Saturday, May 29, 2010

Haute Stoner Cuisine

The New York Times is to be commended for publishing "Marijuana Fuels a New Kitchen Culture" in the Wednesday, May 18 Food Section. The article discusses what it terms "haute stoner cuisine," a sort of comfort food made with quality ingredients by serious (if not infrequently stoned) chefs for the stoner set, but it does so with no implicit or explicit moralistic judgement (beyond noting that "To be sure, substance abuse and addiction are concerns in the restaurant industry ...").

In fact, the article treats marijuana and those who enjoy it with the same respect we afford wine and wine connoisseurs or sports and sports enthusiasts. Which is to say, as an acceptable part of our culture. How refreshing! Not only that but real chefs and food entrepreneurs come forth and say things like this, from Roy Choi of the Kogi Korean taco trucks in LA:

“It’s good music, maybe a little weed and really good times and great food that makes you feel good.”  Hard to argue with that.

Memorial Day Weekend Musing

New England breathes easier this Saturday morning of Memorial Day Weekend - the Celtics closed out the Eastern Conference Finals in Boston last night and now have their sights set on the Finals, whether against the Phoenix Suns or the Los Angeles Lakers is not known yet. Having gone up 3-0 against Orlando, the Celtics couldn't finish the sweep at home, lost game 4, then lost game 5 in Orlando giving rise to a region-wide sports anxiety attack - Gulp! What if the Celtics, storied in so many ways, became the first NBA team to lose a series after being up 3-0? That terrifying prospect seemed possible, collectively spooked as everyone was given the Bruins' collapse just two weeks ago (they, too, had been up 3-0 and then lost four games in a row and the series against Philadelphia).

But all is right this morning, the long weekend that inaugurates the beginning of summer commences with the stars in alignment and the sports headlines all trumpeting the Celtics' triumph. Four victories are all that's now required to claim banner # 18.

The Giro D'Italia continues, Ivan Basso now in the pink jersey as the race attempts the last mountain stage, the Passo di Gavia - if, that is, the weather cooperates and snow doesn't fall. Snow plows have allegedly cut swaths through the massive piles and opened the way for the riders. I haven't paid near enough attention to the Giro this year, I'm saving myself for the Tour in July, a Tour once again shrouded by scandal. So much is written about cycling and doping however, that I intend to avoid the topic throughout the rest of the racing season. Lescaret's incipient coverage, the Bonques On Tour postings, will focus on other, more interesting subjects such as food, wine, and the Lantern Rouge.

Finding time for dedicated sports-watching is now complicated by the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, a sporting event of such awesome global proportions that it will be impossible not to be completely swept up the frenzy of that mad spectacle. Occasional dispatches from viewing stations in North America (read, the TV in the living room and the now-and-then ethnic cafe or bar in Boston) will, of course, be necessary.

In literary developments, the Norman Mailer Writers Colony has added blogging to their website, though no entries as yet. The blogs are organized by Fellows, Workshop Attendees, Faculty, Staff, Miscellaneous. I considered the idea of contacting fellow workshop-goers via email or blog postings but then thought again. I don't want first impressions, either others' of me or me of others, to be formed by cyber communications. My preference is to meet people face-to-face and go from there. Perhaps others feel the same way. Or maybe the new blog options on the Colony's site just haven't been discovered yet.

Lastly, happy 50th birthday to a fine photographer, cyclist, epicurean rustique, and all around honest soul, Ben Barnhart. A loud and gustatory dinner party tomorrow at his hillside compound in Conway, MA, champagne on the deck, a table laden with Turkish slow-cooked lamb, grilled whole red snapper stuffed with tropical fruit compote, fried polenta cakes, various salads, breads, cheeses, and numerous bottles of wine including luscious Rombauer chardonnay, a favorite of this crew of celebrants. Huzza!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ginsberg in Fiction

On the New York Times book blog Paper Cuts, Gregory Cowell recounts a short conversation with the novelist and essayist Joshua Cohen. Answering a question about his current and recent projects, Cohen replies:

I’ve just finished a collection of stories on two themes: pornography and poetry. The pornography is a long story (a novella? though perhaps novellas can be written only by dead Europeans), set partly in Russia, partly on the Internet. The poetry is brought by two fictionalized biographies: one of Allen Ginsberg in Havana and Prague, 1965; the other of Hart Crane at the time of his suicide, 1932.

The use by other writers of Allen Ginsberg as a character in fiction interests me insofar as I'm doing the same. Ginsberg appears prominently in a long section of my nascent novel tentatively called Pour More On. The section concerns a young 20 something couple living the bohemian life in New York City in the mid eighties and contains, as scenes and setting, the famous 48th Congress of International PEN of January 1986, and Sandinista Nicaragua during the height of the Contra War.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Deborah Remington 1930-2010

As a practitioner of Obituary Mail Art, I habitually check the New York Times obituary section to see who has died and to determine whether there might be an obituary worthy of turning into art. In the process, I often find connections to various literary and artistic interests, in particular to Allen Ginsberg and the Beats. Such was the case when I noticed the article announcing the death of Deborah Remington, an abstract painter with whom I was unfamiliar.

Deborah Remington was one of the six co-founders (and the only woman) of the Six Gallery in San Francisco, the gallery in which Allen Ginsberg gave the first public reading of "Howl" in 1955 (the other artists were Wally Hedrick, John Allen Ryan, Hayward King, David Simpson, and Jack Spicer).

Obituary mail art is a sub-genre of Mail Art in general, that odd, Fluxus-like practice closely associated with Ray Johnson. I may be the only practitioner. Try googling the text string "obituary mail art" and see how many hits you get. The practice is straightforward. Read the obituaries, cut out those of people that interest you, make a photocopy of it, put the original article in an envelope, festoon and adorn the envelope with imagery, mail the envelope to yourself, then seal it in laminate. 

The images below are the front and back of Lescaret's obituary mail art of Wally Hedrick. 

Beat Memories - The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg

The National Gallery of Art hosts an exhibition of Allen Ginsberg's photographs, May - September.

"Drawing on the most common form of photography, the snapshot, he created spontaneous, uninhibited pictures of ordinary events to celebrate and preserve what he called "the sacredness of the moment."

Ginsberg's interest in photography was not casual, not a passing hobby. In many ways, the practice of photography augmented his poetry. Both art forms, as practiced by Ginsberg, merged the visual with the autobiographical. As he wrote in the Author's Preface to Collected Poems 1947-1980, "Herein author has assembled all his poetry books published to date rearranged in straight chronological order to compose an autobiography."

His photographs, many uniquely and extensively captioned by hand, augment and extend the autobiographical record. Primarily portraits, they depict a multitude of friends and acquaintances - artists, writers, scholars, boyfriends, family members - spanning the second half of the 20th century. They are not consciously 'arty' but are, like his poetry, deliberately visual and richly detailed. If Ginsberg is, as Bill Morgan asserts in The Typewriter is Holy, the Beat Generation's bonding agent, the one person whose effort, vision, and conviction is primarily responsible for scholars and readers being able to talk about a 'Beat Generation' today, then Ginsberg's photographs are unequivocally the most important visual record we have of that literary circle.

(Allen Ginsberg, Managua, Nicaragua 1986, photograph by Patrick Warner)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

With the Whackness

What's to be made of Floyd Landis? His bizarre 'admission' of past doping after years of vehement denials and his inflammatory accusations of drug use by other riders (including Lance Armstrong), offered without any substantive proof, strike the tone of desperation. He published a book called Positively False, solicited defense money from gullible cycling enthusiasts, spent years and millions of dollars trying to clear his name, and now this? Wild emails sent to "several cycling officials" describe a regimen that began in 2002 when he joined the US Postal squad. Tales of Armstrong handing him EPO and syringes in the foyer of Armstrong's Gerona, Spain home. It all sounds like a last ditch attempt to exact revenge, sour grapes for having been caught himself, for having disgraced himself and having his 2006 Tour de France title stripped from the record books.

This commentary by Jim Litke of the Associated Press is spot on.

The whole thing sucks because doping & cycling are yet again in the media spotlight. As if that is the only cycling story worth writing. It's a shame.

Other cycling news of the day - Lance crashed out of the Tour of California on the 5th stage. No serious injuries, just stitches and bruises. Still on track for the Tour de France.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pedro Pietri at Sandino Airport 1986

Pero Pietri was a warm, strange, beguiling, hilarious, generous poet, an amazing individual whom I knew briefly for ten days in January 1986 while traveling with he and Allen Ginsberg and a group of North America writers and publishers in Nicaragua. Pedro charmed everyone, dressed always in black, and carried a valise that said "Rent a coffin" in giant white letters on its side.

I saw him only a little on the trip, he was always missing press conferences, wandering who-knows-where 'til all hours of the tropical night, and generally partying and carrying on with mischievous enthusiasm. But when he was around he manifested a vibe of pure humor and empathy and I am grateful for having been in his orbit, however briefly.

Pedro Pietri, Sandino Airport, Managua, Feb 1, 1986

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Is the Beat Generation A Literary Movement?

"It wasn't a sans serif age" an audience member said, commenting on the book jacket's title font. Why not use typewriter letters? The chapters are in typewriter script, Bill Morgan explained during the Q&A following his Harvard Coop talk in Cambridge, Massachusetts, an author has no control over book or book jacket design. He certainly did not, he noted.

In fact, he'd actually wanted to call the book Kindred Spirits but his publisher (Free Press) had declined. They'd wanted something a little more Beat-resonant, something catchier, less sentimental. Editors or perhaps sub-editors had then plumbed Ginsberg's poems for a title-esque phrase and come up with the winner in "Footnote to Howl."

More interesting than the design of the book was Morgan's assertion that the Beat Generation is a social group rather than a literary movement. "Social group" is certainly vague but his point is that what is considered the 'Beat Generation' actually lacks a common literary style. As such, it can't be considered a "movement" in the way that for example Cubism could. Early works by Braque or Picasso are virtually indistinguishable, he suggested, implying a coherent style, the 'Cubist' style. Not so the Beats. Burroughs' work was utterly different than Kerouac's, Ginsberg's was its very own thing. So construing them and by extension their peripheral wives, friends, and girlfriends (think Edie Parker Kerouac, Lucien Carr, Herbert Huncke) as a Literary Movement doesn't, in Morgan's view, cut it.

But they were bonded together however, their actual 'movement' being the orbiting of Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg was the sun around which all the planets moiled and by which the Beat Universe was sustained. Ginsberg was the single thing that everyone even remotely considered a 'member' of the 'Beat Generation' had in common.

But what about that title anyway? The Complete, Uncensored History History of the Beat Generation? He chuckled at the irony, as if a 'complete history' of something so nebulous, so prone to individual definition, could possibly be written. But it is what it is, a non-scholarly text that examines the principle figures of the Beat Generations in relation to one another and within the literary and cultural context of the times.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Holy Typewriters

Beat scholar and archivist Bill Morgan, author of the year-by-year biography of Allen Ginsberg I Celebrate Myself: The Sometimes Private Life of Allen Ginsberg, has published a new book, The Typewriter is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation.

Bill Morgan worked with Allen Ginsberg for many years as his archivist and as such has been intimately linked with Allen and all-things-Beat. I Celebrate Myself is a solid, well-researched biography (though not without occasional factual missteps), one that is a valuable tool for Ginsberg scholars writing about AG and other Beat story lines. The chronological framework allows users to quickly place Beat-related events on the time continuum of 20th century history. Morgan is not a great prose stylist - he's an archivist after all and his prose style reflects that; straightforward, matter-of-fact, a little wooden.

The title of his new work of literary history comes from the fifth line of the "Footnote to Howl" section of Howl: "The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy!" An excellent selection.  AG's Howl alone could provide a thousand Beat titles given the many, many great phrases contained therein:

  • the starry dynamo in the machinery of night
  • eyeball kicks
  • the lamb stew of the imagination
  • a belt of marijuana for New York
  • goldhorn shadow of the band
  • cannibal dynamo
  • robot apartments
But what of the subtitle? The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation. I can never help but raise my eyebrows at the assertion of completeness in any book title. Really? Complete? Nothing more to be discovered? Nothing left out? Seems unlikely.

And Uncensored? Shouldn't that go without saying? As many Beat enthusiasts know, censorship was one of the main issues that Ginsberg threw his considerable energy into confronting and rolling back. After all, Howl was censored, Naked Lunch was censored, Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer was censored. The issue of censorship was an enduring one for Ginsberg, right into the last years of his life when he fought the FCC ban on "indecent" language on the airwaves between set times of the day (a rule that effectively prevented Howl and other works from being broadcast, despite the fact that said works were/are considered masterpieces of 20th century literature). Who would conceive of writing a Censored history of the Beat Generation?

The last niggling problem I have with the title concerns the generic moniker Beat Generation, a label that, though instantly recognizable and widely used, remains somewhat un-defined. Who or what comprises the Beat Generation? When is someone a Beat and not a Hippie? Or a Beat and not a hipster? The term "generation" implies a time frame - what is it? 1939-1959? 1940s-1960s? What's a generation?

My issue isn't so much in Morgan's invoking the term Beat Generation, only with the premise that somehow a "complete" history of it can be laid out. I am eager to see how Morgan handles this, whether he actually endeavors to define or codify or, in the spirit of archival investigation, offer a chronological framework for this generation.

That said, Morgan deserves much praise for his ongoing scholarly efforts and the considerable amount of invaluable material he has amassed and made available for legions of Beat scholars and enthusiasts.

I'm looking forward to hearing him speak about The Typewriter is Holy at the Harvard Coop, Cambridge, MA, Tuesday evening May 11 at 7:00 pm.