Sunday, December 28, 2008

Commercial complaint #1: Jared

The elections long over, we have since been inundated with commercials advertising all those things we just have to have (or worse, have to buy for someone else) in order to live happy, fulfilled lives. But it is time for us to protest, especially in this economy, commercials that are worse and more dangerous than even the lies politicians spend millions spreading. I start with those for Jared the Galleria of Jewelry.

The Jared commercials hinge on one phrase: “He went to Jared’s.” This is repeated until it is rolling around in your head like a song your teenage daughter plays so loud, her bedroom door cannot stop it. And like such a song, you can’t avoid it or its message.

I wouldn’t mind these commercials so much if they operated on that time honored bit of fallacious reasoning so often used commercials: that the brand or store or item is so high class, and everyone should want it. That faulty reasoning is bad enough, but easy to see through.

No. These commercials all have a woman saying the line as if Jared’s is only place a man better go to make the love of his life happy. If a man gets any other present at any other place, then he is a terrible husband/boyfriend/father. Nay, he is an awful human being and deserves nothing but scorn.

Many of these commercials feature some oaf of a man who presumably has not gone to Jared's. Now this man’s wife will not speak to him. His girlfriend looks at him as she has just caught him molesting children. The man usually looks sheepish and foolish, as if one could not expect anything from him but a combination of ignorance and evil.

Commercials for this store have grated on my nerves a long time. When I first saw them, I told myself that if I was ever rich enough to buy my wife a lot of jewelry, I’d never go into a store with that sort of commercial. Now I believe these spots are irresponsible in this economy. This year, Christmas buying was down quite a bit, as people have to think about feeding their families and purchasing medication and making their house payments, instead of buying cars and jewelry and high end toys.

But no matter what the economy is like, I wish no one would buy products from such a place that continues the metaphorical castration of the American male.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Music notes--Keith Jarrett at the Blue Note

I think the moment I realized I was into serious jazz was when I was in my car listening to a tape I’d found in a bargain bin from The Keith Jarrett Trio and heard their 26 plus minute version of “Autumn Leaves.” Every note of that song sounded right, and I think I knew then that this music separated the faux jazz from the real thing. While some could play for three minutes and still have a song that should be two and half minutes shorter, the good stuff was worth each moment spent listening.

Lately, I’ve been listening to the box set that this tune came from: Keith Jarrett at the Blue Note: The Complete Recordings. These sessions with Jarrett’s “Standards” trio were recorded in 1994 and are an amazing achievement. Jarrett is, of course, in fine form, but his band mates, Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, play tasty licks that made me, as a newbie to jazz, pay better attention to the music I listened to afterwards.

Most box sets are too expensive for me, particularly when I realize that with many, I listen a few times and then they sit for years at a time. Sometimes I pass a box set by because I may already have most of the songs on other album, and can get the extra tracks digitally. But this is a project that holds up no matter how often I listen. It sounds as fresh as exciting as the first time I heard that sweet intro to “Autumn Leaves.”

As well as Jarrett’s trademark solos (and yes, a bit of the excited utterances), one finds some of the most enjoyable and interesting interpretations of jazz classics like “Days of Wine and Roses,” “How Long Has This Been Going On,” “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Straight, No Chaser,” and “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” There are also some fine Jarrett originals, such as “No Lonely Nights” and the irrepressible “Bop-Be.” This project is testament of all that is good about jazz and all that is good in music.

Music notes--Somewhere Before


Maybe it is just me and the holiday season, but the cd Somewhere Before reminds me of the Vince Guaraldi Trio. I have enjoyed it, but there is that feel.

What is fun about the disc is the forays into ragtime and blues that Jarrett would later meld into his interesting and unique style. On “Moving Soon,” one gets a taste of the “free” improvisation that, again, Jarrett would later perfect, but here is a bit raw. However, we do get the fine work of two of the greats in the jazz: Charlie Haden (bass) and Paul Motian (drums). Though this isn’t the best work I have heard out of Jarrett, it is a nice addition for the collector, and does show some of the promise to come.

Along with this disc, I found four tunes from a package called The Dylan Concert, I assume because there are covers of “My Back Pages” and “Lay Lady Lay.” “My Back Pages is also on Somewhere Before. Both discs are live albums. A couple of the reviews I read of these discs were not too kind concerning the covers, but I did enjoy both versions of “My Back Pages.” The latter disc does contain a “free” piece with Jarrett on the saxophone, a bit of treat for me, but something that is not likely to win over the casual fan.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Publication Notes--December 2008

I haven't submitted a lot lately. With eight classes and a full family schedule, it has been hard to stick this year to my resolution of sending something out at least once a week. But that doesn't mean that the rejections have stopped. I even got one for a batch of poems I sent out two and a half years ago!

It is also strange that most of the recent publications have been with work I wrote some time ago. Electric Velocipede recently published my story "Partita for continuo". Click here for an excerpt. I'm fairly sure I wrote this piece when I was in graduate school.

And I realized how busy I've been when I discovered that another story, "Down at the Twenty-five," had been featured in the December 1 issue of Fiction at Work. I wrote this story some time in the years between graduation from college and the return to graduate school.

I honestly don't remember when I wrote "Three Short Lake Poems," but one of the parts (poems?) did find a home at Pond Ripples Magazine in the November issue. You do have to scroll down a ways to get to it, but I hope it is worth the trouble.

Here's hoping that despite the holidays and the Winter class, I'll be able to get back to writing everyday and sending more work out.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sean Avery and NHL hypocrisy

Just read an article on Yahoo Sports about the Sean Avery thing, and I have to agree that it is hypocritical of the Stars and the NHL to can Avery for his remarks but let Bertuzzi continue to play instead of being forced to clean Steve Moore's house for the rest of his life.

Avery was crude, and I know he has a history of stupid stuff. But Bertuzzi ended a man's career and nearly ended his life. Bertuzzi also has a history—of unnecessary violence. Avery hurt his team and I suppose made the league look bad. Bertuzzi did not even finish the punishment handed down by the league. Some say what Bertuzzi did was just part of hockey. Not really. There are clear lines and Bertuzzi crossed them. The lines for free speech Avery crossed concern taste and appropriateness.

I’m sure Avery will go to rehab and get back on another team—next year. But this still seems more than a little unfair. Bettman has only proven he can pull in accomplices to his continued foolishness. It is clear Bettman was just waiting for Avery to do something he could punish him for. The Stars, I’m trying to believe, had to do something their wayward player’s actions. But they have let me down, not only on the ice, but in this matter as well.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

BCS Crap!

Every year the powers that be in semi-pro sports, otherwise known as College Football in the Fall, prove more and more to me that the BCS is a load of crap designed only to keep a handful of good old boys at work living with little fantasies.

This time we get to add to silly rules that actually use the BCS rankings to determine who wins a division. Isn't this circular reasoning? In the Big 12, we have people not involved in the games, instead of the games themselves, deciding who wins a division.

You cannot convince me that the system would ever have been fair to Texas Tech. In this system, as I get told often, it is when a team loses that matters. That seems to be why Oklahoma goes to the Big 12 title game despite losing to Texas. But it doesn't matter at all for Texas Tech. Consider that both Texas and Oklahoma have a shot with one loss, but the only way Texas Tech would have been able to go to the Big 12 title game and eventually to the National Championship would be for them to go undefeated.

All season I hear about undefeated teams getting the shot, but when certain teams lose, if they lose at the right time, they get a chance. Most other teams lose once, and they are out. And under the current system, Texas Tech cannot even go to a major bowl with their ONE LOSS.

Horse crap! Well, maybe not. Horse crap smells better than this system does.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Publication notes

My story "A Little Accident" is the featured free story this week at Sniplits. I am also the featured author, so please log on, get yourself a story to listen to (feel free to buy my other story there if you are so inclined) and check out my fan page.

My poem "Father Lied" has just been published in the Freckles to Wrinkles. It looks like a fine little book, a nice gift for someone special.

Have been working on a new project, so I haven't sent out as much this month. Consequently, this is about all the news there is.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Bookmarks-Witness

Karen Hesse’s Witness is an important achievement in literature for adolescents. Not only is the book told through a variety of voices of the characters in this novel, but each "chapter" is a poem told from the point of view of one of those characters. Hesse dares not only to give readers words and thoughts of those that might draw obvious sympathy, a Jewish girl who has lost her mother and the Black girl who helps her (and others), but also the villains of the story and those characters in between.
Each poem/chapter demonstrates a masterful sense of voice. The diction and word choices are exactly what one would expect from the character meant to be speaking. As individual poems, these work just fine as well. I was, at first, a bit put off by the rather prosaic expressions of some of the characters (particularly the newspaper editor), but as the book went along, I realized that these people would speak exactly this way. The use of verse allows the reader not only to hear what the characters would say in dialogue, but also to "hear" their inner dialogues.
The story traces an attempt by the Ku Klux Klan to gain influence in a small town. Here we see the price of such alliances, a different price paid by each of those who participate. We also see the price and the reward of standing firm against them. Readers also see not only the interactions of the characters, but how the relationships develop as the story unfolds. I’m sure most readers will find the friendship between Leanora Sutter and little Esther Hirsh to be touching. But I found myself also moved by Leanora’s relationship with Mr. Field. He is an elderly man in failing health and a little crotchety, but well represents that old does not mean forgetful of his shared humanity with the twelve year old Black girl who has given her time to care for him.
Perhaps many readers will not find Witness as emotionally powerful as other books for adolescents that cover the same period of history or the same general themes. However, I believe this novel should stand on the shelves with them. Actually, it should not stand on the shelf, but be read and studied enthusiastically. (A teacher’s edition is available.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bookmarks: Fear Itself

Fear Itself is the second in Walter Mosely's Fearless Jones series. I wish I had read the first book first and I wish I had read this book faster. This book does not have gaps I suspect only the first novel would have cleared up, but there are a number of characters here and I found myself a bit lost trying to remember them all. But that may not be a fault of the novel, but the fact that I had to read it in fits and starts.

The narrative is presented by Paris Minton, friend of Fearless Jones, a man who is both willing to help out a damsel in distress and kill in cold blood those who get in his way. Paris is a humble bookworm trying to stay out of trouble and quietly run his bookstore. The plot centers on family secrets and a one of a kind book Paris would love to have for himself. Along the way a number of people are killed and Paris comes pretty close, a fact that may get in the way of his friendship with Fearless.


As I mentioned, I should have set this book aside and read it as close to straight through as I could. But once I got the hang of who was who, I found myself entralled by the story, but also with the narrator. Paris is a relunctant hero, made braver only because of his friend, but one who also struggles with his desires and what he knows is the right thing to do. Mosely had drawn a character somewhat like Fearless in the person of Mouse (from the Easy Rawlins series), but Paris is different from Easy Rawlins. Both may well want to stay out of trouble and lead their own quiet lives, but Paris is even more withdrawn and bookish. I found myself relating to him more and more.

I probably would have read the first in this series had my local library carried it, but this does okay on its own. I look forward to reading more about these finely drawn characters.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Bookmarks-Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence

I found Stuart Nicholson's Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence in a used cd shop while looking for the reissue of Metheny and Coleman's Song X (I remember because the printout of information is still in my copy). This book took me two years to read, not because it is bad, but because it is not the sort of book one just sits down and runs through. Part history, part bibliography, part commentary, Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence is a valuable resource, not only about modern jazz, but music in general. I have often joked that the 80s was where music went to die, but Stuart Nicholson's book makes the case, particularly in the opening chapters, that jazz was on the way back. The "return" of jazz was not so much to public awareness (as it very much needs to be), but to a quality and freshness it had enjoyed previously.

Nicholson's book begins with some historical perspective, providing the reader with a sense of what was going on in jazz prior to the 80s. Then he manages to discuss not only the major players in sub-categories, such as hard-bop, free jazz, fusion, and "neo" jazz, but also comments on important and influential musicians that a number of readers have not heard of.

I do think Nicholson is a bit harsh on Wynton Marsalis, but his argument is well reasoned, and is certainly not a rant. I do wish there was more information about some other artists I was interested in, but this book isn't intended to be a compiliation of biographies and discographies. Another, perhaps minor problem, is that the book seemed to have more its fair share of typographical errors. Most books have little flaws that no one notices, and this book is quite readable (Nicholson's prose style is good), but there were certainly enough little errors to catch my attention. This isn't, of course, Nicholson's fault, but Da Capo Press might have invested more energy in catching such problems. It does not detract from the value of the book itself. My copy is a first edition, so perhaps subsequent versions are corrected.

My favorite chapters are those on free jazz and fusion, the first because I felt more informed about a sub-genre I have always been intrigued and mystified by (not that I understand it any better), and the latter because I did find more information about the artists that pretty much brought me to jazz in the first place. Many have maligned the fusion movement, and a handful have praised the top artists too much. But Nicholson manages to keep everything in perspective.

All in all, Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence is a useful and informative book, particularly for those whose love of jazz carries beyond merely putting on a cd as background noise. Those who want to learn about this significant chapter of the world's greatest music should definitely do what they can to find it.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Bookmarks/Film Notes--No Country For Old Men

I had purchased the movie No Country For Old Men on pay per view, and recorded it on my DVR, but waited to watch it until I had read the book. I managed to finish Cormac McCarthy’s novel and watch the film in the same day. Like a number of people I am confused by the material near the end of the book (and the movie didn’t clear it up for me). But I did find the story riveting.

No Country For Old Men is about promises. Not just keeping one’s promises, but the promises one is forced to make in life that cannot be kept and the codes of life that conflict with society and with the codes of other men. McCarthy’s delivery of dialogue takes some getting used to, but is well worth the investment. I found myself intrigued by all the characters. Ed Tom Bell is the wise sheriff trying to save Llewelyn Moss, an ex-sniper turned welder who has stumbled upon two million dollars and who believes he’s smart enough to find a way to keep it. Anton Chigurh is a man whose cold inventiveness would be admirable if he wasn’t a psychopath with an odd code that requires him to not only destroy those who are in his path, but also people who are only tangentially related to his purpose. (And that purpose is not merely, it seems, to recover the money.)

Violence seems to be part and parcel in McCarthy’s world, but not egregiously so, and while the film is bloody in spots, one should notice that the Coen Brothers’ direction is, as usual, spot on, not always showing the gore of violence, but never diminishing its impact. Readers will find that the movie does not deviate from the book too much (though doing so is rarely a problem for me). Tommy Lee Jones (Bell), Javier Bardem (Chigurh), and Josh Brolin (Moss) provide excellent performances. Bardem is particularly chilling as a killer on a mission.

As noted above, the endings of both the novel and the film are a bit confusing, but I am still recommending both. Read McCarthy’s book first, then see the movie. Knowing what happens certainly won’t keep you from watching intently.


Publication Notes -- June 2007

"Peniel" (a poem) has been published at Farrago's Wainscot. In addition to actually getting paid, and finding a home for this piece (written several years ago), I get my work alongside Bryan Dietrich, a terrific poet I met in graduate school. I very much recommend his writing.

"Father Lied" (poem) has been accepted by Silver Boomers Anthology. The book will be Freckles to Wrinkles. Don't know just when this will come out.

"Partito for Continuo" (short story), which was accepted some time ago, should soon see the light of day in Electric Velocipede.

My chapbook Construction was recently rejected. I sent a different chapbook to the Burnside Review contest last week.

I've been a bit disappointed at the slow sales of my stories at Sniplits. One of many signs I've been reading lately about my writing career.

Gathered rejections recently from Poetry, Strong Verse, and Shakespeare's Monkey Review. Strong Verse took less than twenty-four hours to reject four poems, though the editor did have something kind to say about one of them.

School starts next week (well, the Summer II session), so I am hoping I will be able to get in the habit of submitting something everyday until then, and to make at least one submission a week while school is in session. Have been writing, working on a project of linked stories, and have managed to get about 500 words each that I do work. I'll take that as good news.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Bookmarks--Even the Wicked

I suppose that if the protagonist catches three different murderers that I should be excited. Lawrence Block is not writing poorly here and the novel does have some fine, interesting moments, but for some reason, I did not find this as much of a page turner as most of his novels. I suppose that could be that I have read it out of sequence.
Scudder is doing okay. He doesn’t need to take every case that comes his way. His sidekick/friend TJ is bugging him to buy a computer. A friend who believes he is the target of a serial killer who calls himself Will of the People hires Scudder. And he takes on the seemingly random murder of an acquaintance that was already dying of AIDS. There is definitely stuff going on here to keep the reader interested.
I did learn about viatical transactions and was never bored with this tale. However, it would not quite as engaging as most of Block’s novels. Recently Block was on Craig Ferguson plugging Hit and Run. Ferguson asked why there haven’t been any Scudder novels for a few years (three to be exact). Block told him that Scudder was too settled and old. He rather felt that way in this book (though it was published in 1997), but as I said, reading it out of order may have produced that effect on me.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Music notes--Tokyo Day Trip EP


I can't remember Pat Metheny ever releasing an EP, and this selection of "bonus" tracks tells me he should do it more often. "Traveling Fast" and "The Night Becomes You" sound like most of the strongest material on Day Trip, itself a fine album, but the other three songs are also very enjoyable. On "Tromso," Metheny plays some engaging lines on the guitar, melding different sounds nicely as he has done on his group recordings (but this is not a PMG throwaway). "Inori" is another slow tune where all of Metheny's bandmates contribute delicious sonic texture. "Back Arm & Backcharge" is the jamminest track here. The groove goes in and out, but is dug in deep. I envy those in Japan who got to see this performed live.

Because some of these tunes are a bit different from the Day Trip sessions, one might be scared away, but you shouldn't be. These aren't experiments gone awry, but an extension of what I hope continues to be a long working trio. The disc alternates between mellow and up tempo songs, but the collection holds together on its own. Here's hoping we see more!




Bookmarks--The Man In My Basement

The Man in My Basement by Walter Mosely is a gratifying stand alone novel by the writer who has given us Easy Rawlins, Fearless Jones, and Socrates Fortlow. Charles Blakey is a depressed, self-destructive black man living in his family house. He’s lost his job and can’t get another. He is about to lose his house. He has lost his girlfriend and before the second chapter is out, he is close to losing one of his best friends. But a stranger comes knocking, one that can make at least his financial life better, simply for allowing him to live in Blakey’s basement.

This tale, of course, is not just about the secrets of the odd white man, who has asked to be jailed on Blakey’s properly. It is about the secrets that drive Charles’ own behavior and about redeeming oneself. The arrangement sets in motion soul searching on the part of one as a result of the soul searching on the part of the other.

The Man In My Basement about the redemption that only comes about when one allows others in. Blakey is the sort of lonely soul many can relate to and his transformation is more than credible. I was interested not only how the ghosts of his past, particularly his uncle, had shaped him, but how Blakey’s ancestors stood with him whether he wanted them there or not. The novel stands up quite well in Mosley’s already substantial canon.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bookmarks for May 2008


Time's Arrow by Martin Amis. Of course, a story told backwards is going to be confusing, at least a little, and for awhile I read just wondering if what seemed to be a clever gimmick was going to pay off. I think it does, but I'm not entirely sure. I mean, the story certainly works this way, but I'm not entirely sure of the purpose. I want to say that Amis is trying to get the reader to the genesis (the book travels from the death of the protagonist narrator to his conception) of such evil as the Holocaust, at least the genesis of such thing in the individuals who perpetuate such harm. But the book seems about more than that. The narrator, who tries to separate his bad deeds from himself with a persona (with different names in different locales), is unable to hide his innate selfishness. And that is where the horror seems to lie, since when the beginning of this man is found, we see that his behavior comes from the idea that he is the center of the universe, as most children feel they are. But the character is not a child; sadly, there is a bit of his mindset in all of us. Frightening.

The Time Traveler by Joyce Carol Oates. I can't believe I had lived nearly forty-five years and had not read an entire book by Joyce Carol Oates. I've read a handful of her stories (most notably "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?" in college) and essays, but never one of her novels. And oddly, I didn't seek this book out, but I was in the library with my class and just picked it off the shelf. The poems are, mostly, accessible and interesting to read. Nothing stood out to me, but I did find the final section, mostly elegies, good reading.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Publication Notes --April 2008


Probably the most significant news (perhaps the only news) is that two of my stories are now available on Sniplits. Click here and you can go directly to my page there. One of the stories, "A Little Accident" is one of the featured stories. "Puppy" is shorter and a little cheaper. (They charge based on the length of the story, all good prices for a story that is easy to download.) If you are reading and love to listen to stories, please consider buying one or more from this site. I'd, of course, be pleased if you got one of mine, but I think there is something there for pretty much every taste.

Looking forward to summer. Should get a little writing done and hopefully see a few more things out there.

Press release for Sniplits.
New on-line publisher offers DRM-free digital audio short stories
Sniplits’ beta test site offers downloadable MP3 audio shorts, author fan clubs and community forums
Batavia, Illinois – 1 May 2008 – Anyone with a digital music player, smart phone or laptop understands the hunger for new content. Now, with the beta site launch of Sniplits.com, there’s a new source for entertainment on the Internet. Sniplits is publishing audio short stories, packaged as DRM-free MP3 files and playable on virtually any device capable of playing digital music.
The Sniplits website has launched for beta testing with 85 audio short stories ranging from about two minutes in length to nearly an hour. The initial batch of stories represents the work of approximately 50 authors, and Sniplits will add additional stories and Fan Club pages as the site ramps up. The stories sell for $0.48 or $0.88 each, depending on length. In addition to mainstream and literary short stories, Sniplits offers mystery and suspense, speculative/science fiction and fantasy, romance, horror, adventure, sports, western, historical fiction and young adult stories.
“While they may be brief, there’s really nothing small about a short story,” says company founder, Anne Stuessy. “The best short stories are packed with compelling characters and storylines, with suspense, romance, heartbreak, humor, shivers and surprises. The need to make every word count, means that they can pack an astounding punch.”
“Our goal is to provide listeners with audio stories that are perfectly-sized for any pause in their day, from under two minutes to nearly an hour,” says Stuessy. “A ten-minute story might be perfect while waiting for an oil change, while a 30-minute story might be just the thing for a dentist appointment or lunch break.”
Sniplits publishes new as well as established authors and, unlike many markets, pays them for their work.
“It makes me crazy that we’re willing to pay millions to athletes right out of college or even high school, but expect our writers to pay their mortgages with little but the satisfaction of having written a good story,” says Stuessy.
Sniplits pays an advance of between $15 and $150 for stories between 100 and 8,000 words, and authors have the potential to receive royalty payments on net sales of their stories of between 30 to 50%.
“Unfortunately, the economics of print publishing today make it difficult for most short story publishers to offer much of anything in the way of compensation. Still,” Stuessy says, “many of those literary, university and genre-specific publishers play a – perhaps the – critical role in developing writers, and they do it very well. We’d like to support their work, and grow the audience for short stories in all formats, so we enable authors to link from Sniplits’ Fan Club pages to their work with print publishers. We also decided that Sniplits will not necessarily require first publication rights, but will only ask for audio rights and the right to distribute stories electronically. That might enable an author to have his story published in a literary print magazine, for example, and still have an audio version published by Sniplits.”
In addition to offering audio short stories, Sniplits plans to build out what it calls its “Open Mic” community, where members can connect with authors and each other. It includes Fan Club pages for authors and discussion forums. While anyone can visit and shop Sniplits, only Sniplits Members are allowed access to Fan Clubs where they can ask authors questions. Membership is also required to participate in community discussion forums. Membership is free and members are not required to purchase stories. Membership benefits include a free story each week.

Sniplits and the stylized logo are service marks of Stussi, Inc.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Bookmarks for March/April 2008


Drift and Pulse by Kathleen Halme. I should have waited, I suspect, until summer to read this book. I wanted so to like it, but found most of the poems rough going. I felt like I needed, for most pieces, degrees in anthropology and biology to get what was going on. Wonderful, beautiful and thought-provoking lines in places, but the overall experience was not good. I should try this again later when I have more ability to concentrate on these interesting metaphors than I do with eight classes to teach. But right now the book is overdue, and I have to get it back to the library.


The Innocent Man by John Grisham. This is a much needed book. Yes, DNA evidence has helped exonerate many people of crimes they did not commit. But DNA is only part of this story. There are other stories to tell here. First, there is story of pride and arrogance, not only by police and prosecutors in the case of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, who were sentenced for the brutal murder of Debra Sue Carter, but of many citizens of the small town where the events take place. This is also, of course, the story of Williamson's ordeal, not only at the hands of a justice system bent on failure, but also his torture and neglect. It is also, sadly, the story of mental illness. While the first two elements of this tale certain got my interest, it is the plight of Williamson as a mental patient that intrigue me most.


The Truth (with Jokes) by Al Franken. Don't let the jokes fool ya: Franken is outraged at how Bush and his cronies hijacked the United States and may have done harm that will take years to undo (if that is even possible). But unlike certain so called voices for the people who have no sense of humor, Franken must make us laugh in these dark times. And laugh you should (unless you are one of those he harpoons, and as I said, they don't have a sense of humor. Well, some do, but it is pretty darn sick). Read here about how one conservative tells his voters he is going to fight to make abortion illegal and then supports forced prostitution and forced abortions. Read about how Americans were made to cower so much in fear that Bush could easily make them believe they much go to war for him.



Through Painted Deserts
by Donald Miller (2005). Some time ago, I recommended Miller's Blue Like Jazz. This is not as striking a book, but I do think it is worth reading. It is a revising of the memoir Prayer and the Art of Volkswagon Maintenance. Miller claims he added back, in the rewrite, "authentic" material his original publisher did not wish to keep because of their "market." Okay, fine.
I think this book is written specifically for guys like me, people who read books like this, and wonder how anyone gets up the guts to leave everyone and everything behind to take a trip. A mixture of annoyance and envy marked some of my reading, thinking that I could never take such a trip, even though my heart and soul would be better off for having taken the journey. But that may be the point. Not so much that I need to do this thing, but that perhaps all of us need something like this, not to happen to us, but for us to experience so that we can put our spiritual lives, so easily neglected, back into perspective.


Night by Elie Wiesel (1960). Night is a powerful memoir of Wiesel's experience during the Holocaust, and I wish I had read it many years ago. I recall my wife and picking it during a bookstore excursion, and for some reason, it sat on the shelf. One day I picked it up and began to read. Of course, the story of the horrors of the Holocaust, told from one who has been there, is certainly compelling. But I was also drawn to the relationship between Wiesel and his father, and how his father's life and death continued to haunt him. Thus, this book is one of those "must read" books, not only because of what it chronicles about one of the worst atrocities in history, but also because it puts human faces on that atrocity which keeps us from merely shaking our heads. We are encouraged to hope and work toward a better world.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Favorite lines of poetry

In honor of National Poetry Month, I thought I would just list, in no particular order some favorite single lines from poems that have moved me or set me a thinkin' or just plain seemed great!
"And life is too much like a pathless wood" (Robert Frost, "Birches") -- The line is better understood in context. The speaker states that when he "is weary of considerations" that he wishes to again be "a swinger of birches." He wants, not so much to return to childhood, but to the play that makes one stronger, more focused. And I certainly understand that life is like pathless wood all too often. It is then I know I need such perspective.


"Progress is a comfortable disease" (E.E. Cummings, "[pity this busy monster,manunkind]")


"I should be glad of another death" (T.S. Eliot, "Journey of the Magi") -- This not my favorite Eliot poem, and I know it isn't fashionable to speak well of Eliot's post-conversion pieces, but this line is powerful. The speaker is one of the wise men who has come to visit the newborn Christ child and says that the birth was like death, "our death" he states. It isn't just about the death of the body, or even about the death of the old self, but about the death old order.


"Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God" (Gerard Manley Hopkins, "[Carrion Comfort]") -- Hopkins, I believe, earns our notice when he praises God, because he has done the sort of wrestling that brings about a real sense of awe.
"He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change" (Hopkins again, "Pied Beauty")

Okay, the list in hardly extensive, and I don't even comment enough. Perhaps that is something for another series of blogposts....tell me what you think.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Music Notes for January-March 2008



Really, I should be paying attention to the new disc by Pat Metheny's trio and my discovery of the his drummer's first album as a leader, but first I have to get to some rock business.

I have to voice my displeasure at the inclusion of Madonna in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I've been upset before to see performers that I didn't really like, but I could always chalk up many of those choices to a difference in taste or I could say that groups like The Sex Pistols and The Ramones had some sort of influence on rock music. But Madonna? Come on! This is a woman whose entire career is not really about music, but about attention. She gets attention by being shocking and is not shocking in an attempt to create good music.

Of course, I must admit that part of my problem with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is sour grapes. Not one progressive rock group or performer has been inducted, a prejudice that should indicate to fans of good music just what the business is really about. See the list for yourself.

Speaking of progressive rock, I just browsed the website for Kansas and found some interesting news. First, they are touring and playing with local symphony orchestras again. Too bad they don't have dates set up for Dallas. Second, four members of the band (Ehart, Williams, Ragsdale and Greer) are collaborating on what looks to be an cool little project called Native Windows. The samples sound cool, though I wonder how hard core fans are going to take the music. I dig it.




Related to Kansas, I found a couple tunes released as an EP by Steve Walsh. Very cool tunes. Too few, but a nice sample from a good songwriter/performer who never sounds old. Hopefully, iTunes will post my short review soon.



And speaking of iTunes, my journey there recently brought me a single version of "Dust in the Wind" performed by former Kansas mate, John Elephante. No rendition is going to match the original, but the song itself is so good that I've hardly ever heard a bad interpretation. This one is keyboard and lead guitar (instead of violin) driven. Perhaps a little heavy on the background vocals, but I enjoy it nonetheless. I'm glad to see Elephante doing something worthwhile. I loved his stuff with Mastedon, was not too thrilled with the first couple solo outings, but he can grow on one.



Okay, now on to jazz. Pat Metheny's latest releases include a trio project titled Day Trip and a rerelease of his magnificent Secret Story. Any reader of this blog knows that I am smitten with Metheny work, finding room in my collection for pretty much anything he has worked on (yes, including ZTFS). I admit, however, that Day Trip is having to grow on me. I enjoy listening to it quite a bit, but it hasn't knocked my socks off the way the other trio albums have. I can't place my finger on why. I can say that one of the things that makes this stand out above the other trio discs is the virtuosity of all the band mates and how all three seem to have plenty of room to play and show their chops without losing the whole trio feel. Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez are terrific, as always. Unlike Trio 99>00, this project really gets the most out of the talents of each performer. More on Sanchez' own disc later.

Secret Story is one of my all time favorite albums. I've never done a desert island disc thing here, but this is definately one that would be on that list. This new re-mastered version is really nice, sounding great. But the highlight is the addition of a disc including five songs that did not come with the original. These are all terrific tunes, a must for anyone. I also recommend listening to Metheny's podcast discussing this re-release.


I have been impressed with Antonio Sanchez ever since I saw him with Metheny's group during the Speaking of Now tour. This is a really young guy playing like he's been around since Max Roach. I had not noticed until Day Trip came out that he released a project as a leader last year. Migration is some really good jazz. It sounds much different from the Metheny material, though Pat shows up on a couple tracks, but that isn't really a problem. There are some great musicians here: Chick Corea, Chris Potter, David Sanchez, and Scott Colley, as well as the aformentioned guitar hero. Sanchez composed most of the tracks, but we do have one song by Metheny, one by Corea and nice renditions of Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge" and Miles Davis's classic "Solar." "Arena (Sand)" is probably my favorite tune on the disc, but they are all really good. Don't know why this album hasn't gotten more notice or more press. It is jazz that should appeal to the contemporary listener as well as the purist.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pinewood Derby 2008

Here are a couple videos from after the Pinewood Derby. Max is in his basketball uniform because he came straight from a game. His is the cool black one in the middle in both races.

video video

Bookmarks for January/February 2008

Below are not really reviews, but some of the notes I took reading a couple books earlier this year. With eight classes of papers to grade, I haven't have much time for other writing, but I got tired of waiting to do it and also of having nothing posted here for sometime.

Ever the Fallen by David J. Thompson --winner of Nerve Cowboy chapbook contest.
--lots of poems that seem to come from daydreams about literary figures.
--humor that is dry, almost angry.
--lots of hope for "getting laid."
--no pretension; why poetry like this isn't provided and presented more often surprises me.
Some of this is not great art, but it isn't because of language or subject matter, but because they do not seem to say anything beyond the surface. But maybe that isn't fair to say. Of course, I don't expect a "message" or even insight. Maybe these poems, like Seinfeld, leave us with observations that need no comment. Maybe nothing needs to be said, and therein lies the art.
The Branch Will Not Break by James Wright (1963)
--called a
"Groundbreaking Book" on Poets.org.
--mostly Ohio setting
--neither hope nor despair --lots of horses in this book-don't know why, but the horses seem to be content where ever--little joy, little sadness; strong, constant waiting.
Yet he was beautiful, he was the snowfall

Turned to white stallions still

Under dark elm trees

("Two Poems About President Harding")


gallop terribly against each other's bodies

("
Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio")
-- some political poems lose me because I am unfamiliar with the context-the loss is mine, not the poet's.


I also took some time to read one of my favorite books, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. I cannot recommend this powerful, funny, and insightful little novel more highly. I would not say it is the most neglected of Lewis' oeuvre, but it is one of the most neglected books of the previous century. The satire is too difficult for some, but the fact that we live in a generation increasing unable to read satire should not dissuade good readers. Lewis' Christianity is apparent, but this is not a book only for believers. Further, it does not preach, but most readers learn something of themselves in experiencing the book. This is why I return to it every few years.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Booknotes for December 2007

This month (and yes, I know it is the middle of January as I am writing this), I am focusing on three chapbooks published by Maverick Duck Press. I decided to write here about them in the order of my preference. I can't say one book is necessarily "better" than another, so I'll review them here in order of preference.


Corey Mesler's The Chloe Poems is held together by poems about the author's daughter. I suppose as a father, I should "relate" to these pieces, and I guess I do. Certainly a reader who is interested in the way a father feels about his young child as he watches her grow up will get something from Mesler's book. Readers watch the child go from birth to young, lively child. Even for those who do not share the author's personal experiences, there is much to empathize with.

Unfortunately, many of the poems are not that strong. I very much like the idea of this book; few books explore the relationship between a man and his daughter. But some of the poems seem to rely a bit too much on the content and not powerful lines to carry the emotional weight. For example, in the poem "Chloe at Four, Running," we have the lines, "The rain she brings/is tender like love." I don't quarrel with the sentiment, but material like this needs revision.


On the other hand, the book does contain some fine, thoughtful pieces. One of my favorite poems is "Fathers of Daughters." Here Mesler does a fine job not only of detailing the moments of play with a child, but using the Barbie doll as a metaphor, demonstrating the emotional strain of watching one's daughter grow. "Sleeping in a Box" gives voice to tension one must feel worrying about things that a child cannot see.

This is Corey Mesler's first chapbook, and despite some problems, I do think it holds some promise.



14 Ways To Die is Kendall A. Bell's eleventh chapbook. It focuses, as the title indicates, on the subject of death. The collection contains interesting quotes from sources ranging from Jim Morrison to Benjamin Franklin to place the material into a larger context. I don't really like being told the poems "are meant to be unsettling." Let's let the poems do the talking, I say. And the poems themselves do say much. Their strength is in the matter of fact tone and honest description that isn't devoid of emotion, but provides the reader real images and ideas to get emotional about.

"1987" Garage Suicides is fine example. Here Bell writes about four teens who have taken their lives and the fervor of activity that act brings about in a small town, including the false grief of other kids. In "Our Mutual Acquaintances," we are provided a list of people who die, all horribly, all in some way related to us as readers, people we knew or think we knew from a distance. And after this litany of death, Bell ends with the lines, "We don't give a second thought/about waking the next morning." "Shotgun" is similar, and even more powerful. Bell repeats the phrase "A shotgun blast ended it" through the poem, each stanza remarking on what is left after the suicide. The poem ends with the telling lines: "I was never familiar with his work/only the despair." One need not be familiar with the life and work of Liam Rector to be moved by this poem. I find these lines richer each time I read them.


The poems in 14 Ways To Die are not as lyrical as I tend to prefer, but they'd probably have less impact if they did. What the poems may lack in musicality, they more than make up for in thoughtful imagery and the kind of emotional restraint reminiscent of William Carlos Williams (without the "no ideas but in things" philosophy). "Fanny Remembered" is humorous and honest. "A Serial Killer's Cliff's Notes" is absolutely chilling, the narrator giving more insight than a dozen profilers.

In avoiding discussion of death, we often hinder any healthy approach to the subject, and thus grief and our opportunities to find peace about our own mortality are warped. We need honesty, not wild or sentimental refrains to get us where we need to be concerning our ends. These poems are unsettling. But this might be the kind of shaking up we need.





Probably my favorite of the three books I read was Wire To The Heart by Bruce W. Niedt. It starts off slow, with poems don't really do that much for me, but after a little while, the collection picks up quite nicely.
Some of the more powerful poems in the book use a voice well outside the author, as in "The Conjoined Twin," "The Fishing Boat Widow, December," and the chilling "The Battering." In the latter poem, an abusive father describes his beating of a boy whose "sin" was "sneaking a snack from the cupboard." The father knows he should make amends, but also knows "that would rip the skin right off the scars."

"Your Missing Piece" might, at first read, seem callous. This sonnet about the lost of a loved one's breast, however, seems an honest attempt -- and good poetry is really more about attempts than manifestos-- to find solace in a difficult, painful time. In "The Spinner," the narrator marvels at the ability of a a performer to spin plates on poles. I think it interesting that the performer is from a memory of the Ed Sullivan show, not someone we might have seen recently except in archival footage. This point seem most salient in that when we reach the last lines, "I wish I knew his secret,/so my life wouldn't be so littered/with shattered tableware," we see a man reaching into his past in order to make sense of present calamity.

If Wire To The Heart has a theme, it is the frailty of life, a subject many readers can understand even if not thinking so much about how quickly life might change or end. The collection finishes with the poem "Last Frame," which uses bowling as metaphor for one's final day. The speaker wants, as many of us do, to go out on top: "X in the box, a perfect frame." This might be a little much for some, but the poem is a fine coda to the thoughtful book.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Homer video test

This is a test.
Here we have Homer on foot.

video

This would be Homer ahead.

video

Bye Homer.

Publication Notes for December 2007

My story "Hard Light" has been published in the Winter 2007 issue of Mouth Full of Bullets. They have two versions, online and print. Mine is in the print edition, so you will have to purchase a copy to read it, but from what I have seen of the other stories in the collection, I suspect it is well worth the six bucks, especially if you like mystery fiction.

I am happy about this for a couple reasons. This is the first published appearance of a character I created years ago named Wilson Bell. My novel Don't Hang On is where Bell first came into being. Only a handful of people have read this book. (Eventually I will have time, energy, and inclination to revise it and try to get it published. Until then, you can read the first chapter here.) I hope people will like the story enough for me to think it worth my time to resurrect a character that many did not know had died. I wrote at least one more story with this character, but I have not been able to find it anywhere, either in hard copy or on a disc. Anyway, I hope you will read this story and enjoy it.


Espresso Fiction should publish my story "The Noisy Neighbor" on January 8. My online interview is there, but at the moment, I'm not sure how to access it.


Two of my stories, "Puppy" and "A Little Accident," should go live at Sniplits soon. I am working on getting information for them to do an author page.

Some time ago, I had a poem accepted at Poetry: stet. So far the webpage remains the same as it did in March of (now) last year. I'm begining to wonder if that poem is going to see the light of cyber day.