Sunday, October 24, 2010

Do You See What I See?

Journalism as theater is what TV news is.
-Thomas Griffith

It's all blurry. Hard to see where we are going and difficult, for some, to see where we've been.
We live in a land of illusion. Nothing is more reflective of this country losing it's way than the blurring of boundaries in TV journalism these days. We can no longer differentiate between public and private, personal and political, and authentic and artificial. TV ads look like TV news shows. TV commentators voice their opinions as if they were fact. Some, like Juan Williams, formerly of NPR and now securely of Fox News, get fired on the spot. Talk about culture wars; maybe subculture wars now.
Seems to me it's fairly easy to separate the pretenders from the genuine article. The wannabe's yell, talk over everyone, spout and sprout venom, and my personal favorite, make a joke out of everything. Case in point: Once, just out of curiosity, I turned down the volume on one of those pseudo newscasts and just watched the body language. Points made verbally were often followed by laughing, wide grins, real schoolyard behavior. If you had to guess what these folks were talking about from this silent viewing, you'd be hard pressed to say it was anything worthwhile.
And now John Stewart, one of the funniest comedians around, wants to lead a political march on Washington. Certainly if Glen Beck can, Stewart should be able to. But what's really going on here? What does that say about the real marches in our historical past?
With 500 cable channels, the opiate of the masses is as widespread and toxic as ever. I reprise the P.T. Barnum quote, "Nobody every went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." In this culture, where over 50% did not read a book last year, where the majority care far more about Dancing with the Stars than the infrastructure of public schools, public roads, or campaign finance, where candidates for national office have not read the Constitution (no really) the illusion reigns.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Song of Ourselves

Last night I participated in a most satisfying event. At Pacific Northwest College of Art a staged reading of all 52 sections of Walt Whitman's Song of Myself from Leaves of Grass took place.

The Whitman 150 Project –
A Staged Public Reading of "Song of Myself"
20 October '10 at PNCA

PNCA/ Pacific Northwest College of Art
1241 Northwest Johnson Street, Portland
Reading starts at 6:30 in the Commons

I was proud to read section 47. Some of my poet/writer friends here in Portland also contributed to the event by reading various sections.
What a variety of readers and voices! Old and young, gay and straight, men and women. At one point a young mother with her child in her arms read a section. The little girl, about 4 years old, was frigidity and finally reached for the microphone contributing a well timed "mommy" to the proceedings. It took about two and a half hours to complete the poem. Many of the readers and those in attendance gave themselves a standing ovation at the conclusion.
What struck me most was how many of Whitman's lines hold up these many years later. His comments about war, equality, the need to own or possess things, human rights, and simply being in the moment are all just as important as they were back when.
Mass poetry readings are a good way to build community. Who's next?

Thursday, October 14, 2010


While talking to a good friend of mine the other day, I discovered that he was not familiar with the work of Kenneth Patchen. What an opportunity, I thought. My friend is a writer, musician, poet, and artist. A match for Patchen if ever there was one. With that in mind, I decided to review some of Patchen's books and collections of picture poems. Next thing I knew, I was thinking about writing a poem, sort of a homage to Patchen that I could read at my favorite open mic. In the collection entitled Poems of Humor and Protest, resides a most unusual piece.

Using that a a model, I wrote the following:

The Wounding and Ultimate Assassination of a Culture by an Unlikely President Wearing Crimson Colored Gloves

(For Kenneth Patchen)

Don’t Don’t

Don’t, Don’t, Don’t

Don’t Don’t

Don’t Don’t

Don’t Don’t

Don’t Don’t, Don’t

Don’t Don’t Don’t




OK, Now.

Patchen's work must be seen to be fully appreciated. He was writing in a difficult time and his aesthetic response to World War and inhumanity leave a deep impression on those who find and appreciate him. Sad but inspiring that he was writing with much physical pain. He had major back problems that often left him unable to travel much.

Patchen with Charles Mingus

Still, he was cutting edge. He knew all the innovators, the Beats, the Be Boppers. Kenneth Patchen is an American treasure that we need to polish up right now.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Shadow and Wind

I just finished reading a most satisfying novel: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron. Not usually my genre, but then I'm open to anything. Even the paperback version of this NY Times bestseller retains the appearance of an old leather bound volume. What Zafron has done here is bring a gothic quality to a multi-layered story set in Paris and Barcelona in the 1930s through the mid 1950s.
The blurbs all refer to murder, madness and doomed love, but it's oh so much more. I think the parallel stories about lovers struggling to fight their attraction because mystery surrounds everything is what is most powerful. But all the character description and the precise detail of the cities involved are equally part of the fascination. Zafron has a real gift for the contradictions in meaningful relationships, whether they be intimate or casual, spontaneous or long-lasting. And any book with a called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books has got to be worth a look.
Every now and then a quote would appear that stands well on its own. For example:

But the years went by in peace. Time goes faster the more hollow it is. Lives with no meaning go straight past you, like trains that don't stop at your station.

Such possibility in that quote. Makes me think about how we judge other lives, the daily train traffic that passes our station and how we all experience the passage of time.

This week has seen an upturn in suicide stories in the news. From the encroaching world of technology and social media to the eroding notion of privacy in this or any culture, the tragedy is magnified by young people who have the mistaken notion that life is not worth living because some unfortunate circumstance broadcast by unthinking, desensitized, know nothings went viral. Yes, uncaring, illegal, even psychopathic on some level, but definitely survivable. We need to stop our trains at more stations.