Tuesday, January 27, 2015

pile of reading

The Reenactments by Nick Flynn
Nick Flynn wrote a memoir, focused mostly on his father, called Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. I loved the title. Finally read it and thought it very good. The book was turned into a movie, Being Flynn, starring Robert DeNiro. I’ve seen maybe half a minute of it on TV. The Reenactments is an essay about having a movie made about your life, including the really bad parts. Among other things Nick Flynn tries to figure out if seeing an actress portray his mother committing suicide will help him heal from that tragic and traumatic real life event. He never really has, he says. We revisit many stories covered in Flynn’s first memoir, often from a slightly different angle.

Poetry v. 203, no.4, January 2014
Several years ago I read a year’s worth of Poetry and came away thinking the magazine was quite unreadable. A few more recent issues edited by Christian Wiman fell into my hands. Upon reading them I found the magazine greatly improved. Wiman has also been replaced. Changes, changes. Maybe it’s time to give Poetry another go? I ordered up the January through April issues from the Berkeley Library Main Branch. I’m working my way through January. The editor, Don Share, seems to have decent taste. It’s a little early to pass judgment, but passing judgment isn’t really necessary, is it? Inevitable, I suppose. But necessary?

What Light Can Do: essays on art, imagination, and the natural world by Robert Hass
Robert Hass was one of my teachers at UC Berkeley. He went on to serve as U.S. Poet Laureate and win lots of awards. This collection is a motley. I enjoy Hass’ voice but all the essays are not equally interesting.

Notes on the Mosquito: selected poems by Xi Chuan, translated by Lucas Klein
In the What Light Can Do collection Robert Hass talks about recent poetry in mainland China. One of the poets he singles out is Xi Chuan and I liked the lines he quoted.

Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century poetry of witness edited by Carolyn Forche
Lots of downer poetry. Still, I’ve slipped in a few bookmarks and poems from this anthology may show up in my year end list.

Mixed Up: a zine about mixed race queer & feminist experience
I picked this up on an expedition to a zine shop in the Mission.

A Short History of Laos by Grant Evans
I enjoyed A Short History of Cambodia. This book is in the same series, though by a different author. We’re considering a visit to Laos.

Mouth poems by Lisa Chen
Lisa Chen was a classmate in a Robert Hass poetry workshop at Cal. I found she had a book so here I am reading it.

The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold
A science fiction novel about traveling back in time to help yourself out.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Davey Thunder / Jack Lightning Show

My brother, David Lee Ingersoll, is a comics artist and writer. In the 80s he produced a number of mini comics. After doing a horror anthology series called Cheap Thrills and a series devoted to the adventures of two recent creations, Moe & Detritus, David decided he wanted to revisit characters he and I invented as kids. David asked me to write a script. Davey Thunder and Jack Lightning were the names we chose for a couple brief guest shots as DJs on an older friend’s radio show on the Sonoma State University station KSUN. We created a couple supporting characters, too — an Elf (David would introduce the elf by tapping a toy xylophone) and a Dragon with nasal congestion (yes, I talked wid by doze ah glogged ub).

from the diary (1/10/89 Tuesday):
I wrote a Davey Thunder / Jack Lighting script: The Origin. I folded it up and stuck it in an envelope, walked it down to the mailbox outside the post office. David should have it tomorrow or the next day.

from the diary (1/11/89 Wednesday):
David called up and said he liked the Thunder & Lightning script. He’s working on the third Moe & Detritus mini comic, but figures when he’s done with that he’ll get to work on T & L. He wanted to retitle it: GENESIS. Yuck! I said. I said I thought that sounded too pretentious. Well, he hates the word ORIGIN. (My title was: THE ORIGIN.) I said I hated it too, but that was why I used it cuz it conjures up so much awfulness when you think of comic books. Oooh. The Origin. What’s his origin? Here’s the “Origin Story” — Because you demanded it! I suppose the other reason David thought of Genesis was cuz I followed the Genesis of the Bible. You know, Let there be light, God created man in his own image, etc. Calling the comic “Genesis,” though is belaboring the obvious and making too important the similarities, making too immediate the comparison.

With “The Origin” I produced an origin story for the series that began with the creation of the universe and didn’t explain the main characters at all. They were sort of narrators? I was really happy with the way David realized the script. It was pretty wild seeing stuff I’d pictured in my head appear as pictures on the page. I do remember one point of variance. In the script I called for a “Hun” to appear. In my head I was seeing a German soldier — nicknamed “Huns” by British propagandists during the First World War. David went back to the Mongol Hordes for the look. I decided his interpretation made as much sense as mine (or more, maybe) so I never said anything about it — until now!

An issue of The Davey Thunder / Jack Lightning Show appears in Treasury of Mini Comics edited by Michael Dowers and published in 2013 by Fantagraphics.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Black Mondays: worst decisions of the Supreme Court

from the book log (1/8/89):

Black Mondays: worst decisions of the Supreme Court by Joel D. Joseph, foreword by Justice Thurgood Marshall

I didn’t find [all of] Joseph’s choices equally horrendous but some were undoubtedly spine-chilling.

The International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA) chose to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by refusing to unload Soviet goods. An American company which imports Russian wood sued for loss of business. The Supreme Court awarded the company several million dollars to be paid by the ILA. Joseph likens ILA’s boycott to the Boston Tea Party. He gets all puffed up about how there wouldn’t have been a revolution if not for the Boston Tea Party. I didn’t really get the connection. From what I understand about the Boston Tea Party, it was a symbolic violent act that we can all point to and say, “Ah! Something happened!” but it didn’t really have much effect. The Boston Tea Party was violent and would be illegal if it happened today. The boycott of tea by the population brought more results. People just didn’t buy tea for a while because the taxes were so high. I’m not sure the analogy is the appropriate one. I need some clarification as to why the Supreme Court’s decision was so terrible.

The book also contained, very appropriately, the 1986 Georgia sodomy decision in all its awful glory. I think I’ll photocopy the pages.

Thurgood Marshall in his foreword says, “I [do not] find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the framers particularly profound … the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights we hold as fundamental today.” He says, “We the People,” for instance, didn’t mean black men or any women. He contends that the framers’ motives really weren’t too pure. Joel Joseph disagrees some, and in his introduction calls the Constitution “an excellent document.” [Joseph] says, “Most of the problems cited by Justice Marshall stem from those whose duty it is to interpret the Constitution.” He calls for some reforms: “A Constitutional amendment providing for judicial terms of ten years (with five years of additional salary for retirement or for a buffer period) would give judges independence while injecting new energy into the judiciary. An excellent judge could serve ten years at the district court level, ten at the appellate level, and ten at the Supreme Court. No judge would be allowed to be reappointed at the lower two levels. At the Supreme Court reappointment would be reasonable because the Senate exercises careful monitoring of the highest court.” [On the other hand because] the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ is violated by the [way] U.S. Senat[ors are elected, Joseph] propose[s] “the Senate be kept to one hundred [members, with] each state getting at least one.” The other 50, he says, should be apportioned by population. New York would get eight, say, while Wyoming would have to be happy with its one.

Ralph Ginzburg, in an early ‘60s case, ended up going to prison for eight months because he sent through the mails material (magazines) the Supreme Court decided were obscene, were pornography. One book he was convicted for distributing had, before being offered to the general public, been sold to “medical and psychiatric professionals.”

In another chapter Joseph says Congress should amend the postal law so that non-profits & individuals aren’t breaking the law when they put unstamped letters, notes or pamphlets in private mailboxes. He says, as to door-to-door salesmen, cities should not be able to prohibit them tho’ private citizens should be able to post “NO SOLICITORS” signs & expect these to be respected.

He says the Dred Scott decision (keeping the man & his family slaves) helped lead to the Civil War.

And Plessy v. Ferguson. Hmph. It still rankles that Chris & Julie think the Supreme Court justified in their decision. [Chris & Julie were American friends I hung out with on the London trip.] Plessy was arrested when he refused to vacate a “white” railcar. He was 1/8 black. Blacks were allowed to ride in white cars if they were “nurses” of white children. The railways disliked the laws because segregation was “inconvenient and expensive,” Joseph says. Plessy’s lawyer called this Jim Crow law “obnoxious to the fundamental principles of national citizenship, perpetuates involuntary servitude … under the merest pretense of promoting the comfort of passengers on railway trains.” The Supreme Court majority, in its ruling, cited as precedent a decision made before the Civil War.

Then there’s the awful Korematsu case in which the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Gov’t to intern the Japanese Americans.

And the Court’s rulings against the rights of women, even though the Constitution nowhere makes a distinction between male and female. Hm. “one man, one vote”?

A horrible case in 1987: the Creighton family, says the Court, can’t sue the government for barging into & searching their home, assaulting them, all without a warrant, supposedly (tho’ not actually) in hot pursuit.

Joseph ends with the sterilization of Linda McFarlin/Sparkman who got it done without even knowing it (Mom told her it was an appendectomy); and the cases of servicemen dying of cancer who aren’t allowed to sue the government.

A good book.

from the diary (1/10):
I memorized the first four amendments to the U.S. Constitution the other day when I was reading Black Mondays: Worst Decisions of the Supreme Court. The book reprints the Constitution at the end. I finished the book with Peanuts [the cat] in my lap, and he was settled so nicely I dint have the heart to disturb him so I decided to memorize the Bill of Rights. I only got so far as the 4th Amendment & a phrase from the Fifth. I still remember them! How long will it last?

Remarkably I have retained the Second Amendment all the years since. “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” I did not have to look it up, and, yes, I got it right. I think what kept it in my head was the precondition of the “well-regulated militia” to the “right of the people to keep and bear arms.” How did this get interpreted to mean otherwise? Cue Joel Joseph: “Most of the problems cited by Justice Marshall stem from those whose duty it is to interpret the Constitution.”

Saturday, January 17, 2015

word of the day: enfeoff

context: “There is nowhere to be found in the … present day the kinds of loyalty shown by Tokugawa Hidetada, who on the strength of a firm commitment made in his youth, enfeoffed anew Tamba Nagashige after he was vanquished at the Battle of Sekigahara; or by Naoe Shigetsugi, who remained true to Uesugi Kagekatsu to the very end.”

from a letter by Iwata Jun’ichi, August 20, 1931

definition from OxfordDictionaries.com: (Under the feudal system) give (someone) freehold property or land in exchange for their pledged service.

I’m not so much interested in the definition as in the look. Those three Fs! It feels a little weird in the mouth, too. Oh, according to the list of words with which “enfeoff” rhymes listed at Oxford you don’t pronounce the O. Tsk. Rhymes with beef, belief, brief

So let’s see if I have this right. The lord, Tokugawa Hidetada, reups the contract of military commander Tamba Nagashige despite leadership that resulted in a rout at some big battle. The lord felt committed to the soldier out of a commitment the lord “made in his youth.” As Iwata refers to this connection in the context of a discussion of homosexuality one might suppose there is a close personal component to that youthful commitment. Whether this heart entanglement led the lord to a poor military decision or if it turned out okay in the end (thanks, love, for getting a word in!), I don’t know. I tried a little light Google research and I’m afraid I don’t feel much more illuminated. Hidetada seems to have had a mixed career after the Battle of Sekigahara but keeping on a defeated military commander wasn’t determinative. So far as I could tell.

source: Partings at Dawn: an anthology of Japanese Gay literature edited by Stephen D. Miller

Friday, January 16, 2015

“there’ll be plenty of time to die in if it comes to that”

Once you understand you can kill yourself whenever you want to, or imagine you’ll find the guts for it when necessary, time ceases to exist and something strange happens. A lifetime seems both too long and too short at the same time. That’s when you realize there’ll be plenty of time to die in if it comes to that, and you learn to tough it out. [Choosing not to kill myself] sounds like solid existential resolve now, but in fact it was cowardice. When I couldn’t pull the trigger, I had to convince myself that living actually took more courage than quitting the game. … I couldn’t think of what I needed to do for myself, and I struggled with the knowledge that I was always going to be alone because I couldn’t figure out what it took to be with another person. The idea of spending the rest of my life without love was killing me. Still, this wasn’t a serious suicide attempt, it was just pushing myself in that direction to see if it made any more sense than the terminal isolation … [A]nxiety and panic attacks [had] followed me into my thirties, and … sometimes drove me to extremes of despair.

That’s Stephen Zanichkowsky writing in his memoir. The skills he developed for coping with an unhappy childhood did not transfer well to adulthood. He got Depressed. It’s not a good place to be in, Depression. If you feel trapped in it, the only way out may seem to be the permanent ending.

Zanichkowsky talks about “courage” in the passage above. “I had to convince myself that living actually took more courage than quitting the game.” He means that the better course is the more courageous? Nobody wants to be thought a coward, even in the grave. “[B]ut in fact [choosing not to kill myself] was cowardice,” he says in the sentence preceding. Courage and cowardice come up frequently in discussions of suicide.

Is it more courageous to live? Or more cowardly?

In the passage I quoted by Chris Stedman last year, the young Stedman also decided not to kill himself. He also talked about cowardice: “I couldn’t will myself to go through with it. I was too afraid.” Unlike Zanichkowsky, Stedman then lists a few things of which he was afraid: “of the selfishness of this act and how my family would react to it; of the physical pain involved; of failing at this, too; but most of all of the fate I was sure would greet me after death.”

Zanichkowsky says he no longer considered himself Catholic and was more bemused by his mother’s fear for his eternal soul (endangered by suicide, you know) than bothered by the notion of a nasty afterlife. Stedman says the afterlife was what scared him most of all. I’ve contemplated suicide; post-death punishment by God has never been a factor in my decisionmaking.

But the opening sentences in the Stephen Zanichkowsky passage say something I don’t recall having heard discussed elsewhere:

Once you understand you can kill yourself whenever you want to, or imagine you’ll find the guts for it when necessary, time ceases to exist and something strange happens. A lifetime seems both too long and too short at the same time. That’s when you realize there’ll be plenty of time to die in if it comes to that, and you learn to tough it out.

Contemplating suicide can be empowering. If you have given yourself permission to kill yourself, you realize you have power, the power to destroy, the power to end all the pain, but, most curiously (for one feeling powerless in the throes of Depression), the power to decide for yourself and the power to act. You will die some day anyway. If the ultimate choice is yours, other options, which may have seemed bad, now just seem different. Different choices. “A lifetime seems both too long and too short at the same time.”

source: Fourteen: growing up alone in a crowd by Stephen Zanichkowsky

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Sinclair Lewis is better known for Babbit and Elmer Gantry than for Arrowsmith. But I’d heard of him and what I’d heard was good and when you’re picking through the paperbacks and dust-jacket-less hardcovers at the library book sale in Sebastopol you’re faced with a lot of sway-spined best sellers which usually aren’t any good so you choose an author with a rep when you offer up your fifty cents for the good work the Friends do.

So there on the home bookshelf sat the acquisition, taking up the space unread books take up, potential, seemingly limitless opportunity to get around to it, space that might (who knows?) be better used.

The book log entry for Arrowsmith is longer than most. The first paragraph gives a thumbnail of the plot, from beginning to end. It’s not till the second paragraph that one gets to my discontents.

from the book log (1/8/89):

Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis

This novel took a while to read. And not, I think, just because it is over 400 pages in length. Martin Arrowsmith becomes a doctor during the course of the novel, marries Leora. He attends medical school in the state of Winnemac, goes to practice as a country doctor in Leora’s hometown, Wheatsylvania in “the Dakotas,” moves on to the medium-sized city of Zenith where he works for the Dept of Public Health, on to Chicago for a year as a pathologist in an expensive private clinic, on to New York where he works at the McGurk Institute, a scientific research institute, under the guidance of his old medical school teacher, “pure” scientist, and minor demi-god Max Gottlieb. Martin, Leora, & Sondelius, a worldwide crusader against epidemics, go to the Caribbean island, St. Hubert, to defeat the plague with bacteriophage. Leora dies; Sondelius dies; back in NYC Martin is acclaimed, marries the very rich Joyce Canyon (who was also on St. Hubert during the plague). Eventually Arrowsmith chucks it all to go back to “pure” research in the wilderness with colleague Terry.

The edition also includes an Afterword by Mark Schorer. He calls the ending, “a little fantastic … and quite unpersuasive.” I agree. I thought Martin a boob. I liked him some, found him at least interesting enough to want to know what would happen next. But his addiction to “scientific method” in the midst of the plague was never adequately explained — because the experiments were not perfect [the researchers] couldn’t tell [whether] the bacteriophage was really what was curing people. Yet [sick people] were doing a pretty good job of being cured. This reminds me a bit of the conflict over AIDS treatment. When we’re talking terminal illness, making noises about imperfect controls — meaning some people are not given treatment, treatment is actively withheld — seems pretty ridiculous. No experiment is going to be perfect because there are always going to variables that aren’t considered. If it helps, isn’t that what matters? Even if it just seems to help, that’s important too. My favorite character was Leora. I dint think Martin deserved her. She did annoy me in being rather vacant. I didn’t find Gottlieb as sympathetic as he was supposed to be.

In my recent visits to Sebastopol I’ve found some decent items on the Friends sale table.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Cocteau Twins. Blue Bell Knoll

from the diary (1/5/89): “bought a copy of The Cocteau Twins’ latest Blue Bell Knoll, which was in the used file at the Last Record Store [in Santa Rosa].”

from the book log (1/6/89):

Cocteau Twins. Blue Bell Knoll, a record album

I bought this a few days ago and enjoy playing it. Little of it is danceable, which is one of my big points for buying music, but once I put it on I usually end up sitting down and reading. The music flows around and through me. I like it. It’s not just mood music, but it’s very atmospheric.

Now that music so easily surrounds one, no need to get up and go to the turntable, and now that I can afford it in a way I certainly couldn’t in 1989, I’m more eager for variety than for the one song that makes me spin. Not that I still don’t love a song that gets me on my feet.

In my London semester I made the acquaintance of another gay student, also an American attending in the AIFS program. He liked Cocteau Twins. I said I liked Cocteau Twins, too.

"Cico Buff" is one of the songs from Blue Bell Knoll:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bill Moyer’s World of Ideas: interview with Vartan Gregorian, librarian of NYPL

from the book log (1/6/89):

Bill Moyer’s World of Ideas. Interview with Vartan Gregorian, chief librarian of the New York Public library. Program on PBS, aired on KQED channel 9, San Francisco.

Excellent interview, one of the best half hours I’ve seen on television — recently, at least! Gregorian is an educator. One idea he advances — class (year-long) with five instructors, like Intro to Cosmos with Astronomer, Biology instructor, Geologist, Historian, etc., exploring the origins of & implications of the Universe. [Gregorian] stressed that with information doubling every five years, a four-year university education can only introduce the world to a student. We need the mental traffic cops to keep there from being informational gridlock in our brains. With ideology & creed falling apart around us we need a clear introduction to how different cultures, peoples, creeds, ideologies have solved problems, have approached the world, have ordered the Universe.

The Vartan Gregorian interview is available online at pbs.org.

Gregorian (from the PBS transcript): “Suppose we taught the history of World War II. Not how American diplomatic historians see it, but European diplomatic, Soviet diplomatic and Asian diplomatic. Suppose they argue about their methodology, archival sources, and this and so forth. Students will not be brainwashed or influenced. Students have to be exposed to varieties, possibilities, but also not to say everything is relativistic, but rather there is common endeavor to honestly seek the truth in order to learn from history.”

I wonder if he ever put the multiple teacher class idea into practice.

Gregorian also asks, if we find humans on Mars, “has Christ risen for them?”

Monday, January 12, 2015

X-Factor #9

from the book log (1/6/89):

X-Factor #39

Ah, God! The end of this INFERNO storyline at last! It has been much too drawn out. Chris Claremont, author of the X-Men is superior to Louise Simonson, writer of X-Factor #39. This issue was just another long fight scene — haven’t we had enough of these? It is revealed that Mr. Sinister did vile things to Scott Summers (Cyclops) back when Scott was newly orphaned. Mr. Sinister may have run an orphanage, but it wasn’t cuz he was a nice guy. The revelations seem absurd rather than revealing. Glad this is over.


Have we had enough fight scenes? In a superhero comic? This was rhetorical question?

I’m put in mind of the review of the latest episode of the TV series Gotham that appears in Paste. Eric Walters says, Despite the “stiff acting, subpar writing, [and] overabundance of characters, [Gotham] is worth hanging around for.” A true fanboy!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

OUT/LOOK: National Lesbian & Gay Quarterly, Fall 1988

from the book log (1/6/89):

OUT/LOOK: National Lesbian & Gay Quarterly, Fall 1988

The cover story is about the art of Tom of Finland. I’ve been uncomfortable with pornography/erotica for a long time. Because it is so unrealistically idealized, I was distressed by Tom of Finland’s work. Yet if I’m going to be honest I must say that not only is he an accomplished artist, his drawings turn me on. I don’t look like any of the guys who populate his drawings and have no hope of looking like one of them at any future time. It bugs me that I’m turned on by these guys.

This was not my favorite issue of OUT/LOOK, but it did have some good stuff. A very good analysis by Steven Epstein of how our world view, our view of ourselves as a “gay community” or as “polymorphously perverse” reflects on the battle against AIDS. The gay community provides support and organization and enthusiasm and togetherness and seems to promote the perception of AIDS as a gay disease. [On the other hand t]he “it’s not who you are but what you do” [message] puts across safe sex and de-gays the disease while fragmenting the health efforts and hampering togetherness [for gay people].

Also a rundown on teen novels with gay characters/themes.

And the article which infuriated me the most: The pompous & self-righteous Petra Liljesfraund. Any gay person bolstering her case by asserting that the opposition’s concerns are “not based on incontrovertible scientific facts” has poked out her eyes with a stick. She may have some valid points to make about artificial insemination, but her arrogance and defensiveness lead me to doubt it.

OUT/LOOK was a national magazine that addressed the gay community and the issues we deal with in a thoughtful, serious way, less news-of-the-day, more history and theory, and little in the way of fashion spreads or gratuitous hunks. I guess Tom of Finland got in because he’s art and history.

I first saw the work of Tom of Finland in the gay bookstore A Different Light on Castro in San Francisco. As a long-time comics aficionado I recognized comics when I saw it. I’d been reading undergrounds like Zap and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, but Tom of Finland was of another order. Not druggy and wacky but precise, buffed, and strikingly sexual. Not that I couldn’t see that Tom of Finland had a sense of humor, but the gigantic cocks and the bound testicles, the hairless pneumatic muscles, the big boots and gleaming biker helmets, well, all that rather overwhelmed the funny. I still don’t own any Tom of Finland. Not even a postage stamp. I suppose “it bug[ged] me” to be turned on by Tom of Finland because he did not illustrate my ideal of an egalitarian gay community. The rape and bondage rankled. Or maybe just embarrassed. Maybe it was the old superego looking over the shoulder going, What are you looking at! You can’t even think that!

Clearly I hated the article by Petra Liljesfraund. She wrote about artificial insemination. But what did she say? I’m going to take a stab here. I’m guessing Liljesfraund made a case for the right of lesbian mothers to hide from any offspring the origins of donor sperm. Being as I think a person has a right to information about their genetic heritage, I was appalled. Judging by the quote, Liliesfraund claimed she was backed up by “incontrovertible scientific facts.” Considering the many crimes “science” has visited upon the gay community (aversion therapy! homosexuality as mental defect!) the thought that any member of the gay community would offer up science as “incontrovertibl[y]” backing her struck me as ahistorical and willfully naive.

update (4/26/15): Cleaning out a box of old papers I came across the issue of OUT/LOOK under discussion. I found the article by Petra Liljesfraund about the use of anonymous sperm donors, and want to quote from it the context for the line about “incontrovertible scientific facts”:

To say that children conceived through insemination have an inherent need to know the specific identity of their donors is simply opinion at this point. It is a moral claim based on norms of what we should do, in the way that statements such as “menstruating women should not swim” is a moral claim. It is not based on incontrovertible scientific facts.

[Please note the correction in OUT/LOOK Winter 1989: “We regret misspelling the name of the author of ‘Children Without Fathers: Handling the Anonymous Donor Question’ in the Fall 1988 issue. It’s Petra Liljestrand, not Liljesfraund.”]

I doubt I will keep this magazine, even now that I discover I have kept it so many years. One can’t keep everything.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Sonoma Mandala 1988

from the book log (1/5/89):

Sonoma Mandala 1988, the Sonoma State University literary annual

I like the look of this book. Plain green cover, nice stiff paper stock for the pages, nice typography. Although I haven’t read every poem, the quality is high. Since Jayne [McPherson] told me they chose one of the poems I sent for the ’89 issue I hope the quality is comparable to this. Favorite: Greg Mahrer, David R. Evans; I love the last line of Douglas A. Powell’s “silver nitrate”: “My death is. a yellow balloon”

So two book log entries in a row I’ve written about a literary magazine and in both cases I said in the review that I hadn’t yet read all the poems. In the Green Fuse entry I wrote, “I haven’t read [all the poems] yet, but the intensity gets boring.” And in the one above I wrote, “Although I haven’t read every poem, the quality is high.” Why was I writing about a magazine without having read all its poems?

A fit of new-year’s-resolution-itis? I have time now, did I say to myself, so I’ll make note of these now? If I wait I may never get it done!

I’m sure I got to all the poems shortly thereafter. If my opinion had changed I would have updated the book log. Right?

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Green Fuse, vol. 9

from the book log (1/4/89):

Green Fuse, vol. 9, a poetry magazine

This magazine is so heavy. So serious, furrowed-brow. It’s got some good stuff in it but, like so many other selections of poetry, after a while I have the feeling they’ve just about all been written by the same person. I haven’t read [all the poems] yet, but the intensity gets boring. I read a few and then they just become blocks of print or I read them and haven’t any idea whether the words are supposed to mean anything or not so I have to stop. One of the ways I judge poetry — “Oh! I wish I’d written that / could have written that!” Liked: Elizabeth Herron, Charles Patterson, Patrick Mikulec, Zel Latner, Michael Emery, Jacqueline Bardsley, (so far). Some of the poems I like I feel a sort of nagging I-wish-there-was-just-a-little-something-more. Also: Amy Trussel.

The mission of Green Fuse, an independent literary magazine produced in my home town of Sebastopol, was to call out the human world for the destruction it visits on the nonhuman. I certainly sympathized with the message. I managed to place a couple poems with the editors, but most of what I sent wasn’t what they were looking for, little of what I write would be. I’m not much of a nature poet, even less of a hectoring poet.

The list of names is interesting. I recognize one of them. Elizabeth Herron was a professor at Sonoma State University, the closest university to Sebastopol. Now that I have a machine-searchable list of my personal anthology I checked to see if any mentioned in the review got included. None.

I have mixed feelings about the judgments. I still want some wit, some play, some surprise in every poem, even those addressing the most serious subjects. Serious themes are not well served by an unremittingly serious tone. The mission of Green Fuse was a serious mission!

As to whether poems come to seem “blocks of print [leaving the reader without] any idea whether the words are supposed to mean anything,” well, I can’t venture a second opinion about the poems in Green Fuse, as I no longer have a copy (or don’t know where a copy could be hiding) but I can say that many a poem I’ve read leaves me wondering at its meaning. This is such a common reaction to contemporary poetry that it has become a rough definition of poetry. If you can’t figure it out but it sounds kind of different, hey, poetry! During the period spammers were filling their emails with seemingly random or collage-like texts to fool the email providers’ spam detectors I saw more than one non-poet friend enthuse about their spam as poetry.

I no longer judge a poem by whether I could have written it. I wonder how long I really did. On the other hand, my personal anthology (see Best Poems of the Year lists) is filled with poems for which I feel a deep sympathy, and I’m sure many, for their style, their choices, their attitude, would not seem out of place in my own oeuvre. Of course, in some cases that’s because I’ve stolen their moves.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Bagdad Cafe

from the book log (1/3/89)

Bagdad Cafe, a movie

Neat-o movie. It was playing in London while I was there, but I held off seeing it cuz there were other movies I thought were less likely to get around here. So here it is at the Plaza [in Petaluma]. And was it good? Oh, we liked it! This German couple fight at the beginning of the movie. Woman (Jasmin) nabs suitcase from car and stalks off down the road to the Bagdad Cafe, service station and motel. Jasmin moves in, cleans up, and teaches Brenda, the proprietress, and her family, magic. And the whole place becomes magic. A great ending, too.


I haven’t seen Bagdad Cafe all the way through since the Plaza showing, but if I were shown an unidentified 60 second snip I could probably name it. Bagdad Cafe was distinctive in look and feel. Images stick in my head. The chubby Jasmin dragging her suitcase down the road. The exasperation of Brenda, the proprietress. Whenever I saw CCH Pounder in something I knew I’d seen her first in Bagdad Cafe.

The movie was covered in the gay press for the female friendship of the leads. Were they lovers? Could they have been? I remember being disappointed a bit in that. Perhaps it was “gay vague” before the term was coined? However, the review I wrote shortly after seeing Bagdad Cafe betrays no reservations. Now I’m curious to see it again.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Spike of Bensonhurst

from the book log (1/3/89):

Spike of Bensonhurst, a movie

The only actor I knew was Ernest Borgnine. Geez. Funny movie. As in, strange. Crime pays, criminals as good guys, the mafia makes good. Criminals as “jes folks.” It was funny in the other sense, too, and not predictable. The guy who plays Spike is gorgeous and you get to look at him a lot. Although Spike gets two girls pregnant (one of whom is a real cute Puerto Rican dyke-type) there is no (as in zero) kissy-kissy. Spike’s mother is living with her lesbian lover while his dad does time, having taken the rap for Borgnine, the neighborhood mafia boss. Almost no conventional morality in this movie. I liked it. It’s different. Spike is a boxer; normally this would really turn me off, but the boxing is at a minimum and it’s definitely not a fight movie. Wouldn’t mind seeing it again.


I haven’t seen Spike of Bensonhurst since. I remember nothing about it. Looking at sites that track reviews, like the Internet Movie Database and Rotten Tomatoes, I don’t see much activity, though what is there isn’t approving. On the other hand, malibutrash’s comment at imdb agrees with my opinion of the lead: “Sasha Mitchell was so gorgeous … it really hurt to look at him.”

Spike of Bensonhurst is not a book, clearly. But at the beginning I was extra ambitious with the log and made note of movies and record albums and individual issues of comic book series.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Best Poems of 2014

Ingeborg Bachmann ….. Every Day
Ellen Bass ….. Ode to Repetition
Ellen Bass ….. Poem to My Sex at Fifty-One
Ellen Bass ….. Worry
John Elsberg ….. The Stone
John Engels ….. Hummingbird on a Telephone Wire
Kerry Hardie ….. The Avatar
Penny Harter ….. one haiku from Lunar New Year: a Kasen Renku
Jane Hirshfield ….. The Envoy
Jane Hirshfield ….. Evolution & Glass from Seventeen Pebbles
Ted Hughes ….. November
Jusammi Chikako ….. “On this summer night”
Jack Kerouac ….. sixteen haiku
Elizabeth Searle Lamb ….. three haiku
Mirabai ….. The Coffer with the Poisonous Snake
H. D. Moe ….. “Between no dust”
Gregory Orr ….. Domestic Life
Pedro Serrano ….. Inventory
Edward Thomas ….. One Sail at Sea
Manuel Ulacia ….. Arabian Knight

In the new year I like to read aloud all the poems I’ve gathered in the preceding year. Last night I sat on the couch and read to the cats. They showed neither delight nor distress at the words, but I think they liked the company.

I was a little surprised how many times the moon made an appearance. In Ellen Bass’ “Ode to Repetition” the narrator “look[s] out at … the moon rinsing the parked cars.” In the tanka by Jusammi Chikako (tr. E. Cranston), the moon is a visitor who won’t come in: “[I]n the doorway … open after dark, / Stands the moon …” Jack Kerouac sets his evening schedule by the moon (this is the whole poem): “When the moon sinks / down to the power line, / I’ll go in.” Kerouac also spots the “moon in the bird bath.” In Robert Bly’s version of Mirabai’s “The Coffer with the Poisonous Snake” the moon is even more invasive: “[A]round my neck … a string of lovely pearls, each with a moon inside. / My room then was full of moonlight, as if the full moon / Had found its way in through the open window.” H. D. Moe’s moon is more distant: “mirrors become water / swimming as each other until the plow is our lunation.” (A “lunation” is also known as a “lunar month.”) For that matter Penny Harter’s haiku is excerpted from a renku for the “Lunar New Year.” In Edward Thomas’ prose poem night comes in like the tide and “[i]n the moonlight one strange flower glistens, white as a campanula …” (A “campanula” is also known as a “bellflower.”)

It didn’t take long to read what isn’t a large batch of poems. 63 of the titles I read in 2014 contained poetry. Sometimes it happens that way. I read a lot of poetry — and enjoy it — but none of it strikes me in just the right way, that is, in just that way that makes me want to devote my crampy hand to copying it out. Then again when I read the poems in the notebook, the ones I have copied out, I sometimes find myself wondering why that particular poem got in there. I always figure it out somewhere in the reading. Oh yes, that’s why I kept it. Good thing.

This is the second time the Ted Hughes poem (“November”) got marked for possible saving. As I read it over I gradually remembered considering it years back. What stopped me that time? I have to admit it was the gruesome quality of the “keeper’s gibbet,” the bodies of predators (“owls and hawks … weasels … cats, crows”) that the keeper has killed displayed on it. “Some, stiff, weightless, twirled like dry bark bits // In the drilling rain. Some still had their shape, / … hung, chins on chests.” I didn’t like it. Though I fell into the poem’s sensuousness, the rain, the cold, all of it intense and strange, I didn’t want to be confronted by that gibbet and its human vindictiveness. In a later year I copied out a poem in which a human corpse hangs in a gibbet outside the walls of a town. So when I came upon the Hughes poem in 2014 in another book I didn’t feel so skittish about the awful scene. Instead I let Hughes seduce me with the supposed “pride” of the dead, “Patient to outwait these worst days that beat / Their crowns bare and dripped from their feet.”

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Titles read in 2014

Wolverine & the X-Men: Alpha &Omega Brian Wood
The Scalawagons of Oz John R. Neill
Locke & Key, v.4: Keys to the Kingdom Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
The Word for World is Forest Ursula K. LeGuin
True Rae Armantrout
Locke & Key, v.5: Clockworks Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
Homesick Jason Walz
QU33R: new comics from 33 creators ed. Robert Kirby
Invincible, v.17: What’s Happening Robert Kirkman
Lucky Bucky in Oz John R. Neill
High Risk 2 ed. Amy Scholder & Ira Silverberg
The Certificate Isaac Bashevis Singer
Smarter Than You Think Clive Thompson
Big Plans #2 a mini comic by Aron Nels Steinke
Nobody Uses an Umbrella in Portland a mini comic by Shawn Granton
In the Tall Grass #2 a mini comic by Tessa Brunton
The Runaway in Oz John R. Neill
I Cut My Hair #1 & #2 a mini comic by Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg
Across the Windharp Elizabeth Searle Lamb
The Magical Mimics in Oz Jack Snow
The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame ed. Graham Kolbeins
The Human Line Ellen Bass
Death Kick H. D. Moe
The Shaggy Man of Oz Jack Snow
King Cat #72 John Porcellino
Primahood #1 & #2 mini comics by Tyler Cohen
Invincible, v.18: The Death of Everyone Kirkman & Ottley
Staying Alive: real poems for unreal times Kenneth Koch
My Life Is Poetry ed. Steven Reigns
Rob Kirby’s Snack Pack #1 mini comic by Robert Kirby
King for a Day mini comic by Robert Kirby
One Big Happy Family Lisa Rogak
Mules of Love Ellen Bass
The Honduran Coup: a graphic history Dan Archer & Nikil Saval
Alex a graphic novel by Mark Kalesniko
A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind Alfred Starr Hamilton
Pocket Poems 12 mini broadsides from Mrs Dalloway’s
Barack Obama: the story David Maraniss
The Culture of Make Believe Derrick Jensen
Gulp: adventures on the alimentary canal Mary Roach
Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland Harvey Pekar & Joseph Remnant
Thread Winding in the Loom 1987 CPITS anthology
Escape from Special Miss Lasko-Gross
The Hidden Valley of Oz Rachel Cosgrove
Super Trooper #5 Angela K. Roberts
Slant Greg Bear
The Wicked Witch of Oz Rachel Cosgrove Payes
Reversible Monuments: contemporary Mexican poetry ed. Monica de la Torre & Michael Wiegers
Faithiest Chris Stedman
Of Separateness and Merging Ellen Bass
All That: collected chapbooks Jim McCrary
Dorothy, v.1 Greg Mannino & Mark Masterson
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill Mark Bittner
Gulf Coast, v.24, no.1 winter/spring 2012
For Earthly Survival Ellen Bass
Night Julia Vinograd
Bay Area Poets Coalition Anthology 17 ed. Dale Hermann
Arts and Letters Edmund White
Merry-go-round in Oz Eloise Jarvis McGraw & Lauren Lynn McGraw Wagner
The Bonobo and the Atheist Frans de Waal
The Incredible Double Owen Hill
The Voyeurs Gabrielle Bell
Bug Music: how insects gave us rhythm & noise David Rothenberg
Our Stunning Harvest Ellen Bass
David Chelsea in Love David Chelsea
RASL Jeff Smith
A Simple Revolution: the making of an activist poet Judy Grahn
American Savage Dan Savage
What the Body Told Rafael Campos
Tesserae & other poems John Hollander
The Forbidden Fountain of Oz Eloise & Lauren McGraw
Spinadoodles: the third year Sam Spina
Fourteen Stephen Zanichkowsky
The Rice Room Ben Fong-Torres
The Rundelstone of Oz Eloise McGraw
What If the Moon Didn’t Exist Neil F. Comins
Sky Ward Kazim Ali
Mexican Poetry 20/20 Voices ed. Brandel France de Bravo
Native American Testimony 1999 revision, ed. Peter Nabokov
Asimov’s Science Fiction #457 Feb 2014
Forcing the Spring: inside the fight for marriage equality Jo Becker
Octopus! Katherine Harmon Courage
Of Gravity and Angels Jane Hirshfield
Our Deep Gossip: conversations with gay writers on poetry and desire Christopher Hennessy
Book of Haikus Jack Kerouac
The X-Men, v.5 Arnold Drake & Werner Roth, et al
Neanderthals Rediscovered Dimitra Papagianni & Michael Morse
The Floating Brothel Sian Rees
New Poetry of Mexico ed. Octavio Paz & Mark Strand
Couch Tag Jesse Reklaw
The October Palace Jane Hirshfield
The X-Men, v.6 Roy Thomas & Neal Adams
Saga / Circus Lyn Hejinian
Invincible, v. 19: The War at Home Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley
More Than Peace and Cypresses Cyrus Cassells
Journey into Mystery: Fear Itself Kieron Gillen & Doug Braithwaite
The Oath: the Obama White House and the Supreme Court Jeffrey Toobin
Young Avengers, v.2: Alternative Culture Gillen & McKelvie
Young Avengers, v.3: Mic-Drop Gillen & McKelvie
We Are Here: stories from the BPL Memoir-Writing Workshop ed. Frances Lefkowitz
Journey of the Jihadist Fawaz A. Gerges
Radical Relations Daniel Winunwe Rivers
The Lives of the Heart Jane Hirshfield
Siege: Battlefield Gillen, Reed, Gage, et al
Like a Beggar Ellen Bass
Making Love to Roget’s Wife Ronald Koertge
Avengers: the Children’s Crusade Heinberg & Cheung
The Ozmapolitan of Oz Dick Martin
Locke & Key, v. 6: Alpha & Omega Hill & Rodriguez
The Quiet American Graham Greene
Six Amendments John Paul Stephens
The Giant Garden of Oz Eric Shanower
The Ogre’s Wife Ron Koertge
Blue is the Warmest Color Julie Maroh
Moominpappa’s Memoirs Tove Jansson
Moon Woke Me Up Nine Times: selected haiku of Basho tr. David Young
Given Sugar, Given Salt Jane Hirshfield
Pierced by a Ray of Sun ed. Ruth Gordon
Carsick John Waters
Partings at Dawn: an anthology of Japanese gay literature ed. Stephen D. Miller
After Jane Hirshfield
A White Tea Bowl: 100 haiku Mitsu Suzuki
Carnac Guillevic
Catwings, Catwings Return, Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings, Jane on Her Own Ursula K. LeGuin
Paris Is Burning: a queer film classic Lucas Hilderbrand
Come, Thief Jane Hirshfield
Gathering the Bones Together Gregory Orr
Mr. Bluebird Gerry Gomez Pearlberg
My 1980s and other essays Wayne Koestenbaum
fic: why fanfiction is taking over the world Anne Jamison
The Salt Sorcerer of Oz Eric Shanower
Hallucinations Oliver Sacks
Mirabai: ecstatic poems versions by Jane Hirshfield & Robert Bly
Crow Milk Rick Agran
A Book of Women Poets: from antiquity to now ed. Aliki & Willis Barnstone
Gay Soul interviews by Mark Thompson
The Thrill of Living in a Dying Empire #2, Quincy’s Terrible … Blind Date, When Naked Hallway Dudes Attack, Do You Suffer for Your Art? 4 mini comics from Mission Mini Comix
The List mini comic by Maia Kobabe
Childhood mini comic anthology edited by Justin Hall
Tortilla #2 and #3 mini comic by Jaime Crespo
paperdummy #5, 6, 7, and 8 mini comics by Peter S. Conrad
Police Log Comics #2 Owen Cook
Jin & Jam #1 Hellen Jo
Tyranny of the Muse #1 Eddie Wright & Jesse Balmer
The Rabbi’s Cat Joann Sfar
Bonobo Handshake Vanessa Woods
Adam’s Navel Michael Sims
Sinking Creek John Engels
Fourteen Hills 20.1 2014
Two Lines #17: Some Kind of Beautiful Signal 2010
Nine Gates: entering the mind of poetry Jane Hirshfield
Women in Praise of the Sacred ed. Jane Hirshfield
Good Sense & the Faithless Michelle T. Clinton
Walking Across the Pacific Judy Bebelaar
Sudden Dreams George Evans
Oz Before the Rainbow Mark Evan Swartz
Narwhals: arctic whales in a melting world Todd McLeish
Far from the Tree Andrew Solomon
At the Back of the North Wind George MacDonald
Short: an international anthology ed. Alan Ziegler
Revenge: a story of hope Laura Blumenfeld
Barrow Street, v.1, no.2 Sp 1999
The Rabbi’s Cat 2 Joann Sfar
Over the Transom #22 2012
Poetry, v.190, no.3; Poetry, v.197, no.1
Clerks Kevin Smith & Jim Mahfood
Snapshots: 20th century mother-daughter fiction ed. Joyce Carol Oates & Janet Berliner
Poets of Our Time ed. F E S Finn
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls David Sedaris
Treasury of Mini Comics, v.1 ed. Michael Dowers
Poetry, v.197, no.2 Nov 2010
Prime Green: remembering the sixties Robert Stone
In Pharaoh’s Army Tobias Wolff
Horse Ballast Patrick Culliton
Words for Empty and Words for Full Bob Hicok
Holy Terror Terry Eagleton
A Short History of Cambodia John Tully
Bed-Knob and Broomstick Mary Norton
The Cruising Diaries Brontez Purnell
Poetry, v.197, no.3 Dec 2010
Juice Renee Gladman
This in Which George Oppen
Poetry, v.197, no.4 Jan 2011
Angkor & the Khmer Civilization Michael D. Coe
Blobography Brendan Monroe
A Simple Life, A Good Life? Katie Haberman
When We Were Kids mini comic by Andy Warner
Self-Destruction & Self-Growth: a zine Kristen Leckie
The Garden Will Give You A Fat Lip Amy Wright
Adult Contemporary mini comic by Leo Puppytime

Titles in bold I loved.

Friday, January 02, 2015

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, part II

from the booklog (1/89):

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

Scott Lipanovich tried to read this book but gave up after page forty or so, thought it too episodic. I’d read in reviews that the main character is bisexual and by the fortieth page he hadn’t done anything so I kept going. And the book hadn’t hooked me up to that point either. Ten or twenty pages later I was reluctant to put it down. The first part of the book the author seems too caught up in his nice prose style to be compelling, later he did the reverse. I wasn’t as enchanted by the supporting character, Cleveland, as everyone in the book seemed to be, so when he went to his doom I didn’t much care. The Art & Arthur & Phlox triangle was interesting and the book was a good page turner.


So much for my assertion in the earlier Mysteries of Pittsburgh post that Scott was the one who recommended the book to me. I learned of it through reviews, probably in the gay press.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, part II

from the booklog (January 1989):

Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

I wonder how autobiographical this is. [Pirsig’s book] is a page turner and well-written. I came away not altogether sure what “Phaedrus” had gotten so uptight about & what all that deconstruction of Socrates meant. Sophists had something to do with the Quality that comes before everything. I rather liked some of Phaedrus’ original teaching methods. He threw out the essay-writing textbooks and told his classes, “You know what quality is. Just work on that.” And he didn’t give grades (until the end). The good students, he found, didn’t like grades. I coulda told him that!


Some of the above repeats what I wrote in my diary (and which I quoted in the earlier Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance post).

Writing teachers in grade school taught me to loathe essays and the mechanistic crafting of them. In my reading life I’ve come to love the weird things essays often are. In college my professors were usually ready to engage with the weird things I made of my papers.