Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Baseball Poem in Aethlon


My poem “Baseball” in Aethlon XXXV:1 / Fall 2017 - Winter 2018 (which is the current issue, just out now). Thanks to the editor Ron Smith and all involved.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

On A. R. Ammons, “Corson’s Inlet” & “Poetics”

Thinking again about the nature of “nature” poetry, I recently reread a poem by A. R. Ammons, “Corson’s Inlet.” I cannot say that I have studied Ammons’s complete oeuvre in depth, and only own the 2006 Library of America Selected Poems (ed. Lehman).  (Incidentally, this was a quite well-done series of books, with covers designed by the great graphic artists Mark Melnick and Chip Kidd.)

“Corson’s Inlet” (pp. 18-22) has always seemed to me a kind of ars poetica, not just a nature poem per se.  It opens with the speaker walking the dunes and shore at Corson’s Inlet, NJ, meditating on connections between the natural world, poetry, and thought.  The speaker, presumably a version of Ammons himself, almost immediately begins to draw comparisons between the course of his walk and his poetics.  In line 13, for example, he describes the walk as “liberating,” releasing him from “forms,” and in lines 15-16 from “straight lines” and “binds / of thought.”  The parallel with poetic form and with lines of poetry will not be lost.  Thus Ammons is making a statement — his poetry will not rely on regular line lengths, syllable counts, on predetermined forms or the like, as these are restrictive “boxes” and “binds.”

Instead, his form will be unpredictable like nature.  The poem will unfold organically.  What meaning there is in the poem will run “like a stream” (he says in line 22).  While there is certainly metaphor in this, Ammons lets nature itself be the metaphor for his poetics.  The world, and wild nature, is “irregular” (he says in line 38) and does not lend itself to tidy conclusions.  Nor can the poet realistically expect to arrive at any sense of certainty, as he alludes to in lines 41+:

I have reached no conclusions, have erected no boundaries,
shutting out and shutting in, separating inside
      from outside: I have drawn no lines…
Lying behind this what might be described as a Heraclitean view of the world, and just as we “cannot step into the same river twice,” so in lines 46-48,
manifold events of sand
change the dune’s shape that will not be the same shape
tomorrow.
Ammons’ response is to accept this indeterminacy in his own writing.  As he says in lines 49-52,
so I am willing to go along, to accept
the becoming
thought, to stake off no beginnings or ends, establish
       no walls…
His poetry will reflect the organic flow of thought, as well as the constantly changing nature of the world.  Like the natural environment, “Corson’s Inlet” is “irregular,” using free verse with no discernible pattern.  Another example of how this stance is reflected in his poetry can be seen in the section from lines 55 onward:
     change in that transition is clear
     as any sharpness: but “sharpness” spread out,
allowed to occur over a wider range
than mental lines can keep…
He is talking about “transitions” of thought as it responds to the material world, I think, but also about “transitions” in poetry — in other words, how the poem will be constructed, how it will flow together as a piece of writing.  There are no “lines” in nature, no hard and fast borders denoting where one thing leaves off and another begins — no “beginnings or ends” or “walls,” Ammons writes in line 51.  For him, there is only a constant state of flux.

Nonetheless, one way the poem hopes to reflect these transitions is through Ammons’s technique of using a colon to mark a separation between one image and the next (as seen in lines 59-69, where a series of images follow each other, with the colon marking each succession in the text) — but the colon also marks the connection of these images to each other in the flow of natural events and the speaker’s thought.  In lines 79-82, he uses the colon to juxtapose the image of the swallows with what they might suggest on another, more abstract level (“an order held / in constant change”).  The swallows can be viewed either as a collection of individual swallows, or “as one event” (lines 82-84).

A poem might aspire, as Ammons puts it in line 92, to “the possibility of rule as the sum of rulelessness,” but he also realizes that this is only a tentative position, that “outcomes of actions” cannot be predictable (he says in lines 107-08).  Indeed, the universe embodies infinite possibilities (lines 109-13), and thus, as he goes on to say in lines 114-16, there can be

     no forcing of image, plan
or thought:
no propaganda, no humbling of reality to precept…
Ammons’s poetry is a poetry of open-endedness, rather than of closed forms.  In line 121, he eschews the “easy victory” of traditional formal poetry (identified in the “narrow orders, limited tightness” of line 120), knowing that the deeper nature of the world is anything other than such “narrowness” of form might imply.

In some sense, poetry, of course, is inescapably form.  So Ammons admits in his conclusion to “Corson’s Inlet” that he has no choice but to try

     to fasten into order enlarging grasps of disorder, widening
scope, but enjoying the freedom that
Scope eludes my grasp, that there is no finality of vision,
that I have perceived nothing completely,
     that tomorrow a new walk is a new walk.
This statement suggests that, at least in Ammons’ view, a new poem must also create poetry itself anew, that a poet cannot simply rely on the predictable patterns of form but must allow the poem to find its own form in response to nature and the changing world it grapples with.  Ammons asserts that that world is necessarily disordered and in a state of ongoing change and that, therefore, instead of trying to show one’s poetic mastery by imposing a predetermined form over it, the poet must listen to nature, must listen to language itself, and allow him- or herself to “go with the flow” of that flux: “I have perceived nothing completely” — a nor can one ever, for all is mediated by the particular dynamics of the mind.

It is interesting to compare this poem with another Ammons piece, which is overtly an ars poetica, being titled “Poetics” (pp. 26-27).  It does very similar things.  Where, in “Corson’s Inlet,” the poem runs “like a stream,” here it is “spiralling from a center” (line 3).  Ammons opens himself to “the shape / things will take to come forth in” (4-5), yet when they do, as the birch tree in lines 6-10, it is merely or even “totally its apparent self.”  The poem, for Ammons, is not only the shape of the poem as written down, “but the / uninterfering means on paper” (17-18) — and more important is that the poet be

     available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours. (20-24)
In other words, it is not about the individual poet, the supposedly autonomous individual artist (as “great,” or what have you) but in fact more about forgetting the self, the ego, and opening up outwardly to — let’s call it the “cosmos,” at the risk of sounding over-serious and for lack of a less grandiose word.

NB: This essay incorporates thoughts of mine going as far back as 2008, and I thank Peter Makuck for first turning me on to “Corson’s Inlet” as a particular Ammons poem to look at.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Review of Kate Behrens, Penumbra

My review of Kate Behrens’s latest collection Penumbra (Two Rivers Press, 2019) is up at Empty Mirror. Here is a brief snippet:
Numerous birds appear in this collection. What are they? Messengers, transmigrating spirits perhaps, and/or real birds. One particular bird poem that I like a lot here is “Thrush.” The thrush in this poem is perhaps the thrush in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Spring,” only now the “same just older thrush, / thrust upwards from sheer. . . / sheerer. . .” (Behrens’s deployment of ellipses is perhaps a revival of a usage that seemed to have gone out of fashion). There is a similar kind of intense soundplay to Hopkins (“thrush”/“thrust”) and a similar attempt to grasp a fleeting joy—Behrens’s poem ends with the thrush’s return, provoking “Ebullience. It wipes us out.”
The full review can be read here:

https://www.emptymirrorbooks.com/reviews/penumbra-kate-behrens-review

Monday, May 13, 2019

Poem at Scoundrel Time

My poem “Elegy for the Republic” appears at Scoundrel Time. Many thanks to poetry editor Daisy Fried for publishing it.

Read it here:
https://scoundreltime.com/elegy-for-the-republic/

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Fun House Recording Began 49 Years Ago Today

Photo: Ed Caraeff
On this date 49 years ago, May 11, 1970, the Stooges entered a recording studio in Los Angeles to begin recording their greatest album, Fun House, which would be pressed onto vinyl by Elektra Records and released that August. The critical theorist Theodor Adorno wrote in his 1938 essay “The Form of the Phonograph Record” that “Ultimately the phonograph records are not artworks but the black seals on the missives that are rushing towards us from all sides in the traffic with technology, missives whose formulations capture the sounds of creation, the first and the last sounds, judgment upon life and message about that which may come thereafter” (Essays on Music 280). In other words, vinyl records are not only the actual recorded moments in time but their medium beyond that moment, embodying a potential of deep importance to our lives now and in the future — perhaps even, as the last part of Adorno’s sentence suggests, in an almost mystical way.

What missive or message did the Stooges send us from 1970 in the form of the Fun House LP? That could take a whole book to elaborate, but in recording this music, this album, I would argue that the Stooges are not so much concerned with the “thereafter,” such as it may be, as they are with the immanence of the moment. It is through its unique particulars that life is imbued with whatever meaning it may have. Such unique particulars may take the form of an improvised Ron Asheton guitar lead, a screech of feedback, a drum roll, a vocal whoop, which may never be repeated again in exactly the same way. We listen to the record, knowing it is but one moment, each track one particular take, yet we can play it again and again, each time hearing it anew.

Or it may take the form of the imagistic poetry of Iggy Pop’s lyrics: “Down on the street where the faces shine / floating around on a real O-Mind / see a pretty thing, ain’t no wall. . . No wall!” (“Down on the Street”). To be in the “O-Mind” state means to overcome the limits of the self as part of the collective group in the act of creating music and art. It can be reached by other efficacious means as well, depending on what is at hand (e.g., drugs): “Out of my mind on Saturday night / 1970 rolling in sight / radio burning up above. . . All night till I blow away” (“1970”). The lyrics themselves developed during the recording process, rather than being fully written out in advance.

There is no better way to listen to Fun House in regard to its sound than on vinyl, though many years ago a friend told me he preferred to listen to it taped onto a cassette so that he didn’t have to turn it over, and so it played as one long set, one complete work. This makes sense, and a few years later the CD rose as the predominant medium, accomplishing the same thing. But now, many have returned to the vinyl album as the preferred means of delivery of those “missives whose formulations capture the sounds of creation” — and the tapes which would eventually be transformed into the “black seals” of this crucial LP began rolling 49 years ago today.


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Suíomh Nua Eolaire na Scríbhneoirí Gaeilge

 Aontas na Scríbhneoirí Gaeilge 

Táim liostaithe ar shuíomh nua Eolaire na Scríbhneoirí Gaeilge (cruthaithe ag Aontas na Scríbhneoirí Gaeilge), ag an nasc seo.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Heart of Darkness Demos

A long time ago (late 80s to early 90s), I was in a band called Heart of Darkness. Some tracks from our first couple of demo tapes are now on YouTube (embedded below). We also put out a blue-vinyl 7” (now rare/collectible), a copy or two of which is for sale on Discogs: https://www.discogs.com/Heart-of-Darkness-Busted/release/8141938


Thursday, February 07, 2019

Two Poems in Anti-Heroin Chic

I have two new poems in the February 2019 issue of Anti-Heroin Chic. They are titled “Spun” and “Crimson Clouds”; read them here:

http://heroinchic.weebly.com/blog/poetry-by-michael-begnal

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

On Li Shangyin

One thing that is interesting about reading some of the lesser-known or recently translated Tang poets (e.g. Meng Chiao, Li He, Li Shangyin) is the realization that, beyond the Li Po–Tu Fu–Wang Wei axis, not all of the Chinese poets were as focused on the clarity of the image the way these (and some others) often were.  From the standpoint of English-language poetics, we tend to see Li Po, through Ezra Pound’s translations, as the avatar of imagism, though he also wrote poems of mystic journeys that veer into the surreal and dreamlike.  In the early modernist period, Witter Bynner’s translation of the standard Tang anthology also formed an alternative to Poundian imagism, but Bynner’s work has sadly fallen out of the conversation over time (a situation that in my view ought to be revisited).  Imagism is extremely important, and, sure, despite his racist and fascist views, Pound himself still cannot be completely dismissed as a formal innovator.  But the emphasis on the imagist “thing” has until recently tended to leave a lot of other Tang-era poets out of picture.  A. C. Graham began to remedy that somewhat in his Poems of the Late T’ang (1965), and in recent years, further translations of individual poets have been more frequently published.

The latest of these is the work of Li Shangyin (813-858), translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts (New York Review Books, 2018).  This volume includes not only Roberts’s translation of approximately 50 pages of Li’s poetry (with facing original Chinese), but also the versions by Graham and some by Lucas Klein (most of which are duplicate poems, making for interesting comparisons).  Li’s style is at times naturalistic and imagistic, but more often allusive, metaphorical, and, like Li He
’s, surreal.  His work has historically been considered extremely obscure or, as Roberts puts it in her introduction, “unknowable and elusive . . . almost baroque, opulently layered with distinct mythological, historical, personal, and symbolist imagery” (xi).  This, of course, makes him difficult to translate.

Thankfully, Roberts has chosen to take an almost literal approach, leaving intact the weird accretion of incongruous shifts and juxtapositions.  Graham, on the other hand, took certain liberties in order to make Li’s poems make sense.  In reality, their versions are not that far apart, but, if we are going to use a Western analogy, Graham’s sometimes come across as pleasant if melancholy lyrics, while Roberts’s tend toward a slightly more staccato rhythm, with brighter diction. For example, here’s Graham in 1965 rendering lines from “The Patterned Lute”: “The moon is full on the vast sea, a tear on the pearl. / On Blue Mountain the sun warms, a smoke issues from the jade” (in Roberts 145).  And here is Roberts in 2018:

Seablue, moonbeam,
Pearls hold tears.
Indigo fields, sun-warmth,
Jade begets smoke. (39)
Klein’s recent version falls somewhere in between but is perhaps closer to the syntax of Graham: “When the moon shines by the green sea there are tears on pearls, / and when the sun is warm on Mount Bluefield steam rises off jade” (116).  Each has their merits, but speaking subjectively, the clipped, at times paratactic, versions that Roberts creates resonate with me more, and at least visually seem closer to the Chinese form.  But it is a funny thing about translation; the more versions you read, the better the picture you seem to get.

Whatever the case, there is the sheer beauty of Li Shangyin’s poetry itself, if you can tune in through language and time.  Perhaps of use is an ars poetica, which begins,

At dawn, use clouds
To conceive the lines.
In winter, hold snow
To divine the poem. (33)
The poem “Spring Wind” is emotional in a way that differs from the work of other Tang poets (it seems to me, though others may be more expert).  Often in Tang poetry, there is an evocation of emotion through the image, like Li Po going to visit a Taoist monk only to find him gone, nothing but pine trees, and the scene or the season usually accords with the speaker’s feelings.  In Li Shangyin’s “Spring Wind,” there is a reversal of this.  First, there is a brief meditation on the coming of spring and the exuberance of it.  Then, there is this odd and unexpected move where Li imagines spring as a sentient or even bodily creature:
If I could force spring
Into sentience
It would only send forth
A single fragrant branch. (47)
Huh?  This seems to say that if spring were indeed human it would lack the exuberance it emits in its guise as a natural force, further suggesting Li’s real mood is not so lush and energetic.  In the third part of the poem, Li suddenly reveals that, actually, “my own sentiments differ / From the sentiments of spring” because “When spring begins, / I am already broken inside” (47).  It is almost a kind of “meta-” use of the season, a commentary on common poetic tropes, punctuated by the bizarre image of spring’s “single fragrant branch,” set up to create a contrast with and to emphasize a sense of inner crisis.

“Chamber Music” is a poem of loss, a lament for the ephemerality of human connection.  With the person to whom the poem is addressed now gone, and their “tender skin” now absent from the jade mattress, “All I see, / Silken emerald surface” (73) and not the person who would have lain upon it, and certainly this is intended to seem tyrannical.  Likewise, if not its music, then still “The brocade zither / Outlasts the person” (73).  Even in the otherworld (or when, say, we return to the state of primordial energy) there is little hope for a reunion, for without bodily form,

Agony: when heaven, earth,
Are overturned,
We will see each other,
We will not know each other. (75)
This is purely abstract, and not concrete or imagistic, but there is a poignancy here that rivals anything Li Po ever produced (please note that I love Li Po).

There are many other poems here that elucidate a sadness imparted by death and loss, and even the realization, “I know while the body exists / Emotion profoundly persists” (101) — that is, perhaps the realization is something like the Taoist and Chan understanding of the emotions as an inextricable part of life, which we can begin to see in context as one of the many parts of being human as we increasingly understand the way the mind and its complexes work.  At the same time, as in Li Po there are indeed many moments of joy.  Some are sparked by poetry itself:

On good days
The self is often moved.
Though it’s impossible
The writer could always be so. (31)
Perhaps the message here is that the poet ought not to wait on the “spontaneous overflow of emotion” in pursuit of their work.  Other times, as in Li Shangyin’s “Spring Night, Cheering Myself Up,” where we see him delighting in the wind in the bamboo, the moonglow on the flowers, and the “rampant moss,” there is also the knowledge that “My happiness and contentment / Depend only on music and wine” (105).  There are so many other great poems and lines here, and I personally don’t care if (in fact I like that) it doesn’t always all make sensethough it usually more or less does.  Incidentally, there is a wonderfully minimalist cover design (by Emily Singer) with smart use of color for this volume (somewhat bolder in real life than the jpeg included above).  It is of a piece with the NYRB Poets series, but it especially complements Roberts’s excellent work.

Friday, January 04, 2019

A Few Recent Stooges Pick-Ups:

First, the 2009 Easy Action vinyl release of their 1971 material, Live at the Electric Circus, which I previously only had on CD.  Listening to this set again (first time listening on vinyl), I am once more convinced that this is some of their best material.  Hearing it on vinyl with decent speakers really brings a lot of their sound out.  As an audience recording, the acoustics are still fairly muddy, and the vocals are still mostly buried, unfortunately, but the attack of the guitars really comes through. It is a shame that the band was dropped from Elektra at this point and that these songs were never properly recorded for a studio album.  Very nice orange-and-grey vinyl pressing from Easy Action, though.  I’ve previously written about these songs here.  In the recent book Total Chaos (2016), Iggy says that the 1971 songs that have “simpler chords and [are] more organized,” like “I Got a Right” and “You Don’t Want My Name,” are his, while the songs that are “very, very complicated, interesting riff but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere, those are [James Williamson’s]” (p. 202).  Perhaps Iggy has a point, but I actually like all of the songs they were playing then. The last two or three pieces in the set indeed are based on one or two riffs each, but I like the improvisations and solos they play over them.  And anyway, many of their best songs are “complicated” single riffs (think “T.V. Eye,” for example).  Apparently, Ron Asheton was not doing much songwriting during this period, but the interplay of the two guitarists is great throughout.

Now, a few thoughts on the recent Rare Power LP (Columbia, 2018): It is nice to have the Raw Power outtakes on vinyl (“I’m Hungry,” “Hey Peter,” “Doojiman”).  Everything else has been previously released on vinyl, I think, except the terrible “Gimme Danger”-Josh Mobley remix.  I can understand wanting to include this remix from a marketing standpoint (it was in a video game or something), but it is frankly awful, with fake electronic drums, orchestral part, etc. — totally ruins the song.  From the 1972 Olympic sessions, we are once again treated to “I Got a Right” and “Sick of You,” which were also recently paired on the Gimme Danger soundtrack album.  So, why not include a couple of the now lesser-heard tracks from those Olympic sessions instead?  For example, “Tight Pants” would have been a better inclusion than the Iggy mix of “Shake Appeal,” if we’re going for “rare.”  They’re essentially the same song, but “Tight Pants” is an interesting alternate/earlier version.  I like “I Got a Right,” obviously, but again, no longer rare.  What about “Scene of the Crime” and/or “Gimme Some Skin” instead, or at least the take of “I Got a Right” that Bomp used, which you rarely come across nowadays?  “Head On” from the 1973 CBS rehearsal sessions was a good choice (previously available on the Rubber Legs album).  But why the Iggy mix of “Death Trip”?  Wouldn’t a better inclusion have been the album’s iconic tune “Search and Destroy” (no version of which is included here)?  I’d have voted for the early mix Iggy played on Detroit radio, the one with the backing-vocal “heys” that has appeared on a couple of hard-to-find bootlegs.  Further, the order of tracks is particularly illogical, and there are no liner notes giving context or explaining how the Stooges’ career and recording sessions played out in this period.  For the Stooges fan, Rare Power is still just barely worth having for the couple of benefits mentioned above, but really seems more like an income-generating ploy by the company than anything else.  It could have been a very solid project if a little more thought had been put into it.

The Detroit Edition of the Stooges’ first album is a relatively successful package, with solid remastering and cover design.  The glossy gatefold is aesthetically pleasing, lined inside in red.  It might have been nice to have a couple other/different band photos in there, but also cool to see the printed lyrics.  Disc one is the original album, while the second is an “alternative” version, with alternate vocal takes and the full, un-faded “No Fun” and “Ann.”  All of these were available on the 2010 Rhino Handmade release, but it is great to have them on vinyl.  My biggest complaint is that the “alternative” album does not include “Asthma Attack,” which really would have given the album an interesting slant and would have provided a real parallel to the original.  Unfortunately, the only source for the complete “Asthma Attack” on vinyl is on the Gimme Danger soundtrack (the single that came with the Rhino Handmade package had it split over two sides of a 45), and so whoever decided it didn’t need to be on what aspires to be the definitive vinyl re-release of the first album ought to have their head examined.  I said as much here, even before it came out, but what can you do; obviously they didn’t consult me (ha ha).  Another missed opportunity, though still worth having.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Poetry Blogging Network


Poetry Blogging Network: A loose affiliation of poetry bloggers, being organized by Kelli Russell Agodon, suggested, she says, by Dave Bonta.  Here is the link to the list of blogs (so far), and hopefully this will prompt me to get back to posting more on my own site (I have just been busy). . . .

https://ofkells.blogspot.com/p/poetry-blogging-network-list-of-poetry.html

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Paranoia in the Americas Symposium

Upcoming event: I am presenting a paper titled “American Punk Rock and ‘Political Correctness’ Paranoia,” at the Paranoia in the Americas Symposium: American Anxieties in a Transnational Context, University College Cork, Ireland, 24 November 2018.

In it, I will briefly analyze this Minor Threat song:

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Oíche Shamhna Shona (Déanach)

Beagáinín déanach (aréir a bhí Oíche Shamhna, agus is é seo an lá féin), ach seo grafac a rinne mé le haghaidh na hoíche móire. Tagann an ealaín (le Boris Artzybasheff) ón cnuasach filíochta Creatures, le Padraic Colum (Macmillan, 1927).

A graphic I made for Oíche Shamhna, using artwork by Boris Artzybasheff, from Padraic Colum’s poetry collection Creatures (Macmillan, 1927).

Friday, September 21, 2018

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Radio Interview, 8/8/18

[Updated to reflect the nature of time.]  I appeared on Bangor, Maine's AM620 WZON radio 8/8/18 on the Sports Lit 101 segment of the Downtown with Rich Kimball radio show, reading a few non-stereotypical baseball poems.

The segment is now archived online, so you can listen here:
http://www.downtownwithrichkimball.com/2018/08/08/sports-lit-101-joe-price-8-8-18/

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Essay in Western American Literature

My essay on the Santa Fe poets of the 1930s and The Turquoise Trail anthology is now published in the peer-reviewed journal Western American Literature (vol. 53, no. 2, Summer 2018, pp. 175-203), and it is already on Project MUSE. If you have a Project MUSE login, you can download the PDF or read it in HTML. Even if you do not have a login, the preview gives the first couple of pages:

http://muse.jhu.edu/article/699687

The first page is reproduced above, and here is a further snippet:

However, as I argue in this essay, the Santa Fe poets — including Alice Corbin Henderson, Witter Bynner, Spud Johnson, and Haniel Long, among others — eschewed classical European models and instead sought out their mythic touchstones within a particular region and culture of the geographic United States. At the same time, embracing the Native Americans’ “ancient rites” and mythological tropes in furtherance of a new vision of American poetry (and America itself), the Santa Fe poets registered their resistance to the machine age by invoking an image of a primitive other, thus freighting their project with all of the contradictions that entails.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Dead Boys in 2018

The present-day Dead Boys
I recently (July 3) saw the re-formed Dead Boys, with only two original members, Cheetah Chrome (guitarist) and Johnny Blitz (drummer), and a Stiv Bators stand-in by the name of Jake Hout.  It is in a way an ambivalent feeling to see long-gone punk bands re-form in their old age, and I wasn’t expecting too much from this version of the Dead Boys.  However, they were far better than I thought they would be.  Mainly, it was just great to see Cheetah and Blitz play those old tunes.  They did all the first album Young, Loud, and Snotty (1977) (possibly omitting their cover of “Hey Little Girl”; I can’t remember now), plus a few from We Have Come for Your Children (1978), along with “Detention Home” (the crowd didn’t seem to know the latter song as well, as it appears only on the lesser-known Night of the Living Dead Boys LP [1981]). Having a Stiv lookalike singer is of course is a bit of a strange idea at first, but he does do a spot-on imitation vocally and was quite good, initial feeling of disconnect aside.

Of course, no one is going to come close to the real Stiv.  I am lucky to have seen him (with the Wanderers in 1981 or so).  When I saw Stiv, he did most of his Dead Boys moves: took a swig of beer then spat it onto the audience; put his head in the bass drum, etc.  The only thing he didn’t do, compared to the Dead Boys CBGB video, was the lunch-meat thing; otherwise, it was his Dead Boys act.  Hout did not do most of these specific things, but moved a lot like Stiv and as noted can “do” his voice well.  Funnily enough, it was the bass player who is apparently supposed to be the stand-in for Jimmy Zero (who was the second guitar player in the original band) (in other words, they seemingly transposed the current bass guy for the old 2nd guitarist, visually speaking), and so wore a new-wave tie, and had roughly the same hairstyle.  The crowd was predominantly older punks in their 30s, 40s, and 50s (maybe even their 60s, a few of them), but some younger 20-somethings too.

But for me, again, the main thing, I was just glad to see Cheetah Chrome play those guitar parts and sing backup on “you know that I’m just a dead boy,” etc. — and Blitz play those drum parts.  The songs were really tight and come across as great classics live, played by their originators.  It is interesting to be reminded how much the DBs get from the Stooges, primarily the Williamson period (say, 1972-74), but also a little bit from the Ron Asheton albums (1969-70).  People think of the DBs as epitomizing 1977 punk, and in a way they do, but they came out of the break-up of the Cleveland band Rocket from the Tombs, who started in 1974, and so when you look at the history of punk, there really is a continuity from the late 1960s, to the early 70s, to the late 70s, which has not much to do with England (I say this because in many people’s minds, even some punk historians, London still looms overly large).

An interesting moment at this show: one of the openers was Craig Bell, who was in Rocket from the Tombs, and when the DBs played “Ain’t It Fun” as an encore, a song written by Rocket’s Peter Laughner and originally played by that band, Bell could be seen off to the side mouthing the words.

A couple of related thoughts: The Dead Boys are often seen as being nihilistic, perhaps avatars of what today might be termed “drunk punk” — songs devoid of political content instead focusing on sex/drugs/rock’n’roll or what have you.  The DBs definitely have this element to them (it predominates even, perhaps), but many of their songs in fact do comprise sociopolitical comment on their time, particularly on the second album.  In an interview quoted in David Ensminger’s recent book The Politics of Punk (2016), Cheetah Chrome goes so far as to say, “I always tried to get more political stuff into things, used to say we played ‘dick’ songs: they were all about sex and partying. ‘Ain’t Nothing To Do’ I always considered a political song. ‘Not Anymore’ was a definite social statement. I used to rag on Stiv because, of course, as soon as he gets in the Lords of the New Church, it was all political!” (p. 3).

Aside from the Stooges, Cheetah in another interview (October 2017) mentions as a major influence the MC5, an often overtly political band: “The MC5 really sang about the issues. They nailed it. They put it in music we could rock out to, and the exact same problems are still here today. The only thing different now is we’re not under a draft. How long that will last, who knows. The MC5 would be just as relevant now.”  Not that everything has to be overtly or ideological political, or that there isn’t joy in simple heavy rock’n’roll music (of course there is!), but I sometimes lately see claims (in social-media threads, for example) that original or “real” punk was (or should be) only about the music, or that punk is now threatened by the supposed evils of “political correctness” (see Steven Blush, “KILL YR IDOLS”).  Reframing punk as apolitical is not a realistic move (in my opinion), and Cheetah’s comments show that it never was quite the case, even in the earliest iteration of what we now recognize as American punk per se.

Nor is this to say what side of the political spectrum punk is inherently on (it varies wildly at times, or among different factions in place and time and generation; that is one thing Blush is correct about), and, for that matter, it becomes near impossible to say what punk “authentically” means.  I do, though, have my own thoughts about all this.  Perhaps an essay for another time.  For now, I will sum up by saying that the Dead Boys, even reduced to two original members, are still a powerful live band whose songs I think are currently somewhat overlooked in the history of rock’n’roll.


The original Dead Boys, c. 1977

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Poetry Reading at the SLA Conference

I gave a poetry reading at the Sport Literature Association Conference this past week, on 6/20/18, in Lawrence, Kansas.  My presentation was titled “Baseball Poems / Baseball Images” — some previously published, some newer.  My reading of the poems was accompanied by a series of images, sometimes meant to illustrate aspects of the texts, but sometimes in conversation with them.  It went over well, I think, going on the response I got.

I was also glad to see that many of the papers presented took an overt political stance, including one that foregrounded Eduardo Galeano on soccer and politics.  Further papers analyzed racial discrimination, gender bias, and/or intersections of capitalism in sports, among other topics.  While one could easily have imagined the frequent indulgence in nostalgia, this was really not the case here, and the insights generated proved fruitful.  What is the point of literary criticism if it does not actually engage with the real-life problems of the world?  Then it is merely, as they say, “art for art’s sake” (though perhaps there’s occasional merit in that too?).  And especially in the arena of sports, which has always been a political arena, to stand on the sidelines and not to choose sides would be to my mind to abnegate our responsibility as thinkers and artists.  This was my first time at this conference, and I was encouraged by it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Five Homage Poems at Penumbra

I have five poems published at Penumbra, the official, refereed, scholarly journal of Union Institute & University’s Ph.D. Program in Interdisciplinary Studies. The journal, as it describes itself, is published at regular intervals and dedicated to challenging traditional academic and creative disciplinary boundaries in the context of social change.

My poems are in homage to Archie Shepp, Bill Evans, Peggy Pond Church, Leroy Carr, and Richard Realf (three musicians, two poets).


Read them online here:
https://unionpenumbra.org/article/five-homage-poems/

Monday, June 04, 2018

Spectra Article in Twentieth-Century Literature

My article “‘bullets for hands’: Witter Bynner, Arthur Davison Ficke, and the Spectra Poems of World War I” is now published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Twentieth-Century Literature, vol. 64, no. 2 (June 2018), pp. 223-46.  Below is the abstract, and the first page is above.

The Spectra hoax, which saw poets Witter Bynner (as Emanuel Morgan) and Arthur Davison Ficke (as Anne Knish) publish the anthology Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments (1916), produced a quite striking body of poetry. Despite its parodic origins, Spectra included some of the most resonant responses to World War I. Recent criticism of Spectrism understandably tends to emphasize the hoax aspects of this fascinating episode in modernist history, focusing on the performance of identity, for example. Yet, Bynner himself stated his genuine affirmation of the anthology’s work beyond the satiric circumstances of its creation, and the experience of their self-created, alternative avant-garde ended up having longer-term effects on both his and Ficke’s careers. This essay argues that engaging with Spectra beyond its hoax limits allows us to explore its wider aesthetic and sociopolitical relevance to the period, shedding further light on contemporary perceptions of Imagism and Vorticism, particularly in the context of the poetry of the Great War.