Sunday, November 30, 2008

The local

You've watched him become undone,

station by station. First it was just his face

gone slack in afternoon sleep, around Harrisburg.

And then, in Lancaster, you watched his cuff ride up

showing a pale length of shin that won't see sun again

until his August vacation.

And when his newspaper cascaded to the floor

one section at a time, it was finally safe

to set your book aside for a moment

to study the man and his bag

tilting together like two drunks on a bench.

Midway along another long curve,

the train sways all down its length,

just as every fan stops turning, and somewhere

a baby you didn't hear crying suddenly stops.

and you realize you've lost count

and can't name the next town.

You might have to wake the man

whom you heard on the phone an hour back

saying that today was the biggest day of his career.

When the train finally emerges from that no place

between towns, back into the world

of zip codes and cellphone service,

you will look for the station sign, so you can read it

for both of you, blinking in the sudden light,

both surprised to hear the name

that won't seem right for this little station

with hanging baskets of flowers

and no one on any of the iron benches

waiting for you to arrive.

Mark Aiello

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Terrror on Two Fronts

This week in Mumbai, we witnessed multiple, coordinated attacks on famous-name, heavily-traveled venues that resulted in over a hundred senseless deaths. The authorities have not yet determined exactly who is responsible, nor whom they will arrest and try for the outrages.

The terror involved a band of as-yet unidentified gunmen attacking, among other unfortunate locales, the Taj and the Oberoi hotels in central Mumbai and the killing of numerous innocents. One presumes the target selection was the result of a strong resentment against affluence, consumerism and, in general, the freedoms associated with openness.

Yesterday in a New York suburb, we witnessed a mindless, mob-driven attack on a famous-name heavily-traveled venue that resulted in a single senseless death. The authorities have not yet determined exactly who is responsible, nor whom they will arrest and try for the outrage.

The New York suburban incident took place at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream. The terror involved a mob of early shoppers on Black Friday (the media-anointed Biggest Shopping Day of the Year) trampling to death a Wal-Mart employee in its frenzied pursuit of heavily discounted consumer totems. One presumes the target selection was the result of a strong, not to say fatal attraction to the baubles that have come to symbolize affluence, combined with a total lack of openness to the notion that one may need to examine one's history of decisionmaking should one find one's self crowded during the chilly, pre-dawn hours before the portals of a purveyor of mundane baubles.

Making matters worse at the Wal-Mart, once the crowd had done its trampling, its members continued to shop. When told the store was closing due to the tragedy, many could not understand, and were shocked and even angered that the mere trampling of an employee might somehow interfere with their pursuit of flat-screens and mittens.

Elsewhere in our great nation, a Black Friday-morning shooting at a Toys-R-Us may or may not have been directly related to shopping. Yet we can now fully imagine that, under the wrong circumstances, we too may be wounded or killed while toy-shopping.

Mindless terror stalks the earth--claiming victims at the Taj, the Oberoi, the Mumbai Jewish Center; claiming more victims at the hallowed gates of Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us. It pays to keep an eye out--for armed attackers; for mindless tramplers. Let us hope not to find ourselves or a loved one fallen victim to either hateful number, and offer sincere condolences to those who have.


Friday, November 28, 2008


On this notorious day, the acme or nadir of contemporary American commodity fetishism, known as Black Friday or, contrarily, National Buy-Nothing Day, one should read Kafka's short story, "The Hunger Artist," burn all money in either purse or wallet, and purge oneself of all the glut thrust so ceremoniously into one's digestive tract yesterday. Today, let's hope for a lessening, a diminution, a purging of the mind and soul. Some self-abnegation isn't so despicable. Perhaps the Puritans had some enlightened conceptions of restraint after all.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Give thanks, don't pray

Today, we'll be eating too much and making small talk with relatives we might not see for another year. And in many parts of the country there will be people who are hungry and wondering how they'll pay their bills. And in too many parts of the world, there is so much suffering that we might try to drown their already resigned cries with television and chatter.

So today, instead of thinking about how lucky we are, let's push our race an inch closer towards evolution. Let's take responsibility for our souls. Today, let's try to not be literal about our existence, but instead look beyond our material world towards awareness.

We are the Universe, painted in light and slithering in dirt. We are the light and the darkness, the storm and the calm deep lake, alive while dying. We and everything around us, animal and mineral, are a metaphor - the Universe becoming conscious of itself.

Most importantly, the reason we have consciousness might be so that we exercise compassion. We're limited, that's true. And we feel like pawns in a game with rules we don't understand. But the power we have is actually limitless: we have the power to feel compassion. Let's start there and see what happens.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Feeling Poorer at the Guggenheim

When I was in fifth grade, a class trip took me to Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in New York. Perhaps a philistine at the time, I was unimpressed with the architecture. My report to the teacher indicated I felt the building was "ugly" and that it "did not fit in with its surroundings". I may have mentioned it looked like a toilet bowl.

Many years later and with several years of art school and art-making behind me, I now appreciate (but don't especially love) the building itself. The swirling galleries are a stroke of genius, but the shoe-horned anterooms are a bother. That said, the exhibitions (aside from the outstanding permanent collection), with their dogged focus on the "new", are often enough not better than a scam, and an expensive one, at eighteen dollars a visit.

This weekend I saw a show of conceptualism and minimalism there. I have nothing against either of these genres. Their practitioners often enough have some interesting perspectives. However, they often confront us with what amount to cliche, silliness, effrontery and a palpable desire to insult.

Moreover, many of the effects they present are not better than (and often less effective than) what can be seen at the shopping mall--video screens, cheap scrims, pop caricatures; but done in a less committed way than at the mall. Does anyone who can muster the intellectual fortitude to make their way to the Guggenheim in the first place need tepid, mundane commentary on the tepid and mundane? Does it add to the sum of all light (or at all necessary) to print on the wall phrases like "I am closer than you think."? And the shopping mall is rather more welcoming: it's free!

One of the works consisted of a knee-high sculpture of Disney's Pinocchio face down in a pool of water. I found this both interesting and amusing in a disturbing way. The rest of the work--all of it--could have been hauled away in a truck like so much holiday-season detritus and not have been missed.

Or, the Guggenheim could take into account our recessionary times and lower the price--to what it costs to enter a typical shopping mall.



The local weather is bleak, the sky looks nauseated and the cultural and celestial atmosphere rife with unrest, unpredictability, and ominousness. So perhaps to simulate these conditions, it is best this Tuesday to concentrate on gripes, what irritants to my system particularly gall or induce bile-building discontents. I'll keep it literary, though not necessarily literate--perhaps form here should be an extension of the content, a bad, broken state of affairs. I'll put the inventory in a list form to make the sequence more of an algorithm of despair and frustration:

1. The lack of vital book reviews in The New York Times Book Review for the past twenty years.

2. The lack of any quality fiction (with perhaps three exceptions) in The New Yorker for the past twenty-five years.

3. How small press journals now tend to mimic their more well-heeled counterparts--the The Paris Review, for example-- in publishing the same authors over and over, coteries, cabals, and interdependent collectives over a diversification of content.

4. The sheer dearth of literature in translation in this country. Is English the only language? America the only country?

5. The damn sectarianism of many readers, critics, and writers, either siding with lyrical Realism or Postmodernism but not embracing both. Yes, how awful to express a love for both James and Foster Wallace, Cheever and Pynchon. Even worse to conceptualize middle-spaces between the realistic and the postmodern.

6. The divisiveness of poets and some poetry critics, neatly ascribing avant-gardism or symptoms of quietude and seeing the pure good in theorizing poetry into more camps than we have firewood for.

7. The general parochialism of academic readers of literature.

8. The general insularity and idiocy of non-academic, non-readers, in terms of literature, popular or obscure.

9. The canonization of literary critics, and so selectively, one might think that Saint James Wood is the only conjurer of serious literary criticism.

10. You, the Reader, for not challenging any of these bombastic claims and comments, as if they had real weight.

Postscript: The weather just changed, sun brightening the expanse. This change either gives credence to my remarks above, how they illuminate the general trend and bend of things literary, or perhaps how the literary weather isn't as bad as I indicate. You decide.


Monday news


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Napa is all around you

On the first day, we never know the way anywhere –
surprised when the road doglegs left
and takes us over a white stone bridge,
letting the car idle at the crossroads to unfold our map,
vineyards all around, those twisted black stumps
spread over the far fields, like an army
of the halt and lame marching back home
in defeat after a winter's campaign.

At dinner we'll brag about the town
we discovered, made entirely of white houses and places to sit
with a newspaper and coffee, the stores so full
of things to buy that the shelves creak with the weight,
just like that village in Maine, ten years ago,
whose name we always argue about.

Here, in the shadow of mountains so rich
it seems you can smell them like warm coffee beans
in a bag; here, where every car brings another blonde wife
to her dinner date, where dark men stand in the fields
burning things in barrels for reasons
we'll never ask or understand; here
we finally arrive at the secret
at the heart of all travel,
that everyone needs to believe they've ducked
beneath the sword forever turning outside Eden,
found El Dorado, here in their own private Napa,
where no one is poor, or limps, or drives
a dirty car, and nothing dies
without us willing it to be brought to us
garnished and served on a warm plate.

Mark Aiello

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Rogue's Gallery

If you are wondering who these three unappealing men are, and why they merit your brief attention, here is the answer: they are Mr. Wagoner of GM, Mr. Nardelli of Chrysler and Mr. Mulally of Ford, all come a-begging for your tax dollars at a hearing in Washington this week. They claim that without billions in immediate aid, their automobile companies will wilt like Mayflies in early June and disappear altogether.

Having arrived each in his own corporate jet, and each fortified by a paycheck that earns him in a week what many will never see in their best-paid years, they put aside their competitive differences, set out their tin cups before them and proceeded to disgrace themselves and their companies in ways that could never have been imagined.

Had anyone attempted to concoct a world's-worst script for beggary, it certainly would have included arrival at the begging location by personal jet. It would also have included very recent assurances from the board of GM that "nothing has shaken" the confidence they have in the fine gentleman now overseeing their disaster; in response to which no less a friend-of-business than George Will wondered: "not even the destruction of nearly all shareholder value"?

This arrogant, unimaginative, unsuccessful triumvirate deserves no quarter. They have built wretched vehicles for over thirty years--squandering the devotion of a willing consumer base that would have bought their cars out of patriotism if only they weren't expensive, poorly-constructed, poorly-serviced, poor on gas mileage, and especially if they only stopped looking like the tail ends of donkeys compared to the trim, attractive offerings from overseas.

When asked if they would reduce or eliminate their own salaries as part of the "plan" for eventual success should they get bailed out, they demurred. When asked if they had done anything wrong, they said they had not. When asked to describe how they would use the money to transform their companies, they could not.

All of the above notwithstanding, I actually do believe their companies should, somehow, be rescued--or at least their workers' jobs should be.

My question to Congress is: why ask these guys to tell you anything at all? They clearly know nothing about running, and especially rescuing, a car company.

How about getting someone else up on the hill to testify? How about getting testimony from, say, two or three men and women from the production line? Doesn't it seem like the taxpayer would be a thousand times more willing to give these companies a shot if, instead of sending in these pampered clowns to beg for stuff they cannot genuinely care about (their fortunes already assured), the companies sent in (or Congress called in) some folks whose livelihoods actually depended on, and who might actually deserve, a helping hand from the electorate?

I am waiting.


Friday, November 21, 2008


As this Friday extinguishes itself like a cigarette (having just quit smoking the simile is no longer apt, I suppose), I feel a flick of ash catch my metaphorical scarf that doubles potentially as a metaphysical noose when I think of the contemporary world in all its awfulness, idiocy, cruelty, and shame. This ash, in fact, signifies the burnt-out brains of our intellectuals and policy makers who mislead us, whose missteps have all of us falling down the stairs, who mistake power for justice and make us pay in body bags, cash, confusion, or our dignity. Yes, when I think of the political landscape, I think of finding a tree to test the durability of my neck hanged by, crushed by, a less-than-metaphysical noose. (At my weight it would take a drop of six feet, according to my hangman's guide).

So when I hear about political unity in this country, I can almost smell the pungency of the rope below my head. For matters literary, one should be partisan but not so much as to be a snob and sectarian. Camps and schools are fine, but one should be ecumenical when thinking about the sheer breadth and variegated beauty of the plenitude of poetry and fiction. (I'm inclined to agree with Ron Silliman's notion of the School of Quietude, how so much contemporary literature is middling, sentimental pap but, that said, I see conflicting and contrasting tastes disturbing my palate in wonderful ways).

In any case--in all cases, actually--I am for the unity of diversity in literature and in politics I approve of people staying in their corners and smashing the opposition's arguments when need be. If Obama wants to go beyond the blue and red state paradigm, fine; I'll stay in my green field dreaming of more radical transformations and possibilities than the centrist rhetoric of his Democratic party. There are some values you'll have to beat me to death to compromise on (or you can hang me, I've got the noose, remember?). I cannot merely renege on my commitments to human rights and social justice to concede the viability of a center-based coalition of right wingers and centrist liberals. I'll stay left. And probably left out. Fine; I'll take some consolation in Roberto Bolano's 2666 or some of the new and old poets who have vision and never burn out.
Bless you, sisters and brothers! J/C

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Kubin at the Neue

If you haven't already done so, check out Alfred Kubin at the Neue Galerie in New York City. Kubin was an Austrian artist of Czech origin during the early 20th century. He was part of the expressionist movement for a short time and was also associated with the Blaue Reiter group. He created primarily pen and ink drawings, watercolors and lithographs.

Kubin had a traumatic childhood and young adulthood. As a young child, he witnessed his mother die and then his father carry her dead body around the house while wailing in deep despair. His father beat him regularly and they became estranged. Shortly after they reconciled, his father died. His fiancee died before he was thirty. During his lifetime, he was suicidal and suffered more than one nervous breakdown.

He began drawing as a small child and during his artistic career was deeply influenced by Klinger, Goya, Ensor, Munch and Redon. There are over one hundred works currently on display at the Neue. They're profoundly emotional, mysterious and depict all the irrationality that you're trying to control and can never really get a hold on; a visual journey into your subconscious, the stuff your dreams and nightmares are made of.

Don't miss it.


By the way, the Neue also has a beautiful giftshop, perfect for some unusual trinkets your mom and sisters will love during the holidays.

1048 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10028

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The GO[CMW]P and Evolution

If anyone had wondered whether the Republican Party has taken ill with the political equivalent of double pneumonia, look no further than conservative columnist Kathleen Parker's column today in the Washington Post "The GOP's Problem with G-O-D". In it she says (I paraphrase) the GOP needs to ditch the Christers or forget about electoral success in the foreseeable future. Also paraphrasing, the GOP has become the Grand Old Christian Married White Party.

Few things could make a Secular Humanist more happy than the prospect of dreary, Bible-thumping bigots going the way of the Dodo. Ms. Parker says their ilk was once relegated to standing on wooden crates at busy intersections; the GOP's mistake, it seems, has been to mistake an energized base for electoral strength.

I'll take it a couple of steps further: without the ability to market an al Qaeda-sponsored mass destruction to cow the electorate, the GOCMWP is revealed as a party in thrall to creeps, ideologues, hypocrites, and no-tax bigots. The era of the thoughtful conservative is at low ebb (K. Parker, D. Brooks and G. Will notwithstanding).

Let me caveat the following with this: there's nothing wrong (in my opinion) with a belief in larger, unknowable things. It may even be irrational not to hold some high regard for the unknown and perhaps all-powerful forces that seem to be constantly at work in the world.

That said, religion as we know it is fighting a rear-guard action. It has been doing as much since at least the eighteenth century, when folks began to notice such wonders as "cause and effect". As is typical in bitter retreats, there has been a last, dangerous surge (the Bush years). However, not unlike at the end of World War Two's Battle of the Bulge, the losing side has been stopped in its tracks: the attack has literally run out of fuel.

With capital-R "Religion" branded with defeat in 2008, can we look forward to a day when open-mindedness and enlightened self-interest might flourish as we have never seen before? Might we witness, at last, a turn of the evolutionary page?

May we be lucky enough to see it.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Today is the official release of 2666, the uncompleted final book by the late and all-too-great, Roberto Bolano, author of By Night in Chile, Distant Star, and The Savage Detectives, among others. It has received raucously winning reviews and I am certain it will be another luminous part of RB's canon. I rarely feel compelled to slouch impulsively toward my nearest bookstore to obtain a tome on its first official day in the world, but Bolano's mischievous meditations on politics, nightmare, literary creation and social disintegration, always merit immediate purchase and poring over.

Bolano's work typically divines the entrails of South American dictators and their apparatchiks. Speaking of which, today is the thirtieth anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana. Don't follow leaders and be Bolano readers...

...and double space and type your manuscripts! At least in this North American country, Mark Twain was the first to do so, roughly one hundred and fifty-two years ago today. JC

Monday, November 17, 2008

What I'm afraid of

Strawberry Fields might be my favorite Beatles song. It illustrates beautifully the attitude towards life that too many people have: refusing to look into the void, bathe themselves in the black ocean of truth because they're afraid to drown in awareness. So their existence is reduced to bodily functions, safe routines and empty entertainment. Some are well educated, some are not. They might ask themselves from time to time "Why do I feel lost?" but that's as far as their effort goes and they give up again and again, continue their arid lives with little curiosity and no imagination.

I'm afraid of ghosts. But the empty expressions, like masks that attempt to hide but never stop revealing how little this chance at awareness is valued, of the indifferent are much more scary.


Strawberry Fields - Lennon, McCartney

Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.
It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out.
It doesn't matter much to me.

No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low.
That is you can't you know tune in but it's all right.
That is I think it's not too bad.

Always no sometimes think it's me, but you know I know when it's a dream.
I think, er No, I mean, er Yes but it's all wrong.
That is I think I disagree.

Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields.
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about.
Strawberry Fields forever.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Setting things in order

Is there anyone you'd like to punch in the face

more than the man who spent the weekend

cleaning his closet?  So smug to be finally free

of the burden of false hope, and

those khakis that fit five years ago.


His shirts hang logically, stripes with the stripes,

collar buttons of the oxfords all facing north,

bowling shirts and other weekend trifles

waiting quietly way back in the dark.


He holds the door open and looks upon it

as an orchard gravid with bright fruit,

a marble city sleeping in the desert night.


A pleasing order.  The craft of his own hands.


Nowhere is there dust.  You won't find it

even in the corner by his skates.


Tonight he will sleep on sheets

that smell as clean as all the church days of his childhood.

The plants on every windowsill are watered

and he will live the life of the monk,

the Spartan, the man who calls his mother every day.


Until he wakes up tomorrow.


Mark Aiello

Who Won the Culture Wars?

You keep hearing (a little less, now) about how we are a "center-right" country. In 2004, I might have thought we were a "right-wing-nutjob country" having just re-elected a simpleton to four additional years of havoc.

But now that "right"-ness seems to have been just the veneer many of us might have suspected. With a thoroughly new kind of man in the White House and the GOP relegated to hillbilly country, we may be looking at a more accurate picture of a liberal-minded country that had been in hiding.

The Culture Wars was always a right-wing idea. For those on the other side of it, this was just a matter of common sense: should men and women of all colors and creeds actually be taken seriously? What about the evidence that science lays out, making no promises but delivering results over and over? How about the freedom to love and to marry as you see fit (Prop 8 to the contrary) without fear of persecution? And there's music. Funny how even the most reactionary talk-show hosts seem to have a thing for the Devil's Own Noise--rock and roll.

Is there really any question who won the culture wars? Even Sarah Palin felt the need to admit she had a "gay friend" or two. Would this have been remotely thinkable before the 1960s?

Religiosity, bigotry and stupidity--always on the wrong side of the culture wars--are in retreat. The liberals had long ago won, but had not been given credit. The evidence is in, and we are not--and have not been for a long time--a center-right country.

Let's declare the culture wars over. We have more important things to do.


Friday, November 14, 2008


A writer's relation to locale can run to the claustrophobic and acidly nostalgic-- think of Joyce's Dublin, Faulkner or Welty's U.S. South, Russell Banks's Northern badlands, Philip Roth's Newark. Oh, Newark. New Ark. The other night, travelling from Newark to Manhattan, I sat in an ark otherwise known as a PATH train. Beside me, Amiri Baraka and his wife. If you recall, in late 2001, early 2002, Baraka wrote a controversial poem about September 11, "Somebody Blew Up America." In it, he adverted to Israelis being told to stay home. A pathetic fallacy in a non-poetic sense. But the inventory of U.S. historical and political chicanery and cruelty the poem unveils is pertinent, even if the poem is not formally interesting or rhetorically innovative. Regardless, sitting next to Mr. Baraka, a poet I've long admired, as we approached the World Trade Center PATH station, was touching. He was reading the newspaper and muttering under his breath the phrases, "education" and "health care," and "Obama must..." The man still has the fiery passion of a radical and naysayer, an individual of seventy four years still determined to make art and rant against the powers of improvidence, i.e., the D.C. and Wall Street fat cats, unpoetic and ignoble felines of finance and force. Former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey stripped Baraka--and the state of New Jersey, for that matter-- of the state poet laureatship. I suppose that the title for this column is incorrect for today's subject matter . Perhaps it should read: "ALL POLITICIANS ARE THIEVES!!!" (j curley)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thoughts for a Thursday: art-making

When I'm not taking care of my family or at work, I struggle to make art. I photograph models and then attempt to see my soul through their portraits. It's an intuitive process and the only reason I do it is because I have to.

I enjoy the process, however, there's nothing I dislike more than having to explain an image. I think that it's a sign of laziness when someone asks me what something I've made "means". I wonder what a writer would think if anyone asked him to illustrate a novel, if someone said: here's pencil and paper, please sketch for me your story. Imagery, unlike words, is open to myriad interpretations so unfortunately symbolic meaning has to be defined. But it's unfortunate that the majority of people are afraid to let go the safety of knowledge and find their own meaning or lose themselves in someone else's unknown.

Even the visually educated few in the artworld want to follow a thread most of the time, a Hansel or Gretel following a trail of words back to the real world. And when they arrive with meaning in hand, proud of their understanding, they refrigerate it along with everything else they've killed along the way.

However, I accept that this is the way it is. The power of all work relies on its verbal interpretation. We're no longer living in an age where the image itself is enough and we're never going back. People want definitions, everything explained, so as an artist, I find myself in the world with a dictionary in hand.

Here are some thoughts on the process. Every artist, in my opinion needs to:

- First and foremost: have a thorough knowledge of art history; there's no making art without a deep understanding of what has been done and why. Every artist needs to be visually encyclopedic.

- be fully aware that there's a limited inventory of visual possibilities in the physical world and that the power hidden in those possibilities depends on how authentic the artist's perception is.

- arrange those known elements in order to push boundaries, peer into the unknown, represent hidden mythologies.

- detach herself from facts, from what is already understood and safe and never try to please or enlighten anyone - creating authentic work is hard enough.

Keeping an image alive and powerful despite definitions is half the work. Translations are rarely fully accurate, but the transition from the visual to the verbal is like putting a lion in birdcage. It's not that verbal expression is inferior, but that most artists are not writers.


Who is this Man?

I don't really want to know his name, or where he lives, or how much he has contributed to his local church.

Pretty much the only thing we need to know about the guy, we know by looking at this picture: he's at a Palin rally with an Obama-monkey and a self-satisfied smirk.

So, who is he? And of whom does he remind us?

He reminds me of the smirking racists who in the sixties used to sit behind the defendant's table when they were being "tried" by an all-white jury for lynching an unfortunate black man who got caught and mutilated and hanged for no reason except race-hate.

He reminds me of the local prelate who in an earlier age might have ordered the death by burning of heretics and/or folks who'd taken up the wrong end of an argument in a land dispute with a good buddy of the church (often referred to as "witches").

He makes me think of all the hapless, morally bankrupt, incurious so-called "Americans" who shouted "kill him [Obama]" at the urging of the snarky, hapless, morally bankrupt, incurious so-called "Vice Presidential Candidate" now known as Sarah Palin.

That his party is defeated at the polls and his opponent cheered by the entire thoughtful, hopeful world, is a great cause for celebration.

We need to remember, however, that water-bugs still lurk under the tilework. Keep your eye on them. Watch them scurry in the light.


Monday, November 10, 2008



All artists decry a straw man and all politicians are--come on, face it, even you Obama triumphalists (congratulations, by the way!)--straw people or straw dogs, depending on your species-preference. A hairline crack divides mass culture and art culture especially at the level of gut-level scepticism. Those who endorse any brand of politics outside of aesthetic considerations tend to cheerlead and bark into a megaphone sculpted by (the audacity of?) hope. Artists are hopeful but refuse to reject that voice of doubt, casting cold eyes on the political process, its players, and the windy rhetoric that occasions reflections on that great windblower, Aelous, the Greek god of hot and cold air.

While it may be that artists will be invigorated by the Obama election and wish to represent the potential, the vast possibility, that his presence hearkens in the collective spirit of his supporters, writers, painters, sculptors, dancers, filmmakers of any stripe and style should maintain, if not a cold eye, a clear one. A vigilance of criticism and a modicum of disbelief, of unhope against hope, needs to be the kind of clairvoyant and eternal rite of passage and being for any artist worth her or his weight in gilded page, golden paints, or bronze sculpture.

Artists, poets in particular, are not the unacknowledged legislators of the world (pace Shelley!) nor should they be the lobbyists of received wisdom, public accolade, or social temperament. Some caller on Brian Lehrer's WYNC program today called for a return to political art. Fine: but most examples of political art in the past eight years have been hackneyed and minimally diverting. A political art arising from the optimism of the moment would, most likely, be unworthy of a space on one's personal refrigerator. But we'll see...and the artists will see even better and more deeply.

And of poets in particular and their relation to Presidents: JFK's inaugural choice for inaugural poet was Robert Frost. Not bad. Bill Clinton chose Maya Angelou, one of the worst poets writing in the English language. Who, pray tell, will Obama pick? Hopefully not someone happy to foresake their taste for the banalities of D.C. politics.

Cheers, Curley

Pour un bon weekend: Hudson, NY

For New York City readers, here's a post-election-elation suggestion for a not-so-lazy weekend:

If you have a car, drive to Hudson in Columbia County. It's 2 hours from the city if you leave at the right time: Friday night (9:00 pm) or very early - for a Saturday - the next morning (9:00 am). There are several bed and breakfasts in town, most within walking distance to Warren Street, where most of the action is.

If you don't have a car, the Amtrak train station is just blocks from Warren Street. And if you're not interested in all the hiking and bucolic scenery available minutes away (as well as the lovely Olana, Frederick Edwin Church's historic home), you will find plenty for one rewarding day.

Hudson is an architectural gem. All of its 18th and 19th century buildings lining Warren Street have been lovingly restored and house some of the most extraordinary antiques and housewares stores you will find anywhere - it's considered a decorator's mecca. But there are also galleries, interesting clothing shops, bookstores and cafes.

Also, this region is the cradle of of the Hudson River School of painting, and you will find much of the art shown in galleries in that tradition. My favorite: Carrie Haddad, who has always shown impeccable taste in her selections. If you don't watch out, you might tell yourself that new laptop can wait and you'd rather invest in very affordable, karma-boosting, top-quality art.

Accross the street from Carrie Haddad is Le Gamin. If you decide to have lunch there, take the paper and interesting topics for conversation with you. This is Hudson and the world has slowed down. The waitresses are indeed French and luckily didn't forget to pack their attitudes; though if you visit more than once, you'll realize they're very warm and friendly. Mais plus importante, your meal will have been worth every minute waited. It's a beautiful restaurant and the back half is an antiques shop (naturellement!). They also sell hand made, unbelievably aromatic soaps.

There is lots more to see and do, just stroll down Warren Street, you will find it. And return restored and very relaxed.


Top: Warren Street
Bottom: Carrie Haddad Gallery and Le Gamin

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Just Visiting

Spend a month's salary on airfare and guides;
but you will be nearer to the heart
of India's nacreous mystery here, in the ticket queue
at VT Station, and not last night
watching a full moon risen straight from a bedtime picture book
slowly banish itself behind the dome of the Taj Mahal.

Being this out of your element
is like watching a movie with the sound off
and then narrating the plot over the phone to your aunt.

- They're obviously late for a doctor's appointment.
- I think she loves him.

In this surfeit of sense, everything is distilled,
the salwars become a tidal flow of mere color,
the chatter of the crowd one communal word
inflected by palm gestures and a head waggle
that you still can't pull off. It's a bit like high school
when you were never sure of the nuance of anything
and didn't know who to ask.

- I wonder why the police are taking his bicycle.
- Maybe they haven't seen their daughter in years.
- That little guy looks shady to me.

It's an odd advantage, to be the alien. You alone
are not expected anywhere tonight, you're the only one
squinting up into this ridiculous amount of sunlight
to read every billboard. It seems that it's just you
trying to count the broken dogs, somehow curled and still asleep
among all these walking feet, just you looking into the eyes
of a boy hoping for a coin to drop into his ancient palm.

- It says here not to cross the tracks.
- Help, apparently, is wanted.

Mark Aiello

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The GOP Revealed

Stripped of the plumes and feathers of electoral success, the Republican brand is now laid bare. And it is a scrawny-looking bird at best.

In 1980, Reagan ushered in an era of Republican prominence that ended on Tuesday. Reagan claimed it was "morning in America" when in fact the lights of liberty and reason were being extinguished across the land. Since that sad moment, it has been hailed a truism that we are a "conservative nation"; and accepted as fact that small-mindedness, bigotry, xenophobia and war are tantatmount to true American virtues.

In the era of Bush these ruinous notions were put into overdrive; and coupled with a stunning incompetence as well. The stated intention was "small government". But it might just as well have been "bad government" or "failed government". Didn't matter--as long as American tax dollars weren't being spent to help Americans.

The chief virtue of the Republican party has been its ability to win elections. It has lost that ability. And now it becomes obvious that this had been its only virtue. Any level-headed look at the guiding principles of the GOP reveals an utter lack of substance.

It can be safely said that the GOP offers nothing to the voter who is not a Republican officeholder, a large shareholder, a well-to-do evangelical, an arms merchant, an oil profiteer; and in certain elections, a bigot. This tiny percentage of the population cannot muster the votes to elect anyone to national office.

Since Reagan, the GOP has been able to keep folks distracted with pomp and circumstance; with wars, with fears, with party success and the gerrymandered gifts that flow from it. Now reduced to a regional party and with no discernable core principles except perhaps greed, it will be much, much harder for the party to distract the voter from the bankruptcy of its offering.

Perhaps the GOP can rebuild--no doubt they will try hard to do so. But it will have to be with a plan that benefits more people, more often, and in fundamentally a much more progressive manner.

To the age of Reagan and Bush: don't let the door hit you on the way out.


Friday, November 07, 2008


Greetings, effete earthlings.

Whether it's sound bytes or megabytes you devour, you desire, this bi-weekly column will adumbrate the event horizon of literary matters, arcane rants, and satirical showmanship you need even if you don't. ALL POETS ARE THIEVES will enact an atmosphere of creative synergy, sinfulness, chaos, and cata-strophes that will enclose you in its claustrophic envelope of energies. Partisan but not sectarian, trimorphic (death, love, art) but not tribalistic, this post envisions itself as your last cigarette, your first sip, and your unwavering quest for scintillating commentary, book jackets, and body bags. Mind you, my editorial comrades will take a wee, jaundiced gander at my glosses and word-gashes in the future. But for this introduction, I arrive to you unfettered, somewhat a-frayed, and peering into the snow globe that reveals not only my reflection but our entire world turned up and down simultaneously. Pace, postmodernists, welcome, all you folks!

J Curley

Thursday, November 06, 2008

How to Spot a Losing Presidential Campaign

Barack won. I like to think we all did on Tuesday night.

It wasn't even that close. But along the way, there were lots of people who firmly believed McCain might pull it off (including no small number of paranoid liberals).

Next time, wouldn't it be nice not to have to get all worked up about it? Wouldn't it be nice to sort of know who'll win by looking at the telltale signs? The McCain campaign gave us lots of signs it was headed for disaster. In order that we may better spot the loser in advance next time (and not feel so anxious), let's review:

How to Spot a Losing Presidential Campaign

-the candidate is of the same party as the worst President anyone can remember

-the candidate is not liked by his own party; and struggles to beat even the almost preternaturally unlikeable Mitt Romney in the primary

-the candidate resurrects a dying campaign by hiring people who destroyed his earlier campaign by attacking him with vicious lies

-the candidate behaves in a much less likeable manner as soon as these people are hired

-the candidate selects a beauty-pageant nincompoop as Vice President having met that person exactly twice

-the candidate permits speakers at his party's convention to insult the achievements of the other candidate

-the candidate claims that "the fundamentals" of a certain important pillar of national prosperity are "sound" when they are very obviously crumbling like the pillars of a Pompeiian villa during the eruption of Vesuvius; then claims that he meant something else than what everyone knows those words to mean; and further, that to claim to have seen through his silly insistence on this lie is to have attacked hard-working Americans

-the candidate suspends his campaign for no very good reason; then acts as if it never happened

-the candidate looks sickly and angry and is often barely coherent while debating his calm, cool opponent

-the nincompoop VP fails to give coherent answers to even simple interview questions, providing the best comedic fodder anyone has ever seen

-the nincompoop VP attacks an obviously patriotic opponent as a terrorist, but does not call for his arrest

-the nincompoop VP loots the campaign treasury for fancy duds; then is punked on the radio

-the candidate has no money for advertising

-the campaign trots out a new, silly message each and every day

-the campaign selects a random, not-very-bright no-tax bigot who practices his profession without a license as a putative everyman, then cannot find him at key public events where he is expected

-the candidate draws crowds roughly one-tenth the size of his opponent's

-the candidate has trouble keeping the lights turned on during a live event in the same week his opponent launches a flawless and beautifully produced half-hour campaign commercial that ends with a flawless and beautifully produced transition to a live event with thousands of cheering supporters

-the campaign anonymously attacks its nincompoop VP in the final days, calling her a "hillbilly", a "diva" and a "whack job"

-very, very long lines of what appear to be the campaign's opponent's voters form in any state that allows them to vote before election day

-the candidate appears on a nationally televised comedy show alongside a comedian who is openly mocking his nincompoop VP

-on election day, the nincompoop VP does not reveal whom she voted for

-did we mention the part about the candidate voting 90 percent of the time with the worst President anyone can remember?

So next time you see a campaign exhibiting the above characterstics, you don't have to wonder much about whether or not it will win. It will lose.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Palin Punked

One day before the election and we've got yet another instance of Sarah Palin's astonishing unpreparedness for high office.

Many of us knew all we needed to know the night of her convention speech--that she was arrogant, small-minded, vituperative, and frighteningly good at roiling a vicious crowd.

Many more of us found out later that she was also, apparently, not-so-bright (thanks to Katie Couric): apparently the candidate had never read a periodical.

Now comes news that she was punked into thinking she was talking to President Sarkozy of France while actually talking to a couple of prank comedians from Quebec. She had a grand old time reassuring the pranksters that she'd be a good shot if they went helicopter-hunting with her; and didn't seem to find it odd that they suggested they had spoken to the PM of Quebec (which has none).

What if she becomes President and then Putin rears his head via a phone call? He tells her he is proud to announce that he will be marching into Washington with the Russian army and that she will be declared Tsarina of the Russian-American Federation. She says (as she did with "Sarkozy"), "Thanks so much, we are so proud and happy that you called."

And then she would tell the Army to stand-down 'cause doggone-it, those Russians have gone and made friends with us and have promised to help us figure out that pesky "human rights" thing we keep hearing about.

Say good-night, Sarah!