(Some of you may remember my Mom, whose first Litkicks piece was about Paul Auster, Franz Kafka and a doll. Lila Lizabeth Weisberger is also renowned in the field of poetry therapy (and whether or not there is any connection between Litkicks Action Poetry and the Poetry Therapy movement remains an enduring mystery). I asked her to write a piece explaining what "poetry therapy" means and how she became involved in the organizations that are trying to spread the word about it. Thanks for sending this, Mom. -- Levi)
When I worked as a school psychologist, I used creative arts therapies with elementary through high school age children. Poetry was an integral part of the group work I did with parents and teachers. I determined to increase my ability to use poetry and writing effectively and to train to become a poetry therapist.
Some of you have seen my wife Caryn's amazing work as a photographer before. She has a taste for surprise and a sharp sense of humor (and if you ever saw a good photo of me on Litkicks, she probably took it). Caryn's participated in some creative community projects on Flickr and elsewhere, and apparently the latest meme in online photography is to do a "365" -- to take an artistic photograph of yourself every day for a year.
1. Natalie Merchant has recorded a double album, Leave Your Sleep, containing her own musical settings of classic poems by Mervyn Peake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, e. e. cummings, Charles Causley, Rachel Field, Robert Graves, Edward Lear, Jack Prelutsky, Arthur Macy, Ogden Nash, Charles E. Carryl, Nathalia Crane, Robert Louis Stevenson and Christina Rossetti. I haven't heard it yet but definitely want to. Natalie will be at the Union Square Barnes and Noble in New York City on April 14 for a talk with Katherine Lanpher.
"Situations have ended sad, relationships have all been bad
Mine have been like Verlaine and Rimbaud
But there's no way I can compare all them scenes to this affair
You're gonna make me lonesome when you go"
-- Bob Dylan, "Blood on the Tracks"
Congrats to everybody who knew the answer. Yes, as one deft commenter guessed, our wayward writers were French: they are Symbolist poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, who were staying at a hotel overlooking Grand Place in the center of Bruxelles, Belgium in July 1873 when their relationship ended ugly.
(Please welcome Mark Cohen, author of Missing A Beat: The Rants and Regrets of Seymour Krim and proprietor of the culture blog Stumbling Into Jews. -- Levi)
Author and literary critic Seymour Krim has fallen off today’s Beat bookshelf. But when he let loose in 1957 with his slanted, rankling, fight-picking essays in the Village Voice he was a Beat, because what else could he be? Especially when he saluted Jack Kerouac's On the Road as his escape hatch from literary criticism, his pre-Beat beat. And then in 1960 he edited The Beats and appeared in The Beat Scene. Still, his first and most celebrated book of essays, the 1961 Views of a Nearsighted Cannoneer, made it clear he was less a Beat than one of the establishment’s casualties (unless that’s one category of Beat). With its foreword by Norman Mailer, and back cover summary of Krim’s publications and death-riddled family history, Nearsighted Cannoneer is torn between sticking its tongue out and making excuses for what the reader will find inside. Krim mined that inner tension his entire writing career, which produced two more collections of essays, garnered him a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, and brought him teaching posts at Columbia and Iowa. Since his death in 1989, Beat anthologies have ignored him. But he still has impressive fans, including James Wolcott, Phillip Lopate, and Vivian Gornick, who called Krim "a Jewish Joan Didion."
I still haven't mentally returned from vacation, still haven't gotten back into the LitKicks swing. I've been running around a lot, actually, as well as working hard behind the scenes on a new software platform for the site that has so far only succeeded in breaking the Action Poetry pages (they will be back soon, I promise). More soon! Till then ... links:
1. I first spotted New York City "character poet" Bingo Gazingo at the Bowery Poetry Club in 2002 doing a crazy improvisation about his lust for an R&B singer named "Mariah Canary". I then caught many more unhinged performances at the Bowery by this elderly Queens rhymer, who, I'm sorry to hear, passed away on New Years Day. The world of poetry may not long remember Bingo Gazingo, despite a brief long-ago moment on MTV, but I hope every poetry nightclub in the world has a weird old geezer like him around to liven up the room.
2. "We are not slumming here, or surrendering to the carnival of the web. Quite the contrary. We are hoping to offer an example of resistance to it." Really! Just by showing up, they're going to do all that? The New Republic has launched it's new book section The Book with a big blast of self-congratulation.
5. Jim Morrison's favorite beatnik cafe.
7. Rani Singh, an old friend, has finally published a book about the oddly great Harry Smith.
10. Scott Esposito ponders writers vs. commentators.
11. The Millions asks a few bloggers to name the best literary readings they'd ever attended. It's a good question, and I had to pause for about three seconds before coming up with my own answer. Then I remembered seeing Allen Ginsberg. The kind of full-body, whole-soul performances he delivered -- funny, dead serious, totally in the moment -- set a standard for me that no other performer has yet matched.
LitKicks is on vacation (with some new software under construction) until the new year, and nothing's going to bring me back today, not even a NYTBR featuring the latest J. M. Coetzee plus Rick Moody on Led Zeppelin. Instead, here's our annual Action Poetry end-of-year retrospective. Please click to read a randomly selected poem. See you in the new decade!
I don't know if Suzanne Vega is widely known today, but in the 1980s she had a cool artistic presence in the music scene something like Ann Beattie's cool artistic presence in the fiction scene. I've never read her prose before, and her McCartney article begins with surprising banality, expressing something we've heard many times before:
I was one of those little girls who loved the Beatles in the 1960s. Yes, Paul was my favorite Beatle back then, with Ringo in close second place. As I got older I appreciated John’s wit and George’s spirituality, but it all started with Paul and his dark beautiful eyes.
Vega isn't blown away by the book she's reviewing, and her article begins to walk a strange edge as she accuses Carlin of predictable writing even as her piece struggles with over-familiarity. She is funny, though, about his pretentious touches:
Why are shores always untrammeled? No one ever seems to write about how trammeled most shores actually are these days.
Can't argue with that. Vega never locates her book-reviewing voice (exclaiming "This is good stuff!" after citing a passage that isn't even particularly good just doesn't fit the NYTBR style guide), but she does begin to assemble a convincing case against Peter Ames Carlin's biographical skills, as when Beatle friend Astrid Kirchherr is "described as an 'inspiring photographer' when the context would seem to imply 'aspiring photographer.'" Ouch.
Vega easily establishes her knowledge of Beatles trivia (I'm a bit of a Beatles know-it-all myself, but I'd fear going head to head with her in a trivia contest) and one wishes to know how well she might have written this piece if she'd been impressed by the book she read. Paul McCartney's own creative brilliance is unfortunately completely absent here, and it's also confusing to learn that Carlin's mission in writing this book was "to present McCartney as more artistically and intellectually complex -- and more ambitious -- than the sweet and bubbly caricature we have known." An excellent earlier biography of Paul McCartney by Barry Miles called Many Years From Now established this point, and was especially strong on McCartney's strong connection to the London experimental lit/music scene that produced bands like Pink Floyd and the Soft Machine in 1966 and '67. We naturally assume that John Lennon would have soaked in this scene, but it was McCartney who took it all in.
I don't know who Nellie McKay is, but her review of Philip Norman's biography of John Lennon is one of the cleverest articles I've ever read in this publication. Rather nervily and without explanation (though the Book Review editors provide one) she writes her entire piece in the punny, bawdy, slangy and James Joyce inspired language John Lennon used in his own books In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works. It's nice to see McKay paying tribute to these underrated books, and her impression of Lennon's style is uncannily great. I don't even know if Lennon played his own game this well. Here's McKay on the Beatles' early days:
Deforming a band took conservatives and phunning. Larfing with skittle and covers meant going unheard in a confession where the violence is everything. Timbers flewed in and stout based on the penance they played, their ingrationship with other cads, and hairpile.
The article is a real performance, and McKay even manages to use this mangled language to lecture author Philip Norman (who she refers to as "Phyllis Diller", while she calls The Life "The Wife") on his glossy understanding of World War II:
... over 60,000 couscous objectors in Bitbum abourne hardly inflies universal constant, and the fomming of Heroshimmy and Maserati, nevermin ye Humbug and FloJo, nevermin the cursed use of napalm and kernment camps, sugar this a rather glib point of view.
Indeed, and indeed Norman's "minions on songs ar argibabble" too, though McKay ultimately likes his book. Forget the book -- I love this article. Her reviewer's credit mentions that the most recent Nellie McKay album is called "Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day". I am going to be buying this album.
Unfortunately the disparity in style dooms the Book Review's musical experiment: there is no harmony between Vega's sensible brief and McKay's creative swoop. Another minor chance for harmony is missed when Lisa Scottoline reviews Elysa East's true-crime story Dogtown -- Beatles fans will recognize "Dogtown" as the title of an excellent song by Yoko Ono, but this goes unmentioned here.
The rest of the Book Review takes second place: a Jeannette Winterson cover piece on a biography of Patricia Highsmith that doesn't interest me because I've never read Patricia Highsmith, Liesl Schillinger managing to avoid cracking Roman Polanski jokes in a generally favorable review of Jim Harrison's The Farmer's Daughter that scolds him for his views on inter-generational sex, and an enticing introduction to Marie Ponsot's Easy by poetry critic Stephen Burt.
1. S. A. Griffin, a Los Angeles poet, actor, beatnik and longtime friend of LitKicks, is going to be filling the shell of a bomb with pages of poetry and touring the USA with it in 2010.
2. Here's another bombshell: the conglomerate that publishes Kirkus, a book review magazine, has been unable to sell it and will shut it down instead. Kirkus has a big presence within the book industry because it publishes early capsule reviews of many books, and is only known to most readers as the source of countless back-cover blurbs. It's unclear where publishers will now go to fill this back-cover blurb space. Here's more on the Kirkus shutdown from one of their freelancers.
It's a funny thing about book reviews. It's been documented by publishing industry researchers that a negative book review can sometimes bump sales as well as a positive one, and good writers have bemoaned the fact that a great review, even a great front cover review in the New York Times Book Review, might not help sales at all. Of course, publisher incompetence can help cause the latter situation, as was recently revealed in a rather shocking New York Magazine interview:
So the book got on the cover of The New York Times Book Review and I called my editor and told him and he said, "Well, you know it will be a critical darling, but it won’t sell." And he had been saying all along that it won’t sell and I thought, what in the fuck is the matter with you? Are you kidding me? If it’s gonna sell, it’s gonna sell. Every newspaper in the country has reviewed it. Then it was sold out on Amazon for six weeks, and the reason is they refused to print books. I kept saying to him, "You could be selling so many books in Des Moines, Iowa, in Lincoln, Nebraska in Denver, Colorado, all these places, where people read, where there are great independent bookstores," and they kept saying, "No, mostly I think we’re going to push this in L.A. and New York." I thought, you dumb fuckers. Meth is not a problem in New York except for in the gay community, but it’s a problem everywhere else. But there was this feeling: "Well, yeah, but people out there don’t really read."
-- Nick Reding, author of Methland (reviewed in NYTBR July 5 2009)