Sunday, January 31, 2016


So, first of all I'm proud of my union because, of the ten individual acting awards given out last night at the awards dinner, five went to black actors and five to white actors. And though some I voted for didn't win, all the winners were deserving.

The above reality raises some questions though. The lack of skin color diversity in the Oscar nominations created a lot of furor on the Internet about Hollywood's failure to represent the diversity of the country adequately. But the SAG/AFTRA awards give the lie to that generalization and seem to me to be a warning about generalizations in general.

On the same day of the SAG/AFTRA Awards, at the Sundance Awards the new BIRTH OF A NATION won top honors for it's black creator and star who referenced the SAG controversy in accepting the top award for his film about the Nat Turner slave rebellion.

The Oscar acting nominations certainly don't reflect the diversity of our country's populace (and never have for that matter) in more ways than just "black" and "white" (as I've posted before, i.e. the lack of nominations for Native American actors (see THE REVENANT) and Asian-Americans etc.).

But the fact that fifty percent of the individual acting awards for SAG/AFTRA were for black actors, a much higher percentage than would realistically reflect the racial (so-called) make up of the USA, makes clear that "Hollywood" is producing some great product for and with black talent that is getting recognition even if not in the acting categories at this year's Oscars.

Saturday, January 30, 2016


I rewatched this Oscar-winning documentary from 1974 last night on TCM and was moved and disturbed and saddened and engaged and enlightened all over again like the first time I saw it in a special screening at "the free clinic" in Washington DC not long after it came out.

Two things mainly struck me this time. The main one was the same as the main one to strike me the first time I saw it, even though this time I was prepared. And that was that the ex-POW who was shown being honored with a hometown parade and ceremony and later speaking to grade school children about war and still later to a room full of white women about their responsibility in preparing their sons for war when they are still in boyhood, I knew.

He had gone to the same boys school in Newark (Saint Benedict's Prep, a day school that prepared the sons of immigrants and working-class families, and in some cases of professionals, all identified by their ethnic origins, in my day mostly Italians and Irish, now mostly African-American, see the documentary on it called THE RULE) only a year or two behind me.

His perspective was one I had gotten in trouble for rebelling against in our school, and fourteen years after I graduated and a dozen after he had, here he was, one of the subjects of a documentary on the futility of the Viet Nam War and the ignorance and lies that had caused it and was still causing death and destruction when the film was made.

The other point that struck me this time was the distortions that the right propagated at the time that have now become accepted as historically accurate (just as the distortions about the Civil War have continued to in popular culture, i.e. the rebels were honorable and noble and etc. and the Union troops were drunken abusive outsiders in a genteel culture blah blah).

Specifically that the returning Viet vets were vilified and even spit on etc. and not honored with parades and ceremonies as were the vets of previous wars. This documentary shows clearly what a lie that was and continues to be. Not only were Viet vets honored with parades and such, but it was the Viet vets who came out against the war who were vilified and spit on and worse.

If you've never seen this extraordinary film, you should. And even if you have, you might want to watch it again for its relevance to the present, both politically and morally.    

Friday, January 29, 2016


I knew Paul Kantner, of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship fame, but I knew him as a writer and activist. When I was running with my partner Eve Brandstein the weekly poetry reading series I started in L.A. called Poetry in Motion in the 1980s and early '90s, Paul came and read some of his poetry with us and loved it.

My copy of his NICARAGUA DIARY—subtitled How I Spent My Summer Vacation or I Was a Commie Dupe for the Sandinistas—has a place of honor on my bookshelves. The man cared deeply, about music and poetry and art and political activism and his fellow beings. The inscription in my copy says "thanks for the place to go & the delicate pagan balance of celebration & poetry...Keep on..." which is what I intend to do.

But it'll be less fun without his presence in the physical realm, though his spirit and music still obviously live on...

Thursday, January 28, 2016


me and my older siblings in our Easter outfits in 1943 (a brother, John, born between me and my sisters, had died as an infant three years before), all gone now except for me and Irene, the youngest of my two older sisters...I miss them all...

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Here's my take on the controversy. Yes, it's ridiculous all the acting nominations were for "white" actors (I put that in quotes because it's pretty meaningless, as is "black"—we're all shades, but very few of us are actually black or white and the terms are meant to mean some sort of racial ancestry but "race" is a human construct, when I was a boy my people were considered to be of the Irish race which when my father was born in 1899 was considered by the English and most "Americans" (another distorted term since it is usually meant for residents of the USA which is only a part of the Americas) to be "an inferior race")...

...but the most glaring missing performance by a "black" actor is one that no one as far as I have read or heard or seen has even mentioned: Abraham Attah. He is the star of BEASTS OF NO NATION and in his first acting role on screen gives one of the most varied, nuanced and overwhelmingly powerful performances in the history of filmmaking.

Yet most commentators, celebrities or not, mention the supporting role of his commander played by Idris Elba, a fine performance and worthy of an Oscar nomination for sure, but Attah's is far more impressive to me, as someone who has acted in films and experienced the challenges. And it occurs to me that even well intentioned movie stars and others in the public eye are quick to use Elba as the example of a great performance by a "black" actor being overlooked, because Elba has become a celebrity too, is famous and critically acclaimed and was even mentioned as the possibly first "black" James Bond.

I was told once that a character I played in a recurring role on NYPD BLUE was going to be pushed for Emmy recognition, but when it came time, the "guest star" award went to someone who was already a "star" and was forced by circumstances, or just decided, to take a "guest star" role. It always strikes me that the nominations for TV show "guest stars" and movie "supporting actors" almost always go to stars who for whatever reason have taken a smaller role, while the actors who put their life's worth of talent and experience and hard work into some amazing portrayal in a true supporting role, but are relatively unknown, most often go unheralded.

Everyone responds to name and/or image recognition and often media hype. Even the rebels who are boycotting the Oscars this year. They should be pounding Abraham Attah's name into the consciousness of every movie lover.

And as for "diversity" and the need for it in Hollywood films and award nominations, yes there should definitely be more roles and more recognition for the talent of "black" actors and directors and writers etc. But also, when was the last time a disabled actor was nominated for an Oscar, or an Asian-American or Native American or etc. etc. et-endlessly-cetera?

Hollywood could certainly use more diversity, of all kinds.

[PS: In no way does the above post mean to imply that skin "color" or lack of it doesn't play a role historically and still in the atrocities perpetrated on "people of color"...]

Sunday, January 24, 2016


So, I had the same sensation when I went out this morning after more than two feet of snow that I always have after an intense snowstorm: awe and joy. You might say easy for me since neighbors charitably snow blew the sidewalk in front of the old house my apartment is in, and others shoveled the walk to the sidewalk before I could (though I shoveled the porch and steps late last night and some more this AM).

But in previous years, before my kids and loved ones kept warning me not to shovel (well actually they were doing it then too but I ignored them) I loved shoveling snow the morning after a snow storm. I would do it in short spurts with lots of resting on the shovel handle digging that unique muffling of the world's sounds (aided by few or even no cars driving by) that you only get after a snowstorm. The brightness of the almost cloudless sky, the blue of it seemingly the only color other than the pure white of unsullied snow blown into sensuous curves covering everything, in some spots as high as four foot drifts, and the dark of tree trunks and limbs where the snow was blown off.

I wish I could take a photo on my phone and transfer it to this post, but I'm a little techno-dyslexic, and the limitations of any photograph would stop me anyway. There's no way to capture being surrounded by a few feet of new fallen snow under a bright blue sky with the few sounds coming across as distant or so muffled they seem distant.

In my almost twenty years in L.A. I missed this, so I'm grateful for it, at least today, before it begins to melt and the slush in the street gets sprayed onto the snowbanks turning them into something less pleasant. But for now, I can even shrug off the rightwing troll who continues to plague my blog even though I now can block his comments and have for years.

It hasn't stopped his rightwing parroting, including his latest asking how I like my two feet of global warming. The guy actually thinks because we had a blizzard after the most snow-free winter ever, that somehow that negates the reality that 2015 was the warmest year on record and 2014 the warmest before that. It would be pathetic if it wasn't emblematic of the brain washing the right has accomplished in recent decades.

[PS: I don't in any way mean to diminish the real hardships caused by this blizzard, especially by the worst flooding since Sandy down the Jersey shore.]

Saturday, January 23, 2016


Due to the blizzard, my talk on how "poetry saved my life" (and creativity in general can save lives) at the Ethical Culture Society, 516 Prospect Street, Maplewood NJ, has been moved to 11 AM, Easter Sunday, March 27th, 2016...hope to see you there or...(or and)...

...on February 29th (leap day!) at 7PM at Luna Stage, 555 Valley Road, West Orange, NJ (I always thought that part of The Valley was Orange, my birthplace), I'll be reading poems from my 2015 book: Swing Theory...

Thursday, January 21, 2016


Room is incredibly well acted, directed and written, for the most part, but it's not an easy movie to watch or, for my taste, like. Too dark and painful. Though very well done. The lead, Brie Larson, already won a Golden Globe as best actress in a drama and is vying for an Oscar, a well deserved nomination (though I still prefer Saoirse Ronan in BROOKLYN as best performance by an actress).

And the child actor who plays her son, Jacob Tremblay, is impressive. He won the Critics' Choice award for best actor. But as great as his performance was, no acting in any movie from 2015 I've seen so far, which is most of those getting attention and nominations, comes close to the overwhelmingly brilliant performance by the child actor, Abraham Attah, in BEASTS OF NO NATION (the most obvious of the "black" talents in 2015 movies most egregiously overlooked by the Oscar nominations).

But in case no one noticed, this year's Oscars actually has the most nominations for Irish-born talent in Oscar history, including the writer, Emma Donoaghue, and director, Lenny Abrahamson, of ROOM. So, though Oscar nominations and Hollywood movies obviously need way more diversity of all kinds, it's still nice to see people from my grandparents' homeland getting some recognition in the Oscar competition.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


I have two events coming up, the first is this Sunday at 11AM at the Ethical Culture Society, 516 Prospect Street, Maplewood NJ where I'm giving a talk (riffing really) on how "poetry saved my life" and creativity in general saves lives.

The second is on February 29th (leap day?) at 7PM at Luna Stage, 555 Valley Road, West Orange NJ where I will be reading poems from my latest book: Swing Theory.

Monday, January 18, 2016


STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is one of the movies folks are touting as being overlooked for the Oscars because of the non-white subject and actors (for the most part). Though there was a writing Oscar nomination. But that was for the four white male screenwriters, which raises the question why Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, who produced it, hired "white" writers (couldn't get made without them?).

And despite some great acting (including from the uncannily look-alike son of Ice Cube) those writers are the ones responsible for why I wouldn't vote for it for a best picture nomination. For me, the first scene in the movie sets up expectations of pace and drama that the rest of the movie doesn't live up to, and that rest of the movie seems like two different movies anyway.

The origin story of NWA makes for pretty good filmmaking, but then the story falls apart as drama as it touches on a hodge podge of experiences, some related and some barely, in an attempt to chronicle the fates of the different leading characters.

Biopics, as they call them, especially of creative artists, are difficult to write and make work (LOVE & MERCY is an exception, as was RAY and a handful of others). Much of that is due to studio and producer interference, in my experience.

I was hired by a Hollywood studio to write the Otis Redding story back in 1980s (because I had actually played music in segregated clubs on the Chitlin Circuit back when Otis was doing the same) and was told when I turned in a first draft that chronicled Redding's growing up in an oppressively segregated environment (and the challenges that presented to his youthful ventures in the music business) that they didn't want all that back story, because they assumed they already had a guaranteed black audience, but needed to get the white kids into the theater.

They wanted me to rewrite it, and begin the screenplay with Redding's appearance as one of the few black acts (one of the others being Jimi Hendrix's explosive debut) at the Monterey festival documented in MONTEREY POP. And go on from there, leaving out all the "racial" stuff, as they put it (!).

So, I'll cut the writers and producers some slack and say they made a strong effort to make the story of NWA work. But for my taste, they only partly accomplished that.

Sunday, January 17, 2016


The small print up there says ANOMALISA is "A Masterpiece" according to hip sources like Rolling Stone and The LA Weekly. Well, okay, Rolling Stone isn't so hip anymore, if it ever was, and The LA Weekly once reviewed a play of mine by declaring I'd learned my foul language from Quentin Tarantino, my letter to the editor never published, explaining that I'd been condemned on the floor of Congress in 1982 for the foul language in my poetry and decades earlier in reviews and responses in and out of print.

All this by way of introduction to my apology to the friends I talked into going to see ANOMALISA with me last night. I had heard it was a great quirky "masterpiece" by the brilliant Charlie Kaufman, whose earlier brilliant quirky masterpieces I mostly appreciated (like ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND and INSIDE JOHN MALKOVICH). But, turns out, the emperor, or in this case, Chalie Kaufman, has no clothes (at least this time out). 

Highly unrecommended.

Saturday, January 16, 2016


Went to a terrific reading last night at The Saint Mark's Poetry Project by two fiction writers, Diana Cage and Jane DeLynn. Great crowd and great organizers. The introductions for the readers were works of art and performance themselves worth the price of admission.

I didn't know Diana Cage's work before but was impressed with not just her writing but her delivery of the first chapter of a novel called THE HUSBANDS.  Full of clever references and ironic observations that Cage put across like a great stand-up act, the reading drew lots of knowing chuckles and even outbursts of belly laughs from the audience.

The self-effacing narrator she created broaches subjects and descriptions that once were seen as "transgressive" (and still are by many, though when Jane and I were first publishing and reading our work at Saint Mark's in the 1970s that word hadn't become common yet, so mine was just called "raw" and Jane's "dark" to some) but now are the currency of many younger writers.

Jane was introduced by a young writer who shared how she'd been told for years to read DeLynn and had put it off, but once she began she realized she'd have to mark her reading life as pre-DeLynn and post-DeLynn. Exactly the kind of introduction Jane deserves. And she didn't disappoint, reading from a new novel that was ripe with her unique brand of humor and parody that had the audience once more constantly chuckling when not belly laughing.

The subject was aging and dying and dealing with the medical system and establishment. Dark humor indeed, but nonetheless so brilliant that the audience kept applauding long after Jane had sat down and the reading was over.

Then I had the good fortune of going out afterward with Jane and mutual old friends I hadn't seen in decades, though some I immediately recognized as though I'd just seen them yesterday, because I had, on Facebook, others vaguely familiar, until a name was mentioned evoking an entire history of friendship.

The creative act, whether mine or another's, continues to offer much of the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in my life.

Friday, January 15, 2016


There's been a lot of noise about the lack of diversity once again in the Oscar nominations, and rightfully so.  For instance BEASTS OF NO NATION is one of the best movies of the last decade let alone year, with an (almost) entirely non-white cast, including a brilliantly impressive debut by boy actor Abraham Attah, and not one nomination.

So I'm proud of my union for nominating the cast for a "Best Ensemble" SAG Award as well as Idris Elba for a SAG "Supporting Role" Award. Not only should Elba have been nominated for an Oscar for a supporting role and Attah for a leading role, but the director and screenwriter, Cary Joji Fukunaga should have been nominated in both those categories as well.

My guess is not as many members of the Academy saw BEASTS OF NO NATION as should have, especially because it's a tough story (about Africa's child soldiers). But it is one of the most beautifully shot and incredibly well told stories on screen in 2015. It's easily the equal of THE REVENANT, which got the most Oscar nominations (and is also a great movie experience with a lot of violence, but not as challenging as BEASTS OF NO NATION).

I recommend BEASTS OF NO NATION to anyone who loves great movies (whether they're recognized by Oscar nominations or not).

Thursday, January 14, 2016


I was about to post a mini-tribute to the musical geniuses that left the physical plane recently, Pierre Boulez, Paul Bley and David Bowie (what are the odds for all their last professional names ending in "B"?)—a trio that seemed to confirm that old myth of famous folk dying in groups of three—when two more prominent innovators in their creative fields also passed, poet C. D. Wright and actor Alan Rickman.

I hope the latter two don't forecast two more poets and two more actors joining the list of the departed in this first month of the new year.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


Photo by the great Bobby Miller taken in the loft I was renting in what unfortunately was beginning to be called "Tribeca" by the real estate biz c. 1979 when I was thirty-seven with the exact expression I see almost every day on my teenager Flynn who for good or ill quite clearly takes after me in many ways including body type and facial expressions and looks.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


I've never quite bought Leonardo DiCaprio in roles where he plays a grown man. I know he is one, obviously, but his boyish qualities always seem to take away from any gravitas grown up roles demand. But in THE REVENANT, he finally accomplishes that for me as he embodies the character of frontiersman Hugh Glass, a real historic figure who had some of the experiences the movie presents (it adds a lot more that isn't true to history) in a way that had me believing even the most outlandish elements of the movie's plot and DiCaprio's character.

That may be because for most of the movie DiCaprio's character has very little to say and a lot of that he says in Pawnee (one of the made-up plot devices is a Pawnee wife and the son they had). But the physicality of his performance—and Alejandro Innaritu's direction—often in obviously real settings that are gorgeous but brutal (I suspect on a small screen it won't have the impact it definitely does on the big one I saw it on) is worth the price of admission.

Is it a great movie? Not enough to outshine more innovative and psychologically nuanced and multi-layered films that deserve being awarded best drama at The Golden Globes, as it was. But it's a great movie experience, unless you can't take graphic violence. I would say it's almost an old fashioned male fantasy movie, except that it isn't all fantasy and there have been movies in recent years that express the same kind of physical endurance and strength and capacity to overcome obstacles in nature that tell the story of female wilderness survivors.

So it's a testament to the triumph of the human will, and in this historic case, for revenge. Also an old fashioned Hollywood adventure-plot motive that is seeing a resurgence. But this film may be the best ever of that genre (at least on the big screen).

Monday, January 11, 2016


[and a lot of other amazingly talented creative artists and scientists]

[PS: not mine but my friend Janet Kirker alerted me it comes from a tweet by a guy named Dean Podesta @ JeSuisDean]

Sunday, January 10, 2016


I missed the beginning, but have to say Gervais wasn't as hilarious as previous outings for me, though he scored a few times. As for the winners, not necessarily my choices but all deserving, which can't always be said for many years.

I have to say the kick for me in these awards shows for films and TV shows is that I still, after years of retirement, see (or hear mentioned) some people I still consider friends, some people I've worked with either as an actor or writer, and a lot of people I've met at one time or another.

Then I turn the TV off, write this, and go to bed and by next year have a hard time remembering who won what. But am still grateful to have once been a part of all that and to still be connected through some of the people involved.

Saturday, January 9, 2016


"Haiku Avenue" is the twitter site of my friend, the poet Rachel E. Diken. She posts daily haikus there that, for my taste, are some of the most original approaches to what has become the basic format for American haikus of anyone since Jack Kerouac (and he was doing something entirely different).

Check it out here.

Friday, January 8, 2016


Saw this last night in my local theater with a friend and ran into another friend there. All three of us had different responses. The friend I went with felt it was a little over the top and somewhat contrived, the other friend liked it better (like me, she felt Cate Blanchett is always worth watching, and I'll add so is Rooney Mara) but not the ending and thought the shots lingering on their looking at each other were overdone.

But, my take was that their long, lingering, often intense gazes toward each other is the heart of CAROL and made it worth seeing on the big screen. For me it was like the close ups of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in A PLACE IN THE SUN. Movie star charisma at its best. I could have stayed and watched Mara and Blanchett staring at each other in close ups and long shots for a few more hours actually.

The story itself—based on a Patricia Highsmith novel she wrote under another name and many lesbians alive at the time say was the first novel about lesbians in which one of them wasn't dead or in an insane asylum by the end—isn't much, with a splash of suspense creating some tension but two-dimensional male characters undermining that.

But the two stars, Mara and Blanchett, transcend, for me, the problems with the screenplay and casting (again, the male actors were weak for the most part) and director Todd Haynes obvious belief in their talent and charisma supports and articulates that transcendence. So worth seeing for that is my take.

Thursday, January 7, 2016


On the set of THE NESTING, 1979. Gloria Graham's last movie. I wish I had a photo with her too. John told me he thought I was going to be a big star. Oh well. He was near the end of his incredible career and life too (notice the horrible arthritis in his hand.) It was an honor to work with both of them.

Monday, January 4, 2016


I don't know is she originated it, but my friend Lisa Cherry used it in a Facebook comment thread and it's even better than "Y'all Queda"... 

(PS: in case you don't know, this is in reference to the "white" domestic terrorists who've taken over a federal building in Oregon in a traitorous act that would have them all dead or in prison yesterday if they weren't "white")

Sunday, January 3, 2016


Lots of people I like and often love to see acting on screen in JOY, and the director has a history of well made flicks, so I'll blame the writing for why JOY was a disappointment.

Some great scenes, and a delight to watch Diane Ladd and Virginia Madsen do entertaining characters, and Jennifer Lawrence is always wonderful to watch—I could add others, like Bradley Cooper—but their characterizations, as engaging as they were at times, seemed almost random, like little skits forced into a connection with a plotless scattershot story.

So, I'd wait and see it on cable.

Friday, January 1, 2016



favorite foreign flicks of 2015 I saw:

JIMMY'S HALL (Ireland, made in 2014 but came out in the USA in '15)
3 HEARTS (France, as 3 COEURS)

favorite documentaries of 2015 I saw: