Archive for the ‘Books’ Category


You’re at your computer. Tickets are a tense, electrifying JBB-Cover-Smallfew seconds from going on sale. Eyeing the time, you’re hitting “Refresh,” and elsewhere, all your friends are doing the exact same thing. That’s Paul Siegell’s jambandbootleg. A widespread, high-spirited head rush. Desperation, fretfulness—all out life-leaping. “The party starts in the parking lot,” indeed. With poems shaped like a guitar, the American flag, even a Golgi apparatus, Paul’s monumental artworks could easily transform into posters. His is a poetry of exploration, heart and astonishment. Simply put: read Paul Siegell’s music. Read it as if listening to the most banging bootleg.


Please check it out here: A-HEAD Publishing, and here: AMAZON

(Amazon’s already on backorder. Oops! But go ahead. They’ll still fulfill it. Pronto!)


“For centuries, people have tried to take words and turn them into music. What Paul Siegell does in his collection of poetry, jambandbootleg, is take music and turn it back into words. And he does it exceptionally well, capturing both the excitement of concert-going and the poetic essence of the improvisational music scene.” —MARC BROWNSTEIN, bass player of the Disco Biscuits


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Kazim Ali’s recent American Poetry Review columns have been stunning. His most recent is a bad-assed belletristic constellation of texts (where he makes a common cadre in media studies—Paul Virilio, Jean Baudrillard, Slavoj Zizek, and The Matrix—meet up with Melville & Dickinson), and it transcends the boundary of a “column” to become an essay.

Ali thus reminds me that 1) poetry magazines are indeed the ideal venue for aesthetically gorgeous and intellectually rigorous essays; and 2) the term “belles lettres” has unfortunately come to be used as a derisive moniker for essays that rely on “long, spooling, New Yorker style stuff” (as the fictional Charlie Kaufman says of Susan Orlean’s work in the film Adaptation). The art of the relevant tangent makes some readers—and teachers of college composition—roll their eyes.

But what if the effect of the artful essay could be similar to the most stunning poems? Or, to twist this line of thought to include the work of Kathleen Graber (check out http://pbq.drexel.edu/issue78/content/prose/1.html ), Ciaran Berry (http://www.siuc.edu/~siupress/berrythesphereofbirds.html ), and Gregory Pardlo  (http://www.aprweb.org/bookprize/pardlo.shtml): what if some of the best poems could be described as essayistic?

All of which brings me back to Kazim Ali’s recent APR column, “Write on My Wall.”

When he uses a riot of texts to ponder the body and its boundary(less)(ness) he makes me wonder about the “boundaries” of literary magazines. Does PBQ reinforce or blur its boundaries when, say, I link to APR?


To Henry Israeli at Saturnalia Books?


Or the Crab Orchard Review?


(All of whom have published my essayistic trifecta above—Pardlo, Graber, Berry).

Online, are PBQ’s boundaries rigid or porous? On one hand we engage in a mutually constitutive game: we reinforce the cred of the sites and sources we link to, and by linking to them we reinforce our own. But we also soften our own edges. Building links into this blog I feel like Whitman’s noiseless patient spider; sending out filaments I conjure a web of ideal works, call our aesthetic into view.  But spider webs are virtually invisible things; you’ve got to cock your head to see them.

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Gotta love the ironies of digital culture. A big fretful debate among publishers is whether the printed word is on the way out. But the first big internet retailer made its money selling books online. Amazon is a great example of what some folk call “convergence culture”— the term is a bit slippery: for some it means the way older media forms appear inside the newest media channels (like books and movies and TV shows showing up online); for others it refers to the way the technologies themselves are converging (that we can watch videos on our cell phones, which double as e-mail devices, and internet sources).

And now the Library of Congress is getting into the game. Check out their digital archives. The LOC has made its Slave Narratives, oral histories, and American Life archives available online. “Nearly 3,000 of the oral history interviews are now available on the Library of Congress’s W.P.A. Life Histories Web site, memory.loc.gov/ ammem/wpaintro/wpahome.html, with more to come.”

Since the late 1970s the Library of Congress has been quietly unpacking and vetting the contents of the WPA’s Federal Writers Project, making the materials available to researchers. During the Great Depression, as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the federal government employed over 6000 poets, essayists, journalists, and writers to interview and document the stories of the nation. Editors included John Cheever, Zora Neale Hurston, Studs Terkel, Ralph Ellison, Dorothy West, Kenneth Patchen and many more. They produced the famed American Guide Series, and they also produced the Slave Narratives. The timing was crucial: social and economic crisis met up with the literary, historical, and sociological imagination of the federally-employed writers. Plus, in the late 1930s the population of once-enslaved people was dwindling. Armed with microphones and notebooks, the editors went out into the nation and collected their stories. The editors also amassed oddball anecdotes and local histories. They believed—even in the face of a culture rife with white supremacy, anti-immigration laws, and the like—that they could celebrate a national culture of diversity. W. H. Auden called the whole project “one of the noblest and most absurd undertakings ever attempted by a state.”

And now all that material is available online. You can download audio files and listen to the voice ex-slave Fountain Hughes.

Take that, Facebook. I got yer “25 Things” right here.

Or, better still:

Dear 21st Century Writer, what should a poet do with those voices? What would a novelist do? Or an essayist?  What would you do? Would you listen? Bear witness? Or…

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ALSO, here’s an interesting look at what it takes to get a manuscript ready for publication, reacting to critics and editing. Pretty funny, too.

Whenever I Am About to Publish a Book… by MARK TWAIN


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I am inspired by Marion to admit that every now and then I notice I am a target.  We who consume a certain amount of media (that amount being quite a bit), especially of the electronic variety, end up with those concentric circles on our backs.  The periodical-addicted, another population that counts me in its number, may sometimes notice the plethora of crosshairs woven into their shirts.  Live in an advertising-drenched market, like, say, the town that told Mad Men what to call itself—you’ll notice the bullseye all the more often.

I refer, less cleverly than I’d like, I’m sure, to that the cross-platform, multi-media, several stage marketing campaign that seems to find you everywhere you go, from the morning’s stumble to the bathroom, to the evening’s quiet repose. Somehow, some algorithm-armed marketer fed all the raw numbers into the machine and it spit out a picture of you.  And so, everywhere you go, you are pitched the new product, told it will go great with whatever it is you already consume, that it is what people like you are forking over good money for these days.

To be clear, I don’t mean one of those carpet-bomb campaigns that hit everyone.  (I’m looking at you, Watchmen.)  I’m talking about the product that isn’t being pushed on most people more than once or twice, but, because of your particular predilections, it’s being waved in your face, from multiple angles, multiple times a day.

This plague befalls me a few times a year.  For a few weeks, I’m inundated with the same ad again and again.  And then, Keyzer Soze-like, the ad is gone.  I’m not sure what the last one was, but I remember Pom.  You know Pom.  It’s that insanely-expensive pomegranate drink that, in some vague way, is more healthy for you than, for instance, falling downstairs into an open box just filled up at the needle exchange.  Antioxidants or something.  When the Good Lord saw fit to bless this earth with bottles of this stuff, the Pom people had their sights on me.  The ads fluttered out of my magazines with the subscriptions cards when I went to my mailbox.  They obscured the articles I tried to read online with pop-up, pop-over graffiti.  They interrupted the rebroadcasts of the Daily Show I used to avoid reality.  People I know—people I liked—told me they had tried it.  I felt like the over-sexed wolf in one of those Tex Avery cartoons.   I could put Pom in a safe, jam it into the cargo hold of an Antarctic-bound plane, take a cab to the world’s tallest building, ride the express elevator to the top floor, lock several doors behind me and turn around… to find Pom, Droopy Dog-like, right behind me.

You’re wondering, perhaps, if I tried Pom.  Of course I did.  I’m not made of stone.  And it was terrible.  Or, if not terrible, significantly disappointing.  I knew it would be.  We all did.  But in the face of so much effort to get the bottle to my lips, I was unable to escape the coordinates locked on me.  I did as I was told.  I poured the intravenous blood-colored stuff down my throat, almost gagging on my own shameful weakness.  You have done this too.  I know it.  You have been made curious.  You have been seduced into believing Pandora’s better treasures are inside that new box of, what is that stuff?, cereal?!   It looks like the stuff I sweep up from under my couch once a year!  How could you eat that?  Ugh.  ….What?…um, yeah…no, I did see that ad during Friday Night Lights…yeah, with that talking bird, yeah….uh, okay…sure, I’ll try a bite.

I write all of this as preamble to the following promise: I will not try the Kindle.

Bezos wants me to have one.  He wants it so bad.  Bezos, I get a strong sense, is staying up nights calculating how he can bump into me on the street and send both of our accoutrement sailing, papers dancing in the wind, so that in all the confusion to get my beloved paper back in the right order, he can slip one into my bag, like a gray, mute stowaway who will become a charmingly fish-out-of-water/beloved companion and win me over, all the while secretly trying to destroy the very way of life all that I hold dear and the livelihoods of professional lumberjacks the world over.

Bezos has gone on the Daily Show to tell me about the Kindle.  He has convinced my friend Jonny to tell me about the one he got as a present.  Bezos has convinced talented comedic writers to insert the word Kindle in the dialog of characters I hold very dear.  Today, he even blackmailed (for that is the only possible explanation) Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, a 21st Century sage if e’er there was one, to start an ongoing conversation—ongoing!—about the merits of the Kindle.

Well, Bezos, if you’re listening—and I know you are—listen to this: No.  Not no thanks.  No.  No Kindle.  No glorified etch-a-sketch.  No fake book that smells like what I can only assume is not a book.   No safe harbor for trees doomed to become the novels I buy and read half of.  I will chop down that tree, pulp it up, print words upon it, bring it to St. Marks Books, pay for it with my credit card and then read half of it all by myself if I have to!  No more wire hangers!  I mean Kindles.

Sometimes you have to take a stand.  Like Mel Gibson at the end of Braveheart.  Or that other time, when he was drunk and said all that Anti-Semitic stuff.  I take my stand here, on the Internet, less racistly, sure, but with no less conviction, and with that same crazed look in my eye.  Because just as Gibson was raised as some sort of Catholic who apparently thinks he is persecuted by Jews even though he’s been paid millions of dollars often by Jewish people to have strange things done to his hair, I was raised a book-lover who will not forsake his Luddite fetishization of printed matter, even if, hypocritically, I declares so here, in the pixelated world of words that do not sit reassuringly on the shelf but instead slip a bit farther down the page every day.  They, Bezos and the Pom people, they’re out to get us, they’ve targeted us, me and Mel.  And we won’t go quietly.

….What’s that?  Rehab?  …Tell you what…you give me a month in that nice one where Mel went, and I’ll give the Kindle a shot.

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I taught a course in advertising history last summer and we spent a lot of time discussing the way “the culture industries” try to train us to see the world. In the 20s, for example, when PR and advertising were new professions, when mass production demanded mass consumption, advertisers tended to celebrate modernity: what’s new is good! They hailed the consumer with a promise of aid: we will help you navigate all this newness!


That soon morphed into a promise of magic: use this product and you will get that job or find that man; drink this beer and that woman’s boobs are within reach! Raymond Williams famously described this “magic system” when he unpacked the way advertising, fundamentally, produced consumers.


I can’t help but think of this history when I watch a film like, say, Hancock— Will Smith’s little super-hero ditty, the one who’s denouement amounted to Hancock making an offer of gratitude and friendship to his estranged mate and her new husband by turning the moon into a billboard.


(I had literally just shown my students a dated documentary – on VHS!—whose dystopian view of the future (it was called, for pete’s sake, Advertising and the End of the World) included a warning about the looming possibility of space-aged, rocket launched billboards. They laughed in class. Then they went to see Hancock).


Product placement has so seamlessly become part of the cinematic ether we fail to see it. It’s there among The Truman Show’s faux ads (Dog Fancy is a real magazine); it’s there in Cloverfield’s rubble (“What are we gonna do?!” “Wait, let me lean against this wall emblazoned with the Sephora logo and let me catch my frantic breath.”)


But Hancock is a special beastie: it makes the viewer want to cheer the logic of advertising in its entirety. Three cheers for the special logic that makes the moon a billboard! And the audience is all warm and fuzzy because our grumpy hero has acquiesced to his calling, has returned to fulfill his destiny, and his sign of peace is to put his new pal’s logo on the moon. (Now, OK, granted it’s not a Nike swoosh. Instead it’s the logo for a non-profit human rights campaign a la Bono and Project Red. But it’s still an ad, sustainable capitalism or not.)


And Slumdog Millionaire is Hancock’s steroidal brother.


Slumdog is based on Q & A by Vikas Swarup, Swarup’s first novel. He worked as a career diplomat, wrote the book in his spare time, and it’s a picaresque, Dickensian romp. As it renders the social hierarchies, institutionalized racism, ethnic tensions, and daily exploitative violence of India, the book unfurls its own conservative slant, pinning the hope of a new/redeemed/culture on the spirit of good-hearted individuals. It leaves the systemic social forces and structures that limit the range of choices available to those individuals unscathed. It seems to argue, instead, that suffering is a function of biography.


But the film version takes this conservative view much further. What do I mean? Swarup’s narrative was far more complex than Boyle’s film: the game show host was a rapist; our hero gets on the show so that he could punish this villain; so, at book’s end, when our hero wins, the villain is punished and the show is destroyed. Slumdog Millionaire compresses multiple major female characters into one, and, more importantly, leaves the game show in tact.


Boyle’s film erases this part of the narrative and makes the film a more obvious love story. It fills us all with feel-good hope, and reassures us that all will be well if we put our trust in reality TV.


(In this way the film reminds me of Kubrick’s adaptation of King’s The Shining. In King’s novel, the Overlook is destroyed; in the film the house remains– Jack freezes to death in the hedge maze. The effect is deeply creepy and implies that the house lives on, its power in tact. A Kubrickian comment on the damage and danger of the nuclear family. But Boyle’s film is a seemingly hopeful reversal, though nonetheless creepy: the TV show remains in tact, fosters our hero’s reunion with his beloved, and gives them enough cash to rise above the social suffering, economic blight, and sex-slavery that threaten to do them in).


Three cheers for the global spread of reality TV!


Magic system indeed.

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Battlestar Galactica Series Finale: great the first time it ended, then fairly disappointing.

The Walking Dead, Issues 13-59: so much better than what you’re reading right now.

Dawn Of The Dead (The Old One): worth your two hours of staring, if only because you would want to get away with that kind of stuff in a mall too.

Night Of The Living Dead (Obviously The Old One As Well):
one of those movies you (I) regret not seeing earlier; also, because of a f**k up by the distributor, in the public domain!

My Now Unignorable Obsession With Zombies: I could totally survive.

Bite Me Best Penne Vodka And Greek Salad: still the best comfort food for a hungov—ahem, overworked man who lives gratefully in delivery distance.

Paul Krugman Vs. Tim Geithner: makes me miss Rocky IV and its 60% montage content… Can we speed this thing up please?  I’m ready for all-celebrity news again.

Newark Shuttle To Port Authority: all the fun of living through a 35 minute earthquake, plus the rich, musky odor of migraine-inducing diesel.

The Diesel Jeans Website:
horribly offensive?  Surely.

Stringer Bell On The Office: what a strange waste.

Sad Cypress By Agatha Christie: quite nearly, but not entirely, a complete waste of time. Not particularly strange though.

My Student’s Papers: vampires, red ink-sucking vampires.

2666: almost as much as Sebald’s Austerlitz, a kind of perpetual motion machine for causing mind to wander hither and yon.

New Orleans Museum of Art Sculpture Garden: waaaaaaaay creepier than anything in The Walking Dead.

My Brother’s New Song, “pretty things happen to me,”: meant, I know, as a joke, but – I can’t help it – just want I need to calm down.

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