Saturday, February 28, 2009

Recycle Runway

I’ll go ahead and confess that I’m not the greenest person out there. I recycle (mostly), I take public transportation when I can, and I even watched Al Gore’s movie (though I’ll confess to getting bored and turning it off about halfway through).

Okay, so I’m kind of horrible, and it’s probably people like me who’ll be responsible for the end of the world as we know it. But that is why I appreciate the efforts of the environmentally-conscious all the more.

Those people include Nancy Judd, who’s managed to turn recycling into art (something even I can get on board with). Out of her green studio comes Recycle Runway, a project that “strives to change the way the world thinks about the environment through innovative educational programs and couture fashions made from trash.”

The runway turns recycled materials, like Coke cans (see photo), CDs, and phone books, into high fashion—then exhibits the clothing in airports throughout the country, most recently gracing the concourses of Pittsburgh International Airport. Judd also offers workshops for young people to create their own recycled fashion, providing them with a fun and unique way to get involved in environmental efforts.

Check out the runway’s Web site to learn more.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Animals Are Entering Our Lives

(photo credit: Morris Grover, Oregon State Parks Ranger)

Now they are coming back to us,
the latest homeless, driven by hunger.
--Lisel Mueller

In 1906, the last sea otter--once native to the Pacific waters off the coast of Oregon--was killed. After that, they were declared extinct. An attempt at reintroduction for this federally-protected species failed in the 1970's. Since then, there have been two major confirmed spottings: off the Yaquina Head in the 1990's, and Cape Arago in 2003. On Wednesday, February 18, 2009 an Oregon State Parks employee photographed a lone sea otter in Depoe Bay Harbor. Whether there are others remains to be seen.
According to the "Findings" section of the March '09 issue of Harper's, "Confused and dead pelicans were turning up far from shore in California, pygmy killer whales were disappearing off Hawaii, and coyotes were encroaching on Detroit."
The American pika, known in mountain country as "rock rabbits," and familiar to hikers in the high country for their familiar "peep" as they dart into their burrows on boulder fields, are threatened by global warming. They are adapted to cold weather, and can die from exposure to temperatures as low as 78 degrees. More than a third of known populations in the Great Basin mountains of Nevada and Oregon have gone extinct. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is deciding whether the pika warrants endangered species status.
This morning, on my way to work, two dead Canadian geese were sprawled out in the road, near the on-ramp to Highway 224. Not an uncommon occurrence, as bands of geese often feed on the grass along the shoulder and between interchanges. They sometimes wander into the road, and at such speeds cars and trucks travel, they cannot move quick enough out of the way.

Poems for the first 100 days

If you are needing a healthy dose of current events, delivered via poetry, you might want to have a look at Starting Today: Poems for the First 100 Days. I am sad to say it has taken me until day 38 of the project (and, ergo, the Obama administration) to post about this. But here's to day 38! And here's to Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker for making the project happen.

All kinds of poets are up there--Major Jackson with some knockout couplets for day 22, Cornelius Eady considering the much-considered inaugural poem for day 14, Diane Wald with a "nonromantic valentine" for day 27. I have also in particular enjoyed days 2 (Matt Rohrer), 3 (Martha Silano), 4 (Aimee Nezhukumatathil), 19 (Laurel Snyder), 20 (Cate Marvin), 23 (Erin Belieu), 26 (Nin Andrews), 32 (Mark Doty), 36 (Lindsey Wallace).

There's a lot of funny bits, and some stuff that is convincingly sincere and moving. And they said that couldn't be done with "political poetry." Well, I have news for they, and the news is actually getting a little old, and it goes something like, "yes we can!"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Guilty pleasures

So apparently recycling is a maddening waste of time, money and good intention (in the UK at least; we’re feeble novices at this sort of thing) but hop over to the East and behold the wonders of re-use – a Buddhist temple made from (empty) beer bottles? Genius (and wonderfully eye-catching).

It need not be said that some serious changes need to be implemented if we’re going to take the task of stretching the life of our lovely (if somewhat abused and exhausted) planet out a couple of decades longer. But what will become of one of life’s most precious simple pleasures – the humble novel? I’m hardly lusting over the thought of these daft pseudo-book gizmos; you can stuff in as many wonderworks as you want, but if it ain’t printed on sheets of paper stuck together I just can’t imagine it evoking the same degree of pleasure.

That said, I do feel a twinge of guilt at the unholy tree-carnage that precludes the creation all those exquisite books we so justly swoon over. And just think of all the godawful stuff shuffling around out there… ooh, the shame. Save the trees! Don’t print substandard nonsense! Better still – and here’s my half-assed solution to the decadence of ‘real’ books – gather all the bad books together, mash them into a mushy pulp and give them the chance to be reborn as something glorious and worthy of the poor trees who died so that people like me can curl up under one of their kind and read bits of sublime word-joy printed on their felled kin.

Hmm, so in lieu of my own inspiration, let’s cast our eager eyes towards the upcoming environment issue of Fringe… coming soon to renege our jaded souls with the glory of green. Be exicted.

Help Us Redesign Our Site

We rarely ask for funds, but this time around, Fringe needs your help.

At the beginning of February, we turned 3. Over these years we've published 17, soon to be 18 of the Fringiest issues anywhere on teh interwebs, garnering 6,000-35,000 unique users each month. We've loaded the work of 124 writers and artists, many of whom we published for the first time.

We finally want to take better advantage of our digital format by publishing new work weekly, and hosting this fine blog on our own website. But we can't do it with the website we have: each issue takes 50 hours to load.

We're trying to raise $900 over two months to make our Wordpress dreams come true, and to give our webmistress a well-deserved night of sleep. We'll use the time we save to give you more of that content you love.

If you've enjoyed reading site or blog, consider a donation of $5 to help us meet our goal. You can see our campaign's progress through the widget to the right of our blog and all donations are tax deductible, as allowed by law.

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the joys of composting

In honor of the upcoming Fringe Enviro-themed issue, I'm discussing a simple luxury San Franciscans tend to take for granted. The little green bin...

The little green bin is one of my favorite things about SF, but it's so trashy. Literally. Citywide (bay area wide, more specifically) composting allows businesses and residents the chance to turn any food scraps, paper food packaging, and compostable to-go ware

That's right.

Green bins are provided by the city, and set out on the curb along with trash pickup. Restaurants usually have an equal number of compost and trash bins. It's in the restaurant industry that you can really see the impact composting has on waste disposal. At the end of a busy shift, the compost bins are jammed full, while the trash...maybe halfway, and that usually just plastic wrap.

The yard trimmings and unwanted leftovers of San Franciscans get turned into compost, which is used in the vineyards of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. While the thought brings a slight shift in meaning to the concept of terroir, the actual practice of composting couldn't be easier.

While composting isn't always perfect...and often kinda's one way to make a consistent contribution to living a green lifestyle and turning your own waste into something positive. If you're interested in composting but don't have a citywide program, check in with local community gardens. There are plenty of those in Boston, and most tend to have a compost pile that members contribute to. Or start your own compost pile in the backyard, and grow some food!

I will admit, we have a black composter in my yard, but 90% of the time I use the city's green bin (yes, because it's closer to the house). If you're interested in learning the hows of home composting, the New York City compost project has pretty comprehensive information on getting started.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Opting Out

Today my maid asked me why I don’t have children, and I told her we are saving money and have only been married for a short amount of time. Then she asked how old I am. 29. At that, she proudly informed me that she had her first child at 18 years of age and was in labor for two days. “What kind of endorsement of motherhood is that?” I wondered as she continued to tell me that I should hurry up and have children before it’s too late. My answer that we’re saving money is like a white lie. We are saving money, but frankly I am not in any hurry to become a mother, and the Baby Momma hype about women who wait to long and suddenly yearn for motherhood is feeding a mythology that erases women like me. Would the world have embraced Tina Fey's "gynocrentric" movie if instead of craving motherhood she went to great lengths to avoid it?

Strangers seem to think my unproductive womb is a reasonable avenue of discourse, though. Last week at the gym I was talking to a Nigerian-American woman on the treadmill beside me, and she asked “Why don’t you have any kids?” as if my lack of procreation was a personal affront. She’s a proud mother of two, and let’s underscore “proud,” but even women I know who don’t define themselves by motherhood have been making unwarranted comments to me. Yesterday at a game of mahjong I mentioned I was making angel hair pasta with artichokes and olives for dinner and the Australian art history professor-turned-expat-housewife quipped “you’re going to make a fabulous mother!” Or perhaps I’d be a crappy mother who happens to occasionally make pasta dinners.

And when I do talk about having children, it makes people uncomfortable. After a certain amount of wine, I will tell you the results of the Punnett Squares I made for myself and my husband. The odds are that our hypothetical offspring will have green or blue eyes, strawberry blond hair, and be average-to-short in height. If it’s a boy, he will go bald, and if it’s a girl she’ll have polycystic ovarian syndrome. What kind of parent knowingly creates a child under those circumstances? I will also tell you I will never breast feed and want a C-section at 8 months so I don’t get fully fat, and if that doesn’t make you start crossing my legs for me, I’ll keep blathering until you’re ready to call social services in a pre-emptive strike.

I am maternal toward my cats, but I shrink from other people’s babies. They say your own are different, but who wants to bet a human life against those odds? Even if I am just selfish and superficial, aren’t those also great reasons not to procreate? If I change, then I might also change my mind. I can’t predict what I’ll feel at 33 or 35, but right now what I want to give to the world I give through teaching and writing. I think the biggest thing I can do to minimize my carbon footprint is not to make another one. And although my reasons and my thoughts aren’t really anyone else’s business, I also think perhaps I should find a way to talk about choosing not to become a parent.

Monday, February 23, 2009

What a Difference a Year Makes: Reflections on AWP 2009

I returned from my second AWP conference exhausted, laden with lit journals and assorted swag, and feeling a mixture of inspiration and disappointment. I promptly took a long nap, and only after I woke up the next morning was I able to properly begin processing the 4-day hurricane known as AWP.

This is not to say that this year's conference was somehow more tiring than years past--AWP is always a hectic weekend full of readings, panels, drinking, and dancing, but this year's conference came with many added dimensions for me: responsibilities.

I attended the 2008 conference in New York City as a student--a Publishing student, no less. I had nowhere to be other than the panels and readings I had painstakingly circled in the official program. In my free time, I perused the Bookfair, but I was quickly overwhelmed by all of the smiling lit journal editors asking "What do you write?" It's a seemingly simple question, but for me, it's always been a loaded one. Having attended Emerson, where the dual-focus writing program is both a blessing and a curse, my identity as a writer has gone through more than a few crises. Since students in the Publishing program are not widely regarded as writers (most MFA Creative Writing candidates forget the "& Writing" part of the "Publishing & Writing" concentration), I tend to deny that I have any kind of writing talent. When too tired of responding "I write nonfiction," and feeling like a liar (though I do write, I do so primarily for myself), I would head back to the hotel I shared with 4 other Emerson students or go for a walk around the block to see where I could find the cheapest sandwich Midtown Manhattan had to offer (it wasn't always the least sketchy option). I saw readings by Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Safran Foer, Billy Collins & Frank McCourt, and Mary Karr.

This year, I flew to Chicago to attend AWP in a more official capacity: the company I work for paid for me to go, to represent them at the bookfair. We publish college textbooks, and a first edition creative writing book, Creative Nonfiction, had just published a month ago. In addition to my official post at the Bookfair, I was to take the author to dinner and meet with one of our freelance contributors to discuss a project.

Beyond my official capacity, it was my first AWP as a Fringe editor. Though I wasn't able to represent at the Fringe table, I dutifully schlepped a duffle full of swag (shot glasses, samples, pins, magnets, and the banner) to Chicago and back to Boston, and stopped by the table as often as I could.

I was surrounded by friends and colleagues, I was representing my company, and I was part of a literary journal I believe in. But I left AWP this year feeling somehow less inspired and less part of the literary community. Why was this? I collected my fair share of free pins, journals, and temporary tattoos; I attended every dance party; I signed up for a subscription to Gulf Coast, bought a back issue of Barrelhouse, and subscribed to Paper Egg books. I chalk it up to a combination of things: I didn't attend a single reading, I was working the bookfair the entire day with a smile pasted on my face, and I got more than a few scorned looks from people walking by my table. I was there representing "the man," despite the fact that many of the conference's attendees are professors who use our books to teach classes and the panel offered on textbook writing was so crowded that I had to sit on the floor.

This post is pretty disjointed. A week later and I still can't quite decide how to feel about AWP. I am also suffering from a nasty case of the dreaded "post-AWP plague," so my head is foggy with cold medicine and congestion. I don't know if I'll be in Denver for AWP 2010, but if I am, I hope to find a balance between representing "the man" and myself.

*Cross-posted to Vernacular*

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Will Work for Free ... but Not for Long

I thought of my favorite magazine while I was cleaning my toilet this afternoon. Let me explain.

I’m finishing the last year of my undergrad career – pursuing a journalism degree with a concentration in magazine publishing. Internships are encouraged; however, most of us know that interns, aka office baristas, often feel awkward, inadequate and work for free.

When I discovered my favorite magazine’s main office was minutes from my house, I inquired about an intern position. I went to storefront events, chatted with the publisher, and applied. Days later, I was hired.

The first day I shipped and posted back issues. The second day I removed subscription cards (a foreshadowing event). The third day I cleaned the bathrooms. Yes, there was more than one. (I did not reveal my cleaning skills on my resume, but thanks to childhood chores, Mr. Clean and I are acquaintances.)

So, there I was. In the bathroom and away from the hustle and bustle of magazine layout. As I scrubbed stale piss off the toilet seats, feelings of resentment surfaced. Careful to keep my fingers on the soaked sponge and off the foul surface, I played out the absurdity of the situation in my head. I looked at my reflection in the cleanly Windexed mirror and it happened: I had lost respect for my favorite magazine.

The articles, interviews, and photography will always glean on the glossy pages, but every time I scrub a porcelain throne, I will always remember the belittlement I felt that day. Needless to say, I am no longer with them and they are no longer with us.

I now intern at a publication that allows me to write, which is milestones away from wiping urine off of strange places.

One day for a blog post I wrote, “As much as we love Barbie, we think it’s best that she stay off the runway and at the Dream House,” in reference to Barbie making an appearance at NY’s Fashion Week. The editor jogged out of her office. “We. Don’t. Love. Barbie,” she barked. “But I like that you used the word “Stepford” so I kept some of it,” she said, walking away. I swallowed my self-worth and hit the ‘delete’ button. Note to self: Be ultra-fem. Hate Barbie.

As much as I’m looking forward to leaving school and entering the “real” world, I so much want to stay in school’s safe haven where I can love Barbie and use the toilet, not clean it. Who knew internships would bring back such painful childhood memories?

Friday, February 20, 2009

I confess: I'm that guy(girl). When I first stumbled upon a paperback copy of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, my initial thought was: "Wait...that was a book first?"

As a closet Michael Cera fan--and a public fan of movies about music-- the film has been on my "to see" list for months. Thankfully, my English Teacher Cred was rescued by this fortuitous trip to Borders, as I promised myself that I would promptly move Nick & Norah to the top of my "to read" list instead. And boy, am I glad that I did.

With its dual narrators, witty dialogue, complex (but believable) characters, an abundance of semi-underground musical references, and a jacket named "Salvatore", Nick & Norah is a very here-and-now kind of story that effectively appeals to a generation notorious for seeking instant gratification.

The novel is co-authored by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, who pen Nick & Norah's parts, respectively. Nick, the heterosexual bass-player in a queer-core band, is a sensitive, indie-rocker cutie reminiscent of Rivers Cuomo. Norah, the edgy daughter of a bigtime music-mogul, is a tough, street-savvy, rocker-chick (think early Liz Phair) who--like all teenage girls--simply cannot understand the inner-workings of boys.

The alternating narration and skillfully-combined writing styles of Levithan and Cohn create a tension and a cadence that is, appropriately, very musical in nature. I'm not sure if a non-musician would pick up on this, but to me, it was immediately obvious.

What's also immediately obvious to all, is the blatant sexuality and unabashed use of the "F" word (and the "S" word, the "A" word, the "D" word, and a few "P" words), starting on page number one. While conservative parents and/or stodgy teachers may dismiss the novel for this precise reason, I think that teenagers--older "young" adults-- will appreciate a book whose voice and situations are so reflective of their own.

I just Redboxed the movie, and will be watching it while I recover from the flu later on today. I'll let you know how it holds up.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Even McEwan drops the occasional literary log

Since you Fringers seem to quite like your writing and your writers, I'd thought I'd share a piece of my Gurdian-centred perusing with you all:

'The trusted friends who steer novelists away from cliche'

Monday, February 16, 2009

open space blogging

Recently I started a new blog, recruited some co-bloggers, and then proceeded to tell everyone they could make whatever changes they wanted, so long as they didn't take anything away. I secured the blog name, but a friend designed it. Another blogger added a couple of widgets, which I then had to de-install because Wordpress is a far less fine product than Blogger. Posts can be authored by the individual authors or under the admin username.

Welcome to open space blogging. Open Space, for those not in the know, is a new information management scheme that takes the hierarchy and chain of command out of the workspace or meeting. According to its users, Open Space "works best when the work to be done is complex, the people and ideas involved are diverse, the passion for resolution (and potential for conflict) are high, and the time to get it done was yesterday."

What makes it different from a shared blogging experience such as Fringe is the fact that total control is in the hands of any user. A dangerous idea, in the abstract, but a useful one if my east coast co-blogger can update comments, contact interested participants, and track blog views while I'm still sleeping. The experiment so far is going well. But I'll be sure to keep you posted if any kinks arise.

Holding on

I recently started a new job. It’s the exact opposite of my previous job: creative, collaborative, lots of work to do, friendly people. Hell, I’m not even in a cubicle, and the walls, they’re not tan. I spend my days feeling challenged and inspired and motivated. Granted, it’s only been two weeks, but so far, I kind of love it.

And yet. Every time I begin something new, every time I commit to doing something that isn’t The Exact Thing I Want to Be Doing With My Life (writing full-time, and for myself), whether I find myself enjoying it or not, I worry that instead of helping me, it will take me further away from my ultimate goal.

What if I love copywriting so much that my unfinished book continues to collect dust? What if “I’ll work on it next month when I have more time and energy” becomes next year becomes next decade becomes never? Liking my job has the potential to become an excuse, a way to justify complacency, a reason to not take the risks I need to take.

Ultimately, whenever I confront the practical vs. the meaningful, I always run smack into the same question: If you’re not currently doing something to work toward achieving your life’s goal, how can you still hold onto it?

Perhaps asking myself this question over and over again is my way of holding on.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Poehler's latest venture

SNLer and Baby Mama, Amy Poehler, hosts an internet series called Smart Girls at the Party. Despite being sponsored by Barbie, the show focuses on talented pre-teen girls and celebrates how they "can succeed and make a difference simply by being themselves.” The segments showcase the girls’ hobbies and opinions in honest and entertaining interviews, giving their age group a voice not typically heard in today's media. Check out Ruby the feminist:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Teh Internetz: Writing and/or Dying

As I continue to yammer on about how to write and use the internet at the same time and how the internet can help you write instead of edit, I bring you yet another online tool in the constant battle of the Word Count.

Dr. Wicked's Write or Die is a tool that a few of my fellow WriMos used during November. The idea is simple: you type into the Write or Die box, and if you don't, you're cyber-smacked on the backs of your hands in various ways. The worst and most effective way? If your stream of words cease, the application begins deleting what you've written so far.

It's like water-boarding for writers!

Dr. Wicked, the app's creator, says:

This is aimed at anyone who wants to get writing done. It requires only that you recognize your own tendency towards self-sabotage and be willing to do something about it. If you're sick of saccharine writing advice that no one could honestly follow and you want a real method to getting work done.

I agree with this dude completely! I'm done being a pansy writer, sitting around waiting for mah muse. Give it a shot next time you're stuck or on a deadline.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Women's Studies First on the Chopping Block in Hard Times

Women's Studies, African Studies, and other multicultural university departments and programs are first on the chopping block amidst steep budget cuts. Last year the USF WST department pulled a massive effort together to oppose merging all the "marginal" cultural departments into one department, and they were successful not because of the letters from famous feminists on their behalf, but because of student-lead protests. As an alumnus of USF and beneficiary of the strong WS department there (the largest in the south and the oldest in FL) I was proud and relieved to see its survival, and with the Obama presidency, I saw the pendulum swinging back toward the important work of small departments like these.

But I was breathing that sigh of relief too quickly. Jenn Moore posted this information on the Women's Studies list serve: "This year something similar [to USF], but arguably more dire, is happening at Florida Atlantic
University where the school is may be using the recession as an excuse to dissolve the Women's, Gender,
and Sexuality Studies department and its MA program."

The global gag rule has just been reversed, and the Lily Ledbetter Act has passed congress, but feminists are so, so not out of the hot water. I am not surprised that people against WS would use this time of financial crisis to get rid of progressive departments, but we can't let them win. It's true that budget cuts are very real and very big, but it's a repression of information and educational opportunity to systematically ax multicultural and gender/sexuality focused departments and programs of study, as Jessica on Feministing reports is the case in Georgia.

Post-feminists are using this opportunity to use economicspeak to argue that WS has outlived its usefulness, akin to arguments that American car companies deserve to fail if they aren't profitable. But to this charge, I answer that I've been involved with WS programs at three universities, and they had strong enrollment and an excellent record of service and community involvement, the professors strong records of publication and leaders in their fields. I know it's not just about WS, because for instance philosophy departments are also having to defend themselves, but what the fields most often in trouble have in common is that they are are seen as more "feminine" and generate less revenue, lead generally to lesser paying jobs, are in essence less "masculine," so while there are targeted attacks on race and gender studies, there are also attacks that consider themselves to be quantitative but succumb to patriarchal assumptions of value.


The Herd Mentality Prevails in the Windy City

Having read Eliot Weinberger's 1983 essay, "The Bomb," in his classic Works on Paper, published on New Directions, I started immediately looking online for more. There is an article in Bomb Magazine, a conversation between Weinberger and poet Forrest Gander on why "they are confounded by the astounding absence of the role of poet as a public cautionary figure."

The essay "The Bomb" is a must, especially with these next few days seemingly everywhere devoted--from Facebook, to blogs, to poets' invitational emails--to the AWP Conference in Chicago. As early as 1983 Weinberger is pointing out the poet's "recently acquired status as a wage-earner" and its necessary complications involving literature in the affairs of the state (i.e., university chairs, federal grants, and the like).

Amiri Baraka, who took part in the (now-largely forgotten, I think) May 26, 1982 "Poets Against the End of the World" reading at NYC's Town Hall, thought that the long shadow of The Bomb would lead to "dynamic, socially relevant poetry" which, to Weinberger at that time, remained to be seen. Naturally, this hasn't come to pass, at least in the large-scale poetry "movements" of contemporary America, aside from small pockets here and there.

Political thought in poetry, aside perhaps from Marvin Bell's Mars Being Red, is largely absent. After the Town Hall reading, Poetry East quoted Maxine Kumin as saying "Poetry is too fragile an art for polemic" and this attitude has remained indelibly marked on the contemporary consciousness. But why?

Weinberger draws a distinction in the identity of the poet: that they are not only poets, but also citizens (a thought Socrates would have appreciated) and, as far as writers go, capable of writing something other than poetry. Like essays, for example. Whether they recognize this is something else entirely. One would be hard pressed to find political poets of the caliber of Neruda today (forgiving him, and others, for their misguided rhetoric, all things considered) though you could find Vallejo's at a discount in any online publiction, wearing a political sensibility on their sleeves, perhaps, but certainly not a solid stance.

Poetry, for all its pretensions to "gnosis," is rather a series of "communities of like souls in remote mountain fastnesses" and "communities addicted to whimsey, nostalgia, preciosity" according to Weinberger. It's hard not to quote at length from this essay of this contemporary poetic "longing for Dada or Surrealism" that results in most of the poetry published in the online journals from the aesthetic left consisting largely of "a talking in tongues" where "fleeting insights are netted and pinned to the page." But if today's poets were living, let alone understanding, a true gnosis they would realize the impact of Herakleitos: "You cannot hide from that which will not go away."

So what will not go away? Human suffering, war, poverty. The hysteria of anticommunism of Weinberger's time has been replaced by the hysteria of anti-terrorism, but where are the answers from our poets? As Weinberger suggests, (and correctly, particularly if one reads the plethora of "bios" on poets) today's American poets are entirely dependent on the military state. How many are feeding the university system, both with their tuition and their energy, whether as students or teachers? Poets have become, essentially, "wards of the state."

And this weekend they are gathering in droves to congratulate themselves in Chicago. To sell their books, to give their readings, to meet and shake hands and to drink, as one poet put it, "over-priced drinks." Like an island in the midst of a public that one poet once claimed to me "had no taste."

As Weinberger notes in a footnote, "a magnificent half-century of American poetry ended when the poets allowed themselves to be organized and controlled by the two traditional enemies of poetry: the university and the state."

(all quotes from Eliot Weinberger's Works on Paper, published by New Directions Press in 1986; photo credit: Nina Subin)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

‘All that remains is time’: Béla Tarr’s simple truth

Yes, yes, it’s a film that’s (rather shockingly) a good nine years old now, but I treated myself to a second viewing of Werckmeister harmóniák (2000) last night and feel compelled to share the joy, as always.

Besides, there’s always a chance that there are people out there who, like me, have heard little of what I reckon must be Hungary’s – nay, Europe’s – best living filmmaker in our very midst. Part of the reason for this is because, quite simply, his work hasn’t been in a great hurry to get itself translated and exported over here and elsewhere; but now that is it available I urge anyone interested in ‘film’ (rather than ‘movies’) to put your life on hold until you are able to bask in Tarr’s style of filmic greatness.

Béla Tarr does not tell stories; he aims for something simpler, clearer. Ultimately, he wants to show humanity, to bring the audience closer to the people on screen. Verbal communication is secondary to the physical presence of his characters, which is why we are graced with long takes, slow, brooding camerawork, and bleak, beautiful landscapes in which these people can move and breathe. Tarr claims that this unhurried approach is an attempt to follow an underlying logic that lies in not in what is said, but in the smaller details within a scene – Tarr avoids the ‘usual’ style of editing (which he describes as being information – cut – information) as although that approach can follow the logic of a story, it doesn’t follow the ‘logic of life’.

Although often compared to Tarkovsky, Tarr has no interest in religious, political, or even philosophical matters. Werckmeister harmóniák is perplexing if you try to rationalise it – is it an allegory? A rumination on political opportunisim, collective anxiety, chaos? Existential terror? No. Apparently it is exactly how it appears on the screen: “this guy who is walking up and down the village and has seen this whale.”

He may use literature as his source material, but Tarr sees film as speaking a more primitive language. “We take a novel and ruin it. And then our work is to find the right locations and bring life to it. We have to rediscover everything – and that reality must be ours.” Tarr wants you to use your eyes: “Watch. That’s important. Don’t think about it too much. Everyone can understand it if they don’t complicate it.”

“If you get closer to the people you saw on the screen; touched by the beauty of the destitute, then we’ve achieved something.” So if you haven’t already, go find yourself a copy of Werckmeister harmóniák and simply watch it, and take pleasure in it’s stark and simple beauty.

*Any of the un-linked quotations came from the interview on my lovely DVD