Best Things of the Week

Best Things of the Week

March 30, 2015


Best Thing I Saw All Week: David Vann in conversation with Tom Barbash (Part of Litquake’s Epicenter Series at Veracocha): Unfamiliar with Vann going into this, he proved quite fascinating, so I’m currently reading his Goat Mountain (more later). He included his email address in his inscription saying ‘Let me know what you think,’ and seemed to mean it. Vann, whose work has often been compared to Cormac McCarthy’s, refreshingly pulls no punches, calling Blood Meridian ‘the best American novel and by quite a distance’ and The Road ‘a piece of shit.’ At the bar I’d run into a semi-well-known novelist and I’d been lending a sympathetic ear to his ongoing five-year struggle with his latest when we were summoned to sit down. Vann moved inevitably into talking about his process which involves writing a first, and only, draft, marching through the manuscript from beginning to end, “I don’t struggle, I don’t rewrite, it all comes pretty easily,” he was saying. My novelist/friend who had, until this point, been leaning forward intently listening, leaned back and out of the corner of a big grin whispered in my ear “What an asshole!”

Best Thing I Read All Week: The Beatles. I try to keep up with contemporary music, but once a year or so a guy my age has to haul out all his Beatles albums and have his own fanfest, revisiting old faves and always discovering new ones. This time out I got completely hooked on You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, playing it over and over, twenty times in a row, tearing up to that perfect first verse delivered by rock’s most enduring singer, the transcendent Things We Said Today sung by McCartney who, for a change of pace, kept the teddy-bear schtick firmly under control, and George’s miraculous, ringing If I Needed Someone, a declaration of independence aimed at the sky. The recently released re-masters (2009) sound terrific, brilliant, especially on the earlier (and best), pre-Sergeant Pepper stuff. You can hear Lennon get that last gram of heartbreak out of the back of his throat or the smile decorating McCartney’s vocal; you can hear the individual pieces that became the harmonies. In some places it’s like listening to the music new all over again; experiencing the joy and enthusiasm that are the undercarriage of every song. The re-masters are from the original, superior British LPs, not the bowdlerized American releases, so those of us who have that sequencing imprinted in our DNA after so many decades may have a bit of a hard time getting used to the order of things.

Mann Booker International Prize Finalists

Leon Weiseltier on the changes at the New Republic

A cultural critic does what he does best–criticizes the culture.

Interview with Seamus Heaney

A Solitary Jay, new poem by Neeli Cherkovski

For Michael and Teri

this one comes in the springtime
to fill my eyes with rage
and my heart with longing

I’d as soon be gone, dead, finished off
like those men before me, the ones I admire

I am only able to wait on this personal poem
in a museum filled with the junk
of human suffering, I need to say so what

if an entire culture
was pulverized


in the handiwork of Sandro Botticelli

the bluebird arrives in spring
and lives
for a few moments
on the edges of the avocado tree

what are you thinking
I ask this rather ugly bird

feathers ruffled, talons sharp
eyes nasty, awful squawking

do you remind me

of the futility of human action?

did I sign a petition
against an unhappy
ancient tribe
and now I suffer for succumbing?

did I loose you all year long
and now
you arrive as if to aggravate us
and cause discord in the upper realms

I loved coal and oil and sulfur

before you came around
we had an imagined wood finch
and an invisible sparrow

the hummingbird still visit
but only grudgingly

I have to pretend to leave seed
on the railing of our deck —

a few years ago you arrived
with an entire squadron

do you not see an end to this wisdom

an end to cheap philosophy, a new age
of advanced advertising

if “the wasteland grows”
we might
comment everything to you

and to not be political any longer

except for the drought
which does not include trillions of heavenly bodies

I go inside
because you are loud
and I don’t like it

I’d rather the neighbor starts hammering again
as he did last weekend
building a scaffold, challenging the Devil

he was once young and sturdy
now he seems ancient and fragile

unlike me he doesn’t understand
who and what you are

other than a bothersome bird

his daughter is in school down south
and that is what matters –

thou art, you are, we will

we will not be made to stand again
in sub zero weather with our peckers hanging out

we will not allow you to soar out of nowhere
and wreck our lives

we will accomplish that on our own –

meanwhile you are
a movable object

there is life in your body, you are not a
clay figurine

thank you for returning
as the swallows do in the song, they return
to San Juan Capistrano

down the fast lane

and over the on-ramps
shadows over rooftops of the outlet stores –

this night is cold, the rain has come, you have

nature, so natural, so untamable despite –

lovely treasures in the collection
go to ruin, or are buried in the earth

who would say “This is beautiful”
if we suddenly vanished

the malevolent universe
inside of me
spreads its wings
as if it were at least ten thousand jays
at once, ecstatic
and insane
in the wet, plush sky

March 22, 2015

What the Sun Is Worth Today; new poem by Peter Sherburn-Zimmer

What the Sun Is Worth Today


Don’t look into the sun—



Who knows but the sun

will be too beautiful!

Would it be worth it?

…going blind?


Can we ‘Watch a Total Solar Eclipse

Without Venturing to a Remote Island’?

Alas, how often the Times headline

has been wrong.


Must we travel into the past,

shapeshifting with politics,

or what used to be called religion –

with today’s battle plan, the economics

of sanity and promise…broken promises…oil fields,

to the filter of safety and departed loved one…?


Don’t go there…the graves are all full,

the north field, we need it for moisture,

our grandmother’s children,

still rotting on the tree, Nina, still strange

…see! our mind wanders to the moment


today, beneath the deserted vistas of the sun.

Cervantes’ Remains Found

Best Things of the Week, 3/23/15

Best Things of the Week

March 23, 2015


Best Thing I Saw All Week: House of Cards (Third Season): We were semi-binge-watching as Spacey and Wright cavorted across Washington making the occasional foray through the fourth wall, and bitching about the boring even-more-unlikely sub-plot that threatened to take the whole thing over and confidently opining, “This is utterly preposterous.” and “That would never happen.” But then the Senate sent a screed to the Ayatollah they wrote while Miss Shields was out of the room and our Guv called out Cruz at recess and Graham proposed a nutjob coup run by the spitballers in the back row and…and…and now nothing seems too preposterous to escape serious consideration. For years they’ve claimed satire is dead and it’s now time to include improbability in the same category.

Best Thing I Read All Week: Hubert’s Freaks by Gregory Gibson. A terrific little book about the imperishable pleasures, troubles and treasures to be found rooting through other peoples’ junk; in this case a used-book dealer who stumbles onto some previously unknown Dianne Arbus photos. Hi-jinks ensue as he descends into the fabulously crummy world of gallery owners, museum curators and art appraisers. Not to mention the Arbus family. It is also an homage to the rinky-dink charms of mid-century Times Square—the telephone-booth Indians, sword swallowers, wax museums, hustlers, midgets, whores, alligator-skinned men, strip joints, snake handlers, cops and knothole peepers—before Giuliani traded it all off for endless corporate naming opportunities.

Call for Action from Pen International: World Poetry Day cont’d


Valhalla Persists

My friend Joe hangs in there: