Saturday, June 30, 2012

grace and beauty...

...and something else, in the speechless regions of the heart.

Tamara Karsavina -- Prima Ballerina

Jimmie Spheeris

The LP Isle of View came out the year I (barely) graduated high school. A year later, I bought it. I remember the spell it cast on me. Just drifting off to an unusual planet where dreams, melancholy, and souls float through the atmosphere.

literary fiction or...

...extended, boring, author-heavy "poem"?

I haven't read much literary fiction. It's almost like a force-field repulsion keeping me away. I mostly have to rely on excerpts and things gleaned from reviews. For me to pronounce on literary fiction is ridiculous, bordering on stupid. I don't care.

I don't see any valid reasons for not writing a novel the way Dostoevsky did. He told tales, and the narrator was not showing out. The narrator mostly spoke from the background. Also John Steinbeck and Harper Lee -- stories. But not just stories like our plot-drivel best sellers of today. They wrote tales in which life itself participated through the art of their language and within the matrix of their vision.

I get a sense that some modern and most contemporary literary fiction is not really about story-telling. If there is plot and characterization, those are mostly happening in the background. The foreground is occupied by a knowing, "cool," ironic author on self-parade. Opening paragraphs or pages are monologues or descriptive inventories, with the footlights shining on how profound and artistic the writer assumes himself to be.

I suppose this stuff is thematically about some meta-cultural comment. Oh my.

Thomas Mann pushed the envelop a bit. As author, he protruded here and there on the page. But we forgive him, we actually welcome him. Because he was profound and a genius. Our contemporary geniuses are few and far between. Maybe or probably W.G. Sebald. Otherwise, we have some folks who think they are geniuses writing their "important" literary fiction.

Reading synopses of today's literary fiction novels is not a pleasant activity. Even reading about those that contain some kind of plot and with some emphasis on character(s) is a hurtful thing. Banality raised to an assumed level of high art. Uninteresting or contrived situations containing counterfeit relationships shoved down the readers' eyeballs.

But that other kind -- the kind praised in all the big literary reviews -- where asininity is fused with pretentiousness, where the author is being all meta on center-stage...well that just won't do.

Let's say that literary fiction has a valid place and function in the world of books. Okay. All I request is that the truly talented and truly wise indulge in such a thing, someone approaching the level of Kafka. Or if some writers can't stop themselves, at least reviewers should intervene with both barrels, instead of enabling such stuff. Writers not on the level of a Mann or Sebald should probably turn their language skills to the production of potboilers. Those can be fun and are not pompous.

But what do I know? Not a whole hell of a lot.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


I watch hardly any network TV. But there's this show on NBC that I like -- GRIMM.

The production value is really good for this series. In one episode, Nick (a Grimm) drops by Monroe's house. Monroe -- a wolf-like Wider Blutbad -- has decorated his living room for Christmas. The detail of it all! And how a sort of Bavarian effect has been wrought -- a fairy tale, old world aesthetic.

how to compromise a review

The more talented an author and more worthwhile his or her works, the less need for hyperbole when writing a review.

Here's a review of a William Gaddis book by Cynthia Ozick:

review of Carpenter's Gothic

I empathize with Ms. Ozick. I have also written review things that are overstated. I am determined to reduce or eliminate such a tendency toward ridiculous hyperbole. I think it's harder to write without hyperbole. It's so easy to allow oneself to float off on a cloud of pretentious words. The irony is that these important reviewers (Ozick a big-time novelist herself) who choose inflated over sober terms shows a disrespect for language. What's also irksome is how certain reviewers are so thoroughly sucked into an insular literary world that expects and requires preposterously worded appraisals.

Get a load of these from her review:

"...should disclose Mr. Gaddis's terrifying artfulness once and for all."

"...omniscience thrown into the hottest furnaces of metaphor."

"Mr. Gaddis knows almost myth flies into being out of the primeval clouds of art and death and money."

"...the dazzling irruption...."

"He is a possessed receiver of voices, a maniacal eavesdropper, a secret prophet and moralizer."

Goodness gracious.

Having said what I said, I will also say this: Ms. Ozick's review overall is really excellent. She has read deeply into this novel (as opposed to close reading, which is a soulless intellectual exercise). She brings out things in such a way that I want to read this book. 

I just wish she hadn't compromised her mostly well-written review by sprinkling into it some overblown and fancy-pants sentences.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

an impression of HYMNS TO THE NIGHT

After a number of years, I read again Hymns to the Night, by Novalis (or Georg Philipp Friedrich von Hardenberg, 1772 -- 1801). The full text of this poem-thing can be found here:

Hymns to the Night

And if you click on the “Links” there, you'll find a page from which to download a nicely formatted Word version.

*    *    *

I had forgotten the power of this piece by Novalis. I suppose events in life tend to push even important things farther back into the mind's chambers. But like my dreams, which persist with powerful resonance, I'm confident that Hymns to the Night is also alive in my unconscious regions, doing its silent work there.
Hymns to the Night is an “ecstatic” turning away from the daylight of usual experience, a rejection of the temporal, a refusal of psychological normality.

Novalis's beloved wife died at age 15.

There is something about the death of a young woman that touches a bass organ chord, disturbs sensitive nerves, and inspires a change in one's sense of reality. This could be an evolutionary effect working into our unconscious regions: when timely vessels of propagation are overturned, a faith in time itself is poured out and evaporates; when nature attacks with illness our human hope in the form of woman, nature has darkly injured something in our organic tissues of meaning.

Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain is an extended reverie on the dubious and equivocal nature of time. And how time can be psychologically (spiritually?) deferred or even rejected. A quietly ecstatic turning toward the melancholy of non-participation. In one poignant scene, Hans Castorp and his cousin Joachim accompany the tubercular and terminal young woman Karen Karstedt on an outing to the hillside above the town of Dorf. The winter day is beautiful, and their nature hike takes them by the town cemetery. They discover there, amid the narrow aisles and crowded gravestones, a cleared and unoccupied space, obviously a grave space awaiting its future occupant. All three realize who that space will soon be for. The cousins stand there in clumsy, silent commiseration with Karen. A strange smile happens on her face. For me, it was as if a shy and curious bride were awaiting Death, her groom. A sense of betrothal to eternity, a submission of the temporal before the uncanny.

The composer Alban Berg wrote his Violin Concerto (1935) in memorial to Manon Gropius, who died of polio complications at age 18. From measures of mourning and anguish, the piece moves toward a concluding transcendence or apotheosis. It moves toward the rapture of night and away from vicissitudes of time.

Edvard Munch's sister died when she was 15. Edvard Munch's paintings have a quality of twilight leaning into darkness. Over time, he painted several versions of The Sick Child. Munch, owing to his early sorrow, turned to a night of the soul. The red-haired teenager in his painting – his sister – stares from her bed at something in the distance, beyond the curtained window. Something is drawing nearer and is profounder than time or experience. A pact between painter and Death was early struck, and his wounded oeuvre holds a consistent theme of ecstatic night.

*    *    *

Part 5 of Hymns to the Night – oddly the longest section – sounds a wrong note for me. It seems like an incursion of an artificial element, something out of tune with the other parts. Or like an extended didactic aside, with a nod to the religiosity of readers. A genuinely Romantic pulse has been interrupted by the conventional.

But of course, Novalis could be simply layering his eccentric vision into the only tropes familiar to him. He lived when he lived. Maybe he held a conventional Christian belief, or maybe he was casting emotion into allegory. My sense of a wrong tonality might be an anachronistic reading, a projection of my perspective onto a different era. Whatever the facts might be, the last stanza of Part 5 is astonishing in its poetic effect and in its opening onto eternity:

The love is given freely,
And Separation is no more.
The whole life heaves and surges
Like a sea without a shore.
Just one night of bliss—
One everlasting poem—
And the sun we all share
Is the face of God.

Maybe there is a clue in Part 6 that Novalis remains true to the flame of a pagan, ostensibly Christian Romanticism, to the dying light of a beautiful spark as it falls toward the grave:

Blessed be the everlasting Night,
And blessed the endless slumber.

That “endless slumber” seems to me a contradiction of literal or dogmatic deliverance. To me, this is a turning to art, to poetry as an environment of hope against hope, much like the spiritual musings of Miguel de Unamuno.

Novalis's dead bride is vivified by the dark light of his own poem. By his turning away from wounding phenomena and toward the Dream of Night.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nathan Milstein performing Brahms

This is wonderful. Milstein plays this the way I like it, as if the music still had an Old World aura around it. And Brahms's great concerto (all three movements) is an expressive marvel. There is so much in it to complement something I feel on the far side of words.

I also like the groovy conductor and that mono sound quality for the orchestra.


Noontime and the day listens
to stars above blueness, stars
uttering their large confusions
of mass inside chemical skins.

Would it harm anyone
if a mass of puzzled atoms
also wonders the summer,
wonders at humidity gathering
like skin tears...or wonders vapor
from marrow arcing over moments,
in shape of a swan's winged shadow
to ballet a mood, shadow the heart?

It shouldn't harm anyone at all.

He is now as free as escaping heat
to go into moments like old gray film
flickering by as 1950 high rise suites
where existential people daydream
or mutter quietly of how nothing is
more like death than a longing stare 
at bouquet of one impossible flower.

[I apologize for posting this new poem. I tried to cast a particular mood into a series of images. Those images came spontaneously, similar to but not exactly automatic writing. I violated one of my principles: a poem should communicate to the reader. The odds are against anyone else having my particular mood. The odds are even more against such a mood (if recognized) conjuring up these spontaneous images in another person. A moment of weakness on my part. Oh, well.]

Monday, June 25, 2012

poems that are prose

Poems that are prose in arbitrary line breaks are strange animals. I've set some of them loose in the wild myself, and it leaves me feeling crestfallen and queasy. Poems that are prose are annoying creatures. They will chew up your brain and make your eyeballs deflate.

So what's the main thing that makes a poem a poem, I ask myself? Maybe it has to do with transcendentalizing the verbs – making movement and tense affective rather than constructive elements. Emphasis on image allowing verbs to glow with an equivocal property. Verbs backlit by the kinetic or latent light coming from fragments of vision. The ordinary of grammatical transport – action and tense – is subsumed into image connotation, with the verb forms paradoxically gathering into themselves a peculiar luster. Something aesthetic begins to occur, rather than simply banging a reader over the head with this-is-what-happened or this-is-how-I-feel.

Joesph Brodsky's poems are exemplary with image-saying and verb-glowing instead of grammatical head-banging:


About a year has passed. I've returned to the place of the battle
to its birds that have learned their unfolding of wings
from a subtle
lift of a surprised eyebrow or perhaps from a razor blade
- wings now the shade of early twilight now of state
bad blood.

Now the place is abuzz with trading
in your ankles's remanants bronzes
of sunburnt breastplates dying laughter bruises
rumors of fresh reserves memories of high treason
laundered banners with imprints of the many
who since have risen.

All's overgrown with people. A ruin's a rather stubborn
architectural style. And the hearts's distinction
from a pitch-black cavern
isn't that great; not great enough to fear
that we may collide again like blind eggs somewhere.

At sunrise when nobody stares at one's face I often
set out on foot to a monument cast in molten
lengthy bad dreams. And it says on the plinth "commander
in chief." But it reads "in grief " or "in brief "
or "in going under."

Above, we have this: "have learned" and "is abuzz" and "have risen" and "may collide" and "set out". These glow for me with an eccentric verbal luminescence that flows into them from concentrated image. We also have: "All's overgrown" and "A ruin's a rather". Here, the verb "is" glimmers aesthetically inside the indefinite pronoun and the evocative noun. Here is interlocution between phenomena and presence. 

And I think maybe a prose sentence broken up into arbitrary lines strips a poem of rhythm. Rhythm is another form of sublimation and connotation. Of affective glowing. Musical elements speak to us in secret, into our unconscious tissues. A sentence disguised as poetry is too usual. It lacks eccentricity. The not-usual is what gives a poem its subtle power. The cadence of sentence-saying is too regular, the pulse too familiar. Regularity wounds rhythm, convention dulls. 4/4 time in popular music is not rhythmical. Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, with its weird locomotion, is. And it becomes poetical.

Above with Brodsky, we have rhythm enhanced and working in us, owing to image or image cluster. This poem moves more like a polonaise or masurka than a prosaic zombie shuffle.

So writing with emphasis on images – blocks of phenomena or experience – affects rhythm, makes it lope along peculiarly. Verbs become transcendental conveyers rather than mundane pieces of grammar, of normality. Something different than prose is beginning to happen. The poem now has a chance to be a poem.

A prose paragraph is blah-blah-blah this and blah-blah-blah that. Making a poem stanza out of that stuff makes the poem beg for mercy. And readers turn aggressive:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

finding a reader

It's really neat to write things, like poems, and eventually have those things blend into or make an unusually favorable impression on another consciousness. Most readers will not care for your stuff. Experiences and the tastes derived from them are variable. Some dispositions of soul are not commensurable with yours, and that's life. There's no guarantee you will ever reach a perfect reader for your poems or whatnot.

But if you do find that reader, it makes it all worthwhile.

Sometimes I ask myself: what are you up to, in a general sense, with your poem writing? I'm too scatter-brained to form a coherent answer for myself. Maybe there is no coherent answer. But when I find a special reader, it sure seems like I've been up to something with an overall thrust or meaning. 

A person who has given me some resonant feedback is Isabelle. The depth of her commentary leads me to believe she has indeed sounded far beneath my waves of words. She provides clues that help me understand my written effects and what they're straining toward. There is a genuineness to her remarks, and they are without flattery. She gets whatever it is that I'm trying to do with poems. Most cool.

It's not a uni-directional thing. You discover, among your few close readers, an appreciation forming in yourself for their own artistic visions, their own crafting of world into distinctive, peculiar shapes. 

I realize how much I respond to Isabelle's world of expression. Her paintings -- subtle washes over an almost spiritized draftsmanship -- speak as something familiar to me, as some alignment with myself to her deftly rendered forms and understated coloring.

How could it be otherwise? And what would be the value of Me-ism -- of simply placing another's appreciation for some things I've written on the shelf of ego? It has to be about something other than interior shelves. It has to be about the outside, in the open mutual air -- a commune space, with a boulevard for walking into one another's sensibilities. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

on first glance...

...the young housekeeper Adela in Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles appears to have that sober, practical view of life one might associate with the Prussian attitude or with the general weary laboring class. As she encounters and tries to put down the bizarre schemes and antics of the head of the house, one could imagine her saying, with hands on hips: "Enough with your eccentricities!"

But I'm not so sure.

The more I ponder it -- and ponder it I certainly must -- I come to think she has an oblique aspect herself, a dream-depth. I can thus almost hear her next phrase: "After you're dead, there will be plenty of time for such nonsense and wild imaginings."

As if some character from One Hundred Years of Solitude. Sometimes they accommodate ghosts, sometimes they lose patience. But the existence of spirits goes without much saying. So Adela, I submit, will sometimes pamper, sometimes scold the strange father of the house as he obsesses over his aviary or hides himself on the top of a wardrobe. Yet Adela retains a measure of unconscious sympathy for such regions of great heresy, acknowledges it implicitly. The shadow side of things -- the irrational -- is suspected and winked at, and is as nearly tangible for her as a Macondo apparition.

Janet Snell -- artist

In the past, I was given permission to paste some images of Janet's paintings on my blog. So I'll assume it's still okay to do so.

Here's one of her works from the Scattered Light webpage:

Flotation is Groovy

There's a lot going on in this image. Levels of stuff. But for me to clog it up with my words would be irksome. It speaks for itself. I'll limit myself to this: the way that frog-like apparition appears above the seated figure reminds me of Mayan art; also the silent-macabre of comic book artist Mike Mignola.

It can be purchased as a print from Red Bubble.


Sometimes I forget to appreciate what a remarkable colorist this guy was.

Maya with a Doll, 1938

The Seated Harlequin, 1923

Jacqueline Rocque, 1954


...don't go to my head.


To have fallen from the good graces of a person for whom one has the highest regard -- that is a crashing into the hell of one's dubiousness.

The truth about oneself is good to know. The real smashes through a mirror of figments. You flail right through with a breathtaking force and hit existential boundary.

Poems? Only if you are a master of language-as-art could that soften the blow. Otherwise, one must settle for a scattering of pieces across mute exile as a form of peculiar, visceral beauty.

Truth is hard. But when you crash outside the zone of grace, you have at least become acquainted with actuality, with the law of what is. Then you can begin a proper demarcation of your scorched earth, step off the ground of your reduced being, install bronze stoic markers of newly surveyed extent.

Friday, June 22, 2012

about Liszt's Sonata in B Minor

This morning, I remembered something.

In 1993 -- before I started buying classical music CDs -- I would tape things from the radio onto cassette. I still have those cassette tapes, but I no longer have anything to play them back on. This morning, I remembered one of the things I had taped back then. It was Russell Sherman's recording of Liszt's Piano Sonata in B Minor.

What an unusual performance.

If I had to scrape up one word to describe it, I would clumsily call it "objective." There have been many great recordings of this piece -- probing, expressive, architectural, whatnot. But Mr. Sherman's rendition sticks in my head, owing to its oddness. And how it made me feel like I had landed inside a timeless Cubist painting.

It was also as if this sonata belonged not to Franz Liszt. Instead, it was as if Pierre Boulez or Morton Feldman had gone back in time and composed it.

Out-of-print CD from 1993

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What to do about ghosts?

We've all had, I'm sure, some unpleasant dealings with the pseudo-dead. Or ghosts, if you prefer.

I'm no expert, but I have some ideas for what to do about them. These notions might or might not work. I certainly don't see any harm in trying them out.



Here's one idea. Before you go to bed at night, light a candle and set it on a table (make sure your smoke alarm has fresh batteries). Also set an ashtray there, with a nice unwrapped cigar. It doesn't have to be a Cuban, but avoid cheap stinky ones. Pour a glass of red wine for the ghost. Leave it all there and go to sleep. Of course, this method won't chase off a ghost. It will only pacify or domesticate the creature. It shouldn't bother you that night.


Stronger methods are needed to actually de-ghost your abode. You might try this: get out your latest poem. When the witching hour arrives, begin reciting it. When you hear the ghost's moans take on a more peculiar and pathetic pitch, you know it's working. Ghosts don't like contemporary poetry. It somehow offends their delicate gothic sensibility. Free verse is anathema to the incorporeal. They prefer poems with strong meter. They like to sway to the older-style poems. They especially enjoy Poe poems, with their overwrought and macabre themes. But stuff these days?...your newest poem? – ghosts can't tolerate self-absorbed, existentialist irony. Or if you write relationship poems of any kind, the ghost will scream its eyeballs out. In either case, you should hear the front door slam of its own accord, the ghost absconding with its own wilting self.


If step two doesn't do the trick, I suggest something different. Ghosts – I hypothesize – do not like small radio-controlled mice. So go to the electronic mouse store and buy some R/C mice. I think you can get a "Gadzooks Controller." It should handle up to ten mice at once. Practice in your garage until you get the hang of many mice scurrying in a frightful, incomprehensible manner.

Okay. It's night again. Sit down in your rocking chair after hiding your mice in tactical locations. Conceal your Gadzooks mice device under an old lady's crocheted lap wrap.

Wait for the ghost to come out. When it does, jump out of your seat and push buttons to start up all the mice. Twist the dials frantically and with courage. Create one big freaking event of whirring, ricocheting chaos! Oh yes, I forgot: make sure your R/C mice have a mechanical squeaking function. That should enhance the effect.

Your ghost should now be beside himself. Just tore up real bad. You are now in control, and the haint is at your mercy. Make all the mice head straight for the ghost. If my calculations are correct, the ghost should jump into the fireplace and exhaust himself out the chimney. Good riddance! Of course, there is always the possibility that this R/C mice stunt could make your ghost psychotic, completely unhinged. Then things would be much worse than before. I guess it's a 50-50 shot. Try this plan at your own risk.


Finally, I recommend this: get yourself an old beat-up Boy Scout bugle. At the stroke of midnight – when all is silent and creepy – let go with that bugle full-throttle. Nothing on Earth can withstand the shattering horror of such a sound, especially if you, a tone-deaf amateur, try to blow “Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In.” I'm almost positive such a sound will make your ghost explode into pieces of ectomplasmic morbidity.

Well, there you have it. One of these measures should assist you with your ghost problem.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"Song to the Siren"

A friend sent this to me. What a timely thing to arrive!

Pretty fish says:

"Why you so hooked on me? I just wanna swim. I'll jump and flash and splash, and I'll be your friend. But stop tugging on me, silly ole angler."


Hermann Hesse said...

"He left behind the most marvelous and mysterious work in the intellectual history of Germany."

He said that about Novalis (or Georg Philipp Friedrich von Hardenberg, 1772  -- 1801).

Hesse also said:

"His poetry remains, still read by only a few, still signifying to those few a gate into the realm of magic, yes, almost the gift of a new dimension."'s the deal. Several years ago, I read Novalis's Hymns to the Night. Hesse is not mistaken, and I suspect he is not overstating the case.

Hymns to the Night, in the version above, was translated into English by George MacDonald, author of Phantastes (which I've read several times) and has a foreword by Sergei Prokofiev (whose music is important to me). These connections are things I find interesting and pleasing.

I might come back to this post later and edit in some of my own thoughts about Hymns to the Night. For now, I'll just make a brief general statement about German Romanticism.

When I read Kant, Schelling, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, that stuff is like a waking dream to me. Yes, even the dry expressions of Kant. Beneath this philosophizing, I suspect a haunting of consciousness, something at least vaguely connected to the spirit of German Romanticism. The problem with modern analytic philosophy is that the waking dream has been replaced with forms of spiritual banality. World as a kind of dark poem has become a mere flat surface where insects tap out their dead codes. Ontology has been shoved aside by tiny scratchy mental legs. Musing has been replaced by formulaic intellection.

Think about poetry written without any affiliation to German Romanticism. At least an unconscious irradiation. Oh, my. How dry. How dull and unhaunted.

Coleridge, had he not been influenced by Kant's and Schelling's opening up of world to the uncanny, would have produced a rather bland Kubla Khan, I think. If the young De Quincey had not dogged the heels of his idol Coleridge, he most likely would not have dreamed so deeply. And not fallen so wondrously and morbidly under the spell of his idol's preferred phantasmal analgesic.

Think about poems being written by people who have not been touched and wounded implicitly by the ghost of Novalis or the uncanny of Hesse. In other words, people who have not become strange. Poets for whom life and world are not textured with a burnished surrealism and a mourning sublimation. Could there have been a Tranströmer without a Hölderlin or Schopenhauer? Possibly not. 

Time moves on. We think we are advancing and that the old stuff can be discarded. But maybe the old stuff is still younger and wilder than the being of our present time.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

a number of author blogs...

...are a big freaking yawn.

There's this one guy (name withheld) who posts things about his novels and short stories. Published and forthcoming. This author blog is so drenched with self-absorption as to nearly drown an unsuspecting reader. It's not so bad when the author is exemplary -- say, someone like Neil Gaiman. Not only has he gained a certain interesting stature, owing to real imaginative talent, but he is also cool, comports himself with a degree of self-irony. At least it seems that way to me. Mr. Gaiman also talks about other stuff that is not himself.

Of course an author blog is there to promote the author and his or her works. But self-absorbed self-commentary is excruciating to read. Going on and on about reviews your work has received -- implicitly patting yourself on the back for the favorable, complaining about the critical -- well, that's just unpleasant for the reader to behold.

Or what's worse, ladling in some extraneous opinion pieces about political stuff. Are you that big a deal yet to think your opinions would be of interest to me? I suppose it's a way for me to get to know you better. But your opinions are written without flair, come at topics from moribund angles. Be interesting and original or be quiet.

There's just got to be a better method of self-promotion than that.

How about posting other kinds of stuff, like music videos you like or talk about novels by others that light your fire? Or post pictures of flowers and kitty cats. Anything to break up the monotony of you droning in serious tones about yourself and how you see the world.

The Unanswered Question -- Ives

Gotta love a turn-of-the-last-century insurance salesman who also composed stuff. Scores of arbitrary, slap-dash dissonance filled with cigar-puffing Americana. Yet a composer who also conjured such a quiet piece of metaphysical musing (interspersed with gnomic-hysteric woodwinds).

Charles Ives

once every 17 or 18 months...

...I will think about Japanese ghosts.

Those ghosts seem to have a subtler, more aesthetic afterlife than American ghosts. Our ghosts here don't have much imagination. They just bump around and make people nervous, or have a rather morbid, antisocial disposition. They smell of gravemoss and act like jerks most of the time.

Japanese ghosts are quixotic things. Instead of jumping out and saying "Boo!", they want to build up a complex and uncanny metaphysical relationship with the still breathing.

two or three times a year...

...I will think about all those Soviet soldiers and civilians during WWII.

Soldiers sent by the tens, hundreds of thousands to various incursion points where German forces threatened. Civilians by the tens, hundreds of thousands constructing earthworks and barricades on the outskirts of cities.

Don't mess with Russians.

So many soldiers killed or wounded and so many more sent from deeper in the nation to replace them. Civilians in eastern provinces, owing to a state of heightened emergency, building large factories, producing countless war things of steel and chemical, of textile and whatnot. I can almost see those vast foundries and steelworks, flashing white fire and sparks into the cavernous dark. Men grimy and sweaty, grim and determined.

The suffering and horror at Stalingrad -- it's unthinkable. The persevering will and courage of soldier and civilian -- hard to even imagine.

And those T-34 tanks stampeding across the salient near the city of Kursk! A bird's-eye view must have staggered that bird's brain with awesomeness, with a sweeping martial sublimity.

The scale and degree of resistance of the Russian spirit (or Soviet, if you wish) staggers my own brain. Think of all those women warriors, deadly snipers!

Foolhardy German commanders.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I have been soul-blasted

I came across this image via News from the edge & beyond --

"Arnold Park -- Rochester, New York" 
Circa 1905

Here's the link of record: Shorpy

If you click on that link and then click on the image for enlargement to full size, perhaps your mind will also be blown.

I think this image is a poem waiting to materialize from someone's consciousness. A vision in language, an aesthetics of place and connotation is potential here for the imagining. 

For me, though, it's almost too overwhelming. At least for now. A thousand times a thousand impressions are latent, strange, or intermingling  inside my noggin. A texture of the actual and of longing somehow looms in the photographic weave. I would like to stroll these lanes in muted conversation.

98.6 %...

...of popular song lyrics make no sense. Did early Bob Dylan begin this plague of ambiguity-unto-nonsense? Not sure.

It's almost all a bunch of stream-of-babble passing itself off as cool saying. Being embedded in melodies, harmonies, and animal-pleasing rhythms helps to disguise all the stanzas of non sequitur.

Yes, I understand the value of subtlety, and a certain degree of elliptical utterance is okay (see Schubert and Mahler). But only to a certain artistic degree. Maybe a phrase or two of that kind of stuff sprinkled across a song. But if you look at a page of these lyrics standing alone, especially stuff from the seventies onward, it's remarkable in its allergy to language as a vehicle for sense-saying. Those lyrics standing alone are worse than bad poetry.

Rant over.



A mood comes on lateness
of sunlight lingering in planes
across the yard and ditch bank.
A quiet effect of almost voices
like a schizophrenia of whispers
mouthed by shrugging clouds.

The past elbows into pure stupefaction...

I have walked the streets of Little Rock.
There have been fewer things more surreal
than Little Rock people on arcane missions,
going into financial buildings or just clustering
on corners of South Broadway after the bridge.
Their eyes were marbles tumbling from the bag
of time for shooting glances of incurious colors.

So long ago yet they can be seen on sidewalks
of memory, sidewalks of my purest dislocation
and of their visceral bodies weighted and moving.

I swear it -- there are fewer things more surreal.

But it does no good to unwrap the boxes
inside boxes inside boxes of anywhereness.
If we were meant to know meanings of eyes
and missions, some god would have been real,
whispered a much louder and more persuasive
angle of light, a more trenchant schizophrenia.

words and the unspeakable

I avoid novels and movies about the Holocaust. I don't avoid documentary things about the Holocaust, or reflections by those directly affected.

I've written two poems about the Holocaust. I feel odd about that. I'm not Jewish for one thing. Also, Adorno's dictate remains in the back of mind: "writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." I suppose he meant any poetry, but I'm sure he and many others would look especially askance at the presumption and gaucheness of writing Holocaust-themed poems. The ultimate act of literary bad taste.

In my poems, I tried to follow W.G. Sebald's example -- an oblique, indirect approach. Poems about how time and being themselves have been injured. Certainly not about envisioning in words the actual conditions of horror and despair. To me, that's dubious curiosity at best, a sublimating voyeurism at worst.

The notion of voyeurism grows out of an opinion I've held for quite some time: cruelty and murder have, in many or most cases, a perverse psycho-sexual component. I conjecture that the murderers at Babi Yar and elsewhere were erotically stimulated while slaughtering those helpless human beings.

Nazis are the most perverse people I can conceive of. Hitler and his SS were nothing but cheap sadists strutting under the colors of nation and race purity. I feel unclean even thinking about those uniformed perverts.

Even the writing of poems, stories, or novels about the experiences of victims and executioners strikes me as a form of voyeurism, a morbid fascination with lecherous homicide. Trying to envision in words those events of horror and hopeless death, trying to invent characters and their affective states...well...just don't do it. Or if you must -- if you can't control your metaphysical or literary libido, at least don't be gauche enough to seek publication of such a thing.

The existential aspects of those sufferers or perpetrators during the Holocaust do not admit of fictional participation. The products of such imaginings will be beyond the pale of worth or interest. The words will be lifeless things. Those years of horror do not admit of such pedestrian treatment. And pretentious "literary fiction" these days is certainly an absurd place in which to cast those events. Just don't do it.

But if you must write about the Holocaust, this is how it can be done with sensitivity and literary value:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Jumping jet-fueled kangaroos!!

got the video from Bibiloklept

This kind of counterintutive improv interpretation pleases me. The subtextural sound of music!

a poem by William Doreski that spoke to me

If you scroll down to the second poem, you'll find his A Sargent Portrait, Maybe.

(Though I don't care for the "zipper" -- an unintentional or if not, wincing double entendre.)

My head has been stolen by Biblioklept!

Right now, I have nine tabs up on my screen -- pages and categories from

My mind is trickling through the near-endless maze of things that are interesting to me on this site.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I found this article on Lanzmann interesting

“If there is any truth to metempsychosis and if I were given the choice,” he writes, “I would unhesitatingly choose to come back as a hare.” ~ Claude Lanzmann

Here's the link to The Nation:

A Vast Choir of Voices: On Claude Lanzmann

Friday, June 15, 2012


People have remarked about my Siamese cat that the expression on his face is not like an ordinary dull-witted cat. He looks almost human sometimes. A self-possession yet a kind of social curiosity. A peculiar awareness in the eyes.

Kitty-Boy usually looks just like someone's sneaky grandmother.

I find myself admiring...

...someone who has what looks like a complete sensibility.

Of course, even a drooling Visigoth has a certain sensibility (he can sniff fear on the wind and devise an aesthetics of plunder, so to speak). So I'm using the word "complete" in a special way. Barbarian culture is excluded. I'm using that word "complete" to distinguish the sensibility of someone like me, who is sort of a snob about cultural matters, from someone with a broader grasp or vision of things.

I have, over decades, drifted toward things European, while neglecting (or outright scorning) things American. Though I do appreciate Emerson, Poe, Melville, Emily Dickinson, Twain, and Steinbeck, as well as some homegrown popular music (Dylan, Roky Erickson, CCR, Roy Orbison, some others), I missed the boat with others things -- the Beat vibe and a whole array of "local" spirit-root songwriters. So there are things to learn from a person who appreciates deeper aspects of American culture while also being sensitive to that unique European aesthetic. A person sensitive to lived or felt experience and who looks for emotional honesty, wherever he finds it.

I'm distinguishing my rather clumsy self from someone like Will Crawford (author of Fire in the Marrow).

Will is a poet and soulful roustabout. Some of that American stuff I've missed out on percolates up through quite a few of Will's poems. At least that's the impression I get. He takes his themes and directs his focus mostly on people who have breathed this American air, who stagger through or make pact with the peculiar conditions here. But Will's imagination and poetic stress are not constricted. He also writes about obsessive conquistadors, Van Gogh, others. His appreciation for Werner Herzog, many East European poets and writers, Old World paintings and films...well...that pleases me.

What intrigues me is how Will can juggle both that European and American stuff simultaneously. I have such a one-track mind that I've become illiberal in my tastes. I compartmentalize, whereas Will is open-ended. Apparently he does not, like me, exclude the native forms of being -- characters embedded in this fabric of circumstance. (I have though made a recent attempt at American rapprochement with my Southern Weather e-book.)  Will is attuned to those who sing the song of road and grit, hard love and whiskey blur. Those who appeared and ached in time zones of Blues and jazz. Who wandered dunes of lost beach or withered in rooms of mortal waiting. People and things that happen here, in America.

I think I'm having trouble describing that special American vibe. Whatever it is, it's something that oozes surreptitiously from the movie world here. Maybe a quality of perception that is connected to Ford, Cassavetes, Lynch. Not sure.

But as I said, Will also appreciates many things that are damn important to me, aesthetically. So the fact that he also appreciates certain over-yonder poems and the writings of Bruno Schulz makes me realize that there must also be things here undeserving of my snobbish neglect. Thinking about Will's complete sensibility is like having a form of eye surgery done on myself -- restoring a balance of far- and near-sightedness.

Having said that, I don't know if I'll ever be able to fully heal my alienation to the American experience. Even though I'm geographically located in that experience. Having read The Magic Mountain so many times, I find that listening to an American conversation -- even hip, "knowing" talk -- is like having my head squeezed by a large pecan nutcracker.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

a poem of mine from Peculiar Moods e-book...

...that I'm quite fond of (revised here).

as if music

Old men play chess within the waning day.
Muted summer voices sound in late air.
Children move with clumsy young bones
as flowers still bloom under the sun's cooling.

Lithuania breathes out its unseen ghosts.
They stand in lengthening shadows cast
by the gnarled limbs of witness trees.

Something is amiss in Lithuania.

Shapes of absence in this green still park
cast unease upon the older living brows.
Of course the forms of silence aren't there
but are merely voids as if boles in time.

There used to be something like music
in the vigor of villages in Lithuania --
the rhythm of vital gestures and melody
cascading in dark curls of familial hours.

Look! That large gazebo in the park.
Fresh white paint covers memories
of violins, cellos, and a Yiddish tango.
But something persists and ghostly sways
across floorboards while the flowers fade.

Soon twilight brings an unheard revel
of dreams undreamt, of unlived fevers.

* * *

Bands played and people danced in 1948,
on Israel's great day of independence!
Melodies erupting, cascading from silence.

Laughter and smiles and tears that broke
early new light into flung color of rose petals.

Piranesi -- forerunner of Surrealism

from the article in The Chronicle --

"Yet all of these attempts at explanation share the assumption that the etchings are not about architecture so much as they are about what Victor Hugo called "Piranesi's dark brain." The etchings are both "Imaginary Prisons" and "Prisons of the Imagination"—the prison as the inside of the skull. That is perhaps the most modern thing about them: They anticipate the belief that any subject is an excuse for illustrating the artist's mental state, that every portrait has a self-portrait underneath. In these etchings, Piranesi invented architecture as metaphor for the mind."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Winter can come cracking stars,
blowing down all weathered doors,
shivering through the staggered denizens
of unsuspecting June. They don't know why
the sun is cold and why they were forsaken.

Old men trudge desperately toward the pond
in hopes the summer swan is there and thriving.
If she were flown all hopes would plunge to zero.

Rumor is afoot of Death and great shadows falling.
Laughter in the inn trembles now in wan corners,
wine lifting no spirits, warming only quiet shrugs.

Soon the news of dearth of swan and dreaming
hangs everywhere, like icicles twisting, mirroring
absence unto absence, distorting the Pole Star
into a candle flicker set beside a gravestone.

Darkness now of midday June seduces,
turning all to village idiots for celebration
of razor ice and the truest ripping wind.

All the mouths of huddled shapes are singing
a threnody of frozen joy, paradox and blizzard.

The time has come to form a single file,
to walk forever toward a truth of freezing.

Wrongest winter grins teeth of troll and harpie.
Night swallows itself, swallowing eyes of madness.

In the empty village now, swirl of dancing mist, no ghost.

infinite monkey theorem

A monkey randomly hitting typewriter keys for an infinite amount of time must surely eventually produce a masterwork.

It would most likely have taken nine drunken monkeys, working telepathically, about 22 hours total to (re)produce my novel Séance in B Minor. But I'm rather proud of it, nonetheless. Looking back to 2005, I now see that manuscript as rather peculiar, the language a bit much in many places, and the plot somewhat (ha) convoluted.

Anyway, I did what I set out to do -- propose an unusual solution to the historical riddle "Did Franz Schubert write two more movements for the Unfinished Symphony, which were subsequently lost?"

I'm rather floored... this excerpt from Slavoj Žižek's book The Plague of Fantasies:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Also at Biblioklept, a review of W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, one of my favorite books.

the review

Actually...this might be the best written book review I've ever encountered. Tone, style, substance. I suppose it helps, though, that I love so much the book under approving review.

Miroslav Penkov's EAST OF THE WEST

Thanks to Will Crawford, who steered me to the webpage Biblioklept.

While visiting there, I came across mention of a book by Miroslav Penkov that looks interesting to me:

I'm having a moment...

...inspired by this brief excerpt from Howard Sachar's A History of Jews in America:

In their passionate ideological commitments and bristling ten­dentiousness, the New York intellectuals often appeared to validate John Murray Cuddihy’s theory that Jewish intellectuals felt peculiarly afflicted by the “ordeal of civility.” “[They] contained something faintly alien to our native roots and native habits,” admitted Mary McCarthy, an intermittent participant in the group. Yet that “aliena­tion,” a historic Jewish critical stance long recognizable in European culture, manifestly imbued the Jewish component with its avant-gard­ist effervescence. 
Arguably, the New Yorkers left no distinct social or literary “school” behind. Unlike Hannah Arendt and other refugees who had studied with the great minds and had been exposed to the intellectual “systems” of Central Europe, the New Yorkers were eclec­tic. They had learned to extemporize on their feet at City College or Brooklyn College. In their time, nevertheless, these immigrant sons and daughters completed the process of deprovincializing American culture. Bored by the apparent parochialism of native American criti­cism, they re-evaluated American art and literature with a ferocious iconoclasm and a consciously skewed angle of vision that would leave the Volkswesen forever changed.

I'm having a moment, with several impressions converging inside the limited space of my head. I'm reflecting on the historical amnesia about or lack of appreciation for (or outright willful ignorance of) the amazing contribution to culture made on these shores by the Jewish intelligentsia. Those generalists and amateurs of deep immersion in literature, art, and music from back in the thirties, forties, and fifties. And to the above neglects, I would add a dearth of simple fascination concerning that era and milieu. Today, we are mostly fascinated by trivial, shallow, jumped-up stuff.

Also, the image of a New York City (I've never been there) flickers into my consciousness. What an energetic hub of intellectual, aesthetic perception and persuasion it must have been back in those days. When the superficial wildness of American nativism met and mingled with the uncanny depths and traditions of the Jewish émigre!

I find myself oddly nostalgic for a place I've never been, people I've never known, a time I never lived.

I should hire my daughter... meta-editor of this blog. She has such a tasteful, artistic sense about things. Me? I just post stuff. You'll get a series of Youtubes, then a series of just words, without nice pictures to break the monotony. A blog should have a nice variety and visual appeal. I just post whatever falls out of my head. Not much structure. Certainly no overall thematic cohesion.

I should hire my daughter. She knows how to do things right.

two poems by Jacqui Corcoran

I haven't asked permission to paste the actual poems here. So I'll just put the links here.

This Leaning Sunflower

All five stanzas speak to me. How swell is that?! If fact, that's kind of remarkable. The poet has cast her lines in such a way that I, as reader, am brought under their spell. Even if my reading is imprecise, goes off on a personal tangent. Associations and connotations are the ghostly life of poetry. And I do like a poem written with such an artistic use of images.

Dwindling Black Violas

A soulful observation of experiences cut short, even while the neurosis of the Urban Absurd continues its oblivious threading into time.


~ people getting words to people who don't get words

I'm honored to have a poem included in Vol. 19 of NEXXUSS, which is a downloadable issue connected to the "take-it-to-the-street" project.

Will Crawford's poem "Actual Tigers" also appears in this Vol. 19. Another just-released issue -- Vol. 20 -- is dedicated to the photographic art of Eleanor Leonne Bennett:

From what I understand, copies of each issue are distributed internationally for free, into unusual venues and for people who might not have access to contemporary poetry. And I suppose the basic gesture of bringing poetry into the awareness of others (who might never think about poetry) is a significant thing in itself. It seems like a noble mission to me. Here's some more info on the project:

Monday, June 11, 2012

persistence of dream

I get these memory flashes all the time. Fragments of dreams I've had, going way back, from 10 years ago to 30 years ago or more. They are more intensely remembered, in those little moments, than my actual memories  of things that happened in the waking world. More vivid than any far or even recent recall of experience.

When these flashes come, it seems like little instances of madness. By that, I mean this: I am peering briefly, while awake, into a world that is not of this world. I feel something like vertigo. I feel bizarre knowing not only that I dreamed such preposterous things but also that they linger with such tenacity.

What I had dreamed into on those strange lost nights, I'm beginning to suspect, is not entirely stuff erupting from my psychology or strictly from my subconscious. It's more like having trespassed across borders of being and into worlds that go on quite well without my presence.

Some of those "trips abroad" must be like what De Quincey experienced, under the influence of laudanum. They are vast and sublime surveys of brain-staggering topography. Others are reservoirs of silent waiting horror -- so damn cool! And then there are the "spontaneous women," who appear just like that, as if bearing some unspeakably significant riddle, as if almost holy personifications of this not-quite-human world of dreams.

The most perplexing of all are those in which the grand plot unfolds with perfect knowledge by all the characters except me. Roles are played to the hilt, while I am left clueless to improvise with difficulty every word and deed.

But this isn't really about particulars. It's about the general fact that so many of those odd scenes keep coming back, as if they're not quite done with me. Or as if I have left those topographies prematurely, with much of paraphysical importance left undone or unrealized.

There is an oppressive beauty to these little glimpses back into the hyper-world. So many of these tiny moments that ripple back to me bring in their wake a re-astonishment and an almost nostalgia. A longing for their liquid existential mazes.

"News from the edge & beyond"

I suppose you'll just have to trust me. That this post is not about me. I'm almost pathologically non-self-promoting. My blog is mostly my dripping thoughts, only occasionally "Look what I did!" Yes, I do post links to My Projects -- poetry e-books, etc. -- but I don't much expect anyone to be impressed with my dubious, compulsive adventures in creativity.

Okay. Even though I found myself on this "Scoop it" literary newspaper --

-- the fact is that I simply enjoy the format and substance of this page. Lynne -- the publisher -- puts stuff on it about culture and whatnot that is groovy to scroll through. Art, literature, film...all kinds of stuff that she finds interesting and shares with the reader.

Maybe you, too, would like to spend some time there or make it a regular read. I will be dropping by there a lot. As I said, I like the format, and Lynne's selection of things is a nice clearinghouse or gathering-up of cool stuff.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

I think Ukraine's got some cool folks.

and some Brahms

What a brilliant version! The piano tones ringing out in the clear natural air. Refreshing. The acoustic is not artificially damped, spread, or "enhanced" by hi-tech shenanigans. It's as if this fellow just sat down at the piano in his living room after hiring a sober hobo to hold the microphone at a serendipitous angle and distance.

some evening Scriabin

diary entry

(by a mannequin in an abandoned warehouse)

Dear Diary:

Today started out the same as always. A desire to write a letter. But it's too draining to write a proper letter. The normal approach of reciting events and inquiring of the other is too taxing. I've lost the talent for that, and I don't live in the moving world of very much happening. Nothing to report. And of course, who would understand the strange thoughts that lie behind my unwritten words? There is no one to write a letter to anyway. It's also quite a struggle for a mannequin to locate a sheet of paper and then try to move a pen in his hand.

This grief of being, this sense of impending catastrophe -- I would sweat, I would shout if I could. But I'm feeling too wooden. At least this drifting dust here is toxic. Sometimes hallucinatory. The other ones -- easy breathers -- call it time. But I see particulates floating as ennui and opiate. The moments drift in pieces of dim light, and they fall all over me, cover my head. Make me drowsy with a thousand worlds of deep yet ambiguous longing. This dust brings on visions.

I read a lot. But it always makes me want to be a famous writer! No one has ever published a mannequin. Fate has something else planned. It feels like I am destined to always consider how it must be to be. Someone has to do it. Why not me? And someone has to keep their lips sealed. So mysterious fogs can form without displacement of sound and opinion. Yes...I think I do have a role to play here. Every day I must study the shape of fog and all the memories of questions it holds. It flows around me all the time. Ha -- "time." I never got the hang of that.

Sometimes I see so far away. Lands filled with gestures of eyes and limbs in motion. But usually, just like today, I see only the absence of understanding.

It's humid and damp with so much dreaming in this warehouse. By golly...I do believe my left knee and my right thumb are decaying! If my head begins to rot, I won't be able to think of anything else to write you, dearest Diary.

You just never know...

...what you're ignorant about until you discover something (someone) new to you.

Clarice Lispector (1920 - 1977)

Everything I've read this morning about Ms. Lispector is interesting to me, even fascinating. From Ukraine, she ended up in Brazil. What I've read this morning about her writing makes me curious to read her works. Of course, one never knows. What might seem wonderful when projected by her admirers might not end up being to one's liking, being one's kind of thing. We'll see about that. At first glance, it appears she could be a writer I dig.

Here's some links:

Here's a round-table discussion:

Lispector -- from The Quarterly Conversation

By the way, I came across Ms. Lispector while reading the blog "War and Peace -- Crosscurrents in Russian Literature, Film and Music":

War and Peace blog

I happen to think this is a well-written and worthwhile blog.

The Frenzied Poets: Andrey Biely and the Russian Symbolists

That's the title of a book I would like to read. Published in 1952 (my birth year!) by the University of California Press. Wherever a copy of this book is I have no idea.

As a Symbolist, Andrei Bely emphasized the spiritual and mystical elements in art. He believed it's possible to acquire knowledge of the "world beyond" through the contemplation of artistic "symbols." In the essay 'The Magic of Words' (1909) Bely stated that the word is a magical, world-creating force. 

Here's some info on Andrei Bely (1889 - 1934) from Wikipedia: 

Andrei Bely -- Wiki

Here's one of his poems --

In the Mountains 

The mountains wear wedding wreaths.
I am ecstatic, young.
In my mountains I feel
A cleansing chill.

A gray-haired hunchback climbs
Up to me on my cliff,
Bringing a gift of pineapples
From nurseries underground.

He dances in bright scarlet,
Singing praises to azure,
Kicking up with his beard
A whirlwind of snow-silver storms.

He sings out
In a deep bass:
Flings a pineapple
To the heavens.

And describing an arc,
Lighting up the landscape,
The pineapple descends, shining,
Into obscurity,

Casting off golden dew
In gilded columns,
And below, people say:
'It's the disc of the flameblazing sun…'

Golden fountains of fire
Rush down, ringing,
Washing over the cliffs
Like crimson drops
Of crystal.

I decanted wine into goblets:
And, creeping up alongside him,
I poured it over the hunchback
In a foamshining stream. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

my pamphlet on Kandinsky (a letter-essay)

Concerning the Spiritual in Kandinsky

(letter to a friend, in the form of an essay)

by Tim Buck

Here's the link to ISSUU -- 

And here's the Preface from the pamphlet --


My computer died in the late fall of 2009. While waiting for parts and repair, I hand wrote a long letter to my friend in Israel. Actually, it was a letter in the form of an essay. When my computer was repaired, I typed up the letter-essay, and months later, that thing ended up on my blog.

Although I've been blogging for four years, it was only recently I found out I can monitor my audience statistics. I was surprised to discover that “Concerning the Spiritual in Kandinsky” had received 5000 pageviews. From a total of 24,000 pageviews across almost 600 posts, that's a significant number of “hits” for a single post.

Of course, mere pageviews are no indication of whether or not readers are actually reading the post, or if they are, whether or not they like what they encounter. I rarely get blog comments, so it's hard to tell about such things. It could very well be something like this: “Look at all these freaking paragraphs! Who does this guy think he is?” Or: “I can't believe I read this whole thing. What a bunch of googly-moogly malarkey!”

But if even 10% of those 5000 pageviews were actual and favorable encounters, that's an amazing hypothesis to me. It inspired me to take another gander at that essay. To tighten it up, fine-tune it. To see if, after a couple of years, I still agree with myself about certain things in it. And then I decided to upload it here, to ISSUU, in the form of a pamphlet.

Tim Buck
June 9th, 2012

[Correction: I've been blogging three, not four years.]