I picked up a selected writings of Voltaire at the Dunedin Library book sale. The book is sort of a hodgepodge of stuff “not Candide.”

I cannot say I’ve enjoyed it so much. What is the value in Voltaire these days? Is his value as much for his image – the rebellious, bohemian, intellectual laying some kind of groundwork for liberty or revolution? – as for his actual output. I am excluding Candide here and that slim book alone might be enough to justify all sorts of deserved literary fame.

The first bit contains some letters written to friends in England and you read them, thinking, these are like a lot of other letters from the period. Better written and more interesting than a modern email, yes, but is it really that special? And where is Voltaire’s famed, biting wit? Later came some bite, which felt more like disrespect and some cultural criticism too timely to mean much anymore.

I have been left with an image of Voltaire as more of a p—k than anything else. I need to pick up some Kant or Rousseau or Montesqueiu or someone else like that to rekindle my affection for the enlightenment.

The Dali Museum

FullSizeRenderThe Dali Museum (or just ‘the Dali’) is the artistic and cultural crown jewel of not just St. Petersburg, but the whole Tampa Bay area. Really, it’s the only world class artistic institution in the region (though the Ringling Museum in Sarasota and it’s collection of Rubens and baroque art is a contender, but it’s not really part of Tampa Bay).

It was my first time visiting the new building. It’s definitely a more striking piece of architecture than the bland original home, but I was not convinced that they had necessarily improved the actual interior space in terms of its ability to effectively display the museum’s exhibitions.

There were two halls open: one containing a chronological retrospective of Dali’s career and the other jointly displaying Dali and Picasso side by side to illustrate the elder Spaniard’s influence on his famously mustachioed compatriot.

They were both wonderful, wonderful exhibits and provided me with a much better understanding of Dali. But it was also a little sad.

You see, because the Dali is such an important part of the cultural landscape of where I grew up, I take a certain familial pride, not just in the museum and the collection, but in the artist himself. He, as it were, belongs to me, if you take my meaning. I take pride in his position in the constellation of great artists.

The chronological exhibition showed his very earliest, adolescent works. There were painfully hackneyed and looked like stuff from the flea market. Of course, there were also his great masterpieces, of which the Dali has more than a few. But the memory of his juvenilia stuck with me like a toothache.

The Picasso/Dali exhibit similarly, by showing the great influence of Picasso and the occasional mimicry of Dali hurt my ego.

But that said, truly magnificent works. And Picasso is so overexposed that it is always a pleasure when some curator succeeds in presenting in a new light that actually reveals something about him and his work. I’ve more than a few Picasso exhibitions that come across like little other than a thin excuse for just putting some of his paintings in the same room. This was not one of those.

On another note, that it my father and I standing in front of giant mustache, outside the Dali.

Another Thing (Maybe) That Jeb Has Romney To Thank For

Marco Rubio wants to be president. Really wants. He’s been dreaming about running in 2016 since his GOP star took off in 2010. Also, he knows that he’ll be entirely too bald to run in 2020 as anything other than an incumbent… so this it really. It’s now or never.

But Jeb.

Jeb, Jeb, Jeb.

A certain younger and supposedly smarter brother of a former failed president had recently made his own aspirations known. And you can be sure that this suddenly dried up a lot of home state money for poor old Rubio.

But then Mitt suddenly took all the wonderful momentum that had magically appeared when Jeb went public.

I’m wondering is Rubio didn’t see a tiny opening for him to lay some groundwork when that happened?

Monday Morning Staff Meeting – Art, The Savior

scififanzines4Investing in art is investing in community prosperity.

Salt from an ancient sea.

A poetry reading from the Miami International Book Fair.

Preserving sci fi zines for posterity. This is actually pretty cool. How many people printed and mimeographed wonderful collections of poetry and stories and art in zines and chapbooks, for them to be lost and destroyed and the authors, rather than being preserved in some part of human consciousness, to disappear with nary a ripple and finally leaving no mark on time?

To Read, Or Not To Read

In bars, that is.

Because I saw this HuffPo post entitled Bars Are Great for Writers, But Not for Reading. Obviously, it was intended to gin up (did you see that pun I just made) some flames and back and forth and what not and it certainly got my goat.

You see, I love reading in bars.

I don’t get to do it much anymore. One of the things I really didn’t count when I became deeply involved with someone was that my solitary time at bars would greatly diminish. In fact, I think it’s safe to say it has nearly zeroed out.

But back in the day, it was my thing. And I loved it. The Pig an Whistle on Hollywood Boulevard was my haunt for several years. I would straggle in and belly up to the bar and drink Stella Artois and eat wonton chip nachos (so good!) and read. There are even certain books I have had trouble reading since my bar time diminished. Deleuze and Guattari’s almost deliberately unreadable Anti-Oedipus is actually more comprehensible when the intake of alcohol and alcohol absorbing nachos is properly balanced. Fully sober, the ‘body without organs’ means almost nothing to me.

There were novels and wonderful books that I read almost entirely inside the confines of a bar: Yabba Dew’s in Gulfport, Florida; the Pig and Whistle in Los Angeles; the Black Prince in Atlanta. The bartenders were understanding and I think the bars did okay, in spite of my apparently flagrant violation of the set purpose of the establishments.

Home, Sweet Home

Weekend Reading – Lost Arts

The value of memorizing (and sometimes even reciting) poetry.

Cool! He designed one of my favorite spots in Tampa!

Poetry publishers, poetry MFA programs, poetry reviewers (do they still exist? is that a real job? can I have it?), and poetry award givers all appear to be significantly less sexist as the rest of the (male dominated) publishing world.

Ancient mystery solved. Everyone go home now.

I don’t actually remember seeing all that much street art in Thailand. But LA? Yeah. Tons of it. Great stuff. Sometimes. You know.

Chicago Modernism.


Weekend Reading – A Bad Way To View Writing

This piece about metrics for writers bugged. It bugged me on a visceral level. Maybe it’s because the author writes for Forbes. But what about art? The metrics described seem less about true craft and more about commercialism and well… I respect a certain amount of commercialism, isn’t writing good, worthwhile pieces the goal? Do these sorts of metrics contribute all that much to that goal? I’m not so sure.

The decline of public intellectuals coming from academia and contributing as broadly to the national conversation is not driven by some sort of failure of the academics themselves, but rather by dangerous changes to higher education, where poorly paid and precarious contingent faculty make up the majority of professors. Contingent faculty, let me assure you, are both too busy trying to make ends meet to spend much time contributing to all those wonderful things higher ed used to contribute, as well as suffering from a scarlet letter ‘A’ (for ‘Adjunct’) that biases journals against seriously considering their contributions.

Tampa is leading the way in something positive. Sort. I don’t know. I find it hard to believe that we’re not at the back of the class.

Protest Poetry And Dissident Poetry

For some reason, I decided to re-read bits of a speech that the late great Adrienne Rich had given upon the occasion of being given an award (her remarks were published by Norton as a sort of chapbook under the title  Poetry and Commitment).

She references the American poet James Scully, who (according to Rich)  calls ‘protest poetry’ conceptually shallow, reactive, predictable, and typically featuring hand wringing from the sidelines. She then includes brief quote from Scully:

Dissident poetry, however, does not respect boundaries between private and public, self and other. In breaking boundaries it breaks silences, speaking for, or at best, with the silenced; opening poetry up, putting it into the middle of life… It is a poetry that talks back, that would act as part of the world, not simply as a mirror of it.

This struck me because it came after some conversations with my father about political poetry, or, rather, its relative absence, at least in American poetry. And, of course, the recent passing of Amiri Baraka, the poet formerly known as LeRoi Jones.

Maybe Baraka exemplified best what Rich talks about, being committed.

She defends Shelley’s much maligned line about poets being unacknowledged legislators because Shelley did not know how nor conceived that he could separate his deeply held, liberal political views with his poetry nor that any other poet could. They were all from the same wellspring.

This just all sort of falls when I’m reading a lot of politically minded poetry. I picked some bell hooks the other night and am also reading Diane Di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters and even (though it’s not poetry) Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto (with an obnoxiously long foreword, I might add).

In honor of all this, here’s my terrible, awful attempt at what Scully would rightfully sneer at as protest poetry. He would probably also note that rhyming is not really my strong suit. Well, at least it’s political. I guess. I’ll almost certainly live to wish that I’d burned it, instead.

Rick Scott: An Ode

At last, I come arrayed
In the fanfare of the common cracker man
Humble, tacky but no frayed –
Dispatching notes of great jay
And for your acknowledgement and unhesitating belief, I have prayed.
The winnings you have won,
The challenges you have overcome –
Nothing to the great evil I have undone!
Tidings of unvarnished truth I bring!
My great employment, great employments wrought.
Corporate friends with good goods come to kiss the sun kissed ring,
Promises kept to a tee – seven hundred thousand on the nose!
My regal and trustworthy success a contrast to the old, faded king.
My jealous enemies name me Skeletor™
And cry that my greatest victories I falsely forge
But their spiteful, jealous facts I will ignore!
Your tax dollars I have given
To my honest, grafting friends
And for you, eight dollar an hour jobs, promised then forgiven.
No vow was ever truer kept:
Every poor man’s dollar, every corporation’s promise, only slightly riven.
And to those shallow, faithless, disbelieving fools who say
I promised you more jobs than just those created by Obama’s daring play,
Do not throw those lying tapes, videos and quotes in my face – nay, I say, nay!

Midweek Staff Meeting – You Are Doomed To Failure

The soul crushing poverty of the humanities’ major has been overstated. Slightly. It’s not so bad, really.

But since you don’t read anyway… meh.

Can I just say that this a great little list of why D&D is awesome? You’re welcome.

So, yeah. The Gulf is still screwed. Good times.