Friday, January 30, 2009

In Praise of Pork

The New York Times today reports that the Metropolitan Transit Authority expects to receive over four-hundred million dollars from the Obama stimulus package in order to complete one of its moribund holes in the ground: the Fulton Transit Center.

This is great news for any of the millions who pass through this currently warren-like, construction-hobbled, George Tooker-esque gateway to one of the great commercial hubs of the world (I am referring to Lower Manhattan).

Every Republican that can fog a mirror will deride it as "pork".

To the no-tax, bleed-the-government-white crowd, pretty much any item that a tax dollar might be spent on, especially those producing tangible results like buildings, bridges and child care programs are cursed as the political incarnation of something that snorts, rolls in mud and stinks.

It's the Republican way of letting folks know government can't be bothered with doing anything of value. Build a planetarium in Chicago (so kids can see stars)? Pork! Renovate the lawn on the Washington Mall (and employ lots of landscapers)? Pork! Study a debilitating disease by testing a mutation of it on fruit flies (curing thousands of sufferers)? Frivolous, pointy-headed pork!

I want to call an end to Pork-bashing. Sure--let's not spend money on nuisance projects--like, for instance, the NSA domestic spy program (or paying Blackwater's invoice)!--but since we're going to get taxed no matter what, how about we spend the money on some seriously porky stuff. Like libraries, maybe, or transit centers. I can smell the bacon just by thinking about it.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Predictable Updike Appreciation?

Is it true, as All-Poets-are-Thieves says, that David Foster Wallace took a hatchet to Updike? I confess not to have known.

Sad they are both gone--but having paid full price for the hardcover, I couldn't get through ten pages of "Infinite Jest" without feeling I was being held up like a liquor store in a bad neighborhood.

Updike at his best--Rabbit, Run and and Rabbit Redux--was one of those writers who, if you were also a writer, made you sweat. How did he get verbs to do so much work for him (as in "rain sobbing down") without seeming to work very hard? How did he manage to make soaring prose out of ordinary, even tawdry material? For this reader, Updike, when he was in his element, nailed mid-century America the way a lepidopterist tacks butterflies to a board.

Sure, I couldn't really get through "Brazil" and barely wanted to know who did what in "Couples" and kind of couldn't give a hoot about Bech and his Book: but if you haven't tucked into "Of the Farm" or the Rabbits or the Centaurs, you've missed out on what post-WW2 America really felt like (or at least it seems so to a nearly too-young-to-know boomer).

And yes, I too liked reading his occasional New Yorker essay as long as I was able to keep from picturing him writing from somewhere in Connecticut clad in white shoes.



All poets are thieves, thieves of fire, fugitives of the gods. Some novelists can attain quasi-poetic powers of artistry but such souls are all too uncommon. I am listening to an interview with American novelist John Updike, who passed away yesterday at the age of seventy-six. I've found many of his New Yorker reviews to be quite enlightening and well written, but, boy, I've never been able to finish, have hardly been able to even begin, one of his books. Is there someone in Tempest Land to call me out, call me a philistine, and recommend some really primo Updikeana? I recently read David Foster Wallace's (R.I.P., dear D.) 1997 hatchet piece about Updike (collected in Foster Wallace's wonderful 2006 essay collection, Consider the Lobster) and tend to agree all too much. Foster Wallace sees a generational gap as one of the prime detractions; another being the incessant stylistic excess. Amen, brother. Any Updike-o-philes across the land? Please, teach the way if it is teachable. J/C

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Andrew Edwards

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to the opening of Andrew Edwards' show in Norfolk, VA "American Dreams".

Below is an excerpt of a review published in Portfolio magazine:

"Andrew Edwards. . .is an American scene painter. Well, sort of. In his cool, clean-lined world of exaggerated deep space receding at eye level, the influence of film noir is both seen and felt. Through these meticulous acrylic paintings, he explores—with his tongue somewhat in his cheek—how seemingly normal American lives are intersected and mediated by the bizarre and by the vague threat of danger: a fire on a populated hillside, a train bearing down on an automobile or, more peculiarly, a glassy-eyed figure in a top hat and a ferocious tiger in a rusted-out car in a dark field near an amusement park

Improbable juxtapositions of ancient and modern references within a mid-century context are provocatively unsettling, as are the artist’s mask-wearing figures who interact normally with those around them. “Caesar and Pontiac” features Mom, Dad and the kids in the family station wagon driving past a forlorn town and cemetery into a bucolic landscape. However, Mom is wearing a bird mask and a small menagerie of creatures shares the back seats with the children. A somber sculptural bust of Julius Caesar stares with unseeing eyes from the bottom left. And the bare legs and midriff of a striped miniskirt-wearing woman appear about to float out of the scene at the top right like an untethered balloon.

Together, the paintings raise the question of whether there is any such thing as a normal American life. And they make you halfway hope there’s not." -- Betsy DiJulio


Monday, January 26, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Das All, Kapital?

With the inauguration of President Obama, our nation finds its collective eyes misted over with hope: for what?

Are we hoping that, putting childish things aside, we can rise above the moronism that has gripped the Republic since Reagan cast his gimlet eye upon "the elite"? We are, most fervently.

Do we hope that, refusing false choices, we don't continue to run the Constitution through a shredder in the vain pursuit of every last person who wants to harm us? We do.

Or are we hoping, most of all, that Obama figures out a way for Capitalism to survive its current bout of double pneumonia/tuberculosis/polio/river-blindness/yaws/hookworm/food-poisoning? We are--most of all.

The rest of the above are all quite wonderful to contemplate (that, and the first African-American President to boot); but this is serious.

They are talking about spending a trillion dollars--that's in addition to the remaining 325 billion from the first panicked bailout. And they are saying it might not work. If a trillion-plus doesn't work, how much do we have left in the tank? Another trillion? Won't the mint run out of paper and ink pretty soon after that?

Think what might have happened if the Soviets hadn't taken the Reagan bait--hadn't blown their meager savings on missiles they'd never be able to use--and lasted another twenty years or so? They'd have lived long enough to see the mighty capitalist tiger now weak as a kitten, waiting for the taxpayer to feed it thin gruel through an eyedropper.

The world of capital is in denial.

Guys: it's over. Your debt-to-asset ratios are unrecoverable.

The new lending institution is going to be the government. That's called socialism.

Much as a certain cartoon pig used to say: "Da-da-da-da-da-da Das All, Kapital."



Watch a balloon – at first
racing from the child's hand, rising,
exultant, but then –
it will seem to slow, as if
regretting this rash decision, its jailbreak.
You know this is just a trick your eyes play,
that beyond the landmarks
of treetops and water towers
one balloon can take its time
getting lost in the everywhere of sky,
becoming smaller by the tiniest increments;
first losing its string, then the bright spot
precisely where it faces the sun,
then its color, and then itself

That's what the bad days are like,
not the ready tropes – the fish
drowning in sunlight on the pier,
gills heaving, bleeding. I just pity
every balloon I ever grasped for twice
and lost, that vanished
while all the eyes of the carnival watched it go,
those days when it seems
the merest breeze is enough
to carry my own breath
away from my body

Mark Aiello

Friday, January 23, 2009


I notice that young males from Central and Southern American countries who live in the tri-state area spend much time on their grooming, I suspect much more than most of their female counterparts. The hair is gelled, spiked, poised at a 45 degree angle from the scalp; eyebrows are plucked into oiled lines; any facial hair has been sculpted into preposterously thinned strips; and any natural deviation of the hairline has been razored into symmetry. These gents look quite effeminate, very "pretty," although I'm sure that is not largely their intention and more than a few would be homophobes, as are too many in North American society in general. Why do they go for this streamlined look?

I suspect that it is a hair-protest against the failure of revolutionary movements and governments throughout their home countries and the advent of fascist/authoritarian regimes throughout the seventies and eighties. The romantic revolutionary appearance of Che or Roque Dalton or the Allendeists with shaggy hair and bristling beards has disappeared, except for on t-shirts emblazoned with the iconic Che shot. So are these scarcely hirsute, overly groomed men protesting, despairing, or else welcoming the historical downfall of the politics of liberation? I'll mull this issue over while I head to the local barber for a close shave... J/C

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


This time, an unintended delay. Not only was yesterday (my regular post day) the U.S. Presidential Inauguration it was also the inauguration of a new term of work for me. Forgive or cherish the silence, whatever you wish.

As for the Inauguration: I'll keep my remarks brief and on point and about the Inaugural poem only. Elizabeth Alexander's "Praise the Song for the Day" is not nearly as terrible as Maya Angelou's 1992 effort, "On the Pulse of Morning," but its mediocrity is unsettling. I hope it's not prophetic. Shelley mentioned that poets were/are the acknowledged legislators of the world, the antennae of the race. This is either patently untrue in all cases or just this one, at least one hopes. The citizenry that Alexander describes are so historically and collectively vague that I can only imagine blurs and smears where should be the inlaid features of specific individuals and ages. Have we derived from a bland and silhouetted mass of...mass? Are we tending that way? Is Alexander subtly and subversively relaying a Marxist critique of mass culture in verse, indicating how capitalism tends to intrude on individuality, on the advancement of unique and manifold qualities across the social strata? I assume not.

This poem might've been written for the Invisible Man or Musil's A Man of No Qualities. I'm not sure if Ron Silliman would aver but "Praise Song for the Day" to me seems not only part of the School of Quietude, but affiliated with its capacious graduate school. When I look around me, I see mostly embodied presences, peoples perceived in details, except of course the few thriving deconstructionists that would deny anything but elusive exteriority and illusive interiority and whom I genially refuse to envision as a courtesy to them. But seriously, why must we be fed sentimental confections and hazy depictions of this nation and its people?

Where are you, Walt Whitman, to sing our collective body electric? Where are you, Emily Dickinson, to describe our sovereign souls and minds? J/C

Monday, January 19, 2009

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Hello there, Easterners, Westerners, Northerners, and Lucky Southerners:

Hope Renaissance's latest post warmed you and you aver with its mighty, temperate (not tempest) logic. Good going, good Sir!

I am writing this entry from approximately twelve miles from the U.S.-Mexican border. It's warm here, high seventies today with a strong, hard-focused sun, and I purposely deferred my Friday entry. Why? I needed to finish Roberto Bolano's magisterial, 893 page novel, 2666. It's mammoth and it's incomplete (but reads like a durable totality of meaning, images, narratives, and mysteries). The five sections migrate across history and the globe but its most frequent contact point/landing base is the fictional Santa Teresa, based on the nonfictional Ciudad Juarez, a Mexican border town. To finish it here was imperative, a way of putting its context and illustriousness in contact with my own place of temporary residence.

A few pithy remarks:

1. The novel is one of the most siginificant of the past one hundred years.

2. Bolano has transcended geographies and psychogeographies, borders and bridges, the discreteness of sharp lines around destinies or peoples, and is truly globalizing in the least nefarious connotation of that term.

3. Bolano is reminiscent of Balzac, Dickens too (and I add the latter because this novel has "cojones" and what is a Balzac without the Dickens? Also, sexual entendres abound in the novel so I'm merely forwarding the gesture).

4. I am angry, so angry and sad, that Roberto Bolano died on July, 13, 2003 at the age of fifty when he was supposed to live until ninety-seven with seventeen more novels to be written.

5. The novel is incomplete! No ending, no end. What's the point? It was not intentional, the author died after all, but the incompleteness makes sense. Is not life without conclusion?
Should it? Should this post? I don't know; I just trust the ................................ J/C

Wintry Rant

When we launched The Tempest, our tag line included the phrase I've chosen as an entry title. Today, with the temperature in New York struggling towards 7 degrees Fahrenheit (!), is the time for my actual wintry rant.

I hate winter.

I have often wondered why, many centuries past--even millienia past--any sane human, with all the Mediterranean relatively unpopulated (at a time when it is written that even places like Algeria and Libya were flowering), would have ended up in a place like, say, New York. Or Kamchatka. Or, may the gods of Ikea forgive, Sweden. Were they banished by more brutish, beachy types? Was there a shortage of fresh water in overly sunny climes? Or were they tricked into a life in the North by having arrived in summer, only to be trapped by snow and ice--and then decided, perhaps--"Well, the heck with it. It's miserable here, but no one will bother us and there's lots of elk."

By the time the Pilgrims got booted out of England for being too narrowminded, their ending up in a cold place almost made sense as long as you understood they neither had any idea where they were headed nor any reliable navigation. That they washed up on the shore of a place with weather as righteously miserable as Boston was their dumb misfortune. That we have a national holiday more or less celebrating their survival through that first icy winter tells us much about how pathetic was their weather-eye.

I have read where settlers in Canada continually complained to the Crown that it was simply too cold to do anything at all between October and May. We all know this is why Canada had a population of not more than several dozen people even as late as the 1960s.

As for New York: they talk of deep harbors, of strong bedrock for buildings, of its relatively mild climate (ocean-warmed without the gusts) compared with other places at a similarly northern latitude. Whatever. During winter around these parts, you can die out there--say, if your car breaks down in the wrong snowy hollow. Howcome all the settlers didn't just flock to, say, North Carolina--or Miami?

Maybe some folks preferred dressing in moose-skin to sweating like hogs all year--and Miami was even more pestilential then (and in a different way) than it is now. Air-conditioning changed all that--made what were the swamps and deserts of our nation into resorts.

But still--I keep picturing humankind in a younger day, migrating up out of the warm African sun, camping, scantily-clad, near what is now Monte Carlo, building their huts out of bones and skin; and thinking--"gee, I would really love to freeze my ass. I think I'll keep pushing north". It does not add up.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Dateline San Diego, CA:

I arrived here two days ago, a retreat from winter freeze and its metaphor of melancholy. My sister lives here; as a New Englander, she stands out among the locals like a messy bikini line. An observation: many of the natives here fetishize the body as if fitness and narcissism should coalesce and become a sheen of flawless skin. People of such persuasion tend to live comfortably in their bodies, a kind of condition of rank materialism that precludes more spiritual reckonings.

Just a day before I left the tri-state area, I was involved in a one car accident on the Pulaski Skyway, above Jersey City. My friend's car went into a skid and never recovered. It spun around and then crashed into the retaining wall at forty-five miles per hour. Had that wall not held, we would've fallen like auto-Icaruses a hundred feet into industrial wasteland. Even though I wore a seat belt, I was flung into the windshield, shattering the right side with my head. As I recoiled from the glass, the air bag belatedly sprang, knocking me in the face. I hit the head-rest at an oblique angle and was awarded with a small gash in the back of my head, the only injury I sustained (the driver was only slightly shaken and stirred). The seconds before impact were oddly serene-- I felt lifted out of my body, out of any concern for consequences, and took in every moment and every detail like a transparent eye ball. No care for the body or its physicality, an ecstasy of indeterminacy, an anticipation of nullity and a sentiment of emptiness. Would that I could translate this experience to these San Diegoans, perhaps they might escape their enclosure in sensual skin and surface for the depth of perspective that near tragedy brings. If only. J/C

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Magnum opus

It can be anything - it all
must be done between now
and bedtime.  I will stand on ladders
to touch the ceiling with one color
(important that everywhere be exactly the same), 
I will stand on my windowsill, like the statue
of a strange god set out as a totem
over this winter street,
and I will wipe up wet paint, even
just the barest drips, from the pane
lest they dry and mar my view
of the river, even if just slightly, 
forever.  I will up the dust
and all the scraps and offal of my chores.
Now that I have pushed it all
(tables, mismatched chairs) to the center of the room,
I will seek perfection in every corner today.

Mark Aiello

Friday, January 09, 2009


Although modern life subliminally recommends one to be like Ray Milland in LOST WEEKEND, nullifying the mind and reducing the systemic shock of the world to a faint oblivion, I cannot say my excuse for not writing (or writing in invisible ink? Nah, an impossible excuse) was the drink. No, a wintering amnesia, an inadvertent hibernation. In order to wake the mind (yours, mine)
with some textual coffee, I'll make my remarks in bullet-point fashion:

** All poets are STILL thieves!! Damn!!

** Damn THE VILLAGE VOICE for firing Nat Hentoff!! Now that rag lacks jazz, passion, politics, and moral courage. I'll start to read US or MAXIM to magnify my mind.

** Damn the Israeli Defense Force for killing hundreds and hundreds of Palestinians and justifying the actions. Pox on Hamas militants for civilian rockets, raising terror, and clinging to idiotic ideology.

** Damn Mayor Michael Bloomberg for ludicrous, cowboy rhetoric concerning Israel's incursions. Blustery and strident, the Big Man really thinks of himself as a formidable presence on the world stage. Were he to become a U.S. President he would seek seven consecutive terms.

** Damn all the little twits with their text messages and cell phones. Because they often forget to coordinate their limbs and begin to walk in diagonals while texting or phoning, they get occasionally assaulted physically by me and, hopefully, you copy-cats after reading this rant and agreeing with it.

** Damn the purveyors of Warholian superficiality in the visual and verbal arts. Kudos to RENAISSANCE for marvelous insight in his January 5th posting for THE TEMPEST!

** Damn all Dams! Peace be unto the earth and its circulation.

**Damn, it's another year! Maybe you should resign or's OH NINE! OH NO!


Monday, January 05, 2009

He Made it Cool to be Shallow

Andy Warhol, that is.

The other day I watched a DVD of "Superstar", a 1990s era reflection on the great artist's life. And in the years since his untimely and unnecessary death (he died of a common post-operative infection), much of the world that cares about such things has continued to award him accolades for being what he certainly was, a pop visionary.

Some of his work is so iconic--soup cans and Marilyn over and over--we can hardly separate it from the fabric of commercialized culture he appeared to comment upon. He was perhaps the first to look at the detritus of mid-century America and say --"okay, it is a culture". Or at least it seemed that way. His comments on his own comments are famously minimalist and self-effacing. In any case, his was a new way of appreciating the world in which we found ourselves.

However, he also accomplished something else more insidious and also very long-lasting: he made it seem intelligent to be shallow. He made it seem "above it all" to wallow in it all. This is a convenient illusion. For when one worships the soup can, one is worshiping the soup can. It doesn't matter that much if you smirk and understand that you are worshiping the soup can. You are not saved from banality by irony.

There was a time when so-called artists seemed to find pop (or mainstream) culture unrelievedly wretched. They rejected it utterly, and not always to their cultural benefit. For instance, in the fifties this rejection of pop led to an embrace of a rather dull form of jazz over a much more exciting form of music called rock and roll. But by embracing Warhol in the early sixties, the art world decided it would have its cake and eat it too.

Except we are all eating cake over and over again. Knighting shallowness has resulted in a benighted cultural and political landscape. And it has probably played no small part in fomenting the overall dumbness of American public life (especially the ruinous reign of Bush).

I say we call a halt to the worship of the mediocre ubiquities of corporate-generated culture; and that we re-examine whether we have any affinity at all, as thinking adults, with the bland, selfish shallowness that Warhol glamorized.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

The way I work at things

I'm sure there's some part of the moth
that knows it's all futile,
and yet he can't help but return, to batter,
batter, batter his fine body against
whatever this membrane is, that keeps him
from the light, from the singularity
that calls him with a song he feels
deep in the seam between his senses.
With each wingbeat shedding more of his dust,
his essence, until he finally succeeds
in losing himself entirely.

Or maybe it's more like the oyster, with a grain
of the merest thought beneath her tongue
unable to think anything else, until
her work is done, and it has been mulled
and mused over, in enough quiet and darkness,
that one ill-fitting thing, that burr in her soft flesh,
until it is layered over, with strata of meaning
she herself never knew it had.

I just wanted you to know: this is what I'm mumbling
those nights when I take my notebook from the shelf,
to rework a poem in yet another color of ink:
Be as courageous as the martyred moth,
as meticulous as the patient oyster.

Mark Aiello

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Culinary Harm

I am a long-serving member of the Manhattan dining brigade. And as a member of that favored regiment, I have become accustomed to a relatively high standard of culinary achievement. I will therefore admit that my personal ability to walk to some of the best dining halls in our nation has probably made me prejudiced and unfit to render some of the judgments found below.

The occasion for my culinary comments has been a recent, long road trip during which I dined at some well-known eateries of a type commonly found within a half-mile of nearly any Interstate exit between Maine and San Diego.

Obvious to any traveler is that the roadside restaurants are many and are almost always outposts of the same few national chains. This is not in itself a fault. Similarity across a nation is just another word for "culture". In France, every town has its kiosk, cafe and brasserie; in Great Britain, the pub and betting parlor. So if there is anything negative to say about the sameness of American roadside dining, it must be of its nearly uniform awfulness.

I will briefly comment on just a couple of the offending establishments, confident they stand in for most of the rest.

Earliest on the trip came an encounter with Chili's. I can note it but briefly, as I doubt I want to recall it in much detail. I will admit I was expecting it to be mainly Mexican or Tex Mex. But I detected a lack of chilis and instead a preponderance of laminated, spiral-bound menus (which, I have learned, is a bad sign). I believe I may have ordered something crumbly or cubed wrapped in a tortilla. I cannot recall its flavor except that it had little. My daughter fared worst, having ordered fettucine al fredo with shrimp. This was more or less a dish of hot milk. The worst insult was that one could tell the basic quality of all the foodstuffs--the chicken, the shrimp, the beef--was low. That they were indifferently prepared, and served with stultifying sauces with tired, wrinkled bread, only accented the suspicion that one had been cheated. Is it true this chain started as a popular beanery? I wish it could go back to its roots.

Applebees presents itself as a funky, Tiffany-lamped hangout where, perhaps because the posters are all sort of crooked, a movie star may at any moment elect to put in an appearance. Again, we ordered from laminated, spiral-bound, colorful menus with lots of beauty-shots of burgers and shrimp. My four tiny bacon-cheddar burgers were served on four tiny, stale buns. The cheese was not melted. The fries (were they fries?) were neither crispy nor soft inside but kind of raspy and difficult to swallow. One of us ordered a salad which was passable except for the sad sludgy dressing of a type we could not identify. Here the insult came with the bill: they charged us as if we had dined at a real restaurant.

We enjoyed a good breakfast at a place I considered unlikely: The Cracker Barrel. If you like grits and eggs and bacon (I do), choose this place over all the others. The only problem with Cracker Barrel--and maybe it was only because it was located in the South--was that the management had posted a large sign in the entry hallway stating their commitment to serving all races and creeds without discrimination. I have to admit this made me feel less comfortable under the gaze of some of the older, more serious-looking diners of whom I am certain were adults in the days of Medgar Evers and on the dark day when Doctor King was murdered.

Most of the time, we made our way to McDonald's. This is because McDonald's is terrible, but in a way we have become accustomed to, and also because they don't charge very much. Finally, it is important to note I have a weakness for the Big Mac.