Friday, October 30, 2009


Today is the birthday of Ezra Pound, born October 30, 1885, the poet generally considered most responsible for defining and promoting a modernist aesthetic in poetry.

Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho, and he grew up around Philadelphia. At the age of 15 he entered the University of Pennsylvania, then taught for a time at Wabash College in Indiana. After a scandal involving a local actress, Pound left his teaching post and headed for Europe. Pound self-published A Lume Spento, his first collection of short poems, while living in Venice. He finally settled in London, and was named the editor of the Little Review in 1917. In 1924, he moved to Italy and became involved in Fascist politics. When Pound finally returned to the United States in 1945 he was arrested on charges of treason for broadcasting Fascist propaganda by radio to the United States during the Second World War. Though he was acquitted of the charges, he was declared mentally ill and committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. During his confinement, he was awarded the first ever Bollingen Prize from the Library of Congress Award for his Pisan Cantos, which he wrote while being held in a U.S. Army detention camp. Continuous appeals from an international coterie of writers won his release from the hospital in 1958. Pound returned to Italy and remained in Venice until he died in 1972.

Pound was one of the first poets to successfully employ free verse in extended compositions, his work exerting a huge influence on almost every 'experimental' poet in who followed him, very much including Allen Ginsberg who made an intense study of Pound's use of parataxis before writing his breakthrough poem Howl.

Pound was keenly interested in diverse languages, bringing Provençal and Chinese poetry to English audiences and translating Greek, Latin and Anglo-Saxon classics. As a critic, editor and promoter, Pound helped shape the careers of some of the 20th century's most influential writers including W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, D. H. Lawrence, and Charles Olson.

While his political views irreparably damaged his later career, earning him many enemies in addition to his forced confinement, there is simply no question that Pound's work played a pivotal role in the modernist revolution of 20th century literature.

Ancient Music

Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm.
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing: Goddamm.

Goddamm, Goddamm, 'tis why I am, Goddamm,
So 'gainst the winter's balm.

Sing goddamm, damm, sing Goddamm.
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus made his reputation as the thinking man's Rock critic. For more than 30 years he has cast a highly intuitive ear toward music, while looking to literature as a backdrop for what he was hearing on the radio. His body of work includes the seminal "Mystery Train", a careful consideration of Elvis Presley as a 1950's avatar of Herman Melville, "Invisible Republic," a thorough dissection of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes as seen through the manic visions of Harry Smith, and "Lipstick traces," a cultural unearthing of the Dadaist inspirations behind the Sex Pistols.

For Marcus, rock music isn't just an American subculture, it is American culture itself. The music in our earbuds is part-and-parcel of our cultural DNA. He recently published his most ambitious work yet, a thousand-page compendium of American literature which he co-edited with Harvard literature professor Werner Sollors. "A New Literary History of America" reads like a monument to the insight that sparked Mr. Marcus's reading of rock and roll. The book comprises hundreds of essays on American life by scholars, poets, philosophers, artists and engineers on topics arranged in chronological order from the 16th century to the present. The themes are arranged like a series of riffs, exploring the themes that the editors lay down in their introduction: "This is the story of a made-up nation... with a literature that was not inherited but invented." It's a astounding compilation which serves as a final proof that there simply are no boundaries between literature, history and popular culture.

Marcus reads tonight at 7:00 at the Downtown Seattle Public Library. The reading is free.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


For the 9th (non-consecutive) year, bike messenger Matt Messman is throwing down his annual "Messquerade" scavenger hunt, bike race and par-tay. It all takes place on Halloween night from 6:00 pm until early the next morning. Scavenger hunt participants converge at the registration tables at 20/20 Cycles at 6, then scavenge by bike all over the city, gathering points to compete for the always impressive array of prizes from sponsors like Counterbalance Bikes, Recycled Cycles and Chrome bags. Teams meet at the Underground Events Center at 10:00 at which point winners are announced, prizes are awarded, and the party commences. Bands include warped local metal heads Imperial Legions of Rome, Goth Rock true believers the Anunnaki, local ska heroes the Georgetown Orbits, plus DJ'S Grimus & A2Z.

Register your scavenger teams here. Doors to the Underground open at 9:00, Entrance is $3 with a costume and $5 without.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Manhattan Street Corners

Between March and November 2006, Richard Howe photographed every street corner in Manhattan - roughly 11,000 of them - from all four sides. The images are excellent, all closely cropped to the street level of each intersection, avoiding the standard "skyscraper view" of Manhattan and focusing instead on the people who bring each corner to vibrant life.

As Howe says in his introduction to the project,

Each of Manhattan’s street corners is a life-world of its own, representing the common experience of the daily lives that cross it; taken together, they represent the collective experience of the island’s streets and sidewalks, the larger life-world of Manhattan’s greatest public commons.

You can view all of the photos by neighborhood on the project's extensive website, though to get a real feel for the project I recommend having a look at the 101 Street Corners slideshow.

Individual prints from the collection are now available directly from Howe, and four 12" x 36" prints were acquired by the Library of Congress for its permanent collection.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

At Length Did Cross an Albatross

Yesterday, I touched on Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," in which a seaman brings a curse upon himself and his shipmates when he needlessly kills an albatross.

That theme leads directly to this powerful new series of photographs by Seattle photographer Chris Jordan detailing the deaths of albatross chicks on Midway Atoll. On these remote islands, thousands of miles from the nearest continent, albatrosses canvas the pacific ocean looking for food for their chicks. Instead of food, they too often find bits of plastic and metal detritus which they feed to their offspring, poisoning and asphyxiating them. Jordan documents this phenomenon as faithfully as possible by moving nothing in any of these tragic photographs. Not a bone, not a feather, not a bottle cap was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These beautiful and terrible images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world’s most remote marine sanctuaries.

Coleridge's Mariner kills a single albatross, and that sin results in damnation for all who stood by and let it happen. What happens when we kill generations of these birds? How much will we all suffer for abnegating so much responsibility?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Today is the birthday of the poet, literary critic and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, born October 21, 1772. Even as a child, Coleridge was famously sensitive, devouring books and avoiding social life. His brother Luke died in 1790 and his only sister Ann in 1791, inspiring him to write "Monody," one of his first poems, at the age of 22. The depression and consequent illness that followed encouraged Coleridge to take laudanum, which began a lifelong opium addiction. Coleridge entered Cambridge in 1791 and rapidly worked himself into debt with opium, alcohol, and women. He had started to hope for poetic fame, but was famously desperate for money, causing him to try all manner of schemes including joining and then deserting the British army, and planning a utopian community called "Pantisocracy" which attempted to create a garden of Eden in Pennsylvania.

Coleridge struggled to make a living through teaching, newspaper work and poetry, but everything from marital difficulties to dying children to a damp climate conspired to keep him depressed and hooked on opium. In 1798, the Lyrical Ballads, the first collaboration between Coleridge and William Wordsworth, was published. The poems, which included The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, signaled a dramatic shift toward modern poetry, and basically created the Romantic movement.

Despite that remarkable accomplishment, things never looked very bright for Coleridge. He separated from his wife Sarah in 1808, broke relations with Wordsworth in 1810, lost part of his annuity in 1811, and basically surrendered to his opium addiction by 1814, putting himself under the full time care of his doctor and caretaker. He continued to write poems and struggled to publish a weekly newspaper with limited financial success. His powerful intellect and insights into literature earned him invitations as a lecturer, but his ill-health, his addiction, and somewhat unstable personality meant that all his lectures were irregular and unpredictable.

In 1817, Coleridge moved into the home of his physician and remained there for the rest of his life, composing poetry and having visions. He died in London on July 25, 1834 as the result of a lung disorder linked to his use of opium.

Frost at Midnight

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet's cry
Came loud--and hark, again ! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings : save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
'Tis calm indeed ! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village ! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams ! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not ;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

Complete poem is here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tent City

Last April, author George Saunders stayed for one week in a 300-person homeless tent city in Fresno, California. His 12,000 word piece on the experience appears in the current issue of GQ magazine.

As will be seen, truth was relative within the Study Area. Truth is relative everywhere but was even more relative within the Study Area. Anything anyone ever claimed during the Study was, at some point, directly contradicted by something someone else claimed. Stories within the Study Area, as will be seen, were rife with exaggeration, omission, or fabrication. It is postulated that this was related to the hardship of material conditions within the Study Area, as well as the prevalence of mental illness within the Study Area. The relation between mental illness and residency within the Study Area is worthy of further study. In some cases, mental illness seemed to be the reason for residence within the Study Area. In other cases, residence within the Study Area seemed to be causing mental illness in individuals who, in a less stressful setting, might not have been mentally ill at all.

On his website he writes "...It was a very moving, sort of scary experience, that had the effect of re-energizing certain tendencies in my fiction and in me as a person, I guess, among these: respect for the real; a distrust of the American capitalist juggernaut; suspicion of my own Pollyannaish tendencies; new enthusiasm for the variety and weirdness of the world."

You can read the full story over 21 mini-pages on GQ's website, though I very much recommend that you read it here, on one long page.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Anarchist Bookfair

This weekend brings the first ever Seattle Anarchist Bookfair to the Underground Events Center. To say the least, it's an event that has been a long time in planning - and there's a lot to show for it. More than 40 publishers and booksellers are selling their wares over the two day event, including the venerable anarchist publishers ak press and the absolutely brilliant graphic designers Beehive Collective traveling all the way from rural Maine. The weekends' events also include dozens of workshops on such topics as freeware vs. intellectual property rights, how to resist the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and "Ganging Up on the Bosses." The anarchists have gotten themselves organized to bring in guests and vendors from across the country. The least you can do is organize a visit to Belltown. This Saturday and Sunday from 10 AM to 7 PM. All ages.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Madonna del Ghisallo

Today is the feast day of the Patroness of Bicyclists, the Madonna del Ghisallo.

Medieval legend has it that a certain Count Ghisallo was traveling near the village of Magréglio when he was attacked by highway bandits. Spotting a image of the Virgin Mary in a roadside shrine, he broke away from his attackers and ran to it. There he took refuge, pled for Our Lady’s protection - and was miraculously saved from the robbers. As the story spread, the Madonna del Ghisallo became known as patroness of local travellers. In more recent times, cyclists would often stop to rest and pray at the chapel, which is at the top of a steep hill. After World War II, Father Ermelindo Vigano, pastor at the shrine, proposed Ghisallo as the site of a shrine for bicyclists, and she was given as patroness of cyclists on 13 October 1949 by Pope Pius XII. The chapel has become equal part religious shrine and cycling museum. There is an eternal flame that burns there in memory of the cyclists who are no longer with us, and services each Christmas Eve and the Feast of All Souls commemorate them.

The above photo is taken from Pez Cycling News, which has many more pictures of this strange and gorgeous church. Thanks!

Monday, October 12, 2009


This video has been circling the web for a couple of weeks but it bears repeating. “COMBO” is the newest animated graffiti film from Blu, whose previous work “MUTO” became a YouTube sensation. This time around he collaborated with street artist/animator David Ellis at the previously blogged FAME Festival. Both of these films are amazingly inspirational, using already wildly experimental take-no-prisoners street art, and then using time lapse animation to create cartoons. Graffiti artists have always used buildings and urban spaces as canvases, its a great leap of imagination to use them as animation cels.

And by the way, don't overlook the rest of the art created at the FAME Festival. Some truly remarkable images which will change the way you think about street art.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Today is the birthday of Thelonius Monk, born October 10, 1917. Known primarily as a jazz innovator, the utterly unique Monk has long been recognized as simply one of the most inventive pianists of any genre.

Born in North Carolina but raised in New York City, Monk was a serious music student by the age of nine, and was touring as a professional pianist by his early teens. He formed his own quartet and played local bars and small clubs until the spring of 1941, when drummer Kenny Clarke hired him as the house pianist at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, which became the ground zero of the “bebop revolution." The musical scene at Minton's attracted young musicians brimming with fresh ideas about harmony and rhythm — including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, and Bud Powell. Monk’s harmonic innovations were fundamental to the development of modern jazz in this period and he was celebrated as the “High Priest of Bebop.”

Despite his contributions to the development of modern jazz, Monk remained fairly obscure, and didn't lead his first recording session until 1947 at thirty years old and a veteran of the jazz scene for half his life. In August 1951 he was falsely arrested for narcotics possession, essentially taking the rap for his friend Bud Powell, and was stripped of his police-issued “cabaret card,” without which jazz musicians couldn't perform in New York. He continued to play sporadic concerts and out-of-town gigs, and when his cabaret card was restored in 1957 he enjoyed a very long and successful engagement with John Coltrane, which was a financial and critical highpoint of his career.

Monk recorded a number of great albums through the 1960's, but by 1970 his personal eccentricities and deteriorating health made it hard for him to either tour or record, and he made his final public appearance in July 1976. On February 5, 1982, he suffered a stroke and never regained consciousness. He died twelve days later, on February 17th.

This gorgeous Monk composition, "Crepescule with Nellie" was written for his constant companion, his wife of 35 years, Nellie.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A World Going On Underground

The last week has brought an absolute explosion of new street art at the Underground Events Center. Incredible new pieces appeared from some of the West Coast's finest writers including Aerub, Huemr, and the legendary Veks. But the crowning glory has got to be this new 100 foot long, 20 foot high mural by Sean Barton. The entire north wall of the Underground parking lot now features a 2-story-tall gorilla bashing the words "Welcome to Belltown" out of the brick. Barton dedicated his huge piece to his mentor, renowned Los Angeles muralist Dennis Bezanis, "The King of Convex," who passed away in April this year. Many more photos here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pulling Strings

Two unusual and potent puppet shows currently playing in Seattle, from two of the last great puppeteers still creating work in this town.

Bloody Henry is Brian Kooser's gorgeous and gory take on the life and wives of King Henry VIII. Billed as a "hysterically accurate" puppet show about history's favorite misogynist mass murdering monarch, the design of the entire show is extraordinary, the puppets are exquisite, and the story is alternately uproarious and stomach churning. At Seattle University's Lee Center for the Arts through Oct 24.

Playwright Scot Auguston, in his perennial guise of "Sgt. Rigsby," is leading his troupe of voice actors through another riotous adventure of "Sgt. Rigsby's Amazing Silhouettes." For more than 10 years, Auguston and his remarkably consistent crew have come together periodically to create dementedly clever shadow puppet shows. The latest show, "Teensploitation," is a brave and bawdy coming-of-age story described as a unhealthy mixture of Judy Blume and R. Crumb, featuring new tingly feelings, horrifying physical changes and a singing chicken. At Theater Off Jackson until October 31.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Freedom in Burma

Poster artist and controversial folk hero/capitalist pig Shepard Fairey has created a new poster featuring Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and calling for democracy in Burma. Fairey is offering to mail them to anyone, anywhere in the world, who promises to put up them around their city. The posters are free, and Fairey will even pay for the shipping. The poster is also available for sale to those willing to take a different kind of risk. More about the Freedom to Lead campaign here.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

New Kid (Koala)

I missed Montreal turntablist Kid Koala when he was in Seattle recently, so I'm doubly glad that he just posted his newest album, The Slew: 100% on his website. You can download the whole new album, 10 tracks, right here, for free. Kid Koala has been dropping strange and funny mixes for years, grabbing hooks from all kinds of unlikely sources like obscure jazz records, recordings of symphony orchestras, comedy albums, after-school specials, medical recordings of speech impediments, and more. This particular mix features lots of heavy metal samples, with bluesy bass licks, pounding drums and screaming guitars. It sounds daunting, but like all of Kid Koala's mixes it's musical, fun, groove heavy and damn catchy. It costs you nothing - what have you got to lose?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Poem in October

Poem in October
by Dylan Thomas

        It was my thirtieth year to heaven
    Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
        And the mussel pooled and the heron
            Priested shore
        The morning beckon
    With water praying and call of seagull and rook
    And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
            Myself to set foot
        That second
    In the still sleeping town and set forth.

        My birthday began with the water-
      Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
    Above the farms and the white horses
            And I rose
        In a rainy autumn
    And walked abroad in shower of all my days
    High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
        Over the border
            And the gates
        Of the town closed as the town awoke.

Complete poem is here.