of any modern president—just before 9/11 disregarding even members of his own administration who noted the Clinton administration’s warnings, not to mention he continued taking those long vacations even as everything went to shit around him) and Giuliani who didn’t get the radio frequency problem fixed so that all those firemen and cops died unnecessary deaths on 9/11, let alone some of the civilians, caused by Giuliani’s fuck up.

Are there any Democrats out there tough enough to throw this shit back at Miss Thing (his love of dressing in drag should be reassuring to transvestites, but how does it make him a strong hero type again? Just more confusing hypocrisy and double standards from the right).

New York City firemen sure don’t endorse him. But if it ends up being a race between him and Hilary, even though she could obviously kick his ass in everything from arm wrestling to fisticuffs—and certainly intellectually, no matter what else you think of her—he might just fucking win because they are so good at branding their people heroes!

I mean, they turned a silver spoon rich spoiled DUI collecting Yale frat boy FUCKING CHEERLEADER into a Reganesque cowboy (as if Regan himself was ever a real cowboy, but at least he loved to ride his horse)!

And where’s Obama in all this. I’m almost wondering if the death threats and racist attacks—that caused him to be the first candidate to get Secret Service protection (besides Hilary who got them because she was first lady)—didn’t also cause him to deliberately damp down his speeches and pull back his charisma and seemingly take calculated steps to lower his poll ratings.

But every Democrat, not just the candidates, should be rushing to kick Giuliani’s ass or at least set the record straight. The guy grabbed credit from those who actually turned the city around and then kicked them out because they were crowding him out of the spotlight. Beware a “hero” who needs the spotlight and situations that make him look heroic when not in drag. He was, and I assume still is, a mean spirited little repressed altar boy getting even with the really tough guys.

But the right loves these kinds of Christian hypocrites, don’t they? Like Gingrich who told his first wife he was divorcing her for a younger woman while she was lying in a hospital bed recovering from a serious illness (cancer if I remember right) and Giuliani who told his wife he was divorcing her and marrying another woman at a press conference so she could learn about it on TV or in the paper.

If a Republican wins in ’08, the Democrats deserve it, and so do the voters, just like they deserved Bush and all the failure he brought to what was an amazingly successful society when Clinton turned it over to him. The problem is, it won’t be the Democratic politicians or mainly the voters who suffer, it’s usually kids who aren’t even old enough to vote yet who get sent to the next fiasco “war” and people too poor to have much of a stake in the system who end up on rooftops wondering when their government will rescue them, if ever.

God bless “America.”

Monday, June 25, 2007


"A painter like Pollack for instance was gambling everything on the fact the he was the greatest painter in America, for if he wasn't, he was nothing, and the drips would turn out to be random splashes from the brush of a careless housepainter. It must often have occurred to Pollock that there was just a possibility that he wasn't an artist at all, that he had spent his life "toiling up the wrong road to art" as Flaubert said of Zola. But this very real possibility is paradoxically just what makes the tremendous excitement in his work. It is a gamble against terrific odds. Most reckless things are beautiful in some way, and recklessness is what makes experimental art beautiful, just as religions are beautiful because of the strong possibility that they are founded on nothing. We would all believe in God if we knew He existed, but would this be much fun?" —John Ashbery "The Invisible Avant-Garde"

Sunday, June 24, 2007


At least as a research tool.

It’s fantastic, in terms of having access to so much information and facts. But.

Yesterday I picked my oldest brother the priest up at the facility he’s lived in for over a year—after spending most of his life in Japan. It’s in upstate New Jersey, near the New York border. I drove him down the Jersey shore. The final leg of the trip was via 18th Avenue in Belmar. I stopped briefly at Snyder Avenue, where our maternal grandmother had a bungalow when we were kids.

The little cottage had a couple of small bedrooms on the first floor, and two even smaller ones upstairs, with ceilings I could touch even as a kid. The interior walls marking off the bedrooms were made of single planks of wood, with knotholes I could peek through at the girls changing into their bathing suits.

The shower was a wooden stall behind the house with only cold water.

The “ice box” was still an actual ice box, when I was a kid.

It was a relatively primitive place compared to a winter home then.

And not only my grandmother and mother and me and my five other still living siblings spent summers there, but cousins and friends of all of ours, including my parents and grandmother.

The place was always full of people. Lots of noise and fun, cooking and music, card games and wrestling on the little front lawn or running around in the sand of the little back yard, or the sand on the wooden floors inside, sand we dragged in on our feet and clothes.

So we stopped to take a look. But where our grandmother’s old place had been for the years of our youth, sold after she died, now stood a new, three story, giant monstrosity, twice the size, or more, of the old bungalow we remembered.

Next, all along Ocean Avenue, where there had been giant Victorian hotels several stories high, like McCann’s—with bars in their basements where many of us first got drunk—cheaper versions of the giant Victorian hotels in nearby Spring Lake, now there were two story brick condos.

At least in Spring Lake, the next town down—which as kids we always thought of as the rich peoples’ resort—the big hotels were still there, though most were remodeled and turned into condos.

It was a beautiful day, my brother thanking God for every aspect of it, as is his habit, even for his failing eyesight, a lesson my friend Selby taught me—be grateful for whatever the circumstances of your life are in the moment, and you will be happy.

He was. So was I to be with him, sharing time that I seem to have less and less of, and memories, and jokes, and laughs over the troubles of aging, him way ahead of me as he has been all his life, sixteen years my senior.

We had a great lunch with our old family friend Mary—who was like another sister to me growing up—in one of those remodeled old hotels now condos, and it was in fact more comfortable, more convenient for my brother and his walker, more stylish in many ways in fact, than the old Victorians, to my surprise.

Then I dropped him off in another nearby shore town with friends who were having a family party, a big Irish clan like our own, reminding me of those old days we were reminiscing about in the car.

I had to get back to pick up my little boy, but before I left, one of the younger members of that clan asked if I was “Michael Lally the poet” and I said yes. He started telling his aunt and others standing near us that he Googled me to discover I started out in Hollywood as a director in the 1930s, then became an actor, then a poet!

He saw the look on my face and realized that I couldn’t have been a director in the 1930s, before I was even born.

I explained that Michael Lally the director also acted in movies and on TV and was the reason I had to add my middle name “David” when I started acting professionally in movies, other than underground or alternative or whatever we called truly independent movies back in the 1960s when I first appeared in flicks.

I almost never Google myself, because I find it embarrassingly self-obsessed even just to me, and after doing it the first time and discovering there were many Michael Lallys often being mixed up with each other, it was just too silly.

Here’s one beautifully obvious example. On a site called MATCHFLICK, they have a listing for “Michael Lally” that gives his birth as June 1, 1902 in New York City. That’s the guy who became a director in the 1930s, or actually an assistant and second director.

The entry under his birth in MATCHFLICK gives only two films as his credits.

The first is THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH. But the Michael Lally in that is yet another one, from Ireland (he plays the grandfather in that great John Sayles flick).

The second is COOL WORLD (RALPH BAKSHI’S COOL WORLD as opposed to the original by Shirley Clark). I was the voice of “Sparks”—a white-haired cool cat in shades that Brad Pitt’s human character gets to throw around—the cartoon boyfriend of Kim Bassinger’s cartoon character, “Holly Wood.”


This is just one blatant example of the amount of misinformation on the web—not counting all the blogs and comments and opinions that are full of misinformation—but just sites that are meant for FACTUAL RESEARCH!

You can say, well this is a more obscure site, but even on the main movie research sites, like Yahoo’s and the one that most critics and many people I know in the movie business use, IMDb, they have me and the other Michael Lallys credits mixed up (including the son of the older Michael Lally, who after his father died inherited the plain Michael Lally name for any credits he accrued).

And you can say I should let them know, but I tried with the IMDb one and they still left many credits mixed up, and with the others, it’s like trying to break into Fort Knox to get any message to anyone who can do anything on those sites.

So, don’t believe everything you read on an internet research site. Just on my blog.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Went to The Bowery Poetry Club last night to see my friend Simon Pettet read his poetry.

If you have never seen and heard Simon read his poems, you’ve missed not only one of the most unique poetic experiences of our times, but one of the most unique performance ones as well.

It’s not that he’s a “performance” or “spoken word” style poet who has his work memorized and declaims it like it’s rap or a rant or an ironic monologue, or whatever.

He just reads it with the kind of English accent that only adds to his "elfin charm" (as I've heard it described, which to my mind—coupled with his female-attracting boyish good looks—proves there has to be Irish in his ancestry, one of those “wild geese” in his famliy’s woodpile, so to speak), and along with the repetition of each poem in a slightly different rhythm and with some variety in how he emphasizes the words and which ones, make for a kind of one man illustration of why poets write in the first place, their intense, though tender, even sensual and intellectual, relationship with words, as though they were actual physical objects of their devotion and sometime obsession.

Something like that.

At any rate, if you ever see that Simon is reading anywhere near where you are, be there.

Meanwhile, here’s a typically untitled Simon Pettet poem (he would read it very slowly, distinguishing every word, and then read it again starting the second time swiftly after ending the first time, as though ruminating out loud over the meaning of what he had just read, trying to get it right, eventually slowing down, but with a different emphasis on certain words to make it resonate with a startlingly newer meaning and intention) from back when our fiasco in Iraq was new (I may have quoted it before, since it is one of my favorites):

“There is a cruel, messianic, dim, tribal intransigence

That gains you nothing

There’s a bull-headed childish baby-tantrum

That can unleash untold consequences

I am appalled by the darkening of the sky

I watch my love

It is always my love that I watch”

Friday, June 22, 2007


The "Libby Letters" are written pleas sent to the judge in the "Scooter" Libby case to go lenient on him, in fact, to not give him any jail time.

They were written by an array of famous and lesser known Washington DC political celebrities from every spot on the political spectrum in both parties.

They basically say that Libby is a good guy and really swell to children.

If there could be this much "bi-partisan" effort made for a solution to the Iraq fiasco, or to save the lives of really good men and women dying over there...

But no. That's politics. This is social circle stuff.

I'm not sure if Libby were a Democrat the effort being made to keep him out of prison would be as "bi-partisan"—but I am sure if anyone in the Clinton White House actually outed a CIA operative and been instrumental in the cover-up of that deliberate exposure of a US "spy" and their family and friends and the other undercover operatives who worked with them, the right-wingers would have called for not just extended prison time, but maybe even the death penalty. After all, it is "war time."

For some solid analysis of the social circle aspect, check out nightlight today.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


The American Film Institute just put out their new 100-greatest-movies-of-all-time list.

Because of the name of the institution, I guess it’s meant to only include movies made in “America”—which, as usual, means only the USA (or rather, made by companies in the USA, in fact, Hollywood, even if shot elsewhere, as opposed to movies made by Canadian or Mexican or Brazilian or any companies in other parts of “America” or by truly “independent” entities in the USA. (i.e. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is on it, a British film, but made by Warners, a Hollywood studio, but no film by John Cassavettes!)

It turns out the director with the most films on the list is Stephen Spielberg—more than John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, etc. etc.

Maybe it’s just me, but as much as I enjoy Spielberg’s movies, I don’t see JAWS as greater than many films left off that top 100 list (e.g. John Ford's THE INFORMER).

At any rate, here’s the list of their top ten picks:


I agree that the first five could be on a top ten list, though not necessarily mine (with the exception of CASABLANCA and THE GODFATHER), but the next five?

I like all those movies, but would replace VERTIGO with another Hitchcock classic REAR WINDOW, or NORTH BY NORTHWEST etc.

As for LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (another British movie but produced by a Hollywood studio), I agree it’s a great filmic achievement, and on the big screen in its original glory it is overwhelmingly epic and cinematic. But would I want to watch it again tonight if I had the time, over every other Hollywood movie ever made except for the other nine? Nope.

That’s the test for me. If I had a spare few hours right now, which of these movies would I not hesitate to put on.

Ditto THE WIZARD OF OZ, as much as I love it, admire it, respect the artistry that went into it, especially the incredible performance by such a young Judy Garland, as well as her supporting players.

As for SCHINDLER’S LIST, it may well be Speilberg's masterpiece, and like all his films is incredibly well made. But top ten? It wasn't even my personal choice for the Oscar that year. Though for decades, whenever I watch the Oscars, or bet on them, I always choose the feature film, or documentary or short film, that has something to do with the holocaust, because almost every time, that’s what wins.

I assume that's because there's a lot of Jewish-Americans in the movie business, more so than most other businesses, and there is also a lot of sentimentality in the movie community, despite the hard-nosed business aspects of it, and sympathy for certain types of underdogs.

But in terms of actual movie making, how come REDS didn’t even make the top 100 list? Isn’t that movie as great—in terms of technique and acting and epic subject matter—as SCHINDLER’S LIST? And it didn’t even make the top 100?

And how come a movie that seems to glorify the South and make slavery look benign, like GONE WITH THE WIND gets to be one of the top ten? A movie that I certainly dig, but have a lot of reservations about politically, and artistically, because of the sometimes hammy, soap opera-ish acting in it.

At least DO THE RIGHT THING made it to the top 100. But not many other African-American themed movies.

And in terms of my own ax to grind, where’s john Ford’s THE INFORMER, one of the most original early “talkies” Hollywood produced, yet it didn’t even make the list of 400 movies that the voters had to choose from for the top 100!

Is it because it’s about the Irish “troubles” and that’s not as important as the holocaust? I know that it isn’t in terms of the amount of lives lost and the sheer inhuman cruelty of what was perpetrated on German and other European Jews by the Nazis—but then where is the movie about the almost complete annihilation of German and other European Gypsies by the Nazis?

Or is it that John Ford’s early artistry seems old hat now (THE SEARCHERS is high on the list, and GRAPES OF WRATH is prominent as well, though THE QUIET MAN is missing, making me conclude it is only his definitively Irish-themed movies that don’t qualify).

Obviously anyone can make their own list, and it’s only a reflection of the 1500, I think it was, movie industry folks who were asked to vote the top 100 out of the list of 400.

Here’s my top ten list of “American” (i.e. Hollywood) films NOT EVEN ON the AFI’s top 100:

10. a tie amongst the following:

I could go on, but would rather you showed me yours.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Caught a movie on TV yesterday I hadn’t seen since it first came out: THE DEVIL AT 4 O’CLOCK.

Not a great movie, in fact, pretty predictable and Hollywood corny, with some blatantly bad acting in some roles.

But Spencer Tracy was so good in it, he had me buying the whole thing.

Frank Sinatra is in it too, and doing his usual tough-little-guy-from-Jersey-who-knows-he’s-kinda-cute act. Which Tracy plays off of perfectly. As always.

Back in the day, Tracy was known as “the actors’ actor” because he was. He was considered by most in the Hollywood movie business to be the consummate actor, because he never seemed to be acting, he always appeared in every moment on screen as though he were really in the situation his character was in and responding naturally the way his character would.

In terms of comparable accolades and success in our time, Tom Hanks comes to mind. But Hanks is much more calculated in the variety of roles he plays and in his roles as producer and sometime director, writer and even composer (see THAT THING YOU DO where he does all of the above and does it amazingly well, in what is a minor classic already, only a few years after it came out).

But the contemporary movie actor who best compares to Tracy is Morgan Freeman. Neither of these cats has ever hit a false note in a flick, nor have they ever seemed to be grandstanding (as Hanks sometimes can when he’s going for the “acting” brass ring, ala FORREST GUMP etc.).

But my main point is that I hadn’t seen this movie since 1962 (it came out in ’61 but in those days movies took their time trickling down to the non-centers of civilization, and I saw it on an Air Force base shortly after I enlisted) and yet I had never forgotten one bit in it in all those years.

It’s a scene where Tracy’s character, an aging, boozing, hardboiled priest who has lost his faith in God after years of service on a godforsaken island, sizes up Sinatra’s, a hardened, career-criminal prisoner-in-transit, on the island with two fellow criminals and prisoners, who are his cohorts (one black, one older and French—the island is a French colony, or was, as everyone “white” speaks English with a mostly phony French accent to their English or, if movie star beautiful women, are described by themselves or others as half-French half-island).

Tracy’s priest guesses from Sinatra’s prisoner’s accent that he’s from New Jersey, maybe Jersey City (“the way you spit out them t’s”) and then adds that he’s “from Hell’s Kitchen” and, as I remembered it for over forty years, adds, “We used to eat punks like you for breakfast.”

When I watched the movie yesterday, that scene went by pretty fast but I think what he actually says is more like “I’m from Hell’s Kitchen where we eat guys like you.” But either way, the intent was there and the resonance of the comparison of toughness from New York’s Hell’s Kitchen to New Jersey’s Jersey City.

Part of the credit for that incredibly powerful insertion into my memory bank goes to whoever created the line Tracy spits out at Sinatra. Most likely the screenwriter, but you never know. Having seen lines I created for movie characters attributed in print to the actor who uttered them, or the director, or credited screenwriter (in this movie Max Catto), or even the writer of the book the movie was adapted from (Liam O’Brien), I know how impossible it is to really know who originated any one specific line in a film.

In this case, it almost seems like Tracy and Sinatra might have come up with this stuff themselves, since each was known, correctly or not, as tough guys from New York City and Jersey. And Tracy’s priest keeps hitting the fact that’s he’s not just Hell’s Kitchen but Hell’s Kitchen Irish, while the Sinatra character is called “Harry” and ethnically indeterminate.

But my main point is simply that the power of movies to imbed memories in our minds that are as permanent as any from our actual lives has always impressed me.

It’s true to some extent of books and art, and obviously of music, though with music the memory is usually associated with our actual lives at the time we were listening to it. But movies, above all other art forms (with TV a powerful second or sometimes a tie) can impact us, or me, as only real life events otherwise can.

I assume that it’s all about moving images and the ways they impress themselves on our consciousness, whether associated with language or not. And I acknowledge that this particular scene resonated with me, especially back when I was still a teenager trying to convince the world that I was, like Sinatra, a tough Jersey guy, and like Tracy, a tough Irish-American.

But even beyond all those considerations, I believe it was mainly a result of Spencer Tracy’s acting skills, which were so powerful, they could create an emotional response in me that imbeded the memory of the words he uttered and the way he said them so deep in my consciousness that I never forgot them.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


If I were selecting biographical subjects, and the authors to write them, for that Penguin Lives series, here’s a long list of books I’d love to do:

JACK KEROUAC by Clark Coolidge (talk about “language”!)
THELONIOUS MONK by Bill Charlap (although Charlap’s playing is more like Bill Evans, his musical knowledge, as well as talent, would make him a really interesting interpreter of Monk’s genius)
MEMPHIS MINNIE by Wanda Phipps
LEE MILLER by Sharon Stone (two very smart beauties)
EVA HESSE by Corrine Fitzpatrick
FRANCIS PONGE by Tina Darragh
EZRA POUND by Ray DiPalma
MARTHA GELLHORN by Christiana Amanpour
FRANK SINATRA by Jonathon Schwartz
BOB DYLAN by David Blue (although David died decades ago, I’d still like to have seen this book—Blue was a friend of Dylan’s (and mine), another Jewish-American folksinger who changed his name (from David Cohen) only David was tall and handsome and blunt about his opinions and himself, and his songs less complicated or brilliant than Dylan’s, but he was an honest, hard-living, very talented man)
JOHN LENNON by Terence Winch
ARTIE SHAW by Aram Saroyan
CHUCK BERRY by Keith Richards (I know his movie about him—HAIL HAIL ROCK’N’ROLL—is in a way Richards’ version, but I’d love to see a book by Richards with the actual facts of Berry’s life in Richards’ words!)
BING CROSBY by Bob Callahan and Spain (one of those graphic books)
DIANE DIPRIMA by Eileen Myles (I think it’d be great, for both of them)
JEAN RHYS by Jane DeLynn
BILL EVANS by Bill Zavatsky (his poems about Evans give a taste of what he could do)
RUDY BURCKHARDT by Simon Pettet (again, poet Pettet has already almost done this, but I’d like to see not just Rudy’s words and images, but Simon’s interpreting Rudy’s life and art)
LOUIS ARMSTRONG by John Reed (the living John Reed, whose civil war novel—A STILL SMALL VOICE—was so meticulously researched and controlled, it would be interesting to see what that kind of discipline could do for the father of jazz AND popular music—not that Armstrong invented those categories, but he was the first to dominate and popularize them through his early recordings and the sheer force of his talent and personality)
JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT by Rene Ricard (it’s almost been done, but I’d love to see Ricard interpret all the factual info on tape, to get the flavor of Rene’s unique speech patterns, and then have it transcribed into a book!)
SIDNEY BECHET by Branford Marsalis (Bechet being the co-daddy with Louis Armstrong of “jazz” but having emigrated to France he is usually left out of the equation, as Branford has often been in the shadow of his brother Wynton, though Branford is the more congenial and accessible personality (ala Armstrong rather than Bechet so in some ways it would be like interpreting his brother)
SAMUEL BECKETT by Roy Harvey (the man who turned me on to Beckett back when)
TED BERRIGAN by Alice Notley (why not?)
WILLIAM BLAKE by Burt Britton (who knows more about writers and their drawings?)
HUMPHREY BOGART by Vincent Katz (it would be hard to explain the connection in my mind, but it’s partly physical and partly New York kids with an artist for one parent, as well as a kind of deceptively laid-back protectiveness, etc.)
PIERRE BONNARD by John Ashbery
JIMMY CAGNEY by John Michael Bolger (an actor friend whose manner and physiognomy resembles Cagney’s so much he was mistaken for Cagney’s son at Cagney’s funeral)
JOHN COLTRANE by Richard Eskow (he could elucidate not only the musical realities but the spiritual quest as well)
ARAN COPLAND by Tim Dlugos (I doubt Tim, long gone, was a fan of Copland’s music, as I am, but something about that music and Tim’s poetry match, for me)
JOSEPH CORNELL by Geoff Young (their personalities may be almost opposite, but their aesthetic, for me, seems similarly original)
LEONARDO DA VINCI by Nick Piombino
MILES DAVIS by Tom Wilson
LARRY EIGNER by Lynn Manning (two poets who overcame their individual “handicaps”—Eigner lived his life in a wheelchair and Lynne has spent most of his adulthood blind—though their approach to language and subject matter seem totally different, their underlying themes have a lot in common, to me)
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD by Alec Baldwin (two smart, good-looking Irish-Americans, successful and famous at a young age, with careers that had their ups and downs, and wives who were the loves of their lives but became extremely problematic, etc.)
GOETHE by Susan Campbell (an artist whose reading is deeper than most writers, she would be an interesting interpreter of the great Goethe’s life and times)
PHILIP GUSTON by Don McLaughlin (two painters’ painters)
KATHERINE HEPBURN by Karen Allen (two strong, independent women, movie actresses that didn’t fit the mold and did it their way)
BILL CLINTON by Andrea Lee (a beautiful writer, in both senses, whose writing is as sexily charismatic to me as many women I know have found Clinton to be)
MICHELANGELO by Paul Vangelisti
WALT WHITMAN by Harris Schiff
HENRY MILLER by Lisa Duggan
CHARLIE PARKER by Robert Slater (Kansas City!)
LESTER YOUNG by Billie Holiday (wouldn’t that be something, she could just talk into a tape recorder to be transcribed later, but with the facts on paper before her to interpret through her experience and relationship with “Prez”)
MURIEL RUKEYSER by Elizabeth Barb
VERONICA LAKE by Scarlett Johnason (both started Hollywood careers as teenagers but Johanson seems not just comfortable with her fame and success, she seems to be doing what she wants, making choices that suit her, as opposed to poor Veronica, who hated Hollywood and felt totally manipulated by every aspect of it)
DAVID SMITH by Dale Herd (two manly guys who go about their respective creating—Smith was my favorite “artist” (sculptor) when I was a young man and still is, Dale was mine and Ginsberg’s “favorite prose writer”—with workmanlike discipline)
MARILYN MONROE by Max Blagg (Max, a bit of an icon on the New York poetry scene in his time, has always had a unique take on “American” culture and icons)
JAMES SCHUYLER by Kevin McCollister
CHARLES MINGUS by Bob Berner (Mingus wrote his own autobio—BENEATH THE UNDERDOG—that is one of the most original books I’ve read, but I’d love to see poet Berner’s take on the justifiably angry genius of Mingus)
Okay, I’m getting carried away, so I’ll end with:
FRANK O’HARA by me (I made the list so I can put myself on it twice! And I was actually approached about writing O’Hara’s bio back in the day but thought it too daunting at the time)

Monday, June 18, 2007


Just to show I’m not vindictive (see last post on Kerouac and Viking/Penguin) I just finished another Lincoln biography, part of that Penguin Lives series of small hardbacks, most written by authors not known as biographers or historians in the academic sense.

This one is by the Australian novelist Thomas Keneally, most famous for writing the novel Spielberg's SHINDLER’S LIST was based on.

As in all these Penguin Lives, most of which I’ve read, this one is relatively short and well written—more like a friend telling you Abe’s story, with a lot of nuance and asides, but conversationally, personally, because the friend really wants you to know this stuff.

There’s nothing in it I hadn’t read before in other more scholarly tomes on Lincoln, but Keneally manages to condense most of the usual academic research and interpretation into a compelling and admirable story that helped me get the man and his struggles more directly than I had before.

Like the last scene in THE SORPRANOS when I finally got what it might be like to be Tony, or someone like him, in Keanelly’s ABRAHAM LINCOLN I finally got what it might have been like to have been Abe. And made me realize, there’s no one like him.

I picked it up on a bookstore remainder table—it’s been out for three years and I guess didn’t sell that well—but I found it well worth reading.

I don’t even know if the series is still going on. But up until last year, I’d read most of the books in it, so I thought I’d list my top five favorites among them (though to be honest I could list almost every one they’ve published so far):

JAMES JOYCE by Edna O’Brien
MARLON BRANDO by Patricia Bosworth
POPE JOHN XXIII by Thomas Cahill
and ABRAHAM LINCOLN by Thomas Keneally

Sunday, June 17, 2007


It happens all the time. An artist passes away and their work falls into the hands of people they thought they could trust, or not, and the work is distorted or altered or in some way changed from what the creator intended.

It happened to Emily Dickinson’s poems and letters, as I understand it, when pronouns were changed from “she” to “he.” It happened to Sylvia Plath’s poetry in the hands of her widower, Ted Hughes, who altered lines or edited out poems that reflected badly on him. It happened to David Smith’s sculptures, when the executors of his estate had his last works altered to fit their idea of what his legacy should look like.

A lot of these cases pissed me off when I learned about them, and still do, but there was one I got involved in. I took sides against the Sampas family in its handling of the estate of Jack Kerouac.

The short version of events is that Kerouac was an alcoholic, drinking himself to death in the 1960s, when he realized his mother might outlive him. He decided to marry the spinster sister of Sammy Sampas, his first and closest friend from Lowell, where they grew up together and where Sammy turned Kerouac on to a lot of literature and philosophy when they were kids.

Sammy came from a large Greek family, which included his sister Stella, a “shy, homely woman,” as she has been described, who had a crush on the handsome Kerouac but never acted on it. Sammy ended up dying in World War two, and Kerouac never forgot him, or how much Sammy believed in him.

Kerouac’s big success, with the publication of his second novel, ON THE ROAD in 1957, made him not just a literary but a media star. The James Dean of novelists. Only Kerouac didn’t die young, like Sammy Sampas or Dean, he just drank more.

Kerouac’s mother at times encouraged his drinking, as long as it was at home with her. He was tied to his mother in ways that he attributed to a promise he made as his father lay dying, to care for his mother no matter what. In reality, until Kerouac finally began making money on his books, she cared for him, and at least some of his commitment to her was fueled by the guilt that seeps into his writing over the sacrifices she made, working in shoe factories, to support his writing before it could support him, and her, and their drinking.

By 1967, ten years after the great success of ON THE ROAD, Kerouac was a mostly stay-at-home drunk, calling old friends in the middle-of-the-night, who became less and less willing to put up with his drunken calls. But Stella was always willing to listen to him. Even after he had burned most of his bridges, she was still there, listening. So, when he suspected his own demise was not far away, he married her, with the caveat that she would care for his mother after his death.

Anyone who visited Kerouac during his last years was amazed that despite his drinking, he maintained impeccable archives. He kept everything from boyhood on—notebooks and letters, manuscripts of his published and unpublished books—in well marked files.

Even though his reputation had suffered, and his books weren’t selling much, and his support of the Viet Nam war effort, or so it seemed in drunken interviews, began to overshadow his earlier fame as “King of the Beats”—a title he abhorred—right up until the end he believed that someday his books would all be in print again and studied by future scholars, unlike the scholars that attacked and dismissed his work in his lifetime.

So he wanted his archives kept intact and given to a university or library with access for scholars and fans of his work. He was worried though. He wanted to leave his estate to his mother but was afraid that when she died it might fall into the hands of his in-laws, the large Sampas family, who were involved in various pursuits, one of them a bar in Lowell where Kerouac often drank on sojourns to his hometown, or during the times when he tried to relocate there.

As his drinking worsened, so did his worries about his archives. Just days before he died, he sent a letter to his nephew Paul, his sister’s son, saying something like: Whatever happens don’t let my thousand Greek relatives get hold of my papers after I’m gone!

But when his mother died, her will left it all to Stella—a will that was contested by some who believe Kerouac’s mother’s signature on the will is a forgery, a not unreasonable claim since it seems highly unlikely she would not have left it to her grandson Paul. Nonetheless, when Stella died, Kerouac’s archives went to Stella’s siblings.

During all this time, Kerouac’s reputation was slowly recovering, and interest in his life and work reviving. Poet Gerald Nicosia’ s scholarly biography of Kerouac, MEMORY BABE, contributed to that, as well as other tomes on Kerouac or the “Beat scene” and writers.

So, rather than place the archives intact in a public institution where scholars and students and fans could have access to them, the Sampas family began to separate out items to sell piecemeal—letters, notebook and manuscript pages and other things of Kerouac’s (like his raincoat, which went to Johnny Depp for a small fortune, as I heard it).

The publishers Viking/Penquin realized that in death Kerouac looked like a much more profitable author, so in order to have continuing access to Kerouac’s books and unpublished papers—they needed to placate the Sampas family.

As a result, when Kerouac’s diaries and letters were eventually published, there were so many ellipses—those dots indicating cuts—with no footnotes or explanations of what was cut, and other editts not even acknowledged with ellipses—in all over four hundred cuts—it wasn’t a surprise to learn that some of what was edited out were negative references to the Sampas family, as well as references to Kerouac’s sexual experiences with men, and other things that might sully the image of what was becoming a multi-million dollar franchise called JACK KEROUAC.

As if that wasn’t enough of an insult to Kerouac’s memory and legacy, the Sampas family tried to squelch any objections to the way they were treating Kerouac’s work. Especially attacking Nicosia, because in articles and on the internet, he criticized the Sampas family for tampering with Kerouac’s archives, and for excluding Kerouac’s daughter, Jan, and his nephew, Paul, from any financial benefits from their father’s and uncle’s estate.

Early in Jan’s life, Kerouac denied being her father, out of fear that Jan’s mother wanted to tie him down to a regular job to pay child support that would interfere with his writing, which at the time was still to be discovered, but which he was in the middle of creating the main body of. Later he acknowledged that Jan was his daughter and gave her permission to use his name, which she did in her own books, as Jan Kerouac.

But the publisher was willing to do whatever the Sampas family wanted, as were many of the surviving Beats. At a symposium at NYU on Kerouac’s legacy, when confronted by Nicosia and Jan Kerouac asking to be included on the stage or at least their questions answered by those taking part officially, Ginsberg was one of those who acquiesced to the request for security to remove KEROUAC’S OWN DAUGHTER AND HIS BEST BIOGRAPHER FROM THE PREMISES!

Maybe Nicosia’s and Jan Kerouac’s tactics were too confrontational, maybe they weren’t so great at playing the game of influence and diplomacy and publishing-world politics. Nonetheless, they had the truth—Kerouac’s written and oft stated wishes for his estate—and certainly morality on their side (shouldn’t a neglected child, now an adult suffering grave illness, impoverished all her life at least partially as a result of her famous father’s neglect, be entitled to something?)

The reality was that many “Beat” writers, supposed warriors for truth and passion, were suddenly passionless on this issue, in order, I had to assume, not to miss opportunities for their own work to be published in a bigger way than it had, or for the so-called “scholars” involved, to include them and their work in the history of “the Beats” so they too could cash in on the label.

Ann Charters, wrote the first biography of Kerouac, which turned out to be full of errors. Nonetheless she should be credited for undertaking the task when Kerouac was all but forgotten, and the resulting book contributed to the renewed interest in his work, as her continued interest in and scholarship on the Beats contributed to rousing the interest of other scholars.

But she too aligned herself with the Sampas family, which she needed, to have access to Kerouac’s papers, and seemed to this observer to be rewarded with the position of main academic liason between the publishing world and the university world and the Sampas family.

Others also garnered various rewards for taking sides with the Sampases. But those who sided with Jan Kerouac and Nicosia, who brought the suit against the Sampas family and lost, were treated like pariahs. Including me.

I had a book of poetry accepted for publication by Penguin in a new contemporary poets series they started in the 1990s. They were enthusiastic about my manuscript and said they looked forward to getting it out there. But after months of pre-publishing activity, they abruptly changed their mind, with no real explanation.

I couldn’t help but think some kind of pressure was put on them. I had been an arrogant young man, and I stepped on a lot of toes in the literary and publishing world back in the 1970s and early ‘80s, when I often attracted standing-room only crowds to my readings, and my ego led me to burn a lot of bridges and hurt a lot of sensitive egos in the poetry world.

So if indeed any pressure had been applied, it well could have come from someone in my past. But, also possible, I had publicly taken sides with Nicosia and Jan Kerouac. And the editor of the series I was to be published as part of, I believe was David Stanford, who was also in charge of the Kerouac estate for Viking/Penguin.

Later in the 1990s, after Jan had died, who I had corresponded with a little, I attended another symposium on Kerouac, this time in Lowell, at which the usual suspects were present, including the patriarch of the Sampas family in the audience, and the Sampas family member who was the face of their connection to Kerouac and his writings, John Sampas, on stage with Ann Charters and others, including David Stanford.

Nicosia was in the audience, as I remember it with a collaborator who was videotaping the proceedings. Nicosia had his hand up throughout the questioning period, but was ignored. However, they didn’t recognize me and so called on me. When I addressed my question about Kerouac’s archives specifically to David Stanford, he actually seemed to blush, and admitted, now that he was retired from that editing job, that it was wrong to not have honored Kerouac’s wishes to keep his archives intact and make his papers available to scholars and interested readers, not just to a hand picked cadre of insiders.

He went on to try and tactfully defend the Sampas family, saying they intended to rectify earlier mistakes and that Kerouac’s unpublished manuscripts, as well as his letters and diaries, would be published soon, and that the bulk of his archives was still together and would be kept intact from this point on, and would find a home somewhere scholars and fans could have access to.

He seemed a bit ashamed to have been called out for his part in the Kerouac archives fiasco. I can’t remember if anyone else said anything, but if they did, it was more defense of the Sampas family and their good intentions. Then the subject was changed and, to my mind, the generally missing-the-mark interpretations of Kerouac and his work continued.

Meanwhile, Tony Sampas had someone contact security to have Nicosia and his video cameraman ejected from the proceedings—and maybe me too. But I was staying at the house of a friend, a Lowell local, a big, good-looking Irish-American guy who loved Kerouac and could recite whole passages from his books from memory, in the same accent as Kerouac. Like I said my friend was big, big enough to have taken on the security guards by himself. But he happened to know the cops that were called, who when they learned the situation refused to throw anybody out.

Last week, Gerald Nicosia was in New York to hold a news conference to denounce the latest attempt to distort the record as part of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the publication of ON THE ROAD. In all the books and republications being done by Viking/Penguin to mark the half century since that novel was first published, Nicosia says that any mention of MEMORY BABE has been edited out, even as part of the bibliographies in books that have direct quotes from MEMORY BABE, according to him.

Some have said that Nicosia is beating a dead horse. After all, the archives, what's still left intact, are now in, I think, the New York 42nd St. Library, or somewhere like that, though parts are still scattered here and there, in private hands or other institutions. And a lot of the unpublished manuscripts, including early stories and a novel and a selection of his letters and diaries have been published, though if other publishers had had access they may have published the letters and journals without the cuts, or a different selection that may have been more honest, more what Kerouac left behind, obviously with the desire to see his entire archive availabhle to the public with no censorship.

Nonetheless, Nicosia's relentlessness is beginning to seem petty to some writers I know, and in the end who really cares? I guess I do, because there is so much lying and distortion in the public record, and I always found one of the antidotes to that in Kerouac, in whose writing a deeper truth resonates with my own need to cut through the bullshit. So to have Kerouac’s writing distorted and twisted to fit some business plan, and some of his greatest fans and biographers silenced or edited out of the record, is a serious offense to me. How much more can we take from the greed heads that seem to run so much of our world?

Friday, June 15, 2007


My friend Hubert Selby Jr., or “Cubby,” as his friends called him, used to get upset when I’d mention “hope” in talking to him.

He always said that once you had a concept, you had its opposite. That you couldn’t have up without down, left without right, right without wrong, hope without hopelessness.

His point was that “hope” created illusions about the future, whereas his thing was living fully in the moment, the “eternal now” as he called it.

That didn’t eliminate his frustration with many things in the present (see his late novel WAITING PERIOD for a take on his frustration and anger).

But it made it possible for him to be frustrated and angry, and at peace, at the same time (see the documentary, HUBERT SELBY JR.: IT’LL BE BETTER TOMORROW—an expression he gave up using because of his belief in the “eternal now”).

Or so it appeared to me—and has proven to be for me in practice.

In the situation in Iraq, or in Darfur, or Gaza, or between the Palestinians and Israelis, or almost every place in the world, there appears to be, to me at least, a lot of hopelessness lately.

But being a history buff, I know that there has always been violence and poverty, brutality and hypocrisy, death and destruction.

Though there are times of relative peace and tranquility, for some people, sometimes for most people, there are just as often times of sadness and despair.

Maybe I’m optimistic, or hopeful, because of where and when I was born and the family I was born into.

My grandfather lived in a two-room, dirt-floor, thatch-roof cottage in Ireland when he was a boy, with loads of siblings and his parents. He came to this country as a teenager, and while working as a “footman” found his wife, a “scullery maid” who also immigrated from Ireland.

My father grew up in great poverty, in a shack by the tracks when he was a boy, where my grandfather had the job of raising and lowering the barricade that stopped traffic when a train went by.

By the time my grandfather became the first cop in our town, my father and his ton of siblings were living in a house, with real windows and floors and bedrooms.

I grew up in a small house on the same street as my Irish grandfather and grandmother. There were several siblings and my parents and the occasional visitor (passing through from Ireland to their own place in “the states,” or a relative taken in when they hit a certain age, like a “spinster” great aunt or my maternal grandmother when she became a widow, or the boarder who was an old friend of my father he was helping out temporarily but ended up living in our house for eighteen years before he died) all in three small bedrooms, eventually expanded to include a room in an unfinished attic and a room made out of a back porch, etc.

In my lifetime, I’ve lived in houses bigger than the one I grew up in, and even owned a few, not many years ago.

So, maybe “hope” is a part of my story, the idea that things can always get better.

Not that “Cubby” Selby didn’t believe in things getting better. He just didn’t believe in living in the future in our heads while ignoring or trying to deny the reality of the present.

Or the possibility for things to get "worse" (if you accept the concept of "better" you must accept that "worse" comes with it, as in my now not owning any houses and living in an apartment smaller than etc. BUT because of what I learned from Selby, I am as happy, or happier than I was living in those bigger houses).

One of his most famous summaries of several spiritual traditions was a list of four steps to take when faced with adversity or disappointment or just the general unfairness, or “hopelessness” of life:

“Be aware.
Let it go.
Return tot the eternal now.
And remember the infinite possibilities of life.”

Thursday, June 14, 2007


So whatta ya think? Israeli leaders are maybe feeling a little regretful over weakening Fatah back when they had them on the ropes?

Better the devil you know, as they say. (In case you hadn’t heard, Hammas has conquered Fatah in “the Gaza strip” and basically declared it an Islamist state.)

Now the U.S. is arming the Sunni insurgents that have been killing our troops in Iraq in the hopes that those insurgents in their struggle with the foreign born Al Queda fighters will win, and then not turn those arms back at us again, or in the meantime.

If it wasn’t for all the death and destruction it’d be funny.

But it’s not.

Bush Junior has been going around for the past years or so acting like the thugs him and his kind pretend to be against aren’t his ancestors and himself.

Nations acting like thugs is nothing new. But it’s always the other guy—Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Papa Doc, Idi Amin, Noriega, etc. Not us. Or our allies. Woops, Stalin was our ally during WWII, and Franco was for decades afterward despite his fascism, and Papa Doc while it suited us, and etc. etc.

Thuggery everywhere, and everyone acting like it’s the other guy.

The “infidels” which to Hammas now includes their fellow Palestinians, as if they haven’t suffered enough already.

The “insurgents” until, woops, we need them now. Did you see John Stewart’s take on the news media’s parroting of the new administration line for defending arming those who have been most responsible for the death of our troops in Iraq—“the enemy of my enemy is my friend” reasoning.

Which, if you carry the illogic of that to its obvious resolution ends us up with Al Queda as our friends, according to Stewart, and me, and anyone else who stops and thinks about it. But of course they were our friends, in fact we created them to help us fight the Russians when they were bogged down in Afghanistan, because as everyone knows, “the enemy of…” Yeah right.

It’s seems more blatantly thuggish out there lately though, doesn’t it? Syria knocking off anti-Syrian members of the Lebanese government, Russia knocking off journalists and others who dare to criticize Putin and his government, China locking up Chinese-American scholars visiting their families there, Viet Nam locking up dissidents once the economic conference of world leaders is over there, Bush approving torture and locking up even U. S. citizens without trial or allowing them to see lawyers or etc. etc.

Bad enough my little boy has to come under the influence of all the phony bling bling wannabe gangster jive thugs he gets through music or movies or from the neighborhood teenage boys, but all that is mostly for show, though he and his little friends think it’s real and sometimes somebody really does get hurt.

But even the real gangsters in nearby Newark, who keep shooting each other and innocent bystanders can’t match the level of thuggery out there in the “real world” of the “family of nations” (and those teenage gangsters dying in Newark aren’t above being influenced by the wannabe hip hop rapper millionaire thugs on the radio either.

It’s enough to make you wanna smack someone yourself. Snap out of it world!

Ah, maybe it’s the earth’s way of shaking us off, getting rid of the human pests who have contaminated her so badly she’s dying, or at least a lot of what made her beautiful is.

I know there’s always been death and destruction in the world, but it’s hard not to blame Bushie for this last round of incredible stupidity, when it comes to national thuggery.

“You’re either with us or against us”—“Bring it on”—“Mission accomplished” etfuckingcetera. (and especially his warning to Osama Bin laden that he “could run but” he “couldn’t hide”—oh yeah?)

Oh, and by the way, “the surge” has failed, if you haven’t noticed. But let’s give it another few months for that point to be driven home with a lot more death and destruction.

It isn’t funny at all.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


First reason I wanted to check this show out—it was created by David Milch.

Second reason—it had Rebecca DeMornay in it.

I know a lot of people who already find this show totally confusing.

After watching the first two episodes back to back, I don’t.

As always with Milch’s productions, there’s some of the most original dialogue, unexpected acting, and unique story lines you will ever see on TV.

As I’ve said before, for me, DEADWOOD is as close to Shakespeare as TV has ever been. This ain’t DEADWOOD (though some familiar faces from that show crop up here), but whatever it is, I’ve never seen it before. Maybe this one’s as close to Pinter as TV has ever been.

Or let’s drop the comparisons and just say that Milch is an incredible creator. Even when he’s off, he’s original.

And like I said, anything with Rebecca DeMornay in it, count me in. The character she plays is certainly the hottest grandmother I’ve ever seen.

But that aside, DeMornay has always been one of my favorite actresses, ever since she kicked ass in RISKY BUSINESS, THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL, and THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE. Her range is extraordinary. Though she has often been mis- or under-used.

Not here. So far.

The other great thing about this show is the kid (Greyson Fletcher). It killed me to see him in jeopardy already in the second show, because right from the first frame he appeared in, he became the show for me.

Even though his favorite response is “anyways”—which Milch always has one, or some, or all of his characters in his various shows use as a substitute for other, usually deeper and profounder thoughts.

It might be an old Milch device, but it’s better than whatever we could expect a surfer to say, like “whatever dude.”

And Ed O’Neill kicks ass as a retired policeman with a house full of pet birds, a widower, it would seem, with issues, as they say.

I worked with O’Neil in a scene on another Milch show that didn’t make it past its first season (BIG APPLE, in which I played a priest!). I know a lot of the people involved with this show, and most of them I admire and am a big fan of. Including DeMornay and O’Neil, and many of the actors with smaller parts.

Milch gives them all some great lines to interpret, (the title character especially, played brilliantly by Austin Nichols) and then usually asks them to do it differently than what they might ordinarily come up with. He also rewrites at the last minute, if this is anything like his other shows. Many actors find all that much juicier and exciting than the usual approach. But some actors find it more difficult, or just do their own thing no matter what is called for. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Over all, this show is incredibly well acted, well written, and totally original.

As for the confusing story lines, I’m buying it all so far, not as “reality” or the usual A-B-C every-plot-point-properly-checked TV storyline, but as an expression of some deep questioning of the great struggle life is for some of us, at least some of the time, and the ways we often make that struggle even more difficult, especially when we think we’re doing the opposite.

Hey, what can I say, I’m ready to see what Milch can teach us, we already know he can bring it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


In the city today, I witnessed some troll-like guys in the cab of a truck—stopped at a light on Park Avenue and 28th Street—beeping and making sucking noises and yelling in a language I couldn’t distinguish from where I was, at a willowy young brunette in flat shoes, a brown summer dress with those string-like shoulder straps holding it up, tall and attractive, her hair falling over her shoulders in a version of the way movie stars looked in the 1940s, and beautiful enough to be a model back then.

I hadn’t seen anything so blatant in a while.

Spring in the city, especially when it’s turning to Summer on a hot and humid day like today, is spectacular for a man in Manhattan.

I don’t know what it’s like for women, but for any man I’ve ever discussed it with, Spring and Summer in New York City is a feast of females blossoming.

But most of us guys just stare, we don’t make noises.

Though I’ve known women who appreciate the smack smack of the construction workers’ lips as they pass, the whistles and shouts. Usually women with great shapes but not such beautiful faces.

And I’ve known women who hate that kind of male attention so much they changed their style, chopped their hair off and adapted the male construction worker look for themselves, like a lot of feminists I knew in the early 1970s, back when a woman with a buzz cut was too shocking to be considered attractive by “straight” guys, before pioneers like Kathy Acker and Sinead O’Connor made that look as sexy as long locks have always been.

I used to be guilty of having a swivel head when it came to women I just passed on a New York sidewalk, something I do rarely now, after women complained about how crude it made me seem.

But still. If you’re not walking through one of the city parks, or on one of the tree lined streets of Manhattan—of which there are many more than when I was a kid, thank God— the only indication of nature’s bounty, as otherwise manifested in the trees and flowers and bushes of the city parks and suburbs of the Northeast, is in the style of clothing, not to mention the flesh, of fellow humans.

And for me, and most men I know, in not just the exposed flesh of the warm-weather clothing women wear, but in their exposed hair, out from under winter hats or umbrellas or even hoodies on many of the younger ones. There even seems to be more openness in their eyes, in the faces they expose to the world of the streets as they pass by.

For the few years during my thirties when both women and men made it clear they found me attractive—and did it in ways that would have been considered “sexist” if I were a woman and they all men—I exulted in that, found the attention flattering, exciting, even a turn on.

I know a lot of women don’t feel that way about that kind of attention, but I also know some do.

Being of an age when women don’t notice me as much as they used to, I limit my attention to be as unobtrusive as I can. But even still, I am so grateful for the abundance of attractiveness to be found on the streets of Springtime, and Summer, Manhattan.

As the poet James Schuyler put it in his poem “December”—

“…Californians need to do a thing to enjoy it./A smile in the streets may be loads! You don’t have to undress everybody.”

Or make crude noises. Amazingly, the brunette just stood there, ignoring them, completely composed and even more stunning in the coolness of her composure.

Monday, June 11, 2007


I was pissed off at first too. Thought the satellite connection had been lost. Even changed channels to make sure.

When the credits came on I was even more angry.

That’s it?


Later, I realized how caught up in that final scene I was.

I’m one of the few I know who wasn’t entirely into THE SOPRANOS since the beginning, and only checked it out now and then to see what the fuss was about, until this “final” season when I got into watching every episode to see story lines resolved, or not.

I’ve always loved the opening credits (and song) because I grew up in that part of Jersey (and am back living there now) and know some of those locations well, even knew guys like those in the show, had them for neighbors and classmates and friends, and a few times, when very young, as bullies I had to somehow avoid or take on.

My father had to deal with the grownup versions of them, for all the years he was part of “the Essex County Democratic machine,” as it was called in the papers back then.

The cops in the family had to deal with the petty versions of them, and sometimes more serious elements.

So sometimes I just didn’t want to be reminded of all that, or see it misinterpreted, or glorified.

But this last season was pretty compelling, kept my interest for the most part, and as always with this show, demonstrated some great writing and acting, (though from my perspective, not consistently).

But in that last scene—coming after the rhythm of the entire last episode, counterpoint to the frenetic energy of the show before it, the penultimate one (where, as a friend from Hollywood pointed out, Chase had put most of his energy, or pizzazz etc., in previous shows, i.e. in the next to last show)—that last scene had me caught up in it, wound so tight with the tensions, that I realized, after I got over being pissed about the abrupt cut off ending (that many on the Jersey Transit train to Manhattan this morning were arguing indicated Tony had been capped—by the dude who had gone into the Men’s Room, and come out with a gun in their version—as Tony was watching Meadow come through the door) that where it had left me was smack in the middle of what it is like to be living Tony Soprano’s life.

I finally identified with him—completely, and it ended.


And risky—original—well executed—etc. etc.

Bravo David Chase!

And James Gandolfini, and Edie Falco, who were nothing short of perfect.

(And Jamie-Lynn Sigler—who plays Meadow, who I was never that impressed by— kicked ass in that last trouble-parking bit, raising the tension (thanks also to great editing and directing) and carried that tension through the ending (in her eyes and expression as she came through the door) perfectly.

Robert Iler, who plays the son, was okay, coming across in the scene as more or less clueless, maybe directed that way. He has been maybe excusably inconsistent, being so out-performed by the older pros on the show.)

Anyway, it’s a classic now.

Speaking of acting (and directing, the writing is a little weaker) I look forward to BIG LOVE, which, if I were teaching acting, I would make my students watch every episode of.

Saturday, June 9, 2007


"Defense Secretary Robert Gates is deluding himself -- we hope! -- if he seriously thinks that appointing someone other than Gen. Peter Pace to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is going to avoid turning confirmation hearings into a 'divisive ordeal' about Iraq. But at least Gates' pick to replace Pace probably won't have to answer questions about some of the more embarrassing episodes in Pace's recent past. To wit:

"Showing his biases, I: Back in March, the Chicago Tribune asked Pace about the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy. His response: 'I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts. I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way. As an individual, I would not want [acceptance of gay behavior] to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else's wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior.'

"Showing his biases, II: When Scooter Libby was prosecuted and convicted for obstructing justice, perjury and making false statements -- conduct one might, indeed, call 'immoral' -- Pace took it upon himself to write a letter to Judge Reggie B. Walton in support of the defendant. 'I was alwas impressed with Mr. Libby's professionalism and focus and attention to the matters at hand,' Pace wrote. 'He impressed me as a team player when addressing issues with his selfless approach to his wide-ranging responsibilities . . . . He always looked for not just what was in the best interests of the country, but also for the right way to proceed -- both legally and morally.'

"Trusting Rumsfeld: Coming to the defense of the defense secretary who picked him to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Pace said last October that Donald Rumsfeld 'leads in a way that the good Lord tells him is best for our country.'

"Misunderestimating problems in Iraq: In a TV interview last March -- which is to say, after the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra, which in the Bush administration's telling of it is the moment when everything went completely to hell -- Pace said that Iraq was looking pretty wonderful. 'I wouldn't put a great big smiley face on it,' he said, 'but I would say [things in Iraq are] going very, very well from everything you look at . . . . No matter where you look -- at their military, their police, their society -- things are much better this year than they were last.'

"Miscounting the dead: In a television appearance on Memorial Day 2007, Pace minimized the human cost of the war in Iraq by suggesting, in a non sequitur sort of way, that the U.S. death toll there was just now 'approaching' the death toll from 9/11. He was wrong on both counts: The U.S. death toll in Iraq was higher then than the death toll from 9/11. Thanks in no small part to the policies Pace helped execute, it's even higher today."

-- Tim Grieve

Thursday, June 7, 2007


“When publishers fail, they fail at being readers.
When readers fail, they fail at being listeners.
When writers fail, they fail at being lovers.”
—Nick Piombino from FAIT ACCOMPLI

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Got a little packaged in the mail from my old friend, the poet and artist Ray DiPalma.

Inside was a little matchbox, with “Ray DiPalma / 5 Poems” printed on the top over a little work of art that looks like a yellow fire extinguisher inside the green frame of an old style TV.

On the bottom side of the matchbox is a photo of Ray, very small, and an admonition to “KEEP IN A SAFE PLACE” with the message to “USE MATCH TO PRISE POEM FROM BOX/AVERAGE CONTENTS PER BOX - 5 POEMS/CUSTOMER QUERIES TO MATCHBOX POETRY/87 THORNTON ROAD, FALLOWFIELD/MANCHESTER, MI4 7NT, UK”

(It almost reads like a parody of an English address. Who knows, maybe it is, if I’m reading the tiny type correctly.)

That’s on the top half of the rectangle that is the bottom of the matchbox. Across the middle in white type on red background is: “HOW GOOD IS YOUR POETRY KNOWLEDGE?”

And then, in the bottom half of the bottom of the matchbox is first the question “In what year was Gertrude Stein born?” And below that in red caps: “DID YOU KNOW?” Below which, back to regular tiny black type on a white background is the poetry fact: “Ben Johnson was the first English poet laureate in 1616”

And at the bottom one last bit of type: “For answers go to

Inside the matchbox is the aforementioned single match, and the five poems by Ray DiPalma promised on the top of the matchbox, each on a separate tiny piece of folded graph paper.

On the top of the stack of 5 poems is a tiny piece of graph paper with Ray’s name and “5 Poems” and then the titles of each poem, and under the fold it says “New Titles”—underlined—and then lists two: “Quatres Poemes” and “Caper” which I assume are Ray’s since I have CAPER (and mentioned it in previous posts) and under that is the credit for the tiny drawing at the bottom of the tiny stack of poems “Drawing: Head of John by/Harry Simmonds”

Then the address for the website of matchbox again.

The reason I mentioned all this is because it perfectly illustrates what I love about the poetry world, or one of the poetry worlds, or any relatively unknown—to the wider world—creative scene that isn’t about money or fame, at least not in any conventional way, but is mostly about the joy of creating and sharing the results of that creativity.

What I mean is, receiving this matchbox with Ray’s poems was like Proust’s madeleine, only the memories that came rushing back to me when I opened it were those from my earliest excursions out into the world of bohemia—the Beat and other 1950s avant-garde scenes of my youth—and the excitement I felt when I discovered the paintings and collages that were so much more expressive of what I was about and, though respected as accomplishments, not treated like precious objects but things to be used, to be dug, to be made a part of your life, even like living things, members of the family or whoever occupied the “pad” I was in, or the 8 millimeter movies never seen in movie theaters projected onto sheets pinned to walls of these hipster “cribs,” or the mimeographed magazines with crude illustrations and poems that would never be published in any “literary” magazines.

The thrill wasn’t of “the forbidden”—I’d already had plenty of that—but of the creative passion that fashioned something uniquely individual and got it out into the world in the most immediate and personal way with no care for any “practical” aspects of distribution or accessibility or even of positive response, or so it seemed. It was more like: this is what I have to say, or do, or present to you—dig it or don’t.

And I almost always dug it, because it had the feel, the smell, the touch of that passion to create and to share the creation without any concession to convention or expectation or being “practical.”

I mean, five tiny poems in a tiny matchbox? How impractical can you get?

But not “precious” except in the “value” meaning of that word. Precious like a favorite keepsake or personal talisman, but squished a little in the mail, and an actual real matchbox with the print and artwork glued to the top and bottom (and one side, opposite the sandpaper match striking side, where it said in bold letters: “DiPalma/Matchbox No.3”).

Ah the freedom of not aiming for the blockbuster, the top of the hill, the bottom line, the X game life-and-death gamble, no, something more quiet, more about inner excitement and a deeper satisfaction—at least for me—that let’s the child and the man join hands in total appreciation.

Oh, and Ray’s five poems, for my taste, are unique as all his work is, including his collages and rubber stamp works and other art.

To quote a favorite couplet from one of the five poems (“Mansion Avenue”):

“The universe is not expanding
It’s just coming around from the other side”

Monday, June 4, 2007


Last summer I was walking by a park, at the other end of the street I was then living on, and saw some “honey wagons”—as they call the RV size vehicles with tiny dressing rooms for actors used on film locations.

I wondered who would be shooting a movie around here and asked a guy with a walkie talkie who the director was. He said Davis Guggenheim. I told him I knew him, and he made an expression like, “yeah sure.”

I went to where they were shooting, and the little group of canvas chairs they use for the director and stars and cinematographer, etc. behind the camera and monitors, and there was Davis, watching the playback of a scene just shot.

He was as nice to me when I walked up to him, as he was on the set of DEADWOOD, where he directed the episode I had a small role in. In fact, he’s one of the nicest directors, or for that matter people, I ever worked with (which added to my delight to see him a few months ago among those accepting the Oscar for AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, which he also directed).

What I discovered that day last summer was that he was making a “small” movie based on real incidents in the life of the actress Elisabeth Shue—his wife. When I ran into him again with my little boy and a friend a few days later in the local Starbuck’s, where I was buying my Sunday Times, he was alone, working on the script, but took time to chat with my son, as well as with me.

Then a few days ago I was walking past the local movie theater with another friend, and our two little boys, when I ran into Davis again, this time in town for the premiere, which somehow I hadn’t known about, and he generously stopped to chat and remind my little boy that they’d met before and ask after him and then stop his wife as she rushed by to reintroduce her to me and to my son.

I forgot to introduce them to my friend Bill and his son—my social skills still need work—but I was happy to see the movie had made it to release and that they held the premiere here as a benefit for the high school it was set in, the same public school my brothers and sisters went to many decades before Elizabeth Shue. (I went to an all boys Catholic school in Newark in the 1950s.)

I was sorry I missed the premiere, but yesterday my son and a friend of his—and his friend’s mother and a mutual friend of ours—all went to catch a matinee of the movie, and only one scene into it and my eyes were already tearing up. By the end of the film I was outright sniffling and wiping my eyes to see.

I’m always moved by movies about underdogs and outsiders, as many of us are, because, if you’re anything like me, you have often felt like an underdog and an outsider. And I’ve never been afraid of sentiment, even back in the decades when I was too macho or too repressed to cry over anything. At the heart of my emotional response to these kinds of stories is the fact that my mother died before I ever had any kind of success, and though I had a few triumphs out in the world before my father died, he never acknowledged them, or encouraged me in them.

So stories about kids or young adults who face tough odds and overcome them, while getting no support from their fathers, hit me right in the heart. And when, in most of these flicks, the fathers finally show up for their kids, to share in their victory, even if it’s a minor one in the grand scheme of things, it still gives me tears of joy to bear witness to that resolution, no matter how Hollywood contrived it can be in some of those films.

But there’s another reason I was so emotional in response to this flick—Elisabeth Shue. She’s one of those actresses that seems to me to be underrated. Even though she was nominated for an Oscar for her role in LEAVING LAS VEGAS, it was Nick Cage who got it, not her, but I felt his performance wouldn’t have worked if it wasn’t for her, but hers would have worked even if she was playing opposite a cat or dog.

That’s not to denigrate Cage, but to say she’s simply perfect, as far as I’m concerned. Unafraid to be vulnerable or strong, to be vividly expressive or repressed, and especially to simply be. Her presence on screen is so strong, sometimes all she has to do is be still and I’m moved.

And she has the capacity to convey a look I don’t see in women on screen, that “thousand yard stare” people are always talking about war veterans and city cops and others having, who have faced death and seen horrible things, but always men. They should watch Shue sometime.

She had it almost throughout LEAVING LAS VEGAS and it devastated me watching her move through her character’s life with that look in her eyes. And she has it, when necessary, in GRACIE.

Her husband’s direction is terrific, like Shue keeping it simple for the most part, allowing a lot of things raised by the film to not be resolved by the end, not even explained, trusting us to understand them anyway, because we’ve all experienced similar no-need-to-explain relatives or family situations or relationships with family members.

The central issue is resolved in a way that made the tears really flow. But in between the opening scene and the end of the movie there was plenty of what some might describe as “small moments” in which the actors made me feel the emotional baggage they were dealing with, but without the need for the usual “small” movie irony or dark humor or “quirkiness.”

The film is set in my hometown, South Orange, New Jersey, in 1978, almost 20 years after I left, and shot mostly in the town next door, where I live now, a lot of it in the recently refurbished to look old-style, little village center. Not much like South Orange in the ‘70s.

The story is an altered version of Elizabeth Shue’s story, as the younger sister of a local soccer star who died young but obviously was a deep and gifted boy, after which she became one of the first girls to make it onto a boys soccer team, before Title IX kicked in and girls soccer became relatively common.

The movie was produced by her brother Andrew, who came up with the idea for it, based on the loss of his big brother and his sister’s struggle to honor that brother’s death by overcoming the then prevalent prejudice against girls in “contact” sports.

Andrew has a small part in the movie, as the assistant soccer coach and history teacher. He too was moved by his older brother to take soccer seriously, becoming a professional player for the Los Angeles team at the same time he was making a name as an actor on MELROSE PLACE.

So, this movie is a family affair. And it has that feel to it. It’s like if you or me were able to turn our home movies and family photos into a feature film. Only they actually did it.

This is a movie about a real family with real problems. What I liked best about it was that there were things in the movie that you couldn’t miss but were never explained, and didn’t need to be, because most of us can recognize them from our own family histories, and like I said, the moviemakers trust us to.

Carly Shroeder as the young Elisabeth Shue is particularly a standout in the film, since she is the star of it and without her excellent performance it wouldn’t work. But the best thing about this film for me—is Elisabeth Shue, playing a character based on her own mother.

What a wonderful thing movies are, and how happy I am that this talented family got to make this one.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


My last post—on Nick Piombino’s new book FAIT ACCOMPLI and my love of “incidental” writing or “secondary sources” etc.—generated more trinity lists, not necessarily all related to the above, but mostly:

3 favorite Walt Whitman biographies (I’m almost always reading or re-reading something by or about Whitman):

1. WALT WHITMAN’S AMERICA by David S. Reynolds
2. WALT WHITMAN/A LIFE by Justin Kaplan
3. WALT WHITMAN by Jerome Loving

3 favorite “Beat” biographies (in many ways Whtiman’s heirs):

1. MEMORY BABE: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac by Gerald Nicosia
2. GENESIS ANGELS The Saga of Lew Welch and the Beat Generation by Aram Saroyan
3. OFF THE ROAD, My Years with Kerouac, Cassady and Ginsberg by Carolyn Cassady

3 favorite “memoirs” by poets:

1. SKY by Blaise Cendrars translated by Nina Rootes
3. RECOLLECTIONS OF MY LIFE AS A WOMAN The New York Years by Diane DiPrima

3 favorite “diaries” by poets:

1. SPECIMEN DAYS by Walt Whitman
2. DIARIES OF A YOUNG POET by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Edward Snow and Michael Winkler

3 favorite non-fiction prose collections by poets:

1. A QUINCY HISTORY by James Haining
2. EARTH HOUSE HOLD by Gary Snyder

(and I suspect by the time I finish Nick Piombino’s FAIT ACCOMPLI it will replace one of the above)

3 favorite book-length poems

1. PATERSON by William Carlos Williams
2. HUMAN LANDSCAPES FROM MY COUNTRY by Nazim Hikmet, translated by Randy Blessing and Mutlu Konuk—billed as “an epic novel in verse”)
3. OF by Michael Lally (gotta be honest, and despite some embarrassment over the first few pages and their self-conscious and/or over simplified “clevernesses” and deliberate “awkwardnesses”—I dig it a lot, what can I say)

3 favorite spiritual texts:

1. THE TAO TE CHING by Lao Tzu (I like Stephen Mitchell’s translation, but I’ve read many and find something unique in each one, so I just keep reading whatever new translations I discover)
2. THE ENLIGHTENED MIND edited by Stephen Mitchell (a comprehensive selection of spiritual writing throughout the ages)

Saturday, June 2, 2007


I was e mailing a friend today and wrote the following lines:

“As a print junkie, who is and has always been reading books and
mags and newspapers etc. it was always what the critics and academics thought of as the secondary writing and the "incidental" writing or "occasional" writing (meaning written for a specific occasion) that I dug most, the journals and letters, the essays about some obscure obsession etc. So blogs and e mails and such are very appealing to me, but only if I dig the person's perspective or way of articulating it.”

And then the mail came, and in it was a great book (I’ve only just begun reading it, several pages in, but it is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about that I dig so much [and having now read even more pages in I really really dig it]) by poet Nick Piombino called FAIT ACCOMPLI, which, as he says in his “Note to the Reader” is a “journal within a journal,” a selection of posts from his blog (see my recommended list to the right where I have just added his—nick piombino) in which are also embedded selections from his handwritten journals going as far back as the 1970s.

I ran into him the other day at poet Bob Holman’s Bowery Poetry Club, and Nick asked for my address so he could send me the book, because somewhere in it, he said, he mentioned my first reading of my long anti-invasion-of-Iraq poem, written to be read on the eve of the invasion, and titled after that date: MARCH 18, 2003.

I was at the Bowery Poetry Club, when I ran into Nick, to see poets Elaine Equi and Rae Armantrout read. I hadn’t seen Rae or heard her read in decades, but had recently seen Elaine read in a group reading for poet Vincent Katz’s magazine VERITAS, that reading also being at The Bowery Poetry Club.

At that earlier reading, I remember thinking, as I listened to and watched poets like Elaine and Lewis Warsh and Elaine’s husband Jerome Sala and others, how I felt I had found a home, a community, when I first encountered fellow poets, and on this occasion that feeling was renewed in me.

I started reading my poetry in the late 1950s in the many coffee shops that sprung up seemingly overnight with the sudden notoriety of “the Beat” writers. I didn’t, and still don’t, always feel at home around poets, because there are very few rewards in the poetry world and in some poetry scenes the competition is so intense that it can feel worse than show business.

One of the reasons I left Manhattan in 1982 for Hollywood was a feeling that if people were going to be out for themselves and not care who they hurt to get what they wanted, then I might as well be in a place where that behavior was not only accepted, but up front, as opposed to some of the New York literary scene back then where there was the pretense of community but the envy and competitiveness was often so thick and heavy it sometimes felt like a shroud.

Anyway, I’ve been back East for several years now, and am old enough to not give a shit about any of that any more, and to realize that the spirit of community I was looking for among poets and other artists was often a reality and still is, if I can get my own ego out of the way. I dig almost everyone now, for who they are and what they do, with the occasional old resentment toward someone, usually in the poetry world, cropping up to take me by surprise now and then (after the reading the other day, having dinner with some younger poets, one of those resentments popped up and out of my mouth before I could stop it, and one of the younger poets said: “Wasn’t that like back in the 1970s?” and I realized it was probably before she was born and I certainly should have let go of it by now!).

But back to my point, at that earlier reading, I felt a sudden warmth flood my heart with love for the poets that were reading, and in the audience, and the entire community represented there, not just by the poets but also by the artists and musicians and actors in the audience, and others who just appreciated the work of these poets.

What occurred to me strongly in that moment was that all these people had individual quirks and eccentricities that most people would either try to suppress or be ostracized for, but among poets, and other artists, they could transform these traits into unique voices in their work and present that work with their equally unique personalities, that were an honest reflection of who they really are. And the poets did just that, seemingly with very little fear or self-consciousness, and even their nerves and self-consciousness was communicated as part of what made their poetry and their reading of it unique.

I’m not articulating that as well as I‘d like to (I should always write these things in the morning not the evening or night) but the feeling was one of, “Oh, of course, that’s why I always felt at home in this kind of poetry scene"—in this case downtown New York—because I too am a quirky character who is not ashamed of that or to express it in my work, and these are the people I can share that with, even when they have criticisms of the way I do it, or of who I seem to be projecting through the work, they still accept not only my “right” to do it, but understand the impulse, the necessity, for me, of doing it.

Does that make sense? At any rate, that’s why I always loved the incidental writing of poets and others, because it revealed that quirkiness, that unique voice and experience everyone has but so many get slapped out of them so young they forget how to express it or only feel comfortable expressing it through product preferences (sneakers, chain coffee—Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks, etc.—or on the “art” side, favorite music, TV shows, etc.).

Most poets feel free to express their unique perspective, from their unique consciousness and experience, through their work, most obviously their poems, but more interestingly to me, through their diaries and journals and letters and other artistic expressions.

For instance a lot of poets, including me, seem comfortable making collages as a more tactile—and traditionally “modern”—way of making art. Nick Piombino in fact has one of his collages reproduced on the cover of FAIT ACCOMPLI, and a great piece of art it is, exactly the kind of thing I would buy and frame and stick on my wall if there were any more space to do that and if I had the money and if it were for sale.

FAIT ACCOMPLI is published by an interesting sounding group—Factory School—“a learning and production collective engaged in action research, multiple-media arts, publishing, and community service” (see It sounds like they dig the same kinds of things I do. I’ll have to check them out.

Meanwhile, thanks Nick for the book and for provoking these thoughts. Life sure is full of possibilities.

[PS: have since read the page that refers to me and it is highly flattering, but though some might think that infleunced the above, I wrote all that before I read what he had to say about me and would love this book even if he had trashed me in it!]