Kakutani: The presence of absence

buddhaAfter Michiko Kakutani announced she was stepping down from her book critic post at the New York Times, media outlets treated it like a death.

The pieces that have come out from The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Slate, etc. all have the ring of obituaries which is nice for Kakutani–she’s one of those rare people who gets to hear what people will say about her before she dies.

But the piece I like most is the lead item in James Campbell’s NB column in the TLS (if I had half his voice I’d be a happy man) for August 4.

Campbell’s less interested in Kakutani’s ability to skewer the high and mighty than in her temperament.  When he describes her, he uses a long list of “not’s.”

Kakutani, he writes, lapsing into the past tense, “was not the ideal literary critic… she didn’t give interviews, judge prizes or appear at festivals….In her reviews, she avoided the first person and never opened a review with a dreary anecdote.”

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A collapsed sun in your pocket: The poetry of Michael Odom

odomI once wrote in this column that Michael Odom’s poetry reminded me in certain aspects—not in every way, of course, because he is not derivative; his voice is truly original and unique—of the poetry of Dylan Thomas.

Startling imagery, unexpected words yoked together by violence, a certain defiant voice … when I read Odom, I’m reminded of  Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle” and “Sullen Art.”

Some of the poetry in Odom’s recent collection Selene possesses that same defiance, and I think these poems may appeal especially to men of a certain age – either those in their early twenties or those in their late 40s (like me).

Why?  Because these two age groups are connected by their relationship to ideals and the hopes they carry for their lives.

The twentysomethings dismiss the 9-t- 5 treadmill and believe that life holds more for them, that they’ll overcome that treadmill soon enough; the fortysomethings dismiss that same treadmill even as they recognize they’ve been walking on it for the past twenty years.

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O little axe of Bethlehem

baby-jesus-guitarIn the year of our Lord, nineteen hundred and eighty-three, a youth humbly approached his special destination — a little music shop in the heart of his city’s downtown.

Inside, he took $188 in crumpled tens and twenties from his pocket.  Then the kindly shop owner reached above his head and took down a cherry-red imitation Les Paul electric guitar — a Japanese knockoff — from a long row of guitars hanging from the ceiling.

When the transaction was ended and the lad emerged from the shop with his guitar (in a very cheap black case), he whispered under his breath:

O Lord, though I’m pimply, though the lenses of my glasses are very thick, though my hair is oily, though I am girl-less … O Lord, please … let me rock.

This is my story.  Well, OK, it didn’t quite happen like that.

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