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Johnny Ramone:

One night, the New York Dolls were hanging out there. They were already a band, but I hadn’t seen them yet. I pointed to Johnny Thunders and told Tommy that he looked cool. Tommy said that the band was terrible. But I knew, looking at him, that there was something there. To me, it’s always been about the look.

and

I’ve always been a Republican, since the 1960 election with Nixon against Kennedy. At that point, I was basically just sick of people sitting there going, “Oh, I like this guy. He’s so good-looking.” I’m thinking, “This is sick. They all like Kennedy because he’s good-looking?” And I started rooting for Nixon just because people thought he wasn’t good-looking.

Schilderen, roken, eten

Best wishes to all for the new year. Among my resolutions: more postings.

Philip Guston, Painting, Smoking, Eating (1973; via the Guardian). I like the heap of his signature hobnailed boots behind him — I think they stand for the compulsive quality of his work. May we all contrive both to harness and indulge our compulsions, in due proportion!

Helen Vendler’s review of the Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, edited by Rita Dove, is quite a piece of work. (It’s been widely noted in the blogosphere, e.g. here, by I think the same Anderson seen commenting on likeminded blogs.)

Dove’s response is well worth reading. But not having been gored directly, the rest of us may wonder if Vendler hasn’t just missed the point. Do we expect of an anthology that it will supply a complete and final list of the “poems to remember?” That’s from the headline, but it does reflect Vendler’s thinking –

No century in the evolution of poetry in English ever had 175 poets worth reading, so why are we being asked to sample so many poets of little or no lasting value?

How flatly she equates “lasting value” with being “worth reading”! For me, these are pretty different categories —  especially for recent work, part of whose interest is precisely that its value is still to be settled. And the expectation that an anthology should be a Golden Treasury seems particularly inapt for American culture, which despite its manifold fallings-short is organized still around a recurrent dream of mobility and self-invention.

(PS. If there were any doubt of Vendler’s specific animus in this piece, consider that the sentence I’ve quoted is offered to support the proposition that “Multicultural inclusiveness prevails.”)

On November 7, 1962, Richard Nixon conceded his loss to Pat Brown in the race for governor of California, saying famously, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” In 1963, after the assassination of President Kennedy, the Beat poet Bob Kaufman (pictured) took a vow of complete silence, spoken and written.† And in 1982, after four years as governor, Pat Brown’s son Jerry decided not to run for a third term, instead running for the Senate, losing to Pete Wilson, and withdrawing to study Buddhism in Japan.

In that spirit, it’s time for me to sign off. This has been a marvelous blog, and I’ve been happy to contribute to it. Cheers all, and see you in the ether.

† Which he kept until 1975, when he walked into a coffeeshop in North Beach and recited a poem.

This is far from the usual remit of this blog, but that remit, indeed the blog in general, seem to be in abeyance, and I don’t have another outlet for such trivia.

Eliza Griswold writes, warming up to praise Gjertrud Schnackenberg as highly as she can:

Despite this atmosphere of youth and mirth, there were a small handful of things about which the editorial staff was deadly serious. Language, the rigor and talent to wield it, was tantamount.

But not, evidently, the rigor to look in a damn dictionary to check that words mean what you think. And indeed, Schnackenberg’s poetry, by the examples given, appears to measure up perfectly to such proud but fallible praise.

(Photo by Flickr user M.V. Jantzen used under Creative Commons license.)

Here on the eastern margins of San Francisco’s supervisorial district 8, one candidate stands out — his flyers pile up in drifts in the corners, his volunteers have rung our doorbell three times, and he’s out on the streets himself soliciting votes. I’ll probably vote for him anyway — though I suppose I ought to find out what he stands for first. (At least he seems to be able to inspire passion in his staff, if not logistical rigor.) The state and national races are not even as engaging as that — the stakes are high, true enough, but the less-bad candidates seem likely to win, on the whole.

How’s it looking where you are? Anybody volunteering?

(CC-licensed photo by Flickr user sashax)

The Paolo Soleri

Paolo Soleri, now 91, was born in Turin and studied architecture there. He came to the US in the 1940s to work with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West. (He recounts amusingly (The Urban Ideal, 23-4) that with the little English he commanded at the time, he found himself on a bus to Tolleson, Arizona before being set right.) After a few years back in Italy, he returned to Arizona, setting up an architectural center of his own, Arcosanti. Much of its income came from handcraft projects, such as cast metal bells; but it has also been a laboratory for his architectural ideas.

He’s a visionary, who has seen certain ecological issues very clearly — notably, that the most sustainable mode of living for billions of humans on this planet of ours is to cluster together in cities, leaving as much as possible of nature to nature. Check out the wide-ranging interview with Jerry Brown (1, 2), from back when Brown was doing his radio program We The People. There’s a paradox in Soleri’s choice of a non-urban site for the project — a spot that began as wilderness but has been swamped by the development of Scottsdale and greater Phoenix. (Brown, introducing Part 2: “a place called Arcosanti, an urban, well it isn’t an urban laboratory, but it is a desert laboratory about a type of urban space and the people are there, what I would say a very elegant, frugal and dense, and complex way of being.”)

Along with his years of advocacy and charismatic projection of green architecture, though, he has built a few very interesting practical projects outside Arcosanti. During the Italian interim, for example, he designed the Solimene ceramic factory at Vietri on the Amalfi coast. Its fluted exterior alternates between glass and columns covered with tiles and plates from the factory’s own production.

And in 1965, at the Santa Fe Indian School, he designed and built an amphitheater, known for decades as “the Paolo Soleri”. By his account, it was conceived for Native American theatrical performance, but it is also well known for graduations, community functions, and music. The school has lately been demolishing a number of its older buildings, including several of real historical interest — check out the murals in the old photo of the dining room. And now they plan to take down the amphitheater as well (the title of my post is from a report by a local TV station).

There’s a petition to urge the head of SFIS to reconsider the demolition. Please sign if you’re interested. Senators Bingaman and Udall have expressed support for the preservation of the amphitheater, if not yet promised funds. And here’s Lyle Lovett speaking on the issue.

(Via Conrad Skinner. Updated after comments.)

I had a vaguely negative impression (mainly received rather than first-hand) of Herman Melville’s abilities as a poet; but “Shiloh” is pretty strong.

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
    The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
    The forest-field of Shiloh —
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
    Around the church of Shiloh —
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
        And natural prayer
    Of dying foemen mingled there —
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve —
    Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
    But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
    And all is hushed at Shiloh.

A military sentimentality I can get behind. The density of rhyme is certainly artificial, and the specific rhymes could be criticized as “easy”; but they’re effective nonetheless. For example, in lone/one/groan, the weak word is “one”, but since it’s weak both semantically and phonetically, there’s a harmony to the choice; the result is almost as if the line division had fallen four syllables earlier. And I always appreciate a layered temporal perspective: the foreground, so to speak, is the present, with swallows in clouded days, and the background is the famous battle, but the focus of the poem is on a middle ground, the night after the battle, in which the foemen painfully died.

(I have no special occasion to post this — I happened on an old bookmark.)

UPDATE: Restored thanks to Eric’s quick warning and Google’s all-seeing cache.

Via Steve Benen, an awesome or rather horrific photo-set of the oil’s arrival on the Louisiana coast.

We hear about fears of its effects on the American Gulf coast, and of what might happen as it moves out into the Atlantic — but has there been much discussion of its effects on other Caribbean countries? This map, for instance, shows that it’s expected to move past Havana and the north coast of Cuba.

Update 5/27: optimistic reports.

Warsaw, 1938

The Times article on Roman Vishniac’s photographs of Jews in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust (a few days old now) is fascinating. I didn’t know him primarily through A Vanished World, the book that’s now (somewhat) in question. Rather, I knew first his scientific photography, probably through the many back issues of Scientific American lying around the house as I grew up. Then, when I began to look more seriously at general photography, I spent a long time with John Szarkowski’s Looking at Photographs, in which he’s represented by this dramatically suggestive scene.

From Maya Benton’s research, it seems that in composing the book, Vishniac winnowed down the wide variety of pictures he took, to present a vision of Jewish Eastern Europe as old, rural, narrow, timeless; and that he arranged them to illustrate narratives that didn’t really take place. Neither takes away, though, from the strength of individual pictures, especially when the suggestion of narrative within them is as strong and ambiguous as in this one. It looks like the man is telling the girl something, but what? Not exactly welcome news, I think.

(Image by Flickr user northcascadesnationalpark, used under Creative Commons license.)

Gary Snyder has written a lot of rewarding poetry over the years. But for me no single poem has been as coherent and satisfying as the first piece in his first collection:

Read the rest of this entry »

This is a guest post by our friend andrew, over by the wayside. Many thanks!

(Image from W.H. Michael, The Declaration of Independence, Washington, 1904)

On this day in 1941, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were taken out of their exhibit cases at the Library of Congress, carefully wrapped in acid-free and neutral packing materials, and placed inside a bronze container designed especially to carry them. When the packing was complete, the “top of the container was screwed tight over a cork gasket and locked with padlocks on each side.”*

The documents remained in this state for the next few days, until the Attorney General ruled on December 26th that the Librarian of Congress could “without further authority from the Congress or the President take such action as he deems necessary for the proper protection and preservation of these documents.” At which point the library went back to work:

Under the constant surveillance of armed guards, the bronze container was removed to the Library’s carpenter shop, where it was sealed with wire and a lead seal, the seal bearing the block letters L C, and packed in rock wool in a heavy metal-bound box measuring forty by thirty-six inches, which, when loaded, weighed approximately one hundred and fifty pounds.

Along with other important documents like the Magna Carta and the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration and the Constitution were then taken to Union Station in an “armed and escorted truck,” where they were loaded into a compartment in a Pullman car on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  Accompanying the documents were Chief Assistant Librarian Verner W. Clapp and some number of armed Secret Service agents.

The documents left D.C. in the evening and arrived in Louisville the next morning, where they were “met by four more Secret Service agents and a troop of the Thirteenth Armored Division, who preceded by a scout car and followed by a car carrying the agents and Mr. Clapp, convoyed the Army truck containing the materials” to the depository at Fort Knox. The documents were to be kept there until it was determined that they could once again be considered safe in Washington, D.C.

It was not the first time the Declaration and the Constitution had been moved because of war.

Read the rest of this entry »

The photographer has passed, aged 92. I’m suspicious of photography that strays even perceptibly toward the fashion end of the spectrum, but Penn (unlike, say, Avedon) somehow slips in past my Puritanical defenses. Elegant, inventive, technically proficient, various, and whimsical or eccentric enough not to be glib. Read the rest of this entry »

I like Mary Beard’s TLS blog. But this time I fear she has Gone Too Far. Or, perhaps more likely, she’s pulling our collective leg — though I don’t remember her pulling it in quite this manner before. Even out here at the veriest Edge, the cityscape is clotted with victors’ memories of the War of Eastern Aggression. Just yesterday I was out picknicking with fellow parents of future yuppies at the Black Point Battery; and of course the map is full of streets named for Vicksburg, Grant, Lincoln and the Union. (Not to speak of the Confederate general from Big Sur.)

Need we quote Faulkner again?

Image by Flickr user maduarte used under a Creative Commons license.

In an interview with the Orthodox Jewish paper Hamodia, Justice Scalia says,

More recently we have allowed the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas State Legislature. I think we have been moving back towards what the American Constitution provided.

I am not sure how Orthodox Jews feel about the Establishment Clause, but I assume they do not like driving G-d out of public life.

Steve Benen comments,

How would government staying neutral on matters of faith “drive God out of public life”? Scalia didn’t say.

Actually, I think it’s reasonably clear. Scalia is blurring, deliberately or not, the distinction between the public sphere and the government. Public life and the transactions of the Lege are not to be distinguished.

I’m no scholar of the Constitution, but it seems plain in the Preamble that it and the institutions it lays out are, at least conceptually, ordained and established by the People. (Even the people of the State of Texas likewise “ordain and establish”, though not before invoking G-d.) Government may control us in more ways than we’d like, it may employ more of us than we care to admit, but it is our creature.

I wouldn’t have thought there was a particular political chirality to this common error, but it may well now belong, if only as a rhetorical strategy, to the right. Certainly much of the Republican opposition voiced over the past year to Keynesian deficit spending was phrased in these terms — when times are tough, we have to tighten our belts! — as if the government were just like a private individual, or were the aggregate of all the private individuals it governs. (And I’ve heard the same from a winger friend.)

Am I right? It seems downright perverse that the party of the rhetoric of small government should so freely resort to a confusion that implies a kind of statism.

And does the confusion have a history? From what I recall of my civics, the Founders did their founding out of an experience in which the distinction between government and the governed had grown all too stark.

On September 1, 1967, Siegfried Sassoon died, aged 80. He had a long and productive career as poet, novelist and memoirist, but he is remembered chiefly as one of the fine group of English poets of the First World War (along with Rupert Brooke, Israel Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen, and above all Edward Thomas). For a sample of his wartime work, take “Remorse”:

Lost in the swamp and welter of the pit,
He flounders off the duck-boards; only he knows
Each flash and spouting crash,–each instant lit
When gloom reveals the streaming rain. He goes
Heavily, blindly on. And, while he blunders,
‘Could anything be worse than this?’–he wonders,
Remembering how he saw those Germans run,
Screaming for mercy among the stumps of trees:
Green-faced, they dodged and darted: there was one
Livid with terror, clutching at his knees…
Our chaps were sticking ’em like pigs … ‘O hell!’
He thought–‘there’s things in war one dare not tell
Poor father sitting safe at home, who reads
Of dying heroes and their deathless deeds.’

(Written at Craiglockhart Hydropathic, familiar to readers of Pat Barker.)

A few days ago, Ari noted that William Calley had offered a surprising apology for the massacre at My Lai. Gary Farber digs deeper in a recent, probing post — just in case you thought the massacre might have been a matter of a few bad apples, or might not have had bearing on questions in the air today.

(Also on Sept. 1, 1967,  Ilse Koch, “die Hexe von Buchenwald”, hanged herself in prison, whether with remorse or not I do not know.)

alice_neel_cropped

As relief from the grim tone of the page, with no pictures or conversations, here are some links to work by the great Alice Neel (1900-1984). A true Greenwich Village bohemian, she lived a life that (had I the time) would warrant an extensive post. Apparently her work was disparaged during the brief (and macho) hegemony of abstraction; and certainly she suffered for it, living at times on welfare. In 1934, her companion Kenneth Doolittle destroyed hundreds of her paintings “in a rage”. And yet she made an extraordinary body of work, from the 1920s into the 1980s. Her specialty was the portrait, but there are striking cityscapes and still lifes as well. Looking at the pictures, I’m perpetually surprised at how much variety she achieved with seemingly simple means — and in particular, what variety of expression and personality she could convey in the faces of her sitters.

Atrios points us to this Times article, by Jennifer Steinhauer, on the foreclosure crisis in Moreno Valley, out by Redlands in the Inland Empire. It’s inhibited by conventions of the genre, and the interviews seem only to have gone so far, but it’s suggestive — it sketches a picture of the community that took root on one street during the boom years, and the strains that were put on it by the bust.

The neighborly virtues of mutual consideration and assistance seem, in this telling, to go hand in hand with wealth, or with the exclusion of those whose wealth isn’t above a certain bar. For the established residents, moving into this neighborhood, ten years ago, was a move up, and a move away from rougher neighborhoods (El Monte, for example). And as foreclosure pushes some of them out, and the prices of the vacated houses fall to 1989 levels, they seem to fear that rough neighbors like the ones they moved away from (South LA is mentioned) may move in.

It’s possible that this element in the story is due to Steinhauer’s spin. Her concrete examples turn out to be a little more complex: for example, the line “I didn’t get this house that I paid a lot of money for to be next to a mechanic” is spoken by one of the new neighbors about one of the old ones, who’s fixing up cars to get by after losing his job. (And in context, it seems she’s objecting to being next to the auto work, not his person.) But the story left me gloomy again about our national inability to live with each other. A decent built and human environment is a right, and it’s one we generally deny to those who can’t pay a lot for it — true I think even if inadequately supported in this case.

Coates writes,

I was thinking about … Richmond yesterday, and The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” For those who are unfamiliar, the song is a mournful ballad about the fall of Richmond and Petersburg. I’m told that it’s a great song, and I don’t so much doubt this, as I doubt my own magnanimity.

I don’t think it’s reasonable for anyone to expect him to be that magnanimous. I love the song, myself, or have loved it — but I’ve always kept my fingers crossed, as it were, rather than take in the text fully. As if nostalgia for the Lost Cause could be simply a lyrical attitude, a costume to put on and then take off. But I don’t think that’s tenable. True, the song doesn’t go as far into that mythology as the radically (and deliberately) offensive “Brown Sugar”; but I think I’ve passed the point where I can forget that the Cause has a bearing on current life.

Still, what a piece of music: to pick just one detail, the way the downbeat on “the niiiight” spreads out over a full long beat itself. The clips on Youtube are mainly from later performances, e.g. in “The Last Waltz”, so here, in valediction, is one with the original LP version of the song — and, naturally, appropriate visuals. Possibly NSFW.

Paul Krugman writes,

There’s a famous Norman Rockwell painting titled “Freedom of Speech,” depicting an idealized American town meeting. The painting, part of a series illustrating F.D.R.’s “Four Freedoms,” shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbors obviously don’t like what he’s saying, but they’re letting him speak his mind.

I don’t think a look at the painting bears Krugman out. The expressions are patient, true, but beyond that, neutral. The face we see best, the wrinkled one to the left (the speaker’s right), might even be smiling. (A couple of the more obscured faces seem to be gazing heavenward with an abstract rapture like the speaker’s own.)

In any case the “town halls” that have been disrupted lately are a bit different. In these literal town hall meetings of idealized memory, the town gathered to conduct its business, making decisions on the spot — in the recent cases, representatives are coming home to their constituents, to hear and present arguments about business that will be decided later, in Washington.

But Krugman’s reading of the painting, and his analogy, are not as important, I think, as the historical question. Have we Americans really been so tolerant of diverging opinion as he claims? Reading, say, Judith Thurman’s piece on Rose Wilder Lane, it sounds as though anger at liberals and liberal policy could run pretty high in 1933 — though I’ll admit that writing “I hoped that Roosevelt would be killed” is not the same as physical violence.

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