Monday, May 30, 2011


Caught this PBS documentary several nights ago but thought I'd post about it on Memorial Day in honor of the service people who it's about. Well, actually it's about one specific battle in The Korean War and some of the men who fought in it and others involved.

It's the usual mix of historic footage, including battle scenes recorded at the time, and talking heads, mostly the now elderly veterans of the battles telling the story of it and the men they fought with, and against. Incredibly poignant and moving. Except for the inclusion of people like Newt Gingrich and Ollie North, who had nothing to do with that war or that battle but for some reason are brought in as commentators, which I found aggravating and superfluous (there are too many lies on the record from those guys for any testimony they might give to hold any validity for me).

But once again we hear from veterans who never talked of their experiences for most of their lives until very late, and thank God not too late, at least for the ones represented in this film. It's heartbreaking that their stories have been pretty much neglected because Korea has been the forgotten war for most of the years since it ended (or rather paused with a truce since it has  never officially ended).

No matter what your politics or perspective on war might be, the stories of those who fight in them are always compelling since they express such an aberration in the lives of most of us humans, a period when the impulse of self preservation and the natural resistance to killing another human are put on hold while life becomes all about death and destruction and fear.

HOLD AT ALL COSTS is definitely worth seeing, and made me want to see more documentaries on The Korean War, and look forward to the Ken Burns documentary on The Vietnam War which I believe he's in the process of doing now. Not just because they honor the memory of those who have literally experienced hell so that the rest of us might not have to, but because we need to remember this history in order to learn from it and hopefully some blessed day learn to find a better way to resolve our differences.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Another  creative force gone too soon after years of battling addiction. He was a unique force in the world of poetry, music, performance and recording. A true original. Here's the Rolling Stone obit and the  confounding article from  The New Yorker quoted in the obit. Gone too soon, in more ways than one.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Jeff Conaway is being remembered mostly for his roles in the film GREASE and in the TV show TAXI. But I first met him in 1985 when I got a small role on the first episode of a TV series set in a department store called BERRENGER'S. The role went on to be expanded into a significant part of the show, putting me in every episode, while Jeff's leading role was reduced to nonexistent.

It was explained to me that Jeff wasn't showing up and the powers that be decided to basically write his character out of the show. It was clear he was having problems even back then, obviously. But even so, the guy was impossible not to like. He was a genuinely nice guy.

We became friends for a while later in the '80s and early '90s through our shared loved of poetry. He wrote some himself. The man I came to know then was sincere, earnest, well-intentioned and even innocent in a way, despite his travails. I never saw any display of ego or even self-centeredness, though I never really saw him in the thrall of his demons and can't say what that may have been like.

The man I knew was a great guy to hang out with. His tragic decline ending in a coma and death is heartbreaking. I'm grateful I chose, and choose, not to watch shows that exploit the addictions and mental problems of real people, so I never saw his appearances on that supposed rehab show some of his obituaries refer to. So I can remember him as a real sweetheart of a human, a gentle and even fragile soul who I wish had found the help that might have saved him.

Friday, May 27, 2011


Terence Winch (yes, we're old close friends), despite his many honors (including Garrison Kieler reading Terence's poems on NPR a lot, as well as awards etc.) and being the writer of some of the most immortal Irish-American music created in this country ("When New York Was Irish" for one) is, in my humble opinion, highly underrated by the publishing and literary worlds.

The academy pays some attention, but nowhere near what his work deserves. But in his latest collection of poems, FALLING OUT OF BED IN A ROOM WITH NO FLOOR, they have the perfect excuse to reconsider their usual literary political games (quick, how many poets do you know the names of writing today and are they or have they been professors?—my guess is they all have) and recognize an original.

Every approach to the poem that Winch has taken over the years is in this book. There are personal narratives, ur-real explorations of the nature of personal reality, verse so free you might feel obligated to give a donation, and some of the most difficult poetic forms—villanelle or sestina anyone?—mastered in ways that don't just impress (many will probably not even notice the technical virtuosity) but do it while making the reader laugh and shake his/her head in awe of the profoundly deep insights into what it means to be alive in these times.

I can't articulate as well as I'd like how great this book is, but here's a link to a post by the poet, editor  and critic David Lehman's superb take on why he thinks it's great and Terence's best book so far (I have too many favorites and am too much of a Gemini to pick just one). (And for another Best American Poetry blog post on Terence's new book, this time about the publication party—and who is that old cat slouching in his raggedy hoodie at such a prestigious event?!—click here.)

And here's two poems to give you a taste of his genius with poetic forms and expressing the inexpressible inner lives we all share:

"Stealing Your Pills

I'm sorry someone has been stealing your pills
because they are necessary in the fight against pain.
We all need some help vanquishing our ills.

I'd have to say it's one of life's real thrills
to go from feeling bad to feeling good again,
so I'm sorry someone has been stealing your pills.

Here in the suburbs I sit, paying bills,
mostly to my shrink, who tries to keep me sane.
We all need some help vanquishing our ills.

I pay my dentist too. I'm not crazy about drills
but at least you get the gas and Novocain.
(I'm sorry someone has been stealing your pills.)

Life does not fall gently on our heads. It spills
all manner of travail on us in a steady rain
and makes us seek out help in vanquishing our ills.

It's off to the medicine cabinet for generic, no-frills
help we go. Diazepam, Oxycodone, Xylocaine.
So I'm sorry someone has been stealing your pills.
But even they need some help vanquishing their ills."

And this:

"Gigs With My Father

Those nights when the cab driver
refused to take us home
because we lived in a danger zone
we'd get out, but leave the doors
wide open, until the driver twisted himself
around, slammed them shut from the front seat
and gunned it the hell out of there.

Those New Year's Eves in the school
auditorium, basketball backboards safely
winched up and out of sight. Soft lights,
clink of glass. Drums, accordion, sax,
and banjo churning up a special American
concoction, dancers switching from the lindy
to the cha cha cha to the stack of barley.
We played "cherry pink and apple blossom
white" and "the isle of capri" for the cha cha cha.
At midnight. drunks stood in awe
and sang "auld lang syne"
to mark how time could
shift with such mysterious splendor.

Is anything left of you? I wish spirits
did inhabit things. That would be great.
I could play your banjo and bring you back.
I know I intend to live forever inside my
beautiful French accordion, my soul a tune
waiting an eternity to be played again."

Thursday, May 26, 2011


This HBO movie adapted from the book (that won critical acclaim, the book) has more names in the cast than I think I've ever seen in any TV movie, and more than most Hollywood big screen movies.

As you probably already know, it's the story of the bank failures and initial bailout. William Hurt plays Hank Paulson. He gets a lot of the physical presence, and in a few scenes the steely sense of infallibility. But to my mind Paulson came across like a white collar gangster from the first time I saw him interviewed long before the bailout. Hurt is way too WASPy for that, plus given Hurt's evasiveness when he acts, as if a lot of him is somewhere else we'll never penetrate, his characterization just didn't work for me most of the time.

But it was also the fault of the writing, which gave us no one to connect with emotionally. It tried with Hurt/Paulson by having him appear in private to be more insecure and even tried to suggest he was frightened, though hurt didn't play that well at all and I didn't buy it for a second.

Topher Grace plays his top strategist and Cynthia Nixon his p.r. woman, and at least they came across as valid possibilities. Nixon even had me wondering who she was for a second when she first appears. James Woods plays the head of Lehman Brothers and does his usual great job of playing a character that is at once pompously cocky and self-centered as well as a ultimately a weasel.

And there are scores of others playing lesser roles, including Billy Crudup, almost unrecognizable to me as Timothy Geithner and Paul Giamatti as Ben Bernake. Ed Asner has a few good scenes as Warren Buffet and Kathy Baker has the thankless task of playing Paulson's wife with few good lines a few of which seem to intend to convey some emotional connection to Hurt's Paulson, but they both left me cold and not believing them.

Then there's so many more playing the various heads of the Wall street financial institutions, including Matthew Modine, Bill Pullman, Tony Shalhoub, etc. All of whom had a few small scenes that they did well, but again, not enough to connect to. Making the entire movie seem like a lesson rather than a drama.

One of the best performances was Michael O'Keefe's (full disclosure, he's an old and dear friend) as a numbers man who the CEOs don't like having to rely on. He was one of the few actors who seemed to be playing in the real story of what happened. The deceptions and hypocrisy and greed and arrogance and denial...

If you accept the movie's premise and resolution, the incredible catastrophe that occurred in 2008 that almost brought on another Great Depression was just a matter of almost happenstance not bad intentions based on greed, and it was resolved by Paulson's getting Congress to okay the initial Bush administration TARP funds bailout of the big banks.

It ends with the stock market turning around and Paulson and his minions trying to convince themselves that everything would now work out but having their secret doubts.

It should have ended with the reality that the brief upswing in the market didn't last and it continued to plummet at an even greater rate and shown how when Obama and his people came in they were told it was actually worse than anyone outside the Bush/Cheney gang knew. That would have been more dramatic and more true.

It also would have helped to expose the narrow-minded, shortsighted, short term profiteering at the expense of the rest of the economy and us that went on at the highest levels of Wall Street and shown some of the real human cost of these egotistic jerks' greed. The audience could have identified with being the victims of that.

As it was, it didn't work on any emotional level, not even in showing us how bad it really was, nor did it work on exposing the truths behind the collapse. It was just a chance to see a lot of well known actors workout a little, some successfully, some not.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


The day after Dylan's (70!) and my sister-in-law Marie (Sis) and nephew Carl (happy birthday everyone) and the day before Miles' (Davis, not my oldest son). And only a few days after the beautiful Suzanne Greco's (hey) and I share the day with the always glamorous Patti D'arbanville.

A quick thanks to all the e mails and facebook greetings and even snail mail cards! I feel very lucky to be here to celebrate it, and thanks to all that sent prayers and good wishes over the past several years' health travails. Life is delicious, enjoy it while we can.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Here's a treat. A link to my old friend and one of the most unique (and though lauded and collected still way underrated for how incredible her art is) artists of our times, or any time for that matter. What she does is pure passion for the act of creating new ways, or recreating old ways, of seeing, experiencing and imagining the world of painting and drawing.


Okay, so May 21st came and went and the end of the world didn't occur. But it occurred to me that the whole idea behind that kind of prophecy serves the rightwing perspective and agenda.

It's like if you believe the end of the world is being forecast by the extreme weather and plethora of natural disasters then you not only get to dismiss climate change and any man made part of it you also get to believe it doesn't matter anyway because the world won't be around to worry about.

And if you believe government is good for nothing and should be reduced to a size that can be drowned in a bathtub as one rightwing saying goes, then that justifies doing everything in your power to reduce government to nothing and then government is good only for nothing and you win again.

Or like doing everything in you and your rightwing dominated party to block any attempts to remedy the economy or the environment or make the wealthiest among us including corporations pay a fairer share so that the rest of us have a chance at at least the basic necessities like a home and healthcare and and a job or support until jobs can be found, then the economy and environment etc. end up in bad shape and you get to point the finger at the other guys for not finding a remedy!

It's late so I'm probably not articulating this as well as I was in my mind earlier in the day when I didn't have time to get to the computer or rather I was on the computer talking to more than one of those corporations that have taken over our world and getting only recorded messages telling me to use my computer to contact the corporation about problems I was having with that corporation's software that was causing me to be unable to use my computer!

Sometimes I just don't get why my fellow citizens, especially the younger ones, haven't taken to the streets by the thousands to protest the lack of jobs as their counterparts all over the world have (there's been demonstrations over the lack of jobs in not just the Middle East, and Europe, but also China and some parts of Africa, etc.) or just to protest the takeover of our country and society by a handful of corporations that pay almost no taxes or actually no taxes as the case may be, and that consider customer service a device for frustrating customers into giving up any complaining at all.

I'd certainly do my best to join them if they did.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I have to admit. I got into watching this Showtime series that I've already said is the usual cable mix when it comes to dramatizing history. That is, part soft porn, part soap opera, part ultragraphic violence ala video games, and part really terrific movie making.

Jeremy Irons might be the initial reason to watch, and he does display his usual flair for menacing charm. Though over the course of this first season—the finale was tonight—he also showed a surprising obviousness, a tendency to contribute to the melodramatic antics with seeming complicity, though there are always one or two scenes where he dominates the screen more with his usual intense control.

But the last few episodes have also been graced with an actor whose work I'm unfamiliar with until now, as far as I know. He plays the French King Charles, and I think his name is Michel Muller. The first time he appeared on screen I was knocked out by his presence, the way he commanded attention without demanding it. Some very subtle artistry which has only grown more impressive with each episode he has appeared in.

I ended up staying with the show more for him than for Irons and the others. Though there's something also deeply satisfying in seeing history you know the narrative for re-interpreted in sometimes predictable, but just as often surprising ways, and with almost entirely unexpected casting (like the English accented blond beauty playing Lucretia Borgia, who has surprised me with her range, whose name is equally unexpected: Holliday Grainger).

When this first season becomes available on Netflix or some other means of distribution, check it out and let me know what you think of it. In some ways it's like a more violent and sexualized version of those technicolor historic melodramas Hollywood produced in the 1950s, which is maybe what drew me to it in the first place. There's something comforting in the elaborate costumes and armies with plumage and what seems like hundreds of real extras, not computerized ones.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


I just heard this on the CBS nightly news, and it's a translation that I'm not going to get verbatim but at least the gist of it. A Japanese farmer was being interviewed about his farm being in the radiation zone and his crops being no longer safe. When asked who he thought was to blame, he said something close to this:

"Ultimately it is the fault of every citizen who cared more about the convenience nuclear power provided than they did about the threat hovering over the future."

More eloquent than I'm capturing, but still pretty resonant for our own country, and for the world for that matter.

Friday, May 20, 2011


I've been deleting the comments of the rightwing "troll" who's plagued this blog almost since its inception. But I thought I'd leave his last comment as a perfect example of where the thinking of rightwingers goes when played out to its illogical conclusion (with, of course, the impetus of the rightwing propaganda machine's arguing the veracity of syllogisms that are based on false premises which lead to false conclusions, but by playing on their following's prejudices and fears, topped by their inability to reason effectively, convince their base of the most ludicrous assumptions, presumptions, misdirections, misinformation, distortions and lies).

So here it is. Since Obama couldn't be faulted on his place of birth anymore, or his national security credentials (apres Bin Laden's demise) they jumped on his call for a two state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the pre-1967 (in other words the United Nations agreed upon) borders.

So our resident, if no longer allowed to join in the conversation, rightwing "troll" uses—as his final attempt to paint Obama as unsympathetic to Israel—this statement (in case you haven't already read in in the comments thread to the post before last):

"Obama the Jew hater!!!"

If this kind of rightwing inanity weren't so viciously successful in attracting the borderline and not even borderline psychos on the right, the rest of us would merely shake our heads in disgust at such a pathetic attempt to generate its own form of hatred intent not on winning arguments or political discourse but simply on doing harm.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


If I were to make a list (still feel no inclination ever since the brain surgery) of poets whose collected works I would want on my book shelves, Elaine Equi would be one. Her last book, RIPPLE EFFECT, was a "New & Selected" in 2007, and is as close to a "collected" as we have of her work so far.

But here's a new collection that highlights why she's one of my favorite poets (and friends I should disclose, though as with many friends, I dug the work before becoming friends). There is an amazing variety to her approaches to what a poem can be in CLICK AND CLONE (and what a great title, though she admits she got it from a website and asked permission to use it, it's still a great title), many of them startlingly original and/or unexpected.

Several poems in this collection are random lines she read over the shoulders of people on the subway from books they were reading. There's a poem titled "To Eddy Poe" and "A Guide To the Cinema Tarot." There's prose poems thick with words (and meaning) and one or two line poems that may at first seem slight but become more effective the more you think about them (or not, I suppose, depending on how you think, something driven home to me post brain-op). 

An example of the latter is a one line poem called "Led Zeppelin Revision" that goes: "That stairway only leads halfway to heaven."

 An example of the former is "Sight Unseen" which goes like this (and just in case it's not meant to be a prose poem but just has long lines that fill the page, I'll indicate the possible lime breaks with slants):

"It's been a long time since I looked into anyone's eyes as / if I thought I'd find an answer, some truth, a window / (how silly it sounds) to the soul. Not that I don't believe / in souls—only that they no longer reside within us. / Even if coaxed with music and drugs, the soul is shy. / More shy than the naked body is the naked soul. Lenses, / x-rays, MRIs, surveillance cameras, panopticons, our / obsession with sight has made us blind to the invisible. / And then too, everyone has had to become so skilled / as a performer. Even animals act their parts, looking / appropriately cute or feral. The eye, once so potent a / symbol, a gateway, says nothing, seems corny. Now the / only eyes I like to look into are the eyes of certain actors / in old movies, for they shine as if imagining, like the / religious zealot, a world no one else can see."

But speaking of "collected" here's a poem that resonates with what makes Equi such a perceptive and yet playful poet. It's called "Collectible Tears."

"Pear-shaped tears on greasy cheeks.

Thin, trembling chihuahua tears.

Fashionable, glue-on rhinestone tears a la Man Ray.

Watery tears, cloudy tears, viscous tears thick as porridge.

Musical tears worn only to the opera or symphony.

Hundred-proof tears of high alcoholic content often passed
from one generation to the next.

Lacryma Christi: the tears of Christ. Not only did he turn water
into wine, he cried champagne!

Masculine tears thought to be more rare, and as often is the case, 
of higher value than feminine tears.

Wedding and funeral tears, too common to be of much interest."

Some readers may miss (as in not experience) the tiny, or not, explosions of consciousness Elaine Equi's poems can produce. Little epiphanies. And little epiphanies that expand to become big ones. But I think in order to have the satisfaction of that experience, any reader has to surrender any preconceived notions about what poems should be or do upon entering CLICK AND CLONE. Then just relax and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


It started with Ollie North. Reagan's administration looked like it was going down, people jumping ship, attempting suicide, expecting long prison terms for the Iran-Contra fiasco in which his administration didn't just ignore the Constitution in waging their secret war and covert arms dealing and enemy and future enemy butt kissing (Saddam Hussein for one, the Iranian theoligarchs for another, etc.) but damaged this country for decades to come as a result. Until Ollie North saved them.

Reagan had originally initiated a mild version of the "personal pique" technique of dismissing your adversaries in his debates with Carter before the election, "There you go again" etc. But his was a kind of amiable aggravation.

No, the real start of the Republican mastery of personal pique as a political ploy began when Ollie North showed up at the hearings in his Marine dress uniform, even though he was a civilian by then, and gave that ramrod at-attention take-the-oath stance calculated move to create an image and it worked—the photo of that was everywhere then—and followed up by taking umbrage at any probing questions of fact about his actual law breaking as if his courage on the battlefield were being challenged, which by the way had been by men who served with him but the news never got around to that (imagine if every veteran showed up to court in uniform every time they're hauled in, and acted all Hollywood patriot-hero about it!).

Now even rightwing troll commeters on personal blogs, let alone rightwing meida mouthpieces and politicians, practice the art of being indignant at the personal effrontery of anyone even thinking of questioning their motives and actions and etc. while going about their designated business of personally attacking every democrat from the president on down!

But the Democrats have yet to learn that lesson, even after all these decades of the Republicans using it so adroitly. (Clarence Thomas displayed North-like mastery at his confirmation hearings with all that media "lynching" deflection.)

When a Republican administration became responsible for the most devastating attack on U.S. soil since the British-American War of 1812, and then used it as an excuse to invade a country that had nothing to do with the attack and based it on justifications that turned out to be false, if anyone even muttered anything about these realities in a critical or even questioning way, then the old personal pique came out and the questioners were accused of being unpatriotic or even traitors for impugning the motives of the rightwingers (when all they wanted was for the Republicans to follow the Constitution!).

The Dems just haven't mastered that whole personal pique thing at all. When Obama gets fed up with the foolishness of his critics' inanities he just sounds impatient, and other Democratic leaders and pundits come off as either angry ("the ragin' Cajun" et. al.) or petulant. But rarely like they've been personally insulted and the honor of their family and state and race and country etc. have been deeply offended and the person questioning them should be deeply ashamed and full of remorse for impugning their honor and/or their patriotism etc.

The Dems should be doing that all over the rightwing Republicans for the ways they've treated a democratically elected president as well the democratically elected Senate. Instead they act like the Republicans who control the house and the minority Republicans in the Senate must never be cast as villains against the Dems personally, just political opponents whose ideas are to be argued with, as if winning an argument with reason and logic ever held sway with rightwingers of any party, but especially of the Republicans ever since the Reagan era.

It's time for the Democrats, from the president on down, to take personally the assaults on their honor, their integrity, their belief in and protection of the Constitution and this country, i.e. their patriotism, and act angry and hurt and personally offended and outraged anytime the rightwingers do or say or indicate any objection to them for doing what they were elected to do.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


From the L.A. Times comes this interesting perspective.


Hope you caught the PBS "American Experience" documentary FREEDOM RIDERS tonight, and if not that you catch it when it's aired again or somehow get a hold of it. After seeing it (and while watching it for that matter) I thought this should be a mandatory class in every school in this country.

What a shining moment that was in our history and what an example were those mostly young people who risked their lives in a nonviolent action against segregation that led to their being berated, beaten and imprisoned.

I remember the summer of the Freedom Riders well, and found myself only a few short months later stationed outside of Greenville, South Carolina, which by the time I got there was the last state still completely segregated and not facing the kinds of news scrutiny that the Civil Rights campaigns had brought to the rest of the South.

I got involved in my own personal freedom rides when faced with segregated buses, as well as segregated restrooms and all the horrors that existed before brave souls like the Freedom Riders refused to be a part of that abomination that was the pre-Civil Rights South.

But I didn't know the full story, or remember quite accurately the impact it had beyond the many Civil Rights stories of the time, including part of my own. This documentary tells this story so well it didn't just bring back the emotions and challenges and conditions and potential of those times, but evoked even stronger emotions about the connections to our own times and to the hope our present president brought to all of us when he won the election.

To watch the segment on 60 MINUTES last night about the Sovereign Citizens movement and then tonight watch FREEDOM RIDERS and see again white Southern racist mobs attack non-violent mostly college students because they believed "non-whites" should be able to use the same bus stop restrooms and waiting area as "whites" was to watch the same kind of irrational hatred and rage and evil resist our common humanity for a belief only in their own like-minded lies and distortions about what this country and its founding documents really mean.

And there's a direct line from Fox News and other rightwing outlets screaming about "Common" being invited to The White House because they deliberately choose to misread and mishear and misinterpret his stand AGAINST VIOLENCE while inviting Ted Nugent onto their shows and not condemning him for rants about how our democratically elected president can suck on the barrel of his machine gun and so can that "worthless b*tch Hilary Clinton" and worse. [Jon Stewart has addressed this with clips showing it on recent shows and again tonight.]

There's a direct line from that kind of hypocritical prima facie racist distortion of reality to the Sovereign Citizens and right back to those screaming vicious cowardly mobs beating up on defenseless nonviolent students in 1961 simply standing up for what the Constitution promises them as citizens of this country.

If you can find a way, watch this documentary: FREEDOM RIDERS.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Anyone see 60 MINUTES tonight? Gates, the Secretary of Defense, said something to the effect that Obama's call to use the Seals to get Bin Laden was the toughest decision he'd experienced any president making. If anyone can locate the exact quote, it was a pretty powerful endorsement of Obama, and by an experienced and straight talking Republican. Too bad there aren't more of those around.

[PS: Thanks to Miles for putting this link in his comment showing Gates calling it "one of the most courageous" decisions he'd seen a president make, and he's been working in the government through several of the last presidencies, most directly for both of the Bushes.]

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Edited by poet—and good friend of Tim's—David Trinidad, this collection belongs on a shelf with the collected poems of Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler, Ted Berrigan and the handful of others whose collected poems I find essential to my library (and anyone else's in my opinion).

Tim was a dear friend of mine. We met in 1972 at a poetry reading the late Ed Cox and I were giving at Catholic University, at which we read poems about being "gay"—Ed because he was and had just "come out"—an amazingly brave action for anyone to take at the time but especially in their home town (Ed was a native of DC) and in solidarity with him and for other "politically correct"(a new term and not at the time a confining cliche) reasons I read poems about me being "gay" too. 

Afterwards, this bespectacled, conventionally dressed, young man (I was probably in the platform pimp shoes I was partial to at the time) came up to us and told us we were his new heroes. Naturally we became the best of friends and remained so throughout his too short life (he died in 1990 at age forty). 

But back then he was just beginning an independent life after entering his twenties and I was a married man with two children just entering my thirties and was sure I was light years ahead of Tim, who told us he wrote poems too. Then I saw the poems and knew he already was good enough to publish.

The small press I had at the time with my wife, Lee, and close friends like Ed and Terence Winch, was called Some Of Us Press and published Tim's first book of poems, HIGH THERE, the following year. (These memories are backed up by the chronology Trinidad provides at the beginning of this collection, an invaluable guidline to Tim's life—but in fact, if I ever find the letters Tim began sending me when we met and he was still living in Philadelphia, I suspect Tim approached me and introduced himself before the reading with Ed but it was his "heroes" remark at that reading that resonated in my mind ever after, because Tim continued to remind me that I was his "hero" during periods when I was facing challenges that left me feeling like a failure.)

So I always dug Tim's poems and cherished our friendship, but this past Wednesday evening, at a reading at The Poetry Project at St. Mark's in "the East Village" to celebrate the publication of this book, listening to different poets and friends and new fans of Tim's poetry read selections from the book, I was overwhelmed with how seminally important and unique and immortal his work really is.

Not only does his work display his poetic virtuosity, but the combination of familiar poems that I was around when Tim wrote and first shared with me, and/or were published and shared with the world, along with unpublished poems including some I wasn't even aware of, creates not just the panorama of a life well (and sometimes not so well) lived while being recorded in poems that expressed that life's originality as well as dailiness, but transcends a mere life to become something that lives on well beyond it and in fact becomes something for the ages.

Listening to folks I hadn't in some cases seen in many years, some even decades, interpret Tim's words through their own personalities (like Jamie Manrique, Cheri Fein, Brad Gooch, et. al.) or others I'd seen more recently (David Trinidad, Terence Winch, Eileen Myles, Tom Carey, et. al.)—or others I knew and didn't who may have known Tim or didn't (Anselm Berrigan, CA Conrad, Stacy Szymaszek, Chip Livingston, et. al.)—embody their own sense of what was great about Tim and his writing, I was overwhelmed with the reality that Tim was no longer this younger guy who I always felt older and more experienced than, nor even my old dear friend who often ended up giving me the comfort and wisdom of experience I was used to doling out to him, but had become an ageless intelligence and sensibility that existed beyond any concept of age or experience or even wisdom.

I hope that doesn't sound too over the top because it didn't feel that way at the time, it felt like a genuinely right sized response to the gift Tim's work offers to anyone willing to accept it. I cannot recommend this book too highly to anyone who cares about poetry, or to those who just appreciate discovering new voices and perspectives through books.

I only wish Tim could have been there to witness how much he is still loved and missed and honored by his friends, including the new ones who never knew him when he was alive but have discovered him through his poems.

I'm afraid any poem I reproduce here will seem less than the whole of this book or the experience of the reading, but I'll risk it with the same spirit Tim brought to his poems by sharing a very short poem that was one of the two of Tim's read by Terence Winch:


I take incredible
risks with my poems,
which is why they
always turn out 
so fine.

And one a little longer and among his last (as he was heading toward his death from AIDS, which he wrote honestly and most originally about in two late classics: "G9" and "D.O.A.") and which I read at the reading and isn't formally as typical as most of his work is (usually more seemingly loose and conversational/notational than this one) but displays his formal skills beautifully (in an almost Audenesque way, though I prefer Dlugos-esque):


There is a bed on 83rd
which like a Gileadic balm
can sooth the soul. I lay me down
to sleep there, and to find the calm

that lives within your shoulder blade,
beneath the cool and freckled skin
that makes my midnights white as those
in settings Scandinavian

where cry of loon and forest sighs
not car alarms and salsa beat
drift upward through the window cracks
and mitigate the summer heat.

No way to mute the blaring horns,
nor open hearts that don't discern
the trove of tenderness within
the tangled postures lovers learn

in sex and rest, limbs juxtaposed,
exhaustion mingled with delight.
We close our eyes and sleep like spoons
inside the silverchest of night.

And echoing the often stated sentiments of the evening, many thanks again to David Trinidad for the labor of love his editing obviously was, and to Stephen Motika, the publisher of this book (Nightboat Books): A FAST LIFE: THE COLLECTED POEMS OF TIM DLUGOS. 

Friday, May 13, 2011


I wrote posts for the last two days and "published" them and could swear I saw them up on this blog. Did anyone else? (Of course some of you did because you commented on the W.H. Auden poem I posted and commented on myself!)

They were there last night around 10PM, when after a day of some chest pain some other symptoms revealed themselves just as my thirteen-year-old was getting ready for bed which moved me to call his mom who said, "You're going to the emergency room right now."

So I did and ended up spending close to twelve hours on a hard gurney in the "acute" section of the ER of our local hospital (they had no room in the less "acute" areas of the ER) even though my EKG and other tests were coming out okay, but because I have a "history" etc. they were taking every precaution.

Then they put me in a real room to wait for my doc's okay, which didn't come until 11AM and then, of course, it took a few more hours for the doc who's in charge of discharging me to do her job.

So I ended up spending much of the one-and-a-half year anniversary of my brain surgery (also another Friday the 13th) in the hospital!

Well, at least it wasn't a true emergency and I'm home and okay though exhausted as there was no sleeping in the noisy ER (how odd that these places meant for healing are designed in ways that are so anti-healing) and I got to practice some patience with the staff and my fellow patients and with google and blogpost when I came home to find my last two posts had disappeared!

Think someone's hacking my blog?

[That was totally weird, the Auden one just reappeared!]

Thursday, May 12, 2011


I posted this quote once before, but it seems appropriate to the discussion going on about whether the killing of Bin Laden is not simply justifiable but if it—and other "targeted assassinations"—are morally and ethically and even philosophically and psychologically sound:

"I and the public know
 What all school children learn,
 Those to whom evil is done
 Do evil in return."

—W. H. Auden

(And I would say a large segment, perhaps a majority, of "the public" may no longer "know" this, nor all "chiildren learn" this anymore.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


No one can replace Frank Rich as the greatest op-ed columnist of the recent past, (though Paul Krugman is still going strong and as I mentioned in a previous post was found to be the most reliable predictor of the future among all pundits on either the left or right or in the center).

But two other regular NY Times op-ed writers have been picking up the slack (along with Krugman and others) in ways that are usually amusing, though not so much for Maureen Dowd (who in that same study was high on the list of best predictors behind Krugman—and just to note again conservatives came out at the bottom on their predictions being accurate) in her Sunday column, here.

The other is Gail Collins, who isn't quite as sharp or always as amusing as Dowd at her best, but still knows how to score some points as she did in this piece from last week.

[PS: I don't entirely agree with Dowd's reasoning, but I hear it and part of me agrees. I do believe though that we can become like what he oppose if we adopt the opposition's tactics to defeat them, a danger too often realized in the history I've been alive for.]

Monday, May 9, 2011


Here's a link to the Academy of American Poets website page about the event I wrote of in the last post, and if you look closely at the final photo on it of Alec Baldwin talking to audience members, I believe that's my nose and my glasses on the far right, in fact, yes indeed, it is.


A couple of weeks ago I attended a benefit for The Academy of American Poets at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. It's a large venue and every seat was taken for what was essentially a poetry reading, though the readers were almost exclusively folks who had gained critical acclaim in other arts.

For instance the star of the film THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Jesse Eisenberg, read two Delmore Shwartz poems, if I remember correctly, and the novelist Michael Cunningham (THE HOURS etc.) read a poem of Frank O'Hara's ("Lana Turner Has Collapsed") among others, though very unlike O'Hara he read it almost aggressively, confrontationally, and that was part of the charm of the evening, hearing people read poems I'm familiar with in ways I wouldn't and in some cases the poets who wrote the poems wouldn't.

Others who read included Carolyn Kennedy Schlossberg (two Elizabeth Bishop poems) Adrian Brody (some lyrics from a Biggie Smalls rap were part of what he read in what I found to be a bit of reverse pretension) and Alec Baldwin  read a great haiku I can't remember who wrote but was a Kenneth Rexroth translation and Edgar Allen Poe's "Annabel Lee" which he brought to life in a way I hadn't expected or could have predicted but was uniquely his take on it, and so on.

The only one with poetry credentials in the bunch was Patti Smith who read a Rimbaud poem and another I can't remember now and then ended with a great rendition of the coda to Ginsberg's "Howl"—"Holy, holy, holy" etc. that was the highlight of the evening according to the audience response, that and a poem about Katrina and New Orleans read by the jazz great Cassandra Wilson that also brought down the house.

The audience was surprisingly knowledgeable about poetry, surprisingly to me anyway, which shows my own prejudice about people able to afford tickets to such an event (not many of the practicing poets I know could, and I had the good fortune of having been invited as the guest of one of the readers). It was heartening to witness such obvious support and love of poetry, and I only wished there had been a few more obscure poems and poets brought into the evening.

One such poet is Jennifer Diskin. A fellow poet gave me Diskin's collection of poems, WEAR WHITE AND GRIEVE, because she wanted to turn me on to her work, and it succeeded. Diskin lives in Scranton and writes a kind of personal narrative poetry that a lot of poets do (including often me) that is surprisingly difficult to make work. To create something unique in this form isn't easy or all that common. But she manages to do it.

Partially that's because her perspective feels unique when you read her, and partially I suspect it's because her frame of reference is a bit unique (quick, how many Scranton poets can you name, though in fact there's a thriving poetry scene there, as there is almost anywhere these days despite the general media tendency to ignore that reality) and partially because of her passion for poetry.

A great example of that is her author's note on the back which includes this: "She can't get enough of poetry, friends, Billie Holiday, and reading, reading, reading. She loves poems and would marry one if he were available."

You can see from that how already she's telling her story differently and yet completely accessibly. And it's no coincidence that Billie Holiday is on her list of what she can't get enough of. Like Holiday, Diskin's voice is original and plaintive in its own way, and equally as resilient and almost ironic in the face of disappointment and tragedy.

A lot of Diskin's poems in this collection are too long to quote in their entirety—like the knockout opening "Electric City"—and not all are about the trials she has faced that her poems are specific about in details but not in over all analysis (I'm assuming she suffers from some form of cancer and is still a fairly young woman), but here's one that gives a taste of her skill and clarity:


The doctor prepares my hip.
I've taken my Atvian.
I lay on my back.
There is no Barry Manilow Mandy
piped into the oncologist's office.

I lay on my back
and listen.
He tells me
My marrow will travel to New York City
to be studied.

Numbing takes a long time, then
the dull kiss into the bone.
As he pulls the needle through,
he says to the nurse he puts
white lights on his Christmas tree.

You read Newsweek in the waiting room.
Even when you hold my hand,
I miss touching.

Once the sample is collected,
the ache doesn't stop.

Put your fingers in my side.
My bruise is a blue delphinium
a spring I invent
surreal with snow.

Though it's produced as a "chapbook" there's a lot of poetry inside (55 pages worth) and if you can find it on the web to purchase, I highly recommend you do.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Jackie Cooper was a famous child movie star before I was born, but did not end up the way too many talented (and untalented) child stars often do. He did end up regretting being a child star [see this LA Times obit] but went on to have a fairly successful career as an adult actor and a highly successful career as a TV director.

I met him on the set of a TV movie that he was directing in the early 1980s and found him to be an amazingly humble and gracious man considering his early fame and the power and influence it gave him in Hollywood. He had a long and productive and successful life and the few other times I saw him always seemed happy and grateful. May he rest in peace.

I met Artur Laurents only once and was able to thank him for his contribution to one of my favorite works of art, WEST SIDE STORY. He became famous, at least among those who notice and care about writers in theater and movies, for writing the books for WEST SIDE STORY and GYPSY [see this NY Times essay], as well as for writing the movie—one of my favorites—THE WAY WE WERE.

I was embarrassed as a boy for loving musicals and would have been as a man for digging movies like THE WAY WE WERE (I mean, Barbra Streissand! etc.) if I hadn't been going through a period under the influence of the newly generated, and inspirational to me, so-called "second-wave" of feminism as well as the burgeoning "gay revolution." The influence of those movements on my thinking made it possible for me to allow myself to express feelings and taste contrary to what had been the standard perspective of what it meant to be male when I was growing up.

Laurents contributed to that with a play he wrote that never got much attention and isn't being mentioned in any of the obituaries I've seen or heard. It was called, if I remember correctly, THE ENCLAVE, and was about a male couple trying to live a "normal" life in the suburbs before the so-called "gay revolution" had any impact, in fact written just after the "Stonewall Riots" that inspired that revolution, and—as far as I know—the first serious play or work of art I'd seen about a "gay" couple, and one seemingly no different than any "normal" "straight" couple.

The play moved me, and helped me understand the ways in which gay men and lesbians had been not just discriminated against but misunderstood and mischaracterized as "other" when, as the play made clear, many of them were no different than most folks, especially when it came to love. I couldn't help my enthusiastic and emotional response given the opportunity to let Laurents know at a party afterward (it was the Washington DC premier of the play as I remember it).

And he was very gracious about it, though also clearly adamant about his right to be who he was and feel the way he felt about his longtime companion who he lived with (but was unable to marry legally) I believe for over half a century. A record I—and a lot of men and women considered "straight—haven't been able to match.

Friday, May 6, 2011


I normally like to keep the swearing out of this blog (a lot of you know what a challenge that is for me!) but the image and message going around the web below (and thanks to Robert Z. for hipping me to it) is too good not to share:

Thursday, May 5, 2011


I don't read as many novels as I used to. I prefer bios and memoirs and histories and poetry etc. And the novels I do read are mostly by writers I already dig and a new translation comes out (Roberto Bolano, Irene Nemirovsky et. al.) or I often reread novels I know well and still get pleasure from ( Joyce's PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, Jack Kerouac's DESOLATION ANGELS etc.).

There are exceptions, new novels from friends or others who ask me to write a blurb or a post about them. And then there are novels that family or friends recommend or give me as gifts. Rarely do those capture my attention and satisfy me as much as they have those who recommended them.

But when my old friend Tom "Willy" Wilson sent me this novel—SKIPPY DIES by the young critically acclaimed writer Paul Murray—and I opened it and began reading, I felt a thrill of excitement and anticipation I hadn't felt in decades. As I wrote to him, it was like back when I was in my early twenties and married to my first wife, Lee, and not yet college educated (I was still in the service) but moving beyond my autodidact intuitive discovery of books and writers I dug to following the recommendations of  my wife and my new and first "intellectual" friends who turned me on to books that I would get lost in and be inspired by, like when my friend Roy Harvey turned me on to Rilke's THE NOTEBOOKS OF MALTA LAURIDS BRIGGE, another novel I continue to reread in various translations every few years and continue to find inspiration and satisfaction in.

SKIPPY DIES isn't an easy read, but the challenge is partly what excited me when I started reading the first few pages. And it demands a big commitment—it's 661 pages before you reach the end. But it's a compelling story, set in an Irish boys boarding school and environs with a large cast of characters. Some are more memorable than others, and some come across as more sketched and sketchy than others (or more representative of a type).

But there's enough original and real characters that I became engaged with their stories and wanted to know more. It took me a while to finish, but the past few days as I neared the end I became obsessive about it, staying up until almost three this morning reading until my eyes grew too tired and then finishing it a few hours when I woke up unexpectedly thinking about it and wanting to find out what happens!

But it's mostly the language and the narrative drive that captured me, reminding me, like I said, of novels Lee and I became engrossed in back in our twenties and beyond, not as original or seminal as Laurence Sterne's TRISTAM SHANDY or as lightweight as Donleavy's THE GINGER MAN, but maybe a marriage of some of the better qualities of each (and a few of the lesser qualities of the latter).

I have to say I enjoyed the process tremendously, and my old friend Tom was right, when he sent it to me and I reminded him I don't read novels much anymore, he told me he knew that but decided that it would be good for me to work that part of my brain again (only he said it more succinctly and clearly) and it was. If anyone's read it too, let me know what you thought, or if you do, what you think.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I've probably posted this before, but it comes to mind now:

"Keep aiming
    for simplicity of thought
            unless, of course
you like over-abundance"

—Joanne Kyger

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


So, as I'm sure you've seen, the birthers haven't given up despite the long-form certificate, and despite Obama being the one who got Bin Laden, the right is giving credit to everyone but him, Palin and many others leaving any mention of our president out when discussing Bin Laden's capture and death and instead crediting Bush Junior!

Oh, and in case you missed it, check this link out for a study done to mathematically figure out what percentage of TV pundits predictions turn out to be correct: Paul Krugman comes in first as the most correct. But the right will continue to dismiss his intellect and Nobel Prize winning economic explanations and predictions and recommendations. Too bad for us.

Monday, May 2, 2011


So, a couple of Reagan's biggest promises when he got elected president were that he'd shrink the federal government, lower taxes and balance the budget.

He only partially kept one of those promises, he lowered taxes for the wealthiest but for the rest of us no such luck (he actually ended up raising taxes several times over the eight years of his presidency), and he grew the federal government and the deficit to the highest it had been up until that time in history!

It was Clinton, the Democrat, who shrunk the federal government during his tenure as well as eliminated the deficit entirely, giving us the greatest surplus in history.

When Bush Junior was elected he promised a smaller federal government and a more humble USA in respect to the rest of the world, but after 9/11 he changed that to the biggest growth in the federal government since World War two, a more arrogant USA and started talking about "us and them" and promising to get Osama Bin Laden, but then let him get away and let Afghanistan descend into a much worse war than it was at first by ignoring it to concentrate on Iraq which had nothing to do with 9/11 but a lot to do with his wanting to show up his father who let Saddam Hussein off the hook in the first Iraq War, and Junior promised that second Iraq War would be successful and over quickly (and even declared it over just before it became the longest and one of the most costly wars in our history) (and let's not forget Bush/Cheney turning a surplus into the biggest deficit in our nation's history up until that time as well).

But it turned out to be the Democrat. President Obama, who actually took a more humble approach to the rest of the world, but humility with strength, and ended our military involvement in Iraq and "got" Bin Laden.

And though he hasn't kept every promise he made, Obama has kept most of them, including making health care available to pretty much everyone and eliminating insurance companies being able to not cover people with "pre-existing conditions" and enacted a new G.I. Bill for veterans, whereas under Bush/Cheney veterans had it worse than they've had it under almost any administration in our history, and the active troops themselves weren't getting the support they needed either (e.g. armor and armored Humvees, etc.) and stopped the use of water boarding and other forms of torture (though the treatment of Bradley Manning has been a black mark on his administration) and saved not just the USA but the world from another Great Depression, and cut taxes for all of us not just the wealthy and is trying to cut tax breaks for oil companies and other corporations (though he's too cozy with all those Goldman Sachs alumni and should fire the head of GE from any government post and make sure they pay taxes, etc.).

Over all, Obama, like Clinton, has kept more promises than Reagan or Bush/Cheney, including their own (R's & B/C's)! And nailing Bin Laden is just the latest. Give the man his due, Obama is well on the way to being what he said he would be as president, and what Reagan and Bush Junior promised they'd be as well, and much more.

But don't expect the right to give him his props, I already heard fatmouth Rush is claiming all kinds of nonsense about Obama jeopardizing the country etc.

[PS: And I listened to Rush's supposedly giving Obama credit for getting Bin Laden and what Rush is doing is being sarcastic, making the point that the media is supposedly claiming President Obama "single-handedly" (in Rush's term) came up with the plan and executed it etc. so he, Rush, pretends to give Obama credit for that but he actually is letting his listeners know that it was Bush's plan and the military who carried it out and Obama wasn't "the only one in the room" who came up with it, though that's what Rush says, sarcastically. But in fact Obama was given many different options and he went for this one that turned out to be successful, so hurray for Obama, non-sarcastically.]

[PPS: And I'm sure more details will come out and it won't be as smooth as it was first described plus there'll be some details that will have to be explained, like how could a helicopter land inside a fortified and supposedly well-guarded compound and no one on our side get hurt at all and no account of any guards being killed, just Bin Laden, his son, two couriers,  and a woman supposedly being used as "a shield" (the scene looked in photos a little too much like the scene of Chicago Black Panther Fred Hampton's assassination by Chicago cops while he was asleep in bed) but where was the guard with a rocket grenade launcher to take out the helicopter or at least some of the "Navy Seals" that pulled off the raid, I'm proud of the competence shown by our "troops" (I'm guessing some CIA were there too)  but wonder about some of the anomalies in the story so far.]

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Here's the SNL comedian/writer at that press dinner with a few good ones:


In case you didn't catch it (I did) ], here's the whole appearance of President Obama at the annual let's joke about the news dinner in DC. Thank God we have a president who not only has a sense of humor and can make fun of himself, but who's smart enough to write or hire writers capable of landing some of the zingers he does here at his opponents.

[PS: Thanks to my son Miles who posted this link in the comments section of the last post, but I thought it'd be great to give it its own post (and thanks Phillipa and others who sent me links to excerpts that can be found on YouTube).]