Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Blog #11 - Crisis Management

Turbulent times seem to give rise to great art, new art.
For those who complain about the lack of anything new these days, how we just keep recycling the old and making due with the dim cast of newness that comes from yet another time around, I suggest that we as a culture (America 21st century) have become too complacent, too satisfied, too content. Do we need an economic crisis, a war that affects our daily lives, a rift in the social fabric or any other upheaval of the status quo to create an environment in which something real can be born?

New York City in the '70s. A social disaster that nonetheless spawned both punk rock AND hip-hop.

Weimar Germany. Hyperinflation and burgeoning fascism. A golden period of expressionist art, Bauhaus, film, cabaret.

Please add to the crises.



Hey, at least we've got SARS.

I used to say this all the time, but I don't think I buy this theory anymore (that things/one’s surroundings need to be screwed up to create great art), for one, I think we can be complacent as a society, while not necessarily as individuals, secondly, it's a matter of degrees/perspective/time, I'd say NY in 2000s is more F'ed up and full of fear/tension than it was in the 70's, which in turn was incomparable to the Civil War, which was nothing to say, The Black Plague, and so on... I do think oppression (pressure) can be conducive to making an art that is a radical form (enactment) of freedom, but so can boredom or too much complacency, excess (a lot of great art has been born from the rich and privileged just writing about that insulated world, w/ the faces of the poor just outside the door), but at some level every act of art is a form of revolt/liberation. And I believe art, at its most elemental source, comes from within, so you don't need the world or your neighborhood to be burning, just your inner life. Besides, the world is more F'ed up right now than it's been in a long time, try watching the news, or talking to suburban kids, it's terrifying. What I think more artists need is solitude, to be left alone with one's thoughts, hopes, fears and desires for a sustained amount of time. Of course, a SARS outbreak would certainly help get the ball rolling.

-S(a)RS, a walking crisis since 1976

Monday, August 13, 2007

Blog #10 - Diamanda Galás

Last week Meri and I went to see Diamanda Galás. Her music is wild, like nothing I've ever heard. Her voice sounds like wild banshees dying horrible deaths, then just as quickly becomes beautiful, operatic. The songs she's doing are often old blues standards, or Edith Piaf. Generally old and very familiar songs. You can get some sense of her music here, but I fear she is one of those performers you have to see live, with just her and her piano on stage, to get a true feel for how completely primal her songs are.

At first I was not into her at all. I thought she was just kind of screaming and making noise. Then, by the second or third song, I started to get it. What she's doing is updating these songs emotionally, completely twisting them and reinterpreting them to try and bring out (back?) their original ecstatic-state of emotional intensity. She reinfuses them with darkness and terror and fury by completely defamiliarizing them, retaining (recapturing?) their emotional core by presenting it in an altogether different light.

Watching her, I started thinking that, while we commonly understand much art as going further toward some point, or if not that, then further away from some original point--in painting we go from the figure to landscape to total abstraction and beyond; in poetry we go from narrative to imagist to confessional to deep image to surrealism to--what?--flarf--but that's not necessarily the case. I began thinking that what we (or at least I) understand as movement forward can also be understood as just going in circles. We go around and around, trying to find different ways to do the same thing, ways to make the same old, tired thing (poetry) sound relevant to our emotional and intellectual states in the 21st century. Stevens said as much in 1942. Poetry, he says,

has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.
It has to face the men of the time and to meet
The women of the time. It has to think about war
And it has to find what will suffice.

Lately I've been thinking of poetry as a dead art, or at least a dying one. It's a dying art we are practicing because there is nowhere left to go. We use google to write poems, or write computer programs to write poems. How much further than that can we go (not to judge any of these practices one way or the other)? Watching Galás, it seemed that further was no longer the issue, but wider is: how many different ways can we come up with to keep going in circles and expand, make each circle look as if it had never been drawn before but somehow was?


Blog # 9- poem

Anecdote of the Drive-in
—for Dan Hoy’s grandfather

I placed a drive-in in Tennessee,
And full of cars it was, upon a hill.
It made a synthetic wilderness
Freeze frame that hill.

The wilderness crept up to it,
And grew fat, feeding on Graffiti & Grease.
The drive-in became one with the ground,
And rose high as part of the sky.

It grew omnipotent and old,
The screen was white and green with mold.
It never harmed a single flea,
Like no other thing in Tennessee.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Blog #8- Simic Interview

Charles Simic gave an interview to B92 CEO Veran Matić:

B92: To what extent are you as a poet affected by the radical social changes we face, at least by the changes occurring for the last two decades? How these changes reflect in your poetry?

Charles Simic: Immensely. I have always paid attention to what goes on in the world, but now with the Internet, I read a dozen newspapers and magazines every morning.

All that I read affects me. I’m not one of those poets who write about birds singing and their feelings as the night comes down without once mentioned that innocents are being slaughtered.

B92: How do you assess the significance of the intellectuals in that period worldwide, especially in USA which you are most familiar with, and Southeast Europe, where you come from?

Simic: Many of our intellectuals in United States are servants of our imperial ambitions. They dream up excuses for wars and justify policies of domestic oppression.

I think that has nearly always been the case everywhere despite the myth of the intellectual as a fighter for truth and justice. In my life, I’ve meet only a few independent-minded intellectuals and they tended to be marginal figures in whose opinion no one was interested.

B92: You are very well acquainted with the U.S. literature, and you also translate the works of Serbian authors into English; can you compare these two literary scenes?

Simic: They are impossible to compare mainly because of the unequal size. American poetry includes everything from traditional formal verse to avant-garde poetries. Serbia has a number of supremely gifted poets writing today, but it lacks the range and variety of American poetry.

This is not an argument for one or for the other. Great poetry transcends borders. A poet like Radmila Lazić, whom I translated two years ago, has been read and reviewed both here and in England.

B92: In a review of an International Griffin Poetry Prize, it is said that you are among rare contemporary poets equally acknowledged both by the audience and the critics. How much is it important for the poetry in general, especially given that the art of poetry is being considered marginal lately?

Simic: It is, and it is not. Some poets are more read in their lifetime, while other who are not, turn out to have a much greater influence on literature in the long run. I take all these paeans with a grain of salt. I trust more the voice at 3:00 A.M., who whispers to me that my poems are not so hot.

B92: You’ve been awarded with numerous recognitions, starting from the Pulitzer Prize for poetry to the membership in American Academy of Arts and Letters as a second Serb that achieved such a thing after Mihajlo Pupin.

However, you’ve been awarded only one literary prize in Serbia, although you’re quite present in translation. This is rather awkward as we are faced with a profuse number of literary prizes in Serbia. This phenomenon is greatly dealt with by Predrag Čudić. How do you comment on this?

Simic: True, I only got one from the town of Vršac. However, you must remember that I write in English and have been a part of American literature for almost fifty years, that most of my poems have not been translated, so it would be strange if I was also collecting awards throughout Serbia.

B92: What’s the difference in recognitions here and there? And in the position of a poet in general?

Simic: Writers and poets are only noticed in totalitarian regimes. They are either imprisoned and shot, or they become highly-privileged flunkies of the regime. In Democracies, they are marginal figures without any influence. That suits me just fine since I like and need my solitude.

B92: Which are crucial moments of your life and how do you remember them?

Simic: World War II in Beograd, starting with April, 1941 when a bomb fell and destroyed the building across the street and I was thrown out of bed after the explosion.

Like others at that time, I saw so much death, violence and terror, I myself find it difficult to believe. That war made me what I am.

B92: Mihajlo Mihajlov had returned to Belgrade. Do you think of that sometimes?

Simic: No. After 54 years, I feel too much at home in the United States.

B92: You said recently that you came back to the Majke Jevrosime street several decades after leaving Belgrade, only to find out that the window you had broken as a boy still isn’t fixed, despite all those years.

You’ve visited Belgrade several times, have you noticed any changes, evolution, or you’ve only experienced the feeling of status quo?

Simic: When I was there last November after many years, I found Beograd, despite the signs of dire poverty, a bustling and attractive city. There’s no war, there are no Communists, so it feels much like a European city.

As for the window, I’m sorry to say, it has been fixed after the NATO bombing which, at least, for the building where I was born, served.

B92: What was your Christian name before your departure to the U.S.?

Simic: My name was Dušan (actually, Dragoljub was the name given to me at baptism). I turned out to be Charles, as my father (I don’t know why) thought that it was proper interpretation for Dušan in Serbian.


Wucha think?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Blog # 7 - Jules and Justin GChat about Ken Rumble

Justin: i started reading ken rumble's book last night. pretty good. what'd you think of it?

Jules: i like it! i also think it may be better as a chapbook, not a full book, if you know what i mean

Justin: right. i'm only about 1/3 and i keep thinking i'm much further, so i see what you're saying

Jules: he does an interesting thing, mixing so much D.C. geography with fragmented stanzas/line breaks and tight little bits of imagery. i just think that it may stop offering the reader anything new 3/4 into it but I might just need to re-read it.

Justin: interesting

Jules: like, i'd definitely buy his next book and hope that there is a less direct theme because i think that his writing style is enough cohesion to not have to have a very structured theme to his book.

Justin: right. his writing has a lot of energy. i like that. and if a poet has that quality, a theme can just get in the way of the energy doing more interesting things

Jules: exactly
also, now that i know how sweet he is as a real person, i want good thing to happen for him! so i'm excited to read what he does next

Justin: me too. actually, i'm excited to finish his current book.
that thing about liking the person and wanting them to do better work, or letting your like of them effect your reading of their work...that always bothered me, but i'm coming around to it. i'm beginning to accept that the life of the poet plays a very crucial role in understanding their work. or can at least.

Jules: i know what you mean. i've been thinking about that a lot recently. let's have a real conversation in the car to PA. because for the first time in my life i found myself, and this is terrible, almost rooting against someone's work because i know they are not the nicest person or whatever...but then i had to stop myself and reprimand myself because so many of the poets we love were drunks or drug addicts or suicidal- and they clearly hurt people in their life tremendously who cared about them. but their works is tremendous and that’s what matters and so many amazing artists were narcissistic assholes

Justin: totally.

I feel a little bit uncomfortable having that post up there just because I really did enjoy Ken's book and to be honest, the ending isn't that familiar to me now. I actually plan on reviewing it if I get the chance in the near future. Though saying that seems like backpeddling which I don't want to do. Anyways, I find, though, that for almost ALL books I've read recently, I've been wishing they were 1/4 shorter. But that's also indicative of my taste- if 1/4 of the poems seem weaker then that may just by my personal preference for certain poems. Or do you guys have this feeling often?

It might just be because I am reading a lot of first-books. Seriously, though, do you often wish recent poetry books were a bit shorter?

I definitely didn't feel that way about Willis's Meteoric Flowers, but I'm a sucker for her work and it's also her 4th book, I believe.

Anyways, I'd need to re-read Ken's book to say something intelligent. What I did love about it was how he could have so many fragmented lines, fleeting images and emotions, sort of torn across the page, yet withhold a narrative in terms of the cohesiveness of the speaker and his interactions with the various women/people in his life.
--Jules, again

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Blog #6 The Film of Your Own Life

Have any of you seen The Battle of Algiers? I watched it last night and it completely blew me away. It was one of the most intense cinematic experiences I've ever had. I don't even know where to start, except to say, if you haven't seen it, you should. It's especially powerful and haunting in context of our current political climate. It's one of those rare films that feels Important, that makes you feel like it's your duty to go around demanding that your friends see it and talk about it. Not to mention, from a purely technical and/or aesthetic standpoint, the film was a masterpiece (the score was brilliant, it acted like a character in the film). Some of the insights into the methodology (of the “terrorists” and the “French Paratroopers & colonists”) were so frightening, (not to mention the in-sights into their hearts and minds), I had a hard time not wondering what the ethical and political ramifications of such truths (emotional & ideological) and insights have had and/or continue to have on people, nations. “Acts of violence don't win wars. Neither wars nor revolutions. Terrorism is useful as a start. But then, the people themselves must act.” It was so real and stark, I had to remind myself it wasn't a documentary, but a prophecy. I'd be interested to know what you all think of the film.

I feel like you must know you've lost a war when a wall of unarmed people march through the smoke, singing like a collective chorus, directly at an army, with beautiful women in flowing white dresses dancing in the front line, waving tattered flags right in the faces of armed soldiers, and when they are shot and fall dead in the street, more women just keep dancing and twirling towards them, waving tattered flags in their faces, and always singing.

I know I’m a geek, but I think my idea of heaven may be watching provocative films, then walking down the street at night discussing the film with your best friends, and then stopping to eat outside at a French restaurant, drinking wine, still discussing the film until you realize you're not even discussing the film anymore, but your own lives, the world. Or something like that. If you haven't seen the film of your own life yet, I won't spoil it. But feel free to tell me your idea(s) of what heaven might be like (you're only allowed 322 each).

I wonder if Dan Hoy's heaven has a drive-in movie theater, and what’s playing tonight. Dan Hoy, are you out there?


Sunday, August 5, 2007

Blog #5 - One Good Person

Over this past weekend Sam and I tried to name one good person who is still alive. We couldn't do it. Can any of you?


One good person who is still alive is Jean-Luc Godard. By which I mean, someone whose art = a moral practice. But what does "good" mean to you? A good pitcher? Good cook? Good lay? Good mom?

Are you a good mom?

sings Ana.

I mean "a good person."

I think what "good" means to me (or any one individual per say) is not really what we were trying to define, (meaning not a subjective view of goodness) but rather a kind of "objective" goodness (overall goodness, and not as a skill, but more as a moral quality). For example, I think just about everyone would agree that Mother Teresa was "a good person." Who could we agree was a "good person" similarly today? That was all.

So, I don't know Jean-Luc Godard as a person, but my guess would be that he was not completely, in every facet of his life, what everyone would agree constituted a "good person," the way they might with Mother Teresa. As a filmmaker he was radical and extremely political, and when someone is political, it's hard to be "objectively good," b/c people are divided politically, due to social, economic, religious, gender, race, sexual orientation, and other factors. We could talk about his personal life (biography) or the morality (or lack of) of the characters in his films or his films as a kind of character, and his anti-consumerist statements, his Marxism, and how it qualifies or disqualifies him as a "good person" but all this is just semantics and ultimately, boring.

Much more interesting would be the question, is the making of art an objectively good act? I don't think so. Possibly, the contrary. Does art make the world a better place? Yes (the human world anyway), but also, no. In fact, and I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions, but I think there is a kind of divide between Art and Goodness or morality (meaning great artist's by nature, need to have an ego and lack of a moral or political agenda that it takes to produce great art that would seem to directly work against the general definition of a kind of life it takes to qualify as an objectively "good person"). I'm not sure how to say this, but it seems to be an oxy moron or contradiction, the notion that a great artist could be considered an objectively good person. The fact that they spend their lifetime making art would seem to go against any objective definition of a good person. I mean if Mother Teresa spent her life making statues of naked people, even if they were considered some of the greatest statues of naked people ever made, instead of spending her life helping the sick, poor, orphaned and dying, and inspiring millions to do likewise (in some measure), would she still be considered a "good person"? What has a greater impact in the world: Art or goodness? I don't know the answer, and partly I’m playing Devil's advocate here, since art has made me a better person— more capable of empathy, more understanding, thoughtful and filled me with a form of faith, and more importantly, hope that is necessary to live/participate in the world and to try/want to do some objective good in it, i.e., helping children, and other things that I may not have cared about if it were not for my exposure and dedication to a life of art, on the other hand, maybe I would of spent my life like Mother Teresa, instead of living in the woods reading and scribbling poems in notebooks that no one will ever read. I dare you to: Think about it.

Still singing, Sam.


Oh, interesting. I don't think that the quality of goodness is at odds, necessarily, with being a great artist. I guess I feel that, to some extend, goodness is invoked when someone stands up for human freedoms that appear to be in jeopardy and articulate this through well-crafted and seamless art that is controversial within its social context. Yet, we know of many dead and living fine poets, film makers, novelists who are narcissists or complete egomaniacs- which would clearly detract from good intentions, no? How does it work when one puts the goodness of the artistic goal in front of, say, caring for ones family? Maybe that is what makes one a great artist but not a good person. Can you make goodness come from your work and goodness come from your actual life and be a great artist?

Regardless, I definitely don't think that the making of art is an objectively "good" act. Often I wonder, if my writing doesn't get out there and reach people, am I not better off working for an organization that takes a more active role? Seriously. But, taking the time to think things through the way I need to in order to construct poems, to take those moments around me and play with them until they evolve into phrases that might give a new sheen to things- contributes to me being a person with more goodness. I'd hope? That slowing down to absorbe things and unearth things- I think i might be a more careless person.

carelessly yours, jules


I said I love.
That is the promise.
Now, I have to sacrifice myself so that through me the word 'love' means something, so that love may exist in the world. As a reward, at the end of this long undertaking, I will end up being he who loves. That is, I will merit the name I gave myself. A man, nothing but a man, no better than any other, but no other better than he.

JL Godard
To me goodness is aspirational - one's behavior needn't be saintly or apolitical to be good. What Godard says (above) is profoundly humanistic, at the point where humanism becomes the mysticism of artist as human being (hola, Sampson!). An artist can show us how to be a human being, And thus, perform the ultimate moral service. One can take a different angle even on Mother Teresa:

Katha Pollitt, the controversial American writer and secular humanist, has observed that Princess Diana and Mother Teresa were both “flowers of hierarchical, feudal, essentially masculine institutions in which they had no structural power but whose authoritarian natures they obscured and prettified”. Both, she found, “despite protestations to the contrary, were in the modern mass-market image business. Neither challenged the status quo that produced the social evils they supposedly helped alleviate. In fact, by promoting the illusion that nuns with no medical training, or selling your dresses for charity, could make a difference on a significant scale, they masked those evils or even (in the case of Mother Teresa’s opposition to abortion and birth control) made them worse.” Why, Pollitt questioned, should children’s hospitals require Di’s fundraising services instead of receiving adequate support from taxpayers. (stolen from here)

thus spaketh Ana