Woody Haut's Blog
A weblog dedicated to noir fiction and film, music, poetry and politics.
Tuesday, February 07, 2023
Obsession in the Pursuit of Virtue is No Vice: Love Me Fierce In Danger by Steven Powell- The Life of James Ellroy
Saturday, February 04, 2023
Reading Robert Kelly: A City Full of Voices, A Voice Full of Cities
Reading Ken Irby's review of Her Body Against Time in A City Full of Voices, I began to wonder if I had come across that review when it first appeared in Kulchur, before I'd read Kelly's book. It's possible... But even as a poetry greenhorn, I remember being impressed by the depth of Kelly's vision and the how his poetry was not only his world but how the world seemed like fodder for his poetry. A condition echoed in lines- purloined from Jed Rasula's excellent "A Book On Line and Measure" in A City Full...- in a later lengthy poem entitled The World, in which Kelly reminds us that "there is no/form not/organic no/mind not mine."
Fast forward half a century and I find I'm once again attracted to Kelly's work, or, at least for the time being, his essays. Call me perverse, but for some reason I've always had a weakness for prose written by poets. Which, for me, makes A Voice Full of Cities such a delight. By the same token, it's invariably interesting to read those who write about Kelly, covering as they do in A City Full of Voices a range of interests and ways of thinking about Kelly's poetry.
Even had I been able to do so, it would have been difficult to keep up with Kelly's incredible output. After all it constitutes a life. As Guy Davenport has written, "There is no end to a Kelly poem...It's a cataract of energy." His essays, reviews, stories and novels (unfortunately his fiction isn't included, but perhaps would constitute a volume on its own) are much more than an addendum to his poetry, while, at the same time, squelching the notion that prose is necessarily a more literal or less poetic form of writing. But here they are, his essays, which, if nothing else, demonstrate once again the breadth of his work.
Now in his late 80s, Kelly has moved from the articulation of a working poetics (deep image) to an autobiographical and investigatory poetics, which necessarily includes the aesthetics of various poets, film-makers, artists, novelists, philosophers, friends, etc.. The common denominator here is the relationship between seeing and vision, turning, as Brakhage did, a physical deficiency into a personal aesthetic. And so Kelly's essays, moving from the late 1950s to the near-present, constitute a map of thoughts and images- if one can separate the two- making these two volumes a celebration of Kelly's poetic life by a range of respondents, each with their own insights, from early takes by the likes of Olson "not imageS but IMAGE," Creeley, Blackburn, Irby, Sitney, Eshleman and Davenport to later writers like Joris, Cockelbergh, Quasha, Silliman, Fisher, Yau, and Chernicoff. Proving that no single person has the definitive word or ability to encompass Kelly's oeuvre. As Billie Chernicoff asks at the beginning of On Robert Kelly's Seaspel, "How does he do it?" To which she says she has no answer. I would agree. One can only shake one's head and wonder, while marvelling at the flow of words, the intensity of thought and vision.
Click on here for a short interview with RK by George Quasha.: https://youtu.be/MB4EcLDg-w4
Tuesday, November 08, 2022
Ted Berrigan's Get the Money: The Collected Prose (1961-1983)
Coming in at just under 300 pages, Get the Money!, with entries on the likes of Kenward Elmslie, FT Prince, Red Grooms, Alice Neel, John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, Anne Waldman, Jim Carroll, Tom Raworth, Joel Oppenheimer, and much more, will surely be this year's favourite commodity for any fetishistic punter with an inkling for Berrigan's work, or, for that matter, the New York poetry and art scene during those years. All proof that Berrigan's prose is never less than an extension of his poetry, indicative of his engagement with what is going on around him. As the Whitehead quote Berrigan inserts as the epigraph to his journals, reads, "What is going to happen is already happening." That word, happening, for better or worse, so synonymous with the era and its sense of community. Likewise, behind the dash-it-off, who-gives-a fuck attitude, Get the Money attests to someone lasered into the push and pull of both public and private with an apparent recklessness that never fails to connect. Or one could equally say that Berrigan's critique is never less than an extension of the object being criticised. Even if that object is no more than an opportunity for him to demonstrate his literary chops. As in his "review" of Burroughs' Nova Express, which could be read as a flexing of Berrigan's literary muscles, or as a conscious, if overly enthusiastic, extension of the novel. Even though, at the other end of the scale, "Frank O'Hara Dead at 40" comes across as a completely straight and touching, but manufactured, tribute. A case perhaps of Get the Money for real, but not without feeling. Just as the occasion dictates, but tame when compared with the following, written in a more familiar manner:
"In fact, it would be much easier for me to get something said about this book if I could briefly turn into Charles Olson or John Lennon or Martin Luther King. Then I'd just lean forward into the TV camera and intensely, 'If you really want to know what it's all about, read Frank O'Hara, that's right, FRANK O'HARA... Whereupon...Joe Levine would rush production on his new movie, Life on Earth, the biography of Frank O'Hara, starring young James Cagney as Frank... and Gig Young as John Ashbery, Rod Steiger as Jane Freilicher. What excitement!"
All of which makes Berrigan if not political, at least doggedly democratic in his merging of subject and object. Though sometimes it does seem like he's the focal point, cheerleader and barker-in-chief of a semi-secret society. Democratic, then, but only in a world within a world within a world, exemplified by the various entries about Berrigan's friends, Berrigan himself, or Berrigan and his friends. But wait a sec... Wasn't that what poetry communities, significant or otherwise, were about in those pre-internet age? Even at the risk of over-reach, or, in this case, over-sell, as Berrigan shamelessly tests the limits, however playfully, insisting as always on le droit du poete. A tendency that, in today's world of identity politics and territorial armour, might be questionable. But this is now and that was then. Whatever the subterranean politics, Berrigan remains as large as life, missed by many and forgotten by no one who inhabited that world and its margins. All of which leaves one to speculate about Berrigan's letters, which, if gathered together, would undoubtedly complete the picture of this most late twentieth century of twentieth century poets.
Thursday, October 20, 2022
Lofts and Corners: From Holy Ghost: The Life & Death of Free Jazz Pioneer Albert Ayler by Richard Kolada to The Cricket: Black Music in Evolution 1968-69 (edited by David Grundy, original editors Amiri Baraka, A.B. Spellman, Larry Neal)
Much to my disappointment, I never actually heard Ayler play live. Mainly because he never travelled to the west coast. Had he come to San Francisco, he would have found, as Archie Shepp had, an attentive audience amongst the jazz cognoscenti in the city. I once asked my friend, the poet Lewis Macadams, who had seen Ayler at Sluggs, what it was like to hear Ayler up close. Lewis said the only thing he could compare it to was the sound Tibetan monks made when chanting along side those long trumpets.
Thursday, September 29, 2022
Writing Skin Flick
It would be an understatement to say that between the writing of what would become Skin Flick and its eventual publication a lot has happened in the world. So much so that I feel as though the real author of my most recent novel could well be someone else altogether. Perhaps my evil twin or a case of identity thief. Or is it that we are simply living in a different world from the one we inhabited around the time I began writing the novel which would have been sometime around 2010. Though I have a dim recollection at the time of wanting to write something under similar conditions to those that faced pulp paperback writers in the late 1940s and 1950s regarding deadlines, word count, narrative drive heading into the unknown, etc.. Of course, those who wrote for the likes of Gold Medal and Lion were hardly dabblers when it came to the conditions they wrote under, but working writers who ground out books because their lives and livelihood depended on what they were able to produce. Nevertheless, I gave myself a time limit- was it six weeks or six months? I can no longer recall- to write what would become Skin Flick. Though I might as well have had said six years, because the book has taken that long, thanks to various factors, including Covid, for the book to go from its initial writing to its publication. Within that time Skin Flick has gone through the various permutations and title changes. Consequently, the novel that took the shortest amount of time to write of any of the books I’ve written, has taken the longest amount of time to complete and finally publish.
When I began the novel I remember being engrossed in certain purveyors of self-abasement, such as Dan Fante and Jerry Stahl. As well as memories of Hubert Selby's Requiem For a Dream. There was, and remains, something appealing about such writers with their first-person narratives, and no perceivable limit to the depths they are willing to descend. Which has to do with their honesty, sense of humour and perspective, the latter of which sometimes manifests itself as having no perspective at all. Of course, who, other than the writers themselves, can say with any exactitude that what they write might be nothing more than a masquerade. In any case, there is that side to Skin Flick’s mock confessional, first-person narrative which starts off in something akin to Ross Macdonald territory before gradually descending into that world one normally associates with Fante and Stahl, if not the likes of David Goodis and Jim Thompson. Which is to say that Skin Flick moves from the everyday to the perverse, albeit from the viewpoint of a not-all-that-successful freelance journalist, who begins with the best of intentions, to help an old friend, but who, despite or because of his flaws, ends up trapped in his own pursuit, just marginally less warped than those he’s pursuing.
The result is a deep dive into the greed-is-good 1980’s, and its assorted depravities, from real estate scams and bank scandals, to the rise of Jesus-is-coming-so-why-worry-about-the-future mindset, from the corruption of the “sexual revolution” to pornography as the last refuge of the desperate and raw product of late capitalism. While the title refers to the often used term for a certain type of movie, it also suggests the exploitation of bodies on a personal as well as political level, that beauty, from skin deep to deep down, can easily be flicked away by power and money. But, then, that was a time when even the most righteous were, to varying degrees, guilty of whatever crimes and misdemeanours the culture had to offer. And the reason why, with its quotidian contradictions, Skin Flick is a novel in which no one escapes unscathed.
("Writing Skin Flick" first appeared in a slightly different version in Crime Time)
Thursday, June 16, 2022
Derek Raymond Revisited
The couple days have been spent revisiting Derek Raymond's (aka Robin Cook) autobiography The Hidden Files. I remember, when it came out, some expressed disappointment because they said the book did not have the same edge and dark focus of his crime/noir novels. That its prose and presentation was a bit self-conscious, as though Robin was trying to prove his worth as a writer. Maybe there was some truth in the latter, though at the time of its publication, I enjoyed the book immensely. But, for some reason, I hadn't looked at it since. This even though I've re-read Robin's Factory novels, and some of his others (Crust On Its Uppers, A State of Denmark, The Legacy of the Stiff Upper Lip, etc.) at various times since their publication or re-publication. Re-reading The Hidden Files was not only a great pleasure but I found it quite moving. For me, no matter how under-appreciated it might have been at the time, The Hidden Files really does deserve to be up there with the likes of Cyril Connolly's Enemies of Promise, a kind of scaled down version of Anthony Powell's multi-volumed Dance to the Music of Time. For me there has always been something admirable about old Etonians- and I seem to have known a few over the years- who have the political and personal nous to reject their class, their education, and sense of entitlement. Certainly no one personifies that kind of downward mobility more than Robin. What a pleasure it was during late 1980s and early 1990s to run into him on the streets of Kilburn, where we were neighbours, or at events at Compendium or Murder One. As I was revisiting The Hidden Files I couldn't help but be reminded of those days, which led me to dig out my 1992 interview with Robin which took place at this favourite pub, The Coach and Horses in Soho, and subsequent article that appeared in the Observer Magazine later on that same year.