Commentaries - September 2008

I’ve unearthed Robert Shelton’s September 29, 1961 NYT review of Bob Dylan at Gerde’s Folk City. “Resembling a cross between a choir boy and a beatnik, Mr. Dylan has a cherubic look and a mop of tousled hair he partly covers with a Huck Finn black corduroy cap.” “Mr. Dylan is both comedian and tragedian.” “… a scarcely understandable growl or sob …” “All the husk and bark are left on the notes.” Here’s the whole review.

Have you been checking on “PennSound Daily” lately? Good stuff there. Almost daily entries compiled by Mike Hennessey.

The newest update announces the good news that Mike and the PennSound team have split up Jerome Rothenberg’s April poetry reading at the Writers House into individual poem recordings.

Here’s what Mike has to say, in part:

Drawing heavily from the three books collected in Trilogy (Poland/1931, Khurbn and The Burning Babe), as well as 1968’s Technicians of the Sacred, 1999’s A Paradise of Poets and 2003’s A Book of Concealments, the poet read for nearly ninety minutes, leaving his audience clamoring for more as he concluded with “Night Poems in Memoriam Jackson Mac Low,” and a rousing rendition of A Seneca Journal’s “Old Man Beaver’s Blessing Song,” a favorite of the students with whom he’d worked during his visit to UPenn. Of course, Rothenberg’s illuminating conversation with PennSound co-director Al Filreis is also available, as is PoemTalk #7, in which Filreis, Bob Holman, Randall Couch, and Jessica Lowenthal discuss Rothenberg’s poem, “A Paradise of Poets.”

Since his springtime visit, Rothenberg has kept busy, launching his new blog, Poems and Poetics, as well as the collection Poetics and Polemics: 1980–2005. This Sunday, from 4:00–6:00 at the Bowery Poetry Club, he'll be leading a 40th Anniversary Celebration of Technicians of the Sacred, which will also feature Charles Bernstein, George Economou, Bob Holman, Pierre Joris, Charlie Morrow, Rochelle Owens, Nicole Peyrafitte, Diane Rothenberg, Carolee Schneemann, and Cecilia Vicuna. Click here for more information on that event, and click here to experience Rothenberg’s masterful April reading one more time.

I haven’t seen Steve DeFrank’s new show at Margaret Thatcher Projects (Chelsea; 511 West 25th Street) yet but I hope to get there very soon. Here are some links: 1 2 3.

The folks at have linked the newest PoemTalk episode.

“Lipstick on a Pig” is the title of a book about “winning in the no-spin era by someone who knows the game” (i.e., its author, Torie Clarke). (The jacket photo of Ms. Clarke depicts her wearing no lipstick. She should consider running for office.)

If you type in “lipstick on a pig” in Google this morning, the link to Clarke’s book is the only entry you will find, for pages and pages, that doesn’t directly relate to the fainting-couch response to Obama’s recent use of the old phrase and the Obama-ite response to the false outrage. As I write this entry, I’m clicking on pages of Google entries generated by my use of the phrase in the search box. On page thirty-five (yes, the thirty-fifth screen of links) I’m sent to a blog called “Tennesse Guerilla Women.” “For someone who is famous for having a way with words, Barack Obama sure drops more than his share of sexist gaffes,” etc.

Finally, halfway down the thirty-fifth page of links, I get to one Ken Conner attacking Planned Parenthood on His entry is called “Trying to Put Lipstick on a Pig” and here is his opening paragraph: Planned Parenthood is in search of a makeover. For years, the organization has been the biggest abortionist in the business, but as abortion is losing its cachet, Planned Parenthood is trying to reinvent itself. It seems that killing children for cash is just not as fashionable as it used to be.

Finally a real ideological instance: critics of the Blackberry consider the model 9000 to be “lipstick on a pig.”

The whole debate about this middle-American idiom becomes, at least for me, more rather than less edifying as I scroll further down and away from the “direct” responses to the “issue.” I understand American culture and language more from its use on and by the “I Like My Old Blackberry” crazies than from Chris Matthews whose Hardball last night was based on this absolute paradox: We are going to spend the whole show tonight talking about a false response to a non-issue that should not be an issue on our show.

What if a lipsticked pig grunted in a forest and nobody came?