Tuesday, January 30, 2018


I've never missed a State Of The Union address since I was a boy. My father, a seventh-grade-drop out born at the end of the 1800s (still amazes me) was a ward heeler in the Essex County, New Jersey, Democratic Party "machine"—as they called it even in those days. His parents were Irish immigrants who came over when they were teens, separately (they met and married here) to meet up with siblings that had made the crossing previously. What was then—and up until what seems like only days ago—known as "family migration" until the rightwing Republican language controllers came up with "chain-migration" to discredit that tradition...

My father would listen to The State of the Union addresses from FDR and then Truman on the radio, and later Ike on TV, and as his youngest I would happily sit through them to be with him, while he'd point out the subtext to every line. He was street smart and people smart and almost always right (which I could not accept once I hit my teens). It became a ritual that I clung to as a boy (as I did watching the Friday night fights with him and election night news). And as a man I've never missed one, and probably won't tonight, even though it is more clear than ever that we don't need any speech to tell us what the state of the union is. That, unfortunately, couldn't be more obvious.

Friday, January 26, 2018


Finally watched MUDBOUND on Netflix, wish I'd been able to see it on the big screen. The cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, is making history for being the first female nominated for an Oscar in that job, and she deserves the nomination. The buzz the film has gotten as a work of art and the nominations for best adapted screenplay for director Dee Rees and co-writer Virgil Williams, and Mary J. Blige as Best Supporting Actress, is understandable.

The novel it's based on is by Hilary Johnson, and I assume the interior monologue voiceovers used for some of the lead characters in the film are directly from her book. They definitely help elevate the language and story points of the film. And all the acting is excellent, with a few surprises. Rob Morgan as the patriarch of the "black" family and husband to Blige's character is extraordinary, and should have been nominated for some awards himself.

Jason Mitchell as his son who experiences a different world and way of life (from the family's Southern farm and sharecropper roots) as a tank sergeant in WWII, I didn't even realize was the same actor who played Eazy-E so perfectly in STRAIGHT OUT OF COMPTON. I thought Mitchell was a new discovery, or from England. But I felt a few of the other actors, though they did excellent work, were a bit miscast, especially Garrett Hedland.

He plays the younger brother in the "white" family, who goes off to war and returns with a different perspective as well, especially about race, but is still faced with his bigot grandfather and indifferent-at-best big brother. Hedland kept reminding me of Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday, where he used an odd way of speaking that made his words seem like they were being tasted and eaten rather than spoken. Maybe it's just me, but I had a hard time accepting Hedland as the character he was playing.

MUDBOUND is definitely a movie worth seeing, and story worth telling, even if it had me jumping out of my chair with fear it would end too unhappily for me to bear. But fortunately, or predictably, that wasn't the case.

Thursday, January 25, 2018


I became a fan of Chilean poet Nicanor Parra's poetry when I saw the title of his 1967 New Directions book: POEMS AND ANTIPOEMS. The idea of antipoems fit with my own approach to poems, which at the time I was having a lot of published in what we called then "little magazines" and "underground newspapers."

I couldn't read much Spanish, so I depended on the translators of the poems in the book, which ranged from Allen Ginsberg and Denise Levertov to W. S. Merwin and Miller Williams, all of whom I knew then, a time when it was possible to know most of the poets on your side of the poetry fence.

Miller Williams was the main translator and wrote the introduction, in which he stated something that I thought expressed my approach, or my desire, at the time: "antipoetry is unadorned, is unlyrical, is nonsymbolist; in antipoetry what you see is what you see; antipoetry is chiseled, solid."

I met Parra a few times, but it was in 1970 at a reading in DC where he signed my copy of POEMS AND ANTIPOEMS, with just a big cursive version of my name followed by an explanation point: "Michael!" then "Nicanor" and under that "70" and under that "Washington." A chiseled, solid inscription.

He was a scientist as well as a poet, and he was 103 when he passed yesterday. I am grateful that he led such a rich, full, long life and was recognized as an important and influential poet. He was to me.

Here's Miller Williams' translation of a short poem from that book:


For half a century
Poetry was the paradise
Of the solemn fool.
Until I came
And built my roller coaster.

Go up, if you feel like it.
I'm not responsible if you come down
With your mouth and nose bleeding.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


Brooklyn Prince and THE FLORIDA PROJECT should have been all over those Oscar nominations and movie awards season in general.

Monday, January 22, 2018


Been focusing on the arts mostly lately, the other stuff is pretty obvious and pretty much covered, but thought I'd share these:

Saturday, January 20, 2018


"People want their lives to make a story. Every human being has this need, if only to make sure that his or her life makes sense."        —Oksana Zabuzhko (from a PEN panel discussion transcript)

Friday, January 19, 2018


This photo has some marks on it but it's of Jackie when he was young and I knew him best. We grew up in the same neighborhood a few blocks from each other. His family had about ten kids in it with one who died as a boy, and mine had seven with one who died as an infant. And eventually we became part of each other's clans through the marriage of his oldest sister and my third oldest brother, at the time a cop.

Jackie was a few years older than me and had a reputation as the toughest kid his age in our area, despite his diminutive size, or perhaps because of it. One of my clearest memories of him was when I was about ten or eleven and him thirteen or so. An older and much bigger kid was causing some trouble, threatening to pick up and throw a smaller kid. Jackie was there and smaller than either of them, but he stepped into what was only words at that point and said something like:

"You think you're a big strong guy?"

"Yeah, stronger than your little"...whatever....

"I bet I can pick up something you can't."

The big guy couldn't resist so he took Jackie on, and Jackie spit on the sidewalk where this was all happening and said, "Go ahead, let's see you pick that up."

The big guy became flustered and said something like "F*ck you, nobody can pick that up." And Jackie said something like "If I do, you leave this kid alone." The big guy agreed. Without hesitation Jackie wiped his shoe over the spit and turned it up so we all could see the spit on the sole. The big guy turned red with anger and frustration but left the other kid alone.

I saw him in fights a few times too and he always won. I never lost—because of my persistence guys would just get tired of beating me and call it a draw—but I very rarely won, Jackie always did.

We also worked together in my father's home repair business, where Jackie was always pulling pranks. One of the first times we worked together, I was probably fifteen and him seventeen. We were sent to a job cleaning the gutters on the roof of a big house in one of the wealthy parts of our town. We put a forty foot aluminum ladder up to the roof, and while Jackie held it, I scrambled up. Once I was up there, he laid the ladder on the ground and went off in the truck, leaving me to do the job alone and then lay up there smoking until he came back to pick me up.

He was also known for talking so fast (a trait our families shared in general but they way outdid us) some people thought he was speaking another language, or doing what was called back then double talk, a kind of jokey sped up mixed up jargon that some comedians did as their trademark talent. So when I asked him where he'd gone and why he'd left me up there on the roof for a couple of hours, he laughed and said something I never understood and gave up trying to.

Jackie Fennessy was a unique presence in my life and world growing up, and it was always a treat to see him when I did on occasion ever since. My condolences to his wife and daughter, and to his many siblings, and nephews and nieces and cousins and extended clan.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


When I heard yesterday that Dolores O'Riordan had died, it felt like a personal and devastating loss. I never met her and, like most of us, knew her chiefly as the lead singer for The Cranberries. But her historic place in the popular music sphere (although her voice, and the band's arrangements, were often more punk (or new wave) than pop) isn't what I reacted to most. It was her Irishness and how comforting and at times challenging it could be to my sensibility.

Though "Zombie" and "Linger" are the tunes most cited in the obits being written about her, for me "Ode To My Family" has always been the song that touches my heart the most, and in what other music video have you ever seen someone playing with a hurling stick and ball (hurling is the Irish national native sport that is one of the most excitingly fast paced and no nonsense games in the world, or at least it certainly seemed so when I was a boy)...

Monday, January 15, 2018


When Martin Luther King was shot I felt the
sudden shift in the atmosphere, like trying to
breathe underwater. It was three years since
Malcom X’s assassination and my new radical
friends and reading had opened my eyes to the
realities of class in the USA. Malcolm verbally
attacked white folks with impunity, but the
minute he decided it was not about race but
about the poor and the wealthy, BAM! King
spent years fighting racism and despite attempts
on his life and tons of threats seemed invulner-
able, but as soon as he organized a poor people’s
campaign talking about the haves and have-nots,
BAM! I wondered if the Marxists had it right.

(C) Michael Lally 2018

Saturday, January 13, 2018


"Well, listen, everything's weird. You tell me something that's not weird."   —Bob Dylan (in an interview)

Friday, January 12, 2018


"A few months ago, I took my wallet full of money and credit cards and a large suitcase to a limousine that drove me to the airport and 7 hours later I was in Ireland driving to a luxury hotel. A few days later, I was standing in the stone barn in Raheendanore where my paternal grandfather for whom I am named, the oldest of 14 children, slept before he left for Brooklyn 35 years before I was born. The cows and the horses shit in that barn and I suppose he went outside the barn and around the back to shit there himself. I had spent the previous night in a re-constructed oat barn on a nearby farm which had been ingeniously converted to a luxury guesthouse. Dada had two years of schooling...... Grandma had one year and the house she grew up in in Ballinlough was a stone hut serving as a chicken coop when I first went to Ireland in 1972. (The house that replaced it was a nice cottage but still didn't have running water or a toilet when I was last there in 2010.) Still she knocked my father on the head when she heard he called a kid up the block a derogatory ethnic term and told her pride and joy, "He's as good as you are."...... On the other side of the family are famine Irish who sent three sons including my great-grandfather to fight with the Union. One of my great-grandfather's brothers, Daniel Curtin, is buried at Antietam. They all came from shitholes, I guess you could say..... I grew up in a nice house, went to Fairfield University, UC Berkeley and Columbia University, have two cars and two pensions, a profession I enjoy practicing and no complaints. There are lots of places I can go and things I can do today. I know where I came from and I remember the brave, loving, family-oriented, hard-working people who paid the price for the privileged lives I and my children are living.
What I really can't do is pull up the ladder they climbed to place me on top. I cant' pull it up and say to those down at the bottom, people who look different from my people, but have the same family-oriented, work-oriented values,"Sorry, times have changed. The country has changed, people like you are no longer needed. I guess it's tough in the shitholes you came from, but that's none of my business. The luck of America ended with me and mine."
I can't do that and if they start sending those kids back who grew up here, then I'm going to take all my meds with me and do my best to stand in front of the paddy wagons-----(Who do you think those wagons were named for anyway?)"

—William Lannigan

Thursday, January 11, 2018


After watching the TV series PEAKY BLINDERS I can say it was wildly inconsistent but wildly entertaining. Part of what made it so much fun to watch was the styles of that time and place as exaggerated by the show's creators, which evoked for me the family I come from, who weren't violent like the Peaky Blinders, but shared some other things with them.

My seventh-grade-drop-out father's attempts to create and run businesses to support me and my siblings and grandparents, and his brothers and their families when they needed help which in some cases was almost always, evokes Tommy Shelby, to me. And like him, one of my father's businesses was "making book" as they called taking bets on the horse races. I grew up, in fact, answering my old man's home repair business phone only to hear instructions for bets: "So-and-so across the board in the fifth" etc. And my old man worked with the political forces like Tommy as well.

So here's some shots that evoke for me the same kinds of immigrant Irish style of the times in the show and beyond.
my father as a young man with a cousin and Irish aunt c.1920
my father (white pants) and a friend on a trip to Florida in the 1920s
my father and my three oldest brothers down the Jersey shore c. 1932
my father and one of his younger brothers we called Lydie (his name was Michael Lydon Lally but since his Irish father was also Michael everyone called him by a version of his middle name, and yes, I did once have a conversation at a party with John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) about the name and turned out his people came from near where my people came from in Ireland) c. 1940.
my father, cigarette in mouth, with his youngest brother, John, behind him in striped tee shirt c. 1940
my father, his Irish mother, my oldest brother, my mother's mother and my mother and me during WWII c. 1944
my father in the dark hat and coat when he was an old man but part of the Essex County Democratic political machine and still stylish, early 1960s