Thursday, October 26, 2006

recent reading

Czeslaw Milosz (ed) A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry (1996) - I’ve only read a few Milosz poems and don’t remember what they were like (though his recent collection is sitting a few feet away from me) but after this book I’m not sure that I will. The selection isn’t half bad but it’s Milosz’s inane introductions to each and every poem that almost sink the book. Such as opening a Ginsberg poem by pointing out that “America is, for the most part, not all big cities—but often little towns and villages” (guess that dash is poetic somehow) and then apparently believes that Berkeley is one such. Or for a Chinese poem “Now a true love poem about the love of man and woman, husband and wife, but above all, about mutual tenderness.” Or a Raymond Carver poem where he explains every event in it. Not just an annoying tick but dimishes the poem. I’m reminded of the record producer Orrin Keepnews who reissued albums on CDs that inserted alternate takes in the middle of the original album, apparently feeling his desecration of these works was a way to mark his territory. Similarly Milosz diminishes the poems by his ill-conceived and poorly executed intros.

It doesn’t help that there’s too much poetry that’s really just relined prose and not even good prose. “The line through the hold in the dank / vestibule ceiling ended in / a powerful knot worn slick, swinging / in the breeze from those passing. Half / an hour[…]” (Robert Morgan) or “This evening, the sturdy Levis / I wore every day for over a year / & which seemed to the end in perfect condition, / suddenly tore.” (Steve Kowit) There’s a thick strain of such work in poetry of the past few decades where the mere presentation of experience in A Poem is considered poetic. There’s not any real difference between this and any self-publisher parlor poet except that several writers have built supposedly serious careers on such bluntly a-poetic work.

Steven Jay Schneider and Tony Williams (eds) Horror International (2005) - Just a few years ago horror films outside the Anglo-American lineage were considered hopelessly esoteric and information hard to come by. Now I’ve read three entire books on this and seen several more that tackle specialized areas. The best is hands down Pete Tombs’ Mondo Macabro. When I spotted Horror International in the library I hoped it wouldn’t be as bad as another anthology called Fear Without Frontiers so imagine my disapointment when I got home and discovered that Schneider had edited both. Well, you can see the good and bad of Horror International in the first two essays. Raiford Guins opens with something called “Blood and Black Gloves on Shiny Discs: New Media, Old Tastes, and the Redemption of Italian Horror Films in the United States.” A promising subject actually, the way perception and interpretation has changed from the edited poor quality versions on VHS to the uncut, sharp presentations of DVD. Only everything of value in the essay could fill a single page. Guins brings little data or close readings but only points out abstracts that really don’t amount to much. By contrast Andrew Snyder and Dolores Tierney’s “Importation/Mexploitation” is witty, perceptive and solidly based in fact. Ever think that the lengthy wrestling sequences in Mexican horror films were just padding? Not the case and they explain why. They also cover the ways the Mexican filmmakers used American models (frequently 30s Hollywood horror), how the dubbing north of the border affected their impact and how this whole thing figures into debates about the entire concept of a national cinema. It’s a top-notch piece. Much of the rest of the book tends to alternate between these poles. On the good are pieces about German serial killer films, critical reception to Man Bites Dog, Spanish horror and Hong Kong’s Category 3. On the bad are ones about the lack of horror films from Egypt (again could be covered in one page) and something by the Umlands about Scandanavian horror that is really about quasi-horrific art films and reveals no knowledge about Scandanavian films beyond the most rudimentary.

Donald E. Westlake The Ax (1997) - Let’s see, a critique of modern capitalism in the form of a serial killer’s first-person narrative. American Psycho? No, The Ax. I happen to really like Westlake (and his alter ego Richard Stark) and have read well over a dozen of his novels. This one has its moments and reads quickly but too often feels like a novella that was padded out for the greater money an actual book would bring. Westlake’s target (corporate downsizing) is so easy to hit that I’m not sure he even intended for it to be taken seriously. Not much else to say, really, but mildly amusing fluff (or MAF in lit crit speak (itself known as LCS)).