Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Another incident of small magic

Do you remember when we slept together?
I’ll never forget that morning, from Newark
all the way to Philadelphia, with just the aisle
separating our seats and our canted elbows
on their rests. The useless landscape of New Jersey
unrolled steadily past your window,
at first miles of nameless marsh
and then it was all those brown towns
full of auto body shops and parking lots.

I pretended to read my paper
while you made a pillow out of your bag
and a balled up black coat, and then
you hugged them and fell asleep and I saw,
once or twice, what the slanted sun did to the honey highlights
hidden in your hair, and then, I think,
I was asleep too, dreaming of flight,
and cloud kingdoms and my long-gone grandparents,
all while sitting up straight
so as not to wrinkle my tie.

At 30th Street, I got my bag from the rack
loudly, but you stayed asleep anyhow
deep into the wilds of Delaware
and maybe even beyond.

I wrote you a note, to say
that finally I found it charming
when someone took up two seats
and that I admired your ability to sleep
through me zipping up my bag three times,
but just by the breweries and the prisons,
the train shook my hand, and I couldn’t have you
thinking I had the penmanship of a madman,
so I threw it out by the taxi stand, where twenty of us stood,
each of us waiting to flee that one moment
where our lives touched at all.

Mark Aiello

Saturday, March 28, 2009

I Am Not the First to Downgrade Picasso

I went to the Metropolitan Museum today and ended up perusing some of the moderns. They had several Picassos.

Is it a mark of greatness that Picasso's sum is always so much greater than his parts? Perhaps. But it may also be a sign that he was having one over on us--and persistently had the guts to pull it off.

Look at the sloppy stuff he puts up as a wreath around the woman's head, and the blobby way he plops the paint around her arms. And the cartoonish colors on the purple splotch of nude.

Look at the crudeness of the brushstrokes depicting the red-faced man with a lollipop. Surely he cannot be serious. He is saying: "Here you are--its just what I felt like doing and I am going to make you like it."

Deconstructed, his paintings nearly always fall apart--after his blue and rose periods, after his Desmoiselles, his work--from the 1930s onward--are crude, oversimplified, addled, as if by rote (yes, another plastic transformation).

Yet there is a raw power that continues to stun in spite of the fact you know you are being had. And there is no denying that, once you stand back, you see his true mastery is in composition.

You cannot look closely at his work. You have to stand back and let it emanate its power from a distance.

Do I sometimes think he was a fraud? Yes.

Do I still think his work is some of the most exciting of the 20th Century? Yes.


Friday, March 27, 2009


It is now spring, for the moment, at least. As symbol and surrogate hope for those invalided by the despair of the times (not just economic, spiritual too), spring bears gilded metaphysical fruits. Pick one, any shape, color, and texture. They are all succulent and pique the palate like no other food you might have tasted. The trees of spring grow in the Muses' grove. So no hard currency will suddenly fill your mouths or pockets; no make-over of your malaise will necessarily transpire. However, the fruits will inspire your art-instinct and develop it. 'Tis time for spring, aye, and make art, think art, and help plant the possibilities of it. Here's to spring, to you, to art-- a necessary triumvirate. J/C

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Could the War on Drugs be the Next Fallen Idol?

Troops are massing at the border.

You hadn't heard?

Northern Mexico has been taken over by narco-terrorists. Police captains are beheaded. Citizens are carved up like steer. They cross the border to intimidate Mexicans in the US--and Americans in the US. They are more vicious than any drug gangs we have ever seen and they're on the verge of collapsing Mexico as a nation.

To protect the most vulnerable areas in Texas, Obama is seriously considering a posting of the National Guard. There's crazy talk of poisoning the Rio Grande.

These Mexican cartels are fueled by two things: the American demand for drugs; and the American supply of weapons.

Secretary of State Clinton has stated that years of failed drug policies have led to this looming disaster, and she is right.

What's needed?

Legalization, regulation, taxation. First and foremost: decriminalization. One wave of that wand and the entire structure of drug gangs takes a severe, not to say fatal hit. And America can finally admit to its needs--can stop living in the shadows.

The tax revenue won't hurt either.

Disclaimer: I don't take illegal drugs. But I understand the damage their criminalization causes.

Let's call an end to the insane, counterproductive, wasteful War on Drugs. Now, before it's too late.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Back from the Emerald Isle and, sadly, the emerald has been devalued. But the craic (mischief) is still afoot and the Celts are still, unlike most of their American counterparts, readers. And listeners. Last week I was invited to read poetry at a library in Carlow, a small town roughly ninety minutes southwest of Dublin. Most of the audience members were neither poets nor typically poetry readers. However, they were curious and thought that a night of poetry would be a worthy collision with the new. I do hope it was. All in all, the evening was sublime and the fine young poet Derek Coyle, with whom I shared the stage, was phenomenal.

In case you're interested in quality verse, I suggest you go check out Samuel Menashe this weekend. Menashe, who was published several years ago by the Library of America in their Neglected Masters Series, will read Saturday at the Jefferson Market Library at 2 pm. Admission is free. The Library is on 6th Avenue and 9th St., across from the PATH station. I will be reading with Samuel, a warm-up act so you can indulge in the Menashean mind, truly a fine mind. And a great poet. J/C

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I Have Never Wanted to Ski

I can't say I knew her work all that well. But I know of her mother and her husband and feel deeply for them in their hour of grief.

Of course I am talking about the late Natasha Richardson and the strange, tragic way she came to her end on a beginner's ski slope in Quebec. Apparently she fell, hopped up, joked about it, went back to the hotel and soon collapsed and died. They are calling it blunt force trauma.

It seems she was doing little of much danger on the slope, but it made me think of the one time I allowed myself to be talked into skiing--and the sense I had of the insane danger into which I was putting myself.

Thinking back, I cannot believe I did it. I will not do it again. I flew down the slope at speed, with no knowledge of how to steer, my only hope of stopping to fall awkwardly in a snow bank and hope for the best. I came away uninjured. But at any moment I might have crashed into a tree at probably thirty or forty miles an hour (just like a car wreck) with no protection whatever. Late in the day, I saw what appeared to be an experienced skier--or at least someone who dressed like one--being taken off the slope wrapped tightly into a stretcher.

Why do people want to do this? I suppose it's exhilarating to conquer the slope, a dashing figure in fancy, specialized gear. I'm not making fun of it. I just don't identify.

Skiing is really, really dangerous. I would not want my kids to do it (they don't). I would not want my wife to do it (she doesn't).

Goodbye, Natasha. I wish you had not skied.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Dateline: Dublin, Ireland 03/18/09 Verdant & Impertinent Impressions

The day after the prance of saints and drunkards is lit by a spring-like sun...the originator of sprung rhythm, Gerard Manley Hopkins, lies in state across the street in Glasnevin is even more difficult now to be a vegetarian in this city, a city whose first vegetarian restaurant opened in 1905...the city planners keep ransacking the country's literary heritage for their kitsch constructions, including the soon-to-be-completed Samuel Beckett Bridge (!) and the Sean O'Casey walk-way...Trinity College undergraduates still seem an obnxious lot and the gruff librarians and staff at the National Library are actually quite friendly once you start up the conversation...trouble is brewing in the North; on the television one sees images of discontented youth who would've been wee babes in 1998 during the final days of the, they're hurling petrol bombs and taking to the streets with raised fist and voice...North Dubliners are still more authentic than their southside counterparts...Hip-hop performed in Irish is godawful...many of the bountiful immigrant population now have well-polished Irish brogues...tabloids sprout like shamrocks and the bookstores are archiving pop novels for the chick lit and cloak and dagger set...some of the most wonderful spots for book-browsing have been torn down to make way for the New Dublin but, alas, the green currency has gone yellow like a dried field...everything is flux and sensation in this metropolis but you can still purchase a gorgonzola sandwich at Davey Byrne's off Grafton Street and pretend you are like Joyce's Leopold Bloom and it's June 1904 all over again.. J/C

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The spinster

There’s no way
she hasn’t heard us.

Maybe it was just the chime of our roomkey
last night, or the sound of your blowdryer
this morning, like the whine of distant construction equipment.

Or maybe around midnight we sounded like
two tv characters turned up loud
and she debated calling the front desk.

But then there could be no doubt,
we barked like seals beneath the pier,
we gibbered in that rarest language
of seraphim, and then even
the bedsprings were crying yes yes yes.

Maybe she cinched up her robe and turned on
the radio. She slotted the doorchain and thought
she was alone for yet another night.
She was wrong.

I’ve never quite checked out of that same room.

For so many nights, I thought, too, that the closest
I’d come to this
was thumping my fist on the wall next door
with my face pressed to the flocked wallpaper.

Mark Aiello

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


On the eve of a departure for Ireland, I am reading a horrifying memoir, Kevin Myers's WATCHING THE DOOR: Drinking Up, Getting Down, and Cheating Death in 1970s Belfast (Soft Skull Press, $15.95). As one turns a page, one's stomach turns. To call this book a disturbing read is to understate preposterously.

A freelance journalist in Northern Ireland, Myers was witness to the visceral awfulness of the Troubles up close. His pungent prose indicts both nationalist and unionist communities, the British security forces, the IRA, various Protestant paramilitaries, and even himself, at times, for foregoing morality and being complicit in the vile misrule of conscience that polluted parts of the North for several decades. If you, dear reader, wish to get an almost too-tangible sense of what the Troubles in Northern Ireland were like, this book will serve you as well as a more objective historical analysis. The only flaws inflitrating the story are superfluous reports on Myers's various romantic trysts. The blood, bombs, and sustained depravity described elsehwere just do not allow these sexy interpolations seem anything but commercial breaks in the narrative, hardly a reprieve.

post script:

The report of Real IRA assassinations earlier this week sends a particularly sharp tremor as one reads WATCHING THE DOOR. The fanaticisms and hatred seem to have died down in Northern Ireland--peace has mostly prevailed and thank god--but still there are seethings under the surface. J/C

Monday, March 09, 2009

Zoe Leonard interview

Zoe Leonard's work was recently exhibited at the Reina SofĂ­a in Madrid. In the video below, she's interviewed by the exhibition's curator, Lynne Cooke.

As an artist, I find Leonard fascinating to listen to. As a project manager of translations, I love the bridge of language that connects both ends, to reveal and grasp the process and purpose behind a body of work.


Sunday, March 08, 2009


Friday felt like a Wednesday, Saturday like Thursday, and consequently this Sunday feels like a Friday. So I tap this text two days later on an empirical level but atmospherically I'm right on time. The day is tinctured by a certain wintry grace and the ominousness that accrues like anxieties about the new week. I feel cast in quiet reverie, reading Renaissance's post from yesterday and taking from it a serenity in spite. Looking to the future is impossible without new eyes and vision-- until I can afford them I'll maintain a steady gaze on what's in front and what's possible in spite. To my fellow citizens of the world--and my fellows are limited to the few and the good and the many in want--we should maintain our heads and hearts. If unable to do so, rather than engage in superfluous or injurious activity, we should start getting robustly creative: concocting puffy pies to throw in the face of law enforcement, darning suits with jailhouse stripes for sitting politicians, burying alive crooked financiers in outsized polyester purses, curing every disease threatening humanity, and stopping, with the snap (or two) of a finger, every single violent conflict in the world. Imagining such prospects in spite can deliver us from despair. J/C

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Notes from a Newsbreak

I am a news junkie.

In a typical day I will read The NY Times, The Washington Post, The LA Times, the CNN site, Alternet, Huffington Post, Politico, Yahoo News and watch Hardball, Countdown and Rachel Maddow. Then I might watch The Daily Show. Often I read the Daily News on the subway.

Lately this has become a problem.

That's because the news is so terrible these days. Rather than read the details about February's dismal job numbers, I have decided to pull back--make an attempt at seeing if "out of sight, out of mind" might actually help to improve my mood.

So far, so good.

I am also a fan of old magazines. During my newsbreak I was looking through a Time magazine from September of 1964 and noticed the following, which I had never known: during this week, less than a year after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, there were television premieres of "Bewitched", "The Addams Family", "Flipper", "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." and "Mr. Magoo". Is it any wonder why network television held all the marbles back then? Not to be too badly outclassed, in theaters that week were "A Hard Day's Night" and "Night of the Iguana".

Goldwater was running against Johnson. Hubert Humphrey was a brash young up-and-comer. Youths had rioted at Seaside Oregon and crime was headed up dramatically almost everywhere.

Last night I also watched three submarine movies in a row on Turner Classic Movies. I was trying to think of something that didn't have the words "stock market" and "tanking" in it--and thanks to William Holden, Rock Hudson and Clark Gable, I was able to do so.

My advice for these fun-filled times: stop looking. Go about your work. Feel good about yourself. This too shall pass--probably sooner than you can imagine. After all, even though every sentient adult in the United States is currently feeling like they have a spike driven through their head on account of the economy, at some point our native insatiability for goods and services is going to kick in and we will be firing up the markets again.

In the meantime, here's to cluelessness.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Sun-drenched river for a cloudy day

When I first posted this image, I wanted the title to be "Sun-drenched river for a cloudy day". But because of what I've been reading in newspapers and hearing in evening news shows lately, I titled it according to my underlying sense of outrage: "We share our souls with brutes and reptiles".

Then I thought: why contribute at all to the depressed and terrified mood of the day?

It's easy to be an echo, to let yourself be swept by mob sentiment. I've decided to take a healthy break from news consumption, and do my best to be sun-drenched these cloudy days.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Wide Screen Stretch Marks

I am sure it will all be okay once every channel broadcasts in HD.

But I can't help feeling like there's a strain of visual moronism at work when we see so many folks watching narrow-screen shows stretched out wide to fill the pixels of wide-screen televisions. Maybe it's the insufferable aesthete in me, but can anyone tell me why it isn't cause for complaint when, say, the local bar shows you a ballgame where the item in question is no longer a ball, but a weird ovoid? And where everyone looks squatter and fatter? I thought we were the nation of "thinner is better", so it makes even less sense than otherwise. Or maybe people secretly feel they'd rather see TV stars fatter, since it makes them feel less corpulent themselves?

It's unaccountable. One school of thought is that many viewers don't notice. Another is that they feel like they'd be wasting screen space by not stretching a narrow show to fill the wide screen.

I am sure this ought to be far, far down the list of things that get under one's collar these days, or maybe its because of these days that I find myself bothered more by small signs of mediocrity or capitulation.

In either case, I applaud the arrival of universal HD--only partly because it's kind of stunning in and of itself. It's also a rescue from incipient visual moronism.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009


In my honors literature class this morning we began discussing a novel, MOPUS, by Oisin Curran. In preparing for this and the subsequent three classes devoted to the book, I read it for the fourth time. A multi-genre, multi-narrative grenade of a novel, MOPUS is a marvelous example of what some critics deem, negatively, "experimental."* [full disclosure: yr. poster is a friend of the author's but no advocate for anything but first-rate stories; I would brand any relative or acquaintance with a searing poker if their artistic efforts were sub-par]. The book was published a few years ago by Counterpath Press and you should order a copy. As I am a champion of thieves and thievery (but not plagiarists or plagiary), I would encourage you to steal this book but I wouldn't want to take money away from either the press or the author. Once you've plunged in, send me a note about your adventures with William the Silent, Asa, Bluebottle, and the gang. You might not want to return from the journey. J/C

*I deem most critics negatively so all's a happy balance.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Sunday, March 01, 2009


The winter storm expected in the tri-state area is brewing like a rot-gut beer. Outside my window is snow spittle and a convent's back window. I cannot see the nuns (none) but I'm sure they can intuit the tensions of my lapsed Catholic spirit. My dear New England comrade, Ms. Emily Dickinson, wrote about certain winter afternoons with the heft of cathedral tunes-- you know it-- and the general tendency of the self at this moment is to record the collision of weather and one's being, the weather as metaphor for our haphazard, running-on-empty polis, and the frustrations brought about by too little sunlight and too many dark clouds. After winter afternoons we get the winter's night-- such a fright-- and the dark knowledge that we have the rhyme of the none-too-ancient marinade of malaise. But spring and all, as Dr. Williams's proved to us, is dangling the promise of new worlds, winds, words, and wants. Let's see what the forecast casts forthrightly... J/C

p.s. The outlook looks good, upside down.

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin

This was written on a top of the line laptop
in a Starbucks, by a man with tribal tattoos
on his neck, who hoped you'd peek
over his shoulder to read his screenplay
and offer him either a contract or sex.

You will find the next message
on a dollar bill you will get as change
coming off the turnpike long after midnight.

Help, it will say.  Let me out.

You didn't read the scrollwork
of the scrimshaw inside the shell
you picked up in the crappy gift shop
on your 6th grade field trip.  Instead,
you bought that seagull carved
out of driftwood, for your mom.  Bad choice.
If you had studied it then
this whole thing would be much further along.

Pull back to 35,000 feet and look out
over the hills and golf courses, the circuitry
of new housing developments out to the horizon.
How well do you know Braille?

Open your Moleskine and you'll see
I felt free to assign you
some action items, even though
I wasn't wearing a blue suit at the time.
You'll need to go down to Shipping
to get some boxes, and I hope you know
where to find an old typewriter
and your grandfather's pocketwatch.

Tell me what you need from me;
to scroll the words up the screen
after a late night ad?  Or hide them away
halfway through a spam email
for herbal Viagra?  Stipple a haiku
in skywriting above the beach?
Tattoo it in Kabbalist symbols
on the lower back of a woman
laughing too loud and doing shots
in a sports bar uptown?

I'm beginning to wonder if you're standing by
and ready to receive the instructions.

Mark Aiello