Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Poem o'the Day: Sylvia Plath, "The Detective"

A random favorite from Ariel. I'd never noticed it before this read-through, when the image of trains shrieking like 'souls on hooks' hooked me and I read the poem a half-dozen times, trying to figure out how the fuck SP manages to capture these X-ray images of horror and anguish so beautifully. Full poem and comments after the jump.

The Detective
Sylvia Plath

What was she doing when it blew in
Over the seven hills, the red furrow, the blue mountain?
Was she arranging cups? It is important.
Was she at the window, listening?
In that valley the train shrieks echo like souls on hooks.

That is the valley of death, though the cows thrive.
In her garden the lies were shaking out their moist silks
And the eyes of the killer moving sluglike and sidelong,
Unable to face the fingers, those egotists.
The fingers were tamping a woman into a wall,

A body into a pipe, and the smoke rising.
This is the smell of years burning, here in the kitchen,
These are the deceits, tacked up like family photographs,
And this is a man, look at his smile,
The death weapon? No-one is dead.

There is no body in the house at all.
There is the smell of polish, there are plush carpets.
There is the sunlight, playing its blades,
Bored hoodlum in a red room
Where the wireless talks to itself like an elderly relative.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Aural-gasm: Review of Goldfrapp, Head First

Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, the two musicians that congeal behind the aptly-named duo Goldfrapp, prove themselves, once again, to be fascinating little sonic changelings. For over a decade now, they've been driven with each album to try something a little bit off, to veer in a direction that perhaps you thought would never happen following their previous effort. It began with 2000's stunning Felt Mountain, an atmospheric, film-noir-esque spectacle that sounded as if it were the soundtrack to the best townie bar on Pluto. Black Cherry followed, a bit more erotic, a bit more electronic, perhaps slightly more dance-able, particularly with robotic-grind tracks like their famous "Strict Machine." Nevertheless, the same icy sheen that accompanied Alison's breathy, wide-ranging siren call on the debut seemed intact. 2005 saw their venture into 70s-esque disco on Supernature and brought them into heavier club rotation, with singles "Ooh La La" and "Ride a White Horse." By this point, Goldfrapp seemed somehow everywhere and nowhere at once: songs like "Ooh La La" and "Strict Machine" were joyously accompanying phone company commercials, and every up-and-coming act interested in electronic music and in reviving New Wave either counted Goldfrapp among their influences or blatantly ripped them off without credit. Still, Goldfrapp has somehow evaded the mainstream spotlight, despite the instantly gratifying accessibility of much of their music and their wide-ranging (but usually unnoticed) reign over current 'It' kids like Little Boots and La Roux, not to mention that wacky bitch Madonna (who supposedly looked to Goldfrapp's Supernature tour for inspiration on her own Confessions on a Dance Floor tour). In 2008, the pair vomited up the glam image and club-crowns to tackle pagan-esque folk music and their most dreaded instrument--the acoustic guitar--in Seventh Tree. Alison's trademark vocals carried the effort, but the spacey chill of their first three albums was replaced with a lush new warmth. Alison shed her sex-bomb image to become, as in the first track "Clowns," a mischievous circus performer.

I begin with this because even those of my friends that are familiar with some of their music know little about their history, or the far reaches of their output--I've a friend, for example, who listens to "A&E" from Seventh Tree on the way home from the club weekly, but who probably doesn't know how much he'd love their more grind-y, eminently danceable work on Supernature. Sorry for the lengthy history.

Head First finds Alison and Gregory shifting shapes once more. Now that Goldfrapp's many proteges have seemingly exhausted the 80s revival, Goldfrapp finally make a record that seemed perhaps inevitable--perhaps impossible--for so long: an unabashedly sincere, joyous, warm, orgasmic 80s album. A number of critics have claimed that Goldfrapp fell behind the curve here--after all, who hasn't revisited the 80s by now? But what these critics leave out is this: who the hell does the 80s in the way Goldfrapp can? There are moments on the album that make you want to throw your hair into a bouncing side-ponytail and slide grease over your thighs to slip into fuchsia Jazzercise spandex--see "Alive," "Believer," lead-single "Rocket"--and others that evoke the ambient experimentalism of Kate Bush, circa The Dreaming and Hounds of Love--for this, go to "Hunt" and "Dreaming." The album is short and sweet; a mere 38 minutes long, this is easily listenable on your morning walk/run/shower, and it's about all I've listened to during those activities since it leaked a week or so ago.

(Continued after the jump...)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Poem(s) o'the Day (Month?): Sylvia Plath, "Morning Song," "Barren Woman"

It's been quite some time since I updated the blog, I realize. I was feeling burned out on a lot of things, including--GASP--Anne Sexton. I just finished Ulysses last night, and had been working on that for nearly ten weeks; had been working on Sexton for six or seven; and I'm simply at an intellectual impasse with my Feminist Methods class. The weather only finally turned last week (now it's rainy again), so I was beginning to feel that I was at an entire-life-standstill. In any case, it feels good to turn a few new leaves--onto a book-a-week in my Modernism class (now that Ulysses is no longer a bag of bricks in my backpack), onto not caring about said impasse-class, and onto Plath, onto Adrienne Rich, Louise Gluck, and hopefully spring as well. Time to get out of this nasty blue funk I've been in for so long.

That said, really nothing new on a more general level. My life is lived almost entirely on the page these days, so the new thing for me right now is rethinking my work on Sexton through the lens of my work on Plath. One of my biggest ongoing concerns with Sexton is to articulate a sort of "ethics of confession," in my loose terming of it--applying schemas like Jessica Benjamin's notion of "mutual recognition" (vis-a-vis intersubjective theory) and Judith Butler's conception of the 'ethical postmodern subject,' etc. This is probably too pretentious for a blog post, sry. So one thing I wonder is this: if I believe Sexton is interested in recognizing the Other--those she addresses in her poems, be they living or dead, base creatures or Christ--in a mutual way, do I believe Plath does the same?

I don't know, to be quite frank. As I immersed myself in Sexton, who seems by all accounts to have been a deeply compassionate and loving, if troubled, person, I found myself slightly repelled by Plath, who often seemed like rather a bitch. But now that I'm back in Plath-camp, I'm again strangely taken in by her tale. They're very different people and poets, though people tend to conflate them; Plath was a myth-maker; Sexton a sort of private storyteller, interested in revealing the underbellies of our darkest moments (sometimes her own, but often not). If you care to learn about the women themselves, I highly recommend Diane Middlebrook's biographies on each--Anne Sexton: A Biography (sort of notorious, because AS's private therapy tapes were released to Middlebrook and used, to the consternation of many), and Her Husband: Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath, A Marriage. The Sexton one is really the only biography on her, to my knowledge; the Plath is one of many many many, but is almost certainly the best, though it's interested in the marriage between her and Hughes far more than her pre-Hughes life. Any case, here are a couple of poems. I'll probably be avoiding the really famous ones on here ("Daddy," "Lady Lazarus," "Ariel"), simply because I feel like it'll be a bit redundant.

Anyhow, "Morning Song" (part in the open, part after the cut) and "Barren Woman" (behind the cut):


Morning Song

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.

Whoa, Nicholas Sparks, lay off the opium...

Pointed out to me by a friend, Conley, this interview in USA Today with Nicholas Sparks is perhaps the most deluded dreck I've come across in some time. I felt physically ill after finishing it.

Nicholas Sparks and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good-Very-Bad Interview

If you don't care to read it, allow me to pull a few golden turds out of it. Sparks compares himself to:

-Greek tragedies ("I didn't invent my genre, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides did!")
-Romeo and Juliet and Jane Austen ("They gave the tragedies a rimjob and then I, the amazing NICHOLAS SPARKS, followed the lead!")
-Hemingway ("The Garden of Eden" fucking sucked, but A Farewell to Arms? *THAT'S WHAT I WRITE*"...note, he literally says 'That's what I write' at that point.)

He disavows the following:

-Melodrama ("Sure, I kill characters off in every novel, but not in a *manipulative* way that intentionally toys with my audience's emotion. You know, man, it's *real* emotion I'm evoking. Cuz I'm Hemingway. I'm Aeschylus. I'm Shakespeare.")
-Romance ("Uh, don't you know that genre is for icky girrrrlllls? Plus, it's formulaic, and my novels are NOT BY ANY MEANS DEFINITELY NOT NO WAY formulaic.")
-Cormac McCarthy ("Blood Meridian is a steaming pile of horse feces. I *allowed* him to win the Pulitzer.")
-...everyone else ("No one is doing what I do." --Another actual quote, b-t-dubs.)

And here he is...the man himself...the great...the incomparable...the clearly so-deluded-he-needs-to-be-institutionalized-before-he-hurts-himself-or-others...NICHOLAS SPAAAAARRRKKKKSSSSS! ! ! !

Damn, break me off a piece of that. On a semi-related note, ya'll should check out Conley's (the mastermind that linked me to the interview) hilarious blog. He and his friends battle chatroulette head on!

In which 95% of users are headless phalluses, and 5% are tweenage skanks and imbeciles