Friday, December 4, 2009

Poetics Statement

There is a door.

From the inside, the door is white. Above the peephole, an index card reads: “poetry begins where language fails.” Understanding slips through. Without opening the door but rather contemplating the door, we better understand our entrances and exits toward knowing and beyond knowing.
Above the handwriting is a drawing sketched in pencil of a sun above two books above a figure acting and dancing above two small children, named though yet to be born, in the embrace of two parents.

“We have a soul at times./…Joy and sorrow/ aren’t two different feelings for it./ It attends us/ only when the two are joined./…We need it but apparently/ it needs us / for some reason too” (Szymborska).

Poetry more aptly names that which we can reach and that which borders the unknown. Poetry strives toward understanding that which has yet to be known.

“Poetry is to precisely name. To name specifically what is” (Samuel Hazo). Ask a child to more aptly name a bridge and hear: “river staple!” Rename the whiteness of the door like a child. Call this door a framed purpose.

On the white door, level with the drawing of dreams is a photograph of a storefront. A dark green, stenciled font, on a cream background reads “The Carson Street Deli.” Like a river staple, the sign links the cubicle inhabitants with their great grandfather’s working in the mills and walking Carson after a shot after a twenty-four hour swing shift.

Below the historically preserved sign is a photograph of another storefront’s window. Hand written, blue block letters read Bellview’s Jelly Preserves and hand written, red block letters advertise a savings of sixty cents daily.

The moment of poetry is the moment of vulnerability is the moment of opening the book to find the photograph on the reverse side of a birthday wish. The hometown bridge’s strong rivets in focus, the cityscape backgrounded. An antenna from atop the Highmark Health Insurance building, like a steeple, reaching.

Framed between frames at eye level: “To be so vulnerable as to believe.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A public "I": Claudia Rankine's Don't Let Me Be Lonely

The “I,” within the American body politic, and therefore the American Lyric, may just be the American identity. That is to say that the identity of being American, a social self, might just be our private self, as Claudia Rankine proposes in her American Lyric Don’t Let Me Be Lonely.

To discuss a 13 year-old boy convicted of murder and tried as an adult, the address is made to an interchangeable “I” or “we” that engages with the story of this boy’s fate from afar. Rankine’s use of pronouns suggests the ways in which the individual is affected by the legal choices of the state. We are influenced by the public knowledge that we desire but experience in private. “I, or we, it hardly matters, seek out the story in the Times.” Rankine articulates the implied thought that is not addressed outright and the isolation of individual’s experiences despite our shared, communal knowledge. “In this moment we are alone with the facts as he will be when he understands.” What is not articulated, in the Times, Rankine names: by trying this child as an adult “he was tried as a dead child…In the time it takes for the appeal to happen he will be a dead child in an adult prison. He will be alive as someone else.” (67).

This boy’s life is an extreme example of the “I” being defined by the political and performs an example of Arendt’s discussion of the private and public realms wherein the private realm determines the public realm. Speaking with Claudia Rankine this past Saturday morning, she told me that in writing this book she was reflecting on Antigone’s commitment to the state. By demanding the proper burial of her brother, she turns against herself and her family. Hegel suggests that the feminine by definition is against the more public and interested in the private, the domestic, the personal, the family. Ultimately, in both Hegel and Rankine’s readings of Antigone, the interest of the state are not against the interest of the family and self but are, in fact, the interest of the state. Creon made a mistake. Interest in the personal is an interest in the public as it is directly informed by and influences the public.

There can be no social or public position without an “I.” Adorno proclaims the specificity of experience found in the lyric poem to be the ultimate place for the excavation and understanding of culture and history.

For Rankine, the break down of the “I” occurs in the inability to connect and is symptomatic of the American contemporary age of advancements in technologies for communication that only seems to exacerbate isolation and racism.
I apologize for not knowing why I am alive. I am sorry. I am sorry. I apologize. In rel life, oddly enough, when I am fully awake and out and about, if I catch someone’s eyes, I quickly look away” (98).

This looking away, this inability to connect, causes the fragmentation of the “I.” “Perhaps this is the form apologies take in real life.” The speaker suggests averting one’s eyes as an apologetic gesture. Yet even if this is an apology, the “I” continues, “despite the fact that I look away I almost always feel guilty…I feel as if I have created a reason to apologize, I feel the guilt of having ignored that thing—the encounter….” There is recognition of a sense of what should have or could have occurred and the accompanying burden. “I could have wordlessly said, I see you seeing me and I apologize for not knowing why I am alive.” The breakdown of the “I” begins in the experience of the missed opportunity to affirm oneself in the meeting with the other. But the fragmentation occurs, the loss of self, occurs “after I have looked away, I never feel as if I can say, Look, look at me again so that I can see you, so that I can acknowledge that I have seen you, so that I can see you and apologize.” In a sense, by not acknowledging the other, affirming oneself and moving onward, the “I” becomes wrapped up in worry over the experience. The “I” relinquishes its power to assert oneself as an “I” to the other. By averting one’s eyes, shying away, avoiding the encounter, rather than engaging in the encounter, there is no “I.” Thus, showing the importance of the public exchange in the reification of the private “I.”

This relinquishment of agency is reflected in the collections title Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. If I ask you not to let me be lonely, I am assuming it is wholly your responsibility to take care of me. But, on the other hand, without the notion of a “you” the knowledge of loneliness may not exist. The condition of loneliness is ever present in a state of being that is social. And in being a state of being that is social, the “I” in the American Lyric is public.

Overall, the physical action get values over the psychic space, in the media, but also, often, in our own lives. There is a commodification of the “I” as an entity in American culture and the danger of making the “I” an entity is isolation and disassociation.

Rankine focuses on this exact question in one of her filmic poems, “Zidane,” by showing slow motion video footage of Zidane’s punch in the last minutes of the 2006 World Cup game with collage text voice overs ranging from Shakespeare’s Othello, Baldwin, Douglas and with a special emphasis of Fanon’s discussion of Europeans treatment of Algerians and French Algerians in his book Black Face, White Mask.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Messenger: A review of the movie

Go see The Messenger when it opens with a limited release on November 13, 2009. I thought I hated it. That’s how effective the movie The Messenger is. How could you not feel restless and question your decision to watch as two soldiers tell family after family their son is dead that their husband is dead that there son is dead?

Director Oren Moverman’s realistic, continuous shots lock you into the real time of pulling up to the ranch home with clothes hung out to dry and children playing in the yard. Through Harrelson and Foster’s characters relationship we see the terror, torment and the destruction of war in the lives of those who return home as well as those who do not. There is no musical score to add drama. The characters and their stories evoke tears. The acting is extraordinary. The tragedy remains firmly in the experiences of these humans having to bear the cost of war for all of us.

In one scene, Harrelson and Foster’s characters begin drunkenly goofing off in a parking lot at night. The boys play war. As their play becomes increasingly more frenetic, it transforms into the men working through their own post traumatic stress and strikes at the heart of their innocence before the war while pointing to the harrowing realities of war they are left to live with. The men fall to the ground at the close of the scene revealing broken selves in disarray after their military service.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Steelers’ Bar: A Review of The Shark’s Cove and Gabe’s Bar and Grill

Walk from the Strand into The Shark’s Cove and this native of Pittsburgh thought she found heaven; a Steelers Country banner over the kitchen and flat screens everywhere with the ocean's salt water in the air. A man dances on the bar with his terrible towel and the fight song in stereo plays at touchdowns. The mystique of the ocean and fight song could not compensate, however, for the fact that this self-proclaimed Steelers Country local had been invaded by fans in Texan jerseys who were very unfriendly about sharing their large table. As if their snootiness about reserving the best seats for their Texan friends wasn’t bad enough, I saw Pats jerseys. Enough said.

Gabe’s Bar and Grill, 2965 S. Sepulveda, on the other hand is a true nation of Steelers. Despite many of the regulars having been born and raised in California, their Steelers upbringing taught them what it means to contribute to the building of a nation: Steeler country lives every game day here. A simple, bar bones bar fills with people in Steelers jerseys who welcome you and buy you a beer. High-fives are exchanged in rounds at every TD and crucial play. Who needs a stereo when the room can bellow “Here we go Steelers, here we go” while pounding fists onto the board covering the pool table? Being the most traveled fans in the league, it wouldn’t be a true nation of Steelers gathering without a makeshift something to show off the ingenuity of Pittsburghers. Ask for Amy and grab a Rolling Rock, I recommend the Mean Joe’s chix strips n’ fries. Next week I’ll let you know how the Ben-sized Roethlisberger Berger tastes after we play the Lions. This Cheers of Steelers Nation is just South of I-10 on Sepulveda and there is parking in the back. The lot doubles at the field for the half-time touch football game.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Imagine how much brighter the darkest spot could be

“There is no use to worry,” Great Grandma Fehriens always said. And she was right. Ninety percent of what we worry about never happens.

If you are in the habit of seeing the worst in a situation you are exercising that pathway of perception in your mind. The neurons that fire together wire together. Anger, fear and anxiety produce the flight or fight chemicals of adrenaline, cortisol, and cyclophosomide while focusing on positives in a situation can generate endorphins, interleukins, and interferons which result in the feelings of relaxation and joy. Candace Pert at Georgetown University is just one of many researchers showing the ways in which our habits of mind can influence our mood.

At the turn of the 20th century, Williams James found this to be true in his psychological observations. One of his five characteristics of thought is that “…whilst we think, our brain changes, and that, like the aurora borealis, its whole internal equilibrium shifts with every impulse of change. The precise nature of the shifting at a given moment is a product of many factors. The accidental state of local nutrition or blood-supply may be among them” (234).

Observing the intransitive quality of thought, James speaks of the human mind seeing its thought object relationally. “When everything is dark a somewhat less dark sensation makes us see an object white.” Imagine then if we saw all around us as white how much brighter our darkest spot would be.

How do we learn to reframe situations? Making the effort to share positive experiences rather than negatives one is one important way and works to reverse the 20:1 ratio of negative experiences being repeated twenty more times than positive ones.

How do we habituate to state our experience in the positive? For example, if we are driving down the road with some friends how do we not say, “We almost hit that squirrel” but instead reframe our thought into the positive to say, “We missed the squirrel. The squirrel is safe!”?

How do you reframe life into the positive?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Just because I’m losing doesn’t mean I’m lost

“Healing Begins with You.”

"Every relationship in your life can be healed, every relationship can be wonderful, but it’s always going to begin with you. Heal your half, and you are going to be happy. If you can heal that part of you, then you are going to be ready for a relationship without fear, without need. But remember, you can only heal your half. If you are in a relationship and you work with your half, and your partner works with the other half, you will see how quickly progress is made.

Perhaps you cannot control what is going to happen around you, but you can control your own reactions. Those reactions are going to guide the dream of your life, your personal dream. Your reactions are the key to having a wonderful life.

Your reactions come from a belief that is deep inside you. The way you react has been repeated thousands of times, and it becomes routine for you. You are conditioned to be a certain way. And that is the challenge: to change your normal reactions, to change your routine, to take a risk and make different choices. If the consequence is not what you want, change it again and again until you finally get the result you want.

You can have a relationship that fulfills your dream of Heaven; you can create a Paradise, but you have to begin with you."

-excerpt from Don Miquel Ruiz's Wisdom from The Mastery of Love.

Monday, August 31, 2009

"Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life."

-Tao Te Ching

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bar Bathroom Review: The Penthouse at The Huntley

For the best place to appreciate a view of the Pacific, Malibu and Santa Monica, relieve yourself in the bathroom of the The Penthouse at The Huntley Hotel. Wait for the last stall to see what I mean. Also, the sink runs at a 90 degree angle down to the corner drain just like an ocean wave or the vision of someone who has drunk more than a few Thyme and Cucumber cocktails.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How will Twitter influence the evolution of the English language?

Gerund usage is most popular on twitter than elsewhere. The average sentence length afforded a twitterer tweeting in 140 characters is 1.40. And the second most popular word invited to the party is the almighty "I." I'm glad to see we are over our junior high gym class angst and choosing ourselves first for kickball. But I ask you,

my English language users, my post-post-modern language theorists, and my social theory fortune tellers what is your prediction on the influence of Twitter on the English language?


Facts Referenced were found by OED editors and reported at:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Baudrillard and Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

In Baudrillard’s assessment of the realized Utopia, America, he critiques the lack of history, inability to uphold tradition and failure to maintain the integrity of personal privacy.

Driving toward the heartland of wealth, toward the Neverland Ranch, “you always hear the same question: ‘What are you doing after the orgy?’ What do you do when everything is available—sex, flowers, the stereotypes of life and death?” On Tuesday, July 7, 2009, during the Michael Jackson Memorial Service at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles and projected on plasma screens across “Astral America,” what is done is to take the stereotypical flowers of death and ignore the problems of probable pedophilia during a celebrity life. What is done after the orgy in a state of abundance, as can be guessed, is to pick and choose and do whatever fits the stage. In this case, I must concede to Baudrillard. There is no privacy. Nor are there commonly agreed upon traditions to guide actions and words. What is reverent is that which generates the most buzz for the Jackson estate's archives. After the orgy, you recreate the orgy only wearing the diamonds against the color of mourning.

A collage of images feature Michael Jackson from five-years-old to a few days prior to his death. His physicality, perhaps above anyone else's, evidences the “morbid preoccupation” of the body. The evolution of his appearance marks the hedonism of being ‘into’ the body. “This omnipresent cult of the body is extraordinary” when comparing his childhood smile in a soft, beautiful, full face to a washed-out, pointy, synthetic face, a death mask, long before being placed in golden casket.

But all benevolent action eclipses any harm done to others by a man on the day of his funeral and memorial. Therefore, in this realized Utopia, the toothpaste effect conceals the impurities of the orgy and all that is pure is thrust over accusations to create the hyperreal image. Performances masqueraded as a human. Behind the stage makeup and lights was a man mutilated by upbringing, childhood stardom, celebrity status and the man in the mirror. Understanding the demolotion of the spirit of being a child thrust into the artifical stage lighting, he kept his own children so far from the public eye that many of us forgot that he had children. Yet, the King of Pop, from the crescent moon upon which Brooke Shields imagines him, surely is crying to see his family clutch his children and thrust them onto the stage. On a day the children should be most protected in loving arms, Michael Jackson’s children are watched by camera crews in a day long funeral. As a nation we sit back and watch the potential for the same harmful cycle that led to this man’s death regenerate before our very eyes as eleven-year-old Paris Michael Katherine Jackson is thrust into the spotlight to close her father's memorial service.