Book Review: “Sonnets: 150 Contemporary Sonnets” by William Baer

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
William Baer Sonnets

William Baer’s 150 Contemporary Sonnets

As a kid, I was, I admit, a little gullible. No, one could not play tricks on me, or generate obvious lies in the hope that I’d believe them, for such things — please excuse the pun — were mere child’s play, and always level with the world. Not so with poetry, I thought. Here were smart people, most of whom were a lot more experienced than I was, and were, therefore, in the position to guide me. I was willing. I was receptive. And I wanted to learn, for — despite the burgeoning ego of adolescence — I was quite serious, too, and needed help to connect memories, this or that minor experience, some fleeting, ill-remembered word into a system that mattered. I wanted, in short, to be a writer, here were people that were doing it, and every force, from awards, to reputation, personality, popularity, and, at times, the opaqueness of how such things were judged, in the first place, seemed to imply that they were doing it quite well.

That was on the one hand. On the other, I was also discerning enough to realize that the advent of free verse helped engender poetry that slipped, well, into total formlessness. This was not ‘freedom’ (as the phrase might imply), since to be free also implies to be in (and under) the control of something, to allow good expression to flow. The crowd did not heed this, and my automatic reaction was, well, reaction: that if free verse wasn’t doing it right, something else was, and that something must have been its diametric opposite, i.e., New Formalism. This is, of course, an example of extreme thinking, and showed my inability to make some nicer distinctions. But the New Formalists nonetheless struck me as the good guys who, fed up with laziness and schlock, wanted to bring poetry back to its source, and were, in fact, quite rebellious in their aesthetic conservatism — ironic given that art moves forward, not back, with the New Formalists merely substituting one bad side-step for another. And yet… ‘poetry at its source’. I liked the ring of it, and before I knew it, was lost in a fug of syllables and feet that had remarkably little to do with the source itself.

Of course, the issue here is that a poetic form is NOT poetry, but a method, and New Formalism a mere aesthetic preference that may or may not lead to good writing. Now, I shed my fixations as soon as I realized this, but not before acquiring a few documents in the midst of this (short) foray. One such document is William Baer’s 150 Contemporary Sonnets, an anthology that was put together from submissions to the now-defunct The Formalist journal (edited by Baer) as well as other publications. Yet despite having claimed to have published over 500 “talented sonneteers,” Baer’s anthology does not include a single truly great sonnet a … Continue reading →

Some Things Of Andy Warhol

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
(c) Rebels In Tradition

Andy Warhol In His Pose. (c) Rebels In Tradition

Prior to going any further, let me just get this out of the way. No, I would not consider Andy Warhol a very good artist, much less a great one. And, yes, his biggest claims to fame — repetition, mass production, irony, the overuse of color — merely took one or two ideas that MIGHT have worked as part of a smaller series, and made an entire life’s work of it, as opposed to a short, controlled burst of activity that would have been far easier to justify.

In short, this is the equivalent of having a single, minor idea, not being happy with its general lack of application, and therefore deciding to write the same 1,200 page book about it, a hundred times over, albeit with slightly different formatting at each go. Obviously, painting some banal object, or re-touching someone else’s photo, over and over again, can only take an artist so far, ending, as it does, precisely where the work ends: a colored image of a bad actress or dictator, or an ode to the commonness of soup — and the ‘deeper’ (I use this word lightly) reactions to said commonness. Sure, one can think of far worse paintings and/or statements, but this, by itself, does not ameliorate the real issue. It only reveals how easily confused the public is, manipulated, as it is, by artists who consider themselves above the sort of pettiness that they in fact engage in, thus taking the heat away from their own lacks.

Yet there’s another side to Warhol, as well. Unlike, say, the repetition of a Jackson Pollock, or the self-serving ‘explanations’ (if they can even be termed such) of a Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol had an advantage that these other folks did not. And I don’t just mean talent, because Warhol, in his ‘serious’ moments, was far more penetrating re: the arts, and FAR more self-aware when it came to his place there — including the transience of his own position, and what it says not only of other artists, but of the consumers who respond to such.

And, naturally, these responses aren’t very pretty. A couple of months ago, I watched a few documentaries on Warhol, including a 3 hour doc (“The Complete Picture”) and a better, 4 hour one. Yet I use the word ‘better’ loosely, since the only real reason why the 4 hour doc was better was stylistic — on top of the fact that it actually quoted a great deal from Warhol, who could be very interesting to listen to, at times. In fact, the primary drawback of both is their overuse of talking-heads, and especially clueless talking-heads that, in their admiration of Warhol, offer no real criticism, no original insight, and merely take Warhol’s art at face value, raving about the color saturation of this or that photo, or throwing around terms and judgments that, if one merely has eyes, clearly … Continue reading →

Public Domain: One Way Forward

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

As a writer who constantly needs to have multiple books open at my work-table, as well as poetry, news stories, films, and my own notes, I’m always annoyed at how much SIMPLER this process could be if many of these materials were freely available online. Now, lots of people complain about issues of ‘access’, but, even more important is the fact that new artists must reasonably engage with older works. This includes extended quotation, the re-use of elements and narratives, and other forms of appropriation that, if we’re dealing with the public domain, can all be done without the fear of lawsuits. Combine this fact with the proliferation of e-readers, and quality publishers, such as Delphi Classics, who neatly collate and optimize complete editions of writers’ and painters’ works for a mere $2-$3, and you have not only a way of deepening culture at an exponential rate, but a new business model, as well, wherein publishers have an incentive to perfect these otherwise free works by adding ‘extras’ (images, biographical notes, technical scholarship, etc.) that would simply be impossible in print books.

But, instead, America has a public domain model that allows copyright throughout the author’s lifetime (understandable, and justified) PLUS 75 years… that is, long enough for descendants to skim off of an artist’s riches, then further entomb them in a network of family lineage, publisher demands, and the divvying up of who-gets-what, as opposed to a more rational approach that would ensure culture benefits, first– which is, of course, the true aim of most great artists, who, being dead, can live in one way only. On a personal level, I’ve been annoyed, for instance, at the fact that I could not excerpt Wallace Stevens’s great Yellow Afternoon in full, in my own novel, Doors & Exits, no matter how relevant, or how long ago he’s entered the social imagination, decades after he’s died. On a deeper level, though, there’s something else amiss, and it has to do with the future of one of the best and most neglected poets of the 20th century: James A. Emanuel, whose current issues re: the public domain should alarm anyone with a genuine interest in art.

According to Dan Schneider’s recent essay on James Emanuel and the public domain, Emanuel was, prior to Schneider’s 2001 discovery, championing, and interview with the man in 2007, pretty much unknown. There were no interviews, very few poems online, and no essays on the man outside of what might be found in obscure academic circles, in a godawful niche called ‘black studies’– because, after all, that’s what the clueless academics have pinned him as, a BLACK poet who “wrote about racism” (to quote the New York Times obituary), despite Emanuel having many poems attacking this very condescension.

Today, however, his reputations seems better. This is despite the fact that his Collected Poems are still out of print, and can run for around $200 on Amazon, up from the $15 or $20 … Continue reading →

Confucius, Lao Tzu, I Ching, Chinese history, & some inklings of the future.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
The Analects Of Confucius. Östasiatiska Museet, Stockholm. Retrieved from Wikipedia.

The Analects Of Confucius. Östasiatiska Museet, Stockholm. Retrieved from Wikipedia.

This is an old (2012) e-mail I sent to the Cosmoetica e-list, after I’d re-read Ezra Pound’s translation of Confucius a few times, and began studying the I Ching– or, ‘divination sans divinity’. My views have not changed much, and there have been few philosophers as underrated as Confucius, mostly because what Western kids know him for (ideas on family, the practicum of government, etc.) occlude not only the truer depth of his thoughts, but also the clarity through which they’ve been communicated. Say what you will of the importance of Aristotle or the allure of Wittgenstein, but Confucius was, in many ways, an artist, first– which makes his ideas even deeper.

I’ve long suspected that the Chinese, as well as some other ‘older philosophers’, had hit upon a special way of viewing the world that simply had no concrete value to the (then) world of bodies– that is, war, hunger, poverty, and other forms of mass delusion. Because, in a sense, that’s what these qualities are: a means of keeping people stuck in the more transient stuff, wherein history is mere event after event, and generations, if you slice a time period just right, look pretty much identical. Such concerns, big as they are, have crowded out potentially more interesting ones, which are only now making a comeback, albeit mired in the form of New Age stupidity. Confucius, Lao Tzu, and others can easily be misappropriated by the faux spiritual (or, hell, even by the ‘truly spiritual’!), but this only means that they haven’t really found their place. I am not yet sure what role these names will play in our future, but they’ll have a part, eventually, more deep than some of the things we presently consider to be ‘important’, stuck, as we still are, in base, physical concerns, and unable to see outside of the limits of these mechanical roles.

So, let us begin:

Two from Lao Tzu:

For those that try to grasp, it’s gone.

People must learn to take death seriously, and stop wasting time in distant lands.



And the rest from Confucius:

Hence the man who keeps rein on himself looks straight into his own heart at the things wherewith there is no trifling; he attends seriously to things unheard.

The master finds the center and does not waver. The mean man runs counter to the circulation about the invariable.

The empire, kingdoms, families can be governed harmoniously; honors and salaries can be refused, you can tread sharp weapons and bright steel underfoot, without being able to stand firm in the unwavering center.

No, people do not use the main open road.

There are few men under heaven who can love and see the defects, or hate and see the excellence of an object.

To see high merit and be unable to raise it to office, to raise it but not to give such promotion precedence, is just destiny.

The Continue reading →

Jonathan Rosenbaum, Woody Allen, & Some Critical Perils

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Woody's face, upon reading Jonathan Rosenbaum's critiques.

Woody’s face, upon reading Jonathan Rosenbaum’s critiques.

[Update for 11/13/2014: My book, Woody Allen: Reel To Real, is now out, and can be purchased via Amazon. It includes, in full, the e-mail exchange that I describe below.]

About a week ago, I solicited Jonathan Rosenbaum for comments on my essay deriding his (and others’) interpretation of Woody Allen, which forms part of my upcoming e-book, Woody Allen: Reel To Real. I believed, of course, that the reasons were pretty clear. Rosenbaum — top critic, top film expert, top DVD commentator, top etc. etc. etc. — had a dozen or so reviews of Allen’s films, most of which, quite literally, involve a 4-5 sentence dismissal, with little to no evidence for his judgments, and even less argumentation. His essay, “Notes Toward the Devaluation of Woody Allen,” fares even worse, because unlike in the context of a brief dismissal, which might simply be constrained by the demands of a newspaper, or whatever else, Rosenbaum finally had a few thousand words to put the nail in Allen’s coffin. He does not, however, and given the man’s reputation, it’s shocking how little of his essay in fact even address Woody Allen’s films, content, as it is, to merely skim along the surface of things.

So I e-mailed Rosenbaum, reiterating my points, and not really expecting a reply. To my surprise, however, it came, quite respectful and very prompt. More surprising, however, was what happened near the end of our exchange, wherein Rosenbaum made the claim that he finds “evaluation” to be an unimportant task for the critic, all things considered. Now, such things are certainly in vogue these days, and subjectivists will still insist that art cannot be ‘judged’ for a while yet. It was shocking to hear this from Rosenbaum, however, because, well, the man gained his reputation on precisely that: evaluation. Ever read his take on Taxi Driver, which helplessly careens between minor adulation and silly charges that the film is “ideologically confused”– i.e., has no consistent idea or philosophical posit? That is called, what? It is ‘evaluation’. Ever read his various “10 Best” lists, across multiple categories, whose only existence can occur if the critic, first and foremost, evaluates films for this inclusion, thus naturally excluding others as substandard? I mean, the word is “best,” as in, transcending merely ‘better,’ or ‘good,’ but in the realm of best. Not favorite, mind you, not essential, not important, but best, which is a word with a specific meaning. Or hell, what of the essay in question– “Notes Toward the De-Valuation…”, which has the word ‘evaluate’, within, and implies judgment– the very thing Rosenbaum denies the importance of, yet does in review after review, essay after essay, thus staking his own celebrity on such, but eliding it when philosophically expedient?

Manny Farber Jonathan Rosenbaum

Manny Farber, who is both Jonathan Rosenbaum’s hero, as well as a pretty bad critic. Image via RogerEbert.com.

This line of reasoning is … Continue reading →