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Showing posts from August, 2010

Agent-de-change by Stanley Rowen: In Remembrance of Terri Brint Joseph

I met Terri in Paris in 1987, probably at a book or poetry reading at the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore there. After the reading, most of us, French and Americans, went to a cafe. Terri and I became instant friends, in the easy way of two expatriate Americans in a non-English speaking country. I was the head of the new stock options trading & sales operation at the second largest French broker, directing a team of a dozen French nationals. I think that until then, Terri had been used to a somewhat American milieu, and she gradually became more and more immersed in Parisian life, helped by her French language skills. She spent a fair amount of time with me, and also together with my French girlfriend, with whom I would eventually marry.

Terri was always charming, brilliant, interesting, coherent, and insightful. I remember that we took a day trip together out to Versailles, and we had with us a scholarly write-up on the statuary there, which we read as we examined the sta…

"Walking: Beirut and Paris, 1974 - 1987" by Terri Brint Joseph


I had taken this walk so often
I knew every paving stone by heart:
Straight down rue Mahatma Gandi,
Past the Grand Mosque where
Shy students chanted the Koran,
And then Mustafa at Sidani suk
Who'd smile and say, "Good morning

I was always glad to reach
The little Turkish palace
Amid the new apartment buildings
And loved for being different
The palace's three arched windows
And orange tree in the garden.

I would pause at the corner
of Bliss Street,
Turning away from the university
For my first glimpse of the sea,
And to the east: Blue mountains
ridged with snow.

It was so familiar
I had almost become inured
To the sight of the lighthouse
Rising sharply from cliffs
And the sea spread suddenly
Around me on three sides.

But this time,
Beside you,
Crossing the Corniche,
I saw it as if for the first time,
Startled by its beauty.

A few yards into the sea,
We discovered a curious grotto,
half-filled with restless water.
As you watched, silent,
I sat on its mo…

Rock-Climbing by Terri Brint Joseph

Newly separated, my divorce pending,
I finished class at Ballet Elganova,
Entered Adventures Unlimited,
And signed up for a course
in rock climbing.

Still not quite sure what it was
When I went on my first climb
on Mount Rubosa,
I almost died of fright when I saw
What I'd agreed to do:
"I'm not a human fly,"
I objected;
"You must be crazy!
Do you think I'm Spider Woman?"

But Dan McCook,
My young teacher/guide,
Assured me
That ballarinas were "natural climbers,"
As he eyed my thigh muscles and pink shorts.

I left a lot of blood
On my first mountain,
But only because Dan forgot to tell me
To kick off the mountain face
When I slipped and had to hang by the ropes.

Later, as I learned to find finger and toe holds
On a surface slick as glass,
I panicked when I looked through
A crevice I had to leap
And saw how high I'd inched my way
up the smooth face.
"Imagine you're in a ballet class,"
Dan whispered.
"Don't look down;

Some Opening Words on the Late Great Terri Brint Joseph

Earlier this month I posted My Own Stab at Less Than Zero Many Moons Ago, and in the preface, mentioned Terri Brint Joseph, who was an internationally known poet, academic, and expert on The Cantos of Ezra Pound. She was also (lucky me!) my adviser at what was then Chapman College (now it's Chapman University).

A few weeks after my post, Stan Rowen, stranger to me (but not to Terri Brint Joseph) was kind enough to leave a comment (see the comments to "My Own Stab at Less Than Zero..."). Since leaving his first comment, we've corresponded several times, relaying our memories of Terri. He knew her when she was in Paris, circa '87-'88, just after her divorce, while I didn't become acquainted with her until the Spring semester at Chapman, 1989.

Stan had found a couple of Terri's poems while going through some papers of his, and then went online to look his old dear friend up, and found my blog. I'm sorry that he learned of her death reading my p…

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien, the young man, prior to becoming Tim O'Brien, the most searingly honest writer this reader has ever read, was in an intense crisis having just received his draft notice for the Vietnam War.

June 17, 1968.
His inner conflict is documented (a story he'd told no one, not even his wife, until publishing it) in "On the Rainy River," one of the interconnected tales of The Things They Carried. A month later (July, 1968) as his date of departure for Vietnam neared, he thought seriously about Canada. In too much turmoil to talk about it with his family or friends, he fled toward the border. To northern Minnesota, where he landed at the Tip Top Lodge on the edge of a lake, the opposite shore of which, lie Canada, freedom from Vietnam. He spent six days and seven nights there with the inn keeper, a wise, quiet, compassionate man named Elroy Berdahl, eighty-one, who intuitively knew it seems like, without being told explicitly, what was going on with Tim --…

Freddie Mercury, Highlander and Lost Horizon by James Hilton

Freddie Mercury 
once operatically crooned,
"Who wants to live forever?"
as if the obvious answer 
to his existential 
lyrical inquiry -- 
featured prominently in the film, Highlander -- 
was a resounding 
"No one". 
maybe so, 
but I'll bet Freddie Mercury never read 
Lost Horizon.

Snapping the String by Robert Paul Blumenstein

There’s literary fiction and there's genre fiction, and then there’s Robert Paul Blumenstein’s novel, Snapping the String, which draws from nearly every fiction niche out there. The publishers blurb, “a chilling psycho-thriller,” will definitely draw the attention of psycho-thriller fans, but what about fans of outright horror, Southern gothic, magical realism, romance, religious fiction, bildungsroman (albeit a uniquely belated bildungsroman), mystery, hard boiled detective story, adventure, or social commentary a la One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Girl, Interrupted?

Snapping The String definitely deserves an audience beyond that of "psycho-thriller" fans (and who exactly are "psycho-thriller" fans anyway; I mean, are these fans "psycho" for "thrillers" or are they "psychos" who like thrillers? Important distinction.

I like Blumenstein’s concise, uncomplicated descriptions. Detailing Peyton Costello’s hallucination from a…

Astronomer's Son (a fragment)

Slim silhouette on the downstairs deck
His skins dim border, a black hole
Stands arched in observation
One eye closed

What'cha still doin out there Dad?
Aren't'cha gettin cold?

He coughed out no, no
Just go on back to bed Son
I'll tuck you in soon

I climbed the ladder to the top bunk
Waited for one small step into my bedroom

Except he's seeing stars
He's light years away
Pondering perhaps
The usual comet or eclipse
The latest telescope of his
So prized I couldn't touch it
But I did

Or maybe the vast void of space
It's sheer size he studied, I don't know
The way space s e p a r a t e s
One body from the next
With darkness, distance, emptiness
I do know
Left him speechless, restless, spouseless


Greatest Space Images of All Time
(I recommend enabling full screen for the slide show)

The Hierophant of 100th Street by Cullen Dorn

Hierophants are persons who interpret sacred or esoteric mysteries. The psuedo-Christian, clairvoyant gnostic-likes of Madame Blavatsky, Edgar Cayce, Deepak Chopra; or, in today's Oprah-endorsed parlance, Eckhart Tolle, perhaps, could rightly be called hierophants. New Age avatars. Mediums. Mystics with a message (and usually a new book) for sale.

Cullen Dorn is one such mystic. The title of his debut novel refers to our ever-increasingly enlightened (as the novel progresses) protagonist, Adam Kadman, introduced to us as being, at the age of seventeen, living in the most dangerous of New York neighborhoods --100th Street-- during the mid-sixties, "quite the savant for his age ... nostalgic for something he could not grasp."

We can conclude after finishing the novel, if we make it that far (and keeping the prologue in mind too) that what Adam was nostalgic for was his latest pre-birth state in a bright-lit world of peace and happiness (if you've been through the …

Disabilityland by Dr. Alan Brightman

I'm amazed thinking back to that seeming lifetime ago before I had a chromosomally challenged child of my own to love and care for how largely ignorant I was of special needs populations (who they were and what made them tick), be they physically and/or mentally challenged. I'm still sort of confused, actually, even having lived twelve years in the special needs community, if it's even appropriate anymore for me to say "mentally challenged". I do know what was mostly used as a pejorative term, anyway, the "R" word (duh!), is definitely out, as is (or at least it's on the way out) "handicapped," so do forgive if I unwittingly step in it and communicate some archaic, politically incorrect language in briefly describing this book, Disabilityland, by Dr. Alan Brightman.

And what a beautiful book, "DisabilityLand," is! From the inviting colorful cover -- featuring the artwork created by a "disabled" person courtesy of NIA…

Match Made in Hell

Two years ago this weekend, I told my adopted son, "Nick," that I wish we'd never adopted him.

He had just backed me, even weighing nearly 100 pounds more than him, into a wall so hard that my backside left a crater there. Family portraits hung on the wall fell and shattered on the floor.

Nick was enraged. He'd disrespected his mother a few minutes prior to this incident. When I informed him matter-of-factly the consequences of his chronic disrespect -- no more video games for the rest of the weekend -- his transformation from quiet seventeen year-old kid into unrecognizable Hulk-like attacker, was instantaneous. It had happened many times before (way too many times before), but with "fuck you's" instead of fists.

My wife dialed 911.

He went after me digging at my eyes. Grabbing my balls. Trying to yank my hair out. Biting. Kicking. Spitting. Screaming. Scratching and clawing at me like a furious lion. Et cetera.

I wasn't trying to fi…

Facsimile Dust Jackets L.L.C.

Suppose you've got a great old book but your great old book does not have a dust jacket.

Facsimile Dust Jackets has over 4,000 dust jackets ready to ship to the book collector not happy with their bare, unjacketed book. No book should sit on the shelf naked, its wear and tear visible to all. Maybe your book has an unsightly water stain on the spine, or dried what looks like blood beneath the title on the front cover. Or crusty impacted boogers on the back! Yuck. Who wants to hold or display or show off books looking like that?

For $22.00, the good folks at Facsimile Dust Jackets will send you a killer looking copy of the original dust jacket replete with retro artwork so beloved by bibliophiles everywhere.

I am neither related to the makers and distributors of Facsimile Dust Jackets, nor being paid by them for this free advertisement. I just think this idea of providing exact replicate dust jackets, while pricey at $22 a pop, is a fantastic idea nonetheless. I wish I'd…

Ten Days to Self-Esteem ... Not Nine Days, Not Eleven or Twelve Days ... Ten Days to Self-Esteem by David D. Burns

It would be all too easy at first glance to mercilessly mock this book based solely on the improbable promise of it's title (reminds me of homemade signs I see alongside freeway off ramps everyday promising $50,000/week, or some such ridiculous figure, no selling or experience needed!) and the all-too-happily grinning mug shot of its pastel-turtlenecked author, Dr. Burns, so I won't, other than to say I can see where Saturday Night Live alum, Al Franken, may have gotten his "Stuart Smalley" inspiration.

The inside of the book? Believe it or not, there's actually some good psychological exercises/question-and-answers throughout this introductory workbook designed to foster intellectual/inter-relational insight and emotional growth, particularly for individuals who've struggled with feelings of low self-esteem and its bothersome brother, depression, for years.

Ten Days to Self-Esteem can be particularly helpful in a group therapy setting as a means of provi…

I'm Still Obsessed with Infinite Jest

If Infinite Jest were a bowling score, it would be 300. Perfect! It's literature's equivalent of facing the minimum twenty-seven batters in a nine inning game of baseball and retiring everybody who steps into the batter's box.

When the Ten Year, $10 anniversary edition of IJ came out in 2006 with the rambling (nearly incoherent) introduction by David Eggers, I had to buy it even though the copy I possessed (note I don't own Infinite Jest or have a copy of Infinite Jest, I possessInfinite Jest like I'm Legion) was in great shape, good for another half dozen reads. A couple years back, just six months prior to Wallace's suicide, I possessed a hardcover first edition of Infinite Jest, even though I had only read the Ten Year, $10 anniversary edition of Infinite Jest with the introduction by David Eggers, twice. I saw Infinite Jest sitting in a pile on the floor in the literary fiction aisle of The Bookman in Orange, CA, where a gangly, geeky looking Gin Bloss…

Italo Calvino on Books and Bibliophiles

Quoted (at length) from his metafictional masterpiece If on a winter's night a traveler (1979).

"So, then, you noticed in a newspaper that If on a winter's night a traveler had appeared, the new book by Italo Calvino, who hadn't published for several years. You went to the bookshop and bought the volume. Good for you.

"In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven't Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn't Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you ar…

My Own Stab at Less Than Zero Many Moons Ago

As an undergrad at what was then Chapman College (today it's Chapman University) I wrote a short story heavily influenced by both the style and content of Bret Easton Ellis. I imagine student "literary" journals of the late '80s are redundantly replete with such Ellis mimicry.

I thought I'd lost my stab at Less Than Zero, a story titled "Me and Dad," until finding a beat up copy of Chapman's literary journal, Calliope II, buried in a box buried deep in our garage, that had published my story. It was the first piece I ever had published. I was twenty. Fall, 1989. Written over one long weekend (in two takes that March) but where oh where was the internal editor! (or Chapman's editor, good Lord!)

And while the story embarrasses me a bit now, I'm obviously not so embarrassed by it as to not scan it in here, now. Terri Brint Joseph, whose creative writing class inspired the story, compared it favorably to Willa Cather's short story, &q…