Some poets never peak. Leonard Cohen never did. And unlike those who churned out clunkers late in life—William Wordsworth with Ecclesiastical Sonnets (at 52) or Bob Dylan with Together Through Life (at 68) —Wendy Drexler shows no sign of peaking. Through her latest volume, it’s clear she continues to improve her poetry in metaphoric complexity and thematic scope. Her first book, Drive-in, Gas Stations, the Bright Motels was a kind of poetic memoir of her childhood. It captured the quirkiness of her family through humor and poignancy. Before There Was Before delved into self-reflection, focused on guilt, and used experimental techniques like dramatic hard-hitting endings. An amateur photographer herself, she also began writing about photography, ruminating on its imagery and implications.
A book with a new type of poetry. The poetry of the found list.
By Peter Bates
War. Pestilence. Global warming. Layoffs. Financial ruin. Lawsuits. Bad hookups. There are random forces poised to get you, most of the time when you least expect them. Some of us organize our lives in patterns that create a sort of balance. We forge schedules, we label stuff, we categorize, all to squeeze this mad mad world back in line.
Not exactly. I’m something else.
Where I live, the old men sit around the spa after workouts sipping coffee. Once in a while, they’ll gloat about their now-easier lives. One day one said, “You know Pete, we’re survivors.”
“Not me,” I replied, “I’m an escapee.”
Here’re some notable things I’ve escaped from: Continue reading “I am Not a Survivor”
Two months after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt authorized Executive Order 9066. It adopted a drastic policy toward Japanese-American residents, alien and citizen alike. Virtually all of them were forced to abandon their homes and property and live in camps for most of the war. Continue reading “Did Anyone Oppose Japanese Internment?”
“Don’t ever assume things,” my aunt used to say. Just because What the Camera Didn’t See is a behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood filming doesn’t mean it’s tawdry or sensationalistic. It’s not in the same category as say, Behind the Candelabra, Scott Thorson’s book about his years with Liberace. For one thing, it’s not ghostwritten. Cinematographer Alec Hirschfeld also happens to be a writer. A good one.
He operated a camera at many famous movies of the past fifty years like Taxi Driver, Goodbye Columbus, Diary of a Mad Housewife, and Terminator. He reveals intriguing anecdotes about those (and other) films and his working methods. He also talks about problems that some of these films raised, like how Taxi Driver was physically challenging for the staff, and also psychologically to Hirschfeld. He felt like an outsider with his long hair and alternative lifestyle. (I well remember the time in which such differences mattered.)
As every creative knows, sometimes you take what work you can get. Hirschfeld also filmed some B movies, like The Last American Virgin. He uses his experiences on that film to tell about the changing attitudes toward on-screen nudity. In A movies, such scenes were generally treated with “sensitivity” and only the essential cast and crew members were allowed on set. In B movies, nobody cared, and people freely walked about during the nude scenes, some just to gawk.
He also uses his experiences with the black-produced film Cotton Comes to Harlem to write about the racial attitudes he grew up with, those of a middle-class educated Jewish boy. “If I had ever had a black friend . . . I might have understood how significant it was, in the face of institutional racism, that this film was being made at all.”
Hirschfeld deals candidly with his life. While building a successful career, his past was close behind. One day he discovers that he’d fathered a child in a short-term relationship from long ago. While unintended pregnancy was common in those years, I would’ve liked to have read more about his relationship with this newly-found daughter.
There are flashes of humor in this book. Unlike Tina Fey’s jokey memoir Bossypants, What the Camera Didn’t See features occasional wry observations like this one: when filming Jaws 2, the crew was beset by flocks of interfering butterflies. “Like the shark, they could not be reasoned with. I’ll bet you didn’t know that a whole bunch of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope, or a swarm if you’re not crazy about butterflies. I’m sure the production report said ‘swarm’, since, ‘shooting delayed by kaleidoscope of Monarchs’ is less ominous.”
This book is more than an excellent summer read. You may actually learn something from it.
“Barrelin’ down the highway
Wheelin’ right along
Hear the tires hummin’
Hummin’ out a song
The rumble of the diesel
The shiftin’ of the gears
The rhythm when he’s rollin’
Is music to his ears.”
“Cannonball,“ words and music by Merle Haggard
Unlike Mike and Jerry from the TV Series Cannonball (1958), I’ve never driven an eighteen-wheeler down a six-lane highway. But maybe this is what creating a work of art is like. Continue reading “When Creativity Stalls”
IN WHICH I partially figure out how some things worked.
My buddy Chuck was told that his hall monitor services were “no longer needed” because he’d been lax in handing out yellow slips to malefactors. His sudden replacement by Callahan made me wary, so I skulked past him, but he nailed me anyway.
Getting laid off is often the best solution to a bad work environment. Sometimes you can even engineer it yourself.
Getting laid off isn’t so bad. Sometimes it’s even necessary.
In my thirty-year career in high tech, I was lucky. I never got fired. I was, however, laid off. Six times.
Three of the times I engineered myself.
Why would anyone want to lay themselves off? Continue reading “How to Lay Yourself Off”
Time for a full confession. I am a gadgetophile. I surround myself with devices – both analog and digital. Gadgets, all of them. But I prefer to call them “life enhancers.” Why? I’ll get to that. Continue reading “Could This Gadget Save Your Ass?”
“When I awoke after being knocked unconscious,” said Walton, “I knew something was wrong. I sneezed and my pants fell down. Soon I was running out of belt holes. I was losing an inch a day! At least! When I shrank to five feet, I knew it was time to become a jockey. I won several races, rapidly rose in the ranks, would have scaled the heights of fame, but all too soon I flunked the minimum height requirement. Continue reading “What Happens When You Shrink”