For reasons I won’t get into, I’ve decided to move my sporadic and unreliable blogging efforts back to BlogSpot. No flametacular reason, and it certainly isn’t because blogger has a better inteface. It doesn’t. It’s more of a issue of convenience. The blogroll here is old, much of the information is outdated. Basically, I’d rather start over a build something completely new. So… I am here, if anybody cares: richristow.blogspot.com
- Lose at least 30 pounds.
- Convert a large chunk of my diet to vegan/vegetarianism, again (I stopped roughly ten years ago) — while still eating a good steak or burger now and then.
- Quit smoking…. sometime.
- Continue to learn how to better deal with the constant stress in my family life.
- Do/Fix all the things that Jenny and I talked about, while creating a Honey-do, list.
- Get all bills and arears, from the year long mortgage crisis, caught up and current.
- Finish editing that Ezra Pound chapbook. (First thing I do this year)
- Edit my novella quartet and send it Skullvines (Second thing I do this year).
- Write a non-fiction book about poetry.
- Write another book length poem.
- Write a bizarro novella about WalMart.
- Stop talking in public about the things I’m “currently” writing.
- Answer email in a more timely fashion.
- Blog a little more consistently, now that I can’t blame WalMart for anything….
- Wood Life finally came out.
- Some really dumb shit happened that I will not further comment on, involving some emotionally unstable people.
- Death in Common became a Belfire Book.
- Needfire was created over at Belfire.
- I wrote Four Murders on my lunch breaks at WalMart.
- Merchant’s Keep published Four Murders.
- I finally was able to leave WalMart for lucrative self-employment (mostly involving writing about cars).
- My home loan finally got modified for good (as of last week), after countless foreclosure threats from two separate banks, plus a year of non-stop turmoil and false promises by one of the institutions in question.
- My mother has survived now close to three years with inoperable cancers (yes, that is plural, not a typo), largely due to experimental treatment at Sloan Kettering. However, that is all I’m going to say about that issue.
All in all, not a bad year. Not great by any stretch, but I have experienced worse.
As I said elsewhere, I can’t begrudge WalMart for giving me a job when I needed one. Truth is, however: I have not written a lot in the past two years. And, I can’t say I didn’t try. My new eChapbook, Four Murders, was almost completely written over my lunch breaks, usually at a picnic table outside of the store. The ebook consists of four long-ish poems that take cues from other poets like Akhmatova, Shiki, Carroll, and Crapsey. Basically, I took a line from somebody else and tricked it out into being a poem title. Then, I wrote with a sense of radical diversion. The result? … Four Murders. Really, and honsetly. Each of the poems included are about a sense of “Murder.” The eChap is only available via Merchant’s Keep.
In 1994, it was hard to go to a college bar, a fraternity house party, or turn on the radio without eventually hearing “Loser” played over and over and over again, even to the point of frustration and sheer annoyance. The mark of brilliant songwriting, however, is not always if it’s memorable the first time hearing it; sometimes, a great song can be a slow but hostile takeover, where it inevitably works its way into sub-conscious. Beck’s “Loser” certainly did this to me for a variety of reasons.
Beck’s music is distinct, featuring a stong beat, and alternating acoustic and electric guitars. At points, the electric guitar veers off into psychedelic territory, but instead of indulging himself there, Beck grounds it. The guitars shift back to the dominant, rhythmic acoustic guitar, which, along with the beat, serve’s as the song’s primary hook. The result can be hypnotic. However, musicianship alone doesn’t make this song great. Beck’s lyrics are often as strange, wonderful, and unconvential as his guitars:
In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey / Butane in my veins and I’m out to cut the junkie / With the plastic eyeballs, spray-paint the vegetables / Dog food stalls with the beefcake pantyhose …
Surreal would be an apt discription. To some, that this might look like meandering word salad, but Beck’s playfulness with language can be addictive. I had realized this ten years after the song was released, when I found myself in a shopping mall, absently reciting “In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey” and “my time is a piece of wax fallin’ on a termite / who’s chokin’ on the splinters.” It’s the sort of disjointed style of imagery William S. Burrough’s Naked Lunch employed. True, the song drones, “I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me,” which makes the song sound like an anthem for slackers. Yet, while listening, I almost seemingly doesn’t care about “message,” because the linguistic acrobatics becomes intoxicating.
Well, I have been through two disasters when it comes to small press genre publishing. I don’t bring them up to pour salt on anybody’s wound, but to simply point out how happy I was to see Needfire publish Barry Napier’s “A Mouth For Picket Fences.” My history with Barry is rather simple. One day, while reading for a poetry anthology, I opened up my email to see a submission from him. I never talked or interacted with him before. It was the first time I ever saw his name. I seriously considered the poem for a moment, and then typed out a kind rejection. Then, I tried to go on my way. For some reason, his poem lingered for awhile, even if it didn’t fit the guidelines I was operating under. Basically, the poem was written in a very contemporary way, which sometimes is a highly rare thing when it comes to horror and poetry. So, I wrote him back and asked for him to seriously consider sending me something else. He did, and both poems easily became my two favorite poems in Death in Common. So, began, via email, to twist his arm into writing a book of poetry. He seemed interested, so I applied more pressure to twisted arm. Then, the floor fell out from the publishing arrangement that I had at the time, and then it also crumbled around the follow up attempt to publish that anothology. With those set backs came the sinking realization that I was harassing a guy into writing a book, and then had no means to publish it. That changed with my new relationship with Belfire Press and its Needfire imprint. And, I’m very glad I was able to stick with Barry and see it through to the end, wherever that end took us. A Mouth For Picket Fences is a really, really good book. I’m honored that I was able to facilitate Barry’s interest in every way that I could.
Oh, and yeah, it’s available on Amazon. I highly recommend it.
I really don’t know what I didn’t like about Season 3. My wife and I stopped watching half-way through. While my wife enjoys the show, she enjoys the novels more; I am told the books and the screen adaptation go in absolutely different directions. But, I don’t know. Maybe it was Jimmy Smits? There’s something about about the whole season that went by the numbers. Thankfully, now that Jenny and I are onto Season 4, the fun seems back. Lithgow knows crazy and plays it well. Only, I didn’t need to see the two shots of his his ass in Episode 1.
Johnny Cash once remarked that he wasn’t “A Christian Musician” but a “Musician who was Christian.” That might resemble a circular logical fallacy, but think about that for a second. It’s actually quite a profound. As a statement, it plays with the meanings of words, individuality, and role religion plays in one’s life. ”Christian musicians” are quite easy to find — just look at that victim of a tanning bed, Carmen, and the some of the people you might find on the Trinity Broadcasting Network who scream or shout “Christ” like they have a severe onset of Tourette’s Syndrome. Those are people with religion on their sleeves, and if they had a “Christian” name tag, they would proudly wear it and let that obscure everything else. Contrast that, for a moment, with an artist like Cash, who was a devout believer. Yet, the name of Christ wasn’t in the forefront of everything he did. Yet, one would be a fool to look at his song writing and think that he was not informed by something spiritual. And so, this brings up an long running aesthetic debate about the value of polemic, sermon, and the place of “art” when it comes to an artist’s message. Preaching is always the death of art. This is why “Christian Rock” or “Christian Country” or “Christian What-The-Fuck-Ever (insert trademark or copyright symbols here)” can never compare to something conceived as “art first” and “spiritual second.” Johnny Cash certainly cared more about writing artistically sound songs first and not foaming at the mouth in the name of Christ. But, his songs are still informed by his faith.
I thought about this recently, while watching Denzel Washington in the Hughes Brother’s film, “The Book of Eli.” This is not a “Christian movie,” but it most certainly is a film with Christian values. And I say that as a devout Secular Agnostic. Yet, I would suggest the the message the Hughes Brothers are trying to send would not be welcomed by Carmen and the TBN and evangelical set. Denzel aka Eli walks across the post-apocycalypitic waste land filled with cannibalism and casual inhumanity. He carries with him a copy of a King James Bible. It’s the only one left in this world and Denzel aka Eli must defend this last remaining copy at all costs. Yet, at one point, towards the end of the film, he is forced to let go. This valuable book is forcibly taken from him, but instead of going back and having an epic shoot out to reclaim it, he continues on his journey. He comes to a revelation, basically, and it’s hidden from the movie watcher at first. But still, he comes to a revelation that “The Book” is actually within him. He’s read it everyday for 30 years. He can recite chapter and verse on command. So, preseverving the “artifact” or the “object” of the book itself is not as important as preserving the content of the Bible.
Contrast that with the film’s antagonist, played by Gary Oldman. He is hellbent on possessing the King James bible as an object, not as an intangible. Oldman’s character think’s the book is tool for mind control and ultimate power, in a world where life is meaningless and casually dispensed off. Yet, Oldman’s character obsession ends up costing him, dearly. He loses a lot of henchmen at the hands of Denzel aka Eli, and the control over the town and society he wishes to build crumbles as a result into anarchy.
The conflict here is obvious, and it is not “good versus evil” but rather “material versus spiritual.” Possessing a King James Bible as a material object compromises everything. Gary Oldman’s character doesn’t really “learn” this, but it is what happens to him. His desire to possess a Bible makes him lose sight of everything else, and as a result his control on things turns to shit. Eli, on the other hand, dies anyway, but in the end, his quest is fulfilled. Eli can die happy, and with satisfaction.
So, is “The Book of Eli” the pinnacle of spiritual film? Of course not. This movie has its shares of flaws. But the spiritual topic matter resonated with me. I have lived in the American South, near bible fanatics and people who thought they could sell just about anything if they stamped “Jesus” on it. I once saw a Bible packaged and sold as “BibleMan’s Bible” — think of Batman styled super hero marked up with Christian iconography. The publishers of that particular version of The Bible though putting him on the cover could “move copies.’ Still, I guess “the lesson” of all of this is personal. I am used to Christians telling me how I should live my life, even though I may not subscribe to their belief system. However, I have met far more militant Christians who were more concerned with shoving the “object” of their bible at me (while standing in my front door), than were willing to discuss how the carried that bible with them.
Well, this book has been a long journey, but I’m very happy its finally out and available on Amazon. Wrath James White takes a fairly restrictive form of poetry and runs with it to great effect. This book also features a short preface on “White Space” (pun not intended) by myself, explaining the effect empty page space has on poetry. (Cover by the always good Bob Freeman)