Tuesday, July 26, 2016

When To Cut Your Losses


In the Bay Area, we have the luxury of two major league baseball franchises--the San Francisco Giants, and the Oakland Athletics. 

Over the last several years, these respective teams have pursued very different management strategies, with respect to how they construct their rosters from year to year. 

The A's have become notorious for a constantly shifting roster re-build, dumping half or more of each year's players through trades or voluntary releases, to such a degree that fans feel as if they must be "introduced" to an entirely new squad each spring training. This approach de-emphasizes "loyalty" and team cohesion in favor of hard pragmatic measures; it's run like a corporation, hiring and firing willfully, without regarding for the feelings of individual players, or of fan sentiment. Players who do very well or very poorly, are likely to be treated the same, either to rid the team of their salary commitment, or because of poor performance. Players aren't people in this system. They're just ciphers or parts of a machine. The system places great emphasis on the skill and intuition of the general manager, which is why the team general manager, Billy Beane, has been lionized by the media (and even a major Hollywood film based on a book about him and his management style) for his "moneyball" success in crafting competitive teams. 

The Giants, on the other hand, have built a successful franchise on a different principle. Brian Sabean, the Giants General Manager from 1996 to 2015, took a different approach, building teams through the minor league system, sticking with them through the early times as they matured, and through shrewd judgment of existing free agent talent. The team has attempted to treat its players as the emotional, sensitive people they are, valuing individual player loyalty, and nurturing team cohesion. This approach has brought the team three world championships in the last five years, and the team is comfortably, at this writing, in first place in the NL West Division, also leading the majors in winning during much of the last month or so. 

But there are problems to both approaches. The Athletics are ruthless in dealing with talent. Professional major league teams are businesses. If a team isn't performing, it must be regarded dispassionately, the bad (or weakly performing) parts cut out, and replaced with better options. There's a certain amount of fluidity to that, of course, since all players, and all groups of players, undergo fluctuations from day to day, week to week, and month to month. The Giants, on the other hand, seem to over-emphasize player loyalty, often holding onto a player well after that player has demonstrated a decline in quality--an inevitable factor in almost all players' careers. 



Tim Lincecum displayed Cy Young numbers for five years (2007-2011, during which his combined record was 69-41), but then his career began to tank. This was obvious for anyone to see. His herky-jerky motion, relatively small frame wasn't constructed for a long career. He lost velocity on his fast-ball, and began to lose his control. The handwriting was on the wall. Lincecum's career was destined to be a short one, as I had predicted way back in 2010 here on The Compass Rose. Yet the Giants held on to him, despite this decline, partly out of a sense of sentiment (or nostalgia). 



Matt Cain came up through the Giants farm system, and became what is commonly called a "good journeyman" position on the staff, going 85-78 between 2005 and 2012. Then, almost overnight, his arm went bad, and his participation was cut in half. It was clear, by 2014, that Cain was no longer the strong, young journeyman he'd once been, as his ERA ramped up, and hitters began teeing off on his diminished stuff. He underwent arm surgery, and his return has been a disaster. Cain's career is over, but the team seems determined not to accept that verdict. 



The team has had similar experiences with free agent hurlers. Tim Hudson was clearly over the hill, whose best years had been with Oakland, and then, for several years, the Atlanta Braves. Yet the Giants hired him for two seasons, during which his combined record was 17-22.  In retrospect, that decision looks to have been a mistake, unless you accept the pragmatic notion that every staff must have a few "innings-eaters" even if their starts result in losses.



In 2014, the Giants signed Jake Peavy to a three-year contract, despite his going 1-9 for the Red Sox the first half of that year. Peavy's best days had been with San Diego, where he went 86-62, and earned a Cy Young with 19 wins in 2007. Judging from how he's pitched since then, there's no evidence that he has the body or the skill to put up numbers resembling those ever again. 



The Giants have been through this routine before with Barry Zito, their worst free agent signing ever. 63-69 in the seven seasons of his long contract. Though it was clear that Zito's career was essentially in disarray by 2008, the team kept using him--and losing with him--through another four agonizing years of frustration. 

Contracts and obligations often weigh teams down. Players given huge long-term contracts may prove to have been very bad investments. Giving up on a player in mid-career may sometimes be a mistake, though a simple change of scene may be the only way of reviving a player's performance. Astute students of the game can usually tell who to offer the big contracts to. But letting emotion and sentiment dictate your moves can be a mistake. 

Right now, the Giants have three very good starters in Bumgarner, Cueto and Samardzija. But Peavy and Cain are dragging the team down. Any game that either of these two guys start is likely to be a blow-out loss. Neither seems capable of sustaining more than an inning or two of acceptable dominance, frequently giving up runs in bunches, often to mediocre teams. As long as the Giants keep running these guys out there, we're going to have to keep crossing our fingers. It's like expecting that 40% of your games will be forfeits!

It would be nice if a faith in players earned dividends in the real world. But in professional sports, the bottom line is made from ability and success. Players whose abilities have withered, can't be kept around just "for old times' sake." These two has-beens need to be shown the door, and replacements found. I'm all for loyalty and humanity and common decency, but Peavy and Cain are no longer major league pitchers. It's over. Better to cut the cord now, before they drag the team down in the standings. 

I'm not suggesting that the Giants should be run like the A's. Quite the opposite. Building strong teams is nearly impossible by turning over your whole roster every year--and the effects on your fan base are disastrous. But I do think the Giants need to be more realistic about these tired old arms than they have been. The team is in contention for another title this year.  The Cubs, who are trying to win it all this time, after a century of frustration, would be unlikely to settle for second-rate performance like that we've been getting from Peavy and Cain. We should be just as impatient. 

When To Cut Your Losses


In the Bay Area, we have the luxury of two major league baseball franchises--the San Francisco Giants, and the Oakland Athletics. 

Over the last several years, these respective teams have pursued very different management strategies, with respect to how they construct their rosters from year to year. 

The A's have become notorious for a constantly shifting roster re-build, dumping half or more of each year's players through trades or voluntary releases, to such a degree that fans feel as if they must be "introduced" to an entirely new squad each spring training. This approach de-emphasizes "loyalty" and team cohesion in favor of hard pragmatic measures; it's run like a corporation, hiring and firing willfully, without regarding for the feelings of individual players, or of fan sentiment. Players who do very well or very poorly, are likely to be treated the same, either to rid the team of their salary commitment, or because of poor performance. Players aren't people in this system. They're just ciphers or parts of a machine. The system places great emphasis on the skill and intuition of the general manager, which is why the team general manager, Billy Beane, has been lionized by the media (and even a major Hollywood film based on a book about him and his management style) for his "moneyball" success in crafting competitive teams. 

The Giants, on the other hand, have built a successful franchise on a different principle. Brian Sabean, the Giants General Manager from 1996 to 2015, took a different approach, building teams through the minor league system, sticking with them through the early times as they matured, and through shrewd judgment of existing free agent talent. The team has attempted to treat its players as the emotional, sensitive people they are, valuing individual player loyalty, and nurturing team cohesion. This approach has brought the team three world championships in the last five years, and the team is comfortably, at this writing, in first place in the NL West Division, also leading the majors in winning during much of the last month or so. 

But there are problems to both approaches. The Athletics are ruthless in dealing with talent. Professional major league teams are businesses. If a team isn't performing, it must be regarded dispassionately, the bad (or weakly performing) parts cut out, and replaced with better options. There's a certain amount of fluidity to that, of course, since all players, and all groups of players, undergo fluctuations from day to day, week to week, and month to month. The Giants, on the other hand, seem to over-emphasize player loyalty, often holding onto a player well after that player has demonstrated a decline in quality--an inevitable factor in almost all players' careers. 



Tim Lincecum displayed Cy Young numbers for five years (2007-2011, during which his combined record was 69-41), but then his career began to tank. This was obvious for anyone to see. His herky-jerky motion, relatively small frame wasn't constructed for a long career. He lost velocity on his fast-ball, and began to lose his control. The handwriting was on the wall. Lincecum's career was destined to be a short one, as I had predicted way back in 2010 here on The Compass Rose. Yet the Giants held on to him, despite this decline, partly out of a sense of sentiment (or nostalgia). 



Matt Cain came up through the Giants farm system, and became what is commonly called a "good journeyman" position on the staff, going 85-78 between 2005 and 2012. Then, almost overnight, his arm went bad, and his participation was cut in half. It was clear, by 2014, that Cain was no longer the strong, young journeyman he'd once been, as his ERA ramped up, and hitters began teeing off on his diminished stuff. He underwent arm surgery, and his return has been a disaster. Cain's career is over, but the team seems determined not to accept that verdict. 



The team has had similar experiences with free agent hurlers. Tim Hudson was clearly over the hill, whose best years had been with Oakland, and then, for several years, the Atlanta Braves. Yet the Giants hired him for two seasons, during which his combined record was 17-22.  In retrospect, that decision looks to have been a mistake, unless you accept the pragmatic notion that every staff must have a few "innings-eaters" even if their starts result in losses.



In 2014, the Giants signed Jake Peavy to a three-year contract, despite his going 1-9 for the Red Sox the first half of that year. Peavy's best days had been with San Diego, where he went 86-62, and earned a Cy Young with 19 wins in 2007. Judging from how he's pitched since then, there's no evidence that he has the body or the skill to put up numbers resembling those ever again. 



The Giants have been through this routine before with Barry Zito, their worst free agent signing ever. 63-69 in the seven seasons of his long contract. Though it was clear that Zito's career was essentially in disarray by 2008, the team kept using him--and losing with him--through another four agonizing years of frustration. 

Contracts and obligations often weigh teams down. Players given huge long-term contracts may prove to have been very bad investments. Giving up on a player in mid-career may sometimes be a mistake, though a simple change of scene may be the only way of reviving a player's performance. Astute students of the game can usually tell who to offer the big contracts to. But letting emotion and sentiment dictate your moves can be a mistake. 

Right now, the Giants have three very good starters in Bumgarner, Cueto and Samardzija. But Peavy and Cain are dragging the team down. Any game that either of these two guys start is likely to be a blow-out loss. Neither seems capable of sustaining more than an inning or two of acceptable dominance, frequently giving up runs in bunches, often to mediocre teams. As long as the Giants keep running these guys out there, we're going to have to keep crossing our fingers. It's like expecting that 40% of your games will be forfeits!

It would be nice if a faith in players earned dividends in the real world. But in professional sports, the bottom line is made from ability and success. Players whose abilities have withered, can't be kept around just "for old times' sake." These two has-beens need to be shown the door, and replacements found. I'm all for loyalty and humanity and common decency, but Peavy and Cain are no longer major league pitchers. It's over. Better to cut the cord now, before they drag the team down in the standings. 

I'm not suggesting that the Giants should be run like the A's. Quite the opposite. Building strong teams is nearly impossible by turning over your whole roster every years--and the effects on your fan base are disastrous. But I do think the Giants need to be more realistic about these tired old arms than they have been. The team is in contention for another title this year.  The Cubs, who are trying to win it all this time, after a century of frustration, would be unlikely to settle for second-rate performance like that we've been getting from Peavy and Cain. We should be just as impatient. 

When To Cut Your Losses


In the Bay Area, we have the luxury of two major league baseball franchises--the San Francisco Giants, and the Oakland Athletics. 

Over the last several years, these respective teams have pursued very different management strategies, with respect to how they construct their rosters from year to year. 

The A's have become notorious for a constantly shifting roster re-build, dumping half or more of each year's players through trades or voluntary releases, to such a degree that fans feel as if they must be "introduced" to an entirely new squad each spring training. This approach de-emphasizes "loyalty" and team cohesion in favor of hard pragmatic measures; it's run like a corporation, hiring and firing willfully, without regarding for the feelings of individual players, or of fan sentiment. Players who do very well or very poorly, are likely to be treated the same, either to rid the team of their salary commitment, or because of poor performance. Players aren't people in this system. They're just ciphers or parts of a machine. The system places great emphasis on the skill and intuition of the general manager, which is why the team general manager, Billy Beane, has been lionized by the media (and even a major Hollywood film based on a book about him and his management style) for his "moneyball" success in crafting competitive teams. 

The Giants, on the other hand, have built a successful franchise on a different principle. Brian Sabean, the Giants General Manager from 1996 to 2015, took a different approach, building teams through the minor league system, sticking with them through the early times as they matured, and through shrewd judgment of existing free agent talent. The team has attempted to treat its players as the emotional, sensitive people they are, valuing individual player loyalty, and nurturing team cohesion. This approach has brought the team three world championships in the last five years, and the team is comfortably, at this writing, in first place in the NL West Division, also leading the majors in winning during much of the last month or so. 

But there are problems to both approaches. The Athletics are ruthless in dealing with talent. Professional major league teams are businesses. If a team isn't performing, it must be regarded dispassionately, the bad (or weakly performing) parts cut out, and replaced with better options. There's a certain amount of fluidity to that, of course, since all players, and all groups of players, undergo fluctuations from day to day, week to week, and month to month. The Giants, on the other hand, seem to over-emphasize player loyalty, often holding onto a player well after that player has demonstrated a decline in quality--an inevitable factor in almost all players' careers. 



Tim Lincecum displayed Cy Young numbers for five years (2007-2011, during which his combined record was 69-41), but then his career began to tank. This was obvious for anyone to see. His herky-jerky motion, relatively small frame wasn't constructed for a long career. He lost velocity on his fast-ball, and began to lose his control. The handwriting was on the wall. Lincecum's career was destined to be a short one, as I had predicted way back in 2010 here on The Compass Rose. Yet the Giants held on to him, despite this decline, partly out of a sense of sentiment (or nostalgia). 



Matt Cain came up through the Giants farm system, and became what is commonly called a "good journeyman" position on the staff, going 85-78 between 2005 and 2012. Then, almost overnight, his arm went bad, and his participation was cut in half. It was clear, by 2014, that Cain was no longer the strong, young journeyman he'd once been, as his ERA ramped up, and hitters began teeing off on his diminished stuff. He underwent arm surgery, and his return has been a disaster. Cain's career is over, but the team seems determined not to accept that verdict. 



The team has had similar experiences with free agent hurlers. Tim Hudson was clearly over the hill, whose best years, with Oakland, and then, for several years, the Atlanta Braves. Yet the Giants hired him for two seasons, during which his combined record was 17-22. 



In 2014, the Giants signed Jake Peavy to a three-year contract, despite his going 1-9 for the Red Sox the first half of that year. Peavy's best days had been with San Diego, where he went 86-62, and earned a Cy Young with 19 wins in 2007. Judging from how he's pitched since then, there's no evidence that he has the body or the skill to put up numbers resembling those ever again. 



The Giants have been through this routine before with Barry Zito, their worst free agent signing ever. 63-69 in the seven seasons of his long contract. Though it was clear that Zito's career was essentially in disarray by 2008, the team kept using him--and losing with him--through another four agonizing years of frustration. 

Contracts and obligations often weigh teams down. Players given huge long-term contracts may prove to have been very bad investments. Giving up on a player in mid-career may sometimes be a mistake, though a simple change of scene may be the only way of reviving a player's performance. Astute students of the game can usually tell who to offer the big contracts to. But letting emotion and sentiment dictate your moves can be a mistake. 

Right now, the Giants have three very good starters in Bumgarner, Cueto and Samardzija. But Peavy and Cain are dragging the team down. Any game that either of these two guys start is likely to be a blow-out loss. Neither seems capable of sustaining more than an inning or two of acceptable dominance, frequently giving up runs in bunches, often to mediocre teams. As long as the Giants keep running these guys out there, we're going to have to keep crossing our fingers. It's like expecting that 40% of your games will be forfeits!

It would be nice if a faith in players earned dividends in the real world. But in professional sports, the bottom line is made from ability and success. Players whose abilities have withered, can't be kept around just "for old times' sake." These two has-beens need to be shown the door, and replacements found. I'm all for loyalty and humanity and common decency, but Peavy and Cain are no longer major league pitchers. It's over. Better to cut the cord now, before they drag the team down in the standings. 

I'm not suggesting that the Giants should be run like the A's. Quite the opposite. Building strong teams is nearly impossible by turning over your whole roster every years--and the effects on your fan base are disastrous. But I do think the Giants need to be more realistic about these tired old arms than they have been. The team is in contention for another title this year.  The Cubs, who are trying to win it all this time, after a century of frustration, would be unlikely to settle for second-rate performance like that we've been getting from Peavy and Cain. We should be just as impatient. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Creeley's Oppen


I've written previously about George Oppen's Discrete Series, in a blogpost here under Minimalism Part IV, on July 30, 2009. As an example of an approach to verse that employed a reductive, spare concision to convey unusual effects, it has always struck me as an ideal example of the form. I loved that book, long before I knew the back-story of its composition and publication, and appreciated its value without realizing the context of its initial emphasis, or why it would eventually become symbolic in its temporal isolation in the middle of the 1930's.



I recently came upon a copy of Oppen's Selected Poems [New Directions, 2003], edited by Robert Creeley, with a Chronology of Oppen's life by Rachel Blau DuPlessis, a book which for reasons I can't explain I'd never seen before. Published well after Oppen [1908-1984] had died, it's a telling, though perhaps unintentional, piece of evidence about how Creeley saw the elder poet, a figure who had explored some of the same literary territory that the younger man would, thirty years later. 

As the Chronology makes clear, Oppen's earlier life was unusual in a number of ways. Born into a comparatively well-off Jewish family, his Mother committed suicide when George was only a toddler. Early difficulties in school lead to a restless youth, and much travel. While still in his 'teens, he meets and marries Mary, his life-companion, and together they commit to political principles that align them with the Communist Party, which they join in 1935, becoming active in union organizing and relief efforts. 


A young Oppen with the wife Mary

Creeley, born in 1926, is only 9 when Discrete Series is published in 1935. Oppen is a full generation older than Creeley. According to the Chronology, Oppen had virtually completed the book by 1930, when he was just 22. Discrete Series, then, is in fact a very young man's book, written at the end of the 1920's, just before the Wall Street Crash, at the beginning of the Depression, by a man whose political sympathies are, from an early age, Left. The young author decides at this key juncture, that the artistic life must be set aside, in favor of social awareness and action, sets aside writing altogether, and by the beginning of the War, he is working in an automobile factory in Detroit. Drafted into the Army, he serves in Europe where he is severely wounded in the field, and leaves the service a highly decorated veteran. During the early 'Fifties, he comes under pressure from the FBI for his political activity, and decides in 1950 to live in Mexico. The Oppens don't return to the U.S. until 1960, when he begins once again to take up his pen. In close succession, he publishes three books of poems [The Materials, 1962; This in Which, 1965; and Of Being Numerous, 1968]. This outpouring of work (he wins the Pulitzer for the third book) leads to a general recognition by a new generation of readers, who for the most part are unaware of the author's earlier incarnation as a 'Thirties activist. Though the first book is reprinted in 1966, the context of its original appearance, and the meaning of the long hiatus of publication, remain largely unknown. 

It would take a whole book-length study even to outline the literary developments which occur between 1935 and 1960, but suffice it to say that how Oppen's work was initially viewed during the 1960's, and later, must be understood as a part of a larger struggle taking place in American art and literature during this period, between the Depression and the beginning of the 1960's. Oppen's "underground" self-exile and prohibition effectively removes him from the time-line for 20 years, a period during which socialism is rejected, the country fights and wins a world war, then undergoes a tortuous period of anxiety and paranoia (The McCarthy Era), while experiencing its period of greatest broad economic prosperity. 

In the meantime, Creeley, who comes of age as a writer during the notoriously quiet and tradition-bound 1950's, begins to achieve recognition and success at precisely the same time as the "later" Oppen. Their respective careers run parallel through the 1960's and 1970's, each participating in what we now understand as the period of the New American Poetry, initiated by the publication of the anthology of that name [Grove Press, 1960] edited by Donald Allen. Ironically, Oppen cannot be included in that selection, because he hasn't yet written the poems that will place him among its company! 


Greeley older

Looking back once again, one notes that Oppen had been a key member of the Objectivists group, which included Reznikoff, Rakosi, Zukofsky, Pound, Niedecker and Carlos Williams. (Discrete Series is, in effect, a self-published book, since Oppen is the key funder to the Objectivist Press.) The associations thus formed, in the turmoil of the world-wide Depression (a period of radical political and aesthetic engagement) will be repudiated or abandoned by these writers, after World War II, effacing the memory and effect of their earlier commitments, only to be rediscovered, as if for the first time, by the younger generation of the 1960's.


Creeley younger

For Creeley, Objectivism was an historical artifact, whose causes and concerns had faded from memory. Like Oppen's first readers in the 1960's, he understood the older writer as a survivor from an earlier period, recollecting those life-experiences in a calm, meditative style. The marked differences between the method of the poems in Discrete Series and those written after 1958, suggest not just the transformations wrought by time, but an aesthetic about-face which undercuts the meaning and value of the earlier work. The divide between the earlier and later Oppen isn't linear, following the clear descent from a sharp eye to a thoughtful reappraisal, but a reemergence from nearly total obscurity. 


Oppen older

Turning to Creeley's selections, it is astonishing to see that he chooses only two poems from Discrete Series--"The knowledge not of sorrow, you were" and "The edge of the ocean"--as if that earlier volume were an afterthought, only to be remarked with a couple of small snapshots for the family album. Why, one might ask, would Creeley's appreciation of Oppen be so narrowly focused on the later writer, instead of upon the youthful (30 years earlier) revolutionary of 1928? 



The 1st Edition of Discrete Series

It's intriguing to wonder why Creeley would choose to de-emphasize the younger Oppen in favor of the later. Perhaps it's because he felt that the issues and concerns of the earlier writer were no longer pertinent to a later audience. Perhaps those early, "objectivist" priorities (sincerity and objectification) were no longer valid measures. Oppen had said (in retrospect) "a discrete series is a series of terms each of which is empirically derived, each one of which is empirically true. And this is the reason for the fragmentary character of those poems [in Discrete Series]." It's instructive to place the poems in Discrete Series beside those of Creeley during his own "minimalist" phase--Pieces [Scribner's, 1969]. There can be no doubt that Creeley's indulgence in the minimalist form is parallel to Oppen's, yet there are clear differences in style and approach. While Oppen's poems are "fragmentary" and use parataxis freely, Creeley's are invariably grammatical and even narrative in progression, frequently reducing poems down to singular grammatical units, but never breaking them apart. Oppen's poems in Discrete Series are rather molecular, while Creeley's are constructive, using what lies to hand. 

Did Creeley's de-emphasis of the earlier Oppen also signal a political dismissal? It's a question that I leave open for the time being. I can only say that it's strange that he would choose fully 44 pages of work from the end of Oppen's career (the poems from Seascape: Needle's Eye [1972]; Myth of the Blaze [1975]; and Primitive [1978]), reprinting only two poems (two pages) from Discrete Series. In my view, the poems in Discrete Series are not merely stronger than nearly everything he published later; they are so much more original than anything that had come before, and driven by a vision which is so much clearer and and better defined than the poems after 1958, there is hardly any comparison. 

If we wanted to write the alternative literary history of America, we would certainly have to mark the publication of Discrete Series in 1935 as among a handful of signal events, many times more vital and predictive of later developments, than anything else that was being done at the time. Perhaps the point is that Oppen's earlier book had been so thoroughly effaced from literary consciousness that its discoveries and explorations would have to be completely reinvented by writers such as Eigner, Creeley, and others of the post-War generation; as if--as if!--Discrete Series had never happened! It is almost as if Creeley's deliberate suppression of that work were a new kind of repudiation of an earlier exploration and accomplishment--not on political grounds, but on aesthetic ones. 

The self-abnegation implied by Oppen's abandonment of verse as a kind of irresponsible activity in face of widespread social distress, is matched by the chastening after-effects of political suppression following the McCarthy Era. It is possible, perhaps, to deliberately "forget" the unfortunate events of a generation or two back--and the part played in them by active participants--but the written artifacts can't be so easily set aside. Creeley sees Discrete Series through the wrong end of his telescope, and judges it to have been unformed and relatively minor. 

Why is it that each generation tends to see the efforts of preceding ranks as the work of "old men"--and not the vigorous, hopeful, brave experiments of young men, just starting out, fresh and untamed, unswayed by caution, or fear of rejection? 

Discrete Series is the writing of a very young man. That tells us a great deal about the work, and about those who do or don't care to acknowledge the fact. 


Monday, June 27, 2016

On the Seventh Day of Summer



On the seventh day of Summer, my true love gave to me . . . 

a new cocktail recipe!

Summer is here, and everyone is floating along in oblivious continuity. Going about their business as if nothing had happened, working, sleeping, recreating, marrying, having babies, buying groceries, taking out the garbage, petting dogs, and generally staying out of mischief.

As I near old age, I keep having the rather unpleasant sense that some of the things I've done in the past, and may do again in the future, might be the "last time" I do them. This sense of unrepeatability is disquieting. I like reliable things as much or more than new things, and the thought that my next trip fly-fishing, or my next trip photographing the landscape, might be my last, is one of the liabilities of self-knowledge, or self-consciousness--something we possess that most animals don't. 

They say elephants mourn the loss of one of their tribe, and will even return to a place where one had died, to pay their respects, and share a feeling of grief. Elephants are also said to have long memories--another human trait. As I get older, some of the things I had not thought about for half a century, come back to me, unannounced, evoking feelings of regret or minor joy. More and more, I realize that I am the only surviving keeper of these memories, and that when I go, there will no longer be a surviving witness. 

I remember one day, perhaps 60+ years ago, when my parents and I went picnicking up on the Russian River--to a little place called Cazadero, on Austin Creek. In those days, people simply parked along the road and walked down to the water. On this day, I remember my Step-dad (whom I didn't know was not my "real" father yet) had persuaded my Mom to wear her bathing suit. Mom wasn't the outdoor type, and not the swimming type, and not the exhibitionist type either. I can still recall her tiptoeing across the rock shore, complaining about being cold, the sharp stones hurting her feet, refusing all appeals to come into the water, and generally just shivering and complaining. I can recall the green and white flower material of her suit, and how pale she was. The moment seems emblematic of my parents' relationship--how split their characters were, and how little they shared: Mom the indoors type, quiet, sedentary, Dad the outdoorsman, active, forthright. The thing is, I'm the only one who remembers this, and, like all the other memories locked in my head, it will fade into nothingness when I go. If my Mom were still alive today (she'd be 91 if she were) I'm sure she'd remember that day, just as I have, and it would be something we could share. But she's gone, and there's no one else in the universe who can confirm and tally what I've just described. I don't know why that should trouble me, except that such memories do matter to me. They comprise the pictures I have of my own past, which is not only rapidly receding from me, but from the history of my time. 

But this is the seventh day of Summer, and what better time to evoke memories, or to create new ones, than by toasting them with a novel new libation?!          



2 parts dry vermouth
2 parts white rum
1 part st. germaine 
2/3 part yellow chartreuse
1 part fresh lime juice

Shaken vigorously and poured into well-chilled cocktail glasses (makes 2). 






It's guaranteed to appeal to drinkers and non-drinkers alike, so have no fear of inebriation. One cocktail never killed anyone, though two might be inadvisable without a chauffeur. 


Monday, June 20, 2016

Twin Obituaries


We keep losing people.

That's life. 

This last week two poets whom I knew, and had published early in their careers, both died within 48 hours of each other: 

Bill Berkson


Blue Is the Hero


Ted Greenwald


Common Sense



Both native New Yorkers. Both men I would not have had the occasion to know, had it not been for our mutual connections to the world of poetry. 

Bill died at age 76, Ted at 73. 

Ironically, both men suffered from the identical medical condition later in life--lung failure as a result of life-long smoking habit. 

It gives me pause to note that. Both my parents were heavy smokers--both two-pack unfiltered Camel people. Our house smelled strongly of tobacco, and I became inured to the smell, and the bad air, as I grew up. Later, when I went back to visit, I was nearly overpowered by the effect. I never smoked. There was nothing about smoking that I saw in their addiction that would have drawn me to the habit.   Yet neither died of lung disease, my Stepfather Harry dying in an automobile accident at about age 72, and my mom dying at age 84 from heart failure.

Berkson was heavily identified with Frank O'Hara at the beginning of his career. Bill became the official/unofficial keeper of O'Hara's flame over the years, editing his poetry, tending to his legacy, and moving beyond the association that had been so important to the both of them until the older poet's death in 1966. That was almost 50 years ago, hard to believe. Bill would pursue dual careers in poetry and art criticism in his later adult life, both successfully. Sophisticated, cosmopolitan, charming, confident, witty, and generous--an impressive man. 

Ted Greenwald, a confirmed and unashamed devoted New Yorker, was a much less visible cultural figure, without Bill's social connections and background. There was something essentially genuine about his "working clothes" approach to poetry and to his life. I like to think of him as an "urban primitive" who spoke the language of the street, but knew his art inside and out. 

My contact with these men over the years would hardly suggest we were close. But I always felt a kinship with them, and the deeper implications of what their respective artistic investigations and commitments stood for. 

I live in earthquake country, right on top of the fault line, and in the middle of a notorious slide zone. You never know when the earth might just start jiggling and shifting under the your feet. 

The death of these two men is a seismic shift in my life. Things will never be the same again. 


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Elephant Panorama




You'll need a big computer screen to see all of this image. It's uncredited on the internet, but it's so inspiring, I had to put it up. Stretch your window as wide as your screen will go. On my screen it's about 16 inches wide.