Monday, August 31, 2009

The Lovejoy Columns

The Peaches and Bats 4 launch party in Portland on Thursday flexed poetry’s ancient muscle as an aide to Mnemosyne. Jesse Morse used sonnet-length anagrams built from the letters in “Eric Chavez” to restore his favorite Oakland ‘A’ from the limbo of the injured list to the Elysium of obsessive fan recall, with the caveat I guess that sports heroes are always just magnified analogues for us. Sam Lohmann evoked broken New Year’s resolutions and landscapes that incessantly negotiate their own disappearance with representation until sky gets remembered as the “gap between smears.” Phoebe Wayne read part of a longer poem made by collaging quotations from articles about Tom E. Stefopoulos, Portland’s small-scale Simon Rodia, who spent his off-hours as watchman in the city’s Northwest rail yards chalking Diogenes and other Greek-like figures onto the columns of the Lovejoy Ramp, which used to thrust Lovejoy Street up over the trains till it was pulled down, in 1999, to make way for the ritzy Pearl. Collage seemed like the perfect technique to make sense of a city continually displacing and replacing its past, so that nothing exactly disappears—all stays somewhere in the akashic cache—but resurfaces in surprising ways, far from its home context. Like blog posts about poetry readings.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Birth of the Uncool

Thinking lately of the life-preserving traits of Joe Pachinko, mail room chief at the last office I worked in. Publisher of Lenore Kandel, author of books with names like The Urinals of Hell and The Incredibly Stoopit Adventures of Granpa Stuped, dispenser of drinks at work events where drinks get dispensed, daily shop floor reminder that soylent green is people. Here’s Joe on video in Oakland last year, & reviewed in the East Bay Express. If they ever invent that Trumball Stickney Poetry Award he used to imagine, hope they set one aside for Joe.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Elevator Redux

Great post on the SFMOMA blog about the 15-year-old subject in Robert Frank’s 1955 Elevator—Miami Beach photograph. Kerouac closed his intro to Frank’s book, The Americans, with a remark on this picture:
“And I say: That little ole lonely elevator girl looking up sighing in an elevator full of blurred demons, what’s her name & address?”
It’s Sharon Collins, Pac Heights, SF, but no one knew till she saw the picture in the paper this year and rang the museum. You can see a reconstruction of the shot in 2009—as poignant in its way—here (scroll down a little. I could swear that’s Lauren Shufran at the far right).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Synchronicity (BB Edition)

Brandon Brown, who teamed up with Alli Warren to give one of the best readings I’ve seen this year in Portland, has some great new poems in The Brooklyn Rail. It’s one of those cases of knowing and very much liking what someone’s been up to for a long time, then watching the roof bounce up a couple feet. Alex Burford’s spot-on post about all things Brandon steered me there; I found it just after getting home from Powell’s on Hawthorne, where Eileen Myles is talking to the woman in front of me in line about “BBQ” and “Brandon Brown.” Turns out she’s talking with Nicole Georges, who knew Brandon in his punk/zine KC days. Brandon, future Talking Point: kick down some DEE DEE’S KIDS!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Works and Days

Managed to see read in a single week Eric Baus, Graham Foust, Crag Hill, Lauren Levin, Eileen Myles, Douglas Rothschild, and Jared Stanley. Dug and Crag addressed a BBQ from the Cobb/Coleman victory balcony, tossing down late Creeley and Theogony like the revolution’s confetti. Lauren and Jared stunned a happy hour bar crowd into submission using only great shoes and a mike. Graham and Eric brought out the youth like I rarely see them for poetry here, which sparked the distressing reflection that youth is no longer a category of identity for me so much as a remote and exotic presence, like tropical fish passing and re-passing in a tank. Eileen sort of flipped the tank over and got Iceland to sing on top.

Learned too that Crag Hill joined the English faculty this year at WSU in Pullman, WA along with Linda Russo (who was down to see Norma Cole in Portland last week) and Christopher Arigo, a fellow Pavement Saw author. So if you see a spate of young Eigner- and Kyger-hopped poets coming out of Pullman soon, you’ll know why. It happened in Ashland—why not Pullman, too?

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Jeremy Prynne’s reading of “Cocaine” makes Wieners’s poem sound like the tradition it’s so anxious to get into. In Wieners’s reading, it’s anxiety that drives the situation—the anxiety to be a poem overlaps with the desire to hold an unloving lover. The poet might get the one—a “real” poem—but never the other: poetry as compensatory cocaine.

Prynne reads like the dealer whispering yes you can have your coke and eat it, too. It’s like listening to that animating tension of American lit—to out-English the English—played in reverse for secret messages. Thanks to Steve Evans for bringing them together.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sortes Virgilianae (Puppets of Sentiment)

Opening library books at random as a means of work avoidance pulls up little opals like this:
“If we should laugh at and insult the memory of the Puppet, we should be laughing at the fall that we have brought about in ourselves, laughing at the Beliefs and Images we have broken.”

E. Gordon Craig, 1912

Monday, August 17, 2009

Jessica Grace Wing

Thinking this weekend of Jessica Wing, who wore spidery shawls against the hot campus sun, covered “Groove Is in the Heart” outside the grooveless grad dorms, and died of colon cancer five days before her 32nd birthday, in 2003. The cancer part I learned about only after the Internet, where now there’s a Wikipedia page, an official site, and a New York Times review of “Lost,” the Hansel and Gretel musical she completed a month before she died. This post is a breadcrumb trail.

Friday, August 14, 2009

avin a larf

Lesley and I are on a lethal late-summer cocktail of U.K. comedies—Saxondale, Yes, Minister, The IT Crowd, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, even a little (forgive me) Father Ted—which is maybe why I stood to attention at this (best if read in interior voice of Alan Partridge):
“Humor is therefore not a rhetorical leavening of one’s message. It is the best evidence of the door to the source being left wide open.”
On the same tack, good to see student of Britain Johnny Clay and his band, The Dimes, traipsing about as redcoats in St. Cupcake.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Weekend Readings

Attractive run of readings in Portland this weekend, Thursday through Sunday, to round out an exceptionally active August. I’ll be at three of the four, but haven’t yet figured out the fourth. People keep mentioning how much poetry activity has picked up here over the last few years. It’d be interesting to put together a list of the poets who’ve moved or returned here, new series launched, and the increase in writers passing through town to read since, say, 2003 or ‘04. Of course other poets moved away in that time, and not all series stick around for long; sometimes what looks like growth is just churn. Still, consensus seems to be that things are waxing. The crowd that turned out to see Norma Cole read with Lindsay Hill at Spare Room on Thursday is about as good a non-university audience as you’ll get outside of New York or San Francisco (and even there you have off nights). I wonder if the audiences this weekend will be the same core spreading itself across readings, or a new swatch of the recently arrived. On the menu:
Thursday, August 13 JARED STANLEY & LAUREN LEVIN 6 PM, Valentine’s, 232 SW Ankeny

Friday, August 14 SCOTT INGUITO & JARED STANLEY 6 PM, Pushdot Studio, 1021 SE Caruthers

Saturday, August 15 CRAG HILL & DOUGLAS ROTHSCHILD 3 PM, 213 SE 26th Ave., Spare Room

Sunday, August 16 ERIC BAUS & GRAHAM FOUST 7:30 PM, Concordia Coffee House, 2909 NE Alberta, Spare Room
Then on Thursday:
Thursday, August 20 EILEEN MYLES 7:30 PM, Powell’s on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Pepys’s Patches

Not Poetry, Poetics, or Portland, but help me out people with a little Pepys. In his diary entry for 14 May 1660, he notes Dutch ladies of fashion wearing “black patches.” By August, he’s pleased to see his wife with them; in November he writes:
“The Princess Henrietta is very pretty, but much below my expectation; and her dressing of herself with her hair frizzed short up to her ears, did make her seem so much the less to me. But my wife standing near her with two or three black patches on, and well dressed, did seem to me much handsomer than she.”
This helpful site explains that the patches “are not eye-patches, but the black (occasionally red) patches cut from paper, cloth or even fine leather in the shape of stars, crescent moon, even a coach and six horses that were stuck upon the face as ‘beauty spots’ and which remained in fashion for many years. They could, of course, have been put to practical use in covering a blemish but a significant part of their function was to emphasize the fashionable whiteness of a lady’s complexion.”

Does anyone know where to find pictures of these, or some approximate modern version? I came up empty on Google Images. Sounds sexy (esp. that coach and six), but I’m having trouble imagining what they looked like in situ. Ripe for a comeback?

For men on fashion, you can’t top Pepys. He frets about his spending on clothes, goes fabric shopping with his wife, takes huge delight in new outfits, and signs himself “Dapper Dickey” in letters to the ladies. No kids, a heavy purse, and the whole of Restoration London to parade in, but still, impressive commitment to adornment.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Music or Fashion?

Though I missed the chance to track her down and say so, Laura Moriarty rocked some seriously fashionable threads at the Verdi Club this weekend. The whole event was fashion-forward, if by “forward” you mean accessorized with white autoharps. That room hasn’t held so many hat brims since the Great War.

Thanks to Brandon Downing, I felt “with it” for a full five seconds, buying the new WAVVES record just after news of Nathan Williams’s Barcelona meltdown hit Pitchfork. So everyone I was talking it up to (O.K., John Sakkis and my brother) had the incident fresh in mind. It was Brandon’s promotional clip for the Movie Nite event in NYC, which uses Wavves’s “California Goths,” that first hooked me; the “So Bored” video did the rest. (Nada, you especially have to see this.)

Thinking about Wavves and the fashion thread Laura started, I realize that music trumps clothing in my own halfhearted stabs at self-fashioning. What I listen to usually dictates what I wear when I feel like dressing up, and new bands shape my sense of self more forcefully than new clothes. Is that a guy thing? More often now though, I just dress to the stereotype appropriate for the social context. Is that a guy thing, too? More stereotypes available for men to disappear into when they want to? Time of life also does damage—short of time/money to shop, and who’s going to check my display, anyway? Not that I really mind; the preening’s in the poetry. Still, it’d be good to find a style that isn’t ambered in the last thing I was listening to before parenthood. Maybe Beach Goth?

Monday, August 03, 2009