Poetry 4 Free Update

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Today I wrote my 50th poem in my Poetry 4 Free project. It’s been great fun so far; de­spite the heavy mock­ing from my cowork­ers and the ob­vi­ous & un­spo­ken doubt­ful­ness from cer­tain folks I know, it has ful­filled, at least in part, all of the goals I had in mind when I started this back in April.

I’m def­i­nitely less afraid to write. I have be­come much bet­ter at tak­ing a topic and start­ing to write on it im­me­di­ately. I think the po­ems I pro­duce in 5 – 10 min­utes could be deemed fair for that time frame. I’ve got­ten into a few ruts though, and have been try­ing to change up my meth­ods in or­der to keep things fresh. I don’t want to be a poem fac­tory, so the rep­e­ti­tion is a bad from which I am at­tempt­ing to draw some good.

I re­ceived open-armed per­mis­sion from the won­der­ful folks at the Cleveland Public Library to set up every Friday in the Eastman Reading Garden, and post-facto bene­dic­tion from the lady who man­ages Star Plaza for Playhouse Square Development. I didn’t re­al­ize it wasn’t a pub­lic park.

Lots of peo­ple give the side-eye, fewer stop for a poem, and, it seems, a large ma­jor­ity of the folks that do stop are in­ter­ested in telling a story about the dude with the hand-painted sign and a type­writer. The first was a post on Captured Cleveland. Dan Moulthrop from Civic Commons stopped by for a poem and tweeted about it. A fel­low writ­ing for Edible Cleveland wanted to put a blurb about me in an ar­ti­cle on Walnut Wednesdays. A col­lage artist asked to use my poem & photo in one of her works. My friend David Jurca even stopped by and took some video one day. Another day, an­other fel­low did so.


I’ve had sev­eral folks ask for po­ems as gifts, and a few re­turn to tell me how much the poem was ap­pre­ci­ated. I’ve had sad and poignant re­quests from es­tranged hus­bands, sweet re­quests from lov­ing wives, silly re­quests and chal­leng­ing ones. I’ve writ­ten about every­thing from mor­tal­ity to anal bleach­ing. I once ac­cepted a sil­ver dime as a tip, and I still feel vaguely guilty about that.

I’m hav­ing a blast, even on days when I get skunked. But I’m also start­ing to sense that the cur­rent sta­tus quo isn’t as ful­fill­ing as it once was. I may need fresh ground to cover (I plan on set­ting up shop in Lincoln Park dur­ing the Arts in August events), or I may just be feel­ing too at ease with the par­a­digm. I’m open to sug­ges­tions about how to shuf­fle the project in dif­fer­ent ways, and I’m very in­ter­ested in fur­ther ways that I can make it less about me. One thing I need to do is write po­etry out­side of this project. I’ve been very pro­lific for me, but the prac­tice has re­sulted in lit­tle ac­tual po­etry game time. Another change to be con­scious of.

You can fol­low this project on Twitter @Poetry4Free; find out where I’ll be and stop by for a poem. I hope you will.


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #267: Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha.


This is a very thought-pro­vok­ing film. The story could have eas­ily been turned into farce but for the un­bear­able ten­sion that Shingen’s dou­ble is forced to shoul­der in main­tain­ing the pre­tense that he ac­tu­ally is the ruler, while the real Shingen mold­ers at the bot­tom of a lake. The lengths that “his” re­tain­ers go to up­hold the il­lu­sion of “his” rule be­comes a clear tes­ta­ment to the ne­ces­sity of sta­ble gov­er­nance, but also sug­gests that it is mis­guided to put that trust in a speci­fic per­son, rather than the po­si­tion it­self.

Shingen is such a strong ruler that that the mere ru­mor of his death brings a gleam into the eye of his an­tag­o­nists, and the dash­ing of that ru­mor puts their tails back be­tween their legs. His wis­dom is such that his last or­ders pre­serve his realm for 3 years af­ter his death, be­fore his im­pul­sive and dis­owned son Katsuyori pro­vides the pud­dding-proof that line-of-de­scent preser­va­tion of a coun­try of­ten pays a hor­ri­ble price. Though the ma­jor­ity of the film keeps us with the rul­ing classes, the fact that Shingen’s dou­ble is a petty thief saved from cru­ci­fix­ion al­ways keeps the poor com­mon Japanese peas­antry “in the room”. The ram­pant slaugh­ter at the end of the film is there­fore much more poignant, and a worse night­mare than any­thing the thief-turned-Shingen has dreamed for the last three years of his life.

Though this thief, is, os­ten­si­bly, the kage­musha, the true shadow war­rior is the dead Shingen, who was far­sighted and clever enough to know how his legacy would crum­ble af­ter his death if his prepa­ra­tions and or­ders were not fol­lowed. A man that comes along once in a cen­tury, but realms are meant to last longer than a sin­gle ruler.

Incidentally, this movie got me itch­ing to play that old 8 bit Nintendo turn-based strat­egy and re­source-man­age­ment game Shingen The Ruler.

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

A part of this view­ing listCriterion Collection Spine #452: Martin Ritt’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

If only all spy movies were along these lines. Expertly acted, with a tight plot and tighter script, the in­tri­ca­cies in­ex­orably un­wind through­out the movie. Layers within lay­ers with lay­ers of plot­ting, no giz­mos, no flash­bang fight se­quences, just long-term, ex­cep­tional plan­ning and gutsy hard work. Richard Burton steals the show as the epony­mous spy, Alec Leamas, and the in­ten­sity with which he en­gages in the char­ac­ter he plays car­ries the film through the few sce­nes that aren’t quite up to snuff with the rest of the film.

The most im­por­tant and most chal­leng­ing test for Burton’s act­ing is the way in which he must si­mul­ta­ne­ously hide and con­vey Leamas’s grow­ing love for a com­mie li­brar­ian and main­tain the ruse of dis­grun­tled spy in or­der to at­tract his com­mie en­e­mies. As the film plays out, the ram­pant sus­pi­cions of the East Germans slowly dis­in­te­grate this façade un­til the house of cards seem­ingly col­lapses, mixaphor­i­cally speak­ing. The en­su­ing es­cape se­quence fairly seethes with the des­per­a­tion of a cor­nered an­i­mal, and the con­fronta­tion at the Berlin Wall frankly ad­mits to a be­lief that cyn­i­cal amoral­ity trumps au­then­tic emo­tion. For Leamas, how­ever, com­ing in from the cold is less about re­tire­ment, and more about the thaw­ing of emo­tion that takes place within his own soul.

Boudu Saved From Drowning

Sunday, 8 July 2012

A part of this view­ing listCriterion Collection Spine #305: Jean Renoir’s Boudu Saved From Drowning.

I have rel­a­tively large, com­pletely per­sonal is­sues with old French com­edy. À nous la lib­erté is pretty much the only old French com­edy I’ve ever re­ally liked. I think it boils down to a feel­ing that come­dies of this stripe are con­stantly wink­ing at the viewer, nudge nudg­ing. Say NO MORE! The laugh track serves the pur­pose more sub­tly in these mod­ern times, but in Boudu we get char­ac­ters who laugh at their own jokes. Tres gauche. Not my style.

Boudu the bum is ba­si­cally the French ver­sion of Chaplin’s. A bit more too, as he’s a pretty generic holy fool and mega­phone through which Renoir mocks the bour­geoisie. And, due to its no­to­ri­ous dif­fi­cultly, the satire falls flat for me here and be­comes, as afore­men­tioned, mere mock­ery. The bour­geois men­tal­ity is bluntly served up in di­a­logue that’s ba­si­cally shit no one ever says. Perhaps the sub­ti­tling loses some nu­ance, but judg­ing by the de­lib­er­ate, blunt trauma chaos that Boudu in­flicts upon all and sundry with whom he comes into con­tact, Renoir wasn’t that con­cerned with sub­tlety in the first place.

Basically no one comes off well; even at the end of the film when Renoir could have re­deemed, and very much should have re­deemed Boudu, (at least by hav­ing his dog re­turn to him), all that oc­curs is a stum­bling exit, which, though ap­pro­pri­ate for a bum, doesn’t provide much clo­sure in any other re­gard.

Kitten Killer

Sunday morning:
brake lights flash, hold, then
flicker, cars
flank, accelerate 
down Scranton Avenue around
a wet ball of
lint, twitching in
a puddled gutter, erratically
jerk in grey and
white, wet by the curb. I pull
over, and get to the
kitten just before
the children.

"Stay away!" I say. "You don't want to
see this." This being,
the hot breathing
body, the head blood diluting in
a dirty puddle, the tiny hind paw
digging furiously at
air. I touch its head, half-
flattened, and feel the shattered
shell of skull
slide inside and
up my arm and
into an ache in
my teeth.

I turn the shuddered bones
slightly, this skein of spirit in
my hands, knit
then raveled, take its
head in hand
press nose and
mouth into the half
inch of red water swirling
about ebon ears and silver fur. Press
firmly. A new gush of blood, the 
tiny claws find purchase along
the inside of my
I am here for it,

to the last,
to the frightful moment of
passage, even in this tiny
kitten the fury of life
hopes, even as I
take it.

Sid and Nancy

Sunday, 1 July 2012

A part of this view­ing listCriterion Collection Spine #20: Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy.

I’m not a fan of this biopic about Sid Vicious, Nancy Spungen and their tragic, drug-fu­eled, de­struc­tive re­la­tion­ship. The se­ries of el­lip­ti­cal, tan­gen­tial vi­gnettes of key mo­ments in their life to­gether does well to sim­u­late the rare sur­fac­ing lu­cid­ity of drug ad­dicts, and Gary Oldman’s act­ing is su­perb, but I think the film fails in its promise by glam­or­iz­ing their lives to the point of ha­giog­ra­phy. If there’s any­thing in the punk ethos con­don­ing hero-wor­ship, I think I missed it.

If the film had been made 15 or 20 years af­ter the death of Sid Vicious, I could os­ten­si­bly see this choice be­ing made for nos­tal­gic rea­sons, but dude was only 7 years in the ground when it was made. That ba­si­cally means that they started work on the film be­fore Sid Vicious was even cold; and that means that in essence, this is a Hollywood pro­duc­tion meant to cap­i­tal­ize on punk sub­cul­ture.

What fol­lows from that is mere sup­po­si­tion on my part, but I sus­pect that if this movie had been made with­out stu­dio back­ing it would have been a truer story, and wouldn’t have lost money at the box of­fice, be­cause it would have been on the art house cir­cuit in­stead. Criterion has as­sured that’s where its fi­nal rest­ing place will be.