Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Trouble With Ravens: Ted Hughes

Ah, Ted Hughes in his murky, swashbuckling prime...what silver gloom flits behind that heavy stare? He was our Ovid, a trespasser of high consequence, wrapped not only in the skins of different animals, but also in the ideological rags of academia. His metamorphoses conveyed brute power as well as rapture propelled by the clotted energy of his tongue:

He loved to fish, but even there he was mawed by death, the suicides before and after his own death in 1998.
When God, disgusted with man,
Turned towards heaven,
And man, disgusted with God,
Turned towards Eve,
Things looked like falling apart.

But Crow Crow
Crow nailed them together,
Nailing heaven and earth together-

So man cried, but with God's voice.
And God bled, but with man's blood.

- from "Crow Blacker Than Ever"
Last summer the Antigonish Review published a poem of mine in response to Hughes' "Ravens."

The Trouble With Ravens

And its first day of death was blue and warm
--from "Ravens" by Ted Hughes

In Devonshire, where your jaw plucked away
the light, I followed you to the top of the hill
on that first blue day of spring. I was a kitten
slipping on the morning mud. You scooped me up,

your right knuckle whiskery and scuffed like the red
snout of a cow. I felt like Jackie Paper riding the prow
of your neck. How far are we going? I asked. The sky
swung into view dripping with black birds. Ravens you

said, placing me beside a huddle of sheep. I felt
their breathing, a damp bundle of lungs sprung from
the earth. There was blood anchored to a mother's rear,
torn by new life growth. Steam pumped from the pipe

hole. Then I saw the rag-doll of death, strings broken,
a gutted puppet. Is it hurt? I asked as you picked it up
by the hoof. You had done this before. It dangled and
swayed like my bedroom mobile. Then its body ripped

from your clutch, folding down in a heap. I still remember your face holding the dripping limb, sterile as a scrub of moor
you knew once at my age. I'm older now--you're gone,
but your clumsy work remains farming a hole in my head.

- David Kootnikoff

Friday, April 24, 2009

Dion DiMucci: King Of The New York Streets

"Long before John Lennon, Dion discovered the perils of being a working-class hero."- Dave Marsh
"There was an affinity between John Lennon and I - rock n' roll caused our lives."- Dion
I've been soaking up this box set King Of The New York Streets from Dion "The Wanderer," DiMucci, the Prince of the Bronx.

There was something very special about this early rock n' roll rebel - he combined the toughs of a Brando with the vulnerability of a Sinatra in the wee small hours. Classics like "Runaround Sue" or "Ruby Baby" smolder with sex and swagger and like a modern day gangstah he's a bit too wild for this crowd:

Then he delivers the soulful introspection of a James Taylor on later songs like "New York City Song" or "Abraham, Martin & John," a #1 hit in Canada in 1968:

Then there's stoner Dion on "Your Own Backyard," this gem from 1970:

"Now since I've been straight
I haven't been in my cups
I'm not shooting downs, I'm not using ups

You know I'm still as crazy as a loon
Even though I don't run out and cop a spoon
But thank the good lord God, I had enough"
Dion took the bus the day the music died and unlike Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens & The Big Bopper, survived:

"Dion had heard his parents argue for years over the $36 rent for their apartment and could not bring himself to pay an entire month's rent for a short plane ride..."
$36 a month! A working class hero is something to be...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Columbine: Ten Years On

Hard to believe it was 10 years ago today that the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado occurred. Yuko and I were living in Vancouver's West End at the time watching the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia when President Clinton flashed on the screen for a brief moment of supreme absurdity to mourn the victims while forgetting to mention the civilian casualties of "Operation Noble Anvil":

What seemed like an obvious correlation between US military violence and an indiscriminate school shooting was lost on the faces of the pundits and politicians at the time.

There's a new book out, Columbine by Dave Cullen, which I'm eager to read. Cullen seems to make a strong case for media fabrication suggesting that the two murderers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not misunderstood misfits, but ice-cold psychopaths beyond the reach of anyone. In a video Harris made for his parents the day before the shootings he quoted Miranda from Shakespeare's Tempest: "Good wombs have borne bad sons."

I'm not so sure...I wrote "Peaceful Son" in the wake of the massacre, not about it explicitly, but about the issues it raised in my mind.
"When there's nothing to believe you lie 'till you turn blue
When no one listens, silence smothers you
When there's nothing to give you take what you can steal
When you're feeling numb nothing is what you feel"

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Werner Herzog: Ecstatic Truth

I recently watched Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man about the life and death of naturalist Timothy Treadwell. It's a stunning film pitting Herzog's world view of nature as brutish and cruel against Treadwells' more benign one.
"The birds are in misery, I don't think they sing. They just screech in pain."
Herzog constructs a beautiful film about a very disturbing subject. His sympathetic portrait of Treadwell, a guy who obviously had a deathwish, comes from identifying with the young man's humanity by looking beyond his fanaticism and vanity.

As he is in all his films, Herzog is in pursuit of what he has called "ecstatic truth":
"The term 'ecstatic truth' is searching for truth beyond the facts and much deeper than facts; that is something I look out for and Grizzly Man is a very good example of it."
His most recent film Encounters at the End of the World is just as brilliant, but captures nature in a far less brutish mood.

Below is a clip from the 1980 short film, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Torture & Truth: Cheney's Ongoing Role

The New York Review of Books has an excellent essay by Mark Danner, author of Torture and Truth, about the Red Cross and their role in US torture. Danner argues four things now need to be done:
First, that these policies, violating as they do domestic and international law, must be changed — which, as noted, President Obama began to accomplish on his first full day in office. Second, that they should be explicitly repudiated — a more complicated political process, which has, perhaps, begun, but only begun. Third, that those who ordered, designed, and applied them must be brought before the public in some societally sanctioned proceeding, made to explain what they did and how, and suffer some appropriate consequence.

And fourth, and crucially, that some judgment must be made, based on the most credible of information compiled and analyzed and weighed by the most credible of bodies, about what these policies actually accomplished: how they advanced the interests of the country, if indeed they did advance them, and how they hurt them.

If this last point isn't pursued then the use of torture becomes a political football - Obama's rejection of it simply being a policy, not a law. If and when a republican administration takes over in the future, torture, or these "alternative set of procedures," will likely be implemented again.

While the US dithers, it's nice to know the international community isn't just waiting around.

Jane Mayer's piece in The New Yorker, "The Bush Six," reports that a British law professor - Philippe Sands, author of Torture Team - and the same Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzón, who pursued Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, are on the case.

Here's a recent interview with Mark Danner from the Rachel Maddow show:

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Augie March: Free-Style

Self-taught-free-styler, Augie March, a Huck Finn for the 20th century, is a riot of a read and a true inspiration for my writing:
"I am an American, Chicago born — Chicago, that somber city — and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man's character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn't any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles."

Augie's voice picks you up by the curlies and you know instantly that the only course to take in life is to "make the record" in your own way. It's so good Christopher Hitchens thought Augie earned Saul Bellow the 1976 Nobel laureateship almost 25 years after it was published in 1953.

Bellow, who like Mordecai Richler & Leonard Cohen was Montreal-born, died on this day in 2005. With The Adventures of Augie March he captured the humanity of an outsider whose "social mobility has been transformed into a spiritual energy," as good friend and poet Delmore Schwartz noted, "not doomed to flight, renunciation, exile, denunciation, the agonized hyper-intelligence of Henry James, or the hysterical cheering of Walter Whitman."