Category Archives: Ground Level Conditions

From the Greatest Generation to the Search Engine Generation: A Field Report

Sunday, August 19, 2018

It’s been almost a month since my last post. My mother seems to have settled in at the skilled nursing facility she moved into a month ago. I visited her this afternoon, after attending a meeting to welcome the new contingent of M.F.A. students in creative writing at CSULB. My mother’s face lit up when she saw me. Even though I have very few happy memories of my childhood, other than having enough food to eat and a warm place to sleep (no small things!), it’s hard to resist the appeal of a very elderly face realizing that the outside world has not completely forgotten her. She will be 97 years old in December, and she only dimly understands what I do from day to day as a teacher. If I were to have told her this afternoon that I was interviewed this past Tuesday by KCET for a television program on Venice West that will be broadcast in two or three months, it would mean no more than an announcement that I have had my 20 year old car painted by a local auto body shop, owned by a man whose son is studying marine biology at CSULB. There is no longer an hierarchy of significance to retain as a plumb line for social value and accomplishment. The impingements of frailty have left her unable to remember even how old she is, or how that span of endurance might even give her oldest son a reason in its comparative meditation to gaze beyond his own youthful privation. The stubbornness in my mother’s eyes has begun to yield to an acceptance that is less judgmental of her fate and misfortunes. Until recently, that stubbornness was the provisional aspect of her resilient willpower as a resource bestowed upon her in compensation for the penury of my father’s 20 year career in the U.S. Navy. Now she has let the grip of that lifetime of economic restrictions be someone else’w concern. I let her nibble at a very ripe banana. She savors it, not as if for the first time, or the last, but with a gratitude that it exists at all.

I will be on sabbatical this semester, so I could have excused myself from being at today’s MFA meeting, but I wanted to meet some of the students whose application I read in the spring semester. They seem eager to get to work, and I believe they will be pleased to have chosen CSULB to get their “union card” of a degree. We have an exceptional faculty: Stephen Cooper, Lisa Glatt, Suzanne Greenberg, and Ray Zepeda teach fiction; Patty Seyburn, David Hernandez, Charles Harper Webb, and I teach poetry. In the middle of the last decade, only half of the current faculty were on the roster of the Department of English, so it’s a program that has grown despite few chances for the students to work as teaching assistants. On the whole, it’s a veteran faculty, with over 200 years of combined teaching experience and publication in several hundred literary magazines. Not everyone necessarily benefits from academic training in creative writing, but if one is going to choose this path, then you can hardly do better than to study at CSULB.

I suppose one piece of encouraging news on the domestic side of things is that Linda has found some studio space in San Pedro. It’s a bit of a drive from our residence in Long Beach, but more than worth it to have space where we don’t have to worry about having a palette of oil paint traipsed though by a resident feline and then tracked across the floor. Linda will move in on September 1st, and we are looking forward to a chance to work on some big canvases, which is hard to do in one’s daily dwelling place.

Finally, it is hard not to comment on the political contretemps of current American life. The ghastliness of Trump’s administration is on a scale beyond the normal limits of human comprehension, if only because I fear so many worse developments are yet in the making. In gauging his expectations that we should trust him, I am hardly the only one who has noted that President Trump has no capacity for appreciating anything but adulation. Far worse, however, is his pathological self-absorption, in which anything that can be ascertained as positive is supposed to be credited to his acumen. The current economy, for instance, is not thriving because of Trump, although it’s not thriving because of Obama, either. Rather, I believe that the prosperity bubble is largely due to the “work” being done by computers. The efficiency of computers has generated a considerable amount of wealth in terms of job productivity, and it is this factor that buoys things up for the time being. Unfortunately, very few companies, let alone politicians, have any idea of how to make best use of the this temporary benefit.

A couple of years ago, in this biog, I discussed how the current generation of youth should be called “the search engine generation.” It is a generation that was humiliated by the economic collapse of 2007-2008. The revival of the economy in the past four years does not erase the harrowing penalties of that debacle and its impact on youth people as well as the baby boom generation. That Trump has made no effort to compensate either generation for what they endured is just one of the things that causes me to despise him more than ever. If Trump is to be disposed of, it will involve the commitment of the “search engine generation” to a campaign focused on making his mendacity a matter of complete public knowledge. Given that he is no doubt tracking negative commentary with fanatical diligence, the willingness to speak up and risk being categorized as an “enemy of the people” requires more courage on the part of “the search engine generation” because they are the ones whose careers can be most decimated by Trump and his allies. Nevertheless, the rest of the electorate is truly depending on them to lead the way. Onward!

From a rooftop on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. — July 4

July 6, 2018

I worked as a fiction writing teacher at Idyllwild arts for twenty consecutive summers, starting in the mid-1990s. Several of my students went on to become published writers, including Sara Wintz and Julia Glassman. During the first fifteen or so years, during which I built the fiction writing class up from one session per summer to three sessions each summer, the first introduction to the students always took place on the first Sunday after the July 4th weekend. Then, with the shift to an earlier start of school years, the students gathered at the top of the mountain on the first Sunday before the July 4th celebration.

In my professional as well as personal life, Idyllwild is a significant part of the commitments I have made in my life. I cannot look at the July page of the calendar on my kitchen wall without thinking of that cycle of packing to leave and unpacking on my return, which always took more than a single day. The past couple years have brought me a new ritual: Linda and I gather on the third story rooftop of Rod and Tamiko’s home on Martin Luther King Boulevard, and we watch the fireworks jettison their transient glow on a scythe-swath perimeter of Los Angeles County. Other friends, including Olivier Bochettaz, join in. Olivier and Pauline had a child six months ago, and Luna is an exceptionally beautiful baby.

Rod J-4 one

Bochettaz Salute One

Bochettaz Salute Two

Bochettaz Salutre - Three

Rod J-4 two

Rod J-4 three

Rod J-4 four

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Wish Starts to Come True

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Mexico’s Next President Elected!

I have not heard any reports of the percentage of the electorate that actually voted in the elections today in Mexico, but I can’t help but wonder about the beneficial effects of Sunday elections. Having the vote take place on a day on which most people don’t work has to influence the ability of people to participate in a democratic process.

The astonishing news, of course, is that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been elected the next President of Mexico by an overwhelming margin. It is fortunate that the polls showed Obrador with a huge lead. If he had only had a lead of two percent, as Hillary Clinton did heading into election day in the U.S. in 2016, I have no doubt that the results would have favored another candidate.

As I just mentioned on my Facebook and Twitter accounts, I remember Alejandro González Iñárritu accepting the Oscar for his exquisite directing work on a film about a floundering actor who once was the incarnation of a popular culture hero. In his acceptance speech, Iñárritu said, “I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve.” He also mentioned “the ones living in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect as the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.” As of this evening, it would seem that the first half of Iñárritu’s reclamation of human rights has made more progress towards fulfillment than the second half.

I send my best wishes to my friends in Mexico, and hope that your expectations can be met as quickly as possible.

The Binary Special at the Zero Sum Cafe

The Open All Hours Zero Sum Cafe — The Binary Special (Served Daily)

Even when the odds are enormously favorable for a catastrophe, a pessimist braces for disappointment, and frets about how abashed he will feel if things turn out well; when they don’t, an optimist prefers to act indignantly surprised and perplexed.

As for myself, I plan on going on a meditation retreat as soon as possible, and taking my eligibility test for reincarnation as a bodhisattva. Most of my friends think I should wait another lifetime or two, but they’re just a bunch of pessimystics.

(In conversation with Linda Fry)

June 18, 2018

An Alternative Cartography of Pangaea

Saturday, June 16, 2018

My faculty office at CSULB is in a nine-story building at the southern edge of the campus. Due to the columns of metal slats on the eastern nd western sides of MHB (McIntosh Humanities Building), the students refer to it as “the toaster building.”

The restrooms alternate from the third floor up, with odd numbers having facilities for men and even numbered floors being designated for women. For the past dozen years, the third floor restroom has provided me with an interesting abstraction on the divider between the urinal and the toilet on the other side.

Whenever I walked in, it seemed as if Duchamp’s “Fountain” had transformed into a cartographic diptych, in which an alternative map of Pangaea’s continental drift presented itself for my momentary consideration. If others wish to impose a commentary about man’s impact on the planet to today’s post, that is their privilege.

Urinal Divider Gaia - 2

Urinal Divider - Gaia

The Typesetter in “The Post”: “The Hand of Labor”

December 23, 2017

Yesterday, Linda and I took Laurel Ann Bogen out to a movie and dinner as a Christmas present. She wanted to see “The Post,” which turned out to be a surprisingly good film for its category. The main driving point is the publication of “The Pentagon Papers” by the New York Times and the Washington Post. The latter paper is facing a financial bind, and the hopes of providing some relief on that pressure depend on a successful stock sale, which is up for grabs at the very time that its publisher (Kay Graham) and its editor (Ben Brantley) must decide whether to challenge a court injunction that blocked the New York Times from further publication of this material.

Rather than add to the commentary of the typical aspects of a review, I have decided to concentrate on two very, very minor moments in “The Post.” This idiosyncratic preference for minuscule meaning drove my English teachers crazy when I was a freshman in college. Obviously, this is one other feature of a blog that I truly love. I get to do what I want.

Laurel, Linda, and I all worked at newspapers at various times in our lives, and each of us at dinner expressed the pleasure we got from the film during its moments when it displayed the production process of the paper itself. Bringing a newspaper into a reader’s hands, each of us knew, was not some magical process, but involved considerable physical labor, effort, and concentration. Towards the end of the film, the publisher stands behind a typesetter. Not a word is spoken, but the body itself of the typesetter was remarkably full of history. A Korean War veteran, most likely, whose son had forestalled being drafted by going to college. This typesetter was not a combat veteran like the protagonist of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” In fact, he had learned to be a typesetter in the military. Did he vote for Humphrey or Nixon in 1968? Or did he vote at all? To a certain extent, he is a more representative character than anyone else in the film of the pressures that have faced the American electorate the past half-century. Yet he does not have a voice, only the nimble fingers that reflect “The Hand of Labor.”

The second moment in the film that I want to comment on involves a scene where the publisher, played surprisingly well by Meryl Streep, is sitting on the edge of a bed. The left third of the screen is taken up by a lamp on a small table. The camera does not move for quite some time. No doubt it was less than 90 seconds, but it seemed more like three minutes. I had an odd “Fluxus” moment: I wanted the whole screen to fill up with the image of the lamp and for the soundtrack of John Williams’s fine understated music to play without any human voice, and then for the people who worked at the factory that made the lamp to appear and for them to begin to speak, out of history to history. If a newspaper is the “first rough draft” of history, it is their words that need to be recorded in its opening paragraphs and in the intonement of its final pronouncements.

Note: It was hard to resist making the headline of my blog post today about a milestone in my blog: 1,000,000 total hits. At some point in the next few hours, my blog will surpass that symbolic figure. When I woke up and checked this morning, the official number was 999,751, so it won’t be long before my blog’s dispersal over the past year and a half reflects a wider audience than it was getting in its first two and a half years. I am not under any illusion that this mean my blog has some kind of wide readership. That is hardly the case. To a large extent, I write this as a version of an intermittent diary, albeit one that is available for others to read. To those of you who read it, and have on occasion written me, thank you for your attention and care.

The GOP (Grand Offshore Party) and the Perfidy of Imposter Taxation

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Grand Offshore Party

I have not yet had a chance to investigate the Paradise Papers, but is there any need to spend precious time on reviewing what has been public knowledge for quite some time? Over the past several years, corporations have parked billions of dollars of profits in off-shore vaults, waiting for their tax rates to be lowered. It’s all perfectly legal.

It also has consequences. Is each and every dying person in this country receiving sufficient care to ease their travail? Is each child provided with a teacher who inspires imaginative and ethical curiosity? Is each parent of a disabled child given the assistance needed to empower that individual in all the impingements of her or his own life?

Yes, “ordinary” people must contribute to the kind of social program that would answer the above questions with an affirmation, but a society in which the distribution of wealth is skewed by a sanctioned version of double-entry bookkeeping can only endure by magnifying its repressive mechanisms to squeeze those who have the least amount of power. The thin layer of operatives who have extreme amounts of wealth and use but a pittance of it for anything other than furthering their own largesse are currently engaged in the perfidy of imposter taxation. They pretend to be individual citizens, owing no more than a family farmer of less than a thousand acres, or a carpenter, or architect, or teacher, or lawyer doing significant pro bono work, or police officer; yet they pay a proportionately small percentage of taxes than these workers.

This cannot be allowed to persist. I urge you to sign the following internationally based petition:

https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/paradise_papers_loc/?cQMXkab

This is a global vote.

For more information on this issue, go to the following links:

https://www.theguardian.com/news/series/paradise-papers?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=251595&subid=4769845&CMP=GT_US_collection

Fact Sheet: Offshore Corporate Loopholes

* * *
“At the end of 2016 the giant US technology companies alone were estimated by Moody’s Investors Service to have $1.84 trillion (£1.4 trillion) of cash held offshore. …. The calculations of the economist Gabriel Zucman – analysing discrepancies in countries’ national accounts – suggest that around $7.6 trillion, or 8 per cent of global wealth, is held offshore. That’s up 25 per cent over the past five years.”
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/offshore-tax-havens-how-do-work-what-done-change-paradise-papers-panama-bermuda-caymans-turks-caicos-a8039916.html

* * *
“The richest 1 percent of the world’s population now owns more than half of global wealth, and the top 10 percent owns about 90 percent.”

A Quick Sunday Trifecta: Joseph Hansen, Lewis MacAdams, and Women’s Music

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

There was a meeting this afternoon at Beyond Baroque for the committee in charge of its 50 anniversary celebration, which will start in just a few months. I couldn’t make the meeting, for I find myself trying to finish both a major poetry project and several papers for the literature side of things.

However, I doubt there’s a better way at the present moment to invoke the grubby days of a half-century ago — when poets in Venice considered themselves fortunate to have a small storefront to gather in and talk about their poems — than to pass along a link to an article on Joseph Hansen, without whom there would have been no workshop and everything that grew out of all those encounters. If George Drury Smith was the founder of Beyond Baroque, then Joseph Hansen was the secret instigator of its ability to encompass a most peculiar variety of poets. Lisa Janssen has written a very fine account of Hansen’s life and commitment to social change that deserves your attention:

MY FAVORITE GADABOUT #3: GAY PRIDE EDITION, JOSEPH HANSEN

Of course, not all the poets who have made a significant difference in Los Angeles were based in Venice. Lewis MacAdams, for instance, arrived here in the early 1980s and promptly made himself one of the indispensable activists. His work on reclaiming the Los Angeles river is legendary, and is rightfully being accorded an oral history in which Lewis gets to assemble and preserve the details of that process. Here is a link to an article that lets us peek into that process.

http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-macadams-lariver-legacy-20171006-htmlstory.html

The third thing I’d like to share with you is a counterpoint to all the news coming out about a certain Hollywood mogul. While it’s crucial that those who have been victimized get to confront the perpetrator of their debasing memories, it’s also important not to let this overwhelm the discourse of imagination to the point where women are primarily categorized as either one of two things: victims or potential victims. Against considerable odds, women have done extraordinarily important cultural work, and here are two links to some of it. The first is to women who worked in the field of electronic music, and the second is to a long list of albums that anyone interested in popular music should be familiar with. For those born since 1990, a surprising number of these albums may only be familiar as flare-ups of nostalgia by their aunts and uncles, or parents.

http://edm.com/articles/2014/12/14/6-women-history-electronic-music

http://www.npr.org/2017/07/20/538324927/turning-the-tables-150-greatest-albums-made-by-women-page-13

As a last-minute follow-up, I just now remembered that I happened to run across a video that made me think of the book, Gunfighter Nation.

Is there a way to substitute guitars played by women musicians for the guns in the above video, and thereby move the image to one of affirming life’s potential for joy?

“Our Country Seems So Far Away” by Harry E. Northup

Our Country Seems So Far Away

Our country washes itself with grief
Our country celebrates division
Our country brags about class
Our country continues war indefinitely
Our country refuses to cross the aisle
Our country right or wrong or left behind
Our country scolds minor rock throwers
Our country the church of middle ages
Our country chips away at Mount Rushmore
Our country jumps off Pikes Peak into the Royal Gorge
Our country does not cross the Continental Divide
Our country says John Milton who, Edmund Spenser who
Our country builds railroad tracks over its pastoral poets
Our country denies horizons, clean rivers
Our country never misses a chance to go abroad & destroy
Our country kills civilians abroad & at home
Our country washes its football jersey with blood of the flag
Our country crosses borders with drones
Our country celebrates a vision of cruelty
Our country cut a cross in the heart of death

9 29 17
Harry E. Northup

The Exquisite Prolongation of Immediacy: The Translation of Life and Poetry by Paul Vangelisti

Sunday, September 24, 2017

This evening I will be at the Beyond Baroque Awards dinner, which is being held once again at the Church in Ocean Park (235 Hill Street, Santa Monica, CA 90406). I have been asked to make the presentation speech for the George Drury Smith Award, which will go to Paul Vangelisti this year. Prior winners include Eloise Klein Healy, Wanda Coleman, David St. John, Holly Prado, and myself.

For those who cannot attend, here is what I plan to say.

The Exquisite Prolongation of Immediacy: The Translation of Life and Poetry by Paul Vangelisti

In one of my blog posts about a year and a half ago, I cited John Holten to the effect that “a good form of torture for any serious writer would be to deny them reading anything other than works produced in their own language or country.” If anyone could be said to have led the resistance to monolingual tyranny in Los Angeles the past half-century, it would have to be Paul Vangelisti, whose devotion to the art of translation goes far beyond any mere literary metamorphosis. Indeed, his writing is nothing short of an inspiring reminder of the daily necessity of accounting for each day of this quirky journey, and of how that accounting demands nothing less than the imperative: “You must translate your life.”

In translating his life, Paul is the single most ambidextrous person I have ever encountered. His accomplishments are manifold, and while they are too numerous to sum up easily, Paul would be the first to delineate how much others have assisted him over the years. The virtues of collaboration are much like those of translation: audacity, candor, commitment; and Paul has enabled those with whom he has worked to strengthen those virtues in their own lives. If Paul has inspired so many people with whom he has collaborated, it is largely because simply to be in his presence distills and effaces one’s own uncertainties and self-doubts, and enables one to renew that personal covenant with the imagination that insists on having a immediate connection with social reality.

Notwithstanding the scope of his generative collaborations, it remains Paul who has been the cynosure of the effort to make Los Angeles a place worthy of being at least a provincial capital in the world republic of letters. If Pascale Casanova’s description of literary enfranchisement meant that a truly representative body of arbitration within the realm of the imagination could actually function, then there would be little doubt that the person we should elect as our senator should be Paul Vangelisti.

He has earned this stature with a multi-decade production of superb poetry, but with a personal masthead of magazines, books, and anthologies featuring the work of other poets, especially within the maverick avant-garde. Yet no matter how much he accomplishes, he remains rigorously engaged with the increment yet to come. I have recently talked with Paul about the need for an anthology that presents the canon of West Coast poets. Every anthology on my bookshelves at best includes a smattering of West Coast poets, and it is time for California, Oregon, and Washington, along with Baja California and Vancouver, Canada, to assert itself as an autonomous site of poetics. Paul’s reaction to my suggestion was an emphatic “Let’s do it,” but of course in certain ways he has already done it, for that anthology will largely draw on those who have appeared in the dozens of issues of magazines that he has edited or co-edited or published, magazines such Invisible City, New Review of Literature, Ribot, and OR, as well as on the books of poetry published by his subversive enterprises, Red Hill Press and Seismicity Editions. The anthologies he himself has worked on, beginning in the early 1970s, will be the kernel of this future volume’s vision.

I should mention that I am the stand-in tonight for the person who would traditionally give this awards speech, but last year’s award winner, Holly Prado cannot be here in person tonight, due to the unfortunate fire that recently scorched the apartment she shared with her husband, the poet and actor Harry Northup. I happy to report that their recovery from this incident is going well, in large part because we as a community came together in their support. When it became apparent Holly would not be able to make this event, I suggested Dennis Phillips be asked to have this honor of presenting the award to Paul, since Dennis after all served as President of Beyond Baroque in the mid-1980s and would be the perfect intermediary at this gathering. In taking on this assignment, I knew one thing from the start, and that was I was going to quote Dennis Phillips as a way of featuring their deep bond. I have one ready-made advantage in doing this, for Dennis was the driving force behind a book, Nausikaa’s Isle, that was published two years ago to honor Paul on his 70th birthday. In the preface to that book, Dennis observed that “As a poet, a translator, an editor, a publisher, an educator, and for all the right reasons, an administrator, Paul Vangelisti has created a force of gravity felt by his readers, several international generations of poets, and his students, that brings to mind the similar influence of Pound.” In completely agreeing with Dennis, I would especially note this important understanding of the nature of that “force of gravity”: it is the quintessential trialectic gift exchange of space and time that generates history with more than literary meaning. Indeed, it is, as Dennis observes, “how deeply integrated in his work – and I mean all his work – are the poetic and the political.”

All of this magnitude has not gone unrecognized. In addition to NEA grants for both his own poetry and to assist his translation projects – and it should be noted that very few poets are at a level of this double achievement — he has also received numerous awards for his translations, including Italy’s Flaiano Prize and the PEN USA Prize for Translation in 2006. In 2010, the Academy of American Poets gave the Raiziss/de Palchi Book Prize. Paul is most certainly not without honors, accolades and awards as a writer and a translator, but there have been too few occasions in Los Angeles for Paul to receive a full measure of our appreciation for his enormous contribution to our cultural maturation. We are about to mark the 50th anniversary of Beyond Baroque, and two years after that celebration, it would only be appropriate for Beyond Baroque to hold a celebration of a half-century of editorial and publishing endeavors by Paul Vangelisti that have enabled so many poets and writers to attain an international audience. In the meantime, however, let this award serve as an initial installation. Paul has frequently configured his experience in Los Angeles as one of exile, and while I do not wish to contravene that assessment, I hope that for one night – tonight – he can briefly imagine himself at home, as we award him the 2017 George Drury Smith Award. Please join me in welcoming Paul Vangelisti to the stage for the bestowal of this award.