Friday, August 19, 2005

Hit these letters with yr. mouse!

And read Alexander Cockburn's last 3
entries on The Meat Eating History of the

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Folk versus Hoch und Blogger's Defense

An ever recurring area of interest for the crow has
been the relationship between what societies in the
twentieth and twenty-first centuries consider "High
Art Poetry" and "Folk Poetry" and just what distinctions
one might draw.

As a template, I'll cite an example from the United States
as well as one from Turkey. In the U.S., it would be fair
to say that we consider a chap like Ezra Pound a
High Art author and Woody Guthrie falls into the
Folk category. The distinctions were blurred a bit
in the 1960's it seems, and to this day it is hard to
come across a Boomer who doesn't see Dylan as the
poet of his or her generation. (Lyrics to the current
adaptation of the classic "Oxford Town" will be posted presently.)
In the States, a linguistic bastard that has never
thought kindly upon intellectual elitism, the experience
of the times seems to dictate title. No question that
without Woody, Dylan's career would be in impossibility.
With Mr. Guthrie, it became an inevitability.

Further, one sees a parallel between Ginsberg and Pound
in the hospital and Woody and Bob... was it in the
hospital? (As an aside, Hugh Kenner has a great
book on the subject of seeking out one's influences
and the benefits of such an encounter.) Things appear
to go topsy turvy in the States, with the disciple of
the Folk Poet becoming the heir apparent for
"meaningful" poetry and the disciple of the High Art
Poet becoming a sort of folk hero.

One thing Ginsberg must have inherited from Pound
and his writings (see: Guide to Kulchur and ABC of
Reading) is the historical assertion that any line
drawn between the two groups is a social demarcation,
not an artistic one. In some respects, written verse
is an artificial construct. Pound's obsession with the
French troubadours leads us to this road map of poet as
oral tribal historian meeting at a crossroad with wandering
minstrel. Poetry, like history, can be viewed through
a number of lenses. If one prefers Howard Zinn to
Will Durant, it is likely because of point of view rather
than the pacing of prose.

Poets of the Anglo-Saxon strain have always had an
important role in the recitation of history. It could
be "big picture" history, such as Whitman; "personal"
history from the lens of the monied class, such as
Sexton and Lowell; "personal" history from other
classes, as in Bukowski and Dugan; or, one of a
number of combinations. There is hardly a Folk
Poet that doesn't work both in the field of woo and
in the hard streets of social and economic criticism.
We could break it down even more by maintaining
that when it comes right down to it, our goal as a
species is the same as any other: eating and fucking.
The relationship of our larynx to the rest of us allows
us the tradition of poetic self-importance.

Back to Ginsy.

My relationship with Allen Ginsberg has been a rocky
one. I must admit that at first I was not enthusiastic
about President Ginsberg. I wasn't a fan of Howl, and
as a rule preferred the short line, and anything generally
unWhitmanian. My wife, on the other hand, loves Ginsy.
Not being one to exercise all-out literary fascism,
it was standard to give the gift of Ginsberg to her on a
regular basis. Naturally, as I became more acquainted
with his oeuvre, I liked him more and more. The turning
point came not in an early, more Poundian poem (though
that started the walk) but in the form of song.

It wasn't long after I gave my wife the boxed set
Holy Soul, Jelly Roll that I found myself taking
it over. Mainly the Ashes & Blues disc. This convinced
me, in a moment somewhat like Celalludin Rumi's
donkey fall when encountering Shams. "Allen Ginsberg,"
one could find me yelling at the bar, "is the only
important American poet since 1950!" High Art
Poets do what they do, but writing a blues? Of course,
Langston Hughes was adept at this. (An additional side
note: can anyone cite an example of a poetic invention
of such genius as African American song in the nineteenth
and twentieth centuries? Yes, we deal with woo and
history, but to transmit a hidden history disguised
as woo and beyond that sacrament?) Ginsberg's blues
are decidedly off-kilter, but they stand out as having
an honesty necessary to pull the form off.

It illustrates the primary argument of my chosen
aesthetic: the poem derives from the song, and one
can dress it up with any amount of High Art trappings
he so chooses... it remains that the minstrel, the shaman
and the griot (in many cases one in the same) are the
very bloodline of poetry. Whether the poet is the
University dandy, fresh off spending mum's trust
fund, or the street-drunkard playing for coins, the
complete poet has to realize all of his relationships.
This is why an aesthetic such as mine, one that is
openly hostile all things academic, could put a fellow
like Ted Hughes at a lofty perch. Ted was one of the
very best because his writing was informed by
voluminous study but never lost sight of the shaman
from whom we descend. It is also why a fellow like
Robert Johnson captures our attention. It is quite
common to salute a songster for shades of sophistication.
It is even more likely that a page poet will suffer
needless derision for slumming about in the world
of the coal mine, the factory, the field.

I was first made aware of the "New Urbanism" movement
by watching "The End of Suburbia." I might borrow
from the architectural aesthetic to define my poetic
position as "Old Ruralism." In short, try not to forget
that there are parts of the anatomy (even the anatomy
of today's poet!) below the neck.

Now, on to Turkey.

Though I could argue my point for days within the
perameters of Anglo-Saxon tradition, other socio-
linguistic groups aren't so neatly packaged.

We may use the examples of two men whose work is
linked to your left: Asik Veysel Satiroglu and Orhan
Veli Kanik.

One of the strongest memories of my times in Istanbul
is the discussion of this very topic. As a musician, I was
immediately drawn to the Asiks, their skillful saz
playing and the obvious similarities to American blues.
For example, it is quite common to find blindness in
an Asik. Naturally, the economics of Anatolia
are very similar to those of the Old Deep South.
Lots of rain, lots of cotton, &c. When one is stricken
with blindness, the life of a minstrel is almost thrust
upon him.

Though there are very practical reasons for Asik
Veysel and Blind Willie Johnson (both religious
mystics as well as brilliant folk songsters) sharing
an ailment, it isn't suitably romantic for the crow.
I like to see it as a cosmological continuum.

One distinguishing trait is that Veysel's compositions
are far more complex than most blues singers.
"Kara Toprak" is one example. (A translation will hopefully
follow.) Lyrically, Veysel hasn't a peer. Oddly,
the history and culture of Turkey seem to marginalize
Veysel as a simple folk poet, and not in the same
class as Hikmet, Kanik, et al. (A VERY IMPORTANT
should in no way be construed as a lack of
appreciation. If you go looking for a person in
Turkey who doesn't consider Veysel a national
treasure and a bit of a hero, you will have a very
long search. Still, this categorization exists in Turkey
as it does in any country or language family.)

I am in no way an expert on the complexities of
Turkish or Ottoman poetry. My very grasp of
the language is at best elementary. That being
said, the song form is to my eyes every bit as
relevant and challenging in any language or
culture as any piece of modernist verse.

In short, it seems to me (my total lack of
qualification to speak on Turkish verse being
stipulated) that just as we can expect and
academic poet singing the praises, should they
do any singing at all, of Lowell and even owning
the collected recordings of Big Bill Broonzy, s/he
probably wouldn't condescend to comparison of the
two as poets.

To draw a line, while an erudite speaker of
Turkish can appreciate Veysel and Kanik
alike, there is little debate as to who is the superior

I cannot help but think that the biggest distinction
between the two men, whether it is in the States
or in Turkey, is location and economics. Where
Veysel's true love is the dark soil on the banks
of Kizilirmak, Orhan Veli's is the city of Istanbul.
The songster is of the country, of the soil.
The poet is of the city.

I will close with the assertion that the two are
artificial in many regards, not the least of which
being that poetry is a human enterprise
that aims to do one of three things: woo the
opposite sex; recall a history; and/or, celebrate
an idol whether it be a metropolis, a field, or a
god. The importance of emotive reaction
from the reader/listener cannot be overstated.
They are, to paraphrase Auden, the words of dead
men modified in the guts of the living.

And now for something not completely

In a recent post, the thought of Blogger Agonistes
came to mind. I feel that I must defend this
preoccupation, which today has been an hour
or more of time, five cigarettes and one pot of

A.D.'s thought was what put it into its most
proper context.

I live in a town that has its share of poets, one
notable can be found on Silliman's link area.
I have conversed and read with others in the
area, mainly Kansas City. The problem with
almost all things local (I don't have the advantage
of a city such as New York, Istanbul or London)
is that I have yet to find another with which I could
get along on a protracted basis. There are
various sorts and conditions among the poets
in the area. One is the self-aware hipster, likely
to be more of a live reading type. Another is
the university poet, whose talents display themselves
in being smug and self-aggrandizing. Another is
most like myself, drinking at home and quite
disinterested in what the previous two fuckers
are up to. (I might pass one or both of the first
two at a coffee shop on my way to get
a growler of oatmeal stout
and some documentaries at Liberty Hall.)

I would love to sit around drinking with A.D.
and Alberto, being true to the oral tradition.
What this form of internet publishing serves
isn't really "publishing" at all. They aren't
essays, as much as arguments. There is the
problem of being saved "in print" to some
degree, but without it I wouldn't have come
across those two guys, and I'd be stuck with
the other two fuckers at the coffee shop...
not for long. I'm sure all feelings are mutual.

In the original post I joked about Vic Contoski
not returning my calls. Seemed funny at the time,
but last year he did indeed meet me, give me words
of encouragement and read some of my stuff.
Hell, he's a busy guy. The Kenner book, by the way,
is The Elsewhere Community.


Monday, August 08, 2005

Ranting, Raving, generally Kaw!ing about Perre Shelton.

As you'll see in the post below this one, I can
be easily irritated by print. Especially when the
leading luminaries of the lexicon and their editors
can allow such sloppiness. (This is one of the
virtues of being a humble internetista, as the standards
for Karga are reasonably low!)

So I thought I'd note some positive things I've come

1. Perre Shelton.
I love this kid. I am not one for Slam or Youth poetry...
hell, I don't even like going to readings! But his appearance
on Def Poetry (yes, I don't get out much) this weekend
was enthralling. From initial research he is seventeen
years of age, and it was great to see him blow Sharon
Olds right off the stage! The only info I've been able to
dig up on the lad is from his high school, where he inexplicably
took second place in the school's poetry competition. (If this
is the case, I suggest we send our budding MFAers to
Northwest Indiana to enroll in that high school's Lit courses.)

Perre, give us a web page! Most talent I've seen (and certainly
heard) in a long time.

2. At the library today perusing and stumbled into Winter
Pollen. Not news, just a nice benefit for yrs.

3. Same library has recently acquired the twentieth century
epic to stand beside (who knows, above?) Pound's Cantos:
Human Landscapes from my Country by Nazim Hikmet.
Beautiful thing about public libraries: in a few months someone
will stumble upon this and be enriched by it.

A Polite Nostrovia to you all.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

A Note From Abe Simpson's buddy Jasper... Or, "The Old Grey Mare."

Maybe the thought arose because it is Sunday.

I cannot help thinking of Abe Simpson's grey-bearded
(the "e" is admittedly an affectation, one which I intends
ta' keep) companero Jasper dancing a jig and singing
"The Old Grey Mare, she
ain't what she useda' be,
ain't what she useda' be,
ain't what she useda' be."

This is the only image I can muster wading through my
Sunday Times Book Review and Travel sections.

Exhibit A:
Heather Timmons has apparently escaped her A.P. English
Class to party with the Swingers in the "very gay" resort
area of Mykonos. One can follow the link above to the
story. Please read the closing. Don't worry about starting
with the close, because as you'll see it could easily
be plugged into any other paragraph in the piece.
Should you like to be saved some time and effort, though,
I can excerpt a few quality sentences to illustrate my

Paragraph 8, Sentence 1:
"On the far side of the harbor, under Mykonos's
trademark windmills, and with candle-lighted tables
set just near the water's edge, the restaurant is a jewel-
like setting for dinner, although the crowd can sometimes
be jarring." (Emphasis mine.)

Paragraph 12, Sentence 1:
"The mix can be jarring."

While in Mykonos, Miss Timmons would have done
well to consult that Greek classic "The Thesaurus."

There, she might find words such as "harsh,
grating, rough, strident, stridulent" or, if you like,

Exhibit B:
Brad Leithauser, who in his defense is kindly employing
his brother Mark, reviews Ted Kooser's Flying at Night.
I will say this for auld Brad: he is the first guy to make
me stand in a room and sing Kooser's praises. Not that
I don't like Ted. I like his poetry quite a lot, though I
am not necessarily enamored of the underlying aesthetic.

I don't have the time or patience to go into an analysis of
just what Leithauser's review lacks in understanding the
Great Plains. (God help you if I did, Leithauser!) I'll just
go out on a limb and say the guy has never seen an ear
of corn that hasn't been transited by way of his local Food
Lion or Safeway, depending upon the Coast he lives on.
I could, as they say, fill a book with everything he obviously
doesn't know about my part of the country.

That isn't my real beef. In the closing paragraph of his
review (which, I feel compelled to mention again, ran in
the Sunday Times!!!) he.... well, I'll quote the offending
lines and let you draw your own conclusion:

"If at the end of the day Kooser's poetic aesthetic
is not mine (I prefer a thicker mix of language, a more
complicated architecture)"

Thanks, fucko. I was wondering the whole time just
what butters your parsnips.


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Music Update

Just because popular music is at a level so
dismal sometimes we need a check of things
going on...

Here are 3 albums (technically four, for the
vinylphile) that will make up for most of it:

Ali Farka Toure: Red & Green
a re-release of the great Lp's from the
late 1970's & 1980's.

Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate: In the Heart of the Moon
Scheduled for September 13, 2005.
This should be the constant companion of anyone
driving to Chicago for Farm Aid.


Teenage Fanclub: Man-Made (link above)
Our favourite Glaswegians are back with another
solid album for lovers of solid pop music absent
the pretenses of certain bands whose names end in
"head." Though Bandwagonesque and Grand Prix
still stand out as the best of the Fanclub offerings,
this album is wonderful for summer. The thing I
like best about these guys is their knack for writing
songs as though English were a second language (which
is arguable in Scotland)... a fitting match to
the simplicity of their musical arrangements.
Anymore, releases by Fanclub & Neil Young are about the only
"rock" albums I can see running out to get.
And if you think what Blake, Love & McGinley do
is easy, try sustaining 16 years on approximately
9 chords and keeping cynical fuckers such as myself
on board.