Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book Report, "The Selvage," by Linda Gregerson

the words on paper make
     a sort of currency, which heaven,

against all odds, accepts.
    So Will, which is to say, May what

I purpose, please, this once, and what
    will happen coincide.

And who hasn‘t felt the urgency or desperation to ask that question? "The Selvage" by Linda Gregerson is a mostly accessible collection of 18 poems rendered in a prosodic style.

Certain of these confections are driven by an easy, if flavorful, flow of straight passages presented as verse and resulting in the slightest alterations to meanings.

Sure, it has been done, but this is a nice combination of elements. Add to the convenience of an unobtrusive read the poet’s sweet descriptive gift, wide-ranging curiosity evidenced in subject choice, and the aptly placed piece of richer wordsmithery and you have an evocative, at times emotional experience in your hands.

It's a kind of prose with dollops of poetry where most needed.

Gregerson's poems puzzle, but not too much. And even where you never really wrap your mind around the whole garden, certain of the flowers growing within are no less satisfying.

highwayscribery admits to having only a vague notion of what is going on the poem "Varenna," but still has room in the heart for:

Quaker-gray from taupe, until
      the blackwater satins unroll their

gorgeous lengths above a sharpening
      partition of lake-and-loam.

There's a music that is pleasing and it can be found throughout the work presented here. That said, Gregerson's interest in an antiquity has her wander where only those academic poets and their academic followers dare to.

You won't need to know who Theseus was to understand "Theseus Forgetting," its lesson universal like so much scripted here.

But "Ariadne in Triumph" and "Dido Refuses to Speak" are less decipherable than some of the other poems and a guide in the back of the tome to the classic personalities employed here may suggest the author and her editors realized that some of this stuff is beyond the ken of the common cur. (guilty)

"The Selvage," is free of cliché. Its locations are not worn literary beacons like Paris, London and Prague, but off-the-grid and unknown places that add to our knowing.

The chosen topics are both ancient and contemporary.

There is an (positive) expression of Obama’s election and a poetic critique of the little girl in a red dress in Stephen Spielberg’s black-and-white “Schindler’s List. There is an appreciation for a dead dray horse a, recuperation of poet Isabella Whitney and more.

Fragments of the wide world shining throughout “The Selvage,” represent a lovely return on a minimal investment.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Remembering Jim Carroll

Today is the anniversary of poet Jim Carroll's death. Below is a reprint of highwayscribery's homage to him from that time.

Once an artist reaches a certain level of technical competence their focus becomes one of flavor.

Jim Carroll, who died Sept. 13, was the flavor of Manhattan Island at a time when they could not give it away.

Yes, Carroll's apprenticeship unfolded in the halcyon days of Warhol, Edie Sedgewick, The Factory, and Max's Kansas City. But his specific era of sway was the late 1970s and early '80s.

At least that's what he tasted like.

The poet's heyday does not seem so long ago to this scribe, which makes his death at 60 the more striking.

Carroll's work and personality were branded by downtown's ragged districts, and Greenwich Village, when they were a low-rent melange of Italian-Americans, factories, and freaks. He was one of those freaks by choice.

Or at least it would seem. We are not talking facts here. We are talking flavor.

His haunts were the abandoned industrial sites of a machine revolution gone south, or Far East.

Punk, that avenging black army of spoiled children, had taken over the factory warrens and turned them into seedy soundstages and impromptu galleries.

Its music and related events, its spirit, had so shaken the foundations of rock 'n roll's royal houses that the Rolling Stones quit the jet-set, moved into town, and wrote a song that captured the thrilling mess of it all...


With a friend, an Iranian emigre who split Tehran during The Shah's downfall, highwayscribery went to see the crystal ball drop in Times Square on New Year's Eve 1980.

It was madness, pornography, knife fights, cold beer cans in raw red hands, roving bands of black youths rumbling, the ghost of Herbert Hunke; the anarchy John Lennon so loved and which would kill him 11 months later.

We saw Carroll there. Or we didn't.

The poet's "Basketball Diaries" were hot then. Or maybe not just yet. Again, we are talking flavor, not fact, and these events and sensations are what the name Jim Carroll said at the time.

Stones guitarist Keith Richards took a shine to Carroll's work and the poet read his punky screeds to the accompaniment of the famous rocker's hot licks and to the kind of audiences others of his craft can only dream about.


highwayscribery did not have a book of Carroll's poems nor had he read the famed "Diaries," but he knew of him because, if you were young in the New York metropolitan area of those times, it was understood you damn well should.

With George "Rasta" Powell, the scribe would comb the crowds of Washington Square for kicks before heading down to St. Mark's Place where Richards owned a dive, The St. Mark's Bar and Grill. We never found the grill, but knew the bar well enough.

Carroll  was there. Or he wasn't, but we could taste him.

Moved by his ever-presence, the highway scribe bought Carroll's album, which was streaked with essences of Lou Reed and the New York Dolls. It was a great thing, this musical spoken word, this idea of the writer-rocker. You could not listen to it 'round-the-clock, but it reeked of invention and daring.

"People Who Died," is the piece that sticks out, endures.

A story about tough kids of Irish or Italian pedigree who ended up bad in the streets of Queens or the Bronx or Brooklyn, it recalls a time when being born white and privilege were not interchangeable concepts.

"They were all my friends...
And they died!"

This was how highwayscribery, for better or worse, came to poetry.

Not through the big "Dreamsongs" book of John Berryman, or by way of W.H. Auden or Sexton or Merwin or Lowell. It was through the verbal gymnastics of Allen Ginsberg on a Clash album, or the Clash themselves, or Carroll.


Maybe it was not the best path into the worlds of verse and vision, but it was a way.
And next came Rimbaud because there was another band from the same milieu called Television whose leader had the last name Verlaine, just like Jean Arthur's lover, Paul.

There was, in that time, something of an effort to sell Rimbaud as the "first punk" to a new generation living "A Season in Hell" all its own and, in highwayscribery's case, it worked well enough to set the hook.


The New York we write of here is mostly gone, the dark adventure of Times Square replaced by ESPN Zone and a lot of hum-drum security.

With Carroll's death the danger recedes a little further into the past and, 40 years from now, it will be up to his written work to conjure it anew for those unborn.

Dead poets work, too.

Carroll carried the seed of that dangerous Big Apple in his heart, chewed on it, and spit it to the sidewalk where it might be frozen by a ghostwind whipping off The Battery, tearing at the bones of The Bowery's boozy bums.

Friday, September 07, 2012

"Hey Dad"

One day
steel yourself
seek a lower center of
tell the girl or boy
tell them
the great sin of the world
that a person is capable
of anything
describe the deep and
terrible blackness.

Their eyes will smite you
scream the truth of
your lie
take apart
your idea
like a cheap toy
and lease your own
life back
to you the

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Here Comes the Sun

Over Labor Day weekend, California's solar fields set a new benchmark for generation capacity.

The California Independent System Operator reported that the state's large-scale solar feeds had cranked out 1.1 gigawatts (1.1 billion watts). The number does not account for smaller industrial and home installations that now dot the landscape.

The San Diego Union-Tribune, which ran a small report on the big news, said that's enough juice to "offset two large-scale natural gas power plants. It is also close to the peak output for a single nuclear reactor at either Diablo Canyon or the currently idled San Onofre plants."

That's real industrial-size power generation drawn from an unlimited source. It's the kind of news that takes solar/renewable energy out of the theoretical realm and drops it in every American's pot like a big juicy chicken.

The ramifications are thrilling. A reduction in reliance on foreign energy sources, a drop in tensions associated with the increasingly desperate scramble for fossil fuel, and a new hook upon which the American worker might hang their hats.

It did not happen in a vacuum, of course. It was the result of policy and the funds that go along with that policy. Out of the stimulus and new energy initiatives, the Obama administration has helped lay the foundations for a new industry and an alternative energy policy.

Yes, there was Solyndra and we can expect a bad apple or two with the kind of butter that was spread around southeastern California by the federal government.

But there were other companies too. These, aided by a rather bullying federal push and regulatory cooperation at the state level - sometimes at the expense of established environment review processes - have forged ahead, gotten permitted, and placed their panels throughout the southwestern deserts.

And now you have it. Solar energy helping bear the burden of a hot holiday weekend, filling in a gap left by an aging nuclear facility, and providing demonstrable proof that sun-power is for-real-power.