July 23, 2004

Gulf Coast Daybook

For those of you in and around Austin.... Please come to Tazza Fresca Wed night (8 pm) July 28 for a screening of Gulf Coast Daybook, a short film by Reno Lauro and myself. Here's the promo:

Helicopters, jets, sandpipers, crows--Gulf Coast Daybook is a 15 minute film that gathers images of Galveston Island on one day in October 2003. In the documentary traditions of Werner Herzog and Rudy Burkhardt, filmmaker Reno Lauro and writer Dale Smith stumble without a clue toward images that for them reveal an aspect of the island. It's a movie inspired as a poem. Success or failure? Who knows? Check it out....

Reno and I landed on Galveston Island last year. Spent the night in a state park. Woke up and began gather images on digital film and super-8. The film documents our movement over state beaches, tourist strips, delapidated urban centers, suburban communities and oil refineries. It's the first film I've ever worked on and the experience showed me how close to poetry filmmaking is, or can be. For anyone outside of Austin interested in seeing this, DVD copies can be made for a small price. Here are some poem notes from the trip.


Children ride bikes on
black campsite asphalt.
Grackles and herring gulls eat
a family's leavings.
Traffic passes on the highway.
Phone lines reach out
on the sky above
a grassy horizon.
Wind and waves from the beach
rush the air and sandpipers
skate the day's late surf.
Weather's balmy. Mid October.
No glass. No booze. Says a man.
Beard of Moses and sun
glasses on his face.


There's a small satellite dish
attached by a cable to someone's
mobile home. The air moves north.
Sky bright blue. Torn newspaper,
grocery bags and orange cables
litter our site. Paper flames fly out
from the grill we can't seem to light.


Long morning shadows north
from concrete slabs.
Circles big as a man are cut
to let views target out on sky and lawn.
Spy on RV neighbors.
Squatted plumber cracks.
Moses curses loud
for V-8 spark.


Morning fire burns out.
Tent's down. Bags rolled.
Along the southern horizon
campers pitch their tents
beside utility boxes.
A hawk hauls its morning
catch a silver gleaming fish
beyond the marsh and east
below the quick-risen sun.


Behind the seawall tourist strip
homes extend in grids
hibiscus and decay.
Boys of color bounce balls
in a "drug free" park.
The amphitheater slab's tagged.
Blue sky. Corona vine.
Signs beyond these tenements
announce the day's fresh catch.


Broken rocks.
Aluminum cans.
Plastic raisin wrappers.
Paper coupons.
Cigarette butts.
Broken boards.
Sandpipers in the surf.


There's Voodoo Daddy's Swamp Bar.
Boarded shut. Weeds stick out of the sand.
There are yellow sunflowers
growing in the trash.
Light on the water sparkles
silver. There are five
yellow flags. A boat ramp.
Traffic paces.
A taco shack's gorditas,
ceviche and cervezas.
Mobile homes parked in sand.
Mario's Italian food.
Tide pushes in, white-
capped waves. Pale sky.
Peeled paint on park benches.
Breezy. Butterflies
float on flowers.


"Holy, Imperial, Catholic Majesty,"
related Cabeza de Vaca
wrecked here years
before seawall traffic.
The light is strong. Wind sweeps
the boulevard with strong gusts.
Our clothes are made of plant and man-
made fibers. We carry nuts
in plastic bags. Ice in an igloo cooler.


Notes / 10.14.03 / Mod Coffee House / Galveston, Texas, on the afternoon of "Artoberfest" / $3 cover

The island is a mile and a half wide, 70 miles long. Saw Kill Bill last night in an island theater. Returned to camp and sipped whisky in cold, strong wind by a thin flame conjured from a Duraflame© log.

Up this morning. Cooked coffee. Watched gulls eat scraps. They hovered by a green dumpster , hanging in the air over two white girls who offered potato chips. A dragonfly buzzed by our barbecue grill. The Bermuda grass was green and recently cut.

Walked the seawall, observing the surf, tourists, dilapidated neighborhoods and over-extended island ventures. Mixed races walked in white sand. The Gulf shined under crisp autumn sun. There was a flip-flop sandal in the sand. Beer cans and wrappers. The embarrassed coast-scapes abused by concrete piers where fishermen took fish from the surf. Farther out, oil platforms pumped. I remember the black tar balls that washed up on the beach here when I was younger. Now the Gulf is dying. And still people come here to fish.

You can catch in an instant the social diminishment of the island. Take quick the economic uncertainty and frail, upright need to earn. You can project over this small space a political apparatus, bearing down on it with reason or knowledge. You can bring to it the past through the experience of Cabeza de Vaca. But that doesn't reveal what the island—something more than a distribution of facts. And what is it? Who can say?

Water. Air. Light. Beach.

"Historical downtown" thrives with Houston society. "Art." Beer. There's a line behind me for the john.

Walk off with the camera alone. Cotton candy's sticky pink fluff puffs up on a stick. Island trinkets are exchanged for credit plastic at stalls equipped with machines of transaction.

Turn off the Main avenue. Not far—a couple of blocks maybe—the fate of the town surfaces. Boarded and broken windows receive the sun's late pink over turn-of-the-century facades. Wires hang over-head. Follow them back out toward the sea where boardwalk cafes sell watered margaritas to weekend touristas. Train tracks back off behind a parking lot. Tug boats hold close to brown piers.


Stop the VW
aimed toward Texas
City refineries. East
a view of the city
fades behind white haze.
Crow lands on a powerline.


Belching white fumes
ascend the air. Crow
searches highway gravel.
Men fish in tall grass
in full sight of the sky's
recent filth.


Hail, heron,
in a ditch beyond
the careful streets
relating family
homes. Omega
Bay. A good life
must come from such
earnest application
of pride. Union and Con-
federate flags take
the gentle, salt air.


Load the car.
Get out of here.

Posted by Dale at 05:13 PM | Comments (218)

July 12, 2004

Bookslut / SPD Catalogue

The new issue of Bookslut.com is up. Please check my "Illinois / Wisconsin Notes," updated and expanded for Jessa's fine monthly. Anyone out there, by the way, interested in reviewing books should contact me. My column's located here: http://www.bookslut.com/marsupial_inquirer/2004_07_002795.php


Delighted, of course, to see Austin illustrator Jeff Colon's art work on the cover of the Spring / Summer 04 SPD catalogue (spdbooks.org). Ma and Pa Possum read from issues of Skanky Possum.


Keaton enters the room shouting: "Get some water for it right now!" Referring to water for watercolor painting.


Spengler, according to Adorno, should be looked at for sheer power. More to come, though I realize this is dangerous territory. Maybe best to drop the public reading of it anyway. He wasn't a Nazi, by the way. But he wasn't exactly looking out for the little guy....

Ciao for now.

Posted by Dale at 09:26 PM | Comments (458)

July 07, 2004

Spengler Notes

"… even a good idea has little value when enunciated by a solemn ass." (41)

Reading vol. 1 of Spengler's The Decline of the West: Form and Actuality. The size is daunting, but I find once I'm down with it, an hour or so will suddenly pass unnoticed. I think possibly you might have to have some kind of an affinity for this stuff.

Questions to ask (and wrestle with in the dark):

Why read this now?
Of what possible importance is history anyhow?

Reading Spengler is like watching Romanticism train wreck into Modernism. Goethe and Nietzsche are his masters. He is anti-Darwinian, following an evolutionary model proposed by Goethe instead that is morphological. This is a study of the extension of forms.

Footnote to the intro from Goethe quoted by OS: "'The Godhead is effective in the living and not in the dead, in the becoming and the changing, not in the become and the set-fast; and therefore, similarly, the reason (Vernunft) is concerned only to strive towards the divine through the becoming and the living, and the understanding (Verstand) only to make use of the become and the set-fast' (to Eckermann). This sentence comprises my entire philosophy." (49)

This isn't to be a synopsis, but a notebook of certain finds. Spengler's is a study of history from within, intuitive.

"The thinkers of the past conceived external actuality as produced by cognition and motiving ethical judgments, but to the thought of the future they are above all expressions and symbols. The Morphology of world-history becomes inevitably a universal symbolism." (46, Spengler's emphasis)

Spengler is one of those thinkers with roots in the 19th century. Those roots shape and define a mind meeting the great catastrophes of WWI and Fascism in the 20th. His comparative, morphological, extensive mind resists category and hierarchy. To do so, he looks at form's dizzying complexities. First chapter after the intro is called "Meaning of Numbers." In appropriate Prussian, hard-edged fashion, he starts with the bolts and builds up.

"Lastly," he says, "the words History and Nature are here employed, as the reader will have observed already, in a quite definite and hitherto unusual sense. These words comprise possible modes of understanding, of comprehending the totality of knowledge—becoming as well as things-become, life as well as things-lived—as a homogeneous, spiritualized, well-ordered world-picture fashioned out of an indivisible mass-impression in this way or in that according as the becoming or the become, direction ('time) or extension ('space') is the dominant factor." (55)

"Nature" as the visible and "History" as invisible forms of the world. I hear the archetypal echoes of Jung here too. Only for OS the emphasis is on the life forms of cultures, their birth, maturity and death. He distinguishes between "culture" and "civilization," the first being the full blossoming achievements of people within a particular geographic location. Eventually those achievements crap out. Civilization takes over, where people go by rote, fuelled by the fumes of other generations' achievements and abilities. You can certainly see the US and Western Europe today as an administered force that looks back for cultural inspiration. Uses past culture to bamboozle citizens of the present. Christianity in the West, for instance, with peak flourishing in the Gothic expression 1000 years ago, peters out into hollow, conformist State-inspired axioms by which to prop up life within an a-religious Empire of goods. Also, power decisions are made under civilization from major world-cities: NYC, Washington, London, etc. No even distribution of self-representation. Everywhere outside the power centers becomes provincial and a possible target of world-city power. No cultural expression, only a mass-produced marketplace for consumption of received opinions and cultural products. Dollar rules.

In this sense, of course, I begin to wonder about the writing of poetry. A great age of poetry would be seen by the rich efforts of minor practitioners next to the achievements of a Dante or Shakespeare. How much of my own practice is influenced by a culture no longer applicable to present conditions? Not that there's nothing to learn from the art of Chaucer or Herrick. But how much stale avant-garde or Modernist models over-determine my practice now?

Self-consciousness is not necessarily a good thing. Learning to plunge takes effort. Doing so, supreme confidence within absolute uncertainty.


New arrivals: The Canary 3, XCP 14 (Cross-Cultural Poetics), Spell, by Dan Beachy-Quick, Saving the Appearances, by Liz Waldner and the terrific After the Chinese by Joesph

Posted by Dale at 03:21 PM | Comments (424)