New from City Lights Publishers: Lit Up Inside by Van Morrison

by Alisha Casey

LitUpCover2When Van Morrison approached City Lights to publish the U.S. edition of his Lit Up Inside: Selected Lyrics, it felt like a perfect match. As David Meltzer states in his foreword to the book, “Morrison’s aesthetic, his integrity and commitment to authenticity fits right in with the ongoing constancy of the City Lights list of writers, poets, and musicians who have embraced both the possible and the impossible.” Lit Up Inside is the first book Morrison has ever officially released under his name and includes his own hand-picked selection of lyrics. One can find timeless songs like “Brown Eyed Girl” that everyone knows as well as deep album cuts that only the hardcore fan would know.

This book marks the first official statement by Van Morrison on his own songs. This volume represents not only Van Morrison’s career as a songwriter to the hardcore fan but a reflection of that career by Van himself. This is what Morrison sees as his creative contribution.

Music critic and long-time Van-fan Denise Sullivan explains that “the combination of deep personal content and universal humanity tucked inside Morrison’s songs was largely lost on me until reading the verses as a whole in Lit Up Inside.  It is within these songs that the story of Morrison’s life unfolds.” The book of lyrics spans Morrison’s nearly-50-year career and 30-plus albums, and features the foreword by David Meltzer, another by Ian Rankin, and an introduction by Eamonn Hughes, senior lecturer at Queens University Belfast.

David Meltzer, himself in the thick of the rock ‘n roll scene when Morrison’s career began to take off in the late 60’s, goes on in the book’s foreword to describe Morrison’s notable lyricism:

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5 Questions with Gerald Nicosia

night trainWelcome back to 5 Questions, our quasi-weekly querying of authors who visit City Lights Bookstore, whether it be a reading, discussion, or performance. This Tuesday, October 28th, Gerald Nicosia will be here to read from his new book of poems, Night Train to Shanghai and Other Memories of China, published by Grizzly Peak Press.

Event: Tuesday, October 28th @ 7:ooPM. Gerald Nicosia reads from his new collection, Night Train to Shanghai.

About the Book: The poems in Night Train to Shanghai and Other Memories of China grew out of Nicosia’s several trips to modern China, beginning with his trip to Hefei in 1995 to adopt his six-month-old daughter Wu Ji (now Amy). He later traveled to Chengdu to guest-teach Beat poetry and other subjects to graduate students at Sichuan University, and took his daughter Amy to many cities in China, including her birth-place of Wuhu, when she was ten and had already learned to speak Mandarin.

In his introduction, Beat poet Jerry Kamstra describes Night Train to Shanghai as “clearheaded and respectful, bighearted but critical, knowledgeable but not pedantic, modern China seen through the middle eye of a poet who is much more than the best biographer of Jack Kerouac (Memory Babe) or the scholarly author of Home to War, his seven-hundred-page opus on the Vietnam War and the plight of returning veterans.” Kamstra further claims that “Gerald Nicosia is a poet of the first rank, following in the tradition of Irving Layton and Theodore Roethke.”

Maxine Hong Kingston, arguably America’s greatest living Chinese-American writer, declares in her foreword that “Gerald Nicosia has written a truthful, beautiful collection of poems.”

About the Author: Born and educated in Chicago (University of Illinois, Highest Distinction in English, 1971 and 1973), Gerald Nicosia has for decades been best known as the author of Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac and a critic and historian of the Beats, the 60’s, and the Vietnam War. But even before his undergraduate years ended, he was publishing poetry as well, mentored by Chicago poets he loved such as Carl Sandburg and some he knew personally such as Paul Carroll, founder of Big Table Books and Magazine. And while his poetry quickly absorbed the influence of the Beat writers in its insistence on clarity, narrative coherence, and incorporation of common speech, it also drew heavily upon the down and dirty blues voice and sometimes black humor of Chicago writers like Nelson Algren, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Richard Wright.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

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Michael McClure’s Ghost Tantras

ghost tantras newOn Monday, October 20th Beat poet Michael McClure celebrated his 82nd birthday. Happy Birthday and thank you for a truly expansive body of work!

In the first edition of Ghost Tantras, published in 1964, Michael McClure introduces the collection with “You’ve never heard anything like this before,” and he was right – McClure, being one of the more sound-conscious Beats, had delivered a set of 99 “tantras” that depended so much on sound that it would be impossible to experience them any other way. And we don’t mean word play. The book features many growls, howls, barbaric yawps, guttural grunts, and beastly shouts.

The word “tantra” is a combination of the two Sanskrit words tanoti (expansion) and trayati (liberationand is a term describing methods to expand the mind and liberate the body’s dormant energy. McClure explores these concepts in an almost monastic approach, and has experimented with the form both on stage with backing musicians and with animals as well – he once read to a group of somewhat agitated lions. Seriously:

Suiting, as McClure dedicates Ghost Tantras to “the Human Spirit and all Mammals.” In the video he notes,

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Friday Staff Pick:


The Heyday of Malcolm Margolin
The Damn Good Times of a Fiercely Independent Publisher

Kim Bancroft

Northern California’s book publishers are idiosyncratic, uncompromising, funky, forward-thinking, often brilliant, but largely unheralded beyond the state’s borders. Here’s the perfect book to shift that paradigm. Malcolm Margolin’s story of creating and sustaining Heyday Books, a vital Berkeley-based press celebrating its 40th anniversary, will inspire, confound, amuse, and amaze readers, and is highly recommended.
—Recommended by Stacey, City Lights Publishers

Bonus: listen to Malcolm and Stacey talk about West Coast publishing on our podcast series right here

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Planet News

“I was so besotted with Truffaut that I persuaded a women’s magazine to assign me an article on the “trendy” London scene; all so I could go there and be on the set of Fahrenheit 451, Truffaut’s film based on a Ray Bradbury story. It was set in the future when a bland fascist regime made reading a crime, television into a spy and a brainwashing tool, and books into objects to be confiscated and destroyed. Indeed, the title is the temperature at which paper burns. However, an underground of resistors—which included the irresistible Julie Christie—responded by becoming books themselves. Each person memorized a classic, all of it, in order to pass it on to the future. In one supremely touching scene, disparate people are pacing in a field, each one softly repeating a chosen story.

This got to me because it was the way I felt about books as a child—almost any book. They could be grown-up novels I didn’t understand, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, which I read at the same time, one book in a multi-volume history of the Civil War—it didn’t really matter. Anything with a story, I just kept reading from beginning to end, with or without snatches of sleep.”
Gloria Steinham now has a blog!

…(Roxane) Gay’s world is a kaleidoscope, a mix of the quirky and the tragic, of lightheartedness and dark tones. We know, in theory at least, that the lives of black women are mixed in these ways, but memoir tends to smooth the edges to yield redemptive narratives.”
Patricia A. Mathew on Roxane Gay in the New Inquiry

“We’ve moved eight times. Police have knocked on our doors. They’ve left us with no way to live.”
Poet Wang Zang arrested after posting picture in solidarity with the Hong Kong protestors

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R.I.P. San Francisco Bay Guardian

by Garrett Caples

On Tuesday (10/14/14), Canadian media conglomerate San Francisco Media Company LLC, which owns SF Weekly as well as the San Francisco Examiner, made the decision to shutter the 48-year-old alternative weekly San Francisco Bay Guardian, one of the first and last independent alt-weeklies in the United States which, in the face of the decline of print media generally and newspapers in particular, was sold to the conglomerate in 2012. The writing has been on the wall for some time; there’s no need for SF Media Co. to own two alt-weeklies, and since the purchase, the corporation has clearly pursued a strategy of feeding the Weekly and starving the Guardian. And so, much as San Francisco’s broadcast airwaves are almost exclusively owned by San Antonio, TX corporation Clear Channel—recently rebranded as iHeartMedia—our city is permitting outsiders to call the shots and determine what sort of news and cultural analysis is made available to us. This is easily as great a threat to San Francisco’s historical values as Google buses and gentrification, and if you’d like to know who to thank, it’s Bill Clinton, who signed and supported the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which essentially de-regulated media ownership in this country and made companies like Clear Channel and SF Media Co. possible.

I recently published a book of essays with Wave Books called Retrievals, which largely focuses on authors and visual artists who, for one reason or another, were either pushed off the cultural map or never made it on there to begin with. This book is about lost art, but there’s a subtext in which the book is also about its own writing, and in its capstone essay, “Theory of Retrieval,” I discuss the meta portion of actually writing the book as a poet/journalist on the make over the course of the last decade. Several pieces either stem from or began in the Guardian and in assembling the essays I was very conscious of how lucky I was that the Guardian paid me to cover XYorZ book or exhibit. Those days, it seems to me, are gone forever; ever since “writing” was redefined as “content” in the context of the Internet, it’s been impossible to make it as a cultural critic in the financial sense. There’s always a cheaper “content provider” and the web has proved both gloriously and horrifically that payment is not the first concern of most people who would be writers. In homage to the Guardian—which, for all its flaws, was a great American newspaper that I was privileged to be a part of—I reproduce below a passage from “Theory of Retrieval”—written last summer (2013)—in which I contemplate the Guardian’s eventual fate.

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti: “Baseball Canto”

Watching baseball, sitting in the sun, eating popcorn,
reading Ezra Pound,
and wishing that Juan Marichal would hit a hole right through the
Anglo-Saxon tradition in the first Canto
and demolish the barbarian invaders.
When the San Francisco Giants take the field
and everybody stands up for the National Anthem,
with some Irish tenor’s voice piped over the loudspeakers,
with all the players struck dead in their places
and the white umpires like Irish cops in their black suits and little
black caps pressed over their hearts,
Standing straight and still like at some funeral of a blarney bartender,
and all facing east,
as if expecting some Great White Hope or the Founding Fathers to
appear on the horizon like 1066 or 1776.But Willie Mays appears instead,
in the bottom of the first,
and a roar goes up as he clouts the first one into the sun and takes
off, like a footrunner from Thebes.
The ball is lost in the sun and maidens wail after him
as he keeps running through the Anglo-Saxon epic.
And Tito Fuentes comes up looking like a bullfighter
in his tight pants and small pointy shoes.
And the right field bleechers go mad with Chicanos and blacks
and Brooklyn beer-drinkers,
“Tito! Sock it to him, sweet Tito!”
And sweet Tito puts his foot in the bucket
and smacks one that don’t come back at all,
and flees around the bases
like he’s escaping from the United Fruit Company.
As the gringo dollar beats out the pound.
And sweet Tito beats it out like he’s beating out usury,
not to mention fascism and anti-semitism.
And Juan Marichal comes up,
and the Chicano bleechers go loco again,
as Juan belts the first ball out of sight,
and rounds first and keeps going
and rounds second and rounds third,
and keeps going and hits paydirt
to the roars of the grungy populace.
As some nut presses the backstage panic button
for the tape-recorded National Anthem again,
to save the situation.

But it don’t stop nobody this time,
in their revolution round the loaded white bases,
in this last of the great Anglo-Saxon epics,
in the territorio libre of Baseball.

 

 

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Poetry on a Monday: Poem about Police Violence

Poem about Police Violence
by June Jordon

Tell me something
what you think would happen if
everytime they kill a black boy
then we kill a cop
everytime they kill a black man
then we kill a cop

you think the accident rate would lower subsequently?
sometimes the feeling like amaze me baby
comes back to my mouth and I am quiet
like Olympian pools from the running
mountainous snows under the sun

sometimes thinking about the 12th House of the Cosmos
or the way your ear ensnares the tip
of my tongue or signs that I have never seen
like DANGER WOMEN WORKING

I lose consciousness of ugly bestial rapid
and repetitive affront as when they tell me
18 cops in order to subdue one man
18 strangled him to death in the ensuing scuffle
(don’t you idolize the diction of the powerful: subdue
and scuffle my oh my) and that the murder
that the killing of Arthur Miller on a Brooklyn
street was just a “justifiable accident” again
(Again)

People been having accidents all over the globe
so long like that I reckon that the only
suitable insurance is a gun
I’m saying war is not to understand or rerun
war is to be fought and won

sometimes the feeling like amaze me baby
blots it out/the bestial but
not too often tell me something
what you think would happen if
everytime they kill a black boy
then we kill a cop
everytime they kill a black man
then we kill a cop

you think the accident rate would lower subsequently

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Friday Staff Pick: Furious Cool

In this loose and lyrical labor of love, brothers David and Joe Henry have brought Richard Pryor back to pulsating life, capturing his spirit and genius and the monumental demons that fueled him. It’s billed as a biography but it’s really more than that, delving deep enough to make you look at Pryor and his legacy in a whole new light. —Recommended by Michael, City Lights Books

Richard Pryor was arguably the single most influential performer of the second half of the twentieth century, and certainly he was the most successful black actor/comedian ever. Controversial and somewhat enigmatic in his lifetime, Pryor’s performances opened up a new world of possibilities, merging fantasy with angry reality in a way that wasn’t just new—it was heretofore unthinkable.

His childhood in Peoria, Illinois, was spent just trying to survive. Yet the culture into which Richard Pryor was born—his mother was a prostitute; his grandmother ran the whorehouse—helped him evolve into one of the most innovative and outspoken performers ever, a man who attracted admiration and anger in equal parts. Both a brilliant comedian and a very astute judge of what he could get away with, Pryor was always pushing the envelope, combining anger and pathos, outrage and humor, into an art form, laying the groundwork for the generations of comedians who followed, including such outstanding performers as Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, and Louis C.K.

Now, in this groundbreaking and revelatory work, Joe and David Henry bring him to life both as a man and as an artist, providing an in-depth appreciation of his talent and his lasting influence, as well as an insightful examination of the world he lived in and the influences that shaped both his persona and his art.

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Planet News

“The last time the burglars were together, shortly after the burglary, they had made two promises to each other: that they would take the secret of the burglary to their graves and that they would not associate with each other. They feared that if they continued to associate, the arrest of one might lead to the arrest of others. The seven who continued living as they had before the burglary were silent about what they had done, but they made no attempt to hide or escape.

Throughout the decades since the Media burglary, Feingold kept the pledge the burglars made to each other never to reveal they were the Media burglars. She always assumed no one in the group would break that promise. She never uttered a word about the burglary to anyone.

That’s why she was shocked—angered, even sickened at first—in January when she discovered, by chance, that the other members of the group recently had publicly told the story of how and why they decided in 1971 to risk their freedom for many years to break into an FBI office in search of evidence of whether the FBI was engaged in efforts to suppress dissent.”
The last of the Media burglars (who “brought attention to the FBI’s massive, clandestine political spying and extreme, even violent, dirty tricks operations”) breaks her silence after living underground for 40 years (via The Nation)

“Morally and spiritually it should be about human beings, but that presupposes a certain level of spiritual maturity. We need to have fellow human beings who have enough spiritual maturity to empathize with people, no matter who they are, no matter what color, and especially no matter what class these days. Fifty years ago, with Jim Crow Sr., it was black folks across the board. With Jim Crow Jr. and the prison industrial complex, residential housing, and decrepit schools and educational systems—it is true, if it were black upper middle class brothers getting shot with the same frequency as poor brothers, there would be a quicker response. It’s still deeply racist and white supremacist, but class kicks in; we even get members of the black middle class who say, They need to pull their pants up, that’s their problem.”
Cornel West speaks to The Believer on the call to make October 2014 a month of resistance to mass incarceration, and much more.

“Anyone who knows the Park Cities will understand that the suspension of these books wasn’t driven so much by provincialism as by conservatism. It makes sense that a concerted faction of people in my mostly white home town would want to foreclose conversations about race and empire (goodbye “Solomon,” goodbye “Diary,” goodbye “Siddhartha”). The community does not want to talk about sex, abortion, or prostitutes, since it is largely pro-life and pro-abstinence (goodbye “Glass Castle,” goodbye to all the Katherines, goodbye “Siddhartha,” again). You should probably skip exposing your children to an investigation of the structural conditions that drive poverty and homelessness if you’re living in a ten-million-dollar home, and there are many of those where I come from, and many families who head enormous oil and real-estate companies.”
What Kind of Town Bans Books? (Via New Yorker)



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