Wednesday, September 30, 2015


It's been a hectic few weeks, with the usual challenges and some new ones thrown in, but as always, poetry continues to save my life. This time listening to other poets read their work. Last week in an auditorium at The New School, where David Lehman hosted a reading from the 2015 edition in his THE BEST AMERICAN POETRY yearly series, this year's guest-edited by Sherman Alexie.

There were over twenty poets sitting on the stage, as well as David and Sherman, and a pretty full house in the audience seats, when David introduced the evening with some humorous but potent remarks. Then Sherman set the tone of the evening, and I believe raised the bar for the readers, by being funny, honest and inspiring in his completely candid introductory remarks that started out describing how he felt as a young boy on the reservation in Washington state where he grew up when an English teacher had each student pick a poetry magazine to send poems to and he stumbled upon Hanging Loose magazine, which to his surprise accepted his poems and published them, starting one of the most impressive writing careers of our times.

I was there mainly to hear my closest friend Terence Winch read his delightful poem from the anthology and was already a fan of Sherman's prose and poetry, but after his inspiring introduction (he spoke conversationally and candidly, including reminding everyone that the life of a writer, especially a poet, even a more or less famous one, meant rejection rejection and more rejection amid the occasional acceptance) I was excited to hear everyone.

The poets read in alphabetical order and unfortunately I can't remember—and don't have the anthology in front of me—the names of all of them, so all I can share here and now is that there were a few audience favorites that brought the house down but almost every one of the poems read engaged and impressed me as they seemed to do the same for the rest of the very attentive and appreciative audience.

The great follow up to this inspiring evening was going out to dinner later with Bob Hershon, one of the original founders and editors of Hanging Loose (the magazine and press along with Bob and his wife, the poet Donna Brook, received a lot of kudos from the stage from various readers), Donna, Terence Winch, Rachel Diken and Sherman Alexie.

It turns out Sherman and I have a mutual friend from a different reservation outside Spokane where I was stationed in the military the year Sherman was born nearby. He decided there's a good chance I drank with his parents in one of the local Spokane watering holes back in the day. We had other mutual friends and acquaintances in the "Indian" world, which he wasn't surprised by since, as he said, that's not a huge community (he may have meant especially the writers).

The dinner conversation was stimulating, entertaining and informative, as I remember dinners in New York with my creative friends always being. But it was also more full of laughter than usual because Hershon, Alexie and Winch are three of the wittiest people you mighty ever encounter (Sherman revealed that he actually does stand up comedy as well as all his other accomplishments).

Then last night here in Jersey I went to a poetry reading in a cafe to support Rachel Diken, a new but close and dear friend, read her poetry for the first time before an audience, one of many area poets who read their work and who, though not at the level of publishing and awards success as many at The Best American Poetry 2015 reading were, had their own personal stories and thoughts and imagery and artistry to share and once again I was overwhelmed with gratitude for poetry and the ways it continues to save my life.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


I didn't realize there was a call by some groups to boycott the movie STONEWALL until after I saw it tonight, but I can see why. Full disclosure: the poster above imitates a famous photo of Gay Liberation marchers, the group that started after the Stonewall "riot" or rebellion, one of whom (of the original marchers) was the man who convinced me to support the movement and actually when the famous photo was taken I had "come out" (as a political statement and stance) despite my having always been attracted to women (though I did then experiment with my sexuality and gender identification briefly and write openly about it and march and demonstrate and lose my job and many friends and endlessly etc.)...

Anyway, my point is, I have a connection to the history of the fight for LGBTQ etc. liberation and this movie gets a lot of it wrong, but some of it not so wrong. The main problem is the terrible writing and directing. Roland Emmerich is known for directing big budget action flicks like INDEPENDENCE DAY or WHITE HOUSE DOWN and he directs STONEWALL as if it's a big phony simplified action flick instead of a historical document about real people with real emotions and real courage in the face of real problems.

Baitz has written a few good scenes, but only a few. The main structure is the oldest gimmick in movie making, tell the story of black people, or women, or any kind of so-called minorities, but make the main character a handsome white male who acts heroically. So Baitz and Emmerich make up a leading man role that could be from almost any movie in Hollywood history, or Broadway for that matter. Let's pick one, like say HAIR, where in the movie John Savage plays an extremely naive country bumpkin from the simple purity of Midwestern farmland etc. who arrives in the big city to be schooled by the ragtag hippies etc.

In STONEWALL that made up character ("Danny") is played by a British actor (of course, because these days almost all "American" characters are played by Brits or Aussies) Jeremy Irvine and the entire story relies on made up business about his Midwestern country past and family and on his arrival in New York his being schooled by a ragtag band of young homeless street hustlers, some in drag, which some in the Stonewall rebellion were, but who in the movie defer in most heroic acts to the make-believe straight-seeming hunky white boy hero etc. (This made up white Midwestern character in STONEWALL actually gets to be the one who starts the uprising and then the first to shout the slogan "Gay Power"!!!)

I almost moaned right from the beginning at the terrible set that looked nothing like Christopher Street in 1969 (someone wrote it looks more like Sesame Street than Christopher Street) and then almost got up and left when a homeless young street queen admires a hat in a store window and throws a brick through it and takes it and stands around modeling it as if it was routine to do shit like that and get away with it. Ack. But what kept me in my seat was the performance by Johnny Beauchamp as Ray.

Some who believe the character was based on an actual Ray (Castro) who was at the Stonewall uprising, others on gay liberation pioneer Sylvia Rivera, and many more in the gay community, have disparaged Beauchamp's performance, but I found it mostly riveting and believable from my experiences with several young men I knew at the time very much like Beauchamp's "Ray."

But like a lot who are criticizing the film (and there's a lot more to criticize but this is long enough already), I too was greatly disappointed that the director and writer didn't have the courage to let the true story tell itself, and let the true characters who were mostly nothing like the made up hero be the true heroes of the film. But having said that, I also must admit I cried a lot at the end of the film and would have been crying even more if I had been alone in my living room watching it.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


This recording helped form the philosophy I've tried to live by ever since I first heard Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross do this "vocalese" version of Charlie Parker's "Now's The Time."

The line in it that got to me the most, written by Jon Hendricks, was: "If you be still and never move, you're gonna dig yourself a well-intentioned rut and think you've found a groove."

Thursday, September 24, 2015


So the Pope goes before Congress and talks about four "Americans" as examples of living up to what's best about the people of this country, and much to my delight he chooses heroes of mine, flawed or not: Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

Man were some in the audience either confused or squirming over at least some of these examples. Lincoln was obviously flawed and didn't do everything perfectly, but who among us has? The man kept a sense of humor pretty well in the face of overwhelming challenges and never seemed to lose his common touch. And no matter the politics of it, he did end slavery.

King has been a hero of mine since his letter from that Birmingham jail, another imperfect human who aimed high and sometimes missed but like Lincoln gave us a vision to aspire toward. Both he and Lincoln were martyrs to the cause of liberty and freedom for those who had been deprived of it on one level or another until they came along.

Dorothy Day was the big surprise. When Francis mentioned her it brought tears to my eyes. One of my all-time favorite examples of activism based on love for all, she started the Catholic Workers movement in the early 20th Century, when connecting socialism and Catholicism seemed more possible until now. I posted this not too long ago (that's her later in life still walking the walk):

But she was also a denizen of Greenwich Village in the 1920s and '30s, the peak period of that enclave's bohemianism and she lived that bohemian life to a degree while still working to help the downtrodden get their rights and fair share and was doing so even when I first started hanging there in the mid 1950s and learned about her and came to respect and admire and wish to emulate her.

Thomas Merton I've known about since I was a boy, his best-selling autobiography, SEVEN STORY MOUNTAIN, was a staple in my home, whether everyone read it or not. He was a hero of my oldest brother Tommy's, who followed Merton's example and joined a religious group, though Tommy became a Franciscan friar, Father Campion, after WWII. He started that journey by using the G.I.Bill to go to Saint Bonaventure's University where Merton briefly taught just before the USA entered the war and where he began writing his autobiography.

My brother helped get me a scholarship to Saint Bonaventure's in 1960, where I was inspired by the manuscript of Merton's autobio displayed in a glass case in the library, so started writing my own (at 18!) which I wrote over the next several years and in 1968 began to distill into what became THE SOUTH ORANGE SONNETS. I got kicked out before my first year was over, thanks to my usual rebelliousness, but nonetheless was permanently impressed by Merton's writing and commitment to better understanding the human and spiritual connection all based on love.

The Pope didn't satisfy everyone, including me, with some of his remarks bringing the Republicans to their feet (talking about the sanctity of all life at every stage) and others bringing the Democrats to theirs (emphasizing that that means doing away with the death penalty). But he did challenge all of them to live up to the ideals the four he cited were trying to: liberty, equality, social justice and living a life based on spiritual principles embodied in the golden rule (which he quoted).

Hope some in Congress look into these four a little more deeply and use them to measure their own actions by.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015



Watched this film again the other night for the maybe ninth or tenth time and it still holds up, one of those flicks I can watch anytime and still enjoy. In some ways it even gets better. Daniel Day-Lewis was never more beautiful, even when certain shots reveal that he's sort of an unusual looking dude, he still comes across as exquisitely handsome like a true classic Hollywood movie star.

And he's also one of the most consistently great film actors in movie history. Unlike Brando—or his closest (more contemporary) competitor Johnny Depp, who push the limits of a character until they're doing things you never saw an actor do before (and often come off looking like fools or even "bad" actors though always original), Day-Lewis so completely embodies the character he's playing nothing he does seems unnatural, or even unexpected, yet everything seems so extraordinarily particular each character is as individually unique as any real person is.

I said that better when explaining to someone over dinner why I loved his acting, including in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. But everything about this movie works, all the acting (Madeleine Stowe was never more beautiful or grounded and Wes Studi perfectly embodies one of the greatest film villains ever) and the directing and writing, the camera work and editing (those vistas, those faces) even the score (it still moves me the way classic Hollywood scores can).

But it's Day-Lewis's film and he pulls it off so well I never doubt when I'm watching it that he really is running through forests and up mountainsides like a native to that landscape, or loading powder and "ball" into an old musket while on the run or acting and speaking like a white man raised by a Mohican father in colonial "America" would.    

Sunday, September 20, 2015


Yeah, I'm still watching RAY DONOVAN, mostly to see how they're portraying "my people" now. That's kind of a joke and kind of not, "my people" being Irish-Americans. So the first question is, did a guy with an Irish sounding last name step on the toes of someone writing this show, or is there another reason why the three main baddies on the series so far all have Irish, or at least Celtic derived, last names: Donovan, Finney and Cochran? (And I know Finney is sometimes declared an "English" name but most of the Finneys I've known in my day were of Irish descent)

Was I seeing clearly when the coming attraction for next week's show has Ray himself going to confession? It's a set up right? He didn't really right? Because as he's written that would be, oh wait, that's already more than three questions.

Too bad, cause the third one was a good one, and not meant to pick on anyone's looks or how they're being shot or anything, but what's going on with Katie Holmes teeth or her character's in this show?

Thursday, September 17, 2015


A shot I took of a poetry anthology I edited in 1974 but came out in '76 the year before I took this (and one of my all-time favorite book covers) with my favorite nighttime snack then (yep, all for me, or at least half of each) on the kitchen table I'd had for years (and still use forty years later) in a loft on Church Street in what wasn't fancy Tribeca yet but just an old manufacturing and warehouse district a block from Chinatown.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Fiorina, though I dislike her positions and think she was a lousy CEO etc., did come across as more intelligent and articulate than a lot of the guys, especially Trump and Carson, the so-called frontrunners. Hopefully they'll all end up beating each other...

...but it is so tiresome to watch the usual lies being thrown around and the supposed "journalists" not calling them on it, especially the blatant attempt to sound Reaganesque by Jeb saying are you better off than you were six and a half years ago (I think he meant seven and a half unless I misheard) as if the best time in "America" was under his brother!?

The usual rightwing tactics of misdirection, misinformation, and endless lies prevailed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Thought this was an appropriate post on the anniversary of the Birmingham bombing that assassinated those four young girls...I still love many of the films these clips came from, as I do all the old Westerns that bent over backward to salve the South's poor loser complex (and often contained this phrase)...but damn it was so obvious to me even as a kid how wrong this so common expression then was...

Sunday, September 13, 2015


GRANDMA isn't a perfect movie by a long, or a medium, shot. But I suspect it is probably the first movie ever focused on an aging lesbian as the main character. She's played by Lily Tomlin who doesn't give a perfect performance but has many moments of her usual brilliance. Some of the scenes between her and Judy Garner, who plays her granddaughter, are worth the price of the film. There's a lot of good work by others in the cast as well, especially Sam Elliot.

The whole movie feels at times like a dramatic essay on the history of "second wave" feminism and the progress that's been made. The subject matter and lead role makes GRANDMA a pretty original piece of movie making. It's worth watching just for that. Or for the fact that the movie opens with a quote by Eileen Myles (the poet, and a friend from long ago) and a book of hers features prominently in a couple of scenes.

Given all that, I was surprised to learn after watching GRANDMA that it was written and directed by a man, Paul Weitz. He also didn't do a perfect job at either. But ultimately it's Tomlin's movie, and her fans will be happy to see her work out on screen again and in almost every scene (or actually I think she's in every scene). She's always been a fascinating performer to watch, whether what she's doing always works or not. And it's no different here.

Friday, September 11, 2015


"Aren't we all gonna die?
Are we obsessed with the denial of that reality?
As a kid did you, like I, feel
you owned death, like a furry little pet
sitting on your shoulder, and any time you wanted
you could turn your head and see it, or kiss it,
or pet it, or remind yourself how close it was,
but in truth, you thought of it rarely,
more frequently of everyone else's,
because theirs seemed more imminent
even though back then you felt it
breathing on your neck in reassurance?
Or is that just me because I've seen
a lot of people pass, or die, as you might say,
from one thing or another, including my mother,
in a way that seemed unfair and certainly
unnecessary and arbitrary and cruel?
But what death isn't?
Those I remember that were no surprise,
though devastating anyway in their
Is that why now it's life I'm obsessed with?
Or is that because when I watched
the second plane crash into the second tower on TV
a thin blue tube hung from my urethra,
attached to a clear plastic bag, the remnant of a
cancer operation the week before,
unaware an old friend was on that flight,
at that moment incinerated,
a woman who was kind to me when
she didn't need to be?
How many people have died
before you got the chance to tell them what you meant to?"
(from MARCH 18, 2003)
(Berry Berenson 1948-2001)

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Albie Selznick, Nathan Stein, me, Penelope Milford and Winston Jones posing for a publicity shot for my "play"—the staging of some of my poems from the collection HOLLYWOOD MAGIC—L.A. 1983 (if you look closely you can see I'm holding an open switchblade in my left hand...I'm wearing my own clothes but so are Albie and Nathan—that's my vintage 1950s shirt on Albie and my vintage 1950s garrison belt and jacket on Nathan—who at that time were two thirds of a brilliant New Wave magic (thus the dove), juggling and acrobatic act called The Mums, Winston was a playwright who also acted in horror movies in various costumes as aliens and monsters, and Penny was the Oscar-nominated (for COMING HOME) actress I was married to at the time...)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


This is a terrific collection of poems. Full disclosure, my last book, SWING THEORY, was published in May by the same publisher, Hanging Loose Press. But I never met Rosalind Brackenbury until the publication party and even then we didn't talk so I had no idea who she was or what her poetry was like.

But among the stack of books by my bed is her BONNARD'S DOG which I've been reading a few poems out of every night or so and find myself almost always delighted with what I read. Like this one:


Maybe it's the darkness under pine branches,
the underside of a red leaf in the wind.
Maybe the white ferry
coming into harbor.

Or the sound of footsteps
in the alleyway,
children's shouts
at the end of the road.

It's so slight you may not notice it;
it's the rustle of bell heather,
the body of the dragonfly over the brown pool
this afternoon—

not a flit or a dive exactly, more like
a shimmering.
It's the impossibility of choosing.
It's being chosen.

or this one:


Once I sat in a knitted suit, rapt
at a bucket of wet sand;

there's a photo—my first beach,
everyone's, postwar
and the barbed wire gone.

I wore a cotton hat.
Nobody interrupted.

Now, I'm back. Sea, and the space
where sand gleams, and the tide.

Same mystery.

Sunday, September 6, 2015


Went with my writer/artist friend Rachel to see the Jacob Lawrence exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art, the show of his complete famous migration series, 60 artworks depicting scenes from The Great Migration when multitudes of African-Americans left their homes in the South to move North for work and to escape Jim Crow racist laws and mistreatment.

I hadn't been in MOMA since I left New York for L.A. in 1983, just before the expansion of the museum began and eventually led to a total remodeling of it. I remembered a relatively uncrowded and quiet space to study the art of the first six decades of the 20th Century, a space that as soon as you entered you encountered art, a Claes Oldenberg soft sculpture (as I remember it) and Picasso's GUERNICA as you ascended the stairs.

Back then the museum store wasn't that big, waiting to purchase tickets to get in either took no time or little time, the artists whose work I'd fallen in love with were all represented. But today the line looped around several times (though there were so many ticket takers it moved quickly) and the entire too large entrance lobby was full of screens advertising the museum's movie series and photography galleries and bookstore and book collection and hardly any mention of actual paintings while the wall opposite the ticket counter was full of even bigger screens touting MOMA's new buildings around the world.

I felt like I had entered the corporate headquarters of some media and architectural conglomerate, not a space that had seemed sacred to me from the first time I entered it, and all the other times I spent afternoons there when I lived in the city in the 1970s and early '80s. And so many of my favorite works that I spent time with back then were not on display today.

But the Lawrence exhibit was well worth seeing, especially since it was the first time the entire series was shown together and the show ends on Monday with half the works going back to The Phillips Collection in DC. I felt fortunate to see these artworks I'd always admired up close with Lawrence's own captions, and the art and books and music associated with that period and subject matter in adjoining galleries.

And we also got to see the Yoko Ono show that confirmed how bold and brilliant she was from the start as an artist, the reason John first fell for her. But the highlight of the visit for me was the work of Kara Walker that I'd only read about and seen magazine photos of until I encountered a massive wall in one of the galleries housing contemporary art (that I otherwise mostly felt like an old fogey viewing because so much of it left me cold) with a narrative work of hers dominating it, one of the most powerful works of art I've seen in many years.

There are connections to the ancient world and its graffiti-like wall painting and frescoes of outsized sexual organs and other graphically sexual depictions, but done with the kind of silhouette figures that used to grace lockets on the necks of women in late the 18th and early 19th centuries, only all blown up to a huge scale and depicting racial injustices and stereotypes, satirizing them in a "transgressive" way and on this huge scale. The details, the more I looked, began to overwhelm me with their obvious and less obvious commentary on the life of an African-American woman in the pre-photography period when those kind of black cut out profiles and figures were popular.

The photo of it below doesn't even come close to having anything like the impact it has in person, or at least had on me. And I was grateful to have seen it. But next time I want to see the modern art I dig, I'll drop in on the much more human scaled and friendly wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's 20th Century American art wing.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


me & Kim, my lady at the time, c.1990, at Cafe Largo in L.A. picking some of my poems for me to read at the weekly Poetry in Motion event I started and ran for eight years with my friend Eve Brandstein

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Jason Segel's performance in THE END OF THE TOUR is getting raves from film critics and many of my Hollywood friends. I can see why. It's a challenging role. Playing the author David Foster Wallace just after his book INFINITE JEST was published and already garnering outsized acclaim, would be enough of a test of your acting skills, but doing it in a film whose premise is pretty thin dramatically—a reporter working for ROLLING STONE interviews Wallace at his Midwest home and on a trip to a Minneapolis bookstore over a two-or-three-day period—and holding the screen is even more impressive.

Jesse Eisenberg plays the reporter, novelist David Lipsky who wrote a book about his experience over those few days with Wallace which the film is based on. And as usual Eisenberg does his best to portray conflicting emotions in almost every close up and often succeeds. Watching these two unique film actors play competing authors of more-or-less the same generation at a time when one of them is succeeding in ways only a handful of writers ever do is what makes the film compelling.

Not that it always is. At moments there is almost a profundity to the minimalist dialogue especially on Segel/Wallace's part. But at times there's also a bit of preciousness with the ways authors' ambitions and disappointments are elevated to almost deity status through lingering close ups of silent reactions etc.

I am happy that a movie got made about writers and with only one brief scene of a writer (Eisenberg/Lipsky) at the keyboard. And even happier that a movie got made about writers talking about writing and about the meaning of art and life. Even if I believe anyone with a camera could have made a more entertaining and enlightening film by following pretty much any of my writer friends around talking with pretty much any of my other writer friends.

I am also happy that the movie manages to work in its own way on its own terms despite the scarcity of any real drama or narrative outside the time limits of a magazine interview (would have loved to have seen excerpts of that interview as it appeared in ROLLING STONE at the end of the flick but no such luck).  The writer friend I saw it with loved it, as have other writer friends. Love would be too strong a term for my reaction, but appreciation works for most of what it accomplished, as modest as that turned out to be.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Throughout my late teens I thought what kept me from total self-, and otherwise, destruction was the wisdom and solace, and most importantly the identification, I found in books, and the three main authors whose books "kept me alive" before I discovered William Carlos Williams and Frank O'Hara or began to comprehend the great spiritual and philosophical works I'd already begun reading (or at least began believing that I comprehended) were Walt Whitman, James Joyce and William Saroyan.

Yesterday would have been Saroyan's 109th birthday, which made me think of him, though I think of him most every day, if not read a little in one of his books. I have a photograph in a frame over or near wherever I've been writing since it was taken in the 1970s, of him and me and a few others at The Franklin Library when I worked there in the only 9-to-5 job I ever had (and only stayed at for less than two years), but I've never scanned it so you'll have to take my word for it.

I see quotes from him on the Internet now and then that express his unique genius. The son of Armenian immigrants who spent a few years of his boyhood with his siblings in an orphanage after his father unexpectedly died, William swore he would make it as a writer when he dropped out of school early in his life and by the time he was in his twenties he was on his way to becoming one of the most widely read and most influential writers in the world (Kerouac, another writer I identified with, made clear the influence Saroyan had on him early on).

But William Saroyan is pretty much forgotten now, partly because of his personality and his choices in his later life, partly because of changes in critical and academic taste and trends, partly because he pissed off the wrong powerful people in the literary world of his times. But at one time he was the most famous writer in the world.

If you haven't read anything of his and are interested, here's some of his books I'd recommend which I'm sure can be found on the Internet:

From his early years these three volumes:
THE DARING YOUNG MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE (an early collection of the original and technically varied short stories that first made him famous and influential)
MY NAME IS ARAM (his most popular book, a series of autobiographical short stories)
THE HUMAN COMEDY (a WWII home-front novel based on a movie script he felt Hollywood ruined and so he wrote this novel to set the record straight and it became an enormous best seller at the time.)

He became a playwright in his twenties as well, as a challenge to himself because he had proclaimed that he could write a prize-winning play and then did (his arrogance, or you might call it self-confidence and belief in himself from long before anyone else believed in him, was partly what motivated critics and others to eventually turn on him), so here are three of his most successful plays:

After WWII and his pacifist and humane response to all impacted by it got him in trouble with some critics for seemingly having too equal a perspective on all combatants (including the Germans) his books became less popular and among them these three are my favorites:

ROCK WAGRAM (a novel about Hollywood that also made him some enemies)
TRACY'S TIGER (an inspiring, at least to me, romantic fable and my favorite)

After 1960 saw his first memoir (though much of his previous writing leaned on stories from his actual life) he published mostly collections of true stories from his life organized by some simple device like places where he'd lived or people he'd known whose obituaries appeared in one of the Hollywood trade papers, etc. Here's my three favorites of those later books:

HERE COMES, THERE GOES, YOU KNOW WHO (the first official memoir or autobiography, this more or less put him back on the literary map in his new role as a once famous author looking back on his life in his old(er) age)
DAYS OF LIFE AND DEATH AND ESCAPE TO THE MOON (an "I did this I did that" kind of meandering dailiness almost-diary that is full of details some might find tedious but I find compellingly honest and sometimes profound, like this from the "August 16" chapter:

"...human affairs still continue to be the consequence of mistakes, misunderstandings, and myths...")
[PS: Just noticed I made a bunch of "trinity" lists above without a big struggle, first time since the 2009 brain operation a list came so easily again...yay!]