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Best Things of the Week, 5/19/15

Best Things of the Week


by Byron Spooner


May 18, 2015


Best Thing I Saw All Week: Modern Times, written, starring and directed by Charlie Chaplin (1936): I saw this about fifty years ago sitting on the couch with my old man watching a disintegrating black-and-white TV. He was always a hardcore Laurel and Hardy man mostly because he preferred verbal humor to physical but also, I suspect, because of Chaplin’s politics. My wife and I found this just flipping around with the remote and ended up not moving away from the dinner table for two hours while our soup dishes turned cold in front of us; the black-and-white mesmerizingly sharp, the energy of both Chaplin and Paulette Goddard boundless.  Things get a bit mawkish at times, as was the style of the day—check out the dully cloying romances that were deemed so essential to the  Marx Brothers’ comedies if you don’t believe me—but the satire of industrialization as dehumanization is still right on the mark. Released in the middle of the Depression, in the era of FDR and the New Deal, fifteen years before the rise of Joe McCarthy, Chaplin’s views were not as far outside the mainstream as they now appear though they did manage to attract the malevolent attentions of J. Edgar Hoover. Today seeing the Little Tramp locked up for being a subversive might look quaint, but we’re jailing people in even greater numbers than in the thirties, and what’s thre NSA looking for if not ‘subversives’ of a slightly different stripe. Sunday’s New York Times Book Review featured a review by Barbara Ehrenreich about trhe inevitability of robots replacing workers. Immediately the famous scene where Chaplin is devoured by the gears of a cartoonishly massive machine—which represents Capitalism at its most heartless (though in a remarkably Soviet-looking mill)— leapt to mind; a scene that could easily stand-in for any number of our depersonalized Silicon Valley shirtwaist factories. But only in a comedy could the hero emerge from that gear box unscathed and, politics notwithstanding, we laughed all the way through. Look for Dick Van Dyke’s ottoman bit and Lucy and Ethel’s bonbon factory routine along the way, neither of which are accidents, guaranteed.

A CONFUCIAN ODE: DROUGHT, a poem by Neeli Cherkovski


snow tiptoed in snow one more moment lone
lean star load alone in genital repose
smooth windows linger on plates of old dirt
as place names disappear down rabid throats

nobody knows which tree is meant for them
on the precipitous slope wide winding will
of the heart pull color out of dull pain
rising from the earth the goatherds smile

jade still brown skies obliterating crows
in a circle celebrating day’s end
feathers of the song mind folded deep snow
makes men laugh we are never not truly alone

finally drought the rivers echo themselves
silence not snow glows immense dead promise
the Trinity trickles Yuba goes – dry
wind brittle brush snap a twig climb the air

The Crow and I, by Neeli Cherkovski — Reviewed by Judith Ayn Bernhard

The Crow and I

by Neeli Cherkovski

R. L. Crown Publications

74 pp.



The poems in Neeli Cherkovski’s new book, The Crow and I are not mystical and hard to understand.  They are simple and clear and a delight to read.  Poets, unlike athletes, often gain in skill as they age; this is certainly true of this one.  His latest collection captures both the sweetness of reliving memories of youth and the rueful contemplation of encroaching age.


There is joy in this book and there is sorrow but there is no regret.  Cherkovski’s recollections of friends and lovers are free of rancor;  his capacity for enduring affection and understanding is large.


In “Hydra Waterfront” he writes:


I miss you more than I miss

            you, I guess it is a feeling without

            measure, you were a man

            who showed me at least one way

            out of solitude and back to the self


The pieces about aging gathered here are far from crotchety.  Self acceptance is evident everywhere.  Even the title of the collection presupposes a sort of friendship with death, a coming to terms with the inevitable.  There is always the consolation of continuing to write.


This is the final stanza of “Thoughts at 67”:


its quite okay to face forward

            Ill write another book, Ill go

            to Innsbruck and recite my poems, Ill sleep

            at my friends house in Tuscany

            coffee as a prize when morning breaks

            over Carraras marble hills



The Crow and I is the third in a series of poetic memoirs by Cherkovski.  May he live long and continue to proffer these gifts of lyrical and heart-felt poems.


Review by Judith Ayn Bernhard

Nightingale, a poem by Neeli Cherkovski


when the nightingale speaks of the poor
she means the poor in spirit
building up into monstrous tomes
she means to point out the good qualities of failed men

no one will murder her unless a carpeting of clouds
deigns to shut her down
though the valley of castles may delight our eyes
and the walnut trees sway gracefully in the wind
ancient gods will return wearing purple rings
spouting enchantments up and down the palisades

the nightingale will not be overtaken
by innuendo or stern cadres
who murder the poor in order to save them
waves of grief will crash on shore
good men are so nasty naughty men often sing
sweet melodies to please the invincible bird



Thursdays at Readers Poetry Series: Trang Cao and Jeffrey Zable

Join us every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in our Readers Bookstore Fort Mason for our weekly FREE poetry series! Browse books and enjoy a glass of wine while listening to internationally acclaimed poets and artists such as Jonathan Richman, David Meltzer, Diane di Prima and California Poet Laureate Al Young. The series is  curated by Friends’ Resident Poet Jack Hirschman. For a full line-up and more information please visit our website at

Proceeds from our bookstores benefit the San Francisco Public Library

This Thursday, May 7, we are excited to have Trang Cao and Jeffrey Zable read!

photo-of-jeffrey-zableJeffrey Zable is a teacher, conga drummer of Afro-Cuban folkloric music, and a writer of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. He’s appeared in hundreds of literary magazines and anthologies since the mid-70’s. He published five chapbooks including The Dead Die Young, with an introduction by Jack Hirschman, and Zable’s Fables with an introduction by Harold Norse. Recent writing in Coe Review, Kentucky Review, Tule Review, Toad Suck Review, Chaos Poetry Review (featured poet), Lullwater Review, Serving House Journal, 2015 Rhysling Award Anthology, Mas Tequila, and many others.

Best Things of the Week 5/7/15

Best Things of the Week

by Byron Spooner

May 6, 2015


images[4]Best Thing I Saw All Week: Sons of Anarchy, Final Season: This looks at first glance like a  dystopian Biblical parable of some sort—son named Abel, town named Charming (Paradise?) overrun by heathens, protagonist as misunderstood peacemaker, the final scene a crucifixion—but those are mostly the conceits of the characters as written. Watching the Sons, lovably dimwitted psychopaths, blunder around central Cali battling competing gangs from Oakland to Reno to Eureka, as the qualities of murders progress from individual to serial to mass is tremendous fun. The police are either corrupt or nonexistent, civilians merely bystanders as these guys battle over turf, drugs, guns and women, tearing each other apart with impunity, even glee. Apparently our heroes shop at the store that sells bullets that fly straight, the villains at the discount place out on the highway. Begun in 2008, just as the nation was realizing the enormity of the blunder in Iraq, the series makes more sense as a semi-comic take on the American involvement in the Mideast. The warfare is tribal and mostly fought across racial lines instead of borders and all in the name of a lasting peace no one has defined. There is no end to the warfare in sight. All combatants buy their weapons from the same source (the Sons, who else?) and use them against each other and the source.  Hostages are tortured horrendously. The women are second-class citizens who can’t leave the house without being dressed a certain way, in this case as prostitutes, and who are mostly fucking-up the fun for the men by not staying in their place. The Sons may flatter themselves with all the anarchy bullshit but they are just the opposite; they want to control and rule, like Crusaders or ayatollahs, their hegemony over their domain and all of NorCal, and even parts of Ireland, absolute. And ordained, of course, by their imaginary god.

Out of Fragments of Misunderstanding, a poem by Peter Sherburn-Zimmer

Out of Fragments of Misunderstanding


We are mistranslations

Waiting for correction.

Waiting for silence instead of judgement—

One tree to the next, bird to bird,

Sparrow, really, not nightingale:


We ask, what is that distinction

Between poetry and literature,

Between words and words taken seriously,

For love, for the moment

For the pinnacle on particulars

Crossing the great divide?


With ears for Rich and Gluck and Clampitt,

As Nikki Giovanni reads to school children

At the library – as one phrase after another

Sinks into acceptance

Before the fragments shine with promises

Against perfection,

What may we ask? What may we wait for?

Pocket Poets turn 60.

Anytime I run into a book from the Pocket Poets series my day is brightened a little bit.  Fortunately there are plenty to go around.