Thursday, March 29, 2012
Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aliester Crowley
St. Martins Griffin
New York, NY
Biographers are fond of observing that their subjects have been much misunderstood. Among other reasons this view serves nicely to justify their labors. Why trouble the reader with a fresh portrait when clarity reigns?
In case of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), one is compelled to conclude that he has been as greatly misunderstood as any biographer could wish. In truth, “misunderstanding” hardly serves to convey the degree of hatred and fear which the name of Crowley—a.k.a. “The Great Beast” and “The Wickedest Man on Earth”—continues to inspire to the present day. The popular images endures of Crowley as a vicious Satanist who employed illicit drugs and perverted sex to enliven the weary charade of his blasphemous “magick” (Crowley’s own distinctive spelling for his development of traditional magic).
I guess I have to be honest to my readers: I adore Aleister Crowley. I think the man is a much overlooked part of a Victorian sensibilities. And I think that he’s quite prejudiced against not only in pagan and new age movements, but in history in general. I find this to be very sad. Now, the review.
I have read every biography of this man, and I’ve read all of his writings which include the self reflective Confessions of Aleister Crowley. Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley is, in my opinion, the most even handed, critical study of the life of an amazing man, a poet, a magician, and explorer. Yeah, I know what you’re sayin’. “Kennedy, Crowley is Satanist!” No, kiddies, no. He is not a Satanist. He is a Thelemite. He is a master of his own will, has a sense of humor, and does one badass tango.
Yeah, and to you Thelemites who might be reading this review who are secretly reading this book: relax! Don’t bust your balls for Crowley. You get the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of everyone’s favorite Sun Child. The laughing God of Thelema herself is all here, in one 500 page, well researched, and nicely handed text. I think most people who read this book are going to fall into two categories. Category One: curious Thelemites. Category Two: confused high school boys who’ve listened to far too much Led Zepplin when ripped outta their heads. Oh and I forgot the third: nerds looking for ultimate evil power in the Necronomicon (ah, I knew her well). Hang on, a fourth: the die hard Black Sabbath fan. We also have to include those curious Christians who want to inform themselves of another enemy of God. And the list goes on and on.
Lawrence Sutin, whose previous book focused on the life of the science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick, now tackles the ultimate enigma: who is Crowley? And, I may add does a wonderful job answering it. So, if you belong to any of the above mentioned groups, you probably belong in the OTO anyway. And if you’re you just kinda curious or even feeling kinky, then you’ll like this book. And by the way, there is another illusive group of Crowley fans: and that is those who are obsessed with the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
My favorite poet is Constantine Peter Cavafy. Constantine P. Cavafy, also known as Konstantin or Konstantinos Petrou Kavafis, or Kavaphes (Greek: Κωνσταντίνος Π. Καβάφης) (April 29, 1863 – April 29, 1933) was a renowned Greek poet who lived in Alexandria and worked as a journalist and civil servant. He published 154 poems; dozens more remained incomplete or in sketch form. His most important poetry was written after his fortieth birthday. I have chosen his poem "Ithaka" which was read at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's funeral:
When you set out for Ithaka
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.
Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy -
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.
Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn't anything else to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn't deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you'll have understood what these Ithakas mean.
Cynthia Drew, author, City of Slaughter
Monday, March 26, 2012
The main letdown of most horror movies is explanations of things, it's adherence to (or trust in) logic and causality, and Alucarda has little of that. Trust, in this story of two orphan girls at a convent, possession, aggression, jealousy, renouncing god, orgies and beast-headed devils is replaced by inevitability. Dreadful inevitability rules the film's progress, the movie beginning in media res and nearly mid scene, then refusing to come up for air as it dives deeper continuously into a miasma of cruelty, desperation, negativity and laughs. Unlike the usual Satan-at-work picture, Alucarda's horror does not require the presence of the Devil, for all we can tell, the Devil is simply there. “Possession” may be wholly aggressive zealotry, Satanism could reasonably be seen here as intense conviction in christian myth and order, and the conflicts aren't heightened by satanic effort, but because they are high stakes conflicts, those of sex, politics, age, and influence.
Alucarda is the wicked love child of Lindsay Anderson's If and Ken Russell's The Devils, as birthed by Jesus Franco. Instead of attempting to build narrative, the camera and editing build feeling, every shot framed exquisitely and every moment to prove that this is not simply sex, violence, and mirth onscreen not taken. This is a movie about people stripping down and whipping themselves out of religious conviction, people standing naked while someone cuts their breasts open and nurses each on the others blood. It's a film with tears in it and laughter, screams and screams that mute the other screams. Loud and big and full of fire and blood-soaked nudity and angry faces and frightened faces and pretty hills of long grass whipped by breeze.
The movie abuses its rights as spectacle, flashing so much tantalizing and melodramatic madness scene after scene, cut after cut, that it is easy to lose track of the fact that there is no apparent guiding morality, that the film is not coming down on one character's side or another's. The cruelty and ignorant dogmatism expressed by Church and Satanism alike here are often excused in movies by setting it in “the past,” that magic era of not-us whereby we can feel comfortable in the knowledge that, yes, such horribleness exists but it is not us. Not ever us. And just as we settle into that, just as we settle for a tease of nudity or a flush of violence, assuming that will, as it traditionally does, calm as the narrative takes fore, we are betrayed by this movie. The past is no excuse, the present is not safe, nudity is for always, and violence does not cease as soon as something hurts.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
H.P. Lovecraft: Master of Weird Fiction
Morgan Reynolds Publishing
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was eighteen years old, yet he never left the house. He hardly spoke to anyone and cut himself off from human contract. He had suffered a severe nervous breakdown and desired only to be left alone to brood. He brooded over death. He brooded over loneliness. And he brooded over the nightmare fears that haunted his dreams every night. These dark things that obsessed him—death, loneliness, creatures of the night—became the basis of this weird and wonderful fiction.
To my knowledge, there are two biographies of the late H.P. Lovecraft. One is by L. Sprague De Camp, and the other is by William Schoell. The former is a great, well-researched albeit out-of-print biography of the writer. This book…well, this book is like, you know, when you go to a city, and you visit their historical center, and they have a souvenir shop? This book would be there.
I wish I can say more about this book, but I can’t. I have too much respect and too deep a love for H.P.L, who was the premier writer of weird fiction in America during the 1920’s and 30s. He, along with the legendary Clark Ashton Smith, and, Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the barbarian, were more or less the three musketeers of pulp fantasy and science fiction. However, the book I am trying so hard to give an even handed review to, is an insult to this man. And, I hate to say it, but I have read pulp fiction that is better written than this biography. So, don’t get off your chair. Don’t plow down the twenty bucks they’re asking for this ridiculous book. Go out with your best gal, get a six pack of beer, a pizza, and read your lovely some H.P.L. instead.
Monday, March 19, 2012
The Man Who Fell to Earth is the perfect drive-in movie and the perfect arthouse picture. It's about sex, drugs, rock and roll, and by that I mean the film is concerned with hunger, politics, love and time. You must either attend to The Man Who Fell to Earth intently and seriously, or you should pay attention only when it gets your attention. A different movie if you are paying attention, a different movie every time, if you are at times distracted, it is, under any condition, brilliant and irreplaceable.
The story of Thomas J Newton (played by David Bowie), who has come to the city to sell inventions, and the people he effects as they effect him (and as he is affecting them?) is deceptively set around contemporary New Mexico. This is a deceptive movie. It's all out on display and asking to be consumed wholly. Scenes of sex and violence, of tender empathy, are turned as weapons against the audience, as fishhooks that barb in and keep perspective fixed. An incredibly cruel movie if you want it to be, this is also quite sweet, sentimental as it is sparse, because things do not come in mutual exclusion, emotions do not preclude other emotions, and addiction is just addiction, it isn't always and only an indictment or a bleeding away of all kindness.
Bowie said of his role, “I just learned the lines for that day and did them the way I was feeling. It wasn't that far off. I actually was feeling as alienated as that character was. It was a pretty natural performance. ... a good exhibition of somebody literally falling apart in front of you.” And, it is. So, too, the whole film. And, so too, we, the audience, are exhibited to the fiction, to the motion picture, on the other side of a thin lens. It's easily said that you get out of The Man Who Fell to Earth what you put into it, but maybe it is not always about getting out, pulling and gleaning, maybe something you have to know what isn't put out, to wonder where you got what you have to give out. And, like the dwindling addicts in the movie, the exiles and accelerants, expats and patricians, like them, to understand what it is to give out.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
The Gold State Phantasticks: The California Romantics...by Donald Sidney-Fryer, reviewed by BL Kennedy
The Gold State Phantasticks: The California Romantics and Related Subjects.
Collected Essays and Reviews
Phosphor Lantern Press
Los Angeles, CA
Both Ashton Smith and his great poetic mentor George Sterling, together with many other and highly diversified admirers, thought quite highly of the poetic gifts evidenced by “Phyllis”, as Nora May styled herself among her friends first in Los Angeles and then in San Francisco as well as in Carmel. Whether as a tragic figured or a as a poet of extraordinary talent, she has inspired a kind of legend, the legend of a poet of great promise who did not live long enough to fulfill that promise either as a poet or a person, given her comparatively short life and career.
The Gold State Phantasticks: The California Romantics and Related Subjects. Collected Essays and Reviews is a real treat, and a very eagerly awaited book. Until now, it was a rumor that such a book was going to be published.
As the subtitle says, this book is comprised of essays on the California Romantics. This long overlooked school of poets has, for some reason, never made it into that college course, which is a shame, especially here in California, where this minor literary movement is of the land herself.
I have known the author Donald Sidney-Fryer for almost thirty six years. You see, we both share a love for the writer Clark Ashton Smith, and the poems of Nora May French. I have had many talks with Donald on these topics, and for years, he kept on telling me he was going to write a book about them. And people, I can’t really find the words to tell you what a joy it is to hold that book in my hands. No doubt about it, this is one of the best book on literary California in the late 19th and early 20th century. And in my opinion, it is a must read. You may ask me why, and I’ll simply tell you with pride, it includes essays on Ambrose Bierce, George Sterling, Clark Ashton Smith, and Nora May French, and others. Donald Sidney-Fryer has written at length on these writers, their lives, and their overall achievements. This is an amazing book for any student of California’s literary history. Think of the California Romantic poets (who, by the way, also includes Robertson Jeffers), as kind of an early century beat movement. Donald once told me that as a sign of who they were, the California Romantic poets, would walk around with a vial of poison around their necks. I mean, c’mon, people, these guys are out there.
So, can’t delay here. This is a very important book that covers an area and time in America, in California when for a brief spark of a moment, poetry became alive. California got her poetic voice. So, write the info down, go to your local bookstore, and make them order it. Or if you wanna cut out the middle man, you can find this book on Amazon. Some way, get this book.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
My Naked Brain
Leopold Maria Panero
Translation by Arturo Mantecon
Swan Scythe Press
The Madman they Call King
I am a buffoon, and I pander to man
On this obstructed ladder with dead fish on its rungs,
And I have drowned mermaid in my hand
Whom I mutely show to passersby
Begging for alms like a poet…
The stifling hand that caresses your hand
On that threshold that united me with the man
Who passes by in the distance on a steed
And guilelessly seals the pact
Without knowing that he is shipwrecked
Upon the virgin page, in the vertex of the line,
In the cruel nothingness of the haggard rose
Where I am not and neither is a man.
A few weeks, a knock came on my door. It was the poet James Denboer, who happens to be the main editor for Swan Scythe press. He asked me to review a couple of books. This is not an uncommon practice; publishers are turning me on to new writers all the time. So I said, “yeah, I’ll check them out”. He told me Leopold Maria Panero’s book My Naked Brain was most likely the best of the two. That, my dear reader, has to be the understatement of the century. Not only is My Naked Brain and exceptional collection of this poet’s selected works, but it downright blew my pitiful, critical ass out of the water. I simply love the work of this poet, and I’m going to highly recommend the book.
Panero is an extremely talented writer, whose works in English are translated and edited by Arturo Mantecon, himself a talented Sacramento writer. Leopold Maria Panero is a member of Spain’s Novisomos group, and is probably the most outsider of the bunch. His work is sensuous and stark at the same time, with very erotic lyricism. The poet has a gravity that becomes a revelation of self discovery, an imaginative language that flirts with madness. I really like this book, and I’m going to highly recommend that all lovers of poetry who happens to read these reviews should purchase a copy for their own personal library.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
It was recently brought to my attention the wonders of an actress/filmmaker/singer/poet living in Hollywood, named Crystal Lane Swift. Here is a trailer from her movie, IT'S NEVER ABOUT A BOY:
Here is her demo reel on YouTube:
When I asked her to write a little bio this is what she said:
I have always loved the beginnings of things. Perhaps because I am always good at things at the beginning. I think I was a happy child. I remember enjoying life, really believing that something awe-inspiring was just ahead. I remember rocks, and plants, and blue sky being inspiring. I remember talking to Jesus without asking for anything for myself. Memory is reconstructive and therefore imperfect, like me. Perhaps I’m fusing experiences. The pictures used to be so crisp and organized. Now the files are frayed around the edges. A fog is sneaking in. I remember a perfected version of yesterday, of home, that I have since been struggling to get back to. A yesterday that, perhaps never really was.
I cannot and will not separate all of the integrated pieces of myself. I have been arguing through performance as long as I can remember. I wouldn't have always put it that way, but it turns out that is my passion. I live a cliché subjectivity—a fragmented standpoint—I embody the integration of a performative contradiction. I am, equal parts of the competing sides of a paradox. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I took a long academic journey before embarking on my creative journey. I tend to be the most conservative voice in both my creative and academic circles. My lived experience in the academic communicative field has prepared me to receive opposing voices as complimentary, and to provide motivation for the silent to speak. These perspectives lead me to feel comfortable in most any setting, and it helps that I am surrounded by creative, profoundly helpful people like my acting coach, Mark McPherson, my music producer, Tito Castro, my best friend, actress Elba Soto-Quinones, and of course my boyfriend, poet Rich Ferguson. As I told him just yesterday: Our dreams are already here. We just have to live them.
Crystal Lane Swift, PhD
Professor of Communication
Co Director of Forensics
Mount San Antonio College
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Don't miss this impressive collection of art, literature, videos, music and articles on politics and culture! Now here are a few words from Jonathan, editor in chief of Unlikely Stories Episode IV. ....Belinda
Greetings, patient word-warriors,
Yes, like the Trashcan Man bringing a nuke to Las Vegas, we have at last arrived! Over at www.UnlikelyStories.org you'll now find:
Mike Peake on the less-than-mutually-respectful relationship between the Oakland Police and Occupy Oakland
Belinda Subraman's short film on Occupy El Paso
JohnPaul Montano's letter on the relationship between Occupy Wall Street and Native Americans
John Cavanagh and Robin Broad on why El Salvador is being sued for failing to allow toxic gold-mining methods
Sam Vaknin analyzes the reasons banks fail
Paintings and Details by Carla Lobmier, with a critical analysis by Janina Darling
Nine Paintings by MOO | Monika Mori
Two Songs by the Buffalo Skinners, with analysis by Unlikely staffers Margret Crist and Jonathan Penton
"Eclipse Landing," a short film by Cecelia Chapman
"Fighting Words: Wrestling Holds Revisited," a Video-Story by Grace Andreacchi
More Fresh Fiction by bart plantenga, Brent Powers, Ian Woollen and Brian Katz
and Hot New Poetry by Louise Landes Levi, B. Z. Niditch, Bruce Holsapple, Dennis Mahagin, Ally Malinenko, Jay Passer, Michael Farrell, Raymond Keen and Mindy Mae Friesen
...along with the new Unlikely Books site
And now I sleep. Enjoy the new site!
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
To convince you to watch Sabrina is to do the movie and the fairytale a disservice. Go watch Billy Wilder's Sabrina; you'll be a better person after, even if you did not particularly like it.
Sabrina is a fairytale in the absolute best sense of the word. Not a fairytale in the way that Disney's Beauty and the Beast is, ignoring the injustice of the cruel prince's servants being cursed alongside him, or how The Graduate is a fairytale in which we must never ask why no one can have a genuine conversation and you may never ever admit aloud that Mrs Robinson is the only sane and adult human being in the picture. No, there we can't let the servants be a silent limb of the royal even if the movie does; we rail as soon as the credits roll with additional Simon and Garfunkel that those kids are fucking doomed. There is no “What happened after...” with Sabrina, just as there is not “What happened before.” There is a beginning and an end, or, as Sabrina's father puts it, “There is a front seat and a backseat and a window in between,” which prompted Humphrey Bogart's Linus Larraby to tell him he's a snob.
Linus Larraby make sit a fairytale as much as anyone or anything in the movie. When he explains industry as the saving grace of all humanity it isn't to be questioned and not because he's forcing the question not to arise. On the contrary, the question should immediately come up. The audience must question his logic, must be cynical of his optimism and drive to use sugar plantations to shoe unshod children and fix their teeth. Sabrina is not how things are, or likely, it is conviction without the necessity of reality that this is how it should be.
The captains of industry should be the captains of hope and progress. The rich should be “like us.” Classism should always only be supported it does not matter a whit. Love should be transient and ambient but above all permanent and true. When cynicism decries someone reaching for the moon, we must, like the elderly baron who takes a liking to Audrey Hepburn's loveable Sabrina Fairchild, smile and remember, “they are building rockets to the moon!” And, now, today, we should recollect that, indeed, the moon has been reached and we have fired music and art beyond it towards the stars.
Monday, March 5, 2012
The Atlantis Fragments: The Novel
Phosphor Lantern Press
Reviewed by BL Kennedy
We live on the shores of a vast and mysterious sea of stars and space. The solar system to which belongs our planet Aorth makes up but one spark of a vastitude amid an immense ocean of similar sparks, the galaxy. To this galaxy belongs our solar system in turn. Until recently our sages and savants of Atlantis for a long time understood the galaxy to make up the entire universe, as visible from our planet by telescope or by the unaided eye.
I have personally known Donald Sidney Fryer since my arrival in Sacramento, California in the spring of 1976, and I will state right here that outside of Fritz Leiber, I know of very few authors in the genre of poetic narrative who can grab me with the clarity of a single line. Granted, this is Fryer’s first novel. I am familiar with the Atlantis Fragments as a collection of sonnets that I was introduced to when I first met the author. That collection of sonnets, published by Arkham House, is considered to be a classic book and a rare, rare find. The last listing I have seen for the book priced it at near one hundred dollars.
That being said, you can only imagine my delight when the poet Donald-Sidney Fryer sent me a copy of this novel version of the material. Look, I could go on and bore you silly. You need to experience the work of Donald-Sidney Fryer for yourselves instead. Buy this book. I promise you will not regret the investment. So if you have daring do and if you want a wonderful read, I would suggest you lay out the fifteen dollars for this beautiful novel. You won’t regret it.