Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Giants went 57-33 before the All Star break. They've gone 23-39 since. 

It's consternating to realize that if they'd only managed to play .500 ball, or 31-31 in the 62 games since the break, they'd be two games ahead of the Dodgers today, at 88-69. Instead, they're six games back at 80-72, with 10 games to play. They don't have a prayer of catching the Dodgers.

How did this happen? Were the injuries to Hunter Pence, Matt Duffy, Joe Panik, Sergio Romo, Matt Cain and Gregor Blanco the reason? Actually, no. Statistically, they played better without these key figures, than they have WITH them! 

Was it the pitching that fell apart? Or was it their anemic hitting? Can a team that hits fewer than 140 home runs, and drives in fewer than 675 runs, win a pennant? This year, the Cubs, who have run away with their division (they're currently 97-55), have 189 homers and 718 RBI's, and could finish with over 200 homers and 760 runs by the end of the year. 

The Giants' strategy of fielding good pitching and weak hitting offenses may have caught up with them this year. 

The team has shown problems in all key areas. Relief pitching, power hitting, situational defense, even managing. Bochy's notion of showing faith in players who are underperforming, or in long slumps, has backfired repeatedly. 

Trading Duffy for Moore was probably not a bad idea, though Moore is not a top-flight starter, despite his one near no-hitter in Los Angeles on August 26th, and he might end up elsewhere in 2017. 

Casilla's days as the closer here are almost certainly numbered. With nine blown saves--enough to sink any contending team's chances--he's thoroughly demoralized a team desperately in need of relief support in close games. 

For my money, the season's over. Even if the Giants were to qualify as a wild card, their chances of competing against the Cubs, or the Nationals, appear nil. 

It's been a wild ride this year. First half champions, second half dismal. Which is the real Giants? Has any single player reached his potential this year?

Maybe Johnny Cueto, who is 17-5, but may get only one more start this year. 

Otherwise, not a single player is having a "career year" or even close. The Giants don't have a single player this year who could qualify as a true star. Posey and Crawford and Cueto are having good, not great seasons.  

Imagine what this would have looked like had Posey and Belt and Panik and Crawford and Pagan and Span and Nunez and Samardjiza and Casilla had really good years. We would likely have run away with the prizes, even without decent power. 

For next season, some things will change. Pagan and Nunez are probably gone. Ditto with Cain, Peavy. Casilla too. Panik and Hunter Strickland don't look secure. 

We'll still have a solid starting rotation. But we need a reliable closer, someone who can come in and shut the door for one inning. Someone who can get 40 saves, with an ERA of 2.20 or less, who relishes the challenge.

Bye-bye 2016. The even-numbered year wasn't a charm this time around.

Wait until next year. 

You heard it here.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Still More Variations from the Stainless Steel Counter

In the constantly shifting round-robin of ingredients, inevitably there will be some duplication. How many permutations are possible today, given the number of different kinds of spirits, liqueuers, flavored additives, etc., which one can find on the market? 

Lately, there's been an explosion of taste enhancers, known traditionally as "bitters"--which is to say, a combination of alcoholic base, to which is added (mostly natural) flavor agents, such as various herbs and spices. Just a few years ago, about the only kinds of these products one could find were Angostura Bitters, Peychaud Bitters, and the occasional Orange Bitters. Today, there are dozens of different mixes and brands. Some of these flavors can be created using easily available spirits or "aperitifs" while others can be quite exotic. The bitters craze is partly a renewed interest in the past, when such additives were more common; but it also may be a harbinger of a new more baroque epoch in alcoholic beverages. Variety is the spice of . . . or variety is spice itself. Flavor variation. Subtlety of expression. Difference. Diversity!

Recreations of traditional recipes share billing with new concoctions by bartenders trying to generate curiosity and sales, or by retailers looking to expand their product base. This is all good, assuming you don't object to alcoholic beverages on principle. I didn't become interested in cocktails until I was well into my fifties, but I wouldn't want it thought that I was encouraging young guys in their twenties to start drinking hard early in life. Consumption of alcoholic beverages isn't an art, or a profession, but designing them can be a diverting pastime. I've never thought I wanted to be a bartender, but I respect those who take up the profession seriously, and do their best to provide decent product, unadulterated and genuine. 

In any case, here are three new concoctions from the stainless steel counter, not filched from any book or online source, invented out of my own wayward imagination. Cheers!  

Key Lime Liqueur is a specialty which I suspect few mixologists use, given its particular cream base, which tends to overshadow other ingredients. Nevertheless, I find it very cooperative in conjunction with allied flavors, such as the St. Germaine (with its elderflower base). 

4 parts gin
1 part Key Lime Liqueur
1 part fresh lime juice
3/4 part St. Germaine liqueur
(shaken with served up)

This one is a take on the aquavit-apple constellation of flavor, and it seems to work very well. The fernet branca (or amaro) is counter-intuitive, as flavors can sometimes be. 

3 parts aged aquavit
2 parts apple liqueur
1/3 part fernet branca
1/3 part simple syrup
1 part sweet lime
(shaken and served up)

Here too the kirsch and St. Germaine are not familiar companions in mixed drinks I've seen, but they seem happily conversant. 

2 parts terroir St. George gin
2 part Italian dry vermouth
1 part kirsch
1/2 part St. Germaine liqueur
maraschino cherry
(shaken and served up)

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Massey's Second Collection

William Carlos Williams famously declared "no ideas but in things"--by which he meant that poetry should be constructed out of references to actual objects, events, people. This was a reaction to the cloud of abstractions which poets often employed to make traditional verse. Williams believed that the material world constituted truth, a foundation upon which to make a literature of relevance to life as it is really lived. 

Of course, Williams didn't always follow his own dictum. Most of his poems--even those most "material" in their substance--are in fact a means to achieving a certain abstraction--a feeling, or a conviction, or a thought. Things as things is only a beginning, not an end in itself.

George Starbuck, who headed the University of Iowa's Poetry Workshop when I attended it in the early 1970's, sarcastically reframed the Williams motto as "no ideas but the in thing." Starbuck was officially a poet opposed to Williams's American Language program, free verse, humble themes and down home subject matter. But he acknowledged the value of material data, and incorporated it in his own highly structured poems. 

Williams wasn't alone in advocating a foundation of real things in literature. Leftist thought places emphasis upon the importance of acknowledging real conditions, the "material reality" of existence, "scientific" knowledge, empirical verifications, etc. The Objectivists, of whom Williams was a card-carrying member, believed, as Zukofsky summarized, in "sincerity and objectification" in poetry. Which is to say, that objectified reality, perceived honestly, portrayed accurately, employed with a commitment to truth (sincerity), was the goal. The Objectivist message was shoved aside by the Second World War, and the McCarthy Era's paranoia. But it resurfaced in the 1960's, and has had its share of adherents over the decades. 

One of its most avid followers is the young poet Joseph Massey, about whom I wrote previously here in Minimalism Part VII - Joseph Massey & the Collateral Tradition, on August 25th, 2010. The irony for me is that I endorse Zukofsky's dictum, and have tried to follow it myself in the poetry I've written over the last quarter century. I fully accept the notion that you begin with facts, and things, and aspire to achieve a synthesis of objective reality and higher purpose, instead of beginning with ideas and looking for evidence to support them. 

A poetry which relies on observation and description risks becoming mired in the physical detritus, in the same way a religious poet, say, becomes tangled up in the conundra of divinity. I've always preferred to read about the imaginative qualities of actual things, which confirm, to a lesser or greater degree, my own confidence and pleasure in appreciating the world of my senses. Any poetry which evokes the sights and sounds and tastes and scents and touch, effectively, will always seem more vivid and tactile and satisfying to me, than a poetry which doesn't. Which would suggest, on its face, that I would be drawn to the poetry of a poet, like Massey, whose poems live in that realm. 

Unfortunately, however, I'm put off by Massey's poems, for reasons that I'll try to make clear here, not because I bear Mr. Massey any enmity, but as an objective case to demonstrate what I think can go wrong with the Williams/Zukofsky injunction, when misapplied or misapprehended, or slavishly followed without care.  

Mr. Massey lives up on the Northwest Coast of California, south of Eureka. It's rainy, foggy country, the kind of place conducive to quiet meditation and morose moods. The first thing to note about him is that he spends a good deal of time, apparently, watching the weather, and idly studying piles of trash, beach detritus, weedy edges, birdshit, dogshit, garbage, litter, rubble, driftwood, rust, dirt, etc. Certainly, you can't complain about a poet's choice of subject matter, since the challenge in making art is in turning this kind of stuff into meaning. Cormac McCarthy wrote a whole novel, Suttree, about the intricate life of a river-bum, enmeshed in the squalor and degradation of every kind of filth imaginable. Suttree is a wonderful book, and by the end of it (if you make it that far), you know you've been in the hands of a master. So if a poet like Massey chooses to think about junk and garbage, that's his privilege as an artist. The first question to raise in that case is: Are we raised above the level of a curious five-year old who wanders through the waste, enchanted by the exotic items, the casual variety of cast-off materials? 

As a boy, I spent most of my time focused on the ground in front of me. I was fascinated by rocks, and all the things people and animals leave on the ground. Money, keys, small toys, keepsakes, rabbit feet, seeds, bits of glass and fibre and paper and metal. I probably was some kind of archeologist of the mundane as a child. But it wouldn't have occurred to me then, that a taxonomy or catalogue of my findings would ever constitute the stuff of artistic expression. Massey, for reasons that are not clear, seems to have determined to devote himself to the minute exploration of the deposits and rubble which he finds in his environment, and recording his thoughts and feelings through the registration. 

At the Point [Exeter: Shearsman Books, 2011; 91pp.] is Massey's second full collection of poems. It's fully consistent with his first [Areas of Fog, 2009], and confirms the preoccupations and tendencies of his debut volume. 


Cut grass, gasoline,
mound of rotted
weeds in a vacant lot

--the scent cast,
dense, with
each breeze--in

flustered shade.
What's in a day's
name: its slowly

summoned rhythms
looped through
the music-

less field--after-
noon's clamor:

cars, deflated
bass lines
at a red light,

an argument 
rattling the blue
aluminum trailer.   

This is typical of Massey's work. Narrow lines, brief stanzas. Line-breaks, dashes and hyphenations split the process of our reading up into segmented apprehensions, as if this were a method designed to delay and control the progression of discovery, as in an incremental revelation of content. I have trouble with poets who seem to believe that line-breaks and word-breaks are evidence of some kind of wit, or as if breaking up phrases and sentences somehow made more sense than simply writing it out as prose. And make no mistake, Massey is no syntactic experimenter; his poems use regular grammar and punctuation, there are no made-up words, and abstraction is held at bay with a determined focus on image and immediate object. These images and objects are linked, but usually with a verbal violence that is many times more intense than the occasion might demand. My assumption is that Massey thinks that this intensifies the effect of the emotion, and makes a stronger poem. Constructions--such as "flustered shade" or "huddled cars" or "rattled . . . trailer"--would suggest that the poet wants us to read more into inert matter than is there, and that his doing this increases our appreciation of his ingenious sensibility. 

The Process

outside sounds
double the day's

indoor confusion.
How to untwine
noise, to see.

There's the bay,
highway slashed
beneath; water

a weaker shade
of gray than this
momentary sky's

widening bruise.
The page turns
on the table, bare

despite all
I thought was
written there.

I have a number of problems with poetry like this. First, I have trouble reading it as plain sense. What does "cross-stitched outside sounds" actually mean, and how do these sounds "double the day's . . . confusion"? There's a straining after effect with the highway "slashed." A landscape might be "slashed" to make way for a road, or the sound of traffic on a freeway might sound like "flash" or "shushing"; but "slashed beneath" is not only literally inaccurate, it's a pretentious attempt at dramatic description, which doesn't convince. Or, the "sky's widening bruise" which I suspect is an attempt to describe an overcast color or occluding cloud front. But bruises are usually pink, or red, or brown, only occasionally grey or dull blue, which I suspect is the tint being evoked. The conclusion is a weak attempt at irony. If the speaker was actually writing this poem in a notebook, the words would be written on the page on the table. Why we should be either surprised or moved by their blankness is not explained. In the end, we are more apt to regard the poet's "confusion" in line four as the poem's essential, though unintended, message. The overall effect of a descriptive sequence such as this is that the writer is a watcher, recording detail and event, and attempting to draw philosophical or meditative conclusions. But the crudity and exaggeration and inexpressive means fail to accomplish this. 

The Lack Of


Sunset's requisite sparrows
clamor in the shrubbery.
How the room falls, falls

further into formlessness,
around itself,
and memory--

cast to the moon's
glassed transmissions. 

What are "requisite sparrows"? Is "clamor" the right verb to describe the sound birds make in a bush? In what sense is the room "falling" and where is it falling to? How is "memory cast" to the moon? What are "glassed transmissions"? Since Massey is such a stickler for material reality, exactly what kinds of impressions, or direct observations are these? My guess is that "requisite" is an attempt to inject a trite irony into the initial setting. "Clamor" wants to be more emphatic than another, more accurate descriptive for the bird flutter. The room "falling into formlessness" is an attempt to . . . what?. . . describe someone fainting, or nodding off? Isn't "glassed transmissions" just a naive way of saying the moon is seen through a window? What other poetic qualities are summoned by "glassed"?

The use of overkill language is rife in Massey's verse. The "highway" is "slashed"; "shadows carve the room"; words are "plunged into hunger"; "haze blots"; "light" is "gashed"; "nasturtiums lurch"; "leaves" are "lathed"; "hedges dredged"; "halved by haze";  "ocean's drone drones"; "things throb"; "clouds" are "warped"and so on. There are, too, a number of whoppers strewn about on the pile: "spring singes the sky's organized incisions." Ooh, that one stings! "Traffic's sustained sibilance grows louder later." "Through the bone of a stutter." "Gibbous moon splinters." "Wind pinched." "Where the jetty juts." "Moss-cleaved crags absorb." "Stone reflecting stone." "Knocks the walls into sleep." "This severed gestation." "Thorax throws off." "An echo gathering more and more silence." The more I read of Massey's work, the more convinced I become that he's futilely trying to reach for statements and effects that he seems unable to achieve. He mistakes hyperbole and oxymoron and malapropism for poetic successes, apparently believing that this makes his work vivid and immediate and pungent. A construction such as "hedges dredged" looks like a pathetic attempt at onomatopoeia, but the actual effect is a tinny clank. Hedges bear no useful relation to dredging, so though their shared sounds intersect, forcing them together is not a happy convergence. It's simply a mistake. 

Mr. Massey wants his poems to sound as if they have conviction, and this frequently leads him into dead-end structures. 

The hills

with clouds

with the 


The view of hills and clouds through a window does in no sense suggest that they, or the speaker, or the viewer (reader) are in any sense "levitating." What is supposed to be rising? The clouds? The window-sill? The poet? Or does the simple iteration of the "Return" bar signal the rising of the earlier stanzas?  

In the work of George Oppen, or John Taggart, or Ronald Johnson, say, description succeeds both because the means report or interpret reality validly--that is to say, accurately--and the thought is profound enough to give us pause. Joe Massey seems a nice enough fellow--though his character seems more obscured than revealed in his poetry--but he's neither profound nor sensitive enough to write interesting poems. There are references to excessive drinking here, which I suspect is no accident. The overall impression is one of bored silences, of aimless drifting along streets or seaside outlines. The poems show effort, but not the delight we feel in happy combinations of sense, sound and phenomena. Massey has a tinny ear. He thinks "a dream's drowsy disassembly" is a "poetic expression," a struggling towards articulation. But it's just a stupid alliteration that summons amusement, not confirmation. 

This book is dedicated "to Humboldt County" where Massey lives. California has been the dramatic inspiration for a number of good writers. Robinson Jeffers along the Big Sur Coast. Gary Snyder in the Sierra Mountains and along the seashore. John Steinbeck. Robert Hass. Yvor Winters. Our forests and mountains and plains and rivers and rocky coast-lines have inspired a lot of interesting writing. We are still creating a regional literature that will stand for generations to come. I wish I could say that Massey's work is likely to rise to that level,  but I can't. If he hasn't read his Thoreau and Emerson and Dickinson and Whitman, he needs to start. If he hasn't read Pound and Stevens and Williams and Zukofsky, he needs to do so, and soon. Because if he continues along the path he's chosen, he will end up like Cid Corman, conjuring pathetic flash-card haikus.