Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Another disappointing reality occurred Halloween afternoon.

The little village at the heart of the town I live in has a “Halloween parade” every year in the afternoon when the schools let out.

My 10-year-old was in overalls and a red and white striped shirt and old converse sneakers colored red, and a big bloody knife and a “Chucky” mask he refused to wear because it made him too hot and incapable of seeing well enough to keep his balance, so rather than looking scary he looked very cute.

Two of his friends met up with us, both boys, a year or two older, “middle school” students, one partly of Asian descent and looking it, one partly of African-American descent but sometimes mistaken for Latino, and my little guy, with “the map of Ireland” on his face, as people say, constantly.

They had a great time collecting candy from the local merchants and seeing many friends and after an hour or more of that we returned to the steps out front of the old house in the village where my apartment is.

I brought out some candy and they gave it to passing kids. Eventually the loudspeakers at the end of our street, announced the costume contest winners and I went to watch. The boys decided they were too old and sophisticated now to care and stayed, along with a larger group of kids their age they knew who had stopped to rest and exchange candy.

As I watched the contest winners, I kept an eye on my boy and his friends as he got out first a soccer ball they tossed and kicked around on the lawn in front of the old house, and then a football, turning that into a real game with sides and passes and all.

I could see it was getting a little rough, and when my skinny little guy got shoved hard in the back and went tumbling over, even though he jumped right up and gave as good as he got, I headed back up the street to tell them to keep it strictly touch football and then sat on the steps to watch them play.

It was a great and typical mix of kids for this town (they separate more when they reach high school, mostly because the African-American students pull away and become more clique-ish), some so-called “white” and so-called “black” and Asian and everything in between.

There were also girls playing, even when it was looking pretty rough. I was happy to see it. I noticed the interactions, a tussle between two of the biggest boys, the way a bigger girl seemed totally unafraid to get in there and rough it up with the boys, even though she was in an outfit with a short skirt and striped tights pretending to be something I wasn’t quite sure of, as I wasn’t for most of their costumes.

One boy, a few inches bigger than my son and probably close to twice his weight—my son takes after me and is way skinny, always in the lowest percentile for his height and age group when he gets his physical—in a leather looking outfit with big spikes coming off the shoulders, I worried might be a little too rough for my son, but then he picked up his bag of candy where he’d left it and left with another boy.

I noticed an attractive African-American woman in a short skirted pirates costume hanging around in the street in front of the house and smiled at her, but she was busy on her cell phone. Then suddenly she walked onto the lawn and up to my son and started talking to him in a way that was obviously very accusative. I went over to see what was up and she told me she’d just had a call that “the boy in the overalls” had punched another boy in the face and hurt him.

When she said the boy’s name, the kids described the boy with the leather shoulder spikes costume. I assured her that no such thing had happened, since I’d been watching them pretty much the whole time. She seemed satisfied and left. By now the crowd was breaking up and I went in the house to get my son’s stuff to drive him and his friends over to his mother’s.

As the three boys and I walked to the street to cross it, I noticed the attractive black woman approaching with a white man who seemed to be her age (I’m not too good at ages but I’d say thirties) and her height and I assumed was her husband (this town has been written up by the New York Times often, for having more mixed-race couples and more gay couples than any other “suburban town” in the country) and another older (I’d guess forties) and bigger man (the woman and her fellow pirate were my height) with a bald head, a sport jacket and slacks and generally what I would have thought of as WASPy looking.

As the boys and I stepped onto the sidewalk I realized the bigger man was heading for me and looking very angry. He came right up and asked if the boy in the overalls was my son and when I said yes he began yelling down into my face, that my son had punched his son in the face. He was shaking with anger.

I told him no such thing happened, I had my eye on the kids almost the entire time and I would have seen it. He got more belligerent when my son and his friends said it hadn’t happened. Then my son’s friend, the Asian one said “May I say something.” And explained that the man’s son had him in a lock hold from behind and my son thought he was choking him so had hit the man’s son in the back.

The man then said “My son doesn’t lie”—or more accurately, spit it into my face. I lost it then and started yelling at him how ridiculous it was, that if any one was getting knocked around it was my son, I yelled “Look at him for Christ’s sake” and “Look at this lawn and the garbage they left behind” as they had, empty soda bottles, parts of their costumes, etc.

Unfortunately I could feel my blood pressure rising and my chest tightening and I became more aware of my fear of causing some kind of heart problems for myself than of smacking this man who replied by yelling back at me “You’re a liar, I can see you’re a liar, I can tell by the way you talk!”

And then he and the couple began walking away. I was unfortunately consumed by my anger at him and my fear of the feeling in my chest (I've already got one stent and have had a few "procedures" so would like to avoid any more), which angered me even more as it made me feel less than the tough street guy I used to fancy myself being, and sometimes proved I was, and sometimes still do.

So I found myself yelling “Listen Mister” as they walked away, only to have him turn back halfway down the street to yell, “You’re a liar and I know why, because you’re a racist!” or words to that effect. I couldn’t believe it. I swung my arm to take in my son and his friends “What are you talking about?! Look at these kids!”

But he was walking away with the couple, the woman smiling as if the man had really scored one on me. I was sputtering “Hey Mister” trying to get his attention, wanting to say I fucking risked my life before you three were even born, in this very area, getting kicked and beaten and arrested and harassed and ostracized and kicked out of my family and all the other abuse I took because of my love of a young black girl my age when we were both teenagers in the late 1950s.

Not even including the worse trouble I got myself into in the segregated South, ignoring and flaunting their racial laws and customs and bullshit fear mongering. But the trio were long gone and I was having trouble getting my breath.

It took me a while to calm down, and eventually forgive myself for losing my cool (thinking when he called me a liar I should have just said nice and calmly, “I’m the most honest person you’ll ever meet mister”), and for not impressing my son and his friends with either my calmness or my knocking the guy out.

But what is taking longer to accept is how he stereotyped me and my son (ignoring his friends or just not seeing their diversity), he obviously pegged me from my accent (which reverts when I’m angry) and choice of words, as an old, white-haired local, a Jersey Mick, and assumed I was racist (his son is darker skinned so I assume his wife is “non-white”) as if he has any fucking idea what it was like to take on the real, virulent, entrenched, violent racism that me and others like me confronted back in the day.

It just hurt my heart in more ways than the stress caused by my anger. This reverse kind of stereotyping. I see it often around here, and can tell when it’s being done to me, when I can’t stop looking at a beautiful mixed-race couple, feeling happy that the world has changed, partly in response to the actions of people like me and old friends who suffered a lot more than I did, some even died in the struggle to make a world where these kinds of couples (of which I have often been a part over the many decades since) can feel welcome, or at least not be legally and incessantly and violently harassed.

But sometimes, I can tell by the way they look at me and then each other, they assume that my squinty bad eyesight and thoughtful expression means judgment or criticism or obvious racist reactions to their mixed relation. And I want to stop and tell them, but they probably wouldn’t hear me, anymore than that man could hear me, or my son, or his friends.

I’ve been in that man’s shoes, confronting some stranger with my anger over a slight to one of my kids, fueled even more by my history of rage against bigger slights, like this man probably was feeling.

I’m gonna run into these people again. I recognized them from seeing them around. It’ll be awkward. I hope I can be forgiving and accepting and eventually maybe even have a reasonable conversation with them. To hopefully get them to admit, especially the man, that nobody’s child never lies, that nobody should be judged by the way they dress or talk or look or come from, that boys (and girls too) of all ages will almost always get hurt roughing it up with each other, that nothing, and nobody, is perfect. Certainly not me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I’m not crazy about most horror movies, but I don’t mind most ghosts, so in honor of Halloween, I thought I’d do a list of movies that have them in them. I did a list something like this before, but not strictly movies that revolve around ghost characters, so here’s “13” of my favorites that fit that criteria:

6. PORTRAIT OF JENNY (ghost or apparition, a favorite from childhood)
7. THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (another childhood favorite)
8. JUST LIKE HEAVEN (not exactly a ghost, but possibly soon to be…)
10. THE INNOCENTS (a Truman Capote scripted version of Henry James’s TURN OF THE SCREW)
13. THE NESTING (pretty bad movie, but Gloria Grahame’s last, (she’s one of the ghosts) and my second! (I’m not))

Monday, October 29, 2007


One of my favorite painters of all time died last week—R. B. Kitaj. I remember the first time I saw one of his paintings in person, I felt like I had stumbled into a place that was as familiar as the dailiness of my own life, including what I'm reading, and as alien as my recurring confusion about all that, if that makes any sense to anyone.

He wrote a lot about his own paintings, as well as others' works of various art. Here's the tail end of a preface he wrote to mini-essays about some of his paintings, explaining why he could write about some and not others:

"...I hope my paintings are little imitations of life. Some paintings have resisted my advances so far and their quietude persists. When a painting says no, I assume she means no."

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Everyone involved in this film should be nominated for an Oscar, especially the writer, Nancy Oliver (of SIX FEET UNDER fame) and director, Craig Gillespie.

There's a lot of laughter provoking dialogue and scenes in this flick, and I laughed quite a bit, but I more often choked up.

Some people in the theater where I saw it in New Jersey, obviously didn’t get it, or it made them uncomfortable, or confused, or defensive, from the comments I heard and the nervous or inappropriate, mocking or condescending giggles and laughs and guffaws and snickers during the most poignant moments that brought tears to my eyes.

I’m sorry that some of these folks couldn’t open up to its simple message of, well, simply—love.

Hokey? Maybe. Contrived? Probably.

But, it struck a chord with me, and with the friend I saw it with, who has more experience with mental illness, like the kind portrayed in this film, than I do.

Ryan Gosling’s tics and mannerisms, the variety of ways he gave his character of comforting himself and repressing his fears and desires, the emotional range of his character’s volatility and suppression and resistance and confusion and need, is so richly expressed, my friend concluded Gosling must have conducted an intense study of someone with similar mental problems.

It’s the best performance I’ve seen this year. And there have been many performances I found terrific already in 2007.

Maybe there isn’t any real town as ideally old-style-small-community-caring like the one in LARS AND THE REAL GIRL. But I have experienced this kind of self-created community within the cities and towns I’ve lived in over my lifetime, in various ways, including among clan and neighborhood, or in circles of like-minded creative spirits or damaged souls or the physically and mentally challenged.

And given that experience, every last actor and actress in LARS AND THE REAL GIRL down to the day players with one line, or just a look in the background, every last one of them, was perfectly right for the scene, the story.

So far, in my pre-Oscar, way-too-early projections, I’m saying Amy Ryan in GONE BABY GONE deserves the best supporting actress award, and Hal Holbrook in INTO THE WILD the best supporting actor award.

But for best actor, Ryan Gosling’s the one in my book, despite other great performances including Emile Hirsch in INTO THE WILD.

Best actress, so far, is a tough one, with Tilda Swinton in MICHAEL CLAYTON having kicked major ass, but it also would be totally deserved by any of the three female leads in LARS AND THE REAL GIRL—Patricia Clarkson, Kelli Garner and Emily Mortimer—though I’m sure for at least two of them, if not all three, if they were to get nominated, it would be for best supporting actress, under the arcane categorizing system of the Academy.

The Oscars don’t give an award for best ensemble, but the Screen Actors Guild does, and my vote’s going to the cast of LARS AND THE NEW GIRL, so far, despite the almost equally perfect ensemble of INTO THE WILD.

All that silly competitive speculation aside, I just highly recommend this flick for anyone with an open heart. And to paraphrase Jon Hendriks—who wrote (as I remember it) “the mind is like a parachute, it functions better when it’s open”—I’d say a heart is too.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


What this blog is about, usually, one way or the other. In my life it's proven to be one of the most potent antidotes for insanity. Not the expectations of fame it used to inspire in me, or even the simple satisfaction of one reader or viewer or listener who "gets it"—though that is a sweet satisfaction and makes it all worth it—but the process itself, and as a bonus: the way it often clarifies my feelings and thoughts in ways no other activity usually can.

As a great example of this, check out my old friend Paul Haryn's post today on his artist's blog.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Woke up this morning to the clock radio set on NPR news and the reality that kids in New York area schools are contracting a deadly form of staph infection that anit-biotics are useless against, and one middle school student has died (after getting a flyer from our school district in my son's backpack last week saying the infection has turned up in our school system as well); plus the report from the U.N. on the planet's health saying mankind is ignoring the warnings of the past twenty years about the destruction of the planet as habitable for humans and will soon reach a point of no return for the demise of the human race (!) and despite the overextension of our military, the suicides and mental breakdowns of our veterans faced with a war where there are no opposing troops, just civilians who may or may not be involved in attacks on our military, losing ground in Afghanistan, more coporate profits while more people declare bankruptcy and more laws are changed to make it easier for coporations to do ANYTHING NECESSARY to be profitable, no matter the consequences to the planet or humanity, etc. etc. and then Mike Graham sends me a column by Rosa Brooks from yesterday's L. A. Times which I excerpt a few paragraphs from below that summarize the madness of the times we live in:

"George W. Bush and Dick Cheney shouldn't be treated like criminals who deserve punishment. They should be treated like psychotics who need treatment.

Because they've clearly gone mad. Exhibit A: We're in the middle of a disastrous war in Iraq, the military and political situation in Afghanistan is steadily worsening, and the administration's interrogation and detention tactics have inflamed anti-Americanism and fueled extremist movements around the globe. Sane people, confronting such a situation, do their best to tamp down tensions, rebuild shattered alliances, find common ground with hostile parties and give our military a little breathing space. But crazy people? They look around and decide it's a great time to start another war.

That would be with Iran, and you'd have to be deaf not to hear the war drums. Last week, Bush remarked that "if you're interested in avoiding World War III . . . you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon." On Sunday, Cheney warned of "the Iranian regime's efforts to destabilize the Middle East and to gain hegemonic power . . . [we] cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions." On Tuesday, Bush insisted on the need "to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian threat."

Huh? Iran is now a major threat to Europe? The Iranians are going to launch a nuclear missile (that they don't yet possess) against Europe (for reasons unknown because, as far as we know, they're not mad at anyone in Europe)? This is lunacy in action.

Writing in Newsweek on Oct. 20, Fareed Zakaria, a solid centrist and former editor of Foreign Affairs, put it best. Citing Bush's invocation of "the specter of World War III if Iran gained even the knowledge needed to make a nuclear weapon," Zakaria concluded that "the American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality. . . . Iran has an economy the size of Finland's. . . . It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are . . . allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?"

Planet Cheney."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Check out these two clearheaded reactions to what's happening to "our government"—a talk by Naomi Wolfe (it's a bit long but totally worth it) and an article by Jim Hightower (which includes someone else's suggestion for a "general strike" (on Nov. 6th) that I support as a first attempt to rally some resistance, and hopefully give rise to a more rigorously advertised and supported future "general strike" for more than just a day).

Monday, October 22, 2007


Brilliant. But I think you have to see it on the big screen to get that brilliance.

It’s Sean Penn’s interpretation of real events and characters in the life of Christopher McCandless (played incredibly well by Emile Hirsch) who transforms himself into “Alexander Supertramp”—the young man who walked into the Alaskan wilderness to find freedom from the materialistic world he grew up in and ended up losing his life to it.

There have been other interpretations that make McCandless look like a naïve wannabe Thoreau who underestimated the seriousness of the situation he got himself into. But Penn’s take is that McCandless went in with his eyes and heart and spirit open, found what he was looking for, and was ready to come back to civilization when fate intervened.

Several critics see the film as an expression of Sean Penn’s search for identity and freedom in his own life projected onto McCandless. And I can see that as probably part of it. But the last shot in the film seems to authenticate Penn’s perspective on McCandless’s adventure, at least to my mind. But see it for yourself and decide.

Critics have always done way too much comparing of others arts to “poetry” and the artists to “poets.” It always bugged me, mainly because the same newspapers and magazines that would proclaim someone a “poet of the camera” or a dance as “poetry in motion” ad nauseum, would never do an article on actual poets and their poetry!

I used to write to the New York Times and Washington Post and other newspapers when they would do that and point out that the chamber music they were comparing to poetry occurred at a recital for which maybe thirty people showed up on the same evening I or someone else did a poetry reading at which a hundred or more showed up, and yet I’ve never seen a poetry reading reviewed in those pages.

That said, I am now going to do exactly what I hate those critics doing and for the first time compare a movie to poetry and the movie-maker to a poet, INTO THE WILD works for me like a book-length lyric poem (which may seem like a contradiction in terms since most poems of book length are epic narratives, or epic in some other way besides length, but there are a few that are “epic lyrics” or just more lyrical than epic—see my own OF, or Gary Snyder’s only recently completed MOUNTAINS AND RIVERS WITHOUT END, which is a more appropriate comparison for this film).

Sean Penn has always expressed his love of certain poetry (like Bukowski’s when Penn was first becoming known) and in this film uses several references to poetic passages in the books of Thoreau and Tolstoy and others, as well as the voice of poet Sharon Olds on the voiceover track that adds to the often subtle but brilliant poetic imagery of the camerawork.

And though it may only be a coincidence, poet Alice Notley, who has recently gained wider attention in the media, including a full page rave review in last week’s Sunday NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, seems to be alluded to, at least in my mind, by the teenage hippie singer-songwriter in the film who looks almost exactly like the young Alice did, who as a young girl was also a product of the dessert Southwest (though years before “hippies” etc.).

That may be going too far in seeing the relationship between the world of poetry and INTO THE WILD, but still, if you let go (or I do) of any other interpretation of the life and adventures of the young protagonist of this film, and allow Penn’s version its due, I believe you, like I, will have an overwhelmingly moving experience, unlike any other movie might provoke.

As a filmmaker, this is Sean Penn’s masterpiece (as, for my taste, his role in DEAD MAN WALKING was his acting masterpiece). But, like I said, I think you have to see it on the big screen to get the full impact of its artistry and emotional power. I recommend that you do.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Disturbing. That’s the word that popped into my head when I woke up in the middle of the night still thinking about this flick.

There’s been a lot of publicity about it, because it’s directed by Ben Affleck, his first attempt, and because it’s based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote the novel MYSTIC RIVER was based on, which Clint Eastwood directed and Sean Penn starred in to great acclaim.

I had trouble with MYSTIC RIVER, as I did with THE DEPARTED, both movies set in the same milieu as GONE BABY GONE—lower-class, Irish-American (for the most part) Boston area cops and bad guys.

It’s a atmosphere I think I know some things about, so I get all proprietary, the way some of us can when we go to movies that purport to show aspects of scenes and times and characters we know first hand, or think we do.

And in MYSTIC RIVER and THE DEPARTED, though there were characterizations and lines and scenes that came across to me as totally authentic, there were also some major missteps in portraying other characters and ways of talking and being in their world, and those disparities ruined those flicks for me (ala Nicholson’s over-the-top portrayal of an Irish mob boss, based on Whitey Bolger, saying and doing things that Bolger, or anyone like him and in his position, would never do, etc.).

But this time it was different. Are there some disparities in GONE BABY GONE, some things that don’t add up in terms of the realities, as I see them, of those streets and people? Yep. A few. But they were minor, (as opposed to those in the other two films) and didn’t take away from the overall impact of the movie.

Are there gratuitous scenes in GONE BABY GONE (as there definitely were in the other two flicks for my taste, i.e. Nicholson’s insulting the nun in the diner, as well as many of the violent scenes in THE DEPARTED, etc. or the glamour shot of Sean Penn’s character screaming at the crime scene or stumbling down the street drunk—unconvincingly to me—in MYSTIC RIVER)? Yep. At least one, and maybe more.

Is GONE BABY GONE over baked at times. Yes to that too. BUT, and it’s a huge but, I bought the characters and their world as totally real, and every action they and others took, for at least the first two thirds of the movie or more.

It was during a scene with Casey Affleck and Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, and others, in the police station, followed by a fly-over glamour shot of a water-filled quarry, that my critical been-there-done-that mind started raising questions. Before that point I was so totally sucked in by the reality the film was portraying that I mostly forgot I was watching a movie.

Part of the power of that reality was, first of all, due to Casey Affleck, Ben’s little brother, who is brilliant as the lead. I had my doubts about the guy carrying this kind of dark, grimy, crime flick, but no more. I loved him in the OCEAN’S ELEVEN films, his dead pan humor and appropriately diminished sidekick obliviousness.

But in GONE BABY GONE, he so completely embodies the lead character, the movie is his in a way Nicholson wished THE DEPARTED WAS (but wasn’t, it was Mark Wahlberg’s and Leo DiCaprio’s) and MYSTIC RIVER was meant to be Sean Penn’s (but was Tim Robbins’ and Keven Bacon’s).

In fact, this morning, I kept thinking if only Casey Affleck had been around when I was making a living for a few years as a screenwriter in Hollywood and a lot of people, especially me, were trying different ways to get a movie made based on a period of my own life that was pretty dramatic and historically important.

Like the arrogant fool I could sometimes be then, I turned down the young and still relatively unknowns of the time, Sean Penn and Kiefer Sutherland, because I didn’t think they had the right look or the right presence for the flick. But Casey Affleck would have been perfect.

And then there’s Amy Ryan as a drug addicted irresponsible single mother. Holy shit. I haven’t seen a portrayal this realistic since…I can’t even think of one to compare it to. Brando in ON THE WATERFRONT? Jennifer Jason Leigh in LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN or MIAMI BLUES?

If she’s not nominated for a best supporting actress award for this, then those awards mean even less than I think they do.

The few weaknesses of the film for me, can actually be explained (and partly were by the friend I saw it with) by the plot, though surprisingly they include what seems like a tepid performance by Morgan Freeman, one of the acting gods as far as I’m concerned.

If you haven’t seen it yet, which is likely since it only opened last night, be prepared for at least one overwhelmingly disturbing scene that I can see being justified by the story line, but nonetheless I wish wasn’t necessary or that another way had been found.

And be prepared to be confused at several points by the unfolding of the plot (and for some in the audience I heard commenting afterward, by the mostly authentic working-class Boston accents).

But also be prepared for a directing debut that as far as I’m concerned outdoes (for the most part) the directing turns of Eastwood and Scorcese on the same turf and in the same genre with some very similar characters and even plot points.

And lastly, be prepared to come away from this flick a fan of not only Ben Affleck’s directing, but of Casey Affleck’s star turn and Amy Ryan’s brilliant portrayal of the character which the movie, and the story it tells, would not work without.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Check out this site, and a tip of the tam to Gene Harris for hipping me to it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Imagination though it cannot wipe out the sting of remorse can instruct the mind in its proper uses." —William Carlos Williams from KORA IN HELL

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I’m not a sci-fi or fantasy fan, but there’s some movies with unique stories set in various alternate realities that knock me out, even on repeated viewing like any classic. So, last night’s middle of the night wake up call had me creating this list to fall back to sleep.

I excluded plots that revolve around the appearance of ghosts. Since there’s so many of them, I’ll keep that genre for another list. So here’s my favorite fantasy or alternate reality flicks list:

ALICE (not the best Woody Allen flick, but his worst is better than a lot of other writer/director’s best, and it is an original take on this particular fantasy) and ALL OF ME (Steve Martin’s body taken over by Lily Tomlin’s character! Some unbelievable physical comedy by Martin)
BLADERUNNER (so many good actors kick ass in this great flick, the leads most obviously, especially Rutger Hauer, but also the supporting actors like William Sanderson as the toy maker) and BIG (the best movie about a kid trapped in an adult’s body) and BEING JOHN MALKOVICH
CARRIE (I hate most horror flicks, including ones I was in, but this baby was amazingly original at the time)
DOGMA (one of Kevin Smith’s least successful movies, but one of my favorites, if only for the risks it takes)
FEMME NIKITA, LES (a film fantasy that is beautifully, if violently, original)
HARVEY (a Jimmy Stewart movie I never appreciated until my wife turned me on to it)
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (a Jimmy Stewart movie I always appreciated and still do)
JACOB’S LADDER (fantasy or reality, it’s the best take on the death of the ‘sixties yet)
KNIGHT’S TALE, A (Heath Ledger before Brokeback in a Middle Ages tale set to contemporary music and other anachronisms that work for me)
LIAR, LIAR (a great fantasy/fable that uses Jim Carrey’s unique talents for something resembling an old Hollywood comedy) and LORD OF THE RINGS (all three—Viggo Mortensen and Liv Tyler? As close as you can get these days to classic Hollywood screen idols, except for some Viggo-and-Liv-less sections that drag, most of this filmic trilogy holds my attention whenever I stumble on it)
MASK (talk about using Jim Carrey’s unique talents)
NATURAL, THE (great baseball movie with supernatural overtones, from the Bernard Malamud novel)
O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? And O LUCKY MAN! (both of these are probably considered more realism, or super realism than fantasy or alternative reality, but the semi-surrealistic scene collages of the latter, and the eerie supernatural feel of some of the most moving scenes in the former, which was based on THE ODYSSEY including some of the “fantasy” or mythic sections in it, evoke the kind of film I’m talking about in this list, and they’re just two of my favorite movies anyway)
PRINCESS BRIDE, THE (one of my all time favorite movies, and one of the all time great film debuts by then Robin Wright) and THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (a Woody Allen gem of a fantasy)
QUEST FOR FIRE (a fantasy version of caveman life which is actually very engaging, or was when I first saw it)
ROGER RABBIT (Bob Hoskins and a cartoon rabbit? poifect)
STARMAN (one of Jeff Bridges’ greatest performances, as well as Karen Allen’s) and THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH (my favorite John Sayles movie) and SWITCH (Ellen Barkin’s body taken over by a man, some great physical bits in this that always make me stop and watch)
TWELVE MONKEYS (terrific cast, especially Brad Pitt in one of my all time favorite movies of any kind)
UNBREAKABLE (M. Night Shyamalan’s least successful movie according to most critics, but my favorite of his)
V FOR VENDETTA (am I the only one who (mostly) dug this, especially the incredible lead performance by Hugo Weaving, who had to express emotions while wearing a motionless mask and did it)
WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND (another all time favorite—and though it’s a realistic film, the children’s fantasy root of it is powerfully poignant) and WHAT WOMEN WANT (Mel Gibson, the poor dear, as a sexist who suddenly can hear women’s thoughts, a great fantasy, and well done)
X-MEN (overdone, but so many great actors devoting themselves to a comic book fantasy makes it sort of compelling)
ZELIG (not the best Woody Allen but maybe the oddest)

Monday, October 15, 2007


Seeing this flick reminded me that I almost always dig a movie if Clooney’s in it. Even the OCEAN’S ELEVEN sequels worked for me, thanks mainly to him.

His easy charm and self-deprecating humor. His easy surrender to less than glamorous roles and a less than glamorous image portraying them, ala the CIA guy in SYRIANA and even the title character in MICHAEL CLAYTON.

Not that he put on the weight or added the beard or any of that to play Clayton, but he does let himself go enough, or be made up well enough, to signal the sleeplessness of sometimes petty desperation.

But man, can he communicate some deep emotional shifts with a grace few movie stars have today.

Though not all the scenes in MICHAEL CLAYTON are shot at night, enough are to add to the other elements of “film noir” to make this movie a classic of the genre. Rare these days, when the usual attempts to recapture the dark but redemptive sensibility of that genre usually err on the dark side, overdoing it in a way that often becomes almost campy in their melodramatic overkill.

Not in MICHAEL CLAYTON, That quality that made film noir so seductive, which I thought had mostly disappeared, this flick resurrects. The lone, cynical, beat up by life, anti-hero versus the truly heartless bastards that rule the world he lives in, (and we do too)—or are trying to. Classic.

Anyway, even if MICHAEL CLAYTON didn’t have those familiar noir tropes, this movie would still have had me from the start. Even if the common noir device of starting the story with a voiceover monologue—in this case from actor Tom Wilkerson—was a little pushed, a little overdone, for me (even though I too, as a writer, have been accused of that and more) it still works.

And it kept my attention with the classy way it handled the details of the unfolding mystery cum expose (including the camera work). But it also kept my attention with the subtleties of the milieu—lawyers and cops in the same family, dealing with the same inequities of justice. The kind of Irish-American family I know well and have seen overdone or portrayed unrealistically or acted unrealistically (based on my lifelong experience) as in the family in the otherwise excellently acted Nick Cage movie WORLD TRADE CENTER, or the overdone Boston Irish mob boss in THE DEPARTED, et. al.

Not in MICHAEL CLAYTON. The alcoholic brother, the gambling brother, the cop brother who effortlessly holds the power position among them, and the sisters and kids. It’s all there without an ounce of over ripeness or stereophonic Irishness.

The reality of the family background gave the film substance and a foundation that made the plot devices seem better grounded in reality than these kinds of anti-hero stumbling on life-changing truths, or wasted life redeemed, kinds of stories usually have.

It made it resonate so deeply, at least for this viewer, I felt that solid satisfaction a great movie experience can give you, or maybe I mean that great satisfaction a solid movie can give you, either way, I left the film satisfied. I think you will too.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I went to my oldest brother’s 64th—and last—high school reunion Saturday afternoon. The reunion committee decided it would be their last, because it has become too difficult to do at their age, (early 80s).

My brother’s in a wheelchair, thanks to having only one leg, and his one real foot having been operated on recently so he can’t walk on it. So I went along to help him get around.

He was sixteen when I was born and was off to serve during WWII before I was three. Then, by the time I became a teenager, he was off to spend the next almost half century in Japan, as a Franciscan missionary, until his recent return due to health.

In all the photographs of me and my family when I was an infant, Tommy, as we knew him before he changed his name to Father Campion, is usually holding me and smiling, as he is in the attached photo—taken before I was born, and before John, the brother between me and these five, passed away as an infant.

In this photo, Tommy, sitting on our stoop between Jimmy and Robert, is holding infant Irene, and as almost always in these family photos, he’s smiling (as opposed to my oldest sister Joan, on the bottom step, whose frown may have something to do with her soon after being diagnosed with childhood diabetes).

Toomy obviously loved us all, or at least it seems obvious to me in the family photos that exist from the years when he first became a big brother until he left home. He’s almost always holding the latest infant in our brood, and smiling.

It was an honor and a delight to escort him to his reunion Saturday, and to sit at a table with some of his classmates, including Alice and Jane, a woman he still keeps in touch with, after all that time, and Bob, a man who he hadn’t seen since high school but still recognized. I ended up sitting between these two charmingly self-effacing survivors.

His friend, Bob, entertained the reunion group before and after the luncheon, playing the sax with such terrific tone and rhythm, it had me tapping my foot and singing along under my breath to old big band era tunes I love, and still play myself now and then on the piano.

Like most of the boys in his class, Bob entered the service after high school. My brother didn’t see any action, but Bob did. As they caught up on what had happened since high school, Bob mentioned in passing, that he had been an infantryman in one of those units that fought their way through France and Germany toward the end of the war in Europe.

I was thinking he must have seen some terrible as well as inspiring things. But he passed over the whole experience in a few words, and when I asked if he’d watched the recent Ken Burns documentary on WWII he just said “No” and then spent the next twenty minutes or so happily describing the big band he ended up playing in toward the end of the war, after Germany was mostly subdued.

(His reticence about the actual fighting he took part in was like that of any of my neighbors or relatives who saw action in WWII, or for that matter any war. They never talked about it. When I asked them questions, they’re answers were either evasive or bluntly dismissive or non verbal. When I was little, I thought it was the usual modesty most grown men exhibited back then, but when I got older I began to understand it was the impossibility of sharing the reality they had experienced—too gruesome, too terrible, to emotional, too impossible to articulate or simply too painful to recall.)

It was an official Army band, but one that played exclusively in the reclaimed clubs or newly minted ones created in still intact buildings, for the G.I.s to go to and let off steam dancing with the local young women or just bopping to the big band sound.

Because of their unique duty, this band never had to make formations or march or do any of the usual tiresome stuff you do as a low ranking man in the service, they were too busy being trucked from one conquered city or town to another to entertain the troops.

Unlike the most famous Army big band of that period, the reconstituted Glen Miller band, that was always being called on to play for the top brass at important functions and formations and to march in their big parades etc. So much so, that many of the Miller band members put in for reassignment to the band Bob was in.

It was obviously one of the highpoints of his life, playing with these renowned and professional, highly successful musicians in that Army band. They even got to make recordings that were played over the Armed Forces Radio. Old 78s that he still regrets they were never given copies of.

When I repeated for Bob that my brother told me he learned everything he knew about music from Bob when they played together in high school in a big band called “The Modernaires,” Bob said “poor guy,” in that self-deprecating humor that seems such a symbol of the ways that generation practiced humility and modesty, as least in my experience, traits that I rebelled against somewhat in my youth and young adulthood, but now admire more and more as I age.

I don’t want to get all mushy over “the greatest generation” and all that yada yada yada, because there were plenty in that generation that would never deserve the qualifier “great,” as in any generation. But still, there’s something about that time, those people, which came through in Ken Burns’s documentary as it does in almost any documentary of that time I’ve seen, something modest and humble in the face of life’s overwhelming unfairness and the particular struggles that generation faced, children of The Great Depression and fighters of the last “world” war.

As I made clear in the title of one of my books, IT’S NOT NOSTALGIA, because it’s not about wanting to go back or seeing the past as better or wishing for things and people and times lost to not be. I accept the reality of every moment as best I can, that’s the source of whatever peace I’ve found. No, it isn’t going back or trying to or yearning to, it’s carrying the past within me that makes me think of these things and cherish so much I’ve learned from my own life’s experience, as well as the experiences of others I can tap into through their art, music, writing, sharing, and all the ways they might express themselves, even the easy banter of old survivors at their 64th—and last—high school reunion.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


The subtitle to this book by David Hajdu is “The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina.” And ever since it first came out in 2001, people have been recommending it.

I don’t know about you, but when people recommend something to me that I know something about, I usually recoil, at least temporarily. It’s like throughout my life when new friends said they had a friend who reminded them of me and wanted me to meet him. It rarely turned out the way they thought it would. Usually the similarities were in the eye of the beholder.

But I picked up a used copy of this book in a bookstore in the Berkshires a few weeks ago and once I started reading the first page, I was glad I did.

I no longer remember which friends recommended it to me, but whoever you are you were right. I totally dug it, despite a few minor quibbles—like how can friends be “old intimates” of Dylan’s only two years after he met them, or is “All I Really Wanna Do” really a “fraternal love song?”!

But aside from a few slips like those, this is the most accurate account of those times—and four of the most visible people coming to prominence then—than any other account I’ve read, including Dylan’s and Joan Baez’s own.

I met Dylan before he recorded, when he first arrived in New York, and ran into him a few times over the years, and observed him and Baez from afar at functions and scenes, and my take on their personalities is verified by what Hadju has written in this book.

It’s a great story about how a big part of what became known as “the sixties” was created, at least in music and how it was picked up on by the media—as well as the story of the ambition and opportunism and individual and collective creativity and chutzpah (is that how you spell it?) that these four shared.

Hajdu sprinkles the story with statistics and dates of important and emblematic events, as well as of the predominant culture and its seeming triteness in comparison (though the story can be told through many perspectives, including as it is in the book I focused on in my last post—COLTRANE THE STORY OF A SOUND—in which the author makes clear he believes it was ‘Trane’s new sound(s) that was the dominant influence not just in “jazz” but in most music of the time and afterward).

It was a remarkable period of social and cultural change, not just in the U. S. but worldwide, and these four are perfect examples of many of those changes, and sometimes even influence them. But the disparities between their public personas and their private lives and characters, at least in the most prominent of them—Joan Baez and Bob Dylan—were often glaring.

Hajdu captures those contradictions in details that are clear and concise, and in doing that reveals the reality these four were dealing with that was—if not as hardscrabble as what the rest of us were dealing with then—at least as vibrant and inspired.

If you were alive when the 1960s were just beginning, before they came anywhere near resembling what is now thought of as “the sixties”—or if you’re just interested in the cultural history that contributed to those vast changes in such a brief period of time, this is a terrific book to explore. And it’s written in an easily accessible style that is smart but not “clever” and engaging and entertaining without being overly dramatic or hyped.

Check it out, if you haven’t already. It’s well worth it.


This new book by Ben Ratliff is a pretty decent analysis of the significance of Coltrane’s music and it’s impact.

I don’t agree with some of his opinions about what works and what doesn’t among the extensive recordings Coltrane made. But I appreciate how well Ratliff articulates his position and the wealth of information he brings to support it.

He’s done his research. All I have are my memories and Coltrane’s recordings. I was around the New York jazz scene when he made his major breakthroughs, and witnessed some of the live events Ratliff refers to. At the time, I played piano “jazz music” so have some experience with it.

What baffles me, mildly, is how articulate Ratliff can mostly be, and others who write about music—either theirs or others, like say Dylan in his CHRONICLES—and then at times not be at all. Even with my experience as a musician, sometimes I can’t figure out what they’re talking about (Dylan especially).

Or when I can figure it out, I wonder why they don’t state it more plainly for the non-musician reader. Like Ratliff’s constant referring to “ii V” etc. in terms of chord changes and not explaining, for the layman, what he means, when he explains other things that are a lot more obvious (some of which he gets wrong, from my perspective).

Another mildly baffling thing for me are the blurbs on the back of the book, by three writers whose work I respect: Luc Sante, George O’Brien and Phillip Lopate (the latter I published as a poet in an anthology I edited in the 1970s—NONE OF THE ABOVE). They all write as if they understand everything Ratliff says in this book. Lopate not only highly praising it, but comparing other books on jazz unfavorably by saying Ratliff isn’t guilty of “the usual jazz book gush.” Well, yes and no.

There’s a lot of gush in this book, but it’s well deserved. Just as it is in most of the “jazz books” I’ve read, as in most books about music and art and so on. Gush expresses what motivates the writer to explore the topic in the first place. Most books—especially those that involve heavy research and sometimes years of tracking down interviewees and private and public historical records etc.—has a little gush in it, or the author would have given up long ago.

Anyway, I thought it was kind of a cheap shot, since Lopate doesn’t name the “jazz books” he’s referring to so unfavorably. And I’d be especially surprised if Lopate, as well as Sante and O’Brien, really understood everything in the book well enough to support their praise. Not that the book doesn’t deserve praise, just that it isn’t the best book on “jazz” or a “jazz musician.”

But in the end, it’s worth reading, no question. Most of it is really interesting, at least to me. What I like most is the seriousness with which Ratliff approaches the importance and influence of Coltrane’s music, (though the writing doesn’t take itself too seriously, most of the time) as well as Coltrane’s example and the myth that grew up around that example and its impact.

Part of the book’s premise is that Coltrane was the one whose music led jazz up a dead end before he died unexpectedly, stranding the many, mostly young musicians, and not just in jazz, that he influenced. The music had nowhere to go without Coltrane showing the way anymore, and along with other historical and cultural circumstances, contributed to jazz losing its way as a popular art, or even as an esoteric one that had an inordinate influence on other arts and the culture at large.

Ratliff builds a great case for that premise, as others have before him, but in my experience, living in or hanging around Manhattan over a lifetime, and other cultural centers of influence, various arts seem to have their day as the major influence in leading the way for innovative techniques and theories, and then lose steam, as any “movement” or “style” or experimental explorative foray always does.

But this book is, in its way, a great little history of jazz, and the scene it was a part of and influenced, in the 1950s and ‘60s. If you dig Coltrane and his music, I think you’ll like most of the book, as I did. But probably also like me, you’ll quibble with some of the opinions in it that—as is often the case in books about historical figures and their accomplishments, or lack of them—are expressed as facts.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


EASTERN PROMISES inspired my last post about equality for women. One of the plot devices is the bad guys’ exploitation and abuse of underage immigrant females.

The movie’s not always so well thought out, for instance a character who has no compunction at slitting a tough mobster’s throat, suddenly goes all nervous nelly over witnessing the corpse of same mobster being cut.

But aside from the incongruities, the inconsistencies and the incomplete pay offs (as many reviewers noted, the ending seems tacked on, as if scenes are missing or a focus group was consulted)—nonetheless, it’s a movie worth seeing.

The reason is Viggo Mortensen. The guy’s a real movie star, and has been for a while. His presence made LORD OF THE RINGS more than a fantasy-fairyland-attraction. And even though it didn’t get much attention, and probably didn’t make much money, his “cowboy” movie HILDAGO is one of my favorites, it totally worked, for me, like old fashioned Hollywood movies did when I was young, as did LORD OF THE RINGS, primarily because of Mortensen’s star power.

EASTERN PROMISES reunites director David Cronenberg and Mortensen in a movie as cartoony as their collaboration on HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, but like that flick, if you can surrender to the magic of Mortensen’s star power, you won’t be disappointed.

He’s an old style movie star, which means you can’t help not only liking, but admiring, him, whatever the role, even a cold blooded killer. You want to keep watching him, see more of him (and you see more of him than most movie stars in the most famous and memorable scene in this flick, the already famous steam room fight).

I can’t wait for the sequel.

Monday, October 8, 2007


Contemporary feminism has its contradictions, like most things, but the cause of equality in the workplace and the home, and before the law, is not only good, in my view, but should be the standard by which we judge our politics.

For instance in diplomacy, we should be rewarding (with trade or aid or military treaties, etc.) all countries that treat women equally, and punishing (through sanctions, non-support, UN resolutions, carried out, etc.) those that don’t.

If that was the standard by which we did all our politics, we would not have made most of the mistakes of this, and past, administrations.

Saddam’s Iraq would have been seen, through that perspective, as one that granted a lot of equality to women. The main exception was when it came to the personal power of Saddam and his clan, particularly his sons, who were so feared and so protected they were able to choose random young women for their entertainment and abuse.

If our government had used only the feminist perspective in dealing with Saddam, the goal would not have been to topple the government, or occupy the country, but instead to do everything possible to remove Saddam and his family from power. Which would have meant we wouldn’t have given him the means (weapons, including chemical) that we did for him to supposedly fight Iran, but which he also used to commit genocide against the Kurds and the Shi’ites.

We also wouldn’t be rewarding Saudi Arabia with military aid and trade and political support etc. The majority of the 9/11 attackers, who came from there, would not have had the motive to commit that atrocity, because they and their leaders, Osama et. al., were incensed by the U.S. military presence in their country, and support of the Saudi ruling family.

Which would never have happened if we had used a feminist yardstick for the basis of our treatment of a country in which women aren’t even allowed to drive, let alone vote.

The mass rapes taking place in the Eastern Congo, as I write this, are reported to be the worst in the world at this time, maybe ever. Women not just raped in the ordinary sense of the word, but with implements intended to make them unfit for reproduction or any sexual activity ever again.

So who exactly is profiting from the great wealth that is the resources in the Congo? What corporations, what countries? And if we enforced our perspective, as we do with so much else, could we influence this situation to end it? We could if we committed all our political might to it. This is a situation that does call for the kind of macho strength these conservatives and neo-conservatives are always pretending to have.

Even the religious intolerance that is spreading in the world, and here at home (evangelizing for Christianity in the military and in professional and university athletics, etc.) would diminish if equality for women was the standard political behavior was based on. Because the kind of fundamentalism that inspires that kind of Christian (and other religious) proselytizing does not live up to the standard of equality for women.

It is no accident that societies where there is more equality for women have more tolerance for other religions, or even atheists. Or that they have less poverty and economic inequality.

It may seem over simplistic, but I am convinced by the news lately, as well as by popular culture (all these young women stars fetishized by our society and then held up for ridicule when the pressure of that sexual double standard and hypocrisy causes them to become caricatures of what society had been demanding of them in the first place) that the treatment of women is the key to turning the world back to the goals of what this country had come to represent, whether deservedly or not—tolerance, liberty, fairness, equality, and individual rights and freedom.

As the females go, so goes the world. At least the way I see it.

PS: And believe me, I accept that there are biological and (therefore?) temperamental differences between the sexes, as they used to say, but there shouldn’t be before the law. One of the biggest failures of our nation in the course of this administration’s rule is the loss of the ideal of being a society ruled by law, not by any one religion or family or class or group or party or man or sect or cult or cabal of corporate leaders.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Hectic lately. You too?

Something about Autumn, my favorite season, when many things start up again (e.g. my nine-year-old is back to school) or seem to speed up and multiply (art openings, readings, new movies I want to see, etc.).

Especially “Autumn in New York” (one of my favorite tunes, especially sung by Sinatra).

A lot of birthdays this season as well, among family—Flynn and Jaina, Isabelle and Miles and Heidi—and friends—Ray DiPalma, Jim Keefe, Karen Allen, Terence Winch, Simon Pettet, Raleigh Robinson, Dennis Christopher, Jamie Rose, Michael Winch and Laura Askew—and I’m sure others I’ve forgotten.

One of the main reasons I moved back East after years in Southern California was Autumn. The seasons in the L. A. area weren’t what I was used to. Or didn’t produce the kinds of effects I was used to. They were interesting, hot Santa Ana winds from the dessert that made your hair electric, “June gloom,” “the rainy season” etc.

I missed the landscape of my soul, especially when it turns auburn and bright yellow, dazzling red and gold, and all the hues of this season that returns my soul to contemplation and gratitude.

Apple picking (when I was a little, little kid I remember picking apple’s at an uncle’s farm—the only one any family member ever had and not for long—from the back of my father’s pick up truck—now I pay for my little one to pick them from the low branches or climb to pick the higher ones) and pumpkin choosing (already picked, lying in rows on the ground as people scurry among them making their choices and a hay wagon rides kids around an oval dirt road that passes “ghosts and goblins” and familiar creatures from recent kid movies, and all the other Fall “activities” as so much play has now become).

I just got back from a ride up to the Berkshires, where the trees are turning beautifully, but later than usual, and the weather was unusually hot, more summer than Autumn, but with the air conditioner on in the car and the breezes causing leaves to fall here and there as I passed the trees lining “the scenic route” (“next 16.4 miles”) I could imagine Autumns of my youth, when the despised (at least by me, a Brooklyn Dodger fan back then until they moved and broke my heart, and a million others) Yankees are in the play offs once again, the familiar rhythms of school life had taken hold of my week days, and the kind of crisp air that’s hard to find some days these days seemed totally unthreatened…

Ah Autumn, has always held so many glories, personal and seemingly universal (though obviously confined in many ways to the Northeast of my childhood and youth)—don’t take that away too.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


My friend Ray DiPalma suggested I do one of my alphabet lists based on favorite books with four or less letters in their titles! A great challenge, which he got going by suggesting several titles in an email before I went to bed.

Naturally I fell asleep compiling my own, including some of his suggestions.

He sent more since then, many of which I had come up with myself, and some of which aren’t favorites of mine necessarily. So here’s the alphabet list of some favorite books (many of which were originally suggested by Ray) with four or less letters in their titles:

“A” by Louis Zukofsky (we both came up with this long, epic, experimental lifetime poem, as well as ALL, his collected shorter works, and one of my favorite books, ACT by Tom Raworth, one of my favorite poets)
BIRD by Robert George Reisner (this was all mine—the first hardcover book I ever bought, and still have, because it was about my then idol, Charlie Parker, and though later dismissed as a lightweight, thrown together, pastiche of anecdotes and myths, I found it mesmerizing and inspiring and still do)
CANE by Jean Toomer (on so many lists of mine, because it remains an all time favorite)
DAWN by Theodore Dreiser (The first volume of his autobiography, and one of my favorite books, if you dig history, you should dig this and his follow up NEWSPAPER DAYS)
EDGE by Bruce Andrews (first chapbook by one of the original “Language poets” and one of my favorites, obviously, since I was part of the “collective” that published it)
F? (Ray suggested a novel called FUR, but I haven’t read it)
GO by John Clellon Holmes (Ray reminded me of this novel about the “Beat generation” that beat ON THE ROAD to press but was nowhere near as good, nonetheless it had an impact on me as a kid)
HOWL by Allen Ginsberg
INRI by Joe Ceravolo (a book suggested by Ray which I was unaware of, but since I love Ceravolo’s poetry including his collected poems I’m sure I dug the work in here elsewhere)
JOE by Ron Padgett (though not my take on Joe Brainard’s life and art, Ron knew him longer than anyone besides Joe’s family, and has a lot of anecdotal incidents that make this book a treasure in some ways)
K? (Ray suggested KIM by Rudyard Kipling, but it’s not one of my favorites)
LIES by C. K. Williams (another of Ray’s suggestions I hadn’t thought of, by a poet who graduated from the high school that was almost in my backyard as a kid)
MAX by Ray DiPalma (an early book by Ray that I loved and still do)
NUNS by Terence Winch (an early chapbook of great Winch poems about nuns! Which both Ray and I thought of)
OF by me (Ray’s suggestion, but one of my favorite books of mine as well)
PIC by Jack Kerouac (considered one of his weakest “novels” and certainly his most unusual, since the lead characters in it are black, but still, for me, a touching attempt to portray some of his own longings and confusion through these invented characters—and POGO by Walt Kelly, the first collection of his comic strip from the Eisenhower years, I loved it as a kid and still do)
RAIK by Ray DiPalma (a “mid-career” book of Ray’s I always dug and mention in OF)
SKY by Blaise Cendrars (a memoir and a meditation and historical riff on human flight—I also couldn’t help thinking of SOAP, which Ray did too, one of my favorite—book-length—poems, by one of my favorite poets, Francis Ponge)
TED by Ron Padgett (a different take than mine on poet Ted Berrigan’s life, or the part that Padgett was privy to, but simply and directly written and a source of information and insight not found elsewhere)
USA by John Dos Passos (Ray and I both remembered this trilogy, which was considered in its time “The Great American Novel” and certainly had an impact on me)
V. by Thomas Pynchon (his first and to my mind best novel)
WATT by Samuel Beckett (Ray’s initial suggestion, Beckett’s second novel and most difficult in some ways, but I fell in love with it in my youth, and the challenge of the originality of it)
ZAP by R. Crumb (my initial thought for “Z” even though it was the first “alternative” or “underground” comic “book”—which jolted the 1960s hippie scene and caused shock waves still resonating today)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


"You are what you look for" —Ronald Johnson from "Eyes & Objects"

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Another alphabet list, this one sparked by being woke up in the middle of the night by the garbage trucks emptying the dumpsters from the restaurants next door to my apartment.

It took a while to get back to sleep. So I went to my usual alphabet list making.

To make it a little more challenging, I remembered the one I made of titles of works of art I dug that only had one syllable in them. So I thought, why not a list of two word titles of art I dig in which each word has only one syllable.

I instantly thought of Gary Snyder’s first book of poems, RIP RAP, and went from there:

ALL BLUES (from the Miles Davis album KINDA BLUE)
BLUE MOON (Elvis version from the Sun Sessions)
COOL WORLD (Shirley Clark’s c. 1960 movie from the Warren Miller novel)
DRUM TAPS (Walt Whitman’s book of Civil War poems)
ED WOOD (not my favorite Johnny Depp or Tim Burton movie, but still…)
FREE JAZZ (the Ornette Coleman album that defined the late 1950s early ‘60s progression in jazz music)
GET BACK (though attributed to Lennon/McCartney, Paul says it’s all his)
IN TIME (one of my favorite books by the poet Robert Kelly)
JACK FROST (a corny kids’ movie with Michael Keaton as a father who dies and is reborn as a snowman!—but it actually works, and is worth it, also, for the cameos by Henry Rollins and Ahmet and Dweezil Zappa)
KING KONG (the original)
LET’S GO! (the original title in Spanish has more words and syllables, but this is translator Margaret Randall’s title for this book of poems by the Guatemalan revolutionary Otto Rene Castillo—Randall was one of the few women Beat poets, she lived in exile in Cuba for decades after their revolution)

NOT YET (one of the first works of art I saw by Eva Hesse and immediately got and dug and was inspired by, a group of teardrop shaped hanging things created by some kind of organ like objects in giant mesh bags, difficult to describe, in some ways almost nondescript, but evoking human organs, sex, bodily functions, abstract concepts, etc. etc.) [found this illustration this morning!]
ODD JOB (Mark Terrill prose poem from one of my all time favorite books: BREAD & FISH)
PLEASE TOUCH (English translated title of a collage of a woman’s breast by Marcel Duchamp that might have been ‘sexist” but opened my mind—more—to the possibilities in art and attitude)
ST. ROACH (great poem by Muriel Rukeyser)
THREE KINGS (a terrific George Clooney movie, and best movie to come out of the first Iraq war—were there any others?)
UP FRONT (Bill Mauldin’s collection of cartoons and dispatches from the front lines of WWII, one of the greatest books you could ever read about that conflict, outside of Martha Gellhorn’s reporting and Lee Miller’s reporting and photographs, and thanks to poet Ted Greenwald turning me on to this decades ago, I knew who Maudlin was and remembered his cartoons from when I was a little boy and my two oldest brothers had just got back from WWII after it ended, and this book brought all that back)
VAN GOGH (Joe Brainard’s essay/prose poem in his often faux naïf style that ends up expressing profound truths and insights as usual)
WHAT’S NEW (Sinatra’s version from the album ONLY THE LONELY)
X? (X is usually the problem, we should all write some books and movies and songs with titles beginning with X!)
YOUNG LOVE (the Sonny James version that epitomized my romantic life c. 1957)
ZOOT SUIT (a failed movie musical, I think, but a noble and unique attempt)

I did that so quickly and was still not asleep, so I did another!

AT LAST (Etta James version)
BLUE SKIES (Irving Berlin’s standard that still makes me smile, including Bill Charlip’s relatively recent instrumental version)
COP LAND (underrated terrific movie)
DANSE RUSSE (my favorite W. C. Williams short, stand-alone poem—I identified completely with it when I was a young husband and father)
EBB TIDE (corny song that I played on the piano when I was a kid, with lots of show off-y long runs up and down the keys, indicating the tide coming in and out!)
FOR LOVE (first book of poet Robert Creeley’s I read as a young man and dug)
GREEN CARD (one of my favorite romantic movies with two of my favorite actors)
HARD TIMES (maybe you have to be a guy to get this James Coburn-Charles Bronson flick about bare knuckle fighting for money during the Depression, but whatever the reason, I totally dug it when it came out in the 1970s and probably still would if I saw it today)
IS AS (one of my favorite short poems, by me [!] included in IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE)
JOE KIDD (Clint Eastwood Western with Robert Duvall, not their best, but still…)
LES GIRLS (Not a great movie musical, but Gene Kelly was naturally the dancer I identified most with as a kid, since he was more of a street Mick than any other man who danced, as far as I knew, and I wasn’t crazy about Mitzi Gaynor, but I still found this flick sexy as a kid, probably just because of the title, which translated to us teenagers of the time as “lay girls”!)
N? (drew a blank this time)
O LOVE (great, succinct little poem about love by Ted Berrigan)
PEACE PIECE (my favorite Bill Evans tune)
ROB ROY (the movie, one of my romantic favorites)
SHOW BOAT (parts of both film versions, 1936 and 1951 [I looked up the dates this morning], are classic, especially the latter with Ava Gardner, whose heart was broken when they refused to use her singing voice, she never gave herself completely to a movie role again, but instead, on screen and in life, played the cynical star they turned her into as a result of her disappointment over her singing being dubbed by someone else in SHOW BOAT)
UTE NOTE (a Merrill Gilfillan poem from his SELECTED POEMS, all of which are great but I remembered this title, not even sure if “Ute” is one syllable, but it is, in my pronunciation!)
VROOM VROOM (my personal title for a poem by Ray Bremser, a lesser known Beat poet who was an ex-con street guy I identified with a lot when the Beats were first coming to prominence, especially because he wrote a poem about the then relatively new New Jersey Turnpike, in which that two word phrase figured prominently in my mind, even though he may never have put it exactly like that, but every time I think of that poem and it’s impact on me as a teenager I think “Vroom vroom”!)
WOOD STOVE (one of my favorite artists is sculptor David Nash, who works with wood mostly in its natural state, and for this piece had a tree stump that smoked like a wood stove, maybe you had to be there)
X? (once again)
YOU BET! (one of poet Ted Greenwald’s early books and one of my favorites)
ZONE GONE (with an upper case Z and the rest lower case and a period at the end, as though a sentence, this is the last piece in Kenward Elmslie’s THE ALPHABET WORK, and easiest to remember)

Monday, October 1, 2007


I recently added another blog and another site to my recommended list on the right.

A nephew of mine headed out to Alaska awhile ago to work with wildlife conservation there. He recently started a blog to share his experiences. A nice change from the usual. Check it out at My Alaskan Adventure.

Artist friend Paul Harryn sent me the link to a site I'd heard about and promises to be pretty interesting The Elders. I'll keep an eye on it, maybe you should check it out too.