Sunday, August 31, 2008

“I hate feeling stupid”

Sam Kashner was the first student of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He studied with Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, William Burroughs, and Gregory Corso, among others. In his recent memoir of that time (mid-70s) he writes about Ginsberg’s difficulty with a non-Beat poet:

Allen Ginsberg “took out Rivers and Mountains by John Ashbery. He turned to a longish poem called ‘The Skaters.’

“’Now tell me,’ Allen asked, almost pleading at his desk. ‘What does this mean? I can’t understand it. I want to know what it means, what is happening in this poem. Why does he have to be so mysterious about everything?’”

Added Ginsberg, “’I hate feeling stupid, I hate not getting the idea.’”

At this point Kashner was not only the first but the only student of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. (Not long after Ginsberg fussed about not getting Ashbery, Anne Waldman recommended ‘The Skaters’ to Kashner; a great poem, she said.)

source: When I Was Cool: my life at the Jack Kerouac School by Sam Kashner. HarperCollins, New York. 2004.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

“I thought you were conceited.”

more lines from “A Poem Under the Influence” by David Trinidad

… The things I’ve missed / in life, lost in my own head. I don’t know how many times I’ve learned (after the fact) / that people have felt I slighted them, when in actuality I simply wasn’t present, fully, / but absorbed in my own (usually grim) imaginings. “I thought you were conceited.” / “No, just cripplingly shy.” Once, when a certain individual (a publisher of gay and / lesbian poetry) treated me rudely, I asked a mutual friend why he disliked me. / Friend later reported: “He says you snubbed him at an AA meeting five years ago.”

source: The Late Show by David Trinidad. Turtle Point Press, New York. 2007.

Friday, August 29, 2008

“So many poets”

lines from “A Poem Under the Influence” by David Trinidad:

So many poets, so few kind ones …

Once, when Ira and I arrived at an Upper West Side party for Wayne Koestenbaum, / the hostess (a Knopf poet with whom I’d been anthologized) barreled past us to greet an / obviously more important guest. She slammed into my shoulder, then gave me an angry look, / as if her foyer were a rush-hour subway. I still cringe whenever I happen upon her name.

source: The Late Show (2007) David Trinidad. Turtle Point Press, New York.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

gasps, thrills, fleshes

from the diary, 12/9/88: “In one of the textbooks this semester a poem is introduced and the editor gasps when he compares the poem to the version of the incident as it is recorded in the poet’s journal. The editor thrills at the way the poet actually remembers more than he wrote in his journal, fleshes the incident out in full detail [as compared to] a sketchy report in the diary.

“Hmf. Are there actually people this stupid? I have never been able to record an incident in full detail in one of my journals and sometimes I wonder why I bother keeping it because it is so inadequate, so often dull. I don’t have time, for one thing, to say everything; another is that when something has just happened I don’t have much perspective on it.”

Friday, August 22, 2008

She escaped the flood only to be …

In an interview in the new “Music” issue of The Believer, Irma “The Soul Queen of New Orleans” Thomas answers the following question: “How’d you learn that you were ‘missing’ after [Hurricane] Katrina?”

Irma Thomas first explains she was performing that night in Texas. They woke and turned on the news to find that “the levees had breeched, and there was water in the city. So later that day we’re checking CNN, and they’re saying, ‘We’re concerned where two of New Orleans’ legends are located, we haven’t been able to find them – Fats Domino and Irma Thomas.’ And I said, ‘I know where I am!’”

She wasn’t able to get through to anybody for awhile. Eventually she heard from her record company. “As soon as they caught up with me, the interviews started up. I was inundated.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

the diary, 10/10/88 – 12/9/88

I last wrote about my diaries in September. Since it’s been almost a year I don’t expect DIR readers to remember where I left off. It was my semester in London. I’ve already worked through the diary for the books mentioned in it, and I copied out some anecdotes. This post goes back through the diary to check out my comments on movies, music and live theatre.

I made an effort to get conversant with the London’s small club music scene. Others could afford to do big concerts, not me.

Also searched for small theater (especially gay theater).

I tried to take advantage of the big city amenities – art galleries, ethnic restaurants, foreign cinema.

Beginning of November I started a volunteer DJ gig at the Imperial College radio station.


Pathfinder, “the first motion picture made entirely in the Lap language and filmed amidst the snow & rocks of Lapland”

Drowning By Numbers, It was my birthday “so I dragged Chris to Drowning By Numbers -- even paid for it as the poor dear has spent away all her money. … Afterward Chris teased me about moaning, ‘Oh, no. Oh, no,’ during the movie. OK, I got into it. Good flicker. Great for Halloween. Lovely weird little black comedy.”

Law of Desire, “Good movie! … very poignant and the gayness of the characters is not a theme but rather themes are duplicity and love and unrequited love and obsession and passion and so on.”

Alice, a stop-motion animation version of Alice in Wonderland, “unusual, weird, rather more slowmoving than I’d have wished, fairly faithful to the book. I wouldn’t give it a wild recommendation but if you’re in the mood—“

The Fruit Machine, “okay, if somewhat muddled”

The Curse of the Cat People, watched it on TV

Yeelen, an African movie, “very well made, a lot of lovely scenery and interesting faces in closeup; although I could follow the motion of the plot, could make out its bone structure, yet the details were not always clear. Couldn’t catch all the symbolism. Left me feeling oddly depressed.”

music (these were 7” singles I bought in used record stores):

“Running All Over the World” by Staus Quo – “the theme song for Sport Aid … Chris tells me she read in the news that Sport Aid went bankrupt”

“No Clause 28” by Boy George – a political protest song! Clause 28 was Maggie Thatcher’s no-teachee-the-gay legislation to swat school teachers.

Pop Will Eat Itself – “sorta like The Ramones, only not as good”
Living Colour – “hard rock – blecch”
Cocteau Twins – “good”

from one live show in Camden Town:

Law of Fives (live) – “bearable … they got irritable after awhile over the audience’s lukewarm reception.”

The Horseflies (live) – “from America … rockified traditional American fiddle & banjo music”

Rodney Allen (live) – “Cute little teenager … pleasant rock … in the mode of Bryan Adams”

The Jack Rubies (live) – “very good … I have two of their songs on records I bought at the used record shop”

The Blue Aeroplanes (live) – “[they] construct a wall of sound and push it over on you”

my Imperial College radio show:

“Glad to Be Gay” by Tom Robinson – a song on the Imperial College playlist that I included in my first show

“Changes” by David Bowie and “The First Atheist Tabernacle Choir” by the British satiric puppet theater Spitting Image – another student DJ was in the booth talking to me and “I couldn’t keep track of my songs and came into David Bowie’s ‘Changes’ midvoice. Very annoying.”

“Boom Boom Boom (Come Back to My Room)” by Paul Lekakis, a request I played for Dana, a girl who’d barged into the booth with the 7” demanding I play it right away. I put it on after a song by the Cocteau Twins. I found “Boom Boom Boom” appalling: “Boom boom boom / Let's go back to my room / So we can do it all night / And you can make me feel right” … Ugh. A female singer came out with an answer song: “Bam Bam Bam (I Think I’ll Stay Where I Am)”. The search I just ran didn’t produce any hits for the song, unfortunately, so I don’t know who she was.

live theater:

Venetian Heat, “Italy, WWII, farmer & wife hide 2 army deserters after the Italian army disintegrates. One [soldier] falls in love with the wife, one with the husband. The nazis (one, anyway) show up and make things nasty. The wife’s lover gets shot, dies. The other soldier [escapes] to join the partisans. Wife & husband under arrest.”

The Public, by Federico Garcia Lorca, “very strange, yet exciting, lyrical play. Filled with odd and wonderful imagery – the set design nearly matching the words. And, when the words made no sense, certainly surpassing them. I loved the horses – men with big horse heads, dressed in leotards, carrying trumpets, Juliet with a false bare chest pushing apart her negligee, a naked man hanging from a cross who is attended by a male nurse, a man dressed in bells, another in grape leaves. Rain falling between audience and stage. A huge painted eye. A giant leaf. A soft-sculpture moon. It was not really long. An hour and a half, yet so full it seemed much longer, and confusing so that the minutes stretched out as we tried to peer into them.” This was supposedly the play’s first British production.

The Bacchae “okay, but I didn’t find myself caring much about what happened to the characters except at the very end when [SPOILER ALERT] the mother of the king of Thebes discovers she has been carrying around her son’s head – felt for her, poor dear. The women of the chorus did a number of gross things to themselves during the course of the play – splashing themselves with water, painting themselves with lipstick & eyebrow pencil, wallowing in red wine and oatmeal. Simulated pagan rituals, I suppose.”

Look Back in Anger “I should call it Look At in Anger … The play was written back in the 50s and rather shows it … I thought all the characters were big dips …” I found the abusive main character a real downer, and the women who loved him were total masochists.


Jack the Ripper Walking Tour – “fun but long”

“I went with Julie, Janet, Chris, Tanya, and Shawn to the BBC studios to see a radio show being recorded -- The Law Game. ‘A light-hearted look at points of law. Amusing, yet informative, with Shaw Taylor in charge of the legal quibbles, squabbles, and giggles. With special celebrity guests Alan Titch Marsh, Susan Rae, and Denise Coffey.’ Of course, we’d never heard of the celebrity guests … It was kinda fun.”

Monday, August 18, 2008


“Cartoonist Gary Larson once drew a Far Side cartoon showing a bunch of cavemen being warned about the danger of stegosaurs, and he called their tail weapon a ‘thagomizer’. Denver paleontologist Ken Carpenter thought that ‘thagomizer’ was a good name, so he used it in his 1993 scientific presentation of the most complete Stegosaurus ever found. That name stuck, and now it is accepted scientific nomenclature to say that stegosaurs are characterized by having a thagomizer.”

source: Dinosaurs, by Thomas Holtz

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Stegosaurus v. Tyrannosaurus?

photo: Disney’s Fantasia

Stegosaurus lived about 150 million years ago, in the Late Jurassic, while Tyrannosaurus lived only 65.5 million years ago, at the end of the Late Cretaceous. In fact, if you do the math, you see that Tyrannosaurus lived closer in time to us humans than it did to Stegosaurus. So in terms of geologic time, a picture showing Tyrannosaurus running down the street where you live is actually more realistic than one showing Tyrannosaurus fighting Stegosaurus!”

If it makes you feel better, you should know that Stegosaurus, though free from the hassle of Tyrannosaurus, did have ol’ Allosaurus to contend with.

source: Dinosaurs, by Thomas Holtz

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Did dinosaurs have brains in their butts?

No, says Thomas Holtz in his new book, Dinosaurs. There’s a “space inside the hip vertebrae of Stegosaurus (and some other dinosaurs) where the spinal cord was contained [that] was very big. Some paleontologists … sugggested that this large space held an extra-large bundle of nerves. All vertebrates – including us – have these bundles, called ganglia, which help control the reflexes of the limbs and workings of the organs.

“In the 1990s, American paleontologist Emily Buchholtz examined the hips of living relatives of Stegosaurus (birds and crocodilians) and found that they also have an enlarged space in their vertebrae. But these animals don’t have an extra-large ganglion there. Instead, that space is filled with fatty tissue.”

Even if the extra-large ganglia had been there, Holtz says, it wouldn’t have been a brain equivalent.

Although perhaps the fatty tissue could be considered a brain equivalent in some.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Is there a dinosaur called Chungkingosaurus?

Yes, it’s a kind of Stegosaur.

source: Dinosaurs, by Thomas Holtz

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I was lonely

“I was lonely, but that was fine. It seems now that back then I was intent on gathering together all the forms of loneliness that I could.”

-- Haruki Murakami
translated from the Japanese by Ted Goossen

source: an appreciation of Thelonious Monk, The Believer, v.6, n.5, July/August 2008

Thursday, August 07, 2008

gay marriage in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden

At the beginning of Chapter 10 the brothers Charles & Adam Trask are trying to make a go of the farm. Father and mother are now dead and it’s the brothers’ legacy.

The boys have been at odds since they were children. Once Charles tried to kill Adam with an axe. So it’s not like cooperating comes naturally to them. Yet Steinbeck frames the project this way: “When two men live together they usually maintain a kind of shabby neatness out of incipient rage at each other. Two men alone are constantly on the verge of fighting, and they know it.”

“When two men live together …” A generalization, as though this were the way two men would be, nevermind their history, that they’re related, for instance, or that they both grew up full of buried rage because of an abusive father and mother who played favorites. “Two men alone are constantly on the verge of fighting …” Alone? Meaning, without the mediation of a woman?

I’m seeing Steinbeck put this down as the base, the “usual” thing, the natural thing. This is what one would expect of two men living together.

Fast forward fifteen or twenty years. Adam has moved to California and married, but his wife abandoned him and their two sons. A Chinese servant, Lee, essentially has become mother to the boys, or rather, both mother and father since Adam goes through a long period nursing his broken heart and neglecting every other human relationship. When Adam at last surfaces from the depths of his self-absorption (with the help of a thumping from a Salinas Valley neighbor) he realizes he’s got a real gem in Lee – not just a servant, but an intellectual peer, a man Friday … a wife?

In this scene Adam is soliciting advice from the grown son of the helpful neighbor. Will is a successful businessman, a banker. And he warns Adam away from a risky scheme. Changing the subject “Adam turned slowly to Lee. ‘Have we got any more of that lemon pie we had for supper?’ he asked.

“’I don’t think so,’ said Lee. ‘I thought I heard some mice in the kitchen. I’m afraid there will be white of egg on the boys’ pillows. You’ve got half a quart of whisky.’”

How domestic. Cozy. It doesn’t sound at all like they are “constantly on the verge of fighting.” Is it because Lee is feminized? Doing the cooking, the cleaning, tending the children?

Steinbeck makes this pretty literal when a visitor looks over the house: “flowered chintz, lace curtains, white drawn-work table cover, cushions on the couch covered in a bright and impudent print. It was a feminine room in a house where only men lived. [The visitor] thought of his own sitting room. [His wife] had chosen, bought, cleaned, every single thing in it except a pipestand. Come to think of it, she had bought the pipestand for him. There was a woman’s room too. But this was a fake. It was too feminine – a woman’s room designed by a man – and overdone, too feminine. That would be Lee.”

The sitting room is a room in drag!

The father-son anger thing is plenty evident in Adam’s house just as it was when Adam was the boy. Adam’s son, Cal, is torn. He is a young man when he and Lee finally talk about long hidden family history. Cal confesses, his “shoulders … shaking a little, like a muscle too long held under a strain”:

“’I love him,’ Cal said.” He means Adam, his father. He loves his father.

“’I love him too,’ said Lee. ‘I guess I couldn’t have stayed around so long if I hadn’t. He is not smart in a worldly sense but he’s a good man. Maybe the best man I have ever known.’”

It’s a marriage, all right. A loving marriage. Sure, Lee gets a wage but only sort of notionally. It all goes into the family pot.

Is it a “gay marriage”? That is, do Adam and Lee have sex? Considering that there’s many a sexless (even loveless) two-sex marriage, does a lack of sex disqualify? Maybe it’s a same-sex marriage, but not a gay one. Anyway, just cuz Steinbeck doesn’t put them in bed together -- well, remember that helpful neighbor?, he and his wife have lots of kids, but not once does Steinbeck describe their sex life.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


word of the day: nouriture

context: “The Ballad of a Lost House”, a poem by Leonora Speyer, appearing in Prize Poems, 1913-1929, an anthology edited by Charles A. Warner.

The poet is addressing her “Hungry Heart”, telling it to get out of the house –

“… weep not, get you gone –
Better the stones to rest upon,

The wind and rain for a roof secure,
Hyssop and tares for your nouriture!”

definition: nurture – as Spenser spelled it.

Hyssop and tares are wild plants.

Among other things in this poem the poet’s veins turn to ice, she listens to an “ancient ardent melody”, wonders “when a smile will strike”, addresses the morning as “O anguished morn”, is “loved with a hundred hates”, observes “a wraith content that contented goes”, and diagnoses “a house that has lost its soul.” Heady stuff.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


word of the day: princox

context: “Banal Sojourn”, a poem by Wallace Stevens, appearing in Prize Poems, 1913-1929, an anthology edited by Charles A. Warner.

“… who can care at the wigs despoiling the Satan ear?
And who does not seek the sky unfuzzed, soaring to the princox?”

definition: a self-confident young fellow

This would be one of the reasons I don’t rush to a dictionary when coming upon unfamiliar words in poems such as Stevens’. What does it add to know that a “princox” is a “self-confident young fellow”? Not much. In fact, it’s rather a disappointment.

Monday, August 04, 2008


word of the day: pardie

context: “Banal Sojourn”, a poem by Wallace Stevens, appearing in Prize Poems, 1913-1929, an anthology edited by Charles A. Warner.

“Moisture and heat have swollen the garden into a slum of bloom.
Pardie! Summer is like a fat beast, sleepy in mildew …”

definition: pardi (also pardie, pardy, perdie) – adverb, interjection, Archaic.
verily; indeed.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

carcharodontosaurids, rebbachisaurids, saltasaurids

I’m reading Dinosaurs, a new overview by Thomas Holtz. It’s pitched to younger readers but it incorporates lots of recent research. I skim some of the more familiar stuff – like the plate tectonics discussion. The book incorporates dynamic new illustrations by Luis Rey. Sometimes, however, I come upon paragraphs thick with dinosaur names and reel a little. I don’t always bother to sound them out, but I often do, just to see if I can. It makes me feel like a kid again – uncertain, insecure, like I’m learning a magic incantation. Check out this paragraph as example:

Making the point that the carcharodontosaurids (that’s one of the hardest words right there) preyed upon those big brontosaurapatosaur-like long-necked plant-eaters Holtz says, “Big carcharodontosaurids are … typically found with some of the biggest of all sauropods: Acrocanthosaurus with the brachiosaurid Sauroposeidon; Carcharodontosaurus with the titanosaur Paralititan; Giganotosaurus with the rebbachisaurid Limaysaurus and the titanosaur Argentinosaurus and an unnamed rebbachisaurid; and an unnamed Argentine carcharodontosaurid with the saltasaurids Antarctosaurus, Neuquensaurus, and Saltasaurus. It seems likely that these giant carnosaurs were specialists in eating the largest of all herbivores.”