Literary Review

Peter Bergman 1939-2012

Comedy has lost one of its great innovators -- Firesign Theatre founding member Peter Bergman died Friday, March 9, 2012 due to complications from leukemia. He and his cohorts reinvented comedy with surreal, multi-layered socio-political critiques and wild wordplay. Phil Austin, Bergman, David Ossman, and Philip Proctor debuted as the Firesign Theatre in 1966 and became cult heroes by breaking or ignoring boundaries with their surreal, complexly layered material. Their work forms an ongoing critique of modern society, media saturation, and technological alienation, but they are far from overly intellectual, lacing their routines with crazy puns, twisted pop-culture references, and warped -- or invented -- folk sayings and catchphrases. To appreciate their Dadaist comedy requires a long attention span, willingness to follow free associations, and attention to detail.

ANNIVERSARIES: The Greatest Day in the History of Modern Literature? February 2, 1922

There is no such thing as the greatest anything. Greatness is subjective. But if, for the sake of argument, or fun, or obsession, or whatever, we choose to at least toy with the concept of greatest modern novel, James Joyce's Ulysses is considered by many to be the frontrunner. And were one to attempt the hopeless task of choosing the greatest book of modern poetry, Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus would be a strong contender.

Books & Drugs & Rock & Roll: Peter Burton 1945-2011

In a life that could have stepped straight from the pages of his beloved Dickens, albeit a 20th century and queer version, Peter William Burton was a boy of humble Hackney origins, born as the Second World War staggered to a close, who by dint of an extraordinary passion for books blazed a fascinating trail. His father was homosexual. Common of many of his kind, then persecuted, he married as a means of disguise. Like father like son, but their shared sexuality gave them nothing in common. What it created was an unhappy backdrop for growing up, and a desire to leave home and school as soon as possible. When he read the eulogy at his father's funeral, he stated, "George Burton was an old bugger!" Most of those gathered assumed he was being affectionately ribald. He was in fact being bluntly truthful. It is a great shame that he never wrote a book about this unusual, if imperfect, relationship. It would have made an extraordinary epistle, especially from the pen of one with both an eye for detail and an acute sense of mischief. 

The Heartbreaking Life and Poetry of Fumiko Nakajo

Hatsue Kawamura and Jane Reichhold
Breasts of Snow - Fumiko Nakajo: Her tanka and her life (The Japan Times)

It is amazing to me that I did not come across the work of Fumiko Nakajo until this year. No poems in Kenneth Rexroth’s three main Japanese translations (One Hundred Poems from the Japanese, One Hundred More Poems from the Japanese, not even Women Poets of Japan), or in The Poetry of Postwar Japan (ed. Kijima Hajime), or in Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson’s From the Country of Eight Islands. Unrepresented in any of the more general poetry compilations in my collection.

Finally, combing Wikipedia while researching an article about what an amazing literary year 1922 was, I clicked on her name (she was born in 1922) because I was also on the lookout for more Japanese female poets to include in one of my musical projects. When I read the brief Wikipedia article on her, I quickly became eager to know more after learning that she was a tanka poet and that she had died at age 31 from breast cancer (I have friends who battle that cruel affliction). Noting that there was a book – this book – cited in her Wikipedia bio, I bought the only reasonably priced copy available on Amazon.

Moody’s Seattle

Seattle and the Demons of Ambition
By Fred Moody (St. Martin's Press)

Traveling, to me, is more than just going somewhere you haven’t been before to take a bunch of pictures and possibly relax at a beach or whatever other amenities present themselves. It’s an opportunity to step outside of one’s self and, be it a neighboring city or a distant country thousands of miles away, ponder the different approaches to life that you could have taken and may still. In preparation for my travels, I always like to read up on the history and culture of my intended destination, and in all my pre-travel readings I have never read a book that excited me so much and primed me for where I was headed as when Seattle was in my sights and I happened upon Seattle and the Demons of Ambition.

Outtakes

William Parker: Conversations (Rogueart)

The memories that stop being memories due to constant use”- Laurie Anderson

Beauty is a puppet that keeps dangling in front of me-Anselm Keifer

Not since John Zorn’s Arcana project and Art Taylor’s Notes and Tones, a comparison many will make, and which Parker says in his brief intro is the book that inspired him to do this project, has there been a book of interviews so vital, so down to earth and so personal. What we have here are 34 interviews conducted by Parker over approximately the last decade, 30 of which are with so-called free jazzers/improvisers, two with new music composers, one with Patricia Nicholson Parker (his wife, a dancer and an organizer of such events as the ongoing Vision Festival), and one with photographer Jacques Bisceglia who also contributed a beautiful black and white and color centerfold (27 photos) of most of the artists being interviewed.

The Richness of Life

A Walk to the Paradise Garden
by Leon Arden (Muswell Press)

In a dusty, cluttered Manhattan apartment overlooking the Hudson River, an old married couple, Jacob and Beryl, bicker and nag at each other as they live out uneventful days of bickering and nagging.  Then Jacob has a stroke, and their lives are never the same again.  Instead, Jacob, Beryl, and their only son, Russell, are forced to confront new circumstances.

A home carer moves in, Jacob becomes deeply depressed, and the family must ask themselves some tough, existential questions: What makes life worth living, and has one ever the right to call it quits?  And if someone needs help to die, is the person who helps a compassionate deliverer, or just a murderer?