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.