Monday, June 30, 2014

A poetry-related comment akin to "loose lips sink ships."

A poet said this to me in the midst of a difference of opinion between the two of us:  "I dedicate my work in the community to lifting boats, not sinking them."

And it says something about the desire of many in the poetry community to have people on the same page in public on poetic standards and the importance of following hierarchy to the letter.

But if most people agree on not allowing dissenting uttered-in-public opinions (just noticed a Facebook poetry discussion group where you can "exercise beauty and celebrate free speech" once you're approved to join by its moderator, who also cautions "don't be a dick") it's difficult to parse the logic that the temple of Poetry Community is so fragile that disagreement on certain subjects by the few, or the one, will cause the temple to collapse and crumble.

In short, the boat of Majority Opinion will always float--regardless of what other people may tell you.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Link to Glenn Kenny blog post ("How Do You Think It Feels") that's worth reading.

Whether or not you know the writings of film critic/blogger Glenn Kenny (who used to write for the now-defunct US version of PREMIERE magazine and is now a contributor to Roger Ebert's website, this is a really worthwhile, thoughtful piece where Kenny examines past animosities towards some of his peers and his efforts to make amends.

Some sentences that resonate for me:
I also had some idea that it was my duty to call bullshit on everyone who I thought was propagating bullshit.

I can still be fairly intemperate, online, in person, wherever. Every day I try to be better about it, to use my wits, such as they are, for constructive purposes. But I’m in no position to pat myself on the back. I am in a position to state that my past behavior, of which my nasty baiting of Emily Gould was only a small part, cost me, and it cost me across the board, in terms of reputation, professional and personal, and other things that you can probably guess. And I earned the cost.

When you’re a drunk, and have some facility for words, and things aren’t going so great for you, you can read something and infer that the writer’s situation is better than your own, and it can throw you into a frothing bloody rage. You think, “Why is the world paying attention to this NOBODY?” or “why is this NOBODY making more money than I am?” and “why isn’t this NOBODY beset with paralyzing depression and fear like he or she deserves to be instead of me?” and so on, and then because you fancy yourself a critic or a perspicacious observer of the cultural scene, you mold these resentments into a theory that there is something VERY WRONG with the culture and that the person you hate is the one responsible for that thing being very wrong.

Speaking for myself, I'm not quite in the place Glenn Kenny has been.  My (as Kenny would put it) "resentments and disappointments" haven't been fueled by alcohol, since I don't drink.  They've been formed from observation and personal experience.  And, akin to Kenny's relationship to East Coast literary/journalistic peers, I've been guilty of finding certain men and women now and formerly in the Southern California poetry community to be poster children for vanity, ill-treatment-of-others-professionally-personally, egotism and public boorishness.  In certain cases, my opinion of some of these people may never change.  But I do have to grudgingly accept that I have unnecessarily alienated several people in the community that extended some degree of friendship/graciousness towards me.

Having admitted this, I also need to state how difficult it is for me to make amends or be permanently forgiving when certain people in the poetry community either created or cheered on an anonymous website meant to goad and humiliate me--plus harassing me into ceasing the blog you're reading now.  That's not "community" behavior, no matter how one might justify it.  Instead, it's the equivalent of the scene in the original CAPE FEAR (1962), where Gregory Peck crouches behind a dumpster to watch two men (hired by him) beat up the threatening, villainous-in-many-ways character played by Robert Mitchum.

The present conundrum for me is to figure out how to speak out (when I feel occasions demand it) about unnecessary inequity, dubious behavior and diminishing opportunities in the LA/OC/LBC community without adding my name to more Enemies Lists.  In a way, this approaches the rigor of balancing equations in high school Chemistry.

If you've been following me on this blog (or when I contributed to various listserves), hopefully you believe that my level of vitriol has decreased markedly over the past decade.

If not, please use the comment section to speak up--using your own name.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

RIP Eli Wallach.

Two clips from Eli Wallach's performance, as Tuco in Sergio Leone's THE GOOD,  THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1967):

Wallach and Marilyn Monroe in THE MISFITS (1961), written by Arthur Miller and directed by John Huston:

Wallach receiving his honorary Oscar at the 2010 Governors' Awards:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

John Waters explains why there are no more John Waters movies.

The  eternally subversive filmmaker/essayist/author in an excerpt from an INDIEWIRE interview with  Nigel M. Smith:
Smith: In the best that could happen portion, a fan loans you five million dollars to make a new film. Is money what's holding you back from following up "A Dirty Shame"?
Waters: Yes. It's not just me. David Lynch hasn’t made a film in years.
They all want it to cost under a million dollars and I’m not doing that. I can’t do that anymore. I can’t go backwards. I don’t want to be a faux underground filmmaker. I have no desire to do that. I like writing books just as much as making movies. They pay better these days. It’s not so different from a movie. You got the character, you have the plot. The difference is you don’t have to worry about how much it’s going to cost. And you can sell it to the movies [laughs].

The full interview, where Waters discusses his new book CARSICK, can be found here:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Another true poetry story.

As I listen to the Steve Baratta tribute on, I can't help but remember this  brief anecdote:
Steve didn't get a lot of features at  LA area poetry venues, regrettably, in the era when many more of them existed.  And there was one time when a then-Big host of a well-attended venue offered him a feature--and then reneged on his promise.

Apparently, the host's ego and hubris mattered more than showing respect and support to Steve--who was a loyal venue regular.

To paraphrase Joni Mitchell said in "Big Yellow Taxi", we don't know (or realize) what we have until it's too late.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Eight mostly obscure Guilty Pleasure movies.

Check YouTube and/or IMDB for further information and possible clips.

In no specific order:
1. BUNNY O'HARE (1971)--Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine as aging bank robbers who disguise themselves as hippies to pull off jobs in the Southwest.
2. THE MANITOU (1978)--One of the great unintended comedy classics, with Susan Strasberg as a woman with a mysterious growth on her neck, which turns out to be something Evil.  Also starring Tony Curtis, Ann Sothern and Michael Ansara.
3. THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN (1956)--Lon Chaney, Jr. as criminal "The Butcher" brought back to life by electricity.  Partially filmed in the old Bunker Hill neighborhood of Downtown Los Angeles. 
4. A BULLET FOR PRETTY BOY (1970)--American International-released, 1930s-period gangster film with Fabian (billed as "Fabian Forte") as Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd.
5. SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1975)--From cult director Jack Hill (best known for the Pam Grier films COFFY and FOXY BROWN), a lively drive-in film about a female gang.  Features the great line "It's gonna be baaaaaad."  Rescued from oblivion by Quentin Tarantino during his Rolling Thunder reissue period (aided by Miramax).
6. BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY (1979)--The pilot for the campy (only during its first season) NBC/Universal sci-fi series with Gil Gerard, Erin Gray and Pamela Hensley, given a brief theatrical release a few months before its telecast--with some mildly risqué dialogue ("I'm freezing my ball bearings off"--Twiki the robot) added to ensure a PG rating.
7. WHITE COMANCHE (1968)--Spanish/German Western with William Shatner in the title role.
8. GUNS OF A STRANGER (1973)--Western with occasional song interludes starring Marty Robbins as The Drifter, with supporting cast including veteran Chill Wills and Dovie Beams--the latter known for being the mistress of the late Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

When poets use friendship with other poets as excuse to punish poets.

In a way, my ongoing Ugly Mug banishment (and my various--sometimes pleas for forgiveness, sometimes open irritation at the situation stretching out for years) could be compared to the principal's office scene in John Hughes' THE BREAKFAST CLUB where principal Paul Gleason and student Judd Nelson keep at each other, ensuring that the web of anger and recrimination becomes as hard as iron.

Given the two-dimensional definition of me (by the Two Idiots Peddling Poetry and certain friends of theirs as a highly unpleasant person who doesn't write "good" poetry), there are times when I don't care whether I ever return to Orange CA--except to, perhaps, go window shopping in the old-neighborhood downtown area.

On some level, the hosts and the owner probably know that I learned my lesson from the unfortunate outburst of almost a decade ago and wouldn't misbehave and/or be disrespectful at the venue.

But, as has been made clear to me by one of the hosts in recent years, it's less about what I mentioned in the previous paragraph and more to do with what I write on this blog (before that, on certain listserves).  And, apparently, beyond the wish that I don't write anything critical of the reading or the hosts, lays the edict that I can never enter the Ugly Mug again because I have caused offense to friends of theirs.  This offense has been due to written words of mine (some of which I would never write again; others, I would restate in a more thoughtful, considerate--but still dissenting--way).

Ideally, even someone like me should be able to attend any kind of poetry reading as long as I'm not verbally or physically threatening to anyone--and quiet and respectful to the hosts, features and open-mike poets while they are on the podium.

It's understandable that people get hurt and have reflexive reactions if they feel their friends are being regarded unfairly.  But, as long as the disputed conduct exists far away from the venue, no poet should have a reason to feel wary of even outcast poets.

In the SoCal poetry community, banishment should not be used as a tool to silence unpopular speech that happens in other areas than poetry venues.

Most local poets will stand up for causes national and worldwide.  Just not (alas) how the power given to poetry hosts by reading attendance (and money given to features and venue owners) can be sometimes wielded in a less than poetic fashion.

Monday, June 16, 2014

RIP Los Angeles poet Steve Baratta.

Steve Baratta, who was a regular at SoCal open-mike readings in the 90s and 2000s (chiefly the various Poetic License readings hosted by Larry Jaffe and the late Donn Deedon--plus the Midnight Special Bookstore reading in Santa Monica, among others), passed away at the age of 61 this past weekend from a blood clot prior to having surgery for a heart condition.  In recent years, Steve was active on Internet radio hosting the Monday show OPEN WINDOWS for

Steve was idealistic and believed in positive change to benefit the world. 

Here are a few of his poems:

The movies of 2014 (so far).

Haven't seen too many films in the first 5 months and two weeks of this year, but here are noteworthy ones (not all of them blessed with unanimous critic-herd approval): THE LEGO MOVIE, THE UNKNOWN KNOWN, NOAH, THE RAID 2, DEVIL'S KNOT, FADING GIGOLO, NYMPHOMANIAC PART 1, BELLE, NIGHT MOVES, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, I AM DIVINE, PLIMPTON! STARRING GEORGE PLIMPTON AS HIMSELF, GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA
Reissue of the year so far: SORCERER (now available on DVD/Blu-ray)
Inexplicably well-reviewed artistic underachievers of the year so far:
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (comedown for Wes Anderson after the superior MOONRISE KINGDOM)
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (well-acted, but sometimes smug and overly pandering to its intended young adult audience)
Blockbuster underachievers:

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Vote for the STAR WARS character spinoff you'd like to see.

Since Disney is eager to maximize revenue from the formerly-George Lucas STAR WARS franchise, it should be no surprise that an announcement was just made re the first theatrical live-action spinoff movie (outside the main series) will be filmed in the UK:

Here's a select list of characters.  Choose which  one (or more) of them deserve a starring role.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Eric Morago's tact-challenged review of Alex Frankel's latest poetry book.

Full disclosure: I had a Little Red Book published years ago by Lummox Press.  (see May 2014 for the full review)

Key passages of Eric Morago's review I took exception to (highlighting by me):

Birth Mother Mercy does not feel entirely whole to me, or rather, actualized. I say this for a few reasons: there are poems, and even a whole section, which feel quite disjointed from both tone and theme of the collection’s best work. This results in jarring the reader in a way that I don’t believe is intentional, and undercuts the strength of the really good poems—the weight they give to the collection. And what of those really good poems I speak of? Frankel has a handful of them in this book, mostly all about the passing of his father—his processing of that loss and the anger he feels towards his father’s widow. They’re all quite good. So good in fact that Frankel had them all published already in a chapbook entitled, My Father’s Lady, Wearing Black, put out by Conflux Press. Now there’s nothing wrong with pulling from past chapbooks, or even having a whole chapbook serve as a section of a full-length manuscript, if it fits the collection—especially if the chapbook was published years prior, has long been forgotten about, and/or is out of print. But here’s the thing—My Father’s Lady, Wearing Black was published in 2013…the same year as Birth Mother Mercy.
So upon learning this, as a reviewer, as well as a reader, I’m left asking myself: “What warrants these poems’ being republished so soon in a full-length collection only two-thirds more the size of the original chapbook—a two-thirds which is arguably not as strong.
Follow up questions I ask myself are: “Why should I buy the same poems twice?” Did Lummox not know? Was Frankel trying to pull a fast one so he could get two books out, or did Lummox solicit him for a full-length manuscript and, not wanting to turn the opportunity down, took his already balanced chapbook and flushed it out with some other miscellaneous work, thus creating a lopsided Birth Mother Mercy?

Why do I assume there was no editor for Birth Mother Mercy? A couple reasons. First, there’s no editor accredited, which leads me to suspect no one filled the role. Second, the poems that are in the chapbook, My Father’s Lady, Wearing Black, appear as exact copies in Birth Mother Mercy. This suggests Lummox had no editor to offer possible changes the second time around when it came to publish the poems once again, which only begs the question yet again: Why should I buy the same poems twice? (Even the blurbs on the back of the two books are the same.)
Why is an editor so important? Their job is to help the poet shape their manuscript—to understand and support the poet’s voice, while at the same time offering a fresh perspective in order to ultimately build with the poet a collection that is the best representation of their work. The end result should be a polished manuscript that feels fulfilled—that feels labored over by more than just the poet themselves, but by editor(s) and publisher alike.
Alex M. Frankel is a talented poet and puts good work out there, but Birth Mother Mercy is an awkward representation of his strengths, especially with My Father’s Lady, Wearing Black situated as the more attractive older sibling. Perhaps if some different (possibly editorial) choices were made with Birth Mother Mercy, the collection would stand out more to me as masterful than mishmash.

Monday, June 9, 2014

When respected poetry leaders want more respect.

A poet in the Los Angeles community wrote this to me publicly (on Facebook) regarding a poetry venue where I have been banned for almost ten years: "...don't know if you want to read this, but... let it go. There are many other venues in the ocean. Forgiveness doesn't seem to be a trait of [venue hosts]. Too bad.They're missing some good, heart-felt poetry." 

And, of course, I discovered a few weeks later he was featuring at that particular venue.

Yes, I understand careerism.  And I also am aware this poet earned an MFA--partially to open more doors as a teacher and, apparently, to make certain people in the LA/OC/LBC communities look upon him with a greater degree of respect.

The sad truth is that he's probably chasing respect that won't be given to him by some leaders--and is willing to sacrifice self-respect to turn the other cheek to public humiliation in the process.

With some sadness, I unfriended him from Facebook.

Part of the unfriending was motivated by years of my foolishly confiding in him (and being told "I'm in your corner") when I should have known better. 

Around fourteen years ago (well before I took to writing a blog about poetry and other arts/political/personal topics), I asked in a public forum why the Los Angeles Poetry Festival (when it still existed) had such a narrow focus in terms of poets booked.  This was in comparatively halcyon days when many more venues for all kinds of poetry existed.  But yet, to me, it seemed the festival wasn't even trying to reflect the diversity of the city's poets.

You'd think I let a skunk into a garden party to run amok.

I received lots of polite-but-firm rebuttals, perhaps motivated by fear of offending the Major Poet who was head of the LAPF.

And the poet I unfriended was one of those rebutters.

But yet I was clueless and impolitic enough to occasionally ask him for advice or run my minority/contrarian views past him on certain subjects concerning poets and jams I got myself into or discussing certain brutal insults/characterizations tossed at me.

Sometimes, he'd say things to me that indicated he had sympathy for my point of view--agreeing with me that certain people weren't all that.

Nonetheless, he still publicly craved the approval of those poets--and, on occasion, got validation and opportunity from them.

To finish, I have to admit the unfriended poet has, at his best, done a lot of good for the community as a whole.

It's just too bad he's determined to prove the respect he's justly received will never be enough.