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Between The Past You Can’t Live In and The Future You Can’t Imagine

We know that the equation between word and thing can no longer be taken for granted, and that words are made up of both syllables and sounds. Does this mean a poet — one who uses transparent language and writes in an autobiographical mode — is incapable of exploring the conditions of meaning? By transparent, I mean a plain language that can be used to reach the largest audience possible without losing any relevant information. Or must the language the poet uses be opaque and resistant, like reality itself?

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“The Wire” Gets Victorian in a Book by Fictional Scholar H.B. Ogden

Like the ever-present junkies on the TV show “The Wire,” fans of the acclaimed HBO series can never seem to get enough. Legions of viewers stayed glued to the tangled plot over five seasons — and their cravings were stoked for five years more through blogs, behind-the-scenes books, essays, college courses, and literally hundreds of scholarly articles and reviews. Now, on the show’s 10th anniversary, “The Wire” addicts can score a fresh fix with the arrival of the arch, smart faux-Victorian send-up of the series, Down in the Hole: The Unwired World of H.B. Ogden, by Joy DeLyria and Sean Michael Robinson (PowerHouse Books, 2012), based on a blog that went viral last March.

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The Sore Subject of Family Dynamics

The family unit, siblings, extended family, and the individuals who make up these large trees, is the subject of photographer Lydia Panas’ hardback book of glossy, meticulous portraits, aptly titled The Mark of Abel. Thinking back on the biblical story of Cain and Abel, Panas’ clever reverse of the “mark” seems to imply that her subjects and viewers alike suffer Abel’s curse of brotherhood, fraternity, and family. It’s a rich theme for rich photographs, set in an Eden-like location of lush and overgrown greenery. Ninety-five pages long, containing fifty perfectly paced photographs, The Mark of Abel presents us with hundreds of strangers, all of whom feel bizarrely familiar. Panas’ family portraits are tender rather than sentimental, serious though not cynical, and dysfunctional without being cliché.

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Booze Muse: Kingsley Amis, the Laureate of Hangovers

Here is a fun literary experiment: substitute the words ill or illness in Virginia Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill” (1930) with the words hung-over and hangover . It works, right? “Hangover is the great confessional”; “In a hangover words seem to possess a mystic quality”; “Incomprehensibility has an enormous power over us in a hangover.” And so on. But the best bit is this: “To hinder the description of hangover in literature, there is the poverty of the language. English, which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear, has no words for the shiver and the headache.”

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Private Creativity and Queer Spirituality

It’s hard to talk about spirituality in the US today without bringing up a lot of baggage — conflicts between religions about who has it right or who is the most righteous, not to mention all the stereotypes that accompany each religion and its practitioners. And it’s certainly not easy to talk about religion and contemporary visual art, as visual art is so often assumed to be above or outside or beyond religion somehow.

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Wisdom Testicles and the Messy Process of Collaboration

At first glance, the exterior of Wisdom Testicles, a collection of collaborative works on paper by three artistic schoolmates, looks to be a relatively unassuming artist book. Setting aside its confusing title for a moment, it has the well-crafted and unique appearance of a handmade book. Smallish in size and easy to page through, Coptic bound with an open spine, it has raw, unfinished covers made of gray speckled bookboard. The cover of the book, however, on which a anatomical looking drawing of male genitalia has been printed, is provocative enough to immediately dispel any preconceived notions about the book’s modest appearance. The non sequitur nature of the title and cover succeeds in catching your attention, raising a certain amount of curiosity about what lies between the covers.

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112 Greene Street: The Soho that Used to Be

“It is rather inspiring,” writes Peter Schjeldahl in the New York Times, “that in an hour of political crisis this art (despite its makers’ eschewal of revolutionary postures) has arisen to make possible a project like 112 Greene Street.” The year is 1970. The place is Soho, until recently known as the South Houston Industrial District. Here an unemployed artist can buy a six-story cast-iron ex-rag-picking warehouse, and huge chunks of sheet-zinc cornice can lie abandoned on the sidewalk at a demolition site until another artist bribes the garbage men to drive them to his studio.

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Rediscovering a Moment in San Francisco’s Past

Earlier this spring, the de Young Museum exhibited recently uncovered work by photographer Arthur Tress. In 2009, while sorting through the belongings of his recently deceased sister, Tress found a number of prints and more than nine hundred negatives he had taken on a 1964 trip to San Francisco. In those pictures, the young Tress captured the collision of two major events taking place in San Francisco — the Republican National Convention and the influx of a large number of Beatles fans prior to the launch of the band’s first North American tour.

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The Tip of the Iceberg: My Reading of Frank Kuenstler (1928–1996)

I want to begin with a few salient facts and personal observations about the poet and filmmaker Frank Kuenstler. He is part of the same generation as John Ashbery, Robert Bly, Robert Creeley, Philip Lamantia, Denise Levertov, Frank O’Hara, and Adrienne Rich, and, to my mind, belongs in their company. Between 1964 and 1996 he published nine books. If we take his word for it, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t, he began working on LENS in 1952 but waited more than a decade before he began publishing his work. Partly this had to do with the twelve years it took Kuenstler to complete LENS, but I imagine other factors were also involved.

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What Didn’t You Do in the War, Daddy? Chickenhawks and a Few Good Books

Last week Mitt Romney reached deep into the Republican bag of stock postures to attack President Obama as weak in matters of defense and foreign policy. The macho posturing by chickenhawk Republicans (Romney, Rove, Cheney, Bush, Kristol, Gingrich and many others avoided Vietnam if not military service altogether) is an all-too-familiar and, unfortunately, effective right-wing tactic.