Monday, December 31, 2007

Tyrone Williams Reading

video
This video is from our reading together at the POG series in Tucson, AZ on September 23, 2007. Tyrone reads his entire sonnet sequence entitled, "I Am Not Proud To Be Black." The quality's not perfect because it was shot on a still camera (Fujifilm Finepix f45). But it's an excellent poem, and worth hearing read aloud. I highly recommend c.c., which was published by Krupskaya Books. Tyrone is coming to read in Just Buffalo's Small Press Poetry Series in April.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Detroit Reading and Road Trip/Apartment/Packing


Zeitgeist
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
I drove through Canada to Detroit on 12/12 for a reading at the Zeitgeist Gallery with Audra Kubat and Cheri L.R. Taylor. It was a beautiful day for driving. The sun was bright, the sky a rich blue, and there was almost no traffic on the 401 through Canada. I did run into a little annoyance at the border, however. Passing through customs in Detroit, I was told I'd been randomly selected to have my car searched. Not a big deal, and certainly not as freaky as the time that happened to Lori and me in Buffalo. That time, they made us drive into an all white bay and closed the bay door behind us. It felt like we were about to be strip-searched and shipped off to a CIA prison somewhere. In Detroit they just send you to a waiting area and everyone is very friendly.

After that I arrived at my old friend James Hart's pad in Mexican Town. Detroit apartments are very much like Buffalo ones -- oversized and slightly run down. James has taken to writing poems on the walls of his bedroom (click over to my flickr site to see photos of these). It's a pretty unique place. We met up with Audra, on of the other readers, at a bar downtown, but apparently James had some previous disagreement with the manager on duty, who promptly asked us to leave.

We headed over to a Mexican restaurant where we met up with a group of other people for dinner. I wish Buffalo had a Mexican town. Detroit's Mexican food scene is worth the trip alone. After dinner we all headed over to the Zeitgeist Gallery and Performance Venue, where the reading was to take place. It's some kind of warehouse that has been turned into a gallery/bar/theater/performance space. Paintings, trinkets, sculptures, even a real moosehead, line the walls from floor to ceiling. It has a great community feel to it.

Met up again with Blair, a Detroit poet who won the national slam a few years ago. we'd met before when he was in Buffalo. It was also good to see James' father, a teacher and jazz musician with whom I'd had some great conversations the last time I was in town.

Cheri read first -- a new chapbook from Pudding House retelling the Little Red Riding Hood story. She was followed by Audra, who's fairly well know as a singer/songwriter, but has now started to foray into writing poetry. Both were nice to listen to. Then I read. It was a good audience -- probably 30 people or so -- and they were very responsive to the work. Someone even commented on the meter of one the poems afterward.

The night ended with a trip to Slow's, a hip new bar on Michigan Avenue which may or may not be a sign of gentrification in the neighborhood. Next moning James and I went for breakfast at a real old-time Detroit diner and then I headed back to Buffalo in a serious snowstorm. I hope people get hip to James and his series, because he's really making something happen there and it would be great for hi make contact with people outside of Motown.
_______________

In other news, we've found an apartment in the Elmwood Village. It's a large one bedroom with tons of storage in the basement. it should do the job for 6 months or so, before we move on to another house (or another city altogether).

We also started packing up our things -- it took forty bank boxes to collect all my books, but they are no ready to go. We'll start packing in earnest after we get back from my mother's in Florida next week.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Reading in Detroit 12/12

I am reading tomorrow night in Detroit:

Michael Kelleher, Audra Kubat, and Cheri L. R. Taylor.
Poetry at the Zeitgeist
2661 Michigan Avenue, Detroit MI
Wednedsay, December 12 @ 8pm
http://zeitgeistdetroit.org/newsite/poetry.html
313-965-9192

Thursday, December 6, 2007

CA Conrad Reads in Bathtub

Without question one of the 10 greatest poetry readings of all time.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Turkish Poets in Buffalo/Juvenilia/Sick

Another insanely busy week, which ended in my falling ill with the flu and missing the celebration honoring Alexis De Veaux and Jonathon Welch. I am still slightly under the weather, though feeling a bit stronger today.

The week began promisingly with a visit from four Turkish poets: Lalle Mülder, Güven Turan, Seyhan Erözçelik and Murat Nemet-Nejat. Murat-Nemet-Nejat, who lives in the NYC area, edited an anthology with Talisman called EDA: An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry, which appeared in 2004. An extended selection, plus additional essays on the work appears in the current issue of Jacket. I highly recommend you purchase the anthology, or at the very least, readthe new issue of Jacket for a healthy taste of the work.

The three visiting poets read during the afternoon on 11/27 at Buffalo State College and then again in the evening at Talking Leaves...Books. Seyhan read solely in Turkish, followed by Murat reading the translations in English. Lalle read all in English during the afternoon event, and then read in Turkish with Murat reading translations in the evening. Güven performed both readings in English, peppering the second one with a reading from the Turkish. All three are excellent poets (as is Murat, though he did not read his own work). Murat's translations are wonderful works in themselves.

Lalle Mülder read a long poem called "Virgin Mary Smoke," which is a kind of syncretic mystical poem that freely appropriates and mixes images, ideas, and concepts from Islam, Christianity and Judaism, with the Virgin Mary serving as the center through which they all combine.

Güven Turan read mostly from 101 and One Lines and One, a series of one line imagistic poems. Some of them, like this:

I am erasing the hoar on a plum, it breaks into storm.

amaze with the compactness of their imagery. You can read more of these at the new issue of Jacket.

Seyhan Erözçelik, the youngest of the three, stood out in terms of the tone of his work. Whereas Lalle's work seeks to delve deeper and deeper into the mystical heart of her images, and Güven's minimalist poems seek to strip away anything non-essential, Erözçelik's poems often blend complex rhythms with a gentle humor that I found very appealing. In particular, I liked a series called Rosestrikes, whose rhythmic character (thanks to amazing translations by Nemet-Nejat) reminded me of early Celan, especially Todesfuge. Some of these are also up at the Jacket feature.

We managed a quick trip to the falls in the afternoon. Unfortunately, it's off-season, so we could not get very close to the falls. It was also wet and very, very cold, but everyone seemed happy to get the chance to see them.

After the reading at Talking Leaves, a discussion broke out about work and poetry. The three male poets all work regular jobs in the business world. When asked about poets working in academia in Turkey, they said it was uncommon for them to do so unless they were trained in something other than writing. A good reminder that great poetry has no necessary connection to the academy.

Following their departure on Wednesday, Sarah Campbell organized a "Juvenilia" reading, at which writers stand up and read often embarrassing writings from their youth. About 15 people read at the event, myself included. it was lots of fun, though somewhat melancholy as it was also a goodbye to Sarah, who is moving on.

Thursday I spent groaning in bed with the flu, which continued through most of the weekend. Blech. I am getting better, though, just in time for another busy week -- Paul Hoover, Maxine Chernoff, and Ariel Dorfman are all reading this week. We'll see what I can get to. It's also time to look for an apartment, as it looks like the sale of our house will go through as planned. And next week I read in Detroit...etc. Enough of my yakking.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Buffalo News Review of Human Scale

R.D. Pohl wrote a very thorough and very nice review of Human Scale at the Buffalo News "Arts Beat" blog. It's called "Michael Kelleher's Beautiful Warnings."

http://buffalonews.typepad.com/artsbeat/2007/11/beautiful-warni.html

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Revolting Sofas

I was invited to write a poem for a site called, "REVOLTING SOFAS: Sordid Settees. Primo Poetry and Prose." How could I resist!

The editor, known as Startha Mewart, sent me a photo of an orange and black sectional with arms shaped like a Greek Omega. You can check out the site here:

http://revoltingsofas.blogspot.com/

I'll leave the connection between my poem and that revolting sofa to your imagination. I now have a fair amount of work online, so I think I am going to create a set of links over to the right that lead to various poems, essays, recordings and editorial projects.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Review Of Human Scale

Eileen Tabios has posted "an engagement" with Human Scale on her review site, Galatea Resurrects.

You can read the review/engagement here:

http://galatearesurrection8.blogspot.com/2007/11/human-scale-by-michael-kelleher.html

Anyhow, it's nice to read such a thoughtful and personal response to the work written by someone I've never met.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Another Busy Week in Poetry Town


Nathaniel Mackey
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Pretty amazing 8 days for poetry in Buffalo since I last wrote. Robert Hass read at the University on Friday the 9th. I think he won the National Book Award the next day or maybe a couple of days after that.

I had every intention of making it up there for the reading, but I was very tired after shuttling Pamuk around. My exhaustion was compounded by the fact that we received an offer on our house at about 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon. We spent a very intense 90 minutes negotiating the price before we finally accepted the offer. It wasn't everything we'd hoped for, but it was probably as much as we could have expected given the neighborhood and the market. By the time that was over, all I really wanted to do was vegetate.

I did get to see the amazing reading by last year's National Book Award winner, Nathaniel Mackey, on Thursday night at Hallwalls. This guy is a true master. I am sure he's probably sick of hearing about how much his work is like jazz, but man is it ever. Outside of actual sound poems, I've never heard anyone write with such intense musicality before. What amazes me is that these are essentially narrative poems, albeit disjunctive ones, and yet Mackey is continually able to drive the music forward without losing the narrative thread. It's almost overwhelming to listen to the rhythms and alliterations that punctuate every single breath. It's like (JAZZ ALERT) listening to a Coltrane solo, where he bends the melody so far outside one's normal sense of regularity that we get lost in the bending, and then just as it seems we are about to spin into harmony- and melody-less space, we hear the head drop back into the song -- "these are a few of my fa-vo-rite things!" Wow, bravo, Mr. Mackey. It was heartening to see so many people at the reading -- at least 90 people were there.

Next night my old dear friend Dan Machlin and former Buffalonian (now of Flushing) Stephanie Gray read in Just Buffalo's Small Press Poetry series at Rust Belt Books. Dan read from his new collection, Dear Body, just out from Ugly Duckling Presse. It's a very measured work that delights in exploring some of the outer linguistic reaches of mind-body dualism, without ever trying to come down wholly in favor of a materialist or a dualist or a spiritualist world view. Most of the poems are letters written to and from the "The Body" to or from a narrative voice that may or may not be the consciousness housed in that body. The poems are mournful and playful and the collection comes to a stirring conclusion in the final section, which is comprised of a long, knotted, dense sequence called "Beautiful Linear Bodies." My favorite section is the middle section, "Antebodies," which is comprised of six line poems written in lines of seven syllables each. These poems achieve a minimalist precision I can really appreciate.

Stephanie read mostly prose poems from a forthcoming collection entitled, Heart Stoner Bingo (great title). Her poems work very assiduously with repetition. They are poems written by a person struggling both to hear and to be heard, and the insistence with which they repeat words and phrases becomes an exploration of meaning and context and incremental variation, as well as celebration sound itself. The poems are intelligent, poignant, and often very funny. Anyhow, I look forward to the book.

And some sleep. All for now.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Pamuk Photos

Here's my Flickr set:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelkelleher/sets/72157603030418934/


Here's another on Picasa by Prof. Bruce Jackson:

http://picasaweb.google.com/bruce36/OrhanPamuk

An Afternoon With Orhan Pamuk


Pamuk_Buffalo027.JPG
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Orhan Pamuk visited Buffalo for about 9 hours on Thursday. We brought him in to kick off Just Buffalo's new literary series, Babel. For the past several months we've been encouraging the entire region to read his novel, Snow, a political novel about a small, isolated Anatolian town in the midst of a crisis over the clash of political Islam and secular totalitarian government. He was scheduled for a VIP reception at 6 and for a reading/lecture/q&a and book signing starting at 8. I picked him up at the Airport at 1:30 and took him on a whirlwind tour of the Buffalo/Niagara region before the official festivities began.

Our primary destination was, of course, Niagara Falls. We drove straight there from the airport. On the way, however, he asked if we could stop to buy a winter cap somewhere, as he hates shopping in NYC and so ends up buying a lot of necessities on the road, where the stores are less crowded and require less mental energy to navigate. So, I took the Nobel Prize-winner to the Outlet Mall! We found him a sort of Holden Caulfield-type hunter cap with small earflaps. He wanted to purchase earmuffs, but we couldn't seem to find any at Saks or at J.Crew, so we left with the cap and headed to the falls.

It was dark, wet day at the falls, but there was almost no one there and they hadn't yet closed the steps leading down to the overlook on the American side, so we were able to get a close-up view of the falls. We discovered a mutual interest in snapshots, and so ended up taking hundreds of pictures over the course of the day. If you look at the photoset on my Flickr site, you can see he’s shooting a photograph in just about every picture I took of him. I say snapshots, because neither of us seems really interested in taking photos that are particularly artful. I am rather more interested in their documentary value. This is an extremely new interest for me, one I resisted for years, preferring my own memory to the photos themselves. However, my memory isn’t what it used to be, and I find I very much enjoy the social dimension of photo sharing on the Internet. That said, I shoot my snapshots with a Fujifilm Finepix F45fd, he shoots his with some kind of Leica “point-and-shoot,” so I imagine his snapshots come out pretty well no matter what. My favorite photo of the day was one I took of two ducks sipping water in the middle of the American falls. It’s actually an ok photo in itself, but it was a joy to see in person.

After the falls, Pamuk told me he is interested in the decay of modernism – decay in the most literal, physical sense. I told him he had come to the right place! I have three tours I give visitors, depending on their interests and time constraints – The Falls Tour, The Architecture Tour, and my personal favorite, the Entropy Tour, which charts the sublime ruin that is much of Buffalo. We managed quickie versions of all three this afternoon. First stop was the grain elevators in south Buffalo. These massive concrete structures are in wildly varying states of use, disuse, decay and utter ruination. They make for great photos, as many an artful photographer has discovered.

Following the grain elevators, we drove through the sad wastes of Buffalo’s East Side over to the Central Terminal, Buffalo’s most spectacular ruin. We were fortunate to arrive while a group of students were being given a tour of the inside of the complex, so we just walked in and started shooting photos ourselves. Pamuk was in ecstasy, running around in the half-darkness shooting photos of every nook and cranny. We quickly found ourselves in some off-limits area near some old bathrooms. I could hear the tour group leaving at the other end of the terminal and became concerned we’d get locked in. I ran across the main waiting area toward the front door. Sure enough, the caretaker was there, ready to lock us in. He was not happy. He started screaming at me, and would not accept an apology. When he found out Orhan was still inside, he started screaming at him too. I debated whether or not to tell him he was screaming at a Nobel Prize-winner, but decided it would have little effect. Welcome to Buffalo, Mr. Pamuk!

Next stop was the Louis Sullivan-designed Guaranty building, an ornate, terracotta-covered 19th century office tower. I sent him in to see the lobby, but the security guard would not let him take pictures. O well. Our last stop was meant to be a drive-by of the Darwin Martin House, one of several Frank Lloyd Wright homes in and around Buffalo. I let him out and waited in my car at the curb while he took photos. Turned out part of it was still open, so we went in for a quick tour of the carriage and guest houses. One of the tour guides recognized him, so we got extra special treatment, which we appreciated (especially after the last two stops).

Time was getting short, and since he was not staying the night we decided it would be easiest to run back to our house to change clothes before the event, which we did, and had just enough time for two quick shots of espresso and a quick book signing (we asked him to sign a first ed. hardcover of his newest book, Other Colors, which he inscribed to "Michael, Lory [sic] and mama cat."

The reception took place in the underground lounge at Babeville. Just Buffalo’s board, funders and those who subscribed at higher levels all attended. The reading itself was packed. We sold out all of the tickets four days before the event and every seat in the house was full. I spent three days working from home to write an intro for Pamuk – I think it came off pretty well (my friend Lucy told me she cried, so I guess I did something right!). Pamuk’s talk was more of a lecture about the novel than anything else, but it was a very useful one. He read essays from the new book, mostly. The first, since everyone here was reading Snow, was about the research he did in writing that novel. This was followed by a longer discussion on novel writing as an art, on reading novels, and on some of the novels that most influenced him as a writer. When he reads, he’s got what I would call a sort of eastern European bearing – organized, mildly stern, unwavering in his opinions. But when he looks up from the book and engages the audience directly, he becomes much more endearing.

I returned to the stage after that to read him questions from the audience. We spoke about it beforehand and he said he wanted to take a question about the Armenian genocide, but only one, as he did not want his political persona to overshadow the novelist persona. So, we did one, and the rest were on writing, the novel, Snow, Turkey, et al. One question was written in Turkish, so he read it aloud in Turkish and then answered in English. In the final question, he was asked if he had a muse, to which he replied: no, except that he likes to read his work aloud to friends and loved ones to gauge their interest, and that this was in fact his greatest inspiration. He got a standing ovation, and then proceeded to sign 300 books in about 20 minutes. It was about the fastest book signing I’d ever seen.

As he stepped into a black car headed for a day of interviews in a hotel room in Toronto, I slipped him copies of my two books of poetry–

what the hell, right?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Busy Week With No Poetry Readings


Isabelle/Hibiscus
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Isabelle Pelissier visited us all week. She came to Buffalo to retrieve all the art she left here when she and Joanthan moved to Maine in 2006. We were sad to see the Hibiscus paintings, which we had hanging in one of our guest rooms, leave the house. Had we the money, we would have just bought them, but alas... We really miss having Isabelle and Jonathan here in Buffalo -- even though we probably see them almost as often now as we did when they lived here. Both light up the room when they are around.

Remarkably, I have not been to a literary event all week.

I spent most of the week gearing up for Orhan Pamuk's visit next Thursday. It's amazing how much work is required for a reading this size. Hopefully it will all come together for the big show. I need to spend the next few days writing an introduction. In this case, I think I'll likely need to give up my usual laconic style in favor of something a bit more grand.

I was on a TV talk show called PM Buffalo on Thursday. The guest before me was a Buffalo guy who now has a TV show on Animal Planet. His animal that day was a live crocodile, about 4 feet long, which he had sitting in his lap throughout the interview. Twice it flicked its torso and started hissing -- even though I was 20 feet away it was still pretty frightening.

We saw "Gone Baby Gone" last night, which I highly recommend. Ben Affleck is still learning as a director, and some of his techniques were a bit cliched -- like using time lapse photography of the sky changing to signify the passage of time, etc., and there were perhaps one too many kinks in the story, which made it drag a bit. Aside from that, he has put together a very affecting film about the complexities involved in making a wrenching set of moral decisions. Not easy to pull off. I liked it better than Mystic River, which suffered from a lot of histrionic acting from the leads, especially Sean Penn, who needs to try doing something understated for once. Casey Affleck's performance is a case study in restraint and should be commended (and imitated!).

Monday, October 29, 2007

This Ain't 1982!


Before the Reading
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Last night we held the launch party for Human Scale and also for Hello Helicopter, Kyle Schlesinger's latest offering from Blazevox, at Rust Belt books. We had a great crowd, and we fed them well. Geoffrey Gatza and Kevin Thurston cooked enough delicious food to feed a poetry army. This was the invite:

Book Release Party For Mike Kelleher and Kyle Schlesinger!

Remember, Remember the Twenty-Eighth of October
For Kelleher, Kyle and Cooking!
I know of no reason why Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.
Michael Kelleher, Kyle Schlesinger, t'was their intent to blow up Rust Belt Books.
Three-score barrels of powder below to prove old Buffalo’s overthrow;
By God's providence they was catch'd with a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

Holla Back Girl!

8PM RUST BELT BOOKS
Cooking by Geoffrey Gatza And Kevin Thurston

Thai Roasted Whitefish & Tilapia with Plum Tamarind Yogurt

Pumpkin Apple curry with Jasmine Rice

Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato salad

Harvard Beets with Mango and Dijon

Brown Rice with Sultanas and cranberries

Tomato and Sweet Onion pasta salad

===============================

Mulled Ginger Cider
BYOB
Snacks, cookies and creams

===============================

Chocolate Popcorn

Belgian Cocoa Brownies

Crystallized Ginger, Pineapple and Apple Pudding

Just Buffalo Mocha Spice Cake with Candle

Special feature: Fritz the Pumpkin

And, no kidding, this was all served between the bookcases at our favorite used bookstore. The other great entertainment for the evening (besides, of course, our readings) was a very drunk heckler who came in during my reading. He was fairly easy to ignore, but I did have to fight to be heard over his voice once or twice. He said some hilarious things, all of which Kevin Thurston managed to write down and post to his blog. He also rated my reading 3 out of 4.5 stars, which I'll take as a compliment. Here's the list:

apples
apples
pourquoi?
gymnastic
yer a fix
proper oats
the reservoir
atlanta
new york
wakeup
bfff!
(inaudible)
woody the woodpecker
kill party
the door
the yeast infection
orange crush
happy days are here again!
tazi
joan jett
glasseses
eric the viking
soundgarden
jesus & that mary chain
fish is good
oh, pardon me, the big shits
sounds right
this ain't 1982

Anyhow, it was great to hear Kyle's work and to read with him for the first time. Also gratifying to see so many people out for a reading. The crowds at poetry readings this season have so far been superb. I've yet to go to one with fewer than 25 in the audience. Seems like lots of new folks have shown up in town -- either in the poetics program or just as part of the scene, which is really fantastic news for everyone.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Back to the Present

Now that the travel blog is complete, I will return to the present. I had initially planned on making this a film blog, but now I see more possibilities with the integration of Flickr and YouTube into the site. Not sure where it is going, but I intend to continue the blog in whatever form it takes. Stay tuned for more soon....

Day 25: The Long Road Home


Indiana
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
We drove 18 hours to get home on Columbus Day. Our only photo is of this sign entering Indiana, where we promptly got stuck in 2 hours of stopped traffic. To make matters worse, we had to listen to the Yankees get finished off by the Indians. As we passed through Cleveland, I put a hex on the city. Yankees still lost. O well, maybe next year.

Day 24: Minneapolis, Wedding

Well, they did it (see picture). Congrats to Chris and Katie. We are now officially exhausted. Time to go home.

Day 23: Minneapolis, Blessing the Animals

We arrived in Minneapolis in time for some kind of bizarre Minnesota Christian ceremony (no, not my brother's wedding, c-mon!) -- the blessing of the animals. Scores of churches this day had signs calling out to parishioners to bring their pets to church to be blessed. Next thing you know they'll all get together to elect a psychotic, war-mongering, blueblood son of a bitch for president and declare war against Iraq.

Wait...anyhow, an uneventful day in MN. We went to the rehearsal dinner at the best man's house, ate some BBQ, then headed to a funky bar in St. Paul. Then I stayed up until 4 am watching poker on ESPN to see who won the main event in the Poker World Series of 2007.

Good thing we don't have cable at home.

Day 22: Badlands, South Dakota, Minnesota

We spent the night at a hotel in Rapid City, SD, then drove east to the Badlands National Park. As we were starting get pressed for time and were about to do our second consecutive 12-hour day in the car, we opted to take the Badlands Loop, which takes a couple of hours to drive, but gives you a lot to see in a short time. This was my first glimpse of the mythic plains stretching through the center of the country. It still feels very much like a prairie -- rolling hills and amber waves of grain (though the waves probably aren't what they used to be.)

At the entrance to the park, the prairie seems to stretch off in all directions. Off to the right, hundreds of prairie dogs cavort, stand on their hind legs, dig holes and make their squeaky little sounds. We took the first detour possible down a dirt road with sign that says "Prairie Dog Town 5 miles." As you pull up to the first curve, the prairie floor falls away to reveal the undulating moonscape of the badlands. We stopped along the way for a few pictures, then continued on until we hit Prairie Dog Town. I kept thinking this would be a great way to parody Olson's dogtown, but it's still just a funny idea in my head. Here's a clip:



After our visit with the PD's, we drove back to the other entrance to the dirt road and took the Badlands Loop. This, along with the Pacific Coast Highway, has to be one of the most beautiful roads in America. Beginning at the highest point in the Canyon, it switchbacks in long, slow curving turns through the apocalyptic wrinkles and sharpened peaks. Every hundred feet or so you find yourself at a new era in geologic time. More video:



We spent the rest of the day driving through South Dakota and Minnesota, listening to the Yankees get beat on XM Radio. In the evening, we stopped to eat at a truck stop in Minnesota somewhere, and I heard the following conversation among truckers:

"Vietnam is part of the Ancient Kingdom of Siam."
"Is it?"
"The King of Siam was king of that whole part of the world."
"Except for Laos," interjected a 3rd from another table.
"Oh, yeah?"
"Laos was part of the Ottoman Empire. It says so in the Bible."

Anyhow, welcome to Minnesota.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Day 21: Yellowstone

We woke very early and checked out of our motel. We wanted to see as much of Yellowstone as possible and also to reach Rapid City by the end of the day so we could also hit the Badlands the next day. Yellowstone was, in a word, breathtaking. From the wildly varied landscape -- pine forest to Geysers to volcanic lakes -- to the free roaming wildlife -- we saw bison, a coyote, an elk, many deer -- the Grand Canyon is about the only place I can recall having had such an intense experience of the sublime. It's so big, so beautiful, your mind collapses in on itself trying to take it all in.

Since it was off-season, there was little traffic in the park, though there was enough to make you realize how awful it must be in-seasoon. Each time we stopped to look at a buffalo or an elk or whatever, 10 other cars would see us pulled over, rush into a spot on the side of the road, jump out, ask what we were looking at, and start filming. To be honest, we did the same. The highlight of the day was seeing a group of bison in the road. We stopped, watched several cross the road in front of us, then realized there was an entire herd at play in a field next to us. The video above says it all.

At the other end of the park, it snowed for a while. We drove across Wyoming, stopping in Cody for lunch. We ate at what is supposed to have been Buffalo Bill's favorite hotel/restaurant -- Irma. Amazing early 20th century woodwork, lots of taxidermy and pictures of Buffalo Bill -- nice, but a little scary too. We made it to Rapid City late that night, after 13 hours in the car.

Day 20: Washington to Idaho to Montana


Idaho
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
A day of driving through mostly spectacular scenery -- the Cour D'Alene area of Idaho is particularly beautiful though it looks to be just as spectacularly exclusive -- the houses looked to be about the same size as the one's we saw in Malibu, and were prbably owned by the same people. As we got to Montana, the gas station started to get a little scary -- they have gambling in all of them, not to mention a lot of hunting equipment and taxidermy. We arrived late that night at a little motel owned by a just-retired and extremely chatty Seattle couple at the western entrance to Yellowstone.

Day 19: Portland, Coffee, Leaving


Stumptown Coffee
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
On our final day in Portland, Alicia and Tom and their adorable 2-year-old, Pascal, picked us up and took us for a tour of the city. We said goodbye to Tom, who had to teach, then went for some breakfast with Alicia and Pascal. Afterward, Alicia took us to Stumptown Coffee, which makes far and away the best latte I have ever had. Portland takes great pride not only in the taste of their coffee, but also in its presentation. Every barista seems expert in the art of latte foam design, which comes standard with every cup. Bravo, Portland!

We then got an exhaustive tour SE and SW Portland. Alicia took us through all the neighborhoods, showed us her alma mater, Reed College, and then dropped us back off at Aaron and Michelle's. Once home, we started thinking we'd better get a few hours of driving in so we could make it Yellowstone and the Badlands before hitting my brother's wedding by week's end. So we booked a hotel in Spokane and drove the 5 hours up there that evening.

Day 18: Portland, Japanese Garden, Buffalo Reunion, Pt. 2


Japanse Garden
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Portland is about the greenest city I've ever seen. It rains a lot, but there is also an abundance of park land, gardens and tree-lined streets within the city limits to benefit from all the precipitation. We spent the day in a part of Portland that they claim is the largest urban forest in America -- apparently it had been logged and city planners decided to mark off the logged area as parkland a hundred + years ago -- the result is a gorgeously green area of the city filled with hundred year old pines and fir trees.

We spent most of our time wandering around in the Japanese Garden, a traditional affair sculpted out of the urban forest area. It had just rained, the sun was slightly out, the greens were stunning. Some of the leaves were starting to turn, so a few reds and yellows had also started to appear. Afterward we visited Powell's books -- probably the biggest, most comprehensive bookstore I've ever been too. I spent two hours there and managed to see about 1% of the place.

When Aaron and Michelle came home from work they took us out to a little restaurant on Alberta Street called Vita's, which is in a funky little alterna-neighborhood reminiscent of Allentown in Buffalo. Everyone in Portland complains about the gentrification and all the people moving in from other places, especially SF, which has gotten prohibitively expensive, especially for the young. I'd remind them that in other places infrastructure is decaying, people are leaving, and no one wants to move there (ahem, Buffalo). Anyhow, Michelle and Aaron have been there a year and seem to love it, as evidenced by big smiles on their faces that were somewhat less visible when they lived in NYC. Seems Portland is very vegan-friendly, another reason for those smiles.

In the evening we got together again with Joel Bettridge and Michelle and Aaron over at Tom and Alicia's for some hardcore Buffalo reminiscing.

Day 17: Reading in Portland

After spending the day partly in bed, partly wandering around Alberta Street with our hosts, Michelle Citrin and Aaron Skomra (formerly of Buffalo) I read alongside Kathleen Fraser as part of the Spare Room Collective's reading series at the The New American Art Union. Prior to the reading we ate at a fabulous restaurant around the corner from the gallery. Kathleen Fraser's very fun to hang out with -- gossipy, chatty, a good story-teller, very engaged with what you are saying. It was a pleasure to meet her and to get to hear her read.

Portland marked the final stop on the reading tour. It was also the biggest of 4 Buffalo Poetics reunions. At the reading were myself, Alicia Cohen, Tom Fisher (actually, he babysat after dinner, so missed the reading), Joel Bettridge, Aaron Skomra, Tim Shaner (up from Eugene) and Michelle Citrin. If nothing else, all that money I spent on graduate school will guarantee me a reading, an audience, a place to stay and good company across the country for years to come!

I also got to meet some of the Portland set -- Maryrose Larkin, who had set up the reading, David Abel, who did the intros, and Rodney Koeneke, a fellw Blazevoxer who had recently left SF to move there. All the people I actually met at the reading seemed like really interesting and engaged folks. Sadly, I didn't get to meet up with Jules Boykoff and Kaia Sand, who had been very helpful in helping me find Maryrose and setting up the reading -- thanks to them wherever they are -- next time, I suppose.

One thing I didn't quite understand, which has kind of stayed with me, and probably means nothing -- a group of people came to the reading just around the time it started and sat way in the back, with several rows of empty chairs separating them from the rest of the audience. None of them spoke to me afterward, and I couldn't really get a read on them as an audience. Anyhow, it unnerved me a little. I don't really care (much) if people don't respond to the work -- that's no reason not to say hello!

Day 16: SF to Portland


Leaving SF
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
To this point, we'd managed to keep most of our drives to under 8 hours and to confine most our driving to the daylight hours. This was not to be the case on this leg. We woke at Taylor and Tanya's in the morning and Lori found herself with a migraine. It took several hours to sleep it off enough to move, so we didn't actually leave SF until 3 in the afternoon. When we got in the Tourmobile, the engine light came on, which meant we had to make a quick stop in Oakland for an oil change. By the time we got going, we had only a few hours left of daylight, so we didn't get to see anything of northern California or southern Oregon beyond the long, dark, winding mountain roads on which we were mostly afraid to drive over 60 miles an hour. We didn't arrive in Portland until about 2 a.m. It was raining.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Day 15: San Francisco


In our original plan, my reading in LA was to take place on Tuesday, leaving us three days or so to check out San Francisco. However, the reading series changed from Tuesday to Thursday nights, which meant we had to drive to SF and read on the same day, then leave the following day in order to get to Portland in time for a reading on Sunday night.

Driving north from LA through Bakersfield, et al, is kind of dreary. Lots of industrial land, lots of farmland, but nothing terribly scenic. It was interesting to realize just how many different crops grow in California. We saw field after field, orchard after orchard, truck after truck bearing a mind-boggling variety of agricultural products. Did you know they grew cotton in California? Neither did I.

Anyhow, it's a pretty quick drive and we made it to SF by about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. SF was also a Buffalo reunion, as we stayed with my old friends Taylor Brady and Tanya Hollis, who also hosted the reading in their Mission district apartment. Taylor took us for a late afternoon walk up to Bernal Heights, where we could see almost the entire city, including the legendary fog rolling in, several rainbows and a mysterious light reflecting off the mirrored peak of a downtown hotel.

We had a small crowd, maybe 10 people including myself and Lori, at the reading, but the intimacy of the living room made for a warm and more intense atmosphere. I got to spend a little more time with some of the people I met, including: Jocelyn Saidenberg, Suzanne Stein, Rob Halpern, Nicole Hollis, and another old Buffalo pal, Brent Cunningham, who managed to make it even though he recently became a father.

I spent the most quality time with Rob, who's very smart and interesting guy. I am looking forward to reading the book he and Taylor wrote together for Atticus Finch books. His partner, Lee Azus, is equally interesting, and owns a travel bookstore called "Get Lost." Great name!

Note to Self

Next time, find a way to write these things along the way instead saving them all to the end!

Day 13: Getty Museum, Beverly Hills


Getty Baby Freak
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Spent almost the entire afternoon at the Getty Museum, which sits high above the city in the Santa Monica Mountains, clothed in its Richard Meier-designed tunic of Travertine marble. It's probably the most spectacularly designed museum complex I've ever visited. We spent most of the day oohing and ahhing over the design, the view of the city, the formal gardens, et al. Every step you take opens up a wholly new and unique line of site. It is, in a word, breathtaking.

I wish I could say the same for the collection. Apparently Mr. Getty's tastes were a bit conservative. A good portion of the collection is comprised of religious art, with a heavy dose of decorative arts of the European nobility. I took a bunch of photos of the art without paying any attention to thematic relations between objects. What I came up with was a collection of ghastly, ghostly, frightening images (see photo above -- click it to see more of what I mean). If a man's art collection is a window into his soul, J. Paul Getty was a haunted man. I'll say no more.

Afterward we road the monorail down the mountain to our car, which was parked in an underground lot (and which, by the way, contained four reserved spots for electric cars to re-charge. Sadly, they were empty.) We drove the length of Mulholland drive, then down to Sunset Boulevard and finally over to Wilshire, which we took all the way back to Santa Monica. I can't resist all the movie star stuff, but we just drove past it all snapping pictures.

Day 12: Santa Monica


Clown
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Did very little on this day beyond drive to Venice Beach, where we were accosted by all kinds of SoCal freaks. A palm reader at one point began screaming insults our way in hopes that might induce us to have our palms read. Oddly, the ploy failed. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Santa Monica. In the evening we met Joseph's new girlfriend, Diane, a family therapist who lives about 40 minutes north of LA. We ate hearty Argentinian steaks at an Argentine restaurant in S.M.

Day 11: Tucson to Los Angeles


California
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Another long, dry, dusty stretch of desert driving. Crossing into California we had to pass through what must be the only remaining interstate customs station in the U.S. They actually stop cars coming into California to check for produce and the like. I suppose this has to do with protecting the agriculture industry. Drove through Palm springs and saw miles and miles of wind turbines, which don't appear to have any effect on the air quality in LA. As soon as the city appeared, a perfectly blue sky became a gray blanket of smog through which the mountains and skyline could be seen only in murky silhouette. We parked in Santa Monica at my college friend Joseph McNicholas' Three's Company era bachelor pad...

"Come and knock on our door...we've been waiting for you...where the pleasure is hers and hers and his three's company too..." Good luck getting that song out of your head!

Day 10: Tucson

Breakfasted with poets Charles Alexander and Tyrone Williams, with whom I was reading that afternoon. Charles recommended we visit the Desert Museum, which is about 30 minutes outside of town on the other side of the Saguaro National Forest. On the way we saw a sign for the "Wildlife Museum" which we mistakenly thought was our destination. We realized our mistake as we entered about the fourth room filled with taxidermy. It's mostly a natural history museum, but it feels like a hunter's lodge. If this road trip taught us anything, its that guns, hunting and taxidermy are alive and well in America. In case you were worried.

After crossing the mountains through the Saguaro Forest (which is itself a gorgeous site to behold), we arrived at the Desert Museum. Most of our time was spent in the aviaries, especially the one for hummingbirds. We also saw an otter and several desert cats. They were beautiful to see, though seeing animals in cages does make me feel a little strange. We loved the gardens and the butterflies and the winding paths across the desert floor, and the heat was somewhat merciful.

Afternoon we drove back for the reading, part of the POG series, curated by a collective of poets in Tucson, including Charles and Tenney Nathanson. We had a packed house -- about 40 people -- which really spoke to the dynamism of the Tucson poetry community. Not everyone will go to a poetry reading at 3 p.m. on a Sunday, so I was really happy to see this.

I was happier still to get a chance to hear Tyrone Williams, a poet from Cincinnati of whom I had no previous knowledge. He has a book from Krupskaya, c.c., from which he read primarily. His sonnet sequence, "I Am Not Proud To Be Black," is pretty incredible.

After the reading we ate Indian food and got to meet Barbara Henning and Laynie Browne, two poets I heard read many moons ago when I lived in NYC, but had never had the chance to meet. Both are recent Tucson transplants, which bodes well for the poetry community there. Sadly, a plumbing emergency kept me from meeting Tenney Nathanson, who I've wanted to meet lo these many years since I applied (and then chose against going) to the U of A English Program for a PhD. O well... on to LA!

Day 9: Santa Fe to Tucson


Chili Field, Hatch,NM
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Drove south to Hatch, NM, which appears to be the chili capital of North America, or at least so it appeared. As we pulled into town to fill our gas tank, we saw roof after roof covered with red chilis drying in the sun. On the way out of town we saw miles of chili fields before we hit the long, hot, dusty, boring desert highway leading us to Tucson, where we arrived that evening.

Day 8: Santa Fe


Santa Fe
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
We spent a full day in Santa Fe relaxing from the past week, a day consisting mainly of walking around the square, popping into different shops, and dodging the swarms of tourist bodies pressing against us on the sidewalk. Santa Fe has its charms: the beauty of the landscape et al, but the level of tourism makes it feel a bit, well, touristy. We did experience the famous New Mexico light, though, which makes the sky a rich and gorgeous blue I've never seen anywhere else.

Linda and Elliott took us to the Palace of the Governors to introduce us to Tom Leech, a papermaker and printer, who now runs the print shop at Palace Press, a letterpess print shop housed in the museum. They've been running a poetry series out of there for a few years now and they produce gorgeous poetry broadsides letterpressed on handmade paper. We bought two of them -- "Phillip Whalen's Hat" by Joanne Kyger and "Infloresecence" by Arthur Sze, current poet laureate of Santa Fe.

That evening before dinner our hosts drove us up to view a plot of mountainside they've owned for many years on the outskirts of the city. It has a rather spectacular view of the mountains and the city and the sun going down. Another highlight of our visit was Linda showing us family photo albums and journals of trips they'd made to India, Tibet and Nepal. We also got to see photos of a young, pony-tailed Jonathan Skinner standing on a soapbox leading an anti-war rally.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Road Trip, Day 7: Palo Duro Hike

Morning we woke and hiked the 6-mile "Lighthouse Trail" through the canyon to its most prominent natural landmark, the "Lighthouse" rock formation (see photo of the two of us in front of it, click it or any other photo to go to my flickr page). We saw three living and four dead tarantulas along the way, not to mention various other insects, birds, flowers and bugs. Ants crawled up my leg and bit me all over my bare calves (I love nature!). The journey to the rock was exhilarating and cool, and climbing along the rock shelf on which it sits afforded us a magnificent view. However, the hike back to the car was brutal. Though the both of us wore sunblock, we were so hot when we arrived at the car, and our faces were so red, we were convinced we'd been badly burned. Turned out we were just really, really hot.

Our next stop was Santa Fe, where we spent the night at the home of Jonathan Skinner's parents, Linda Hibbs and Elliot Skinner. They took us out to Thomasita's, a great Mexican place in downtown Santa Fe, before we passed out on their fold-out couch in the rear house.

Road Trip, Day 6, Texas


Texas Cowboy at Sunset
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Having returned from a trip overseas this summer with an aged oolong pot, tea set right from a tea house in China, and several pounds of fine Chinese teas, Jonathan served us a heavy dose of pu-erh, oolong and jasmine teas (and a heap of caffeine!) before we hit the road. We drove to Palo Duro Canyon, just south of Amarillo, Texas, where we passed the night playing scrabble in an old stone cottage near the canyon rim.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Road Trip, Day 5: Norman, 1st Reading

Spent the day in Norman, OK, mostly with Jonathan Stalling. In the afternoon we ate some scorching but delicious Thai food. In the evening I read with Charles Alexander at the Jacobson House, a Native American Arts Center. Jonathan introduced me, while our other former Buffalo co-hort, Linda Russo, introduced Charles. It was a very pleasant space to read, and all the seats were filled with students from OU, a few faculty, as well as some professors and writers from Tulsa and Oklahoma City. I really enjoyed listening to Charles' work, which is quite dense, and which works with complex rhythmic patterns reminiscent of Creeley and Duncan.

Road Trip, Day 4, Pt. 3: On the Road Again


Billy Bass Adoption
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
After our intense morning museum experiences, we had some fried catfish, oysters and shrimp at a charmingly eccentric seafood place where they apparently find ways to decorate the walls by asking customers to bring in fishing items (fishing hats, lures, pictures of the "big catch"), give them a free meal in return, then hang them on the wall. The most entertaiining of these was a giant wall full of Billy Bass plaques, which are moving, singing fish replicas. Many are dressed up, painted, and given names. Every once in a while, one or several of the fish break into song while you are eating. We then drove across Arkansas and into Oklahoma, arriving at the home of our former Buffalo friends Jonathan and Amy Stalling.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Road Trip, Day 4, Pt. 2: National Civil Rights Museum


Assassin's Perch
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Comparing the historical significance of MLK and EP really puts a lot of things in perspective, not the least of which is how empty the National Civil Rights Museum felt in comparison with the hordes who visited Graceland the same morning. I felt no awe visiting Graceland or Sun Studio. Elvis' microphone was just a a microphone. The hole worn into the linoleum floor by Bill Black's bass peg was just a hole. Seeing the spot where Martin Luther King was killed, however, I felt something altogether different. Awe is too weak a word to describe the feeling, probably because what I felt was many strong feelings simultaneously -- rage, sadness, confusion, despair.

That said, I found the the museum as a whole to be one of the most profoundly disturbing places I have ever visited. It starts off alright, leading you through a series of life-sized dioramas recreating scenes from the Civil Rights Movement. While it deals with the movement's roots following the civil war leading up through WWII, the museum primarily concerns itself with highlights of the movement from 1954-1968. We see the bus (or a re-creation thereof) on which Rosa Parks sat. We see video of protesters being sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by dogs. We see the remains of a Greyhound bus that had been blown up during the Freedom Rides. More disturbing is the re-creation of a lunch counter sit-in, complete with life-size clay figures of some of the original sitters. Behind them, a video shows the real-life sitters being beaten, spat upon, having cigarettes put out in their hair, and so on. We are meant to feel a palpable sense of racist hatred and we are asked to identify with the protesters' suffering. We do. How can we not? A discomfiting experience, to be sure, but not one that offended me or my sense of history. American racism is alive and well and ready to rear its ugly head the moment we forget the valuable lessons civil rights history affords.

How then are we to judge the final section of this otherwise useful and educational museum? Having stood nearly on the spot where Dr. King was murdered, we are sent across the street into another building. This, it turns out, is the building from which James Earl Ray shot MLK. After passing the funeral cart on which King's body was carried through the streets, we are taken upstairs to a re-creation of the bathroom from which Ray fired the fatal shot. We are then asked to stand a few feet over in a floor to ceiling window and to look directly across the street to the spot where MLK was shot. In other words, we are asked to stand in the shoes of the murderer. Why? Why should I, much less a child visiting this museum, be asked to stand in the shoes of a killer? Are we supposed to identify with James Earl Ray? Are we being accused of killing Dr. King ourselves? This positioning of the viewer is a highly unethical and irresponsible use of history. To make matters worse, the whole floor is dedicated to the unproven conspiracy to kill King. It proves nothing, but lays out a million clues leading nowhere, which creates even more confusion. By the time we view the final videos expounding on the successes of the movement and of many African-Americans in particular, it no longer matters. How can we celebrate their many successes in light of what we have just seen? Instead of marvelling at their triumphs, I left angry and confused. The message seemed to be that the civil rights movement had failed because MLK was shot. But I think MLK would be the first to say that the civil rights movement neither began nor ended with him. I recommend skipping the final act. You'll leave the building with a more accurate view of the history of the Civil Rights Movement, one that puts King's murder in the context of a movement larger than himself, and not the other way around.

Road Trip, Day 4, Pt. 1: Graceland


E.P. Phone Home
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Graceland lived up to expectations. First, the operation is run like a very well-oiled machine. Everything is on time, easy to find, clearly marked, etc. The mansion itself is the first part of the tour. Lori and I both agreed it seemed very modest by contemporary standards of luxury. not only did Elvis buy the mansion from a previous owner, he took the name that owner had given the property for his own (Grace being the name of the previous owner's wife). While some of the furnishings are tacky beyond belief, it felt very much like a home in which a person lived a life, as opposed to a museum or a temporary residence. Even the property itself is only a few acres (at least now, that is, it could have been larger in its day). After the mansion, you get to go on the insane Elvis kitsch tour. They have museum for his cars, which concludes in a gift shop; a museum for his outfits, which concludes in a gift shop; a museum of his planes, which...you get the picture. The highlight was seeing all the handmade suits he wore in the latter part of his careers. As cheesy as they are (and believe me, they are fromage-heavy), Lori and I both admired the handiwork (all hand woven), as well as the thought that went into the various themes. All in all, it was a very humanizing experience. Far from painting a portrait of a God-like creature removed from everyday cares, Graceland felt very much the home of a human being.

Road Trip, Day 3


Memphis BBQ
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Departed Louiville and drove through the rolling green hills of Kentucky and crossed into Tennessee. We had reservations at the Heartbreak Hotel near Memphis, adjacent to Graceland, and had plans to visit the next day. After checking in at the decidedly lackluster digs (internet service in the lobby only, toast for breakfast), we struck out to see downtown Memphis. We wandered up and down Beale Street, then got in the car and drove around looking for a good BBQ place. Luckily, we drove right past Sun Studio, where we managed to catch the last tour of the day. It was pretty cool, but I have to say I don't really get the frisson of being in the presence of entertainment royalty. Interesting, yes, but not a religious feeling by any means. It's hard to believe anyone will giive a damn in another hundred years. But who am I to judge? Afterward we returned to Beale Street, which is much more fun when it's all lit up at night. It's mostly a touristy recreation of a place that died 50 years ago, but it has its charm. We ate a gigantic rack of ribs at the Blues City Cafe and then went back to our hotel, where there were not one, but three 24-hour Elvis cable channels available!

Road Trip, Day 2


Serpent Mound
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
We left Tim and Lori's place after breakfast and drove southwest across Ohio until we reached Peebles, Ohio, home of the famous Serpent Mound. A 1330-foot long Native American burial effigy whose origin is several thousand years old by most accounts. I had wanted to visit this site for years after having read about the various mound-building cultures in Olson's works somewhere. I have to say, I found it a little disappointing, being at it's greatest height about 3 feet tall. A unique site, to be sure, but not really worth the effort to get there. Instead of staying in the area as planned, we continued on to Louisville, KY, where we passed the night in a hotel. Louisville is another failed American city desperately trying to revive itself through a combination of gentrification, tourism, and culture. It doesn't seem to be working yet --- downtown seemed rather empty and quiet, though we did eat dinner at an excellent upscale Mexican place.

Road Trip, Day 1

We left Buffalo in the afternoon on September 14 and drove as far as Cleveland, where we ate dinner and stayed the night with my old East Village friends, Tim Casey and Lori Schellenberger. It had been at least 8 or 9 years since I'd seen them. They live in a grand old house in the suburbs with their two delightful (and gorgeous) children, Madeline and Liam. It was great to see them again after all these years, a little sad to think how much time had already passed since then.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Live From Norman, OK

Arrived in Norman, OK last night after four days of driving. Reading tonight with Charles Alexander: Tuesday, September 18th, 6 p.m. at The Jacobson House, corner of Chautauqua & Boyd, near the OU campus

I am finding it hard to slip away to write these entries, so will likely end up doing more of a summation at the end or maybe when we get to California and have a few days to relax. Spent a day in Memphis, which seems like a really fun place. Probably could have used at least another day to see some of the sights, but so it goes. We got to see, Beale St., Graceland, Sun Studio, The Civil Rights Museum, and eat some genuine Memphis Ribs.

I want to write more later about the Civil Rights Museum, which I find extremely disturbing in its conception. I need a few more days to think about it. Suffice it to say, it left me shaken, and not in a good way.

More soon..., meanwhile, photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8277941@N04/

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Photoshttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif

Tonight we are sleeping in the Heartbreak Hotel in Memphis and I am about to pass out -- I'll write more when we get to Oklahoma. Meantime, here are some photos:

http://flickr.com/photos/8277941@N04/

Friday, September 14, 2007

On the Road

I'll be traveling across country doing poetry readings from 9/14-10/08.

Here's my itinerary:

Readings:

University of Oklahoma, Norman, Sept. 18
POG Series, Tucson, AZ, Sept. 22
Late Night Snack, Betalevel, LA, Sept. 27
Taylor Brady's Apartment, SF, Sept. 28
Spare Room Series, Portland, OR, Sept 30

We plan on making lots of interesting stops along the way, so I will be posting about the trip here at Pearlblossom Highway.

I'll get back to movies when I return.

O, my book is now for sale at Amazon, even though the cover is invisible.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Heavy Metal Parking Lot



This 16 minute document of the state of a certain segment of American youth circa 1986 (the year I graduated from high school) could be subtitled: The State of American Exuberance in the Aftermath of the Sixties as Compounded by the Disappearance of Religion. But that would make the title longer than the film. However, what is so compelling about this little document, especially in conjunction with the DVD extras, which include the sequels "Monster Truck Parking Lot," "Neil Diamond Parking Lot," and "Harry Potter Parking Lot" (Sidewalk, Really), is that it documents this peculiar habit of Americans to get swept up in certain kinds of temporary enthusiasms that border on mania (clinical, that is).

"HMPL" is basically a video made for cable access television by two guys with a mic and a camera wandering around the parking lot of the Capital Centre in Largo, MD (outside DC) before a Judas Priest Concert. In their wanderings, they interview a lot of very, very stoned, and very badly dressed, teenage (and slightly older) metalheads. Equally fascinating is listening to these inarticulate hordes attempt to describe what it is that drives their enthusiasm: "Judas Priest Rocks!" and "Party!" are about as close as you get to an explanation. Not that the directors are really looking for one. Their tone is mostly one of detached amusement.

To me, this is a very interesting moment in American popular cultural history. While the stadium rock phenomenon that began with Woodstock and continued on through the 70's and 80's was still going strong, it had by this time long shed any pretensions changing the world or expanding consciousness. This is about one thing: dissolution. Everyone interviewed is so plowed you wonder if any of them even remembered the concert. And somehow that's the point, as it is with certain kinds of religious devotion: "Fade Far away, dissolve, and quite forget," as a famous poet once put it.

The DVD is filled with extras, some great, some less than great. In addition to the aforementioned sequels, it contains 3 others that are also sequels of a kind: "Heavy Metal Basement," "HMPL Annihilation" and "HMPL Alumni." What the sequels document is the same kind of devotion in different contexts. Neil Diamond's fan base is generally female, middle-aged, overweight, and sort of neutrally gendered (nun-like). But their devotion to Neil is as strong, if not stronger because so openly about sex, as the metalheads'. Seeing this same thing again among children at a JK Rowling book signing is more cute than anything else, but it gives a sense of how American's are taught to seek, find, and participate with unbridled enthusiasm in mass cultural phenomena.

The "Alumni" sequence offers a glimpse of three of the participants 15 years after the original film. One married a heavy metal guitarist, but seems to have a very normal family life. Another is still jamming with his buddies in the basement and cleaning carpets for a living. Most compelling of all, however, is Zebraman, the drunkest, mouthiest, and most outrageously dressed of anyone in the film. They find him living a very cozy suburban family existence, listening now to only country music, and humored, if somewhat embarrassed, by his presence in the film.

The segment called "Heavy Metal Basement" -- 30 minutes of listening to a heavy metal fan give a history of Judas Priest by describing each of his 100 or so albums -- is almost as annoying as the scene in the middle of Godard's Les Carabiniers where the men return from their travels and show the two women every single postcard of every one of the hundreds of places they've visited. I wanted to shoot the screen after a while.

Finally, I watched "HMPL Annihilation" with a bit of sadness. It documents the demolition of the Capital Centre, which was the Arena of my youth. I saw my first concert (Van Halen, first incarnation) there in 1985. I also saw an incredible collection of stars perform at a Vietnam Vets Concert: James Brown, Stevie Wonder, CSNY, John Fogerty and, yes, Neil Diamond! All of my early sports memories: The Washington Bullets and Capitals, not to mention the Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters, take place there. A former employee watching the demolition articulated my feelings about the Capital Centre and also about the whole HMPL enterprise quite well: "I shouldn't be sad, but for some reason I am."

Friday, September 7, 2007

Yojimbo vs. Fistful of Dollars



Fistful of Dollars is great entertainment. From the first scene to the last, it’s hard to take you eyes off the screen. It contains the simplest of plots – one man plays two rival gangs off of one another until, with his aid, they destroy each other. Eastwood carries the film, delivering one liners with what would become his characteristic aplomb. A sort of avenging angel, his apparent amorality masks a profound understanding of the consequences of violence and its ultimate unfolding when a conflict reaches the point of no return. He’s the only one who understands the necessary outcome of this feud. He simply speeds up the process of destruction. If he has a moral position, and I think he does, it’s that by forcing the bloody conclusion of this feud, he will perhaps reduce the "collateral damage" it causes.

Yojimbo is also great entertainment, with that added little intangible that leads us to call it art. There are several elements Yojimbo contains that make it rise to that level where Fistful does not. First, the cinematography of the original is far superior. While the claustrophobic feel of Fistful brings its own rewards, it contains nothing that compares to the scene of giant sake barrels cut open and pouring sake out over the frantically flailing sake maker and his stooges. As their livelihood pours out over their leaping bodies, we learn that fate has made its decision. One striking image conveys the meaning of this entire segment of the film.

Neither does Fistful contain a final sequence like the one that ends Yojimbo, where the man who prays for victory (and thus peace) by banging a drum comes rushing out into the street, seemingly oblivious to all others, banging that drum while turning in a frantic circle. We’re not sure what he’s praying for now that the feud has ended, and neither, apparently, is he. Kurosawa risks moral uncertainty in order to achieve some other level of poetic meaning with his film. The result is brilliant.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Lonesome Dove



I found the above photo of Woodrow Call & Capt. Gus McCrae tin soldiers at the following website: The Toy Soldier and Old Tin Soldier Shop. They're $795, in case you want to buy them.

Anyhow, Lonesome Dove is a fine television melodrama. I found myself wiping tears from my eyes for about 4 of the 6 hours. Is it a great movie? No. A great mini-series? Maybe. Dickensian in its plotting, it relies heavily on dramatic irony, coincidence and charm. It has the latter in spades. A fine script is handled well by able actors. Robert Duval is in top form. My main gripe is that while you can't really blame a Western for being about something other than what it seems, this one struck me as very much of its time (the 1980's). Most of the men on the drive are sensitive, confused, and psychologically uncertain, just like most of the men who grew up in the 80's. Duval plays a million high school guidance counselors rolled into one witty cowboy, who stands at their side helping them purge their demons as they struggle their way out of an adolescence that seems to last forever. While they make for entertaining and at times affecting viewing, none of the characters seem terribly of the western era.

Except for Tommy Lee Jones. Strong, silent, proud, humorless, his Woodrow Call strikes me as very much of his time. While Robert Duval is off making everyone feel good about themselves, Tommy Lee Jones is acting like a man of his era likely would, which is to say he is very stubborn. His unwillingness (or, if you prefer, inability) to admit his paternity to his son struck me as both the most affecting and also the most authentic moment in the whole movie.

The rest, well, that's entertainment.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Netflix Cue

1. Heavy Metal Parking Lot
2. A Fistful of Dollars
3. Lonesome Dove, Disc 2
4. Lonesome Dove, Disc 1
5.The Misfits (watched, see below)

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Quality of the Rage is What Counts



Robert Creeley has a poem that could serve as an epigraph to "The Misfits:"

Self-Portrait

He wants to be
a brutal old man,
an aggressive old man
as dull, as brutal
as the emptiness around him,

He doesn't want compromise
nor to be ever nice
to anyone. Just mean,
and final in his brutal,
his total, rejection of it all.

He tried the sweet,
the gentle, the "oh,
let's hold hands together"
and it was awful,
dull, brutally inconsequential.

Now he'll stand on
his own dwindling legs.
His arms, his skin,
shrink daily. And
he loves, but hates equally.

“The Misfits” is a film that runs from start to finish on raw human emotion. Even in the opening scenes, when Marilyn sits before a mirror, reciting attorney-prepared lines she is supposed to memorize for a divorce proceeding, one feels that intensity. She can’t stand the fact that she has to tell stories of made-up physical cruelty in order to get a divorce. When she asks Isabella why she can’t just say her husband wasn’t there, “even when you touched him,” the effect is crushing. This is a film about individuals unwilling to “work for wages,” meaning they can’t live by the rules society has laid out for them. Unlike the many westerns of the era which lament the end of the western “individual man” ("The Wild Bunch," "The Searchers," et al), this one does not traffic solely in melancholy or suicidal despair. It’s primary emotion is rage. These characters are not resigned to their fates. They are not willing to admit defeat. They will not accept that there is no place for them to live outside society.

Monroe is the emotional center. There is no greater limit to her personal freedom than the attentions of men. Throughout the film Gable, Wallach and Clift (not to mention her ex-husband and several strangers) vie for Monroe's attention. Her bombshell persona is used brilliantly by John Ford to present the audience with the other side of being beautiful -- unwanted attention. Scene after scene, male libido presses against her voluptuous flesh in the form of arms blocking doorways, men cutting in on one another to dance with her, strangers patting her on the ass. It's never cute, and the audience is made to feel how uncomfortable these advances make her. Unable to understand why men don’t (or don't try) to make women happy, she empathizes with each suffering thing, be it a rabbit or a man or a horse, as if it were herself, and rages against those who she perceives as doing them harm.

In the final scenes, when Clift, Gable, & Wallach capture a small herd of wild mustangs, these emotions come screaming to the surface in the image of a bucking stallion being roped and dragged violently to the ground by the three men. At one point, Monroe stands away from them, shouting, screaming, calling them killers and murderers for catching a wild horse only to sell it for dog meat. We see her alone on the empty desert floor, and only from a great distance, no close-ups. Watching her rage one gets the feeling she is yelling at fate or God as much as she is yelling at the three men.

The quality of the rage in this film is what sets it apart from others I have seen. It's not hatred that drives these characters. It's love. None finds complete satisfaction, yet neither do any of them let up on the demand that life present them with the fullest intensity of human emotional experience. They rage for love in its purest form and they will keepon raging until they find it.

Friday, August 31, 2007

John Wayne: I Get It



Caution: do not read the following as a nascent conversion to Republicanism.

John Wayne characters exude something wholly lacking in contemporary male characters, namely, manliness. Since, say, the Rocky/Rambo era, manliness exists on screen as little more than a set of visible and easily recognizable signs: a buff body, a big gun, and a vendetta to carry out. Modern manliness is determined only by a character's willingness to react quickly, violently and without mercy against an actual or perceived threat to himself or his family. Once the line has been crossed, our modern-day manly man has no choice but to seek revenge and/or eliminate the threat. He is mostly perfect, whereas the characters John Wayne plays, at least in his best films, are deeply, irrevocably flawed. Manliness in a John Wayne character is defined by that character's ability to measure the effects of violence against the consequences of inaction, and also by his ability to face, if not entirely overcome, his flaws. Perhaps the key word here is "measure." Modern manly men react without thinking, and their unthinkingness is viewed as a hallmark of their manliness. Thinking about the consequences of their actions, taking stock of themselves, and admitting (implicitily or explicitly) failure are signs of weakness. It is the opposite with a John Wayne character. None ever see violence as completely justified or completely unjust in a given situation. A John Wayne manly man takes into account the cost of violence always and, if he chooses the violent course of action, is willing to share the costs instead of simply passing them along to others.

I guess each generation gets the manly man it deserves.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hollywood at its Best



Destry Rides again is a near perfect old school Hollywood film. It stars two legendary actors, Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich, both at the top of their game. Stewart plays the folksy-wise defender of all that is decent and wholesome, while Dietrich sings, dances, seduces, and sets aglow every scene she is in. Though it follows standard Western genre conventions -- i.e., it's about a lawless town controlled by lawless men who need to be tamed by the long arm of the law in order to prepare the way for "civilization" -- it feels more like a wedding of several genres: western, gangster film, musical, melodrama and screwball comedy all rolled into one. Western genre elements predominate, to be sure, but even so, all the bad guys belong to a business syndicate that is essentially a gang, no different from any number of gangs populating the crime films of the thirties. All gang members look "ethnic," and several have Brooklynish accents. Marlene Dietrich brings the musical element to bear with three songs and a dance number with Stewart. I might even say the memorable catfight between Frenchy (Dietrich) and a disgruntled housewife itself qualifies as musical by way of its extravagant choreography. Melodrama enters the tale through the unrequited love between the two stars, culminating in Dietrich's sacrifice of herself to save Destry in the final scenes. Finally, the witty, wacky, lightning-quick dialogue gives the whole thing the feel of a screwball comedy. Which is a way of saying that for all its western trappings, this doesn't exactly feel like a western. Yet somehow it works, wonderfully. Every gunfight, every close-up, every brawl, every musical number is bursting with life. Way to go Hollywood. Hooray.

PEARL vs. PEAR: The Blossom War

I just discovered that the title of the photocollage whose title I stole from David Hockney was "PEARblossom Highway..." and not "PEARLblossom Highway...." O well, the title of my blog is PEARLblossom Highway. And so it shall remain.

Netflix Cue

At Home:

1 The Misfits
2 Destry Rides Again
3 Major Dundee
4 The Culpepper Cattle Company Co.
5 McCabe and Mrs. Miller (watched, see below)

We're watching westerns these days. More on that later.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Altman and Godard



We watched McCabe and Mrs. Miller tonight, another futile attempt to discover what it is that people like about Robert Altman's films. It's certainly not his characters, who though they may be clever are never very likeable. His use of ensemble casts makes the films feel centerless, an effect exacerbated by his persistent and annoying use of simultaneous dialogue -- characters constantly talking all at once -- two, three, four at a time -- making it impossible to catch half of what is being said. While there is a strong and personal visual aesthetic to his direction, I often feel that Altman's misanthropy extends beyond his characters and out to his audience. I don't like feeling hated by an entertainer, or an artist, or anyone for that matter.

While I have learned to like and even love several of Godard's films (all from the sixties -- the rest is garbage, IMHO), I often have a similar feeling about him: he seems to derive more pleasure from trying his audience's patience than he does from engaging and entertaining them. While films like Masculin Feminin, Une Femme Est Une Femme, Bande à part, and Pierrot le Fou expanded my horizons and brought great pleasure, films like Weekend, Alphaville, Le Mepris & Les Carabiniers made me want to set my hair on fire -- and then find Godard and set his hair on fire.

That said, if I had to choose, I'd choose Godard, who at least has a sense of humor. More importantly, I don't think he's a misanthropist the way Altman is. Altman's assaults on his audience are born from a dark, ugly view of human beings, while Godard's are like pricks from a playful gadfly.