Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Am The Winner

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Xmas War and Manufactured (?) Memory

My boss at the NU Writing Center gig wrote this:

Aside from enjoying this story on its own merits, I find it exciting to imagine myself as a very young boy going to this evergreen tree lot with my grandfather some Xmas way back in the 1970s. I remember doing this, but the memory might very well be one of those manufactured childhood romanticisms that we (I) tend to construct as we (I) reach the nebulous place called adulthood.

Let’s just agree that it happened, okay? Good.

That being the case, it’s funny to consider the hell that one person must endure to provide other families with yuletide joy. Think of this story come December as you stroll through some lot of trees and scrutinize the merchandise, your brats in tow. Keep a look out for the agonized teen cursing the snow, the trees, the hellidays.

Monday, October 26, 2009

There has to be an easier way.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Cherry on the Cake of a Very Strange Week

Speaking of Nobel Prize announcements, the President won the prize for peace. I am a bit stunned. I am tempted to say this is premature, though I am equally tempted to say this is deserved. I could list the reasons why, but others are already doing as much, and probably a lot better. I am sure the President’s critics are making their own lists aimed at chalking this up as an absurdity. Credence might be paid to both arguments, but I will say this: ever since Kissinger won the prize it has become, in my mind, completely irrelevant. Yeah, Henry sullied the entire thing, so, Mr. President, I wouldn’t feel too honored. Hope you dump the cash into the economy. Oh, and can I have a grant?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

John Fante

A long time ago, way way back in the early 1990s, my then new friend Xtop lent me a CD of Charles Bukowski reading some of his poems and antagonizing a Redondo Beach audience. It’s a great CD that, among other things, caused me to be shocked by the sound of Buk’s voice. It wasn’t what I’d imagined. He was so gruesome a figure, so callus and tough, and his voice was so soft, or so it seemed to me at the time. (Now, very used to the sound of Bukowski’s voice, I might say that it is a perfect match for his overall look, not to mention the often overlooked beauty evident in many of his pages.)

One of the other things that CD did was introduce me, sort of, to the work of John Fante. In a weird, drunken digression, Buk started listing the books of Fante’s that he so loved. He called Fante a magic person and his “brother out of nowhere.” Not having any idea who John Fante was, but liking that his name sounded Italian, and rhymed with Dante, I decided to look into this person’s work.

I started with Wait Until Spring, Bandini, which, it turns out, was a good place to start. Not quite the achievement of Ask the Dust or The Brotherhood of the Grape, it does offer the newcomer a sense of the themes that Fante would touch on throughout his career. And it is the beginning of the Bandini saga, so it’s a good place to begin chronologically speaking.

Fante’s been on the brain as of late, due solely to his son, Dan Fante, and an interview with him that I heard last weekend on NPR. I looked up Dan and John Fante online, ‘cause, you know, that’s where all the info is, and stumbled across a rather nice piece on John Fante from And now I am sharing it with all of you:

So there.

And Winner is (And the Winner Should Be)...

Well, as predicted by the surge in the odds (and, like last year, suggesting an inside source leaked the news early), Herta Müller won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Though risking confirmation of what the asshole former secretary said last year, I’ll admit that I have not heard of this woman. This is none too shocking; I’ve not heard of a lot of people, writers included. It helps if they’ve been translated, sure, so I might blame the lack of renderings of her books into English, though that would only further confirm what was said about all of us in the big 50.

As I stated previously here, and to anyone else who’d listen, I want Nicanor Parra to get the award before he dies. And really, he isn’t getting any younger. It occurred to me that one of the reasons he may never get the prize—though he has received many—might be that his (anti)poems are too laden with humor. The folks who dole out big, important awards tend to dismiss humor in favor of serious writings. I mean, this year’s winner of the Nobel writes (according to the sources I’ve read online) books about the stark life of Romanians under Ceauşescu. So yeah… what’s a funny poem or two compared to that? Still, the realities of Latin America's political climate—certainly Parra’s native Chile—are addressed in his work, albeit often with a dash of the funny. There’s an absurdity to life that often deserves absurd reactions.

Anyway… before I get all up my own quasi-intellectual ass, let me just end this post with a link to some words of advice from Parra to the young poets, and you know who you are:

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Place Your Bets

Tomorrow the Nobel Prize for Literature winner will be announced. For anyone looking to make their bets, here are the latest odds.

I must say that of the names from this list, my pick would be Ernesto Cardenal (though I am unfamiliar with many of the other candidates). I would love to see Nicanor Parra get the award, but he’s not even on the goddamn list. Sad.

I’d be pleased if Ngugi wa Thiong'o nabbed it as well. Murakami? I’d be nice, but it’ll never happen. At least not this year. Besides, Murakami, as much as I love him, is too popular for the likes of the Nobel crowd, or so say many of their detractors. You never know... I mean, Toni Morrison won it and she is pretty damn popular.

If Joyce Carol Oats wins, that’d not really rile me, but I am hardly a fan. It would be on par with Doris Lessing winning two years back. I can’t understand the decision, personally. Phillip Roth is always considered a likely American candidate, but the award has long eluded him. Many like to speculate as to the reasons why, which you can find by Googling the topic, should you be so inclined. his fans havea lot to say. Pynchon wouldn’t show up at the ceremony, so they’ll likely pass him over. Adonis’s name is always tossed about by the predictors. It would be nice if Tranströmer got it. He deserves it. He’s the real goddamn deal. Or Antonio Lobo Antunes. Or Adam Zagajewski. But please, don’t let Bob Dylan snag the fucking thing. That would give his rabid fans all the more reason to continue propping up that wheezy fuck as the genius he ain’t. I mean, he has a few songs, sure, but the Nobel fucking Prize? Ugh. The mere fact that his odds are 25/1 and Cardenal’s are 100/1 sickens me.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Night Bukowski Died, Memories of Bad Art and Lee

Way back in the year 1994, a month before Kurt Cobain (allegedly) took his life, another widely adored cultural figure went (beer) belly up. And where was I when Charles Bukowski died? At the Gallery Egg listening to lousy poetry and looking at lousy art.

Gallery Egg was upstairs and around the corner from IRI, where my brother and many of my friends worked. It was a shabby space with exposed pipes and brick—in other words, it was a loft, which was trendy at the time. Probably still is.

Andy, Peyton’s then friend, had a showing of his pottery. Peyton, at that time under Andy’s spell, got us all to attend the display of so-called art. Andy was a doughy idiot minus the savant who, though broke and illiterate, was attending class at the Art Institute of Chicago. All faith in the school’s credibility went out the window when I met Andy. Andy droned on and on about how the penis and the vagina were not art, and how his classmates relied too much on those elements in their work. What was Andy’s medium? Pottery. What was the first thing I noticed about Andy’s pottery? That it had more than a few clay penises attached.

If only that was the end of the “art.” Once I saw a chair that had its arm ripped off and replaced with the arm of a mannequin, lazily titled “Arm Chair,” I decided to hunt for free booze and avoid everyone.

Then the poetry began. Open mics are a mixed bag. There was plenty of bad poems and a few good ones, maybe—my memory of that evening’s poetry is not great, I admit, though I remember two things:

The bad poet, (tall, shaggy, unshaved, intentionally bohemian, sipping vino), announced that Bukowski had died. He read a poem in his honor (Buk would’ve hated it) and said that he planned to go on a long bender to celebrate the life of his hero. At that time, I was obsessed with Bukowski. I was in my early twenties, which is the perfect age for a man to read drunken tales of whoring and writing. My feelings on Bukowski have changed in a lot of ways (I’m still a fan), but back then there was nothing I wanted to read more. And here was some fashionable asshole reading fair to lousy poems and drinking wine with practiced cool; here were the overfed, soft “artists” that Buk would’ve hated. It made me depressed.

As the night was coming to a close, Lee approached the mic and started to read. Long haired and dirty, skinny, a voice that rattled as he read from his famous poem, “A Cure for Insomnia,” the longest poem in existence, still listed as being “in progress” – I was somewhat awed by the presence of this man, who seemed homeless or close to it. After a whopping dose of plastic art and pedantic poetry, Lee’s never ending list of beards and drags was the perfect way to close out a very strange night.

To get a very small taste of this very long poem, go here. Then go mad.

Today’s Funny

On the heels of the great lit crit smackdown, this came my way:

Easily the biggest laugh I’ll have this week. Thanks to Carla for bringing this to my attention.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Haru’s Head (& Body) Shots

Courtesy of Haruki’s Tio Rolo

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Conversation

No, this isn’t about the superb Francis Ford Coppola film. I want to talk about literary conversation. (Big shock, huh?) In an earlier post I linked up this long, long entry on The Valve about traditional academic criticism versus “creative criticism,” the former being defended by the professors with books under their belts and the later being proposed as the next step in the evolution of the lumbering beast. Considering this blog, when it wears its bullshit literary critic hat, might qualify as creative criticism— assuming, of course, that there is a spark of creativity exhibited on these cyber walls—one might assume I am all for the creative thing. Well, truth be told, I am for both, and as for me belonging to one or the other: I couldn’t give much of a fuck. There are good literary sites out there; this is really just a blog about my interests, books being a big one, but at no time do I manage to be as inclusive and well-written as, say, the Conversational Reading blog. Scott Esposito, who runs the show over that-a-way, certainly is a champion of the creative criticism thing, as evidenced by the editor’s article on The Quarterly Conversation.

Now, before we all go running off the cliff like a bunch of literary lemmings, let’s step back a minute and think about the whole ball of confusion. There’s got to be room for both kinds of criticism. The university presses continue to churn out labored books of over-wrought prose dedicated to a minute aspect of a genre, era, author, or text that tend to get ignored by anyone outside of academia. Subsequently, there is a rallying cry around more accessible essays, articles, and books that discuss literature without employing the signs, symbols, and impenetrable language all too often seen in lit crit and theory. I do admit that there seems to be a conspiracy of sorts surrounding the need to intentionally make these books difficult and intimidating (not to mention downright dull) in order to mask the lack of ideas or originality within. Chomsky accused Foucault of this. People have been saying as much for quite some time, in regard to all aspects of literature. There are many, my father included, who accuse the literati of not really liking Shakespeare, but being too afraid to admit as much, thereby extending the myth that he was a great writer. To that I say: hogwash. Nevertheless, there may be some validity to the idea that one can mask their lack of insights in complex prose.

Now, for the sake of argument, let’s all assume that a few examples of this charlatan criticism have materialized at some point. Does this negate the usefulness of academic criticism? Not at all. Why throw the theoretical baby out with the convoluted bathwater? For all the unbearable tomes of cumbersome criticism, there are some amazing ideas to be found, assuming the reader (that’s you and me) is adventurous and curious enough to investigate. It also helps to be prepared to wade through some murky waters. But often this is the thrill: the search vs. the find.

This, of course, does not mean that there is no room for criticism that eschews such dense language. Those not entrenched in academia are welcome to write reviews, essays, opinions, etc. though the academy will probably not look at their writings in the same light in which they view their own. There’s a PhD club out there. Joining it is what matters. And when you do, you are expected to talk the talk. Thus, easier to read criticism isn’t going to get the same recognition from the ivory tower onlookers or other academics.

But who cares? I am sure the advocates of creative criticism have a different audience in mind. Then again, I might be willing to stand behind that if it were not for the lengthy debate (mired in a lot of inscrutable prose and peppered with the word “disingenuous”) that was mentioned earlier on this blog. Why make such a noise unless you do want to sway the audience you most likely will not net?

So who are the creative critics trying to convince, their opponents or themselves? I could ask the same question about the academic crowd rushing to prop each other up and justify their collective existence. The whole argument is rather silly, when you strip it down to its core. So let’s move beyond the bruised egos and scrapping, shall we?

Consider this: criticism/theory, the kind that spawns Terry Eagleton and Stephen Greenblatt and Slavoj Žižek, the kind that can be exciting, has a place. Christ, wasn’t Greenblatt on the cover of Rolling Stone at one point? And the film Žižek! goes a way toward making cultural theory look fun. So, fun and theory are hardly mutually exclusive.

That being said, a lot (and I mean a LOT) of critical writing is dull as shit. It’s about time someone shook things up the way Hallman has done. Let’s all get along and go about co-existing. Please, I’d hate for critical writing to become the Gaza Strip of ideas.

The main point I want to make is this:

If creative criticism manages to turn people on who are normally turned off by lit crit, then that is a damn good thing. It’s all a big conversation and there is room for all, degreed or merely opinionated. Come one, come all, just come with something substantial to contribute to the conversation.

Now let’s all smoke a peace pipe and get back to reading.