May 29, 2006

Tommy Olofsson, Elemental Poems, trans. Jean Pearson (White Pine, 1991). 68 pages. $9.

I picked this up for $4 at Half Price Books in Berkeley a couple of months ago when I saw Ibsen's Master Builder around the corner at the Aurora Theater.

There are moments in Olofsson's first English appearance (he's Swedish), as in "In Memory of Me and Gunnar Ekelof":

One has to be practical
I develop myself
at every moment
in rapid series
without a single copy.

Whatever is shall be irradiated
and rinsed clean of shit
and the sheen that shines from borrowed light (ll. 1-8).

But outside of these few moments, the poems are perfectly safe and nicely structured, most having that aha!! twist at the end that delivers the requisite message of the poem; take for example the last three lines of "Freeing the Shadow":

You set your shadow free and watch it run
along roads no one else can see.
And then, in the night, you follow it.

These poems could easily stand alongside the best of what gets into survey poetry course anthologies; they're just abstract enough, use just the right amount of nature symbolism, etc... They kinda read like a reread of an old issue of Poetry.


May 29, 2006

New at Alice Blue, their Spring 2006 issue: poetry by Peter Jay Shippy, Kathryn L. Pringle, Theodore Worozbyt, Bob Marcacci, kari edwards, Boyd Spahr, Tim Botta, Viola Lee, Sean Kilpatrick and Robyn Art. Prose by Daniel Borzutzky, D. Harlan Wilson, Gary Lundy, Tao Lin, Nick Antosca, Derek White, David Giantasio, and P. H. Madore. Check it out.


May 20, 2006

Walter K. Lew, Treadwinds (Wesleyan, 2002). 117 pages. $13.95.

Walter was flying out of Oakland for the last time slowly en route to his new teaching gig in Miami when this came in the mail.

The book starts out wide and slowly begins to focus over the course of the read. The opening poem "天文学"(1) harkens back to an origin and its loss in process:

Early on we learned
That when we couldn't see the face
It was still there
Later, we covered that
Wound up with speech. But words also
Disappeared, could not
Repeat forever
And more and more
Things would not return to us
When we said them. Here they said
Learn this.
A song, a story
And though things are no longer near

You will see how they have changed (ll. 1-14).

While the use of Chinese characters in the title makes this origin uniquely Asian (remember that historically Chinese was very much the Latin of East Asia and in use in Korea, Japan, Vietnam, etc...), the "we" in these opening lines of the book act as a universal inclusive, describing a progression to songs and stories as a way to maintain memory that is/was practiced by every culture on the planet.

The poems turn more personal, more confessional, towards the middle. Take for example "Driving Back from the Rosy-Fingered Berkshires":


Four more hours
I will be back in Baltimore
My mother leaves work early
To prepare the thick
Kalbi and dumpling soup
She promised last night by phone.
"If you could bring the right girl home...."(36).

The book pieces work from Lew's career over a fairly long span of time. The dated poems go back as far as 1977. The arrangement creates, or rather depicts, a very personal journey that in its singularity will resonate with a much wider audience.

"Soeul: Winter, 1986"

I left for the land my parents escaped
Here: I browse between the shelves for identity
And shelves for progress, wealth
and can't
Rage in opposition
I had left both sides (p. 93, ll.8-13)

(1) No translation given, but it means astronomy. Imagine the last character as the traditional xue; my computer doesn't have trad characters.



May 19, 2006

And to round this night's presendential bent, this 1960 JFK for President campaign ad makes clear that Ike is the decider.

May 19, 2006

These 1950s era silent clips here and here are perfect fodder for DYI benshi at home. Try it.

May 19, 2006

United News newsreel. 1945. 7:37 mins.

This FDR newsreel obit covers all the familiar ground, but what's striking is how after the polio all the world leaders agreed to be photographed/filmed seated, thus allowing FDR to maintain equal visual status. Would this happen today? Those in this reel include Churchill (repeatedly), Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek. What's interesting about this is the fact that because of his condition FDR is the only one to appear natural while sitting, often shot chatting and moving actively in his seat while the other leaders appear very stiff and uncomfortable. There is a shot of FDR on a boat where he is being assisted (held up) by a military figure. They have their arms locked as FDR leans against the rail. The reel mentions, but downplays, the "paralyzing condition" that nearly cost him his career.
The newsreel also includes clips from his last known public address, a report to Congress on the Yalta agreement.



May 13, 2006

Henry Chalfant and Tony Silver, Style Wars (1983). 69 minutes.

I saw this the first time when I was living in artist/curator Matthew Lusk's TV room in Greenpoint. I return to it out of the frustration of the elite=art conversation that's been continuing on the Buffalo list.

This documentary explores the world of graffitti writers in New York circa 1982. The main taggers are interviewed as well as the main officials agianst graffitti: Ed Koch, the cop in charge of the subway car yard, etc... It's a balanced approach, but I don't know of anyone who has watched that doesn't see what the writers are doing as art.

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May 12, 2006

Rebekkah Werth, Megafauna & Amazing Power (Mr. Panda, 2006). 12 pages. mini-CDR Core Ogg & R. Werth.

The clip art reminds me of the dinosaur books I stockpiled as a kid; although each page features more "modern" creatures, like an elephant with a tusk coming out of both the lower and upper jaws. The visuals are secondary to Ms. Werth's texts. Occupying the bottom third of the page, the texts hold their own weight:

A crow. The last few persimmons at the top of the tree.
Someone's home office on the sidewalk.
A filing cabinet, a desk, a bookshelf.
It's time for a new year.

The accompanying CD is indy gold. Gold I tells ya. Seriously.
Werth deals with the visual, the sonic and text; this is a true intermedia endeavor.

Mr. Panda Press #11
PO Box 1268
Berkely CA 94701

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May 10, 2006

Both Both (April 2006). 20 pages.

This installment features Anne Waldman & Thurston Moore.

To quote Mr. Moore:

raise your hand
if you think lou reed
is a creep
Again, a brilliantly fun issue.



May 9, 2006

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that "Cody's Books, the venerable independent bookstore that has served generations of UC Berkeley students, has announced that it will close its flagship store on the south side of campus because of declining sales and competition from chain stores and the Internet.

The store on Telegraph Avenue will close its doors on July 10 after 43 years."

Their willingness to carry just about anything local--your journal, zine, fold-out graphics project...--and their incredible long standing reading series will make this loss felt in the East Bay.


May 8, 2006

Read Ron Silliman's review of Stephanie Young's (ed), Bay Poetics here.


May 2, 2006

I've just stepped out of the most amazing interview with Bishop Bob Jackson about the post-prison program Men of Valor in East Oakland that recently went under for lack of financial support. Check out here, here, and here.


May 1, 2006

Geoff Dyer, "My Life as a Gatecrasher," Three Penny Review (Spring 2006): 10.

A short writing autobiography wherein Dyer explains that curiousity rather than expertise is his main driving force:
"In the autumn of 1989 I served some time at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers in New Jersey. I'd gone to New York to write a book about jazz and was browsing through the Institute's archives. One of the librarians was more than a little curious about my unsystematic rumaging. He wanted to know if the book I was writing was a history? No, I said. A biography? No. Well, what kind of book was it going to be? I told him I had no idea. Having made little progress with this line of inquiry, he turned his attention from the book to its author. Was I a musician? No. A jazz critic? No. Was I this? Was I that? No, I was neither this, that, nor anything else. Becoming a little frustrated, he asked, 'So what are your credentials for writing a book about jazz?'
'I don't have any,' I said. 'Except I like listening to it.'"

May 1, 2006

I woke up to several thousand people outside my place marching down International Boulevard towards downtown Oakland. My building served as a back drop to the local TV news coverage.