Breath and Being in the Poetry of Mark Strand

NOTE: This is an essay I wrote as an undergraduate at the University of Utah almost thirty years ago. I am republishing it here as a remembrance of my favorite professor, Mark Strand, upon the occasion of his passing.

Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live… and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood up upon their feet.

-Ezekiel 37:9, 10

An overwhelming presence of the invisible pervades much of Mark Strand’s poetry, a presence which is manifested as both a life force and as a vital catalyst of self. This presence is breath, an image which recurs repeatedly in Strands work and seems to stand for evidence of the existence and continuation of life, a vehicle or impetus for speech, a shared, universal spirit, and a perpetually pent-up possibility of redemption and renewal. Continue reading


Euro TV: The Fall Series 2

By gomez

The Fall made its much anticipated return to British TV screens last night. Although 18 months later, Series 2 picks up just 10 days after the events of Series 1. We find serial killer Paul Spector unable to stay away from Belfast and DSI Stella Gibson unable to leave.

As Series 1 progressed, the similarities between Spector and Gibson became more apparent as they were slowly drawn into the minds of one another. But the 18 month/10 day hiatus seems to have disrupted the connection between the two and so begins the slow-burn ultra noir drama that seems to fit perfectly with a British damp November evening.

I would strongly recommend this to fans of Gillian Anderson. I have nothing really to compare this with as I was never an X-filer, but she really is superb. And though he has much less screen time, as in the first series John Lynch as Gibson’s supervising officer plays his role almost flawlessly — an intriguing mix of authority, awkwardness, lust and cowardice.

I’m looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds.

Euro TV: Hinterland

The British appetite for Scandinavian noir obviously had TV producers looking around our fair isle to see where best to translate something like The Killing into a British setting. The answer was obvious: Wales, and not just Wales but deepest, windiest, craziest Wales. And so we have Hinterland or Y Gwyll if you prefer things in Welsh.

The first episode has all the necessary tropes: a grumpy detective transplanted from the city to remote Aberystwyth; a grisly murder; a creepy children’s home. Nothing remarkable really, but boy is it atmospheric, all Welsh bog and gloomy people. The truly remarkable thing is that the series was filmed twice, once in Welsh and once in English, the same actors delivering lines in both languages. The English language version ends up being bi-lingual anyway as befits this most Welsh corner of Wales.

Available on BBC and S4C in the UK and Netflix streaming in the US.

20th Century Boys

20thcenturyboys01This is the best comic book I have read for years. I hesitate to call it manga. It is manga but banish thoughts of Naruto from your mind. This is grown up stuff — compelling, scary, Eisner winning stuff. 20th Century Boys (a reference to the T.Rex song) tells the story of a group of childhood friends who as adults confront a mysterious and murderous cult-leader known only as “Friend” who himself seems to have some connection with their childhood memories. Who is “Friend” and what set him off on his murderous spree?

Told in three time-periods and covering 22 volumes, this is a manga comic to spend a month enjoying.

10 Satisfying Moments In Films From 2013

The Hobbit Smaug

Satisfaction is a hard thing to come by. In fact she is such a slippery mistress that even rock God Mick Jagger struggled to tame her. So it is a rare and wonderful treat then, when a film envelops us with that warm energising feeling which so often comes with fulfilment.

The year of 2013 was a mixed bag when it came to such moments. Many films came and went, with little worth admiring, but every so often there arose a few absolutely cracking films. Some movies were preordained as wonderful, whilst others came way out of left field. Either way they all left us giddy with appreciation; yelling at the screen, “thank you!”
Here is a list of 10 scenes that fell into that category. Oh, and as you might expect;
spoiler alert!

Continue reading

2013: A Great Year for Music

Seems just a few years ago there were a lot of too-serious discussions about whether rock/pop music is dead.  This year, we had quite a bit of good new music available for anyone who cared to listen.  I’ve listed some of my favorites below.  Feel free to add some of your own in the comments.

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

At the very top of my list of music releases is The National’s brilliant album, Trouble Will Find Me. Not just my favorite album of the year, possibly of the decade.  It’s a solid effort from first to last, with not a stinker among the album’s 13 tracks.  While several of the songs, like “Don’t Swallow the Cap” and “Graceless,” jumped out as great from the beginning, upon repeated listening (I’ve probably listened to this whole album all the way through around 200 times or so), the songs on the back half of the album (especially “Humiliation” and “Pink Rabbits”) emerged as the strongest of all.  The musicianship is as tight and polished as ever, and Berninger’s lyrics cleverly sprinkle pop culture references alongside the self-effacing neuroses.

Vampire Weekend – Vampires of The Modern City

While perhaps more polarizing than their earlier albums, Vampire Weekend released a very good album this year.  Though a bit more self-indulgent (which, for VW, is probably too self-indulgent by half for many listeners), there are good hooks and clever lyrics that obsess heavily on religious themes alongside the usual reflections of an upper-middle-class, east-coast lifestyle.  Suitable both for parties and long nights of introspection.

Lorde – “Royals”

I think the Lorde backlash may be reaching its peak based on the overplay this song has gotten in the last few months.  People seem to love it or hate it.  Still, I think it’s a classic pop song.  For me, I take probably an unjustified amount of satisfaction knowing that this 16-year-old kiwi’s song is the articulate counterpoint to Miley Cyrus’s inane twerking-pseudo-gangsta persona.  Plus, you can kill a good afternoon watching mostly terrible, sometimes brilliant Royals covers on YouTube, assuming you have nothing better to do with your time.

Mowgli’s – “San Francisco”

At the risk of stating the obvious, YouTube comments are not normally the place to find insight.  But it’s there I was informed that “San Francisco” is the happiest song you’ll ever hear written in a minor key.  And it’s that insight that made me realize the genius of this song.

San Cisco – San Cisco

This Aussie pop-punk outfit is one of my favorite recent discoveries.  More bands ought to write songs like this: music that is neither too serious nor too shallow, and catchy as anything.

CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

The best techno-pop album of recent memory.  Catchy, bitter and romantic, if you’re down for that sort of thing.  This Scottish band (don’t fret, it’s pronounced “churches”) has their aesthtic pretty nailed down on their debut album.

Leagues – “You Belong Here”

As near as I can tell, this is being sung to someone who has been abducted by a religious cult and is being advised to just go with it.  Or something like that.  Anyway, great song.

Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze

Kurt Vile makes a pretty good argument on his latest album that he’s both a guitar hero and stoner-slacker genius.  It never gets too heavy.  My only complaint is that sometimes the songs go on a bit long for my short attention span.  Maybe I just need to relax, man.

Haim – “The Wire”

A trio of sisters from the Valley performing in a style that sounds kind of like they are singing Eagles covers?  It doesn’t seem like it should work, but it does.

Frightened Rabbit – “Woodpile”

There’s something earnest and grand and a little paranoid about Frightened Rabbit’s music.  Not a bad thing.  I don’t know whether Frightened Rabbit has ever toured with Grizzly Bear or Fleet Foxes, but they should.