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Friday, March 31, 2006

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

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"Mimi loved me but didn't want to see me with Lewis whom she loved more. I loved Mimi, Libby, Lewis and three of my foster children. Libby didn't love Lewis but she slept with him. I loved Lewis and didn't. She did love McCool but I had his body. He loved her but felt guilty because he never loved me and never gave me children. I loved him three times but it wasn't enough for any of us. Lewis could have loved Libby if he had dared but he didn't. He sort of loved me but was afraid to be seen with me. 'Old story. We were trying to become something new'". --Fanny Howe, Indivisible

Fanny Howe is not only one of my favorite poets, but I love her novels too. She has a way of bending the form to shape her needs. I'm always struck with the way she charges her prose with feeling until it seems to bleed on the page. Indivisible was sitting in my on-deck book pile for some time. I recently got to it and was not disappointed.

Indivisible's narrator, Henny, is an independent film maker, lifelong foster mother, and abused wife on a quest for the meaning of God. The narrative unfolds layer by layer, revealing Henny's life, and a cast of characters that make up the walking wounded around her. Missed love connections, spiritual redemption (or a lack of), death, loss, friendship, betrayal, longing, motherhood, social classes, gender politics and racism are issues that Indivisible investigates. Fanny Howe turns over one thing after another, constantly questions, but there are no answers. She exposes dark undersides that sunlight occasionally warms, but the sun inevitably sets and all is dark again. For the characters in this novel, everything in life is just out of reach, beyond their control.

As always with good writing, it's not only what an author writes, but how they write it. Fanny Howe's prose often reads more like poetry: "Heaps not hills and down we roll onto the flat plain, almost badlands, dry-dry and dappled with a variety of cactus red-tipped yellow-tipped or flat purple spatulas dimpling thorns". What a sentence! Howe's technique in Indivisible is to juxtapose time, place and event. At the same time her narrative point-of-view shifts from first person to third person, past tense to present tense. It's hard to keep your reading footing, but the cuts serve the narrative so that the experience is like watching a film. Pieces slowly come together. At the beginning of the book Henny tells us she once locked her husband in a closet with some rations. For the better part of the book, we hear nothing more about this incident. Only in the last section Henny brings us round to this closet scene. It all makes sense and comes together, though not perfectly wrapped with a ribbon and bow. Fanny Howe is too good a novelist for that. There's as much left open-ended. Closure is something you get in lesser novels.

Friday, March 17, 2006

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Universe Narrows is a newly formed Boston area band. Their self titled CD Universe Narrows features Mark O'Connor (recently of Die Electric) and his father JJ O'Connor. Rock and roll has traditionally fostered generation gaps between parents and children. Not for Universe Narrows. In this case father and son dovetail seamlessly and the result is a sound that is retro and fresh at the same time.

Mark O'Connor's old band Die Electric was an edgy rock band--a gritty sound with faint pop undertones. Universe Narrows' sound is clean, the music a synthesis of roots, country, rock and roll. Mark and JJ O'Connor write catchy, quirky, melodic songs with unexpected chord changes. Mark O'Connor is an exquisite guitar player and he plays here with a delicate hand managing to avoid standardized licks. Acoustic and electric guitars complement each other perfectly.

One delightful aspect of the recording is the vocals. JJ O'Connor has a truly unique voice that sounds like it was aged in an old bourbon cask. The harmonies are scrumptious. Lyrics range from funny and uplifitng to dark--often within one song where what seems to be a happy theme has ominous underscoring.

Look for Universe Narrows gigging out a local clubs in spring. Information about the band and their CD is available at www.universenarrows.com. Check 'em out.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

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"Worst movie you've ever seen? Well, my next one will be better".

"If I had the chance I could make an entire movie using this stock footage".

"Is there a script? Fuck no, but there's a poster".

"I don't make movies with stars. I make crap".
"Yes, but if you made crap with a star in it you'd really have something".


Lines like these come so fast in Tim Burton's Ed Wood, it's impossible to keep up with them. I hadn't seen Ed Wood since it was released in 1994. Recently I watched it again and realized what a little masterpiece of comedy it is. Johnny Depp is brilliant as Ed Wood, the man who made such anti-classic films as Glen or Glenda? and Plan 9 From Outer Space. Depp captures the mannerisms and perfect peppy tenor of 40s actors. Tim Burton uses just the right touch--light and silly--in the story of Ed Wood's years hitting up studios, trying to raise money, and making the films that often make critics' lists of worst movies ever.

There's an amazing cast that includes Bill Murray, Sarah Jessica Parker, even wrestler George "The Animal" Steel. Martin Landau won an Oscar for his role as Bela Lugosi who's at once a caricature, and a person. Hillarious as the movie is, there's something pitiful and sad about a man so desparate to be a great film maker, believed himself to be a great film maker, and was once voted "The Worst Director of All Time". Landau's Lugosi is the character who invokes the sympathy that Burton deflects away from Wood.

The movie is beautifully filmed in black and white. Every frame is like a still photograph. The obsessive visual detail is mesmerizing and recalls aspects of Wells. There's a scene towards the movie's end where Wood spies Wells, his hero, in a bar. He approaches Wells and engages him in a conversation about making movies. Wood asks if it is all worth it. Wells responds that it is when it works. It never really worked for Ed Wood, but Ed Wood surely worked for Tim Burton. This is one funny movie. See it if you haven't. See it again if you have.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

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Another terrific event last night at PA's Lounge. The Union Square Poetry series seems to be just what we need in Boston. Not only to break up the winter, but to keep poetry out of the stuffy rooms and stagnant environments of local institutions. As expected, Bill Corbett gave a delicious reading, drawing from his poetry past and present, and featuring poems of Barbara Guest and Anne Porter. It's a curious thing when Bill reads work from other writers, no matter how different the poetry might be from his own, somehow it comes out as if from the same cloth. I sense that if he didn't tell us he was reading Guest or Porter, we wouldn't know. Bill's one of the few poets who ends a reading, and leaves me wanting more. Tyler Doherty down from Philly was a special treat. He read beautifully. His poems are tough and poignant, full of surprising turns. Doherty has a great ear, it was soothing just to sit back and hear his sounds, tones and rhythms make music.

Friday, March 10, 2006

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Bill Corbett delivers some of the best readings I've ever attended. Not only is he a great reader of his own work, but Bill always reads the work of other poets. Could be anyone: O'Hara, Bishop, Wieners, Olson, Moore, Niedecker, Williams, Tu Fu, or even some old blues lyrics. The effect is like going to hear jazz artists who play standards next to their own compositions. This generous correspondence has a way of connecting an artist to a wider context, beyond his/her here and now. Thus the experience of the audience is broadened. Bill reads tomorrow at the Union Square Poetry Series. He'll be reading with a younger poet mostly new to me, Tyler Doherty. See you there.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

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Monday, January 30

Dreaming a lot lately, dreaming at night. Snakes in the gutters feet long and green. Nick Drake in an antique and yarn store at the mall, working and happy that people think he's dead. Living below my grandfather or above my grandfather and stuck there, stuck there. A deck all around the house and a dog rushing toward us, toward Abigail. Woods like where we used to play near Tide Rock.

Green. Green everywhere.
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-Amanda Cook

Gloucester's Amanda Cook is one of my favorite bloggers. Her ongoing journal is a book in progress that must be numbering hundreds of pages at this time. It's a simple story of a life being lived--IN LIVING COLOR.

Amanda Cook writes clean, clear prose that often achieves levels of prose poetry. Her sturdy yet graceful sentences sing. She seamlessly leaps from one time, place, circumstance, memory or event to another. Nothing in her day is too insignificant for consideration. She takes me inside her mind, seeing through her eyes, and at the same time I'm observing from the outside. Her subject matter includes marriage, motherhood, love, friendship, dreams, chores, errands, Gloucester past and present, music, books, preparing meals, recipes, changing diapers, travel, death, loss, sadness and joy, girls night out. One thing leads to the other. Everything counts and is counted.

The writing is brilliant. And at the same time Cook has somehow managed to break down the boundary between life and art. Formal and elegant as her work is, it has an un-literary quality about it. No pretensions here. I get the sense that she finds the same pleasure in writing as she does knitting a shawl or cooking a stew. No more no less. Makes me want to wrap that shawl around me and eat.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

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A while back Ange Mlinko mentioned a band she was hot about. I hadn't heard of The Hold Steady, even though they'd already been praised in ROLLING STONE (whatever that is worth). Not long after, my favorite local college station WMBR from MIT featured The Hold Steady in their Band of the Week spotlight. I was hooked immediately and soon picked up two of their discs: SEPARATION SUNDAY and ALMOST KILLED ME.

The Hold Steady is a garage/punkish outfit--one or two listens and their distinct jarring sound leaves an impression. They certainly don't fit into any commercial playlists up the dial from WMBR. But then again, anything is possible. This is a guitar heavy band, delicious, quirky riffs that thrash and bang their way into my bones. Chord progressions I may have heard before, but never quite like this. The songs are gritty and raunchy, with startling tempo shifts, and quick changes that turn the raucous to slight and subtle, then back. The singer urgently rages poetic lyrics like a machine gun and loads more words per line than seemingly possible. Hints of their ancestors abound--from the Velvets to Nirvana, Dylan to Bruce--but the noise is all The Hold Steady. Deez Guyz Rock!

Friday, March 03, 2006

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When I was in my 20s and 30s, working nights as a waiter and bartender, I had yards of free time during the day. My mornings began with a cup of coffee and a stack of books beside my rocking chair. I read for hours, working my way through the pile which consisted of poetry, fiction, criticism, history, politics, art, literary zines, philosophy and more. There was no order to my reading, one author led me to five that I wanted to explore. Later in the morning I'd listen to music: rock, jazz, folk, blues, classical, country. Again, every composer or band led to the discovery of others I hadn't heard of. I regularly bought books and albums five or six at a time, ever on the lookout for something new. Days off Molly and I frequented museums, galleries, movie theaters, and attended plays, dance performances, rock and jazz shows at area clubs.

Then came parenting. Over the last decade my free time has slowly been eaten away by the responsibilities of raising two children. Meals, laundry, grocery shopping, doctor and dentist appointments, homework, after school activities, play dates.... These days I read one book at at time, maybe two. A book I might have read in two days now takes two weeks. My music listening is down to putting a disc on while house-cleaning a few days per week. I get out to see a rock or jazz show maybe every two months. Further, I no longer have time to be on the lookout for the new writers and musicians. I rely on tips from friends--and more often than not--there are large gaps in time before a recommended cd or book gets a listen or read. I'm thankful for the tips. And have no regrets about parenting at this point in my life. Thankfully I have the energy and take time, though limited, to sneak down to my office and make magic with the language. I'm grateful that in the past I was able to eat my fill. I know what I am missing. I also know what I would have missed without my two daughters. Wouldn't change a thing.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

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George Albon's new book STEP came in the mail. His poems are very dense, mysterious, slow to yield. Eventually they open, piece by piece, into "ragged personal fields". STEP is a long, serial poem. I published some of it many years ago when I was doing LIFT. Good to see it in its entirety after all this time. (The Post-Apollo Press)

Some new titles from Pressed Wafer have just been released:
THIS RENTED BODY by Seido Ray Ronci
THIS CARRYING LIFE by Maureen McLane
Latest Fold-Out: Joel Sloman w/art by Susan Shurp