Monthly Archives: April 2008

‘About His Person’

An inventive bit of animation keyed to Simon Armitage’s “About His Person.”

Amsterdam weekend

I have yet to visit Amsterdam, and when I do I probably won’t seek out a hash bar because I’ve never smoked anything in my life and I’ve always been leery of dope. However, if I do decide to Cheech’n’Chong it, I hope the experience will be as entertaining as Geoff’s:

You select from the menu at the bar, you get a gram. Back home this would be the Bingo Bag Dame Fortuna rarely grants you. As a result, you and your pal are launched quickly to the Kuiper Belt. Your legs are about fifteen feet long, your cranium is pumice. It gets quiet, and everybody is staring at you. “Everyone is staring at us,” you say, and your pal says “I know.” “Do you think they heard us?” you ask. You get really quiet and think about the impossibility of ever standing up again. Then you decide to try and get to the head. Inevitably in a building in Amsterdam the head is up- or downstairs, and the stairs are twisting and steep and about two inches deep. These stairs would be challenging on any given day, but with fifteen-feet legs you best have your wits about you. Of course you have no wits about you at all. Going up or down you pass pasty-faced Yanks from Missouri or Idaho petrified with fear and clinging to a loose rail. Your feet are lower than your head and you imagine the implications of this based on Relativity–your head is older than your feet, and substantially so after all these years walking around upright. You decide to buy an inversion apparatus as soon as you get home so your feet can begin to catch up.

After a six month expedition you make it back to the table and your pal says “That was quick.”

WordPress has cleverly redone its format to make inserting videos a lot more difficult and aggravating, so I can’t include the Amsterdam dialogue from Pulp Fiction.

And if anyone has posted Patton Oswalt’s classic bit about the Amsterdam coffee houses, please oblige me with a link.

‘Samurai Song’

Robert Pinsky recites his “Samurai Song.” Find out more here.

‘Her Kind’

Anne Sexton reading her poem “Her Kind.” Find out more here.

Verse things first

Knopf is once again doing its National Poetry Month e-mail service: Sign up here and get a different poem sent to your in-box each day. This year leads off with Mary Jo Salter and Frank O’Hara.

‘The Weary Blues’

Langston Hughes said his 1925 poem “The Weary Blues” was “about a working man who sang the blues all night and then went to bed and slept like a rock.” It also incorporated what Hughes said were the first blues verses he’d ever heard: “I got de weary blues/ And I can’t be satisfied./ I got de weary blues/ And can’t be satisfied./ I can’t be happy no mo’/ And I wish that I had died.” The reading posted above is by Allen Dwight Callahan, set to a performance by Cab Calloway.

Jazz great Charles Mingus was always trying out musical settings for poetry, so it’s hardly surprising that he wrote music for “The Weary Blues.” Below you’ll find the opening of a performance featuring D.C. area poet and performer Holly Bass. And yes, she certainly does things for that green dress.

‘Here, Bullet’

Brian Turner reads the title poem from his collection Here, Bullet. The Guardian has a half-hour long podcast interview with Turner if you want to know more.

Getting into Jeopardy

Back when Merv Griffin still owned Jeopardy! I tried out to become a contestant on the quiz show. Though I made it past the initial round of tests, I apparently got too many questions wrong during the second round, when the aplicants sit in a room and watch a TV monitor with the voice of The Alex reading off the answers, so I never got the call to come in and play a simulated round. Ah well. Maybe next time.

Until then, I remain convinced that being a staff writer for Jeopardy! must be one of the coolest jobs around, and this conversation with ex-staffer Carlo Panno only strengthens that conviction.

Passages: Martin Amis

Through the good offices of James Marcus I came across these two passages from Martin Amis’ memoir Experience, a work that has a warmth and poignance missing from his fiction:

I see [Saul] Bellow perhaps twice a year, and we call, and we write. But that accounts for only a fraction of the time I spend in his company. He is on the shelves, on the desk, he is all over the house, and always in the mood to talk. That’s what writing is, not communication but a means of communion. And here are the other writers who swirl around you, like friends, patient, intimate, sleeplessly accessible, over centuries. This is the definition of literature.

Nice, right? Now this, about the aftermath of a troubling visit at Bellow’s house with Christopher Hitchens, when Amis and Hitchens found themselves helplessly laughing off their tension and anxiety:

But feelings were being mourned: feelings about the first half of life. Youth can perhaps be defined as the illusion of your own durability. The final evaporation of this illusion parches the skin beneath the eyes and makes your hair crackle to the brush. It was over. There would be hell to pay. Dying suns of a certain size perform the alchemist’s nightmare: they turn gold into lead. And there we were, in 1989, heading towards base metal. Transmutation had come to him, and would soon come to me.

The first will be instantly accessible to any serious reader. The second might have more impact for Readers Of A Certain Age right now. Wait a while, then come back to it.