Sunday, January 29, 2006

I'm really not much for doing politics here--there are many places better, I just watch--but I have to ask: remember all that powder the Democratic Senators kept saying they were saving? Where is it?

What a bunch of losers.

Friday, January 27, 2006

I've been reading a lot of poetry I've been really enjoying, but when I close my eyes, all I hear is "I said get ready,/ cause this ain't funny;/ my name is Mike D./ and I'm about to get money." This has been going on for days. Is that fair?

Inevitably, thinking about the Beastie Boys . . . I was lucky to be old (or young) enough (in high school, then college) to hear them as primarily farce. But look where they went. They kind of remind me of the Beatles; they began derivative, so virtuoistic in their idiom as to be parodic; and then took direction from their virtue (so to speak) and not their idiom. The psychedelic overlap is gratuitous, though it supports what I'm saying.

Why am I thinking about these things? Something must have suggested to my brain I'm still in college. Cue heavy smoke drifting through the room . . .

Just wanted to note that the motion through these lines (which end a poem by Joanne Kyger quoted by Ron Silliman today),

When he dropped us off in the city
He took just one very shapely branch
& left us on the sidewalk

with this huge mound
of drooping greenery and blossoms
and drove away into the night

, especially the weight and pause of and around the fourth here quoted, is wholly admirable.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

If you would like to buy a copy of my chapbook "What Remains," you can do so either at the Poetry Society's website (scroll down to the "2005 PSA Chapbook Fellowship Winners"), where it is part of a set, or from me, where it is signed.

[update] Alternately, you can click the paypal button I've added to the sidebar, just to the left.

I'm starting a new history book, Peter Heather's "The Fall of the Roman Empire." Basically an overview with an eye to arguing that the classic view of the Empire's fall being based on internal contradictions (of economy and morals gathering to weakness in the face of the vitality of the barbarians) is no more than a good story; rather, that the border state German tribes, adopting enough of the Roman economy over the centuries (specifically agriculture technologies which allowed a large population increase along with the usual concentrations of wealth and disparaties attendant on such things), were strengthened and capable of what they did despite continued Roman military and cultural vitality. I'm only 1/4 of the way in, we'll see how it goes.

Here's a relevant little passage (relevant not so much to the summary I gave above as to our country, our time--their military difficulties not even so far away from ours, geographically speaking):

"What did divine favour mean, if not security against defeat at the hands of those lacking that divine favour? The supreme imperial virtue -- again often represented pictorially on coinage as a diety awarding a crown of laurel leaves as this suggests, was one of victory. And any failure to deliver it could be taken as a sign that the current incumbent of the purple was not the right man for the job.

"Imperial spokesmen faced the task, therefore, of angling their accounts of events on the frontier to maintain the required image of imperial invincibility. In early 363, for instance, the emperor Julian took a huge military gamble, leading his army 500 kilometres on to Persian soil right up to the outskirts of the capital, Ctesiphon. The Persian King of Kings, Chosroes, had let him advance, then sprung a trap. The Romans were forced into a fighting retreat all the way back to home territory. By the end of June, when Julian was killed in a skirmish, the situation was hopeless. The Roman army still had 250 kilometres to go, had more or less run out of supplies, and was managing to retreat only about five kilometres a day because of Persian harassment. Julian's successor Jovian -- elected on the campaign -- had no choice but to negotiate a humiliating peace. The Roman army was allowed to depart, but surrendered to the Persians two major cities, Nisibis and Sangara, a host of strongpoints and five border provinces (map 3). But so pressing was the expectation of victory, especially at the start of a reign when the seal of divine approval needed to be particularly evident, that Jovian could not afford to acknowledge defeat. His coinage proclaimed the Persian peace a victory and Themistius [an orator] was trundled out to reinforce the point. The spin-doctor's discomfort is only too evident. The best he could come up with was this: 'The Persians showed that they were voting for [Jovian as emperor] no less than the Romans by throwing aside their weapons as soon as they became aware of the proclamation, and shortly after were wary of the same men of whom before they had no fear.' He followed up with the quip, based on a famous story about the election of the Achaemenid King of Kings Darius in 522 BC, that the -- obviously irrational -- Persians chose their rulers according to the neighing of horses.

" Not a bad effort at a brave front, perhaps, but this was one spin that no one was buying." and so on. [pages 70-71]

This book reads very much like a survey course; a very good one, but it doesn't have the depth of --style? personality? spirit? -- that the Diarmaid MacCulloch did. This one I've had for a day and I'm a hundred pages in, digesting it as I go-- the MacCulloch, usually I could only read 15, or even 5-6, pages, before I had what to digest and ruminate on; had to before I could continue, even for days. His style allowed for more complex association throughout the text. Not that either man is the less apparently learned, and it may be the nature of each discipline--the Romanist I suppose has to reconstruct a whole culture and world out of scattered documents and stories, is more an archaeologist in his/her analysis and less an in-depth commentator than the Renaissance scholar, who shares languages, social structures, Religions, national borders (largely), etc, with her/his subject -- the latter's subject is, more immediately, familiar, so more can be understood as a matter of personality. That said, I think the MacCulloch probably is a rare book in the depth its author managed to achieve an a casual, sentence-by-sentence basis. He also managed to seem very warm and humane, almost familial, which in retrospect is no mean quality for a historian, or at least for them to bring to their text. Comfortably and staggeringly erudite, the very fantasy of what an Oxford prof. would be.

Friday, January 13, 2006

So, more random thoughts, of use to . . . whom? So busy, not so much time to collect the fragments into anything more coherent this week, so here's what I've got:

All an ocean, self-consciousness a region long-traveling swells pass through—perception the region of shallowing limnality, the breakers what we call words. Called words. (and then, looking back, I added:) Those swells, what we choose to fill our consciousness, when choice is an element, which it always is. Which is where the metaphor breaks down; but for that, we are what swells pass through on their way to words, which wash back through, under and into us, away.


I wrote this line, not sure what to do with it:

To kiss you hopeful in the cool breeze of Spring

and then the weather got lovely for a few days--I think it hit 58 degrees on Thursday, here. So maybe it did something on its own (. . . the unacknowledged legislators of the weather?).


before the warm weather kissed us:

A Picture

of emptiness outside the house
satisfied the cold
it was lonely;
the more there was the surer it grew
and as the picture did not change,
it concentrated, diminished:
the icicles dripped
less; the moon hung
static; the river,
so fast,
would trip you at the ankles could you
move yourself to walk there,
down to the park
past branches grown black candelabras . . .
the porchlights and streetlights casting
downward through—as if the stars in repose
were reflection, were a dark
uncomposed, a negative lonely for vision,
an unsecond shuttered . . .


Not too satisfied with my words these days--like racing on stilts for balance, hard to change direction. But my daughter is lovely, and my son astounding, and Dara no less happy than I am; 'sweat of your brow' is right! We are happy.


Rereading Keats' letters, painful to remember the last time I was, because the last time I was was just before Jonah was born. I was mad to write every second I had left to do so whenever I wanted. Recalling what that was like, as a matter of somatic sensation, and feeling the dull exhaustion of now, the not-so-nice part is as the feeling of poetic immersion passes back into tiredness and responsibility. Once passed back again, I'll sleep.

Friday, January 06, 2006


"It's almost like wiping out Carnegie Hall," said the comic Jackie Mason, whose $10,000 reward for the capture of Abe Lebewohl's killer remains unclaimed. "A sandwich to a Jew is just as important as a country to a Gentile."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

As an essentially private person, as this blog has felt less like a private space, and more like a public one, I've been finding it harder to negotiate what to say here, and how to say it. It's almost like the impulse is towards blogging more intimate details of myself/my life, to balance what feels like an increasingly public quality to blogging, i.e. more bloggers, being around longer, people occasionally googling me now because of, I suppose, the chapbook. Nothing so great, but more than one or two ears turned my way can make me self-conscious, I suppose.

Just thought I'd say.

Anyway, reading this story made me remember one particularly stupid string of days in Israel . . .

I was seventeen, and a friend convinced me that spending a month basically homeless in Israel would be a fun thing to do over the summer. So I signed up to go, and then he couldn't for medical reasons, so I went alone. There, I made friends with a few college guys who were trying to tour for as long as they could for as little as they could. The episode which first came to mind on reading Farris's story was alone from them, wandering the Old City of Jerusalem, getting lost in the souk, and finding myself by the Damascus gate, marveling at everything for who-knows-how-long, eventually finding my way back, having this great 'experience,' and then hearing about a German tourist couple getting stabbed there two weeks later, it ostensibly being the 'wrong' place to be.

But then I remembered the days after that . . . the two-day episode now in mind begins at a deserted city (Haifa?) bus stop at around 10 at night, where three scary people had Justin and I backed against a waiting platform wall. There was a sudden sick feeling of imminent violence, where the concrete all around, which normally is barely noticed, at the edge of consciousness, suddenly becomes--concrete--and an awareness of how prevalent concrete is, and how hard it is, and given to angles and unpleasant surfaces. Justin didn't want to give them our wallets, and then a bus out of nowhere neatly fit against the platform, and on we jumped. It was only a handful of seconds, I remember each one. (I should say that I have never experienced physical violence at the hand of another human in my life, the one exception being Q--, three grades older, who in fourth grade taunted me to 'pull down my pants' as I was walking home with a friend, and I turned and charged him with my head like a ram, and got clocked in the jaw and fell to the ground, and he left. There was no time to be scared, or hurt, there, I don't think it did either. The sensation on the bus stop in Israel, and later that night, was very different.)

We arrived at the equally deserted Tel Aviv central bus terminal around 11:30 pm. At this point I wanted to take a taxi to where we were going (I think we had a youth hostel in mind, though maybe we were just going to try find and sleep on a beach). But Justin said walking is free, so we walked. And got lost. The neighborhoods were getting uncomfortably scary, and I think at one point it became obvious at least one person was following us, so when we actually saw an open hotel, we went in and, though it was obviously nowhere near luxe, paid the $45 American for a room and called it a night.

Each floor shared a bathroom. Our floor (the second) had a bathtub full of (literally) shit and a toilet bowl overflowing. Our room had a window that wouldn't close which looked over a low roof, and the bed was equally (and abundantly) covered with dried blood and dried semen. We could hear a man and a woman arguing and, eventually, her getting beaten, soft dull and repeatedly hit. What could we do? We did nothing, I still feel ashamed. I don't think either of us slept an hour, and when morning came, we made our way to the beach and I fell asleep on my back in the sun. When I awoke, I felt delirious and had little white bumps on my chest, sun poisoning. I staggered into the nearest hotel and spent $15 (remember, these are 1987 dollars, and I was 17) on a pastrami sandwich (flown in regularly from Ratner's), and then $150 on a hotel room, where I slept feverishly. Justin crashed on the floor, but wouldn't chip in. So much for my experiment with budget travel.

So that was my stupid seventeen-year-old story. How much of it was true danger, and how much a timid middle-class American foreigner's imagination? Probably a fair bit of both. Nothing like Farris's adventure, for sure. One common conclusion though: fortune favors the oblivious.

So, if anyone wants to dig out their own embarrassingly stupid travel misadventures? I'd like to hear yours.

&: I know mine is super tame. That's part of the charm, or at least the intended charm.

"Like High School, 1975's Death Race 2000 seems to have been willed into existence by the disturbed daydreams of bored teenagers . . . "

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe with Bloglines