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Monthly Archives: March 2015

Vanderpump Rules Third Season Reunion Show, a Preemptive Précis (Poem)

Don’t mistake fame or your beauty for mine.
Come back, if only for the goat cheese balls.
Whatever else, the sex was adequate.
Tom Sandoval
Cover-up applies better clean-shaven.
Few become their own crop-topped bridal stylists.
Who should be smart enough to know better.
Leave him to his posh busboy puppy love.
Nobody’s fool would motorboat a d.
Betrayal wants another bff.
Translated, the maid’s name means something pink.
The Other Tom, Tom Schwartz
Marriage gives most guys the jitters, bubba.
Check your text messages, smirk and look up.
Jax’s “Therapist”
 The world will always validate your needs.
Peter, Vail, Kristina, Rachel, Shay,etc.
Second-string friends, bit players, fiancés,
third-rate fifth business, wannabes, the rest.
Line Cooks at SUR
(High five: some heinous puta just got fired!)
No proper girl wants a ring on a string.
Your best and only boyfriend is the truth.
Chorus, led by Tom Sandoval
Shut up, Kristen, shut up, shut up, shut up.
Who makes the rules should never sign the cheques.

Sleeve Notes for Vanderpump Rules Third Season Reunion Show, a Preemptive Précis

I was unabashedly hooked on the third season of the Bravo reality show Vanderpump Rules, which began its television life two years back as a spin-off of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I came across this season’s first episode late in 2014 while channel-surfing, and found myself unable to look away. The blurb on the Slice TV website says each week the program offers “yet another explosive wave of shocking betrayals, bold confrontations, and petty grudges,” which sound like reason enough to keep tuned in, but my own fascination and nascent fandom, I’m starting to realize, has less to do with salacious voyeurism and more to do with the pop poetry of their pervasively empty interactions. When Stassi claims she’s been betrayed by Katie, or when Jax recounts his own largely fictional version of some gossip that’s transpired earlier, I find myself at a loss to understand what exactly it is that these people are in fact talking about. Frankly, I don’t think I have ever known what any of them means, or means to say, most of the time. They’re usually talking about talking about nothing. Nothing. But their seemingly shallow and vacuous speech, embedded in what feels like a relentless carrier-wave of romantic pop-culture clichés, is also often tangibly bursting with strange verbal textures, inadvertently startling lines, weird resonances. They seem constantly to be saying nothing, but also to be articulating some emergent poetic language sui generis, to be touching on some shared and common fabric of language as such.
And so I aimed to make a sort of poetry, as a listener and as a committed viewer, out of segments of what they’ve said about each other. The reunion show, part one of which was broadcast this week in Canada – a week behind the States – and part two of which is still pending, saw the actors arranged in an amphitheatrical semi-circle in a room at SUR, as participant-spectators, both viewers and viewed. (Several of them, notably Stassi and Kristen, made careful note that they had “seen the show” – watched themselves on the show – in the interim between filming last summer-fall and this reunion.) The reunion is designed to elicit some degree of critical reflection from members of the group, but really the intention is to aggravate the controversies and to stir up old trouble. It struck me that, in the slippery double displacements of subject and object being staged at this reunion – they comment on themselves commenting on what they say and have said about each other – there were peculiar echoes of the populist aspects of Shakespearean meta-theatre, as well as repositioning of the agonistic choric odes of Euripides or Aeschylus, maybe along the lines of Anne Carson’s skewed anachronies.
My own small project also tries to mimic the Pentametron bot on Twitter: each voice could be rendered in something like an iambic pentameter monostich, an aphoristic reduction of what they might have said, and sort of did, or didn’t. The resulting text would be an aggregate of linked non sequiturs, a sort of compilation. There are no subjects, however, beyond the accretion itself: nothing but sound bytes of fanfiction-mediated personae, their un-voices. Because the poem is assembled from what must be public, fair-use artifacts (along with a hodge-podge of nods to various famous sonnets, to Irving Layton, to Gilligan’s Island and to David Peoples’s Blade Runner script),  I think the piece needs to be published as a blog entry, with all the attendant narcissism of self-publication (which, maybe, fits with the source material). And maybe I’m being pretentious trying to explain myself like this. Because really, who am I to talk?

Sheila Jordan and Cameron Brown: Tuesday Night at Ironworks, 3 March 2015

Still a jazz childat eighty-six, Sheila Jordan – who performed in her duo with bassist Cameron Brownlast night at Ironworks in Vancouver – has a vitality and playful joy that show no signs of abating. Her two sets consisted of well-developed material – medleys of standards and classic bebop, peppered with a few originals – that she’s been performing for decades, emerging primarily out of her work with Harvie Swartz. That said, every song sounds thoroughly fresh, immediate and compelling. Her lower register has taken on a little grain, but her lilting scat lines, the chirrup and purl that are hallmarks of her vocals, are undiminished: the lightly off-kilter cadences of her improvisations are as intimately compelling and as warmly engaging as they have been since her stunning 1962 debut record, Portrait of Sheila (where she defines close relationship to the bass – in this case, Steve Swallow – that comes to shape her music for the subsequent half-century). 

          We all have our favourite Sheila Jordan records; aside from Portrait of Sheila, which is an indisputably essential album for any collection, I love The Crossing (1984, on Blackhawk) and her performance on Steve Swallow’s settings of Robert Creeley poems, Home (1980, ECM): I often find myself unexpectedly humming “Sure, Herbert . . . ” out of the blue. Despite what can sometimes feel like a timbre of quiet restraint, Sheila Jordan’s voice attains a peculiar resonance; it stays with you, softly plangent and quickly sonorous. The performances last night closely matched the material on Celebration (2005, High Note), which is I think the first live recording of her work with Cameron Brown, but you could never tell that this music was over a decade old. This is late work, for Jordan, certainly, but it’s also vivacious and exuberant; aside from some street noise coming through the club walls, the audience was so quiet and intensely focused on the music you could hear Cameron Brown’s fingers brush along the strings of his instrument.

A Sheila Jordan gig offers enraptured attentiveness, a focused close listening, but she’s also just so infectiously happy, laughing and larking through each song. Commenting on the flubs she sometimes makes in her “old age,” she said there was no need “to get uptight about it. As long as your heart and soul are in it, it doesn’t matter.” She and Cameron Brown started off with an introductory blues – “And so I’ll sing of joy and pain for you / With all the happiness this melody brings” – followed by a standard, “Better Than Anything.” A version of “It’s You or No One” came next, which Brown had also recomposed by adding a new, boppish melody to the changes, and re-naming it “Sheila, It’s You.” Cameron Brown is an extraordinary bassist, his fleet and virtuosic lines emerging from a depth that recalled Charles Mingus. (Shelia Jordan opened the second set with an anecdote about singing in duo with a bassist for the first time when she was sixteen and Charles Mingus called her onto the stage to do a version of “Yesterdays”; they also offered a take, amid a tribute to Billie Holiday, on Mingus’s “Goodbye Porkpie Hat.”) There was a medley of dance-themed tunes dedicated to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire (“I loved this cat, I’d walk two miles to see him dance . . .”), and another medley of songs associated with Oscar Brown Jr. that included her wonderful version of Bobby Timmons’s “Dat Dere” (which also appears, in tribute to Sheila Jordan, on Rickie Lee Jones’s Pop Pop). To set up her “Blues Medley for Miles” (“Blue Skies,” “All Blues” and Jon Hendricks’s transcription of the trumpet solo from “Freddie Freeloader”), she told a story of Billie Holiday sitting in a dark corner of a club warbling out “Miiiiiiiiles, Miiiiiles” while Davis soundchecked in a basement club in New York: he apparently asked if a stray cat had got into the room, which she thought was hilarious. Sheila Jordan – her music and her persona – is all about jazz history, recounting stories of her encounters with musicians in the 1950s, especially Charlie Parker. She did versions of what might have been “Yardbird Suite” – I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes – and what was definitely “Scrapple from the Apple”; Bird, sixty years after his death, was still a keen and powerful presence. She also gestured at her own Seneca heritage, vocalizing in an American Indian style to frame a version of the Jimmy Webb country ballad “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress.” She acknowledged that the Seneca Queen Alliquippa was her great-great-great grandmother, – and so, she said, if it hadn’t been for Columbus she might have been royalty. The second set closed with an invitation to guitarist Bill Coon to join Jordan and Brown for a trio version of her anecdotal “Sheila’s Blues.” She offered her healing, restorative song of recovery, “The Crossing,” as an encore. As she left the stage, she laughed and called out to everyone: “Have a beautiful life, and if I don’t see you again, I’ll meet you in heaven.” Her music and her voice offered us all a gift of affirmation and of colloquial joy.

On Stephen Burt, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Place

Stephen Burt delivered the 2015 Garnett Sedgwick Memorial Lecture at U. B. C. yesterday on “The Use of Poetry and the Use of Place.” For those who don’t know his work, he’s a professor in the English Department at Harvard University, currently teaching courses on “ways of reading and ways of hearing poetry” and on literature and sexuality; he’s also written extensively on poetry and poetics, particularly on the work of Randall Jarrell, and he’s published three collections of poetry. What I have discovered I like most about Burt’s critical writing, apart from its combination of clarity and intensity, is a willingness – or better, an articulate desire – to recoup lyric vitality from ideologically and aesthetically disparate poets, writers who, as he puts it, tend to disagree “in first principles, and  . . . come from all over,” yoked by an inclination to stylistic difficulty (see his Close Calls with Nonsense, page 6). Poems communicate texturally, for Burt, and those textures can sometimes be recalcitrant and forbidding, seemingly within the purview of intellectuals and literary academics; but poems also communicate, nonetheless and despite themselves, with certain affective immediacies, and it’s that public reciprocity that also draws his eye and his ear. As he puts it addressing himself in “Over Nevada,” a poem describing – circumscribing? – the prospect from an airplane window over Las Vegas, poetry distills formally from language a vital creative muddle, interstitial reciprocity, Simonidean coinage, exchange, indebtedness and gift: “How could you ever sort out or pay back what you owe / In that white coin, language, which melts as you start to speak?“ The communion of readers is fleeting and spectral, , but also, despite its frustrations, it is of this exact shortfall, it is this exact shortfall, that lyric language materially speaks.  

         His talk drew out a conceptual antithesis that marks the lyric, an ambivalence between the transcendental, “departicularized” tendency of lofty abstract language – that it happens anywhere, outside of history – and the concrete particularities of descriptive circumstance, that whatever happens inevitably has to happen somewhere, to someone. What’s interesting for me aren’t the terms of this opposition, which are so general as to be fairly banal, but Burt’s energetic investigation of the tensions between them as the stuff and the source of poetic work. Most loco-descriptive poetry, he argued, connect outward geography – I’d suggest, physiography – with “inner life” – I’d suggest not only physiology but also psychic topography. What persists, despite claims by Charles Altieri and others that the poetry of place has long since run its course, is according to Burt an intuitive sense of commonality tied to imagined place: that place, however articulated, is still  intersubjective, communal. He concentrated on the work of two key poets, for him: C. D. Wright and Mary Dalton. Quoting from Wright’s “Ozark Odes” – “Maybe you have to be from here to hear it sing” – Burt developed the homonymy of here and hear to suggest that Wright’s poems generate the textures and particularities of place apophastically, allowing the reader access through lyric attention, through the melopoeic richness of her geographically precise diction, to a phenomenologically rich encounter with that particularity. You hear the place, you sense it, palpably, in Wright’s words, despite and even because of her skeptical refusal to claim communicative success. The withdrawing “melt” of her language, in other words, is also recombinant and evocative, a plenitude. Burt gestured at Elise Partridge’s poem “Dislocations” (from Chameleon Hours, 2010 version) which also presents a “hybrid” form of lyric apophasis, refusing to lay claim to any naïve or grandiose transcendence while also, at a moment of surprising intensity, discovering how poetic intelligence still fuses to its descriptive objects, as “you feel your strengths intermingling.” One of the pleasures of Elise Partridge’s poetry, Burt said, is that its “attention to place does not preclude migration from one place to another,” and that some of her best work inheres in those transitions and intermediations. He concluded his talk with an investigation of some of the poetry of Mary Dalton. He was especially taken with how human geography and dialect words, in her poems, “imply the physical geography that the words produce.” He focused on the seductive estrangements of encountering the moments when she seemed to open her Newfoundland word-hoard. “Maybe you don’t have to be from there,” he concluded, “to hear it sing.”