Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween 1971

It's always fun on Halloween to listen to an old Halloween show by the Grateful Dead. I am particularly fond of October 31, 1984, at the Berkeley Community Theatre (the fourth of a wonderful six-show set, including the spectacular November 2 show), but this evening I have chosen Halloween 1971, part of which was released as Dick's Picks, Volume 2, with its rivetingly beautiful "Dark Star" (with no second verse) surprisingly seguing (out of a passage of steadily increasing dissonance) into "Sugar Magnolia" instead of "Saint Stephen" (which then comes after "Sugar Magnolia").

Addendum: And then there's the stunning segue out of the first part of "Not Fade Away" into "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad"—again, a jamming climax that suddenly and smoothly shifts gears into another song, as Garcia shifts from rapid flourishes to pretty melody lines in a matter of seconds.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Television and Imagination

A student wrote an essay about the effects of television on children. At one point, she argued that, because every story on television is presented with already determined images, television "leaves no room for one's imagination."

This is a point I have heard before (mostly with respect to differences between books and movies), but I have never quite believed it. The idea seems to be that when you read, you spontaneously generate images in your head, and that such spontaneous image generation is what imagination is. But surely imagination is much more than just image generation!

Miles and Luisa (and I) have been getting into "Shaun the Sheep." They often start acting out scenes from their favorite episodes. Isn't that imagination, too? (For clips of Shaun, go here.)

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Not the photos, but the birds, in "Weak Strong," by Gary Gildner, up on Verse Daily today.

like a drummer so deep into the gig
he can't ever stop

Predicting Paris tennis

Tennis fans who want to have a little fun should go to British Tennis to participate in their competition predicting the results of this week's Masters Series tournament in Paris. I participated in their competitions for the US Open and the Madrid tournament, and it was lots of fun.

The deadline to enter is 10 am UK time (i.e. 10.00 GMT / 11.00 CET / 05.00 US EST) on Monday 29 October. As of this writing (at 1:30 p.m. CET on Sunday), the qualifiers have not yet been added to the draw; they should be added by this evening.

Have fun! Go Roger! :-)

(Here's hoping Federer feels fit enough after reaching finals the past two weeks to still participate!)

The State of Classical Music

I was originally led to "The Musical Mystique," Richard Taruskin's New Republic article about classical music, by Robert Archambeau. Now Kyle Gann has also posted a response to Taruskin, too. The article, and both responses, are well worth a look for anyone interested in classical music, but they are also worth consideration by those who are interested in the state of poetry today (or jazz or other aesthetic interests somewhat out of step with the mainstream), mutatis mutandis, of course (I hope I'm getting the Latin right there).

I'll quote two bits from Taruskin here:

1. "To cast aesthetic preferences as moral choices at the dawn of the twenty-first century is an obscenity." No holds barred there! (I wish my students were willing to take bold positions like that—yes, I am spending the weekend marking student essays.)

2. The books he reviews end up being "unlikely to help solve classical music's most pressing problem, which is the problem of audience renewal." A question: is that also poetry's "most pressing problem?"

Kyle Gann downplays his paraphrase of Taruskin, but he also says something worth quoting at length:

"In my callow youth I was a proponent of the view Taruskin attacks, a real Adorno-ite, art-is-good-for-you, pop-music-dismisser. I'm stubborn as hell, and yet I got over it: why can't other people? One of my best assets, I think, is a strong sense of musical reality, which I attribute to having been deeply exposed to music before I could talk. And even though I grew up rather shockingly distant from my generation's beloved rock 'n' roll, my sense of reality told me fairly early on that there was nowhere to draw a line between the pleasure I got from listening to, say, Bruckner or Feldman, and the pleasure that I got from the occasional Brian Eno or Residents song that I was driven to listen to over and over again. And I slowly realized that I didn't get that pleasure from listening to, oh, Schoenberg's Piano Concerto, or Carter's Second Quartet, which I did out of a rather pious sense of duty and a feeling that they would build character. And then, of course, the new music, or Downtown music, or experimental music, or whatever delicate euphemism you terminophobes want to apply to the music that I wrote about at the Village Voice for 19 years, was a repertoire dedicated to plastering in the gigantic crack between pop and classical. Some of that music was more conventionally entertaining than other pieces, but there was no way to deeply appreciate that music and pretend that art and entertainment were separate human activities. I can boast a virtuoso range of ways to be entertained, but any music I'm not entertained by I quit listening to, no matter how highly ranked it is in the history books."

"A virtuoso range of ways to be entertained": something to aspire to. — In poetry's terms, both those who call for accessibility and those who call for difficulty (each to the exclusion of the other) obscure what they have in common: that each group is looking for entertainment. The accessibility people want to be entertained in one way, the difficulty people in another, quite different way—but they share their desire to be entertained by poetry.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Brad Mehldau, Basel, October 26, 2007

For his second encore last night in Basel, Brad Mehldau began with some playing that sounded like "Mehldau does stride piano," his left hand managing to get into a stride rhythm while still doing what it does best: arpeggiating chords in rapid swirls of notes, rather than playing all the notes of the chord at once, as a standard stride rhythm would do. (Is there a term for that? Playing a chord "normally," so to speak, rather than with arpeggios?) Then out came the head: "Monk's Dream." And what a version followed: solo piano, first developing the bluesy stride playing, then becoming more like a ballad before moving into the swirling kaleidoscope of sound that is Mehldau's specialty.

That was one of the highlights for me. As Mehldau did not announce any of the tunes, there were only two other tunes I was sure about: Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" (stately and elegant) and the final encore, "Mother Nature's Son," moving from beautiful highlighting of the melody to vary playful soloing. I was pretty sure I heard Radiohead's "Exit Music" in there, too.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mehldau in Basel tomorrow night

As I mentioned a few months ago, I'll be getting to see Brad Mehldau solo in Basel tomorrow night. Here's Brad solo, the only video of him on youtube without either his trio or Pat Metheny! Unfortunately, this cuts off rather abruptly. Oh well.

"Dear Prudence" is a tune that also always makes me think of Jerry Garcia, who used to play such soaring versions of it with the Jerry Garcia Band.

Perhaps I should also mention that the duo CD Mehldau recorded with Metheny is beautiful.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hedges plays Bach

Here's Michael Hedges again, this time playing the prelude to the first Bach cello suite, one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard (and one I played on classical guitar at my daughter Sara's baptism last year).

It's so sad that Michael talks about driving safely after the concert, given that he died in a car accident. Drive safely, folks.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hurray for Pete Stark

Let's hear it for Pete Stark:

"But President Bush’s statements about children’s health shouldn’t be taken any more seriously than his lies about the war in Iraq. The truth is that Bush just likes to blow things up. In Iraq, in the United States and in Congress." (Thanks to Dan Savage for this.)

Ornette Coleman Anthology

Back in May, I made a list of my favorite jazz compositions, and in it, discussing Thelonious Monk's "Epistrophy," I mentioned Alexander von Schlippenbach's triple CD Monk's Casino, the only recording I know of that includes every known Monk composition. It's a brilliant CD, released by the wonderful Zurich label Intakt Records.

I have now just received a similarly wonderful recording on Intakt, an Ornette Coleman Anthology recorded by pianist Aki Takase and saxophonist Silke Eberhard. It's not the complete Coleman (I think he has been more prolific than Monk was), but it is a brilliant collection of superbly arranged tunes that, stripped down to piano and horn, really highlight just how compelling Ornette's music is. Highly recommended!

(Disclaimer: I translated the liner notes of both these CDs.)

(And here is a bit of Takase on piano ... with Schlippenbach!)

(And while I am at it, I was also overwhelmed by von Schlippenbach's recent solo piano releases, Twelve Tone Tales, in two volumes, also on Intakt.)

An evolutionary defense of empiricism

In "More Than Meets the I," her vigorous and entertaining omnibus review in the October 07 issue of Poetry, Ange Mlinko uses Jay Wright to present a form of philosophical skepticism:

'... science tells us that “our sense data are primarily symbols,” translated to the brain via nerve impulses and reassembled in the frontal cortex [...]. Appearances are deceiving. What we see is just an interface.'

The problem with the conclusion here is that Mlinko, like so many others, fails to recognize the explanatory power of evolution: if the "symbolic sense data" of "appearances" are false, then the human brain would be poorly adapted to the physical world, and the human species would die out if its brain did not adapt to that physical world.

Here's another way to put the point: any human brain (or brain of any species, for that matter) that does not produce a relatively precise image of the world around it is less likely to survive and successfully reproduce than a brain with a more precise image of the world around it. So "our sense data" may be "primarily symbols," but there is every reason to believe that those symbols are accurate (at least for those with healthy brains).

So here's a third way to put the point: rejection of empiricism entails rejection of evolution.


To be fair to Mlinko, I should refer to the whole passage I cited from above:

Quoting Suzanne Langer in Elaine's Book (collected in Transfigurations), [Jay] Wright lays claim to her insight: “and the triumph of empiricism is jeopardized by the surprising truth that our sense data are primarily symbols.” For poets of this tendency, the world is occult, and poetry's attentiveness helps tease out the hidden reality:

What we call
our own might only be
the first stroke upon
a stellar
clock, an instant shift
of center, a notion

the Cusan could
propose and stir
in the atom.
—From Equation Three
Nicolas of Cusa posited the existence of an intellect comprising more than that which sense data and reason tell us. Now that science tells us that “our sense data are primarily symbols,” translated to the brain via nerve impulses and reassembled in the frontal cortex, the Cusan's truth is confirmed. Appearances are deceiving. What we see is just an interface. The very building blocks of matter are in flux.

The Sensation of Writing

George Szirtes has some interesting thoughts on the "sensation of writing" (partly in response to Don Paterson's essay on "the lyric principle" in the latest Poetry Review). At the end of his post, GS writes:

"I would like to open this line of thought to others and invite any poets reading this to send me their account of the sensation of writing. Keep it honest, keep it simple. As simple as it will go, at any rate."

So I thought I'd spread the word on GS's interesting call for ideas.

Here's my take on it, at least today's. It involves three quotations:

1. In a profile in the New Yorker back in the 1990s, David Mamet said something like this: "Writing is the only thing that stops the thinking, you know. It's the only way to turn off all that dreadful noise in there." I've always loved that line, as it perfectly captures one sensation I have when writing: that it fully occupies my otherwise utterly restless mind, turning off even the almost endless musical soundtrack that plays in the back of my head (picking up on whatever I happen to have heard most recently, whether it be the music of a commercial, the theme song to a children's program I watched with my kids, or Thelonious Monk). [If anybody who reads this has the complete New Yorker in electronic form, can you try to find that profile of Mamet for me and check his precise words?)

2. One of my touchstones for a long time has been Jorge Luis Borges's "Borges and I": "
I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar." I recognize myself less in my own writing than in the writing of others (as all these quotations suggest), but in the act of writing, there is even a third person present: not the one who will later have written, and not the name that attaches itself to what that one will later have written, but the one who is writing. The one whose mind is quiet?

3. In Anna Karenina, Levin mows: "The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he experienced those moments of oblivion when it was not his arms which swung the scythe but the scythe which seemed to mow of itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, as though by magic, without a thought being given to it, the work did itself regularly and carefully. Those were the most blessed moments." The "most blessed moments" in creative work are those moments when the mind is quiet, the self disappears, and the work does itself, "regularly and carefully."

Okay, I did not "keep it simple," George, but it is honest! :-)


And then there is the sensation of not-writing, or between-writing:


Another journey underway,
the painter on the foredeck of
the overloaded ferryboat
sees, past the sea wall and out
over the straits, the aftermath
of sunlight from behind the clouds,
a brighter form of rain. The harbor
opposite moves from blur into focus
as the ferry moves, its wake
first spray in the painter's face.
Light and cloud and mist: what is
to be captured on canvas. He'll hold
the brush in the air the way the ship,
sailing without a sail, hangs
before it falls again down on
the waves. Behind him, every stroke
he's ever painted; the unpainted
before him, this passage from one harbor
to another, the ferry rolling,
with every breaker, deeper down
in what is, what will have been.

(The Reader 16; Cabinet d'Amateur)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lyrikline update

I just received the latest newsletter from the wonderful lyrikline site. There are new translations into English of Klaus Rifbjerg (Denmark), Lars Gustafsson (Sweden), Norbert Hummelt (Germany), Vladas Braziūnas (Lithuania), and Steffen Popp (Germany). The latest English-language poet to be added is Gerald Stern.

If you have never checked out lyrikline, do so: a huge stock of recordings of poems in a tremendous variety of languages (46 and counting!).

From Underture to Aerial Boundaries

Miles has been getting into The Who, which is okay by me. He especially likes "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Baba O'Reilly" from Who's Next, as well as "Overture" and "Pinball Wizard" from Tommy. My favorite bits of Tommy are "Sparks" and "Underture."

So I remember watching Michael Hedges play "Underture" at the Varsity in Palo Alto back in the eighties. He described how he used to sit on his back porch listening to Tommy, which is a rock opera, and how he thought that was very cool, a rock opera, and that operas have overtures, which Tommy does, too, but that Tommy has an "Underture," which he thought was very cool. Then he leapt across the stage and began "Underture" with a big, swinging power chord that would have made Pete Townshend proud.

Remembering all this, I checked whether there's a video of Michael playing "Underture" on youtube. No luck. So here's "Aerial Boundaries" instead, making me all nostalgic for all those times I had the joy and privilege of hearing Michael play, back at the Varsity in Palo Alto.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Gestapo tactics

'Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo.' (Frank Rich, "The 'Good Germans' among Us," New York Times, October 14, 2007)

Or as Katherine Anne Porter said about Sacco and Vanzetti (as quoted in the New Yorker of October 8, 2007): "Life felt very grubby and mean, as if we were all of us soiled and disgraced and would never in this world live it down."

(Note that Sacco and Vanzetti were executed on my birthday, August 23.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Spoon River Anthology

One book I picked up in the U.S. this summer was Spoon River Anthology, by Edgar Lee Masters. I found the book quite surprising: for some reason, I had always assumed that it was a collection of idyllic poems without a dark side, but that is completely wrong. Masters is almost entirely interested in the dark side of small-town life: the pettiness, the tyranny, all the things that make people want to run away to the big city.

Further, quotation of single poems from the book misrepresents it, no matter how good the individual poems may be. For it is in the tensions between pairs of poems (or among sets of poems) that the book really comes to life. Each poem is spoken by one dead person in the Spoon River cemetery, and when the speakers' stories contradict each other, things get exciting.

But instead of quoting several to show you what I mean, I'll just quote one that I like a few lines of—perhaps it's the musician in me that especially likes this one:


I had fiddled all day at the county fair.
But driving home “Butch” Weldy and Jack McGuire,
Who were roaring full, made me fiddle and fiddle
To the song of Susie Skinner, while whipping the horses
Till they ran away. Blind as I was, I tried to get out
As the carriage fell in the ditch,
And was caught in the wheels and killed.
There’s a blind man here with a brow
As big and white as a cloud.
And all we fiddlers, from highest to lowest,
Writers of music and tellers of stories
Sit at his feet,
And hear him sing of the fall of Troy.

Rule of Law

More from Glenn Greenwald:

'In a 1998 essay in Foreign Affairs entitled "The Rule of Law Revival," Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote optimistically that the "rule of law" has now become the centerpiece, the prime consensus, for most international relations and has been recognized as the linchpin for third-world countries developing into functioning democracies. Here is how he defined the basic principles of "the rule of law":

THE RULE of law can be defined as a system in which the laws are public knowledge, are clear in meaning, and apply equally to everyone. They enshrine and uphold the political and civil liberties that have gained status as universal human rights over the last half-century. . . . Perhaps most important, the government is embedded in a comprehensive legal framework, its officials accept that the law will be applied to their own conduct, and the government seeks to be law-abiding.

What is happening now in Washington is -- in every respect -- the exact opposite of this. Already, it was revealed that our highest government officials, including the President, broke the law deliberately and for years by spying on Americans without the warrants required by the laws we enacted, and all of official Washington immediately agreed that nothing should happen as a result. And nothing did happen.'

Greenwald's essays are so long I can rarely read them all, but there are always bits like this (and the one I quoted on Friday) that nicely cut through the nonsense of the chattering classes.

Playing the Game

Nicholas Manning observes that Doris Lessing has a Myspace page.

She's also probably the first Nobel Prize winner to have published a graphic novel, Playing the Game.

And thanks to Nicholas for this wonderful clip of Doris in action:


"Starved of a general readership, poets are writing only for other poets, like shortwave radio hobbyists who build elaborate machines on which they can only reach each other." (Brian Phillips, "Poetry and the Problem of Taste," Poetry, September 2007)

Shortwave radios: that sounds pretty cool to me.

Here's a less metaphorical approach to the same issue from later in the article:

"Another sign that subjective taste has weakened in poetry is the very obsession of the activists, who feel that poetry has become a subculture catering entirely to its own needs. This idea has prompted a long train of bullet-point-riddled essays advocating various means by which poetry could be rescued from its subcultural ghetto and restored to the culture at large. But poetry is not, and never has been, a subculture; at the moment it more exactly resembles something that tried to become a subculture and failed. One of the defining characteristics of a functioning subculture—one, that is, which is successfully satisfying the needs for which its participants turn to it—is that its members are indifferent to, possibly even embrace, its lack of popularity. We see this in every field; in the anxiety of the indie-rock audience when a cult band signs with a major record label, for instance. It is only when a subculture fails to satisfy the needs of its members that, like a fringe political movement, it begins to covet adoption by the outside world, as though this could provide a meaning that it is incapable of generating for itself." (boldface added by me)

Poetry as a failed subculture—not even a subculture, perhaps, but "just" a hobby?

Years ago, when my wife taught German in Poitiers, in France, I talked to a class of hers about poetry. One of the students asked her beforehand if poetry was my "hobby"—I was actually a bit offended. But a hobby can be a very honorable thing, can't it? :-)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

On hypocrisy

Larry Craig, writes Hendrik Hertzberg, "is like the many politicians who have smoked marijuana themselves but oppose legalizing it even for medical use. Hypocritical? Yes. But, in both cases, the fundamental moral problem is not the inconsistency between private actions and professed beliefs. The problem is the professed beliefs." (New Yorker, September 17, 2007)

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Bill of Rights is the Far Left

From Glenn Greenwald:

'Bill O'Reilly devoted the beginning of his show last night to warning Americans about the dangerous radicalism of John Edwards, proclaiming that "John Edwards has no chance to become president because he's simply too far-left for most Americans." After highlighting all the scary, fringe positions Edwards holds, O'Reilly summarized what the Far-Left America would look like once John Edwards got done with it:
[W]ould you support President John Edwards? Remember, no coerced interrogation, civilian lawyers in courts for captured overseas terrorists, no branding the Iranian guards terrorists, and no phone surveillance without a specific warrant.
Who could even fathom an America plagued by habeas corpus, search warrants, and a military that fails to beat, freeze and mock-execute its detainees? And nothing is more sacred to core American values than branding other countries' armies as "Terrorists" ("The [Revolutionary] Guard is the SS of Iran"). O'Reilly has aptly highlighted here the new ideological divide in our political culture -- one is now on the "Left," usually the "Far Left," if one supports what were previously the defining attributes of basic American liberties, while one is "Serious" and "Responsible" and "Centrist/Right" only if one is too sophisticated and "tough" to actually think that such effete and abstract things matter.'

Put me on the Far Left, and proud of it.

Read more here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Let's hear it for American poets in Switzerland who publish books—in this case, Jill Alexander Essbaum, with her new Harlot. (And, of course, a tip of the hat to Reb Livingston, too, for all her efforts to publish poetry and support poets.)

Campfire watercolor

Today, Luisa wanted to do some watercolors with the coloring pages from the "Sendung mit der Maus."

I knew she would want me to paint with/for her, but she paints much better than I do, so I started my own painting, of a campfire, on the page I had written a few lines on last night.

I wrote the lines in my head first (following Jonathan Mayhew's "Complete Sentence Game," but adding in that each sentence was supposed to be iambic pentameter), but even then, I made some mistakes writing them down.

I wrote the last two sentences in my head last night and did not write them down. But I remembered them this morning.

I think my desire to paint on my draft was also influenced by the Best American Poetry cartoons here.

Doris Lessing!

Well, I never would have thought I would be so excited that Doris Lessing finally won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but I guess that having written part of my dissertation on her work left more of a trace on my emotions than I thought it did. (Ph. D. in Comp. Lit., 1995: "Observing Women: Doris Lessing, Christa Wolf, and Marguerite Duras.")

I've been pondering re-reading a bunch of Lessing for a year or so now, and I know that when I do, I will start with the first book of hers I ever read — not The Golden Notebook, sprawling and "important," but the deceptively small and utterly overpowering The Fifth Child, which is what I recommend (as highly as I possibly can) for anyone who has not read her work before (in fact, for anyone who has never read it; it's a mindboggling book). [But do NOT go on to read the abysmally bad sequel, Ben in the World!)

At almost 88, she might respond as Jaroslav Seifert supposedly did in 1984: "What good does it do me now?" :-)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Age of Iron

"He heard me out civilly. I was entitled to my opinion, he said. I did not change his mind.

"But now I ask myself: what right do I have to opinions about comradeship or anything else? ... To have opinions in a vacuum, opinions that touch no one, is, it seems to me, nothing. Opinions must be heard by others, heard and weighed, not just listened to out of politeness. And to be weighed they must have weight."

(J. M. Coetzee, Age of Iron)

1. The speaker, Mrs. Curren, is the narrator of the book, a white South African woman, around 70, dying of cancer, in the mid-to-late 1980s. A black man, Mr. Thabane, responded to her remarks earlier in the book by saying, "You are entitled to your opinion." It struck me how nasty that statement is. It means something like this: "Your opinion is utter and complete nonsense, but it is beneath me to argue with you about it."

2. Mrs. Curren argues that opinions have to be put on the line in order to be at all valid. In fact, she ends up implying that, as long as she is not willing to get out into the world and argue with people about her opinions, she is not entitled to her opinions.

3. This moment is important in Coetzee's work as a whole. In Elizabeth Costello, the title character argues that realism in fiction requires ideas to be embodied in characters. Mrs. Curren makes the same point in a more indirect way: ideas by themselves are nothing; there must be a person to back them up.

4. In Diary of a Bad Year, the narrator presents his "strong opinions," because he has been asked to do so by a German publishing house that is going to publish a collection of the "strong opinions" of various writers. The interactions between the narrator, his typist, and the typist's boyfriend provide the context of resistance to those strong opinions that entitle the narrator to them, in Mrs. Curren's sense.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Sidewinder

I picked up Lee Morgan's The Sidewinder, with its unforgettable title cut, and listened to it for the first time in years. It's as brilliant as I remember it, back when I used to play it on KZSU all the time in my student-DJ days back at Stanford in the 80s.

I had forgotten that Joe Henderson is the tenor player, wonderfully contrasting with Morgan's trumpet, and that Billy Higgins is the drummer. But the latter does not surprise me: since almost everything Higgins ever played on danced lightly even in ballads and in hard-bop, it's no wonder that this was long Blue Note's biggest hit. Somebody should write a complete Wikipedia page about him!

Addendum: I also picked up Joe Henderson's Page One, another recording I have not heard for ages. Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa," the opening track, is just as exquisite as "The Sidewinder." And McCoy Tyner is brilliant on piano.

I don't think I played "Blue Bossa" as often as "The Sidewinder" back in my radio days, but I also understand why "Blue Bossa" really deserves to be called a "jazz standard," in a way that "The Sidewinder" does not. "Blue Bossa" is just a perfect tune; in my few attempts to actually play jazz (and not just fake it), it was one of the tunes I learned a lot from: relatively simple, but with huge amounts of space in it for soloists and accompanists to move around in.

Friday, October 05, 2007


Today, in a new experience for me, my mailbox contained not one but two journals that contain poems of mine.

The latest issue (number 27) of "The Reader" contains two of my poems, "Wind" and "September." Nice company: for example, R. S. Thomas and Tom Paulin. "Wind" is on-line as a song I recorded back around 2000.

The latest issue (number 141, Summer 2007) of "Orbis" (the only literary magazine without a website?) contains my poem "Go Ogle" (and the issue even, honor of honors, has my name on the cover!). The poem has already been commented on as "a take on obituaries which is very funny in places"; the commenter (Tony Williams) has two poems in the issue as well. There's also a review of John Ash's latest by Rob Mackenzie.

If anyone who reads the issue of "Orbis" and my poem wants to tell me what they think the poem is about (as I was delighted to hear that it is "a take on obituaries"), I'd love to hear your ideas. I wonder what people might make of it.

I also recently had a poem in "Cadenza" (issue 17): "Fever," which can also be heard at the link for "Wind" above. If you get a look at the issue, don't look in the poetry section for my poem, which is well hidden.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


"Nothing is so obvious that it’s obvious. When someone says that something is obvious, it seems almost certain that it is anything but obvious – even to them. The use of the word 'obvious' indicates the absence of a logical argument – an attempt to convince the reader by asserting the truth of something by saying it a little louder."

That's Errol Morris, from an interesting piece on his New York Times blog.


Seth Abramson posted this on his blog with a wonderful comment. Here's what I wrote as a comment on his post:

I lived in Leamington Spa, England, for a year when I was nine years old. It was 1973-74 ... so my parents, my sisters, and I missed the end of Nixon's presidency (although I'm sure my parents were playing close attention).

In return, we got to watch the Wombles. Thanks for posting this! It's so good I'm going to post it on my blog, too.

Adam and Eady

A few weeks ago I commented on a funny little poem by Les Murray in the New Yorker, as well as on the other poem in the same issue, by Joni Mitchell (!).

I just saw the links for the two poems in the latest issue, so I thought I would check them out to see if the current issue looks any better, poem-wise.

One is by Adam Zagajewski, "Karmelicka" (translated by Clare Cavanagh); the other is by Cornelius Eady, "Handymen."

A much better pair (though still not brilliant) than the quite funny but quite flimsy Murray poem and the lyric by Joni.

By the way, the issue is, as far as I know, still under the aegis of poetry editor Alice Quinn (and not yet a playground for Paul Muldoon).


Marc Krebs writes a weekly column in the Basler Zeitung called "Pop von gestern auf dem iPod von heute" ("Yesterday's Pop on Today's iPod"; the column is unfortunately not available for free on the paper's website), in which he glosses a song from the Swiss hit parade from a while back. Today's gloss is about Donna Summer's "I Feel Love," but the column always includes the rest of the top 5 from the week in question, and one spot ahead of Summer at number 4 from October 8, 1977, is Kenny Rogers with "Lucille."

That was the time when I first began to seriously listen to the radio, and not knowing better, I listened to Top 40 radio (not that there was much else available in Toledo, Ohio, in those years). And the fact that Rogers sings about "a bar in Toledo" in "Lucille" got my attention.

Not that I ever bought the single or an album by Rogers, but I can still sing you the first couple lines if you want me to (as well as, of course, the unforgettable — but still not very good — chorus).

It probably helps that my cousin John knew a parody in the voice of a trucker. Its chorus went "You picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheel." :-)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Birthday coincidence

Listening to Brad Mehldau this morning ("How Long Has This Been Going On?" from Art of the Trio, Volume 5: Progression), with Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy. I'm looking forward to his solo concert in Basel on October 26. is tracking what I listen to, and I was trying to fix something with the window, and I noticed that Mehldau was born on August 23, 1970—not the same year as me, but the same day.

Meaningless, of course, but no less touching in its own peculiar way.

"Im Verlauf meiner weiteren Beschäftigung mit den Skizzenbüchern und dem Leben Turners bin ich dann auf die an sich völlig bedeutungslose, mich aber nichtsdestoweniger eigenartig berührende Tatsache gestoßen, dass er, Turner, im Jahr 1798, auf einer Landfahrt durch Wales, auch an der Mündung des Mawddach gewesen ist und dass er zu jener Zeit genauso alt war wie ich bei dem Begräbnis von Cutiau." (W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz)