Monday

Mar. 7, 2011

Antilamentation

by Dorianne Laux

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook, not
the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication, not
the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punch line, the door or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don't regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the living room couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You've walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You've traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the window.
Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied of expectation.
Relax. Don't bother remembering any of it. Let's stop here,
under the lit sign on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

"Antilamentation" by Dorianne Laux, from The Book of Men. © W. W. Norton & Company, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Brett Easton Ellis, (books by this author) born in Los Angeles (1964). His first book, Less Than Zero (1985), was published when he was still a student at Bennington College. He's since written five more novels, most of them about a disaffected, disengaged America. Of course that includes his third, American Psycho (1991), a satirical novel written from the first-person perspective of a Wall Street yuppie serial killer.

It was banned by the National Organization of Women and dropped by its first publisher. The critic Roger Rosenblatt wrote of it: "American Psycho is the journal Dorian Gray would have written had he been a high school sophomore. But that is unfair to sophomores." Ellis received death threats for it, and the Walt Disney Corporation even barred him from the opening of Euro Disney. The book has since enjoyed a renaissance with critics and scholars.

Ellis has said, "You don't write novels for a reaction. You write novels for very personal reasons."

He said, "Always look at the art, not the artist."

It's the anniversary of the first March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama (1965), known as "Bloody Sunday." Six hundred civil rights activists left Selma to march the 54 miles to the state capitol, demonstrating for African-American voting rights. They got six blocks before state and local lawmen attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas.

ABC News interrupted a Nazi war crimes documentary to show footage of the violence. In the blink of a television set, national public opinion about civil rights shifted. Demonstrations broke out across the country.

Two weeks later, the March from Selma made it to Montgomery, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, federal court protection, and these words from President Lyndon Johnson: "There is no issue of States rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights." When they got to Montgomery, they were 25,000 strong.

Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" was published in The New Republic magazine (1923). He called it, "My best bid for remembrance." It certainly was, and one of the best known and loved poems in all of American literature.

Right before he wrote it, Frost (books by this author) stayed up all night working on a different poem called "New Hampshire." He'd never worked all night on a poem before, and he was feeling pretty good about that, and so he went outside to watch the sun rise. It was the middle of June and there was no snow in sight.

He suddenly got an idea there, and rushed back in and wrote "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," almost without lifting his pen from the page. He said of the experience, "It was as if I'd had a hallucination."

Frost said poetry could make you "remember what you didn't know you knew."

It's the anniversary of the death of Alice B. Toklas (books by this author). The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) is about her, but it isn't an autobiography exactly. Gertrude Stein wrote it. The two were inseparable for nearly 40 years, holding court in their famous flat in Paris's Left Bank, queens of "the lost generation," hosting the best writers and artists of the times — Hemingway and Fitzgerald and T.S. Elliot and Sherwood Anderson, Matisse, and Picasso.

Toklas wrote The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (1954), but it isn't a cookbook exactly. It's an autobiography and a cookbook mixed together. It includes her infamous recipe for hashish brownies, and it ends with Gertrude Stein's death in 1946, though Alice would live until this day in 1967, in Paris, cooking.

On this date in 1857 it was wisely decided that a baseball game would be made up of nine innings instead of 21 "aces" or runs.

The National Association of Baseball Players decided this. They were a group of men in New York and Brooklyn baseball clubs playing under what was known as the "Knickerbocker Rules," and they had just gotten together formally for the first time in January.

They had agreed that baseball was "manly and healthful" and should be promoted that way to young men as, they told the paper, an "alternative to billiards … and other unmentionable night amusements." And they had done away with the practice of hitting the runner with a thrown ball to get him out, which caused fistfights.

But they knew that spectators were coming to baseball games, and under the Knickerbocker Rules a game could be over very quickly. So they changed the rules so as not to disappoint the sport's new fans, which might pay money to see them.

On this day in 2003, nearly every musical on Broadway shut down when 325 orchestra musicians walked out on strike. The League of American Theatres and Producers had suggested that the minimum number of orchestra musicians in large shows be reduced from 24 to six or seven. The musicians saw themselves being replaced, and a strike seemed so imminent that Cats began rehearsing with a computer-generated orchestra. It was all the proof the musicians needed.

The strike was on, and Broadway was dark for four days, until everyone settled on a minimum of 18 musicians. The agreement stands for 10 years, which means the question of how many musicians makes for a Broadway orchestra will come up again in 2013.

On this day in 1994, the Supreme Court ruled that parody can be protected by the fair-use clause of the Copyright Act of 1976. The ruling came about when the rap group 2 Live Crew used elements from "Oh Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison in their song "Pretty Woman."

Orbison's song is about a man's desire for a pretty woman he sees walking down the street. The 2 Live Crew version uses the same guitar riffs and melody, but the relationship has advanced, or rather deteriorated, as she is now a hairy woman, a bald-headed woman, and a two-timing woman.

The music publishing company that owns Orbison's song sued Luther Campbell, the head of 2 Live Crew, for copyright violation, saying he used too much of the original work and gained commercially from it. Campbell argued that he had fair use and the Supreme Court agreed.

Bruce Rogow, the attorney who argued for Luther Campbell, said, "the case stands for the principle that there must be breathing room for artists to create new works." And Supreme Court Justice David Souter wrote, "Like less ostensibly humorous forms of criticism, [parody] can provide social benefit by shedding light on an earlier work and, in the process, creating a new one."

Today, rapper Luther Campbell is a columnist for the Miami New Times. He might run for mayor of Miami-Dade County.

It's the birthday of literary critic and James Joyce scholar William York Tindall, (books by this author) born in Williamstown, Vermont (1903). He wrote four books about Joyce, including A Reader's Guide to James Joyce (1995), and became president of the James Joyce Society.

Shortly after graduating from Columbia University, he traveled to Paris, where he bought a copy of Joyce's book Ulysses (1922). By pure coincidence it was June 16, the day all the action happens in the book. Tindall became obsessed with Joyce, and when he returned to the U.S. and started teaching at New York University, he was one of the first professors to assign Ulysses. It was banned in the U.S. at the time, so students had to read from one bootlegged copy, which was chained to a desk in the library.

It's the birthday of one of the great Texas troubadours and a legend in songwriting circles, Townes Van Zandt, born in Fort Worth (1944). He was born into wealthy oil family, and they moved around quite a bit when he was a young kid – to Minnesota, Colorado, and Illinois-- but he abandoned wealth for poetry and singing and living couch to couch. His focus was the words and the story. Though he never had a hit of his own, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard took his song "Pancho and Lefty" all the way to No. 1 in 1983. Others recorded him too — Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, The Cowboy Junkies.

His friend Steve Earle famously said he was "the best songwriter in the whole world," adding, "I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that." To which Van Zandt was said to have replied: "I've met Bob Dylan and his bodyguards, and I don't think Steve could get anywhere near his coffee table."

Years later, Earle recanted. He said, "When somebody's as good as Townes Van Zandt was and more people don't know about it, it's Townes's fault. Part of him didn't consider himself worthy of anything." Van Zandt died in 1997, at age 53.

It's been said that hearing a Van Zandt song "is like standing in front of a Van Gogh or a Renoir. You want to be able to access that part of any artist or writer or poet. ... They show you what a true artist is capable of doing."

The first verse of "Pancho and Lefty" (1972):
Living on the road my friend
Was gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron
Your breath's as hard as kerosene
You weren't your mama's only boy
But her favorite one it seems
She began to cry when you said goodbye
And sank into your dreams

It's the birthday of novelist William Boyd, (books by this author) born in Accra, Ghana (1952). He's the son of Scottish immigrants to Africa, who sent him to boarding school back in Scotland when he was nine years old, and from then on he only visited them on vacations.

His father sent him letters from Africa, trying to persuade him to do something more practical with his life than write stories. Boyd said, "Every piece of advice he gave me I just quietly ignored."

His first novel, Good Man in Africa (1981), won several awards and became a best-seller. He has since written many more, including The Blue Afternoon (1993), Armadillo (1998), and Restless (2006).

It's the birthday of novelist Robert Harris, (books by this author) born in Nottingham, England (1957). In 1987, he was on vacation in Italy, lying on the beach, listening to the German tourists, when he suddenly imagined that he was living in a world where the Nazis had won. Of writing the first page of that first novel, Fatherland (1991), he said it felt "like having had a powerful car in the garage, and switching it on, and realizing that there was literally nothing you could not do."

Fatherland became an international best-seller, and he's since written many other best-selling books of historical fiction, including Enigma (1995), about British code breakers during World War II, Archangel (1998), about the search for a secret Stalin diary, and Pompeii, about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (2003). He's now on to a trilogy about the ancient Roman leader Cicero. The second installment, Conspiritata, came out last February (2010).

Harris, who was a BBC correspondent and newspaper columnist before he was a novelist, said, "It is perfectly legitimate to write novels which are essentially prose poems, but in the end, I think, a novel is like a car, and if you buy a car and grow flowers in it, you're forgetting that the car is designed to take you somewhere else."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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