Couple Little Notes on James Wright

I see there’s a new biography about him. I should go back over the poems first. After a too-formal start, they do get dramatically stronger (and harrowing) and then better in a more reflective way toward the end. Wright and Richard Hugo were students of Ted Roethke and did hang out together. Here’s a couple anecdotes from Hugo about Wright. He said Wright was both wonderfully engaging and kinda terrifying to be around — since, though Hugo didn’t understand this exactly, if Wright was out at all, he was in a manic phase. Hugo said Wright slept with a full tumbler of straight whiskey next to his bed so he could start gulping it the moment he woke up. Hugo recounted another time when Wright’s son, Franz, was riding in a car with them, and noted that Wright knew his boy (who also won a Pulitzer for poetry) was gifted with language. As an example, he mentioned the six-year-old exclaimed, as they passed a big stars and stripes flapping on a pole, “Look! Our country’s flag!”

 

The Answer

Well, time’s up (didn’t seem to generate a lot of interest). (I take it back — had not checked in a while, and there seems to be considerable hits.)

The answer is that Norman Mailer (Henry Abbott), Gunter Grass (Johann “Jack” Unterweger) and William Buckley (Edgar Herbert Smith Jr. — just died this year) all vigorously promoted the early jail release of convicted murderers who then went on to murder again, or, in the case of Smith Jr., attempt murder. Unterweger was the worst — he checked into the Cecil Hotel Room 1402 because it was where Richard “Night Stalker” Ramirez lived, and then went out, fooled the LAPD into giving him tips, and slaughtered three prostitutes.

The extra added dark laughter is that all three monsters became notable writers and flattered their famous-author mentors as faves (Smith was by far the most minor scribe). Why, a fine writer couldn’t be a psychopathic human-reaper, right? I don’t know about Unterweger, but I do know the other two played on the egomania of Buckley and Mailer to get their way with them. Anyone who admires me this much must be a fine fellow, right? The final detail is that Smith Jr. thought Buckley was such a tool that he contacted him after his victim got away, expecting Big Man to cover for him. Instead, Buckley contacted the cops and turned Smith in. Without, however, covering himself with shit and walking the streets for a week.

R.I.P.: Brian Aldiss

I recommend Trillion Year Spree to anybody who might remotely be interested.

Due no doubt to some failure of my literary imagination, I have a hard time with a lot of his other works. (Thought Non-Stop was boring as hell, tried to get started with the Helliconia Triology several times without success.) But I do want to hail two short stories — “Let’s Be Frank” (very original idea) and “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” (you can read the whole thing from a link in the obit), very different from the film “A.I.,” more of a mere inspiration, both works engrossing in their own way.

Plug for Chester Himes

So there’s a new biography out there. And I certainly agree with the basic conclusion of it. I discovered Himes by accident because, strangely enough, he apparently had a huge fan in Missoula, MT who sold all his ’60s paperbacks to a local used store. I started out in the summer after I graduated from college with For Love of Immabelle and had to pick the shards of my brain off the ceiling. I resolved to read everything I could find by Himes and I have. My only mild disappointment was his autobio, The Third Generation, which seemed too careful and cleaned-up to me. (Well, Pinktoes has long porno-mechanical stretches mixed in with wonders.)

 

Excellent “Borne” Review

The connection to Melville is spot on target.  Mord and even Borne him/her/itself are clear descendants of Moby Dick even if in no way derivative. Much more accurate than the Lovecraft comparisons. After all, Melville was somebody who had dribbled the salt from his body into the salt of the ocean and knew nature. Lovecraft was more like a strange kid who secreted himself in the basement and yelled for you to come down and kill a spider for him. Also — gives climate catastrophe the key role in the story it deserves. Bizarrely all but passed over in some other reviews I’ve read.

Journalism/Criticism/Literature Bucket List Check-Off

My first published review was of Tom Robbins’s debut novel, Another Roadside Attraction. I am proud to say I got it pretty much right, claimed the guy would become wildly popular and have a flashy career.

So when I read that Robbins stated he found his voice when he wrote a 1967 review of a Doors concert for the alternative paper in Seattle, I had to track it down and read it. I mean, a favorite part of my career was spent doing the exact same sort of piece for the exact same sort of outlet!

So this afternoon there it was, in Wild Ducks Flying Backward: The Short Writings of Tom Robbins.

Yes, that would be doors. But, my God, what doors are these? Imagine jewel glass panels, knobs that resemble spitting phalluses, mail slots that glow like jack-o’-lantern lips — and not a welcome mat in sight. Enter if you dare, my children, exit if you can.

The Doors. Their style is early cunnilingual, late patricidal, lunchtime in the Everglades, Black Forest blood sausage on electrified bread, Jean Genet up a totem pole, artists at the barricades, Edgar Allen Poe drowning in his birdbath, Massacre of the Innocents, tarantella of the satyrs, bacchanalian, Dionysian, LA pagans drawing down the moon.

That’s that voice, alrighty.

I like to dream that, had I been Music Editor at the Helix in ’67, I would have had the insight to run that as is — evocative, funny, worthy of Jimbo and the Boys.