Saturday, July 02, 2016

Oblivion, February 1986, Philadelphia

A long time ago, I was a rock’n’roller, a punk, and a drummer, and one of the bands I was in was called Oblivion (which I’ve written about here, post includes video of the band).  Oblivion’s guitarist Steve Lukshides has recently posted another video, a set from February 19, 1986, at the Kennel Club in Philadelphia.

I am 19 in this video.  I actually remember a lot of this night, which as Steve explains included numerous delays, before we finally went on around 1:00 a.m.  Looking back, we were a really good band that should have had wider success.  I think we were too intent on perfection before releasing any material, when in retrospect we should have just put something out, a single or EP perhaps (we did record four songs in the studio), and see where it led.  At least, it would’ve been out there.  As it is, this video gives some idea of our sound and attitude as a live performing group in the year 1986, as the hardcore scene was winding down and bands, ourselves included, were trying to expand the limits of heavy/punk music.



Monday, June 20, 2016

Poem in Yellow Chair Review

I have a poem in the new issue of Yellow Chair Review (#7).  The poem is titled “Dusk Hit” and is from a series.

It can be read here.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Poet’s Quest for God anthology

I’m quite pleased to have a poem in the new Eyewear Publishing anthology, The Poet’s Quest for God.  Eyewear is an excellent poetry press based in London, founded by Todd Swift.  This anthology includes a stellar and wide-ranging list of contributors (see below).

My poem is titled “The Ewes at Imbolc” and takes up conceptions of the pre-Christian Gaelic goddess Brighid, or, in the wider sense, ritual or at least calendrical celebration, or. . .you decide.  It is a section of a longer, multi-part poem series on the filmmaker Stan Brakhage’s 23rd Psalm Branch (1967).  In his film, Brakhage at various points riffs on the Biblical psalms (or the 23rd one).  I thought to myself, if I’m not just going to copy him (even though it’s an homage to him), what religious counterpoint should be part of this poem?  And I thought of a poem to Brighid (“Brigit bé bithmaith”) as a starting point and went from there.

Please consider purchasing this book.  Here is the description from the publisher:

This major anthology, the first of its kind, gathers work from renowned contemporary poets from around the world.  Representative of poets from a wide variety of faiths – as well as agnostics and atheists – and introduced by renowned religious scholar Professor Ewan Fernie, the anthology includes work by the following poets:

M.J. ABELL •  SHANTA ACHARYA •  PAUL ADRIAN • NEIL AITKEN •   PATIENCE AGBABI •  ANTONIA ALEXANDRA • KAZIM ALI •  RICHARD ALI •  MAUREEN ALSOP • FRED ANDRLE •  MARIA APICHELLA •  ROBERT ARCHAMBEAU •  RAE ARMANTROUT •  DAVID BAKER •   JENNIFER BARBER •  RACHEL BARENBLAT • SEBASTIAN BARKER • BENNO BARNARD • MICHAEL BARTHOLOMEW-BIGGS • MICAH BATEMAN • SHAINDEL BEERS • MICHAEL S. BEGNAL • MARGO BERDESHEVSKY • CHARLES BERNSTEIN • ASHOK BERY • JOAN BIDDLE • MALACHI BLACK • JANE BLANCHARD • YVONNE BLOMER • MURRAY BODO • MICHELLE BOISSEAU • STEPHANIE BOLSTER • JEMMA BORG • TODD BOSS • PENNY BOXALL • ASA BOXER •  DAVID BRIGGS • TRACI BRIMHALL • JAMES BROOKES • JERICHO BROWN • N M BROWNE • DIANA FITZGERALD BRYDEN •  JACCI BULMAN • APRIL BULMER • STEPHEN BURT • CARMEN CALATAYUD •  JASON CAMLOT •  MELANIE CHALLENGER • KIMBERLY CAMPANELLO • JOHN CHALLIS • PATRICK CHAPMAN • SAMPURNA CHATTARJI • AYESHA CHATTERJEE • MAXINE CHERNOFF • CAROLINE CLARK • PATRICIA CLARK • GEORGE ELLIOTT CLARKE • GERALDINE CLARKSON • AIDAN COLEMAN • NANCY COOK • ALFRED CORN • RACHEL COVENTRY • CLAIRE CROWTHER • TONY CURTIS • PÁDRAIG J. DALY • CYRIL DABYDEEN • PETER DANIELS • COLIN DARDIS • GRAHAME DAVIES • HILARY DAVIES • JAN DEAN • NICHOLA DEANE • JOHN F. DEANE •  NATASHA DENNERSTEIN • DHARMAVADANA • U.S. DHUGA • JOSEPHINE DICKINSON •  EDWARD DOEGAR • SHARON DOLIN • TIMOTHY DONNELLY • MAURA DOOLEY • TIM DOOLEY • CAL DOYLE • IAN DUHIG • FRANK DULLAGHAN • SUSAN MILLAR DUMARS • JOE DUNTHORNE • ANNA DWYER • MICHAEL EGAN • SAM EISENSTEIN • ALISON ENGLEFIELD • FLORA DE FALBE • MICHAEL FARRY • JANETTE FERNANDO • ANNIE FINCH • ADAM D. FISHER • NORMAN FISCHER • CHARLENE FIX • SARAH FLETCHER • PIOTR FLORCZYK • JAMES FLYNN • JOHN FORBIS • CAL FREEMAN • PHILIP FRIED • OWEN GALLAGHER • GARY GEDES • DAI GEORGE • ANDRAS GEREVICH • CLARE GIBBONS • JOHN GLENDAY • SUSAN GLICKMAN • KIM GOLDBERG • KEIRAN GODDARD • JOHN GOSSLEE • CATHERINE GRAHAM • JOHN GREENING • NICKI GRIFFIN • VONA GROARKE • JAMES GRINWIS • PHILLIP GROSS • DAVID GRUBB • EVE GRUBIN • KATIA GRUBISIC • KATHRYN HAMANN •  TOM HAMILL • LUKE HANKINS • MORGAN HARLOW • ALEX HARTLEY • TERRANCE HAYES • KEVIN HIGGINS • NORBERT HIRSCHHORN • LINDSEY HOLLAND • ANNETTE HOLLANDER • PAUL HOOVER •  SHERRY HOROWITZ • FANNY HOWE • ANTHONY HOWELL • SUSAN IOANNOU • SALLY ITO • CHRISTOPHER JACKSON • MARK JARMAN • TROY JOLLIMORE • TESS JOLLY •  JILL JONES • LOIS P. JONES • MARY JONES • OLIVER JONES • FADY JOUDAH • ILYA KAMINSKY •  BRIGIT KELLY • ROISÍN KELLY • LUKE KENNARD • VICTORIA KENNEFICK • MIMI KHALVATI • JANET R. KIRCHHEIMER • CALEB KLACES • ANJA KONIG • YAHIA LABABIDI • ANDREW LANSDOWN • SHARON LARKIN • SARAH LAW • SYDNEY LEA • JASON LEE • JOHN B. LEE • MARY LEE • WES LEE • MELISSA LEE-HOUGHTON • DOROTHY LEHANE • PHILLIS LEVIN • JACK LITTLE • PIPPA LITTLE • MIKE LOVEDAY • HELEN LOVELOCK-BURKE • ROB A. MACKENZIE •  JEFFREY MACKIE • DZEKASHU MACVIBAN • MARY MADEC •  D.H. MAITREYABANDHU • ALICE MAJOR • CHRIS MANN • KIRYA MARCHAND • KATHRYN MARIS • JAKE MARMER • ALWYN MARRIAGE • BARBARA MARSH • TOBY MARTINEZ DE LAS RIVAS • NANCY MATTSON •  NYLA MATUK • BEN MAZER • ERICA McALPINE • SUSAN McCASLIN • MARION McCREADY • COLIN McDONALD • RYK McINTYRE • DORA E. McQUAID • LEONA MEDLIN • SIGHLE MEEHAN • DANTE MICHEAUX • ALICE MILLER • CAMERON MILLER • PATRICIA MONAGHAN • MILES DAVID MOORE • STEPHEN MORRISSEY • ANDREW MOTION • DAVID MUSGRAVE • KARTHIKA NAÏR • MADELEINE NATTRASS • STEPHEN NELSON • MICHAEL NEWMAN • C P NIELD • KATE NOAKES • DAN O’BRIEN •  NESSA O’MAHONY • HELEN OVERELL • JAN OWEN • WILLIAM OXLEY • RUTH PADEL • MANDY PANNETT • NOLA PASSMORE • MOLLY PEACOCK • PAUL PERRY • TONY PEYSER • JAMES POLLOCK • BETHANY POPE •  PHOEBE POWER •  ROBERT PRIEST •  CONCETTA PRINCIPE • MEL PRYOR • LIZ QUIRKE •  SUDHA RAO • SUSAN RICH • ROBIN RICHARDSON • JAMES RICHARDSON • CLEA ROBERTS •  JOHN ROE • ANTOINETTE VOÛTE ROEDER • JANET ROGERSON • PÁDRAIG ROONEY • BOB ROSENTHAL • JEROME ROTHENBERG • SARAH ROWLAND JONES • THADDEUS RUTKOWSKI • OMAR SABBAGH • EVA SALZMAN •  FIONA SAMPSON •  ROBYN SARAH • DENISE SAUL • LESLEY SAUNDERS • RONNIE SCHARFMAN • JACOB SCHEIER • MICHAEL SCHMIDT • MYRA SCHNEIDER • DAVID SCOTT • RICHARD SCOTT • REBECCA SEIFERLE • SUDEEP SEN • DON SHARE • SANDY SHREVE • MARTHA SILANO • KATHRYN SIMMONDS •  FLOYD SKLOOT • TARA SKURTU • JESSICA SLENTZ • EDWIN SMET • BARBARA SMITH • V.A. SOLA SMITH • ROSE SOLARI • ELIZABETH SPIRES • FRANCES SPURRIER • JOHN STILES • CHLOE STOPA-HUNT • LIANE STRAUSS • SEÁN STREET • MELISSA STUDDARD • COLE SWENSEN • MARGO SWISS • MICHAEL SYMMONS ROBERTS • MARIA TAYLOR • N S THOMPSON • RÓISÍN TIERNEY • RACHEL TOBIN • SAMUEL TONGUE • HELEN TOOKEY • ANGELA TOPPING • ALAN PATRICK TRAYNOR • ROBERT VAS DIAS • JANET VICKERS • VAL VINOKUR • G C WALDREP • RORY WATERMAN • LAURA GRACE WELDON • NAOMI WELLS • ANNE WELSH • SARAH WESTCOTT • ROWAN WILLIAMS • CLIVE WILMER • CHRISTIAN WIMAN • KAREN WINTERBURN • CAROLYNE WRIGHT • RODNEY WOOD • ATTALIA YACHOV-HAI • JEFFREY YANG • TAMAR YOSELOFF • C. DALE YOUNG • DAVID ZIEROTH

Friday, June 10, 2016

Michael McAloran’s ‘In Absentia’

Michael McAloran’s In Absentia is a short chapbook (25 pages or so) from Black Editions Press.  There is little preparation given to the reader for what is a dense but exhilarating work.  The press’s website describes the book as “An experimental prose poetry chapbook which deals with the body vocal, the none & the dissipated voice”; no more is in fact needed, as McAloran’s textured writing, on surface “nonlinear” and “avant-garde,” builds up layers of feeling and meaning in the experience of reading it (and, no doubt, writing it).

There is much sound- and word-play, even goopy texture of language, in the manner of Harryette Mullen.  A more obvious forerunner to McAloran, though, is certainly Samuel Beckett.  I’m thinking in particular of Rockaby or Not I, each play (or monologue) with its disembodied voice and similar disjointedness of words.


McAloran’s In Absentia too is about similar questions — the possibility of speech or utterance in a destroyed world, by a destroyed self (thus the title).  For example, a line in section iii. reads, “vocal adrift unvocal clarify till dredge what matter done/ collapse. . .” while in section iv. we have, “vocal crossed up in silence speech devoured by silence ever was. . .”  In contemporary Irish poetry, this is a rare stance; there is little to none of the common tropes, such as the landscape (except an exaggerated sort of devastated, post-apocalyptic one), little of overt politics (except the personal, rendered obliquely), little of an identifiable Irish history.

While the deliberate erasure of the oft-constructed poetic self (e.g. there is no author bio or photo, nor “I”-based speaker) could perhaps be suggestive of some sort of trauma (“recoil in absence unto self-mutilation within to parry in-isolate in-reek in turn. . .”) that itself ties into a wider history, it is not specified here.  Rather, McAloran puts forward an utter rejection of society, almost a kind of nihilism.

Yet even the rhetorical strategy of subverting the self is in a way an assertion of it, and for all the anxiety about whether speech is even possible, the poet has produced a quite sustained and compelling text, “ex-nihilo.”  Though the author may feel himself “in absentia,” through the writing comes a kind of presence.  There is even in part vii. a gesture toward an audience: “scarred unto point bled out vacuous murmurs beneath breath absent audience. . .”  Though characteristically rendered via the negative approach (the audience is supposedly “absent”), by naming it (i.e. giving it its word) the idea of audience too becomes present.

Ultimately, like Beckett, McAloran here seeks some way forward out of nihilism, or at least a coexistence with(in) it.  As the collection builds toward its close, he gives the line, “seeks sustenance in absence not a blinded by dark long shadow blight expel. . .”  The “blight” perhaps can never fully be expelled, but in this powerful poetry are, to use one of McAloran’s favourite words, “echoes,” echoes of something, a kind of sustenance, however fleeting?

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Witter Bynner, The New World (1915)

In many ways, I can’t help but read Witter Bynner as against Ezra Pound, who Bynner saw as a rival (most likely, Pound didn’t see Bynner in such reciprocal light at all, though the two knew each other and maintained a correspondence).  When we think of innovation in modernist poetry, Pound is inevitably at or near the top of the list, and there is the typical narrative of his Imagism and related poetics breaking open the staid conventions of fin de siècle verse, etc.  It is true in many ways, but recent scholarship, especially that of John Timberman Newcomb and that of Suzanne W. Churchill (to mention two critics offhand), has done much to complicate this picture.

One reason I have sought out the work of people like Bynner, Haniel Long, Marjorie Allen Seiffert, Orrick Johns, and others is that they were doing extremely interesting things during the early American modernist period (1910s) contemporaneously with Pound, et al. (Long active at this time, but really coming on in the 1930s); yet they are mostly not tainted with Pound’s elitism, fascism, and anti-Semitism.  There were so many original poets in this period who have been virtually written out of history until recently — it was not all Pound, Lowell, Eliot, and the New Critics.  WCW, Mina Loy, and others have justly been posited in the last few decades or so as counterpoints, but whither Bynner and the rest?

Bynner’s The New World (published by Mitchell Kennerley in 1915) is a now-obscure long poem, but well worth reading.  Though Bynner also wrote in free verse, this work (like Pound’s “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley”) is rhymed (irregularly, along the lines of abbbaaba. . .).  Unlike most of Pound, it limns a Whitmanesque, democratic vision of America that welcomes immigrants and aspires to equality of all people:

What is this might, this mystery,
Moving and singing through democracy,
This music of the masses
And of you and me —
But purging and dynamic poetry! — (page 25)
Here the rhyme is a bit heavy-handed, but the passage sums up Bynner’s perspective (and his repetition of rhyme is often meant to work as emphasis).  Though he does not articulate a codified system (aside from the broad strokes), he does intend to take a political stance, having asserted at the start of this section, “‘Beauty,’ they ask, ‘in politics?’ / ‘If you put it there,’ say I” (23).

Bynner’s political stance also includes gender equality (Bynner was an early supporter of women’s suffrage):

To stop the wound and heal the scar
Of time, with sudden glorious aptitude
Woman assumes her part.  Her pity in a flood
Flings down the gate.
She has been made to wait
Too long. . . . (37)
Here, the rhyme is more subtle, with enjambment and the near-rhyme of “aptitude / flood,” even as the message remains stridently egalitarian.  Bynner makes similarly strident statements about wealth inequality and war, while avoiding the ideological approach we sometimes later see especially in the poets of the 1930s — Bynner was not a Marxist, but more a radical progressive, albeit when the term still had something of a party-political connotation.

At times, The New World verges into mysticism, something like Whitman’s deism (or perhaps unconsciously Taoist) — but, depending on your point of view, of the clear-eyed, refreshing sort (and who’s to say mysticism is inherently bad, anyway?), often bound up in visions of earthly unity (however idealistic they may have been).  For example:

Let me receive communion with all men,
Acknowledging our one and only soul!
   For not till then
Can God be God, till we ourselves are whole. (39)
There are some weaknesses here, though; sometimes Bynner’s frequent talk of the “soul” or “joy” becomes a bit too indistinct or clichéd.  Pound, with his Imagist principles, had a point in this regard, the better strategy often being to avoid or at least critique such abstractions.

There is also the larger question, which attaches to Whitman as well: doesn’t this celebration of America as “the new world” bring with it a host of colonialist assumptions?  That is, while Bynner on one level welcomes immigrants (good), he still sees America as a place for all where travelers from distant countries should “Go find the new world, win the shores / Of which the old books tell!” (11).  Where does that leave the Native people, then?  Certainly not “win[ning] the shores”. . .

Bynner would later move to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he would engage with American Indian (and Mexican) culture on a deeper level.  This is not to say that he ever fully shed the biases that had been inculcated in him, but here we find a poet who was at least trying to propound a genuine democratic vision to the extent that he was capable, at a time when many of his (now-canonical) contemporaries were putting forward elitist, nativist, and/or jingoist positions.  Soon after publication of The New World, Bynner produced (with Arthur Davison Ficke) the pseudonymous anthology Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments (1916, as Emanuel Morgan and Anne Knish respectively), which led to a rethinking not only of his poetic style, but seemingly of his own artistic and personal identity.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Two Short Films by R. Allen Kirkpatrick

R. Allen Kirkpatrick (b. 1937) is an American experimental filmmaker who was active in the avant-garde film scene beginning in the late 1960s and primarily in the 1970s, in New York City. His first major 16mm film, Orange Jesuit (uploaded here) is dated from 1972. Neon (also given here, first) is from 1971. Orange Jesuit deals with conceptions of religion, demonstrated primarily through juxtaposition and contrast (the title itself is inherently paradoxical), informed to some extent by Mao’s theory of contradiction. It is also informed to a degree by Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Hurrahing in Harvest”: “The heart rears wings bold and bolder / And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet” — with the filmmaker himself, who appears as the protagonist throughout, seen “off under his feet” at the conclusion. (Kirkpatrick began his artistic career as a poet before moving into film.)

When these two films were transferred to video in 1990, Kirkpatrick added a description on the box that reads:

NEON
Jupiter
Times Square
and Beyond

ORANGE JESUIT
Symvisionary, lyric orange priest
unfrocked, unsprung at the very least
a churchly tiger without cage
restraint commingled with outrage

After these, Kirkpatrick’s next film was Naples and I Must Supply the World with Noodles (1973), which takes up issues of political violence and narcissism. An error in DVD transfer means that an incomplete version of this film (only a few scenes) comes after Orange Jesuit (which ends around the 18:00 minute mark).

Kirkpatrick’s “masterpiece,” not given here, is perhaps Adrenalin Devours the Blood (1975), which includes live footage of Lou Reed. Other titles in his oeuvre are Against Nature’s Silence (1969), which deals with Chinese history and Maoist philosophy, Green Bay Packers (1970), and Local Tyrants and Evil Gentry (1971).

Some clear influences on Kirkpatrick’s work are Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith, and Jonas Mekas. All visual effects in Kirkpatrick’s films, the filmmaker points out, were done in the camera itself, with only cuts, splices, and sound being added later.

Kirkpatrick showed his films at, among other places, Penn State University in 1973. On April 10, 1976, he had a major showing at the Millennium Film Workshop when it was still in Manhattan at 66 E. 4th St. (then curated by Howard Guttenplan) of Fight Song, Neon, Orange Jesuit, Naples and I, and Adrenalin. (He later won two Emmy Awards for his work as film editor of the PBS TV show The Big Blue Marble.)

The early films — Against Nature’s Silence, Fight Song (a.k.a Green Bay Packers), Local Tyrants and Evil Gentry, and others — are 8mm. Neon, Orange Jesuit, Naples and I, and Adrenalin are 16mm.

The digital transfers of Neon and Orange Jesuit uploaded here come from a VHS transfer that was made in 1990, then a more recent (2009 or so) digital transfer from that VHS onto DVD. Adrenalin and Naples and I, though not available online, have been similarly digitized in this less-than-ideal mode. None of the others have yet been transferred and exist only on the original film reels, which are all extant. (The soundtracks for the 8mm films were originally created on accompanying reel-to-reel audio tapes, since transferred to cassette tapes. The 16mm films embed a soundtrack synched to the visual.)

Neon and Orange Jesuit now make their first appearance on the internet (albeit in second-generation transfer) in the hope that these long-obscure works of art may find a new or further audience, having previously been known only to a small group of cognoscenti. They are copyright © R. Allen Kirkpatrick and uploaded with his permission.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

John Menesini’s Gloom Hearts & Opioids

John Menesini’s new book Gloom Hearts & Opioids is now out, published by Six Gallery Press.  It can be ordered here.

I wrote a brief intro for it:

“Who eats a face?” John Menesini asks in “Bathsalt Vaudeville.” Menesini himself eats a face, metaphorically speaking. Read these poems and find out in the reading; don’t take my word for it.

I’m writing this from a very subjective point of view. I know John and have been digging his poems since we first met in 1998. In Ireland then, his stuff struck me as a strange gust of “home,” whatever that is: “cracked macadam basketball courts / knee-high weeds in tangled clusters” or 4th of July parades with “hordes of drunken / volunteer fireman.” Or “Psychobilly Novaboys,” the first one of his I ever read, I think.

The range of his poetic insight, however, is long, much longer even than a shit-town inscape. Samurais sometimes lived a life of “archaic working-class toil”? Yes, I guess so. The idea connects them to the figures of old Pittsburgh in “Black Cemetery Wall.” I like the sweet elegy for Lou Reed (and Sterling Morrison) and the strange images of “Black Snow”: “cry black tears / sharp shards / become puddles”

Reading these again (and some for the first time) reminds me how good Menesini is — as if I needed reminding. I won’t go on, except to say that he is a poet of singular intensity and a complex sensibility who should be read.

                — Michael S. Begnal, Pittsburgh, July 2014

Friday, May 13, 2016

‘The Muddy Banks’ is out

My new chapbook is out — titled The Muddy Banks, published by Ghost City Press, it can be ordered here: 

http://ghostcitypress.tumblr.com/gcp011 

Please order a copy; I would really appreciate it

Please contact the publisher and/or myself if you would like to do a review of The Muddy Banks.

I’m quite happy with how this little book came out.  Ghost City did a very good job on the layout and printing. The poems are a series, taking up the city of Pittsburgh.  Or as the back-cover description says, “The Muddy Banks is a series of interconnected poems engaging the city of Pittsburgh as a postindustrial landscape, simultaneously having one foot in its rather strange and unique past and the other in a contemporary space, both physical and psychic, where gentrification and decay coexist. Taking a cue from the now-obscure modernist-era poet Haniel Long’s Pittsburgh Memoranda, The Muddy Banks mixes forms and modes. It is at once regionalist and continental, micro and macro, lyric and narrative, documentary and dada, living inscape and necropastoral — an homage to a city’s ghosts, who haunt hotel rooms, empty flats, bridges, banks, riverbanks, stadiums, and straggly streets.”

My thanks to Ghost City, and to John Menesini for the cover art and the blurb.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Oíche Bhealtaine / May-Day Eve

Hawthorn in bloom (via irisharchaeology.ie)
I don’t think I’m especially insightful in noting that holidays are culturally constructed, that there is nothing inherently holy about one day as opposed to another.  Solstices and equinoxes do mark significant turning points in the cycle of the year, and are thus worth observing.  The four primary Celtic holidays, however, fall between the solstices and equinoxes, and tonight/tomorrow is one of them: Bealtaine.

In Gaelic and other Celtic cultures, Bealtaine is essentially the first day of summer, the brighter part of the year.  Though I’m not going to be driving my cattle (or even my cat) between any purifying bonfires, I choose to notice the day that’s in it.  Holidays can be nice, and maybe even more so when you decide for yourself which ones you like. Oíche Bhealtaine shona dhaoibh go léir.


A Scottish Bealtaine festival, a few years back (via http://nva.org.uk/artwork/beltane/)

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Review in Poetry Ireland's Trumpet

My review of recent books by three Irish poets — Trevor Joyce, Christodoulos Makris, and Peter O’Neill — appears in the new issue (5) of Trumpet, Poetry Ireland’s critical review.  The publication is available in hard copy up until a new issue comes out, at which time it becomes downloadable as a PDF.

Poetry Ireland describes the magazine like this: “Reviews, opinions and essays on poetry and the arts in a bite sized literary pamphlet.”

Here are some snippets from my essay.  The whole piece runs to 1735 words, so these are just teasers:

Trevor Joyce’s booklet Rome’s Wreck is a translation of Edmund Spenser’s sonnet sequence Ruines of Rome (1591), which itself is a translation of Joachim du Bellay’s Les Antiquités de Rome (1558). . . .

Where Joyce’s primary formal restriction is his use of iambic tetrameter, Christodoulos Makris, in his second collection, The Architecture of Chance, employs all manner of controlling devices. . . .

In contrast to the ironic humour that Makris deploys, Peter O’Neill in his third collection, The Dark Pool, is nothing if not serious. . . .
 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Review of Iggy Pop, Post-Pop Depression

Iggy Pop, almost out of the blue, announced just a couple months ago that a new album was on the way, Post-Pop Depression.  Having worked with the re-formed Stooges for a number of years, then with the second version of a re-re-formed Stooges with James Williamson (after the death of original guitarist Ron Asheton) — now, with the death of drummer Scott Asheton and some apparent dissension between Pop and Williamson at the time of the latter’s Re-Licked album (2014) — it appears that the Stooges and the Stooges-related part of Iggy’s career, sadly, is over.  If they wanted, in order to continue the revisiting of these various permutations of the Stooges, Pop and Williamson could perhaps still do some kind of follow-on from their Kill City album (1975/1977), mimicking the trajectory of Stooges → Iggy and the Stooges → Iggy Pop & James Williamson.  But, again, it seems most unlikely.  Instead, Iggy has for now found a new guitarist and collaborator, Josh Homme, and we have Post-Pop Depression.  But this also is a very good thing.

Much has already been said about the resemblance between this album’s sound and Iggy’s first two immediate post-post-Stooges albums The Idiot and Lust for Life (both 1977).  It is true that there is a kind of self-conscious hieing to that musical period for him here, but it’s also different and its own thing.  Homme’s guitar is just a little heavier, and while the decadent mood of those albums is present, there is also a truer sense of impending death.  It’s easy to muse about death when you’re still a young man or woman; it is different when you are older or old and it’s that much closer.  Here, Iggy is wrestling with mortality and perceived failure (e.g. “if I have outlived my use,” in “American Valhalla”).  The kind of feelings that he locates on this album — in, for example, and especially, “Gardenia,” “American Valhalla,” and “Chocolate Drops” — are poignant, the sort of feelings any artist who is lucky enough to get this far must ineluctably wrestle with.

What is this Post-Pop Depression?  The title works in different ways.  It is “post-pop” in the sense of being past the time of widespread success in a popular sense.  Thus, this album is made without much hope for mainstream rewards (indeed, it is released independently, apparently self-funded, on the Loma Vista and Rekords Rekords labels). But since Iggy is Pop, there’s also a sense of losing oneself, or at least of shedding one’s public image, and trying for some sort of “real” connection, despite the near futility of it.  Or, thinking of death, it might even mean contemplating losing one’s self, full stop.  A feeling of depression might indeed result from any of these.

The lead-off track is “Break into Your Heart,” a mid-tempo tune that vaguely recalls both Iggy’s Berlin albums and Bowie’s Scary Monsters sound. Lyrically, it is about breaking down interpersonal barriers and the possibility of intimacy (or lack thereof). Yet, the other person seems always out of reach, buried under “Mountains capped with snow.”  As the phrase “break in” implies, the attempt at closeness seems not to be reciprocated, and the theme of alienation and estrangement is foregrounded.  On most of the album, this alienation is from mainstream society at large, but here and in the next song, it is expressed in regard to personal relationships.

“Gardenia,” the first “single” from the album (are there such things as singles anymore? I guess in download or YouTube form now?), reads as a tribute to Billie Holiday.  The title itself is a dead giveaway (along with the line “A gardenia in your hair”), but there are further clues: “Black Goddess in a shabby raincoat”; “I saw a dangerous habit / When she turned the lights on”; etc.  Other lines, however, suggest a more personal relationship than the Iggy-speaker could ever really have with such a long-dead muse: “Much taller and stronger than me” (perhaps indicating Pop’s real-life wife); “We lay in the darkness”; “America’s greatest living poet / Was ogling you all night.”  Here Pop himself is surely, in the song anyway, “America’s greatest living poet.” It’s a boast perhaps, but song lyrics aside, Iggy has written and published poetry per se, some being included in his 1982 autobiography, I Need More. Ultimately, “Gardenia” is an ambiguous figure, an amalgam of Holiday and others, or perhaps as Iggy sings, “A forbidden dream.”  Musically, the song epitomizes the angular, funky, post-punk sound of the album, with Homme’s guitar emphasizing the backbeat in the verses and adding layers in a higher register in the bridge.  Iggy’s singing on the chorus (“All I wanna do is tell / Gardenia what to do tonight”) is both subtle and lush at the same time, and, speaking subjectively, the song is real catchy.

The album’s theme of mortality might best be summed up in “American Valhalla.”  “Where is American Valhalla? / Death is the pill that’s hard to swallow,” Iggy avers, after stating that his life hasn’t been easy and many of his accomplishments have seemingly gone unnoticed.  Surely there must be some reward, somewhere?  Not for him a Christian Heaven, but an American Valhalla, abode of mythic heroes, among whom Iggy Pop surely deserves a place after death?

The subject matter of “In the Lobby” reminds me a bit of “Some Weird Sin” (from Lust for Life), the attraction to deviant or dangerous experience (both songs refer to being on “the edge”).  In the earlier song, the danger or deviance was needed “Just to relax me,” but here it is accompanied by fear and anxiety instead: “An ocean of bodies / And then there’s me / And I hope I’m not losing my life tonight.”  A further difference is that in “Some Weird Sin” the weird sin was something actively sought, whereas now it is more of an involuntary compulsion: “I followed my shadow and it led me here.”  The backing track is often heavily syncopated in its rhythm, bass-driven, and in the third verse Iggy erupts into a wonderful scream, reminiscent of the vocal punctuations on “Run Like a Villain” from the 1982 Zombie Birdhouse album, and many other Iggy performances.

One of the best tracks here, in my opinion, is “Sunday,” another funky number, accompanied by some steady, loping tom-tom playing by the drummer, Matt Helders. At times, I hear shades of early Talking Heads in this, or in a broader sense Bowie’s band on the “Fame” single.  The theme is nothing new — the rat race of work and job — but Iggy’s lyrical treatment brings to it a sense of psychic exhaustion, turning it into an affect-centered meditation (“I’m a wreck / What did you expect?”; “I crawl for Sunday / When I don’t have to move”) rather than a polemic. The backing vocals, which repeat the mantra “Always ready, always steady,” are a great finishing touch.  But then there’s another finishing touch, a long orchestral fadeout, heavy on the strings, tugging at the heart-strings.

“Vulture” is a mostly acoustic interlude, a departure from the sound of the rest of the album, but still enervated, and following on from “Sunday,” a further attack on capitalism.  It doesn’t quite have the same appeal as the rest of the album, but it does have a pleasantly harsh electric guitar solo by Homme and a loud, ringing chorus—there are bells (or at least, chimes).  It grows on you with repeated listenings, and Iggy’s Eastern-inflected vocal flourish at the end is interesting.

“German Days” quickly gets us back on track.  It is perhaps the song that in places sounds most like Homme’s own band (Queens of the Stone Age) and, appropriately given its title, like decadent operatic-cum-cabaret 1920s German music, Kurt Weill perhaps, or even recent Scott Walker (who I know is not German).  Jon Pareles in the New York Times recently suggested that “German Days” references Iggy’s time in Berlin with Bowie, and perhaps it does, but it seems to me, even more so, that it’s going for that Weimar thing.  Yeah, it mentions Berlin, but really nothing particular to that city in the 70s—it’s more about a broader mood than any specific autobiographical detail.

“Chocolate Drops” is a stand-out, piano- and chime-driven and lyrically raw and open.  “When it’s painful to express the things you feel / It hurts to share because they’re bare and real,” sings Iggy.  Homme’s primary guitar on this one is the lap steel.  I would almost say it’s a nice song, but the mood is tinged with melancholy, nice in a bittersweet way.

“Paraguay” encapsulates that desire to leave, to disappear to somewhere beyond the American . . . greed? shallowness? competition?  But it is also in conjunction with a kind of self-effacement, even self-pity (“I’m going where sore losers go”), which we’ve all felt at some time or another.  All this is further juxtaposed (both musically and lyrically) with the heavy, deliberately plodding guitar riff that comes in toward the end, over which Iggy lets loose a rant about the straitjacket that for him is contemporary Western capitalist society, its soul-destroying emptiness, its paranoia, its neuroses — “. . .take your motherfucking laptop / And just shove it into your goddam foul mouth / . . . . And I hope you shit it out. . .”  It’s a great moment.

I think that as an album Post-Pop Depression is important for a number of reasons.  First of all, it is the best Iggy solo album in a number of years, and in some ways, for me anyway, even more compelling than the last Stooges album (Ready to Die [2013]) — and I say this not altogether comfortably as a Stooges fan.  While that album had many great, signature James Williamson licks, the presence of Scott Asheton on drums, Steve Mackay on tenor sax, and some really good songs, in places Iggy was lost lyrically speaking (e.g. “DD’s”).  Iggy’s recent French albums have some very nice stuff on them (in a vastly different way, obviously), and his voice is just always great to hear.  But musically, lyrically, and ineffably, Post-Pop Depression just has “it.”

Iggy here has been able to recapture something, something in which everything comes together for him, where he is in the zeitgeist so to speak without necessarily trying, where there’s a poetry, a musical quality, and an attitude that just works, essentially all the time throughout.  As he has queried/screamed in many of his performances, especially going back to the Stooges days, “Can you feel it?”  And though the Post-Pop Depression album title and even often the tone of the songs emphasizes depression and impending death (though when is death ever not impending, aside from when you’re a baby or young child?), there is still an uplifting feeling, the vibe of an artistic high note.  With any artist, that feeling waxes and wanes.  Here it waxes big-time.  Without being hyperbolic, again, this really is one of Iggy’s best albums.  Let’s hope, despite his pronouncements, he has a few more in him.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Even the Daybreak: 35 Years of Salmon Poetry

Salmon Poetry’s new anthology, Even the Daybreak: 35 Years of Salmon Poetry, is now out, and it looks great. Edited by Jessie Lendennie and with a cover design by Siobhán Hutson, the collection chronicles the history of this vital Irish press. Over the last three-and-a-half decades, they have published many amazing poets, Irish, American, and European. I’m grateful to be among them (Salmon has published two of my collections, Ancestor Worship and Future Blues).

Order the book here:
http://www.salmonpoetry.com/details.php?ID=385&a=88

My poem in this anthology is “Homage to Séamus Ennis,” my lyrical-polemical response to the music of the great uilleann pipes player (for me something like an Irish John Coltrane, in a way). Here is Ennis playing “The Fox Chase”:


Thursday, February 18, 2016

New Chapbook, Coming This May

The Muddy Banks cover (art by John Menesini)
My new chapbook, The Muddy Banks, will be published this May by Ghost City Press. Though it is not yet out, it does already have a page on the site of the press:
http://ghostcitypress.tumblr.com/gcp011

Here is a description:

The Muddy Banks is a series of interconnected poems engaging the city of Pittsburgh as a postindustrial landscape, simultaneously having one foot in its rather strange and unique past and the other in a contemporary space, both physical and psychic, where gentrification and decay coexist. Taking a cue from the now-obscure modernist-era poet Haniel Long’s Pittsburgh Memoranda, The Muddy Banks mixes forms and modes. It is at once regionalist and continental, micro and macro, lyric and narrative, documentary and dada, living inscape and necropastoral — an homage to a city’s ghosts, who haunt hotel rooms, empty flats, bridges, banks, riverbanks, stadiums, and straggly streets.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Louisville Conference 2016

Ill be giving a poetry reading on a creative panel at this year’s Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900, on Friday, February 19th. If you’re going to the conference, come along and see.

Here’s the panel so far:

F- 12  Creative Panel
Friday 3:15 PM – 4:45 PM    Room: Humanities [room?]
Chair:

Christina Veladota, Washington State Community College
“A Selection of Prose Poems”
Cassandra Daugette, Southeast Missouri State University
“Assorted Flash Fiction”
Mark Fitzgerald, University of Maryland
“Vanishing Point and other poems”
Ted Morrissey, University of Illinois - Springfield
“Sheol”
Michael S. Begnal, Ball State University
“A Colony of Ticks”

http://thelouisvilleconference.com/program_2016.php

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Begnal Interview by rob mclennan

Photo that accompanies the interview
The Canadian poet rob mclennan interviewed me this past November on the subject of poetry.  The discussion now appears on his blogsite, here:
http://www.robmclennan.blogspot.ca/2016/01/12-or-20-second-series-questions-with_79.html

Monday, January 25, 2016

Che Elias, A Pervasive Solace

Che Elias’s new poetry collection, A Pervasive Solace, is out from Six Gallery Press.  I won’t review it per se, since I was closely involved in the book project, doing both the text and cover layouts, contributing my photographs to the cover, and being close friends.  But I will say, completely subjectively, that it is some of his best work. Che is a total literary original; his diction is unique.  I can’t think of anyone else who writes like him.  Sometimes he is intense in his sincerity about writing about extreme situations or trauma; at other times his turn of thought or sudden observation is incredibly funny. Highly recommended.
...Everything freed
Removed he was on his own now
He is the dark where you are free too
Or could be if you join him there?
       — Elias, from “Pervasive Solace”

Monday, December 28, 2015

On Fred Moten on Marjorie Perloff

Fred Moten (photo from the Poetry Foundation site)
Today, almost immediately after I tweeted the link to Fred Moten’s opinion piece in ENTROPY titled “On Marjorie Perloff,” a parody Perloff account began “following” me on Twitter.  I had introduced the link with the words “Fred Moten on the awful Perloff/Goldsmith, at @EntropyMag:” — and so I suddenly felt bad.  For a moment, I must admit, I thought it was her real account, and so it made me feel uneasy to think that she herself had read my not-very-pleasant remark calling her “awful.”  I probably should have written instead, and what I really meant was, that Perloff and Goldsmith have been awful in regard to the issue of race and their treatment of the murdered Michael Brown (in Kenneth Goldsmith’s performance piece and Perloff’s subsequent public comments) — but still, far be it from me, of course, to judge them unequivocally “awful” as people, without even having met either (even if said parody account probably wants to twist in the knife).

As I write all this, though, I am also aware that Moten isn’t quibbling about any of it (e.g. “I like some poetry that Marjorie Perloff likes.  At the same time, we don’t like one another, even though we don’t know one another; at the same time, even though I don’t know her, I know a lot about her.  As a matter of fact, I know a lot more about her than she knows about either me or herself.  That’s a function of our education.  I had to learn about her and many of the things that have gone and continue to go into the making of her.  She has never been so obligated, a condition that induces not only ignorance but also cold-heartedness”), and so neither can I fault him for that.  I suppose I am prone to ambivalence over (possibly) hurt feelings.  I used to be so much more of a harsh critic, but I guess I’ve mellowed somewhat over the years?  Perhaps I should just say that Perloff and Goldsmith have made their own beds.

In any case, I, like many, have been disgusted by things that have been said in defense of Goldsmith, and Perloff’s comments reported by Jen Hofer are quite revealing.  (Read them here.)  In a subsequent Facebook statement on the Moten piece (possibly deleted, but making the rounds as a screen capture), Perloff claimed her comments were taken out of context, but it seems pretty clear what she means when she says, “And so, I think the romanticization, where everybody kept calling him the poor child Michael Brown, and they constantly showed photographs of him in the media when he had been about 12 years old.  That’s what they do.  Many of the pictures you saw, he looks like a little kid; he was a 300-pound huge man.  Scary.  He was scary, I’m just saying, that way.”

The real point, which apparently needs to be made over and over, is not whether Brown was a “scary” guy, or that it was obviously wrong to steal cigars from a convenience store, but that NONE OF THESE THINGS WHATSOEVER MEAN THAT HE DESERVED TO BE SUMMARILY EXECUTED.  And so Perloff’s pleas about how “complicated” the situation supposedly was, or her assertion that “the reaction to [the Goldsmith piece] is even much worse” than the piece itself, understandably leave most of her audience skeptical, to say the least.  That Perloff completely misses these points is what, it seems to me, rightly angers Moten.

Of course I believe in having a civil discourse and that we should avoid the temptation, all too common on social media, to vilify others (which, I guess, I have been guilty of).  And of course things are complicated; they always are.  But people have a right to be angry — about what is happening in American society today, and about the thoughtless responses to it by certain critics and performance artists.  Perloff, however, seems more concerned with internet etiquette and with being piqued about the supposed “romanticization” of police murder victim Michael Brown, than she is with the wider pattern of injustice that underlies this whole conversation.  And that is why I posted the link to Moten’s article.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Pushcart Prize Nomination

Following on the heels of its publication in The Pickled Body (see previous post), I am happy to announce that my poem “Paris of Appalachia” has been nominated by said journal for a 2016 Pushcart Prize.  Many thanks.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Three Poems in The Pickled Body

The Pickled Body 2.2, cover art by Padhraig Nolan
I have three poems in the new issue (2.2) of the Irish journal The Pickled Body.  They are titled “Paris of Appalachia,” “For Joyce Mansour,” and “Spectric Poem.”

Take a look, here:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

James Liddy, review at RTÉ

Liddy in the film documentary, Patrick Kavanagh: No Man’s Fool


A very nice review of James Liddy’s poetic (and autobiographical) work appears from Paddy Kehoe on the website of RTÉ (Ireland’s state broadcaster).  It’s been seven years since Liddy’s death, but his work lives on as strongly as ever, as do my own memories of James the man.

Read the review here: