Big Tech & Big Addiction

Are iPhones the new cigarette?

I have found myself struggling with checking my phone too often and specifically my email too often through the phone during April 2024. The pull of this product, yes our cellphones are tools but also products, has caught up to me.

In other words, rather than reach for a book, I reach to check my email again. This over-checking is laughable because like most, I get less and less interesting emails. It’s full of more and more announcements from any store or web site that’s snagged it during some past visit or purchase, and never loses track of it, so it seems. The occasional chance of something notable and new is a huge pull if I’m near my cellphone.

Technology companies these days portray themselves as horizon-gazing thinkers, cool disruptive innovators, or know-it-all mega-millionaires, but they also are designers of addictive products. Their phone products, email products, social media products, Twitter and Tic Toc products, all feed into the human questions: What’s next? What’s happening now? Who, what, and where?

Are iPhones the new cigarette?

Social media as well as iPhones are not that much older than cigarettes were when they were advertised widely, used in movies and widely modeled, and probably even promoted as healthy.

Well of course, I can do something about it. It’s called self-control. I often leave my cellphone in my house mail box when I come home, so I can be more at home when home. This said, it’s stayed in my pocket recently.

The poet William Carlos Williams said, “The pure products of America go crazy” in his poem, “To Elsie.” One way to read that phrase is to recognize the tsunami of hype surrounding sellers who sell you out. Time for higher ground.

I miss the peace of reaching for a book, even the quiet boredom yielding to entering a book’s world. As poet Emily Dickinson said, “there is no frigate like a book.” That sentiment could become history. The electronic age is upon us, one predicted by Marshall McLuhan in Understanding Media. Al Gore wrote about it in his own way, from the perspective of democracy, in his 2007 book, The Assault on Reason.

Are iPhones the new cigarette? It’s also just beginning.

Stay safe,

G. H. Mosson

www.ghmosson.com

Reading Roundup

Of the collections of poetry relished in 2023 and earlier this winter, I very much enjoyed Luke Stromberg’s debut, THE ELEPHANT’S MOUTH (Kelsey Books), Mag Gabbert’s full-length debut, SEX DEPRESSION ANIMALS (Mad Creek Books), Diana Whitney’s second book, DARK BEDS (June Road Press), and Tony Hoagland’s posthumous collection, still humorous yet poignant and piercing, TURN UP THE OCEAN (Graywolf).

I also revisited and found still compelling Philip Schultz’s FAILURE, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Stephen Dunn’s LOOSESTRIFE, and Li Young-Lee’s ROSE, among many others worth savoring, in 2023.

David Hinton is a translator of Chinese poetry whom I have been happy to discover. I just finished a selection of Tu Fu translated by Hinton. I am now reading Hinton’s translation of Chinese poet T’ao Ch’ien, AD 365- AD 427, and titled, The Selected Poems of T’ao Ch’ien (Copper Canyon). Wonderful.

For more on Hoagland, I reviewed TURN UP THE OCEAN at the Loch Raven Review, linked here.

I also reviewed Mag Gabbert’s SEX DEPRESSION ANIMALS at the Heavy Feather Review linked here.

What’s next? Well, I am reading through Robert Bly’s anthology, NEWS OF THE UNIVERSE: poems of twofold consciousness (Sierra Club Books 1980), which I came across in a sort of casual and random fashion, and . . . .

Cheers,

G. H. Mosson

www.ghmosson.com

Braiding Voices: A Collaborative Generative Workshop on March 9, 2024

If you are in the Delmarva area (Maryland, Delaware, Northern Virginia) and also a writer, the Eastern Shore Writers Association is holding their annual one-day conference for writers at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, Md., on Saturday, March 9, 2024.

The conference runs about five panels simultaneously across genres and attendees choose what they wish to attend. Last year, I presented as well as attended, like this year, and it was a great experience.

See here: https://www.easternshorewriters.org/

In the morning, I will be teaching a generative workshop on using collaboration in poetry. Here’s the detail:

Workshop Description: Come blend your artistic voice with someone else or the world’s chorus! Join noted poets G. H. Mosson and Marcus Colasurdo, the co-creators of two collaborative chapbooks, as they employ a fun exercise from improv theatre and explore the concept of T.S. Eliot’s “objective correlative” to frame and prompt collaborative writing!

It should be fun. Hope to see you there.

Cheers,

For more: http://easternshorewriters.org

G. H. Mosson

www.ghmosson.com

What I’m Reading: Selected Poems of A.E. Stallings

A. E. Stallings, an American poet living in Athens, Greece, is one of the most accomplished living American poets writing in English meter, and for this alone, her Selected Poems is a keeper.

Yet I borrowed it from the library, and literally the day I am writing this, it’s overdue. I very much enjoyed her last two books, Olives and Like, and had only read her first two books across a few poems seen in magazines until this year. Selected Poems let me dive into her first two books for the first time. I did not have time, before returning this today, to dive much further.

Stallings has both lived and intellectual insight into the mythology of Ancient Greece, and as a result, the poems are expert, felt, and fun. Especially in her first two books, the fluid, beautiful verse often offers intriguing new twists on old tales. Her poetic lines flow at ease, bite with wit, and are concisely sculpted. Her ability to “make it new” is what elevated Stallings from the get-go; it’s no small task to say something new about myths thousands of years ancient.

Sometimes Stallings writes what seems like a contemporary scene, but it is infused and informed by Ancient Greek myth behind it, and so bolstered with resonance, such as in “Song for the Women Poets,” which I had never read before. Looked at as myth, the poem retells the Orpheus story from the internal psyche of a female poet, “who are both Orpheus / And She he left in Hell.” An intriguing thought–a female poet has this dual root and role. It lends itself to further parsing, such as only Persephone lives past Orpheus’ singing. Reading this analogy further through feminism, the female poet now sings her own song, more so than years ago.

Stallings uses this same technique brilliantly in “Asphodel,” from her second collection, which is spoken in the voice of a tour guide about the flowers, and yet eerily retells the story of Hades and Persephone and how spring can be eerily linked with death even as we admire its resurgence.

I think the Internet has made the daily feel busier. Anytime I get away from a computer and phone, the world quiets down to a human pace. The well-wrought metrical poetry of Stallings feels shaped for this more human pace. Her poetry presents itself as an art object, framed with thoughtfulness and cleverness, compared to the free-verse voice-driven poem that arguably is a form of realist art: seeking to seduce the reader into theater of the voiced character, forgetting for a second that one is reading a poem, such as with Sylvia Plath, Philip Levine, or Jericho Brown.

In this sense, Stallings and her fascination with Ancient Greece presents a sort of rarefied air, more so than the Selected Poems of Carol Ann Duffy, the British metrical poet with a street smart, sassy poetic voice in these selected earlier poems. Compared to the Irish master poet Seamus Heaney, Stallings does not use diction to create a unique Irish sound, nor is she enmeshed in contemporary settings in her poetry like farming, Ireland, and family. When Stallings does write about her domestic life, often it is quite touching. This all said, Selected Poems offers many delights, to be read again and again.

Cheers,

G. H. Mosson

www.ghmosson.com

          

What I’m Reading: Major Jackson

The new poems section of Major Jackson’s New and Selected are delicious verbal candy. Full of atmospheric insights, these newest poems dance across ambivalences arising from contemporary living. With urbane linguistic tonalities that his work has displayed from the get go, Jackson’s newer work has more whimsy, looser wisdom, more dreaminess out loud, all mixed with a certain sort of giving up on final answers.

While Major Jackson is a poet that I’ve long admired, his new poems could be deemed among his best. They are quite mature: a thinking person’s poetry, and a poetry of consciousness, point of view, and memory. They are set further from the Philadelphia of his youth and first book, which remains a strong book of urban Phili vignettes, often set in one scene as it unfolds, and sharing the deeply felt voice of someone growing up in the visceral, East Coast, inner city, aspirational, and African-American milieu.

In terms of Major Jackson’s new poems, they remind me of what Wallace Stevens described in “Of Modern Poetry” as

The poem of the mind in the act of finding   

What will suffice. . . .

If this applies to Major Jackson, his new poems show someone who–more than solving matters at hand, to tie them up in a bow and shelve them–likes to taste, juggle, and dance. His new poems involve simultaneous overlapping and contradicting sensations and events. In other words, they are poems of a mature, world-traveled contemporary adult. This said, it’s rare to find such a balancing act translated – not just into subject matter – but into language itself: diverse, coming into and out of balance, and dynamic in sound within each poetic line and across lines.

To turn back to Stevens again, Jackson’s new poems, as Stevens puts it in describing modern poetry:

. . . .construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage   

And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and

With meditation, speak words that in the ear. . . .

See for yourself. Jackson’s poem, “It Must Be The Supermarket in Me” is available as a podcast as The Slowdown online (linked here).

That was one of my favorite, though his new poems offer a bouquet of favorites. The extended metaphor in this particular poem, with its apt and yet far-flung comparison threaded throughout the poem, makes one think as well of Tony Hoagland’s later work. Of course this approach also hearkens back to a metaphysical poet like John Donne and his extended figures. If compared to Hoagland, Major Jackson’s “It Must Be The Supermarket in Me” is more intimate, more vulnerable, less finished in its final arrival than Hoagland’s tendency, yet, still arriving into greater self knowledge.

Major Jackson’s Web site can be found here.

Yum.

Cheers,

G. H. Mosson

www.ghmosson.com

Return of the Jedi and Big Tech

I recently watched the Stars Wars trilogy with my son, age 12, and we just finished the movie, Return of the Jedi. I can’t say my son was impressed.

It crowned our sharing together of the first three of these movies from the 1970s-1980s, which I enjoyed seeing again. The costumes are cool. The orchestral doom music was scary in a camp sort of way. Since these classics, special effects have advanced. Today’s fare have as much, or more, alternative world-building as these classics. So for my son at least, this trilogy did not blow him away.

Maybe however it’s apropos. At the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker takes off Darth Vader’s mask, and the pale and somewhat malformed face of his father looks back out of his encasement. It is clear that Darth Vader’s humanity has been merged within that black metal machine of a body suit. He can’t live in normal air anymore. In fact, his voice is modulated, and still iconic. He asks Luke, take off my mask so I can see you with my own eyes. He very quickly sees his son, breathes actual air, and dies.

Of course as we grow older, movies are just movies. Books, something to read and pass the time, for many. I recently finished, very slowly over about seven months, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, that 19th century French writer, friend of liberty and democracy, and tale-teller extraordinaire. Literature, made by the master makers, has never been meant as mere entertainment. So, anyway, as I watched the end of the movie last night, that scene with Darth Vader just struck me.

Today at work before a computer, one of the online tools I use, DOCUSIGN in fact, asked if I wished to sign in with my emailed passcode as usual or fingerprints? I was a little surprised. However, why would I want to give a random online tool provider, a subscription service really that I pay for, my fingerprints? Should I let them use my computer to scan my eyes too?

Microsoft Windows is pushing everyone to subscription services starting a few years ago. I think my personal laptop has held out with the prior version (because I own it on a disc), but they got me when I purchased my children computers during the pandemic for school use. Recently, this update system invaded my work computer. Windows updated by work computer and it destroyed some stuff. Now, the Windows on my work computer is part of that subscription. Watch out for Windows 11 updates if you are using No. 10. This past month or so, it keeps prompting me as well to save all of my data on their One Drive storage facility. Why is that? Why would I want all of my personal or business data on their One Drive cloud system?

Maybe I am being a little coy. I am leaving out what I think. However, I have a certain fondness for 15 years ago with less media, less social media, and less everything being online. What will the technology companies do with all this online information, photos, fingerprints, books, tweets? In anchoring everyone’s professional, personal, and maybe even not-public lives online, what might be a use for whatever cable bill, cellphone bill, iPhone access, or subscription service exists now – and is soon to come next?

I am a fan of questions. I have not decided the answer myself yet. However, it’s another development that, for me, at best, feels eerie.

In the end, whether looking at Victor Hugo during the French Revolution and what resulted during his lifetime, or thinking back further or to our present day, what happens does require people to take action or to suffer the consequences.

I think, as in that Camus story about the teacher who lives on a hill during a war, there’s no neutrality over such invasive events and developments.

Cheers,

G. H. Mosson

www.ghmosson.com

Still Revisiting Adrienne Rich

I finished Hilary Holladay’s wonderful biography of the poet Adrienne Rich, titled The Power of Adrienne Rich (Talese 2020). It can be found here.

This masterful, heartfelt biography provided deep insight into the poet Adrienne Rich as well as to myself, insofar as I’ve reflected upon my own engagement with Rich (for the most part with her latter oeuvre of 1991-2012 or so, compared to the span of 1951-2012).

Holliday’s biography takes you through the making of the poet, so to speak, and this is fascinating. The heart of this biography involves her 1960s and especially 1970s feminist work, and quite detailed and insightful. I myself was born by the time Adrienne Rich already was famous; I have been most engaged with and influenced by her anti-globalization 1990s and 2000s books, especially Midnight Salvage and Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth, to name two. If nothing else, what great titles!

Now, I am sort of reading through her Collected Poems, recently released. It’s interesting to see how she went from a formalist poet we all know to a sort of leaping imagists phase, before settling into a more diartistic imagistic intuitive balance by the early 1970s that made her famous and produced poems like, “Diving Into the Wreck.”

I am not sure I have the time needed to truly revisit her poetry with the sounding leisure that I’d prefer. I am sure there will be much absorbed even if escaping recollection. Nevertheless . . . onward.

Cheers,

G. H. Mosson

www.ghmosson.com

What I’m Reading: Winter Recipes From The Collective by Louise Gluck

I have never read a book as ineffable as this slim and latest volume of poetry from the often tactile and emotionally poignant, Louise Gluck.

Like her prior two books, “Winter Recipes” (2022) as I will call it strains towards a unified narrative but does not quite get there. Gluck in all of these last three books, spanning 2014 to 2022, seems to wish to tell a fuller story but can’t quite release herself from lyric poetry of fragmented vignettes. As with each of these three books, I wish she had leaned further into this skeletal stage setting and went for an epic – even if it failed in the end. Of these three, her latest is even more fragmented, attenuated.

I rate A Village Life (2014) with its dominant sun and Faithful and Virtuous Night (2015) with its midnight musings and curiously romantic title well above her 2022 thinner volume with its ghostly disembodied voice and ineffable yet palpable impact. The first two are more robust, heartfelt, longer, better anchored in their locations, and offer a few emotional tones.

The scenery in “Winter Recipes,” for instance, might as well be invisible. I am not sure the snow appears, but overall the poems feel wintry, or just cold. Gluck has put together an eerie, ineffable atmospheric poetry. Yet in “Winter Recipes,” there is very little metaphor, simile, scene setting, or detailed inner drama. As a technical matter, one might call it a tour de force to make poetry out of such bare bones.

At the same time, there are gaping holes. For instance, the title of the book remains mysterious, especially for a poet as individualist as Gluck. She’s not cooking in these poems, either, in case you’re wondering. I think, dare I say it, “Winter Recipes” alone would have been a better title . . . while remaining ineffable.

If Gluck wishes to imply entering old age is a collective experience, because this Nobel Prize winning poet is older, well, that’s a reasonable interpretation of the full title. “Winter” can apply to the cold eye of these lyric poems. Recipes, well, I can’t quite say. Reading them, I might want to cook another dish, a warmer one. In the end, her title skates by on catch-all association, let me hazard. Literary critics at least will have something to chew on.

I could say more, I should say more, I won’t say more.

Overall to wrap this up, Gluck’s 2022 latest is a bit of a downer. I am not sure I will read it through a second time, which might help me glean more from it. Technically, there is much to learn from Gluck here, from what she does and does not use out of the toolbox, in these bare monologues of lyric poetry.

I’m glad to add, like a spice, Gluck’s humor can be sensed. It’s at the lowest winter glimmer of a flame. Still, the wry smile of Wild Iris (1993) and Meadowlands (1997) flits through these pages. It’s true, you’ve guessed it, those are my favorites.

Cheers,

G. H. Mosson

www.ghmosson.com

Revisiting Adrienne Rich

It is with joy, deep interest, and widening curiosity that I am reading Hilary Holladay’s detailed, warm, and bird-on-the-shoulder biography of American poet, Adrienne Rich, The Power of Adrienne Rich (Talese 2020). It can be found here.

Rich, a Baltimore-born, Harvard-educated and half-Jewish poet and cultural thinker already was a famous American poet when I was born. I remember reading A Dream of a Common Language at 16 in high school, and can recall the feeling of it, though not really much of what I read into it. I enjoyed it; it struck me.

I ended up reading most of Adrienne Rich from her 1991 Atlas of a Difficult World onward and much of her other work too, over time, and it has influenced how I have thought about literature, myself, and the world.

I am now moving through Rich’s Collected Poems in tandem with this biography. Holladay helps one see Rich from her own perspective, that is, as she grew into the person, poet, intellectual, wife, widow, feminist, etc. Likewise, Holladay’s biography traces the changing cultural and literary and political landscapes that Rich navigated. From Rich’s 1951 first book to her 2012 final collection, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve, the world has changed and Rich embodies one version of the cutting edge of it.

Cheers,

G. H. Mosson

www.ghmosson.com

What I’m Still Still Reading: Les Miserables

Well, I am on page 1226 of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. With some effort, I will finish this just over the six month mark. I know I began it in 2023, in the wonderful Penguin Classics paperback translated, unabridged version. On this blog in March, I remarked I was a 1/3rd through.

What to say of this sprawling masterpiece? On one level, that begs the question, what is a masterpiece?

An Intimate Epic:

I feel like I’ve met Victor Hugo while also reading a vivid saga. I’ve lived with Hugo at times, as a house guest. Sometimes it’s been my house, sometimes his mind. I’ve heard his detailed thoughts on living and the French Revolution, on 19th century progress, on what makes him shudder and chuckle, of mistaken customs and some worth not throwing away, and all in a novel that ranges in essence from the French Revolution of 1789 to the publication of this book in 1862. Of course, the story of Les Miserables occurs in medias res of these bookends. At the same time, Hugo himself as the narrator is providing his up-to-date thoughts; he himself is just as palpable as Jean Valjean and the more lucky Cosette, two characters.

Jean Valjean makes his luck, doesn’t he? He does this through strength of will, strength of character, and as Victor Hugo clearly pens it, by doing god’s work on earth. What is that? Well in the middle of the novel, Jean Valjean has a choice to remain a small-town mayor and live out his life to a comfortable old age, or reveal to the police they have mistaken some hobo for him and will condemn that hobo to a life in prison. Valjean paces and paces in his modest grotto, and then speechlessly journeys to the trial and reveals his identity and so saves this unknown decrepit person who does not even understand what’s happening.

As Hugo says on p. 1186 of the Penguin Classics version, “God, always within man and, being the true conscience, defying the false, forbidding the spark to die out, commanding the ray to remember the sun, directing the soul to recognize the real absolute, inalienable humanity, unallowable human feeling, that splendid phenomenon, perhaps the finest of all our inner marvels – did Javert understand this?”

It’s doing the right thing: not easy sometimes to see, not easy sometimes to feel, and not easy sometimes to accept. That detailed scene of pacing alone, such a masterpiece!

The Denouement:

Well, I just finished Jean Valjean’s trudge through the sewers after the barricade falls with the wounded Marius, to save Marius, and finished the famous final scene of Inspector Javert who plunges into the river when he cannot reconcile his worldview with this heroic kindness – as he sees it – by a former criminal, Valjean. Of course, to get this far, I have read Hugo’s recounting of the Battle of Waterloo, a history of a convent, Hugo’s revolutionary and political philosophy, and I must admit, skimmed the history of the Paris sewage system. On p. 1219, he pokes fun at the modern marriage ceremony at hotels, and offers a sharp insight on why it’s best as a family affair, in a family home. There’s the novel plot too.

All in all, Les Miserables is not an ordinary novel of a tale told. The 40 or so page Waterloo reenactment is fascinating. After 40 so pages on the extreme yet earnest convent, Jean Valjean enters it to hide. He enters it and its history.

Closing Thoughts:

In 1862 when Hugo published this novel from exile, he was absolutely speaking to the French people who had lived through the events of this novel, and whose elders if still alive lived through how it all started; Hugo’s framing, explaining, lamenting, sympathizing, detailing. In the end, he’s against misery and poverty and for humanistic progress and a spiritual basis for living well.

In between, I’ve also read Barbara Kingslover’s wowing Poisonwood Bible, Tara Ison’s macabre and hilarious short stories in Ball, started Philip Levine’s bitter, mind-blowing New Selected Poems (1991), and finished Vermont poet Diana Whitney’s granular, charged Wanting It.

Soon, Hugo will land on a shelf. When that happens, I will miss it, admire it, and will embody and carry some of it onward.

Cheers,

G. H. Mosson

www.ghmosson.com