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Alter Egos - I Am Done Watching This

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Friday, September 29, 2006


Enough about potatoes, Bobby, I said - read us a poem - preferably one you never lost.


You'll wait a long, long time for anything much
To happen in heaven beyond the floats of cloud
And the Northern Lights that run like tingling nerves.
The sun and moon get crossed, but they never touch,
Nor strike out fire from each other nor crash out loud.
The planets seem to interfere in their curves
But nothing ever happens, no harm is done.
We may as well go patiently on with our life,
And look elsewhere than to stars and moon and sun
For the shocks and changes we need to keep us sane.
It is true the longest drouth will end in rain,
The longest peace in China will end in strife.
Still it wouldn't reward the watcher to stay awake
In hopes of seeing the calm of heaven break
On his particular time and personal sight.
That calm seems certainly safe to last to-night.

Hoo Hahs - Robert Frost and Brushing Your Potatoes

Dead Beat heard some "hoo hahs" over a recently discovered 'lost' poem of Robert Frost. - it's that sort of world.

Fair dues to the researcher that tracked it down - but Dead Beat would argue that the method of their searching might be of more importance than the poem itself in a real literary world.

Listen to the man himself in conversation with Dead Beat over the staple food of the Irish:

"There are two types of realists: the one who offers a good deal of dirt with his potato to show that it is a real one, and the one who is satisfied with the potato brushed clean. I'm inclined to be the second kind. To me, the thing that art does for life is to clean it, to strip it to form"

For crying out loud, any half-decent Irish poet has always known this - wash your potatoes.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Waiting For My Clothes

This stumbled Dead Beat's way - Young Irish Poet dangerously making waves

Blurb from Billy Collins: "What is remarkable about Leanne O'Sullivan is not that she is so young--how many of us reach 20 without attempting a poem?--but that she dares to write about exactly what it is to be young. A teenage Virgil, she guides us down some of the more hellish corridors of adolescence with a voice that is strong and true. For that alone, she deserves our full attention."

A Map of the World

I remember this woman who'd sit

for hours in the TV room, staring through

the window at the days and nights,

her winged arm hanging over the sill

as if she were in a car travelling

at a great speed. Once, after I was

forbidden to walk on the grass,

I sat beside her in a shaft of sunlight

as she told me how she had loved

the silk shawl of her garden back home,

walking barefoot there at night. T

hen she took my hand in hers, the way

you would touch a flower, and slowly

traced each line of my life,

her fingers moving upwards like blood

from my vein, to the hollows of love

in my palm. I felt myself come alive

with her touch, as if continents were

pulling together inside me, the core fluid

with tremendous magma. My hand,

a landscape of earth; I walked it,

caressed the map which felt

like birth, death, heaven on earth,

the heat of hell, the blue stems

like labyrinths under a valley of flesh.

I was the ocean orbiting the shore,

a drowned man kissing the land,

surrounded by that strange smell of air.

How to move, I was not sure, my feet

spread on the ground like roots.

I leaned forward to kiss this woman's eye

and stood up, taking my first step towards

something that would survive me.

I Am Forever Falling And I Am Prone To Call This Motion Flight

Dead Beat is working on a rewrite of a new novel. He, as a writer of poetry and prose, often wonders if there is any real distinction (see The Bible According to Richard Hugo). Anyway in this careful process of rewriting he found this small passage of his:

Esther, I would like to say you are my ladder, but you are right. You are the rungs, the wild flowers, the illusive birds. I am forever falling, and I am prone to call this motion flight.

While rewriting, Dead Beat thinks rhythm, thinks metaphor, thinks all things poetic and all things prosaic.

Esther, I would like to say
you are my ladder,
but you are right.

You are the rungs,
the wild flowers,
the illusive birds.

I am forever falling,
and I am prone to call
this motion flight.

Sometimes Dead Beat surprises even himself.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Remembering Mountain Men - William Stafford

"Bill," I say reaching for The New York Times, "would you have a poem handy?"

Bill replaced The Washington Post, picked up The New Yorker. "I never read this trite," he said. "Here's something."

Remembering Mountain Men

I put my foot in cold water
and hold it there: early morningst
hey had to wade through broken ice
to find the traps in the deep channel
with their hands, drag up the chains and
the drowned beaver. The slow current
of the life below tugs at me all day.
When I dream at night, they save a place for me,
no matter how small, somewhere by the fire.

William Stafford

The Close Nature of Poetry and Prose - William Stafford

Bumped into William Stafford buying the newspaper.

"Morning Dead Beat," he muttered.

"Morning Bill. What is the role of craft in poetry? Think it's going to rain?"

"Well, Dead Beat, it occurs to me as I travel to campuses for readings that many of the people I meet have the feeling that there is a mechanical ability involved in the making of poetry. That, especially among young poets, poetry requires a craft of them that they don't have. But that isn't the way that I see poetry.

Poetry and prose to me are very close to the same thing. The distinction is not so much in the craft that's gone into it but in the way you present it to a reader. If you say something in such a way as to ask a certain amount of attention from the reader, that's a poem. And if you don't alert him to its being a poem and let it be prose, well then that's prose. And prose can be every bit as complex and difficult, it seems to me, as poetry."

"I hear you, Bill. And the chances of rain?"

"Precipitation likely. Tatty bye"

You Owe Reality Nothing - Yellow Grain Elevators

"Dead Beaters, I suspect that the true or valid triggering subject ( Foolish Like A Trout) is one in which physical characteristics or details correspond to attitudes in the poet has toward the world and himself. For me, a small town that has seen better days often works. Contrary to what reviewers and critics say about my work, I know almost nothing of substance about the places that trigger my poems. Knowing can be a limiting thing. If the population of a town is nineteen but the poem needs the sound seventeen, seventeen is easier to say if you don't know the population. Guessing leaves you more options. Often, a place that starts a poem for me is one I have only glimpsed while passing through. It should make impression enough that I can see things in the town--the water tower, the bank, the last movie announced on the marquee before the theater shut down for good, the hotel closed long after I have left--imagined things I find if I go back, but real or imagined, they act as a set of stable knowns that sit outside the poem. They and the town serve as a base of operations for the poem. Sometimes they serve as a stage setting. I would never try to locate a serious poem in a place where physical evidence suggests that the people there find it relatively easy to accept themselves--say the new Hilton. The poet's relation to the triggering subject should never be as strong as (must be weaker than) his relation to his words. The words should not serve the subject. The subject should serve the words. This may mean violating the facts. For example, if the poem needs the word "black" at some point and the grain elevator is yellow, the grain elevator may have to be black in the poem. You owe reality nothing and the truth about your feelings everything."

"Dick, can I have my blog back please?..."

Never Write a Poem About Anything that Ought to Have a Poem Written About It

"The question is: how to get off the subject, I mean the triggering subject. One way is to use words for the sake of their sounds. Later, I'll demonstrate this idea. The initiating subject should trigger the imagination as well as the poem. If it doesn't, it may not be a valid subject but only something you feel you should write a poem about. Never write a poem about anything that ought to have a poem written about it, a wise man once told me. Not bad advice but not quite right. The point is, the triggering subject should not carry with it moral or social obligations to feel or claim you feel certain ways. If you feel pressure to say what you know others want to hear and don't have enough devil in you to surprise them, shut up. But the advice is still well taken. Subjects that ought to have poems have a bad habit of wanting lots of other things at the same time. And you provide those things at the expense of your imagination."


If You Want To Communicate, Use The Telephone - How To Write Poetry

"Never worry about the reader, what the reader can understand. When you are writing, glance over your shoulder, and you'll find there is no reader. Just you and the page. Feel lonely? Good. Assuming you can write clear English sentences, give up all worry about communication. If you want to communicate, use the telephone."

"Hi Dick."

"Oh, didn't notice you there Dead Beat."

"Is that my chair you're sitting in?"

Foolish Like a Trout - The World of the Imagination

"Oh yeah."


"Tell them: Don't be afraid to jump ahead. There are a few people who become more interesting the longer they stay on a single subject. But most people are like me, I find. The longer they talk about one subject, the duller they get. Make the subject of the next sentence different from the subject of the sentence you just put down. Depend on rhythm, tonality, and the music of language to hold things together. It is impossible to write meaningless sequences. In a sense the next thing always belongs. In the world of imagination, all things belong. If you take that on faith, you may be foolish, but foolish like a trout."

Autumn Rain - It Isn't The Subject

"Dead Beat, one more thing you have to mention. (See The Triggering Town" )

"What is it Dick?"

"Young poets find it difficult to free themselves from the initiating subject. The poet puts down the title: "Autumn Rain." He finds two or three good lines about Autumn Rain. Then things start to break down. He cannot find anything more to say about Autumn Rain so he starts making up things, he strains, he goes abstract, he starts telling us the meaning of what he has already said. The mistake he is making, of course, is that he feels obligated to go on talking about Autumn Rain, because that, he feels, is the subject. Well, it isn't the subject. You don't know what the subject is, and the moment you run out of things to say about Autumn Rain start talking about something else. In fact, it's a good idea to talk about something else before you run out of things to say about Autumn Rain."

How Do I know What I Think Until I See What I Have Said

"Dead Beat", Hugo chided, "you must tell them more. You're letting those folks off the hook."

"So Dick what do you have in mind?"

"Simple really: I often make these remarks to a beginning poetry writing class. You'll never be a poet until you realize that everything I say today and this quarter is wrong. It may be right for me, but it is wrong for you. Every moment, I am, without wanting or trying to, telling you to write like me. But I hope you learn to write like you. In a sense, I hope I don't teach you how to write but how to teach yourself how to write. At all times keep your crap detector on. If I say something that helps, good. If what I say is of no help, let it go. Don't start arguments. They are futile and take us away from our purpose. As Yeats noted, your important arguments are with yourself. If you don't agree with me, don't listen. Think about something else.

When you start to write, you carry to the page one of two attitudes, though you may not be aware of it. One is that all music must conform to truth. The other, that all truth must conform to music. If you believe the first, you are making your job very difficult, and you are not only limiting the writing of poems to something done only by the very witty and clever, such as Auden, you are weakening the justification for creative writing programs. So you can take that attitude if you want, but you are jeopardizing my livelihood as well as your chances of writing a good poem. If the second attitude is right, then I still have a job. Let's pretend it is right because I need the money. Besides, if you feel truth must conform to music, those of us who find life bewildering and who don't know what things mean, but love the sounds of words enough to fight through draft after draft of a poem, can go on writing--try to stop us.

One mark of a beginner is his impulse to push language around to make it accommodate what he has already conceived to be the truth, or, in some cases, what he has already conceived to be the form. Even Auden, clever enough at times to make music conform to truth,was fond of quoting the woman in the Forster novel who said something like, "How do I know what I think until I see what I've said."

A poem can be said to have two subjects, the initiating or triggering subject, which starts the poem or "causes" the poem to be written, and the real or generated subject, which the poem comes to say or mean, and which is generated or discovered in the poem during the writing. That's not quite right because it suggests that the poet recognizes the real subject. The poet may not be aware of what the real subject is but only have some instinctive feeling that the poem is done."

"You're getting at me, Dick, aren't you?" Dead Beat asks. "I do go on about discovering the poem or story through the writing."

"You do, Dead Beat, and in a way you are right, but really does the writer recognise this?"

Don't Worry About Morality - The Triggering Town

Okay you Dead Beats you need to read and digest this - you may have read it before but trust me you did not digest it:

"The Triggering Town"from The Triggering Town
by Richard Hugo

You hear me make extreme statements like "don't communicate" and "there is no reader."While these statements are meant as said, I presume when I make them that you can communicate and can write clear English sentences. I caution against communication because once language exists only to convey information, it is dying.Let's take language that exists to communicate--the news story. In a news story the words arethere to give you information about the event. Even if the reporter has a byline, anyone might have written the story, and quite often more than one person has by the time it is printed. Once you have the information, the words seem unimportant. Valery said they dissolve, but that's not quite right.Anyway, he was making a finer distinction, one between poetry and prose that in the reading of English probably no longer applies. That's why I limited our example to news articles. By understanding the words of a news article you seem to deaden them.In the news article the relation of the words to the subject (triggering subject since there is no other unless you can provide it) is a strong one. The relation of the words to the writer is so weak that for our purposes it isn't worth consideration. Since the majority of your reading has been newspapers, you are used to seeing language function this way. When you write a poem these relations must reverse themselves. That is, the relation of the words to the subject must weaken and the relation of the words to the writer (you) must take on strength. This is probably the hardest thing about writing poems. It may be a problem with every poem, at least for a long time. Somehow you must switch your allegiance from the triggering subject to the words. For our purposes I'll use towns as examples. The poem is always in your hometown, but you have a better chance of finding it in another. The reason for that, I believe, is that the stableset of knowns that the poem needs to anchor on is less stable at home than in the town you've just seen for the first time out home, not only do you know that the movie house wasn't always there, or that the grocer is a newcomer who took over after the former grocer committed suicide, you have complicated emotional responses that defy sorting out. With the strange town, you can assume all knowns are stable, and you owe the details nothing emotionally. However, not just any town will do. Though you've never seen it before, it must be a town you've lived in all your life.You must take emotional possession of the town and so the town must be one that, for personalreasons I can't understand, you feel is your town. In some mysterious way that you need not and probably won't understand, the relationship is based on fragments of information that are fixed and if you need knowns that the town does not provide, no trivial concerns such as loyalty to truth, a nagging consideration had you stayed home, stand in the way of your introducing them as needed by the poem. It is easy to turn the gas station attendant into a drunk. Back home it would have been difficult because he had a drinking problem.

Once these knowns sit outside the poem, the imagination can take off from them and if necessary can return. You are operating from a base.

That silo, filled with chorus girls and grain

Your hometown often provides so many knowns (grains) that the imagination cannot free itself to seek the unknowns (chorus girls). I just said that line (Reader: don't get smart. I actually did just write it down in the first draft of this) because I come from a town that has no silos, no grain,and for that matter precious few chorus girls. If you have no emotional investment in the town, though you have taken immediate emotional possession of it for the duration of the poem, it may be easier to invest the feeling in the words. Try this for an exercise: take someone you emotionally trust, a friend or a lover, to a town you like the locals of but know little about, and show your companion around the town in the poem. In the line of poetry above, notice the word "that." You are on the scene and you are pointing. You know where you are and that is a source of stability. "The silo" would not tell you where you were or wherethe silo is. Also, you know you can trust the person you are talking to--he or she will indulge your flights-- another source of stability and confidence. If you need more you can even imagine that an hour before the poem begins you received some very good news--you have just won a sweepstakes and will get $10,000 a year for the rest of your life--or some very bad, even shattering news--your mother was in charge of a Nazi concentration camp. But do not mention this news in the poem. That will give you a body of emotion behind the poem and will probably cause you to select only certain details to show to your friend. A good friend doesn't mind that you keep chorus girls in a silo. The more stable the base the freer you are to fly from it in the poem.

That silo, filled with chorus girls and grain burned down last night and grew back tall. The grain escaped to the river. The girls ran crying to the moon. When we knock, the metal gives a hollow ring--

O.K. I'm just fooling around. (God, I'm even rhyming.) It looks like the news I got an hour ago was bad, but note the silo replaced itself and we might still fill it again. Note also that now the town has a river and that when I got fancy and put those girls on the moon I got back down to earth in a hurry and knocked on something real. Actually I'm doing all this because I like "1" sounds, "silo" "filled""girls" "tall" "metal" "hollow," and I like "n" sounds, "grain" "burned" "down" "ran" "moon," "ring,"and I like "k" sounds, "back" "knock." Some critic, I think Kenneth Burke, would say I like "k" soundsbecause my name is Dick. In this case I imagined the town, but an imagined town is at least as real as an actual town. If it isn't you may be in the wrong business. Our triggering subjects, like our words, come from obsessions we must submit to, whatever the social cost. It can be hard. It can be worse forty years from now if you feel you could have done it and didn't. It is narcissistic, vain, egotistical, unrealistic, selfish, and hateful to assume emotional ownership of a town or a word. It is also essential.This gets us to a somewhat tricky area. Please don't take this too seriously, but for purposes of discussion we can consider two kinds of poets, public and private. Let's use as examples Auden and Hopkins. The distinction (not a valid one, I know, but good enough for us right now) doesn't lie in the subject matter. That is, a public poet doesn't necessarily write on public themes and the private poet on private or personal ones. The distinction lies in the relation of the poet to the language. With the public poet the intellectual and emotional contents of the words are the same for the reader as for the writer. With the private poet, and most good poets of the last century or so have been private poets, the words, at least certain key words, mean something to the poet they don't mean to the reader. A sensitive reader perceives this relation of poet to word and in a way that relation--the strangeway the poet emotionally possesses his vocabulary is one of the mysteries and preservative forces of the art. With Hopkins this is evident in words like "dappled," "stippled," and "pied." In Yeats,"gyre." In Auden, no word is more his than yours. The reason that distinction doesn't hold, of course, is that the majority of words in any poem are public--that is, they mean the same to writer and reader. That some words are the special property of a poet implies how he feels about the world and about himself, and chances are he often fights impulses to sentimentality. A public poet must always be more intelligent than the reader, nimble, skillful enough to stay ahead, to be entertaining so his didacticism doesn't set up resistances; Auden was that intelligent and skillful and he publicly regretted it. Here, in this room, I'm trying to teachyou to be private poets because that's what I am and I'm limited to teaching what I know. As a private poet, your job is to be honest and to try not to be too boring. However, if you must choose between being eclectic and various or being repetitious and boring, be repetitious and boring. Most good poets are, if read very long at one sitting.If you are a private poet, then your vocabulary is limited by your obsessions. It doesn't bother me that the word "stone" appears more than thirty times in my third book, or that "wind" and "gray"appear over and over in my poems to the disdain of some reviewers. If I didn't use them that often I'd be lying about my feelings, and I consider that unforgivable. In fact, most poets write the same poem over and over. Wallace Stevens was honest enough not to try to hide it. Frost's statement that he tried to make every poem as different as possible from the last one is a way of saying that he knew it couldn't be.So you are after those words you can own and ways of putting them in phrases and lines that are yours by right of obsessive musical deed. You are trying to find and develop a way of writing that will be yours and will, as Stafford puts it, generate things to say.

Your triggering subjects are those that ignite your need for words. When you are honest to your feelings, that triggering town chooses you. Your words used your way will generate your meanings. Your obsessions lead you to your vocabulary. Your way of writing locates, even creates, your inner life. The relation of you to your language gains power. The relation of you to the triggering subject weakens. The imagination is a cynic. By that I mean that it can accommodate the most disparate elements with no regard for relative values. And it does this by assuming all things have equal value, whichis a way of saying nothing has any value, which is cynicism.When you see a painting by Hieronymus Bosch your immediate impression may be that he was a weirdo. A wise man once told me he thought Bosch had been a cynic, and the longer I thought about this the truer it seemed. My gold detector told me that the man had been right. Had Bosch concerned himself with the relative moral or aesthetic values of the various details, we would see more struggle and less composure in the paintings themselves. The details may clash with each other, but they do not clash with Bosch. Bosch concerned himself with executing the painting--he must have--and that freed his imagination, left him unguarded. If the relative values of his details crossed his mind at all while he was painting, he must have been having one hell of a good time.One way of getting into the world of the imagination is to focus on the play rather than the value of words--if you can manage it you might even ignore the meanings for as long as you can, though that won't be very long. Once, picking up on something that happened when I visited an antique store in Ellettsville, Indiana, I wrote the lines
The owner leaves her beans to brag about the pewter. Miss Liberty is steadfast in an oval frame.

They would have been far harder lines to write had I worried about what's most important: beans, pewter, or liberty. Obviously beans are, but why get hung up on those considerations? It is easier to write and far more rewarding when you can ignore relative values and go with the flow and thrust of the language.

That's why Auden said that poets don't take things as seriously as other people. It was easy for me to find that line awhile back because I didn't worry about the relative importance of grain and chorus girls and that made it fun to find them together in that silo.By now you may be thinking, doesn't this lead finally to amoral and shallow writing? Yes it does, if you are amoral and shallow. I hope it will lead you to yourself and the way you feel. All poets I know, and I know plenty of them, have an unusually strong moral sense, and that is why they can go into the cynical world of the imagination and not feel so threatened that they become impotent. There's fear sometimes involved but also joy, an exhilaration that can't be explained to anyone who has not experienced it. Don't worry about morality. Most people who worry about morality ought to. Over the years then, if you are a poet, you will, perhaps without being conscious of it, find a way to write--I guess it would be better to say you will always be chasing a way to write. Actually, you never really find it, or writing would be much easier than it is. Since the method you are chasing involves words that have been chosen for you by your obsessions, it may help to use scenes (towns perhaps) that seem to vivify themselves as you remember them but in which you have no real emotional investment other than the one that grows out of the strange way the town appeals to you,the way it haunts you later when you should be thinking about paying your light bill. As a beginner you may only be able to ally your emotions to one thing, either triggering subject or word. I believeit will be easier right now if you stick to the word. A man named Buzz Green worked with me years ago at the Boeing Company. He had once been a jazz musician and along with a man named Lu Waters had founded a jazz band well known in its day. Buzz once said of Lou McGarrity, a trombone player we both admired, "He can play trombone with any symphony orchestra in the country but when he stands up to take a jazz solo he forgets everything he knows." So if I seem to tank technique now and then and urge you to learn more, it is not so you will remember it when you write but so you can forget it. Once you have a certain amount of accumulated technique, you can forget it in the act of writing. Those moves that are naturally yours will stay with you and will come forth mysteriously when needed. Once a spectator said, after Jack Nicklaus had chipped a shot in from a sand trap, "That's prettylucky." Nicklaus is supposed to have replied, "Right. But I notice the more I practice, the luckier I get." If you write often, perhaps every day, you will stay in shape and will be better able to receivethose good poems, which are finally a matter of luck, and get them down. Lucky accidents seldom happen to writers who don't work. You will find that you may rewrite and rewrite a poem and itnever seems quite right. Then a much better poem may come rather fast and you wonder why youbothered with all that work on the earlier poem. Actually, the hard work you do on one poem is put inon all poems. The hard work on the first poem is responsible for the sudden ease of the second.If you just sit around waiting for the easy ones, nothing wild come. Get to work.You found the town, now you must start the poem. If the poem turns out good, the town will have become your hometown no matter what name it carries. It will accommodate those intimatehunks of self that could live only in your hometown. But you may may have found those hunksof self because the externals of the triggering town you used were free of personal association and were that much easier to use. That silo you never saw until today was yours the day you were born. Finally, after a long time and a lot of writing, you may be able to go back armed to places of realpersonal significance. Auden was wrong. Poets take some things far more seriously than other people, though he was right to the extent that they are not the same things others would take seriouslyor often even notice. Those chorus girls and that grain really matter, and it's not the worst thing you can do with your life to live for that day when you can go back home the sure way and find they were there all the time.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Book Reviews- A .38 Slug Makes Quite An Impression

Dead Beat was eating lobster stew with Richard Ford recently and just had to ask him about a story he once heard of Ford returning a book he was to review with a bullet hole through it.

"They sent me a book by a writer who had reviewed The Sportswriter rather negatively. It was my wife who took the book out to the backyard and shot it with a pistol. Then by some coincidence, someone else sent a copy. It was so satisfying to watch her that I went out and shot the other one. The book is now on an editor's shelf at Knopf in New York, big hole blown in one side and blown out the other.'

Smiling, he says he can't remember the name of the book. 'But a .38 slug makes quite an impression.'

Monday, September 25, 2006

Dead Beat is Homesick

Dead Beat if you have not already figured it, out pays homage to Richard Ford (See Goofing Off).

Anyway a good friend of Dead Beat's from his days at Trinity College Dublin, Engineering and all that, opened a book store in Dead Beat's home town of Cavan. Guess who walks into that bookstore one day asking for books on local history? - Yup Mr. Ford. Seems his grandmother came from Cavan. We for whatever reason have many famous writers either from Cavan or associated with it (including the great Jonathon Swift) but Dead Beat thinks this takes the biscuit.

Turns out Ford was reading from his latest work at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin the other night. Dead Beat applauds his own decision to move to the land of the beaver, but gosh darn it, Richard Ford in Dublin!!

Roddy Doyle introduced him and apparently made a tasteless joke - well D.B has to admit he introduced Roddy Doyle in Winnipeg and berated him for having the nerve to turn up in the town that a certain Ms. Shields made her own, considering he tied with Carol Shields in the Booker Prize only to have the casting vote in his favour.

Truth is, Dead Beat is homesick.

Richard Ford and The College of Surgeons would have provided the cure. Long live Frank Bascombe.

The Triggering Town - The Bible According to Richard Hugo

Sometimes Dead Beat thinks he may be ignoring poetry. More specifically he thinks that people may interpret it that way. Not so. Any comments made could as easily be applied to poetic technique. Especially those on cinema and lighting (See Light From Three Directions etc. )

Anyway there was method in my madness in reproducing a poem you all probably already know by heart (See Degrees of Gray - Richard Hugo). Hugo as you also know wrote a series of essays called The Triggering Town. Much as my old buddy, John Gardner, wrote the fiction bible, The Art of Fiction, Hugo worte the poetry bible.

Dead Beat of course claims they are interchangeable. Anyway, I dropped into the Kapowsin Tavern to have a drink with Dick and in the course of our conversation he remarked:

"Once a spectator said, after Jack Nicklaus had chipped a shot in from a sand trap, “That’s pretty lucky.” Nicklaus is supposed to have replied, “Right. But I notice the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

(Dead Beat had to bite his tongue, being a bit of a golfer once upon a time and appreciating the Old Timers of golf, he could have corrected Dick and told him that in fact it was Gary Player, but no matter. Never interrupt a master when he is on a roll.)

If you write often, perhaps every day, you will stay in shape and will be better able to receive those good poems, which are finally a matter of luck, and get them down. Lucky accidents seldom happen to writers who don’t work. You will find that you may rewrite and rewrite a poem and it never seems quite right. Then a much better poem may come rather fast and you wonder why you bothered with all that work on the earlier poem. Actually, the hard work you do on one poem is put in on all poems. The hard work on the first poem is responsible for the sudden ease of the second. If you just sit around waiting for the easy ones, nothing will come. Get to work."

Does that sound like Dead Beat to you?

Lucky accidents seldom happen to writers who don’t work. You will find that you may rewrite and rewrite a poem and it never seems quite right. Then a much better poem may come rather fast and you wonder why you bothered with all that work on the earlier poem. Actually, the hard work you do on one poem is put in on all poems. The hard work on the first poem is responsible for the sudden ease of the second. If you just sit around waiting for the easy ones, nothing will come. Get to work

Degrees of Gray - Richard Hugo

If you have not already read this a hundred times, you must be deader than Dead Beat. But here goes number one hundred and one - and I wish you a thousand more.

Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg

by Richard Hugo

You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago. You walk these streets
laid out by the insane, past hotels
that didn't last, bars that did, the tortured try
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
Only churches are kept up. The jail
turned 70 this year. The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he's done.
The principal supporting business now
is rage. Hatred of the various grays
the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,
The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls
who leave each year for Butte. One good
restaurant and bars can't wipe the boredom out.
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines,
a dance floor built on springs--
all memory resolves itself in gaze,
in panoramic green you know the cattle eat
or two stacks high above the town,
two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse
for fifty years that won't fall finally down.
Isn't this your life? That ancient kiss
still burning out your eyes? Isn't this defeat
so accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?
Don't empty houses ring? Are magnesium
and scorn sufficient to support a town,
not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz and booze
the world will never let you have
until the town you came from dies inside?
Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty
when the jail was built, still laughs
although his lips collapse. Someday soon,
he says, I'll go to sleep and not wake up.
You tell him no. You're talking to yourself.
The car that brought you here still runs.
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it's mined, is silver
and the girl who serves your food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall.

The Poetry of Programming - Writing Code and Writing Poetry are Similar

Dead Beat has a friend he wants you to meet. They get together and talk software. Well Old D.B. is a little partial to computer programming - it's form and its creativity. And then Richard Gabriel ambles along.

Richard is a Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystems, where he researches the architecture, design, and implementation of very large systems, as well as development techniques for building them. He is the author of three books: Writers' Workshops and the Work of Making Things, Patterns of Software, and Performance and Evaluation of Lisp Systems.

He received his Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford in 1981 and returned to school to get a Master's in Fine Arts in poetry in 1998 at Warren Wilson College.

You see Old D.B. got his Degrees first in Math and Design Engineering before returning to school to get a MFA in Creative Writing too.

Indeed Dead Beat has for many years been contemplating the use of software to advance our understanding of writing technique. And then gosh darn it Richie takes the lead. Anyway I caught up with him being interviewed recently, have a listen:

Q: You have advocated a program that offers a Master of Fine Arts in software, similar to programs that offer MFAs in creative writing. You say, "Traditions of computer science and software engineering have tried to turn all aspects of software creation into a pure engineering discipline, when they clearly are not. The MFA in software would begin to repair this error." Tell us about the philosophy behind this proposal.

A: Writing software should be treated as a creative activity. Just think about it -- the software that's interesting to make is software that hasn't been made before. Most other engineering disciplines are about building things that have been built before. People say, "Well, how come we can't build software the way we build bridges?" The answer is that we've been building bridges for thousands of years, and while we can make incremental improvements to bridges, the fact is that every bridge is like some other bridge that's been built. Someone says, "Oh, let's build a bridge across this river. The river is this wide, it's this deep, it's got to carry this load. It's for cars, pedestrians, or trains, so it will be kind of like this one or that one." They can know the category of bridge they're building, so they can zero in on the design pretty quickly. They don't have to reinvent the wheel. But in software, even with something such as Java 2, Enterprise Edition or the Java implementation (or almost any of the APIs we define), we're rolling out -- if not the first -- at most the seventh or eighth version. We've only been building software for 50 years, and almost every time we're creating something new. If you look at software developers and what they produce, if you look at their source code, the programs they make, and the designs that they end up creating, there is real variability. And some people are really good and others are not so good.

So, because you can program well or poorly, and because most of it is creative (in that we don't really know what we're doing when we start out), my view is that we should train developers the way we train creative people like poets and artists. People may say,"Well, that sounds really nuts." But what do people do when they're being trained, for example, to get a Master of Fine Arts in poetry? They study great works of poetry. Do we do that in our software engineering disciplines? No. You don't look at the source code for great pieces of software. Or look at the architecture of great pieces of software. You don't look at their design. You don't study the lives of great software designers. So, you don't study the literature of the thing you're trying to build. Second, MFA programs create a context in which you're creating while reflecting on it. For example, you write poetry while reading and critiquing other poetry, and while working with mentors who are looking at what you're doing, helping you think about what you're doing and working with you on your revisions. Then you go into writers' workshops and continue the whole process, and write many, many poems under supervision in a critical context, and with mentorship. We don't do that with software.

I was talking to Mark Strand, who is one of the first poets who mentored me, and he said, more or less, that how good you are depends on how many poems you've written in your life. About two and a half years ago, I started writing a poem a day, and I've gotten way better since I started doing that. And so, I've probably written about 1000 poems in my life so far, almost all of them in the last two years.

Compare that to how many programs someone has written before they're considered a software developer or engineer. Have they written 1000? No, they've probably written 50. So, the idea behind the MFA in software is that if we want to get good at writing software, we have to practice it, we have to have a critical literature, and we have to have a critical context. It looks like we may be able to start a program like that in the next year or so at a major university that I'm not free to name. It's probably going to be called a Master of Software Arts.

Q: You wrote a poem called "Unnormalized Models" that seems to be about software, with a slightly personal touch thrown in towards the middle.
A: "Unnormalized Models" is sort of a found poem. A lot of it is taken from an abstract from a talk I attended about certain types of reasoning in artificial intelligence systems. It takes a left turn in the middle in the parentheses through the use of dissociation or association.

Q: Has writing poetry influenced the way you write code?

A: Writing code certainly feels very similar to writing poetry. When I'm writing poetry, it feels like the center of my thinking is in a particular place, and when I'm writing code the center of my thinking feels in the same kind of place. It's the same kind of concentration. So, I'm thinking up possibilities, I'm thinking about, well, so how do I reinvent the code, gee, you know, what's the simplest way to do this.

I'm thinking about things like simplicity -- how easy is it going to be for someone to look at it later? How well is it fulfilling the overall design that I have in mind? How well does it fit into the architecture? If I were writing a very long poem with many parts, I would be thinking, "Okay, how does this piece fit in with the other pieces? How is it part of the bigger picture?" When coding, I'm doing similar things, and if you look at the source code of extremely talented programmers, there's beauty in it. There's a lot of attention to compression, using the underlying programming language in a way that's easy to penetrate. Yes, writing code and writing poetry are similar.

I have given a keynote called "Triggers and Practice." In writing, a trigger is something that enters your mind and causes you to start a poem, or a story, or whatever you want to write. The trigger could be a scene, a line, an image that comes to you, or just something remembered. The poet Richard Hugo believes that all writing is creative writing in that you don't know what's going to appear on the page until you write. All writing relies on triggers where you write something and respond to it.

Light From Three Directions - The Key to Good Writing

In a parallel universe many moons ago Dead Beat used to run writing courses at the Irish Writers' Centre - on one occasion he had a camera man from RTE our national TV station enrolled. John, was asked by Dead Beat, much to the chagrain of his other participants, to discuss lighting for camera. Get this, Dead beat told them, you will learn more about writing from listening to John tonight than me waffling on about this, that and the other. Some of those people are still scratching their heads. But listen up, Dead Beat knew what he was talking about back then, and he still knows.

John, take it away...

The standard lighting scheme for classical narrative cinema. In order to model an actor's face (or another object) with a sense of depth, light from three directions is used, as in the diagram below. A backlight picks out the subject from its background, a bright key light highlights the object and a fill light from the opposite side ensures that the key light casts only faint shadows.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Rear Projection

Dead Beat is going to stick with film a while so God help you - after a weekend with his little Dead Beats and their movie choices he has focussed his attention on Rear Projection. Writers might argue that Rear Projection does not really apply to them since all of their writing is rear projection. There is no real decision to be made.

Well Old D.B. might not agree. In any case let him explain what he understands by Rear Projection.

Rear Projection combines foreground action, often actors in conversation, with a background often shot earlier, on location. Rear projection provides an economical way to set films in exotic or dangerous locations without having to transport expensive stars or endure demanding conditions.

Look at any of those old Hollywood films with car scenes. Look out the rear window folks, rear projection. The car scene is shot in the studio, the 'passing landscape' is shot on location and combined due to the physical restrains of shooting in the studio. In addition, by speeding up the rate of the projected images in the background, or quickly changing its angle, rear projection allows for an impression of speed that involves no real danger.

So what of us writers?

Well we can combine anything we want at no extra cost. This can become problematic. 'Anything' just doesn't work. It has to be the 'right' thing.

When your characters are sitting in a car, what is being rear projected? Forget the car, what about the kitchen table, the cottage outhouse?

Folks, the Cut and Paste is alive and well in fiction. We can add any background we like with little effort. In film we have to think strongly about it.

I want to take you a step further. Within the minds of our characters we have Rear Projection too. Look out the window of their being and what do you see? More to the point what do you want your audience, your readers, to see?

Rear Projection informs the scene happpening in the foreground. It adds context, tone, meaning.

Don't rush it, don't ignore it.

Goofing Off While the Muse Recharges - Richard Ford

Sometimes Dead Beat entertains himself by pretending that he is Richard Ford... Anyway what follows is quite long, but I couldn't bear to leave anything out. As Richie tells it:

Sometime in the middle of June I sat down to a ritual that, as much as any other, has typified my writing life: At the end of a very lengthy period during which I did basically nothing whatsoever of any good to man nor beast, I got back to work. That is, I started writing again.

I don't mean to make this event seem momentous. There was no drum roll. The soundtrack was not the theme from "Rocky." There was no soundtrack, just the quiet, scarcely noticeable shiftings in a man's daily protocols from one set of digital, inward habits to another.

No more solitary morning TV, no more taking my breakfast out, no more reflexive telephone communiques; instead, just the usual soup of things that continually wash through my brain suddenly beginning to need sorting out for use in a story. It was a bit like Army recruits who instantly become soldiers just by standing in a line wearing their street clothes. And as with the recruits, my re-enlistment to writing was accompanied by an unwelcome feeling of purpose.
Stopping and then starting up again is of course what all writers do. It's what any of us does: Finish this, pause, turn to that. Over time this repetition is one of those markers that cause us to say we are this, not that: EMS attendant, lawyer, car thief, cellist: novelist.

More than for most of my writer colleagues, this ritual -- cease in order to resume -- has always seemed to me to be an aesthetic, possibly even a moral postulate. Many of my acquaintances, however, simply can't wait to get on with writing, as if nature also abhors a motionless pencil.

One friend (until I barked at him) regularly called me at about cocktail hour simply to say, "Did you write today?" Others seem to eye the horizon line anxiously from the deep interior of whatever they're doing at the moment, trying, I suppose, to catch a flickering glimpse of what they might plunge into next. To them the stop preceding the start, the interval, is at best a needless blink in a life devoted to constant gazing. At worst, it provokes a worry, even a fear.

"I'm not writing," a close friend in Montana told me recently. "It's so depressing. I just wander around the house without knowing what to do. The world seems so drab."

I advised: "Try turning on the TV. That always works for me. I forget all about writing the second 'Sports Center' comes on."

And I mean it. In these 30 years I have made a strict point to take lavish periods away from writing, so much time that my writing life sometimes seems to involve not writing more than writing, a fact I warmly approve of.
Admittedly, over this time I've only written seven books, and about these seven there has yet arisen no unanimous critical huzzah. And undoubtedly some smarty-pants will argue that if I'd only written more, been more obsessed, driven myself harder, ground my molars lower and paused less, I'd be a better writer than I am.

But I never imagined I was in this business to break the writers' land speed record, or to put up big numbers (except, I've hoped, big numbers of readers). In any case, if I had written more and stopped less, not only would I have driven myself completely crazy, but almost certainly I would have proved even less good at writing stories than I am. Anyway, it's my business what I do. There are finally some things about ourselves that we know best.

Most writers write too much. Some writers write way too much, gauged by the quality of their accumulated oeuvre. I've never thought of myself as a man driven to write. I simply choose to do it, often when I can't be persuaded to do anything else; or when a dank feeling of uselessness comes over me, and I'm at a loss and have some time on my hands, such as when the World Series is over.
I would argue that only in this state of galvanic repose am I prepared to address the big subjects great literature requires: the affinities between bliss and bale, etc. Call it my version of inspiration, although it's entirely possible that my reliance on this protocol still causes even me to write too much. It's hard to write just enough.

Clearly, many writers write for reasons other than a desire to produce great literature for others' benefit. They write for therapy. They write (queasily) to "express" themselves. They write to give organization to, or to escape from, their long, long days. They write for money, or because they are obsessive. They write as a shout for help, or as an act of familial revenge. La, la, la. There are a lot of reasons to write a lot. Sometimes it works out OK.

Maybe my seemingly lax attitude comes from having had working-class parents who slaved so that I could have a better life than they did -- wouldn't have to work as hard -- and my life is just a tribute to their success. But whatever the reason -- piddling around doing something else, like driving from New Jersey to Memphis and then to Maine just to buy a used car, which I did last month -- life comes well before writing to me; whereas writing, at least doing an awful lot of it, feels too much like hard work. I know my mother and father would give me their full support in this.

Not, I hasten to say, that writing is ever all that hard. Beware of writers who tell you how hard they work. (Beware of anybody who tries to tell you that.) Writing is indeed often dark and lonely, but no one really has to do it.

Yes, writing can be complicated, exhausting, isolating, abstracting, boring, dulling, briefly exhilarating; it can be made to be grueling and demoralizing. And occasionally it can produce rewards. But it's never as hard as, say, piloting an L-1011 into O'Hare on a snowy night in January, or doing brain surgery when you have to stand up for 10 hours straight, and once you start you can't just stop. If you're a writer, you can stop anywhere, any time, and no one will care or ever know. Plus, the results might be better if you do.

For me the benefits of taking time off between big writing projects -- novels, let's say -- seem both manifest and manifold. For one thing, you get to put lived life first. V.S. Pritchett once wrote that a writer is a person observing life from across a frontier. Art after all (even writing) is always subordinate to life, always following it along. And life -- that multifarious, multidimensional, collisional freight train of thoughts and sensations you experience away from your desk, when you walk down 56th Street or drive to Memphis -- can be quite bracing (if you can just stand it) as well as useful for filling up the "well of unconscious cerebration" that Henry James thought contributed to the writer's ability actually to connect bliss and bale.

Time frittered away can also just seem like a nice reward for the grueling work you finished. Sometimes it's the only reward you get.
Most writers' work habits date from the days when they were beginners, and at some base level one's habits always involve a system of naive appraisal. You proceed in ways that let you figure out if what you're doing is acceptable to yourself.

Stopping and starting during any one day's writing invites you to judge what you just wrote. And enjoying a long interval between weighty endeavors invites such useful reassessments as: Do I have anything important left to add to the store of available reality? (Kurt Vonnegut decided he didn't.) Do I still wish to do this kind of work? Was the last thing I wrote really worth a hill of beans? Is there not something better I could be doing to make a significant mark on civilization's slate? Does anybody read what I write?
I mean, aren't such inquiries always interesting as well as being merely fearsome? Isn't there a measure of coldly cleansing exhilaration involved in appraising one's personal imperatives as though they were moral matters? Isn't that, as much as anything, why we became writers in the first place?
My view of the writers I admire is not that they are sturdy professionals equipped with a specific set of skills and how-tos, clear steps for career advancement and a saving ethical code; but rather that they are gamblers who practice a sort of fervidly demanding amateurism, whereby one completed, headlong endeavor doesn't teach the next one very much. And in the case of writing novels, one endeavor consumes almost entirely its own resources and generally leaves its author emptied, dazed and bewildered with a ringing in his ears.

Therefore a good spendthrift interval lasting a couple of seasons if not more, or at least until you can no longer stand to read the headlines of the newspaper, much less the articles that follow, can help to freshen the self, to reconfigure the new, while decommissioning worn-out preoccupations, habits, old stylistic tics -- in essence help to "forget" everything in order that you "invent" something better. And by doing all this, we pay reverence to art's sacred incentive -- that the whole self, the complete will, be engaged.

Finally, what seems hard about writing may not be what you think. For me what are testing are the requirements of writing that make a sustained and repeated acquaintance with the world an absolute necessity; that is, that I be convinced that nothing in the world outside the book is as interesting as what I'm doing inside the book that day. What's most demanding is to believe in my own contrivances and to think that unknown others with time on their hands will also be persuaded. To do that, it helps a lot to know what bright allures lie just outside your room and beyond the pale of your illusion.

Dead Beat concurs. Listen to the wise one.

Artists Are A Lot Like Gangsters - Jocko and Russell Banks

Russell Banks stopped by for a brewski and told me about Jocko, a seedy character he used to hang out with when he was dreaming of becoming a writer. he met up with him again much later in life at a reading he gave close to where they used to hang out.

Anyway let Russ tell the rest: I asked Jocko why he'd hung around with all those poets and artists and musicians back then. "You were one scary dude, man," I said.

He said: "Yeah, well, artists are a lot like gangsters. They both know that the official version, the one everyone else believes, is a lie."

He was right about that, too.

The Short Films of David Lynch

The Things They Carried

1946 · Tim O'Brien (William Timothy) was born on October 1st in Austin, Minnesota

1954 · May-July Vietnam formally separated into North and South Vietnam

1955 · January 1, United States starts to aid South Vietnam government

1961 · November 22, United States decides to expand military aid and advisors to South Vietnam. United States personnel raised to 3,200 by the end of the year

1964 · August 2-4 North Vietnamese attack United States warships in Gulf of Tonkin. President Johnson orders first United States air strikes against North Vietnam (August 4)

1965 · In March the first United States combat troops are sent to Vietnam

1967 · 40,000 people protest the war at the Pentagon

1968 · Graduated from Macalester College with a BA in political science · Drafted into Vietnam · March 16, battle of My Lai takes place (death count was between three hundred and five hundred villagers) · March 31 Johnson offers to negotiate with the North Vietnamese for peace and announces he will not run for reelection

1969 · June 8, Nixon announces first United States troop withdrawal of 25,000. Withdrawals continue for the next four years

1970 · Returned from Vietnam with a purple heart and rank of sergeant · May 4, during nationwide protests four students were killed at Kent State University in Ohio. Ten days later two students were killed at Jackson State University in Mississippi · Lieutenant Calley (officer who led My Lai Massacre) was court-martialed and tried for his part in the massacre. He was tried again in 1971 and found guilty of murdering at least twenty-two villagers and sentenced to life in prison. After three days he was released by Nixon and placed under house arrest. He was paroled three years later.

1972 · During the summer serious negotiations between North Vietnam and the United States took place

1973 · January 27, Paris Peace Accords signed, ending United States involvement in Vietnam. Fighting between North and South Vietnam soon resumes · Married Ann, a magazine production manager · Released If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Send Me Home · Hired as a national affairs reporter for The Washington Post · November 7, Congress passes War Powers Act over Nixon's veto, preventing future presidents from sending United States troops overseas for more than sixty days without congressional approval

1974 · August 9, Nixon resigns over Watergate scandal

1975 · Released Northern Lights · April 30, Saigon falls to communists. Last Americans leave United States embassy

1976 · Received O. Henry Memorial Award for chapters of Going After Cacciato

1978 · Released Going After Cacciato · Received O. Henry Memorial Award for chapter of Going After Cacciato

1979 · Won the National Book Award for Going After Cacciato

1985 · Released The Nuclear Ages

1990 · Released The Things They Carried · Received Heartland Prize, Chicago Tribune, for The Things They Carried

1994 · Released In The Lake of the Woods

A Potential Quagmire - Tim O Brien

"The Iraq thing has the feel of a potential quagmire where we just get deeper and deeper and deeper involved, and when that happens it’s harder and harder and harder to get out. There’s also the similarity with the difficulty in finding the enemy. In Vietnam, we couldn’t find the V.C., they were blended in with the population, and we’re having the same problem in Iraq . . ."

Curtain Call - Sven Nykvist

“One of the things we believed was that a picture shouldn’t look lit. Whenever possible, I lit with one source and avoided creating double shadows, because that pointed to the photography.”

In his films, especially those with Mr. Bergman, light assumed a metaphysical dimension that went beyond mood. It distilled and deepened the feelings of torment and spiritual separation that afflicted Bergman characters. But in scenes of tranquillity filmed outdoors, the light might also evoke glimpses of transcendence.

Dead Beat makes yet another learning:

light with one source, avoid double shadows.

Dead Beat Architecture

Liu Xuan: What films and directors inspire you?

Kal Ng: My interest in cinema is essentially the use of images to create a world, to create a space. Maybe it is my architectural training that influences this interest. For me the directors that inspired me were Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Andrei Tarkovsky, Wim Wenders, Hitchcock, Antonioni, Ozu, Robert Altman and, recently, Lars von Trier.

Dead Beat invites you to consider architecture: create a space

Friday, September 22, 2006

Focus - The reconvergence of Light

Dead Beat knows you writers understand that by now point of view in writing is the camera lens. Therefore we need to be able to operate the camera. So here is a basic lesson on focus.

Focus refers to the degree to which light rays coming from any particular part of an object pass through the lens and reconverge at the same point on a frame of the film negative, creating sharp outlines and distinct textures that match the original object. This optical property can create variations in depth of field.

Depth of field refers to the extent to which the space represented is in focus.
For a given lens aperture and level of lighting, the longer the focal distance (the distance between the lens and the object that is in focus) the greater the focal depth. For a given focal distance, the greater the level of lighting or the narrower the aperture, the greater the focal depth. For that reason, close-up shooting and shooting in low light conditions often results in images with very shallow depth of field.

An image with shallow depth of field has some elements in focus, but others are not.

Lesson over for today, tidy up your desks, don’t leave any gum under your chairs. Apply what you have learned to your writing.

Diegesis - The Extent of Story

Dead Beat thinks that maybe it’s time to discuss diegesis and mimesis. Well you would, wouldn’t you early on a Friday morning with four little Dead Beats running beneath your feet since they don‘t have a school to go to?

A diegesis is often defined as the world in which the situation and events occur. The diegesis includes objects, events, spaces and the characters that inhabit them, including things, actions, and attitudes not explicitly presented in the work but inferred by the audience. That audience constructs a diegetic world from the material presented in a narrative.

Mimesis is an imitation or a representation. Thus the creator must be selective, choosing aspects of whatever experience or object is being represented. There are boundaries imposed, and these boundaries simply tell us that what is contained within cannot be real.

In diegesis the creator addresses the audience directly. Interestingly for all us ‘screamers of show and don’t tell” diegesis is thought of as telling. The author narrates action indirectly and describing what is in the character's mind and emotions.

In mimesis the author shows what is going on in characters' inner thoughts and emotions through his external actions.

Now here’s the sucker punch: story refers to all the audience infers about the events that occur in the diegesis on the basis of what they are shown by the plot. Story is always more extensive than plot.

Lie Upon Our Graves - The Pacification of Literature

Dead Beat has been checking out film and movie blogs/sites. Sven you are forgotten already in the mass market nonsense.

You are forgotten by the latest Robert de Niro trailer. Old Bobby used to be the next best thing. Now look at him - meet the parents.

We live in a world obsessed by itself. Writing can reveal the truth, but usually it reveals a pacifier.

I lie upon your grave.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Three Lamps and A Little Greaseproof Paper - Sven Nykvist/Bergman

In Bergman on Bergman, the director told his interviewers that he admired his cameraman's ability to see past the logistical aspects of film production and pinpoint the narrative core of a story. "More often than not, it's the people who know nothing or very little who use the most elaborate apparatus," he said. "It's their ignorance that complicates the whole procedure. Take a cameraman like Sven Nykvist, a technically clever cameraman, one of the cleverest in the world. All he needs to work is three lamps and a little greaseproof paper. One part of knowing what to do is simply the ability to eliminate a mass of irrelevant technical complications, to be able to peel away a mass of superficial apparatus."

Dead Beaters: three lamps and a little greaseproof paper.

Light is the Key to it All - Sven Nykvist

"I owe a great debt to Ingmar, for he gave me my passion for light. Without him I would have remained just another technical cameraman with no great awareness of the infinite possibilities of lighting. Today, I hate purely technical camerawork. I have a great sense that every picture I work on is different and demands a different approach. And I believe that the audience, supposedly indifferent to lighting subtleties, and responsive only to acting and story, will appreciate our work. People must do more than see a motion picture. They must have a feeling for it, and my experience has told me that they appreciate and are held spellbound by a certain mood that is created for them by the proper utilization of light. That is the key to it all. "

It's the light, folks. Dead Beat is only repeating what all great story tellers have known. Light is the key to it all.

Too Many Possibilities and Too Many Lights - Sven Nyvkist

Could it have been put any more simply (See Arriving at Simplicity) than this? Dead Beat urges you to listen, all you writers out there prettying up the background.

Question: What is the most important thing you have learned over the years?

Nykvist: It has taken me thirty years to come to simplicity. Earlier I made a lot of what I thought were beautiful shots with much backlighting, many effects, absolutely none of which was motivated by anything in the film at all—as soon as we had a painting on the wall we thought it should have a glow around it. It was terrible and I can hardly stand to see my own films on television any more. I look for two minutes and then I thank God that there is a word called "simplicity." I prefer to shoot on location because in the studio you have too many possibilities, with too many lights to destroy your whole picture.

Arriving At Simplicity - Sven Nykvist 1922-2006

Seems strange to Dead Beat that he should be discussing cinema and cinematography so much at this time when the news comes through that cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who was so important to the work of director Ingmar Bergman, has died.

Nykvist was considered by many to the world’s greatest living cinematographer. Not alone did he work with Bergman but also Louis Malle, Andrei Tarkovsky ( this is most strange since Dead Beat has just finished some posts on Tarkovsky which would have been posted today) and Woody Allen.

More on this to come. Let us go out with his words:

"Today we make everything so complicated. The lighting, the cameras, the acting. It has taken me thirty years to arrive at simplicity."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Walling in of Images - Tarkovsky

Many years back Tarkovsky took Dead Beat aside and berated him for his lack of understanding of imagery and symbolism:

“We can express our feelings regarding the world around us either by poetic or by descriptive means. I prefer to express myself metaphorically. Let me stress: metaphorically, not symbolically. A symbol contains within itself a definite meaning, certain intellectual formula, while metaphor is an image. An image possessing the same distinguishing features as the world it represents. An image — as opposed to a symbol — is indefinite in meaning. One cannot speak of the infinite world by applying tools that are definite and finite. We can analyse the formula that constitutes a symbol, while metaphor is a being-within-itself, it's a monomial. It falls apart at any attempt of touching it.”

“But doesn’t an image become a symbol if repeated?” Dead Beat had the temerity to ask.

“An image cannot be a symbol in my opinion. Whenever an image is turned into a symbol, the thought becomes walled in so to speak, it can be fully deciphered. That's not what image is. A symbol is not yet an image. Although image cannot be explained, it expresses truth to the end... Its meaning remains unknown. I was asked once what the bird on boy's head in The Mirror meant. But any time I attempt to explain, I notice everything loses its meaning, it acquires a completely different sense than intended, moves away from its rightful place. I could only say a bird would not come to an evil man but that's not good enough. A true image is an abstraction, it cannot be explained, it only transmits truth and one can only comprehend it in one's own heart. Because of that it's impossible to analyse a work of art by utilising its intellectual significance.”


“Sit down Mr. Dead Beat. I have said enough.”

Tarkovsky - Cinema as Poetry

As must be pretty obvious to any Dead Beaters out there. I am a little preoccupied at the moment with cinema. Let old D.B. explain. We are all in this together: writers, painters, film makers, visual artists, sculptors etc. All in the business of fashioning our experience of the world from some concrete substance. In Dead Beat’s case, words.

However the three dimensional form, the shadow and the light, the eye beholden are all the same. We are all working in form. Form as a vehicle to express the abstract. Whatever way we shape it these forms inform each other - are to Dead Beat’s mind, one and the same. That does not mean that there are not different attitudes and approaches, but ultimately they converge. And so Dead Beat will persist in his personal study of form in a multi-dimensional way.
Thus it should surprise no one that Dead Beat decided to track down Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky is considered the most famous Russian filmmaker since Eisenstein. He was deeply committed to cinema as poetry. In his book Sculpting in Time, he argued that cinema’s most important feature was its capacity for capturing time. To create the effect of the passage of time upon his audience he favoured individual shots with long takes. Landscape, nature, was of great concern for him as was the necessity to place his characters in a contemplative integration with their surrounds. Not for him the plot-driven what will happen next, but the now.

"In all my films it seemed to me important to try to establish the links which connect people (other than those of the flesh), those links which connect me with humanity, and all of us with everything that surrounds us. I need to have a sense that I myself am in this world as a successor, that there is nothing accidental about my being there." (Tarkovsky in Sculpting in Time, 1984)

Dead Beat remembers the words of Berger (See The History of Reason): “Prose is far more trusting than poetry. Poetry speaks to the immediate wound.”

Get out your cameras and remember, take long shots only.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Cinema Calander of the Abstract Heart - 09

All this talk of cinema and writing got Dead Beat thinking about our old friend Tristan Tzara (see The glockenspiel of Hell) and his:

Cinema Calander Of The Abstract Heart - 09

the fibres give in to your starry warmth
a lamp is called green and sees
carefully stepping into a season of fever
the wind has swept the rivers' magic
and i've perforated the nerve
by the clear frozen lake
has snapped the sabre
but the dance round terrace tables
shuts in the shock of the marble shudder
new sober

Tristan Tzara

Jimmy Jarmusch is nodding his head in approval.

The Fruit's What It's About

So Dead Beat gets a call from Hitchcock (see Hitchcock - The Secretive World of Character).

“What’s all this about D.B.?” he asks. “I wasn’t even with you, and even if I was, I don’t stromp.”

“You said what you said Hitch, you can’t back away from it now.”

“D.B. I said nothing although I have plenty to say.”

“You sounded adamant. Passionate about your movies…”

“Hold on a minute, D.B. did you say movies? I don’t make movies I sing a bit, that‘s all.”

Turns out I got Robyn Hitchcock on the phone, not my old friend Alf.

“Oh well I say, now that you are here, any words of wisdom?”

“Listen to my songs.”

“I do, I do,” I assure him. “But for my avid readers keen to make it in the writing world.”

“This then: The fruit’s what it’s about.“

“Say what?”

“Artists tend to present you with the best side of themselves, and you think, “Wow, there must be more to this! I want to meet the goose that lays the golden eggs! I want to meet the Wizard of Oz! I want to meet the tree that produces this fruit! But actually the fruit’s what it’s about.”

“I don’t always understand your lyrics,” I tell him, “but the fruit I get.”

Okay you heard it from Robert Hitchcock first. Keep the tree out of your work, the fruit’s what it's about.

The Great Train Robbery and Impoverished Writers

Will you entertain Dead Beat just a fraction more? I know it is asking a lot. But read on, and old D.B. begs you to think, really think about what follows. come on all ye poets working in a series of images or all you fiction writers working in scenes!

One of the milestones in film history was the first narrative film, The Great Train Robbery (1903), directed and photographed by Edwin S. Porter. The film used a number of innovative techniques, many of them for the first time, including parallel editing, minor camera movement, location shooting and less stage-bound camera placement. Jump-cuts or cross-cuts were a new, sophisticated editing technique, showing two separate lines of action or events happening continuously at identical times but in different places. The film is intercut from the bandits beating up the telegraph operator (scene one) to the operator's daughter discovering her father (scene ten), to the operator's recruitment of a dance hall posse (scene eleven), to the bandits being pursued (scene twelve), and splitting up the booty and having a final shoot-out (scene thirteen). The film also employed the first pan shots (in scenes eight and nine), and the use of an ellipsis (in scene eleven). Rather than follow the telegraph operator to the dance, the film cut directly to the dance where the telegraph operator enters. It was also the first film in which gunshots forced someone to dance (in scene eleven) - an oft-repeated, cliched action in many westerns. And the spectacle of the fireman (replaced by a dummy with a jump cut in scene four) being thrown off the moving train was a first in screen history.

In the film's fourteen scenes, a narrative story with multiple plot lines was told - with elements that were copied repeatedly afterwards by future westerns.

And, hey, D.B. knows how poor writers are in general - so please don't rob the banks, just tell us the way it was done.

What the Little Bunny Means - Mamet on Form

Dead Beat took the bull by the horns. All this stuff on film and writing - form ultimately. Well Old D.B. taught it would be lacking respect not to call upon the main man, Mamet himself. Well it's been a while.

"Got anything to say on the subject, Dave?" I asked.

"Only this," his reply:

"If you give yourself up to the form, it’s going to be distinctively your own because the form’s going to tell you what’s needed. That’s one of the great things I find about working in drama is you’re always learning from the form. You’re always getting humbled by it. It’s exactly like analyzing a dream. You’re trying to analyze your dreams. You say, “I know what that means; I know exactly what that means; why am I still unsettled?” You say, “Let me look a little harder at this little thing over here. But that’s not important; that’s not important; that’s not important. The part where I kill the monster — that’s the important part, and I know that means my father this and da da da da da. But what about this little part over here about the bunny rabbit? Why is the bunny rabbit hopping across the thing? Oh, that’s not important; that’s not important.” Making up a drama is almost exactly analogous to analyzing your dreams. That understanding that you cleanse just like the heroes cleanse not from your ability to manipulate the material but from your ability to understand the material. It’s really humbling, just like when you finally have to look at what that little bunny means."

"What that little bunny means, got you!"

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Sons of Lee Marvin - Psychedelic

As you know, Dead Beat has been listening to carefully Tom Waits and Jim Jarmusch recently. Tom went on a bit about the other sons of Lee Marvin getting a word in.

Here's your chance guys. Dead Beat is all ears.

The Space Between All Things - Coffee and Cigarettes with Jim Jarmusch

Dead Beat liked what Jarmusch had to say, Japanese Ghost Stories, so he invited him over for coffee and cigarettes.

“Go ahead J.J. tell Old Dead Beat more.”

“Well,“ J.J. says, “I was reading A Void Between Two Words, and it got me thinking…”

“Out loud J.J. Think out loud.”

“Well, I think our lives are made of little moments that are not necessarily dramatic, and for some odd reason I'm attracted to those moments. I made "Night on Earth," which only takes place in taxi cabs, because I kept watching movies and where people, like, say, "Oh, I'll be right over," and you see them get out of the taxi, and I'm always thinking, "I wonder what that moment would be like." The moment that's not important to the plot. I made a whole movie about what could be taken out of movies.”

“ The interstices.”

“Yes. One of my favorite directors is Yasujiro Ozu. On his gravestone, which I visited in Japan, was a single Chinese character that means, roughly, "the space between all things." That's what I'm attracted to.”

Aren’t we all, folks but how few of us notice. Go watch some Jarmusch, think about the space, the interstices, and back you go to your drafts. Rewrite according to the void.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Jim Jarmusch and Japanese Ghost Stories

"There you are Dead Beat, Jarmusch calls to say, going on and on about cinematic from in literature. Well I have news for you."

"What so?"

"When I was writing Mystery Train, I was not thinking at all about cinematic genres. I was thinking about literary forms and I was very interested in Chaucer, things that have smaller stories within that make up a larger work, and I was playing with the idea of things happening simultaneously. I really wasn't thinking about any of those genres, although I was aware of Italian episodic films that are like romantic comedies; there is a tradition in Japanese cinema of ghost stories that have separate stories together, I like that form very much, and I liked playing with things happening at the same time and characters being in the same place, but not interacting and yet being somehow connected by some little threads, like the bellboy and the night manager of the hotel, the gunshot, the fact that they're in the same hotel, the fact that you see them walking down the same streets. But it really was more from a literary form than from playing with cinematic genres."

"Works both ways," I say.

"You bet."

"One and the same."

"Two sides of the same coin."

Jim and Dead Beat (loud laughter).

Killing Inside the head

Divide action into a series of close-ups shown in succession. Don't avoid this basic technique. This is not the same as throwing together random shots into a fight sequence to create confusion. Instead, carfully chose a close-up of a hand, an arm, a face, a gun falling to the floor - tie them all together to tell a story. In this way you can portray an event by showing various pieces of it and having control over the timing. You can also hide parts of the event so that the mind of the audience is engaged. Hitchcock said this was "transferring the menace from the screen into the mind of the audience." The famous shower scene in Psycho uses montage to hide the violence. You never see the knife hitting Janet Leigh. The impression of violence is done with quick editing, and the killing takes place inside the viewer's head rather than the screen.

The Art of Undressing Jimmy Stewert

Jimmy Stewart looks at dog and then we see him smiling. Jimmy Stewart looks at a woman undressing and then we see him smiling. Those two smiles have completely different meanings, even if they are the exact same smile.

Hitchcock - The Secretive World of Character

Dead Beat has his feet up, a cup of Early Gray, a copy of Variety. Then Hitchcock stromps in.

Hitch! I exclaim.

"Don't bother me,": he screams, "One of your characters must be pre-occupied with something during a dialogue scene. Their eyes can then be distracted while the other person doesn't notice. This is a good way to pull the audience into a character's secretive world.

“People don’t always express their inner thoughts to one another," he said "a conversation may be quite trivial, but often the eyes will reveal what a person thinks or needs.” The focus of the scene should never be on what the characters are actually saying. Have something else going on. Resort to dialogue only when it’s impossible to do otherwise."

Calm down, I tell him.

"Calm down, Dead Beat, this is our survival."

"Okay, Hitch, Okay. I get you. I'll pass it on."

Dead Beat is true to his word. By the way, he's absolutely right. Listen and learn.

Grave Images - The Elusive Art of Being Natural

Spencer Tracy was one of the most 'natural' actors we have ever witnessed. The question, unanswered according to Dead Beat, is why? Specifically what do we do to be natural?

Until we get a grip on that, his grave stone above eludes us. As does the art and craft of writing. All the same, a little prayer is never out of order.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

True As An Image

Federico Fellini came calling asking not to be left out.

Left out Mr Fellini? Impossible.

Okay then, he said, pass this on:

"I'm perhaps a special type of spectator. I experience pleasure when I find myself in front of something that is the absolute truth, not because it resembles life, but because it's true as an image for itself, as a gesture. And therefore vital. It's the vitality that makes me appreciate and feel that the action succeeded. I think the expression of an artist's work finds consensus when, whoever enjoys it feels as if they're receiving a charge of energy, like a growing plant does, of something pulsing, mysterious, vibrant with life."

Chowderheads - Bumping Into Other Actors

Dead Beat took the time out to 'communicate' with Spence. Well, where do you think the Dead in his name came from?

Anyway Spence had this to say about his occupation: "Come to work on time, know your lines and don't bump into the other actors."

Got that Chowderheads, as old Spence would have called us all: Get to work on time, know your lines, and no bumping into anyone else.

This latter part is vital. When rewriting watch out for this.

The Camera as Point of View

Okay, so a few poems from the master of the Dream Song - John Berryman - see
Huffy Henry. Plus a couple of my favourites in the acting world, Miss Hepburn and Mr. Tracy (see Katherine Hepburn).

Huffy Henry was for your pleasure.

Hep and Tracy link back in to the connection between the writing process and cinema. See Serge Daney etc.

We have the film makers, the cinematographers, the actors, the critics - The critic, Daney in this case, writes at a highly intellectual level about film and its place in society - his deep thoughts, profound often, should warn us to the importance of our craft. If he were to write about our poems, stories etc, he should be able to do so on the same level. Think like Daney about your work - it is imperative.

Bring the eye of the camera with you everywhere you go - this is why directors and cinematography are so important. The eye of the camera is Point of View. The be all and end all.

But it all rests on the people, our characters. These are the ones who will communicate with the reader - even in poetry if it is narrative, the character(s) speak out.

More anon.

Irish Mafia the Hollywood Connection


In the late 1930's a small group of actor friends began to meet together to converse and to exchange opinions and stories. Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky dubbed them the "Irish Mafia", but they preferred to call their group the "Boy's Club". The original members of the club were Frank McHugh, James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, and Spencer Tracy, all of whom were Irish-Americans hence the name Irish Mafia. Later Lynne Overman was added to their group and then Ralph Bellamy and Frank Morgan. They also had occasional guest of Bert Lahr, Lou Calhern, and Jimmy Gleason. They would all get together to talk and laugh, and they would occasionally use the group as a sounding board to discuss ideas about their latest movies. By the mid-forties the group began to break up. First, Lynne Overman died and then Frank Morgan. McHugh went back East eventually settling in Connecticut. Bellamy went back to New York, and Cagney eventually headed East also. Tracy and O'Brien remained in California, but O'Brien was often away traveling in one-man acts and road shows. Even so many of the members kept in contact by telephone and occasional meetings. Tracy passed away in 1967. McHugh, O'Brien, and Cagney all passed away in the eighties. Bellamy, the last of the group, died in 1991.

Irish Mafia