Tuesday, May 29, 2007

American Heritage: So Long at the Fair

American Heritage has suspended publication. It was lavish and utterly middlebrow. By coincidence I picked up a couple copies just before the suspension was announced.

The one featured Walter Raleigh. The article was dumb, a recapitulation of Raleigh’s Roanoke adventure; but the color plates were great. I looked up Raleigh’s poetry in the Norton anthology. Then I read in the Fairie Queen; Raleigh helped get it published and Spenser’s letter to Raleigh is as important to that poem as Dante’s to Della Scala. And then I read some Donne in the Grierson edition; there’s a new biography of Donne. Ann Donne, for whom John sacrificed all, died at 33.

The other American Heritage featured Frederick Olmstead whom the magazine characterizes, laughably, as unknown. Olmstead designed the great parks of the great North American cities. The World for a Shilling by Michael Leapman credits the gigantic greenhouse which was essentially London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 for foretelling Olmstead. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson details the struggle by David Burnham to engage Olmstead as designer for the grounds of Chicago’s Columbian Exhibition of 1892. Olmstead alone, of course, made the great American cities bearable.

Will the wonderful American Heritage Dictionaries continue? The title is owned by Forbes. I am disappointed that with age and some money I have come to read Forbes with almost the attention I pay The New Yorker. In 1988 I published in Unmuzzled OX an interview with Imamu Amiri Baraka by David Remick. I regret having made fun of Remick. Of course, he now edits The New Yorker.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Uncle Ben's Couscous

We have concluded George Bush is worse than James Buchanan, and thus the worst American president. Humanity now ponders the question -- who’s the worst person ever? It’s likely down to three -- Judas or Hitler or Bush? In lighter news, The American Kennel Club, acknowledging Britain’s role in Iraq, has renamed the toy poodle Tony Blair. Finally, Uncle Ben has withdrawn Instant Couscous. The idea was similar to Popeye’s Canned Spinach. Young slum-dwelling Arab men were portrayed cooking couscous, dashing to an airport, commandeering jets, flying into skyscrapers, and proclaiming “Allah is Great!” Ben withdrew the product when he realized the advertising, like cigarettes, would kill his customers. Thank you for not eating couscous!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Light Reading plus Sex

Edward Field’s THE MAN WHO WOULD MARRY SUSAN SONTAG and Other Intimate Portraits of the Bohemian Era recalls the gay lit scene of 20 years ago. I kept waiting for Charles Henri Ford or Kirby Congdon but they never appear; there is Auden and Sontag and the Beats and Ira Cohen and Paul Bowles plus persons peripheral or forgotten.

Diablo Cody’s CANDY GIRL A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper amused and informed me. Her half-hearted uninteresting blog links to YouTube and her appearance on David Letterman.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Cinco de Mayo

In the late ’70s Ellen Kahaner recruited a number of Columbia MFAs to work on Unmuzzled OX. One was Valerie Sayers, now a widely-honored novelist. Another I will call Susan; she was a frail and pretty girl with thick glasses. She worked diligently for two months and disappeared. Six months later Ellen breathlessly reported that Susan had gone to Mexico with a boy who promptly sold her into a brothel. It took four months for her to escape.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Love & Politics

Historians currently debate whether George Bush or George Buchanan is the worst American president. I am relieved the world still exists and we can now begin to indulge such academic questions. Yet there remain a very few intelligent diehard Bush supporters. Kirby Olson, for instance, has written a wonderful study of Gregory Corso and an excellent novel, Temping. Yet he is a diehard Bushie. How can this be?

Perhaps people select a political leader the way they fall in love. Little can rock such love. It’s what makes politics interesting and unpredictable. Think of the old movie Dietrich movie, The Blue Angel. The elderly professor played by Emil Jannings falls for the whorish Dietrich, follows her and loses everything. That’s the sort of thing that happened a lot in Germany in the 1930s. But it also happened to me in New York in the 1980s. I left my wife of ten years to move in with a divorcee and her young son. From the first the divorcee cheated on me. I refused to believe or even see it. She was dyslexic; we could not discuss books. She was a stage mother. All her social energy and positive skills went into advancing her son’s acting career. In the end, she found somebody better. She kicked me out. After eight years, I had lost -- eight years.