Saturday, December 19, 2009

Avant-Post archived online

The essay collection Avant-Post: The Avant-Garde under “Post-” Conditions (ed. Louis Armand, Prague: Litteraria Pragensia Books, 2006) has been archived online here. Apparently the hard copy of the book is now out of print, so it is good to see that it lives on in electronic format at least. The book contains an essay by me on experimental Irish poetry and the politics of the recent Irish poetry scene, “The Ancients Have Returned Among Us: Polaroids of 21st C. Irish Poetry.” So, if you never managed to order the book itself, you can now read it all for free online.

A blurb describing the book as a whole reads, “Avant-Post engages the question of whether or not avant-garde practice remains viable under the prevailing conditions of a whole series of ‘post-’ ideologies, from Post-Modernism and Post-Structuralism, to Post-Historicism, Post-Humanism and Post-Ideology itself.” Other contributors include Johanna Drucker, Lisa Jarnot, Christian Bök, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Robert Archambeau, Mairéad Byrne, R.M. Berry, Trey Strecker, Keston Sutherland, Robert Sheppard, Bonita Rhoads, Vadim Erent, Laurent Milesi, Esther Milne, and more.

The American Book Review describes Avant-Post this way: “The question at the heart of these sixteen essaysalternately theoretically demanding, impishly elusive, stylistically impacted, and wholly absorbingis this: what, in the context of contemporary politico-aesthetic practices, is the avant-garde, and how, if at all, can some version of it continue to exist in an historical moment when...everything is permitted, hence nothing is any longer possible?”

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pense Aqui No. 318

I have two excerpts of new work in Pense Aqui No. 318, a mail-art and experimental poetry magazine published from Brazil. This issue includes collage/mail-art work from Brazil, Serbia, France, Finland, Catalonia, Latvia, and the U.S., with poetry by David Stone and myself.

The editor, José Roberto Sechi, has posted photos of previous issues here.

Copies of the new issue may be obtained from:

José Roberto Sechi
Av. M29, N.
° 2183
Jd. São João
Rio Claro SP 13505-410

In this issue, Sechi also announces the
“Sechiisland’s International Library,” an alternative library specializing in contemporary art, mail art, Fluxus, visual poetry, and experimental literature, and asks for donations of books, magazines, catalogues, videos, CDs, etc. to be sent to the above address.

(The above photo is of the covers of two earlier Pense Aqui issues, Nos. 136 and 134.)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Begnal Interview, Two-Handed Engine Press

I am interviewed on the site of Two-Handed Engine Press. The interview appears here, and I also reproduce it below.

Michael S. Begnal, author of Ancestor Worship

How did you become a writer?

I guess the earliest stuff I wrote was song lyrics for the various bands I was in when I was a teenager. Not long after that I started writing poetry in free verse, probably trying to emulate the writers I dug at the time. Many of which I still dig now. But at some point, later, I figured out that poetry is not just simple self-expression, that it’s actually about other things, like, oh, language, images.

What collections do you have out, and published by whom?

In reverse chronological order, Ancestor Worship was published in 2007 by the Irish press Salmon Poetry; Mercury, the Dime came out in 2005, and The Lakes of Coma in 2003, the latter two published by the Pittsburgh-based Six Gallery Press.

Do you read your reviews?


Does it matter to you whether they are good or bad reviews?

I’d be lying if I said it didn’t matter at all, in the sense that of course I prefer them to be good reviews. But it doesn’t upset me if someone doesn’t like what I’ve published. Once you put something out there you can’t control how it’s going to be perceived by other people. You can’t stand over their shoulders and tell them how to read it or why they should like it. People’s perceptions of your work can be pretty arbitrary and subjective, and that’s just the way it is. I suppose the worst thing would be simply to be ignored and not have a book reviewed somewhere at all.

Has a review ever changed your perspective on your work?

I still believe in my own writing whether a review is good or bad. Most have been good so far, anyway. I keep waiting for the blistering attacks, but they haven’t happened yet. Maybe next time. One journal gave a bad review to The Lakes of Coma a number of years back, but I can’t say that it did anything to change my perspective. However, a few people whose opinions I respect have made private criticisms from time to time that I have found to be worthwhile.

Do you read a great deal?

Of course. I’m kind of suspicious of poets who claim they don’t read other poets, and I have heard a couple people say that. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Poetry is part of an ongoing history. You can’t know what good writing is if you don’t read it. That said, one must always be as original as possible.

What do you think is the most integral quality to developing as a writer?

Maybe realizing that it’s not all about you, even if it is about you to a certain degree. Realizing that the poetry is in the words on the paper or the words spoken in breath. That while it may be infused with deep feeling, poetry is inherently about form. This is not to say you have to write in a formalist manner. But poetry is intrinsically an artistic mode of expression. If not, then standard prose would be enough, right? Well, speaking for myself I guess. But here’s what I mean. One time Jack Kerouac was asked how he liked fame, and he said, “It’s like old newspapers blowing down Bleecker Street.” That was a poetic response. He didn’t say, for example, “I feel lonely and alienated.”

Which authors have been most influential to your own writing?

That is a hard question to answer, because most of the writers I used to think I was being influenced by, I see now aren’t really very similar in style to what I have actually written. But, Kerouac has always been very important to me, and still is. I suppose I used to think that I was writing like him even if it wasn’t ultimately that true. Amiri Baraka is also majorly important. In my mind I think Baraka has been influential in some way, but I don’t know if anyone else would see that. James Liddy, the Irish poet, has permeated my sense of what it means to be a poet. Aodhagán Ó Rathaille, an Irish Gaelic poet who died in 1729, sometimes comes to me in dreams. His work is unsurpassable. So is that of drunken 8th-century Chinese poet Li Po. Let’s see, when I was 19 years old I met Lawrence Durrell and told him I was a poet, and he smiled this big smile and told me to do it. Also, the music of the Stooges is an endless source of artistic inspiration.

Do you think about your body of work?

Of course. I’m not sure quite how you mean, but I am a serious writer so I do think about those kinds of things.

Do you have a lot of work in progress?

The next collection is done.

Do you have the whole poem figured out before you write it?

The poem comes into being in the process of writing it.

What is a typical day for you?

Wake up, finish off the beer sitting by my bed from the night before, open another one, start writing.... Just kidding. Sometimes I wish that was the truth, though. Occasionally it is, or something like that.

If you could have written one book in history, what book would it be?

Thomas Kinsella’s translation of The Táin.

What would you be doing for a living if you weren’t a writer?

Well, it’s not that writing is a living in itself. But maybe it is if you take into consideration my related gig as a college writing instructor. If I wasn’t doing what I’m doing now, I suppose the only other alternative career I could imagine for myself would be if any of the various bands I used to be in had made it big and I was a successful rock’n’roller. If not that either, then maybe the Post Office or something.

Ancestor Worship (Salmon Poetry) is available here

Friday, November 20, 2009

Begnal video on new Salmon Poetry site

To the left is the author photo of me used on the revamped and updated Salmon Poetry website. The page for Ancestor Worship also includes two videos: one of a reading of the poem “Ancestor Worship,” the other of the poem “My Role in Society.” Just click the previous link, and when you’re on the page you will see the links for the videos, which, when clicked, then pop out and play. These, I believe, are currently the only videos of me reading poetry available online. The page is also updated with the latest reviews of the book and such features as a pop-out, full-size view of the cover. Not to mention, um, a very convenient way to place your order.

The whole Salmon site, by the way, designed by Siobhán Hutson, looks great as well.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Reviews in An Sionnach Vol. 5

I appear in the new issue of An Sionnach: A Journal of Literature, Culture, and the Arts, Volume 5, Numbers 1 & 2, Spring & Fall 2009 (University of Nebraska Press) in two ways. First, my review of Irish poet Maurice Scully’s collection Doing the Same in English (Dedalus Press, 2008) is included, and can also be read here in online form at Project MUSE, the database of “prestigious humanities and social sciences journals.”

Second, a new review, by Keith Gaustad, of Ancestor Worship is published in the same issue. It too can be read online via Project MUSE (here), and I reproduce the text of it below.

Michael S. Begnal Ancestor Worship Salmon Poetry 2007 70 pp. ISBN: 978-1-903392-54-6 €12.00

Reviewed by Keith Gaustad

I realize it may be more interesting for readers to have me write about the poet rather than the poetry. I say this only because the pitfalls of academic jargon are out there, and I’m just the clod to go traipsing through the field looking at the sky. Holy shit! That’s poetry.

Mike Begnal or Michael S. Begnal to fans and critics, has a new book from Salmon called Ancestor Worship (2007). He sent me a copy because, as a friend, he knew I’d like it. However, how does a poet living in North Carolina formerly of Pennsylvania and previously of Ireland know someone who has never lived anywhere but Milwaukee? Answer: James Liddy.

Begnal came to Milwaukee to take on the prestigious position of the James Liddy Chair at the Irish Cultural Center of Milwaukee. It was my understanding that this was a newly created post. What the determining factors were for the selection of the James Liddy Chair, only the dear now late Liddy seemed to know...and maybe Professor Gleason. I don’t recall what poems of Mike’s that Liddy gave me to read in advance. Liddy knew I wasn’t on the up-and-up or on the who’s who, so if I were to accompany him to a reading, as the driver, often he would hand me a book or a copy of a poem to update me, so that if cornered I could produce at least one poem title to pronounce as my favorite.

Assuredly, one of the factors that determined Begnal’s earning the seat of the James Liddy Chair was that Begnal wrote poetry in the Irish language. The Chair is, after all, a part of The Irish Cultural Center. So I sat down on a nice comfy couch in a nice comfy room on the Marquette University campus to hear for the first time what the Irish language sounded like. Interestingly enough, it sounded very sarcastic. Most of the poems felt uneasy. The poet told us that we probably didn’t really care what the Irish language sounded like, and that’s why he hurried through them to get to the translations, so we would understand what they meant. His demeanor was, how can I say this, punk rock inside a library.

I found myself chuckling a little during the performance and even thinking, “He means you, blue hair!” when glancing at the old, blue-haired ladies in attendance who did not linger for the reception. It was certainly a to-do. I found myself chatting with Begnal after the reading. The next day we drove around with Liddy on a tour of the city, and then later I drove him to the airport without Liddy. It’s not often you go to a poetry reading at the Irish Cultural Center and make friends with the poet reading for the first-ever James Liddy Chair and end up chatting about early ’80s hip-hop and the few ’80s California hardcore acts I was familiar with. I even got an autograph on my copy of The Lakes of Coma, Begnal’s first book.

If the reading was legendary for all the wrong reasons, so be it. I’ve been able, thanks to the miracle called the Internet, to stay in contact with Begnal, even solicit him for poems for my own humble magazine, Burdock. I even once attempted to write a paper for Liddy based on our conversations about poetry. Needless to say emails do not translate to essays. I think I ended up writing about Sylvia Plath, or something else, instead.

The lesson: dialogue is important. Conversation, however technologically slanted, yields insight. And after having conversed with Begnal for a few years now, I think I understand what made that first impression tick on as it has. During conversations with him, and after reading Ancestor Worship, I think I have a better understanding of his reading that shocked and appalled people: there is frustration rooted in the passage of a culture. To realize that Irish is not an active language in the real sense, that most people in Ireland don’t speak it, and that Ireland only exists in America as a cultural artifact, is the hidden argument of Ancestor Worship.

The argument comes to the surface in the poem Begnal chose to translate out of the Irish, “To the Gaelic People” by Ó Longáin. One of the footnotes states that Ó Longáin’s poems are “urging/inciting...didn’t stir them in the slightest.” A sort of status check in 1800 for the poet, but for a long time both struggles went on. But now, with independence gained for the country, the language of ancestors is threatened.

It’s not just Ireland, though. Time, it seems, moves even quicker now. And what may have been a cultural movement in the ’60s translates to a fashion statement today. We may understand history as it is or we understand it through plastic. I read this in “Old Men’s Bar.” If we read this poem simply for its imagery, that is enough:
Sexless trio in the middle
of cunt colored painted walls,
dead wives,
creeping stink of age,
glasses of beer,

That the walls started out “salmon pink” in the poem is nicely done, intentional or not. That the poet becomes wary of his position in this bar is where I get my theories about the book:
(I’m furtive—
if they caught me they’d raise a shaking fist)

Does this refer to the pitfalls of dual citizenship? Can you belong to two tribes when so much of Ireland is rooted in the tribal, the notion of clan? The voice in the poem does not seek separation. It is felt. It already exists. These men, who may have seen a history the narrator can only learn of secondhand, exist separately from the narrator. They are living ancestors. So much of the pub culture is meant as an exchange, and yet, there it is in the pub. And an American can’t approach it with any comfort for fear of what? Rejection? Perhaps the answer is exile. The book ends with “Another Exile”:
The line bending,
the burden being lightened

That Begnal’s book begins with “Expatriation” tells us everything we need to know about this subtext. Other ideas exist in the pages of this book, but this next excerpt seems to explain a lot of what may be the thesis of the book. Presumably, it’s the author’s entry into the rituals of worship, and it contains lines that describe the narrator and the terrain he will be navigating for most of the book:
and I too’m “American” now,
sauntering the local lanes,
land of ghostly progenitors,
cold stone,
bitter defeat

The poems in Ancestor Worship strive to define worship in a different way. A history-obsessed American often has science on the brain, whereas an Irish mind once had druids, fairies, and monks, who kept everything alive for a time. Begnal has little choice but to approach this in an American fashion. That is to say, the tribal element will be overcome. Is this another sort of catholicism (universal appeal)? I hear composition teachers (they are my ancestors too) saying, “Beware the rhetorical question in your essay.” But I adopt Begnal’s ideas and ask why do we want to hear everything our way, in our language?

That first time I met Mike Begnal was a strange experience, and my initial review of Begnal’s book was a bit off, so I felt I had to get a little more personal with this review. This is a side effect of Ancestor Worship, not the book but the concept it is named for — you feel compelled to make strange events known to multitudes.

(E-ISSN: 1944-6535, Print ISSN: 1554-8953)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Samhain 2009

Yellow and crimson leaves lining the sidewalks and streets, rust-orange leaves of vines clinging to tree trunks and brick buildings, old concrete staircases overgrown with weeds and roots — I will be reading at Kiva Han Café (Craig St. and Forbes), Pittsburgh, on Saturday November 7th, 8:00 p.m. Also reading are Che Elias (novelist, poet, and publisher of Six Gallery Press) and Kevin Finn (poet and musician).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Reading 10/26 at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh

I will be reading at Duquesne University on Monday October 26th, at 7:00 p.m. The event is part of the Coffee House Reading Series, which is organized and sponsored by Duquesne’s English Department. It takes place at the Barnes & Noble Café in the Power Center (1015 Forbes Ave., at the corner of Hooper). I am reading in conjunction with a fiction writer by the name of Bill Kirchner, about whom I have heard good things.
In other news, I was recently interviewed on internet radio. The show, hosted by Mike Marcellino, is called Notebookwriter and runs as part of the Red River Writers Live show on BlogTalkRadio. The interview, which took place on October 7th, is archived and can be listened to here.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Three Poems in Iota 85

I have three poems in Iota 85. Iota is a British poetry journal that has been around for a pretty long time. I remember encountering it in a different form in the late 90s, when it was an A5 folded-over and stapled production and I think always rendered as iota with a small i. It had a certain recognition in Britain and Ireland as one of the stalwart small press poetry journals. Recently the magazine has passed into the hands of a new editorial team associated with the University of Gloucestershire (headed by Nigel McLoughlin), and has reincarnated itself as a high-quality perfect-bound book with color cover and French flaps.

The production is excellent, but I have to say that the poetry between those flaps is pretty damn good too (and not just because I’m in it). Irish poet Howard Wright’s new work, which leads off this issue, is especially strong. I published him a few times a while back in The Burning Bush, but here in Iota he’s better than ever. Just about every poet I’ve happened upon so far in this issue has been interesting to me in some way or another. The magazine includes not only poems, but reviews and interviews (George Szirtes is one of the poets interviewed), and a section for listings of poetry events (predominantly taking place in Britain). Such high-quality work, coupled with its high production values, would have to have Iota on its way to being considered one of the top British poetry journals, I would think? Copies can be ordered through their website (linked above).
In other news, an interview I did with the New York punk band Chesty Malone and the Slice ’Em Ups is online at Punk Globe.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New (York) Mets uniforms?

The Mets have announced, or sort of announced, that they might be making a uniform change after this most dismal of seasons. Reportedly, the possible changes involve dropping the traditional pinstripes, and going with a cream-colored uniform like the one they wore this past August. Here’s David Wright in that uniform, being escorted out to to his position at third by the Mets trainers, as is his usual fashion. The bat-boy then comes over, bows, and gives him his hat, bows to the four corners of Citi Field, and sprints back to the dugout. David picks up a pinch of Citi infield dirt, ceremonially smears it on the front of his uniform, and rolls up his sleeves so that you can see the sleeves of his orange undershirt. The crowd over at the third-base side, known as “David’s Army,” roll up their own sleeves in an exaggerated manner, in tribute to their hero, and high-five each other. Some are simply wearing orange Mets t-shirts with the number 5 on them. Wright, number 5, is the famous Mets singles hitter.

So anyway, yeah, this or something like this might be the new Mets uniform. Some people say who cares. And anyway isn’t this a poetry blog, mainly? (Well actually this is a very poetic post, to be honest....) Others are alarmed at the fact that it seems the pinstripes are going to be ditched. I agree; keep the pinstripes. Bizarrely, a couple of people have actually suggested a blue alternate jersey, like the Mets should rock this blue solid look, like the Cubs do sometimes (the Mets should imitate a team that hasn’t won the World Series for over 100 years)(don’t get me wrong, I would actually like to see the Cubs win; that would be a great moment to see, but hopefully not in a blue jersey). Thankfully, at least it’s pretty clear now that no one likes the black jersey or the all-black hat. That’s capitalistic bullshit. They see through that now, finally.

So really, why have an alternate jersey at all? A black this, a blue that, an alternate this or that? No. There should be one home jersey and one away jersey. For the home jersey, the (maybe off-)white pinstriped 1969 classic Mets jersey, no drop-down black shadowing, no stripes on the sides, no trim. Just a classic button-down jersey, white with pinstripes. The one Tom Seaver is wearing in 1970 on Camera Day at Shea Stadium, holding this weird toy. (As photographed by Stephen Hanks, Camera Day at Shea Stadium, 1970, found online....) Tom Terrific knew where it was at. Riding the subway out to Shea in the 70s meant seeing all the newest graffiti, what early tags were getting up, what early 3-D style. He knew how the New York fans were feeling. But anyway, that is the home uniform they need. And for the away jersey, grey with the classic NEW YORK lettering like they have now, but with no shadowing. That is my considered aesthetic opinion. What to do about Oliver Pérez is a whole other thing.

Friday, September 25, 2009

David Stone, Under the El

In my view, David Stone is one of our most original experimental poets, though he is not sung in the halls of academe or in the HTML code of poetry blogs as often as he should be. That situation will change eventually, I think, as time goes on and Stone’s small press collections, chapbooks, and pamphlets get collected into more readily available volumes.

One of these chapbooks, though, quite available now, is Stone’s latest, Under the El, published by Alternating Current/Propaganda Press. It includes the long poem “Under the El,” set in Chicago where familiar Stonean elements congregate: “& on the asphalt/ a turkey vulture dines.” Shorter poems return to the setting of Baltimore, that apocalyptic city where Stone now lives: “another murderous day/ in this sad city/ where teachers/ are raped by students/ & more beatings on the buses/ & on subways” (“The Subway Glance”).

This is a poet who takes up death, history, war, and urban America unflinchingly, but whose language is therefore a little weird — stripped down to short declaratory sentences, as if desperately clinging to some sense of basic grammatical order. Unlike some experimentalists, whose language often reflects the disorder they find (by all means a valid and often beautiful response), philosopher Stone seeks beautiful logic in the illogical, if only in a ritual sense (as in “YK,” his Yom Kippur poem). There is always a subject and a verb, often an object, though each might not be the expected.

A poem that succinctly illustrates what Stone does is “The Fire Engine”:

The Fire Engine

The fire engine
skidded through
the intersection
& crushed
a compact car.

Earth whisked
wizardous rants.

Breathers reiterated
the aroma of death.

The cell counters
in Socrates’ tank.

Order Under the El through one of the links here, or through the mail for $5 (plus $2 U.S. shipping; $3 out-of-U.S. shipping) via cash, check, or money order made out to Alternating Current, P.O. Box 398058, Cambridge MA 02139, U.S.A.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jim Carroll, 1949-2009

I heard today that the great poet Jim Carroll died, and it was one of those weird moments where you say “Wow, that’s crazy, because I was just talking about him” – and indeed I was just telling someone the other day what a great poet he is (was), and pulled out his Catholic Boy album, and we briefly talked about the cover, how he’s standing there with these older people who it seems may be his parents, yet at the same time his cock is let’s say rather prominently noticeable through his jeans, and anyway “People Who Died” among others is a great song.

Like Patti Smith, Jim Carroll made the transition from being known primarily as a poet to also being known as a punk singer. I got into his writing after first digging his music (particularly Catholic Boy). Living at the Movies still stands as a landmark collection of poetry, drawing on the tradition of Arthur Rimbaud and the Symbolists, as well as the conversational New York vibe of Frank O’Hara (as in for example the opening of “To the Secret Poets of Kansas”):
Just because I can’t understand you
it doesn’t mean I hate
when you go on continuously how you
cannot tolerate skyscrapers or cab drivers

                maniac faces on Fifth, well

it means nothing to me I
just ignore as so often...

Well Rimbaud and O’Hara, I suppose these are not original comparisons, but if you are as good or even almost as good as them, then you’re in good company. And Jim Carroll is. The New York Times obituary calls him a “poet and punk rocker in the outlaw tradition of Rimbaud and Burroughs.” He was also the son of a bar owner. Most people probably know of Carroll because of the film The Basketball Diaries (still to my mind Leonardo DiCaprio’s best role). The film is good; the book is better. Better still his poetry. This is his short poem “Song”:

In minute gestures
                    that jet wetly slight
        right above your eyes
                                        each morning
I watch the sun cross over the reservoir
        all day sometimes
                     a few hours soaked into air cotton
like cloud syringes drawing up blue
                          like darkness when it’s through

Of course, offering a couple short extracts does not do Carroll justice. But when a poet dies one immediately thinks of his words, just as when a rock star dies (again he was both, though “star” might be stretching it) perhaps you play the music. Though Carroll was 60 years old, I can’t help thinking of the lines from his song “I Want the Angel,” which go, “And those who died young, they are my heroes/ They are my heroes, they took the walk/ Where the heart made sense and the mind can’t talk.” Here (below) is Jim Carroll doing “People Who Died,” and hopefully he wouldn’t mind me writing a new verse, maybe, at least in my head, something like “Jimmy had a heart attack, 60 years old, he looked like 55 when he died, he was a friend of mine...”

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Six Gallery Press reading, 8/29

I am participating in a Six Gallery Press reading in Pittsburgh next Saturday, August 29. It’s taking place at Modern Formations Gallery, 4919 Penn Ave. Doors open at 8:00; I’ll be one of the later readers. The full list of participants is on the flier, above. I don’t know if they serve alcohol there or not. Hope so. In any case, I’ll try to be interesting. See you there?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dánta i bhFeasta

Agus sinn i measc mhí Lúnasa (mí a dhéanann comóradh ar Lugh, léirithe ar clé), cad eile ach go mbeadh eagrán Lúnasa 2009 (Imleabhar 62, Uimhir 8, ISSN 0014-8946) de Feasta againn. Is “reiviú den smaointeachas Éireannach” an t-irisleabhar seo, agus le Comhar is na nuachtáin is Foinse imithe ón saol, tá tábhacht ar leith a bhaineann le Feasta anois — ní hamháin do léitheoirí na Gaeilge, ach mar cheann de na hardáin is deireanaí atá fágtha le haghaidh tráchtaireachta Gaelaí ar an saol mór.

Is onóir dom bheith foilsithe ann. Tá ceithre dhán de mo chuid san eagrán seo — “Gan Codladh go Gaillimh”, “Lá Bealtaine thar Sáile”, “Fuisce” agus “Ollamh”. Tá costas clúdaigh €5 ar Fheasta, agus is fiú an léamh.

Órdaigh ó: An Siopa, 6 Sr. Fhearchair, Baile Átha Cliath 2, Éire / Fón: 353-(0)1-4783814 / Ríomhphost:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Burdock 6

The sixth issue of Burdock, the Milwaukee journal edited by Keith Gaustad, has been out for a month or two, and I am just now getting around to noting it. It’s the all-women’s issue, assisted by Dolly Lemke and Jon Lohr, is packed full of good poems, and is worth acquiring. Email Keith at and he’ll work something out.

Here is the list of contributors: Susan Firer, Izzy Oneiric, Peggy Munson, Catherine Averill, Joann Chang, Julie Strand, Stevie Curl, Emily Rutter, Jessi Harrison, Becca Klaver, Jennifer Kraft, Meghan M. Lee, Y Madrone, Meg Reilly, Abigail Stokes, Dolly Lemke, Zenobia Frost, Janelle Crawford, Mary DeMars — that’s a lot of women!

You can read their complete bio notes online at, and get further information about Burdock and its associated Teppichfresser Press there as well.

Yes, that’s right, Milwaukee....

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Kill Poet Press 7

The new issue of Kill Poet Press (issue 7, subtitled Drawn and Quartered) is online and I’ve got a poem in it titled “Bat.” It also appears in print, and the whole journal can be purchased for a mere $6.00 through the Kill Poet store.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sky Saxon, 1937(?)-2009

Sky Saxon died on June 25th. If you’re not familiar, he was the singer of the Seeds, the great 60s garage punk band probably best known for the song “Pushin’ Too Hard.” Saxon’s eulogizers tend to dismiss the Seeds as “rudimentary” (as if the best rock’n’roll isn’t), and even in their day they were sometimes considered disposable. But if you actually listen to them with fresh ears you see that this isn’t the full story. Listen to the guitar solo in “Pushin’ Too Hard.” It might be easy enough to play the notes, but how many people actually get that sound, especially now, and who would use it? Listen to the singing on “Painted Doll.” That’s a great voice, and actually kind of reminiscent of 50s doo wop, in an ostensibly “limited” 60s psychedelic milieu.

Not long ago, when Ron Asheton died, critics were coming out of the woodwork describing the Stooges too as a “rudimentary” group. I've got news for you — that’s the point; that’s a good thing. In the Stooges’ case, a basic song structure provided the foundation for some pretty amazing and intense playing, especially by Ron Asheton. I’m not saying that the Seeds were as good as the Stooges, but for anyone who likes rock’n’roll, the Seeds have their place in the pantheon of 60s punk, the often overlooked genre perhaps best anthologized on the Nuggets compilation albums.

Punk as we conceive of it today of course originated with the CBGBs scene in mid-70s New York City (the Sex Pistols, as great as they were, and that whole British scene, were slightly later aspirants). But in the 60s, while the Beatles et al. ruled the charts, there were kids picking up guitars and putting bands together whether or not they were fully “trained” musicians. Oftentimes the very lack of training made for a good result, and the Seeds encapsulated much of that sound, adding their own nuances to it. In the early 80s, American hardcore punk bands were doing something of the same thing. It was about sound and intensity (and speed), not about virtuoso playing. After a few years, when hardcore bands had learned to play better, the scene went in a different direction because people wanted to be more intricate. Some good stuff was still happening, but it wasn’t the same as that initial wave of Minor Threat, etc.

The idea being that at various points in time there must always be a return to the basics of rock’n’roll, which is volume and intensity and soul, and a handful of chords, without a lot of artifice. When the Seeds were at their best, that is what they represented.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Two Poems in Natural Bridge

The publications just keep coming lately. I’m on a lucky streak, I guess. The latest is two poems in Natural Bridge (ISSN 1525-9897), which is the literary magazine of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. This issue (No. 20, or 21 — both numbers are given on the cover — at any rate it’s Spring 2009) is guest-edited by the Irish poet Eamonn Wall. It features a few familiar names, such as Galway stalwarts Kevin Higgins and Susan DuMars, as well as a couple of other familiar Irish writers such as John Liddy. On a quick skim-through, Matt Rasmussen’s poem “Oh Stethoscope” also jumped out at me for its concise yet strange sense of language, and WCW-like short-line layout.

My two poems are titled “Dead Rabbits” and “Kells,” and these particular pieces continue the Irish or Irish-American themes of Ancestor Worship, I suppose, but from a different perspective. In time and place, if nothing else — yes yes y’all, the endless process of change called life. (I promise, though, I’ve been writing about other things than Ireland lately too....)

Order Natural Bridge through the first link above (although as of this posting they have yet to update their site), or for $8 from: Natural Bridge, Department of English, UMSL, One University Blvd., St. Louis, MO, 63121.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

My Eugenio Montale

You didn’t know I could work my way through Italian, did you? Well, I have a translation or two of the great Italian poet Eugenio Montale in a brand-new anthology of his work entitled Corno Inglese, edited by Marco Sonzogni. The book is being launched on Wednesday 24 June 2009 at 6:30pm, at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Dublin, Ireland (located at 11 Fitzwilliam Square). Below is the full notice of the event from the Italian Cultural Institute’s website. Though this book-launch is free admission, due to limited seating places for this event must be reserved: RSVP (01) 662 1507 or 662 0509. (If you’re in Dublin on the 24th, please consider attending, and let me know how it goes.)


Dr. Marco Sonzogni has assembled a team of illustrious translators to increase the awareness of the works of Eugenio Montale in English speaking countries. Their efforts have culminated in the volume Corno Inglese, published by the Joker Edizioni in Novi Ligure.

This elegant and precious collection (15x21, 270 pages) is destined, thanks to the value of the translations, to become an important travelling companion for the many students of Montale.

We are proud to have contributed to the realization of this worthy and considerable enterprise which collects the best of Montale’s poetry translated in English.

It is an exceptionally comprehensive, original and relevant collection, covering Montale’s entire oeuvre, from his early poems to the posthumous collections. As well as a printed edition, Corno Inglese will be published as an e-book.


The collection of the translations included in this volume began in 1996, the centenary of Montale’s birth. The number of translators has expanded from a small constellation of stars (from Samuel Beckett to Paul Muldoon; from Robert Lowell to John Updike) to a galaxy of interpreters and interpretations from all over the world. This new anthology gathers a diverse band of translators who reveal the essence of Montale’s poetry.

The poems appear alphabetically by translator rather than in chronological order; challenge to convention is intended to engage the reader in a freer and fresher reading of each translation independently of the canon of the originals.

If there is “a Montale for everybody”, as fellow poet Giorgio Caproni has claimed, then Corno Inglese confirms this.

--Marco Sonzogni


To purchase the book, go to the Joker Edizioni website (the first link, above). If you look for me in the index of translators, I am listed alphabetically under my name in Irish, Mícheál Ó Beigléinn.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Poem in the Suisun Valley Review

I have a poem in the new issue of the Suisun Valley Review (Spring 2009, Issue 26, ISSN 1945-7340). This journal is impressive, with a glossy cover and perfect-bound format. It is produced and edited by students at Solano Community College in California who take English 58, “a course in the contemporary literary magazine.” Sounds like a pretty progressive college, and it comes through in the magazine itself, which includes not only poetry and short fiction, but photography as well.

There’s some really great material in this issue, and it is well worth the $6 cover price. An immediate stand-out for me was a poem by Ashaki M. Jackson (who describes herself in her bio as “an ethnographer by proxy” and a social psychologist “in her spare time”). Her poem is “Revival,” and stylistically it reminded me a bit of myself. My own poem is “Thylacine,” and if I may say so it is one of my favorite poems that I’ve written in the last couple years. It takes up two pages of the journal; thanks to them for giving me the space....

Order the magazine at: Suisun Valley Review, English Department, Solano Community College, 4000 Suisun Valley Rd., Fairfield, CA 94535, USA, or query by email at: There’s also lots of info on their blog (the link above) and their MySpace page.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Léirmheas de Joe Steve Ó Neachtain i bhFeasta

Tá léirmheas a scríobh mé den leabhar filíochta is déanaí Joe Steve Ó Neachtain foilsithe san irisleabhar Feasta. Is é an t-eagrán atá i gceist ná Móreagrán na Bealtaine 2009 (Imleabhar 62, Uimhir 5, ISSN 0014-8946), agus tá sé ar díol sna siopaí leabhair i láthair na huaire. Príomhiris liteartha na Gaelige is ea Feasta, agus tá Pádraig Mac Fhearghusa ina eagarthóir air.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The scholar, Austin Clarke, and others

Poet and critic Robert Archambeau has posted a pleasant “end of semester” post on his Samizdat Blog. Toward the end of it, he includes Austin Clarke’s “The Scholar,” which I had not come across before (my knowledge of Clarke being shamefully somewhat less than it should be). But since I happen to be a big fan of Seán Ó Tuama’s anthology An Duanaire, 1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed (The Dolmen Press, 1981), I immediately recognized the Clarke piece as a loose version of “Aoibhinn Beatha an Scoláire,” the now-anonymous 17th-century Irish Gaelic poem. Archambeau highlights Clarke’s use of consonance, assonance, and half-rhymes, which is indeed pretty amazing. And it goes along with what I do know about Clarke, that he was very big on bringing the techniques and metres of Gaelic poetry over into English. Here is the original poem, followed by Clarke’s English version:

Aoibhinn beatha an sgoláire
bhíos ag déanamh a léighinn;
is follas díbh, a dhaoine,
gurab dó is aoibhne i nÉirinn.

Gan smacht ríogh ná rófhlatha
ná tighearna dá threise;
gan chuid cíosa ag caibidil,
gan moicheirgne, gan meirse.

Moichéirghe ná aodhaireacht
ní thabhair uadha choidhche,
’s ní mó do-bheir dá aire
fear ná faire san oidhche.

Do-bheir sé greas ar tháiplis,
is ar chláirsigh go mbinne,
nó fós greas eile ar shuirghe
is ar chumann mná finne.

Maith biseach a sheisrighe
ag teacht tosaigh an earraigh;
is é is crannghail dá sheisrigh
lán a ghlaice do pheannaibh.


The Scholar

Summer delights the scholar
With knowledge and reason.
Who is happy in hedgerow
Or meadow as he is?

Paying no dues to the parish,
He argues in logic
And has no care of cattle
But a satchel and stick.

The showery airs grow softer,
He profits from his ploughland
For the share of the schoolmen
Is a pen in hand.

When mid-day hides the reaping,
He sleeps by a river
Or comes to the stone plain
Where the saints live.

But in winter by the big fires,
The ignorant hear his fiddle,
And he battles on the chessboard,
As the land lords bid him.

Even if you don’t speak Irish, you can see that Clarke is attempting to imitate the form of the original, down to the loose or half-rhymes of lines 2 and 4 in each stanza, and the not-quite-regular pattern of alliteration. But what I found particularly interesting was what Clarke did with the translation itself, because he actually subverts the meaning of the poem to a great degree. For comparison, here is Thomas Kinsella’s rather more literal translation from An Duanaire, closely reflecting the original:

The Scholar’s Life

Sweet is the scholar’s life,
busy about his studies,
the sweetest lot in Ireland
as all of you know well.

No king or prince to rule him
nor lord however mighty,
no rent to the chapterhouse,
no drudging, no dawn-rising.

Dawn-rising or shepherding
never required of him,
no need to take his turn
as watchman in the night.

He spends a while at chess,
and a while with the pleasant harp
and a further while wooing
and winning lovely women.

His horse-team hale and hearty
at the first coming of Spring;
the harrow for his team
is a fistful of pens.

In the original, the emphasis is on the seeming ease of the scholar’s life, his relief from the drudgery of other occupations, the apparently privileged position he holds. The feeling is of spring, of art, of freedom, of sex, even a sense of hedonism, of libertinism in late-Gaelic society. It harks back to the role of the file, the poet, in classical Gaelic society, once on a par with the chief or king. But given the poem’s time period, probably the 17th c., maybe shortly after the disaster of Kinsale, perhaps there is a hint of a rose-tinted perspective here, or at least the unspoken sense that things were quickly to change. The poets who immediately followed, and up through the early 19th c. Dáibhí Ó Bruadair, Aodhagán Ó Rathaille, Mícheál Óg Ó Longáin decried their reduced circumstances and bristled at the poverty they, poets, had been reduced to (by English despotism).

Austin Clarke’s version of the poem is of his own time period (post-independence, ultra-conservative Ireland). The emphasis here is on summer as a temporary respite from the duties of the job. As Archambeau smartly points out, there is a “devastating turn at the end, when the easy flow of pastoral escapism comes to a screeching halt, and the scholar once again finds himself, as we all do, working for The Man.” This does not happen in the Gaelic or Kinsella’s version. In these, there is no rent at all; but in Clarke, as winter looms, the concluding line is “the land lords bid him.” In the original, chess is a pleasant diversion, but as Clarke has it, it is a battle. And there is no outward libertinism in Clarke’s versionthe line about “winning lovely women” disappears altogether, it being the 1930s, the Catholic Church’s moral despotism holding sway in Irish society. There is no one but “the ignorant” to listen to the scholar now.

As the ideal life depicted in “Aoibhinn Beatha an Scoláire” is soon dissipated in the wind of 17th-c. English colonization, so is any hope of real intellectual freedom frustrated in 30s Ireland, in Clarke’s version. An interesting side note to this is that my father had a brief correspondence with Clarke in 1970-71. These two letters are now part of the collection of the University of Delaware Library, and the info on them can be seen here. If you scroll down, you will note that under the heading “Scope and Content Note” it lists “censorship in Ireland (including Clarke’s own work),” among other subjects.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

On a review of a Ryan Adams poetry book

There’s a very funny review of the Ryan Adams poetry collection Infinity Blues (Akashic Books), published in the Independent Weekly, and here in their online version The piece, by Grayson Currin, is a great example of a reviewer tearing a book to shreds in a really smart, clever way. I have not read the collection myself, so I can’t judge whether all of the criticisms in the piece are warranted. To give the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they may not all be. As I understand it, Adams was something of a controversial figure in the Raleigh-Chapel Hill-Durham area, where his music career began with Whiskeytown, and there’s a chance that some of that could have tinged Currin’s piece (this is pure speculation too, as I don’t know much about Currin or his motivations). However, it seems quite possible that Currin is mostly right, because there is so much bad poetry out there that what he describes feels oh so familiar:
The poems are petulant, myopic and petty, as their star is either whining about the unbearable torture of life and love or regretting something he once felt.... What’s more, Infinity Blues chokes on its lazy, lavish use of postmodern devices: Adams tosses around unorthodox forms, line and character spacing, indulgent repetition, and inconsistent capitalization so often that they accomplish nothing except to render an exhausting read. Adams writes like an undergraduate who picked up volumes of Charles Bukowski, E.E. Cummings and William S. Burroughs at the used bookstore last semester, and now — back at home and missing his girlfriend — is trying those oversized clothes on for size over spring break....
Currin situates the publication of this book in the context of our contemporary society’s celebrity obsession, and wonders whether such work would have been published at all if Ryan Adams were not a well-known musician. It made me think about all the deserving poets out there who struggle to get any publisher at all, who don’t have the benefit of a music career to get them noticed. On the other hand, Akashic has published some great writers and is an important independent press. Akashic would no doubt beg to differ with Currin’s review, and I am guessing would stand by the Adams book as a valuable piece of literature in its own right. In a strange way, then, Currin’s piece ends up a recruiter to Infinity Blues itself: whether Akashic got it wrong, or Currin did, I can’t tell until I read it.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Pense Aqui No. 301

I have two poems in Pense Aqui No. 301, a mail-art and experimental poetry magazine published from Brazil. This issue includes collage/mail-art work from Brazil, Germany, Ireland, Canada, the U.S., Holland, Italy, Japan, Argentina, Serbia, with poems by David Stone, Adolf P. Shvedchikov (in Cyrillic font), and as mentioned, myself.

The editor, José Roberto Sechi, has posted photos of previous issues here.

Copies of the new issue may be obtained from:

José Roberto Sechi
Av. M29, N.
° 2183 Jd. São João
Rio Claro SP 13505-410

(The above photo is from an earlier issue, No. 275.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Otoliths 11 print edition

Otoliths issue 11 (Southern Spring) is now out in a print edition, in two books. I have three poems in Part One (“Angles,” “Poem Written at Work,” “July 12th”). Though the poems are online, the print edition is a great thing too. It can be ordered here.

The full details are:

156 pages, 6” x 9”, perfect binding, black and white interior ink.

Otoliths issue eleven, part one, contains work by Anny Ballardini, Halvard Johnson, dan raphael, Doug White, harry k stammer, Eileen R. Tabios, Cara Benson, Angela Genusa, Craig Rebele, Gregory Braquet, David-Baptiste Chirot, Vernon Frazer, Elizabeth Kate Switaj, Stephen C. Middleton, John Moore Williams, Marcia Arrieta, Raymond Farr, Felino Sorriano, Charles Mahaffee, Jeff Harrison, Steve Wing, Robert Gauldie, Philip Byron Oakes, Iain Britton, Thomas Fink, Thomas Fink and Maya Diablo Mason, Bill Drennan, J. D. Nelson, Julian Jason Haladyn, Charles Freeland, John M. Bennett, Jaie Miller, Naomi Buck Palagi, Tom Beckett, Paul Siegell, Geof Huth, Martin Edmond, Andrew Topel, Michael S. Begnal, and Michele Leggott.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Begnal featured in Eyewear

I am the latest Featured Poet (here) on Todd Swift’s blog-site and review, Eyewear. Swifts piece includes my poem “The Fluctuations,” and I hope you will all check it out. Maybe even leave a comment or something. (The photo above is the one used there.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A United Ireland?, Pt. 3

Since St. Patrick’s Day is a day arbitrarily linked to Ireland and all things Irish, I humbly offer some thoughts on the recent killings in the North of Ireland perpetrated by the “Real” IRA and the Continuity IRA:

Let me begin by stating that I am in favor of a united Ireland, and indeed have written about this in the past, here and here. In principle I do not believe in the partition of Ireland. The 1918 all-Ireland election, in which Sinn Féin won by a landslide, a result on which Ireland declared its independence, only to be rejected by the British government of the time, should have led to a free united Ireland, if said government was serious about democracy (apparently it wasn’t). Instead, it led to the War of Independence (a.k.a. the Anglo-Irish War) and partition.

The roots of the conflict in the North go back a long way (much farther than 1918 for that matter). In retrospect, did anyone really believe that a gerrymandered sectarian state (“Northern Ireland”), with “a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people” could work out? Or that it should? But, if we’re talking “should,” i.e. the principles of democracy and right and wrong, then there should be a united Ireland right now. But there isn’t, and thus, at least from the Irish republican perspective, there is a conflict. And thus there will in the interlude continue to be some group in Ireland, be it large or small at various points in time, willing to use violence to achieve the goal.

The question is (actually is twofold), is this an effective means of achieving the goal on the practical level, and is it morally right on the human level? In the 1990s, after three decades of the Provisional IRA prosecuting an armed campaign against British rule in the North, violence had finally come to been seen by Irish republicans (at least the majority of republicans as represented by Sinn Féin) to be a futile method of struggle at this time, in this generation. If anything, the armed struggle had actually become counterproductive to the goal it set for itself (a united Ireland), and I see absolutely no reason why it would be a different result this time around.

In terms of effective tactics, I think the recent dissident actions are setting back whatever (albeit minimal) progress toward a united Ireland we have had in the last number of years. I am frustrated by the pace of change too. But even if the dissidents were able to gain some popular support (which doesn’t seem likely at this point), and draw out the loyalist paramilitaries and the British army, what would be the result? Another stalemate, with people dying ultimately for no reason. I’m not a pacifist, but when people are dying for no reason then clearly it is wrong. And clearly it won’t bring about a united Ireland. So all that the dissidents have done and are doing is in vain, and totally pointless.

Recently, Des Dalton of Republican Sinn Féin laid out the dissidents’ reasoning, saying that

the “root cause” of the renewed violence in Northern Ireland [sic Yahoo] was Britain’s involvement on the island, which republicans want to unite.

“They’re one of the few EU members who continue to occupy the territory of another EU member. So, that will create abnormal relations between those two countries. So there will quite obviously be consequences of that,” he said.

He added: “There is a conflict in Ireland over many decades — centuries. The root cause is the British presence. So long as that exists there will be resistance to it.”

Most Irish republicans would not disagree with this analysis, but again the question is the response to it. Will the recent killings of the two British soldiers and the PSNI man help bring about a united Ireland? No. Quite the contrary. However, the dissidents hope to spark a crackdown, which would in turn perhaps create some sympathy for their movement. For example, the arrest of Colin Duffy brought “masked youths” onto the streets of Lurgan the other day. (There are suggestions that Duffy is being scapegoated, and if so then these riots could simply be expressions of justifiable anger). I’m not going to tell others how they should feel about the police, but will such a response really help to bring about a united Ireland, either? Probably not.

What will? The prospects are not immediately promising, and, again, progress has been frustratingly slow. I personally have no especial solution to the issue that hasn’t been elsewhere elucidated much better than I am able to here, I a mere poet. But there are some signs of hope.

Tim Pat Coogan recently published an opinion piece which attacked the dissident actions and again raised the issue of demographic change as a driving force toward a united Ireland. In this piece, he cited the Department of Education’s 2008-2009 Schools Census, which gives statistics showing that Catholics currently number 50.9% and Protestants 40.7%. “These schoolgoers have one thing in common,” writes Coogan. “They will all be entitled to vote when they reach 18. A Catholic majority therefore is not a Six-County electoral mirage. It is a clearly visible prospect on the political horizon. In the circumstances, there is a clear-cut political, as well as a moral, imperative for the republican extremists to allow life rather than death to achieve their objectives.”

There is also the economic argument, recently (12 February 2009) articulated by Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Féin:

Irish unity is not just a dearly held republican aspiration. It is an economic imperative. In short, Irish unity makes economic sense. A considerable market of six million people exists on the island of Ireland. Over three million workers across Ireland have fuelled extraordinary economic growth in the past 10 years. Despite these developments, the continuing partition of Ireland creates impediments to economic development. These impediments cost individuals and businesses on a daily basis. They cost the island economy hundreds of millions each year. The identification and removal of these costs will create efficiencies, employment, wealth and opportunity across Ireland.... In future, Ireland north or south cannot afford to develop the island in a disjointed manner.... To ensure seamless and strategic economic development, the island of Ireland must plan and implement as one.

I think that this is true, and that both economic and demographic dynamics in Ireland will continue to push the two jurisdictions together, while hopefully in the meantime some trust will have been built between the two and various communities.

Again though, this is a slow process, and as an illustration of this, though they are the largest nationalist party in the North, in the South, Sinn Féin (using them a gauge) has only 11% support (according to the most recent poll I’ve seen). Though, it is quite possible that that number has more to do with SF as a party than with the South’s attitude toward a united Ireland, which a recent poll shows is generally favorable. Speaking realistically, however, there is on many levels widespread apathy toward the idea of a united Ireland in the South, and of course it is still outright opposed by unionists in the North (much fault has to be placed at the doorstep of the British government, who could be doing a lot more to act as persuaders to the unionists). If there was a magic, immediate solution, I guess I would be for it. But I have to admit that at the moment I can only say that time will have to take its course, just as time is on our side. Killing policemen etc. only slows the inevitable result and causes needless human suffering.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jandek (Chapel Hill Sunday)

On Sunday, February 22nd, Jandek played at Gerrard Hall, UNC, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with John Darnielle (better known as the Mountain Goats) on keyboards, Anne Gomez on bass and saxophone, and Brian Jones on drums. Jandek played electric guitar, and, on one song, harmonica.

I have listened to Jandek albums before, so had a rough idea of what one might expect, but the albums I heard were strictly guitar and vocals. This show was amazingly heavy and loud. At times it recalled (to me) Sonic Youth or late 60s/early 70s Miles Davis. The volume was incredible, but the sound remained clear. The vibrations penetrated the body and rattled the eardrums, literally, like you would hope for at any raw rock’n’roll show.

Jandek’s idiosyncratically-tuned guitar had an almost industrial sound at times (again I couldn’t help but think of other musicians for context, maybe Neubauten, though he predates them somewhat), and his sound shone through even in the setting of the backing band, who were all clearly versed in the history of free jazz and other avant-garde music. He tended to build a sort of hypnotic groove, which the rhythm section punctuated and built on, while Darnielle’s keyboards seemed mostly to add background color. Jones’s drum playing was savage and aggressive and impressive, and occasionally included a bit of xylophone.

The electric piano came to the fore a bit more on the harmonica song, sounding suddenly something perhaps like a Wurlitzer. Jandek’s harmonica playing was blues-based, and provided the backbone for the rhythm section to once again take things to another level. Throughout the set, in fact, it was obvious that Jandek had encouraged Gomez and Jones to cut loose and go all out, even when it meant they dominated certain parts of the songs. He seemed to enjoy being part of an improvisational band allowing for everyone to take their turn. The band would often build to a crescendo led by the rhythm section, then release it, letting Jandek’s guitar take over once again.

Gomez not only played bass and, on two songs (if I remember correctly) saxophone, but added screamed vocals to one. Here she counter-punctuated Jandek’s lines with intense shrieks, which reminded me of Linda Sharrock on the first two Sonny Sharrock albums. Her sheer talent in all three of these modes was obvious.

But of course, Jandek remained the focus of the performance. He stood, often with his back to the audience when not singing (or really, intoning) lyrics into the microphone, and got loose to the rhythm of his own playing, dressed in black and wearing what must by now be a trademark hat. In some ways he appeared a classic bluesman, in spirit. In sound he is unique despite my inclination to contextualize him. His sound is naturally dissonant, and hypnotic. His lyrics are often more like poetry than song, and he tends to deliver his words rather like delivering lines of poetry. I would like to read a book of his.

Jandek, who is sometimes referred to as the representative from Corwood Industries, seemed like he could be in his late 40s even, or 50s. But I suppose he could be 60 too — it was hard to tell. There was no talking on stage during the set (for that matter there was no stage), and he never said anything to the audience either. However, it seemed like he briefly said something to the other musicians as they were walking off at the end of the show. But otherwise there was no talking at all. Lyrical themes ranged from the body as the ultimate definition of identity, to a satire of the excesses of the rich, to the notion of being “stable” versus “unstable,” to change as the only constant in life.

Much has been made of Jandek as an enigma. That he gives no interviews, and nobody knows anything about him, or even knows his real name for sure (it is surmised to be Sterling Smith), has created a sense of legend about him. I don’t really care about any of that stuff, though on the other hand I guess it is interesting in a lot of ways. But what matters more to me is if his music is any good, and it certainly is, and this show was really great.

[Photos of the show by rchurch74 on Flickr]

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Begnal in review of Salmon anthology

The Spring 2009 issue of An Sionnach: A Journal of Literature, Culture, and the Arts (Creighton University Press) reviews the anthology Salmon: A Journey in Poetry, 1981-2007, and singles out my poem (and collection) “Ancestor Worship” for especial note.

The review is by Drew Blanchard, who says of the anthology, “What the book does present, though, is a look into a contemporary record of Irish, Canadian, US, and European poetry. In so doing, the anthology looks both forwards and backwards in time. A recent Salmon collection by Michael S. Begnal, Ancestor Worship (2007), is an admirable book by a younger Salmon author; and the book’s title poem, included in the anthology, does this work: it looks back at multiple histories as it represents one future of poetry.”

Blanchard then gives the poem in full, and continues on: “Begnal, a dual Irish/US citizen identifies with both countries in ‘Ancestor Worship.’ The power of this poem, though, moves beyond notions of citizenship, beyond ties to nations and ancestries, and questions, in the end, ‘the right hook of history,’ asking, ‘Who’re you?’ or ‘who has history made you out to be?’ While Begnal smartly calls history-creation into question in this poem, ancestry, whether poetic or national or indefinable, is important to him, of course, in many ways. In the past, Begnal has noted the poetic influence of the Irish poet James Liddy who passed away in November of 2008. Liddy, who also had dual citizenship, was born in Dublin in 1934....” (The review then goes on to discuss Liddy and the rest of the book.)

I could not have said it better myself. And I liked the parallel Blanchard draws between Liddy and me. Incidentally, An Sionnach (which means “the fox” in Irish, for those who don’t speak it) is always worth ordering, and ditto the Salmon anthology and the Ancestor Worship collection....

Friday, January 30, 2009

Burdock 5

There’s a new issue of the Milwaukee-based journal, Burdock. Burdock 5 is something of an unofficial tribute to James Liddy, who recently died. Editor Keith Gaustad’s photo of James on an Irish beach (“Poet looking on the Irish sea”) graces the cover and makes for an auspicious if bittersweet start. Page one is a short remembrance of James by Keith, and an exchange of notes between them in preparation for the magazine launch and reading which eventually took place at Woodland Pattern, unfortunately without James.

Page two is Liddy’s remembrance of John Ashbery (still alive), incidents of a life which become first representative and then mythical. It made me think of James’ unique style of storytelling and ultimately of his poetry, and that I miss him. Take another drink.

I’m included here, along with Jim Chapson, Tyler Farrell, Paul Vogel, Shannon Ward, to mention a few others who initially caught my eye. Tim Miller’s got some excerpts from his ongoing Roman history series. As always, and original to Burdock, some of the poems are rendered on sticker paper. I’d like to know if anyone ever sticks these poems in other places. There are some short prose pieces here too, though I rarely read new prose in journals with the same attention as I do poetry. Probably a flaw on my part. I liked Thomas Kovacich’s abstract nude on the inside back cover. It reminds me of something I can’t quite remember.

Contact this very cool journal Burdock:, and/or click the first link above for further info on the internet.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Ron Asheton, 1948-2009 (?)

Ron Asheton died at New Year’s (Eve or Day they think) of an apparent heart attack. His body wasn’t discovered for several days, and so the news broke on Tuesday the 6th. It’s a sad and unexpected end for one of the world’s greatest rock guitarists. Without Ron, the Stooges are over too. I’m finding it hard to capture the enormity of all this. For those who don’t know or care about the Stooges or rock’n’roll, it probably doesn’t matter. For those who know, I guess they know.

While Iggy Pop’s vocals, lyrics, and personality were the focal point of the Stooges, Ron’s guitar playing was both amazingly intense and amazingly beautiful, and really defined the band’s sound. While even now some critics and obituary writers are calling him “rudimentary,” Ron was actually one of the most advanced players I can think of. Of course, rock’n’roll is supposed to be basic, and the Stooges’ song structures are basic. But on top of this primal simplicity — two or three chords — an approach brilliant in itself — Ron produced some of the most amazing sounds ever to grace vinyl and later cd.

All of the three original Stooges albums are great, but Fun House is the greatest album of all time, ever. I mean that. And much of this is down to Ron’s mind-blowing guitar work. His sound on Fun House is expansive, gritty, metallic (by which I don’t really mean “metal,” but like the real sound of metal guitar strings heard through loud amplifiers), and in places approaches free jazz in the spirit of later John Coltrane or Archie Shepp (though obviously completely different at the same time). As tremendous as the first album The Stooges was, Ron evolved so far beyond it for Fun House, in the space of just a year (1969 to 1970), that it’s hard to comprehend. But right now I’d rather put the record on, instead of trying to describe in words what is so much better in music.

I met Ron in 1992 at an in-store appearance at Aron’s Records in Hollywood. Only a handful of people showed up, so I had the chance to talk to him for a while. He was extremely forthcoming, personable, and generally a real nice guy. At that time the Stooges had been long over, and the chances of a reunion seemed slim, though you got the feeling that he was always holding out hope. His show that night was fantastic.

More recently, the Stooges finally did re-form, and aside from the shows and the music itself, I was glad that Ron had the chance to continue on with what was clearly the most important thing in his life (I base this mostly on things I’ve read and heard, not simply on my relatively short meeting with him). More recent in-store appearances had a better turnout, to say the least. I guess people have started to catch up with the Stooges, which is good for them, but at the same time a bit odd since I’m used to nobody really knowing what I’m talking about when I say they’re my favorite band. While I was ambivalent about their new album The Weirdness (some songs good, some so-so), I was hoping that they would continue to record further and even better albums. I was just thinking about it the other day. But that will not happen now.