Saturday, February 28, 2009

Critic Erik Childress on the continuing trainwreck of AT THE MOVIES.

Thanks again to Jeffrey Wells' HOLLYWOOD ELSEWHERE for providing this link to an article by Erik Childress, which, while a bit long, comments on Ben Lyons (the smarmy one) and Ben Mankiewicz's (the smarter one) sitdown with an Associated Press TV scribe to spin AT THE MOVIES as turning the corner and heading towards success:

The article also reminds readers of Ben Lyons' Greatest Hits during his critical career for E! and Disney, including his "One of the Greatest Films Ever" blurb about the Will Smith remake of I AM LEGEND.

After having my head explode and my stomach turn from witnessing young Lyons' terminal glibness, I quit watching AT THE MOVIES months ago.

One final comment about the Childress article:
Apparently, Lyons father, hack critic Jeffrey Lyons (who still has a TV show carried by NBC affiliates), once called Roger Ebert a "putz."

The mind boggles when you consider what Ebert has achieved vs. what Lyons and his nonillustrious son don't even try for.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I now have a YouTube poetry channel.

Here's a YouTube channel of old and new poetry of mine:

It's still in an embryonic state, but I hope you'll take a look. The channel will be updated frequently.

One thing I notice when seeing myself on video is that, with glasses, I slightly resemble the late L.A. old-school news anchor Hal Fishman.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Starting next week, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES will be altered in response to less advertising revenue and pressure to keep cutting costs.

For more complete information, including the paper's spin on the forthcoming changes:

A column T.J. Sullivan wrote for LA OBSERVED about the importance of print newspapers:
[UPDATE 2/26/09: The Denver, Colorado ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS will cease publication as of tomorrow:]

Allegedly, Rupert Murdoch is showing some interest in buying THE LOS ANGELES TIMES.

At this point, you, the reader, can insert a punchline about tabloid journalism, the potential for uncritical reviews of Fox Network programming and/or 20th Century Fox movies, or the possibility of Los Angeles mainstream journalism standards being lowered to those of THE NEW YORK POST (remembering the racist editorial cartoon implying a connection between President Obama and a murdered chimpanzee).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

That's how it rolls in literary poetry L.A.

I'm going to run through a few red lights with this post. Here goes.....

Earlier tonight, I sat through a featured reading by an overly pretentious, forgettable literary poet (who, to be fair, had one tolerable poem referencing Edward Hopper paintings) at a L.A.-area venue. The literary poet has some cachet in this region because he edits a literary magazine (or should I say, "journal") and has a new book published by an L.A.-based prestige small press named after a barnyard animal.

The reading itself, like about three other readings in the LA/OC area, is now modeled after a long-dead but still influential poetry series that was named after a certain kind of flower.

What can I say about literary poetry when it exists more to ooh-ah-awe and attract looking-for-Pushcart-Prize-consideration players in the "community" than to edify or satisfy poets/civilians who may not be breathlessly fascinated by the poet's self-proclaimed academic brilliance and/or his publication/website?

[Sidebar: An article by Brendan Bernhard about poetry in L.A. in the LA WEEKLY a decade ago--besides offending certain community majordomos upset about not being Recognized by Bernhard--had a priceless quote from someone (perhaps a bookseller) that described literary poets as "people in academia writing for each other."]

At this point, I realize I'm going to attract potential criticism for criticizing a poet (something I'd be tut-tutted about--and then forbidden to do--on at least one local poetry listserve) after having been chastised recently for not being "ambitious" enough.

Sorry, but there's also a danger to the health of poetry as a whole when poets and hosts bend over backwards to fawn over too-self-satisfied, please-my-professor-at-university, deadly-dull-but-au-courant verse that's drier than the deodorizer I put inside my cats' litter boxes three times a week.

I'll end this with a cautionary anecdote: Emily Dickinson showed her work to a Major Publisher of her day. She was considered "not good enough" and her poetry didn't really surface en masse until after her death.

It's safe to say Emily Dickinson will be read for a few centuries more than the Influential Poet/Editor I was bored, irritated and deeply depressed by tonight.

Republican pushback re Obama continues: once again the Birth Certificate controversy.

One would think that the Republican Party ought to be concerning itself with the economy and foreign policy (i.e. real and pressing issues) rather than pretending the 2008 elections are still yet to happen.

But, again, the "is Barack Obama truly a citizen" birth certificate nonsense is being brought up. Here's a column that pokes a few needed holes in this propaganda offensive (or, rather, offensive propaganda):

Director Howard Zieff: RIP.

Here's a link to an IMDB obit for director Howard Zieff, who passed away Sunday at the age of 81:

Zieff had a long career as a hired-gun director of mainstream comedies such as HOUSE CALLS (1978), PRIVATE BENJAMIN (1980) and MY GIRL (1991). But I prefer his earlier work as a director of Alka-Seltzer commercials, the film SLITHER (1973) with James Caan and Sally Kellerman--filled with the sardonic humor/worldview of Zieff's Madison Avenue period--and the cult classic HEARTS OF THE WEST (1975), with Jeff Bridges as an aspiring B-Western actor, Blythe Danner in a role reminiscent of Jean Arthur's wised-up Frank Capra heroines and Andy Griffith as Bridges' mentor-of-sorts.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Post-Academy Awards comments, plus what Ebert had to say.

In past years, Roger Ebert was one of the hosts of the post-Oscar local telecast on KABC-TV Channel 7. Here's a link to Roger's recently-posted article on the 81st annual ceremony:

I didn't see all of the telecast, but thought that Lawrence Mark and Bill Condon did a surprisingly not-bad job of production. Perhaps the only major debit was the decision to have Queen Latifah (again adopting her Dana Owens vocalist persona) sing "I'll Be Seeing You" over the In Memoriam segment. Let the clips speak for themselves, please.

A minor debit for the Judd Apatow PINEAPPLE EXPRESS-themed clipshow, which mostly existed for Apatow to extend a "my movies make a lot of money for the Industry and all I get is a Blackberry message to make a short film for the Oscar show" middle-finger to Hollywood. Note to Judd: with the sort-of exception of FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, most of the films I saw that you had an active or passive hand in creating for release last year aren't going to be considered comedy classics (and that especially goes for STEP BROTHERS). Even the JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE commercial with Kimmel and Tom Cruise was funnier.

Otherwise, the awards were predictable, except for Foreign Film (thought it would go to THE CLASS or WALTZ WITH BASHIR), Feature Documentary (thought something intended as more conventionally ennobling such as TROUBLE THE WATER or THE GARDEN would win over the generally good, overly-adoring-of-performance-art MAN ON WIRE), costumes (glad to see THE DUCHESS shown a tiny amount of love) and Best Actor (equally happy with either Sean Penn or Mickey Rourke taking the prize home).

And congratulations to Kate Winslet and (posthumously) Heath Ledger for winning what can be partially considered Body-of-Work awards.

THE LONG WAY HOME Little Red Books anthology coming in March. for complete information.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

One of the most honest "found" poems ever created.

Here's a "found" poem I created from a post I read on a local poetry listserve a few years ago. Study it carefully, for it contains a profound message as to why poetry--and the resulting audience--remains in a sort of stasis like a mastadon perfectly frozen in a giant glacier.

FOR POETRY EXPAND? (literary poet)

The idea that poets ought to
proselytize the masses into their art
isn’t as clear-cut in my mind.

One one hand, poetry will die unless
new voices are heard and developed.

On the other hand, not everyone is
suited for or interested in poetry.

Some friends of mine who are artists
in other fields have a passing interest
in poetry, but their creativity in visual
or performance art doesn’t translate
to word-oriented art forms like
poetry or fiction.

Other friends of mine can muster little
more than toleration of the fact that
I write—they simply aren’t interested
in literary things, and that’s fine.

Others who have attended poetry
readings with me out of curiosity
came away with the overwhelming
impression that we were all “weird”.

(I’m still in therapy over that
particular statement, but I can
completely understand why they
got that impression. It IS highly
atypical to have the courage to stand in
front of strangers and perform art
which is often highly personal—
that simply doesn’t happen in
day-to-day life.)

Speaking roughly, there are three
groups of people: people who already
participate in poetry, people who are
not suited for or interested in art,
and people who have an interest in art
but are unaware of the poetry scene
in Southern California and uneducated
about poetry in general.

The community can expand with
infusions of talent from that third
group, but chasing after EVERYONE
is not realistic.

The vast majority of people are
simply NOT interested in poetry,
and that is their prerogative.

2009 Independent Spirit Awards should be retitled the Studio Boutique Division Awards.

I've watched over a half-hour of AMC's sanitized version of today's 2009 Independent Spirit Awards--and it's time for a profound change to be made.

Most winners tend to be the "independent" films that aren't shoestring-budget affairs but moderate-t0-big scale offerings which have recognizable mainstream actors and secure distribution deals with major studio boutique divisions (Sony Classics, Fox Searchlight, Universal's Focus Features, etc. etc.)

Cases in point so far include Penelope Cruz (Supporting Actress for VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA), James Franco (Best Supporting Actor for MILK) and Dustin Lance Black (First Screenplay for MILK).

As the Sundance festival inadvertently begat Slamdance, so must the Independent Spirit Awards split itself, amoeba-like into two categories. The larger-budget, star-and-"name"-behind-the-camera talent-driven films can compete for all the Spirits they wish. But a separate awards ceremony should be created to honor the achievements of actors, writers and directors making microbudget features/shorts--which get nonstudio distribution--in hopes of (for the most part) eventually receiving studio backing--where it becomes a bit more challenging to balance the worthy goal of artistic independence with turning a profit in the theatrical/video marketplaces.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Regarding President Obama: it may be time for lowered expectations.

I don't remember exactly where I read it during the 1980s; a quote that's returned to my mind today may have been in ADVERTISING WEEKLY or BARRON'S or THE WALL STREET JOURNAL or perhaps THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS.

Here's the quote: "You cannot penalize successful people."

And, regarding President Barack Obama's approach to people in danger of losing their homes, he seems to not want to penalize lenders all that much. Here's two articles from

Here's how I view the first month of the Obama Administration: Obama is being "business-friendly" and bending over backwards in the name of bipartisanship for the Republican Party, which, in turn, is still unrepentantly clanging away in Karl Rove/Rush Limbaugh scorch-the-earth propaganda mode--willing to dole out propaganda to the unthinking, preparing the party faithful for the Presidential clash-of-titans of Jeb Bush and Sarah Palin in the 2012 primaries.

The little people are having to wait their turn until the big people get their big money--and it's safe to say that Obama isn't emulating FDR (who wasn't shy about angering and challenging plutocrats during the Great Depression) all that much.

But there has been a fair amount of no-more-doing-it-George-Bush's-way symbolism to calm the public.

Regarding the War on Terror, however, Obama may maintain certain Bush policies--but (my guess) turn the volume down in hopes that the majority of Americans, worried about the horrible economy, won't pay much attention. Joan Walsh (someone I don't always agree with) of articulates this fear:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

William Friedkin becoming George Lucas: color-altered Blu-Ray DVDs of THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE EXORCIST.

Thanks to Jeffrey Wells of HOLLYWOOD ELSEWHERE for his coverage of William Friedkin's soon-to-be-released altered-color version of THE FRENCH CONNECTION on Blu-Ray DVD next Tuesday: and

For the most part, I was okay with George Lucas' 1997 revised versions of the original STAR WARS trilogy because Lucas had the chance to make alterations to include digital effects/enhancements unavailable to him when the original films were released. And, to his credit, Lucas has included the original release prints alongside the revised ones on recent DVD issues.

Unfortunately, it looks as if Friedkin and/or 20th Century Fox won't give the home viewer a chance to compare the original FRENCH CONNECTION and the revision. Only the "new" version will be available on Blu-Ray.

And it appears that Friedkin will try the same apporach with THE EXORCIST (due for Blu-Ray release late this year). Rumor has it that the "version you've never seen" which was released theatrically almost a decade ago will receive the recolorization treatment.

[UPDATE 2/18/09: Critic Glenn Kenny, best known for his stint at PREMIERE magazine, offers his opinion on the revised FRENCH CONNECTION on his SOME CAME RUNNING blog:]

[UPDATE 2/25/09: Owen Roizman, the cinematographer of THE FRENCH CONNECTION, is upset over Friedkin's visual alterations for the Blu-Ray disc:]

[UPDATE 3/3/09: Friedkin rebuts Roizman's negative opinion:]

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Update: I knew Nick Lowe when he used to rock and roll.

After last year's welcome reissue of JESUS OF COOL (retitled PURE POP FOR NOW PEOPLE in the U.S. by Columbia Records) one would think that the good folks of Yep Roc would have wanted to reissue Nick Lowe's second solo album LABOUR OF LUST (which contains his biggest hit "Cruel To Be Kind").

Not to be. Instead Yep Roc and Lowe give listeners a new double-disc best-of that goes heavy on the snoozy, look-what-a-great-balladeer-I-am later material (naturally from Lowe's Yep Roc catalog--saving lots of money on licensing the earlier, better songs).

[Here's a post on Lowe from last year:]

From a Yep Roc e-mail:
British songwriting icon Nick Lowe will release his definitive best of Quiet Please..The New Best of Nick Lowe on March 17, 2009.Quiet Please... is the definitive career spinning best of from the British pop genius that makes all other collections obsolete. The 49-track compendium documents the development of one of popular musics greatest song crafters, from his pub rock days in Brinsley Schwarz and later Rockpile, to his now legendary solo career. Healthy doses of material from 20 different albums combine to make it clear why Lowe is credited by artists and critics alike with paving the way for punk as well as changing the face of pop music with albums like Jesus of Cool, Labour of Lust and At my Age.The deluxe version of the set including DVD of nine original-era music videos for tracks like "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass," "Little Hitler," "Cruel to Be Kind" as well as a 2007 concert filmed live in Belgium, set the collection apart from standard best of's and into the realm of bona fide collector's items.

Here's the tracklisting:
(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love And Understanding

So It Goes

Heart Of The City

Endless Sleep

Marie Provost

I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass

Cracking Up

American Squirm

Cruel To Be Kind

Without Love

You Make Me

When I Write The Book

Play That Fast Thing (One More Time)



Raining Raining

Ragin' Eyes

Mess Around With Love

Wish You Were Here


Half A Boy And Half A Man

The Gee And The Rick And The Three Card Trick

The Rose Of England

I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock And Roll)

Wishing Well

Lovers Jamboree


All Men Are Liars

What's Shakin' On The Hill

Don't Think About Her

Fool Who Knows

Soulful Wind

The Beast In Me

I Live On A Battlefield

Shelley My Love

You Inspire Me

Lonesome Reverie

Faithless Lover

What Lack Of Love Has Done

Man That I've Become

Lately I've Let Things Slide


Has She Got A Friend?

Let's Stay In And Make Love

Indian Queens

I Trained Her To Love Me

People Change

Long Limbed Girl

Hope For Us All

[UPDATE 3/21/09: In retrospect, the Yep Roc set is probably a well-balanced set for those who want all sides of Lowe--but it's unlikely that older fans will want to listen to more than the first four songs of Disc 2 that often.]

If you want mature Anglophile balladry of the type Nick thinks he's doing, definitely buy Richard Hawley's COLES CORNER.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Joe Conason: advocating Bush officials pardon for telling "truth" about torture.

Joe Conason's been a reliable water-carrier for the Clintons over the past two decades--as well as a megaphone for whatever the centrist Democratic Leadership Council is espousing. Here's a link to Conason's recent column where he expresses disdain for Patrick Leahy's concept of a "truth and reconciliation" commission where Bush officials would speak openly about the culture of rendition/torture/aggressive "interrogations" of the past eight years; Conason would rather see President Obama emulate Gerald Ford and offer pardons to the Bushies--provided they'll tell the truth:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

When movie actors declare they're quitting movies.

From what I've been reading, Casey Affleck and allegedly-retiring-from-acting Joaquin Phoenix are filming a Sacha Baron Cohen/Andy Kaufman put-on documentary that includes, among other things, Phoenix' less-than-acclaimed Las Vegas debut as a hip-hop artist. And apparently towards that end, Phoenix appeared on LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN last night to plug his allegedly-final film TWO LOVERS:

The appearance (or at least the clips I watched on THE VIEW this morning) contained a giant dollop of bored, monotonal "I hate doing talk shows" attitude a la Kristen Stewart's drop-by on LETTERMAN to plug TWILIGHT (which can be found here at:

And, since the media attention span is quite small, no one recalls Phoenix's discomfort on THE TONIGHT SHOW in 2000 around the release of GLADIATOR--and the peevish response from Jay Leno. No documentary film crew on the set then.

About a decade ago, Liam Neeson (suffering burnout from doing back-to-back escapist, CGI-dependent fare such as STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE and the now semi-forgotten remake of THE HAUNTING) made similar threats to retire from film acting.

Thankfully, Neeson changed his mind (and may be on the verge of giving a potential career-highpoint performance as Abraham Lincoln for Steven Spielberg). And maybe Phoenix, after a year or two away from the inanities of mainstream show business, will consider doing the same.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A-Rod admits steroid use--cue the wide-eyed indignation.

While Madonna is doing a black-and-white photo layout for W magazine (which, from the few pictures I've seen, is unfortunately reminiscent of Susan Sarandon playing aging millionaire playgirl Doris Duke in the recent HBO movie BERNARD AND DORIS), New York Yankee Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez is doing what looks to be a "modified hangout" (to quote an old Watergate-era term regarding the doling out of just a little bit of truth) regarding use of illegal steroids.

Online commenters have fascinating things to say about the continuing use of performance-enhancing substances in professional baseball.

Here are a couple of choice two-cents-worth statements from the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED website, following a wire-service item from THE NEW YORK POST:
I just don't understand why people spend so much time worrying about A-Rod and what he took. If MLB didn't even have a rule against steroids, then how can you fault these guys for doing it? The blame should be on MLB not on the players, because players will do ANYTHING to give themselves a comtetitive advantage. Now if you were caught doing it AFTER a rule was put in place, then you're a cheater, but if it happened before hand then what can you really say???I think that everyone who is getting their panties in a bunch over this really needs to GET A LIFE!! Personally, i feel that any grown man spending ANY amount of time worrying about other grown men, is kinda suspect anyway... Just shut up and watch the games. Who cares about the other stuff anyway!

Every time someone else admits to taking steroids, it makes it easier for the next guy. That's the good news. The only way this whole story will come out is if the people who were responsible feel that the stigma is beginning to break down. When it's a hundred guys instead of three, you'll be surprised by how quickly the outrage evaporates.

Log on here for a diverse set of opinions about the man now known as A-Roid:

[UPDATE 2/11/09] An article from Tim Marchman on

Plus an article arguing for a "Truth and Reconciliation" commission to "wipe the slate clean" regarding past steroid use:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Processing random moments of Grammy ceremony 2009.

1. Mrs. Coldplay (aka Gwyneth Paltrow) introducing Radiohead.
2. (tie) I'd thought I'd never live to see Queen Latifah having to prompt the crowd to applaud Dean Martin getting a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Grammy--much less Stevie Wonder getting visually drowned out by end credits/promos on the telecast.
3. Katy Perry's performance of "I Kissed A Girl"--proving that most other current female stars (ranging from Lily Allen to Estelle to Jennifer Hudson and even to Taylor "I want to be Shania in the worst way" Swift) make up in talent what they may lack in terms of Ms. Perry's gorgeous hollowness and status as the co-savior (along with Coldplay) of EMI.
4. Radiohead's surprisingly effective version of "15 Steps" with accompaniment by some USC Marching Band members.
5. Paul McCartney and Neil Diamond seemingly getting less time--combined--than Kid Rock did.
6. The New Orleans tribute. Definitely a highpoint.
7. The Bo Diddley tribute--which makes me wish John Mayer would do nothing but release instrumental blues-guitar records.
8. The female pop/soul torch being passed from a blurry-eyed Whitney Houston to Jennifer Hudson.
9. The end of any hopes for a Led Zeppelin reunion tour--with deserved Grammys to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss for RAISING SAND.
10. As he ages, music legend T Bone Burnett (who produced RAISING SAND) looks more and more like William Randolph Hearst.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A coda of sorts to the Christian Bale controversy..

By now, the furor surrounding Christian Bale's long-ago profane outburst (aimed at cinematographer Shane Hurlbut) on the set of TERMINATOR: SALVATION has subsided (much to the relief of the fanboy sites, who are probably scared to keep mentioning it lest Warner Brothers get mad and deny them access to scoops).

Awhile back, I was an extra and stand-in, and there are stories I could tell about actors, directors, assistant directors and one particular cinematographer in various states of apoplectic rage (a couple of times that rage was aimed at me).

One anecdote I can mention is: On the Malibu set of a TV-movie starring Jackee Harry (227, SISTER SISTER), an extra (thankfully, not me) missed a cue. The director (probably best known for the original PROM NIGHT with Jamie Lee Curtis) ran out onto the set after "cut" was called. He screamed at the extra: YOU BLEW THE SHOT!!!!!!! I could see crew members looking at each other, aware that the shoot (in its early days) was going to be an endurance test.

Needless to say, the extra didn't care for that kind of treatment, walked off the set--and presumably he got his pay voucher, was taken back to his car and drove away from the whole megillah. I don't remember ever seeing him again on a set in the remaining seven years I worked in the business.

Sometimes, people working on film/TV projects will blow up at someone they perceive as inept and/or unattentive and then apologize afterwards. Other times, they opt for cruel insults (usually in front of the crew) in a normal tone of voice--perhaps along with firing on the spot or a "you won't work with me again" taunt (another Bale tactic).

Regarding the Bale situation, numerous people have argued that we don't know the full context of what happened before and after the outburst. And, now that Bale has offered a public apology regarding the incident, any further questions are likely to be put to rest.

Finally, an irony that went unmentioned during the past week's media tempest: Bale, when filming the 3:10 TO YUMA remake over two years ago, was apparently an even-tempered good guy in his dealings with the crew. And this was over the course of a shoot that involved Russell Crowe, whose past tantrums will go unmentioned here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Critic/commentator Dave White on Steve Martin's recent film career.

To add to the above, here's this zinger of an opener from THE ORLANDO SENTINEL's Roger Moore in his review of THE PINK PANTHER 2 [full disclosure: I thought the first film surprisingly not bad--certainly better than the long-running series' nadir, Blake Edwards' 1993 son-of-Clouseau swansong with Roberto Benigni]:
Someday, we'll stroll through the Steve Martin Wing of The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, admiring his collection, and we'll appreciate what he had to do to pay for his Picassos, Seurats and Edward Hoppers.
Until then, we endure the Cheaper by the Dozens and Pink Panthers with a grimace, remembering the comic he once was.

Although Martin's now the Bob Hope of his generation, perhaps it's better that he's making formula comedies than preserving his high-art muse on film--considering what a dry, parched endurance test that SHOPGIRL (based on Martin's novella of the same name) was.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Matt Taibbi on Tom Daschle--written long before Daschle's tax problems.

Something to read in the wake of Tom Daschle's resignation as President Obama's health-care czar and his withdrawal from Secretary of Health and Human Services nomination due to tax payment problems:

The mainstream media doesn't seem to want to dig as deep as Taibbi in terms of Daschle's past record as an advocate for the health insurance companies' keep-things-as-they-are policies.

Instead, there's some wailing today about how Obama's health-care "reform" is being imperiled by the Daschle resignation. Here's the Associated Press' Jennifer Loven:

Sportswriter in flames over Michael Phelps' pot smoke.

No comment except to say that this kind of cultural conservative "you must be a nonsinning role model 24/7/365" hysteria will probably eclipse a recent TMZ scoop about Miley Cyrus and some of her posse pulling their eyelids back to enact the timeless dumb and demeaning stereotype of Asians:

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I'm now a member of the Bad Review Club!

It's been a banner fortnight for bad reviews of artistic output. First, Bruce Springsteen took a fair amount of flak for his latest album WORKING ON A DREAM being, in some critics' viewpoints, little more than nonessential pop music with subpar lyrics. Then, Ron Rosenbaum (a critic/essayist I used to read when he still wrote for THE NEW YORK OBSERVER) weighed in on with an angry takedown of Billy artist who basically said good bye to pop/rock in 1993 and surfaces only occasionally to do play-the-old-songs tours either by himself or with Elton John. Rosenbaum christens Joel as "The Worst Pop Singer Ever" here:

And then, it became my turn.

G. Murray Thomas, who used to publish the NEXT poetry-reviews-and-events-calendar magazine, now is a reviewer for Recently, he reviewed a chapbook of mine called YELLOW TREE RED SKY. The review can be found at this link, along with deserved praise for a chapbook by Pasadena's Mary Torregrossa and a peeved, he's-coasting take on Billy Collins' recent BALLISTICS:

This is the first time I've experienced an in-print review of a book of mine--and if Murray had given it boundless praise, I would have written a blog column about it too.

Essentially, Murray disliked the book overall, while offering some praise for a couple of poems and meant-to-be-constructive criticism (which, whether taken or discarded, should always be welcomed by reviewees).

But it seems like one particular poem in the book caused an inflammation of discomfort in Murray. The poem is called "it's not just you" and I'll reprint it here:

it’s not just you

I read the news today, oh boy
about the lucky poetry venues
that made the grade
it made me kind of sad
to know you ushered me in
ten years ago
and are now letting me and others know
about the poetry venues
that are too highfalutin
for cheap entertainers like me
I remember a lot of poets
no longer active on the scene
(or in some cases not on the scene at all)
who were mainstays ten years ago
now even if a few of them came back
they probably wouldn’t be accepted
in the new poetic order
it’s not just you that’s making things clear to me
I’ve been told to get educated
and upgrade my craft to be taken seriously
but I like being a cheap entertainer
and committing the sin of being easy to understand
so it’s time for me to go quietly
into that gentle night
reserved for sig rumanns and margaret dumonts
declaiming into microphones

about their hot new pantoums
as the audiences go
mmm, mmm, mmmm
in approval
if it doesn’t make most hosts
and some audiences go
mmm, mmm, mmmm
it just isn’t poetry anymore

[The poem makes a brief reference to a column Murray wrote citing favorite LA/OC poetry venues: ]

Now, let's print a few excerpts from the review to examine Murray's references to this poem:
Terry McCarty is up front about his ambitions for his poetry. In “it’s not just you” he states “I like being a cheap entertainer/ and committing the sin of being easy to understand.” This would seem a pretty easy ambition to live up to.

Yes, he is easy to understand. There is not a single poem here where I wondered, for even a second, what the poem was about. (With the possible exception of “shya lebuff,’ but that’s only because I’m not up on my pop culture -- who is Shya Lebuff anyway?) That’s fine. I’m not one who considers being easy to understand a sin in poetry. In fact, I believe that the audience should be given, at the very least, an understandable entrance into a poem.

However, if a poet makes being easy to understand their ultimate goal, he or she is usually in trouble. More on that in a minute.

But in all his poems, he refuses to go very deep. His poems skim across the surfaces of his subjects. Also in “its not just you,” he writes “I’ve been told to get educated/ and upgrade my craft to be taken seriously,” an option he rejects in favor of being the aforementioned “cheap entertainer.” While it would be easy to read this as mere laziness, I prefer to take him at his word —that his ambitions like somewhere other than “well-crafted” poems. But he seems to have confused depths of meaning with craft, and rejected it as well. The result is he prevents himself from even hitting his own modest goal.

If McCarty doesn’t want to make his audiences think, I guess that’s okay, But if that is the case, I do wonder why he’s writing poetry.

Philosophical differences aside, I do like the poetry of Murray's I've read and even recommend his one sold-in-regular-bookstores-and-Amazon compilation COWS ON THE FREEWAY.

[And, for some further context as to Murray's poetry ideals, here's a rave review for Milo Martin (ex-Onyx reading host) by Murray in this column from November of last year:]

But I do take some exception to being called lazy (even if its just an inference) and having questions put to me as to "why" I'm writing poetry.

When I began going to open-mikes almost eleven years ago, there were coffeehouse and independent bookstore readings that made room for just about everything, like a variety show: "serious" literary poetry, traditional rhyme-and-meter verse, monologues, stand-up comedy, musicians, etc. etc. And Murray seems to have cast his lot with the hosts and influential poets in LA/OC that seem to think that only "serious" poetry should be allowed with the other subsets I mentioned above actively and/or tacitly discouraged.

I remember a few years ago at the Moonday reading at Village Books in Pacific Palisades when, after reading on the open-mike, Holaday Mason (a well-known L.A. literary poet) performed her five minutes. The late Anne Silver (then a Moonday co-host) spent a minute or two copiously praising Holaday for her work--and, to me, the message was ultraclear; I was too depth-free and craft-poor for such a distinguished reading. I got Ms. Silver's message--and never returned to the reading again.

Time to say it again: for poetry to flourish--particularly at a time when there will be renewed jeers over the idea of the arts being essential in a near-Depression economy--a big tent needs to be pitched.

It's not to be expected that all poetry will be to the liking of everyone--tastemakers, professional/amateur poets or civilians who prefer merely to attend.

But at some point the "poetry community" needs to stop pushing the poetry-eugenics nonsense that poems should be nothing more than gilded creations engineered to be admired for their complexity and intricacy--sort of like building a scale model of the QUEEN MARY in a Sparkletts jug or (to steal a phrase from the late Robert Mitchum) construct a replica of the Taj Mahal from matchsticks.

Otherwise, there's going to be an increase in boring, arid, intended-more-to-impress-than-enlighten-or-even-stoop-to-entertain "craft-conscious" word art which will likely go unremembered a month from now--let alone a decade or even a century.

[UPDATE 2/4/09: Here's an example of what I described in the last paragraph. One of Robert Pinsky's weekly poetry picks for SLATE:]

Re the anger at greedy corporate execs--it won't do much good.

I liked this column by Maureen Dowd that appears in today's NEW YORK TIMES:

And it is rather pitiful that the corporate/Wall Street CEOs/majordomos are hunkering down, determined to hang on to what they feel are hard-won perks (lavish expense accounts, fit-for-a-monarch living and working quarters, superplush personal jets--not to forget multimegamillions of parting gifts in cash/stock options) while the public gets poor products, abysmal customer service and, in certain cases, going-out-of-business sales to digest.

[UPDATE 2/3/09: Wells Fargo, after taking over Wachovia and receiving bailout money, plans a lavish employee party in Las Vegas:]

[UPDATE 2/4/09: Wells Fargo, after an outcry of protest, canceled the party:]

Recently, I read a laudatory profile of Barney Frank in THE NEW YORKER. Frank optimistically predicted an economic recovery by 2010 (presumably before the midterm elections).

If such a recovery takes place on Frank's schedule, I'm assuming that America will return to doing business in the same old ways it did prior to the Wall Street meltdown of this past September.

And, once again, cretins like Jack "GE" Welch will feel comfortable enough to spout tough-guy downsizing palaver in books and over the airwaves.