Sunday, April 30, 2006

the poet Lynn Emmanuel says

“[F]or a writer to say in the year 2004 that she doesn’t want to know anything about critical theory is like a writer saying, in the 1930s and 40s, I’m just not going to read Freud.”

-- quoted in the Winter/Spring 2006 issue of Poetry Flash [no, the interview is not online]

I’m okay with knowing something about critical theory, I guess, but it would be nice if she defined the term. Despite the concreteness of her analogy (Freud!), “critical theory” is left vague. Emmanuel does not recommend a single critical theorist. In the sentence that comes just before this one Emmanuel refers to “the critical context in which [a poet is] writing.” Is “critical theory” the “context” of the poem?

I’ll have to say my tolerance for theory is low. And I figure the context of poetry is the times and other art. Not that theory can’t be part of that. Josh Corey’s blog, for instance, is worth visiting those evenings one needs a theory nightcap.

Friday, April 28, 2006

pile of reading

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Tropical Truth: a story of music & revolution in Brazil by Caetano Veloso

Of Men and Monsters: Jeffrey Dahmer and the Construction of the Serial Killer by Richard Tithecott

Walden / Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust

The Collected Poems, Sylvia Plath

Poems for the Millennium, vol 2: from Postwar to Millennium edited by Jerome Rothenberg & Pierre Joris

a May 2005 issue of The New Yorker

Compare to last month's pile.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

From the diary: “Monday 12/9/85

“I’m down to two books from that pile of 30 I had mounted up. I’ve checked out new ones (and read some) since I achieved the goal – whittle the 30 to 5. … I started Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying etc.”

The “pile of 30” refers to the number of books I had out from the library.

I worked my way through a few self-help books. I liked Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living and How to Win Friends and Influence People. The advice is good. People like it when you remember their names, for instance. Politicians know this well. Clinton is famous for remembering personal details (& names!) of virtual strangers. Even dumbya gets a lot of points for his handing out of nicknames and remembering whether you have kids or that your mother is getting on in years.

I could pick up the principles for being popular but I could no more make myself a social animal through book learning than I could learn to speak German or Russian from poring over a textbook in my bedroom. To be good with people you need a lot of practice being good with people.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

From the diary: “Thursday December Fifth 1985

“Finally reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And I like it. … And read a bunch of poetry. Gosh. There isn’t a lot of happy poetry being written I guess. Just when I’m about to give up on poetry as being incomprehensible I run across a few that are really wonderful. But why is that only about 10%?”

A couple days later I wrote, “Finished Finn. Didn’t live up to expectations and I do understand why some consider it racist.”

The “nigger” of “Nigger Jim” grated, but what do I know, right?, maybe “nigger” wasn’t really considered an insult at the time Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn. Maybe? But it was hard to have any respect for Nigger Jim, anyway. Twain had him childlike and loyal, certain that the boy Finn always knew what was best. Nigger Jim, as I recall, never had an independent thought and it was up to Finn to prevent Jim from just giving up and turning himself in.

I like Mark Twain. But he was racist. Big surprise! The racism of his time was so casual, so taken for granted that questioning it was like saying water doesn’t run downhill. In his account of travel to Lake Tahoe in California Twain has nothing good to say about the people native to the area. He calls them “diggers” and speaks with contempt of their dirtiness and poverty. Twain can be quite funny and is often ready to lampoon the arrogant and scoff at unexamined attitudes but it doesn’t mean that he was always ready to poke himself.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Descent of Woman

Both The Naked Ape and The Descent of Woman helped me get my head out of the man-as-pinnacle of evolution/created-in-God’s image conflation.

From the diary: “Sunday December 1, 1985

“Am reading The Descent of Woman by Elaine Morgan. Great book. Great sequel to The Naked Ape -- it refutes a lot of Desmond Morris’ sex constructions – breasts [are] for babies to hold onto instead of fur [our ancestors having lost their fur, rather than the] pseudobuttocks [intended to redirect sexual attention from the behind to the upfront that Desmond Morris suggests].

“I started to tell Mom about some of this and she had to know first what the woman’s qualifications were. Her first reaction wasn’t, as mine would be, ‘Oh, what do they say?’ but ‘Oh, what gives them the right to say that?’”

This diary entry comes before the one that refers to The Color Purple. Same argument?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Uses of Enchantment

A few days ago when I began quoting from the old diary again I quoted from a page where a bookmark was resting. For some months I’ve been composing directly in the blogger box. But up to last fall I’d carefully written everything in a Word file because, you know, blogger used to lose stuff. Now that my mind is clearing and I’m feeling up to looking to the long term I am once more saving everything into that Word file and what do I find but diary-quotings I’d prepared and never posted.

So, what the heck, here’s the 20 years ago me reading a famous psychoanalyst:

From the diary: “Saturday November 30, 1985

“I’ve been reading a book called The Uses of Enchantment about how fairy tales provide essential pschological material to children so they can grow to become productive, mature adults – ‘live happily ever after.’ And I think I’m learning something, but I’m also getting anxiety attacks. I feel so overwhelmed by the attempt to understand myself. I want to retreat. I’m lost and confused and I hate it.”

A few days later I wrote, “Been really bogged down in Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment. Been boring me for days.”

The wikipedia entry on Bruno Bettelheim is decidedly unflattering. It declares Bettelheim’s theories on autism “erroneous” and says he was a plagiarist, calling him “Bruno Borrowheim”. Yow. Who knew?

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Circle J

In an article, "Historic Circle J club closing", that appeared in a November issue of the Bay Area Reporter:

"Unlike sex clubs ... the Circle J's primarily hands-off code of conduct is a rarity, and 'the people who come here don't come here to have sex. They won't let you touch them. They're exhibitionists, or they like to watch. We've never had word of mouth because nobody would tell their friends where it's at. It's their place and they don't want the company of people they know.'"

The article describes the room: "[S]ome of the same clients from 35 years ago sit in one of seven church pews lined up in a small room with a large movie screen. On a recent afternoon most pews had one guy in it, pants unbuttoned to the waist, sitting and staring straight ahead, jacking off in close quarters barely making a sound."

"Circle J will be taken over by a neighboring church organization ... [Youth With a Mission] simply offered the landlord more money."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bats at the laundomat

Bats at the Laundromat is the title I gave the poetry notebook I was working in at the time. That would be late 1985.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Enchanted Apples of Oz

From the diary, Friday, 12/27/85 ...

"Eric S[hanower] showed me galleys of Enchanted Apples of Oz. They looked good. He wanted to know if I could accept it as canon. No. I can't. I can't lie and say, 'yes! oh yes!'"

This from an entry about visiting Eric at his house in Novato. We were Oz club chums and both had strong notions about what constituted an Oz book. A real Oz book. I'm not nearly so dogmatic as I once was. Hell, I knew at the time there were a zillion inconsistencies in the books written by Baum himself, but there were inconsistencies and there were unacceptable inconsistencies. In his first Oz graphic novel Eric locates the source of Oz's enchantment in an apple tree in a garden (tres Biblical, no?). Should the apples ever be picked the magic will go away. I didn't like the idea, tho Eric's art was exciting.

We watched Midnight Cowboy, which depressed me (or, rather, didn't improve my already low mood); ate pancakes for dinner; I fended off the what-are-you-going-to-do-with-your-life questions.

Gah. Miserable period.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Some Angels Wear Black

When I was at APE I saw Jennifer Joseph at the table for her Manic D Press. We dedicated the proceeds of a night at Poetry & Pizza to, as I termed it, the Eli Coppola Publication Fund. Eli was a poet much admired in the SF poetry scene of the 80s-90s. She died in 2000. Plans were in the works to publish a selected poems. After the P&P reading, which was partly a tribute to Eli with others reading her words, Jennifer Joseph said she would let us know when the book appeared.

Among other things at APE I asked Ms J what had happened with the Coppola book. "Oh! Didn't we send you a copy?"

I shook my head. J had me write down my address and the book arrived today. Some Angels Wear Black: selected poems. How neat. Flames all over the cover. A backwards question mark of a plant stem ... it's not a fern, are those leaves or flowers along the stem?

I was surprised to discover my name in the "publisher wishes to thank" paragraph on the copyright page. Jennifer includes me and my P&P mates, Clive, Katharine & Paul.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


From Kimberly C. Patton's "Seas of Light Swept Through It", an essay included in Best Spiritual Writing 1998:

"[S]houted one older male [colleague] as our two large classes exchanged the lecture hall[,] 'I hear you have something in your belly!" At a faculty Christmas party: 'Bun in the oven, huh?' ... 'Why do these reactions bother me ...' I asked a dear friend ... who is devoutly Jewish. 'Am I hypersensitive?' ... He thought for a minute. 'Because they trivialize the mystery.'"

On the previous page Patton describes the awe she felt seeing the first ultrasound pictures of her fetus. Picking up some of the words she uses I wonder if Patton would have felt exalted by a colleague coming up to her in the crowded hall and exclaiming, "I hear you have 'a miniature, animate icon of God's incarnate glory' in your belly!"

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

did you like it?

I decided to go find a poem on the web and read it and say whether I liked it.

a poem by Tonnus Oosterhoff

Have you read it yet? You don't have to. I didn't like it. But maybe it's the translation.

I liked this line: "a wheelbarrow lull lull"

Sunday, April 09, 2006

What I bought at APE

Kent's been suffering with a cold/flu thing. The same one that had me down? Sure. Probably.

So today I went over to the Alternative Press Expo by myself. It was at the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco.

I've just emptied my bag of goodies on the floor. A lot of freebies -- comics, postcards, a poster, business cards. I decided to allow myself a bigger budget than usual. This is what I bought:

Strugglers and Cavalcade of Boys, vol 3 by Tim Fish

True Travel Tales, issues 1 & 2, by Justin Hall

Grand Gestures by Robert Ullman

Don't Be a Crotte!, starring bi-dyke Liliane, by Leanne Franson

Hats by Vasilis Lolos

Brown Paper Bag, issues 1 & 2, an anthology of comics by Jonathan Hill, Tyler Owings, and Jason Rainey

Friends, issue 3, by Francois Vigneault

Little Scrowlie, issue 13, by Jen Feinberg & Todd Meister

The Far Shore, The Milkmaid, The Den of Sin, three mini-comics by Tim Swope

And Then One Day, issue 4, a mini-comic by Ryan Claytor

The Homeless Channel, issues 1 & 2, by Matt Silady

... I talked to several of the creators, not that I'm much at shootin' the shit, and got a sketch or two ...

Saturday, April 08, 2006


One of my new duties at the Claremont Branch is maintaining the collection of uncataloged paperbacks. This is a purely browsing collection. When I say "uncataloged" I mean you cannot find any of these books by looking them up in the library catalog. Should you check one out glance at the check-out receipt; the receipt will not list the title of the book, rather it will say your "paperback" is due on such-and-such a date.

Four years ago when I was putting in 15-20 hours a week at North Branch substituting for someone who, I think, was off on a several month sabbatical, I watched over the paperbacks for awhile. The mass market paperbacks, the thrillers and not-quite-formula romances and family dramas circulated like mad. I remember one lady bringing back a grocery bag filled with slightly cigarette scented paperbacks she'd plowed through. The trade paperbacks had half the circs.

I've been weeding the paperback collection at Claremont, getting rid of the stain-rumpled, underlined, and cover-loosened copies. At North I recall the turnover was pretty ruthless. The paperback had a year. At the end of the year you discarded it. If the condition was decent the book was put on the Friends of the Library sale shelf to sell for a big quarter. I don't know if it's just that it's been no one's steady duty but the paperbacks at Claremont have been allowed to age. One I deleted this week has been doing its rounds since 1995. I've deleted none whose tour has been so brief as one year.

Now that the RFID tag makes it harder to remove a book from the collection in presentable condition (y'gotta tear the thing out) most of the deleted books have their covers yanked off and get dumped in recycle. I'm realizing doing this where patrons can see the process is likely not a good idea. It's been convenient to do it at the Info Desk when things are slow but ... very public. Some people get tetchy over seeing books thrown in the trash.

Judging by my review of the circulation statistics of the books I discard I'd say the users of the Claremont Branch have different reading habits than those who visit the North Branch. A trade paperback (which tends to be more literature-like) would have twice the circs of a mass market paperback. When I was scanning the donations for candidates to add to the collection I'd been looking with most interest at the mass markets. I'll shift my attention.

Friday, April 07, 2006

thank you note

I've been reading Marguerite Duras's The Lover about a young French woman coming of age in Saigon. I picked up the book from a used bookstore clearance shelf. Neatly folded and stowed in the back of the book is the following note:

Derek (& tell Sylvia)

This book is like a calm quiet Tidal Wave! What realistic beautiful power must dwell in Marguerite Duras. I was moved to tears many times. I shall never forget it. Thanks for sharing.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006


I stacked up all the issues of The New Yorker from my subscription. The stack is by the bed. I'm a little surprised to find myself enjoying working my way through them. With books I feel bound to push through from page one to page last. There are books I've been reading for years ... Walden, for example, recently rejoined my active reading pile but I probably only get through 3 of its pages each week. I'm about halfway. Magazines, however, are much more a miscellany. Frankly, there's many an article the subject of which just does not interest me. Sports teams, most humor ... I like funny but I don't seem to have much taste for humor.

I don't currently have any magazine subscriptions going but a new issue of something will make it into the house now & then. When I've read it, do I discard it? With The New Yorkers I've decided yes. Finish the issue, stuff it in the recycle bag.

I used to buy a literary magazine or two a month. But they piled up. I would read a few poems then put the issue aside and forget what if anything I'd read in it. But I do have a soft spot for the locals.

A couple days ago I bought the first issue of a new litmag out of Oakland, Beeswax. The cover is letter press -- means you can feel the impression of the print in the paper. A honey bee. Simple and friendly. At five dollars it's pretty cheap. There's no masthead. Only an invitation to address correspondence to "the editors" ... no email. Though there is a website address and there the editors name themselves. John Peck and Laureen Shifley. I wonder why they neglect the credit in the physical magazine? They include their own work in the first issue. None of the poets/fictionists/visual artists on the contents page are names I recognize.

I'm up to page 15. So far the work is competent. Short stories in litmags are usually not of much interest. I've given myself permission to skip over them. Nicole Ankowski's "It's Called Dancing" is a relationship dance. Rather slow moving but there are nice turns of phrase. "I wondered if a tattoo needle felt like teeth on skin, a mechanical ferret nipping over my chest." I might make it to the story's end.

The poetry so far is unobjectionable. I like that the editors like comics; it was one of the reasons I bought.

When the clerk was ringing up the purchase he made a comment about it being the first issue. "Number one?" he said. "An auspicious number."

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Color Purple

I haven't excerpted from my diary in a long time. Here's an entry dated 12/20/85. I was twenty. Mom was 63.

"Mom doesn't go in for fiction. It seems she literally can't understand the distinctions and accept the conventions of fiction. She laments and curses 'serious' dramas for 'oh they wouldn't really act like that' or 'so-and-so isn't a very good actor.' I don't think she is very qualified to pass judgment on acting ability.

"I went to The Color Purple. It opened in Santa Rosa today. Mom dropped me off on the way to a [substitute teaching] job. I took the bus home. I made the mistake of telling her a little about it when she got home from square dancing. She was instantly on the attack. I mentioned, just commenting on an observation, that the word 'nigger' is not used once in the film. Mom frowned, 'But they would've.' Fuck, so what? So it's a little revisionist. It worked.

"All right. Maybe I've exorcised some of the anger. [I've deleted some cursing.] I keep forgetting that I can't discuss movies and novels, in fact most of the stuff I read and see, with Mom. Documentaries are generally okay. Cuz then she can watch 'em for herself, I guess. Anyway -- I really enjoyed The Color Purple. My only real complaint is that both book and movie are a little too manipulative. But with that reservation I am glad to say I shed tears about three times during the film. I cried at the end of the book, too.

"... It's so frustrating. I can't seem to make Mom understand what I mean when I talk about -- The Color Purple, f'rinstance. And she gets so defensive. She said when she sees a movie filled with black faces she assumes the movie is a chronicle about what black people are like. I said, I don't. I see them as people first. She got a sorta fierce expression on her face and didn't seem to consider her position at all silly."