The poetry post was taken down over night spirits the rules of cultural worm tongues relevance ad hoc heresy. Kicked to the ground old fashioned paper pages bestrew the weeds of diction and grammar. Who put up the poetry post unknown nor who kicked the post down still cadence broke at the base cracked where it entered the yard near the sidewalk free for passersby to read not the news and certainly nothing about a poetry post pushed over in the night nor who picked up the pieces and raked clean any evidence Who put up the poetry post unknown nor who punched the post's still cadence broke at the base cracked where it entered the yard near the sidewalk free for passersby to read not the news and anyway nothing about a poetry post pushed away in the night broken where entered the ground empty the post head where displayed a page a day now empty abandoned unfulfilled leaning fallen pushedfall
Readers who like unlikeable characters will love Binnie Kirshenbaum’s Lila Moscowitz. Lila is stubborn, spoiled, angry, bitter, promiscuously self-destructive. And, frosting on the cake, she’s a poet. That’s not to say she’s without redeemable qualities. She’s funny, hilarious, in fact, a natural wit, and as honest as a person can be without losing all of one’s family and friends and readers. Her humor is laced with sarcasm and irony. She’s quick, street smart and intelligent, independent. Experienced readers will recognize that Lila is not Binnie, that the narrator of a novel should not be confused with the author. This narrative truth is emphasized toward the end of the book when Lila takes some questions after a poetry reading:
“‘Did you really dance topless at the Baby Doll Lounge?’ Another one of the college girls is contemplating a career move, no doubt.
I smile as if I’ve got a secret, and I say, ‘I refuse to answer on the grounds that it could incriminate me.'”
Lila may be a poet, but she’s not stupid:
“That I never danced topless at the Baby Doll Lounge or anyplace else either is not what they want to hear.”
Does she “write every day,” another student asks, and Lila pretends for the audience that she does write every day. She’s then asked “how much money do poets make?” Here she tells the truth (192-193).
But while the perspicacious reader knows Lila is not Binnie, we all know that poetry does not sell, so why not only does Binnie put “poetry” in her title but structures her book with poetic devices, informing each chapter with epigraphs, definitions of poetic conventions? Didn’t she want her book to sell? The answer has to do with wheels within wheels, or how to turn a stand up routine into literature:
“Many of the poems I write are about sex. I have a gift for the subject. The ins and outs of it. My poems lean toward the sordid side of the bed, the stuff of soiled sheets” (21).
We don’t get to hear those poems, but they apparently are full of the tension created by want harbored in inhibitions freed in seduction, romp enclosed in forms, procedures, praxis, which express mores without which somehow sex is not nearly as much fun. The fun is enclosed in a box of gravure etchings. The notion of form as enclosure is conservative. The poet might want out, not in. Lila’s own explanation might solve both Binnie and the reader’s questions:
“There is freedom within the confines of form the way a barrier protects you from the elements of disaster. The way there is love in the bonds of marriage. ‘Without boundaries, you can be only adrift,’ I say. ‘Lost. Without lines drawn on the map, you are nowhere. It is better to be a prisoner of war than to be without a nation, a place, a people'” (194).
Jesus may have said the opposite – Come, follow me, and leave all that nonsense behind. Of course, most of his followers wound up wanting it both ways.
“Maybe they should stay in their cages and sing their hearts out. Unbridled passion…results from being tied to the bedpost” (194).
Which is to make of Lila a dynamic character, one who’s changed over the course of the work. She finds love only by losing love. She’s human, fallen, having slipped on her own banana peel, but she gets back up, and writes a book that stirs and calms the forms.
Pure Poetry, by Binnie Kirshenbaum, a novel, Simon & Schuster, 2000, 203 pages.
“Talk” is another book acquired some time ago but left initially unread, sitting in a stack on a table, even reshuffled, as if for a game of solitaire, or as if it needed to thaw or season before consuming, opened for a few bites but put back down for something else, but when picked up again finally found its taste delightful, finished, and thoroughly enjoyed. And nothing will do but I must talk about it. Did I pick “Talk” out of the free library book box down on the corner? I don’t recall, and it doesn’t really matter except that I’ve started these short short reviews here at The Toads I’m tagging “Lit Crit Shorts,” though they are not proper reviews, as was discussed off-line after my posting of an LCS of “The Ant.” By proper is meant the reviewer talks mainly about the book in hand, gives it a few stars, or fewer, to indicate degree to which it was liked or is being recommended: ***** or *** or *. Of course you can like something without it at all being good or good for you. In any case, I’m not interested in writing that kind of review. But neither are these so-called Lit Crit Shorts an original form. The New Yorker in a weekly feature publishes four “briefly noted” book reviews, single paragraphs, an art form in its own right. Clear and concise sentences too, unlike the ones you’ll likely stumble over here at The Toads, like miscreant directions in an unfamiliar part of town. Not that I can’t write a perfectly navigable sentence or a proper book review, one that will get a reader home safely. And there are templates for that sort of thing. Plates that match. And how do you cast something without a mold? Still, it’s the reflective, personal (as in personal essay) response to a reading I’m interested in, not a discussion of whether or not the thing holds true to a tradition or has lit out for some territory previously uncharted, though of course that’s important too and there’s no reason it can’t be included, in any form desired. Authors of course, their publishers and company, are interested in reviews that will cause their books to fly off shelves. Click here to order now! But if someone is not likely to read your book, why would they read a review of your book? And if they are going to read your book, why would they want to read a review of your book? Likewise, I won’t watch movie trailers, unless I’m not going to see the movie. And I’m not just talking about spoiler alert here. I love reading TNY “Briefly Noted” reviews, yet in some 50 years of reading The New Yorker, I’m not sure I’ve ever ran out and purchased a book as a result of seeing it “Briefly Noted.” I’m probably an exception here, but I’m not sure that readers of book reviews are the same readers as those of the books. I read book reviews for the book review, not for the book. And longer reviews demand, or should require, a degree of research the common writer is not likely qualified to conduct. And, yes, if there is such a thing as a common reader, why should there not also be someone called a common writer? We don’t all need or want to be specialists. The generalist can bring to a study a perspective the specialist is too close to envision. But the ease with which we are all able to opine these days calls for double checking of a speaker’s ethos, logos, and pathos – their means of persuasion, an ability to read into a speaker’s presuppositions, assumptions, and biases. And it does indeed appear, alas, the ability to check independently for reliability, credibility, authority – in short, to check sources – is startlingly uncommon. We don’t need to crave facts, or only facts, there’s no fun in just that; it’s good to able to deconstruct a statement to its constituent parts, to read the book in a bumper sticker. That is what mechanics do, and what readers ought to aspire to do. A prerequisite to talking about books is the ability to listen to a book, and it’s hard to talk and listen at the same time. You can follow that link, btw, to a New Yorker Page Turner book review from July 1, 2015, where the reviewer, Molly Fischer, finds the novel “Talk” “weirdly arduous.” It reminded her of Sartre’s play “No Exit,” where hell is described as “other people,” of which there are three, same as Rosenkrantz’s “Talk,” though Sartre included a valet. I also thought of “No Exit” while I was reading “Talk,” but I didn’t find reading “Talk” any more arduous than watching the TV sitcom “Friends,” which Stephen Koch suggests in his introduction to the 2015 copy might be a successor to “Talk.” I did think of tweets and today’s social media and the like, which Molly also tangents into, but only because of their notable absence from “Talk.” I liked “Talk” because it was written around and takes place in 1965, on the beach, with little to distract the characters but the distractions of their own making. They indeed come of age in an existential time and place, with the privilege of being able to make their own choices, and make them they do, with one another’s help through the knack (dare I say art) of talking and listening. And “Talk” is interesting for not only what is said but what the characters don’t talk about, or talk very little about. They no doubt would have very few followers on a social media platform like today’s Twitter. Their talk isn’t about nothing, in spite of its being existentially grounded. “Talk” reminded me also of Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Waiting on the beach, “Talk” might have been subtitled. “Talk” I recommend especially for readers who today might be around the age of 30, as well as for readers who may have been somewhere in their formative years in the mid 1960’s. “Talk” is a modern classic.
Won’t you please tell me your rules,
style flaws that send you over the edge,
your conjugations, constructions, con-
junctions, your clauses and marks
memorized, when to be and not to be,
double negatives and things dangling
in white space and other wedded dark
matter; for I will find immense
pleasure in breaking & trashing
the etiquette of your ways & days.
Nomere Ana R. Chist
It was last April, in a piece titled “What is Essential,” we again mentioned John Cage, then in the context of the pandemic quarantine discussion:
In John Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing,” we find the following comment: “It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else.”“What is Essential,” April 24, 2020
Of course, some places are more irritating than others, some conditions worse, but it seems common to living in any means people like to get away, out of town, go up to the cabin, drive out to the beach, go camping, sail the seven seas, see the world, go somewhere, anywhere, but somewhere else.
Not talking here about those forced to leave home, from war or famine or wildfire or flood, abuse or political upheaval. Catastrophes are not “irritations.” A catastrophe is sudden and overturning; an irritation is slow and creeping, an itch one can’t quite reach. An earworm. One can live with any number of irritations, but one can not go on as before during or after a catastrophe. “Would like” suggests preference, unrelated to need, not desperate, but a privileged choice.
“Where should we spend the weekend, in town or in the country?”
“I don’t know. I’m bored with opera.”
The COVID19 virus affects different people in different ways, depending on predicament, but literally everyone on the planet Earth has been affected, to one extent or another, slightly or severely. Wouldn’t it be nice to get away? Maybe that’s the attraction of Perseverance, of Mars, of space travel.
“Earth is irritating.”
“Let’s go to Mars.”
“I’ll book a flight today.”
Can a simple irritation, almost unnoticeable until all goes quiet, grow into a catastrophe? It seems unlikely. Irritations come from within; catastrophes come with the wind. There’s talk of getting “back to normal.” That too seems unlikely. In fact, in any case, wasn’t there something particularly irritating with what was considered normal?
Part human, part deity, these working gods are restless. What happens when one wants out? Episodes of a god on the run, “Inventories” is now available in paperback book format. “Inventories” first appeared here, at The Coming of the Toads, near daily installments over several months in 2020, a quarantine exercise. The text was revised for this book publication first edition.
ASIN : B08VM82YRK
Publisher : Independently published (February 2, 2021)
Language : English
Paperback : 190 pages
ISBN-13 : 979-8702891125
Item Weight : 9.4 ounces
Dimensions : 5 x 0.48 x 8 inches
The furies fly in from the desert, weave like wasps from their cool eve nests, disturbed and attracted by bile, envy, and insolence. One lands in the ear canal: “Erinyes, erinyes,” echoes from one side of the head to the other. She stirs the wax and lays her eggs. It’s a cuckoo wasp, emerald and gold. She’s got hold of your thoughts her young will eat away, furious and urbane.
We often wax wasted writing what to write, how to write, why write at all. A refreshing sidebar might discuss where to write. We could compose while walking, a kind of no place to write, or allplace, which Wallace Stevens did, composing lines, poems, in his head as he walked from his rather palatial home through local paths through the park to his desk at the Hartford in New Haven where he transfigured from poet Wallace Stevens to Wally, Claims Manager. He wouldn’t forget his words from his morning walk commute. Hemingway said he could write anywhere, though maybe we are not as good writing in some places as others. In Cuba, Papa wrote standing up at a typewriter placed atop a casement or podium. During the war, Jacques Prévert wrote at sidewalk cafe tables in Paris, the leaves falling, one imagines, weather also being a kind of place, or, as Hemingway points out, place being a kind of weather. In any case, we sit down now to write this post in new writing digs. We have three choices of where to write in our current quarantined predicament, apart from the ubiquitous pocket notebook which with pen goes everywhere, for unlike Wally, we are poor at remembering our words, and must write them down or they disappear like birds out of the corner of the eye: the basement, the main floor, the upstairs. Since we write using an electric, we need to be near an outlet, and since the basement in winter is often damp, our choices where to plug-in quickly diminish to two. The living room is comfortable, with couch, no television, much light from windows, with a limited view of the sidewalk and street through the twisted branches of a giant rhododendron Cynthia. The kitchen is nearby, coffee refills within easy reach, and Susan will not have come down yet, and we sometimes gas up imagining what she might be dreaming, fuel for priming the writing carburetor. But we’ve moved to the upstairs back bedroom, now sitting at an old oak desk, three drawers on the right, a wide thin drawer across the sitting space, a pull out board on which in the old days someone might have set a manual typewriter. This desk is quite heavy, solid panelled sides and front, such that it must have been intended to sit in an open space, not against a wall, and it’s difficult to move around. It creaks complaints in various seams when jostled, and probably won’t withstand any more moves down the stairs. We’ve had it, at one time and another, in the basement and in different rooms on the main floor and upstairs. It presently sits at an angle off center toward the middle of the room, affording a view out a wide window facing east-northeast, over roofs and growing trees in the foreground, buildings nestled in trees and streets, lit at night, and, farther out, the opening of the Gorge, the Washington hills tapering down from the north, the Oregon Cascades steeping sharply down from the south. In the distant sky, airplanes can be seen coming in for landings at PDX. Down in the yards, closer in, birds are seen fittering, frittering, flittering, fluttering about: crows in the tops of the firs, flickers and jays lower down, hummingbirds, all sorts of bushtits and the like, flocks of them. The occasional racoon or possum at dawn or dusk, coming or going, though one must get up from the desk and go to the window to see those. This view is a distraction. This is not a good place to write. Back to the living room. One can’t get any writing done upstairs with a such a view that all one wants to do is to go out and fitter with the birds, not sit in and write.
“nothing but the music” (2020, Blank Forms Editions, Brooklyn) is a kind of compilation, a box set, of pieces composed by Thulani Davis over the years 1974 to 1992, lines written while listening to live music or reflecting on the experience of an avant garde art form as it’s happening, and before it might be neutered by mainstream commercialization too influenced by those with control of the means of production. Most of the Davis pieces appeared in poetic form in alternative press issues over the years and some were set to music. The scores are informed, and may be read with reference to, performance and theatre, jazz and punk, R&B, and mixed forms or art form synesthesia, the courage and risks found in the places music is born, but the rewards too of achievement, however much that success may appear to some as failure. The music’s codification (its reliability, approvals, its aesthetic argument) might be seen in the cost for a ticket to get in: $20 – for a 63 page paperback, made possible in part by support from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Is the music now artifact? The oral argument, written or recorded, becomes a document. What the music feels like, in words, what it stands for, and stands against. The importance of the work, these pieces, these entries, is found in the subtitle: “Documentaries from nightclubs, dance halls & a tailor’s shop in Dakar.” Or, in the words of the book’s epigraph:
“to the artists
& dharma guides
who coax us
minute by minute
from retold pasts
& possible futures
to the present
Each piece is sourced at its end with a date and location and often the names of the musicians. For example: “1982, CBGB, New York”; “April 27, 1977, The Rogue & Jar, Washington, DC. The players: David Murray, Hamiet Bluiett, Charles “Bobo” Shaw, Fred Hopkins. The poet: Ntozake Shange”; “April 15, 1975. Five Spot, New York. The Cecil Taylor Unit: Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Lyons, Andrew Cyrille.” That last piece just cited, “C. T. At The Five Spot,” begins:
“this is not about romance & dream
it’s about a terrible command performance of the facts
of time & space & air”
…and moves on:
“ripple stamp & beat/ripple peddlin’
stomps taps of feet slick poundin’ out
tonal distinctions between/keys & sticks”
“I have heard this music(22-23)
ever since I can remember/I have heard this music”
If music is a cultural argument, an aesthetic fight, it must come complete with a thesis statement about which some will disagree, backed with claims with examples, illustrations, supported with evidence and sources. It’s not enough to dress the part and go punk for an evening; one must want to be hardcore punk, and harder still. The wall does not give way so easily. It’s not enough to listen to the radio or buy the recording; one must enter the mosh pit. Who can survive it?
“the punks jumped on the stage
and dove into their friends
let their chains beat their thighs
the crowd thought death
in two-minute intervals
heavy metal duos and creaming murder
the band of twelve year-old rockersfrom “Bad Brains: A Band”: 1982, CBGB, New York
wished they could do it
come like that on the refuse
of somebody else’s youth”
We find, in “nothing but the music,” in addition to the music itself, criticism, analysis, reaction, conclusions, as well as questions for further research. What happens when the avant garde becomes tradition?
“Not just history not just Tranefrom “T-Monius”: February 17, 1982, 122nd Street, New York (50-51).
No not what we heard about
What we heard
Just what we hear
It always being night
We’ll still be there
Dancing the dissonant logic
Just playing music
He speaking to himself
Really paying us no rabbitass mind
Digging what himself was doing
T-monius and ‘al-reet'”
In a life of disenfranchisement, art may be the only place to find certain freedoms: of expression and voice, enjoyment and creativity, play and work coming together in a spirit of desire and interests, not of servitude or boredom, and where one may object to a status quo in a statement with examples of new possibilities. And beauty, where beauty may come to rest, looking tired and worn out, where she can mix with the crowd and feel at home and dig the music. And truth hangs out in the rhythm section. Some hep young cat might ask, “What was it like?” And the answer is important, how we answer, what we say, what we hold back. We are old now, and passing, older than we ever imagined. You can’t breakdance at 70 like you could at 17, Cornel West said in his ten minute section of Astra Taylor’s Examined Life: “Time is real.” Yes, and you can find it in the music:
“giving a spring to the danceX-75-Vol. 1, Henry Threadgill “Side B (Air Song/Fe Fi Fo Fum)” (31-32).
of who we are/unexpected beauty
beauty we have known ourselves to be
like reaching old age & infancy in a breath
of this is the music
knowing we can’t be us
& be afraid of who we are”