Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Todo sobre Bolaño


Blog on Bolaño, in Spanish (which I'm failing to wade through).

You’ll need a drink

Clearly my definition of “dive bar” differs from the Tribune’s, as I would hardly call the Old Town Ale House a dive (the prices are too high for that label), but it’s stories like this that make me remember why I love the place.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Poems for the Millennium

Working on the anthology for my part-time gig, I have had to consult two massive tomes of poetry published a few years back (maybe more—time is losing its grip on me) by the University of California called Poems for the Millennium. Now, I was already enamored of this two-volume set before beginning to scour the libraries and my own messy stacks for copies of world poetry, but I forgot about the magnitude of this amazing anthology.

While I will stomp for the anthology I am assisting on, I have to give a major shout-out to this one. If you have an interest in contemporary poetry (and who doesn’t?), this is the one to get. (Ours will be smaller, more boiled down, and focusing only on poems in translation, and will be, I believe, quite good. So buy that as well.) Each time I return I find a new surprise, and while such an array of poems is sure to produce some that do not hit with every reader, I admire the range of the thing and am awed more times than not. Thanks for listening.

Fear and Excitement

Excited about the debates? I am. Here, read this. Obviously my position on all of this is skewed in a certain direction, but I have to ask anyone out there supporting McCain if they really want someone this full of shit at the helm? I mean, his claiming to suspend his campaign—a ridiculous move to begin with—and then, well, not doing it is a lame move clearly meant to make him look like the maverick he claims to be while, essentially, doing nothing more than putting up a mirror or two and plenty of smoke.

I fear for the future.


Today on my break, looking over the movie section of the Sun-Times, I mention how I really don’t want to see the new movie with De Niro and Pacino. My coworker says, “But Ebert gave it three stars.” My response: “Ebert gives out stars the way a hooker gives out crabs.”
I was proud of that one.

The Humorless

The previous post contains a link to a funny little list of 10 revered books that one should avoid. Clearly this is either tongue-in-check or the compilation of someone who cares not a whit for these sorts of “classics” but does enjoy riling up the easily riled, and sadly humorless, literary types who have come out en masse to voice (sort of) their ire. I mean, you can’t bash Lord of the Rings without someone getting upset. And Joyce? Well, that one was easy. Proust gets fewer defenders as no one wants to admit that haven’t read at least a little of the French cookie-eater. In a way the point I believe the author wishes to make is proven in comments section: these are SERIOUS books, with SERIOUS demands placed upon the reader, and not to be taken lightly. Making light of them belittles the accomplishment of those who have either joyously or joylessly slogged through every page. That’s bound to piss some folks the hell off, but then again they were already in line to be all offended and pissed about something.

Books Not to Read

One of these years I’ll tackle War and Peace, despite this snide dismissal. You know, I laughed at this list. I love shit like this.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty

Again, I am late to find out these things:


Looks liek I got another item to put on the Xmas list.


Like most college age men, I used to read a lot of Charles Bukowski. Like most college age men who aspire to put some words to paper (or screen), Bukowski poisoned everything I wrote for the better part of too long. Like a lot of literature majors, I encountered many a professor dismissive of drunk ol’ Buk, citing the usual litany of accusations: sparse, unadorned and simplistic prose. No attention to meter, rhyme, form, structure or any of the elements associated with poetry, even so-called free verse. Stories were too personal and unbelievable. Too much writing about drinking, whoring, and gambling on horses. Undeserved arrogance on the part of the author and undeserved adulation on the part of his fans. (The reason that is usually not stated by the tweed and leather-patch gang is that Bukowski rejected so much of the turgid and passionless poetry they unwaveringly believe to be worthwhile.)

All this is true. Then again, worse accusations could be launched at these professors, many of which Bukowski unflatteringly referred to as “university boys” who played it safe and robbed poetry of truth, spark, excitement, and style—a thing Bukowski argued was the most essential quality in writing. And, like it or not, Bukowski had style to burn. He seemingly did so night after night in front of a typewriter with a bottle and classical music on the radio and cats at his feet. The result was a series of novels that only seemed to get better as the years progressed (his last novel, Pulp, is maybe his finest achievement), stories that ranged from fair to amazing to hilarious to bizarre, and poems, poems, poems. Bukwoski produced an amazing amount of poetry in his lifetime. Sadly, the best of this was also published in his lifetime and the posthumous collections that appear on bookshelves with odd regularity don’t really inspire this reader to go back to Buk. The average Bukowski poem is usually either a confessional (to use a poor term and not to lump him in with Sylvia Plath) bit of odd anecdote, a tribute to a dead writer/composer/painter, a quasi-love poem, or, later in his career, a sad meditation on death (his own and ours). Those are the average poems. The above average, even extraordinary, poems are so much more. They may contain flashes of the before mentioned qualities, but they are elevated by that same style on which Hank was so fixated. It’s difficult to describe what separates the average Buk poem from the superb material, but, like the congressional definition of pornography, I know it when I see it.

Black Sparrow Press closed it’s doors a while back and let Ecco have the Bukowski material for reprint, and while they also appear to have the rights to the unpublished works, the latest release from this long dead writer came out on City Lights (who also published three of Bukowski’s older collections). For whatever retarded reason I was happy to see City Lights put out the new Bukowski collection. I even bought it. This book, Portions from a Wine-Stained Notebook, is unlike the other posthumous works in as much as it is a collection of early stories and essays (not something often seen in other books). I’ve only just read the introduction and the first story, both of which got me a bit nostalgic about Hank and skipping class and drinking beer on the early morning beach and thinking, “this is the life, this is what it’s all about.” Ah, was I ever that young?

Everyone has a website

Monday, September 22, 2008

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Book Talk

In anticipation of the coming Bolaño fall/winter, I read the last of his translated novels that had not yet made it across my eyes, Distant Star. Having read Nazi Literature in the Americas— the last chapter of which being a 20 page acorn that sprang into the mighty oak of Distant Star— I knew the story already, knew the outcome, knew the significant details. I must admit that this encapsulation of the poet/aviator/murderer tale was not my favorite from Bolaño’s compendium of fictional fascist Americans. So I always put the larger version, Distant Star, on the shelf reserved for that nebulous place called “someday.” Someday is now, I decided, and devoted a couple of days to the story of Carlos Wieder and his many pseudonyms.

The book contains all of the quintessentially Bolaño traits: the characters are mostly writers (poets, to be specific), most of them obscure or merely self-proclaimed; there’s a reclusive artist at the heart of the tale, and the obsessive(s) who hunt for him, collecting fragments of his story and piecing it together for the reader; there’s murder, the coup that ousted Allende, and the aftermath of the Chilean diaspora; mostly there’s Bolaño’s aggrandizement and indictment of the art, politics, and collective horror that was experienced by, to paraphrase him, anyone alive in those turbulent times of Latin America in the 1970s.

Where Bolaño’s themes converge best is in his vision of art and politics as being inextricable. This was perhaps best exemplified in By Night in Chile, though Distant Star merges the two with equal skill. Carlos Wieder is a monster, to be sure, though his monstrosities are masked as art. That Wieder is not only a poet criminal but also a member (and hero) of the Chilean Air Force is perhaps the clearest link Bolaño draws between the artistic and the political, though the two run through Distant Star, and much of Bolaño’s work, without fail. Still, to Bolaño, there was only literature. That was his religion, his supreme cause, and in plunging headfirst into literature he discovered exactly how linked it is to damn near everything. Or I suppose that is how it seems when you spend so much time cooped up in your room reading, as did young Roberto.

The book is written with Bolaño’s Borges influence evident—the prose is lean, quick, artfully constructed and the story reads as if someone were reporting events rather than laying the foundation and flourishes of a typical potboiler. Like Borges, Bolaño devoured detective novels, and like Borges he synthesized these mysteries into his own brand of fiction, marrying it with history, myth, and his own literary obsessions. Unlike Borges, the reader is witness to a narration that is engrossing on more than an intellectual level. The last chapter of Distant Star is gripping and intense. The reader (I should say, this reader) feels every bead of nervous sweat running down the face of the narrator (presumably, Arturo Belano, the author's alter-ego).

Moving on a bit… I decided that summer would be devoted to G. Cabrera Infante, which meant reading his two major books, Tres Tristes Tigres (Three Trapped Tigers) and La Habana para un Infante Difunto (Infante’s Inferno). Finishing those, I dipped into a few interviews. Cabrera Infante said something about how he doesn’t see the need for him to write political books, and that art and politics are best left separate. This is evident from his linguistic wordplay, puns, and alliteration, as well as from the fact that each of these books focuses on certain ideas (friendship, sex, Havana) and conspicuously avoids the revolution. Then again, the arm-chair critic in me would speculate that by avoiding the revolution as a topic in his fiction, the books are that much more political, as most readers come to them knowing about Cuba, Batista, Castro, and the events of the late 1950s. Avoiding the subject is de facto commentary.

Anyway, these are two of my heroes. If I could find a way to fuse the two very different styles I would. Dare to dream.

Anyway, I am more than a little bit fucking jazzed for 2666 and my winter of Bolaño, though I think I’m fill the time before it comes out with a few short, satisfying reads. Next up, Hell Has No Limits by Jose Donoso, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine.

Keep happy, bitches.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The way of Rene’s Flesh

Last night, though barely able to keep the eyelids from drooping (I seem to have that problem lately), I finished Rene’s Flesh by Virgilio Piñera. It’s a quick read—it took all of a few days to get through—but in the short time devoted to its pages I found myself disturbed, always unsure of what I was reading and at the edge of my proverbial seat. I fear my mind may never be the same. This is what happened when I read Genet, though I cannot remember why. (Something, like in Piñera, to do with homoerotic torture.) This is what happened when I read Wind-up Bird Chronicles and met Boris the man-skinner, who has haunted me all these years. This is not to say that Piñera’s book contains anything as graphic as Murakami’s, but there are elements of unease and oddity in Rene’s Flesh that makes everything else going on in my life right now seem secondary. (Almost.)

The story is not worth recounting here, but if you are interested here’s a link to Amazon’s sale page full of plot descriptions and reader reviews:


What I will say is that the book, while never graphic in terms of strong violence or sexuality, is the most tense story of (homo)eroticism and torture I can recall. Perhaps the before mentioned Genet is more extreme in this regard, but while his books can digress and dissolve beautifully, Piñera’s stays on track and is always economical, even in its most grandiose absurdities.

I can’t seem to get my hands on much else by Piñera, though I have not looked high and low. I’m content with this one novel for now. I’m not sure I can handle another at the moment.

How to make your stomach hurt:

Three pieces of tofu in teriyaki sauce

Six small pieces of vegetable goyza

Three slices of red apple

One hardboiled egg

One mini wheat bagel with light smear of peanut butter

A handful of red, seedless grapes

Two small pieces of white cheddar cheese

Half a Dove dark chocolate bar

Small green tea

Secret Chiefs 3 meet John Zorn's Masada

I love the Secret Chiefs 3. Everything they have ever done has amazed me, even their shaky, improv heavy beginning as a Mr. Bungle side project. Trey Spruance & Co. have consistently awed me with their mash-ups of Eastern music, Bollywood/Morricone soundtrack plundering and re-imaginings of surf rock via violin, dulcimer, etc. and so on, and boy how ridiculous it suddenly feels to have to spit out these all-too easy tags in order to explain what the Chiefs do, as if that were possible. The music Spruance has been obsessively producing these last odd years has grown increasingly unclassifiable. And thank god for that. We now have what appears to be the superband to end them all, an outfit capable of anything. Seriously, anything. Book of Horizons, the last, and arguably best, effort by the Secret Chiefs 3, astounded listeners with its mammoth ambition. Seven versions of the Chiefs assembled to play music that ranged from spine tingling, beautiful, eerie, uplifting, and frightening (especially the forays into death metal). In an age of garage rock revivals (sigh), it proved that there was nothing off the table or out of scope for this complex outfit.

I love John Zorn. Or I used to. It is impossible for me to keep up with his indefatigable output. Who knows how many Zorn recordings exist? There’s not only Zorn’s compositional work, but there are his bands (Naked City, Painkiller, Masada), his game recordings (Cobra, the Parachute recordings), his soundtracks (I’ve lost count on the Filmworks series, but there are plenty of them), and, as if all this were not enough, his reworking of his own material (Electric Masada, Bar Khoba, the Masada Sound Book). It would be an error to suggest that all of this material is essential, though there are fanatics out there who lap up everything Zorn produces, even if it is a recording of him making duck noises with saxophone reeds. To be sure Zorn can overextend himself at times. I was excited by the first installment of the Music and Romance series, Music for Children, but the 10 plus minutes of Zorn playing with wind machines is pretty expendable and always gets skipped. (The third release in the series, The Gift, is so great it redeems earlier missteps.) So while Zorn can do wrong, he can also do right. When he’s a do-right man the results are astounding. Most of Masada proved he was a do-right man with an alto sax and three of the top hot-shit jazz players alive (Greg Cohen, Joey Barron and Dave Douglas). The resulting ten CD span was a roller coaster of acoustic four piece jazz in the vein of Ornette Coleman playing traditional Jewish melodies. It seemed Zorn found the perfect manifestation of his muse, a place where melody and digressive free-form bursts could intermingle and, somehow, cohere. And, of course, it didn’t end there.

Writing over 300 songs in the year 2004, Zorn focused on the new vision of the increasingly popular and ever changing Masada project. He gathered the best players in many styles of music to interpret these compositions, branching off and away from the original concept and walking that dangerous line Zorn likes to walk, where inspired genius and tedious self-indulgence do battle. Regardless of the results, Zorn seems happy to put them on a CD and sell them for public consumption, scrutiny, adoration, and outrage. And, all things considered, it doesn’t seem as though he cares if people “get it” or not. Why should he?

Subsequently, many of us fans (rabid and casual) have had a hard time keeping up with Zorn as the economy hits the toilet and record stores become near extinct. (An Amazon.com search has revealed that I’m way behind on my Zorn releases.) I write with embarrassment the following statement: I can’t get it within me to shell out 16 bucks for a CD without knowing a bit of what I’m in for. (That hurts. Really, I was so adventurous in my younger days, I’d sacrifice rent money for music that seemed promising.) This being the case, a CD of the Secret Chiefs 3 playing Zorn’s Masada compositions seemed a safe bet.

Xaphan: Book of Angels, Volume 9 is a safe bet. Better: it’s a marvelous recording of complex music interpreted with skill passion, and fun. The production is outstanding (as is always the case with Spruance’s work) and, in keeping with the ethic of the Secret Chiefs 3, the record stretches to new heights without sacrificing its perfect vision (mixed metaphor? Oh, I don't care anymore). The Chiefs are never content to rest on their laurels and every new record seems a logical step up. Marrying Zorn’s compositions with Spruance’s inventiveness works better than anything I’ve heard come down Zorn Avenue in quite some time. (I’m struggling to like Moonchild, but damn I just can’t get into it.) Listening to the record I’m reminded of one of Zorn’s greatest accomplishments, Elegy, a composition he wrote for Jean Genet and enlisted Bay area musicians, Spruance among them, to play. Perhaps the “downtown master” of New York’s avant garde ought to work more with west coast musicians.

I’m still waiting for the follow up to Book of Horizons, but Xaphan will do more than hold me over. It has more than enough meat to keep this listener happy until I get another glimpse into the Chief's world of truth and beauty behind the manufactured illusion that is the music industry. It may be another ten plus years before Spruance and Zorn team up, but if the results are this amazing I’ll wait.

How did I miss this?


I suppose I missed it because I never could stomach David Foster Wallace’s work, though many tell me I should try and try again. Regardless of my inability to make it through five pages of Infinite Jest, I admire the work for being the unlikely bestseller that it was. Not many tomes crammed with allusions and footnotes that take over pages and shifting typeface and other postmodernist trickery can reach so wide an audience.

Anyway, regardless of what I thought of the guy’s work, I’m startled to hear of his suicide. It's an odd morning.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A few points to argue with, yeah, but there’s a lot to consider:


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Donoso, Schrader, and my delicious human feast

A chance purchase from Amazon.com of a used (and difficult to find) copy of a Jose Donoso book brought an interesting discovery. The book comes from the collection of the late screenwriter, Leonard Schrader, a man responsible for turning a great Manuel Puig book into a workable film. The seller sent me this link to a short documentary on the man and his love of book collecting:


and this link about the man himself:


Aside from comments like the one about characters from Kiss of the Spider Woman— “The commie and the transvestite in a jail cell,” though from what I recall Molina is a not transvestite, just openly gay, and reducing Valentin to a simple “commie” seems wrong— the film is interesting if only to see the library from which my new book originates. Books, some believe, hold a piece of their owners. If this is so, then I have pieces of human beings filed nicely along the shelves of my bedroom, in my dining and living rooms and even stacked along my floor.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Funny. Wait… not really.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A white worm with a straw hat / under the northern Mexican sun

As November approaches, things are heating up here in the Hungry Inferno, mostly because two (count ‘em, 2!) new translations will appear of the late Roberto Bolaño’s work. The one doomed to become my winter obsession is 2666, the last book he wrote; the one he never officially finished (even at close to 1,000 pages); the one that will be released simultaneously in one big hardback edition and three paperbacks in a slip case (both editions, same price, thank you FSG); the book that many consider to be not only his masterpiece but the masterpiece of contemporary (that’s post boom) Latin American literature, even though Bolaño preferred to think that the Spanish language was his home, having left Latin America long before publishing his “major” works.

The hype around 2666 is big enough without me adding to it, and I fear a let down to a certain extent, but that is only because I discovered Bolaño for myself absent the hype, and those sorts of discoveries are often the best. I saw Amulet in a bookstore and bought it, as I buy so many titles that seem to originate from south of the border. From there it was a short leap to The Savage Detectives and a major descent into the Bolaño abyss, a wonderful place to be. Regardless of the merits of 2666 vs. the other translated works, I am stoked. This will be my winter of Bolaño, as the summer has belonged to G. Cabrera Infante.

Oh, the other book to be released (by New Directions) this November is a collection of poetry called The Romantic Dogs. Quite a Bolaño title. Attached here: <http://www.ndpublishing.com/books/bolanoromanticdogspreview.html> is a link to the New Directions page featuring not only a sample poem but a list of the titles they plan to release in the coming years. Of them, I am most excited about Monsieur Pain, as it centers on César Vallejo’s life and death in Paris.

Reading the previewed poem, and others I’ve stumbled across, I can safely say that I prefer Bolaño the novelist, though the poems have their moments. Regardless, it goes without saying that I will nab me a copy of The Romantic Dogs to do more detailed research.

Get happy, people!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Sonny Buries the Dragon

An article on the great Sonny Rollins and his time in Chicago: