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Thursday, Jan 31, 2008

Alessandro Porco’s latest book of poetry is Augustine in Carthage, and Other Poems, published by ECW Press in April. Re:Print caught up with Alessandro for a brief chat about the book, the poet’s career, and his busy-busy life. Porco is currently at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he is working on his dissertation. His poetry has appeared in Matrix, Grain, and Queen Street Quarterly. He blogs here.


Tell us about your latest book:
My latest collection of poetry is Augustine in Carthage, and Other Poems (ECW Press), which will be officially released in late March / early April. It’s been four years since I finished writing The Jill Kelly Poems (ECW Press)—my book-length ode to the adult-film star affectionately referred to as “the anal queen.” I’m suspect of teleologies of progressivity and enlightenment, meaning you’re not likely to catch me telling you how I’ve “developed” over the four-year publishing interregnum (though, I guess, four years ago I wouldn’t have used the term teleology on account of it’d likely make me sound like a douchebag! I’m comfortable with that now). In fact, the collection’s title long-poem, “Augustine in Carthage,” deals with this very suspicion of progressivity, amongst a variety of other things.


What’s it all about, really?
Ultimately, “Augustine in Carthage” is a trans-historical re-imagining of Book III of St. Augustine’s Confessions in present-day Montreal. It includes picaresque scenes and interludes involving, for example, philosophizing strippers (who apparently like to quote Whitehead while giving lap dances), Tampico bombers (my homage to Ed Dorn), drug-induced hops down rabbit holes, coprology (what can I say, I’m a fan of Pasolini!), and even some comic-book heroism (in the form of that adroit character Plastic Man). But for all its bombast “Augustine in Carthage” examines, quite seriously, ideas related to the experience of experience, the morality of poetry, and the hypocrisy of spiritual conversion. Of course, perhaps the most famous allusion in modern poetry to Book III of the Confessions takes place in Eliot’s The Waste Land: “To Carthage then I came” (“III. The Fire Sermon”). There he quotes directly from Augustine; the passage from the original reads, “To Carthage then I came, where a cauldron of unholy loves sang all about mine ears.”


Basically, think of Carthage as Vegas and you get the picture (and, to boot, Augustine wasn’t yet a saint ... all the better). Indeed, Eliot serves as a Tiresias-like guiding presence over and above the poem. (One other key literary text against which a continuous parallel is established is Petronius’s Satyricon.) But all this makes it seems way more highfalutin than it perhaps actually is—I mean, the first page and a half or so includes a length description of strippers at Montreal’s famed Club Super Sexe ...


That said, it is a difficult poem and one that I—and my reputation, such that it is—have much riding on. In that sense, the impending release of the collection is very nerve-wracking and frightening (not feelings I felt initially with my first book, to be honest). Of course, I should admit, however, that the nerves and frights are also associated with the other conspicuous poem in the collection (hopefully not so conspicuous though as to be the overwhelming focus of critical reception): the book ends with a 21-part series titled “We So Seldom Look on Nantucket.” Basically, as the title would suggest, it’s 21 limericks—but not of the anaesthetized Edward Lear variety. These are 21 of the filthiest limericks I could think to write (in the words of limerick scholar G. Legman, who, referring to his anthology The Limerick, wrote: “This is the largest collection of limericks ever published, erotic or otherwise. Of the 1700 printed here, none are otherwise.”)


Basically, these little artifacts began as a dare and evolved into something quite lovely (albeit, depraved, too). As a whole, these limericks make The Jill Kelly anal-sex poems seems like a rather Victorian G-rated affair—hence, my nervousness. While I certainly don’t want to spoil anything (here’s my pitch: by the book to read what I’m talking about), I can give a hint of what I’m describing: e.g. the Holy Mother Mary satisfying Jesus and, maybe, just maybe, there may be some sexual intercourse involving amputees. If that sounds like something you’d be into, please do pick up the book (and, then, maybe you should see somebody)!


There’s plenty else, of course, that exists in between these first and last poems. Things I’m very proud of: some translations (loose translations a la Robert Lowell’s Imitations) of 20th century Italian poets Ungaretti, Campana, and Quasimodo. There are what I’ve dubbed as “remixes” of classic English poems. Also, there’s a couple performance pieces. Hell, even a love poem or two. Overall, to borrow a formulation from Paul Muldoon, the collection’s “much of a muchness,” if you know what I mean—though that “much of a muchness” is compressed into a tight little punch of beautifully designed book (17 poems over 60 pages).


It’s an exciting time for me these days. The book’s release looming, I have a series of readings I’ll be doing in the spring and summer months. That should be fun, allowing a little travel time for me, catching up with friends in various cities (including Montreal where I’d f!@#$% love to bring the book into Club Super Sexe! That seems fitting, given my early mention of the joint.). Hopefully the book’s release will inspire some heated debate, some positive reviews, some negative reviews—either way, I just hope that it sets discussion about things into motion.


What else is keeping you busy?
In March, I’ll start my tenure as the official hip-hop columnist for the online supplement of Maisonneuve Magazine, Montreal’s city magazine. I have free reign with the column, open to everything from standard reviews to interviews, hot topics and all that good stuff. The column’s a nice compliment to my current Ph.D. dissertation work on hip-hop poetics at the State University of New York at Buffalo. It’s moving along, slowly but surely.
I’m desperately trying (usually in bars) to convince some of my more esteemed and mature academic peers and colleagues that Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is one of the best films of the last 10 years (slowly, I can feel them coming over to my side on this!).
I’m busy teaching a course this term on the subject of Sports Literature at SUNY-Buffalo.


Any Current Essentials we should look out for?
Repeated viewings (and I mean over and over and over again) of the first three seasons of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which, quite frankly, is one of the best thing I’ve ever seen on TV.


I’m excitedly looking forward to the spring-time releases of Jason Camlot’s The Debaucher (Insomniac Press) and R.M. Vaughan’s Troubled: A Memoir in Poems (Coach House)—both examples of Canada’s finest literary artists.


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Wednesday, Jan 30, 2008


Kevin Smith can talk. Anyone who’s seen him in interviews or watching his Evening with… series knows this. The man is a motor mouth, a non-stop gob smacker who believes in the power of words and the consistent flow of same. And the best part about it is, he’s inherently interesting. He’s a natural storyteller, a man who can measure out the facts of a situation in a way that draws you in and keeps your attention, even if you could care less about what he’s actually talking about. It’s a skill that’s translated well to his work in film. While many may question his competency behind a camera, no one can deny the clever dialogue and pre-Tarantino/Cody conversations he’s been responsible for.


So it should come as no surprise that over the last year or so, Smith has teamed up with production pal Scott Mosier to present SModcast, one of ITunes most popular downloads. Deriving its name from the participants initials (Smith/Mosier Podcast) and using the format for a weekly free form discussion of whatever strikes their fancy, it’s typically one of the best hours one can spend alone with their favorite MP3 device.  With the one year anniversary of the project coming up (the first SModcast arrived online on 8 February, 2007), SE&L wants to celebrate and look back at some of the highlights from the 40 plus installments. In doing so, the reasons for Smith and Mosier’s success can be easily understood.


First and foremost, the guys don’t shy away from popular or pandering subject matter. Smut sites like PornTube/Red Tube should actually send these guys a finder’s fee for the amount of traffic they drive to the deviant side of the ‘net. It’s not for sexual gratification or gratuity, though. Sure, there are discussions about hardcore and its ‘self-satisfaction’ facets, but Smith is genuinely intrigued by the fetish side of filth, and will go into long dissections of incredibly nasty XXX material - and make it funny and insightful as well. Mosier is more like the moderator, guiding the subject (no matter how sordid) with questions and queries meant to keep the audience from thinking that sex is the center of these filmmakers’ lives. Yet he too can have his prurient side. 


Hot button political issues are also an occasional source of in-depth analysis. Back in December, Smith felt some major audience bite back when he addressed race - more specifically, the lack of epithets geared toward whites. During the back and forth, he used several derogatory terms (for informational purposes, only) to describe blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and other ethnicities. The next week, he began the broadcast by commenting on the negative email and forum posts he got, recognizing that many failed to get the big picture point. This happens frequently during a SModcast. While he is talking to the general public, and his View Askew aware fanbase, Smith can be very insular. During a near two hour Christmas edition, Conan the Barbarian was deconstructed in such detail that John Milius must have found himself embarrassed over the detailed attention.


This is part of any podcast’s fatal flaw - that is, what the presenter finds intriguing or interesting may just bore the mainstream to death. But Smith seems acutely aware of that fact, and rarely lets the subject get so sidetracked. And he’s not afraid to take a stand. After reading about a particularly nasty case of pedophilia, our host was adamant that the criminal suffer a horrendous bodily penalty (something about the man’s testicles and a cleaver). Even when Mosier tried to step in and restrain his response, Smith was relentless. That’s a good word to describe SModcast. No matter the topic being bandied about, the show will try its damnedest to canvas all the angles.


Other themes include Smith’s ongoing battle of the bulge (the dude has a SERIOUS self esteem issue regarding his weight), Mosier’s love of Harry Potter and everything about the J.K. Rowling universe, post-marital sex, and the traffic in California (New Jersey-ite Smith relocated a while back). Every once in a while, the filmmaker and producer will actually talk shop. Currently in production on the Seth Rogen/Elizabeth Banks vehicle Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Smith will chat about casting and location shooting, while Mosier stresses the issues of making low budget films as compared to the rest of the movie mainstream. We also heard horror stories about past productions, as well as anecdotes about working in the business called show.


This usually leads to a lot of name dropping, and some wonderful yarns. Smith and Mosier still rib buddies Matt Damon and Ben Affleck for their consistent failure to thank them during their Good Will Hunting awards run (the guys co-executive produced the Oscar winner). When it was announced that Jason Lee was going to make Underdog and Alvin and the Chipmunks, the company cast member (he’s appeared in almost every Smith project aside from the original Clerks) got some slightly less than good natured ribbing. Mosier occasional drops out to travel or take care of business. During these occasions, Smith calls on old buddies from his days in Jersey. Perhaps the best known is the Jay to his Silent Bob, the always evocative Jason Mewes. Their time together can be a treat.



Yet it’s Smith, and his wonderfully witty personality meshed with a true talent for working the vocabulary that makes SModcast into a must-subscribe stalwart of the fledgling medium. Whereas most Pod people fail to understand that rambling does not equal entertainment, or personal bias and perspective do not lead to universal acceptance, this is one of the few insiders whose ideas actually play perfectly to the general public at large. Even if you’re not a huge fan of Smith’s films, or find his constant referencing to his sex life with his wife to be much ado about bluffing, you can’t deny the presence and personality coming out of the headphones. It’s a rare gift, and a talent few can learn, let alone possess.


But Kevin Smith has it, and that’s why SModcast is so consistently intriguing. Where else would you hear a famous filmmaker discuss the problems of getting his ideas greenlit, where a friend will ruminate on the fact that his heroin addiction probably led to the loss of his teeth? Who else would make purposefully homophobic remarks about his best friend’s “man trips” to England and Europe? Where else can you hear grown men discuss what they would and would not glean through feces for, or life as the person in charge of casting porn films? Since the holidays, and the beginning of production on Zack and Miri, the regularity of the episodes has been thrown off. But here’s hoping that, once the movie hits the can, the dynamic duo will return to their weekly one-on-ones. Kevin Smith sure can yak, and SModcast is the perfect place to hear him do what he does best.   


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Wednesday, Jan 30, 2008

By now, you’ve probably figured out that I’m not a fan of the RIAA and their disturbing legal tactics.  Rather than keep reminding everyone how bad they are and how detrimental they are to the music biz (which is why I really hate them), I’d also like to note two stories about working around them.  First is this Reuters story about bands and music fans hooking up online, which ain’t necessarily something new now in this Net age but it’s worth repeating this story line if only to remind bands (and listeners) about the great opportunities out there on the web.  The other story is the 2008 RPM Challenge which asks artists to write/record an album next month.  As the article notes, this led hundreds of artists to post thousands of songs and granted that they’re all not gonna be masterpieces, it’s still heartening to see so many performers take up the DIY challenge.


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Wednesday, Jan 30, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
backpack-picnic

This week: If you ever wondered what an actual Backpack Picnic looked like… you obviously spend too much time watching these weirdos. At any rate, the Backpack boy have obliged those curious with this eye-opening episode.


Every week PopMatters will be offering an exclusive early look at a new episode of Backpack Picnic, an online sketch comedy show from ON Networks.


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Tuesday, Jan 29, 2008


The bad movies. That’s all anyone ever wants to talk about. Manos. Mitchell. The audacity of taking on a pseudo classic like This Island Earth. The creative constitution it must have required to endure the aesthetic horrors of Time of the Apes, The Castle of Fu Mancho, or Attack of the The Eye Creatures. But there remains so much more to Mystery Science Theater 3000 than Arch Hall Jr., Coleman Francis, and Merritt Stone. As a matter of fact, one of the first things critics latched onto where the sensational skits, in between bits that often commented directly on the film being shown. Yet there were also times when the material was merely “inspired” by the work being presented, said muse mutated into wit that transpired the sloppy celluloid circumstances. It’s these boffo blackouts that deserve reconsideration and concentration. SE&L, confirmed MiSTies, will highlight 10 of the best forays into funny stuff the Satellite of Love and its occupants ever attempted. 


There are a couple of caveats when diving into this list. First, we purposely avoided anything where music was involved. Mystery Science Theater 3000 was famous for its satiric songs, and trying to pick 20, let alone 10 would have been impossible. Therefore, only atonal humor will be discussed. Also, we’ve also stopped the reflection at Season 7, the non Sci-Fi Channel version of the series. There’s no real reason for such a barrier, except that more people are familiar with the updated concept of the show, and some of the older material needs its day in the sun. Finally, supporting characters like Dr. Clayton Forrester, Dr. Lawrence Erhardt, TV’s Frank and the Mole Men have also been excluded. They’ll get their moment sometime in the near future. With all the stipulations in place, let’s begin in chronological order:



Crow’s Thanksgiving from K03: Starforce: Fugitive Alien II


Back when the series was still being broadcast across actual antenna airwaves by local Minneapolis station KTMA, a special holiday edition of the show featured this fabulous history lesson from everyone’s favorite “bird dog thing”. From the pilgrims arriving in a van and taking turns “starving”, to the Indian’s spraying their guests with mace (don’t ask), the robots get the spirit of the occasion, if not the factual certainties. An important discussion, if only for finally explaining the connection between Turkey day and the reason people start Christmas shopping the day after.

 


Sidehackiing Terminology from 202: Sidehackin’


As with any new sport, descriptive phrases and jargon are mandatory. They help reporters explain the action and bolster color commentators ability to earn ESPN highlight reel airtime. For this Ross Hagen rehash of every competition oriented cliché ever conceived, Joel and his automated pals provide such expressive lingo as the ‘Hickory Dickory Die’, ‘Fruitful Snootful’, and the ‘Tension Envelope’ routine (popularized by Nutsy the Clown). It’s enough to knock competitive darts, Ninja Warrior, and all other non-mainstream athletics off the pop culture radar.

 


Klack Foods Commercial from 211: First Spaceship on Venue


Anyone old enough to remember single company sponsorship in television will smile at this remarkable riff on Kraft and its long-form infomercial breaks that championed their various faux foods and cheese spreads. Here, a spot-on Tom Servo (channeling Ed Herlihy) describes how Klack Industrial Saladoos-based snack and snippets can be used to make mouth watering family favorites like Skin Mittens, Cooter Cakes, and the traditional Gut Whistle Pie. Just don’t forget the Flesh Button dressing, or a heaping platter of Creamy Crust Puppies. Now that’s fine eatin’.



Crow vs. Kenny from 302: Gamera


After an onslaught of giant monster madness, Crow can no longer stand the whiny goody two shoe-ing of everyone’s favorite short-panted pint size. So he lets his aggressions out in the most fruitless display of childish chiding possible. Taking the opportunity to do the same, Servo joins in. Joel tries to help his pals have a more positive perspective on the friend to all oversized beasties. It only lasts for a little while before the bile begins rising all over again.




Winter Sports Cavalcade from 311: It Conquered the World


It’s icy chills and snowbound thrills as Joel and the ‘Bots describe the frostbitten pleasures of training, Alpine style. We experience the gory goodness of the latest craze - speedskating combined with kickboxing. Then there’s cat snapping, where kittens are taken to absolute zero and cracked like Turkish taffy. And let’s not forget “shi-ing” which is also referred to as playing ping-pong or badminton with a Barbie doll frozen in a bucket of ice. And you thought snowmobiling and hokey were the best things about the months of November to February (or August to May, if in Minnesota).

 




Catching Ross from 315: Teenage Caveman


Ross Allen was a well known animal trapper who violated several ethical, moral, and PETA inspired values with his raping of the Florida Everglades. As protest, Tom turns the tables on the great blight hunter, subjecting him to many of the same humiliating outdoor tortures that Allen himself employed to make his living. With Joel along for visual illustration (he uses a small action figure to simulate the pain being inflicted), we get the kind of pointed payback that only a fire hydrant like puppet and a stand-up comedian trapped in space can dish out.




Art Therapy from 507: I Accuse My Parents


Hoping to gain some insight into how his robot pals think, Joel asks them to visualize their own fantasy families. For Tom, it’s a portrait of his father, Gigantor, and his two moms - Haley Mills and Peggy Cass. For Crow, it’s an oversized deadly dynamo of a dad, who combines homespun wisdom with lasers that fire out of his chest (“pyeww, pyeww”). Of course, Gypsy only envisions a world filled with nothing but Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea‘s Richard Basehart. Why? To quote the cast: “I dunno.”



Chick Flick Fight (Really Femmie Movies) from 517: Alien From LA


A post-apocalyptic Kathy Ireland inspires this brilliant breakdown of Mike and the gang’s feminine side. Over the closing credits of this crappy film, Tom chides Crow over his copy of Places in the Heart and his complete Sally Fields collection, while the little gold guy gives his human buddy a Six Weeks, Dying Young, and Irreconcilable Differences combo. Between a Herbert Ross festival, Savannah Smiles, and the mere mention of Madame Sousatzka, there’s not a male chromosome left in the Satellite of Love. Just remember to quote freely from Rich and Famous and everything will be okay.




Ingmar Bergman Tells a Joke from 617: The Sword and the Dragon


The late, great Swedish filmmaker is lovingly spoofed when Mike and the ‘bots take a break from this horrible foreign fantasy film to offer up a moody monochrome gag. Though there is probably no more than a page of actual dialogue, the entire skit is filmed at a pace that makes snail’s nervous over how slow it proceeds. The payoff is well worth it, however.





The Edge of the Universe (2001 Spoof) from 706: Laserblast


This was it - the supposed end of the series. Comedy Central had failed to renew the contract, and even worse, a typical season of episodes (12 to 24) was reduced to seven. So how do you send off the greatest TV show ever? Easy, you mimic the greatest film ever. This classic 2001 lampoon, complete with pointed visual cues and recreations of classic moments, left fans free associating for days. It’s all here - including a final image that summed up how special Mystery Science Theater 3000 was to fans and cinephile’s worldwide.


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