Saturday, May 30, 2015


From the heart of the Japanese Aesthetic, an appreciation of  age, imperfection, and what is transitory in life and nature. 

The Silver Pavilion   

From the Utne Reader: 

Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.
Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

More Thoughts on Allen Ginsberg

Some comments on Alfred Corn's thread on Ginsberg still getting "likes," including my photograph of him in New Orleans.

Profile Pictures

Allen Ginsberg

Alfred Corn
 October 11, 2014

You, Carolyn Holmes Gregory, Nicola d'Ugo, Pam Uschuk and 64 others like this.

Alfred Corn Allen Ginsberg, liberator.

October 11, 2014 at 11:02am · Unlike · 5

Carolyn Holmes Gregory Amazing eyes on the youngish Ginsberg here.

October 11, 2014 at 11:04am · Edited · Unlike · 4

John L. Stanizzi Oh yes, Carolyn. No doubt about it. Amazing.

Jack Miller Loved spending time with him. A man with an array of fascinating moods.

October 11, 2014 at 11:31am · Like · 4

Alfred Corn Mercurial. Hermetic. A psychopomp leading down into the unconscious.

October 11, 2014 at 11:32am · Unlike · 7

Jack Miller Songs of innocence: Photograph I made of Ginsberg having breakfast with a child in New Orleans.

October 11, 2014 at 11:35am · Like · 6

John L. Stanizzi amazing photograph, Jack.

October 11, 2014 at 1:13pm · Edited · Like · 1

Chard DeNiord The look of awake.

October 11, 2014 at 11:49am · Like · 4

Rafiq Kathwari Guru...everything is holy. ..

Jesse GlassI see Allen Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski where I used to see Dryden, Hardy's poems, and even Blake. I think we're way way over-Ginsberged and way, way way way over Bukowskied and most definitely under-Coleridged and under-Donned. Marianne Moore is missing too from most bookstores. To tell you the truth, I don't want to read any more letters between Allen and Jack and Carolyn about what's shaking in Neal's pants. How many volumes did they write on that subject alone--it seems like zillions, and how many editions of Jack Kerouac's notebooks and just discovered novels, plays, sketches, and (coming soon)--games, and gum balls must we be treated to? And why are these in the poetry section? Then there's crops of thin volumes by rush-to-publish-me junior writers with blurbs like patent medicine labels. Is it my imagination or were bookstores offering a wider--and to my mind better-- selection in the poetry section (this side of Gift Book Kahil Gibran) 30 years ago than they are now?

October 13, 2014 at 5:20am · Edited · Like · 4

Alfred Corn Just remember, Jesse, that Ginsberg revered those authors you cite, too.
October 12, 2014 at 12:42am · Like · 3

Jesse GlassHonestly, my comment doesn't address Allen, whom I, like everyone else, found to be generous in spirit, especially with the young, and it really doesn't address Bukowski--whose writing doesn't appeal to me at all-- but it does address the bookstores--even many university bookstores that I've come across when I travel overseas. You would think that Allen Ginsberg and Robert Frost and Bukowski were the only poets America has produced. Oh yes, it also produced William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac's latest just discovered $30.00 wonder in hardback. I mean, I like the Beats, but I don't like a whole shelf of Ginsberg and friends and nothing much else.

Graham Mummery Allen Ginsberg, a great soul.

October 12, 2014 at 6:00am · Like · 1

Jesse GlassI'm under no illusion about the role of the almighty dollar in all of this: the Beats are popular and are hyped to the young. To chain bookstores I suppose it wouldn't matter if it were toothpaste as long as it sold, but I'm wondering what has brought about the decline in selection among bookstores in this widely bruited time of diversity. My opinion is that book jobbers have stopped reading along with almost everyone else.
October 12, 2014 at 6:42am · Like

Jesse GlassAnd personally speaking I found that the Beats were best when they were writers you read in City Lights editions and Evergreen Review--they were edgy and raw then, and tonic to the spirit, but now that Allen Ginsberg & Co. are so mainstream that one finds them stocked not very far away from Christian Classics and the latest Harlequin Romance it strikes me that some of their thunder has evaporated with the change of context.

Alfred Corn Well of course there is commercialization/commodification of everything in our culture, Jesse. Allen helped us to see that.

October 12, 2014 at 11:03am · Like

Jesse GlassAlfred, I think I've lost touch with the feeling of America's culture being my culture. I live in Japan and have been here now for a generation. When I do return to America I have a "stop-action" sort of encounter with what I see in the present and with what I recall from the past. You're exactly right about Allen Ginsberg addressing the American tradition of commodification of everything. The irony is that the Beats have now become a giant, money-making industry themselves. The continual discovery and publication of more Kerouac writings mined from a manuscript collection that has been wrangled over for years in the courts is one aspect that continues to amaze me: every Kerouac scrap will eventually find publication not I think, because of the beauty of the work, the interest of the writing, or even that it will add in some way to Kerouac's legacy--and I do love his best writing--but for money. Actually, I don't think that Allen would have disapproved of any of this because he himself was out to sell Naropa and the Beats in a very business-like way on the last two occasions that I saw him. It was: here's the brochure, kids, and now here's me. I've always been conflicted about this for the very point you make, Alfred. Weren't the Beats against all of this? Wasn't this the great Moloch that Allen condemned in Howl and elsewhere? In addition, even among the other Beats--like the wonderful Diane di Prima and her powerful work--they tend to be cast in the shadows of this same big whirling machine that is now set in motion grinding out $20.00 bills. This Moloch.

October 12, 2014 

Jesse Glass: Finally, as a reader--and back to the bookstores--I've noticed the difficulty of obtaining good editions of writers as basic as Poe from Amazon and elsewhere. It's always the very very old editions that have been turned into print on demand specials. But oh well.

To be continued?

Friday, May 01, 2015

Miranda's Book by Alfred Corn- A Review

An Essay on Alfred Corn's second novel, Miranda's Book.

A Novel about Writing a Novel

Miranda’s BookMiranda’s Book
by Alfred Corn
Eyewear Publishing. 323 pages, $20.

You’ve made a killing. Going with your lover to retrieve a portfolio of art, you somehow manage to bring about the death of someone you dislike, someone the reader will no doubt dislike. What do you do? Call 911, or head out with your hot new lover on the open road? Fortunately for us, Miranda chooses the latter action.
         Alfred Corn’s second novel is an olio: one part On The Road, two parts existential examination of life, with a dash of Iris Murdoch. One character’s choice leads to an inevitable clash and transformation of another. As novels go, Miranda’s Book employs a rather complex form to tell its tale. It is in fact a novel within a novel, but with a twist. 
We learn early on that a book called “Miranda’s Book” is being written by an accomplished African-American writer living in Brooklyn. His niece is in prison. Why she is there and the justification for her fatal actions are the subject matter of the book he is writing, a book to which we as readers are given privileged access. Mark Shreve is the writer and he appears in his own novel as Uncle Matthew. His niece is Marguerite and her fictional name in his novel is Miranda.
         Not only does the novel within a novel provide us with a detailed, exquisite account of Miranda’s journey through three countries and her mental processes and feelings along the way; it also presents the author, her uncle, who has his own feelings and views about what led up to the killing and his niece’s flight after the deed. Consequently, Uncle Mark Shreve is as much on an existential quest as his niece, Marguerite, the Miranda of his novel.
    If all this sounds too convoluted to be readily grasped, it isn’t. The chapters describing the uncle/author’s point of view, misgivings, and thoughts about the ethics and the æsthetics of what he’s doing blend with the primary story, giving it an added dimension. In one of the uncle’s self-analysical chapters, he recalls Gore Vidal: “Gore, for his part, ridiculed me even to my face, saying I was a pathetic closet case who wrote about heterosexuals with no firsthand knowledge of the subject.” Is this true, or do we believe Shreve’s rebuttal? Are we reading about Shreve’s reflections, or author Alfred Corn’s?
         Furthermore, when we read, for instance, that Miranda is on a long flight enjoying a novel by Trollope, we are simultaneously aware that it may be the real-life uncle who has read Trollope, not the real niece, Marguerite, in the fictional form of Miranda. One of the mysteries the reader is left to ponder is the degree to which what happens in the novel within the novel, Miranda’s Book, is true to the niece he is defending. Miranda is always also her uncle, the writer. As he says himself, “I could hardly tell Marguerite’s story without bringing in my own.”
         Add to the mix that Miranda is half Jewish and half African-American, while her uncle is a well-to-do, highly intellectual, gay black writer living in Brooklyn, and you see how rich this novel is in its exploration of culture and love circa 1990. What is it like to be half black, half Jewish, and married to a bore of a WASP? Miranda early on sees the emptiness of her married life. Her husband is self absorbed, possessive, and cheating on her while nonetheless controlling her life. First engaging in her own affair with a bisexual man, Miranda ultimately leaves her vile husband and his mistress for art and Guillermo, a handsome, artistic Latin lover. Having broken from her husband and his ego, Miranda finds her own interest in art and love again. Meanwhile, she attends the opening of the controversial show of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs in her hometown of Cincinnati. Public discussions about Mapplethorpe and censorship, æsthetic ruminations by both Uncle Matthew and Miranda, and the ensuing trial that acquitted the gallery of obscenity charges all reveal more about Miranda as she embarks on her journey.
         The novel within a novel takes us to Canada, the remote woods of Maine, New York, Ohio, and finally Mexico, where Miranda experiences the Day of the Dead. The reader is lavished with Alfred Corn’s poetic vision of San Miguel de Allende and the enchanted town of Pátzcuaro with its mystical lake high in the Sierras, where the veil between the living and dead is diaphanous. All along the way, Miranda’s character evolves and grows. Her revelations and her epiphanies coincide with the insights of her uncle both in and out of the interior novel. The uncle, living in Brooklyn and writing his novel, becomes so interesting that we begin to hope for a third novel about Mark Shreve.
         In the mind of her gay uncle, a writer and cultivated man, Miranda confronts dilemma after dilemma. She looks at herself critically, realizing at times that she has had a privileged existence, more than enhanced by the generosity and the rescue by her uncle. Have her circumstances corrupted her? Is she the modern version of a liberated woman, or someone who deserves to be in prison? Is her uncle successful in defending her? Has she even committed a crime at all? If you’re looking for a novel with huge, archetypal characters making sweeping philosophical conclusions, as in Dostoevsky, or the paranoid and surreal visions of Kafka (also mentioned as among Miranda’s books), this may not be the novel for you. If you want a thought-provoking book filled with adventure, one that is expressed in poetic, evocative language, including some provocative sex scenes, and if you want a book that contains quandaries concerning life choices, justice, and ethics, not to mention a look at the creative process of writing itself, then by all means visit the pages of Miranda’s Book.
Jack Miller is a teacher and writer based in Atlanta.