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Someone to Count On
Someone to Count On
by Rosamond du Jardin (DuJardin)
Edition: Paperback
17 used & new from $9.96

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Summer People Are Dangerous: They Know They Can Survive, June 28, 2016
This review is from: Someone to Count On (Paperback)
I came back from Cape Cod yesterday after having attended the annual meeting of the Lenora Mattingly Weber Society. One thing I realized for the first time is that people who loved L.M. Weber might also be enjoying the novels of the late Rosamond du Jardin (1902-1963).

One event was a book swap; you could bring a YA book and take one away. I cheated a little and brought one of my own books, suitably wrapped, and came away with a novel I had never heard of before, Someone to Count On, by Rosamond du Jardin. This is one of du Jardin’s “standalone” books and does not fit neatly into her four or five celebrated series—the “Pam and Penny” books, the “Marcy Stories,” the “Tobey Heydon” book et cetera. Someone at the conference speculated that our own idol, the late YA novelist Lenora Mattingly Weber (1895-1971), who enjoyed a much, much longer career, ,might have envied or disliked her rival, for in one of her later books she devised a treacherous drama teacher who encourages Katie Rose Belford to try out for the leading part in the play, knowing all the time she was not going to give it top her, just to be mean (under the guise of “testing her”).

I walked into “Someone to Count On” (1960) with tiny expectations and was pleasantly surprised to find it an interesting story of a young woman’s growth, though I never lost my discomfort discovering that the heroine’s name is Twink. Yes, “Twink.” It was the age of cute names for protagonists and teens in general, like Mimsy Farmer I guess, or Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. Twink (Deborah Elliott) is beginning a summer vacation before she begins her junior year in high school, a suburban school somewhere near Chicago. Her dad’s a teacher and her mom, although a former high fashion model like Suzy Parker, now prefers just being a mom.

Indeed the mother’s anti-feminism is a bit much even for the days preceding Betty Friedan. I figure Rosamond du Jardin, who wrote something like 20 novels the last 14 years of her life, could have been a breadwinner, but not in her own opinion. Twink’s parents, admirable in every other way, both believe that “the place of a woman with children was at home taking care of them.” The mother, Cam, responds humorously with a bizarre metaphor I still can’t figure out. “Mothers who take jobs when it isn’t financially necessary always puzzle me. It’s like taking the trouble to mix up a lovely cake and put it in the oven, then going off and leaving it to bake and get out by itself when it’s done.” That’s a truly graphic and unpleasant way of describing the mysteries of childbirth, isn’t it?

Anyway Twink, though never truly torn, has broken the code of teen society by dumping her steady, for girls only keep steadies in order to always have a date on the all important Saturday night and Sunday day social times. The other girls in her group act like she’s Hedda Gabler slamming the door on dates, but the truth is, Twink doesn’t have to worry about going dateless to school dances, bowling sessions, pool parties or car races—she’s too pretty and self-possessed. She intends to spend this summer reading recommended books like Wuthering Heights: and to learn how to play the guitar like Carol Kaye, and how to do antiquing and gardening like her ever-busy mom Cam, and to play bridge and tennis and plan parties with friends. Well, I’ve read a lot of these books and honey, cute guys are going to be distracting you all summer.

One of them is local hunk Gary Rogers, who works in the town drugstore with his dad,. The drugstore, we learn, is the center of the entire town, though Mr. Rogers decries the new practice of asking the druggist to sell everything at his store, from cosmetics to clothes to home furnishings. Gary is drop dead handsome, but everyone likes him, even the unpopular kids at school, because he’s so nice.

Then there’s the spoiled, rich bad boy Jared Bradley, who moves into the mansion next door and sits around all day brooding in his red Jag—a cool sports car he is never actually seen driving. When the enigma of his past unravels, I am sure I wasn’t the first to guess the Jaguar had something to do with it. Jared is so rich they call him “Jay” instead, like Jay Gatsby, and although Du Jardin never makes me believe that Twink would care for Gary’s dreams of going to medical school and helping poor people like the unpopular kids, she is good at making Jay sound like the sort of wounded James Dean type any Twink might develop a yen for. She is great at scene making and describing nature and the sort of innocent, yet sexy fun that straight teens seem to enjoy.

On the cover she appears, flanked by blond Gary and dark-haired Jay, both boys in white pullover turtlenecks like back-up dancers, while she moves seductively toward the reader in a puffed-up bouffant and a white sheath gown with spaghetti straps, a cross between Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn. I would think that would have been a lot of pressure for a girl to read this book by. Wonder if many readers peeled off the cover and cherished the plain buckram binding underneath.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 29, 2016 5:36 AM PDT

In the Empire of the Air: The Poems of Donald Britton
In the Empire of the Air: The Poems of Donald Britton
by Donald Britton
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.95
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Treasure Returned to Us, June 18, 2016
One of the most piquant developments in poetry this spring is the revival of a little-read, out of print poet few among us have heard of. I belong to an even tinier subset, among those who never met the poet in real life but own a copy of his only book “Italy”: so we think we know more about him than we do. He was handsome, talented, well-educated and knew many of the movers and shakers of New York City poetry in the mid-80s. Ive been in love with him since 1986, when I saw his picture in a monograph of paintings and drawings by the late Larry Stanton, from Twelvetrees Books. Why is he then so little known? His name is Donald Britton, and AIDS killed him. Now we are privy to much more of his work, and almost as good, a contextualization of his career besides, thanks to NYC poetry press Nightboat Books and the work of a pair of editors who have spent a dozen years or more putting him together and bringing him back to the brink of life in the new volume In the Empire of the Air: The Poems of Donald Britton.

We have followed this recovery project for ages, and in itself it has dramatic aspects. The work was originally undertaken by the late, and beloved prize-winning poet Reginald Shepherd, whose passion project this was. And when Shepherd died in 2008, all too soon, of cancer, it looked as though Britton would remain unknown, and with him a fascinating tale of intersectionality as well. Why was Shepherd so all on fire for the poems of a man he had never known? Through the editorial apparatuses of the new edition, we find out at last a little bit more about the shifting identifications of writership and readership. In the end it was another attractive young man, Philip Clark, who took on the process of coming to terms with Shepherd’s manuscript.

As a lagniappe, MacArthur genius award winner Douglas Crase appends a beautiful portrait of Donald Britton as a prism for his time, his dual sense of “spectacle and diminishment” emblematic of the trying voyage many were encountering in the gay world—the AIDS crisis which was claiming so many of Britton’s friends and which would shipwreck many lives and many careers. Crase’s memoir is so terrific you might buy the book just to read his piece, but beyond that there are 55 poems by Britton, and they will prove a revelation to some—brilliant vehicles of passion in repose, witty as Congreve and wily as Isak Dinesen. I have new favorites every day, and yet there is no denying that Britton is an acquired taste and easily dismissed as “Ashbery lite.” The frothy design of the late John Button’s painting used for the cover, the very “airiness” Britton seemed to prefer, I find charming, delightful, “amusing” as the “amusing notion” Britton writes about, in “Here and Now,” the notion that “life might someday/ Not be confusing,” and that this notion “that coordinates/ Our award-winning sentiments these past days.” No one, after all, has been more “award-winning” than Ashbery, but Britton leaves it up in the air whether or not “award-winning” is a ironic slam or a glamorous bouquet wth which to award our sentiments.

He is capable of astounding metaphors—”Living and Bleeding” is one long continuous ribbon of metaphor, “like hair folding over/ A valley.” “The spokes/ of our bikes” are “as invisible as the momentum/ Bringing us here to be mounted on the air/ Like TV ghosts.” That’s a trail that needs much unpacking, and yet the music carries us through any amount of this intensive doubling and redoubling. “We’re the front and back of the same page,/” (Isn’t that terrific?) “unknown to each other, but identical.” I think those of us who take to Donald Britton find in him something of that two-sided page, though maybe we’re kinder about his poems—no two are identical, and yet in each one all of his readers will find something of their own hearts that has been occluded by despair and regret. There’s freshness here, like the days of Eden ashore.

Not to Be Taken
Not to Be Taken
by Anthony Berkeley
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Taken 4: Not to be Taken, June 15, 2016
This review is from: Not to Be Taken (Paperback)
Thanks to a kind friend, a Mr. Robinson of Georgia, I was able to read NOT TO BE TAKEN in an attractive gray-green first edition after hearing about its brilliance my whole life. The book was published in 1938, with Hitler's war nipping at the heels of the English people who make up the majority of the cast. There is one Nazi, and hints of more. Basically the book is a brilliant comedy of manners attempting to rebut the Nazi or Nietzschean philosophy of why not kill those who are useless to man? Narrated by a fruit-farmer, Douglas Sewell, -- don't worry, his fruit-farming background although intensely boring, doesn't come in to the story very much after the beginning; narrated by Douglas Sewell, the book investigates modern marriage in the suburbs, and concentrates itself on an affable engineer, John Waterhouse, who finds himself in a mid-life crisis saddled with a hypochondriac wife who may or may not be doing a Lady Chatterley with a young medical student she met somewhere improbable.

Many of the characters have medical training of one sort or another. There's the village doctor, Glen, and his attractive sister Rona, who is not a doctor exactly, nor even a nurse, but she knows plenty about how to mix up prescriptions and she knows how to diagnose nearly as well as her brother. John and Angela themselves know more about patent medicines and poison then you'd think. Anthony Berkeley stages these sequences with the aplomb of one long used to devising intricate plots and populating them with alive, charismatic characters. The village they live in is listless to a certain extent, but once Cyril Waterhouse comes to town, Machiavellian and brilliant is his handling of Scotland Yard, everyone's talking about Angela and how she has suddenly become the richest woman in England.

At the very end there's a "challenge to the reader" asking three questions. Berkeley tells us that when the novel was serialized prior to publication by Hodder & Stoughton, he inserted a similar challenge, and nobody got all three points correctly.

Can we take him at face value? I think not. His word is, like the title of the book, "not to be taken." I propose that there must have been many correct winners to the contest and he just wants each of us to feel good when we wind up solving it, because brother, I'm no Hercule Poirot and even I solved it! I found myself humming, "not to be taken" to the tune of the 1988 Kylie Minogue showstopper, "Got to be Certain," with a giddy glee once I realized the crucial point about the cider that nobody wanted, and you will too! In the Stock, Aitken and Waterman classic, Kylie's girlfriends all tell her that boys want just one thing, and so she's hesitant about committing herself to Jason until she's certain. Another odd point about Amazon and this Anthony Berkeley book is, it's hot easy to find, and Amazon will try to steer you towards the recent trilogy of Liam Neeson action thrillers, "Taken," "Taken 2," and "Taken 3." "Taken 4" should definitely have a subtitle, "Not to be Taken," and they should use the plot of this interesting Golden Age mystery, just amp up the foreign agent subplot a bit and it would be perfect for Liam Neeson, who could be playing his own grandfather, in a twist.

Empire Season 2
Empire Season 2
Price: $39.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Those red Louboutins!, June 13, 2016
This review is from: Empire Season 2 (DVD)
Many great moments helped to make Empire an improvement on its historic season one, although perhaps the thirty episodes stretched out rather long. But all turned out well in the end--not for the Lyon dynasty, but for the viewers, thanks largely to a mystery plot in which all season long Lucious Lyon kept having these flashbacks to when he was a little boy in the grip of a manic depressive mother.

Similarly, on How to Get Away with Murder, Wes also remembers his manic-depressive mother and the trauma of her early death, and the two stories show some interesting links, almost as though the writers were stealing from each other and trying to compete about which show would be most Gothic and anti-Mom. Empire wins I will have to say, for nothing on TV or even on Broadway matches the performances of the incredible Leslie Uggams who comes on in a role that in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I cannot even allude to. Suffice it to say that she is discovered in extreme old age in a rest home for crazy oldsters, complete with bingo games daily and other entertainments, and we see hee using her fabled voice, the same one she used on "Sing Along with Mitch" sixty years back, belting out the Nat King Cole number "Mona Lisa." It is an exquisite musical movie moment, like something out of late Minnelli--in fact, in Vincente Minnelli's last film, A Matter of Time, Liza is revealed singing Gerhswin's "Do It Again" in the ballroom of a Venetian palazzo and it's not as striking as Leslie Uggams in the Mean Old Folks' Home. Uggams must have been coached, don't act nice, don't act sweet, you are pure poison--though very beautiful and stylish all things considered. Anyhow, many of the other actors on the show seem to be baffled on what tone to take with Leslie Uggams but that's OK, they're only human, while she is divine!

This was also the season in which Rhonda fell, or was pushed down, a set of winding steps thereby losing her baby, but she seems to remember waking up for a moment and seeing the soles of a pair of red and gold be-jeweled Louboutins padding away silently, though in triumph. Of course we viewers know exactly who it was, and the fun of the last ten episodes is seeing how long the culprit will remain unsuspected. The storyline has a great payback during the wedding of Hakim and Laura. Poor Laura! She was a creature of abject poverty when we met her, trying out to be the new Tiana, but as the season wore on her character weirdly changed. We found out that she was not very talented after all... and that she came from a bourgie family who were appalled she was marrying into the Lyons! Mirage a Trois was always going to be seen as a Latina version of Destiny's Child, but what's the sense in staging number after number which knocks out everyone who hears them, and then months later we find she was no good? Anyhow if I was that girl I'd be spitting tacks.... whereas Tiana, the Rihanna clone, never lost her cool and remains my personal favorite. What did you guys think?

Jeepster (Remastered Version)
Jeepster (Remastered Version)
Price: $1.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cars and Girls and the Future, June 10, 2016
Now that I get unlimited streaming of this song with my Prime membership, it has been playing again and again to weird effect. I found myself living, after my fourth playing, in two eras at once. Back when I was eighteen or nineteen I thought Marc Bolan the beginning and end of everything. Must have driven my family and friends crazy with blasting out "Electric Warrior" all over the place and for the infrequent visits of T.Rex to Long Island, where I lived in my parents' basement one long hot summer.

He was an enormously appealing little guy; David Bowie called him "The Prettiest Star," though that wasn't really true, he wasn't all that handsome, bit he had a wonderful smile and seemed to take to the switch from folk acoustic occult trance music to basic rock and roll with great aplomb, as though to say, if Dylan could do it, so can I. And for three or four LPS in a row he released the catchiest material: not every song was memorable but many of them got under your skin so that one wondered, this is so primal, why hasn't it been written before by somebody else? Jeepster was among this group. Bolan's lyrics could sometimes veer on the Orientalist, to fetishize colonial cultures, and that makes them fishy viewed today, but he also had the knack, shared with Bowie, of seeming to predict the future and to be able to peer into technological and philosophic developments that hadn't yet occurred. The concept, corny as it was, of the "electric warrior" might be emblematic of Bolan's interest in what we would today call cyborg culture—that a pretty, sweet girl could turn him into a "jeepster," spoke to a world in which boy + machine could merge and, once combined, become something even cuter than either apart.

"Just like a car, you're pleasing to behold. I'll call you Jaguar, if I may be so bold." The sentiments were so dumb and yet so outlandish they allowed him to get away with murder. The famous punchline of "Jeepster," in which he calls out, "I'm gonna suck you," went without editorial challenge from upstairs at my folks' house in Smithtown—maybe mom and dad couldn't understand his British accent.

Oh, and the other thing is in how many ways he anticipated Prince! Watching Prince live was like watching T.Rex live, I wonder if the relation between the two little guys will become clearer as time passes on. —So that was the second phase of my life that comes back to me as I listen to "Jeepster," the early 1980s when I first saw Prince and heard "Little Red Corvette."

A Crisp Café
A Crisp Café
by Lewis Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.00
19 used & new from $11.01

5.0 out of 5 stars The Chaucer of Alameda, June 9, 2016
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This review is from: A Crisp Café (Paperback)
A Crisp Café serves up some of the appetizing poetry that Lewis DeForest Brown, the “Chaucer of Alameda,” has been writing over the past ten years. With his sharp wit and his forgiving eye, and the range of characters and situations he has written about, we make the comparison to Geoffrey Chaucer with a seriousness akin to gravity. One feels that nothing in nature, either human or divine, is beyond his ken, and one indication of his lusty Wife of Bath appetite for life is the sheer number of poems he offers in his all-encompassing volume: in two columns, and single space, they continue on for nearly three pages of TOC.

He is also a constructor of puzzles, like the monks who worked on the Exeter Book in the Dark Ages, concealing the subjects of his poems like the answers to the riddles life and love impose. One poem, “Look It Up,” neatly and deftly opposes an issue of each of two separate literary magazines of the 60s or 70s, “Manroot 10” versus “Caterpillar 12,” and produces a battle royale with all the thrills of the match between Rocky and Apollo Creed! And the reader acts as referee and makes the sweaty decision.

It is the epic story of “Crumby,” Brown’s version not of Everyman, perhaps, but of God, or the spirit that lurks in front of us and oppresses us—our dads perhaps. The narrator gives mixed accounts of Crumby, sometimes admiring his pique and skill, sometimes mocking him openly, inviting a Berryman-like Henry smirk at the mention of his name. Well, it isn’t easy to make a fellow called “Crumby” scary, or sympathetic, but Brown knows how to create character within language. Some friends of mine who like I have read A Crisp Café several times tell me that their belief is that “Crumby” isn’t a real person but is a ghost, a cipher, a shadow of one who has passed on into history leaving behind only his dicta. Friend or foe be brings chills as he passes.

Add a sixth star if you enjoyed well-placed illustrations (collages really) of the underlying themes of Lewis DeForest Brown, for his daughter Mischa Brown and created some indelible black and white images to bring the work to life.

Memoirs of a Hypnotist: 100 Days
Memoirs of a Hypnotist: 100 Days
by Marcos Lutyens
Edition: Paperback
Price: $24.00
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hypnosis then, and now, June 8, 2016
If ever you wanted to know how the artists invited to big European shows like Documenta, survive the months-long and often arduous toil of basically singing for their supper, I can think of no better guide than Marcus Lutyens' lovely little book, "Memoirs of a Hypnotist: 100 Days."

The artist was approached by a Lithuanian curator, Raimundas Malasauskas, in Los Angeles, and asked if it were possible for him to hypnotize someone--literally. Malasauskas had already made an agreement with a San Francisco gallerist who had given him carte blanche to stage a show at her new gallery on whatever topic he wanted. Interested in hypnosis, no doubt because of his early experience behind the Iron Curtain in the days of the Soviet state. However, he didn't have a hypnotist so the beloved arts activist Ronni Kimm reached into her Rolodex and found him one, young Marcos Lutyens, then living in LA with his wife Yi-Ping and a young son, Jasper Tian-Huu. His memoir reveals him as the perfect artist for the show, and once the Silverman Gallery show was held, it became clear that curator and artist had it in them to expand a modest pop-up exhibition into first, a touring show, and then finally an attraction at the most famous art fair of them all, Documenta 13 in Kassel.

Kassel is a town in Germany and there, we gather, Lutyens devised a mirror cabin for his installation. (To "mirror" the mirror theme, the book's introduction is laid out in a footnote scheme in which we see the numbers on the right hand page (say 23), but on the left hand we see the number "23" reversed as if seen in some sort of dim, reflective mirror.) There was an unease built into the show, and happily Lutyens has pages and pages on anecdotes of what it was like, hypnotizing visitors into vague "narratives" devised by participating artists for an experience that would leave them feeling interpersonal but singular. Celebrated artists came too, and like all good sports sat in and let themselves "go under," like the American performance legend Joan Jonas. We watch as Lutyens watches Ron Athey undergo genitalia stapling surgery without pain, due to his ease with hypnosis, while in another sequence a friend grants him access into a private hospital in which operations are performed on actual patients to be witnessed by spectators in their underwear, like some fantastic futuristic Eakins painting nobody knew he painted.

I didn't go to Documenta but I was there, hypnotized, at the American gallery in which the Hypnotic Show debuted. I append my contemporary notes from 2008. I relished my time spent with both Lutyens and Malasauskas. I think they implanted suggestions in my brain like the shadowy brainmelders in Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, or Condon's The Manchurian Candidate, so that every time I think of either of them my cares melt away and I drift between smiles and sighs and erections.

My 2008 notes begin here: At the door of the Silverman Gallery you had to sign two releases before being allowed entry. “Basically this one says you waive liability in case you get possessed by a demon while within these walls,” explains the gallery girl, “and this one’s stating you won’t sue if the dream machine gives you an epileptic seizure.” Possessed? Dream machine? We were positively fibrillating by the time we took seats in the dimly lit gallery space on Sutter Street. Job Piston and I sat warily, cameras in our laps, ready to snap any sign of ectoplasm or wrathful spirits, but apparently this was just part of curator Raimundas Malasauskas’ Barnum-like showmanship, and when he promised a “séance of hypnosis,” he was using “séance” as a metaphor, as one might say, “a whole bunch of hypnosis,” or, a “quiet evening of hypnosis.” I don’t know how they say it in Lithuanian, but the philosophy of the studio heads of Hollywood’s golden age was, get those asses into the seats by any means necessary. Malasauskas might well be the William Castle of modern curatorial projects.

[I might have the prophetic streak, for here I was, calling on the name of the US schlock horror master William CASTLE, not knowing that the project was going to wind up in KASSEL Germany, the Castle homonym! Nevertheless let me go on:]

I never felt that I was actually going to be possessed by an incubus, but artist slash hypnotist Marcos Lutyens certainly had us all going pit a pat as he entered and prowled through the space, dividing the audience into two groups, those who were volunteering, and those like myself afraid to participate, who wanted merely to watch. Malasauskas had commissioned hypnosis scripts from a group of international artists, and Lutyens had worked four of them into a running spiel. The ring of chairs was soon deep in a trance, the sitters nodding and blinking like rabbits, while he spoke on in a velvety, Michael Ondaatje baritone redolent of summer, with a poignant tang of autumn surprising some of his labial consonants. Like I say, he worked the space, reaching out here and there to clasp shut a pair of hands a –trembling on a knee, to touch a supplicant’s forehead with his thumb, all the while counting us down, five, four, three, two, one. At one we were in the deepest possible trance state, and then he’d have us count down yet again, from ten to one, deeper still. One girl wound up so out of it her hair touched the ground in front of her, I’ve never seen anything like it, not even back in college when we took massive doses of animal tranquillizers to get over the outrage of having Nixon as president..

Meanwhile Lutyens was droning on in that intimate, simpatico way, walking us into Joachin Koester’s script about a park, a sidewalk, a civic building called the “Department of Abandoned Futures,” after which we crossed the threshold and descended a stairway, entered a hall, found a box filled with—with what? We each were invited to imagine what lay within. Deric Carner’s script was more ominous, I thought, a dark, cloudy horizon along which an unimaginable object began to evince itself—in a color we could not name, as it was not a color we had ever seen before—and the name of the large object came to us little by little as its Lovecraftian shape began to struggle in shadows and gleams across the sky. I called my object “Zephyr.” I don’t know why. You’ll gather that my status as a spectator did not prevent me from joining into the general trance; Marcos Lutyens’ voice is so seductive that, were you in that room that night, you too would be dreaming these dark visions. He leaned on some catchphrases that, perhaps, judged objectively, he used too often (“went back to the well one too many times,” as my dad used to say), but I never got tired of hearing him say, “And you’re drifting and dreaming—drifting and dreaming.” Indeed I’m now engaged to Marcos Lutyens and cheerfully I am bearing his children without anesthesia. I’ll just be drifting and dreaming in a bower of erotic bliss somewhere, bent to the floor, my hair soapy and washing his high-instepped feet.

Before I knew it we were waking up, one, two, three, four, five. Kylie Minogue had that song on her LP, Body Language, which I should have listened to before exposing myself to Hypnotic Show.

Count backwards 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Before you get too heated and turned on (and turned on)
You should've learned your lesson all in times before
You've been bruised, you've been broken

And there’s my mind saying think before you go
Through that door that takes me to nowhere (yes boy)
I stopped you all romantic crazy in your head
You think I listen, no I don't care . . . .

The truth is, I do care, and when Raimundas Malasauskas proposed hypnotism as an avenue of total interaction, a room full of mirrors in which objects create themselves from the swept floorboards of the Silverman Gallery—the birthplace of the golem—I went there. You know how Susan Sontag coined that expression, “Don’t go there.” Well, I went there, ignoring Sontag, thrusting myself in a post-Sontag space of risk, interpellation, and impending childbirth, drifting and dreaming, drifting and dreaming, in the Alterjinga of the Australian aboriginal people—the dreamtime.

by Susan Landers
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.95
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love of the Lost, June 7, 2016
This review is from: Franklinstein (Paperback)
Susan Landers has made an interesting book out of a Jane Jacobs sort of analysis, as once Irish-American “Germantown,” a Philadelphia neighborhood, became vacant and downmarket after white flight took hold of it like some sort of bubonic plague. And in this mostly black neighborhood Landers, then a young white girl, grew up with a restless curiosity and a sense not of alienation but of minority status. And became a poet.

She tells us that she began the project of “Franklinstein” as an improbable mashup of two books with Philly connections—Ben Franklin’s autobiography, and Gertrude Stein’s Making of Americans (1925) sewn together from quotes of each work and made into poetry, mangled like Frankenstein and yet, she admits, totally “boring.” Not until the aspects of autobiography, race, and distance entered the poem did it feel alive. And oh my, is it ever alive now!

It is mixed genre plus, for it incorporates a series of black and white photos taken by the author while wandering the blocks of her youth, and searching for remembered houses and stores and lounges. And the storyline owes a boost to Facebook, of all things, which gathered together many residents of the neighborhood to mourn the closing of a Catholic church to which many had once belonged (the faithful in later years numbered only a dozen or so, in a church that could fit a thousand.). And on Facebook people could write in about their memories of this church and of Germantown in general, and so Landers’ photos serve to give the book a “Throw Back Thursday” appeal, but due to the skill of her writing even outsiders like myself can join the fascination. Is it nostalgia? Mostly not, for Landers makes it clear that “white flight” is a form of racism ill-cloaked by its ostensible concern for preserving family well-being. It is a poem for a neighborhood that is in some way, a poem itself.

It’s this combination of lyric energy, and a dry-eyed look at the lumps and bumps society metes out to its underserved, that give “Franklinstein” its compulsive energy. Landers’ poetry doesn’t mind risking “bad taste” in the service of deep, painful beauty, and it makes hay out of conventions—not only the folk Federalism of Franklin, or Stein’s own extreme modernist chic, but the shibboleths of present-day mainstream (and “experimental”) poetry, for she knows what a good thing she’s got and she’s gonna keep on its back till the sun-chase is over. As I turn to the back of the book and scan the blurbs, I see that all of them use the same rhetorical trope to describe this richness—it’s this and it’s that—two different things occupying the same unthinkable space. Tyrone Williams wisely calls the book a “monstrosity,” I like that, for he means it as the highest accolade.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 8, 2016 7:51 AM PDT

one of us is wave one of us is shore
one of us is wave one of us is shore
by Geneva Chao
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.95
2 used & new from $9.92

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book of sparklers, May 27, 2016
Otis Books/Seismicity Editions has been on a roll of late, producing a steady stream of interesting and compelling books. Well, strike the word “steady,” for part of the excitement about their recent activities has been the sheer unpredictability of what comes out. Last time it was the so-simple-why-didn’t-anyone-think-of it brilliance of the Cross-Strokes anthology (edited by Cherkovski and Mohr), which explores the intersectionality between San Francisco and Los Angeles in unexpected and vivid ways.

Now comes Geneva Chao’s full length poem in five parts, without a capital letter in sight, one of us is wave, one of us is shore. I guess there are some capital letters here and there, most reliably in the proper names of those from whose work she draws her epigraphs: Philip Sidney, Lisa Robertson, Stacy Doris, Nathalie Stephens, Brian Stefans; and here and there an “O” in French, a stylish acknowledgement of the poet’s place between languages. “O bel inconstant, y a que toi dont je me languis,” writes Chao, and as I make it out it something like, “oh beautiful unfaithful one, it is only you for whom I pine.” There is an air of romantic indecision like the films of Max Ophuls or Claire Denis, and of strong emotion that can’t be contained by one tongue, and so the poetry in continually flip-flopping between French and English, as though there were too much to say, and also to maintain a dignified, intriguing discretion.

Yes, and its opposite, too, “a gleeful breaching/ of fences,” a daring display, a “head open for viewing.” The five sections of the poem correspond, up to a point, to traditional phases of rhetoric and logic, the thesis, the antithesis, the synthesis, but Geneva Chao has left the forensic society long ago and is moving into territory unknown. It is a book of pedagogy too, generous in its instruction: “I teach you to run from end to end/ of the garret to crowd/ your head with vista:/ / what is a direction/ other than another direction,/ to collect and to stuff/ in a pocket a petals each oracle of love.” I quote at length to show more of Chao’s inventive syntax (“petals” above, where after the article “a” one might have expected a single “petal”) and to illustrate something of the effusive, hectic movement of the verse—maybe a filmic movement is the best way to describe it.

Anyways it makes you never want to read anything that’s just in one language any more. It is a slim book but filled with froth and pale fire and fantasy, a shock to the system like a perfect glass of champagne.

Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show
Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show
by Daniel de Visé
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.57
93 used & new from $1.47

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crack Up and Reunion of a Great Team, May 1, 2016
It's a little bit repetitive, that's all, especially the part in which he announces, frequently, with the air of one discovering some bit of ancient wisdom, that the theme of the Andy Griffith Show is none of the things you thought it might be, like the relationship between a father and son, but instead it is the friendship of Sheriff and Deputy. He must say this in every chapter, and I couldn't figure out why, like, it's not so insightful, is it, even if it were true, and he never proves it. But outside of that, I have to give Daniel de Visé the author, five big Southern stars!

He's not afraid, that's why. He shows us that the Andy Griffith Show portrayed a utopia of Southern whiteness in a time of civil rights struggle, and he points out that even in its day, the NAACP and similar groups asked Andy why he would employ no blacks on his show. And Andy's reasoning comes across as specious, but he's not there to make Andy look good anyhow. He gives Andy Griffith his due, especially in his work with Elia Kazan on A Face in the Crowd, but it's clear that Don Knotts is the comic genius of the show, that Mayberry was never the same after Knotts left and in fact that Knotts went on to establish an even greater partnership when he teamed up with Tim Conway.

The book is frequently heartbreaking when we learn of the difficult Depression childhoods of both Andy and Don—one was born in a dresser drawer and slept there until he was four. And there was also the Days of Wine and Roses lifestyle of Andy and his first wife, Barbara—for when they married on the set of the long-running historical pageant The Lost Colony, it was Barbara, with her cool lovely voice rather like Joan Baez, who was the starry soprano, while Andy was just a second rate impressionist, Once Andy gets into No Time for Sergeants, however, Barbara loses her shine and takes a distant back seat to her husband, turning their home life into a Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf with her playing it as Elaine Stritch did—out to kill. These parts—the story of a talented woman losing her agency—are so depressing. When Andy became a star, the couple were invited onto the legendary "Person to Person" show hosted by war correspondent Edward Murrow. De Visé recaps the episode in which a plainly ill at ease Barbara is asked to recall her youth singing folk songs in North Carolina, and Andy pulls out a guitar and she has to sing "I gave my love a cherry without a stone/ I gave my love a chicken without a bone/ I told my love a story without an end/ I gave my love a baby with no cryin'." Because we know that she was in anguish over being actually unable to give her love a baby, "something in Barbara's voice rendered this lovely moment unspeakably sad."

Late in life Andy and Don got together and watched Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade, which saw the young actor play the part of a Barney Fife whose mental disabilities created a weird sort of Mayberry around him. Thornton in turn idolized both Andy and Don, and told Andy he was the reason he had taken up acting. In turn, Andy told him that he (Billy Bob) was more of a son than his own son. The son, Sam, was adopted and apparently never did right by Andy, letting him down with the alcoholism that seemed to run in the family, even in an adopted one. We forget today how swamped with alcohol American culture was in the post war period. Well, we were reminded of it on Mad Men, but Daniel de Visé's book really makes you realize how deeply all of these people—almost all—were drunks.

It's amazing that either of them became stars, for success was an unlikely prospect for them and they had very few connections! The sybaritic star and impresario, Maurice Evans, discovered them both and shoehorned them into his production of the great Ira Levin service comedy No Time for Sergeants on Broadway. Evans was not above promising Don a part which wound up going to the sexually more available Roddy McDowall. It is plain that the Homintern was alive and well on Broadway, just as the West End, in the mid-fifties. I do think that Daniel de Visé gives shade to the quite worthy "Destry" musical which the genius of Harold Rome turned into a splendid tunefest. But he is such a witty writer one forgives him even his lapses in judgment. A radio western that features Don as a sidekick to a kid became a surprise hit "with the Cracker Jack set. At the end of some broadcasts, no doubt to the delight of Manhattan parents, the station gave away a pony." A writer less sure of himself might have written "horror" instead of "delight," but de Visé trusts his readers to catch the irony.

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