Saturday, April 29, 2017

Animation April: [scene missing]

Well, this is embarrassing.

I'd planned to conclude the month with a large writeup on Young Justice, Greg Weisman's animated celebration of everything fun, bizarre, and dramatically convoluted in the DC comic book universe. It...didn't work out. The piece I'd almost finished wasn't much fun to write or interesting to read, and a second version I started from scratch earlier this week was practically erased when a Windows update caused my computer to restart while I was asleep. (Thanks again, Microsoft.) I tried rewriting version 2.0, but it wouldn't have been finished before May. I spent a few hours these last few nights retooling the old draft, but it still wasn't anything I could be happy with.

So I'm throwing in the towel. Please accept my apologies along with three truly excellent Betty Boop shorts from the early 1930s.

Monday, April 24, 2017

NPM: The rape joke

I make a point of buying the newest volume of the Best American Poetry series whenever I see it on a bookstore shelf. There's never been a bad one, but the overall quality does vary with the tastes of its annually rotating guest editor. At least once in the best volumes, and several times in the iffier ones, I'll read a poem for the second or third time and wonder how the hell it got published in Ploughshares or Tin House or one of the more esteemed Quarterlies to begin with, to say nothing of how it ended up between the front and back covers of a book claiming to represent the acme of American not-prose.

Patricia Lockwood's "Rape Joke," which I first read in The Best American Poetry 2014, is not one of those poems.

Rape Joke
Patricia Lockwood (1982 – )

The rape joke is that you were 19 years old.

The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend.

The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee.

Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. "Ahhhh," it thinks. "Yes. A goatee."

No offense.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Animation April: Rock & Rule (1983)


This...this is a weird one.

It's much weirder than Project A-ko, even though A-ko is a movie about dueling schoolgirls and men with vaginas directed by a pantyshot-obsessed twentysomething missing at least two of his incisors. A-ko can't even touch Rock & Rule.

At least A-ko belongs to a distinct and recognizable clade in the evolutionary annals of animation. It's an anime from the 1980s, iconic during its time, and it had a perceptible impact on the cartoons produced in Japan. For all its screwiness, we can place it. Rock & Rule is an aberration.

It would probably be best grouped with the Bakshi-and-allies aggregate. (Incidentally, bootleg copies of Rock & Rule passed around at conventions erroneously attributed the film to him.) Ralph Bakshi is/was a ballsy chap: he had the then-outlandish idea that feature-length cartoons could be something other than family-friendly adaptations of children's storybooks, and made a handful of films during the 1970s and early 1980s that were not, not, not for kids (and he also cast Tolkien onto the silver screen decades before Peter Jackson). Other Western animation studios took notice, and followed Bakshi's example in pushing the envelope in which Disney had sealed the industry for almost half a century. Watership Down (1978) and The Last Unicorn (1982) were a couple of films about rabbits and a magical horsey marketed to general audiences—but everyone I know who watched them as youngsters walked away seriously rattled. (Alex McLevy of The A.V. Club wrote a very nice piece about The Last Unicorn and how it once scared the hell out of him.) Oppositely there was Heavy Metal (1981), brimming with graphic violence, exposed breasts, and lurid juvenility, and inappropriate for anyone but seventeen-year-old males.

And there was also Rock & Rule, but nobody noticed.

Friday, April 14, 2017

NPM: Wordsworth's daffodils

Had you pulled me aside when I was seventeen and asked me about English class, about what we'd been reading and which author I least enjoyed, I might have answered William Wordsworth. Long, dense, meditative pieces like Tintern Abbey and Intimations of Immortality had absolutely no chance at pulling my attention away from Final Fantasy IX, and lines like "trailing clouds of glory do we come/from God, who is our home" were anathema to to a kid whose entire wardrobe consisted of Marilyn Manson and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac T-shirts. But I did have enough patience to read and digest his lyric verse, and I found I liked him even less when he wrote stuff I could understand. He was too quaint, too twee in his sentiments, and even a little fruity. Daffodils, William? Who gets all goopy about flippin' daffodils? Take it back to Hallmark, you damn Care Bear.

Over the last six years—or so—I've changed my mind about Wordsworth.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Animation April: Project A-ko (1986)


I'm sometimes amazed at the depths of the inroads anime has made into United States pop culture in just twenty years. Americans are a bunch that doesn't much care for other countries' pop music or watches many foreign films, and yet we love Japanese 'toons. Bros gush about Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, and One-Punch Man. The internet brims with thinkpieces, written in English, examining and lauding Sailor Moon as a feminist keystone for Generation Y. The manga section at a given Barnes & Noble easily sees more traffic than any other aisle in the store. Cosplay! There are cosplay magazines on the rack at Walgreens, for god's sake!

Two decades ago, things were much different.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

NPM: Field Guide

(Actually a damselfly. You can tell by the wings.)

Tony Hoagland might be my favorite living poet.

Field Guide
Tony Hoagland (1953 – )

Once, in the cool blue middle of a lake,
up to my neck in that most precious element of all,

I found a pale-gray, curled-upwards pigeon feather
floating on the tension of the water

at the very instant when a dragonfly,
like a blue-green iridescent bobby pin,

hovered over it, then lit, and rested.
That's all.

I mention this in the same way
that I fold the corner of a page

in certain library books,
so that the next reader will know

where to look for the good parts.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Animation April: Rooty Toot Toot (1951)

If you've been slavishly checking this URL for updates for the last six years (and I hope you have!) you might have noticed that our annual National Poetry Month festivities have dwindled in scope. This isn't because I've lost interest in poetry—that's not the case at all. But a fan isn't necessarily qualified to be an anthologizer. I've virtually exhausted my repertoire of favorite poems and poets. Coming up with, say, fifteen meaty, worthwhile NPM posts this April (one every other day) would require me to find fifteen authors, poetic themes, forms, or traditions that we haven't already covered, and I'm just not up to it.

But I do miss dedicating an April's worth of updates to celebrations and expositions of an art form. Also, my wristwatch tells me it's been far too long since I've taken a break from whatever it is I usually write about to dissect some fun pop culture artifact or other.

So! Instead of National Poetry Month, this year we'll be observing ANIMATION APRIL, starting today. First up, we've got Rooty Toot Toot, United Productions of America's Oscar-nominated 1951 short.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

NPM: The new cathedral

Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ
(image: Newark Public Library)

I hadn't intended to post anything for National Poetry Month this year—I've got something else planned instead. But old habits die hard. It's April, it's spring, and my various tissues and glands can no more capably resist the vernal compulsion than the robins can stop singing, the peepers can cease peeping, or the forsythia can abstain from getting all up in everyone's face. NPM must be observed!

In the months since I finished reading Paterson I've been flipping through my beat-up copy of The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams: 1909–1939. Here's one that recently jumped out at me, one that I'm not sure I noticed/appreciated before now.

The New Cathedral Overlooking the Park
William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963)

The new cathedral overlooking the park
looked down from its tower
with great eyes today and saw
by the decorative lake a group of people
staring curiously at the corpse
of a suicide——Peaceful dead young man
the money they have put into the stones
has been spent to teach men of
life's austerity. You died
and teach us the same lesson.
You seem a cathedral, celebrant of
the naked spring that shivers for me
among the long black trees