Category Archives: poetry

a review of “the happy birthday of death” by gregory corso. Beat poetry and the anarchy of language.

It was strange, I still don’t know exactly what to think of The Happy Birthday of Death (1960),  except that I enjoyed it greatly. At first Corso’s poems seemed like pure chaos. I picked up this book at a second hand store, it was the first time I had even heard of Gregory Corso (1930-2001). The words he used, and how he used them, barely held in relation to the others. Sometimes they appeared as if chosen at random. Perhaps they were. An anarchy of words! These odd combinations resulted in creations such as “pie glue” and “penguin dust.” In every poem there was a meaning that defied reason, even by the standards of poetry, but something was there that held it together. An amorphous purpose that can only be communicated in the funky style that Corso writes in.

His experimental style is so different from everything out there, that even the more open minded readers are in for a poetic curve ball. Corso celebrates the liberation of language and ideas. Most importantly, he has fun with poetry. Poetry is not some sacred tradition that’s has grown stale as an ancient vase in a museum. Corso has commented on the subject,

“How I love to probe life…. That’s what poetry is to me, a wondrous prober….It is not a meter or a measure of a line, a breath; not ‘law’ music; but the assembly of great eye sounds placed into an inspired measured idea.”

Breaking rules is what he does best. Corso’s beat poetry style bounces around the page shattering the glass castle of tradition. He has the soul of a jester philosopher. Poems such as “Marriage” are just a stone’s throw away from stand up comedy, while “Bomb” and “Police,” deal with the horror of war and societal repression. In the back of my head a nagging thought continually arose, “are you even allowed to do that?” The Happy Birthday of Death is a short read that packs a punch and is small enough to squeeze into your pocket. Put on your “fried shoes,” walk to your local bookstore, and tell the clerk, “Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust!”

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“The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” is the yearbook of the revolution

The Black Power Mixtape 1965-1975 is one of the most spectacularly moving documentaries of radical American history released in 2011, and is sure to be like nothing you’ve seen before. The documentary is composed of film shot by a Swedish news crew following the Black Power movement through the socially explosive era of the 60’s and 70’s. The news reels sat forgotten in a basement archival storage for over 30 years until Swedish documentary filmmaker Göran Olsson brushed off the dust. His resulting work won a Sundance Film Festival award for editing.

What I enjoyed about this documentary was the style. Man, was it cool. It takes the revolutionary spirit of those times and makes it contagious. You can’t help but feel yourself get caught up in the sense of urgency. I do admit, I was tempted several times to throw up my fist. The original Swedish crew takes the viewer deep into the Black Power movement by visiting the Black Panther headquarters in Oakland, the liberation rallies, Harlem ghettos, and prisons, to show the period in its rawest and most unapologetic form. The interviews are charged with the turmoil of a society divided by racial violence. Some of the un-politically correct statements are sure offend some viewers.  We get to hear directly from leaders in the revolution speak out for themselves in their manner that is so iconic to the 60’s and 70’s. There are appearances by civil rights giants such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver, and Stokely Charmichael.  Angela Davis’s interview is undeterred despite being conducted while incarcerated. Her fierce intellect still has the passion and power to move even the newest generation.

Don’t expect a concise depiction of the Black Power movement. As the name implies, it is more of a mixtape highlighting the movement’s greatest hits. The soundtrack itself is a mixtape of the soul, funk, and jazz that embodied the era. While many critiques dwell on the lack of historical cohesion, they miss the point that this documentary is supposed to function similar to a time capsule. Either way, the Black Power movement is far too vast and complex of an American phenomenon to ever be explained in 100 minutes. Even the interviewees towards the end urge people to read because “Knowledge is king.” The only problem I had with the film was that the modern commentators were almost exclusively recording artist rather than political activist, social scientist, or university professors. Yet the film is never lacking in message.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is a super stylish film that makes it fashionable to be intelligent again. It’s a motion picture scrapbook put together by this generation from the memories and history of another. This history is a troubled history, it will engage you directly. You can’t help but feel activated to continue the struggle for a more equal world. I hope you watch and enjoy this great documentary. Let me end this review by honoring all those in the fighting against fascism everywhere. Power to the people.

Gutter Surrealism and Punk culture

I want to write about Gutter Surrealism and its relation to Punk culture. The reason I want to address this is because Gutter Surrealism is heavily influenced by the madness and beauty of punk culture. First of all I want make it clear: I’m not a punk and I’m not trying to pass for one either. Gutter Surrealism is its own legitimate movement seeking to cut out its own path. But there’s a lot of similarities the two have in common; a spirit of DIY (do it yourself), liberation, anti-authority, high energy, anti-mind control, you get the picture.

I’ve always been fascinated with the underdog. It’s a personal thing of mine. Whenever I watch a youtube video of someone running away from the cops, I instinctually cheer him on. The news actors (I only use the term “reporter” when connected with real journalists. Everyone else is just an actor) can say whatever they want about the guy. In that moment he’s the hero to me. After they catch him, he goes back to being just another ordinary baby killer or whatever awful thing people tend to become. I’m not saying all underdogs are criminals because that’s obviously not true. But if you’re an underdog yourself, you’ll quickly learn the law is not on your side. You become suspicious of anyone in power.

It was while I studied Art History and Theory at SDSU, that I became convinced that throughout history, weirdos were always more interesting and imaginative than normal people. It was around this time that my younger sisters were fully immersed in the underground punk scene. They started telling me about these things called “sewer shows,” which are hardcore punk rock performances literally down in the sewers. The whole idea was surreal, I had to check it out and so I tagged along. The experience was amazing. Mosh pits, people were throwing up graffiti murals, hardcore punk rock music, booze and herb everywhere, everyone having a good time. It was a different world down there. I got smashed off a box of wine and thrashed around in the mosh pit. Some guy even had a homemade flamethrower strapped to his back. He was guiding people through the darkened tunnels with gigantic fireballs.

CA sewer show at secret location

The whole event opened my eyes. We’ve been conditioned to always ask for permission. This group of people circumvented that whole process and made it happen. What hit me the hardest about being down there was the overwhelming sense of freedom. You could do anything you wanted to and were encouraged to. But there was always a base level of respect maintained. People got stupid, but not that kind of stupid. If somebody was an anger junkie, they’d step in the mosh pit and go insane. What I’m saying is that there was a place for everyone. The only time I got negative vibes was after we returned to the city level. Some Neo Nazi mistook my shaved head for being one of him. Besides that, it was beautiful. Yet, the fact that you gotta go hide in the sewers to enjoy music and be free, said something to me about how we live. The message isn’t a 100% clear to me, but I felt there was a definite connection between that subculture and Surrealism.

It’s been said, that the only place we are ever truly free is in our dreams. We can be and have anything we want. The world is yours. As the saying goes, “In your dreams.” Yes, exactly. But what happens when we want to take that freedom that is in our head and move it into reality? That’s where things get complicated. In the world we live in, real prime freedom costs money. Not everyone can afford that pure uncut freedom, but everyone wants to get high off it. If you’re rich then you can afford the freedom to do the most bizarre things and get away with it (just look at R. Kelly). If you’re poor, then you make it happen any way you can.

It was through this shared love of real freedom, by hardcore punk and surrealism that “Gutter Surrealism” was born to me. The term “Gutter Surrealism” came to me after I finished writing Blubber Island. I did a Google search and found only scant remarks. I’m still looking for other Gutter Surrealists in all forms of art. My longtime  friend Cahnan Hickey (bassist of California Punk band Corpspazm) describes G.S as “trashy and mind bending.” I know he gets it. I’m including this bit from Blubber Island which I believes captures the poetry of G.S,

“He took the last drag and flicked his burning cigarette over the edge. At that moment, a strong wind picked up, and the smoking butt flew away like a bird set free.”

It’s about seeing beauty in the ugly things, yet they always remain ugly. Click here to read an example of Gutter Surrealism.

Photo Credits

Dali Photo from: http://tracyinthestars-tracyinthestars.blogspot.jp/2010/08/rebirth-of-salvador-dali.html

Corpspazm Photo http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/corpspazm