September 30, 2007

Prosody Castle 3.2: Urban Distant
featuring Meg Hamill!
Thurs., Oct. 11th 8pm

The Gallery of Urban Art
1746 13th St. (@Wood), Deep West Oakland

The second installment of Prosody Castle's mini-series of urban explorations takes us to the blistered edge of U.S. imperialism in the distant cities of Baghdad, Sammara, Kirkuk, Mosul, Iraq. Meg Hamill's new work,
Death Notices, attempts what seems impossible, to encounter, viscerally and exhaustively, the Iraq of the occupation. As historically our knowledge and our literature of distant places has come from conquest, Hamill's work gives us a glimpse into the consequent, but necessarily only a glimpse: "I have no idea how many suicide bombers have exploded themselves into anonymous fireballs because some information, even in this age of information abundance, is still very difficult to find. I can’t write that many obituaries, though I’m beginning to understand why I must. The fact that there are 367, 294 Iraqi civilians who we couldn’t say are alive or dead right now is indicative of both the impossibility and the urgency of this project." Prosody Castle is pleased and privileged to get this glimpse, 10,000 miles away, in Oakland, Ca.


September 27, 2007

"Since 1941, out of 38 winners of the Frost medal, only three have been nonwhite."


September 25, 2007

George King. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. 1936. 67 mins.

One of the earlier cenematic Sweeney Todd depictions. King's Todd is portrayed as a unsympathetic greedy, lecherous, murderous psychopath from the very opening scene. There is no revenge backdrop to humanize Todd, nor is there any real development as to why Ms. Lovett (the cannibal pieshop lady) pines for and acts as accomplice to Todd's senseless murders. There is however the magic barber's chair. Tod Slaughter (Sweeney Todd) has all the era subtlety of a bad vaudevillian making a slow transition to the talkies.



September 23, 2007

If I'm remembering correctly, I saw Marcel Marceau perform at the unlikely venue of Macomb Community College in Michigan back in the late 80s or very early 90s. It was when I was working summers in a paint factory to pay for college. This was around this time that I began to understand Cocteau's claim that everything he did was poetry, as Marceau was certainly a poet without words.
This performance inspired me later to try a pantomime series for street corners, which I think I may just ought to revisit.

September 23, 2007

I can't believe that Charles Simic really said, "What you look at, you write about." It doesn't even make sense for a good chunk of his own poetry.


September 19, 2007


September 13, 2007

Erika Staiti & Chris Stroffolino @ The Gallery of Urban Art.

1. #14 bus downtown to number #19 bus that dropped me off at 12th and Peralta, a few blocks from the gallery. On the walk down, there was a block party happening near a small park. The whole neighborhood seemed to be there. car doors open paying music. Folks dancing in the street. Later found out that it most likely amounted to a wake for a funeral that happened earlier in the day.
2. Pre-reading talk with gallery owner Daniel Coffman. He has such positive and incredible energy. Working on grants and eventually getting the 501(c). He's very passionate about the gallery and what it can do, and is putting in the time & effort to see that it happens. I had doubts, but fuck me, he's been doing it for five years, and isn't about to quit now or later. He's a steamroller.
3.Early banter. According to Stroffo: Spicer=John Lennon, Duncan=Paul McCartney, and Blaser=George Harrison. I think I got this right. Correct me if I'm wrong.
4. Dillon's idea for the reading cliff noted: Urban areas are no longer mono-lingual, just as they aren't homogenous. Readers were asked to read their work, while five translators simultaneously translated their words into Spanish, Portuguese (via recorded media), French, German, and Mandarin.
5. I am a sucker for simultaneous multi-speaker anything.
6. Erika Staiti read poems directly related to Oakland and the idea of citydom. (I learned on the ride home that one of the poems was a direct response to folks asking if she lived in Oakland or Berkeley, as she lives near the invisible but tangible line between the two, but on the Funktown side.)
7. Intermission. Got a beer and talked to Dan the owner about the artist in the second room. I like the work. It reminds me of a few folks, but I think overall it is a strong exhibition.
8. The Stroffolino show. I now after the fact know that Chris played trumpet in high school. He has some chops. Accompanied by an accordion, always a yes, and a saxophone who knew restraint. Chris did the spoken ad lib that some of us might know him for, but also read from his flyer for a workshop he's going to hold at his place. The translators were valiant in their efforts to keep up with him. [see Dillon's blog for info on the tranlators and a recording of the reading] Off the cuff, musicians winging it, all the hallmarks of a Stroffolino show, yet somehow Chris came across a little less vitriolic, or is that acerbic? Still much on point, still very Chris, but somehow different. I don't want to say subdued, because that's not right ... Someone help me out here.
9. Dillon found me a ride home. Sorry Dan for the full beer left on the table. My ride was leaving right then.
10. Dropped off someone with a bike who sat in the truckbed, then Erika who (why?) sat in the back seat of truck. Had a conversation where I learned # 6, and that she like me appreciates a good ride home, but doesn't want to put anyone out.
10. After getting dropped off on the top end (Grand Lakish) area of the Lake, I walked home. For whatever screw-ball reason, I had a Tony Barnstone's poem in my head: the one about pissing in the ocean.
I'm not the kind of person who gets poems stuck in my head often (apparently my brain usually saves that resevoir for Ozzy's early 80s career).
I saw Tony read years ago with his dad and Aliki. I guess it stuck and somehow this walk home was the moment for my brain to revisit that particular poem.
It is a joy to piss in the ocean.



September 12, 2007

from Dillon Westbrook:

If you are reading this and are in
the bay on Thursday,
consider checking out

Erika Staiti
Chris Stroffolino

translated into multiple
languages live
for your listening pleasure

all goes down at:

The Gallery of Urban Art
1746 13th St. @ Wood, West Oakland

Thursday 13th, 8pm sharp (be on time,
as I can't keep the translators
around all night),


September 8, 2007

Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. A.C.T. Theater. Runs through Sept 30th.

This production is more bare bones: A single set for all scenes, 10 actors who remain on stage at all times, when they are not in the scene they double as the orchestra (even when dead), and by virtue of having only 7-9 instruments at any one time, the Sondheim score has been cut to its minimalist essentials. And yet it works. All the intensity of the original production is there and, in fact, the ties between characters become heightened. Gone is the magic barber's chair; in its stead is expressionistic (if somewhat obvious) lighting and sound symbolism.
"But there's no one comes in even to inhale!
Right you are, sir,
would you like a drop of ale?
Mind you I can hardly blame them!
These are probably the worst pies in London.
I know why nobody cares to take them!
I should know! I make them!
But good? No...
The worst pies in London..."


September 8, 2007

Sinan Antton, The Baghdad Blues (Harbor Mountain, 2007). 42 pages. $10.

"Wrinkles; on the wind's forehead"

My heart is a stork
perched on a distant dome
in Baghdad
it's nest made of bones
its sky
of death



September 7, 2007

Why isn't singer/sonwriter Vic Chesnutt more famous?
You can hear his June 11th show at the 40 Watt in Athens, GA here (you'll need to scroll down a bit).


September 7, 2007

Evany Thomas and Amelia Bauer, The Secret Language of Sleep: A Couple’s Guide to the Thirty-Nine Positions (McSweeney’s Irregulars, 2006). 95 pages. $15.

Evany Thomas and Amelia Bauer’s The Secret Language of Sleep is an extended play on both couple self-help books and the myriad sexual position reference books that have become multi-million dollar niches for mass market publishers.

The text categorizes couples into four types of sleepers: Sun, Wind, Sea, and Wood. Despite the new agey names given to the categories, the introduction to each section explains the similarities shared by members of each group: “The focus of any Wind pose is the way the couple’s elements dovetail together” (31). Author Evany Thomas doesn’t miss a beat in her use of the scientifically definitive tone used in serious research and the ability to turn it on its head, often within the same sentence: “The one unifying aspect of all Sun pose couples is that they always sleep facing the same side of the bed, their bodies aligned front to back, lined up like Girl Scouts eagerly waiting for a chance to donate blood or apply a cold compress to a burn victim” (11). She also has mastered the psych-pop speak of best-selling self-help books: “but as Fireman’s Carry couples know, it can also take courage to agree to a third date after a lifetime running from commitment, or (in the case of Bird in Handers) to try again after long, loving relationships go sour” (31) .

For each of the 39 positions presented, there is a full page Amelia Bauer illustration to accompany the text. The illustrations are much more than the graphics required for a tongue-in-cheek approach to sexual positions books. Bauer’s line drawings manage to portray the security and happiness of the couples practicing these sleeping positions. An added, and obviously intentional, element to the illustrations is Bauer’s unwillingness to solely define what coupledom means in terms of heterosexuality. Gay and lesbian couples are represented in the same way as the other illustrations, making a visual argument that they as couples are no different than other couples. It’s subtle but very powerful.

Two notes: (1) Like other books in the McSweeny’s catalogue, The Secret Language of Sleep is well-crafted, textually, physically and aesthetically; this is a beautiful, hard bound book object; (2) Evany Thomas has a website were you can test to see which sleeping position you are.



Setember 4, 2007

Here’s an announcement, received from Daniel Alarcón, for a party to raise funds for the devastating earthquake that hit southern Peru on August 15th:

Muchos saludos a todos...

You're invited to a party next Wed, September 12, at VELVET, 8 pm till closing.

We’re raising money to support the victims of last month’s earthquake in southern Peru. We’re asking a $10 donation, but no one will be turned away. Please be as generous as possible. We’re hoping to raise $2,000. All funds will be donated to OxFam. I'll be spinning música criolla, samba, salsa, etc., and later on DJ Flavor Fav will hook up the Rock en Español and 80s hits.

Check out Oxfam's Earthquake Program

VELVET is located at 3411 MacArthur Blvd at 35th Ave in Oakland's Laurel District, right near the old Farmer Joe's. We'll open at 8pm and will stay until the past person leaves.


Están invitados a una fiesta para apoyar a los damnificados del terremoto que sacudió al Peru en agosto. La entrada es una donación de $10, y todos los fondos irán a Oxfam. Será una fiesta criolla, andina, salsera, ochentera, rockenrolera, peruanísima. Vengan, y pasa la voz a todo el mundo. Queremos recolectar unos $2,000 para apoyar a las víctimas.


Daniel Alarcón

see map:


Labor Day, 2007

Bad news from the front lines
Some good news from the front lines

Oakland has both Art & Soul
US workers work longer hours than everyone save our overtly exploited Asian counterparts, produce more wealth for our employers ($63,885 on average) than anyone, and yet the poverty rate is at 12.3% and there are 47 million without any form of health insurance, let alone optical or dental; as the NY Times reports, "Just over half of household income was concentrated in the fifth of the population with top income 2006, about the same as in 2005. Households in the lowest income quintile[1/5th], on the other hand, accounted for only 3.4 percent of the nation’s household income." So the top 20% make 50% of the nation's income, while the bottom 20% make 3.4. This leaves 46.6% to be divvied up between the remaining 60%. Can't say that sounds right to me; any of it.
Your Labor Day beer's eco-footprint
If you are a wage-slave, do yourself and the others you work with at your factory, warehouse, office, clinic, hotel, grocery store, department store, school, toll booth, shop, garage, parking structure, what-have-you a huge favor on Tuesday by starting to agitate for union representation. You can learn how to do it legally by reading this before you start--that is, if you don't fit these excluded catagories:

"Workers Excluded from NLRB Coverage
The NLRA does not include coverage for all workers. The Act specifically excludes from its coverage individuals who are:
--employed as agricultural laborers
--employed in the domestic service of any person or family in a home
--employed by a parent or spouse
--employed as an independent contractor
--employed as a supervisor (supervisors that have been discriminated against for refusing to violate the NLRA may be covered)
--employed by an employer subject to the Railway Labor Act, such as railroads and airlines
--employed by Federal, state, or local government
--employed by any other person who is not an employer as defined in the NLRA"
Please remember that Labor Day is more than just the last day to BBQ before Fall rolls in or the day the beaches close.
Ah, the Knights of Labor and their crazy 19th-century demands to end child labor, pay women equally, tax on a progressive scale, and have workers hold shares in the companies they work for. Yep, them and their dumb-ass annual parade held in September.
PS. If you happen to already be respresented by a union and aren't sure, the company doesn't have to tell you, and the NLRB cannot tell you if you are or aren't represented, as they apparently don't keep this info on file.


September 1, 2007

Overhead last night while at the ballpark: "This is like watching a really wide high-def TV."
The idea that the person who said this--without any hint of irony, mind you--identifies physical real experience (ie, being there) in terms of the virtual, distanced two dimensional image that television offers seems symptomatic of the Benjaminian language of images (the image divorced from the context), coupled perhaps with some Chomsky media theory (accepting a shaped and edited presentation as true/real).
This reminds me of when Sha and I saw the movie Dreamgirls and were both amazed that the folks in the Grand Lake Theater were actually clapping after musical numbers, as if it were a live performance and the actors on the screen could hear the people in the seats clapping.