Friday, December 28, 2007

laser rot; Shane MacGowan's teeth; year's end

I'm an unabashed Pogues fan, have been thru thick & thin since maybe 1986. One of my stocking stuffers this year was the band's latest "best of" compilation, The Ultimate Collection – probably not really a necessity, since I already own The Best of the Pogues, The Rest of the Best of the Pogues, & The Essential Pogues. But this one contains, as a second-disk lagniappe, "Live at the Brixton Academy," a recording of one of the gigs from the band's 2001 reunion tour. Judging by the Brixton disk & by the various concert videos up there on YouTube, the band is frankly better than ever – faster, sharper, more melodic. And even Shane MacGowan, the man of many words & few teeth, seems to be slurring his vocals a bit less than he was on such latter-era Pogues releases as Peace and Love & Hell's Ditch.

So I set to ripping the rest of my Pogues collection to iTunes, & discovered that laser rot has affected not merely Shane's teeth but my CDs as well. Turns out that Waiting for Herb (1993), the band's first post-MacGowan release, simply won't play at all. This is not a huge loss, mind you: the Pogues minus Shane MacGowan is kind of like non-alcoholic beer, or a gin & tonic without the gin. But there were some pretty decent tracks on that disk, I seem to recall, & I'm irritated to think that I'll be tempted in the days to come to actually purchase a second copy of that anemic record, just so I can satisfy my inner anal completist.

[Oddly enough, it turns out that the band's 1996 release, Pogue Mahone – also without Shane, & without my hero Terry Woods & two other core members of the group – is actually a pretty potent piece of celtic punkery, or so the first listen in maybe 8 or 9 years reveals.]
There's an eloquent post today on Eric Selinger's Say Something Wonderful; Eric, humblingly, takes the publication of The Poem of a Life as occasion for asking what he should be doing next. Eric's done the academic writing-about-poetry thing, in a tenure-panel's worth of peer-reviewed essays & in the form of his lovely first book, What Is It Then Between Us?: Traditions of Love in American Poetry; he's spent years training secondary school teachers to teach poetry in his NEH seminars; he's published – what? – 8 or 9 perceptive and lively omnibus reviews of books of poetry in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, writing for whose editor Herb Leibowitz makes writing for PMLA seem like falling off a log; and he barely mentions it, but he's co-edited two big & important critical collections, Jewish American Poetry: Poems, Commentary, and Reflections (with Jonathan N. Barron) & the forthcoming & eagerly awaited Ronald Johnson: Life and Works (with Joel Bettridge).

Eric & I have been friends a long time now – at least 15 years or so – & there's nobody's critical opinion I value more highly. To be frank, Eric's always made me feel like an also-ran: his prose makes mine seem lumpish & academic, his critical eye cuts to the quick of the matter while mine is still lingering over the surface, & his wit runs circles around mine. I've always felt like Jack Lemmon to his Tony Curtis. So it's odd now to find that both of us are in something of the same boat: for I, too, am wondering what to do next.

I've been in Zukofsky-land for a long time now, ever since I started my dissertation at Cornell almost two decades ago. That dissertation morphed into a handful of articles & the book Louis Zukofsky and the Poetry of Knowledge (1998), & the biography, which I started work on while LZPK was in production, seemed a natural outgrowth of that project. Along the way, there were some ancillary jobs – the essay collection Upper Limit Music: The Writing of Louis Zukofsky (1997) & the "additional prose" section of LZ's Prepositions+: The Collected Critical Essays. And of course I was writing other things: conference papers, essays, lots & lots of book reviews (the best of them, like Eric's, for Herb L's Parnassus). But this major, panoptic Zukofsky-project was always the great looming presence in my intellectual & writing life.

And now my Zukofsky affair has come, if not to an end, then to an appropriate pausing point, or at least a fermata. And I, like Eric, am wondering what the hell to do next. I have a bunch of ideas:
•first & foremost, it's time to find a publisher for another collection of poetry; goldfinches, maybe 120 pages of carefully cull'd post-post- poetry, has been shamefully gathering dust in a drawer of my hard drive

•and then there's the notion, which I might have aired on the blog some months back, of a brief & popularly-pitched book on the relevance of biography for reading modernist & late-modernist literary texts; this isn't a wholly serious intellectual project, but I've been reading the books middling biographers have been publishing lately on their art & have concluded that I could do just as well, if not better

•and there's all those book reviews and occasional essays – maybe 3-400 pages' worth, tho I haven't counted lately; but I'm not Helen Vendler or Marjorie Perloff or Dominick LaCapra – it would be a mad press indeed that would take on a collection of Scroggins odds 'n' sods

•what about another biography? ask readers who have little idea of the effort & agony that went into The Poem of a Life; truth to tell, I'm deeply tempted by a second biographical venture, but I have no idea who the lucky biographee might be

•a book on contemporary British avant-garde poetry, focusing particularly on those poets' relationship to the English language, to history, to place

•a book on the poetics of gardens, and the poetry of gardening – from Marvell thru Pope all the way to Ian Hamilton Finlay – indeed, such a book would probably end up being a book on Finlay with a very long historical preamble; but Lordy, the research it would take, & what I'd have to learn!
It comes down I suppose to a question of obsession, for I've found that I can't really write deeply or memorably at length about a given subject unless I'm to a certain degree obsessed with it. And while I'm pretty interested in all of the above subjects (the poetry collection, of course, is something else altogether), I'm not – yet – quite obsessed with any of them. (Now a book on contemporary avant-garde erotic poetry, that's got me interested at the moment...)

I suspect it's the time to lie fallow for a while, to let the next thing grab me from behind, unexpectedly. It's no great sin to stand and wait awhile, to see whether this past decade's labor will turn out to be a grand Roman candle or a damp squib. In the meantime, I'm entertaining and & all suggestions as to where my energies ought to be applied.

My worst fear, tho, is that my own Oblomovian tendencies will get the better of me – that 20 years hence, as I shuffle onto the dais to receive the gold-tinted, Chinese-made wristwatch Our Fair University hands out to career retirees, the young poets publishing four-dimensional poems on the ultra-internets & the young turks at the MLA will vaguely recall my name as "that guy who wrote some stuff on Zukofsky back in the day."


Bradley said...

Don't buy any Pogues CDs. Or Shane McGowan and the Popes or Shane McGowan collaborating with Sindead O'Connor/ Nick Cave/ anyone else-- several years ago, my best friend burned a series of CDs for me feautring what-- I think-- is everything from the Pogues (including the post-Shane stuff) as well as Shane's other pursuits. When we get home, I'll burn you copies of whatever you're missing so you can have at on your computer.

(Unless you're such a completist, you need the album in its original packaging).

And since we're talking about the Pogues, here's a fairly on-topic review of a recent holiday offering, from the Onion's AV Club:

"Scottish pseudo-folkie Tunstall at least deserves credit for choosing good material... Covering 'Fairytale Of New York' with UK semi-star Ed Harcourt, the pair simply imitates Pogues singer Shane MacGowan and the late, great Kirsty MacColl. And not well. Or accurately. The last part of MacColl's original string of insults—'You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot'—gets changed to 'You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy blagger.' At least we think that's the word. But at least this Target exclusive is only $6.99 at Target. Cheap, lousy blaggers need look no further for the perfect stocking-stuffer."

Norman Finkelstein said...

Dear Mark and Eric,

I'm a big Pogues fan and my son wants me to take him to NY to see them on the current tour, but really I want to say a few words about your current quandary. I have known you both for many years; I cherish your friendship and deeply admire your work. There have been times I've felt the same way as both of you do at present, times when I've lain fallow, and times when I've wondered what the point is anyway. In my case, poetry has always come to my rescue, either reading it or writing it, and in either case--eventually--catching fire again. Sometimes the poem just comes, and it's a miracle. Sometimes I'll be lured into writing about a poem or poet, and if I stay with it, it pulls me in. It is, or becomes, yes, an obsession or a passion. But in any case the love is constant, and I know that's the same with both of you.

OK, enough sage advice. Maybe this is due to the fact that I'm about to become a grandfather any minute.

Hang in, Happy New Year, and much love,


Mark Scroggins said...

Thanks, Norman, & many many congratulations!!! You're far too young to be a grandfather, you know... I can't wait to see you eight weeks hence or so.

E. M. Selinger said...

Eight weeks! Yikes! Enough worrying about long-term plans; I have an essay to write. Actually, two. And a book proposal. And two syllabi. And a new NEH proposal. No wonder I never know what to do next.

(Many thanks, Norman, for the sage advice. I do feel like I just need to let the turbulence settle a bit, which it will this summer, one way or another. Don't forget to buy yourself a bottle of Old Grand Dad, 114 Barrel Proof if you really want to indulge. The first shot's on me in Louisville!)

jeff said...

bio? do it, and do it on: ronald johnson. that would rule. unless someone else is on top of it.......

pogues are beautiful

Peter Brown said...
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Peter Brown said...

Shane MacGowan's teeth: the embodiment of John Symonds's description of Molyneux in 'The Hurt Runner': '...and his teeth looked as if they had been struck by lightning.'

Anonymous said...

Dentally-challenged singer Shane MacGowan lost two teeth this week in a freak accident by a roadside in Limerick, Ireland, reports Irish newspaper The Sunday World.

MacGowan, who really can't afford to discard his already limited supply of teeth so casually, was returning from a late-night music and drinking session when he got out of the car he was travelling in to get sick. Bizarrely, he was rudely interrupted by a wall, which he promptly fell over, cracking his face on some loose bricks.

MacGowan has been
without his two front teeth for many years, and he's lost many more in the intervening years. Ex-Girlfriend Victoria Clarke claimed in 1996 that the singer had damaged his teeth by eating a copy of the Beach Boys' Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 LP whilst under the influence of LSD.

Anonymous said...

Ugh Shane MacGowan cannot afford to lose any more teeth. Get granny teeth get implants! Do something! You would think he'd have the money to do so! If his girlfriend claims that he ate a beach boys CD under the influence not only does he need teeth he needs help.

Great post!

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