Friday, April 29, 2011

Today's Funny

Just in time for the wedding. OMG! Did you see the dress?!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Get Serious

A killer essay onthe whole Professor X thing. My favorite part looks like this:

"People who are not serious, on the other hand, buy houses they can’t afford and run up credit card debt. They let the oil industry write the deep-sea drilling regulations that led to the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. They don’t insist that their government inspect their commercial airplanes, their levees, their bridges or their food. They rail against taxes and then devote more than half of every tax dollar to military spending. They argue that universal health care and strict environmental laws are evil government intrusions, and that “creationism” should be taught alongside evolution in public schools. They regard Sarah Palin and Donald Trump as valid presidential contenders. All this because the basement of the ivory tower is teeming with illiterates? Well, yes. A society unwilling to demand excellence of its students is unlikely to demand – or get – competence from its government."

Poetry Month: Wisława Szymborska

Today’s poem comes from the great Wisława Szymborska. Her poems have always struck me as deceptively clear and direct, and accessible without being banal.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Anti-Royal Watcher

Peep this.

I personally could not care less about William and Kate and have to wonder why anyone outside of the inbred-- sorry, royal family gives a goddamn.

Poetry Month: Donald Justice

Not a perfect sonnet but I love it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Poetry Month: Aharon Shabtai

An interesting poem from a provocateur.

Poetry Month: Kevin Stein

Today’s feature is from Illinois Poet Laureate, Kevin Stein. I read him after meeting him, the circumstances of that meeting many of you know (something about winning 1st place in some contest). I only read him because a friend practically insisted, but after I finished his book American Ghost Roses I completely understood why Blago appointed him. Stein’s the man. Read this and see for yourself.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Poetry Month: Three from the Harlem Renaissance

This is a pretty famous one by Langston Hughes, but it gets better each time I read it. Still, his peer, Countee Cullen, ought to get some attention as well, not to mention Jean Toomer.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Poetry Month: Anna Akhmatova

Monday, April 18, 2011

Revisiting Risky Business

When I first saw Risky Business I was too young to catch all the jokes or understand all the events. It was on cable and I was sneaking bits of it while the grownups were distracted, though I doubt they would have cared. A few years and several hormones later, I watched it in full and followed the story with great, um, interest. It was exciting. A nice kid from the Chicago suburbs sleeps with a beautiful hooker, throws a wild party, and has the time of his life. That was all I needed in a movie.

I am tempted to attribute college to the opening of a more crucial eye, but who am I kidding? I’m no smarter than I was at fifteen, in some regards, and even when it comes to movies I’m a hell of a lot more forgiving than the average grad school asshole. I love horror films, no matter how stupid. I’m always ready to drive down nostalgia lane in the form of Weird Science, Back to School, Trading Places, Caddyshack, or most other goofy ‘80s movies. So when I saw Risky Business on cable this weekend, I, along with the lovely Cassandra, decided to give it a go.

What I was expecting was the same wild ride through the north shore and the city that I enjoyed as a kid. And yes, some of that was there, but behind the whole “what the fuck” philosophy resided bigger questions of Reagan era greed and avarice that I found compelling.

When one thinks of the quintessential 1980s send up of rampant capitalism they might name check Wall Street. Sure, Michael Douglas’s “greed is good” speech works, but the film—like all by Oliver Stone—handles the subject matter the way a sixth grader would. The bad guys are clearly bad, thus deserving of what they get, and the good guys are pure and noble who may succumb briefly to temptation but always find their moral center and do the right thing. In Wall Street, Michael Douglas is unquestionably bad—charismatic but clearly evil—and Charlie Sheen is the moral center. (Talk about irony!)

No, Wall Street is not the great cinematic indictment of the decadent 1980s; that would be Risky Business. Consider the story: Joel, played by Tom Cruise in the only film I have ever liked him in, is a typical north shore kid. He has well to do parents with boring, well to do tastes. His father sets the equalizer on his stereo to boring perfection to properly enjoy his classical music. Joel’s first act of rebellion when his parents leave is to fuck with the settings and blast “Old Time Rock and Roll.” So the characters are set: stuffy adults and their rebellious kids who feel a million miles away from them even in the same house. His father’s meticulous nature is symbolized by the stereo, but his mom is all about the goddamn egg—that obvious symbol of innocence and shelter that, of course, is risked, stolen, bartered over, and, eventually, cracked by the film’s conclusion. Joel’s adventures cause a crack in the egg and usher in the end of his naïve, sheltered life. Yay for metaphors!

Back to the story. Joel, like most teens, is horny as fuck and clueless on how to change all of that. His folks are gone, so his seemingly worldly pal calls a hooker. The hooker, a tranny, hips him to the sort of hooker he might actually want to fuck, which he does. Naïve and stupid, Joel has not the cash to pay her in the morning. So what can we pull from this? That a north shore spoiled son of well to do parents is that stupid? Has he been so insulated in his life that he failed to understand that this hooker might require money for her services? That Porsche in the garage didn’t come free either, Joel. Shit costs money, but to a privileged son of well to do parents, the idea often seems foreign. They just expect things.

That the hooker might rip him off while he goes to the bank to cash in a bond is also a thought absent from Joel’s head. His naiveté is hilarious. These ridiculous plot machinations seem implausible, but I want to suggest that the makers of this film were using them to raise larger social-political questions about class. Lana, the hooker, asks Joel not to judge her while he sits on his father’s $40,000 car (is that what a Porsche cost in 1984?). Though she aspires to wealth, her story is rooted in a starker reality. She’s probably not a hooker because she likes the life. There’s big differences between the two primary characters and while these disparities are hardly new or even all that interesting, they are used to further skewer a society where the biggest aspiration is to make money and the mere suggestion—half hearted though it may be—of helping people results in laughter and condemnation. This is the Reagan era.

Lana is honest. She is in it for the cash and she’ll screw anyone to get it—literally and figuratively. Joel is blind. He is easily seduced into the life of easy money, power, sex, and drugs because this is the life he was making for himself all along. He and his friends are budding capitalists, future CEOs eager to get rich regardless of the cost to others. They care nothing for the world at large. And why should they? They can’t see it from the position of their north shore homes. They’ll never see it from the corner offices either.

Joel’s adventure seems funny enough, and no one really gets hurt, right? Sure. He has one more night with Lana at the end, and while it’s all a little ambiguous this is hardly the guy-gets-girl, ride off into the sunset kind of ending. There’s a bit more going on. Joel loses all the money but he gets into Princeton. It is not his grades and achievements that get him in the Ivy League, but the fact that he got the admissions officer laid. Clearly his efforts at school were a means to an end, as seen in his aggressive behavior toward the school nurse (“I’ve busted my butt in this shithole!”). Also evident in this scene is his sense of entitlement. Of course he ought to get a break, even though he missed class and broke the rules. You see, it was not his fault. A hooker accidently knocked the gear of his father’s Porsche, which sent it into Lake Michigan, so he had to get it to fixed and miss class, so, you see, it’s not his fault. Not taking responsibility for his actions (his father told him not to touch the car, he called the hooker, he got high with her), Joel expects special treatment. Why? Because he is the son of well to do parents living in the north shore and he will, of course, go on to be rich and powerful himself. Why? Well, because it is predetermined. Why shouldn’t he get a break?

It is this entitlement that Joel and his pals feel. It will stay with them as they go to Ivy League schools and climb corporate ladders. It will inform their actions. It will justify their lies, adulteries, and petty grievances against a world that should know better than to fuck with them. These are the cogs in the great wheel of laissez-faire capitalism.

Forgive me for seeming didactic or for overanalyzing a somewhat forgotten film, but I had to get all that off my chest. Stay tuned for more poetry and less pseudo intellectualism.

Poetry Month: Forough Farrokhzad

Rather than link to a single poem today, I give you this link to a page dedicated to the great Forough Farrokhzad, with a generous selection of her poems and other material. I came across her work a while back when looking through the City Lights catalog. Apparently they were putting together a sizable collection of her work that has since been cancelled. I wonder if the selected poems that came out around the same time killed it, but that would be a shame. While Sin is a great collection, wonderfully translated by Sholeh Wolpe, another book in English, complete with letters and an array of writings, would be nice. Oh well…

P.S.: Well what do you know? I quick Amazon search revealed this forthcoming book.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Chile to Exhume Allende

Poetry Month: C.K. Williams and Ciaran Carson

Three poems from the great C. K. Williams whose long lines inspired my favorite living poet, Ciaran Carson.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Poetry Month: Breton & Desnos

Today’s batch comes from the French. Yeah, the French. The Black Widow Press has done a lot of work retranslating and reprinting French poets, some of which are pretty remarkable. Some slip too quickly into the pitfalls of surrealism to be as engaging as I’d like, but I admire the ambition. Here’s a poem by Andre Breton that greatly impacted me when I stumbled across it a few years back. And here’s one by Robert Desnos that pretty much kills.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Poetry Month: Amichai and Darwish

Since I missed yesterday, not to mention the first few days of April, today's post contains a chunk of poems by two of my favorites, Yehuda Amichai and Mahmoud Darwish.

Amichai hailed from Israel and Darwish from Palestine. In the interest of not choosing sides in that famous schism, I present poets from both lands. I will say that Amichai's "A Man in His Life" was one of the serious contenders for my Pinsky favorite poem choice, though I really prefer "A Dog After Love," "A Pity. We Were Such a Good Invention," and "A Precise Woman." Darwish is simply Darwish-- always engaging, often astonishing.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Poetry Month: Joyce Mansour

Today’s poem is from the great Joyce Mansour. She wrote in French, though hailed from Egypt, and was one of the few women (that I know of) representing surrealism. I have a love/hate relationship with surrealism, especially when it comes to poetry. A lot of it leaves me cold or irks me, but I love Mansour. This poem is one of the more popular things she wrote, probably due to the subject matter, and I include it as an intro to her work for the uninitiated. Still not convinced? Well, peep this video and see how that grabs you.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Poetry Month: Nazim Hikmet

Today’s poem comes from the great Turkish poet, Nazim Hikmet. Cassandra has told me that he resembles my grandfather. I never noticed, but yeah, he does a little.

I’ve decided to read this poem as part of Robert Pinsky’s favorite poem project. It's damn good, maybe not my favorite, but who can pick a single favorite poem? (Okay, my father can. This one.)

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Poetry Month: Nick Laird

Two poems today by Nick Laird, one of my favorite of the younger Northern Irish crowd. Actually, he’s a favorite in any crowd. I aspire to be Nick Laird. He writes novels and poems, both very well. It is a rare thing for a writer to bounce back and forth between the two disciplines and do admirable jobs with both. His first book, To a Fault, is a fine collection of poetry, too fine for a first book (bastard); his second novel, Glover’s Mistake, was one of the finest books about bad friendships I’ve read. The hero (?) is a real bastard. I loved it. Real frienemy stuff, to emply that goofy term.

The second poem in this link is one of my favorites from his last collection. I love the idea of a stressed couple, pre-wedding, contemplating running off and eloping. He makes it sound so private, beautiful, perfect, but the last line, “We could” pretty much suggests that they won’t.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Poetry Month Kick Off: Kenneth Koch

It’s national poetry month, in case you were not aware. To celebrate, I have been emailing some of my students a few poems every other day. My goal in life is to convince people that poetry can be fun. Shakespeare and Chaucer, god love them, don’t always appeal to non-English majors, thus the rest of the bunch tend to run away from poetry. Their loss, one might say, but not me. I’m on a mission.

Anyway, I’m posting this link, as it leads to a long, funny poem by Kenneth Koch, one of the New York School poets. There are a few good moments of advice here. Three lines in particular helped me through a minor crisis.

More to come.