Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ecco Anthology Review

Read here Three Percent’s review of the Ecco anthology that I had a small hand in bringing to light (small, but the process felt enormous). While it is not a perfect anthology (a few too many poems by the already widely read Milosz, not as many lesser known poets, lots of Europeans, not so many Africans or Asians, the terrible exclusion of Joyce Mansour, Roque Dalton, and Ernesto Cardenal), it is really a fantastic book with a wider breadth than you’ll find in most other poetry anthologies. If nothing more, it is a good introduction to international poetry for some and a nice collection of some favorites, and a few new surprises, for the more seasoned lit in translation reader.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Things I Dig These Days

For no other reason than I can, here’s a list of shit I’m digging:


Not the city, the band. And what a band. Comprised of a man, a mission, and some fantastic musicians, Brazzaville makes uniquely laid back, compelling, easily digested sounds with difficult to digest content. Check this line out: “It’s our weakness that makes us beautiful to God, That’s what she said. If your life’s too safe you might as well be dead.” With lyrics like that (not to mention: “She smiled a lot for a girl who was raped”) one could say I am predisposed to liking this band, though the music (usually mellow, occasionally rocking, effortlessly cool) has hooks enough to keep me on the proverbial line. I mean, what more do you need to know about a song called "Lazy, Flawed & Hopeless"? Mostly it’s the feel of the band, if that makes sense, that makes me want to buy the entire catalog and spend weeks inside their moody little world. There’s something philosophically interesting about Brazzaville, something more indie than indie rock and more genuinely artistic than affected, although Mr. Brown (the man behind the music) is at times given to that “up all night doing coke and drinking, smoking endless cigarettes, drowning in ennui, sleeping with damaged people” kind of hipness that can rub any number of wrong ways. But I like it this time, I really do. The closest I can equate this “feel” to is “Deacon Blues” by Steely Dan. There’s joy in the failure and a mixed bag of uncertainty in the desultory behavior.

The Double Macchiato

It took going to New Orleans to rediscover this gem of a drink. Back in my coffee abuse days, I opted for the macchiato on the daily, baby, but Starbucks fucked this drink in the ass. I could only find it at Seattle’s Best, though only at a few locations where the baristas had done time in smaller, better venues. They knew what was what. Starbucks decided to reinvent the macchiato as a large drink with lots of caramel and milk, which is like remaking The Seventh Seal as romantic comedy. Subsequently, I was unable to find a good macchiato, as Starbucks tends to set the trends for all other cafes.

The drink’s appeal is its brevity: two shots of espresso (or one, if you prefer), topped with foam from steamed milk and, if you dare, a touch of powdered cocoa. I prefer the shots with just the dab of foam, literally marking the espresso as the Italian name suggests, and that’s all she fucking wrote. Okay, a little sugar if the mood strikes, but the great thing here is how simple, short, and direct the drink is. It’s more than espresso, but far less than a latte. I don’t like giant coffee drinks these days, and a little bit can go a long way. PJ’s, a fantastic chain in the Big Easy, served a fine macchiato, the best I’ve had in ages, and I have spent the past few days looking for a suitable Chicago substitute. I think I’ve found two wonderful surrogates, one at LaVazza (two locates near work!) and another at my favorite Loop café, a place too special to my heart to name here for fear that people will find this little secret out and flood the already pressed space.

Bad Marriage Literature

I’ve been reading the worst books about marriage lately, including Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband and Farwell to the Sea by Reinaldo Arenas. Both paint pretty grim pictures of the married life, though there’s certainly no shortage of that in art (Revolutionary Road and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? come to mind). The next big read might be Rhode Island Notebook by Gabriel Gudding, which chronicles one man’s back-and-forth trips from Illinois to Rhode Island to see his wife, though I hear the whole thing goes awry. The destruction of passion is nothing new in the arts, but finding these interesting twists is what makes the theme an appealing rediscovery. For example, Carson uses Keats’s famous line that “beauty is truth” to reflect on her cheating spouse; Arenas writes of a married couple in communist Cuba, the husband being a closest homosexual who entered the union as a means of avoiding jail; Gudding seems to have constructed his poetry on the fragile, oddly philosophic state that overtakes us while on the road. Good twists on the old story certainly help. If you must, call these cautionary tales.


I love this time of year, but usually by November the weather is too cold for these bones. But lord oh lord the last few days have been glorious. I have been, of course, too goddamn busy to truly enjoy the weather, but the few moments when I can steal a walk with Cassandra and the dog, all of us dressed in our fall finery—I must say I look best in a comfortable coat though not as good as the dog—well it has been a pleasant relief from the normally frigid temperatures. I’m treating this like the rare thing it is and savoring it before the whole world (i.e., Chicago) turns to cold.