R.I.P.: Glenn Branca

The Racket Rocker has left the building.

I had to admit I didn’t play him as often as I expected to — not least because almost anybody else in the room would go batshit within 30 seconds when I did. I treasure my vintage Theoretical Girls 45. I heartily endorse Lesson No. 1 for newcomers and for established fans, I must note that I played this record as often as any:

Poetry falling up and downstairs.

Re-Post: 13 Ways of Selling Out the Batman

In honor of the new Superman movie

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the pen of the accountant.
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three stock options.
The Batman whirled in the Wall Street winds.
He was a small part of the pantomime.
A super and a hero
Are one.
A super and a hero and a payout
Are one.
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of merchandise
Or the beauty of endorsements,
The product cashing
Or just after.
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the downside
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An inescapable clause.
O thin men of Los A,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the Batman
Slinks about the feet
Of the starlets around you?
I know noble accents
And lucid, undeniable profits;
And I know, too,
That the Batman is involved
In what I know.
When the pre-nup flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.
At the sight of Batman
Flying through a red light,
Even the cops of euphony
Would cry out sharply.
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his staff page
For black hoods.
The stock is rising.
The tickets must be flying.
It was buying all afternoon.
It was rally
And it was going to cash.
The Batman sat
In the cedar throne.

Thoughts on Dylan and the Nobel

Like many an academically beloved poet — say, Ezra Pound or T. S. Eliot — Mr. Dylan has always placed himself on a literary continuum where allusions focus and amplify meaning. — Jon Pareles, NY Times

I think this is true. But speaking of continuums, I also think poetry and song lyrics lie along one of them doohickeys. At one end are impressive, irresistible poems that can’t be set to any substantial music without being blurred or diminished. At the other end are perfect words for knockout songs that don’t work a fraction as well without their music raiment.

No question Dylan lies way more toward the literary end of the scale. But that does not mean the opposite ends of the continuum are identical. My serious gripe is with the Nobel categories. Why in the blank hell is there no Nobel Prize for Music? If you want to go over the top, you could holler that the Lit Prize is a bit of a dis to Dylan — implying that none of his tunes belong in the same exalted universe as his lyrics.

Year in Review Triumph: Iris DeMent

Now playing, Iris DeMent, The Trackless Woods (Flariella).

For months, I found excuses to keep this collection of Anna Akhmatova’s poems and excerpts set to music at a distance: it’s too literary; you have to devote too much undivided attention to it; it’s too long; the melodies and music aren’t differentiated sufficiently; quibble, quibble, quibble about the selection of poems.

Finally, only a single hesitation stuck: I would never recommend this as a first Iris DeMent album. But if you are a fan of her or of Akhmatova, you should damn well check it out. If, like me, you are a fan of both, it’s a must and probably the #11 Album of 2015. Easy for a sequence of Akhmatova to become too morose and tragic — this is varied, with special care given to the sensual. A quiet triumph.


R.I.P. James Tate

“The Lost Pilot” changed my writing life. Here was a voice that I didn’t just admire, it seemed a guide to getting my own on the page, the perfection of how I wanted to express in language. Maybe I made some progress — the first time I spoke with Tate he said he had read and liked my poems — they were understandable, they were good. This sparked me for years, and indeed if the lines had kept coming into my head, insistent, I would have stuck with poems on Tate’s encouragement alone.

In an eerie “coincidence” that’s happened more than once about a beloved artist from my past, I became obsessed with Tate a year or so ago, after a long spell of near-absence, and tried to catch up with some selected poems and prose-poems. Now he’s gone. What cannot change is the most perfect ending of a poem I have ever read:

My head cocked toward the sky,
I cannot get off the ground,
and, you, passing over again,

fast, perfect, and unwilling
to tell me that you are doing
well, or that it was a mistake

that placed you in that world,
and me in this; or that misfortune
placed these worlds in us.

— “The Lost Pilot”

R.I.P.: Miller Williams

Sorry I missed this somehow earlier. Here’s a nice obit from a place he used to write, that contains a link to the finest interview with him I have ever read. When I first heard of him, as Lucinda’s father of course, the new book out was Living on the Surface: New and Selected Poems. It’s still the introduction I would recommend. I expected a minor poet, maybe academic. I had missed the Clinton inaugural appearance and missed the boat about Williams in general. His voice is humble but gets inside you quickly. Lucinda profited greatly from his presence and I thought it quite proper that he be part of her musical life at times. Here’s the title poem from the book. Not his greatest, but a work nobody else could have written:


Living on the Surface

The dolphin
walked upon the land a little while
and crawled back to the sea
saying something thereby
about all that we live with.

Some of us
have followed him from time to time.
Most of us stay.
Not that we know what we’re doing here.

We do it anyway
Lugging a small part of the sea around.
It leaks out our eyes.

We swim inside ourselves
But we walk on the land.

What’s wrong, we say, what’s wrong?

Think how sadness soaks into
the beds we lie on.

Jesus, we’ve only just got here.
We try to do what’s right
but what do we know?