Dance, Poetry, and Resistance at Beyond Baroque

Friday, January 11, 2019

TWO EVENTS AT BEYOND BAROQUE, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA 90291

JANUARY 12 SATURDAY 8:00 PM
“YOU CAN GET THERE FROM HERE”
Turning the plasticity of metaphor into the elongated pulses of gestures profoundly embraced and dispersed, dancers will interpret poems that largely originated out of Los Angeles. This evening’s presentation is a collaboration by dancer/ choreographer Liz Hoefner Adamis and poet Laurel Ann Bogen; the majority of the poetry recently was included in Beyond Baroque’s anthology Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond (edited by Suzanne Lummis). Regular admission. Members FREE

I am looking forward to seeing how my poem, “One Miracle,” ends up being choreographed; not only did it appear in Suzanne Lummis’s anthology, WIDE AWAKE, it was also chosen by my translators in Mexico to be one of the featured poems in both PRUEBAS OCCULTS (Bonobos Editores, Mexico) and THE HEADWATERS OF NIRVANA (What Books, Los Angeles).

JANUARY 13 SUNDAY 1:00 PM
WRITERS RESIST
This year’s list of participating readers features many of Southern California’s finest upcoming and established literary voices. Writers scheduled to participate include: Doug Brown / Shonda Buchanan / Elena Karina Byrne / Robin Coste Lewis / Eileen Cronin / Marsha de la O / Geoff Dyer / Janet Fitch / Lynell George / Liz Gonzalez /Brian Ingram / Mark Irwin / Dana Johnson / Doug Manuel / Alicia Partnoy / Sherman Pearl /Steven Reigns / Joseph Rios / Mona Simpson / Hiram Sims / Phil Taggart / Amy Uyematsu / Vanessa Angélica Villareal. FREE

An Anniversary Affirmation

Thursday, January 10, 2019

My parents got married in Los Angeles on this day, 1945. Both of them were enlisted in the U.S. Navy “for the duration.” World War II was over within nine months, but they did not spend any time together until 1946. The delay involves a fairly dramatic story, but that is something to be addressed in another genre.

Yesterday, I went down to UC San Diego to visit the Special Collections Department of its library. During my intermittent visits to the campus since attaining my Ph.D. in 2004, I noticed a steady increase in new buildings, but the pace of construction seems to have quadrupled almost overnight. UCSD was regarded as a primary economic engine in San Diego County at the end of the last century. Given the expansion’s goal of accommodating yet more students, UCSD may well become of the leading employers in Southern California.

The Archive for New Poetry continues to be a resource for scholars, and my hope is that I will be able to place my literary archive there, alongside my editorial archive. Many of the Los Angeles poets whose work I have admired and anthologized have their archives there: Paul Vangelisti, Leland Hickman, Dennis Phillips, Harry Northup, Holly Prado, and Bob Crosson. Doug Messerli most certainly would have been in “POETRY LOVES POETRY,” but he arrived in town just as the book was being published. Other poets or editors who have archives there include Donald Allen, Ron Silliman, Clayton Eshleman, and Paul Blackburn.

One of the things I asked about is whether my mother’s handwritten memoir of her life could be included as a document in my archive, as a contextual account of the childhood and youth that led to my undertaking of a literary life. It was agreed that that could be included, and I cannot think of a better way to commemorate this wedding anniversary than to have this knowledge. My mother, still alive, does not remember having written this memoir, though she still recognizes me, at least.

A Poet in His Youth: Reading in NYC; October, 1977

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

In the course of editing Momentum magazine in the mid-1970s, I began to realize that a new anthology of Los Angeles poets was needed to reflect the growing scenes. I took it upon myself to test this material out “on the road,” first with a reading in Boulder, Colorado, and then with a reading at Bragr Times Bookstore in NYC, in late October, 1977. At both places I read the work of Leland Hickman, Jim Krusoe, Peter Levitt, Holly Prado, Harry Northup, Dennis Ellman, Eloise Klein Healy, and Sandi Tanhauser, the last of whom read with me in Boulder, Colorado. The anthology I eventually put together was The Streets Inside: Ten Los Angeles Poets (1978). It was officially published at the very end of December, 1978, and there was a party at my apartment in Ocean Park which was more crowded than I ever anticipated. I believe that it was at that party that Jim Krusoe met Michael Silverblatt for the first time.

Four months later, Robert Kirsch ran a review in the LA Times that called my anthology indicative of a “golden age” in Los Angeles poetry. Other reviews by Robert Peters, Stephen Kessler, and Laurel Ann Bogen soon appeared. I realized as time went by that I really should have

Here are some photographs of me reading in NYC, taken by Reavis Hilz-Ward.

Bragr Times - 3

Bragr Times - 1

Bragr Times - 2

Ron Silliman’s Blog is Back!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

RON SILLIMAN’S BLOG IS BACK!

Ron Silliman has posted three times since New Year’s Day, 2019, and while it might be far too early to say whether he intends to keep this pace up, it is heartening to see him in critical action again. How he ever managed to produce so much writing about contemporary poetry, finish his magnificent long poem “The Alphabet,” and meet the responsibilities of a full-time/with overtime job in addition to raising a family is beyond my capacity to imagine, and I wouldn’t fault him in the least if he never posted a blog entry again.

He does, after all, have other projects to work on, now that he has retired from the computer workforce. My recollection is that he has said that working on “The Alphabet” prepared him to write a long poem, “Universe,” which is now underway and might be finished many, many decades from now. For those who want to read one of the best long articles about Silliman’s The Alphabet, I recommend that you dig up my 4,000 word effort, ” ‘I want to describe description’: Ron Silliman’s Alphabet,” which appeared in issue No. 3 of Paul Vangelisti’s “OR” magazine (publication date, October 10, 2009).

Given my general enthusiasm for Silliman’s work, I do have a few questions about some of his remarks in the post of January 7th, however.

“what gave birth to the New American Poetry was a hiatus occasioned by World War 2 when the number of books being published in the US was curtailed by the cost of paper and ink, and the absence of males from the continent. As it was, the number of books of poetry published in the US shrank from around 100 to just half that until well after the war.”

Silliman is certainly correct about the impact of material supplies on publication during World War II. After a total of three printings and guess how many total copies (4500!), Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury went out of print during that cataclysm, However, when exactly does the rebound take place. If poetry publishing was a “bear market,” at what point “well after the war” did a uptick begin to gain substantial momentum? In addition, it does seem as if a phrase is missing in that proposed statistic:
Shouldn’t it read: “the number of books of poetry published per year in the US shrank from around 100 to just half that until well after the war”?

Silliman lists nearly a score of people who might well have appeared in his anthology IN THE AMERICAN TREE, if he had edited it close to the actual publication date (Curtis Faville, David Gitin, Abigail Child, Beverly Dahlen, Leslie Scalapino, Darrell Gray, Andrei Codrescu, Norman Fischer, CD Wright, Joan Retallack, Doug Lang, Phyllis Rosenzweig, Joseph Ceravolo, Judy Grahn, Michael Lally, Lorenzo Thomas, Jim Brody, Simon Ortiz, and Nathaniel Mackey). One wonders how Paul Vangelisti does not make this list. Vangelisti was included in a list of poets who should be included in an imaginary, massive anthology of post-modern poets that Silliman wrote about back in the 2013. “Life is messy,” Silliman concedes, and it would seem that part of that messiness is how an extraordinarily fine poet such as Paul Vangelisti complicates the Langpo metanarrative. For those of you who want to begin to discover why Vangelisti will have to be included in any anthology that aspires to address avant-garde poetry after 1970 in the United States, I urge you to dig up the Summer 2005 issue of the Chicago Review (“Likelihood: Paul Vangelisti’s Avant-Garde Poetry,” a review of Paul Vangelisti’s Embarrassment of Survival: Selected Poems (1970-2000); pages 277-284). Equally puzzling is the absence of any mention of Douglas Messerli, who ranks as one of the most important poet-editor-publishers of the baby boom generation. Perhaps the answer can be found at the Archives for New Poetry, which are located at UCSD, although I note that the on-line catalogue states that Ron Silliman’s “(c)orrespondence with Douglas Messerli in Box 12, folder 20 may not be quoted or published without prior written permission from Ron Silliman.”

“The question of articulating any movement of poetry in a world in which there exist some 50,000 publishing ones is one hell of a lot harder than it was when the number was 2,000 or so just 30-plus years ago.”

I have no idea of where Ron is getting these figures. Thirty years would place us in the late 1980s, when Codrescu’s UP LATE anthology appeared, a collection that among many other things reflected the impact that my anthology POETRY LOVES POETRY had in terms of providing some visibility to a significant number of younger L.A. poets. Is “thirty-plus years” meant to expand the temporal suburbs of what appears to be a very subjective census to 1980? If so, is Ron truly suggesting that somehow all of the mainstream publishing as well as the extraordinary outpouring of small press activity in the 1970s was being generated by a total of 2,000 poets???? Bean counter alert!

On the other hand, I see no reason to doubt his 50,000 publishing poets figure as we head towards the end of this decade. The point at which the there is a “population” of 2,000 publishing poets, however, would more likely be the case in 1968, before the Baby Boom generation came along to the ranks quite rapidly.

The central tension in this post by Silliman appears to be the oscillations generated by “movement” versus “moment.” Indeed, how does one finalize the “beat movement” when three of its best-known figures are still alive? It’s not just those figures who should matter in making this statement, though. What about women beats who are just now emerging from the patriarchal repression of their work? Eileen Aronson Ireland, praised by Stuart Perkoff and cited by John Thomas in the first poem of his first book in 1972, is finally getting her first book of poetry published this year, a book that will include new poems and not just the work she wrote while being part of the Venice West scene. The beat movement is still ongoing, and the post-Beat (towards which I have made a few very minor contributions) is more lively than ever.

Being committed to avant-garde poetics, Ron Silliman has little use for a dialectical synthesis. The point of an avant-garde is to sweep the previous version into a “dustbin,” where it should languish in the disdain of everyone who now is “hip.” I prefer to think of that process as being more beneficial if it is regarded as more akin to a garden, and mulching.

Finally, I would suggest that Ron Silliman provide a short list of the best blog articles he has written in the past on the subject of this post. For instance, his entry on February 15, 2013 is probably the best single commentary I know of on the most recent edition of Paul Hoover’s anthology of post-modern poetry (and it should be noted that Paul Vangelisti does appear in one of Silliman’s lists in that article). Young poets who are beginning to publish could use a guide to find the blog entries by Silliman that address the themes he has reiterated at the start of 2019.

The “Serious Problem” of Literary Gossip

Sunday, January 6, 2019

I recently learned that “gossip” — as in the phrase “to be a gossip” — was first inserted into the language by William Shakespeare. No doubt he suffered from its aggravating noise while he was alive, perhaps largely due to his felicitous adaptations of other’s writings; his use of “sources” has certainly contributed to the contemporary conversation (aka, “literary criticism”) about his “originality.”

“Literary,” according to Marjorie Garber, was not a word used to describe the causes and effects of authorial endeavors until the mid-18th century. Shakespeare would not have attributed the mendacity of another writer to the jealousy of a marginal literary figure. My commentary on “marginal” appears in HOLDOUTS: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance 1948-1992 (University of Iowa Press, 2011).

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/09/shakespeare-plagiarism-software-george-north

Of course, there are also writers who are at least partially responsible for the circulation of gossip about their lives. Edward Gorey, whose 500 page biography by Mark Dory, BORN TO BE POSTHUMOUS: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, received a four page lead review in the New York Times Book Review today, made his sexual preferences more than sufficiently alluring to gossips by pitching his tent in an ambiguous binary: “I realize that homosexuality is a serious problem for anyone who is, but then, of course, heterosexuality is a serious problem for anyone who is, too. And being a man is a serious problem and being a woman is, too. Lots of things are problems” (NYTBR, p. 14, January 6, 2019).

An Improvised Dictionary (forthcoming)

gossip — noun.

1) discourse wearing a see-through gown or form-fitting lingerie;
2) a story that reciprocates our personal fears in such a soothing manner that one enjoys hearing it again, and again, as if for the first time;
3) Saturn’s network of hidden microphones to record the conversations of her four moons.

POEM CONCERNING THE “POSTHUMOUS”

You’d be surprised
at how much
the universe gossips,
but not about us.
Not about us, at all.

In the meantime, one can catch up on the latest “gossip” about the universe at earthsky.org.

Listen as Saturn and its moon interact

Catch-up Links to William Archila; Alexis Rhone Fancher; Alex Umlas

Saturday, January 5, 2019

I am happy to report that Eileen Aronson Ireland I are beginning to collate the poems that will go into her first book of poems. Eileen is one of the last surviving members of the Venice West poetry scene that included Stuart Perkoff, John Thomas, Frank T. Rios, Tony Scibella, Bruce Boyd, Bonnie Bratton, and Lawrence Lipton. We hope that the book will be out in the Fall of 2019 from IF/SF Books, and that it will enable those who are thinking of assembling a comprehensive anthology of Los Angeles poets to grasp how large a volume will be required. There has not yet been an anthology of L.A. poets that include the work of William Pillin, Gene Frumkin, and Alvaro Cardona-Hine along with the above poets. Perhaps it will have to be an electronic book, or at least one in which the a supplementary set of texts can be accessed through various links. My hope is that such a book appears by 2025.

In the meantime, Suzanne Lummis’s anthology, Wide Awake, does a very fine job of giving a sense of the L.A. scenes between 1978 and this mid-decade, and I would urge my readers to consult that anthology as a means of creating a context for the following links.

Alexis Rhone Fancher

http://www.theamericanjournalofpoetry.com/v6-fancher.html

“There are worse things than a dead kid,” I think, by Alexis Rhone Fancher

Anna As War Zone (a sister poem)

https://thepangolinreview.wixsite.com/mypoetrysite/1st-edition-results

http://www.glass-poetry.com/journal/2019/january/fancher-body.html

The last listed link to Fancher’s poetry features “My Body Is a Map of Scars.”

* * *

William Archila

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/william-archila

https://m.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/william-archila

* * * *

Alex Umlas

October 8-14, 2018: Poetry from Alexandra Umlas, Debbie Hall and Angele Ellis

Post-MFA Links for the New Year: Indicia Magazine; and David Garyan

January 2, 2019

Contrary to the steadfast beliefs of AWP, MFA poetry programs have not necessarily been the best thing for the health of American poetry in the past three decades. (Let us remember once again how FEW such academic programs existed in 1980 in the United States. In point of fact, it was the “small press” movement that truly invigorated American poetry in the 1970s.) Nevertheless, MFA programs in the past four decades have enabled many young poets to gain some basic training in versification.

The program at the university where I teach, primarily in the Literature section, has begun to produce graduates who flourish after receiving their MFA degrees. Jax NTP has had several poems published in Caliban magazine, for instance, which I regard as one of the best magazines around. Eric Morago has taken over the editorship of Moontide Press, and edited and published a significant anthology of genre-oriented poetry entitled Dark Ink. The Whittier Art Museum hosted its publication reading, and there will be a follow-up event at Beyond Baroque on Feb. 9th. His next major project will be a volume of poems by Alex Umlas, who is one of the best of the new poets working within traditional forms.

In the brief time that 2019 has been the operative year, I have received additional notices that I want to pass on to you as links. A.J. Urquidi and Marcus Clayton, both recent graduates of CSULB’s MFA program, have edited and published the fifth issue of their magazine, Indicia. Their actual titles are “executive editors,” which is probably a smart move on their parts in terms of keeping the magazine going. Anyone who tries this kind of venture single-handed these days had better need very little sleep. To assist them, Urquidi and Clayton have appointed two CSULB alumni, Jax NTP and Toren Wallace as poetry editors. The collaboration of these editors with the fiction editor, Marissa Branson, has been unusually acute.

The issue opens with “Rising” by Laura Rivera Rodriguez, which deserves to be quoted in its entirety, but since I am a lazy blogger, I would rather reiterate that it is the perfect poem to lead the issue off than retype lines that would probably end up with too many typos. The quality is maintained as one works one’s way into the issue. Each poem could make a strong case for its desirability by editors of other magazines. I certainly would have seriously considered the following poems for publication in Momentum back in the days when I edited a poetry magazine: Rachel Sandle’s “What to Do If”; and Laura Dolphin’s scathing redaction of the National Football League’s “Concussion Protocol. In addition, Allegra Armstrong’s willingness to risk sentimentality caught me off guard, and made her “List of Things I know How to Cook” a tender, brief account of fate’s whimsicality. Vincent Hao’s four-page poem, “Variation on the Paradoxical Vase, Faces Turned Apart” is like a large, glowing painting of a mother-son relationship. Short (very short!) poems by Rose Knapp and Darren C. Demure prove to be concurrently effusive in their ability to act as performative acts, the very focus called for in the issue’s epigraph by John L. Austin. It’s not just the poetry, however, that sustains one’s attention in this issue.

The art work by xiang is impressively committed to finding the nanosecond that can’t be disturbed without shifting the tonal range of its interior’s outburst. The other visual artist is equally deft. Bill Wolak’s pair of pieces, including “As Silk Glides Quivering through the Wind,” will make you wish you had enlarged versions framed on your bedroom wall.

In the interests of full disclosure, two of the professors in the MFA program at CSULB, Patty Seyburn and myself, have poems in this issue, but I would be impressed by the work the editors selected regardless of that inclusion. You can judge for yourself by taking a look at the issue in its entirety:

https://e.issuu.com/anonymous-embed.html?u=indicialit&d=indicia_issue_3_1

Finally, I have received a link from another of CSULB’s MFA graduates, David Garyan, who has both an essay and a 20 page poem in an issue of the American Journal of Poetry.

https://theamericanjournalofpoetry.com/v6-garyan_essay.html

https://theamericanjournalofpoetry.com/v6-garyan.html

I hope the current students, who are studying in 2018-2019 with Patty Seyburn and Charles Harper Webb, are inspired by these accomplishments and that they plan on emulating their elders in the early years of the coming decade.

Three Film Reviews: “The Favorite”; “Roma”; “Struggle”

January 1, 2019

“The Favorite” (directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)

I confess I could use a good comedy right now. Linda and I watched Ernst Lubitsch’s “To Be Or Not to Be” on DVD a week or so ago, and I couldn’t figure out why I had not seen it before. It’s far superior to Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” and should be required viewing in every film history course. Carol Lombard was outstanding, and I found myself wondering if she had lived and kept working in Hollywood, she might have enabled Marilyn Monroe to have an actress to look up to and serve as a model for artistic excellence. Watching “To Be Or Not to Be” reminded me that it is possible to make a great comedy about current politics, and I could use the tempering reminder of a well-earned laugh at this point in Trump’s bloated tenure.

Of course, everyone’s historical period seems to possess its own make-or-break urgency. A film that is currently making its run at the Art Theater in Long Beach is “The Favorite,” which portrays the palace politics of the penultimate segment of Queen Anne’s reign. Her primary advisor (and lover), Sarah, The Duchess of Marlborough (played by Rachel Weisz), finds herself displaced by an upstart, quietly ambitious cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone) who rises from the ranks of scullery maid to console and heal the physical and psychic wounds of the monarch. “My side,” is the upstart’s response to an inquiry from the Whig leader about where her loyalties find their sinecure. We see a side of her that makes her less of our favorite by the end of the film.

“The Favorite” is divided into eight parts, if recollection serves me right. Each section has a title, so it seems as if this is an eight chapter novel, for which the Yorgos Langhimos has chosen to make use of a variety of cinematic approaches, including a wide-angle lens that creates a kind of fishbowl gaze at the royal mise-en-scene. The director has been quoted as saying that he was influenced by certain Dutch paintings in striving to provide this lushly blurred intonation. In other scenes, candlelight is used to generate a mood of intense personal self-reflection akin to the portraits of Georges de la Tour.

The musical score stood out for its fervor in dipping itself into the editing of the scenes. For the most part, the music emphatically bolstered the ambivalence of the shifting alliances and betrayals at the core of the narrative. In one chapter, however,the minimalism of the score found its efficacy diluted by over-extension, and in the final chapter the piano seemed overused as the submission of the “favorite” to aristocratic prerogative whirled into a kaleidoscopic collage.

Louis Montrose has observed, quite astutely, that “All representations of power are also appropriations of power.” In depicting the power struggles of Queen Anne’s court, “The Favorite” reveals how those who use seduction to gain power are comically distorted by the power imparted by that seduction.

When I was a graduate student, a professor commented that the “long eighteenth century” is usually the weakest link in a student’s preparation for Ph.D. studies, although many students find it to be the most fascinating instance of modernity’s ideological evolution. I certainly found it to be far more intriguing than I anticipated. I only wish that this film had been available back in 1997, and that a sequel that focused on Prime Miniter Walpole had come out the following year.

December 29, 2018: “Roma”

Although Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” has generated considerable acclaim and is likely to get at least several Academy award nominations, if not win one or two, it has also been a flash point for shifts within the film industry. It is my understanding that the distributor of the film, Netflix, also was a major source of its funding, and “Roma” has consequently had an unusual patten of public exhibition. Instead of a limited release in “art houses,” followed by more suburban chain theaters, “Roma” has been available on Netflix for viewing alongside anyone who is binge-watching a series.

Linda and I walked over to the Art Theater in Long Beach two weeks ago to see “Roma” on the “big screen,” and I remain grateful that we did so; in fact, I’m not sure that I ever want to watch the film on a TV screen or a computer monitor. Given my age and that I am still working full-time, and have many unfinished projects, watching “Roma” on the small screen may not ever be a temptation. If so, it will remain one of my treasured memories. Even in the course of watching the film, I felt the nostalgia of recollection already at work. If someone wishes to sneer at what might be thought of self-indulgent sentimentality for one’s remote youth, then let them sneer. The palimpsest of the years spent watching Fellini and de Sica thickened as I watched “Roma,” and “depth of field” renewed its claims as a viable frame for a vision that allows those who are not given primary roles to surprise all onlookers.

Regardless of the number of awards it receives, “Roma” will no doubt be the subject of a fair number of conference papers at academic gatherings. “The abject” has not lost its keyword status, though its portrayal on the “big screen” may not be appreciated as it deserves simply because so few people will see it in that context and therefore expand their critique making use of that particular starting point.

Not everyone admires “Roma,” which refers to a specific neighborhood in Mexico City. (It is the equivalent of titling a film “Echo Park” or “Ocean Park” or “Venice,” if it were set in Los Angeles.) We had dinner with two friends the other night who said that if they had seen it in a movie theater, they would have wanted their money back. They did concede, however, that the image of the maid and nanny, Cleo (played with extraordinary subtlety by Yalitza Aparicio), holding herself in a difficult yoga pose while all the men around her flounder like inept novitiates was truly memorable. Such is the case, and underlines the case made by Ezra Pound a hundred years ago: “It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.” Still spot on.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Struggle: The Life & Lost Art of Szukalski (2018)
Directed by Ireneusz Dobrowolski
Written by Stephen Cooper & Ireneusz Dobrowolski
Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio et al.

Stephen Cooper, an internationally recognized authority on the writing of John Fante, turned his attention about five years ago to yet another neglected artistic figure, the sculptor Stanislaw Szukalski (1893 – 1987). I would have probably never thought about watching “Struggle,” a documentary initially focused on Szukalski’s lost artistic projects, if I had not first spent a few minutes every semester or so discussing the progress of the film with Steve, who served as one of the co-producers along with a host of “executive producers.” As I recollect our conversations in the Department of English’s mail room, one of the final tasks involved some filming on Easter Island; in fact, in retrospect, this aspect of the film’s production was so much the main topic that when I first heard about a screening of “Struggle,” I wondered what had happened to the project that Steve was working on that required location shooting on Easter Island.

It turned out that Easter Island is the resting place for Szukalski’s ashes, in large part because he believed that all human culture originated from that remote domain of vanquished sculptors. Every human civilization, according to Szukalski’s fantasy, is the result of a diaspora that launched itself from Easter Island, either before or after the Great Flood. I’m uncertain of Szukalski’s “Great Flood” chronology because I didn’t see how it made any difference which came first. I found Szukaski to be an artist who possessed great technical facility as a young sculptor, but who succumbed to fantasies of being a genius. In the course of the film, we learn that these fantasies in the 1930s included nationalistic fervor embedded in right-wing blood and soil ideologies.

The biggest mistake of Sukalski’s life was returning to Poland, his birth country, from the United States, where he was beginning to establish an artistic reputation, and attempting to become the singular master of imagining Polish national identity. Although the second half of the film includes interview footage in which he seems to renounce the anti-Semitism with which his artistic impetus became associated, it is difficult to overlook how the right wing in Poland in this decade appears to have appropriated his work in its contemporary programming.

The film itself seems all too much like a PBS documentary, heavy on still photographs that provide a bridge between favorable footage and the exculpatory exegesis of various critics. I wish more biographical detail had been provided: how exactly did Szukalski manage to escape from Poland after the Nazi invasion? What stories did he tell his screenwriter friend, Ben Hecht, about his time in Poland, in which he appears to have been associated with a fascist, anti-Semitic insurgency? (It seems telling that the film’s title echoes the title of Hitler’s infamous manifesto.) Did anyone involved with the film contact his former co-workers at Rocketdyne, where he is said to have been employed for several years? “Struggle” features the executor of Szukalski’s artistic estate, Glenn Bray, in the lead role of his posthumous advocate. Bray, in fact, probably deserves some formal credit for “Struggle” in that the film could hardly have ever come to pass without his hundreds of hours of video footage serving as an archival resource. No doubt much of it would make for tedious viewing. Szukalski’s proposed universal language of “Protong,” for instance, is sufficiently bizarre that if it were taken out of context, I can imagine its inventor being held for observation at a facility for the mentally ill.

At the end of the film, in fact, I found myself infinitely more inclined to watch a full-length documentary about Ben Hecht, and wondering how big a role Szukalski might play in it. Despite the passages from Hecht’s writing, which are read in the film, that record the strong impression Szukalski made on him, I suspect that any substantial documentary film on Hecht would only include a very small cameo appearance by Szukalski, and even that might be more than he deserves.

“Struggle” debuted last month in Amsterdam and this month in Los Angeles. It started streaming on Netflix on Friday, December 21.

(Post-script: December 31, 2018 — The original blog post about this film was considerably shorter, and primarily noted that the film would be available for viewing on Netflix. The review has intermittently been revised and substantially expanded during the past two weeks.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanisław_Szukalski

http://szukalski.com

The following critique of Szukalski deserves our close attention:
Who Is Stanislav Szukalski, the Obscure Artist Leonardo DiCaprio Is Trying to Make Famous?

In reading about Szukalski’s theories, I began to wonder what kind of metanarrative he might have come up with if current scientific discourse about Neanderthal DNA had been wide-spread knowledge at mid-20th century.

https://www.livescience.com/64296-neanderthal-dna-human-skull-shape.html

“Roma”: The Big Screen as “The Abject”

December 29, 2018

Although Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” has generated considerable acclaim and is likely to get at least several Academy award nominations, if not win one or two, it has also been a flash point for shifts within the film industry. It is my understanding that the distributor of the film, Netflix, also was a major source of its funding, and “Roma” has consequently had an unusual patten of public exhibition. Instead of a limited release in “art houses,” followed by more suburban chain theaters, “Roma” has been available on Netflix for viewing alongside anyone who is binge-watching a series.

Linda and I walked over to the Art Theater in Long Beach two weeks ago to see “Roma” on the “big screen,” and I remain grateful that we did so; in fact, I’m not sure that I ever want to watch the film on a TV screen or a computer monitor. Given my age and that I am still working full-time, and have many unfinished projects, watching “Roma” on the small screen may not ever be a temptation. If so, it will remain one of my treasured memories. Even in the course of watching the film, I felt the nostalgia of recollection already at work. If someone wishes to sneer at what might be thought of self-indulgent sentimentality for one’s remote youth, then let them sneer. The palimpsest of the years spent watching Fellini and de Sica thickened as I watched “Roma,” and “depth of field” renewed its claims as a viable frame for a vision that allows those who are not given primary roles to surprise all onlookers.

Regardless of the number of awards it receives, “Roma” will no doubt be the subject of a fair number of conference papers at academic gatherings. “The abject” has not lost its keyword status, though its portrayal on the “big screen” may not be appreciated as it deserves simply because so few people will see it in that context and therefore expand their critique making use of that particular starting point.

Not everyone admires “Roma,” which refers to a specific neighborhood in Mexico City. (It is the equivalent of titling a film “Echo Park” or “Ocean Park” or “Venice,” if it were set in Los Angeles.) We had dinner with two friends the other night who said that if they had seen it in a movie theater, they would have wanted their money back. They did concede, however, that the image of the maid and nanny, Cleo (played with extraordinary subtlety by Yalitza Aparicio), holding herself in a difficult yoga pose while all the men around her flounder like inept novitiates was truly memorable. Such is the case, and underlines the case made by Ezra Pound a hundred years ago: “It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.” Still spot on.

“Paragraphs” by Walter Lowenfels

Thursday, December 27, 2018

One of the most important literary magazines of the period between 1950 and 1970 was James Boyer May’s TRACE, edited and published in Los Angeles. One of its contributors is largely forgotten today, though he was a poet whose literary “career” was similar to George Oppen’s, in that both had a significant period during which they devoted themselves to radical political activity rather than give precedence to writing poems.

Here are some links to background information to Lowenfels, who deserves to have more scholarship done on his work with the same degree of thoroughness as Michael Davidson and Stephen Cope addressed the poetry and notebooks of George Open in recent decades. In fact, this new scholar’s initial work will be somewhat easier because that person can easily and directly access much of Lowenfels’s work thanks to the Upenn website; there is no excuse for scholars not to begin to embed his work more prominently in their critiques of 20th century American literature.

http://wap.mlb.com/pit/news/article/20181214301867134/

http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Lowenfels.php

http://www.pennilesspress.co.uk/prose/walter_lowenfels.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Lowenfels

The following material was first printed in issues 33 and 35 of TRACE magazine.

“Paragraphs” by Walter Lowenfels

A poem comes from a new misreading of history.

You have to write quickly these days. Otherwise your style changes and your particular theme loses itself.

What does Gautier’s “arcana of daily travail” mean? That you
have to get closer to the point where the poem writes itself automatically.

For me poems have been a way of living rather than a way
of literature. It was only when I quit thinking that poems were actually possible that I began to make them.

Something in every poem escapes the moment it has been created
– the underlying totality the poet carries with him. On the other hand—something is added – the totality the reader carries with him. When the two are close to one you have the minimum basis for a poem.

The poem ought to be read to end the instant it begins.

The poem has to get worse and worse. Only so it gets better and better. As the grass of the world goes deader, the grass of the poem goes whiter.

* * *

PARAGRAPHS by Walter Lowenfels

I don’t agree with anybody, and the only way I can indicate it is
a poem.

Tomorrow’s poem is still an exile from a land we are trying to find.

That a poem ends is just as mysterious as that it begins.

If it can be said in half the words, it is twice as good.

We have to live poems to make poems…

If you take dancing seriously, a poet is a man without a tongue,
shouting at an audience without ears.

(issue 35)