Remember the Memorable?
Published on December 2, 2010 5:42 pm.

Levinas: “Non-sense is the most evenly distributed thing in the world.”

Making sense requires exclusion: not that, but this. Sense is struck, called into relief, called into existence (“to stand outside”), distinct, discrete, against the endless fabric of non-sense. Why, to paraphrase Lorin Stein’s recent comment––Why are contemporary poets so resistant to making sense?

Reading Michael Robbins’ latest poems in the December issue of Poetry, I thought: I will never read these poems again. There’s no reason to return to them: there’s nothing to return to––nothing has been carved out, nothing lingers. Not even a murmur, a momentary spike, just the serene flat line of non-sense, “the most evenly distributed thing in the world.” The poems are in effect completely without effect, thought not without affect. So totally committed to being completely indistinguishable from, well, anything, they must constitute at least a pose. Is this a statement? A schtick? A style? Is it some glib mimesis, a circular stoner-koan: Our world makes no sense, therefore my poems…

Call me naïve, or naïvely outdated, but I take for granted the notion that poetry should be memorable, that a successful poem successfully resists paraphrase, whatever style or school or era. Making sense seems the first and, frankly, most basic step toward the memorable. I want to return to poems, I want poems to return to me. I’ll admit that Robbins’ poems can’t be paraphrased. But not because they’ve said something in a startling way, but because they haven’t said anything at all.

The Keith Richards “Life”
Published on November 14, 2010 5:16 pm.

Coming to the end of Keith Richards’ magnetic memoir, Life, feels a bit like one of the countless ‘cold turkeys’ he describes in the book. Or at least, after living with his voice in your head for a week, there’s a sense of withdrawal, a coming down, as if that voice––pugnacious, riotously funny, at times tender and nostalgic, at others borderline megalomaniacal––were a departing lover, the kind you’re just realizing meant a little too much to you, your sense of self. You mean, I have to go back to my life? How awful. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I actually felt a swing in my step this past week reading Life, a swagger imbued by Richards, seductive and infectious, that passed on a false, though no less pronounced, sense of what can only be described as ballsiness. (My friend Kyle has a Boolean system of classification for all music: cojones or no cojones. No one would deny that the Stones have stones.)

I have no idea what going ‘cold turkey’ feels like, but I think I can safely imagine that it is in fact nothing like coming to the end of a book, and yet Richards endows you (pun intended) with this vicarious, nearly transmigratory spirit of rebellion, of excess and self-destruction, to the point where you start thinking of ‘cold turkey’ as a viable metaphor, despite having absolutely no personal experience of it. As Liz Phair writes in her wonderful review of Life in the New York Times this weekend, “reading [Richards] should awaken (if you have a pulse and an I.Q. north of 100) a little bit of the rock star in you.” You can say that again.

What it also awakens, or re-awakens, in case we’ve overlooked it in recent years, defaulting to an image of Keef as Keith-the-addict, Keith-the-slurry-blatherer, or Keith-Richards-who-snorted-his-father’s-ashes, is the fact of Richards’ musical genius, his continued total immersion in a craft, his uncontested mastery of which only he contests, saying over and over again that the guitar is endless, no one’s its master. Here’s the real ballsiness. And the true force of the book is, as it should be, music––the sniping at Jagger or the blowjobs from Anita Pallenberg in the back of a Rolls are justly overshadowed by insights into songwriting, into the history of the blues, into the inimitable guitar “weaving” that propels the Stones best material.

If you play guitar, tread cautiously, you just might find yourself (again I’m embarrassed) stripping the Low E off your Mexican Strat, tuning to Open G, and flailing through the opening lick of “Honky Tonk Women” or “Can’t Your Hear Me Knockin’”. And yes, in front of the mirror.

Daylight Savings Jump Party
Published on November 7, 2010 5:27 pm.

Embrace the daylight savings munificence and spend the next (free!) hour trolling around looking at stuff on the internet instead of doing work! It’s what the world wants, why else would it give us this black hole of free time?

A few suggestions for your divagations:

Check out The Paris Review archive of interviews, recently made available online, a half-century-plus treasure trove of brilliance, acumen, total BS, caginess and sheer ego, from Louis-Ferdinand Céline to James Ellroy….Pick your poison.

Plus, the current issue has an interview with controversial French writer Michel Houellebecq, who seems subdued here (i.e. not drunk and not hitting on the interviewer). Houellebecq insists he’s not a provocateur, explaining, “A real provocateur is someone who says things he doesn’t think, just to shock. I try to say what I think.” Anyone who’s ever read Houellebecq will gleefully chuckle at that somewhat expansive “try.” If for no other reason, the interview’s worth checking out for the mischievous (and creepy) double portrait of Houellebecq and Iggy Pop, a partner in crime.

At The Rumpus, Maile Meloy discusses her return to the short story form. Meloy has been picking up steam of late, a reassuring bit of justice since for far too long she’s been grossly underrated. While her novels, Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter, are great reads, her short stories are Alice Munro-like gems of understatement and insight. Her latest collection, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, is possibly her best.

Also, The Independent’s art critic Tom Lubbock on living with a brain tumor; Giles Harvey on books about Bob Dylan; and if your French is up to snuff (or not, mine isn’t), the complete Madame Bovary drafts, beautifully scanned and organized.

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