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Character pointing gun in John Sayles's Lone Star

John Sayles’s “Lone Star” (1996): Racial Drama, Greek Tragedy, Western

At its core, John Sayles’s Lone Star is about such demarcations, and who, ultimately, gets to do the demarcating. It’s also about the oftentimes tense relations between the multi-ethnic populations of a small town on the US-Mexico border, as well as the corruption that stems from evil; and, as if those weren’t enough to handle, there’s enough time for a tender tale of star-crossed lovers. It’s a testament to Sayles’s skills as an artist that Lone Star manages to juggle all these narratives (and more) while still coming across as a coherent whole, its themes bold enough for most audiences to detect their presence but deployed with such subtlety to reward repeated viewings. It’s the above quotation, however, that reveals John Sayles as not only the great American independent filmmaker but one of the medium’s keenest observers of societal conflict, whether it be in urban cityscapes (City of Hope), the colonial tropics (Amigo) or more fantastical, rustic settings (The Secret of Roan Inish). That he puts these words in the mouth of a mildly bigoted bartender, in a moment of seemingly throwaway comedy, shows his attention to detail, as even tertiary characters are given more than one dimension and are treated not as window dressing but as ordinary people with their own wants, aims, and philosophies, despite their brevity. It’s ordinary people, after all, who live among such demarcations, and it’s ordinary people who suffer men like Charlie Wade and Buddy Deeds to administer, encourage and/or expunge them. […]

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Stylized photo of Helen Vendler next to a checkmate chess board.

The Issue To Create: Debunking a Helen Vendler Myth With (Good) Poetry

“The issue of a good poem must be urgent to the poet.”

– The Art of Shakespeare Sonnets by Helen Vendler

…and the issue of literary critics is how they make banalities or bullshit sound pithy. Thus we have the above statement, which, in essence, translates to: “Poets make good shit when they care about their shit”. Contextually, this is excerpted from Helen Vendler’s analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 01, where she makes the case that the sonnet is more limited than Shakespeare’s No. 17, because 17 deals with “issues of mortality and corruption”, which Shakespeare gave more of a damn about, as opposed to the “dynastic question” of 01. Well, Helen is half-right. Sonnet 01 is worse than Sonnet 17. Only, the mechanism is less a matter of the shit Shakespeare cared about, than that, simply, Sonnet 01 was made when Shakespeare’s mind was snoozing, and 17 when that same mind was musing. Having reached the stage where I can call myself a poet who has written a couple good poems, or better, two of which you can see over at Cosmoetica’s Vers Magnifique section, I now have the privilege of saying: Helen, YOU’RE FULL OF SHIT.

Let me clarify a couple things. This article serves as a poetic self-evaluation of my current scant successes in the realm of poesizing. What it isn’t, though, is a step-by-step guide for other amateur poets. Maybe you’ll find clues, a couple of useful hints here and there. What I’ll be focusing on is what didn’t matter. Some myth-busting to prevent the Helen Vendler types from clogging things up with distractions. With the biographical fluff, in other words. Stuff like whether you should write by hand or type. Whether extensive research helps. Whether having a strong stance about your subject really matters. And, unlike other writers who tend to be coy and mysterious about their actual craft, I intend to be thorough and lay it all out, to the best of my memory. […]

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Example of Joe Biden's cultural forever war, with emotions caught on newspaper

Forever War: How Politics Work In Joe Biden’s America

In the last few decades, the term forever war has come to denote an unpleasant fact for imperial ambition- namely, that superpowers have ceased to exist, dislodged by regional actors limited to their own spheres of influence, while influence itself grows narrower and more abstract. Thirty years after America failed to take Vietnam, it would fail for much the same reason in Afghanistan and Iraq: lately, empire cannot explain its purpose even to itself, much less to its victims, whose soft power must be recruited to win modern wars. But while there is no way to hide material losses in combat, the world’s gradual abandonment of violence will, ironically, do more to expand the concept of ‘forever war’ than the usufructs of empire ever could. That’s because the forever war abroad- wasteful, belligerent, transparent in intent yet maddeningly plausible to the median dolt- is being transformed into a cultural war of attrition at home, through the same loss of purpose. I mean, what is America’s legitimating function anyway? It can’t be to lead the world on climate change. It’s certainly NOT to teach others how to mitigate a global pandemic at a time when infectious diseases are slated to redouble. It has terrible health outcomes, bad infrastructure, political gridlock, and- with crisis after unresolved crisis- doesn’t even pretend to care about the working class. Put another way, America has scrambled its own legitimation story, even though the rest of the world has not believed this story for some time now. And so, America has lost its wars and is in the process of losing the most important one, as faith in democracy collapses at home and authoritarian doldrums envelop abroad. No one, it’s been said, saw this coming, but isn’t that the point? If civic engagement is cratered- that is, if the legitimation story gets rejected- this is less a failure of voters than of the choices they are bullied into. Now that Donald Trump is gone, voter turnout is poised to collapse once more, albeit for Democrats, at first, now that the media must settle for huffing Joe Biden’s farts as the radical right preps from the paddocks it’s been exiled into. Yet the question of why this is and what makes it so predictable is rarely covered, despite it being ‘the’ political question of our time, and thus needs to be understood before any other question gets adjudicated. […]

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Man carrying thing, used as a photo for the Wallace Stevens poem

Analysis: Wallace Stevens’s “Man Carrying Thing”

I won’t miss this day. In fact, I’ll try to make up for it by jotting down my thoughts on a Wallace Stevens poem, “Man Carrying Thing”. I just memorized it (hopefully it sticks) and it’s a fun thing to rattle off and attempt to wrap your head around. He wrote these incredibly eloquent, philosophical puzzles that require multiple readings and deep thought to unpack, if not fully understand. I’m not sure most of Stevens’s poems have a singular, unitary meaning. Perhaps some of the simpler ones do. However, most of the famous, great Stevens poems possess a multiplicity (not infinity) of meanings that merge and interweave and clash. The act of reading his poems isn’t trying to find out what they mean – as if each one came with a packaged, one-sentence definition. It’s parsing out each part, uncovering different meanings and how they interact to form a complex yet congruous whole – certainly one that requires many paragraphs, if not entire pages (books, even!), to elaborate on. The thing I love most about Stevens’s poems is how many questions unravel after landing on a likely answer. Again, there’s a limit to these questions, but the point is that his poems are a delight to return to again and again, since they seem to grow in stature and meaning as one grows in life experience. Without further ado, here’s the poem. […]

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A potential female AI or sexbot

Sexbots, Theseus, and Color TVs

What with all the recent angst over the “soul of America” and the accompanying struggle to make America great again or to return America to normal, it comforts me to know that for a mere ten grand or so, I can buy a machine to have sex with.  It comforts me to know that good old American know-how is still alive and well; it comforts me to know that no matter how many riots occur, how many fences and walls are built, whether the nation’s children ever set foot in a classroom again, I can relieve my anxiety and stress by going home to my sexbot and getting a proper snuggle.

Curmudgeonly ethics professors and traditionalists of all stripes are in an uproar.  These people don’t seem all that concerned about rubbing the lamp for other applications of Artificial Intelligence that has already been done and is continuing.  It’s not like just freeing a genie, because after your three wishes, the lamp becomes inert and the genie goes off to wait for his or her next assignment.  THIS genie produces a never-ending stream of fulfilled wishes:  sex with AI-enhanced bots, war with AI-enhanced bots, space travel and colonization with more bots, cars and taxis and trains and semis hauling goods—all robots serving mankind.  Why, it’s breathtaking.  No the angst is reserved for sex (as Americans seem to be constantly outraged about)—specifically sex with machines, with robots, with non-humans. […]

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Photos of Philip Whalen at different points in his life

Philip Whalen and Small Presses

Ever since publishing became a chip in global empires, small press publishing has been the true voice of the arts. In the small press world itself, there is both legacy and current conditions; given the troubled times of current conditions, perhaps a look at legacy is due. A gift of small press books is a large literary gift, for these are elusive works through time and each is a testimony. Small press books are more apt to be aware of book art legacy itself, and the occasion of one thoughtfully done ought to have some ceremony.

Circumstance thus directs us to a four inch by seven-inch book presented with a card stock cover folded over ten pages center stapled called The Unidentified Accomplice or, The Transmissions of C.W. Moss (Coyote). A glance at the book’s text reveals individually calligraphed paragraphs per page in what seems visually to be a single poem. The single date is 2006 and is listed “Of The Estate”. A book published by an estate is a direct statement to the legacy of the artist, it is additional evidence; in this case, this single folio is a testament to the literary legacy of Philip Whalen. […]

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A shot of two actors from Lino Brocka's Manila in the Claws of Light

Classic? Re-evaluating Lino Brocka’s “Manila in the Claws of Light” (1975)

A dirty corner of the street. Late evening. Julio Madiaga’s face in the lamplight. The vibrancy of his eyes is caught in desperation: a silhouette in the window above him. A woman arranges her hair. A memory from a past paradise flashes into frame. Madiaga had a girlfriend, once upon a time. Their paths diverged after a cruel woman took her away on a boat to the capital. She vanished shortly thereafter. He can only guess at her fate, but the city provides him with many educated guesses. (The pimps who cajole him on the curb with their wares – prostitutes, often blank faced, or simply faceless – suggest some sinister end.) Already the city has battered him into destitution, and on the intersection of Misericordia and Ongpin, what he’s come from the provincial town of his birth to find is barred behind a rectangle of light, which immobilizes him, brightens every twitch on his face, and discloses the answer to his question within a shadow – the claws of light, indeed. Illumination, in this story, is no comfort, and often is representative of some misery of either Madiaga or, more cogently, the city which consumes him. […]