(Should prob mention that I learned this from Sonja Sohn’s interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air.)
(Should prob mention that I learned this from Sonja Sohn’s interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air.)
Inside a book of poetry. Perhaps someone was inspired:
It’s easier to apologize
And to forget the blow
Than it is to have to wonder,
to n never to know.
…I just got a couple published over at InfluencySalon.ca. One’s on Ruth Roach-Pierson’s Governor General’s Award-nominated “Aide Memoire”; and the other’s on Susan Holbrook’s “Joy is So Exhausting.” They could be interesting to people unfamiliar with the subject matter. I endeavored for them to be, anyway.
The Awl’s got a great essay up on 808s and Heartbreaks, Kanye’s 2009 lament to his recently passed mother and failed engagement which, the author (Emma Carmichael) makes a compelling case, has revolutionized hip hop. She highlights this video from Kanye’s just-post-College-Dropout days as a parallel to the unguarded feeling he gets at in the album and it’s gr8:
I’ve learned, since I discovered it a few years back, that I can watch this clip many times and never get tired of it. Part of the wonder is merely in observing someone who’s earned the carefully rationed “global superstar” title when he was a relative unknown. It was only shot about seven years ago, after all. But the real draw is that it’s a total recontextualization of a song to which I now know every single word. There’s no beat, of course, and no effect to his voice, either, save for Kanye’s exaggerated nervousness at the beginning. He takes more time to recite his words, pausing for emphasis or relief, and at one point—the 1:50 mark in the clip—he cuts his own rhythm with a faint aside. No one in the audience can interrupt, because no one knows what he will say next.
A few years ago, I sat in a living room next to a very drunk young man who was, along with many of the other young drunk people in the room, shouting the lyrics to “All Falls Down.” When he reached the middle of the third verse, he yelled out the line, “Drug dealer buy Jordans, crack head buy crack/And a white man get paid off of all of that,” and then he turned to me and said, laughing self-consciously, “I always feel so bad when I rap that part.”
In his Def Poetry performance, Kanye ended on the line that always made that particular white person feel very bad. He smiled out at the crowd in a kind of bashful pleasure, letting them hear what he’d said for a moment, and then left the stage. But on the radio version of “All Falls Down,” the line is edited out, so that we only hear, “— —- —- —-, crack head buy crack/And a —- man get paid off of all of that.”
PS – I want to dedicate the following to one Thomas O’Hare of Boston, Mass. Bob your head, B, and enjoy one of the coolest hip hop videos ever (song = Welcome to Heartbreak, track 2 on 808s):
Reggie’s short for Reginald, right?
I posted this video on Sunday. It was recommended to me by my cousin who posted it to my Facebook wall, but that personal detail doesn’t really matter…
There’s something about him that bothers me though, and that especially started to bother me when I heard him interviewed and realized that he’s kinda a pretty white-seeming geek hipster (and by “white” I just mean that when he’s not performing, I wasn’t struck by any strong signifiers in the content or form of his voice that might suggest he strongly identified with anything but the dominant culture, but granted that’s assuming a lot) — anyway, he’s miles away in disposition from the ODB/Afroman schtick he’s playing (entertainingly) at in the video. I wonder if he’s really interested in the content of the forms of music he’s mimicking at all. What’s his point? That you can get to total freedom and adulation by stripping away content? What are we supposed to think of these now-stripped-back forms? Is the thrill you feel watching him the thrill of seeing previously lively and powerfully mysterious forms be captured and sterilized?
Reminds me of the Canadian superstar poet, Christian Bök. who sold
like a million (>25,000) copies of his carnival-trick of a book wherein each chapter was constrained to containing words that only had one vowel — e.g. “Chapter A” could only contain words like “black Atlanta lads lack salad bars” (not an actual quote, but diabetes is a big problem especially among southern blacks, at least partially for lack of access to reasonably priced fresh produce — salad bars for all!).
It was obviously a ton of work — I think he said in interviews that he read the dictionary five times (confirmed by Wiki). He’s clearly and extravagantly clever. I “oohed” and even “aahed” a bit when I first read it. But I went cold on it pretty quick in a very similar way to how I’ve just felt my temperature drop re: Watts. And then when I watched a video debate staged between him and poetic arch-conservative, Carmine Starnino (not-so-implicitly situating Bök as the arch-avant gardist), and when he started taking grand moral stances, I was rubbed hard the wrong way. What he’s advocating strikes me as fundamentally a massive plunge into pure abstraction as a way to escape from any real, difficult, substantive engagement with the world itself. He tries to cover this up by lamenting that there isn’t anyone writing “great work” on the moon landing or the microwave — ’cause it’s apparently the ’60s.
It strikes me as fitting that he should be nostalgic for this era. The year before the moon landing, Habermas comprehensively theorized what strikes me as exactly the ideology of science and technology Bök is proselytizing, diagnosing it as the ideology ordering the supposedly “post-ideological” late 20th Century and spelling out exactly why its endpoint is critically exacerbated fragmentation and alienation and catastrophic communicative paralysis (read the essay, ’cause it’s brilliant).
Instead of bread and circuses, we get tools billed as equipping us for our own self-expression (the content of self taken for granted as an a priori) but freed of all the sociological / historical / political contexts that, in fact, gave their inspirations their meaning and power in the first place — the form of R&B sanitized for our use in self-expression (an end in itself); microwaves that’ll free up time for more authentic living (what “authentic living” is defined personally and privately); the letters of others primed for our own re-purposing (no judgement or discussion of what those purposes might be, ’cause that’s our problem — that’s for “I” — but isn’t it cool that I’m using this other dude’s letters? We can agree on that much, right?):
…if you keep saying ‘I’ and they’re saying ‘I,’ you don’t get much out of it. They’re not really into you, or we, or they; they’re into I. That makes conversation slow.
What’s actually being said in the placard above? Strikes me as not much more than a vague mutual affirmation of the legitimacy of each of Bok’s and Lexier’s “I”s. Playful, but blah. Is there anything in the content of either poem to be learned about the world? That we can re-purpose letters to spell different things? Ever notice that the letters in “banal” can be used to spell “nab Al”? Is there anything to be learned from the poems about them as “you”s? I guess I learned that dude on the left thinks using the same letters makes texts equal. Maybe, but only on the most boring metric in the universe.
So I guess this has all been a complicated way of proposing that we need to think much more seriously about questions like should we really welcome another “innovation” in staging communication without content? Do we really need more ways of avoiding making people confront the “you” or the “we”? Those larger-than-I things out of which we can create larger-than-I meanings or maybe even just a dynamic, engaged “I” (a.k.a., things we might actually no longer have to just fake care about once the fleeting rush of formal novelty wears).
At least Reggie doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Hour after hour
I cower in the dark
I shower in the dark
I cower in the shower
in the dark like a shark
A powerful, power-less, cowering shower shark in the dark
The power returns
A solitary kitchen bulb burns
The refrigerator condenser churns
As do my guts, for I yearn to return
to previous pre-electric concerns
Nonetheless: dusk adjourned
Now, if you could just do
something about my
that’d be great.
Panera’s wifi is
kind of pissing
me off today.
These two guys were huge in defining the Canadian avant garde, and Phyllis Webb was a very well recognized poet in her own right (I’ve never read her, so I can’t really say more than that). Check ‘em out:
Canadians: When was the last time you heard or saw anything like this on the CBC?
It’s pretty wonderful but it’s such a different energy, and there’s a hopeful exuberance that I wonder if anyone can really authentically sustain any more. I certainly can’t. Doesn’t stop me from loving the look of all three of them though.
(Hat-tip to MC on FB)
Great Ideas episode devoted to Phyllis Webb (the host here who was one of the founders of the show) aired a couple weeks ago. Give ‘er a listen if you’ve got the time.
Just spent the week at this place. Aerial view of the island (Wasan, in the middle of Lake Rosseau):
Took about 45 minutes to swim my slow-swimming ass around it.
The island is owned and run by the Breuninger Foundation — a charity created by Dr. Helga Breuninger, daughter of an early 20th-Century Stuttgart department store magnate. They use Wasan to host colloquiums and summits devoted to various health and culture-related causes they support. Not exactly sure I’ve absorbed how I ended up there.
I’ve written before about participating in the Influency poetry salon. One of the core organizers of the salon is a lawyer who, several months ago, ended up facilitating a WHO summit on the island where she connected with Volker Hann — a senior Breuninger exec who lives and acts as host on the island every summer. She told him about the salon, and the magazine that’s spun off of it, and he offered the island for a retreat to try to get the magazine back up and spinning.
I’m working on a write-up on what I took from our discussions, with some ideas on how to bring the site to life and start to build a community around it. In the mean time, I’d be really curious to hear what you guys think, and what you would suggest. Take a look — www.influencysalon.ca — and let me know.
My biggest suggestion is to shift away from such a rigid understanding of what constitutes an “issue” — moving to a format with more fluidity, more foundational stability, and less formal complexity. The content, I think, is pretty amazing, and so is the brand (it’s got good recognition across the Canadian poetry community). And I think they’ve got some amazingly talented content creators involved.
Again, take a look. Love to hear what you think.
Update by Tom: Ahem.
My dear friend Liz met me in front of her apartment two hours after I’d arrived in the city. We talked about our love lives–or lack thereof–over two beers at a swanky bar. We bought chicken and mushrooms and shallots and scallions, went back to her apartment, made risotto and green salad. It was the best meal I’d had since the Central Time Zone. She read me a poem by Frank O’Hara called something like “Having A Coke With You,” which made me feel wistful and regretful and envious and tired all at once. And then it was nine o’clock. I gave Liz a hug and drove to my brother’s apartment. We went to a bar called Moonshine to meet up with my dear friend Maura, and while there a man named Eric decided that he wanted to fight me. Apparently I had gotten in the way of his sister’s game of darts while en route to the bathroom. He seated himself at our table. He talked trash. I had my hand on my knife the whole time.
From my old spot. What can I say? It’s a good poem.