Monday, August 30, 2010

Kids repeat the darnedest things their parents/relatives say.

Overheard some children talking around the swimming pool of our townhouse complex today.

Topics included a returning war vet (Iraq?) killing himself and family--the child saying this didn't know why it would happen since "he [the vet] should be glad to be back in the United States."

Another child wondered aloud whether World War III (nuclear war, if I heard the child correctly) would begin if Israel were to bomb Iran.

This is the world according to Canoga Park, CA children on August 30, 2010.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Epigraph--"A leader has to lead people somewhere." from Francis Coppola's film RUMBLE FISH (1983)


When I joined the poetry army,

I should have remembered

that an army is an army
no matter whether it fights
with words or weapons.

No insubordination.

Keep your mouth shut.
Follow the leaders

at any given moment--

no, make that

at every given moment.
Take the morsel of bread;
the leaders think enough of you
not to leave you completely hungry.

I must have received

the wrong training manual.

I show too much mercy

to those poetry privates

considered mediocre

when I should be stabbing away

with my bayonet forged from

the steel of superior talent

(for excellence to thrive).

But at the same time

I'm expected to cull out the lower orders,

I must realize

that only the generals and colonels

in the poetry army

are allowed to denigrate everyone below them.

Any challenge to the officers

always leads to the firing squad.

I'm too in love

with the posibility of promotion

to resign my commission.

So I keep my mouth shut.

So I freeze my too-tender heart.

So I obey orders both good and bad

and get with the program

(which changes every few years)

led by whatever current general

that's been elected

by the temporary whim

of the Joint Chiefs of Verse

at the Pentagon of Art.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

And now, it's time for me to be shunned by Jaimes Palacio, Orange County poet/host..

Imagine Elton John's "Funeral For A Friend" playing as you read this.

Jaimes Palacio, someone of importance in the Orange County poetry community, has now shunned me.  He unfriended me on Facebook--apparently because of the blog post below the one you're reading now (which I also put onto Facebook).

Here's my comment: I thought up until now that Jaimes and I were at least acquaintances, appreciated him and his poems and I have never given him any choose-me-or-them conditions re friendship during the decade I knew him. Time for a chorus of Taps.

[POSTSCRIPT 8/30/2010: At least I'm not banned from Jaimes' readings at Gypsy Den Grand Central in Santa Ana.  But otherwise, whatever there was is over now.]

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Orange's Ugly Mug and the 10th anniversary of Two Idiots Peddling Poetry reading.

Printing these review excerpts from the Ugly Mug page on
"yep, the owner's a jerk. what's worse, is i went to open mic to read poetry and i felt like i stepped into a family gathering where i wasn't invited. not your open, creative, accepting environment , but a group of self serving, snobby people who don't welcome newcomers and instead of actually reading poetry, they stand on stage to grab attention and hear themselves speak. coffee's bad, too. there are much better places to go. save yourself from a bad aftertaste of coffee and people."

"I appreciate that the Ugly Mug supports creativity. Many of the poets I've heard there are very talented, as well. Unfortunately, during multiple visits, I have felt like an unwanted guest in somebody's home. Sometimes it feels a bit like an "in" clique and if you're not in, you're out."

"It's a real shame that the guy that runs this place has the biggest, baddest attitude I have ever met. At first I thought he was one of those guys that acted like a curmudgeon, because it amused him. Hey, that's funny and cool in a perverse way. Sadly, it doesn't take long for one to figured out that... it isn't an act."

And, especially after reading these three comments, to think I wasted time (and probably took a month off my lifespan from the stress) trying to get back in the good graces of the owner and the hosts--something that won't ever happen due to their pride and stubbornness and my one big sin committed way back in 2004.

Moral: Offend the owner and/or hosts, and be prepared for a lifetime ban. Trust me, Phil the owner doesn't kid about these things.

Obviously, I was lucky to have four years of acquaintanceship with Steve Ramirez (didn't know Ben Trigg very well at all during that period)--and, before I caused myself to Walk The Plank, I was also blessed with being considered good enough to feature (based on my open-reading performance), before my talent level became screened out of consideration.

And, during these half-dozen years of banishment, I was hoping to at least be admitted to watch and learn from the higher level of poets featuring there.

It wasn't and isn't to be.  Phil the owner behaves like Craig T. Nelson's high school football coach in ALL THE RIGHT MOVES--and Steve and Ben just don't want to deal with the situation (and they have prominent poetry community friends/enablers like G. Murray Thomas, who scolded me backchannel on their behalf awhile back).

Essentially, the poetry community will stand up for progressive causes and people facing alleged Unjust Accusations (i.e. the Free Mumia movement going on in the late 90s when I began reading in coffeehouses).  But they, by and large, will not risk their comfort and social standing to associate with unpopular poets, or--egad--speak up on their behalf.

There's a limit to how righteous a poet can be.

Rosanne Cash--tight-lipped conscious artiste--on her new autobiography.,0,628983.story

Salient passages from Randy Lewis' on-bended-knee profile of Ms. Cash:
"It's just not in my nature to air grievances in public — I find the whole trend deeply appalling," Cash, 55, said during a swing through the Southland recently that included readings and book signings at a couple of area stores.

I had a great model in my father about this very thing," Cash says. She flew to Paris in 2005 upon the release of the James Mangold-directed biopic "Walk the Line." Despite the wide acclaim Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon received for their portrayals of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, Rosanne recoiled from the film's Hollywood-style portrayal of her mother — Johnny Cash's first wife — Vivian Liberto.

"My father could be incredibly self-destructive and in a lot of psychic pain, and he would never, ever, ever blame anyone else — or purposely hurt someone, or take it out on someone," she said. "To me that defines integrity."

Shame on me.  I'm too human, not as self-consciously artistic as Ms. Cash--and I can't afford to fly off to Paris just because I don't want deal with pesky journalists asking about the real Johnny Cash versus the biopic WALK THE LINE.

Rephrasing the last phrase above: I can't afford to fly to Paris anytime I have to face something difficult.  I just stay home and deal with it--or fail to deal with it--like the other plebians Ms. Cash seems (to my mind) to want to briskly avoid in her comfortable life.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Writing that moved me almost to tears.

Putting my regular feelings for Victor Infante to one side to reprint this moving passage he recently wrote in a tribute to a comatose friend of his (highlighting by me):
"But I keep thinking back to that 16-year-old kid I used to be, and remembering that slow, piecemeal decision to make myself into the person I wanted to be, and realizing that what I'm feeling in that anger is the kid who was hurting a lot from a lifetime of early losses, who didn't know how to stand up for himself and didn't feel he had anything worth standing up for. And sometimes, when the world seems intent on putting you in what it feels is your place, intent on belittling your work and essentially eroding hard-won self-respect, it seems so easy to just lash out again, to start throwing punches. But that's a dead end. I knew it when I was 16, and I know it now. At 16, I found places to put that anger, to make it work for me. And maybe I need to find that again. "Anger," as John Lydon once sang, "is an energy." "

The complete post can be found at

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When anger and resentment go too far: film critic bans commenter for salacious remark about the former's personal life.

Precis of the events you will read about below:
LexG is a gadfly (working in the post-production part of the film Industry) who posts to a lot of film blogs (including Jeffrey Wells' HOLLYWOOD ELSEWHERE--where I post as well).  Lex has a horndog persona (in LexG world, Megan Fox and Kristen Stewart are the Ultimate Women)--occasionally, he'll say something fairly interesting and cogent.  But he's an acquired taste for most.
Glenn Kenny used to be a film critic for PREMIERE magazine; now his reviews can be read on  Glenn has a blog called SOME CAME RUNNING, where Lex was a commenter until recently.
Two years ago, Glenn played a small and memorable role as an adult-film critic in Steven Soderbergh's THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, which starred adult-film actress Sasha Grey.  In a fit of lack-of-manners, Lex wrote a somewhat offensive remark regarding Glenn (and somehow relating to Ms. Grey), which I won't quote here.  Lex's banishment came afterwards.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When poets are treated too much like royalty.

Part of the purpose of my writing this blog is to expose nonpoets to how poetry communities (or at least the ones in Los Angeles and Orange County) carry out their tribal business.

Rick Lupert is a much-lauded poet from Los Angeles.  And, for better or worse, his every book is wildly praised (whether the book in question happens to merit it or not).  And, also for better or worse, he's hosted a reading for quite a long time in Canoga Park (plus the almost-as-long-running Poetry SuperHighway site), giving him Important Person status.

Regarding Rick as a poet, I think his best books (I'M A JEW, ARE YOU?, LIZARD KING OF THE LAUNDROMAT, MOWING FARGO, FEEDING HOLY CATS) are pretty much behind him.  But, admittedly, a great "selected poems" volume could be compiled of his best post-FARGO work.

But one is not supposed to say these things about Rick Lupert in public because 98% of the poetry community thinks of him as a lovable, funny I-riff-on-myself-and-those-around-me poet, a Nice Guy and as someone whose favor is courted by poets.
Unlike some, I can have two minds about certain people.  As a poet-entertainer, Rick's to be admired for quick wit and great timing and delivery.  I'm a bit more dubious about the merits of kissing his feet, though.

And, between Marie Lecrivain and G. Murray Thomas' recent bouquets of rapture for Rick's WE PUT THINGS IN OUR MOUTHS, I'm cynical enough to think at least part of this praise is motivated by poetry politics and wanting to be "in" with the Nice Important Guy.

In closing, I know it's an occupational hazard for poets to review the books of their friends.  I just wish that, if they refuse to recuse themselves, they can at least maintain some respectful distance (praising what's good and being tactfully analytical of what doesn't quite work).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Something that all of us in the poetry community are guilty of.

A couple of nights ago, I went to see a poet at a venue in Los Angeles.  He doesn't do features very often, so I wanted to take advantage of this rare opportunity to see him.

Unfortunately, the turnout was small.  And, I'm assuming that part of the reason was that some of the poet's friends/colleagues don't go or don't want to go to that venue.  And the poet featuring there wasn't going to be enough for those friends/colleagues to make a one-time exception.

This happens a lot.

People don't go to poetry venues for one or more of these reasons:
A. Dislike of the host/hosts
B. Not wanting to travel a long distance
C. Start time of the reading being too early/too late
D. Perception of the venue as being "bad" or "uncool" or insufficiently literate
E. Perception of the venue as being unappreciative of their poetry
F. Dislike of the host/hosts' choice of features

If you're a poet in LA/OC, you've probably nixed going to venues (at one time or another) for at least three of the reasons listed above.

SCOTT PILGRIM, Edgar Wright and Michael Cera.

I give the Edgar Wright-directed (previous credits include SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ) graphic-novel-to-screen adaptation SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD **1/2 on a scale of ****.  Enjoyed it up to a point (including Kieran Culkin's amazing homage to Hank Azaria), but was a bit irritated by Wright and his DP's choice to stage and shoot the film in slam-everyone-against-the-frame 1.85 to 1 (or "flat") ratio for the most part.

As for Michael Cera, it will be interesting to see if his screen/TV career evolves into that of his spiritual father Andrew McCarthy.  I'm probably the only person on planet Earth who prefers Cera in Miguel Arteta's YOUTH IN REVOLT to Cera in SCOTT PILGRIM.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Richard Brody on ISHTAR--and critiquing a certain type of arts' criticism.

I saw the Warren Beatty/Dustin Hoffman/Elaine May comedy ISHTAR on its underperforming opening weekend in the late spring of 1987 (the film's large budget had already been cluck-clucked about in the pre-Internet entertainment media and audiences were conditioned to expect the HEAVEN'S GATE of cinematic comedy).  It's not the classic that May's A NEW LEAF and THE HEARTBREAK KID still are, but there are enough genuinely funny moments (greatly aided by Charles Grodin's supporting turn as a CIA agent) to make it worth seeking out (apparently, it's on Netflix' film-streaming service and there's a rumor of Sony releasing it to DVD next year).

Richard Brody, who writes for THE NEW YORKER's website, has a significant difference of opinion with the late Pauline Kael's take on ISHTAR:
"Kael had her categories set, knew what comedy was, knew who comedians were and weren’t, didn’t see the film for what it was but for the expectations [due to its partial desert setting, Kael was anticipating an update of the Hope/Crosby/Lamour ROAD TO...formula] it didn’t meet. That’s a review of advertising and of publicity and of self, not of a movie."

Substitute your favorite poetry critic's name and the word "poetry" for "comedy".  And you have a good precis of most criticism of poetry.

[In another online piece, Brody discusses his concept of criticism by comparing it to poet Philip Larkin's I-hate-that-modern-jazz review of jazz music: "...the critic isn’t the one who—as Larkin thinks—takes the resistant, the recondite, the rebarbative, and reproaches his readers for not enjoying it, nor even only the prophet who sees the future of art in its present tense, but, rather, is something of an aristocrat of taste who helps audiences share in the appreciation—the enjoyment—of finer and rarer pleasures. It’s not a job of convincing or persuading; the true modernist is not a village explainer or a professorial explicator but an ecstatic enthusiast who experiences art with a passionate identification apt for a democratic age in which the artist is the uncrowned king or queen."  The complete article can be found at:  Although an
irony is that Brody's explanation tends to match up--particularly the "passionate identification" phrase--with how Kael approached her job as NEW YORKER film critic.]

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Squeeze's SPOT THE DIFFERENCE--re-recording your old songs to make more money off them.

There's a mini-trend going on with bands of a certain age: the re-recording of old songs to rake in more money (presumably from song publishing and royalties).  In some cases such as Simply Red's SIMPLIFY or the recent Spandau Ballet reunion album, the songs at least get re-arranged.

And then there's Squeeze's SPOT THE DIFFERENCE.  It's an album of songs that have appeared on most or all of the band's other compilations--and the songs are intended, unfortunately, to be as sound-like-the-originals as possible.

Presuming that Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford may not have wanted to collaborate on new songs to add to the chestnuts on SPOT.  And perhaps Tilbrook wanted to throw some financial support to his two bandmates from The Fluffers who fill the keyboard and drum slots in the resurrected Squeeze (which played a double-bill with Dave Wakeling's English Beat tribute band at Gibson Ampitheatre last week).

But for longtime Squeeze fans, SPOT is rather a letdown (though the songs are as well-played as the first time around in the recording studio).

Obviously, the opportunity was squandered for a more creative approach: re-record some of the lesser-known items from Squeeze's catalog.  Good songs such as "By Your Side" (marred by a cluttered arrangement on COSI FAN TUTTI FRUTTI) and "When The Hangover Strikes" (marred by overproduction on SWEETS FROM A STRANGER) could have been resurrected for the band's old and new audiences.  And all five members of the current Squeeze would have still received paydays.

But my conception of a perfect new-old Squeeze album looks like a forever-lost opportunity.  Alas.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Trying to wrap my mind around this poetry paradox.

Trying to wrap my mind around the spectacle of a poet whose best poem was about literary rejection (with a "then I wrote a poem about it" closer) now taking the stances he does (essentially wanting to ditch his previous strengths to chase a concept of "acceptance" by others). And most of the community cheers him on for doing so.

Currently, the POETIC DIVERSITY webzine is (I guess) on hiatus; in the current environment, it would suit it well to resurface with the new title POETIC UNIFORMITY.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

If you want validation for your poetry in the L.A. "community", you're likely to starve to death.

I don't remember the exact quote at this moment, but Lillian Hellman said something still-resonant about the House Un-American Activities Committee (and testifying before it): "I do not believe in cutting my conscience to fit this year's fashions."

Don Kingfisher Campbell was panned by G. Murray Thomas awhile back in the electronic pages of  Don apparently found it important for Murray to look at a subsequent volume of poetry so Mr. Thomas could evaluate whether or not Mr. Campbell had improved sufficiently.

The results are here (reviews for August 2010):

Speaking for myself, I'm beginning to find the search for validation from members of the Los Angeles/Orange County poetry communities by way of accolades-in-print to be something as hollow as a Cadbury chocolate Easter bunny.

The LA/OC communities can often be layered with egotism, posturing, punishing enemies and chasing what's currently the coin of the realm (in the 90s, it was the strength/articulation of one's political activism; now, it's MFA-craziness, evidenced by the buzzphrase "sufficient imagery or metaphor").

If one does subscribe to the slogan "LONG LIVE SUFFICIENT IMAGERY AND METAPHOR!  NO FLAT STATEMENTS EVER!", then perhaps it's best to submit your poems or chapbooks to other learned poets/reviewers outside Southern California (be it for literary review or contest consideration).

That way, you can be assured of a review--good or harsh--free of bias, favoritism and/or the reviewer following the trend of the moment or the temporal self-appointed "leader."

Adding this statement I wrote on Facebook earlier today:
I'm sorry to be the odd person out but I don't think anyone should give Murray the keys to the Poetry Oracle-mobile. During the dozen years I've been involved with poetry, I've seen tectonic shifts in what's considered au courant. I don't think that Don's poetry needs to be put in a context where it does battle with Peggy's for Murray's monthly crown. There's validity to both of their approaches--and, ideally, a reviewer should evaluate in terms of how successful each is in what he/she is striving for. Not this nonsense of "layers of meaning" and metapnors and imagery thrown around as look-at-me tinsel.