Clive James: New Poetry Book & Life Update

With the release of Sentenced to Life, a new poetry book by Clive James, there’s been a burst of publicity, in summa mode, recounting his career, particularly his brilliant essays and later poetry.

1arsmoriI’m an avid reader of all his books. Two recent articles offer a good perspective on his current state of health and his life. He suffers from an assortment of chronic ailments, and many premature articles have all but announced his impending death. Thankfully, his recent books show he’s still creating art, and he has other books in the works. His lifestyle appears to be not all that dire.

See this article for a revealing recap of his past four years, and this article, for a view of James by his daughter, who lives nearby James’s own home in Cambridge. His estranged wife also lives nearby, and it appears that she and her daughter are giving James good support, despite his self-proclaimed breach of faith with his wife.

Many of the poems in his new book go to the heart of the pain he publicly caused his wife and daughter, and his great remorse. His incisive friend, the playwright Tom Stoppard, offers a fulsome dissection of James’s compelling voice as a writer and a critical assessment of his later poetry. James is one of the premier essayists of our time, and a recent collection Cultural Amnesia, should be required reading by aspiring journalists, critics and anyone interested in the 20th century.

To hear James read his poem Early to Bed, go here. He also reads his poem Japanese Maple in the first profile article. Don’t miss it…

Don’t Cry For Me, Billy

Cliff Potts plays opposite his wife in the film. She runs around naked in most of the film when not covered by a blanket and his shirt.

Cliff Potts plays opposite his wife in the film. She runs around naked in most of the movie when not covered by a blanket or his  shirt.

This is an independent Western shot in the early 70s with two worthy performances by Cliff Potts, who is terrifically good in this movie but whose career never reached the heights he seemed capable of, and Harry Dean Stanton. It was produced by Elliot Kastner, who did some interesting independent films. He produced Tom McGuane’s modern revisionist Western, Rancho Deluxe, and the hilarious classic, Missouri Breaks (great dialogue).

The story is stark, the dialogue is scarce, but good, and the villains are a troop of US Army cavalry who hunt down an Indian girl and rape her. Earlier, Potts’ character befriends the girl and they fell in love. After witnessing the rape, he sets out to revenge her death. He’s a convincing gunslinger who meets the fate of a lot of gunslingers: he’s shot in the back. Harry Dean appears in key scenes at the beginning and end. Good performances by James Gannon (who stared in several Sam Shepard plays) and others. It was a time when a lot of talent was underused in Hollywood, and this film shows what can be done on a small budget when in the hands of good filmmakers.

Some critics faulted the filmmakers for not having a “payoff” for viewers at the end. The girl is raped, dies, and the hero is shot dead. That’s real storytelling. The film fails because you want a happy ending? Spare me…



James Evans Sees His Masterpiece

A Javelina at Night

A Javelina at Night                                                                            Photograph copyright James Evans

James Evans has completed a series of photographs, called the Ranch Project, that are a testament to his beloved Big Bend area of desert and mountains in far West Texas. Working from his home in Marathon, a small crossroads town, Evans has risen to a new level of personal vision, revealing his inner eye and heart through his photographs of the land and the animals who live there. It is a vision of the natural world in dream-like images of the beauty and mystery that surrounds us and yet remains untouchable. To see a story about the project, go here. To see his website and hundreds of his photographs, go here.

Clive James’ Recent Poems

Unknown I’m always touched by Clive James’ essays, and his many books and poems. He’s a writer to read for a broad perspective on our world. Recently, his illness has forced him to concentrate more on his poetry. His latest work is a summing up, marked by thoughts of deep regret and death. The regret is the most tragic kind, involving affairs of the heart and the ending of close relationships. This is the last stanza of a recent, long poem, Rounded With A Sleep, which you can read here.

“All day tomorrow I have tests and scans/ And everything that happens will be real. / My blood might say I should make no more plans, / And when it does so, that will be the deal. /  But until then I love to speak with you / Each day we meet. / Sometimes we even touch / Across the sad gulf that I brought us to. / Just for a time, so little means so much: / More than I’m worth, I know, as I know how / My death is something I must live with now.”

Anthony Bourdain: Good Interview On The World and Reality

UnknownAnthony Bourdain has helped put much needed reality into the world of television, with his shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown, while his books deliver good writing and interesting takes on life. Here’s a good interview with him on Blogs of War. Check it out here.

A quote from the interview:

“My crew has NEVER been treated so well – by total strangers everywhere. We had heard that Persians are nice. But nicEST? Didn’t see that coming. It’s very confusing. Total strangers thrilled to encounter Americans, just underneath the inevitable “Death To America” mural. The gulf between perception and reality, between government policy and what you see on the street and encounter in people’s homes, in restaurants – everywhere – it’s just incredible. There’s no way to be prepared for it.”

New Harrison essay

Jim Harrison has a new novella, The River Swimmer, to be released in January, while at the same time he is experiencing a series of health issues that he writes about extensively in this essay in Brick magazine.

Difficult poetry

So-called difficult poetry has become my touchstone lately; poetry by William Empson, who seems a bit akin to Wittgenstein because of his elliptical nature; Wallace Stevens, who many people say is difficult but who seems very open to me; and Philip Larkin, for his lack of brio and his entrapment of the mundane in elegant verse. Larkin’s acceptance by the British people says a lot about the poetry of ideas, such as Stevens’, versus Larkin’s withering honesty about the grinding futility of most people’s lives, that inevitable sense of flatness that replaces the glow of the future, faith, hope and belief while people slide into old age and death. Larkin and Stevens are opposites (except in craft). Larkin leaves you with only a stripped-down self, while Stevens leaves you inside a romance, though it must be self-sustaining. For the difference, see below Larkin and Stevens….

Here is early Larkin from his youth, in The North Ship:


This  is the first thing

I have understood:

Time is the echo of an axe

Within a wood

Also, see the Stevens excerpt below this….

James Franco on directing Blood Meridian

First edition dust jacket

Here’s an excerpt from an entertainment Website on Franco talking about getting the job to direct Blood Meridian. He’s also got a project underway to direct Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

“As for Blood Meridian, which has its own remarkable and distinctive prose style and includes scenes of nightmarish violence which should prove tough to translate to screen, Franco said he got the gig by shooting a test sequence from the book, with all the trappings (among them Luke Perry). Mark Pellegrino (a.k.a. Jacob from Lost) played the Judge — one of the most horrific villains ever to grace a work of American fiction — and the sequence also starred the likes of Scott Glenn, Luke Perry, and Franco’s brother Dave, also an actor.

“Franco said: ‘We made that as a way to convince Scott Rudin to give us the rights. It was like, why should he give it to me when Ridley Scott didn’t make it? So I called him up and said, “I’m planning on doing this. You don’t have to give me any money, I can finance this shoot. Would you just wait? Don’t do anything with it until I show this to you.” And I showed it to him and he loved it.'”

To see the entire article, click here. For the 1992 interview with Cormac McCarthy in The New York Times, click here. 

the Edge

I’m not sure why I’m just discovering this website, but take a look here.
Very high level state of the art thinking that  functions something like a big idea news feed along with current real-time musings  by a group of cutting edge thinkers in a wide range of disciplines, all at play in the field of consciousness, all asking the always relevant question, “What’s going on here?”
The Edge creator, John Brockman, was interviewed in Wired magazine awhile back:
What is Edge? 

It’s a conversation. We look for people whose creative work has expanded our notion of who and what we are. We encourage work on the cutting edge of the culture, and the investigation of ideas that have not been generally exposed.

Could you explain the Third Culture?

Brockman, Warhol & Dylan, circa late 60s

In 1959 CP Snow noted in his book The Two Cultures that, during the 30s, literary intellectuals took to referring to themselves as “the intellectuals”, as though there were no others. This new definition excluded scientists such as the astronomer Edwin Hubble, the mathematician John von Neumann, and the physicists Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. In the second edition, Snow added a new essay, optimistically suggesting that a “third culture” would emerge and close the communications gap between the literary intellectuals and the scientists. Although I borrow Snow’s phrase, it does not describe the third culture that he predicted. Literary intellectuals are not communicating with scientists. Scientists are communicating directly with the general public, and in doing so they are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.

Which new writers, scientists and artists should we be following at the moment?

Research psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize for the creation of behavioural economics, is one. Jeff Bezos, Larry PageSergey Brin, Dean Kamen, Nathan MyhrvoldJimmy Wales and Salar Kamangar all came to an Edge seminar to hear him lecture. Kahneman is not exactly a household name — yet among many of the leading thinkers in psychology, he ranks at the top of the field.

What is it that gets you interested in a person or their work?

I am interested in people who can take the materials of the culture in the arts, literature and science and put them together in their own way. We live in a mass-produced culture where many people, even many established cultural arbiters, limit themselves to secondhand ideas. Show me people who create their own reality, who don’t accept an ersatz, appropriated reality. Show me the empiricists (and not just in the sciences) who are out there doing it, rather than talking about and analysing the people who are doing it.

How do you find these people?

It’s all based on word of mouth and reputation. Edge, contrary to how it may appear, is not exclusive. Elitist, yes, but in the good sense of an open elite, based on meritocracy. The way someone is added to the Edge list is when I receive a word from a Steven Pinker, a Brian Eno, a Martin Rees, an Ian McEwan or a Richard Dawkins, telling me to do so. It’s as simple as that and I don’t recall ever saying no in such circumstances.

States of mind: Joseph Conrad

“When once the truth is grasped that one’s own personality is only a ridiculous and aimless masquerade of something hopelessly unknown the attainment of serenity is not very far off.”––Joseph Conrad, letter to Edward Garrett