Thursday, December 28, 2006

Book Cover Superstars: Jeff Clark & Katy Homans

As we open the book on the new year, it is advisable to assess the table of contents and surmise which cover might be most appropriate for the 2006 volume. Perhaps a Dantaean circle of hell, closest to the depths? A dirigible capsizing in the air, smoke plumes streaming behind? One would be hard pressed to decide on a perfect vision of negation, futility, and perversion-- unless of course you had a fine year, all traumatic aspects of life considered. Choosing the designer would be far easier:
to my mind, the two best designers (choosing between them would be difficult, I now realize) are Quemadura (a.k.a. Jeff Clark), who does the lion's share of work for Flood Editions, a premier poetry imprint (,and Katy Homans, who does the majestic fronts for the New York Review of Books Classics series ( Each artist has led me to betray my purse and judge books with the superficial criterion of their sheen, skin, face. Not once have I been disappointed by the contents, outside or in.


Friday, December 22, 2006

In this Season of Too Many Contents

I am loath to recommend books without reservation, for reading forays are never really collective enterprises. The individual choice and the individuated voice of any book worth its weight in grain, salt, or gold are for the person within the person to decide. However, in this season, in this suffocating atmosphere of crass commercialism and Christian consumerism (buy your loved ones off with piddly products of mass production), I would recommend the recent translation of the first volume of Peter Weiss's proletarian bildungsroman, THE AESTHETICS OF RESISTANCE.
One of the most powerful books of contemporary German literature, this sprawling, sprited work is a novel masquerading as history masquerading as a novel as...
It is a fiction that surveys the lives and landscapes of German leftist radicals during the rise of thirties fascism. Weiss, who is best known for his play, MARAT/SADE, spent the last stage of his writing career on this opus. The working-class narrator discusses the various trials and terrors of his family's life under this fascist threat and the radical tradition that lead them, that bred them. The story, magnficently translated by Joachim Neugroschel, is splendid, experimental, and absolutely gripping. Here, we confront a materialist vision of history that, unlike the rampant materialism of consumerist society, shows how collective action, decision, indecision, contradiction, and conviction, can lead us to fight for a better world. It's published by Duke University Press with a solid preface by Frederic Jameson. Seek it out and stick it under your Christmas tree, capped by a portrait of Marx and not some effete, glass angel.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Suburbia: not only Unbearable, but Unsustainable

James Howard Kunstler gets it right in his Alternet article ( where he says that petro-dependent suburbia is just about finished.

For me, suburbia was finished decades ago when I found out you couldn't distribute anti-war leaflets at the shopping mall because it wasn't really public space--just a private shopping kingdom where there was no Bill of Rights. That, and the traffic.

Kunstler's main point is that suburbs have nearly reached the end of their effective life due to the rise in oil prices. As it gets more expensive to drive, he says, then living sixty miles from where you work and ten miles from where you shop is going to seem like a dumb idea.

Personally, I have always thought it was a dumb idea because commuting seemed like a massive loss of control over your personal time. But now the facts are starting to pile up. Kunstler refers to an inevitable oil crisis that willl make suburbs obsolete.

I am less convinced that the market won't find new ways to keep people's Beemers running but I do believe modes of living can outlive their usefulness. I have always thought American suburbs represent some of the ugliest, most stultifying landscapes I have seen anywhere in the world. If they go the way of the buffalo, I won't miss them.

Which brings up another point: the Great Plains are being depopulated at an alarming rate. Buffalo are actually returning. Many cite a lack of cheap fuel and reductions in government subsidies. But that will be another post.


Saturday, December 16, 2006


I'd give anything to be lost in a foreign land.
Nirvana; to not understand
a single word of what was said around me,

instead of listening to every morning's chatter
about the weather, or rush hour eulogies
for TV doctors who died last night.

In my sweet land of Babel, all speech
is birdsong, Latin chanting ringing off cloister stones,
sound of the surf running up the shingle to my toes,

unlike my own hometown, full of words and alleged meanings,
where an old couple argues in the checkout line
and someone sits behind me on the train and recounts
an appendectomy entirely in curses and run-on sentences.

Does that sound mean-spirited? Please understand,
I love humanity, in the abstract.
And I'd love humanity even more
if I could stop running into it
at the bus stop, at the barber's, at the bar,
rabbiting on about nothing at all.

Let me stop you right there. I'm perfectly aware
that I've been overheard on my cellphone
holding forth on minor matters and major league
scores, or sharing only the most important details
of what the dog did last night, and someone, maybe you,
has listened in, and judged me, too.

It's simply this; once, on Broadway
a ragged man caught me by the sleeve
and leaned in too close, wheezing
"I can see that you, too, have heard the whipoorwhills
chuffling like mad balloons on the jungle-gym ruins
of long-gone imperial Mars."

Every morning, I tuck a folded dollar bill
into my pocket, hoping to see him again
and continue our conversation.

Mark Aiello

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hanukkah Rocks!

Last night I performed at Mo Pitkin's in the East Village (NYC) in a variety-therapy show sponsored by HEEB Magazine. The event allowed malcontents like myself to air their problems and punctuate their psychological menaces with humor--and prose. HEEB is a magazine edited by my good friend, Josh Neuman, and dedicated to all that is Jewish, hip, and New York, among other subjects. Always a fine read, you can find it at any bookstore. I steal mine from the Barnes and Noble on Astor Place. jc

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On the Occasion of the Death of Pinochet (Hooray!) and the Perpetual Life of Chile's Artists

"Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets."

W.H. Auden's poem, "Epitaph for a Tyrant," foretold Augusto Pinochet's reign of terror moreso than it alludes accurately to Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, the nominal triad of Fascist Terror that influenced the poem when it was written in early 1939. In fact, the subtle, duplicitous, and deadly force of Pinochet was often exacted as a murderous undercurrent with its state killings, assassinations, abductions, and torture largely hidden from view, despite the furious upheavals of the military coup on that terrible Tuesday, September 11, 1973. Auden's take on the tyrant captures the hidden, deliberate machinations and silent, sweeping brutality of the Chilean regime. In contrast to Pinochet, a whole generation of Chilean artists, writers, and musicians, including Victor Jara (murdered in the Estadio Chile days after the coup), Inti-Illimani, and Roberto Bolano, testified to the perfection of the imagination, the flexibility of mind and image that defies the rigidity and ruthlessness of fascist power, and the incalculable suffering at the hands of the state. To the silence of their victimizers, they sung testimonials that screamed for the legitimacy of justice and for the benevolent side of human creation. This generation of artists, like all of Pinochet's victims, should be heralded for their sacrifice and for their extraodinary contributions. Theirs was an art of witness and we should remember them. Roberto Bolano's DISTANT STAR, published by New Directions, mentioned in a previous post, is a good place to begin excavating this history and this generation of artists. "Per dura, ad Astra!" --curley

Friday, December 08, 2006

Spank Me Silly

Years ago, I braved Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49.  Hated it.  Not fictional dream.  Offering instead, an allusion to a dream.  I wasn't able to earn that Boy Scout badge so many wore like Shaft.  With the release of his new work, I decided to give the Goodwill copy another go.  Through page twenty, I thought I was wrong.  I wondered if I'd been sober for the amount of times I ranted and launched it across the room.  Suddenly, it appeared that Pynchonite in Portland with the William Gass Tunnel artwork tattooed to his forearm was justified in his exuberance.  The description of the used car dealer.  "Even if enough exposure to the unvarying gray sickness had somehow managed to immunize him, he could still never accept the way each owner, each shadow, filed in only to exchange a dented, malfunctioning version of himself for another, just as featurelesss, automotive projection of somebody else's life."  Holy God.  Beautiful stuff.  But as the narrative continues, I get lost.  It's The Simpsons.  It's a Mensa puzzle.  I've no doubt it is brilliant, for those people who love to chase down reflections of the world they already know.  Certainly more erudite, certainly more artful, but reading it I had that feeling I get when I'm sitting in a bar and somebody begins to defend Buffy the Vampire Slayer for its subversiveness.  Far from our Pound, whatever that might mean.  Silly.  Naughty.  Simply.  An emasculated Easter egg hunt.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Pin and the Sewn

Just got back from the opening of the "Burgeoning Geometries" show at the Whitney on 42nd. I was struck most by Tara Donovan's cube made of straight pins that glistened. In that light it had a spiritual quality--made you realize that light was filling the space, coming from everywhere and touching everything at once.

It brought to mind Eva Hesse, Donald Judd and Kandinsky, who said the square is the only form not found in nature and therefore the only geometric shape that's man made, an idea. Using straight pins, Donovan addresses both the power of the square as man-made idea capable of conveying spirituality, and how we hold things together temporarily.

Hold together temporarily, and also wound. I thought of my childhood in Colombia. My mother had an obsession with sewing new outfits for us for every Sunday. Think "The Butcher Boy", but instead of the mother making cakes, she's sewing ugly dresses that smelled like new cloth and were never ironed properly. We were three girls, and she'd never quite finish any outfit she made for us. We were forced to squeeze in and out of them because there was never enough time for button holes. Sealed openings with buttons sewed on top, a most inconvenient illusion that I now recognize. Some of the pins that held the dresses together were never removed, we made these painful discoveries when nothing could be done about them.

Donovan's "Untitled (Pins)" with its claustrophobic straight pins so painstakingly fitted together, like humans in crowded cities and cluttered minds, was really striking. It revealed a little bit of everything at once, just enough to feel light again. I fought the day's gravity with the elevating power of her work. Some pins had fallen off, were scattered on the floor, so I gently pushed them toward the cube with my foot. The other pieces in the gallery looked contrived, tiresome, like someone working hard at having fun. Her work was a wonderful surprise, like a warm soft sunrise when the forecast was rain.

--Luchy Edwards

Samuel Menashe Reading and Book Party!

Dear All,
Mark your calendars: Samuel Menashe, the supreme New York-based poet, is giving a reading at the Bowery Poetry Club (308 Bowery betw. Houston & Bleeker) on Sunday, December 17 at 6PM. The event is free tho' the experience is worth more than a Manhattan high-rise, haiku, or any other hi- and low-jinks. Please come out to celebrate the publication of his NEW AND SELECTED POEMS, published by the Library of America and winner of the Neglected Masters Award. Menashe's reading will rivet and rend you, and also revise your idea of a poetry reading. He is a living legend and the only author put out by Library of America who can sign copies of his books (folks like Poe, James, Dickinson, and Faulkner decided to throw in the mortal towel). Come on down for what will be a truly exceptional evening. Bob Holman, the venerable proprietor of said club, is also reading; his new volume, A COUPLE OF WAYS OF DOING SOMETHING, is published by Aperture. Come on down; you will not be turned down but you will be turned around. And around. Bravo maestro! jc

As Winter At Last Descends

We were taunted by a few balmy days in late November, then winter cracked the whip: now its 34 degrees and no more time off for good (or bad) behavior.

I was visiting some friends in sunny Southern California: smart, literate, people more common in that part of the world than we in the blustery Northeast want to credit. And lo it was warm and dry and there were lemon trees and eucalyptus.

Okay, you have to drive if you live  there. And they might have an earthquake. But if you stop pretending everybody there is dumber than everybody here (it just ain't so), then why, exactly don't we all just go there? It is no fooling to say the weather makes you feel better. Or is that too damn shallow?

Of course it is. But when the wind gets down inside your collar and you're looking at the soggy boots of the person going up the staircase before you on the subway, you might consider getting all shallow in that sun they've got in the land of Schwarzenegger.


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Monday, December 04, 2006

The Gang Was All There! Hail, the Indies!

This weekend I attended the Nineteenth Independent and Small Press Book Fair. Housed in the Small Press Center in mid-town Manhattan, the Fair was more like a Festival. The spirit of congeniality and mutuality, the trade talk that deflected itself from profit for more creative issues, the vast array of personalities-- all bibliophiles & bibliophages but all with their "independent" sensibilities intact--greatly impressed me and my Tempest Press cohort, Luchy Edwards.

On Sunday, Johnny Temple of Brooklyn's divine publishing imprint, Akashic (, introduced a question and answer session with Amiri Baraka, who just published a collection of short stories with Akashic, TALES OF THE OUT AND GONE), and Colin Channer, another Akashic author (HOW TO BEAT A CHILD THE RIGHT AND PROPER WAY). It was an amazing encounter/session. Baraka still radiates as the arch polemi-lyricist of our time and he possesses the finely scuplted mind of the culturally and politically engaged artist he has always been. Hail, hail, the organizers and participants of this fine, fun fair! jc

Saturday, December 02, 2006

"Sendero Luminoso": A Night for New Directions

On Tuesday night, December 5th at 7:30, New Directions, the perennially perfect book publisher, will host an evening of anniversary. New York's most venerable literary institution will be celebrating its seventieth birthday and the publication of its founder James Laughlin's memoir, THE WAY IT WASN'T: FROM THE FILES OF JAMES LAUGHLIN. Tickets for the event are $10 or $7, if your a Poetry Society of America member. A whole slew of stalwarts will be reading, including Susan Howe and Eliot Weinberger, and you'd be paying more for a movie in Manhattan. The celebration takes place at the Tishman Auditorium of the New School, 66 W. 12th St. between 5th and 6th Avenues. Enjoy! curley