Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mark Your Calendars

Rolling Stone magazine reports here that March 13, 2006, will mark this year's Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Roll your eyes or whatever, but I would kill to be at the Waldorf-Astoria that night for the shindig. This year's honorees:

Black Sabbath, Blondie, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Sex Pistols.

And Miles Davis. Miles Davis? Wow.

Talk about some significant company. I wonder how Sid Vicious would feel about such an honor?

On a related note, Harry Potter aka Daniel Radcliffe, in the December issue of music magazine Blender, draws on his years of experience to send a shout-out to the Pistols and their classic LP Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols:

"This is my favorite album of all time, and I got into it during the filming of Harry Potter 2, when I was 12. I was obsessed with punk back then. If the Beatles were a phenomenon, then the Sex Pistols were a revolution. Punk is about rebellion, about not caring what other people think of you, and being free. And it's not about fighting. I don't fight. I don't spit, either."

I'm not a Sex Pistols afficionado but I do share Mr. Radcliffe's appreciation of this record. It does kick major ass, even 28 years after it's release. lists it as #2084 in music sales, and is #9 in Irvine, CA and #5 in Argentina, whatever that means. For a little perspective, amazon ranks Pearl Jam's sophomore effort Vs. #4901 in music sales. Granted these rankings could be affected by as little as one purchase, but they are fun to look at.

Anyway, I remember when we convinced a dj at an Iolani dance to play some Sex Pistols, much to the horror of the teacher-chaperones and the dispassionate students. The dj played "Bodies," an expletive-laced song about abortion, which didn't go over well at all. I still remember Mr. Kay, the science teacher, nearly running to the dj's equipment in an effort to stop the eternal racket. For those few of us who suffered through Iolani dances in the cafeteria, we were thrilled to hear anything with a guitar, let alone a distorted one. For a little perspective, Iolani is a privEpiscopalianlian school who, back in the early 1980's shot down the dance theme "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics because of the lyrics "Some of them want to be used by you." Ah, sweet memories of teenoppressionsion by authority figures!

Anyway, it's nice to know Harry Potter doesn't fight or spit, but he likes good music. If you want to see what other albums Radcliffe likes, look here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Top 20 Books, #12

Coming in at #12 is Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

Murakami is considered the premier fiction writer in Japan today. He has a cult following. I picked up my first Murakami book at a sale at the South Pasadena Library back in 1994. I had heard of Murakami through The New Yorker. The book I picked up, A Wild Sheep Chase, was like nothing I had ever read. I was hooked.

Somewhere in the sequence of reading everything by Murakami in English, I picked up Hard-Boiled Wonderland... . It was nothing like his other books and blew my mind. Among diehard Murakami fans in America, it is considered a dark horse favorite. It hurts to list it as high as #12. As I write this, I want to rank it higher. It's indescribingly good in a haunting way. It is one of the rare novels I have read that has so thoroughly sucked me into its cortex. It's a very cerebral experience. Here is a brief description purloined from

"The last surviving victim of an experiment that implanted the subjects' heads with electrodes that decipher coded messages is the unnamed narrator of this excellent book...Half the chapters are set in Tokyo, where the narrator negotiates underground worlds populated by INKlings, dodges opponents of both sides of a raging high-tech infowar, and engages in an affair with a beautiful librarian with a gargantuan appetite. In alternating chapters he tries to reunite with his mind and his shadow, from which he has been severed by the grim, dark "replacement" consciousness implanted in him by a dotty neurophysiologist. Both worlds share the unearthly theme of unicorn skulls that moan and glow. Murakami's fast-paced style, full of hip internationalism, slangy allegory, and intrigue, has been adroitly translated."

I know, I know, it sounds weird. It is, but he writes in such a matter-of-fact way that the weirdness seems natural.

If you've never read Murakami, I hesitate to recommend this one first. Save it for later. Read instead, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, which was Murakami's "breakthrough" book in the U.S., published here in 1997. His recent Kafka on the Shore, from earlier this year, is also quite good. Once you've decided whether you like Murakami or not, then read Wonderland... . It will remain with you forever.

I could go on and on about Murakami and will most likely do so in future posts. In the mean time, welcome yourself to his world.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Weekend Update

Catching up here and telling y'all about a busy weekend.

Friday Night, Melanie brought the girls into Manhattan and I hung out with them while she worked out at the Chelsea Piers Field House. Jolee and Shayna bowled at the Chelsea Lanes and, despite some back-and-forth lead changes, Shayna finished strong with a spare and a strike to decisively defeat her older sister 121-92.

Saturday Morning, after a brisk (temp in the 30's) 10-mile bike ride, we headed back into the city. Shayna actually went off with grandma and saw the remake of Yours, Mine & Ours, while Jolee, Melanie and I joined friends Kelly and Diane at the Loews IMAX at Lincoln Square to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in IMAX format. Overall it was decent, made particularly special by seeing it in the IMAX format, which I recommend to anyone who may be going to see the film. The movie is true to the book and overall, an entertaining spectacle. However, I still regard the last film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as the best so far.

Sunday found us at a friend's wedding, my old co-worker Janet married her beloved Lionel. Janet asked me last week if I wanted to read a poem at the ceremony/reception, which was at Pasha, a fine Turkish restaurant on West 71st Street.

If you're interested in reading the poem, I have posted it on BillyBlog's alter-ego, BillyBlog2. The poem, entitled "Love is a Three-Legged Cat" can be found here.

All this, and laundry and groceries and shopping too! Sorry for the paucity of posts over the weekend.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Sayonara Pat Morita

Noriyuki "Pat" Morita

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Presidential Turkeys

First Truman, no Eisenhower photo, then JFK.

Tricky Dick
Ford, but not Carter.

Then Reagan.

Then Bush I, Clinton, and

then yesterday: George W. Bush:

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Pearl Jam Starts Their South American Tour

Opening Line Quiz

Hey, have some fun, take a literary quiz, matching the opening lines of famous novels to the correct title and author. The quiz is here. I got 8 of 13 correct, which they say is "Not Bad," but looks to me like a "D," if you ask me. More embarassing, 2 of the incorrect answers were from books I have read and one was from one of my "Top 20" books.

Please come back after the quiz and tell us your score in the comments section!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Monday Morning Maiden

A great way to start the week: a huge dose of Iron Maiden before 7:00 AM.

In fact, the iPod shuffle treated me to one of my favorite Maiden songs, "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," from their illustrious album Powerslave.

"OK, What gives?" you may be asking. "Isn't this topic a little, well, specialized?"

Well, yes it is, but nonetheless, I am compelled to share.

Powerslave was released September 3, 1984, at the start of my senior year in high school. Formative indeed. Maiden's previous album, Piece of Mind, considered by many to be their masterpiece, was a tough act to follow. It was this album, part two of the Iron Maiden one-two punch, that marked the zenith of their career, at least in this humble metalhead's opinion.

The crowning glory of this record, in my mind, above and beyond the hit success of the singles "Two Minutes to Midnight" and "Aces High," was the song that bit into me this morning as we came off the Manhattan Bridge on the N train.

"Rime of the Ancient Mariner," written by bassist and original founding member Steve Harris, anchored the album with a whopping length of 13 minutes and 39 seconds, an unusual venture for a heavy metal song.

As one would guess, this song was inspired by and based on the 1797 poem of the same name by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. For a young man seeking validity for the genre of heavy metal music, this song was more than enough fodder for the literary cannon.

Harris' lyrics retell the tale of Coleridge's poem in true poetic form and the song actually quotes Coleridge directly, straight from the text. Again, this sort of high-mindedness set Maiden fans apart from other headbangers.

The music critic Chuck Klosterman, in his landmark book Fargo Rock City : A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota, poked fun at Maiden when he categorized all the metal bands based on how they portrayed women in song. Maiden's label, I believe, was "interested in dead girls," alluding to the fact that Maiden rarely sang about "chicks" like other metal bands, and focused instead on other matters (i.e. Frank Herbert's Dune, nuclear proliferation, dogfighting in WWII, Icarus and Daedalus, the Native American struggles against early American settlers, etc). Alas, too many remember Iron Maiden from The Number of the Beast, and think of them as a Satan-worshipping group. That couldn't have been further from the truth.

2005 also marks the 20-year anniversary of the one and only time I saw Iron Maiden in concert, on March 31, 1985 at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center Arena in Honolulu.

For me, of course, the highlight of the show was their performance of the song in all its glory.

Hear the rime of the ancient mariner

See his eye as he stops one of three

Mesmerises one of the wedding guests

Stay here and listen to the nightmares of the sea . . .

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Part 5

Behold the power of wind and rain and time.

Here is the latest installment of our tree, across the street, growing in Brooklyn.

Very little green, and it's starting to go bald on top.

That's the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, by the way, over its shoulder.

The last installment of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, here on BillyBlog, can be found here and contains further links to parts 1-3.

Friday, November 18, 2005

One Man's Trash, Another Man's Blogfodder

Brooklyn, 92nd Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues, November 17, 2005, 6:45 PM

Thursday, November 17, 2005

NBA 2005 Winners

Congrats to the 4 winners of the National Book Award:

William Vollman for fiction, "Europe Central," pictured (left) with presenter Andre Dubus III.

Joan Didion won the non-fiction prize for "The Year of Magical Thinking."

The award for young people's literature went to Jeanne Birdsall for her debut novel, "The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy."

The poetry prize was awarded to W. S. Merwin, the Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the great American living poets, who had been nominated seven previous times for the National Book Award but never won. His most recent volume, "Migration: New and Selected Poems," was published by Copper Canyon Press.

Several of the sentences above were lifted from the New York Times article on the awards.

For those of you following BillyBlog, you may realize that I was 0 for 4, a complete and utter goose-egg on predicting the winners.

A Sign of the Coming Apocalypse

Recognize anyone? The woman on the left is Ashanti. The man is Ja Rule. The girl in the middle is Amber Ridinger. This is a photo from...wait for it....her bat mitzvah reception. To quote from an MTV news story here:

"On Saturday, Amber, a Miami Country Day School eighth-grader and aspiring fashion designer, became an adult — and it only cost her parents $500,000. Ridinger's bat mitzvah ceremony was followed by a chichi party that doubled as an out-of-this-world 13th-birthday celebration. It unfolded inside Miami Beach club the Forge, and the party's guests arrived in limos to a pink carpet cluttered with television cameras and local news crews."

There are so many things wrong with this story that I don't know where to begin. Is there a rabbi in the house that can comment on this (wink wink, nudge nudge)?

Perhaps I am merely bitter because all my parents could do for me was have Tiny Tim play at my bris. And Amber's dress cost more than my wedding.

As they say in Miami, Oy Gevalt!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

National Book Awards Reading

Last night I attended a great reading at The New School, featuring 21 readers, all representing the nominees for this year's National Book Awards. All nominees in the four categories: fiction, non-fiction, young people's literature and poetry.

Ah, New York City! I loves ya!

A little background: this is an annual event, the show before the show, yet it is the first time I have attended one. Why, pray tell? Well, since arriving in Gotham, I have been treated since 1997 to a N.B.A. reading of sorts, or a signing, courtesy of Barnes & Noble, which has hosted a reading of the poetry nominees in one of their stores the week of the readings, or for several years, had a massive lunchtime reception in which all the nominees sit behind tables and sign books. This year, they did nothing, and I expressed my dismay at this last week at the Billy Collins reading to the head of store events at the B&N, Union Square.

So, deprived of my annual NBA signing ritual, I ventured to make this reading. It was almost disastrous. I arrived early to stake out a good seat only to find the event "sold out." I was cordoned off, 2nd in line, in an area designated for admittance in the event that there were remaining seats at the start of the reading. My earliness was rewarded when a woman approached the front of the line and announced she had two extra tickets, did we need them? Some guy was behind her and made a play for them and she snapped, "I offered them to these nice people, already in line." He hovered. While we were fumbling with our cash, he asked her again. She glared, "Now you'll get nothing!" and the man slinked away. We paid our $10 and she handed us our tickets. I thanked her profusely.

Upon entrance to the Tischman Auditorium, famous as the venue for Inside the Actor's Studio, I was handed a program and groaned slightly. Joan Didion and W.S. Merwin, definitely two of the bigger nominees, would not be attending. Substitute readers were listed. Oh well, that allowed me to focus on fewer authors after the event for signings.

Prior to the event, the readers and their guests arrived from backstage and walked into the auditorium, wearing their NBA nominee medals. I was distracted by a young British man behind me talking to his friend about visiting New York City for the first time since before 9/11. To quote, "I went down to Ground Zero. It wasn't that depressing. It's just a big hole in the ground. It's scary."

The event started 8 minutes late, and was introduced by Robert Polito, head of Creative Writing at the New School. He introduced Phillip Gourevitch (pronounced ger-ay-vitch, much to my surprise) who emceed the event and introduced the writers. He is the new editor of The Paris Review and an award-winning writer, most notably for We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda.

He started off talking about the New York Times and their now annual ritual of trashing the National Book Awards. He made light of them of course, referring to Times columnist A.O. Scott's essay about the awards from this past Sunday's issue called "Medal Fatigue." He then mentioned that Norman Mailer would be receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Awards Ceremony tonight (Wednesday) and would be introduced by Toni Morrison. Too bad they didn't come Tuesday! He then read an excerpt from Mailer's Armies of the Night, a former NBA winner that alluded to (in the excerpt) Robert Lowell reading a poem at a war protest.

And then they were off! Four readers, one from each category, reading in five blocks, with a ten-minute intermission after block #3.

Block 1: Brendan Galvin, poet. Unmemorable. Adam Hochschild, non-fiction, interesting. E.L. Doctorow, fiction, phenomenal. Chris Lynch, young people's writing, extremely good. It should be noted, unlike all the others, Doctorow exited stage left and did not return to his seat, unlike all the other nominees.

Block 2: Rene Steinke, fiction, interesting. What should have been Joan Didion (my writer's desk calendar will have to wait to be signed), was instead the actor Griffin Dunne (left), best known for the films "After Hours," and "An American Werewolf in London." Dunne is the nephew of John Gregory Dunne, Didion's husband, whose death is central to her nominated memoir. He stumbled early on, but recovered and gave a nice reading of Didion's memoir.
Then Walter Dean Myers (left), young lit, and from what I could tell, the only non-white nominee, which could be one of the biggest criticisms of the nominees, their homogeneousness. And finally, John Ashbery, recently profiled in The New Yorker. He read two poems, "Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse," and "Interesting People of New Foundland."Quite good. When finished, much to my dismay, he exited a la Doctorow, but returned through the audience during the next block.

Block 3: Alan Burdick, very funny, reading from his book on naturalism, a fine excerpt about the invasion of Guam by the Australian brown tree snake. Frank Bidart then read some poetry. Adele Griffin did the young folks thing. And Christopher Sorrentino read fiction. Nothing memorable there.

During intermission, people milled about. I considered going for some signings, but it was packed and a book dealer, who I recognized from prior readings, also stayed put. The guy next to me however, had books too. He made an effort to penetrate the crowd to the front of the room, but came back unsuccessful, the book in his hands unsigned. I asked him, "Did Doctorow leave?" He nodded and said "Yes, he usually does." Another dealer.

Block 4: Jim Dwyer & Kevin Flynn took turns reading from their book about what it was like in the WTC after the first plane struck and before the second tower came down. You could hear a pin drop. The novelist William Vollmann read
next, a fiction piece about Germany around 1917. He began by saying that "People tell me I read at an interminably slow pace, but rest assured, it is only two and a half pages." I was surprised at his youth, 46, as I always thought he was an older writer. Then Mark Doty read for W.S. Merwin, "at home on Maui, in the town of Haiku, the most poetic place name on Earth." Doty read one piece, Merwin's "The Vixen," the title poem from the book of the same name. Then Deborah Wiles read young people's admirably.

Home stretch, last block: Leo Damrosch bored me to tears reading abut Rousseau and Ben Franklin. Jeanne Birdsall read young people's. Vern Rutsala (pictured), a poet I had never heard of, read three good poems, "Traffic Watch," "Cards from My Aunt," and "Billie Holliday." And then finally, Mary Gaitskill read from her novel "Veronica."

Now, I took off Monday and forgot to bring in books that I could have had Ashbery and Bidart sign. I ended up obtaining signatures from Ashbery in my anthologies Preferences, and The Best American Poetry 2000 and 2001. As Ashbery signed the first book, I heard David Lehman, editor of the Best American Poetry series, explaining the Preferences book to the person he was standing with. Ashbery was a bit confused by why I asked him to sign the 2000 edition, as he didn't have a poem in that volume. However, the back of the book features lists from all the previous guest editors of their favorite poems of the 20th century. I'd already had these lists signed by Donald Hall, Mark Strand, and Jorie Graham, so figured the more the merrier. Next, I had Frank Bidart sign his contributions in The Best American Poetry 1998, 2002, and 2003. For those playing the home game, my 1998 anthology is the current leader, boasting 34 poets' signatures, out of 77 total.

Finally I asked Mary Gaitskill (pictured at a different reading) to sign her story "The Nice Restaurant" in a New Yorker anthology of love stories. Gaitskill cringed. She said, "Actually, this is probably my least favorite story I have ever published. The New Yorker surprises me sometimes." I apologized (for what reason I'm not sure), but she agreed to sign it anyway.

Anyway, I wanted, based on my experience, to predict tonight's winners and see how close I get, so here goes:

Poetry: Vern Rutsala
Fiction: E.L. Doctorow (right)
Non-Fiction: Dwyer and Flynn, for 102 Minutes
Young People's: Chris Lynch

Check in tomorrow to see how I did!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Top 20 Books, #13

After a one-week hiatus, the top 20 book list returns with number 13, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.

My junior year at Occidental, I took an amazing class called "World Literature" from Prof. Modhumita Roy, an associate professor of English who can best be described as a tiny, sari-clad, with bright, shining eyes and a winning smile. She was a wonderful professor who taught a magnificent class covering world literature, but with an Asian influence. I wish I still had the syllabus from this class and I have even toyed with contacting Prof. Roy (now at Tufts) and asking for a new reading list.

To the best of my memory, she introduced us to Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's Heat and Dust, J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians, Saadat Hasan Manto's short story collection Kingdom's End and Other Stories, and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.

There were other titles in there, but these are what pop to mind. Alas, I read them all, but due to some circumstances, did not get to or through the Rushdie title. I still feel guilty about missing that opportunity.

In fact, a year later, I think I ran into Prof. Roy at some English Department function and confessed that I had managed to skip the book in her class. She appeared distressed, not that I had traversed her class without reading an assigned text, but that I had not read this particular one. "It's such a wonderful book," she quipped in her proper Queen's English,"you really should give it another go. You won't regret it."

It took the Ayatollah Khomeini and his fatwa against Rushdie to finally get me to read Rushdie, and then it was The Satanic Verses. This title, much maligned, was very difficult, but I discovered while reading it how wonderful Rushdie's writing was. I struggled through it, driven by the fact that, despite the tough narrative, I would give Midnight's Children it's due.

Like someone kicking himself after falling in love with someone who's been under his nose for years, I embarked on this remarkable novel and Rushdie skyrocketed to the top of my favorite author's list. I have since read nearly everything by him (except for his last book Fury and the recently-released Shalimar the Clown), but Shame, The Moor's Last Sigh, and The Ground Beneath Her Feet all followed on my reading list through the years and Rushdie seldom disappoints. Ground Beneath Her Feet is also truly remarkable.

Midnight's Children tells the tale of the children of India born in the moments after India attained independence from the British. These children, spread out across the subcontinent, by chance of their birth, have each obtained unusual and mystical powers that separate them from the world. It is a truly wonderful story and I strongly recommend it to all.

And no, I do not have a hardcover 1st edition, signed or unsigned, of Midnight's Children. A true first, US edition, unsigned, is $1000 and up. So if you win the lottery, think of me. Channukah is just around the corner. In the mean time, read the book! You won't regret it.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Bruce v. Al

Yesterday, on CBS Sunday Morning, there was a profile of the 30th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run. "Jungleland," from that album, remains one of my favorite songs from the Boss. But this post is not about Springsteen. It is about a different musical genius who is extremely underappreciated and underrated. His name is "Weird" Al Yankovic.

The class clown never gets the credit he deserves. The parodist is the same. Weird Al made a cameo on last night's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and I just added song 7777 to the iPod: Weird Al's "Melanie" from his most commercially successful album, Even Worse.

Yes, I said that Weird Al is a genius. Few may agree, but I stand by that claim. Not only is he a master of mimicry, but he also writes original songs that pay homage to an artist's sound. It may not be a direct satire, but sounds like the genre. Not to mention his polka-medleys. My favorite, "The Hot Rocks Polka" is a fabulous medley of Rolling Stones' songs on the accordian.

Let me share some lyrics from one of my favorite Weird Al songs that is sung to the tune of "American Pie," and an homage to Star Wars:

The Saga Begins

A long, long time ago

In a galaxy far away

Naboo was under an attack

And I thought me and Qui-Gon Jinn

Could talk the federation in

To maybe cutting them a little slack

But their response, it didn't thrill us

They locked the doors and tried to kill us

We escaped from that gasp

Then met Jar Jar and Boss Nass

We took a bongo from the scene

And we went to Theed to see the Queen

We all wound up on Tatooine

That's where... we found... this boy


My my this here Anakin guy

May be Vader someday later - now he's just a small fry

He left his home and kissed his mommy goodbye

Sayin' "Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi, Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi"

Did you know this junkyard slave

Isn't even old enough to shave

But he can use the Force, they say

Ahh, do you see him hitting on the queen

Though he's just nine and she's fourteen

Yeah, he's probably gonna marry her someday

Well, I know he built C-3PO

And I've heard how fast his pod can go

And we were broke, it's true

So we made a wager or two

He was a prepubescent flyin' ace

And the minute Jabba started off that race

Well, I knew who would win first place

Oh yes, it was our boy

We started singin' ...

My my this here Anakin guy

May be Vader someday later - now he's just a small fry

And he left his home and kissed his mommy goodbye

Sayin' "Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi, Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi"

Now we finally got to Coruscant

The Jedi Council we knew would want

To see how good the boy could be

So we took him there and we told the tale

How his midi-chlorians were off the scale

And he might fulfill that prophecy

Oh, the Council was impressed, of course

Could he bring balance, to the Force?

They interviewed the kid

All training they forbid

Because Yoda sensed in him much fear

And Qui-Gon said "Now listen here"

"Just stick it in your pointy ear"

"I still will teach this boy"

He was singin'

...My my this here Anakin guy

May be Vader someday later - now he's just a small fry

And he left his home and kissed his mommy goodbye

Sayin' "Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi, Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi"

We caught a ride back to Naboo

'Cause Queen Amidala wanted to

I frankly would've liked to stay

We all fought in that epic war

And it wasn't long at all before

Little Hotshot flew his plane and saved the day

And in the end some Gungens died

Some ships blew up and some pilots fried

A lot of folks were croakin'

The battle droids were broken

And the Jedi I admire most

Met up with Darth Maul and now he's toast

Well, I'm still here and he's a ghost

I guess I'll train this boy

And I was singin'

...My my this here Anakin guy

May be Vader someday later - now he's just a small fry

And he left his home and kissed his mommy goodbye

Sayin' "Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi, Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi"


Pure Genius

Friday, November 11, 2005

Sunrise from the Brooklyn Bridge

What would possess someone to ride their bike at 6:00 AM in 40-degree weather?

Well, the view from the Brooklyn Bridge is always inspirational, and at sunrise, it is doubly so.

The photos do not do justice to the transcendent experience of riding in crisp Autumn air and looking into the jungle of Manhattan illuminated by the first rays of a dawning day.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Billy Collins, continued

Let's tie up some loose ends.

For the first part of the Billy Collins post, read here first.

Billy Collins. Great Poet. Yet, despite this opinion, he is scoffed at by a lot of the literary snobs and "academic" critics.

Case in point, and perhaps a subject for a later post, the literary critic William Logan, who is a hoot to read, at times, has a new book out, excerpted here. Logan has high standards for poetry and his chief bugbear is the dearth of poetry being published that is, in his words, bad. Including a lot of award-winning and anthologized poetry. I think Collins has met or would meet Logan's blistering criticism.

Why? Well, look at "Litany" from yesterday's post. It's an easy poem to read. It's whimsical. It probably doesn't have the legs to represent the age a century from now. The critic wants poems to mean something and effectively and structurally touch on lasting universal themes. Take a gander at Logan's essay, if you dare. It's, well, criticism, and although not as dry as others', does take some effort to absorb.

Back to Collins, here is my recap of the reading:

Very little of Billy Collins' work is not amusing. He's a funny, affable guy. He was also late.

Ok, only 7 minutes late, but someday, when I do a reading at Barnes & Noble, I'll be on time.

He read mostly from his new book The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems.

He started with "You, Reader" then read a bunch of unpublished "new poems". They were "Brightly Colored Boats Upturned on the Banks of the Charles," "Ballistics," which was based on the famous Harold Edgerton photograph of a bullet passing through a book, "August," "January in Paris," which spun off the Paul Valery quote "Poems are never completed, they are only abandoned," then he read "Monday," "The Trouble with Poetry," and "Litany" (published here yesterday).

"Litany" brought down the house. He then stuck to the current book for the rest of the evening, reading "The Lodger," "On Not Finding You at Home," "The Lanyard," "The Order of the Day," "Flock," "Constellations," "Carry," "Genius" and ending with "Revenant."

He also mentioned earlier that he once won $25 for writing a haiku for a magazine, which he thought was the most lucrative payoff he ever received: "At 17 syllables, you do the math," he quipped. The haiku was:

Mid-winter evening
Alone at the sushi bar
Just me and this eel.
Then he did some Q&A, nothing spectacular. One thing I jotted down was "95% of revision should be eliminating, paring."

Next came the signing. I was front row so I was third in line, and I was fully loaded. I've talked about my Best American Poetry collection, here is a pretty picture of it:

I've seen Collins before, so I didn't bring everything, but I did have him inscribe a copy of the new book and a Poetry in Motion subway poster from several years back:


The fox you lug over your shoulder
in a dark sack
has cut a hole with a knife
and escaped.

The sudden lightness makes you think
you are stronger
as you walk back to your small cottage
through a forest that covers the world.

He also signed my Best American Poetry volumes from 1993, 1998, 1999, 2003, and my two extra copies from 1992. Also, my paperback copy of The KGB Bar Book of Poems.

A nice event with plenty of signatures.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Part 4

Here's the latest from our friend, The Tree. For perspective, check here.

Blogday and Billy Collins

BillyBlog's 2-month Blogday came and went yesterday with little fanfare. Hurrah!

Speaking of Billy, last night I attended a book signing and reading at the lovely Barnes & Noble, Union Square. The guest of honor? Billy Collins, New York State Poet Laureate and former U.S. Poet Laureate.

I have a personal affection for Billy, as he was one of the poets responsible for my madcap obsession with The Best American Poetry anthology series. In the Fall of 1997, freshly Gothamized, I attended a Best American Poetry (BAP) reading at Borders, Park Avenue. Billy was one of four poets reading and they all signed my copy of that year's edition. Prior to that, the only signed anthology I owned was Grand Passion, an L.A. poetry anthology which I had found multi-signed at the Barnes & Noble in West L.A.

8 years later, I would argue that I have the finest BAP collection in the world. (Yes, I know, that's quite bold, but wait....). I have the entire run of the series, from 1988-2005, that's 18 volumes plus an extra '91 and two extra '92s and The Best of the Best American Poetry, so 22 volumes in all, all hardcover, all signed by multiple poets, some copies upward of 20-25 poets.
Don't believe me? See photo of my BAPs in the glass case.

Anyway, I could go two routes here. I usually give a detailed dispatch of readings, which can be a bit tedious, especially for those of you out there who are not poetry enthusiasts. I'm thinking. It's 6:18 AM and the brain doesn't like to work this early.........OK, I know what to do. I'll break the post into two pieces. Yippee. Problem solved. Now, I just have to write it.

Billy Collins is a rare egg, he's a funny poet. And I don't mean he is a funny guy, I mean his poems are funny. And accessible. They are not difficult. They are simple. And funny. For example, he read a poem called "Litany," one of his "greatest hits," so to speak. I've heard him read it before, and will no doubt hear it again. Sorry, can'
and ramitdownyourthroats:


"You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine..."
-Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.


to be continued.....

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Monday, November 07, 2005

Marathon Sunday

First, I thought I'd throw another photo out there, from my Sunday ride. Two days in a row! Incredible! And in November, no less. This shot is on 92nd Street, facing East, with the sun rising in the mist over Dyker Beach Golf Course, the only golf course in Brooklyn. It was brisker than Saturday, but still pleasant.

The mist on the course made me reminiscent about the countless mornings as a teenager, riding my bike to school on the Date Street bike path along the Ala Wai Golf Course in Honolulu.

I would see the mist and the lyrics to a certain Black Sabbath song, "Children of the Sea," would echo in my head:

In the misty morning, on the edge of time

We've lost the rising sun, a final sign

As the misty morning rolls away to die

Reaching for the stars, we blind the sky

We sailed across the air before we learned to fly

We thought that it could never end

We'd glide above the ground before we learned to run, run

Now it seems our world has come undone

Oh they say that it's over

And it just had to be

Ooh they say that it's over

We're lost children of the sea

Anyway. Since moving to Brooklyn, we've always gone out, on the first Sunday of every November, to watch the New York City Marathon pass by. The weather yet again cooperated and we walked the half block with our chairs to cheer the tens of thousands of runners as they whizzed by. It's always tons of fun, a local bar band sets up in the gas station across the street from our corner and jams. We're at about the 1 or 2 mile mark, so nearly everyone is in great spirits.

It's always inspiring and the kids love doing it, cheering and high-fiving passing runners. The mass of humanity that passes us is staggering (36,000+). Below is one shot of one young Brooklynite cheering on a passing runner.

Having parents who both ran a marathon or two, I am always inspired and moved by this display. I annually vow that I will endeavor to run in the following year's marathon. For about a minute or two, until reason is restored to my brain. I have never been a runner, nor do I anticipate ever becoming one. But one can certainly see the appeal of running in a race with close to 2 million spectators. Bike Tours are a lot less interesting to folks here in NYC.

It's also a little misleading from our vantage point at mile 2. People endeavoring to run a marathon can usually make it 2 miles. If we were at the end of the route, watching the pain and agony of people as they hit "the Wall," perhaps it would not be such a tempting endeavor.

Then again, if Yavuz Sap, of Turkey, can finish in 36,893rd place, after 9 hours 59 minutes and 58 seconds on the course, why can't I?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Saturday Cycling

It's gorgeous in New York right now, unseasonably pleasant for November. I finally mustered the will to dust off the bike and go riding, in order to take advantage of the 60-degree weather. Thought I'd share photos from my normal ride, a loop that takes me from our place down to the 69th Street Pier, near Owl's Head Park. I then follow the path along the Verrazano-Narrows, under the bridge made famous in Saturday Night Fever, and one of the longest suspension bridges in the world (it was #1 from 1964-1981, but is currently #7 at 1298 meters. The top honor goes to the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan, but Verrazano still holds the U.S. record).
The loop continues along the Belt Parkway, near Fort Hamilton, and then circles back through Dyker Beach Park, next to the Dyker Beach Golf Course back to 92nd Street. In all, it's 7 miles door-to-door, and a nice, brisk, scenic ride.

The pictures to the left are from the 69th Street Pier at 7:30 AM, looking South to the bridge (top) and North to Manhattan (bottom).
The sun rises behind some trees along Shore Road (above).
To the left, the path looking East to Coney Island....the cluster of buildings in the distance are the apartments Trump's father built to start the family fortune. Next, looking back (West) at the Verrazano. Then, some wild geese congregating in the grass between the Belt Parkway and the bike path.
And finally, from the footpath over the Belt, looking back at the Verrazano in the distance.