Friday, October 31, 2008

Count Me In as a Socialist

Justin Evans's post "Kall Me Karl Marx" vigorously addresses the idea that Barack Obama is a "Socialist."

The Aughts

I've often wondered what to call this decade, so I was struck by Sasha Frere-Jones's use of "the aughts" to refer to it in his article on Timbaland in the Oct. 6, 2008, issue of The New Yorker.

Interestingly, he seems to waver on the issue; first, he writes this:

A duo called the Neptunes, childhood friends of Mosley’s from Virginia Beach, gave Timbaland a run for his money at the beginning of the aughts but have been harder to find in the past few years ...

Later, he writes this:

There is a long list of fervid, breathtaking productions from the nineties and the early two thousands ...

So just when Frere-Jones is going to refer to both the nineties and the aughts, he chickens out, as if he did not really like the name after all!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Feltrinelli Gives an Ashtray as a Wedding Present

Here's Feltrinelli Gives an Ashtray as a Wedding Present, one more of my translations of Dieter M. Gräf, just up on lyrikline. Here's some information about Feltrinelli.

Election Interview

Raphael Albisser, a student of mine, interviewed me for his radio show. The topic: the American elections. He got the idea for interviewing me because of my Obama baseball cap!

The interview is in German and will be broadcast on Radio 3fach this evening (October 30) from 9 to 11 p.m. More info (all in German) is available here.

You can do a live-stream of the broadcast here. It will be repeated on Saturday, November 1, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Obama's Mental Dexterity

Barack Obama is noted for his powerful intellect, but I don't think he gets nearly enough credit for the mental dexterity it takes to be simultaneously an Islamic theocrat, atheistic communist and national socialist while posing as a center left candidate. Those must be the compartmentalization skills they taught him at that Manchurian madrasah in Indonesia. (David Kurtz)

Leonard Cohen, Zurich, October 25, 2008

I got a ticket for Leonard Cohen at the last minute because someone couldn't go with my friends Peter and Sophie. I had heard from many sources that his concerts this year have been extraordinary, and all the sources were right.

I have long liked Cohen's songs without particularly liking the albums of his that I have heard (except for the first one, and I admit to not having heard them all). The production of "The Tower of Song," for example, made me not like the song very much, even though it was clear what a great song it is.

But the arrangements with his current band are fabulous, always serving each song so wonderfully, and without any leanings toward the "poppiness" that I found annoying on some of his recordings.

And (in Zurich last night at least) the lyrics were mixed just right, so you could hear all the words really well. Cohen articulates quite clearly when he sings, and the mix and his clear articulation made the poetry of his work come through all the more powerfully.

Further, the concert was enough of a "show" to be satisfying, without its getting too "showy." The "show" side of the concert never got in the way of the music. In this, it was reminiscent of the early eighties concerts by Talking Heads that were turned into the movie "Stop Making Sense": the show served the music.

And finally, there were the songs I knew well already, especially "Suzanne," which has long been one of my favorite songs to play on the guitar and sing (despite my weak voice).

What can I say? I've seen a lot of great concerts, and this was one of them.

Other great memories: those Talking Heads concerts in the early eighties, Grateful Dead at the Greek Theater in Berkeley in July 1984 (and the two shows at Ventura County Fairgrounds the following week), the World Saxophone Quartet and the Dave Holland Quintet at the Great American Music Hall in the mid-eighties, various shows by the Paul Motian Trio with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano (especially in Berlin in 1992), the Tom Harrell Quintet in Basel in 1996, Dylan in Freiburg in 2003, Lovano with Hank Jones in Basel a couple years ago, and several Dave Holland Quintet shows in Basel over the years. And then there was Chris Smither and Greg Brown at the Great Waters Folk Festival!

I'd go see Holland in Zurich next week, in fact, if I weren't exhausted from the events I attended this week: FC Basel against FC Barcelona on Wednesay, the Swiss Indoors on Thursday (with Nalbandian, Blake, Del Potro, and Federer winning), and Cohen last night. Time to focus on work! :-)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

James Fallows on "Obama's Steadiness"

James Fallows of the Atlantic (whose blog I recommend in general) has some insights into Obama's "steadiness," with this final, tangential remark:

And, as a subject for a later day, I remember how often, how vehemently, and with what certainty Obama's detractors during the Democratic primaries said that he could not, possibly, in any way, in any real world, withstand the onslaught of GOP negative campaigning once it geared up against him.

A very interesting post overall!

lyrikline update for October

Among the many new poems and translations on lyrikline in the past few months have been the following English translations of poets:

Ali Abdollahi (Iran), Dieter M. Gräf (Germany) and Nâhid Kabiri (Iran)

And I just found this list of new poets who write in English:
Erín Moure
Karen Solie
Paul Vermeersch
Ken Babstock
Suzanne Buffam
Tim Lilburn

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Dropped Gs

Next time you notice Sarah Palin "drop a G"—read this post from Language Log. And start listenin' to the way you talk, cuz you're droppin' Gs, too—and you're doing it just as tactically as Palin is!

(Wouldn't it be great if linguistics were taught in high schools?)


Coda: More on the etymology of -ing in a more recent Language Log post here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Talk To Your Parents About John McCain

The satires of McCain and Palin are just too good to be true! (Of course, they would not amuse me as much if Gollum, I mean McCain, were ahead in the polls.)

Somebody should do "This is your brain. This is your brain on John McCain." :-)

(Thanks to PWADJ for posting this.)

Monday, October 13, 2008


Well, at least one writer whose work I have read a lot of won a Nobel Prize this year: Paul Krugman!

McCain and Gollum

This is only one of the passages from Gail Collins's column that made me laugh out loud this morning:

Remember how we used to joke about John McCain looking like an old guy yelling at kids to get off his lawn? It’s only in retrospect that we can see that the keep-off-the-grass period was the McCain campaign’s golden era. Now, he’s beginning to act like one of those movie characters who steals the wrong ring and turns into a troll.

During that last debate, while he was wandering around the stage, you almost expected to hear him start muttering: “We wants it. We needs it. Must have the precious.”

Credit where credit is due: apparently, Jon Stewart first made the comparison on the Daily Show.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Household Finance

A tip of the hat to C. Dale Young for posting this one:

Poetry Calendar 2009

Alhambra Publishing in Belgium has just announced the publication of their wonderful poetry calendars for 2009. This year, they are available not only in English, French, and German (as they have been for several years), but also in Italian and Spanish! I've finally gotten around to ordering the French and German calendars (I'd order the Italian and Spanish ones, too, but I can't read those languages!); like the English calendars, I'm sure they will be a great way to come across names one has not encountered before.

The 2009 calendar in English includes my poem "Final Exam," so get yourself a copy now!

The Sound of the Shots on Lake Como

There's another of my translations of poems by Dieter M. Gräf up at lyrikline: "The Sound of the Shots on Lake Como." Click on the English title in the right-hand frame to see the translation.

My Daughter Considers Her Body

Recently, I said I wanted to get myself a collection of poems by Floyd Skloot. Then I ordered three of his books (two collections of poems and a memoir). This is from his Selected Poems: 1970-2005 (Tupelo Press, 2007):


She examines her hand, fingers spread wide.
Seated, she bends over her crossed legs
to search for specks or scars and cannot hide
her awe when any mark is found. She begs
me to look, twisting before her mirror,
at some tiny bruise on her hucklebone.
Barely awake, she studies creases her
arm developed as she slept. She has grown
entranced with blemish, begun to know
her body's facility for being
flawed. She does not trust its will to grow
whole again, but may learn that too, freeing
herself to accept the body's deep thirst
for risk. Learning to touch her wounds comes first.

Two things struck me about this poem. First, it reminded me of my daughter Luisa. And when I showed it to my wife she just now, she said, "That's Luisa."

Secondly, only after I read and enjoyed the poem did I notice that it is a sonnet. According to some understandings of how rhyme and meter should work, that makes this an excellent sonnet: the claim is that one should not notice rhyme and meter while reading a rhymed, metrical poem; one should not notice the artifice. So my not noticing that this is a sonnet until I looked at it a second time would be great praise.

Now I do think this is a wonderful poem, and in particular a wonderful sonnet. But why is the idea so prevalent that one should not notice a poem's artifice?


I wondered about posting Skloot's poem without asking him for permission, but the poem was already online (here, among other places), so I figured it would not be a problem to quote it in full again.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

That One That One That One

This is so funny!

Nobel Prize comments

B. J. Epstein was one of the first to post something about Le Clézio, and I wrote the following comments on her post:

Comment 1:

Americans: I certainly don't think Americans are too insular to deserve a world-literature prize. Many poets think John Ashbery would deserve the Nobel, and given his influence on poetry in other languages (French and German being the two that I know about), that would be justifiable. Then we always hear of Roth and DeLillo and Pynchon as candidates, and all of them would be worthy. If Engdahl explicitly said that Pynchon is too insular, then he gets an F in Pynchon class; I may not be a Pynchon fanatic, but his work is global in its reach and its ambition.

As for Le Clézio, that is a nice surprise (even though he was listed at 14-1 on the odds list that Jonathan Mayhew posted on his blog)! I've never read his work but he is a major figure in France.

Comment 2:

Well, the Academy seems to agree with Engdahl: since the last American won the Prize (Morrison in 1993), only three prizes have gone to non-Europeans (Oe, Xingjian, and Coetzee), unless you say that Pamuk is not European.

Morrison, though, was the last of an eight-year run in which only Cela was European (unless you count Brodsky as European).

Engdahl could also say that poets are not doing good work, at least as far as the Academy is concerned: the last writer who won it for poetry was Szymborska in 1996. BUT before that there was a small semi-cluster of poets: Heaney, Walcott, Paz, and, if we go back a bit further, Seifert in 1983 and Milosz and Elytis a few years earlier.

I just spent more time thinking about that than I should have! :-)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Poems at Nth Position

I've got six poems in the October issue of Nth Position. I like the range of work represented: the oldest one is from the early 1990s, and the most recent from last year. My thanks to Todd Swift for showcasing so much of my work!

White Privilege

Here's my favorite line from a post by Tim Wise on "White Privilege":

"White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God’s punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you’re just a good church-going Christian, but if you’re black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America."

(Hat tip to Poet with a Day Job!)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Poem sort of in Sports Illustrated

A poem has appeared in Sports Illustrated, at least in the online version. Well, at least as a link in Jon Wertheim's online column! Page down a bit! (Thanks to my Mom for pointing this out.)

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

John Gallaher tipped me off to the new David Byrne & Brian Eno CD Everything That Happens Will Happen Today a while back, and I just thought I would openly thank him for the great tip! Get yourself a copy here. A must for all fans of Talking Heads, Eno, and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Official American Sadism, by Anthony Lewis

This is from Anthony Lewis's "Official American Sadism," an essay in the September 25 issue of the New York Review of Books. The book he is referring to here is Jonathan Mahler's The Challenge: Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and the Fight over Presidential Power. Hamdan is the plaintiff in the famous Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case in which the Supreme Court ruled that Bush's military commissions were unconstitutional.

One of the remarkable facts exposed in this book is that Hamdan was first questioned in Guantánamo by an FBI agent who carefully built up a relationship with him and, in time, got detailed statements from him about al-Qaeda and some of its leaders. The agent had ample evidence for Hamdan to be prosecuted in a federal court; he thought he could persuade Hamdan to testify against more important al-Qaeda figures in return for a reduced sentence. But to his dismay Hamdan was designated for trial before a military commission; the FBI was immediately cut off from him and lost a potentially important witness.

This confirms something I started being worried about in September 2001: the militarization of the "war on terror" meant that criminal trials would not be one of the principal means used to combat terrorism. And this proves it: the military commissions clearly hinder the battle against bin Laden and company!

Lewis also quotes Major General Anthony Taguba:

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.

Taguba, "who was appointed to investigate the torture at Abu Ghraib and found that there had been 'wanton criminal abuse' of detainees, was forced into retirement."