...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Power Pop Hit Parade: Matthew Sweet

S.P. Poem #62: Secrets

I have them, but they’re petty,

Pathetic things.

Sharing them would debase you

And me, would be akin to Googling oneself.

(There, now you have one.)

I’ve heard of people carrying great secrets

To their graves, though most,

Even those holding on for decades,

Tend to give them up.

Take the dude who was Deep Throat.

Joshua invaded the Promised Land

As God told him to, killing

Every living person in it, except for Rahab

The prostitute and her family,

And the Gibeonites, who tricked him.

Why so much blood?

The text doesn’t directly say

Beyond this is God’s will and plan.

God will forgive you,

Lyle Lovett sings,

But I won’t.

What’s the thing between

Us, the thing you won’t

Reveal when I ask?

Is it what I think it is?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

S.P. Poem #61: Love Party

Clearly, idiots have enough:

They go to campgrounds with

SUVs thrown open to the world;

They enjoy beer and worry

about enforcement, relax, sleep

under stars, like whatever is free.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tomas Tranströmer


Black coffee at sidewalk cafés

with chairs and tables like gaudy insects.

It is a precious sib we intercept

filled with the same strength as Yes and No.

It is fetched out of gloomy kitchens

and looks into the sun without blinking.

In daylight a dot of wholesome black

quickly drained by the wan patron,

like those black drops of profundity

sometimes absorbed by the soul

that give us a healthy push: Go!

The courage to open our eyes.

[trans. May Swenson, w/ one punctuation change by me.]

S.P. Poem #60: Idiots Who Love to Party

Clearly, idiots who love to party don’t have

Enough places to party. That’s why they go

To campgrounds. There, they can party

With the back of their SUVs thrown open

And their bitchin’ music playing out

Into that pussy the natural world and

They can enjoy their beer and their stupid voices

Without worrying about any kind of

Enforcement of the 10pm to 6am

Quiet hours from the clocked-off anyway

Ranger who thinks his beige uniform makes

Him important but really is just a loser

Who couldn’t get a better job.

As for you people in the next site over

Who came to relax and sleep under

The stars or whatever it is you like—

Tough shit. You assholes could’ve gone

Somewhere else. It’s a free country.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

S.P. Poem #59: The Emptied Valise

The emptied valise sits in the back

Of the speeding car. It had had

A gun in it, a book of postcards,

Some lipstick, and fourteen foreign coins.

S.P. Poem #58: Maps, People

Maps take the land’s variability and make it

Divisible. We then say, This is Coney Island

Or that is Huntington Beach or St. John, KS.

And then you can buy property there or there.

We don’t say a land is a map, but we do say

It’s mapped, and then it’s no longer thought of

As something only unfolding within your line

Of vision but of something at the same time

Seen from above, lined and marked and starred.

I can get to X via Y and buy Z: The map

Makes the land a thing that pays. A person,

Then, what about her (or him)--what makes

A person pay? I say it’s their hair, but my

Sister says it’s what they do. No, says Mom,

It’s what their fathers do. My brother says

Age and Beauty determine the Wage

Not the Worth of Man. My father remains

Silent. And so I goad him somewhat: Can

A finger pay? If it presses the right button

He says. What about a toe? No, he says.

Well, a woman’s toe, he qualifies, that can

Pay, if groomed and painted cherry red

In an open-toed sandal beneath the hem

Of a summer dress. Mom's clogs galumph.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

S.P. Poem #57: Two on a Theme

1. Fulfilling an Obligation

Hovering above the screen, a postcard of a painting,

Tape holding it against a wall, the white border

Framing the image framed by a thin, cushiony gray:

The shadow on the wall. The white paint outside

The two frames is nicked and marked: The presence

Of children. My children, if we need specifics.

2. Hie, Then, to Heat!

An image on thin tape of white-gray children

Painting a postcard is framed by the shadow

Of obligation, the nicked paint a screen against

Specifics. Outside the two frames we need hover

Children. The cushiony wall marked my presence,

A frame holding, fulfilling, and walling it off.

Action Alert: AWP

So, uh, I'm reading at this.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

S.P. Poem #56: In Lights

Your hair should be in lights.

Everyone says they feel its waves,

Where its calmly tended part marks

Your finely shaped head, like a well-

Made, but not perfectly so, bed.

Your tresses are not “a tepid river,”

But a glimmering stream in snapshot,

Where the sand’s just glimpsed beneath

The surface cool, fish dart from pool

to pool, and the swimmer’s invited in.

Monday, March 22, 2010

S.P. Poem #55: A Quick Survey of Conditions

The concrete path goes round the house,

giving access to all its sides. Summer,

it’s white as salt, at night dulled

when under full moon and tinted to slightly blue,

like the blue accenting the ice in the sea.

Around front the path releases a straight spur

through a lawn of dying grass toward the street.

The neighbors’ lawns on both sides is all

lit-up and green, and springy, and connected to ours

by the sidewalk parallel to the street absorbing

each house’s path, a creek taking in tributaries

and flowing or frozen. From above,

though I’ve never been, the houses with paths

like this look like thought balloons in comics,

each house what it—the street, pale gray space—

thinks, or maybe the street’s the bordering void

between panels. The void does the talking here,

friends, and conveys people well-packaged

to and from the aphorisms they sleep in.

This is no critique. It’s where I live.

Fourth of July the street’s released to kids.

Song of the Week 6: Try

A track that took years to make. (Not really, but sorta.) More on the song here.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

S.P. Poem #54: What About My Novel?

I worked really hard on it. I gave it a plot and characters, a narrator with a point of view, a dark secret revealed in an e-mail halfway through, a grabber of a title: The Darkness Thief. (It’s metaphorical, then turns out it’s not.)

It has sentences: “She placed the empty glass back onto the ring of condensation it had left on the table when she picked up the glass to drink from it.” And “The gun in his hand was like a lightning bolt hurled from the toned arm of Zeus.”

I once heard a narrator on an audio book say, “A little boy placed his hand on the edge of the boat, and studied Nate with black pupils big as quarters.” Now, come on! That’s impossible. That book sold a million copies.

“Best of luck in placing the manuscript elsewhere,” the letters say, and “The volume of submissions prevents us from commenting on your work.” There’s nothing one can do with this information. It’s a voice out of the void. There’s no one to address.

Word of the Day

... It [photography, the camera] is a tool in the hand of a man, not the product of the individual's intent. The photographer's search and struggle for values and a committed life-attitude are infinitely more important than any photograph he is likely to make. The photographs are by-products, the overflow when the dam is full. In this sense, any human being who says, 'I am committed to photography' is a self-confessed fool. Much better to say: 'I am committed to my own search for truth; photography is the method by which this search is sometimes revealed to others.' This is the reason why so many photographers, after seemingly brilliant beginnings, become empty shells, either giving up the medium altogether or else endlessly repeating the same message in mildly different forms. They have become photographers, not men for whom photography is merely an expression of a continuous struggle...

- Bill Jay, from Negative/Positive: A Philosophy of Photography

[Thanks to my friend Jay for the quotation, who sent it just at the right time.]

Saturday, March 20, 2010

S.P. Poem #53: My Camera

The diorama has a tree in it, and a little plastic cow.

Behind both is brown paint curved beneath blue

Paint: Hills and the sky. Lining the roof of the box

Are cotton balls, and on the bottom is a strip

Of spiky plastic grass. Hills and sky extend into the sides.

Once, in England, I saw on a green field a tree and cow

Grazing beside it. It was black and white. Behind both

Were low hills, brown in the haze, and a pale blue sky

Stretching into vision’s periphery. It was about to rain.

I made the diorama so that you could see, my camera.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Word of the Day, II

I'm not generally a fan of what I've read by Chuck Klosterman, but his piece on Pavement's reunion in the current issue of GQ is worth a read, and not just for superfans like me. It's a very well made piece. S.M.'s take on his success is hard I'd imagine for a lot of people to fathom, given the state of celebrity (and pseudo-celebrity) self-promotion going around. I remember Chrissie Hynde back in the day saying something along the lines of, "I was born w/ this voice. Praising me for it is like praising someone for having feet." (Shades of Auden's essay "The Frivolous and the Earnest.")

At any rate, here's the word of the day the title of this post refers to:

I ask Malkmus if he's had the opposite experience: Does being endlessly told you're a genius make you feel like one? Did having so many people insist that Slanted and Enchanted was brilliant change the way he now thinks about those songs?

"Of course it does, in a way. But no matter how much positive feedback you get, it's never enough," Malkmus says. "I'm not a particularly needy person, but it always seems like every review could be better. With a record like Slanted and Enchanted, that was so much a timing thing, along with the fact that its flaws are a big part of what makes it good. It's not like some Radiohead record, where the whole thing is good. Our records aren't good in that way."

(Bolds mine.)

Word of the Day

Some music to seek out:

Kara Kemir by composer Kuet Shildabaev.

S.P. Poem #52: Seismology

I hope, beloved, not to despair.

Between deck and pool the path

Is not yet laid. Bare feet, sadness,

Such plenty: Keep your cool.

The ground beneath your reclined,

Reclining chair shifts thusly, like this.

It’s enough to want a kiss. I want.

Why don’t you? What prevents

Desire from reaching to where your

Skin completes the body, making

Movement to another, to me,

Achievable action? Please,

Please without me asking, please.

Action Alert

Some of the info on this flyer's a little off. For one thing, the poet has now been named: Stephanie Brown. For another, the artist won't be Steve Comba (he had to postpone to a future salon) but will instead be a woman whose art, my friend tells me, is like the visual corollary to The Clouds' music. A bigger, more readable version of the flyer is here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

No More Film Reviews...

...for now, as The District Weekly has, sadly, come to its demise. That's how it's going in newspapers, as everyone knows. Bummer.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

S.P. Poem #51: almost done, finally

When the river hits its stride the streets begin to flood,

begin to flood the days dissolve in air, the hour’s

getting late. Church bells make their rounds, prepare

for war. The taxi drives us home.

The species start to die. The d.j. changes tracks.

The d.j. changes tracks the wind begins to blow

the coffee’s almost done.

The car pulls off the road and now the trial can finally start.

Air prepares the river, the tribe begins to die, the

taxi changes streets, species make their home home.

Monday, March 15, 2010

S.P. Poem #50: Worlds Collide

The story goes, Wallace Stevens

Encountered Robert Frost on a train car,
And Stevens said, I hear you write about farming,

And Frost: I hear you write about bric-a-brac.

Sometime in the ‘80’s,

Peter Buck ran into Bob Dylan

In a restaurant in Georgia.

Dylan is said to have said, Hey man.

I once saw Norman Fell.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

S.P. Poem #49: Brief Turn

The fish, flayed on the rock,

Rinsed in the creek, is wet

And firm. The water speaks

In rough whispers. Talking

Life in breezes, we hooked

The catch, not intending

Any surprise. It came,

Like that, always like that.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

S.P. Poem #48: Pauline Kael: First Lines

Hushed and hypnotic, an all-

Out assault, one of several

Hugely entertaining pseudo-

Scientific, far from sophisticated,

Les Bas-Fonds. Unlike the

Usual Hollywood lives

And artists, it’s about finding

Perfect love: A girl who can’t

Keep her clothes on. Set

In the Orient, a space epic

With a horse-and-buggy

Script, the Carson McCullers

Dialogue centering on

The definitions of war

Puts the squeeze on

King Kong, domesticated

And turned into Jon Voigt.

A backstage musical, a

Cleanly constructed low-

Budget suspense thriller,

A newly written Sherlock

Holmes story, Americana.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Shorter Poetry is Easier!

An example.

Word of the Day

Good reading, here, though I think it makes it sound like the state did it all by itself. People gave the power to it. Anyway, much is hard to argue with.

S.P. Poem #47: The Pool by the Beach

The pool by the beach, the new kind

Of pool, where the waterline’s level

With the top of the wall holding it in?

Yes, I know what you mean. I know

That kind of pool. But not the pool,

Not the one you’re talking about.

Dude, I’m telling you I don’t know it.

You can tell the story without me

Knowing which one you mean, right?

It could be any pool like that—are you

Simply trying to establish that they’re

Rich? The people in the story, is who.

“What people?” You tell me. It’s your

story. Man, come on, spill it or don’t.

Whoah, slow down, put that down,

There’s no need for that. I was just

Saying that I know what you mean

Without needing to know every bit

Of it. Just give me the gist. The gist.

Rhymes with wrist.

S.P. Poem #46: I make flowers

I make flowers because I wanted to

I think but I really couldn’t tell you.

Some people said I was pretty good

And I made more. I don’t know at all

Who might want them or what would they do

With them, because there are flowers

Outside that are better than what I make:

For one thing, they’re made of actual petals

And leaves and stems and they can

Photosynthesize and with the help

Of Miss Bee pollinate and with the help

Of the aforementioned energy transference

Process help clean the air. My flowers

Actually make the air worse. (I use

Computers to make and distribute them.

Computers use power, mostly from coal.

The world is dying and my flowers are

Part of why. I’m not being melodramatic.)

Thing is: I’m being paid now to make

My lame flowers. I say lame in the older

Sense of the word, as in crippled.

The Lord’s gonna trouble the waters,

The song went, and now I’m seeing

The weakness of my metaphor:

You should, too. There’s nothing

To explain. I don’t understand how anything

Works. I’m going to get a Big Gulp. It’s hot.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

S.P. Poem #45: Gestation

this Birth was / Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

An SUV at PCH waits for the light,

WOMB VWR on its plate:

Womb viewer, room viewer, bomb

Thrower. The driver one assumes

For a job casts waves through walls

To shape the kid bound in the swim,

The quick thumps like a wind-up

Monkey on his drum. Is that the heart?

Summoning what? We are coming

The fish to Aqua Man sang

Without words, carried in the sea,

The sound waves finding there

An instrument for their energy.

By this villains are thwarted.

They don’t think they are and

So share what the bomb reveals,

Conducted by fluid and screened

When screened beside you in

Your temporary gown: You villain!

Your end is even now at hand!

It idles waiting for the light.

Raging Bull (1980)

129 min. | Dir. Martin Scorsese | Rated R

The story of a barely articulate lug, played by Robert De Niro, who’s a brutal genius inside the boxing ring, and merely brutal outside it, Scorsese takes a type—the B-boxing picture of the 40s and 50s—and glosses it with the kinetic style of the French New Wave, the realistic violence of the ‘70s golden age, and the naturalistic acting of Brando, Clift, et. al. The boxing scenes are a marvel of editing and camera movement, and, in the quieter moments, static shots are composed, and off-hand gestures are highlighted (via slow motion), to underscore themes or reveal characters’ inner lives, while at the same time celebrating the possibilities of cinema. This hybrid of the realistic and the artificial results in a strange thing: We care about a character that, in real life, we wouldn’t want to share a meal with. And the character is from real life: Jake LaMotta, a middle-weight champion whose heydey ended in the early '50s. Paul Schrader’s script is Calvinistically unflinching, the black and white cinematography rich and sharp, and the sound design like something from David Lynch. With Joe Pesci as Jake’s put-upon brother, and Cathy Moriarity as Jake’s put-upon wife, a platinum blonde with a sharp tongue and the slyest of smiles. (Whatever became of this remarkable actress?) [At the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach.]

[Published in the print edition of the current District Weekly.]

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

S.P. Poem #44: When Blind

I missed faces I knew,

Years, the lids of eyes.

I moved sight to

Cruel imagination.

I was the punchline:

Someone else won’t

Face open sockets.

They will. Life runs, O!

S.P. Poem #43: When I Went Blind

What I missed were faces—the woman’s I knew

For nine years, the lids of her eyes. I moved on

Before sight was going. I wanted to because

Of cruelty, lack of imagination, some money,

No children, women and I was horny. Ha ha!

The punchline, if there’s a punchline: She’s with

Someone else now and won’t see me. My face

When facing her would be open. It never had been.

When worms move into the sockets of my skull

They will bring them to life till the meat runs out.

Song of the Week 5: Breathing Still (Alt. Version)

The line "The body wants to hold on" is borrowed from the writings of baker/bass player/teacher/writer/bon vivant Dawn Trook. More info about this project here.

A Double-Bill in Evolution

Monday, March 8, 2010

S.P. Poem #42: The girl in the picture

The girl in the picture,

The flowers on the table,

The bookcase by the fireplace

That hides a secret door,

The butler who knows something

But from loyalty keeps quiet,

The washed-up P.I. smoking

By the body on the floor,

The woman with a secret,

Whose eyes betray a secret,

The shadows on the street

Masking what she’s looking for,

And knowing it will happen,

And unsure how it will happen,

Conversant in the language,

At a loss for what’s in store.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

S.P. Poem #41: Post-Rain Commute

Trees convulsed in sun-praise drop

Rain (soon flattened on the glass)

From the past, from thin air--a clear

Pancake, a crystal skillet. What it

Lenses must appear new: white

Reflectors return into a garden path,

Yellow lines to twin ribbons, the flat

Horizon both mountain and sea, and

You on one side, and on the other,

Me. When viewed through water—

The contact lens is mostly water—

The landscape’s a different thing:

Your distortions are becoming, be-

Guiling, your sins of rectitude, unseen.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

S.P. Poem #40: Arrested Lecture

Consider the term.
The French perhaps echoes
freed from, not freed to. Giving the heave
To rote proficiency cannot take the reader’s head off
If empty. It is said the fragmentation of fragmentation
Caused innovation (upheaval), and certainly,
Some. Better to accommodate disorder than
Schemes: skillful order covers lack when
Measures determine the insistence of the phrase.
The unadorned image and no words explain this. 

The day offered artifice to disguise the work, and
It’s true, experience using form to lie…
May the seeming contradiction be disjunctive
In fact, in the service of things that exist, or
Things we hope exist, because they're good.

Disappointed Frog

My new favorite video:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

S.P. Poem #39: American Words

American words proudly defend burning

States. All should hate the fires across

The globe, her nations filled with people

That understand bonds of rage and affection.

In a world of words, expect continual kindling.

A Study in Words

Quotation 1:

And of all people, we should expect our president to understand these things, to expect that his bonds of affection for our country would be obvious and unbreakable. In a world composed of nations that are filled with rage and hate for the United States, our president should proudly defend her rather than continually apologize for her.

There are anti-American fires burning all across the globe; President Obama's words are like kindling to them.

-- from No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, by Mitt Romney

Quotation 2:

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

-- Proverbs 15.1

Assignment: In an essay no longer than three pages, explore the rhetorical implications of quotation 1, particularly in light of the writer's unabashed commitment to the Mormon Church, for which the Bible, where quotation 2 is found, is a sacred, guiding text. How does the writer's commitment to biblical authority appear to inform--or not--his statements regarding the President's foreign policy?

Bonus Questions: Has the President in fact apologized, and on numerous occasions, for the United States? What does the clause "apologize for" mean?

Additional Bonus Questions: Why do you think that people make public statements, in writing, that are clearly at odds with what they say they believe? Would you characterize such actions as a) dumb, b) cynical, c) ignorant, or d) hilarious? If none of these words appropriately describes your understanding of the situation, feel free to supply your own.

You have fifty minutes to complete your essay. Give yourself time to proofread.

Lorine Niedecker

Who was Mary Shelley?
What was her name
before she married?

She eloped with this Shelley
she rode a donkey
till the donkey had to be carried.

Mary was Frankenstein's creator
his yellow eye
before her husband was to drown

Created the monster night
after Byron, Shelley
talked the candle down.

Who was Mary Shelley?
She read Greek, Italian
She bore a child

Who died
and yet another child
who died

Monday, March 1, 2010

S.P. Poem #38: To the People I Silently Said Screw You To

You know who you are, or don’t,

except in part: Oil piers breaking

into oceans. There’s much to be angry

about, much more than at me or you,

and much yet to be happy with, like

the man doing well his job, or the tide

rising, facilitating junior’s escape from

the shallows. Sharks swim out there

where it’s deeper, but it’s no drowning

or drying out. I'm trying. I'm sorry.