Even more surprising in this large collection are the number of poems
characterized by fragility and delicacy; I’ve been reading Bukowski
occasionally for 50 years and had not noted this before, which means I
was most likely listening too closely to his critics. Our perceptions
of Bukowski, like our perceptions of Kerouac, are muddied by the fact
that many of his most ardent fans are nitwits who love him to the
exclusion of any of his contemporaries. I would suggest you can
appreciate Bukowski with the same brain that loves Wallace Stegner and
I've always avoided Bukowski. Don't know why really—some part just not getting around to it and some part about "perceptions...muddied by the fact that many of his most ardent fans are nitwits." Maybe, too, that I grew up around bars and drunks and houses falling down the hills of West Duluth and joined the Marine Corps and went to the University of Minnesota to get away from all that. Still, you are who you are: I remember, as a very little kid visiting my dad's father's place in Hammond, Indiana and seeing—and falling in love with—a gigantic bottle of Jim Beam or Jack Daniels (you could fit an Eisenhower half dollar through the mouth and it must have been two or three feet tall & it was all we could do to turn the thing over an empty all the coins out onto the cold, hard floors in our search for Indianhead and wheat and steel pennies, buffalo nickels and mercury dimes...): anyway, this gigantic bottle that went some ways toward pickling the old man had a life-size set of rubber tits molded around it. For some reason, whenever I think of Bukowski, I think of those rubber tits and booze and scrounging for pennies & their place in that haunted little 800 square foot house in Hammond on a sweltering July day.
So, yes: maybe it's time to go and read some Bukowski. Maybe even pour a couple of shots of Bourbon, too... it's hard to know what is necessary and what isn't—what's still working and what's fucked up beyond recognition—when you're playing in the Theater of the Soul. You shouldn't, really, be playing there—and it shouldn't be theater—but you do and it is. But isn't that part of Bukowski's thing? Or Mailer's or Hemingway's or Hunter S. Thompson's? To make the play inseparable from reality, each a back-door into the other. Of course, in each of those cases the door became locked and contained some pretty bad shit, but maybe that's just another part of the play... and the reality.
A USA Today reporter called me a couple years ago to ask, “Which of the
300 books published about the Iraq war”—and this was 2005, just two
years into the war—“are going to last like Jarhead and Baghdad Express
seem destined to do?” Setting aside the assumption that
either my book or Tony’s was going to “last,” the question struck me as
ridiculous: “No one knows,” would have been the only proper answer to both her assumption and her question. But
you know—you have to play the game, right? I mentioned Generation Kill
as a likely candidate, but then said there were two big problems
inherent in any book coming out so quickly after its author had served
in a war (or a journalist had covered it): “Did they know how to write
a novel or memoir?” and “Could they get their head around it—all the
wayaround: morally, aesthetically, and so on?”
I looked back at how it had taken Hemingway and Remarque ten years or
so to digest World War One and how, with the exception of Mailer—who
had won the Story competition while still at Harvard prior to his WWII
enlistment, most of what we now consider the classic
accounts—especially in memoir—had taken decades: With the Old Breed by
Eugene Sledge came out in 1981; Farley Mowat’s And No Birds Sang in
1979; Guy Sajer’s The Forgotten Soldier—out in 1967—was almost
precocious by comparison.
There are always exceptions, it’s true, but in general: the longer you
wait, with war, the more likely you are to have developed your chops as
a writer and cleared your head—and prepared your heart—for the journeys
you have to take through your experiences & the even more difficult
one of preparing it in such a way that others might take that same
Now, along comes Matthew Eck with The Farther Shore & we’re lucky he took his time: he’s delivered a small masterpiece.
It was difficult to get to know the Vietnamese. For a start there was the language barrier. Vietnamese is a tonal language. Take the word Ba. Pronounced alto it means three. Soprano it means grandfather. Bass—poisoned food, Mezzo-Soprano—any. Heaven knows what Victoria and I ended up asking for every time we ordered the local 333 beer.
For starters, there's a nice rhythm to this paragraph. The exemplary list of difficulties culminates in a joke which is not extended beyond what is necessary. Finally, what is conveyed is not only the fact and nature of Smith's troubles, but a nice kicker about her personality: she is the sort of traveler who not only goes for a beer, but the local beer. All told in just 58 words.
I'll give a report here after the event. In the meantime, there's a good interview with Sacco at the Walker website:
There is a moment in Safe Area Gorazde where Riki continues
to sing after he eats breakfast with you and Edin; he’s leaving to join
the battle lines. You wrote, “at that moment I came as close as I ever
had to bursting into tears in Bosnia”. What was it about that moment
that got to you, when you have heard so many brutal stories about the
I think the answer to that question should lie in the pages you
mentioned and not in any exposition I can make now. Like many other
writers or artists, I've fallen into the bad habit of explaining myself
in interviews and at talks. I am beginning to understand that the work
needs to speak for itself, and that the reader's imagination has to be
allowed to put things together. I realize that will be an
unsatisfactory answer for people who are unfamiliar with the work,
You may remember this iconic photo of a Marine catching a butt during the November 2004 Battle of Fallujah—but its aftermath is another story altogether. L.A. Times photographer Luis Sinco stayed in touch with James Blake Miller after the war. His story of their relationship—and his attempts to reach out to a Marine suffering suicidally severe PTSD—is chronicled in a moving series of print and multimedia essays in the L.A. Times. I think this is the most powerful thing I've seen—in any medium—about the war in Iraq.
Annoying, full of shit, and absolutely irreplaceable: Norman Mailer is dead at age 84. He lacked Hemingway's "built-in, shock-proof bullshit detector" (but then, so did Hemingway at times), but no one since has had Hemingway's early fearlessness and constant ambition. Bellow was the greater genius by far, Roth is his own unruly animal, and hundreds have written better novels and journalism—but none with the dedication, flair and outsized personality (which sometimes achieved outsized results) of Mailer.
I'm still thinking about my responses to The State We're In series I did at kottke.org (maybe I'll have something up this weekend), but in the meantime: kudos to Mark Sarvas at Elegant Variation for getting this hilarious response to a French academic conference on Michel Houellebecq translated (by Doma Khazeni, who also translated Houellebecq's H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life for McSweeney's):
Day 1 SPERM
Wednesday October 24. 10:30 a.m.
The day’s first lecture sounds very promising: Cunnilungus and fellatio: the sexually correct in Houellebecq’s work.
Murielle Lucie Clément, an independent academic, has inventoried the
sexual practices in Houellebecq’s work. Today, we are beneficiaries not
only of her meticulous study but also of the aphorisms she has
gathered, such as this one by Romain Gary: “Fellatio may be used as
caress in the usual progression of the embrace, but certainly not as a first-aid method.”
There are some 24.5 million internally displaced persons worldwide. Now, thanks to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva, a small number of them have been given a voice, thanks to the IDP Voices project. Their first publication is Book of Life Stories: Let It Be Known, chronicling the experience of 19 internally displaced Columbians. Each individual story is also posted to the IDP Voices site, presented in both English and Spanish, as both audio and text—and all accompanied by maps showing the paths of each narrator's displacement. It's a bold and beautiful project. You might start with the narratives of Blanca, a 64 year-old former government official, or Juan, a 20 year-old peasant.
If you haven't noticed yet, I'm guest-blogging at kottke.org this week (except: 90% of you are probably coming from kottke.org anyway--in which case, see: GoTo Statement Considered Harmful (hmmm... we do have visited hyperlinks--but what about more robust, stateful hyperlink objects with n-node lookahead? Is there a Firefox extension that tells me I'm linking around in a circular graph?)). I'll be taking several friends and otherwise interesting folks out for a test-drive in Jason's Porsche until next Tuesday, at which point I'll have to hand over the keys and return to this little VW I'm driving here at Hotel Zero.
I will, however, be posting a few things here this week--so don't just up and disappear altogether.