Friday, April 26, 2013

NPM: William Blake

We finish up National Poetry Month with one of my favorites. I desperately try to emulate Mr. Blake in my own poetry, and of course nothing I do can get close to the grandeur of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, one of my absolute favorites. I'd love to post the whole thing, but I'm not going to make you readers sit through reams of 18th-century mysticism, and besides you'd miss out on the art, which is half the beauty of Blake's work. Instead, I give you a link to view the plates here, and will just focus on "Proverbs of Hell", a subsection of the Marriage where Mr. Blake gives us a set of diametrical opposites of the Biblical Proverbs, extolling individualism, energy, and living for oneself, which certainly can't be a bad thing for many people. Enjoy the proverbs, go buy a book of Blake's work, and then go pick up some Milton, too. You'll be a better person for it. And see you with more poetry next time!

"Proverbs of Hell" (1793)

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.
The cut worm forgives the plow.
Dip him in the river who loves water.
A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.
Eternity is in love with the productions of time.
The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
The hours of folly are measur'd by the clock, but of wisdom: no clock can measure.
All wholsom food is caught without a net or a trap.
Bring out number weight & measure in a year of dearth.
No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.
A dead body, revenges not injuries.
The most sublime act is to set another before you.
If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.
Folly is the cloke of knavery.
Shame is Prides cloke.

Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.
The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.
The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.
The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.
The nakedness of woman is the work of God.
Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.
The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and
       the destructive sword are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.
The fox condemns the trap, not himself.
Joys impregnate. Sorrows bring forth.
Let man wear the fell of the lion, woman the fleece of the sheep.
The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.
The selfish smiling fool, & the sullen frowning fool, shall be both thought wise,
       that they may be a rod.
What is now proved was once, only imagin'd.
The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit: watch the roots; the lion, the tyger,
       the horse, the elephant, watch the fruits.
The cistern contains; the fountain overflows.
One thought, fills immensity.
Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.
Every thing possible to be believ'd is an image of truth.
The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow.

The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.
Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.
He who has suffer'd you to impose on him knows you.
As the plow follows words, so God rewards prayers.
The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
Expect poison from the standing water.
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
Listen to the fools reproach! it is a kingly title!
The eyes of fire, the nostrils of air, the mouth of water, the beard of earth.
The weak in courage is strong in cunning.
The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow, nor the lion, the horse,
       how he shall take his prey.
The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.
If others had not been foolish, we should be so.
The soul of sweet delight, can never be defil'd.
When thou seest an Eagle, thou seest a portion of Genius, lift up thy head!
As the catterpiller chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays
       his curse on the fairest joys.
To create a little flower is the labour of ages.
Damn, braces: Bless relaxes.
The best wine is the oldest, the best water the newest.
Prayers plow not! Praises reap not! Joys laugh not! Sorrows weep not!

The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands & feet
As the air to a bird of the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.
The crow wish'd every thing was black, the owl, that every thing was white.
Exuberance is Beauty. If the lion was advised by the fox, he would be cunning.
Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are
       roads of Genius.
Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.
Where man is not nature is barren.
Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ'd.
Enough! or Too much!

Who Reads the Watchmen?

So unsurprisingly, as I read Watchmen I'm finding a lot of stuff to talk about (one of the first things I'll mention, I guarantee, is the novel's density). The book is waaaayy too in-depth to discuss in one article, so I'm going to split it up into four, three chapters apiece. Hopefully I won't run out of steam 3/4 of the way through.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

More Moore part 15: The Ballad of Halo Jones Book III

The Ballad of Halo Jones Book III (1986)

With the dawn of 1986, Alan Moore and Ian Gibson began work on the third installment of The Ballad of Halo Jones, their saga of 50th century everygirl Halo Jones and her adventures on Earth and beyond. Book III comes as a shock to those who had read the first two Books; it picks up ten years after the conclusion of Book II. In that time, Halo has left her job aboard starliner The Clara Pandy and become a drunk on some off-beaten world, while General Luiz Cannibal still battles the inhabitants of the Tarantula Nebula in the name of Earth. After the first two Books being filled with entertaining fluff, the sudden stylistic turn comes as a tremendous shock: Book III of Halo Jones is exceedingly dark, and once Halo is picked up to join the army it gets the feeling of a Vietnam War throwback. But I honestly don't have too much negative to say about the Book- especially after Book II's benign dullity, Book III comes across as a much more interesting read, one that displays some thought-provoking moments, and even has a return to the snappy dialogue from Book I.

The entirety of Book III is about Halo's military service, sent down to various worlds in the Tarantula Nebula to quell the resistance to Earth imperialism. Not only is this a positive because Halo is, you know, doing SOMETHING, but her interactions with her platoon bring us that realistic, intelligent dialogue that was sorely missing from Book II. Everyone in Halo's bunk comes across as three-dimensional and interesting, and watching them go through hell together in the undergrowth of these unknown planets as a real treat. Halo is put into an uncomfortable position, there's no question that what Earth is doing in Tarantula is unethical, but as she says several times during the course of the Book, it's a job where none existed before. These uncomfortable monologues give Halo some much-needed depth and show that she is, in fact, a thinking, feeling character and not just a flat teenage caricature.

Since the story takes place in a war zone, the action is considerably more despondent and violent than before, with members of Halo's platoon being blown up and smashed by crushing gravity several times throughout the story. It's a testament to Moore's writing that the reader feels for these deaths, even though most of them were just introduced in this Book. But everyone is fleshed out, from the 'lucky' girl who survives the war without a scratch to the butch sergeant who is killed in a time dialation. Toy, Halo's roomie from Book II, ends up as part of her platoon, and there is a series of pages of dialogue between the two of them, Toy wounded and both stranded in the middle of the jungle, that really made me feel for characters that I didn't give a damn about just a few chapters before.

War is hell, even in the 50th century, and Moore hits the gut with his depictions of the Tarantulan rebels as a band of young girls fighting for their way of life. When the war ends in a cease-fire, Halo finds herself romantically involved with the massive General Cannibal, and by the last few pages of the Book it becomes clear that he commanded endless atrocities on the Tarantulans, not the least of which was lighting up an entire planet in a firestorm. That such a morally grey, nuanced story can come from the pages of a novel which prior had a bunch of teenagers going to the mall as a main plot point is pretty impressive.

The Ballad of Halo Jones Book III is far from the best of Moore's stories so far. Halo herself is still too inactive to be of much use, and Ian Gibson's art is still rather bland. Perhaps the worst thing about the Book is that it feels like too little, too late: Book I still isn't anything special, and Book II is downright bad. Book III is leagues beyond either of these, but The Ballad of Halo Jones still comes across as 2/3 of an uninteresting hiccup in Moore's career. The fact that he was doing Swamp Thing and Watchmen at the same time only hammers this point home, and shows that Moore had his thoughts elsewhere. The Ballad of Halo Jones is worth reading once, and perhaps you'll find you're one of the novel's many defenders, but in 1986 we had better things to read.


Best quote: "The tribe were descendents of Lot. Lot was some guy whose wife turned into a pillar of salt because she looked back at something or other./I guess everybody has to believe something."


Up next: “We're all puppets, Laurie. I'm just a puppet who can see the strings.”

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sound'a'Roundus: Sally Zybert's Top 13 Albums

Sally Zybert of Mordant Airhead has been a big boon to this blog since it was started, and was able to help me out by sending me several copies of Tom Strong and find me a trade of Swamp Thing Book IV when it was going for an obscene amount of money elsewhere. Check her blog out for thoughts on horror movies and children's programming, which is sort of the thematic equivalent of chocolate and peanut butter. She's written a pretty vicious novel, as well!

The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – Gorilla (1967)

I grew up listening to the Bonzo Dogs and don’t really have anything to say about this album other than that I have vivid memories of listening to it when I was a child and, listening to it as an adult, it’s not only still fantastic, but I’ve grown a deeper appreciation for it.

Wall Of Voodoo – Dark Continent (1981)

This was one where I had to debate which album to include, though not as painstakingly as others on my list. Dark Continent and Call Of The West are pretty much neck and neck in terms of quality and, in fact, they were re-released together on one CD, which is what I have (and I highly recommend it because then you don’t have to choose) but I’ve noticed that I always seem to be paying more attention to the music during the first half of the CD than the second half, which means Dark Continent wins (although there are some brilliant songs on Call Of The West. Seriously, that two-album CD is the way to go).

Faith No More - Angel Dust (1992)

When I was a kid most of my taste in music came from my mom and my older brother. He and I spent hours every weekend watching music videos (ahh, memories) and we jumped onto the Faith No More bandwagon when everybody else did. I have a very vivid memory of my brother sitting by the VCR with his finger on the “record” button, waiting for MTV to premiere the video for Midlife Crisis when Angel Dust came out. All of Faith No More’s albums still hold up really well (I always scoff at The Real Thing because of the way Mike Patton sang on it but the songs on it are still really fucking good regardless of the iffy vocals) but Angel Dust was, I think, the one album that hit a perfect balance.

Nirvana - In Utero (1994) 

Fifteen years ago this album would have been my favorite on this list. Sadly, I don’t listen to nearly as much Nirvana as I used to but when I do, more often than not I’m putting on In Utero. It came out when I was at an impressionable age (young and naïve enough to be convinced that Kurt Cobain would totally marry me when I grew up) and the songs (Heart Shaped Box in particular) appeal to both of the largest dueling sides in my taste in music: the side that loves big, crunchy noise and the side that loves beautiful melodies. Sometimes I think Kurt Cobain had those same dueling music tastes, which is probably why I loved Nirvana as much as I did.

They Might Be Giants – John Henry (1994)

Choosing just one They Might Be Giants album was one of the tougher moments of making this list but I finally settled on John Henry because there isn’t a single song on it that I’m iffy about. John Henry is also the beginning of an era, The New They Might Be Giants, featuring a full band as opposed to Classic They Might Be Giants, featuring two Johns and a drum machine. When I was a kid, that was pretty exciting stuff. Of all the bands I’ve loved, TMBG is probably the one I’ve unwaveringly loved for the longest amount of time (about twenty three years) and almost every single one of their albums was in the running for this list. I think it came down to John Henry and Lincoln; this one won by virtue of having two more songs on it than Lincoln (and also the fact that one of those songs was Stomp Box).

Mr. Bungle - California (1999)

Choosing between Disco Volante and California was another month-long internal debate for me. I love their self-titled album, certainly (I carry a cassette of it in my purse), but I was torn between their last two albums because, while I consider Disco Volante their best work, California is the one I listen to the most. I hadn’t heard either album in quite some time, though, so I listened to them back to back and as soon as Retrovertigo began, I knew California had to be my winner. Sometimes there are songs that, even if you don’t fully understand what they’re supposed to be about they still affect you and speak to you in such a way that you understand what it’s about to you, and that it means a lot to you. That is what Retrovertigo is for me. I put that song on every mix tape I made for everybody I knew for at least a year; I wanted everyone to hear it because it meant so much to me. Also, California is another album that came out at just the right time to make a huge impression on me and it really sealed the deal on my being a lifelong Mr. Bungle fan instead of having it be a passing fancy.

Eels - Souljacker (2001) 

Eels is another band that would have been much higher on the list about a decade ago. Souljacker is probably the first impersonal album they ever recorded so it’s kind of sad that it’s my favorite but, honestly, E’s personal life might just be too much of a bummer for me. Electro-Shock Blues is a brilliant album that I almost never listen to because it’s just so sad. Daisies Of The Galaxy is what got me into Eels in the first place (and I almost chose it for this list), and Souljacker is just a fun, rockin’ collection of songs. This is the Eels just letting loose. There are a few missteps (what the hell is Jungle Telegraph doing here?) but the winners outweigh them so heavily they may as well not even be there. And after Souljacker it was kind of all downhill for me (Shootenanny was fun but forgettable, Blinking Lights was forgettable and not very fun and I just didn’t keep up after that, though my younger brother loves End Times a lot). Souljacker holds another interesting distinction: it was the album they were promoting at the show where I met the proprietor of this blog, Mssr. Ivan T. So without it, I wouldn’t be here talking about it right now.

Lovage - Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By (2001)

Sexy music by sexy people. There’s not a lot else I can say about it. It’s all there in the title.

Sparks - Lil' Beethoven (2002)

More than once in my life I’ve heard a song playing overhead in a store and immediately gone to an employee to find out what the hell it is so I can go buy it. More often than not I get the album home and it’s a dud apart from the one song that sucked me in but Lil’ Beethoven is one of my two success stories. I’m not a huge Sparks fan. I always felt obligated to claim that I like them because I always liked the music video for Cool Places (and Faith No More did a couple songs on Sparks’ Plagiarism album) but for the most part they fall into the same category as Radiohead: I understand that they’re talented but I just don’t care (though I’d probably always choose Sparks over Radiohead). Lil’ Beethoven, though, is such a large, beautiful, bombastic album that may or may not have been recorded with a full orchestra (it sounds that way, but I think that can be faked) that I can’t help but completely love it. As far as I’m concerned a lot of rock music could benefit from a full orchestra. 

Tomahawk – Mit Gas (2003)

The fourth and final Mike Patton album to make the list, Mit Gas is pretty much a straight up rock record with a few bizarre touches (the electronic voicebox gimmick in Aktion 13F14, all of Harlem Clowns) but, like most of the other albums on this list, it was the right one at the right time. It was exactly the music I needed when it came out and it fills me with good feelings when I listen to it.

Gogol BordelloSuper Taranta (2007) 

The other album I bought because I heard a great song overhead in a store. I don’t even know what to say about it. Super Taranta is an album I bought, listened to, loved, got rid of for dumb reasons (I had a hard time singing along with it), saw the band live and turned into the diehard Gogol Bordello fan I am now. I chose Super Taranta because it was my first taste of Gogol Bordello, my gateway drug. It’s an album I can put on anytime, regardless of my mood, and within moments I am happy, enthusiastic and, funnily enough considering the reason I sold my first copy, singing along at the top of my voice.

Local H -  Twelve Angry Months (2008)

Local H is a band that I was always aware of (another one I listened to because my brother listened to them) but my interest never went beyond their singles (Bound For The Floor, Eddie Vedder, All The Kids Are Right) until I heard their twenty-five minute masterpiece What Would You Have Me Do (which is on Here Comes The Zoo, another great album). When I saw them live recently, it converted me from a casual fan to an ardent one. Twelve Angry Months is a bit of a concept album, a perfect (in my opinion) collection of breakup songs. Most of them are angry, heavy and sad. A couple of them are slower and pretty (and still sad) and lyrically it’s some of the best Local H stuff I’ve heard (even when I was only a casual fan, I related to their lyrics). The only downside is, because it is an album about a bitter breakup, it can leave you feeling really down.

Madness - The Liberty Of Norton Folgate (2009) 

So now that we’ve covered a couple bands I listen to thanks to my brother, here’s one I’m a fan of thanks to my mom. Much like Faith No More, Madness had broken up and recently (well, in 2000, I think) reunited but, unlike Faith No More, Madness are recording albums again. Norton Folgate is as good as if not better than anything they ever did back in the 1980s. A testament to how great it is: there is one song on the album (Sugar And Spice) that I’m physically incapable of listening to without crying, even if I’m not really paying attention to it. Later in the album another song (On The Town) covers essentially the same material (a marriage disintegrating) but it feels like a happy, boppy sing along. I love that duality. The Liberty Of Norton Folgate also contains my two absolute favorite Madness songs and is probably the best album by any broken-up-then-reunited band (though I really have no way of proving such a claim).

NPM: Czesław Miłosz

Goodness (2003)

A tenderness so great welled up in him that upon seeing
A wounded sparrow, he was ready to burst into tears.
Beneath the flawless manners of a worldly gentleman he hid
His compassion for all that is living.
Some people perhaps could sense it, but it was certainly known,
In ways mysterious to us, to the small birds
That would perch on his head and hands when he stopped
In a park alley. They would eat from his hands
As if the law that demands that the smaller
Take shelter from the larger,
Lest it be devoured, was suspended.
As if time had turned back, and the paths
Of the heavenly garden shone anew.
I had trouble understanding this man
Since what he said betrayed his knowledge of the horror of the world,
A knowledge at some point known and experienced to the very core.
I thus asked myself how he had managed to quell
His rebellion and bring himself to such humble charity.
Probably because this world, evil but existing,
He thought better than one that did not exist.
But he also believed in the immaculate beauty of the earth
from before the fall of Adam.
Whose free decision had brought death upon humans and animals.
But this was already something my mind didn't know how to accept. 

translated from the Polish by Anthony Milosz

Friday, April 12, 2013

NPM: Conrad Aiken

I hadn't planned on doing another early 20th century modern poet, but Aiken's "The Room" is just a gorgeous piece of work, and I'm always partial to expanding upon the chaos, and grandeur, of the natural world. So enjoy, and perhaps next week I'll offer something from earlier in time.

The Room (1925)

Through that window — all else being extinct
Except itself and me — I saw the struggle
Of darkness against darkness. Within the room
It turned and turned, dived downward. Then I saw
How order might — if chaos wished — become:
And saw the darkness crush upon itself,
Contracting powerfully; it was as if
It killed itself: slowly: and with much pain.
Pain. The scene was pain, and nothing but pain.
What else, when chaos draws all forces inward
To shape a single leaf? . . .

                                  For the leaf came,
Alone and shining in the empty room;
After a while the twig shot downward from it;
And from the twig a bough; and then the trunk,
Massive and coarse; and last the one black root.
The black root cracked the walls. Boughs burst the window:
The great tree took possession.

                                   Tree of trees!
Remember (when time comes) how chaos died
To shape the shining leaf. Then turn, have courage,
Wrap arms and roots together, be convulsed
With grief, and bring back chaos out of shape.
I will be watching then as I watch now.
I will praise darkness now, but then the leaf.

Monday, April 8, 2013

More Moore part 14: The Ballad of Halo Jones Book II

The Ballad of Halo Jones Book II (1985)

I find myself sitting here in front of this mostly blank screen, contemplating Book II of Halo Jones. Not so much what to write about, but how I'm going to get an article of any sort of length from a Book that was by all accounts so slight on story it might as well have been nonexistent. I said in my review of Book I that Halo is played as a kind of everygirl, an average teenager that we can all identify with, and Book II only exacerbates the problem that she's not all that interesting, and with a few exceptions there's so little that happens in Book II that it makes me wonder what Moore could possibly do to finish this story, given that the main character does absolutely nothing of note for 2/3 of the novel.

Halo spends the entirety of Book II as a hostess on the Clara Pandy, a spaceliner that's already obsolete by the events of the story. Long gone are the charmingly irreverent moments of Book I where Halo and her friend Rodice made trips to the mall and spoke in somewhat irritating 50th century teen slang (indeed, the slang has been dropped entirely, so apparently even Moore was fatigued by it). There's a prologue that makes place in 6427, fourteen hundred years after the events of the main story, which seems to imply that Halo is a known, if minor, figure in the future, but you'd be hard-pressed to tell why, at least within the confines of the first two books. Halo spends time with a dolphin steersman (the only reason she was brought onto the Pandy was because she could speak cetacean), has a few directionless conversations with her bunkmate Toy, writes a letter to Rodice, and otherwise engages in pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a hostess on a pleasure cruise. None of the characters have the same chemistry she got from Rodice, so the stories are fairly uninteresting. There are some hints of bigger things going on behind the scenes, trouble in the Tarantula Nebula, with Earth harassing helpless colonies, but it's exactly that, background information that has little, if anything, to do with the events on the Clara Pandy, at least in Book II. There's exactly one exciting moment, where it turns out that Halo's robot dog murdered her roomie back in Book I, because he's in love with Halo and wanted to be closer to her. This leads to a well-executed chase, but it ends quickly and predictably, and once it's over it's back to business as usual, with Halo dancing with the Pandy's owner to close out the Book.

Book II is a big step backward for The Ballad of Halo Jones. Where the first Book made up for its deficiencies in action by having a group of likable characters and entertaining situations, Book II has neither of these, and it shows how much Halo needs Rodice, because without her she's a dull character in dull situations. Ian Gibson's art is still decent if unexciting, though he still has the same problem of giving all the females in the story interchangeably pouty expressions, and considering the story is mostly about groups of young women, this is a pretty serious problem. The plot seems to be hinting at something bigger brewing, so perhaps Book III will give the it the needed push to come to a satisfying ending. But as it stands, it's a bad sign when the whole of Book II's arc can be told in one paragraph. Book II of The Ballad of Halo Jones will hopefully be revealed in the next Book to be a necessary part of the cogs of the plot getting in motion, but as it stands it's slight to the point of being weightless.


Best quote: "He's a psychopath! He'd use anything- melanoma bombs, ratwar..."

"Whaat? Ratwar was outlawed centuries ago!"


Up next: The Ballad of Halo Jones Book III closes things on a strong note...I hope.

Friday, April 5, 2013

National Poetry Month: Hart Crane

For a little break in comics, I thought I'd present a few poems for this, the most special of months. First up is Hart Crane, one of the forgotten masters, a postmodern every bit as towering in ability as Eliot, but unfairly forgotten. I won't go into the specifics of Crane's life, though it's certainly an interesting story; his poetry should, and does, stand on its own. So enjoy 'The Broken Tower' and check back soon for more National Poetry Month and more Halo Jones.

The Broken Tower (1932)

The bell-rope that gathers God at dawn
Dispatches me as though I dropped down the knell
Of a spent day - to wander the cathedral lawn
From pit to crucifix, feet chill on steps from hell.

Have you not heard, have you not seen that corps
Of shadows in the tower, whose shoulders sway
Antiphonal carillons launched before
The stars are caught and hived in the sun's ray?

The bells, I say, the bells break down their tower;
And swing I know not where. Their tongues engrave
Membrane through marrow, my long-scattered score
Of broken intervals ... And I, their sexton slave!

Oval encyclicals in canyons heaping
The impasse high with choir. Banked voices slain!
Pagodas campaniles with reveilles out leaping-
O terraced echoes prostrate on the plain! ...

And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice
An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)
But not for long to hold each desperate choice.

My world I poured. But was it cognate, scored
Of that tribunal monarch of the air
Whose thighs embronzes earth, strikes crystal Word
In wounds pledges once to hope - cleft to despair?

The steep encroachments of my blood left me
No answer (could blood hold such a lofty tower
As flings the question true?) -or is it she
Whose sweet mortality stirs latent power?-

And through whose pulse I hear, counting the strokes
My veins recall and add, revived and sure
The angelus of wars my chest evokes:
What I hold healed, original now, and pure ...

And builds, within, a tower that is not stone
(Not stone can jacket heaven) - but slip
Of pebbles, - visible wings of silence sown
In azure circles, widening as they dip

The matrix of the heart, lift down the eyes
That shrines the quiet lake and swells a tower...
The commodious, tall decorum of that sky
Unseals her earth, and lifts love in its shower.