Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On the Rusk and Poets Fighting Poets

Since I'm tired and trying to write another novel, I haven't been doing much submitting to anything. Occasionally something slips through though. I'm in Issue Four of On the Rusk. Click around and you'll find me. Oh, and here's an account of a brawl between poets by Charles Simic. Everybody was fighting everybody in '68! One time I tried to stop a fight like Ginsberg did in this piece. More Franciscan and less Buddhist though. I ended up getting maced by Irish Catholic cops.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Another Poem En Pointe

"The Lost Day," another work of mine in En Pointe Magazine is available for reading on your computers and mobile devices. Once you're finished, please remember to leave it the way you found it, Okay?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I'm Running Out of January

But I got new things to post. A poem of mine (but not painting) is up at Quail Bell. I'm kinda part of their crew now, so read around the site. If you think your work might be a fit, consider submitting.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Isaac Newton Lives!

Well, he lives on in a poem I wrote and was put online by the good folk at En Pointe Magazine. You can join the conversation there, change the world. Or you can just read what I wrote. They took the pains (I'm sure they were painful) of putting the spacing in just right. Next month, they'll be publishing another work of mine.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

In Bed with Gore Vidal: A Book Review

In Bed with Gore Vidal: Hustlers, Hollywood, and the Private World of an American Master
296 pages

Riverdale Avenue Books

Thanks to the Simpsons, Gore Vidal is one of the first public figures I ever knew was gay. In one episode, Lisa and marge have this exchange:

Marge: Well, did you call one of your friends?
Lisa: Hah! These are my only friends: grown up nerds like Gore Vidal, and even he's kissed more boys than I ever will.
Marge: Girls, Lisa. Boys kiss girls.

            Fans of the show know that John Waters played a gay character who befriended Homer, while Jay Sherman spilled the sexual orientation beans about Harvey Fierstein in another episode. But the reference to Gore Vidal stood out more to me. Strange how such a remark can make an impact. Perhaps because Lisa’s comment touched on a physical aspect of male same-sex relations, or maybe it was the shot of Gore’s yellow cartoon face on one of his books, looking masculine, marvelous, and tough. The show’s use of Gore Vidal brought home two points to my young mind. Of course, I knew gay men existed but seeing Vidal meant that gay men could be famous authors and that his gray hair meant they had been around long before I was born.

            However, reading Tim Teeman’s book one wonders if Gore Vidal actually did kiss that many boys. In Teeman’s portrait, it seems Gore would have preferred mouths to be used for other functions, and that they do so quickly. Through this exhaustive and thorough sexual biography, we learn that Vidal often readily embraced physical intimacy, but had trouble opening himself up emotionally with anyone, including his partner of over fifty-plus years, Howard Austen.

            Yet, Gore Vidal would have approved of the way the Simpsons identified him, by the act of kissing boys rather than by an orientation towards them. One of the surprising revelations of the biography is that Vidal never identified himself as gay, despite the general public’s willingness to categorize and accept him as such. In his view, there were no homosexual people, just homosexual acts. Therefore, everyone was bisexual, perfectly capable of same-sex and opposite-sex attraction. This position, widespread before the nineteenth century, put him outside the mainstream of both American society and the Gay community. Unlike a writer such as Burroughs, Vidal did not even embrace a label such as “queer” and while rejected attempts to be labeled a “faggot.”

            But there was a downside to this self-declared independence from sexual categories, which Teeman thoroughly documents. Because Gore refused to identify as a homosexual, he did not lend his fame to the cause of gay rights. Occasionally he would donate to certain organization and fought against sexual puritanism in his essays. But he remained largely absent from the fight, which grew more noticeable once the AIDS epidemic hit America and claimed the life of one of his nephews. While Gore was attentive to his family members’ needs in private, in public he was weary to find a common case with such controversial figures as Larry Kramer and his ACT UP organization.

               There was an emotional cost to this attitude as well. Despite being out in a physical sense, when it came to his feelings, Gore was still deeply closeted.  Sex for him was about dominance and superiority (and of course orgasm) more than any expression of a deeper commitment. While he didn’t care if people knew he had sex with men, he took great pains to let everyone know he was the one doing the fucking. Gore was always a top, never a bottom, and stressed this.  As a result, he missed out on the potential for genuine emotional intimacy and this affected his relationship with Howard Austen, who the book depicts as a long suffering companion, a victim of Gore’s withholding. They were partners but had a largely sexless relationship during that time. As the book explains, Gore felt that he could live together with a friend but not a lover, only to realize how dear Austen was to him before it was too late. In heartbreaking detail, Teeman relates how Vidal broke down at his partner’s death in 2003 and subsequently never recovered from the loss.

            One aspect of Gore’s sexuality the biography investigates is his assertions of bisexuality. He did not claim it as an identity or orientation, but rather a description of his sexual life. It only made since to describe himself as such, since he did not identify as either gay or straight and wanted people to believe he was perfectly open to sex with men and women. Yet nothing in Teeman’s research suggests he was as flexible as he claims. While there may have been a sexual encounter or two with women early on in his life, after the publication of his novel The City and the Pillar, Gore seems to have only had same-sex relationships. Despite ample opportunity to sleep with women, including several Hollywood starlets, Vidal instead sought after the company of men, particularly male hustlers in Italy, whose willingness to sleep with him for money while dating women only further reinforced his views about the inherent bisexuality of all people.

            Of course, one cannot blame Gore for the position he took. As those who are interviewed in the biography stress, he was a product of his time and his class. Homosexuality was illegal when he was born and gays were viewed as weaklings in every sense of the word. Gore came from an aristocratic background and was expected to take a leading role in the country’s politics as his grandfather, a senator from Oklahoma, had done. However, Gore’s sexuality stood in the way. There were other factors as well, but he would bitterly claim to the end of his days he would have become president if it was not for the issue of who he slept with. It makes sense he would try to downplay any notion of orientation and was in full control of who he was attracted to. But his extensive experience with prostitution and his penchant for Latin male pornography reveal otherwise.

            Much of his reaction to the sexual politics of his era can also be traced to Jimmy Trimble. Jimmy was a classmate  who Gore claimed was the love of his life to the very end. According to Gore, the two of them fooled around physically and shared a deep bond which was shattered when Jimmy was killed in World War II, an event which probably shaped his anti-Imperialist stance as much as his sexuality. The first part of the biography delves into the mystique of their relationship and contrasts Gore’s claims of intimacy with denials from Trimble’s family. Gore’s continuing attachment to Jimmy is no mere speculation. He was always willing to talk about his attraction to him and  how he could never love anyone else. Unfortunately, he did so around Howard, who was both pained and annoyed by the mention of the young man’s name.  He would make a jerk off motion behind Gore’s head whenever his partner brought it up and often brought Gore’s discussions to an end with a repeated refrain “Oh Gore, basta basta with the Jimmie Trimble!”

            While depicting Gore’s struggles in a sympathetic light, Teeman’s book does not shy away from the dark side of his character and the cost his emotional denial took on him. Vidal extrapolated his own desire to be sexually flexible and saw bisexual and homosexual romances behind every relationship between two men in literature and history. At the same time, Vidal internalized certain aspects of homophobia. His family hatred against a certain kind of effeminate gay man made him enemies with anyone who embodied those traits, such as Truman Capote. Thetwo famously feuded on and off for close to thirty years.  Besides these mental gymnastics, projections, and compartmentalizing, there were also years of heavy drinking and a mounting paranoia which led Gore to reverse his will at the end of his life. Convinced his family was out to get him, he revised the terms so Harvard University, which he never attended, would get the bulk of his estate.

            There is also the issue of how old Gore’s sexual partners were. While it is certain he enjoyed encounters with males in their late teens, there were rumors he slept with adolescents who were much younger. Gore was particularly worried that his arch nemesis William F. Buckley had information related to these encounters. However, Teeman can only guess about what he knew, since Christopher Buckley found his father’s file on Gore after his death and promptly threw it away without giving the content inside even so much as a curious glance. Complicating the picture was Gore’s early involvement with a fundraiser for an organization , part of which evolved to become NAMBLA. Gore defended his presence there years later by pointing out that he was unaware of what the group would become and that at the time he was giving money to help a cause devoted to liberalizing laws between teenagers and older men, though not children. Others claim the meeting was directly responsible for founding the group, despite what Gore contested.

            This back and forth between the sources and Gore Vidal himself is one of the more frustrating aspects of the book.  Since the subject is the sex life of Vidal, a lot of outrageous claims can be made because the acts occurred in private. Some of the most notorious statements do not involve Gore at all, but rather allegedly gay actors in 1950s Hollywood. They come from Scotty Bowers, who wrote about his time supplying closeted stars young men and women in his memoir Full Service. Unfortunately the veracity of his claims is often suspect and he has a history of retracting them.  Gore Vidal approved of his writing, but I doubt Katherine Hepburn, Tyrone Power, and Charles Laughton would.

            Besides the issue of contradicting sources, the book can be confusing at times, since there are dozens of characters who come and go through the text and one forgets their relationship to Gore, particularly those in his family.  His mother remarried and through this union, he gains a set of half and step-siblings. A glossary of names might have been helpful. In addition, the chronology of the biography becomes warped in several sections since Teeman tried to order the book thematically.  A great deal of context is lost this way.  However, In Bed with Gore Vidal remains a fascinating read, in no small part because of the complex personality at the center of it, a man who had wealth and fame, and yet was never satisfied in his private life. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

First Poem of 2014 Published

2014 is here and hopefully it will bring the change I need after nearly a decade of socioeconomic blue balls. I need a new everything. Sometimes I think about just burning my earthly possessions and walking off into the woods. Honey and locusts and sackcloth oh my! But then I look outside and see there's snow everywhere and the nearest woods are next to a school. They probably wouldn't like me staying overnight there. I've been slacking on the publishing front, so I've put out poems, seeing if anything sticks. Already there's one acceptance to report and link to, a poem of mine is up at Luciferous, a blog maintained by Craig Scott. No, it doesn't have anything to do with the Prince of Darkness. It's just a word which means "illuminating" both figuratively and literally.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

We've Hit 30,000 Views!

I tried to find the right flag but each one I posted ended up with me getting carbombed
Although the hits could just be from my mother...or yours. No matter. In honor of this historic milestone I have seven poems you can read in A New Ulster (magazine headquarters pictured above). I'm right next to Walter Ruhlmann, who has published my work before.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Black Wire Magazine has a poem of mine in it. The Illustrated Civil War. In care you're bored with words the issues has some nifty pictures in it to look at instead! And now, in quasi-honor of the magazine, I am going to listen to Backwater by Brian Eno. Ciao.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Lacking Lips of Time: A Book Review

I read this book back in August and I have waited several weeks to review it. That should give you some taste of the problems with this work, since it would require me to revisit its horrors. Who knew 86 pages could make one doubt the entire enterprise of verse so mercilessly? I have managed to resist the philistine machinations of the invisible hand so far but Shaghayegh Farsijani makes me really doubt the purpose and presentation of poetry in a world gone prose.

But for your sake, dear readers, I have finally worked up enough courage and boredom to share a warning about this work with the rest of the world. But first, I think it is important to summarize all the things I did instead of writing this review. First, I worked for a company processing insurance claims on behalf of colleges and universities. Then I wrote a novel. It’s only 68,000 words long, but that is decent. The Great Gatsby only clocks in at 48,000 words. After that I got drunk a few times, mailed biohazardous materials through the mail, read want-ads, chained myself to the endless ride of the Red Line, got a haircut, clipped my nails, harassed Tea Party congressmen on Facebook, applied to a job at Simon and Schuster, froze on top of a pizzeria in Adams Morgan, and looked at paintings with proto-hipstersin them and others ripping off Michelangelo in the National Gallery of Art. All of these were infinitely better than reading and trying to review Lacking Lips of Time.

I do not believe in Cartesian dualism and all subsequent theories of the soul, but if there is any argument for a mind-body distinction, this book is evidence for it. Something inside me was crushed while trying to read the lines poetess Shaghayegh Farsijani assembled. It obviously was not my body which was harmed, since my skin seems pretty good. Irish Spring fresh and clean and all that. Maybe I incurred irreparable damage to my liver and brain cells while trying to assimilate these words. It is entirely possible. In which case I deserve more free drinks from all poets everywhere. I read this collection while riding the subterranean rails of DC and after every enjambment, I felt like hurling the thin volume across the train. Thankfully I had the restraint to keep from injuring poor taxpaying commuters who would be furloughed soon enough. If the work was any longer though, I would not have had the temptation at flinging it. The book would have been too heavy to toss.  A real tome. It would have just been an anchor around my neck and sunk me to the bottom of the burnt orange carpets of the Great Society-inspired train.

I would advise the purchase of this novel for educational purposes only, which of course is no endorsement at all. A person should just read better books and assimilate lessons about writing that way. But I am trying to be kind here and come up with some redeemable feature so we can go on with the illusion that all will be saved in this universe. That Pelagian dream: all will be repackaged and no feelings will be hurt. So sayeth me. I guess I just feel bad for the trees involved in making this book. I wonder if any chipmunks or other woodlandcreatures lost their abodes over these poems. Their blood in on Shaghayegh Farsijani’s hands. I say that in all seriousness because these poems are a blight that only needs curious hands to open the pages and reproduce.  

I should have realized I was in trouble right from the start. You cannot judge a poetry book by its cover, but an obscurantist dedication is a warning sign of future horrors. When the author writes “Dedicated to the natural jewels of love in my life: H2O and the Emperor, AKA my Mother and Father,” you can be sure you are dealing with someone who has no regard for the reader, and who thinks their parents are too dull for simple names. There must be a whole mythology built out of them, least the poet be seen as dull by extension through some kind of genetic fallacy. Decent poets do not do this. I should say, confident poets do not do this. They do not mention their parents at all and if they do, they state it in direct terms. Mother. Father. Mom. Dad. Perhaps they go into ethnic territory, Madre. Padre. Valide. But that is it.

I could have realized I was in trouble when I read the biography on the last page as well. Shaghayegh Farsijani is a Persian American, which is no trouble in and of itself. But then the bio states she decided to embark on a journey to “write with a deeper focus.” Anyone who declares they have to do anything for the sake of focus, especially poetry writing, only admits they need to focus some more. And what does this poet need to focus on? It is hard to say, I suppose everything except symbolism. That could use less focus in this work. There is nothing but symbolism. There are symbols within symbols and when you open them up to find another meaning or some kind of reference to the outside world, guess what? There is another symbol sending you back to your search on wobbling ground.

Poetry can be divided into the good, the bad, and the ugly. One thing that can be said in the favor of ugly poetry is its honesty. You look at it on the page and itjust falls apart. It is nasty. It is not composed. It is even beyond simple defenses like “raw,” “primal,” and “experimental.” Ugly poetry has no direction, no music, no understanding of how to handle the page. The lines have just gotten out of bed and beg for forgiveness. But ugly poems rarely band together and form books. That is another one of their redeemable qualities. An editor is not lead astray and given the illusion of a possibly decent work. They see a wreck for what it is right up front. Bad poetry like this Lacking Lips of Time is different. Bad poetry makes you hope for some pay off at the end. It leads you to believe some kind of subversion is in store. Irony will come raining down and the previous problems will be washed away through a clever twist and radical subversion. In the end though, there is no twist. There is no salvation. There is no subversion.

Bad poetry turns you, the experienced reader of poetry, into the average person encountering modern poetry for the first time. You begin asking yourself all kinds of tenth-grade falling asleep in the back of English class questions. What is this? A poem? Why does this stuff not rhyme? What is going on here? Why is this line written that way? Why is this so strange? What does this mean? Bad poetry’s chief sin is pretension and the chief sin of pretension is it makes the audience see the strings holding up the actor pretending to be an angel. Bad contemporary poetry like Lacking Lips of Time, tries to imitate Rilke and Ginsberg to poor affect. Everything is murky. The poems make vague comparisons and its images fail to advance anything. There is no depth and not enough framing before descriptions get surreal.

Here is some evidence of the crimes which Shaghayegh Farsijani’s work embiggens:

She speaks of a “Mango time” which has a “spell” that can be “unlocked.” I am not sure what this tie might be. Letting my powers of free association roam, I know that Seinfeld showed us how Mangos can cause erections and that there is a house on a Mango Street. I suppose erections are a kind of spell and that houses on Mango Street can indeed, be unlocked.  Farsijani mentions “The geranium ocean of your hips,” which I have nothing for. Or “Here your cardamom sonnets have no shouts.” I have mixed cardamom with tea, which is good. That is all I can grasp here. Why the sonnets should or should not have shouts because of the cardamom is not clear. This onslaught of reason continues onward and produces monsters which bring forth such phrases as “The Bohemian moon passes through your cellar of pregnant sadness.” WTF was invented for these kinds of turn of phrase, first to express shock and then to condense it without wasting more time.

At other moments, the book gives the reader, that is me, lines like “The justice of pocket love” which has a very different meaning for me than I think she, the author, intends. In addition there are neologisms which are completely unnecessary. “De-clothes,” is an instance of this. We already have undress and disrobe, which were probably radical words when lazy monks churned them out in medieval monasteries. At this point they suffice without any need for further fruitless experimentation. This of course, only applies to Farsijani’s work when she is experimenting. When Farsijani is clear, she is dull. Overall the work is monotone in mood with no variation in perspective or energy. The line breaks and line breaks show very little difference. I am willing to entertain the idea this might be the fault of a printer who has taken liberties to double space everything.  

Besides the images in the poems which are confused and tired like a typical Tea Party voter, there are actual images in the book to contend with. These just might be the worst thing about this collection. They come in three colors: black and white and blurry. They just sit there across from the poorly crafted lines without adding anything. The poor things. They were born from an earnest pen, and then copied for the public to see despite being obvious and clich├ęd. Eyes, roses, and bottles of wine predominate. Each illustration raises an important question. Who really needs pictures in a poetry book? These images belong in a high school art show, especially after a lesson on Magritte.  

How the hell did this get an ISBN?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Cartoon Shape I'm In

I have poems in the Avatar Review. I believe the picture I sent is the first one Josh Barajas, my Carl Van Vechten, ever took of me. Hopefully more links to more published work will be forthcoming. I just sent out a hundred or so poems today.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sharkopedia: A Book Review

            Some of you might be looking at the title of the blog post and think I’m reviewing a book of ironically titled poems which is trying to cash in/mock the current obsession (a sharknado of interest as it were) with sharks in our country. Rest assured, this is one book you can judge by its title. However, if you want to read shark-themed poetry, you can do so here. Anyway, back to the basics. Sharkopedia is 192 pages long with over 400 photos of dozens of different species of sharks. In case you were wondering, it is published in connection with Shark Week by Time Home Entertainment. Thankfully the book only makes a small mention of the program in the credits section. Its main link to the Discovery Channel’s offering is the inclusion of tidbits from shark expert Andy Dehart, who has appeared on the show.
            Now, this Sharkopedia is meant for readers ages 8 and up, so in this review, I had to consider the full range of people the book is intended for. I would not recommend it for anyone younger, unless they understand that most sharks cannot live in freshwater and that none can live in a chlorinated swimming pool. Otherwise, the pictures would give them unfounded nightmares of being attacked.  I remember when I was young and I thought it was possible for a great white to wiggle its way up a drain and start chomping away at me in the wave pool at Cameron Run. For some reason, I assumed it would only attack me right as I was leaving the water. Hey, that’s sounds a good idea for a TV movie. Get on it Hollywood. Sharks in sinks! Sharks in tubs! Sharks in baptismal fonts!
            Of course, a kid 8 years or older might have similar fears after reading this book. However, they will be easier to reason with. For instance, they will learn that bull sharks are the only shark to worry about when they are in freshwater. More importantly, they will learn that shark attacks are few and far between and they are rarely fatal. Only about 5,000 shark attacks have been reported in the whole world since the 1500s, resulting in roughly 500 deaths. In turn, half of these shark bites were provoked by humans. More people have probably been killed in hippopotamus attacks. While Sharkopedia does do a good job of stressing these facts, it tends to focus too much on anecdotes of shark-on-man violence, which makes it hard for the mind to accept sharks as nothing more than an ever-present threat lurking in the ocean, hungry for human flesh and thirsty for our blood.
            The bulk of book is colorful and informative. All the major sharks are heavily featured: the infamous great whites, megamouths, hammerheads, nurses, makos, and tiger sharks. In addition, there are dozens of other species pictured and hundreds more listed by name. Sharkopedia does a good job showing the great variety and diversity of all eight orders of sharks. There are small sharks, giant sharks, colorful sharks, sharks that look like carpets, sharks smacking into seals, and sharks basking for zooplankton. However, there is precious little information on sharks loaning money at prohibitively high rates of interest and breaking legs in lieu of seizing collateral.  
            I admit, when I started to read the book, I was put off by looking at these creatures up close. I am not sure what it was exactly. Sharks do seem to be a strange mixture of other animals, a chimera of the seas. In a stereotypical species one sees the body of fish, the fins of dolphins, and the wide toothy mouths of lions or tigers. The dark eyes are reminiscent of what one finds on a massive cephalopod or one Allie Brosh’s characters from Hyperbole and a Half. Gradually, I warmed up to these creatures, aided by the discovery that some of them are capable of thermoregulation. It was also difficult to feel threatened by the pictures of blue, sharpnose, or goblin sharks. If schools of sharks were capable of dances, they would be the perpetual wallflowers unable to land a date or a partner for a song.
            Sharkopedia passed an important test expected of any book meant for a younger audience. It kept me up past my bedtime, albeit one which I have set in accordance with the dictates of health and reason and not school or parental controls. Whenever I finished one page, I immediately wanted to go to the next one, eager to look at more pictures and learn more about this collection of animals so misunderstood by the general public. No matter what section of the book I turned to, there was plenty to learn. While any of these facts might be found online, nothing beats the way a book like this can appeal to the curious reader in all of us. It also provides an enlightening and entertaining reading experience for a parent looking to take a dry and safe dive together into the world of sharks with a child. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Get Lucky with Blurred Lines

I haven't posted anything in a while and I haven't posted poetry in an even longer time. But seeing Stephen Colbert using Henry Kissinger for his much praised performance, I don't know. It just disturbs me, along with the way everyone who is supposedly leftist and liberal looks past it. Then again, without amnesia, how could we expect Hillary Clinton to be president in 2016? She'll be making history then, as long as we can ignore the history she helped make in Babylon. I dread the day George W. Bush gets to trot out his imbecilic grin and give voice to it on the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror LVII. It will be heralded, maybe even nominated for an Emmy. So it goes. 

Get Lucky with Blurred Lines

You tell yourself he cannot be an Eichmann, no,
He is a Jew and an old Jew at that,
An old Jew could never commit such terrible crimes
Not for the banal reason of an promotion, a desk,
Evil always has an ideology behind it, at least
Evil in America needs a cross to rally behind or burn.

And he can easily go along with the joke, evil
Never jokes, never makes a cameo,
Evil demands the spotlight, it demands to be a star,
Of course you are a star too, with a show,
A show where you dance with him while an audience
Too young to remember a secret bombing laughs.

The script calls for him to call for security
To escort you from the premises,
Decades ago, he called on friends in other countries
To overthrow their presidents, fill stadiums up
With folksinging hooligans and gun them all down,
Perhaps you want to highlight the contrast?

Here he is now, harmless like an urchin,
A buffoon who might even drop his glasses in a toilet,
An elder statesman with his gravitas swinging
Like a snood tucked under his pale chin,
You are old enough to remember beauties hooking
Their arms with him to promenade down  red carpets.

He gives off no aphrodisiac now, not for you, no,
You dance too quickly for him to catch you,
Even if the camera lingers, the smell does not reach you,
You are too busy, you must go embrace an actor,
Meanwhile, the urchin leaves his desk behind

To sway a would-be candidate waiting in the wings.